Chilling Effects

CNN is reporting that “current and former FBI officials tell CNN they’re concerned that the harsh rhetoric coming from Trump and Barr has only worsened the bureau’s already tenuous standing with the President, leaving them wondering whether federal agents could be less aggressive the next time they have to pursue an investigation.” 

CNN goes on the report that Barr “…seized on findings in a blockbuster inspector general report to scold the FBI for using “intrusive” tools with only “flimsy” evidence, and he questioned whether they’d been motivated by bias. Those attacks were particularly noteworthy given that the report found no evidence of bias or improper motivation in the FBI’s decisions to use counterintelligence techniques. The report did however point out serious mistakes and mishandling of evidence by the FBI.”

So let’s unpack this, starting with the obvious. The rhetoric President Trump routinely employs reflects the subtlety and nuance of its author, which is to say: none. It is plain to see that Trump has a great deal of difficulty forming complete sentences. It would be nice, for instance, if the President could occasionally utter a sentence—or send out a Tweet—that actually has a subject, verb and object along with a modifier or two. But I’m not counting on it. And juvenile name calling is hardly the standard we should expect from anyone claiming to be an adult. 

But let’s face a few facts here. First, CNN’s sources are interested parties, some of whom may be targets of John Durham’s ongoing investigation into how the whole investigation was handled. Second, contrary to the claims of James Comey, the report of Inspector General Michael Horowitz didn’t vindicate anybody. How do we know? Because that’s his testimony. According to the Washington Post, in his Congressional testimony on December 11, Horowitz said “I think the activities we found here don’t vindicate anybody who touched this FISA,” referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications to monitor Page. 

So the relevant question is what did the IG conclude? The answer is that essentially he found (1) no testimonial evidence of improper political FBI bias in the conduct of the investigation, but (2) he found a whole raft of official misstatements and errors, procedural and otherwise. From which we can conclude that the FBI, from top to bottom, displayed a spectacular level of incompetence, stunning even by government standards. Anyone who doubts this simply has to  take a quick glance through the IG Executive Summary, particularly pages vii through xv. The report can be found here

But it doesn’t stop there. This is the type of egregious behavior that would normally have the ACLU and various other progressive civil liberties groups shouting from the rooftops. Not this time. It looks like concern for civil liberties is getting pretty selective over in those quarters. 

And as for chilling effects—when law enforcement agencies run rampant over citizens’ rights—that’s exactly what we need. 


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Rivals for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination Senator Elizabeth Warren (D. MA) and “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg (D. South Bend IN), have taken to firing at each other over the issue of transparency. Each is busy pretending that other has failed to produce sufficient detail with respect to past earnings, although neither has explained why it matters other than to drop dark  hints about corruption. 

The real reason has nothing to do with corruption, for which there is no evidence whatsoever. It is actually part of the ongoing progressive rhetorical war on success and embrace of the politics of class war and resentment. They are each afraid that their past employment and the amounts they earned will make them appear “elitist”. Which, of course, they are. And to quote Jerry Seinfeld: not that there is anything wrong with that. 

To put the absurdity of all this in context let’s take a look at the numbers. Elizabeth Warren disclosed that she earned about $1.9 million over the last 3 decades from legal work she earned while moonlighting. That is about $63,000 a year, not adjusted for inflation; hardly an amount to get excited about. After all she earned those rather modest fees by providing legal services. But apparently the word “earn” is verboten in progressive circles for anything over the minimum wage. 

In response to pressure, Peter Buttigieg prevailed upon previous employer McKinsey & Co to allow him to disclose details of his work at the consulting firm during his tenure there from 2007 – 2010. In 2019 compensation at McKinsey for new employees with an undergraduate degree included a base salary of $85,000 and a maximum bonus of $20,000 with a cap of on total cash compensation of $105,000. For MBAs and PhDs the respective numbers are: salary $165,000, bonus cap $65,000 and total compensation capped at $230,000. 

Those numbers are fairly modest by Wall Street standards, given the level and quality of educational attainment. But they are sufficiently high to stir up resentment among Democratic Party primary voters. So consider this absurdity: while the Democratic Party has increasingly attracted highly educated, highly compensated voters (largely because the Republican Party is pushing them out the door) the party’s progressive base has taken to launching vituperative  attacks on highly educated, highly compensated citizens. 

This little intramural war does raise a substantive question though. As they battle for the Party’s nomination, is it possible that Elizabeth Warren and Peter Buttigeig actually believe the economic nonsense they are trying to peddle? Are they really ashamed of the relative success they have achieved in their respective careers? Does Elizabeth Warren actually really truly believe that a vibrant society can co-exist with the central planning she proposes for roughly everything? Does Peter Buttigeig seriously believe that a society of 330 million people with a $20 trillion GDP needs Mayor Pete’s Power Point managerial socialism and an ever expanding bureaucracy to attack the fundamental issues that America needs to address? It would be closer to the mark to say that the “solutions” offered by Warren and Buttigieg are more likely a source of the problem, not the answer. 

It ought to be painfully obvious that all society’s have elites. Some are market based and are therefore more likely than not to be meritocracies; others are based on some variation of the Divine Right of Kings and depend on courtiers to run the show, which seems to be the direction in which the Democrats are headed.


