What is Populism?


Christopher Caldwell writes an article What is Populism? at Claremont Review of Books. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Le monde, the French newspaper of record, admitted last summer that readers had been complaining about the indiscriminate way its journalists flung around the word “populist.” It seemed to describe dozens of European and American political actors with nothing in common except the contempt in which Le Monde held them. The meaning of “populist” was nonetheless easy to decode. A dispatch in that same edition of Le Monde, about a new political alliance between populist governments in Italy, Austria, and Hungary, was titled: “Europe’s hard right lays down the law against migrants.” To call someone a populist is to insinuate that he is a fascist, but tentatively enough to spare the accuser the responsibility of supplying proof. If one sees things as Le Monde does, this is a good thing: populism is an extremism-in-embryo that needs to be named in order that it might better be fought. Others, though, will see populism as an invention of the very establishmentarians who claim to be fighting it, an empty word that allows them to shut down with taboos any political idea that they cannot defeat with arguments. In Europe, populism is becoming the great which-side-are-you-on question of our time.

Whatever populism is, it is prospering across Europe. By late September, in the wake of Chemnitz, support for the AfD had risen to 18% nationwide, placing the party level with the once-colossal Social Democrats as the country’s second largest, behind Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). In Hungary, Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz Party has held roughly two thirds of the seats in the country’s national assembly since regaining control in 2010. Italy’s two populist parties—the Five Star Movement and the League—were mocked when they came together to form a coalition last May. After four months of pursuing a hard line on migration, their government has become one of the most popular in Italy since the Second World War. Between the two of them, the parties had the support of 64% of the public by early October.

Populist movements, however, even when strong, can be checked by social convention and threats of ostracism. Few call themselves populist. In Sweden, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats took 18% of the vote at elections in September but at their own demonstrations their supporters are sometimes outnumbered, and always outshouted, by activists massing in the name of anti-racism or anti-fascism. That populists have a hard time seizing and holding public platforms is a problem for the movement. It may mean, though, that sympathy for populism runs deeper than it appears to. The decision of Britain’s voters to withdraw from the European Union in a 2016 referendum won only narrowly, with a 52-48 margin in favor of the Leave option. But when London’s Independent asked Britons days before the vote how the results would make them feel, 44% said they would be “delighted” with a Leave vote, while only 28% said that about Remain. There seems to be more support for populism in citizens’ inmost hearts than on the Letters to the Editor page.

Migration and Merkel

Europe has entered a period of demographic, institutional, and ideological convulsion. Mass migration is the focus of populist concern. After World War II, Europe’s countries, while not ethnically homogeneous, all had stable populations of European descent. The need to rebuild spurred many countries in wrecked northern Europe to import workers—primarily from southern Italy, Portugal, and what was then Yugoslavia. A boom ensued that intensified the short-term need for labor, and brought new workers from further afield. Turks and Moroccans came. Decolonization and war untethered vast populations from their Pakistani, Algerian, and Indonesian homelands. Soon storefronts were being converted into mosques. Europeans learned words like “couscous,” “Ramadan,” and “jihad.”

Europeans assumed migration would end when their own need for migrant labor did. That was naïve. Middle Easterners and North Africans simply liked Europe better. What is more, at roughly this time European women stopped bearing babies, to the point where the population of native Italians was projected to fall by a quarter, from 60 million to 45, before the middle of the 21st century. This had society-transforming consequences. By the beginning of this century there were tens of millions of Muslims living in western European lands where there had never been any. Now minarets towered over the urban neighborhoods where those storefront mosques had been, cities (including London) came under the control of ethnic political machines, and Islam replaced Christianity as the main source of religious zeal, if not yet as the professed belief of the largest number of residents.

The change riled Europeans. In virtually every western European land, when pollsters ask members of the public to list their country’s most pressing problems, immigration ranks either first or second. But it seemed no one could do anything about it. The values that European elites proclaimed—a mix of post-Holocaust repentance and emulation of American civil-rights institutions—made it seem hypocritical and xenophobic to regulate the country’s frontiers in any way at all. Europe no longer had the conviction to say “no” to anyone making a reasonable case for political asylum, and no longer had the will to deport even those whose petitions were deemed unreasonable. One of these was Daniel Hillig’s alleged murderer Yousif Abdullah, who had accumulated a long criminal record in his three years in Europe. Abdullah’s own asylum application had been rejected, and then reopened on a technicality.

Episodes of terrorism and crime do shift thinking in a populist direction. If there was a moment when public sentiment about mass migration began to swing, as if on a hinge, it came in the days after New Years’ Eve 2015-16. Hundreds of women reported having been sexually assaulted by gangs of immigrants in the center of Cologne that night, but police took such pains to play down the attacks that news of the disorder did not reach newspapers for days. Notoriously, the city’s mayor advised women to avoid such unpleasantness in the future by keeping suspicious-looking men “at arm’s length.”

Still, the ultimate impetus for populism among native Europeans probably lies not in any individual incident but in the prospect, more vivid with every passing year, of demographic decline and even extinction. By this decade, several countries had lost control of their borders—above all, Sweden, where almost a third of babies are born to foreign mothers. The Pew Research Center recently projected that Sweden will be 30% Muslim by mid-century if refugee flows continue and 21% Muslim even if they stop altogether.

