Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Welcome to FromDC2Iowa: Contents & Guide

Welcome to FromDC2Iowa, a collection of well over 1,000 blog posts and pages on a wide variety of topics, created and maintained by Nicholas Johnson since 2006.

Quick Links
* Most recent blog essays: "Airlines, Crisis Communications 101, and Prohibited Speech," April 18, 2017

"Of Missiles and Teachers," April 7, 2017 [embedded: "Spending on Military Always Comes at a Cost," Nicholas Johnson, "Insight & Books," The Gazette, April 9, 2017, p. D5]

"Collusion, Treason, Trump and Putin," April 5, 2017

"How to Save Highter Ed," March 19, 2017 [embedded: "Saving Higher Ed; Step1: Listen to What Iowans Want," Nicholas Johnson, "Insight & Books," The Gazette, March 19, 2017, p. D1, and "Solutions for Iowa Higher Ed's Woes," Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 12, 2017, p. A7] ]

"Resources for Trump Watchers," February 11, 2017

"Who Are We?" January 31, 2017 (a response to President Trump's ill-considered travel ban)

"No Elephants in the Room," January 15, 2017 (NFL football)

"Educating In and For a Digital Age; The Vast Waistline & Other Challenges to Education as We Knew It," January 14, 2017 [text of remarks delivered at 4CAST - Campus Academic Strategies and Technology Conference, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, January 12, 2017]

"Eastern Iowa's Declaration of Human Rights," January 5, 2017 (contains "Focus on Our Common Values," The Gazette, January 1, 2017, p. D2)

"Tracking Trump," November 15, 2016 (More like a Web site with links to associated pages than like an individual blog essay, this is both a daily report and a repository of news and opinion regarding President-Elect Donald J. Trump from the day after the election (i.e., November 9) through the day of his inauguration as president on January 20, 2017.)

"Democratic Party's Past -- and Future," November 9, 2016

"Hillary's New Emails: A Solution for FBI Director Comey," October 31, 2016

"An Outrageous Merger," October 29, 2016

"Republicans Need to Get Their Party Back From Trump," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 20, 2016, p. A7

"Iowa's Top Republicans' Major Mistake," October 13, 2016

"Law, Social Norms and Trump," October 2, 2016

"Donald Trump's Barrel of Squirrels," September 25, 2016

"First Thoughts on 911 -- 15 Years Later," September 11, 2016

"At Last, the Agnostic, Insomniac, Dyslexic Answer," September 10, 2016

"Trump Might Not Be Blundering in Race," September 9, 2016

"Labor Day for All 2016," September 4, 2016

"Our Revolution: Yes; But First Some Questions," August 31, 2016

"The Doping Dilemma," August 17, 2016

"Maybe This Explains Trump," August 15, 2016

When Words Can Kill," August 10, 2016

"The DNC Still Just Doesn't Get It," July 29, 2016

"Why Trump May Win; Discouraged By The Democratic Party's Self-Inflicted Wounds," July 25, 2016

"Doing It Ourselves," July 24, 2016

"An Answer to Athletes' Doping?" July 23, 2016

"Cancer: 'Of Course; But Maybe,'" July 13, 2016

"Clinton-Lynch Tarmac Talk; 'What Were They Thinking?'" July 4, 2016

"Focus on Muslims Misplaced After Shooting," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 17, 2016, p. A5

"Keeping Up With ISIS; There Is Another Explanation for Orlando," June 14, 2016

"On Being, Doing and 'Compromise;' What's Next for Senator Sanders' Revolution? Here's My Suggestion," June 9, 2016

"When 'The Morning After' Looks Even Worse," June 8, 2016

"Searching for the Media's Soul," June 7, 2016

"My Take on Supervisor Race," June 4, 2016

"Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

* Most recent UI & President Harreld-related items & comments:

"What Putin Can Teach Rastetter," May 9, 2016, as published in The Daily Iowan, May 6, 2016, p. 4

"What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter," April 16, 2016 (an expanded version of The Daily Iowan's excerpt, above)

