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 light of the World Cup and Olympics turning into global festivals of graft and corruption . . . today I chose to preview the 2022 World Corruption Games.

ADDENDAJonah offers a beautiful tribute to his late father-in-law, a classic immigrant success story, and observes, “today the conversation about immigration is so toxic in part because we poisonously disagree about what it means to be an American.”

U.S.

For Mueller, Timing Is Everything

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Welcome back! Making the click-through worthwhile: The catch-22 for Robert Mueller in the timing of the conclusion of his investigation; why Solo worked in ways that so many other Star Wars movies didn’t; and a hit drama series gets picked up for a fourth season.

Robert Mueller’s Catch-22

This morning, President Trump tweets, “The 13 Angry Democrats (plus people who worked 8 years for Obama) working on the rigged Russia Witch Hunt, will be MEDDLING with the mid-term elections, especially now that Republicans (stay tough!) are taking the lead in Polls. There was no Collusion, except by the Democrats!”

Over in Politico, Nelson Cunningham, a former federal prosecutor who’s worked for bosses as varied as Rudy Giuliani, Joe Biden, and Bill Clinton, writes that “Mueller will want to avoid interfering with the November midterms, and so will try to conclude by July or August. On this one we can believe Trump’s new lawyer, former prosecutor and New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who claims Mueller’s target is September 1.”

Let’s assume that there are three possible outcomes from the Mueller probe. One: strong evidence of criminal activity or collusion by the president, and the sort of charges that are widely perceived to meet the standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors” justifying impeachment. Two: something bad, but far from indisputably impeachable — no evidence of criminal activity but bad judgment in choosing associates who committed crimes. Maybe some figures around Trump were in contact with WikiLeaks or the Russian government, and discussed hacking, but there’s no real evidence of a quid pro quo or that Trump himself knew that any of this was going on. Three: no evidence of criminal activity or collusion on the part of the president and as close to exoneration as Mueller can present.

There are five months until the midterm elections. Mueller could have his final report wrapped up and presented by then . . . or maybe he won’t.

Cunningham makes the interesting point that the decision of whether or not to release Mueller’s report — presuming the most consequential recommendations don’t leak — will be in the hands of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and there are some strong legal arguments for redacting portions of the testimony and evidence involved in this investigation: “Rosenstein will need to balance the manifest public interest in learning the findings of Mueller’s sweeping investigation against the very real restrictions on releasing grand jury materials. And, of course, much of Mueller’s evidence will be classified – FISA warrants, NSA intercepts, intelligence findings.”

Keep in mind, the process of proper redaction would take time, too. So even if Mueller turns in his final report in early September . . . the public may not get to see Mueller’s report, with the proper redactions until some time later.

If it’s scenario one, and the report becomes public before the election, Trump will be screaming that it’s all lies and that the whole thing is a witch hunt; what’s more, quite a few congressional Republicans and GOP candidates will be screaming that the timing of the report makes it a virtual “October Surprise.”

Republicans will be able to argue that the country had been here before. Lawrence Walsh was named the independent counsel to investigate the Iran-Contra scandal back in 1986; he indicted former Reagan defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on one count of making false statements on October 30, 1992. Many Republicans screamed that this was Walsh unveiling an “October Surprise,” ensuring that discussion of a long-forgotten GOP scandal would dominate the headlines in the final days before the presidential election. Two months later, a federal judge threw out the indictment, arguing that the five-year statute of limitations had expired. Republicans were livid, contending that Walsh’s true aim had always been to meddle in the election.

A lot would depend upon the strength of the evidence that Mueller presents. Does he have phone conversation recordings or e-mails captured by the NSA? How reliable are the witnesses? Is there a specific quid pro quo, or just a general sense on the part of the Russians that they would rather deal with a President Trump than a President Hillary Clinton?

If Mueller has a report that’s bad for Trump, and presents it before Election Day, it will no doubt energize Democrats — but it might energize Republicans as well, as many will see it as another step in a long-simmering effort to remove Trump from office. It’s almost impossible to imagine Muller coming back with a scathing report and Democratic candidates for Congress not calling for impeachment. But do Democrats want to make the midterm elections a referendum on impeachment?)

Remember that in Adam Schiff’s mind, there is already ample evidence of collusion. If Mueller comes back with anything but a litany of crimes fit for a demon’s résumé, Mueller will get the Comey treatment on steroids, instantly transforming in the media’s eyes from a straight-arrow, law-and-order, just-the-facts investigator to a partisan hack who’s eager to help out in a coverup.

The closer we get to Election Day, the tougher it is for Mueller to argue that he tried to avoid influencing the election. (Keep in mind, in some states, it’s Election Month, not Election Day. In Minnesota, early voting begins Friday, September 21.) One wonders, if the report hasn’t arrived by the first week of October, whether there would be an argument for holding it until after the midterms — that any release in those key weeks will be seen as playing politics, even if that’s just the way the timing worked out.

Of course, if Mueller delivers his report right after the election, you’ll see the same howls of outrage, just reversed. Democrats will scream that by delaying a devastating report until after the election, Mueller “meddled with the wheels of justice” or something to help Republicans. If Mueller delays a report for Trump that isn’t so bad, Republicans will wail that Mueller withheld important information from the electorate.

Because there’s no scenario where the timing of the report’s conclusion isn’t criticized, Mueller will probably decide to let the chips fall where they may and turn it in when it’s ready.

But let’s face it, if he turns in a report that trashes Trump and lives up to Democratic impeachment fantasies just weeks before the midterm elections, he will be seen as a political operator, whether he likes it or not.

Don’t Listen to the Critics. Solo Is Great.

Solo is arguably the best new Star Wars film since the original trilogy.

It works really well because it never tries to be anything it isn’t. This is not a story about being “the chosen one” or grand destinies or the balance of the Force or the fate of the universe. This is the story of one down-on-his-luck charming scoundrel becoming a slightly less naïve, slightly less down-on-his-luck charming scoundrel, set in the seedier corners of the Star Wars universe.

I know some folks are grumbling that this film is derivative, but I feel like it does explore new territory. We’ve never seen a Star Wars film where the Empire is less of a factor, mostly in the background once the plot starts moving. We’re in realms mostly beyond law and order: back alleys, seedy bars, vast wildernesses, forgotten frontier towns, oppressive remote mining camps. Parts of this movie feel like the outer space versions of Oliver TwistFull Metal JacketThe Great Train Robbery, a scene or two from The Godfather, and any double-crossing, twisty heist movie you’ve ever enjoyed. (I suppose “Solo’s Eleven” wouldn’t work.) This is a story of honorable thieves trying to make their way through a dishonorable world. And yes, it does feel at times like the beloved Firefly and Serenity. Ruffian in love with a higher-class refined woman who has a heart of gold but bound to a shady profession? Check. Big, gun-toting roughneck right-hand-man? Check. A ship that is moody but always comes through when the you-know-what hits the fan? Check.

I’ve heard a few gripes that Star Wars has gone “social justice warrior,” but I didn’t see it at all. Yes, Lando’s robotic sidekick is a effectively a “Droid Lives Matter” activist, but in my eyes it was played for laughs. None of the characters take her seriously, and she’s delusional in her assessment of Lando’s perspective on her. Whatever the writer claims about Lando’s sexual preference, he’s still the smooth-talking ladies’ man that Billy Dee Williams first created. (A cynic would conclude that off-screen claims about Lando’s varied romantic interests are an effort to get some lefty praise for inclusion without having to actually show anything involving the sex lives of any characters in a film series with lots of appeal to children.)

(POTENTIAL MINOR SPOILER ALERT) Oh, and if you can, during the scenes in crime boss Dryden Vos’s office, keep your eye on the knickknacks and ornaments on the table in the background. I think the filmmakers make an assessment about which Indiana Jones movies were the best by which objects survive to the end of the film.

ADDENDA: Okay, this is brilliant: “Season Four of Cavs vs. Warriors was recorded in front of a live studio audience.”

U.S.

Justice for Harvey Weinstein’s Victims Begins Today

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Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the Weinstein Company, kicks off the Film Finance Circle conference with an informal discussion at the inaugural Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi, October 15, 2007. (Steve Crisp/Reuters)

Happy Memorial Day Weekend! The next Morning Jolt will arrive Tuesday, May 29.

Harvey Weinstein Makes His Perp Walk

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote “‘justice too long delayed is justice denied'” in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963. Justice for the victims of Harvey Weinstein has been delayed for a long time — but it is, this morning, finally arriving within the U.S. legal system.

Harvey Weinstein has arrived at a police station in New York where he is expected to surrender himself to face criminal charges in a sexual assault probe.

Weinstein stepped from a black SUV and walked slowly into a Manhattan police station before a crowd of news cameras. He didn’t answer respond to shouts of his name.

Two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press the case includes a woman who has said Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex during a meeting at his office in 2004.

The woman, Lucia Evans was among the first to speak out about the film producer.

An official says the charges are likely to include one other victim who has not spoken publicly.

The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the investigation.

Lawyers for the film producer have said all allegations that he forced himself on women were “entirely without merit.”

Last week, the Cannes Film Festival invited Italian actress Asia Argento to make some remarks about the #MeToo scandals. Perhaps the organizers expected a version of the “this year many spoke their truth and the journey ahead is long, but slowly, a new path has emerged” fortune-cookie talk that Annabella Sciorra had to read off a teleprompter at this year’s Oscars. The filmmaking community demonstrated over the past year that they’re so upset by the rampant sexual harassment and assault that they’re willing to unleash every vague euphemism they’ve got.

Argento pulled absolutely no punches. “In 1997, I was raped by Harvey Weinstein here at Cannes. I was 21 years old. This festival was his hunting ground.”

It seems like a lot of Hollywood figures were eager to jump to the healing and the “things are better now” assurances and skip over the accountability. Argento would have none of that, telling the stunned, silent audience, “even tonight, sitting among you, there are those that need to be held accountable for their conduct against women for behavior that does not belong in this industry, does not belong in any industry or workplace. You know who you are. But most importantly, we know who you are, and we’re not going to allow you to get away with it any longer.”

Who else is out there who is getting away with it?

Democrats Suddenly Realize How California’s Primary System Can Hurt Them

The New York Times acknowledges that California’s primary system, which sends the top two vote-getters to the general election regardless of party affiliation, could end up costing Democrats some winnable House seats. “California is the center of the action for Democrats looking to take back Congress. There are at least seven Republican-held seats vulnerable to a Democratic takeover. But in three of them, Democrats are in real danger of getting shut out because they have too many candidates competing for too few votes, opening a way for two Republicans to win those top two seats.”

Whoops. It’s almost like party primaries were there for a reason.

You may have heard during the post-2016-election Democratic temper tantrum that “45.2 million Americans cast a vote for a Democratic Senate candidate, while 39.3 million Americans voted for a Republican.” This is a lot easier to achieve when you have two Democrats running in the general election for Senate in California but no Republicans — meaning Democrats received 7.9 million votes for Senate there and Republicans had zero. “Had a Republican Senate candidate in California captured as many votes as Sanchez did — about 2.9 million — the total for the two parties nationwide would have been about even.”

At What Point Do We Reach the Saturation Point for Star Wars?

We’ll see how Solo: A Star Wars Story does at the box office in the coming weeks. But I wonder if Disney’s extraordinary ambitions for the cinematic world are starting to hit a ceiling.

I say this as a once die-hard fan. Maybe you had to be a child of the Reagan era to understand the enormous patience required of fans back then. Han Solo got stuck in carbonite . . . and we had to wait three years to see what happened next. From 1980 to 1983, kids debated whether Darth Vader really was Luke’s father, what Jabba the Hutt looked like, whether the Rebels would ever win. There was a lot of time for fans’ anticipation to build.

If you were a kid into science fiction, spaceships, aliens, and robots and all that in the 1980s, Hollywood gave you one or two films a year up your alley: A Star Trek film, E.T., Tron, The Last Starfighter . . . maybe you went into David Lynch’s Dune expecting a traditional sci-fi desert epic and walked out thoroughly confused.

Now retailers are wondering why Star Wars merchandise isn’t selling the way they hoped. Well, between 1977 and 1983, three Star Wars films came out. With each film, kids had three years of Christmases, Hanukkahs and birthdays to ask for and get all those toys they craved. (And with no Amazon.com, your selection of toys depended entirely upon what was in the Toys‘R’Us or other retailer that day.) Playing with the toys and making up your own stories in your head or with other kids was part of how you had fun during those three-year gaps in between movies — and after Return of the Jedi, Star Wars fans thought . . . that was it! The story was done.

With Solo hitting theaters today, we’ve now had four Star Wars films since December 2015 — and the Rebels television series, with each movie and show introducing its own line of merchandise. At some point the market gets saturated.

Separately, I’m sure when Disney bought the rights to Star Wars and announced plans for a new film every year, they envisioned something akin to Marvel (which they also own). Marvel Studios figured they could create and successfully market two superhero movies a year (now getting up to three) as long as each film and hero embraced a distinct genre or vibe. Thor was closer to a Lord of the Rings swords-and-sorcery epic, Captain America was a swashbuckling 1940s pulp adventure, Ant-Man was a comedic heist film. One could argue that they were other genres of films that just happened to have superheroes in them.

I’m not sure Star Wars lends itself so well to different styles of stories, at least in two-hour movie format. (The Rebels and Clone Wars animated series were able to experiment a bit more.) Solo is clearly going for a Western vibe and a heist story . . . but so was Rogue One, allegedly. The original Star Wars films already include elements of most of these genres: fantasy, war films, bits of comedy, a touch of romance, dollops of philosophy . . . all wrapped up in the broad space-opera sci-fi/action-adventure category.

Would a wackier, Guardians of the Galaxy vibe work in a Star Wars film? Would Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s conspiracy and political intrigue work in a Star Wars film, or would that feel too much like the plodding scene in the prequel trilogy?

Or did Disney spend $4 billion for the rights to make one kind of movie, with a built-in impassioned fan base . . . forever?

ADDENDA: John Podhoretz liked Deadpool 2, and I did too, but I’ll make one observation. One of the things that made the first Deadpool movie feel so fresh, surprising, and different was the relatively smaller budget and limited scale. It was as if Ryan Reynolds and crew scoffed at the idea that a superhero film had to be a big, elaborate epic, and they gambled that they could create a rollicking nearly-two-hour story with just a basic wisecracking-jerk-seeks-revenge-and-tries-to-rescue-girlfriend plot — no fate of the world at stake, no hunt-for-the-magic-Mcguffin, no we’ve-got-to-shut-down-that-machine-to-stop-that-giant-light-in-the-sky-and-doomsday third act. It was one step removed from a ’90s Steven Seagal movie with Don Rickles in the lead role.

