Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton

US president Donald Trump “elevated his political interest above the national interest and demanded foreign interference in an American election,” Peter Beinart asserts at The Atlantic. “What’s received less attention is what the scandal reveals about Joe Biden: He showed poor judgment because his staff shielded him from hard truths. If that sounds faintly familiar, it’s because that same tendency underlay Hillary Clinton’s email woes in 2016.”

Beinart admits that Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s service as a very well-paid member on the board of a Ukrainian energy company at the same time his father’s portfolio included “fighting corruption in the Ukrainian energy industry” was “a problem.”

But it’s not Joe’s fault, see? His staffers didn’t want to confront him about the conflict of interest. They “feared the vice president’s wrath,” and thought him “too fragile” after one son’s death to hear “upsetting news” about the other’s conduct.

Ditto Hillary Clinton. As Secretary of State, she was briefed on (and signed papers agreeing to abide by) State Department protocols on the handling of classified information and the use of non-government email systems.  But Beinart lets Clinton off the hook because her chief of staff and other aides failed to “forcefully convey” her obligations to her.

Here’s Beinart’s case — one also made by other Democratic partisans — boiled down to its essentials:

When Republicans act criminally and/or corruptly, it’s because they’re criminal and/or corrupt.

When Democrats act criminally and/or corruptly, it’s because they’re just poor, temperamental, out-of-their-element naifs who of course have no criminal or corrupt intent, but whose staffers — whether negligently, or out of concern for feelings or fear of offending — neglect to button their winter coats for them, take them by their little mittened hands, and carefully walk them across all those busy, dangerous legal/ethical streets.

There are two obvious problems with this double standard.

One is that for the last three years we’ve been told over and over (by, among others, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden) that Trump is a loose cannon, an eternal man-child who lacks “adults in the room” to help him navigate the intricacies of governing. So why shouldn’t Trump receive the same “Blame the Aides and Get Out of Jail Free Card” that Beinart tries to play on behalf of the other two?

The other is that in arguing that Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton aren’t responsible for their actions because they’re too stupid to discern right from wrong and too simultaneously mean and emotionally delicate to be TOLD right from wrong, Beinart is necessarily also arguing that Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton were and are, by definition, unfit to entrust with responsibilities as weighty as those that go with, say, the presidency of the United States.

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Holiday Consumerism: Who Decides What “Nobody Really Needs?”

“Wasting resources, capital and income on stuff nobody really needs,” Charles Hugh Smith wrote in 2017, “is a monumental disaster on multiple fronts. Rather than establish incentives to conserve and invest wisely, our system glorifies waste and the destruction of income and capital, as if burning time, capital, resources and wealth on stuff nobody needs is strengthening the economy.”

I come across the “stuff nobody needs” argument frequently, from voices all across the political spectrum, for reasons ranging from economic to environmental to spiritual.

I also notice that in the featured portrait on Smith’s blog, he’s holding what appears to be a pretty sweet Gibson Les Paul electric guitar.

Does anyone “really need” an electric guitar?

Presumably Smith believes he needs one. Maybe even an authentic Les Paul. Maybe even more than one guitar (like the Fender Stratocaster or clone thereof pictured elsewhere on his site).

And who has the right to veto his judgment on the issue, so long as the “resources, capital and income” he’s “wasting” on it are his own?

I settled for an inexpensive Epiphone model of the Les Paul for my own, perhaps larger than justifiable, guitar collection (my wife frowned at the price tag of the genuine Gibson).

I wouldn’t dream of claiming that my “need” for a Les Paul is more urgent than, say, a starving child’s need for a hot meal or a homeless person’s need for shelter.

On the other hand, my purchase of that guitar helped create paychecks that put meals in bellies and roofs over heads.

Economic demands are mutually self-fulfilling. Your purchase of a cup of fancy coffee puts caffeine in your bloodstream and money in the pockets of those who brought it to you — money they can spend fulfilling THEIR needs.

The same thing goes for planes, trains, automobiles, electric guitars, and the latest slice-it, dice-it, cook-it contraptions you (yes, I know it’s you) buy after watching those cheesy infomercials.

Yes, large-scale consumer economies produce negative “externalities” such as environmental damage.

Yes, those externalities are bad things which a more just economic system would build back into prices so as to discourage “over-consumption” and/or encourage more efficient and less damaging production techniques.

Current economic systems, including all state regulatory schemes, be they called “capitalist,” or “socialist,” or some hybrid, tend to subsidize those externalities. You pay for them with your taxes, whether you actually buy the subsidized goods or not.