UI President Harreld - Feb. 2016," February 1, 2016

Cessation of Ongoing Harreld Repository [Feb. 29]. For the past six months, since the Iowa Board of Regents' selection of Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa, September 1, 2015, this blog has endeavored to compile a relatively complete repository of links to, and comments about, the news stories and opinion pieces dealing with the Board of Regents, President Harreld, and related items of relevance to higher education in general and the University of Iowa in particular. They are contained in the blogs for September-October, November, December, 2015, and January and February, 2016 (all linked from this page). I thought it would be a useful resource for those looking for a single source to follow the saga, as well as for those in future years wishing to do serious research, or merely inform themselves, about this important slice of UI's history. Response from readers indicates it has at least provided the former function. Now as they say, "as a concession to the shortness of life," and a desire to get back to other writing, I am going to reclaim those daily hours of research for other tasks. As major UI stories worthy of individual blog essays come along they will, of course be blogged about from time to time.

For research beyond February 29, 2016, you might start with this list (any omissions were inadvertent; email me suggestions for more):

University of Iowa AAUP, https://twitter.com/UIowaAAUP

Mark Barrett, Ditchwalk, http://ditchwalk.com (look for Harreld Hire Updates)

Iowans Defending Our Universities, https://twitter.com/IowansDefending

John Logsdon, https://www.facebook.com/johnlogsdon.jr, and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/JohnLogsdon

Josiah Pickard, https://twitter.com/uimemory

. . . and well-crafted search terms in Google. -- N.J., February 29, 2016
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More Detailed Contents, Links & Guide

The most recent blog essay (as distinguished from the entries listing UI-related material) is:"Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

See more, below.

University of Iowa, most recent: The most recent month's collection in the ongoing repository of news, opinion pieces, and documents regarding the University of Iowa, its current president, Bruce Harreld, the Iowa Board of Regents, and related matters is: UI President Harreld - Feb. 2016," February 1, 2016

University of Iowa, earlier: Earlier collections of, and individual blog essays about, the repository of news, opinion pieces, and documents regarding the University of Iowa, its current president, Bruce Harreld, the Iowa Board of Regents, and related matters are:
UI President Harreld - Jan. 2016," January 1, 2016

"UI President Harreld - Dec. 2015," December 1, 2015

"UI President Harreld - Nov. 2015," November 1, 2015

"Business Background: Enough for University President?" September 2-October 31, 2015

Recent terrorism-related blog essays

Recent TIF-related blog essays

Recent other than (1) University of Iowa, (2) terrorism, or (3) TIF-related topics:
"Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

"What Putin Can Teach Rastetter," May 9, 2016, as published in The Daily Iowan, May 6, 2016, p. 4

"What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter," April 16, 2016
"The Constitution, Supreme Court and People's Voice: Senate Ignoring the People's Voice," March 21, 2016
"Why Won't Media Give Bernie a Break?" March 23, 2016
"The Constitution, Supreme Court and People's Voice," March 21, 2016
"Random Thoughts on Tuition-Free Iowa Universities," March 11, 2016
"Water," February 29, 2016
"The State of the Media," February 28, 2016
"Our Communities' Second Priority," February 7, 2016
"Bernie's Extraordinary, Unacknowledged Accomplishment," February 3, 2016
Why Nobody 'Wins' the Iowa Caucus," February 1, 2016
"Caucus With Your Heart And Head -- For Bernie," January 28, 2016
"Why I'm Caucusing for Sanders and You Should Too," January 22, 2016
"Reasons for Hope in 2016," December 25, 2015
"Feeling the Bern at The Mill," December 9, 2015
"Anyone for Democracy," November 22, 2015
General instructions on searching by heading, date, or topic

(1) If you've come to FromDC2Iowa and landed on this page, rather than what you are looking for, it is because this is the default page, the opening page, for this blog.

(2) Many visitors are looking for recent blog posts. At the bottom of this page you will find suggestions. At this time they include: (1) material related to the Iowa Board of Regents process for selecting President Bruce Harreld, and his ongoing performance in office, (2) terrorism, ISIS and Syrian refugees, and (3) TIFs, and other transfers of taxpayers' money to the wealthy.

