Donald Trump and James Comey: Does uncouth equate to bad morals and impeachment?

In my best Heath Ledger/Joker voice, “Batman has no jurisdiction.” I think of this line today after reading a report in Reuters about former Federal Bureau of Investigations director James Comey’s assessment of the morality of current president Donald Trump. The book, set for release tomorrow, will detail Mr Comey’s four month tenure in the Trump administration. Mr Comey asserts that Mr Trump is morally unfit to sit in the Oval Office.

The assertion is likely to lift the spirits of many anti-Trump voters who have been hoping that the President’s alleged links to the Russian government will turn into a political noose and lead to an early exit from the White House. Mr Trump has been relatively out of the media spotlight for the past week given the Congressional hearings that were held regarding Facebook’s privacy shenanigans. He has managed to reassert himself quickly into the headlines with last Friday’s missile attack on Syria’s chemical weapon facilities. I suspect that attention will be diverted away from Syria long enough for Democrats to push their talking points and roil up their base.

So far the most tawdry event noted in Mr Comey’s assessment of Mr Trump is an alleged incident involving Mr Trump’s presence in a Moscow hotel room where two prostitutes were allegedly urinating on themselves. Being in the presence of this type of behavior would be off-putting to most Americans. Mr Trump has denied witnessing the event and Mr Comey admits he has no firm evidence the event happened or that Mr Trump was even present if the event happened at all.

One question that comes to mind is, assuming that the event occurred, should the event give buoyancy to arguments from the left that Mr Trump be impeached? My answer is no. Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution reads:

“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

The event is alleged to have happened in 2013, almost four years before Mr Trump took office. In addition, if watching prostitutes pee on themselves in Moscow is legal, I see a very weak argument for convicting him of a crime. “Batman” has no jurisdiction in Moscow.

Another question I have is, what is immoral behavior and does such behavior disqualify a president? Morals are defined as standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and what is not acceptable for a person to do. Morals are personal codes until society expresses its disagreement with them and codifies that dissatisfaction in law or statute. As head of a democratic nation-state, Mr Trump is expected by many Americans to manage his personal code within the parameters of community expectations. For a man who reportedly has no problem expressing a tough guy Queens personality, being a boar may not go over well with a progressive socialite from San Francisco. Such behavior, whether it occurred prior to or during the presidency may considered disqualification as head of state, if not head of government.

Going forward, the allegations will not mean much for capital markets. They do not speak to Mr Trump’s management of public capital or the institutions that manage or influence the allocation or distribution of capital. The allegations do put a further dent in Mr Trump’s ability to persuade, probably the most important power a president has. And in the political marketplace, bad optics drives down a political actor’s brand and market value.

When local government meets high tech sovereigns

Sometimes I think city government is sleeping at the wheel when it comes to technology and capital flows. During its lucid moments, government will fall back on its 1960s playbook of economic development by announcing plans to bring back manufacturing jobs that pay better wages than the service sector jobs that replaced factory work and eviscerated wages. This narrative may have worked in a locality that was created to take advantage of proximity to a local natural resource where factories could then convert the resources into goods for local and other markets, but for a city like a 21st century Atlanta, that narrative is disingenuous.

Atlanta’s “natural resource” today is information. Workers who know how to find, extract, organize, and distribute information are going to be the one’s who obtain employment and the higher wages that come along with work in the information sector. This demand for an information-centric political economy, I believe, is being driven by the changing tastes of capital. Capital wants its goods and services delivered conveniently and its production customized.

Information technology allows capital to target funds directly to high-value driven information entrepreneurs that can deliver a product that was designed, manufactured, packaged in, and delivered from multiple jurisdictions. Capital has no love for mass appeal. Why deal with crowded banks, malls, car dealerships, or grocery stores when extra minutes of leisure can be carved out by the manufacturing and service delivery efficiencies provided by Tesla, Uber, Grubhub, and Insta-cart.

Along with these efficiencies in product manufacturing and delivery come smaller work forces or work forces outside of the jurisdiction of local governments. Local governments have been the front line defense of investor capital from disgruntled labor. They regulate labor union speech during strikes. Where there is violence they arrest the rowdy. However, in an information age where there are a greater number of tech shops employing smaller numbers of non-unionized information workers versus a handful of large factories employing thousands of unionized lower-skilled workers, there is less demand for the police powers of local government. Disgruntled employees at today’s tech shops simply take their information knowledge somewhere else or create their own firm.

