Fast Forward 3 Years

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By Benjamin M. Adams on December 5, 2017    @BenAdamsO_O

It’s the middle of 2020 and Trump is still President of the United States, although it’s hard to understand how or why this happened.

Robert Muller’s investigation is all over except for the crying. Mueller rolled up everyone in his path. Flynn was a devastating witness against Trump and everyone in Trump’s inner circle. In the spring of 2018, Manafort followed Flynn’s lead and cut a deal with Mueller in exchange for a reduced sentence. Manafort and Flynn both testified against Kushner. In March of 2018, Jared Kushner was indicted, perp-walked, and charged with a laundry list of crimes that included lying to the FBI, money laundering, violations of FARA, and the Logan Act. Over the next 10 months, while Kushner spent his days and nights staring at 25 years in prison, nearly every other character in the script flipped on Trump — McFarland, McGahn, and Cohen. As each flipped, Trump sent angry tweets calling them haters, losers, and (mais oui) purveyors of #FakeNews. The six months leading up to the 2018 midterm election were a cavalcade of stories, speculation, and rumination about the corruption of Trump and his associates.

The 2018 midterms proved as bad for the GOP as even the direst of modeling had foretold. In November of 2018, the Democrats took the House with a 20+ seat margin. Republicans also got absolutely crushed in Senate races, barely salvaging wins in Utah and Alabama and nowhere else. Due to the nature of Senate turnover, where one-third of the chamber seeks re-election every 2 years, the drubbing that the GOP took still left the Senate Republicans holding 45 seats.

That’s when the fun started.

It was the first week of December, 2018. Paul Ryan, sensing the stench of history descending upon him, used the lame duck session of the 115th Congress to ram though a hastily written, single-count Article of Impeachment against Trump.  He thought he was dumping the whole thing in Chuck Schumer’s lap, but McConnell made other plans. He scheduled a trial in the Senate for the last week in December, with a one-day recess for Christmas day. Ryan’s impeachment bill was a disaster. It listed only one count of Obstruction of Justice, even though Mueller’s preliminary findings had indicated at least six impeachable offenses. McConnell was trying to make lemonade.

It took a few days, but it eventually dawned on Trump that he had two weeks to round up 34 Senate votes or else his presidency was over. Even though the midterm elections had just concluded, Trump then went into full-scale campaign mode, holding rallies in multiple states every day for two weeks. He visited the state of any Senator that was considered “in play” on impeachment. He also visited deep red states, energizing himself and his base in the presence of adoring crowds.

In the second week of December, 2018, with the nation already frenzied in anticipation of the approaching lame-duck impeachment trial, Justice Bryer announced without warning that he was leaving the Supreme Court effective immediately. The Supreme Court now consisted of 8 members. Before Bryer left, the Court was comprised of 4 conservatives, 4 liberals, and Anthony Kennedy. Now there were 4 conservatives, 3 liberals, and Anthony Kennedy. Most of the media focused on who would fill the vacant seat. Court watchers understood that the balance of power on the Supreme Court had already shifted.

Trump wasted no time exploiting the opening. The following day, by early morning tweet, he nominated Senator Mike Lee to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat. As the battle lines were being drawn over Lee’s coming nomination fight, the SCOTUS rumor mill was busy with rumblings about a pending case being re-conferenced and re-written following Bryer’s departure.

Those rumors proved prescient. At the end of the third week of December 2018, SCOTUS announced its decision in the religion case — in which one of the arguments turned on substantive due process grounds.  The 5-3 opinion decided the case on First Amendment grounds, but it contained an explosive footnote stating that 4 members of the 8-member Court had voted for an opinion that would lead to the overturning of both Roe and Obergefell. Just like it had done in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court transformed right before our eyes into a purely political body — sending a clear and unambiguous message: Confirm Mike Lee and we will roll back abortion rights and protected status for LGBT.

The SCOTUS decision immediately galvanized support in Trump’s direction. Trump’s rallies in the red states grew bigger and more intense. The anti-Trump protestors came out in force as well. Violence broke out at several rallies. Trump then began to retweet racially charged videos (often fake) which featured scenes of black or brown skinned people brawling with cops and Caucasians. For two straight weeks, CNN aired literally every second of the Trump anti-impeachment rallies. For the same two weeks, CNN featured a countdown clock, marking the number of minutes until the impeachment trial was to begin. Trump continued rallying and tweeting about the empty SCOTUS seat while relentlessly stoking racial and ethnic tensions. In no time at all, the base was drunk with thoughts of vindication and ascendence.

The Senate impeachment trial started on time in the last week of December of 2018. It only lasted 4 days. Each manager supporting Trump used his time to talk about partial-birth abortion and men who wanted to use women’s bathrooms. Each speaker praised Mike Lee and referred to him as the next Justice of the Supreme Court. Throughout the process, Mitch McConnell continued to tell reporters that he had the votes to confirm Mike Lee. McConnell still had 52 in his caucus, thanks to the razor-thin victory that had propelled Roy Moore to the Senate.  McConnell was also emphatic about another point — that Lee’s name would be immediately withdrawn from consideration if Trump was convicted by the Senate.

