All the President’s Men

Now that the first indictments have been handed down in the Mueller investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, the path forward will be determined by the presentation and evaluation of actual evidence. These charges almost certainly represent the first of more to come in the weeks and months ahead. But there should be no mistaking the significance of what is happening here. The primacy of the rule of law is being asserted and it must prevail if the U.S. is to remain a free, liberal and democratic society.

 

The indictments named Paul Manafort, ex-Chairman of the Trump campaign and an associate of his named Rick Gates. They were charged with money laundering (as predicted) and making false statements to the FBI. Manafort is also charged with tax evasion. The money laundering and tax evasion charges are related to Manafort’s lobbying work in Ukraine. Neither of the men, now under house arrest, was charged with crimes directly related to the Trump campaign.

 

However, a third player named George Papadopoulus who is described as a Trump foreign policy advisor, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contact with a professor with ties to the Kremlin.

 

With indictments handed down, partisans of every stripe are going to spend considerable time in the days ahead trying to frame the debate in ways designed to flatter their respective sides. But there is only one side that matters: Truth. The facts need to come out—all of them—in court. Let us not forget that the Nixon White House may have contained the Watergate affair but for Judge John J. Sirica’s refusal to accept (the bought off) plea agreements of the defendants. In so doing he set in motion the final unmasking of the conspiracy.

 

That said, there is a long distance standing between the indictment of campaign staffers and the criminal culpability of a President. If it turns out that the charges in the indictment are true, they still may not have any bearing on the underlying question as to whether Trump himself actually colluded, cooperated or coordinated his campaign activities with agents of the Russian government. That remains to be seen. But the indictments are a big first step in the path to find out. And Mueller obviously means to squeeze all the information he can out of Manafort and Co.

 

Now that these matters are going to be tried in the courts where they belong, it is probable that very few of the players are going to emerge unscathed, included those who were not named in the original indictments. For instance, it now turns out that Mueller is investigating Tony Podesta, brother of Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta. Together they founded the lobbying firm Podesta Group, with Tony Podesta operating as CEO. It seems that the powerhouse K Street firm worked with Manafort on the Ukraine account. That caught Mueller’s attention, and now there is a criminal inquiry considering whether the Podesta firm violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act. In the event, Podesta announced he was stepping down for the duration of the inquiry.

 

It is also the case that John Podesta had an investment in Joule Unlimited, a firm that received significant financial assistance from a company called Rusnano, a Kremlin backed investment fund founded by none other than Vladimir Putin. Rusnano ponied up about 30% of Joule Unlimited’s financing needs after John Podesta was named to its board. Also on the board: a senior Russian official named Anatoly Chubais and oligarch Ruben Vardanyan, who was appointed to a Russian economic modernization council by—Vladimir Putin. And, oh yes, Vardanyan used to serve as the head of the investment banking division of Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, which also had a $170,000 contract with—the Podesta group. After Hillary Clinton lost the election, Joule Unlimited closed up shop as their Russian backers walked.

 

It should be noted that none of this proves that anyone committed a crime. But it is easy to see how the Podesta firm wound up in the cross hairs.

 

Before this is all over, it would not be in the least bit surprising to see officials from both of the campaigns, related party organizations and perhaps even principals, facing criminal indictments for corruption in various forms. If the evidence is there, those officials should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But if the criminal law is simply turned into a political weapon, we will be in even worse shape than we are now. And that’s pretty bad.

 

JFB

 

 

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Where’s the Outrage?

In 1996 the GOP candidate for President, Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, used to tick off a laundry list of horribles mostly having to do with charges that President Clinton was sleazy and that a biased liberal press was protecting his Administration. After reeling off the particulars he would then go on to ask rhetorically: “Where’s the Outrage?”

 

He lost the race, and lost it decisively. Perhaps it was a harbinger.

 

Today we have no shortage of outrage. In fact we have a surplus of it. And it is constantly being stoked by cynical political operators who rely on confirmation biases to arouse the passions of their respective political bases in order to win the tribal contests we call elections. These elections have increasingly become exercises in identity politics and grievance mongering. The result is that rational governance, nuance and compromise are tossed out the window; policy disputes are criminalized, and mob rule is becoming the order of the day.

 

 

The cynicism of the players and the naiveté of the marks (generally the most passionate followers) can be seen by watching how quickly the players change their arguments and how easily their credulous followers swallow them. Consider, for instance, the FBI. They go from black hats to white hats in the blink of an eye, depending on whose ox is being gored.

