Category: Politics

Virtue Signaling with Bombs

It would appear that we are moving toward getting involved with Syria. Images have emerged of a horrific chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians, including children. Multiple independent organizations are pointing the finger at Assad. And various Trump officials are making noise about attacking Syria in retaliation. So far, a number of politicians have indicated support for such an action, including Hillary Clinton and John McCain, even though it carries the danger of a conflict — by proxy or directly — with Russia.

I have long been wary of intervention in Syria. The reason is not because I am insensitive to the suffering of Syrian civilians or the house of horrors that is Assad. It’s because it’s not clear to me what the hell the goal would be. Sean Davis raised 14 questions that our leaders need to answer before they commit to military action — all good questions that no one has answered. The logic seems to be:

  1. What’s happening is awful.
  2. Let’s drop some bombs.

But what will that do? If we destroy his air force, does that simply drag the war out? If we remove Assad, do we just get more chaos for ISIS to move into? Is this virtue signaling with bombs?

I find myself agreeing with our friend Thrill:

My other thought is that one of the top five reasons I voted for Trump was that I thought he was less War Crazed of the two major candidates. You can argue with me all you like, but Clinton was creaming her pantsuit in anticipation of dragging us into more international conflicts. Trump convinced me that he wasn’t interested in any further needless military interventions and I’d prefer not to be proven wrong.

I’ve seen the images coming out of Syria. Yeah, it’s awful.

But it isn’t our war.

It isn’t our fault either. There’s nothing we stand to gain from it. It isn’t even within our ability to resolve. I’m not indifferent to human suffering, but I don’t support any war that doesn’t further the best interests of the United States. There’s no way I support Trump if he moves forward with military action against the Assad regime.

Something else to think about: why is Assad’s use of chemical weapons the red line here? Why is it so much more horrible than the bombs he’s been dropping on his people or years, bombs that have left many children dead or screaming in pain or maimed for life? Let’s say we eliminate all his chemical weapons — hey, remember when John Kerry said we’d gotten rid of them all? Will that ameliorate the suffering of Syria’s children? Will he not just drop more conventional bombs?

The more I turn this over, the more I think this is virtue signaling with bombs. Something horrible has happened and we want to show that we don’t like it. But that’s not enough for me. You’re going to need more than that for me to support committing blood and treasure to what looks like a massive dangerous quagmire.

Update: As I was writing this post, CNN announced that we have launched 50 tomahawk missiles against airfields in Syria. That was fast. And there was no approval from Congress.

Just Say No

Look, I’ve said this before. I don’t like political dynasties. We’ve seen enough of them. So no more Bushes. No more Daleys. No more Cuomos. No more Rockefellers. Certainly no more God-damned Kennedys.

And no … no more Clintons. I don’t think Chelsea even wants to be in politics. This is just some weird fetish that’s developed on the Left.

Bill Clinton was a decent President. Since then, the Clintons have brought nothing but ruin and strife to the party. Stop treating them like they’re a royal family or something.

The Nuclear Countdown

The Democrats now appear to have enough votes to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination. Make no mistake: this is not about Gorusch, who is a mainstream conservative judge (and, in some ways, more appealing than Garland). This is about tit-for-tat for the GOP not considering Obama’a nomination, a game that has been building since the 80’s.

The GOP is now talking about invoking the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster. I would prefer that a deal be struck or, if the nuclear option is invoked, it be invoked narrowly on judicial nominations. The GOP will not be in charge forever and there will come a time where we will need the filibuster to stop a Democratic President. A lot of people complaint that the filibuster is “undemocratic”, to which my reply is generally, “Gee, I hope so.” The system is designed to curb the enthusiasm of the people. It needs to continue to do so.

In this case, however, I think killing it is better than letting it hamstring the judiciary forever.

Update: Just to be clear: I don’t think Gorsuch is ideal. I think he’s about as good as we’ll get. But he does not come without concerns. I’m not referring to his stance on issues, but rather to his background. SCOTUS clerk, boutique law firm, the justice Department, then appellate justice. He doesn’t have a lot of experience of our criminal justice system.

And that’s an issue. As I’ve noted before:

One of the biggest problems with the Supreme Court is that, for all the efforts to “diversify” it, the Court has very little intellectual diversity. Every single judge went to either Harvard or Yale Law. Very few have practiced law and none as a defense attorney. As a result, they say stunningly myopic things about our legal system.

