Commencement Season

The season is upon us when the good and great serve up the traditional pabulum to young graduates about the importance of following their dreams. And right on cue Hillary Clinton arrived to deliver the commencement address at Wellesley College. It is an elite women’s school, so open-minded that it is willing to admit students who self-identify as women despite having XY chromosomes and the traditional appendage that accompanies those chromosomes.


Hillary Clinton


Mrs. Clinton, who has long had an arms-length relationship with the truth, received a rapturous greeting from the students. Mrs. Clinton told the assembled undergraduates that “[They] are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason….” Mrs. Clinton, whose long career includes countless assaults on truth, decency and reason presumably recognizes another practitioner of the art in Mr. Trump. Perhaps her plaint is motivated by professional jealousy.


After all, it was Mrs. Clinton who told us she made $100,000 trading commodities by virtue of her careful reading of the Wall Street Journal. And it is the very same Mrs. Clinton who discovered the great right wing conspiracy whose arrival was coterminous with that of Monica Lewinsky. But Mrs. Clinton didn’t restrict her lying to press conferences; contemporaneous documents show that she flat-out lied under oath before the Benghazi Committee when she insisted that she thought the Embassy attack was sparked by an anti-Muslim film. And these don’t hold a candle to the gusher of falsehoods she told with respect to her e-mail server.


What is particularly interesting about Mrs. Clinton’s inability to recognize, much less tell the truth, is its eerie similarity to—Donald Trump’s. To be sure, they have stylistic differences in technique, but the underlying motivations are the same. They each lie because the truth is inconvenient or worse; the greater cause is more important, and they assume (probably correctly) that their respective supporters will stick with them regardless, pretty much like the children who followed the Pied Piper.


Which brings us back to the graduating Wellesley students, who were flattered by Clinton with rhetoric like this: “…you and I, possess the capacity for reason and critical thinking…And that free and open debate is the lifeblood of a democracy”.


Clinton went on: “When people in power invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society. That is not hyperbole. It is what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality. Not just our laws and our rights and our budgets, but our thoughts and beliefs”.


Speaking of control, while Wellesley may be opened minded when it comes to chromosomes, that open mindedness comes to a screeching halt when it comes to certain ideas, particularly ones that are not suitably trendy. Wellesley College, where Mrs. Clinton uttered her banalities, is at the forefront of censoring the expression of views that are not fashionable, as the case of Laura Kipnes demonstrates.


Kipnes is a self-identified feminist (which presumably gives her campus street cred) and a full professor at Northwestern University where she teaches filmmaking. But Professor Kipnes committed the cardinal sin of standing apart from the crowd. After a Northwestern colleague Peter Ludlow was accused of sexual harassment, she penned an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which she decried “sexual paranoia” on campuses, and discussed professor-student sexual relationships and “trigger-warnings”.


Two students promptly accused her of retaliatory behavior and creating a hostile work environment. The students filed a Title IX complaint arguing that her essay had a “chilling effect” on sexual harassment claims. (The Title IX investigation eventually exonerated her). Kipnes then wrote a book “Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus” in which she argued that sexual harassment policies do not empower women and actually impede gender equality. Unsurprisingly, the book prompted a lawsuit against her and her publisher, Harper Collins.


And what has this got to do with Wellesley College, that bastion of free speech and open debate? It turns out that when the College invited Kipnes to come to Wellesley to speak, students and faculty were outraged. Six professors who served on the Commission on Race, Ethnicity, and Equity sent a campus wide e-mail objecting to the Kipnes invitation. They argued that speakers like Kipnes “…impose on the liberty of students, staff, and faculty.”


The 6 professors went on to say “ …we object to the notion that onlookers who are part of the faculty or administration are qualified to adjudicate the harm described by students, especially when so many students have come forward. When dozens of students tell us they are in distress as a result of a speaker’s words, we must take these complaints at face value.” (See this article in Atlantic Magazine.)  Then there is also this article in Reason Magazine about the same subject.


So much for the idea of a culture of free and open debate at Wellesley. It is subject to the heckler’s veto by being held hostage to student “distress” at hearing “a speaker’s words.” And not to put too fine a point on it, this is not happening in isolation. Speakers who do not adopt the party line are routinely shouted down on the nation’s campuses, and have sometimes been violently assaulted. That’s in addition to the property damage done by rioting.


