Battleground

The phrase battleground state has taken on a whole new meaning. 

As reports from various urban battlefields come in, the picture of what is happening is becoming clear. Let’s summarize. (1) In a number of American cities protests turn into organized violence once nightfall arrives. The violence does not appear to come from protesters, but appears to come from organized groups intent on stoking and escalating violence.  (2) Federal law enforcement officers have been ordered to some areas by the Trump Administration with orders to protect federal property. It appears that at least some federal law enforcement officers  have engaged in conduct that is clearly illicit. That conduct includes but is not limited to detaining citizens, handcuffing them and then releasing them without any justification or charges. Further, the evidence strongly suggests that some of these detentions were conducted by federal officers without proper identification using unmarked vehicles. Moreover some of these detentions have taken place well beyond perimeters established for protecting federal property. (3) Local authorities have been unable or unwilling to contain the violence. 

For some perspective, it is worth taking a look at what is going on in some (but not all) cities. The You Tube video (below) taken in Portland is an example of the violence; but it is not necessarily generalizable to other cities. On the other hand it is worth noting that the national media has been reluctant to characterize this type of violent behavior as violent as … violent.

Protest in Portland Oregon

Further complicating matters is the legal situation.  The extent of federal authority to intervene  to establish order absent a request from local authorities is unclear. Certainly the federal government may use federal law enforcement to protect federal property. But that authority is  narrow. It seems reasonably clear that federal law enforcement lacks the authority to free-lance and expand its mission beyond the narrow one of protecting specific federal properties. It certainly does not empower law enforcement to go searching for alleged miscreants outside of narrow perimeters established to protect lives and federal property. 

It is also clear that local law enforcement is not enforcing state and local laws. And the reason for it is that they have been instructed not to do so by locally elected officials. In the U.S. system it is elected officials, not police who are charged with determining the extent to which the laws will be enforced. Moreover the police have no legal obligation to protect lives or property, which is to say they are not vulnerable to a civil lawsuit for a willful refusal to protect lives or property. This is further complicated by the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity” which makes it virtually impossible for police officers to be sued individually for their behavior, no matter how outrageous. 

Let’s also note that it is highly probable that the Trump Administration has escalated the situation simply for political advantage in the upcoming election. It is also the case that  Democratic office holders are fairly silent about the violence because (1) they see no need to comment while Trump is busy committing political suicide and (2) they see no profit in antagonizing the party’s left wing, which they need to prevail in November. 

So what is to be done?

The simple answer is that the remedy lies at the ballot box. Local officials are for the most part responsible for managing police and setting policy. They have the legal authority to determine the extent to which public resources will be deployed to enforce state and local laws. The line of both authority and accountability runs straight from the citizenry to the ballot box to elected officials. The same logic applies to federal elections. 

Citizens, who are sovereign, have a democratic choice to make. They can elect federal, state and local officials who promise to enforce the laws on the books to protect lives and property when they are threatened. Or they can elect officials who think it is more important to deploy public resources in other ways they deem to be more important. Citizens can also choose to elect local public officials who will take responsibility for the management of public agencies like police departments and education bureaucracies, or they can continue to vote for officials beholden to public sector unions. Citizens who don’t like the results can leave. 

Those are the harsh realities; but they are realities. To govern is to choose. Unless citizens hold elected officials accountable for conditions on the ground over which they have control, results will not change. We will simply have more of the same until the next explosion. That seems to be where we are headed. 

JFB

Kim Strassel on the Coronavirus, the Media and Donald Trump

Kim Strassel, an unapologetic defender of capitalism, is a Princeton educated author and  journalist who writes for the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. In the video below she is interviewed by Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution. It is certainly worth watching.

Kim Strassel interviewed by Peter Robinson

JFB

Stopping Bernie

After Mike Bloomberg imploded onstage pretty much throughout the entirety of Wednesday night’s Democratic primary debate in Nevada, panic set in among the Party establishment. Keep in mind that Bloomberg was the perfect candidate for the pooh-bahs that run the Party machinery. (More on that later). On paper, Bloomberg checked all the right boxes. He is a climate fanatic, an abortion rights fanatic, an experienced executive in both the private and public sectors, and he is a technocrat with a record of competence. Plus he has a lot of money that he can spend on a campaign. A real lot. 

Bloomberg was supposed to be the Party savior who would rescue it from the clutches of Bernie Sanders, the likely nominee. And Sanders isn’t even a Democrat. But he effectively owns something like 25% to 30% of the Democratic’s primary electorate and he is almost certain to waltz into the Milwaukee convention with a plurality, and maybe a large plurality of the delegates. The game plan was (and is) for Bloomberg to consolidate the “moderate lane” behind his candidacy  and snatch the nomination away from comrade Sanders, whom the party is convinced is going to lead to a McGovern like debacle once November rolls around. 

