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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

"Effective Altruism?" The FTX / Alameda multi-billion dollar cyrpto fraud story worsens.

"Effective Altruism," as widely espoused these days in neoliberal / libertarian ECON circles, is a self-serving perversion of the utilitarian moral philosophy that first gained global traction via the works of Australian activist academic Peter Singer.

The original elevator speech went something like this: "in a world where needs will inexorably exceed available resources, we have a moral imperative to direct our charitable resources to the "highest & best" /  "most effective" use.
Bang for the buck, essentially.
The roughly 10 Grand I've plowed into my veterinary frequent-flier Ranger, my 2018 California 90 lb Chocolate Lab mix stray rescue, is ostensibly "morally" wanting in such regard, given the massive intractable human miseries around the globe.

Whatever. Ranger stays. As do our monthly contributions to the MD Food Bank and a number of other worthy causes. I have no need of self-appointed moral critics evaluating the extent and "effectiveness" of my relative beneficence.

In light of my Master's in applied ethics ("Ethics & Policy Studies"), I found it intriguing, and thought I ought give EA a close, charitable read. Alluring in gauzy, vague principle, nonetheless it raised more questions than answers.


Nowadays it's fashionable in rapacious digerati circles to wield "effective altruism" as impenetrable Virtue Signaling armor—akin in a way to "Prosperity Gospel."  
"Think about how much good you could do if you were a young, adroit, fearless crypto billionaire."

Which brings us back around tot this shitstorm.

More to come. This kid's parents are both Stanford Law professors (Joseph & Barbara). The 28 yr old Caroline Ellison he chose to be CEO of his wholly-owned Alameda Research (uh, hel-LO?) is the daughter of two vaunted MIT Economics professors (Glenn & Sara).

Prestige institutions, the Best-and-Brightest offspring. Depressing.

For now, read this.
 A response at Naked Capitalism.  Well worth your time.
Key Institutional Crypto Player, Genesis, on Verge of Failure; Possibility of “Apocalyptic” Bitcoin Liquidation
Posted on November 23, 2022 by Yves Smith

…The unwind of FTX is certain to dominate business press, pundit, and politician attention due to how its uber connected and very recently idolized top brass have been revealed as drug-addled business incompetents who neverless seem to have done a very good job at disappearing a lot of the moolah, presumable for their personal use. The level of media noise and coming prosecutions (both the Southern District of New York and Bahama are reportedly ginning up filing) and the failure of supposedly sophisticated player to find anything amiss will presumably chill interest in crypto, particularly if other firms fall over due to FTX contagion…
Sam Bankman-Fried and the Long Road to Taking Crypto Mainstream
The disgraced founder of FTX played on the vanities of the establishment, reassuring V.C. firms and the media that smart-guy insiders like him could save the world.

In the beginning, there was Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous programmer who created Bitcoin and promised an entire new way of thinking about money—and, by extension, power and politics. But, after it became clear that Nakamoto wasn’t going to appear on some mount and pass his tablets down to the masses, the cryptocurrency world began to yearn for a proper evangelist. The people who have tried to fill that role have mostly been self-appointed, such as Roger Ver, the loud and impassioned former C.E.O. of, and the man behind Bitcoin Cash; Vitalik Buterin, the enigmatic and perpetually bemused creator of Ethereum; and the Winklevoss twins, the Facebook-involved duo immortalized in the film “The Social Network,” who started the Gemini exchange and pushed for years for a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund, which they argued would spread the gospel to every brokerage account in America. The reason that the crypto community felt like it needed someone in this role was relatively simple: Internet money requires a leap of faith in a new society. What that particular new world might look like has always been a bit vague, with a few nods to the Austrian School of Economics, or seamless economies that are run entirely on smart contracts. But the pitch to you, the consumer, has always remained the same: In the crypto future, whatever it is, you will be incredibly rich…

Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced founder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX—which went bankrupt this month in one of the most spectacular financial implosions since the Bernie Madoff scandal—was the latest and the most effective crypto messiah, precisely because he did not really seem to take crypto all that seriously. His creation myth has it that, after a very credentialled early life in which he, the son of two Stanford law professors, excelled in his private school, went to M.I.T., and then went off to go work on Wall Street, Bankman-Fried became enamored with effective altruism (E.A.), a somewhat scattered philanthropic philosophy that tries to optimize the good that can be done through charity, but whose members also spend an unusual amount of time worrying about the threats of sentient artificial intelligence. Bankman-Fried decided that he would try to make as much money as he could, in order to give it away in an E.A.-optimized way. He claims that he didn’t know what a blockchain was when he got started in crypto, which, he also said, was a field made up of projects that were mostly “bullshit.” But it also was a means to an end. The world would be better if he, the smartest guy in the room, had more money to distribute, and crypto was the fastest way to get rich. All it took, it turns out, was a series of massively leveraged bets, some hilariously creative bookkeeping, and an abiding belief that the trust in his credentials and in his philanthropic vision would keep people from even peeking under the hood…

For anyone checking out “the team,” the entire mix of Bankman-Fried’s appeal can be found here: the litany of prestigious universities, the association with serious thinkers, and the belief in a philosophy that doesn’t set off any ideological alarms. Among the people who wanted to turn Bankman-Fried into an A.T.M., the details added up to the story of a new type of smart guy who believed all the same things they did about crypto, and who was going to change the world.

If that narrative sounds familiar, it’s because it’s become the standard bildungsroman in journalism covering business, tech, and, in some ways, sports. It’s how many journalists talked about Mark Zuckerberg and Paul DePodesta, the Harvard graduate who convinced Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s to build his team around analytics and “Moneyball.” In these stories, some young person who went to Harvard is always outsmarting the dumb establishment, the members of which all went to Harvard, too. The addendum is that the world will somehow be a better place if they win…
My Crypto Confession
Sam Bankman-Fried was a member of two cults: one I have criticized, and one I belong to.
By Derek Thompson

Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced founder of the trading platform FTX, was a member of two cults. Or, more precisely, he was a figurehead of two movements that outsiders considered cultish. One of these movements I have criticized relentlessly. The other I belong to.

The first is the cult of crypto. I’ve made little secret of the fact that, although I think crypto is anthropologically fascinating, its substance, so far, is almost completely lacking. The blockchain and its related innovations are sometimes described as extraordinary technology in search of an ordinary use case. They are also a glossary in search of a spine—pages worth of lingo (gm, ngmi, maxis, DeFi) that are, as of now, unglued from any stable vision of the future besides the bet that certain asset values will go up. To reinvent the casino and tell yourself that, next up, you’ll reinvent the world, requires either the mind of a time-traveling genius or the faith of a simple zealot…

Sam and Caroline, Titans of DigiFi.
I have every confidence that there is much more skeevy stuff to come.

AGAIN: Old School here doesn’t know much about crypto etc per se but my profitable 2000-2005 tenure in subprime risk management left me with a material thought or two. Technologies may change, but the lure of the grift does not.
“Cryptocurrency is a giant scam, although a complicated scam . . . ” So begins Stephen Diehl’s diatribe against the crypto industry. When he published it in June, Bitcoin and other crypto assets were trembling. Since then, the collapse of FTX, the second-largest crypto exchange, has created a potentially existential crisis. Billions of dollars of customer assets seem to have been incinerated, along with FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried’s status as an altruistic visionary. Is crypto all just a mirage?

Like Bankman-Fried, Diehl is a thirtysomething American with a nerdy manner and unbrushed hair. But while Bankman-Fried urged US lawmakers to carve favourable new regulations for crypto, Diehl pulled the other end of the rope. He lobbied for crypto to be regulated like other assets. In June he co-ordinated a letter of 1,500 technologists to senior members of the US Congress, urging them to look past “the hype and bluster of the crypto industry” and understand its “inherent flaws”.

Diehl has the grasp of programming and economics to question crypto from first principles. He has tried to sell blockchain technology — the distributed databases on which crypto is built — and believes that he could have ridden the crypto wave: “Anybody who looks like a nerd like me can probably go to the Valley and raise $50mn from some very credulous [venture capitalists] to pump a token and make a life-changing amount of money.” Instead he stood on the sidelines, blogging about crypto’s failings. That won him a following — but also harassment, including death threats. “The past three years have been hell,” he says, naturally shy. “It’s not easy being a crypto sceptic.”

