An Open Letter to the Honorable Chuck Grassley

Posted in Law & Justice, Social & Political with tags , , , , , , , on July 12, 2017 by xaipe

"History shows that the ten-year term limit isn't there to protect the FBI Director from politicians or politics; it's there to protect–to help prevent the FBI Director from overreaching or abusing power."

Dear Senator,

I directly quote you above to highlight a serious factual error in your statement. I'm not sure what history text you're consulting for this position, but I would suggest you find another source, perhaps documents from your own Senate.

Case in point, from the 2nd Session of the 93rd Congress, Report No. 93-1213, Calendar No. 1151, Ten-Year Term For FBI Director:

"The purpose of this bill is to achieve two complementary objectives. The first is to insulate the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from undue pressure being exerted upon him from superiors in the Executive Branch. The second is to protect against an FBI Director becoming too independent and unresponsive."

As Chair of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the same position you now occupy, Senator Robert Byrd would be an excellent source for you to reference. As I think should be clear from the above citation, you are clearly incorrect in stating that the ten-year term limit for the FBI Director isn't meant to insulate the Director from undue political influence.

I would further argue that you fail to comprehend the meaning of the plain English language in the amendment itself:

"(b) Effective with respect to any individual appointment by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, after June 1,1973, the term of service of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation shall be ten years. A Director may not serve more than one ten-year term. The provisions of subsections (a) through (c) of section 8335 of title 5, United States Code, shall apply to any individual appointed under this section."

—S. 2212 (94th): Crime Control Act, Sec. 203 (emphasis mine)

I highlighted the relevant language so that we might operate from the same set of facts. The law says clearly that the term of the Director "shall be ten years." This reminds me of other language that seems familiar, i.e. "Congress shall pass no law…" within the text of the Bill of Rights. I draw this parallel for a reason.

We take the language in the Bill of Rights to mean what it says, so when we read:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

We understand it to mean that Congress will never, ever, do any of these things. The words "shall make no" carry weight & force. While the auxiliary verb "shall" denotes future action, its connotation is that of expressing an assertion or a command. This is the function of these words in general, but the example helps to elucidate their gravity.

In a like manner, S. 2212, Sec. 203, states in few words that the FBI Director's term "shall be ten years." There is no equivocation nor qualification in the words chosen. There is nothing suggesting that its authors meant for the term to be "up to" ten years. They say quite simply that the term will be exactly ten years.

We could argue that they could have been more clear about how the Director functions under the umbrella of the Office of the Executive, under what specific conditions the Director can be fired, etc. However, while such debate might be relevant to the esoteric discussions of the future, it has no bearing on this issue.

The notion of FBI independence is not about to whom the FBI reports or under whose office they are organized. At its core, FBI independence is about ensuring that, when the coercive powers of the State are moved en masse against an individual or a group, those coercive powers are brought to bear with absolute regard for Constitutional Rights & the demands of Justice, without being colored by political motivations.

That you fail to grasp this simple concept is unconscionable. In my mind, it borders on negligence. Your apparent ignorance about important, relevant legislation would drive me to distraction were I an Iowan; as an American I'm simply incensed. You made these statements in public, on the record, opening the confirmation hearing for the nominee for the position of Director of the FBI!

I'd like to say that history will judge you unkindly, but I have little faith that many people will pay any attention to this whatsoever. I suggest that contravening such an opinion as yours is of great importance. If allowed to proliferate, your notions could easily lead to a situation in which every incoming president will simply appoint his or her preferred director, a situation the 94th Congress sought to avoid at all costs.

I won't attempt to address further remarks you made disparaging Andrew McCabe, James Comey, & the FBI for carrying the ugly legacy of J. Edgar Hoover, as if the very fact of the ten year term doesn't already address Hoover. To suggest that a politically independent FBI is somehow a threat to liberty is not just foolish, it is irresponsible.

