Head on Collusion

Adam Schiff says “collusion” and “conspiracy” are the same thing.  Apparently the law says different.  “Conspiracy” is “secret co-operation” of two more parties to commit a crime.  So, to prove a “conspiracy,” prosecutor Robert Mueller will need to show that the Trump campaign received something of “value” from the Russians.[1]  Those things of value might have included covertly-supplied (i.e. “laundered”) campaign contributions.   The “conspiracy” element also could include things like co-ordination of the release of the hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) e-mails or guiding the Russian social media campaign.[2]

Beyond that, Mueller probably is trying to discover if an understanding existed in which the Russians helped candidate Donald Trump in return for a promise to pursue a policy more friendly to Russia by President if Donald Trump.  One key question appears to be whether anyone in the Trump campaign engaged in “intentional solicitation” for help or co-operation.

In July 2016, Trump publicly urged the Russians to “find” the 30,000 e-mails that Hillary Clinton had deleted from her personal e-mail server.  It seems clear from the story of George Papadopolous and from accounts of the June 2016 meeting between Russians and leaders of the Trump campaign (Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort) that the Russians had claimed that they had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.[3]  In August 2016, Roger Stone, a Trump adviser, told someone that he had met with Julian Assange, of Wikileaks.  He predicted that DNC official John Podesta soon would be in for a hard time.  Is having knowledge of something the same as participating in a conspiracy?

Michael Flynn, briefly Trump’s national security adviser, discussed economic sanctions with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, then lied about the discussions to Vice-President Pence.  Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s personal attorneys and commonly described as a “fixer,” is alleged to have lied about a visit to Prague to confer with Russians.  Did he lie under oath or only to journalists?

It has been reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told Trump in late April 2018 that he is a target neither of the Mueller investigation nor of the Michael Cohen investigation.[4]  Mueller has been at this for quite a while.  He has indicted George Papodopolous, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Michael Flynn, while Michael Cohen has had his home and offices searched.  Is it really possible that he has found no proof of a crime by the president?  Found no one who will “flip” on the president?  Found nothing worth knowing from anyone who is willing to “flip” under the pressure of transgressions unrelated to the campaign?  Or is he just biding his time?

Liberals countered by arguing that “the opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings”: Trump could still become a target at any moment.  Many of their hopes seem to rest on a charge of obstruction of justice related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey.  Comey’s evident loathing of the President he was charged to investigate and a failure by Mueller to discover proof of a “conspiracy” could under-cut the validity of an obstruction charge.  In the court of public opinion, if not in the law courts.

[1] It seems apparent that the “Steele dossier” came from the Russian intelligence service with the intention of helping Hillary Clinton.  So why isn’t the Clinton campaign also under investigation?

[2] “The collusion question,” The Week, 4 May 2018, p. 11.

[3] Clearly they did have some embarrassing materials.  These were released through Wikileaks in August 2016.  Did they have more and “even better” stuff that they held back to use as leverage if Clinton managed to win?

[4] “Giuliani seeks end to Russia probe,” The Week, 4 May 2018, p. 5.

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“Bump Stocks.”

The purchase of fully automatic weapons has been tightly restricted in the U.S. since the 1930s. Outlaws great and small used fully automatic weapons (machine guns and sub-machine guns) against rivals and against the police.[1]  The 1934 National Firearms Act narrowly restricted ownership of fully automatic weapons; a 1986 amendment prohibited most transfers or possession of automatic weapons, except those that had been manufactured and registered with the government in the past.[2]  It would appear that most privately-owned fully automatic weapons are in the possession of licensed gun-ranges.  You can go to a range, pay a daunting fee, and fire a fully automatic weapon at a paper target.  That’s enough for most gun-owners

Still, a small number of gun-owners yearned for the experience of firing a weapon on full-auto at a lower cost.  Then, some physically-disabled shooters wanted an adaptive technology that would allow them to enjoy one of their favorite pre-disability sports.  Admittedly, this is kind of a niche market.[3]  Numerous attempts to design retrofits for semi-automatic weapons failed.  Then, in 2008 or 2009, someone invented “bump stocks.”  The particular technology doesn’t seem to me to matter.  The effect does matter.  “Bump stocks” allowed shooters to “simulate” full automatic fire.[4]

In 2010, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (commonly ATF) considered whether they violated federal law by creating a new form of fully automatic weapons.  ATF concluded that they did not violate federal legal restrictions on automatic weapons.  They did not alter the internal firing mechanism.  They just exploited it to achieve the same effect as a full-auto weapon.  So, “bump stocks” were good to go.  This was two years before the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.  In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, President Obama said he would “use whatever power this office holds” to prevent a new version of the massacre.  Alas, when he issued 23 Executive Orders in January 2013 to enhance gun-control, these did not include ordering ATF to revisit its approval of “bump stocks.”

