Politics & Policy

Seeing Russia Clearly, Whether the President Wants to or Not

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. (Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why we need to keep track of Russia’s aggressive actions, whether or not President Trump wants to do the same; the Democrats’ favorite rising star is beginning to wilt in the spotlight; a surprising controversy in Paris; and The New Yorker offers some familiar complaints about the Constitution.

At What Point Do We Hold Putin and the Russian Government Accountable?

President Trump, on Twitter this morning: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”

Perhaps this is just the typical morning fuming before the eyes of the entire world, but if Trump wonders why he gets called a puppet of Putin and why so many people speculate that Putin has some sort of leverage over him . . . it’s comments like these that add fuel to that fire. If Trump is genuinely bothered by those accusations, it’s entirely within his power to stop them, or at least mitigate them, by taking a tougher line with Vladimir Putin.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s put aside the allegations of hacking and stealing data and then funneling it through WikiLeaks during the 2016 election.

Did the United States make Russian intelligence use that Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury, England?

Did the U.S. make Russian-aligned separatists use a Russian military anti-aircraft missile to shoot down a Malaysian Airlines jet, full of innocent civilians? More than a few aviation experts will contend that a Boeing 777 cannot easily be mistaken for a military aircraft, and air-traffic and radar records indicate that no Ukrainian aircraft was within 30 miles of the Malaysian Airlines plane — meaning either the separatists knew it was a civilian jetliner and fired anyway, or the Russian military handed off anti-aircraft weapons to militants so utterly incompetent that they couldn’t distinguish between military and civilian aircraft. In any other context, we would consider that state-sponsored terrorism.

In 1983, the Soviet military shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, and President Reagan held a nationally televised address calling it “a crime against humanity” and “an act of barbarism, born of a society which wantonly disregards individual rights and the value of human life and seeks constantly to expand and dominate other nations.” He suspended negotiations on some issues and pushed for other countries to bar Aeroflot, the Soviet airline, from their skies.

I seem to recall a lot of us finding Obama’s response in 2014 muffled. There’s no statute of limitations on accountability; the Trump administration could press Putin’s regime hard on this, but they choose another path.

The four-year anniversary of the attack on Malaysian Airlines is tomorrow.

Did the U.S. make the Russian military roll into Crimea?

When Syria’s Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons, after the regime in Tehran, who’s the first to defend him? Why is Russia so eager to end investigations into the use of chemical weapons in Syria, using veto power at the United Nations again and again?

I recall during the election, an esteemed former colleague — who at one point knew Russia pretty darn well — insisting that Russia was “going to help us defeat ISIS.” Unfortunately, Russian forces have sometimes refused to strike ISIS targets in parts of Syria they control. In Syria, Russia has been absolutely brutal in hitting anti-Assad forces, inflicting plenty of civilian casualties, yet they never brought that ruthless ferocity to the fight against ISIS.

And at least once, some forces aligned with theirs took shots at our forces. Why did a large group of Russian mercenaries fire upon American special forces in Deir al-Zour Province in Syria? (They paid the price; anywhere from 200 to 300 members of the opposition died, and no Americans were harmed.)

Why does the Russian military conduct mock invasion drills just beyond the territorial waters of NATO members?

Just how is the United States supposed to react to this steadily worsening record of aggression? In this context, why would anyone find Russia hacking, stealing data, exposing private emails, and perhaps even mixing in some disinformation so unthinkable?

At what point do we hold Putin and the Russian government accountable for its actions?

Trump said at a recent rally: “Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people.”

No, he’s not “fine.”

‘I’m Willing to Learn and Evolve on this Issue as I Think Many Americans Are’

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic party’s new favorite young Democratic Socialist and effectively a congresswoman-in-waiting, appeared on the new Firing Line. Her comments about Israel . . . did not go smoothly. Margaret Hoover asked about her characterization of Israel:

Hoover: You use the term “the occupation of Palestine,” what did you mean by that?

Ocasio-Cortez: Oh — I think, what I meant is that the settlements that are increasing in some of these areas and places where Palestinians are experiencing difficulty in access to housing and homes.

Hoover: Do you think you can expand on that?

Ocasio-Cortez: Yeah, I think — I am not the expert on geo-politics on this issue. You now, for me, I’m a firm believer in finding a two-state solution in this issue. And I’m happy to sit down with leaders on both of these . . . for me, I just look at things through a human-rights lens, and I may not use the right words — I know this is a very intense issue.

Hoover: That’s very honest and you’re going to — and when you get to Washington and you’re an elected member of Congress you’ll have an opportunity to talk to people on all sides and visit Israel and visit the West Bank.

Ocasio-Cortez: Absolutely. And especially with the district that I represent, I come from the South Bronx, I come from a Puerto Rican background. And Middle Eastern politics is not exactly at my kitchen table every night. But I also recognize that this is an intensely important issue for people in my district, for Americans across the country. And I think at least what is important to communicate is that I am willing to listen. And that I’m willing to learn and evolve on this issue as I think many Americans are.

Maybe 28-year-old members of Congress are rare for a reason.

Should a Governments Bar a Particular Performer from a Site of Terror Attack?

Meanwhile, over in France, there’s controversy brewing over a Muslim rapper who’s scheduled to perform at the Bataclan theater — the site of the terrorist attack in 2015 — and whether he’s sufficiently anti-Islamist.

Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris, writing over at the Gatestone Institute:

The concerts will most likely not be canceled. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that “freedom of speech” has to be respected and accused the complaining organizations of playing the game of the “extreme right.” Muslim organizations spoke of “Islamophobia.”

Laurent Wauquiez, president of the conservative Les Républicains party, said that “the role of the police and the army is to watch over the safety of people and not wait passively while people get killed.” He also said that if the concerts were held, it would be a “sacrilege” and the second death of the victims of the attacks. Other conservative politicians shared his opinion.

They were immediately accused of “racism”.

Most mainstream French media outlets remained silent. Those who broke the silence accused the lawyers of needlessly wanting to reopen old wounds. Virtually no journalist spoke of booking Médine’s concerts at the Bataclan: those who did, such as Edouard Philippe, invoked “freedom of speech”.

ADDENDA: Amazon’s discount-filled Prime Day starts at 3 p.m. Eastern, so you may want to peruse the NR book gift list I compiled back on Cyber Monday . . .

I notice none of the objections to the Electoral College, and the argument that it somehow unfairly favors Republicans, address the fact that Democrats won presidential elections in 1992, 1996, 2008, and 2012. Odd how the unfairness seems to fade away when the Democrats run charismatic candidates and only kicks in when Republicans run better candidates.

Over in The New Yorker, John Cassidy laments, “Despite being trounced in the popular vote in 2016, the G.O.P. has controlled the upper chamber since 2014.” Why, it’s almost as if senators are elected to six-year terms, and Republicans did exceptionally well in the 2014 midterms! And it’s almost as if Republicans got no votes in California in 2016 and Democrats ran two candidates in the general election to win almost twice their usual total of votes — which is in fact exactly what happened!

Politics & Policy

Ending the Week with Hard Truths

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Protesters hold signs during a “March For Our Lives” demonstration demanding gun control in New York City, March 24, 2018. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

A line from an essay by Sally Quinn in Politico, on President Trump, the media, and the prevalence of lying in American politics:

Bob Woodward told me he wonders whether we still have the same commitment to accountability in our political culture: “Lying is bad public policy and bad for human relations but it doesn’t always have the consequences it should. That’s the problem … the penalties for lying are insufficient in many cases.”

That’s one way of putting it. Or, to flip it, the reward for telling the truth is insufficient in many cases.

Will the voters reward you if you say that our annual deficits and the debt are too high, and that addressing the problem will require cutting spending, raising taxes, or both? No. If you tell them that changing demographics make the entitlement programs unsustainable, and that the only way to avoid a collapse is to reduce benefits, raise taxes, or shift workers to a riskier form of personal investing for retirement, how do they respond?

Do they sit down, look at the numbers, do the math for themselves, and carefully contemplate which path is least painful for themselves and the country as a whole? Or do they vote for the guy who promises to “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts” and who contends he can solve the entire problem just by eliminating “waste and abuse”?

Will the voters reward you if you say that health care is complicated and expensive, and that any health-care system can only offer two of the three desired qualities — good, fast, or cheap?

Localities (e.g., Seattle’s city council) keep learning the hard way that massive tax increases chase away businesses. Do voters like hearing this?

Do people like hearing that while the quality of schools are important, the single most important factor in a child’s success is parental involvement and engagement?

Do they like hearing that no government-jobs program can help them if they don’t have a work ethic and the drive, ambition, and dedication to succeed?

How many people will cheer if you say that police work is challenging and difficult, that police officers are human beings and that they make mistakes, that while we can attempt to hold bad cops accountable we’ll never have a perfect system, and that if officers get less aggressive in how they police a minority community, the rate of violent crime will probably increase?

If you tell Democratic primary voters that no gun-control proposal is going to end violent crime, how do they take this? If you tell Republican primary voters that it probably makes long-term financial sense to spend some money on anti-recidivism programs, to steer criminals away from repeat offenses, what percentage is receptive?

Do fans of a border wall know that two-thirds of illegal immigrants now enter legally and overstay their visas? Do they realize that their preferred solution won’t address this aspect of the problem?

How many voters will cheer if you say that our options in foreign policy basically amount to Iraq versus Syria — the consequences of intervention in dangerous situations versus the consequences of nonintervention in dangerous situations? “It’s not our problem, let them fight it out” sounds appealing until the caravans and boatloads of refugees show up at your borders. How many voters want to hear that a problem that seems far away and irrelevant to our lives — like some bearded yahoo in a cave declaring war against the United States — can one day end up transforming our lives forever?

Governing, like life, is full of choices and trade-offs. Sometimes you need to sacrifice a little freedom for security, and sometimes you have to accept a little risk in order to enjoy freedom. The problems are complicated, and the solutions are rarely simple or easy.

But the voters give the same preferred answer to this conundrum pretty frequently: Give us the guy who promises everything can be solved quickly and easily.

President Trump’s Instinctive, Unplanned Attack on U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May

I think the best part is this diplomatic incident is that President Trump probably doesn’t think that he’s meddling in British politics; he’s just saying what he thinks —  which, of course,  amounts to a knife in the back of the prime minister who is hosting him:

Theresa May’s new soft Brexit blueprint would “kill” any future trade deal with the United States, Donald Trump warns today.

Mounting an extraordinary attack on the PM’s exit negotiation, the President also reveals she has ignored his advice on how to toughen up the troubled talks.

Instead he believes Mrs May has gone “the opposite way”, and he thinks the results have been “very unfortunate”.

His fiercest criticism came over the centrepiece of the PM’s new Brexit plan — which was unveiled in full yesterday.

It will pour nitroglycerine on the already raging Tory Brexiteer revolt against the PM.

And in more remarks that will set off alarm bells in No. 10, Mr Trump also said Mrs May’s nemesis Boris Johnson — who resigned over the soft Brexit blueprint on –Monday — would “make a great Prime Minister”.

If all of this ends with Trump’s preferred figure, Boris Johnson, becoming prime minister, then the provocative interview with The Sun may be remembered as shrewd maneuvering: the seven-level chess that the president’s fans insist he’s always playing. But if the topping of Theresa May ends with Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn — a man who characterized supporting ISIS as a “political point of view” that did not warrant prosecution — as prime minster, then it is Trump living down to all of his critics’ accusations: blundering, loud, unthinking, oblivious, and counterproductive.

Of course, this morning, in a joint press conference with May, Trump declared, “Whatever you’re going to do is okay with us. Just make sure we can trade together.” He also called the claim that he criticized May to be … “fake news.”

“I didn’t criticize the prime minister,” Trump said. Er … okay, pal.

Ho-Hum, Lefty Londoners Are Protesting an American President Again

Back in 1982, “115,000 anti-nuclear protestors gathered in Hyde Park” to protest President Ronald Reagan’s visit.

Then in 2003, “tens of thousands of demonstrators in Trafalgar Square cheered and whistled Thursday as a papier-mâché effigy of President Bush, painted gold to resemble the toppled statue of Saddam Hussein, was yanked to the ground at a peaceful rally.”

I’m sure that those protesters in London that day believed that Bush was the worst American president ever, the personification of all that was dangerous and malevolent in the world, a force for chaos and instability and xenophobia and hatred, and so on.

Except … he wasn’t.

Sure, you can argue with any one of Bush’s decisions or all of them — it’s rather shocking to hear John McCain call the Iraq War “a very serious mistake” — but the protesters in London today, launching their “Baby Trump” balloon in the air, probably ought to hoist a “Sorry We Were So Harsh, President Bush” banner or two. George W. Bush supported NATO, the World Trade Organization, free trade, human rights, insisted Islam was not the enemy, visited a mosque a week after 9/11, was much more welcoming of immigrants both legal and illegal, and his Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief probably saved a couple million people in Africa. Those protesters in London ought to get down on their knees and thank Gaia that George W. Bush was president from 2001 to 2009; by their own measures, Bush made the world a better, safer, healthier place. Instead, they and much of the broader European political establishment held Bush and his administration in glowering contempt.

When the European Left insists that Ronald Reagan is the most dangerous man in the world, and then a decade and a half later insists George W. Bush is the most dangerous man in the world, and then a decade and a half later insists Donald Trump is the most dangerous man in the world … you feel pretty confident that in 2033 or so, they’ll be insisting that another Republican president is the most dangerous man in the world.

ADDENDA: Apparently about 1,000 or so of my Twitter followers were bots. Dang, these Cylons get better at blending in every year.

Politics & Policy

The Democratic Party’s Favorite New Candidate Hits a Snag

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez marches during the Bronx’s pride parade in the Bronx borough of New York City, June 17, 2018. (David 'Dee' Delgado/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hits an unexpected complication for November; tough questions about whether opposing Brett Kavanaugh is worth it for endangered Senate Democrats; and whether America can continue to function if political parties see each other as enemies and threats instead of mere opponents.

The Road to Congress for New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Democrats’ favorite new congressional candidate, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, hit a bump in the road this week. New York State has lots of small political parties and allows candidates to run as the nominee of multiple parties. Ocasio-Cortez beat incumbent congressman Joe Crowley in the Democratic party’s primary. But the Working Families party had endorsed Crowley, and made him their nominee. The Working Families party asked Crowley to agree to remove his name from the ballot and . . . he won’t.

Ocasio-Cortez now accuses Crowley of bailing on three scheduled concession calls and “mounting a 3rd party challenge against me.”

New York’s 14th congressional district is heavily, heavily Democratic — in 2016, Hillary Clinton won 77 percent of the vote and Donald Trump won 20 percent, and Crowley beat Republican challenger Frank Spotorno, 75 percent to 19 percent.

But what happens if, in November, the 30,000 or so residents who voted for Spotorno in 2016, joined up with the 12,000 or so who voted for Crowley in the primary, and some undetermined number of tuned-out voters who mark the box for Crowley out of habit? Sure, Ocasio-Cortez is the safest bet. But how many Republicans in this district would love to see the congressional career of the self-described Democratic Socialist derailed before it began?

Could you imagine how livid the hard-left Democratic activists would be if they witnessed Ocasio-Cortez defeated in the general election?

UPDATE: This morning, Crowley responded on Twitter: “Alexandria, the race is over and Democrats need to come together. I’ve made my support for you clear and the fact that I’m not running. We’ve scheduled phone calls and your team has not followed through. I’d like to connect but I’m not willing to air grievances on Twitter.”

Yes, Yes, Every GOP-Nominated Supreme Court Nominee Is Extreme, Blah Blah Blah

Elsewhere in the Times, Bret Stephens reminds us that liberal interest groups always react the same way to Supreme Court nominees from Republican presidents, even when they turn out to be exactly what they wanted:

In 1987, the National Organization for Women declared that Anthony Kennedy would be a “disaster” for the rights of women and minorities. Yet the libertarian-minded Kennedy went on to defend abortion rights in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and cast the decisive vote for marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). In 1990, Judith Lichtman of the Women’s Legal Defense Fund warned in a Times op-ed that “Judge Souter’s confirmation must be denied” based on his evasiveness during his confirmation hearings. Over time, Souter emerged as a reliably liberal vote on the court. Similar fury greeted John Roberts’s 2005 nomination — until his vote to preserve Obamacare remade him into a consensus-oriented pragmatist.

The discussion about potential “Yes” votes among Senate Democrats is focusing heavily upon Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, because they voted for Neil Gorsuch. But we shouldn’t rule out Bill Nelson of Florida, and there should be a lot of attention focused upon Alabama’s Doug Jones — and the question of whether Jones wants to be reelected or whether he’s basically renting his Senate seat for three years. Asked whether abortion should be legal or illegal in a 2017 exit poll, 52 percent of Alabamans said “illegal” and 48 percent said “legal” — and that’s in an election where some Republicans probably either stayed home or flipped for Jones because of Roy Moore’s scandals and problems.

What Happens If You Try to Redefine the Entire Opposition as the ‘Outgroup’ of America?

I really liked this column from Damon Linker, because I think he accurately diagnosed where the United States is headed if current trends of partisan animosity continue — two sides of the debate who think the opposition is not merely misguided or foolish but malignant and evil, and who basically see the other side as the biggest threat to the country, and who must be stamped out at all costs.

If Republicans really do pose such a threat, that’s very bad. But it’s also bad if Democrats merely think and act as if it’s true, since it implies that they now believe that the only way to be a “good American” is to … be a Democrat. The problem with Kavanaugh, after all, isn’t Trump’s corruption or the gratuitous cruelty and ineptitude of his administration. The problem with Kavanaugh is the agenda of his party and its ideology going back decades.

Do Democrats really intend to suggest that Americans need to agree with them or else risk subverting American democracy as such? If so, they should be clear about it — and honest with themselves about what it implies, which is that what was formerly considered perfectly normal (the ordinary give-and-take of democratic politics) has now become a luxury the country can no longer afford.

That would signal the end of normal politics in America — and constitute a genuine crisis of American democracy.

At the heart of this is what separates “the opposing side in our national politics is a bunch of buffoons with bad ideas who must be countered and beaten at the ballot box” from “the opposing side in our national politics is a menace that will destroy our country and who must be fought by any means possible.”

A lot of how we see the world stems from how we define our ingroups and outgroups — not merely “the in crowd,” although that can be an element of it; it’s more which groups we define ourselves as a part of, and who else we recognize as part of our ingroups. The term “RINO” — “Republican In Name Only” — stems from an effort to clarify that some figures deviate from the party so much that they really shouldn’t be cited as representatives of the Republican party. (In some cases, such as Charlie Crist, Arlen Specter, and Lincoln Chafee, they eventually leave.) It’s why many progressives insisted Joe Lieberman wasn’t really a Democrat, and why Trump-skeptic conservatives note how many years Donald Trump was a registered Democrat. Because of how common guilt-by-association has become in our politics, we’ve become particularly attuned to who gets labeled what. Timothy McVeigh is often cited as an example of “Christian terrorism,” although he was an atheist. (It is more accurate to point out that many members of the militia movement in those days identified as Christians.)

Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Maxine Waters, Barack Obama, Rachel Maddow, Michael Moore — you may not be able to stand those folks, but they’re Americans. The moment we take them out of the ingroup of Americans and put them into an outgroup — i.e., suggesting that they’re “not real Americans” — we sail into some dangerous waters. Because we will do things to members of an outgroup that we would never do to an ingroup. We owe things to members of the ingroup that we don’t owe to the outgroup. We can live with a wacky neighbor who believes the moon landing was faked. We can’t live with a wacky neighbor who pledges allegiance to ISIS.

There’s a flip side to this, of course; if you run around accusing several hundred American citizens and organizations of secretly being agents of the Russian government, you’re attempting to redefine lots of American citizens into the outgroup. If you’re refusing to serve the White House press secretary and her family at your restaurant, or going into a screaming rage at Steve Bannon as he browses in a Richmond bookstore, or throwing water at Tomi Lahren as she dines with her parents, you’re attempting to throw them out of the ingroup of humanity, or people who deserve to be left alone despite disagreement.

The idea of “national divorce” —  the concept explored in Kurt Schlichter’s People’s Republic series — which some people wildly misinterpret as pro-national-division — seemed really farfetched just a few years ago. Today? Perhaps not so much. The give-and-take and less-than-fully satisfying compromises that make a constitutional republic work apparently bore today’s young activists; they want to play “Nazi-hunter.” Progressives argue, fairly, that President Trump’s rhetoric often offers frustrated people a scapegoat for their problems — illegal immigrants, foreign countries making unfair trade deals, violent criminals, big businesses — and that he whips them up into an unpredictable anger and belief that they make the country “great again” by lashing out at these scapegoated groups. They contend that he tags whole populations with outgroup labels — all illegal immigrants are potential rapists and gang members, all Muslim immigrants are potential terrorists, every critic is a smug elitist, every member of big media organizations an “enemy of the American people.”

What a lot of progressives don’t realize is that they’re responding to Trump with the exact same playbook! (Or perhaps they realize it and enjoy it.) Everyone to their right is a potential Russian agent, a potential secret member of the alt-right or a neo-Nazi, every employer a heartless exploiter of American labor, every Christian a dangerous theocrat.

How do you coexist with a political opposition that you think is trying to kill you? You can’t.

ADDENDA: Headline on the New York Times front page: “‘I Believe in NATO’: Trump Affirms Support for Alliance.”

Headline on the New York Times op-ed page: “Sorry, NATO. Trump Doesn’t Believe in Allies.”

World

Worried about Russia? Then Keep an Eye on Germany’s Former Chancellor

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Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (right) and German former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (center) greet Vladimir Putin, who is sworn as Russian President during an inauguration ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia May 7, 2018. (Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why those concerned about Russia should be paying a lot more attention to former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder; the Eastern European NATO members’ baffling and self-destructive decision to skimp on defense spending; why Judge Kavanaugh’s clerks loved him; and the United States approaches a new threshold of energy power.

Why Is Germany’s Former Chancellor Now Putin’s Chief Lobbyist in Europe?

A lot of folks in the United States will scream furiously about this statement from President Trump at the NATO Summit:

“I have to say, I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we’re supposed to be guarding against Russia,” Trump said at a breakfast with NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg. “We’re supposed to protect you against Russia but they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that’s very inappropriate . . . Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia.”

As usual, Trump is down the street and around the corner from a legitimate point. Well, perhaps he’s a bit closer this time. If you think Trump’s past business connections to Russian figures are troubling, you probably ought to be livid about how former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s has decided to become the chief lobbyist for Vladimir Putin in Europe.

One of Schroeder’s last acts in office in 2005 was authorizing “Nord Stream,” a pipeline bypassing key territories and controlled by Russia’s Gazprom energy company. Shortly after leaving office, Vladimir Putin arranged for Schroeder to chair the project, and then he started pushing for a second pipeline, Nord Stream 2. Instead of diversifying Europe’s energy supply, Schroeder’s pushed policies that make the continent more dependent upon Russia, not less. In September 2017, Putin arranged for Schroeder to become chairman of Rosneft, the state-owned Russian oil giant.

The Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins wrote earlier this year that Schroeder is exactly the kind of wealthy, well-connected, influential figure acting on behalf of Russia that U.S. sanctions are supposed to target:

Germany’s allies and its European Union partners, including the quietly frantic Poles and Balts, can’t quite refer to Mr. Schroeder as a Putin agent nestled in the heart of Germany’s political and business elite. His name doesn’t appear on any U.S. government list. Section 241 of last summer’s sanctions law required the U.S. Treasury to identify the ‘most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs’ behind the Putin regime. These descriptors would seem to apply to Mr. Schroeder but it remains diplomatically impermissible to say so.

Lately, Schroeder has been hanging out with Putin at the World Cup. How is it, in an era when U.S. politics is suddenly deeply concerned — some would say paranoid — about Russian influence, that Schroeder’s cheerful embrace of lobbying for Russia has barely made a ripple on this side of the pond? The cynical answer is that most of those screaming the loudest about Russia today don’t think of Putin as sinister because of his lack of criticism of Trump; they think of Trump as sinister because of his lack of criticism of Putin. Indeed, Russia shot down a passenger airliner over Ukraine in 2014, and it was out of the news within a week.

But their cynicism doesn’t change the fact that Russia is generally hostile to American policies under presidents of either party, and Vladimir Putin would love to see the NATO alliance collapse. Their military actions in Georgia and Crimea demonstrate that when the Russians think they can get away with naked aggression, they’ll try it.

In that light, the reluctance of some NATO members to honor their agreements and spend the required 2 percent of GDP on military spending is baffling. In 2017, just four member states hit that 2 percent threshold — the United States (3.57 percent), Greece (2.36 percent), the United Kingdom (2.12 percent), and Estonia (2.08 percent), and we’ll give Poland the benefit of the doubt because it hit 1.99 percent.

Tiny Luxembourg ranked last, spending less than one-half of 1 percent on their military. Perhaps Luxembourg’s leaders figure that because they’re nestled between France, Germany, and Belgium, they can count on their neighbors to slow down any invading Russians.

But the NATO members in Eastern Europe have no excuse.

Look, Hungary, you’re just beyond Ukraine. If the Russian army rolls through the breadbasket of Europe, they might want some goulash to go with it, and in 2017, you spent just 1.06 percent of your GDP on your military. Dear friends in the Czech Republic, you’re just past Poland, and you’re at 1.05 percent. Maybe Slovenia is spending less than 1 percent of GDP on defense because they’re certain Melania Trump would never allow the nation of her birth to be invaded.

Guys, you’re the ones facing the biggest risk. If Russia’s military starts acting out its expansionist fantasies, we’re not going to see them begin with Russian ships advancing up the Potomac River. What’s really baffling is that these countries are reluctant to finance a military buildup with an American president who talks about the NATO alliance as if it’s a giant scam and who talks about European nations as if they’re delinquent on the rent. If there was ever a time for these countries to start spending on their own defense, this is it.

Lithuania figured out the score. They share a border with Russia and just got it up to 2 percent. NATO thinks that eight member countries will meet the 2 percent threshold in 2018, which is an improvement — but there are 29 members!

The Norwegian drama series Occupied offers the painfully funny lesson that if the United States ever decides that the NATO alliance isn’t worth it, it more or less ceases to exist. Sure, Trump has a crude, ahistorical perspective on the value of the alliance, but less than half of NATO member states are putting much effort into dispelling the notion that they’re a bunch of freeloaders who won’t take responsibility for the safety and security of their own citizens.

‘Judge Kavanaugh Has Been a Role Model to Us Personally as well as Professionally’

We would expect Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s former clerks to like him and endorse him . . . but it is reassuring to see 34 of them writing a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee touting his exceptional qualities as a legal mind and as a human being:

During his time on the D.C. Circuit, Judge Kavanaugh has come to work every day dedicated to engaging in the hard work of judging. We never once saw him take a shortcut, treat a case as unimportant, or search for an easy answer. Instead, in each case, large or small, he masters every detail and rereads every precedent. He listens carefully to the views of his colleagues and clerks, even – indeed, especially – when they differ from his own. He drafts opinions painstakingly, writing and rewriting until he is satisfied each opinion is clear and well-reasoned, and can be understood not only by lawyers but by the parties and the public. We saw time and again that this work ethic flows from a fundamental humility. Judge Kavanaugh never assumes he knows the answers in advance and never takes for granted that his view of the law will prevail. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Judge Kavanaugh has been a role model to us personally as well as professionally. He is unfailingly warm and gracious with his colleagues no matter how strongly they disagree about a case, and he is well-liked and respected by judges and lawyers across the ideological spectrum as a result.

It’s rather fascinating to watch lefty voices complain about news coverage of Kavanaugh being too focused on him as “a carpool dad” and focused on humanizing personality traits . . . when there’s an entire line of merchandise about “the notorious RBG” and gobs of glowing coverage of tough grandma Ruth Bader Ginsburg in places such as Glamour magazine, and she’s been invited to do her workout routine on Stephen Colbert’s comedy show. Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we were only allowed to have lighter, humanizing, personality-based coverage of Supreme Court justices appointed by Democrats.

Put Crudely, We’re Pretty Awesome, America

Remember when we were worried that America’s future would be one of crippling weakness and dependence on foreign oil? Yeah, never mind.

“In 2019, [the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA)] forecasts that the United States will average nearly 12 million barrels of crude oil production per day,” said Linda Capuano, Administrator of the EIA. “If the forecast holds, that would make the U.S. the world’s leading producer of crude.”

We’ve been producing more than 10 million barrels a day in 2018.

ADDENDA: Our Charlie Cooke lays out why the press earns its distrust. Elsewhere, I point out a frustrating, deeply misleading headline that suggests that some copy editors at major newspapers simply don’t know much about the places that their outlets are covering.

Politics & Policy

Don’t Worry, Conservatives — Everybody You Like Loves This Guy

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Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh speaks in the East Room of the White House , July 9, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Brett Kavanaugh is a fine pick for the Supreme Court.

Yes, Amy Coney Barrett might have triggered a clarifying culture war Ragnarök. Yes, at 53, if confirmed, Kavanaugh will probably be on the Court until “only” the 2040s.

Yes, some Democrats will point to Kavanaugh’s work with Ken Starr and his role in investigating the suicide of Vince Foster and attempt to demonize him with those long-ago tawdry chapters of presidential history. Yes, Kavanaugh is “establishment” in the sense that he worked on the Florida recount and in the Bush White House. Yes, twelve years on the D.C. Circuit Court mean he has a lot of rulings, and modern young progressive activists will attempt to pick out whichever ones seem surprising and paint him as some sort of cross between Torquemada and Pontius Pilate.

(Of course, that assumes modern young progressive activists know who Torquemada and Pontius Pilate are. They’re probably going to pick malicious authority figures from Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, aren’t they?)

But just about everybody in the conservative legal and policy community was doing cartwheels over the selection.

Douglas Johnson, senior policy adviser to National Right to Life: “Judge Kavanaugh’s record, viewed as a whole, indicates a willingness to enforce the rights truly based on the text and history of the Constitution, while otherwise leaving policymaking in the hands of elected legislators. Kavanaugh is exceptionally well qualified to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court — and like Neil Gorsuch, he will be subjected to a smear campaign by those on the Left who are addicted to the imposition of social policy by judicial decree.”

Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser: “President Trump has made another outstanding choice in nominating Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, keeping his promise to nominate only originalist judges to the Court. Judge Kavanaugh is an experienced, principled jurist with a strong record of protecting life and constitutional rights, as evidenced by his opinions in Garza v. Hargan and Priests for Life v. HHS.”

Chris W. Cox, executive director, NRA-ILA: “President Trump has made another outstanding choice in nominating Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court. He has an impressive record that demonstrates his strong support for the Second Amendment. . . . We urge the Senate to swiftly confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, just as it confirmed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.”

Stephen Law, president of One Nation (one of Karl Rove’s groups): “Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a constitutional conservative in the same tradition of Justice Kennedy and Justice Gorsuch. We applaud President Trump for the careful consideration he has given to this nomination, and are disappointed by those senators who pre-determined their opposition to the President’s nominee before knowing who it was.”

Judicial Crisis Network just launched ConfirmKavanaugh.com, which will soon offer probably more than you ever wanted to know about the life and work of Brett Kavanaugh.

The editors of National Review are cheery this morning: “Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s new nominee for the Supreme Court, is a whip-smart legal conservative. As a judge in the highest-profile appeals court in the nation, he has shown an exemplary dedication to the rule of law. He has defended the separation of powers against threats coming from multiple directions. He has repeatedly cautioned his colleagues on the bench not to attempt to play a legislative role. He has also insisted on enforcing constitutional structures of accountability on government agencies. He has vindicated the right to free speech (against certain campaign-finance regulations), to bear arms (against the D.C. government’s attempts to implement sweeping bans), and to religious liberty (against a version of the Obama administration’s ‘contraceptive mandate’). And he has followed Supreme Court precedents even when gently suggesting they should be rethought.”

Before the selection, I thought David French offered the most even-tempered cautionary note, laying out the two decisions by Kavanaugh that troubled him. Last night he concluded that while he’ll proudly defend Kavanaugh, he has a slight sigh of regret: “Over time, I think he’ll prove to be a solid (and perhaps even excellent) pick. And, over the next several weeks, we’ll see an avalanche of progressive attacks, many of them labeling even his best and most rigorous opinions ‘extremist’ or ‘dangerous.’ Kavanaugh will be an easy pick to defend. But it’s simply a fact that tonight my inbox is lighting up with responses — many of them from Trump supporters — expressing a sense of regret.”

Mike Allen, who writes that other morning newsletter: “He delivered what he promised, as he promised, on the one thing most Rs care most about.”

The Early Line on the Confirmation Fight

Patrick Morrisey, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in West Virginia: “This evening, Senator [Joe] Manchin snubbed President Trump’s invitation to the White House, lining up with Chuck Schumer and Washington liberals. I hope Senator Manchin will drop the act and put aside the interests of the Washington Democrat establishment, and do the right thing for the people of West Virginia. The men and women of West Virginia urge Senator Manchin to stand up for the Constitution, and our West Virginia conservative values, and support the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Manchin voted for Neil Gorsuch.

Representative Kevin Cramer, the GOP nominee for Senate in North Dakota: “[Kavanaugh’s] temperament, academic background and past judicial experience more than qualify him to serve on the highest court in the land. I believe these characteristics and values match perfectly with the expectations of the majority of North Dakotans and for these reasons, I support his nomination and strongly encourage our North Dakota Senators to unite in support of this outstanding nominee. This is a winning pick for North Dakota and deserves our two votes.”

His opponent, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, also voted for Neil Gorsuch. It’s a similar story for Indiana senator Joe Donnelly.

“I am sure Senator Donnelly will eventually say that he will vote for him, because it is an election year,” said Indiana GOP Senate candidate Mike Braun. “But I can immediately say without hesitation that I would support this nomination and I hope the Senate moves quickly to confirm the President’s choice.”

Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving member of the Senate Judiciary Committee: “Judge Kavanaugh understands the proper role of the judiciary and will faithfully honor the Constitution. That’s why I will lift heaven and Earth to see that he is confirmed.”

Unsurprisingly, Democratic senators and progressive activists insist that Brett Kavanaugh is history’s greatest monster.

Twenty minutes after the nomination, California senator Kamala Harris announced she would vote “No,” declaring that Kavanaugh “represents a direct and fundamental threat to the rights and health care of hundreds of millions of Americans.” Her fellow Californian Dianne Feinstein insisted, “Brett Kavanaugh’s views are far outside the mainstream when it comes to health care, executive power, privacy and gun safety.”

The Women’s March was furious about the nomination of “XX” to the court.

What Do Voters in States with High-Stakes Senate Races Think?

The Susan B. Anthony List commissioned a poll of registered voters in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and West Virginia, and asked voters, “As you may know, Justice Kennedy recently retired from the Supreme Court. The President will appoint a replacement and the U.S. Senate will vote on that person. Do you think Senator [Nelson, Donnelly, McCaskill, Heitkamp, or Manchin: depending on the state] should vote to confirm President Trump’s appointment to the Supreme Court?” (Note this poll is conducted before Kavanaugh was named.)

In Florida and Indiana, 56 percent of registered voters answered Yes. In Missouri, 57 percent of respondents said Yes, in West Virginia it was 59 percent, and in North Dakota it was all the way up to 68 percent.

ADDENDUM: Before the selection, Caleb Howe queried a bunch of conservative pundits about their predictions and preferences . . . sounds like most of us were hoping for Barrett!

Law & the Courts

Tune in to ABC’s Monday Night Judicial Nominations!

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President Donald Trump announces his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House, January 31, 2017. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

They’re all good judges, but for what it’s worth, I hope President Trump nominates Amy Coney Barrett to be the next justice on the Supreme Court.

Ramesh offers several strong arguments for Barrett, and I’ll throw in one more. The way Senate Democrats treated Barrett last autumn — in particular, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s argument that Barrett was simply too religious and too devoutly Catholic to serve on the bench, declaring, “the dogma lives loudly within you,” revealed an argument this country needs to have: whether the country accepts deeply religious people in positions of legal authority.

(It’s kind of amazing that a country that has freedom of religion, that was founded in part by Pilgrims, was a beacon for those seeking religious freedom for generations, and that has had George Washington, John Adams, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush as presidents would even need to have this debate. But it is illustrative of how different the modern Left is from previous generations.)

Yes, there are plenty of progressive and Democratic Catholics in this country. But I don’t think you have to look too hard to find progressives who believe, more or less, that devout Catholics — perhaps devout Christians of any stripe — simply can’t be trusted to rule on the law and should be prevented from serving in the judiciary whenever possible. A Catholic judge can insist, loudly and often, that they believe their role as a judge is to rule on the law and the Constitution alone, and that while their faith no doubt shapes their values and their worldview — as much as any religion, philosophy, or atheism shapes the values and worldview of any other judge — and some progressives will insist it’s all a ruse. Some are determined to see any religiously active Christians as theocrats in black robes. (As this 2007 cartoon demonstrates, the arguments are sometimes not that subtle at all; merely an affiliation with a Catholic faith makes you an agent of the Pope.)

You know that if Barrett is the nominee, someone on the Left will make an openly sexist criticism. You know her seven children will be discussed in depth. You know that someone will inevitably make an argument that amounts to, “Look, if we’re going to allow Catholics to be judges, they at least have to be lapsed Catholics.”

Why do some progressives see Catholics and/or Christians as aspiring dictators from the bench, eager to toss away any established rights, established traditions, and impose an oppressive doctrine on the entire country and stifle dissent and differing points of view?

Because that’s how some progressives see the role of the judiciary.

We know that progressives’ recent hosannas (no pun intended) to precedent are as arbitrary and conditional as anyone else’s. Yes, Roe v. Wade (abortion) and Obergfell (gay marriage) are precedents. So is Heller (the Second Amendment). At various times in our history, Korematsu (interment of Japanese Americans), Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal), and Dred Scott (African Americans are not citizens) were precedents. Thankfully, subsequent courts reexamined the issues and reversed the decisions. A good judge respects precedent but is always open to the possibility that his predecessors missed some way in which a law violated the Constitution.

There are a lot of ways to define what conservatives consider a good judge — “originalist,” “strict constructionist” — but one of the core concepts is surely that not everything that is bad is unconstitutional, and not everything that is good is constitutional. We would all be better off eating more vegetables, but we don’t want the law and the power of the state forcing us to eat more vegetables.

You may giggle, but that was the example that Justice Antonin Scalia used when the individual mandate of Obamacare came before the Court. When the Obama administration argued that it was constitutional to require people to buy health insurance or pay an additional tax penalty, because everyone had to buy insurance eventually, Scalia suggested, “Everybody has to buy food sooner or later. Therefore, you can make people buy broccoli.” The government insisted requiring citizens to buy a particular vegetable is completely different from requiring them to buy health insurance. Folks on the left scoffed at the comparison, but to a lot of people on the right, it illuminated a key question in evaluating a new law: Just what is the limit on the government’s power to make you do things for your own good?

Progressives want the Supreme Court to be pushing society and its laws leftward — more expansion of the rights of the accused, more expansion of government power (except when it comes to access to abortion), more restriction of expression of religious belief in public spaces, an elimination of the Second Amendment, and restrictions upon the First Amendment that they deem a threat to democracy — i.e., unregulated speech before elections. They can’t imagine that anyone would really want John Roberts’s concept of an umpire judge, calling balls and strikes, with no favor for either team.

Looking Ahead to the Confirmation Vote

Alabama Democratic senator Doug Jones appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and offered the “maybe, we’ll see” noncommittal position that I expect every red-state Democrat to hold for as long as possible:

Oh, I’m open to voting yes. I’m open to voting no. We don’t know who this nominee is going to be yet. I don’t think my role is a rubber stamp for the president, but it’s also not an automatic, knee-jerk No either. My job is to exercise that independent voice. I want to look for a judge that has the intellect and capacity to do the right thing, to follow the rule of law, to adhere to precedents, and move the country forward. And I think that that’s the best role. . . . I am going to make an independent judgment and a view. I don’t think anyone should expect me to simply vote Yes for this nominee just simply because my state may be more conservative than others.

Nate Silver argues that the red-state Democrats will probably just wait to see what Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska do. If the pro-choice Republicans back the nominee, then confirmation is a certainty, and they might as well jump on the bandwagon and get some credit for working across party lines. If the two pro-choice Republicans indicate they’ll vote No, then the nomination will go down if all Democrats remain united in opposition.

The Judicial Crisis Network has already spent $1 million on ads touting the importance of this coming Supreme Court fight. Tonight, immediately after the nomination is announced, the group will spend another $1.4 million on ads on national cable, digital, and in four states including Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota, and West Virginia, “featuring an introductory bio spot about the nominee. The ad will run for one week, and JCN has already reserved another four weeks of air time nationally and in the four states.”

Over in the New York Times, David Leonhardt writes that progressives have to accept that they can’t count on the Court to dismiss conservative arguments and ideas — which means they have to win more elections.

Progressives can still win many of these issues. They simply will have to do so in a small-d democratic way, by winning elections — as they’ve begun to do lately. If Democrats win more governorships and state legislatures, they can keep Republicans from drawing ridiculous congressional maps and infringing on African-Americans’ voting rights — among many other things. If Democrats retake Congress this fall, they can halt the Republican legislative agenda and gain subpoena power.

I realize that a post-Kennedy Supreme Court may one day start throwing out progressive legislation, as happened in the early 20th century. But that’s a fight for another day. Most experts I’ve talked to — scholars and people in politics — believe that elected politicians can prevail in a long-term struggle with unelected judges. Regardless, until Democrats win more elections, it’s a hypothetical concern. “The potential center-left majority in this country — and it’s very real — has to actually organize and elect people to office,” Skocpol says.

[Keep in mind, that for a long time, Republicans and African-American Democrats cooperated to create those majority-minority districts that bother him so much.]

One of the biggest drivers of conservative activism over the past 40 years or so has been pro-lifers who feel like Roe v. Wade short-circuited the legislative debate that America was supposed to have about abortion. Had the Supreme Court not reached that decision, perhaps over the last 45 years we would have had a country where some states have high rates of abortion and some states where it is banned entirely. Our state and local politics might have been much more heated, and people might have voted with their feet.

But perhaps that sense of injustice, that belief that the Supreme Court stole decision-making power that wasn’t meant to be theirs, was the coal in the engine for the Right for decade after decade.

ADDENDUM: David Greenberg with a warning to the Left that nasty tactics don’t always pay off:

Joining Trump in the project of trashing the unwritten rules of public conduct won’t change his policies or governing style. But it will betray our own values and make it harder, once he’s gone, to reconstitute a decent, humane politics. We have nothing to gain from the eradication of a politics-free zone, from a war of all against all that greenlights once-verboten behaviors and permeates once-private spaces.

Besides, as the events of the late 1960s and early 1970s show, the outrageous and obnoxious antics of the militant left ended up hurting their cause. The taunting of public figures isn’t well remembered, and neither will history long record June’s showdown at the Red Hen. But insofar as these actions stem from a determination to score political points by violating civil norms, they—and the repellent and violent methods of extreme protesters more generally—engender a backlash and alienate allies.

Let’s also observe that segments of the angry leftist protesters of the early 1970s morphed into the Weather Underground, Black Panthers, FALN, and even the Symbionese Liberation Army. Radicalism easily curdles into a nihilistic hatred of everything, a belief that nothing is worth preserving and that violence for its own sake is justified.

Economy & Business

Trade Wars Are Bad and Hard to Win… But China Isn’t Innocent Here

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A crane unloads shipping containers at a port in Lianyungang, China, in 2014. (China Daily/via Reuters)

It’s awful to see the way this administration is constantly accusing China of unfair trade practices — export duties on various metals, imposing duties on American chicken, exempting domestically made aircraft from certain taxes while imposing them on American-made aircraft, and excessively subsidizing its corn, wheat, and rice production.

Wait, wait, never mind — all of those U.S. actions before the World Trade Organization were filed during the second term of the Obama administration.

It’s easy to tire of President Donald Trump’s surface-level understanding of trade; he seems to think that only a perfect equilibrium of even value of imports to exports is fair. His public fuming against Harley Davidson, and threats that if they move production overseas, the company will be “taxed like never before!” go right up to the line of abuse of presidential power. His declaration that “trade wars are good and easy to win!” suggests an astounding ignorance of economics and history.

But down the street and around the corner from Trump’s position is the legitimate point that China does not play fair — it signs trade agreements, and then violates them, and the U.S. has to go to the WTO to sort it out. The good news for the United States is that they’ve won their past 16 fights against China before the WTO. The bad news is that the WTO can take years to hash out these fights, and while the WTO is reviewing and deliberating, American companies have to live with unfair tariffs.

In December 2011, China imposed duties ranging from 2 percent to 21.5 percent on imports of large American-made cars and SUVs. On July 5, 2012, the U.S. government filed a complaint with the WTO, contending that China had claimed, rather implausibly, that the U.S. automakers were selling their cars below the cost of production, and that their tariffs were retaliation for U.S. government support of the American auto industry, like the government bailout of GM and Chrysler. The Obama administration argued that China could not prove any harm to Chinese automakers. China eventually backed down in December 2013, and the WTO offered its official ruling in May of 2014. In other words, U.S. automakers had to live with the unfair, unjustified tariffs for two years.

The WTO touts that less than half of the disputes brought before it require dispute resolution panels; most of the time the two countries work out an agreement before that step — and that the average time for the panel to investigate and decide is about ten months.

But sometimes resolving a case at the WTO takes a lot longer, and sometimes China will insist that it is complying with a WTO ruling and simply doesn’t. The fight over chicken parts stemmed from duties imposed in 2010; the United States went to the WTO in 2011. The WTO ruled that China violated its agreements in February 2013. China lowered the duties in 2014, but the United States said the new levels still violated treaty agreements. The United States went back to the WTO in 2016. The U.S. Department of Agriculture calculated that the Chinese tariffs have cost American companies a billion dollars in sales. Then in January of this year, the U.S. won at the WTO again.

On the one hand, it doesn’t make much sense for the United States to withdraw from an international organization like the WTO that rules in its favor so often. On the other hand, Trump has a fair gripe that the WTO is very slow-moving in its enforcement. It’s easy to picture Chinese leaders knowing that their positions are indefensible and that their arguments are weak, but, because they can drag out the WTO process so long, their companies enjoy long stretches of competitive advantages from tariffs, duties, and subsidies.

In this light, maybe someone needs to take a tougher stance with China. But that doesn’t mean the coming months or year will be easy:

U.S. tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods kicked in on Friday, escalating a war of words between the world’s two largest economies into a full-blown trade conflict.

Washington’s 25 percent duties went into effect at midnight EDT, and China immediately implemented retaliatory tariffs on its $34 billion list of goods issued last month, including soybeans, pork and electric vehicles. Beijing called it the “biggest trade war in economic history.”

It’s unlikely to stop there. In fact, there will be probably be “escalation upon escalation,” warned Geoff Raby, Australia’s former ambassador to China.

Ahead of the Friday implementation of American and Chinese tariffs, Raby told CNBC that “it looks like the first shots to the trade war are about to be fired.”

As Yoda would say, “Begun, the trade wars have.”

Good Riddance, Scott Pruitt

Yes, conservatives generally liked what he was doing in terms of policy. But at some point, something was going to have to give.

In December, our Kevin Williamson did a deep dive into the changes Pruitt was making at the Environmental Protection Agency: “Pruitt has ended the “sue and settle” process under which the EPA effectively outsourced regulation to activist groups and paid them for the courtesy, and he has barred, as an obvious conflict of interest, parties receiving EPA grants from serving on EPA advisory panels. He is rhetorically sharp, but his administration so far has been far from slash-and-burn.” By April, Jonah was arguing Pruitt should apologize for bad judgment when arranging his condominium in Washington and giving raises to staffers without authorization.

By June, the National Review editors were fed up with the stories of lavish spending and general irresponsibility: “He seems to have used government employees to secure a job for his wife and to get a discount on a mattress. His top aides got hefty raises, and Pruitt first told Fox News he did not know about those raises and then told a House committee that he did. He reportedly told aides to find reasons for him to take official trips to countries he wanted to see, and had security aides run errands such as searching for his favorite lotion. And that’s just the start.”

Finally, Ramesh concludes that Pruitt’s time in Washington came to an ignoble end because of his own inexcusably bad judgment: “The aides who told journalists, or congressional investigators, or both about Pruitt’s misbehavior weren’t all or even mostly liberals or deep staters. Several of them were conservative Trump supporters who were disturbed by Pruitt’s behavior and thought he was serving both the president and taxpayers poorly. Some of them had come with Pruitt from Oklahoma because they believed in him. The more they saw him in action in D.C., the less they did. Today it caught up with him.”

Building Social Unity and a Sense of National Connection Requires Trust First

Michael Brendan Dougherty ate his Wheaties this morning:

GDP goes up. Incomes sometimes go up. Real wages tick up. But, at a basic level, people live in a world where fewer and fewer people owe them consideration, compassion, favors, tips for getting ahead in a career, or consolation for getting through life’s disasters.

This is the background noise behind our politics today. And it is unsurprising that the two insurgent ideological trends on the left and on the right — socialism and nationalism, respectively — emphasize shared burdens, our duties to one another.

If you’re on the right side of the aisle, your worldview probably includes a healthy, heaping serving of individualism — a belief in being independent and self-reliant, a wariness or skepticism towards authority, perhaps membership in some portion of Grover Norquist’s old “Leave Us Alone” coalition — home schooler, gun owner, business owner.

But a country is more than just a collection of individuals. It would be nice to have more universal American experiences and something that cultivated a sense of unity and connection. (I think Megan McArdle is on the right track in her discussion of the human need for unifying, identity-affirming rituals.)

But social cohesion is extraordinarily difficult to build without trust. The slogan “We’re all in this together” is less compelling when people regularly see evidence that we’re not all in this together — watching Wall Street banks get bailed out, watching high-level officials escape consequences of breaking the law, watching the incompetent get promoted, watching Harvard accept a class that is nearly one-third “legacy students,” and learning that powerful men lived as sexual predators for years and almost everyone they encountered averted their eyes.

ADDENDA: I’m scheduled to appear with my friend and co-author Cam Edwards at 2 p.m. today on NRATV.

Look, they’re all good potential Supreme Court nominees. At this point, the argument is whether you prefer steak, lobster, or barbequed ribs.

Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes yesterday.

Politics & Policy

How an Anti-ICE Activist Shut Down Liberty Island

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Demonstrators listen to the cries of illegal immigrant children held in a U.S. detention facility after being separated from their parents that Venkatraman is playing through her megaphone during a protest against the separation of immigrant families outside the White House, June 22, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Ugh. I know it’s tough to go back to work today. Think of today as starting a two-day workweek.

Making the click-through worthwhile: An anti-ICE activist inadvertently undermines everything she claims to stand for; Brad Thor’s latest novel spotlights a threat we would rather not think about too deeply or often; some extremely ominous news out of the United Kingdom; and President Trump offers a writer the excuse she’s always wanted.

Notice Which Side of the Immigration Debate Is Forcing the Evacuation of Liberty Island

What better way to ensure that a lot of people have their Independence Day ruined than to perform a dangerous political stunt that requires the evacuation of Liberty Island?

A woman wearing an anti-Trump T-shirt climbed the base of the Statue of Liberty on Independence Day, sparking a mass evacuation of Liberty Island and a nearly four-hour standoff with first responders before she was taken into custody, officials said.

The protester, identified as Therese Patricia Okoumou, 44, was seen scaling the base of the statue about 3 p.m., moments after the group Rise and Resist formed a protest against Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Liberty Island.

“We started engaging in a dialogue of why she was up there,” said ESU cop Brian Glacken, one of two officers who ascended the ladder. “She was basically up there about the children in Texas. At first she wasn’t friendly with us, but we took our time to get a dialogue with her, to get her to trust us. That took a while.”

Glacken said she threatened to push the officers’ ladder off the statue’s base.

Okoumou, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, tied herself to one of the copper vents by the feet of Lady Liberty.

“She didn’t realize one of those vents could rip right out,” Glacken said. “Once I explained that could rip right out, she got kind of worried.”

Okoumou faces trespassing and other charges, officials said. She is due to appear in Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday. The charges are expected to be violation of national park regulations or public use limit; trespassing; disorderly conduct, and interfering with government functions. All are federal misdemeanors.

“She broke the law and will be charged federally,” said Willis, who added there was a concern Okoumou could damage the 132-year-old statue.

“She was on the copper of a national icon,” Willis said, adding that the copper is very thin and malleable. “She could do some damage.”

In order to defend liberty, Okoumou risked damaging the Statute of Liberty; to help her country, she concluded she had to disrupt the Fourth of July events at an iconic national park. To demonstrate her commitment to justice, she threatened to push the ladder of law-enforcement officers. To fight back against the stereotype that immigrants are dangerous and have no respect for the law, the Congolese immigrant did something dangerous and against the law.

Brad Thor’s Spymaster and Our Real-World Dangers

Brad Thor’s newest novel, Spymaster, is his best work in several years, keeping me up well past my bedtime Tuesday night, unable to put it down. I say that as someone who enjoyed Use of Force, Foreign Agent, Code of Conduct, and the rest. But Spymaster is a refreshing change of style and pace; if you read Use of Force and Foreign Agent around the same time as you read Daniel Silva’s The Black Widow and House of Spies, you begin to feel like you’ve spent a lot of time hanging around ruthless jihadist master terrorists inspired by ISIS.

Thor’s latest is a modern Cold War 2.0 thriller, with an unnervingly plausible plot about Russia aiming to destabilize NATO with potential Crimea-style military operations looming over the horizon. All of Thor’s novels are realistic and focus on the details of military and intelligence operations, but there are large swathes that are nonfiction, showcasing the lesser-noticed developments in a dangerous world. Back in 2017, there was a bit of coverage of Sweden — not a member of NATO — beefing up their barely existent defenses on the island of Gotland, in the middle of the Baltic Sea.

Last month, the Marine Corps Times wrote about the strategic value of the island, noting that if Russia took over Gotland, it could and likely would immediately deploy anti-air and anti-ship defenses on what is “essentially an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the middle of the Baltic Sea.” That would cut off the Baltic member states of NATO from air-support or reinforcements — and put most of the Nordic states and the eastern members of NATO at much greater risk. Recent wargames projected that Russia could conquer the Baltic states in about three days.

Lurking over Spymaster, and our real world, is the question of how much the United States is really committed to its NATO partners. We say we honor Article Five — which treats an attack on one country as an attack on all NATO members . . . but are we willing to fight a war with nuclear-armed Russia over Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania? What about for just one of those countries? What if Russia just wants one piece of territory from those countries?

For Vladimir Putin, the challenge is to find something that is valuable to him and his country, but not important enough for NATO to risk a war over. The day Moscow finds it can successfully grab a piece of NATO territory without consequence, a clear signal will be sent to every member of the alliance — the mutual-defense agreement isn’t worth paper it’s written upon, and the United States of America can’t be counted on to protect you. Suddenly, every European country will begin to look for ways to placate and appease the Russian bear. (It takes a lot to get me to watch an entire television series with English subtitles, but the Norwegian show Occupied is absolutely fascinating, depicting an in-over-his-head Norwegian Green-party prime minister coping with Russia gradually taking over his country, in a world where the United States withdrew from NATO and the rest of Europe has no interest in fighting a war with Moscow.)

The best way to avoid either nightmare scenario – the gradual conquest of Eastern Europe or an escalating war with Russia — is deterrence; shore up the Baltic defenses and make abundantly clear to Moscow that no act of military aggression would be worth the price. The question is . . . are we sending that clear signal?

Speaking of Russia . . .

A Chilling Tale of Russian Skullduggery Gets Worse

Hey, be careful if you’ve got a summer vacation planned for the United Kingdom this year. The forecast for Salisbury, England, is now cloudy with a chance of Russian nerve agent:

Two British citizens have been critically sickened by the same nerve agent, Novichok, that was used to poison a former Russian spy and his daughter four months ago, the British authorities announced on Wednesday.

The two victims, a man and a woman, both in their 40s, fell ill on Saturday in the southern town of Amesbury, England, after having visited nearby Salisbury, including a spot near where the spy and his daughter were stricken in March, the police said.

The emergence of additional Novichok victims, after four months of meticulous decontamination and public reassurances, presents British authorities with a daunting challenge.

If the nerve agent was left behind by attackers in March, then traces of it may remain in places the authorities did not search, presenting an unpredictable threat to the public. If the agent was deposited more recently, then the March poisoning was not an isolated attack.

The victims, identified locally as Charlie Rowley, 45, and Dawn Sturgess, 44, are British citizens, and the police said there was no indication that they would have been targets.

What, you Russkies can’t use ricin-shooting umbrellas anymore? When did you thugs get so sloppy?

ADDENDA: Bridgid Delany offers fascinating example of how Donald Trump can turn into the universal excuse everyone was looking for in the Guardian. In fall 2016, the owner of her gym predicted that Trump would win the election; she offered to bet $100, and he countered that if Trump won, she would have to double her usual lift on a weight sled. She honored the bet but quit the gym shortly thereafter: “In the spirit of the Donald, I drank more bottles of Diet Coke and ate more McDonald’s. I dropped the gym — embracing Trump’s belief that we are given a certain amount of energy and if we use it then we are depleting a finite resource.”

You hate him so much, you chose to emulate him, huh?

Immigration

Do Democrats Really Want to Enforce Immigration Laws?

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People march during a “Free Our Future” demonstration to protest the expected introduction of the U.S. Department of Justice and Immigration Customs Enforcement ( I.C.E.) new sped up mass immigration hearings and deportation in San Diego, California, July 2, 2018. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Happy Fourth of July midweek! The Morning Jolt will return Thursday. Making today’s click-through worthwhile: why we have good reason to doubt Democrats when they say that “Abolish ICE!” doesn’t mean ending immigration law enforcement; the you-know-what hits the fan in San Francisco; and the evidence that ’90s television helped fuel belief in conspiracy theories.

Democrats’ Immigration-Enforcement Mirage

The first reason we should be wary of Democrats’ calling to “abolish ICE” in the context of protests against the family-separation policy is that ICE is only one agency out of four playing a role in the policy. (It’s five if you count the Department of Defense building tent cities at Fort Bliss and Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas to temporarily house migrants.)

Families that cross the border illegally or turn themselves in at ports of entry in hope of gaining asylum typically first encounter the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the largest law enforcement agency in the U.S. with nearly 20,000 agents.

Under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, adults who cross into the U.S. illegally — in between ports of entry along the nearly 2,000-mile border — are transferred to the custody of the U.S. Marshals under the U.S. Department of Justice. They are then bused to federal courts along the border where they are prosecuted.

Once prosecuted, adults are sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one of several agencies under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security. The agency oversees or contracts with more than 200 detention centers, jails and prisons across the country. Parents can be detained anywhere in the country, often far away from they where they were separated from their children on the southern border.

Under the family separations policy, children held at the border were handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services, where they became part of more than 11,000 “unaccompanied minors” held under a program managed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Many are teenagers who crossed the border without their parents.

In other words, it’s the U.S. Border Patrol that does the separating, the Department of Justice that does the prosecuting, ICE holds the adults and prepares them for deportation and then deports them, and HHS handles the care of the children while the adults are being detained. Notice which agency is attracting the most ire from the Left.

Over in USA Today, attorney Raul Reyes lists the allegations of abuse and mismanagement and declares, “No one is calling for a halt to immigration enforcement. Either ICE needs to do it in a more humane way with greater oversight, or the agency should be dismantled and its functions reassigned to other agencies.”

But I notice liberal protesters aren’t chanting, “Reform ICE! Reform ICE!” or “Reassign the duties to other agencies! Reassign the duties to other agencies!” Apparently, we’re being tremendously unfair by believing that they actually want to do what they say.

It’s rather hard to believe that these protesters only want a change in methods.

San Francisco: “Demonstrators pitched five tents, a small pavilion and a section of chain-link fence with barbed wire outside San Francisco’s U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services office Monday night.”