(3) It is also possible to go directly to specific blog posts within this blog. Here's how:

First, go to the top of this page where you will see the headline, "Welcome to FromDC2Iowa: Contents & Guide" and click on it there (not as reproduced in this sentence). That will clean this page by removing blog posts from earlier this month.

In that right hand column you will find two ways of accessing individual blog posts:
(1) Blog Archive. The first is under the bold heading "Blog Archive.". You will see the years from 2006 to the present. Click on a year, and the months of that year will appear. Click on a month and the individual headlines for the blog posts during that month appear. Click on a headline and you will be transferred to that blog post. (Once there, you will see the unique URL address for that blog post that you can use in the future, or share with a friend, as a way to reach it directly.)

(2) Google Search Nick's Blog or Website. Immediately beneath the Blog Archive is the bold heading "Google Search Nick's Blog or Website," followed by an empty box, and the instructions, "Insert terms above; then click here." (Although it offers the option to search the "Nicholas Johnson Web Site" as well, it is set to the default: "FromDC2Iowa Blog.") Use whatever search terms you think most appropriate, such as "University of Iowa," "terrorism," "TIFs," or "Harreld." Your click will open up a Google search Web page listing the relevant blog posts (if any) with the links you can click on to see them.

University of Iowa's new President Bruce Harreld.
Looking for the blog post containing extensive repository of documents, news, opinion pieces (updated daily) from September 2 through October 31, 2015, regarding the Iowa Board of Regents' process, and early selection of UI President-elect Bruce Harreld? -->Click here<--

For November 2015 coverage -- with documents, news stories, and opinion pieces -- from his first day on the job, November 2, through November 30, 2015 -->Click here<--

For the December 2015 coverage -->Click Here<--

For the January 2016 coverage -->Click Here<--

In addition to these blog posts, which primarily contain chronological lists of documents, news articles and opinion pieces -- along with some relatively brief commentary about some of the items -- there are also the following more traditional blog essays and newspaper columns by Nicholas Johnson on these subjects:

"Hiring Candid, Courageous University Presidents," August 29, 2015

"Should Bruce Harreld Be Given Serious Consideration in UI Search?" embedded in "Business Background: Enough for University President?" September 2, 2015

"Better Ways to Pick a New UI President," The Gazette, September 27, 2015, embedded in "Seven Steps for Transitioning Universities," September 27, 2015

"UI's President Could Have Been Chris Christie," October 3, 2015

"Parallels Between School Systems Staggering," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 10, 2015, embedded in "UI and Higher Education in Context," November 9, 2015

"Trouble in River City: Corruption Creep," December 13, 2015

"Quick Draw Harreld and Why Language Matters," December 17, 2015

Terrorism, ISIS, Syrian Refugees.
Understanding Terrorist Thugs," The Daily Iowan, December 3, 2015

Nicholas Johnson, "Sober Risk Assessment Needed to Respond to Terror," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 28, 2015

Nicholas Johnson, "Syria's Refugees: Job One and Job Two," The Gazette, November 1, 2015

"Is U.S. Response Strengthening ISIS?" September 19, 2014

For additional speech texts, columns and blog posts on these subjects, see "Samples of Nicholas Johnson's Prior Writing on Terrorism and War"

TIFs and Other Crony Capitalism Schemes For links to 44 blog essays on these topics since 2006 see, "TIFS: Links to Blog Essays"

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Airlines, Crisis Communications 101, and Prohibited Speech


[Photo credit: frame from passenger video; CNN]
"The Friendly Skies" unfriendly expulsion of a paying customer from one of its planes April 9 (fortunately a plane still on the ground) has produced a plethora of complaints, comments, and constructive suggestions.

What seemed to me one of the more creative suggestions starts by accepting that the airlines are going to continue the business model of contracting with customers to perform something (air transportation between two designated airports at specified prices, times and dates) that the airline can unilaterally refuse to perform at any time -- up to and including immediately prior to a paying customer's boarding.

