Of Brexit and the fate of the kingdom

I've been thinking about the situation in the United Kingdom. Specifically, I've been thinking about the Brexit vote, the new government, and what it all means.I saw a tweet today from an Englishman I follow in which he lamented that if things keep going the way they have been, nobody will take Britain seriously anymore. I can understand his frustration, but when I look at the last 70 years or so, this looks an awful lot like a continuation of an ongoing process.

The British Empire died in 1947 with Indian independence, followed by a long string of colonies allowed to go their own way. This was inevitable and good, as self-determination is the desire of all peoples, and all empires must eventually fall. Despite this, Britain continued to punch above its weight for half a century, playing off its relationship with the Commonwealth and the strength of its military, including its nuclear arsenal--and its membership in a larger European community. Those days are ending.

What we've seen in the last few weeks is the most remarkable act of national seppuku I can remember. The only historical parallel that I can think of is the voluntary dissolution of the Empire, but the difference is that this time, it didn't need to happen. Britain has voluntarily voted to break away from the European Union, and from the outside it looks a lot like a turning inward. Desperate to stay in the EU, Scotland is likely to hold another independence referendum, which this time will likely pass, and that will put paid to the Act of Union.

A shrunken Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (assuming that Ulster doesn't decide some kind of federation with Eire is preferable in order to keep EU citizenship) isn't going to pack the same punch that the UK did, and Englishmen shouldn't assume that it will. The rest of the world will look to the EU, and specifically Germany, its economic powerhouse--and if that isn't the nightmare of the average Leave voter, it should be.

Meanwhile, the main players in the Leave campaign have buggered off, leaving a new government to sort the mess out. Given all of the foregoing, the naming of the Clown Prince of the Tories as foreign secretary by the new PM isn't likely to have that much impact on foreign opinion of England, the fact that he's gone well out of his way to offend numerous foreign leaders, including the U.S. President, aside. There will be a Brexit minister and a foreign trade minister to handle the heavy lifting, and Boris will be free to go to diplomatic functions and dinners and, as someone said, hand out the Ferrero Rocher.

So, if you're thinking that the rest of the world won't take Britain seriously because of the new government, I've got some very bad news for you. That ship has largely sailed, and the people of Britain are the ones who untied the moorings. There will always be an England, and probably a royal family, and tourists from Iowa will still come to see the soldiers in red jackets and tall furry hats guarding the Queen.

But if you're a Briton who wants the rest of the world to look to London for leadership in times of crisis, you'll have to earn that anew. Because as of today, you've squandered your inheritance, and what you have to show for it isn't worth a farthing.

My thoughts, in their entirety, on the Dallas Police using a robot with a bomb to take out a suspect who killed five people

Don't care.

Something that's been driving me nuts

I keep seeing people say that Hitler was elected. He was not. He lost the German presidential election to Paul von Hindenburg in 1932, and in 1933 was asked to form a government (i.e., become Chancellor) by President von Hindenburg. At the time, the National Socialists were the largest party in the Reichstag, but did not command a majority of seats. Hitler's first cabinet had a majority of non-Nazi members. Former Chancellor Franz von Papen famously said that they had "hired" Hitler, in the belief he could be controlled.

Learn your damn history, people.

The November decision

Even before voting in the California primary next month, I've been thinking a lot about the November election. We now know that Donald Trump will be theRepublican nominee, and it appears likely that Hillary Clinton will be theDemocratic candidate.

(I'm still voting for Bernie Sanders next month, by the way.)

Anyway, if things break the way I expect them to, there's going to be huge pressure on progressive voters to vote for HRC to keep Trump out of the White House. This, by the way, is what I've been planning to do, because I am a one-issue voter, and that one issue is keeping power-hungry fascist demagogues out of power.

Which is why I've been troubled to see the behavior of the Democratic National Committee and many Clinton supporters. The DNC, whose chair openly supports Clinton. is doing its level best to keep the Sanders campaign out of convention committees, as well as any position of influence. And a lot of Hillary supporters are calling for Bernie to suspend his campaign in the name of party unity, fearing he's damaging their chances in November.