Deadpool 2 is a bigger movie in just about every sense, and it starts to feel a little bit more like the summer blockbuster it was originally mocking — more characters, more elaborate sets, multiple villains, wildly destructive urban chases. It’s funny, it’s fun, it’s full of surprises . . . but once a couple of computer-generated-effect characters start pummeling each other, Deadpool 2 starts to get a little less distinguishable from the other X-Men movies, and/or the Avengers films and/or the deeply disappointing Justice League.

Culture

Virginia Man Urges You to Leave Despair Behind

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Graduates of the Columbia University School of Journalism (Keith Bedford/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why there’s no need for despair about your life, yet no point in looking for reassurance from the morning headlines; the summit with North Korea has been canceled, and that’s not such a bad thing; why NFL players don’t care if they’re denounced for kneeling during the National Anthem; and finally, the Washington Capitals give the nation’s capital a good reason to cheer.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love America’s Idiots

David French looks at the declining birth rate in America and wonders if we’re a country that is slowly succumbing to despair:

According to Psychology Today, “the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”

I must confess that, as the parent of two teenagers, none of this surprises me. I talk to my kids’ parents. I know their friends and peers. And while there are notable exceptions to every trend, theirs is not a generation characterized by hope and joy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents ask a version of this key question: “Were we this sad when we were young?”

Earlier in the week, I described the myriad stresses of modern life as a teenager. But despair seems like an excessive response.

You can’t control what happens to you; you can only control how you respond to what happens. At some point, you have to decide whether you’re going to let the rest of the world — events and people you have no control over — dictate your mood and outlook on life.

You cannot look to the morning headlines for affirmation. For the rest of your life, when you look at a newspaper (presuming they’re around much longer) or web site or watch television, you’re going to hear about someone doing something dumb. That’s just baked in the cake of the human experience. There will always be a “Florida Man” doing something reckless, insane, or unbelievably stupid. The morning news shows will always eagerly tell you about drunk airline passengers urinating on seats, running naked down the aisles, or punching deaf pregnant women and service dogs. If talking heads ever stop saying controversial things on cable news, Mediaite will go out of business.

The world is full of a lot of stupid people. Some people learn from experience, but a lot of people refuse to learn from painful experience. They double down, and usually end up stepping on a rake again — and usually they find an inventive new way to believe that it was somebody else’s fault.

People in this country vote for a lot of doofuses that I wouldn’t trust with a weed whacker, never mind the levers of power in government. College students take on massive debts and then choose to major in fields of study that guarantee long odds of full-time employment. Our Mona Charen made a good observation about all of those commencement speeches urging graduates to go out and change the world:

High-school and college graduates don’t know very much about the world. Maybe before they set out to change things, they should get a good grasp of how things actually work. Ask them the difference between term- and whole-life insurance, or how to change a tire, or how much to save every month, or whether you should call a cop after a fender bender. Ask them if they’ve ever organized a dance, far less a factory.

Once in the workforce, a lot of folks accept a job without reading the fine print or asking too many questions during the interview and are surprised to learn they don’t like the work. They max out the credit cards, figuring they’ll figure out how to pay that bill next month, and take out loans they’ll never be able to pay back. They get back together with that ex that everyone warned them about, utterly convinced that “this time, he’s changed.”

People choose to believe in crazy rumors, lunatic conspiracy theories, and everything they read on Facebook. They cross the street while staring down at their cell phones, roll the dice on discount plastic surgery and choose to eat Tide Pods. Somebody, somewhere, is taking Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle advice in “Goop” seriously.

At some point, you learn that it’s okay to zig when everyone else is zagging; it may very well be a sign you’re on the right track. I never took out an adjustable-rate mortgage. I discussed my wariness of gambling. My fashion sense is boring when it’s not awful, meaning I’ve taken a pass on all kinds of idiotic trends. Despite the impassioned efforts of my friend and co-host, I still don’t care about the Kardashians.

Can’t control it, don’t care. If somebody else makes a dumb mistake, that’s their responsibility. As the Poles say, “not my circus, not my monkeys.” Focus on your little Burkean platoon, and help out where you can for the people who matter most to you.

Maybe Pyongyang Is Just Too Erratic for Fruitful Negotiations

North Korea’s threatening to pull out of the summit with President Trump in Singapore scheduled for June 12.

If you subscribe to Robert Kelly’s perspective that Trump is too inattentive to details and too hungry for “a win” to negotiate effectively, then maybe this is for the best. In fact, this could end up strengthening the hand of the United States. The president and administration demonstrated not merely a willingness to talk, but an eagerness, and explicitly offered “protections” to the North Korean regime. If Pyongyang walks away from the table anyway — after being the one who invited Trump to the summit! — they will discredit the concept of diplomatic negotiations for a while. And if North Korea refuses to resolve matters through talks, then there’s no other option than ever-tightening sanctions and other forms of international pressure.

For what it’s worth, today the North Korean regime made a big show out of destroying its nuclear testing facilities, showcasing the demolition explosion of tunnels to selected international media . . . but not international arms inspectors.

UPDATE: And . . . never mind, then, as President Trump announced the summit is off in a letter to Kim Jong-un, citing the “tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in [his] most recent statement.” That’s the danger about brinkmanship at the bargaining table with Donald Trump. If you give him an excuse to walk away from the table, he might just use it.

The NFL Will Never Escape the National Anthem Controversy

President Trump gets a win, in the sense that the National Football League is setting policy and threatening to fine teams whose players kneel or otherwise demonstrate during the National Anthem . . . and then Trump has to take it one step farther: “I don’t think people should be staying in the locker rooms, but still I think it’s good. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. You shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”

Where, exactly, would he have them go?

I understand all the criticisms of the players and share a lot of the sentiment. Colin Kaepernick, in particular, seems like a uniquely ill-informed soul, denouncing police brutality in the United States while wearing a t-shirt featuring Fidel Castro. The protesting players interpret standing for the anthem as a blanket endorsement of the country as it is, instead of a gesture of respect for a country that, no matter its flaws, we are grateful to live in. They’re introducing divisive controversy into what is usually a unifying moment. They’re multimillionaires who live a life more blessed than 99 percent or so of their fellow citizens, never mind the rest of the world, and appear to be refusing to participate in a moment of appreciation for the country, its freedoms, and the opportunities America provides.

But these guys are taking a knee because they genuinely think it’s the right thing to do, and that it’s the most effective way to call attention to serious problems that they feel would otherwise be ignored. If you want to change their actions, you have to look at it from their perspective and persuade them that they’re harming the cause they want to help. Berating and insulting the players is unlikely to change their behaviors. Threatening them is unlikely to change their behavior either; they risk serious injury every day. They’re jocks, and have marinated in a culture of strength, conflict, and machismo since their early teen years. You think they’re going to back down because they’re getting criticized from the White House or angry calls to sports talk radio?

You have to convince the players that this is alienating people who would otherwise be natural allies. You have to persuade them that the public at large genuinely care about equal treatment under the law and police misconduct.

This is not an alien, faraway experience for young black professional athletes. Yesterday, Milwaukee police released video of police officers confronting Milwaukee Bucks rookie Sterling Brown, who was thrown to the pavement and tased over a parking violation. Half a dozen police cars ended up responding to this incident!

The overwhelming majority of people watching in the stadiums or on televisions at home will never be in a position to influence what a cop does when he pulls over a young black man. But the players need to have faith that those who want to see them stand for the anthem share the values the players do — and that the country we love is indeed committed to ensuring everyone’s rights are respected.

ADDENDA: Give credit to the Washington Capitals hockey team — for once, they didn’t break fans’ hearts! They’re in the Stanley Cup finals, and saved hockey fans from the incongruous matchup of warm, sun-drenched cities Las Vegas and Tampa. Almost every final matchup this century featured at least one cold-weather classic hockey locale: Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York, Jersey, Boston, Philly, Detroit, Ottowa, Edmonton, Calgary . . . Maybe in the coming weeks, Washington will have its first major sports championship since the Redskins won the 1992 Super Bowl.

White House

Trump’s Words Don’t Mean Much Anymore

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Take a moment today to tell someone you appreciate them — you never know when the chance to do it will be taken away from you. National Review lost Mike Potemra a few days ago. For a lot of my pieces over the years, I would turn in eh-okay-I-guess text, and Mike would reorganize it, trim it, polish it, and make it ten times better. He was sending back edits just a few weeks ago — maddening for someone like that to be gone so suddenly, without warning.

A slew of my colleagues are offering remembrances and fuller portraits of the greatly-missed Mike: Rich Lowry, Nat Brown, Kathryn Lopez, Andrew Stuttaford, Jay Nordlinger.

The Consequences of Trump

William Kristol laments, “I don’t want to interrupt conservative cheerleading on judges and deregulation, but is everyone fine with a president of the United States attacking our ‘Criminal Deep State?’ But not to worry. Because today’s ‘conservatives’ have decided ideas or words have no consequences.”

I don’t know if words and ideas have no consequences now. But I do think that the words of this president have . . . fewer consequences than a typical president, and I doubt Kristol would disagree. Trump says a lot of things. Sometimes he means it at the time and later changes his mind — almost like his words come with an expiration date! — and sometimes it’s pretty clear he’s BS-ing everyone; sometimes it’s clear he’s exaggerating with the inflated words of a car salesman — “You have 40 days until the election. You have 40 days to make every dream you ever dreamed for your country come true” — and sometimes it’s obvious he’s just raging and blowing off steam.

Anyone who has watched Trump over the years knows that what he says may or may not reflect what actually happened, and what he says will happen may or may not happen. (The most infamous New York Post headline about him came from his calling up Post editor Jerry Nachman, complaining, and nudging Marla Maples to concur with his own superlative self-assessment of his amorous skills.) His explanation of why he fired FBI director Comey changed several times. He suddenly became a fan of the Chinese telecommunications company ZTE. He announces steel and aluminum tariffs, then exempts the biggest exporters. He tells advisers he wants an immediate pullout of all troops from Syria, then orders new airstrikes in the country. He threatens to veto the omnibus spending bill, then relents and signs it into law.

I’d argue one of his worst moments in the past year was his sudden, on-camera embrace of a slew of Democrats’ gun control ideas, like a new assault-weapons ban, dismissing concealed-carry reciprocity, and “take the guns first and go through due process second.” But gun-control advocates didn’t get their hopes up, and the NRA didn’t really go to DEFCON One. Everyone knew Trump would change his position after someone talked to him and explained the ramifications.

I’d rather not have a president whose words don’t really mean much, but the people chose him, and until he’s defeated for reelection, impeached, or he heads off into retirement, he’s the president. If a having a bad temper and lashing out through furious words was enough to justify impeachment, Lyndon Johnson would have had a short presidency, Richard Nixon would have never served six years in the Oval Office, and Bill Clinton would never have served eight.

When Trump calls those investigating him a “criminal deep state” . . . does Kristol think it changes the mind of anyone who didn’t already feel that way? Was there anyone who thought the investigation of the president and those around him was legitimate until Trump started complaining?

Of course, Trump’s going to accuse anyone investigating him of being a “criminal deep state.” In Trump’s mind, they’ve proven their malevolent intent and moral corruption by the fact of their interest in investigating him. That trait of self-righteousness and instinctive demonizing of those investigating possible crimes isn’t a good trait, but it’s also not all that rare in a politician. Few elected officials warmly praise the men who scrutinize them. Ask Ken Starr. Ask Comey if Democrats welcomed his investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.

And there’s just enough reason to think, if there’s not a “criminal deep state,” then corner-cutting and groupthink were unnervingly pervasive in certain high-level law enforcement circles.

  • Would Attorney General Loretta Lynch have met privately with the spouse of a Republican candidate under investigation, the way she met with Bill Clinton? It’s just about unthinkable.
  • Would Lynch have insisted that the FBI Director not use the term “investigation” when discussing a GOP candidate?
  • In his memoir, Jim Comey describes an unnamed FBI lawyer worrying that mentioning the reopening of the investigation to Congress “may help elect Donald Trump president.” Would that lawyer have expressed the same concern if the parties were reversed?
  • The FBI could have specified more about the Steele dossier in its application to the FISA court and chose not to mention its ties to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC.
  • Just how much faith should the public have in the fairness and good judgment of high-level FBI officials like Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Page?

Trump might have a fair gripe, which is hard to see if you’ve already decided that he’s the devil and the root of all evil in American politics. Trump can be every bit as bad as you think he is and still have been treated unfairly by those at the highest levels of law enforcement and intelligence in 2016. The flaws of one side of our politics don’t wipe away the flaws of the other side.

Finally . . . yes, it would be better to live in an America with a president who had a verbal filter, who had impulse control, and who didn’t relish denouncing anyone who criticized him in the most incendiary manner. But I’m not sure I believe that our character as citizens is so easily shaped by whoever’s sitting in the Oval Office at any given moment. We’ve had moments of great charity and grace with not-so-great men serving as president, and we’ve had worsening social problems and egregious scandals with honorable men serving as commander-in-chief. To blame Trump for the moral climate of the country is to let the general public off the hook for its own decisions and actions.

I see 61 percent of Republicans believe the FBI is framing Trump, and 47 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable feeling towards the FBI.  You think those Americans will stop cooperating with law enforcement or federal investigations?

You Think Georgia Is Itching to Embrace Progressivism?

Meet the Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia: “[Stacey] Abrams owes more than $200,000 in debts, including about $54,000 to the IRS. She has said she’s on payment plan to pay back the debt, and has sought to frame her struggles as evidence she understands the problems that Georgians face.”

I’m sure a lot of Georgians grumble about paying taxes. But how many voters have the problem of . . . not paying $54,000 in taxes?

In an interview, Abrams said, “Managing your finances doesn’t mean you don’t have debt. It means that you never shirk your responsibilities, and you meet your obligations.” (All of the people who are owed money by Abrams may see that as shirking responsibilities and not meeting obligations.)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, “The Democrats largely abandoned centrist talk to appeal instead to left-leaning voters with a promise of implementing gun control, increasing financial aid for lower-income families and taking steps toward the decriminalization of marijuana.”

Georgia Republicans will have a primary runoff election between Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp July 24.

Also yesterday in Georgia, Democrats selected neither Richard Winfield nor Chalis Montgomery but . . . Tabitha Johnson-Green, who raised all of $5,340 as of the end of March. By comparison, Winfield raised $62,658 and Montgomery raised $90,917 through May. What’s all of this talk about money buying elections?

Not All That Much Blue in the Yellow Rose of Texas

Yes, yes, Beto O’Rourke walks on water, he’s Texas Democrats’ great white hope, he’s a fundraising phenom, he’s got the perfect biography . . .

