Useful Idiots

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Filed Under Congress, General, Trump on Nov 14 

Useful Idiots

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Although originally a term used to describe unwitting communist sympathizers, the term “useful idiot” has come to mean someone who is supposedly on one side of an issue but whose public statements do, in fact, assist the opposing side. They are referred to as useful idiots because their statements support and strengthen the opposition, but such statements do not confer any benefit or credit onto them. They are “useful” to the opposition, but “idiots” if they think there is some personal gain to be had.

In modern-day American politics, such useful idiots exist predominantly in the Republican ranks. There are many such idiots whose statements and votes aid Democratic positions, but do not result in any strengthening of their personal reputation or public perception whatsoever. Such idiots never seem to occur in Democratic ranks, assisting Republicans.  

There are many high-profile Republicans who are famous for their useful idiot status. One of the most recent and notable is Mitt Romney. Romney—the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee—is about as a high-profile Republican as there is. His continual anti-Trump outbursts and holier-than-thou high-minded pronunciations are pounced upon by liberal pundits as “proof” that even many life-long conservative Republicans are opposed to President Trump and recognize his threat to the norms and accepted conventions of our culture. The fact that Romney is actually a very soft conservative who brought Romneycare to MA before Obama even introduced Obamacare to the country is very conveniently ignored by the liberal media. They enjoy nothing more than using a putative “conservative’s” words to criticize President Trump.

When the President announced recently that he was withdrawing American troops from Syria, the ensuing Democratic criticism was immediate and predictable. But when many well-known Republicans like Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell joined that chorus, it was surprising. No parallel Democratic public criticism was heard when Barack Obama did something everyone regarded as ill-advised, such as when he allowed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad cross the “red line” without consequences or when he sent Iran 1.7 billion dollars in cash (piled high on pallets, mostly in foreign currency), coincidentally just as four American hostages were being released. No one believed the risible excuse given by the Obama administration that the cash payment was unrelated to the hostage release but was instead a settlement for a totally independent arbitration agreement stemming from 1979.

Consistent with Obama’s many other amazingly weak foreign policy actions, the cash to Iran maneuver was a straight up “cash for hostage” move, in direct contravention to long-standing American policy. Yet no Democrat came out publicly and criticized Obama. No high-profile Democrat said it was a betrayal of our values as a country or that it would grievously weaken our ability to conduct effective action in the future or that the President violated the law or anything of the sort. The public face of the Democrats was consistent and unbroken. No criticism. Nothing even remotely for the opposition to latch onto as “proof” of Obama’s misdoings.  Let’s give the Democrats their credit for knowing how to play effective hardball politics (including how to leverage the already-sympathetic liberal media for maximum benefit): Democrats do not waver. High-profile Democrats never stray from the party line.

But high-profile Republicans stray from conservative orthodoxy all the time, perhaps in some misguided desire to appear “reasonable.” Democrats never reach across the aisle, despite what some of them say during their campaign run-up to the election. Once in D.C, Democrats oppose Republican bills, proposals, policies and Supreme Court nominees with astonishing consistency. About the only time a Democrat will vote for a Republican position is when the matter was going to pass anyway, and the Democratic politician has been “authorized” by their Party leadership to vote the other way in consideration of protecting their electoral viability in their home district. In other words, Democrats vote Republican when it benefits the Democrat in future elections.

This useful idiot seems to exist only in Republican dugouts.  Only Republicans have to confirm their votes over and over again to be sure their members are checking the correct box.  The Senate is currently 53-47 Republican. (Two of the 47 are actually “Independents” who caucus with the Democrats.) Once the House passes Articles of Impeachment—and they will, even if they are reduced to charging President Trump for the crime of putting mayonnaise on a corned beef sandwich—and it goes to trial in the Senate, it will take 2/3 of the Senate to convict him. That means the Democrats will need 20 Republican votes to reach the requisite 67. The fact that pundits and the President himself will actually have to analyze the list of 53 Republican Senators and make sure they have 34 “safe” votes says everything about how many “idiots” there are in the Republican ranks and that the Democrats have none.

It all gets back to the notion of what these squishy Republicans were thinking when their public statements go against their party and their president. Are they thinking that they have such high ethical ideals that they simply have to publicly oppose President Trump?  Are they thinking that by demonstrating such even-handedness on the public stage, even the liberal national media and their home district swing voters will accord them a significant measure of additional credit, thus smoothing their personal path to re-election?

Are they thinking that President Trump is truly focused on changing the incestuous ways of insider lobbying and deal-making by which so many politicians derive personal financial gain, so they need to stop him before their gravy train ends? In politics, self-interest usually rules the day. Democrats already publicly oppose President Trump for all these reasons, but they have the convenient cover of “opposing his policies” when they do so.

Seemingly “disloyal” Republicans very likely fear that President Trump—beholden to no special interests, intent on draining the swamp and not using his elected office for self-enrichment as are the majority of other politicians of both parties—will put an end to their cushy financial ride and self-indulgent D.C lifestyle, their celebrity and personal power and their sure-fire path to a soft, luxurious retirement.

Or perhaps, they haven’t thought it through at all.  They’re just unthinkingly shooting from the hip, without regard for how their remarks will be received.

In which case, they are indeed idiots. Although how “useful” is certainly debatable.

Republicans Are in Danger, Not the Presidency

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Republicans, who are continually naïve and politically inept, have taken to saying recently that the Adam Schiff-led impeachment proceedings are dangerous to the country because they put the very institution of the Presidency at risk. Republicans’ reasoning goes something like this: Impeachment is supposed to be the Congressional remedy if the president commits “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Serious transgressions that put the country at risk: selling military secrets to an adversary for personal financial gain, being party to a premeditated murder or heinous felony, or perhaps some blatantly immoral behavior while in office that distracts the president from adequately discharging his responsibility to the country.

Obviously, according to current Republican thought, nothing like that even remotely applies to President Trump. He is guilty only of defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016 and also perhaps of exhibiting a rough, direct personal/verbal style along the way.

Republicans make two mistakes:

  1. They think that the fundamental/legal illegitimacy of the Democrats’ impeachment charges will eventually lead to them failing or being dropped and
  2. They think that by pursuing an impeachment based on political animus rather than legal solidity, the Democrats are paving the way for any future Congress—regardless of which party is in control—to initiate impeachment action against a future president strictly because of political hatred and jealousy, thus de-stabilizing our political system and putting the very institution of the Executive Office at risk.

The Republicans are wrong on both counts. First of all, the popular (and undeniably accurate) saying around Washington DC is that, “High crimes and misdemeanors are whatever the Congress say they are.” If a majority agrees with the charges, then they go forward. There is no outside legal governing body that authorizes or disallows it. There is no NFL ref who is going to throw a flag and have the play recalled. If a majority of Congress wants it, Congress gets it.

But in order for impeachment charges to have any chance, they must have a stamp of legitimacy from the popular media. If the major media “sanction” the impeachment effort as being at least worthy of investigation, it lives on. If the popular media dismiss such charges as being born strictly from political acrimony and bitterness, it has no legs to stand on and the ordinary casual political participant—upon whom any necessary broad-based popular support will eventually rest—remains uninterested and disengaged.

Democrats enjoy favorable media treatment that Republicans can never hope to duplicate in the current media environment. According to research by the Media Research Center, major media coverage of President Trump has been 90% negative. His positive accomplishments—including a great economy with 50-year low overall unemployment, the lowest-ever Black and Hispanic unemployment, record domestic energy production and near-complete freedom from global energy pricing pressures, a newly-strengthened military, solid job creation and rising wages, getting NATO to step up and pay their share—are continually ignored and suppressed by the liberal media. His so-called “crimes”—imaginary though they are—are brandished about by this same media like fait accomplis, as if they’re well-known, accepted fact.

No such reciprocal situation would ever exist for a Democrat President facing a Republican-majority Congress. These days, if a Republican Congress attempted to bring empty impeachment charges against a sitting Democratic president, the Republicans would be excoriated by the liberal mainstream media, which includes all the highly-influential social media platforms that truly drive public opinion among the critical Millennial and Gen X voting blocs. If the Democratic president happened to be a minority, a woman or a non-heterosexual, then the media would savage the “old, white, straight” Republican Congress to a degree never seen before in the modern media age. The liberal media would take advantage of the opportunity to fire broadsides of bias accusation against the Republican brand, with the intent of inflicting permanent damage to the conservative image. It would be a media feeding frenzy the likes of which American politics has never seen.

Perfect example: Just recently, Democratic Representative Katie Hill resigned after it was discovered she had conducted a bi-sexual 3-way affair with her husband and a female staffer. Yet the liberal media was wholly uninterested, save for a few quotes defending her right to a “private life” and saying that Republicans were trying to use Hill as a distraction from the impeachment investigation. If Hill were a Republican, it would be Mark Foley all over again.

In 2006, Republican Congressman Mark Foley (white, middle-aged) was accused of sending “inappropriate messages” to teenage Congressional pages and forced to resign. The Democrats and the liberal mainstream media pounced on this story, flogging Foley and the Republicans mercilessly with unrelenting public attacks, severely damaging the Republicans’ image and contributing in no small measure to the Democrats re-taking the House in 2006. Hill’s transgressions were far worse than Foley’s. While Foley was merely accused of sending suggestive messages, Hill actually admitted to having engaged in a 3-way affair (coined a “throuple”) with her husband and a female staffer. However, the entire Hill matter faded from the liberal media headlines in astonishingly quick time, with no lasting damage whatsoever to the Democrats.

Another excellent example: Early in 2019, Democratic Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was discovered to have worn blackface in a yearbook picture. Yet despite the offensive picture, there was no liberal media outcry for his ouster, and he didn’t step down, in stark contrast to how the situation would have developed and been resolved had Northam been a Republican.

These are ironclad examples of the media double standard that favors the Democrats and hurts Republicans. Republicans are absolutely delusional if they think that in this media environment an impeachment action by them against a Democratic president could possibly be presented as being legitimate.

The Presidency as an institution is not in any danger from the Democrats’ Trump impeachment efforts. It is the Republicans’ continued existence as a meaningful American political party that is in danger, as they face a potentially crushing defeat brought about by the Democrats’ vastly superior use of the liberal media to their advantage, their devastatingly effective use of street-fighting political tactics, and their remarkable ability to remain unified as a party. Meanwhile, the Republicans foolishly, stubbornly adhere to their self-imposed, stiff, restrictive obedience to a Marquis-de-Queensbury approach to a political life-or-death struggle. If the Democrats are successful in overturning the legitimate results of the 2016 election and they force President Trump from office, the Republicans will have only themselves to blame. If the Republicans fail to come together and stop this, they cannot be considered a viable, functioning political party.

Sink the Clinton

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

In early stages of World War II (1939-1945) in Europe, Germany, after invading Poland to its east in 1939, turned its attention westward and conquered the “Low Countries” (Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) on its way to vanquishing France in spring 1940. With almost all of western Continental Europe now under German control, Britain alone stood against Germany.

America had not yet entered the war and wouldn’t until December 1941 when the Japanese attacked the U.S. Pacific naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The United States was, however, supplying Britain with a very significant amount of both war materials and domestic goods under the “Lend-Lease” program. These goods were sent by ship convoy to England across the Atlantic Ocean. German U-boat submarines extracted a huge toll on this vital shipping lifeline, but even though the losses were high, they were survivable, and these supply lines—critical to Britain’s very existence— persevered.