Eventually government starts tossing and turning in its sleep. It sees its “labor clamp down” requests severely diminished. Higher incomes start translating into reduced need for government services from garbage removal to security. Higher income earning citizens may consider pooling resources to support campaigns of candidates who agree to reducing tax burdens are, too the extreme, support carving out or “leasing sovereignty” to higher income communities.

Question is, how will those with no capital react to the erection of this wall of individual sovereignty?

A reining in of the political media should be expected under a nation-state model

Forbes reported today about a statement of work issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on 3 April 2018.  The statement of work seeks prospective vendors capable of providing the Department’s National Protection and Programs Acquisition Division with the capabilities to monitor traditional and social media. The specific objective of the services is:

“Services shall enable NPPD/OUS to monitor traditional news sources as well as social media, identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event. Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers.”

The statement of work does not get into any specifics as to why the Department would need such a program. It could be one of three reasons. One reason could be a push back by the Trump Administration on what it calls “fake news.” Mr Trump has shown a disdain for what he terms as unfair reporting typically from media perceived to be left leaning. He has no love for CNN, a lack of love expressed with so much disdain that he came out against the Time Warner-AT&T merger, one that is now being challenged by the Trump Justice Department.

The second reason for the proposed statement of work may be to create another tool for dealing with the media attacks a Russian troll service has been accused of. By monitoring media influencers, the United States could make a preemptive strike against journalists, bloggers, broadcasters, etc., that spread fake news and set the stage for divisiveness in American politics.

The third reason I see is that the political media has to be reined in by the nation-state. Part of the nation-state’s political ordering of and for society should include keeping the collective in order by controlling the messaging. While some spin is allowed in order for news organizations to establish some type of brand differentiation, i.e., MSNBC leans liberally forward while FOX is conservatively fair and questionably balanced, the general messages issued by the nation-state via the political media must be uniform enough to keep the masses in line or distracted. Too much spin to the left or to the right creates chaos in the collective, a disturbance in the force that the nation-state cannot afford.

I believe reason three is the purpose for the Department’s statement of work. Some Americans may see the proposal as an attack on a free press, but has the press ever really been free? Except for the occasional “breaking news” (which amounts to a press secretary given their favorite reporter or a reporter they can use the first shot at a story), most political news is initiated by a state actor with the media being tasked for commercial and political reasons for distributing it.

Probably over the weekend we may see some discussion on the meaning of a “free press.” Given that this story is not even trending on Twitter anymore has me wondering how seriously the media is taking the Department’s action.

Trump calls out the big guns at the Mexico-United States border…

A few moments ago, President Donald Trump issued a statement describing his authorization of national guard troops to provide back up for federal customs and border agents along the Mexico-United States border. Mr Trump caused a little confusion on 3 April 2018 during a conference with some Baltic region presidents when he told the press that the Administration was “preparing for the military to to secure our border between Mexico and the United States.” Military was a poor word choice thus the confusion not only in published press reports but on the part of the Mexican government as they considered Mr Trump’s proposal last Tuesday..

Under 18 USC § 1385, no part of the Army or Air Force can be used as a “posse” to execute any U.S. laws. The Department of the Navy has rules that follow Posse Comitatus Act, but I can see a president trying to get around that hole in the law by arguing that the statute does not specifically prohibit the Navy and the Air Force from playing police.

Under 10 USC § 12406, however, the president can “call into federal service members and units of the National Guard of any State in such numbers as he considers necessary to repel the invasion, suppress the rebellion, or execute the laws.”

Mexico may not take too kindly to an implication that their citizens are invading the United States, but a significant number of Americans, particularly those living along the southwest border, may believe that. I don’t see the actions of Mexicans attempting to enter the United States without so much as a visa or passport as being aggressive, especially those who get in front of a border agent and are willing to plea their case for some type of amnesty.

What could be looked at as aggression would be a tragic scenario where a guardsman shoots a foreign national. Gunned down by a federal or state law enforcement agent is one matter. Gunned down by a soldier becomes an international nightmare.

 

A brief history of nation-states and currency

The following brief outline on global trade, world, and U.S. history will help your children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces get through two semesters of a boring college lecture ….

“To celebrate a fiat currency is to celebrate poverty and theft. It is an acknowledgement that nation-states, central banks, merchant banks, and government treasuries were created to launder money.

