Current Invective: A Crank's Chronology



Hartford, Connecticut * Gadfly Bites from Stephen Fournier * steve at stepfour dot see oh em

Pandemic Predictions

March 28, 2020

Youth may have noticed that the pandemic gives them an unprecedented opportunity to change the course of history and possibly ensure humanity's survival for another several generations. Nobody is saying so, but many young people must be thinking that there's an element of divine retribution in this epidemic. Here's a highly contagious disease that can kill older, less healthy people but is like a bad cold for others. Some might look at it as a culling of the herd by the elimination of individuals who have passed their expiration date. Not only that, but the vulnerable population is an age group that might justifiably be regarded as having squandered its kids' legacy.

You might have heard about the greatest generation, my parents' age group, who won a war. My age group, who made war incessantly and won not a single one, might be reckoned the worst generation. As my age-mates and I come up on 75, we can't be feeling good about leaving the world a better place than we found it. As a people, we've done almost nothing right. If retribution were ever deserved, we deserve it. And, if the epidemiologists' predictions hold, some of us are going to get it.

Among Greta Thunberg's contemporaries, this must look a lot like justice. Sellouts reaping what we sowed. It's win-win for the survivors. Less consumption and shorter lines, plus, with the interruptions to commerce, a reduction in polluting emissions and the potential for a comprehensive shift of political power from the formerly rich to the furious masses.

It's pretty obvious how this can work to the advantage of young people. "Social distancing" instructions notwithstanding, they may think it in their interest, individually and as an age-group, to contract the virus, recover from it, and resume their usual activities. Young, healthy people might choose to heed warnings from media and government--thoroughly discredited institutions among critical thinkers--but there's simply no reason to believe they'll comply for very long. We can hope they'll keep a respectable distance from vulnerables.

In the first place, youth are about to get screwed if they shelter in place. The latest sellout--huge government subsidies to mitigate the failure of private enterprise--is going on their tab. It's a tactic that's been tried unsuccessfully in other countries, but our people don't seem to be heeding the lessons debtors in those countries are now learning. If the pandemic kills off the eldest of the middle class in the midst of this desperate spending spree, is that really such a bad thing? Government officials, who show no disposition to initiate mass testing that could prevent many deaths among the old and infirm,seem to be ambivalent about and maybe even in favor of the "haircut" we're about to get.

Now add a Biden-Trump election to this mess. The elders are about to give youth a choice between two bullying narcissists, both of whom are pledged to keep Americans consuming, wasting, and polluting at current levels. They're also both notorious sexual predators who deserve to be punched in the nose by at least one brother, father or husband. The age group least likely to be inconvenienced by the epidemic will be deprived by the epidemic of any democratic means of preventing the installation of either of these lechers. Young, infected individuals may be the only people in America able to take to the streets safely to protest.

We Americans like to see our enemies eliminated. Democrats and Republicans alike giggled when Saddam Hussein swung and Qadaffi bled out and Bin Laden got dropped in the ocean. We seventy-somethings have, in the aggregate, done more injury to our kids and grandkids than that trio of Arab despots could ever hope to inflict on us. Will our survivors--who don't talk about this but who are enraged--will they grieve long for us? We can only hope that on Grave Defilement Day some years from now, somebody will say, "Don't pee on Grandpa. He tried."

Rock Bottom

March 16, 2020

Any reprobate will tell you that prospects for rehabilitation, recovery and redemption improve markedly when rock-bottom is reached. Your average substance-abuser has to go through delirium tremens, withdrawal, blackouts, and overdose before he's ready to kick whatever is holding him and amend his life. His dissipation is a process of self-destruction, reversible only when destruction is imminent.

The USA has been pursuing such a process over the last 40 years or so, dumbing its people down, degrading standards of every kind, indulging in endless, aggressive state violence, concentrating capital and power in a coven of rapacious predators, strutting the world stage in camouflage fatigues, and otherwise abusing its privileged status. Our economy--which is fueled by debt and controlled by bankers and their greediest debtors (who are also our creditors, loaning us money they borrow from us at zero interest)--had been waiting for a precipitant to fail catastrophically. The epidemic, coupled with irresponsible public policy, brought about the collapse we're witnessing today.

With the election and official vindication of Donald Trump, it looked a lot like we'd hit rock-bottom, but we don't seem to be there yet. First, we have an election to get through. Conditions recorded so far suggest this set of events will oblige us to plunge further. That's unfortunate, because rehabilitation is imperative, and we're working to a deadline now. We don't know exactly when our time expires, but we know untoward events are a certainty if we stay on the current course. The election, no matter how it turns out, is almost certain to commit us to four more years on the current course.

