Friday, May 24, 2019

That impeachment thing

Is impeachment of the current occupant of the White House a good idea, a terrible idea, or is that beside the point because it’s a duty under the Constitution, even if it’s a terrible idea? Do calculations about the 2020 presidential election matter in this? If so, does it matter that there’s no Democratic nominee yet? Is Pelosi a master strategist or an overly cautious obstacle?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, nor what I think about impeachment, but this much I do know: Continuing talk about impeachment and the revelations in the Mueller Report are driving the current occupant of the White House’s current temper tantrums. Each one reminds Americans of how emotionally unstable and narcissistic that man is as he shows his true nature—a petty, vain, vindictive bully. Democrats (and one House Republican…) were always going to talk about what’s REALLY in the Mueller Report, and not the self-interested political spin coming from the current regime. Talk of impeachment isn’t new, either, though a Republican joining the call is new.

If the current regime continues to engage in its cover-up, and if they continue to engage in obstructing Congress, then impeachment is probably inevitable. This is a political process that is playing out, as the comment by Dan Rather was suggesting in his commentary, but we’ve seen this before: It’s worth remembering that Article 3 of the Nixon Articles of Impeachment was about obstruction of Congress.

Two things could yet prevent that from happening. Though the current occupant can’t understand it, Pelosi is actually protecting him (for now) from impeachment. It doesn’t matter that she may be doing so as an election strategy, if she actually is, the effect is the same. Also, if courts continue to rule against the current regime and Congress actually gets the information and documents to which they are legally and constitutionally entitled, that could turn down the heat under the impeachment pot. But if the current occupant continues to act like a spoiled child, the he could well find himself facing impeachment. What happens then is anyone’s guess.

Here’s Dan Rather’s commentary today on Facebook:

This post was originally published on the AmeriNZ Facebook page when I shared Rather's commentary there. This version adds a relevant link and some minor edits.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

That we be not judged

It seems obvious that one thing we humans are extremely good at is judging other people. We have all sorts of reasons, ranging from religious or political belief, to the pack mentality of social media, to matters of personal taste. The thing we judge can be serious, like moral or political choices, or silly and trivial like pop music choices—or even people who use the products in the photo above. Whatever the reason we judge other people, we inevitably will be, too. We need to stop being so stupid.

The products above features three different pre-prepared vegetables promoted in a supermarket’s circular we got at our house the other day. I’ve seen people mocked for using such products, called “lazy”, or “stupid”, and, to be honest, I judge the people who say that for being self-righteous pricks.

People are busy these days, and if we want them to cook rather than buy frozen, prepared, or takeaway food—and we do—then we shouldn’t begrudge them taking a few shortcuts with products that are still vegetables. One thing I noticed in the photo (maybe not as obvious in my photo of the flyer) is that the products all use New Zealand grown vegetables.

Several years ago, I bought a bag of frozen diced onions precisely so it could speed up meal prep time (and because onions were often too big for just the two of us, and if I bought a bag of them, some would inevitably rot). However, it turned out the onions came from Europe, which I thought was dumb. Nowadays, when I chop an onion, I take the half I usually don’t need and freeze it, ready for the next dish that needs chopped onion. But to get to that point, I first tried the prepared pre-chopped version.

I share my experience because it’s an example of something we always forget: People evolve and change all the time: Opinions, attitudes, and the way people do things all change. How do we know that people who buy those products won’t eventually do it for themselves? And, if they don’t, why is it any of our business?

We see the same sort of thing on social media nearly every day, when people judge others for the movies, TV shows, music, or books they like. But it didn’t start with social media.

When I lived in Chicago, for a time I had a job that had a combined commute of more than an hour. I saw people reading books all the time, and I’d see some of them reading what I decided were “trashy” novels, and, for a time, I judged them for it as I smugly looked up from the book of Kafka stories I was reading at the time. One day it suddenly dawned on me: They were reading. I realised that a book doesn’t have to be literary for it to benefit the reader: Even “trashy” novels helped expand the reader’s vocabulary and world, it gave them broader horizons than they otherwise might have had. That’s a good thing. I learned my lesson.