 

The truth is that any objective analysis of the FBI’s performance over the years—make that decades—would have to conclude that the FBI has been highly politicized from the outset, and incompetent to boot. J. Edgar Hoover ran the place like it was his private police force, and he had no regard for citizens’ Constitutional rights. Long withheld documents being released today on the Kennedy assassination make it pretty clear that the FBI destroyed evidence after the fact. Robert Hanssen, a senior intelligence officer for the FBI, acted as a spy for Russia from 1979 until 2001 when he was finally caught. Time magazine described the Hanssen case as one of the most damaging in U.S. history.

 

Then there were the scandals at the FBI crime labs. In 2015 the FBI got around to admitting that almost every examiner in one of its elite forensic crime labs gave flawed testimony over more than two decades in the years before 2000. Of 28 examiners 26 overstated evidence of forensic matches of hair that favored prosecutors 95% of the time in 268 trials reviewed by the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project. These cases included 32 death sentence cases. Of those, 14 defendants were either executed or died in prison.

 

The FBI is still up to its neck in cover-ups to protect the politically powerful. Consider the Lois Lerner / IRS saga. Just yesterday, on October 26, 2017, the DOJ and IRS settled some of the outstanding Tea Party cases in which the IRS deliberately targeted conservative groups in order to incapacitate them for the 2012 elections. The settlements included payments to the plaintiffs and an apology from the IRS.

 

It turns out that in the Tea Party cases the IRS handed 21 computer disks to the FBI that contained 1.23 million pages of confidential IRS returns from 113,000 non-profit 501(c)(4) groups, although federal law generally forbids the IRS from sharing such data. By means of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog, was able to establish that the IRS, DOJ and FBI met on October 10, 2010 to discuss legal theories about how to criminally prosecute groups “posing” as tax-exempt non-profits, which is to say, Tea Party groups.

 

And then there is the infamous mishandling of the case of Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server. In this particular comedy of errors the FBI, through the offices of FBI Director James Comey, ran interference for Clinton to make sure she wasn’t prosecuted even though it is perfectly obvious to anyone who can read that Clinton violated federal law on handling defense information, specifically, 18 US Code 793 (f). The sentence for this crime, by the way, includes up to 10 years in prison.

 

It is not necessary to belabor the point by citing more cases. It is crystal clear that the FBI has for decades been both politically corrupt and stunningly incompetent. And what has the political establishment done about it?

 

Nothing.

 

And what does the commentariat of the left and right have to say? They either cheer or hiss from the bleachers depending on the identity of the FBI’s latest target. Left wing activists were horrified that the FBI infiltrated radical left-wing groups in the 1960s and 1970s. Right wing groups thought it was just swell. Now left wing groups think it’s just great that the FBI is infiltrating “hate groups” and right-wingers have suddenly discovered the fourth and fifth amendments. But do we hear a principled argument from either side that is neutral in its application? Of course not.

 

And the same goes for the first amendment, particularly with respect to speech and the free exercise of religion. Do the mobs of the left or right defend these fundamental freedoms?

 

No.

 

It depends on whose ox is being gored.

 

So let’s turn to the ever-expanding Russia investigation. What is going on here?

 

After the smelling salts were duly administered, it finally dawned on the Democratic Party establishment that the country voted to give the keys to the White House to a witless reality TV star by the name of Donald Trump. So the Democrats immediately began the campaign to delegitimize the Presidency of Trump, pretty much before it even got started, which is pretty much what the Republicans did in 1992 to then President elect Bill Clinton. The centerpiece of the campaign was (and is) the charge that but for collusion between Russia and Trump, Hillary Clinton would have been elected President.

 

Thanks in part to Trumpian buffoonery, there is now a special investigator in the person of Robert Mueller conducting a wide-ranging investigation into possible collusion, as well as Trump’s associates, the Trump campaign, and Trump’s business empire. As a result it appears likely that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager for a brief period, will be criminally charged, probably with money laundering and various other financial crimes. The other Trump associates in the drama will probably be charged with being stupid, which while true enough, is not yet a felony.

 

The saga has now taken a new and wholly unexpected turn. It centers on an infamous dossier filled with salacious and unconfirmed reports that circulated widely in the press, which was then published by Buzz Feed. It turns out that none other than Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC financed the dossier, but only after Trump’s Republican opposition stopped doing so when he secured the nomination.

 

Digging up dirt on the opposition, also known as opposition research, (oppo research) is nothing new. It has been going on forever. That said, there are two factors that come into play here. The first is that this type of stuff is typically low quality and consists largely of rumor-mongering. Second, and more importantly, plenty of the information for the dossier came from Russian operatives, which is to say it may very well have been part of a larger disinformation campaign designed to sow political discontent in the U.S. generally. If so, it succeeded brilliantly—with the help of the FBI.

 

It succeeded with the help of the FBI because Director James Comey has already admitted that the dossier was one of the reasons he launched the initial investigation into the Trump campaign. So the investigation may be attributable to a Russian disinformation campaign that the FBI fell for like the Keystone Kops. Moreover, if so, it would be the Clinton campaign and the DNC that inadvertently financed the Russian effort.