The wave of migration from the Arab and Muslim world may be as nothing compared to what awaits. Sub-Saharan Africa is now seeing the largest population explosion any region has undergone in the history of the planet. By 2050, Africa is expected to double its population to 2.5 billion. That increment of 1.25 billion young people is roughly twice the present population of Europe. At mid-century, Africa will still be the poorest place on earth, but it will be the richest in young men of military age. Until 2017 charitable rescue ships were transporting hundreds, sometimes thousands, of African migrants across the Mediterranean to Italy daily. These provide the merest foretaste of the population pressures that await.

Merkel’s invitation to Syrian migrants in 2015 was a detonator. Suddenly Germany had a million-odd Syrians, Pakistanis, Iraqis, and Afghanis on its soil—culturally alien, hard to employ, and making claims for the admission of millions more wives, children, and siblings. Germans were thus forced to choose between (a) welcoming an even larger second wave of dependent family members, and (b) damage control. This would mean stepping up expulsions, revoking longstanding rules on family reunification, and overturning various longstanding taboos against discussing Germany’s national interest and ethnic identity. Germans have opted for (b). They have shifted their votes from establishment parties (not just Merkel’s Christian Democrats but also the Social Democrats) to radical ones (not just the AfD but also the post-Communist Left party).

New Problems, New Solutions

In Italy, interior minister Matteo Salvini has become one of the most popular politicians in Europe by turning his party, the League, from a regional separatist group into a nationwide anti-immigration force. For years now, foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been chartering boats to mount extensive rescue operations of African migrants adrift in the Mediterranean. Salvini derided these efforts as taxi services to deliver migrants from the North African coast. Extraordinary maps published by the New York Times in June 2017, which showed rescue operations moving steadily closer to the port of Tripoli as humanitarian operations increased, provide considerable justification for Salvini’s view. But he went further. Salvini accused humanitarians of acting as go-betweens for two mafias: one that trafficked humans in Africa, and another that scammed Italy’s social-welfare system in Europe. He then closed Italy’s ports to such rescue vessels—first foreign-registered ones, then Italian ones. The result is that Salvini, called an “extremist” in many newspapers in the run-up to elections last March, now commands the support of 60% of Italians.

European leaders have assailed Salvini in the name of their values, none more volubly than French President Emmanuel Macron. In early June, when Salvini refused landing rights to 629 migrants aboard the German rescue ship Aquarius, Macron denounced him as irresponsible, cynical, and extremist. Salvini replied that, if Macron cared so much about European values, perhaps he could take some of the migrants himself. Macron did not. Indeed, when the same ship, the Aquarius, made for the French port of Marseille in late September with only 58 migrants aboard, Macron’s government denied it authorization to dock. In mid-October, newspapers across Europe reported that French authorities had apprehended African illegal migrants in the Hautes-Alpes region, driven them across the Italian border in a police van, and dropped them off in the woods.

The debate between Salvini and Macron revealed something formulaic and flawed in the latter’s way of thinking. Macron and his globalist allies sometimes acted as if the problems of human conflict had been solved by the Western “values,” and as if history were done presenting contingencies and surprises. That made it easy to “build a legacy” or win an honorable “place in history.” All one had to do was consult these values and order correctly from a menu of historical roles. With the rise of Salvini, the European Union’s economic commissioner Pierre Moscovici warned of “little Mussolinis” in the continent’s politics, and Luxembourg’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Asselborn accused Salvini of using “fascist methods and tones”—which presumably made Moscovici and Asselborn the Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt of our times.

Populists, by contrast, argued that today’s events are not a replay of the 1930s—they are today’s events. “What people call ‘right-wing populism,’ ‘the new right,’ or ‘a return to nationalism,’” wrote Frank Böckelmann, editor of the contrarian German quarterly Tumult, “is only a reaction to specific new conditions.” That is the way Salvini saw it: he was just reacting pragmatically to problems as they came up. He wanted Italy to include in every trade deal it signs with a developing-world country a “repatriation clause” linking economic ties to a willingness to take back migrants. “I think I am paid by my citizens to help our youth to have the babies they used to have a few years ago,” Salvini said, “and not import the best of African youth to replace the Europeans who, for economic reasons, don’t have many children.”

Was this reasonable or was it racist? In matters of identity politics, the two adjectives can describe the same action. National identity is maintained by preferring one’s own people to others. This proposition sounds obvious and uncontroversial when you are saying, for example, that Italy’s destiny is a matter for Italians alone to decide—and not for Frenchmen to meddle in, even Frenchmen as powerful as Macron. It is perfectly innocent to prefer Italians to French people in that case. But is it okay to prefer Italians to Africans? Europeans are less comfortable answering “yes” to that question. When a boatload of migrants steams into a Sicilian harbor, and the law calls for them to be sent back to Libya, and thence to Chad or Niger, and they sue to stay, politicians who assert European values begin to hem and haw. But if one cannot argue against interlopers on behalf of fellow citizens, then the long history of Italy will soon come to an end. At least that is how the populists see it.

