Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Posts Tagged ‘corruption

Follow the Trump Money

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At an early age, I learned that control comes from the sources of financing. Donald Trump has had six corporation bankruptcies (note that Trump himself has never personally filed for bankruptcy), yet he retains a business empire and, unlike many other who enter government service, has refused to put his business interests at arms’ length while serving as President. From where does he obtain his financing?

Donald Trump definitely qualifies as someone who was born on third base and tells everyone he hit a triple. He not only had his father’s wealth to draw on, but his father’s relationships with lenders. His record in business is checkered, to say the least. He has a long record of disputing his bills to suppliers; even if the suppliers were delivering substandard products and services, as the Trump attorneys allege, it would suggest a problem in the selection process within the Trump organization. A less charitable — but more believable — interpretation would be that he uses his lawyers to strong-arm suppliers out of what he owes them. Now, thanks to Stormy Daniels and her lawyer Michael Avenatti, we have further insight into how Trump uses lawyers and courts as weapons against people who don’t have his resources to fight back.

Others have done the investigation for how Trump’s presidential campaign was financed. The Center for Responsive Politics has provided this summary of funding for efforts both to support and to oppose the election of Donald Trump.

The more interesting story is where his business financing is coming from. This is especially true given both his continued direct involvement in his business interests while in the White House, and his proven record of inability to distinguish his person from his office. This last is one of the most menacing aspects of his behavior in office, as it would set politics back four hundred years.

Who would lend money to an entrepreneur with six business bankruptcies under his belt? In June 2017, Francine McKenna reported that Trump has still been able been able to obtain substantial loans without facing penalizing interest premiums. Her article suggests that many lenders are supplying credit to Trump’s business, but only names Deutsche Bank and Ladder Capital, the latter of which is a real estate investment trust (REIT). In December 2017, Wendy Siegelman did some further investigation into these two organizations. Siegelman observed:

The various overlapping connections among these companies and developers is likely representative of common intersections in the finance and real-estate world. However, given the significant leverage Ladder Capital and Deutsche Bank have as holders of hundreds of millions of dollars of Trump debt, it’s important to bring these business connections and potential conflicts of interest to light.

The relationship with Deutsche Bank may present some problems. Trump has already fallen out with one arm of the bank, only to cozy up to another. For its part, Deutsche Bank has its own murky issues. In 2016, Federal regulators went after it to the tune of $14 billion for securities fraud during the 2008 mortgage crisis; the final settlement was a $7.2 billion penalty, split between fines and community service. In 2017, the bank paid $41 million to settle claims by the Federal Reserve that Deutsche Bank failed to maintain adequate controls against money laundering.

Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) got on the trail of Deutsche Bank in late 2017, demanding that the Justice Department get moving on a investigation of the $10 million money-laundering operation that the bank is alleged to have organized. This may be the true source of Trump’s recent Twitter outbursts against Waters. Yes, Waters has her own issues, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Trump has a long history of seeking business in Russia, going back before the fall of the Soviet Union. He has actively pursued business ventures in Russia. He has working relationships with Russian oligarchs. Many of these relationships are tended by son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is in way over his head. Michael Wolff, in his book Fire and Fury, quoted Steve Bannon predicting that Robert Muller would be coming after Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr., and Paul Manafort. Per Wolff, Bannon made the observation that Robert Mueller chose Andrew Weissmann, who has a reputation flipping witnesses to build cases against mobsters and white-collar criminals, as a top aide. Mueller has by now already brought charges against Manafort.

Deustche Bank could also be fertile ground for Weissman to find candidate canaries. Martin Sheil wrote this report in which he went through the various smells emanating from the bank’s closet. This two-part report is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the meat of the matter. He explained the mechanics of how the money laundering technique worked; the Russians call this action “konvert”, as in to convert subterranean assets into legitimate assets. Sheil also cited a prosecution conducted by Weissmann and Preet Bharara against an important Deutsche Bank client in 2016. Yes, that is the same Preet Bharara whom Donald Trump fired as U.S. attorney in early 2017.

Sheil also specifically identified the Mercer family, funders of Breitbart News, as deeply involved with questionable bank activities. Patriarch Robert Mercer ran a hedge fund, Renaissance Technology (RenTec), that received favored trading relationships from the bank, to the extent that the IRS has challenged them. A risk management executive whose area of responsibility included the bank’s relationship with RenTec committed suicide in January 2014.  Mercer, for his part, has elsewhere been on record for claiming that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was “a major mistake.” We may not have heard the last about the Mercer family.

If, reading this, you conclude that there is nothing but innuendo here, consider this: Donald Trump ran his entire campaign on innuendo. He didn’t really mock a reporter for his disability, right? And what was that about Megyn Kelly having “blood coming out of her wherever“, if not innuendo he could walk back from? So I don’t want to hear the complaints. Live by the innuendo, die by the innuendo.

