Deep learning, deep insights, deep artificial minds — the list goes on and on. But with unprecedented promise comes some unprecedented peril.
Around the end of each year major dictionaries declare their “word of the year.” Last year, for instance, the most looked-up word at Merriam-Webster.com was “justice.” Well, even though it’s early, I’m ready to declare the word of the year for 2019.
The word is “deep.”
Why? Because recent advances in the speed and scope of digitization, connectivity, big data and artificial intelligence are now taking us “deep” into places and into powers that we’ve never experienced before — and that governments have never had to regulate before. I’m talking about
- deep learning,
- deep insights,
- deep surveillance,
- deep facial recognition,
- deep voice recognition,
- deep automation and
- deep artificial minds.
..Which is why it may not be an accident that one of the biggest hit songs today is “Shallow,” from the movie “A Star Is Born.” The main refrain, sung by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, is: “I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in. … We’re far from the shallow now.”
.. We sure are. But the lifeguard is still on the beach and — here’s what’s really scary — he doesn’t know how to swim! More about that later. For now, how did we get so deep down where the sharks live?
The short answer: Technology moves up in steps, and each step, each new platform, is usually biased toward a new set of capabilities. Around the year 2000 we took a huge step up that was biased toward connectivity, because of the explosion of fiber-optic cable, wireless and satellites.
Suddenly connectivity became so fast, cheap, easy for you and ubiquitous that it felt like you could touch someone whom you could never touch before and that you could be touched by someone who could never touch you before.
Around 2007, we took another big step up. The iPhone, sensors, digitization, big data, the internet of things, artificial intelligence and cloud computing melded together and created a new platform that was biased toward abstracting complexity at a speed, scope and scale we’d never experienced before.
So many complex things became simplified. Complexity became so fast, free, easy to use and invisible that soon with one touch on Uber’s app you could page a taxi, direct a taxi, pay a taxi, rate a taxi driver and be rated by a taxi driver.
The case against the president would be far stronger than the case against John Edwards was.
This all suggests Trump could become a target of a very serious criminal campaign finance investigation. In response, Trump has offered up three defenses. His first was to repeatedly lie. For quite some time, he flatly denied knowledge about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. But now he seems to be acknowledging that he knew (since his personal company reimbursed Cohen for the payment, he ought to). Now Trump and his acolytes have turned to two other excuses: They point to an earlier case involving former senator John Edwards to argue that what Trump did wasn’t a crime; and they say, even if it was a crime, it wasn’t a biggie — there are lots of crimes, so what, who cares.
The former is a very weak legal argument, and the latter a dangerous one. Indeed, the campaign finance violations here are among the most important ever in the history of this nation — given the razor-thin win by Trump and the timing of the crimes, they very well may have swung a presidential election.But the case is actually harmful for Trump — especially what the judge ruled. Edwards repeatedly argued that the payments were not campaign contributions because they were not made exclusively to further his campaign. The judge rejected this argument as a matter of law, ruling that a payment to a candidate’s extramarital sexual partner is a campaign contribution if “one of” the reasons the payment is made is to influence the election.
As a legal matter, that aspect of the Edwards case is what matters now — and it’s damning for Trump. It provides a precedent that other courts could follow in any prosecution arising out of the hush-money schemes Trump paid: The president could face criminal charges for conspiring with Cohen to make the payments because the evidence shows the payments were made, at least in part, for campaign purposes. As for what the jury concluded in the Edwards case, there’s good reason to believe that the evidence in a criminal case against Trump would be much stronger.