Class and Competition

The establishment view reflects a difference not just of ideology but also of class. Perhaps because he is yet a political novice, Macron has been vocal on the subject of human inequality. He is in favor of it. The president’s role in French life should be “Jupiterian,” he argued, while describing those who collected welfare as “illiterates” (illettrés) and “freeloaders” (fainéants). Like Matteo Renzi, the pro-business former prime minister whose center-left party was ousted by Italy’s populist coalition, Macron has behaved as if business were all: entrepreneurs and captains of industry are the only modern heroes. Cutting taxes, delaying retirements, and permitting Sunday shopping are the highest achievements to which a sensible politician could aspire. At the opening of Station F, a clearinghouse for high-tech start-ups, Macron found the name appropriate, because this would be the place that determined the entrepreneurs’ worth. “A station,” he said, meaning a railway station, “is a place where you run into people who succeed and people who are nothing.”

It was in this vein that historian Anne Applebaum, writing in the Atlantic, lamented the rise of two populist parties in Central Europe: Orbán’s Fidesz in Hungary, and Jaroslaw Kaczyński’s Law and Justice party (PiS) in Poland. Applebaum, attentive and logical in all her books about Eastern Europe, showed little perspective or sense of context in writing about contemporary political clashes. She denounced the Polish and Hungarian upstarts as a threat to democracy, comparing them to Lenin’s Bolsheviks, Hitler’s Germany, and Apartheid South Africa.

Ceding Authority

All across the West, the intelligent, credentialed people who held the commanding heights of the economy were making the same mistake. They viewed the rise of populism as a misunderstanding or a glitch. Ashoka Mody, a gifted macroeconomist at the International Monetary Fund, cautioned against reading too much into the 2016 referendum on which Renzi had staked his political career: “Italians rejected the changes to the electoral system,” Mody wrote, “not because they had thought very deeply about the changes proposed but, rather, because the referendum gave them an opportunity to vent their economic and political frustrations.”

If such votes are only a “venting of frustrations,” then they don’t mean anything, and they certainly contain no specific instructions that deserve to be heeded. Last June, when Salvini began to change Italy’s immigration policies, Carlotta Sami, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, voiced her objections: “Using migration in an instrumental way for a political objective is irresponsible,” she said in an interview, “because this reflects immediately not only on the lives of migrant and refugees, but also on the lives of the hosting communities of the Italians, pitting the one against the others.”

The verb “instrumentalize,” meaning “to make a political issue of,” is multinational shop talk. It is used to mark off an area of policy where public opinion has no legitimate role, and is therefore unwelcome. The duly elected constitutional government of Italy should step aside from making policy for Italy—Mrs. Sami will handle it! One might predict that no one would put up with such effrontery. In fact most people are willing to cede authority to judges and multinational bodies for as long as things are going well.

Where does this willingness to cede authority come from? Its sources run deep. Sociologist Norbert Elias, in his 1965 study The Established and the Outsiders, described the “monopoly on the means of orientation” that Brahmins in India held, just by virtue of being Brahmins. Most elitism is like this. To say that progressive elites control things is not a conspiracy theory, it is a tautology—they control the culture by definition.

Similarly, populists are wrong by definition. They usually internalize the idea of their inferiority and immorality. An establishment, as Elias sees it, always offers an alternative that the public can passively fall back on. Outsiders and populists do not. They will be subject to a “paralyzing apathy” unless a leader is there to light a fire under them. The challenge is keeping it lit. Hence the importance of Salvini’s social media videos and Donald Trump’s tweets. Constant motion is of the essence. One can see the difference between successful populist governments (such as Salvini’s) that act quickly, bringing rapid change; and unsuccessful ones (such as Trump’s over his first year-and-a-half) that do not, permitting all the playing pieces to roll back down the unlevel board into their pre-election positions.

A Democracy Movement

Margaret Canovan, one of the most sensitive academic analysts of populism, has described it as something that “haunts even the most firmly established democracies.” It would be more accurate to say that populism haunts especially the most firmly established democracies. It arises in democracies that are so built-out and specialized that a class of sophisticated political initiates is required to run them effectively. Any such class will be tempted to nudge the system to produce results more in line with what it sees as society’s needs. These “needs” may grow hard to distinguish from that class’s “values.”

Americans, living in the home of modern judicial review, will understand that judges are often guilty of trying to correct electoral results that don’t correspond to insider thinking. The civil rights laws of the 1960s, for example, have been interpreted to require transgender bathrooms, regardless of how democratic majorities might feel about them. Certain western European democracies work under analogous constraints. In Italy, both investigative magistrates (the equivalent of federal prosecutors) and adjudicative magistrates (the equivalent of federal judges) are members of the judiciary branch, and the bench, for the most part, operates as a self-perpetuating guild. Judges, not legislators or executives, appoint and approve judicial hires. Like Americans, Italians had plausible 20th-century reasons for enhancing the prerogatives of judges. Americans wanted to smash segregation. Italians wanted to ensure—in the wake of Mussolini, fascism, and defeat—that no prosecutor working on behalf of a strongman would use his office to throw political opponents in jail.

