Game Over

Biden is giving away the store. It’s a 6–3 court.

Unless it is paired with the threat to expand the size of the Supreme Court if it is not adhered to, Biden’s request is meaningless. Any request to the Republican Party to do something just to be nice, given the last four years of GOP behavior, is not merely naïve: it raises naïveté to an entirely new level. It creates a whole new universe of naïveté.

This was in fact always the most likely outcome; the Democratic Party has a long, sad tradition of bringing knives to gun fights. I refrained from predicting it earlier because I decided to give optimism a little whirl.

Also do not expect much, if anything, on Biden’s wish list of campaign promises to pass. You think he won’t kneecap any effort to reform the filibuster, just like he’s kneecapping the political hardball necessary to save the Supreme Court right now? Think again. There is absolutely no evidence that Biden can change his ways and cease being so craven.

He’s a septuagenarian, after all, and while there are exceptional individuals who remain flexible and open-minded into their later years, most people are by that age firmly set in their ways. There really is something to the adage about an old dog and new tricks.

Voting for Biden is merely harm reduction, and is unlikely to do anything substantive to halt the ongoing decline of the American empire. It is hitting a reset button so that the current fascist gets ejected from office and the left can better prepare for responding to the next fascist to win it (which, in the wake of the inevitable failure of the Biden administration, will happen).

If you were expecting something other than shit from this shitty system, revise your expectations.

RIP RBG

So, the inevitable has happened. The octogenarian cancer patient (not just any cancer, pancreatic cancer, one of the worst kinds) is no longer among the living.

What happens next is that Trump will nominate a replacement, and the Senate will promptly commence the process of approving the nomination. No other scenario is even remotely plausible, sorry.

In response, Democrats need to announce a plan to unpack the Supreme Court that Trump has packed*, by expanding the number of justices on the Court, and to announce that they will put this plan in motion should RBG’s seat be filled before Inauguration Day.

Mind you, the most likely result is that the Republicans will fill the seat anyhow. If so, well, the Republicans can’t say they weren’t warned.

I must reiterate that all of this is not the path of least resistance, which is for Democrats to pitifully plead for the Republicans to be nice, the Republicans to give a middle finger in response, and for the Democrats to refuse to play hardball in retaliation. The Democrats will only do the right thing reluctantly, if compelled to by massive pressure; their specialty, and their natural inclination, is to bring knives to gun fights.

* And yes, this is how it should be phrased. As unpacking the court. Not packing it. Reject the Republicans’ narrative and put forth our own: A court with three justices nominated by a president who lost the popular vote and has never once been above water in the opinion polls is a court that has been packed.

So, No Pushback

It’s not quite a fortnight since Labor Day, but at this stage it seems pretty clear that the pushback I speculated about last month is simply not going to happen.

Not only has the clock mostly run out, but also there have been not one but two new damning revelations about Trump: about his lack of respect for the military, and about how much he deliberately downplayed the threat of COVID-19.

And yet, silence. Trump’s enablers remain Trump’s enablers.

Face it: if by this stage there has not been a peep of opposition, there is simply not going to be any opposition to Trumpism from within the GOP, at least not until Trump loses power.

Everything I wrote in that earlier analysis still holds. Absent the pre-election opposition, Trump will attempt to prevent a free and fair election, and the preponderance of available evidence indicates he will probably be successful in this goal.

In order to have any confidence of prevailing in such circumstances, the Democrats must have an overwhelming lead. They don’t.

The polls all show Biden ahead, but he’s not ahead by much in key swing states (in fact, margins tend to be narrowing in them), and as usual the Democratic Party is doing an absolutely horrible job of campaigning: refusing to set narratives to counter Trumpist ones, refusing to distribute free yard signs, neglecting the power of social media, failing to do sufficient outreach to key constituencies such as Hispanics, etc.

There is, therefore, no reason to expect a big Biden victory, or even a Biden victory at all. It’s basically a toss-up.

None of the pundits are saying it’s a toss-up, but none of the pundits are taking into account that it’s probably not going to be a free or fair process. They’re so blinded by their tunnel-vision of specializing in the detailed analysis of Establishment electoral politics that they can’t see the bigger picture.

Converting a Line Voltage Thermostat to Low Voltage

Holes in wall, with wires coming out of them, during upgrade to low-voltage thermostat.

During installation.