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Odds and Ends…12/10/2019

The most important near term test vote for U.S. Presidential politics is not the pending pre-ordained impeachment of Mr. Trump by the Democratic House, soon to be followed by acquittal by the Republican Senate. Nor is it the fast approaching Iowa caucus, scheduled for February 3, 2020, or the New Hampshire primary, scheduled for February 11, 2020. The most important vote takes place in Britain this Thursday December 12 in the contest between the current Tory PM Boris Johnson, and the Labour candidate Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr. Johnson has a comfortable lead in the polls. Nigel Farage leader of the Brexit Party is cooperating with Johnson by not running candidates against Brexit friendly Tories, so that pro-Brexit candidates avoid splitting the vote. While Johnson has a lead in the polls it is worth noting that (a) British polling results have been less than stellar, and that (b) Theresa May managed to blow a 17 point polling lead the last go around.    `

Boris Johnson’s campaign has two major planks. First, he insists he will “get Brexit done.” Second he says that Britain will continue to depend on a market economy to produce prosperity. On the other hand, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is essentially an old line communist / socialist who has yet to find a bad word to say about dictators in Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela etc. Plus he is an anti-Semite who maintains friendly relations with Hamas. When it comes to Brexit he is  playing coy, saying that he will remain neutral until there is another referendum, so that “the people can decide”. 

Of course, the people already decided in the last referendum. But they didn’t vote the right way. So the game plan is to have vote after vote until the people vote the right way, in which case the results will be declared to be definitive. 

The British election provides a clear unvarnished choice between a market friendly pro-Brexit Tory PM and an old line anti-Semitic socialist who promises to nationalize key British industries and impose punitive taxes on “the rich”. If Jeremy Corbyn wins this contest, it does not bode well for the United States. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the Squad will have the wind at their backs. 

This Just In…

In a recent Monmouth University Poll 900 respondents were asked whom they would rank as the better President: George Washington or Barrack Obama. Among registered voters 58% named Washington as the better President while 33% picked Obama. Among self-identified Democrats 63% chose Obama as the better President against 29% who picked Washington. 

In a different poll when Republicans were asked to choose between Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump, 53% chose Trump as the better President. 

And while we are at it…

In 2015 then New York Attorney General Eric Schniederman (a Democrat) sued Exxon Mobile under the Martin Act claiming that shareholders were defrauded by Exxon. The government argued that Exxon had defrauded investors by not revealing its internal estimates of projected future compliance costs of climate regulations. Schniederman’s successor, Letitia James (a Democrat), prosecuted the civil lawsuit, which does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It only requires a preponderance of the evidence. Nevertheless, the judge presiding over the case found Exxon not guilty on all counts. 

In response, according to the Wall Street Journal, Ms. James later made this statement. “Despite this decision, we will continue to fight to ensure companies are held responsible for actions that undermine and jeopardize the financial health and safety of Americans across our country, and we will continue to fight to end climate change”. 

No one this side of sanity can have any doubt whatsoever that this obviously losing case was brought for political purposes. The respective Attorneys General were simply looking to burnish their street cred with climate activists to prepare for the next campaign. And they were perfectly happy to abuse their power for that purpose. Which come to think of it, is exactly what Donald Trump is credibly accused of. 

But somehow or other I don’t expect to see an outpouring of progressive voices demanding Ms. James’s removal from office.


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Art and Culture

Politics is downstream from culture in that politics is shaped by culture. Famous writers like George Orwell (1984), Arthur Koestler (Darkness at Noon) and Mario Vargas Llosa (The War of the End of the World) have ruminated on this and warned of the dangers of fanaticism, ideology and detachment from reality.

Unfortunately, lots of artists, and certainly many important ones, have had long term love love affairs with various forms of collectivism. Unbeknownst to the public at large, these artists and writers have had a powerful influence on shaping the culture in which we now live. They include everyone from pop stars to serious philosophers. These would include a wide variety of players ranging from the unserious (e.g., James Cameron, Madonna, Sean Penn, Woody Guthrie) to serious writers and thinkers (e.g, Jean-Paul Sartre, Isaac Brodsky, John Steinbeck).

As a result, art has too often simply become a propaganda tool that totalitarians are only too happy to use. Large works of sculpture celebrating “Socialist Realism” are still featured in Tiananmen Square, for instance. Interestingly enough, one art form that has not been seriously compromised (yet anyway) is the art of the stand-up comic.

Dictators (and for that matter social justice warriors, AKA totalitarians in waiting) are fearful of comedy for the obvious reason that their power is diminished when they are the subject of jokes and are easily made to look like fools. Not to put too fine point in it, there are not a lot of easy laughs emanating from North Korea or Cuba. That said it is worth considering that people like Jerry Seinfeld have indicated they are not interested in doing shows on “woke” campuses.

With that in mind, it is worth watching th short video clip by John Stossel below.