There are a couple of problems with the plan. In fact there are lots of problems with the plan. To begin with, Sanders is rapidly moving the Party very far to the left. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 62% of Democratic-leaning adults said Sanders is “about right” ideologically. That result is not statistically distinguishable from the support given to Biden, Warren or Buttigieg. In addition, 72% of Democratic leaning voters say they believe Sanders would beat Trump. Nothing wins like winning. 

Polls in February are kind of fluid. It’s pretty hard to imagine that when the voting public actually begins to focus on the election that they will be quite so friendly to a socialist. Despite all the whining from the Sanders campaign, he has gotten relatively friendly treatment from the press. After all, he says he is a socialist, but his friends among the punditocracy take the edge off by insisting that he really isn’t a “real” socialist. 

Paul Krugman for instance says that Sanders socialism is just branding, the evidence being that Sanders hasn’t yet called for government to own all the means of production. I wonder if Krugman would characterize a candidate who carried around a dog eared copy of Mein Kampf as just working on his branding strategy. Somehow that’s pretty hard to imagine. We are not talking about dog whistles here. People who march around with swastikas do so for a reason. They are Nazi sympathizers or possibly outright Nazis. 

Let’s face it. Bernie Sanders is a socialist. At every opportunity he says he is a socialist. He advocates policies that only a socialist would advocate. Putting the qualifier “democratic” in front of the word socialist is a meaningless exercise. Communist dictatorships were always called “People’s Republics of…”. The end game is always the same. Occasionally people turn the boat around before it’s too late, as in the Nordic countries. (Memo to Bernie: they are arguably more capitalist than the U.S.)  Mostly however, the body count piles up before the citizens have a chance to recapture their freedom. That would be in places where Bernie has a lot of trouble criticizing the regime. Places like, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela not to mention the former Soviet Union where he spent his honeymoon and then waxed effusive about the subway system. 

So the question is this: Is there any realistic hope that the Democratic Party establishment can stop comrade Sanders from capturing the Democratic Party nomination? 

The answer is: No. 

There are two reasons why the Democratic Party establishment can’t stop Bernie. First the party establishment no longer exists as an important force. The same is true of the Republicans. The party establishment imploded when it faced Donald Trump during the 2016 primary season and the party has been thoroughly Trumpified since then. Sanders is doing to the Democratic Party pretty much what Trump did to the Republicans. 

A second reason why the party establishment is incapable of stopping Sanders is that the party is ideologically incapable of countering Sanders socialism. Four years ago Convention Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz tripped all over herself trying to explain the difference between socialism and progressivism. She couldn’t explain the difference because there isn’t any. Face it: there is no progressive limiting principle other than “trust us”. It is all government all the time.

American progressives have been attacking foundational American values for at least half  a century, and arguably longer, beginning with Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Those are the foundations upon which the basic institutions of civil society depend. They have been so weakened that it is going to take a long time to rebuild them.  If ever. It is not merely a question is who is elected to what post. What is needed is structural reform, a change in the culture and the rebuilding of fundamental institutions. Progressives are the ones who led “the long march through the institutions” that resulted in today’s dismayingly relativistic culture and its dysfunctional politics. They are hardly the ones to rebuild civil society.  

It is certainly possible that Sanders may be denied the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. That said, it is hard to see how the Party’s nearly powerless establishment would go about it. Any steps they take to block Sanders will certainly embitter Sanders partisans, whom the Party desperately needs for the general election in November. On the other hand, the nomination of Sanders would very likely lead to the re-election of Donald Trump. 

As awful as another 4 years of tweeting idiocy would be, the key question in politics remains: “Compared to what?”. A crushing defeat of socialism at the ballot box would be something to celebrate. It might also prompt the Democratic Party to seriously re-evaluate itself so it could spend its energies thinking seriously about public policy instead of having tantrums  about intersectionality. 

There is the small, but truly awful possibility that Bernie Sanders could actually win and bring in a big progressive wave along with him. Then New Zealand would be a pretty good place to move to for a couple of years. 

JFB

A Time for Choosing

It’s finally here. After what seems like years of primary campaigning, Iowa Democrats are finally about to have their say in the matter via the Iowa caucuses.  The field has narrowed considerably from the original 2 dozen or so contestants and polls suggest that soon the battle for the Democratic nomination may be a 2 man contest between former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  That prospect already has the leadership of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) looking not so furtively at the panic button. They have, for instance, already changed the debate rules in a way that gives Michael Bloomberg a chance to appear on stage. 

Joe Biden

In analyzing elections and the strategies the Parties and candidates use to win, it is important to make a distinction between the Party professionals on the one hand, and the candidates and their coalitions on the other. Political parties are organized around winning elections. Period. Candidates organize their campaigns around issues designed to win a sufficient number of delegates to capture the nomination and then win the general election. 