Given that assumption, the suggestion is that airlines require passengers to specify when buying a ticket the refund from the airline that will be necessary for them to agree to forfeit their seat at boarding time (a) if another flight is available that day, or (b) the next day (always including accommodations and meal vouchers if an overnight stay is required).
There are a number of issues raised by the events of April 9th.
Contents

Airlines as a Mode of Transportation

Load Factors and Bumping Passengers

What's the Law?

Prohibited Speech

Crisis Communications 101

What to Do?
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Airlines as a Mode of Transportation

Air travel has always been problematical. Prior to the Wright brothers, many designs (with flapping wings like birds and such), if set aloft from on high, simply ended in humiliating crashes. For the Wright boys, it involved their, ultimately successful, need to blend technology, engineering, and physics.

Today's commercial aircraft have solved most of those problems. When the weather's right, they seem capable of lifting the equivalent of one's high school gymnasium off the ground, enabling hundreds of complaining occupants to sit in chairs miles in the sky, covering in hours distances that, 200 years ago, would have required their ancestors months to traverse (as Louis C.K. has observed; Google: "louis ck complaining flying").

Notwithstanding this engineering accomplishment, airplanes and the companies that operate them, have become dysfunctional as a mode of transporting humans.

For starters, airlines, like farmers, are dependent on the weather -- albeit one wants clear skies and the other prays for rain. But the impact on passengers who need a timely arrival at a destination is the same when the planes don't fly, whether it's because of lack of crew, "mechanical difficulties," severe turbulence, or iced up planes and snow covered runways.

Then there are the lost bags, TSA screenings, and flight delays. Passengers buy a time-specific arrival. Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they have to sleep on the floor of an airport overnight while the airlines try to sort out the cancelled flights, lack of crews, and backups in the national system caused by one airport's problems.

Wall Street's pressure for ever-increasing airline profits has encouraged the substitution of pretzels for meals, narrower seats and less leg room, extra charges for everything from bags to specific seats -- and the overbooking that results in bumping paying passengers from flights. (Fortunately, regulations prohibit the sale of "standing room only" passage.)

Load Factors and Bumping Passengers

Selling seats on departure-specific airplanes is a business like restaurants and motels. A grocery store may have fewer sales during severe thunderstorms, but the gallon of milk it doesn't sell today will be sold tomorrow. The revenue lost from today's empty airline seat, motel room, or restaurant table is more often gone forever than simply time-shifted to the next day.

No-show paying passengers contribute to this airline problem.

The airlines' response -- to sell more tickets than they have seats -- is not entirely irrational (though there are preferable alternatives and modifications). But predicting how many additional tickets should be sold is an inexact science. So they error on the side of selling too many, and then apply a marketplace approach to the paying passengers they refuse to board: How much money would it take to satisfy a bumped passenger with flying later -- or not at all? Usually something like $400-$800 is enough.

There are some questions regarding what happened prior to departure of United Express 4311 from O'Hare (Chicago) to Lexington, Kentucky, on April 9. Was the flight overbooked, or was the problem only created by a last-minute need for four seats for United crew members? Did the passenger in question board, get off the plane, and re-board? What is unambiguous, because documented on videotape, is that he was on the plane, sitting in his seat, when he was forcibly removed from his seat, dragged down the aisle, and taken off the plane by O'Hare security.

What's the Law?

In addition to federal regulations, the relationship between an airline and its passengers is governed by a contract (even though most passengers -- and in this instance even United personnel and executives as well -- may be unaware of its terms). There are two Rules (Rules 21 and 25) potentially applicable to the events of April 9th.

One rule deals with pre-boarding bumping; the other deals with the circumstances under which a seated passenger may be removed from the plane. The former is inapplicable because it is limited, by its terms, to the airline's rights prior to a passenger's boarding. The latter is inapplicable because it deals with itemized justifications for removing a seated passenger from a seat, such as severe illness, drunkenness, or other disruptive behavior -- a rule inapplicable by virtue of its spirit as well as its letter. See, John Banzhaf, "United Airlines Cites Wrong Rule For Illegally De-Boarding Passenger," LawNewz, April 11, 2017.

