Writings and observations

mckee

Let’s dissect this business of Hillary Clinton’s emails and the FBI report one last time.

Yes, I know that everyone’s mind is already made up here. But it might serve some purpose to actually look at the law and see if there really is any way that she could be found guilty of anything. There are only three criminal statutes that have ever been mentioned in connection with the email allegations, and it won’t take us long to plow through the weeds and take a look. Let’s take them one at a time.

18 United States Code § 798

With the caption “Disclosure of Classified Information,” this statute is often cited as the probable criminal statute under which Secretary Clinton could be charged for mishandling the State Department emails. However, upon a simple reading, it becomes apparent that this statute is inapplicable to any of the emails discovered on the Secretary’s private server up to this time. There are three essential elements to the crime defined by his section, and Clinton’s circumstance lacks all three.

First, to constitute a crime under this section, the information that is communicated must be “classified” information. This is a word of art that is defined in the statutes. To be “classified” requires that each document be properly marked at the top and bottom of each page with a label stating the level of classification. In fact, none of the sensitive emails or their attachments were properly marked as required by law during the time the Secretary is charged with mishandling them. Proper marking is a requirement for prosecution; any subjective expectation that the information might be, or should be, or could be classified is immaterial.

Second, the subject information must actually be transmitted to an unauthorized party for a use which will jeopardize the interests of the United States. Here, all the emails with sensitive information were to or from persons within the State Department who all had appropriate clearance to send and receive classified material. There is no proof that any unauthorized person received any of these emails for an improper purpose.

Third, the Secretary must have had the specific intent to disclose the classified information to the unauthorized source for an improper purpose. This is an espionage statute, and it is a crime of specific intent. There is no evidence that the Secretary had any intent to transmit the emails to any unauthorized persons in order to jeopardize or harm the security of the country.

The base facts are not sufficient as a matter of law to fit the requirements of this statute.

18 United States Code § 793(f)

This statute provides that whoever through gross negligence causes or permits a classified item to be removed, lost or stolen, or delivered to someone not authorized to receive classified information, in violation of his trust, may be guilty of a felony. This is the only statute in the espionage area that provides that gross negligence will be sufficient for conviction, instead of requiring specific intent.

Without even considering the issue of negligence, the statute by its terms cannot be made to fit the circumstances here. It was enacted in World War I for tangible objects and documents, and has never been amended to fit electronic media. It has only been used six times, with the last being during World War II. To violate the statute requires that the classified data first be “removed” from the place where it is supposed to be located, then taken to a place where it is not supposed to be located, where it is then either “lost” or “stolen,” or then “delivered” on to an unauthorized user.

First, there is the same problem with this statute as with the general espionage statute in that none of the emails or attachments were properly marked as classified at the time they were handled by the Secretary. This means there was no “classified” information involved.

Next, none of the occurrences proclaimed in the statute fit an email. An email is not relocated by any of the email processes; it simply replicates itself onto the email server of all the addressees. Any documents involved, and the email itself, are not removed from the location where they originate and are supposed to be kept. Everything remains in its original location, where it is supposed to be. When replies or additional comments are created, nothing of the original material gets changed; the replies and additional comments are just added to the thread, and the whole stack replicates itself with everything recorded at all the locations of all the parties to whom the email is addressed. Under a plain reading of the main elements of this statute, if nothing of the items covered by the charging allegation are in any way “removed,” or “lost,” or “stolen,” or “destroyed,” no crime is committed.

The second element of this section is that the subject item, if not lost or stolen, must be delivered to someone not authorized, breaching the trust reposed in the sending individual. Even if read broadly, there is no proof or allegation in this case that any of the emails passing through Clinton’s servers were ever diverted to an unauthorized person who was not authorized to receive the data sent. Any of the emails containing sensitive information that were passed on went to addressees within the State Department who were authorized to receive classified information.

The two essential elements as contained in the statute either cannot be fit to the circumstances here, or do not apply. To make this statute fit the facts of this case would require massive reconstruction of terms by the court, which the courts are unlikely to do. In the instant case, the antiquated language just does not fit electronic mail. The base facts are not sufficient as a matter of law to fit the requirements of this statute.

On the issue of negligence, the State Department has a separate, secure email system for transmission of classified data. Classified data is not supposed to be transmitted in any fashion other than through the classified system. From a negligence standpoint, the Secretary had no reason to suspect that classified data was included in emails sent to her private email address, and therefore no reason to be aware of any duty imposed upon her with regard to that data. Clinton told the FBI she was not aware of any classified data on any of her emails, and Director Comey testified to Congress that other evidence gathered by the FBI corroborated the Secretary’s contention on this point. While negligence is a subjective finding, the lack of any evidence that Clinton was aware of any duty upon her could be deemed overwhelming.

18 United States Code § 1924

This statute makes it a felony for any agent or officer of the government who obtains classified information to knowingly remove the classified material to an unauthorized location with the intent of keeping it there. The statute runs into the same problems as the others if it is to be applied to the email of the Secretary.

First, the material on Clinton’s server was not properly marked and labeled – meaning nothing of the private emails could be considered “classified” information for purposes of prosecution under the federal law.

Second, emails are not moved from one location to another, and replicating the emails on her server did not accomplish any part of relocating or hiding or withholding or otherwise interfering with the originals of any of the data involved. The original data, in its original form, is still exactly where it started out to be. The only thing on Clinton’s private email servers are replicated copies.

Finally, the statute defines the crime to be one of specific intent. The individual must know of the classified information, and deliberately intend to secret it away into the unauthorized location, denying it to others entitled to access. All of the objective proof is otherwise here. Nothing was properly marked as classified; classified information is supposed to be contained in a completely separate email system, and there were no objective circumstances to put anyone on notice that classified information was contained in any of her private emails. The base facts are not sufficient as a matter of law to fit the requirements of this statute.

Conclusion

The timing was awful, the optics were wrong, and Hillary is terrible at explaining herself. The whole works has been handled with the delicacy of a meat ax. But when the smoke clears, the dust settles and everything is out on the table face up, the email escapade will eventually implode upon itself and disappear.