As it turned out, allowing the judiciary to be “independent” in this way was an even bigger risk. For, in Italy as in the United States, the judiciary is both a powerful regulatory body and a subset of what we now call the One Percent. Italian lawyers and judges, like our own, have a cultural affinity with intellectuals and progressive politicians. The result is that, when conservative governments come to power, the judiciary joins the opposition. Silvio Berlusconi, the madcap media billionaire who after 1994 became the longest-serving postwar Italian prime minister, was in and out of courtrooms for long-ago business irregularities for the whole two decades he was in or near power. He was convicted of tax fraud in 2013 and banned from politics for six years, until 2019.

Since the new League-Five Star coalition took power in mid-2018, Italy’s situation has paralleled that of the United States even more closely, with judges seeking ingenious ways to thwart a government they oppose on ideological grounds. A Genovese judge threatened to seize the League’s entire €49-million treasury, for an embezzlement case that antedates Salvini’s takeover of the party. After Salvini delayed the disembarkation of 177 Eritreans who had arrived aboard the Italian Coast Guard boat Diciotti, a prosecutor in Agrigento indicted him for kidnapping.

Where the United States is unloved among European populists, it is sometimes as the source of such judicial chicanery. American forces wrote or inspired a number of postwar constitutions, including the German Grundgesetz, which contains guarantees that many blame for the country’s impending “dissolution” by migration. “It is high time,” writes Frank Böckelmann, “for a constitution that is of the German people and for the German people.” For another thing, the United States tax code provides the model for various activist foundations that have left governments feeling surveilled and threatened in their sovereignty. That has been particularly so in Hungary, which in recent months has moved to close the Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros’s charities and to shutter a university he founded.

Orbán’s philosophy has been described in Western headlines as an attack on democracy. It is more accurately described as a passionate defense of his own vision of democracy. Orbán’s vision is different from the one that prevails in the West today. It is closer to the understanding of democracy that prevailed in the United States 60 years ago. For Orbán, democracy is when a sovereign people votes and chooses its destiny. Period. A democratic republic need not be liberal, or neutral as to values. It can favor Christianity or patriotism, if it so chooses, and it can even proudly call such choices “illiberal,” as Orbán did in a 2014 speech.

The detractors of Orbán-style democracy consider democracy a set of progressive outcomes that democracies tend to choose, and may even have chosen at some time in the past. If a progressive law or judicial ruling or executive order coincides with the “values” of experts, a kind of mystical ratification results, and the outcome is what the builders of the European Union call an acquis—something permanent, unassailable, and constitutional-seeming. If a democratic majority were to overturn, say, a country’s membership in the European Union, or a state’s laws establishing gay marriage, that outcome would be called “undemocratic.” Of course it would be no such thing. What would be threatened in this case would be somebody’s values, not everyone’s democracy.

That is our problem. Liberalism and democracy have come into conflict. “Populist” is what those loyal to the former call those loyal to the latter.

See Also Patriotism vs. Multiculturalism


The Real Reason They Hate Trump

David Gelernter is a professor of computer science at Yale.  I first learned of him when he wrote The Closing of the Scientific Mind, which is a plea for scientists to celebrate and enhance humanity rather than belittle human life. My synopsis was How Science Is Losing Its Humanity

Now Gelernter has written an insightful essay on what to like and not to like about Donald Trump (President of the United States).  Reprinted below in italics with my bolds.

The Real Reason They Hate Trump

Every big U.S. election is interesting, but the coming midterms are fascinating for a reason most commentators forget to mention: The Democrats have no issues. The economy is booming and America’s international position is strong. In foreign affairs, the U.S. has remembered in the nick of time what Machiavelli advised princes five centuries ago: Don’t seek to be loved, seek to be feared.

The contrast with the Obama years must be painful for any honest leftist. For future generations, the Kavanaugh fight will stand as a marker of the Democratic Party’s intellectual bankruptcy, the flashing red light on the dashboard that says “Empty.” The left is beaten.

This has happened before, in the 1980s and ’90s and early 2000s, but then the financial crisis arrived to save liberalism from certain destruction. Today leftists pray that Robert Mueller will put on his Superman outfit and save them again.

For now, though, the left’s only issue is “We hate Trump.” This is an instructive hatred, because what the left hates about Donald Trump is precisely what it hates about America. The implications are important, and painful.

Not that every leftist hates America. But the leftists I know do hate Mr. Trump’s vulgarity, his unwillingness to walk away from a fight, his bluntness, his certainty that America is exceptional, his mistrust of intellectuals, his love of simple ideas that work, and his refusal to believe that men and women are interchangeable. Worst of all, he has no ideology except getting the job done. His goals are to do the task before him, not be pushed around, and otherwise to enjoy life. In short, he is a typical American—except exaggerated, because he has no constraints to cramp his style except the ones he himself invents.

Mr. Trump lacks constraints because he is filthy rich and always has been and, unlike other rich men, he revels in wealth and feels no need to apologize—ever. He never learned to keep his real opinions to himself because he never had to. He never learned to be embarrassed that he is male, with ordinary male proclivities. Sometimes he has treated women disgracefully, for which Americans, left and right, are ashamed of him—as they are of JFK and Bill Clinton.

But my job as a voter is to choose the candidate who will do best for America. I am sorry about the coarseness of the unconstrained average American that Mr. Trump conveys. That coarseness is unpresidential and makes us look bad to other nations. On the other hand, many of his opponents worry too much about what other people think. I would love the esteem of France, Germany and Japan. But I don’t find myself losing sleep over it.