On December 28, 2018, the Senate voted on the impeachment of Donald J. Trump. When the voting was done, 17 Republicans voted to convict Trump and remove him from office. Mike Lee, Roy Moore and Mitch McConnell all voted to acquit. The final tally was 65-35, and that is the story of how McConnell helped Trump survive the lame-duck impeachment.

Just minutes after Trump’s acquittal by the Senate, McConnell announced that hearings for Mike Lee’s nomination were to take place during the second week of January. Those confirmation hearings did take place and they were an ugly, epic mess. Protesters infiltrated the hearings, which ultimately had to be closed to the public. At one point, a blue state Senator accused a red state Senator of committing treason. In turn, he was accused of murdering babies. The Lee nomination escaped Committee on a party-line vote. McConnell scheduled a floor vote for the following week, on the penultimate day of the 115th Congress.

The vote on Lee’s nomination to the Supreme Court was wild beyond belief. In the days leading up to the vote, it became clear that Collins and Murkowski were both leaning no. That left 50 votes against Lee, but with Pence ready to break any tie, the opposition still needed one more Republican vote in order to defeat Lee. Several Senators were open in their disdain for Trump and any of that group might have opposed Trump’s nominee just to screw Trump. The problem is that all of those Senators — Flake, McCain, Corker — had a close personal relationship with Mike Lee. Not one of them wanted to vote against Mike Lee. Grudgingly, the commentariat began to admit that the Lee nomination had been a masterstroke by Trump and that Lee was probably going to be a fifth conservative on the Supreme Court. Roe and Obergefell were Dead Precedents Walking.

The floor vote on Lee’s confirmation started at 3:00 P.M.. Never before had so many people tuned into C-Span. The first part of the vote happened fast and furious. In the blink of an eye, there were 48 votes against Lee but then no more. The entire progressive world was in a state of shock and dread as the yes votes climbed to 47. A few minutes later, Collins and Murkowski added no votes. The vote stood 50-47 and the left had about 8 minutes of euphoria. The high was short-lived and followed by a bad crash — the sight of Flake and Corker walking onto the Senate Floor together, giving Mike Lee a big slap on the back, and then holding their thumbs up together and voting yes. It was now 50 no votes and 49 yes votes when McCain entered the chamber. Twitter exploded as McCain ambled over to Mike Lee, put his arms around Lee, and embraced him. One could literally feel the entire progressive world coming to pieces. McCain then let go of Lee, turned to the Senate bean-counter, and jutted his arm out — revealing to the world a thumb pointing down.

That is the wild story of how the Lee nomination was defeated, but it certainly doesn’t explain why. That question was answered just thirty minutes after his vote, when McCain faced the cameras. He waited until the room was entirely quiet before beginning his remarks.

“I’ve been asked to explain my vote,” he says. “I’ve spent the last two (2) years reading multiple reliable reports about President Trump and his team cooperating with Russia at the expense of American policy, American values and American ideals. The list of blatantly anti-American actions taken by Donald Trump — starting with his illegal collusion with Russia during the campaign and continuing not only into the transition but even into his presidency — is nothing short of astounding. Among the many things we have seen reported, President Trump refused to implement the sanctions against Russia that were duly enacted by this Congress. All of this leads me to believe that Mr. Trump was somehow ensnared in a Russian compromise plot and ultimately he was captured by it.” McCain then paused before concluding his statement: “I like people who weren’t captured.”

The lame duck session ended the next day with McConnell giving a long and tearful speech about loyalty and honor and how the Democrats do everything out of partisanship. The following week in D.C. was a normal one: Adam Schiff was elected Speaker of the House, Trump nominated Jeanine Pirro to the Supreme Court via twitter, and Melania returned to New York where she filed for divorce. The real fireworks started a few weeks later.

By the middle of February, Trump’s daily tweets about #JusticeJeanine grew edgy and dark. He cast his struggles in apocalyptic, biblical terms and the right wing media ate it up. At the same time, two things were happening. First, several bills of impeachment were rapidly advancing through the House which was now controlled by the Democrats. Second, there were reports that Kushner was discussing a possible deal with Mueller. All of the House impeachment bills contained an obstruction of justice charge, which had also been included in Paul Ryan’s lame-duck impeachment bill. In early March of 2019, the House passed a Bill of Impeachment containing five counts against the president. Trump had been impeached for a second time in less than 90 days.

Trump then fired his entire legal team, except for Jay Sekulow. He brought David Boies on board with a reported seven million dollar payment made by the Trump 2016 Inaugural Committee. Boies and Sekulow immediately sued the U.S. Senate. They made a bunch of ridiculous arguments, but one of them was not absurd — that the Articles of Impeachment were invalid because they included a charge for which Trump had been acquitted. Essentially, they argued this was double-jeopardy for the POTUS. Since this last assertion was credible, SCOTUS granted cert and issued a temporary stay of the impeachment trial. Over the next several weeks, the eight (8) member Supreme Court heard arguments, deliberated and then delivered a split 4 to 4 opinion. The Court could neither bestow legitimacy on the impeachment proceedings nor could it declare them unconstitutional. Senate Democrats moved ahead with impeachment, but the Republicans took the position that they had won at SCOTUS. They announced a boycott of all impeachment proceedings.

