Accusations in a Vacuum

Update: a back-room agreement seems to have been made by Jeff Flake to see at least some investigation done by the FBI. We’ll see if that happens, but it would be a step in the right direction even if it is not definitive.

The failure of the White House to have the FBI to investigate the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh, alongside his own failure to publicly call for said investigation, and the failure of the GOP to call for an investigation, means I have no choice but to believe the accusations. They are credible based on the available evidence, and any evidence that could have impugned them is left ungathered.

There is sufficient evidence that Judge Kavanaugh lacks credibility:

  1. Unexplained discrepancies between earlier testimony and the limited documents released on his record from his time working in the government under the Starr investigation, in the Bush administration, and regarding his correspondence or other knowledge of Judge Alex Kozinski’s abuses.
  2. A lack of specificity regarding his debts.
  3. His lack of candor in the Fox News interview regarding his high school behavior.
  4. His failure to call for an investigation that could plausibly clear his name.
  5. His lack of candor in the hearings on Thursday.
  6. His indulgence in right-wing conspiracies regarding the process.

Meanwhile, the only accuser given the chance to testify, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, has had a consistent recollection of the incident going on some six years. She called for the FBI to investigate. There is no offered evidence that impeaches her telling.

Given the gravity of the alleged behavior, high school or not, it is damning if true. But we don’t have the luxury of deciding truth. We have to choose who we believe. In a natural vacuum, you might believe Ford or Kavanaugh. But we have here an artificial vacuum, created by the reluctance of the GOP, including Kavanaugh himself and the man who nominated him, Mr. Trump, to have the matter professionally investigated by the FBI. That artifice must weigh heavily against Kavanaugh.

The GOP in the Senate is now on trial. If they vote to consent to his appointment with the bad process, they will thereby sign a statement of their own incompetence at governing. They will disqualify themselves from the claim to legitimacy that is vital to the functioning of a democratic republic. All of this is a result not of Judge Kavanaugh’s alleged crimes, but of the very real process failures at the hands of the Trump administration and the Senate GOP.

There are sufficient leads for an FBI investigation to be conducted, even at this late date. They might find exculpatory evidence. They might find corroborating witnesses or facts. They might decide to have Mark Judge testify. The GOP’s failure to have the matter investigated requires a jaded eye fall on Kavanaugh’s rebuttal testimony. He is unfit to serve on the Supreme Court purely due to the process failures here.

If the president chooses, withdraw and renominate him with an FBI background check that encompasses these allegations. But, where we are today, any Senator worth eir salt will vote against Kavanaugh unless and until the public facts are improved. The damage of doing otherwise is a major blow to the integrity of our institutions.

2018 midterms are in five weeks.

A Member-Oriented Legislature

One of the big problems with how both chambers operate is the heavy reliance on the leaders to set the agenda for the majority. Things like McConnell’s decision to block an election-year recess so that Democratic senators can’t campaign for reelection, or McConnell’s decision to block a constitutionally mandated duty of the Senate to advise on a judicial nomination. Or Paul Ryan pulling a fast one on Republicans in the House who wanted a vote on DACA.

You have a situation where, by virtue of not wanting to cooperate with the other party, members are forced to adhere to leaders that do not serve their interests or their states’ or districts’ interests. Members of both houses subordinate themselves to the leaders and the leaders’ priorities. The chief priority is to retain power, which is not something anybody outside of those relying on power for political patronage cares about. Down here at sea level, far below the peak of Mount Congress, we just want good governance.

In a better world, the leadership’s chief goal would not be retaining power, but in increasing the liquidity of legislation and making it easier for members to accomplish the work of their constituents. This kind of member-oriented legislature would put work ahead of elections. It would devolve leadership power to members.

Ah, but we have this pesky Nash equilibrium to deal with. The Republicans won’t lend the Democrats a cup of sugar, and the Democrats have been burned too many times by trusting the Republicans. If the party in power relinquishes the stranglehold, and still loses the next election, they will have squandered their fleeting chance to do anything to further their agenda. And even if they retain power, the other side will use the increased power to obstruct!

