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A Precautionary Tale of Two Cities

In 410 AD, (to the surprise of many readers) Rome was no longer the capital of the Western division of the Roman Empire.  That had moved twice and was now in Ravenna.  However Rome still stood as a historical figure head of greatness and its citizens lived in comparative luxury.  But the Roman empire, though diminished, existed at that time because of a failed bargain the empire made with its neighbors the Visigoths.  Beset by a number of enemies wanting to pick its bones, and not having sufficient trained Roman soldiers for its legions, Rome made a deal with the Visigoths.  If they would join the Roman army to defend the empire, they would be paid in land where they could live in peace and return to their agrarian ways.

The problem was, the empire was in no position to actually keep such promises.  Today we euphemistically refer to vaporware promises from the government as “unfunded liabilities” and do not even count them in our debt or deficit columns because we know we can never really repay them.  But the Visigoths, under their King Alaric, was not so sanguine about such broken promises – he had an increasingly restless people to feed and lead.  And if the Romans would not keep their word then the solution was simple, go and take what you were promised and destroy Rome to let the world know the cost of lying to them.

So on August 24, 410 Alaric broke through the meager defenses, ransacked the city for every sort of goodies from food to gold, killed as many Romans of all ages as possible, and left the city in shambles , smoke, and blood.  And then, like a good little barbarian, he had done as he said he would, destroyed Rome, so took his warriors and people and loot and went away leaving Rome in a completely unrecoverable state.

Now you would think that we modern, educated humans, after 1600 years to absorb and learn the lessons about Rome’s degeneration and fall, would have committed ourselves to not repeating that.  Apparently we have not or we would not have the debt and deficit (what we admit we owe and cannot pay), not to mention the unfunded liabilities, that face us today in a time of crisis when we cannot afford to buy many of the medical materials our pandemic is needing.

But history, seems to have understood that such lessons are difficult for humans and their short attention spans, and so the fall of Rome, was not the end of the story; there is more to it… more lessons to take from which we might learn something, and it involves the remainder of the Roman Empire, the eastern branch with its capital in Constantinople, renamed (from Byzantium) by the first Christian emperor, Constantine.

The city became a fitting follow up to Rome with its luxury and wealth of goods and goodies for its people.  But across the Adriatic Sea, in what is now modern Turkey, attention was increasingly focused on them as the gateway to the riches of Europe for traders from the far east.  They had already captured lands further west, but this pesky critical port city was REALLY in the way.

So, 1,040 years after Alaric, in the 1450s, the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed (Mehmet) II, known as “the Conqueror,” determined to capture the city and make it an Islamic capital.  Equally determined not to let that happen, was the then current emperor, Constantine XI.  After all, his incredible fortifications with 60 foot wide walls and terraces was considered by virtually everyone (with the exception of Mehmed) to be impregnable.  He only had about 7,000 defenders but in most minds, even those were considered superfluous due to the strength of the walls.  So, “Relax” the people were told, no one can breach these defenses.

Mehmed was only 21 but a scholar of warfare.  He had relied on gunpower to take walled cities in the past by way of his large collection of bronze field pieces.  He knew however, that his existing cannon arsenal would not put a dent in the fortifications around Constantinople, so he decided, in a somewhat logical fashion, that what he actually needed was simple – not more cannons but bigger cannons.  A LOT bigger.

So at his direction, a Hungarian cannon maker named Orban, created a giant cannon.  Named “Basilic” this cannon was about 25 feet long and could hurl a 1,200 pound ball of stone or marble, over a mile.  It took 60 oxen and 400 men to move it into place and then reposition it after every shot since the recoil was astonishing.  The bad news was that the cannon balls were scarce and hard to make, plus the heat was so great it had to be cooled with olive oil between shots and though it could be reloaded in about three hours once cool enough to not crack or ignite the gunpowder charge during loading, it could not safely be fired more than three times in a day.    The cannon ball, as you might imagine, did some considerable damage, but it was so long between shots that repair work could be done between volleys which could restore most but not all of the damage.  However, over time, it was indeed chipping away at the fortifications and being anywhere near it when it fired would have to be a sobering, possibly terrifying experience. Combined with other cannonade being poured onto the city, the defenders had to be starting to worry.

But here is where the story gets fascinating from our perspective.  As Mehmed gathered his vastly superior forces for an assault on the weakened fortification, several chroniclers of the siege tell a strange tale of the city leaders’ response.  A number of myths and legends grew up around the improbable fall of this impregnable city.  Many were apocryphal, some metaphorical in spinning a yarn that “Stood in” for actual events, but given the religious fervor of the day and competing religious schools of thought (as the Roman Catholic Church and Greek Orthodox Church were vying for supremacy, all vying to be the single source for approved dogma), this one makes some sense.

The story is that the elders of the City, including statesmen, priests from all faiths, general political, military, and religious leaders, were locked and totally obsessed with finding an answer to a truly critical and oh-so-relevant-to-the-siege question: “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin (or needle)?”

According to this story, while wall defenders were begging for reinforcements and help, the leaders in a position to help them were totally focused on answering this “reductio ad absurdum” question and had no time for such secular and mundane issues as, oh say, an enemy at the gate.

To be fair, Mehmed had more and better trained troops plus his cannons, and Constantine XI himself was killed defending the walls during the final push by the Ottoman forces.  But whether the story is 100% accurate or not it does seem 100% relevant to me for what is happening to us in our country even while I’m writing this.

Why is it relevant?   Well, this country has a real enemy at the gates.  It’s not a typical enemy dropped in to invade and occupy the country in a real-world “Red Dawn” scenario.  There are no real enemy soldiers prowling the streets.  There are no hordes of lead and copper projectiles filling the air, each marked “To Whom it May Concern.”  Instead there are tiny aerosol droplets from coughs, sneezes, just breathing of infected people, that can linger on things – surfaces, clothing, etc, — for days and still transmit the virus known as Covid-19 to any human that manages to get one of them sucked into the nasal passages or eyes or mouth where it will attach to the mucous lining and happily proliferate, migrating down into the lungs where it will do its dead-level best to kill you.  This is an enemy too small to be seen except through a microscope, but if your immune system is not strong, it can kill you as certainly as any well aimed bullet but in a far grimmer manner.

So why is this like the debates in Constantinople when the Ottomans were breaking down the walls?  Because our so-called leadership; in fact much of the citizenry as well, is totally focused on an equally idiotic debate over political personalities.  Rather than come together to find common ground to deal with this insidious enemy, we are completely high centered in our partisan fiefdoms and tribes, arguing whether the President is a spawn of the devil and probably created and propagated this disease on his own out of rampant uncontrollable evil or whether he is the savior sent to lead us safely through this disaster to the glorious other side. On one side of leadership we have a man who believes himself to be a “stable genius” and by his own claims, knows better about science than scientists, knows more about nuclear issues than physicists, knows more about military strategists than professional military strategists, knows more about medical issues than medical experts who have devoted a life to it, yet was unable to run a school dedicated to the one thing he seems to have any real experience in, and yet who speaks with the skill and vocabulary of a “C” level middle school student.  Engaging in that debate, as stupidly as the citizenry, are our erstwhile political leaders trying to use the crisis to, as Senator Clyborn noted, restructure things to their own liking.  Opposed to the president, nearly perfectly matched, are those despicably doing everything possible to create dependencies in the people to guarantee their grasp on power.  They are better spoken and have at least grasped the essentials of Machiavelli but are as unfit to lead us anywhere as the president they despise.