That being the case, there’s no reason to feel guilty for buying this year’s “frivolous” holiday gifts that “nobody really needs.” Not because holiday shopping “strengthens the economy,” but because you want to give them and the recipients want to get them.

PS: Santa, bring me a Gretsch, please.

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No, House Democrats Aren’t Violating Trump’s Rights

“If the facts are your side,” famed attorney and former law professor Alan Dershowitz instructed his students, “pound the facts into the table. If the law is on your side, pound the law into the table. If neither the facts nor the law are on your side, pound the table.”

As Republican attacks on the US House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry grow in fury, they more and more resemble the third instruction in Dershowitz’s maxim.

The latest Republican angle on the inquiry is that House Democrats are violating President Donald Trump’s constitutional rights under the Sixth Amendment.

“Impeachment is a legal proceeding,” writes Federalist Society Chairman and law professor Steve Calabresi at The Daily Caller, “and just as criminal defendants have constitutional rights in criminal trials so too does Trump have constitutional rights, which House Democrats are denying him.”

These rights, says Calabresi (and the US Constitution’s Sixth Amendment) include the right to a speedy public trial, the right to be informed of the charges against him, and the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.

At first blush, these might sound like cogent legal arguments — pounding the law into the table, so to speak. But they’re not. They’re just pounding the table.

Calabresi calls impeachment a “legal proceeding,” but that term appears nowhere in the Sixth Amendment. The rights protected therein are protected in “criminal prosecutions.” Impeachment is not a criminal prosecution.  The maximum penalty is removal from office. It’s an employee disciplinary proceeding of sorts.

To the extent that the process does resemble a criminal prosecution, the House inquiry function is analogous to a police investigation or a grand jury probe. As of yet there are no “charges” for the president to be informed of.  A House vote to impeach is the equivalent of  filing charges or handing down an indictment. That happens at the end of, not during, the inquiry.

If the House votes to impeach, there will be a trial in the US Senate. At that point the “prosecution” will identify those whom it intends to call as witnesses, and Trump’s attorneys will “be confronted with” those witnesses and have an opportunity to vigorously cross-examine them.

Calabresi’s claims are the equivalent of arguing that if a 911 caller reports a bank robbery in progress, the suspects’ constitutional rights are violated unless the police chief takes them and the 911 caller out on the bank’s front steps and lets them argue the matter in front of a crowd — before charging the suspects, and whether or not the caller would be summoned as a trial witness.

When Trump’s defenders merely pound the table, the presumptive reason is that they’re fresh out of fact and law to pound instead.

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Impeachment: A Night at the Movies

The US House of Representatives soberly fulfills its constitutional obligation to investigate alleged wrongdoing by a sitting president, steadily building its case for that president’s impeachment.

The Deep State schemes to remove a sitting president, trumping up (pun intended) supposed “high crimes and misdemeanors” and gaming a faux-constitutional “impeachment probe” to deny that president due process to which he’s entitled.

Both of the previous paragraphs describe the same set of events. We’re living through them right now, and we’re in the grip of a second-level “Rashomon effect.”

Per Wikipedia, that effect (named for a movie in which four witnesses offer contradictory descriptions of a murder) “describes a situation in which an event is given contradictory interpretations or descriptions by the individuals involved.”

Extended to the audience, the effect plays out as two people watching the same film, each seeing it so differently from the other that for all intents and purposes they’re “watching two different movies.”

Both viewers are quite sure that their interpretations are correct, and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll come to any agreement as to what they both just objectively saw.

There’s one thing that both viewers probably know, though:

The House is going to vote to impeach, because the President Donald J. Trump impeachment version of Rashomon is directed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a student of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall,” wrote Chekhov, “in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

When Pelosi announced the House impeachment inquiry on September 24, she was figuratively hanging a gun on the wall of the House chamber, after 2 1/2 years of resisting impeachment talk and suppressing impeachment efforts in the House.

Why? In addition to her theatrical acumen, Pelosi also knows basic arithmetic. She saw the votes were there to impeach.

SOMEONE was going to hang the gun on the wall.

SOMEONE was going to fire the gun.

Pelosi could direct the play, or she could settle for a bit part (and probably lose her position as Speaker).

If Pelosi’s the director of Rashomon: The House Impeaches Trump, Trump himself is both producer and leading man. He’s been begging for this role since before his inauguration. He commissioned the script, donated the props, and spent 2 1/2 years trying to get Pelosi to take the bait. He loves drama above all else and expects, based on experience, to profit politically from this production.

