Brain Pickings, Maria Popova

Would that the Trump’s Republican enablers had the gumption (courage, spine, balls) to read Carl Sagan’s Book, The Demon Haunted World. Why, if they were to do that they might even become anti-Trumpers themselves, and start us on the way back form Trump’s horror of a presidency. PBWaring

The Baloney Detection Kit

Carl Sagan’s rules for critical thinking offer cognitive fortification against propaganda, pseudoscience, and general falsehood.

from: Brain Pickings by Maria, Popova, January 3, 2014


Carl Sagan (November 9, 1934–December 20, 1996) was many things — a cosmic sagevoracious readerhopeless romantic, and brilliant philosopher. But above all, he endures as our era’s greatest patron saint of reason and critical thinking, a master of the vital balance between skepticism and openness. In The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (public library) — the same indispensable volume that gave us Sagan’s timeless meditation on science and spirituality, published mere months before his death in 1996 — Sagan shares his secret to upholding the rites of reason, even in the face of society’s most shameless untruths and outrageous propaganda.

In a chapter titled “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” Sagan reflects on the many types of deception to which we’re susceptible — from psychics to religious zealotry to paid product endorsements by scientists, which he held in especially low regard, noting that they “betray contempt for the intelligence of their customers” and “introduce an insidious corruption of popular attitudes about scientific objectivity.” (Cue in PBS’s Joe Hanson on how to read science news.) But rather than preaching from the ivory tower of self-righteousness, Sagan approaches the subject from the most vulnerable of places — having just lost both of his parents, he reflects on the all too human allure of promises of supernatural reunions in the afterlife, reminding us that falling for such fictions doesn’t make us stupid or bad people, but simply means that we need to equip ourselves with the right tools against them.

Through their training, scientists are equipped with what Sagan calls a “baloney detection kit” — a set of cognitive tools and techniques that fortify the mind against penetration by falsehoods:

The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. If you’re so inclined, if you don’t want to buy baloney even when it’s reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there’s a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method.

Disclaimer: Like all tools, the baloney detection kit can be misused, applied out of context, or even employed as a rote alternative to thinking. But applied judiciously, it can make all the difference in the world — not least in evaluating our own arguments before we present them to others.

But the kit, Sagan argues, isn’t merely a tool of science — rather, it contains invaluable tools of healthy skepticism that apply just as elegantly, and just as necessarily, to everyday life. By adopting the kit, we can all shield ourselves against clueless guile and deliberate manipulation. Sagan shares nine of these tools:

1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”

2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.

3. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.

4. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.

5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.

6. Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.

7. If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.

8. Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.

9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.


Just as important as learning these helpful tools, however, is unlearning and avoiding the most common pitfalls of common sense. Reminding us of where society is most vulnerable to those, Sagan writes:

In addition to teaching us what to do when evaluating a claim to knowledge, any good baloney detection kit must also teach us what not to do. It helps us recognize the most common and perilous fallacies of logic and rhetoric. Many good examples can be found in religion and politics, because their practitioners are so often obliged to justify two contradictory propositions.

He admonishes against the twenty most common and perilous ones — many rooted in our chronic discomfort with ambiguity — with examples of each in action:

  1. ad hominem — Latin for “to the man,” attacking the arguer and not the argument (e.g., The Reverend Dr. Smith is a known Biblical fundamentalist, so her objections to evolution need not be taken seriously)
  2. argument from authority (e.g., President Richard Nixon should be re-elected because he has a secret plan to end the war in Southeast Asia — but because it was secret, there was no way for the electorate to evaluate it on its merits; the argument amounted to trusting him because he was President: a mistake, as it turned out)
  3. argument from adverse consequences (e.g., A God meting out punishment and reward must exist, because if He didn’t, society would be much more lawless and dangerous — perhaps even ungovernable. Or: The defendant in a widely publicized murder trial must be found guilty; otherwise, it will be an encouragement for other men to murder their wives)
  4. appeal to ignorance — the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist — and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we’re still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
  5. special pleading, often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble (e.g., How can a merciful God condemn future generations to torment because, against orders, one woman induced one man to eat an apple? Special plead: you don’t understand the subtle Doctrine of Free Will. Or: How can there be an equally godlike Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the same Person? Special plead: You don’t understand the Divine Mystery of the Trinity. Or: How could God permit the followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — each in their own way enjoined to heroic measures of loving kindness and compassion — to have perpetrated so much cruelty for so long? Special plead: You don’t understand Free Will again. And anyway, God moves in mysterious ways.)
  6. begging the question, also called assuming the answer (e.g., We must institute the death penalty to discourage violent crime. But does the violent crime rate in fact fall when the death penalty is imposed? Or: The stock market fell yesterday because of a technical adjustment and profit-taking by investors — but is there any independent evidence for the causal role of “adjustment” and profit-taking; have we learned anything at all from this purported explanation?)
  7. observational selection, also called the enumeration of favorable circumstances, or as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it, counting the hits and forgetting the misses (e.g., A state boasts of the Presidents it has produced, but is silent on its serial killers)
  8. statistics of small numbers — a close relative of observational selection (e.g., “They say 1 out of every 5 people is Chinese. How is this possible? I know hundreds of people, and none of them is Chinese. Yours truly.” Or: “I’ve thrown three sevens in a row. Tonight I can’t lose.”)
  9. misunderstanding of the nature of statistics (e.g., President Dwight Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence);
  10. inconsistency (e.g., Prudently plan for the worst of which a potential military adversary is capable, but thriftily ignore scientific projections on environmental dangers because they’re not “proved.” Or: Attribute the declining life expectancy in the former Soviet Union to the failures of communism many years ago, but never attribute the high infant mortality rate in the United States (now highest of the major industrial nations) to the failures of capitalism. Or: Consider it reasonable for the Universe to continue to exist forever into the future, but judge absurd the possibility that it has infinite duration into the past);
  11. non sequitur — Latin for “It doesn’t follow” (e.g., Our nation will prevail because God is great. But nearly every nation pretends this to be true; the German formulation was “Gott mit uns”). Often those falling into the non sequitur fallacy have simply failed to recognize alternative possibilities;
  12. post hoc, ergo propter hoc — Latin for “It happened after, so it was caused by” (e.g., Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila: “I know of … a 26-year-old who looks 60 because she takes [contraceptive] pills.” Or: Before women got the vote, there were no nuclear weapons)
  13. meaningless question (e.g., What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? But if there is such a thing as an irresistible force there can be no immovable objects, and vice versa)
  14. excluded middle, or false dichotomy — considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities (e.g., “Sure, take his side; my husband’s perfect; I’m always wrong.” Or: “Either you love your country or you hate it.” Or: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”)
  15. short-term vs. long-term — a subset of the excluded middle, but so important I’ve pulled it out for special attention (e.g., We can’t afford programs to feed malnourished children and educate pre-school kids. We need to urgently deal with crime on the streets. Or: Why explore space or pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?);
  16. slippery slope, related to excluded middle (e.g., If we allow abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, it will be impossible to prevent the killing of a full-term infant. Or, conversely: If the state prohibits abortion even in the ninth month, it will soon be telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception);
  17. confusion of correlation and causation (e.g., A survey shows that more college graduates are homosexual than those with lesser education; therefore education makes people gay. Or: Andean earthquakes are correlated with closest approaches of the planet Uranus; therefore — despite the absence of any such correlation for the nearer, more massive planet Jupiter — the latter causes the former)
  18. straw man — caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack (e.g., Scientists suppose that living things simply fell together by chance — a formulation that willfully ignores the central Darwinian insight, that Nature ratchets up by saving what works and discarding what doesn’t. Or — this is also a short-term/long-term fallacy — environmentalists care more for snail darters and spotted owls than they do for people)
  19. suppressed evidence, or half-truths (e.g., An amazingly accurate and widely quoted “prophecy” of the assassination attempt on President Reagan is shown on television; but — an important detail — was it recorded before or after the event? Or: These government abuses demand revolution, even if you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Yes, but is this likely to be a revolution in which far more people are killed than under the previous regime? What does the experience of other revolutions suggest? Are all revolutions against oppressive regimes desirable and in the interests of the people?)
  20. weasel words (e.g., The separation of powers of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct a war without a declaration by Congress. On the other hand, Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars, which are potentially powerful tools for getting themselves re-elected. Presidents of either political party may therefore be tempted to arrange wars while waving the flag and calling the wars something else — “police actions,” “armed incursions,” “protective reaction strikes,” “pacification,” “safeguarding American interests,” and a wide variety of “operations,” such as “Operation Just Cause.” Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of reinventions of language for political purposes. Talleyrand said, “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public”)

The Demon-Haunted World is a timelessly fantastic read in its entirety, timelier than ever in a great many ways amidst our present media landscape of propaganda, pseudoscience, and various commercial motives. Complement it with Sagan on science and “God”.

a must read from jeffrey goldberg, eidtor in Chief of the Atlantic

A Nation Coming Apart

by Jeffrey Goldberg

This dispiriting moment was the backdrop, and the impetus, for The Atlantic’s new special issue, what we have called “How to Stop a Civil War.” We don’t believe that conditions in the United States today resemble those of 1850s America. But we worry that the ties that bind us are fraying at alarming speed—we are becoming contemptuous of each other in ways that are both dire and possibly irreversible.

The 45th president of the United States is uniquely unfit for office and poses a multifaceted threat to our country’s democratic institutions. Yet he might not represent the most severe challenge facing our country
, these being:

The structural failures in our democratic system that allowed a grifter into the White House in the first place—this might be our gravest challenge. Or perhaps it is the tribalization of our politics, brought about by pathological levels of inequality, technological and demographic upheaval, and the tenacious persistence of racism. Or maybe it is that we as a people no longer seem to know who we are or what our common purpose is.

Goldberg reminds us that The Atlantic was meant to be the magazine of the American idea. “In November 1857, when our first issue was published, the American idea was besieged by the forces of slavery. The Atlantic, then as now, stood for American unity, but it also stood for the idea that America is by its nature both imperfect and ultimately perfectible. The untiring pursuit of a more perfect union is at the core of the American idea.”

Philip Waring:

For me the Trumpian period in our history, from Trump’s surprising 2016 election until now, does represent the greatest threat to our democracy that I for certain, and perhaps the entire country, has ever known. What’s happening in Trumpian Washington is making more and more of us question whether our Constitution, and in particular the separation of powers, so dear to our Founding Fathers, will survive intact.

Trump is on a tear to have the raw power of the executive replace what had always been the equal and separate powers of the legislature, judiciary and executive. And so far what were meant to be checks and balances, of the ones on the others, are on life support, and their very survival is in question.

You mention impeachment. Won’t this save us? Maybe. I haven’t lost all hope, and we will see, beginning today at the opeing of the House Impeachment hearings. Doesn’t this mean that the Constitution is at work, is working. as it was meant to?