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McKee

mckee

On our ballot this year in Idaho is HJR 5 asking whether the state Constitution should be amended to add a provision permitting the legislature to oversee agencies’ implementation of their administrative regulations. Sounds reasonable enough. What could be wrong here?

Brent Hill, senate president pro tempore, wrote a guest editorial in The Statesman recently, pitching for approval of the resolution. The good senator suggested that administrative rules in Idaho come into being through arcane procedures carried out in secret with no place for public input from the constituents.

What poppycock. Under the Idaho Administrative Procedures Act, proposed agency rules and regulations are posted or published for review, with plenty of time for anyone affected to get involved. The process provides mandatory opportunities for public participation and comment. Further, most agency boards are carefully balanced politically or by region to assure wide representation of those affected throughout the areas answering to the agency action. Any inference that these things are created by disinterested bureaucrats who put them together in the dead of night, without input from those affected and without any public participation, is total nonsense.

Even more malarkey is the notion offered by the senator that the legislative process would provide for better public participation than the administrative process. As anyone who has tried to petition the legislature on any controversial matter knows, public input at a legislative hearing is at the pure whim of the chairman; most bills go to the floor on a committee vote dictated by party caucus, without any public hearing and only minimal committee debate. They often reach the floor under suspended rules, meaning even further limitation on debate, if any at all.

The senator’s article also perked my interest because he did not present a single instance of any individual or entity suffering from the lack of this legislative authority. There were no examples of wrongs that went begging for lack of this solution, of some process that had been ignored and needed attention. With the maxim, “If it isn’t broke, why fix it?” beginning to ring in my ears, I looked a little deeper.

Sure enough, there are already laws on the books that say exactly what the proposed resolution would provide, only more precisely and with a great deal of procedural machinery. Idaho Code §§ 67-5223 and 67-5291, for example, provide for legislative review of all rule making actions taken by administrative agencies in Idaho, with specific provisions for carrying out the oversight both upon the initial adoption of the administrative action and on a year to year basis thereafter. Further, the authority of the legislature to act under these statutes in this area of ensuring that the legislative intent is carried out has been specifically upheld and approved by the Idaho Supreme Court.

But the law is just hanging by a thread, the argument goes, for some future legislature may decide to repeal or revise the existing legislation, or some future court could overturn the existing case in the blink of an eye. By putting the thing into the Constitution, this would prevent future legislatures or some future court from tinkering with it.

Ignore the practical absurdity of the argument that some future legislature might, for no reason, up and repeal a set of laws that have been in place for close to 50 years, being constantly upgraded and kept current with modernizing amendments right up to the 2014 legislature. Consider instead, if it does come up, that this is exactly the sort of decision that we expect the future legislature to be able to handle. We expect our legislature to constantly survey and improve upon the laws to make sure they continue to serve the purposes for which they are intended, and when no longer needed, we fully expect the legislature to act and toss them out.

What is it about this particular power that makes it so important that it needs to be in the Constitution? What is wrong with leaving the whole works to the legislature, with recourse to the courts where needed, as we have done for the last 124 years? If something comes up that we have not thought about here, why would we want to tie the hands of our future legislators? Is there something we are missing here?

Aha – there it is, in the last line of the proposal. The proposed amendment in HJR 5 says any action by the legislature under this new power would not be subject to gubernatorial veto. It would grant constitutional power to alter or amend any administrative action by a veto proof action that the governor could not interfere with and the courts could not touch.

This would make the legislature into a super power over all administrative agencies in the government, eviscerating the concept of balanced branches of government, and elevating the legislature above the executive branch entirely.

Here is the obvious reason this unconscionable power grab is so strongly opposed by the Governor, the Attorney General, most of the members of the bar, and a by good measure of editorial writers throughout the state. Which presents a very good reason why it should be rejected by the rest of us in November.

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McKee

mckee

The Republicans have paid unfettered, blind obeisance to the dogmatic tenet that government mandated redistribution of wealth is an abomination in a free market society for so long, that even some Democrats can no longer see the forest for the trees.

“Redistribution of wealth” is the singular, most dreaded anathema of the Republican objection to anything proposed that touches upon the economy. But in these changing times, this abhorrence of what may become an essential ingredient to our continued peace and prosperity needs to be reexamined.

Since around 1980 to current times, the inequality of income and wealth has gradually but dramatically shifted in the United States to the point where it might be reaching into dangerous proportions. From the end of the pre-Reagan era, around 1980, to the advent of the 2008 recession, being the halcyon period of supply-side economics, the incomes of the wealthiest 1% increased by a whopping 275%. The incomes for the top 40%, excluding the tip, increased around 63%, not bad and very comfortable; but the lower 60% did not fare nearly as well and the bottom quintile increased only 18% in close to 30 years.

From 2007 to the present, through the recovery and into the post-recession boom, in every other sector of the economy other that wages and incomes, the post-recession recovery has been spectacular. In every measured way we have returned to record levels in the financial markets, in manufacturing and production, in construction starts, in GDP, in the international value of the dollar, and in exports and imports.

In wages and incomes, it’s different. The raw employment numbers have almost returned to pre-recession levels, but the values in that employment have become even more lop-sided. The top 1% recovered much faster, with top incomes growing an additional 20%; however, incomes for the rest of the 99% have stayed flat, increasing overall less than 1%, with the bottom quintile actually losing ground. At the very tip of this number reside the top 400 wealthiest families, who now own more wealth than the entire bottom 50% of the population combined – more than the 150 million or so struggling at the bottom of the scale.

The upshot of all these numbers and percentages is that supply-side economics, or “Reagonomics,” or tickle-down economics, from the standpoint of producing a balanced economy that maintains a level field of opportunity for wages and incomes, with natural re-distribution flowing from internal market forces, does not work. The wealth and power is steadily amassing at the pinnacles. It does not trickle down. The only dramatic impact over almost 40 years of trickle-down economics has been the gradual eradication of the middle class labor force and significant impediments to the small and medium class independent businesses. We are left with the fabulously wealthy 0.1% of us growing even more fabulously wealthy; with the comfortably wealthy 1% of us staying comfortably wealthy; and with the remaining 99% of us losing ground. This group is largely beginning to sag and to struggle, and the pressures are beginning to build.

