Mueller Report, II: What sort of investigation, anyway?

I feel compelled to start this post with my usual disclaimer: I am not currently licensed to practice law, and have never practiced criminal law. The analysis of the report is just that, my analysis.

Before I start, I need to say two things:

  • This is my reading of the Report. I have not even read the Washington Post materials that they included in their edition.
  • It’s been a long time since law school, and I was never a criminal lawyer. Take my analysis with, in the words of the emcee at Woodstock, “as many grains of salt as you want.”

Today’s post centers on the first volume of the Mueller Report, the investigations of the Russian impacts on the 2016 election and possible coordination between the Russians and the Trump Campaign.

One of the questions that first arises for me is: what sort of investigation was this, anyway?

There has been some confusion in the media (looking at you, Fox News) and with both President and his conservative supporters. “No collusion!” became their rallying cry, except when for a while it was “Collusion is not a crime.”

They’re right about that: collusion is not a term with any criminal legal meaning; it’s not in the federal criminal statute and it’s not a legal term of art.  (Mueller Report, “Introduction to Volume 1,” p.2 (Report)) However, the President and his supporters did not pull the word out of the thin air. Although not used in the appointment document, in one of the subsequent memos by Rosenstein he did use the word “colluding.” (Report, p. 11 (Not to mention that “collusion” as a concept is generally understood by the public, as a result of antitrust actions in the sports world and in business.)

This may seem to be a minor point, but the whole issue has been thoroughly politicized on both sides.

The Acting Atty General’s appointment charged Mueller and team to investigate “links” and “coordination” between the Trump Campaign and Russian interests. “Like collusion, ‘coordination’ does not have a settled definition in federal criminal law.” According to the Special Counsel, coordination required tacit or express agreement between the  Russian government and the Trump campaign.  (Report, “Introduction to Volume I,” p.2. Mueller and his team were looking to see if any joint criminal activity would constitue conspiracy under federal law. And as the Report points out, simply because two entities are working towards the same end, and have conversations about it does not in and of itself mean they are engaged in a conspiracy.

This is imporant to remember: this was a criminal investigation. The rules of any criminal investigation apply. This does not mean that there was not coordination. It means that the Office of the Special Counsel did not find enough admissible evidence to warrant charging the Trump campaign with conspiracy.

In reaching the charging decisions about the interactions, the Office determined whether  someone had committed a crime that should be prosecuted under the Principles of Federal Prosecution, found in DOJ’s Justice Manual. (Report, p. 8-9, Executive Summary.) The standards found in the Justice Manual are: does the conduct constitute a federal crime; is there admissible evidence that would allow a prosecutor to obtain and sustain a conviction; and would the prosecution would serve substantial federal interest not served by other means. Justice Manual, 9-27.000 et seq.

[W]hile the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges. 

Report, Executive Summary, p.9

This is not to say that no criminal activities occurred. The investigation did not always yield admissible evidence, or a complete picture of activities undertaken by subjects of investigation. Report, “Executive Summary,” p.10. Some individuals took the Fifth, and the team did not feel they were appropriate candidates for  immunity. ibid. Some evidence was subject to legal privilege or were held by members of the media. Some materials were deleted from electronic devices. The Office couldn’t corroborate witness statements with contemporaneous  communications. ibid.

The Office of the Special Counsel recognized the limits of their investigation:

Accordingly, while this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additionallight on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.

Report, Executive Summary, p. 10

It should also be noted that Mueller was charged with investigating matters arising from the investigation, hence the prosecutions of Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, et al. As I go along, I will be touching on these issues more, but I thought it useful to have a framework for understanding.

I would encourage everyone interested in this pivotal issue to read the Mueller Report’s Introduction and Executive Summaries. They are only about ten pages in length, and do a good of outlining the results of the inquiry.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Pat’s Cranky Corn Chowder.

Okay, ingredients first. The instructions are gonna get rambly. Tough.