Bernie Sanders

The issues that the candidates choose to organize around and then galvanize a campaign may be ideological, but need not be. Sometimes interests are sectional with ideological overlaps. Both the Civil War and the struggle over civil rights were partly driven by sectional clashes. The clash over slavery that ultimately led to the Civil War represented a clash between the Republican North and the Democratic South. But the civil rights struggles of the 1960s saw an alliance of moderate to liberal Northern Republicans and Democrats, while opposition was mostly an alliance of Southern Democrats irrespective of ideology and Northern conservatives from both parties. 

In fact there are many instances where differences in regional interests and ideological interests have shifted back and forth and the Parties have reconfigured themselves accordingly. In the late 19th century the Republican Party was the party of tariffs designed to protect Northeast manufacturing, while the Democratic Party represented farmers that wanted free trade. But by 1980 the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan was a strong proponent of free trade and the Democrats increasingly promoted trade restrictions to protect manufacturing and union jobs in the Midwest. Now the Republican Party of Donald Trump promotes managed trade pretty much like the Democrats have been doing since the 1980s.   

All this is not to suggest that the Republican and Democratic policy preferences have begun to converge. They have not. What has transpired is enormous demographic, generational and cultural shifts in the respective Party constituencies that are not fully reflected in the Party hierarchies. The Republican Party has to a large degree been Trumpified; the question here is whether this reconfiguration is temporary and tactical or permanent. The results of the general election in November may provide some clues. But the result will importantly depend on who the Democratic nominee is. 

The case of the Democratic Party is in some respects much more interesting. It is clear that the Party has taken a very sharp turn to the left. Not only that, younger, more affluent Party members seem to be positioned far more to the left than older and less white constituents.  Those with college degrees are more prone to head left. 

Given the state of play there are two  questions facing Iowa caucus goers. The first set of questions is obvious: Should the Democratic Party go with a “safe” nominee like Joe Biden who appears on paper to be best positioned to defeat Donald Trump, and perhaps help the Party keep the House and win the Senate? Or should the Party go all in and nominate a very left wing candidate (like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren) who promises to transform the structure of American life using the force of the state? The results in Iowa will hinge on that calculus. 

The second set of questions address an issue that is very important and more than a little disquieting. Namely, is there a truly substantive difference between the candidacies of the moderates e.g, — Biden, Klobuchar and the truly radical candidates like Sanders and Warren? The nominating process may provide an answer to that question as well. 

It was only 4 years ago that had Debbie Wassermann Schultz tripping all over herself while attempting to argue that there is a real difference between socialism—in whatever form—and the liberalism that the Democratic Party claimed to represent. And now 4 years later, Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is a leading candidate for the Party’s Presidential nomination. 

There is every reason to believe that Bernie Sanders, who isn’t even a registered Democrat, will win the Party’s nomination and go on to face Trump in the general election. If that happens it will mean that the Democratic Party has made a decisive turn to the left with the aim of transforming the structure of American life from that of a Liberal market democracy into an Administrative State where citizens are transformed into subjects.   

Such an election would likely bring an end to decades of electoral stalemate where the results are separated by a few percentage points and the game is mostly played inside the 40 yard lines. Of the many possible outcomes, there are 2 that are the most interesting. On the one hand, there is the possibility of a contest that looks like the 1972 race between George McGovern and Richard Nixon in which McGovern’s liberalism was soundly rejected; in the process McGovern went on to lose 49 states, carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, which has never voted for a Republican. 

On the other hand, the race could just as easily look like the one in 1980. In that case Democrats were initially encouraged by the Republican’s selection of Ronald Reagan as the Party’s standard bearer, the reasoning being that the public would never vote for a candidate as extreme as Reagan. In the event, Reagan went on to defeat incumbent Jimmy Carter in a landslide. Reagan carried 44 states and won with 50.7% of the vote against Carter’s 41% of the vote, while third-party candidate John Anderson’s got 6.6% of the vote. 

An election contest between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is one that could settle a lot. It would provide a much needed clarification of what the electorate thinks is desirable and achievable. An election contest between Sanders and Trump would force the electorate to consider that fundamental issue with eyes wide open. 

Let’s face it: on a personal level, Donald Trump is as severely flawed as it gets. With respect to policy, he is hardly a conservative as traditionally understood, much less a libertarian. His authoritarian tendencies are beyond dispute. He is as narcissistic as they come, which is saying a lot by Washington standards. Not only is he easily the most ignorant man to assume the Presidency in at least a century, he is incapable of recognizing the truth much less telling it. 

Which is not to suggest that Bernie Sanders is just swell. He is a misfit; a leftist crank who is incapable of seeing the world as it is. He is willfully blind in that he sees only what he wants to see. His “no enemies to the left” mindset does not permit him to utter an unkind word about any of the world’s brutal left wing dictatorships, including Venezuela’s Madura. Sanders does not simply have policy proposals—he means to fundamentally transform America’s Liberal market democracy into a socialist state. Were Sanders to get his way, America as we know it, would cease to exist. In that regard it is disgraceful that the mainstream press, in its loathing of all things Trump, treats Sanders as if he were a normal candidate, which he manifestly is not. 