SCOTUS decisions have a tendency to read like the minutes of a Harvard debating society. The justices are extremely knowledgeable. They are full of theory and precedent. But their practical knowledge of how the legal system actually works is limited, at best. They’ll debate points of minutia and legal theory, but miss the big picture. It’s what allows them to uphold assert forfeiture using the pedantic lawyer bullshit that property has no right and so charging the property with a crime is OK. It’s what allows them to claim the grand jury system is a functional bulwark of our liberty. It’s what allows them to pretend that a mandate is a tax.

Gorsuch has a few concerns in this direction. During the hearings, he Democrats focused on the trucker case. A trucker had a broken down truck that was freezing as he awaited instructions from the company. He detached the trailer and drove for assistance and the company fired him. He appealed the firing because, under federal labor law, you can’t fire someone for refusing to operate equipment in an unsafe manner. Gorsuch was in the minority in rejecting his argument, saying that the law only applied to people who refused to operate unsafe equipment, not people who refuse to not unsafe equipment, logic the majority tore apart.

The more I’ve thought about this, the more it worries me. Democrats, being Democrats, focused on the poor trucker. But was I was more concerned about a judge focusing so narrowly on the exact wording of a law rather than the intent of the law. Because laws can not be written to anticipate every eventuality. At some point you have to apply common sense (Common Law). And Gorsuch worries me that he’ll be yet another judge who gets lost in the narrow tiny words of the law and fails to focus on what the law actually means.

(And yes, such narrow focus might have struck down Obamacare. It might also strike down every law out there, including a lot we favor.)

Ultimately, I support Gorsuch’s nomination. But it does not come without concerns. It never does.

The Flynn Flip

The internet is filled with the new that General Mike Flynn is seeking immunity in exchange for testifying about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. What exactly he would testify about it a bit unclear. And so far, no one has taken him up on the offer.

The Democrats are salivating over this, but let’s keep something in mind: Flynn may not know shit. He may just be trying desperately to evade any consequences of his own actions which, at the very least, included undisclosed lobbying on behalf of Turkey. Even is he does know something, that something may not be the thing that leads to the downfall of Trump.

I’m reminded a bit of Oliver North. During the Iran-Contra Affair, North was given immunity to testify to Congress. In the end, he didn’t give them what they wanted: nothing implicated Reagan. The prosecutors went after North himself and got a conviction but it was subsequently overturned because of the immunity Congress had given him.

Maybe Flynn cracks the Russia thing open. But I suspect this will go the same way. If he is given immunity, the stuff he will reveal will be less than damning or, at worst, implicate Manafort.

As I’ve said many times, the Russia thing demands full independent investigation (especially with Nunes going off the reservation). But I’m not going to say, “This is the end of Trump!” until it’s the end of Trump.

A Little Consistency Would Be Nice

The California State Attorney General has now brought charges against the two activists who secretly recorded Planned Parenthood and edited the videos in a deceptive fashion. 14 counts of recording someone without consent and 1 of conspiracy. Now they did break the law — California is a two-party state.

But here’s my question: when are charges going to be brought against animal rights activists who secretly record damning footage (and, in the case of PETA at least, sometimes deceptively edited it)? Were charges ever brought against the people who secretly recorded Mitch McConnell discussing campaign strategy? Kentucky’s not a two-party state but it’s not a no-party state. Nor is Florida, where someone secretly recorded Mitt Romney’s “47%” comment (and if your memory is long enough, someone spied on Newt Gingrich’s phone calls). When are we going to see police raids of their homes and multiple felony charges brought against them? The answer, of course, is never.

Jacob Sullum, hardly a Right Wing Culture Warrior, ask the same question. He notes that public conversations (which these were) and investigations (which the activists claim this was) are generally exempted from California’s wire-tapping laws.

Would California’s attorney general have pursued felony charges against pro-choice activists who used hidden cameras to record meetings with the operators of “crisis pregnancy centers” that steer women away from abortion? If not, Becerra’s concern about “the right to privacy” is nothing more than a pious-sounding cover for a political vendetta.

The problem here is that the Left does not see pro-Life activism as legitimate activism. It’s why they propose and support things like buffer zones and bans on signs showing fetal remains — restrictions on speech that would decry as fascism if they were applied to, say, striking factory workers. I’m pro-choice. But I will defend to the last full measure the right of pro-lifers to express their views.

Keving Drum:

I continue to have zero sympathy for these two. They edited their videos deceptively and basically lied about everything they did. Nevertheless, I don’t like the idea of prosecuting them. This was a legitimate investigation, and no level of government should be in the business of chilling it. The First Amendment doesn’t say anything one way or the other about how honest one’s speech has to be.