There's just one problem with that.

He's still winning primary elections, and the big prize of California is yet to come. That's one he could theoretically win, too. And as the current count of pledged delegates is something like 1716 for Clinton to 1433 for Sanders, California and the other states that vote on June 7 could be pivotal.

So yeah, he could still win in terms of pledged delegates. Looks like I was wrong about item #7 in my last post.

But what about superdelegates, you ask? Yeah, about that: they're mostly all for Clinton. But it's kind of hard to call yourself the Democratic party and have your elite, free-agent superdelegates voting against the obvious will of the rank-and-file. Not very democratic, that. There's an excellent article here that discusses this in some detail.

But I digress. Many Sanders supporters are understandably somewhat miffed that their candidate might win the popular vote and still get shoved aside because the superdelegates are engaging in voter nullification. A tweet I saw this morning stated their point rather nicely:

It isn't our job tosave the Dem party. If their super-delegates insist on supporting a candidatewith a 62% negative approval, vote Green.

Yeah. There's that. In a year when the electorate is obviously and demonstrably sick of politics as usual, the Democratic establishment appears poised to ram through a candidate who is clearly part of the Washington and business establishments (former Walmart board member, former First Lady, former Senator, former Secretary of State) and who has massive negative approval ratings. They'll vote that way no doubt in part because of favors owed to both Clintons, as well as being afraid ofwhat might happen to the corporate contributions that flow into their own campaigns if the national party gives the finger to Wall Street by electing a self-described democratic socialist. That's understandable in its own way--why break up what is a very comfortable arrangement? Apart from all the cronyism and corruption, of course. And then there are the polls showing her losing to Trump, where Sanders would win comfortably.

Anyway, so what should a progressive voter do?

One answer is to vote for a third-party candidate like Jill Stein of the Greens. But then you risk a Trump presidency.

Another answer is to hold your nose and vote for Hillary. You'll help keep Trump out, but then the Democratic Party will have no incentive to change its ways.

A third option, which I refuse to contemplate, is voting for Trump. No doubt some will.

And finally, you can stay home and sit this one out. Some will do this, too.

What will I do?

I won't sit it out. At this point, I'm likely to vote for Hillary in November. But it's not certain. Much will depend on what transpires betweennow and then in the Democratic campaign. Because when it's all over, I have to be able to look at myself in the mirror and know that I voted according to my conscience. I don't want Trump in the White House. Then again, I don't want the Democratic Party to merely be a business-dominated,mildly right-of-center alternative to a Trump-dominated, batshit crazy neofascist Republican party, either. The Green Party is closer to my personal beliefs, and very, very tempting.

There is, however, one thing I do know.

If I end up voting for Hillary merely to keep out Trump--which may very well happen--after she and the Democratic National Committee have done everything in their power to keep Sanders-supporting progressives out of any position of influence, they will have earned an abandonment, and it will likely be the last vote I ever cast for a Democrat.

The Presidential election: Facts, opinions, and two unhappy thoughts

This is a good time to remember a few basic facts about the November election:

  1. It hasn't happened yet. Anything could happen.
  2. The Republican nominee will be Donald Trump.
  3. If the GOP leadership thinks it can stop #2 from becoming reality, they're delusional.
  4. Any attempt to stop #2 from happening will likely split the party.
  5. Anyone who doesn't think the GOP can split is delusional. See #1.
  6. TheDemocratic nominee will be Hillary Clinton.
  7. If Bernie Sanders thinks he can stop #6 from happening, he's delusional.
  8. If Hillary Clinton thinks she's going to have her own way at the convention, she's delusional.
  9. The Sanders campaign has amassed a lot of delegates and will be in a position to influence the convention.
  10. If the Democratic leadership thinks it can stop #9 from happening, it's delusional.
  11. Donald Trump can win in November.
  12. Anyone who denies #11 is delusional. See #1.
  13. HillaryClinton can win in November.
  14. Anyone who denies #13 is delusional. See #1.
  15. NeitherTrump nor Clinton is going to glide into the Oval Office easily. See #1.
  16. Nomatter who is elected, there is going to be a large and angry segment of the population that refuses to accept it. Our nation's politics will not become sweetness and light just because the GOP loses control of the Senate. Or gains the White House.
  17. There will likely be violence. It's happened already and is unlikely to stop.

