14 December 2016

We need to investigate Russia's interference in the election because it's a threat to our country. But we need to stop pretending it's why Trump won.

Our intelligence services are saying, "with high confidence," that Russia engaged in successful hacking of a number of people and institutions connected with the Clinton campaign, and was responsible for leaking the information they received to the public with the intention of interfering in our elections, and possibly with the specific intent of helping the Trump campaign. (I doubt that it will ever be truly clear whether they genuinely wanted a Trump victory, or merely wanted him to come close enough to delegitimize and cripple Clinton.)  That's bad. That's a threat to the stability of our country. It's something that we have to address, or face the probability that it will happen again.

But we also need to acknowledge that the Russian hacking and leaks, as bad as they were, did not cause Trump's victory.

That's likely to be a controversial statement, so let me break down my reasoning on this:
In order for the Russians to have made the difference, there would have to be tens of thousands of voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania who did not vote for Clinton, but would have voted for her were it not for things revealed in the leaked emails.  Maybe there were that many people who were that pissed off by the controversial risotto recipe, but I have serious doubts.

There simply weren't very many new revelations in either the DNC leaks or the Podesta emails, and no new narratives were spun around the leaks. The leaks simply reinforced (sometimes naturally, sometimes after sufficient spinning) existing narratives. The narratives were already there prior to the leaks.

Seriously, people didn't suddenly start believing that the DNC had tried to do what it could to help Clinton overcome Sanders in the primary when it was revealed that the interim Chair of the DNC had, at a bare minimum, assisted the Clinton campaign with debate prep during the primaries, and possibly had done so using information obtained as a result of her affiliation with CNN. People started to believe the DNC was trying to do what they could to help Clinton based on things like the scheduling of the debates on holiday weekends, the threat to bar anyone who participated in independent debates from official ones, and the refusal to let candidates like Lessig enter the debates at all.

People didn't suddenly formulate an opinion regarding Clinton's relationship with Wall Street when they saw the leaked transcripts from Podesta's email. People, both on the right and from the Sanders camp, had been demanding those transcripts for months before the leak and had been criticizing Clinton's big-money speaking engagements for even longer.

The people who got angry about things that turned up in the Russian-sponsored leaks were already angry about those very issues. In order for the leaks to make the difference between victory and defeat, tens of thousands of them would have had to care about those issues to begin with, but still be definite Clinton voters, but then be pushed over the edge to either not vote at all or to vote for a different candidate because of unconfirmed leaks which were - at that time - being widely reported as potentially being linked to the Russians.

Seriously, how likely is that.

No, if the Russians have succeeded at anything, it's at convincing people that their attempt at intervention actually did anything to sway the 2016 election. It didn't. The harm that it has indubitably done to us will come later, and will in part result from all the "but if only" bullshit theories that are spun around their minimal interference.

There are reasons that Trump won, and that Clinton lost. We will find them closer to home than Russia.

12 December 2016

If you think Mitch McConnell committed treason, you need to stop and read the Constitution.

The title on this one should be self-explanatory, really.  Russia intervening in our elections is very, very bad. The fact that the United States Senate Majority Leader was too concerned with partisan advantage to agree to a unified approach to an external threat is even worse.  But he did not commit treason. This is immediately clear to anyone who reads the Constitution, and even more clear to anyone who has read the Federalist Papers.  Sadly, that hasn't stopped a distressing number of Democrats from demanding that McConnell be charged with treason.

There is the one and only crime which is defined in the United States Constitution. The definition is found in Article III, Section 3, Clause 1, and the relevant language is very clear:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.
Let's break that down and apply it to this situation.

"Treason against the United States, shall consist only..."
 That phrasing unequivically establishes that the clause is both the definition of treason and that it is the only definition of treason - in other words, if the acts don't fit the rest of the definition, they aren't treason.

"...in levying war against them..."
Mitch McConnell did not levy war against the United States. Metaphorical war only counts if you want to metaphorically charge him with metaphorical treason. It doesn't work in the real world, and shouldn't. I'll get to why in a minute.

"...or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort."
The provision does not say "giving aid and comfort to another country." We are not at war with Russia. Russia, therefore, is not legally our enemy. if Russia is not an enemy, giving Russia aid an comfort cannot be treason. It's really that simple.

Now I could get into all kinds of caselaw, discuss whether McConnell's inaction would fit the definition in the event that Russia was an enemy (it doesn't), and so on, but that would use more of my time than I care to spare on this absurdity. McConnell's decision to refuse to join in a united, bipartisan effort to call out Russia's attempts to influence our election was exactly the kind of thing that you would expect from the king of obstructionism, but it's simply not treason. And it's not treason for good reason.

It's not an accident that treason is defined in the Constitution, or that it's defined as narrowly as it is. That's a feature, built in by the founders, as James Madison (writing as Publius) explained in Federalist 43:

But as new-fangled and artificial treasons have been the great engines by which violent factions, the natural offspring of free government, have usually wreaked their alternate malignity on each other, the convention have, with great judgment, opposed a barrier to this peculiar danger, by inserting a constitutional definition of the crime, fixing the proof necessary for conviction of it, and restraining the Congress, even in punishing it, from extending the consequences of guilt beyond the person of its author.

In short, the founders didn't want groups of Americans throwing reckless charges of treason around as a way to pound on their political opponents, so they crafted the definition so as to make that impossible.

So, before you sign any of the petitions demanding that McConnell be hung, drawn, and quartered - or the modern equivalent - it might be good if you take a moment to think about what you are doing, and why it's something that the founders considered to be incompatible with the America they were trying to establish. 

Right. Back to here.

Right. I apparently greatly underestimated how much effort Facebook has put into monetizing the Pages thing. If I want to keep my longer political commentary separate from my personal page, yet still be reasonably confident that posts will show up on friends' timelines, I need to pay for the privilege.

Not planning on doing that. So back to Blogger it is.

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