Somehow or other none of this made it into the talking points Hillary Clinton re-packaged for commencement day. Not too surprising when you consider that Clinton has been an unrelenting adversary of the First Amendment for a very long time, with her opposition to the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision only being the latest sorry example. For a more complete rundown, please see “Hail to the Censor!” published by Mat Welch in Reason Magazine.


It would be a mistake to regard campus goings on as simply 4 years of expensive babysitting before students are forced to grow up in “the real world”. The “real world” is changing at the speed of light. Before long, students at elite Universities will wind up in positions of power and influence in the Universities, the Arts, the Media, Government and Business. They will carry with them the cultural attitudes they ingested while at school and those attitudes will continue to pervade the culture. After all, as Plato noted, “Those who tell the stories rule society”.


That is why the most important battles being fought today are about culture, about who will tell the stories and how they will tell them. Because it is culture that will shape the future. Which is why the current assault on decency, truth, the very idea that there is truth, reason and persuasion is so very dangerous. It is a little more than ironic, n’est pas, that the lefty protesters who routinely invoke telling truth to power, habitually deny that there is truth. Perhaps they will one day discover that lies matter, whether they come from a Clinton or a Trump.




Savage Budget Cuts

We are now at that time of year when the President proposes what we laughingly call a budget for the Federal Government. The Republicans are nominally in charge so garment rending and howls of outrage are the inevitable by product of the budget proposal. We will hear endless tirades about “savage budget cuts” designed to punish the poor to give tax-cuts to the ever changing definition of “the rich”.


Perhaps it’s time to stop the hysteria and look at what is really going on, which is that government has spent, is spending, and will likely continue to spend enormous amounts of money on various anti-poverty efforts. Much of which will do more harm than good. See for instance, “War on Poverty Turns 50: Are We Winning Yet” published by the CATO Institute.


In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, Federal, State and local spending on “means-tested” programs was estimated at slightly over $1 trillion. This includes the provision of services to the poor by various levels of government in addition to cash benefits. Medicaid services, which cost about $653 billion, accounted for the largest portion of services provided. Means tested programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) popularly known as Food Stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) as well as a host of other programs.


These programs are jointly financed by the Federal and State governments and administered by the States. It would be a mistake to assume that these programs only service the truly needy. For instance, the SNAP Program in New Jersey caps eligibility at up to 185% of the federal poverty level, which is currently $24,300 for a family of four. So eligibility caps out at just under $45,000 in New Jersey. Note though, that New Jersey is one of the nation’s wealthiest states with a median household income if about $71,000. Nationally some 17 million Americans participated in the SNAP Program in 2000 at a cost of about $18 billion. By the end of 2013, 48 million Americans received benefits from the SNAP program at a cost of $48 billion. See “SNAP Failure: The Food Stamps Program Needs reform” also published by CATO.


Additional programs include Housing Assistance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and various types of aid directed to Senior Citizens. The list is long because $1 trillion goes a long way. But, as with SNAP, the threshold for receiving assistance is well above the poverty level for some programs. The idea of a threshold poverty level is itself problematical as calculated because it does not take into account all types of non-cash assistance that is available to low-income families.


In order to keep the spending machine humming, advocacy groups routinely exaggerate the number of poor people. Right now it is generally thought to be in the neighborhood of 14.5% of the population. But that calculation doesn’t take into account non-cash benefits and refundable tax credits, each of which would take 3 percentage points off the poverty calculation. Those adjustments alone would reduce the poverty rate down to about 8.5% of the population. Replace the all-urban CPI Index with the arguably better Personal Consumption Expenditure Index and the percentage of the population living in poverty drops to around 5%. (See this article in Forbes Magazine.)


While important, discussions about the percentage of people living in poverty and the proper measurement thereof are largely technical issues. More important are relationships between the incidence of poverty, the state of the macro-economy, and the success (or failure) of governmental policies designed to alleviate it.


The real question is: why are there persistent pockets of poverty around the U.S.? As demonstrated by the progressives’ bête noire Charles Murray in his 1984 book “Losing Ground”, the poverty rate in the U.S. dropped more or less continuously until the advent of the Great Society. Then progress stopped cold. It was (and remains) Murray’s thesis that social welfare programs (as implemented in America) tend to increase the incidence of poverty by creating incentives that reward myopic behavior rather than behavior that is conducive to escaping poverty. He also argued that the welfare state was a moral disaster in the way it separated accomplishment and effort.


