The Impending Crisis: A Vision of America's Future [AI WRITTEN]

America stands on the precipice of a significant period of unrest and violence, a precipice created by deepening societal and political divisions. These divisions echo the fragmentation of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, both of which led to large-scale violence and displacement. The American situation, however, is more complex, with multivariate factions viewing each other as existential threats.

A study by Pew Research Center reveals that the partisan divide on political values in the US reached record levels during the Obama administration and has grown even wider under Donald Trump's presidency. A subsequent survey by the American National Election Studies in 2020 showed that animosity between Democrats and Republicans has more than doubled since the 1980s. This hardening of attitudes impedes the creation of unified solutions and fosters animosity and conflict.

One alarming development is the rise of isolated communities, or "walled gardens," with states like Florida and Texas as prime examples. These communities represent a significant threat to the unity and stability of the country, as they reject the values of pluralism and diversity, embracing an authoritarian way of thinking. Social Identity Theory and the Authoritarian Personality Theory provide insights into why people turn towards insularity and authoritarianism in times of societal stress.

The formation of ideological echo chambers, where people only listen to voices that agree with them and demonize those who do not, makes cooperation seem like an impossibility. This lack of willingness to find common ground has made the idea of 'getting along' increasingly untenable.

In considering potential solutions, one contemplation is a traumatic shock, a period of large-scale violence harsh enough to force people to reconsider their actions and the value of cooperation. However, the cost of such a traumatic event is unthinkable. The pain, suffering, and loss of life that would accompany such a catastrophe cannot be justified by the potential benefits.

Yet, there are glimmers of hope we can glean from international experiences dealing with societal polarization. The Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland in 1998 led to shared power between Unionists and Nationalists and largely ended decades of sectarian violence. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after the end of apartheid provides another example of confronting past human rights abuses to create a path for reconciliation.

So, we arrive at the crux of the matter. America is at a crossroads. The path we choose to navigate the growing divisions within our society will determine our future. The challenges are immense, but they must be faced head-on. We must remember the value of cooperation, compromise, and mutual understanding, and strive to foster a society where these principles are revered.

And yet, we must not shy away from voicing our outrage. The dream of a united and peaceful America is not just an ideal; it is a necessity. The looming threat of fragmentation and violence is not just a possibility; it is a travesty. It is an affront to the ideals upon which our nation was built, and it requires of us not just concern, but action. It demands not just reflection, but resolve. The time for complacency has passed. The time for change is now. For the sake of our nation’s future, we must unite, we must mend, we must heal.

Aquinas: A Crowning Synthesis, Not a Sole Source [AI WRITTEN]

The prolific theological work of St. Thomas Aquinas represents the pinnacle of medieval Catholic thought, but the evolution of doctrine owes itself to many figures across centuries of vigorous intellectual debate.

St. Thomas Aquinas stands as one of the towering intellectual figures of the Catholic Church. His prolific writings, especially the masterful Summa Theologica, organized and synthesized Catholic doctrine using Aristotelian philosophy in ways that deeply shaped theology and philosophy in the Church. Indeed, Aquinas' impact on Catholic thought deserves the honorific title "Doctor of the Church" bestowed upon him. However, it would be an overstatement to claim Aquinas was solely or even primarily responsible for defining Catholic dogma and philosophy. The evolution of Catholic doctrine owes itself to many figures and currents across the centuries, with Aquinas providing a crowning synthesis that built upon earlier foundations. 

To understand Aquinas' monumental, but not solitary, significance, we must situate him in the broader trajectories of Catholic intellectual history. The incorporation of Greco-Roman philosophy into Christian theology stretches back to the early Church Fathers. Augustine in the 5th century drew deeply on Neoplatonist ideas to elucidate doctrines like the nature of the Trinity and original sin. Boethius in the 6th century worked to translate Aristotle's logic and explore its relationship with theology. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the growing cathedral schools and then universities reintroduced Aristotelian philosophy to the Latin West via translations from Islamic and Jewish thinkers. renewed rigor in dialectic, metaphysics, ethics and more as scholars sought to apply reason to questions of faith.

This flowering of Catholic philosophy provided the backdrop for Aquinas' lifetime in the 13th century. The recently rediscovered theories of Aristotle offered new tools of logic, categories of thought, and general insights about nature, humanity and ethics that Catholic thinkers recognized could serve theology. Aquinas proved unmatched in his ability to systematically incorporate Aristotelian philosophy within orthodox Christian doctrine. The Summa Theologica applies Aristotelian logic, metaphysics and ethics to intricate questions about God, Christ, salvation, virtue and more. Aquinas' commentaries on earlier philosophers also shaped later interpretation of their ideas. 

However, while Aquinas creatively synthesized Aristotle and Catholic theology, he did not pioneer this integration. Augustine had already synthesized Neoplatonism and Christian thought centuries earlier. Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th century formulated the famous ontological argument and began applying Aristotelian logic to theological questions before Aquinas. Peter Abelard introduced Sic et Non which highlighted apparent contradictions between authorities and the need for dialectic. Muslim philosophers like Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) tried incorporating Aristotle into Islamic theology in ways that influenced medieval Christian thought. Earlier in the 13th century, Albertus Magnus also made strides in Aristotelian philosophy and science that set the stage for his student Aquinas. 

So while Aquinas excelled at weaving Aristotelian philosophy into Catholic doctrine, earlier Christian, Muslim and Jewish thinkers pioneered this integration before him. The university environment of Paris and Cologne provided a vibrant intellectual culture that profoundly shaped his ideas as well. It was the flowering of medieval philosophy across cultures that allowed Aquinas' synthesis to take root.

