Brexit: Unicorn-Sniffing Naifs Deprived of Their Future

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As you surely know, Britain voted to Brexit the European Union yesterday, confounding predictions and setting off a great deal of uncertainty.

One detail people are focusing most closely on is the age differential shown in a YouGov exit poll. It showed that voters 18-24 voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. “The younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries,” a widely linked FT comment laid out. “We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied.”

That Millennial sentiment, and the overwhelming support for Remain, has been celebrated as wise by the punditocracy — and it probably is.

But the same people celebrating this Millennial view — one that embraced tolerance and opportunity — often as not attacked the overwhelming support by American Millennials for Bernie Sanders. That disproportionate support, coming from a much smaller part of the electorate but by very similar margins, was deemed a naive belief in empty promises (promises, of course, that largely resembled adopting the policies that the EU used to and in some places still represents).

I suspect the reality is that, on top of a real cosmopolitanism among younger people, both votes were just a vote for perceived self-interest, no more or less wise than the votes of their older, less cosmopolitan parents.

Still, those celebrating the UK’s Millennials for their wisdom might give some consideration as to why the underlying cosmopolitanism and interest in European style social policies of the young would be the perceived self-interest of the young on both sides of the pond.

Monday Morning: Scattered

That’s how I feel this morning — my head feels like a bunch of scattered pictures lying on my bedroom floor. Can’t tell how much of this sensation is work hangover from a too-busy weekend, or a result of a themeless news morning.

Often as I browse my feeds I find narratives emerge on their own, bubbling up on their own. Today? Not so much. There are too many topics in flight, too many major stories juggled, too many balls in the air, everything’s a blur.

The biggest stories adrift and muddled are those in which elections are central:

  • U.S. primary season wrap-up and the general election ahead — and I’m not going to touch this topic with a 20-foot pole. Imma’ let better writers and statisticians handle it without me piling on.
  • The Philippines election — the leading candidate is alleged to encourage urban vigilante death squads to reduce crime.
  • Brexit — Britain votes on a referendum next month on whether to exit the EU. Brexit played a role in the election last week of London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, who also happens to be London’s first Muslim mayor.
  • Australia’s double-dissolution election — PM Malcolm Turnbull last week announced both the House of Representatives and the Senate would be dissolved and replaced in an election on July 2nd. Turnbull faces replacement depending on which party amasses the most power during the election. There have only been seven double dissolutions since Australia’s federation under its constitution in 1901.

Anyhoo…here’s some miscellaneous flotsam that caught my eye in today’s debris field.

  • Number of unique mobile device users: 5 BILLION (Tomi Ahonen) — Do read this blog post, the numbers are mind-boggling. And intelligence agencies want to map and store ALL of the communications generated by these numbers?
  • Browser company Opera just went after iOS market with VPN offering (PC World) — Opera already announced a free VPN to Windows and Linux users; today it targeted Apple users with a VPN for iOS (do note the limited country availability). Don’t feel left out, Android users, you’ll get a VPN offering from Opera soon.
  • Swarm of earthquakes detected at Mount St. Helens (KOMO) — The eight-week-long swarm has been likened to those in 2013 and 2014 due to fault slippage. An eruption may not be imminent.
  • Jihadi Gang Warfare (@thegruq at Medium) — A really good read about the Islamic militant gang in Brussels and how their amateurishness prevented even greater bloodshed in both Paris and Brussels. Unfortunately a primer on how not to do urban terror.
  • Google isn’t just feeding romance novels to its AI to teach it language (Le Monde) — ZOMG, it’s using them to teach it morals, too! That’s what Le Monde reported that Buzzfeed didn’t.

    Valeurs morales

    Deux chercheurs de Georgia Tech, Mark Riedl et Brent Harrison, vont encore plus loin. Selon eux, la littérature peut inculquer des valeurs morales à des programmes d’intelligence artificielle. « Nous n’avons pas de manuel rassemblant toutes les valeurs d’une culture, mais nous avons des collections d’histoires issues de ces différentes cultures », expliquent-ils dans leur article de recherche publié en février.

    «Les histoires encodent de nombreuses formes de connaissances implicites. Les fables et les contes ont fait passer de génération en génération des valeurs et des exemples de bons comportements. (…) Donner aux intelligences artificielles la capacité de lire et de comprendre des histoires pourrait être la façon la plus efficace de les acculturer afin qu’elles s’intègrent mieux dans les sociétés humaines et contribuent à notre bien-être.»

    Moral values

    Two researchers from Georgia Tech, Mark Riedl and Brent Harrison, go even further. They believe literature can inculcate moral values in artificial intelligence programs. “We have no manual containing all the values of a culture, but we have collections of stories from different cultures,” they explain in their research article published in February.

    “The stories encode many forms of implicit knowledge. Fables and tales were passing generation to generation the values and examples of good behavior. (…) Giving artificial intelligence the ability to read and understand stories may be the most effective way to acculturate them so they can better integrate into human society and contribute to our well-being.”

    Gods help us, I hope they didn’t feed the AI that POS Fifty Shades of freaking Grey. Though I’d rather 90% of romance novels for morals over Lord of the Flies or The Handmaid’s Tale, because romance’s depiction of right and wrong is much more straightforward than in literary fiction, even the very best of it.

That’s quite enough trouble to kick off our week, even if it’s not particularly coherent. Catch you tomorrow morning!

Hillary’s Bold Plan to Financially Penalize Recidivist Super-Predators

The other day Hillary promised she would appoint Attorneys General like Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch. “I will appoint an Attorney General who will continue the courageous work of Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.” Given that the comments came at an Al Sharpton event, I assumed the comment meant to invoke Holder and Lynch’s efforts to reform criminal justice and, presumably, their even more laudable support for civil rights.

Nevertheless, it was a disturbing comment, given that Holder and Lynch have also both coddled the bankers who crashed our economy. Indeed, when Hillary tries to defend her huge donations from bankers, she always points to Obama’s even huger ones, and insists that there’s no evidence he was influenced by them. But the Obama DOJ record on bank crime is itself the counter to Hillary’s claim those donations didn’t influence the President.

But then, last night, Hillary said something even more outrageous, which I take to be a solid promise to her funders they’ll continue to get special treatment before the law. Amid a comment shifting from Too Big to Fail into the serial settlements the banks have signed for their crimes, Hillary took the bold step of calling for financial penalties for the people directing that crime.

CLINTON: Dana, let me add here that there are two ways to at this under Dodd-Frank, which is after all the law we passed under President Obama, and I’m proud that Barney Frank, one of the authors, has endorsed me because what I have said continuously is, yes, sometimes the government may have to order certain actions. Sometime the government can permit the institution themselves to take those actions. That has to be the judgement of the regulators.