Murray followed up in 2012 with “Coming Apart” in which he examined the divergence between two emerging classes of whites, which he labeled the New Upper Class and the New Lower Class. In “Coming Apart” Murray correlated the economic divide between the two classes with the acceptance or rejection of what we may call traditional values. Murray provides evidence that the New Upper Class continues to be more religious, have a stronger work ethic, and be more likely to maintain an intact family life compared to the New Lower Classes. (This jettisoning of traditional values among the New Lower Classes explains in part the emergence of the blue collar Trump vote.)


Murray’s arguments were (and are) extremely controversial. But as time goes by, the gathering evidence certainly seems to suggest that he is in fact largely correct.


So we seem to have a paradox on our hands, explainable by Murray’s thesis. Poverty has indeed declined by virtue of government assistance, but the magnitude of the decline is unclear. More to the point we have not answered the counterfactual–namely what would poverty have been in the absence of government anti-poverty programs? Murray has presented evidence that government assistance (as we know it today) has created a dependent class that is myopic, has given up on traditional values, and by virtue of that fact is ill equipped to help itself out of its rut, and as a result, may be worse off for the assistance. This hardly represents a policy victory to be built upon; if anything it points to the continuing social destruction brought about by the welfare state.


So progressives can wail all they want about savage budget cuts. But the truth of the matter is that the real damage done to our society is the result of savage progressive attacks on traditional values and institutions that left ordinary people unable to defend themselves and their families as their communities collapsed around them. The public schools they attended did not prepare them for the economy of the 21st century.  Nor are those schools preparing their children. But they are teaching them to feel good about themselves even as their test scores continue to sink and public institutions continue to fail.










Somebody is Lying

One of the most pernicious notions that has taken hold in modern pop culture is the Nietzschean claim, echoed by the post-modernists, that there are no facts, only interpretations. And since there is no such thing as truth, there is no such thing as right and wrong; there are only preferences. So the choice of Vanilla or Chocolate ice cream is on par with the choice of whether or not to have an abortion.


That this mindset has taken hold can be seen in the common use and abuse of language, something that George Orwell warned about. In the popular culture, modern idioms routinely gloss over substance by muddying the waters all the while disguising the planted axiom. The result is sloppy thinking and mind-numbing conformity.


Consider some phrases that are routinely tossed around in the public discourse. What about “affordable housing” for instance? How about putting a price on a house instead? That is pretty straightforward. But who can afford what is not. I am quite sure Bill Gates and I have very different ideas about what constitutes an affordable house. The planted axiom in the phrase affordable housing is that there is, or ought to be, some floating standard of affordability, determined by bureaucrats (experts) to determine who will benefit from their munificence with other people’s money.


Similarly, the phrase “pro-choice” (“pro-life” is the other side of the same coin) really means being in favor of a legal right to abortion on demand. That it has nothing to do with being in favor of maximizing consumer choice is made clear by the vociferous opposition to charter schools by “pro-choice” groups. Related dodges include referring to abortion rights as women’s health “issues”.


These understatements are simply designed to avoid the underlying substance of the issues involved. But while it may be easy to avoid the underlying issues of any given dispute by resorting to euphemisms the facts on the ground create a culture of, if not acceptance, at least acquiescence. And it becomes progressively easier to resort to euphemism, then spin—itself a euphemism—and a host of other subject switching and issue reframing devices to avoid the plain truth.


White House Credibility—or the Lack of It


Which brings us to the latest round of wounds the White House has managed to inflict on itself. The star of the show, naturally enough, is Donald Trump, whose mastery of the art of forming a rapid-fire circular firing squad is unparalleled in modern political history.


In rapid succession the Trump White House asserted that (1) the President fired Jim Comey (who should have been fired months ago) because of the way he handled the Clinton e-mail investigation, only to be undercut shortly thereafter by (2) Trump himself. Trump went on to national television and announced he was going to fire Comey anyway because he was thinking of “this Russia thing” not to mention that (Comey) was a show boater.


As if this were not bad enough, within a day or two, the Washington Post (and then the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal) got leaks to the effect that Trump revealed “highly classified” information about ISIS to a Russian diplomat. The source of the intelligence was reported to be Israel, which means that Trump may have compromised Israeli sources and methods. The response of the White House communications amateurs, now crouched in fetal position, was to send out General Bruce McMaster to argue that Trump didn’t do what he wasn’t accused of. But then Trump himself seemed to confirm the essence of the story by Tweeting (of course) that he had every right to share information with leaders of foreign governments.