You’ve got opinions on the impeachment process. I do too. We’re probably watching two different movies to at least some extent.

But in our hearts, we both know how this movie ends: The House will vote  to impeach Trump, probably before Thanksgiving (disclosure: I’ve got a small bet in a prediction market that it will happen before the end of the year).

Coming soon: Trump returns as Colonel Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men: This Time It’s Senatorial.

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Mexico: One Failed US War Doesn’t Justify Another

On November 4, ten dual US-Mexican citizens  — members of an offshoot sect of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — died in a highway ambush, apparently the latest casualties of rampant and violent drug cartel activity in northern Mexico.

US president Donald Trump promptly called upon “Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth.  We merely await a call from your great new president!”

Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador just as promptly rejected Trump’s proposal.  That’s not surprising. He ran for president on a platform that includes ending, not escalating, Mexico’s status as a battlefield in the decades-long US “war on drugs,” a war that created, and continues to empower, the cartels.

AMLO’s right.  Inviting direct US military intervention into Mexico’s internal affairs is not the solution.

The solution is for the US to re-situate American demand for recreational drugs from violent and corrupt “black markets” to peaceful legal markets.

After several decades of US regulatory, law enforcement, and military war on drugs, the “winners” of the war remain the cartels (who rake in billions serving customers forbidden to buy what they want legally) and US government agents (who dispose of huge budgets and earn comfortable salaries while boasting little impact on drug use at either the demand or supply ends).

Many (probably most) Americans like to get high.

Everything else being equal, they’d probably prefer to buy their marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and so forth from their local pharmacies, at reasonable prices and in known quantity, purity, and potency.

But if they can’t do that, they’re not going to stop getting high just because the US government tells them they must not. They’ll buy their drugs wherever they can find those drugs, even at the risk of being killed by the product or by the product’s sellers.

“Black market” sellers make bank on drugs because “white market” sellers don’t exist. The more money they make, the more they have to spend bribing government officials,  buying weapons with which to protect their drugs and their profits, and battling their competitors for market share with bullets rather than with lower prices or higher quality.

In the “war on drugs,” there was never any chance that the drugs would lose. Who does lose? All of us who continue to tolerate our rulers’ deadly and expensive folly.

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Messaging as Manslaughter: Massachusetts Modernizes the Salem Witch Trials

In July of 2014, 18-year-old Conrad Roy killed himself in Fairhaven, Massachusetts by pumping carbon monoxide into the cab of his truck. In a bench trial, a judge convicted Roy’s 17-year-old girlfriend, Michelle Carter, of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced her to 2 1/2 years in prison.

In May of 2019, 22-year-old Alexander Urtula killed himself in Boston, Massachusetts by jumping from the top of a parking garage. His 21-year-old girlfriend, Inyoung You, has likewise been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

In both cases, the charges hinge on the content of text messages in which the women encouraged, even “ordered,” the men to commit suicide.

You is a South Korean national who has since returned home. The treaty governing extradition between the US and South Korea requires that the charge involved “be recognized as a crime in both jurisdictions,” so unless text messaging is illegal in South Korea, You may avoid playing her part in yet another re-enactment of the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693.

Text messaging isn’t manslaughter, any more than it’s rape, robbery, or driving 60 miles per hour in a 50 mile per hour zone. Nor is possession of a doll or a mole or birthmark “witchcraft” as fantasized in 17th century Puritan New England.

Hanging 19 men and women for witchcraft, and crushing another man to death for refusing to plead to charges of witchcraft, didn’t bring an end to imagined “molestations from the invisible world.” It merely sated an outbreak of mass hysteria.

Imprisoning Michelle Carter or Inyoung You for sending text messages may sate the desire of a few families for retribution. It may advance the political careers of a few grandstanding prosecutors.

It won’t  bring back Conrad Roy or Alexander Urtula, nor will it erase the irrefutable truth: These two adults knowingly and intentionally took their own lives.

Are Michelle Carter and Inyoung You “bad people?” Maybe they are.

Are they (or at least were they) controlling and psychologically abusive? It seems likely, and their relationships with Roy and Urtula were obviously mentally and emotionally unhealthy on both sides.

Not everyone who’s broken can be fixed before something awful occurs. Sometimes horrible things happen, and we’re left looking for answers as to why, and for ways to prevent the next such tragedy.

Imprisoning people for text messaging is not one of the right answers. It merely compounds tragedy with error, with evil, and with comforting lies, at the expense of additional victims.

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