Category: Politics

On Proceedure

A little more than a year ago, Trump somehow thought that associates being the subject of a judicially approved wiretap somehow exonerated him. This week, the fact the FBI had sufficient evidence that his campaign received and possibly sought the aid of foreign governments to place an informant in the campaign organization is meant to show how the whole investigation is FAKE NEWS. And, hell, for all we know someone who worked for the campaign heard about these meetings and reached out to the FBI to report it.

And he compares an FBI informant in his campaign to Watergate — where burglars broke into the DNC HQ office, installed listening devices in the phones, and then broke in again. Difference is *burglars* broke into the office and planted devices to intercept conversations (and broke in again to ‘repair’ their initial work). When the FBI uses informants, on the other hand, “special care is taken to carefully evaluate and closely supervise their use so the rights of individuals under investigation are not infringed. The FBI can only use informants consistent with specific guidelines issued by the attorney general that control the use of informants”. Which makes Trump’s claim another bit of ‘deep state’ paranoia.

It’s not unreasonable to conclude that evidence of the campaign’s interaction with foreign powers was discovered and prompted the investigation. Have the DoJ look into it and verify the FBI followed their internal policy, although that’s a bit of a stretch. Given the number of meetings with representatives of foreign governments the campaign took looking for campaign assistance, Trump’s assertion is a bit like a meth cook saying the whole system is corrupt as evidenced by the search warrant for his lab being signed off on by a judge.

The strangest bit of the whole assertion is that a deep state conspiracy to undermine Trump’s campaign would have been far more effective if it were announced prior to the election. After the fact, it’s pretty ineffective. Best case for an after-the-fact investigation is they manage to impede the process of governing until the next election cycle. The day before the last debate, publicize (or leak) news of this investigation? A day or two before the election?

It’ll convince the 30% who are out to prove Trump right on one matter — he could shoot someone on 5th Ave and still have their support.

 

The Horrors!

The TL;DR summary of the Trump Tower meeting, by way of the Senate Committee testimony, seems to be “we wanted dirt on our opponent to help win the election, and were right eager to accept said help from Russia but this meeting failed to provide what we wanted to procure”. Which, as far as defenses go … not a great one.

While one is not meant to consider the ramification of a legal decision, Trump Jr’s testimony brings to mind prostitution sting operations. I would love to see the defendant claiming that they had not in fact engaged in an illegal activity. Sure they wanted to exchange money for sex. The sex was never provided; ipso facto the law was not broken. Case dismissed! Sorry to inconvenience you, upstanding citizen.

Seeing Crime Everywhere

There have been a few stories recently about white people ringing up the police because someone with darker skin exists. This most recent story is a grad student who fell asleep while writing a paper in a common room. Not unheard of, there were kids dozing off in the library and residential common areas all.the.time. Kids fell asleep in my computer lab too. Sometimes even the work study kids who were meant to be supervising the area and assisting with computer problems. Almost a decade ago, it was a Harvard professor and his driver forcing a stuck door at his house. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve encountered a police officer while I was breaking into a car in a car park. It wasn’t just a police officer who happened across me. Dozens of people in the plaza didn’t look twice at the white chick forcing her way into a car.

It isn’t the police response that strikes me as much as the person making the report — it’s like we need a beer summit on a national scale. Why not approach the sleeping person, wake them, and suggest their room is going to be a comfier place for a nap. Or if they wake up and want to hang in the commons area, strike up a conversation. Ask their program, tell them about your program. And if you still think the person isn’t a student (doesn’t know the names of teachers in their department or knows totally made up profs, whatever) then call campus security or the police.

Sitting is the New Smoking

Some company official posted an internal article titled “Sitting is the New Smoking” to tell us all how bad sitting for prolonged periods of time can be for your health. While they make suggestions for using your break to do some exercises or suggest cube-exercises … frankly, they’ve designed a job that requires sitting for prolonged periods of time.

Some people have standing desks. Not all. Not most. My understanding is these things were purchased as accommodative equipment the company had to purchase based on medical need. If sitting is as bad for your health as smoking, did the company not just publish its own statement of medical need to support widespread purchase of standing desks?

Beyond near-term costs, though, the assertion brought to mind the Black Lung Benefits Act from nearly two decades ago. While mine operators may have been able to reduce exposure to coal dust, some level of exposure to coal is requisite in mining the stuff. A generally unavoidable environment based on the work being done caused a major medical problem that led to disability and death, and companies ended up shelling out disability payments and survivor benefits. It wasn’t quite the least they could possibly do to quell public outcry, but there are a lot of *’s on qualifying that let reasonable requests be denied or pushed off for years without retroactive payments. Even so, the payout is like eight grand a year per afflicted miner. And there are like 30k recipients (and something like 5k dependents, which can drastically increase the annual payout). That’s minimum two hundred forty million bucks in 2017. And it’s a LOT less now than a decade ago. There are nuances to determining the payer, but it is generally the mine operator most recently employing an affected individual. A significant portion of this money has been payed by mine operators.