Need proof?  A simple bill to provide relief to individuals and companies who are suffering as our economy is shut down and stalled while we try to isolate people and slow the transmission of the virus, could not sail through without major partisan grandstanding and attempted insertions of such irrelevant expenditures as money for the Lincoln Arts Center, fuel efficiency Standards for airplanes, total amnesty for all illegal aliens, funding for Planned Parenthood, and a revival of the “Obamaphone” give-away.

Any or all of those might be legitimate issues to be debated on their own merit, but to end up stalling the relief effort for over a week with that collection of irrelevant issues is unpardonable and ethically reprehensible.  The money involved in just the Lincoln Center demand (which did get added to the tune of $25 million) could have bought a lot of masks for first responders and ventilators for victim or helped with the effects of small businesses across the country.

In my opinion, if the story of the great debate in Constantinople is true, then they deserved to be overrun by the Ottomans and lose their city.  Stupidity ought to come at a price.  And if we can do no better than continue to haggle over political personalities and labels and partisan narratives while the pandemic continues to spread, then perhaps we too deserve to have it wipe us out.  I don’t think that level of stupidity deserves to go on any longer.

We were once the country that put a man on the moon with 60’s vintage technology in under 10 years.  We were once the country that asked what we could do for our country not what it could do for us.  We were the country that could put petty issues aside and rise to the call both individually and industrially to defeat a truly evil ruler attempting to take over the world.

Now we seem to have degenerated into a pathetic whining mob seeking only what goodies and handouts the country is willing to give us whether we earned them or not.  I think our collective reality check has just bounced and perhaps it is time for the bill collector to come collecting.

I hope not; I hope we will take a much-deserved slap in the face, sober up from a drunken spate of self-anointed victim mentalities and get it together.  But I’m skeptical.   I’m not seeing a single person in the position of leadership that seems ready, willing, or even able to haul us out of this grasp on self-serving dependency or blind worship of a fake genius.  Not one.  The emperor may have no clothes on.  But neither does ANYONE in his court or congress.  God help us to wake up while there are still some of us left.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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Are You Afraid Yet?

Are You Afraid Yet?

By the wildest of coincidences I got two phone calls today that opened with exactly the same question… and I mean word-for-word:  “Are you afraid yet?”

I didn’t “get” the meaning of the first one until it was explained that the fear being questioned was about Trump’s expected reach for autocratic power as exemplified by his pardoning of such sleazes as the political scam artist Blagojevich (sentenced to 14 years for trying to “sell” Obama’s former Senate Seat but pardoned by Trump after 8 years.)  They also pointed to interference in the Roger Stone case where DOJ recommendations for sentencing were lowered from originally at 14 years down to 4.

I was aware of both actions but had initially dismissed both as just more political theater following the great abortive impeachment attempt. But in the spirit of the iconic Clara Peller, I was unable to find “the beef.”  Every President, with Constitutional authority to do so, has issued Presidential pardons.  In all cases the subject of those pardons had been duly tried and convicted yet the president of the day took it upon himself to overturn those decisions.  Some few, I thought, were at least marginally justified; but in a lot of those cases I could not find any justification at all except from some political issue or another.  Clinton pardoned sleazoid friends, confidants, and contributors as did Obama, and both Bushes and virtually all Presidents before them.  The constitution (Article 2, Section 2, § 1)  is clear that the President has the power and authority to do that for crimes against the U.S..  I can question the wisdom of it – and do, to be honest — but, given the law as it is, I therefore do not see it as an abuse of power.  In Stone’s case the recommended sentencing table indicated 3-4 years for lying to a congressional investigation.  But in the heat of the political turmoil the prosecutors wove in another charge that stepped it up about 3 levels and ran with that so where now, for a process crime, he was going to be recommended a greater sentence than is on the table for a rapist.   It seemed to me at the time that it was his support for Trump that got him that extended sentence, not his actual crime.  Plus, it was merely a recommendation, the judge has the final authority as to what to actually order for sentencing and that was not yet done.  The list of prosecutors who complained or resigned were, to me, simply grandstanding since similar action, but in less politically loaded cases, happens with some frequency.

Besides, the President could simply pardon him and be done with it.

The worry shared by the two callers, however, seemed to be that this was somehow unique and, more to the point, was foretelling Trump’s inevitable and imminent (in their view) move to become our first emperor, throw away all law he didn’t like, and refuse to step down if he lost this election or after his second term.  Their arguments were that after the failed impeachment, he now was empowered to think he could do anything he wanted, including ignoring an election or, later, term limits, and no one could do anything about it.

If that actually happens, then I think all bets are off and I cannot fathom him, even as petulantly tantrum throwing as he does when things go badly for him, barricading himself in the White House and being dragged out by the heels, if necessary, by the U.S. Marshals and/or the Secret Service.

I would admit that If, at some point, a direct order from the Supreme Court were issued to him which he openly and overtly refused to obey, then we are (finally and sadly) facing a real Constitutional crisis but assuming the obvious legitimacy of the order, I do not believe the citizenry would stand for it.  Even supporters of his policies would have to see that brazen move as well over the line… or so I prefer to believe.   Meantime, however, his actions are within his authority under the Constitution.  If we don’t like the policies he enacts under that authority, then the solution is readily at hand – the ballot box.

In this case the callers were concerned that Trump, via executive orders, would simply turn himself into a monarch and us into “subjects” and be free to rule however his mind took him.  In their view, Caligula would be remembered as a Boy Scout by comparison to the legal and moral depravity to quickly follow. Long time readers know I’m opposed to Executive Orders philosophically and believe it is a stretch to see them as valid.  Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has ruled they are valid if they are supported by the Constitution (somewhat circular in reasoning) or from a clause authorizing such power (duh), or from a law passed by Congress authorizing it. I just don’t think that executive orders are ever specifically allowed AT ALL under the wording of the Constitution but that’s an argument for a different post.

Sometimes an EO can squeak by because it reflects the desires of congress which does not have the fortitude to actually make a law to that effect and prefers to let the President take the heat for it so they do not challenge it.  But I can see no way that even a friendly court would see an executive order that directly disobeyed one a Supreme Court ruling as being acceptable.  And to think no one would challenge an EO that let Trump remain in office after his term limits or after losing an election has not been paying attention to the current political climate.

Both callers (it was like déjà vu on the phone) were thinking about leaving the country if he lost the upcoming election and refused to step down and, further, was allowed to do so by the legislature and courts.  That is where we parted agreements.  As I noted above, I don’t believe the other branches of government would sit idling by for it. The callers also felt that sooner or later an empowered Trump would send “the troops” after dissenters like any tried and true dictator from Hitler to Mao.  The problem is that even the “good ol’ boys” who support him would, I believe, balk at a rogue president sending federal troops to corral dissident citizens.  One reason is that it would force a conflict they could not abide; the first order of business of any newly minted dictator has historically been to remove all weapons from the hands of the citizens so they cannot fight back.  That would have to come first but when it did, now he would be treading on sacred redneck ground.  They would see that as a clear betrayal.  Progressives would be in the unenviable position of supporting the confiscation of guns generally, but, embarrassingly having to admit the 2nd Amendment may have been right all along in ensuring a defense against a government spun out of control.  How could they argue guns should be removed from citizens but, wait a minute, at the same time deal with the ugly reality that they might be needed to hold off the evil Trump empire?  Worse, the poor progressives would have to rely on their unwashed enemies, whom they despise, those poor souls clinging to their guns and God, i.e. the deplorables as Hillary called them, to protect them from the troglodyte  knuckle draggers of Trump’s loyal forces out to take first their weapons and then their freedoms.