But, there’s another element to this. I believe strongly that executives of any of these organizations should be financially penalized if there is a settlement.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: They should have to pay up through compensation or bonuses because we have to go after not just the big giant institution, we have got to go after the people who are making the decisions in the institutions.

Granted, under Holder and Lynch, those courageous Attorneys General Hillary would model her own pick on, the banksters haven’t even been asked to do this much.

But the fact that Hillary thought a great punishment for those harming the country with their serial crime wave is to fine them is a testament that she doesn’t even see the underlying crimes.

This is behavior that has continued over years, often after previous settlements. If anyone can be called a super-predator, it’s the bankers who toy with millions of people’s livelihoods and savings to make a buck. If there were a Three Strikes law for bankers most of these guys would be looking at life imprisonment.

And yet Hillary’s bold plan is not to incarcerate them, but instead to take a little bit of their money.

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Conclusion

The point of this series was to examine the conditions which led to the rise of Fascism in the 1930s to see if there are useful insights that might guide our understanding of conditions in the US today. In introduction to this series, I suggested several points of convergence, and over the last three months I have tried to flesh out those ideas.

The book has problems. The history focuses on Europe, so it isn’t helpful in understanding the rise of totalitarianism in Russia. There is much less focus on the economic situation in post-WWI Germany and Austria than I would expect. Arendt talks about the the large number of superfluous people, the mob and the masses, but there is little discussion of how or why that happened. Fortunately we already read The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi, so we have some idea about that. The reasons for the displacement don’t seem important to Arendt’s thesis, but the absence is jarring.

It seems to me that the most significant condition that led to the rise of fascism in Germany was the large number of displaced and unsettled people, which I think is the result of economic upheaval due to the costs of WWI and the reparations imposed on Germany. That mob was egged on by politicians and media pushing propaganda about the ideology of the Nazis and setting up scapegoats, especially the Jews. Another important factor was the lack of resistance from elites. But the Nazis would have been limited to the margins if not for the large number of people with no place in society. These are the superfluous people. They have no role in the productive sector of society, and no place or position to hold them reasonably close to the bounds of society. Here’s how Arendt explains it:

The totalitarian attempt to make men superfluous reflects the experience of modern masses of their superfluity on an overcrowded earth. The world of the dying, in which men are taught they are superfluous through a way of life in which punishment is meted out without connection with crime, in which exploitation is practiced without profit, and where work is performed without product, is a place where senselessness is daily produced anew. … P. 457.

That is true in the US and elsewhere today. People aren’t stupid. They know that they are superfluous. They know they have no power, no security and no real hope of either. They hate it. When they see people fired from long-term jobs and told they only get severance if they train foreign replacements to do their jobs, it makes them sick inside. When they are told that their jobs are going to Mexico, and it’s “strictly a business decision” but 1400 people are going to be fired, they are angry and hostile. They know that they mean nothing to their employers, and nothing to politicians. And mostly they know they mean nothing to the elites who dominate the political process and the economy, and who set the system up to screw everyone else. They know the elites despise them as the the NRO’s Kevin Williamson and David French loudly say. They know the elites and specifically the tribe of economists, knew that they would be screwed by NAFTA and other trade deals, and didn’t lift a finger to stop that from happening on the grounds that it all works out for the beset on average. So what if the rich elites took all the gains? The liberal elites will come up with incremental tweaks to fix everything, and the conservatives will resist and nothing will change, and they don’t worry because it isn’t them or their families.

Other factors work into this poisonous stew. There is an ideology: the neoliberal myth of the almighty market, the supercomputer that works out all the details as long as mere humans do not interfere with its mysterious workings. This ideology permeates every aspect of our society, from claims that markets pay what you are worth to the strange idea that businesses should operate public schools.

Liberals deny that they share the ideology, but since 1992, the liberal elites have pushed “market-oriented” solutions to every problem. We can’t use a Pigovian tax system to solve problems, especially a tax on fossil fuels or securities transactions. We need a market solution: cap and trade. Schools are a problem, but we can’t throw money at them like they do in socialist hells like Finland. We need the market solution of charter schools competing with public schools, with the public schools funded primarily by local property taxes, so rich areas get good schools and screw the poor. We can’t have single payer health insurance. We put the insurance companies and big Pharma firmly in control of which working age people get health care and cost of health care for all of us. Liberal elite theory results in the creation of new government sponsored “markets” which create opportunities for rich people and corporations to screw over consumers, like Enron did for electricity.

Then there are scapegoats. The primary targets are minorities, especially African-Americans, but recently the unemployed and the working poor. The neoliberal ideology justifies scape-goating. It tells people that if you don’t succeed, it’s your own fault because this is the best of all possible systems. The losers are labeled as leeches and takers by the winners. The ideology justifies their smugness and their sociopathic demands to cut the social safety net.

Neoliberalism is also an excuse for hating immigrants and Muslims, who are coming here to take the jobs of deserving people, so it actually works to deflect the anger of the first group of scapegoats, at least for those who take the bait.

The conservative elites, such as they are, support this neoliberal ideology, and in pursuit of winning elections add the rejection of science and the imposition of ancient religious prohibitions and standards. The liberal elites are fine with the ideology, though they continue to support Enlightenment values, and occasionally offer a patch to salvage one or two lives. But when the crunch comes, they always side with the ideology and the establishment candidate.

Conclusion

As I reread the posts in this series, I realized how angry I am about the way politics operates here. I am repulsed by the elites who act as if there were no alternative. I am nauseated by liberal wonks whose views of what is possible are claustrophobic. They are the descendants of the liberals who told me and my generation that nothing could be done about the murderous war in Viet Nam. I cannot stomach the conservative elites. They are the scum who think their mission on earth is to undo the New Deal; the direct spawn of the John Birchers and the McCarthyites and the rest of the fear-mongers. They are the wreckers.

Polanyi says that when a social structure imposes too much stress on too many people it has to change. We don’t know how many disaffected people there are In the US, but it is clear that there is an enormous number, in both parties and among the unaffiliated, and that change will come. The US has always prided itself on its openness to change. We believe that everything will work out for the best, because we are the exceptional people, the City on the Hill. We assume that change will be for the best. Arendt points out the sickening reality: some changes are deadly.