But if this is the year for the big comeback by Texas Democrats, why was their turnout in the runoff election the smallest since 1920? Yes, O’Rourke wasn’t on the ballot, but there was a fairly hard-fought gubernatorial runoff.

ADDENDA: Over in the Washington Post, Alyssa Rosenberg observes that the Obamas’ deal with Netflix means their projects will never really “flop,” no matter how many or how few people watch them: “On Netflix, the Obamas have a layer of protection from that outcome. The streaming service can float any one of a number of metrics to paint the Obamas’ projects as a success, and for all media reporters can question what those figures really mean, it’ll be impossible to render a meaningful judgment to the contrary.”

Almost like the Obamas’ entertainment projects are . . . too big to fail?

U.S.

Trump’s Email . . . Er, Cellphone, Scandal

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President Trump on the phone in June (Reuters photo: Carlos Barria)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Trump chooses to emulate one of Hillary Clinton’s worst traits; a Democratic candidate with some weird beliefs down in Georgia; what to expect from the new Obama-Netflix deal; and an ugly scandal down in South Carolina’s Low Country.

Phoning It in on Communications Security

Am I the only one who remembers that a big argument against Hillary Clinton was that she used an insecure email system and multiple cell phones, and disregarded the rules and laws about the handling of classified information? Do any of the president’s allies ever want to hold him to the standard they held Clinton to?

President Donald Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials — a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance.

The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.

The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones — one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites — are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.

While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” the same administration official said.

The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump’s call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out.

Why should we care about anything in politics if issues only matter in circumstances that they can be used to attack the opposition?

Even the excuses are the same! Hillary Clinton, March 10, 2015: “I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.”

Some Georgia Democrats Have Some Really Weird Ideas

Erick Erickson writes that today’s gubernatorial primary in Georgia is “the most important election in America for the time being.”

The race pits two Staceys against each other: Abrams and Evans. This race is the most important because it will define the future of the Democratic coalition and Democrats look like they’re about to bet on the losing coalition even if it might be a short-term winner nationally . . .

Abrams represents the progressive wing that will rally highly educated, white, secular voters and minorities. Evans believes the Democrats needs to make an argument to blue collar voters beyond “trust us.” Evans recognizes Democrats cannot go so far left as to alienate would be Democratic voters who are white. Abrams is ready to blow past them and then tell them her ideas will help them, even if they culturally and socially oppose her issues and values.

Elsewhere in Georgia, Democrats will compete for the chance to take on incumbent Republican Jody Hice in the tenth district, a fairly Republican-leaning (R+15) mix of urban and rural communities between Atlanta and Augusta. There’s poorly funded Tabitha Johnson-Green, music teacher Chalis Montgomery, and professor Richard Winfield.

Some of the offerings in Winfield’s 1998 book The Just Family are . . . odd. For starters, he seems to think that “constitutional law should extend to family relations and specify the inalienable household duties of spouses, parents and children, leaving the contingent dimensions of these entitlements and obligations to the corrigible labors of positive legislation.” Get government out of our bedrooms . . . and into every other room in the house, apparently.

His perspective on the mentally disabled in the same book is horrifying:

In the case of irretrievably impaired children, parents retain personal responsibility for providing care, since no other individuals have any particular obligation to bear the burden of a caretaking without upbringing. Civil institutions, however, can relieve parents of their charge without violating any rights of the victim since the latter’s status as a potential person has been obliterated. A systematic treatment of such intervention must await the conception of the relation between family and civil society.

He seems to want the government to get into the business of requiring a license for parenting.

Although current practice tends to limit public scrutiny of parental qualifications to prospective adopters, the need is just as pressing with natural parents of children. Although requiring a license for parenting, as Blustein suggests, is one method for publicly certifying parental qualifications, the likelihood of reproduction by unlicensed parents makes this an unwieldly option. A more effective measure would involve making training in parenting a requirement of mandatory public education and attempting to ensure that all able individuals complete that schooling with success.

(Is it just me, or does the term “unlicensed parents” send a chill down your spine”?)

Confronted with all this in a debate, Winfield “said he stands by the book and invited the audience to read it. He compared himself to Socrates being put on trial. ‘I have nothing to hide, and despite the efforts of the opposition to drag us down into the river of dirty politics, the truth will prevail,’ he said.”

Is quoting a guy’s own book “dragging down into the river of dirty politics”?

Choose carefully, Georgia Democrats.

Coming Soon to ObamaFlix

Announcement: “President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have entered into a multi-year agreement to produce films and series for Netflix, potentially including scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries, and features.”

UPCOMING RELEASES OF OBAMA-NETFLIX DEAL

The Life of Julia: Comedy. A hapless Millennial without eyes thinks she’s got life all figured out . . . and then things get complicated. In each episode, her terrible judgment louses everything up, until she’s saved by staying on her parent’s health insurance, the stimulus, Dodd-Frank financial reform, cap and trade, and federal funding for a Cowboy Poetry festival.

Marvel’s Choom Gang: In 1970s Hawaii, laid-back teenager Barry and his buddies, a wacky group of stoner oddballs, smoke some vibranium-enhanced marijuana that allows them to see through time. They realize that some sinister figure has traveled back in time and altered history, changing the 43rd president in the 21st-century to Matthew Ellis. Converting their Volkswagen Bus “Choomwagon” into a time machine, Barry and his “buds” stumble their way through historical moments of the 1960s to 1980s, attempting to bend the arc of history back toward justice.

Even Stranger Things: A group of innocent, adorable, bike-riding kids stumble onto a series of sinister government conspiracies — VA hospitals leaving veterans dying waiting for care, the Internal Revenue Service targeting Tea Parties for extra scrutiny and hostile treatment, insufficient security at consulates in hostile countries, massive data breaches at the Office of Personnel Management, loan guarantees to solar-panel companies that collapse. The kids learn that because of a nefarious government experiment in the 1980s, all of these programs are invisible to the eyes of anyone of cabinet rank or higher.

Armed Narcos: An quick and angry — er, make that fast and furious — Mexican drug dealer rises to the top of the cartel once the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms starts shipping him guns, no questions asked.

The Queen’s iPod: A modern monarch struggles with the challenges of power in the 21st century until she finds inspiration in an iPod of speeches from a beloved former president.

Red Mirror: An anthology series about how modern technology is secretly ambushed and overtaken by Russian hackers, bots, and trolls, and how a Russian dictator altered your vote, changed the laws that govern you, brainwashed your nutty right-wing uncle, controlled the weather, made your morning coffee too bitter, and made you stub your toe this morning.

Fourteen Reasons Why: In a series of audio cassettes, a troubled teenager offers a variety of reasons to explain how Obama was a remarkably successful president, and how President Trump’s election confirms this, instead of offering evidence that the country was so exhausted and exasperated with progressive Democratic rule that they were willing to roll the dice on a reality-show host.

(Let’s face it, a House of Cards joke would have been too easy.)

ADDENDA: Some ugly controversy down in my parents’ neck of the woods:

Less than a month before the statewide primaries, the Beaufort County South Carolina Republican Party has asked one of its members — a public official running for re-election — to apologize for using an anti-Semitic slur.

The party voted 14-0 Thursday evening after a candidate forum in Bluffton to request that Beaufort County Auditor Jim Beckert, who was in attendance, write a formal letter of apology to party Chairwoman Sherri Zedd for twice addressing emails to her as “Arbeit Zedd.”

“Arbeit” is a German word for “work.” During the Holocaust, Nazis put the phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei” —  or, “Work Sets You Free” — on the gates of concentration camps such as Dachau and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

When Dad mentioned this mess to me, we both had a very, very, very difficult time believing that someone would accidentally use the term “Arbeit” twice in separate e-mails, not know its connection to the Holocaust and concentration camps, and only use it to refer to the one Jewish person in a group.

At that meeting, Beckert claimed that Zedd told him it was part of her name — her proper first name, even though everyone calls her “Sherri” — and spelled it out for him.

Riiiiight.

Zedd denies this. It’s one of those, “either he’s stupid, or he thinks we’re stupid” situations.

Politics & Policy

Would You Ever Agree to Be a Teenager Again?

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Law enforcement officers are responding to Santa Fe High School following a shooting incident in this Harris County Sheriff office, Santa Fe, Texas, photo released on May 18, 2018. (Courtesy HCSO/Handout via Reuters )

We’re going to do this again, huh? Another debate about gun control after a mass shooting?

We still have to debate gun control, even after the shooter built functioning bombs? After he used weapons that no federal official, including Dianne Feinstein, wants to prohibit?

I notice that school shooters rarely have lived lives of terrible abuse and deprivation, the sort of experiences that make you think, “oh, good heavens, well, no wonder that person finally snapped.” When their tales are told, the portraits of their life reveal mundane problems — loneliness, bullying, social isolation and alienation; an attraction to a girl that isn’t reciprocated. Those are all deeply unpleasant experiences, but they’re also extremely common among teenagers. Raise your hand if you were never bullied. Raise your hand if you never felt like an outsider or a loser. Raise your hand if you’ve never been rejected or turned down by someone you liked. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

The social conditions of teenagers — and let’s face it, we’re talking about teenage boys — haven’t changed that much from when today’s adults were that age. Schoolwork is still hard, and as Will Smith sang, “parents just don’t understand.” (Think about it, as a working adult, you’re probably expected to be proficient and knowledgeable about one area of life, from nine-ish to five-ish. A high-school student is supposed to be proficient and knowledgeable about math, science, history, or social studies; English or literature; a foreign language; possibly art; possibly music; good enough in gym class — changing in front of their peers in the locker room! And then they have homework. And then there’s the SATs. The more that teachers, parents, and guidance counselors tell you that this one test doesn’t determine your future . . . the more you start to suspect this one test determines your future.)

If the cool crowd is a minority, then the majority will feel left out of that cool crowd. Girls remain bewildering and endlessly desirable but difficult to charm. Hormones make everything worse. Everybody else seems to have figured out something that makes them special, unique, a standout, whether it’s on the athletic field, or the honor roll, or the school play, or some other activity. You’re flailing along through life, kinda-sorta-okay at this or that but disappearing as a face in the crowd. You can remember grade school and middle school and things didn’t seem so hard then. You feel like you missed some important day of class where they explained who you are, and what you’re supposed to do with the rest of your life, and how to be one of those special people — the valedictorian, captain of the football team, homecoming king. And everybody else seems to have already memorized the rules to thrive in life, and you’re stuck making it up as you go along.

Your face is breaking out like a pepperoni pizza; your body keeps growing and your clothes don’t fit; your voice cracks; everyone else seems to have heard of the latest new cool song, TV show, movie, meme, trend, or whatever and you feel like your family is so hopelessly out-of-touch and behind-the-times you might as well be Amish. The rich kids have their own cars already.

Worst of all, every now and then some unthinkingly cruel adult will tell you these are the best years of your life.

Like I said, all of us have been there in some time of teenage (or post-teenage) depression, frustration, ennui, alienation, and loneliness. Most of us got through those tough times without feeling that the best, or only remaining course, was to lash out through violence, culminating in self-destruction. Maybe today’s teenage world, with social media, increases the venues for ostracization. Maybe we have more undiagnosed mental illness (although today’s schools are more attuned to that than ever).

Family breakdown is probably a factor; out of the 27 deadliest mass shootings in the United States, 26 of the perpetrators were not raised by their biological fathers. But this by itself doesn’t explain it, because a lot of boys lack a father in the picture and don’t turn out to be mass shooters.

What has changed, and defines the post-Columbine world, is that a mass shooting is now the quickest way to get not merely your high school, but your community and perhaps the entire country wondering about what was going through the mind of an otherwise anonymous teenager:

For one thing, newspaper front pages have changed. They’re mostly pixels now, not ink, and news travels fast. Shooters know that their names and faces will bounce around Facebook and Twitter, and make their way to the front pages of news sites and blogs around the world. Their acts result in notoriety, a sick celebrity status, and that’s a powerful allure for young people who, in some cases, haven’t really found a place to belong in the real world.

Meloy told Next America that from an epidemiological perspective, one of the macro variables that has shifted most dramatically in the past six or seven years is the advent and proliferation of social media.

“Historically, one of the central motivations in cases, although not the only one, is a desire for notoriety and a desire for infamy, and now we have a setting, a cultural and social setting, where your act of multiple homicides will be known about internationally within moments,” he said. So there’s a twisted incentive that didn’t exist a generation ago.

Is it possible that our relentless coverage, analysis, and discussion of school shooters increases that “twisted incentive”? We don’t have the option of not covering these events — imagine that there was a school shooting in the next town over, and your local media chose to simply not cover it, lest they inadvertently glamorize it or inspire copycats.

But as David French and Malcolm Gladwell spell out, the threshold gets brought down another notch with each shooting. It may be that we’ve created the expectation among certain teenage boys that when they feel sufficiently alienated and isolated and rejected and angry about the world, this is what an angry teenage boy is supposed to do. Yes, you either end up dead or in jail for the rest of your life, but “everyone” will remember your name for the rest of their lives.

As the old saying goes, newspapers don’t write stories about all of the airline flights that land safely. But maybe we do need to spotlight — again and again — that a lot of these commonplace teenage feelings of loneliness and disappointment are commonplace. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re having these feelings. Everybody goes through dark times. Probably the vast majority of the people who you envy, who seem to have it all figured out, are dealing with their own doubts, their own fears, their own feelings of inadequacy. Whatever you’re going through, you will get through it. Better days are ahead, even if you can’t see them.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably doing okay; in my opinion you’re demonstrating you’re among the brightest, best informed, wisest, and most successful folks around. But just in case you’re not feeling that way, and need someone to talk to, a whole slew of counseling hotlines can be found here.

Who Wants a Summit with North Korea More?

This is why it’s difficult to follow an impulsive leader.

President Trump, increasingly concerned that his summit meeting in Singapore next month with North Korea’s leader could turn into a political embarrassment, has begun pressing his aides and allies about whether he should take the risk of proceeding with a historic meeting that he had leapt into accepting, according to administration and foreign officials.

Mr. Trump was both surprised and angered by a statement issued on Wednesday by the North’s chief nuclear negotiator, who declared that the country would never trade away its nuclear weapons capability in exchange for economic aid, administration officials said.

North Korea’s shift was unpleasant and out-of-the-blue, but not really out of character. No doubt they would threaten to walk away from the table the moment they thought they could wring a concession out of the United States.

And they’re already getting concessions:

A planned training exercise involving U.S. B-52 bombers and South Korean planes was scrapped earlier this week after the South Korean government expressed concerns that it could generate tensions before a planned summit meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to U.S. officials.

Who’s got leverage now?

The ‘Terrifying’ Constitution

Benajmin Wittes, writing in The Atlantic and terrified and outraged that President Trump is urging the Department of Justice to investigate if the previous administration ordered a wiretap on him.