Still, “bump stock”-modified weapons have problems.  First, they are Hell on accuracy.  Still if a sniper has 22,000 people penned inside a concert venue, s/he doesn’t need to be very accurate.  Anything within range can become a target.  Second, firing weapons designed to fire as semi-automatic on “simulated” full-auto generates more heat than the weapons are designed to handle.  They tend to jam.  So Stephen Paddock attached “bump stocks” to 12 of the rifles he brought to his room in the Mandalay Bay.[5]  It seems likely that he walked back and forth between the two windows he had broken whenever a weapon jammed, picking another off the bed on the way.

The obvious solution here is to revisit the 2010 ATF decision and declare “bump stocks” illegal.  That won’t do the casualties in Las Vegas any good, but it might help forestall mass shootings in the future.  Still, “mass shootings” as conventionally defined and long-guns (rifles and shotguns) account for a small share of the murders and suicides that still give America a high homicide rate.  Certainly, action on this front is needed.  It should not distract people from the much larger problem of hand-gun killings.  However, it will do just that.  For now.

[1] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJ-gYx7hXZg and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84Lo0iNy4bg

[2] Kind of like “legacy” admissions to Ivy League universities.  I don’t mean to suggest that they have equally harmful effects on American society.

[3] One Georgia gun-dealer judged that he had sold a couple in a couple of years.

[4] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7DTjSla-O8

[5] At maybe $200 each, that cost his about $2,400.

What if Hillary Clinton had won?

One can’t help but wonder what would be different if Hillary Clinton had won the Electoral College vote as well as the popular vote.  Some things are clear, others are hazy–to me anyway.

First, the Republicans would still hold the House and the Senate.  Nothing that President Clinton proposed would pass through Congress and nothing that the Republicans passed through Congress would be signed into law.  Thus, for at least two more years, we would be living with a continuation of the final six years of the Obama administration.  That is, President Clinton II would govern by executive orders and rule-changes by federal agencies.  These would be contested in the courts.

Second, the Republican Senate might well refuse to hold hearings on any Clinton nominee for the Supreme Court.  Thus, probably we would be living with a 4-4 deadlock on the Court.  The decisions of lower courts would be affirmed.  That would shift the judicial struggles to the nomination of judges to lower courts.

Third, both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton had repudiated the Asia Pacific trade deal before the election.  It would be just as dead under a Clinton administration as it is under a Trump administration.

Fourth, James Comey would have been dismissed as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Congress would then have held hearings on this matter, including on whether this amounted to obstruction of justice.  (See: Benghazi hearings if you don’t think that this last contention is true.)

Fifth, there would be an investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.  This investigation would reveal—at the least—that the Russkies had hacked Democratic computers and the passed the fruits of this robbery to Wikileaks.  Moreover, the Russians would be revealed to have done a bunch of other things that may have monkeyed with the passions of voters.

Six, the Clinton campaign would have transitioned to government offices.  The results for American government would resemble those of the Clinton campaign itself.  According a New York Times review of the first account of the Clinton campaign organization, “It’s the story of a wildly dysfunctional and ‘spirit-crushing’ campaign that embraced a flawed strategy (based on flawed data) that failed, repeatedly, to correct course…In fact, the portrait of the Clinton campaign that emerges from these pages is that of a Titanic-like disaster: an epic fail made up of a series of perverse and often avoidable missteps by an out-of-touch candidate and her strife-ridden staff.”  These people would then have set out to manage the White House.  Then, what about Bill and Chelsea, and the Clinton Foundation, and Huma Abedin?

Seventh, Roy Moore would not have had the chance to defeat Luther Strange for a Senate seat from Alabama because Jeff Sessions would still be a sitting senator.

Eighth, the Clinton administration would be dealing with a series of long-developing, but now pullulating international crises: Iran’s nuclear weapons combined with its support for the Assad regime in Syria; North Korea’s nuclear threat; Russia’s intervention in a series of conflicts. European elections; and the Rohingya refugees.  So, a lot of ugly issues.

Ninth, the “exchanges” created by the Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”) were collapsing before the election.  Young people have declined to pay for their elders.  President Clinton would have had to seek a solution in league with a Republican Congress.  Under these circumstances, what would be the middle ground?