  • 4 ears Super Sweet corn, pre-husked so you don’t have to deal with corn silk
  • 3 slices of thick bacon cut into small pieces
  • Onion, diced (pre-diced from Safeway — suck it, Trebek Alton Brown)
  • Celery diced from the sticks I bought at Safeway (I wanted diced but they didn’t have them)
  • A bunch of little potatoes, cut into quarters or sixths (maybe 20? I wasn’t counting. A bit over 2 cups)*
  • 1 1/2 c. hot water
  • 1 chicken bullion cube
  • 3 Tbs Butter
  • 3 tbs flour
  • 3 c. milk (fat-free because nobody in the house drinks anything else)
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • Spices and whatnot

Optional:

  • Decent but not too good chilled white wine (I used Chardonnay)
  • Dry ginger beer (Fevertree or Gosling’s are good; Bundaberg is too sweet)

Serving suggestions: shredded cheddar, sour cream, hot sauce (my hot sauce of choice is Chipotle Tabasco.)

*****

I started by hauling out the heavy (and beloved) cast iron Dutch oven, so I could feel like a real cook. I looked up twenty zillion corn chowder recipes and decide screw it, I’ll make my own.

Browned bacon pieces, resisting the urge to just eat the bacon. Removed pieces, leaving fat behind. Sweated onions and celery in bacon fat. While that is going on, cut kernels from corn. (I swear, next time I’m using frozen.) Congratulated myself that I still have all my fingers unscathed.

Dissolved the bullion cube in the hot water. Idly wondered how much sodium is in the bullion, and decided I am too lazy to check. Dumped dissolved bullion into pot, and added potatoes. Cooked until potatoes are nearly but not completely tender.

Got butter out of freezer and discovered I hadn’t bought 1/2 cup sticks last time I went to Costco, I had bought pound blocks. Chopped off what I think was three tablespoons. Melted the butter, got distracted, and managed to grab butter off burner before it got more than a little brown. Made a roux using the flour because I was born in New Orleans by God so I damn well better know how to make a roux. (Okay, so my parents left when I was four and I consider myself a Floridian, but still…) Added milk slowly, whisking all the while. Added cream, the second 1/2 cup after I accidentally knocked the first 1/2 cup all over the stove, including the burner which is for some reason missing a drip pan, which means it will be a bitch clearing it off the underpart of the stove.

Dumped milk mixture and corn in with potatoes. Added bacon pieces. Tasted. Decided that I was too nervous that I would screw the seasoning up, so I limited them to salt and Penzey’s Florida Pepper, because it is one of my favorite spices. (Besides, every time Trump does something stupid they have a promotion so I have accumulated a lot of spices I am trying to figure out how to use.)

Simmered a little while more so the corn could cook a little bit and the flavors could cozy up. Meanwhile, I placed a couple of ice cubes in a glass. Filled it halfway with chilled white wine. It gets topped off with ginger beer. This goes into the cook, not into the soup. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea — or glass of wine — but I like it.

*****

Railfan and I ate the soup with shredded cheddar and sour cream (and in my case hot sauce). It was very tasty — good enough I will probably make it again. (I will play around with the seasonings — it probably could use parsley.) This also means that, with the Vidalia onion soup I made a few days ago I made soup (that was not chili) from scratch twice in a week.

Go me.

Posted in Food | Tagged | Leave a comment

Mueller Report, I

I am reading the Mueller Report, so you don’t have to. Not that it’s boring or difficult, but it is nearly 400 pages, not including introductions and appendices. I will be taking this in chunks — consider this my introductory post.

My first thought is that there is no way in hell that Barr read the whole report in a weekend. Even if he assigned the material to assistants, reading the report and reviewing the underlying evidence would take longer than that. Given the length of time between his press conference claiming that the report exonerated Trump and when the report was released to the public, I believe that he had not actually read the report, especially as he made a great deal of Mueller not recommending indicting the President when Mueller clearly indicates why he did not.

I am working on three assumptions:

  1. Robert Mueller is an honorable man who investigated with an open mind and as responsibly as was possible.
  2. Robert Mueller and his team are much better lawyers than I am — certainly very much more experienced.
  3. Just because I detest someone and their behavior does not mean that they have committed a crime.

From what I have read so far, one thought keeps recurring: it is a blessing that Trump is an egomaniacal idiot who refuses advice. Yes, it has been a disaster in a great many ways, and the damage done will last for a generation. It could have been worse.