But the reality is that we’re approaching a breaking point with partisan greed. The Republicans took up where the Democrats left off in torching the filibuster on appointments. The president has openly blathered about abolishing the filibuster full stop. With the Senate so narrowly divided, there’s a maximal tendency for McConnell to try to change the rules so that instead of saying “Nay” to vote against a bill, Democrats will have to say, “Trump MAGA Wall” to vote against a bill.

One option to fix the logjam is to require committee-driven quotas for legislation. That each major committee shall produce and shall have voted on no fewer than five major proposals per session, or whatever works. A force-flow of legislation, functioning much like a writer setting a daily goal even if they have to write “Al lwor kan dnopl aymak esjacka dul lboy” over and over to make the nut.

Another quota system would require at least one minority piece of legislation per five majority pieces.

Yes, the majority would invariably vote the legislation down. But making the votes mandatory at least puts them on the record against expanding Medicaid to cover tofu baths or against requiring firearms to be referred to as, example, “The Honorable AK-47.”

Another important option would be to either term-limit leadership terms, so that different members would have to become leaders, impose limits based on poor performance, or simply require mandatory votes to continue leadership.

Leadership is one of the big problems, so changes that increase turnover or at least put more pressure on leaders to get things done in a bipartisan manner would be welcome. The main criticism here would be that it could force good leaders out prematurely. At this point in America’s political decline, that criticism would be much like panning ice cream for its propensity to melt.

There has to be some way to entice cooperation and better legislative flow. The decision not to do anything about infrastructure, for example, is approaching the threshold of gross negligence on the part of congress. There are other major priorities that keep taking a back seat to silly things like charging a trillion dollar tax cut onto Uncle Sam’s credit card.

Globalism and Global Warming

The world continues to globalize, particularly information. One of the results of this is that when we hear news of global warming we confront not just our role in pollution, but our place as global citizens with all the implications.

This is heavy stuff. By analogy, software often must be recompiled to handle new data sources. The worldview, similarly, must be reworked. It requires a reintegration of the umwelt (Wikipedia: “Umwelt”)—the mental environment. It is the sort of psychological upheaval that requires a remooring in the new, emerging culture, but it’s occurring to broad swaths of man on a random, ongoing basis.

Major changes are challenging, and doubly so when the people are in denial. Job losses, relationship turmoil, financial ruin. Sudden awareness of being a member of not just your community, state, or country, but part of a broader order that includes people who don’t watch football.

While Republicans may have other, prurient interests in denying climate change, those may coincide with an aversion to this reintegration. The conservative mind is generally uncomfortable with the foreign (which is recognizable in the right’s zeal for war—the attack on and taming of the foreign). With each report of islands being subsumed by the tide, of glacial melt, of flooding and drought, all in places unpronouncable and unknown to their tongues, the conservative mind is reminded that the world exists beyond its borders and beyond its control.

Like global warming, globalization has real consequences that denial will make worse. Indeed, in many ways they will be one crisis of one cause. And at this late date, both are inevitable, but the harms can be mitigated. But not with current leadership. There are Republicans who have left office who suggest carbon pricing of one form or another. The Republican bloc rejects that, as they reject programs to protect workers from globalization while allowing it to occur.

By carefully using globalization, greater autonomy on some issues can be sent to the local level while strengthening the rights of the universal declaration. Energy consumption and production can be balanced and carbon pollution reduced and eliminated. But it takes the desire to see done, which serving Republicans lack as a bloc.

But change will come. Younger Republicans know climate change is a real threat. Educated Republicans know that global trading is not going away, and that it is a net-positive. The question remains, will change come soon enough?

The 2018 midterms are in about seven weeks.

The Kavanaugh Process

One of the features of the American judicial system is the notion of process. It’s there in the Constitution: “due process.” The notion that how you proceed (shared root with process) is just as important as the result of the proceedings.