Majority Leader Schumer announced that an impeachment trial would take place in June of 2019. Nobody understood the long delay. It appeared to many that Schumer was rattled by the boycott threat. Two days later, however, Kushner turned on Trump and cut a deal with the special prosecutor. Kushner’s signed statement was 75 pages long and  implicated Trump in a hideous web of lies, corruption, and crime. By then Kushner had moved back to Manhattan. His sentencing was set for June, the same week as Trump’s second impeachment Trial.

Everyone spent the next two weeks speculating about how Ivanka must be getting her own divorce papers ready against Jared, but something unexpected happened. Ivanka publicly resigned from the White House and returned to New York to be with her husband. A week later, Ivanka gave an interview sitting next to Jared in which she recounted years of abuse at the hands of her father. The stories were emotionally jarring. Over the next 72 hours, Ivanka Trump became a hero to the left. President Trump’s approval rating cratered to 25%.

At the end of May 2019, Trump withdrew his nomination of Jeanine Pirro. The following day, he nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Insisting that an 8-member Supreme Court was a national emergency, Schumer them pushed the impeachment trial into September of 2019 so that the Garland confirmation hearings could take place first. The Garland hearings took place at the end of June and they were sedate and civil. There were no protesters. Garland was confirmed in July and moved into his SCOTUS chambers on the same day.

Several days later, Schumer delivered a speech on the Senate attacking Mike Pence for his role in the Russia cover-up and questioning if impeaching Trump makes sense in light of Pence’s guilt. He worried about the instability of impeaching both the President and the Vice-President. Citing the need to “regroup and re-assess,” Schumer then pushed off Trump’s impeachment trial for another 90 days, at which point Trump nominated 27 liberal judges to the Federal bench. The Senate confirmed every nominee almost immediately.

In January of 2020, Schumer made a statement that an impeachment trial might be “counterproductive” with an election “around the corner.” Following Schumer’s announcement, Trump nominated another 35 liberal judges to vacancies on the federal bench. The impeachment trial was once more kicked down the road, ostensibly to allow the Senate to work on the new nominations. By March of 2020, each of the 61 of 62 nominees had been confirmed and the impeachment trial had been postponed to May.

By the end of March, it was clear that Trump would not be the GOP nominee. He had tried to run for re-election but was so disorganized that he didn’t manage to get on the primary ballot in several states. Trump was outmaneuvered by Rubio, Bush and Kasich — the candidates opposing Trump held GOP debates without him. Trump held “counter-debates” which none of the networks covered, except for CNN. On the Democrat side, the ticket came together early. Kamala Harris decisively defeated Sherrod Brown for the nomination and then tabbed him as her running mate. The governors of their respective states, Jerry Brown and Richard Cordray, were poised to appoint replacements in the event of a Democratic victory.

By May, Trump was mathematically eliminated as a possible GOP nominee and he rejected the idea of running as a third party. Whispers in D.C. told about a “deal” between Schumer and Trump. Schumer had the votes to convict Trump and remove him from office, but Schumer agreed to let Trump complete his term provided that Trump not run for re-election and further provided that Trump would nominate any judge Schumer wanted. The deal was sealed when Congress passed a law, with veto-proof majorities, that prohibited the President from making a first strike with nuclear weapons.

It was all part of a very craven calculus, but the nation was exhausted and needed a break. By June of 2020 the world knew definitively that the Trump presidency would be over in six more months. Unfortunately, those six months played out like garbage time in the NBA. People who had thought Trump was the lowest form of life had no idea how much lower Trump was destined to go.

Those six months passed with Trump conducting twitter warfare against literally hundreds of people and groups — journalists, senators, governors, his wife, his former lawyers, the FBI, celebrities, and no less than 12 NFL owners. He angrily engaged several twitter parody accounts. At one point, Trump leveled a barrage of 16 tweets at a parody account that he thought was North Korea. Another time, the President of the United States retweeted an account that featured a dick pic for an avatar. (He later deleted it.) Even though his divorce wasn’t close to final, Trump mused about possible romantic interests. He even floated the idea of an Apprentice-style competition to pick the next First Lady. He sent out a midnight twitter poll asking the question, “Who is the Real First Lady?” The choices were Ivana, Ivanka, Melania, and You Don’t Need One.

Within a week of becoming a lame duck, the Russians dropped all of their Kompromat. They had no use for it anymore, so it was basically just the Russians having fun at Trump’s expense. There wasn’t much but there was definitely a video of Trump in a room with 2 girls peeing on a bed. The video was grainy and dark. One of the girls looked like she could have been 14 or 15. The whole thing was creepy AF, as they say. There was really no end to the madness of Lame Duck Trump. People became sort of numb to it and they did so in a way that kind of defied reason. So here I am at my computer, on the eve of the 2020 election, recounting for posterity these last three years. America will have a new president-elect tomorrow, but part of me stills pray that this is a sim and someone is about to hit the button that says “Reset to 2016.” If that happens, this post will seem like a big joke to anyone who reads it but that would be a small price to pay to erase my memories of these last three years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Block The Vote! A Primer on Blockchain Voting.