Diehl’s book, Popping the Crypto Bubble, traces Bitcoin’s emergence during the global financial crisis to the post-2016 crypto gold rush, which he refers to as the “Grifter Era”. He argues that crypto is slow (it relies on broadcasting transactions across decentralised networks) and unreliable (individuals are responsible for securing their assets; when they lose passwords or die, there is much less recourse than with, say, a bank). It cannot be both a great investment, which goes up and up, and a viable currency, which offers stable value. He argues that crypto assets’ price is based largely on there being an even greater fool who believes the hype.

“After 14 years, it is still a solution in search of a problem. It’s not building a new financial system. It’s not building a new internet. It’s not an asset uncorrelated with the market. It’s not a hedge against inflation. It is a vehicle for pure, naked speculation detached from anything in the economy. It’s a casino that’s wrapped in all of these lies. When you tear back those lies, what’s left looks like a net negative for the world.” You may not be interested in crypto, but you should be. “It reveals a lot of our dark tendencies,” Diehl says. “And it’s a mirror for a lot of the political struggle in society.” ...
UPDATE: bought the book. An interesting read thus far. Squares with my broad historical knowledge of pre-crypto economic bubbles and frauds, along with my thus far relatively shallow (albeit accruing) education on this new finance technology.
UPDATE2: I'm about 80% through the book. Hugely informative and enjoyable read, highly recommended. This crypto crap has gotta be stopped. It's dangerous.

Are we havin' fun yet?
Crypto: Everyone Was Just That Stupid

$2.1 trillion.

That’s a rough approximation of the total value destruction across the cryptocurrency space from the peak seen in early November 2021 through Tuesday morning, when Bitcoin sat at a two-year low, and endorsement payments to Tom Brady from FTX were being scrutinized by Texas regulators.

Who could’ve known, just 12 months ago, that things would turn out this way for crypto? After all, the private money business sounded even more compelling this go-around than it has in the past.

I’m being sarcastic, of course. The private money business never works, and this time most assuredly wasn’t “different.”

In the wake of the FTX fiasco, much of the breathless crypto coverage emanating from the financial media (mainstream, alternative and otherwise), seems to intentionally avoid addressing the elephant in the room. If that’s the case, it’s understandable. Because to address it would be to concede that nearly everyone — from large media conglomerates to the most respected venture capitalists on the planet to storied hedge funds — was duped into believing that all it took to make the private money business viable was a single innovation.

That’s plainly absurd. For one thing, some experts offer trenchant arguments against the idea that blockchain constitutes a “technology” at all, if technology is supposed to be synonymous with true innovation. Even if it is an innovation, many skeptics argue it’s not an especially useful one. In the interest of brevity, I won’t walk through those arguments, but you can certainly do so yourself if you have Google and half an hour to spare.

Beyond that, though, the notion of private money at scale, and, more to the point, the notion of private money at scale as an investable proposition, is stupid. Not “misguided,” not “misplaced” and not any other more generous adjective either. Just plain old stupid…
FTX Group corporate funds were used to purchase real-estate properties in the Bahamas, where the company had its headquarters, for employees and advisers. Reuters has reported that FTX, Bankman-Fried’s parents, and company executives bought a hundred and twenty one million dollars’ worth of real estate, mainly “luxury beachfront homes.” (FTX, Bankman-Fried, and the company executives did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. A spokesman for Bankman-Fried’s parents said that they had been trying to return the property to FTX before the bankruptcy proceedings. Separately, James Bromley, the FTX attorney, said on Tuesday that the company spent three hundred million dollars in the Bahamas buying homes and vacation properties for its senior staff.)

This is how Mr. Effective Altruist lived in the Bahamas. Notably absent were any rescued starving orphans from the Sudan or Syrian refugee camps.
In fairness, Mr. Bankman-Fried cannot begin to be His Most Awesomely Effective Philanthrophic Self until he achieves Trillionaire status (a notion he has mused about). Ya gotta do stuff At Scale these days. Hang in there, kiddies.
LOL. The irascible Randian contrarian take on "altruism."
Lordy, Mercy. She's also quoted as exhorting "Individualists of the world—UNITE!"