I do agree that if it happened it would be a grim state in which to find oneself embroiled.  But this is my country.  I have answered its call once, I will do so again if need be to save it from a would-be despot.  America is unique in that we have this long tradition of citizen-soldier; and while that cadre willing to fight instead of run to hide somewhere may be shrinking, what remains is pretty well armed.  It has historically been so well armed that decrypted transmission showed the Japanese high command contemplated an invasion of U.S. soil to distract us from the Pacific but was dissuaded by people who had studied in the U.S. convincing them that Americans were not constitutionally able to accept invasion or occupation, would fight to the death over it, and were well enough armed to make the attempt costly in the extreme.  I want to believe that attitude has not yet died out and we are not all cowards that would run from the fight. If I am wrong about that, then morally, we have already ceded our country and our rights to the dark side and all that remains is making it official.

When Caesar brought his legions across the Rubicon River toward Rome in contradiction to both policy and tradition, the Roman Senate was in a dire straight since the other legions were away on other fronts and neither the citizenry nor even the Praetorian guards were in anyway prepared to take on Caesar’s  battle-hardened troops.  But I also do not believe the U.S. military would support an attempted coup and would, instead, be on the side of the defenders of the Constitution trying to save their rights and their homes.  Given the speed of modern military deployments, military leaders still loyal to the oaths they swore could bring the troops home very quickly once word of any impending overreach leaked out – and I think it would leak quickly.  And since he has already irritated much of military command by refusing to listen to their counsel, I do not think they would be disposed to capitulate in an overthrow of the country’s laws and practices.  They have, after all, now seen several of their highly thought-of comrades called on to serve in some role and then thrown under the bus, so they would have no doubt of their own fate should any such attempt be made.

Finally, I think Trump himself would think better of it.  Oh, I have no doubt he wishes to be monarch; when he was running the first time I noted that it appeared he was running for the crown not the presidency.  But he would have to know that in the end, perhaps after a very ugly bit of civil carnage, he would lose and then be remembered as the only president to try to overthrow the constitution.  I do not think he wants that as his legacy.

So, in the end, no, I’m not afraid.  I’m concerned and hope against hope that the Democrats find and field a winning candidate with policies I could get behind (however last night’s debate from Las Vegas made that seem like more and more a forlorn hope).  But there is still some little time.  But assuming, given the weak field against him, Trump wins re-election, I do not think he would see that (at least privately to himself, as a green light, to declare himself our de facto Emperor.  Someone in his circle would surely remind him of the fate of Caesar who tried the same thing.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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To Impeach or Not To Impeach: A Constitutional Question.

It has been a long time since I’ve entered something on this blog, almost a year to be exact.  But the recent flap over the abortive impeachment efforts have been so ridden with pure partisan rhetoric and galactic class political spin, that, in my opinion, the major memes and posts on that bastion of political brilliance, FaceBook (FB), have only one thing in common from both sides… a nearly perfect ignorance of the very specific language of the relevant document: The U.S. Constitution.  As some of you know, I’ve not been shy about saying that in response to posts, so of course, several times I’ve been taken to task for being a Trump supporter (something several notches worse than being a serial killer in the views of the denizens of halls of academia), or accused of doing it simply to be a contrarian.  It seemed time to do something not reasonable in a FB post since it is necessarily long and detailed, and that is to go into detail to explain why I feel as I do.

I’m not a complete Pollyanna so I don’t actually expect the serious partisans to actually read this since they seem to be devoted to ignoring any opinions contrary to their own.  In doing so, they, of course, betray the reality that the truth does not matter to them since real seekers of some philosophical truth know the only way it is ever found is if the seeker is willing to admit the possibility they might be wrong and therefore remain open to hearing and considering the opposing ideas objectively.  Sadly, I’ve not yet encountered that attitude on Facebook, instead, only a theological-level, divine certainty in the righteousness of their own viewpoint while seeing all others as stupid or perhaps evil.

But for the surprising individual, if there actually is one left out there, who is even remotely interested, here is my own thinking on the issues.  But to make any sense of it I need to give a little foundation since my conclusions are the result a several factors building to it.  There was serious thinking and debate involved in the writing of our Constitution and I think it deserves to be seen as forming the reasons for its very deliberate word usage.  So here is my line of reasoning to arrive at my own position.

First we have to understand that the Constitution was created by a collection of very knowledgeable individuals who had carefully looked over a lot of political history and been influenced by political philosophies from Plato down to Locke and Montesquieu.  They fully understood that they were creating something new and untried, indeed, were forming a government that was, in its approach and style, contrary to the foundational philosophies of any other country in the history of governments.  Knowing that, knowing full well that they would be stepping on a lot of geopolitical toes, they were concerned about being misunderstood both then and down the road in (their) future.  So they wrote prolifically to each other and friends and in publications that are still with us and easy to find for anyone interested in the truth,

When I was in Law School (1971,’72, ‘73) I grew to be totally fascinated by Constitutional Law and jumped wholeheartedly into it.  The more I studied it and its creators the more impressed I was with the wisdom and foresight exhibited in this seminal document.  And I became nearly obsessed with the idea that what set us apart from other nations was the iron clad obedience to the rule of law.  It was, paradoxically, the reliance on the LAW of the day and until it was officially changed, that set us free as a people and apart from citizens of other countries.  In the course of that study, it soon became inescapable that our founders actually ended up re-defining what a Republic was up to that point.

Previously Republics were largely democratic meaning they relied on pure majority rule (well to be fair, the majority of those who were allowed to vote on the matter).  But our founders were dedicated to assuring the Declaration’s famous “rights” for all.  One exchange with Madison illustrated the problem.  He posited a group of three individuals in which two wanted actions that the third opposed.  It was clear the third individual’s rights were not recognized in that scenario where the two could outvote the one.  According to Madison, it made no difference ethically or morally If the group was composed of 3,000; 1,000 of them would have their rights overridden and that was not acceptable to the goals of the founders.  THe numbers changhed but the ethics did not.  So they morphed the traditional republican concept into a representational democracy – something totally new on the world stage.  To avoid one demographic sitting in continual power over others, the electoral college was formulated so the little guys, the rural areas would be operating on a leveled playing field, sometimes to the chagrin and irritation of the self-anointed brilliant citizens from the urban areas.  Without it today, we would be governed by the appropriately titled “Coastal Elites” while those rubes in the fly-over states should just accept that the citified people were ever so much brighter, so much more “woke” to use the modern parlance, and ought to be able to make the decisions for all the rest on matters political as well as moral.  The founders rejected that and went to some convoluted lengths to try to forestall it.

Further, although in other systems, notably Great Britain, the three primary governmental functions of executive, legislative, and judicial all existed, they were not truly separated and independent.  Our creation of them as separate and coequal branches was like none other.  In our system, uniquely, the real “bosses” were seen by the founders as being the people, and the government existed only to assure and protect the rights recognized and described in the Declaration of Independence.  We voluntarily gave the government the power to govern us AS WE, THE PEOPLE, WISHED IT TO, and the Constitution was the embodiment of the law that governed those we allowed to govern us.  It was not created to govern us, the people.  Indeed it derived it power from us.  Rather, it was written to govern the government.   We the people could take back that power via the vote.