The point is that there is that there is a large potential to mine here. Robert Mueller has already subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank. As Christopher Brennan wrote in the Daily News, money laundering requires the prosecutor to prove both that the original funds are illegal and the people involved knew that they were illegal. The latter requires more than hard records of transfers; the prosecutor needs witnesses and testimony. That is why Weissmann is there.

The question Rosemary Fanelli asked in Forbes is critical: do the Russians hold and control the debt of Donald Trump’s businesses? “Why was Trump able to borrow additional funds even after he defaulted on his prior loans? Does this mean the President is compromised and beholden to a foreign government?” Russians understand capitalism well enough to know that, when you have people by the financing, their hearts and minds will follow.

I found all these links in less than a day, sitting alone on my computer in Texas. Robert Mueller has lawyers, subpoena power and a no-limit special prosecutor credit card. What do you think he’s doing? Why do you think his investigation is taking so long?

I predict that, if the Democrats win the House this November, Trump will have Mueller fired before the end of the year. Trump has to know that a Democrat-controlled House will rain impeachment motions into the hopper, anyway. Trump will figure, “What have I got to lose?”

 

 

 

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No King in Israel

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In the current month of The Atlantic, Michael Gerson has written about the conflicted relationship between many evangelical Christians and President Donald Trump. Gerson has included a partial history of the political challenges evangelicals have faced in America over the past 150 years. He’s an evangelical himself, and I do not dispute his direct experience. I like context, and appreciate the history. But it is incomplete in several respects, and I am taking up the task of filling it out.

The Book of Judges has many instances of Israel being led by people whom most people would not have chosen. Ehud was a murderer. Deborah was a woman living at a time and place where women were not considered worthy wielders of power. Gideon was the runt of the family. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute, exiled from his father’s house. The people always visualize their leader as a great king, who will drive their enemies before them, but God has other ideas. The ultimate example is Jesus himself, who, instead of leading the people to victory over and freedom from the occupying Romans, died on the cross.

The Third Great Awakening

Tom Wolfe wrote that the 1970s were seeing the Third Great Awakening, but he was off by one. The actual Third Great Awakening started shortly after the Civil War. It had mostly sputtered out by 1900.

In many respects, the period was full of solutions looking for problems. The Civil War had brought about the bloody end of legalized slavery. What great achievement would be left to the successor generation? For some, the call was to convert the rest of the world to the person’s accepted form of Christianity. There was a great burst of missionary activity, both within the US and around the world. The 1842 Treaty of Nanking, which ended the Second Opium War, opened China to missionaries. After the Civil War, American missionaries joined their British brethren in China. Henry W. Luce was an important American missionary in China; he was the father of the Henry Luce who started Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated magazines.

Another important movement was the Social Gospel movement, which Gerson also mentions. The Social Gospel declared that the focus of salvation must be at the community level, rather than the individual level. I have previously addressed the problems of the Social Gospel in a previous essay.

Prohibition

The third important outgrowth of the time was Prohibition. Although it was not achieved until 1919 when the 18th Amendment was ratified, Prohibition was an important goal that was taken up by many of the faithful. Prohibition would become their greatest short-term success and hang a millstone around their necks for decades.

Evangelicals went all-in on Prohibition. As late as 1933, C. Oscar Johnson, president of the Northern Baptist Convention, told FDR:

Baptists are back of you 96.8 percent. We cannot go the other 3.2 percent.

The 3.2 percent was an allusion to 3.2% beer that was already available in many states.

Evangelicals thus made themselves outcast for a generation, gaining a reputation as national prigs, indifferent to the failure of a well-intentioned national crusade that had only served to benefit violent crime syndicates. David Frum would later write:

For all that, a Christian who in 1955 applied an “In Case of Rapture This Car Will Be Unoccupied” bumper sticker to his car would attract puzzled looks from his neighbors.
How We Got Here, p. 156.

The majority of the GI generation was cold toward evangelicals, who were politically marginalized in America in the 1950s.

Fundamentalism

Gerson also mentions fundamentalism. This arose from a series of challenges posed by modern society to orthodox belief, including evolution and biblical scholarship.

The immediate source of fundamentalist doctrine was a series of documents published between 1910 and 1915, titled The Fundamentals. The core beliefs that fundamentalists identified to distinguish themselves were:

  1. The inerrancy of the Bible;
  2. The literal truth of the biblical accounts;
  3. The virgin birth of Christ;
  4. The bodily resurrection and physical return of Christ;
  5. The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross.

The publication of The Fundamentals started the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy in American Protestantism. In 1922, Harry Emerson Fosdick launched a counterattack with his sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?“.