Whatever. So much fatuous incoherence, so little time... I think I need a drink.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Elizabeth Holmes sentencing

I've written a ton about this Theranos debacle. Given her pending appeals, it could very likely yet be years before she presents for incarceration (assuming her appeals fail).

Sunday, November 13, 2022

From the priority exigencies list: "Malign Technologies"

Cryptocurrencies crash and burn.
Imagine my surprise. "Cryptocurrencies" morph inexorably toward classic Ponzi scheme frauds. (Highly recommend you follow this "CoffeeZilla" dude on YouTube. He's all over these scams.)
Sam Bankman-Fried
It seems like just last month — because it was just last month — that everyone from Washington insiders to Twitter fanboys were fawning over the pronouncements of billionaire crypto investor Sam Bankman-Fried. He was a “wunderkind,” the successor to banker J.P. Morgan. Stepping in to save one insolvent crypto company after another, he was feted by VIPs and sought after for his political donations and philanthropic thoughts.

Instead of a prophet of the blockchain future, Bankman-Fried, whose crypto exchange FTX filed for bankruptcy Friday, is increasingly looking like Ozymandias 2.0. From a $32 billion valuation earlier this year, his empire is in a free fall following an exposĂ© of its finances by CoinDesk. (The matter is complicated, but essentially they had the goods showing that Alameda Research, Bankman-Fried’s trading firm, was holding a significant number of crypto coins issued by FTX. This undermined faith in both companies and ultimately led to a run on the crypto bank.)…
I viscerally hate this shit. See my 2008 post "Tranche Warfare." See also my follow-on 2009 post "The Dukes of Moral Hazard."

I did a 5-year stint in subprime risk management, 2000-2005. The tech has changed (e.g., crypto, blockchain, global cloud data archives), but the lure of financial grifting most certainly has not.


This story is moving as fast as a careening out-of-control driverless Tesla. Stay tuned.
Michael Lewis Already Selling Movie Rights for Book on FTX's $32 Billion Meltdown
The author of Moneyball and The Big Short has been following around FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried for the past six months

...Bankman-Fried gave an interview where he explained that he thought books were for losers. Seriously.

“I’m very skeptical of books. I don’t want to say no book is ever worth reading, but I actually do believe something pretty close to that. I think, if you wrote a book, you fucked up, and it should have been a six-paragraph blog post.”
Tells us all we need to know, 'eh?

BTW, his parents are both Stanford Law School professors. What do we rationally and justifiably infer from that?
By the way: Disgraced Theranos founder & CEO Elizabeth Holmes is to be sentenced on Nov 18th for her felony wire fraud & conspiracy convictions. 

Prosecution has asked for 15 years.

Frankie is 19. She was born to a litter at my sister-in-law's place in Vegas, was then first with our son Nick, after which she ended up at my late daughter Danielle's place (where he'd lived for a while). We moved Danielle over to Antioch CA after she got laid off in Las Vegas. Frankie has been with Cheryl and I ever since.
This week the vet told us she had advanced, unmanageable kidney failure. We have thus far avoided putting her down. She does not appear to be in pain, just extremely lethargic and wobbly. Monitoring her hour by hour since we got the dx.

They just don't live long enough.

UPDATE: Frankie is gone. Just slowly faded out peacefully Tuesday night.


There will surely be more to come. None of it positive.


There are no “coins.“ There are no “mines.“ There are no “wallets.“ There are no “blocks.“ There are no “chains”
It’s a gossamer Metaverse of babblelicious metaphors.
At the end of the day, there are no “assets,” only a huge pile of unenforceable signatures.
BTW: check out the “CoffeeZilla“ dude on YouTube. Kid is all over it.

Click the image

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The U.S. 2022 midterms Red Wave

Whatever. Some of the races remain to be called. But, there will be no huge "wave" ousting many Democratic incumbents.

…[M]any Americans have grown alienated from an idea at the heart of democratic theory: that you change things by changing minds—by persuading.