Consider a few facts: President Trump has the constitutional authority to make this demand. The idea that the President doesn’t interfere in law enforcement investigative matters is one of our deep normative expectations of the modern presidency. But it is not a matter of law. Legally, if the President of the United States wants to direct the specific conduct of investigations, that is his constitutional prerogative. If Trump wants to corruptly direct the conduct of an investigation in order to out an FBI source who was helping our government investigate Russian interference in our electoral processes, well, Article II of the Constitution begins with these terrifying words: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”

Oh, now the Imperial Presidency is a problem! Heck, I’m fine with limiting the president’s powers, as long as those limits don’t get loosened once a Democrat’s back in office.

ADDENDA: R.I.P., Bernard Lewis. Jay Nordlinger offers a terrific appreciation here:

I can just hear Bernard say something with perfect irony: “Some people believe that Arabs should be free of dictatorship, like others in the world. This is known as the anti-Arab, or Western-imperialist, view. Other people say or imply that Arabs are destined to live under dictatorship, as the natural and rightful state of affairs. This is known as the pro-Arab view. . . .”

A book by Lewis was translated into Hebrew and published by the Israeli defense ministry. The same book was translated into Arabic and published by the Muslim Brotherhood (unauthorized). In his preface to the Arabic version, the translator said, “I don’t know who this author is, but one thing about him is clear: He is either a candid friend or an honorable enemy, and in either case is one who has disdained to falsify the truth.”

Lewis always said that this was one of the great compliments of his career.

Politics & Policy

Shots Fired at a Trump Property: Nothing to See Here?

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Is it time for another discussion about whether heated political rhetoric is nudging the mentally unstable to believe that violence is justified?

Or are there no broader lessons to be learned here?

A man who was firing shots, waving an American flag and “yelling and spewing some information about President Trump” was shot and wounded by police early Friday at Trump National Doral, the golf and spa resort owned by President Donald Trump in northwest Miami-Dade.

The shooting at the resort — located off the Palmetto Expressway at Northwest 36th Street and 87th Avenue — happened about 1:30 a.m., Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez said during a pre-dawn news conference outside the resort that was carried live by local television stations.

I’m fine with the “no broader lessons to be learned here” approach that a lot of people applied to the House Republicans’ softball practice and other physical attacks on GOP lawmakers. I’ll happily accept the conclusion that crazy and violent people are just crazy and violent, and that there’s no point in trying to police the rhetoric of the politically passionate, because we don’t believe in restricting speech (other than direct threats) and the link between furious denunciations and specific acts of violence is far too tenuous to justify the restrictions.

But if that’s the rule . . . then that’s the rule for everyone. I just want the same rule to apply to both sides. I’m also open to the argument that our rhetoric is demonizing — er, dehumanizing (“animals!”) — our political opponents, and that this is feeding into a mentality that political violence is justified.

But if there are no broader lessons to be learned from the Alexandria shooting, or this one at a Trump property, or the guy who mailed white powder to Donald Trump Jr.’s wife, then we shouldn’t drag out the tired clichés about the need to “change the tone” the next time someone claiming to be affiliated with a right-wing cause commits some terrible act of violence. Human frailty and the capacity to do great evil do not rest entirely one side of the political spectrum.

As it is now, far too many Americans believe that heated rhetoric does stir up violent impulses — but only on the other side.

‘I’m Just Over It. Nobody Cares.’ It’s Morally Wrong, But Not Factually Wrong

Some folks are giving retiring Tennessee senator Bob Corker some grief over this statement about fiscal responsibility and the deficit and debt: “Yeah, I’m just over it. Nobody cares. The president isn’t going to deal with it, he made it clear in the campaign.”

No doubt a significant portion of the people who are giving Corker the grief voted for Obama twice, despite the trillion-dollar deficits in the early years of his presidency. Acknowledging that nobody cares is not a declaration that nobody should care. But I cannot help but suspect that there’s a certain cynical joy in Democrats when they point out how Republican lawmakers have stopped caring about the deficit and the debt. The issue has been put before the American electorate, again and again and again, for a generation. Just about every time, a majority of the electorate rejects the premise that we have to control spending. They just don’t see it as a tangible threat and problem, certainly not on the scale of insufficient economic opportunity, stagnant wages, crime, illegal immigration, terrorism . . .

Should they care about the debt? Absolutely. But Republicans have made these arguments until they’re blue in the face, and they’ve learned the hard way that the support for “controlling spending” is a mile wide and an inch deep. Everybody likes it in theory until you actually start cutting spending. When push comes to shove, voters believe it can be resolved by raising taxes on the nebulously-defined “rich.”

How many times are Republicans supposed to campaign for office by promising to drag the country, kicking and screaming, down a path that it needs but doesn’t want? Why should one party promise the economic equivalent of kale and Brussels sprouts when the other party is promising free all-you-can-eat ice cream? It’s pretty rich to see Democrats scoffing about the GOP not caring about the deficits and the debt when liberal writers have argued for years, explicitly, that deficits don’t matter.

Laurel, Yanny, the Internet’s Weirder Corners, and Urban Legends

Wired steps in to explain the mystery of Laurel or Yanny:

The higher frequency sounds in the recording make people hear “Yanny,” whereas the lower frequencies cause others to swear they hear “Laurel.” What you hear depends on what sounds your brain is paying attention to, your past experiences, and what you’re expecting to hear. What word you experience might also have to do with your age. Older adults often start losing their hearing within the higher-frequency range, meaning it’s possible that more young people hear “Yanny.”

I heard “Laurel” so clearly when I first ran across this that I thought it had to be some sort of massive trick where some people pretended to hear “Yanny” to gaslight the rest of us. Then my wife listened, after hearing nothing about the Internet trend, and she said she clearly heard “Yanny.” I knew immediately that meant she had been replaced with an alien pod person, so I tied her up and locked her in the basement. No, just kidding, but it was fascinating to see someone you’ve been talking to your entire life can hear something completely different. (“Honey, when you asked me to take out the trash, it must have been at a higher frequency that I can’t hear.”)

The New York Times developed a neat doohickey that allows you to adjust the tone to increase your likelihood of hearing “Laurel” or “Yanni.”

A couple times a year, the Internet just drops some odd phenomenon in our lap, such as the dress or hoaxes such as President Trump’s fascination with “the Gorilla Channel.” Heck, just in the political realm, we’ve had plenty of hoaxes, unverified claims, and “fake news.” The “whitey tape” in 2008, the various Birther conspiracy theories*, Sarah Palin and Trig, the 9/11 Truthers. It might be time to put tales of Trump’s sordid acts with Russian prostitutes in Moscow in that category.

One might think that the rise of the Internet, Google, and mobile phones would be the end of urban legends; it’s a lot easier to check things out and search for verifying evidence now than in the pre-Internet age. If there had really been an arcade video game released only in the Portland area in the early 1980s, that was actually some sort of nefarious psychology experiment that triggered amnesia, insomnia, and hallucinations, it would have left a paperwork trail — which company made it, which arcades had it, names of people affected by its sinister programming, etcetera.

In the pre-Internet days, if you heard a strange story about something weird that happened to a kid in the next town over, it was much harder to verify or disprove. When you heard about a cousin of a friend of a friend who went to New Orleans or Las Vegas, got blackout drunk, and woke up in a bathtub of ice with a note saying their kidney had been removed . . . you could be fairly sure it was nonsense, but not entirely sure. Bad things did happen to tourists when they wandered into the wrong neighborhood, and it turns out that the tale began with an authentic claim . . . that was only partially true: In the late 80s, a Turkish man named Ahmet Koc had agreed to sell a kidney, then made up a story about being tricked afterwards.

But the Internet just created a whole new canvas for urban legend creators: Slenderman, stairs in the forest, Wikipedia pages that predict the future. And perhaps real-world events have cultivated a sense that the barrier between “possible” and “impossible” doesn’t seem as firm as it used to be. Donald Trump is president of the United States. Bruce Jenner is now Caitlyn. Bill Cosby was a monster all along. Kanye West is apparently transforming himself into a conservative hero.

Disney really does have some creepy abandoned properties. No word on any ghosts or monsters, though.

*Every now and then I get an e-mail accusing me of being one of the figures who started the birther nonsense. Loren Collins wrote a nice, detailed history of the birther rumor that covers my minor early role accurately — that I always thought it was extraordinarily unlikely, and publicly urged the Obama campaign to release his birth certificate to dispel the absurd rumor that his middle name was not Hussein but “Muhammad.”

ADDENDA: Michael Brendan Dougherty shares my wariness about the effects of widespread legal sports gambling: “How much of America’s economic success is built on a work ethic bolstered by Protestant norms, and on Protestant laws against gambling? How much of the more fatalistic, resentful attitudes about economic success that suffuse Punter’s cultures results from the wide presence of this vice? Would you chance your arm on America’s work culture improving after we become a Punter’s nation? Paddy Power’s prediction markets are getting creative enough. Soon you might be able to place that bet.”

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U.S.

Trump’s ‘Animals’ Are MS-13 Members, Not All Illegal Immigrants

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Members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang (MS-13) are escorted after being presented to the media after being detained by the police during a private party in San Salvador, El Salvador, August 10, 2017. (Jose Cabezas/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: For once, Trump’s heated, hyperbolic rhetoric feels appropriate; a long look at a Democratic congressman who’s called moderate but is nothing of the sort; and the Robert Mueller investigation hits one year . . . and why it’s, at least so far, mostly just confirming what we already expected.

Who’s an Animal?

President Trump, during a roundtable event discussing sanctuary cities yesterday, talking with Fresno County sheriff Margaret Mims:

SHERIFF MIMS: Thank you. There could be an MS-13 member I know about — if they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about it.

THE PRESIDENT: We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy. The dumbest laws — as I said before, the dumbest laws on immigration in the world. So we’re going to take care of it, Margaret. We’ll get it done.

I’d prefer if the president spoke more precisely and clearly, but it seems pretty clear to me that the president is referring to MS-13 gang members as animals. That, of course, is not what the media reported.

The New York Times: “Trump lashed out at undocumented immigrants during a White House meeting, calling those trying to breach the country’s borders ‘animals’”

HuffPost: “Trump Refers To Immigrants As ‘Animals.’ Again.”

Vox: “Trump on deported immigrants: ‘They’re not people. They’re animals.’”

The Washington Post: “Trump compares illegal immigrants to ‘animals’”

Come on, Washington Post. We expect you to shed a clarifying light on controversies such as these, not obscure them further with inaccurate headlines. Haven’t you guys ever heard that democracy dies in darkness?

You could argue, as John Harwood of the Wall Street Journal does, that even MS-13 members are human beings, and that there’s reason to be worried when an American leader — or a leader anywhere, really — starts arguing that a certain group of people aren’t really human beings. (You know, such as “partially born,” the disabled, or the terminally ill, right?)

But let’s have no illusions about MS-13. Their motto is “Kill, Rape, Control.” They’re heavily involved in sex trafficking and forcing underage girls into prostitution. They don’t merely kill those who cross them; they do so in particularly gruesome ways to intimidate others, such as stabbing a teenager 153 times in a public park. They leave bodies of victims near elementary schools.

Advancement within the gang requires murdering members of rival gangs. Some members are literally Satanists, justifying their murders with the claim that the Devil “wanted a soul.”

If there’s any group of human beings that you can label “animals,” and deserve the absolute minimum rebuke for dehumanizing rhetoric . . . it’s MS-13 members. (I might throw terrorists, the Iranian Mullahs, Russia’s FSB, North Korean thugs, and the Taliban in there, too. If not literal animals, those who make the deliberate infliction of pain and suffering upon others their life’s work don’t get to play the “hey, we’re all just flawed human beings, right?” card later on.) They’re human, but the worst of humanity. And the standard objections to “eliminationist rhetoric” don’t seem as applicable when we’re talking about a group that we would genuinely like to eliminate — if not fatally, then through incarceration.

Donald Trump says a lot of crude, obnoxious, inappropriate, incendiary, and disgusting things, but this . . . really isn’t one of them.

Adam Schiff, the Immoderate

If you already haven’t read my long look at Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, do so now. Perhaps what’s most astounding about the seemingly-always-on-television rising Democratic star is how he’s created a reputation for being a moderate without ever really being moderate in his positions at all. From the piece:

For a long time, the nation’s political reporters had a uniform opinion about Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. The New Yorker wrote that until the election of Trump, Schiff “was known in Washington as a milquetoast moderate.” The New York Times described him as “more labradoodle than Doberman.” McClatchy News Service said Schiff had “worked for years to avoid” the label of partisan. The Washington Post called him a “mild-mannered centrist.”

I know some people quibble with how the American Conservative Union defines a “conservative” vote, but there’s not much argument that when you score less than 5 out 100 over the course of your career, you’re not just liberal, you’re pretty darn liberal. Nancy Pelosi has a lifetime rating of 2.5; Maxine Waters has a 4.26. You have to look hard to find Schiff criticizing the Obama administration, at least when it could have meant something; once Obama had been out of office for six months, then Schiff started criticizing how he and his team had handled Russia, North Korea, and cybersecurity. One of the reasons the Right is so wary about Democrats’ enthusiasm for impeachment of Trump, despite Trump’s manifest flaws, is because they remember how casually Democrats talked about impeaching the last Republican president. In 2008, Schiff voted for a resolution from Dennis Kucinich arguing that it was time to consider impeaching George W. Bush for abuses of power.

Whether you love Adam Schiff or hate him, you should see him accurately. After finishing this piece, I began to wonder how many political journalists apply the label “moderate” based upon a lawmaker’s persona and speaking style, instead of his views and voting record.

Happy Anniversary, Robert Mueller

It’s the first anniversary of the launch of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election. What have we learned in the past year?

Look, campaign foreign-policy adviser George Papadopoulos is the kind of big-talking, poorly informed, not-willing-to-do-the-research fool who was willing to believe that a young Russian woman was “Putin’s niece” even though the Russian dictator had no siblings who lived to adulthood. You wonder what he would be willing to trade away for a pile of “magic beans.”

Paul Manafort? Some of us were warning about him being a walking sleaze with shady foreign connections from the get-go.

Jared Kushner? Look, the world of presidential campaigns and international diplomacy are a long way from doing Manhattan real-estate deals, pal. Anytime an American suggests “using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications,” he’s essentially volunteering to wear a sign that says, “I’m either dumb, naïve, or up to no good.”

When told about “the crown prosecutor of Russia” having “documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” Donald Trump Jr. did not respond, “This is probably the sort of thing we should refer to the FBI.” He instead replied, “If it’s what you say I love it.” The son of the president clearly had no moral qualms about accepting help from the Russian government.