Bernie Sanders is doing to the Democratic Party what Donald Trump did to the Republicans. The nominating process will allow us to see if the Democratic Party yields to Sanders and his supporters just as the Republicans did with Trump. If they do, we will know what constitutes the modern Democratic Party, just as we now know what constitutes the modern Republican Party. 

And so we have two political processes in play that could come to define America in 2020.  In the first instance, the Democratic Party will either choose to become a hard left socialist party with the aim of transforming American life using the police power of the state, or it will remain a center left mainstream party. In the second instance, if Sanders is the nominee, the body politic will face a choice between a narcissistic incumbent whose incompetence is only exceeded by his ignorance, and a socialist candidate who promises to wage a perpetual class war in a never ending search for nirvana. It is not exactly an appetizing choice; in fact it is nauseating. But it is clarifying. 

It is possible that a moderate Democrat, as currently defined, will win the nomination, in which case we will likely muddle along for a bit longer, and neither of the above scenarios would necessarily comes to pass. But I wouldn’t count on it. 

JFB

On Iran

In the aftermath of the strike ordered by President Trump that killed Iranian Quds Force Major General Soleimani there has been a furious reaction by progressives who are always furious about something. But complaints have also been registered by the populist right, most notably by Tucker Carlson. But the objections coming from Carlson and the objections coming from progressives are very different. 

Let’s take Carlson’s argument first before heading to the progressives. Carlson asserts that “Washington has wanted war with Iran for decades”. As evidence for his proposition Carson has produced…nothing. But there is the obvious question. If “Washington” wanted war with Iran for “decades” why is it that President’s Bush and Obama declined the opportunity? In the tin foil hat land where Carlson resides, “they”, wanted war and this was their opportunity, so “they” prevailed upon the least interventionist President in modern history to unilaterally commit an act of war without provocation. This doesn’t even have a veneer of plausibility. As the late Christopher Hitchens once remarked, assertions without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. 

Interestingly enough, the argument coming from the left is, in some ways the polar opposite of Carlson’s. To the surprise of no one, progressives argue there is a “rush” to war—but this is in spite of, rather than because of, the bureaucracy AKA the intelligence community. We are now being informed, courtesy of leaks to the New York Times, that “…while Trump’s top military advisors offered the option to kill Maj. General Qassim Suleimani, they assumed it would be rejected as too extreme.” Trump, however, made his decision “despite disputes in the administration about the intelligence that warned of imminent threats.”

Let’s unpack this. When an action memo is sent to an executive decision maker in government, it typically includes a number of policy options with estimates of possible costs and benefits. And typically the options are phrased in such a way that one option stands out as the most favorable. So as a matter of course one of the options given to President Trump would have been to knock off General Soleimani. But why would anyone believe that Trump, of all people, would shrink from an action because it was “too extreme”. Nuance is not the first word that comes to mind when it comes to Trump. 

The next argument now being test marketed is that, among the intelligence community, there is mounting skepticism of evidence that a threat was imminent. This one has been dusted off from the George W. Bush years and sent onto the field of play once again. And from the standpoint of the bureaucracy it has a major advantage. It provides bureaucratic cover no matter which way things turn out. 

Leaving aside (for now) the question of where decision making authority resides, let’s examine the quality of some the intelligence community’s analysis. To start off with, there is what is politely called a credibility problem. To put it more bluntly, it is indisputably the case that James Clapper (NSA), John Brennan (CIA), James Comey (FBI) and Andrew McCabe (FBI) are liars. It remains to be seen if they managed to fulfill the requirements necessary to sustain a perjury indictment and prosecution. 

But let’s not dwell on individuals; instead let’s recount the long history of spectacularly bad calls. It is hard to forget that George Tenent insisted that Iraq had nuclear weapons. It was, he said, “a slam dunk”. Note also that the Inspector General found that Tenet bore “ultimate responsibility” for the intelligence community’s “failure to develop a plan to control Al-Qaeda in the lead-up to 9/11”. And how was he held accountable? President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

If that was an isolated incident, it would be one thing. But it wasn’t. The intelligence community was convinced that Yuri Andropov was a sophisticate with whom the West could deal. After all, he liked scotch. That was before Andropov ordered the assassination of the Pope. Likewise, the CIA was caught flat-footed when the Berlin Wall came crashing down. Just as they were stunned when the Shaw of Iran was deposed by the Ayatollah Khomeini. That was the Shaw whose rise to power was engineered by the same CIA. And let’s not forget the Keystone Cops efforts of the CIA in Cuba—including the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion, numerous attempts to assassinate Castro at the behest of the Kennedy brothers, all while the CIA was working in conjunction with the Mafia. 

So given this well-documented history it is reasonable to wonder why it is that we should accept what the CIA says as if it is coming straight from Mount Olympus. 

But leave all that aside. There is one key fact that dominates (or should dominate) the discussion. Like it or not (and I don’t) Trump is President. He has the authority as Commander-in-Chief to make the call. The proper question is a prudential one: Should he have ordered the killing of General Soleimani?