Index to all posts in this series

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 7: Superfluous People

The last chapter of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism is devoted to discussion of the totalitarian regime, which comes when the totalitarian movement has taken power. Arendt says that totalitarian movements don’t offer a specific program for government. Instead, they propose to operate under a “scientific” program. For the Nazis, this was the law of nature with its eternal progress towards perfection, which Arendt thinks arises from a skewed form of Darwinism. For the Communists it was the laws of history as supposedly discovered by Marx. Once in power, the totalitarian regime becomes an instrument for the will of the leader, who in turn is an instrument for imposing and acting out those laws. It is here that Arendt takes up the issue of concentration camps. She says that they are instruments for studying ways to reduce individuals to oblivion, to being superfluous, which is the goal of totalitarianism.

Men insofar as they are more than animal reaction and fulfillment of functions are entirely superfluous to totalitarian regimes. Totalitarianism strives not toward despotic rule over men, but toward a system in which men are superfluous. Total power can be achieved and safeguarded only in a world of conditioned reflexes, of marionettes without the slightest trace of spontaneity. Precisely because man’s resources are so great, he can be fully dominated only when he becomes a specimen of the animal-species man.

The totalitarian attempt to make men superfluous reflects ihe experience of modern masses of their superfluity on an overcrowded earth. The world of the dying, in which men are taught they are superfluous through a way of life in which punishment is meted out without connection with crime, in which exploitation is practiced without profit, and where work is performed without product, is a place where senselessness is daily produced anew. Yet, within the framework of the totalitarian ideology, nothing could be more sensible and logical; if the inmates are vermin, it is logical that they should be killed by poison gas; if they are degenerate, they should not be allowed to contaminate the population; if they have “slave-like souls” (Himmler), no one should waste his time trying to re-educate them. … P. 457.

Why is it necessary that people become superfluous? The answer appears in the final chapter, Ideology and Terror: A Novel Form of Government. Ideologies are “… isms which to the satisfaction of their adherents can explain everything and every occurrence by deducing it from a single premise…”. P.468. They are the scientific programs offered by totalitarian movements as the organizing principles of societies. For Arendt, the Nazi ideology revolves around the idea of the laws of nature, of blood, while the Communist ideology revolves around the historical laws of Marxism. In both cases, human beings are in the way of the historical forces, and must be forcibly denied the ability to interfere with the primal force.

Terror is the realization of the law of movement; its chief aim is to make it possible for the force of nature or of history to race freely through mankind, unhindered by any spontaneous human action. As such, terror seeks to “stabilize” men in order to liberate the forces of nature or history. It is this movement which singles out the foes of mankind against whom terror is let loose, and no free action of either opposition or sympathy can be permitted to interfere with the elimination of the “objective enemy” of History or Nature, of the class or the race. Guilt and innocence become senseless notions; “guilty” is he who stands in the way of the natural or historical process which has passed judgment over “inferior races,”, over individuals “unfit to live,” over “dying classes and decadent peoples.” Terror executes these judgments, and before its court, all concerned are subjectively innocent: the murdered because they did nothing against the system, and the murderers because they do not really murder but execute a death sentence pronounced by some higher tribunal. The rulers themselves do not claim to be just or wise, but only to execute historical or natural laws; they do not apply laws, but execute a movement in accordance with its inherent law. Terror is lawfulness, if law is the law of the movement of some supra-human force, Nature or History. P. 465.

That idea, the idea of the unrestrained movement of supra-human forces, should sound familiar. That’s how Arendt described Imperialism, the early form of unrestrained capitalism. It also describes today’s world as seen by the architects of neoliberalism. They warn that everyone loses if The Market is subjected to even the slightest restraint, whether to movement of jobs and capital overseas or to prohibit dumping toxins into earth, air and water. They insist that foreign limitations on patents and copyrights are impossible restraints. They preach that the only legitimate goal of government is to enforce property rights to the utter maximum. For them, the restless movement of money in the hands of the rich and powerful operates in accordance with its own internal logic, logic which cannot be questioned by quasi-humans not gifted with the power to control vast sums of wealth. They tell us that The Market knows all and fixes everything as long as we mere humans do not interfere with its workings. Neoliberal capitalism is a form of supra-human force that Arendt warned us about.

Neoliberalism forms world view of movement conservatives. Here’s an article in the National Review on this issue by one Kevin Williamson. :

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed[mund] Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.

Williamson’s NRO colleague David French agrees:

My childhood was different from Kevin’s, but I grew up in Kentucky, live in a rural county in Tennessee, and have seen the challenges of the white working-class first-hand. Simply put, Americans are killing themselves and destroying their families at an alarming rate. No one is making them do it. The economy isn’t putting a bottle in their hand. Immigrants aren’t making them cheat on their wives or snort OxyContin. Obama isn’t walking them into the lawyer’s office to force them to file a bogus disability claim.

For generations, conservatives have rightly railed against deterministic progressive notions that put human choices at the mercy of race, class, history, or economics. Those factors can create additional challenges, but they do not relieve any human being of the moral obligation to do their best.

Williamson and French agree that the white working-class people are superfluous, and so are their communities and their way of life. Millions of them should just hire U-Hauls and move to the blessed land of plentiful jobs. They must all lose themselves and their way of life to the inexorable laws of movement, only this time, it’s the inexorable laws of neoliberalism, of rampant unrestrained capitalism. By those rules, individuals cannot act collectively, through unions or through active government. They are permitted to act collectively in their Churches, which emphasize their helplessness in this world except through the will of the Almighty, and therefore pose no real threat to the interests of the rich and powerful.

These white working-class people and their communities aren’t economically viable, and nothing can or should be done to make things different. They should surrender to the external and ungovernable force of hyper-capitalism. They are superfluous, and if they die in misery, leaving their families in poverty, it’s just the natural law of economic freedom working itself out in the passive voice, with the invisible hand of the rich and powerful hidden in a fog of words.

Index to prior posts in this series

Connecting the Dots on the Hillary Emails

I maintain my belief that it is unlikely Hillary will be implicated in the investigation into her email practices, though it is quite possible that top aides like Jake Sullivan or Huma Abedin would be.

That said, I want to put three pieces of data together that have made me less sure of that — or the potential scope of this investigation.

The first is this AP story showing that top Clinton aides sought, but did not obtain, a blackberry like device that Hillary would have been able to use in a SCIF. [See update]

Clinton’s desire for a secure “BlackBerry-like” device, like that provided to President Barack Obama, is recounted in a series of February 2009 exchanges between high-level officials at the State Department and NSA. Clinton was sworn in as secretary the prior month, and had become “hooked” on reading and answering emails on a BlackBerry she used during the 2008 presidential race.

“We began examining options for (Secretary Clinton) with respect to secure ‘BlackBerry-like’ communications,” wrote Donald R. Reid, the department’s assistant director for security infrastructure. “The current state of the art is not too user friendly, has no infrastructure at State, and is very expensive.”