Completed installation, showing new thermostat, cover plate, existing heater.

After installation.

Thermostats come in two basic kinds: line voltage, for control of electric heaters, and low voltage, for everything else.

I have electric heat, so my condo naturally came with line voltage thermostats. That has allowed me, over the past heating season, to be reminded that line voltage thermostats generally suck, for two basic reasons:

  • There is not as much a market for them, so their makers basically don’t care very much about quality and accuracy. If you have electric heating, you probably have line voltage thermostat, and you are stuck with the limited selection of generally lousy options. Sucks to be you.
  • Electric heaters draw a lot of current, and that tends to make line voltage thermostats heat up after they close. A thermostat that heats up will tend to open and cut the heat off before the room has reached the set point. How much, depends on the wattage of the heater and how much heat loss there is (i.e. how cold a day it is).

You might think that a line voltage thermostat rated at 22A could easily switch 14.6A of current (which is what the 3500W of heating in my main living space draws) without appreciably heating up, but revisit Point No. 1 above. Neither the one that my unit came with, nor the one I replaced it with, could properly do that.

It was so bad I had to crank the thermostat all the way up to its 90°F setting just to prevent the heat from cutting off prematurely on frosty cold mornings. Once I left fairly early and that day I ended up wasting energy and money heating my home summer-hot for a few hours because I forgot I had turned the heat all the way up. So the status quo was not just annoying, but wasteful as well.

Naïvely replacing a line voltage thermostat with a low voltage one will lead to failure at best and catastrophe (i.e. a fire) at worst. Thankfully, there are combination transformer/relay devices like this which enable one to use a low-voltage thermostat to control electric heating.

I had done that at a previous home where this issue plagued me, but there I had the benefit of a crawlspace with a large electrical box to bolt the thermostat relay onto. Not so here. Initially, I gave up, because the electrical box the existing thermostat was mounted on was too small for me to bolt the relay onto, and I didn’t want to replace it with a double-gang box, because that would make for a large, ugly double-gang cover plate.

Then I realized that the thermostat and one of the heaters shared the same inter-joist wall space, meaning it was possible to remove the 12/2 cable running from the box to the heater, replace it with 12/3, mount the relay on a spare knockout on the heater enclosure, and use the extra wire to feed the switched current back to the box (where I could then connect it to the other heater).

Of course, with existing construction, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. In this case, there was a staple on the old cable which at first prevented me from removing it, resulting in my lying on my back, sticking my arm most of the way up into the inter-joist space, and probing around blind with a pry bar until I could locate and remove the pesky staple. Then there was the unexpected structural member inside the wall. I could only assume it was load-bearing, so as much as it would have simplified my life to cut a notch out of it, that was an absolute no-no, and the resulting extra bit of fiddliness caused by the unexpectedly tight clearances easily added another hour to the project.

No matter; it’s done now.

P.S. Yes, I used a simple, mechanical thermostat, not a fancy computerized one with lots of setbacks. Why? Two main reasons: 1) I don’t work a regular schedule, so don’t really have any sort of regular thermostat program that makes sense, and 2) I prefer to keep it easy, simple, and un-computerized; complicated systems tend to be unreliable and unpredictable systems.

Back from a Long Camping Trip

Well, long for me. I don’t normally go camping for more than a couple days at a stretch, particularly not since the pandemic has made travel increasingly risky.

However, the condo complex I presently reside in is having every building re-roofed this summer, my building’s turn had come up, and the idea of living in a construction zone really does not appeal to me. So a camping trip it was.

I had been confining my camping to about a 50-mile radius this year, but the urge to visit the dry east side of the mountains had gotten just too great to resist, despite the risk. Part of it is that most of the free camping within 50 miles of me is at higher elevations, and these areas can be surprisingly chilly, even in the summer. I even had frost overnight one time last month. So Okanogan County it was.

I figured (correctly) that if I brought the right mix of perishable and non-perishable foods, my ice would last long enough to get me through most of the trip, and the last day or two I could get by well enough on dried and canned things.

That left buying gasoline for the trip home as the only business transaction I would have to make in what is one of Washington’s more infected counties on a per-capita basis. I would just pay at the pump and sanitize my hands afterward. No entering of public indoor spaces at all required.

It all worked out pretty much as planned, and it was nice to be someplace where it actually felt like summer at my campsite. It was very dry; many things were literally dried to a crisp. Not surprisingly, there was a strict burn ban on. Pleasantly surprisingly, I saw no idiots trying to flout it.