Sitting at work is different from exposure to coal whilst mining coal. There’s no reason most jobs require sitting for hours on end. Historically there’s a component of elitism — a hundred plus years ago, low paying jobs were physically intensive, and it was a bit of an elite thing to be able to sit at work. Now the sign of affluence is a few spare hours a week to exercise, and sitting is just a norm no one has sought to change. If a company is aware of how bad sitting is for its employees, seems like said company would have a better defense against liability if they actively attempt to re-design their workplaces and jobs to avoid sitting. Sending out a mass mail telling you how bad something is or having a webinar to tell you how bad it is … but generally employing people to sit for hours at a time isn’t much in the way of due diligence. Routinely deploying standing desks, even in training classrooms, would reduce mandatory sitting among call centre staff. Walking meetings for one-on-one or small group sessions.

 

The History Of War And Peace

As Plato says for Clinias of Scambonidae — “For (as he would say) ‘peace,’ as the term is commonly employed, is nothing more than a name, the truth being that every State is, by a law of nature, engaged perpetually in an informal war with every other State.”, I have seen peace not as the normative state but as a temporary interlude in an ongoing war. What first drew me to study history was observing the chain of treaties to ‘end’ European conflict that extorted and humiliated the defeated parties. The Peace of Westphalia established the supremacy of the nation-state over religious states, but it also begat machinations to maintain a “balance of power” whereby ‘balance’ more or less meant your nation maintained some level of control throughout the continent. The Treaty of Frankfurt, with the indemnity France was forced to pay and territory it was forced to cede, did nothing to establish good will on the Continent. The Anglo-Ottoman Convention allowed British dominance in the Middle East, and the borders created largely ignored ethnic division. The Treaty of Versailles punishment of Germany undermined the Weimar Republic. European nations learned, my professor asserted, and sought to ensure the treaty ending World War II wouldn’t follow the long chain of humiliating, punitive treaties. An assertion ridiculous on its face – border adjustments in the Balkans under the Paris Peace Treaties begat revolution and conflict decades later as ethnically different peoples lumped into the same country broke apart.

Punishing and embarrassing a nation, or lumping people with a long history of conflict into the same country are hardly conducive to lasting peace. I oft wonder if that was the point — see: Eisenhower’s military industrial complex speech. Demanding four billion dollars from King Salman may not be an insurmountable financial burden to the Saudis, but such payment would certainly be seen as a national embarrassment. Violating the US out of the Iranian nuclear deal — and an extrapolation of what the US will ask from North Korea — is just another event in a centuries long chain of “we win, FU” so-called diplomacy.

Viewing North Korea’s summit in light of Iran – either a set of conditions are acceptable in North Korea but not Iran or North Korea will be told to completely eliminate their nuclear capabilities. It’s one thing for Korea to offer to dismantle their testing facilities — frankly, nuclear testing is frightening, and once you’ve got a bomb there’s not much point in repeatedly exploding a nuclear device — but denuclearizing and permitting frequent, invasive inspections to ensure the program is not renewed … that’s a big ask.

Retainers And Loans

Giuliani’s assertion on Hannity’s show: When I heard Cohen’s retainer of thirty-five thousand, when he was doing no work for the President, I said, ‘That’s how he’s repaying it, with a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes, for Michael.’

I don’t care to dig into the nuances of loan repayment, but I’ve paid lawyers retainer fees for doing no work. A retainer is money paid to ensure you have a lawyer on-hand to provide legal advice and services if you need them. Should your requirements exceed that which the retainer contract permits, you get billed extra. But I’ve never seen a retainer contract that had stipulations in case the client ended up *not* needing services during the period. If you pay 35k for a one-year contract that provides up to 40 hours per month on assignments determined by the client … well, zero is “up to 40” and you’ve paid 35k for no work. You paid for the willingness to provide work and for the work should it be needed. Which is why people who do not routinely require legal assistance don’t tend to keep a lawyer on retainer: no point dropping a couple grand a month every month you don’t need a lawyer. Wait until you are, say, writing your will and hire one for the specific task.

Reality and the Law, An Ongoing Saga

Sayeth Trump

Some legal infractions are straight-forward. Speeding — there is empirical evidence that the vehicle which you were driving was moving at 63 miles per hour. The posted speed limit for the road, again empirical evidence, is 45. The line of questioning in this case may be “Were you speeding?”. It’s a lot quicker than asking what speed you were travelling, what the speed limit is on the road, and if your speed exceeded that limit.

Many infractions are not this distinct. Driving too fast for road conditions — that’s a matter of opinion. In fact, a decent argument could be made that someone involved in *most* traffic accidents was driving too fast for road conditions. I had a friend wipe out his motorbike on highway gravel. He was abraded but fine. A cop drove by as he was righting his motorbike, and stopped to help. Eighteen year old kid with a grudge against pretty much everyone mouthed off to the cop sufficiently to be cited for driving too fast for road conditions. Because gravel? That’s a road condition.

