What is the Debt Ceiling and Why You Should Care About It.

That’s the title of this ABC News report. I don’t know a lot about this topic, so I sought out some information. Here’s what I learned:

The debt ceiling is a cap on the amount of money the U.S. government can borrow to pay its debts.

Every year, Congress passes a budget that includes government spending on infrastructure, programs such as Social Security and salaries for federal workers. Congress also taxes people to pay for all that spending. But for years, the government has been spending more than it takes in from taxes and other revenue, increasing the federal deficit.

The government needs to borrow money to continue paying out what Congress has already OK’d. The debt ceiling puts a limit on how much money the U.S. government can borrow to pay its bills.

That seems fairly clear, but I’m confused about on the following point:

Continue reading “What is the Debt Ceiling and Why You Should Care About It.”

Advice for Those Frustrated by Congressional Dysfunction

“I don’t care which party you vote for, but please stop voting for people who have no desire or intention to govern.” That’s a tweet I saw today, and wholeheartedly agree with. I assume the tweet primarily refers to the GOP members of Congress who oppose Kevin McCarthy for Speaker of the House. I would actually broaden this out to any politicians that enabled this group, as well as politicians preferred nothing to making any compromise or those who preferred nothing, rather than giving any political victory to the other side.

These politicians are the problem and primary source of the dysfunction. Here’s a message to those who have a low opinion of Congress because of gridlock:

Continue reading “Advice for Those Frustrated by Congressional Dysfunction”

ChatGPT Thread

“ChatGPT is a development on par with the printing press, electricity and even the wheel and fire.”

That’s according to Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury Secretary in the Obama administration. I had heard about ChatGPT before, but I knew nothing about it. (Actually, when I listened to Summers, it sounds like he’s referring more broadly to the ability of AI to think and express itself like humans.)

Here’s what I learned from an NYT article.

“In ChatGPT’s case, it read a lot. And, with some guidance from its creators, it learned how to write coherently — or, at least, statistically predict what good writing should look like.”

Some benefits:

“It can help research and write essays and articles. ChatGPT can also help code programs, automating challenges that can normally take hours for people. Another example comes from a different program, Consensus. This bot combs through up to millions of scientific papers to find the most relevant for a given search and share their major findings. A task that would take a journalist like me days or weeks is done in a couple minutes.”

The benefits here are obvious, but, off the top of my head, here are some drawbacks:

  • For humans, the ability to comb through lots of information and find the most relevant information could deteriorate.
  • My sense is that different people make different judgments about what is relevant; the ability to do this, which includes making connections with other information, including seemingly unrelated information, can differ significantly from person to person. Will this capability become more uniform if done by an AI?
  • My sense is that this process can lead to important insights. How will AI impact that?

In a survey, a group of scientists who work on machine learning had even more dire response:

Nearly half said there was a 10 percent or greater chance that the outcome would be “extremely bad (e.g., human extinction).” These are people saying that their life’s work could destroy humanity.

This seems like a big problem, one that that seems blatantly foolish:

“The problem, as A.I. researchers acknowledge, is that no one fully understands how this technology works, making it difficult to control for all possible behaviors and risks. Yet it is already available for public use.”

To go ahead with something that we don’t fully understand, but could pose an existential threat to humanity (albeit a relatively small probability) seems foolish. And how can we accurately assess the risk if we don’t fully understand how the technology works?

The GOP Will Control the House of Representatives

I purposely avoided reading about politics for several weeks prior to the election–primarily because it was just causing too much anxiety. When I finally started reading reactions after the election, the overall tone was positive from many Democratic supporters. The reaction seemed based on two things: 1) there was no “red wave”–and the Democrats had a good chance of controlling the Senate; 2) many of the election deniers who ran for positions that could impact elections lost. I was genuinely happy to hear this, especially the latter.

However, who controlled the House was still undecided, and the degree to which the reaction was positive seemed out of place. To me, the GOP winning the House, while maybe not as bad as election deniers gaining control over state and local electoral processes, was almost as bad. What I found most disturbing was their likely use of their power to hold political investigations, and possibly attempt to impeach, Biden and his administration. The idea was nauseating and revolting.

Today, I heard the Republicans held a news conference that they would be investigation Biden and his family (Hunter Biden, most likely), based on disingenuous concerns over corruption. The level of cynicism and bad faith is off the charts.

I’ll have more to say, but I’ll leave with more remark. It is disheartening that so many Americans believed the Republicans deserved their vote–that the GOP is fit to govern.

How Liz Cheney Could Save the Republic and the Republican Party

A day after Liz Cheney lost her congressional seat, Ron Brownstein in theAtlantic speculated on her next moves, including running for president. I want to use one of his remarks as a springboard to discuss the ways she could lead a defense of the republic that not only saves it, but also save the GOP–or gives birth to a new Conservative party that can compete with Democrats.

“The only plausible way to break Trump’s hold on the GOP, these critics believe, is to show that Trump, or Trumpism, cannot win national elections. Even if Cheney cannot deny Trump the nomination, she could still ultimately loosen his hold on the party, this thinking goes, if she persuades enough centrist and white-collar voters to reject him and ensure his defeat in a general election. To save the party, in other words, Cheney might first have to be willing to destroy it.”
(emphasis added)

This last line really resonated with me, and reminded me of a post I wrote a few years ago, suggesting the Republicans should consider abandoning the GOP (brand) and start a new conservative party. I felt this way because a) embracing Trump indelibly stained the party, making it a political loser, especially in the long-term (at least, a person like me would not vote for them again); b) by vehemently rejecting Trump–including racism–the new Conservative party could jettison harmful political baggage while building a platform and approach that could widen their tent in a way that could lead them to big political victories in the future. (When Romney lost, I believe one group of advisors recommended making changes to attract more voters–especially, people of color–but with Trump the GOP rejected this approach and decided to focus on whipping up the base, including the use of demagoguery.)