Reid wrote that each time they asked the NSA what solution they had worked up to provide a mobile device to Obama, “we were politely told to shut up and color.”

Resolving the issue was given such priority as to result in a face-to-face meeting between Clinton chief of staff Cheryl Mills, seven senior State Department staffers with five NSA security experts. According to a summary of the meeting, the request was driven by Clinton’s reliance on her BlackBerry for email and keeping track of her calendar. Clinton chose not to use a laptop or desktop computer that could have provided her access to email in her office, according to the summary.

Standard smartphones are not allowed into areas designated as approved for the handling of classified information, such as the block of offices used by senior State Department officials, known by the nickname “Mahogany Row” for the quality of their paneling. Mills said that was inconvenient, because they had to leave their offices and retrieve their phones to check messages.

The story shows that some top aides (and presumably Hillary herself) were aware of the security concerns tied to using a blackberry in a SCIF (though Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton’s statement that this shows an awareness of security concerns with the blackberry may overstate things).

Perhaps the most telling detail comes from this no-comment from former Department of Justice Director of Public Affairs, Brian Fallon:

Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon declined to comment Wednesday.

Fallon has generally been much chattier about the drip drip drip tied to this story.

In any case, this story puts revelations in a Fox story from last week, describing Clinton sysadmin Bryan Pagliano’s testimony as “devastating” because he helped tie the use of particular devices to particular times.

The source said Pagliano told the FBI who had access to the former secretary of state’s system – as well as when – and what devices were used, amounting to a roadmap for investigators.

“Bryan Pagliano is a devastating witness and, as the webmaster, knows exactly who had access to [Clinton’s] computer and devices at specific times. His importance to this case cannot be over-emphasized,” the intelligence source said.

The source, who is not authorized to speak on the record due to the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation, said Pagliano has provided information allowing investigators to knit together the emails with other evidence, including images of Clinton on the road as secretary of state.

The cross-referencing of evidence could help investigators pinpoint potential gaps in the email record. “Don’t forget all those photos with her using various devices and it is easy to track the whereabouts of her phone,” the source said. “It is still boils down to a paper case. Did you email at this time from your home or elsewhere using this device? And here is a picture of you and your aides holding the devices.”

Knowing that the FBI has evidence that Clinton’s aides sought a way to obtain a secure blackberry, the detail that they’re tying emails sent to what device they were sent from, suggests they may be trying to tie individual emails, and their content, to the device they were sent from. And remember, there’s an entire Tumblr of pictures of Hillary using her (non-secure) blackberry.

Now consider what I laid out in this post, when John Cornyn made it clear Attorney General Loretta Lynch is the final decision maker on whether to act on an FBI recommendation to convene a grand jury and move toward an indictment.

Cornyn: If the FBI were to make a referral to the Department of Justice to pursue criminal charges against Mr. Pagliano or anyone else who may have been involved in this affair, does the ultimate decision whether to proceed to court, to ask for the convening of a grand jury, and to seek an indictment, does that rest with you, or someone who works for you at the Department of Justice?

Lynch: So Senator with respect to Mr. Pagliani [sic] or anyone who has been identified as a potential witness in any case, I’m not able to comment on the specifics of that matter and so I’m not able to provide you–

Cornyn: I’m not asking you to comment on the specifics of the matter, I’m asking about what the standard operating procedure is, and it seems pretty straightforward. The FBI does a criminal investigation, but then refers the charges to the Department of Justice, including US Attorneys, perhaps in more celebrated cases goes higher up the food chain. But my simple question is doesn’t the buck stop with you, in terms of whether to proceed, to seek an indictment, to convene a grand jury, and to prosecute a case referred to you by the FBI?

This felt like Cornyn had been sent by someone very high up in FBI (which is probably why Lynch responded so forcefully to make clear she’s the boss of everyone at the Bureau) to pressure the Attorney General to let them convene a grand jury. Now, it appears the basis for any grand jury is not just sending classified emails, but where and on what device those emails got sent.

Again, I still think Hillary is most likely safe. But I’m beginning to see how FBI might want to make a criminal case of sending classified information using insecure blackberries knowing they were insecure.

Update: Here are the emails. Note this seems to target Cheryl Mills more than Sullivan or Abedin (note her departure briefing is in there). It shows Mills directly receiving a bunch of briefing from NSA about the insecurities of BBs.

Also note: contrary to the emphasis of the AP piece, the issue appears not to be that NSA wasn’t doing what they could do, but instead that Hillary’s key staffers can be shown to have gotten technical briefing on the problems with BBs.

If Trump’s Protestors Didn’t Exist He Would Have to Invent Them

Since last Friday’s canceled Trump rally in Chicago, there has been quite a bit of discussion about protestors at Trump rallies — both the propriety of disrupting his events and some scolding about what a bad tactical move it was for protestors to shut down the Chicago event, as well as some sudden realization among the chattering classes that Trump really does espouse violence.

I’d like to take a different approach and look at how Trump uses protestors.

For months, Trump has made protestors an integral part of his schtick at rallies. A person of color, a woman in hijab, a woman with a walker shows up and either silently protests, perhaps holding or wearing an anti-Trump slogan, or does boo and call out. Purportedly in response to earlier disruptions, Trump instructs attendees before any disruption not to hurt the protestors, but instead to surround them, holding up Trump signs and chanting his name, until security comes to throw the protestor out. “Get him out of here!” Trump yells after his attendees have disinfected the herd. This is all part of the rhythm now of Trump’s rallies, a way to reinforce the mob mentality in a participatory way.  Supporters become more than mere voters: they get deputized into reinforcing the purity of the herd, like drone bees cleaning out a hive.

I’m agnostic about the efficacy of protestors thus treated — they serve a useful function for Trump, sure, but given that every rally he does is covered on TV, they also serve as witness to the violence and assumed nativism of the rallies (not that the chattering classes seemed to take all that much notice before last weekend). But any individual’s decision to protest is their own choice, and I fiercely admire the courage it takes to walk into one of those rallies and serve as witness.

Of course, the neat formula Trump has long relied on depends on having — or rather, maintaining the illusion of — a majority. The “Silent Majority” has really become something closer to the “Silent 30%” or even “Silent 25%,” but at Trump rallies it appears as if those no-longer silent angry people are a majority.

On Friday, Trump lost control of that illusion.

I agree with William Daley, among others, who suggests that Trump chose to create a confrontation by scheduling an event at UIC. But I also think protestors got a sufficient mass of organized protestors to the event to thwart the managed confrontation Trump was hoping for, because they deprived him of the illusion of a majority. So he canceled the event before even showing up, falsely citing Chicago Police Department warnings.