Decades later, I was living in New Zealand and (somewhat sarcastically) created Arthur’s Law:
Everything you love, someone else hates; everything you hate, someone else loves. So, relax and like what you like and forget about everyone else.
That originated because of judgemental behaviour I saw online. It annoyed me that some people felt that simply HAD to publicly tell other people how much they hated the thing the other person liked.

I’m no saint, and sometimes my human nature comes galloping through and I’ll judge someone for not measuring up to my view of what is Correct™. When I do it, I’m an arsehole. Anyone else who does it is one, too. I don’t want to be an arsehole, so I try to just accept people and their choices at face value. I’ve learned that I don’t need to be “right”, I can choose to be better than that.

Surprisingly, perhaps, this doesn’t mean self-censorship or keeping silent. For example, when someone tells me how much they love a movie that I didn’t like, I can say simply, “I didn’t really care for it, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.” This can lead to a discussion where we can talk about the movie in some detail.

Still, it’s not usually personal, one-to-one conversations where the worst behaviour is displayed; it’s on social media. There, I seldom respond when someone talks about liking something I don’t like, but I’ve been known to stick up for them when others have a go at them over what they like. I don’t have to agree with their choices or likes to not be an arsehole, just accept they have every right to like something I don’t. My approval is never required, and my expression of disapproval is never necessary. Ever.

There are times when judging is perfectly valid. Considering all the terrible things going on in the world, especially the stuff done by people who claim to be doing it in our name, we have every right to judge them for their behaviour, what they’re doing. That’s fair. But why on earth would be bother judging people for liking a pop song? Just because it’s easier than tackling those big problems?

This is a lesson life has taught me, but I actually learned the gist of the message as a child in a simple proverb: Live and let live. The idea it expresses is contained within the entire passage I was referring to in the title of this post, Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

I think we should treat other people with more kindness, and less judgement about trivial stuff. Basically, we need to stop being so stupid.

Still, people have to make their own decisions, and some people seem to need to be judgemental. I wish they wouldn’t be, but if they are, that’s their choice. I won’t judge them for it. Live and let live.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 347 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 347, “Unexpected reboot” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Internet Wading for May 2019

I may not have as many things to share this month, but they were still interesting. Well, to me, anyway.

In last month’s Internet Wading post, I shared a story about a “trash shopping mall”, and a New Zealand version of sorts. This month, I have a similar two-for: “The zero-waste revolution: how a new wave of shops could end excess packaging” talks about shops in the UK where things can be bought in bulk, like in grocery shops of maybe a century ago. Here in New Zealand, there’s a chain of locally-owned shops, Bin-Inn, that sell a portion of their offerings in bulk—but not everything. They do allow customers to bring in their own containers, though, as the UK shops do. Another chain called Commonsense Organics also sells some products in bulk. Recently, mainstream NZ-owned supermarket cooperative company Foodstuffs NZ has announced that it will allow customers to bring their own containers areas to staff-run counters (like the deli), mainly for food safety reasons, as well as to make sure people aren’t charged for the weight of the container. One of the few shops similar to the UK ones that I could find in New Zealand is called GoodFor Wholefoods Refillery, with three locations in upmarket Auckland suburbs (“neighbourhoods” in Americanese). Of course, I already use my own bags.

Speaking of buying things, Vox published “How brands get their names, explained by a professional namer”. Some names are definitely dumb, though (“Dunkin”? Seriously?!).

Time for some art: The oldest painting of New Zealand in Te Papa’s collection is going on display at the museum in Wellington. Painted in 1776, it depicts a landing Captain James Cook made at Dusky Sound in 1773 during his second Pacific voyage. A piece called “Unbelievable 3D Sculptures Show How Historical Figures Actually Looked!” is partly interesting—partly because some of the “unbelievable!” images are actually extrapolations based on things like busts. The ones based on skulls, though, are fascinating.

There’s always time for pop music: “100 Obscure and Remarkable CD Covers". I have (or had) several of them.

