Should We Be Optimistic About The Future Of The United States?

At the Manhattan Contrarian family dinner table the other day, the subject of conversation turned to this question: Should we be optimistic about the future of the United States? Good and valid points were made on both sides of the issue. But the most important point weighed for the side of optimism. That point was that, of all the countries in the world, the United States is the place where the people — rather than the government — really run the country. Here, more than anyplace else, people can pursue their own initiatives and dreams without the government having the ability to obstruct and stymie private efforts, and force resources into pathways chosen by elite government functionaries.

Why does this matter? It’s not complicated. From the perspective of aggregate economic performance, the simple answer is that a trial-and-error process with hundreds of millions of participants will come up with much better and more numerous solutions to human problems than the small number of the very smartest people with government authority can ever come up with. From the perspective of the individual, the answer is that the only worthwhile life to lead is the life of freedom, where you make your own choices and take responsibility for your own success or failure. . . .

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Trump Has Some Basic Knowledge About Negotiation; Maybe Boris Johnson Does Too

Say what you will about Donald Trump, here’s one thing you have to give him: he has some basic knowledge — or maybe it’s just instinct — of how to go about negotiating a deal. This is in great contrast to others you see on the world stage, including people in the office of U.S. President or British Prime Minister. You would think that knowing the fundamentals about how to negotiate with other world leaders would be a basic requirement for either of those jobs, but of course that is not true. The voters don’t know much about this subject, and can’t be expected to. As to the U.S. presidency, other than Trump, I can’t think of any other candidate who has even put forward high-level negotiating skills as part of the campaign pitch.

I’m not saying that I agree with every tactic that Trump has employed in his various negotiations as President, let alone with all of the goals that he has pursued. Rather, I’m talking here only about basic negotiating strategy, where at its core there is only one point that is important among all others. Here it is: If you want to get your best deal in a negotiation, you must be willing to walk away, and you must demonstrate that willingness to your negotiating counterparty. . . .

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Covert Surveillance By The Government Of The Opposition's Presidential Campaign Is Not OK

As more information comes to light of the extent of the surveillance of the Trump presidential campaign by the Obama FBI and CIA, the progressive media defense of the government's conduct becomes increasingly monotone and totally devoid of skepticism.  Of course our brave protectors had to surveil the opposition presidential campaign!  Trump and his people were talking to the Russians!

Over at CNN, they have now hired ex-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to utter the talking points of the day.  Recall that back in March 2017, appearing on Meet the Press, Clapper strenuously denied that there was any "wiretap" on the Trump campaign.  Clapper's new line, delivered on ABC's The View on May 22, is that actually the government wasn't really surveilling the campaign, but only "the Russians," and Trump should be happy about that:

"With the informant business, well, the point here is the Russians," Clapper said. "Not spying on the campaign but what are the Russians doing? And in a sense, unfortunately, what they were trying to do is protect our political system and protect the campaign."    

Over at the New York Times, the new official line is that, so long as the word "Russia" can be mentioned, any and all surveillance of opposition campaigns is perfectly OK.

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A Few Comments On The Latest Revelations Of FBI Corruption

Apologies to all for not being on the job when yesterday's big New York Times compilation of the latest FBI leaks dropped on the world. . . .

In the intervening day since the latest FBI revelations, a few thousand commentators have already thrown in their thoughts on the situation.  Rather than repeat what many others have already said, I will just offer a few observations.

First, I told you so.  On the question of FBI, and Obama administration, surveillance of the Trump campaign, sadly things are playing out just as I predicted over a year ago (April 7, 2017), in a post titled "Reasonable Inferences About The Weird Obsession With Russia."  The gist of that post was that you would be very unlikely to go wrong by inferring, even from what was known then, that high-ranking officials in the Obama administration had succumbed to the overwhelming temptation to use the tools of state surveillance to advantage their political friends and disadvantage their enemies.

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Resounding Echoes Of Watergate In The Susan Rice Email

It has now been a few days since Senators Grassley and Graham released a letter they had sent to ex-National Security Advisor Susan Rice, demanding information from her about a meeting held in the White House on January 5, 2017, and attaching to their letter a redacted copy of a remarkable email describing the meeting that Rice sent to herself on the government email system on January 20, 2017 at 12:15 PM.The Grassley/Graham letter and attached Rice email can be found here.   