At the same time, there was the controversy over evolution, which Gerson discusses. Secular, sophisticated America considers the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial to have been the decisive milestone that, once and for all, made the opponents of evolution look ridiculous. But this is also a tenet of faith; evangelicals do not share it. Writing in 1963, Richard Hofstadter reported with some degree of evident mortification:

A few years ago, when the Scopes trial was dramatized in Inherit the Wind, the play seemed on Broadway more like a quaint period piece than a stirring call for freedom of thought. But when the road company took the play to a small town in Montana, a member of the audience rose and shouted “Amen!” at one of the speeches of the character representing Bryan.
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, p. 129.

By 1940, the Protestant churches we generally identify as “mainline” went modernist, and the evangelicals predominantly took up fundamentalism. The Baptists actually cease to be considered “mainline” to the extent they support fundamentalism.

The Remnant

There is a constant tension in Christianity between beliefs that assert salvation is open to all and those that maintain only a remnant of the people can be saved. After World War II, evangelicals took the remnant position and retreated into their own communities, where they could be true to their faith as they understood it.

However, the forces of secular modernism followed them. Let the evangelicals speak for themselves on this:

The 1960s ushered in another set of rapid cultural and political changes. Local controversies over textbooks and sex education in public schools, the tax-exempt status of religious schools, and gay rights raised concerns. Activists motivated by their religious beliefs began grassroots efforts to promote their causes locally, and their efforts eventually captured national attention.
— Amy Black, “Evangelicals and Politics: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Headed” [https://www.nae.net/evangelicals-and-politics/]

Challenged by the twin attack vectors of public policy and television, it was becoming harder for evangelicals to maintain their own values in their own communities. By 1980, many evangelicals felt like they were colonists in their own nation, dictated to by faraway people who do not share their values and seek to impose their own norms upon the evangelicals. If only out of self-defense, evangelicals had to mobilize politically.

The Abusive Boyfriend

So evangelicals get involved in politics. As I outlined in this article, they found themselves in the Republican party, in coalition with libertarians, right-corporatists and Republican “wets” who want everyone to get along. What generally happens is that the donors get the policies they want and the rest of us get a lot of sunshine blown at us.

Consider the issue of gay marriage. Evangelicals detest it, because they believe it to be contrary to scripture. Libertarians think it’s a great idea, and why don’t we legalize polygamy while we’re at it? Corporate types need this as an issue like they need holes in their heads; gay people have money to spend that is just as green as anyone else’s, and the corporate people are not anxious to alienate that market. So what happens is that elected officials generally make inconsequential noises to keep the various coalition members interested, making sure that nothing meaningful ever really happens.

I quoted Amy Sullivan in the referenced essay, but her observations are worth repeating:

Like an abusive boyfriend, Republicans keep moderate evangelicals in the coalition by alternating between painting their options as bleak and wooing them with sweet talk. You can’t leave me-where are you going to go? To them? They think you’re stupid, they hate religion. Besides, you know I love you-I’m a compassionate conservative. The tactic works as long as evangelicals don’t call the GOP’s bluff and as long as Democrats are viewed as hostile to religion.
“Why Evangelicals Are Bolting the GOP”  [http://www.beliefnet.com/News/Politics/2006/03/Why-Evangelicals-Are-Bolting-The-GOP.aspx]

Republicans were correct in their belief that most of the evangelicals were not going to go over to the Democrats, but they never dreamed that a Democrat would come over to them.

Enter the Serpent

Donald Trump promised to be like no other politician, and he has definitely delivered on that. Be careful what you ask for — you just might get it.

Throughout the 2016 campaign, evangelical leaders were rather clear on their criteria. They were looking for a President, not a youth pastor. They wanted someone who would get in the political arena and fight for what they wanted.

Trump has been very busy appointing federal judges. Given the scope judges currently have to take an activist role in laying down black-letter law, there is a lot for evangelicals to like.

Also consider how willing Trump is to take the political initiative. Look at his State of the Union speech. No other Republican since Reagan has been willing to take the fight to the opposition like that.

I can understand why evangelicals might look at Trump as their last, best hope. They certainly would not be alone in that regard. There is no Republican on the horizon who has demonstrated any readiness to seize the favorable terrain on messaging.

Note that I did not say, “take the high ground,” because where Trump is involved, that would be laughable. That is the problem facing all Trump supporters, particularly those who want an intact reputation after the Trump era ends.