The shifting of wealth into the hands of the few amasses power in those hands, and with power comes additional pressures upon legislative bodies – state and federal – for protective measures to insulate the wealthiest proponents. While the Republican mantra may seem to be “no government regulation” period, the real mantra coming from the mouth of each of the most powerful is “no government regulation except for me.”

A prime example is the tax code, an impossible labyrinth of arcane and indefensible examples of outrageous favoritism, which everyone – right and left alike – agree should be scrapped and reconstructed from the ground up. Yet everyone – right and left alike – also agree that to attempt to do so in the present atmosphere of Congress would be a waste of time. Someone estimated that there are four highly paid lobbyist lurking the halls for every member of Congress, everyone with a different pet tax feature that they would insist be included in any attempt to rewrite the code.

If something is not done to turn this trend around and to rebalance the economy into a smoother curve of wealth across the entire population, it is going to tip over. The possible, if not probable result, if the situation continues to worsen, is a revolution. Perhaps it could be a bloodless revolution such as sustained the British as they reorganized their economy from one controlled by the medieval baronage system to the forerunner of the modern capital based system of today; or perhaps it will be as bloody as the French Revolution of the 18th century or the Russian Revolution of the 20th. If anyone is still shaking their head thinking it will never happen in modern times, all they need do is look at television, take note what is happening in many of our cities on almost a fortnightly basis, and multiply these events by any progression of numbers one picks, from 1 to 100. All that has to happen is for the present situation to continue to fester without relief.

From the standpoint of the progressive advocacy, it is not that the government should act, it is that there is no one else to act. There is no natural impetus to cause the private sector to favor more equitable balancing of wages and incomes, and most business leaders are not addressing this themselves. The fundamental principle of a free market economy is survival of the fittest, with no regard given in any respect to the individual or humane interests of the members of the economic element labeled “labor.” The assumptions from a pure economic standpoint is that all business entities are equal, and that “labor” is fungible, mobile and perfectly reactive to market forces, when in fact and individually, none of these characteristics are true. While we have many laws to protect the humane elements of the workplace – child labor laws, OSHA, workers’ compensation laws, etc., we have few laws to protect the economic strata of the individual members of the working class, and fewer still to protect the smaller businesses from unfair, predatory and sometimes criminal practices of the bigger entities.

The obvious facts are that unless the government steps in, it won’t happen. Big business won’t do it, the stockholders are not interested or are from a practical standpoint powerless to intervene, the financial markets do not reward social justice remedies, individual wealth is of no help, the individual worker has no power and no rights to act on his own, and organized labor has been stripped of resources once available, such as legal protection for union shops and striker’s rights, and has become a toothless tiger.

Government action is all that is left to increase or protect the economic standing of the individual worker. At a minimum the government could: enhance present laws on predatory and unfair business practices with a view to small and medium size entities; eliminate the presumption of “at will employment” and give seasoned workers built-in job protection; provide that participation in a legitimate strike called by the recognized bargaining unit of the business is not grounds for termination of employment; re-enact the limitation on pay ranges where the cash pay from the bottom to the top within a given business cannot exceed a certain ratio – the CEO’s cash salary cannot exceed X times the bottom individual’s actual pay, for example, with all pay rates in between equitably distributed along the curve; require stockholder approval for stock dilution incentives to top executives, such as disproportionate stock options; and enact a sound, national minimum wage, with mechanisms to keep this floor current as the economy fluctuates. This need not be a universal wage, applicable to all parts of the country; it is very true that different regions may well have different influences at work, and the requirements may shift as one moves about the country. The national government might set an index against which regional differences could be applied.

The point here is that all of these issues have been ignored for years on the national level, and this is contributing to the disproportionate shifting of income and wealth. More needs to be done if the inevitable is to be avoided, but we have to start somewhere.

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McKee

mckee

If the drumbeat was only from Trump, I would put it into perspective and recognize it for an extension of his mantra that anything Hillary Clinton does or says is wrong, immoral, illegal, unethical and treasonous; all part of an underground left wing conspiracy to destroy the way of life enjoyed by the Conservatives among us – or at least that part of it guaranteed by the Second Amendment. One may have to keep correcting the outrageous lies are spewing forth, but so long as the facts are kept in line, the wacky conclusions can ordinarily usually be ignored and allowed to wither and die without undue attention. But this one has a disheartening twist.

In this case, Trump is bellowing, without a shred of hard evidence, that the connection between the Clintons and their foundation is corrupt and criminal, and an exploitation of the personal relationships involved. Trump and his minions maintain, without evidence, that it has grown into an example of the unethical and immoral practice of “quid pro quo” – the illegal payment to an individual or his campaign in exchange for the deliverance of a governmental benefit – except that the formula doesn’t make any sense when one of the parties is giving benefits away not seeking government deliverance, and no one is deriving any personal profit or personal gain from anything. Nobody has been able to even fashion a grammatically correct sentence that puts forth any hard facts that actually connects anything said or done by anybody involved with the Clinton Foundation that is illegal or immoral, or anything that is even remotely clandestine, or sketchy, or of questionable ethics or morality. Nothing. Nada.

The Clinton Foundation has raised and distributed billions of dollars worldwide, enjoys unparalleled friendly relations with governments and persons of wealth throughout the world; enjoys an extraordinary and close relationship with a huge cadre of donors and volunteers throughout the world; has received nothing but the highest of ratings from independent rating services for its organization and transparency; and has received nothing but praise for its works. Former President George H.W. Bush has frequently partnered with former President Clinton in Clinton Foundation program activities.

It is truly a remarkable organization that was conceived and brought into prominence largely through the energy and devotion to the cause of one man — Bill Clinton. It is unlike any other charitable foundation in the world. Neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton have taken a dime in income from the foundation, either for their personal use or for any of Hillary’s political campaigns.