Then I return home, only to find that it was taking significantly longer than anticipated for my building to be finished. So I ended up making another, more hastily-planned, trip to a location much closer to home.

The first night of that second trip made for a nice counterpoint to the warmth and dryness of the east side, beginning as it did the same day a weak front brought some showers. The mountains make their own weather, so those showers ended up being a significant overnight rainfall at camp.

It had been some time since I camped in rainy weather, several years in fact, so it was actually nice to experience it again. Camping in the rain is no disaster if one is prepared for it, as I was. It was quite meditative to gradually fall asleep to the pitter-patter in the deepening dusk.

It ended by meeting some friends from Seattle for a short alpine hike near Mt. Baker, which doubled as a blueberry-harvesting trip. There wasn’t the bumper crop of berries that there was last year, but it was still easy enough to come back with enough berries to make a batch of jam (which I will be doing later today).

A Prediction on the Conventions

The Democrats have done an exceptional job of making lemonade out of lemons, creating a slick and effective media spectacle in lieu of a standard, in-person nominating convention.

The Republicans will not do anywhere near as well as the Democrats have done, for the simple reason that their inability to acknowledge obvious facts (about COVID-19) prevented them from being able to prepare for a virtual convention as far in advance as the Democrats did.

In fact, key GOP’ers are doubtless starting to scramble like mad, now that they are realizing how badly their plans for next week’s convention fail to leverage opportunities as well as the Democrats’ plans have. It probably won’t much matter; at this stage, it’s too little, too late. To the degree that the Republicans change their plans, it will make things come off as hasty and ill-prepared.

“Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.” — Umberto Eco.

A Tale of Two Popular Rebellions

One is in Belarus, where a strongman president is refusing to leave office after cheating his way to victory in a crooked election. Here’s what CNN‘s home page has to say about what’s happening in Europe today:

Another is in Bolivia, where a right-wing “caretaker” president, who should have held elections as promised last May, has chosen to cling to power by postponing them a second time (and counting). Here’s what CNN’s home page has to say about what’s happening in the Americas today:

The Washington Post has a similar story on its home page: there is one story on the unrest in Belarus featured, and none on the unrest in Bolivia.

But of course. The rebellion in Belarus is convenient to the interests of the US Empire. It seeks to unseat a pro-Russia president and replace him with one more friendly to Western interests. The one in Bolivia, by contrast, seeks to replace a leader convenient to Western interests with a socialist inconvenient to them (the democratic socialist MAS-IPSP has consistently been leading in preference polls).

Racism likely also plays some role: one rebellion is being staged by mostly indigenous people, the other one by white Europeans.

Both rebellions rightly seek to unseat authoritarians, yet only one is convenient to the interests of Empire and Capital, so only one has the capitalist-owned domestic media expending much effort trying to instill public sympathy for it.

So It’s Harris

Could have been better, could have been a lot worse.

Yes, she’s “a cop” (actually, an ex-prosecutor), with all that implies. Look, it’s Establishment politics here. You were expecting something other than a helping of shit from Establishment politics? Dream on. Exactly what rock have you been living under?

But she’s not an Amy Klobuchar or Tim Kaine type. She is actually one of the more politically progressive US Senators. Michael Moore (an astute political observer and no Establishment figure) really seems to like her (Facebook post reproduced in its entirety below for the benefit of those without Faceborg accounts):

Kamala Harris! Biden could’ve swung right (Susan Rice), but he swung left. Kamala is one of the most progressive Senators in the US Senate and will, as Shaun King says, be the most progressive Vice President in the history of the United States. She is and remains one of the first co-sponsors of Bernie’s Medicare for All bill. In fact, go down the list — she checks nearly every box on Bernie’s platform: Living Wage, Choice, LGBTQ+ equality, peace, child care, etc.

It says a lot about Biden that after she rightly confronted him about race in that first debate that he held no grudge, no animosity. In fact, he might say it gave him pause and a chance to consider how his friendship with segregationist Senators might have been hurtful to people of color and that, even at this age, he can change, he can do better. As progressives, isn’t that at the core of what we stand for? Isn’t that the change we are fighting for? Our belief that America can do better and that our fellow Americans will join us in this movement for a more just and equitable society? Kamala Harris is one more step in that direction.