Prohibited Speech

The letter of the First Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, only applies to efforts to restrict speech by governmental units. For most of us, most of the time, any restraints on our speech come from social mores and norms (e.g., "that's not nice," or in days gone by, "I'm going to wash your mouth out with soap") -- or civil suits for such things as defamation or intentional infliction of emotional distress.

A subset of these informal standards involves instances in which what was said is deemed to be grounds for dismissal from a job. See, Nicholas Johnson, "Was It Something I Said? General Semantics and the Unacceptable Remark," Institute for General Semantics, New York City, October 30, 2010; Nicholas Johnson, "Quck Draw Harreld and Why Language Matters," December 17, 2015.

That could have been an issue in the United case, when United CEO Oscar Munoz's first response was a memo to United employees that included the following: "Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right." "Text of letter from United CEO defending employees," Washington Post/Associated Press, April 10, 2017. Not much better was his follow-up, including: "I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers." Re-accommodate? Michael Hiltzik, "United Finds a New Way to Make Itself Look Awful, and Then its CEO Shows How to Make Things Worse," Los Angeles Times, April 10, 2017.

As it happened, this was about the same time that President Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, was explaining the missile attack on Syria as warranted because Assad had gassed his own people, which made him worse than Hitler. Nicholas Fandos and Mark Landler, "Sean Spicer Raises Outcry With Talk of Hitler, Assad and Poison Gas," New York Times, April 12, 2017, p. A13.

Crisis Communications 101

There are some relatively simple steps that public relations firms urge upon their clients confronting crises of various kinds. One is an illustration of the advice that when you find yourself in the bottom of a hole the first step is to stop digging. In this context, when an organization has done something horrible, and news of it has reached the public, the best strategy is for the top executive to respond with "immediacy, transparency, honesty and empathy." See, Nicholas Johnson, "Crisis Communications 101," February 14, 2011.

Instead of coming out with one statement displaying "immediacy, transparency, honesty and empathy," United's CEO produced three, each defensive and failing to improve on its predecessor (until his days-late expression of "shame"). "Read United CEO’s 3 statements on passenger dragged off flight," Boston Herald, April 11, 2017.

If it was an ill conceived tactic of United's public relations operation (and not just the product of a curious journalist working independently), I would find particularly despicable a corporate response of attacking the victim's personal reputation (like a rapist smearing the reputation of his victim) -- something having nothing whatsoever to do with the propriety of dragging the victim off the plane. Bruce Golding, "Doctor Dragged Off Flight Was Convicted of Trading Drugs for Sex," New York Post, April 11, 2017.

What to Do?

Imagine you have reserved a motel room, paid for by credit card, arrived, settled in and gone to bed. Imagine being awakened when all the lights go on, you see the manager standing there, and he informs you that you are going to have to dress and leave because he overbooked the motel that night.

Or consider the restaurant equivalent. You've made reservations for you and your partner. You arrive on time, are seated, and give the wait person your orders. Before the food arrives you are told you need to get up, put your coats on and leave, because the restaurant is overbooked that evening.

That behavior would be enough to put that motel, or restaurant, out of business.

Not so for the airlines apparently. Offer us the lowest fare and we'll take the risk that we'll be bumped (though not the risk that we'll be forcibly dragged from the plane once seated).

What were United's alternatives in this situation? There are a number that occur to me, and probably more that airline experts could come up with.
They could have done a reverse auction with all passengers: raising the amount they'd pay to a volunteer until one was found.

They could have avoided the issue by doing a better job of anticipating and managing crew location. If the crisis was the result of too few employees, possibly the cost of hiring more would have been worth it.

United is, after all, in the transportation of human bodies business. Chicago is their hub. Didn't they have a corporate jet available, or even a small United Express plane that could be spared for a couple of hours? No? Well how about a bus, limousine, or taxi? It's only 375 miles from Chicago to Lexington. What they chose to do delayed the flight two hours. The four crew members could have been driven there in a little over five hours.

Presumably even a United steely-eyed bean counter would see this as a matter of comparative cost. What would be the incremental cost of a 375-mile round trip in a corporate (or leased private) jet; or a limousine for the four crew members? So long as they could get a passenger to release his or her seat for less than that (or other alternatives) they'd pay the passenger and put the four crew members on the plane. Otherwise, they'd use the alternative. It's not that complicated.
But that's the past. What about the future?

