Government Employees Systematically Violating Their Oaths Of Office

Quick quiz:  Which of the following do we live in?

  • Constitutional republic.  We have elections where the voters periodically choose a new President.  The new guy gets to come in and run things differently -- that's what elections are for.  Government employees have a constitutional duty to take their orders from the duly-elected President.  
  • Progressive bureaucratic utopia.  The government is really run by a permanent cadre of omniscient, apolitical experts who can use the government's power as they see fit and as guided by their expertise.  If a newly elected President disagrees with their expert judgment, the bureaucrats can tell him to get lost.

If this simple test were administered today to the federal civil service, I really wonder if any significant percentage would get the answer correct.  The consensus view of the bureaucrats today is that it is perfectly appropriate for them to resist the directions of President Trump and his political appointees -- and, more incredibly, they think that in doing so they somehow occupy the moral high ground.  The truth is that they are systematically violating their oaths of office.

A notable example of this phenomenon occurred immediately after the inauguration back in January, when holdover Acting Attorney General Sally Yates took it upon herself to order the attorneys in the Justice Department not to defend the new President's Executive Order on immigration, thus directly countermanding presidential instructions.  I covered that action on February 1 in a post titled "The Bureaucrats Think That They Don't Answer To The President."  Yates did not even attempt to contend that the President's Executive Order was contrary to law, but instead justified her action on the ground that Justice's Office of Legal Counsel had not addressed whether "any policy choice embodied in [the] executive order is wise or just. . . ."  Yates was promptly (and appropriately) fired.  

Since January things have only gotten worse.

Before getting to a recent extreme example, let's first go over the basic legal principles that govern this situation.  In terms of the formalities, it would certainly seem that we have the constitutional republic.  To start with, we have the Constitution, and in Article 2, Section 1 the Constitution grants all of the executive authority of the United States to the President:  "The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America."  It's hard to think of something more explicit that they could have said to make it clear that everybody in the executive agencies works for the President.  The President then does have the duty to follow the law (Article 2, Section 3: "[H]e shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed. . . ."), but notice that that duty is the President's duty, not somebody else's.  And then there is the oath of office taken by every federal civil servant (from 5 U.S.C. Section 3331):

I . . . do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. . . .

As I read it -- and I don't think there's any other way to read it -- for an executive branch employee that oath says first and foremost that you agree that you work for the President.  Far and away the most important part of "supporting the Constitution" for a federal executive branch employee is to recognize that you ultimately answer to the President and only to the President.  To attempt to read the oath differently to allow for the bureaucrats to have power other than that coming from the President would be to eviscerate the elections and render the Constitutional structure meaningless.

With that context, consider this op-ed in the Washington Post on Wednesday, headline "I'm a scientist.  I'm blowing the whistle on the Trump administration."  The piece is by a guy named Joel Clement, one of the top career bureaucrats at the Interior Department, and a "scientist" whose portfolio at Interior has included "climate change."  A month or so ago, as part of a departmental reorganization, Clement was reassigned to a job in accounting, collecting royalty checks from oil companies.  Clement:

I am not a member of the deep state. I am not big government.  I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science.  Nearly seven years ago, I came to work for the Interior Department, where, among other things, I’ve helped endangered communities in Alaska prepare for and adapt to a changing climate. But on June 15, I was one of about 50 senior department employees who received letters informing us of involuntary reassignments.

I love that part where he starts the piece by saying "I am not a member of the deep state."  What do you think the term "deep state" refers to, pal?  You are precisely a guy who has a fundamental policy disagreement with the President over the agenda of your department, and you are asserting the "right" to keep doing it your way and ignore the orders of the President as given to you through his deputy, here the Secretary of the Interior.  So Clement has decided to become a "whistleblower":

On Wednesday, I filed two forms — a complaint and a disclosure of information — with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. . . .  Removing a civil servant from his area of expertise and putting him in a job where he’s not needed and his experience is not relevant is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.  Much more distressing, though, is what this charade means for American livelihoods.  