I’m agnostic here, too, about the efficacy of this protest. One thing that has been largely — though not entirely — ignored (which itself testifies to something about the efficacy of speech rights in this country) is that the protest was part of a larger effort, including the effort to oust Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in today’s election; there were even “Bye Anita” signs at the protest. That is, the protest of Trump’s speech was part of a larger effort to fight systematic abuse of minorities, and as such had an affirmative message as well, though I admit the message reinforced afterwards — by both the protestors and press — is that they shut him down. I believe Alvarez has been leading in the polls, so we’ll see this evening whether the larger movement against her police cover-ups has achieved its goals.

But in questions of efficacy, I think it worth remembering how the Black Lives Matter protest of the Netroots Nation debate between Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders last July (which seems to have been entirely forgotten as people feel sorry for Trump). O’Malley basically gave up his microphone willingly; Bernie was more perturbed. A lot of attendees in the audience (the equivalent of all the Trump supporters who were deprived of their opportunity to hear him speak on Friday) were really angry; but many of those same people also wrote pieces in the weeks later talking about how important a learning opportunity being discomforted in such a way was. And that protest was undoubtedly effective, as it made the criminal and social justice issues a key focus of the Democratic primary. That’s not to say Trump protestors are as likely as Netroots Nation attendees to reflect on the privilege that attends uninterrupted speeches by white men, but sometimes protests do lead observers to rethink their own role (as, for example, mosque protestors in AZ who were invited inside only to learn about Islam in an unmediated way).

Let’s look, however, at what has happened in the days since Friday. On Saturday, Trump canceled and then uncanceled an event in Cincinnati, citing Secret Service concerns. Also on Saturday, protestor Thomas DiMassimo rushed Trump on stage (something I don’t defend, as it created real concerns about Trump’s safety; DiMassimo is lucky he wasn’t shot). Finally, in Kansas City, protestors achieved the result that Chicago protestors might have imagined: the sustained silencing of Trump, which he used to 1) claim Sanders supporters were the problem and 2) reinforce his love for the police.

Since then there have been reports of Trump finally doing what he chose not to do before (I argue, because protestors play a key function in his rallies): screening attendees of likely protestors, including profiling on race, which carries with it its own visual messaging that may even influence attendees. Yesterday, Trump retreated to his less visceral means of reinforcing the bully structure of his campaign, again referring to Rubio as “Lil Marco” and publicly humiliating Chris Christie.

Here’s the underlying point, though. Amid all the discussions of both the law and norms surrounding interrupting speech, few have accounted for the way that well-managed spectacle is a key (arguably the key) to Trump’s attraction. That spectacle relies partly on Trump’s mock frankness — his ability and willingness to say anything he wants, including repeated promises he will address presumed grievances of his supporters. But it relies, at least as much, on his ability to mobilize a mob in a certain way, including to create the illusion for that mob that they are part of a coherent pure majority. That mob gives them the illusion of power they believe they have been illegitimately stripped of. It’s an illusion, of course, but Trump is a master at managing that spectacle to prevent cracks from forming in that illusion.

And this is why the response to Trump has largely been so ineffectual. Polls in FL showed that voters were more likely to support Trump given Friday’s shutdown (so on that level, at least, the protest may have backfired). But DC pundits scolding Trump has largely the same effect, reinforcing the sense of grievance. So if the DC press want to do something about Trump’s frightening power, they might do more reflection about how they have been a willing partner in it.

The way to weaken Trump is not to continue to magnify his spectacle, as the press has done non-stop for a year. This is tough for cable news to manage, because they are in the business of spectacle.

One way to weaken him is to reveal how Trump has exacerbated the grievances motivating his supporters, never addressed them. As a reminder, one of the only times Trump has really backed down over the course of this campaign was when Bernie attacked him for wanting to lower wages, because that’s a truth that, reinforced, might sow doubt.

The other way to is to disrupt Trump’s manufactured spectacle of strength, because his supporters are only going to support him so long as they believe his bluster about always winning (which relies, in part, on the bullying he performs at his rallies). I’m not sure whether disruption of rallies does that or not. Magnifying the degree to which Trump is a fearful man would. Reporting on his many failures would. Certain kinds of reminders of his past weaknesses might (though some would reinforce the sense of grievance).

Side note, one spectacle that did not get shown by the press were the protests in Detroit in advance of the GOP debate there. So as people complain about protestors not simply standing powerfully outside, know that the press has chosen in the past to ignore that spectacle.

I suspect Marco Rubio’s advisors had it right, even though they delivered it through the absolutely wrong messenger. Trump’s reliance on guest workers (he likes to conflate skilled H1B workers, which have been a central part of GOP debates, with unskilled H2B workers he employed at Mar Lago) and his use of Chinese manufacturers for his campaign swag are both real vulnerabilities. And if someone wants to suggest Trump is operating out of some sense of inferiority because he has a small flaccid penis and small hands to match, that may well undercut the spectacle of virility that Trump has affirmatively cultivated.

I think Megyn Kelly (because she’s a woman who has succeeded in making Trump look dumb, once Fox stopped letting Trump dictate her role in coverage), and — before Trump equated protestors with Bernie Sanders (maybe still, though I don’t know) — Bernie, are two of the few people who have the ability to undercut Trump’s power on mobilizing grievances. Probably some centrist union leaders have the same ability, as well as a select few faith leaders. There are vanishingly few people who have the power position to call attention to the degree to which Trump has contributed to his followers’ grievances, rather than done anything to alleviate them, but that evidence is out there.

I’m not sure what happens from here. Demographically, there should be no way Trump wins the general election; as I noted, the Silent Majority, to the extent it existed in Nixon’s era, is a minority now. Assuming it will be a Trump – Clinton race, I don’t know that we know, because Clinton will have a harder time addressing those grievances, and because the high negatives of both candidates will make turnout really unpredictable (though I also suspect Hillary will be an acceptable crossover vote for many Republican Neocons).

But there is one other unpredictable player here: the cops. For some time, both Ted Cruz and Trump have been feeding the perceived feeling of grievances of cops that they have been unfairly targeted by activists complaining about police violence. As noted, Trump hails the cops even as he dehumanizes protestors. Both Cruz and Trump have been buttering up the cops that may one day have the ability to turn the violence that has been simmering for some time in one direction or another (with the consequent spectacle). Though there were a few reports of heavy-handedness from Chicago cops, in general they did a good job of managing the tensions on Friday. I really, really worry that Cleveland’s cops (who are getting some new war toys in advance of the GOP convention) won’t exercise the same restraint.