Unfortunately, a great deal, if not most of the analysis is based on faulty assumptions about the nature of the Iranian regime. The underlying assumption is that traditional tools of diplomacy should be used in dealing with the Iranian government. This in turn rests on the widely shared assumption that the West can wait Iran out until it comes to its senses. That mistake was made by a number of U.S. Presidents including President Reagan who got himself ensnared in Iran Contra and the the arms-for-hostages scandal.  

The argument that Iran can be contained and dealt with by using conventional diplomatic tools is faulty because it rests on the assumption that the Iranian government is conventional and legitimate. It is not. Iran is a revolutionary regime. And it has been since the Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution seized power in 1979. 

Revolutionary regimes are different from conventional, even tyrannical and authoritarian governments in that they do not merely seek to rule. They seek to create a new man molded (by them of course) to create perfection here on earth. Resisters will be ruthlessly dealt with and the streets will run red with their blood. It has been true throughout history, especially, but not only, the bloody history of the 20th century. Robespierre, the radical Jacobin and leader of the Insurrectionary Paris Commune, ran the terror during the French Revolution from his perch on the Committee of Public Safety. Historians estimate that he had thousands sent to the guillotine in his quest for the perfect republic. 

In the 20th century we had the Nazis and the extermination camps, Stalin and his forced starvations and show trials with mass executions. Which is not to leave out Castro, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Pot Pol, and the Kim family in North Korea. To name a few. 

And then there is Iran which, since 1979, has been run by the Supreme Leader and backed by the Revolutionary Guards. Note the nomenclature. The operating theory of the Iranian Islamic State as propagated by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 revolution is that the State is a Theocracy governed according to the Absolute Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist. (See Wikipedia). That theory of state now forms the basis of the Iranian Constitution. The Islamic Jurist is the Supreme Ruler. Which is to say that the Supreme Leader governs a total state. Just like, Stalin, Hitler, Kim Jong-un (another Supreme Leader). 

The brutality of these regimes, although bad enough, is not the only feature they have in common. Unlike conventional dictators, revolutionary states and their leaders have imperial ambitions. As does Iran. So, pace President Obama, they are not going to be gently talked out of their habit of spreading terror and mayhem around the world. Because Iran is a revolutionary state with imperial ambitions led by revolutionary theocratic fanatics. 

The prudential question is not whether the U.S. should act to protect itself and the Liberal order. The question is how the U.S. should act, especially in the wake of the latest Iranian provocations. The Iranian regime has been at this game since 1979, over 40 years. They have had plenty of time to age out. There are no signs that this is going to happen anytime soon. Moreover with every passing day they come closer to acquiring a deliverable nuclear weapon. The clock is ticking in favor of the regime. 

By ordering the assassination of General Soleimani, President Trump achieved a number of important goals. First, he erased the fiction that there is a difference between the Iranian regime and its terrorist operations. They are one and the same. Second, by changing the rules of the game he served notice on the regime that the era of touch football wars with the U.S. is over. Actions taken by the regime and its terrorist proxies will be dealt with swiftly and severely. The Iranian leadership is now vulnerable, a development that will surely grab their attention. 

There is also an additional qualitative change in the incentive structure. It is that the U.S. merely seeks to contain Iran’s behavior; it does not seek to acquire or occupy territory or engage in nation building, the great mistake of previous efforts in Vietnam and Iraq. The U.S. has served notice that it is in a position to impose tremendous costs on the Iranian leadership and that it will do so if need be. Finally, the U.S. has also delivered a message to Kim Jong-un in North Korea. He is personally vulnerable, a message he has undoubtedly heard loud and clear. 

In the end Trump had little choice, especially with the nuclear clock ticking both in Iran and North Korea. The strategy is not without substantial risk. Even now Iraq is threatening to toss the U.S. out of the country. That would achieve for Iran a long sought objective. But Iranian control over Iraq would just create a bigger economic mess for Iran, and would be a hollow victory in the long term. In the end, directly attacking Iran’s terror master and changing the rules of the game works in favor of the U.S. and the West. The potential benefits exceed the costs, and the action is justified from both a moral and legal perspective. 

JFB

The Ever Changing Story

She is at it again. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House who famously said we have to pass this bill to see what’s in it, has issued a conditional “never mind” in the matter of the Trump impeachment. Consider her remarks in March of this year and the subsequent path of events.

“I haven’t said this to any press person before. But since you asked, and I’ve been thinking about this, impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.” 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

So said Nancy Pelosi in the Washington Post Magazine, March 6, 2011, as reported in the March 11, 2019 Washington Post. 

By September 24, 2019 Speaker Pelosi had changed her tune and authorized the beginning of “an impeachment inquiry” after consulting with her caucus, but without seeking a vote in the House. She assigned 6 different House Committees jurisdiction over various aspects of the inquiry.  Stating that she had “no choice” but to act, Mrs. Pelosi voiced “regret”. 