It is remarkable to hear religious leaders defend profanity, ridicule, and cruelty as hallmarks of authenticity and dismiss decency as a dead language. Whatever Trump’s policy legacy ends up being, his presidency has been a disaster in the realm of norms.
— Michael Gerson, “The Last Temptation”

Gerson documents how the evangelicals are doing it again. Just like with Prohibition, they are going all-in for Trump. It is not enough for them to like what Trump is doing for them; they feel this need to like him. They have to like, or at least excuse, everything he does. By doing so, they are prostituting themselves.

Solzhenitsyn wrote about the message Soviet culture was constantly drumming into their heads: “The result is what counts.” But he saw through it:

But that is a lie! Here we have been breaking our backs for years at All-Union hard labor. Here in slow annual spirals we have been climbing up to an understanding of life—and from this height it can all be seen so clearly: It is not the result that counts! It is not the result — but the spirit! Not what — but how. Not what has been attained — but at what price.
The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. II, p. 609.

Spiritual leaders are supposed to know this. They will pay a high price for ignoring this truth.

Written by srojak

March 12, 2018 at 5:58 pm

William Pitt the Elder

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William Pitt the Elder, by William Hoare

William Pitt the Elder, by William Hoare

William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778), later 1st Earl of Chatham, was a chief minister of Great Britain (there was still ambivalence to the title of Prime Minister). He was bombastic, mercurial, confrontational and he may have been manic-depressive.

He changed Anglo-American politics forever. If you live in Pittsburgh, Pittston, Pittsboro or various Pittsfields or Chathams, your place of residence was named in recognition of William Pitt.

Paymaster of the Forces

Between 1746 and 1755, Pitt served as Paymaster of the Forces, effectively the treasurer of the British Army. At that time, the office was extremely lucrative for the holder, with two principle perquisites:

  • Ability to skim the interest in army funds, including the soldiers’ pay;
  • Ability to skim the profits of sale of military assets, such as the sale of old military supplies.

Although Henry Pelham, who has previously been paymaster of the forces, had refused these perquisites, he had been private about it. Pitt publicly renounced them. This example initiated a change in the way we conceive of the conduct of a political office holder. What had been looked upon as standard operating procedure, and remained so in many other countries, became viewed as corruption in the Anglo-American tradition.

Pitt initiated this change, and he did it not through introducing laws or launching a crusade, but by the simple force of his own example.

The Seven Years’ War

The Seven Years’ War began in 1756 and initially went very badly for Britain and her allies. The Braddock Expedition had been smashed in 1755. In the early years of the war France took Minorca, Fort Oswego and Fort William Henry. Hanover, allied to Britain through the King, was forced to withdraw from the war.

I know I can save this country and that I alone can.
— William Pitt, 1756

In 1757, Pitt entered into a coalition government with a man who had been his enemy: Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle. They divided their responsibilities: Pitt managed the war against France in their colonies, while Newcastle managed the war in Europe. Pitt obtained the funding to support world war, while Newcastle handled the patronage needed to keep the coalition in power.

Our bells are worn threadbare with the ringing of victories.
— Horace Walpole, 1759

1759 is remembered as an Annus Mirabilis for the harvest of victories over the French. In North America, Britain captured Fort Ticonderoga and Quebec, and drove the French from the Ohio Country after taking Fort Duquesne the previous autumn. British forces captured Guadeloupe. In Europe, the Navy destroyed the French capacity to launch an invasion of Britain, establishing itself as the dominant naval power, and Britain with her allies won the Battle of Minden. In India, British forces relieved the Siege of Madras.

For the remainder of the war, Britain consolidated and expanded on these gains, collapsing French holdings in India and North America east of the Mississippi.

The American Colonies

The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail — its roof may shake — the wind may blow through it — the storm may enter — the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter — all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!
— William Pitt, speech in Parliament, 1763

Britain had become concerned about how to pay for the enormous army it had created during the Seven Years’ War. Sons of powerful landed families had purchased commissions as officers in new regiments. It would have been unthinkable to buy them out, but how were these regiments to be supported financially? A plan for an excise tax on cider, which would have landed principally on the country gentry, had gone down to dramatic defeat in 1763, taking George III’s favorite, the Earl of Bute, along with it.

George Grenville then became first minister, and sought to solve the problem by taxing the American colonies through the introduction of Sugar and Stamp Acts. More odious than their tax effects was their intent to bypass colonial legislatures in imposing taxation. Townshend and his allies maintained that the colonies had “virtual representation” in the British Parliament.

The Stamp Act led to riots in America and attacks on British agents who collected the taxes. By January, 1766, there was sharp division in Parliament. Grenville had worn out his welcome with the King, who replaced him with Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, who brought Edmund Burke along with him as personal private secretary. Rockingham wanted to repeal the Stamp Act, but a substantial number of MPs were unwilling to yield the conceptual right of Parliament to impose taxes. Virtual representation was also seen as essential; the same doctrine addressed the representation of cities such as Manchester, which had no representatives of their own in Commons.