I have a hard time believing that Michael Flynn genuinely “forgot” to disclose that did a half-million dollars’ worth of work for a foreign company.

Even by the standards of longtime Trump aides, Sam Nunberg may have serious mental-health issues. Carter Page is a little weird — okay, more than a little weird — with a serious belief that we can get along well with Putin’s Russia, and zero instincts for self-preservation. Roger Stone — well, we always knew what Roger Stone was.

What we’ve learned is what many of us suspected at the time: In 2016, Donald Trump was surrounded by the absolute bottom of the barrel of GOP advisers and campaign strategists, family members completely alien to the way a presidential campaign operated (and the laws governing that), grifters, opportunists, hangers-on, and enough unsavory characters to create an all-human version of the bar scene from Star Wars. (And that was before Steve Bannon showed up!) A lot of people who never would have gotten through the door of a “normal” presidential campaign got into Trumpland and saw the candidate, whether he won or not, as a ticket to a big payday down the road.

That’s not good. But that’s also not yet evidence of a criminal conspiracy on the part of Russia and the Trump campaign, and certainly not yet evidence that Russia’s actions altered the outcome of the election. There is a palpable belief among a significant chunk of Hillary Clinton supporters that the 2016 election represents an unacceptable cosmic injustice that can only be rectified by 1) some sort of ruling that Trump “cheated” and that the result is somehow illegitimate and 2) impeachment of Trump, and preferably along with him Pence and as many Republicans as it takes until there is a Democratic president. (At this moment, the next 17 people after Trump in the line of succession are registered Republicans, except for James Mattis and Kirstjen Nielsen. However, if Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, the next speaker, whether it’s Nancy Pelosi or some other Democrat, would become president if both Trump and Pence were impeached concurrently.)

ADDENDA: In light of the Laurel–Yanny auditory test, tomorrow’s Jolt may feature a look at lot of strange Internet phenomena.

Elections

Turn Pennsylvania Red . . . No, Red

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Making the click-through worthwhile: Deep-blue state legislative districts in Pennsylvania start flirting with the red . . . of openly professed socialist candidates; Democrats nominate their more liberal candidates, Republicans nominate their more moderate options; many bright writers discuss the influence of Tom Wolfe; and a quick observation about how modern media are changing language for the worse.

Democrats Nominate Literal, Non-Metaphorical Socialists in Pennsylvania Primaries

Two openly socialist candidates — as in, dues-paying members of Pittsburgh’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America — won Democratic primaries for the Pennsylvania state House of Representatives last night.

The [defeated incumbent Democrat] Costa cousins represent deeply blue districts in a city where winning the Democratic nomination is often tantamount to winning the general election. Sara Innamorato and Summer Lee are running primary campaigns against them that are anything but quixotic. Both challengers have aired television ads and have garnered support from a handful of prominent local officials. Both have notched endorsements from the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood. Lee has outraised her opponent, Paul Costa, and Innamorato has kept pace with Dom Costa. The districts are small—each holds 60,000 people—and the campaigns expect to be able to win each primary with just about 3,500 votes. Volunteers, including a hefty portion of DSA members, have knocked and canvassed tens of thousands of doors.

The further-left Democratic candidates won in a lot of primaries across the country last night, but it’s fair to wonder if that’s really the smart move in places such as . . . Omaha, Nebraska.

The potential problem for Democrats is that Eastman’s outspoken liberalism may turn off general-election voters in Nebraska’s 2nd District, which, while not ruby red, is still red. True, Barack Obama carried it 50 to 49 percent in 2008 — but that was 10 years ago and in an election where Democrats won the popular vote by 7 percentage points. Since then, Mitt Romney carried the district by 7 points (while losing nationally by 4 points), and Trump won it by 2 (while losing nationally by 2). All in all, the 2nd is 6 percentage points more Republican-leaning than the nation as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric.2 Democrats currently lead the generic ballot by that same 6 points. If that’s true in November, that would theoretically translate to a tie ballgame in the 2nd District — the kind where small considerations, like a candidate’s appeal to the median voter, could tilt the outcome.

And the Republicans . . . actually nominated the more moderate options in a lot of races last night.

Republicans held primaries last night too — and, in a role reversal, for the most part they chose more electable options. In Idaho, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who enjoyed the support of much of Idaho’s Republican establishment, defeated Trump-like businessman Tommy Ahlquist and bomb-throwing tea party Rep. Raul Labrador in the primary for governor. In Oregon, pro-choice state Rep. Knute Buehler fended off two more conservative Republicans with 47 percent of the vote, preserving a potential path to victory for the GOP in the Beaver State’s gubernatorial race. And in Pennsylvania, state Sen. Scott Wagner — who came the closest to defeating Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in pre-primary polls — topped Paul Mango, albeit by a smaller-than-expected 44-to-37-percent margin.

These choices won’t make a huge difference in a “blue wave” election cycle, but in March, Trump’s approval rating in the RCP average was 39.8 percent; today it’s 43.1 percent.

Contemplating the Life’s Work of the Great Tom Wolfe

There are great fiction writers. There are great nonfiction writers. What made Tom Wolfe downright unfair is how he slid over from being a brilliant journalist and nonfiction writer to bring a brilliant novelist and fiction writer without skipping a beat.

Wolfe was frequently described as a conservative and was a longtime friend of many figures at National Review, but he may not have seen himself as a conservative; as our Kyle Smith notes,  he voted for Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. But he enjoyed puncturing smugness and hypocrisy wherever he found it, which meant he was often at odds with the modern Left. The Editors offer a revealing quote from Wolfe from 1980:

These days, if you mock the prevailing fashion in the world of the arts or journalism, you’re called a conservative. Which is just another term for a heretic. I would much rather be called a conservative in that case than its opposite, I assure you.

(Revealing for everyone who argues, “the hard Left has never had such an iron grip on the arts and culture as it does today.”)

His New York magazine essay, “Radical Chic” is online:

Wonder what the Black Panthers eat here on the hors d’oeuvre trail? Do the Panthers like little Roquefort cheese morsels wrapped in crushed nuts this way, and asparagus tips in mayonnaise dabs, and meatballs petites au Coq Hardi, all of which are at this very moment being offered to them on gadrooned silver platters by maids in black uniforms with hand-ironed white aprons?

Our Kyle Smith writes that Tom Wolfe’s books altered the course of his life:

To this day, no book has ever hit me harder [than The Right Stuff]. The acuity of Wolfe’s social analysis, the depth of his reporting, and most of all the mad, exhilarating gallop of his prose style rerouted my mind, redirected my intentions. Wolfe’s impassioned admiration for the courage and ingenuity of test pilot Chuck Yeager and the Mercury space-program astronauts jarred all my ironic, postmodernist, Ivory Tower assumptions. I was a Mike Dukakis–loving liberal Democrat, but in the book’s jovial respect for what would later be known as red-state culture (it was Wolfe who popularized the phrase “good ol’ boy”) came the first low rumblings that I might someday become patriotic, maybe even conservative.

John Podhoretz makes a key observation about how Wolfe was an outsider almost everywhere he went, and was extremely comfortable being one: “Tom Wolfe, who died Monday at the age of 88, carried his Virginia accent with him all of his days. He famously, or notoriously, dressed himself in a creamy white suit whose purpose seemed to be to say ‘Whatever I am, I am not one of you.’” David Frum said Wolfe once explained a purpose behind his wardrobe: “Try to interview hippies or NASCAR fans dressed like one of themselves — they’ll instantly sniff you out as a fraud. Show up dressed like the Man From Mars, and they’ll tell you all you wish to know. People love explaining things.”

What’s fascinating is that Wolfe turned out to be one of the most influential writers of the past generation, if not the most influential, without setting out to be a crusader. His writing became powerful because of his skill at observation. The portrait was the polemic. He didn’t need to argue against the greed, narcissism, status-obsessiveness, and cynical opportunism of 1980s New York City; he just weaved a story through recognizable figures and archetypes in The Bonfire of the Vanities, and everyone recoiled.

I think Richard Brookhiser makes another key observation about how Wolfe seemed to quietly enjoy his distance from those he profiled and observed. Perhaps they were fools, but he wasn’t going to denounce them. But he might take gentle amusement in how their visions and schemes rarely came to fruition the way they hoped: “He was Richmond, looking with appreciation but also a slight smile at the rest of the country. There was always a trace — minus Lost Cause nonsense and its attendant racial thuggery — of the loser saying, politely, ‘Well, now that you’ve won — isn’t that interesting?’” Americans of all stripes — the hippies, the radicals, the upper crust, the ambitious lawyers, the debt-ridden moguls depicted in A Man in Full — had made their choices and now they were living with the consequences.

Two Painfully Accurate Observations of Modern Writing

Wolfe’s passing is perhaps a good opportunity to observe how social media — and the rise of online journalism, with its attendant appetite for clicks through attention-grabbing headlines — have turned modern writing into cacophonous noise. Wall Street Journal editor Bill Power notes, “It’s our own fault as writers and social-media posters. But the words startling, stunning, outrageous, crisis and chaos now mean nothing more than: interesting, notable, weird, situation and unrest.”

Then there’s the role of ideology and belief, which frequently prompts us to want to downplay news, facts and truth that embarrasses us and hype news, facts and truth that embarrasses those who disagree with us. Iowahawk calls “controversial” a “wonder word that makes something innocuous sound criminal and makes something criminal sound innocuous.”

ADDENDA: I was going to tout John Hillen’s new book, What Happens Now?: Reinvent Yourself as a Leader Before Your Business Outruns You, but Amazon says they’re out of stock! That’s a terrific sign for John, and a hint that you can either order and download a copy to your Kindle, or place an order and have a copy shipped once they restock.

Our Kathryn Lopez is hosting a foster-care forum on May 24 at Marriott Marquis Hotel in Washington, D.C., featuring the incoming chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life office, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City. The event will include foster parents, policymakers, and researchers, and will focus on the challenges to the current foster-care system, including the opioid crisis. The event aims to raise awareness about need and resources and to ensure everyone walks away with a plan for action. Kathryn’s hoping for an audience of people who can add to the conversation or may want to contribute to the solution. If you’re in D.C. and interested in foster care, check it out.

Economy & Business

Breaking Down the Cases For and Against Sports Gambling

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Entrance to the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City in 2012. (Dreamstime photo: Sean Pavone)

Making the click-through worthwhile: With gambling on sports about to become legal in a lot of places beyond Nevada, some tough questions about whether the country has become better off as legal gambling has become more common; a long-unsolved mystery may have an answer, and it’s a deeply unnerving one; and Joe Biden is at it again.

Is America Better Off with Legal Gambling on Sports?

Just think, I could get rich betting against the Jets for the rest of my life.

The Supreme Court struck down a federal law that prohibits sports gambling Monday in a landmark decision that gives states the go-ahead to legalize betting on sports.

The court ruled 6-3 to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992 law that barred state-authorized sports gambling with some exceptions. It made Nevada the only state where a person could wager on the results of a single game.

States that want to offer legal sports betting may now do so, and New Jersey plans to be first. Delaware, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are among the states expected to quickly get into the legal bookmaking game.

A lot of people seem elated at this impending change in American life. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban gushed, “I think everyone who owns a top four professional sports team just basically saw the value of their team double.” Ah, finally, a bit of good fortune for those long-suffering billionaires.

I think we’re mistaken if we perceive legal gambling as an unalloyed good thing in American society. I’ve been to Atlantic City twice in my life, and I found the place deeply depressing both times. For a place that was supposed to be rejuvenated by the tax revenues from the casinos, the place still looked like a nightmare of urban blight, with abandoned buildings and homeless not far from the glittering casinos and boardwalk.

Perhaps the most dispiriting sight was the pawn shops just around the corner from the casinos, with large signs saying things like “We Buy Wedding Rings.” It didn’t take a detective to figure out what kept them in business. Some guy would hit the casinos convinced he was going to get lucky, lose, gamble some more, lose more, and before he knew it he had gambled away this month’s rent money, grocery money, and all of his savings. And that’s assuming no guy chewing on a toothpick named Vinny had offered him a loan at “very reasonable rates.”

I didn’t gamble in Atlantic City; at the time my friends had money to lose, and I didn’t. I’ve played poker probably twice in my life (badly), fill out a bracket pool for the NCAA tournament some years and occasionally remember to buy a lottery ticket when it reaches a headline-generating fortune. I don’t object to the existence of casinos, but I’m glad they’re not near me and would prefer that opportunities to gamble not become ubiquitous.

You’ve heard the joke that the lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math. Almost all forms of gambling play on our perception that while most people lose, there’s something special about each of us as an individual: “Unlike everyone else, I will defy the odds and win.” Many of us walk around convinced that we’re different or that “we’re due” for some sudden moment of good fortune. And of course, gambling offers us a chance at something for nothing. Working for a living is hard. Making a fortune is really hard. The successful gambler we picture in our minds sits in a comfortable, air-conditioned room, enjoying free drinks, charming members of the opposite sex, and enjoying a life of luxury through that elusive, inexplicable factor of luck. Gambling appeals to one of our strongest, least-rational, and perhaps necessarily human beliefs: that we’re destined to someday enjoy a happier, more successful life than the one we have now.

Cards, the roulette wheel, the slot machine – these are all, when run legally, operating on random chance. Because most sports are competitions between human begins of differing levels of skill, a lot of sports fans will convince themselves that this isn’t a matter of luck, that with sufficient levels of analysis, they can foresee the winner and who will cover the point spread. (They forget we live in a world with Bill Buckner, Jeffrey Maier, the Stanford band coming on the field, the Colorado Buffaloes getting five downs, and an unlucky bird getting destroyed by Randy Johnson’s pitch. Almost every team is one torn ACL away from becoming significantly less competitive.)

Politicians are always touting the tax revenues of gambling as a magic wand for every budget problem. New Jersey congressman Cornelius Gallagher wrote in 1969 that if the Garden State enacted a lottery, “we could abandon all taxation in New Jersey and increase every service in our state four times over.” New Jersey residents will assure you that things didn’t turn out that way.

With a war between my anti-nanny-state and wary-of-gambling-opportunities instincts, I wondered, “what would William F. Buckley say?” In the 1960s and 1970s, he was a consistent advocate for the legalization of gambling. But I also note that in 2003, after the revelations of William Bennett’s gambling habits — losing more than $8 million over a decade — he wrote of the “sad business”:

What he did can correctly be deemed a private act immune from retributory sanction. It was wanton behavior, indisputably, but it was his own money being dissipated. The manner in which this was done raises eyebrows. If he had spent millions in decorating costs, his story would merely have been the tale of one more spendthrift. There is something about gambling when done other than on a scale associated with gin rummy and bridge, that is inherently censorious. Sensible criticism focuses on the unbounded character of his dissipation. When connected to stories of arrivals at casinos at three o’clock in the morning, to pump the $500 slot machines until dawn, what is depicted is addiction at pathological levels. The public thinks to reproach such conduct, not to okay it under the libertarian rubric.