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains.

After the defeat of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of its forces in 1989, Afghanistan collapsed into civil war.  From that appalling war the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist movement, emerged victorious.  Then the Taliban provided a home for Osama bin Laden.  Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda group then truck-bombed two American embassies in East Africa and attacked the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen.  The Clinton administration kinda-sorta wanted to do something about the problem.  However, Americans weren’t ramped-up for war at the time; the head of the CIA wasn’t sure that it was OK to kill foreign terrorists; Pakistan saw the Taliban as a useful client[1]; cruise missiles were problematic because flying them across Pakistan into Afghanistan might trigger a Paki-Indian nuclear war by mistake, so you had to tell the Pakis about the attacks and the Pakis told Bin Laden; the U.S. military despised Bill Clinton, so they didn’t work hard at providing the dough-head with options; and drones were just a twinkle in the eye of weapons designers.  So, the Americans did nothing effective.  Then came 9/11.[2]

Virtually none of the original conditions now apply.  Americans now are perfectly content to blow up suspected Islamist radicals; drones have advanced massively in number and capacities; no American regards either Afghanistan or the Pakistan’s “tribal regions” as a “No Go  Zone”; any thinking person regards Pakistan as an enemy state; and—as under Bill Clinton—the American military wants to limit the range of choices presented to the president.   Now Americans can strike at radical Islamists with a free hand.  Why not just say 2017 is not 2001?  What are we to do?  Why send troops?  Get.  Out.  Yet the recent war-plan announced by President Trump takes little account of these –perceived only by me?—realities.

Well, what about the blown-up Buddhist statues because radical Islamists object to the physical representation of deities (icons) and to polytheism?  What about the ban on televisions (for the same reason they blew up the Buddhist statues)?  What about the women in blue burkas falling down in the street because they can’t see where they’re going?  What about the “honor killings”?  What about the sodomized young boys because sometimes that how men with guns roll?  Sucks to be them.  But it sucks to be an American soldier.  Just one percent of Americans do military service. (Lots more put yellow ribbons on the trunks of cars and the tail-gates of pick-up trucks.  So, that’s a help, I’m realize.)  Even so, for whom and for what do we ask American soldiers to fight?  For oil companies?  For feminist ideals of how all women should be treated?  For hetero-normativity?  So we don’t have to say we lost a war?

Why aren’t people in the streets over this issue?  They were when I was a kid.[3]  Four decades later, the same generation appears indifferent to a war shrouded in puzzles.  (OK, some of them are exercised over transgender bathrooms and Confederate monuments.[4])  Where is Congress on the war?

Where does South Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, India) fit in America’s national security strategy?  Where does it rank in comparison to Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East?  What happens if we “lose” Afghanistan?  What would we get out of “winning” in Afghanistan?  What would constitute “winning”?  IDK.  I’m just one guy.

[1] They still do.

[2] See: The Report of the 9/11 Commission.

[3] Truth in packaging: I wasn’t one of them.  Never occurred to me.  OK, Seattle in the Seventies was a time machine: take you back to the world of Ward and June Cleever.  Really, it was just shy and contrarian me.

[4] Republicans hold the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, and 34 state governorships.  It seems unlikely that these sorts of issues offer a path to a Democratic majority.

North Korea 1.

Back in the 19th Century, a dynamic Europe challenged the major Asian nations.  Japan and China took different paths forward.  China clung to tradition and soon fell under foreign domination.  Japan copied the West in some things in order to be able to preserve its core culture in other things, and thrived.[1]  One thing the Japanese copied was imperialism.  They took over the neighboring Korean peninsula, long a tributary kingdom of China.  At the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union and the United States agreed to divide Korea into temporary occupation zones pending the eventual unification of a single, independent Korean nation.

Almost immediately, the Cold War began.  The two great powers began to turn their occupation zones into rival states.  In June 1950, North Korea—armed and probably poked in the backside by the Russkies—invaded South Korea.  The Americans poured in troops, then kicked the behinds of the North Koreans.  Chased them all the way to the Yalu River (the border with China), while the American commander (Douglas MacArthur) talked about using nuclear weapons and carrying the war to newly-Communist China.  The Chi-Coms, in their turn, poured in troops.  Three years of gory war followed.[2]  The war ended in a truce in 1953.  Two new states emerged, North Korea and South Korea.

