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?

Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

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

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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.

Are Progressives Finally Waking Up and Realizing the Filibuster is Their Enemy?

By Benjamin M. Adams       March 27, 2017        @BenAdamsO_O

In 2000 and again in 2016, Progressives were screwed by the peculiar anti-democratic nature of the electoral college. In both years, more votes were cast for Gore and Clinton yet the lasting legacies of those elections are: The Iraq war, Alito & Roberts on the Supreme Court and whatever mix of policy chaos and appointments that will inevitably flow from the Trump presidency. Progressives must realize by now that they are disadvantaged by the anti-democratic nature of the electoral college, without realizing that the filibuster has an even stronger anti-majoritarian tendency than the electoral college. Under Senate filibuster rules, you can have 59% of the senate votes and still lose. In a presidential election, the winner of 59% of the votes would never lose the electoral college.

There is a critical distinction, however, between these two anti-progressive institutions. That is, DEMs can actually do something about the filibuster. For practical purposes, the electoral college can’t be changed. It requires a Constitutional amendment and a sufficient number of states would never sign on for reasons that go beyond this essay. However, the filibuster can be addressed and the GOP is even willing to do the dirty work for them. Progressives should not allow the DEMs to blow this opportunity.

Here’s the full badness of the filibuster on display:

  • The 29 most populous States in the US total approximately 273 Million. (273,269,546)
  • The 21 least populous States in the US total approximately 35 Million. (34,886,792)
  • The representatives of those 273 million Americans would produce 58 Senate votes, not enough to overcome the 60-vote cloture threshold.
  • Thus, the filibuster at its mathematical worst gives 35 Million people a veto over 273 Million. This is not a mere super-majority. This is categorically anti-democratic.

(Statistics from Wikipedia and the 2010 Census)

So why do progressives view the possible loss of the filibuster as a net negative? The answer is short term thinking. Right now, the filibuster is the DEMS best tool to defeat GOP legislation in Congress. Having no filibuster in 2017 and 2018 means Trump will have an easier time pushing his agenda through Congress. Then again, if there was no filibuster in 2009, we would be 8 years into a single-payer healthcare system.

Essentially, the fight over Gorsuch may be helping progressives realize that in the big picture of things, the filibuster is not a friend of progress. The easiest syllogism I can imagine is this: (1) The filibuster gives great advantage to the status quo over change by requiring large super-majorities, (2) Progressives, by definition, do their thing by changing the status quo, and therefore (3) the filibuster disadvantages Progressives.

QED

Notes

  • The filibuster is not in the constitution. Until 1917, cloture required 100 votes.
  • Any discussion of  the filibuster needs to account for the fact that its historical impact has been to grant outsized influence to white men from rural states.
  • Common Cause and Senator John Lewis tried to sue the Senate over the use of the filibuster. The plaintiffs were represented by the infinitely capable Eric Segall (@espinsegall) but the case was appropriately dismissed for lack of standing.
  • The best political science book on the filibuster (IMO) is Filibuster: Obstruction and Lawmaking in the U.S. Senate by my former prof Gregory J. Wawro & Eric Schickler

 

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