This challenge to persuasion has taken myriad forms. Social movements that need to grow to win have often seemed to devote more energy to keeping people out than pulling people in. Political campaigns frequently receive advice to focus on mobilizing sympathetic voters more than winning over skeptics. People have watched as tens of millions of their loved ones mentally disappear into online rabbit holes and cults, but little organized effort is made to bring them back or protect future victims. Leaders who attempt outreach have been attacked by their own as sellouts, chided for centering those who would never ally with them anyway over those who have long had their back, if not their attention.

The tendency to write off is rooted in the assumption that differences of identity are unbridgeable, that people are too invested in their privileges and interests to change, that the failure to achieve change in the past predicts failure in the future, that people and their opinions are monolithic and strong rather than complicated and fragile, and therefore the purpose of politics is to protect yourself from Others and galvanize your own instead of trying to reach across…

Giridharadas, Anand. The Persuaders (pp. 13-14). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.  
[See prior post] Have to say, I am a bit more optimistic now than I was just a couple of days ago.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Deliberation, persuasion, and democracy

"The lifeblood of any free society is persuasion: changing other people’s minds in order to change things. But America is suffering a crisis of faith in persuasion that is putting its democracy and the planet itself at risk. Americans increasingly write one another off instead of seeking to win one another over. Debates are framed in moralistic terms, with enemies battling the righteous. Movements for justice build barriers to entry, instead of on-ramps. Political parties focus on mobilizing the faithful rather than wooing the skeptical. And leaders who seek to forge coalitions are labeled sellouts.

In The Persuaders, Anand Giridharadas takes us inside these movements and battles, seeking out the dissenters who continue to champion persuasion in an age of polarization…

As the book’s subjects grapple with how to call out threats and injustices while calling in those who don’t agree with them but just might one day, they point a way to healing, and changing, a fracturing country."
I was not aware of this book until this morning. My Bad. Will have to rectify that oversight ASAP. I'd read Anand's excellent prior book "WinnersTake All" back in 2019.
"Anand Giridharadas takes us into the inner sanctums of a new gilded age, where the rich and powerful fight for equality and justice any way they can—except ways that threaten the social order and their position atop it. They rebrand themselves as saviors of the poor; they lavishly reward “thought leaders” who redefine “change” in ways that preserve the status quo; and they constantly seek to do more good, but never less harm. 
Giridharadas asks hard questions: Why, for example, should our gravest problems be solved by the unelected upper crust instead of the public institutions it erodes by lobbying and dodging taxes? His groundbreaking investigation has already forced a great, sorely needed reckoning among the world’s wealthiest and those they hover above, and it points toward an answer: Rather than rely on scraps from the winners, we must take on the grueling democratic work of building more robust, egalitarian institutions and truly changing the world—a call to action for elites and everyday citizens alike."

I'm pretty anxious about the upcoming US midterms. Cheryl and I have already voted early. Make sure y'all vote.

Is that excessively cynical? [UPDATE: This Bill Maher segment didn't age all that well.]

Economistic reasoning dominates our age, and we may be tempted to focus on the first half of each of the above sentences—a marginal contribution you can see and touch—and to ignore the second half, involving a vaguer thing called complicity. But [Chiara] Cordelli was challenging elites to view what they allow to be done in their name, what they refuse to resist, as being as much of a moral action as the initiatives they actively promote.

Her argument is not that every bad thing that happens in the world is your fault if you fail to stop it. Her claim, rather, is that citizens of a democracy are collectively responsible for what their society foreseeably and persistently allows; that they have a special duty toward those it systematically fails; and that this burden falls most heavily on those most amply rewarded by the same, ultimately arbitrary set of arrangements. “If you are an elite who has campaigned for or supported the right policies, or let’s suppose that you are not causally complicit in any direct sense,” she said, “still, it seems to me that you might owe a responsibility or duty to return to others what they have been unfairly deprived of by your common institutions.”

The winners bear responsibility for the state of those institutions, and for the effects they have on others’ lives, for two reasons, Cordelli said: “because you’re worth nothing without society, and also because we would all be dominated by others without political institutions that protect our rights.”