Forget about Sanders, whose capitulation is all but complete. It appears that Democrats tolerated him because they thought he might deliver votes from the left of the political spectrum. That's not going to happen, but Crats probably don't need this crowd now, considering the damage Trump has sustained. As for Sanders, he obviously doesn't want to win the election. With the failure of the economy, there's no way he can accomplish any of what he's promised. Imagine having to police the debris of this disaster. It would probably kill the old geezer within a year.

And that's without sabotage. And sabotage is a certainty if the left ever gains power. Rich people hold us all hostage, in case anybody hasn't figured that out yet. In 2007 they threatened to destroy the economy if we didn't make up their losses--about 10 percent--so we complied, and they're richer and more powerful now than they ever were. This time, with the assent of Trump and his accomplices in the media and in both political parties, they didn't even have to ask. The Federal Reserve pumped a few millions of millions of dollars into their grasping paws to gamble with. They lost. Our stake.

Biden's a long shot, of course, but his party's OK with that. Trump is a gold-mine for people who make their living in Democratic politics, and news-mongers feature him above all other subjects as the backdrop for the food, drug and cosmetic ads that pay their salaries. There may never have been a national leader as ugly as this guy, making him a very hot commodity. He's good for the press and great for the losers that oppose him politically. If he goes, it's going to cost them.

It may be that the pandemic and its aftermath will mark the end of Trump, but if it's possible for a Democrat to lose the election, Biden's the guy to do it. Not only is he mentally deficient, he's a Republican. He loves war, lives off rich people, cheats and lies as a matter of course, and has opposed every social justice initiative that's come before him. You might as well put McConnell in a rumpled suit and call him Ralph Nader as pretend this jerk is capable of governing responsibly.

But don't despair, because it's not all bad news. Keep in mind that Trump--a reactionary--could be the principal catalyst for radical change. Does anybody doubt that we have him to thank for the surge of the left? The strength of the erstwhile Sanders movement is directly attributable to the misconduct of the ruling class, which Trump personifies. Is it likely that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her squad would be in Congress if the Clintons held the White House now? Because of Trump and his acolytes and sponsors, lefties have managed to put a scare in the rich, who understand that it's going to cost them money if we ever gain political power. We're probably not ever going to prevail in a big election--we almost never win--and Sanders is certainly not up to the role we've cast him in, but the existence of the movement gives some faint hope of recovery. Four more years of decline could fuel a serious rebellion.

It would be nice if there were a way to prepare for what's coming. Maybe corona will chart a course for us. If it infects six out of every ten of us, and if it kills three out of every hundred infected people, and if the dead are mostly in my age group, and if commerce is seriously curtailed for six months or longer, Americans could be looking at a culling, not only of the population, but also of major sources of profligate consumption and waste. But that's the good news.

Stranded and Abandoned in Taji

March 14, 2020

You probably aren't acquainted with anybody who has a close relative stranded in Iraq, surrounded by a hostile local population. Only about one in a thousand of us is currently serving in uniform, and the Iraq outpost accounts for a tiny fraction of the soldiers, sailors and flyers reporting for duty here and abroad. It's unlikely that anybody reading this is plagued by worry over the young Americans stationed there and exposed to the rockets' red glare on all sides. If the recruits serving in Iraq feel abandoned, we've given them good reason, as their families will attest.

The biggest problem for both soldiers and their families is the quality of leadership. How would you feel if your life depended on the decisions of a commander-in-chief like Donald Trump or anybody he might name to command you? If your daughter was braving bombs and bullets to "protect" Iraqi oil fields miles away? If the only news you ever got about your boy's war came from his letters home? If nobody around you seemed to care about the danger and bloodshed in your kids' lives or even to be aware that atrocities were happening all around them?

If there's any mention at all in your local paper of the latest rocket attack, it's not on the front page, and it tells you almost nothing about the mission and the people performing it. It's a very rare occasion when NPR lets us hear from a soldier below the rank of general, and such reports never tell us what the soldier thinks we ought to know. You may notice how careful the reporter is to thank the veteran for his service; don't mistake this for respect or concern. NPR reporters and their commercial colleagues routinely report what they're fed by government officials, even when they know they're being lied to. Their corrections and apologies are few and far between.

News-mongers never acknowledge how demoralizing their own neglect of duty is to GI's, their families and older veterans. Conscripts of past armies experience self-destructive rage out of frustration with the poor quality of reports from war zones. Most reporters don't even seem to know where their soldiers are engaged, much less how and why. There is almost no veteran alive today who didn't experience feelings of abandonment by the civilian world and outrage at their ignorance of the facts of war. We get those feelings again vicariously when new generations of soldiers and their families have to tolerate such malfeasance.

Emergency!