Or to put it another way, I'm right and Trump and Zinke are wrong on a policy issue, and therefore  I'm going to force the President to keep me in my previous job where I can work to undermine the policies that the new administration wants to implement.  I also like the use of the term "whistleblower."  Previously I had thought the term referred to bringing to light things like criminal activity, corruption, theft of government funds, or the like.  Not any more.  Now the term seems to have a new meaning:  "I'm going to tell the world that the administration is trying to implement the policies that got it elected by moving aside obstructionist bureaucrats such as myself!"  OK Mr. Clement, what exactly is wrong with the President trying to implement the policies that got him elected?

You probably think that across the government people who understand the Constitution are pointing out to Clement that Trump and Zinke have every right to do what they are doing and his choices are to go along with it or quit.  Actually, the opposite.  From GovExec.com, July 20:

Clement said he has received a “groundswell of support” from federal employees across the government since he published the op-ed on Wednesday.

And then GovExec quotes someone named Deborah D'Agostino, a lawyer whose practice includes representing federal employees in "whistleblower" claims.  She comments on the prospective Trump administration response to Clement's claim:

“I can’t fathom the agency is going to be able to put something up other than, ‘Well, we have the right,’ ” she said. “It’s not something that makes sense to any reasonable person.”

So according to Deborah we have reached the point where "no reasonable person" could possibly think that the President has the right to exercise his constitutional authority in order to implement the policies that got him elected.  Whew!

Of dozens of articles out there about this guy, I can't seem to find a single one that makes the obvious points that a President has the right to implement the agenda that got him elected by issuing orders to his subordinates, and the employees have the obligation to follow the orders from the boss.  As just one more example of the "deep state" view of the situation, consider Inside Climate News from July 20, "Whistleblower Case Shows How Trump Tries to Silence Science":

[A] senior agency official has invoked the protections of the whistleblower law to publicly object to what he calls an illegal attempt to intimidate him.  The official, Joel Clement, had been the director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the Interior Department before he says he was arbitrarily reassigned to an obscure accounting post to punish him for speaking up about protections for native Americans in Alaska.

The voters elect a new guy with a specific agenda to change the policies of the previous administration.  The new guy comes in and proceeds to move aside -- even fire! -- the holdovers standing in the way of implementing the new policies.  Is this an "illegal attempt to intimidate" the bureaucrats?  It looks to me like they are systematically violating their oaths of office.  Civil servants violating their oath of office can and should be fired, and the sooner the better.  

The Greatest Scientific Fraud Of All Time -- Part XVI

Fifteen posts into this series -- and I certainly hope that you have read all of them -- perhaps there are still a few of you out there who continue to believe that this whole global average surface temperature (GAST), "hottest year ever," "record warming" thing can't really be completely fraudulent.  I mean, these claims are put out by government bureaucrats, highly paid "experts" in their designated field of temperature measurement.  It's really complicated stuff to figure out a "global average surface temperature" from hundreds of scattered thermometers, some of which get moved, get read at different times of the day, have cities grow up around them, whatever.  Somebody's got to make the appropriate adjustments.  Surely, they are trying their best to get the most accurate answer they can with a challenging task.  Could it really be that they are systematically lying to the people of America and the world?

The designated field for my own career was civil litigation, and in that field lawyers regularly call upon ordinary members of the public (aka jurors) to draw the inference of whether fraud has occurred.  Lawyers claiming that a defendant has committed fraud normally proceed by presenting to the jury a few glaring facts about what the defendant has done.  "Here is what he said"; and "here is the truth."  The defendant then gets the chance to explain.  The jurors apply their ordinary judgment and experience to the facts presented.  

So, consider yourself a member of my jury.  The defendants (NASA and NOAA) have been accused of arbitrarily adjusting the temperatures of the past downward in order to make fraudulent claims of "hottest year ever" for the recent years.  You decide!  I'll give you a couple of data points that have come to my attention just today.

