Thursday, July 14, 2016

Hillary Clinton's Extreme Recklessness with National Security: A Rigged Justice Department or Failing Short of Gross Negligence?

In July, 2016, the FBI came to the conclusion that while Hillary Clinton was serving as U.S. Secretary of State, she risked classified information by using private computer servers for email and other purposes. The FBI’s director explicitly stated that she had been extremely reckless. In legal terms, that means gross negligence. At the time, a 99-year-old statute whereby gross negligence is sufficient for a fine or imprisonment of up to ten years was still on the books. Whether or not the person knew the actions were wrong is not relevant to the statute, and thus the enforcement.  So it was perplexing to a significant number of Americans—including prosecutors and other lawyers—that the FBI director did not recommend prosecution. Crucially, extremely reckless is the same as gross negligence in legal terms.
The FBI director pointed out that the statute had not been used as a basis for prosecution, and therefore it was not fitting to apply the statute in 2016. Does this reasoning mean that just because nobody has been prosecuted for lynching black Americans since, say, 1916, a person who lynches a black man in 2016 should not be prosecuted? I have simply increased the seriousness of the crime, but is being extremely reckless with national security not also a serious crime?  Is the American legal system prepared to say that any statute not used in a prosecution is therefore unenforceable?  Only statutes already utilized could be used to prosecute people. No legal basis exists for such a view, and yet the FBI director got away with it.
That Hillary Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, boarded the Attorney General’s jet on the tarmac at Phoenix’s airport to have a discussion with Loretta Lynch presumably about grandchildren just a week before the FBI director’s announcement opens the door to the possibility that the president who had appointed Lynch to a lower office made a deal so his wife—who was running for president at the time—would not be prosecuted. The FBI’s extremely reckless logic adds more support to that possibility. In short, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.
At the very least, the appearance of corruption is noxious and thus unacceptable. CPA firms look not only at material conflicts of interest, but also the appearance thereof as being problematic. Such conflicts are rather obvious and they are avoidable. Perhaps Bill and Hillary Clinton were desperate to make a deal—appearance or not—because they knew she had been reckless in going against the State Department’s policy; even freshmen congressmen know not to put classified material on private email servers. Hillary engaged in such traffic even when she was on hostile soil, such as China and Russia.
What amazes me from this case is just how easy it was for the FBI recommend no prosecution—given the extremely bad rationale rationally speaking—and how easy had been for Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch to get away with the 30-minute discussion on her plane “on the grandchildren.” That the American people take all this at face value quivers my faith in American representative democracy. Put another way, if the players could get away with corruption and, at the very least, incompetence in such a blatant case, other players could get the message that the American system of justice is no match for corrupt deals made by powerful people. Are the people really so naïve, or are we simply apathetic? Either way, the message from this case is not good regarding accountability. 


Note: This essay is not meant to convey an opinion on the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, and more specifically on Hillary Clinton as a candidate. Rather, the question is whether an inter-institutional conflict of interest exists between the White House and the U.S. Department of Justice (i.e., whether that department is immune from political pressure).

On the Business Ethics and Technology of Self-Driving Cars at Tesla

During the summer of 2016, Tesla was under fire societally with charges regarding the technology and ethics. Both of these issues can be put into a wider perspective in the company’s favor. Put another way, both technological and ethical analyses can be enhanced by putting the specific problems within a larger perspective—even in terms of time.

Regarding the technological problem at issue, the company’s cars running on “auto-pilot” could not yet take into account another car’s lateral movement. For example, the technology could not detect another car travelling alongside in an adjacent lane shifting over into the Tesla car. A man died from just such an occurrence.  He was not paying attention at the time, and yet Tesla’s incomplete technology also received a lot of blame.

Given the incomplete condition of the technology and simply for safety’s sake, the company was communicating to the buyers that even though the cars could self-drive, the drivers still needed to pay active attention. So a driver who was filmed sleeping while behind the wheel of a Tesla car during a slow-paced commute was culpable even though the car did not crash.

The argument that the company was culpable held that it had misled customers by stating that the cars were self-driving. In other words, drivers could reasonably assume that they need not pay attention. This argument fails because pilots know they must still pay attention when the airplanes are on auto-pilot. Therefore, that a car can self-drive does not imply that drivers can take naps or fixate on their smartphones. Such people are not smart at all.

The wider perspective shows the early smart-driving technology is apt to have limitations and even faults. Drivers dismissing these were missing the point regarding how technology progresses. Technological development takes a while, rather than being perfected at launch. At the start, drivers keeping this in mind could not reasonably conclude that they could drive as if the technology could support them sleeping or being distracted.

As the self-driving technology develops—sadly in part from trial and error—drivers may one day be able to sleep or play on their smart-phones with the reasonable expectation that paying active attention is not necessary. Also, as the proportion of cars that are self-driving increases on the roads, the case for not paying attention while the cars are self-driving improves still more. 

In 2016 and likely in years to come, the roads could even more dangerous than before the advent of the self-driving cars and after the technology and proportion of self-driving cars is made more complete. The temporal vulnerability resulting in the problems during the summer of 2016 is like a donut hole because a sufficient number of drivers of self-driving cars did not adequately understand the risks from the technology not yet complete enough to justify what those drivers were doing at the expense of paying active attention. Perhaps it is human nature, but Tesla was not at fault either on technological or ethical grounds.