They might consider changing their business plan that requires turning away paying customers, inconvenienced and upset.

On the assumption they are unwilling to change, they ought to build the practice into the contract and pricing. One way would be what's outlined at the top of this blog post: require that customers making reservations indicate ahead of time how much money it would take for them to voluntarily agree to be bumped.

Another might be to create a new, cheaper, bump-able class of ticket. That would be kind of like a life insurance contract: the company bets you're going to live and keep paying premiums; you bet you're going to die young. In the airline business: you bet the plane won't be full and you'll save on the fare; the airline bets it will be, you'll be bumped, they will owe you nothing, and the average fare per passenger will be higher.

And that's what I meant by, "There are a number of issues raised by the events of April 9th."

# # #

Friday, April 07, 2017

Of Missiles and Teachers

Note to potential critics of this post: It is not intended to, and does not, address whether we should be involved in Syria, or what we should be doing there if we are -- especially in response to gas attacks on Syrians. It does not argue that we do not need a military in these times. Read it again.
Spending on Military Always Comes at a Cost

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, April 9, 2017, p. D5

My father grew up on a Kansas cattle farm in the early 20th Century. Times were tough, and so were parents. He recalled sitting on the porch steps at a neighbor's farm house when that farmer's young, barefoot boy approached and asked for a nickel. The boy's father answered, "What did you do with the last nickel I gave you?"

It's much easier these days for America's military. Often it doesn't even need to ask. Elected officials sometimes send additional taxpayers' money its way for the weapons systems of major campaign donors, weapons the military would really rather not have, thank you.

As for "the last nickel I gave you," the General Accounting Office has often just thrown up its hands in frustration and announced that the military's financial records are in a condition that simply makes audits impossible.

So estimates vary, but most agree we are spending on our military more than the next seven nations combined -- much of which is used to make sure that we could win, should we ever have to fight World War II all over again. Unfortunately, there's little that the President Gerald Ford $8-to-13 billion aircraft carrier can do to defend us from cyber attacks or terrorists' random, homemade bombs.

Throw in the cost of caring for the wounded (Department of Veterans Affairs), and other costs throughout the federal budget, and the military's share of federal discretionary spending is well over the 54% just going to the Pentagon. (Estimates of the costs of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq alone, among the most difficult to audit, range between one and five trillion dollars.)

It's hard enough for most of us to deal with things measured in the millions of dollars. We can't even imagine how we should evaluate costs in the billions and trillions of dollars.

So let's just focus on the cost of one operation, during one day (yesterday, April 7), involving missile strikes on one Syrian Airforce base. [Photo credit: unknown; perhaps U.S. Navy]

It required 59 Tomahawk Cruise missiles. At $1.4 million per missile that's $82.6 million.

So how much is $82.6 million?

Think of it this way: Given the median income of Iowa's K-12 teachers, $82.6 million would be enough to pay the salaries of over 1700 additional teachers for one year -- roughly a 5% increase in the number of Iowa's 35,000 teachers.

That's something we can imagine.

Now multiply that by roughly 10,000 times and you'll have some notion of how much our military expenditures are denying us in healthcare, jobs programs, education, infrastructure improvements, and other pro-people social programs.

Think about what President Eisenhower's military-industrial complex did with the last nickel you gave it. Think about it -- and act.

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Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City shared responsibility for sealift to Vietnam while serving as U.S. maritime administrator. Comments: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Collusion, Treason, Trump and Putin

Collusion
1. a secret agreement, especially for . . . treacherous purposes; conspiracy

2. Law. a secret understanding between two or more persons to gain something illegally . . . or to appear as adversaries though in agreement


-- Dictionary.com

Treason
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, . . . adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason . . . and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

-- 18 U.S. Code §2381 (1994)

Impeachment
The President . . . shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

-- U.S. Constitution, Article II, §4 (The 25th Amendment to the Constitution provides alternative procedures following a finding that the president is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.")