March 3, 2020

Emergency measures have been put into effect to deal with the outbreak of a new, contagious, potentially lethal respiratory illness. To manage the crisis, the Federal Reserve just voted to lower its interest rate by half a percent. It's not going to cure or immunize anybody or protect anybody from infection, but it should cushion any consequences to financial markets, and it could keep Wall Street from crashing.

Business people are already experiencing disruptions to economic activity caused by widespread illness and voluntary quarantines among the uninfected. There's less travel, less regular attendance at work and school, less socializing, less recreation, less everything. NPR describes the resulting ten percent contraction in share prices as "devastating," and so we probably shouldn't be surprised to see markets in panic mode. Never mind that stock indexes are still 150% of what than they were five years ago.

Rich people don't tolerate interruptions when it comes to the appreciation of assets. When they mob the Federal Reserve, vault doors swing open. You and I can't borrow, but people with money can, and they use the leverage to increase their holdings. When their money-mill fails to function properly, as can happen when there's a worldwide epidemic, they demand aid, and we always comply. It's not the death toll of the epidemic that's supposed to worry us so much as the effect on the value of rich people's portfolios.

We can suspect that the "donor class," as they like to call themselves, is actually worried about a much bigger problem than the modest losses they've suffered so far. Our government, our people, our businesses, our institutions are currently burdened with debts of unprecedented, astronomical proportions. Some scholars suggest that the U. S. economy is as fragile as a house of cards, and this epidemic could bring about a collapse. Our leaders tell us there's nothing to worry about, but history is punctuated with collapses, and the panic now gradually overspreading Wall Street tends to confirm the lessons of the past.

Federal public health authorities, unlike the Federal Reserve, seem to be quiescent, even as they concede that many of us are going to get sick, and some of us are going to die. If this is a public health emergency for the USA, you wouldn't know it to listen to our leaders. Some people are going to perish, yes, but there's nothing we can do about that. Free universal health care might have been helpful, but we don't have that, and so we'll just have to make the best of our indisposition. Thoughts and prayers will go out to the grieving masses in abundance, even as the rich are rescued from the dire commercial consequences of mass infection.

Good thing, too, because, if they're harmed, they're just going to take it out on us.

Dems Quake Before Pitchfork-wielding Radicals

February 15, 2020

Red-baiting Democrats are attacking me when they ambush Bernie Sanders. I'm not sure even now if I'll be able to vote Democrat if he's the nominee, but it's a sure thing I won't be casting a vote for that party if he isn't. And don't wait for me to apologize for demanding social justice and castigating uncooperative Democrats.

The Republican party, I concede, is a collection of human rubbish, but sellout Democrats--the Red-baiting crowd--are just unctuous Republicans. When it comes to war, predatory commerce, and self-dealing, there's not much to distinguish leaders of the two parties. In the eyes of many of us, McConnell and Schumer represent competing crime families, and even Bernie's going to have to maintain some distance between himself and them to gain our support. Democrats seem to think they can win without us. Hope springs eternal.

I like the image of what they call moderate Democrats shaking with fear at the prospect of people like me--free-health care/free tuition fanatics--forcing our will on people like them, the contented and comfortable. You might think I want to confiscate private property, or something, which I do. It wouldn't be their property, but it might be the property of the people who pay them, and we don't want to make that crowd mad, do we?

In 2020, I won't be voting for any candidate who won't make them mad. I'm not looking for somebody to unite my cause with that of bankers, polluters, pitchmen and heirs and heiresses; they're my enemies, and I demand a leader who can begin the process of dismantling their empires.

Your average billionaire controls more lives today than any monarch of the middle ages ever did. What would you do with a billion dollars? You couldn't spend it. Even if you spent a hundred thousand a day, it would take you a couple of decades to exhaust your supply. What you would do is control other people. You could buy a thousand liquor stores and a manufacturing plant in the Far East and a plot of farmland in Wisconsin, and your decisions would affect all the people working in your stores and plants and fields and all the people in the towns they live in, and, for all intents and purposes, you would own those people.

Your average billionaire added substantially to his wealth last year. And the year before. And the year before that. This doesn't surprise us, because we take it for granted that billionaires will use their money to make more. They don't even have to take any risks. They can borrow money for almost nothing, and then loan it out, often to governments, at usurious rates. Rich people own Greece now because of some bad debts that nation's government took out to enrich private parties. We probably shouldn't expect billionaires to use their money to make life better for the people whose wages they pay and whose land, water and air they pollute.

Your average billionaire is a billionaire because he's not the sort of person to sacrifice profit to eleemosynary pursuits. He must use his money to make more. It's a rule of thumb, and it implies that many of us--maybe all--are ruled by the decisions of billionaires in the pursuit of personal profit. That doesn't sound like public policy in the public interest, because it isn't.