What was also unique was that this government of, by, and for the people, could not require anything of the governed (us) that was not approved by ALL THREE of the branches.  The legislature had to first create the laws and pass them, but the executor needed to then approve them, and then, if further challenged, the judicial branch had to approved them as being in concert with the constraints of the Constitution.  It was an amazing set of checks to assure the survival of the rights of the citizenry.  Nothing like it had ever existed in the history of human governments.

The founders believed in the basic goodness of human kind under divine guidance, i.e. that we strove for the good as a general rule.  But they were not blind to the reality that some people “went off the rails” and could seriously damage the institutions they were creating.  Included, therefore, among the Constitution’s provisions were the rules for removing an elected public servant on any level from representative all the way to the president: a process called “impeachment.”

It was thought of by the founders, according to their correspondences, as an incredibly serious step since in doing so it was clear that the government took upon itself the power to override the wishes of its own bosses, the people who had elected that individual in the first place.  Consequently, since those day in Law School, I’ve been “hooked” into carefully watching impeachment proceedings — first about Nixon (I think they had a strong case for removal due to criminal acts but he resigned before they could hold the trial), then Clinton (I think he was a sleaze but did not commit an impeachable offense) and now Trump.  This is potentially the most serious thing the legislative branch can do… undertake the overturning of an election and remove an elected official from office.  If anything tests the strength of the constitution this is it. So I want to present my own thinking on the issue of impeachments and what is required and then apply that to this case.

Hamilton and Madison wrote voluminously about it and among other things, made it clear that this was not to be a matter of common politics.  Malfeasance in office was specifically declared by Hamilton to not be an acceptable reason for removal since it was so subjective.  Additionally, they purposefully did not want to emulate the British Parliamentarian system of “votes of confidence” as they saw it as inherently unstable and far too subject to political and partisan whims.

Matters reduceable to basic, even if serious, policy differences were ruled out as well and for similar reasons; such procedures were seen to be in opposition to the will of the electors who had voted for the individual likely because of the policies promised and in practice.

It is important too, o note another by product of the system they created.  It is important when looking at charges of obstruction of one branch or another, to understand that as a co-equal branch, the presidency could not logically “obstruct” the other branches since it was equal to and therefore not subservient to them (or vice versa).  You and I can obstruct a branch of government, but the presidency cannot, by definition, do it.  But that does not mean it can do just anything it desires.  If it appears to be violating some legislative powers or ethical standards and mores of the contemporary culture, it is the province of the judiciary, in the form of the Supreme Court, to determine one or the other of the branches must give way in that specific incidence.  Without a judicial finding and direction, and a subsequent violation of that finding and directive, one “equal” branch cannot be seen as obstructing the other.  Disputes over authority, and there were plenty of cases of it in the early days, were to be settled via the Supreme Court who, in such circumstances, had “the last word.”  If the court’s directives were violated, then and then only could there be movement to compel a specific action of obstruction or even contempt of court.

They also clearly noted that in order to assure that the action of impeachment was not strictly political (and therefore not allowed) it must be bipartisan in nature.  That is why a supermajority (2/3) of senate votes that would be expected to cross party lines was required for removal.  Due to real numbers it was virtually impossible to achieve a super-majority from just one party.

So what COULD be seen as an impeachable offense?  They settled on very well defined language describing with great specificity what the infractions were that could form the basis for an impeachment.  The wording is now famous and after the last weeks most know them by heart where they may not be able to quote any other sentence in the entire document.  To be qualified for impeachment, according to Article 2, Section 4 which reads:

“The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

It is one of the clearest directives in the entire document consisting of terms with very specific and commonly understood meanings.  Or at least it was until political narratives sought to redefine them to suit specific agendas.  So lets examine them a little more closely.

First up was treason.  That is interesting because treason is the only crime specifically defined in the Constitution and the founders’ writings make it clear that was chosen to avoid the use of the charge as a political weapon to repress opposition to the government’s or President’s policies.  There have been only a handful of treason cases since our founding and in each one the court seemed to work to limit the definition even further.  Well, lest there be any confusion,  here is what Article 3, Section 3-1 says:

“Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”

What has become clear it that (a) levying war requires an actual capability of doing that (a standing army, for example) or providing aid and comfort to an enemy named in a declaration of war or hostilities, and, most importantly, (b) it requires an overt act, i.e. some conduct.  Mere intention or expression is not enough.  That was spelled out clearly in the decision of Cramer v. U.S., in 1945.

I could be wrong, but as far as I know we have not declared war on any of the parties involved directly or indirectly in all this.  So by definition, without a war, or at least some official declaration of a state of hostilities, treason cannot apply.

Moving on we have we have the next enumerated impeachable action…bribery.  Bribery, for a public official, meant the taking of something of value to influence their public service.  For example, taking money and in return, instituting policies favorable to the source of the money and usually (but not necessarily) to the detriment of other constituents.  Clear, huh?  Well, not so fast.  How about a bribe going the other way, i.e. offering some enticement to an individual or country based on the power of the Presidency to alter the behavior of that individual or foreign government?  That is closer to the action alleged in this impeachment process.

The problem with claiming that as an impeachable offense, is that it is, in fact, the very core tactic of nearly all geopolitical diplomacy.  Virtually every diplomatic “deal” is achieved by a series of “quid pro quo” agreements where, in order to get the foreign government or individual to do something we want, we offer inducements or, if appropriate, some negative potential “threat.”   For example, we threatened then applied sanctions on Iran and North Korea to influence their obsessions and work toward achieving nuclear capabilities.  An action hardly could be more of a direct interference in another country’s behaviors, aspirations, or plans than an onerous sanction that creates great economic distress.  We have brought countries into our “club” by offering them something they need such as money or defense.   The historical truth us that every diplomatic deal in history was achieved because the parties “gave something to get something” which is the very essence of a “Quid Pro Quo” agreement.  Does that mean that every President who strong arms another country is impeachable?  Be very careful with that one…  Answering “yes” means there is probably not a president in our history or in our future that would not be impeachable.

In this case, however, it was shown that the government in question, Ukraine, did not see the requests for a favor as pressure of any kind (according to interviews with both its President and Defense Minister).  Additionally, they did not do or act as requested, did not do any investigation or make any announcement of planning to do so, and yet, the funds allocated by Congress, though delayed, were nevertheless delivered within the timelines of the original grant and, on top of that monetary aid, war materials were delivered in the same time frame that the previous administration had refused to give at all.  There was no showing of fact indicating the delay brought any harm to Ukraine especially since they were not even aware of the delay.

One can spin that six ways from Sunday but since Ukraine suffered no detriment and we got nothing either, it is hard to see that exchange as a viable intended, much less consummated bribe since, when the smoke cleared, there was not any quid nor was there any quo.

The request may well have been stupid, even sleazy.  Moreover, because of its appearance as something personally beneficial to the President and not the country, it may well be an appropriate target for some form of approbation or public censure.  But it does not appear to have been a successful bribe and if it was an attempted bribe it didn’t get very far since even the intended victim did not see it as such.

So, moving on, what else ya got?

There was the argument proposed by the accusers, that no actual crime needed to be committed in order to have an impeachable offense, so lets look again at what, other than Bribery or Treason, is enumerated as impeachable offenses.  The words are pretty clear on their face.  “… or other high crimes or misdemeanors.”  Pay careful attention to the use of the adjective, “OTHER,” it’s a critical word in this sentence.  Remember the founders had long debates and sometimes literally fought over virtually every word in the constitution to make sure it expressed exactly what they wanted.