 

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By Benjamin M. Adams on September 13, 2017     @BenAdamsO_O

When it comes to advancing the American democratic experiment, no issue is more pressing than the security and legitimacy of our elections. Government officials and independent cyber-security experts agree that foreign entities attempted to hack the election systems of multiple states in 2016. The extent and success of these efforts is still unclear. One thing is clear, however, according to our Federal law enforcement and national security communities: Cyber-attacks on future U.S. elections are certain to occur.

On the left, concerns continue to linger that these attempted hacks may have been successful and that the election of Donald Trump was the result of altered vote tallies. On the right, the Trump Administration has formed a Commission that is devoting substantial governmental resources for the ostensible purpose of preventing voter fraud. There seems to be no political center on the issue of voting and electoral reform.

The right believes that concerns about hacking are the sour grapes of sore losers who would rather embrace a conspiracy theory than face the fact that they nominated an unpopular candidate who ran a poor campaign. The same people on the right point out that there is no evidence that vote tallies were changed via hacking and view the allegation of a “stolen election” as nothing more than left-wing conspiracy nonsense. They point out that the electoral results were largely consistent with the best pre-election polls.

The left thinks that concerns about voter fraud as an attempt to disenfranchise democratic-leaning voters. The commission chairman, Kris Kobach, continues to undermine the integrity of the commission by spreading palpably false information. First, Kobach legitimized Trump’s outlandish assertion that 3-5 million fraudulent votes may have been cast in the 2016 election. More recently, Kobach employed blatantly illogical reasoning to suggest that widespread fraud occurred in the New Hampshire vote.

In fact, there is no evidence that voter fraud is a significant problem. Most of the evidence points to the contrary conclusion. Of course, some voter fraud does exist, and the right presents a compilation of these anecdotal instances to make the case that voter fraud is a widespread problem when in fact it is not. So while voter fraud on it’s own does not threaten the accuracy of our voting, concerns about voter fraud do weaken the perception of legitimacy surrounding our elections. Moreover, it is beyond dispute that voter rolls in some states are a mess, which gives further traction to the narrative that voter fraud is real.

So where does this leave the country’s electoral system?

It is too easy for the right to simply dismiss the left’s concerns as the sour grapes of sore losers. Similarly, it is too easy for the left to dismiss the right’s concerns as an attempt to suppress the vote. Our challenge, as Americans, is to rise above the the partisan fray and realize that there are two common threads of truth that bind together the left and right on this issue. First is the belief that accurate elections are fundamental to our nation’s democracy. Second is the belief that our electoral systems are vulnerable to exploitation. Both of these beliefs are shared by the left and the right and both of these beliefs are true. Voting integrity IS essential to our democracy and our elections ARE critically vulnerable to exploitation. We need to fashion a solution that builds on this foundation of common beliefs and values.

What if a technology existed that could be implemented that would address concerns of the left and also the right? What if a technology could reduce the internal risk of voter fraud and also protect us from the external threat of hackers? What if I told you that the technology already exists and is known as blockchain?

Most Americans have never heard the term blockchain. Those who have heard the term probably know that blockchain is the technology that has made Bitcoin wildly successful. An overview of the technology can be found here and here. What makes blockchain technology an essential platform for cryptocurrency is the use of a distributed database to create an incorruptible digital ledger of transactions. Most applications of the technology have focused on facilitating secure and anonymous financial transactions, but the same technology can readily be used to create an electoral system virtually impervious to fraud and hacking. For those interested in a deeper dive on the technology of blockchain voting, you can find that here.

The most important thing to understand is that blockchain uses a decentralized network in order to prevent hackers from changing vote totals. I had a friend in High School who knew where his teacher kept her grade book. One day, he snuck into her classroom and changed some of his grades in the book. All he needed was access to the room. The same goes for our electoral processes. If hackers gain access, they can change the vote tallies. Now imagine if my friend’s teacher had kept 100 copies of the gradebook in different places around the globe and compared them every ten minutes. Not only would my friend have been unsuccessful. He would have been caught immediately.

This is exactly how the blockchain works. The blockchain network is continually finding digital consensus and checking in with itself every ten minutes. This forms a self-auditing ecosystem of a digital value since the network reconciles every transaction that happens in ten-minute intervals. As a result, all transactions on the blockchain are incorruptible since altering any particular unit of information on the blockchain would require the near-impossible task of overriding the entire network. This incorruptible nature of blockchain data is the ultimate way to protect our elections from hacking. In other words:

By storing data across its network, the blockchain eliminates the risks that come with data being held centrally. Its network lacks centralized points of vulnerability that computer hackers can exploit.

Transactions on the blockchain are also transparent because data is embedded within the network as a whole and is therefore public. This is the ultimate way to eliminate voter fraud since it would be impossible for someone to cast multiple votes in the same election. This feature does not mean that the identities of voters will be public. This is where encryption technology comes into play.

Nearly all security systems currently rely on a “username/password” system to protect online identities. Blockchain security methods use encryption technology. The basis for this are the so-called public and private “keys.” A “public key” (a long string of letters and numbers) is a user’s address on the blockchain. This will be the public (but still anonymous) identity of each voter. A “private key” is like a password that gives its owner access to their vote — which they can send to the candidate of their choice.

