Good Friday Morning! The Russia story never dies, just when you think it’s beginning to drop out, it comes storming back. This week, the report came from CNN that US investigators wiretapped Paul Manafort before and after the 2016 election. I’ll go through what to think about that mess.
Next up, Trump’s speech to the UN regarding North Korea and what questions remain regarding the “Rocket Man” problem. Finally, I’ll wrap up with two quick hit pieces on Nancy Pelosi’s clash with protestors and a new study looking at political beliefs and science. Links follow.
I don’t plan on write about the Graham-Cassidy Bill on health care reform. I do, however, recommend this excellent argument in favor of the bill by The Editors of National Review: Graham Cassidy Bill: Worth passing – Another shot at health care reform. Avik Roy at Forbes is also indispensable on these topics: “Take Two: Inside Bill Cassidy’s Plan to Replace Obamacare.”
New this week at the Conservative Institute
No new pieces this week for the Conservative Institute. Stay tuned to this space, however, because larger projects are in the works!
Paul Manafort and the Russian investigation retake center stage
Early in the week, CNN dropped a big story, that other networks confirmed, saying that US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort before and after the election, going back as far as 11 years:
A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014. It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine’s former ruling party, the sources told CNN.
The surveillance was discontinued at some point last year for lack of evidence, according to one of the sources. The FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year.
Sources say the second warrant was part of the FBI’s efforts to investigate ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives. Such warrants require the approval of top Justice Department and FBI officials, and the FBI must provide the court with information showing suspicion that the subject of the warrant may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.
Trump immediately began spinning this story as evidence that he was right – Obama wiretapped his political opponents. I’d caution against reading the story like that though, and there’s far more nuance involved.
First, the story, and the process for how this works, all reside in the judicial branch. The DOJ has to ask the FISA courts, who are independent of the executive branch, to approve any FISA warrants. Both the courts and DOJ process have procedures in place to prevent political abuse.
Second, the warrants targeted Manafort individually, not Trump. There’s no evidence by any story raised so far that Trump is the aim of the investigation, or that the warrants targeted him. Nor is it even clear the wiretaps inadvertently picked up conversations with Trump.
Finally, to assume that this story vindicates Trump’s claims that Obama targeted him, the following things have to take place:
- Paul Manafort has to be clean of any wrongdoing (unlikely)
- The FISA Courts illegally ordered the warrants without proof
- The Obama White House purposely broke the law to spy on political opponents using Russia as cover
- All the above was covered up without a single leaker
- All of this happened while the Obama White House did nothing to help Hilary Clinton’s campaign
What is far more likely: Paul Manafort is entirely unclean in this matter, likely deserving jail time. If the Obama White House did anything untoward in this case, they had complete legal authority to order the wiretap because Manafort is a known bad actor (conservatives argued this very point in 2016). And if Trump was picked up as a result of the Manafort wiretaps, it’s his fault for hiring Manafort.
In effect, the best case scenario for Trump is that everyone, from his side to the Obama White House, is guilty of some wrong-doing. Worst case: Trump hired a traitor to his campaign and will have to answer for that colossal mistake.
I maintain my prediction at the beginning of the year we’re headed towards a failed impeachment because of this story.
Mr. Trump goes to the United Nations
Overall, Trump’s speech was great. I don’t have many disagreements with him in the statement and agree with the tone and viewpoint. He set out to paint North Korea as a rogue nation in violation of every law, rule, or norm in the international order and he succeeded in doing so. In particular, I liked this section:
The scourge of our planet today is a small group of rogue regimes that violate every principle on which the United Nations is based. They respect neither their own citizens nor the sovereign rights of their countries.
If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph. When decent people and nations become bystanders to history, the forces of destruction only gather power and strength.
He’s right on that point, and he stands in stark contrast to the previous administration who continually argued there was a progressive bent to history. “Strategic patience” for the Obama White House meant believing the magical progressive bend of history would fix all wrongs (nothing in human history proves that).
So while I agree with his speech, it’s still just that: a speech. Solving North Korea means figuring out how to eliminate a rogue country without that country murdering millions of innocents in the process. North Korea could easily bomb Japan or South Korea before the US could lift a finger.
Neither the US nor anyone connected to the UN can stomach the idea of exercising military options on North Korea. And until someone figures out what we can stomach militarily, we won’t act on North Korea unless it is a direct and imminent threat. Solving the North Korean threat means solving a quandary that’s vexed US administrations since the end of the Korean War.