The only thing offered by Trump and his surrogates is a collection of opinions based upon totem-pole hearsay and unfounded inferences drawn from some meeting calendars and a handful of emails recently released by the State Department. The worst admission in any of the emails may be the line in one written by Huma Abedin to a staffer at the Clinton Foundation, in reply to a request to Huma to arrange a meeting for an influential donor, where Huma’s response was, “I’ll ask.” Or perhaps, it was the email from the same staffer seeking help in finding a position with State for an employee leaving the foundation. The reply was that the person was known to those at State and that they would keep an eye on personnel developments, because the individual was “on our radar.” It is reported that no meeting with the influential donor ever occurred, although I do not see that it would have made any difference if it had happened. It is not reported whether the friend of everybody got the job.

Two reporters from the Associate Press wrote an expose claiming that fully half of all non-State department related meetings by Secretary Clinton involved donors of the Clinton Foundation – except that the entire premise of the story was promptly and completely debunked. The real fact is that most of the extraordinarily wealthy individuals on the Foundation’s list are already well known throughout the halls of power, and do not need to rely upon any particular portal controlled by the Clintons to gain access to anywhere. Networking is the lifeblood of society, not just politics, as is fully well known, and the communication among staffers found in the emails are merely indications of the normal level networking that exists everywhere.

Many, if not most of the Foundation programs already involve matters and issues that are also of official interest to the State Department. A natural assumption, born out by the explanation of many of Clinton’s meetings, is that any individual interested in supporting Foundation activities is probably also be interested in official State Department programs in the same area. Certainly in some of these areas it was the State Department that was seeking assistance in gaining access to resources back in the home of the contact, and not the other way around.

The point is that nothing raised by anybody so far is even remotely improper. Conversations of exactly this nature occur constantly throughout Washington and the seats of power throughout the world, and include every office of Congress and the entirety of the agencies and departments of the United States.

Despite all of this, the amazing result is that no one is coming to the Secretary’s or the Foundation’s assistance here. Even though the Clintons have acknowledged that if Hillary is elected steps would be taken to isolate the Foundation from any connection with the Oval Office, this is not satisfying many elements of the left. Although there is no legal reason to take action, no ethical breach has been demonstrated and no wrongs are likely to be committed, just because it is the Clintons, the media has determined that the “optics” are wrong. Many from the left are demanding the ties be severed at once, or that the foundation be dismantled. Dismantled!

Even if a cozy relationship did exist, and even if Bill and Chelsea ran the Foundation while Hillary ran the country, and even if they compared notes every night, so long as the Foundation continued to actually produce the good results throughout the world that have been produced up to now, why would this be any cause for alarm?

Hillary has enough on her plate fending off the atrocious slurs from Trump and the far right without any unnecessary sniping from her own backyard just because somebody thinks the “optics” are wrong.

The whole thing is a baseless kerfuffle and nothing needs to be done, now or later.

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McKee

mckee

As I listened and watched the Republican’s proposed leader of the free world rail at his faithful minions and promise them millions and millions of dollars in tax relief, new jobs, cheaper trade, and better health care. As I heard of his intention to up-end and renegotiate all of our foreign trade arrangements, to reorganize NATO, to re-examine our relations with Putin, and to have heart to heart talks with all of our allies who he thinks might owe us money.

And as I watch the polls come crashing down, shifting into double digits in some areas and turning other regions purple that have not seen a tinge of blue for 30 years. And as I watch Hillary’s ground game begin to swell and her advertising fill the airwaves, and learn that he has none. No game. No ads. Nothing organized, nothing planned and no money to start.

And as I watch, the Republican movers and shakers literally begin to twist in the wind, with all up on bicycles pedaling backwards as fast as they could, with ashen faces and blank looks, some heading for the exits, others beginning to mutter and plan.

There came to my mind the noble Thane of the days of the Bard, with his frustrations as his world began falling apart around him. How apt the words spoken then are today, of this potential leader of the free world, this standard bearer of Republicans, as the words spill forth, first of Hillary, then of the 16 stalwart companions he defeated to get to this position, and finally to himself and this predicament he finds himself in, with a speech just given that was scripted for him by others, and which he was forced to deliver verbatim as written, and which he so obviously disdains.

And as he wonders who amongst them will claim his head to display for all to see, as others in times gone by claimed the head of Macbeth and held it high.

Can’t you all see him pacing and pacing and as these heavy words come so finally crashing forth?

(Of Hillary)

“She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.”

(Of his campaign)

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,”

(Of the 16 wannabes he vanquished in the primaries)

“And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.”

(And finally, of himself, his campaign, and the results of his reading what others have written for him …)

Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Curtain

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McKee

mckee

Donald Trump picked fights with and hurled irretrievable insults at all of womankind, the Hispanic culture, the black voter, the American immigrant, Muslim refugees, a federal judge, the Pope, a handful of right leaning national columnists and commentators, and the entirety of the national media, and nothing happened. He inched up in the polls and knocked off the bottom of the sixteen contenders.

Then he did the same with a good share of the Republican hierarchy, including the RNC, most of the Republican governors, both of the living previous Republican Presidents, everyone at Fox News except O’Reilly and Hannity, all sixteen of his primary opponents, the Speaker of the House, the former Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate, and John McCain. John McCain!

Still nothing happened. He continued to climb in the polls, and drew cheers from the crowds gathering for his stump speeches. In any other election year, with any other candidate, any one of these uninvited, unnecessary and self-induced popovers, especially the racist potshots and the slams against women, the Pope, the judge, and John McCain, would have resulted in the heavens opening for St. Thomas More to reach down, grab the candidate by his you-know-what, and unceremoniously dump him out of the boat.

This is exactly what every one of the cognoscenti predicted was going to happen at one time or another as these gaffs spilled out of the campaign winding through the early days, through the fall, through the heavy primary season, and finally towards the National Convention. Every one of the heavy hitting pundits, who had never been wrong in the history of media-centric electioneering before, came up with egg on their face. Nobody got it right. Nobody.

To the aghast astonishment of every single one of the hangers-on, Trump gathered steam and systematically mowed down all sixteen of the contenders, without a taking a mark from any of the outrageous antics he had been pulling since the outset. He now stood alone as the standard bearer of his party. As the convention neared, Trump unceremoniously abandoned his amateur campaign boss, and brought a pro aboard.