Bernard Sanders pledges to confront the force of the rich and somehow initiate government in the public interest, and millions have lined up behind him. We don't know if he can succeed, but he's the only one promising to try this. The other Democrats, along with NPR and the commercial media, have capitulated to the people who fund them.

If they're frightened, good.

Iowa Debris

February 6, 2020

Contrary to the neojournalistic consensus, the digital recording of 250,000 votes from a few thousand voting districts is not complicated or difficult. A trained tenth-grader could, in short order, devise and test a program to record and report Iowa caucus data reliably and promptly. The delay in reporting the numbers is not the result of technological failure but rather of deliberate sabotage, probably baked into the processing application to deal with a Sanders plurality. Early sampling predicting a Sanders win could trigger the data entry interface to shut down and disable the emergency phone reporting utility. It's the simplest and most plausible explanation for Monday's "debacle," to use the misleading metaphor of journalese, the universal language of our esteemed and unanimous free press.

There's irony in the Iowa scam. Just as Crats were wrapping up their case of election tampering against the Pubs and their president, they got caught rigging an election themselves. The embedded mass media are treating the discredited caucus as an episode of "botching," but voters must know better by now than to trust that corrupt institution, which routinely dispenses gossip, government disinformation and paid promotions as news. People who cast a vote in Iowa on Monday, not to mention those across the country who threw a few bucks into Sanders' campaign treasury, are smelling the same stink that arose from the Crats' nominating process four years ago. This was not error or malfunction or glitch, but crime, and it wasn't Putin who did it.

If you wanted to lose another election, you couldn't do better than the Clinton/Schumer/Pelosi party has done. Bring out a team of lightweights to prosecute the incumbent over misconduct that looks like routine political manipulation to most Americans. Don't go after him for war crimes or self-enrichment, and don't pick your best lawyers to make the case. To ensure failure, populate your prosecution team with a couple of members who refused, the last time they had the chance, to hold a president of their own party accountable for documented abuses of power. Top it all off by hiring a Clinton/Schumer/Pelosi company to count votes in Iowa in February, so that you can nominate your weakest candidate to run against the Antichrist in November.

If I were advising Sanders, I'd suggest that he put some distance between himself and the party of Pelosi. He has enough volunteers and money to launch an independent campaign, and he'll be taking a huge risk if he doesn't do that. Democrats are tainted, and most people seem to be finding it difficult to decide who's worse, Trump or his neighbor Schumer. On issues of war and peace, social justice, and maldistribution of wealth, Crats and Pubs are on the same side, and it ain't close to where the Sanders crowd stands. Sanders' association with this political party will cause some of that crowd--critics of both political parties--to peel off, and that will be the end of Sanders.

As I wrote four years ago, "his offer has been to lead a revolution, a task that he and only he is qualified to undertake. With the possible exception of George Washington, no other person has ever risen to power in the USA along the path he's followed, strictly on strength of character . . . He has been selling social justice throughout his adult life, and he has built a political movement around an agenda that, 60 years ago, could have landed him in prison as a Communist. Courage of conviction doesn't often get a candidate elected, but he's used it to win elections against Republicans and Democrats combined, the only senator who can claim that distinction. He has stood alone, on principle, time and time again. Struggling against the political tide is widely considered a disqualification for high office, but Sanders has somehow managed to overcome conventional wisdom. Nobody has won tougher elections than Sanders, and, in living memory, none has done it by dedication to social justice . . . (T)he USA is not likely to get an opportunity like this again: a principled social justice advocate who knows how to win elections steps forward to lead." Can he win election as a Democrat? Maybe not.

Walk Out

January 31, 2020

The proper move in the prosecution of Donald Trump is to organize the senate minority to refuse to attend until the trial is resumed with the admission of testimony and documentary evidence, according to law. The proceeding is incomplete, and the senate should be considered disabled to deliberate guilt or innocence and illegitimate for its abandonment of constitutional principle.

The first article of our constitution requires that a majority of the senators be present to transact business. The minority that unsuccessfully sought testimony and documents numbers nearly half the senate, and so there are enough of them to make life very difficult for that body. Judicial or cabinet appointments could be delayed. International agreements could be endangered. Bills might languish for months.

The disabling of the senate is not only justified, it is demanded by the unique circumstances of this day. The senators who voted to alter the meaning of the word "trial" by barring witnesses made themselves accessories to bribery and extortion and acknowledged themselves enemies of constitutional government. Because they hold a majority of seats in the senate, they are beyond accountability, except in the regard of their senate colleagues. By refusing to take their seats and thereby withdrawing recognition of the entire body, the minority would be taking the only measure available to bring the senate to account.