This also strikes me as political grandstanding. I imagine that if this were a couple of liberal activists secretly recording meetings with anti-immigration groups, Attorney General Xavier Becerra wouldn’t so eager to go after them.

This was started by former AG, now Senator, Kamala Harris, who had a history of bringing high profile bullshit prosecutions while ignoring things like cops passing around an underage prostitute like she’s a job perk. In the wake of the Planned Parenthood videos, she proposed extra laws to protect … Planned Parenthood. She was a very political AG and her successor seems equally political.

I hate defending these guys. I agree with Drum that the videos were deceptive. But the more I think about it and the more I read about it, the more this prosecution crosses me as garbage. This is not about deceptively-edited videos or violations of privacy. This is about political grandstanding by two Attorneys General. This is about protecting a liberal interest from any kind of scrutiny. It’s about, as Clark at Popehat once brilliantly said, walking around the field of the Culture War battle and shooting the survivors of the losing side.

Bad for America? Maybe. The “Cure” Would Be Worse

So this happened:

Veteran TV journalist Ted Koppel analyzed the media’s role in the political divide in Trump-era America on “CBS Sunday Morning” — and had a pointed moment interviewing Fox News host Sean Hannity.

“We have to give some credit to the American people that they are somewhat intelligent and that they know the difference between an opinion show and a news show,” Hannity told Koppel on camera, registering the veteran newsman’s doubt. “You’re cynical. … You think we’re bad for America? You think I’m bad for America?”

“Yep,” Koppel replied. “In the long haul, I think that all these opinion shows…”

“Really?” Hannity asked. “That’s sad, Ted.”

Koppel explained: “You know why? Because you’re very good at what you did and because you have attracted … people who have determined that ideology is more important than facts.”

I’m not a fan of Koppel and I think the cause he went on to blame for this problem — the demise of the Fairness Doctrine — is horribly misguided. But I think he has a point on Hannity and talk radio/TV in general.

Last year, Conor Friedersdorf wrote a great article on how talk radio precipitated the rise of Donald Trump:

Here are some of the cues and signals that even anti-Trump members of “the party” have sent to voters, over many years, that made the rise of a populist demagogue possible if not likely, and that Trump voters absorbed into their world views:

  • Career politicians cannot be trusted. This widespread conceit in “the party” has effectively made it impossible for candidates with governing records and public sector experience to be accepted by large swaths of GOP primary voters.
  • When the base doesn’t get what it wants, it is because of betrayal by party elites, never because a majority of Americans disagree with what the base wants.
  • Rhetorical stridency is a better heuristic for loyalty than core principles or governing record—and there is nothing disqualifying about extreme incivility (hence, for example, a buttoned up think tank giving a statesmanship award to Rush Limbaugh, a gleeful purveyor of bombastic insults).
  • Complaints about racism and sexism are always cynical fabrications, intended be used as cudgels against conservatives.
    Political correctness in governance is one of the biggest problems facing America.
  • Illegal immigration poses an existential threat to America.
  • President Obama has deliberately made bad deals with foreign countries to weaken America.

If any movement conservatives in the #NeverTrump crowd doubt that “the party” has sent all of those signals or cues, I’ll gladly expound on any of them. Taken together, it’s easy to see why a majority of an electorate that bought into those premises would be more attracted to Trump than to anyone else in the GOP field.

I would add to that list the claim that global warming is a hoax, unemployment numbers are faked, there’s a War on Cops, that opposing anti-terror policies is siding with the terrorists, that tax cuts pay for themselves, etc., etc. When people said “Trump says what no one else says” or “Trump tells it like it is” this is what they mean: that Trump reiterates the (often false) doomsday rhetoric of the conservative echoshere.

And now we’re reaping the results of this. Last week, we saw the utter immolation of Republican efforts to replace Obamacare. There are many authors of that disaster but a big one, as Josh Barro argues, was that Republicans spent years misleading the voters on Obamacare and pretending that healthcare reform was easy.

For years, Republicans promised lower premiums, lower deductibles, lower co-payments, lower taxes, lower government expenditure, more choice, the restoration of the $700 billion that President Barack Obama heartlessly cut out of Medicare because he hated old people, and (in the particular case of the Republican who recently became president) “insurance for everybody” that is “much less expensive and much better” than what they have today.

They were lying. Over and over and over and over, Republicans lied to the American public about healthcare.