For what it’s worth, the gambling revelations barely dented Bennett’s career as a commentator; about a year after the news broke, Bennett began hosting his own radio show. Some would point to Bennett’s continued thriving life as evidence people can gamble a lot and still function at an extraordinary level. I wonder if the lesson is that even the author of The Book of Virtues found the rush of high stakes extraordinarily difficult to resist once he had a taste.

An Unsolved Mystery . . . Perhaps Not-So-Unsolved Anymore

So much for Don Lemon’s black-hole theory.

Face it, you thought that the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 would never be determined, and was going to be featured on some future successor to Unsolved Mysteries, with some actor stepping into the hosting duties of Robert Stack — perhaps the other Eliot Ness, Kevin Costner? — and gruffly sharing the tale of how one night, the flight just disappeared.

The case is, if not solved, now given an extremely plausible, and extremely troubling, theory:

Investigators are still searching for the aircraft, but these findings raise the possibility that one of the greatest aviation mysteries in modern history may not have been a catastrophic accident, but instead a possible mass murder-suicide.

“60 Minutes Australia” brought together an international group of aviation experts who say that the disappearance of MH370 was a criminal act by veteran pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

“He was killing himself; unfortunately, he was killing everybody else on board, and he did it deliberately,” said Canadian Air crash investigator Larry Vance.

Boeing 777 pilot and instructor Simon Hardy reconstructed the flight plan based on military radar, and says Captain Shah flew along the border of Malaysia and Thailand, crossing in and out of each country’s airspace to avoid detection.

“It did the job,” Hardy said, “because we know, as a fact, that the military did not come and intercept the aircraft.”

Hardy also made a strange discovery: Captain Shah likely dipped the plane’s wing over Penang, his hometown.

“Somebody was looking out the window,” he suggested.

“Why did he want to look outside Penang?” asked reporter Tara Brown.

“It might be a long, emotional goodbye — or a short, emotional goodbye,” Hardy replied.

This flight disappeared in March 2014. In March 2015, GermanWings flight 9525 crashed in the French alps; investigators determined that the co-pilot had been researching how to commit suicide.

Did one suicidal pilot inspire the other?

ADDENDA: Victor Davis Hanson notices Joe Biden is using the phrase “from the hood” again, and reviews the long history of prominent Democrats using less than completely sensitive language. From a strictly cost-benefit analysis, it makes more sense to be a progressive activist; you can say or do just about anything you want and you’ll get a lot of indulgences for supporting the right causes.

World

When Will the Palestinians Start Holding Hamas Accountable?

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Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from Israeli fire and tear gas during a protest against U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip May 14, 2018. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: This morning brings bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, with a predictable provocation generating a predictable response; the U.S. embassy in Israel moves from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thrilling the host country; and a progressive group in Minnesota makes a sudden and surprising change, offering an ominous look at progressives’ level of interest in winning back blue-collar whites who voted for Donald Trump.

Today’s Deaths in the Gaza Strip Represent More of Hamas Being Hamas

What, exactly, did the Palestinians think would happen if they charged an Israeli border fence?

On Monday and Tuesday, Artema’s audacious “Great March of Return” faces what could be its most formidable and perhaps final test: an attempt by hundreds of thousands of protesters to breach the razor wire fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

By 7:15 a.m. ET Monday, Gaza’s Ministry of Health said 16 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli forces and more than 500 others wounded. The Israeli Defense Forces accused Hamas of “leading a terrorist operation under the cover of masses of people” and warned that troops would “act forcefully” to “prevent attacks on Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers.”

Broad buy-in is part of the strategy. Organizers say the “Great March of Return” is financed by small donations and governed by a central committee of about 27 seats populated by representatives from some 18 political and civil society groups — including the dominant West Bank political party Fatah, as well as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, both of which are recognized by the U.S. as terrorist organizations.

Just how many people do you have to kill before Western media organizations stop calling you a “civil society group”? Some might find car bombs, suicide bombers, and rocket attacks “uncivil.”

We can argue about whether Palestinians should be able to cross that border, but what do you think will happen if you try to cross an Israeli border? That the armed border guards will just politely ask you to turn around? The Israeli military already made clear exactly what they’ll do: “open fire on any armed Palestinian up to 300 meters from the border fence.” The military reporter also said “the directives included an order to open fire at any Palestinian protester if he comes within 100 meters of the border fence.”

Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, D.C., writes that provoking a conflict that spurs a lot of Palestinian civilian casualties is the only card Hamas has left to play:

First, it is virtually out of options. The devastation in Gaza caused by the last full-blown war with Israel in 2014 was so extensive, with most of the damage still unrepaired, that it would be difficult to publicly explain to the group’s own constituents any choice to deliberately start another major conflict with Israel. The kind of scenario whereby Hamas has previously instigated or cooperated in the development of major armed battles with Israel would now be potentially politically disastrous in Gaza.

Yet Hamas is desperate. The situation in Gaza has become increasingly intolerable. Unemployment is widespread and chronic. Hunger is rampant. Water is undrinkable. Electricity is available for only two to four hours per day. Sewage treatment plants have failed, so the once-beautiful Mediterranean coast is now a repository of human waste. And there’s still no way in or out of the territory for almost all of Gaza’s close to 2 million people.

Since its violent takeover of Gaza and expulsion of the Palestinian Authority in 2007, Hamas has been adept at blaming others for the wretched conditions in the territory it controls. And because of repeated Israeli bombardments and other attacks, and the virtual lockdown imposed by both Israel and Egypt, finger-pointing at Jerusalem and Cairo has been somewhat effective.

At what point do the Palestinians start holding Hamas accountable for the decisions it makes?

A desalinization plant would cost about $100 million and wastewater treatment options range in cost; as of 2013, Hamas’s budget was $700 million. But they spend a lot of that on rockets and arms instead of maintaining the basic services of a functioning society, such as water and sewage and electricity.

Ibish concludes that “if Israel continues to use live ammunition against unarmed demonstrators, even at the border, Hamas will continue to reap the benefits.”

How significant are those benefits, though? Bad publicity and international condemnations for Israel? Israeli leaders get denounced 20 times before breakfast. A lot of Europeans are always up for some rhetorical Israel-bashing, but how often do they really take action to improve life for Palestinians? A lot of people have died waiting for Western nations to react to outrages, both alleged or indisputable. The United States and Europe just watched so many people get killed in the Syrian civil war that they lost count of them, and that multi-year conflict created a refugee crisis so bad that it reached Europe, and they still intervened only minimally. Just what does Hamas think the rest of the world is willing to do to Israel?

Meanwhile, Over the Border in Israel . . .

I doubted it would happen, but put this down as a promise made and a promise kept: Today, the United States officially moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Or more specifically, embassy work started being done out of the old consulate building, and new signs were unveiled.

And the Israelis know how to appeal to President Trump’s ego:

The windy road leading up to the city was decorated with fluttering American and Israeli flags Monday as signs everywhere declared “Trump, Make Israel Great.” A popular soccer team even renamed itself: “Beitar Trump Jerusalem.”

The inauguration will take place at the site of the new embassy, which is really the existing consulate, just with a spanking new plaque. President Trump will not attend, but he planned to address the high-profile crowd, including his daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared Kushner and a host of political, religious and communal leaders, via live video linkup.

“A great day for Israel,” Trump wrote in a tweet.

At a celebratory breakfast in Jerusalem, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called Trump the “Churchill of the 21st century.”

“He has reversed Chamberlain’s policy of capitulation and teaches the world that “the landowner has returned,” said Shaked at an event attended by members of the visiting White House delegation, making a reference to Britain’s prewar prime minister, Neville Chamberlain.

“Europe insists upon not learning from history,” Shaked added. “It closed its eyes to the strengthening of the Nazis; today it is choosing to close its eyes to the strengthening of Iran. In such a reality in particular, it is good that the leader of the free world is President Trump.”

Where is the new embassy? Oh, it’s right near the traffic circle that will soon be renamed “US Square — in honor of President Donald Trump.”

Wellstone Action, without the Wellstone

If I cared about the short-term and long-term health of the Democratic party, a story like this would worry me:

Earlier this year, the board of directors of Wellstone Action — an influential training group formed after Sen. Paul Wellstone’s death — dumbfounded Minnesota Democrats when it voted the late senator’s sons off the governing board.

The ouster came after the sons, Mark and David Wellstone, raised concerns about overspending in areas of the organization’s budget — and after a dispute over the direction and priorities of the group.

The issue is less the organization itself, although Politico reports that “in 2016, the last year for which tax filings were available, the group reported providing training to 2,135 data and digital strategists, 723 nonprofit leaders and community organizers, and 854 aspiring political leaders.”

No, the bigger concern is that the Wellstone sons apparently wanted to focus on how progressives and Democrats can win back disaffected blue-collar whites, and the rest of the organization seemed to perceive that as a waste of time.

Y’all know Minnesota is 85 percent white, right? Y’all know Hillary Clinton won the state by just 1.5 percent, right? Clinton’s vote total was 180,000 fewer than Obama’s four years earlier. Maybe it’s just personality, or perhaps the progressivism that Clinton represented has a lot less appeal than Obama’s version . . . which should worry Democrats that 2016 wasn’t a weird fluke.

ADDENDA: The Manchester Union Leader remembers my old saying from Barack Obama’s statements and observes that a lot of the president’s legislative achievements have expiration dates, too: U.S. involvement in the Iran deal, U.S. agreement to the Paris climate accords, U.S. agreement to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, DACA, the Clean Power Plan, net neutrality, Obamacare’s individual mandate . . .

Politics & Policy

The ‘Songbird’ Attack Makes the Opposite Point McInerney Thinks It Does

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McCain has long advocated a larger U.S. role in ending Syria’s civil war. He has called for establishing “safe zones” for rebel forces, providing them more weapons and assistance, and taking out the Assad regime’s air assets.

Every time you see a news anchor pose a question to a talking head on television, that person is, consciously or subconsciously, trying to achieve two nearly contrary goals:

Say something provocative, daring, memorable, attention-getting, debate-stirring, and if there’s time, insightful. (Or maybe inciteful.)

Don’t say anything too controversial, dumb, or offensive.

With surprising regularity, guests aim for one and completely forget about two.

Retired Air Force Lt. General Thomas McInerney was a guest on Charles Payne’s program on the Fox Business Network yesterday, discussing the confirmation hearing of CIA director nominee Gina Haspel. The topic turned to the no-longer-in-use enhanced-interrogation program, and McCain’s argument that because of Haspel’s role in destroying videotapes of waterboarding, she should not be confirmed.

You could go in a lot of directions in an attempt to defend Haspel. You could note, as many of her defenders have, that from 9/11 to spring 2004, the White House’s lawyers and the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote memos explicitly authorizing the enhanced-interrogation techniques. (If Jack Goldsmith had not stepped into the position heading the OLC that year and objected to his predecessor’s interpretation of the law, the authorization of those policies may have continued for many more years.) You could point out, as Phil Mudd did, that no one in Congress objected when briefed about the program at the time, including some of the same officials objecting now: “I was among the CIA officers 15 years ago who spoke with the Congress in detail about the techniques we used. I spoke about the techniques that were authorized by the Department of Justice. I spoke to Republicans and Democrats. They were either silent or supportive.”

You could argue the blatant unfairness of Americans demanding after the 9/11 attacks that the CIA stop the next attack by any means necessary, and then getting angry once the CIA used any means they deemed necessary.

You could point out, as many have, that Haspel’s role in the program was comparable to John Brennan’s — and that McCain voted for Brennan. You could speculate that because Brennan was seen as “Obama’s guy” and Haspel is Trump’s pick, that she’s being judged by a different standard. (The irony is that Haspel isn’t “Trump’s gal”; she’s career CIA and highly regarded by just about everyone associated with the agency who is allowed to express their views publicly.)

You could ask whether anyone in the U.S. Senate really wants to argue that Khalid Sheik Mohammad, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks with the blood of 2,977 innocent men, women, and children on his hands, is a victim of unjust American policies. (KSM is eager to share his perspective on Gaspel with the committee. I think the committee should indeed let him testify, in person and with the world watching on live television, preferably. Let’s see how senators vote when the worst still-breathing murderer on the planet gets up on a high horse and denounces Gaspel.)

Instead of any of those options, McInerney chose to attack McCain in just about the worst possible way: “Well, she can’t use it anymore because we’ve determined — the Congress — that it’s not legal. The fact is, is John McCain — it worked on John. That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John.’”

One of the ironies of McInerney’s comment is that his example makes the opposite argument he thinks it does; McCain gave his captors a lot of false information and nonsense. Asked the names of the men in his squadron, he listed the names of the Green Bay Packers offensive line. When forced to sign a confession, McCain “deliberately used misspellings, grammatical errors, and Communist jargon to show he was writing under duress.”

Does torture work? You can find different experts making different arguments; James Mitchell describes how the process worked on KSM. I think everyone left, right, and center would agree we would prefer to use every method in the book other than torture first. But what do we do in circumstances where answers are needed immediately? I might follow the guidance of a wise American veteran, written in 2005:

What do we do if we capture a terrorist who we have sound reasons to believe possesses specific knowledge of an imminent terrorist attack?

In such an urgent and rare instance, an interrogator might well try extreme measures to extract information that could save lives. Should he do so, and thereby save an American city or prevent another 9/11, authorities and the public would surely take this into account when judging his actions and recognize the extremely dire situation which he confronted. But I don’t believe this scenario requires us to write into law an exception to our treaty and moral obligations that would permit cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.

The wise American veteran who wrote that was . . . John McCain.

For what it’s worth, McCain is trying to thread the needle as well, rejecting her but still trying to avoid looking like he’s dismissing her long career of intelligence work:

Like many Americans, I understand the urgency that drove the decision to resort to so-called enhanced interrogation methods after our country was attacked. I know that those who used enhanced interrogation methods and those who approved them wanted to protect Americans from harm. I appreciate their dilemma and the strain of their duty. But as I have argued many times, the methods we employ to keep our nation safe must be as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world.

I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense. However, Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.

Payne later issued a statement declaring “those reprehensible comments do not reflect how I or this network feel about Sen. McCain.”

A Pretty Succinct Description of the D.C. ‘Swamp’

A strange, and perhaps revealing, paragraph over in Politico’s political newsletter:

YES, guys like Michael Cohen routinely get paid amounts like $1.2 million to offer insights about their boss or former boss. Yeah, it’s crazy. But many readers of this newsletter would not have their McMansion in McLean, their BMW, their membership at Army Navy, second homes in Delaware, cigar lockers and endless glasses of Pinot Noir at BLT Steak and Tosca if that kind of stuff didn’t happen. Newsflash: $1.2 million is not even a rounding error for massive corporations. (The smart companies route these deals through law firms.)