While it may be true that Trump can declassify anything he wants, it is worth noting that, if the reporting is correct, he shared the information with the Russian diplomat, but there is no indication that he actually declassified it. Also worth noting is that while General McMaster tried to defend Trump by saying that Trump didn’t say anything “inappropriate” McMaster also intimated that it is possible that Trump may not have understood the security implications of what he said. That by the way is the Clinton non-defense defense—there was no intent to harm the U.S.


But wait, there’s more. Naturally enough, it has to do with the Comey – Trump grudge match. Apparently James Comey made a practice of taking copious notes of his meetings after which he wrote memos to the file about them when he suspected problems could emerge. (Note here: It would be interesting to see Comey’s contemporaneous notes concerning the Clinton e-mail investigation). Anyway, an anonymous FBI associate of Comey’s reportedly read a Comey memo to the file to a Washington Post reporter. According to the Post, Trump asked Comey to lay off investigating Mike Flynn with respect to Flynn’s Russian ties. The White House denies it.


Now the words Obstruction of Justice and Impeachment are getting tossed around Washington, sometimes with glee, sometimes with fear.



Enter Robert Mueller


Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, author of the blistering memo that recommended the dismissal of Director Comey has now appointed former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller as a “special counsel” with a broad mandate to take charge of the whole Russian / collusion investigation. It is important to note that Mueller’s title is special counsel. He has not been appointed as an independent prosecutor primarily because there is no such thing in the American legal / political system. All prosecutorial power lies in the Executive Branch and the President is its most senior officer.


To the extent that Mueller is independent, it is a function of his personal reputation for integrity. He is not structurally or legally independent. He can be fired by the President at-will. But there would be a political price to pay were he to do so, as Nixon found out when he fired Archibald Cox.


The State of Play


What to make of all this? With respect to the various charges and denials vis-à-vis (1) Trump asking Comey to put the Russia / Flynn investigation aside, and (2) revealing highly classified information to a hostile foreign power, somebody is lying, which of course implies that there actually is such a thing as truth.


Consider possibility #1: The press, meaning the Washington Post, The New York Times, the Washington Post and NBC News are making all this stuff up, or have been collectively hoodwinked by anonymous sources. Nobody this side of sanity believes this. Are the leakers cherry-picking materials designed to maximize political damage to the Trump Administration and possibly bring it down? Probably. Are the leaks essentially accurate? Probably yes, the leaks are essentially accurate.


Let’s consider possibility #2, which is a much better bet. The leaks are essentially accurate. Trump gave a Russian diplomat highly classified intelligence information, and in so doing he may have compromised Israeli (and possibly U.S.) sources and methods. Moreover, in the process he jeopardized the lives of agents in the field. Trump may be within his rights to do this, as he argued on Twitter, but that doesn’t make it smart. In fact, it is incredibly reckless. Trump basically guaranteed that no ally will want to share intelligence with the U.S. while Trump sits in the Oval Office.


Moreover it is almost certainly true that Comey kept contemporaneous notes designed to cast himself in the most flattering light. Which also means that there is almost certainly a Comey memo to the file in which he portrays himself as a hero fending off pressure from Trump to drop the Russia / Flynn investigation. Now that Robert Mueller has been appointed special counsel, these (and other) memos and documents will surely be subpoenaed and will make their way into the public record.


What Next?


Game theorists will quickly recognize the set of developing incentive structures faced by the players. Flynn wants to avoid prosecution. Trump wants to save his Presidency. Flynn’s attorney asked for immunity a while ago to clearly signal that his client had no intention of being a sacrificial lamb for Trump. In response Trump asked Comey to lay off the investigation. This is a coordination maneuver designed to circumvent the problem of the prisoner’s dilemma that Trump and Flynn find themselves in.


The naming of Mueller as special counsel puts an end to coordination maneuvers of this sort. Now it will be every man for himself, and that does not bode well for Trump. (An interesting side note is that the Clintons routinely found themselves in these sorts of predicaments so they typically got all the potential defendants on the same page by using a joint defense so they could coordinate through their lawyers. See for instance, the arrangement with Hillary Clinton and Cheryl Mills in the e-mail mail scandal. Also the Clintons paid the legal fees of the guy who set up the server.)


In the end this is not going to end well for Trump. Flynn is likely to give testimony that is damaging to Trump in order to save his own hide. He may just turn out to be the John Dean of 2017. The fat lady may not be singing yet, but she is clearing her throat.


Conservatives Trade Principle for Power

In what seems like a very long time ago in a far-away land, Conservatives read people like Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville and used to argue that character mattered. Along the way, roughly corresponding to the time Trump decided to run for President, they caught the same disease that afflicts Progressives. They know what’s best for you. And so with a deeply flawed candidate they decided that character wasn’t so important after all.