Original wealth is the result of theft. When property was created, the desire to steal increased. Land means ownership of productive power. To increase your wealth, you stole land and shared some with your cohorts who would then form a moat around you and protect you from commoners and other barbarians.

Trade is a method by which you claim a stake in another tribe’s resources. As trade with peoples outside your tribe and later kingdom increased, there had to be a way to exchange value without giving another tribe direct claim to your land. The solution: issue currency. The more currency you have, the greater claims to wealth you can make.

The first mistake made was assuming that merely producing more coin by digging for more gold would lead to more wealth. The only thing that caused was inflation. Inflation erodes value and spending power and also invites war because other tribes don’t like the idea of their buying power being eroded because you went off, worked South American native inhabitants to death, and shipped home more gold. In order to slow down the erosion, tribes, now countries, created central banks and merchant banks to launder money.

In order to launder money, the king had to seek out new channels for spending and investing gold. He laundered it by issuing debt from his treasury through his central bankers at which time the original holders of wealth i.e. land holding thieves with coin backed by land, could convert gold into bonds. The king also laundered coin by granting charters and investment capital to stock companies, companies that would sail to foreign ports and establish trading posts. They would purchase raw materials and slaves in one port, transfer the raw materials and slaves to another port, and finally transfer finished product to your country. Sales and taxes on those sales would increase your treasury and pay back your bond holders.

In order to further increase your booty, you would use different types of promotions and incentives i.e. freedom to practice religion, freedom from prolonged imprisonment, freedom from a nagging wife, etc., to get more people from various tribes to move to your new colonies voluntarily where they would produce more goods and services and pay taxes, hence increasing your largesse. These colonies, filled with various free and enslaved people who other wise would not give a shit about each other, would become a nation-state, which simply boils down to a forced confederation of people who have little in common and giveth not a shit about each other.

Later on, someone, probably a disgruntled cousin, would get the ridiculous idea to form a democratic government, but even with that tweak in how the oligarchy controls the economy and currency, the model remained intact.

The takeaway. Whether slave or freed person, your being here was a manufactured event based on false premise along with the creation of an artificial country. The nation-state is the result of money laundering.

The Russian attack on democracy was ineffective because they don’t understand democracy.

American democracy is about the creation of a political marketplace where the taxpayer receives certain protective services in exchange for her vote. These services include police services, fire services, transportation services, commercial trade platforms, cultural services, legal and regulatory frameworks, and education services, to name a few. They are delivered by local, state, and federal governments and their costs are recovered by government in the form of property, sales, and income taxes and other fees.

Politicians squabble before, during, and after the election season on how best these services should be delivered, how much the government should pay to deliver them, and how much of the bill the taxpayer should foot for the government’s efforts. Classical liberal, progressive, and conservative philosophies collide during these debates and the clash of perspective is most apparent during election season when more people are paying attention. To secure the majority of voter approval for position and philosophy, politicians engage in the blood sport of electioneering, a blood sport that includes embellishments, character assassinations, and a lot of misinformation.

Reports abound of how a Russian firm, the Internet Research Agency, entered the political fray between 2014 and 2016 and used social media posts, tweets, and blogs to upset the elections. Their activity during an election year would have been business as usual were it not for their status as foreign agents conducting these activities. Whether or not they upset the political markets with their activity will be hard to determine.

For example, will investigators be able to say that the cost of the exchange of the vote for services increased due to Russian interference? I see no data that describes politicians seeking higher taxes for government spending as a result of any information provided by Russian trolls.

Did any information introduced into the political markets by the Internet Research Agency cause voters to leave the market? I have heard one argument that black voter participation fell because of Russian disinformation about Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton has drawn the ire of some blacks as a result of her description of black teenagers as “predators” and her Clinton Foundation taking financial advantage of earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. It is questionable whether any additional misinformation by the Russians could have created any further negative view of Mrs Clinton by blacks. She may have done enough on her own.

American democracy bases societal cohesion on the vote, the ability of the masses to elect its leaders. Leaders promise, as I laid out before, protective services. But what would happen to the democratically-based cohesion if the dependence of Americans on protective services were drastically reduced or eliminated? What if more Americans had 3-D printers and could manufacture their own tools or furniture? What if more Americans grew their own vegetables in their own apartments? What if more Americans were able to take advantage of devices that use unlicensed spectrum in order to form their own local communications networks and reduce their communications expenses? What if more Americans used solar or wind to energize their homes? What if engineers could design apartment buildings such that each unit could take advantage of solar energy?