To be fair, many Republican politicians understood there would be trade-offs and crafted policies around those. But those policies were never implemented because the Republican base believed that Obamacare had to be repealed instantly, replacement or no replacement. Friedersdorf lays the blame for that on the commentariat:

Still, even the insight that Republicans spent years willfully obscuring the tradeoffs involved in health-care policy doesn’t fully explain the last week. Focusing on GOP officials leaves out yet another important actor in this debacle: the right-wing media. By that, I do not mean every right-leaning writer or publication. Over the last eight years, lots of responsibly written critiques of Obamacare have been published in numerous publications, and folks reading the aforementioned wonks, or Peter Suderman at Reason, or Yuval Levin, or Megan McArdle at Bloomberg, stayed reasonably grounded in actual shortcomings of Obamacare.

In contrast, Fox News viewers who watched entertainers like Glenn Beck, talk-radio listeners who tuned into hosts like Rush Limbaugh, and consumers of web journalism who turned to sites like Breitbart weren’t merely misled about health-care tradeoffs.

They were told a bunch of crazy nonsense.

He lists hysterical claim after hysterical claim. Death panels, forced fat camps, depression, slavery, the end of individual liberty. There were and are plenty of problems with Obamacare. But claiming it was the end of America was ridiculous.

The problem is not conservatives nor conservatism. The problem is faux conservatives like Hannity and Limbaugh and every other joker out there who has no solutions, no answers, no philosophy, no ideas … just acres of doom and gloom and anger. Conor talks about his grandmother, who spent her last years terrified by what she was hearing from right wing hacks like Hannity. I see it in my Trump-supporting relatives, who hear a constant deluge from Fox News about how doomed America is and how awful the Democrats are. It’s incredible disheartening. And it angers me to think of these jokers making millions by convincing millions of Americans that the end is nigh.

I don’t mean to downplay real concerns, which are legion. We are in a lot of debt. Obamacare is staggering around, avoiding a death spiral only because of subsidies. Crime appears to have spiked, especially in certain cities. Rural areas are hurting badly (see my earlier post on the opioid epidemic).

But lately the conservative commentariat has no ideas for how to deal with these problems. Only a steady diet of doom and gloom, blame-storming and uncompromising rhetoric. And yes, this is bad for country. It makes people fearful who have no need to be and it instills an us-vs-them mentality, turning people we disagree with into hideous villains who hate America.

It was not always so. Friedersdorf is a bit too young to remember but in the 90’s, there’s no question in my mind that talk radio hosts like Hannity and Limbaugh were a good thing. They served as a critical counter-weight to a very liberal media. Their broadcasts played a big role in the Republican revolution of 1994, the subsequent balancing of the budget, the passing of NAFTA and the destruction of numerous corrupt politicians.

However, something changed in the aughts. I’m not sure why exactly — I suspect it was 9/11. But the tone of conservative commentary began to be less positive and more negative. Liberals stopped being mocked and started being demonized. I stopped listening to Limbaugh because his show, which has always left me feeling upbeat and inspired, became a huge downer. Everything was awful. America was going to hell. Compromise was a bad word. And now we’re at the apotheosis of this: a Republican party that can’t get anything done because they can’t approach issues in any kind of a realistic way.

That’s not to let liberals off the hook here. It wasn’t conservatives who called half the country “deplorables”. It’s not conservatives who are writing off half the electorate as evil racist sexist monsters for having voted Trump. But liberal idiocy does not make conservative idiocy OK. No matter how bad the commentary on the Left gets, that does not excuse Hannity for being a demagogue who has worsened the debate.

I don’t know that there’s a fix for this. My gut feeling is that we are in the grip of a national fever of partisanship that has yet to exhaust itself. But I do want address one supposed “cure”, which I referenced above, because it’s becoming a bigger liberal talking point these days.

Koppel blamed talk radio on the end of the Fairness Doctrine, the FCC policy that Reagan killed in 1987 that had previously forced television and radio stations to present “both sides” of an issue.