Secondly, Aquinas' theological positions, while highly influential, often represented the culmination of extensive earlier debates rather than a radically new perspective. Core doctrines like Christ's incarnation, the Trinity, transubstantiation and original sin had been explored for centuries before Aquinas treated them through his Aristotelian lens. For instance, mystery of Christ's simultaneous divinity and humanity had been discussed since the early Church, with definitive formulations appearing at the Council of Nicaea in 325 and the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Augustine and later Anselm extensively explored the doctrine of original sin and ideas of atonement. 

On the doctrine of transubstantiation, the eucharistic presence of Christ's body and blood in the bread and wine, debates trace back to the 9th century mystic Radbertus with extensive developments by other theologians. Aquinas' treatment represents the orthodox position cemented at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. But he was not breaking entirely new ground. 

While Aquinas brought tremendous rigor, clarity and depth to existing doctrines, earlier theologians had extensively mapped many central issues of Catholic thought. Aquinas provided a masterful summit to centuries of preceding debate, but should not be viewed as solely responsible for these dogmas.

Thirdly, Aquinas' theology, while profoundly influential across so much of Catholicism, did not represent the final word even within his lifetime. Fellow medieval philosophers and theologians such as John Duns Scotus and William of Ockham would critiques, modify and expand upon Aquinas' perspectives in the following decades. The Franciscans developed alternative schools of thought not entirely derived from Aquinas. Within Aquinas' own Dominican order, many future thinkers tried modifying and extending his philosophy as well.

This ongoing ferment of medieval philosophy underscores how even Aquinas' brilliant syntheses marked milestones amid a living tradition continuously debated. Aquinas towered over 13th century thought but did not stand alone or bring an end to discussion.

In fact, some of Aquinas' views would eventually be rejected by the Church, such as his opinion that Mary was conceived with original sin. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception affirmed in 1854 adopted Duns Scotus' position of Mary's sinless origins instead. Aquinas, while clearly the greatest medieval Catholic thinker, did not have the final or only say among his peers. 

Therefore, while St. Thomas Aquinas may deserve the title of the Catholic Church's premier theologian and philosopher for his monumental work, especially the Summa, it would be a significant overstatement to suggest he was solely or even primarily responsible for defining Catholic dogma and philosophy. Christian thinkers before and after Aquinas played irreplaceable roles in developing Catholic doctrine. Aquinas built upon patristic authors such as Augustine who had already integrated non-Christian philosophies like Neoplatonism and paved the way for applying systematic reason. The flowering of medieval philosophy from multiple cultural sources allowed Aquinas' attempted synthesis to thrive.

Aquinas brought tremendous analytical rigor and clarity to existing doctrines and debates that had already occupied the Church for centuries. His brilliance was not in inventing entirely new positions but providing systematic explanations using the latest philosophy of his day. Yet fellow medieval thinkers contested and amended aspects of Aquinas’ perspectives from the start, showing the ongoing evolution of Catholic thought. 

St. Thomas Aquinas earned his exalted status in Catholic intellectual history through his unparalleled ability to synthesize the height of medieval philosophy with Christian theology. However, this crowning achievement occurred against a backdrop of continuous debate within a faith tradition already centuries old. The shaping of Catholic dogma and philosophy owes itself to many figures across the tradition. Aquinas signals a pinnacle of medieval Catholic thought, not its sole genesis. His towering synthesis built upon earlier foundations and kicked off later developments in the continuous unfolding of Catholic doctrine.

NOTE: This essay was written entirely by Anthropic's Claude large language model according to a chain of prompt strategy that I devised. I did not change a single letter. Here is the prompting plan:

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Joe is on Fire. A Sober Assessment of MAGA 2023.

"There's an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs of our democracy, the MAGA movement."

It is the most cogent explanation of the present danger I have heard. Brutal, unsparing, detailed.

Take forty and give this a listen. You will come away admiring Joe more and with a better awareness of our situation.

YouTube Link



SEPTEMBER 28, 2023

Remarks by President Biden Honoring the Legacy of Senator John McCain and the Work We Must Do Together to Strengthen Our Democracy

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, thank you. Please — please, sit down. Thank you.

I’m going to put a little bit more meat on that bone — that last one. (Laughter.)

John and I used to travel together. When John got back from all the time in Vietnam in prison — when he was released, he decided he wanted to go back to stay in the military. And he was assigned to the United States Senate and to the military office there that travels with senators when they travel abroad.

And John and I put in a couple hundred thousand miles together. And on our way to — I think I was going to either China — I forget what the destination was — China, I think. And we stopped in — we stopped in Hawaii. And the — the Chief Naval — of Operations was there showing me around. They did an event for me.

And John kept looking at your mom. Oh, I’m serious. (Laughter.) And he said, “My God, she’s beautiful.” (Laughter.) I said — and I said, “Yeah, she is, John.” And I said, “Well, you to go up and say hi to her.” He said, “No, no, no, no, no, no.” (Laughter.) “I’m not going to do that.”

Well, as your mom come — I won’t go into more detail, but I’ll tell you: I insisted that they meet. (Laughter.) And I take credit. I take credit for you guys. (Laughter and applause.)

And I just told your mom: John and I had something in common, we both married way above our station — (laughter) — way above our station.

Cindy — or I should call you Madam Ambassador — thank you for all you’ve done, all you do, you continue to do. Jack and Bridget, the entire McCain family, and to all those who love the McCain family. (Applause.)

Oh, I didn’t see all up there. (Applause.) Whoa! Don’t jump. Don’t jump. (Laughter.)

Well, I tell you what, it’s an honor to be with you. It’s a genuine honor.

