An Open Letter to the Leading Democrat in the House

As foreign diplomats and business people begin funneling cash to the President-Elect by taking rooms and scheduling events at T—p’s new Washington hotel (see “kleptocracy”), someone shared the following letter with me. It’s addressed to Nancy Pelosi, the current leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives.

I am writing to you on the assumption that you will continue to be leader of the Democratic members of the House of Representatives, and am urging you and the Democratic Caucus to immediately start drafting Articles of Impeachment for our presumptive President, Vice President, and other executive positions subject to impeachment.

Like many Americans, I am deeply troubled by the results of the November election. Assuming the lobbying of the Electoral College comes to naught and we do end up with this amazingly unqualified individual as President, my feeling is that everyone should do whatever they can to minimize damage to the country during his tenure.

Impeachment of executive branch officials, both elected and appointed, is the domain of the House of Representatives. There is surely zero chance that Articles of Impeachment drafted by the Democratic Caucus would pass the Judiciary Committee. But I do believe a steady stream of draft impeachment documents presented to the committee would help keep the incompetence of the Executive Branch and its appointments in the public eye. Even if the majority party does not allow draft Articles of Impeachment to come under committee consideration, their existence and content can still be publicized.

When considering the President and Vice President, and the people who are being named for other positions subject to impeachment, there is no doubt in my mind that it would be no trouble to create a steadily growing list of impeachable offenses for several years to come.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Meanwhile, a few Republicans in the Electoral College can still interfere with the monster’s journey to the White House. 

Good News for a Change (We May Have Finally Hit Bottom)

Maybe it was the insane spectacle of a TV morning show host much more interested in Hillary Clinton’s emails than 100 other possible topics during a nationally broadcast interview that was supposed to deal with national security and who should command the most powerful military in the world. Maybe it was the realization that her dangerously unqualified opponent might win in November if the media keeps treating him as if he’s a normal candidate and a normal person.

But the editorial board of the influential Washington Post finally concluded that “the Hillary Clinton email story is out of control”. The editorial is here.

Of course, so is the Clinton Foundation story. Although the Clinton Foundation presents the possibility of conflicts of interest, the Trump Foundation is a scheme by which Trump takes credit for giving away other people’s money and uses “charitable contributions” to buy crap for himself and operate a political slush fund.  A Washington Post reporter, David Fahrenthold, has been telling that story in articles like thisthisthis and this. A representative quote:

For months, The Washington Post has been looking for evidence to back up a key claim Donald Trump makes about himself: that, in recent years, he has given millions of dollars to charity out of his own pocket. There is no evidence of that in the files of Trump’s nonprofit, the Donald J. Trump Foundation. And Trump has not released his tax returns, which would detail his recent charitable giving.

In an effort to find proof of Trump’s personal giving, The Post has contacted more than 250 charities with some ties to the GOP nominee….

So far, The Post‘s search has turned up little. Between 2008 and this May [2016] — when Trump made good on a pledge to give $1 million to a veterans’ group — its search has identified just one personal gift from Trump’s own pocket.

If you have any information about a charitable gift given by Donald Trump, please email fahrenthold@washpost.com.

Only Some Professional Writers Are Professional

Of course, I’m not one of them, if only because I’m not getting paid. You might see an occasional advertisement on this blog (I never do – they just remind me that you guys might), but not a dime comes my way. In fact, I’m paying WordPress more than seven cents a day just to keep whereofonecanspeak.com reasonably operational. 

But back to my topic: If you can stand it, Fred Kaplan of Slate has an excellent little summary of the email situation: “The Hillary Email Scandal Was Totally Overblown”. The whole thing is here. The “top comment” says “this is the most level-headed piece I’ve read on the email ‘scandal'”.

To quote one little bit, this is Mr. Kaplan writing about Patrick Healy, the New York Times reporter who produced a “news analysis” article in the form of an attack ad that Trump can use if he ever runs out of insults:

And yet, here is New York Times political reporter Patrick Healy, in a front-page news analysis, paraphrasing Comey’s rebuke of the current presumptive Democratic candidate for president: The FBI director, Healy wrote, “basically just called her out for having committed one of the most irresponsible moves in the modern history of the State Department.” I defy anyone to pore through the most scathing passages of Comey’s remarks and find anything that remotely resembles this description.

