08. August 2018 · Categories: Noise, Politics

So, I read this argument that Hillary Clinton didn’t actually win the popular vote in 2016 because those 3 million extra votes she got all came from California, a state that supposedly allows and even encourages illegal immigrants to vote. Now, it takes a certain tenacity to cling to such an outrageous claim. But I did what I always try to do and investigated the matter on my own. It should be easy enough to figure out, right? I’m pretty sure that the immigrants who enter illegally KNOW they’ve broken a law, so there would have to be a very compelling reason for them to risk being caught just so they can cast a vote for the white lady. Something that compelling should be easy enough to see.

So, I started with California’s Secretary of State, Alex Padilla. His website makes it pretty clear that a voter would need either a California driver’s license, state ID or a Social Security number… But this is only enforced at registration, not at the polling place, unless an ID is NOT checked at registration time in which case, ID will be checked at the polling place… But this is only if the registration process that deferred verification was a first-time registration.

So… for the kind of people who insist Hillary was operating a child pornography ring under cover of a pizza parlor, this kind of loosey-goosey law leaves plenty of room for conspiracy theories. All anyone needs to do is point to the glaring fact that an ID isn’t required at the polling station except for the “first-time registration without ID” exception. That’s an easy headline. Still, if you really think the process through, you can see the integrity of the system.

Voters in California are registered and then notified which polling place to report to. So there is some control through that process, much like a bank sending a verification code to your phone and of course, your name won’t be on the list if you aren’t registered and even if you didn’t verify your identity when you registered, they can still check to see if you registered previously and if you didn’t, THEN the polling station needs to check; otherwise it can be assumed that you are a citizen due to the permanent nature of that status.

But… why not just check for ID at the polling station? Just as a safeguard? Well, because it’s kind of pointless when the majority of California voters mail in absentee ballots. So just maybe the registration process IS the right place to do all the vetting.

However… there is still that chance that someone finds out the name and Social Security number of someone else and votes before the real McCoy gets there. I believe both votes under the same identity would be disqualified, but I’m not sure. I found a website https://www.usa.gov that supports a chat agent. Cool, I’ll see if they can help me.

I asked if someone can vote if they use my name and social security number. They answered with…

Alexandria: We provide information on how to report voter fraud on the following link.
https://www.usa.gov/voting-laws#item-36047
4:40:53 PM

Alexandria: I hope the information I sent you helps. Do you have any more questions?
4:40:57 PM

Well, it didn’t really because a link to report voter fraud is only useful AFTER it happens. I was looking for the measures taken to PREVENT voter fraud. So, I thought I’d be a little more direct.

Me: I’m not a citizen… I’m just checking to see if I can slip in a vote. Apparently, I can as long as no one takes the time to report voter fraud.
4:42:02 PM

Alexandria: You cannot
4:43:00 PM

Alexandria: You can only be registered as a citizen
4:43:14 PM

Ugh… yes, I KNOW that… I’m not looking for the rules, I’m looking for the safeguards. So, sticking with the direct strategy…

Me: Again… what’s to stop me?
4:43:42 PM

Alexandria: We take all threats seriously. information about this chat session will be turned over to law enforcement authorities for further investigation.
4:43:48 PM

The agent has ended the chat

I didn’t get a chance to say anything more. I was literally cut off and left wondering if my name is now being passed around through law enforcement or worse. Maybe the direct strategy wasn’t such a bright idea, lol… I any case, I wasn’t able to find any safeguard against an illegal immigrant hijacking a citizen’s vote, but again, that would require the citizen that took the time to register to not be bothered with voting AND an illegal immigrant to have access to that citizen’s information AND risk being caught while committing fraud. Given these circumstances, 3 millions votes seems like a lot.

Article 1 Section 9 of the U.S.Constitution has proved to be a law, contrary to the actions of the most recent Republican presidents.

For instance, George W Bush suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus as applied to suspected terrorists picked up in various locations throughout the world. What does Article I, section 9 of the U.S. Constitution say about this?

Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution:
2: The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

So to remain “constitutional” the Bush Administration would have had to qualify the terrorist suspects as threats to public safety, which may have been an easy argument to make on the momentum of their “terrorists versus the world” narrative, but there was no clear recognition of any invasion or rebellion, which the Constitution makes very clear, is the context that matters.

But whether a president is constitutional or not seems to matter less to the Republican side of the increasing divide between Americans.

Today, we have another example as Trump continues to profit from his hotels, even encouraging foreign dignitaries to stay at his hotel in Washington DC. What does Article I, section 9 of the U.S. Constitution say about this?

Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution:

8: No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

So for Trump to remain “constitutional”, Congress will need to provide consent for Trump to profit from the foreign dignitaries that stay in his hotel. Until this happens, Trump will be exposed to the charge of violating the Constitution and indeed it appears the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia are doing just that.

The Trump Administration has appealed to the courts with the assertion that the profits come from an exchange of services provided and therefore cannot be counted as a “present”, “Emolument”, “office” or “title”. But while the profits are clearly not a present, or an office or a title, the question remains as to whether they qualify as an emolument.

The Trump Administration has approached the courts with the assertion that “emolument” means “gift”. Of course that would suggest redundancy in the language of the Constitution since another word for “gift” is “present” which is already included in the clause. But let’s break out the dictionary…

An emolument is defined by Webster-Merriam as:

1. the returns arising from office or employment usually in the form of compensation or perquisites
2. archaic: advantage

The first definition is clearly not the equivalent of “gift” but rather a description of “returns”… which is another word for “profit”.

The second definition is as broad as they come… “advantage”. It can certainly be said that Trump gains economic advantage when foreign dignitaries choose to stay at his hotel… unless the hotel room and all it’s services are provided to such dignitaries free of charge and even then the question would remain, would Trump’s business gain advantages in the form of historic significance and/or reputation? Fortunately, we don’t have to split that hair because the foreign dignitaries did NOT get free service, the foreign states that sent their diplomats paid Trump’s business for services.

And just in case anyone gets pedantic about Merriam-Webster’s “archaic” qualifier, it must be understood that Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution WAS written over two centuries ago.

Indeed, In his opinion, Judge Peter Messitte of the US District Court of Maryland sided with Maryland and Washington, DC’s definition of emolument as an “advantage.”

We know by now that the Trump administration isn’t one to accept the opinions of others, so we shouldn’t be surprised if they appeal to a higher court but it would be a shock to Americans if the highest courts capitulate to what I’m just going to call a ridiculous notion that an emolument can only be defined as a gift.

One more thing to point out about this particular clause is the emphasis on breadth of meaning… If you look at the language, you will notice the repeated use of the word “ANY” and the phrase “ANY kind WHATEVER”. This is not the language of narrow specifics; this is the emphatic language of inclusion… “No advantages of ANY KIND!!!!”

This is further enforced by the very purpose of the clause… to prevent Presidents from being tempted with foreign provided motives which can arrive in many forms, hence the use of a broadly defined word like emolument.

Violating the Constitution worked out OK for Bush because no one stepped up to actually prosecute him; probably because doing so would have been be a political risk given how little the American people know about obscure legal terms cloaked in Latin and how consumed they were about the “threat of terrorism”.

In contrast, I don’t see how Trump’s violation can possibly be construed as a matter of public safety or anything other than a personal gain. Trump may have to rely on the cult-like obsessions of the rabid-right to come out of this one. As long as he continues to attack liberals he can score points with liberal-haters and so long as these liberal-haters come close to 25% of the American people, there is a gaming chance that Trump will stay on top… Maybe with a little help from the Russians.

25. July 2018 · Categories: Analysis, Politics



 

Back in 2013 I posted a short opinion on the IRS scandal that was making headlines at the time, basically pointing out how ridiculous it is to call it a scandal at all. My basic argument then was that if political groups were trying to cheat on their taxes by applying for shelters that the law specifically states are not for political groups then the IRS is just doing it’s job.

I was amazed at the fact that while everyone involved admitted this was happening, conservatives nevertheless tried to create the narrative that they were being unfairly victimized. The basis for this rhetoric was that more conservative groups were being cited than liberal groups, which sounds a lot like the kid who was caught stealing a bike coming up with the excuse that other kids do it too so why is HE being victimized and not them? It was fucking stupid and it didn’t stop there.

House Republicans actually wanted to press charges for unfair treatment. Nice precedence… while we’re at it, let’s give convicted felons the right to sue their prosecutors for catching them and not the others criminals that got away. And if that wasn’t enough, the rabid-right was already pushing for Obama’s impeachment, saying that he must have known about the “scandal”.

Anyway, since I posted that opinion several investigations into the IRS came up empty-handed. James Comey, who led the FBI investigation told Fox News in 2016 that no evidence so far warranting the filing of federal criminal charges in connection with the controversy, as it had not found any evidence of “enemy hunting. On October 23, 2015, the Justice Department declared that no criminal charges would be filed. This was later enforced by an exhaustive report from the Treasury Department in September 2017 that shows from 2004 to 2013 the IRS was scrutinizing groups on all sides of the political spectrum. It turns out that more conservative groups were being caught simply because more conservative groups were cheating. Go figure.