Portland: “A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman says the agency’s Portland headquarters will resume normal operations Tuesday. The office was closed June 20 after protesters upset with President Trump’s immigration policies blocked entrances to the facility.”

Philadelphia: “Establishing a small encampment for a prolonged occupation, several hundred protesters gathered late Monday afternoon outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Center City to demand an end to that agency’s policies and cooperation between the city of Philadelphia and ICE . . . Protesters were still there Tuesday morning.”

Hartford, Conn.: “Nearly 500 people participated in the protest, including clergy and American Civil Liberties Union observers. In an act of civil disobedience, some protesters tried to shut down an ICE office on Main Street for the day by blocking the entrance. Hartford Police Department said 35 people were arrested.”

The article above quotes organizer Carolina Bortolleto of the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance as saying, “We don’t need ICE to be reformed. We need it gone.” If these rallies really are just a call for a change in tactics, someone ought to inform the protesters.

We keep hearing comments like this one from New Jersey senator Cory Booker, “Achieving [ICE’s] high-minded purpose might be achieved better in other ways.” But we never hear much about what those “other ways” might be.

In fact, some Democratic lawmakers get really slippery when pressed for details about how they envision the immigration laws being enforced. Here’s Congressman Adriano Espaillat, New York Democrat, in an interview with NPR:

Ari Shapiro: Isn’t there a need for some branch of the government to address immigration enforcement, whether you call that ICE or something else?

Adriano Espaillat: I don’t know. Let’s see what other countries are doing because immigration is not a U.S.-only debate. Let’s take a look at best practices of around the world. And let’s try to develop a new agency that has a heart and is able to enforce the law.

When a lawmaker is asked, “Isn’t there a need for some branch of the government to address immigration enforcement?” and his answer is not an immediate “yes,” it means he really thinks the answer is “no” but doesn’t want to admit it.

Credit the Huffington Post for putting the question of abolishing ICE before a polling sample, and telling its readers an answer that they probably don’t want to hear: “Just 21 percent of respondents said they support abolishing ICE, while 44 percent said they oppose it, with 35 percent undecided. Nearly 3 in 10 Americans polled said they strongly oppose the idea.”

We’re still waiting on actual legislative language from Democrats, but Ed Morrissey points out that the initial description makes it sound like a blatantly unconstitutional Congressional power grab:

House Democrat Mark Pocan is now drafting an “abolish ICE” bill that doesn’t actually abolish anything; instead, it creates a “commission” to run ICE rather than the executive branch, an option that would run into immediate constitutional issues. Even apart from this obvious flaw, the commission would have to wait for direction from Congress to act.

You can’t cut the executive branch leadership out of the management of an executive-branch agency.

I Thought You Were Only Supposed to Leave Your Heart in San Francisco

Not long ago I wrote about Gavin Newsom and the painful declines of quality of life in San Francisco and California overall, and the possibility that progressive policies can ruin even one of the most beautiful cities in America. Now there’s another piece of evidence that the city’s strengths in climate and sights and culture cannot overcome the failures of local government:

In a move that is alarming San Francisco’s biggest industry, a major medical association is pulling its annual convention out of the city — saying its members no longer feel safe.

“It’s the first time that we have had an out-and-out cancellation over the issue, and this is a group that has been coming here every three or four years since the 1980s,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of S.F. Travel, the city’s convention bureau. . . .

The doctors group told the San Francisco delegation that while they loved the city, postconvention surveys showed their members were afraid to walk amid the open drug use, threatening behavior and mental illness that are common on the streets.

You may have seen on Drudge that report of a 20-pound bag of human waste being left on a San Francisco street corner, and Nancy Alfaro, a spokesperson for the city’s 311 service, saying that while reports of human waste are common, this large of an amount is “not typical.”

It must be difficult to have pride in a city where “reports of human waste are common.”

Did ’90s Television Make Conspiracy Theories Cool?

I came across this interesting argument that the 1990s sci-fi series The X-Files — terrific fun for the first few seasons, until it became clear that series creator Chris Carter was making it up as it went along — inadvertently legitimized, or at least romanticized, conspiracy theories and those who believe them.

I’ve heard it argued that, “We aren’t supposed to sympathize with Mulder’s crazy,” and, well, no, we really rather are. Mulder is constantly vindicated. It is he who wins Scully to his side by the end of the series, not the other way around. And I don’t think that conspiracy theory narratives are going to go away — nor should they go away — but I want to think that we’re reaching a level of sophistication in both our fiction and our relationship to conspiracy theorists that we need to more thoughtful about these kinds of narratives. The X-Files did absolutely romanticize Mulder’s quest for truth far more often than it played it for comedy or sexual tension, and that approach does, on some level, help to prop up this increasing proportion of the population who do believe in vast conspiracies.

It’s pretty implausible to argue that Fox Mulder and The X-Files made people paranoid or made people believe in conspiracy theories. But a little less implausible to wonder if the way the show made Mulder seem (generally) like a heroic, good character, and so often right and vindicated . . . removed some of the stigma about believing conspiracy theories. Put another way, the supporting character trio called “the Lone Gunmen” are portrayed as good-hearted weirdo conspiracy theorists — likable, but not really heroic or attractive characters in most senses of the word. But Mulder is our co-protagonist, the romantic lead, the best detective, etc. — and no doubt, this is how a lot of paranoid people see themselves.

Let’s also point out that real-world events since the 1990s might fuel people’s belief in shadowy conspiracies. If you were paranoid about Islamist terrorists before 9/11, you probably feel vindicated. No doubt the failure to find the expected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq spurred a lot of Americans to believe a shadowy conspiracy must have pushed the country into war. If you suspect corporate America is up to no good, the Enron scandal and the collapse of Lehman Brothers probably made you feel vindicated. The revelations about the NSA’s domestic collection of data vindicated a lot of the claims that “the government is watching you” — and whatever the government isn’t collecting, social-media companies probably are. And the CIA really did use a vaccine program to find Osama bin Laden.

So the fact that the vast majority of conspiracy theories are paranoid nonsense . . . doesn’t mean that all of them are, or that some of them didn’t get started with some factual basis.

ADDENDUM: I hit a nerve: “There are no permanent majorities and no permanent victories. Therefore, whatever rules you want to enact when you’re in power, you should be ready to live under those rules when you’re in the minority again.”

Politics & Policy

Barack Obama Urges Democrats to Try to Sound More Like Him in 2018

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Former President Barack Obama speaks during an unveiling ceremony for portraits of himself and former First Lady Michelle Obama at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, February 12, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Former president Barack Obama offers some self-serving advice to his fellow Democrats; why the headline “Mexico election results promise sweeping change” sounds so familiar; and a reminder that William F. Buckley’s old sparring partner, Gore Vidal, got really cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs as the years passed.

Isn’t Obama the Wrong Guy to Denounce Politics as Entertainment?

Michael Scherer of the Washington Post warns that Democrats had a bad week last week, and focuses upon a comment from former President Barack Obama:

Obama urged Democrats at a fundraiser in Beverly Hills on Thursday to aim their energies squarely on the ballot box in November, saying that “it is entirely within our power” to solve the political problems of the moment.

“All these people are out here kvetching and wringing their hands and stressed and anxious and, you know, constantly watching cable TV and howling at the moon, ‘What are we going to do?’ Their hair is falling out,” said Obama, arguing for a reasoned response. “The good news is that if you act, if we act, then the majority of the American people prefer a story of hope.”

In my friend Kurt Schlichter’s forthcoming book, Militant Normals, he describes life from the perspective of a veteran in the small city of Fontana, in San Bernardino County, Calif., and writes,

You would see on Channel 7 News every couple of weeks that the president had flown into Los Angeles (and gridlocked traffic for his fans on the Westside) to do a Beverly Hills fundraising dinner with David Geffen, whoever that was. But he never seemed to find time to make it out the sixty-eight miles to Fontana to see how normal Americans were doing.

“Stop being so stressed and anxious” is an easy message to sell at a Democratic fundraising party in Beverly Hills, probably the least-stressful and anxious environment imaginable. As CNN apparently wrote with either a straight face or with some really dry, subtle snark: “The former President even suggested to the roughly 200 donors in attendance, who also enjoyed a performance from Christina Aguilera, that Democrats can’t get fixated on the glitz and personality of politics.”

Yeah, why don’t you sit this one out, champ. Barack Obama telling you to not “expect (politics) to be entertaining all the time” is like LeBron James telling you to try to stay in one place for your whole career.

Americans may want a hopeful message, but hope is just happy talk unless it is tied to a concrete plan to tackle the country’s problems. There are a lot of American voters who loathe Donald Trump — more than 65 million people voted against him — and a significant chunk of Republicans who find his persona anywhere from cringe-inducing to barely tolerable. But the Democratic agenda is largely repeal the tax cuts, enact “Medicare for All” (which would require $32 trillion (!) in new taxes — that comes out to $24,000 per American household), and “abolish ICE,” which means either come up with a completely new federal agency to handle immigration enforcement . . . or, as The Nation put it, “the goal of abolishing the agency is to abolish the function.” This isn’t a policy agenda, it’s a list of wishes for a genie.

I suppose you could say that is indeed a “hopeful” approach — as in, Democrats hope that none of those who entered the country illegally intend to harm others, either through crime or terrorism.

Are We Witnessing a ‘Profound Change’ or a Familiar Cycle Down in Mexico?

South of the border, we’re hearing promises of a “profound change” from the newly elected left-wing presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Back in 2000, Vicente Fox of the National Action Party was touted as “the winds of change” after seven decades of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

In 2006, Fox’s successor, Felipe Calderón, was of the same party but focused upon a crusade against corruption and the drug cartels. He led a campaign against them that generated a lot of violence and not-terribly-inspiring results. Foreign Policy magazine concluded, “Calderón accomplished notably little in the way of needed reforms during his six years in office. Yet if these problems are not addressed, progress in all other areas will be futile. The fate of much of the president’s legislative agenda, which has been stalled, blocked or diluted beyond recognition, is a stark reminder of this.”

In 2012, the Mexican electorate turned back to PRI. Enrique Peña Nieto was elected with similar headlines: “Will Mexico’s new president bring change?” Peña Nieto promised a dramatic new era, declaring, “there is no return to the past.”

I know this is going to stun you, but after six years, many Mexicans don’t believe enough has changed regarding corruption, economic growth and opportunity, and crime and security.

This is the fourth straight election where the international media has covered a Mexican election with a sense that dramatic change is around the corner. Who knows, perhaps this time will be different; López Obrador is significantly further to the left than his predecessors. But he’s likely to face the same institutional obstacles, inertia, and bureaucracy that impeded his predecessors.

For better or worse, President Trump and the United States were not major topics in the campaign debates: “It’s fascinating that the Mexican election campaign hardly focused on Donald Trump or the United States at all,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Washington-based Migration Institute. “That’s probably a sign of what’s to come. López Obrador will likely be far less focused on the United States than all of his predecessors in recent memory. That means he may not react to every statement by President Trump about Mexico, but he may also do less to salvage areas of cooperation with the U.S. government around security, migration, and trade.”

Every six years, a Mexican politician appears, announcing he will succeed where his predecessors failed in fighting corruption, ending the endemic crime and brutality of the cartels, creating more jobs and economic opportunity, and mitigating the chasm separating the haves and the have-nots. And six years later, the Mexican people collectively shrug in disappointment and look for other options.

Let’s Not Be So Quick to Give Gore Vidal a Pass on Some of This . . .

On NRO, Paul Ingrassia writes about the debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal and concludes, “The significance of the Buckley–Vidal debates in 2018 is not that they drew battle lines for the modern culture wars but rather that they were the swansong of the final American generation to have a shared and mutual reverence for their country’s founding principles — a reverence that is, perhaps, never to be seen again.”

Whatever Gore Vidal was at the beginning and middle of his literary career, towards the end he was cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. And “the end” started early — it was in 1986 that he was calling for a U.S.–Soviet alliance because “the white race is the minority race and if the two great powers of the Northern Hemisphere don’t band together, we are going to end up as farmers — or, worse, mere entertainment — for more than one billion grimly efficient Asiatics.” Even aside from the appalling and explicit racism in that perspective, if you spend a lot of time forecasting a grand alliance between the Chinese and the Japanese, you deserve ritualistic cashiering of your reputation as a historian.

One of the nice things about joining a longstanding debate late in the game is that we’re not swayed by many years of encountering Vidal being praised for being so sophisticated and literary and debonair — so that by 2001, when he’s declaring of Timothy McVeigh, “I am sure he didn’t do it,” and writing long, rambling essays about the Oklahoma City bombing declaring, “the stoic serenity of McVeigh’s last days certainly qualified him as a Henley-style hero” . . . we can conclude, oh . . . Gore Vidal is a nut case with a soft spot for some of the worst of humanity.

(I’m almost done reading Andrew Gumbel and Roger Charles’ Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed — and Why It Still Matters, and that lays out a really unnerving and compelling array of evidence that McVeigh and Nichols probably had additional co-conspirators who never saw the inside of a courtroom; at the very least, it seems that a lot of people in militia circles knew “something” was going to happen on the two-year anniversary of Waco. But none of the authors’ exhaustive research provides any evidence that McVeigh didn’t have a central role in the terrorist plot.)

Vidal completely bought McVeigh’s implausible claim that he didn’t know there was a day-care center in the Murrah federal building; the former director of the day-care center said McVeigh visited the center in December 1994, claiming he had two young children but asking questions only about layout and security arrangements. In other words, McVeigh knew damn well there were kids in that building, and 19 children paid the ultimate price for his monstrous action. Vidal contended the FBI let the Oklahoma City bombing happen to get legislation passed, and became a 9/11 Truther as well.

Buckley entered the history books destined to be remembered as a titan, while Vidal turned into the guy in the subway station ranting about conspiracies to passersby — only in nicer clothes and with a fancier vocabulary.

ADDENDA: Following up last week’s article about how the border fence/wall is gradually being enhanced, Shelly Henderson of the Orange County Breeze points out that a significant portion of the illegal immigrants in California overstay visas — and that the cries of “build the wall!” should probably be replaced with “require E-Verify!”

U.S.

Yet Another Case of a Convicted Harasser Legally Purchasing a Gun

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Police walk past a vehicle near a shooting scene after a gunman opened fire at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, June 28, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The week draws to a close with horrific news out of Annapolis, some grim thoughts about why violence and hate seem so inevitable, and some hopeful news from the U.S. southern border.

A Terrible Day in Maryland

All of the available evidence so far indicates that the shooter in Annapolis yesterday wasn’t motivated or “set off” by any comment from President Trump criticizing the media. The strange new world of social media means that immediately after an infamous criminal’s name leaks, you can find his personal pages and peer more-or-less directly into what was on his mind.

In the case of this shooter, it was a longstanding grudge against the paper, stemming from a 2011 article about a criminal harassment case against him. The gunman filed a defamation suit against the paper and lost, and apparently his obsessive hatred only grew. On his Twitter account, he said he was “making corpses of corrupt careers and corporate entities.”

The staff of the Capital Gazette somehow managed to put out a newspaper the afternoon and evening after being the target of a mass shooting. God bless everybody over there:

Journalists dived under their desks and pleaded for help on social media. One reporter described the scene as a “war zone.” A photographer said he jumped over a dead colleague and fled for his life.

The victims were identified as Rob Hiaasen, 59, a former feature writer for The Baltimore Sun who joined the Capital Gazette in 2010 as an assistant editor and columnist; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent who headed special publications; Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, a staff writer who had covered high school, college and professional sports for decades; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant hired in November.

Two others were injured in the attack that began about 2:40 p.m. at the Capital Gazette offices at 888 Bestgate Road in Annapolis.

In one of the stomach-turning ironies, no one involved in the original article about the gunman is still with the newspaper. From the paper’s article: “Neither the columnist, Eric Hartley, nor the editor and publisher, Thomas Marquardt, are still employed by the Capital Gazette. They were not present during the shootings.”

The shooter sounds like one of those people that everyone could see was a ticking time bomb.

“He’s not a forgettable character,” [William Shirley, one of the lawyers who defended the Capital Gazette] told the Daily News. “I remember at one point he was talking in a motion and somehow worked in how he wanted to smash Hartley’s face into the concrete. We were concerned at the time. He was not stable.”

Those who had encountered the gunman previously were apparently not all that surprised by his actions.

“I was seriously concerned he would threaten us with physical violence,” Marquardt said from his retirement home in Florida. “I even told my wife, ‘We have to be concerned. This guy could really hurt us.’”

Marquardt said he called the Anne Arundel County police about Ramos in 2013, but nothing came of it. He consulted the paper’s lawyers about filing a restraining order, but decided against it.

“I remember telling our attorneys, ‘This is a guy who is going to come in and shoot us,’” he said.

The coming days will no doubt bring questions and answers about how a person so unstable obtained a firearm. Sadly, it’s not that difficult to figure out:

The online abuse lasted for months and eventually [the shooter] lashed out at her friends and employers, in which he demanded she be fired. He was slapped with probation instead of a jail sentence after pleading guilty.

The shooter pled guilty to harassment, which is a misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of 90 days. Maryland law has a lot of restrictions on who can purchase a gun, including anyone convicted of a crime of violence, convicted of a felony, or who has been “convicted of any Maryland-classified misdemeanor that carries a statutory penalty of more than two years.”

Had the shooter been convicted of stalking instead of harassment, it’s possible yesterday’s events would have turned out differently. Stalking carries a penalty of “imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or a fine not exceeding $5,000 or both.” In other words, convicting this man of stalking instead of harassment would have made it impossible for him to legally purchase or possess a firearm.

Of course, just because the president’s statements had nothing to do with this shooting doesn’t mean it’s okay or even accurate for him to declare that institutions such as the New York Times and various television networks are “the enemy of the American People!” No. ISIS and al-Qaeda are the enemies of the American people. The Iranian mullahs are the enemies of the American people. Gangs such as MS-13 and drug cartels are the enemy of the American people. Russia’s intelligence services are often the enemies of the American people, outside of some intermittent cooperation on terrorism. (And that cooperation is much less frequent and genuinely productive than U.S. intelligence would like it to be.) And, if it gets back to its old tricks, the North Korean regime is the enemy of the American people. We need to re-learn the distinction between enemies and domestic political opponents. Enemies want to kill you.

Hate and Menace, Lurking All Too Close to Home

A church not far from my house in “Authenticity Woods” has been repeatedly attacked and vandalized: “The vandalism marked the seventh time since May 11 that Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Annandale, Virginia, has been defaced — and this time was the most vile. The sanctuary walls were graffitied with racial slurs, a swastika and a message, ‘Youre (sic) all going to hell.’”

Apparently the perpetrator is a Nazi, but not a grammar Nazi.

A little more than a year ago, a 20-year-old man “was arrested on hate-related charges after a Jewish community center, a church and a community college in Fairfax County were defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti and stickers, police said.”

Why does someone do something like this? Because it makes them feel powerful? They’ve got so little pride in themselves as individuals that they have to take pride in not being one of those people?

But between this and the Annapolis shooter, I’m finding myself grappling with that question of “why” again. To be fair, you can find contradictions in my avenues of thought over the years. In October of last year, I wondered if it even mattered, because it all amounted to the same irrational complaint about life:

Aren’t all of these shooters more or less the same? In their minds, they’ve been wronged by the world; the world owed them something and it refused to give it to them. The Isla Vista shooter believed he deserved pretty women; the Alexandria shooter who tried to kill GOP Congressmen believed he deserved a world where his party was in charge. The Columbine killers believed they deserved a world where they would never feel ostracized.

After mass shootings, I often find myself referring back to the observations of Willard Gaylin, one of the world’s preeminent psychology professors. Gaylin writes about the dangers of “grievance collecting” in his book Hatred: The Psychological Descent into Violence:

Grievance collecting is a step on the journey to a full-blown paranoid psychosis. A grievance collector will move from the passive assumption of deprivation and low expectancy common to most paranoid personalities to a more aggressive mode. He will not endure passively his deprived state; he will occupy himself with accumulating evidence of his misfortunes and locating the sources. Grievance collectors are distrustful and provocative, convinced that they are always taken advantage of and given less than their fair share. . . .

Underlying this philosophy is an undeviating comparative and competitive view of life. Everything is part of a zero-sum game. Deprivation can be felt in another person’s abundance of good fortune.

The irony, of course, is that nearly a year after the Las Vegas massacre, law enforcement still hasn’t been able to figure out the motive of the worst mass shooting in American history.

In October 2015, I wondered if certain aspects of modern society aided and abetted “grievance collecting.”

Is it that our society makes it so easy to hide away from the world in a dark room, illuminated by only the computer screen, clicking from angry chat rooms to Internet porn to first-person shooter games to Facebook pages of people who seem happier than us, marinating in bitter envy?

Is it that for too many young people, when they say something insanely irresponsible and self-pitying —“the problems in my life are the world’s fault, not mine!” — there isn’t someone around to say, “No, that’s not true. Your problems are at least partially, and probably largely your fault and a consequence of choices you have made. The good news is this means you have the power to do something about them”?

Remember the Virginia shooter who was a classic “grievance collector”? Is it that we as a society become too accepting of people who practice this philosophy, and that we sort of acquiesce to it, or aren’t willing to stand up to it and rebuke it enough? Does something about our society cultivate grievance and resentment, instead of gratitude for our blessings?

What is it that makes someone go from “I’m really angry at those people” to “I’m really angry at those people. I’m going to go shoot them.”?

Good News on Our Southern Border

One of the joys of journalism is that as you think up questions — “Hey, I wonder how things are going with the building of the wall at the border?” — you can call up people and they’ll answer your questions.

The good news for those who wish to see a wall built along the U.S.–Mexican border is that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has built seven miles of 30-foot-high wall in the past few months, and roughly 30 more miles of high fencing are slated for construction.

The bad news is that there’s still a lot of border to go.

New reports from Carlos Diaz, southwest branch chief of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, indicate that one of the three current wall projects is nearly complete, another is about a quarter of the way done, and one just began earlier this month.

There are about 700 miles of fencing along our nearly 2,000-mile border. For what it’s worth, the National Border Patrol Council — the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol — contends that the country doesn’t need a wall stretching across every inch from the Pacific to the Atlantic; they believe drug smuggling and illegal immigration can best be controlled with an expansion of current walls and fences that leaves certain areas open, steering those attempting to cross illegally into fewer, more easily-managed spots.

ADDENDUM: Former New York Times public editor Jill Abramson: “From four years of teaching at Harvard, so many of my students are interested in journalism, but they mostly want to write first-person, highly personal narratives about themselves. That may reflect their age. But I think there’s too much of that in journalism. It’s not about us. It’s about the world, and covering the world.”

Law & the Courts

Living Under the Sword of Damocles That Is Elderly Supreme Court Justices

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Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy arrives for the funeral of fellow justice Antonin Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, February 20, 2016. (Carlos Barria/File Photo/Reuters)

For at least a generation, we’ve lived with elderly Supreme Court justices. Last year, David Ingold of Bloomberg noted, “With two current justices more than 80 years old and a third joining them next year, the projected age when a justice will leave the Supreme Court is now about 83 — that’s a 10-year increase from the 1950s.”

We live in an era of judicial supremacy, decisions that some would argue constitute judicial activism . . . and in any given year, at least a handful of justices who are old enough to join the cast of a reboot of The Golden Girls. It’s sort of a Damocles Sword for our system of laws — at any given moment, one of the nine might announce a retirement or move on to the Pearly Gates and suddenly “alter the balance of the Court,” ushering in a period of dramatically different interpretations of the First Amendment, Second Amendment, the commerce clause, and “emanating penumbras” than just a few years earlier.

However, it’s fair to wonder just how much Justice Anthony Kennedy’s departure will really alter the dynamic on the Court. (For what it’s worth, he voted with the “conservative” majority on 15 out of 20 cases this term.) Those of us who can remember the era of Sandra Day O’Connor will recall her as the perceived “swing vote” and a time when Kennedy was considered a reasonably reliable ally to Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and, sometimes, William Rehnquist.

We’ve already seen Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by George W. Bush, shock the world and outrage the Right by ruling that the individual mandate in Obamacare was indeed constitutional. In all likelihood, the appointment of one of the reliably strict-constructionist judges on President Trump’s pre-election list of potential nominees will move the Court one notch in the right/Right direction . . . but only one notch. There’s always going to be one justice who is the least rightward justice on the right, or the least leftward justice on the left, and that person will realize that they are, arguably, the most powerful person in the country. Quite a tempting position to be in.

President Trump appointed Neil Gorsuch, and he will name a replacement for Anthony Kennedy soon and, in all likelihood, have that nominee confirmed (more on that below). As noted last night, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 and Stephen Breyer turns 80 in August. Justice Clarence Thomas is 70.

We never know what the future holds, and all of those justices may very well serve until after Trump leaves office. But it’s also not hard to imagine a scenario where Trump appoints replacements for one or two of them, or maybe all three — perhaps even before the 2020 presidential election.

The last four presidents each appointed two justices; Reagan appointed three, Carter none, and Gerald Ford appointed one. You have to go back to Richard Nixon to find a president who named four Supreme Court justices. (Finally, a Nixon comparison that this White House probably wouldn’t mind.)

The Coming Senate Fight, After ‘One of the Biggest Political Blunders in Modern History’

The U.S. Senate currently consists of 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats (counting Angus King and Bernie Sanders, because they caucus with the Democrats).

If every Democratic senator voted “no” — not a guarantee — they would need not one Republican to flip, but two, because a 50-50 tie would be broken by Vice President Mike Pence.

There is the complication that John McCain, undergoing cancer treatment, hasn’t cast a vote since December. Currently in Washington, there are 51 Republican senators but only 50 Republicans present. But that still leaves Republicans with a 50-49 advantage on any party-line votes. (It is conceivable that by the time the Senate holds its confirmation vote, McCain could be still undergoing treatment and unavailable to vote . . . or it’s possible that the governor will have appointed a replacement if McCain chooses to retire or has moved on to his heavenly reward.)

It is exceptionally rare to see a Republican senator vote against a Republican president’s Supreme Court nominee — presuming, of course, that nominee gets a vote; Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination. No Republican voted against Neil Gorsuch. One Republican voted against Samuel Alito — Lincoln Chafee, who by that time had virtually left the GOP by any . . . metric. No Republican voted against John Roberts. Bob Packwood and Jim Jeffords voted against Clarence Thomas. No Republican voted against David Souter. No Republican voted against Anthony Kennedy.

Yesterday on Twitter, I saw Democrats wishcasting, “We just need to persuade three Senate Republicans to vote No to block Trump’s nominee!” (As noted above, it’s technically two, but maybe they’re expecting one of the three Democratic senators who voted for Gorsuch to vote for the next nominee.) This is where I want to insert the “one does not simply” meme of Boromir from The Lord of the Rings.

Guys, you’ve had three Republican senators vote no on a GOP president’s nominee, in total, since 1991. Presuming the nominee is qualified and scandal-free and doesn’t completely slip on a banana peel in the confirmation hearings, you’re going to have a tough time peeling away even one GOP senator. Voting against a qualified Supreme Court nominee and derailing that nomination because of Democratic pressure is a career-ender for any GOP senator.

But a unanimous Democratic caucus is not guaranteed. Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana voted for Gorsuch in April 2017. All three are running for reelection in red states. Assuming the confirmation vote is in late summer or early fall, all three will face the decision of voting “Yes,” and being able to tout their independence and difference from the rest of the party, or voting “No,” and handing their GOP opponents a major issue for the final months of the campaign. (It is also conceivable that by early fall, Manchin, Heitkamp, or Donnelly or perhaps all three appear to have no chance in November and may feel free to vote “No.”)

For what it’s worth, the gang at SCOTUSBlog predicts, “Any serious potential nominee is — barring a shocking discovery — essentially a lock to get at least 55 votes. The vote will be before the midterms. Democratic Senators defending seats in states Trump won have little to gain and lots to lose in opposing, because they can’t block the nominee.”

Up until last year, Democratic senators could have contemplated filibustering the nominee. The first filibuster of a Supreme Court justice was Lyndon Johnson’s nomination of Abe Fortas — who was already on the Court — to become chief justice in 1968. Then in 2006, some Senate Democrats — including then-senator Barack Obama, as well as Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer — attempted to filibuster Samuel Alito, but they only had 25 votes. (By 2016, President Obama said he “regretted” his attempt to filibuster Alito.)

In 2013, frustrated with how the Republican Senate minority was using the filibuster, Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democrats nuked the filibuster for judicial nominees except for the Supreme Court. On October 24, 2016, when everyone thought Hillary Clinton would win the presidency, the retiring Reid said he expected that Senate Democrats would nuke the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations as well.

But the electorate threw a curveball, and suddenly it was Senate Democrats who wanted to use the filibuster to block a nomination from President Trump, Gorsuch — even though, as many observed at the time, naming Gorsuch to Scalia’s old seat didn’t really change the dynamic of the court. Some observed that Democrats would be wiser to keep the filibuster in their back pocket for when they really needed it — like the replacement for Kennedy. Instead, Democrats attempted a filibuster, and Republicans nuked the filibuster, citing Harry Reid’s 2013 decision as precedent. Jan Crawford, legal analyst for CBS News, called squandering the filibuster on the Scalia’s replacement “one of the biggest political blunders in modern history.”

Actual CNN Column Sub-Headline: ‘All White Men Are Not the Evil Empire.’

Jen Psaki — former Obama White House communications director, and also a former employee of defeated New York representative Joe Crowley — notices that a lot of progressives saw Tuesday night’s surprise finish entirely through the lenses of race, age, and gender.

The progressive Twittersphere is making it sound like the defeat of Joe Crowley is akin to defeating a combination of Darth Vader and Donald Trump. This is not only ludicrous, it is missing the point. A liberal-leaning immigration advocate who voted with progressives most of the time is not the enemy. The enemy is sitting in the White House. And he won’t be defeated if liberal-leaning white men are not allowed to be a part of the fight.

This is where we are, folks. Former Obama administration officials are trying to restrain excessive obsessiveness with identity politics.

ADDENDUM: A funny comment on my Facebook page about the Democratic calls to abolish ICE: “Can’t I just celebrate — for one brief second — that there’s a Democrat somewhere, anywhere, that supports abolishing a federal agency?”