When you send someone bitcoin, the currency goes into their bitcoin wallet, which holds all the bitcoins that have been sent to it. The wallet remains anonymous, but it is also public and transparent. When one person sends a bitcoin to another person, anyone on the network can view the transaction. Any person can look into any wallet and see all the bitcoins it holds and they can also see which account sent them. With blockchain voting, each candidate in an election will have a wallet (ledger) which will hold all the bitcoin (votes) that are sent into it. When you vote for a candidate, you can look into the candidate’s wallet and make sure your vote is being properly counted. Blockchain voting will allow voters to securely cast their ballots from a computer, a smartphone or at a polling place.

Compare this approach to last week’s stunning announcement that the Netherlands, recognizing that its systems are vulnerable to hacking, will conduct its next election using only paper ballots and manual counting. This retreat backwards may be a sensible, short-term approach for the Dutch, but the United States, with over 200 million eligible voters, needs to look forward for solutions. Blockchain voting doesn’t solve every possible problem with our electoral system. Conflicts over proper methods of voter registration and identification will remain. In spite of those issues, blockchain voting represents a clear step forward, rather than a retreat, from the threats we face. Moreover, it addresses concerns that are shared by the left and right.

This raises pressing questions: Can America’s leaders remove their partisan blinders and embrace this technology? Can the right embrace it, even though it creates no political advantage? Can the left drop their politics of grievance and adopt a new approach toward electoral reform? The time to implement blockchain voting is now. One can only hope that America’s leaders realize this fact and that they will demonstrate the courage and wisdom to lead in that direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Mom, a Deck of Cards, and God

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By Benjamin M. Adams on September 1, 2017        @BenAdamsO_O

 

True story.

When I was 12, my parents rented a house on a lake for two weeks during the summer. My brother and sister had a great vacation. I was bored most of the time. My only joy was spending two hours in the car, on most nights, listening to the Yankees on the radio. It was nothing short of miraculous to me that I could get NYC radio reception from New Hampshire. One evening, shortly after dinner, my mom called me into the living room. She was sitting on the couch next to my dad. I instantly knew something was up. My mom was holding a deck of cards while my dad held a paper and pencil. An empty chair faced them, with a small table in between. They beckoned me to the chair. I sat. My mom said something like “lets play a game,” but it was understood by the three of us that this was no game. They were preparing to do some whacky test on me.  At least I thought the test was on me. In retrospect, I’m not so sure.  

My mom spread the cards face down on the table, trying to make sure that it was a perfect line of fifty two evenly spaced cards.  She then told me to pick the Jack of Clubs or whatever card it was. I don’t remember which, but it was a specific card. Since they were all face down, I probably gave her a bemused look. In response, she simply said “just try your best, but really concentrate.”

So I concentrated while I looked at the line of identical cards, and eventually one seemed right so I picked it up and gave it to her, without looking.  She had told me not to look. My dad took the card and held on to it.  He had written down the card she requested. We repeated this process four more times, and each time I honed in on a card and picked it. By now, I could feel that I was really trying, whatever that meant. When we had done five cards, my mom took them from my dad.  He laid the paper down in front of me.  She flipped the cards over, in order, so that I could see them, and I was amazed to learn that I had picked all five of the cards which she had requested.

The odds of that occurring by chance are 1 in 311,875,200 [52*51*50*49*48] — well beyond the possibility that this was a fluke of some sort. The story does not end here, however.  What had taken place was a bit too mysterious for my dad, and I don’t think he was entirely ready to deal with it. He was a very open-minded person when it came to metaphysics, but he had just experienced the paranormal in a way that seemed to shock his adult mind. I guessed that it gave him a feeling of being a bit out of control.  After I picked the first five, my parents agreed that I should pick five for my dad.  So he gave a specific card, and I set about to ‘find’ it.  As I said before, I think he was a bit freaked out, so he kept talking in an attempt to break my concentration.  He was successful in this, and on the first pick I knew I had missed because my mom glared at my dad and told him not to try and stop me from getting the right card, but to help me get it.  In sequence, he gave four more cards and I picked each one of them correctly.  

Once more, my mom gave five cards, and in this third round I picked all five correctly. At that point, she had told me ten times to try and locate one card out of forty or fifty cards face down and all ten times I had picked the correct card.  Including my dad, I had picked fourteen out of fifteen cards.  A friend  who went to MIT once told me that the odds for that occurring ‘by chance’ are approximately one in 127,395,380,000,000,000,000,000.  For you numbers buffs, that figure happens to be one hundred and twenty-seven sextillion, three hundred and ninety-five quintillion, three hundred and eighty quadrillion to one.

That number may or may not be wrong—- but reasonable people will agree that there is no ‘scientific’ explanation for what took place.  I do remember the process by which I was able to focus on the correct card.  I would look at the cards and after a brief moment, my eyes would be drawn to a certain area and then to a group of three or four cards, and finally to one card in particular.  Then I would pick that card.  I was seeing without my eyes.  At least once, I separated cards which had been stuck together — knowing the card I wanted was stuck underneath a card — taking the one which had been underneath.  In this instance, I had found the right card even when the card was not in sight.  

When we stopped after the third round, I felt overwhelmingly exhausted.  I recollect feeling drained in a way that I had never felt before.  I went up to my room and passed out until the next morning.