In the beginning, the inquiry was conducted not by the Judiciary Committee which had jurisdiction in prior impeachments, but by the House Intelligence committee. That arrangement allowed the inquiry to be conducted behind closed doors allowing Committee Chairman Adam Schiff to selectively leak documents and broadly hint that there was much more that he was not at liberty to reveal. 

After considerable pressure, Speaker Pelosi eventually relented and sought a floor vote authorizing an impeachment investigation. On October 31, 2019 the House voted 232-196  in favor along partisan lines. So much for the need of bipartisanship. 

Impeachment Was Always Inevitable

When Speaker Pelosi expressed regret at having “no choice” but to go forward with impeachment she did so with crocodile tears. Once they had the power, the Democrats were always going to impeach Trump. The effort began in December of 2016 before Trump had even taken the oath of office. That December, Democratic senators introduced a bill that would require the president of the United States to divest any assets that could raise a conflict of interest. The bill noted that failure to divest such assets would constitute high crimes and misdemeanors under the impeachment clause of the U.S. Constitution. The senators who introduced the bill were: Elizabeth Warren, Dick Durbin, Chris Coons, Ben Cardin and Jeff Merkly. All Democrats, they were obviously laying the groundwork for down the road if and when the opportunity presented itself.

Sure enough, by December 6 of 2017, a motion to impeach Trump was introduced that accused him, among other things, of obstruction, and associating the White House with Neo Nazism and Hatred. Democrat Al Green who introduced the motion also noted that Trump had criticized NFL players who knelt in protest during the national anthem. In the event  the resolution failed as only 58 Democrats voted for it. 

Green’s second attempt came about a month later, instigated this time by Trump’s demeaning and typically idiotic remarks about African countries. That one failed as well, but it picked up some more votes, this time garnering 66 Democratic Congressman in favor. 

The third try was even better. Ninety-five (95) Democratic Congressmen voted voted for it. This time the motion accused Trump of bringing “ridicule, disgrace and disrepute” to the office. This time though was different. The Democrats had just recently captured the House. The 95 who voted “aye” were 40% of the Democratic caucus, including the Squad, and most infamously Rashida Tlaib, who had announced “We’re going to impeach the M***F***” within hours of her swearing-in.

Democrats, now in the majority, began their next attempt to impeach Trump, this time with the backing of the Speaker. With a huge assist from Trump (naturally enough), the 4th time was luck. The vote was 232 voting “Aye” versus 196 voting “Nay”. Only 2 Democrats voted against; No current Republicans voted Yes. A former Republican, Justin Amash, who is now an independent, voted Yes. 

Once they gained the majority, leaning on the slimmest of reeds, the Democrats quickly voted two articles of impeachment. After insisting that an impeachment was such a momentous event that the case had to be bipartisan, overwhelming and compelling, Speaker Pelosi abandoned her prior position and scrambled get to the head of the parade. 

Occam’s Razor

The obvious question is: Why? Employing Occam’s Razor produces a straightforward answer.  Pelosi was about to lose control of her caucus, which now largely reflects the world view of “The Squad”. Rather than let her power slip away she decided to go the impeachment route. 

During the impeachment inquiry / hearings Speaker Pelosi insisted that impeachment inquiry proceed post haste. Which it did, in deference to the “moderate” members of the caucus who did not want to defend their seats after a long drawn out affair. So less than 3 months after the inquiry began, the full House voted 2 articles of impeachment. 

But after the vote, Speaker Pelosi seems to have had another one of those frequent changes of heart to which she is so prone. She announced that she would not yet name impeachment managers for a Senate trial. Nor would she send the just passed articles of impeachment to the Senate so that a trial could begin. It seems that she now agrees with Senator Schumer that, before that can happen, it has suddenly become imperative for the Senate to subpoena specific witnesses that she herself refused to subpoena when she had the power to do so during the House inquiry. 

So at this point, here is where we stand.

  • The Speaker of the House says that impeachment has to be bipartisan. It isn’t. The articles of impeachment passed on a party line vote.
  • The Speaker said that the impeachment case must be compelling and overwhelming. It isn’t compelling and if anything it is underwhelming. 
  • The Speaker says that in the impeachment matter she acted reluctantly. Really? There were already 3 prior attempts, the first one coming before the end of the first year of Trump’s term of office. She acted as soon as she had the votes.
  • The Speaker now insists that she wants to see a “fair trial”; that Senate Majority Leader McConnell has gone “rogue” and that he is not impartial. (Of course he isn’t; neither is she). But she seems not the least bit concerned that 5 Democratic Senators seeking the Party’s nomination have already indicated that they are going to vote to remove Trump. 
  • The Speaker had insisted that time was of the essence in seeking an impeachment vote. Now she is deliberately delaying the process so that the Senate can subpoena witnesses whom she refused to subpoena when she had the power. All to speed up the process that now has to be slowed down.