I’ve met her a few times and I can tell you (and you know I won’t BS you on this because I pretty much despise all politicians), she’s sincere, she has heart, she’s on our side. No, she’s not you or me. But we’re not on the ballot. WE are the movement, which in the long run is what is going to get us what we need. We keep building that movement, we will succeed. And one of our missions in 2020 is to crush Trump, reclaim the Senate and bring down the system of greed, racism, misogyny and white male privilege that gave us Trump — because that, my friends, is what has thrown us into the mad, dark hole we’re in. Our movement is on fire now, tens and tens of millions of us in the streets, at the polling sites, at home, organizing online, young people at the forefront, Black America once again saving us and forcing us to be what we say we are but never were. This is our moment.

And it is now the daughter of two immigrants, born in the last ten weeks of the Baby Boom (but seemingly with the soul of a millennial), possessing skill and smarts, a woman of color who could and did obliterate Bill Barr at a Senate hearing — she and we have a chance in 83 days to do something the entire world is desperately waiting for us to do. Good on you Joe Biden, congrats Kamala, onward!

That she has the other baggage associated with her is to be expected given the nature of Establishment politics. See the second paragraph of this post.

Remember, those of us seeking radical change can never expect the Establishment’s mechanisms to easily yield it. When we vote, we vote not for what we want, but for the sort of opponent we want to face. And a Biden Administration makes for a much more favorable opponent than a second Trump term would.

Where We Are Now: Addenda

The biggest oversight in my recent post is its failure to consider any potential role the Supreme Court might play.

The Court may well play a pivotal role, much like it did in 2000 with Bush vs. Gore. As I wrote several years ago:

Nobody much likes to admit it, but the show that Supreme Court justices put on about adhering to higher principles rather than just going for what their gut wants is quite often just a show. Witness how often conservative justices forget about states’ rights the minute they are asked to rule against a state doing something they consider unacceptably too far to the left.

This principle is likely to play to the Democrats’ advantage this time, despite how the Court tilts to the right. The Supreme Court’s conservatism tends to differ from the present-day “conservatism,” which is basically just warmed-over fascism centered around a latter-day Duce. This can be seen by how conservative justices have screwed Trump over in a number of their recent rulings, by siding with the liberal minority.

Fascism really isn’t very conservative in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, fascism holds contempt for very the status quo that conservatism is based around the reverence of. Conservative justices are heavily biased towards the doctrine of stare decisis, even when this hurts Trump and the GOP.

Plus we have the institutional bias of every justice on the Court to consider: they all, with the possible exception of Justice Kavanaugh, consider the courts to be an important institution, whose co-equal status amongst the three branches is to be jealously guarded and preserved. They know that if Trump is allowed to serve a second term, he will probably run roughshod over the Judicial Branch’s independence, much as he has already done over the Legislative Branch’s.

So the incentive is strong for a majority to rule against Trump in any big dispute that comes up. Higher principles will of course be cited, but the ruling will be what it is.

At that point, the military comes into the picture. Many of the generals don’t much like Trump, either, because so much of what he is flies in the face of military culture since Truman desegregated it. At the same time, that military culture considers intervening in politics anathema. A Supreme Court ruling favorable to the Democrats neatly solves the dilemma: the generals can merely state that Joseph R. Biden is the lawful president and commander in chief, and that they are merely executing his lawful orders.

This, in turn, neatly solves the frightening dilemma faced by the anti-Trump side: that we are, by and large, disarmed and helpless, while Trumpers are armed and willing to use force. If it comes down to an armed contest between the might of the US military and random ragtag weekend militias and rogue police unions, the US military wins, handily.

This fact is obvious enough to probably take much of the fight out of the pro-Trump side. Oh, there will still be fight in them, mark my words: we will be in for a period of domestic terrorism the likes of which this country has never seen, and this in and of itself presents risks, but the immediate conflict would highly favor the anti-Trump side prevailing.

It is important to note that action in the streets will play a role here. The unrest will prompt orders from Trump that the generals are queasy about following. It will further prompt conservatives on the Court to issue a ruling against Trump, as a means of quelling the unrest. Any favorable Court ruling will, in effect, constitute the system using its means to concede the demands of a popular rebellion.