Governor Hobbs, you’ve done an incredible job. You’ve been a leader and defender of democracy. And you’ve always been available when I’ve called, and I hope I’ve been available when you called as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests — (applause) — in the end, John McCain thought about the beginning. Five years ago, as John was dying from brain cancer, John wrote a farell- — a farewell letter to the nation that he said — that he served so well in both war and in peace.

His words tracked back centuries to America’s founding and then toward a triumphant future. Here’s what John wrote, and I quote, “We are citizens of the world — the world’s greatest republic. A nation of ideals, not blood and soil. Americans never quit. They never hide from history. America makes history.”

And John was right. Every other per- — every other nation in the world has been founded on either a grouping by ethnicity, religion, background. We’re the most unique nation in the world. We’re founded on an idea — the only major nation in the world founded on an idea. An idea that we are all created equal, endowed by our Cr- — in the image of God, endowed by our Creator to be — to be able to be treated equally throughout our lives.

We’ve never fully lived up to that idea, but we’ve never walked away from it. But there’s danger we’re walking too far away from it now, the way we talk in this deba- — in this country. Because a long line of patriots from — like John McCain kept it from ever becoming something other than what it is.

I often think about our friendship of 40 years. The hammer-and-tong debates we’d have in the Senate. We’d argue — we were like two brothers. We’d argue like hell. (Laughs.) I mean really go at one another. Then we’d go lunch together. (Laughter.) No, not a joke. Or John would ride home with me. I mean, we — we traveled the world together.

And, by the way, when he found this magnificent woman and got married, I’m the guy that convinced him to run in Arizona as a Republican. Bless me, Father, for — (makes the sign of the cross). (Laughter and applause.) No, but it’s — you’ve got to admit, Cindy, I did. I talked to him, and I said, “John, you can do this job. My only worry is you’ll do it too well.” (Laughter.)

But, look, running on opposite sides of the nation’s highest office when — when he was running for president and I was on the vice presidential ticket — we still remained friends.

The conversations we had — he had with my son, Beau — the attorney general of the state of Delaware, a decorated major in the U.S. Army, was a guy who spent a year in Iraq — about serving in a war overseas, about the courage in battle against the same cancer that took John and my son.

Two weeks ago, I thought about John as I was standing in another part of the world — in Vietnam. I don’t want to be — I — excuse me if I — it was an emotional trip.

I was there to usher in a 50-year arc of progress for the two countries, pushed by John and, I might add, another John — this is the former Secretary of State, John from Massachusetts, won the Silver Star as well.

Once at war, we are now choosing the highest possible partnership, made possible through John’s leadership. I mean that sincerely. Think about it.

While in Hanoi, I visited a marker depicting where John — what John — where John had endured all the pain. Imprisoned five and a half years. Solitary confinement for two years. Given an opportunity — an opportunity to come home if he just said a couple things. He was beaten, bloodied, bones broken, isolated, tortured, left unable to raise his arms above his shoulders again.

As I stood there paying my respects, I thought about how much I missed my friend. And it’s not hyperbole. I — from the bottom of my heart, I mean this.

I thought about something else as well. I thought about how much America missed John right now, how much America needed John’s courage and foresight and vision. I thought about what John stood for, what he fought for, what he was willing to die for. I thought about what we owed John, what I owed him, and what we owe each other — we owe each other — we owed each other as well — and Americans as well.

You see, John is one of those patriots who, when they die, their voices are never silent. They still speak to us. They tug at both our hearts and our conscience.

And they pose the most profound questions: Who are we? What do we stand for? What do we believe? What will we be?

For John, it was country first. Sounds like a — like a movie, but it’s real with John: honor, duty, decency, freedom, liberty, democracy.

And now, history has brought us to a new time of testing. Very few of us will ever be asked to endure what John McCain endured. But all of us are being asked right now: What will we do to maintain our democracy? Will we, as John wrote, never quit? Will we not hide from history, but make history? Will we put partisanship aside and put country first?

I say we must and we will. We will. (Applause.)

But it’s not easy. It’s not easy.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: When will you stand against corruption, Mr. President?



AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible) ask why you have yet to declare a climate emergency? Why have you yet to declare a climate emergency? Hundred of Arizonians have died!


AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hundreds of Arizonians have died because you won’t —

THE PRESIDENT: Why don’t you wait at —


Well, hang on one second. Hang on a second. I’ll be happy to meet with you after I speak, okay?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You promised no new drilling on fossil fuels. Why have you yet to declare a climate emergency? Not (inaudible) —


AUDIENCE MEMBER: We need your leadership, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I tell you what, if you shush up, I’ll meet with you immediately after this. Okay? (Applause.)

But democracy never is easy, as we just demonstrated. (Laughter.) The cause — the cause is worth giving our all, for democracy makes all things possible.

Let me begin with the core principles. Democracy means rule of the people, not rule of monarchs, not rule of the monied, not rule of the mighty. Regardless of party, that means respecting free and fair elections; accepting the outcome, win or lose. (Applause.) It means you can’t love your country only when you win. (Applause.)

Democracy means rejecting and repudiating political violence. Regardless of party, such violence is never, never, never acceptable in America. (Applause.) It’s undemocratic, and it must never be normalized to advance political power.

And democracy means respecting the institutions that govern a free society. That means adhering to the timeless words of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” A mission statement embodied in our Constitution, our system of separation of powers and checks and balances.

Our Constitution — the bulwark to prevent the abuse of power to ensure “We the People” move forward together under the law, rather than believing the only way is one way or no way at all.

But our institutions and our democracy are not just of gov- — of government. The institutions of democracy depend on the Constitution and our character — our character and the habits of our hearts and minds.