The damage to the senate by its majority may be so deep as to be irreparable, but a reversal of course could at least mitigate some liability. As things stand, that legislative body has been turned into a racketeering outfit, and the majority have organized as grievous a conspiracy of official misonduct as has ever been recorded. If they escape prosecution it will be because of a dysfunctional legal system and not because they deserve vindication.

It was unfortunate that the prosecution had to include some of the same members who, years ago, leaped to the defense of a president of their own party, when he was shown to have used the office for personal gain, in his case, to engage in clandestine sexual predation. They had to trash the constitution to vindicate that president, and their hypocrisy has come back to bite them in this proceeding.

The bigotry of the accusers didn't escape notice, either. Between references to corrupt Ukrainians and bullying Russians, the prosecutors' anti-Slavic outbursts reminded some of us of the Red-baiting Commie-hunters of yesteryear. The idea that American weapons were somehow going to intimidate Russia in its relations with Ukraine was a bit silly and weakened the case against Trump.

Even with the deficiencies in the prosecution's strategy and advocacy, the case was open-and-shut, and, if it were not for the total abrogation of the rule of law in connection with these offenses, people would be going to jail.

Trump's Defense

January 16, 2020

Trump has four days to produce an answer to the impeachment articles now pending in the Senate. The Chief Justice got sworn in, the senators took an oath of impartiality, and deadlines were set. The charges seem to be well supported by evidence, and they are serious enough to require removal from office. Trump withheld money meant for a foreign government, offering to release the funds if the country's leader would investigate the son of Joseph Biden, who wants to run against Trump.

Since nobody's likely to believe any denial Trump might make, I'm suggesting a defense along somewhat different lines: not the voice of learned defense counsel, but a first-person plea:

Did I pressure Ukraine to gain a political advantage? Yes. Was there anything wrong with that? No. It was a corrupt practice, but my willingness to engage in corrupt practice is one of the reasons I was elected. Not just me, but a succession of corrupt administrations has led this country for a generation. I would not be doing my job properly if I did not exploit every possible political advantage, as my predecessors have done, without regard to artificial rules of conduct. The people who elected me expect this of me, and I am obliged to deliver.

Corrupt practice is not punishable in our system when it's indispensable to the performance of official duties, as it is in the case of my office. It's not as if I made any secret of my predisposition to defy rules. With the grabbing pussy and the shooting on Fifth Avenue, you maybe could see where I was going. I defy authority as a sacred duty. I do it because I can. I do it for the good of the republic. You can't give me a job that requires me to trash rules and standards and then fire me for violating a rule or standard.

For instance, you hand me a government at war in half a dozen countries, and you instruct me to tell the people that we're winning, when a 20-year engagement is pretty much an acknowledgement of humiliating failure and defeat. No way to carry on that costly enterprise without some corrupt practice. Then you have the government lending money at zero interest to rich people, allowing them to bid up assets and double their money every year, while working people pay usury on their insignificant debts. Try justifying that without sharp practice.

The mass media are shocked, shocked at my aggressiveness toward my accusers. That's funny, because I have been encouraged by my sponsors in the mass media to seem capricious and dictatorial, and I have always obliged. The mass media love to hate me, but they still hang on my every word. They made me a national celebrity, and my sociopathic stage presence must be maintained to keep me in good graces with them. Everyone knows this, and the nation is strengthened by my resolve.

As for my accusers in Congress, each and every one of them will take full advantage of the occasion of my trial to curry favor with their patrons, benefactors and supporters. Much money will be donated to promote my removal and equal amounts will be spent to prevent it. If that's not corrupt practice, with a trial pending, I don't know what is.

Corruption caused the failure of the economy in 2007. People who got rich on the losses paid no price. Corrupt practice got the US into war after war. No price paid. Corrupt practice keeps millions of sick people from proper health care. And don't get me started on 9/11. The richest people among us have more power, each and every one, than any monarch in history has ever had. And you whine about what I did?

What I did was trivial political manipulation. It was expected of me and amounted to a duty of my office. You got a hell of a nerve criticizing me for doing the job you assigned me.

Licensed to Kill

January 3, 2020

Reports in the embedded mass media of "Iran-backed militias" attacking the US embassy in Baghdad gave the federal government a license to assassinate a popular Iranian general and his entourage as the party was leaving the Baghdad airport. We can only guess whether the killings would have occurred if the media had made any sort of critical examination of the "Iran-backed" characterization.

Reporters and editors might have asked, for instance, whether there is any such thing as an unarmed militia. Millions of viewers saw live video of the crowd assembled outside the embassy. Nobody was armed. There was some stone-throwing, and there were some soldiers in fatigues, but they weren't carrying weapons. What we saw was a crowd of men, mostly young, waving flags and vandalizing the building, something like the crowds of what the embedded mass media call pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong.