In seeking power at any price “conservatives” threw Conservatism overboard to make a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump. And just 4 months in, it is becoming increasingly clear just how steep the price is ultimately going to be. You can bet that the groundwork is already being prepared for the attack on Mueller’s integrity if he doesn’t find an impeachable offense, pretty much the way the Clinton’s attacked Ken Starr. And they are going to begin roughing up Mike Pence to weaken him if he ascends to the Presidency by virtue of a successful impeachment effort.


And Trump supporting conservatives have no one to blame but for all this but themselves.




Conservatives Have Some Explaining to Do


Going on 4 months since the Inauguration, self-professed conservatives who backed Trump for the Presidency have a lot of explaining to do. To say that Hillary Clinton was and is a menace to liberty (not to mention decency) while true enough just doesn’t cut it, for at least four reasons. First, Trump, like Clinton, is a menace to liberty and decency. No difference there. Second, Trump handily won the Republican primaries with the support of self-proclaimed conservatives. Third, for the general election the lesser of two evils argument just doesn’t stand on its own merits; there were plenty of alternatives, including write-ins. Fourth, and most importantly, in defending Trump an awful lot of “conservatives” have gone all-in, defending the indefensible.

Stop Detour
Stop Detour

It is one thing to defend a policy with which you agree in spite of the man proposing it. But it is another thing altogether to defend a policy you have consistently professed to abhor—because of the man who is proposing it. That is where a lot of “conservatives” are right about now.


Conservatives used to defend global free trade; we don’t hear a lot of that anymore. Instead we have Trump slapping tariffs on Canada (Canada!) with nary a peep from conservatives. Conservatives used to argue for limited government. But when King Donald of 5th Ave presumes to instruct private firms as to where they will and won’t build manufacturing facilities, we don’t hear any conservatives telling him it’s none of his business. Conservatives used to defend federalism as an antidote to all-encompassing federal power. But somehow they don’t object when Trump illegally threatens funding for sanctuary cities. Conservatives used to argue in defense of fiscal sobriety. But they don’t seem to care that outstanding debt, now $20 trillion is headed for $30 trillion over the next decade—to say nothing of the more than $100 trillion (and probably much, much more) in unfunded liabilities due to entitlements.


But that is not the worst of it. The harm, possibly irreparable, that Trump is doing to American political institutions is at least as damaging as his penchant for economic interventionism. The irony is that while Trump is routinely tagged as a conservative, he is anything but, either by temperament or by policy inclination. He considers himself to be a pragmatist, not an ideologue, and he thinks (if you use the word loosely) in grandiose terms. This is far more reflective of John Dewey’s progressivism than it is of conservatism.


And even that is not the worst of it. The worst of it is the way Trump, with his conservative enablers, has imported some of the worst features of the popular culture—incivility, crudity, moral relativism, and just plain ignorance, into American political discourse. More than anything else, it is this continuing degradation of the culture that threatens the institutions of civil society that are necessary but not sufficient for human freedom and flourishing.


Consider what Edmund Burke had to say about the importance of culture in Reflections on the Revolution in France: “Manners are of more importance than laws. The law can touch us here and there, now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation like that of the air we breathe in.”


Trump is the poster boy for behavior that is crude, corrupting, debasing and barbarizing.


Conservatism, like its progressive counterpart, is rapidly descending into mindless tribalism. Conservatives when they defend Trump the man, Progressives with their adoption of identity politics. If the Republican Party continues to defend the antics of PT Barnum in the White House, the Party will have earned the defeat it is almost certain to face in 2018.


Assuming Trump has not been impeached and convicted by then.




Is Buyer’s Remorse Near?

The Chaos Continues


In an interview with Lester Holt, Donald Trump announced that he was going to fire Comey regardless of the recommendation made by Rod Rosenstein, the #2 man at Justice, and by all accounts a consummate professional. Rosenstein had made a compelling case that Comey was essentially a rogue Director who ignored longstanding policies and procedures, inflicting damage on the Department of Justice in the process. But Trump said decided to fire Comey because he was “a Showboat”.


Hillary Clinton must go to bed every night wondering how, exactly, did I lose to this guy?


In the aftermath Comey penned a farewell letter to his former colleagues at the FBI. In the letter he wrote: “I’m not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed. I hope you won’t either. It is done, and I will be fine, although I will miss you and the mission deeply….” (Emphasis added). Which is to say that as far as Comey is concerned; it is all about—him.