Institutions like the McCain Institute and the new McCain Library that will be built at Arizona State University with the funding from the American Rescue Plan, which I signed into law when I came to office. (Applause.) A library that’s going to house John’s archives, host dialogue and debate, inspire future leaders around the world, to serve tens of thousands underserved Arizonans as a reminder of our obligation to one another.

These principles of democracy are essential in a free society, but they have always been embattled.

Today, let’s be clear. While we’ve made progress, democracy is still at risk. This is not hyperbole; it’s a simple truth — a simple truth.

I’ve made the defense and protection and preservation of American democracy the central issue of my presidency. From the speech I made at Gettysburg, an Inaugural Address, to the anniversary of the June 6th insurrection — or January 6th insurrection, to Independence Hall in Philadelphia — to the speech I made at Union Station in Washington, I’ve spoken about the danger of election denialism, political violence, and the battle for the soul of America.

Today, in America [Arizona], to honor an institution devoted to the defense of democracy, named in honor of a true patriot, I’m here to speak about another threat to our democracy that we all too often ignore: the threat to our political institutions, to our Constitution itself, and the very character of our nation.

Democracy is maintained by adhering to the Constitution and the march to perfecting our union —

(A toddler in the audience babbles.)

THE PRESIDENT: — by protecting and expanding rights with each successive generation, including that little guy. He’s going to talk about it. (Laughter.)

That’s okay. In my house, kids prevail. Okay? (Laughter.)

This adherence isn’t op- — this isn’t optional. We can’t be situational. We can’t be only going there when it’s good for yourself. It’s constant and unyielding, even when it’s easy and, most important, when it’s hard.

For centuries, the American Constitution has been a model for the world, with other countries adopting “We the People” as their North Star as well. But as we know, we know how damaged our institutions of democracy — the judiciary, the legislature, the executive — have become — become in the eyes of the American people, even the world, from attacks from within the past few years.

I know virtually every major world leader. That’s what I did when I was a senator, as vice president, and now. Everywhere I go in the world — I’ve met now with over a hundred heads of state of the nations of the world — everywhere I go, they look and they ask the question, “Is it going to be okay?”

Think about this: The first meeting I attended of the G7 — the seven wealthiest nations in the world — in Europe, the NATO meeting, I sat down — it was in Feb- — Feb- — January, after being elected — so, late Janu- — early February — and it was in England. And I sat down, and I said, “America is back.” And Macron looked at me, and he said, “Mr. President, for how long — for how long?”

And then, the Chancellor of Germany said, “Mr. President, what would you think if you picked up the paper tomorrow — tomorrow, the London Times — and it said a thousand people broke down the doors of Parliament, marched, and killed two bobbies in order to overthrow an election of the new prime minister? What would you think then? What would America think?”

What would we think, the leading nation in the world, having gone through what we went through?

And many of you travel internationally. Many of you know people from around the world. I’d be surprised if you heard anything different than the concern about: Are we okay? Is the democracy going to be sustained?

And from that institutional damage, we see distrust and division among our own people.

I’m here to tell you: We lose these institutions of our government at our own peril. And I’ve always been clear: Democracy is not a partisan issue. It’s an American issue.

I have come to honor the McCain Institute and Library because they are a home of a proud Republican who put his country first. Our commitment should be no less because democracy should unite all Americans, regardless of political affiliation.

And there is something dangerous happening in America now. There is an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs in our democracy: the MAGA Movement.

Not every Republican, not even a majority of Republicans, adhere to the MAGA extremist ideology. I know because I’ve been able to work with Republicans my whole career. But there is no question that today’s Republican Party is driven and intimidated by MAGA Republican extremists. Their extreme agenda, if carried out, would fundamentally alter the institutions of American democracy as we know it.

My friends, they’re not hiding their attacks. They’re openly promoting them — attacking the free press as the enemy of the people, attacking the rule of law as an impediment, fomenting voter suppression and election subversion.

Did you ever think we’d be having debates in the year — stage of your careers where banning books — banning books and burying history?

Extremists in Congress — more determined to shut down the government, to burn the place down than to let the people’s business be done.

Our U.S. military — and this in not hyperbole; I’ve said it for the last two years — is the strongest military in the history of the world. Not just the strongest in the world — in the history of the world. It’s the most diverse, the most powerful in the history of the world. And it’s being accused of being weak and “woke” by the opposition.

One guy in Alabama is holding up the promotion of every — hundreds of these officers.

Frankly, these extremists have no idea what the hell they’re talking about. (Laughter.) No, I’m serious.

They’re pushing a notion the defeated former President expressed when he was in office and believes applies only to him. And this is a dangerous notion: This president is above the law, with no limits on power.

Trump says the Constitution gave him, quote, “the right to do whatever he wants as President,” end of quote. I’ve never even heard a president say that in jest. Not guided by the Constitution or by common service and decency toward our fellow Americans but by vengeance and vindictiveness.

We see the headlines. Quote, “sweeping expansion of presidential power.” Their goal to, quote, “alter the balance of power by increasing the President’s authority over every part of the federal government,” end of quote.

What do they intend to do once they erode the constitutional order of checks and balances and separation of powers? Limit the independence of federal agencies and put them under the thumb of a president? Give the President the power to refuse to spend money that Congress has appropriated if he doesn’t like what it’s being spent for? Not veto — he doesn’t like what it’s being spent for — it’s there. Get rid of longstanding protections for civil servants?

Remember what he did as he was leaving office: He imposed a new thing, the Civil Service — but then he imposed a new pro- — schedule. “Schedule F,” it was called. These civil servants had to pledge loyalty to the President, not the Constitution. It did not require that they had any protections, and the President would be able to wholesale fire them if he wanted, because they had no so- — no — no Civil Service protection. One of the first things I got rid of when I became President.