Pitt was not buying the idea of virtual representation, and foresaw the future of reform:

This is what is called the rotten part of the Constitution. It can not continue a century. If it does not drop, it must be amputated. The idea of a virtual representation of America in this House is the most contemptible idea that ever entered into the head of a man. It does not deserve a serious refutation.

The Commons of America represented in their several assemblies, have ever been in possession of the exercise of this, their constitutional right, of giving and granting their own money. They would have been slaves if they had not enjoyed it! At the same time, this kingdom, as the supreme governing and legislative power, has always bound the colonies by her laws, by her regulations, and restrictions in trade, in navigation, in manufactures, in every thing, except that of taking their money out of their pockets without their consent.

After this, Grenville rose to voice his objections, and then Pitt returned in reply.

The gentleman tells us, America is obstinate; America is almost in open rebellion. I rejoice that America has resisted. Three millions of people, so dead to all the feelings of liberty as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would have been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest.

Pitt concluded:

Upon the whole, I will beg leave to tell the House what is my opinion. It is, that the Stamp Act be repealed absolutely, totally, and immediately. That the reason for the repeal be assigned—viz., because it was founded on an erroneous principle. At the same time, let the sovereign authority of this country over the colonies be asserted in as strong terms as can be devised, and be made to extend to every point of legislation whatsoever; that we may bind their trade, confine their manufactures, and exercise every power whatsoever, except that of taking money from their pockets without consent.

[Full text of speech and rebuttal: http://www.bartleby.com/268/3/23.html]

The distinction between binding their trade and taking money from their pockets without consent escaped many of the members in attendance.

If you understand the difference, it is more than I do, but I assure you it was very fine when I heard it.
— Lord George Germain, 1766

Whigs were always having to navigate the treacherous space where liberty and order met; it would ultimately undo them. But that was more than a century in the future.

Rockingham yoked a Declaratory Act, asserting the theoretical right of Parliament to tax the colonies, to repeal of the Stamp Act, recognizing the impracticality of doing so in this manner.

Chief Ministry

Being responsible, I will direct and will be responsible for nothing I do not direct.
— William Pitt, speech in Parliament, 1761

His time as chief minister was short: 1766-1768. He selected a cabinet of very capable men, but there were no precedents by which he could require them to work together or to all pull in the same direction. Pitt himself was too obstinate and too much of a loner to do the backstairs politicking that would have been necessary to bring the group together as a team. His term as chief minister is generally considered a failure.

In 1767, Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced the Revenue Act of 1767, first of a series of bills remembered to history as the Townshend Acts.

Pitt himself, now Earl of Chatham, had gone into seclusion in 1768. Only in 1770 did he return to his seat in the House of Lords. He was still an intermittent participant. Without his leadership, his allies — Rockingham, Burke, the Earl of Shelburne — were in disarray the government’s back-and-forth measures in America spun out of control.

Weakened by illness, Pitt played an increasingly marginal role in British politics, until he finally collapsed on the floor of Parliament in 1778.

Nevertheless, he had a profound effect on our political traditions.

Written by srojak

March 4, 2017 at 1:23 pm

Interview with the Prosecutor

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Steve Heath was a prosecutor, working for two years in New Orleans and another seven in Dallas. He has been in the engine room of the criminal justice system.

I met with him to ask him for his perspective and to provide a perspective that we, as ordinary citizens, would never have on inner-city crime and justice issues. All quotes in this post are from him.

[The DA’s office] got Federal grants — Federal money — but all they were doing was hand-to-hand drug sales of punks on the street, mostly black, OK? And they got tons of Federal money. They never ever got beyond the street level and got somebody really big — a drug dealer or a money launderer …

The Federal government gives counties money to prosecute crimes. Two major areas Heath cited are drug offences and domestic violence. So where you pay people to prosecute, it is not hard to figure out that you are going to get more prosecutions. Are they valid prosecutions? Well, where are your controls?

Heath said that most of the people prosecuted for dealing drugs are just go-betweens that are lured in by the promise of easy money.

You could set those people up forever … The cop will come to [the kid], “I want to buy a certain amount of cocaine.” So he goes and talks to the kid he knows who sells cocaine.

“Can you get me more?” “Well, I guess so.”  [The kid says], “Hey, this is a good deal, I’m making money off this stuff.” He was never even inclined to do it before. They get him to a certain level, next thing you know, they’re recommending a four or five year sentence for him on the first offence.

Just as in any other human activity, the competence of prosecutors is distributed over a range. One of the characteristics that Heath observed to distinguish good prosecutors from time-servers was their willingness to do real investigative work and follow the leads to the ultimate sources of crime.