Its been over 35 years since that evening, and I’ve never discussed these events with my dad. About ten years after it happened, I did broach the subject with my mom. She did not say, “Son, I have all the secrets of the universe. Why did you wait so long to ask?” Instead, true to her agnostic form, she basically just shrugged it off. I asked her if the phenomenon had been the result of her psychic ability or the result of mine, but she wouldn’t even commit an answer there. She said that it was obviously the two of us working together.  I wondered if she had functioned as the medium even when dad was asking for the cards.

I hardly ever tell this story because I don’t like to talk about God. Talking about God is weird and frustrating because God is something supernatural and divine and language is something human and mundane. Paradoxically, the moment you talk about God, you are no longer talking about God. I am certainly not opposed to God, but I am opposed to mental constructs of God. So I don’t talk much about that evening, and I don’t talk much about God. I do think about that evening, however, and I do think about God.

 

 

 

 

Trump Goes Iraq WMD…In Poland?

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By Benjamin M. Adams on July 6, 2017    @BenAdamsO_O

During his Poland visit, Trump took a few questions from U.S. media — always a few too many from Trump’s standpoint. In what seemed like a bizarre non-sequitur, Trump pivoted from a question about Russian interference to talking about WMD in Iraq, which is a burning issue…from 15 years ago. This comment may be many things, but a non-sequitur it is not. Quite to the contrary, Trump’s seemingly odd response underscores one of the consistent themes that proved central to his campaign. Put more directly, the Bush administration falsehoods about Iraq WMD set the stage for Trump’s ascension to the presidency.

First, deceptions about Iraq WMD allowed Trump to personally devastate Jeb Bush in the primaries. Recall Jeb’s feckless waffling about whether or not the Iraq war was a good idea. Also recall the stunned silence that befell the debate stage after Trump attacked Jeb’s fairy tale about George W. Bush keeping America safe.

Second, the issue exposed Trump’s GOP primary opponents as complicit in the historical white-washing of one of America’s greatest foreign policy blunders. Aside from Trump, every one of the GOP contenders stayed silent while Jeb slung the false narrative that George Bush was a protector of the U.S., who had not responded to the 9-11 attacks by starting two unwise and unwinnable wars against countries that had not been responsible for the attack on our nation.

Third, the issue established Trump’s appeal to independents, sometimes referred to (unfortunately) as Reagan democrats. Ironically, Trump accomplished this by breaking Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment that, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”

Fourth, and perhaps most critically, the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Powell lies about Iraq WMD, coupled with the media’s failure to critically examine those false claims, created a fundamental mistrust among Americans of both the government and media. It was this deep mistrust that served as the platform from which Trump launched his campaign of demagoguery and distortion. To this day, this mistrust sustains Trump’s “Fake News” narrative, a prophylactic against media stories that threaten to expose Trump supporters to knowledge of his own lies and misdeeds.

So when Trump responds to a question about Russian electoral interference by talking about WMD in Iraq, it is anything but a non-sequitur. Rather, it is a continuation of his central theme: Don’t believe anything that anyone tells you. Don’t trust either political party. Don’t trust the media. I alone can fix this.

Fixing America: Replace Impeachment with Vote of No Confidence

 

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By Benjamin M. Adams, July 3, 2017   @BenAdamsO_O

America needs to scrap the impeachment process and replace it with a simple no-confidence vote that will trigger a new election. This idea came to me by confluence of witnessing the British elections while concurrently trying to process the fact that Donald Trump is only six months into a 48 month term of office. It was an accidental mental mashup, like the old TV commercials for Reeses’ Peanut butter cups. Unlike making the perfect candy. however, designing the best electoral system will require more than happenstance.

By now, we’ve all realized that impeachment is a purely political process. A president can only be impeached for “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” However, the Framers of the Constitution left us no real guidance as to what constitutes a High Crime & Misdemeanor and for reasons of justiciability, the Supreme Court is never going to define it for us. Thus, the definition of an impeachable offense is whatever Congress says it is. In that sense, the impeachment process is faux-adjudication. It is politics masquerading as an indictment (House) and trial (Senate).

Moreover, impeachment leaves America with a president that didn’t run for the office and wasn’t elected to it. If Trump were to be impeached, Mike Pence would be the president for the remainder of the term, but at least Mike Pence was on the ticket. When Nixon resigned under the threat of impeachment, Gerald Ford completed the term, and Ford wasn’t even on the ticket with Nixon in 1972. (He had replaced Vice-President Spiro Agnew, who resigned under a cloud of corruption.) So impeachment is unfortunate in that it leaves America with a president nobody chose. It also leaves the U.S. without a vice-president, at least temporarily. These are sub-optimal results, to say the least. Finally, it is likely that an impeached president leaves a cloud over many of his closest associates, and that is likely to include his vice-president. Thus, any post-impeachment presidency will feature an unelected president, but it is also likely to feature a president compromised by the same opprobrium that led to the impeachment of his predecessor.

The same problems exist with using the 25th Amendment to replace a president, but they run even deeper than those flowing from impeachment. Taking action under the 25th Amendment involves a vote by a small number of unelected and relatively obscure officials. So while America has two paths for replacing a president, neither of them is sound and neither is consistent with democratic principles. The solution to this problem is fairly simple: When America finds itself with a president who is corrupt, mentally unstable, or grossly incompetent (or perhaps all three), then a vote by the House and Senate should be sufficient to trigger a new election.

