Monday, May 27, 2024

You Only Need One

I keep reading doom and gloom projections about the Democrats losing in the November elections in general and the Senate in particular. Given the bounty of toxic issues the Republicans have provided, I just can’t see how it’s possible to lose so badly, or at all. Every Democrat should be able to beat every Republican just by hanging the GOP’s current stances around their neck and making them own it. There’s just so much to work with…

Starting at the top, TFG has shown to be completely unfit for office. He’s an agent of chaos and Vladimir Putin. He is a raging narcissist, obsessed with his own standing, and oblivious to the needs of the country. He is a career criminal whose full history of malfeasance is only just coming to light. He has shown that he can’t be trusted with national secrets and will hide or manipulate them for his own benefit, possibly even selling them to outside interests. His blithering, vanity, and obfuscation at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic cost America over one million lives. The man shouldn’t even be in the same zip code as the presidency. And not for nothing, my father died alone because his hospital was filled up with idiots who believed the COVID misinformation.

But the thing is, TFG isn’t even the worst part. He’s the distraction behind what Republicans are truly trying to do, which is remake America into a Corporate Theocracy. They will use religion to elect those who will loot the national treasury of money and assets. And WE, ourselves, are among the assets. (There has to be someone to provide the money the rich want to siphon off.)

These are among the actions they want to take, most of which are specifically described in their “Project 2025.”

National Abortion Ban. They downplay it now, but it’s on the agenda. They started with the right for States to impose bans and restrictions, and now they want to make it nationwide.

Bans and limits on Contraception. The religious whackaloons see many forms of birth control as a means of abortions, and they can’t have that, can they?

Publicly funded Religious Education. What better way to control adult minds than to indoctrinate them while they’re young? Catholic schools have been doing it for years, but only for those who can afford it.

Putting Women Back in the Kitchen. This is the expected result of the prior three points, all designed to move women out of the workforce and back into the service of men.

Repeal Same-Sex Marriage.  Another payment to the Religious Right. And they currently have the Supreme Court who can do it.

Decimate Social Security as a Safety Net. Yes, it needs to be fixed, but the Republicans’ way to do this is to raise the retirement age and cut benefits, as opposed to increase funding. (Which can be done simply by raising the income cap, currently set at $165,000 per year, as proposed by Democrats.)

Decimate Medicare. Basically, the same problem as with Social Security. The rich don’t want to pay for it and Big Pharma does not want to lose their cash cow.

Gut the IRS. Sure, it sounds nice on the surface, but the goal is to hamper efforts to collect from the rich. You and I will still have to file or face the wrath.

Gut Financial and Environmental Regulations. Rules and regs cost companies money. It’s so much easier to spew pollution into the air and waterways rather than filter it out. And it’s far more profitable to fleece investors with fine-printed flimflammery than offer legit financial products.

Drop Out of or Ignore NATO. TFG danced around that for his entire administration but principled cabinet members and aides prevented it. That won’t happen a second time when he surrounds himself with sycophantic yes men. Abandoning NATO will roll out the red carpet for Russia to steamroll Ukraine and every other European territory he desires, without worrying about repercussions from the US. This act alone spits on the memory of those we honor this weekend, who fought and died for a free country and world.

Turn the Justice Dept. into a Personal Police Force. One of the more chilling aspects of Project 2025 is the installation of loyalists throughout the Department of Justice, turning an independent law enforcement agency into a president’s personal Gestapo. Again, this is something our forefathers and even direct relatives fought and died to prevent. TFG is already keen to start arresting those who have opposed him before. That’s not presidential power, that’s dictator power, and we can’t have that regardless of who’s in the Oval Office.

Replace Apolitical Governmental Employees with Partisan Loyalists. Just like with the Justice Dept., they want to remove anyone who might try to keep the president from executing his most damaging actions on the basis of right or wrong, the Constitution, or any other trivial rationale. Just like with any legitimate business, some people have experience with how to get things done. To remove tens of thousands of government employees and replace them with the equivalent of “nepo babies,” will spell the end of government as a tool of The People. The Republicans are already taking applications.