“10 Emoji Meanings That Don't Mean What You Think”. Unless, of course, they do. For the most part, I thought the meanings were obvious, or else I’ve never seen them used.

An article in The Atlantic, “The J. R. R. Tolkien Story That Makes the Case for Fantasy Fiction”, makes the case that Tolkien’s “tale about a painter that elegantly argues for the value of escapism in literature”. Given the increasing success of fantasy literature, TV shows, and films, maybe he was on to something.

Merriam-Webster: “We Added New Words to the Dictionary in April 2019”.

An article, “Taking Sides: When left- or right-handedness is a matter of life and death” isn’t about politics—it’s about science.

That's it for this short wade; it's autumn and a bit chilly.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Weekend Diversion: Someone You Loved

The video above is “Someone You Loved” by 22-year-old Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi. It’s not particularly new, but I only started seeing on our free-to-air video channel recently, and often since then. It’s a moving video, starring Peter Capaldi, who’s probably best known as the 12th incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who. I like the song, and the video, which together make a powerfully emotional thing. I’ve noticed that this kind of pop music synergy—symbiosis, really—is becoming increasingly common.

The Wikipedia entry for the song sums up the video well:
The video was made in partnership with charity organisation Live Life Give Life in order to raise awareness for the issue of organ donation. It contains a powerful message of loss and hope, telling a story of a husband who is trying to cope with the death of his wife. She became the heart donor for the young mother of another family, saving her life. Eventually the two families are brought together and the main character knows that his wife's heart continues to live on.
I read that the Capaldis are second cousins once removed, which apparently means that one is the child of the other's second cousin, or else is one's parent's second cousin. The first sounds more plausible to me, though I have no idea. Still, it made me look up what the relationship is and that's—well, a thing, though not necessarily all that interesting or particularly useful. If I need to find out again, I know I'll have to look it up again.

While the song was originally released as a digital download in November, 2018, and the video was released in February 2019, which is still some time before it started being played on our screens. Maybe the NZ release was delayed?

In any case, as of today, the song as hit Number 7 in Australia, 64 in Canada, 7 in New Zealand (Gold), Number 1 in the UK (Platinum), and 8 on the USA’s Billboard “Bubbling on the Hot 100 Singles” chart, and also 22 on the Billboard “Adult Contemporary” chart. This is one of the few times that I’ve shared a song while it’s chart performance isn’t finished.

This song struck a chord with because of the video, and it’s not the first time that’s happened. When I was young, there was no such thing as a “music video”, though music bits on the 1960s US TV show The Monkees were surprisingly close to what some music videos would be. As I grew up, I started listening to the radio, and that alone determined whether I liked a song or not.

And then, on August 1, 1981, along came MTV. Everything changed.

I’ve written several times about how music videos influenced the music I bought, and sometimes the videos of some of those songs from the 1980s resonate as powerfully with me—or more so—than the songs themselves do. Nowadays, I often only encounter new pop music as music videos, and I may not purchase it—in fact, I can’t remember what the last music I bought was, or how long ago.

This song fits into that new reality: I really liked the song because of the video. And that’s what I meant when I talked about pop music synergy or symbiosis: It now pretty much determines whether I like a new pop song or not. Not always, of course, but often enough for it to be a “thing” for me.

At least now if I want to hear this song, I won’t have to wait for it to come up in rotation in the music video channel; I can just go to this post. That much is a relatively new thing, and, for me, a good one.

And so is this video and song.

Related: "Someone You Loved" lyrics.

Non-stormy weather

There’s a word of phrase to describe nearly every kind of weather imaginable, but most of them are related to things that happen. There even some to describe things that don’t happen. But we don’t have many ways to describe things that are like storms, but that aren’t, really. We have to fall back on one particular thing that’s happening, and sometimes, like the past week or so in Auckland, that just isn’t enough.

Starting a week or so ago, we started having some occasional heavy rain, then some wind came with it, then it was mostly just the wind. But was the whole thing a storm, as we usually use the word? Probably not. But at times it was pretty intense.

