Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦 🇺🇦 🇺🇦

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I Intend To Never Mention This Again

Whitewater. Her emails. Our latest fake scandal can’t possibly generate as much bullshit as those two. Nevertheless, it’s worth being reminded of a few simple facts. Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine does the reminding with “Biden’s Document Blunder Is Nothing Like Trump’s Crime”:

The sweet spot for D____ T____’s allies has always been when they can justify his abuses and crimes through misdirected comparisons rather than direct defense. Did T____ extort Ukraine into smearing his opponent? Well, Ted Kennedy once did something kind of like this. Did T____ try to stay in office after losing the election? Maybe so, but let us tell you about the time a Democrat registered an objection to the Electoral College count in Congress.

The key aspect of these arguments is exaggeration, not fabrication. They seize on real events, often genuinely bad things done by other politicians, then use them as pretext to dismiss actions by Trump of a vastly greater order of magnitude.

As many people have very neutrally pointed out, the news that President Biden held on to classified documents is pure manna for T____’s defenders. It gives them a set of facts to work with that, if examined without any of the important context, can be spun to the willfully credulous as evidence that these men have committed similar crimes.

“There’s no good case for putting a President in prison — much less making two Presidents into cellmates — for improperly retaining materials from recent public office,” intones The Wall Street Journal. “When Mr. T____ was out on a limb by himself, this point was less obvious to some of our media competitors. Now that Mr. Biden faces a similar inquiry, perhaps they see how ridiculous it is.”

But T____ is not potentially facing charges because he improperly took classified documents. It’s because when the government found out about the documents, he refused to give them back and — allegedly — took steps to hide them from the FBI. This is not a small twist on the same crime. It is the crime.

You might say, in T____s defense, that he had no underlying motive to hold on to the documents — that is, they didn’t contain any national-security secrets he planned to sell or incriminating information he wished to hoard. That is probably true. The motive instead seems to be that T____ does not believe the law applies to him.

This is how he has operated for his entire career. He cheats, lies, and steals in the expectation that he can brazen out any consequences. He can simply refuse to let Black people rent an apartment or pay contractors what he promised them or lie to his lenders about his worth, and whatever cost he faces will be worth it. The reason his document theft rose to the level of a federal crime was that he applied this method to behavior that is covered by the federal criminal code and handled by prosecutors he can’t necessarily bully or bribe into submission.

When T____’s allies moan about his supposedly unfair treatment, the distinction is hiding in plain sight of their complaints. “Where’s the raid? Where’s the pictures of the classified documents? Where’s the special counsel?” demands Jim Jordan.

“Why hasn’t the FBI raided Joe Biden’s home?” asks Dan Crenshaw.

The obvious answer is that Biden didn’t refuse to give back the documents. Indeed, his lawyers volunteered that they had the documents and turned them over immediately. There was nothing to raid.

If T____’s lawyers had informed the National Archives that he’d mistakenly taken classified documents, or even if they had responded to requests from the archives by turning them over, the FBI never would have been involved. The documents themselves would never have become a criminal matter if T____ had complied with the law. It became one because he flagrantly refused to follow the law, which happened because T____ is a criminal.

The whole thrust of T____ist propaganda has been to act as though normal politicians making normal blunders are criminals in order to justify handing the presidency to a lifelong crook. T____ is not a smart man but shrewd enough to comprehend that his party is fully invested in a narrative of Democratic evil that compels them to deem anything he’s done, however wrong or illegal, as no different than the actions of any other powerful man. If T____ shot somebody on Fifth Avenue, Republicans would start talking about [anything else].

Meanwhile, the deputy opinion editor of the Washington Post argued today that — although Biden’s situation is clearly different — the Department of Justice shouldn’t prosecute the former president/unindicted co-conspirator/lifelong con man and scofflaw, since the Department’s “credibility rests on being perceived to play fair” and millions of Republicans won’t think it’s fair that only their guy is prosecuted. The Post’s deputy opinion editor isn’t equally concerned about the credibility of a Department of Justice that doesn’t prosecute somebody for serious crimes because his supporters will be angry.

Heaping Mounds of B.S.

Yes, heaping mounds of bullshit.

Item 1:

Last month, The Hill reported that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) will begin considering health risks associated with gas stoves:

The U.S. agency in charge of making sure the country’s consumer products are safe will weigh regulations on new gas stoves, one of the board’s commissioners said on Wednesday.

Richard Trumka Jr., a commissioner on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), said during a virtual webinar on Wednesday that the commission will put out a formal request by March for information on hazards associated with gas stoves and possible solutions.

“This public request for information is the first step in what could be a long journey toward regulating gas stoves,” he said.

Trumpka is one of five commissioners who oversee the CPSC. He is the newest and least experienced commissioner, having served for only 13 months.

A reporter for Bloomberg News followed up with Mr. Trumpka a few days ago:

A federal agency says a ban on gas stoves is on the table amid rising concern about harmful indoor air pollutants emitted by the appliances. 

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission plans to take action to address the pollution, which can cause health and respiratory problems. 

“This is a hidden hazard,” Richard Trumka Jr., an agency commissioner, said in an interview. “Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”

Natural gas stoves, which are used in about 40% of homes in the US, emit air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter at levels the EPA and World Health Organization have said are unsafe and linked to respiratory illness, cardiovascular problems, cancer, and other health conditions, according to reports by groups such as the Institute for Policy Integrity and the American Chemical Society. Consumer Reports, in October, urged consumers planning to buy a new range to consider going electric after tests conducted by the group found high levels of nitrogen oxide gases from gas stoves. 