Meanwhile Trump’s support—if that’s the right word—is holding in the low 30s, which must look awfully good to Congressional Republicans who now command support in the mid to high teens; not only that—they are 16 points behind the Democrats in the generic poll that asks respondents which party they would like to run Congress. At this rate the Republican majority in the House looks like it’s in jeopardy in the 2018 midterms.


Conservative buyers remorse seems just around the corner.



Comey, Again

Senator Brian Schatz (D, Hawaii) announced (on Twitter of course) that we are in “a full fledged constitutional crisis” as a result of Donald Trump’s decision to dismiss James Comey as Director of the FBI. Senator Schatz should really get a grip. James Comey botched the entire Clinton e-mail non-investigation from the very beginning. When, on last July 5th, Comey held a press conference and announced that Clinton was extremely careless in her handling of classified information, but that he would not recommend prosecution to AG Loretta Lynch, he was so far out of bounds he should have been fired on the spot by then President Obama.

The decision whether or not to prosecute was not his to make; it was a decision for his boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch. When he said that he found no evidence that Clinton specifically intended to violate the law, in effect he rewrote the statute, which only required “gross negligence.” When he asserted that no reasonable prosecutor would take the case, not only was he obviously incorrect, he implied that anyone who disagreed with him was unreasonable. Moreover, by his statement he made the case for reasonable doubt, thus destroying any chance for a conviction.


And then he thrust himself onto center stage once again when he re-opened the case a few days before the election. Even worse, at his original press conference on July 5, he subjected Hillary Clinton to a public tongue lashing—and then proclaimed her innocent. Perhaps the Mr. Comey is unaware that citizens in the U.S. are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. And that law enforcement has no business delivering rebukes to innocent citizens.


So no matter how you slice it, Comey abused his office; either by using his post to publicly lecture an innocent citizen, or by re-writing the statute to allow Clinton to dodge a bullet. Either way, this is not the behavior we should either expect or tolerate from the Director of the FBI. It doesn’t matter if Comey thought he was in an untenable position. That goes with the territory, and if he couldn’t handle it, he could have resigned. Similarly, it simply doesn’t matter if his motives were pure. That is why we have laws, policies and procedures to govern the behavior of law enforcement officials, who are entrusted with awesome power in the U.S. legal system.


Which is not to say that Donald Trump ordered the dismissal for the right reasons. He may very well have ordered it because he, or a senior (or past) Trump official, faces legal jeopardy as a result of the FBI investigation into Russian attempts to interfere in the U.S. Presidential election. But that is just conjecture at this point. The innocent before guilty standard still applies.


It should go without saying that Russian intelligence has been in the business of attempting to influence U.S. politics, policy and elections more or less continuously for at least 50 years. Which is to say that the real question is whether Trump or senior staffers used, or attempted to use, their positions to help Russia for their own benefit at the expense of the U.S. The correct term for that is Treason.


It is far more likely that the Russian interference was designed to weaken Americans’ trust in the fairness and stability of American political institutions. If so, the gambit worked splendidly for Moscow—in part because, to borrow Lenin’s phrase, the useful idiots of “The Resistance” are busy making Moscow’s case. And in case anyone missed it, Hillary Clinton recently announced she was part of said Resistance.


That said, the body politic certainly has a right to know the facts of the matter, so far as they can be determined. And there is a way to go about doing so that would also provide a useful corrective to the ongoing deterioration of political discourse in America. And it is not another Special Prosecutor. Instead, the Senate should establish a Select Committee, with subpoena power, to look into the matter once and for all. The Select Committee should be perfectly willing to subpoena relevant documents, and question witnesses under oath, including intelligence officials, with knowledge of the matter.


If the Committee finds evidence of treason by staffers and campaign aides, then the case should be turned over for prosecution. Evidence of treason by Trump would present a prima facie case for impeachment. And if any witness is found to have lied under oath, he should be prosecuted. It is about time that perjury is taken seriously. James Clapper, please take note.


Handling the matter this way would entail two advantages. First, this forum would require the participants to take political responsibility for their charges and counter-charges.  Second, instead of acting as the President’s whipping boy, the Congress would actually have to reassert itself as a co-equal branch of government, thus restoring a much needed re-alignment of the balance of power.


These would be good outcomes, in addition to shedding light on the ongoing controversy. But I’m not counting on it happening anytime soon.