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Gross Negligence versus Less-Than Criminal Malfeasance

Some thoughts on Clinton’s email scandal versus the lack of acknowledged scandal surrounding the Congress.

The Clinton email uncovers some widespread ignorance of law, reaching to the highest levels of the Congress. The House GOP, in the wake of the news delivered by FBI Director James Comey, is out for blood in the form of some type of indictment of Hillary Clinton. If the Constitution did not bar ex post facto laws, I’m sure they would be passing them “in a few hours,” to quote Chaffetz. The media has also been seeking the juicy chance to tell the American people that the Democrats would face the unprecedented choice between running a candidate who’s out on bail and ditching her for someone else.

But the wisdom of law is that it doesn’t bend to the political winds, but holds up. It continues to exist right beside whatever politically expedient thing might be in the here and now.

If Clinton were an ordinary employee, or even if she were presently in the employ of the Federal government, she would undoubtedly be sanctioned for mishandling of classified materials (as would her staff). That not being the case, where is our pound of flesh? It’s not like the Congress could pass new laws that would obliterate the chances of similar issues in the future. It’s not like the Congress could look in a mirror and note that they failed to provide adequate oversight at the time Hillary Clinton was serving as Secretary of State.

But this is about Hillary Clinton, not Congress. Misdeeds lead to punishment. That’s how we’ve always done it. Never mind that we have no idea (and won’t until some future day when the emails in question are declassified) how severe the errors were. We still must find some manner of settling this score, a score we never would have known about if the conservatives hadn’t been so scornful of Clinton in the first place that they filed FOIA requests for documents relating to the handling of the attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Again, where was the oversight?

Wait, wait. Focus. Clinton. Did she lie to Congress? Did she lie to the public? She said she needed only one device, and possibly someone hacked the server. And sent classified information via email. Unarchived email. Would a new law really help? I mean, it’s not like there are other problems we’ve had in the same area. This was just one person (oh, and her staff) that screwed up. And it’s not like we could just have a law that would require normal government business to be conducted through normal government channels. It’s not like our founding document recognized the need for such a normal channel and empowered the government to create a service for the carriage of correspondence.

So, get mad as you like at Clinton. Elect Donald Trump instead. Hit the earth with a meteor, why don’tcha? It doesn’t really matter, because at the end of the day she’s still just one person, and punishment doesn’t solve problems. If it did, all the people suffering due to lack of immigration reform; lack of action on police, incarceration, and guns; lack of price controls on health care; lack of infrastructure maintenance; lack of climate action; lack of educational reform; lack of poverty reform; . . .; all of those people would have solved all of our problems years ago. They are being punished not because Hillary Clinton mishandled classified information.

They are being punished because Congress is nothing but a shitshow. So, go ahead, punish Clinton. How could one more person suffering really matter when that unholy body of the US Congress can’t do its job? Since they write the laws, rest assured their dereliction remains less-than-criminal malfeasance.

Ryan’s Speakership Demands

Paul Ryan will likely be the next Speaker of the House, following a scramble to find a replacement once Boehner announced his retirement. But to get to that point, Ryan has demanded that:

  1. The whole party support him.
  2. Rule changes to make that support somewhat lasting.
  3. An arrangement for someone else to do some of the fundraising.

The first two points are likely workable. The third is, while laudable and understandable, a load of crap. This is the party that pushed the Citizens United case. The party of the almighty dollar. Those funds aren’t going to raise themselves. They aren’t self-rising. You can try to get by with your vegan speakership without eggs by substituting some vinegar and baking soda, but real cake takes eggs.

And Ryan doesn’t want eggs.

The way that plays out is fairly obvious and a real-world example of a slippery slope. A big-money donor wants Ryan, so the big-money donor gets Ryan, because how are you going to not hand-hold the whales? But then a second-tier pocketbook wants Ryan. What can he do? Pretend that the lesser money does not also spend?

Before you know it, Paul Ryan will be pan-handling in the parking lot, just like every other Speaker in American history.