The difference between citizens who hate Mr. Trump and those who can live with him—whether they love or merely tolerate him—comes down to their views of the typical American: the farmer, factory hand, auto mechanic, machinist, teamster, shop owner, clerk, software engineer, infantryman, truck driver, housewife. The leftist intellectuals I know say they dislike such people insofar as they tend to be conservative Republicans.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama know their real sins. They know how appalling such people are, with their stupid guns and loathsome churches. They have no money or permanent grievances to make them interesting and no Twitter followers to speak of. They skip Davos every year and watch Fox News. Not even the very best has the dazzling brilliance of a Chuck Schumer, not to mention a Michelle Obama. In truth they are dumb as sheep.

Mr. Trump reminds us who the average American really is. Not the average male American, or the average white American. We know for sure that, come 2020, intellectuals will be dumbfounded at the number of women and blacks who will vote for Mr. Trump. He might be realigning the political map: plain average Americans of every type vs. fancy ones.

Many left-wing intellectuals are counting on technology to do away with the jobs that sustain all those old-fashioned truck-driver-type people, but they are laughably wide of the mark. It is impossible to transport food and clothing, or hug your wife or girl or child, or sit silently with your best friend, over the internet. Perhaps that’s obvious, but to be an intellectual means nothing is obvious. Mr. Trump is no genius, but if you have mastered the obvious and add common sense, you are nine-tenths of the way home. (Scholarship is fine, but the typical modern intellectual cheapens his learning with politics, and is proud to vary his teaching with broken-down left-wing junk.)

This all leads to an important question—one that will be dismissed indignantly today, but not by historians in the long run: Is it possible to hate Donald Trump but not the average American?

True, Mr. Trump is the unconstrained average citizen. Obviously you can hate some of his major characteristics—the infantile lack of self-control in his Twitter babble, his hitting back like a spiteful child bully—without hating the average American, who has no such tendencies. (Mr. Trump is improving in these two categories.) You might dislike the whole package. I wouldn’t choose him as a friend, nor would he choose me. But what I see on the left is often plain, unconditional hatred of which the hater—God forgive him—is proud. It’s discouraging, even disgusting. And it does mean, I believe, that the Trump-hater truly does hate the average American—male or female, black or white. Often he hates America, too.

Granted, Mr. Trump is a parody of the average American, not the thing itself. To turn away is fair. But to hate him from your heart is revealing. Many Americas were ashamed when Ronald Reagan was elected. A movie actor? But the new direction he chose for America was a big success on balance, and Reagan turned into a great president. Evidently this country was intended to be run by amateurs after all—by plain citizens, not only lawyers and bureaucrats.

Those who voted for Mr. Trump, and will vote for his candidates this November, worry about the nation, not its image. The president deserves our respect because Americans deserve itnot such fancy-pants extras as network commentators, socialist high-school teachers and eminent professors, but the basic human stuff that has made America great, and is making us greater all the time.

Mr. Gelernter is computer science professor at Yale and chief scientist at Dittach LLC. His most recent book is “Tides of Mind.”


How to Test an Accusation

The Senate Judiciary committee is meeting today and the written testimonies of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh are available. The challenge for senators and everyone else is how to judge the validity of the sexual assault claim. Normally an accusation is supported by evidence such as other witnesses before it is given legal consideration. But this is a he said, she said situation.

We know from scientific studies that our memories are untrustworthy the further in the past are the events being recalled. Cognitive experts say that a core remembrance, usually laden with emotion, is elaborated with details invented by our brains to fill in the gaps for a complete story.  An accuser can bear truthful witness to a false memory, and thereby belie the facts. So how to sort out how much is what happened and how much is imagination?

Adam Mill is an employment lawyer who has experience with many such cases and writes in the Federalist 10 Red Flags About Sexual Assault Claims, From An Employment Lawyer

It’s not nice or politically correct to say, but people do sometimes lie to get money, revenge, power, attention, or political advantage. False allegations of assault have been documented.

I know it’s a very unfashionable to advocate on behalf of the presumption of innocence, and I am often reminded of how insensitive and outdated the principle is in today’s climate.

Of course, courtesy to the alleged victim is absolutely essential to be effective. To do otherwise is completely counterproductive and quickly turns the focus from the facts to the conduct within the inquiry. So I go to great pains to make my questions respectful.

When the complaint is “he said/she said,” we should not helplessly acquiesce to coin-flip justice that picks winners and losers based upon the identity politics profile of the accused and accuser. Experience with a career’s worth of complaints in hearings, depositions, and negotiations has taught me some tells, red flags that warn that an innocent person stands accused.

Without naming any particular accusation, I offer these factors for consideration to the fair-minded who remain open to the possibility that guilt or innocence is not simply a question of politics. I also remind the reader that politicizing these accusations have allowed men like Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Les Moonves, Bill Clinton, and Keith Ellison to escape accountability. Nobody seems to care if they walk the walk so long as they talk the talk.

1. The accuser uses the press instead of the process.
Every company has a slightly different process for harassment and assault complaints. Often it begins with a neutral investigator being assigned to interview the accuser first, then potential corroborating witnesses. When an accuser is eager to share with the media but reluctant to meet with an investigator, it’s a flag.