At the time, I thought this was finally put to bed, at least legally. I knew that socially, entrenched conservatives would continue to prop the illusion; something I’ve come to learn doesn’t depend on facts as much as it does manufactured outrage.

But then in October of 2017, the Trump Administration, in a show of unbelievable partisanship, actually agreed to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 400 of those cheating conservative groups who claimed to be discriminated against for an undisclosed amount described by plaintiffs’ counsel as “very substantial”. That’s our tax money by the way, being awarded to tax-cheaters. Trump also settled a second lawsuit brought by 41 additional tax-cheating conservative groups with an apology and an admission that subjecting them to “heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays” was wrongful. I noticed there are no lawsuits from liberal groups.

Seriously, I can’t even imagine a more obvious capitulation to crime. First break the law, then sue the government for catching you, then get awarded by a corrupt president. Welcome to right-wing politics, I guess.

 

28. June 2018 · Categories: Analysis, Politics

Our republic is now in dire distress. I’m not just being dramatic about my distaste for Trump. This has been a long time coming. America has been in economic decline since we started hitting our resource peaks in the late 70’s but instead of working together as a nation to manage the problems, a class of plutocrats have devised a rhetorical division between Americans in which both sides blame the other for “destroying America” while the plutocrats themselves quietly cannibalize the republic for their private gains.

Not all Americans were fooled.

For three decades a class of politically educated Americans have held the plutocrats accountable but the plutocracy itself has responded by turning up their influence on less politically educated Americans through a steady stream of misinformation and emotional fever. As a result, enough of our population has become so agitated and delusional over the years that our democracy has literally become toxic. Trump is not only a result of this toxicity, but a symptom of later stages of this national sickness where developments like fascism have now become viable options for a power-hungry executive. Indeed, the current president has been fully engaged in efforts to infect the citizens with enough frenzy to completely disconnected them from the values that our republic was founded on.

Many of you will disagree with me, but I urge you to put aside your obsessions with demonized personalities and hateful stereotypes just for a moment and look at some of the boring details that never make it into mainstream media. Boring details like the actual changes in the law and actual rulings of the federal courts. These boring details are the real threat to Americans. So, be a sport and trade in one hour of Sean Hannity’s ranting for one hour of reading actual laws as they are written, or the opinions of the Supreme Court that explains their decisions. Try to understand them, not just whether or not the “other side” lost a battle, but how these decisions will actually impact YOU and your family.

For example, the recent Supreme Court ruling that allows companies to force workers to sign arbitration agreements. This 5-4 ruling means that as of now, a worker who signs such an agreement (in order to get the job) can’t take his employer to court for violating labor laws. That means a company CAN violate labor laws and the workers can’t do anything about it. As if that isn’t enough, the ruling also says that workers can no longer leverage collective bargaining in any arbitration case, effectively repealing the National Labor Relations Act that has been protecting workers since 1935. It doesn’t stop there… Congress also just killed a bill to protect consumers from forced arbitration regarding commercial contracts like bank accounts. This one was so questionable that Trump had to send Pence in to break the stalemate on the Senate floor.

Arbitration is essentially the privatization of justice. What we need to understand is that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t apply to the private sector. So that means that this privatized justice is literally cutting Americans off from the protection of the U.S. Constitution.

Now, to those who have ranted dramatically for years that the Constitution is being “destroyed”, may I remind you that the document hasn’t been touched since the 27th Amendment in 1992. But cutting people off from the  protection of the Constitution is actually happening right here, right now. So, let me ask you; how is the effect of cutting people off from the protection of the Constitution any different than destroying it?

Privatizing justice is only one example of the extreme behaviour of the current government… NONE of which is normal. I have never felt the situation was dire enough to hang the flag upside down. That is changing now and come this Independence Day, that is what I will be doing.

 

Some of you may have heard slight mutterings in the media regarding the recent Supreme Court decision that allows private companies to force their workers to sign mandatory arbitration agreements. It sounds pretty boring. Let me rephrase: The Supreme Court just gave private companies the power to treat their workers anyway way they want without any regard for federal, state or local laws.

The court decision was applied to three separate cases, all of which involved similar arguments where an employer violated state or federal labor laws. At least two of the cases involved an employers refusal to pay overtime as required by state laws. You would think this would be any easy one… If the law says they have to pay, they have to pay, right?