Put bluntly, the Fairness Doctrine was an awful policy and it should stay dead. The only reason we should ever dig it up is to put a stake through its heart and make sure it stays dead. Consider:

  • The Fairness Doctrine was blatantly unconstitutional piece of garbage, no matter what the Supreme Court said. Having the government dictate what constitutes “fairness” in commentary is an invitation to abuse. And indeed, Limbaugh, in one of his books, noted several times where politicians — including Nixon — used the Fairness Doctrine to bludgeon commentators into shutting up about issues the politicians didn’t want discussed.
  • This is why Fairness Doctrines have long been rejected for newspapers and print media, despite the long history of partisan commentary therein (Thomas Paine was not known for his “Fairness”). The justification for the Fairness Doctrine the last time it was upheld was that radio and TV media are limited to only so many channels. So the government has to ensure that all views are represented. This view is nonsense, of course. Most cities have one, maybe two newspapers, both of which are liberal. By contrast, TV has innumerable stations, some of which — MSNBC, for example — are decisively liberal. In that light, the Fairness Doctrine is one of the most liberal of things: a solution running around in search of a problem.
  • People who want government to do things never seem to consider that the powers they give government could be turned against them. Let me ask you something, Fairness Doctrine-supporting liberals: do you really want to give that kind of censorship power to Donald Fucking Trump?! Does it never occur to you that he might decide that “Fairness” dictates that Samantha Bee needs to make more jokes about Democrats or SNL needs to mock Nancy Pelosi more? Can you, for once, consider what government power will look like in the hands of people you don’t like?
  • The Fairness Doctrine is not going to magically create a more skeptical and reasonable populace. This is an appeal to government policy as magic.

Ultimately, the Fairness Doctrine plugs into the Ultimate Progressive Conceit: progressives’ firm belief that they are the only reasonable people in the room; and that if people disagree with them it’s only because they’ve been brainwashed by nefarious forces. This is an outgrowth of the Marxism that underpins much of liberal thought. The Marxists maintained that Marxism was as scientifically proven as the Law of Gravity and, if anyone disagreed, it was because they were mentally ill or had been brainwashed by bourgeoisie interests.

But that is never the case. People disagree with Progressive ideas because they disagree with them. Sometimes it’s because the progressives have the facts wrong. Sometimes it’s because progressives’ logic is poor. Sometimes it’s because progressives are being irrational and stupid. And sometimes — most often — it’s because people disagree with progressives on values (e.g., progressives think it’s “fair” to take money from rich people and give it to power people; many conservatives think that’s the definition of unfair).

I am very concerned about the nihilist direction conservatism has taken. And I think that Sean Hannity and his ilk have played a large role in that and, yes, I think he’s been bad for the country in some ways. One can not behold the election of Trump and not be concerned with the direction we’re going.

But getting government more involved is not the answer. If you really think Trump is fascist, why on Earth would you give him the tools to implement fascism?

The New Epidemic

Andrew Sullivan is writing weekly for the New Yorker and recently wrote a great piece on the Opioid epidemic:

Those of us who lived through the AIDS epidemic retain one singular memory: The plague that ravaged our lives was largely invisible to others. The epidemic was so concentrated for a while in a gay male subculture — often itself veiled by various closet doors — that straight people without gay family members or friends couldn’t see it. There was blanket media coverage, of course. But in your everyday life, if you were straight, you could live quite easily in the 1990s without coming across someone with AIDS. While gay men were living in a medieval landscape of constant disease and death, many others carried on in safe, medical modernity, that elysian period in human history when most diseases can at least be treated, if not cured.

It occurred to me reading this reported essay by Christopher Caldwell that the opioid epidemic is the new AIDS in this respect. Its toll in one demographic — mostly white, working-class, and rural — vastly outweighs its impact among urbanites. For many of us in the elite, it’s quite possible to live our daily lives and have no connection to this devastation. And yet its ever-increasing scope, as you travel a few hours into rural America, is jaw-dropping: 52,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2015. That’s more deaths than the peak year for AIDS, which was 51,000 in 1995, before it fell in the next two years. The bulk of today’s human toll is related to opioid, heroin, and fentanyl abuse. And unlike AIDS in 1995, there’s no reason to think the worst is now over.

I’ve been somewhat skeptical of the opioid epidemic over the years but the surge in deaths in recent years has been terrifying. I don’t know that there’s a solution. So far, everything the government has done has arguably made things worse. Limiting opioid prescriptions, for example, led addicts to turn to heroin, which is far more dangerous. Forcing companies to add acetaminophen to opioids helped cause liver damage. Some policies are good (trying to stop people from combining opioids and benzodiazepines, making naloxone more available). Ultimately, however, the opioid epidemic is symptom of the disease of rural despair. And I don’t know how we fix that. But the simple fact is that we are having a crisis as real and as deadly as AIDS was.