There are two things to say about North Korea since 1953.[3]  First, the country has become a hereditary monarchy with a dynasty of murderous tyrants at the helm.  Kim Jong Chee, Kim Jong Il and his blue-eyed boy, Kim Jong Un have ruled the country since 1950.[4]  Kim Jong Un took over in 2011.  Since then, he’s murdered a lot of government officials.  He’s also had his uncle and his half-brother killed.  He is sometimes described as “paranoid and unpredictable.”  Psychological diagnoses done from afar aren’t much use.  Still, he’s got some bolts loose.

Second, almost from the end of the war, North Korea sought nuclear weapons of its own.  This went nowhere for a long time: North Korea is mountainous, resource-poor, and Communist.  The search really began to gather steam in the 1990s.[5]  Then Kim Jong Il launched a huge effort to develop nuclear weapons.

Almost immediately, the North Koreans got caught.  In 1994 North Korea agreed to halt progress on its nuclear program in return for aid.  Then in 2003, North Korea announced it had a nuclear weapon.  The US, Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea all conferred with North Korea.  It was agreed that North Korea would halt its nuclear program in return for more aid.  Then, beginning in late 2015, North Korea began ahead testing bombs and the missiles to deliver them.  So the track record on negotiating with North Korea isn’t good.

Still, as late as March 2017, it seemed that North Korea remained three years away from posing a serious danger to other countries, most especially the distant United States.[6]  The Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama administrations all practiced a policy of “strategic patience.”  They hoped that a combination of economic sanctions, pressure on China, and computer hacking of the North Korean missile and atomic programs would keep the problem in check.  South Korea and Japan were within of North Korea’s medium range missiles.  So were the American military forces stationed in those countries.  However, ground-based and ship-based missile interceptor systems had a high rate of accuracy in tests.[7]

[1] See “The Last Samurai” (dir. Edward Zwick, 2003).

[2] See “Pork Chop Hill” (dir. Lewis Milestone, 1959).  Milestone also directed “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930).  The messages of the movies differ in ways that reveal the change of public mindset across thirty years.

[3] “The growing threat from North Korea,” The Week, 31 March 2017, p. 11.

[4] That first one was just a joke, OK, a joke!

[5] Was this a response to the very evident failure of the model of the centrally-planned economy?  Both Russia and China soon abandoned the model.  Turmoil followed in both countries.

[6] “Shielding the homeland,” The Week, 19 May 2017, p. 11.

[7] One hundred percent test success for the Air Force’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and eight-five percent success for the Navy’s Aegis system.

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 32.

Americans are deeply divided on the subject of abortion.  A clear majority (57 percent) support a right to abortion in all or almost all circumstances.  A large minority (40 percent) oppose a right to abortion in all or almost all cases.[1]  Among women, 38 percent believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, while 59 percent believe that it should be legal in all or most cases.  That’s a gap of 21 percent.  Among men, 55 percent think that it should be legal in all or most cases, while 42 percent think that it should be illegal in all or most situations.  That’s a gap of 13 percent.  On the other hand, 38 percent of women oppose abortion in all or most situations, while 42 percent of men oppose abortion.  Some 59 percent of women support a right to abortion, while 55 percent of men support a right to abortion.  So, pro-choice women are right to view men as the weaker vessel on this issue.

White Protestant evangelical Christians make up the most convinced group of abortion opponents.  Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of this group opposes abortion under all or almost all circumstances, while one-third favors a right to abortion in all or most circumstances.[2]  Then 76 percent of evangelicals are white, with another 11 percent being Hispanics.  Evangelicals are not rich: 86 percent have a family income under $100,000 a year and 57  percent have a family income under $57,000 a year.  They are less educated: 43 percent have a high school education or less; 35 percent have some college, but not a degree.  They are older, with about three-quarters born before 1985, with the biggest single group (35 percent) being Boomers.   The vast majority of them (79 percent) say that religion is very important in their lives.  However, evangelicals are evenly divided over the basis for judging right and wrong: 50 percent believe that there are clear standards and 48 percent believe that it depends on the situation.

In terms of political parties, 56 percent of evangelicals are Republican or lean in that direction, but 24 percent of them are Democrats on lean that way, and 16 percent identify as independents.[3]  Here’s the kicker: 55 percent of Evangelical Protestants are women, while 45 percent are men.[4]

However, possibly significant differences exist within both camps.  One quarter of Americans (25 percent) believe that abortion should be legal in all cases, while one-sixth (16 percent believe that it should be illegal in all cases.  OK, that settles that.  However, that leaves 32 percent who believe that abortion should be legal in most (but not all) cases and 24 percent who believe that it should be illegal in most (but not all) cases.