However, in May 1941, Germany introduced a new element into the North Atlantic equation that threatened to bring disaster to Britain. This element was the new German battleship Bismarck. It was a huge, state-of-the-art warship, equipped with the very latest long-range heavy cannon, new stereoscopic range-finders that promised unprecedented accuracy, then-new ship-based radar, and it boasted an intricate system of armor-plating and honey-combed water-tight compartments that rendered her virtually unsinkable.  If Bismarck broke out into the vast, indefensible shipping lanes of the North Atlantic, it could wreak catastrophic havoc with the war-sustaining convoys coming across the ocean

The very existence of Bismarck hung like a sinister shadow above the Allies’ war effort. In 1941, it was widely believed that this single weapon might determine the very course of the war in Europe. Where the entire Luftwaffe (German air force) had been unable to cripple Britain’s warfighting capability with their aerial assault in the summer of 1940 and bring her to the negotiating table, now—in the spring of 1941—a single warship was threatening to do that very thing. The allies, especially Britain, were horrified. The British rallied around a national cry of, “Sink the Bismarck!”

As the Bismarck and her companion, the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, headed towards the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean through the Denmark Strait, they were intercepted by the British battleships Hood and Prince of Wales. Those two ships were all that stood between Britain’s invaluable but vulnerable shipping lanes and what they thought was national survival. In the next few minutes, perhaps the most famous and consequential surface engagement of all time occurred.  The big ships fired on each other, their 14- and 15-inch guns booming with unimaginable destructive potential. It was the naval equivalent of two fearless, big-punching heavyweight boxers standing toe-to-toe, trading lethal knockout blows.  Something had to give.

Hood—the pride of the British navy—was struck by a perfectly-aimed salvo from Bismarck and exploded violently, breaking in two and sinking with just three survivors out of a crew of more than 1400. Observers on the Prince of Wales were awestruck in disbelief and horror.  One officer is reported to have simply uttered, “Blimey.”

After barely ten minutes of fighting, “The Mighty Hood,” as she was known, was gone. But Prince of Wales, despite suffering significant damage herself from Bismarck’s guns, scored some telling blows of her own, such that Bismarck was forced to disengage and head to home for repair.

She never got there.

Thanks to the Royal Navy’s Herculean effort to track her down and the lucky breaks of war, the British managed to catch up to Bismarck, whose speed and mobility had been impacted by damage she suffered in the engagement with Hood and Prince of Wales. British carrier torpedo planes inflicted further damage and now Bismarck was a sitting duck as the superior British forces closed in on her. Led by the battleships King George V and Rodney, Bismarck was pounded into a non-functional hulk, slipping beneath the surface on May 27, 1941.

In both 2008 and 2016, Hillary Clinton was the modern-day political equivalent to the Bismarck of nearly 70 years ago. Like Bismarck, Clinton was widely-regarded as purpose-built to a deadly end: Highly-capable in the ruthless art of political war, evil-intentioned, single-minded, intent on disrupting civilized society with a full complement of destructive policies and above all, looking to entrench herself as the uncontested holder of power, reigning supreme above all others. Her political presence hung like a malevolent curse over American society. The specter of her being in office, free to run roughshod over our culture and economy with her destructive, corrupt policies was as horrifying to freedom-loving Americans today as the prospect of a Bismarck on the loose was in 1941, raiding the life-giving shipping lanes.

No one had the ability to truly defeat her. It can be very convincingly argued that her loss at the hands of Obama in 2008 was a demographic-based defeat, the result of a never-to-be-duplicated confluence of conditions and circumstances along with an overriding “It’s time” sentiment among the Democratic primary electorate.

She bided her time, the political equivalent of a battleship waiting in port before embarking on its next combat mission. She launched her mission for the 2016 campaign, confident of juicy pickings and easy conquests. Using every unfair advantage and dirty tactic, she enlisted Russian assistance in the form of that totally false “dossier” on Donald Trump, kept a blatantly illegal private e-mail server to hide and control all her illegal communications and activities, got the FBI and Justice Departments to look the other way and leave her alone, and she completely rigged the primary election process to slough off that pesky Bernie Sanders.

She seemed to have every advantage: The unstoppable, battle-hardened political machine, Justice and FBI so totally cowed by her—for reasons we will likely never know—that they gave her free reign, access to unlimited funds, notably from the craftily-hidden but undoubtedly corrupt Clinton Foundation and, of course, the liberal mainstream media relentlessly cheerleading on her behalf.

The Bismarck also seemed to be unbeatable in 1941. Yet its final undoing came at the hands of an embarrassingly obsolete weapon, one that no one could have predicted in advance would play the telling role that it did: The carrier-based Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber. This was a biplane aircraft that looked more like Snoopy’s Sopwith Camel WWI fighter plane than a sleek modern attack aircraft. Wobbling unsteadily towards the Bismarck at barely 100 MPH, the Swordfish flew so slowly that the Bismarck’s modern, sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons could not track their motion slowly enough to get an accurate bead on them and shoot them down. The Swordfish was too slow for the Bismarck to hit them accurately. Amazing.

And like Achilles and his vulnerable heel, so too was the Bismarck critically unprotected: Its rudder, which controlled its steering—was exposed and easy to damage. A Swordfish-launched torpedo struck the Bismarck in the rudder, leaving her impossible to steer. So ended her dash for safety and the British fleet caught her the next day and finished her off.

Hillary Clinton was well-prepared for political battle against any modern Republican opponent. Cruz, Rubio, Jeb Bush, whoever it was would have had the battle of their lifetime against Clinton and her political weapons. She was the Bismarck. It would take the unlikeliest of weapons to defeat her.

Donald Trump was that weapon. He was the Fairey Swordfish that Hillary couldn’t shoot down. Like the Swordfish, Trump may have appeared unsophisticated and easy to dismiss, but he found her weak spots and struck hard, with crippling effectiveness. To extend the analogy, her campaign sank in ignominious defeat.

Germany did build another battleship just like the Bismarck, called the Tirpitz. The Allies watched her like a hawk, wary of her every move. Now, as was the case with the Tirpitz, speculation is running rampant as to whether Hillary may put to sea once again in 2020, looking to engage President Trump in a return match. She and her acolytes still regard the President as easy pickings. “I’d be happy to beat him again,” she bleats.

But the Tirpitz never made a meaningful combat voyage. It spent pretty much its entire career in port. Its biggest contribution to the war was getting its adversaries to wonder what it might do and causing significant resources to be arrayed against it just in case. However, it never actually did anything. British Lancaster bombers finally blasted it into oblivion in November 1944, six months before the war in Europe ended. The betting here is that Hillary is more like the Tirpitz than the Bismarck—dangerous on paper, but unlikely to do anything impressive in real life.

My Dad Was Better Than John Kerry

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Former MA Senator and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is an accurate precursor for today’s 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls. Unbearably self-absorbed and phony, Kerry’s military career of was rife with controversy, surrounded by justifiable doubt regarding the legitimacy of his having been awarded three Purple Heart medals within a very short time span.  For what amounted to surface scratches incurred on three separate occasions, Kerry gleefully accepted the same citation given to real heroes who lost a limb or suffered a disfiguring injury while saving their comrades on the battlefield. Kerry should have sloughed off the very idea of accepting those Purple Hearts for injuries no worse than a shaving cut. He didn’t miss a single day of service due to those injuries. Not a day.

Unfortunately, the military does not distinguish between severity of wounds when awarding the Purple Heart. Regardless of how true or fraudulent Kerry’s Purple Heart claims are, the fact is Kerry’s having accepted the medals devalued and disrespected the serious, life-threatening injuries suffered by real soldiers in actual combat.

Critics claim that Kerry was a conniving, disingenuous shill from Day One, who always had his eye on a future political career. His preening, insufferable anti-military 1971 testimony in front of the Senate, complete with his pretentiously affected pronunciation of “Jen-Gis Con,” is so laughably transparent as to be unbelievable. Yet this dishonest, put-on, all-for-show snake-oil salesman somehow managed to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 2004. He began his acceptance speech by awkwardly saluting and squawking, “Reporting for Duty!” as if anyone in the known universe thought Kerry or any Democrat had the slightest allegiance to anything with any connection to America’s military. Since Jimmy Carter in 1976 and continuing right through today’s 2020 Democratic contenders, Democrats have been virulently anti-military, viewing its funding as robbing them of vote-bribing social program dollars and condescendingly regarding military people—from enlisted personnel all the way to senior command officers— as nothing more than unsophisticated war-mongering oafs, incapable of grasping the finer points of civilized society.

Today’s Democratic Party does not care about the good of the country as a whole, nor does any current Democratic presidential contender care about the military or understand much about its role. The Democrats are simply interested in winning elections and attaining power, not in furthering the best interests of the country. They look at the country as a big collection of special-interest groups, to be singled out as victims whose salvation shall be delivered for “free” by a Democratic-sponsored Government program. Women, blacks, Hispanics, people below the poverty line, LGBTQ, college students, seniors, and minimum-wage workers are all regarded by the Democrats as simply pieces of the electoral puzzle, to be won over with a taxpayer-funded program crafted just for them. Beneficiaries of such programs will vote for the Dems, while well-heeled liberals will assuage their personal guilt and bolster their self-esteem by voting in favor of them.

The military doesn’t fit into this plan. Military funding does not alleviate the suffering of a special-interest group in a vote-winning manner. Foreign policy success does not convince the 25-year-old with $72k outstanding in college loans to vote for you. F-35s may unerringly destroy their targets in hostile airspace but they will never shatter that supposed “glass ceiling.”

The John Kerry Democrats exploit their military service (if they even serve at all) as nothing more than a political checklist, while demeaning and devaluing the very institution they’re using to further their own personal fortunes. It’s quite a contrast to the way the Greatest Generation served their country. Very few, if any, soldiers serving in combat in WWII publicly identified themselves as Democrats or Republicans, as liberals or conservatives. They were simply Americans, united by a common goal, loyal to the country and to each other.

So it was with my dad. He served in the 338th Field Artillery Battalion in Italy. My dad was an FO (forward observer). The FOs would go to the front lines and find a suitable hiding place. There, they’d use their binoculars to observe how and where their cannon fire was landing, and they’d radio corrective instructions back to the battery.

338th Field Artillery Battalion Insignia

Obviously, the Germans hated the FOs, since they were the ones responsible for directing lethal fire down on them. One day, the Germans spotted my dad’s small group, holed up in a small abandoned house on a hill. No one knows for sure what gave their position away—perhaps it was a glint of sunlight reflecting off a binocular lens. But whatever it was, the Germans spotted them and brought their own 88mm guns to bear on the house. The Germans leveled it, with many American casualties. My dad was struck in the head by a falling beam. The survivors managed to get back to base and my dad was sent to the backlines for emergency surgery, which included the placement of a steel plate in his head.

Want to know what my dad’s most urgent request was following surgery? He wanted to know how soon he could rejoin his buddies at “B Battery.” That was not an uncommon request. U.S. soldiers had an extremely strong sense of commitment and devotion to each other and to their mission. Soldiers would routinely lie about their condition, telling the medical staff they were better than they really were, in an effort to get back to the “boys.” After the war, my dad returned home, got a degree in Civil Engineering under the GI Bill, earned a modest, respectable blue-collar salary in the construction industry and raised his family. He never spoke of the war, he never boasted about his bravery under fire, nor did he ever try to leverage his near-death Purple Heart experience for any kind of personal gain. Like millions of other WWII vets, he was simply a quiet, class guy who did his job and expected no special treatment.

John Kerry accepted three Purple Hearts for wounds no worse than falling off a bike and skinning your knee, all with the duplicitous intent of parlaying a blatantly false, inflated record of military “heroism” into a lucrative future political position. Kerry is the prototypical modern Democratic politician who is all about themselves, all about looking for electoral advantage regardless of the truth, all about Party before Country. Whether it’s favorable international trade deals, treaties/agreements between adversarial nations (like the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris Climate Accords, the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty, etc.), border security or anything else, President Trump uses just one benchmark to determine whether the U.S. will continue or withdraw from an existing agreement or enter into a new agreement: Will it benefit America?