James Freeman is the guy who has taken over the Wall Street Journal's "Best of the Web" column since James Taranto moved on to another gig at the paper earlier this year.  Here is his column for yesterday.  (You probably can't get the whole thing without subscribing, but I'll give you his critical links.)  Freeman first quotes the New York Times, March 29, 1988, which in turn quotes James Hansen, then head of the part of NASA that does the GAST calculations:

One of the scientists, Dr. James E. Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, said he used the 30-year period 1950-1980, when the average global temperature was 59 degrees Fahrenheit, as a base to determine temperature variations.

So 59 deg F was the "average global temperature" for the 30-year period 1950-1980.  Could that have been a typo?  Here is the Times again, June 24, 1988:

Dr. Hansen, who records temperatures from readings at monitoring stations around the world, had previously reported that four of the hottest years on record occurred in the 1980’s. Compared with a 30-year base period from 1950 to 1980, when the global temperature averaged 59 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature was one-third of a degree higher last year. 

OK, definitely not a typo.  Freeman also has multiple other quotes from the Times, citing both NASA and "a British group" (presumably Hadley CRU) for the same 59 deg F global average mean for the period 1950-80.  So let's then compare that figure to the official NOAA January 18, 2017 "record" global warming press release:  "2016 marks three consecutive years of record warmth for the globe":

2016 began with a bang. For eight consecutive months, January to August, the globe experienced record warm heat.  With this as a catalyst, the 2016 globally averaged surface temperature ended as the highest since record keeping began in 1880. . . .  

And kindly tell us, what was the global average temperature that constituted this important "record warm heat"?

The average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces in 2016 was 58.69 degrees F . . . .

OK, over to you to decide.  Was the claimed "record warm heat" real, or was it an artifact of downward adjustments of earlier temperatures?  If you think it might help (it won't), here is a link to NASA's lengthy bafflegab explanation of its adjustments.  It's way too long to copy into this post, and provides literally no useful information as to what they are doing, or why they think it's OK.

Do you still think it might be possible that they are playing straight with you?  My friend Joe D'Aleo (he's one of the co-authors of the paper that was the subject of Part XV of this series) sent me this morning a write-up he had done about the temperature adjustments at one of the most prominent sites in the country, the one at Belvedere Castle in Central Park in Manhattan.  There are lots of charts and graphs at the link for your edification.  The temperature measuring site has been at the very same location near the exact middle of the park since 1920.  That location is about 0.2 mi from the West edge of the park, and 0.3 mi from the East edge, so relatively speaking it is highly immune to local land use changes that affect many other stations.  Yes, the City has grown some in that century, but the periphery of the park was already rather built up in 1920, and in any event the closest Central Park West park boundary is almost a quarter-mile away at the closest point. 

This paper is another real eye-opener.  You should read the whole thing (it's only 7 pages long).  The Central Park site is one for which the National Weather Service (part of NOAA) makes completely original, raw data available.  D'Aleo does a comparison between that completely raw data and adjusted data for the same site from NOAA's so-called "HCN Version 1" set, for two months each year (July and January) going for the century from 1909 to 2008.  Essentially all of the temperatures for Central Park in the HCN Version 1 set are adjusted down, and dramatically so; but the adjustments are not uniform.  From approximately 1950 to 1999, the downward adjustments for both months are approximately a flat 6 deg F -- an astoundingly huge amount, especially given that the recently declared "record" temperature for 2016 beat the previous "record" by all of 0.07 deg C (which would be 0.126 deg F).  Then, when 1999 comes, the downward adjustments start to decrease rapidly each year, until by 2008 the downward adjustment is only about 2 deg F.  Result:  whereas the raw data have no material upward or downward trend of any kind over the whole century under examination, the adjusted data show a dramatic upward slope in temperatures post-2000, all of which is in the adjustments rather than the raw data.  D'Aleo:

[T]he adjustment [for July] was a significant one (a cooling exceeding 6 degrees from the mid 1950s to the mid 1990s.) Then inexplicably the adjustment diminished to less than 2 degrees.  The result is [that] a trendless curve for the past 50 years became one with an accelerated warming in the past 20 years. It is not clear what changes in the metropolitan area occurred in the last 20 years to warrant a major adjustment to the adjustment. The park has remained the same and there has not been a population decline but a spurt in the city’s population [since 1990]. 