Well so far Trump’s response has been to give the Democratic members of the House, in particular Adam Shiff and Nancy Pelosi, who are leading the Impeachment effort, the finger. Trump is laughing at Nancy and Adam, and hi Trump’s followers, the tens of millions who voted for him and the tens of thousands who attend his raucous and vulgar rallies are out there laughing right along with their President. The people who attend his rallies expect to be entertained, and Trump, always the entertainer, the performer, doesn’t disappoint them.

Donald Trump himself is without the inner make-up of mind and heart that makes up our humanness. He places the well-being of Trump himself, and the Trump family, before the well being of the country itself. The country? For Trump himself the country is like the lot from which the salesman sells used cars. Trump’s only interest is to move the cars, the cars being what we thought were the essential attributes of our democracy.

And then there are his boot- licking followers always most difficult for me to understand. Where did they come from, suddenly appearing as from nowhere in the hundreds and thousands at the news of his winning the presidency. Who would have ever guessed their presence in the country, in the State governments, not to mention their majority positions in the Senate and until 2018 in the House? That will be for future historians the great question of our time, why were we not strong enough prevent his and their entry into what seems now the ownership of the country

For Jeffrey Goldberg th is a dispiriting time. As he says the ties that have always bound us are fraying (if not breaking up) and we can even imagine another Civil War when as in any war actions rather than words are the primary agenda of both sides of the dispute resulting in mutual destruction.

The untiring pursuit of a more perfect union, which according to Jeffrey Goldberg is at the core of the American idea, is no longer on anyone’s mind let alone the minds of Trump and his cronies. A more perfect union, e pluribus umum, what’s that? Instead, now the players, probably now the players on both sides, actually on the many sides of the present polarization of the country, are out to have things their own way no matter what the cost to themselves and the country.

What’s most missing in Trump’s country? Well what’s missing are all those values that for most of our history have been essential, if not fully realized, to our union and coming together. What’s most missing is perhaps the very value that Trump himself is most without, decency.

“this man terrifies me” “this man is not fit for the office of the presidency”

All In with Chris Hayes,

speaking with Charles Fried, on MSNBC, October 10, 2019

HAYES:  Now Trump generally just seems really nervous about his support buckling.  And he certainly cant be pleased with a new statement from a group of 16 esteemed conservative and libertarian lawyers who are now calling for an expeditious impeachment investigation, citing numerous facts that are undisputed they write that it has become clear to any observer of current events, the president is abusing the office of the presidency for personal, political objectives.
I`m joined now by Harvard Law Professor Charles Fried, a signatory that statement and who was solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan. Professor Fried, let me start with you.  When did you or how did you come to believe that an impeachment inquiry, or an impeachment itself, should be launched against the president?

FRIED: Well, let me back up one moment.  I was born in a vibrant democracy, Czechoslovakia, and I fled with my family because of a dictator who invaded it.  I came to this country and it took us in, and I`ve had a wonderful life here.  I love it, as do my children and my grandchildren.  And this man terrifies me.

HAYES:  Why?

FRIED:  Because of the way he thinks, what he says about himself.  He says that the constitution said, and he said this to a bunch of high school students, I can do whatever I want.  That`s what Article 2 says. Well, it doesn`t.  Any lawyer knows that.  Any lawyer except maybe Bill Barr and Mr. Cipollone. Everybody who studied the constitution, which I teach, knows that. Our fidelity is to the law and to the office, not to a man.

HAYES:  Professor Fried, you teach constitutional law.  You were solicitor general under President Reagan.  There are people who use the term “constitution crisis.”  And it`s always hard to define precisely what that means.  A law professor, Noah Feldman, wrote a piece recently I think justthe other day saying we are in one.
Do you see us as in a constitutional crisis at this moment?

FRIED:  Yes, because if the president succeeds in
stonewalling the lawful, constitutionally  provided processes of the House of Representatives, then something will have to be done.  The various officials who will not testify, because they have been told not to and they`re scared of this thug, will have to be sanctioned.  They are in contempt.  Of course he is in contempt….
I would add the second part of theMueller report, which quite dutifully would not say that the president can be indicted for obstruction of justice, because his instructions from the Justice Department said so, but he said I will not exonerate him.  That is in another place.  But of course, that`s the congress.  And Bill Barr lied about what that report said when he thought that we wern`t going to see it.

HAYES:  Professor  Fried, you`re sort of conservative legal legend, I think it`s fair to say.  I mean, you have had many students throughout the years, you are extremely highly regarded.  You have been part of American conservatism for a very long time.  What are the conversations you have with people that you would consider, you know, for lack of a better word cheekily fellow travelers about what is happening

FRIED:  They are horrified.  It is the very opposite of the great Republicans, the great Republicans like Ronald Reagan, like Dwight – can you imagine Dwight Eisenhower speaking the way this man speaks?  Or Lincoln?  Or Teddy Roosevelt?  This man is ignorant and foul-mouthed.

Andrew Sullivan writing in the Intelligencer, November 8, 2019
“This man is undermining the core legitimacy of our democracy.”

Let us count the ways in which Trump has attacked and undermined our democracy. He is the only candidate in American history who refused to say that he would abide by the results of the vote. Even after winning the 2016 election, he still claimed that “millions” of voters — undocumented aliens — perpetrated massive electoral fraud in the last election, and voted for his opponent. He has repeatedly and publicly toyed with the idea that he could violate the 22nd Amendment, and get elected for three terms, or more.