You can see how the prisons get filled up. Black kid gets set up, he gets probation, he makes a mistake and gets a dirty UA on his test, it gets revoked. Next thing you know he’s unemployed, he can’t get a job, what’s he gonna do? Next thing you know, they’re all in the prisons. It is kind of racist, so I thought, “Black people kind of have a point here.” [Prosecutors and cops] are disproportionately setting them up.

I don’t think police are doing it because they’re racists; [the targets] are just easy marks. You can get Federal money all there and set up all these people, you can get your stats up: “500 more convictions than last year! 10% more than when the prosecutor took over three years ago!” But that’s all they focus on.

Given the incentives, it is easy to understand the pressures on ordinary police. The prosecutor wants to run up his score and the Feds are offering money for which they want to see results. You don’t do this in leafy Deerfield, Illinois or Highland Park, Texas, where the kids have parents who will get lawyers and contest the cases. You need concentrated people who can’t effectively defend themselves. Those people are going to be living in cities and are going to be disproportionately black.

The prosecutors like the statistics, because they can wave them in front of the voters. The Feds like the statistics, because they provide reassurance that the grant programs are effective and the money given out is used effectively. But it is all bogus.

“Win 98% of our cases.” Yeah, you win that many because you never try any tough cases. You just set up these punk cases, that most of them plead out because they have no choice. That’s where I’m sympathetic with the black mindset, where what I call the “prison-industrial complex” where everybody makes a ton of money setting up people.

Heath also had some observations about police training. He strongly disliked the evolution of the shoot-to-kill policies in policing.

It kind of starts with — I can’t remember the Supreme Court case of 20-30 years ago, which basically allowed the use of force by the police if they felt their lives were in jeopardy. So that kind of opened the door, then they got a lot of governmental immunity. It’s hard to get these cases prosecuted civilly.

This article discusses the two cases from the 1980s that match up to Heath’s description:

They’re trained that, if their lives are in danger, you don’t shoot to wing somebody in the arms, or legs, whatever; you shoot to kill. So the training is bad, and frankly I think the training has gotten worse since Homeland Security money has come in here. It’s more like, police are starting to have their own mentality of fear and intimidation, rather than serve and protect.

He also observed incidence of what only can be described as overkill.

What bothers you is that they don’t just shoot them once sometimes. You see these videos, also — there was this impaired man in the street, and he got up and he had a knife. There were twenty cops surrounding him, and he got up and took two steps and all of a sudden fifteen cops shoot 38 bullets in him. He was not within thirty feet of anybody.

Heath noted that you don’t have to be black to get the short end of the fear-and-intimidation stick.

I was down in Austin and I made an wrong turn, and next thing you know a bunch of cops pull me over. I start to get out and there are three of them with guns pulled, screaming at me, “Get out of the car!”

Heath observed that there are energetic and lazy police just as there are in any other line of work. He placed his emphasis on the leadership positions; these determine what behaviors will or will not be tolerated, what training will be delivered and what culture will be cultivated.

You really need to work on fostering good race relations by listening to black leaders who are saying, “Why is it always the black kids you are setting up on all these drug charges?”

One of the side effects of the war on drugs is the feeding of what Heath calls “the prison-industrial complex,” likening it to the “military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower warned about.

It’s an industry. It’s cluttering our prisons. Get ’em on probation, revoke and then they can’t get jobs, they can’t get work. I remember the stats were, like, 70% of blacks between 18 and 34 — males — were in probation, prison or parole. That’s insane. Mostly for drug offenses.

He said that he had, at one time, been in favor of drug criminalization. His experiences in the cities had soured him on it.

The war on drugs has been a complete and total failure. They never try to go to the top. HSBC and Wachovia were both convicted of laundering massive amounts of drug money. Wachovia conveniently folded at the time, got bought up by Wells Fargo. HSBC, what’d they get, a billion dollar fine or something?

Here are some additional links relating to HSBC:

He supports community policing initiatives. He does not believe that the majority of police are abusing their authority, but those that are have an effect on public perception beyond their number.

They police officers need to walk a beat. They need to get to know the people in their neighborhood. They need to develop their snitches, their sources, their whatever. Get a pulse … They need to bond with the community.

Heath expressed the hope that we could get back to a serve-and-protect model of law enforcement that did not view the people in the community as adversaries.

Written by srojak

December 11, 2016 at 7:25 pm

An Election Every Day

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No matter how unsatisfying you think the 2016 election cycle has been or will become — and I think I have been quite forthcoming on how unsatisfying I find it — you can take some comfort in this observation. The election that really matters happens every day.

You vote in this election with your scarce resources: your time, your money and your attention. You vote with what you choose to give to withhold. You vote with what you choose to expect or to tolerate.

