Depending on the metric used to measure "worse"… Andrew C. McCarthy is on the short list of people on whom I think I can depend for legal takes. And here's his take on the latest kerfuffle: Did [Special Counsel John] Durham find something worse than Watergate? Not so far.
Trump supporters and others, justifiably alarmed by “deep state” abuse of power, are right that it is a scandal, one that merits far more attention than it has gotten from the media-Democrat complex. Nevertheless, there is a flaw in their Watergate comparison, at least if Durham’s theory of the case is sound.
To be of Watergate dimension, a scandal needs proof that government officials were the puppet masters behind the political spying against Trump — that the government drove the conspiracy. According to Durham, that is not what happened. Instead, he alleges that presumably well-meaning government officials were having their strings pulled. They were mere dupes of the real masterminds: Hillary Clinton’s campaign operatives.
Fair enough. I'm trying whenever possible to keep myself open to "it's not that bad" arguments, because this story as reported at conservative news sites really confirms my priors.
How about the Trump-haters at the Dispatch? Andrew Egger is on the case: Making Sense of the Latest Clinton-Trump-Russia Court Filing.
According to the new filing, [Senior VP of Neustar Rodney] Joffe (referred to throughout as “Tech Executive-1”) used his perch as a leader at a well-placed company—“exploited his access to non-public and/or proprietary internet data,” in Durham’s parlance—to obtain large amounts of raw internet data touching Team Trump, and put his associates to work analyzing it “for the purpose of gathering derogatory information about Donald Trump” in order to please “certain VIPs” at the Clinton campaign and its counsel, the firm Perkins Coie.
Durham’s most explosive assertion—and this was new to the latest filing—was detailing that internet data, which [Clinton campaign attorney Michael] Sussmann had taken again in updated form to the government in February 2017: domain name system (DNS) data connected with, among other entities, “Trump Tower, Donald Trump’s Central Park West apartment building, and the Executive Office of the President of the United States.”
Egger notes that the internet data consisted of DNS query logs. And explains that a DNS query translates hostnames (like 'punsalad.com') into Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (like 22.214.171.124). A DNS query is usually (but not necessarily) the prelude to connecting to a remote host.
Andrew's conclusion is measured:
Again, there’s little evidence to suggest any of these actions were actually illegal. But who can look at them without disgust?
None of this is to excuse the Team Trump exaggerations we’ve seen on this story this week. But it is worth noting that one of Trump’s political strengths from the very beginning was his attractiveness to people inclined to believe all politics works like this: a swamp of political elites hobnobbing with business elites and media elites to bring about mutually agreeable ends.
This may be a reductive and oversimple way to view the world. But it’s easy to see how people come by it when you see a story like this, which features a tech executive hoping to land a job with an incoming candidate’s administration, working with that candidate’s lawyer and exploiting government connections to collect dirt on that candidate’s opponent—with an assist from some university researchers for good measure, just to round out the illustration—and then laundering that dirt through chummy relationships with a credulous press. And that’s not even to consider the repeated attempts to get federal law enforcement involved in a wild goose chase.
Of course it wasn’t worse than Watergate. Why would it have been? There’s no need for criminal dirty tricks when you already know all the right people.
Experts and humility go together like marshmallows and croutons. Nevertheless, Veronique de Rugy explains Why Experts Should Embrace Humility After Their Inflation Miscalculation.
As the greatest inflation spike of the last 50 years occurs, the utter failure of economists, their models and many pundits to foresee what was coming is worth highlighting. Of course, the biggest malfunction in the story was that of the Federal Reserve itself, which had a clear mandate to keep prices stable, and seems surprised by their lack of stability.
It's no understatement to say that the Fed failed to properly anticipate the inflation surge. On Feb. 8, 2021, Raphael Bostic, the president of the Atlanta branch of the Fed, said, "I'm really not expecting us to see a spike in inflation that is very robust in the next 12 months or so." A few days later, Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren echoed this sentiment, noting that he would be "surprised" to see broad-based inflation sustained at a level of 2% before the end of 2022.
As the saying goes, problems often start at the top. When testifying before the House Financial Services Committee in February 2021, Fed Chair Jerome Powell predicted that it might take more than three years to hit the 2% inflation goal.
Powell has been renominated for a second term at the Fed. You'd think he'd be too embarrassed to accept, but no.
But could it solve Maggie Hassan's problem with getting re-elected? Eric Boehm is scornful: There Are Many Problems With Democrats' Plan for a Federal Gas Tax Holiday.
First, it would blow an estimated $20 billion hole in the Highway Trust Fund at a time when the fund is already slinking toward insolvency. That hole would have to be filled sooner or later by either raising taxes, transferring revenue from somewhere else, or reducing the number of fund projects.
Coming on the heels of the Biden administration's massive infrastructure bill, which has already weakened the historical norm of using user fees (like the gas tax) to fund road and bridge projects, this would constitute another step toward forcing a broad base of taxpayers to pay for infrastructure projects they might not use.
The more immediate problem, however, is that there are two possible outcomes of a gas tax holiday. Either the tax break will be significant enough to artificially depress prices at the pump, which necessarily translates into drivers being encouraged to buy more gasoline—or…it won't be.