To be clear, this was a very long-term project. In the short-term, the GOP would suffer big losses. This is definitely a tough sell to Republicans and Conservatives, but I would argue the approach is not only a strategically wise, for the long-term, but morally right and patriotic. Trumpism and racism–authoritarianism–should be unequivocally rejected. The fact that this would politically damage the GOP is not a sufficient argument against this approach. If it was, that would mean the party would be more important than core American values (e.g., all people are created equal, the rule of law, etc.). Additionally, the political pain is a consequence from the GOP accepting and embracing Trump. Not taking a big political hit was not an option–not enough the GOP would remain a legitimate liberal-democratic party. Yes, they could abandon liberal-democracy–embrace authoritarianism–as a way to avoid this pain, but then the GOP would cease to be a legitimate American party in my view.

For true Conservatives and patriots in the GOP, I didn’t see many options. This is especially true after it was clear Trump wouldn’t change, and he committed multiple acts that deserved impeachment and removal. If true Conservatives didn’t break off to start a new party, at some point, they would have vociferously and rigorously oppose Trump and those who supported him. They would have to fight for the soul of the GOP.

In this process, essentially an internal war within the GOP, the GOP likely would have died–“died” in the sense of suffering huge political defeats. However, in my view, these Conservative insurgents could have laid the groundwork for either a new Conservative party or for a revitalization and strengthening of the GOP.

How does this relate to Liz Cheney and the present moment? Cheney believes (rightly) that America democracy is in peril from Trump and Trumpism, and in defense of American democracy, she is going to vigorously and publicly lead a fight against Trump and Trumpist politicians. I use the word “lead” here to suggest that she needs to be able to bring other people with her in this fight–such as prominent Republicans (e.g., Mitt Romney), Conservative pundits, and even big Republican donors or business leaders. To me, her ability to get people like this to join this public defense is really crucial. But if she’s successful, this group of Americans can successfully defend democracy.

However, in the process, Republicans will suffer some crucial losses–including some prominent Republicans. That is, Cheney and those who follow her will be responsible for defeating some of her former colleagues or damaging GOP leaders and allies. She’s going to be seen as an enemy, and will likely be reviled among the GOP establishment. (Well, she’ll be reviled among Trumpist Republican voters as well.)

At the same time, this will position her and those who follow her as the legitimate leaders of GOP or a new Conservative party. This could help Cheney’s presidential aspirations, but I also think this ultimately could help American Conservatism in the future. And, again, if these efforts succeed, they would have preserved American democracy. (More later.)

Should the Department of Justice Prosecute Trump?

I sense a lot of frustration with regard to what seems to be a lack of activity by the Department of Justice (DOJ), with regard to prosecuting Trump of crimes. A lot of people feel like Trump has committed several crimes, and while I’m not a lawyer, that’s my sense as well. (And if he didn’t, he’s done many things that deserve serious consequences–to deter this sort of behavior in the future.)

But assuming the DOJ has enough evidence to prosecute Trump and they feel confident they can win the case (It would be a disaster if they failed to convict Trump.), I may belong to a minority of anti-Trumpers who has unease about prosecuting Trump.

Yes, I understand and largely agree with those who argue that not prosecuting Trump (if the evidence is there) would be worst than failing to prosecute him.

But prosecuting Trump will set a precedence that I’m very uneasy about. To see why, think of the current GOP. I have no doubt they would prosecute Democratic presidents when they leave office (and I wouldn’t put it past them to prosecute past presidents like Obama)–for purely political reasons. And that would likely lead to Democrats doing something similar.

This would be an awful situation, one with no clear remedy.

Here, I should mention the congressional GOP–and my utter contempt I feel for them. The Founders created the mechanism to deal with someone like Trump–namely, impeachment and removal. Indeed, one could argue Trump was precisely the type of president Congress had in mind when it came to impeachment. I believe the majority of Republican members of Congress know/knew Trump deserved to be impeached (Same with many of the people working in the Trump administration.)

But they failed to use this mechanism. Twice!

And that’s why we’re in this position. The GOP seem to be waiting for the DOJ to do their dirty work–in spite of the problems this will likely cause for future presidency. It’s another example of the egregious way they put their party ahead of the country.

An Article That Captures What Inadequate Republican Leadership Looks Like

On this 4th of July, I hope Americans really reflect on the system of government the Founders created, the benefits we’ve enjoyed from it, and all the people who have gave their lives to launch and preserve it. I hope they realize that this system is not guaranteed, and that they heed those who believe it is currently under threat.

Rep. Liz Cheney has been raising alarms about this, and I view these efforts, as well as her work in the 1/6 Committee, as a robust defense of our constitutional system–something that stands in stark contrast with Republicans who have actively supported Trump’s undermining of our system, or those who have largely remained silent. Among the latter, I’m especially disappointed, perplexed, and exasperated by those who know better, who actually care about the country, but have decided to sit on the sidelines

I include Sen. Romney among this group, and his piece in the Atlantic today is not only disappointing, but also exasperating. I’ll expand on this in the next section.