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Necessary cautions

May 27, 2021

Philip Lacovara provides the necessary word of caution regarding the criminal investigations into Trump:

A criminal conviction requires a unanimous guilty verdict. For practical reasons as well as the interests of justice, prosecutors ordinarily will not seek an indictment unless they are satisfied both that they have evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that there is a substantial probability that all 12 jurors will agree to convict. All of this may give Vance pause. Even in New York City there are plenty of Trump fans .. Trump supporters are overwhelmingly inclined to accept his version of events, even when they fly in the face of documented, objective reality.

Though I understand the jury problem, I hope justice officials don’t too easily give up on prosecution. It’s unfortunate that Trump escaped criminal charges throughout his life. Now, as a political cult leader, he has considerable shield against them. Something he boasted about when first campaigning. In a just world … well, in a just world, pathological liars like Trump would not exist. We live in a messy world, and prosecutors should bring righteous charges even when social factors make the outcome uncertain, hoping that their efforts sometimes nudge the world in a better direction. 

To Biden’s call for redoubled intelligence investigation into the origin of Covid-19, I will make my own word of caution: It is unlikely to provide much answer in the ninety day time frame he sets. Those investigators by background and training focus on the social world, essentially starting with equal Bayesian priors for the relevant range of possibilities in the worlds of physics and biology. Those possibilities aren’t equal. It is far more likely that Covid-19 had zoonotic origin than that it was created intentionally. The intelligence community will not forward the investigation of that side one bit. If the Wuhan lab played a role, something for which we so far have little evidence, it is far more likely as a site of cross-species transmission — workers acquiring the virus from contact with bats or other animals — than as a source of synthesized virus. Alas, investigating a zoonotic origin requires resources, time, and luck. Hunting for viruses in the wild still requires sampling animals. Many of them. I would support dedicating a few billion dollars in the federal budget to improving the process for that, and building more data on what viruses are out there. 

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