They must run some really detailed reader surveys over there.

Even if $1.2 million is not even a rounding error at Novartis, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, the question remains: What if, instead of paying Michael Cohen for “basically nothing,” they put that money toward, I don’t know, hiring a couple more researchers to develop new cancer treatments?

The problem is, you can’t “drain the swamp” and have big government at the same time. A government that’s throwing around billions upon billions — with or without earmarks — and that can make or break industries with new regulations is always going to make hiring lobbyists and friends of lawmakers a necessary or worthwhile investment.

The “swamp” and the necessity of lobbyists and “political intelligence” are corporate expenditures that benefit a concentrated few. This isn’t a terribly efficient use of company resources, and much less of that spending would be as needed in a world with a smaller, less spendthrift, less regulation-minded federal government. We know Trump hates the swamp when other people are making money from the whole sleazy, influence-peddling process. Does he hate it when his friends are benefiting?

Florida Man Looking Stronger against Incumbent Senator

Meanwhile, down in Florida . . .

Among more than 200 experts and veterans of Florida politics surveyed in the latest Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll, nearly six in 10 this week said they expect Scott to unseat the three-term Democratic Senator.  Just over two months ago, more than 57 percent of the Florida Insiders surveyed expected Nelson to win.

“I’m very worried about Sen. Nelson,” said a Democrat. “I think the Democrats need to reevaluate our candidate and Gwen Graham should jump to the Senate Race immediately.”

“Rick Scott is focusing on Hispanics way before Nelson is. He did this in 2014. He is traveling to Puerto Rico, getting close to Venezuelans, Cubans and Colombians,” said a person registered to neither major party. “Nelson cannot ignore our Latino community and should have messages in English and Spanish. Commercials in both languages. He can not only depend on the Dixiecrats.”

Florida Insider polls are unscientific surveys that reflect perceptions among Florida’s chattering class, rather than actual voters who decide elections. We allow anonymous responses to encourage frank assessments by people closely involved in the political process.

There’s only been one poll since February, by Florida Atlantic University last week, that somehow didn’t generate a lot of national attention:

The potential US Senate Election in Florida found Governor Rick Scott with a slight lead over Senator Bill Nelson 44 percent to 40 percent, 16 percent were undecided. Among very likely voters, the ballot test is tied at 45 percent apiece.

Florida’s an expensive state. How much do Democrats want to spend to try to save Nelson?

ADDENDA: Ramesh on our irritating new world of hyper-partisan confirmation battles for just about every cabinet office:

Some of this polarization is understandable. The EPA director can make a big difference in policy. It’s reasonable for Democrats to want to withhold their imprimatur for a conservative approach to the environment, and for Republicans to want to make it harder to implement a liberal one. At the same time, these stances can lead to outcomes that both sides would see as subpar. For most Republicans and Democrats alike, an EPA director with the same views as Pruitt but better ethics would be a step up. But contemporary politics gets in the way of making that switch.

Politics & Policy

Surprise! Millennial Women Are Tuning Out the Russia Investigation

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Attendees at the Women’s March in Washington D.C., in 2017. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Millennial women tune out the Russia investigation, a late-night triumph for the Trump administration, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell focuses on judges, and a reminder of a never-quite-adequately answered question.

Millennial Women Think the Russia Investigation Is ‘One Big Mess’

Live by the media firehose of relentless news, dubious scoops, and frantic speculation, die by the media firehose of relentless news, dubious scoops, and frantic speculation.

According to new data gathered by the Hive, theSkimm, and SurveyMonkey as part of Millennial Takeover 2018, our year-long editorial project in advance of the midterm elections, at least one group is relatively tuned out when it comes to Trump and Russia and the accompanying intrigue: millennial women.

That’s not to say millennial women don’t care about dirty politics — when asked, 67 percent said that they’re concerned about corruption. But when it comes to Russia specifically, their interest drops off: only 26 percent of millennial women said they were following news of the Mueller investigation “extremely” or “very” closely, compared to 41 percent of respondents overall, though 39 percent say it concerns them. In a survey conducted by theSkimm, one woman cited confusion on the issue, stoked by conflicting media reports. “It’s all turned into one big mess,” she said, “and I don’t know who or what to believe anymore.” Others, like the president, expressed the wish that the issue would disappear entirely: “They haven’t found anything,” another Skimm reader said. “Let’s move on. We have bigger issues to focus on.”

If you are interested in following news of the Russia investigation very closely, where should you turn your attention? Robert Mueller’s investigation is reportedly very tight-lipped, but the New York Times and the Washington Post write about seemingly new developments every day. Discussion of the investigation fills hours upon hours on MSNBC and CNN each week. Surely you should tune in for every interview with Adam Schiff, ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, right? And when Congressman Ted Lieu says there’s a “cloud of treason” around the White House, he must know something we don’t know, right?

Harvard professor Lawrence Tribe teaches at one of the most prestigious schools in the country, he must be reliable, right? Louise Mensch? Well, she’s written an op-ed in the New York Times about Russian hacking, and Senator Ed Markey cited her as a source. Claude Taylor? He’s got more than 200,000 Twitter followers, he must have some credibility, right?

If you follow all of those sources, you probably feel like you’re constantly watching Geraldo Rivera open up Al Capone’s vault over and over again, or waiting for Karl Rove to get indicted as TruthOut infamously reported back in 2006. According to the rumor mill, we’re always on the verge of explosive new information being released that will lead directly to President Trump’s impeachment. But that catharsis never quite arrives. It’s just a seemingly endless cavalcade of ominous-sounding developments citing unnamed sources and vehement denials from the White House.

The reason some voters think the Russia investigation is a foggy mess, full of hype with few established facts yet, is because it is a foggy mess, full of hype with few established facts yet.

At some point, Robert Mueller will unveil a report on something. (Apparently, Godot may arrive first.) We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of Rod Rosenstein’s letter authorizing Mueller to begin an investigation. He presumably has enjoyed access to everything the FBI, CIA, NSA, and other law-enforcement and intelligence agencies would have on Russian efforts to influence American elections. One would think that if he came across evidence of Trump colluding with the Russians or “treason,” he would be popping out indictments like a Pez dispenser over that, rather than merely charging Trump associates with lying to investigators. Mueller may very well find evidence of crimes, but it’s hard to believe he’s just waiting for the right time to tell the American people that their president conspired with Vladimir Putin.

I think one of the emerging “rules” of the modern media world is that it is now much more difficult for leaders, parties, and institutions to send clear, unifying messages. There are just too many people with too many platforms, with their own perspective and agenda, blurring the lines and adding to the cacophony, throwing out wild conspiracy theories, baseless charges, and tying developments to their own pet issues. The signal-to-noise ratio is worsening.

Behold, Three Men from the East

Every once in a while, President Trump’s reality-show instincts generate an authentically moving and pleasantly shocking moment.

Staging a made-for-TV, still-of-the-night arrival ceremony, President Donald Trump welcomed home three Americans freed by North Korea and declared their release a sign of promise toward his goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

Speaking early Thursday on an air base tarmac with the former detainees by his side, Trump called it a “great honor” to welcome the men to the U.S., but said “the true honor is going to be if we have a victory in getting rid of nuclear weapons.”

Trump also thanked North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for releasing the Americans and said he believes Kim wants to reach an agreement on denuclearization at their upcoming summit. “I really think he wants to do something,” the president said.

First lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top officials joined Trump to celebrate the occasion at Joint Base Andrews near Washington. The men — Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim — had been released Wednesday amid a warming of relations between the longtime adversaries.

Shortly before 3 a.m. the president and first lady boarded the medical plane on which the men had traveled and spent several minutes meeting with them privately. The group then emerged at top of the airplane stairway, where the men held up their arms in an exuberant display.

Yesterday, upon news of the hostages’ release, I wrote on Twitter, “If this is just a North Korean feint at good behavior, hoping to score a better deal at the summit, they’re really leaning into it.”

Because Twitter is a nonstop howling festival of barely-coherent rage and eager appetite to take offense, some misinterpreted that remark as poo-pooing the release. My point is that instead of merely offering happy-talk words, North Korea is starting to take modest but tangible actions to build goodwill — no new missile launches, no new nuke tests, a meeting with South Korean leaders, and now this hostage release.

Almost all those moves are reversible, of course. If at some point they begin to think bad behavior would bring more concessions, Pyongyang can test-launch new ICBMs, do more tests (assuming their test site isn’t now an unusable pile of radioactive rubble), and take more Americans in North Korea hostage. As of mid 2017, roughly 200 Americans lived in North Korea. The State Department barred Americans from traveling to North Korea as tourists and is discouraging journalists and aid workers.

Mitch McConnell’s Priority for the Rest of 2018

There are times when Mitch McConnell can irritate conservatives. He’s open to a rescission package to claw back some of the omnibus spending — presuming the House passes one — but he doesn’t sound like it’s much of a priority. He could have pushed for a faster confirmation process for some of Trump’s administration appointees. Funding for the wall is coming in dribs and drabs. (It’s probably frustrating enough to make some McConnell critics ask, “What, is he on cocaine or something?”)

But McConnell may have calculated what action the GOP Senate majority can take that will have the most lasting effect on American governance, and there’s a pretty broad consensus about what is most consequential: judicial confirmations. “It’s a top priority for me. I don’t think there’s anything we can do in the United States Senate that’s more important for America than confirming judges as rapidly as we get them,” he told Hugh Hewitt.

Axios: “The Senate has confirmed 17 Trump nominees for federal district courts, most of whom replaced Democratic appointees. Trump has also filled 16 vacancies on federal appeals courts (the last stop before the Supreme Court). Six of those appointees replaced judges who were nominated by Democratic presidents.”

This week, six more federal appeals-court judges are expected to get confirmation votes.

ADDENDA: Your periodic reminder: They’ve released the body-cam footage of police responding to the Las Vegas shooter . . . but we still have no clue on motive.

This leaves us with two possibilities. The first is that the shooter was that rare combination of meticulous, clever, and completely insane, with no motive that would ever make sense to sane people. The second is that there’s some sort of marginal evidence of a politically inconvenient narrative — say, he targeted the country-music concert out of hating Trump or conservatives or whatever — that is being, if not covered up, deemphasized, like the copy of Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance that was reportedly found in the Unabomber’s cabin.

Elections

Finally, Some Good Electoral News for Republicans

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West Virginia Senatorial candidate Don Blankenship watches election results in Charleston, W.Va., May 8, 2018. (Lexi Browning/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: West Virginia Republican primary voters leave “Cocaine Mitch” and the rest of the GOP breathing easier; two Indiana Republicans learn a hard lesson about the unpredictable dynamics of negative campaigns and attack ads; a debate about whether states such as Wisconsin need more legal immigrants to make up for a worker shortage, and where you can find me on your televisions.

West Virginia Republicans Make the Right Choice

Whew! Was all of that worry about Don Blankenship much ado about nothing? Blankenship finished with just under 20 percent.

The Blankenship panic probably reflects what occurs when there’s a dearth of reliable polling in a state primary, coupled with a hangover from the GOP’s Roy Moore debacle in Alabama. (The fact that West Virginia Republicans rejected Blankenship pretty thoroughly makes the Alabama Republican primary voters look even worse. This isn’t a national madness, driving Republicans to support the wildest, most controversial and outrageous nominee available.)

The Environmental Protection Agency, under Scott Pruitt, is finalizing the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, and debating whether to offer an alternative replacement plan. The Clean Power Plan was an initiative of the EPA under the Obama administration, aiming to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generators by one-third by 2030. To the coal industry, the proposal was an effective declaration of war.

A big reason the Clean Power Plan never went into effect was West Virginia state attorney general Patrick Morrisey. A lot of GOP state attorneys general opposed the plan, but Morrisey and his team wrote the brief that persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to delay enforcement until lower courts finished reviewing legal challenges to the new regulations. That decision in February 2016 was initially seen as a temporary holdup for the Obama plan — until Trump won the election.

It might be an exaggeration to say, “Patrick Morrisey saved the coal industry,” but it’s not a wild exaggeration. The Obama administration aimed to make coal too expensive to use through regulations, and Morrisey helped prevent it from ever going into effect. Morrisey has already won two statewide races.

Learn more about the GOP Senate candidate in this profile from last year.

Another Hard Lesson about the Limits of Negative Campaigning

A familiar phenomenon: Candidate A goes negative. Candidate B goes negative in response. Candidates A and B get involved in an escalating tit-for-tat in negative attacks. Then, when the election comes, the voters shift . . . to Candidate C. Sometimes it’s driven by the candidates, but my suspicion is that politics, particularly Republican politics, is awash in tired, uncreative, paint-by-numbers consultants who once won a race through negative attacks and came away convinced that “going negative” was a magic wand to that could salvage lousy candidates. Yes, it sometimes works. It usually helps if the arguments against the opponent are compelling and fresh. (I still can’t believe that there are campaigns that think “He only voted in X of the past [larger than X] elections” is a devastating slam.)

Call me crazy, but I think voters want a positive vision of the future and a plausible roadmap to getting there. Sure, Donald Trump attacked Hillary Clinton early and often throughout 2015 and 2016, but “Make America Great Again” is not all that different from “hope and change.” Amidst all of his usual schtick, Trump painted a picture of an America secure behind a southern border wall, safer walking down the street under “law and order,” prospering under tax cuts, confident in the judicial system with judges who wouldn’t attempt to legislate from the bench, safer beyond our shores with ISIS bombed to oblivion and a larger, more advanced U.S. military, and paying more at the store because of tariffs on imported goods. Okay, maybe that last part wasn’t quite so bright and cheery.

Congratulations, Mike Braun.

In a huge upset against two well-established names in Indiana Republican politics, wealthy businessman Mike Braun won Indiana’s high-stakes GOP Senate primary.

Braun, who fueled his bid with millions of dollars of his own money, defeated U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita in what has been called the nation’s nastiest and most expensive U.S. Senate primary.

The Associated Press called the race at 8:48 p.m. with Braun garnering 41 percent of the vote and Messer and Rokita receiving about 29.5 percent each.

Braun, a former state lawmaker and owner of a national distributor of auto parts, painted himself as an outsider with real world experience who could shake up Washington. He entered the race in August after Messer and Rokita had already spent months attacking each other.

At a victory party at a brewery in Whitestown, Braun told supporters that the race came down to whether people were happy with business as usual. He called politicians who come from the private sector the “new dynamic we need in Washington.”