2. The accuser times releasing the accusation for an advantage.
For example, when the accuser holds the allegation until an adverse performance rating of the accuser is imminent, or serious misconduct by the accuser is suddenly discovered, or the accused is a rival for a promotion or a raise, or the accused’s success will block an accuser’s political objective. It’s a flag when the accusation is held like a trump card until an opportunity arises to leverage the accusation.

3. The accuser attacks the process instead of participating.
The few times I’ve been attacked for “harassing” the victim, it has always followed an otherwise innocuous question about the accusation, such as: Where, when, how, why, what happened? I don’t argue with accusers, I just ask them to explain the allegation. If I’m attacked for otherwise neutral questions, it’s a red flag.

4. When the accused’s opportunity to mount a defense is delegitimized.
The Duke Lacrosse coach was fired just for saying his players were innocent. When the players dared to protest their innocence, the prosecutor painted their stories in the press as “uncooperative.” If either the accused or the accused’s supporters are attacked for just for failing to agree with the accusation, it’s a red flag.

5. The accuser seeks to force the accused to defend himself or herself before committing to a final version.
Unfortunately, this has become the preferred approach of the kangaroo courts on college campuses. It’s completely unfair because it deprives the accused of the opportunity to mount an effective defense. When the accuser demands the accused speak first, it is a strong indication that the accuser wants the opportunity to fill in the details of the accusation to counter any defense or alibi the accused might offer. It’s a red flag.

6. The accused makes a strong and unequivocal denial.
In most cases, there’s some kernel of truth to even the most exaggerated claims. When the accused reacts with a dissembling explanation full of alternatives and rationalizations, I tend to find the accuser more credible. Rarely, however, the accused reacts with a full-throated and adamant denial. When it happens, it’s a red flag that the accusation might have problems.

7. The accuser makes unusual demands to modify or control the process.
It’s a flag when the accuser demands a new investigator or judge without having a substantial basis for challenging the impartiality of the process that’s already in place.

8. When the accuser’s ability to identify the accused has not been properly explained.
In the Duke lacrosse case, the accuser was shown a lineup of photos of potential attackers. Every photo was of a member of the team. None were of people known to be innocent. It’s a red flag when an identification is made only after the accused appears in media and the accuser has not seen the accused for a number of years or was otherwise in regular contact with the accused.

9. When witnesses don’t corroborate.
10. When corroborating witnesses simply repeat the accusation of the accuser but don’t have fresh information.
It is now clear that accusations of sexual misconduct will forever be a tool to change results in elections and Supreme Court nominations. It’s disappointing to see so many abandon the accused to join the stampede of a mob that punishes any who ask legitimate questions about accusations.

These accusations destroy the lives of the accused, often men, and bring devastation to the women who love and support them. Some of the falsely accused commit suicide. When the mob attacks legitimate inquiry into the accusation, it’s a sure sign that the mob isn’t confident about the truth of the allegation. Rather than shrink in fear when attacked, we should take it as a sign that there is a risk that the accused is innocent, and the questions need to keep coming.

Adam Mill works in Kansas City, Missouri as an attorney specializing in labor and employment and public administration law. He frequently posts to millstreetgazette.blogspot.com. Adam graduated from the University of Kansas and has been admitted to practice in Kansas and Missouri.

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus concluded in one TED talk:

If I’ve learned anything from my decades working on these problems, it’s this: Just because somebody tells you something and they say it with lots of confidence, detail, and emotion does not mean that it really happened. We can’t reliably distinguish true memories from false memories; we need independent corroboration. Such a discovery has made me more tolerant of friends and family who misremember. Such a discovery might have saved Steve Titus. We should all keep in mind that memory, like liberty, is a fragile thing.


Why Teenagers Are Not Supreme Court Justices

The current skirmish is between those who want to disqualify Brett Kavanaugh and those who want to confirm him to the Supreme Court bench. At issue is a claim by a woman that the nominee harassed her when both were teenagers. Presumably she will tell her story to the Senators and he will tell his, and unless something unforeseen is disclosed, the claim will end up being unprovable and undisprovable.

At that point we should remember why teenagers are not candidates for adult responsibilities. It is widely accepted that most of us at those ages have brains not fully developed, especially regarding morality. The inability to foresee consequences of risky behaviors is a classic adolescent failing. Every parent struggles with granting freedom to youngsters to take decisions and bear the consequences, all the while hoping they and others survive the mistakes and learn to be responsible adults. Are teenagers accountable for their actions? Absolutely, as we see reckless teenage drivers causing damage, injury and sometimes death, ruining their own and other lives.

In the current context, with an all-out, full-court press by desperate Democrats to prevent another originalist Justice, this accusation at this time has clear political motivations. That doesn’t say nothing happened between the two teenagers; her animus against him seems more than distaste for his legal position, though I could be mistaken about that. Teenagers are infamous for taking chances, pushing the envelope, testing the rules and advice provided by their elders. With the uncertainties about the recalled incident, when and where and who was present, there is no way for us to know what happened.

Martin Luther King said it well, and in fact there is progress unacknowledged by social justice warriors.  Today’s surveillance for racial bias is extremely sensitive, and yet the demand for such incidents far exceeds the supply.  In addition we now have conflicts over male and female sexual encounters, and some presume that women are always the victims and men the trespassers.  Case by case, it comes down to personal integrity and character of the individuals involved.