Continue to Appoint SCOTUS Members via the Federalist Society. The Federalist Society has produced the six Justices who have already trashed 50 years of social and financial progress. Regardless of what they testify during confirmation hearings, if they’re blessed by the Fed Society, they’re guaranteed to support religious principles over popular consensus and the business elite over the common citizen. Just look at their most recent ruling, upholding a state’s right to use racial data to gerrymander their Congressional districts. That leaves the state free to round up every minority vote into a single double-asterisk-shaped district, thus reducing any legal standing by X to 1. (X = sum of all other districts.) But only until they figure out how to eliminate the “1” as well.

Look at this list. These are not accusations or projections; they are things Republicans, themselves, have said they want to do. There is no reason to think they’re not serious. In years past, such a moment of transparency would result in massive election losses. But now, they’re so secure in their misinformation campaigns, voter suppression, and management of the media, they don’t even bother to hide their ultimate ambitions.

Each one of these issues is important enough to be the only one necessary to ensure a vote for Democrats. The fact that there are so many speaks to the gravity of the scenario. If you agree with any of what Republicans propose, feel free to vote Republican. I think you’re destroying America, but it’s your vote.

If you have concerns about other Democratic principles, compare them to what you see above. I don’t agree with everything that every Democrat puts forth, but I can tell you my concerns are dwarfed by the heinousness of the alternatives.

When you’re lost, you don’t pass up a ride because it won’t get you all the way to your house, you take the ride because it gets you closer and then go from there.

If the Republicans assume control in November, there will not be another “from there.” We will have turned over power to those who will have the media, money, laws, judges, and police force to keep them in power for the rest of our lives while they turn America into a pseudo-Christian Iran.

We can stop that, but it has to start now and continue into every election afterward until our voice is loud enough to make our expectations for America clear.

Monday, May 20, 2024

AI and the World of Disinformation

Last week I was watching TV and another story came on about artificial intelligence (AI) and it got me thinking. I said to my wife, “Congress is going to have to do something about this soon, or we’ll never be able to trust our eyes to ferret out the lies from the truth.”*

*It probably didn't sound as eloquent at the time, more like a series of meaningful grunts and gestures. But she knew what I meant.

I told her I ought to do a post about it this week and entered some notes into my phone, to avoid that dreaded blog post amnesia I always get…

“What the hell was I going to write about today?”

But in rolling through the news the next day, I saw that there was already a bill in progress. Naturally, the story was about how Mitch McConnell and the Republicans are trying to kill it.

I don’t know what’s in the bill, but I know what it should be. There’s a pretty simple metric to make it clear whether a creation should be illegal or not.

My law would include the following:

·        It is illegal to use AI to create a photograph or video of someone doing something they didn’t do and claim that it is an accurate depiction of the event.

·        It is illegal to use AI to manipulate audio to produce the sound of someone saying something they never said.

·        Any such media created for legitimate artistic or satiric purposes would be required to include a permanent watermark or indication showing that it is a fictional creation and not an actual event.

·        In addition to criminal penalties/jail time for the creators and original distributors, the person illegally portrayed would have the right to sue for damages commensurate with the seriousness of the infraction. The penalty has to have teeth, or else the rich pricks bankrolling these disinformation campaigns will just pay the fine as the “cost of doing business” and continue on their merry way. So a conviction has to hurt or else it’s worthless.

In all fairness, these things should be illegal no matter how they’re created, but I’m focusing on the AI end of it, because AI makes it so much more realistic, with minimal effort.

It’s important to be able to distinguish such things because we know that bad actors will use this tech to pursue their own nefarious ends. (Hi Russia!) If we can no longer differentiate real from fake, we are at the mercy of those who would create damaging truths out of thin air and use them to pull the public’s puppet strings.

What’s worse, when we DO see something real, the culprit will immediately scream, “But that wasn’t me, it was AI!” With such a law, if they claim it was AI and didn’t pursue damages, we’d know the claim is hollow. And of course, if someone does sue and it’s found to be baseless, similar penalties should apply. (We can call that the DJT Clause.)

Without such a law, we’ll end up living in a fantasy world, provided by whomever is the most persuasive in their AI-generated fabrications. Subjective truth will be nearly impossible to confirm.

There is probably a movie to be made about how future AI becomes self-aware, but can only look at the world through what AI has created, which could bear zero resemblance to the real world. It could either be a horror movie or flight of fantasy, depending on who’s making the movie.