Just consider these as actual quotes from MAGA — the MAGA movement. Quote, “I am your retribution.” “Slitting throats” of civil servants, replacing them with extreme political cronies. MAGA extremists proclaim support for law enforcement only to say, “We…” — quote, “We must destroy the FBI.”

It’s not one person. It’s the controlling element of the House Republican Party.

Whitewash attacks of January 6th by calling the spearing and stomping of police a leg- — quote, a “legitimate political discourse.”

Did you ever think you’d hear leaders of political parties in the United States of America speak like that? Seizing power, concentrating power, attempting to abuse power, purging and packing key institutions, spewing conspiracy theories, spreading lies for profit and power to divide America in every way, inciting violence against those who risk their lives to keep America safe, weaponizing against the very soul of who we are as Americans.

This MAGA threat is the threat to the brick and mortar of our democratic institutions. But it’s also a threat to the character of our nation and gives our — that gives our Constitution life, that binds us together as Americans in common cause.

None of this is surprising, though. They’ve tried to govern that way before. And thank God, they failed.

But they haven’t given up. Just look at recent days: their accusations against — of treason — treason against the major new net- — news network because they don’t like its coverage. I don’t know what the hell I’d say about Fox if that becomes the rule. (Laughter.)

But think about it. I’m joking, but think about it.

Tomorrow, I have the honor of overseeing the change of responsibilities of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States military from one genuine hero and patriot, General Mark Milley, to another, General CQ Brown — both — both defining leaders of our time.

And yet, here is what you hear from MAGA extremists about the retiring patriot general honoring his oath to the Constitution: quote, he’s “a traitor,” end of quote. “In times gone by, the punishment…” — quote, “In times gone by, the punishment would’ve been death,” end of quote.

This is the United States of America. This is the United States of America.

And although I don’t believe even a majority of Republicans think that, the silence is deafening. The silence is deafening.

Hardly any Republican called out such heinous statements, just as they watch one MAGA senator outrageously — instead, blocking the promotions of hundreds of top military leaders and affecting not only those leaders but their families, their children.

MAGA extremists claim support of our troops, but they are harming military readiness, leadership, troop morale, freezing pay, freezing military families in limbo.

Just as they looked the other way when the defeated former President refused to pay respects at an American cemetery near Paris, referring to the American servicemen buried there — and I’ve been to this cemetery — as “suckers” and “losers,” quotes.

I’m not making this up. I know we all tried not to remember it, but that’s what he said. He called servicemen “suckers” and “losers.”

Was John a sucker? Was my son, Beau, who lived next to a burn pit for a year, came home, and died — was he a sucker for volunteering to serve his country?

The same guy who denigrates the heroism of John McCain. It’s not only wrong, it’s un-American. But it never changes.

The MAGA extremists across the country have made it clear where they stand. So, the challenge for the rest of America — for the majority of Americans is to make clear where we stand.

Do we still believe in the Constitution? Do we believe in the basic decency and respect? The whole country should honestly ask itself — and I mean this sincerely — what it wants and understand the threats to our democracy.

I believe very strongly that the defining feature of our democracy is our Constitution.

I believe in the separation of powers and checks and balances, that debate and disagreement do not lead to disunion.

I believe in free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power.

I believe there is no place in America — none, none, none — for political violence. We have to denounce hate, not embolden it.

Across the aisle, across the country, I see fellow Americans, not mortal enemies. We’re a great nation because we’re a good people who believe in honor, decency, and respect.

I was able to get the infrastructure bill passed. It’s over a trillion dollars. The majority of it so far has gone to red states who didn’t vote for me. Because I represent all — no, I’m serious. I represent all Americans. (Applause.) Wherever the need is.

And I believe every president should be a president for all Americans. To use the Office of the President to unite the nation, uphold the duty to care for all Americans.

I’ve tried my very best, and I’m sure I haven’t met the test of every — all of you want me to meet. But I tried to do my very best to meet the highest standards, whether you voted for me or not. Because that’s the job: to de- — deliver light, not heat; to make sure democracy delivers for everyone; to know we’re a nation of unlimited possibilities, of wisdom and decency — a nation focused on the future.

I’ve spent more time with Xi Jinpin [sic] than any world — -ping — than any world leader has. Sixty-eight hours alone with just he and I and an interpreter. Traveled 17,000 miles with him here and in China. On the Tibetan Plateau, he turned to me and he asked me — he said, “Can you define America for me?” And I was deadly earnest. I said, “Yes. In one word: possibilities.”

We, in America, believe anything is possible if we try it. Anything we do together, we can get done.

We’ve faced some tough times in recent years, and I am proud of the progress we made as a country. But the real credit doesn’t go to me and my administration for the progress — for this progress. The real heroes of the story are you, the American people. And that’s not hyperbole again.

Which is why I’m asking you that regardless of whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, or independent, put the preservation of our democracy before everything else. Put our country first.

Over the past few years, we can and should be proud of American democracy, proud of what we’ve been able to hold on to. We can’t take democracy for granted.

Remember when you were in high school and college, if you took political science, they said every generation has to protect democracy. I used to think that that was just a saying. But here I am, as President of the United States of America, making this speech about my fear of the diminishment of democracy.

Folks, every generation has to be vigilant.

You know, toward the end of my Senate campaign, I convinced Strom Thurmond to vote for the Civil Rights legislation — not a joke — and I thought, “Well, you can — you can defeat hate.”

You can’t defeat it. You just bury it. But when someone comes along and lifts up the rock and breathes a little oxygen in there, it comes roaring back. It comes roaring back.