Elections

The Winner of Last Night’s Big Primary… Wants to Abolish ICE!

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (YouTube screengrab via Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)

Every once in a while, the primary electorate really surprises you — like last night in New York City when Congressman Joe Crowley, the No. 4 leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives and a ten-term incumbent, lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Bernie Sanders organizer.

It was just two months ago that Politico wrote, “Rep. Joe Crowley — buoyed by a caucus thirsty for change and his rising national profile — is angling to become the next House Democratic leader if Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats fall short.” (File this under, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.”)

Here’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s perspective on illegal immigration:

As overseen by the Trump administration, ICE operates with virtually no accountability, ripping apart families and holding our friends and neighbors indefinitely in inhumane detention centers scattered across the United States. Alex believes that if we are to uphold civic justice, we must abolish ICE and see to it that our undocumented neighbors are treated with the dignity and respect owed to all people, regardless of citizenship status.

She spent the last weekend before the election outside the detention facility in Tornillo, Texas.

In The Nation, she went even further, calling for a post-Apartheid South Africa–style “truth and reconciliation commission” to review the agency’s conduct and practices. As Sean McElwee put it in that article, “the goal of abolishing the agency is to abolish the function.” At least in some circles, the objection of the hard Left is not to the current style or kind of immigration enforcement; their objection is to the existence of immigration enforcement.

That Nation article also concludes, “It’s time to rein in the greatest threat we face: an unaccountable strike force executing a campaign of ethnic cleansing.” In the current climate, Democrats have a nice winnable position of, “Treat everyone with decency and respect, even if they entered the country illegally.” Instead, the hard Left wants to push their stance towards, “Our law-enforcement officials are comparable to Slobodan Milosevic.”

(This is a D+29 district, so don’t get your hopes too high about a GOP upset in November.)

One of the emerging storylines of this cycle had been that despite the higher Democratic turnout and energy among anti-Trump activists, the Bernie Sanders wing of the party — and more specifically, the group that grew out of his campaign, Our Revolution — hadn’t really had a signature primary victory. As of last week, fewer than half of their endorsed candidates had won their primaries, and some of the candidates that Sanders campaigned with were finishing in distant second and third places. Political correspondents were starting to wonder just how much the highly touted Sanders campaign email list was really worth. In Ocasio-Cortez, Our Revolution has its big winner yet.

Sanders also campaigned for Ben Jealous, who won a crowded Democratic gubernatorial primary in Maryland last night — so Our Revolution can put another feather in its cap. The bad news for Jealous is that incumbent Larry Hogan is one of those Republicans who ought to be endangered in this environment but who is, so far, looking extraordinarily strong in his reelection bid.

Last night at his primary victory party Hogan joked, “Six percent of Marylanders strongly disapprove of the job we’ve been doing. Every single one of them is running for governor.”

The Reality Is . . . She’s Not a Winner After All

Score one for accountability:

Reality L. Winner, a former Air Force linguist who was the first person prosecuted by the Trump administration on charges of leaking classified information, pleaded guilty on Tuesday as part of an agreement with prosecutors that calls for a sentence of 63 months in prison.

Ms. Winner, who entered her plea in Federal District Court in Augusta, Ga., was arrested last June and accused of sharing a classified report about Russian interference in the 2016 election with the news media.

Ms. Winner, who is now 26, has been jailed since her arrest and wore an orange prison jumpsuit and white sneakers to the hearing. Her decision to plead guilty to one felony count allows the government both to avoid a complex trial that had been scheduled for October and to notch a victory in the Trump administration’s aggressive pursuit of leakers.

Sometimes it’s reasonable to ask, “Why aren’t they doing something about the leakers? Where is Jeff Sessions?” Well, here’s the Department of Justice doing what its supposed to do.

Be Careful With that Flyer Stuck Under Your Car Windshield Wiper . . .

In this morning’s “what the heck?” news . . .

A Texas deputy was treated at a hospital and then released on Tuesday after she touched a flyer suspected of being laced with fentanyl, a potent and potentially deadly opioid.

The sergeant found a flyer on her windshield, removed it and soon began feeling light-headed, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.

She went to the hospital for treatment, according to Gonzalez. A Tuesday afternoon tweet from the sheriff’s office said the deputy was treated for possible fentanyl exposure and released from the hospital.

An investigation revealed that the flyers had been placed on more than 10 vehicles, and one of the fliers tested positive for fentanyl, Gonzalez said.

The positive fentanyl test did not come from the flyer on the sickened sergeant’s vehicle, but all flyers are currently being tested, a spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff’s office told USA TODAY in an email.

The fliers were found on cars near a precinct that houses the Houston-area sheriff’s department’s violent crime unit and homicide division.

It’s almost enough to make one yearn for the simpler days of the Unabomber and anthrax mailings . . .

ADDENDA: After Charlottesville, the Alexandria GOP baseball shooting, and protests of Trump administration officials’ homes, some people are saying, “It’s never been this bad.”

I beg to differ, as I start to read Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence.

“People have completely forgotten that in 1972, we had over nineteen hundred domestic bombings in the United States,” notes a retired FBI agent, Max Noel. “People don’t want to listen to that. They can’t believe it. One bombing now and everyone gets excited. In 1972? It was every day. Buildings getting bombed, policemen getting killed. It was commonplace.”

Bombings today often mean someone dies. The underground bombings of the 1970s were far more widespread and far less lethal. During an eighteen month period in 1971 and 1972, the FBI reported more than 2,500 bombings on U.S. soil, nearly 5 a day. Yet less than one percent of the 1970s-era bombings led to a fatality; the single-deadliest radical-underground attack of the decade killed four people.

Politics & Policy

How the Number of ‘Credible Fear’ Refugees Skyrocketed in the Obama Years

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People caught crossing the border illegally in custody at the McAllen Border Patrol Station in McAllen, Texas, July 15, 2014. (Rick Loomis/Pool via Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: How our refugee system works, and how the number of “credible fear” cases before the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service exploded during Barack Obama’s presidency; David Lynch makes a surprising assessment of our politics (or maybe it’s just his doppelgänger from the Black Lodge), and Leaving Cloud 9 hits bookstore shelves.

Is the Asylum-Application Process Being Abused?

In the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980, Congress defined a refugee as a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country, and cannot obtain protection in that country, “because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Refugees can request asylum and, if granted, they are protected from being returned to their home country, are authorized to work in the United States, may apply for a Social Security card, may request permission to travel overseas, and can petition to bring family members to the United States. Asylees may also be eligible for certain benefits, such as Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance.

If a person who does not have permission to enter the country encounters an immigration official, they can inform the official that they have a “credible fear” of being tortured or prosecuted if they return to their country. Then they will be taken before an immigration judge with an opportunity to prove that they “either have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion if returned to their country.” (This is all language from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services web site.) Fears of prosecution are not sufficient for entry if there is evidence that the applicant is a potential threat to the United States.

It’s fair to wonder whether fear of a cartel or gang, or other groups of criminals is what the law intended when it referred to “persecution.” Traditionally, persecution is done by someone in a position of official or semi-official authority.

The number of “credible fear” cases skyrocketed during the Obama years. In fiscal 2009, there were 5,523 cases handled by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. The number of cases increased slowly during Obama’s first term; in fiscal 2012, CIS handled 12,056 cases. But in fiscal 2013, the annual total nearly tripled to 33,283, and the year after that jumped to 45,216. By fiscal 2016, it was up to its peak, 81,864. In fiscal 2017 — which covers roughly the last five months of the Obama administration and the first seven months of the Trump administration — the numbers dipped somewhat, to 69,152. In fiscal 2018 so far, it is 24,774 cases.

As I asked on Twitter over the weekend, did the world get 16 times more dangerous from 2009 to 2016? (I’ll bet quite a few critics of the Obama administration’s foreign policy would say, “Well, yeah!”)

Or did the Citizenship and Immigration Service get more lenient in its assessment of “credible fear”? Or did migrants coming across the border get instructions on what to say to immigration officials to meet the threshold for “credible fear”?

Last year, in an article about Latin American migrants, the Guardian offered this quote:

“Domestic violence is one of the main motivations for women fleeing Central America but which has been made invisible by the domination of the gang discourse,” said Amarela Varela, a migration and gender scholar at the Autonomous University of Mexico City.

An abusive boyfriend or husband is a crime and a tragedy, but that does not make a woman a refugee. If our law redefines refugee as anyone fearing any violence from anyone, we will turn the United States into the shelter for everyone in an abusive relationship or in a dangerous neighborhood around the world. Keep in mind, the United States has welcomed more than 1 million legal immigrants a year since 2004.

We would be well served to focus on why the number of people seeking and meeting the “credible fear” threshold octupled in a four-year span. We are a generous and merciful country, but we expect our rules to be followed. If your life experience doesn’t meet the legal definitions and requirements to be considered a “refugee,” and you’re granted asylum anyway, then you are abusing the system. The asylum system is designed to protect refugees and political prisoners and human-rights activists, not to be used as an easier backdoor alternative to the regular immigration system.

As the boss notes on the Corner, “About 90 percent pass [credible fear] interviews, even though less than 20 percent ultimately get asylum. Clearly, we should be tightening up on the front end before a migrant making a dubious claim enters into a years-long legal process.”

But because there are likely to be at least some genuine refugees, with send-me-back-to-my-home-country-and-authorities-will-torture-or-kill-me status, we still need some sort of system for emulating these claims. When President Trump tweets, as he did Sunday, “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came” . . . well, it’s kind of hard to square that sentiment with “the rule of law.”

David Lynch, Not Quite a Trump Fan, But Not Quite a Critic, Either

You probably saw the surprising headline, “David Lynch: Trump could be remembered as one of the greatest presidents.” The famously strange and enigmatic director’s full comment is a little more nuanced.

Politically, meanwhile, Lynch is all over the map. He voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary and thinks – he’s not sure – he voted Libertarian in the presidential election. “I am not really a political person, but I really like the freedom to do what you want to do,” says the persecuted Californian smoker.

He is undecided about Donald Trump. “He could go down as one of the greatest presidents in history because he has disrupted the thing so much. No one is able to counter this guy in an intelligent way.” While Trump may not be doing a good job himself, Lynch thinks, he is opening up a space where other outsiders might. “Our so-called leaders can’t take the country forward, can’t get anything done. Like children, they are. Trump has shown all this.”

From that, he sounds pretty disengaged from the day-to-day debates roiling our politics and merely appreciating Trump more as an outsider figure than for any of his policies.

But status as an outsider isn’t inherently good or bad; almost everyone begins as an outsider, except for the offspring of powerful politicians like Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson and Florida governor Rick Scott were outsiders when they first ran for statewide office. So was recently resigned Missouri governor Eric Greitens and infamous Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura. Oprah, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, liberal billionaire activist Tom Steyer, and outgoing Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz are all “outsiders” the way Trump is, but they would pursue drastically different policies. It’s not hard to imagine a future president who has all of Trump’s unfamiliarity with Washington, how laws are made, and how the government works, but with Leftist ideology.

My obsessive appreciation for the original version of Twin Peaks is well established, but that short-lived legendary series is easier to appreciate than Lynch himself. As a creator, he’s like strong liquor — not for everyone, and sometimes better appreciated with a mixer such as Peaks co-creator Mark Frost, who can take Lynch’s otherworldly visions and translate them into something more grounded and with a more traditional narrative. (I don’t care how much the two men insist they’re on the same page; Frost’s books paint a dramatically different and much more accessible portrait than the Showtime series did.)

Lynch is clearly sometimes brilliant but also indisputably, deeply weird — far too strange for most people to connect with — and he returns to the “life is a dream” themes so much that one wonders if, in his mind, the dreaming world and the awake world blur.

It’s Publication ‘Day One’ for Leaving Cloud Nine

It’s publication day for a new book from our old friend Ericka Andersen — Leaving Cloud 9: The True Story of a Life Resurrected From the Ashes of Poverty, Trauma and Mental Illness. As the excerpt on NRO shows, this is not necessarily easy reading, but if you need to be reassured that people can overcome the hardest and most depressing circumstances, and that if you’re going through hell, keep on going, because someday you may emerge safer and wiser and stronger, this is the book for you.

ADDENDUM: Today I’m scheduled to appear on HLN around 12:30 Eastern — talking about civility, politics, and the current trajectory of our public discourse.

Politics & Policy

Representative Maxine Waters Calls for Political Violence

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Waters walks in a Fourth of July parade in Los Angeles in 2013. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Alcorn)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Maxine Waters advocates mob politics; examining Gavin Newsom’s particular brand California progressivism; and a look at Derek Hunter’s new book.

Does She Know Where This Leads?

Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters, calling for attacks on the Trump administration at a rally in Los Angeles Saturday: “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”

How exactly does Maxine Waters think this is going to shake out?

Does she think this tactic will be used only by leftist protesters, only against Trump cabinet officials, and that in no circumstance will “pushing back at them” lead to violence against those targeted individuals? Does she think that there is no possible scenario where the security details assigned to protect cabinet officials from harm respond to threatening behavior with force? Does she think that there’s a scenario where the cabinet officials, the president, and his supporters in general decide that because so many leftists are angry, they had better change their minds and their policies?

Does she envision a near-future where Trump and the Right in general avoid policy proposals that offend or anger Leftists, out of a fear of being targeted for “pushback” that will make them unwelcome anywhere?

The only counter-evidence for these scenarios is the entirety of human existence and the complete history of angry mobs. Angry mobs are not discerning or careful. They do not distinguish between their initial target and anyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Charles Murray described how an angry mob at Middlebury College attacked political-science professor Allison Stanger as she attempted to walk him to his car after a disrupted speech event:

I didn’t see it happen, but someone grabbed Allison’s hair just as someone else shoved her from another direction, damaging muscles, tendons, and fascia in her neck. I was stumbling because of the shoving. If it hadn’t been for Allison and Bill keeping hold of me and the security guards pulling people off me, I would have been pushed to the ground. That much is sure. What would have happened after that I don’t know, but I do recall thinking that being on the ground was a really bad idea, and I should try really hard to avoid that. Unlike Allison, I wasn’t actually hurt at all.

Stanger disagrees with Murray politically — but the mob didn’t care; she was next to him and for that she got a concussion.

Angry mobs are not good for deterring a particular unwanted behavior. They are good for instilling fear and giving a lot of people an excuse to let out all of their antisocial or violent impulses with a thin patina of moral righteousness. “I’m not harassing and assaulting another human being, I’m standing up for human rights!” No doubt the man who tried to kill as many GOP congressmen as he could at the baseball field in Alexandria, Va., believed he was standing up for good causes and doing the right thing.

Harassment of public figures on the right is only going to lead to harassment of public figures on the left. No doubt everyone remembers their own favorite example of a breach of decorum and proper behavior: the guy in the Miami cheesecake factory, Joe Wilson shouting out “you lie!” at an Obama address to Congress, the man who dumped a beer on a lawmaker in a bar, the guy who harangued Ivanka Trump on a flight. The fake blood thrown at the private home of an NRA lobbyist. The guy who threw water at Tomi Lahren in a restaurant in New York. The audience disruptions at Julius Ceasar and Robert De Niro’s A Bronx Tale.

Some no doubt would argue that the president himself threw gasoline on this fire. At a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in February 2016, Trump said, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, okay. Just knock the hell — I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise.” And then in Saint Louis a month later, Trump lamented that no one sufficiently hurts protesters at his speeches: “Nobody wants to hurt each other anymore, right? And they’re being politically correct the way they take them out, so it takes a little bit longer. And honestly, protesters, they realize it. They realize that there are no consequences to protesting anymore.”

This is a genie that does not go back into the bottle easily. A lot of people in politics remember the examples of their side being attacked and conclude this is how the entirety of the opposition wants to play the game. The rallying cry on the Right on Twitter these days is “you’re going to hate the new rules” — basically conservatives cheerfully announcing they or their brethren will adopt any tactic used by the Left. Turnabout is fair play; what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. (Lord knows I’ve long lamented the glaring double standard and the need for one bipartisan set of rules for public debate.)

The problem is that this cycle of tit-for-tat leads more and more people conclude that the opposition only understands the language of force and that they cannot be negotiated with, persuaded, or even tolerated in a form of coexistence.

We could steer away from this path, if there was a broad, across-the-spectrum denunciation of comments like the one from Waters, reemphasizing that in the United States, we settle our differences through debate and discourse and the ballot box and in the courtroom — not by stirring up an angry crowd and implying (or maybe more than implying) a threat of physical violence against the political opposition. But that’s too much to ask in this polarized — Balkanized? — environment, isn’t it?

A Look into California’s Likely Future

Comedian Dennis Miller used to joke that Ted Kennedy was “the distilled essence of liberalism — emphasis on distilled.” Gavin Newsom — the former San Francisco mayor, current lieutenant governor of California, and likely the next governor — could be similarly characterized as the distilled essence of his state’s unique brand of liberalism — except that could be interpreted as an unfair shot at Newsom’s 2007 statement about a “problem with alcohol.”

While I was on vacation last week, NR ran the profile I wrote about Newsom. A few details that got trimmed out:

  • The connections between powerful California political families are fascinating. (Gavin Newsom’s aunt, Barbara, was married for almost two decades to Ron Pelosi, the brother-in-law of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.)
  • As the Sacramento Bee summarized, “Newsom opened [his] wine shop in 1992 with the financial backing of family friend and oil fortune heir Gordon Getty. Newsom’s father, a classmate and close adviser of Getty, urged another prominent friend, John Burton, to recommend then-Mayor Willie Brown to appoint him to a vacant seat on the Board of Supervisors.” It’s not often you read sentences like, ‘[Gordon and Ann Getty] paid about $233,000 toward his first wedding reception.”
  • Newsom is now married to Jennifer Siebel, a feminist documentary filmmaker whose works include Miss Representation and The Mask You Live In. On October 6, after the revelations about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, Seibel wrote, “Based on my years in the industry and unfortunately, my own personal experience with Harvey Weinstein, I can tell you that I believe every single word that was written.”
  • Siebel did not specify when Weinstein’s “aggressive advances” toward her occurred. But she said that the world needed more powerful men like “my very own husband Gavin Newsom who understand their place of privilege in the public eye and use it to defend and protect those who need defending.” Unfortunately, Weinstein had donated $5,000 to Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign in 2009. On October 13, Newsom donated an equivalent amount to a nonprofit organization — an awkward announcement that he was effectively returning a donation from a creep who had harassed his own wife.
  • There’s little reason to think that as governor, Gavin Newsom would deviate much from the current Democratic status quo. He pledges “guaranteed health care for all,” which would probably require at least another $100 billion in taxes, to “alert immigrants of ICE activity,” to put the state on the path to “100 percent renewable energy,” which would require changing about 70 percent of the current suppliers, to eliminate all diesel pollution by 2030, and to create a state-level technology-research institution like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It’s all as ambitious as his pledge to end long-term homelessness in ten years.

Good luck, California.

The Flaws of Modern Journalism Do Not Make the Mission Any Less Important

An important conclusion from Derek Hunter’s newly-released Outrage, Inc: How the Liberal Mob Ruined Science, Journalism, and Hollywood:

For all the problems I have with modern journalism, journalism itself is incredibly important. Or at least it should be. And you won’t find many people who love movies more than I do or are a bigger supporter of the pursuit of truth.

That last part, the pursuit of truth, permeates everything else. Without it, nothing has meaning, nothing matters. If the truth is Play-Doh, it can be molded and bastardized to fit whatever the holder of it wants it to. . . .

The United States, or any other free people, needs access to accurate, truthful information. Without it we’re serfs making decisions based on lies told by those in power. When you make decisions based on lies, you are under the control of those feeding you the lies. . . .

The American people have never been more misinformed by the media, but they’ve also never had more access to more information. The house of cards that is the mainstream media will either fall or be forced to change completely. Until that happens, it’s up to you not only be informed but to inform others.

ADDENDA: If you haven’t already, check out NRPLUS, National Review’s new membership undertaking offering lots of benefits — including a Facebook group where editors and writers (including yours truly) pop in regularly and chat with readers. Get complete information here.

The best news of the morning: While she’s still got a difficult road ahead, GOP congressional candidate Katie Arrington is expected to make a full recovery from a serious car accident that occurred Friday night. She is expected to continue her campaign and could be walking around in a few days. God bless her.

Politics & Policy

The New Democratic Party

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Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during an event to introduce the “Medicare for All Act of 2017” on Capitol Hill in 2017. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

It’s a strange news day today to cap off an intense week. Jim Geraghty will be back on Monday. Today we look at the political future of the Democratic party and read from Nicholas Eberstadt’s diagnosis of the North Korea summit.

Democratic Candidates Are Marching Left

Are the Democrats moving leftward? Mike Konczal, a writer and fellow at the progressive Roosevelt Institute, says the answer is yes. In response to a column in The Week by Ryan Cooper, who lamented that Democrats do not “put forward a consistent party line on economic issues,” Konczal perused the campaign websites of a smattering of Democrats. He found large-scale agreement on a set of key economic issues: “Every candidate but one has expanding Medicare on their website, either as a public option or as single-payer. All but one has a living wage, with the majority explicitly stating $15 an hour as the goal. Some version of free college, most notably the ‘debt-free’ model, was represented across the board.”

That Democrats are increasingly embracing radical policies might seem obvious to conservatives who take for granted the party’s leftward orientation. But this is in fact a meaningful shift for the party, which during the Clinton era was defined by marrying social liberalism to center-left, neoliberal economics. A Democratic party whose lodestar is economic populism might be a potent electoral force. A shift in this direction is certainly something to attend to.

But there are obstacles in the way of the Democrats, who increasingly rely on the votes and dollars of upper-middle class whites, from implementing mass redistribution to fund these social programs. Konczal is aware of the uncomfortable fact that raising taxes is simply an unpopular thing to do, hence his admission that “the work is going to get harder.” It’s easy to run on something; much harder to actually pass these laws when you are in power.

Konczal points out another problem: prioritization. Party rhetoric increasingly casts all of these economic policies as matters of basic justice: It simply ought to be the case that people are guaranteed free college, free health care, and a living wage, by the state. But how to prioritize among these policies when you take control of the government? The pressure from progressive interest groups will be immense, and voters might feel bitterly disappointed if something they were told is a basic human right is put on the back-burner.

So there are problems with the new Democratic agenda that make it something other than an inevitability. But the Left has plenty of intelligent people working to solve them. Conservatives should think about what a world where that work pays off will look like. Maybe then the calls for a slight relaxation of GOP orthodoxy — pass some kind of universal catastrophic health insurance, offer larger tax credits refundable against more liabilities, open up the college system to expand online education and loosen accreditation rules — will begin to seem more attractive. For now, recalcitrance is what we’re getting, no matter how risky it might be.

Kim Wins in Singapore

The new print issue of National Review features a must-read cover story by Nicholas Eberstadt on the North Korean summit. Eberstadt, one of the world’s leading DPRK experts, is the bearer of bad news:

Given the hopes that President Trump’s North Korea policy had generated in the roughly 18 months leading up to Singapore, the results were little short of shocking. There is no way to sugarcoat it: Kim Jong-un and the North Korean side ran the table. After one-on-one talks with their most dangerous American adversary in decades and high-level deliberations with the “hard-line” Trump team, the North walked away with a joint communiqué that read almost as if it had been drafted by the DPRK ministry of foreign affairs. . . .

Kim Jong-un’s first and most obvious victory was the legitimation the summit’s pageantry accorded him and his regime. The Dear Respected Leader was treated as if he were the head of a legitimate state and indeed of a world power rather than the boss of a state-run crime cartel that a U.N. Commission of Inquiry wants to charge with crimes against humanity. In addition to the intrinsic photo-op benefit of a face-to-face with an American president who had traveled halfway across the globe to meet him, the Dear Respected Leader bathed in praise from the leader of the free world: Kim Jong-un was “a talented man who loves his country very much,” “a worthy negotiator,” and a person with whom Trump had “developed a very special bond.” Kim even garnered an invitation to the White House. These incalculably valuable gifts went entirely unreciprocated.

Second: Kim was handed a major victory in terms of what went missing from the summit agenda. For the Kim regime’s security infractions are by no means limited to its domestic nuke and missile projects. . . .

. . . Third: Regarding the key issues that were mentioned in the joint statement, the U.S. ended up adopting North Korean code language.

Until (let’s say) yesterday, the U.S. objective in the North Korean nuclear crisis was to induce the DPRK to dismantle its nuclear armaments and the industrial infrastructure for them. Likewise with long-range missiles. Thus the long-standing U.S. formulation of “CVID”: “complete verifiable irreversible denuclearization.”  But because the nuclear quest is central to DPRK strategy and security, the real, existing North Korean state cannot be expected to acquiesce in CVID — ever. Thus its own alternative formulation, with which America concurred in Singapore: “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

In this sly formulation, South Korea would also have to “denuclearize” — even though it possesses no nukes and allows none on its soil. How? By cutting its military ties to its nuclear-armed ally, the U.S. And if one probes the meaning of this formulation further with North Korean interlocutors, one finds that even in this unlikely scenario, the DPRK would treat its “denuclearization” as a question of arms control — as in, if America agrees to drawing down to just 40 nukes, Pyongyang could think about doing the same. The language of “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” ensured that no tangible progress on CVID was promised in the joint statement.

One hopes there is nonpublic information mitigating our losses from the summit. But it is hard to place too much confidence in the administration. Read the whole cover story here.

ADDENDA: Your weekend reading: “Tribal World,” Amy Chua, Foreign Affairs; “The Campus Intersectionality Craze,” Elliot Kaufmann, Commentary; “Send Anarchists, Guns, and Money,” Jacob Siegel, Baffler

Biggest winners from last night’s NBA Draft: Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets. The Mavs were able to trade the rights of Trae Young — who, despite the Steph Curry comparisons, can’t finish at the rim or play defense — and a future first-round pick for perhaps the best prospect in the draft, European guard Luka Doncic. Doncic succeeded at the second-toughest level of competition in the world, the Euroleague, and is a guy Dallas can build around for the next ten years. Meanwhile, the Nuggets, at the 14 spot, picked Michael Porter Jr: a top-three talent who due to injuries slid down teams’ draft boards. But Denver is a budding team that can afford to bring him along slowly. And if he’s ready to play within the next couple of years, he’ll add dynamism and talent to an already-solid core.

Elections

Will Democrats Catch a November Wave?

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Anti-Trump protesters hold a rally outside Amsoil Arena during a visit by President Donald Trump in Duluth, Minn., June 20, 2018. (Adam Bettcher/Reuters)

Today, we take a look at recent polls in the upcoming midterm elections, the possible effect of rising home values on birth rates, and the administration separating itself from its own policy.

Midterm Update

For all the talk of a “blue wave” this November, the outcome of the midterm elections seems entirely in doubt. The Senate map is extremely favorable to Republicans; the Democratic lead in the “generic ballot” is nowhere near its double-digit highs from winter; Democrats did not do as well as they would have hoped in the recent California primary elections.

The widely followed Cook Political Report has downgraded two competitive House races in the Democratic direction. The seat of Barbara Comstock (R., Va.), representing the state’s tenth congressional district, is now considered a Democratic lean rather than a toss-up. Comstock faces Democratic state senator Jennifer Wexton. In Kentucky, the race between three-term incumbent Andy Barr, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Amy McGrath, is now considered a toss-up.

Some interesting polls have emerged in key Senate races. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) seems poised to fend off challenger Lou Barletta, whom I profiled last September. A Franklin and Marshall poll has Casey up 17 percentage points. Meanwhile, a Mason-Dixon poll suggests incumbent Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) is vulnerable: She trails Republican challenger Kevin Cramer 48–44. Two recent polls from Wisconsin show Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin with a solid lead (eleven and nine percentage points), while a Monmouth poll puts Joe Manchin up 50–39 over Republican Patrick Morrisey.

Plenty, however, depends on turnout, and none of these pollsters can see the future. The story of the midterm elections will be the story of two parties trying to turn out two countervailing groups of people: Democrats want to capitalize on their gains in white, upper-middle-class suburbia (especially among women), while Republicans want to tighten their hold on the white working class. The first group could turn the House election into a blue wave; the second group could form a countervailing red wave for the Senate. Trump has had a catalyzing effect on the Democratic base in most high-profile special elections since taking office, leading to the blue-wave chatter. Time will tell whether the GOP can muster a reciprocal wave of its own.

Home Values and Birth Rates

We know that the U.S. birth rate has broadly declined since 2008. For Millennial women, Zillow Research finds, that trend has been strongest in counties where home values have risen.

This is no proof that rising home values cause a decline in birth rates, but if that were the case, we’d expect to see data like this: “Birth records from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics show a strong negative relationship between home value growth and birth rate change across large counties in the U.S. for 25- to 29-year-old women, from 2010 to 2016,” Zillow writes. The effect they identify is significant: “On average, if a county’s home value increase was 10 percentage points higher than another county’s, its fertility rate fell 1.5 percentage points further.”

The trend doesn’t hold for some localities. Many of these are in the South, such as Miami-Dade County and Dallas County. Utah County, where Provo is located, saw its birth rate rise. For localities where the trend is unusually strong, look along the coasts: Los Angeles County, Orange County, Kings County, and Philadelphia County.

Zillow’s write-up of the research suggests there could be several causes for the trend. “One alternative explanation could be the possibility that there is clustering into certain counties of people with careers that pay well enough for expensive homes but make it difficult to have children before 30.” That is, people living in more-expensive houses might be the type to put off having kids, leading to a decline in birth rates that will even out as they age; it is well known that affluent Millennials are likelier to have kids later in life than were their elders.

But the more worrisome hypothesis is that higher housing prices will discourage people who might not be able to afford the rising costs of homeownership from deciding to settle down and have kids at all. This is an intuitively plausible explanation that researchers have set forth before. Though homeowners benefit from a bull market in real estate, those gains don’t flow to people who don’t own homes. In many cases, rising home prices might make it more difficult to attain financial stability. And contrary to cheap headlines that portray young people as a collection of irrational reprobates, plenty of us make decisions on a perfectly reasonable cost–benefit basis.