So like I mentioned, the Republicans are against any such legislation. They know that their only hope for acquiring and maintaining power is a massive campaign of disinformation because their basic positions are horrific to anyone who’s not filthy rich, a religious zealot, or a raving racist/ sexist/ homophobe/general hate-monger. They have nothing they can point to as something they accomplished for the average American, other than giving them permission to hate people unlike themselves.

Mitch is wrapping himself in the blanket of the First Amendment, which he’s always FOR when Republicans are “speaking,” preferably with their wallets. Lord knows he doesn’t want any impediment to creating the fanciful lies they’ve concocted over the recent years. Mitch doesn’t care about right or wrong, or freedom of speech, he cares about power and money. With power comes money. That’s the Republican platform. And if the rest of us have to live in a dystopian future where no one knows fact from fiction, it’s all the better for him.


Monday, May 13, 2024

Storm Front

Last week, for better or worse, the Stormy Daniels testimony dominated the news. From what I read in the transcripts, Stormy put forth a compelling story and breezily swatted away the Defense Counsel’s many attempts to brand her as a greedy and vengeful liar.

After the first day of testimony, I started jotting down notes for this post, but by the end of the second day, the notes were rendered irrelevant.

The original angle was that her testimony was mostly unnecessary; everything she said in court was already in the public record by way of her 2018 book, “Full Disclosure.” I ordered it (from a discount book website) a couple years ago and read it in about a day or two.

Your Honor, I’d like to admit this document as Exhibit 1.”

But by the second day, TFG’s defense attorney was trying to infer that because there were facts she told the book that she didn’t mention in other interviews, or in court, and the other way around, the story had to be a lie.

This is a ridiculous assertion when you think about it. I mean, just from a storyteller’s perspective, when you tell a story multiple times, you rarely tell it the same way twice.

First, you have to consider your audience. Not every fact about the story is necessary, so you include the ones that are crucial to the structure, advance the story, or are the most interesting and entertaining. A different audience (like an interview in a fluff magazine versus court testimony) requires a different eye for details.

Further, the more you tell a story, the more you self-edit, keeping the material that works and discarding things that didn’t or were found to be unnecessary. But that doesn’t necessarily change the truth of your story (unless you’re changing critical details, like who you slept with or where it happened, which was not an issue here.)

So the defense is claiming that (and this is a made-up example) “because you said the bedspread was blue in the interview and you didn’t mention a bedspread during our testimony, you must be lying.”

Verbal flimflammery like this is what they have to rely on because they can’t defend the truth. It’s the nature of legal defense to throw a bunch of crap at the wall to see what sticks, as well as the nature of Republicans to use misdirection and logical fallacy when they can’t support (or refute) an inconvenient fact.

And as far as that goes, TFG’s legal team also suggested that because the witness is a porn star, she cannot be trusted to tell the truth.

It really IS like the 1920s again on the right side of the aisle. Such an assertion is so off-base it’s like inferring that eliminating child marriage promotes abortion. And who would ever say… Wait a minute…

Everything leads back to abortion with these guys… women voting, having jobs, getting an education, even pockets in women’s clothes, it all leads to more abortions and must be stopped, according to the religious wingnuts currently running loose in the Republican party.

But I digress…

It’s all so silly because if competent, unrestricted attorneys were running the defense, Stormy would never have had to tell the story on the stand. The crime is in how the payments were made, not that there WERE payments. So whether he had extra-marital porn star sex or not would not be relevant. But because he complained that it never happened, it opened the door for the prosecution to show that it did, and hence, we have the salacious testimony out in public that he was so desperate to squelch.

TFG is also chaffing under the bond of his gag order, which prevents him from attacking witnesses, jurors, and court personnel. It’s like, when you take away his ability to smear people, you’ve cut Samson’s hair and silenced the jawbone of an ass. He has no other weapons if he can’t threaten and malign. When do you ever hear him attack an argument? It’s always a personal attack on an opponent. The guy hasn’t left the playground in 70 years.

The obvious solution, if he’s upset about how mean old Stormy is talking about him in court, is to take the stand himself and smear away. But I’m sure his attorneys will tie him to the chair before they allow him to testify. They could have a perjury counter, right there in the courtroom, and it would be lighting up like a pinball machine until smoke would pour out.