When the Constitution was written, “High Crimes” meant what today we call “Felonies” and misdemeanors meant what today we call, uh, “misdemeanors.”  (Ref. Black’s Law Dictionary of the time).  Both are types of crimes defined under both statutory and common law.  Some legal authors have seen the dichotomy as representing actions that are “Malum In Se” (actions criminal or abhorrent in and of themselves without the need for legal definitions such a murder or rape, etc.) compared to actions that are “Malum Prohibitum” (actions made illegal by statute such as speeding or jaywalking).  But even so, actions following those definitions were still understandable as crimes.  If they were not, then the phrase “OTHER high crimes and misdemeanors” makes absolutely no sense.  In a section as serious as this one, writing a nebulous set of definitions for conduct allowing for removal of office for the country’s executive branch seems so far beyond unlikely as to be unthinkable.

An interesting, if desperate, argument was made during the impeachment process that since we did not have a country yet we had no laws and no crimes to define.  Therefore the founders did not need a crime to be committed in order for action to be impeachable.   Really?  Ignoring for a moment their use of the legal term defining types of crimes, do you think if you committed a robbery in ANY jurisdiction of the time you could get away with it on the claim that there was no country and therefore no laws to break?  We had no end of local laws and statutes, and jurisdictions were still aware of and following British common law under which those terms were readily understood.  There was no country when Benedict Arnold was accused of treason so does that mean if captured he could not have been tried and punished?  That conclusion is utter nonsense and a desperate grasping at straws.

Read the definition of impeachable offenses again… slowly if necessary.  The wording of the Constitution does NOT say, “… or other things we don’t like.”  Nor does it say, “…or other actions congress decides are impeachable.”  It specifically lists two types of crimes with commonly accepted meanings.  I do not understand why that is so hard to comprehend other than a blatant partisan refusal to give up on the idea that there is, of course, an impeachable offense in here to let us hang the S.O.B even if we have to redefine words otherwise clear on their face.

Since the trial of impeachment deals with the existence of crimes by its own definition, then it is de facto a criminal trial where the standard of proof is, as it is in all criminal cases, and was under common law, guilt beyond all reasonable doubt.  One reason for trying to make the case that some criminality is not necessary, was to make the trial into more of a civil action where the standard of proof is “preponderance of the evidence.”  But I believe the precise wording in the Constitution defining the cause of action makes in inescapably a criminal trial.

That all leaves me with the inescapable conclusion that politically stupid as the President’s actions were, as inappropriate as they certainly were, under the very clear meaning and words in the Constitution, they did not rise to the level of an impeachable act.  And that failure would lead naturally to a filing for a directed verdict as soon as the prosecution’s case was made since no real case had been laid out.  Much was made over the issue of witnesses but I see that as simply a red herring and diversion from the failure of the primary action.

First of all, there were already de facto  prosecution witnesses inserted into the presentation via unchallenged cleverly edited video excerpts with no option to cross examine the witnesses by the defense team.  But setting that aside, in a trial, witnesses are called for one reason, to establish the facts of the case, especially when they are challenged or disputed.  The judge is there to establish and rule on matters of law to be applied to those facts – that is NOT the job of the witnesses.  The jury is there to overlay those facts (they are called the “triers of fact” for a reason) on the law as presented by the judge and render a verdict.

There is no available verdict of innocent, only “guilty” (meaning the defendant did the deed as alleged) or “not guilty” meaning only that the case against him or her was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  And impeachment is the only sort of criminal trial where, under the Consitution, the concept of “double jeopardy” does not apply so it is important to see a verdict of “not guilty” with no more meaning than it actually has.

But in this case, the “facts” were accepted by both sides.  The phone call and its general wording was not in question.  The question was only about the propriety and legality of the specifics of the call.   Impeachment is specifically NOT to be about policy disagreements which were at the heart of the committee’s witnesses, and that leaves only the issue of legality of the alleged conduct.  Various new “witnesses” whose policy agendas were in concert or opposition to the call or the President would not change the facts in question, and the final application of law was to be the sole purview of the judge and, in the end, a matter for the “jury” (the senate) to decide by a 2/3 vote.

The resulting vote was clearly partisan so the founders would not have accepted it anyway and would have likely declared the equivalent of a mistrial and sent everyone packing.  Both the impeachment hearings and the trial were completely along almost perfect party lines.

And now some of the more rabid in the opposition are still wanting to do it again. I think that is tactically, irrationally, illogically, and profoundly stupid and counter productive.  An election is coming up in a few months.  The proper solution, if the goal is removal, is to vote the one you see as evil spawn of the devil out of office properly and remove the issues stemming from a wildly partisan and very flawed process.  To continue down this already failed path merely serves to harden the hearts of his base, allows independents to see it as an apparently totally political and highly partisan move, and to see him as the victim, if not martyr, in this political theater.  I think if one wants to see someone else as president next term, continuing down this path, rehashing failed concepts over and over, ad nauseum, will only serve to aid his re-election bid.  So for those of you who so despise him and the very ground he walks on, if you continue down this path and if he wins re-election you will have no further to look for blame than the nearest mirror.

So there you have it. This is simply my opinion about the merits of the case as presented, it has nothing to do with my personal feelings about Trump as a president.  That does not and should not be a factor no matter what you think of him personally.  Because if personal animosity is allowed to be the foundation for impeachment and removal proceedings, then no future President is safe from this form of harassment and given the time spent on this to the detriment of needed governmental business, our whole system will simply grind to a horrible and pointless halt.

I, for one, think that will be the nail in our country’s coffin that ends it all and I do not wish to encourage any action or process that can lead to that result.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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A Binary World is Only for the Simple Minded

I completely understand how, for the simple minded, life would be so much easier to grasp and deal with if every ethical, philosophical, or political issue truly existed in an “either-or” world.  But the idea that “if you are not for us you must be against us” is a stupid, simplistic, and intellectually poverty-stricken concept.  Nevertheless it seems to be the one perspective at play in the press and in social media these days.

Perhaps it really does speak of a complete failure of insight for those whose input of data comes only from sources singing with their own particular choir.  Perhaps it reveals a concession to intellectual laziness that is endemic to our increasingly entitled and brain-numbed society.  But from wherever it stems, it is a failure that has led us to near complete governmental dysfunction and gridlock at one of the most dangerous and vulnerable times in our history.  And it has created a world of intellectual retardation that, if allowed to continue, can lead us only backwards into a devolution of spirit and knowledge that will make the Hobbesian prophesy of a life that is “Nasty, brutish, and short” seem like a vacation in paradise.

This “with us or against us” perspective pretty much eliminates the inclusion of anyone with more than a few brain cells to rub together and it is an outlook honed and polished by the simple expedients of demonizing all whose philosophies that are not sung about in the hymnals of a particular choir.  Surrounding oneself only with “like minded” people is a sure prescription for a narrowing of view and a constraint upon incoming information that might be accurate but tends to remove one from the safe comfort zone of their own myopia.