You will recognize January 20 at 12:15 PM as being about 20 minutes after Donald Trump was sworn in as President, and therefore the same number of minutes after Susan Rice's term as National Security Advisor had ended. She had no further government business to do, and therefore had no possible legitimate purpose related to government business to write herself this email on the government email system.


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Obama: The Most Corrupt President In American History?

During the years of the Obama presidency, do you recall members of his administration and his media echo chamber constantly crowing that this administration was the most "scandal free" in history?  To give you a tiny reminder, here is an article from The Hill on January 15, 2017, just a few days before Obama stepped down, quoting then Chief of Staff Denis McDonough talking to Jake Tapper on CNN's State of the Union:

“I will say that the thing I’m most proud of, Jake, is an administration now acknowledging that we will have 6 days left or 5 days left, that has been historically free of scandal.”

Well, here we are just over a year later, and suddenly things are coming out about the prior administration that are not only a "scandal," but seem to take corruption to a whole new level in American experience.  Perhaps it is time for a review of President Obama to see where he ranks on the corruption scale.

At the outset, I will make a distinction between two forms of political corruption, both bad, but one far, far worse than the other.  The first, less bad sort is the common political corruption of our experience, namely the pol on the take.  The pol takes payments (bribes) from a member of the public, and in return provides political favors to the briber in betrayal of the taxpayers' trust.  OK, that's pretty bad.  But in my view, far, far worse is corruption in the form of use by an elected official of the powers of the government to advantage one side of the political divide (his or her own, of course) over the other, and thus to perpetuate the power of the pol and his friends and supporters.  This form of corruption goes to the very integrity of our democracy -- to those things that distinguish us from a Banana Republic.  

I don't have much to criticize Obama about as to corruption type one.  Perhaps he was smart enough to realize that an ex-President in today's world can immediately step out of the job and earn tens of millions of dollars by selling vapid ghost-written books or giving speeches at $500,000 a pop.  Why take the risk of accepting bribes?

But let's consider the case of Obama and corruption type two.  I'll do a small roundup:

  • New Black Panther Party.  During the prior Bush ("W") administration, career and line prosecutors at the Department of Justice had prepared a prosecution of a group called the New Black Panther Party for crimes including voter intimidation.  (Perhaps you can recall the pictures of the NBBP members with rifles standing outside voting places in Philadelphia.)  On assuming office, Obama and his new AG Eric Holder promptly shut down the case.  The Civil Rights Commission investigated, and in 2011 issued a scathing report.  Jennifer Rubin summarized the findings in the Washington Post (quoted at PowerLine): "1) the New Black Panther Party case brought by career Justice Department employees was meritorious on the law and the facts; 2) there is voluminous evidence of the Obama administration’s political interference in the prosecution of the New Black Panther Party case; 3) there is ample evidence that the Obama administration directed Justice Department employees not to bring cases against minority defendants who violated voting rights laws or to enforce a provision requiring that states and localities clean up their voting rolls to prevent fraud . . . .  "  By the way, I think this was a valid exercise of the "prosecutorial discretion" function of the executive, and therefore not a crime.  That doesn't mean that it was not deeply corrupt.
  • IRS.  In the run-up to the 2012 election, the IRS delayed the granting of tax-exempt status to pro-life and Tea Party groups, with the clear purpose and effect of suppressing the ability of those groups to participate in the political discussion relating to a presidential election.  From this collection of Obama-era scandals: "[P]ro-life and Tea Party groups were deliberately targeted for extra scrutiny, their tax exemption applications outrageously delayed until after the 2012 election without actually being refused. . . .  [I]n the follow-up scandal, . . .  IRS officials brazenly lied about having backups of relevant computer data. The American people were expected to believe that multiple state-of-the-art hard drives failed, and were instantly shredded instead of being subjected to data recovery procedures. . . .  [S]candal kingpin Lois Lerner got to enjoy her taxpayer-funded retirement after taking the Fifth to thwart lawful congressional investigation."  This one clearly did involve crimes.
  • Phony prosecutions of big banks followed by illegal, unconstitutional transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars to Democratic Party-supporting groups.  This one has been the subject of extensive coverage at Manhattan Contrarian, collected under my Phony Prosecutions tag, and in my view was the biggest political scandal in American history prior to the current FBI disaster.  The Obama/Holder/Lynch Justice Department pursued dozens of "prosecutions" of the biggest banks, mostly on the thinnest of charges, with complete confidence that the banks would never take a case to trial.  The correct word for the process was "shakedowns."  Something like $100 billion was collected in total.  (Read the articles at the tag for many, many examples, including quotes from the "charges"; but, as just a such few examples: "[A] settlement by Citi with Fannie and Freddie for $968 million for losses in the financial crisis, even though it was F&F that had set the terms of the loans; and another settlement by BofA for $2.8 billion for essentially the same thing; and a settlement of those two plus five other banks for $8.5 billion with OCC for alleged improper documenting of mortgages ("robosigning"); and then ten settlements by JPMC with various federal agencies between 2011 and 2013, all of them over $50 million (and some over a billion).  In September 2013 it was a $920 million settlement with JPMC over trading losses that should have been none of the government's business.  In August 2014 it was a settlement with BofA of $17 billion (!) for, supposedly, 'failing to have third party loan level due diligence' as to loans going into securitization deals.")  Then they put provisions into the settlement agreements allowing the settling banks to get credit on their settlements by "contributing" large amounts of money to a favored list of Democrat-supporting groups.  From Kimberley Strassel in the Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2015: "The [Justice] department is in the process of funneling more than half-a-billion dollars to liberal activist groups, at least some of which will actively support Democrats in the coming election.  It works likes this: The Justice Department prosecutes cases against supposed corporate bad actors. Those companies agree to settlements that include financial penalties. Then Justice mandates that at least some of that penalty money be paid in the form of “donations” to nonprofits that supposedly aid consumers and bolster neighborhoods.  The Justice Department maintains a list of government-approved nonprofit beneficiaries. And surprise, surprise: Many of them are liberal activist groups. The National Council of La Raza. The National Urban League. The National Community Reinvestment Coalition. NeighborWorks America . . . . "   The transfer, at the behest of the "Justice Department," of this vast amount of money belonging to the taxpayers to Democrat-supporting groups was in clear violation -- actually, outright defiance -- of the provision of the Constitution stating that "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law. . . . "  It was this situation that caused me to lose all remaining faith or confidence in the Justice Department, well before the current round of scandals.

All of the above matters involve decisions made by top members of the Obama administration, highly likely with the specific approval of Obama himself in each instance.

And now we are on to the current FBI scandal, much of it involving matters occurring during the last year of the Obama administration.  

Writing in National Review on Tuesday this week, Andrew McCarthy makes a compelling case that President Obama had to have been personally involved in making the decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for misuse of classified information.  It seems that some of Hillary's transmission of classified information over non-secure lines went right to Obama himself at his own secret personal email account:

Obama, using a pseudonymous email account, had repeatedly communicated with Secretary Clinton over her private, non-secure email account. These emails must have involved some classified information. . . .  If classified information was mishandled, it was necessarily mishandled on both ends of these email exchanges. If Clinton had been charged, Obama’s culpable involvement would have been patent. In any prosecution of Clinton, the Clinton–Obama emails would have been in the spotlight. For the prosecution, they would be more proof of willful (or, if you prefer, grossly negligent) mishandling of intelligence. More significantly, for Clinton’s defense, they would show that Obama was complicit in Clinton’s conduct yet faced no criminal charges. That is why such an indictment of Hillary Clinton was never going to happen.  

And finally, was Obama personally involved in the use of the Trump/Russia Dossier to seek a FISA warrant to surveil the Trump campaign?  We await the definitive proof.  But:  Do you think that the Clappers and McCabes and Comeys and Lynches of this world would have done such a thing without at least a nod from the boss?  And, given all of the above, do you think that Obama would have hesitated to give that nod?  

Prior to the Obama administration, the biggest corruption in U.S. history of the "type two" variety that I am aware of was the Watergate burglary, and its subsequent coverup (which did directly involve President Nixon).  That incident does not remotely approach in scope or significance the "type two" corruption of Obama and his administration.