What is Going on Here?

The con here is on the moderate Democratic Congressman who are about to be sacrificed in the 2020 elections. We have seen this movie before. The moderates were sacrificed for the sake of the Obamacare vote in November of 2009; prior to that the moderates served as sacrificial lambs for the gun control vote in 1994 when Clinton was President. In each case they were wiped out in the following Congressional elections, and the progressive wing kept its grip on the party machinery. 

So the prudential question currently facing Democrats is really not primarily about impeachment and removal. That effort is doomed to failure. The real question has to do with the nature of power within the Democratic Party. Will the Party, egged on by its activists, the #Resistance, its Twitter Mob and most of all its long time office holders, virtually all of whom come from safe districts, maintain their grip on power in the Party by once again leading moderates to electoral slaughter? 

They certainly seem intent on doing so.

JFB

Progressive Failure

The current imbroglio over the impeachment of Donald J Trump, and the various investigations associated with it combine to present a text book example of why progressivism, better described as managerial socialism, is doomed to failure. Like all forms of socialism. It is doomed to failure because, seen through the progressive lens, the world is simply a series of challenges to be met on the road to perfection. Human nature, in the progressive mind, is infinitely elastic and challenges along the road can be met by scientifically discovering and implementing the right policies designed to achieve the correct outcome, which is ultimately the  perfection of man and society.

Speaker Pelosi

Progressivism has no understanding of, or framework for coping with the tragedy of the human condition. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (properly deconstructed of course) is simply a story of a problematic lack of communication between the Capulets and the Montagues. Nothing that a Blue Ribbon Panel and a little diversity training couldn’t solve. And so in the end, progressivism becomes a soulless and soul crushing bureaucracy. Managed by experts, of course. 

This is where the problem lies. The belief that we can “solve” problems emanating from the imperfections of human nature if only we adopt the right policies and procedures necessarily leads to coercive bureaucratic behavior. It won’t “solve” the problem because it can’t, but it will inevitably lead to more and more bureaucratic coercion as managers adopt tighter and tighter restrictions on individual freedom in order to achieve their desired ends.

Which brings us to the impeachment of Donald J. Trump.

It is often said that people argue process when they are losing the substance of a debate. That is probably true. And there should be little doubt that Trump & his sycophants are arguing a lot of about process these days. But consider this: we do not seek either justice or freedom in the abstract; we seek to achieve both in a real world that is imperfect. That requires a delicate balancing act. As part of that balancing, we require the state to meet several procedural tests before it may properly resort to coercion. And the severity of those tests ascends with the consequences of state action. 

Because the legal system takes into account the foibles of human nature, checks and balances are built into it. For instance, a person charged with a crime has the right to an attorney and the right to confront his accusers. The state may not apply new law ex post. Persons may not be made subject to double jeopardy. A person may not be compelled to testify against himself, and a refusal to testify may not be considered as evidence of guilt. The state must prove guilt, the defendant is not required to prove innocence. The state must get a search warrant from a court before conducting a search.

Norms, policies and procedures developed over time to protect the rights of the accused were obliterated in the Trump investigations, particularly by the FBI in its pursuit of evidence against Trump in the Russia collusion case. It was from this soil that his impeachment came for charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. 

Which brings us to the FISA Court. 

The FISA Court is unlike any other in the United States. By law it operates in secret and when the FBI seeks a warrant from the Court, there is no defense attorney to contest it.  That, and the misstatements contained in the Carter Page FISA warrants, is why Judge Rosemary M. Collyer observed that the FBI has a higher requirement of candor when submitting a request to the FISA court. In the case of Carter Page, that is a requirement the FBI spectacularly failed to meet. As a result, on December 17, 2019 Judge Collyer issued a blistering order telling the FBI to report to her by January 10, 2020 on what it has already done and what it will continue to do in the future to reform itself. The order can be found at this link. 

Which brings us to why progressivism, best described as managerial socialism, is bound to fail. For its implementation it necessarily relies on independent agencies managed by Platonic philosopher Kings divorced from the hurly burly of politics and political accountability. The predictable result is policy failure and more centralization of power in an increasingly coercive central bureaucracy whose raison d’être eventually degenerates into the accumulation of political power for its own sake. All in the name of managerial efficiency in the pursuit of an unattainable end; namely the perfection of man and society.  

None of which is to imply that Trump is innocent of abusing the power of his office. Of course he did. So did Barrack Obama and George W Bush, unless of course you think it’s just fine for the President of the U.S. to have on his desk a kill list of U.S. citizens to be summarily executed by drone strike. Or perhaps turn the IRS loose on political opponents as in the Lois Lerner affair.

But let’s go to President Clinton for an example of behavior that is more directly comparable to the behavior for which President Trump has been impeached, but Clinton was not. (He was impeached and acquitted for a whole other set of alleged misdeeds). This instance concerns a memo leaked to the Washington Times, as reported by the Washington Post. The relevant paragraph is quoted below. 