Sincerity of belief does not, and never has been, an indicator of reality any more than a localized or even broad consensus of opinion.  Human history is riddled with sincerely held but now discredited beliefs in virtually all areas of inquiry from philosophy to hard science that fell because one person, usually vilified and persecuted at the time, had the intellectual honesty and personal courage to say, basically, “I don’t think that is right…”

And yet, at universities, the places allegedly dedicated to the acquisition of knowledge and broadening of intellect and intellectual pursuits, we are seeing a frightening closure of minds.  From political correctness run amuck to what appears like a primal terror of opposing ideas and ideals, students and faculty collude to shut down even the option of hearing ideas contrary to their own.  No longer satisfied simply to not show up and hope the speaker found themselves speaking to rows of empty seats, out of control students now bully faculty and administrations into prohibiting the speech in the first place.

If the loyalists in the late 18th century on this continent had adopted those behaviors we would still be a colony of Great Britain.  There can be few things more in conflict with the American ideals than the prohibition of the free flow of ideas including those with which we disagree.

That was a problem we addressed back when it was accepted that ideas and philosophies about how a people would govern themselves were complex and derived from an incredible diversity of resources from ancient literature and the Bible to the (then) modern debates between the intellectual giants such as Locke and Black and Rousseau and Godwin.

But the crowd whose memes and tropes I now read on Facebook would be incapable of grasping the nuances of those towering essays and their internal complexities because none of them were easily reduceable to one-liners, demonizing labels, or bumper sticker philosophies.  They are blithely unaware of the fact that by grasping at simple and single concepts stemming from both sides of those great debates that ultimately found their way into what we now loosely refer to as Liberal and Conservative perspectives, we now would make those past thinkers on all sides of the discussions stunned at our collective ignorance of what they were all about.  I think they would all be ashamed of the poor quality of the progeny, both intellectually and educationally, that followed them, in other words… us.

Because we no longer grasp the nuances and subtleties of the underlying concepts we claim to follow and, worse, cannot see past the cherry-picked sub-concepts we decided, for our own preferences and needs, were the ones to be adhered to and accepted as our own gospels, we no longer have the intellectual ammunition to be able to see areas of overlap with other concepts from which compromise can be found.  If you only know the letters “A” and “Z” then any inclusion of something such as “L” or “M” is not even possible.

r intellectual myopia has blinded us to the forest of ideas than can be harvested for personal and culture growth and we see only the trees, and worse yet, only those trees that fit with our preferences independent of any connection to reality or the larger impact of those selected views on the broader culture of our own society, much less those of others.

While social media is increasingly filled with voices terrified of counter ideas, for my part I am terrified of that crowd seeking to shut down debate and the free expression of ideas, even those I despise.  This is self-righteous book burning that does not even allow the book to be created before its ideas are vilified and its authors run out or locked out of town lest their scurrilous ideas contaminate our precious little ears.

When I was young we knew that “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”  Today we have grown so fragile of insight and psyches, and so vulnerable to words that we deem some of them harmful in and of themselves and seek to shelter ourselves from even hearing them.

We should stand ashamed of ourselves for our moral and intellectual cowardice.  We should stand ashamed of how we have dumbed down education and basic parenting to foist a generation of thin-skinned, entitled, victimized, intellectual cowards on this world.  And, especially for the so-called educators who have joined in on this embrace of a binary world view when if any group should know better it is that credentialed, self-benighted crowd, their well-deserved shame should put them on their knees in a collective revival of their forgotten calling to expand the minds of their students instead of narrowing them down to where they can see only the world as the Prof sees it.

Teaching critical thinking does NOT mean teaching students they should learn to see the world as the professor does.  It means giving them the tools to see the broader collection of influences having an impact on THEIR world and then formulate their own conclusions as to what collection of concepts they wish to assemble to make it work for them.

But that revival of intellectual courage and moral honesty is not likely to happen anytime soon.  Adams wrote that a republic for of government could last only so long as the citizenry shared an ethical moral code.  We’ve not just lost that code, in a successful effort to remove consequences from behaviors we have thrown it away.   I think we are seeing his sad prophesy coming to fruition.  And the rallying call of the destructive force is being broadcast in post after post on social media for all to see.

 

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Second Amendment Deja Vu

Back in 2012 I wrote a long piece explaining in detail my beliefs about the issue of guns and gun control, going so far as to propose a set of federal rules I think would do no violence to the Constitution and yet make a public show of trying to do something to address gun violence and mass shootings.  Of course it was long and required the heretical act of actually READING so it had very few hit despite my posting it on FB for the purpose of addressing posts aimed at me, a known supporter of the 2nd Amendment.

Last week, however, the craziness that happened in Las Vegas brought the usual reflexive responses showing little evidence of reflective thought.  I’d like to simply ignore those simple minds grasping desperately for a simplistic answer since their mind set has ossified into its current position and there is nothing but frustration to be gained by trying to have something bearing at least a casual resemblance to a discussion of the issues with them.

I see two issues existing, at least at this early stage in the investigation, to address.  One is specific to this crime: the shooter’s motives.  The other is a general review as to what, if anything, can be done to address this increasing violence.  Let’s start with the easy one: motivation.

I do not think this guy was insane.  This was far too carefully planned and over a long period of time.  There was, I believe, a method underlying the apparent madness; a purpose and an objective.  So far at least, I see no reason to connect him to organizations like ISIS or Al Qeada, but I believe, nevertheless, that this act was a desperate action to achieve attention for some purpose.  Whether it was logical or rationale is another issue, but to ferret out the motive I think we need to start looking at the results and responses, some reflexive, some reflective.

This was no alt right nut.  According to the left wing politicians and media, the victims were all redneck Trump supporters, some anchors or on-camera contributors going so far as to even publicly say the victims deserved no sympathy and one even hoped it was Trump supporters who were killed.  Let’s for the moment set that disgraceful display of blind partisanship aside and stay on point… why did he do it?

If he were a far right winger he would have been knowingly killing his own folks.  Makes no sense.  So what does?  Why would you want to kill people in that specific crowd. With all the preparations he knew precisely what the demographics of the crowd were.  Perhaps the CNN pundits with the above attitudes inadvertently told us the answer…

If that shooter, for example, believed that the attendees to that concert were, as one MSNBC idiot put it, “…all probably Trumptards” and because of their assumed beliefs were dangerous, why would it not be OK to mow them down for the sake of the country following that ideologically sound logic?

Perhaps it truly is a work of insanity, a person wanting to hold a record, even an evil one, to give some surrogate immortality to his name.  He can join the ranks of Genghis Khan, Attila, Vlad, Hitler, etc to go down in history even if on a list of dark deeds.

But at the moment, I am highly skeptical of that theory and see a dark, well conceived purpose but one as yet not made public at least by main stream news.  It makes no sense that for this level of killing he left no note, no manifesto to explain and rationalize his well thought out plans.  Or… maybe he did but it is not one that is comfortable to the mainstream and they have quashed it.  It will be interesting to see what his girlfriend says, or at least what is reported about what she says.

Now for action on gun laws.  Personally I do think focusing on gun laws is more of a distraction to show the “Choir” the purity of one’s heart than any real effort at finding solutions.  There are “feel good” additions to bans already in place one could do but not one of them would have stopped a massacre of some sort in LV.

By the way, let me be clear: I have no problems with a full auto ban and since that ban is not about a mechanism but about a result, I have no problem banning any device that can simulate full auto fire.  There is no competitive or sporting use of a full auto capability to justify its use.

At this point please read or re-read my post from 2012 on The Second Amendment.  You can simply type “amendment” in the search box in the right hand column to see it.  Then you can come back here and we’ll go from there.