Mr. Trumpka’s remarks set off the usual wave of outrage from right-wing politicians and commentators, which can be paraphrased as “Those damn liberal bureaucrats will take away my gas stove over my cold, dead body”.

From the Los Angeles Times, yesterday morning:

The head of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said the agency isn’t planning a ban on gas stoves, days after one of his colleagues said a ban was one option under consideration — comments that ignited a political firestorm.

“I am not looking to ban gas stoves, and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so,” Alexander Hoehn-Saric said in a statement Wednesday.

The  commission is researching emissions from the appliances and looking for ways to reduce related indoor air-quality hazards, he said.

Trumpka made a statement that is technically true — the sale of new gas stoves could conceivably be halted in future years — although it’s much more likely the agency will issue regulations on their performance, sometime in the distant future. If you hear something to the effect that the government is going to ban gas stoves, consider the source and move on.

Item 2:  The Washington Post summarized what we know about the classified documents found at a Biden office and at one of his homes:

White House statement first said that “a small number of documents with classified markings” — said to be about 10 — were discovered on Nov. 2 by the president’s personal attorneys while vacating office space used by Biden from mid-2017, shortly after his vice presidency ended, to early 2020. They were found in files in a locked closet. The statement said the White House Counsel’s Office notified the National Archives that same day. The Archives took possession of the documents the following morning.

Then Biden’s lawyers conducted a search of Biden’s Delaware residences in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach. The White House said on Jan. 12 that a “small number” of additional documents with classified markings were found in the garage of the Wilmington residence; one page was found “among stored materials in an adjacent room.” No documents were found in Rehoboth Beach. All were turned over to the Justice Department, the White House said. Garland said the documents were found in the garage on Dec. 20 and the additional page was discovered on Jan. 12.

We don’t know what the documents were or what level of classification they had (“confidential”, “secret”, “top secret” or what amounts to top top secret, “special access”). We don’t know Biden’s personal involvement with the documents. What we do know is that so far there is no indication that anybody involved is at risk of prosecution.

Yet, Republican politicians and their media associates claim to be outraged. From U.S. News:

Rep. Andy Biggs, Texas Republican, said on Twitter that Biden “stole” the documents. “Biden stole classified documents and stored them at his think tank while he was VP…. And this “think tank” received $54 million in funding from the CCP,” Biggs said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party. “The Biden family highly concerns me. Joe, Hunter, and even ‘Dr.’ Jill. They are compromised and must be investigated.”

The news of the classified documents was featured prominently on prime-time conservative television. “So the question is, were those donors peering at the classified documents, the national security secrets that Joe Biden had been stashing at the fake think tank that [the University of Pennsylvania] set up for him?” Fox News host Tucker Carlson said on his show Monday night in a long segment about the disclosure.

“When will the FBI raid his home?” Rep. Troy Nehls, Texas Republican, asked on Twitter, referring to Biden.

From the Post article:

Do classified documents often show up in someone’s possession improperly? It happens all the time, according to Mark S. Zaid, a lawyer who defends people who have committed security violations. Someone retires or leaves a job, he or she packs up boxes — and then sometimes years later they discover they accidentally stored a classified document in their garage or attic. What happens next depends on how the person deals with the discovery.

In the vast majority of cases, Zaid said, the matter is handled administratively — security clearance is suspended, for example — especially if the incident was quickly reported, investigators determine no one else saw the documents, and the amount of lifted materials was not massive. He said “hoarders” — people without authorization who take a lot of classified documents — are the ones who get in trouble [but also people who resist giving them back].

In the T___ case, the Archives initially contacted the former president in May 2021 about missing documents. T___ resisted returning them. Then, when some boxes were returned a year ago, Archives officials discovered documents clearly marked classified, some at the  [“special access”] level. The classified documents were intermingled with printouts of news articles, mementos and other items. That triggered an investigation into possible mishandling of classified information.

The FBI, in seeking a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago for more documents, says the boxes contained 184 documents with classification markings: 67 marked confidential, 92 marked secret and 25 documents marked top secret.

In August [2022], when the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, they seized more than 100 additional documents marked classified, from the confidential to the top secret level. While most were found in a storage room, some were found in desk drawers in T____’s office….

Zaid said that if T____ had returned all the missing documents when the Archives first requested them, that would have been the end of the matter. It became a criminal matter “only because T____ and his lawyers delayed at first and then obstructed,” he said.

But doesn’t the appointment of a special counsel imply that this new development is a very serious matter?

No, the Department of Justice is supposed to appoint a special counsel if the “investigation … is warranted and that investigation … would present a conflict of interest for the Department or other extraordinary circumstances”. Some observers don’t think a special counsel is appropriate, but given the political context and news media interest in the case, perhaps it’s just as well that it’s being treated seriously. And there is an obvious conflict of interest between President Biden and a government department for which he is responsible. Given that the former president is being investigated for actual criminal behavior regarding classified documents, the circumstances also seem rather extraordinary.

Harry Frankfurt, a Columbia philosophy professor, once defined “bullshit” as “speech intended to persuade without regard to the truth. The liar cares about the truth and attempts to hide it; the bullshitter doesn’t care if what they say is true or false, but cares only whether the listener is persuaded [Wikipedia].

Mounds of bullshit. We should not be persuaded.

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