Trump’s power rests on spectacle. He will not be defeated, primarily, with a rational argument or some tut-tutting about norms about violence (that, in fact, the US neither culturally nor internationally really abide by in any case), in part because there are few credible messengers of the rational argument about how Trump has contributed to grievances. If his spectacle starts to crack, however, the investment in Trump as a savior will dissolve. It won’t go away — it’ll get invested somewhere else, potentially even someone more violent (though that person is unlikely to have the soapbox Trump has). But his power depends on illusion.

DOJ’s Clear Threat to Go After Apple’s Source Code

Oops: My post URLs crossed. Here’s where If Trump’s Protestors Didn’t Exist He Would Have to Invent Them is.

In a rather unfortunate section heading the government used in their brief responding to Apple last week, DOJ asserted “There Is No Due Process Right Not to Develop Source Code.” The heading seemed designed to make Lavabit’s point about such requests being involuntary servitude.

I’d like to elaborate on this post to look at what DOJ has to say about source code — because I think the filing was meant to be an explicit threat that DOJ can — and may well, even if Apple were to capitulate here — demand Apple’s source code.

The government’s filing mentions “source code” nine ten different times [see update]. The bulk of those mentions appear in DOJ’s rebuttal to Apple’s assertion of a First Amendment claim about having to write code that violates its own beliefs, as in these three passages (there is one more purportedly addressing First Amendment issues I discuss below).

Incidentally Requiring a Corporation to Add Functional Source Code to a Commercial Product Does Not Violate the First Amendment

Apple asserts that functional source code in a corporation’s commercial product is core protected speech, such that asking it to modify that software on one device—to permit the execution of a lawful warrant—is compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment.

[snip]
There is reason to doubt that functional programming is even entitled to traditional speech protections. See, e.g., Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Corley, 273 F.3d 429, 454 (2d Cir. 2001) (recognizing that source code’s “functional capability is not speech within the meaning of the First Amendment”).

[snip]

To the extent Apple’s software includes expressive elements—such as variable names and comments—the Order permits Apple to express whatever it wants, so long as the software functions. Cf. Karn v. United States Department of State, 925 F. Supp. 1, 9- 10 (D.D.C. 1996) (assuming, without deciding, that source code was speech because it had English comments interspersed).

Most people aside from EFF think Apple’s First Amendment claim is the weakest part of its argument. I’m not so sure that, in the hands of the guy who argued Citizens United before SCOTUS, it will end up that weak. Nevertheless, DOJ focused closely on it, especially as compared to its treatment of Apple’s Fifth Amendment argument, which is where that dumb heading came in. This is the entirety of DOJ’s response to that part of Apple’s argument.

There Is No Due Process Right Not to Develop Source Code

Apple lastly asserts that the Order violates its Fifth Amendment right to due process. Apple is currently availing itself of the considerable process our legal system provides, and it is ludicrous to describe the government’s actions here as “arbitrary.” (Opp. 34); see County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 846-49 (1998). If Apple is asking for a Lochner-style holding that businesses have a substantive due process right against interference with its marketing strategy or against being asked to develop source code, that claim finds no support in any precedent, let alone “in the traditions and conscience of our people,” “the concept of ordered liberty,” or “this Nation’s history.” Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 721 (1997).

Though admittedly, that’s about how much Apple included in its brief.

The Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause Prohibits The Government From Compelling Apple To Create The Request [sic] Code

In addition to violating the First Amendment, the government’s requested order, by conscripting a private party with an extraordinarily attenuated connection to the crime to do the government’s bidding in a way that is statutorily unauthorized, highly burdensome, and contrary to the party’s core principles, violates Apple’s substantive due process right to be free from “‘arbitrary deprivation of [its] liberty by government.’” Costanich v. Dep’t of Soc. & Health Servs., 627 F.3d 1101, 1110 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted); see also, e.g., Cnty. of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 845-46 (1998) (“We have emphasized time and again that ‘[t]he touchstone of due process is protection of the individual against arbitrary action of government,’ . . . [including] the exercise of power without any reasonable justification in the service of a legitimate governmental objective.” (citations omitted)); cf. id. at 850 (“Rules of due process are not . . . subject to mechanical application in unfamiliar territory.”).

In other words, both Apple and DOJ appear to have a placeholder for discussions about takings (one that Lavabit argued from a Thirteenth Amendment perspective).

Those constitutional arguments, however, all seem to pertain the contested order requiring Apple to create source code that doesn’t currently exist. Or do they?

As I noted in my earlier Lavabit post, the DOJ argument doesn’t focus entirely on writing code that doesn’t already exists. As part of its argument for necessity, DOJ pretends to take Apple at its word that the US government could not disable the features (as if that’s what they would do if they had source code!) themselves.

Without Apple’s assistance, the government cannot carry out the search of Farook’s iPhone authorized by the search warrant. Apple has ensured that its assistance is necessary by requiring its electronic signature to run any program on the iPhone. Even if the Court ordered Apple to provide the government with Apple’s cryptographic keys and source code, Apple itself has implied that the government could not disable the requisite features because it “would have insufficient knowledge of Apple’s software and design protocols to be effective.”  (Neuenschwander Decl. ¶ 23.)

Note DOJ claims to source that claim to Apple Manager of User Privacy Erik Neuenschwander’s declaration (which is included with their motion). But he wasn’t addressing whether the government would be able to reverse-engineer Apple’s source code at all. Instead, that language came from a passage where he explained why experienced engineers would have to be involved in writing the new source code.

New employees could not be hired to perform these tasks, as they would have insufficient knowledge of Apple’s software and design protocols to be effective in designing and coding the software without significant training.

So the discussion of what the government could do with if it had Apple’s source code is just as off point as the passage invoking the Lavabit case (which involved an SSL key, but not source code). Here’s that full passage:

The government has always been willing to work with Apple to attempt to reduce any burden of providing access to the evidence on Farook’s iPhone. See Mountain Bell, 616 F.2d at 1124 (noting parties’ collaboration to reduce perceived burdens). Before seeking the Order, the government requested voluntary technical assistance from Apple, and provided the details of its proposal. (Supp. Pluhar Decl. ¶ 12.) Apple refused to discuss the proposal’s feasibility and instead directed the FBI to methods of access that the FBI had already tried without success. (Compare Neuenschwander Decl. ¶¶ 54-61, with Supp. Pluhar Decl. ¶ 12.) The government turned to the Court only as a last resort and sought relief on narrow grounds meant to reduce possible burdens on Apple. The Order allows Apple flexibility in how to assist the FBI. (Order ¶ 4.) The government remains willing to seek a modification of the Order, if Apple can propose a less burdensome or more agreeable way for the FBI to access Farook’s iPhone.9

9 For the reasons discussed above, the FBI cannot itself modify the software on Farook’s iPhone without access to the source code and Apple’s private electronic signature. The government did not seek to compel Apple to turn those over because it believed such a request would be less palatable to Apple. If Apple would prefer that course, however, that may provide an alternative that requires less labor by Apple programmers. See In re Under Seal, 749 F.3d 276, 281-83 (4th Cir. 2014) (affirming contempt sanctions imposed for failure to comply with order requiring the company to assist law enforcement with effecting a pen register on encrypted e-mail content which included producing private SSL encryption key).