A true attack on American democracy would be a demonstration of how to live independent of the political elites that thrive on the electorate’s unwillingness to be or ignorance of independence. Whether a democracy or an authoritarian regime, nation-states are about centralizing power. When they attack each other, destroying the core is all that is needed for the knockout punch. Given the Russian Federation’s history of allowing true freedom, an attack on democracy based on independent sovereignty would be thinking way outside the box.

No, American democracy was never really attacked by the Russians. It simply got poked by a player who didn’t have the legal credentials to enter the ring.

 

Will Congress regulate.@facebook like a public utility? Given its potential benefit to partisan politics, probably not. #socialmedia

The Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins, Jr. posted an article last Friday about Facebook’s apparent maturity as a business given its focus on regulatory issues such as the potential of Congress to regulate the social media company like a public utility. Mr Jenkins points out that Facebook’s fear of regulation, a fear shared by other “tech” companies, comes from the attention that large companies draw to themselves as the result of centralization of power. In this case, Facebook is perceived as one of the few central nodes of power in the digital space (along with fellow FANGs; Amazon, Netflix, and Google). Issue is, does Facebook have a monopoly status that justifies “public utility” regulation. My answer is no.

The classic argument for regulating a firm as a public utility is that the public has an interest in benefiting from the use of the public’s rights-of-way including the efficiencies that flow from making such uses exclusive to one firm in a given territory. Electric and water utilities quickly come to mind when we discuss public utilities and rights-of-way. Would you rather see your streets and driveways dug up to provide multiple pipes from multiple water or electricity suppliers or would you rather one supplier who is forced to comply with a pricing model that creates a competitive price and rate of return on the assets used by the utility to produce a good? For the most part, society has settled for the latter. We don’t like the idea of having an excess number of utility lines running overhead or into our residences for aesthetic or safety reasons.

Does Facebook fall into this public utility model? No, it does not. According to Facebook, the company makes almost all of its revenue from the sale of advertisement. Facebook uses its algorithms to identify potential viewers of content or purchasers of services for its advertisers and display ads these ads to content viewers and services purchasers in exchange for an advertising fee. Ad services, including the delivery of advertisements to consumers, by Facebook’s admission is a competitive business. Unlike electricity transmission and distribution, ad delivery is not a monopolized industry. As Mr Jenkins points out in his piece, ads are ads, digital or otherwise, and Facebook is no where near dominating a $540 billion advertising industry.

Even if Facebook had a monopoly on the delivery of advertisements or advertisement services, would a regulator risk creating a state action by regulating Facebook’s advertising services? Bearing in mind that the latest buzz around Facebook ads was spawned by the delivery of advertisement messaging produced by Russian nationals allegedly designed to disrupt and defraud the American electorate, would Congress require that Facebook vet the firm generating advertisement content? Would Congress risk the overturn of legislation requiring Facebook vet advertisers if found violating the First Amendment?

I think that even advertisers confident that their messaging does not violate the public interest would think twice about placing advertisements on Facebook’s platform. More important, from the perspective of the regulator, an administrative agency would not to create the risk of creating First Amendment violations and having to defend those violations in court. As the U.S. Supreme Court held in Edenfield v. Fane:

“The commercial market place, like other spheres of our social and cultural life, provides a forum where ideas and information flourish. Some of the ideas and information are vital, some of slight worth. But the general rule is that the speaker and the audience, not the government, assess the value of the information presented. Thus, even a communication that does no more than propose a commercial transaction is entitled to the coverage of the First Amendment.” 113 S.Ct. 1792, 1798 (1993)

Finally, political parties may not want to impede the returns to electioneering that social media has been providing for the past decade. According to the Brookings Institution, since the 2008 national elections, political parties have been determining how best to convert the amplification and engagement created by social media during a campaign season into two-year and four-year governance.  Political parties have been encouraged to use social media in a number of ways including the following:

  • Acknowledging that the electorate is using social media as a “trust filter” of political news and information;
  • Realizing that politicians have decreasing control over debate topics and that control is shifting to social networks;
  • Making continued use of social media platforms to directly engage constituents;
  • Using social media platforms as “virtual surveys” of constituent sentiment and gauging feedback from the surveys; and
  • Leveraging ordinary citizens’ use of social media to persuade the electorate.

It is 2018 and Congress should view social media that has greater benefits as an electioneering tool if it is not regulated. From a regulatory perspective, there is no economic or legal justification for regulating social media as a public utility.