More research will be needed to confirm the trend. But for those of us with a strong prior in favor of market solutions to make housing cheaper, this would just mark another reason.

The Administration Separates Itself from Family Separation

The president signed an executive order yesterday purporting to end his administration’s practice of separating migrant children from their parents when families are found illegally crossing the border. But the crisis is far from over. More than 2,000 kids were detained before the order was signed, and Trump included no language to account for their situations. Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether the government has the resources to detain family units together as the order stipulates — much less the ability to do it legally, given the Flores consent decree prohibiting children from being held for more than 20 days. David French doubts the order is workable, while Dara Lind thinks the text is operative. The parade of incompetence marches on.

ADDENDA: I didn’t know Mike Potemra, NR’s late literary editor, personally, but the remembrances posted to NRO in the wake of his death were touching, and Mike’s writing was that of a deeply human, obviously intelligent man. Today the staff of National Review attends his memorial mass.

The NBA draft is tonight. Stay tuned for my thoughts in this space tomorrow. What I’m watching for tonight: Will Kawhi Leonard be dealt? Will the Kings go with Luka Doncic at No. 2? And who will be willing to take a flier on Michael Porter Jr.?

Music critics have had a difficult time dealing with the string of new Kanye West-associated albums. DAYTONA, the Pusha T album for which he was executive producer, was unimpeachable; critics swallowed their tongues and gave it high marks. If Yeezy’s solo project, ye, was uneven, it also featured some of his most personal work and interesting production. The album polarized critics, sometimes within their own reviews: Pitchfork’s Meaghen Garvey tore album and artist to shreds as her editors gave the album a respectable 7.1. But the next project, Kids See Ghosts by West and Kid Cudi, is Kanye’s best work in five years. Trendy outfits such as Pitchfork and The Ringer couldn’t bear to admit that Ye had returned to glory. Only Anthony Fantano was willing to admit the obvious.

Economy & Business

Should We Worry about the Flattening Yield Curve?

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Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell speaks at his news conference after the two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) on interest rate policy in Washington, June 13, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

In today’s Jolt, we’ll take a look at the bond markets and what they could mean for continued economic growth; how other countries are handling migration issues of their own; and Chuck Schumer’s resistance to legislative fixes to the family-separation crisis at the border.

It’s Time to Pay Attention to the Bond Markets

“Should we worry about the flattening yield curve?” That’s the question everyone was asking after last week’s Federal Reserve meeting and the subsequent market action. (“Everyone” might be a generous word.) The “yield curve” is simply the difference between treasury-bond yields of different maturities. Take the spread between the two-year yield, which is hovering around 2.5 percent, and the ten-year yield, which is hovering around 2.9 percent. The two–ten curve is the difference between those two numbers, and it currently sits at 37 basis points, or 0.37 percent: flatter than at any point since 2007.

Financial writers and investors often cite the two–ten curve as a relevant piece of information. Because the two-year yield is a rough signal of the bond market’s expectations for monetary policy over the next two years, and the ten-year yield is a rough signal of market expectations for growth and inflation over the next ten years, the difference between the two provides a clue as to how much room the market thinks might be left in an economic expansion.

If the spread between the two treasury yields is large — if the curve is steep — that suggests markets think the central bank has room to raise rates over the next two years without affecting prospects for future economic growth. A flatter curve, such as the one we have today, reflects, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, “investors’ confidence that the Federal Reserve will maintain its current pace of interest-rate increases despite continuing skepticism about the longer-term outlook for economic growth and inflation.” An inverted two–ten curve, meanwhile, is conventionally seen as a harbinger of a recession.

The Jay Powell–led Fed raised rates last week in an altogether expected move. It also included language that suggests it will take a moderately more hawkish stance to monetary policy than it did when the bank was led by Janet Yellen. With the economy ten years into its expansion and the yield curve flattening, should we worry about a recession? Is the business cycle about to turn?

Maybe not. External factors, such as large-scale bond purchases by central banks, pension funds, and foreign countries, can push down long-term interest rates; several commentators have argued that asset purchases by these entities are keeping the spread between short and long rates narrow. But former Bloomberg editor Robert Burgess points out that yield curves already have inverted overseas, and economist David Beckworth observes that the Fed itself seems to be willing to bring about an inverted yield curve. (Its estimate of the long-term federal-funds rate is 2.9 percent; it sees itself raising the short-term rate to 3 percent by 2019.) The yield curve is a wholly artificial metric, and the state of the underlying economy is what really matters. But it’s probably right to sound a note of concern.

Restrictive Migrant Policy Isn’t Just for the U.S.

It’s not just the United States that is flirting with a tougher policy toward migrants seeking to claim asylum. Several European countries are dealing with the issue as well. German chancellor Angela Merkel is facing political turmoil after Horst Seehofer, an interior official from the Christian Social Union party — a coalition partner of her Christian Democratic Union party — claimed the unilateral authority to turn back migrants coming from elsewhere in Europe. Merkel, who has consistently stressed the humanitarian importance of a permissive policy admitting migrants, has rejected the idea and called for an EU meeting to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, the new interior minister in Italy’s populist coalition government, Matteo Salvini from the right-wing Northern League, made waves last week by denying a ship with more than 600 migrants harbor at an Italian port. The move coincides with the Northern League taking the lead in polls for the first time. (Seehofer reportedly congratulated Salvini over the phone — restrictionist interior ministers stick together.)

Walter Russell Mead makes a necessary point about all of this in the Wall Street Journal. He writes:

Africa’s population, currently estimated at about 1.26 billion, is projected to double by 2050. Many of those additional people will be poor, but smartphones and the internet will keep them informed of the enormous gap between European and African living standards. It’s likely that for the next several decades many countries in Africa (as well as the Middle East and Central Asia) will remain underdeveloped, torn by civil and religious violence, and producing large numbers of desperate young men.

Europe simply cannot deal with these pressures unless it develops much stronger tools to control migration. Today, such ideas remain unthinkable among respectable European politicians, but that equilibrium is fragile. Almost two-thirds of Europeans cite either migration (38 percent) or terrorism (29 percent) as one of the European Union’s two most important problems, according to the most recent Eurobarometer poll. Addressing climate change and strengthening Europe’s place in the world, causes much closer to the heart of the European establishment, were each cited as important by only 11 percent of those surveyed.

This issue is not going away. It is likely to intensify over the coming decades as hotter temperatures and droughts in sub-Saharan Africa and across the Middle East propel more migrants to Europe. As these domestic disputes and the fierce debate they have provoked in the European press reveal, the continent still has not figured out what its approach to migrants ought to be.

One major theme of Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe is that Europe came about its current stance on immigration without a proper debate. The postwar necessity for migrant labor quickly elided into a lasting ideology of large-scale immigration whose justifications shifted depending on the interlocutor. Such an approach will not suffice; its political downsides are becoming clear as the “responsible” architects of Europe’s permissive immigration policy yield to populists. If these responsible actors want to prevent demagogues from exploiting the immigration issue, then they need to respond to the concerns of their voters with something beyond vague bromides about the value of inclusion.

Yes, more family separation

The front pages of the U.S.’s newspapers remain focused on family separation. Last night, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer announced that he opposes congressional action to end the practice because, “when the president can do it with his own pen, it makes no sense.” This rationale seems even more ridiculous when one considers that Republicans have drafted narrowly tailored legislation that would address the family-separation issue head-on. The administration, rather grotesquely, said it would block any legislation that did not also resolve surrounding immigration-policy questions. But if Democrats and Republicans were to agree on a bill, they could form a supermajority and render these negotiating tactics moot. I want to believe that our congressional leaders would put the best interests of the country before their own political interests and find a quick resolution to this problem. But Democrats might want to use this issue against Republicans for the midterm elections. There’s a reason Americans are deeply cynical when it comes to the legislative branch, and this is it.

ADDENDA: I’d like to plug “Taiwan’s Challenge,” my first print article for National Review, which appears in the June 25, 2018, issue. I’d like to mention that the NBA Draft is tomorrow, and Friday’s edition of the Jolt will feature plenty of words breaking down the fallout from that glorious occasion. And I’d like to stipulate that the Beach Boys’ album Sunflower is superior to the Beatles’ Abbey Road. See you all tomorrow.

Politics & Policy

The Con Woman of Silicon Valley

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Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of Theranos, attends a panel discussion during the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in New York, September 29, 2015. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Yesterday’s Jolt dealt with family separation and a growing trade dispute with China. Much of the big news of the day again pertains to none other than family separation and a growing trade dispute with China. President Trump has announced 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods; China has vowed to retaliate; Trump has vowed to retaliate if they retaliate. Look for equity markets to slide today. Later, we’ll take a look at Theranos’s Elizabeth Holmes and her fall from grace in Silicon Valley.

Will Congress Put an End to Family Separation?

Some background, in case you haven’t been following the story: The Trump administration has been prosecuting all who are found illegally crossing the border. Many of these people are Central American asylum seekers who enter the country as family units. Because of a Bush-era consent decree, when they claim asylum the parents are detained separately from their children, who are being taken into the custody of HHS in makeshift shelters. Right now, thousands of kids, separated from their parents, are being held in such facilities. It’s grim.

Enter Congress. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) took a first pass at an anti-family-separation bill that would generally cripple the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward those crossing the border illegally. It won the support of all Democrats, but no Republicans have signed onto it. Last night, Ted Cruz (R., Texas) proposed a bill that looks as if it has a real chance at passing. The bill is narrowly tailored to solve the family separation problem, directing that the resources currently going toward child shelters go toward family shelters, doubling the number of immigration-court judges and ordering them to handle the asylum claims expeditiously, and forbidding the practice of family separation. Rumblings out of D.C. indicate that a House bill could be on the way as well.

Elizabeth Holmes’s Fall from Grace

Theranos was among the hottest startups just three years ago. Now its founder Elizabeth Holmes and former COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani have been charged with felony counts of wire fraud. It’s a precipitous fall from grace for the woman who had been hailed as the next Steve Jobs — she had a habit of wearing black turtlenecks and insisting she would change the world — and once had a net worth of $4.5 billion. But the charges are no surprise to anyone who has been following the story.

Dogged work by Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou cast light on Theranos’s issues with its blood-testing technology in October 2015. The company had said it was using groundbreaking, proprietary technology to test people’s blood with just a pinprick — marking a revolution in the medical-device world. But, Carreyrou reported, it had been struggling with its proprietary devices. Put simply, they didn’t work. Theranos had resorted to using other companies’ devices to test patients’ blood samples, but since those devices required a larger amount of blood to conduct the tests, it had to dilute the samples. All of this led to accuracy problems, and Theranos, then under contract with Walgreens, was conducting unreliable tests on the pharmacy’s behalf.

Is it fair to extrapolate the case of Theranos to the rest of Silicon Valley? Certainly the negative consequences of the move-fast-and-break-things ethos have become clear over the last few months, and dispatches from within Theranos’s doors evoke other Silicon Valley horror stories. But Matt Levine — to my mind the best morning-newsletter writer in the business outside of Brother Geraghty — identifies the salient distinction between Theranos and, say, a certain “disruptive” juicer company that wound up not having the goods:

It seems right to me that, of all the startups to charge with wire fraud, prosecutors went with the one whose allegedly fake blood tests allegedly endangered patient lives. You really can’t prosecute every little startup exaggeration as wire fraud. A lot of those exaggerations — quite possibly even a lot of Theranos’s — are motivated by CEO overconfidence and delusion, and it is hard to distinguish among the CEO who promises the impossible because she is committing fraud, the CEO who promises the impossible because she is deluded, and the CEO who promises the impossible and then goes and does it. All three types flourish in Silicon Valley.

And Silicon Valley is basically a good ecosystem. It produces a lot of good stuff and makes a lot of venture capitalists rich. And sometimes startups fail, and sometimes it turns out that they were lying to their investors, but the investors — in aggregate, in expectation — are okay with that. The investors want to be lied to! They want to look into the eyes of entrepreneurs, and see the abyss staring back at them, and say “well okay this is weird, let’s see where this goes.” Move fast and break etc. etc. etc., you know the drill; you put your money on weird rebels pursuing high-variance outcomes, and when the variance is high—in either direction—you congratulate yourself for your boldness.

Not everyone in Silicon Valley is a delusional con woman hell-bent on making herself rich off the diluted blood of patients who just wanted to find out if they had a disease; it’s just Elizabeth Holmes.

The Harvard Admissions-Discrimination Case

Harvard University almost certainly discriminates against Asian Americans in its admissions process. Documents were released last week in the course of a lawsuit by Students for Fair Admissions against the university that shed light on the process. The National Review editorial explains:

Evidence shows the discrimination happens along two lines. First, Harvard evaluates applicants according to a “holistic” process that considers, in addition to their academic, extracurricular, and athletic achievements, “personal” qualities: whether they have demonstrated “humor, sensitivity, grit, leadership,” etc. Asian Americans consistently rank below others on the personality metric, despite the fact that admissions officials never meet most applicants. The internal review showed that Asian Americans were the only demographic group to suffer negative effects from the subjective portion of the evaluation. Second, even after the subjective criteria are taken into account, the university tips the scales further by adjusting for “demographics.” The specifics of this adjustment have been redacted by the university, but the review found that the share of admitted Asian students fell from 26 percent to 18 percent after it was made.

Having skimmed over the relevant documents, I’m struck first by how overtly the university trafficked in racial stereotypes against Asian Americans. It frequently referred to them as “busy but bright” and was significantly more likely to give them “standard strong” ratings in the personality portion of the admissions evaluation, a rating that denotes a strong academic profile with little else to round it out. Yet Asian American students consistently piled up better-than-average ratings on the extracurricular portion of the evaluation. It was the personality metric on which they faltered. Harvard admissions officials were guilty of trafficking in some of the most well-trod stereotypes against Asian Americans without ever having met them: According to Harvard, they are undifferentiated drones who don’t have social skills, aren’t natural leaders, and can’t contribute to a vibrant community in meaningful ways. It is despicable that Harvard has been getting away with this for so long. One silver lining is that the political damage the university has been taking might encourage it to reform its admissions system, win or lose in court.

One issue that didn’t make it into the editorial that deserves some consideration was raised by Michael Brendan Dougherty in a Corner post last Friday. A better college-admissions system, he suggests, might allow universities to choose what their mission is and tailor their admissions criteria from there. This follows from the general principle that civil society ought to allow institutions to choose what type of institution they want to be. If Harvard thinks it is better off balancing its demographic in a certain way to cultivate a racially representative group of people for membership in the American elite, then it ought to make that case (though this would probably be illegal). We might benefit from a frank conversation about the potentially manifold roles that universities ought to play in our country. But Harvard’s deception certainly doesn’t help. Nor does its blatant racist stereotyping.

ADDENDA: Vladimir Putin will be hosting former FIFA president Sepp Blatter at the World Cup, a meeting between two of the worst people on the planet. Here are three essays you should try and read this week:

1) “David Lynch Keeps His Head,” by David Foster Wallace, Premiere, 1996

2) “The Face of Seung-Hui Cho,” by Wesley Yang, n+1, 2008

3) “The Killa in Manila,” by Christopher Caldwell, The Weekly Standard, 2018

Immigration

Family Separation at the Border Is Set to Dominate the Week’s News

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A demonstrator carries a Mexican flag while climbing the border fence between Mexico and the U.S., during a protest against the immigration policies of U.S. President Donald Trump’s government, in Tijuana, Mexico, May 10, 2018. (Jorge Duenes/Reuters)

Your humble correspondent will be filling in for Jim Geraghty this week.

Family Separation

The Trump-administration practice of separating families when they are detained for crossing the border illegally is coming under fire. The administration had been taking heat from the left, but over the weekend, several Republicans broke ranks. Senators Susan Collins and Jeff Flake penned a letter to Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (who is currently getting dragged on Twitter over the controversy) asking her to end the practice. Laura Bush wrote an op-ed for the New York Times calling it “cruel” and “immoral.” Melania Trump’s office issued a rare statement that concluded: “We need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.” The issue is all over the major newspapers and, I’m told, cable news.

Family separation has been happening for a while, but the criticism is approaching a crescendo. This is the story of the week, so it’s important to define our terms. The administration doesn’t exactly have a policy of separating children from their parents once family units are detained for crossing the border. The relevant policy is its zero-tolerance approach to illegal border crossings: Prosecute all adults who are found to be illegally entering (in contrast to the Obama-era policy of “catch and release,” which allowed family units entry into the U.S. interior while their cases were being adjudicated and was a major contributor to the current crisis). Rich Lowry explains:

When a migrant is prosecuted for illegal entry, he or she is taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals. . . . The child is taken into the custody of HHS, who cares for them at temporary shelters.

The criminal proceedings are exceptionally short, assuming there is no aggravating factor such as a prior illegal entity or another crime. The migrants generally plead guilty, and they are then sentenced to time served, typically all in the same day, although practices vary along the border. After this, they are returned to the custody of ICE.

If the adult then wants to go home, in keeping with the expedited order of removal that is issued as a matter of course, it’s relatively simple. The adult should be reunited quickly with his or her child, and the family returned home as a unit. In this scenario, there’s only a very brief separation.

Where it becomes much more of an issue is if the adult files an asylum claim. In that scenario, the adults are almost certainly going to be detained longer than the government is allowed to hold their children. That’s because of something called the Flores Consent Decree from 1997. It says that unaccompanied children can be held only 20 days.

The combination of the administration’s zero-tolerance policy, a scarcity of detention facilities, asylum claims by parents facing illegal-entry charges, and the Flores Consent Decree adds up to scores of children being held in converted Wal-Marts.

It’s a ghastly spectacle that is hard to defend. And the Trump administration has not exerted much effort in defending it. On Friday, Trump tried to lay blame at the foot of congressional Democrats, a talking point that has gotten little traction among even his most committed defenders. While some officials have privately defended the policy as a gruesome-but-necessary measure to deter future Central American asylum-seekers from crossing the border illegally, on-the-record defenses of the practice are conspicuously rare. The New York Times reports that the administration is internally divided over the measure. And the well-crafted first-person narratives in the media of young mothers who entered the United States only for their kids to be wrested away will only worsen the PR nightmare. I’d bet something changes sometime soon.

What are the available alternatives? It seems logical that the resources required to build these temporary shelters for children could instead go to building temporary shelters for family units. Then the families would be kept together as the gears of the law slowly turn, and the debate would shift to the zero-tolerance policy itself. The problem of the Flores Consent Decree could be solved by Congress, though as of now the anti-family-separation bills have been too broad to secure a consensus. And over a longer time frame, restrictionists could focus their energy not on cracking down on border crossings but on internal enforcement: a robust E-Verify policy that punishes businesses who hire illegal immigrants and causes many to leave on their own accord. (Maddeningly, the administration has been reported to oppose E-Verify.)

Trump succeeded as a candidate largely because he treated immigration as a contested issue. There are plenty of restrictionists in the United States whose concerns, for years, were ignored by Washington. But building a policy regime of tighter borders that lasts beyond the Trump administration means more than just returning the issue to the political map or taking provocative executive action against illegal border crossers — it means crafting legislation that can get through both houses of Congress and building a coalition for immigration restriction that extends beyond committed Trump supporters. There is plenty of misinformation in the family separation debate, to be sure. And on the margin, the practice indeed might deter some Central American asylum seekers from crossing the border. But over the long term, it will make the cause of immigration restriction ever harder to defend.

China Tariffs

China announced it will impose tariffs on $50 billion worth of U.S. goods in the latest retaliatory round of the ongoing trade war. The ball is now in Trump’s court, and it’s easy to see the president, who had vowed to retaliate if China retaliated, retaliating. The standoff appears to be weighing on global markets and generally increasing risk, and in a recent editorial, the Wall Street Journal explained that Trump’s steel tariff is hurting ordinary American businesses, including a locker-manufacturing company that happens to employ 400 factory workers in the Midwest. Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell threw cold water on a bill that would have helped reassert congressional authority over the imposition of tariffs. Tariff mania won’t end anytime soon.

Addenda: I went to Heterodox Academy’s inaugural Open Mind Conference last Friday, along with fellow NR colleagues Christian Gonzalez and Madeleine Kearns. It was fascinating. Stay tuned for some more thoughts on a slower news day.

Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open for the second year in a row at Shinnecock Hills. The tournament was notable for being a standard U.S. Open: impossible course conditions, rowdy fans, and complaining Europeans.

Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio and into Los Angeles. I could do without Kawhi’s weak excuses — the Spurs are a model franchise and everyone knows it — but the possibility of him teaming up with another superstar (or two) on the Lakers is a fascinating one.

Politics & Policy

Cancel the Monday Meetings for the Pakistani Taliban Leaders — And Everything Beyond That, Too

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(Akhtar Soomro/Reuters)

This is the last Jim-written Jolt for a week. Buckley Fellow Theodore Kupfer will pinch hit while I’m out; I’ll be back Monday, June 25.

Happy Friday! Whatever kind of a week you’ve had, you’ve had a better one than Mullah Fazlullah Khorasani.

The leader of the Pakistani Taliban was killed by a U.S. drone strike, an Afghan official said Friday.

Mullah Fazlullah Khorasani was Pakistan’s most-wanted militant and blamed for attacks including a 2014 school massacre that killed 132 children and the 2012 shooting of schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In March, the U.S. offered a $5 million reward for information on Fazlullah.

. . . Pakistan is considered key to persuading Afghan Taliban leaders, who Washington believes shelter on Pakistani soil, to open negotiations to end the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.

Prior to the Afghan Defense Ministry stating that Fazlullah had been killed, several members of the Pakistani Taliban told NBC News they had been unable to make contact with him and other senior commanders since receiving word of the strike.

They said they feared four other top commanders may also have been killed.

I’m starting to read Steve Coll’s S Directorate, which is about the U.S. War on Terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 9/11 to the end of the Obama years.

In the United States, a lot of the public and some of the foreign-policy wonks have a mentality that suggests if the U.S. government applies the right combination of attention, resources, military force, diplomatic pressure, and finesse, we can get the outcome we want in foreign policy. You see it in questions such as, “How can we bring peace to the Middle East?” or “How can we stop North Korea?” We don’t like to spend a lot of time thinking, “What if managing the problem — keeping the status quo in place — is as good an outcome as we can produce?”

We may find that the status quo in Afghanistan — a rickety, corrupt, pro-U.S. government that controls the cities and not much else — is about as good as it gets. The Pakistani intelligence service has always had close ties to the Taliban. I think it was Bing West who said on one of the NR cruises that, to a young man growing up in a poor village in the remote provinces of Afghanistan, joining the Taliban and playing mujahedeen warrior is a lot more glamorous and exciting than being a farmer or goat herder. While not all Afghans supported the Taliban’s brutal rule, the population is largely deeply religious.

If 9/11 had never happened, both Republican and Democratic administrations probably would have been content to continue the pre-9/11 policy towards the Taliban — nonrecognition, denunciation, and small-scale aid to their nominally pro-Western enemies. The world has a lot of oppressive regimes; what set the Taliban apart was its hosting of al-Qaeda, a group that explicitly endorsed and promoted attacks against Americans. If Mullah Omar had agreed to our demands that he turn over bin Laden and shut down the al-Qaeda training camps, the U.S. might have been content to leave the Taliban in charge in 2001.

You haven’t heard much about Afghanistan in the news or in our foreign-policy discussions in recent years. Every once in a while we hear further whispers that President Trump would like to withdraw all U.S. troops from the country. You might have missed that the Afghan government and Taliban announced a brief holiday cease-fire. But if you had to guess what Afghanistan will look like five years from now . . . doesn’t it seem likely that it will look more or less the way it does today?

The Partisan FBI

As mentioned yesterday, the FBI inspector general’s report is bad for the FBI. Bad for Jim Comey — he used his private email for official business! — bad for former attorney general Loretta Lynch, and really bad for lead agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. It’s also bad for any of us who would like to trust the judgment of the nation’s preeminent law-enforcement agency.

What’s interesting is that everyone who wants to poo-poo Trump’s “deep state” talk is pointing to all of the times the IG report concludes it did not find evidence that bias influenced or altered the decision-making of FBI employees. But the inspector general can’t put a charge like that in there unless it’s airtight — and even then, it makes that assessment for one of Strzok’s decisions.

The inspector general concluded that Strzok’s text of “we will stop him” along with others disparaging Trump, “is not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.”

That’s about as harsh as an inspector general is going to get. That’s “burn him at the stake” in federal bureaucrat-ese.

Anyone who reads through the complete report will find that the IG didn’t exonerate the bureau at all, and it was more just than a handful of bad apples. One identified agent working on the Clinton case — separate from Strzok and Page — texted to another, “I find anyone who enjoys [this job] an absolute f***ing idiot. If you dont think so, ask them one more question. Who are you voting for? I guarantee you it will be Donald Drumpf.” In a different exchange on September 9, 2016, the agent said, “i would rather have brunch with trump and a bunch of his supporters like the ones from ohio that are retarded.”

The agents later told the IG they did not think their political and personal views affected the integrity of the investigation. It’s one thing to contend that your political views didn’t affect your decision-making; it’s another to contend that your bristling charge that anyone who disagrees with your political preference is “retarded” never affected your judgment or decision-making.

You’ll recall that when I reviewed Comey’s book, I called attention to one passage that everyone else seemed to gloss over, describing the October 27, 2016, meeting where he and his top staff concluded that they had to inform Congress that the investigation into Clinton’s emails had been reopened:

As we were arriving at this decision, one of the lawyers on the team asked a searing question. She was a brilliant and quiet person, whom I sometimes had to invite into the conversation. “Should you consider that what you are about to do may help elect Donald Trump president?” she asked.

I paused for several seconds. It was of course the question on everyone’s mind, whether they expressed it out loud or not.

“It is a great question,” I said, “but not for a moment can I consider it. Because down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent force in American life. If we start making decisions based on whose political fortunes will be affected, we are lost.”

Comey makes the right choice . . . but clearly at least one FBI lawyer felt comfortable suggesting that the FBI should not inform Congress about new developments in the investigation, as promised, because it could help elect Trump.

Is it a great question? Or is it arguing that the primary national law-enforcement organization in the United States should alter its decision-making process because it might hurt their preferred candidate?

How many other people in the room were thinking the way this unnamed lawyer did?

Uh, Director Comey, Were You in a Coma for a Few Years There, or What?

The most implausible claim in the 500-page report:

Comey said that he recalled first learning about the additional emails on the Weiner laptop at some point in early October 2016, although he said it was possible this could have occurred in late September 2016. Comey told the OIG that this information “didn’t index” with him, which he attributed to the way the information was presented to him and the fact that, “I don’t know that I knew that [Weiner] was married to Huma Abedin at the time.”

Really? Really?

Because the Anthony Weiner sexting scandals — er, both rounds of them, both 2011 and 2013 — were not exactly obscure news. Huma Abedin wasn’t exactly an obscure figure, either. All kinds of media wrote variations of “Why the heck is she still married to him?” columns.

You’re in charge of investigating things, and you somehow missed one of the biggest, most salacious, and heavily covered political scandals of the past decade?

ADDENDA: A new poll finds Maryland governor Larry Hogan ahead by double digits in his reelection bid against all rivals. I profiled Hogan’s record as governor in NR a few months ago.

Politics & Policy

Pop Some Popcorn: The FBI Inspector-General Report Gets Released Today

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FBI Director James Comey attends a news conference on terrorism after speaking at the NYPD Shield Conference in the Manhattan borough of New York, December 16, 2015. (Darren Ornitz/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: It’s likely to be a very uncomfortable day for James Comey and perhaps the entire FBI; Hollywood and Broadway rage at Trump and forget that they’re supposed to be master storytellers who can change people’s minds; and congressional Republicans begin to get a little irritated with the pace of Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Buckle Up for the IG Report

This afternoon, FBI inspector general Michael Horowitz is expected to release his report about how the bureau handed the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server in the run-up to the 2016 election . . . and it is not expected to be pretty.

The report is expected to blast Comey for straying from Justice Department guidelines when he held a July 5, 2016, news conference to announce that there would be no criminal charges brought against Clinton and also to accuse her of carelessness in her use of the private email server. Typically, the FBI’s role would be limited to referring its findings to the attorney general. It would then be up to prosecutors to decide whether to bring criminal charges. The Justice Department — not the FBI — would typically make any public announcements about the case.

Comey is not the only high-profile Obama administration official whose actions are expected to draw criticism Thursday. Comey has said he was prompted to take extraordinary action in the Clinton case, in part, because he believed then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch showed poor judgment when she met privately in June 2016 with former President Bill Clinton when their planes were parked on the tarmac in Phoenix.

This morning, CBS News said the report would call Comey “insubordinate.”

But there’s more. Observers expect the report to address whether Andrew McCabe should have recused himself from investigating the Clintons, and whether he intentionally delayed looking at emails discovered on Anthony Weiner’s laptop; he was informed in late September or early October 2016, but nothing happened for three weeks. It’s hard to believe the IG report will offer a flattering portrait of Peter Strzok, who helped oversee the Clinton inquiry, or Lisa Page — for either their affair or their comments in their text messages. Recall that both Strzok and Page went on to work for Robert Mueller’s investigation for a period of time before resigning. And the report is likely to at least discuss reports of FBI leaks to the press.

‘When They Go Low . . .’ Eh, the Democrats Go Just as Low in Response

Does it mean something that Frank Bruni, the left-of-center New York Times columnist, sounds like he’s getting fed up with some corners of #TheResistance? He’s openly worrying that the Democrats will louse up their efforts in the midterms and 2020 because of all the rage, the profanity, the conspiracy theories, the doomsday predictions:

The more noise, the less discernment. The more fury, the less focus. Proportion and triage are in order, and that means an end, please, to the Melania madness. Floating the idea that she’s a victim of domestic abuse merely supports Trump’s contention that his critics are reflexive and unfettered in their contempt for him and that all of their complaints should be viewed through that lens.

“When they go low, we go high,” said another first lady, Michelle Obama, at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. It’s a fine set of marching orders, disobeyed ever since. It was definitely ignored by those of you in the Manhattan theater where the Tony Awards were held on Sunday. You answered [Robert] De Niro’s expletives with a standing ovation.