But what’s missing this time? Attention. As Sullivan notes, AIDS became a cause célèbre in the 80’s and 90’s, with awareness ribbons and marches and increasing funding. And to be fair, many liberals publications like Vox or raising the alarm on this. But it’s not drawing anywhere near the attention that AIDS did or that gun violence is, despite now being deadlier than both. Actually, sometimes, just the opposite. Matt Stoller put together a list of comments from a HuffPo article on the opioid epidemic. And, yeah, it’s internet comments. But to comment on HuffPo, you need to have Facebook profile. So uber-tolerant, loving liberals are happy to leave comments like this under their real names:

Sorry, not sorry. These people are not worthy of any sympathy. They have run around for decades bitching about poor minorities not “working hard enough,” or that their situation is “their own fault.” Well guess what? It’s not so great when it’s you now, is it? Bunch of deplorables, and if they die quicker than the rest of us that just means the country will be better off in the long run.

They have every know advantage in America; culturally, environmentally, educationally, etc. There is absolutely no reason that they should be in such despair. They should pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Difficult to have any sympathy when My coverage is threatened because ignorant white trash are too stupid to know that the ACA and Evil Obamacare are the same thing. The factories closed down forty years ago. If you didn’t leave Detroit or Erie or Kentucky as I did to stay current you need blame no one but yourself.

If a conservative comments section had these kind of comments about AIDS or inner city violence or anything else, they would be seen as … well, deplorables. And no, I won’t claim that this reflects every liberal out there or is even a big plurality. Most of the Left Wing is just as appalled by this. But, as Stoller notes, this sentiment does exist. And has gotten worse since these “deplorables” helped elect Trump.

I’m about to put up a post on right-wing talk radio and the corrosive effect I believe it has had on the conservative movement. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the Right Wing is alone in this. There is just is plenty of poison on the Left Wing. And they don’t have Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to blame it on.

The Gorsuch Fight

The hearings for Gorsuch have gone about as well as Republicans could have hoped. He was knowledgable, forthright and responded to questions well. The Democrats have dug through his 2500+ decisions and found a few to make some hay of, but it’s not really going anywhere. So naturally they’re planning to filibuster the nomination.

Look, let’s be clear. If this filibuster happens, it has absolutely nothing to do with Gorsuch. It’s an angry reaction to the Republicans not allowing Obama to fill the seat compounded by the seemingly certain Clinton victory being snatched away. The Democrats had such dreams for replacing Scalia with a big-time liberal and destroying gun rights, crushing federalism and demolishing free speech.

I understand the anger but I think a filibuster would be tactically foolish. Gorsuch is replacing Scalia, a conservative. There is a very real possibility, over the next four years, that Trump will have to replace one of the liberals and will try to replace them with a true rock-head like Pryor. That is the hill they want to die on, not this one. The gripping hand is that, with a bad 2018 election slate, they may not be able to stop a future nominee. The Republicans could, potentially, have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. But they have to weigh that against filibustering Gorsuch, provoking the Republicans to nuke the filibuster and then having, say, Ginsburg replaced with someone way worse than Gorsuch.

But … I really doubt the thinking goes that far. As far as the Democrats are concerned, this is a “stolen” judicial seat. And so they will stamp their foot until the roof comes down.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Two new reports on the Trump-Russia thing today.

This morning, the AP revealed that Paul Manafort, Trump’s first campaign manager, failed to disclose that he had worked for a Russian oligarch. The purpose of his job, according to the AP, was to advance the interest of Vladimir Putin:

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.

Manafort, you may remember, was forced out of the Trump team when it was revealed that he had taken Russian money to lobby on behalf of pro-Russia factions in the Ukraine. This was one of the first revelations that made people question Trump’s ties to Russia. The revelation that his campaigning on behalf of Putin goes back even further is disturbing. If there’s any fire to all this smoke on Russia, Manafort will be where you’ll find it.

Tonight, however, the news got even worse:

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.

This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, according to one source.

The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing.

Now, caveat time. All the sources that CNN sites are anonymous. Moreover, even if they are telling the truth, all this means is that the FBI is investigating these claims, not that they’ve found anything. At the moment, this is simply more smoke.

There have been allegations that the intelligence community has become politicized over this. Even though the loudest accuser is Roger Stone, who admitted to being in communication with the Wikileaks hackers, I’m not inclined to dismiss this line of criticism. It’s certainly possible that’s what we’re seeing.

Which is why we need to end the rumor mongering and put together a independent commission to look into this. To look into all of it. The current investigation — through the House Intelligence Committee — is only muddying the waters further. If Trump people cooperated with Russia to win the election, that’s a very serious scandal. And if the intelligence community is exaggerating this to undermine Trump, that’s a very serious scandal. Time to bring this all out in the open.