Since NOAA and NASA will not provide a remotely satisfactory explanation of what they are doing with the adjustments, various independent researchers have tried to reverse-engineer the results to figure out what assumptions are implied.  One such effort was made by Steve McIntyre of the climateaudit.org website, and D'Aleo discusses that effort at the link.  McIntyre gathered from correspondence with NOAA that their algorithm was making an "urbanization" adjustment based on the growing population of the urbanized area surrounding the particular site.  Based on the adjusted temperatures reported at Central Park and the known population of New York City in the first half of the twentieth century, McIntyre then extrapolated to calculate the implied population of New York City for the recent years of the adjusted record.  He came up with an implied population of about 17 million for 1975-95, then suddenly plunging to barely 1 million in 2005.  Well, I guess that's not how they do it!  Any other guesses out there?

By the way, in case you have the idea that you might be able to dig into this and figure out what they are doing, I would point out that by the time you have completed any analysis they will undoubtedly have adjusted their data yet again and will declare your work inapplicable because that's "not how we do it any more."  As the Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins noted in November 2015:

By the count of researcher Marcia Wyatt in a widely circulated presentation, the U.S. government’s published temperature data for the years 1880 to 2010 has been tinkered with 16 times in the past three years.

I'm just wondering if you still think there's anything honest about this.

Can We Learn Any Lessons From Brazil?

Probably, you haven't been much following the news coming out of Brazil.  If you had, you would have seen that last week ex-President and left-wing icon "Lula" da Silva was convicted in his corruption trial and sentenced to 10 years in prison.  Lula, who rose up as a charismatic labor leader and left-wing rabble rouser,  had served as President of Brazil from 2003 to 2011.  His hand-picked successor from the same political party, Dilma Rousseff, was accused in the same corruption scandal.  Rousseff was impeached (charged) back in April 2016, and formally removed from office by vote of the Brazilian Senate in August.

The corruption charges basically center around the cozy relationship that left-wing politicians seem inevitably to form with the major state-controlled economic institutions that are the hallmark of left-wing governance.  Wikipedia has a synopsis of the complex situation here.  During Lula's term in the presidency, Rousseff, as his right-hand woman, served as the Chair of the Board of Petrobras, the monopoly state-owned Brazilian oil company.  The most significant charges against Rousseff were that, during the time that she chaired the Petrobras board, she took large bribes from oil services contractors to get some billions of dollars worth of Petrobras business directed to them.  As to Lula, the charge on which he was just convicted involves a contractor refurbishing his beach apartment for the relatively modest sum of just over $1 million.  The Reuters article at the first link above notes that he is also accused of orchestrating the entire massive corruption scheme in which dozens of Brazilian politicians have been caught up, and that he faces some four more trials.  However, other articles I have seen do note that Lula (unlike many of his party colleagues) does not seem to have taken the opportunity to get extraordinary wealth for himself.

The easy lesson to learn here is that corrupt politicians need to be caught and punished.  Fair enough.  But before the world moves on from the tragedy of Brazil, I just want to note a few items that seem to be a pattern in essentially all populist left-wing governments:

  • In the early years in power, government-produced economic statistics seem to show rapid economic growth, improvements in wages, declines in poverty and income inequality.
  • Then one day, the economy suddenly goes into free fall, even as other surrounding countries continue to have growing economies.
  • And finally, it turns out that the political leaders of the left-wing government were massively on the take for years.