To take each of those in turn: She says you are worth nothing without society because there can be no hedge fund managers, nor violinists, nor technology entrepreneurs, in the absence of a civilizational infrastructure that we take for granted. “Your life, your talents, what you do could not be possible if they weren’t for common institutions,” Cordelli says. If the streets weren’t safe or the stock markets weren’t regulated, it would be harder to make use of one’s talents. If banks weren’t forced to offer a guarantee of guarding your money, making money would be pointless. Even if your children attended private school, public schools very likely trained some of their teachers, and publicly financed roads connected that island of a school to the grid of the society. Then there is the fact that absent a political system of shared institutions, anyone could dominate anyone. Every person with anything precious to protect would be at constant risk of plunder by everybody else. To live in a society without laws and shared institutions that applied equally to all would be, Cordelli says, to live “dependent on the arbitrary will of another. It would be like a form of servitude.”…

When a society solves a problem politically and systemically, it is expressing the sense of the whole; it is speaking on behalf of every citizen. It is saying what it believes through what it does. Cordelli argues that this right to speak for others is simply illegitimate when exercised by a powerful private citizen. “You are an individual,” she said. “You can’t speak in their name. I can maybe speak in the name of my child, but other people are not your children.

“This is what it means to be free and equal and independent individuals and, for better or for worse, share common institutions,” she said. Our political institutions—our laws, our courts, our elected officials, our agencies, our rights, our police, our constitutions, our regulations, our taxes, our shared infrastructure: the million little pieces that uphold our civilization and that we own together—only these, Cordelli said, “can act and speak on behalf of everyone.”

Giridharadas, Anand. Winners Take All (p. 258-262). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Twitterverse psychodrama

What is wrong with this guy?
I started using Twitter in 2009, first to hustle my friends' band in Las Vegas, and subsequently to pimp my KHIT blog—which was then an online diary going to my day gig work in digital health infotech beginning in 2010.

It has served its purpose. Change is now in the air.

Whatever. Get out and vote. Far more important.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

The 2022 U.S. midterm elections

My wife and I have voted early, hand-delivering our early voting ballots Sunday evening at a secure downtown election location. Use it or lose, folks.

Saw this touted on Science-Based Medicine.
Tomasz Witkowski is a Polish psychologist and skeptic (founder of the Polish Skeptics Club) who is well known for pointing out the lack of scientific evidence behind most of what psychologists do. I have reviewed three of his previous books Psychology Gone Wrong: The Dark Sides of Science and Therapy, Psychology Led Astray: Cargo Cult in Science and Therapy, and Shaping Psychology: Perspectives on Legacy, Controversy and the Future of the Field. He has done it again, and this time he extends his myth busting to topics outside psychology. His new book Fads, Fakes, and Frauds, fulfills the promise of its subtitle, exploding myths in culture, science, and psychology. He shows that many of our popular beliefs are false and explains how they are biased by history and evolution. Amazon offers the book in two formats, Kindle and paperback.

We too readily accept whatever we are taught. Not Tomasz Witkowski! He sets an example that we all should follow: he questions everything! His questions lead him to discover that much of psychology, culture, and even science itself are not supported by credible evidence. This book will challenge you to reconsider some of your most cherished beliefs, to realize that much of what you thought you knew is wrong. Prepare to be discombobulated by his revelations…

Looks very interesting. I'm already buried several books on the law at the moment. The pile never diminishes. Gonna have to ramp up.
Finished the Wehle, Cross, and Trachtman books. All of this goes to my recurrent "Deliberation Science" riff. Add that stash, my priors reads going to jury "deliberations."

Not too long ago, my son Matt served on a Baltimore criminal trial jury.
Prior post of "deliberation" relevance? "Who wouldn't want to be influential? Seriously?"

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Halloween 2022

In my Baltimore Sun today.

I again implore you to read Robert Draper's new book Weapons of Mass Delusion.
Cheryl and I spent the day together filling out our 2022 midterms ballots. Took us several hours. Nine days to election day. We'll be dropping our ballots off this evening.