Of the other two demands, the first is just as silly. “You all have to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. Not just mouth the words!” Ok, Ryan. Whatever you say.

The whole point of electing the speaker is that the vote reflects the feelings. Demanding universal support is something that dictators do. It’s just a terrible optic.

The rule change is the only one that makes sense as a demand. But it’s also the bitterest of the pills he’s asking for. The rule allows the House to demand a change in leadership, and it’s hard to see that changing. Actually, it’s impossible to see that changing, because there will always be some way to accomplish it if enough members want it.

In the ends, Ryan will probably take the job for lack of an alternative. That’s pretty much how the GOP Presidential nomination will also play out. The GOP doesn’t have a unified agenda anymore. They have the party that got by on anger and fear, getting reelected to do basically the establishment’s business, and they have the minority elected on fear and anger, to actually push the fear and anger agenda.

That minority, the Freedom Caucus, are the daughters who actually got the fucking pony, and now they are half-way down the road to deciding having a pony is a lot more trouble than it’s worth, so maybe someone knows a good pony-meat recipe?

They’re trying to decide whether to slaughter it directly, or maybe send it out the barn door, count 60-mississippi, and then chase after it, hunt it down. Give it a sporting chance.

Fiscal Cliff

Overview of the fiscal cliff.

With the election done, the question turns to the approaching crisis of budget, taxes, and social programs.

Back in June, 2001 the Congress lowered tax rates. Again in 2003. Together these actions comprised the Bush Tax Cuts. Set to expire in 2010 (at the time of passage, it was thought (or claimed to have been thought) that larger reform would be accomplished by then), they have been extended to the end of 2012. And there’s currently no deal to extend them further, leading to a situation whereby tax rates revert to their former levels (which can be sneakily called rate hikes).

Budget sequestration. Enacted in August of 2011. This is the set up to a perverse game of chicken, in which the Democrats and Republicans tie themselves together and race headlong at the cliff, and if either fails to turn away in time, we all go over.

All of the non-exempt departmental budgets will be cut by a quarter-percent.

But what is the cliff itself? It is a combination of lower revenues from the tax cuts, which created the trench, and increasing costs/outlays, creating the ramp. We’re moving along a curve, and come the end of the year (technically the cliff hits in a more nuanced way), the curve drops off and the trench closes up as revenues increase due to rates returning to normal.

It’s not really as much of a cliff as a ramp. Into a revenue wall.

The fear is that the turmoil of decreased government spending, coupled with increase pressure from taxes, will lead to a recession.

All of this is overshadowed by the larger fear that the government no longer functions properly, and won’t deal with the underlying causes of the cliff in a meaningful manner.

That is, between the military budget, Social Security, Medicare, and the broken tax code, we face long-term debt and deficit issues that impact our ability to adhere to our values.

The Republicans believe that we should cut the government down to size, except for the military.

The Democrats believe we should raise revenues through tax increases.

In many ways, the entire cliff is built out of the same sort of crisis the Republican party should be going through in the wake of the 2012 election. They have shown an inability to adjust their values to the modern world. They weren’t willing to take up immigration reform when it was their own president, George W. Bush, pushing for it. They continue to try to enact draconian measures against women, including efforts to block access to contraception and abortion.

We face a similar crisis of values. Our military is too large. Our prisons are too full. Our tax system offers perverse incentives. Our medical system uses misguided payment arrangements such as fee-for-service. And so on.

Big military replaced the value of security. Big prisons replaced the value of justice. Tax loopholes replaced the value of government by the people. Fee-for-service and similar money-first schemes replaced the value of pursuit of happiness.

Reelection and career politician replaced the value of government of the people.

Our underlying values are still strong, but their weak counterparts, their value-for-dummies equivalents, are detriments to the functioning of our system.

The supposed traditionalists, the Republicans, are not calling for a return to our true, core values. But the Democrats are silent on most of them as well (notable exceptions being things like equality under the law when they call for recognition of marriage).

In the end, it’s unclear whether the fiscal cliff will scare the congresscritters into action.