He consistently described a perfectly defensible inquiry into Russia’s role in the 2016 election as a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” demonizing Robert Mueller, even as Mueller, in the end, couldn’t find evidence to support the idea of a conspiracy with Russia (perhaps in part because Trump ordered no cooperation, and refused to testify under oath). Trump then withheld release of the full report, while his pliant attorney general distorted its content and wrongly proclaimed that Trump had been entirely exonerated.

In the current scandal over Ukraine, Trump is insisting  that he did “nothing wrong” in demanding that Ukraine announce investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden, or forfeit desperately needed military aid. If that is the president’s position — that he can constitutionally ask any other country to intervene on his behalf in a U.S. election — it represents a view of executive power that is the equivalent of a mob boss’s. It is best summed up in Trump’s own words: Article 2 of the Constitution permits him to do “anything I want.”

Abuse of Power

Sullivan also has this to say: There are valid criticisms and defenses of Trump’s policy choices, but his policies are irrelevant for an impeachment. I (Sullivan) actually support a humane crackdown on undocumented immigration, a tougher trade stance toward China, and an attempt, at least, to end America’s endless wars.
But what matters, and what makes this such a vital moment in American history, is that it has nothing to do with policy. This is simply about Trump’s abuse of power….
Trump seems to think in the Ukraine context that l’état c’est moi is the core American truth, rather than a French monarch’s claims to absolute power. He believes in the kind of executive power the Founders designed the U.S. Constitution to prevent. It therefore did not occur to Trump that blackmailing a foreign country to investigate his political opponents is a classic abuse of power, because he is incapable of viewing his own interests and the interests of the United States as in any way distinct. But it is a core premise of our liberal democracy that the powers of the presidency are merely on loan, and that using them to advance a personal interest is a definition of an abuse of power.

Grassley on Transparency

Chuck Grassley, the president pro tempore of the Senate, when asked if he had seen evidence of quid pro quo said:

“No, there’s plenty to discredit. That gets me back to the basic thing we need, transparency… How can I even answer your questions? The only person whose been transparent in this whole process is the President.”

My son’s only comment to Grassley ‘s words was: “WHAT!!!???!!!!!!!!!’
And my own comment, “Yeah!!! What??’

These people, House Republicans, and then Grassley and the other Republican Senators who ultimately are ennabling Trump to go on doing his “dirty” work, are the very people whom I find hardest to swallow. And I’m close to crying out from frustration and anger at their stupidities when I hear their comments about Impeachment, when I hear coming from them, “Quid Pro Quo? There was none!”

Then there were suddenly upon us the Republican crazies, conspiracy theorists, led by such as Matt Gaetz from Florida, Steve Scalise from Louisiana, Jim Jordan from Ohio. They had staged a break-in during the Impeachment hearing into the House chambers (October 22), apparently pushed by Trump himself. That also enough to make you cry out. We are close to being lawless, without a sherif to lead the violators out of the room. We once again need a Wyatt Earp to come in and clean up the town.

Grassley had said as he vainly tried to answer questions from the Press, that which so startled me and my son, that, “The only person who has been transparent in this whole process is the President.”

Well, I guess you might say that the president has been transparent, in fact he’s always transparent, because when you look closely enough you see there’s nothing there.

The Democrats’ Choice

Why is it so hard, almost impossible to have an open society “founded on compromise, toleration, and impersonal rules and institutions?” (George Will)

It looks like the Democrats’ choice might be Elizabeth Warren, and there are any number of anti-Trumpers, of which I’m one, who are scared, rightly or wrongly, that she doesn’t have the sand to stand up to and overpower Trump on the debate platform in 2020.

Who does? Anyone among the 21 still remaining? And that’s why the Dems are scared. It’s now all about electability. Do you remember Trump there, right behind Hillary as she was speaking? Well imagine him doing the same thing to Elizabeth or to Amy or anyone else, who among the present candidates would survive his overbearing presence? One would like to see as one of the candidates someone more like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, someone who could at least act the part of a real opponent to Trump.

And Warren’s “plans” which she hasn’t yet told us, and specifically how we would pay for them, do look socialistic, this being a favorite whipping boy for Trump, and she is probably not the best one to defend a initial step towards socialism, and certainly not the bigger steps, that together would create a much bigger Federal budget and government, in order to provide more than ever before for people’s needs, or as some say, not needs but people’s rights to health care, schooling, work and a living wage, just to name a few.of them.

Below I cite the opinion s of a few fake news reporters and pundits, ih this instance from the New York Times and the Washington Post, which if you work in a Federal office you’ll no longer see, Trump having cancelled all government subscriptions to these two publications.

First David Brooks who was probably not the first to speak of this. In this day and age everything is spoken of every day by thousands, tens of thousands, and I for one can’t and no longer even try to keep up.

If It’s Trump vs. Warren, Then What?
by David Brooks on Oct. 17, 2019

‘This is a memo for the politically homeless. It’s a memo to those of us who could never support Donald Trump but think the Bernie-Squad-Warren Democratic Party is sprinting too far left. It’s a memo built around the following question: If the general election campaign turns out to be Trump vs. Warren, what the heck are we supposed to do? The first thing we could do, of course, is pray for a miracle.”

Then we have his Times colleague, Bret Stephens, who on Oct. 25, 2019 wrote” in the Times, Elizabeth Warren Wants to Lose Your Vote, and Those with plans for everything prove only that they can’t be trusted to plan for anything.