 

Apparently the Clinton campaign and the DNC used a law firm as a cut out to pay Fusion GPS to produce the dossier. The idea is that Clinton and the DNC could protect their anonymity while the law firm could argue attorney client privilege. Needless to say, no one at either the Clinton campaign or the DNC has fessed up to authorizing or even being aware of the payments to the law firm. After all, it’s pretty difficult to squawk about collusion with foreign powers when you are funneling cash to operatives of a foreign power to do oppo research.

 

And speaking of collusion with a foreign power, there is more news about the Uranium One deal. That’s the one where Hillary Clinton, among other cabinet officers, voted to OK the sale of uranium assets to a company that was taken over by a Russian concern, giving Russia a large chunk of U.S. uranium assets. It turns out that while this was going on, the FBI was investigating the companies involved and was prepared to criminally charge them, which would have killed any deal. But they didn’t. Instead they waited for a few years and quietly settled the case with a slap on the wrist. The FBI had an informant in the case who was prepared to testify about it. But the informant had to sign a gag order as part of the settlement deal, and so was not allowed to tell his story.

 

The informant’s lawyer, Victoria Toensing, has said that there is “on the record quid-pro-quo” around the deal that includes Bill Clinton getting paid $500,00 for making a speech at a Russian Bank, and the Clinton Foundation receiving tens of millions of dollars from people with an interest in the Uranium One deal. For his part, Donald Trump told the Justice Department to lift the gag order so that the informant can testify before Congress. He, the one who refused to release his tax returns, claims it is part of an effort to achieve transparency.

 

And, by the way, the Director of the FBI was Robert Mueller when the settlement, complete with gag order was negotiated.

 

Needless to say the argument is now being made that the independence of the DOJ is being threatened by Trump’s order to lift the gag order. There are a number of problems with that argument, not the least of which is that the DOJ is not now and never has been, independent. The Department of Justice is a part of the Executive Branch and answers to the President. And to argue that Justice is independent and apolitical by tradition requires believing that Bobby Kennedy was not Jack Kennedy’s brother; that John Mitchell was not Richard Nixon’s chief defender and an architect of Watergate; that Eric Holder was not Obama’s point man, and that Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton merely discussed the grandkids on the tarmac.

 

So what can we conclude from all this?

 

  1. All the facts have yet to be revealed and it is still too early to determine whether collusion with a foreign power(s) or other crimes have been committed by any of the major players, and if so by whom.
  2. However, it is reasonably certain that both Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and their sycophants have been lying through their teeth about various aspects of these (and other) affairs.
  3. Most important and in some ways most distressing is the fact that large swaths of the population are so partisan and emotionally invested that they simply do not care who is lying about what. They have picked their side and they are sticking with their side’s story—even as the story changes.
  4. There is plenty of outrage, but the blinders remain on and firmly fastened.
  5. There are almost no principled arguments being offered by the combatants. The sole point of the debate is to skewer the other team. It’s probably a reasonable guess that they are all afraid of what the truth may be, because it will show just how craven for the most part, they all are.

 

Finally, how and why we have arrived at this point is the more interesting question. But that’s another day.

 

JFB

 

 

 

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The Tax Reform That Isn’t

It is now tax reform season, which means that politicians are poised to unleash even more nonsense on the public than is customary. So perhaps it makes sense to frame some of the underlying issues that are involved. First and foremost: There is not a snowball’s chance in hell that taxes—properly understood—are going to be reduced. I repeat: there is no chance—none, nada, zero—that the total tax burden is going to be reduced. It is merely going to be redistributed, and to boot the total burden next year will be larger than this year, and the same condition will hold the year after that, and the year after that. Until the unavoidable default.

 

To see this it is imperative to define terms and do it properly because words that politicians and their sycophants use are designed to obfuscate rather than clarify. This, by the way, is not unique to arguments about the tax code. They do it all the time, pretty much about everything. So: how should we define the tax burden?

 

Definition: The tax burden is equal to the resources that government commands that would otherwise have remained in the private sector. That means that the real tax burden is not simply equal to the cash government collects from income taxes, sales taxes, other excise taxes, user fees, payroll taxes and various other sources. The real tax is equal to the total amount of money government spends plus the cost of regulatory compliance.   This definition differentiates between the government’s demand for economic resources and how it finances the demand.

 

The Income Statement: Revenues are equal to the cash taxes government collects directly plus the regulatory compliance costs it imposes on business that government would otherwise have to bear if it did the job itself. Expenses are cash disbursements. But government spends far more cash than it collects in direct taxes, so it has to make up the difference, which it does by borrowing the difference.