As for Iran's part in the protests, that nation's government denies involvement, and reporters are offering no evidence to support the US government's accusations. In view of the record of the US government for dishonesty--see recent coverage of the lies told to maintain the state of war in Afghanistan, lies systematically fed to us by our media--news-consumers are entitled to some provenance for the imprecise, even misleading charge of "Iran-backed." If there is no support for such an allegation, a responsible news editor should say so.

News-mongers aren't telling us where they got the "Iran-backed militias" phrase, but it's universal jargon among them, suggesting a common source. Also universal was the acceptance of the phrase as truthful. That would put it in the same category as Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons, imminent victory in Afghanistan, Syria's repeated poison gas attacks, Putin's influence over US elections, and Jeffrey Epstein's suicide, among other widely publicized untrue assertions.

There's been some criticism of the Baghdad assassinations, but not on legal, ethical or factual grounds. Rather, all the criticism has centered on the danger created by the killings. It's not that it was wrong or illegal or a rush to judgment to kill ten people 7,000 miles away, but rather that it will increase ill will toward the USA and make certain parts of the world inimical to Americans. From the standpoint of the people who initiated the group assassination, the media coverage guarantees that none of them will be held accountable. News-consumers, if we knew the truth, might expect to pay some price ourselves for our leaders' malfeasance, but it will be a nice surprise for us all when it comes, thanks to our cherished free press.

Memento Mori

December 31, 2019

I'm pretty sure there are people looking forward to my funeral. Not because they want me dead, but because they expect a good turnout and an interesting assembly. Affiliative, occasionally ingratiating, I've managed more than my fair share of bonding, and the bonds take in people who don't know each other but could.

The reason I mention this is that I attended a couple of memorial gatherings for some friends of mine, both a few years older than me and popular, and the events were reunion-like and a bit joyful for the fellowship. It boosted the families, and it enlivened the other survivors. many already beyond their sell-by date.

A time comes around age 70 when you start to worry that you're eating some useful person's food and consuming his toilet paper. My age group, the dead and pre-dead, is huge and gets bigger every year, as post-war babies reach 75. People my age who read the obituaries every day see friends and acquaintances all the time. There's a consciousness of mortality in the air we're so fortuitously allowed to breathe, and the elders see that the mortality is going to be impressive and could contribute to a popular mood swing. The survivors of the next decade or so are going to have to get used to grieving or find some other gainful adaptation.

My assumption has always been that a day would arrive when the survivors, fully conscious of the ruin left for them by the dead, would repudiate us all, maybe with annual or monthly observances of Grave Defilement Day, when stinking memorials of various kinds would be left to decorate the markers. Forget about grief.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Think back to the death of, say, Robin Williams. On that day, a lot of people of every conceivable description shared a feeling of sad appreciation for moments when he made them laugh. A reflection like that is always beneficial for the survivor, and when masses reflect, it's potentially unifying. We may not be aware of it, but we exploit these occasions for mass reflection when we turn up for events like the ones I attended. As you leave, you can hardly help thanking the dead guy.

The media are always telling us how divided, atomized, at odds, and in constant conflict we are as a people. Not so much when we share feelings over a death. And so I've revised my prediction. The survivors of the next decade will adapt to the death epidemic rationally and dispense with grief, not by grave defilement, but by marking the day as an occasion for fellowship and bonding, with undeserved gratitude to the dead for bringing everybody together. None of my predictions ever comes to pass, but this one may already be in progress.

Is there a lawyer in the house?

December 20, 2019

If there exists among Federal prosecutors or judicial authorities a person with a commitment to the rule of law, somebody out there will put together an indictment against Donald Trump and others on the charges detailed by the House of Representatives in its impeachment proceedings. He and some high-ranking officials in our government conspired to commit bribery and extortion, federal crimes that earn long prison sentences. They also obstructed justice by defying duly issued summonses to testify. The case against them is open-and-shut. They are subject to removal from office, but the body with the power to remove them is controlled by the miscreants' own political allies. The case screams for a prosecuting attorney or judicial intervention.

There is an impediment to Trump's prosecution, in the form of a justice department policy prohibiting the indictment of a sitting president. There is no statutory or constitutional basis for this prohibition. On the contrary, the canon that no person is above the law renders it null and void. It's never been tested in court, and there's never been a better time to challenge it. As for Trump's acolytes, they have no privilege, and yet we hear nothing from pundits, politicians or prosecutors about their criminal liability. Current events suggest that the political branches and their mouthpieces in the mass media are so disabled by their own corruption that they can't hold these thugs accountable, but that doesn't give anybody a license to walk.