At last, came the cry from the bleachers, we shall see some normalcy injected into the campaign. The predictions flew that following the national convention, Trump would be brought to heel by his family, his new manager, and the professional campaigners that had been recruited. Different tactics would be seen for the general election.

Recent events indicate there is not a chance of any change. In fact, Trump has stepped up the unnecessary, outrageous and boorish outbursts aimed at folks other than the political opponents he needs to best in November, just as he had been pulling off before. In recent times, in just the few days since the convention, he has managed to blast away at, in no particular order, a hapless Muslim couple who lost their son in Iraq, a retired and highly respected four star Marine Corps general, the fire marshal and first responders in Columbus, Ohio, Senator Kelly Ayotte, the Speaker of the House, and John McCain. John McCain!

All of these outbursts are miniature tantrums and none would last through a single news cycle in normal times, if Trump would only brush them off and walk away. But it appears clear that Trump is paying no heed to any past remonstrations from his staff, his family, the party stalwarts, congressional leadership, or anyone else, but insists on continuing to throw gasoline all around, ensuring that everything will continue to blaze and clearly indicating that he has no intention of reforming his campaign style in the future.

While all these shenanigans are soaking up the oxygen in the current news cycles, two other of Trumps’ outrageous antics are beginning to fester. Trump has suggested that Putin is a better leader than Obama, and more recently has come out with inconsistent and conflicting comments on Obama’s policies and what Trump would propose towards the Putin’s actions in the Ukraine. Chuck Todd caught Trumps’ campaign pro in a blatant lie over Ukraine issues on Meet the Press last Sunday. Most recently, Trump has suggested that Putin should turn his email hackers loose on Clinton’s personal mails.

This kind of stuff used to be completely off limits under a longstanding and non-political tradition going back to the advent of the Truman administration, at the instigation of Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich) and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He insisted that no matter how divisive the intramural partisan politics can become in an election year, in foreign matters we have one President at a time, and all politics stops at the water’s edge.

Until now, no one in their right mind would think of aggrandizing a foreign leader over the sitting President to the American voter, or challenging the current administration’s actions over any ongoing issue of foreign policy in the middle of a developing crisis. Trumps’ outrageous violation of history’s tradition, and his blatant aggrandizement of a totalitarian foreign leader at the expense of our sitting President is beside the fact that his statements inviting Putin to take action on Clinton’s campaign emails may even be actionable under federal laws against foreign interference with elections, against foreign interference with emails, and perhaps even in conspiracy to treason, now that Trump and Clinton will be receiving National Security Briefings.
The establishment cognoscenti’s hair is on fire throughout the inner beltway over these developments, and their apoplectic commentary is beginning to spew forth. However, having been burned so badly by their predictions earlier, nobody is willing come right out with any predictions as to what will or should happen to Trump on account of any of it.

But things do seem different this time. While the far right continues to confound, the overall public reaction is more predictable, and the polls are beginning to respond. The critics are a lot hotter and more persistent than before. In an interjection of a type that has not been since Truman slammed Eisenhower’s credentials for office in 1953, President Obama declared that Trump was not fit to hold the office of President. At least two major commentators have opined that Trump is mentally unbalanced, with these comments being repeated throughout the media.

Rumors fly that Trumps’ professional manager has gone into hiding leaving the campaign staff in disarray and ready to bolt. A handful of inside staffers have jumped ship already. At least two congressmen and one prominent mover and shaker, Meg Whitman of California, have jumped all the way over to Clinton’s side. Reince Priebus is said to be apoplectic at the recent developments, and particularly at Trumps’ refusal to support Ryan, Ayotte and McCain. The New York Times is leaking that more defections from the masses of Republican Poohbahs may be in the offing.

Underneath it all, there is at least the beginning of a cackle that, at long last, St. Thomas More has awakened and may be paying attention. If so, it may not be long now.

One can only hope.

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McKee

mckee

Is the United States winning or losing in the Middle East? The answers are confusing and mixed.

Measured from purely military considerations, no one can deny that ISIS is being ground down. Their military leaders have been decimated by drones and direct attacks. Their organized forces are on the run or embattled in losing situations throughout the region. While there are still areas between Syria and Iraq under ISIS control, it is only a matter of time before military operations will strangle the organized ISIS forces and eliminate its military capabilities.

However, the military defeat of ISIS is only a fraction of the puzzle facing the United States and its allies in the Middle East. With its theological underpinnings, ISIS is not just a political entity with military power, capable of being defeated or eradicated by military force, or of being overhauled and reorganized by a dominating captor, such as the allied powers did with the German Reich and the Empire of Japan following the last world war.

Underlying ISIS, at the foundation of its existence, is the fundamental belief of Islam. While foreign powers may consider such to be radical jihadism, to the Muslim follower it is part of an intangible ideology or system of belief ingrained in Islam from the biblical times of the Prophet Mohammad.

Whether the physical entity of ISIS as we know it today survives is irrelevant to the survival of the fundamental ideology of its followers. Radical jihadism is a condition of the mind, and thoughts are incapable of being conquered and overturned by force. Converting the followers of today’s ISIS to another way of thinking is the only way of eliminating a distorted ideology, and this can only be achieved through means other than military force. It is a problem within Islam, and must be solved from within Islam. As is becoming increasingly obvious, for any entity from without Islam to attempt to impose a solution, whether it be by carrot or stick, serves only to exacerbate the situation and prolong the dissention.

The United States has proved itself to be singularly incapable in this area. Our only methods of persuasion towards cultures who refuse to embrace our ways of governance purely on our say-so have been by the brute force of our military or the economic influence of our wealth. When these methods do not work, we historically have been at a loss to know how to react.

For examples of how we have repeatedly demonstrated our inability in this area, one need look only to the consequences when our decision to prop up the Shah of Iran turned out to be wrong, when our attempts to form a balanced secular government in Iraq failed, when we bungled attempts to influence the emerging governments of Egypt and Libya, and in our continuing futile attempts to organize a viable government in Afghanistan. We – individually and as a nation — do not know what to do when power and money are not sufficient to carry the day.