 

The Balance Sheet: Here is where it gets exceptionally tricky, because the government doesn’t publish a balance sheet. And it doesn’t do so for a very good reason. The Government is insolvent and doesn’t care to admit it.

 

Let’s consider: conceptually speaking what would the government’s balance sheet look like if it published one?

 

Assets = Implied taxing power, otherwise known as the tax base.

Liabilities = All the payments it has promised to make in the future. These include debt service and transfer payments, the largest being Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The present value of these unfunded liabilities (plus accumulated debt on the books) ranges from a relatively modest estimate of $100 trillion (from the optimists) to about $200 trillion from the not-so-optimistic. According to the Fed, total net worth of U.S. households is about $85 trillion. That leaves us short somewhere between $15 trillion and $115 trillion. (Corporate assets are largely included in household wealth through stock ownership.)

 

Since U.S. GDP is about $20 trillion, there is no possible way that the U.S. can grow its way out of this. In fact, its liabilities in the form of promised entitlement payments are growing at an increasing rate of speed, so the situation is getting worse rather than better.

 

The only reasonable conclusion is that the U.S. is inevitably going to default on its promises. The only question is when and to whom.

 

 

This conclusion is both inescapably correct and studiously avoided. Progressives have spent the last 100 years or so building a welfare state that is careening toward default by obfuscating the nature of the problem, which is, as Margaret Thatcher put it, Socialists eventually run out of other people’s money to spend.

 

Consider the current discussion over “tax reform” currently taking place. The discussion will carefully ignore the indisputable fact that total government spending and therefore the tax burden, is going to rise. The entire discussion about tax reform / tax relief is entirely distributional without so much as a nod to the underlying structural problem.

 

The Republicans will claim, as they always do, that reducing marginal tax rates a few percentage points will lead to an increase in economic growth sufficient to offset the loss from lower rates. They will propose taking a smaller piece of a much bigger pie. The problem is that there is scant evidence that the modest Republican reforms will have the desired effect because they are not going to address the underlying entitlements beast, which is in the process of devouring everything in its path.

 

 

For their part, the Democrats are still intent on increasing spending for entitlements and “paying” for it by taxing “the rich”. Here we note in passing that Progressives have exactly two solutions for all problems. Tax the rich, and appeal to “the international community”.

 

But let’s go on from here. The great project of building the welfare state, seemingly paid for by taxing the rich, has created a situation in which the financing of the welfare state is divorced from the actual cost of running the welfare state, at least in the public mind. And inevitably that means the public will insist on getting more and more “free” stuff. And because Progressives have convinced otherwise sensible people that they are victims of corporations and the rich, they will continue to demand all this apparently free stuff as a matter of right. It will not end well. They are rapidly running out of other people’s money to spend.

 

 

JFB

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Tired of Winning Yet?

Well, that was fast.

 

Donny and Chucky and Nancy are now BFFs. And Donny is in a good mood because he got some good press; Chucky and Nancy said nice things about him, and he thinks he may have put one over on Mitch McConnell. In the meantime, the Resistance (remember them) is about to snuggle up to Donny because they may get to keep the spending machine cranked up for as long as the eye can see. Or the creditors ask for their money back, which may be sooner than anyone thinks. Especially the borrowers, who seem to think that there is an endless supply of free money out there.

 

Meanwhile Bernie Sanders (Democratic Socialist, VT) has introduced legislation for mandating a “single-payer” Medicare for all scheme. One of its truly unique features is that it is even more boneheaded than Obamacare, which is quite a feat when you think about it.   At last count 16 Democratic Senators (not yet declared Socialists) were on board as co-sponsors of the measure, largely because when they look in the mirror they see a President.

 

When Senator Sanders last ventured into this territory he was in the middle of his ill-fated attempt to wrest the Democratic Presidential nomination away from Lady Clinton. The Urban Institute, hardly a den of right wing extremism, did a fiscal analysis of his plan. Normally these green eyeshade affairs are fairly dreary but this one is a real thigh slapper. The Urban Institute found that, all told, Sander’s plan would increase federal spending by about $32 trillion from 2017 through 2026. That is trillion with a capital T.

 

Sander’s tax proposals would raise an estimated $15 – $16 trillion leaving him about $15- $16 trillion shy of “paying for” his plan. The Urban Institute estimates that state and local spending would drop by about $22 trillion, and private spending would fall about $4 trillion, still leaving a deficit of $6 trillion after making the heroic assumption that for the first time in history the plan would cost what its sponsors say it would. This also makes the patently absurd assumption that the gargantuan tax hikes needed to finance this monstrosity would not have a negative impact on economic growth.

 

But the economics are the least of it. The heart of the problem is that single payer means, well, single payer. There would be no competition. None. Government would essentially fix the prices it would pay for health care services by executive fiat. Health care professionals would not be able to offer services on their own, because government would be the monopoly supplier. (Technically government would be a monopsony, and would control the system by acting as the sole buyer of health care services.)