Collusion and obstruction of justice both fall into the “not clear cut” category. An unemployed guy notices a business district has a problem with vandalism and offers to patrol the street from 8p-6a for ten dollars an hour because they seem to have a vandal problem. That’s not extortion or racketeering — that’s someone who needs work offering to provide a service someone else needs. An unemployed guy starts vandalizing the business district, then offers to patrol the street from 8p-6a for ten dollars an hour because they seem to have a vandal problem … that’s a protection racket. The prosecution may not directly ask “are you running a protection racket?”. They could delve into how the guy noticed the vandalism problem on multiple occasions, ask questions show how desperate he was for money, ask the guy where he was during the vandalism. That line of questioning doesn’t mean the prosecution doesn’t think he’s running a protection racket. It means they’re asking questions that address all of what differentiates the perfectly innocent first scenario from the criminal second scenario.

In the NYTimes list of questions Mueller is said to have for Trump, there’s a whole section titled “Campaign Coordination With Russia”. Surely not Mueller’s title, but how can anyone reading this list say there are “no questions on collusion”? Because the word doesn’t literally appear!?!

Technicalities of Legalities

Anyone else glad the head of the Executive Office of the United States has such a firm grasp on the law?

Obstruction of justice is corrupt interference in the proceedings or people serving at a proceeding from doing his duty. Nowhere in the US Code does it say “assuming, of course, the proceeding leads to a conviction”. If you are found guilty of a crime you didn’t commit, sentenced to five years in jail, escape jail, are subsequently found to be innocent and your initial conviction vacated … you can still be charged with escaping jail and sentenced to jail time for the offense. Now you might get time served, or a reduced sentence … but you still committed the crime of escaping the jail when incarcerated. Same deal-e-o here. If I didn’t commit a crime but was being investigated, and tried to influence witnesses or stop police from investigating the non-crime … that is a crime.

18 U.S.C. § 1503: “Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, endeavors to influence, intimidate, or impede any grand or petit juror, or officer in or of any court of the United States, or officer who may be serving at any examination or other proceeding before any United States magistrate judge or other committing magistrate, in the discharge of his duty, or injures any such grand or petit juror in his person or property on account of any verdict or indictment assented to by him, or on account of his being or having been such juror, or injures any such officer, magistrate judge, or other committing magistrate in his person or property on account of the performance of his official duties, or corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b). If the offense under this section occurs in connection with a trial of a criminal case, and the act in violation of this section involves the threat of physical force or physical force, the maximum term of imprisonment which may be imposed for the offense shall be the higher of that otherwise provided by law or the maximum term that could have been imposed for any offense charged in such case.”

Political Pragmatism

This is a difficult one for me — totally un-democratic, but I can also see the point. The general election isn’t about picking a guy to represent the Democrats of the Sixth Congressional District of Colorado, it’s about picking a guy to represent *all* of the Sixth District. I’d generally prefer to be represented by a less progressive Democrat than a less conservative Republican.

 
The salient questions are *does* the candidate need to appeal to some percentage of swing voters (i.e. what is the electorate split)? And do those swing voters really care about that which the Democratic Party sees in the candidate they support? The DCCC is making what they believe is a pragmatic choice. Without proving reality bifurcates at infinite junctures and visiting alternative timelines … really no way to *know* if they are right or not.
 
In a district where 80% of the electorate are Democrats, the primary can figure out which guy those people want. But in a district that’s, say, 45% Democrat / 45% Republican / 10% swing voters … winning the general election requires nominating someone who appeals to that 10%. Coffman won in 2016 by 8% (30k votes). This *particular* district seems like one where the Democratic candidate needs to appeal to those who voted Republican for the last decade. Clinton won the district, so there’s some empirical evidence to support a belief that enough voters in the district *can* be swayed.
 
What I see wrong with it is not being up front about the pragmatic reasons for supporting the individual and allowing voters in the District to decide if *they* want to nominate a less progressive candidate.

Reality Check – The VA

Alternative Fact: “We can talk about experience but the VA, when you think about 13 million people, you could take the head of the biggest hospital corporation of the world and it’s peanuts compared to the VA. So nobody has experience” — Trump on Fox & Friends this morning.

Real Fact: The VA does not have thirteen million employees, they’ve just just under 400k. By their own documentation, they have nine million enrolled veterans. Unless this number does not include dependents who *quality* to receive services *and* there are an additional four million qualified dependents … thirteen million is another Trump-ed number. Even if they’ve got thirteen million people enrolled in their health plan, the number of patient *visits* (i.e. one guy comes in every week, that’s fifty patient visits a year), a standard metric within the health care industry, is more useful (and, honestly, impressive sounding). They had 95 million outpatient visits and 700k inpatient admissions in 2015.

Now that’s a lot of employees , but Amazon has more. Amazon also has something like 300 million active customers. So it’s not like anyone anywhere is this size. But OK, he’s limiting it to hospital corporations.

Hospital Corporation of America has like 200 thousand employees and handles twenty seven million patient visits a year. Less, sure, but how many employees and patient visits does the White House doctor handle? It’s not like Trump went with the Cleveland Clinic guy who oversees fifty thousand employees and seven million patient visits and defends the choice saying anyone’s experience is going to need to scale when joining the VA.