No one will change their rhetoric or behavior because of a Frank Bruni column, of course. This is because very few Trump critics — or advocates, for that matter — believe they’re in a public debate to persuade some undecided middle. We’re approaching the middle of Trump’s second year in office. Saturday will mark the three-year anniversary of Trump descending from the escalator in Trump Tower and launching his campaign. Just about everybody already knows what they think of him, and I suspect at least 35 to 40 percent of Americans on either side of the partisan divide are pretty much “locked in” on their opinion, and the rest are pretty firmly in place. Only Trump’s actual actions, and actual changes in circumstances — the economy, war, terror attacks — are likely to change those views.

De Niro wasn’t aiming to persuade anyone; he was preaching to the choir — not all that differently than most cable-news hosts, talk-radio hosts, columnists, or bloggers. And sometimes the choir needs to hear some preaching.

But as I mentioned on CNN earlier this week, the irony is that the Tony Awards celebrates and honors . . . great storytellers and performers. The wealthy, talented, inspired, gifted people in that room are supposed to be really good at catching our attention, telling us a story about people in a compelling and unforgettable way, getting us to feel emotions, taking us on a moving journey, and leading us to think about subjects in a new way.

De Niro could have shared the story of the illegal immigrant from Honduras who was caught, detained, and allegedly separated from her daughter immediately after breastfeeding. He could have asked whether we, as Americans, really want an immigration policy that separates children from parents if they are caught entering the country illegally, and whether we feel this sort of action makes us any safer. I’ll bet there are a lot of immigration hawks who would say, “You know, I’m not comfortable with that.”

But instead De Niro dropped the F-bomb. Hope it was worth it, Taxi Driver.

Earlier this week, Politico reported that the Democratic National Committee and members of Congress are “turning to Hollywood for help with voter turnout and messaging ahead of the midterm elections and 2020 presidential campaign, quietly consulting with a group of actors, writers and producers.”

Right now, a lot of people are scoffing, thinking of all the times they’ve watched some insufferable video or commercial featuring ill-informed celebrities lecture them, or creepily “pledging to serve” a particular politician.

Still . . . if you want Americans to sympathize with a gay man suffering from HIV, you cast Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. If you want Americans to remember that 18 members of the armed forces were killed and another 73 wounded in Somalia, in what could be seen as a key precursor to the war on terror, you make Black Hawk Down. You could even argue that if you want audiences to hate South Africa’s government, you make them the villains in a Lethal Weapon 2.

The Mueller Investigation Approaches Its 14th Month

We’re now approaching the 14th month of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — and it’s starting to test the patience of previously sympathetic GOP lawmakers: “A growing number of Republicans in senior leadership positions, who all profess that Mueller should have no artificial deadline for his Russia influence probe, have also begun to sprinkle in another suggestion: It’s time to wrap it up.”

Look, it’s possible that sometime soon, Robert Muller starts popping out indictments like a Pez dispenser, not merely for lying to investigators or for financial shenanigans unrelated to the Trump 2016 campaign, but over a concerted effort to coordinate with Russia to influence the election. But that’s been a possibility for quite a while now. And each morning we wake up and learn that Paul Manafort is in deeper hot water about his shady consulting, or that some Russian political consultant we’ve never heard of and who’s far from American soil is being indicted for obstruction of justice . . .

. . . but on the question of collusion, we must wait. Month after month.

And no matter how much Mueller wants to be seen as a straight shooter, above politics, and not interested in influencing the upcoming midterm elections, if the final report comes out in the fall, a lot of people will perceive it as a deliberate October surprise.

A lot of folks point out that Mueller’s moving fast by the standards of an independent counsel; recall Lawrence Walsh was named in 1986 and issued an indictment of Caspar Weinberger in 1992.

But the scale of the crime alleged is epic, and if proven, the crime would require rectification as soon as possible. The cloud of suspicion has hung over this president since before he was sworn in. If Donald Trump and his staff really did cooperate with Russia in an effort to determine the outcome of the presidential election, he would have to be removed from office as quickly as possible.

But if Mueller comes back with a report that makes that conclusion, with sufficient supporting evidence, a lot of people will ask, “Why are you telling us this in the latter half of 2018?” or even later.

ADDENDA: The editors have had it with Scott Priutt.

Politics & Policy

‘We Didn’t Put It in the Agreement because We Didn’t Have Time’

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President Donald Trump walks off the stage after a news conference after his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore, June 12, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Some folks think I was too hard on President Trump, his comments, and the overall gist of the potential agreements at the Singapore summit. I wonder if those folks saw the comments from the president such as, “You have things that weren’t included that we got after the deal was signed. I’ve done that before in my life. And we didn’t put it in the agreement because we didn’t have time.”

Didn’t have time?

What, was there some other place these guys needed to be? Was either leader worried about missing a flight or something? Trust me, Air Force One isn’t going to take off without the president. This isn’t the SAT, and there is no proctor declaring “pencils down” when the hour is complete.

I suppose you could argue that it didn’t matter if the North Korean pledges were written down or not . . .

. . . because this regime has violated its own written pledges again and again.

North Korea signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1985 and promised not to develop nuclear weapons and to allow full access to any international inspectors. They broke that pledge.

In 1992, they signed a joint declaration with South Korea committing to “denuclearization.” They broke that pledge. Later that year, they signed an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency agreeing to full inspections. They broke that pledge.

In 1993, the North Koreans signed an agreement with the United States that included, “assurances against the threat and use of force, including nuclear weapons.” They broke that pledge.

Then in the 1994, North Korea signed the “Agreed Framework” freezing their nuclear program . . . that they continued in secret.

In 2000, North Korea signed an agreement to “not launch long-range missiles of any kind” and “greater transparency.” They didn’t honor that one, either.

On September 19, 2005, North Korea signed the agreement at the six-party talks “committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards.” On October 9, 2006, North Korea tested its first nuclear device.

In 2007, North Korea agreed to disable its key plutonium production facilities at Yongbyon and to provide a “complete and correct” declaration of its nuclear program by the end of the year. North Korea slowed down the destruction of the Yongbyon facility, provided an incomplete accounting of its nuclear program, and refused on-site inspections, making it impossible to verify its claims.

Since then, North Korea has tested five more nuclear devices.

I keep hearing from Trump fans, “Why can’t you show a little optimism?”

Well, because optimism requires us to believe that these latest promises are completely different from all of the previous promises from this regime. The skepticism I have about this latest round of promises from North Korea is the exact same skepticism I bring to the Iran deal, which every Trump fan is thrilled to see scrapped. History teaches us that hostile regimes lie a lot. It’s not a matter of the United States not reaching out to them in the right way. If they have the opportunity to cheat, they will cheat. One might argue that duplicity is intrinsic to the nature of any regime that is unwilling to subject itself to the limit of free and fair elections. No one’s ever looked at a dictator, tyrant, despot, or ayatollah and said, “Wow, that guy’s a really honest leader.”

Trump’s fans are convinced he’s got some unique “don’t mess with him” mojo that will intimidate the North Koreans into keeping their promises. I hope they’re right. Maybe Trump has communicated that breaking a promise to his administration will indeed bring “fire and fury.” If it works out, give him the Nobel.

But I think any U.S. leader hoping to successfully negotiate a deal with the North Koreans has to keep all of this history of broken promises in the back of his mind.

Judging from Trump’s comments, he wants to approach Kim Jong-un with a clean slate: “Look, he’s doing what he’s seen done, if you look at it. But I really have to go by today and yesterday and a couple of weeks ago because that’s really when this whole thing started.”

Meanwhile, Down in the Palmetto State . . .

John Warren made the gubernatorial runoff in South Carolina!

Incumbent governor Henry McMaster has been involved in South Carolina politics and government for a long time, starting with staff work for Strom Thurmond in the mid 1970s. Ronald Reagan chose him to be a U.S. attorney back in 1981. He served on the state’s Commission on Higher Education in the early 1990s and was chairman of the South Carolina Republican party from 1993 to 2002. He was elected state attorney general in 2002, reelected in 2006, ran for governor in 2010, and elected lieutenant governor in 2014. No doubt most South Carolina Republicans would concur he’s gotten more things right than wrong over the course of his career, but he basically is the personification of the state’s political establishment. McMaster endorsed Trump early; Trump endorsed McMaster — in fact, some speculate that one reason Trump was eager to have Nikki Haley work in his administration was because her departure would make McMaster the governor.

The runoff is in two weeks. This is the first time a sitting governor has been forced into a runoff in South Carolina. While McMaster will no doubt enjoy the political advantages of incumbency, don’t underestimate the restlessness of South Carolina Republicans. Warren is emphasizing his status as a self-funded outsider who doesn’t owe any special interest any favors. (Sound familiar?)

In the southern coastal counties of South Carolina, Katie Arrington beat incumbent Representative Mark Sanford, 50.5 percent to 46.6 percent.

In a monumental upset fueled by a Donald Trump tweet, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford lost his Republican primary to Katie Arrington, a one-term state lawmaker who made loyalty to the president the centerpiece of her campaign.

The defeat, which carries national implications, marks the first time Sanford has lost an election, which began with his first congressional bid in this very district in 1994.

Yesterday afternoon, after Trump tweeted his endorsement of Arrington, I wrote, “Arrington probably would have preferred this endorsement more than three hours before polls close.” As much as that sounds like a shot at Trump, that’s really a shot at his staff. No doubt the president was occupied with the summit in Singapore and other presidential priorities; it’s the job of somebody on his staff to keep an eye on the primaries in the states, keep track of where the president has a rooting interest and when a presidential endorsement would be useful.

(Sanford, who Trump described as “MIA and nothing but trouble,” votes with the president 73 percent of the time.)

Reason magazine laments his departure as a figure in Congress who was “a consistently principled voice for liberty and limited government.”

Democrats will probably try to talk themselves into believing that this district is in play, but it’s worth recalling that back in May 2013, when Elizabeth Colbert Busch against Mark Sanford in his comeback bid in a special election, Democratic-leaning groups dumped about a million dollars in television advertising into this district . . . and lost by nine points.

Trump won this district 53 percent to 40 percent in 2016.

Contemplating Anthony Bourdain’s Legacy

Before we proceed, some key prefaces: Anthony Bourdain was insightful breath of fresh air, wickedly funny, and he encouraged a massive audience to nurture their curiosity and sense of wonder about the world around them. He will be dearly missed.

I agree in part and disagree in part with this Kyle Smith column about Bourdain — I think his fans were attracted by a lot more than his arm tattoos — but I’m glad someone else observed the strange contradiction in Bourdain’s beliefs. He embraced, and endorsed, a philosophy of recognizing and appreciating the wide range of not-easily-detected differences in the world of food — the “foodie culture” — but he could then turn around and roll his eyes at beer snobs, “people sitting there with five small glasses in front of them, filled with different beers, taking notes.”

There was one other aspect of Bourdain’s life that looks a little more odd and troubling in the aftermath of his suicide. On both No Reservations and Parts Unknown, at least once a season — usually with his buddy Zamir Gotta, sometimes not — Bourdain would go to some establishment and, surrounded by friends and laughter, get drunk.

Not slightly tipsy drunk, but falling-down drunk, on camera, in Romania, Sicily, and a few other episodes. This didn’t happen every episode, but it clearly was more than a one-time excess. One wonders if that was a sign that he was struggling with problems that were otherwise hidden by his largely jovial, sarcastic personality.

ADDENDA: This morning, FIFA announced the United States, Mexico, and Canada will jointly host the 2026 World Cup. I can only imagine how many bribes this deal required. Maybe we really will be competitive in the World Corruption Games!

My co-host Greg Corombos lets Virginia Republican primary voters know what they’ve signed on for with Corey Stewart.

National Security & Defense

North Korea Wins Suspension of U.S. Military Exercise in Exchange for Promises, Magic Beans

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President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during the signing of a document after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. (Anthony Wallace/Pool via Reuters)

I wanted to give the president and the administration the benefit of the doubt on the North Korean summit. After all, as Winston Churchill said, “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

Let’s start with the positive. If Trump is right, then indeed the North Koreans have made the largest concession we wanted: “They’re going to get rid of their nuclear weapons. . . . Now, we’re going to see. I mean, they’re going to start working on it immediately. We’re going to work with South Korea. We’re going to work with Japan. We’re going to work with China.”

The problem is that the North Korean regime has broken its word in the past, many, many times. And denuclearization is extremely tough to verify unless you have far-reaching access within the country:

Analysts agree that the only way to confirm whatever nuclear promises North Korea’s might make over time would be “an intrusive monitoring and inspection system,” as Frank Aum, a former Department of Defense senior advisor on North Korea, puts it. But Aum notes that any successes from the summit would more likely be broad verbal and written commitments, with specific details still months or years away. …

The crucial difficulty in holding North Korea accountable for anything is that no one knows exact inventories of what facilities and materials North Korea has where. Even if the country were to agree to admit foreign inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency or another body, the examiners would only know to ask to see certain sites.

In other words, we don’t know what we don’t know — meaning that even with our advanced intelligence-gathering resources and amazing technical abilities, we won’t be able to know, 100 percent, if North Korea is keeping its denuclearization promises.

The road to the summit yielded a few permanent concessions, in the form of returning detained Americans, and several reversible concessions: The missile test launches have stopped, the nuclear testing has stopped.

But America just agreed to North Korea’s top demand.

Trump says, “We will be stopping the war games.”

Are we stopping all joint drills and exercises with the South Korean and Japanese military forces?

Trump sounds like he thinks giving up joint exercises with our allies is some sort of win for American interests.

We stopped playing those war games that cost us a fortune. You know, we’re spending a fortune, every couple of months we’re doing war games with South Korea, and I said, “What’s this costing?” We’re flying planes in from Guam, we’re bombing empty mountains for practice. I said “I want to stop that and I will stop that,” and I think it’s very provocative.

For a long time, the American national-security philosophy was, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Preparation for a conflict was the most effective way to ensure that no rival was too eager to start a conflict. Trump appears eager to end that tradition in the name of saving money, despite the many painful lessons of history.

The silver lining here is that if the United States or its allies determined North Korea was not living up to its promises, the war games could re-start. This morning, when I appeared on Hugh Hewitt’s program, he reminded me that the next joint exercise isn’t scheduled to start until next spring — so we’ve got nearly a year to see if North Korea intends to keep its promises.

Trump said, “They blew up a [nuclear] site, which was the real deal site that was their big site, they’ve blown it up.”

Experts who reviewed the available footage and satellite images think the nuclear-test site tunnels were only partly destroyed, and could be rebuilt if the regime wanted.

Analysis of ground photos and video taken at North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site (courtesy of Sky News) from the recent site closing event can confirm only that the test tunnel entrances were sealed. At most, two other point detonations were carried out (as was claimed) in each of the three tunnels, while the tunnel branches probably remain intact. While the procedures carried out by the North Koreans will make reusing the site difficult in the future, regaining access to the completed test tunnels at the South and West Portals may still be possible. However, enough demolition has been done that, if North Korea chose to reopen the test site, major excavation as well as construction of at least some support structures would be needed, and such activity would almost certainly be detectable via satellite imagery.

Trump appears eager to give the North Koreans full-credit for half-measures — which is exactly what they wanted.

Trump declares, “I trust him.” He also says, “I may be wrong. I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’ I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”

I suppose we should give the president some credit for unintended honesty. He isn’t certain he should trust Kim but feels obligated to say so for the sake of diplomacy. This is why Ronald Reagan used to say, “Trust but verify.” But it’s hard to feel celebratory about a slate of new promises from a regime you can’t trust.

Trump said, “His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.”

Remember when we fumed about the international media swooning over the North Korean cheerleaders at the Winter Olympics? Now the president of the United States is buying into their propaganda and repeating it on the world stage. Kim Jong-un runs a prison camp of a country and Trump is gushing about how much the prisoners love the warden.

Trump said that embassies between the two countries could open “hopefully soon,” although it’s “a little bit early for that,” and that he will go to Pyongyang “at a certain time” and that at some point, Kim Jong-un would be invited to the White House.

We’re well on the road to “normalizing” relations with arguably the world’s most reckless, hostile, and dangerous regime. (I wonder how Otto Warmbier’s family feels this morning.) If you can hold smiling, hand-shaking, praise-flowing summits with Kim Jong-un, why not with Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran?

Politically, Trump has an advantage here. In Obama’s second term, Republicans objected to Obama’s Cuba and Iran policies, but there simply weren’t enough Democratic lawmakers who were skeptical of outreach. Today, Democrats may loathe Trump but they probably don’t mind the outreach to Kim; in their minds, this beats nuclear brinksmanship. Republican lawmakers may have their doubts about this outreach, but not many want to air their disagreements publicly.

It Just Wouldn’t Feel Like a Real International Summit without This Guy . . .

This morning in Singapore, former NBA star and general all-around oddball Dennis Rodman, who has worked with both Trump and Kim Jong-un in the past, met with former presidential adviser on homeland security Tom Bossert. Last night, while wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, Rodman gave a tearful interview live on CNN, discussing the death threats he received after one of his previous visits to North Korea.

In other developments, judging from the sentences above, I appear to have taken LSD.

Pity the Deficit Hawks in a Party That No Longer Cares about Deficits

It’s primary day in several states, including Virginia and South Carolina.

Two of the GOP primaries that’s gotten more buzz in recent days are in my home away from home, the Palmetto State. There are five candidates for the Republican nomination: Governor Henry McMaster — the lieutenant governor who became governor in January of last year when Nikki Haley became U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — and Lt. Governor Kevin Bryant of Anderson, former Lt. Governor Yancey McGill of Kingstree, Mount Pleasant attorney Catherine Templeton, and Greenville businessman John Warren.

I saw Warren speak the last time I was down in Hilton Head, and he seemed like an impressive man with principled conservative stands. If I voted in South Carolina, I would vote for him. Unfortunately for him, I live in Virginia.

There’s some talk that incumbent Republican Mark Sanford could lose his primary to state Representative Katie Arrington; one poll had him ahead by less than a full percentage point. Some folks are chalking this up to Sanford’s intermittent deviations from Trump-ism, and while that’s no doubt a factor, I would throw in a few other points to keep in mind.

Sanford was part of the GOP class of 1994, and pledged to serve only three terms in the House, in keeping with his belief in term limits. He ran for governor and won in 2002; you probably remember the infamous “Appalachian Trail” business. He returned in 2013 for a special House election and out-hustled a crowded GOP primary field and then the much-hyped Democratic candidate, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of comedian Stephen Colbert.

Back in March, Sanford voted against the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, declaring that “it spends more than the country can afford. Instead of trying to offset the increases in military spending with cuts elsewhere in the budget, the bill went the easier route of simply increasing spending on all too many areas of government.” But the bill also included $1.6 in funding for the border wall, and Arrington is hitting him as “one of only five Republicans to vote against President Trump’s border wall.”

Sanford’s style of fiscal conservatism — even his plywood-and-spray-paint campaign signs look cheap — is out of style in the Trump-era Republican party. The district elected him in 2013, reelected him in 2014, and again in 2016. (That term limit pledge of 1994 feels like ancient history.) Sanford may hang on tonight, or he may not; if he doesn’t, it’s a sign that the ground of South Carolina Republicans shifted underneath his feet.

ADDENDA: Have you checked out NRPLUS? It offers a lot more than just a digital subscription. A membership has exclusive content that isn’t available on the website or in the magazine, invitations to exclusive NR events, full podcast archives, way fewer ads, a members-only Facebook group, live interviews and conversations with NR writers, editors, and thought leaders across our community, and early access and discounts to select events. It’s worth clicking through and checking out.

Economy & Business

Giving Canada Something to Cry A-Boot

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Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a G7 and Gender Equality Advisory Council meeting as part of a G7 summit in the Charlevoix city of La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, June 9, 2018. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

A busy and feisty Monday morning! Making the click-through worthwhile: Trump gets tough with a bunch of longtime American allies, but it’s not clear what the next step will be; a doctor asks about NIH funding and the suicide rate, but creates a dilemma for public discourse; the shining example of Charles Krauthammer and the inevitability of being hated for speaking your mind; and the never-quite-explicit calls for amnesty in the illegal-immigration debate.

Is there a Plan to Confront the Great Canadian Menace?

Donald Trump’s complaints about America’s allies and trade partners are usually down the street and around the corner from a legitimate point. Only four members of NATO spent 2 percent of their GDP on defense in 2017, the extremely reasonable request the alliance has made of its members. (The U.S. spent 3.5 percent.)

Through multiple presidencies of both parties, the United States government has complained that the Canadian lumber industry is unfairly subsidized by Canada’s national and provincial governments.

U.S. companies have a longstanding, well-founded objection to China stealing intellectual property from companies that do business there.

Of course, when Trump articulates these complaints, he rarely leaves a sense that these are moderate but resolvable problems in an otherwise healthy relationship. There’s a long tradition of countries cutting their allies slack that they wouldn’t cut to neutral countries or hostile states, but this carries no weight in Trump’s mind. From his perspective, the other country’s misdeed defines the relationship, and anything else is window-dressing.

Trump and his fans believe he’s demonstrating “toughness” in ways that previous presidents couldn’t. Perhaps. The question is, what happens after you’ve demonstrated your toughness? Does the other side capitulate, or does the other side dig in? No doubt it’s cathartic to visibly rage at the other side, but does it get you where you want to go?

Trump now interacts with the prime minister of Canada the same way he lashes out at Rosie O’Donnell, Mika Brzezinski, or Attorney General Jeff Sessions, by ripping into him on Twitter: “PM Justin Trudeau of Canada acted so meek and mild during our @g7 meetings only to give a news conference after I left saying that, ‘US Tariffs were kind of insulting’ and he ‘will not be pushed around.’ Very dishonest & weak. Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!”

Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, raged on Fox News Sunday: “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door . . . that’s what bad faith Justin Trudeau did with that stunt press conference.”

Talk about turning it up to eleven. When U.S. policymakers tell a foreign leader that there’s a special place in hell waiting for him, it’s usually a brutal dictator who’s committed atrocities and human-rights abuses.

I guess the thinking is that U.S. tariffs will hurt Canadian workers worse than Canadian tariffs will hurt U.S. workers, and Trudeau will come back to the table, begging for relief. Of course, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative — Trump’s own administration — in 2017, the U.S. exported about $8 billion more to Canada in 2017 than it imported. (The figures are a little muddied by goods that Canada exports to places such as Mexico by shipping them through the United States.)

When Trump and his team denounce Trudeau in such strong and personal terms, do you think they weaken or strengthen his resolve? Do you think they made it more likely or less likely that Trudeau will return to the negotiating table, ready to make concessions?

What is it that the president and the administration really want? My suspicion is that for Trump, the tough stance is the end, not the means to the end. Getting others to perceive you as “tough” and not easily swindled is the actual desired outcome, not the particular policy concessions. If the concessions come, great. If it turns into a prolonged, standoff, that’s fine; that’s just another opportunity to demonstrate “toughness” in a test of wills.

Do We Need More Federal Studies on Suicide?

Dr. David Friedman, writing in the New York Times, observes, “Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Yet last year, the National Institutes of Health spent more money researching dietary supplements than it did suicide and suicide prevention.”

Okay, except . . . 68 percent of Americans take dietary supplements, as of 2015, and that figure has remained pretty stable over the years. That calculates out to about 220 million people. I don’t mind NIH doing a lot of research into pills that 220 million Americans are taking.

Roughly 45,000 Americans commit suicide in a year; NIH studies calculate that roughly 10 million Americans have “serious thoughts” about suicide in a year.

Friedman means well, and perhaps increased funding and clinical research will indeed lead to reductions in the suicide rate. He’s probably correct when he writes, “we need to talk more openly about suicide, to help people see it as the treatable medical scourge that it is.” Except . . . we also know that media coverage of celebrity suicides can add to a copycat effect:

Nevertheless, there is some convincing evidence for a direct copycat effect. For example, in the book, Final Exit, a guide to suicide for terminally ill persons, asphyxiation is the recommended means of suicide. In the year that Final Exit was published, the number of suicides by asphyxiation in New York City rose by 313% from eight to 33. Furthermore, a copy of Final Exit was found at the scene of 27% of these suicides. A study of Quebec by Tousignant and his colleagues of 71 coroners reports determined that at least 14% of the suicides in the month following a widely publicized suicide of a popular Quebec journalist were at least partially linked to the story. Ninety percent of the suicides used the same method (hanging) as the role model in the story.

We need talk more openly about suicide, and talk more about suicide, but at the same time not inadvertently contribute to the ideation process among those who are depressed, struggling, or troubled. That’s not impossible to do, but not easy, either.

The Lessons of Charles Krauthammer

Friday afternoon, we received the gut-punch news that columnist, essayist, and television commentator Charles Krauthammer will not be with us much longer.

There’s not a lot that can be added to the tributes and appreciations that arrived almost immediately. Fay Vincent writes “he goes out like Lou Gehrig.” Chris Wallace offered an emotional salute to “a great man.” Jonah writes, “Charles is one of the most impressive and decent people I have ever known. He is a mensch in every sense.” What could unify Fox News’ Sean Hannity and CNN’s Brian Stelter these days? Not much beyond a tribute to Krauthammer.

The only silver lining to all this is that he (hopefully) gets to hear how much we appreciated him before he passes.

Every once in a while, I tell the story of applying to be his personal assistant back in the late 1990s. I was in utter awe of him as a writer, and I didn’t know he was in a wheelchair until the first time I saw him in the interview; I must have been a stammering mess. Somehow, I was among the finalists and Krauthammer kindly told me in a phone call that told me I came in second out of a massive pool of applicants, and the one he had picked had been absurdly over-qualified. He was exceptionally nice when he didn’t need to be.

One other point worth keeping in mind, though. Soft-spoken, clear-thinking, clear-writing, ever-polite, never-shouting, never-table-pounding Charles Krauthammer — Charles Krauthammer! — was hated. Throughout his career, left-of-center writers wrote what they perceived as devastating take-downs of Krauthammer on a fairly regular basis. After a throwaway sentence along the lines of “while smarter than the average knuckle-dragging conservative,” the writers would usually denounce Krauthammer with such fury that you could almost see the flecks of spittle on the computer screen. The gist was always the same: “Don’t let your lying eyes and ears deceive you, even though Krauthammer seems smart and eloquent and thoughtful and nuanced and well-informed and all of these traits we’ve assured you are missing from the Right, he’s still every bit as bad as all the rest.

Over at the Huffington Post, Ben Cohen called him a “neo hawk megalomaniac.” In Esquire, Barrett Brown wrote that he perspectives on Afghanistan and Iraq reflected “a haze of amnesia and inexplicable self-regard.”

Joe Klein rather infamously suggested that his analytical abilities were limited because of his handicap.

“There’s something tragic about him, too,” Klein said, referring to Krauthammer’s confinement to a wheelchair, the result of a diving accident during his first year of medical school. “His work would have a lot more nuance if he were able to see the situations he’s writing about.” After getting grief for it, Klein insisted “didn’t mean to imply second-class status for disabled people.” A few sentences later, he accused Krauthammer of starting wars and killing people: “Given his influence with the Bush Administration, his unflinching support for American unilateralism — his invention of the notion of a unipolar world — did extensive damage to our nation’s security and reputation overseas, and caused the unnecessary loss of life.”

News of Krauthammer’s imminent passing brought sneers and cheers from the usual low-life detritus of the political world.

No matter how polite you are, how smart you are, how refined and dignified you are, some people will hate you in the most vociferous terms. The lesson of this is not “never be polite,” but to recognize that being hated does not necessarily reflect that you’ve done something wrong. It is an unpleasant and unfair fact of life about political discourse, not necessarily new but perhaps worsening. If you live a life, and engage in public discourse in as high-minded a manner as Krauthammer did, and you still get denounced as a megalomaniac — has there ever been a less maniacal person than Krauthammer? — and you receive so little positive reinforcement or appreciation for it, why should we be surprised that we see so few following his example?

ADDENDA: A federal judge instituted a one-month delay on the deportation order for Pablo Villavicencio, that Brooklyn pizza-delivery guy who had been in the country illegally for eight years.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo, facing a surprisingly tough Democratic primary fight in his reelection bid, now is arguing, “His arrest and detention appears to be a result of ethnic profiling and does nothing to make our communities safer.” Cuomo doesn’t specify how the arrest stemmed from “ethnic profiling”; he was arrested when the outstanding warrant was discovered after Villavicencio couldn’t show a military-recognized identification to get onto a military base in Brooklyn.

Cuomo also calls Villavicencio “law-abiding,” which is an interesting adjective for someone who promises a judge he will leave the country within two months and instead chooses to stay for eight years.

Villavicencio’s defenders insist his deportation is fundamentally unjust. What they never quite get around to saying is what the consequence should be if you promise a judge you will leave the country, are explicitly warned that the penalty of not keeping your word is automatic deportation, and then break that promise. Their silence on this point suggests that they believe the consequence should be . . . nothing.

U.S.

Anthony Bourdain, RIP

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Chef Anthony Bourdain at the 2015 Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, Calif., September 12, 2015. (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

Ye gods! How could he do something like this?

Anthony Bourdain, a gifted storyteller and writer who took CNN viewers around the world, has died. He was 61.

CNN confirmed Bourdain’s death on Friday and said the cause of death was suicide.

“It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague, Anthony Bourdain,” the network said in a statement Friday morning. “His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter and family at this incredibly difficult time.”

You hear how suicidal thoughts can overwhelm the most unlikely people, defying logic, reason, faith, love, and everything else that makes life worth living. You hear it, and perhaps you believe it, perhaps you have some doubts.

And then one morning you wake up and see that the guy who made a good living traveling around the world to the most unlikely places, eating amazing food, who seemed to have friends in every city, and who appeared to be in a happy relationship with a beautiful actress and activist . . . has decided to end it all with no warning.

Was something about Kate Spade’s suicide a trigger? Do people having suicidal thoughts become more likely to act upon them if they hear about someone else doing it?

If you’re not doing okay, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

Hopefully you’re doing okay. If you’re not, talk to someone.

A Particularly Sordid Scandal and Crime on Capitol Hill

This . . . does not make anyone involved look good.