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What can we pluck from the speculation and wild accusations, alternative facts and devious denials, regarding Russia's involvement in our last presidential election? Here's a quick, three-part summary:

Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin was not fond of Hillary Clinton and preferred Donald Trump as the next U.S. president. Individuals in Russia were involved in hacking into computers of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton Campaign, and facilitating release of some of their content. They, or others in Russia, prepared propaganda and false damaging information about Clinton and distributed it throughout the U.S. through social media. However probable it may be that some voters were, to some extent, influenced in their opinions of the candidates, and even ultimate choices at the ballot box, there is no procedure for collecting the data necessary to prove or disprove such suspicions. It is unlikely that, but for these Russian efforts, Clinton would have won the electoral vote (although there's no way that can be proved or disproved). There have been assertions that Russians wanted to manipulate voting machines, but no evidence that, if so, they were successful in doing so.

Trump. A second, related, line of inquiry has involved the past and present ties that Trump, his family, campaign and other associates, may have with Russian oligarchs, banks, politicians and government officials. This includes Americans' interests in investments there (or payments from there) and Russians' investments or payments here. A significant number of individuals in both countries, meetings, and transactions have been identified and reported. Of course, a substantial impediment to a thorough understanding is Trump's refusal to comply with the norm that presidents reveal their past tax returns. And the Trump Team's case has not been strengthened by the number of instances in which their contacts with Russians (or payments from Russians) have been denied, only to have been unequivocally confirmed later.

Collusion. A third, and seemingly final inquiry addresses the possibility that there was "collusion," a "conspiracy," among the joint forces of Putin and Trump, working together in their efforts to defeat Clinton and elect Trump. Such a finding ("beyond a reasonable doubt") is somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible to prove without documents (e.g., electronic messages, meeting notes, transcripts of conference calls) or the testimony of those present at such meetings. If a "secret agreement" or "conspiracy" (as "collusion" is defined at the top of this post) can be shown, fine. But an inability to do so should not be the end of the matter. Indeed, it should not have been the beginning, either.

Here is an effort at an explanatory analogy for where the Putin-Trump inquiry should have begun.

Consider the terrorist attack on 9/11. That involved collusion, or a conspiracy -- an organization, communication and control, financing, training, a plan, and the execution of that plan. That was the case with some of the terrorist attacks in Europe and elsewhere. But as our government, intelligence community, and international cooperation became more sophisticated, loose affiliations such as Al Qaeda and ISIS found it increasingly difficult to carry out such organized attacks. Did they give up? No. What did they do? They changed strategy and procedures.

They began sending out to everyone in the world with an Internet connection the equivalent of the computer-generated emails we all get from time to time notifying us that we can't "reply" to the email. They said, in effect, "Don't leave your country; don't try to contact us or come to the Middle East for training; don't try to organize massive destruction like 9/11. Do what you can do where you are: shoot somebody or throw them off a rooftop, make a car bomb or drive your car into a crowd." Many to most of those who were persuaded by these Web pages and social media messages, persuaded to engage in some terrorist act, were not a part of a conspiracy, or collusion with a terrorist organization's leadership. They had attended no meetings, had no conversations, received no electronic communications personal to them. What they do is "consistent" with the organization's goals and strategies, but it does not constitute "collusion."

This is something we experience in our daily lives. Local street demonstrations -- whether the global "Women's March" demonstrations on January 21, or those throughout Russia on March 26; whether those of the Tea Party or Occupy -- often emerge and grow without any need for a conspiracy, collusion, or communication. Nor need it always be as dramatic as terrorist acts or demonstrations. The same is true of fads in food, dress, sports, or smartphones.

And that, I believe, is how we should approach the actions of Putin and Trump before, during, and after the November 8, 2016, presidential election. It is not necessary that they and their teams talked strategy with each other, or enabled each other's actions, or coordinated their campaign strategies and tactics. [Photo credit: Reuters/Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Business Insider/Skye Gould]

"Treason," defined at the top of this post, only speaks of "giving [enemies] aid and comfort." Clearly, Putin derived "aid and comfort" from the outcome of the election, and the attitudes and actions of Trump's Team that have paralleled Putin's own.