Everyone participates in this election. You can’t opt out. Even deciding not to decide is a decision.

The results of this daily election creates the national culture and political climate in which politicians and administrators have to operate. They can push the envelope, but they can’t take it where it doesn’t provide the flexibility to go.

If this were not true, if political leaders could successfully bend a modern industrial nation containing hundreds of millions of people to their will, there would still be a Soviet Union.

Yes, the country can get better or worse. We can go up or down on the Freedom Index, where we are already behind Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, the UK, France, the Czech Republic, Poland and Estonia. We can return to the rule of law or we can have less of it. We have national problems with entitlements and education. We can have politicians and administrators break the economy.

I am not saying the annual elections don’t matter. I am saying the perpetual referendum of 325 million people conducting their daily business matters more.

I never ruled Russia. Ten thousand clerks ruled Russia.
— One of the Tsars Alexander on his deathbed.

We can strive for equal justice under the law or continue to have corruption. But, to give an example, a nation that accepts the precept that “rank has its privileges” has already bought into having corruption. Corrupt public officials will get farther in such a nation than in a nation that demands transparency and accountability.

Here is a historical example:

The conviction that the subordination of the individual to the good of the community was not only a necessity but a positive blessing had gripped the mind of the German army, and through it that of the nation.
— Gen. Paul von Hindenburg, Out of My Life (1920)

At all historical evidence, Hindenburg was speaking accurately. Is it any wonder that Germany turned to the Nazis in 1933 when times got hard? The ground was already prepared for them. Hindenburg himself could and did object to the style of the Nazis, but could not effectively stand against their principles. Ideas have consequences.

Control the controllables. If each of us clean up our own corner of the country, the country would be cleaned up.

Written by srojak

October 30, 2016 at 1:17 pm

US Constitiution 1.1

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In 1979, Theodore Lowi released the second edition of his book The End of Liberalism: The Second Republic of the United States. Lowi teaches at Cornell and would be characterized as a liberal; for example, he advocates government planning. However, he is also a proponent of the rule of law. The evolution of the political processes away from law and representative government toward bargaining and interest-group government began to trouble him by the time he wrote the first edition of the book ten years earlier.

Where contemporaries saw government departure from formalism as pragmatic, Lowi saw it as corrupt. Where reality deviates from formalism, we find arbitrariness, influence-peddling and injustice. He wrote the best defense of political idealism I have seen:

The gap between form and reality gives rise to cynicism, for informality means that some will escape their fate better than others. There has, as a consequence, always been cynicism toward public institutions in the United States, and this, too, is a good thing, since a little cynicism is the parent of healthy sophistication. However, when the informal is elevated to a positive virtue, and when the gap between the formal and the informal grows wider, and when the hard-won access of individuals and groups becomes a share of official authority, cynicism unavoidably curdles into distrust. Legitimacy can be defined as the distance between form and reality. How much spread can a democratic system tolerate and remain both democratic and legitimate?
The End of Liberalism, p. 297.

Although he did not use the term, the mechanisms that Lowi describes are that of corporatism: public-private partnerships in rule-making and governance. Although Lowi did not name it, he described it well enough:

The state grows, but the opportunities for sponsorship and privilege grow proportionately. Power goes up, but in the form of personal plunder rather than public choice. If would not be accurate to evaluate this model as “socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor,” because many thousands of low-income persons and groups have provided within the system. The more accurate characterization might be “socialism for the organized, capitalism for the unorganized.”
Ibid, pp. 278-9.

For the second edition, Lowi reverse engineered a new constitution for the government from actual practice, in an attempt to highlight the spread between form and reality.

There ought to be a national presence in every aspect of the lives of American citizens. National power is no longer a necessary evil; it is a positive virtue.

Article I. It is the primary purpose of this national government to provide domestic tranquility by reducing risk. This risk may be physical or it may be fiscal. In order to fulfill this sacred obligation, the national government shall be deemed to have sufficient power to eliminate threats from the environment through regulation, and to eliminate threats from economic uncertainty through insurance.

Article II. The separation of powers to the contrary notwithstanding, the center of this national government is the presidency. Said office is authorized to use any powers, real or imagined, to set our nation to rights by making any rules or regulations the president deems appropriate; the president may subdelegate this authority to any other official or agency. The right to make all such rules and regulations is based upon the assumption in this constitution that the office of the presidency embodies the will of the real majority of the American nation.

Article III. Congress exists, but only as a consensual body. Congress possesses all legislative authority, but should limit itself to the delegation of broad grants of unstructured authority to the president. Congress must take care never to draft a careful and precise statute because this would interfere with the judgment of the president and his professional and full-time administrators.