James A. Wolfe, 57, was charged with lying repeatedly to investigators about his contacts with three reporters. According to the authorities, Mr. Wolfe made false statements to the F.B.I. about providing two of them with sensitive information related to the committee’s work. He denied to investigators that he ever gave classified material to journalists, the indictment said.

Mr. Wolfe, the Intelligence Committee’s director of security, was slated to appear before a federal judge on Friday in Washington.

The seizure was disclosed in a letter to the Times reporter, Ali Watkins, who had been in a three-year relationship with Mr. Wolfe. The seizure suggested that prosecutors under the Trump administration will continue the aggressive tactics employed under President Barack Obama.

Wolfe is 57 and married. Watkins was 22 in 2014, making her about 26 today. According to the indictment, Wolfe and “reporter number two” began a personal relationship in December 2013.

Watkins’s first big scoop, about the CIA Inspector General’s Office asking the Justice Department to investigate allegations stemming from a not-yet-released Senate Intelligence Committee report, came in early 2014. As the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote at the time, “Ali Watkins, currently a 22-year-old freelancer for McClatchy in Washington, D.C., received a tip from sources who came to trust her while making herself a presence on Capitol Hill, according to a posting by Temple’s School of Media and Communication.”

I don’t have perfect clairvoyance into the private lives of every reporter I know, but my sense is reporters sleeping with sources is the sort of thing that happens a lot in movies and television but rarely in real life. But because of situations like this, a lot of women reporters are going to deal with more “she’s sleeping with a source” rumors.

Watkins’s beat was intelligence and national security, and a look at her work at BuzzFeed shows a lot of stories about the Senate Intelligence Committee, what Carter Page was telling the committee, and quoting unnamed sources such as “a high-level US intelligence official.” Suddenly it’s not so difficult to guess who at least one of her sources was.

Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr and vice chairman Mark Warner issued a joint statement:

We are troubled to hear of the charges filed against a former member of the Committee staff. While the charges do not appear to include anything related to the mishandling of classified information, the Committee takes this matter extremely seriously. We were made aware of the investigation late last year, and have fully cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice since then. Working through Senate Legal Counsel, and as noted in a Senate Resolution, the Committee has made certain official records available to the Justice Department.

This news is disappointing, as the former staffer in question served on the Committee for more than three decades, and in the Armed Forces with distinction. However, we trust the justice system to act appropriately and ensure due process as this case unfolds. This will in no way interfere with our ongoing investigation, and the Committee remains committed to carrying out our important work on behalf of the American people.

Greetings from Washington: A Champion’s City for the First Time Since 1992

It’s the best of mornings for Washington Capitals fans, and there will be a lot of groggy but happy people showing up a little later than usual in workplaces around Washington this morning.

Not long ago, ESPN’s Michael Wilbon repeated one of his recurring lines, that Washington, D.C., is a “minor-league sports town.” (Wilbon wrote for the Washington Post for many years, but he’s from Chicago.) More than a few local fans and sports-talk hosts bristled at the statements, and it’s not quite accurate. Yes, the Washington area is full of transplants, and the new residents usually retain their loyalties to their team. (I remember Ed Gillespie once saying that he realized he had “gone native” when he started feeling more enthusiasm for the Nationals than his childhood favorite, the Philadelphia Phillies.)

And for a long time, local sports media was obsessed with the Redskins and significantly less interested in the other franchises. This made little sense, since the Redskins have been a dysfunctional dumpster fire for most of the time Daniel Snyder has owned the team, and the other three teams have been much better.

But even being “pretty good” brings its own frustrations. The Washington Wizards have been “a team on the rise” since John Wall arrived in 2010. They indeed rose . . . and then sort of plateaued as one of those teams good enough to make the playoffs, not good enough to make much noise once they’re in. Since 2012, the Washington Nationals collected and developed jaw-dropping talent — Stephan Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer — and tore through the regular season like a tornado . . . and then kept falling apart in the postseason. And then there were the Capitals, blessed with arguably the best player in the game in Alexander Ovechkin since 2005, and similarly crushing opponents in the regular season . . . and then usually running into the Pittsburgh Penguins and suffering a heartbreaking defeat.

Three of Washington’s teams seemed to have the unofficial slogan, “Regular Season Greatness . . . and Forgetting How to Play the Game Once the Postseason Starts.” And yet local sports radio would give you regular updates on how they were using sod on the practice fields at Redskins Park and fans calling in and talking about Kirk Cousins like a jilted girlfriend.

But no more.

It’s worth noting that being “a great sports town” is distinct from being a great city. I’d argue that most of the cities that struggle with consistent fan support and enthusiasm have the challenge of competing against good weather and lots of other fun things to do: Miami, San Diego, arguably Los Angeles. Meanwhile, some of the country’s most hard-luck, economically challenged cities have passionate fan bases: Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo. Detroit might be turning into that decrepit future that Robocop envisioned, but the Red Wings and Pistons still sell out.

ADDENDA: Kevin Williamson, on fire:

Mass democracy has no intellectual content. It is, as David French and others have noted, simply an extension of high-school cafeteria-table politics: status-jockeying and status-monkeying 24/7/365.25 and not much else. It doesn’t do much for the country, but it beats working for a living. Keep that in mind the next time you find yourself muttering “Hell, yeah!” when your favorite multimillionaire cable-news rodeo clown lays the rhetorical smackdown on one of his multimillionaire Central Park West neighbors two buildings over while you’re stuck in traffic commuting home to the suburbs from downtown wherever.

Politics & Policy

Why Should Politicians Push Hard for Reforms that the Electorate Keeps Rejecting?

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President Donald Trump speaks during the signing ceremony for the “VA (Veterans Affairs) Mission Act of 2018” in the Rose Garden of the White House, June 6, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why promoting entitlement reform is a sucker’s game; an obscured point in the tale of the Brooklyn pizza deliveryman detained by ICE; the real appeal of Sex and the City, and the lessons of Bill Clinton, much clearer after two decades.

Choosing the Path of Least Resistance

Yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch podcast got more animated than usual, as my co-host Greg Corombos lamented that the Medicare Board of Trustees announced that the trust fund that pays for hospital care is expected to run out of money by 2026, three years earlier than projected last year, and that this was considered mid-level news at best.

Of course, neither of us was surprised by the news — we’re both Generation X-ers, who never figured we would see any Social Security benefits — and I found myself feeling that if the country holds the intractable position that it will not seriously address the problem until there are no other options and the trust funds run out of money . . . maybe it’s better to get to the reckoning sooner rather than later.

Sure, Republicans are egregious hypocrites for focusing on the annual deficit and the overall total national debt — driven largely by entitlements such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security — during the Tea Party era and then shrugging as the Trump era brings back trillion-dollar deficits.

But I noted to Greg that the argument that the country needs to sit down and have a serious reckoning about the impending problems of its entitlement programs is a bit like the post-shooting argument that “it’s time for a real national conversation on guns.” We actually have had those serious conversations, or at least as serious as we’re likely to have until the programs start running out of money.

The conversation almost always boils down to two sides, with one side saying, “This is a serious problem, and it will only be addressed by some combination of cutting benefits, raising taxes significantly, or allowing young workers to divert their current payments into an individual retirement account and hoping the markets rise steadily over the decades. None of these changes will be easy or popular, but they are necessary to avert even worse problems down the road.”

And there’s another side that says, “this is not a serious problem, the other side is trying to scare you, the system won’t run out of money for years and years, and we can solve it by just raising taxes on ‘the rich’ or by ‘eliminating waste,’ so let’s talk about something else.” And the latter side always wins the argument. The public always prefers “this is not really a problem” to “this is a serious problem that can only be solved by some sort of painful sacrifice.” This argument is often found among Democrats, but that’s more or less President Trump’s position. As he said on March 10, 2016, “it’s my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is. Not increase the age and to leave it as is.”

This broad-based bipartisan preference for denying the problem is not the way things ought to be, but this is the way things are. Fiscal hawks, conservatives, Republicans, and even a few Democrats have made these arguments for decades. They’ve brought data, demographic projections, historical performance, information about the good news of Americans living longer and the financial consequences, data about the number of America’s elderly who could live comfortably without Social Security payments, and so on. And despite their mountains of evidence, they lose the argument every single time.

The long-term health of America’s entitlement programs is not a particularly sexy or exciting topic. There are no great visuals for television. There are just a lot of big numbers. If the national debt were a Godzilla-like monster rampaging through the landscape, we would probably unite and mobilize and quickly respond to the threat it presented. But it’s just a line of numbers on a page or screen.

Our national motto should not be “out of many, one.” It should be Chevy Chase’s line as Gerald Ford in a national debate in 1976: “It was my understanding that there would be no math.”

We can blame the politicians — from Richard Nixon and a Democratic Congress expanding Social Security benefits in 1972, to Ronald Reagan being unwilling and unable to tackle this portion of government spending while being courageous on so many other fronts, to Bill Clinton saying “save Social Security first” once there was a surplus and then not making any changes, to Al Gore’s nonsensical claims of a “lockbox,” to congressional Republicans having no appetite for the reforms proposed by George W. Bush and former senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to Bush and congressional majorities adding a prescription-drug benefit to Medicare without knowing how to pay for it, to Obama and congressional Democrats expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

But in the end, the politicians were always responding to the preferences of a clear majority of the public. They wanted the government to give us these benefits, assure us that our payments over our lifetime are enough to cover the costs of our future benefits (they’re not), and figure out how to pay for it later. I can’t get that mad at Republicans or anyone else for no longer trying to drag the American people, kicking and screaming, towards a path of fiscal responsibility that they have actively rejected over and over again.

Now Democrats want “Medicare for All.” Tell them that the program is approaching the point of collapse and their answer is to make even more people dependent upon it.

Entitlement-reform advocates are like the Jeff Goldblum character in a sci-fi movie. We’ve figured out that something’s terribly wrong and a crisis is approaching, but no one wants to listen to us because we’re nerds and what we’re proposing is uncomfortable and there’s some other guy assuring everyone that everything will be alright. The mayor of Amity will always want to believe the guy telling him that the shark is a rumor and that it’s safe for the tourists to swim off the shore.

If only we could get the Jaws theme to play every time the news discusses Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.

An Easily Obscured Fact about that Brooklyn Pizza Guy Detained by ICE

Have you heard about that pizza guy in Brooklyn who’s been detained by ICE?

Pablo Villavicencio-Calderon, an Ecuadorean citizen, entered the United States in 2008 seeking asylum. He was not granted asylum, and in March 2010, he was granted voluntary departure by an immigration judge. There’s an advantage to voluntary departure for those who are in the country illegally; even though they have to leave, they’re not automatically barred from legally returning later. But they need to qualify and apply for a new visa or green card in order to return. Once granted, the illegal immigrant is given a deadline — in Villavicencio-Calderon’s case, July 2010.

Everyone involved in this process should know that if you tell a judge you are going to voluntarily leave the country, and you don’t keep your promise, there will be serious consequences: “If a non-citizen fails to voluntarily depart, the voluntary departure order automatically becomes an order of removal. This occurs without the immigration judge needing to issue a new order, and without the non-citizen appearing in court. At this point, you are subject to removal from the United States, one consequence of which is that upon any encounter with immigration authorities, you can be removed from the U.S. without first seeing a judge.”

He promised a judge that he would leave the country within two months, and instead he chose to stay for eight years. He might be a swell guy with adorable daughters, but . . . what should be the consequence of not keeping a promise to a judge and defying a legal order for nearly a decade?

What Did Women See When They Watched Sex and the City?

Everyone seems to be writing a Sex and the City retrospective this week, the 20th anniversary of the show’s debut on HBO. I agree in part and disagree in part with the brilliant Kyle Smith’s assessment, and it’s worth noting he lived in New York City when it ran and I didn’t.

I could be wrong, but I suspect that women who loved Sex and the City were drawn less by the show’s portrayal of glamorous cosmopolitan promiscuity than the portrait of female friendship, and how it can serve as a surrogate family that allows a little more openness about embarrassments and relationship problems than traditional family connections. (Some reviewer noted how rarely any of the characters mentioned any family.) Gentlemen, if your girlfriend or wife loved the show, it was probably less that she wanted to live the life of the characters than she recognized some of her own dynamics with her friends with the featured quartet.

In fact, many fans of the show seemed to pick one protagonist as the one that represented their type — “I’m a Charlotte” — and could match their friends to the traits of the other three characters — with one semi-exception.

I’d bet that if you asked female fans of the show which character they related to the most, the answers, in order of descending popularity, would be Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha. Samantha was a funny character, but she was a composite fantasy — the male fantasy of the hot woman who’s a shameless nymphomaniac, and the female fantasy of a completely self-assured woman with no doubts, guilt, or fear — a gender-reversed James Bond with none of the shootouts or car chases but twice the bedroom scenes.

The other odd social dynamic that the show accurately portrayed is how close women friends often have dramatically different romantic preferences. There’s an episode near the end of the series where the quartet brings together their boyfriends for the first time. Carrie’s dating an insufferably pretentious modern artist, Charlotte’s happy with her nebbish lawyer, Miranda’s married and had a child with a low-key bartender, and Samantha’s found lasting satisfaction with an empty-headed model. The four men sit at the table, size each other up, and quickly realize they have absolutely nothing in common. (At least the latter three seem to be, in their own ways, decent, good-hearted guys.)

It resonates for every man who’s been stuck in an awkward conversation with another guy, with nothing in common other than that our wives are connected in some way.

ADDENDA: Over on the NRO home page, an argument worth emphasizing during Bill Clinton’s apology tour over #MeToo: If Democrats had pressured Bill Clinton to resign in early 1998 and he had left office, they would have lost . . . nothing. Nothing in policy, nothing in principle, and Al Gore probably would have won in 2000.

Politics & Policy

This Midterm Cycle . . . Doesn’t Look Nearly as Bad for the GOP as It Once Did

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U.S. President Donald Trump is applauded by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring former Senate majority leader Bob Dole on Capitol Hill, January 17, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The 2018 midterms are starting to look not-so-bad for Republicans; Facebook finds itself apologizing to users yet again; another Obama-administration lie about the Iran deal is exposed, and a brilliant observation about how we don’t want to acknowledge the possibility that the circumstances for today’s immigrants have changed.

Improving Prospects for Republicans?

There had been some worries that because of California’s “top two finishers of any party advance to the general” primary system, Republicans would get left out of the state’s governor’s race. By that measure, last night was a win for the GOP.

Gavin Newsom, the favorite of the California Democratic Party’s core liberal base, coasted to a first-place finish in Tuesday’s primary election for governor and faces a November showdown with John Cox, a multimillionaire Republican hitched to the far-right policies of President Trump.

The results mark a stunning defeat for former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, representing the fall of a politician who embodied the growing power of the Latino electorate when he was elected mayor in 2005. Villaraigosa conceded late in the evening, urging those who voted for him to give their support to his opponent.

That’s a surprising defeat for Villaraigosa, who brought “being in bed with the media” to a new level back in 2007. No doubt he’ll console himself over this defeat by spending more time with his Telemundo correspondent.

No one has any illusions about Cox winning in November, but Golden State Republicans had performed so poorly, and made up such a small share of the state’s registered voters, some feared the GOP simply wouldn’t have many candidates on the general-election ballot. There may not be many competitive statewide elections in California this year, but there are competitive U.S. House district elections, and a November ballot where the GOP simply wasn’t represented on the ballot for the big offices would not be good for Republican turnout.

Meanwhile, looking across the country at the 2018 Senate elections, the latest “deserves reelection” numbers for incumbent senators are terrible. That’s bad news for endangered incumbent Republican Dean Heller in Nevada . . . and bad news for Democrats Bill Nelson in Florida, Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Jon Tester in Montana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, and Joe Manchin in West Virginia . . . and maybe even Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin.

Oh, and in case you missed it, the buzz that “Beto O’Rourke is going to pull off a miracle for Texas Democrats!” died down after Quinnipiac showed Ted Cruz up by eleven points.

The polls for Republicans continue to look “eh, not so bad.” Unsurprisingly, two of the most popular governors in the country, Massachusetts’s Charlie Baker and Maryland’s Larry Hogan, are in strong position as summer begins. In Pennsylvania, with the newly redrawn U.S. House district lines, Republican incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick is hanging on in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Yes, polls can be wrong, there’s a lot of road ahead, etcetera, etcetera.

Facebook: Oh, Hey, Sorry We Let the Chinese Government Get Your Personal Data

Oh, Facebook. What are we going to do with you?

Facebook has data-sharing partnerships with at least four Chinese electronics companies, including a manufacturing giant that has a close relationship with China’s government, the social media company said on Tuesday.

The agreements, which date to at least 2010, gave private access to some user data to Huawei, a telecommunications equipment company that has been flagged by American intelligence officials as a national security threat, as well as to Lenovo, Oppo and TCL.

The four partnerships remain in effect, but Facebook officials said in an interview that the company would wind down the Huawei deal by the end of the week.

“Relax, American consumers, Chinese intelligence has to finish collecting all of your personal data by Friday.” I suppose that once the Chinese had obtained 30 years’ worth of information about federal-government workers, including fingerprints, in the hack of the Office of Personnel Management, the only thing left was to start collecting data on the American citizenry.

What does the Chinese government know about Facebook users?

Facebook officials said the agreements with the Chinese companies allowed them access similar to what was offered to BlackBerry, which could retrieve detailed information on both device users and all of their friends — including religious and political leanings, work and education history and relationship status.

This is the sort of thing that ought to generate as much heat for Facebook as Cambridge Analytica; we will see if the media coverage reflects this. My cynical suspicion is that the nation’s cable-news producers and headline writers and clickbait-chasers find the 2016 Trump campaign way more sinister and menacing than the Chinese government.

Facebook is still running apology ads about the previous scandals and misuse of personal data. “That’s going to change,” the ad declared. “From now on, Facebook is going to do more to keep you safe and protect your privacy.”

No, they’re not! Someone who’s dedicated to keeping us safe and protecting our privacy would stay far, far away from any institution even remotely connected to the Chinese government!

Yet Another Obama-Administration Lie About the Iran Deal

Everything the Obama administration said about the Iran deal was a lie, including the punctuation.

The Obama administration secretly sought to give Iran access — albeit briefly — to the U.S. financial system by sidestepping sanctions kept in place after the 2015 nuclear deal, despite repeatedly telling Congress and the public it had no plans to do so.

An investigation by Senate Republicans released Wednesday sheds light on the delicate balance the Obama administration sought to strike after the deal, as it worked to ensure Iran received its promised benefits without playing into the hands of the deal’s opponents. Amid a tense political climate, Iran hawks in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere argued that the United States was giving far too much to Tehran and that the windfall would be used to fund extremism and other troubling Iranian activity.

The report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations revealed that under President Barack Obama, the Treasury Department issued a license in February 2016, never previously disclosed, that would have allowed Iran to convert $5.7 billion it held at a bank in Oman from Omani rials into euros by exchanging them first into U.S. dollars. If the Omani bank had allowed the exchange without such a license, it would have violated sanctions that bar Iran from transactions that touch the U.S. financial system.

The effort was unsuccessful because American banks — themselves afraid of running  afoul of U.S. sanctions — declined to participate. The Obama administration approached two U.S. banks to facilitate the conversion, the report said, but both refused, citing the reputational risk of doing business with or for Iran.

“The Obama administration misled the American people and Congress because they were desperate to get a deal with Iran,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the subcommittee’s chairman.

The administration also lied when it said the Iranians had disclosed all their previous work on its nuclear program.

Despite the administration’s claims that the deal ensured the most extensive monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program ever, nonpartisan experts concluded Iran “did not provide the kind of transparency and cooperation required for the International Atomic Energy Agency to conclude its investigation.”

The administration also lied when it said sanctions would not be lifted until Iran had fully complied.

If you have to constantly lie to the public about what the deal does, maybe it’s a pretty lousy one.

ADDENDA: This observation, from Reihan Salam, is brilliant and cuts to the core of how we debate immigration today:

To allow for the possibility that low-skill immigration has different implications today, when the prospects for upward mobility among low-skill workers are almost universally acknowledged to be bleaker than in years past, before a cavalcade of social and technological changes greatly reduced their power, seems almost sacrilegious. It smacks of dishonoring one’s parents or grandparents. And so piety wins out. We badly want to believe that we still live in a non-zero-sum nation, in which good-paying jobs for low-skill workers are abundant, and opportunities for advancement are always just around the corner. Instead we have taxi drivers who are being driven to suicide because they can’t bear the competition from slightly more desperate people who want the little that they now have. And all this is unfolding at a moment when the labor market is the tightest it has been since the turn of the century, and before the potential of labor-displacing automation is close to being fully realized.

Politics & Policy

Why Democrats Won’t Embrace Starbucks’s Howard Schultz

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Starbucks Corp Chief Executive Howard Schultz, pictured with images from the company’s new “Race Together” project behind him, speaks during the company’s annual shareholder’s meeting in Seattle, Washington, March 18, 2015. (David Ryder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: All the reasons why retiring Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz shouldn’t run for president in 2020; the Trump-NFL fight enters its 16th minute of fame; and a sharp mind explains why you shouldn’t worry about the Obama-Netflix deal.

Howard’s End

I hope soon-to-retire Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz chooses to run for president, because I really want to measure the appeal of a “woke corporate executive” in the Democratic primary.

Schultz’s decision to retire, a plan he said he privately outlined to the board a year ago, will most likely stoke speculation that he is considering a run for president in 2020. He is frequently mentioned as a potential candidate for the Democratic Party and has become increasingly vocal on political issues, including criticizing President Trump last year as “a president that is creating episodic chaos every day.”

While Mr. Schultz, 64, typically bats away speculation about his political ambitions with an eye roll or a pithy answer, on Monday he acknowledged for the first time that it is something he may consider.

“I want to be truthful with you without creating more speculative headlines,” he told The New York Times. “For some time now, I have been deeply concerned about our country — the growing division at home and our standing in the world.”

My guess is the appetite for a leftist culture warrior with experience in corporate boardrooms is extremely limited, even among Democrats.

What we’re seeing in Schultz — in his hints about his future plans — is not all that different from the mentality that drove Trump in 2016. Here comes another wealthy, cover-of-a-magazine corporate titan, having done everything in business that he wants to do, and concluding that, in his golden years, he wants to “serve his country” . . . except, after having been in charge of everyone around him for many years, the only way he can conceive of “serving his country” is by running the place.

A lot of accomplished businessmen have chosen to run for president over the decades and ended up spending a fortune — H. Ross Perot, Steve Forbes, Herman Cain, Carly Fiorina. Heck, you might even throw in Mitt Romney, although he had been a governor.

Trump is the grand exception, and he’s a different breed of cat for at least two reasons: Trump was a genuine pop-culture celebrity, well-known far beyond the business world. I suspect that many of America’s corporate chief executives walk around believing they’re famous because everyone they run into has heard of them, they’ve been interviewed on CNBC several times, and they’ve had their pictures in Forbes, BusinessWeek, and the Wall Street Journal. But our balkanized culture generates many different kinds of fame, and “business famous” is not the same as “political famous.” If you want to be famous among Republican primary voters, you had better get your face on Fox News a lot. If you want to be famous among Democratic primary voters, you probably need to get your face on MSNBC a lot.

Howard Schultz is famous . . . but he’s not Mark Cuban famous (Cuban’s got his own reality-TV show and is well-known, if not particularly well-liked, among NBA fans). Schultz’s name isn’t a synonym for wealth like Bill Gates, and he isn’t associated with technology and innovation the way Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are, or perhaps in the way Elon Musk is becoming. He’s not denounced by the president the way Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is. His name hasn’t become shorthand for wise investing like Warren Buffett, and he’s not larger than life like Richard Branson. I’m willing to bet that right now, most of the people who will be voting in the 2020 Democratic primary have no idea who Howard Schultz is, and very few could tell you much more than “he’s the guy who runs Starbucks.”

Secondly, Trump ran against everyone who was in charge, not just during the Obama years but before: corporate America, Establishment Republicans, the Bushes, “the hedge fund guys.” Trump wasn’t impressed with Silicon Valley and had little interest in it beyond Peter Thiel and enjoying Twitter. Trump served as a blank slate and a protest vote for everyone who was dissatisfied with the status quo of 2016. Do you foresee Howard Schultz tapping into that at all? He is the establishment. He endorsed Obama and Hillary Clinton. He was apparently Hillary Clinton’s choice to be secretary of labor if she had won. His job titles since 1987 have been “chief executive officer,” “chief global strategist,” “executive chairman,” and “owner of the Seattle Supersonics.” He’s been among the 500 wealthiest Americans for a decade. Whether Howard Schultz recognizes it or not, his message will be, “Let’s go back to the status quo of 2016, but without the African-American president.”

Forty-two percent of Democrats have a favorable view of socialism. You think Howard Schultz is going to be their guy?

But Schultz is going to run into a lot of people who will encourage him to run — both former employees and friends who don’t want to hurt his feelings, and opportunistic political consultants who see a giant pile of money when he talks.

Beyond that, let’s note that after that incident of a Starbucks store manager calling the cops on young African-American men in the store in Philadelphia, Schultz sent his whole workforce to racial-bias training. He could have argued that the Philadelphia incident wasn’t representative of the company as a whole, and that his employees were good people who didn’t deserve knee-jerk accusations of racism. Instead, everybody got sent to training that included a video in which Schultz “talked about his vision for a more inclusive company and country.”

Picture this comment from Schultz on that day as a preview of him on the campaign trail: “Trying to, as a white person, fully understand as much as possible the fact that a person of color never quite feels comfortable in a public space in America, and hearing it from them, because it’s not something we think about . . . how can we be better people?” Schultz said. “How can we be better citizens? What else can we do to try and advance a feeling of equality in the country?”

We have no idea what the political environment of 2020 will look like. If we have a few more incidents like Charlottesville, perhaps a significant demographic will be groups of white people appalled by the racial views of other white people and looking for a way to demonstrate that opposition at the ballot box. Perhaps a key theme of the cycle will revolve around white guilt. But right now, it’s hard to picture white voters in those heavily white swing states falling in love with a corporate CEO telling them that they don’t understand the experiences of people of color and that they need to be better people.

Trump Loves Fighting with the NFL

President Trump hits the NFL hard for not sufficiently punishing players who kneel during the National Anthem . . . by refusing to meet with a team that didn’t have any players kneel during the National Anthem.

Trump declared on Twitter, “Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!”

This fight is now clearly well beyond any argument of what is and what is not appropriate behavior during the National Anthem. This is now about cultural resentment against mostly African-American, well-paid professional athletes. Trump thinks he’s got a good villain, and he’s going to keep fighting his perceived villain until it stops getting him good headlines.

More than a few folks are grumbling this morning about a decision by Fox News to use an image of an Eagles player kneeling . . . during a prayer.

Why the Obama Deal with Netflix Isn’t Worth Your Worry

Christian Toto with an astute assessment of the Obamas’ lucrative deal with Netflix:

We’re already inundated with liberal storytelling — with or without the Obama Netflix deal. Small screen fare (“Supergirl,” “Designated Survivor,” any late night comedy show). Movies (“Truth,” “Miss Sloane”). And the flow shows little sign of stopping . . .

Everything the former First Couple does for Netflix will arrive with a loud and proud label.

The press will offer each new Obama offering all the press coverage possible. That cold truth will be inescapable.

Audiences, in turn, will react accordingly. Those who miss Obama’s two terms will flock to the programming. Their minds won’t be changed by what they see. They’re already on board with the former president’s vision.

Everyone else? Conservatives will mostly avoid the product. Independents may give it a try, but they’ll know going into the experience that it comes with partisan packaging. That instantly lowers the chance of it influencing their points of view.

I don’t particularly like these sorts of liberal prestige projects at premium cable networks, but I also don’t spend much time thinking about them. As I wrote when I saw the promotions for that short-lived Bill Simmons sports-talk series, political correctness has virtually killed “edginess.” Barring some really unexpected turn of events, almost nothing produced by the Obamas will ever surprise us. Quick, imagine the first project from the Obamas on Netflix . . .

A single mom in the inner city, beset by crime and lack of opportunity, is tempted by the opportunity to buy an illegal gun, until a lesbian friend convinces her that she would just become part of the problem that way. The neighborhood minister, who ensures safe access to Planned Parenthood clinics, tells the single mom about a government job-training program that gives her a job in graphic design for a solar-panel manufacturer. The wacky neighbor describes how Obamacare helped him get a new kidney, the abused girl down the street gets an abortion, and the Muslim family on the corner is the victim of hateful graffiti until our lead character unites the neighborhood for a “tolerance rally.” The local cop contemplates busting the troubled teenage son who’s running with the wrong crowd, until he tells the kid, “If I bust you to juvie, I’m setting you on the wrong path for life, and this just isn’t who we are,” and they embrace.

Right? You can picture it all already. Heartwarming in all the wrong ways.

ADDENDA: Breaking last night, the Mueller investigation has confirmed that Russians and Americans in Washington, D.C., have colluded to influence the outcome of . . . the Stanley Cup Finals.

Politics & Policy

Bill Clinton: ‘I Like the MeToo Movement; It’s Way Overdue.’ No Kidding.

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Former President Bill Clinton (YouTube screengrab via Today Show)

Bill Clinton assures us that he was the hero during the impeachment and scandal relating to his affair with Monica Lewinsky: “Former President Bill Clinton spoke out about the MeToo movement and the Monica Lewinsky scandal as NBC’s Craig Melvin sat down with him and author James Patterson, saying, “If the facts were the same, I wouldn’t” act differently today than he did at the time. “A lot of the facts have been conveniently omitted,” he says. “I defended the Constitution.”

Rarely do you see such a symphony of hypocrisy and not-so-suppressed rage.

“I think partly they’re frustrated that they’ve got all of these serious allegations against the current occupant of the Oval Office, and his voters don’t seem to care,” Clinton says in the interview.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. There are a lot of people in this world who can complain about Donald Trump and the numerous allegations of gross sexual harassment and abuse surrounding him, and the fact that a significant portion of the presidents’ supporters either refuse to believe the allegations or dismiss them as unimportant. But Bill Clinton doesn’t get to make the complaint about the public not taking allegations of presidential sexual misconduct seriously enough. Dear God, have some self-awareness, man.