The timing of the payments in Edwards’s case appeared to relate to paying for expenses from the birth and support of the child he fathered with his partner rather than to any campaign activity, and payment began before the campaign did. In contrast, Trump’s payments to his former sexual partners were made many years after the actual affairs. The payments to Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford, were made in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, immediately after the “Access Hollywood” scandal broke, when Daniels was in negotiation with national media outlets to go public with her story. This timing strongly suggests that the payments were campaign-related.Edwards argued that he didn’t know anything about the payments and that, regardless, the payments in his case were intended to keep news of the affair and pregnancy from his wife — not to keep the information from voters. Trump tried the first tactic, but Cohen’s tapes eviscerated that argument. There is no reason to think that Trump’s attempt to paint these as personal payments is any less of a lie than his attempt to say he didn’t know about them... Unlike with Edwards, prosecutors have noted evidence that Cohen “coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments.” If Cohen had made the payments as a purely personal matter for Trump, separate and apart from Trump’s candidacy, Cohen would not have consulted with the campaign about doing so. Further, Trump was first aware of threats to publish information about this affair in 2011, when his youngest child had just been born to his new wife and at the time made no offers of money to keep the news quiet. What was different in 2016 was the election.
In the Edwards case, there was a paucity of evidence. A key witness, Bunny Melon, was 101 years old and too frail to show up at trial. There were no written legal agreements providing money in exchange for silence, as there are in Trump’s case, and no threats by the mother of the child to go public immediately if the funds were not received. That’s why one juror told the media that the evidence wasn’t there to show even that Edwards intended the money to go to Rielle Hunter. In contrast, in a bombshell disclosure this week, the public learned that AMI, the parent corporation of the National Enquirer, is cooperating with the prosecution and has stated that the payments were made to influence the 2016 election. And even more worrisome for Trump, reports emerged Thursday that Trump was the third person in the very room where Cohen and David Pecker (the head of AMI) discussed the hush money payments — making it very hard for Trump to assert a non-campaign-related purpose.
Trump’s legal adviser Rudy Giuliani has argued that the jury in the Edwards case vindicated Edwards, but, in fact, the jurors acquitted him on only one criminal charge and deadlocked on the others. And at any rate, as Giuliani (a former federal prosecutor before he was mayor of New York) should know, criminal jury verdicts are not legal precedents. The Edwards jury, applying the law to the particular facts of that case, did not find Edwards guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is 100 percent irrelevant to whether Cohen’s guilty plea proves that Trump broke the law based on very different facts.
The final Trump defense being floated, that everyone breaks the law, fares no better. As its chief expositor, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), put it, “I don’t care” if the law has been broken, “all I can say is he’s doing a good job as president.” He added, “The Democrats will do anything to hurt this president. Anything.”
As individuals who have devoted their lives to nonpartisan enforcement of the law, we cannot think of a more dispiriting statement. Hatch is wrong about every aspect of this statement. The accusations against Trump come from career prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (otherwise known as Trump’s own Justice Department). But the more important point is this: We will rue the day a senator trotted out such callousness about federal felonies.
The whole idea of our criminal justice system is to enumerate those offenses that are so egregious that they demand serious jail time. Those felonies are the bread and butter of our criminal justice system. Of course, every criminal defendant seeks to minimize his crimes. But such defendants don’t have a cheering squad composed of United States senators. If Trump wants to argue he didn’t commit the crimes, as he used to assert in April, fine. He’s entitled to that defense. But the grievous minimization of serious campaign finance violations by members of Trump’s political party further corrode our commitment to our age-old ideal of being a “government of laws, and not of men.” If Hatch thinks too much activity has been criminalized, he is in a welcome position to change the laws as a member of the Senate. He shouldn’t denigrate the law in the process. After all, the campaign disclosure requirements at issue here were enacted by Congress (as key post-Watergate reforms after President Richard Nixon’s personal lawyer Herbert Kalmbach went to prison for paying hush money to potential witnesses out of secret cash campaign contributions).
The bad arguments being floated in Trump’s defense are emblematic of a deterioration in respect for the rule of law in this country. The three of us have deep political differences, but we are united in the view that our country comes first and our political parties second. And chief among the values of our country is its commitment to the rule of law. No one, whether a senator or a president, should pretend America is something less.