Last weekend, we had some of the strongest winds we’ve had since April of 2018, though it was nowhere near as bad as that. Even so, one of our neighbours had one of the potted plants on their second-storey (first-storey in NZ terms…) balcony.

The winds eased in the evening, then suddenly came back early Sunday morning. The neighbours hadn’t gone out to right the plant that had been blown over, because the wind was still blowing strongly. The wind knocked over another plant.

Meanwhile, the storm also blew a panel of trellis out of our fence along the boundary with a neighbouring house (photo up top). The third photo along in that photo shows the section of trellis that was damaged in a storm at Christmas last year. We put that piece back, but because it was bent, parts of it wouldn’t fasten properly. This time, the entire panel blew off, so when we replace it, it won’t be obvious anything happened to it.

I took that photo above on Monday, as Nigel and I were leaving to head to the A&M at the start of my latest health adventure. It’s unusual in that I only took the one shot—I wasn’t exactly at my best at that moment.

By the time I was back home from the hospital, the neighbours had righted the plants that were blown over. The winds returned Friday and Saturday, and another plant was blown over.

Meanwhile, we haven’t put the trellis section back yet. I’ve been taking it easy ever since I got home, and, anyway, the weather, whatever it’s called, has kept happening.

See, we just don’t have many ways to describe things that are like storms, but that aren’t, really. We have to fall back on one particular thing that’s happening, and sometimes, like the past week or so in Auckland, that just isn’t enough.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Unexpected reboot

Some days you’re just minding your own business and things happen that were utterly unexpected, even if they’re familiar. When that happens, it can change everything. That was how my week started.

Monday I ended up in hospital after having another episode of racing heartbeat. Sunday night, I thought I could feel my heart fluttering in afib (atrial fibrillation), which wasn’t actually unusual. I had to go to the periodontist for treatment the next day, the first this year, and I thought I might be feeling a bit anxious about it, in part because the feeling seemed a bit stronger than usual.

The next morning started out normally enough, though I was tired from poor sleep the prior night. Around 9:20, I felt odd, and checked my pulse on my watch and it was around 109bpm, which is quite fast for a resting heart rate for me, since I’m on drugs to keep my heart rate slow. It went up from there.

I lay back down to rest and hoped it’d resolved itself, but it didn’t. Instead, it sometimes sped up, sometimes slowed down, and even though I dozed off, it never stabilised or returned to normal. Eventually, Nigel took me to the A&M (accident and medical) clinic that I’d been to twice before for racing heart rate. It was confirmed I was in afib, and had tachycardia (fast heart rate), and even administering a small additional dose of the drug I take to regulate my heart rate didn’t return it to normal. I was sent on to the hospital again.

First night in hospital.
I was hooked up to monitors in an observation area and they drew blood for tests. After Nigel went home for the night, they took me for a chest x-ray, then moved me to a room in a different evaluation unit, where I stayed that night. I didn’t sleep well.

In the morning, I was visited by the doctors, and they suggested using electrical cardioversion to reset my heart rhythm and heart rate to normal. This involves administering an electric shock to the heart, similar to, but weaker than, the shock they give to someone in cardiac arrest. It’s done under a mild general anaesthetic. Nigel and I referred to it as "rebooting" my heart.

This would mean another night in hospital, since I’d already eaten breakfast. They transferred me to a different room that evening, just in time for dinner. I didn’t choose my own dinner, since I wasn’t there at the time they took orders, but I didn’t mind: It reminded me of church dinners I’d had as a kid. Later that evening, they moved me to yet another because of a problem with a patient in the adjoining room (which shares a bathroom/toilet with the room I was in).

The dinner I didn't choose,
but didn't mind.
The older man in the new room snored and breathed roughly, but I still slept slightly better, though still not well. I got no breakfast, of course, and just a little water to take my morning pills with. At the time, that didn’t bother me. They took some more blood for benchmark tests, among other things.

Nigel arrived not long after that, and by then it was obvious it was likely to be early afternoon before my procedure was done. It was a long and boring wait, and I was getting hungry (not helped when they stopped by and had me order the next meals). Worse, though, I was exhausted—not just from the lack of sleep, but also from more than 48 hours in afib with a racing heart rate. I occasionally dozed off.