For another example of this classic pattern, see my coverage of Venezuela, for example here.  

Is it fair to conclude that Brazil fell into the classic socialist trap -- falsely counting big increases in government spending as "economic growth," even as dependency was exploding and the real economy was hollowing out?  I don't know enough about the details to make a definitive evaluation, and in any event the policies undertaken in Brazil were far less extreme than those of Venezuela.  But still, the parallels to other situations like Venezuela are hard to miss.

Certainly, while Lula was President, the economy of Brazil seemed to be going swimmingly.  Here is a long write-up from the Economist in September 2010, toward the end of Lula's term of office, titled "Lula's Legacy."   A man-on-the-street is quoted as saying that Lula was "the best president ever."  Lula himself is given the chance to expound on his achievements, all of which seem to involve spending more on government programs to benefit the poor:

“Wherever you go in Brazil you will see work financed by the federal government,” he says, highlighting railways, power stations and basic sanitation. After 25 years in which the country failed to maintain its infrastructure, let alone build any more, it is “reacquiring the capacity to carry out the grand infrastructure works that Brazil needs.”  For many of the poor and working-class Brazilians who are his most ardent supporters, Lula's crowning achievements have been big rises in the minimum wage and pensions, and the Bolsa Família programme, which gives 12m families small but life-changing amounts of cash in return for having their children vaccinated and keeping them in school. By boosting domestic demand, these policies have also contributed to economic growth.

Note in that last sentence the abiding faith that more government spending is the sure-fire route to economic growth.  This report from CEPR records average growth of real GDP per capita in Brazil of 2.5% per year from 2003 to 2014 -- which would be quite impressive if it were real.  But then, who can forget David Sirota in Salon writing about Hugo Chavez's "economic miracle" in 2013, 15 years after Chavez's ascension to power and just as the bottom was starting to fall out?

A big recession then hit Brazil some time in 2014.  According to CNN here, Brazil's economy proceeded to contract by 3.8% in 2015 and 3.6% in 2016, even as the world economy continued in a basically expansionary mode.  (By contrast, according to Federal Reserve statistics here, the entire contraction of the U.S. economy from peak to trough in the "Great Recession" was 4.3%.)  Unemployment shot up from about 5% in 2014 to 12.6% early this year.  Nor is it clear that the recession is over for Brazil.

The situation is complex, and again, the government excess is not nearly as extreme as that of Venezuela.  A boom and subsequent bust in commodity prices --on which Brazil is unusually dependent for such a large country -- is very likely to have exacerbated the damage from socialist-style programs.  But Brazil is definitely emerging as another example where big portions of government-led economic growth ultimately prove illusory.  Oh, while the political leaders became wealthy via their crony capitalist friends.       

Keeping Up With The Manhattan Contrarian: Sheldon Silver Conviction Reversed

Those of you living outside New York may not be familiar with the name Sheldon Silver.  Until January 2015, Silver, a Democrat, was the Speaker of the New York Assembly -- effectively the second most powerful politician in New York State after the Governor.  That's when our then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara launched his crusade to "clean up" New York State politics by issuing back-to-back charges against Silver and also against Silver's Republican counterpart as Majority Leader of the State Senate, Dean Skelos.  The charges against Silver came down in January 2015.  In November of that year he was convicted, and in May 2016 he got a 12 year sentence.  However, he has remained free on bail pending his appeal.

Yesterday the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction.  Here is a copy of the decision.  

Of course, if you have been a reader of the Manhattan Contrarian, you will not have been at all surprised by the reversal.  On the occasion of the criminal complaint against Silver in January 2015, I took the opportunity to get the document and go through it carefully, leading to a long post on January 25, 2015 titled "Is Sheldon Silver A Criminal?"    The theme of the post was that just being a thoroughly and deeply corrupt pol -- and Silver certainly was that -- does not make you a federal criminal.  Becoming a federal criminal requires violating an applicable federal criminal statute, and in a way not protected by the Constitution.  This is a concept that U.S. Attorney Bharara could never seem to grasp.  (Nor can a single person in the mainstream media seem to grasp the same concept with regard to President Trump.  Really, is it that complicated?)  