Meddle of Honor

December 18, 2019

The central theme accompanying the impeachment of Donald Trump argues that there is a grave danger of "foreign interference" in our "cherished democratic institutions." This is a very weak proposition, provably untrue from several standpoints.

In the first place, our constitution welcomes foreigners to participate in debates and discussions of public policy, including our choice of leaders. Freedom of speech, we call it. Even Putin is allowed to express a preference. If he wants to, he can take out a full-page ad in the Hartford Courant promoting the candidacy of Donald Trump or Mayor Bronin or criticizing our wonderful criminal justice system. What our leaders call meddling is precisely what our constitution protects as free speech.

In the second place, our cherished democratic institutions are so totally corrupted by rich people that any influence a foreign power might wield would be of trivial effect. We live in a country in which the requirements of rich people take precedence over the public will. If they don't get richer, we don't work, we don't eat, we don't get by, and so we allow ourselves to be ruled by competing crime families, elected by tiny minorities of bought constituencies. The one variable that is most closely linked to electoral success is the number of dollars in the candidate's campaign treasury, and most of those dollars come from Americans who have money to spare.

In the third place, nearly half of the eligible electorate repudiates the electoral process and stays home while the rest of us are voting. That's a democracy in trouble, and not because of foreign meddling. You have to go back a couple of generations to find an election in which a presidential candidate's vote count exceeded the number who didn't vote. Clinton and Trump together barely matched the total of self-excused. If you really wanted to sabotage the electoral process, you would nominate cheats and liars as candidates, ensuring that most people would find nobody to vote for. That's what our two political parties do every year, and they don't need foreign influence to do it.

Finally, our elections are managed and dominated by our mass media. They decide who will run--mainly on the basis of how much is spent with them on advertising--and they generate incessant chatter predicting who will win. Protected by the bill of rights, they use their power to manipulate us. They don't simply record history. They drive the events that shape history, elections most prominently.

There's good and sufficient reason to remove Donald Trump, and we don't need to resort to the tactics of Joseph McCarthy to do it. We hear that Trump's removal will reverse the results of an election. Duh! Fact is that Trump voters knew he was a thug when they voted for him. To judge from the audiences he attracts, they support him because he's a narcissistic, greed-driven sociopath and not in spite of that fact. His impeachment was a foreseeable risk. Too bad our congressional representatives can't make a strong and coherent case for removal.

Department of Caprice

November 25, 2019

The rule of law should be understood as an anachronism, a discredited notion that formerly involved the systematic regulation of conduct. Scholars may study law as an intellectual exercise, but they can only pretend that it is now anything more than words on paper.

People who have sat for the law school aptitude test may remember items requiring the test-taker to deduce a rule from the outcome of individual cases. In fact, a rule is just that: a set of cases. Two men carry out a crime. One is sentenced to prison, and other is not. The prisoner was convicted by a jury after a trial. The free man pleaded guilty, and so the rule seems to be that people who plead guilty get lighter sentences. It's a simple exercise when you can make up your own hypothetical cases, but it doesn't work in real life.

Take the case of Donald Trump. He is charged with bribery. As a public official he offered specific benefits to another head of state--a face-to-face meeting and millions of dollars worth of weapons--if his counterpart agreed to commence a prosecution against the son of a political rival. The legal definition of bribery--seldom mentioned and almost never analyzed by news-reporters--is the offer of something of value to influence a public official in the performance of an official act. Trump's offer fits the definition, twice: since the transaction involves two public officials exchanging official acts, Trump is both the bribe-offeror and the bribe-taker. He's guilty, in other words. In fact, according to multiple witnesses, he conspired to commit bribery with the Sccretary of State and at least a half-dozen other people in and out of government. They're all guilty. One even bragged about it and suggested that people should "get over it." It's open-and-shut.

If Trump and others are clearly guilty of a conspiracy to commit bribery, how can there be any doubt whether or not to convict him and remove him from office and prosecute all the conspirators? And yet there is doubt. Not only are we expected to doubt whether Trump will be removed, but we're also denied any consideration of the culpability of others. It appears that reporters are taking it for granted that there is no rule of law.

There seems to be consensus among reporters that the Senate, which will act as jury in Trump's bribery trial, will, for political reasons, ignore the laws against bribery, disregard the evidence we have all heard, and exonerate Donald Trump. None of the conspirators will be penalized. Cops who accept a free lunch might be disciplined, but this particular bribery scheme will be excused. The bias of the jury will be flashed in our faces. News-mongers are unanimous in the view that this will be the outcome, upsetting as it may be to the law of bribery, and we news-consumers must be left to conclude that there is no rule of law. If a jury of senators can't convict Trump, can any jury convict anyone? If bribery laws are not obligatory, should anybody obey the speed limits or refrain from cheating the tax collector? Don't ask, and don't wait for newsmen to ask.