The only way out of this mess is to scrap completely everything that we have been doing, and start over. Defeating the essence of ISIS is not a matter of the proper application of force or military power, or of the effective exertion of economic sanctions, or of more effective diplomatic intervention into the internal affairs of errant governments. The eventual solution will be one that eliminates direct military intervention entirely, reduces diplomatic interference to zero, gets all foreign interests out of Middle East functions completely, and treats Islamic terrorists of any brand as international criminals.

This is not a partisan issue. The present political landscape does not offer a choice between right and wrong in the Middle East, but only choices between wrong and worse. While Trump’s announced policies would lead to disaster much faster and with greater potential for catastrophic results, Clinton’s policies are also destined to fail.

Both sides must recognize that success will not come until we get out of the way while Islam cleans its own house.

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McKee

mckee

Let’s explore the urban myth that the gun lobby and their followers bring up every time there is a mass shooting. The one that says the best answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Donald Trump is advocating this as his answer to the Orlando shooting. He pumps up his crowd by suggesting that things would have been different if someone in that crowd had a gun, and had used it on the shooter. Trump points his finger at his forehead and pulls the imaginary trigger. “Boom!” he suggests, “end of problem,” to the sound of loud cheers and applause from his crowd.

Balderdash. Anyone truly familiar with guns, with crowds, and with what happens when somebody starts shooting should be able to easily figure out with a few minutes logical concentration that the myth is just that and that Trump’s solution is utter nonsense.

Let’s suppose that out of the crowd of 300 or so that might have been in that nightclub that there were 10 individuals who were armed. What would have been the expected result? First of all, when the bad guy fired the first shot, there would have been pandemonium. A goodly number would dive for cover or head for the exit, a fair number would rear up and look around to see what was happening, and the rest would mill around in confusion. The point is that the entire room would be immediately filled with unpredictable movement in all directions.

Into this setting, we introduce the 10 vigilantes. They do not know one another, have never practiced or trained together, and are spread generally throughout the club. (In real life, the cops practice these scenarios repeatedly, but in our situation, the 10 vigilantes are on their own.) They all pull out their guns. Now there are 11 people in the club with guns out.

You and I know that only one of these is the bad guy and that all the rest are good guys, but no one else knows this. What is worse, the 10 do not know anything of each other. For all any one of them knows, anyone else with a gun is a potential bad guy. Somebody sees somebody across the room with a gun. People are milling around back and forth, and nobody knows what anyone else is doing. Finally, this is all happening in a bar where the booze has been flowing steadily all evening, including, probably, to our stalwart vigilantes. What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s make it worse; two or three of the good guys see the bad guy shooting, and they start returning fire. Now the other gunmen can see and hear gunfire from the three good guys, but they don’t know who’s who yet, because they don’t know where the bad guy is, and they can’t tell where all the shots are coming from. If one starts shooting now, there is a good chance it will be against one of the other good guys. And the clear chances are that if anybody else starts shooting in this melee, everybody is going to start shooting. Bullets are going to be flying everywhere, and the casualty count is going up, not down.

Yes but, someone might argue, one of the good guys might shoot the bad guy and that would take the assault rifle out – which would be a big improvement, right?

Wrong. Accuracy with a pistol is an inordinately difficult task. It takes a ton of training, hours of dry fire practice, and hours more of live fire practice on a range to become even moderately accurate with a pistol. Maybe on a well-lit shooting range, with plenty of time and no distractions, a person with some training could learn to put a round or two into the target killing zone. But in all likelihood, regardless of how accurate the vigilante is on the range, the probability of that accuracy carrying over to a crowded nightclub, or dark theater, or school gymnasium, or crowded shopping mall, with all the yelling and movement and commotion that would be going on in a real life situation, is very, very slim. Once the shooting starts, the odds of anyone being able to hit whoever is actually being aimed at – unless the shooter is right up on top of his target – is going to be very, very slim.

I recall a police shootout several years ago where the cops fired close to 100 rounds at the bad guy without hitting a thing. The perp finally threw his gun out and surrendered. When I was in the military 50 years ago, I qualified on every weapon available from the M-1 rifle through all manner of automatic fire machine guns to the 105 mm main tank gun – except for the standard issue Army 45 caliber pistol, with which I could not hit a barn door at anything over ten paces. Nor could anyone else who went through the orientation with me. The point here is that to pick off the gunman from any distance with any degree of predictability would take someone who is not only an expert shot with a pistol but also is accustomed to shooting in high stress and confusing situations, where the target is shooting back.

Then the cops show up. Doesn’t take long, and they show up in force with swat teams deployed. It is still pandemonium inside, of course, with everybody yelling, the shooter still blasting away from some corner somewhere, and 10 guys with guns milling around, firing off whenever they think they have a shot. It’s dark, the cops are in swat gear. Everybody starts yelling to drop their weapons and come out with hands up. How could this be expected to turn out? Are all 10 good guys going to immediately drop their guns, stand up and walk out with their hands up? Oh yeah? Who’s going to be first? The plain fact is that it will take the police much longer to get control of the situation with a room full of vigilantes as it would if the bad guy shooter was the only one with a weapon.

One last exercise: pretend you are one of those good guys with a gun. You have been looking for the bad guy and the cops are finally on the scene. You don’t know if they have the bad guy yet or not. You move down a hall and around a corner and run into this.

Take a look at the picture: Tell me fast, what do you do? (1) Shoot the guy with the gun; (2) drop your gun before the guy shoots you; or (3) run?

Doesn’t matter what you say – all answers have an equal probability of being wrong. If you pick (1) and shoot the guy with the gun, its wrong – he was a sheriff’s deputy in swat gear, and he had the real shooter under arrest. When you shoot him, the kid grabs the sheriff’s gun and shoots you.

If you pick (2) and drop your gun, it’s wrong – the guy is actually the shooter and the other guy was the deputy sheriff. As soon as you drop your gun, the bad guy shoots you.