The Republicans have elected to follow a mangled process for deciding whether to consent on the nominee for such a process-oriented institution. Hundreds of thousands of documents withheld. Conflicts in the release process that would make Lady Justice tear off her blindfold and toss down her scales, walking away in disgust. Confidentiality markings that are meant to obscure rather than protect.

Another low point. The thinking among Senate Republicans seems to be that, given their map for the 2018 midterms, they have nothing to lose. When your team is virtually guaranteed, no matter the wave, that you’ll retain your majority, that’s when you say “fuck the voters.” Except that’s not how our country is supposed to work. That’s exactly the kind of tribal, might-makes-right thinking we sought to abolish in forming the nation.

I expect that they will feel the sting of their indifference to America’s flag and its defenders in due time. The Republicans in the Senate may be safe in 2018 (remains to be seen), but they will not be safe forever. Kavanaugh may yet be confirmed through a process that any judge in any court in the land would bang the gavel on, and bad judges do real damage. That’s regrettable, lamentable, but at the end of the day all the rest of us can do is keep working to remedy the injustices, whether they are natural or artificial, political or commercial.

To put it another way, if Kavanaugh is confirmed, if the court rules poorly, the choice remains of how to react. I do not expect that the public will abide in bad law. It takes time, it takes effort. The law is subject to amendment.

This is just the sort of power shifting that Senator Sasse pointed to in his opening remarks (The Washington Post: 4 September 2018: Amber Phillips: “Ben Sasse on why Kavanaugh hearings are so ugly”; see especially the four-point argument mentioned). Having an imbalanced court inevitably pushes voters in the other direction, like carrying too many groceries in one hand leads you to lean the other way to compensate.

There’s an open question in game theory about how necessary such shifts are. That is, whether congress could self-reattach (to extend the self-neuter analogy used by Sasse), or whether some outside event is required to provoke such a response. If, in fact, such outside agitations are requisite, then in our next revision of our governing systems we should seek to build-in mechanisms to induce rebalancing more frequently.

We are just over eight weeks out from the election.

A License to Disbelieve

In Ian Flemming’s series involving the character James Bond, there is the notion of a “License to Kill.” The license, granted to secret agents, apparently confers immunity from prosecution when they commit homicide as part of their official duties.

But one of the key concepts that’s harming our modern political discourse is this ungranted, self-founded license to disbelieve that many have taken up. Climate denial has surely played a major role in its development, what with one party virtually deciding that having a livable planet is not a priority and just outright denying that we should do anything.

Causes like the anti-vaccination movement, which is apparently much of a non-partisan affair, also fuel the idea that we can just up and decide to ignore data out of fear or discomfort.

There was the rash of Republicans who famously disbelieved the citizenship of President Obama, which was a precursor to the current government that feels comfortable disbelieving (without evidence or due process) the citizenship of ordinary folks.

But unlike the License to Kill, or even a license to drive, the license to disbelieve is not issued. There is no test. There is no accountability. Oops, I rejected vaccines as a commie plot, and now your kid has plague. Oops, I thought China invented the global warming hoax, and now Miami is Sea World.

The license to disbelieve does get revoked, though. Just as in the above cases. When pestilence spreads, the license to disbelieve vaccines gets revoked. When the seas rise, or when, in 2100, half of the country has over 50 days per year at 38°C/100°F, the license to disbelieve carbon pollution is stamped void.

There is a high level of irreverence for facts that comes with the license to disbelieve. It is as though the practitioners of disbelief are looking at a cloud, deciding its shape. While it is clearly a mushroom cloud, they want to lie and pretend that nothing horrible will happen. They choose to see a funny tree shape, instead.

The antidote to disbelief is logical reasoning about mitigating risks. If there’s a bevy of evidence for something, even if you disbelieve, you’re a fool to not make some plans to handle the risk that you’re wrong.