And finally, two unhappy thoughts:

  1. Constitutions only matter as long as attention is paid to them. The Soviet Union had a constitution. East Germany had a constitution.Nazi Germany had a constitution. North Korea has a constitution.
  2. If you elect a demagogue who is backed by arms, the Constitution will not protect you.

Decision day

This message is an open letter to Republican voters in Ohio and Florida.

Dear Florida and Ohio Republicans,

We probably don't agree on much, but I have to say this or I'll regret it forever: You have a choice today. You can vote for Cruz, Kasich, or Rubio, and deny the nomination to Donald Trump, which will probably result in a brokered convention and quite possibly the most violent convention since the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968. It may also result in the destruction of the GOP, at least in the near term, possibly in the long term.

Or, you can vote for Trump, and virtually hand him the Republican nomination on a platter. This will probably avoid a chaotic convention, but will probably also sound the death knell for American democracy if he's elected in November and is able to consolidate his power. That may sound overly dramatic. It isn't. I have no love for his GOP opponents, but they aren't demagogues. He is.

You can destroy the GOP, or you can destroy our country and what it has always stood for.

Your choice.

Choose wisely.

And may God have mercy on all of us.

Historical parallels

Identify the time(s) and place(s) associated with the following:

  • A relentless drumbeat of outright lies and propaganda
  • Increasing division of the populace to extremes of left and right
  • Unwillingness of either extreme to compromise
  • The candidate who says, "It's not your fault--you've been screwed/stabbed in the back"
  • Demonization of a religious minority
  • Casual acceptance and tacit encouragement of violence
  • Advocacy of war crimes
  • Gradual acquiescence of Establishment figures to the demagogue because "he doesn't really mean it" or "he'll drop all that nonsense once he's in office."

There are two that come to mind, separated by about 80 years.

It's not too late to stop it from ending the way it did the first time.

The day the American political system broke

I've never really been a fan of the way our government is structured. It has always seemed to me that the Founding Fathers, fearful of tyranny, deliberately designed a system that guarantees gridlock. In order to overcome that possibility, you have to have people in government who are willing to reach across the aisle and work with the other side for the good of the nation.

In a Westminster-style parliamentary system, on the other hand, there is no such requirement. When the majority legislative party forms the executive, they can (theoretically, anyway) pass whatever legislation is necessary and nominate and confirm judges as they see fit. While this is not always the case, particularly in times of coalition government, it has been so often enough, particularly in Britain and in many nations of the Commonwealth.

Today, it's beginning to look like we should have kept the Westminster system, and like the GOP majority thinks that we did. With eleven months left in office for President Obama, the GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee issued a statement that there would be no consideration of nominees for the vacant Supreme Court seat left by the death of Antonin Scalia until after Inauguration Day. This is despite the clear constitutional requirement that the President shall nominate a candidate to fill the vacancy, and the Senate shall consider the nominee and hold a confirmation vote.

To put it another way, the legislative branch has overstepped its bounds and is refusing to carry out its constitutional duty, apparently for no other reason than they do not like the current President. The effect of this is to refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of a democratically elected President of the United States. It also places the political agenda of the Senate majority ahead of the Constitution of the United States, which they claim to honor--a claim that is now clearly a lie.

In retrospect, we should have seen this coming. The increasing political division in the United States since the 2000 election, which had to be decided by a Supreme Court decision, has been pointing towards this for some time. And let us be clear--the blame for this is not shared equally by both parties. Ever since the election of Barack Obama, the Republican Party has been very clear that it would attempt to obstruct and thwart this President at every turn, regardless of what he proposed. Time and time again, they have subtly encouraged those who would question this President's patriotism, his religion, and even his citizenship. While there is a time-honored tradition of each party attempting to thwart the political agenda of the other, it has never before taken such a clear step towards constitutional crisis. The last time that conflict between two branches of government resulted in a crisis of this magnitude was likely the Roosevelt administration's threat to pack the Supreme Court in order to carry forward the New Deal agenda. But even then, it was resolved without causing serious damage to our constitutional system.