The Trump inquiry is a cavalcade of lawlessness. The inquisitors may be as corrupt as their target. We try in vain to deduce a system of rules from their words and actions. Why were some people compelled to appear, when others were excused? Next time you're served with a legal summons, try ignoring it. You'll be in trouble. Unless you're the President's personal counsel or the Secretary of State. The Trump inquiry announces to the public, worldwide, that there is no law here. Goddamn Putin!

If you try to distinguish signs of obligatory rules in the actions of your government, you will fail. Agents of government can hold you or take your property or even kill you without legal process, and the decisions they make about whom to target follow no rational standard. It's not a system of justice but a system of capricious resolution. Some rules will be binding sometimes on some people, and some will be optional sometimes for others, and justice will be done if we concede that this is justice.

2020 vision

November 10, 2019

I have a legislative agenda for the coming year. It's a list of things government--state, local, national--could do in the public interest, but can't do without upsetting the sponsors. They're items for inclusion in a fictional political platform. As far as I know, no candidate for any office advocates any of my intiatives.

We should have a law requiring retailers to itemize the cost of packaging. Toilet paper doesn't get double-wrapped in plastic without any cost to the customer, and it doesn't get wrapped that way for the convenience of the customer, either. You're paying for shrink wrap and styrofoam, and you deserve to be reminded of that. This law could be extended to cover disposable items other than packaging. How much did you pay for what you threw away when the fuel or the ink ran out? Maybe if people discover how much that plastic bottle is costing them, I'll be able someday to put coins in a dispenser and fill my own milk bottle or coffee can.

We should have a law that forbids courts from imposing "gag" rules on settlements of cases involving misconduct. It's routine today in the settlement of damage lawsuits to impose on the victim, as a condition of payment, limits on what he or she can say about the award. The point is to keep the public from knowing the extent of the damage done by offending parties. This is particularly useful for serial offenders (like sexual predators, for instance), and it guarantees that such settlements won't deter future misconduct, one of the functions of justice as we know it.

This country needs quorum democracy. I would support a law requiring voters to turn out on election day or forfeit the right to choose their representatives. In districts that failed to turn out at a specified threshold, members from districts that met the threshhold would choose their representatives for them.

Can't we slap a tax on advertising? In my state, we're taxed on every purchase, including purchases of some services, but not advertising. This is a shame because it's everywhere and it's one of the most annoying features of modern life. Most advertising is so crass as to border on vice. There has to be a considerable cash stream to tap into here. Let's start with robocalls. I'd make it possible for numbers on the so-called "do-not-call registry" to collect a fine for unwanted solicitations and let government take a piece of the fine by way of tax. A tax on TV advertising seems way overdue.

Free public ground transportation would solve a lot of problems. The subsidies required would be a tiny fraction of what we now spend on war, and the savings in fuel and environmental damage would be huge.

I would consider supporting a law allowing a defense to a charge of homicide if the person killed was above the law and exercising lethal force. Call it justifiable assassination, and add it to the list of legal justifications for taking a life. Historians tell of an event in 1944 in which a group of German army officers conspired to assassinate Hitler and almost succeeded. Many lives might have been spared if the despot had died that day. Under our laws, such an assassination would be a crime. Maybe it shouldn't be. I'd like to think there was a deterrent for people like Hitler, and this might be just the thing.

We need more laws allowing public sector industry to compete with private business. California recently adopted a law that will permit government entities to engage in banking, and several presidential candidates are talking about replacing private health insurance with government guarantees. Let's take back what's been privatized--corrections, education, public administration--and extend the movement to cover car insurance, health care, food distribution, electric utilities, and other industries, as needed.

Crusading lawyers might appreciate a law allowing courts to take property used irresponsibly into receivership. There is no logical reason why offending businesses couldn't be managed in the public interest--and even profitably--by people other than their owners. Public agencies are occasionally taken into receivership, and bankrupt parties are often forced to submit to management by creditors. This is not all that radical, and it could form the foundation for a system to facilitate and finance takeover of private business by employees, customers, neighbors and combinations thereof.

We desperately need compulsory adult education. The dumbing-down has cost us. It's given us inferior products, incompetent leadership, bad music and art, mass illiteracy and a decline in standards, across the board. I'm not sure how we get people on a path to self-improvement, but I suspect any move in that direction would be welcome in most places.

I won't be disappointed if none of these agenda items is ever given consideration. My expectations are low, and so my disappointment threshold is high.

Also, pick up a copy of my book Current Invective: A Crank's Chronology, $16 from Amazon. Two hundred sixty rants--400 pages--from 2007 to now. It's a book that can be read backwards.

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