There are, as pertains to gun laws, a few steps we might take that would cut down the instances of sheer evil intent: identifying and profiling unusual arsenal builders, for example, background checks to include psyche issues which can be defined as exclusions.  But sheer lunacy is not all that controllable until we make up our minds to contain it.   Shoving people with serious issues out onto the street is madness.  But this shooter was no homeless wretch; he was a millionaire.  So that doesn’t fit neatly into the narrative.

The Supreme Court has ruled that NO right is absolute.  The old law school cliché that “I have an absolute right to swing my arms but that right stops at the end of our nose” is reasonable and logical.  No matter the underlying “right” or freedom, it does not bestow on me the additional right to harm someone else or take aware their rights.  But that really creates some unintended consequences for an increasingly thin-skinned populace.

For example, how are we to modernly define “Harm?”  Physical injury is obvious, but where, in terms of rights maintenance, are the limits.  Does being offended constitute a “harm” under that view?  Does being frightened constitute a harm?  Apparently for many it actually does (and that, to me, is truly frightening…)

I’m OK with banning full auto guns but not in favor of banning guns because they are scary looking.  Threatening me with one, coercing me to do something with one is certainly a harm.  But a lawfully acquired and carefully, legally used gun that just looks like an assault rifle is no more dangerous that a plastic kids toy that looks like an assault rifle.  It is not the looks that make it dangerous.

A real “Assault Rifle” is, by definition, one that is capable of sustained full automatic fire.  A rifle that is semi-automatic that looks like the assault rifle is NOT an assault rifle.  A civilian AR-15 is NOT a military M-16 Assault Rifle.  And as I said a few paragraphs above, any additional modifications or devices that allows it to simulate the real Assault Rifle need to be banned… not the core piece.

In law there are crimes and then “Aggravated” crimes performed with a deadly weapon.  Anyone using a deadly weapon in the commission of a crime should be hammered right into the ground because the resulting reflexive fear is pervasive enough, whether grounded in any reality or not, that it threatens my right to own one peacefully.

But we have a larger issue:  do words really now do harm?  Are we so fragile a people that now words as well as sticks and stones can harm us?  Really?

When I was a kid it as axiomatic that the old “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” was a priori truth. But now we contend that words can hurt and be harmful.  Oh man, do you not understand that opens up an immense logical can of worms.  If words can truly harm me then why cannot I not defend myself from that harm just as I would if the threat were from a weapon with more tangible existence?

I contend and believe strongly that it is not a gun problem we have, but an ethics and morals problem, facilitated and perpetuated by the idea that behavior and choices should have no consequences.  And if one sub-authority can rebuke a higher authority and ignore their laws, then what should compel us to do any different?

To make matters worse, the entertainment world has glorified those stepping outside the law for their own sense of vengeance starting with “Death Wish” and continuing with anti-heroes such as “The Punisher” series.  Being judge, jury, and executioner is seen as a justifiable act by them.

Well, maybe it is justifiable to deal with a personal issue such as an attack on one’s family and loved ones — I would be hard pressed to be constrained had someone killed a loved one of mine.   But the moment it goes outside that tight world, or beyond normal “Self-defense” laws, the actor becomes the aggressor and needs to be shown as such and treated as such.

But when we allow municipalities to ignore laws of higher levels of authority because they do not like them, what precedent does that set for the rest of us?  Does that mean we can ignore laws we do not like?  Why not?  How dare a state tell me I must obey THEIR laws when they are clear they do not need to obey Federal laws they do not like?

We are in dangerous water here.  What we need is careful well thought out responses not just the frightened, knee-jerk ones.  Comparisons with other countries is, as always, simple but irrelevant.  Solutions intended to last and be accepted need to come from the core values of the culture itself.

But what if we are in the transition period of throwing away those core values?  What then?
 

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Consensus and the Myth of Scientific Certainty

This is an edited “repost” of a Facebook entry in which I waded off into the deep water when one time too many I was told that any opposition to scientific consensus was too stupid to be taken seriously.  It came after I questioned a Facebook meme using a quote from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, someone I like a lot but this time it pushed me over an edge.

Let me start by making it clear: I like Neil DeGRasse Tyson a lot. He is a brilliant presenter and top rate speaker and, I assume, a first-class scientist in his own field. (Yes, I confess I much preferred Carl Sagan’s original version of “Cosmos” but still I did enjoy the Tyson remake.)  But I am tired of seeing meme after meme using his picture or quotes to back up some claim or other about science, especially when it carries the implication of him asserting something he would certainly know better than to affirm.

Appealing presenter of palatable science that he is, his presentation was not entirely free of somewhat grievous error, especially when he steps outside his actual discipline.  Sometimes he allows the narrative to stray into other disciplines and in one case it strayed into mine.  And into a topic in which I knew him to be in error.  Like Ptolemaeus, the brilliant mathematician and astronomer of ancient Alexandria who went on to essentially codify what we now refer to as Astrology, he can be brilliant and still be dead wrong.  In Episode 4 of Tyson’s remake of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” there appears a fascinating assertion: that William Herschel, one of the great scientists of his day, invented photography.

I’ll just let that sink in for all you photographers… especially those of you who are familiar with photo history and that can spell “Niepce” and therefore know better.  Herschel did, it is true, some tinkering and important improvements in the development of the photo image, notably in the chemistry of “fixing” the image; and he was the subject of a delightful portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron — but he was certainly not its inventor,

But the real issue here is the pretense of the validity of consensus in the scientific world. If anyone on the planet should know that scientific consensus has nearly zero value as an indicator of final scientific truth, it should be Tyson — or anyone mildly conversant with scientific inquiry and history or even, for that matter, just familiar with such names as Eratosthenes, Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Brahe, Huygens, Darwin,  Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, Bohr, Schroedinger, Planck,  Hawking — all of whom are rightly famous for major advancements in science achieved by crushing the existing consensus over some bit of commonly accepted scientific ‘truth’ that was the consensus of the day.

If Columbus had accepted Eratosthenes’s calculation as to the earth’s circumference instead of the consensus thinking of his day, he would have known that when he made landfall in the Americas, he was not nearly far enough from his point of origin to be where he claimed he was.   Had he known and claimed the truth that he was setting foot on land unknown to the Europeans, he would have been acclaimed an incredible hero instead of earning his latter reputation as the leader in the greatest navigational blunder in the history of seafaring.

If ever a red flag should be waved fiercely in front of your mind it is when someone tries to convince you of a position because there is a consensus of any group, even scientists, who accept it.  In no field is truth revealed by popular vote or majority rule; and science is, historically, no exception.

Science is not advanced by consensus but by verifiable, repeatable experiments to prove hypotheses following out-of-the-box concepts that take current thinking from an existing plateau to a new level.  It is about quantifiable provable data and not about acceptance or rejection by people with a vested, often career-saving interest in a particular interpretation or preconceived outcome… much less by people with an ideological axe to grind.  Contrary to real scientific traditions and processes, there are, today, certain propositions to which if you do not openly and publicly swear acceptance and allegiance you will not be admitted into the halls of academia because they fit the political narratives and agendae of the current “choir.”.  That is not science; and acquiescence and acceptance of it is not science but rather, in my mind, a betrayal of the scientific traditions.

The problem is that science — good science — exists outside the world of human wishes, beliefs, hopes, fears, and other emotional reactions to phenomena.  Were it not for people refusing to accept an existing consensus we would still be believers in a flat earth and a heliocentric model of the universe, viruses would not exist much less effect health, dinosaur bones would be hoaxes placed by a capricious deity to confuse our minds and tempt us to stray from the proper path, and we would still have no idea about how such common things as “light” actually work and impact our lives.