However, in all three cases, the employers simply refused to comply with these laws. OK, so this is where the employee takes the dispute to court, right?

Well in all three cases, the workers had signed arbitration agreements which according to the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 means that the employees have to duke it out with their employers in private arbitration. That basically means the employee and the employer sit down to work out a “deal”. Of course the employer always has the leverage, like… “do you want to keep your job?”. Without the protection of the law, they really don’t have any other leverage.

In 1935 this had become such a pressing problem that Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act, which provided the worker with the right to collectively arbitrate. In other words, in answer to that question about keeping a job the worker can now say, “do you want to keep producing?” Collective arbitration is what made the U.S. such a great place to work. You didn’t even need government regulation because entire crews can bargain with their employers on an equal footing.

But in recent years, some companies have started adding a clause to their arbitration agreements saying that workers can only arbitrate as individuals, not collectively. But isn’t that a violation of the National Labor Relations Act? Why, yes it is but underpaying workers is also a violation of law so why would this be any different? The challenge is finding a way to enforce the laws and to do that you have to take it to court, but wait… they CAN’T take it to court because of the arbitration agreement.

So in 2018, the four liberal members of the Supreme Court, while judging appeals, tried to make the case that the provision in the National Labor Relations Act to allow collective arbitration supersedes FAA’s command to enforce arbitration agreements. This was essentially the only path back to any kind of leverage a worker might have.

But the majority opinion, led by Neil Gorsuch, stated that the NLRA only provided the right to collectively bargain, not to supersede the FAA. The contention is that this interpretation is too literal, which does make sense… Think about it, Congress in 1935 obviously didn’t take in to consideration the possibility that a company would simply write a clause in their arbitration agreements that puts them beyond the reach of very law they were enacting.

Nevertheless, all three cases were decided on a soft argument that because 77 years passed from the enactment of the NLRA to the first case where it was used to challenge the FAA, the legitimacy of the challenge is “doubtful”. The conservatives took the “when in doubt go with what is clear” option, saying that the FAA clearly forces arbitration, with no option to appeal. Then they took a quick lean on the “don’t legislate from the bench” argument, even admitting that while the decision may not result in the best policy, a different decision would require a different law.

So from a technical stand point, I can understand the decision but from a moral stand point it’s pretty disappointing, especially given how “arguable” the decision is and how significant the impact will be.

20. May 2018 · Categories: Uncategorized

A recent poll question sponsored by USA Today/Suffolk University has caused quite a stir in the media…

President Trump has called the Special Counsel’s investigation a ‘witch hunt’ and said he’s been subjected to more investigations than previous presidents because of politics. Do you agree?

Unless they are tuned for detecting bullshit, poll respondents will not always notice that this is a loaded question. This should always be suspect when the question is a simple yes or no reference to a separate sentence that actually says two different things. So what are we agreeing with? That the investigation is a ‘witch hunt’ or that Trump has been subjected to more investigations than previous presidents? What if you don’t agree that the investigation is a witch hunt but recognize the fact that Trump has been under more investigations than previous presidents?

The poll leaves no room for specific answers and instead asks for only one simple “yes” or “no”. Another key to this technique is to base the “convincing” statement on facts. At this point in time, there are no measurable ways to qualify Trump’s assumption that the investigation is a witch hunt, yet the number of investigations into presidents past and present is a matter of fact and people respond more readily to information that they can recognize as such. So it’s a question that uses a factual statement to solicit a “yes” answer that gives a piggy-back ride to a non-factual statement that by itself might not have encouraged the same response.

But this isn’t where the trickery stops.

It’s hard to imagine that when USA Today partnered with Suffolk University, they weren’t thinking ahead to publishing the results. Sometimes that can add another level to the deception, the misleading headline. Here’s how it looked on USA Today…

Poll: Half of Americans say Trump is victim of a ‘witch hunt’ as trust in Mueller erodes

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/03/18/trust-mueller-investigation-falls-half-americans-say-trump-victim-witch-hunt/3194049002/

There is also this one from the National-Review, referencing the same poll…

Poll: 50 Percent Say Mueller Investigation Is ‘Witch Hunt’

https://www.nationalreview.com/news/poll-50-percent-say-mueller-investigation-is-witch-hunt/

Notice how in both headlines, the factual statement about the number of investigations completely disappeared? The job of that statement is done, it got “yes” answers from 50% of the respondents but it’s obviously the other statement that gets all the attention in the headline.