Effectively, having invented a discussion about whether the government would be able to use Apple’s source code out of thin air, DOJ returns to that possibility here, implying that that would be the least burdensome way of getting what it wanted and then reminding that it has succeeded in the past in demanding that a provider expose all of its users to government snooping, even at the cost of shutting down the business, even after Ladar Levison (after some complaining) had offered to provide decrypted information himself.

Significantly, the government obtained a warrant for Lavabit’s keys as a way of avoiding the question of whether the “technical assistance” language in the Pen/Trap statute extended to sharing keys, but Levison was ultimately held in contempt for all the orders served on him, including the Pen/Trap order and its language about technical assistance. The Fourth Circuit avoided ruling on whether that assistance language in Pen/Trap orders extended to encryption keys by finding that Levison had not raised it prior to appeal and that the District Court had not clearly erred, which effectively delayed consideration of the same kinds of issues at issue (though under a different set of laws) in the Apple encryption cases.

In making his statement against turning over the encryption keys to the Government, Levison offered only a one-sentence remark: “I have only ever objected to turning over the SSL keys because that would compromise all of the secure communications in and out of my network, including my own administrative traffic.” (J.A. 42.) This statement — which we recite here verbatim — constituted the sum total of the only objection that Lavabit ever raised to the turnover of the keys under the Pen/Trap Order. We cannot refashion this vague statement of personal preference into anything remotely close to the argument that Lavabit now raises on appeal: a statutory-text-based challenge to the district court’s fundamental authority under the Pen/Trap Statute. Levison’s statement to the district court simply reflected his personal angst over complying with the Pen/Trap Order, not his present appellate argument that questions whether the district court possessed the authority to act at all.

[snip]

The Government, however, never stopped contending that the Pen/Trap Order, in and of itself, also required Lavabit to turn over the encryption keys. For example, the Government specifically invoked the Pen/Trap Order in its written response to Lavabit’s motion to quash by noting that “four separate legal obligations” required Lavabit to provide its encryption keys, including the Pen/Trap Order and the June 28 Order.

[snip]

In view of Lavabit’s waiver of its appellate arguments by failing to raise them in the district court, and its failure to raise the issue of fundamental or plain error review, there is no cognizable basis upon which to challenge the Pen/Trap Order. The district court did not err, then, in finding Lavabit and Levison in contempt once they admittedly violated that order.

In other words, the Lavabit reference, like the invention of an Apple discussion about what the government could do with its source code (any such discussion would have been interesting in and of itself, because I’d bet Apple would be more confident FBI couldn’t do much with its source code than that NSA couldn’t), was off point. But in introducing both references, DOJ laid the groundwork for a demand for source code to be the fallback, least burdensome position.

And, as I noted, in the Lavabit case, the government justified demanding a key based on the presumption that Edward Snowden would have a more complicated password than Syed Rizwan Farook’s 4-digit numerical passcode. That is, in that case, the government tied a more intrusive demand to the difficulty of accessing a target’s communications, not to the law itself, which suggests they’d be happy to do so in the future if they were faced with an Apple phone with a passcode too complex to brute force in 26 minutes, as FBI claims it could do here.

All of which brings me to one more citation of source code in DOJ’s extended First Amendment discussion: a reference to a civil case where Apple was able to obtain the source code of a competitor.

This form of “compelled speech” runs throughout both the criminal and civil justice systems, from grand jury and trial subpoenas to interrogatories and depositions. See, e.g., Apple Inc.’s Motion to Compel in Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics, Docket No. 467 in Case No. 11–cv–1846–LHK, at 11 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 8, 2011) (Apple’s seeking court order compelling Samsung to produce source code to facilitate its compelled deposition of witnesses about that source code).

Note, this is not a case about Apple (or Samsung, in this case) being compelled to write new code at all. Rather, it is a case about handing over the source code a company already had. In another off point passage, then, DOJ pointed to a time when Apple itself successfully argued the provision of source code could be compelled, even in a civil case.

Through a variety of means, DOJ went well out of its way to introduce the specter of a demand for Apple’s source code into its response. They are clearly suggesting that if Apple refuses to write code that doesn’t exist, the government will happily take code that does.

Loretta Lynch claimed, under oath last week, that the government doesn’t want a back door into Apple products. That’s not what her lawyers have suggested in this brief. Not at all.

Update: Here’s how Apple treated this in its Reply:

The government also implicitly threatens that if Apple does not acquiesce, the government will seek to compel Apple to turn over its source code and private electronic signature. Opp. 22 n.9. The catastrophic security implications of that threat only highlight the government’s fundamental misunderstanding or reckless disregard of the technology at issue and the security risks implicated by its suggestion.

Also, in writing this post, I realized there’s one more reference to source code in the government’s Response, one that admits Apple’s source code is “the keys to the kingdom.”

For example, Apple currently protects (1) the source code to iOS and other core Apple software and (2) Apple’s electronic signature, which as described above allows software to be run on Apple hardware. (Hanna Decl. Ex. DD at 62-64 (code and signature are “the most confidential trade secrets [Apple] has”).) Those —which the government has not requested—are the keys to the kingdom. If Apple can guard them, it can guard this.

How Hillary Helped Banks Foreclose on 5 Million Families

Let me be clear at the outset: I think what follows is a bullshit argument. But I think it is less unfair of an argument than Hillary’s claim that, by voting to withhold the second tranche of TARP funding on January 15, 2009, Bernie Sanders voted against the auto bailout.

As you’ll recall, in October 2008, the Bush Administration threw some vaguely laid out plans on some cocktail napkins over the wall to Congress and got it to release $700 billion dollars to bail out the banks. Between the time the new Congress got sworn in but before Obama became President, Republicans in the Senate wrote a bill to withhold the second tranche, or $350 billion, of those funds. In the days before the vote, Larry Summers threw two more cocktail napkins of promises to Congress. Bernie was one of seven Democrats who voted not to release the funds based on a series of what were effectively ideas on cocktail napkins.

One of the things on those cocktail napkins, though, was a promise from the Obama Administration that actual human persons facing a crisis, rather than just banks, would get some of the second tranche of money.