Today’s Democrats employ Kerry-like reasoning in every move they make, in every vote they take, with every press conference or interview they give: “How will this benefit my personal power ambitions?” If the truth and the country have to suffer in subservience to personal and Party ambition, so be it.

My dad was better than that. Much better.

Let’s assume that Andrew Weissmann had a major role in writing up the Mueller Report, seeing he was the special counsel’s head prosecutor by all indications. Consider this elegantly cruel manipulation in broad daylight in the much-commented second volume (should we call the report Kill Trump Volumes 1 & 2?) on the possibility of obstruction of justice charges and whether to arrive at a “binary” conclusion that says either guilty or not guilty:

Fairness concerns counselled against potentially reaching that judgement when no charges can be brought. The ordinary means for an individual to respond to an accusation is through a speedy and public trial, with all the procedural protections that surround a criminal case. An individual who believes that he was wrongly accused can use that process to seek to clear his name. In contrast, a prosecutor’s decision that crimes were committed, but that no charges will be brought, affords no such adversarial opportunity for public name-clearing before an impartial adjudicator.

And of course, the report then goes on to list President Trump’s unseemly conduct on a number of accusations and then explore a lengthy legal theory about why they couldn’t come to a “binary” decision – yes or no on the charges of obstruction of justice. It does precisely what it says is a character smear with no recourse before a jury of peers or some other impartial adjudicator.

And then it hands off the report to Congress, suggesting between the lines that impeachment is the only logical way out of the legal conundrum that they themselves wove out of dubious cloth. I can imagine Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler, (and everyone else who want Trump’s presidency annulled by one or another means), chortling with delight as their aides pointed out the relevant passages.

And at the end they have the gall to say that no one is above the law.

But that’s wrong. President Trump is being treated as if he’s below the law, not above it. If not, he would be entitled to exactly the process that Weismann outlines in the quote above, rather than a political hit job on Trump’s running roughshod over accepted D.C. norms and regulations. Which is basically what volume II is.

From pages 215 to 218 of the report, they list the famous 10 (some say up to 15) incidents of potential obstruction of justice. All of them have been previously leaked in some form or another. Many are unseemly and show that President Trump’s cabinet (which Ben Domenech recently wrote in The Transom was the equivalent to inviting the first 2000 people through the gate at a Bruins game to apply for the various White House jobs – very funny but a little too flippant if a little too real at the same time) actually respected the legal and political processes far more than he did.

Yes, some of it is uncomfortable, especially his orders to former White House Counsel Don McGahn regarding AG Session’s recusal, orders that McGahn refused to carry out through delays and various stonewalling tactics apparently. And here Weissmann’s paradox – a nifty steel trap that is circular in its logic – works beautifully. It goes something like this:

Because accusing the President of obstruction of justice would cripple his administration, we have raised the bar for obstruction to a higher level than we would otherwise and when the SOB is impeached, we’ll hopefully have provided the evidence for criminal charges when he’s no longer in the White House. We’ll give you a break Mr. President and let the whole world know that you’re basically a criminal in so doing.

That is Kafka, pure and straight.

With no way out except precisely the way Trump has been fighting it: in the court of public opinion in social media and in the media in general. Which in part was what got the president in trouble. Had he not tweeted about the investigation there would be a much shorter list of possible obstruction incidents. But had he not tweeted, he wouldn’t have alerted his base and the world in general to what has been essentially a political process from the get-go.

In a speech given at Hillsdale College in May of last year, John Marini advanced a fascinating and disturbing theory that links Watergate directly to the Mueller probe and the function of the special counsel or special prosecutor. Before you start cheering in the hope that it adds another plank in the obstruction narrative that even now is evolving into a conflicts and cover-up narrative, think again. Marini’s speech was about how Watergate was in essence a savage pushback by the administrative state against an electorally popular president (Nixon swept the 72 elections to crush McGovern) who was reportedly planning to reign in government in DC and cut back the sprawling edifice that every president from FDR through LBJ had helped enlarge. Here’s Marini:

I recall being struck at the time of Watergate by the fact that there was a tremendous mobilization of partisan opinion against Nixon, but very little partisan mobilization in Nixon’s defense. The reason for this, in retrospect, is that it is difficult—if not impossible—to mobilize partisan support once the contest is removed from the political arena and placed in the hands of prosecutors, grand juries, and judges. Nixon believed, correctly, that his partisan enemies were trying to destroy him. But even Republicans in Congress came to accept Watergate primarily in legal terms. The most remembered line from a Nixon defender was that of Senator Howard Baker: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” Nixon quickly became boxed in; he was limited to making a legal, rather than political, defense of his office.

Trump – instinctively rather than as a reasoned strategy even if he was already in his 20’s and working in real estate when the Watergate scandal played out across America and the world – has refused to make the same mistake as Nixon. He’s fought back politically recognizing and declaring to the world that Mueller has always been a political, rather than a legal process.

History may yet prove him right.

James Hohmann in his Daily 202 published a list of the size of charitable donations that major Democrat primary contenders have given in years past; as a percentage relative to their total income. Something that is possible because they have released their tax returns for the public to see. It’s interesting to read the list on the eve of Maundy Thursday – or Holy Thursday as it is now more commonly called – and reflect on what charity means in 2019.

The answer seems to lie with who’s at the top of the list as the most generous giver to charity: Elizabeth Warren and her husband at 5.5% of their total income. And as we know, Warren favors stringent regulation of the financial industry and higher taxes to pay for elaborate all-consuming social programs. But at least she’s consistent with her dogma.

At the other end of the spectrum is President Trump who maintains his taxes are none of our damn business. Which is a fairly American way of viewing the question of charity, even as America and Americans are by far the most generous givers on the planet towards charitable causes. Unlike many European countries that insist that the state should fill the gap, funded by high taxes of course.

Faith and works.

A long-puzzled-over verse from Paul the Apostle (I’ve already given away my team by naming St. Paul in such a manner) engages in an excruciatingly elegant and complex meditation on faith and works in his letter to the Galatians. Faith and works. Christians have killed and tortured and died over how to interpret those words so it can leave one weary of the endless argument that today still lives on in unexpected ways.

Like when we talk about taxes.

One can argue that the moral righteousness that some statists seem to infuse their fiscal arguments with comes from the argument over how to balance faith and works, with the statists obviously coming down on the side of works.

Government works of course.

So while Warren is surely pleased that her charitable giving (as a percentage) swamps the very frugal and very wealthy Beto O’Rourke (who gave a fraction of a percent of his and his wife’s total income), she’d much rather have her charitable giving nailed down by the IRS with a steeply progressive tax rate codified into law by a Socially Democratic Congress.

And that brings up a further point. The only way for works to be truly acceptable to the progressive woke crowd that have taken over the Democratic Party is for the IRS to raise taxes, and charity be damned. So that’s just one more reason for moderate Catholics to feel they no longer belong as Democrats, aside from the principal reason they feel that way which is the abortion issue.

But interestingly as Michael Warren Davis (who edits the Catholic Herald) writes in the Washington Examiner, Catholics are no longer a voting block the way Evangelicals are:

Catholics are such a diverse group, and we’ve become so thoroughly integrated into mainstream America, that we represent the “average American voter” better than any other denomination. A 2016 Pew poll found that 37% of Catholics are Republican and 44% are Democrats. That’s precisely the mean of all U.S. adults. With apologies to Ohio, Catholics are the most accurate bellwether in presidential politics.

We’ve spent centuries dispelling myths about papal plots to overthrow the government, proving to our Protestant neighbors that we’re average, harmless Americans, and this is what it’s gotten us. There’s not even a “Catholic vote” to speak of — nothing comparable to the coveted evangelical vote, anyway. If there were, 25% of the electorate would go to a party that agrees with Ocasio-Cortez on economic and environmental policy but to former Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum on social issues. Instead, at least half of Catholics will continue to vote for Democrats …

Even as abortion on demand becomes a litmus test for party candidates.

As signs of a growing gap between moderate Democrats (who are still arguably a majority of Democrat voters) and the party leadership become evident, one has to ask whether conservative Catholics will continue moving to the GOP to enough of an extent for them to be able to claim the GOP as their home. Or whether in America, Catholics are truly universal and reflect the broad cultural outlines of the country to such an extent that their identity and faith melt into the background.

A similar set of concerns with regard to Jewish Americans was expressed in a recent piece in Tablet written by Adam Garfinkle titled: The Collapse – Is this the end of American Jewry’s Golden Age? In the article, Garfinkle writes:

One of those reasons is that American Jews are rapidly and irreversibly becoming politically homeless. They are losing their “natural” political hearth in the Democratic Party. Partisan political support for Israel has shifted sharply to an increasingly white-populist GOP—a party the vast majority of American Jews will never feel at home in.

One can’t help but conclude that diversity of faith and culture is being driven out of the Democratic Party by hard-left identity politics puritans. It’s long past time for the GOP to truly and generously make room for them, whatever the protestations that they already have been doing so for some time now. It’s just that right now the party of LIncoln is a more populist and nativist party for understandable reasons.

But that may not prevent the GOP from ending up being the more diverse party in a few years time. It just may be possible, as long as you define diversity as something more than politically prescribed identity.

And give faith and works enough space to co-exist.

Among the various Democrat electoral strategies that involve attempts at damaging President Trump with the hope of preventing a win in 2020, we have the tax-return strategy. Now that Mueller has failed to come up with the goods, and given that most people realize that Nadler and company in Congress will be going over the same ground as Mueller with not nearly the same resources (neither financial nor in terms of expert prosecutors) in order to try and score political points, we have the spotlight turning towards Trump’s tax returns.

The language being used, as usual when it comes to the Trump opposition, is both apocalyptical and self-righteous. Here’s Steve Rosenthal at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, as quoted in The Hill:

[The] request tests Mnuchin’s oath of office: whether Mnuchin will faithfully execute the laws of the United States, or whether Mnuchin will bend to the will of the president.

Which also sets up the narrative of Mnuchin the faithful loyalist who’s breaking the rules for evil President Trump. But, Rosenthal’s over-the-top assertions aside, is the Secretary of the Treasury actually breaking any rules by declining to release the president’s tax returns?

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts is reportedly using U.S. Code Section 6103 (f) as a way to try and force the IRS, and therefore Mnuchin (given that the Internal Revenue Agency is part of Treasury), to disclose President Trump’s tax returns from the past few years. Here’s what U.S. Code Section 6103 (which deals with disclosure of tax information by the IRS and which in most cases stringently prohibits it) subsection (f) in part states:

Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request, except that any return or return information which can be associated with, or otherwise identify, directly or indirectly, a particular taxpayer shall be furnished to such committee only when sitting in closed executive session unless such taxpayer otherwise consents in writing to such disclosure.

In closed executive session. How reassuring, right? No problem with leaks from those sessions if it ever actually happens that President Trump’s lawyers accede to Chairman Neal’s written request.

While Section 6103 (f) provides the technical loophole that Democrats have been looking for, is it constitutional to force disclosure of a president’s tax returns?

Let’s start with the fact that income tax was nowhere in the constitution and income taxes didn’t appear until Lincoln needed to finance the Civil War and Congress established a tax in 1861 for that purpose. Then early in the 20th century, more income taxes on corporations followed. However, as David Herzig, a tax expert, outlines in Forbes the presumption was that taxes were public information:

When enacting the country’s first federal income tax to finance the Civil War, in 1861, Congress provided that all returns should be “open for examination.” Likewise, when Congress came up with the first income tax for corporations, in 1909, the law provided the returns “shall constitute public records and be open to inspection as such.”

But, by the 1920’s and 1930’s, the pendulum had shifted to privacy. These rules and norms were memorialized by the 1970s and 1980s in IRC section 6103.

In other words, U.S. Code Section 6103 was enacted by Congress some 30 to 40 years ago to push back against IRS disclosure of private tax information and to provide a wall of privacy. So, what we have is a tension between freedom of information and privacy. Here’s Herzig again:

IRC section 6103, protects taxpayers from forced disclosure and trumps the primary legislation for disclosure, the Freedom of Information Act. FOIA enables the public to inspect rulings and many other IRS documents, files, and memoranda, but it does not encompass “matters [that are] specifically exempted from disclosure by statute,” e.g., IRC section 6103.

Mnuchin is caught in this crossfire between administrative state regulations and Congress which of course enacted those very regulations in the 70’s and 80’s.

President Trump, as a political choice, should have been more amenable to releasing his returns. His refusal seems to reflect his thinking as a businessman rather than as a politician, which is part of why he was elected. But now we have a tactic that Democrats are going to use to hint darkly that Trump must have debts with Russian banks or goodness knows what else and this compromises him.

The problem is changing key norms dealing with taxes because Trump is president. This is something Congress should legislate if they truly believe they should make it law that any nominee for President has a legal obligation to release their tax returns. As Herzig writes:

By amending IRC section 6103 for presidents, vice-presidents or some subset (i.e., party nominees), Congress can rebalance the rules. But approaching legislation in a knee-jerk fashion is problematic. It is no fun to say we should weigh and contemplate such a change, but it is necessary.

Americans value privacy.

Or do they?

In answering that question, it is interesting to note that the two New York legislators who are pushing for a law obliging the release of tax returns for top officials in New York State, have themselves reportedly not yet done so.

If we’re going to return to a presumption that individual tax returns are public information at least for certain offices in government, then the Federal Government (rather than individual states) may be the way to go. But would that mean that private taxpayers are next?

Tax returns as instruments of shaming private citizens and not just politicians in the public square? Think about that as you consider what AOC tweeted:

We didn’t ask you.

Arizona’s Department of Child Safety is Out of Control

In Arizona at the end of February, a family lost custody of their 3 children to the Department of Child Safety, or DCS, because of a fever. And now in late March they still don’t know when or even if they will regain custody. That will be decided by the DCS and the state’s court system. Not by the children’s parents.

This is about the state’s (in both the general and the specific sense of the word) treatment of parents who do not abide by their rules and regulations. And yes, it’s also – tangentially – about anti-vaxxers.

Let me be clear. My 8-year old son has been vaccinated thoroughly. As a child in Venezuela in the oil fields way back when, I along with my brother and sister used to get big mutha booster shots every year (with a bar of chocolate afterwards if I didn’t kick the nurses – imagine what happens today in our militarized world if a 7 or 8-year old kicks at a nurse). While my ability to do statistics or differential calculus is to be polite, limited, I don’t seem to have developed autism.

Are there some children who may be more vulnerable to conditions like autism, and who are affected by vaccinations, which might be a factor amongst others in their developing the condition? Perhaps yes, although that’s a debate that’s still ongoing. Should parents vaccinate their children? Yes, at least from some fairly serious diseases.

Like meningitis, for example.

Last February 25, a family brought a young child to a doctor in Tempe, Arizona because of a fever. Here’s azcentral.com with the story:

On February 25, the mother took her 2-year-old boy to the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine clinic in Tempe, according to Chandler police records.

It was dinner time. But the toddler’s fever had spiked to over 100 degrees.

The doctor asked if the child had his vaccinations.

The mother said no.

Concerned that a lethargic child with a fever and lacking vaccinations could have meningitis, the doctor instructed the mother to take the child to the emergency department at Banner Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa, according to attorneys at a March 7 court hearing following the removal of the children.

The child reportedly improved while at the doctor’s office and the parents took the child home and took its temperature and found the fever had gone. They called the doctor to say they wouldn’t take the child to the hospital, but the doctor insisted they should.

What followed was a staged escalation going back and forth between the DCS who had been informed presumably by the doctor and the family and the police. It ended like this, as azcentral.com reported:

It was after 1 a.m. when officers kicked down the family’s door. One officer carried a shield, while another was described as having “lethal coverage.” Officers pointing guns yelled, “Chandler Police Department,” and entered the house.

The father came to the door. Officers placed him in handcuffs and took him and the mother outside. Inside, they found a juvenile who said she was sick and had thrown up in her bed.

Officers said the home was “messy” with clothing piles and concrete floors. In the parent’s room, a shotgun lay next to the bed, according to police records.

The caseworker spoke with two of the children without their parents present. He told officers it was “necessary to obtain a temporary custody order” for the parents’ two other children, according to police records.

Since there was no “criminal incident” and because the mother refused, no photos were taken inside the home, according to the police records.

Neither of the parents was arrested.

Officials took the parents’ three children to Banner Cardon Medical Center.

Next stop for the 3 kids: foster care, as in 3 separate foster homes for them. Separated with strange people in a strange home because their sister or brother had had a fever (and apparently had RSV, a respiratory disease which can cause serious problems … like most minor infections can).

According to the parents’ attorneys the DSC is out to punish the parents because of their lack of cooperation with the bureaucracy that indeed has the power to remove and hold your children. And they can and will use a SWAT team to achieve that.

But the problem is far deeper and broader. It’s the fact that the DSC exists at all. That a government agency has extensive powers which it can and does abuse by reaching into homes and tearing apart families. Arizona passed legislation requiring warrants before this type of home invasion by DSC officials and police could be done, but it hasn’t helped much. Here’s azcentral.com again:

DCS placed 4,649 children into the foster-care system in the six-month period that ended December 2018, according to DCS data. In the six-month period prior to the July law, DCS removed 4,887 children.

That’s down from a high mark of 6,815 in fall 2015, when nearly 19,000 children were in the foster-care system and families and child-welfare advocates began pushing for a warrant law.

Is the anti-vaxxer movement a conspiracy-ridden fringe group? Maybe in some eyes, like that of the family doctor or the DSC officials, or the police officers or even the judge. But when you read the facts of this story, it’s hard not to think that anti-vaxxers’ paranoia is sometimes justified.

What is the situation like now?

On March 15, the father told The Republic that DCS had placed their three children with his parents.

“We get to see them again,” he said. “Thank God.”

He still can’t shake the night police kicked down their door and entered his home with guns drawn. He still can’t believe they took all three of their children.

He said he has asked DCS why the caseworker never presented himself and showed a warrant for removal, but he hasn’t received a clear answer.

“I know people have the right not to let the police into their home,” he said. “But if the caseworker had called me or knocked, and shown me their warrant, I would’ve let them in.”

He said home security video showed police had stated they had a DCS warrant for removal, but the family didn’t hear them because they were sleeping in the back bedrooms with their sick children.

The judge’s approval of DCS’ request for psychological evaluations has created another barrier to regaining custody of their children, he said. The wait for an evaluation is months, he said.

Just to be clear, the psychological evaluations will be done on the parents to ensure they are “fit” to have custody of their children. This is Gestapo/Soviet tactics. Break down your door in the middle of the night. Take away your children. Evaluate you and your spouse psychologically to see if you answer the right way and then decide if you can have your kids back.

This is an out-of-control bureaucracy acting in conjunction with a police force in a state that has something of a reputation for heavy handedness in its police departments (the exterminator from out of state that was shot in an apartment or hotel hallway as he crawled on his belly towards heavily armed policemen, as he was trying to satisfy the psychotic instructions of an unseen sheriff, for example). The result has been a nightmare for those parents.

There’s another story about anti-vaxxers in Oregon whose son came down with tetanus (lockjaw it used to be called because that’s what happens when muscles clench uncontrollably in your body) after getting cut playing in the yard. Here’s Alex Berezow of ACSH (American Council on Science and Health a sort of activist pro-all-things-chemistry/science group that does some interesting work) on his opinion of the parents of that boy who came close to dying a horrific death and who still reportedly hasn’t had a tetanus shot:

In my opinion, this is a clear-cut case of child abuse. There’s no moral difference between this case and that of parents who for bizarre religious reasons decide not to provide medical care to their children. The parents should lose custody of the boy, and they should do time in prison.

If you’re an anti-vaxxer, there should be consequences for your irrational, self-centered, destructive behavior.

In other words, the traditional weight of a family has zero valence here. And even in the case in Arizona, I suspect. That’s the thinking that leads to the DSC ripping 3 kids from their home.

Yes, perhaps at some point authorities have to intervene to protect children. But the possibility of abuse, as illustrated in Arizona but not in Oregon, is an unintended consequence we should all be wary of.

I’m sorry, that’s not right. The abuse of power by agencies like the DSC in Arizona is not an unintended consequence. It’s the raison d’etre:

To “rationally” deconstruct the family rather than only interfere in clear-cut cases of abuse.

There was Black List first, then Black Mirror, and now we have a hot show coming to you straight from the Ukraine. A reality show, of course, because it involves yet another angle on the 2016 presidential election and campaign. The new show is called:

“Black Ledger.”

Or at least it should be, if it ever gets made into a documentary and then into an international, ostrich-coated, man-of-mystery spy thriller.

From tragedy to farce. But please this actually is interesting and could be quite important. The basic premise, based on a newly opened investigation with a new prosecutor, is that the DNC and Hillary campaign and even the Obama administration colluded with the Ukraine, and the investigation and prosecutor are Ukrainian, not beltway veterans.

I remember blogging here a couple of years ago on a strange event in the basement of Capitol Hill, I believe, that was set up to appear to its audience as the proceedings of the House or Senate. It was actually a meet and greet information session between some members of Congress and Ukrainian politicians. And the intended audience was Ukrainian of course. As the article had said, “Welcome to the strange world of Ukrainian politics.”

This latest investigation deals with the so-called black ledger detailing multi-million-dollar payments to Manafort which reportedly was found in an empty safe apparently belonging to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych who was a close ally of Putin. The accusation seems to be that the ledger was leaked by Ukrainian security officials in order to push back against and discredit Yanukovych’s Russia-friendly policies. And also to help Hillary Clinton win the election.

Look, we’re dealing with a Ukrainian prosecutor – Yurii Lutsenko – who may have political axes to grind. Like the Russian intel sources for Steele’s dossier almost certainly had a disruptive agenda in mind when an ex-MI6 spy came a begging for some electoral dirt on Trump. Seeing many of them were former or current Russian intelligence officials themselves. So, skepticism is in order here. But here’s The Hill’s John Solomon back on Thursday:

We now have strong evidence that retired British spy Christopher Steele began his quest in what ultimately became the infamous Russia collusion dossier with a series of conversations with top Justice Department official Bruce Ohr between December 2015 and February 2016 about securing evidence against Manafort.

We know the FBI set up shop in the U.S. embassy in Kiev to assist its Ukraine–Manafort inquiry — a common practice on foreign-based probes — while using Steele as an informant at the start of its Russia probe. And we know Clinton’s campaign was using a law firm to pay an opposition research firm for Steele’s work in an effort to stop Trump from winning the presidency, at the same time Steele was aiding the FBI.

As well, we also have an interesting nexus between major American intel players and some foreign officials that may have been involved in a Democrat-Ukraine scheme to discredit Manafort (not a very tough objective to achieve, admittedly) and prevent Trump from winning the election.

The Atlantic Council.

The Atlantic Council is a Washington-based think tank with a clear interest in America’s relationship with Europe, both West and East. It in fact has an initiative promoting Ukraine’s move from a Russian ally to a Western European ally, in itself a good if somewhat tricky goal to have. So with Putin’s invasion of Crimea and it’s hybrid warfare in the Donetsk region in the east of Ukraine, suddenly the tension between NATO-led ambitions and Putin’s Kremlin became explicit and far more dangerous.

Enter Trump as a candidate who still professes a rather puzzling admiration for Putin, a distasteful authoritarian who likely has far more blood on his hands than is evident at first glance, and you can imagine alarm bells going off in places like the Atlantic Council. Guess who is a key member?

James Clapper.

As well a Ukrainian billionaire named Victor Pinchuk is or was also a member of the Atlantic Council. He’s also been a major contributor to the Clinton Foundation in the past. Here’s Elizabeth Vaughn at Red State:

Pinchuk serves on the International Advisory Board of a Washington-based think tank called the Atlantic Council. This group is “connected to Ukrainian interests through its “Ukraine in Europe Initiative,” which is designed to galvanize international support for an independent Ukraine within secure borders whose people will determine their own future.”

As well, as claimed in Dan Bongino’s book Spygate, Vaughn affirms:

Bongino discovered that the Chief Technology Officer of “the only company that investigated the hacking of the DNC’s servers and quickly determined it was the Russians, is a nonresident senior fellow in cybersecurity” at the Atlantic Council. His name is Dmitri Alperovitch.

Now it may be that Alperovitch turns out to be a Ukrainian (if he indeed is Ukrainian) well-versed in Russian hacking techniques, and just be a coincidence he happens to have been the perfect hire to investigate the DNC server hack.

There’s at least one more key player.

Alexandra Chalupa.

She’s an American-Ukrainian lawyer with ties to the DNC where she worked as a staffer/consultant from 2004 to 2016, as well as with the Clinton administration where she worked in the White House Office of Public Liaison. Apparently, as Elizabeth Vaughn tells it, she hated Manafort for his role in getting President Yanukovych re-elected in 2010 as well as for doing work for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. Here’s Vaughn writing at Red State:

In the spring of 2016, she worked feverishly to destroy Paul Manafort and to promote the theory that Trump was colluding with the Russians to win the presidency. Chalupa’s smear campaign involved journalists and diplomats as well as contacts inside the DNC.

Apparently Chalupa emailed a colleague at the DNC back in the summer of 2016 where she wrote:

they put me on the program specifically to speak about Paul Manafort and I invited Michael Isikoff who I’ve been working with for the past few weeks and connected him to the Ukrainians. More offline tomorrow since there is a big Trump component you and Lauren need to be aware of that will hit in the next few weeks.

This provides a fascinating backlight to America’s intel community and its role in the Russia probe. And it may have been driven in large part by Ukrainian pro-Western activists and their sympathizers in DC. Because if the world was a little less crazy right now, maybe we’d realize that the old Berlin Wall now runs through Eastern Ukraine and just West of the Crimean Peninsula. Of course, it’s also true that Putin is no Brezhnev nor a Khrushchev, never mind Stalin. And Russia is a far cry from the Soviet Union. So we don’t focus on the conflict in the Ukraine the way we did for example during the Berlin Airlift in the late 40’s. Or when the wall went up at the start of the 60’s.

But to people like Alexandra Chalupa, and perhaps even people like James Clapper, Russian aggression against the Ukraine is almost the equivalent of the Soviet Invasion of Hungary or Czechoslovakia back in 1956 and 1968. And that made them willing to destroy Paul Manafort and attempt to discredit and even destroy Candidate Trump. And President Trump.

Elizabeth Vaughn will be blogging more on this at Red State. We should all pay attention and perhaps buy Bognino’s book. It adds a possible motivation to the Trump Resistance that hasn’t been directly talked about, beyond comments on his seemingly strange admiration for Putin. But this has more to do with the goal of a politically and culturally Western Ukraine.

And it has to do with a global, NATO-led and US-led world order. The kind that Bush 41 envisioned and worked quite skillfully to achieve as the Berlin Wall came down. And the kind that President Trump has little patience for.

No wonder they still want to destroy him in places like The Atlantic Council.

In the first few months or even weeks of the Trump administration there was a slight scandal about somebody’s comments regarding Kellyanne Conway and the article’s accompanying photograph showed Conway splendidly texting on her iPhone with a wry grin on her face while seated on a sofa of some sort in the White House. I remember looking at the photo and thinking:

Who’s she texting with?

Back in late January, Vanity Fair published a few choice excerpts from Team of Vipers by former aide Cliff Sims – a pollster like Conway and one who founded his own firm, just like Kellyanne as well – that laid into President Trump’s special counsellor and described how she was a double-faced survivor who trashed most of her colleagues to members of the press in private while professing loyalty to Trump in public. Here’s one of those excerpts:

Kellyanne was sitting at her desk texting away. Over the course of 20 minutes or so, she was having simultaneous conversations with no fewer than a half-dozen reporters, most of them from outlets the White House frequently trashed for publishing ‘fake news.’ Journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Politico, and Bloomberg were all popping up on the screen. And these weren’t policy conversations, or attempts to fend off attacks on the president. As I sat there trying to type, she bashed Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and Sean Spicer, all by name.

Conway, who according to Sims, did and said things that seemed poll-tested by a focus group that existed inside her mind, responded in kind:

The real leakers, past and present, get much more positive press than I do. While it’s rare, I prefer to knife people from the front, so they see it coming.

Was that statement in response to the Vanity Fair excerpts poll-tested in Conway’s mind? Was Sims’ book poll-tested in his own mind? And is saying that merely stating a truism in today’s political world, driven in large part by social media? Or is Conway truly untrustworthy and in fact a dangerously disruptive force in Trump’s White House? And if so, isn’t that kind of the way President Trump likes things?

Which brings us to good old George Conway, Kellyanne’s husband, a lawyer with lots of beltway experience who has been attacking his wife’s boss with a crazed gusto that makes one wonder what the hell is going on. Conway’s Twitter rants against Trump essentially claim President Trump is mentally unstable and presumably deserves the 25th. Although George Conway hasn’t quite spelled that out in such an explicit way but merely left large gooey drops of crapola to be connected by a hopefully disgusted public, in his view.

President Trump has ignored Conway’s attacks for the last couple of years, but he swung back a few days ago with this Tweet:

George Conway, often referred to as Mr. Kellyanne Conway by those who know him, is VERY jealous of his wife’s success & angry that I, with her help, didn’t give him the job he so desperately wanted. I barely know him but just take a look, a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!

The speculation around George Conway’s motives centers on an appointment to run the DOJ’s Civil Division that never came to fruition. And ever since, so the theory goes, George has been on a vengeful tear because of what he supposedly feels was denied him.

In a town like Washington D.C. this sort of thing is assuredly trite, given the ambitions and ruthlessness of many who inhabit the marshy lowlands near the Potomac. It’s even fairly trite in that it involves a power couple, one of whom ended up far more powerful than who had been presumably the more powerful member of the team. Again, a rather common thing in the beltway.

What’s different about this spat, of course, is that it’s being played out on Twitter and it involves the husband of a close counsellor to the president. And it makes one wonder if Kellyanne Conway shares her husband’s ruthless ambition even as she sits in the White House and is gladly leaking left, right, and center in order to undermine other members of the executive. Again, this happens in D.C. but not at the scale seen, especially early on, in Trump’s administration.

But President Trump seems to view Kellyanne Conway as an essential part of his team, especially because she often is the one who hits the media circuit to defend Trump’s policies in front of a hostile crowd, or to rationalize some of his impulses. Is she therefore willing to trash even Ivanka and Jared if she feels it will provide Trump with some breathing room? Or is she just knifing competitors in the back, despite her insistence that she only does full-frontal knifings?

Because if Trump decides she’s the latter – only out for herself – then her husband’s Tweets may cause the President to view Kellyanne Conway as too much of a liability. If Trump, however, sticks with her despite husband George’s rants, then we can assume that she is indeed a key, and trusted, member of the West Wing.

Either way, look for her to sign a yuge publishing deal for a tell-all when she does eventually leave.

He’s reportedly Australian, almost thirty. He wanted to show that gun control laws are absurd by legally buying 5 or more weapons that are not banned in New Zealand and slaughtering worshipers in their mosque on Friday prayers and therefore ensuring the 2nd amendment is overruled/banned or something. Thus, starting a race war in America which, in his crazed mind, would:

• Liberate the white race, and
• Crush America’s world dominance

How do you spot a fiendish madman before he commits an atrocity?

You have 3 main ways of responding to that impossible question:

• Somehow find a way to monitor and identify potential shooters, who may be sociopaths who are very adept at concealing who they really are and what they are planning to do. Or incur enormous costs by establishing monitoring forces, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter’s platforms, in order to monitor all of us and track our every move and every word typed into sites from 8chan to Facebook and therefore use AI to ensure not that we become a hi-tech paradise but rather that we stop killing each other, But what do you do when a killer livestreams on social media as apparently he did?

• Ban and then confiscate most (or all) weapons not in the hands of state-sanctioned security forces without detaining or actually having security forces shooting at millions of gun owners in the process, or

• Affirm that in a free world, it’s next to impossible to predict and identify mass shooters and therefore most people should be armed in order to minimize the effects of an attempted shooting.

All are sub-optimal choices to put it mildly.

Australia placed fairly severe limits on gun ownership in 1996 after the mass shooting in Port Arthur, Tasmania. The results, according to a study by Chapman, Alpers, Agho, and Jones were positive:

Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms were followed by more than a decade free of fatal mass shootings, and accelerated declines in firearm deaths, particularly suicides. Total homicide rates followed the same pattern. Removing large numbers of rapid-firing firearms from civilians may be an effective way of reducing mass shootings, firearm homicides and firearm suicides.

Some other studies supposedly say the effect of the gun laws has been quite limited. New Zealand’s gun laws, on the other hand, seem to be focused on owners rather than types of weapons the way Australia’s gun laws are and instead rely on local police vetting. They didn’t vet Brenton Tarrant – the reported suspect – sufficiently but perhaps the fact that he was an Australian who was either living or visiting in New Zealand meant the shooter could slip through the cracks.

Beyond the fact it was a shooting this was a hate crime and it will raise the issue of islamophobia everywhere and will also be used to silence any criticism of Islam by some. It doesn’t matter. Right now, it’s more important than ever to find a way – or for each society to find a way – to put an end to mass shootings. However sub-optimal the choices appear right now.

It’s worth noting, for example, that in Australia their gun control laws seem to have overwhelming public support. But it’s also worth noting that Australia has less than 10% of America’s population while being an enormous country. So, whether Australia’s solution works elsewhere depends on where that else is.

New Zealand and America, and other nations, will each have to find their own way. Hopefully one that doesn’t invovle far more violence than the horrors unleashed in Christchurch.

I remember writing about the young girl in grade school who thought her parents were sleeping and was worried about getting to school and getting her homework in to the teacher on time. Her parents weren’t sleeping of course.

They were dead of an opioid overdose.

How do you deal with that? How do you try and prevent the opioid crisis that is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year?

It seems you DON’T do what the government has done over the past year or so. Especially the decisions that were taken by ex-AG Jeff Sessions who basically decided that the DEA would be the best qualified agency to ensure that a severe, chronic-pain sufferer’s dosages are adequate. Here’s why the former AG and the government in general have created unintended consequences as a result of their policy prescriptions for the opioid crisis.

They believed the myth that opioid abuse – the heart of the crisis – is essentially a case of patients abusing their pain medication.

It’s not. As Henry Miller and Josh Bloom write in their article in the Washington Examiner:

“True addiction in pain patients is rare. Many scholarly reviews have concluded that the addiction rate is less than one percent even in patients who have required long-term opioid medication for severe pain due to injury or illness. The current death toll from opioid use is largely the result of abuse, not medical use, of these drugs. And yet, as of last October, 33 states had instituted laws that restrict opioid prescribing in some way.”

And this misguided belief has led to true pain sufferers to be deprived of the medication that makes their lives bearable. As Miller and Bloom write:

“Enter the law of unintended consequences. Opioids, including fentanyl, morphine, and hydromorphone, some of our most important and potent analgesics, which are commonly used in patients with advanced cancer and for pain control after surgery, are now in shortage, according to the Food and Drug Administration. All of these drugs had their manufacturing quotas reduced by the feds
.
Thus, the feds’ actions have succeeded not in ameliorating the scourge of opioid abuse and overdoses, which results from drugs made in China and elsewhere abroad smuggled across our borders, but in unnecessarily causing several other problems. These include a shortage of critical drugs produced by legitimate manufacturers and expanding the market and boosting the street price for illegal, dangerous imports.”

The real problem is twofold:
• People who for a number of reasons are already substance abusers turning to illegally-made, smuggled opioids to get high, and often dying as a result.
• A flood of those illegally-produced and smuggled opioids entering America with China bearing much of the blame as well as both ports of entry in general and the southern border also being responsible for the crisis.

By having the DEA decide what the level of prescription opioids should be, the government is ignoring the complex nature of painkillers and how each individual patient reacts differently, not only based on weight and body mass index but also on other factors like their metabolism which affects how they absorb the painkiller. You can’t impose standardized dosages on patients. And because the DEA is effectively doing that, real pain sufferers are going without sufficient painkillers. Their lives are literally unbearable in many cases.

As Miller (a physician and molecular biologist) and Bloom (a PhD in organic chemistry) argue:

“The decades-long war on drugs, which has never succeeded in controlling abuse or addiction, has now mistakenly declared American drug companies and doctors to be the enemy. In the name of addressing a crisis, we are focusing on the wrong targets and sacrificing freedoms in a new, dangerous way. That’s a prescription for disaster.”

Yes Mr. ex-AG Sessions, there is a moral problem here that’s also a societal problem. Healthy, happy and reasonably fulfilled people don’t take opioids for the fun of it. They have a problem. But the blunt instruments you and the DEA put together don’t even target the real culprits (who are also the victims of this crisis of course). They go after honest patients trying to deal with unbearable pain and the doctors and pharmacists who help them – a few notorious over-prescribers excepted.

Sessions and the DEA mis-diagnosed the problem. But of course, they would. They’re lawyers, bureaucrats and cops. Not doctors. What do we call that?

Quacks, I seem to remember was the term.

As the House passes a resolution condemning a fought-over list of bigotries – including anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and white supremacy – with reportedly 23 GOP members voting no because of the inclusion of Islamophobia and white supremacy in what was originally supposed to be a Democrat-controlled response to Representative Omar’s remarks, there is an interesting idea for a further resolution.

Supreme policy wonk Mark Jacobs (who has burrowed deep and wide into the details of healthcare policy for the GOP) suggests in The Federalist that the GOP use a Motion to Recommit (a procedure whereby the minority in the House gets a final shot at amending a bill brought forward by the majority) to force a vote on the Green New Deal. This would be the flipside of the tactic used last week when the GOP used a motion to recommit to get moderate Democrats to agree to notify immigration authorities when illegals try to purchase guns. Supposedly we all want less guns because they say that means less violence, right? What’s not to like about that?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blew a gasket at a closed-door meeting, according to the Washington Post:

Ocasio-Cortez, the unquestioned media superstar of the freshman class, upped the ante, admonishing the moderates and indicating she would help liberal activists unseat them in the 2020 election. Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, said she told her colleagues that Democrats who side with Republicans ‘are putting themselves on a list.’

‘She said that when activists ask her why she had to vote for a gun safety bill that also further empowers an agency that forcibly injects kids with psychotropic drugs, they’re going to want a list of names and she’s going to give it to them,’ Trent said, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

So now by using a Motion to Recommit which entails a vote on the Green New Deal the GOP would be appealing to radical progressives in the Democratic Party to vote for the enormously expensive and poorly thought-out plan, and force moderate Dems to decide if they would really vote for this sort of top-down ecological Maoism.

Yes, it’s theatrics and it’s meant to prod and provoke and reveal the divisions within the Democratic Party. But the fascinating question is, how would AOC react? I have an idea it might go something like this:

If you think I’m letting a bunch of old white guys get to decide when and how we save America by banning the internal combustion engine and slaughtering farting cows and selling Amtrak to the Chinese so they can build high-speed trains where our highways once stood, you have no idea who you’re dealing with! This resolution is immoral because of who you guys are. Not because of what it contains! Don’t you guys get it?

That’s the thing about intersectionality. Hypocrisy disappears because it is now irrelevant. You see you can change an idea, or a policy stance perhaps based on evidence that has convinced you to shift your position. Or on the polls and the fact that now your party has the majority. But changing who you are is much harder (and more expensive) to do. And we the identity police will decide who you are. Not you. You don’t even have control of who you are. We do. Ha. Ha.

So, as delicious as Mark Jacob’s idea is, it won’t work. The Democrats who would actually have the decency to be uncomfortable with the blatant hypocrisy of not voting for a Motion to Recommit on the Green New Deal (which will supposedly save us from destruction) are now cowed into silence. It will be AOC and her Gang of Three who will explain why hypocrisy is gone, dead, vanished, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible.

When identity is everything, then hypocrisy is nothing.

Of course, AOC would vote against such a Motion to Recommit without a trace of guilt or discomfort. She’d in fact do it in a bout of righteous rage. It’s all about who she is and the crazed paradises she’s pointing towards, not what she says or how to get there.

It has been suggested that the Speaker of the House is not Nancy Pelosi, it’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And if you could measure the role of Speaker by the amount of words unleashed while actually speaking (or tweeting to be a little more accurate), then it ain’t even close. AOC is House Speaker, threatening moderate Democrats with primary opponents if they ever vote for a GOP measure or add-on to a bill, tweeting furiously and unapologetically and gathering up her cohorts Tlaib and Omar in a sort of Gang of Three who are absolutely and completely and self-righteously sure of the supreme truths of their radicalism.

And it’s working for AOC.

Look at the recent flap over Omar and her supposed tropes about Benjamins (that would be the smiling face of Franklin surrounded by the number 100 on a crisp green surface) and dual allegiances. They were going to have a House vote to condemn anti-Semitism and by extension Omar’s words on the matter, which are not figurative but quite literal in intention and effect.

What did Nancy do?
• Say that she didn’t think the comments were: intentionally anti-Semitic, AND
• Express her doubt that a vote on the resolution to condemn anti-Semitism would actually take place

Here’s what AOC did.

Equate ICE with racism with a tweet that said: If we’re so concerned about implied tropes, why aren’t we concerned about this one? Where was the concern last week when 26 Dems voted for a GOP amendment to expand ICE powers rooted in the racist + false trope that Latino immigrants are more dangerous than US born citizens?

Then she aimed her bazooka at white people in general: When you don’t address them as a system and attempt to pick them apart as though they are distinct and separable issues, eventually the thing that gets advanced is white supremacy + classism.

Come on Nancy, when are you going to get control of these kids? They’re leaving you in the dust of delayed resolutions and broad-tent coalitions that used to bend to your will. Not anymore it seems. When AOC, Omar, and Tlaib (AO²C + T?) go out on a limb and saw it off they don’t worry about what’s below, unlike your own rather timid soul.

You have been exposed Nancy. You are not the sweet assassin like your daughter claims you are. You’re an older (I’m being old-fashioned and polite here) out-of-touch leader who’s desperately trying to figure out how to contain the rabid base that so loves AO²C + T without driving moderates into the GOP camp.

Not an easy task with honorary Gang-of-Three’er Linda Sarsour calling you a typical white feminist upholding the patriarchy doing the dirty work of powerful white men.

Maybe you should consult the Southern Poverty Law Center for some advice. Because it will take a miracle to get AO²C + T to shut up for just long enough to convince voters in rural Pennsylvania or Ohio or moderates anywhere that you still value their views, so you might as well join them, right?

Maybe Pelosi is an assassin and will exact revenge on them. Or maybe Pelosi is becoming like President Paul von Hindenburg outmaneuvered by the Gang of Three’s furious and radical oratory, seeing that Nazi analogies are so useful to the left nowadays, and is about to effectively concede the rule of her party to that radical fringe.

If she hasn’t already.

Here’s an interesting idea put forth by The Washington Examiner’s Daily on Energy. The wild card in this second round of talks between President Trump and Kim Jung Un is coal. North Korea’s coal exports to China, in other words. Apparently, UN sanctions have worked because China has complied with America’s demand that they stop buying DPRK coal. And of course, Trump has reportedly just recently extended the deadline for the scheduled tariff increases on a wide range of Chinese imports, thereby apparently delaying a damaging trade war as negotiations with Xi’s regime continue. Here’s what Daily on Energy’s John Siciliano and Josh Siegel write:

North Korea’s economy depends on coal exports, but crippling United Nations sanctions have cut back its shipments to China — its largest buyer — to zero.

That means that Trump has the option of a concession related to coal in reaching a deal with North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions.

If Kim Jung Un renounces his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, he gets his coal trade back with China, and perhaps some exchange of expertise between the U.S. Energy Department and Pyongyang.

Trump could also look to patch up the country’s ailing electricity grid through this exchange, or facilitate discussions with American engineering and electricity firms to help rebuild its grid.

The Energy Department has been promoting U.S. energy expertise abroad as part of Trump’s energy dominance agenda, while also touting natural gas exports to countries throughout Asia.

As well it seems U.S. exports of coal to China have soared since the crippling sanctions kicked in, so China hasn’t had to go without the fuel for one of its main sources of electricity, coal-fired power plants. That means that places like West Virginia seem to have been eating Kim’s lunch. And now Trump has a carrot to dangle before Kim’s power-hungry eyes. You give up nuclear weapons, you get your coal exports to China back and we might even help you with your electricity grid, although one would suspect the South Koreans have wanted that piece of action for a few decades now.

The other interesting part to this speculation is how China would react to such tactics by America because if South Korea has an interest in any rebuilding of North Korea if a peace treaty is ever signed, one can imagine China’s interest is as great in maintaining North Korea as a client state and a junior member of their silk road scheme.

The odds of this working out are not overwhelming unfortunately, precisely because such a plan’s success depends on people like Kim Jong Un and President Xi, one of whom is a crazed communist autocrat, the other a ruthless communist leader. Trump – as Victor Davis Hanson writes in National Review – was the one whose relentless attacks on China over the past couple of years have actually caused a real China pivot among the foreign policy establishment towards recognizing the dangers of Xi’s regime and its ambitions, even as Trump tries to improvise and keep things on a personal level, often undermining his very own political instincts on the threat China is to America and the West.

Will Trump prove to be the blunt truth-teller on North Korea? Right now, that seems a stretch, because the Kims’ regime has sunk every American and Western ambition of sealing some sort of peace deal or of neutralizing its aggressive and dangerous military projects.

Once again, Trump has the chance to prove his critics and doubters wrong on North Korea. Perhaps a tactic of using coal as a bargaining chip with both China and North Korea could work. There are plenty of reasons why it might not, however. As Democrats turn up the volume on the impeach-Trump show, it would be wise to keep an eye on the meetings in Asia this week.

He sells heroin. He’s a machinist with a vehicle he bought from his deceased father’s insurance policy back in 2012. So, he uses the vehicle – a Land Rover – to drive around and along with whatever else he does with his life, sell heroin in Indiana where he lives.

He makes the mistake of selling smack to some undercover agents and gets busted.

He’s charged and pleads guilty to one count of dealing in a controlled substance and the court metes out the following punishment:

• 1 year of home detention
• 5 years of probation
• Payment of court fees and fines totaling $1,200

The State of Indiana then decided to invoke civil forfeiture and seize his $42,000 Land Rover in order to limit his mobility and curb any attempt at recidivism on the part of the man, who happens to be called Tyson Timbs and is in his late 30’s.

A trial court in Indiana and the state’s court of appeals found the measure “grossly disproportional to the gravity” of the Timbs’ offence of dealing heroin. But apparently the Indiana Supreme Court decided that SCOTUS had never ruled that States are subject to the Constitution’s excessive fines clause. Thereby inviting a challenge on precisely those grounds as they shuffled the case back down to the lower courts.

Indiana’s Supreme Court lost.

The US Supreme Court in an opinion written by the spry Justice Ginsburg ruled that, “Protection against excessive punitive economic sanctions secured by the clause is, to repeat, both ‘fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty’ and ‘deeply rooted in this nation’s history and tradition.”

Here’s what Justice Ginsburg was referring to. The Eighth Amendment, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Forfeiture by the Crown’s Officers was arguably one of the key issues that drove the 13 Colonies to rebel against George III and declare their sovereign right to live freely under their own duly chosen representative government. This cuts deep into the marrow of America, its history, and its Constitution. As Justice Ginsburg emphasizes, “Our scheme of ordered liberty.”

Is Jeff Sessions cheering this outcome from his recently acquired status of: they that live outside the beltway? Not likely, nope. Because, yes, dealing in heroin is a dangerous, disruptive, destructive activity that ruins lives and kills people, and not just from overdoses.

But how do we handle a guy who deals in smack and works a machinist? What does or should society do about this? How does America, in fact, order her liberty?

Heroin was a rich man’s plaything some 100 odd years ago. Then a musician’s vice some 70 to 60 years ago. Then it was the hard edge of the hippie drug scene. As well a disruptive force in inner cities. And now it’s the curse of rural, Middle America. It has moved from group to group, like a wandering predator, and while it’s having a resurgence it still affects a relatively small percentage of the population but does so in often tragic and even horrifying ways. It is an evil drug by all accounts. And yes, prohibition claimed the same sinfulness on the part of alcohol but treating heroin like a good bourbon or craft beer to be regulated and licensed is still a bit of a stretch for more than a few voters. And rightfully so.

The problem of what to do remains.

But the issue in this case is Civil Asset Forfeiture, whatever morality may be used to justify it. Here’s Reason magazine who generally embrace a variety of libertarian perspectives:

“The increased willingness of federal judges to consider the perverse profit incentives created by asset forfeiture, together with the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling on the issue, raises a real question: Are we seeing the twilight of such programs in the United States?

During the last five years or so, more than half of states have passed some form of asset forfeiture reform, limiting what was once a free-for-all cash grab benefiting law enforcement. In places such as Mississippi the reforms were modest—new annual reporting requirements, for instance. New Mexico and Nebraska, however, now mandate criminal convictions before property is forfeited. Most states have landed somewhere in the middle, adding procedural protections for property owners and rebalancing the burden of proof in forfeiture hearings.

Until recently, a major roadblock to all these reforms was Jeff Sessions. The former U.S. attorney general rolled back Obama-era restrictions and emboldened state and local law enforcement to ramp up seizures—and bypass stricter state laws—by partnering with federal authorities. How much longer that loophole remains open depends on Congress.”

As the Washington Examiner notes, the groups cheering this SCOTUS ruling include:

• The ACLU
• The SPLC which, unusually as of late, seems to have a reasonable and legitimate stance
• The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
• The Koch Brother’s Americans For Prosperity

Reason is right. This ball has been firmly punted into Congress’ lap by SCOTUS. Let’s see if they actually pass some restrictive legislation on asset forfeiture.

Danger Abounds for 2020 Democratic Presidential Contenders

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

 

Conventional wisdom posits that in the presidential primary season, the contenders focus most of their attention and efforts on the more extreme wing of their party, the thought being that these rabid partisans—be they extreme-left or extreme-right—dominate the primary voting turnout and thus play a decisive role in determining their party’s eventual nominee.

On the Democratic side, the first set of putative nominees (typified by Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julian Castro and the presumptive entry of Bernie Sanders) has obviously been influenced by the strain of über-liberal AOC-like thought, as they engage in a race to out-liberal each other, with their proposed Government giveaways reaching new heights. Astonishingly enough, Ocasio-Cortez’ undeservedly-hyped, bereft-of-specifics Green New Deal (along with Sanders’ 2016 tenets) has served as the blueprint for every Democratic contender’s platform. For them, no amount of Government-provided largess is too much or too unrealistic. Indeed, they present the notions of taxpayer-funded healthcare, free tuition, student loan forgiveness, guaranteed employment and income, guaranteed affordable housing, and unrestricted immigration as if they are perfectly normal, to-be-expected obligations of American government.

The liberal media—eager for political-presidential news of any kind and especially stories of the ‘we really, really hate Trump’ variety—is inclined to give these early declarees an unprecedented amount of coverage, since covering them and their hyperbolic anti-Trump rants gives the liberal networks the opportunity to present an almost unlimited amount of over-the-top anti-Trump stories under the guise of legitimate news: “We’re simply covering what Corey Booker said.” That Corey Booker’s opinion of President Trump is in ironclad lockstep agreement with CNN’s editorial stance is merely a happy coincidence.

The risk that all these early announcers face is overexposure and too-soon critical evaluation of their proposals. The danger for these early-announced Democratic contenders is threefold:

  1. Sameness and lack of individual identity and uniqueness. What is the difference between Harris, Warren, Sanders and Booker and their wildly anti-capitalist, pro-Socialist, ‘free everything for everyone” proposals? How is Harriscare different and better than Berniecare or Elizabethcare?
  2. Damaging early policy evaluation. Trump beat Hillary in large part by winning the votes of previously Democratic blue-collar voters in PA, OH, MI, FL and WI. The middle of the Democratic voting bloc doesn’t agree with all the radical positions espoused by this first wave of contenders. The longer these positions are exposed to the harsh sunlight of analysis, the more likely that a greater number of “ordinary” Democratic voters will reject them. Maybe the rabid extreme Progressive primary voters won’t, but the casual rank-and-file Democrat—the “Trump” Democrat—likely will. Polls will sour. Publicity will turn negative. That new shine will lose some of its luster.
  3. For a politician, being in the public eye for too long can be hazardous. “Familiarity breeds contempt,” as the old saying goes. Perhaps Warren’s caustic, screechy voice will wear thin after several months on center stage. Perhaps Bernie’s advanced age will suddenly become frighteningly apparent and unacceptable to Millennial Progressives, and he goes from “cool old guy” to “Who are you kidding, Grandpa?” in the blink of an eye. Perhaps some embarrassing and undeniable blemish from Harris’ or Booker’s past emerges and there’s no explaining it away. The longer the at-bat, the greater the chance of a swinging strike three.

All this leaves an opening for the Second Wave, a slightly more moderate brand of presidential contender. Seth Molton, Joe Biden, Terry McAuliffe, John Hickenlooper or someone else. Possibly more palatable to a wider swath of voters. While they are just as capable of spouting anti-Trump do-goodism, give-stuff-away-free policies as the Early Contenders, they’d have an ability to speak to the Ohio/PA/MI blue-collar Democratic voter that went for Trump in 2016—and make a convincing case—in a way that the pro-Green New Deal Harris, Booker and Warren never could. Can any of the Second Wave do it? While it’s probably easier and more convincing in a general election campaign for a relatively moderate centrist Democrat to spout ultra-left positions than it is for a super-progressive to attempt to convince the middle of the voting populace of their moderate positions, this Second Wave would suffer from being behind the curve in terms of fundraising, name recognition (except for Biden), organization/logistics and they all run the risk of appearing opportunistic and insincere.

Staking out such a far-Left position may help the Democrats in the primaries but may well prove to be a handicap in the general election. Remember, the Democrats have moved much farther Left than the Republicans have moved Right. A very strong case can be made that Republicans have not moved Right at all since 1960, but compared to a 1960 JFK Democrat, today’s Progressives are unrecognizable. Points of fact:

  1. The words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” from Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech seem laughable, utterly impossible, by today’s Democratic standards.
  2. Today’s Democrats no longer propose great national scientific or military initiatives like the Moon Landing or closing the Missile Gap, undertaken under a Democratic Administration strictly for the country’s benefit as a whole. In contrast, modern Democrats craft their policy proposals in response to the needs of special interest groups (women, minorities, immigrants, LGTB, etc.), for the purpose of buying that group’s votes with a taxpayer-funded program. As predictable as day turns into night, if there’s a perceived issue affecting a demographic group, the automatic current-day Democratic response is to invent a new Government program to “cure” it and raise taxes to pay for it.
  3. Republican positions of limited taxation, necessary-but-reasonable business and environmental regulations, a strong military, support for law and order, favoring the philosophy of giving all groups equal opportunities vs. trying to artificially fabricate equal outcomes—these are unchanged from 60 years ago. It is the Democrats who’ve moved so far Left they’ve had to change their name to Progressive. Republican governing ideals are essentially unchanged.

Pointing this out infuriates today’s Democrats, but it’s a matter of easily-observable fact, not opinion. The 2020 Democratic GND platform may appeal to effete coastal elitists who live in their unsullied theoretical world, but Joe and Jane registered Democrat factory worker/shelf stocker/middle manager isn’t going to buy into it. If Booker-Harris-Warren don’t float their boat, is Biden too old? McAuliffe too used-car-salesmanish? Molten too opportunistic? Hickenlooper too strange?

The economy is doing very well, and peoples’ kids are getting good jobs and supporting themselves. Stocks are way up vs. the Obama years, recent volatility notwithstanding. Europe has finally been told to ante up for its NATO defense. We’re producing a lot of oil and natural gas and everyone is really happy about it (whether they admit it out loud or not). The liberal media have finally met their match, and again, an awful lot of people like it. It is very easy and defensible to say that President Trump’s “official” approval numbers are understated by 5-10%, at least, by all those liberal-leaning polls with their liberal-leaning methods and overly-liberal sample compositions. Every poll that has President Trump at 45% is likely 55% in the privacy of the voting booth.

That is how and why President Trump beat HRC so handily in 2016 and why the polls were so wrong. Democrats may think that President Trump is easy pickings in 2020 and all they have to do is promise a lot of free stuff and repeat the words “Fair share!” over and over again.

In fact, Democrats are in for one very difficult uphill slog in 2020, and baring some unforeseen random outside factor, they probably will not reach the top.

I’ll do my best not to get too silly dealing with this story because at the end of the day, this involves a rather serious aspect of the behavior of some of those close to the President. Had I been writing a piece for my university paper nearly 40 years ago, the jokes that would have arisen … ok let’s stay on track.

Jeff Bezos is a few years younger than me and with a net worth over a 100 billion times my own. Ok, maybe not quite that little (from my perspective) but close. And he’s in the middle of a scandalous accusation that he himself has levelled against American Media Inc. run by David Pecker in conjunction with owner-founder Roger Altman (although because of changes in the corporate structure it’s hard to tell exactly what the role played by Altman, who has a past in politics and is a hedge-fund owner-manager, currently is).

Bezos claims that in an email from AMI deputy general counsel Jon Fine, the company demanded he agree to claim that the media group’s (National Enquirer is one of many media properties they own) coverage of Bezos’ affair with Lauren Sanchez was not politically motivated. And reportedly in another email sent this past Tuesday by AMI’s chief content officer Dylan Howard, AMI threatened that if he didn’t agree to their demands, they would publish nude or semi-nude and suggestive selfies exchanged between Bezos and Sanchez.

The selfies – thanks to the New York Post’s jumping in face-first into the muck and gleefully reporting on the actual pictures, courtesy of a story by Ruth Brown – have been described in cringe-worthy detail. They are not quite explicit, more like the pictures that sank Anthony Weiner and landed him in jail.

They are also none of our business, except now they are. And Bezos has made the right move here while AMI are left looking like some yesteryear thuggish goons. Bezos is fine with being embarrassed by what appears to be fairly moderate and rather normal by today’s standards sexting between consenting (not to mention middle-aged) adults. The more important point is the disgusting threat of blackmail by AMI.

Look, Bezos’ Washington Post has actively worked to further the cause of impeachment against an elected sitting President. An impeachment that may be and may have been part of a deliberate campaign to prevent Trump from reaching the White House, and to quickly remove him once he got there. But by doing this goon job on Bezos, AMI has done a couple of really frickin’ stupid things:

  • Turned a powerful billionaire with powerful media properties into a martyr-like champion for freedom from harassment and a brave victim of blackmail.
  • Added credence to the theory that AMI has been Trump’s dirty-tricks media operation, even though this has nothing to do with charges of Russian collusion. As a NeverTrump narrative, it is a deadly weapon. In other words, if they did this, what else have they done for Trump? Which will be the narrative coming out of this, to be gladly and widely promoted by most of the media.
  • Thrown a wrench into the Mueller and SDNY probes with unpredictable outcomes should SDNY prosecutors decide to file new charges against AMI for what clearly is an attempt at blackmail. Last December, AMI signed a cooperating agreement with SDNY prosecutors over the investigation into the payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal in order to bury their kiss and tell stories. This will either feed conspiracy theories or result in some further action by prosecutors that puts AMI in an even tighter spot in order to pressure them to reveal any possible other dirt they may have on anyone possibly related to President Trump. With the objective of laying charges of campaign finance misdeeds. Maybe on members of the inaugural committee?

So, security consultant De Becker snooped on Pecker’s peeping into Bezos’ affairs. From a moral and cultural perspective, this doesn’t even rise to the level of a second-rate Mexican Soap Opera, but astonishingly, it may have ramifications that impact any future attempt to impeach or at least to thoroughly embarrass President Trump. Pecker and his thuggish lawyers seem to have gotten a great head start on that already.

AMI may end up being the ones who, in fact, do the most damage to Trump after all is done and settled a few years from now.

Idiots.

Venezuela is personal, yet distant, for me. By the time I was in boarding school my old 3rd grade teacher in the American elementary school run by Creole Petroleum Corporation, Miss Ryan, had married a tall, handsome and very bright MIT graduate, Mr. Trinkunas. He apparently was born in the Baltics or his parents were born there and his family like many in war-torn Europe in the late 40’s perhaps saw opportunity in Venezuela.

I was back on holidays in the early-to-mid 70’s and my younger brother had a new, much younger playmate who he happily bossed around on the playground facing our home on Plaza Escuela, a cute chubby kid with blonde curly hair and a beaming smile. His name was Harold and he would wander into our home from time to time to be grabbed by his mother, (Miss Ryan as we would still call her and then say: sorry Mrs. Trinkunas) and brought back home next door. What was it like growing up a gringo in an oil “camp” in the 60’s and 70’s in Venezuela? More like The Wonder Years than you would suspect, crossed with a Venezuelan Soap Opera from the 70’s or 80’s where the maid is yelling at everyone in the kitchen.

But we were a dwindling bunch by then, a few dozen families in a sort of gated community of several hundred homes for upper middle-class Venezuelan engineers, doctors, and managers. Nationalization was a year or two away and had been decided on years earlier after the Perez Jimenez regime fell a few weeks before I was born. Venezuela had taken control of its resources, become a force in OPEC, and overseen an astonishingly smooth transition, unlike the far more abrupt or even violent politics of oil in Mexico and Southern South America.

In a peaceful, sandy playground my younger brother and Harold played and invented and laughed and then our families went their ways, us up to Canada and the Trinkunas remained in the country for some more years apparently.

Moses Naim, an ex-Cabinet Minister from around 1990, has written an article for Foreign Affairs titled Venezuela’s Suicide. In it he compares the country now (a few months ago when he wrote the article in other words) with its status in the early 70’s when it was among the top 20 countries in terms of GDP per capita. Personally, I am a little doubtful of those statistics knowing full well that poverty was very much a problem even in Venezuela’s so-called golden years, but I’ll take Naim’s word for it. Naim places the blame squarely on Chavismo and its insane economic policies, but even he is forced to admit that the problem existed before Hugo Chavez’s presidency and before the two attempted coup d’état’s (or golpes de estado perhaps we should say). He writes:

“The drivers of Venezuela’s failure run deeper. Decades of gradual economic decline opened the way for Chávez, a charismatic demagogue wedded to an outdated ideology, to take power and establish a corrupt autocracy modeled on and beholden to Cuba’s dictatorship. Although the crisis preceded Chávez’s rise to power, his legacy and Cuba’s influence must be at the center of any attempt to explain it.”

But that can be a problem. It is irresistible to place all the blame on Chavez’s socialism and not think more about Venezuela’s history. Especially the country’s history before foreign capital and foreign workers arrived on the scene around WW I and transformed what had been a politically unstable, and economically impoverished nation with more than its share of political violence. The process by which that occurred, of course, has been fodder for both Latin America pan-nationalists and socialists and third-world advocates of all sorts. That’s because there have been 3 key tyrants in the 20th century history of Venezuela:

  • Juan Vicente Gomez who was from Tachira the Andean state near the Southwestern border with Colombia and who allowed in foreign oil companies in the years leading up to WW I, on terms some have criticized as too lenient and who died in 1935.
  • Marcos Perez Jimenez, who climbed to power following an overthrow of the democratically-elected Accion Democratica in 1948 and who held power until early in 1958 and presided over a period of growth and development but with a fairly brutal police and security force.
  • Hugo Chavez – the third tyrant who in a sense was a return to Venezuela’s past, (as now Dr. Trinkunas has pointed out). An elected strongman who led the country into the new century and who followed the electoral and political rules until he was able to create his own and drag Venezuela into Cuba’s orbit, winning admiration and praise from the progressive elites around the world.

The point about Venezuela isn’t that socialist policies are expensive and often lead to far greater corruption than that found under capitalism. We’ve had most of the 20th century to give us countless examples of that. It’s how Venezuela in the decades after nationalization was unable to move beyond a primary producer and was unable to solve the problems of poverty that have always troubled the country and now have reached epidemic proportions. And from whose ragged and impoverished ranks many of Chavez’s supporters came.

And Harold Trinkunas? He followed his father to MIT but apparently politics rather than engineering was his field and he is now a well-known expert in defense and security issues, especially those concerning Latin America and Venezuela, having taught at the Naval Postgraduate School, and having been resident scholar at various institutes. In Foreign Affairs he writes the following:

“The United States was correct to cooperate with the Venezuelan opposition—the Maduro regime has shown itself unwilling to negotiate in good faith with the opposition in recent years, even when external mediators such as the Vatican were involved. But Washington has chosen a risky path. By escalating with Maduro, the Trump administration has raised the possibility of misperception and misunderstanding leading to inadvertent conflict, especially given how little the U.S. and Venezuelan governments understand and respect each other.

Aggressive U.S. action will also run the risk of splitting the international coalition now backing the Venezuelan opposition and could also turn the situation into a U.S.-Venezuelan conflict rather than an effort to restore Venezuelan democracy. The latter would allow Maduro to fall back on the rhetoric of anti-imperialism and would provide an excuse for his allies—particularly Russia but perhaps also China—to continue offering their support. But even if the United States avoids this particular pitfall, Russia and China will undoubtedly see events in Venezuela as part of a new Western strategy to undermine their authoritarian allies and client states. They will develop countermeasures, and these will be unpleasant.”

With all due respect to Dr. Trinkunas, if countermeasures by China and Russia impede America from taking decisive action regarding Venezuela, we might as well hand over foreign policy in Latin America to Beijing and Moscow. Which in some ways, America already has by being unwilling – understandably of course – to escalate to the level of the Cuban Missile Crisis in response to Putin and Chavez and now Putin and Maduro’s growing military ties. Dr. Trinkuna is right that things will get unpleasant, to put it mildly, and Juan Guaidó may very well end up under house arrest, or worse. Much worse. But America had to act and take sides against Maduro, something the rest of Latin America has been loath to do precisely because of fears of being seen as siding with the United States. Maduro is playing the American-intervention card for all it’s worth, but it’s a faded and dirty little trick that even many Latin Americans are a little tired of supporting.

And so, yes, America will soon have to choose how to respond to what will almost surely be violent attacks on Guaidó and the rest of the opposition (assuming that bribes to the opposition fail) by a military narco-kleptocracy. It will not be easy choice, and an invasion would likely be the wrong course of action. But this was an unavoidable choice, albeit filled with risks. America had to face this choice one way or another.

Let us hope and pray that the growing number of Venezuelans killed by their own security forces will be kept to a minimum and that a transition is possible without full-scale civil war.

Because Maduro’s regime does not even rise to the level of hard-left socialists. They are mere criminals. Drug running, kleptocratic thugs the lot of them. But they, like everything nowadays, are also a symbol of Latin American independence. A poisonous, perverted, and corrupted symbol. Everyone in Latin America knows that, but they can’t quite admit it out loud. Maybe, just maybe, however, we’re getting closer to that moment of self-truth.

Let us hope so.

While Venezuela’s Maduro presides over a country that is collapsing into its own rubble of criminality and in which the National Assemby has declared his presidency illegitimate, and while President Trump and Speaker Pelosi duel over the State of the Union Address, it’s easy to forget about Mueller’s probe.

Byron York at the Washington Examiner once again has reminded us that the probe is still ongoing and that Democrats are signaling that if Mueller doesn’t deliver actionable results, they will launch – and are launching – probes that point directly to their goal: impeachment. Here’s Byron York:

Many Democrats are deeply, emotionally committed to resisting Trump. Sixty-six House Democrats voted to allow impeachment articles to move forward a year ago. Now, with the House in Democratic hands, and after another year of media-hyped Trump-Russia allegations, there’s no reason to believe Democrats would abandon the Russia issue regardless of what Mueller does.

It should be surprising, if not astonishing, that the reaction to the Mueller probe’s stating that the Buzzfeed article was “not accurate” was: to hell with Mueller, we’ll do our own probe. It’s not surprising in the least, of course, and just makes it plain and clear that Mueller is seen by the opposition as a method of removing Trump from the presidency. And that the opposition has always viewed his probe as such.

Opposition, not just Congressional Democrats like House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff. For example, General Michael Hayden and former Obama Solicitor General Neal Katyal penned an op-ed that states:

The recent statement by the special counsel’s office disputing the BuzzFeed article itself highlights the need for a congressional investigation. The BuzzFeed article alleges that Trump ordered Cohen to lie to Congress. Congress of course is the entity with the most at stake when it comes to such a crime. No entity is better poised to find the truth and reveal the facts to the American people.

The president and his advisers have tried already to block the government from investigating these questions. They have criticized special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as engaged in a “witch hunt” and attacked Cohen as a “rat” and a liar. Trump’s lawyers have threatened to assert executive privilege to block answers to Mueller’s questions and threatened to block release of Mueller’s report. A senator has indicated he won’t pursue the interpreter’s notes due to executive privilege. All of this points to a severe danger that, absent an investigation into impeachment, there will be no process to ferret out the truth and report it to the American people.

Note the phrase: investigation into impeachment …

This is the man once in charge of America’s intel community and the former DOJ official who represented the federal government before the Supreme Court. And they are saying that if a multi-million-dollar, multi-year investigation by a high-powered team of prosecutors with enormous latitude to subpoena witnesses and investigate any possible thing that basically strikes their fancy does not produce the outcome we wish (that is, does not lay the basis for impeachment) then Congress will have to investigate. That is, this 116th Congress with its Democrat House majority will have to investigate and produce the necessary evidence to proceed with impeachment.

Trump and all the crazies were right. The Deep State is out to get him and no one’s making up any excuses anymore. It’s plain and simple. Anything that leads to impeachment will do.