 

The next step is rationing care. This would take the form of the bureaucracy (not your doctor) deciding who gets what services based on cost-benefit analysis. Inevitably that means that older patients will be tossed overboard because their prospective earning power is lower and life expectancy shorter than younger patients. That’s what happens in England and Canada and other places that have single payer government systems. Those patients whose governments refuse to provide treatment often come to the U.S. for treatment if they can afford to. Otherwise they just die.

 

Needless to say, individual freedom is essentially non-existent if the citizens are dependent on the federal bureaucracy for health care. Just ask Lois Lerner.

 

The conventional political wisdom is that this latest single payer plan is going nowhere. I wouldn’t be so sure. Donald Trump is quite capable of jumping on board with his new friends if they give him a fig leaf or two. After all, up until the time he launched his hostile take-over of the Republican Party, Donald Trump was essentially an outer borough Democrat (from Queens), which is what he remains. And since he is above all a committed narcissist, he will go wherever flattery leads him.

 

And so the question remains for the 62,979, 879 people who voted for him: Are you tired of winning yet?

 

JFB

 

 

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Merrily We Roll Along: A Play

Act 1, Scene 1: Candidate Donald Trump strides to the stage and stands behind a lectern. There is not a teleprompter in sight. A Greek style chorus of Trumpkins stands in the wings.

Donald Trump: We are going to build a wall and it’s gonna be beautiful.

Trumpkins (in unison): Build the Wall! Build the Wall! Build the Wall!

Donald Trump: Who’s gonna pay for it?

Trumpkin Chorus: Mexico! Mexico! Mexico!

Act 1, Scene 2: President Donald Trump wakes up early in the morning, grabs the remote and turns on Fox News. He reaches for his smart phone and logs into his Twitter account.

President Trump Tweets: The country needs a good shutdown.

Trumpkin Chorus: “Brilliant, Strategy! Build the Wall! Shut it Down! Brilliant!

Act 1, Scene 3: President Trump is standing at a lectern in Phoenix Arizona.

President Donald Trump: The obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it. But believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall

Trumpkin Chorus (fist pumping): Build That Wall, Build that Wall. Brilliant! Strategy. Shut it Down! Democrats are bad! Bad, Bad, Bad! Brilliant! Brilliant!

Act 1, Scene 4: Aboard Air Force One headed for Nebraska. President Trump is making a statement to reporters. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are chatting, grinning and sipping coffee. Mitch McConnell appears comatose. Paul Ryan is strapping on a parachute.

President Trump: We had a very good meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. We agreed to a 3-month extension of the debt ceiling. We’re gonna keep the government open.

Trumpkin Chorus: Brilliant! Brilliant!

Wolf Blitzer from CNN: Is funding for the wall included?

Sarah Huckabee: Doesn’t anybody want to talk about Russia?

Wolf Blitzer: A follow up question—is funding for the wall included?

Sarah Huckabee: Sorry Wolf, we’ve run out of time

Trumpkin Chorus: Brilliant! Brilliant! 8 dimensional chess! Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant!

Intermision

A Note to Theatre Patrons

During the Intermission the Donald J Trump Choir will be in the Lobby singing “Such a Brilliant Man” which many have compared favorably to the Lennon/McCartney Classic “Fool on the Hill”.

Alcohol will be served during the intermission. New Gingrich will be tending bar. Chris Christie will be checking IDs.

 

JFB

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our Core Values

Ex President Barack Obama has emerged to denounce current President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind Obama’s executive order known as DACA. The decision, according to Mr. Obama, did not constitute a “legal requirement”. It was, he opined, “…a political decision, and a moral question.”

 

As President, Mr. Obama crafted the DACA policy. Federal courts halted the policy’s implementation when they ruled the mirror image (DAPA) policy to be in violation of federal law. In any event, President Obama weighed in via Twitter, after having said that he would comment on Mr. Trump’s actions at “certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake.”

 

Since Mr. Obama is a bit of an expert at knocking down straw men, let’s look for a little clarity and ask the obvious question. Just what are those “core values” we supposedly share?

 

How about looking at one of the most contentious issues in American politics, which is to say abortion rights. According to Gallup, the country is divided evenly between people who describe themselves as “pro-life (46%)” and “pro-choice (49%)”. Forty three percent (43%) say abortion is morally acceptable; 49% say abortion is morally wrong.

Let’s take setting priorities in the criminal justice system. According to Gallup, 49% of the country wants to strengthen law and order; 43% want to reduce bias against minorities.