A decade ago, it was conventional wisdom that the world would soon start running low on oil and that the United States would henceforth be at the mercy of the inexorable trend. Then the fracking revolution came about, and the U.S. resumed its long-lost place as the world’s No. 1 oil and natural gas producer.

The result: lower oil prices for American consumers, less dependence on petrodespots, a dramatic shift from coal to natural gas for electricity generation (with concomitant benefits in carbon emissions), and hundreds of thousands of working-class jobs, including tens of thousands in swing states like Colorado and Pennsylvania.  Elizabeth Warren wants to kill all this.

Then today, Tuesday, Oct 27, George Will in the Wash Post article, America’s current political moment might be so bad that it becomes good, has this to say:

Warren is a millimeter away from Trump’s ‘I alone can fix it,’ where the antecedent of the pronoun ‘it’ is: everything. ”
And Will not to be undone by anyone, cites Jonathan Rauch who says: “humans were designed for life in small, homogeneous groups where change was slow and choices were few.” Writing in National Affairs (“Rethinking Polarization”), Rauch, a Brookings Institution senior fellow, postulates a vast emptiness at the core of the politics that has engulfed us: “What if, to some significant extent, the increase in partisanship is not really about anything?” What if rival tribalisms are largely untethered from ideologies?

George Will: If he is correct, both left and right, like scorpions in a bottle, are in diametrically opposed but symbiotic reactions against modernity — against an open society “founded on compromise, toleration, and impersonal rules and institutions.”

So the three pundits, Brooks, Stephens and Will are all saying, almost in so many words, that the choice of Warren would be a disaster for the Democrats, giving Trump a second mandate.
And why? Because the country is not ready for the remake of our economy that Warren is proposing (planning), including what has to be a partial undoing of capitalism, although she denies this.

So are the three talking heads correct?? Maybe but there are of course other points of views, for example, and the one below comes perhaps closest to my own. I take it from Heather O’Donnell of Dusseldorf, Germany, who writes in her Letter to the Editor:

To the Editor:

Elizabeth Warren’s policies may seem radical within the American political spectrum, but they are standard, centrist course for most stable and moderately responsible democracies throughout the world. Whether it’s a responsible climate plan, sane gun restrictions, or equitable solutions to health care or student debt, most functioning democracies are already inhabiting this “far left” universe. 

Heather O’Donnell
Düsseldorf, Germany

Moscow Nights

Watch this video. The voices of Moscow Nights are the very best. They are true. They sing the truth of who we are.

And don’t forget when you reach down below to watch and listen to a very lovely young person, Maria Zdorovetskaya, of Russian Songs.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Anna Netrebko

Their voices will help you forget the voices of Moscow Mitch, Putin, and his buddy Donald Trump who never tell the truth. The three of them, Mitch, Putin and Trump (and any number of others, including Pence, Barr, and Pompeo, reveal the very worst of whatever they are. Who are they? Why do they do the terrible things they do? Why do the lie. Why is there no truth in their words? And as for Trump in particular, why does he always lie? Has he ever told the truth about anything?

Подмосковные вечера 

Не слышны в саду даже шорохи, 
Всё здесь замерло до утра. 
Если б знали вы, как мне дороги 
Подмосковные вечера. 

Речка движется и не движется, 
Вся из лунного серебра. 
Песня слышится и не слышится 
В эти тихие вечера. 

Что ж ты, милая, смотришь искоса, 
Низко голову наклоняя? 
Трудно высказать и не высказать 
Всё, что на сердце у меня. 

А рассвет уже всё заметнее. 
Так, пожалуйста, будь добра. 
Не забудь и ты эти летние 
Подмосковные вечера.

Moscow Nights

Even whispers aren’t heard in the garden, 
Everything has died down till morning. 
If you only knew how dear to me 
Are these Moscow nights. 

The river moves, unmoving, 
All in silver moonlight. 
A song is heard, yet unheard, 
In these silent nights. 

Why do you, dear, look askance, 
With your head lowered so? 
It is hard to express, and hard to hold back, 
Everything that my heart holds. 

But the dawn’s becoming ever brighter. 
So please, just be good. 
Don’t you, too, forget 
These summer, Moscow nights. 

Translation by University of Pittsburgh Department of Slavic Languages

Russian Songs

truth hurts

White House to Tell Agencies to Cancel Washington Post, New York Times Subscriptions: WSJ

Julia Arciga Reporter Published 10.24.19

The White House is reportedly planning to instruct federal agencies not to renew their subscriptions to The New York Times and The Washington Post. “Not renewing subscriptions across all federal agencies will be a significant cost saving—hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars will be saved,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told The Wall Street Journal. It’s not clear how many subscriptions the federal government has to each newspaper, or how the White House would direct agencies to cut the subscriptions. The Post and the Times declined to comment.

On Monday evening, Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that he doesn’t want the Post or the Times to be in the White House. “We’re going to probably terminate that and The Washington Post. They’re fake,” he said. Aides told the Journal that they expect Trump will read both newspapers despite the move.

“Nobody,” a Hong Kong protester, wrote to his Dad, “I worry that you will cry and feel devastated, But…


While Trump is showing us how not to act the youth in the streets of Hong Kong by their extraordinary courage are showing us how to act. Would that the Republican Senators, whose cowardice is spectacular, were listening, would that they knew the meaning of courage. Our elected Senators, unlike the Hong Kong protesters, have nothing to fear except perhaps losing their comfortable jobs. Their lives are not at stake.