We should all remember: Democracies don’t have to die at the end of a rifle. They can die when people are silent, when they fail to stand up or condemn the threats to democracy, when people are willing to give away that which is most precious to them because they feel frustrated, disillusioned, tired, alienated. I get it. I really do. I get it.

For all its faults, though, American democracy remains the best pass [path] forward to prosperity, possibilities, progress, fair play, equality.

And democracy requires all of us in all of the major parties. You matter. And, again, I’m not just trying to be nice here. You matter — all of you in this auditorium — because history and common sense tell us that we can change things by adhering to our Constitution and our institutions of democracy.

Our task — our sacred task of our time is to make sure that they change not for the worse, but for the better. That democracy survives and thrives, not be spa- — smashed by a movement more interested in power than in principle. It’s up to us, the American people.

In my view, the more people vote, the more engaged the whole nation becomes, the stronger our democracy will be.

So, the answer to the threats we face is engagement. It’s not to sit in the sidelines; it’s to build coalitions and community, to remind ourselves there is a clear majority of us who believe in our democracy and are ready to protect it.

To the students here today and the young people across country, you’re the reason I’m so optimistic.

I know I don’t look it, but I’ve been doing this for a long time. (Laughter.)

But all kidding aside, I’ve never been more optimistic about America’s chances in domestic and foreign policy as I am today. I really mean it. To see young people — a hundred thousand students at this university and all across America — they are the most gifted, the most tolerant, the most talented, and the best-educated generation in American history.

And it’s your generation, more than anyone else’s, who will answer the questions — the legitimate questions the young man asked me a moment ago — who I’m going to meet with — questions for America: Who are we? What do we stand for? What do we believe? Who will we be?

It’s not your burden alone, but your generation will not be ignored, will not be shunned, will not be silenced.

I’ve said it before: We’re at an inflection point in our history. One of those moments that not only happens once every several generations, it happens once every eight or nine generations, where the decisions made in the short period of time we’re in now are going to determine the course of this country and the world for the next six or seven decades.

So, you, me, every American who is committed to preserving our democracy and our constitutional protections, we carry a special responsibility. We have to stand up for American values embedded in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, because we know the MAGA extremists have already proven they won’t.

You know, Madeleine Albright wrote a book — the former Secretary of State — saying we’re the “essential nation.” We are. And I think you’ve fe- — sensed it abroad, Cindy, haven’t you? Any room I walk in and no matter what heads of state I’m with, everything stops. Not because of Joe Biden, but because I’m President of the United States of America.

We are the essential nation. We are the essential nation. The rest of the world is looking, so we have to stand up for our Constitution, our institutions of democracy, because MAGA extremists have made it clear they’re not going to.

History is watching. The world is watching. And most important, our children and grandchildren will hold us responsible.

So, let me close with this. In three years, we’ll commemorate the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence — a moment not only about our past, celebrating all we’ve done, but a moment about the future, about all we can be — still be.

Imagine that moment and ask: What do we want to be? Now is our time to continue to choose and secure a sacred cause of the American democracy.

I know we can meet this moment. John knew we could meet this moment. He believed, as so many patriots before him did, that character [is] destiny in our own lives and the life of this nation. He believed in us.

That’s what we see in the McCain Institute and Library and everyday places across America doing extraordinary things. And remember that the soul of America depends on the souls of all Americans — how we choose to see our nation, how we choose to see ourselves, how we choose to lead not only by the example of our power but by the power of our example.

So, let’s never quit. Let’s never hide from history. Let’s make history.

If we do that, we’ll be — have done our duty to our country and to each other. Future generations will say we kept the faith.

We’ll have proved, through all its imperfections, America is still a place of possibilities, a beacon for the world, a promise realized — where the power forever resides with “We the People.”

That’s our soul. That’s who we truly are. That’s who we must always be.

And that’s why I’ve never been more optimistic about America’s future. We just need to remember who we are.

We are the United States of America. There is nothing — nothing beyond our capacity when we act together.

Well, God bless you all.

May God bless John McCain and his family. And may God protect our troops. Thank you. (Applause.)

Definition of Fascism

I think this is an especially good characterization, 

“And one interesting thing about the Republican party is, it is entirely captured by fascism, that is to say it is a popular political movement organized around a cult of personality, and mediated through an open and explicit reverence for violence as a redeeming force, and by a nationalist myth of purification.”


And I think this is the right response,

"I think we need to persuade them that the margins of permission have snapped back, and let them know if you do this, you are going to have to fight—not because we want a fight, but because we won’t stand by and watch a beating."

The Debt Collection Industry

Do I still have any friends here who are not well-to-do? Perhaps with some consumer debt that is in default? Who might, once in awhile, hear from a debt collector? Well, this is a topic that interests me, partly because I had a go with this problem several years ago. I beat it because I had a lawyer friend who told me a couple of key things that are strongly confirmed by this article, which has a few things that were not pertinent to me back then.

1) Do not ghost the collector. The main way they get you is by waiting 30 days and then seeking a default judgement. This judgement will be legally binding and allow them to take your money against your will.

2) Do not talk to the person. Tell them to send you a letter, give them your address (I know, scary but the right thing to do). DO NOT TALK TO THEM. No discussion. No "I can't afford it right now." Get their details, name, mailing address, case number (make sure to confirm the hell out of the case number and that it is the correct reference; these people are liars).

3) Send a registered letter well with 30 days of hearing from one. Dispute the charges and ask for documentation in the form of a signed contract. (Other ideas are in the article.)

4) If you always show up on time and say, "Show me the contract", you will beat them.

This article is fascinating. It explains all about how it works.