So, where is the middle ground?  Probably restricting abortion to the 20 week mark would be broadly acceptable.  If a woman is pregnant, but can’t decide, so be it.

Who will seize that middle ground?  Well, there are a big chunk of opponents of un-restricted abortion who are Democrats or potential Democratic voters.[5]  Is it worth a majority?

What’s wrong with a compromise?  First, it’s a rejection of a long-standing principle.  Second, it’s a rejection of a long-standing reality.  The War on Abortion will not work any better than/differently from the War on Drugs.  Or alcohol.  Or guns.  We already tried.

[1] http://www.pewforum.org/fact-sheet/public-opinion-on-abortion/

[2] In comparison, 53 percent of Catholics say it should be legal in all or most situations, and 44 percent say it should be illegal; while among black Protestants, 55 percent say that it should be legal and 41 percent say it should be illegal.

[3] The non-Republican evangelicals split 13 percent “liberal” and 24 percent “moderate.”

[4] http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-tradition/evangelical-protestant/  So this is not only a war by men on women.

[5] Natalie Andrews, “Abortion Splits Democrats,” WSJ, 14 August 2017.

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 31.

After the latest (but perhaps not last) attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA), some Republicans have fallen back.  Lamar Alexander suggested that a bipartisan effort to “stabilize and strengthen” the ACA.[1]  Will President Trump accommodate himself to this inconvenient truth?  The president could scuttle the ACA’s healthcare market places by refusing to authorize the payment of the subsidies that enable “Cost Sharing Reductions” in premiums.  Under the Obama administration a federal judge held that payment of the subsidies without a Congressional appropriation is illegal.  The case awaits final resolution in the Supreme Court, but the Trump administration has continued to make the payments in the meantime.  Halting the payments would lead to an estimated 19 percent jump in premiums nation-wide.  Does Donald Trump want to shove millions of Americans off medical insurance?

Six months into his administration, President Trump has begun to encounter resistance from fellow Republicans.[2]  They are eager to embrace a strong line against Russia, they can’t do anything to bring a resolution to the “collusion” story, and they’re angry about his verbal assault on Attorney General Jeff Sessions (so recently one of their own).  If Republicans break from the president, he will have little choice but to abandon a legislative agenda in far of issuing a blizzard of executive orders and vetoing Republican legislation out of spite.  Those will be contested in the courts.  On the other hand, if Republicans break from the president, they will have little chance of advancing their own legislative agenda unless they can unite with Democrats to over-ride a presidential veto.  Of course, cooler heads may prevail.

Playing to his base, the president announced that transgender troops would be barred from further service in the military, and the Justice Department launched an investigation of affirmative action admissions policies by universities.[3]  There may be legitimate reasons for limiting transgender troops in the military.  It isn’t clear that the president knows any of them.  Rather, he seems to have been over-responding to pressure from Christian conservative Republicans.  In any event, the Pentagon said that a tweet is not the same thing as a formal order, that there is a formal review of transgender service people under way; and that all troops will continue to be treated with respect.  In terms of affirmative action, there is a sense in some quarters that it has been turned into a system of “set asides” for African-Americans and, to some extent, for Hispanic-Americans.  Given the over-supply of colleges, it doesn’t have much effect.

Under these adverse conditions, a steadier hand in the White House became vital.  President Trump’s churning of his White House staff reached a new stage.[4]   Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Press Secretary Sean Spicer left, while Anthony Scaramucci became director of communications.  Then Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly took over as chief of staff.  Next thing you know, Scaramucci got booted out of the White House.  Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general often portrayed in the media as a Drill Instructor screaming orders up the noses of staffers, tried to impose some order.  (No such option appears available to the Congressional Republicans.)  One key task for Kelly will be dealing with leaks from the sieve-like White House.  It will fall to the Justice Department to stanch the leaks from the Trump Resistance within the federal bureaucracy.  Editorials and columnists generally agreed that a far more challenging task lay in the need to wrangle an undisciplined president.

[1] “Health care: What happens now?” The Week, 11 August 2017, p. 6.

[2] “The GOP: Rebelling against Trump,” The Week, 11 August 2017, p. 16.

[3] “Justice Department to target affirmative action,” The Week, 11 August 2017, p. 6.

[4] “Embattled Trump turns to Kelly,” The Week, 11 August 2017, p. 4.