In this morning’s Times Cora Engelbrecht writes:

Preparing for the worst, Hong Kong protesters have started writing last letters or notes to their loved ones… in case they don’t return. These notes chronicle the mental and emotional state of frontliners coming to terms with risking death for their beliefs.

As violence escalates between demonstrators and the police, protesters have started writing “last letters” to their loved ones, in case they don’t return. Orlando de Guzman/The New York Times.

“When you find this letter, I might have already been arrested or killed.” This is how a 22-year-old protester in Hong Kong began what he worries could be the last letter to his family. He used the pseudonym “Nobody”; like most of the young people who have been confronting the police on the front lines, he fears arrest or death.

Cora met “Nobody” and his cohort during a recent Sunday demonstration. After 19 weeks of street battles with the police, the protesters’ roles are well rehearsed: They move swiftly, each to his or her appointed task, using codes and sign language. They assemble barricades in minutes, only to disperse in seconds.

She came to observe handiwork of a different kind. As the violence intensified over the summer, she learned that young protesters were writing farewell notes to family and friends in the event that they were arrested or killed. They call them “Wai Shu,” or “last letters.” Some carry handwritten copies to the streets in their backpacks or wallets. Others hide them at home, in drawers and under mattresses. Several people read them off their phones.

“Nobody” said he wrote his letter when he was at a protest last month in Causeway Bay, after witnessing an undercover officer fire into a crowd. “Right in front of me, live bullets,” he said. “At that moment, I learned that my life was at stake.”…

On the street, “Nobody” and his teammates blend into the crowds of protesters clad in black, faces covered and armed with gasoline bombs. But their individual missives set them apart, chronicling their lives and loves and what might be lost.

“Dad, I’m unfilial for leaving you so early, before I could fulfill my obligations as a son, to be there for you,” “Nobody’s” teammate Ming wrote. “When I’m gone, please take good care of yourself.”

“I actually worry that I will die and won’t see you anymore,” he wrote to her in his letter. “I worry that you will cry and feel devastated. But there is no way that I don’t take to the streets.”

A must read from today’s Times by Paul Krugman.

God Is Now Trump’s Co-Conspirator

By Paul Krugman Oct. 14, 2019

Listening to the speech William Barr, the attorney general, gave last week at the University of Notre Dame Law School, I found myself thinking of the title of an old movie: “God Is My Co-Pilot.” What I realized is that Donald Trump’s minions have now gone that title one better: If Barr’s speech is any indication, their strategy is to make God their boss’s co-conspirator.

Given where we are right now, you might have expected Barr to respond in some way to the events of the past few weeks — the revelation that the president has been calling on foreign regimes to produce dirt on his domestic opponents, the airport arrest of associates of the president’s lawyer as they tried to leave the country on one-way tickets, credible reports that Rudy Giuliani himself is under criminal investigation.

Alternatively, Barr could have delivered himself of some innocuous pablum, which is something government officials often do in difficult times.

But no. Barr gave a fiery speech denouncing the threat to America posed by “militant secularists,” whom he accused of conspiring to destroy the “traditional moral order,” blaming them for rising mental illness, drug dependency and violence.

Consider for a moment how inappropriate it is for Barr, of all people, to have given such a speech. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion; the nation’s chief law enforcement officer has no business denouncing those who exercise that freedom by choosing not to endorse any religion.

And we’re not talking about a tiny group, either. These days, around a fifthof Americans say that they don’t consider themselves affiliated with any religion, roughly the same number who consider themselves Catholic. How would we react if the attorney general denounced Catholicism as a force undermining American society?

And he didn’t just declare that secularism is bad; he declared that the damage it does is intentional: “This is not decay. It is organized destruction.” If that kind of talk doesn’t scare you, it should; it’s the language of witch hunts and pogroms.

It seems almost beside the point to note that Barr’s claim that secularism is responsible for violence happens to be empirically verifiable nonsense. America has certainly become less religious over the past quarter century, with a large rise in the number of religiously unaffiliated and growing social liberalism on issues like same-sex marriage; it has also seen a dramatic decline in violent crime. European nations are far less religious than we are; they also have much lower homicide rates, and rarely experience the mass shootings that have become almost routine here.

Nonetheless, William Barr — again, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, responsible for defending the Constitution — is sounding remarkably like America’s most unhinged religious zealots, the kind of people who insist that we keep experiencing mass murder because schools teach the theory of evolution. Guns don’t kill people — Darwin kills people!

So what’s going on here? Pardon my cynicism, but I seriously doubt that Barr, whose boss must be the least godly man ever to occupy the White House, has suddenly realized to his horror that America is becoming more secular. No, this outburst of God-talk is surely a response to the way the walls are closing in on Trump, the high likelihood that he will be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.

Trump’s response to his predicament has been to ramp up the ugliness in an effort to rally his base. The racism has gotten even more explicit, the paranoia about the deep state more extreme. But who makes up Trump’s base? The usual answer is working-class whites, but a deeper dive into the data suggests that it’s more specific: It’s really evangelical working-class whites who are staying with Trump despite growing evidence of his malfeasance and unsuitability for high office.

And at a more elite level, while a vast majority of Republican politicians have meekly fallen in line behind Trump, his truly enthusiastic support comes from religious leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr., who have their own ethical issues, but have called on their followers to “render to God and Trump.

Patriotism, Samuel Johnson famously declared, is the last refuge of scoundrels. But for all his talk of America first, that’s not a refuge that works very well for Trump, with his subservience to foreign autocrats and, most recently, his shameful betrayal of the Kurds.