And if you pick (3) and run, its wrong – the guy with the gun is one of the other “good” guys just helping some kid to safety, and when you run with your gun in hand, he spooks and shoots you.

How can anyone in their right mind think that setting up a situation where some number of complete strangers would be expected to pull out handguns in a room full of other complete strangers and, not knowing each other or anything of the shooter, and never having practiced an operation like this before, and without hours and hours of practice necessary to shoot straight under pressure, manage pull off the miracle by taking out the bad guy without injuring themselves or anyone else?

Does anyone still maintain that the best answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun?

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McKee

mckee

The national campaigns are careening totally out of control. We have jumped down the rabbit hole and have no idea of where the damn rabbit went. We don’t know who’s driving, where we’re going, what to expect from either campaign, or how this will all play out through the conventions and into the fall. It may seem like November is still a long way off, but in real time it is just around the corner. Nobody in the entire panoply of cognoscenti has even a faint clue of what the landscape is going to look like as that critical day in November approaches.

On the Republican side, the media has become a circus, mesmerized by Trump to the point of the absurd. He has been handed the lead of every news cycle in recent memory. Any event of his campaign is now treated as though it were a national disaster, meaning wall to wall coverage of little more than the grass growing around the venues of the day, with blank time filled with interviews of ticket-takers and janitorial staff. Whenever Trump is cornered into a one-on-one, little information beyond what he wants to release comes out, for Trump is a master of the spin and pivot. Press interviews of The Donald have become reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s classic “Who’s on first?” only for keeps and in real time. Trump is obviously having a ball, and the media, trying to keep within traditional campaign rules, is left collectively chasing its tail.

Although the party stalwarts are grudgingly beginning to fall in line, Donald is not making it easy. He has not made peace with the Speaker yet, and has announced that he may not even try. He continues to lob verbal hand grenades at anyone he perceives to have slighted him in any fashion – no matter who or from which party. His recent target for a totally unnecessary verbal slam-down was the governor of New Mexico, who is not only a popular Republican in a potentially purple state, but also (a) a woman, (b) Hispanic and (c) the national chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

On the issues, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Trump is not a Conservative and probably not a Republican. The purists among the R’s are appalled at all the inconsistencies and U-turns, as Trump is beginning to walk back from deeply held conservative tenets in foreign policy, national security, economics and even social issues. On policy issues he is, in a word, whatever the current trend at the present locale appears to want him to be – for that moment – if it will get him elected. All of this would, in other times, result in a mass exodus from the Republican party – except for the deep seated and unshakable fact that overwhelmingly, most Republicans so despise Hillary Clinton, that they would vote for the devil himself before they would be caught crossing over.

On the other side, the Democrats are not doing it that much better. The D’s are stuck between a proverbial Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts, as they try to figure out whether the interloper is something out of Lewis Carroll or the Brothers Grimm. Was Bernie Sanders sent by the good fairy to rescue the kingdom from the evil red queen, or is he just a Kafkaesque crusader sent in to illustrate the futility of it all? No one has nailed an answer to this yet, and no one has been able to get Bernie to quit beating up Hillary while they try to figure it out.

Hillary Clinton has focused her sights on Trump and is trying to run on policy issues germane to the general election. Her efforts to concentrate on policy keep getting overridden by process issues that won’t die. The current flap is the State Department Inspector General’s report that no one has actually read but everyone cites with hand-wringing concern. It is casting a low pall over Hillary’s campaign at the moment, even though in reality there is nothing new there. Everything contained in the IG report has been out in the open and examined to death. But despite the best efforts of the Clinton campaign to bury the issue, it keeps recurring.

What would undoubtedly be worse is for the FBI report to recommend prosecution. This report could pop out at any time, or could remain hanging until after the election. While opinions abound from all sides over what will be in it, those who appear to be more objective believe the expected FBI report will not find criminal involvement. If such were likely, letters of caution would already be flying around and the investigatory interviews would be far more circumspect. Nevertheless, until the shoe drops, the specter of a criminal prosecution continues to glow and give off heat, fanning the fervor of the entire line-up at Fox News. The issue will not die.

In times past, even the hint of such a mess would have disqualified the individual at the very get-go. It speaks volumes to the resilience of Secretary Clinton’s strength as a candidate that she has continued to weather all of this nonsense through everything thrown at her up to now, and has still sustained her position as the leading and now probable Democratic candidate. On the other hand, it also speaks volumes about how deep into the barrel the Democrats found themselves willing to reach in their search for suitable candidates this term.

Senator Sanders is now fighting a battle that is statistically impossible for him to win. Of the handful of states left, only California is of any size in total delegate count. The polls indicate that at best, it may wind up a tie. But Clinton does not need to win California to win the nomination. Even if she gets the lesser end of the election in California, unless she goes all the way to zero she will still receive enough delegates to push her total of committed delegate count over the needed line for the nomination at the convention.

In every situation in the past, the traditional step has been for the one with no realistic chance to withdraw and deliver up his support to the leader. Sanders must be gambling either upon the release of an FBI report recommending prosecution against Clinton, or upon some sort of mutiny among the uncommitted super delegates. But even in such event, from a practical electability standpoint, the enigma facing the Democrats would still be which would be worse – the patina of socialism swirling over the non-Democrat, or one more anchor added to the thirty years’ worth of anchors the leader is already dragging about?

It might appear that the predicted result will be for Clinton to succeed at the convention, albeit with a few more scars administered by Sanders and his minions. Clinton stands to beat Trump in most of the polls. But it will be close. The negative numbers might influence the final result, but both sets of negative results virtually cancel each other out. Because of the history of everybody’s predictions up to now, nobody is predicting anything on the relative negative poll standings. It is going to be an un-callable crap shoot from here on out.

On a deeper note, what cries out for further comment and analysis is that both parties managed to bring forward seriously flawed candidates for what should have been posts demanding the best of their best. We have never seen anything like the debacle that faces the electorate during this term.

How did it happen that we had to tolerate a bus load of unqualified prospects this term? How did it happen that so few answered the call to challenge Mrs. Clinton? Is it enough that every person who wants can declare themselves to be candidates, fully entitled to seats on the stage for as long as they want to remain? Would different processes at the outset have produced better candidates, and avoided the slow motion train wrecks we are viewing today?