John Stossel TV


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He Done It

Perhaps, just perhaps, the Republicans might get around to acknowledging the obvious: President Trump is guilty of the main accusation lodged against him. He attempted to get the government of Ukraine to investigate, or at least announce that it intended to investigate, the activities of the Biden clan for the purpose of damaging the presidential prospects of his potential rival, Joe Biden.  Congressional Democrats argue that this is not only conclusively proven, but that it constitutes an impeachable offense. Consequently they fully intend to impeach him, hopefully, in their view, before Christmas. 

Let’s unpack this. No one this side of sanity truly believes that Trump didn’t or wouldn’t use the power of his office for his own political benefit. Of course he would and he has. Just like pretty much every President has. The relevant question is not whether or not policy helps or hinders the President’s political position. The relevant question is whether or not he has deliberately sacrificed the interests of the United States to further his own interests in a demonstrable manner.

It has yet to be shown that Trump deliberately acted in a way that sacrificed U.S. interests so as to further his own political interests. Note the word deliberately. Certain actions a President may take, especially with respect to foreign policy, may harm U.S. interests; but a policy decision that helps the Administration politically even though it is a strategic error, or results from miscalculation, does not in itself constitute an impeachable offense. 

The subsidiary argument, that Congress appropriated the money and the President abused his office by threatening to withhold the funds simply lacks the gravitas necessary to justify the President’s removal from office, although it is ample reason for the exercise of Congressional oversight. We can, for example, turn to how the Obama Administration lied to the Federal Courts as it sough to avoid enforcing immigration law with respect to the “Dreamers”. (See for instance this article published by the CATO Institution:

It seems clear that the motivations of the players in the impeachment inquiry are simply self-serving rather than principled. Most Democrats are from districts where their constituents (a) loathe Trump and (b) for that reason would like to see him removed from office. Republicans are from districts whose constituents are (a) overwhelmingly opposed to removal by impeachment and conviction and (b) are terrified of being “primaried” were they to support impeachment. Moreover, since the Senate majority is Republican the chances of a 2/3rds super-majority voting to remove Mr. Trump from office are exceedingly slim. 

Finally and most importantly, it would be naive in the extreme to believe that any of these people are acting out of anything other than ideological and political self-interest, particularly given the Democrats’ lunge to the left. They still do not accept that they lost in 2016, and are on a mission to delegitimize the result. The Republicans on the other hand are not lunging in any direction. They more closely resemble a bunch of 12 year olds playing soccer with everybody chasing the ball wherever it goes. 

So where does that leave us? With a national election 11 months away, it makes little sense to remove Trump by impeachment. The voters will have their say in a relatively short period of time. And Trump’s behavior is more than fair game. That’s the way it should be in a democracy.  


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Judge Napolitano Discusses Impeachment on Reason TV

After 6 months of studied silence, On Liberty Watch is going to re-open. In addition, the website will be revamped a bit over the next few months. The mission however, remains the same: the defense of liberty. The inanity of the state of the culture and politics demands it.

In the meantime, here is a video of Judge Andrew Napolitano discussing the current impeachment proceedings with Nick Gillespie of Reason Magazine.


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George Will — “The Conservative Sensibility”

George Will, the nation’s preeminent conservative columnist, has just published what is perhaps his finest book yet–and it’s not even about baseball. As the title suggests, it’s about Politics with a capital P.

The Conservative Sensibility provides a robust defense of American Conservatism, really classical liberalism, that is based on the work of the nation’s Founders. There will be more on this topic in the future. In the meantime here (below) is a You Tube video of a conversation between Matt Welch of Reason Magazine and George Will, occasioned by the publication of The Conservative Sensibility.


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Did John Brennan Commit Perjury?

Evidence is beginning to emerge that suggests former CIA Chief John Brennan lied to Congress about his actions with respect to the FISA application that authorized the FBI to investigate the Trump campaign.

See the interview with Judge Andrew Napolitano below.


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Did Trump Obstruct Justice? Judge Napolitano weighs in.

Robert Mueller did not find enough evidence to charge either Donald Trump or his campaign with conspiracy in the matter of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Trump promptly claimed he was “totally exonerated” despite the fact that prosecutors are not, and never have been, in the exoneration business. 

Since the Democrats have staked their future on finding Trump guilty of something, they quickly moved on to pursuing an obstruction of justice charge. In the meantime, Attorney General Barr announced that (1) Trump did not, in his view, obstruct justice, and that (2) the DOJ was going to investigate how the FBI and associated agencies came to investigate the Trump campaign. 

Republicans closed ranks and announced that there could be no obstruction without an underlying crime. Judge Andrew Napolitano, a strong libertarian, begs to differ.  Reason Magazine recently interviewed him on the subject. A 15 minute video of the interview appears below. 

Judge Napolitano Interview by Reason Magazine


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Thomas Sowell–Discrimination and Disparities

It has become accepted wisdom that the uneven distribution of outcomes across different groups is evidence of unjustifiable discrimination based on animus. In his latest book, Discrimination and Disparities, economist Thomas Sowell, now a scholar at the Hoover Institution, blasts that idea to smithereens.

Not too long ago Dr. Sowell sat down for an interview by Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution to discuss the subject. That interview can be viewed below.

Dr. Thomas Sowell being interviewed by Peter Robinson


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