What we do know is that judges are qualified by the character they have displayed over a lifetime of service in their families, communities and in the courtroom. That character is only partly formed in adolescence, but can be examined and known by adult behaviors. What matters is not a single incident, but the pattern exhibited over decades. On this basis, Brett Kavanaugh is supremely qualified and his confirmation should not be derailed.


The Dog That Didn’t Bark

This post gets into political territory, but continues a theme on the importance of evidence in attesting whether a claim is true or false.  The topic of course is the investigation into election collusion (itself not a crime) between Russia and Trump.  Here is a status report following convictions yesterday.  George Neumayr writes in American Spectator Ignore the Noise, Mueller Still Has Nothing  Excerpts below with my bolds.

For all of the media’s oohing and ahhing over Robert Mueller’s legal victories on Tuesday, his impeachment case remains hopelessly threadbare. In terms of his Department of Justice mandate, he has made no progress whatsoever. He is presiding over a “collusion” probe that has absolutely nothing to do with collusion.

Let him keep indicting and convicting ham sandwiches. Most Americans won’t care. It just underscores the superfluous and abusive character of his probe. He is not compiling an air-tight legal case for impeachment; he is simply using abusive prosecutorial tactics to foment an anti-Trump political firestorm.

Rod Rosenstein is the Dr. Frankenstein in this political horror show. He birthed a monster in Mueller, who is now rampaging through the streets of Manhattan in search of pre-presidential dirt. Let’s, for the sake of argument, say that all of his claims about Trump-Cohen corruption are true. Is that impeachable material? No, it is not. The American people voted for Trump knowing full well that his pre-presidential record was checkered. Does anybody really think the American people are going to rise up and demand that not only the House but most of the Senate expel Trump from the presidency over an alleged campaign finance violation that doesn’t bear in the slightest upon the collusion question?

Mueller is expert at finding flaky witnesses. Cohen is his latest. His memories of conversations and meetings with Trump are no more reliable than Jim Comey’s. Cohen has given baldly contradictory accounts of his payments to Stormy Daniels. The notion that Trump could lose the presidency owing to the testimony of a sleazy casino lawyer strains all plausibility.

Mueller’s report will culminate in nothing more than an epic political food fight — a mode of combat Trump has perfected. Through his relentless tweeting, Trump has thoroughly educated the American people on the raw politics of Mueller’s probe — that he inherited a hopelessly tainted investigation from Trump haters ensconced in the Obama administration, that Mueller assembled a team of Hillary supporters to continue the probe, and that he has abandoned his DOJ mandate for a partisan fishing expedition of staggering proportions. The unfairness of it all has not been lost on the American people.

The media routinely calls Trump a “bully” even as it forms a mob encircling him, bellowing about this or that utterly trivial offense. None of it adds up to anything even close to impeachable material. From the fulminating, one would think that a foreign occupier had invaded Washington. Trump’s great crime was colluding not with Russians but with neglected American voters, with whom he ended the Clinton dynasty. While Hillary was waiting with bated breath for dirt from Russians conveyed to her British spy, Trump plunged into the American heartland, winning the election the old-fashioned way, by simply outhustling Hillary in places like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

I just got back from the latter state. Not a single mechanic, trucker, or waitress I met in Pennsylvania ever showed the slightest bit of interest in Mueller’s probe. Most of them probably don’t even know who Mueller is. That the media is staking its demolition of Trump on this gray, little-known ruling-class darling is a measure of its alienation from the American people. They simply don’t care about Trump’s pre-presidential sins, political screw-ups, and minor law-bending, if that even occurred.

Mueller is desperately trying to stitch together an impeachment case based on these thin threads. He struck out on collusion, then turned to obstruction of justice, only to realize that his star witness, Comey, is himself under investigation. So he resorted to a search for pre-presidential dirt and papered over the nothingness of his probe with indictments and convictions on matters far afield. Only members of the ruling class and media, who devote every waking moment to studying all things Trump at the granular level, could portray this probe as “momentous.” To most Americans, it remains a giant bore — an inside-the-Beltway parlor game of no particular interest to them or relevance to their lives.

Trump on Tuesday night resumed his mockery of the probe, asking at a rally in West Virginia, “Where is the collusion? You know, they’re still looking for collusion! Where is the collusion? Find some collusion. We want to find the collusion.” Mueller called off that search a long time ago, shifting to a Cohen, rather than collusion, probe, to which the America people will ask upon the release of his report: Why are we supposed to care?


Neumeyr is probably right forecasting that the long-awaited Mueller report will throw the kitchen sink garbage against POTUS hoping something will stick, thereby starting yet another food fight.  It seems too much for Team Mueller to come out exonerating Trump on the original issue.  But they have turned over every rock in vain to find damning evidence against the null hypothesis:  Trump campaign did not collaborate with the Russians.