No matter what happens, these issues need to be examined by both parties with steps taken if necessary to ensure that this nightmare is not repeated.

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McKee

mckee

Watching Donald Trump try to evade Chuck Todd’s cross examination on the recent Sunday’s “Meet the Press” supports the growing conclusion that the presumptive Republican pretender is nothing more than an unreconstructed huckster of snake oil in modern clothes, totally without portfolio or credential, whose sole ambition is really to become the richest man in the world.

Facts are immaterial, truth is relative, policy is fluid, and consistency has four syllables. Words are but tools to convince the listener that Trump’s snake oil will cure anything, anywhere, anytime, and for anybody. He will say anything that he thinks will operate to enhance his position.

But wait – there is not a single detail in there, anywhere to be found. The labels on the bottles are all blank, the handouts are unintelligible, and his web site makes no sense. No matter how hard one looks, nothing adds up. This huge hole in the structure will not work for the general election. Trump cannot continue this charade, and he will be found out. Won’t he?

Perhaps not. To the huckster, the lack of detail does not matter a whit; the actual contents of the elixir he is peddling is completely irrelevant. It is the illusion he is pushing, not the reality. If any direct question is posed that would penetrate to the actual core of any of his declarations, Trump’s standard tactic is to (a) change the subject, (b) immediately pivot the response to some other grandiose hyperbolic declaration, or (c) attack the motives, integrity or fairness of the inquirer. More recently, and especially with foreign policy topics, Trump has been admitting that he is providing no details and blatantly says he has no intention of doing so. He suggests that these details are part of the problem; that we should be less transparent in our dealings with foreign nations. He claims that we should keep our enemies and allies, and now apparently even ourselves, guessing about future intentions.

Up to now, all of these tactics have been more or less accepted without serious challenge. With multiple contenders in the mix, there simply was not time available to chase down all the inconsistencies, vagaries, omissions and just plain hogwash contained in the various contenders’ campaign materials. However, now that the campaign is moving into general election territory, all his may change.

The recent “Meet the Press” is an indication that things might not be so easy any more. Now that the focus of attention is on the general election, the press is going to expect much more than simple bumper-sticker sound bites. For example, when Trump contradicted a previously stated position on domestic policy, Chuck Todd immediately jumped him on it. Before Todd let up, Trump tried to change the subject twice, flip-flopped on his original answer, and then simply denied what he had originally said. It was typical of the double-talk and legerdemain that used to work where the opposition was a stringer in a press gaggle. This time, with Todd’s persistence, it left Trump looking foolish and provided grist for the media mill that was still grinding away on on Monday.

Everyone maintains that Trump will have to turn towards the center once the campaign shifts to general election mode, but his early machinations seemed to imply that he has no intentions of doing so. His personal slurs against the Clinton’s come on the heels of his promise to keep the campaign on policy unless Hillary attacks first. His battle with Speaker Ryan makes no sense if he is willing to work with the establishment Republicans in formulating policy. Picking a stepped-up fight with Elizabeth Warren is both unnecessary and just plain dumb politics. Warren isn’t running for anything, and has nothing to risk by taking Trump on full tilt. Trump has neither time nor capacity to take on a gutter fight with Warren; such is decidedly un-presidential, with no upside to gain from the fray. Trump is now only one week into the new general election mode, and he already has three open, un-presidential squabbles raging on gutter issues not relating to policy, with one being inside his own party.

An intriguing thought comes to mind. All of this may not matter at all. All good trial lawyers know the laws of primacy and recency in the art of persuasion. The law of primacy says that the proposition presented first will hold greater influence over a proposition presented later, regardless of merit or who says it. The law of recency says that the last proposition presented is more important that any propositions presented earlier, again, regardless of merit or who says it. These laws do not say anything about merit, fairness or truth. These so-called rules of persuasion simply talk about being first, and last, and loudest.

It occurred to me that Trump has been demonstrating his understanding of these rules in spades, over and over again. When he introduces a declaration against an opponent, it is a barrage. It will have any number of parts, some supported, some not, with no differentiation. When the reply comes, it will invariably hit only one or two of the key elements of the declaration. From the standpoint of logic, or from the actual evidence of what is true and important, defeating the key issues may appear to be sufficient to demonstrate the weakness of the entire declaration; but from the standpoint of the laws of primacy, addressing only the key issues leaves all of the unmet assertions still on the table.

This means from the sheer number of issues, Trump may be ahead, and he will then reiterate his declaration, ignoring the reply and referring to the entirety of his statement in shorthand versions. The reiterations come as often as necessary to assure Trump that he has made the first and last declaration on the topic, accomplished with the most frequency, thereby satisfying all the laws of primacy and recency.

The discerning examiners may not be fooled; they will have paid attention to the actual evidence, to the key issues, and to the proper weight to be attached, and will have reached their conclusions on actual policy, realistic assessment of resources, and feasible reaction. On virtually every one of Trump’s issues presented thus far, he will lose this kind of analysis resoundingly.

But the passing listeners among us who are just now beginning to look into the events of the day may well register only the volume of issues, the frequency of iterations, and the primacy and recency of the arguments advanced. To these ears, it may not matter that the arguments are not consistent, or that the facts are exaggerated, or that truth seems elusive. All of this might be passed off as the natural expectation of politics.

The only consideration that persists over the rumble of the ongoing arguments is that Trump is first and last and loudest on these matters, which may lead the undiscerning listener to believe that Trump will refuse to accept things as they are; to accept the assertion that box needs shaking; and to believe Trump’s claim that he truly intends to shake the box.

If this is how it is going to happen, and if Hillary, or the Democrats, or the establishment Republicans, or the media, or someone, cannot convince the majority out there to look past the colorful canvas and stripped awnings and the cases of unmarked elixir stashed away, and recognize the imbedded fallacy of first, last and loudest, and see instead the real issues at stake – we very well may deserve what we get.

That huckster may just carry the day.

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McKee