From my January 2015 post:

The fact that Silver is completely corrupt does not mean that Bharara has charged him with anything that does or should constitute a crime.   Here's a copy of the prosecutors' Complaint setting out the charges against Silver.  My main take is that there is almost nothing there.

That post gives the tortured history of the federal criminal law in the context of political corruption.  Silver was prosecuted -- as had become the norm in political and corporate corruption cases -- under a statute making it a crime to cause the public to suffer "depriv[ation] . . . of the intangible right of honest services."  (18 U.S.C. Sec. 1346)  What the hell does that mean?  Nobody could figure it out, least of all the Supreme Court.  In a 2010 decision reversing the conviction of Jeffrey Skilling (of Enron fame), the Supremes avoided declaring the statute void for vagueness by limiting its applicability to situations where the prosecutors could prove "bribery" or "kickbacks."  The "bribery" piece then refers you over to the federal statute defining that term (18 U.S.C. Sec. 201(a)(3)), which for a politician requires that he commit some "official act" in return for the bribe.

The main allegation against Silver was that a doctor referred him (in his capacity as a lawyer) some lucrative asbestos injury cases, and in return Silver had directed $500,000 of state funds to the doctor's research program at Columbia University.  But there were a number of weaknesses in the theory.  From the post:

  • There is no mention in the complaint that Silver or anyone on his behalf ever told Doctor-1 that he could get state money for his research if he referred cases to [Silver's law firm].  Rather, the Complaint states that Doctor-1 first asked Silver if [the law firm] would support his research, and Silver said it would not, and in the face of that Doctor-1 referred cases without any other promise (page 26).  The state money came several years later.
  • There is no mention of what portion, if any, of the $500,000 went to Doctor-1 himself.
  • After the state funding ended in about 2008, Doctor-1 continued to refer cases to [the law firm] through Silver

Faced with an iffy case, the prosecutors worked strenuously to obtain the squishiest possible jury charge on the question of what it means to do an "official act" in return for a bribe.  The trial court adopted the prosecution's proposed jury charge, over Silver's objection, as follows (from the Second Circuit opinion):

To satisfy this element [that Silver received bribes or kickbacks as part of a scheme to defraud], the Government must prove that there was a quid pro quo. Quid pro quo is Latin, and it means “this for that” or “these for those.” The Government must prove that a bribe or kickback was sought or received by Mr. Silver, directly or indirectly, in exchange for the promise or performance of official action. Official action includes any action taken or to be taken under color of official authority. 

And the prosecutor in his closing argument emphasized the point from the instruction that any act "taken under the color of official authority" could be the basis for a conviction.  Big mistake.  In June 2016 -- after Silver's conviction and at a time when his appeal was just getting started --  the Supreme Court reversed the conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell under the same statute.  In McDonnell the Supremes restricted the definition of "official act" in the bribery statute to only include "a decision or action on a ‘question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy’” involving “a formal exercise of governmental power."  That's not consistent with the instruction given to the jury in Silver's case.  Thus the reversal.

Silver is by no means out of the woods.  The prosecutors are saying that they will re-try him.  You can evaluate for yourself whether his conduct as described above will meet the new legal test.  In my view, a jury could come out either way.

Even more interesting now is the question of whether the conviction of Dean Skelos will stand.  Skelos was Bharara's other big take-down of a major New York State pol.  Or maybe the prosecution of Skelos was the real point all along.  While Silver was the Democratic leader of the state Assembly, and with a huge legislative majority, Skelos was the Republican leader of the state Senate, with a razor-thin majority.  The Republican-controlled New York Senate stands as the only obstacle to the imposition in New York of every bad progressive idea that you can think of.  Thus, while the Silver prosecution involved no potential for altering New York's political balance, the Skelos prosecution very much did.  There was huge reason for the Democrats in New York -- including Bharara, a former staffer for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer -- to want to take out Skelos.  Bharara indicted Skelos just a few months after Silver (May 2015), and the Skelos conviction was just a month after Silver's, in December 2015.  Skelos's appeal is still pending, and could be decided any day now.  