Article IV. There exists a separate administrative branch composed of persons whose right to govern is based upon two principles: (1) the delegation of power flowing from Congress, and (2) the authority inherent in professional training and promotion through an administrative hierarchy. Congress and the courts may provide for administrative procedures and have the power to review agencies for their observance of these procedures; but in no instance should Congress or the courts attempt to displace the judgment of the administrators with their own.

Article V. The judicial branch is responsible for two functions:
1. To preserve the procedural rights of citizens before all federal courts, state and local courts and administrative agencies, and
2. To apply the Fourteenth Amendment of the 1787 Constitution as a natural-law defense of all substantive and procedural rights.
The appellate courts shall exercise vigorous judicial review of all state and local government and court decisions, but in no instance shall the courts review the constitutionality of Congress’ grants of authority to the president or to the federal administrative agencies.

Article VI. The public interest shall be defined by the satisfaction of the voters in their constituencies. The test of the public interest is re-election.

Article VII. Article VI to the contrary notwithstanding, actual policymaking will not come from voter preferences or congressional enactments but from a process of tripartite bargaining between the specialized administrators, relevant members of Congress and the representatives of self-selected organized interests.

How did he do? How closely did he bring the form of his constitution to matches what actually happens?

Written by srojak

October 15, 2016 at 2:48 pm

The Informed Celebrity Test

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There are many celebrities who appear to be confused. They think that they have a pulpit to pronounce on economics and politics because their celebrity status gives them access, whether or not they actually have any backing for their opinions.

Celebrities do not have a monopoly on being ill-informed. However, they have an ability to be heard that ordinary private citizens do not enjoy. They have a ready platform to get their message out and attempt to influence others. This platform is not available to the rest of us.

To compensate for the access advantages a celebrity has over any other citizen, I offer this simple test for celebrities to take before they tell the rest of us how we ought to vote. The positions taken are not as important as the support offered for them.

  1. The Department of Labor has announced changes to the regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), to go into effect on 1 December 2016. Specifically, the earnings limit for salaried employees who must be paid overtime will be raised to $47,476/year, with an automatic adjustment every three years (at this writing, the limit is $23,660/year).
    1. Should a salaried employee receive overtime? Why or why not?
    2. What is the principle that guides your answer to the previous question?
    3. Under what constitutional authority is this change to the law being made?
    4. What are two regulations regarding labor and wages that the original FLSA, passed in 1938, established?
    5. Name two employer practices relating to wage payments for adult workers that used to occur before the 1930s and caused people to want federal labor law.
    6. The same change sets the income level of a “highly compensated employee” at $134,004/year, which is obtained by finding the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers across the nation. What multiple of that number did you make last year?
  2. The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case [558 U.S. 310] involves the regulation of political activity by organizations.
    1. The case was appealed when a lower court declined to provide injunctive relief to Citizens United. What was the Federal Election Commission doing that Citizens United sought an injunction to stop?
    2. What was the majority finding of the court?
    3. In the dissent authored by Justice Stevens, what differences between a corporation and a human person did he identify?
    4. Where do you put the boundary between free speech and “electioneering communication”? Does it matter who is doing the speaking? Explain.
    5. How does Congress direct and control the actions of the Federal Election Commission, including assertion of accountability by commissioners for their actions?
  3. The Kelo v. City of New London case [545 U.S. 469] involved a particular use of eminent domain by the City of New London, CT.
    1. What was the twist on eminent domain particular to this case?
    2. What was the majority opinion?
    3. In the dissent written by Justice O’Connor, what was her point?
    4. Must there be a public use to be a public purpose? Why or why not?
  4. There have been various public discussions this year as to whether one or the other of the major party candidates is unqualified to be President.
    1. What are the qualifications given by the Constitution for a President?
    2. What other qualifications would you assert? On what grounds?
  5. The US national debt is, at the time of this writing, $19.6 trillion.
    1. What is the difference between the debt and the budget deficit?
    2. About 88% of the federal budget is consumed by six major items. Name four.
    3. What are the three ways available to finance government operations?
    4. Do we ever have to pay down the debt? Could we just keep running it up for the foreseeable future? Explain.
    5. The Federal government has the exclusive authority to coin money? Could the government just print its way out of debt? Why or why not?
    6. If the Federal government just repudiated the debt, what would happen? Who would be affected?
  6. In most elections, including this one, there have been discussions about what the candidates will do to create jobs.
    1. What direct authority does the President have to create jobs?
    2. What means are available to the President to influence the creation of jobs?
    3. In the 1930s, several programs were created to put people to work during the Great Depression, most notably the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Do you think such programs could be used to effectively reduce unemployment on a permanent basis? Why or why not?

You have all the time you need.

Written by srojak

October 13, 2016 at 8:38 pm