Wow. I would have thought that Hillary using a private email server couldn’t possibly make the list of irresponsible Secretary of State “moves” that includes things like Colin Powell selling Bush’s invasion of Iraq. But I’m not a professional writer like Patrick Healy.

Fortunately, neither is Fred Kaplan.

The Director of the F.B.I. Adds His Two Cents

I wasn’t surprised when James Comey, head of the F.B.I., announced that Hillary Clinton would not face criminal charges as a result of her email practices. But I was relieved. There was always the possibility that Comey, a Republican, might complicate the election by calling for an indictment. So it was good news when Comey said:

….no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case…. In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts.

That could have been the end of the matter. The F.B.I.’s job was to determine the facts and make a recommendation to the Attorney General. In this case, the recommendation was: “No prosecution is called for”.

But Comey had much more to say that morning (actually he had 2,300 words to say in his prepared statement). In an attempt at explanation, he included this preamble:

This will be an unusual statement in at least a couple ways. First, I am going to include more detail about our process than I ordinarily would, because I think the American people deserve those details in a case of intense public interest. Second, I have not coordinated or reviewed this statement in any way with the Department of Justice or any other part of the government. They do not know what I am about to say.

As you’ve probably heard, Comey then went into some detail about what the F.B.I. found. He also strongly criticized Clinton for being careless with national security (although no actual breach of national security was detected) and offered critiques of some of Clinton’s statements.

Immediately, what seemed like a good day for Clinton seemed like a very bad day. Reporters and pundits repeated Comey’s language about carelessness and drew conclusions about the negative effects the F.B.I. director’s remarks would have. One reporter for the New York Times went so far as to write a theoretical attack ad for Trump’s campaign. It was presented on the front page of the Times as “news analysis”.

Since then, of course, the Republicans have strongly criticized Comey’s recommendation that Clinton not be prosecuted. And other facts have come out. For example, it turns out that some of the information that was labeled “classified” shouldn’t have been, according to the State Department, and that the labeling wasn’t done according to the rules in a clearly visible way.

Compared to the other issues we’re confronting, and considering who Clinton is running against, it’s possible that the email issue will fade away as the election approaches and our ballots are finally cast. (I’ve always thought this story was mainly interesting because it demonstrates how too much information is “classified” by overzealous government employees.) Nevertheless, after the initial blast of “analysis”, I saw an article and a letter to the editor that characterized Comey’s two-thousand-word statement in an interesting way.

The article in The Washington Post was written by a former director of the Justice Department’s public affairs office. It’s called “James Comey’s Abuse of Power” and is worth quoting at length:

When FBI Director James B. Comey stepped to the lectern to deliver his remarks about Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, he violated time-honored Justice Department practices for how such matters are to be handled, set a dangerous precedent for future investigations and committed a gross abuse of his own power.

…his willingness to reprimand publicly a figure against whom he believes there is no basis for criminal charges should trouble anyone who believes in the rule of law and fundamental principles of fairness.

Justice Department rules set clear guidelines for when it is appropriate for the government to comment about individuals involved in an ongoing investigation, which this matter was until prosecutors closed it Wednesday. Prosecutors and investigators can reassure the public that a matter is being taken seriously, and in some rare cases can provide additional information to protect public safety, such as when a suspect is loose and poses a danger.

And when the department closes an investigation, it typically does so quietly, at most noting that it has investigated the matter fully and decided not to bring charges.

These practices are important because of the role the Justice Department and FBI play in our system of justice. They are not the final adjudicators of the appropriateness of conduct for anyone they investigate. Instead, they build cases that they present in court, where their assertions are backed up by evidence that can be challenged by an opposing party and ultimately adjudicated by a judge or jury.

In a case where the government decides it will not submit its assertions to that sort of rigorous scrutiny by bringing charges, it has the responsibility to not besmirch someone’s reputation by lobbing accusations publicly instead. Prosecutors and agents have followed this precedent for years.