Lee cited a 30-year-old dissent by Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia arguing that protecting an independent counsel from presidential power creates a “fourth branch of government.”
Lee warned that the bill to protect Mueller would “fundamentally [undermine] the principle of separation of powers.”
“Prosecutorial authority in the United States belongs in the Department of Justice.” Lee said... Lee and fellow Republicans, including longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, have said there’s no need for legislation because Trump wouldn’t fire Mueller or end his probe. Sen.-elect Mitt Romney, who will succeed Hatch, says the investigation must continue unimpeded, though he isn’t sure if legislation is necessary... Flake, who is leaving office, said Wednesday that his colleagues are blind if they can’t see Trump is already angling to halt Mueller’s investigation.
.. “With the president tweeting on a regular basis, a daily basis, that the special counsel is conflicted, that he is leading the so-called 12 angry Democrats and demeaning and ridiculing him in every way, to be so sanguine about the chances of him getting fired is folly for us,” Flake said on the Senate floor.
.. Coons pointed out that the Scalia opinion Lee cited was a dissent on a 7-1 decision by the high court and that the justices ruled the law creating an independent counsel was constitutional. (The law has since expired and the special counsel now is supervised by the attorney general.).. “At the end of the day, leader McConnell has gotten reassurances from the president that he won’t act against Mueller, but those assurances are undermined every single day when President Trump both tweets untrue criticisms of Robert Mueller and his investigation and does other things that are unexpected or unconventional or unjustified,” Coons told MSNBC.
Outsourcing this responsibility to female aides or an outside female lawyer because of bad optics is sexist and cowardly.
.. Dr. Blasey and her lawyers have pushed back, demanding that Mr. Grassley and his colleagues question her themselves. They are right to do so. The Republicans’ attempt to outsource the questioning of Dr. Blasey is cynical, sexist and cowardly.
.. Let’s start with the cynicism. Mr. Grassley said, “We reserve the option to have female staff attorneys, who are sensitive to the particulars of Dr. Blasey’s allegations and are experienced investigators, question both witnesses.” The chairman knows the optics are bad for him. Mr. Grassley and his 10 Republican colleagues on the judiciary committee are all white men. Their median age is about 60; Mr. Grassley and his colleague Orrin Hatch of Utah are in their mid-80s.
.. But the solution isn’t to remove men from the script. It’s to ask that they embody different characters: people who can pose respectful, probing questions, rather than bullies intent on shaming and demeaning the witness.
.. Many people think that’s impossible, which leads to the second point: The Republicans’ plan is sexist. Handing off the questioning of Dr. Blasey to female staff members would be a gross departure from Senate practice and based on the risible idea that the questioning of sexual assault survivors is “women’s work.”
.. I have written about the entrenched gender bias against female litigators. After a year of reporting, what stood out was a phenomenon of women being steered, often explicitly, into specialties where the cases turned on proving or disproving injuries to women’s genitals and reproductive organs.
.. Quite rightly, female Senate aides are “appalled” by the idea of having Dr. Blasey questioned in this fashion. “They always have to bring a woman in to save their bacon,” one told Britt Peterson
.. Which brings me to my final point. Cowardice.
Republican senators have no problem trying Dr. Blasey in the court of public opinion. Senator Hatch has already made up his mind: Judge Kavanaugh is telling the truth and Dr. Blasey is simply “mixed up.” Lindsey Graham, another Republican committee member, told The Washington Post, “I’ll listen to the lady,” then immediately implied the opposite. “We’re going to bring this to a close,” he said and called the accusation “a drive-by shooting.”
.. And yet, they are apparently too afraid to speak to her face to face. It is true that Dr. Blasey may prove to be a formidable opponent. She holds advanced degrees from Stanford and the University of Southern California, enjoys the respect of her colleagues and has had numerous people attest to her good character. But that’s no excuse for Republicans to shirk their responsibilities and turn tail.
Come on, gentlemen. Man up.