Obstruction and Contempt

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The Democrats’ drive to impeach and convict President Trump has been comical throughout, although the comedy hasn’t been good enough to hold the attention of very many people. One thing that I find irresistibly amusing, however, is the two charges (or, more accurately, beefs) that the Democrats are bringing forward.

One is “abuse of power,” as if virtually all presidents for the past several generations had not grossly abused their power, and as if that in itself were a crime instead of a stupidity or moral evil. And as if Congress itself didn’t continually abuse its power.

“Why are they charging him with contempt of Congress? Don’t we all feel that way?”

The other is “obstructing Congress,” as if that were a crime or even a moral evil, given the Congressional abuses mentioned above. When you think about it, isn’t it the job of the president, and all good Americans, to obstruct Congress? Isn’t that why he has a veto, and we have a vote?

I remember a joke about charges like this. I first saw it when I was a kid. It was in a book decrying the activities of the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, which charged people with “contempt of Congress” for refusing to answer its questions. The book contained some cartoons, one of which, as I recall, showed a man reading a newspaper with a headline related to a recent outbreak of the “contempt of Congress” charge. The man says to a woman, presumably his wife, “Why are they charging him with contempt of Congress? Don’t we all feel that way?”




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A Happy Family Beach in Puerto Vallarta

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Something good is happening in Mexico in spite of the country’s sluggish official economic figures. My metric, my indicator, is the large number of highly visible Mexican families who are newly vacationing at the seaside. It seems to me that traveling from the interior of Mexico after making reservations at a beachfront hotel, and actually staying there for a week or more, sings out, “middle class!” That’s true even if the hotel in question is a little run down by gringo standards, and almost awful according to the criteria of the Mexican upper class.

How do I know those are new seaside vacationers? Easy! First, they don’t know how to swim at all. (Unlike the US, Mexico does not have a swimming pool in nearly every high school and in every little cheap motel.) So, Mexican newcomer families do something very sweet to take advantage of the warm ocean. Dad, usually the tallest of all, will stand in the water up to his chin. Mom will sit on his extended knee, with her arm around his neck. The children hang from one or both of them as best they can. Families can do this for hours, with satisfaction and pleasure written on all faces. More experienced vacationers either swim or simply avoid such jejune displays of affection. The standing still in the water makes sense, though, because it’s very hot outside.

I had to talk myself into swimming that morning. It had rained heavily the night before.

The second way I am able to spot the newbies is by what they wear and what they carry. They seem to prepare for their vacation by consulting women’s magazines and now, increasingly, the internet, in order to find out what equipment is required at the beach. So, in addition to brand new bathing suits, small arm floats to keep children above the surface, just in case, and large ones, yellow or green, shaped like giant ducks or dinosaurs, to sit on. Many carry both kinds. In addition, thanks to Chinese industriousness, their children have many, but many, brightly colored sand tools. Colorfulness alone is often enough to spot the neophytes.

This may sound condescending, but it’s not. It reminds me a little of my own childhood, although my family was composed of transgenerational beach veterans. A bit of retrospective envy is involved here: instead of a dozen tools for each child, we had three cheap tin sand tools, in all, which had to be shared among four children.

Anyhow, one day I was swimming within 40 yards of a tiny hotel beach circumscribed by two small breakwaters. I had to talk myself into swimming that morning. It had rained heavily the night before and a nearby river had projected its brownish alluvial waters far into the normally blue Pacific Ocean. One of its branches was approaching my little beach. In the end, I went anyway.

At one point, I heard female voices yelling insistently. This went on long enough to pierce into my consciousness.

When I say that I was swimming, it’s almost an exaggeration. I was lying face down in the water, giving myself a little push by fluttering my straightened legs every so often. As is my habit, I was wearing a face mask. I use one almost whenever I am in the sea because I like to catch any sign of life near the bottom while I swim. And then, there was that time on a crowded beach in the Virgin Islands when I spotted and caught by hand a nice-sized lobster on the sandy seafloor, and I was allowed to keep it. I was never the same afterwards. As people say nowadays, it was a transformative experience. I was not using a snorkel that time on the little Mexican beach, so I had to raise my head to breathe every so often.

Moving around like that, only a short way from the sand, I remained faintly aware of the laughter and other happy noises from people in the shallows. When I lifted my head, I also saw, without giving them any attention, vacationers walking or playing on the sand, or just standing, gazing at the ocean. Soon I became absorbed in my vague search for creatures and in my swimming thoughts (a special kind of thought — some other time). At one point, I heard female voices yelling insistently. This went on long enough to pierce into my consciousness. Slowly, I realized that those specific shouts were not part of the repertories of either happy women or angry women. (I have a decent experience of both, if I may say so.) And also, it was not the time or place for such vocalizations. When I raised my head to breathe, I detected that there was no one left in water deeper than two feet. I just failed to add two and two. The shouts redoubled in both loudness and in urgency. I noticed that they came from two teenage girls standing on the water's edge with an adult woman.

I couldn’t make out what the trio was yelling except that every yell started with the word “Señor.” Well, I am kind of dense, but not that dense. It dawned on me finally that there was a good chance the women were shouting at me. (If they had shouted “Señora,” I would have thought differently, trust me.) I was in no hurry to understand what else they were shouting, because who wants to pay attention to overexcited landlubbers? I know, I know what you are thinking: dumb, inattentive, oblivious, probably arrogant gringo ignores the advice of wise natives. Will pay for it! I know what you are further thinking, because this was happening in and on the edge of tropical waters, as in a movie.

Finally, finally, I recognized the long word at the end of the shouted sentences: “cocodrilo” — “crocodile”!

Making things clear: my Spanish is, frankly, good — in general. (That language is only a dialect of Latin, like my own native language, French. It helps.) There is one Spanish word in particular that is engraved in several parts of my brain because I have free-dived and speared fish in Mexico hundreds of times. The word is the term for shark: “tiburón!” It’s always accompanied by an exclamation point, or even two, Spanish style: “¡tiburón!” Well, I had definitely not heard the women on the sand shout that word. It would surely have drawn my attention if they had. So I returned to my leisurely swim.

Then others joined the women in screaming something incomprehensible; some of them were almost jumping up and down in their excitement. I looked around and determined that I was the only possible target of all this agitation. I swam a little closer to the sand. Finally, finally, I recognized the long word at the end of the shouted sentences: “cocodrilo” — “crocodile”! Well, damn it, context is everything; how was I supposed to guess that? I am an old Paris boy, after all. There has not been a crocodile in the Seine for a couple of million years, or something like that.

I raised my head, looked to my right, looked to my left, and finally turned around on myself. Sure enough, a crocodile as long as I am tall was peacefully lounging two or three feet from me. For the first time that day, I swam fairly fast, until my belly hit the sand. And, yes, sure thing, the creature was only as big around as my thigh. It was maybe a teenager. Still . . .

After I left the water, I thanked the nice middle-class women from Mexico City for saving my life, or perhaps a limb, or worse. Then I walked along the water’s edge to follow the beast’s slow progress while keeping my eyes on it. When it disappeared behind one of the breakwaters, I felt a sense of loss. It was my first time swimming with a crocodile after all.




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It’s Tuesday, So Give Us Some Cash

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If you have email, you know that there is something in this world called Giving Tuesday. Since 2012 it’s happened on the Tuesday after the weirdly named Black Friday. It’s an occasion for “charities” and “nonprofits” to guilt you into putting money in their trough, and it’s backed by the usual corporate and “charitable” elites. As Giving Tuesday’s Wiki entry says,

Reception of Giving Tuesday has generally been positive, with a large number of organizations, including Google, Microsoft, Skype, Cisco, UNICEF, the Case Foundation, Save the Children, and others joining in as partners. Giving Tuesday has been praised as an antithesis of consumer culture and as a way for people to give back.

Of course, the idea that by getting you to give them money instead of spending it on yourself, or deciding for yourself where to spend your charitable cash, big corporate charities are combating “consumer culture” is no more logical than the idea that a guy who robs you on the street is trying to restore you to the simple life of the poor. And the notion that when I give to a cause I like, or, heaven forfend! to a person I like, I am giving something back . . . that piece of effrontery is almost unspeakable. If Microsoft ever gives me something, I will consider giving something back. So far, it hasn’t. Oh no. Distinctly not.

I expected ARI’s message to be somewhat like the comments I wrote above — bottom line: keep your money!

And speaking of effrontery — how insolent is it to imply that an amorphous something called society gave me something that now I need to give back . . . to UNICEF, or any other self-designated organization, the distinguishing characteristic of which is that it never had anything remotely to do with me?

I would expect my unfavorable view of organized “giving” to be held by many people, especially the good people at the Ayn Rand Institute. Most readers of this journal are well acquainted with Rand’s belief in the form of rational self-interest she called “selfishness.” So when I received an email from ARI designating the Sunday after Thanksgiving as Selfish Sunday, I expected ARI’s message to be somewhat like the comments I wrote above — bottom line: keep your money! Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Selfish Sunday was just another occasion for giving — only this time to give to the Ayn Rand Institute, so it could give Ayn Rand books to high school students.

What’s the difference between giving to the United Nations Foundation for the prospect of a brighter future, and giving to the Ayn Rand Institute for the prospect of a brighter future?

So what’s the difference between Giving Tuesday and Selfish Sunday? ARI’s email explained that Selfish Sunday is “our way of inviting you to consider spending just $5 to help the Ayn Rand Institute in its fight for a better culture, for your sake.”

Uh . . . OK . . . But on Giving Tuesday itself, ARI went further. It sent out emails trying to replace “Giving Tuesday” with “Trading Tuesday”:

That’s how we’ve renamed “Giving Tuesday” — to emphasize Ayn Rand’s trader principle: mutual exchange to mutual benefit. And today, just $5 allows the Ayn Rand Institute to supercharge your money’s power. . . .

Will you trade us a bit of money for the prospect of a brighter future?

So, again: what’s the difference between giving to the United Nations Foundation (an originator — natch! — of Giving Tuesday) for the prospect of a brighter future, and giving to the Ayn Rand Institute for the prospect of a brighter future?

Good question.

Now, if ARI said, “The difference is that we’re doin’ good stuff and the rest of them are doin’ bad stuff, so we hope you can give us some money, sometime,” that would be swell. You can say that at any time; you don’t need to wait till Stupid Sunday or Tiresome Tuesday. But the notion that when you give to ARI you’re either giving to yourself or doing a deal . . . that ain’t so swell. No, not at all.




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The Rich Have Not Been Idle

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On Thanksgiving Day I had an unhappy conversation with a libertarian friend. The conversation started with a report of a holiday dinner he had just attended with his extended family. Inevitably, during dinner, some of his family made political statements that were, to put it mildly, counterintuitive. They were credulous believers in and campaigners for the “progressive” program of the Democratic Party — tax increases, socialized health, regulation of everything, all the ideas and causes that were exploded by rational analysis generations ago.

These people are by no means dumb. They have advanced degrees, they make their living by analysis and application of facts, and they are financially very successful. Moreover, they made their own money. They are not the idle, coupon-clipping rich. Yet they are rich.

I reflected on my own friends. Many of them are progressive Democrats. Their ideas are, as far as I can tell, precisely the same as those of the people I just described, because they believe precisely everything the “progressive” media have to say. And these people are also rich.

They were credulous believers in and campaigners for the “progressive” program of the Democratic Party, all the ideas and causes that were exploded by rational analysis generations ago.

In our society, despite the ostensible wishes of the progressives, the wealthy matter very much. One of the ways they matter is that they are the ones who fund the programmatically anti-wealth progressive movement and are determined to force everyone else to fund it too.

This is a mystery that many detectives have tried to solve. Their conclusions vary:

  • The rich have all the material stuff they want, so all that’s left to buy is power, and progressivism makes the largest offer of power.
  • The rich feel guilty because they’re rich, and progressivism claims to help the poor.
  • The minds of the rich were corrupted by teachers who envy wealth and want to redistribute it, to themselves and others, progressivism being the best means of doing that.

These theories all have merit — a lot of it, in fact. I have one theory to add.

I’ll start by asking a question. What do you call a set of ideas and practices that, though impervious to fact, arouses such strong emotions that people will sacrifice to it their time, their energy, and (at least some of) their wealth, deriving from it their ethical validation and regarding everyone who takes another view as either ignorant or immoral? If you said, “That sounds like a fanatical religion,” you are right. There has never been a fanatical religion in the modern West that has not found wealthy people to support it, no matter how much it preached against wealth.

Fortunate people! They have a religion that never constrains, always gratifies the emotions.

A couple of generations ago, fanatical religions had more competition for the bucks and reputed brains of the “propertied classes.” The competition was the non-fanatical religions, which provided plenty of opportunities for rich people to make contributions in exchange for ego benefits. In our society, however, the wealthy appear to have become irreligious at a much faster rate than anybody else. Even those who have maintained a semblance of conventional religiosity manifest no compunction about sacrificing traditional religious ideas to the temptations of political ideology. The desire to be part of a religious movement, combined with the conviction that ordinary religion is impossibly uncool, is typified by the pious tone of the wealthy Hollywood personnel who, when not happily boycotting their favorite “moral” (i.e., political) offenders, are busy purveying sex and violence. Fortunate people! They have a religion that never constrains, always gratifies the emotions.

With the very rich getting very richer and pledging ever more funds to the Church of Virtue Signaling, libertarians have a harder row to hoe than they did back in the day, when their principal opponents were the supposed representatives of the working classes — grasping labor unions and warmongering nationalists. The answer is not to try serving up libertarianism as its own substitute religion, as too many activists do. It is to preach the open, optimistic promises of a non-cult, to offer the calm and common sense that are treasured by the majority of working people — people who truly “just want to be left alone” by politicians, particularly those who make a religion out of politics. I think it is that desire, more than anything else, that elected Donald Trump, and libertarian ideas present a refreshing alternative to the rest of his message. It’s the “working class” — not the academics, and certainly not the rich — who are now our natural audience. It’s time to let them know that we’re still here.




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NPR Redux

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I’ve been thinking about the reflection on NPR that Robert Miller contributed to Liberty, several weeks ago.

I listen to NPR (KUOW-Seattle) when I'm driving — and when it doesn't annoy me with its bias. Bias is not the same as lies. The stories seem real enough. But NPR and its local affiliate show their bias by professionally reporting stories of particular interest to progressive Democrats.

Some are stories of interest to everyone, but many are of particular interest to them. I can recall no stories of particular interest to people on the right, or that make a rightwing point. They present the world progressives care about, and define the issues as progressives define them — honestly and professionally. Once a story is defined, they can follow the rules of objectivity, but the result is still biased.

The stories seem real enough. But NPR and its local affiliate show their bias by professionally reporting stories of particular interest to progressive Democrats.

On the issue of immigration, for example, it's all about the fate of asylum-seekers and "undocumented" people. I can't recall any explanation of why it might be good or in the American interest to control who comes into the country, or to consider the problems of people trying to do that. If they report about the homeless encampments, it's interviewing the homeless, or social workers or politicians sympathetic to them, and it is about how to help the homeless. If the subject is the workplace, it's about how sexist it is, or some other bad condition, and how to change it. If it's money in politics, it's about how bad it is, and the need to repeal Citizens United. If it's about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it's about how great she is. Never a story like that about Clarence Thomas, or about the Constitution from an "originalist" view. If it's about bakers who refuse to decorate a wedding cake for a gay couple, it's a story entirely about gay rights. Not the bakers' rights.

On and on. The bias is real, and it is not subtle. I still listen to my NPR station, because my drive to the library (for research on a book) is not very far, and if it really annoys me I can take my chances on a classic rock station. But it does occur to me that NPR is the kind of radio I would listen to a lot, and maybe even contribute to, if it had at least some of the world as seen through the eyes of people like me.




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The Fifth Democratic Debate

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Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was recalling how she bankrolled an earlier political campaign. “I raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends,” she said.

There’s a lesson here, I thought: don’t get romanced by a politician. It’ll cost you money.

It was November 20, and I was subjecting myself to another three hours of Democrats. They did behave better this time, shutting down when their time ran out — thanks not to their inner goodness but to the rules, which cut into their time if they didn’t. Still, it was progress.

The latest entry into the melee to become the Democratic nominee for president, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, was not there, which was just as well. The candidates are still too many. I was thankful that some of the earlier ones were gone, including my state’s save-the-planet governor, Jay Inslee, and former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, who had irritated me with his bloviating progressivism. California Senator Kamala Harris was still there, but I was lifted up by a Washington Post piece saying she is on the verge of an exit. Harris was once California’s chief state prosecutor, a calling that seems to have defined the way she thinks.

Gabbard will not be her party’s nominee, but she says some things that need to be said.

One of the notable moments of the three hours came when Harris turned her rhetorical Klieg lights on Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard. Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who promised to end regime-change wars, had recently been smeared by the Democratic Party’s previous nominee, Hillary Clinton, as a “favorite of the Russians.” Harris piled on, accusing Gabbard of having “buddied up” to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and of bad-mouthing the Obama administration on Fox News. Gabbard obliged Harris by bad-mouthing some more, saying that the Democratic Party “continues to be influenced by the foreign policy establishment represented by Hillary Clinton and others.”

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg also lit into Gabbard for meeting with Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad in 2017. “I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that,” he said. Gabbard, who was a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, replied that Franklin Roosevelt had met with Stalin and Richard Nixon with Mao, and that she was willing to meet with whomever necessary.

Gabbard will not be her party’s nominee, but she says some things that need to be said. And she was the only candidate who mentioned libertarians as part of her coalition. Not that she is one — she supported Bernie Sanders four years ago — but she mentioned us, anyway.

All these proud Democrats kept to their spendy tradition, promising more free stuff.

Speaking of libertarian issues, several candidates — Gabbard, Senator Cory Booker, and even Joe Biden — called for decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana. Another such issue, the draft, came up in an oblique way. Elizabeth Warren was asked whether she thought more people ought to be in the military. Warren said she thought there should be more ways of community service. She said she had a program for putting 10,000 young people to work in the National Forests and National Parks. She didn’t mention a draft, nor did any of the others.

Since former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz dropped out as a possible candidate, no one has made an issue of the budget deficit or the $21 trillion federal debt. All these proud Democrats kept to their spendy tradition, promising more free stuff: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren promising Medicare for All, others promising Medicare for Lots More, Amy Klobuchar offering three months of paid family leave and Kamala Harris calling for six months’ paid leave. Pete Buttigieg was asked whether he would spend less on the military, and he dodged the question by saying he would spend more on artificial intelligence.

Always more. There was little talk about paying for any of it, though Cory Booker, in disagreeing with Warren’s wealth tax, was for raising the federal estate tax and taxing capital gains at the same rates as wages.

Listening to these candidates, you’d never know that economic times were good.

At one point Booker said the candidates should “talk about how to grow wealth for all” rather than merely how to distribute it. Nobody else said anything like that. Andrew Yang, the former entrepreneur, declared that the advance of technology is “ripping the country apart.” Bernie Sanders, the anti-entrepreneur, asserted that 87 million Americans were without healthcare and that “the economy is rigged.” I have listened to Sanders’ redfaced rants more than I care to think about, and I can’t recall him ever saying anything favorable about the private sector. I read that Sanders was an elector for the Socialist Workers Party candidate back in 1980, and it does seem to be a salient fact about him. He never misses a chance to condemn the health insurers and the pharma companies, and during the debate he declared that the oil and gas industry is “probably criminally liable” for global warming and should be prosecuted.

When asked about the high cost of housing in California, Elizabeth Warren blamed it on the government building fewer units of public housing and private builders building too many “McMansions.” She also blamed it on racial redlining. Not a word about government land-use regulations.

As in the earlier debates, the candidates kept talking about how America was unfair and unequal, that people were struggling, democracy was dying, and the planet was doomed unless something was done right now. At the end of the gabfest, Joe Biden said, “I am so tired of everybody walking around with ‘woe is me,’ and ‘what are we going to do.’” I was tired of it, too. Listening to these candidates, you’d never know that economic times were good.

They have been particularly good for one of the candidates, Tom Steyer, who was said to be so rich that he shoveled $300 million of his net worth into his quest for the presidency. Steyer is promising to get corporate money out of politics. When asked if this wasn’t a contradiction, he said it wasn’t: He’s been wanting to do it for years. They should have asked him if he had a history of making bad investments.




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Why the Worst Get on Top

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A few short weeks ago, Adam Schiff, chairman of the oxymoronically entitled House Intelligence Committee, said that the statements of a White House “whistleblower” mandated and necessitated an impeachment investigation of the president. He trumpeted the idea that the WB would soon appear to testify before his committee. But when evidence emerged that the WB is likely a politically motivated CIA plant, and that Schiff had probably helped to work up his complaint, the honorable chairman declared the WB redundant to the investigation and said that he would not be asked to testify — unlike those strange government personnel who are welcome to spill their guts about whatever they think they learned by listening to the buzz from other people’s phone calls. Schiff went further. He denied Republicans the right to call the WB to testify and is now denying that he even knows the name of the WB, which everybody else in the country knows.

How could the little congressman with the starie eyes and the ability to lie without compunction to an audience that knows he’s lying have become the investigatory prong of one of America’s great political parties? And how could it be that so few congressmen, of either party, rise much beyond the intellectual level of this jurist of the Salem school?

A plausible answer can be found in a libertarian classic, Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1943). The most famous chapter of this edgy though somnolently written book, “Why the Worst Get on Top,” explains the prevalence of horrible people in the leadership of socialist parties. According to Hayek (highly paraphrased), socialists promise to do lots of great things, but the promises are hopelessly irrational or unrealistic. When it becomes obvious that they won’t be fulfilled, honest and intelligent people have the opportunity to decide whether to continue on the ideological train or hop off of it. They hop off. The people who are left to run the movement — or the country, if bemused voters have put the movement in power — are the dumb and dishonest.

How could it be that so few congressmen, of either party, rise much beyond the intellectual level of this jurist of the Salem school?

There’s a lot to be said for this theory. What did the modern liberals and progressives promise? What do they promise? They promise to create prosperity out of taxation and regulation. They promise to heal race relations with racial preferences. They promise to improve public education by making students more race-conscious, more sex-conscious, more credentialed, and more entitled. They promise to end international conflict, terrorism, and tyranny by injecting American force throughout the world.

These, and other promises, have never been fulfilled. Trillions of dollars have been spent on the War on Poverty, but poverty continues. Tens of thousands of people labor at the work of ethnic preferences in education and employment, yet ethnic relations fail to improve. Public education engrosses larger and larger proportions of government budgets, yet it becomes more ludicrous with each passing year — ludicrous especially in its harmfulness to the ethnic minorities it is especially designed to help. And where, in this world, is the US establishing peace? Where, in this world, do the CIA and FBI not try to intervene? Yet even American cities have no peace.

This is the point at which the wise and good hop off the train and the Adam Schiffs and Nancy Pelosis and Mitt Romneys eagerly lunge for their places, thrusting one another aside in the melee. Brennan, Comey, Clapper, Schiff, and company seem never to run out of state officials eager to join them in displaying duplicity, arrogance, and stupidity. The worst have indeed got on top.

There’s a corollary to Hayek’s notion that I don’t think Hayek suggests. It’s this: if you make absurd beliefs the touchstone of respectability — the belief, for instance, that the “intelligence community” should be the judge of its own rectitude, or that Ukraine deserves whatever aid we can give it, just because it’s an antagonist of Russia — then perhaps only unrespectable people (e.g., Donald Trump) will be left to disagree.




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Did He Say 21 Trillion Dollars?

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I notice that the federal deficit for fiscal 2019, ended September 30, hit nearly one trillion dollars. The deficit has doubled since its post-recession low in fiscal 2015, though the economy is running flat-out.

None of the would-be Democratic nominees is making an issue of this. Clearly Donald Trump is vulnerable. He cares nothing for fiscal prudence. As a businessman, he was a bankrupt; as the standard-bearer of the Republican Party he aims to “Make America Great,” and do it with borrowed funds. The Republicans once cared about deficits and the national debt, but really it was a long time ago. For years afterward, they talked as if they cared, but it was talk only. Now they don’t even talk. That would be disloyal.

Democrats occasionally would remind Republicans that the last budget surpluses were under Bill Clinton. This was true, but it was not important, and clearly it was never going to happen again.

Clearly Donald Trump is vulnerable. He cares nothing for fiscal prudence.

For a moment it sounded as if there might be one voice in 2020 for fiscal rectitude. Billionaire Howard Schultz, the former chairman of Starbucks, longtime Democrat and contributor to Hillary Clinton, created a stir back in January by floating the idea of running for president as an independent. His signature issue was the deficit, the debt, and the public credit — businessmen’s issues, to be sure, but important ones. That the federal debt had risen to $21 trillion, he said, represented “a reckless and immoral abandonment of leadership” by both parties. He was absolutely right. He was also for reform of the immigration law and the federal tax code, which he said had been held up by the hyper-partisanship in Congress. He was right about that, too.

Speaking January 30 on MSNBC, Schultz said he was no longer a Democrat, because, he said, “I do not believe what the Democratic Party stands for” — namely, a federal takeover of health insurance, free college for all, and a job for everyone, guaranteed by the government. All these things, he said, would cost trillions the federal government didn’t have, but if you didn’t swallow these proposals anyway, you could not be a Democrat.

“I don’t believe what Elizabeth Warren stands for,” he said. “I don’t believe the country should be heading toward socialism.”

“You think Elizabeth Warren is a socialist?” a panelist asked.

ll these things would cost trillions the federal government didn’t have, but if you didn’t swallow these proposals anyway, you could not be a Democrat.

“I think she believes in programs that will lead to a level of socialism in America,” Schultz replied.

The TV people got on Schultz’s case for being a rich guy. Schultz did not apologize.

“I’m self-made,” he said. “I grew up in the projects in New York. Elizabeth Warren wants to criticize me for being successful. No. It’s wrong.”

The Democrats in Shultz’s hometown, Seattle, told each other that Schultz was a “corporate candidate” who didn’t believe in anything. It was not true; he just didn’t believe what they did. In any case Schultz was persuaded not to run, and by now he is entirely forgotten. So, apparently, is his central issue, the federal government’s uncontrolled spending and borrowing.

I’m sad about that. Probably I would have voted for him.




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First They Came for Lori Loughlin

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C-list actress Lori Loughlin and her husband are said to be “stressed” and “terrified” about the federal government’s actions in their college admissions bribery case.

They were originally charged in federal court with paying half a million dollars to get their two daughters admitted to the University of Southern California on the pretense that they were athletes for the crew team. They were indicted for fraud and conspiracy. They pled not guilty, so they were indicted for money laundering. Now they’re being charged with “attempting to bribe officials at an organization that receives at least $10,000 in federal funding.”

If you think this is a bizarre crime, it is. It’s just another way of making everything punishable by the federal government. And in this case it’s just a reiteration of the original offense, a way of punishing people over and over for the same thing.

It’s about time that people in Hollywood realized that the aggressive state, which almost all of them seem to worship, is perfectly happy to crush people like them, too.

It’s no wonder that an anonymous “source close to Loughlin” asks, “How do you go up against the federal government, when the government has decided to make an example out of you?”

I strongly suspect that Loughlin and her husband are guilty of a ridiculous overvaluation of “higher education.” I once happened to be on the campus of Cal State San Jose when graduation was approaching, and I saw a posse of leftwing students passing out “diplomas” representing degrees in Middle Class Status. They smiled and shook the hands of the “graduates,” in perfect imitation of the way the poohbahs at commencement exercises smile and shake your hand when conferring on you the proof that you, even you, have Gone to College. Point taken. Certificates aren’t education, even though some people are willing to pay half a million bucks for them.

But I also know that Loughlin’s criminal charges are an absurd (though by now, very typical) instance of piling on by the federal government. It’s about time that people in Hollywood realized that the aggressive state, which almost all of them seem to worship, is perfectly happy to crush people like them, too. Will they learn? I doubt it.




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High Crimes and Misdemeanors

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Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel wrote October 3, “Donald Trump should not have been on the phone with a foreign head of state encouraging another country to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden. Some Republicans are trying, but there’s no way to spin this as a good idea.” They conclude, though, that it’s “hard to argue” that the phone call “rises to the level of an impeachable offense.”

I think that’s about right. I read the summary of the conversation between Trump and the Ukrainian president. It’s sloppy and unpresidential. The way to deal with it is to expose it, denounce it, and maybe laugh about it. Which has been done.

Americans have removed presidents from office many times — by denying them reelection, by persuading them not to run again, and by passing the twenty-second amendment. In 230 years Congress has never actually removed a president through the full process of impeachment, though in Richard Nixon’s case it came close enough to force him to resign. But remember what Nixon did. A team of burglars broke in to the national office of the political party opposing his reelection, seeking damaging information; Nixon helped to cover this up. What did Trump do? He suggested that the president of Ukraine investigate Joe Biden and his son, an action that was improper for him to suggest. A US president, acting under the authority of his office, should not ask a foreign president to do something that might help him in his attempt to be reelected. Investigating the Bidens is not wrong in itself, though. It’s probably a good idea.

The way to deal with Trump's conduct is to expose it, denounce it, and maybe laugh about it. Which has been done.

And think, too, of the high crimes and misdemeanors of other presidents. Franklin Roosevelt pushed through blatantly unconstitutional legislation in 1933, and when the Supreme Court tossed it out, he tried to subvert the Court. That is corrupting the balance of power under the constitution. It was such a gross and un-American act that the most solidly Democratic Congress in the 20th century, composed mostly of his poodles, stopped him from doing it.

After Japan attacked the United States, Roosevelt signed an executive order to round up 110,000 Japanese Americans on the Pacific Coast and put them behind barbed wire. This was also blatantly unconstitutional, and, according to the FBI, not necessary. But there was a war on, and the public, the press, the Congress and the Court all let him do it. They didn’t condemn him, either, when the military under his command firebombed Dresden and Tokyo, or when he announced the policy of unconditional surrender, which likely prolonged the war. During the war, he also issued an executive order seizing the soft-coal mines to stop a strike by the United Mine Workers — an act that, when Harry Truman did it with the steel mills, would be found unconstitutional. Roosevelt cared nothing about the constitutional limits on his power. But the American people elected him four times, effectively making him president for life. Congress put his head on the dime, and the historians say he was the greatest president of the 20th century. No impeachment for him.

In 1945, Harry Truman authorized the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, which probably was not necessary, and then on Nagasaki, which clearly was not. If the Germans had done it, it would have been a war crime subject to prosecution at Nuremburg. In 1950 Truman took the country into the Korean War without a declaration of war or an “authorization for the use of military force” from Congress. Truman got an OK from the UN Security Council, but the law of the land said he needed one from Congress, and he didn’t bother to ask. In 1952, Truman seized the American steel mills by executive order in order to settle a labor dispute. That time, the Supreme Court, which was made up entirely of Democratic appointees, said his order was unconstitutional.

The historians now say Truman was “near-great.” And the neocons revere him.

FDR attempted such a gross and un-American act that the most solidly Democratic Congress in the 20th century, composed mostly of his poodles, stopped him from doing it.

Lyndon Johnson did ask for an authorization to join the war in Southeast Asia — the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution — but it was based on a false report that a US ship was attacked in international waters, without having violated the waters of North Vietnam. Almost 40 years later, George W. Bush asked for an authorization to start a war — not join one, start one — against Iraq, based on a false report that Iraq was developing a nuclear weapon. Johnson’s and Bush’s wars killed hundreds of thousands of foreigners.

Sum it up. We’ve had presidents who pushed through unconstitutional laws and tried to neuter the Supreme Court; who put more than 100,000 people in concentration camps without due process of law; who approved the killing of hundreds of thousands of foreign women, children, and old men in war; who took the nation to war based on falsehoods that they should have known were false (and maybe did); who went to war without authorization; and who seized the industrial properties of Americans without authorization. We’ve also had presidents who authorized illegal wiretaps, illegal spying, the removal of foreign governments, corruption of foreign elections, on and on.

Since Nixon, the only attempt to remove a president from office had to do with his lying about sex with an intern. And now comes a push to impeach a president over an improper suggestion made during a telephone call to a foreign ruler.

Harry Truman authorized the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, which probably was not necessary, and then on Nagasaki, which clearly was not.

I note also that a push to impeach Trump has existed ever since his election. His political opponents staged public protest marches against him before he had a chance to do anything. Now they go “Aha! We gotcha! A smoking gun!”

I run a risk by writing these words, because after they are published, a real “smoking gun” may pop up. Maybe, but it needs to be worse than this.




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