At least on the major charges in his indictment, Skelos has a far better case for reversal than did Silver.  Here is my summary of the charges against Skelos from a post on May 20, 2015:

[R]ead the charges against Skelos and you will find them remarkably thin.  This is all about Skelos allegedly trying to help his son Adam get some paying work.  There is no allegation of any money improperly going to Skelos himself.  The total amount of money alleged to have improperly changed hands seems relatively trivial -- $218,000 if I am counting correctly, and over a period of four years.  Of the $218,000, almost all, $198,000, is from a consulting contract that Adam got with an unnamed and uncharged environmental technology company.  Supposedly the company gave Adam the consulting gig because the dad got the company a $12 million contract with Nassau County.  But wait a minute -- Skelos didn't have any position with Nassau County.  The contract was subject to approval by the County Legislature, and got that.  These legislators may well all be friends of Skelos (his State Senate seat is in Nassau County), but it can't possibly be that he controlled this decision in any real sense.  That's rather a large gap in this thing.    

So how exactly could Skelos have done an "official act" on behalf of Nassau County, under the new McDonnell definition of the term, when he had no position or authority with Nassau County of any kind?  By comparison with Silver, Skelos stands a real chance of ultimate vindication.

It's getting more and more embarrassing for Bharara, as one after another of his high-profile convictions gets reversed.  (Don't forget that three of his six insider trading convictions after trial got reversed on appeal.)  

Trump Derangement Syndrome: Yes, They Have All Gone Completely Insane

How long is your memory?  For example, can you remember as far back as a month ago?  Way back on June 15, the big, big news was that five sources, all anonymous, had leaked to the Washington Post that, at the end of a meeting with then-FBI Director Jim Comey, President Trump had cleared the room and then asked Comey to go easy in his investigation of short-term National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.  Cries of "Obstruction of Justice!" rang out from every corner of elite Washington.  The story completely dominated the news for multiple days.  It fell of course to the Manhattan Contrarian to make the obvious point that the President holds the full prosecutorial discretion power of the government, and under direct grant of power in the Constitution he can order that anyone he wishes not be prosecuted at his complete whim, for any or no reason.  Admittedly, I wasn't the only one who made that obvious point, although the ratio of the insane commenters to the sane ones was at least 10 to one.  But the meme was so ridiculous that it was forgotten within a few days.  By now it seems like ancient history -- although possibly subject to revival by Special Prosecutor Mueller.  (If that happens, we'll really know that the world has gone irredeemably nuts.)

But what is it about humans that, when a few people lose their minds, thousands and millions more join in and mass hysteria ensues?  There have been dozens of examples in my lifetime.  Philip Terzian, in the current issue of the Weekly Standard, helpfully reminds us of "The Great Day-Care Sexual-Abuse Panic" of the 1980s and 90s.  If you aren't old enough to remember back that far, you may not even believe that this possibly could have occurred.  The case that started it all came out of the McMartin pre-school in Manhattan Beach, California:

A generation of preschoolers had [allegedly] been subject to all manner of sexual degradation and physical abuse, including rape; small animals had been ritually sacrificed and children fed their blood; there had been field trips to local cemeteries to dig up corpses. Peggy McMartin Buckey was accused of “drilling” the limbs of students, and her 26-year-old son was alleged to have levitated inside the schoolhouse.  In retrospect, of course, the details were not just lurid but ludicrous.