Abortion Today

I read most of the Dobbs decision, enough to judge it. The Supreme Court is not entirely wrong. Abortion has long been considered a crime. Roe v Wade was, I think, judicial activism. Respect for precedent only goes so far. Eg, Plessy v. Ferguson was an insanely wrong decision that made racial segregation legal. Retaining it as controlling law would have continued a crime.

But it also has two flaws that make it unreasonable. First, privacy and personal autonomy are real, traditional human rights that deserve the utmost respect even if women have only recently been included in the list of humans who deserve it. Second, society has absolutely no legitimate interest in "preserving fetal life". Yet these are the foundation of the Dobbs decision.

The decision explains that everyone goes around claiming rights that are components of 'liberty' that are not mentioned in the constitution. It ridicules the ideas of privacy and "bodily integrity" yet, these are rights that men (in America, white ones) have had throughout history, so much so that nobody even thought to mention it. If someone had suggested to Willian Penn or Thomas Jefferson that anyone had authority over their personal bodies, they wouldn't have even argued. They would have laughed.

Of course, we all submit to infringements on our freedom in support of important goals. Your driving speed is restricted for my safety. Basically all laws restrict freedom. The operative phrase is "important goals". The Dobbs decision explains that many people consider the value of "potential life" to be an important moral point. It tells us that this fact gives legitimacy to the efforts to restrict womens' liberty. If most people value "potential life" over womens' freedom, that's enough to make it an "important goal".

But preserving potential life is no more legitimate an interest than, say, preserving racial purity. They both have arguments that favor them. They both have many adherents. But the values they propose are founded on completely personal, internal, emotion motivations. There is no consequence to society to justify either, no important goal that can be named.

Having spent my life arguing with anti-choice proponents, I can tell you that I have never, ever found an argument that didn't, at bottom, rely on God. Nobody has ever once said that "society needs more people", or "society's a better place if women have more babies", or "we need more Soylent Green". 

I have never heard, or read, a single explanation of why abortion should be illegal that did not come down to "God says so" and I have never heard of a single consequence of abortion that makes the rest of the people less safe, prosperous, secure or free.

Dobbs essentially says, "We see that many people hate abortion. That serves as a state interest. Some say a woman has a right to privacy. We don't think so. Let the rich people decide." Ok, I add "the rich people" but it's not as if the Supreme Court doesn't know that laws are made by rich people, after all they supported Citizens United.

Roe was a bad decision but only because it was afraid to simply say, "The right to privacy is obvious. The state has no possible interest in determining if a woman bears a child." Had they simply stood up for the right of a woman to determine the course of her life like every man in history, they would not have felt the need to say a lot of complicated crap that has made life worse.

And it would have put today's Supreme Court in the position of explaining exactly what interest the state has in regulating abortion. They would have had to explain why a woman doesn't have the right to control her body. 

Instead, they got to talk about a lot of extraneous bullshit to cover the fact that they don't think women are fully human.

On Stoicism and Why I Don't Prefer It

I want to note first, that I have no thought to contradict the current edition of 'Stoic' ideas that are giving people comfort these days. Maxims cherry-picked from Marcus Aurelius Meditations are mostly perfectly good ideas, if taken out of context. My interest is in understanding my opinion of Stoicism as a technical philosophy and why I have, on that level, a generally bad opinion of it.

Also worth note is that Marcus Aurelius was the last in a series of four or five important Stoics. Zeno and Epictetus are the two others who influence my thinking most. (Though Seneca, another important Stoic is interesting in that he was tutor to Nero.) They varied significantly in their interpretations of Stoicism.

I am correct in my recollection of the fundamental Stoic reliance on God as a motivating concept. Though the Stoics were (like me) materialists believing the opposite of Plato's notion that the real reality is the ideas that occur in you mind, somewhat inspired by the information of your senses. The materialists consider the world to be physical and our perceptions to be indicative of what is really happening. (Eg, the mishapen circle we draw is more real than the ideal, mathematical one we imagine and use for our geometry).

For Stoics, God is the soul of the physical world with most of the attributes of the rest of the Gods. For them, virtue is obeying the laws of that God/nature, whatever those are. Zeno and Epictetus took this to the extreme of considering anything that distracted from behaving virtuously to be anti-virtuous and thereby actually seeking discomfort. So, for them, and this is where I start to be annoyed, comfort and pleasure are to be avoided and love for others is no virtue.

It has the famous idea, inspiration to Aurelius and the modern maxims, that the good life of virtue is entirely internal to the person, ie, one's thoughts. The quip has been made that a Stoic could be happy on the rack, under torture, if he retains his virtue. They hold that Socrates cheerfully choosing death rather than recant his philosophy is the ultimate hero. A good Stoic is not troubled by the death of, say one of his children since that external event is no obstacle to this sort of virtue.

The way that the Stoics got to the idea that the only virtue is (put over simply) good thinking is that they believed in determinism. Fundamentally (which I mean literally to distinguish from the nicer ideas in pop culture today), the Stoics thought that God created the world for an inscrutable reason and that our actions were merely motions of the cogs. It is true that they also considered humans to be God's purpose but that didn't make our will any more free.

Every doctrine has stupid crap like that and I am happy to overlook it. My real beef with the Stoics is the passivity it suggests. It turns out that Aurelius was king in a bleak time (war, pestilence, earthquake, insurrection). Much of the point of the Meditations (written as a diary, not for publication, and which I have not read) seems to be the account of his ways of enduring life in a difficult time, ie, obeying the will of God (in a deterministic universe where free will is not a thing).