 

How about the media? While the percentage of people who trust the media has remained essentially unchanged for years (at only 37%), the distribution of trust has shifted dramatically. Back in 1999 (when overall trust was higher) party affiliation was not a factor; 53% of Democrats and 52% of Republicans thought the press got the facts about right. Now the comparable figures are 62% for Democrats and only 14% for Republicans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s take NAFTA. While it has had overwhelming support among economists, it has always been contentious among the public. Today 48% think it is good for the U.S., while 46% think it is bad for the U.S. But what has changed over the years is that Democratic support for NAFTA has risen substantially while Republican support has plummeted. It is almost a complete reversal of party positions from the late 1990s.

 

What we can see in poll after poll, on issue after issue, whether with respect to policy specifics or overarching social, moral and ethical questions, Americans are deeply, and maybe irretrievably divided. The divisions are largely based on class and level of educational achievement; there is a wide divide between the views of younger generations and older Americans, and people are clustering geographically and socially with other people like themselves.

 

The make-up of the political parties is also changing as blue-collar working class voters are increasingly turning Republican. This turn largely reflects a revolt against the social policies of liberal coastal elites. At the same time, upper class Republicans repulsed by Trump are looking around, but still find themselves unwilling to sign on with Elizabeth Warren et. al.

 

So, Mr. Obama, please stop with the pabulum; let us know what values we share as Americans beyond professional sports franchises and a recently developed penchant for Tattoos. That may prove difficult because Americans no longer share a core of common values, beliefs or culture. Americans are busily retreating to their own corners and falling away from civic engagement.

 

None of this should be a surprise. Charles Murray, the bête noir of modern liberalism predicted it 25 years ago.

 

There is a certain inevitability to all this. Consider what happens when more and more policy gets made in Washington and less in local communities. It is inevitably top down and just as inevitably it reflects the interests and sensibilities of the educated elites who staff the never-ending sea of federal bureaucracies. Needless to say, this works just fine for educated elites who live on the coasts. But it stomps out opportunity and upward mobility for the middle and lower classes, especially the ones trapped in a public school system that defines failure.

 

Not only that, university, media and cultural elites have relentlessly attacked the values of Middle America and traditional civil institutions for decades. You know, the Obama bit about the people bitterly clinging to their guns and Religion. Then there is the current fashion of denying that the difference between men and women is rooted in biology; gender is really only a social construct. So it is vitally important to fundamentally transform racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic and capitalist America.

 

Basing policy arguments on an appeal to common values, to “who we are as Americans”, is a waste of time. Those common values and cultural understandings collapsed a long time ago after years of steady assault. They are not coming back anytime soon—if at all.

 

JFB

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DACA

In December of 2014, Texas and 25 other states sued to prevent President Obama from implementing immigration policies he announced through his Secretary of Homeland Security in a November 2014 memorandum. Those policies are known as (1) the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and (2) Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA).

 

The key element of the policy is an Administrative decision not to deport children brought illegally into the United States by their parents. The Obama Administration justified its actions by claiming that it was simply exercising prosecutorial discretion, an exercise in hoop jumping that might even make a Clinton blush.

 

A federal district court in the Southern District of Texas blocked implementation of the order. The court ruled that the government did not comply with rulemaking procedures required by federal law. The Fifth Circuit Court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling that DACA violated the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. In addition the Fifth Circuit, in its 2-1 decision, ruled that Obama’s order exceeded his authority, finding that the Immigration and Nationality Act does not permit deferred action.

 

The United States Supreme Court heard the case and the result was a tied 4-4 ruling, the effect of which is to leave the lower court’s rulings in place.

 

So: DACA may very well be good policy—but it was unlawfully decided. Substantively the Obama Administration unlawfully grabbed Congressional law making powers, violated the Administrative Procedure Act, and in so doing ran roughshod over the separation of powers. Moreover, President Obama explicitly rejected his Constitutional obligation to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed”.

 

This is precisely the type of behavior that the founders feared would lead to the President becoming a King. And so they created the separation of powers pitting “faction against faction” so that one branch would not become all-powerful and a threat to liberty. So it is clear, or ought to be, that DACA is unconstitutional and an affront to the separation of powers. The policy question is one that falls under the jurisdiction of Congress, which ought to get itself out of the habit of lying prostrate before the President and begin asserting its Constitutional prerogatives. If Congress wants to change the policy and legally safeguard children brought here illegally (which it should) then Congress can and should pass the legislation necessary to do so.

 

In our Republic, policymaking is properly the responsibility of the legislative branch. The Executive should enforce, not make, laws. And while we are at it, Administrative Agencies should be cut down to size. Or to borrow Donald Trump’s campaign pitch to African Americans—given the mess in Washington, what do we have to lose?