Intellectually, I wasn’t worried. I was in the hospital, and if anything went wrong, they could deal with it without delay. On the other hand, they were going to shock my heart! I was scared it’d stop and they wouldn’t be able to restart it, even though I knew that was unlikely and improbable. Fear is often irrational.

Early in the afternoon, they came and got me after hooking me up to a mobile monitor. First stop was a room just outside the operating theatre, where they confirmed paperwork, my identity, asked yet again whether I had any allergies, and had me sign the consent form. They said normally they did one jolt, but if it was unsuccessful, they may do a second one. I was then given a mild sedative.

Inside the operating theatre, they put an oxygen mask on me, and gave me the drug that made me fall asleep. I woke up—just a moment later, it seemed to me—in the recovery area, a huge brightly lit, thoroughly modern room with maybe ten or twelve beds I could see, with maybe that many in an identical area behind me. They asked if I wanted them to ring anyone, and I asked them to let Nigel know I was okay and all went well, which they did.

The procedure was a success, and I converted to sinus rhythm with only one jolt. I’d felt nothing, and afterward I felt good. I didn’t even feel dopey from the anaesthetic, since it was a mild version of it.

They took me back to the room, and the clinical doctor visited me to go over what happened, what was going to happen next, and asked me if I wanted to go home (duh!). He then went off to do the paperwork. The dinner I’d ordered arrived while we were waiting, and I inhaled it—I was very hungry by then.

The first thing they did was put me on a new drug, Amiodarone, to control my heart rhythm. This drug potentially has a lot of harsh and harmful side-effects, which require close monitoring, so much so that New Zealand’s Medsafe advises doctors to “Keep an Eye on Amiodarone Patients”. My first blood tests will be in six weeks, then again at three months. They also reduced my dose of Diltiazem, the drug I take to control my heart rate.

This new drug regime is a bridge. In a few weeks I’ll see a cardiologist, both for follow up, and to see where we go next. By then I’ll have had one or more blood tests, which will tell them if I have any side effects. The likely plan is to do the ablation procedure to deal with the cause of the afib and, hopefully, take care of the problem permanently. According to the doctors, it may not turn out that way, because in some cases more procedures are required, or they’re not completely successful. But, best-case scenario, it will mean I can be taken off some of the drugs I’m on at the moment.

All of this is necessary because I don’t respond to the available medicines. I couldn’t tolerate beta-blockers, as I’ve documented in these Health Journey series of posts, and—obviously—Diltiazem didn’t keep me out of tachycardia or afib. This means that drug therapy probably isn’t an option for me.

An interesting thing that came out of all this was that one doctor pointed out that it’s impossible to know for sure whether it’s the Diltiazem or the afib that’s causing my ongoing fatigue. But whatever the cause, I’ve been deeply tired ever since this tachycardia business started, so much so that I don’t feel I have my life. I told the doctors that I’m too young to feel this old, and I feel I’m being robbed of what should be good, productive, active years. I think our mutual goal is to change that.

The tests done already have shown one really good thing: My heart is healthy and functioning normally, apart from the afib. The stent is unrelated in that it was for a cardiac artery problem, not the heart itself, and that was fixed. With proper care and monitoring, is unlikely to recur.

I slept 12 hours Wednesday night, and spent Thursday mostly relaxing. The main thing I did was that Nigel took me to get my new prescriptions (I don’t think I was supposed to drive for like 48 hours because I’d had a general anaesthetic), and he took me to lunch while we were out. Friday and today I’ve similarly kept quiet. But, I feel fine.

So, a problem I’ve dealt with before, the tachycardia and the afib, took a new twist this week, and required more aggressive treatment. Doing that actually points to a way forward, though it may turn out there are more twists and turns in this road yet. This week was stressful, and very tiring, but otherwise not as big a drama, fortunately, as it could have been, nor as bad as others have faced.