Sincerely

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The Last Letter of Thomas Jefferson, on the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence

Posted in Social & Political with tags , , , on July 3, 2017 by xaipe

Shortly before his death, July 4, 1826, Thomas Jefferson wrote the letter that would be the last of his life. He was declining the invitation to pass the anniversary in Washington DC, & he took to the moment with his usual prosaic vigor.

As we celebrate our 241st Anniversary, it would be good to reflect on what brings us to the occasion.

Monticello June 24. 26

Respected Sir

The kind invitation I receive from you on the part of the citizens of the city of Washington, to be present with them at their celebration of the 50th anniversary of American independance; as one of the surviving signers of an instrument pregnant with our own, and the fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened by the honorable accompaniment proposed for the comfort of such a journey. It adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be deprived by it of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. But acquiescence is a duty, under circumstances not placed among those we are permitted to controul. I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government. that form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.

I will ask permission here to express the pleasure with which I should have met my ancient neighbors of the City of Washington and of it’s vicinities, with whom I passed so many years of a pleasing social intercourse; an intercourse which so much relieved the anxieties of the public cares, and left impressions so deeply engraved in my affections, as never to be forgotten. with my regret that ill health forbids me the gratification of an acceptance, be pleased to receive for yourself, and those for whom you write, the assurance of my highest respect and friendly attachments.

Th. Jefferson

People Doing “Studies” Need To Get Their Facts Straight.

Posted in Law & Justice, Social & Political with tags , , , , on June 27, 2017 by xaipe

This won’t be long. In researching why the GOP is claiming that premiums have more than doubled under the ACA, I found this Forbes article.

The Brookings Institute took issue with a study showing that insurance premiums dropped under the ACA. Their contention with the previous study was that it didn’t account for the money from tax incentives going toward premium costs. When factored in, premium costs seem to have doubled.

I contend that this is a false measure, first of all. No individual accounts for subsidies, either from the government or from an employer, as part of their premium costs. In offering this “premiums have doubled” number, they’re putting out facts without context. Context matters.

Further, it appears the study didn’t take into account the risk-corridor payments the GOP reneged on (ultimately Congress reneged, but it was the GOP measure that stripped funding & caused the mass exodus of insurers from the marketplace, reducing competition & driving up costs).

Further, by not enforcing the mandate, they pull healthy people from the system. It’s like having car insurance for only bad drivers: that insurance becomes very expensive. As a good driver, your premiums go toward subsidizing bad drivers. How do you think insurance companies get the money to pay claims? It’s a burden-sharing system. By not recognizing the importance of diversity in the insurance markets, they make those markets untenable.

Additionally, let’s not forget that the original ACA bill included a public healthcare option on the marketplace. That would have placed Medicaid-type plans on the individual markets. With this additional competition, insurers would have been forced to put their private products against lower cost public options. They were terribly afraid that such a move would have been the death of their industry.

Do not take things at face value, ever. Read & listen critically. Define the terms & the jargon being used to understand what someone is really saying. While the words sound like English, they’re usually all speaking American Politician. Further, statistics & data sets can say a lot of seemingly competing things, but that’s because the interpreters often wear colored lenses to view the data. Look at methodology & see how people arrive at conclusions. If their methodology is flawed or results are presented out of context, they can often lead to wholesale misinterpretations & a general decline in the way facts & truths interact within our discourse.

In What Is The Supreme Court Interested?

Posted in Law & Justice, Social & Political with tags , , , , , , , on June 26, 2017 by xaipe

Caveat emptor: I am not now nor have I ever been a lawyer.

The Supreme Court today allowed parts of the Executive Order (EO) that restricts travel from 6 largely Muslim nations to be enforced in part. Essentially, the Court did two things. It acknowledged concerns by opponents & is allowing those with direct ties to United States citizens to continue to enter the country. Additionally, the Court is allowing enforcement of the EO against those who have no ties to United States citizens.

