Thursday round-up

1. The UK court ruling on Brexit
For some reason, the ruling by the UK High Court that the British government cannot invoke Article 50 of the EU Treaty without explicit parliamentary approval has stirred up a hornet’s nest, with pro-Brexit politicians, commentators and media outlets pissing and moaning about the ruling, engaging in ad hominem attacks on the judges etc. etc.
This is all very puzzling on a logical level. Under UK law, a referendum cannot bind the government. It is only advisory. Everybody knew this before the referendum campaign even started. Parliament governs the country. What part of “this referendum is advisory” do the complainers not understand?
(That was of course a rhetorical question. The pro-Brexit complainers understand it perfectly well, but it is not in their interests to talk about it. Their interest is in insisting that parliament should immediately agree to invoke Article 50, since that is The Will Of The People).
As Ilya Somin points out in this article, if parliament has to approve Brexit, it is always possible that if the government delays or stalls on a decision, a differently constituted parliament (i.e. one formed after the next General Election) could elect to not pursue Brexit. It is likely that the next General Election will have Brexit as one of its major campaign and public policy issues, and a change in public opinion in the meantime could swing the new parliament from its current party political and Brexit attitude.

2. The Hillary Clinton email controversies
The media and many commentators, along with a lot of people out there on the internet who should damn well know better, continue to be obsessed with the whole lengthy saga revolving around Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
As Orin Kerr points out, the level of scrutiny being applied to any topic or event that contains the words “Clinton” and email is obsessive and excessive merely due to the fact that Hillary Clinton is running for POTUS.
I would be a lot more impressed if the people doing the complaining were showing equal concern about the endemic and long-standing use of private email and non-government email accounts and servers by other politicians at all levels. Here is a short list of Republican party politicians that used private email accounts.
The bottom line is that all politicians of any party, if given the choice between public transparency and private machination, will opt for the latter unless that results in them being tossed from office and/or jailed. Transparency is a bad idea in the current political climate, since it would expose the extent to which politicians at all levels are funded and influenced by groups and individuals other than their electorates.
So, if all people do is rant about Hillary’s emails, I will have to conclude that they are either only worried about Hillary, or that they are not paying attention to the broader issue that the use of private email is showing up. Either way, that reduces the credibility of their complaints and makes them look unserious.

3. Don’t pick a fight with Jon Stewart
Back in 2004, Jon Stewart went on “Crossfire” and engaged in a vigorous discussion with Tucker Carlson and his co-host Paul Begala. He bluntly and comprehensively eviscerated Carlson and “Crossfire” on prime-time TV. Not long after that, “Crossfire” was cancelled.
So when Donald Trump more recently tried questioning and mocking Stewart’s decision to change his name for show business purposes (ignoring the massive number of people of all faiths who have done just that in the past) he should have been much better informed if he thought he could win that sort of sniping contest. Stewart responded in kind and, being Stewart, engaged in comprehensive ridicule.
As a general rule, it is a bad idea for a politician to pick a fight with an author or a comedian. It is highly likely that in both cases, the result will be the politician appearing as an object of ridicule or a punch-line.

4. The School Of BullShit Electoral Communications
Fake ballot flyers in Florida.
no, you cannot vote by Text message.
Yes, there may well be a lot of bullshit websites being run from abroad that are seeking to influence the US election. You did know that the internet is international, right?


Sometimes a single comment (or two) nails it…

like commenter CP at Lawyers Guns and Money about Republican party messaging:

For fifty years straight now, the Republican Party has run on a dynamic where every time their bigots, especially ordinary voters, blurt out something too unacceptable, the “establishment” (not to mention the MSM) is there to metaphorically snatch the microphone from them, chuckle, and go “what these charmingly unpolished wholesome small town country folk MEANT to say was [insert a whole grab bag of stupid about creeping socialism, the national deficit, and the deterioration of our nation’s moral fiber].”
What’s happening in this election is that the charmingly unpolished wholesome folk, after fifty years of being patronized and condescended to by these asses, are insistently grabbing the microphone back and shouting “no, goddamn it! I said n*gg/r, and I meant it!”

and commenter sibusisodan writes about the perceived need for coastal people to understand the feelings of angry heartland folks, but not the other way around:

So it turns out that if you go to a place, and really listen, and cast aside your prejudices…
…you’ll hear that the people living there regard their world view as internally self consistent and aren’t aware of any personal or communal blindspots at all!
Wake me up when there’s a story about how important it is for right wing political supporters to leave their enclaves and, say, listen to someone describe how Limbaugh insults and dehumanised them.