The Obama Administration will commit substantial resources of $50-100B to a sweeping effort to address the foreclosure crisis.  We will implement smart, aggressive policies to reduce the number of preventable foreclosures by helping to reduce mortgage payments for economically stressed but responsible homeowners, while also reforming our bankruptcy laws and strengthening existing housing initiatives like Hope for Homeowners. Banks receiving support under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act will be required to implement mortgage foreclosure mitigation programs.

Of course, it was just a cocktail napkin, and by voting to release the funds without tying them to actual legislation requiring the Administration actually use the funds in a such a way as to help homeowners, Hillary — and all the other Democrats who voted to give their new President funds without real limits on how they could spend it — gave away any leverage they had to actually force the Administration to implement such a plan.

Last year David Dayen described how the Administration not only never spent $50 billion — they only ever spent $12.8 billion — but the number of people helped was far lower than promised, and most people “helped” actually weren’t helped at all.

On January 15, 2009, Obama’s chief economic policy adviser, Larry Summers, wrote to convince Congress to release the second tranche of TARP funds, promising that the incoming administration would “commit $50-$100 billion to a sweeping effort to address the foreclosure crisis … while also reforming our bankruptcy laws.” But the February 2009 stimulus package, another opportunity to legislate mortgage relief, did not include the bankruptcy remedy either; at the time, the new administration wanted a strong bipartisan vote for a fiscal rescue, and decided to neglect potentially divisive issues. Having squandered the must-pass bills to which it could have been attached, a cramdown amendment to a housing bill failed in April 2009, receiving only 45 Senate votes.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who had offered the amendment, condemned Congress, declaring that the banks “frankly own the place.” In fact, the administration had actively lobbied Congress against the best chances for cramdown’s passage, and was not particularly supportive when it came up for a vote, worrying about the impacts on bank balance sheets. Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner admitted in his recent book, “I didn’t think cramdown was a particularly wise or effective strategy.” In other words, to get the bailout money, the economic team effectively lied to Congress when it promised to support cramdown.

[snip]

According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, 64 percent of all applications for loan modifications were denied. Employees at Bank of America’s mortgage servicing unit offered perhaps the most damning revelations into servicer conduct. In a class-action lawsuit, these employees testified that they were told to lie to homeowners, deliberately misplace their documents, and deny loan modifications without explaining why. For their efforts, managers rewarded them with bonuses—in the form of Target gift cards—for pushing borrowers into foreclosure.

Because of all this, HAMP never came close to the 3–4 million modifications President Obama promised at its inception. As of August 2014, 1.4 million borrowers have obtained permanent loan modifications, but about 400,000 of them have already re-defaulted, a rate of about 30 percent. The oldest HAMP modifications have re-default rates as high as 46 percent.

Effectively, because Congress didn’t force the Administration to adopt cramdown (which would have resulted in real modifications which would have mean more people kept their homes and didn’t lose their wealth), Treasury could instead use the promise to “foam the runways” to help the banks string out losses and therefore avoid accountability for their recklessness.

This was a direct result of voting to give the Executive continued free rein on what to do with massive amounts of bailout money. So was bailing out the car industry, but the vote in January was primarily about whether to continue letting the Executive spend billions without clear guidelines.

So Hillary, according to her own logic, voted to help banks foreclose on 5 million people, which resulted in a tragic loss of wealth for American families.

Again, I think this is a bullshit argument. I assume Hillary intended to get real foreclosure relief (indeed, one domestic policy on which she was better than Obama in 2008 did just that). Though for someone who claims to know how to “get things done,” she showed no awareness of how to do that here. Nevertheless, it is the kind of bullshit argument she is making.

And having gone there — having permitted herself to engage in this kind of bullshit argument — she makes such arguments fair game for Donald Trump to make about her in June.

Ultimately, I think this vote was about whether the Executive should be able to operate without real limits. Bernie voted against that, Hillary voted for it (which makes it similar, in many ways, to the Iraq War vote in 2003, and had equally foreseeably bad results). Hillary will never make such votes for freeing the Executive of meaningful restraints again. But it’s pretty clear she’s a fan of letting the Executive operate without them.

That, to me, is the meaningful, non-bullshit, takeaway from that vote.

Thursday Morning: Things Are Gonna’ Change

After Tuesday’s primaries and last night’s Democratic candidates’ debate, surely something will change in messaging and outreach.

And surely something will change on the other side of the aisle given the continued rampage of ‘Someone With Tiny Hands.”

Calls to mind an animated movie popular with my kids a few years ago.

Moving on…

Volkswagen and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

  • USDOJ subpoenaed VW under recent banking law (CNBC) — This is the first such application of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (Firrea) since it was signed into law in 1989 in response to the savings and loan scandal. The law was used to target bank fraud in subprime mortgages after the 2008 financial crisis. (Caveat: that link at CNBC autoplays video. Bad practice, CNBC very bad.)
  • VW’s US CEO Michael Horn departs with marked haste (Bloomberg) — Huh. Interesting timing, that. A subpoena and an exit inside 48 hours? The phrases “mutual agreement” and “leave to pursue other opportunities” are very telling. IMO, Volkswagen Group’s response to the scandal has been lackluster to obstructionist, and Horn might not want to be the automaker’s sin eater here in the U.S.
  • Not looking good in Germany for VW, either, as prosecutors expand their investigation (Business Insider) — 17 employees now under scrutiny, up from six.
  • VW’s South Korean offices raided (Reuters) — Wondered when South Korea would catch up after all the recenty happy-happy about clean diesel passenger vehicle sales.

I feel like I’m telling a child Santa Claus is a lie and the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist, but it’s important to this scandal to grasp this point: There is no clean diesel technology. There is no clean diesel technology coming any time soon. Invoke a little Marcus Aurelius here and look at this situation and its essential nature, by asking why VW cheated and lied and did so for so long.

Because there is no clean diesel technology.

And the clock is tick-tick-ticking — the court case in California gave VW 30 days to come up with a technical solution. Mark your calendar for March 24, people.

A – Apple, B – Bollocks, C – Cannot…

Panopticonic POV

  • Defense Department used surveillance drones over U.S. for a decade (USA Today) — All legit, though, nothing to see here, move along. Disregard the incomplete list of flights, just trust.
  • What will happen when your neighbors can buy a StingRay on the cheap to listen in on your cellphone calls? (Bloomberg) — Worse thought: what if they’ve already built one?
  • If you’re a commercial trucker, chances are anybody can track you (Naked Security) — Read this, especially the pointers at the bottom of the article. (Personal tip from me: If you’re a female trucker, use a gender neutral name or initials in the workplace. Insist your employer respects this practice.)

That’s enough damage for one day. Things have got to change.

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