Archive for July, 2016

Is It Safe?

July 30, 2016

Leviathan of Hobbes

Is it safe?

All I can think is Sir Laurence Olivier offering oil of clove to Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man after jamming a dental pick into a cavity – even his henchman had to turn away – after asking that question.

That is the question I ask myself as the 2016 presidential election unfolds. Rights and freedoms are are being buried in a campaign of innuendo and factless smear.  We were taught our founders created a nation built on the writings of the great Enlightenment thinkers (unless you’re from Texas, where textbooks have that tidbit edited out).  Starting with Thomas Hobbes who began a century long conversation on how government should work. This dialog includes such great thinkers as Rousseau, Locke, Voltaire, and Montesquieu – all refining the idea of government and natural rights. Their writings inspired our writings – our Declaration, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights.  

What were the major concerns of those writers and our founders? Balancing individual freedoms while creating a government for protection. It began with Hobbes rejecting the divine right of kings and suggesting we willingly give up all our freedoms to one all-powerful leader who would keep us safe. This evolved into Rousseau’s idea that we should only give our freedoms to each other creating “We, the People.” Rousseau’s ideal of a direct democracy becomes Madison’s practical republic, rebuking most of Hobbes’ writing (except for his concept of man being a selfish asshole if left to his own devices).

Over the past nearly two and a half centuries, this system has worked reasonably well in the U.S. with some glaring exceptions (think slavery, Civil War, the Japanese internment). It has slowly refined itself and grown to accept the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and LGBTQ movement; closing in on the promise of all being created equal with certain unalienable rights.

Now, nearly 400 years after Hobbes, we have a candidate who is running on the Leviathan* platform and leaving the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason behind. Trust him, he’ll fix everything all by himself. He’ll self fund his campaign while raising money through emails and online pledges. He’ll protect our religious freedoms by knowing your religion before he allows you to enter our country. He uses his freedom of speech to bully and belittle those who speak against him. He promises to protect the freedom of the press by threatening lawsuits and refusing to credential journalists who question him. Just give him your vote and trade in the ideals of the  Enlightenment for a great wall of safety.

This spring we traveled to Italy and the first thing we were asked by the man who arranged to get us to our hotel was how was it possible a person like Trump could be so close to winning the nomination. It is now summer and Trump has the nomination and we are vacationing in Quebec, Canada. The topic that keeps coming up is possibility of Trump actually getting elected and did anyone seriously think this was a good idea. I wince when I tell them yes – many Americans do. They all look at me in horror. America will elect Trump to the most powerful position in the world? Ashamed, I have to turn away.

Is it safe? Can the world absorb a Trump presidency? Can our already strained republic overcome its base, nativist underbelly? Does anyone have a giant vat of clove oil?

 

*In the Leviathan the English writer, Thomas Hobbes, said the only way for us to be safe is to give up our freedoms to a badass Chuck Norris-like leader because man’s natural state is that of constant war – making life “nasty, brutish and short.” This leader would need to be so terrifying that no one would dare incur his wrath. Enemies from outside would keep their distance fearing his deadly roundhouse kick and those inside would avoid any and all commotion to save themselves from a righteous spinning back fist. With a leader like that, Hobbes reasoned, people could then go about their day in complete safety building businesses, creating infrastructure, growing a society for the next generation. He had a major flaw in his reasoning. The leader would be a human and humans are a greedy lot (which Hobbes acknowledged).

Hobbes is one of the early Enlightenment writers during the Age of Reason, a time when superstition was swept aside, replaced by a belief in logic and reason. Provable facts, able to be verified and refined, were the touchstone in that age – not so much this one.

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Oh, What Tangled Webs We Weave…

July 6, 2016

“Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges.”

FBI Director James B. Comey

Let the conspiracy theorists begin to weave a new web. FBI Director James B. Comey slapped Hillary Clinton for being “extremely careless” but refrained from urging prosecution. My Facebook feed is full of memes like:


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People are mad. People see a politician getting away with something they are convinced they would be jailed for doing. They are probably not wrong.

The best example is that of Bryan Nishimura, a Navy reservist deployed in Afghanistan who transferred classified files from government computers to his own devices. He was sentenced to two years of probation and a $7,500 fine, and was ordered to surrender his security clearance. He is barred from seeking a future security clearance. We can debate intent and scale, but I see this and Hillary Clinton’s case as somewhat similar. Both removed classified materials from government secure sources.

But I have to cry foul for the General Petraeus and Edward Snowden comparisons I’m seeing. The only similarity is the involvement of classified information. Petraeus gave notebooks containing notes from national security meetings, the identities of covert officers and more classified documents to his mistress/biographer. Mr Snowden copied and leaked numerous secret global surveillance programs run by National Security Agency. Both gave classified information to the media to advance their own purposes.

Hillary Clinton and Bryan Nishimura transferred information to their own devices for their own convenience. So why isn’t the FBI recommending the AG go after Clinton the same way they went after Nishimura? Is the fix in? Do the Clintons’ wield so much power that the Republican FBI director is afraid to go after them?

This is where the conspiracy theorists and I will part company. I believe Comey when he says:

I know there will be intense public debate in the wake of this recommendation, as there was throughout this investigation. What I can assure the American people is that this investigation was done competently, honestly, and independently. No outside influence of any kind was brought to bear.

I know there were many opinions expressed by people who were not part of the investigation—including people in government—but none of that mattered to us. Opinions are irrelevant, and they were all uninformed by insight into our investigation, because we did the investigation the right way. Only facts matter, and the FBI found them here in an entirely apolitical and professional way.

The evidence was gathered, a timeline created and carelessness and poor decisionmaking by Hillary Clinton was uncovered. Those are the facts as revealed by the FBI’s director. I believe his claim this was apolitical. His recommendation, however was not.

Comey is no fool. He wasn’t looking at bottom of the totem pole government employees like Mr Nishimura for comparative cases. He was looking at former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. Both maintained private email accounts and staffs also handled emails similarly to Mrs Clinton and her staff. If he recommended going after one then he would open a Pandora’s box of prosecution for the others, the beginning of an Armageddon for American politics and we would spend the next few years with special prosecutors, more name calling and more division.  And more nothing getting done in Washington.

Comey’s recommendation was pragmatic. In that light, his assessment that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring the case makes sense. Not conspiracy, just reality.

 

Sources:

https://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/statement-by-fbi-director-james-b.-comey-on-the-investigation-of-secretary-hillary-clintons-use-of-a-personal-e-mail-system

https://www.fbi.gov/sacramento/press-releases/2015/folsom-naval-reservist-is-sentenced-after-pleading-guilty-to-unauthorized-removal-and-retention-of-classified-materials

For those who want to compare Hillary Clinton’s claims versus the FBI’s findings here is a link:

http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/ap-fact-check-hillary-clinton-email-claims-collapse-under-fbi-n604526