Today, however, the damage is serious indeed. The Senate majority has abandoned all pretense of constitutional procedure and legal precedent, for there is no precedent for simply refusing to hold a confirmation hearing for the duration of an incumbent president's term. To the best of my knowledge, there is no clear path forward from this point. The President will nominate; the Senate will ignore the nomination, and most likely the President will make a recess appointment which the congressional GOP will then claim (incorrectly) is an abuse of his constitutional authority.

If this were any other issue, the Supreme Court would eventually be called on to rule on the constitutionality of both the Senate's refusal to act and the President's recess appointment of a justice. But this is a Supreme Court which is now evenly tied between the conservative and liberal wings. It seems unlikely that they would be able to issue a ruling with a 4-4 split. And unless I miss my guess, the Democrats in the Senate will do everything in their power to stop the GOP from doing so much as passing a resolution to refill the toilet paper in the restrooms until they're able to move forward with confirmation hearings, which means that no business whatsoever will be transacted for the duration of this Congress.

And there you have it--absolute and unbreakable gridlock. Our political system has finally broken. And it gets worse. As I write this, the Nevada Republican caucuses are underway, and there are multiple reports of multiple voting, voting without ID, and caucus staffers openly wearing campaign T-shirts and hats for Donald Trump, a man who has called for a ban on Muslim immigration, who has openly condoned violence, and who at best is America's Silvio Berlusconi, at worst our Mussolini. It is difficult to look at the overall situation right now and say that this is our finest hour. It is, if anything, our worst.

Some may say I'm being unreasonably pessimistic. Am I? Democracy really only works when you have an educated and informed electorate. Today, much of the right wing espouses beliefs that are largely divorced from reality, which is not surprising when you get most of your news from talk radio (as Scalia himself said he did). It seems that increasingly, we have an undereducated and misinformed electorate. In circumstances like these, it's not surprising that people gravitate towards candidates and politicians who tell them what they want to hear.

Unfortunately, the historical precedents for this are uniformly bad. Nationalistic, xenophobic, reactionary, violence-condoning movements do not tend to lead to an increase in democracy and human rights. Rather the opposite.

To close out this cheery little post-mortem, I'd like to leave you with a thought. In 1940, with German troops overrunning France, the members of the National Assembly met for the last time in the resort town of Vichy. There, they ratified the surrender of French forces, voted dictatorial powers to Marshal Henri Petain, and then, as their last act, voted themselves out of existence. It was all done very officially and with perfect parliamentary form.

That didn't make it legitimate. And someday, historians may well look back at the United States in 2016, and say exactly the same thing.

Apple, the FBI, and the iPhone

From everything I've seen, here's a brief synopsis of what we know:

  • The iPhone belonged to the County of San Bernardino.
  • The county purchased, but did not install, the $4/month software that would have enabled them to access/wipe/unlock the iPhone.
  • The passcode on the phone was changed while in law enforcement's possession.
  • Had they not changed the passcode, it could have been backed up to iCloud and the information accessed on the back end by Apple without engineering a back door.
  • Because the County of San Bernardino and law enforcement both screwed up massively, they're now asking Apple to engineer a back door into the system that could render all iPhone users vulnerable.

Given all of the above, I can only say one thing.

Screw 'em.

My current favorite TV shows

Apropos of nothing, here are my top five favorite television shows that are currently being produced:

  1. Better Call Saul

  2. The Americans

  3. Longmire

  4. The Man In The High Castle

  5. ???

The fifth spot is currently open. Maybe 11.22.63 will show up there. I'll let you know after I've seen it.

Edit: I forgot to mention Deutschland 83, which is on Hulu and which I've heard good things about. Looking forward to seeing it also.