The benefits of this approach are fairly obvious. When America is best-served by replacing a sitting president, it should be, to the maximum extent possible, the product of democratic processes. Congress consists of popularly-elected representatives of the people.  A super-majority vote — 50% in the House and 67% of the Senate — is currently required to impeach a President. This is why I prefer impeachment immeasurably when compared to taking action under the 25th Amendment: It reflects the will of the people as expressed by their representatives, and it also preserves accountability since those voting for and against impeachment will eventually face the voters if they wish to continue serving.

I dislike requiring a higher threshold in the Senate than in the House. My preferred formulation would be that a vote of 60% of the House and 60% of the Senate should be sufficient to trigger a new election. Moreover, the new election should be a do-over of the last election. This means, every House seat is up for grabs and same for 1/3 of the Senate. This will prevent any given political party from gaining control of the Congress and then immediately impeaching the president. If they do so without deep public support, such improvidence will lead to the loss of its treasured majority status. In other words, Congress will have lots of skin in the game, so they are unlikely to abuse their no-confidence power. For that reason, I would be entirely satisfied with a simple majority vote triggering a new election.

A number of other benefits would accrue from this change. We dispense with the phony formalism of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” which has no discernible legal meaning. We replace this Constitutional pretense with an honest, “Ooops. We made a mistake at the last election.” We further dispense with the Senate “trial,” which holds no value whatsoever. Does anybody honestly think that the Senate vote on President Clinton’s impeachment would have changed if there had been no trial? The impeachment trial is America’s only “show trial.” For those unfamiliar, show trials have a very bad history across the world and are still embraced today in illiberal states. With the elimination of the trial, we also eliminate the participation of the judicial branch in a process that has always been purely political anyway.

Blocking John Podhoretz: When Self-Esteem Finally Kicks In

jpodBenjamin M. Adams on April 10, 2017   @BenAdamsO_O

Let me be clear. J-Pod blocked me first, and it was basically for no reason. Nobody had ever blocked me before he did it, and nobody has blocked me since. Truth be told, one twitter fruitcake has recently blocked me and thereby proven to be the exception. However in doing so, Shatner has simultaneously proven the broader rule: That it is *straight cray* to block me on twitter. The only reason to block me is if you are deathly allergic to either snark or reason, in which case your twitter-life seems destined to be nasty, brutish and short.

Granted, I was new to twitter when Podhoretz blocked me. Granted further, we were in the frightening-2016-resurgent-anti-semitism twitter. I was mostly unfamiliar with twitter-culture, oxymoronic as that term may sound and be. Equally important is the fact that people I followed were new to me. Sure, I’m basically just a rando dude on twitter, but to the people I follow, I’m a known rando dude. People I follow generally understand that my primary twitter aspiration is to personify the platonic form of smart-ass. They also generally know that I oppose things like, um, Nazism.

Anyway, to make a long story around a thousand words, there came a day that John retweeted a Nazi who had used a repulsive Jewish slur against him. I think the slur rhymed with bike, but I don’t remember. Racial epithets mostly sound the same to me, although I will remember the n-word forever if you say it the wrong way.  So I tweeted at John, asking him why he would give a platform to such vile anti-semites. My opinion is that retweeting these cretins gives them the thirty seconds of fame that they crave. More importantly, retweeting them simply serves to encourage rather than deter them. Put more simply, why give succor to evil by giving it a broader audience? So that’s my opinion on the matter. I figured John had a different opinion, which is why I asked him about it in my tweet. I guess John did not appreciate my question because he blocked me without answering. I fully admit to a feeling of disbelief. Incredulously, I cried into the void. The only response that came back was from the Nazi, who consoled me. “Don’t sweat it. He blocked me too.”

So I guess there *is* a bright side to most things. In this case, there are no less than two. First, it seems that I was able to bring out the nurturing side of a Nazi. Second, and no less important, is that J-Pod will not be be further distracted by my tweeted thoughts and questions. That will leave John with more time to write about how the Left is intolerant of debate.

John is Going to Stay Blocked For Now

While I am open to the idea of someday unblocking J-Pod, I am not sure that a speedy rapprochement is in John’s best interest. Let him miss my delicious thought-nuggets, and let him ask himself why. When this questioning becomes more frequent, John may be forced to look deeper inside himself. Perhaps John will realize, in a consequential rather than the typically fleeting sense, the same thing that I have come to realize: That I am too quick to react and too harsh in my reactions, and when I succumb to those impulses, I am a verifiable asshole. Same goes for you, John.

John, please realize one more thing. I am a small man. As a consequence of this bred-in-the-bone pettiness, I take the most infinite pleasure in the idea that you will from time to time find yourself blocked from reading my tweets. I admit to fully and corruptly adoring the thought of you scratching your scalp and feeling some mix of confoundment, confusion, and contempt. John, when I said that I was a small man, I meant really, really small. Can you hear me now, John? Well now. I guess you can’t. Instead of hearing me, see the same “unavailable” inanity that I must countenance each time your thoughts cross my TL.