As Bertrand Russell characterizes it, "When the Stoic philosopher is thinking of himself, he holds that happiness and all other worldy so-called goods are worthless; he even says that to desire happiness is contrary to nature, meaning that it involves lack of resignation to the will of God." 

Stoicism, then, provides a way to live with adversity and offers no guidance about how to avoid it or to make it better. This is appealing, of course, when times are difficult. I like the idea of controlling one's internal state to feel more comfortable but, when choosing a philosophy, I prefer one that offers ideas for a life that is better.

Fani Does Not Disappoint

TURNS OUT THAT working with a bunch of people doing crimes in order to gain a benefit is a separate crime all on its own. 

"they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump. That conspiracy contained a common plan and purpose to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity"

The indictment lists 161 criminal acts, many by Trump himself, to support the claim. Fani documented phone calls and meetings and emails and actions and speeches where Trump and his gang worked together (as an enterprise) to convince officials to illegally change the outcome of the election.

I read the entire indictment, all 98 pages, and Fani didn't shrink from her duty. She dug out every single outrage, documented it in detail and charged Trump and company with racketeering. She also charged them with 41 of the crimes separate from the racketeering charge. We finally have an official accounting of Donald Trump's crimes.

IN FAIRNESS, THE 161 CRIMINAL ACTS are a little redundant. Many are sets of 'conspired to', 'attempted to' and 'did do' one thing. The bottom line is that they did a bunch of illegal things that resulted in these foundational crimes:

RACKETEER INFLUENCED AND CORRUPT ORGANIZATIONS (meeting after meeting in the Oval Office, speeches, phone calls and emails to plan crimes)

SOLICITATION OF VIOLATION OF OATH BY A PUBLIC OFFICER ("just find eleven thousand votes", "call a special session of the legislature", "just say it's a flawed election and let me and Congress do the rest")

FALSE STATEMENTS AND WRITINGS (so, so many; turns out it's illegal to lie to officials (baskets of ballots, evidence of fraud, and such) and that lies elsewhere constitute evidence)

NOT ONLY WERE THE FALSE ELECTORS an immoral attempt to prevent legitimate votes from being counted, they were committing crimes:

IMPERSONATING A PUBLIC OFFICER (the electors pretended they were valid electors and are being charged as part of the conspiracy)

FORGERY IN THE FIRST DEGREE (they fabricated official looking documents and filed them with the government, ie, Pence, et al)

AND SOME FACTS I DUG OUT of the Justia website regarding the legal history of Georgia's racketeering law:

- two crimes, included in the statute as designated predicate acts, which are part of the same scheme, without the added burden of showing that the defendant would continue the conduct or had been guilty of like conduct before the incidents charged as a RICO violation

- these offenses were not committed as an occasional practice but were part of a systematic and ongoing pattern over a number of years concealed by a scheme of subterfuge and intimidation

- the defendant was the perpetrator and direct beneficiary of a pattern of racketeering activity and not merely a victim or passive instrumentality, would subject defendant to RICO liability

- evidence that the operator through a pattern of racketeering activity, i.e., mail fraud, acquired an interest in or control of money was sufficient to find liability


A person who knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact; makes a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or makes or uses any false writing or document, knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry

THE BOTTOM LINE ON THIS is that Fani has way, way more than enough to put Trump in jail. She will have to get past the blizzard of bullshit Trump is sure to provide. She will have to deal with the winnowing of charges as they claim federal precedence and executive privilege. But, if they manage to confuse, deny and eliminate 90% of the charges, she still has way, way more than enough to put Trump (and Rudy Giulani and Sidney Powell) in jail.

I mean, "fill a hole in his soul"? Who says that kind of thing?

A friend praised an article in The Atlantic magazine. He quotes...

Brooks is a simpering boob. Atlantic won't let me read the whole article, HERE, (and, since it's David Brooks, I should thank them; it's bad enough I have to see him in the NY Times) so I can only respond to your quotation. I do not share your admiration for it. I mean, "fill a hole in his soul"? Who says that kind of thing? In 2023, who writes articles about peoples' souls?

And I don't even agree with it if you imagine he meant something less floofy by soul. You guys might think that our descent into civil war is a consequence of having left behind greed, aka, the politics of distribution, but not me. That's the foundation of every culture war. It begat protestantism, France's revolution, our civil war, and on and on.

Today's problem doesn't result from some new psychic flaw. It comes from, in my humble opinion, the fact that shitheads can communicate with millions of other shitheads for free, allowing them to self-organize like bubos on a plague victim. Together, they convince themselves that there is no need to have a conscience or accept the validity of anyone outside of their own thousands of fellow shitheads. 

Eventually, a truly psychotic shithead, I'm looking at you Donald Trump, finds his way into the hearts of 74 million people who have morally bankrupted themselves with endless, solipsistic reinforcement of their hatred for immigrants and people of color, resentment of those who do better in society than them and, because 'incels' are part of their cohort, how much raping is a good idea for the bitches.

Brooks didn't have to go after Trump to make his point except for the fact that Trump is the point. Without Trump, 74 million morally bankrupt shithead supporters would have no leader. Without him, they would ebb and flow, like the Tea Party did.

I can trace the evil from Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich to Dick Cheney (and his puppet W) to Donald Trump with endless, boring detail and it's true that there has been a process. But it has nothing to do with peoples' souls and plenty to do with the very factor he denies, the politics of redistribution. Greedy people want it all. Greedy people think brown people have too much. 

Greediness and Donald Trump are the reason we are so mean.

America Ferrara's Barbie Movie Rant

(Obviously, this is a guest editorial. I post it here so I can see it whenever I want.)

It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong. 

You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman, but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining. You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood. But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful. You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.

I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don’t even know.