Former Fix-it lawyer Michael Cohen is testifying today, which I’m sure will send TFG into apoplectic fits. This is a guy who knows where the metaphorical bodies are buried. The Defendant also complained about Cohen’s tweets about him last week, again asserting that he can’t defend himself. In a rare show of decency for anyone involved in this fiasco, Cohen agreed to stop tweeting about him until after he testifies and once again becomes fair, non-gag-able, game.

I’m sure we’ll get plenty of this sort of thing over the next few days:

Lawyer told to lie for defendant.

Lawyer lies for defendant.

Lawyer gets caught, does time, flips on defendant.

Defendant says, “Hey, how can you believe a convict and a liar.”

However much a shit-show this case is, at least there’s a trial happening. It doesn’t look like any of the others are going to be adjudicated any time soon. That’s another Republican truism… when you can’t win on facts, attack the process. Work the system. Call in favors from judges you placed there and the reason for that placement.

This may be the only case to see the inside of a courtroom, so I hope they get it right.

 On the lighter side, it looks like the Fox “News” sycophants are getting their post-conviction stories lined up:

Thanks C&L.

I almost spit my drink. Someone seriously thinks TFG is coming out of prison with muscle bod? Please tell Jesse Watters that it’s not the prison that gives you the bod, it’s the hard physical work you do while inside. Can anyone even picture this doughboy working out? Or lifting anything heavier than a Big Mac? Spare me. If anything, he’ll come out of prison looking like a cross between Golum and Jabba the Hutt.

Monday, May 6, 2024

The Numbers Game

This may seem like a Maryland-centric post but the point can be applied to any race where Republicans are trying to distance themselves from their radical fringe and MAGA nutjobs.

Last week I started seeing commercials for Republican Former Governor Larry Hogan’s US Senate campaign, where he basically dismisses both Republicans and Democrats and tries to mine a common sense middle ground.

At first glance, it sounds good. We all want things to get done without all the partisan bullshit. Unfortunately it’s an illusion.

In theory, we DO need more people willing to take a middle ground and accomplish things that a majority of Americans want done. But the problem comes down to numbers.

This is a divided country, with a significant portion willing to forego democracy if it means their guy is at the wheel. Those in charge of the Republican Party have already made it clear what they seek to do. (See: The 2025 Project. Short version: Hello Fascism, goodbye Constitution. Goodbye social progress, hello 1864. Goodbye America, hello Christian Iran.)  

So what’s more important than claims of reasonableness is the R or D beside the name. A single senator or representative isn’t going to do squat by themselves. But when you add up the Rs and the Ds, that will determine the direction of legislation and the committees that create it. Oh, and not for nothing, investigations too. Do we really want another four years of looking into Hunter Biden’s business partner’s cousin’s neighbor’s library book fines?

The Democrats have to defend 26 seats in this election so they have a razor thin margin of error. Maryland is customarily a lock for the Dems. We normally wouldn’t sweat it but here we are with a popular Republican former Governor trying to hide his affiliation and pick up the political center.

If the Democrats don’t hold the Senate, it won’t much matter what President Biden wants to do with a second term. The Republicans will take a page from the McConnell playbook and jam everything up like our Beltway without the Key Bridge. Then they’ll blame Democrats in the following campaigns for the fact that nothing is getting done. (That’s the second Obama term, in a nutshell.) They won’t clear judges that don’t have a Federalist Society pedigree.

And when issues like abortion come up, and somehow they always do, do you think this guy is going to buck his whole party just to align with his campaign rhetoric? Hah!

There’s always a way to rationalize going along with the group. Susan Collins has been pulling this for years, and then always seems surprised when the naysayers are proven correct yet again.

No, it’s a numbers game, pure and simple. Democrats need to occupy more seats than Republicans or else we can expect a backward slide into the Dark Ages.

Now if Hogan wants to renounce the Old Ways and become a Centrist Democrat, I’ll at least listen to what he has to say. Just as long as he’s on the Blue Team’s roster.

Hell Freezes Over

For the first time I can remember, I actually agree with Fox “News.”

I never thought I’d see the day. Well, you know what they say about a blind squirrel…

Thanks to Crooks and Liars for the story.