I have heard it said that we have become a Russian puppet state. I don’t believe it, even though Putin and friends have certainly disrupted not only our elections but the fabric of our social discourse. But had we had a candidate, or God forbid, a President, willing to do whatever it took and make whatever promises they needed to win, and who was more intelligent, more politically sophisticated, and more accepting of advice, we might actually be on our way to becoming a Russian puppet state.

A more politically savvy “statesman” would have welcomed — nay, insisted upon — Jeff Sessions’s recusal. A more nuanced politician would have not fired James Comey, but would have done everything to hamstring him as much as possible behind the scenes. (They certainly would have not gone on national television and given incriminating statements after the fact.) Because the White House acted guilty as all hell, seventy per cent of the general public (minus Congressional Republicans and their “base”) wanted an investigation.

A more careful politician would have exercised restraint in their dealings with the Russians. They would have not met alone in the Oval Office with the Russian ambassador. They would not have praised Vladimir Putin so effusively, or met with him or called him secretly.

All the nefarious activities would be undertaken at a remove, by middlemen who could be fired if they were found to be engaging in activities damaging to U.S. national interests. (With suitable sadness and regret, naturally.) The President would be above reproach. Let the intelligence agencies investigate; there would be nothing to tie the President to the Russians, until we were entwined arm in arm.

Any information the public got would be thrown above the transom of newspapers and other media outlets. A thoroughly scurrilous operation would blunt the effect of the leaks, by creating “leaks” of their own, seeded with just enough information while enveloping them in a cloud of falsity so as to discredit the mainstream media. (As an aside, it still impresses me how leak-free the Mueller investigation was.)

I think I need to stop for now; I’m scaring myself. There’s clearly a novel there waiting to be written (if Tom Clancy or James Patterson have not already written one).

At any rate, as Rachel Maddow is fond of saying, “Watch this space.” Although be warned, it may take a little while. As I said, it is a nearly 400 page report.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Existential questions.

How do you know when you’re broken? How do you determine whether this is your psyche demanding a few days (or months) of letting go?

Or when you have become a Good German? Or a Soviet comrade?

When is it all too much?

Perhaps I suffer from a lack of imagination, but I never expected to reach this point in my lifetime. I hated the Reagan and GWB administration, but I never felt hopeless. I never entertained the thought that there would be anything other than a smooth transfer of power between administrations. Michael Cohen, the President’s fixer and someone who really new Trump, raised that very possibility in his testimony to Congress. When I heard him say that, I felt sick. Never in my lifetime, not even during Watergate, has any Congressional witness said anything like that.

It received no media coverage, lost in all the other revelations during Cohen’s testimony.

I know the only hope we have is to fight. The Third Reich collapsed, albeit under the withering attack of opposing militaries. The Soviet Union fell apart, too, albeit taking over seven decades to do so. If the forces of hatred and oppression, who would turn the clock back to an era they claim was a Golden Age of American history but was really a time they could grind people of color and women under their heel, get thoroughly entrenched, it may take a generation or more to uproot them. Their strategy of nominating and confirming young judges who share their twisted views (such that not only Roe v. Wade but Dredd Scott were wrongly decided (ETA: it is Clarence Thomas who thinks Dred Scott was wrongly decided; Trump’s judicial nominees don’t think Brown v. Board was correct) is thoroughly effective: regardless of what happens at the ballot box, these people will totally control a branch of the government for decades. This is good news for corporations, I suppose, but terrible for a lot more of us.

I have causes; I just need reasons to think I am not just tilting at windmills.

I understand I am probably overreacting. But I need to know the world — the country — can be the good and moral country we used to say we wanted to be.

Hey, a hummingbird!

Hummingbirds don’t care what happens in Alabama. It doesn’t matter to the plovers on the shore whether the President has released his tax returns. The deer on the side of I-280 couldn’t care less what the Mueller Report says.

It’s not much, but it helps.