Some days you’re just minding your own business and things happen that were utterly unexpected, even if they’re familiar. When that happens, it can change everything. That was how my week started. Fortunately, it ended much more predictably.

Oh, and, of course, I left hospital without a bill.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Blogging revelation and reflection

There’s an old saying that writers want to be read. Or, that they need to be read. Clearly that phrase doesn’t apply to bloggers, not if they’re realistic, because the vast majority of bloggers have a small readership and very little profile. Consequently, despite all the breathless posts on Pinterest, most people will never make a cent from blogging. All of that is simple reality for most, though obviously not all, bloggers. Which is why all the bloggers I’ve known, including me, do it for completely different reasons.

This was driven home to me following the end of Google+. Back in February, when I talked about the approaching end of the service, I talked about how I shared blog posts to the service. It was a mostly automatic thing, and I didn’t think much about it, but always assumed that there wasn’t a whole lot of benefit to doing that. It turns out, I was wrong.

I’ve noticed that since Google+ went away, the number of page views for my blog posts have dropped—actually, plummeted is probably a better word. In the first week after I publish a post, page views are about a third less than they were when Google+ was still around—but that’s at the end of that first week. In the first few days after I publish a post, page loads are usually about half, or less, what they were when Google+ was around. By comparison, episodes of my AmeriNZ Podcast have more downloads in the first week or so than any blog post does.

I have no explanation, and can no longer check out any theories, of course. I’d always assumed that not many people actually saw a post on Google+, though I had no way of knowing (stats showed “Google”, but not G+ specifically). So, maybe the page views were the result of bots/webcrawlers? No idea.

But a few days ago, after seeing there was no improvement in page views, meaning the audience for most posts is pretty tiny, I had a similar reaction to a less severe drop in page loads I noticed back in October of last year:
A week or so ago, I published a post and got the screen I always get, which is a list of all published posts from newest to oldest, 100 posts per page. That list includes the number of page views per post, and for no reason in particular, I looked at them: They’re all mostly fairly consistent—with consistently low page views. My first reaction was, “why am I bothering anymore?” My second reaction was, “THIS is why I never look at page view numbers.”

So, I saw those numbers, was discouraged, and instantly thought of stopping blogging, podcasts, videos—everything. I thought a bit about what I might do with my time if I wasn’t blogging, etc., anymore. I thought about taking more photos—and then what? Change them around on my office wall? What good, I thought to myself, is working on them if no one sees them?

And that’s kind of the point of blogging, too. I can share my views and opinions about current events with friends and family, but that’s kind of the verbal equivalent of taking photos and hanging them on my wall. And they already know about New Zealand. I’ve learned that there’s always the chance that some post I publish will resonate widely, or even just deeply, for the people who see it, beyond anything the number of page views might suggest.
All of that ran through my mind this week, too, and I remembered the bit about photos as I thought about what I might spend my time doing if I stopped blogging and podcasting. Nothing’s changed since last October: I still have no alternatives.

But then, as before, I remembered that I don’t actually do this for “exposure”, or whatever, and whether a post has one reader or a thousand (it’s much closer to the former…) isn’t actually something I usually pay much attention to. This time, like in October, it was because of a recent decline in page views.

When people share posts, as sometimes happens, page views go up, which makes sense, of course. It doesn’t happen all the time, or even necessarily very often, but that probably just means that I’m not writing about popular things. Even so, from time to time posts about all sorts of subjects may be “popular”, relatively speaking, while other posts on the same topic are not.

I recently saw a piece about the most popular types of blogs, ironically, maybe, on a site for WordPress beginners. The ten most popular types are, in order: Fashion Blogs, Food Blogs, Travel Blogs, Music Blogs, Lifestyle Blogs, Fitness Blogs, DIY Blogs, Sports Blogs, Finance Blogs, and Political Blogs. Personal blogs like this one were ranked 13th. This sort of ranking is probably most useful for people who want to start a blog and make money from it. Even then, getting readers is an entirely different matter.

Maybe part of the problem is, as Vox put it recently, “…the internet is destroying our collective attention span”, something they say may be shortening our individual attention span, too. Even if it doesn’t, the way that “hot” topics come and go so quickly, any blogger pegging their hopes for readers on blogging about those “hot” topics is probably going to be exhausted all the time.