Sedition in the service of politics

I labor under the conviction that politics is a peacetime profession.
However, my conviction is being undermined by appallingly unconstructive behavior from political factions in the modern USA. Some of this behavior is tipping over into threats that, while vague, contain an undercurrent both of violence and a refusal to accept the results of elections.
This kind of behavior is defined legally as sedition, and it is becoming common. It appears that there are a significant number of people in the USA who are either keen to fight the Second American Revolution, or who are simply anarchistic assholes.
This ADL article merely scratches the surface. I have been following white nationalist and sovereign citizen militias for some time, and the combination of those two warped value systems is leading many people to conclude that they have a right to engage in violent retribution against people and government bodies that they regard as illegitimate.
These kinds of threats are not in line with American ideals and principles. I want nothing to do with their ideas, and I want the law enforcement authorities to come down on them like a hurricane if they try to action any of their threats. Democracy sometimes requires aggressive defense.


WARNING – Fake stories about voting fraud

Folks, you really have to get a grip on your gullibility and credulousness level at election time. There are all sorts of stories, memes and clickbait articles being floated on the internet about voting fraud, and a lot (and I mean a LOT) are totally false, or are lies. If you believe everything you read on the internet simply because it matches your prejudices, you are fooling yourself.
Here are two examples from the past few days.

1. Alleged ballot box stuffing by Democrats

This footage claims to show Democrats stuffing ballot boxes, but actually comes from Russian elections.

— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) November 1, 2016

“>A video purporting to show Democratic party operatives stuffing ballot boxes is actually video filmed in an election in Russia.

2. Ballot box tampering in Ohio
A story published on a Christian web site (and since deleted) purports to show evidence of ballot box tampering in Ohio. The story is bullshit.


The dangerous face of childish nihilism

A large number of GOP partisans have convinced themselves that Hillary Clinton must not become the President. However, if she does get elected next week, they also seemed to be determined to undermine, de-legitimize and attempt to prematurely end her Presidential term by any and all means, including but not limited to:

1. Impeachment

2. Obstruction of Supreme Court nominations

Then there are the charming individuals who seem to think that Hillary Clinton should be assassinated or executed.

I was going to say that this is indicative of juvenile nihilistic dickishness, and a total lack of respect for the fundamentals of representative democracy.
But that would be stating the obvious.
What I actually think we are witnessing is something a lot more sinister, namely a deliberate concerted attempt to abuse and undermine the principles of good governance.
In other words, what these baying juveniles are proposing is dangerously close to sedition.
I have no respect for politicians and political parties who behave like this. These people are not going to get my vote, in this or any future election cycle, until they wise up, grow up, apologize for behaving like entitled assholes, and start behaving like mature sophisticated and constructive adults.


Sid Miller, incompetent or a dick? You be the judge

Story here. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, posts offensive Tweet, his explanation and that of his office fail to match.
The bottom line here is that there are at least two possibilities, none of them flattering to Sid Miller:

1. He posted the tweet. If that is true, he is a primo-grade classless dick
2. One of his staff is acting like a juvenile dick. He presumably hired them, so either he hired the wrong people, or he failed to explain that he did not want them to act like juvenile dicks

If you believe Miller’s own tweet from 4 days ago, the answer is (1).

UPDATE – it seems that Miller has described himself in his Twitter bio as Deplorable. Well, I guess he felt he had to live down to the description…


I am prepared for Election day

Voting is a fundamental right for all qualified people, and State and Federal laws make intimidation of any sort at any point in the voting process a crime. There are some very specific rules that poll watchers have to follow in Texas. I have added the direct phone number for the FBI to my phone, I will have it set to Record video and sound as I set off for the polling station, and if I see anybody behaving suspiciously outside the polling station, I will record it.