So nice job USA Today,

 

In recent years, a war over social justice as been raging in the IT industry and one battleground in this war appears to be the codes of conduct that organizations sometimes ask their workers to comply with.

Business Insider just published an article describing one skirmish in particular.

This story tells of a contributor to the LLVM project who left because he had a political conflict with their new code of conduct. And the way I see it, the article also illustrates how people just need to get a grip. There’s nothing wrong with a code of conduct that sets the expectation that people will be nice to each other unless they have a personal problem with being nice, in which case… Who need’s them?

Sometimes, dissenters appeal to the moral grounds of freedom and find fault with trying to force people to be accepting, but that seems a bit over the top to me, especially compared to the long-standing existence of other policies like dress-codes that are no less intrusive yet receive comparatively little blow-back. Indeed, complaining about having to be nice to others is no more ridiculous than complaining that you can’t come to work in your pajamas. Both policies do in fact obstruct your total freedom, but so does the simple act of sharing a world with others.

Often times, the opposition to a code of conduct is really about something else. Rafael Avila de Espindola, for instance, is described in the article as the developer who left the LLVM project due to his personal conflict with the project’s new code of conduct but when you look at his reasoning, as he explained them, we can see that he is more generally pissed off what he calls the “Social INjustice Movement”.

(full story here)

The little play on words… ‘seems common vernacular among those who have been harboring extreme political hangups. Indeed, according to Avila, “the last drop” was the association LLVM was establishing with an organization called Outreachy (I want to talk about that name, but I won’t), that offers paid internships to people in groups that are considered to be underrepresented. Avila describes them as “an organization that openly discriminates based on sex and ancestry”.

Well, of course they do… When the industry in general discriminates one way based on sex and ancestry, a common response is to counter with discrimination the other way based on the sex and ancestry. Condemning them for doing so is no less ridiculous than condemning someone for using violence to defend himself against violence. At least in my opinion.

And it’s then it’s LLVM’s job to interview the candidate interns and further discriminate based on experience, ability and willingness.

I can’t even begin to imagine how to gauge the benefits and consequences of countering one type of discrimination with another type of discrimination but we don’t need to… and that’s pretty much my point. The association with Outreachy has nothing to do with the code of conduct Avila was refusing to accept; for him, the code of conduct is probably more a symbolic representation of the social justice movement as a whole, which I guess is OK on some level but not so much when you’re actually making false accusations.

Avila very clearly stated that through the code of conduct “the community tries to welcome people of all ‘political belief’. Except those whose political belief mean that they don’t agree with the code of conduct.”

Which would be what? The political belief that we shouldn’t expect people to be nice to each other?

Here’s the code of conduct that Avila has such contention with.

  • be friendly and patient
  • be welcoming
  • be considerate
  • be respectful
  • be careful in the words that you choose and be kind to others
  • when we disagree, try to understand why.

Seriously Raphael?

Continuing to express my concerns in a meaningful way… This letter went out to the 11th Congressional District Representative Mark DeSaulnier and to my two Senators, Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris. 


Dear Mr. DeSaulnier ,

I just learned about a congressional procedure that’s been called “strip and insert”, where a bill that is focused on one issue is passed through one or more points of approval, such as a vote in the House or Senate and then the issue of focus is stripped out and replaced with an entirely different issue without changing the approval status of the bill. In the Indiana Assembly this is happening to HR1214, which was designed to allow for the sale and possession of CBD oil for medicinal use and having been approved by both chambers the references to CBD oil is being “stripped” out while new references to guns are being inserted.

The excuse lawmakers have is that another bill, SB52 is already well on it’s way to legalizing the sale and possession of CBD oil, making HR1214 a redundant effort. The problem that concerns me is that once HR1214, was determined to be unnecessary to the cause of legalizing CBD oil, it wasn’t destroyed. Instead, the bill in it’s current state of approval was kept around so that other lawmakers can pick it up and make it about something else, such as allowing the sale and possession of guns.

I’m not so concerned about CBD oil or guns in Indiana… HB1214 is just an example. My concern is that lawmakers are allowed to use this process to bypass due-process by using a bill that was already approved for something else, thereby allowing them to effectively pass laws without representation.

Please consider a new law that will prohibit this decidedly undemocratic practice. I believe the American people are asking for more honest and upfront representation and to that end there seems little choice but to stop these games.
Thank you,

Nigel Deans
Concord, CA.


I first learned about Indiana’s HR1214 through this article by Bob Segall for WTHR.