So Trump is instead taking shelter behind bigotry — racial, of course, but now religious as well.

Will it work? There is a substantial minority of Americans with whom warnings about sinister secularists resonate. But they are a minority. Over all, we’re clearly becoming a more tolerant nation, one in which people have increasingly positive views of others’ religious beliefs, including atheism.

So the efforts of Trump’s henchmen to use the specter of secularism to distract people from their boss’s sins probably won’t work. But I could be wrong. And if I am wrong, if religious bigotry turns out to be a winning strategy, all I can say is, God help us.

My thoughts and internet notes regarding Trump’s brazen attempt to steal our country.

The most straightforward answer to why I’m not sleeping is the constant stream of Trumpian antics, of the foolish, outrageous, dangerous to the country’s health, but often amusing behavior. What keeps me awake is Trump’s being totally unfit for the office of president, yet fully occupying that office. This drives me to rage at him, at what he’s doing and saying, and even more at his enablers in the Senate.

Thoughts, too many thoughts with a heavy concentration on politics, much like these here keep me awake. Thoughts of Trump, his base, the Republican Senators, and the bevy of lawyers transformed into spineless sycophants surrounding him, so far have not stopped coming, without being asked, and seizing hold of my consciousness.

And there is no end in sight (maybe November of 2020?). As a small child my parents would tell me to count, (sheep was it?) to get back to sleep. It worked and I did get back to sleep. Now, try as hard as I can to grab hold of sleep, I’m not able to, and sleep doesn’t grab me and I remain awake.

Just a few days ago I read in the news thatTrump’s men and women trolls, flunkies all (a flunky’s job is to do whatever he or she is told to do, preferably without question in a servile, docile, dutiful way) had declared war on the House impeachment inquiry by announcing that they, Trump’s gaggle of flunkies, would not cooperate with what they now called an illegitimate effort on the part of Congress “to overturn the results of the 2016 election” and in the process setting the stage for a constitutional clash with far-reaching consequences.

But who is it that is setting the “stage for a constitutional clash” but Trump himself. This is Trump’s method, you try to impeach me and I will impeach you. He lives by the idea, that the best defense is an offense. Never give in. What he had learned from his Trump Hotel and Tower lawyer, Roy Cohn. Make up the rules of the game as you go along. Don’t wait for Trump/Cohn to concede that his own words and actions are bringing about the “constitutional clash with far-reaching consequences.”

“To overturn the results of the 2016 election?” Is that what the Dems are doing? Not at all. Here’s what the Constitution says about Impeachment: that which they are really doing:The House of Representatives shall have the sole Power of Impeachment. (Article 1, section 2.) What’s happening now is simply that, the House is exercising its legitimate power. The 2016 election is over and done with. No one, and certainly not the House of Representatives, is trying to resurrect it. The House is merely doing its Constitutionally assigned task.

Donald Trump’s stonewalling of the United States Congress is not unlike what he describes earlier at a rally in Sioux City Iowa:

“You know what else the polls say about my people? They say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.”

Well just yesterday Joe Biden suggested that this is what is happening, except that nowTrump is “shooting” our Constitution, making holes in our system of Constitutional checks and balances (in particular the checks on the president). Again Trump disregards the Constitutionally assigned oversight powers of the Congress in order to further his own personal interests.

There are myriad examples of unbridled kingship (or emperorship) in our history, many fewer examples of democratic government. History is full of the actions of kings, not full of the actions of democratically elected peoples. Why sometimes to even find a real democracy we have to go back to the Greeks, and then 5th century Athens while admirable in so many ways was anything but a real democracy. It does seem that history will always be more about kings and tyrants than about peoples. Hence Trump.

Our country’s own history is becoming the history of the actions and words of an individual, Trump. Trump is there and has been running roughshod over our democracy because he is totally without the rule of law and totally supported by the Republican Senators totally without backbones.

The greatest moments in history have often been real or imagined battles between individuals, Alexander and Cyrus, Hannibal and Caesar, Hitler and Eisenhower.

Now this is a momentous time in our own history, but there is only Trump on the one side. On the other side in opposition to Trump there is, for the moment, no one. So far whatever opposition there is doesn’t seem to have what it takes to stop Trump in his tracks.

Impeachment should be as described in the Constitution, but the Democrats are allowing Trump his own idea of impeachment , allowing him to devise his own battle plans for its undoing. The democrats do not yet seem to have a comparable impeachment strategy of their own.

In a letter to House Democratic leaders, (see Nicholas Fandos, Peter Baker, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman. Oct. 9, 2019) the White House said the impeachment inquiry had violated precedent and denied President Trump’s due process rights in such an egregious way that neither he nor the executive branch would willingly provide testimony or documents.

The phrase due process rights embodies society’s basic notions of legal fairness. A first reading of the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which prohibit government from taking a person’s “life, liberty or property without due process of law,” suggests a limitation that only relates to procedures. In fact many due process cases do involve the question of fair procedures or procedural due process. However, question of legal fairness may be related not only to procedures, but also to legislation that unfairly affects people. As a result, courts in the U.S. have interpreted the language of these Amendments as a limitation on substantive powers of legislatures to pass laws affecting various aspects of life. When applying what is called substantive due process, courts look at whether a law or government action unreasonably infringes on a fundamental liberty.