I have read enough “nod and wink” nonsense already from people who seem to think that only The Right Sort Of People should be allowed to vote. No, you and your goons can damn well stay away from my polling station.
By the way, the biggest underlying issue is not Dead People Voting, or any of the other claimed fraud attempts that Donald Trump and his more extreme supporters are convinced is going to happen. The big underlying issue is voter suppression, and until that is prevented (which may require some draconian new legislation that jails state officials and elected representatives for breaches) the integrity of the US election system is, for me, not at anywhere near a high enough level.


Monday Round-up

1. The true status of lawsuits against Donald Trump
There are a lot of lurid headlines floating around about legal problems for Donald Trump. Some of the headlines scream “Trump accused of rape”, and “Trump accused of racketeering”.
Well, not quite. The lawsuits are civil complaints, not criminal complaints, so at this point Donald Trump is not charged with criminal counts. As Ken White explains carefully, Donald Trump is not about to be marched into court in November to face criminal charges for rape. Neither is he the defendant in a criminal RICO conspiracy charge. Hyperbole in the service of communication is not good, no matter which end of the political spectrum it originates.

2. Falsification of images to claim voter fraud

An image being circulated that purports to show a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent arresting an alleged undocumented immigrant in the back of a voter line is a fake. It is a composite of two separate images from completely different locations and dates.
Be vigilant. Photoshop is not a friend of the electoral process.

3. Laws on wiretapping
All states of the Union have anti-wiretapping laws. These vary in the conditions that are specified before a conversation between two or more parties can be legally recorded and, if appropriate, used in evidence. A number of states are what are known as “two party” states; in those states, both parties to a conversation must affirmatively give consent before any of the conversation can be legally recorded. Other states (including Texas) are “one party” states, where one party only needs to provide consent.
James O’Keefe and his pressure group Project Veritas has made a habit of recording conversations between Veritas personnel (usually engaging in deceptive impersonation) and other organizations, in an effort to demonstrate malfeasance by the targetted organization or its agents.
However, on at least one occasion, O’Keefe has been found personally liable under state laws for illegally recording conversations and obtaining documents. The latest round of revelations from Project Veritas concerning Democratic-affiliated organizations may also include illegally recorded conversations from two-party states.
I remain amused at the extent to which groups that claim that the Rule Of Law is sacrosanct are prepared to go to ignore state and federal laws when those laws conflict with their objectives.

4. The aftermath of the court verdicts for Malheur
As many of you have found out, the defendants in the trial over the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge were found Not Guilty last week by a jury at the end of the trial in Portland OR. This was a surprise to many people, not just the government.
It is far from clear exactly what reasoning led the jury to decide to find the defendants not guilty. There were also strange incidents during their deliberations, including a request from the jurors to essentially have one of the jury panel removed for what was described as “bias”. In hindsight, this might well have been a case where the juror was a lone holdout against a unanimous collection of Not Guilty verdicts.
The charitable conclusion from the verdicts is that the jurors were not sufficiently persuaded by the primary charge of conspiracy to impede Federal workers. Conspiracy charges have a high burden of proof. They require a jury to find that the defendants conspired as a group in advance to engage in activities that were clearly illegal, and that they then acted as a group to carry out those activities. That is a high burden of proof. The second charge of illegal use of firearms was also linked to the conspiracy, so it made the charges an “all or nothing” proposition for the prosecution. If the defendants were found not guilty of conspiracy, they could not be found guilty on the firearms charges. Effectively the prosecution created a set of “all or nothing” indictments. There were no consolation prizes of finding the defendants guilty on lesser charges.
The defendants sought, as part of their defense, to claim that a lot of their activities were not planned in advance, and just sort of happened on the fly, which would undercut the conspiracy claim.
There were more straightforward charges that could have been filed, such as trespass and criminal damage. The decision to use conspiracy charges may have been too ambitious by the prosecution.
The less charitable and more worrying conclusion is that the jury, instinctively sympathetic to the defendants, simply engaged in jury nullification.
To some extent it does not matter either way. The Federal government is not able to re-file new charges against the defendants because of the double jeopardy rules, although Harney County in Oregon could elect to file charges against them under local laws. I consider that unlikely.
Most of the defendants from Oregon are still charged in Nevada over the events at the Bunkerville standoff in 2014, and a number of them will remain in jail until that trial. The Bunkerville charges are a lot more serious, and the courts and judges in Nevada have shown a much lower tolerance for SovCit bullshit. We shall see how that trial unfolds.

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