In this case, Comey ignored those rules to editorialize about what he called carelessness by Clinton and her aides in handling classified information, a statement not grounded in any position in law. He recklessly speculated that Clinton’s email system could have been hacked, even while admitting he had no evidence that it was. This conjecture, which has been the subject of much debate and heated allegations, puts Clinton in the impossible position of having to prove a negative in response….

While Clinton shouldn’t have received special treatment, she does not deserve worse treatment from her government than anyone else, either. Yet by inserting himself into the middle of a political campaign and making unprecedented public assertions, that is exactly what Comey provided.

Finally, a professor of legal ethics at the New York University school of law wrote this letter to The Times:

James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, was out of line in holding a press briefing to deliver his verdict on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server. The F.B.I. investigates crime and reports its findings and recommendations to federal prosecutors, who then decide whether to seek indictments.

The F.B.I. is neither judge nor jury. And it certainly has no business characterizing the noncriminal conduct of subjects of investigation, as Mr. Comey did. Cops, even top cops, should not play this role.

While it may gratify the country to hear Mr. Comey’s independent views on the server controversy, his press briefing sets a bad precedent that can harm the fair administration of justice. Few people under investigation have the resources Mrs. Clinton has to defend herself….

Once a decision is made not to indict, a prosecuting agency should say nothing more. Its job is to prosecute crime, and if there is no crime, it should remain silent.

My conclusion is that Comey’s statement was unusual in a way he didn’t think to mention, i.e., it was wrong for him to make it.

The Metaphysics and Ethics of Relativism by Carol Rovane

I would have to read this book at least one more time in order to feel confident about summarizing the conclusions the author reaches. However, here’s my impression after reading it once. As I understand her aims, Carol Rovane wants to clearly explain what relativism is with respect to science and ethics, and then determine whether we should endorse relativism with respect to either of those domains.

She begins by criticizing what she calls “the prevailing, consensus view” of relativism, which she says relies on the idea of disagreement. This is the idea that relativism arises “with a certain kind of disagreement that is said to be, first of all, ‘irresoluble’ [i.e. unsolvable], but also, second, ‘irresoluble’ for the specific reason that both parties are right” [15-16]. Rovane prefers defining relativism in terms of alternatives, which may or may not involve disagreement, and which are themselves explainable in terms of “normative insularity”.

According to Rovane, relativists believe that some alternative views in science or ethics are cut off from other scientific or ethical views. Logic neither “mandates, licenses or prohibits” inferences between them, so two people can hold alternative views about science or ethics and logic has nothing to say about the alternatives [94]. It’s as if, metaphorically speaking, people can occupy different scientific or ethical worlds. Non-relativists, on the other hand, believe that all truth bearers are logically related, either directly or indirectly. My scientific views aren’t insulated from your scientific views, and your ethical views aren’t insulated from mine. We all occupy the same scientific world and the same ethical world.

Rovane goes so far as to label the non-relativist and relativist positions in terms of how many “worlds” they mandate. What she calls “unimundialism” is the non-relativistic view that there is only one world (in which there is no “normative insularity” between propositions in science or ethics). “Multimundialism” is the relativistic view that there are many worlds (in which there is “normative insularity” between some scientific or ethical propositions). 

I think the conclusion she reaches is that scientific theories apply to a single world, so it’s best not to think of science in unimundial or non-relativistic terms. Reality is one, so alternative scientific theories can’t be equally correct. But unlike scientists, who all study the same world, people grow up and live their daily lives in various social conditions. These social conditions help determine which behavior is morally correct for them. Rovane thinks it’s fair to say, therefore, metaphorically speaking, that people inhabit different ethical worlds depending on their particular social conditions. Hence, multimundialism or relativism is an acceptable view with respect to ethics.

To help justify her relativistic conclusion regarding ethics, Rovane asks us to imagine two women. One woman was brought up in Europe or America and accepts the ethical importance of autonomy, i.e. every individual’s right to make their way in the world according to their own needs and desires while respecting the needs and desires of other people. The other woman was brought up in a village in India and sincerely believes she has an ethical obligation to obey her parents, even if it means giving up her right to pursue her own needs and desires.  Rovane argues that these two women live in very different ethical worlds. Their societies are so different when it comes to ethical issues that each woman is acting ethically, even though they are following very different paths and choosing to obey very different ethical principles.