That’s all well & good, but the larger question should be framed differently: what is the Court’s interest in hearing this case?

It seems the case should be moot. The 90 days originally requested by the EO are gone, even from the second EO effective date. Further, it seems the Administration’s claims have little merit, i.e. these EOs speak directly to important national security concerns, but the Administration has not moved forward with the extreme vetting they requested back in January.

POTUS originally claimed (& still does claim) that this EO would:

“[F]or a brief period of 90 days, while existing screening and vetting procedures were under review, the entry into the United States of certain aliens from the seven identified countries — each afflicted by terrorism in a manner that compromised the ability of the United States to rely on normal decision-making procedures about travel to the United States — would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

It seems to any casual observer, however, that this statement by the White House is false. This EO has been mired in the courts for five months at this point, yet the Administration has not rolled out any enhanced or “extreme” vetting procedures.

Either the White House is being disingenuous when it says that this EO is temporary “while existing screening and vetting procedures were under review,” or it completely lacks concern for national security.

One would assume that, this being an incredibly important issue for the Administration, regardless of the position of the various federal courts, the Administration would have began the review of existing screening & vetting procedures immediately. This “extreme vetting” was said to be entirely necessary for the security of our nation & the safety of its inhabitants.

As we all know, however, this Administration has not rolled out any enhanced or extreme vetting procedures whatsoever. They haven’t even indicated that they’ve begun the process!

According to The Weekly Standard, no such policies or procedures are forthcoming, despite repeated claims that the EO is temporary to allow time to implement these extreme vetting policies that are (allegedly) so crucial to our security. The tweets from POTUS himself seem to also suggest that the EO itself is the device that will enhance our security, as he continually says that we need this ban to be removed from the courts so that we can be safe.

The White House has had ample time to implement extreme vetting if that were truly what this is about. Having apparently done absolutely nothing to institute extreme vetting, the argument that the EO is necessary for the security of the county doesn’t hold. 

Regardless, the case before the Court should be a moot issue because the time requested by both the original and the second EO has come & gone (additionally, the 120 days ‘pause’ requested for the refugee program has passed regarding the first EO). The lawyers responding to the government cited this issue in brief. The government responded further by having the White House change the effective date of the EO so that it doesn’t go into effect until the injunction is lifted. In their decision, the Justices noted:

The memorandum further provided that, to the extent necessary, it “should be construed to amend the Executive Order.” Ibid. The Government takes the view that, if any mootness problem existed previously, the President’s memorandum has cured it.

Further, the Court directed both parties to respond to the question of whether or not the case is moot as of June 14, 2017, to be heard during argument in October (this because the second EO is what’s under consideration, with an effective date originally in March).

The concerning issue for me is their interest in hearing this case at all. The case, on its face, seems to have no relevance anymore. However, the Justices will only hear argument about the moot question in October. Further, in a separate “concurrence,” Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Alito & Justice Gorsuch, is of the opinion that the government has a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of the case, i.e. The Court will ultimately strike down all challenges & decide for the government. 

I’m not sure how the government’s case does succeed on the merits. As I argued above, the behavior of the Administration belies any real interest in national security. The Court further notes in the decision that the Administration is free to conduct its review of vetting procedures, “if it has not already done so.” It seems to me the Court is cognizant of the national security issues, but I don’t believe they’ll brook any attempt to play in this area. If the Executive hasn’t competed & implemented their review or tries to expand the timeframe of the EO, I don’t see the Court being pleased.

As an aside, I think there is an argument to be had with the finding regarding refugees. The Court applies the same standard for visa waivers to the refugee program. It seems unlikely that people seeking refugee have bona fide relationships with US citizens, & while no one questions that no alien has a constitutional right to enter this country, one might still suggest that human beings fleeing inhuman treatment at least might have the right to be heard.

Regardless, I’m very interested to see where this goes. If the courts go too far toward Thomas & Gorsuch, we will see a further erosion of public trust in the institutions of democracy. These justices trend toward syssiphean feats of logical acrobatics to turn the law away from the People & towards corporations & moneied interests. At least that’s my opinion. 