John, there is a final thing that I ought to have shared– some truths about my maternal great-grandparents: Isadore was from Crackow, Poland. He married a woman named Bertha. She was from Hungary. Bertha was one of four children, but all of her siblings were killed by Nazis. So when you blocked me along with that redneck-wannabe-nazi, you were suggesting to the world that I was somehow a sympathizer of these vile, Nazi-loving cretins even though I owe my very existence to the sheer happenstance that allowed one of my ancestors to escape their murderous rampage of evil. So, John, you need to stay blocked for now, simply because this is the most effective way that I can encourage you to contemplate the moronic, unbridled dickishness of what you did.

My descendance from Holocaust survivors does not, as it turns out, begin to explain why I feel personally offended by racism. Rather, and probably to a myopic extent, I grew up understanding race in terms of  white people against black people — as a continuing, centuries-long conflict between the evil of white supremacy versus the resistance of the descendants of the African people enslaved and oppressed under its doctrine. I still see white supremacy as focal to understanding American social and political development, but contemporary local and world politics obviously reflect bigotry across a far broader spectrum than merely black and white. This includes surging Anti-Muslim sentiment, hatred and violence against the LGBT community, political targeting of “Mexicans” and of course the ubiquitous anti-Semitism now boldly emerging from the shadows. Let’s face it. It’s kind of ugly out there. At some times more than at others, it feels like bigotry is on the march and good people are reminded by Dr. King to oppose injustice anywhere as a threat to justice everywhere. In that sense, I am compelled to oppose bigotry whenever I see it– not simply when I see it directed against “my own.”

Maybe this is one thing that sets me apart from John Podhoretz. Racism is the number one reason — by far — that I never supported the GOP.  John wasn’t similarly hampered by the same reservations, but that’s a post for another day. For today, I want to be on good terms with Podhoretz. Accordingly, I will not link to controversial writings about his anti-gay sentiments, nor to his history of low-brow insults. I further refuse to hold his father’s racism against him, nor do I blame him for his receipt of nepotistic benefit when he took his current position at Commentary. I refuse to do *any of this* because Americans need to start reaching across the divides or partisanship, sectarianism, and ideology. I even apologized to Hugh Hewitt for heaven’s sake, so anything really is possible. The key and missing ingredient in this process is that Americans need to start listening to one another more and they need to start listening better. While that may not happen for me and J-Pod in the immediate future, I still have the audacity to hope.

Immunity for Flynn: Don’t Do It

1jail

Benjamin M. Adams   —    March 31, 2017   —   @BenAdamsO_O

Over the past couple of months, I’ve tweeted a bit about immunity, mostly because it’s made up of the hot, thick smoke that means fire is close. Beyond its significance as a signal of culpability, discussions about immunity normally indicate progress in an ongoing prosecution. The mini-thesis of this post is that Flynn has been caught and should not be given immunity. He should be tried and sent to jail if found guilty. The one instance in which Flynn should be immunized is if he is able to directly implicate President Trump.

Several additional thoughts on immunity:

  • Flynn is busted. Registering “retroactively” as a foreign agent is like getting a law license retroactively when you’ve been caught practicing without one. It doesn’t work that way. He also may have lied on his background forms. Those are relatively small things, but Flynn took money from Russia and Turkey so more serious charges are possible. Either way, Flynn is guilty of crimes that could send him to prison. That’s where we stand now.
  • Flynn is probably desperate for immunity. He has been caught violating federal law. If he can finagle immunity for testifying, Flynn will have gotten away with those crimes. Sensing the opportunity, Flynn’s lawyers have gone public, attempting to whet our appetites with promises of a “story to tell.” The trouble with that is public opinion doesn’t get you immunity. What gets you immunity is specific information that investigators and prosecutors want from you.
  • Prosecutors cut immunity deals when a drug dealer testifies against their supplier or when an employee testifies against their boss or when one politician implicates a senior, more powerful one. Investigators always move up the chain, not down, and they are doing that now. One can argue that only POTUS, and perhaps Pence, are up the chain from Flynn. Since Flynn has yet to secure a proffer of immunity, it suggests one of several possibilities. First, Flynn may not have inculpatory information on Pence or Trump. Second, he may have the goods, but is still attempting to get immunity while still protecting them. A third possibility is that Flynn has the goods and will get his immunity at the end of the day, but that he is being allowed to blow in the breeze for right now.

No matter what happens, we ought to caution against turning Flynn into the 2017 version of Ollie North simply because we are eager for information. Last night on The Rachel Maddow Show, Wall Street Journal reporter Shane Harris (who broke the immunity story) argued that Flynn, “clearly . . . has a story to tell . . . and it makes perfect sense . . . that he would seek those [protections] before he gives that testimony to investigators.” One hopes Shane Harris was merely paraphrasing the arguments of Flynn’s attorneys. Either way, the assertion is utter nonsense. What makes “perfect sense” is that Flynn is a rat trying to save his own skin. Sure, I’d like Flynn to turn states evidence and implicate everyone except Trump in one fell swoop, but that temptation should be resisted. If Flynn has the goods on Trump, we can let him walk just for the sake of ending our national nightmare. If not, then prosecutors should try to “lock him up” like he deserves.

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