So where's the evidence? Here are some excerpts from Newsweek's take last August:
Not since the beginning of the Cold War has a U.S. politician been as fervently pro-Russian as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. . . . Trump has praised President Vladimir Putin as a real leader, “unlike what we have in this country.” Trump has also dismissed reports that Putin has murdered political enemies (“Our country does plenty of killing also,” he told MSNBC) . . .. When Russian hackers stole a cache of emails [from the DNC] . . . Trump called on “Russia, if you’re listening,” to hack some more. . . .

“Trump advocates isolationist policies and an abdication of U.S. leadership in the world. He cares little about promoting democracy and human rights,” [says U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014] Michael McFaul. “A U.S. retreat from global affairs fits precisely with Putin’s international interests.” . . . Kremlin-sponsored propaganda outlets like Sputnik and RT . . . have lavishly praised Trump, . . . supported Trump’s assertion that Barack Obama “founded ISIS,” and Russia’s world-class army of state-sponsored hackers has targeted Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. . . .

[T]he Kremlin’s support for Trump is part of a longstanding strategy to sow disruption and discord in the West. Whether it’s by backing French ultra-nationalists . . . or boosting Donald Trump’s chances by blackening the Democrats, the Kremlin believes Russia benefits every time the Western establishment is embarrassed. . . .

Former CIA Director Mike Morell wrote . . . that Putin “recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation” with flattery. But the truth is more nuanced. Trump’s pro-Putinism goes back to at least 2007, when he told CNN that [Putin] was doing “a great job” rebuilding Russia. Trump was pushing real estate deals in Moscow at the time and, according to one Moscow-based American businessman . . . Trump’s admiration for Putin was rooted in “pure self-interest. . . . He was looking to make friends and business partners” among Russia’s politically connected elite. . . .

Trump’s . . . political career has made him an important part of Putin’s wider strategy to weaken the West and court conservatives around the world . . .. into a grand anti-liberal alliance headed by Russia. In August, Moscow hosted a gathering of nationalist and separatist activists from all over Europe and the U.S. . . ..

“The target of the hacks wasn’t just Clinton,” [former head, Estonian intelligence] Eerik-Niiles Kross, wrote . . .. "What the Russians have in their sights is nothing less than the democratic fabric of American society and the integrity of the system of Western liberal values. . . . The political warfare of the Cold War is back -- in updated form, with meaner, more modern tools, including a vast state media empire in Western languages, hackers, spies, agents, useful idiots, compatriot groups, and hordes of internet trolls.” In other words, Trump is merely a useful stooge in the Kremlin’s grand design to encourage NATO disunity, U.S. isolationism and the breakup of Europe.
Owen Matthews, "How Vladimir Putin is Using Donald Trump to Advance Russia's Goals," Newsweek, August 29, 2016.

OK; keep the search for "collusion" or a "conspiracy" on the back burner. But what the media's investigative reporters, House, Senate, and any other investigative committees ought to be focusing on is making the case for what Putin and Trump are doing in parallel that results in weakening the world's great democracies -- whether or not it is the result of joint planning.

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Comparable analyses and conclusions are found in many other sources, including "The view from the Kremlin: Putin's War on the West," The Economist," Feb. 12, 2015; and Mark Galeotti, "Putin’s Chaos Strategy Is Coming Back to Bite Him in the Ass," Foreign Policy, October 26, 2016 ("The Russian president has sown confusion and conflict around the world the past two years. But his short-sighted meddling isn’t the work of a mastermind.")

And compare what Putin and Trump are seemingly trying to accomplish with this 2004 UN General Assembly list of the necessary elements of a successful democracy:
• Separation and balance of power
• Independence of the judiciary
• A pluralistic system of political parties and organisations
• Respect for the rule of law
• Accountability and transparency
• Free, independent and pluralistic media
• Respect for human and political rights; e.g., freedoms of association and expression; the right to vote and to stand in elections
Michael Meyer-Resende, "International Consensus: Essential Elements of Democracy," Democracy Reporting International (October 2011).

And see also, "Tracking Trump," November 9, 2016-January 19, 2017; "Resources for Trump Watchers," February 11, 2017.

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