Posted in nothing special | Tagged | Leave a comment

Voicing my opinions

The Voice finale was Monday, and the winner was crowned Tuesday. Fortunately, the right person won. And by the right person, I mean someone with an angelic voice who was not a) a country singer, b) a hot looking young man, or c) a cute teenage girl.

The competition was won by Maelyn Jarmon, whose voice reminds me somewhat of Florence + the Machine. (Although her duet of “Unforgettable” with John Legend reminded me of some of Lady Gaga’s duets with Tony Bennett.) She sang a duet with Sarah Machlalan, and held her own.

The final competition night she sang an original composition, the aforementioned duet with her coach, and “Hallelujah.” This song has been covered to death (I have six versions myself), including at least four times on the Voice. She managed to make it sound beautiful and sufficiently different that I purchased it. She also won brownie points with me by understanding the nature of the song. Title aside, “this is not a song of celebration; it’s a song of longing and regret.” (I wish all the artists who put Hallelujah on their Christmas albums could understand this.)

All of this on a show which has lost its way.

The Voice trumpets itself as being all about finding “the voice,” stemming from its selection of contestants via a blind performance. That’s all well and good — you could tell from her blind audition of “Fields of Gold” that Maelyn was something special.

The emphasis on teams favors Blake Shelton. Shelton is very popular with the conservative voters who tune in in droves. (The Voice is popular with Trump voters.) He tends to get many singers in the finale, which increases his chances of winning. (Shelton has won the competition more than any other coach. To his credit, he is known to keep in touch with his singers after the show, and several have opened concerts for him.)

The fresh blood helps (Kelly Clarkson the past three seasons, and Jennifer Hudson and this season John Legend.) But still, the competition part takes over from the “let’s develop new voices.” It used to be that judges would give actual feedback after performances, now all they give is profuse praise, regardless of how good it is. The rare times they do criticize, whatever the flaw was is so obvious that they have to mention it. (One exception: Adam Levine will give criticism and feedback during the blind auditions. Personally, I would go for him as a coach simply because he could be the most helpful.)

The show used to award points for purchases of competitors’ songs on iTunes. (I have a number of mediocre song by competitors that I thought nonetheless showed promise.) Now, though, you have to use Apple Streaming, a service which I have no intention of signing up for.

I still bought several of Maelyn’s singles, though. They were good enough that I am willing to put them in rotation in my playlists, alongside Jordan Smith’s cover of “Somebody to Love,” Joshua Davis’s “Fields of Gold,” Kyla Jade’s “This Is Me,” and most especially James Wolpert’s cover of “A Case of You.”

Of those last three, only Smith won. Wolpert didn’t even make the finale. Other than Smith and a couple of songs by Sawyer Fredericks, I don’t think I have any songs by winners that actually make it on to my playlists. And I’ve been watching since Season Four.

I really hope the show improves. And I hope that Maelyn Jarmon, unlike most winners thus far*, becomes a superstar.

*Season Six winner Josh Kaufman played Pippin on Broadway; Season 8 winner had success with both a Christmas album and a regular album, and wrote “Ashes” for the Deadpool soundtrack which was performed by Celine Dion. Cassidy Pope and Danielle Bradbury have had success in country music. Although they have been successful, they have not had the success that several singers from American Idol have had.

Posted in Culture (popular and otherwise) | Tagged | Leave a comment

In Jeopardy.

Several people have  asked me what I think of the current Jeopardy! champion, James Holzhauer. After all, I  got run over by the great Ken  Jennings, so I should have some perspective, right?

I usually compared Jennings to the 1927 Yankees. This guy isn’t the Yankees.

He’s Secretariat.

There are people who debate whether  the ’27 Yankees were the  best team ever, but nobody (except for a very few die-hards who like Man O’ War) thinks that Secretariat wasn’t the greatest horse to step on a racetrack.

I have not read articles about James, but I can state right now what makes him great: he is smart (the  smartest contestant ever on the show), he is bold, and he is disciplined.

I usually tell people that most people who go on the show know roughly the same amount. The difference is luck (such as what categories show up) and reflexes. Not to be arrogant, but I know at least 80 – 90% of what Ken Jennings knew. The big difference between us? Jennings had lightning fast reflexes. But James seems to simply know more than other people.