Cheryl is serving as a volunteer Election Judge on the 8th. It will be a long day for her. She has to arrive by 5:45 a.m. and stay until everything is wrapped up and secured.

Friday, October 28, 2022

A Musky Friday

Yeah, but I have utter confidence that Donald Trump, once his @realDonaldTrump Twitler account is reactivated, can adroitly school Elon in the exquisite fine art of welshing on your debt obligations. Nobody Does It Better.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

As the U.S. 2022 midterm elections approach,

everyone would do well to read this bracing, timely book.
As a journalist, I have written books and lengthy magazine stories about the Republican Party for over two decades. Though I’ve done my best not to shade these accounts, I must confess that they’ve tended to bear the telltale influence of my father, a lifelong Republican.

At his best, Bob Draper epitomized the GOP’s best. He was an optimist and a man who went by the facts while following the guidance of his Christian faith. He trusted individuals while nurturing a healthy suspicion of authority figures. He was immune to cultism. He would not dream of cheating to get ahead or of blaming someone else for his shortcomings. And though I’m sure he viewed his life trajectory—marine, taxpayer, capitalist, family man, community servant—as that of an American patriot, he never once felt the need to say so, or to assert that someone who voted differently from him—as his wife of sixty-four years nearly always did—was therefore a socialist, a traitor, or human scum…

This book focuses primarily on the eighteen-month period after the Trump presidency when—if my father could have had his way—the defeated GOP would have obligingly retreated to its traditional mooring and, after due penance, sought to reclaim its valor as a party tethered to reason. Except, of course, that is not at all what happened.

What occurred instead is that the Republican Party plunged deeper into a Trumpian cult of compulsive dissembling and conspiracy mongering. It fell hostage to the party’s most fevered extremists, self-described “patriots” who habitually characterized their ideological opponents on the other side of the aisle as communists, traitors, and terrorists. It became anti-civility, anti-science, anti–law and order. It ostracized the few Republicans willing to upbraid the party’s descent into madness. Its leaders ceased to lead. Its longtime legislators—the “adults in the room,” establishment regulars, favorites on the K Street fundraising circuit—meekly receded into their tornado shelters, assuring themselves that the storm would pass soon. Meanwhile, its Democratic adversaries mostly abandoned the usual victor’s schadenfreude, instead regarding the Republicans with astonishment and outright fear.

In short, the Republican Party lost its mind. The mass migration from Reagan’s “Morning in America” to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” to the former president’s wild-eyed “Save America” is one in which the usual partisan differences gave way to an existential call to arms. Given that America has organized its entire governing system around the presumption of two healthy political parties, the GOP’s growing commitment to a funhouse-mirror version of reality would seem to represent a threat to the nation’s democratic experiment.

The period I chronicle here constitutes a moment when the this is not normal fretfulness accompanying the seemingly anomalous Trump era metastasized into this is dangerous and is not going away. Evidence of this alarming development would crop up across the country and throughout the greater Republican Party, from Florida to Washington state, from GOP presidential aspirants down to local precinct chairpersons. But the tension between the party’s reality-based wing and the lost-its-mind wing would most acutely reveal itself within the 211-member Republican Conference, the minority party in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This narrative therefore focuses in particular on the key actors in the House GOP at a moment of reckoning for the party. It is a moment I viewed mostly at close range—beginning with the morning of January 6, 2021.

Draper, Robert. Weapons of Mass Delusion (pp. xv-xvi). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
This book jumped my queue. I was deep into two books on Constitutional Law, and two on trial law procedure.
All of it goes to my abiding Jones regarding "Democracy and Deliberation Science."

I could hardly put Robert's book down. Eye-opening, infuriating, and depressingly worrisome, given what may be facing us shortly. Wonderfully written. Highly recommended.

apropos,  my episodic irascible 2 cents.

In the Epilogue, Robert Draper wraps up,
Amid the tangled threads of American life, only one strand, straight and true, stood out: evil. It was omnipresent, stable, and oddly stabilizing, a kind of dark lodestar to measure one’s worth against. So long as there was evil, there was righteousness. Identify evil, and the details did not matter. Facts did not matter. Lying was  justified. Theft was justified. Cruelty was justified. Violence was justified. In the never-ending war against evil, you could do no wrong.