So, despite the brief discouragement caused by a drop in page views, nothing has actually changed. I still blog about what I want to and when I want to. As long as I get something out of it, I’ll keep going. It’s nice to have people read what I produce, nicer if they get something from it—and it’s kind of nice to know that people read it, too.

But, like all the bloggers I’ve known, I do it for completely different reasons.

Political Notebook for 12 May 2019

The pace of political news never let’s up, and when combined with a lack of time, that means things pile up. Today’s collection of political stuff was built up over a few weeks, so it's a bit longer than usual. Sometimes it’s necessary.

The rogue ones

The current regime’s war on democracy and the rule of law has picked up speed since the redacted Mueller Report was released. For example, “Trump and his allies are blocking more than 20 separate Democratic probes in an all-out war with Congress”, and, of course, there’s the big fight building because “Refusal to hand over Trump's tax returns sets up legal fight”. There are lot of excuses the regime is making, most of them downright silly, but one of them is “executive privilege”, something that’s not actually in the US Constitution, but that presidents have been claiming for years, mostly to hide what they’re doing from Congressional scrutiny and oversight. Thankfully, Politifact, the project of the Poynter Institute, has provided a handy guide to “What you need to know about executive privilege”.

All of which is why “Trump’s lawlessness is an unfolding Shakespearean tragedy”, as a ThinkProgress piece puts it.

The desperate despot

The current regime is headed by a man who has openly and often expressed his love of and admiration for brutal dictators and their authoritarian regimes. He tries to emulate his heroes, often comically, like when he wanted his eventually cancelled military parade. It’s clear he never quite gave up on the idea of using legitimate patriotism to flatter and exalt himself, as the Washington Post explains in “Trump takes over Fourth of July celebration, changing its location and inserting himself into the program”. Because what all narcissists crave is adulation; dictators have the power to make everyone join in.

Obviously, at the moment the current occupant of the White House can’t force all Americans to worship him, not yet. But what happens if he loses the 2020 election and simply refuses to leave office? “Scholars echo Pelosi’s concerns: Trump will not step down in 2020 if he loses re-election”. As well they should—consider what the man himself has been joking about how me may not leave, and his strongest allies, the allegedly comprised son of a dead TV preacher, has said he should get two extra years to “make up” for being investigated for the crimes he and his campaign committed.

There are those who point out that, as per the Constitution, whoever is elected in November, 2020 will become president automatically at Noon on January 20, 2021, regardless of what the current occupant does or doesn’t do in the event he loses the election. But Speaker Pelosi’s concerns, as she pointed out in the New York Times piece the Slate piece linked to above mentioned, Democrats will need a massive victory so that its legitimacy is beyond any question. If he loses by a small amount, he will rally his supporters in his defence. There are 78 days between Election Day and Inauguration Day, which is more than enough time to get his frothing fans—especially the heavily armed ones—to Washington, DC to prevent the normal peaceful transfer of power. It doesn’t matter if they could prevent the US military re-taking Washington and ending the rebellion, what matters is that the last norm of constitutional law would be shattered, and if he prevailed it would mean the end of the USA. Anyone who says that’s “impossible” hasn’t been paying attention for the past 27 months.

His frothing fervent fans laugh at all this, arguing that, just like in 2016, we take him literally, but not seriously, while they do the opposite. If we’ve learned anything about him it’s this: Don’t ever underestimate that man again. He may be “joking” about overthrowing the Constitution, but only a fool would dismiss the possibility that he’s serious about doing so.

Second-worst case scenario

While the current occupant could reject his election defeat and seize power as a dictator, it’s also entirely possible—maybe even likely at this particular moment—that he could win the 2020 election. The election is a long way off—the better part of a year and a half—and there are far too many unknowns to permit any kind of firm opinion on that. After all, at this point in 2015, polls showed that the leading candidates for the Republican Nomination were Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio (depending on the specific poll). The eventual Republican nominee was either not named or polled very, very lowly. The common wisdom was that Jeb would get the nomination.