 

JFB

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We settle a dark peace this morning

Members of a mob don white robes and hoods with slits for their eyes. They arm themselves with batons and crowbars, and march by torchlight chanting, “Jews will not replace us” at which point they proceed to wreak physical violence on opponents, killing one in the process. In the meantime another mob dresses in black; they cover their faces with black masks and proceed to beat up their opponents. Thus far they haven’t actually killed anyone, although it does not appear to be for lack of trying.

 

For its part, having abandoned deep thinking about Melania Trump’s footwear, the punditry of the left and right is busy doing some its own bomb throwing. They are engaged in a fierce debate about which is worse: mobs of right wing thugs in white uniforms beating people or mobs of left wing thugs in black uniforms beating people.

 

They are simply delusional. They are delusional because, among other things, the underlying assumption is that these pitched battles are about ideology. They are nothing of the sort.

 

The underlying cause is better understood with reference to the psychology of ignorant, rootless and alienated young men who want to believe in something; young men driven by their hormones and typically manipulated by their cynical leaders. We have seen them throughout history. They are the foot soldiers of history, the witless sacrificial lambs. They are the Sharks and the Jets; the Crips and the Bloods; the Hatfields and McCoys; the Capulets and Montagues.

 

The problem we face here is that political leaders have squandered their authority, and have been doing so for years. Perhaps, just perhaps, they will come to their senses, grow up and stop encouraging nihilism for partisan ends before it leads to a crisis of legitimacy; it is a crisis that could be closer than you think. Before it is too late, let us consider the words of the Prince at the very end of Romeo and Juliet:

 

“We settle a dark peace this morning. The sun is too sad to show itself. Let’s go, to talk about these sad things some more. Some will be pardoned, and some will be punished. There was never a story more full of pain than the story of Romeo and Juliet”. (Act 5, Scene 3).

 

JFB

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The End of the Rule of Law?

On July 31, 2017 U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton ruled that former Sheriff Joe Arpaio was guilty of “flagrantly” disregarding an order by federal District Court Judge G. Murray Snow to halt the immigration round-ups for which he had become famous. Arpaio instead continued the practice, bragging at one point that he would “never give in to control by the federal government”. For his defiance of the court Judge Bolton found him to be guilty of criminal contempt, a misdemeanor for which he could have faced up to six months confinement.

 

But that will not come to pass because President Donald J Trump announced on Friday that he was pardoning Arpaio, an early “birther” who had announced his support for Trump’s presidential run early on. The pardon surprised no one because Trump had telegraphed it a few days prior at a raucous rally when he said “He should have had a jury, but you know what? I’ll make a prediction…I won’t do it tonight, because I don’t want to cause any controversy . . . But Sheriff Joe can feel good.”

 

So let’s cut to the chase. President Trump exercised his Constitutional prerogative to grant a pardon to a law enforcement officer. The law enforcement officer in question, Joe Arpaio, willfully refused to carry out a lawful court order to cease and desist in his illegal activities. In addition, Arpaio violated his oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Moreover, Arpaio has shown no remorse for his illegal behavior, which would almost certainly still be ongoing, had the voters not shown the good judgment to toss him out of office.

 

In pardoning Arpaio, Trump made it clear that neither he, nor his supporters, need to feel constrained by the rule of law. It is of a piece with his refusal to fully and forthrightly single out and condemn Nazis and the KKK at Charlottesville, VA. What matters for Mr. Trump is who you are and where you sit. It is about power, not justice. In this President Trump is fully simpatico with the “social justice” warriors and critical legal theorists of the left.

 

But in pardoning Arpaio, Trump has not only attacked the separation of powers; the way he did so doing effectively eviscerates the entire Constitutional architecture. Consider the point of the separation of powers as described by James Madison. Writing as Publius in Federalist 51 he said:

 

“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

 

But here we have a situation in which the President of the United States is dismantling those auxiliary precautions. Consider, we have a law enforcement official, Joe Arpaio, who was found to have systematically violated Constitutional rights. In response the President (1) praised and pardoned him, (2) rolled over the judiciary, and (3) sent an unmistakable signal that Constitutional violations by law enforcement officials will be rewarded if the violations are aimed at the right target.

 

It wasn’t too long ago that the Obama Administration was busy refusing to enforce the law. For instance, Obama ordered the IRS not to enforce the Obamacare mandates. And speaking of the IRS, there was that little matter of Lois Lerner weaponizing the agency against Tea Party groups. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Justice Department acted like a legal defense firm for Hillary Clinton during the non-investigation of her e-mail account.

 

When the Obama Administration simply refused to enforce laws it didn’t like, or were politically inconvenient, some Republicans pointedly asked what the reaction would be if a future Republican President were to simply announce e.g., that he was “suspending” capital gains taxes. In light of where we are today, it was a prescient question. After all, for blatantly political purposes a nominally Republican President has pardoned an unrepentant convicted criminal who flagrantly and deliberately violated Constitutional rights that he had sworn to protect.