Nancy Pelosi’s clash with immigrant protestors
NBC News has video and reports from the scene where leftist immigrant protestors shouted down Pelosi’s press conference:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was shouted down by pro-immigration activists in San Francisco Monday for participating in negotiations with President Donald Trump over protections for some undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
The group interrupted a Pelosi press conference in her home district to object to the framework of an agreement that would preserve the Dream Act while increasing border security. The protesters indicated they are unhappy with a proposed deal that focuses only on continued protection for those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, but does not include comprehensive immigration reform.
“Where were you when we asked [you] to defend our parents? And now you tell us, you have the audacity, to tell us you have been fighting deportation?” one protester yelled.
Pelosi, along with Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Jared Huffman, D-Calif., struggled to speak over chants of “all 11 million,” a reference to the estimated total number of undocumented immigrants currently in the country.
To me, this scene underscores a point I’ve made the last few weeks (issues 63 and 64) about Trump being poison to the Democratic Party base. Pelosi and Schumer may believe they can cut deals with Trump to move legislation, but that could backfire on them because they’re working with someone their most ardent supports hate.
Outbursts like these suggest that Pelosi and Schumer aren’t in touch with their base when it comes to dealing with Trump. While cutting deals may work in the DC bubble, it’s maddening to blue state America.
This is worth watching as the 2018 elections loom. Will progressives revolt against both Trump and Pelosi? It’s something that bears watching.
Science denialism crosses political lines – everyone disregards scientific studies that oppose their beliefs
Researchers released a new study where they analyzed how people viewed scientific studies that either agreed or clashed with their personal political beliefs. The results were unsurprising: Everyone discounts science they don’t like:
We tested whether conservatives and liberals are similarly or differentially likely to deny scientific claims that conflict with their preferred conclusions. Participants were randomly assigned to read about a study with correct results that were either consistent or inconsistent with their attitude about one of several issues (e.g., carbon emissions). Participants were asked to interpret numerical results and decide what the study concluded. After being informed of the correct interpretation, participants rated how much they agreed with, found knowledgeable, and trusted the researchers’ correct interpretation. Both liberals and conservatives engaged in motivated interpretation of study results and denied the correct interpretation of those results when that interpretation conflicted with their attitudes. Our study suggests that the same motivational processes underlie differences in the political priorities of those on the left and the right.
I hinted at this point back in May when I wrote about the problems of “Scientism,” the near-religious treatment of “science.” In the end, it’s why treating pop-culture scientists as wise sages or philosophers is not a good idea. A world that mixes scientism with opposition to scientific studies it doesn’t like is just an outright rejection of reason. In some ways, it’s like reinstituting the dark ages because it replaces the lessons learned from the Enlightenment and Reformation with blind faith in a fake religion – science.
(As an aside, I completely agree with this study: Eating Ice Cream For Breakfast May Improve Mental Performance And Alertness, Study Says)
Best links of the week
Only One of the Two New Health-Care Proposals Qualifies as ‘Extreme’ – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
Is ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ Racist? – Walter Olson, National Review
What We Still Don’t Know About Obama-Era ‘Unmasking’ – Who requested that U.S. citizens’ names be revealed, and how often, and why? Most importantly: Was it business as usual? – Eli Lake, Bloomberg View
White House Watch: The Mueller Investigation Closes in on Manafort: Emails show Trump’s former campaign manager asking the Russians how to “get whole.” – Michael Warren, The Weekly Standard
Paul Manafort Is in Legal Jeopardy – Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review
If Hollywood wants a scapegoat for poor ticket sales, blame movie theaters – Sonny Bunch, The Washingont Post
Nabeel Qureshi (1983 – 2017) – The Gospel Coalition
Satire piece of the week
FRAMINGHAM, MA—Hoping to capture the “unique essence” of its discount retail stores for online customers, T.J. Maxx unveiled a new website Wednesday that recreates its in-person shopping experience with a selection of miscellaneous products haphazardly strewn everywhere.
Company CEO Ernie Herrman told reporters that the site—which features a disorganized jumble of closeout name-brand apparel and home fashions alongside a random inventory of neck pillows, pill organizers, cocktail olives, and dozens of other items—would provide users with the same sense of disorientation that regularly overwhelms shoppers at the chain’s nearly 1,200 brick-and-mortar locations.
“When you visit TJMaxx.com, you’ll immediately be presented with an assortment of surplus clothing available exclusively in sizes that don’t fit you, just as you would if you actually walked into one of our stores,” said Herrman, explaining that all merchandise on the website has three to five different prices attached to it, or else no visible price at all. “Select ‘shoes’ from the drop-down menu, and you’ll see scores of the same pair of Dolce Vita pumps, a variety of sneaker styles for which only the left shoe is available, some Tupperware without lids, and the occasional ceramic owl.”
Thanks for reading!