“The memo, as quoted in the [Washington] Times, said Clinton pledged to work with Yeltsin to maintain “positive” relations with the United States as both men seek reelection this year. One way to do this, the memo quoted Clinton as saying, is for Yeltsin to stop restricting poultry imports. Clinton said “this is a big issue, especially since 40 percent of U.S. poultry is produced in Arkansas,” the memo said.” See the Washington Post link here. 

So with respect to Nancy Pelosi and Company “having no choice” but to impeach Trump, spare me the sanctimony. Sure, his judgment and behavior  have been, and probably will continue to be appalling. So what else is new? But let’s not pretend that this is anything other than a progressive power play designed to court the base and short circuit voter preferences before the elections on November 3, 2020. 

Democracy doesn’t die in darkness. It dies on the front page in plain sight of all those willing to look. 

Mistakes Were Made

The systematic mishandling of the FBI’s investigation into the charge that candidate Trump colluded with Russia in order to win the 2016 presidential election suggests more than administrative sloppiness combined with routine government incompetence. One need not be a Trump admirer—and there are few people who have a lower opinion of the man than I do—to recognize that the behavior of the FBI was egregiously out of bounds and that the mainstream press shielded the FBI from critics. 

Consider the findings of Inspector General Michael Horowitz. In an exhaustive review of the FBI’s handling of the Trump collusion investigation Horowitz detailed appalling errors of judgment and violations of FBI rules—by the FBI. These were not small scale or trivial errors. And that assumes they were merely errors. In this respect it should be noted that Horowitz found evidence a relatively low-level FBI lawyer actually tampered with documents related to the probe. 

The report on the Crossfire Hurricane investigation includes examples of what Horowitz describes as threats to constitutionally protected activity, including First Amendment activity.  To be sure, Horowitz did not find the proverbial smoking gun proving  the existence of a deep state conspiracy that Trump and Company are busy whipping up. But neither did it “debunk” anything of substance. 

The party line among Democrats and their cheerleaders in the press has been that the IG found no political bias so that we might as well get on with the business of impeachment. 

Not so fast. 

What the IG actually said was “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed.” He went on to say that “While we did not find these decisions were the result of bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice”.  The IG said that while he could find no documentary evidence that the mistakes were the result of political bias rather than gross incompetence, he was not satisfied with the explanations he was given. Finally, referring to his report he said “ It doesn’t vindicate anybody at the FBI who touched this, including the leadership”. 

So how plausible is it that there was no political bias, when according to the evidence:

  1. The FBI systematically committed egregious violations of its norms and policies; 
  2. An FBI lawyer altered relevant documents;
  3. Two FBI agents (Peter Strzok and Lisa Page) involved in the inquiry were texting each other about “stopping” Trump and creating an anti-Trump  “insurance policy” ;
  4. That Andrew McCabe was fired for lying about his role; 
  5. That McCable’s sworn testimony directly contradicts James Comey’s sworn testimony;
  6. That Bruce Ohr’s wife was being paid by Fusion GPS, a fact that Ohr conveniently neglected to include on his financial disclosure forms

The obvious questions are: Was this FBI behavior unusual? Does the FBI routinely botch investigations this way? Or was this a special case, and if so, what is the explanation for it?

If you parse the IG’s statement what he effectively said was (1) there is a low threshold for starting an investigation, which the FBI met and (2) nobody wrote a memo to the file outlining bias, so (3) let’s go with gross incompetence even though the explanations received are unsatisfactory.

The idea that the top echelons of the FBI were not politically motivated is a tough sell, especially when you consider the Lois Lerner episode. That fiasco is starting to look like a dress rehearsal for the Russia collusion story. In the Tea Party episode the IRS targeted conservative Tea Party organizations to stop them from fundraising for the upcoming 2012 Presidential elections. Needless to say, the bureaucracy dug in its heels and claimed that no such thing happened before finally admitting it. Attorney General Eric Holder put the FBI—yes that FBI—in charge of investigating the incident. Not surprisingly, nothing serious came of it. But lots of relevant IRS email files mysteriously went missing. And Lois Lerner, who was formerly a Democratic Party operative before going to the IRS, took the 5th before Congress, collected a bonus and retired. 

The FBI Collusion investigation would not be the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last when an Administration turns to Executive Agencies to punish political enemies. Richard Nixon did it, so did Lyndon Johnson, and J. Edgar Hoover wasn’t exactly a Boy Scout either. It increasingly looks like the Obama Administration was not a lot different, just better at it.

Political bias is not the main or only issue. It is possible, however unlikely, that gross incompetence is the sole explanation, in which case we have a huge structural and institutional problem.  A more likely explanation is that this whole sorry tale is really about the corruption of power and the threat an ever growing federal bureaucracy poses to the civil liberties of American citizens regardless of political viewpoint. The power of corruption is an equal opportunity employer.

JFB

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.

JFB