“Silver Blaze” is the story of the disappearance of the titular race horse. It is believed that a stranger stole the horse, but Sherlock Holmes is able to pin the horse’s disappearance on the horse’s late trainer, John Straker, because a dog at the horse’s stable did not bark on the night of his disappearance. The following exchange takes place in the short story:

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”


Heat Wave Good Vibrations

Enjoy this wonderful hot summertime while it lasts.  Don’t let the climate grinches get you down with their doomsday pronouncements.  Chill out with Sunshine Reggae and let the good vibes get a lot stronger.

US District Court grants Chevron’s motion to dismiss climate change case

US District Court grants Chevron’s motion to dismiss climate change case

World Pipelines, Tuesday, 26 June 2018 12:00

The US District Court for the Northern District of California has issued a ruling dismissing the climate change lawsuits filed against Chevron Corporation by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland. The court dismissed the complaint as requiring foreign and domestic policy decisions that are outside the proper purview of the courts.

As the court described, “the scope of plaintiffs’ theory is breathtaking. It would reach the sale of fossil fuels anywhere in the world, including all past and otherwise lawful sales.”

“It is true,” the court continued, “that carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels has caused (and will continue to cause) global warming. But against that negative, we must weigh this positive: our industrial revolution and the development of our modern world has literally been fuelled by oil and coal. Without these fuels, virtually all of our monumental progress would have been impossible. All of us have benefitted. Having reaped the benefit of that historic progress, would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded? Is it really fair, in light of those benefits, to say that the sale of fossil fuels was unreasonable?”

The court concluded by dismissing the claims and deferring to the policy judgments of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government: “The dangers raised in the complaints are very real. But those dangers are worldwide. Their causes are worldwide. The benefits of fossil fuels are worldwide. The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case. While it remains true that our federal courts have authority to fashion common law remedies for claims based on global warming, courts must also respect and defer to the other co-equal branches of government when the problem at hand clearly deserves a solution best addressed by those branches.”

Reliable, affordable energy is not a public nuisance but a public necessity,” said R. Hewitt Pate, Chevron’s Vice President and General Counsel. “Tackling the difficult international policy issues of climate change requires honest and constructive discussion. Using lawsuits to vilify the men and women who provide the energy we all need is neither honest nor constructive.”

The court’s decision dismisses a lawsuit that the cities of San Francisco and Oakland filed against BP, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, seeking to hold a selected group of oil and gas companies responsible for the potential effects of global climate change. The suit, filed in 2017, claims that the production and sale of oil and gas are a public nuisance because they result in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to worldwide climate change and rising sea levels. The US Supreme Court and other courts around the country have previously rejected similar claims brought by the same lawyers. Those courts – like the court today – found that America’s environmental policies must be determined by national policymakers like the Environmental Protection Agency, not courts of law.

Several other US cities and counties, including New York City and King County, Washington, recently filed nearly identical cases against the same oil and gas companies. Many were filed by the same lawyers. The energy companies have filed motions to dismiss those cases as well. As Chevron has repeatedly emphasised in its court filings, Chevron supports meaningful efforts to address climate change and accepts internationally recognised climate science, but climate change is a global issue that requires global engagement, not lawsuits. Chevron is taking prudent, practical and cost-effective actions to mitigate potential climate change risks, including managing emissions, testing new technologies, and increasing efficiency.

Chevron Corporation is one of the world’s leading integrated energy companies. Through its subsidiaries that conduct business worldwide, the company is involved in virtually every facet of the energy industry. Chevron explores for, produces and transports crude oil and natural gas; refines, markets and distributes transportation fuels and lubricants; manufactures and sells petrochemicals and additives; generates power; and develops and deploys technologies that enhance business value in every aspect of the company’s operations. Chevron is based in San Ramon, California.

Judge Alsup’s Ruling

Footnote:  It will be claimed that the court has confirmed dangerous man made warming.  But IPCC science was stipulated by both plaintiffs and defendants, so there was no disagreement for the court to resolve.  The science was not at issue between the parties.  It doesn’t mean the science holds up under scrutiny, only that such examination was not pertinent here.

2018 Graduation Music

This message from the Eagles goes out to all those social justice warriors on campus.

Jordan Peterson: “So the first thing that you might want to know about Postmodernism is that it doesn’t have a shred of gratitude — and there’s something pathologically wrong with a person that doesn’t have any gratitude, especially when they live in what so far is the best of all possible worlds. So if you’re not grateful, you’re driven by resentment, and resentment is the worst emotion that you can possibly experience, apart from arrogance. Arrogance, resentment, and deceit. There is an evil triad for you.”


Alternative song for sending off graduates comes from Bob Dylan:


Seeing What We Presume

This remarkable arrow was designed by a scientist specializing in optical illusions.  In this case, no matter what you do, you can not make your brain see anything other than an arrow pointing right.  The reason is your brain processes the patterns on the object with only that perception possible.

It is the creation of Professor Kokichi Sugihara at Meiji University in Tokyo.  Professor Sugihara has a long history of designing mind-bending objects.  The mathematician provides some complex equations in his paper explaining how such an illusion is possible, but all you really need to know is that the always-right arrow uses forced perspective to exploit your brain’s penchant for finding right angles where there aren’t any.  It may seem like magic, but it’s really just your brain being too efficient in its quest to make order out of chaos.

This is a fun example, but it reminds us of the climate wars where perception bias is also hardwired. And it reminds us that any observer adds a frame of reference on top of objective reality.