As Marjorie Taylor Greene’s former leader had almost done, and as her future leader promised to do, you could “blow the place up.”
[Draper, pp. 363-364]
Read it. Then make sure you cast your votes.
Really way past sick of all this stuff.
14 days to the 2022 midterms.
The Desecrations of Michael Flynn
The former national security adviser is fusing deranged political ideas with a mangled version of the Christian faith.
A prayer at a “ReAwaken America” event in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a few days ago, at which Michael Flynn appeared, captured the sensibilities of this moment: “Father God, we come to you in the name of Jesus. We’re asking you to open the eyes of President Trump’s understanding, that he will know the time of divine intervention. He will know how to implement divine intervention. And you will surround him, Father, with none of this deep-state trash, none of this RINO trash. You surround him, people that you pick, with your own mighty hand. In the name of Jesus”…

Flynn didn’t just claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump; he floated the idea of having Trump declare martial law and try to “rerun” the election. He suggested that the president should seize voting machines. And he said that the election involved “probably the greatest fraud that our country has ever experienced in our history.” At an event in Arizona last month, Flynn said, “Did you know that a governor can declare war? A governor can declare war. And we’re going to probably see that.”

Flynn has also asserted that COVID-19 was unleashed intentionally by global elitists in order to “rule the world,” “control humanity,” and “steal an election.” He has warned about the dangers of a “new world order” in which people such as Bill Gates, George Soros, and World Economic Forum Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab “have an intent to track every single one of us, and they use it under the skin. They use a means by which it’s under the skin.”

But it doesn’t end there. In a video deposition for the House committee investigating January 6, Republican Representative Liz Cheney asked this question of Flynn: “Do you believe the violence on January 6 was justified morally?” To which he responded, “Take the Fifth.” Cheney then asked, “Do you believe the violence on January 6 was justified legally?” Flynn responded, “Fifth.” And then Cheney asked this question of the former general: “Do you believe in the peaceful transition of power in the United States of America?”

“The Fifth,” Flynn replied.

“It was a surreal moment,” The Atlantic’s Barton Gellman wrote. “Here was a retired three-star general and former national security adviser refusing to opine on the foundational requirement of a constitutional democracy”… 
This stuff is not funny. 

 Sometimes, the lyrics just write themselves.

Gosar and Gohmert,
Boebert and Greene,
A neuron between them?
It remains to be seen.
Marjorie Taylor,
The QAnon Wailer,
Where She Go One
She Go All.

Loose Cannon Steve Bannon
Ain’t changin’ his shirts.
You can shove your subpoena
Right up where it hurts.
America’s Mayor
All drunk on his butt.
Is this a Great Country,

Weapons of Mass Delusion,
MAGA cult WMD.
Caught up in crass confusion,
Intifada behind ev’ry tree.
Weapons of Mass Delusion,
Don’t need us no danged evidence.
No need of our senses, we
Ain’t mendin’ no fences,
We still wanna hang ol’ Mike Pence.

Boebert and Gohmert,
Greene and Gosar,
Don’t forget JD Vance of
Hillbilly Ishtar.
And, the MyPillowGuy
Gots some packets for you,
If them Jewish Space Lasers
Won’t do.

Weapons of Mass Delusion,
MAGA brand WMD.
Nothin’ but crass confusion,
Just the price of the Land of the Free.
Ev’rybody, now:
“Let’s Go, Brandon,”
Aren’t y’all proud as can be?
Weapons of Mass Delusion,
MAGA cult WMD.

Words & Music by Bobby Gladd
Copyright © 2022, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

U.S. 2022 midterms draw nigh

I don't think it's possible to overstate the importance of the upcoming November 8th midterms. Make sure you vote.
OK, a momentary respite from all of our sociopolitical discord.

Jacob just posted an artistic animated visual rendering of this song.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Less than a month to the US midterm elections

My 2022 midterm ballot, iPhone shot
My wife and I will continue to spend hours vetting everything and everyone presented on our ballots. Do likewise. Our democracy itself is at stake this time. That is not hyperbole.