And in the wake of the McMartin case, dozens more such cases with remarkably similar allegations, involving hundreds of defendants, were brought around the country.  I can remember cases from places as disparate as Malden, Massachusetts, Wenatchee, Washington, and Edenton, North Carolina.  Reading articles about these situations at the time, I could only shake my head at the insanity, and wonder when -- if ever -- people would return to their senses.  Over time, all or nearly all of the cases fell apart, and the defendants were exonerated -- some having served jail sentences in excess of 20 years.

The blunt fact is that the “satanic” day-care ritual-abuse cases of the 1980s and early ’90s were our contemporary version of the Salem witch trials of the 1690s; and since human nature tends to be immutable, they featured many of the same symptoms across the centuries: mass hysteria, impressionable and unreliable child-witnesses, prosecutorial zeal and abuse, a mob tendency to prey on the hapless and defenseless.   

So dare I mention "Russia"?  This one is right up there as perhaps the most pervasive mass hysterias of my lifetime.  The only real rival is catastrophic climate change hysteria.  After now about 8 months of non-stop "Russia collusion" stories and literally nothing emerging as evidence to support them, yesterday the majority of the top stories on RealClearPolitics were more of same.  Donald Trump, Jr. met with a Russian operative in June 2016 hoping to get some dirt on Hillary Clinton!  That just has to be a crime!  How about TREASON!!!!!  I can choose from among dozens of the completely unhinged, but for now I'll pick on Ruth Marcus, writing in the Washington Post on Tuesday, "The Donald Trump Jr. emails could hardly be more incriminating."

By explicitly linking the source of the information to the Russian government and by describing it as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Goldstone made crystal clear that he was offering the campaign a chance to collude — yes, that word is appropriate here — with a foreign government to “incriminate Hillary” Clinton and help win the presidency.  By reacting as he did, eagerly accepting the offer of this foreign aid, Trump Jr. made clear that he was a willing part of this incipient conspiracy — and yes, that word is appropriate here, too. “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” he responded, within minutes of receiving the inquiry.

Hey, Ruth, can you bother to tell us what is the supposed crime?  I think that after too many years at the Post poor Ruth is under the impression that "conspiracy" is a crime without any underlying wrongdoing, at least as long as the perpetrator is a Republican.  How about conspiracy to buy a vanilla ice cream cone at the DQ?

For a sane take on the situation, I recommend Eugene Volokh's post "Can it be a crime to do opposition research by asking foreigners for information?"  To be fair to them, Eugene's site is affiliated with the Washington Post as well.  Most important nugget:

Americans have the right to receive information even from speakers who are entirely abroad. See Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301 (1965). Can Americans — whether political candidates or anyone else — really be barred from asking questions of foreigners, just because the answers might be especially important to voters?

The question answers itself.  Eugene goes on to eviscerate arguments made by various deranged TDS sufferers about such information being a "thing of value" under the statute that restricts campaign contributions from foreigners.  If you are interested in the subject, you might want to read the whole thing.  But frankly, at this point I would recommend that you don't waste any more of your valuable time on this Trump/Russia hysteria.

Law professor Alan Dershowitz also weighed in at Newsmax on Tuesday, and then in an appearance on Neil Cavuto's program on Wednesday night, as reported in the Washington Times:  

Mr. Dershowitz . . . said he doesn’t “see any crime at this point” in Mr. Trump Jr.’s behavior.  “Even if the worst case scenario as far as we know now, is the Russians get in touch with Trump Jr. and say, ‘we have some dirt on Hillary Clinton, come we’ll give it to you’ and he goes and gets the information. That’s what the New York Times did with the Pentagon Papers, that’s what the Washington Post did and many other newspaper did with information with Snowden and Manning,” he told Newsmax Tuesday. “You are allowed legally to use material that was obtained illegally as long as you had nothing to do with the illegal nature of obtaining the information, so at the moment I see no legal jeopardy for Trump Jr.”

Alan, you are doing your best to keep your friends from making fools of themselves, and you're getting nowhere.  Maybe you need a new group of friends.