James is bold: he often will bet very large amounts on Daily Doubles. Often, if the Daily Double shows up in Single Jeopardy or early in Double Jeopardy he will go all in. He rarely misses.

He also plays the smartest game I’ve ever seen. Most people work from the top of the category down. This allows your brain to warm up — it simply gets easier to answer the more difficult questions if you have been answering the easier ones. This is especially true of categories that are not based on facts but on wordplay or puns.

James works from the bottom up. This  allows him to rack up points quickly but more importantly takes the high value questions off the table. Even if he loses steam later, it becomes impossible for the other contestants to catch up.

He is disciplined. He doesn’t goof off or even smile between questions; he answers quickly and requests his next question immediately — occasionally talking over Alex Trebek. (These games must be a nightmare for Trebek to pace.)

Jeopardy questions often have a “hook,” a slight clue, often hidden  in the middle. Players often guess at those — and players who are behind guess more often (usually out of desperation). James does not guess, hence he doesn’t get questions wrong and lose points.

He’s amazing to watch, and as a former contestant I stand in awe of his achievements. Will he beat Ken Jennings’ record for winnings? Almost undoubtedly. Will he beat Jennings streak of wins? Maybe. Will he get beat? At some point. All champions have an off day, or an unlucky one. James will  hit his at some time down the road. Even Secretariat got beaten once.

Until then… boy is he fun to watch.

Posted in Culture (popular and otherwise) | Tagged | 2 Comments

Today’s action for the Resistance

Every Saturday,  when I drive past the  Planned Parenthood office  in Mountain View,  there are anti-abortion protesters. Today, given Alabama and Georgia and Ohio and Mississippi, it was just too much. I decided to join them.

I went home and quickly put together a sign that read “Protect A Woman’s Right To Choose.” Nothing like a  little counterprotesting to fill out your Saturday morning.

They were mostly old ladies, although there was one younger woman. She glared at me, but the other ladies were civil. We exchanged “hellos” as we walked past each other.

They didn’t stay very long before after  I arrived. I wish  I could  say that I scared them off, but it was more likely the impending rain.

All of them were carrying  rosaries, and one of them was  going through the “Hail Mary”s and “Our Father”s.

I thought that next time — if there is one — I should bring one of my rosaries. Maybe the rosewood  one from Rome? Or the one made from seeds that suppopsedly was like Mother Theresa’s? I can’t use my silver and amethyst and pearl one: I gave it to my Mom and it became her favorite rosary. It was  buried with her.

I can’t decide whether that  would be trolling or not.

I pray the rosary from time to time. Wherever I am in my relationship with God, I find the rosary to be a calming and centering exercise. I have been contemplating making a new one out of lapis and Swarovski, but my tremors would make that difficult.

I sort of want  to tell the ladies, “I understand you. We’re not so different, you and I. I want to end abortions, too, but I know that is not going to happen.”

I know that among some circles there is a push to say that you are not merely pro-choice but also pro-abortion. I cannot in all honesty say that.

I believe that all potential life is important. In a perfect world there would be no abortion — there would be no need for abortion. Birth control would be effective and easily available, rape would be non-existent. Mothers and children would be supported financially. Students would be supported in working towards their diplomas or degrees.

We don’t live in a perfect world.

Women have abortions  for all sorts of reasons, financial and otherwise. Women have abortions  so as not  to disrupt their  education. Women have abortions because  they can’t afford another  child. Women have abortions because they have been raped.  Children have abortions because they have been raped, often by a relative.

Not  to mention abortions for the health of the mother (both physical and psychological) and because the fetus is not viable or would die shortly after birth.

My beliefs are  just that: beliefs. They arise from a particular religious upbringing.  I have no right to impose those  beliefs on others. I firmly support the  Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Too many people on the other side don’t, and they approve of the Freedom of Expression  Clause only when it applies to conservative, supposedly “persecuted” Christians.  Forget Sharia law; they would  impose a fundamentalist Christian theocracy.

So  yes, I might be out there again. Even in a safe state like California, we cannot let anti-abortion forces go unchallenged.

 

Posted in God faith and theology, Politics | Tagged | 1 Comment