We can take two things from this history lesson: First, current polling of Democrats may be true at the moment (since all polls are at their heart a snapshot of a moment in time), but one should never assume that the current polls predict who the Democratic nominee will be next year. So, it’s not surprising that, as Real Clear Politics has shown, polls testing theoretical matches between the Current Occupant and various Democrats are all over the place. Once there’s an actual Democratic nominee—or, at least, a clearly likely one—then we’ll start seeing polling data that will be more useful. [In the meantime, FiveThiryEight’s tracking of Democratic Primary polling is interesting, if nothing else]

Similarly, the ongoing unpopularity of the current occupant is not necessarily permanent, and, in any case, nationwide polling is irrelevant: What matters is who wins what states with how many Electoral College votes. End of story. A candidate can lose the popular vote and still become president, as the current occupant did. But this time, the current occupant might win both.

The 2020 presidential election will, as always, come down to a handful of “swing states”, and—at the moment—polls suggest that it doesn’t look good for the current occupant. His approval ratings in swing states, including ones that gave him the White House, are terrible, often far worse than his national average. But 2016 proved that we can never assume anything, and Democrats should work as if they’re underdogs—especially because they are. Fortunately, the Democratic Party is already working at building their “on the ground” staff for the General Election campaign, rather than wait until the nominee is known, as they did in 2016. That’s good—and vital.

Meanwhile, the current occupant isn’t depending on holding onto the swing states that handed him the White House in 2016, and he’s looking for new opportunities. For example, he thinks he has a very good chance of winning Virginia, and he also thinks he could flip Minnesota. It would be a fatal mistake to laugh at him and ignore the danger in the opportunities he thinks he sees.

Even though he hasn’t delivered much for his frothing fans, we must at least acknowledge that the current occupant has a very, very good chance of winning the election in 2020. First, he will take credit for a positive economy—assuming it still is and that his trade war with China doesn’t destroy it. Nit-picking over whether he deserves any credit for that economy won’t change anything in the eyes of ordinary voters who will, at the very least, give him the benefit of the doubt. In fact, even suggesting that he merely benefitted from existing trends, etc., is likely to make voters perceive Democrats as negative and mean-spirited, playing into the current occupant’s rhetoric about “angry Democrats”. To avoid a close election they could then lose, Democrats cannot afford to wilfully alienate any voters.

A better strategy, in my opinion: Acknowledge what’s going well and then pivot to how many people are being left behind, how income for most people has been stagnant—often stalled—for decades, even as it’s soared for the rich and skyrocketed for the super-rich. The inequality of the economy and the unfairness of how they’re doing are things that ordinary people can and do actually feel; it’s unreasonable to expect them to get upset or care about whether the current occupant is taking credit he doesn’t deserve. After all, they’re used to him lying and shamelessly promoting himself; what they want to know is what Democrats will do to make their lives better, to fix the inequality and unfairness that the current occupant and the Republican Party he controls seek to increase.

And, of course, we must never forget that the current occupant begins with the huge advantage of the powers of incumbency at his disposal, and that shouldn't be underestimated. He could even start a war or three if he thinks it’ll help him win the election, or take some other sort of action to stoke fear and hatred. He’s clearly not above doing that, especially if he thinks he’s losing.

Random bits

Two other things are worth pointing out. First, this week “House passes Trump-opposed disaster-relief bill with more funding for Puerto Rico”. At the Washington Post article puts it: “Thirty-four Republicans joined all of the chamber’s Democrats to pass the sweeping relief package, 257 to 150.” Republicans vow to kill it in the US Senate, so this could be a short victory, but these days you just never know.

The other thing is that caught my eye this week was "Sick Of 2020 Already? Most Voters Aren’t." in which FiveThirtyEight's weekly "Pollapalooza" looks at voter enthusiasm. It doesn't mean much, really, but, still: Political data. It's fun.

There’s always plenty to talk about, when the pace of political news never let’s up. Oh well, time to start a new page in the Notebook.