The clock starts June 29, 2017. Mark your calendars for September 26, 2017. We’ll see what happens in the 90 days & beyond.

This Is Another Argument Republicans Make.

Posted in Law & Justice, Social & Political with tags , , , , , , , on June 26, 2017 by xaipe

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Here we have Representative Steve Russell, Republican from Oklahoma, discussing the CBO figure regarding the number of uninsured should the current tax bill gut Medicaid:

“Well, I think the first thing we have to examine is that 23 million figure. It’s not a hard figure. In fact, it’s probably only roughly a third of that that’s actually enrolled. The numbers & projections are those who might enroll at current rates at some time in the future.”

Now, of course he’s correct about the fact that the CBO number is based, in part, on future behavior. However, the good gentleman from Oklahoma is being disingenuous. He ignores two things: the actual number of people who gained healthcare under Medicaid expansion & are currently enrolled is 10.7 million people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, as reported by PolitiFact, and the numbers of insured have been the most reliable & accurate projections made by the CBO.

First, the numbers of the enrolled reflect the latest available data, counting through the end of 2015. We’ve surely added many, many more people since 2015. Second, even just counting the numbers of those who gained coverage under expansion, that number is already closer to half of the CBO estimate of those who will lose coverage.

Given that the CBO estimates that 14 million people who are covered by Medicaid will lose healthcare. 10.7 million of those are currently enrolled as of 2015. Factor in that the program continues through 2020, & you’re likely to see the actual number become much larger. If anything, the CBO number of uninsured from Medicaid cuts is conservative.

Further, I think it bears noting that, while initial CBO estimates from 2010 found more people in the exchanges than actually are but less people in Medicaid than actually are, the CBO ultimately predicted 22 million would gain healthcare; some 24 million actually did gain healthcare. Overall, the CBO score seems far more reliable than the gentleman would have us believe.

He goes on to say that “Obamacare is failing” & insist that something has to be done. Of course, rather than address the real issues of implementing the ACA, the “do something” remedy for all republicans is to eliminate anything Obama at all costs, regardless of consequences.

I think it seems fair to call “bullshit” on the congressman’s claims. He tries to minimize the damage his Party’s bill will cause by discrediting the CBO. This tactic has been tried, but to anyone who looks at the facts it should be obvious that these claims are, at best, half-truths in service of a larger mendacity.

I would also suggest that if this is how we are going to debate, that we may already be lost. We cannot continue to “spin” facts to a partisan cause. In doing so, we make the lie worse because it creates discord & division within the body politic, most of whom won’t look for the facts themselves.

Where Do These Numbers Come From?

Posted in Law & Justice, Social & Political with tags , , , , , , , on June 24, 2017 by xaipe


The following transcript is a paraphrase of the conversation in the video, heavily edited for length & clarity. 

Joy Reid: Millions of people gained Medicaid coverage under expansion. 

If you cut the expansion, those people will no longer be eligible.

You’re saying that these individuals won’t lose their coverage but rather trade it in for other coverage.

If that’s true, then where does the CBO find 20 million people losing coverage?

Avik Roy: Well, the people who never signed up for coverage in the first place, under the Obamacare mandate that has never resulted in large numbers of healthy people actually getting insurance, there are 18 million of those people who are counted in the CBO score.

Joy Reid: Are you fucking high?

An Open Letter To Any Senators Who Can Listen

Posted in Law & Justice, Social & Political with tags , , , , , , on June 24, 2017 by xaipe

Dear Senator, 

I’m gong to be succinct, here paraphrasing Milan Kundera:

True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which is deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: the poor, the sick, the old. 
How do we instead choose to act? We eliminate Medicaid to give profits to corporations & the wealthy before care to the poorest patients.

Onward Christian Nation! 

Way to go!