 

In pardoning Arpaio the way he did, Trump violated his oath to “…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”. That oath requires that the President “…take care that the laws be faithfully executed”. But to the contrary, President Trump rewarded a law enforcement officer and political ally who willfully ignored a court order to cease and desist violating the law. Not only does that signal a willingness to tolerate, if not celebrate, lawlessness by government officials, it further undermines law enforcement by sending a signal to Trump allies that they will be taken care of if they are under investigation.

 

There is a reasonably good case to be made that these actions cross the threshold into political “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” referenced in Article II, Section 2, that authorizes the removal of a President from office by impeachment and conviction. But there is a two fold political problem. First, the Republicans are terrified of Trump voters even as he proceeds to destroy their party. Second, the Democrats have no problem with executive over reach, as evidenced by their quiescence during Obama years—they just want to be the ones doing it.

And so we have an entire political establishment that, for its own purposes, is willingly acquiescing in the destruction of the rule of law in the United States. Isn’t bipartisanship terrific?

 

JFB

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The New Barbarians

Toward the end of February 2001 Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s spiritual leader, ordered the destruction of all the statues in Afghanistan because, he said, they were idolatrous. And so the Taliban went about the systematic destruction of pre-Islamic artwork, which included giant statues of Buddha that were carved into the mountains. Some of these pieces were two thousand years old.

 

As they went about the business of blasting these priceless pieces of art into smithereens, they also erased a part of Afghanistan’s history. Which was rather the point. Art that did not conform to the received wisdom of Mohammed Omar and the governing bodies of Afghanistan had to be erased from memory, because as Orwell said, he who controls the past controls the future.

 

The civilized world was appalled.

 

Fast forward to August 2017. Leftist ideologues have decided that the 225-year-old statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle must go. Mayor Bill DeBlasio has courageously announced he will appoint a commission to look into the matter. City council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito decided to weigh in: “There obviously has been ongoing dialogue and debate in the Caribbean—particularly in Puerto Rico where I’m from—about this same conversation that there should be no monument or statue of Christopher Columbus based on what he signifies to the native population…[the] oppression and everything that he brought with him” she said.

 

The opinion of the civilized world now appears to have evolved into an acceptance of the enlightened reasoning of Mohammed Omar. Statuary and artwork from the pre-Woodstock era must be put into the memory hole; otherwise we might offend the exquisite sensibilities of those aching for the chance to be offended. But of course, this has little to do with what the fight is really all about. It is really about erasing the past to control the future.

 

The hard ideologues of the left wish to rewrite the history of the West and in the process undermine its culture. And so they attack the soft underbelly of the West, which is that Western elites are either unable or unwilling to defend Western culture and tradition in the face of the mob. Because Western elites are ahistorical and have fallen prey to a vacuous relativism, they stand defenseless before the Marxist critique of Western civilization as a story of the continuing oppression of marginalized groups. Western elites are an easy target because they are lost in a haze of politically correct bumper sticker slogans that substitute for thought.

 

John Maynard Keynes was prescient here. He famously wrote “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilled in their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”. Except that it turns out that the academic scribblers were not economists. They were Marxist philosophers, and artists and sociologists. They were of the Frankfurt School and later its offshoots like postmodernism and deconstructionism. Their leaders were Herbert Marcuse, Antonio Gramsci, Gyorgy Lukacs and Theodor Adorno. They successfully laid the groundwork for the ruthless cultural attack against Western civilization that is now taking the form of wanton destruction of artwork that doesn’t conform to today’s cultural norms.

 

But by burying symbols that are unquestionably part of its history, the U.S. is also burying its history rather than learning from it. That is hardly an optimal solution. Some, but not all, of those statues celebrating the Confederacy that have aroused such ire were actually created well after the Civil War ended. They were meant to be proclamations of resistance to, among other things, the 14th and 15th amendments that were passed to secure the legal rights of freed slaves. Those belong in museums so that their history can be properly taught.

 

And let us not forget that the Progressive hand lies heavily on the scale here in favor of historical racism. Woodrow Wilson was one of the most racist Presidents in U.S. history. Margaret Sanger was an unabashed racist and eugenicist who favored birth control and abortion to reduce the non-white population. Ruth Bader Ginsburg echoed that sentiment several years ago in a New York Times interview, when with respect to abortion she casually referenced “growth in populations we don’t want too many of”. Then there was the late Senator Robert Byrd who served for a while as an “exalted Cyclops” of his local Klan affiliate. Which is not to leave out Justice Hugo Black who also was a Klansman for a while.

 

So perhaps, just perhaps, we ought to sit back for a minute and get a grip before we buckle to the mob, and engage in a destructive rite of ritual self-purification.

JFB

 

 

 

 

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