Finally, note that none of this is certain. The Republic is already far closer to death than most are willing to acknowledge, and the illness may well prove terminal. While it is possible (and likely even probable) that the Supreme Court and/or the military may save the day, it is far from certain, and in that case the American left’s pathological obsession with pacifism, and its general aversion to arming itself, will prove to have been one of history’s greatest and most tragic follies.

Where We Are Now

Disclaimer: My Vision Is Faulty

Specifically, I have a real blind spot when it comes to telling when, if, or which Republicans are going to push back. There’s no way I could have predicted that Marco Rubio would fall into line behind Trumpism, while Rick Wilson or Charlie Sykes would join the ranks of anti-Trumpers. More recently, Moscow Mitch’s pushback against Trump’s idea of cancelling or postponing the election came as a surprise to me.

This is all very significant, as we soon shall see, because it is of critical importance in guiding the course of likely future events. What I have tried to do here is to hedge my bets by considering the two major types of alternative, and to rely on the judgment of trustworthy others in those areas where my own vision falls short.

The Old Order Is More Dead Than You Realize

Since he has taken office, Trump has:

  • Enacted a Muslim ban via executive order,
  • Started building a wall along the southern border via executive order,
  • Staffed his Cabinet and agencies without the consent of Congress,
  • Successfully rebuffed Congressional subpoenas, and
  • Sought the influence of a foreign power in the electoral process.

Yes, in some of the above, Congress has tried to stop him. Tried, but not tried as hard as they could have tried. Tried, but failed. In other words, he has gotten away with it.

Such is as it has long been with Republican abuses of power, and the imperial presidency in general (i.e., regardless of party). There was very little accountability for the George W. Bush administration’s war crimes (remember, they outright used torture as an official policy). There was a lesson in this to Republicans, and that lesson was: you will get away with it. As such, Trumpism should really come as no surprise.

As it goes with the Republican Party, so it goes with Trump personally. He was a child of privilege, whose inherited privilege has taught him, time and time again, that laws and social norms are for the little people.

Given all that, and given what the polls say about his current popularity with the American public, of course Trump is going to attempt to prevent a free and fair election, one capable of unseating him, in November. Not only is he going to attempt it, it is entirely plausible that he will be successful in this attempt.

This much is virtually axiomatic; anyone who doubts it is a fool spewing nonsense.

But It’s Not Quite That Simple

At this point, my faulty vision gets in the way. To reiterate, I was actually surprised when McConnell and some other prominent Trumpers threw cold water on Trump’s postpone-the-election trial balloon, but throw cold water they did. Was that anomalous behavior, or was it a portent of a future trend? I honestly cannot say, so I must hedge my bet and consider both alternatives.

If There Is Pushback

It will probably happen after Labor Day. I am relying on the knowledge of Washington insider pundit types here; many of them have whispered that Republicans in Congress might become rats deserting a sinking ship if Trump is still polling as badly after Labor Day (now under a month away) as he is today.

The window is short. If it doesn’t start happening within a fortnight of Labor Day, I don’t see it happening. Realistically, if it doesn’t start happening within a week of Labor Day, I don’t see it happening, but I’m going to err on the side of caution by doubling the size of the window.

It will take an impeachment. This is because of how Trump’s entire life has shaped his personality. It will simply not be possible to convince him that it is in his best interests to adopt strategic long-term thinking (something he seems utterly incapable of) and act lawfully (when laws have never before presented serious obstacles to him). It will be necessary to force him from office. Any lesser measure will prove ineffective at ensuring an at least somewhat free election.

If There Is Not

It will still be necessary to force Trump from office. It’s just that, given that both impeachment and the electoral process will have been mooted, extralegal means will be necessary. I’m talking about a mass popular insurrection, the likes of which have swept many governments from power in many other nations throughout the world.

It will be possible. Six months ago, I would have been very glum about the prospects of this, given how shamefully passive most liberals had been up until then. Now, after the waves of Black Lives Matter protests, I am rather more optimistic about the prospects for free and open society continuing to exist.

I don’t think liberals are there quite yet, but I think the destruction of the electoral process will probably serve as a sufficient radicalizing agent to turn most liberals (and many centrists, and a few conservatives) into revolutionaries. Not full-fledged anarchist revolutionaries, mind you, but revolutionaries nonetheless.

The Stakes Are High

In 1940, during the early days of the Second World War, Churchill remarked:

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

Make no mistake, what we are fighting is the new fascism, and the stakes this time are every bit as great as they were eighty years ago.