We are all free to believe or not believe whatever suits us.  Huxley wrote that, “…we tend to believe what we tend to prefer.”  Until it directly effects me I am divinely indifferent to your personal beliefs about most anything.  But if you wish to persuade me of a proposition of ANY sort, especially if it appears to defy common observation or logic, then you need lead your “proofs” with more than simply an assertion of some group’s consensus, even scientist’s groups.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof or verification.  Collective or “group-think” may be extraordinarily (and increasingly) prevalent as a shield from the horrors of intellectual initiative; but it is not extraordinarily likely to be accurate.

The positions or theories about whose truth or accuracy you seek to convince me may or may not actually be accurate, but that status is not a function of any collective believing it to be true.

You could, of course, argue, that I am not a scientist so what do I know about it.  Well, I can read (a dying art these days, I admit).   But still it is a valid counter so I ran this by my friend, Dr. Jeffery Forrest, who teaches earth sciences (among other things) and this was his response.

“There is no “truth” in science. There is only a set of conclusions or premises bases on a plethora of STATED assumptions, delimitations, and limitations – these conclusions are accepted or rejected based on a shared reality of the state-of-being of some construct or system.

“As you have detailed, science reveals clues about the state of some matter (physical or otherwise) that is not absolute – ergo, the infamous disclaimer, “all other factors held constant.”   

“Humanity is a highly insecure animal. Its individuals look to science or faith for the illusive state of Truth – something to sleep well with. It’s a real shocker for most to be confronted with the realism that credible scientists are in the business of describing uncertainty and in doing so perhaps reveal new knowledge (discovery), and that advocates of security through faith, require courage to have that faith despite the uncertainty.”

I rest my case…


 

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Was Keenes Right in a Quote Liberals Ignore?

Former Reagan Administration White House Budget Director David Stockman. who wrote a book titled “Trumped” predicting a Trump victory in 2016, said in a recent interview as reported by retired economist Charles Hayek (not to be confused with the world famous famous economist Frederich Hayek, the patron saint of Milton Friedman) responding to questions about Trump’s programs for spending money on military, etc.and assertions that under his amazing leadership the economy would soon really rebound,

“I don’t think there is a snowball’s chance in the hot place that’s going to happen. This is delusional. This is the greatest suckers’ rally of all time. It is based on pure hopium and not any analysis at all as what it will take to push through a big tax cut. Donald Trump is in a trap. The debt now is $20 trillion. It’s 106% of GDP…Trump is inheriting a built-in deficit of $10 trillion over the next decade under current policies that are built in. Yet, he wants more defense spending, not less. He wants drastic sweeping tax cuts for corporations and individuals. He wants to spend more money on border security and law enforcement. He’s going to do more for the veterans. He wants this big trillion dollar infrastructure program. You put all that together and it’s madness. It doesn’t even begin to add up, and it won’t happen when you are struggling with the $10 trillion of debt that’s coming down the pike and the $20 trillion that’s already on the books… 

“I think what people are missing is this date, March 15th2017. That’s the day that this debt ceiling holiday that Obama and Boehner put together right before the last election in October of 2015. That holiday expires. The debt ceiling will freeze in at $20 trillion. It will then be law. It will be a hard stop. The Treasury will have roughly $200 billion in cash. We are burning cash at a $75 billion a month rate. By summer, they will be out of cash. Then we will be in the mother of all debt ceiling crises. Everything will grind to a halt. I think we will have a government shutdown. There will not be Obama Care repeal and replace. There will be no tax cut. There will be no infrastructure stimulus. There will be just one giant fiscal bloodbath over a debt ceiling that has to be increased and no one wants to vote for.”

He also noted,

“The S&P 500 has been trading at 26 times earnings while earnings have been dropping for the past six or seven quarters. There is no booming recovery coming. There is going to be a recession and there will be no stimulus baton to bail it out. That is the new fact that neither Trump nor the Wall Street gamblers remotely understand.”

If that is an accurate assessment, then Trump’s plans are simply unattainable.  His base seem to think that he can, by the strength of his claimed unique expertise, turn the U.S. economy around because he says he can and because so much of this country desperately needs him to pull it off.  But if we hit that new debt ceiling quickly and become 20 trillion dollars in debt, all the while we, as we are currently,  adding about a trillion dollars a year to that total, I don’t see any possible way that Trump can cut taxes, increase military spending, build a border wall, spend much more on veterans much less spend an extra trillion dollars on rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.  We already are technically bankrupt as a nation (more debt than we have revenue via production to cover).  So it is possible that in a VERY short period of time, Trump (and the rest of the country) will get a very hard economic slap in the face.

Before you think of this as an anti-Trump rant, let me be clear: I don’t think it would have been any different under Clinton; the end date of that “debt ceiling holiday” was already set into law by Obama and she would simply have wanted to spend as much as Trump just on different programs.  He will, of course, be blamed for it since it will happen on his ‘watch’ regardless of when it was set in motion.  I don’t think he or Clinton could have stopped it without Draconian measures that would loose their respective basses as their pet causes were gutted. His ego and her conviction we can spend our way out of debt would have precluded either from tackling the problem appropriately.

And there is too much pain to go around for the weak willed and desperate-to-keep-their-cushy-jobs congress to even propose such austere measures as would be needed. And the people as a whole, in direct contradiction to JFK’s admonition, simply want to know how the government can better take care of themselves and relieve them of all consequences for their personal choices and behaviors.

So it will be interesting to see if Stockman’s prediction comes to pass as predicted and it is not like we will have to wait very long to test them.  Unfortunately he did not also say what would be the outward effects on us all if he was right, just that Trump’s plans would be made unattainable.  But their unattainability is due, in his view, to the government essentially running out of cash.

From a practical standpoint I’m not exactly sure what that means since we already know there is not enough currency in circulation to cover the debt already (the Federal Reserve says we have about $1.5 trillion in circulation).so where does the rest of the $18.5 Trillion come from to retire the debt were it called in? Can we continue forever addicted and euphotic from overdoses of what he calls “Hopium?” Much of the debt is intergovernmental to agencies such as Social Security and held in the form of Treasury Bonds.  If that failed then they would have to shut down.  THe current administration would, of course, be blamed for “shutting down the government” but the policies and situation that came to that was set in motion well before they had any say in it.

Over $6 Trillion of the debt is foreign held.  Some pundits assert that China would never simply call in its $1.1 Trillion debt because it would basically kill the dollar on the world market which would hurt everyone including themselves.  But if they had sufficiently divested themselves of dollar holdings to allow their own currency and gold to sustain them trough a rocky period, and the world reserve currency was now also held in Chinese currency, (which, thanks to the IMF it now is a part of their Special Drawing Rights currencies mix), and the result was to essentially destroy the U.S. economy and with it our ability to wage even a defensive war to stop their expansion into other areas (think about the economic ruin of the Soviet Union and its effect on them), I am personally not so sure of their benevolence on our behalf.

Whether anything happens on Match 15th or not, I think this could be a VERY interesting year… and, for us, not an altogether positive one.  And it has nothing to do with Trump or Clinton as it has been set in place and grown over a long period of time.  THe economic patron saint of liberals, Charles Maynard Keene, in a quote liberals ignore, wrote that the easiest way to destroy a country was to debauch the currency.  We have done that with reckless abandon and I think we shall soon see whether or not he was right.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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