It's pretty obvious that it's a desperate re-election ploy by (among others) my state's senator Maggie Hassan.
Science needs saving from politics, period. But Vinay Prasad has a suggestion for a smaller victory: How to Save Science From Covid Politics.
Scientific knowledge is supposed to accumulate. We know more than our ancestors; our descendants will know far more than us. But during the Covid-19 pandemic, that building process was severely disrupted.
Federal agencies and their officials have claimed to speak on behalf of science when trying to persuade the public about policies for which there is little or no scientific support. This ham-handedness—and especially the telling of “noble lies”—has gravely undermined public trust. So has the hypocrisy of our elites. Look no further than the Super Bowl, at which celebrities and politicians had fun mask-free, while the following day children in Los Angeles were forced to don masks for school.
The upshot is that science and public health have become political. We now face the very real danger that instead of a shared method to understand the world, science will split into branches of our political parties, each a cudgel of Team Red and Team Blue.
We cannot let that happen.
Well, we shouldn't let it happen, but I'm not betting against it.
And finally… a few more Peej apprecations, first from Kyle Smith: P. J. O’Rourke: What He Knew.
P. J. O’Rourke once told me that he was not as good at making jokes as David Letterman’s writers, and he didn’t know as much about policy as the guys at the Cato Institute. But! He knew a lot more about policy than Letterman’s writers, and he was a lot funnier than Cato’s wonks. He could write trenchantly about politics and simultaneously be really funny, and that made him just about unique when he came along. You could get a take on politics that was scathingly on-target while snorting chocolate milk out your nose.
I’m not talking about “Washington funny.” Before P. J., the 202 was a comedy Gobi where the micro-droplets of humor conjured up by hacks like Art Buchwald and “PBS wit” Mark Russell were received as gratefully as a downpour. Nor was O’Rourke the second coming of Hunter S. Thompson, to whom he was sometimes compared. O’Rourke did, like the earlier Rolling Stone political writer, have an affinity for the hilarious run-on insult — “In July 1988 I attended the specious, entropic, criminally trivial, boring, stupid Democratic National Convention — a numb suckhole stuffed with political bulk filler held in that place where bad malls go when they die.” Thompson, like O’Rourke, was an excellent reporter, and he wrote in bold, slashing colors with exaggeration that became hyperbole that became absurdity, but O’Rourke not only made it rain acid, he wrote about politics with actual setup-punchline jokes, always aware that the truth is funny. “Washington is a fine place for journalists to live as well as to brown-nose,” he wrote in Parliament of Whores. “It has plenty of the only kind of people who can stand journalists — other journalists — and plenty of the only kind of people journalists get any real information from — other journalists.” To me, his heirs are the funniest political writers today — Jonah Goldberg, Kevin Williamson, and that guy at Vox who keeps saying we need to save the Republic by burning the Constitution. (Okay, that last one is funny mainly to me because I hear everything he writes in the voice of Ralph Wiggum.)
And here's David Henderson: P.J. O'Rourke, RIP
I loved his book Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics. In a review of the book I wrote somewhere, I said, “So think of O’Rourke as a modern Adam Smith, with these two differences: O’Rourke’s data are more recent, and you’ll get side-splitting laughs on every page.”
My favorite passage is the opening paragraph:
I had one fundamental question about economics: Why do some places prosper and thrive while others just suck? It’s not a matter of brains. No part of the earth (with the possible exception of Brentwood) is dumber than Beverly Hills, and the residents are wading in gravy. In Russia, meanwhile, where chess is a spectator sport, they’re boiling stones for soup. Nor can education be the reason. Fourth graders in the American school system know what a condom is but they’re not sure about 9 x 7. Natural resources aren’t the answer. Africa has diamonds, gold, uranium, you name it. Scandinavia has little and is frozen besides. Maybe culture is the key, but wealthy regions such as the local mall are famous for lacking it.
And here's Charles Murray: PJ O’Rourke—A Tribute
The thing about PJ O’Rourke, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 74, was that everyone wanted to be around him. By “everyone,” I don’t just mean the right-wingers I hang out with, most of whom share PJ’s classical-liberal politics, but also neoconservatives like Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz, who also loved him, and a number of leftists. PJ wrote much of his best stuff for Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone.
The attraction that PJ had for these disparate people was simple. PJ O’Rourke was an incomparable companion. I looked forward to a dinner with PJ (i.e., an evening of drinking with PJ) with the same anticipation that I long ago looked forward to first dates. I was sad when PJ relocated from Washington to New Hampshire, even though I could still read his writing, because I knew how much I would miss the pleasure of his presence. He could be puckish. He could be delightfully self-deprecatory. His wit could be demurely wicked—comparing Clinton to Trump, PJ observed that while Hillary was wrong about absolutely everything, “she is wrong within normal parameters.” And yet I cannot recall a single instance, no matter how many times the bottle had gone round, when PJ was malicious. The PJ I knew was gentlemanly. It was as much a part of his persona as the humor.
RIP, Peej. You had a lot of famous friends, but many more schlubs like me who could only aspire to your wit and insight.