Clinton also has the audacity to declare, “I like the MeToo movement; it’s way overdue.”

Clinton gets surprisingly combative with NBC’s Melvin: “You, typically, have ignored gaping facts in describing this, and I’ll bet you don’t even know them. This was litigated 20 years ago. Two-thirds of the American people sided with me. They were not interested in that. I had a sexual-harassment policy when I was governor in the Eighties. I had two women chiefs of staff when I was governor. Women were over-represented in the attorney general’s office in the Seventies. You are giving one side and omitting facts.”

Do facts gape?

Clinton really fumes about being asked about this. “You think President Kennedy should have resigned? Do you believe President Johnson should have resigned? Someone should ask you these questions, because of the way you formulate the questions. I dealt with this 20 years ago, plus, and two-thirds of the American people stayed with me.”

I don’t know, do you think that if the American people had learned in 1962 that 45-year-old John F. Kennedy had sex with a 19-year-old White House intern on her fourth day on the job in the bed where he slept with Jackie? You think the public would have shrugged at that?

Clinton was on The Today Show to promote his new book, a thriller co-written with one-man-publishing-machine James Patterson, entitled “The President Is Missing.” The New York Times finds some . . . odd plot choices:

Readers may wonder why the authors decide early on to kill off the first lady, who was a brilliant law student when she first dazzled Duncan, and why some of her last words were: “Promise me you’ll meet someone else, Jonathan. Promise me.”

Wonder how Hillary Clinton felt about that passage.

‘Pardon Me, Jerry!’ ‘Dick, I Already Did!’

Trump, this morning: “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong? In the meantime, the never ending Witch Hunt, led by 13 very Angry and Conflicted Democrats (& others) continues into the mid-terms!”

Isn’t pardoning yourself kind of like telling a genie you want to use one of your wishes to wish for more wishes?

I trust the assessment of John Yoo — because the Constitution doesn’t say the president doesn’t explicitly say he doesn’t have the authority to pardon himself, a president does theoretically have the power to do this. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

President Trump has tweeted that he has the “complete power to pardon.” As someone who supported the broadest reading of executive power as a deputy assistant attorney general during the George W. Bush administration, I think that Mr. Trump has the Constitution about right. Article II declares that the president “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” President Trump can clearly pardon anyone — even himself — subject to the Mueller investigation.

But unless Mr. Trump wants to meet the same end as Richard Nixon, he should resort only to pardons that promote the central purpose of the power. As Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist 74, the Constitution creates a pardon power out of “humanity and good policy” to allow for “mitigation from the rigor of the law.”

Everything in our Constitution is built to ensure that everyone in government has at least some level of accountability to someone else: elections, majorities, veto power, the ability to override a veto, advice and consent, judicial appointments, the ability to impeach presidents and judges. No one is able to abuse their power indefinitely, because sooner or later some other part of the system will catch on to them and hold them accountable. Even presidents have to obey the law. (Perhaps it’s appropriate that we mentioned Bill Clinton above. The argument in his defense was essentially that he was entitled to lie under oath to avoid embarrassment because he was the president, but no one else was entitled to that right.)

A president pardoning himself — as opposed to resigning, and his successor pardoning him the way President Ford pardoned Nixon — is basically writing himself a get-out-of-jail free card. It may be constitutional, it may be legal, but it’s so at odds with this concept of government accountability that it would probably require a consequence as severe as impeachment, or at least an attempted impeachment. (Trump’s tweet demonstrates he grasps this on some level; a pardon is inherently an admission that a crime was committed.)

The headline above is a reference to an old joke from the mid 1970s. Nixon and Ford meet, and because President Ford is so clumsy, he bumps into Nixon. “Pardon me, Jerry,” Nixon says, and Ford responds, “Dick, I already did!”

A Detailed Portrait of the Most Hated Retired Police Officer in America

Scot Peterson, the school resource officer in Parkland, Fla., who as on duty on campus the day of the shooting, cooperates with a Eli Saslow for a profile by the Washington Post. I don’t think it will generate much sympathy.

“How can they keep saying I did nothing?” he asked Rodriguez one morning, looking again through the documents on his kitchen table. “I’m getting on the radio to call in the shooting. I’m locking down the school. I’m clearing kids out of the courtyard. They have the video and the call logs. The evidence is sitting right there.”

“It’s easy to second-guess when you’re in some conference room, spending months thinking about what you would have done,” Rodriguez said.

“There wasn’t even time to think,” Peterson said. “It just happened, and I started reacting.”

His memory of the shooting:

But now he stood against the wall, holding his radio in one hand and his gun in the other. He remembered wondering why he could not locate the shots. Trees, roof, windows, courtyard. The fire alarm was still blaring. Police sirens were closing in from all directions. From Peterson’s position, he could see only the east side entrance to the 1200 building. Meanwhile, on the west side, at least one victim was already down.

Students inside the 1200 building were at that very moment flooding 911 with calls describing the exact location and description of the shooter, but it turned out that those calls were being routed not to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office but instead to the bordering Coral Springs Police Department. Coral Springs officers were not yet on the scene, and even once they arrived, they communicated on a separate radio system from Peterson and the rest of Broward County. The only information being relayed to him was coming out of his Broward County radio, a soundtrack first of silence and then of mounting confusion as the shooting continued into its fourth minute.

“I hear shots fired by the football field!” shouted the second Broward County deputy to arrive. “Shots by the football field.”

“Some thought it was firecrackers. We’re not sure,” said the next deputy on site. “By the football field.”

“We also heard it over by, inside the 1200 building,” Peterson said, still standing in place. “We are locking down the school right now.”

“I got more students running west toward the football field,” another officer said.

“I hear shots fired,” Peterson said. “Shots — ”

“I have a gunshot victim,” said another deputy. “He is by the entrance to West Glades, on the west side of the school.”

“Does he know where the shooter is?” Peterson shouted, but now it was already six minutes into the massacre, and the last victim had already been shot on the third floor. The gunman was dropping his AR-15 near the stairwell and then heading out of the building, blending in with the crowd of frantic students. The shooting Peterson was supposed to stop was already over.

One thing that stands out from the account: Is it always wise for schools to automatically go into “lockdown” in the event of a shooter? Doesn’t that keep everyone close to the danger? Yes, I’m sure an attempt to evacuate the school could lead to more students coming across the path of the shooter. But the “lockdown” approach keeps everyone inside with the shooter, hoping he turns his attention somewhere else.

ADDENDA: First lesson of the weekend: Broomball — hockey without skates, using broom-like sticks to knock a ball into a net — is a heck of a lot of fun when you’re a grown-up and most of your team is a group of eight-year-olds.

Second lesson of the weekend: Shoes on ice may not be much more stable than skates, and ice is really hard when you fall on it. Oh, and grown-ups have a much higher center of gravity.

U.S.

Joy Reid: Bush Permitted ‘the Breaching of Our Borders’ to ‘Feed Slave Labor to Multinationals’

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Joy Reid (Wikimedia Commons)

I hadn’t planned on writing about Joy Reid two days in a row, but . . . holy moly.

This morning I found another Reid blog post from 2006 that denounces illegal immigration and insecure borders.

I know it sounds like Moonbatty fanaticism, but if you believe that your government would lie, cheat and attempt to destroy people in order to start a war that doesn’t even make strategic sense, but which they had to know would result in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of people . . . if you believe that men who are supposed to be working for us, are working so much against us that they would give away American industry to foreign powers, permit the breaching of our borders in order to feed slave labor to multinationals, that they would strip Americans of the most basic civil rights, and make about 40 percent of us like it (or be too afraid not to) — if they would do all that, including to, at this point, more than 1 million U.S. soldiers who have rotated in and out of Iraq . . . what do you believe they wouldn’t do?

Does Reid still think the U.S. government permits an insecure border to ensure a steady supply of slave labor? If not, what changed her mind?

Or is this more nefarious work of that alleged “hacker”? Wait, wait, let me guess; the hacker inserted some parts of that sentence but not the other parts!

Beyond the astonishing 180-degree reversal on immigration, it’s now clear that not that long ago, Joy Reid was a left-wing online troll, either creating or sharing the sort of tasteless edited photos found in the comments sections of the more unsavory corners of the Internet: “MSNBC personality Joy Reid once published a Photoshopped image of Senator John McCain’s (R., Ariz.) head over the body of Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho on her now-defunct blog, Buzzfeed News reported Thursday.”

This is a particularly awkward time for the rest of the mainstream media to learn that an MSNBC host compared McCain to a notorious school shooter; as McCain fights cancer, the New York Times’ Frank Bruni wrote an extensive tribute to his life of “sacrifice, honor and allegiance to something larger than oneself.” (Perhaps Reid’s crude attack is particularly cringe-inducing for Democrats, as it reminds them that in 2007 and 2008, quite a of them openly loathed McCain with a raging passion, an enmity entirely disproportionate to the circumstances of routine political disagreement.)

Elsewhere, Reid called Wolf Blitzer an “AIPAC flak.” (That’s the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; Blitzer is Jewish.)

It’s not just that no right-of-center personality would get a pass for such a tasteless and exploitative tone in past writings and comments the way Reid has. It’s that no right-of-center or even centrist television network would be able to batten down the hatches and just wait out the storm and refuse to comment for day after day the way MSNBC is currently.

Good for CNN’s Brooke Baldwin for calling out the epic double standard seen in the reactions to Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee. A lot of figures on the Right complain that figures in the mainstream media like CNN “never” objects to incendiary rhetoric on the left or beyond-the-pale criticisms of Republicans, and that’s not quite true.

It’s fairer to say that mainstream media figures rarely object to incendiary rhetoric on the left, and when they do, the consequences are marginal. It wasn’t hard to find mainstream journalists who publicly criticized Michelle Wolf’s routine at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. But if that criticism had a consequence at all, it probably helped Wolf’s career; the controversy probably helped publicize her new Netflix show.

Bill Maher uses the C-word to describe Sarah Palin. Stephen Colbert suggests President Trump is sexually gratifying Vladimir Putin. Jimmy Kimmel mocks Melania Trump’s accent. John Oliver suggests the president and Rudy Giuliani both want to have sex with with Ivanka Trump. None of these comments generate anything resembling a serious headache or a career setback for any of these comedians.

Meanwhile, Roseanne Barr’s godawful tweet about Valerie Jarrett triggers the career death penalty.

Welcome to Life with Unemployment at 3.8 Percent, America!

No wonder the president tweeted some optimism about the jobs numbers shortly before the new jobs numbers were released. He knew what was coming and wanted to get in some pre-emptive bragging.

This is about as good as it gets, American workers.

The U.S. economy continued to add jobs at a solid clip in May, with nonfarm payrolls up 223,000 while the unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

Economists had been expecting payroll growth of 188,000 and the jobless rate to hold steady at 3.9 percent.

The unemployment rate was last this low in April 2000. A separate level of unemployment that adds in discouraged workers and those holding part-time positions for economic reasons fell to 7.6 percent, the lowest since May 2001. A one-tenth point decline in the labor force participation rate to 62.7 percent, tied for the lowest level in 2018, contributed to the headline unemployment rate decline.

The closely watched average hourly earnings metric rose 0.3 percent, as expected. That translates to an annualized rate of 2.7 percent, up one-tenth of a point from April.

Now we just have to hope that tariffs and a trade war don’t mess this all up.

The Greatest Basketball Player of All Time Is . . .

Perhaps David French’s most controversial statement yet: “It’s time to acknowledge that LeBron James is now the best basketball player who ever lived, the GOAT (Greatest of All Time).”

I’m not nearly as big a fan of the NBA as David is, and I’ll acknowledge that it is no longer crazy or too early to argue that LeBron James is the equal of Michael Jordan. There is something truly spectacular about the way James has taken this Cavaliers team on his shoulders, when no teammate seems to be able to get it working, throughout these playoffs. And I’m intrigued by the argument that at some point, James’ record of consecutive NBA finals — he’s at eight right now, and has won three — will be more impressive than Jordan’s six non-consecutive championships.

Here’s the core of my counter-argument that Jordan is still the greatest — although James may surpass him by the time his career ends.

Yes, James is likely to surpass Jordan in total career points next season. But Michael Jordan spent three seasons playing college basketball at the University of North Carolina, while LeBron James jumped straight to the NBA from high school. Of course, Jordan was an astonishingly talented college player as well — he made the game-winning shot in the 1982 championship as a freshman, was twice All-American, and player of the year in 1984. If James had spent three years in college, would his NBA career statistics still be comparable or surpassing Jordan’s? Should Jordan’s college career statistics be thrown in with his professional totals for a more accurate comparison?

The vast majority of what David says about James’ character off the court is persuasive, but let’s not forget the infamous hype of “The Decision” in 2010. James was hated for a little while after that, and not just by Clevelanders. There was something cynical and mercenary about abandoning his long-suffering, championship-deprived hometown at the peak of his career — okay, James’ career has had a lot of peaks — to “take his talents to South Beach” and form a super-team with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Fairly or not, this was widely seen as a James admission that he couldn’t do exactly what we’re seeing now — take a team on his shoulders and lead them to a championship without exceptional talent around him.

And can we say that the LeBron James era with the Miami Heat was slightly disappointing? Yes, four trips to the finals, but only two championships, after James had audaciously predicted winning “not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” championships in a rock-concert-like event welcoming him to Miami.

Of course, James returned to Cleveland, brought home a championship, and is probably the greatest athlete in Cleveland history (although Jim Brown might argue otherwise).

One aspect that David didn’t get into was each man’s impact on the culture at large. Yes, today LeBron James is everywhere – in commercials, movies, television shows, probably the single most discussed, analyzed, praised and debated professional athlete in our era.

But you really can’t overstate the phenomenon of Michael Jordan on the United States and the world in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Gatorade created the song, “If I could be like Mike,” showcasing his status as a sort of cultural secular saint. Nike would not be what it is today without Michael Jordan. The concept of an athlete becoming a distinctive brand became a reality under Jordan. Lots of pro athletes dabbled in acting, but Jordan couldn’t be cast in just another role. Space Jam, for all of its bizarre flaws, demonstrated that the only role audiences could ever accept Michael Jordan in was . . . Michael Jordan, good-hearted, hard-working, gravity-defying quasi-divine athlete, and the only movie star who could stand his ground as Jordan’s co-star was Bugs Bunny. When LeBron James arrived in the NBA in 2003, professional basketball was already becoming a global sport and arguably surpassing baseball in popularity. Michael Jordan put the game there.

(Your perspective on Jordan may be influenced by the years he spent away from basketball, his short-lived career in baseball, and the rumor that Jordan’s sudden retirement and years out of the game were a deal that was arranged in lieu of a suspension for gambling.)

ADDENDA: I’m taping an appearance with Jonah Goldberg’s The Remnant podcast today. Should be fun!

Culture

Joy Reid’s Latest Wacky Archived Blog Post: 9/11 Was a Hoax

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Making the click-through worthwhile: Apparently MSNBC’s Joy Reid has an eternal get-out-of-consequences-free card; the Washington Post demonstrates exactly what you’re not supposed to do when writing about a school shooter; the National Spelling Bee stirs some memories; and an inspiring new book is worth checking out.

Joy Reid’s Eternal Free Passes for Controversial Statements

Roseanne’s gotta go, but MSNBC host Joy Reid gets a pass for homophobia AND 9/11 Trutherism? Man, being a liberal provides more protective armor than does an Iron Man suit.

MSNBC host Joy Reid encouraged readers of her now-defunct blog to watch an infamous 9/11 conspiracy documentary, according to recently discovered posts shared with BuzzFeed News.

March 22, 2006, post to her weblog, Reidblog, archived by the Wayback Machine and titled “The official story,” links to Loose Change 9/11, a viral 80-minute web video originally released in 2005. Loose Change, which was produced in part by Infowars’ Alex Jones, alleged that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center were in fact planned by the US government. The central claims in Loose Change have been widely debunked.

“The fundamental question is: do you believe the official story of 9/11?” the post reads. “If you do, great. If you don’t, then everything that happened after that is called into serious question. Even if you’re agnostic, or you tend to believe that al-Qaida attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon and that the government had no warning such a thing could happen, it’s worth taking a second look.”

Neither Reid nor MSNBC responded to requests for comment.

Yeah, I’ll bet they didn’t. Everybody who gets caught in a scandal tries to wait out the storm, betting that the media will eventually move on to some other story. How difficult Joy Reid’s life gets in the coming weeks and months depends almost entirely on how other media organizations feel about looking into this story. They could, if they wanted to, turn it into a drumbeat that makes Reid radioactive at MSNBC — “to keep Reid on the air is a de facto endorsement of 9/11 conspiracy theories, no better than Alex Jones,” etc. — or they could give her a pass. She’s part of their crowd, it was a long time ago, and everyone forgets that in 2006, polling found that more than half of Democrats agreed “people in the federal government either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action to stop the attacks because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East.” (“It was the mid-Aughts, man, everybody was a Truther back then.”)

Also, a note about this detail:

MSNBC and representatives for Reid have both pointed to an ongoing federal investigation into the hacking allegation to defer more questions about the host’s claims.

Riiiight.

Does this sound familiar to anyone else?

We’re all in agreement that Donald Trump’s claim that he can’t release any of his tax returns because he’s being audited is mostly nonsense, right? First of all, he’s legally permitted to release his tax returns, even if he’s being audited. Second, while it’s possible Trump is being audited and has been audited every year for several years, it’s unlikely that he’s being audited for every year going back decades. Thirdly, Trump himself in the first presidential debate with Hillary Clinton made it sound like it was minor and likely to be resolved soon: “”I’m under a routine audit, and it’ll be released, and as soon as the audit is finished it will be released.” Then by May 2017, in an interview with The Economist, Trump said, “I might release them after I’m out of office.” He never mentioned an audit, although Hope Hicks did.

One could be forgiven for doubting that there was ever an audit, or at least a particularly long-lasting one. I’m similarly skeptical that there’s a long-lasting federal investigation into the “hacking” (I cannot put scare quotes large enough around that word) of Joy Reid. When you don’t want to answer questions, make up some sort of inquiry involving a federal agency that doesn’t like to confirm or deny specifics about what it’s investigating, and then hide behind that.

Fascinating that someone who so obviously detests the president would borrow from his playbook when she’s in trouble.

The Washington Post Ignores the Problems with Covering School Shooters

As mentioned yesterday, there’s a growing consensus among criminologists that quite a few school shooters are motivated, at least in part, by a desire for notoriety and the extensive media coverage their horrific crimes generate. News articles and reports that discuss the shooter’s life in detail are inadvertently glamorizing the shooters in the eyes of similarly disturbed and angry teenagers. While the news media obviously needs to cover school shootings when they happen, they need to be more careful to ensure that their work does not carelessly cultivate a greater incentive for other troubled young men contemplating the same path.

The Washington Post . . . apparently has not gotten the message. They wrote an article about three video recordings made by the Parkland, Fla., school shooter, in which he announces his plans and gloats about his coming infamy. (I debated whether to include a link, but here it is, so you can decide for yourself whether to watch it.)

The reporters and editors are somehow oblivious enough to write that the shooter declared in a video, “when you see me on the news, you’ll all know who I am,” and then write, “yet even as it emerged after the massacre that he was a troubled young man with a pattern of disturbing behavior and alleged violence, what motivated him to open fire remains unanswered.”

It’s not unanswered anymore! He committed this massacre because he knew that institutions like the Washington Post would write articles like this, and that some of the post-atrocity discussion would focus upon, “what was he thinking? What drove him to do this?” The shooter would instantly be transformed from an unknown troubled teenager to a widely-known figure, studied at length, with every detail of his life reviewed by police, teachers, criminologists, jury members, and the horrified public at large through the media.

(Am I adding to the problem by discussing what the Post wrote? How do I criticize this decision by the Post without inadvertently giving more attention to the shooter? At least I won’t name him.)

The “what drove him to do this” question lets the shooter off the hook, at least inadvertently. We’re looking for a cause, a trigger, some sort of action that causes a reaction. Except there’s no action that justifies this, and the common narrative around school shootings tends to oversimplify and distort the actual events. The Columbine killers were not social outcasts, bullied by jocks. The school shooter in Marysville, Wash., was elected homecoming prince.

As you can gather, I hate the term “drove him to do this.” This isn’t an Uber. It wasn’t someone else who put him in that school with that gun. Every shooter who terrorizes a school made a choice to do something evil. He’s never forced to do this, never pulled along by some sort of unavoidable sequence of events and fate. Every last one of us has bad days, and times when we feel like we’re at the end of our rope. Very, very, very few of us decide the best way to handle our problems is to pick up a gun and shoot as many people as possible.

Of course, most of us are horrified by the thought of infamy and being remembered for doing something terrible. Not all of us think like that. And in a culture where “not being famous” has somehow become one of the worst imaginable fates, news organizations have an obligation to ensure that as they do their jobs, they aren’t giving the worst among us exactly what they want.

The High Stakes for Journalism Interns at the National Spelling Bee

The National Spelling Bee finals begin today at 10 a.m. Eastern. I’m really glad ESPN covers it live; it’s one of the few times our media culture celebrates young people being smart as much as it celebrates when they’re athletically gifted.

I don’t know if things still work this way, but back when I was a reporter tadpole, the National Spelling Bee was the one big assignment for the interns at the Washington bureaus of newspapers. Back in 1996, I was interning in the D.C. bureau of the Dallas Morning News, fetching lunches, collecting faxes and haplessly trying to not spill toner in the photocopier. My first news article anywhere is in those archives on yellowing paper somewhere, detailing how a young girl from the Dallas area made it into . . . I think the fifth or sixth round, which was pretty good. I think she’s a doctor now.

Of course, the National Spelling Bee was one of the harder events to cover, because you inevitably had to list the words the kids spelled correctly and what they meant, and there was nothing more embarrassing than having a spelling error in an article about the National Spelling Bee! I still remember the copy-editing desk calling me after hours, asking me if I was absolutely sure about the spelling of a word that they couldn’t find in the dictionary. (I hate to show my age, but the Internet was just getting started then, kids. Google didn’t exist yet!) All of the interns covering the event wanted the kids from their home paper’s circulation area to win, because then your story would run on the front page. I think my story about the bee’s second day, when she was eliminated, ran on the front page of the Metro section and I was elated.

ADDENDA: National Review’s old friend Ericka Anderson has written an astounding and deeply personal nonfiction book, Leaving Cloud 9: The True Story of a Life Resurrected from the Ashes of Poverty, Trauma, and Mental Illness. It’s the story of her husband, Rick Sylvester, and his long, difficult rise from some of the worst circumstances imaginable. You name the social ill, he endured it. If you’re looking for a story of the triumph of the human spirit, enduring and overcoming some of the most hopeless-seeming moments possible, this is the book for you.

Film & TV

Roseanne — and Roseanne — Was a Gamble from the Start

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Actress and reality show personality Roseanne Barr addresses the media during the Lifetime channel portion of the Press Tour for the Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills, California, July 27, 2011. (Gus Ruelas/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why Roseanne Barr should have realized she was skating on thin ice; liberal billionaire Tom Steyer’s comforting delusion; and what you’re missing by not paying attention to the World Cup over in Russia.

Setting a Low Barr

I agree with everything David French says about the high cost of embracing a self-evidently mentally imbalanced person as a de facto spokesman for a movement, and everything Katherine Timpf says about the rights of ABC to fire an employee who is damaging the company. (After all, this isn’t that different from, say, an NFL franchise not wanting to sign a player known for making controversial statements and gestures during the National Anthem.)

As I observed yesterday, it’s less than shocking that a woman who chose to dress up as Hitler and put cookie “Jews” into an oven in a photo shoot to be funny — ha-ha —  would prove to be too controversial for a network television show.

Let’s also note that Roseanne — both the show and the person — was always in a precarious spot at ABC. Yes, the show debuted to monster ratings and mostly kept them during its run, with 10.3 million viewers for its season (and now, presumably series) finale — “still far and away the top show of the night in the demo.”

But executives at ABC and its parent company, the Disney Corporation, never had any interest in being perceived as “the Trump-friendly network” and in fact probably resented that the success of the Roseanne revival was driven, at least in part, by the character’s support for Trump. If Roseanne Barr was rational — and she pretty obviously isn’t — she would be aware that the suits were looking for any excuse they could to cut ties. (By the way, it didn’t matter if the show was way less political than its reputation suggested; that was the big headline coming out of the show’s return.)

Barr may have felt she was irreplaceable, but she really wasn’t. Roseanne got higher ratings and attracted 10 to 18 million viewers, but also cost more than the average television show; John Goodman and Barr were each making reportedly $250,000 per episode. “Kantar Media has estimated the show’s initial run of nine episodes over eight nights netted $45 million in ad revenue.” That’s nice, but for Disney, it’s a drop in the bucket. A generic sitcom with no-name actors will get half the ratings and cost a quarter of the price.

Former President Barack Obama and Michelle are still revered and beloved in most corners of Hollywood; when Barr said one of their best friends, Valerie Jarrett, looks like a character from Planet of the Apes, just what did Barr think was going to happen? Did she think the Obamas and all of their allies were just going to shrug it off, let it pass without response? You might hate the Obamas but give them credit for standing up for one of their own — or for having cultivated a reputation to the point where they may not have even needed to pick up the phone. Everyone at ABC and Disney understood that there would likely be consequences if they tried to give Roseanne a pass.

You think the Disney corporation wants to take any grief for an extra $45 million in ad revenue? You think advertisers would be eager to go back to the show as Barr made herself radioactive?

Are There Millions of Voters Who Will Stay Home without an Impeachment Promise?

A fascinating detail in this interview with Tom Steyer,the liberal billionaire who is self-funding a campaign to promote the impeachment of President Trump as soon as possible:

Steyer and his staff have crunched their own numbers off the nearly 5.4 million people who’ve signed up with his “Need to Impeach” initiative. By their count, there are 10,000 people in each of the 75 most hotly contested House districts who are on his list — enough to swing a close race — and two-thirds of them are sporadic voters. By shooting down every question about impeachment, Steyer says, Pelosi is writing off those voters.

“What we know is there are millions of Americans who don’t vote because they are not hearing the truth,” said Steyer, who starts every interview by drawing a Jerusalem-cross pattern on the back of his hand — it’s the international sign of humility, he said, and a reminder to tell the truth, even if they put you on a cross for it. “They don’t think that the existing political establishment wants to talk about the basic questions of the day.”

I’m not sure I can get my head around the idea of a voter who’s mad enough about Trump to want him impeached, but not mad enough to actually go and vote in November unless the Democrat explicitly promises it. If the Republican candidate wins, the odds of Trump getting impeached are less likely; if the Democrat wins, it is more likely.

Are there millions of Americans who don’t vote because they’re not “hearing the truth”? As of yesterday, there are 2,515 candidates from the Republican or Democratic parties, a third party, or running independently just running for seats in the U.S. House in this cycle. Somebody in that crowd has to be telling “the truth.”

I suspect that most people who are sporadic voters vote as rarely as they do because they don’t feel it’s worth it. (Let’s face it, the process of voting is not an enormously difficult imposition of time or effort. Don’t tell me the lines are too long if you’re camping out Thanksgiving night to be the first one at the Black Friday sales at the malls. As mentioned yesterday, a lot of states now have more or less “Election Month,” not Election Day, with plenty of time for early voting.)

Sporadic voters don’t pay much attention to politics or government and they don’t want to pay attention. They know the election isn’t likely to come down to one vote, and so they don’t believe their vote will make a difference. There’s probably some cynicism at work, too. We’re on, what, the eighth or ninth consecutive “most important election of our lifetimes”? In the past decades, we’ve had Democrats win “most important election of our lifetimes” and Republicans win “most important election of our lifetimes” and for most people, life just plods on, with some good times and some bad times, rarely if ever directly tied to one party having political power.

Steyer’s practicing that common form of political self-delusion, believing that there’s a teeming mass of non-voting people out there who agree with him, and who would come out in droves if someone would just come out and say exactly what Steyer wants them to say.

Then there’s this detail:

As for whether he’s running in 2020, Steyer doesn’t say yes, and he doesn’t say no. Like a lot of people expected to run for president, he said he needs to see how the midterms shake out.

Just what the Democrats need, right? A big-city (San Francisco) billionaire with no experience in elected office who can self-fund a presidential campaign, and who likes making provocative statements that stimulate the party’s id, jumping into a crowded field and ripping all of the elected Democrats who helped “normalize” Trump by not pushing for impeachment as soon as possible. This could make the 2016 Republican presidential primary look like a polite tea party.

Previewing the 2022 World Corruption Games

The World Cup — that’s the big global soccer tournament — starts in a few weeks. Yes, I know the odds are good that you don’t care. You probably don’t care because A) the U.S. team didn’t qualify this year and B) it’s soccer, and you probably prefer to watch games that don’t have so many 0 – 0 ties.

This year the World Cup is being held in Russia. Now, I don’t expect FIFA — the world’s governing body of soccer — or the International Olympic Committee to be leading the fight on human rights. But if they did decide to exercise a bit of their influence, they could probably force a decent amount of changes — just by saying something like, “Any country that wants to host one of our international competitions has to be better than the median in human rights.” A bunch of countries would have to walk the straight and narrow for a while to get that international showcase.

Instead, we’ve got this year’s World Cup in Russia and the next one in Qatar — you know, the super-hot desert country, where the temperatures are so high, they’ll have to play the games in winter — because the selection boards are . . . well, let’s face it, wildly corrupt.

Every Olympics or World Cup there’s some poo-pooing of American sports fans because we don’t pay as much attention to international competitions as other countries. But even HBO’s John Oliver has observed that it’s hard to be a soccer fan with a clear conscience, as FIFA aids, abets, and profits from ludicrous levels of corruption — bribery, ludicrous overspending on little-used stadiums, and appalling exploitation of construction workers in unsafe conditions. And of course, we’re constantly told that hosting these international sporting events will put these unsavory countries on their best behavior . . . and yet things usually turn out otherwise. Russia invaded Crimea three days after the Sochi Olympics ended.

In ligh