In a case from 1833, the Supreme Court  of the U.S. decided that the Fifth Amendment was not directly binding on state governments. As a result of that case, neither the Supreme Court nor the federal court in general exercised much control over the substance of state laws or over the processes by which states administered their laws during America’s early years. This situation changed dramatically with the passage of the Civil War Amendments (13, 14, and 15), which were designed to prevent discrimination by states against blacks freed from slavery as a result of that war.

The Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause was almost identical to the Fifth Amendment’s clause. But the Fourteenth Amendment was specific in limiting the actions of the state governments. Courts have interpreted these two clauses identically: the Fifth Amendment now limits the power of the federal government and the Fourteenth Amendment limits the power of state (and local) governments.

What are the due process rights of someone undergoing impeachment by the Congress of the United States. In the present situation you have a president is clearly unfit for the office, and this by itself ought to be enough for impeachment. At least while it’s in the House of representatives it’s not a trial, with all the settled agreements as to how a trial should be conducted. The House is looking at the prepared “articles of impeachment” and if in their majority the members of the House agree that the president in this case (the AG perhaps in another case) is “guilty,” that what he has done is clearly a example of reasonBribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The House inquiry couldn’t be more “constitutional” than it is. The origin of the impeachment push in this instance is to protect the constitution. The Republicans are disregarding the constitutional role of the House.

But in refusing to cooperate with what Mr. Trump on Tuesday called a “kangaroo court,” the president risked ensuring the very outcome he would rather avoid. House Democrats made clear that his failure to comply with their demands for information could form the basis for its own article of impeachment.

Now what is a Kangaroo Court? —— An unfair, biased, or hasty judicial proceeding that ends in a harsh punishment; an unauthorized trial conducted by individuals who have taken the law into their own hands, such as those put on by vigilantes or prison inmates; a proceeding and its leaders who are considered sham, corrupt, and without regard for the law.
The concept of kangaroo court dates to the early nineteenth century. Scholars trace its origin to the historical practice of itinerant judges on the U.S. frontier. These roving judges were paid on the basis of how many trials they conducted, and in some instances their salary depended on the fines from the defendants they convicted. The term kangaroo court comes from the image of these judges hopping from place to place, guided less by concern for justice than by the desire to wrap up as many trials as the day allowed

The White House should be warned that continued efforts to hide the truth of the president’s abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement. “Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.”

The White House letter came shortly after the White House blocked the interview of a key witness, Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, just hours before he was to appear on Capitol Hill. A senior administration official said no other witnesses or documents would be provided, putting a “full halt” to cooperation.

The president’s decision to resist across the board is itself a potentially precedent-setting move that could have far-reaching implications for the inquiry. Democrats believe that it bolsters their list of impeachable offenses, adding the stonewalling of Congress to the tally, but it could also deprive them of crucial witnesses and evidence they might need to lodge credible charges against the presiden.
Trump reversed himself after investigators were given text messages that called into question his assertion that there was no quid pro quo when he pressed Ukraine’s president to investigate Democrats while dangling a White House invitation and withholding American security assistance.

The White House letter to Ms. Pelosi and other Democrats was part constitutional argument, part political statement. Over eight pages, Mr. Cipollone listed various ways House Democrats have diverged from precedents set during impeachment inquiries against Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Read the Constitution:

But the writers of the “White House letter” seem to be ignorant that The House of Representatives … shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.— Article I, Section 2, Clause 5
And that the Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.
The President] … shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.—Article II, Section 2

The PresidentVice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, TreasonBribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.—Article II, Section 4

Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff, you have the power here. Wield it!

The powers of Congress are enumerated in several places in the Constitution. … The last paragraph of Article I, Section 8 grants to Congress the power “to make all laws which shall be necessary and properfor carrying into execution the foregoing powers“–the “Necessary and Proper Clause.”

Oversight is an implied rather than an enumerated power under the U.S. Constitution.[2] The government’s charter does not explicitly grant Congress the authority to conduct inquiries or investigations of the executive, to have access to records or materials held by the executive, or to issue subpoenas for documents or testimony from the executive.

Oversight also derives from the many and varied express powers of the Congress in the Constitution. It is implied in the legislature’s authority, among other powers and duties, to appropriate funds, enact laws, raise and support armies, provide for a Navy, declare war, and impeach and remove from office the President, Vice President, and other civil officers. Congress could not reasonably or responsibly exercise these powers without knowing what the executive was doing; how programs were being administered, by whom, and at what cost; and whether officials were obeying the law and complying with legislative intent.

The Supreme Court of the United States has confirmed the oversight powers of Congress, subject to constitutional safeguards for civil liberties, on several occasions. In 1927, for instance, the Court found that in investigating the administration of the Justice Department, Congress had the authority to consider a subject “on which legislation could be had or would be materially aided by the information which the investigation was calculated to elicit”.[4]


No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

AMENDMENT XIV – Passed by Congress June 13, 1866.

Section 1.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Finally here is Paul Krugman on October 11. Hooray, for he tells that ultimately we are saved by the President’s own mental deficiency:

What still hangs in the balance is the outcome. And if democracy survives — which is by no means certain — it will largely be thanks to one unpredictable piece of good luck: Donald Trump’s mental deficiency.
I don’t mean that Trump is stupid; a stupid man couldn’t have managed to defraud so many people over so many years. Nor do I mean that he’s crazy, although his speeches and tweets (“my great and unmatched wisdom”; the Kurds weren’t there on D-Day) keep sounding loonier.
He is, however, lazy, utterly incurious and too insecure to listen to advice or ever admit to a mistake. And given that he is in fact what he accuses others of being — an enemy of the people — we should be thankful for his flaws.

Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité