On the scandal-free Obama administration

While BHO certainly was free of the personal scandals of a Bill Clinton or Donald Trump, the political scandals were a different matter.  Here’s KDW:

Not only was the Obama administration marked by scandal of the most serious sort — perverting the machinery of the state for political ends — it was on that front, which is the most important one, the most scandal-scarred administration in modern presidential history.

For your consideration:

Under the Obama administration’s watch, the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies from the BATF to the NLRB were illegally used to target and harass the president’s political enemies. The IRS targeting scandal was the most high-profile of these, but others are just as worrisome. Federal investigations and congressional oversight were obstructed, and investigators were lied to outright — a serious crime. The administration protected the wrongdoers and saw to it that they retired with generous federal pensions rather than serving federal sentences for their crimes.

The Obama administration oversaw the illegal sale of arms to Mexican traffickers for purposes that to this date have not been adequately explained, and those guns have been used to murder American law-enforcement officers.

President Obama’s secretary of state was involved in a high-profile case in which she improperly set up a private e-mail system to evade ordinary governmental oversight; she and her associates routinely misled investigators, obstructed investigations, and hid or destroyed evidence. These are all serious crimes.

The Obama administration made ransom payments to the Iranian government and lied about having done so.

Under the Obama administration, the Secret Service has been a one-agency scandal factory, from drunk agents driving their cars into White House barriers to getting mixed up with hookers in Cartagena.

Under the guise of developing “green” energy projects, the Obama administration shunted money to politically connected cronies at Solyndra and elsewhere.

Obama’s men at the Veterans Administration oversaw a system in which our servicemen lost their lives to bureaucratic incompetence and medical neglect, and then falsified records to cover it up.

Under the flimsiest of national-security pretexts, the Obama administration used the Department of Justice to spy on Fox News reporter James Rosen. It also spied on the Associated Press.

The Obama administration’s attorney general, Eric Holder, left office while being held in contempt of Congress for inhibiting the investigation of other Obama administration scandals.

But, no: No embarrassing stain on a blue dress.

Without minimizing the authentic personal degeneracy of Bill Clinton, sexual scandals are minor concerns. They become large public scandals because the numbskulls understand sex and can relate to sexual infidelity. If you’ve ever tried explaining to someone how futures trading works and watched his expression turn to that of a taxidermied mule deer, then you know why it is Bill Clinton, and not Hillary Clinton, who is the face of scandal.

It is one thing to have a degenerate president. It is something else — something far worse — to have a degenerate government. Barack Obama may have spent the past eight years as sober as a Sunday morning (his main vice, we are told, is sneaking cigarettes) and straight as a No. 2 pencil, but he leaves behind a government that is perverted.

A liberal society with decent government requires that the pursuit of political power be insulated from the exercise of political power. That is why we have a Hatch Act and why the various dreams of the would-be campaign-finance police — who would have congressmen and presidents write the rules under which congressmen and presidents may be criticized and challenged — are in reality nightmares. (Here, let us say a word of thanks for the First Amendment and Citizens United.) Having an IRS that sorts nonprofits by their political stances in order to facilitate the harassment of political rivals is in real terms far worse than anything Bill Clinton got up to with Monica Lewinsky, and far worse than the shenanigans that Gordon Liddy and the rest of the Nixon henchmen got up to in the WatergateThe BATF harassment of True the Vote and other Obama-administration enemies is the stuff of which banana republics are made. Using the machinery of the state to seek political power and to aggrandize the political power one holds is the most destructive form of political corruption there is. A sane society would prosecute it the way we prosecute murder or armed robbery. It is a scandal and more than that: It is an assault on the foundations of a free society.

Here’e VDH:

Obama himself recently concluded of his eight-year tenure, “I didn’t have scandals.”

Those were puzzling assertions, given nearly nonstop scandals during Obama’s eight years in office involving the IRS; General Services Administration; Peace Corps; Secret Service; Veterans Administration; and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, not to mention the Clinton email-server scandal, the Benghazi scandal, and the 2016 Democratic National Committee email scandal.

For nearly eight years, the Obama administration sought to cover up serial wrongdoing by waging a veritable war against the watchdog inspectors general of various federal agencies.

In 2014, 47 of the nation’s 73 inspectors general signed a letter alleging that Obama had stonewalled their “ability to conduct our work thoroughly, independently, and in a timely manner.”

The frustrated nonpartisan auditors cited systematic Obama-administration refusals to turn over incriminating documents that were central to their investigations.

The administration had purportedly tried to sidetrack an IG investigation into possible misconduct by then–Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson. In addition, the Obama administration reportedly thwarted IG investigations of Amtrak, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and the Office of Management and Budget.

Despite the campaign against these independent federal auditors, a number of inspectors general still managed to issue damning indictments of unethical behavior.

 

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My home and native land: “In some ways, the most anti-American country on earth.”

I liked this NRO article by J.J. McCullough enough to save it here in my private repository.  I believe it does a great job of briefly describing the psychological dance between and economic integration of the two nations.

‘America First’ Should Include Canada

We’re two parts of a contiguous Anglo-American continental civilization.

Justin Trudeau’s offending words of resistance to President Trump’s aluminum and steel tariffs contained a cultural tic common to his people. Vowing to retaliate, the prime minister proclaimed that “Canadians are polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around.”

By wording his outrage this way, Trudeau illustrated how Canadians of his sort are almost pathologically unable to articulate a sense of self without a gratuitous dig at the United States. When one views U.S.–Canada relations as an existential game of compare-and-contrast, one does not call Canadians “polite” and “reasonable” without implying that Americans are neither.

Canada, where I have lived my entire life, can be a difficult country to understand for those who love the United States, as I do. It is, in some ways, the most anti-American country on earth. As a polity founded in explicit opposition to the United States — first the Revolution, then the republic — there exists no other nation that has invested as much energy in crafting a sense of patriotism that holds the rejection of America so central.

On the other hand, much of Canada’s patriotic project has clearly failed and seems absurd for having tried. By any cultural metric, Canada is part of a contiguous Anglo-American continental civilization that predates either nation-state. Canada’s effort to exist as a counter-revolutionary, illiberal, inegalitarian, colonial society was short-lived, and was always taken far more seriously by its rulers than by its subjects. For all the self-flattery of Trudeau-types about how Canadians are kinder or more gentle or whatever, real-world Canadians remain largely indistinguishable from Americans in flaw and virtue, a reminder of government’s limited capacity to reshape the nature of a people.

This does not undermine the significance of the American Revolution but serves as its long-term vindication. The Revolution created ideas and institutions best suited to the independent, individualistic nature of Anglo-American life, and over time, Canada incorporated virtually all of its principles, from federalism to a bill of rights, into its own constitutional order (albeit through imperfect emulation). Absent divergence on these big questions, Canadians are told to find nationalism through juvenile comparisons such as whose citizens are “nicer.”

The effort to cast Canada as sharply distinctive still has its boosters, of course. The U.S. Left constantly inflates the Canadian government’s divergence in certain public-policy realms into differences far more profound than say, those separating Alabama from Connecticut. Explanations are offered that lean on false and romantic generalizations about a supposed “Canadian character” rather than an accurate read of how Canada’s worse constitution enshrines fewer of the checks and balances that soften the scope and dogmatism of American legislation.

The American Right incorporates similar conclusions into its own thinking, dismissing Canada as just another exotic welfare state. In this context, Justin Trudeau may truly be one of the least helpful leaders Canada has ever produced, given his reinforcement of every negative stereotype about effete Canadian progressives. (Those fond of imagining Trudeau as his country’s uncontested avatar, however, should recall that his approval rating sits lower than President Trump’s.)

Yet from a higher view, Canada and the United States remain countries more similar in the ways that count than any two others. Which is why the current trade spat between their leaders — and the possibility of any deeper breakdown of economic ties — is uniquely disheartening.

Canada lacks any capacity for, or interest in, being Washington’s adversary. We share a land mass and through integrated defense systems such as NORAD protect the same security perimeter. Energy self-sufficiency is similarly continental, reliant on cross-border infrastructure such as the Keystone XL pipeline. As fresh attention is paid to cynical “asylum shoppers” sneaking across the Canadian border, we are reminded of the degree to which immigration enforcement remains unavoidably continental, too.

Deepening Canadian–U.S. trade through lower tariffs, harmonized regulation, and easier cross-border commerce, embodied in a long-term, bilateral agreement, should be the biggest no-brainer for any U.S. administration interested in what President Trump calls “free, fair, and reciprocal trade.” Thirty-five states have Canada as their biggest export market, and Canadian industry is so compliantly integrated into America’s economic regime that it possesses only a handful of sectors seeking to compete with or undermine their American counterparts — Canadian dairy being more the exception than the rule.

A thickened border born from a prolonged period of vindictiveness or indifference between the two nations’ leaders is sabotage of a shared project. Premature American tariffs could push Canada’s already fragile economy into recession, while Canada’s reciprocal tariffs are explicitly designed to hurt a wide swath of American industries in politically important states. Though Canada will never present a serious geopolitical threat to America, the White House should be wary of provoking Canadian anti-Americanism to the point where the country seeks China’s embrace, an idea the Canadian elite has long been toying with.

In the aftermath of the recent G-7 summit, the Left has spouted tendentious outrage about President Trump offending Justin Trudeau while groveling to Kim Jong-un. But alliances aren’t built on good manners alone. Trump’s Canada policy needs to do more than avoid hurting the Canadian prime minister’s feelings; it needs to appreciate Canada’s indispensability in fulfilling the president’s goal of national sovereignty and self-sufficiency.

“America First” is more than the agenda of a government, after all — it’s the goal of a civilization.

 

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Stalin, Waiting for Hitler (1929-1941)

stalinUncommon Knowledge interview with Princeton Prof Stephen Kotkin, who just completed Waiting for Hitler (1929-1941), his 2nd (of 3) volume about Stalin.  Volume IParadoxes of Power (1878-1928), was on Stalin’s rise, and Volume 3, with the working title Miscalculation and the Mao Eclipse, is tbd.

The author argues that “certain aspects of Communism” made dictatorship possible – the ideology, the class warfare, the closed borders, the propaganda, etc. –  but it took a monster like Stalin to pull it off at that scale in that country.

Whether or not you were as animated by anti-Communism as I was as a lad, you’ll find the details fascinating:  how he consolidated power, Collectivization, the “Lucky Harvest” that saved him, The Terror.

Quick (2 mins) taste, Professor Kotkin commenting on Reagan’s “evil empire” characterization.  Peter Robinson’s reaction is priceless!

Bonus content:  an interview from 2015, after publication of Vol I:

The old way of thinking is Stalin did what he did to consolidate his power. No. He did what he did because he was a communist.

 

 

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Making fuel out of CO2 – a breakthru?

If this holds up – IF – it’s great news.  However, typically, by the time the whole story catches up to the press release, we learn it’s actually going to take some time before we achieve widespread, cost-effective commercialization.  But I believe the larger point holds:  the only viable answer is innovation and adaptation, not hair shirts.

A team of scientists at Harvard University and a company called Carbon Engineering announced this week that they’ve figured out a low-cost, industrial-scale method of pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Needless to say, it sounds like an exciting technology, which would, as The AtlanticRobinson Meyer notes, “transform how humanity thinks about the problem of climate change.”

To be fair, though, plenty of humans have argued that innovation, rather than widespread state-compelled behavior modification or top-down economic regimes like the ones the Left has proposed over the years, would eventually deal with climate change. This conviction was based on the historic propensity of those human beings to hatch advances in efficiency and technology when left to their own devices. They always do.

If the industrial-scale de-carbonization stabilizes temperatures — and it now seems inevitable that it’ll be a big part of the solution — the Malthusian notions that dominate the modern Left will once again lose out to capitalistic innovation. This was inevitable when Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon were betting on resource scarcity, Al Gore was producing chilling Oscar-winning science-fiction films, and contemporary Chicken Littles were telling us the human race was doomed.

Maybe even fantastic news…

That’s fantastic news, because, despite decades of sensational predictions and “education” on the topic, our behavior hasn’t really changed. Americans simply weren’t prepared to surrender their prosperity, freedom, comfort, cars, red meat, travel, air conditioners, etc. to global warming fears, no matter what they told pollsters. Nor would anyone else, for that matter.

It now seems likely that we’re going to be able to reach environmentalists’ carbon-cutting goals at a fraction of the price. The paper claims that companies will be able to remove a metric ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for as little as $94. The cost of averting less than one degree of warming by 2100, according to some, would have cost around $2 trillion every year for a century — which doesn’t include the economic toll it would extract from the world’s economy.

In the near future, in addition to continued gains in efficiency, your community may have a choice between paying for giant, expensive fields of intermittently useful windmills and solar panels or a plant that cleans the air by converting hydrocarbon into liquid fuel. I wonder which one rational people will choose…

We can’t have complete certitude about the future, of course, but you’re not a techno-utopian to trust that humans typically find ways to adapt. You’re not Pollyannaish to point out that, by nearly every quantifiable measure, the state of humanity has improved over the years we were busy panicking about global warming — people are safer, live longer, and are freer. They’ve cut poverty, illiteracy, infant mortality, and so on.

Plenty of those gains rely on the availability of cheap, dependable energy — as does our own growth and wealth.

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We could use some excessive magnanimity

Kevin D. Williamson writes “It is not obvious to me that what’s wrong with American political culture is excessive magnanimity.” in Can We Talk?

He makes this interesting analogy to Bonini’s Paradox:

The more realistic a model is, the more it becomes as complex and difficult to understand as the real world; the simpler and more user-friendly a model becomes, the less accurately it represents the underlying system. Mass democracy and mass media on the American model work to impose on the complex reality of American public life the simplest possible model of politics, aggregating all of political reality into two variables: Us and Them.

Another way of putting this is that the unstated task of cable-news journalism on the Fox/MSNBC model — along with practically all political talk radio, 99.44 percent of social media, and a great deal of inferior writing about politics — is transmuting intellectual complexity into moral simplicity. Even that isn’t quite right: The moral simplicity offered by the “Everybody Who Disagrees with Me Is Hitler” school of analysis is a false simplicity — simplicity for the truly simple, as opposed to what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. described as “the simplicity on the far side of complexity.”

He then turns to what he calls the “typical American newspaperman’s tedious “moderate, sensible, voice of reason” posturing,” citing Nicholas Goldberg, the LATimes’ editorial page editor as an example:

He writes: “Obviously, if people can’t agree on basic truths (such as whether climate change exists or whether vaccines are dangerous or whether immigrants are a net benefit or net loss for the country), they can’t work together toward substantive solutions.”

But there is nothing basic about any of the truths related to, to take two of Goldberg’s examples, climate change or immigration. That the political dispute surrounding climate change is primarily a scientific question about whether it exists is pure nonsense, cheap but effective rhetoric deployed by left-leaning activists who want to use the well-earned prestige of science as a cudgel in what is principally a dispute about risk management, economic tradeoffs, democratic processes, and national sovereignty. It is entirely possible to accept the conventional scientific view of climate change and to reject the policies favored by Al Gore et al. on the grounds that they are unlikely to provide benefits that are worth the cost of imposing them—a view that is in fact much more common among right-leaning thinkers on the issue than the cartoonish view that Goldberg would prefer to consider.

The only “basic truth” here is that treating this as a straightforward question of “basic truth” is basically bulls**t.

Likewise immigration. Immigration is not purely an economic question, but the economic questions alone are vastly complex and, in all likelihood, impossible to model or forecast to any degree of meaningful reliability. The usual mechanism by which immigration is said to provide a net economic benefit to the country is poorly understood even by most of the people who write about immigration on a professional or semiprofessional basis. I don’t think I’ve encountered more than six people able to explain it. I’d bet 50 bucks that Nicholas Goldberg isn’t one of them. Because if he did understand how that works — new immigrant workers put downward pressure on the wages of previous immigrant workers, driving down the prices of some goods and services and thereby raising in price-adjusted terms the nominally stagnant wages of native-born workers — he wouldn’t write about it as though it were a simple question. Because it ain’t.

Even the vaccine question he mentions, which does bring out the kooks, isn’t actually all that straightforward, which is why we have a gigantic scientific and regulatory apparatus dedicated to the very question of figuring out “whether vaccines are dangerous.” …  Does that mean we should stop taking smallpox vaccines? No, it means that we should stop writing about complicated things as though they were simple.

For a succinct explanation for how it looks to us on the Right, go over to The Ricochet Podcast, in which Andrew Klavan speculates about why/how our debate has gotten to the point where some believe it’s OK to be indecent to people just because they don’t think like we do and therefore aren’t worth the civil niceties.

Sometime around ’68  is when they just decided that it’s not that they were right and we were wrong, it was that they were right and they were good – and we were wrong and we were evil.  Once you reach that place, how do you have a conversation, how do you talk about anything?  When anything you say is going to be interpreted as bad?

Making matters worse:  the ideological imbalance in the press which treats conservative voices poorly and make it next to impossible to have a conversation.  (See example above from The Los Angeles Times.)

Scott Adams – creator of Dilbert, and, believe it or not, one who predicted Trump’s victory in 2016 – says we’re talking past each other because we’re essentially watching two different movies.

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A “reformulated Socialism of Fools”

Brendan O’Neill writes that Anti-Semitism is different from other anti’s in important ways:

Anti-Semitism is older. It is far more entrenched in certain European circles. It is far more historically given to mass acts of violence, from pogroms to extermination. And – the really crucial bit – its re-emergence always tells us something important about the destabilisation of society and its descent once again into irrationalism, conspiracism, scapegoating, and fear of modernity. That is why the recent return of anti-Semitism, as a reformulated Socialism of Fools, leading to the casual spread of pseudo-radical conspiracy theories and even to horrific anti-Jewish violence and graffiti in countries like France, Belgium and Sweden, deserves our serious attention. Because this return of the old hatred speaks to an unhinging, a moral disarray, a crisis of reason. And yet if we focus too hard on this, and try to have a reckoning with it, the opinion-forming set will breathe down our necks: ‘And Muslims? What about them? You don’t care?’ It looks increasingly like a tactic of distraction.

Anti-Muslim prejudice unquestionably exists, but Islamophobia is an invention. Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of the Runnymede Trust, one of Britain’s leading race-equality think-tanks. It openly boasts that it is ‘credited with coining the term Islamophobia… in 1997’. And what does this term Islamophobia mean? It doesn’t mean racial hatred. Runnymede’s definition of Islamophobia, which has been adopted by the Metropolitan Police, includes any suggestion that Islam is ‘inferior to the West’, and even the belief that Islam is sexist. If you think Islam is ‘unresponsive to change’, you are Islamophobic. And, get this, if you ‘reject out of hand’ ‘criticisms of the West made by Islam’, you’re an Islamophobe. So even to ridicule Islam’s view of the West is apparently to be infected with the ‘cancer’ of this so-called racism.

These are criticisms of religion. In a free society they ought to be entirely legitimate views, subject to no punishment whatsoever. And yet the police actually say in their internal documents that the ideas listed above count as ‘Islamophobia’. That is chilling. Anti-Muslim prejudice is out there, yes. But ‘Islamophobia’ is an elite invention, a top-down conceit, designed to chill open discussion about religion and values and to protect one particular religion from blasphemy. The war on Islamophobia is in essence a demand for censorship. To compare this ‘racism’ invented by the chattering classes 20 years ago to the millennia-long outbursts of violent hatred for the Jewish people is historically illiterate and morally repugnant.

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Sound and fury…

David Harsanyi argues that the president is actually strengthening the constitutional checks and balances undermined by the previous administration, while only his tone is problematic.

I will not defend his style for the same reason I will defend some his policies:  I’m a small-r republican (a classic liberal).  Here’s Harsanyi:

If your contention is that President Donald Trump has the propensity to sound like a bully and an authoritarian, I’m with you. If you’re arguing that Trump’s rhetoric is sometimes coarse and unpresidential, I can’t disagree. I’m often turned off by the aesthetic and tonal quality of his presidency. And, yes, Trump has an unhealthy tendency to push theories that exaggerate and embellish small truths to galvanize his fans for political gain. Those are all legitimate political concerns.

Yet the ubiquitous claim that Trump acts in a way that uniquely undermines the rule of law is, to this point, simply untrue.

At National Review, Victor Davis Hanson has it right when he argues that “elites” often seem more concerned about the “mellifluous” tone of leaders rather than their abuse of power. “Obama defies the Constitution but sounds ‘presidential,’” he writes. “Trump follows it but sounds like a loudmouth from Queens.”

But while former president Obama’s agreeable tone had plenty to do with his lack of scrutiny by the media, many reporters and pundits largely justified, and even cheered, his abuses because they furthered progressive causes. Not only did liberals often ignore the rule of law when it was ideologically convenient for them; they now want the new president to play by a set of rules that doesn’t even exist.

Partisans tend to conflate their own policy preferences with the rule of law, or with democracy or patriotism. But the pervasive claim that the Trump administration has uniquely undermined the law, a claim that dominates coverage, typically amounts to concerns about how he comports himself. For example, entering into international treaties without the Senate or creating fiscal subsidies without Congress are the types of things that corrode the rule of law. Firing (or threatening to fire) your subordinates at the Justice Department, on the other hand, is well within the purview of presidential powers.

The author compares (favorably) Trump DoJ’s indepence to Obama’s, his treatment of Mueller to Clinton’s of Starr, and his pardons to Clinton’s at the end of his term.  Then:

Nor does Trump undermine the rule of law when he rolls back the previous administration’s unilateral abuses on immigration and faux treaties. In many ways, Trump has strengthened the checks and balances that were broken by the rhetorically soothing President Obama. Mock the phrase “but Gorsuch” if you like, but the newest Supreme Court pick will probably do more to curb the state’s overreach than any justice the Left would ever put on any bench.

Now, any defense of the Trump administration will, of course, meet charges of sycophancy and “anti-anti-Trumpism.” But none of this is to argue that the Trump administration is a paragon of lawfulness. It’s far from it. So stop exaggerating. The astoundingly terrible and hypocritical arguments of the president’s detractors often make it imperative to defend neutral principles and process.

More here, courtesy of David French:

All too many people treat Trump as if he’s a malignant growth in an otherwise-healthy political body. Nothing could be further from the truth. While there are certainly values that Trump has transgressed, Americans still don’t understand the full extent of the damage done to our constitutional system by prior presidents and previous Congresses.

Obama’s “pen and phone” presidency itself represented a significant degradation of norms, and Democrats were either oblivious to the consequences or so sure the “coalition of the ascendant” would guarantee future political dominance that they did not care. Frustrated at Republican intransigence — and convinced that the GOP was somehow thwarting not just the will of the people but also the arc of history — Democrats endorsed and defended massive assertions of presidential power.

Obama waged war in Libya without congressional authorization. He defied immigration statutes to implement sweeping reforms via memoranda. His Department of Education functionally rewrote Title IX and created a constitutional crisis on campus. He pursued leakers at a record pace, spying on journalists and prosecuting more people under the Espionage Act for leaking secrets than all previous presidents combined.

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