Braun will now face off against Sen. Joe Donnelly, who is widely considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the November election. The race will be one of a handful that determine which party controls the Senate next year.

Are America’s Employers Facing a Worker Shortage?

Today I’m scheduled to appear on HLN around 12:30, discussing legal-immigration levels, particularly the argument that some states might need more immigration to keep their economies thriving:

Wisconsin faces a demographic time bomb as baby boomers flood into retirement in the coming years. While there may not be a labor shortage right now, business leaders and employers are concerned about what the future holds in a state with fewer people of prime working age and a relatively low birth rate. It’s a challenge that may be compounded by the opening of the massive new Foxconn factory in Racine County.

Kurt Bauer, president of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business lobby, is one of those ringing the demographic bell.

“We need to retain every born-and-raised Wisconsinite we can,” he said. “We need to get as many of the 29% who are of working age but not currently in the workforce off the sidelines. We need to draw in out-of-staters, including Illinoisans, Iowans and Minnesotans. And we also need legal immigration at really all skill levels. Of course, we need Washington’s help to make that happen.”

One in four Wisconsin manufacturing workers is at least 55 years old — that’s nearly 125,000 workers in the state’s most important industry, marching toward retirement, Census figures show.

The United States continues to welcome more than one million legal immigrants per year: “Approximately 1.13 million aliens obtained Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, compared to 1.18 million in FY 2016.” That seems like a lot. It’s been around a million a year since 2001. As Marco Rubio and other lawmakers have observed, no other country in the world even comes close — other than Germany at the height of the refugee crisis.

And while Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is really low — just 3 percent statewide! — wage growth has been . . . eh, just okay in recent years. The state’s average weekly wage actually dropped by ten dollars a week last year. I’d ask the state’s employers, if you really want to retain every born-and-raised Wisconsinite possible, draw in out-of-staters, and bring in those off the sidelines . . . have you tried giving your workers a raise? You’re using the word “need,” but are we really seeing wages that reflect a need?

ADDENDA: In addition to HLN, I’m scheduled to appear on CNN International around 2:30 p.m. Eastern today.

U.S.

McCain’s Funeral Guest List Doesn’t Define Him

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Making the click-through worthwhile: A lot of thoughts about the legacy of Arizona senator John McCain, a jaw-dropping scandal rocks New York’s political world, and a reminder that sometimes kids with famous parents can pleasantly surprise us.

Contemplating John McCain’s Legacy

Charlie Kirk, responding to a report that Senator John McCain, battling brain cancer, does not want President Trump to attend his funeral: “He wants Obama there. That tells you everything you need to know about McCain.”

Really? You think everything you need to know about a man’s 81 years on this earth can be nullified or reaffirmed by your approval of his guest list at his funeral? Twenty-three years of military service, 23 bombing missions, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a Distinguished Flying Cross, five and a half years as a prisoner of war, solitary confinement for two years, two to three beatings a week, repatriation refused, two terms in the U.S. House, six terms in the Senate, nearly 800 pieces of legislation introduced, thousands of votes, six books, hundreds of speeches, two presidential campaigns, two spouses, seven children . . . and you think “everything you need to know about McCain” is whether he shares your view of the president?

Having said that, there is an aspect of the current McCain coverage that is sticking in my craw. At some point, John McCain will pass away into the arms of his Creator, and he will receive a lot of well-earned praise and fond farewells, particularly from political figures and those who covered him for the past three decades or so.

I wouldn’t mind if those political figures and those who covered McCain took a moment to evaluate if they were fair to the man, particularly in the year 2008. Because maybe no national figure in the modern era flipped so quickly from the hero to the villain column in his media coverage and back, depending upon whether the majority of the mainstream media agreed with his stances or not.

Back in the late 1990s, the national media loved him for McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform, which would have made it more difficult for ordinary citizens to use their money to support their preferred candidates and made the exempted media coverage even more influential. In the 2000 Republican presidential primary, most of the media quickly decided they preferred him to George W. Bush. In 2000, The New Republic endorsed McCain in the Republican primaries, declaring, “for the first time in recent memory, a serious Republican presidential candidate is seeking to remake his party into something other than the political arm of the privileged few.”

After 9/11, McCain emerged as a strong supporter of the War on Terror and war in Iraq, and in most of the media’s eyes, McCain became just another terrible crazed Republican warmonger again. Michael Moore made the “loser” sign at McCain during his speech at the 2004 Republican convention. By 2006, Ezra Klein was criticizing McCain’s status as “every liberal’s favorite conservative,” spotlighting his “wingnut bonafides.” The coverage of McCain in the Bush years was predictable; when McCain touted comprehensive immigration reform, he was a hero; when he supported the surge, he was “embracing an unpopular strategy that will make an already unpopular war longer and bloodier.” (As we all know, the surge worked, and violence and casualties in Iraq dropped.)

By 2008, the same New Republic magazine that had once endorsed him suddenly remembered the Keating Five scandal from 1989 and suggested he should have been expelled from the Senate for it. Suddenly there was a surge of profiles focusing on “the dark side of John McCain.” The media suddenly began to focus on his family’s wealth, which hadn’t been much of an issue before. The value of military service as preparation for the presidency, such a strong argument in 2000, suddenly disappeared once the race became John McCain vs. Barack Obama.

In a campaign ad, the Obama campaign mocked McCain’s age and inability to use a computer. (Eventually, even Joe Biden called the ad “terrible.”) Yet media coverage lamented that John McCain had somehow “sold his soul” to win the Republican nomination.

McCain remained mostly in villain status through Obama’s presidency, although sometimes he could still get good coverage when contrasted with another, usually more conservative Republican. But Michael Tomasky summarized the national media’s view well: “He used to be a great senator. But all that was very, very long ago. Since 2008, when he caved in to the advisers who pushed Sarah Palin on him as his vice-presidential pick, he’s been a different guy.”

And then in 2017, McCain opposed the GOP legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, and then he was touted as a heroic “maverick” again. Jimmy Kimmel called him a “hero.”

I’d like to believe that my view of John McCain hasn’t really changed from his national prominence in the 1990s – great American and patriot, often but not always a solid conservative, and intermittently unbearably insufferable when he got up on his high horse. He’s one of those men who is a joy to have as an ally and an absolute pain in the rear when you disagree. He was indeed a maverick, and that was one of the factors that made him such a challenging nominee for president; it’s hard to unify the party when you’ve spent a significant amount of time telling other members of your party that they’re wrong. But there’s little doubt that when McCain took a position, he did it because he was convinced it was the right thing to do. In fact, it was his absolute certainty that his chosen path was the righteous one that made McCain so infuriating, as he could rarely resist implying that those who disagreed with him had chosen a dishonorable or unprincipled path.

He will be missed because he was, despite his flaws, a good man — and we would be better served if our national political media would expand its definition a good man beyond the habit of defying conservative orthodoxy.

New York Politician Finds Way to Surpass Spitzer, Weiner in Repugnance

Wow, New York state voters, you have a real way of picking them.

Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York State attorney general who rose to prominence as an antagonist of the Trump administration, abruptly resigned on Monday night hours after The New Yorker reported that four women had accused him of physically assaulting them.

After this anecdote, I’m starting to think of partisanship as a mental disorder.

After the former girlfriend ended the relationship, she told several friends about the abuse. A number of them advised her to keep the story to herself, arguing that Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose. She described this response as heartbreaking. And when Schneiderman heard that she had turned against him, she said, he warned her that politics was a tough and personal business, and that she’d better be careful. She told Selvaratnam that she had taken this as a threat.

Too valuable to lose? What, are ambitious Democrats with law degrees rare in New York?

Who the hell looks at physical abuse and thinks, “Yeah, it’s bad, but not bad enough to merit removal from office?” Apparently this is not merely one nut-job partisan friend of a victim, but “several”!

Dan McLaughlin considers Schneiderman’s rapid resignation:

I don’t argue that every sin is an unforgivable one, or that every allegation should be believed and acted upon at the first whiff of trouble, before waiting to see if it’s actually substantiated. But Republicans should beware that Democrats have at least learned how to sacrifice expendable officeholders to create the perception that they have turned over a new leaf on sexual abuse and corruption. Some voters, of course, don’t care. But if the GOP doesn’t learn from that, it will pay the price from those who do, and in close elections, that can make a big difference.

Perhaps this is a reversal from 1998, which left a lot of lawmakers believing they could weather the storm and that voters would eventually forgive or forget any major scandal.

ADDENDA: I completely concur with my colleague McLaughlin, spotlighting and saluting three adult children of famous figures who faced (perhaps justified) cries of nepotism when they began various professional efforts . . . but who year by year, through a willingness to learn and dedication and effort, demonstrated that they were actually pretty darn good at their jobs: Ronan Farrow, Luke Russert, and Meghan McCain.

U.S.

A Strange Criticism of Illegal Gun-Possession Prosecution

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Rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The New York Times starts to worry that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration are too tough on gun crimes; how to work around a filibuster and other lessons from the NRA convention; school officials in Broward County suddenly discover something, nearly three months after the shooting; and why West Virginia Republican primary voters might make it hard to care about the future of the GOP.

Wait, Why Is Anyone Complaining about Prosecutions for Illegal Gun Possessions?

The New York Times reports about concerns that the Trump administration is too tough on criminals who purchase or possess guns illegally.

Urged by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to punish offenders as harshly and as quickly as possible, federal prosecutors have increasingly pursued low-level gun possession cases, according to law enforcement officials and an examination of court records and federal crime statistics. Mr. Amos’s conviction was part of the Justice Department’s broad crackdown on gun violence during the first 15 months of the Trump administration.

Mr. Sessions’s approach has touched off a debate about whether he is making the country safer from violent crime, as he and President Trump have repeatedly vowed to do, or devoting resources to low-level prosecutions that could instead be put toward pursuing bigger targets like gun suppliers.

“It’s a good idea to enforce the existing gun laws,” said Avery Gardiner, co-president of The Brady Campaign, a nonprofit coalition that works to combat gun violence. “That’s something prosecutors should do. But going only after the people who are purchasing the guns illegally is only part of the story.”

Rarely will you see it put so explicitly! Of course, this is an argument from self-interest. If the problem of gun violence can be addressed sufficiently by enforcing existing laws . . . then there isn’t much need for a group like the Brady Campaign to push for additional laws, now is there?

What’s indisputable is that for a long time, through administrations of both parties, federal prosecutors largely looked the other way on illegal attempts to purchase a firearm. In 2013, the Washington Post concluded, “Neither the Bush administration nor Obama administration ever prosecuted even one-quarter of one percent of the people who failed to pass a criminal background check.” Attempts to prosecute straw buyers were similarly rare; it simply was deemed a low priority.

The Times article seems to suggest that prosecuting individuals for illegal possession of a firearm is a waste of time, money, and law-enforcement resources. But we’ve seen several mass shooters in recent years who shouldn’t have been able to purchase a gun because of past criminal behavior (the Charleston church shooter, the Texas church shooter, the Waffle House shooter) or past run-ins with police that did not result in charges (the Parkland shooter). Every dangerous criminal is “low priority” at the beginning of his career.

How to Work Around a Senate Filibuster, and Other Lessons from the NRA Convention

If you didn’t see it yesterday, I had a chance to speak to Senator Ted Cruz at the NRA Annual Meeting in Dallas, and he shared some thoughts on how Senate Republicans can work around Democrat filibusters:

For the next six months, let’s focus on procedural vehicles that can’t be filibustered.

There are principally four:

You’ve got, number one, Congressional Review Act resolutions, which we’ve used to repeal a whole bunch of Obama-era regulations. We should use that more.

Number two, rescissions — that allows you to pull back spending. The White House is talking about putting forward some rescissions. I think we ought to look at that seriously.

Number three, the biggest one, is using budget reconciliation. That’s the vehicle for many of our biggest victories last year, including the tax cut. We ought to take up another reconciliation in 2018, and score more victories for the American people.

Number four is NAFTA. I’ve proposed to the president using NAFTA as a vehicle for regulatory reform, lifting the burdens that are killing jobs. Under trade-promotion authority, that goes to Congress on an expedited up-or-down vote. Fifty votes and it can’t be filibustered.

All of those are vehicles that we can use to get big wins now, without having to change the filibuster rules, because we don’t have the votes to do that.

Also at the NRA Convention, Trump was in ebullient form. The relentless criticism of the national media from every speaker would seem overdone, if the national media hadn’t earned so much of that in the aftermath of Parkland. (See a related story below.)

Want to know the next big state-level fight on gun rights? “Constitutional carry” in Oklahoma, allowing people 21 and older and military personnel who are at least 18 to legally carry a handgun, either openly or concealed, without a state-issued license or permit. The bill passed both houses and is on Governor Mary Fallin’s desk right now. She’s a Republican and is generally pro–Second Amendment, but vetoed two other bills that would have loosened gun restrictions in 2014 and 2015. Fallin has roughly another ten days to sign or veto the law.

Broward County School Officials: Oh, Wait, We Forgot to Tell You . . .

The Parkland shooting was nearly three months ago. The school district is still discovering new details about their own discipline records of the shooter.

Broward school district officials admitted Sunday that the confessed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School gunman was assigned to a controversial disciplinary program, after the superintendent repeatedly claimed Nikolas Cruz had “no connection” to the alternative punishment designed to limit on-campus arrests.

Two sources with knowledge of Cruz’s discipline records told WLRN he was referred to the so-called PROMISE Program for a three-day stint after committing vandalism at Westglades Middle School in 2013.

When asked for a response, a spokeswoman for Superintendent Robert Runcie stated on Friday that district administrators were aggressively analyzing Cruz’s records. Then Tracy Clark said on Sunday afternoon the district had “confirmed” Cruz’s referral to PROMISE after he vandalized a bathroom at the middle school on Nov. 25, 2013.

However, it’s unclear if Cruz ever attended the program . . .

“Let me reiterate this point,” Runcie started off during an interview in his office last month. “Nikolas Cruz, the shooter that was involved in this horrific accident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, had no connection to the PROMISE program.”

How do you not figure that out for this long? Unless there is some sort of effort to hide the truth from the public . . .

Another Key GOP Senate Primary, Another Abysmal, Unelectable Candidate

Roy Moore was a bad candidate. There is a strong argument to be made that he’s a bad person. He’s a former Alabama judge whose respect for the rule of law is entirely contingent on whether or not he agrees with the ruling; he was removed from the state Supreme Court because he refused to comply with a federal U.S. District Judge’s ruling requiring the removal of a statue of the Ten Commandments. An awful lot of young women came forward with stories of Moore pursuing relationships with them at exceptionally young ages. Whether or not you believe his accusers, in Moore’s own book, he describes how his wife caught his eye when he was 30 and she was 15 or 16. He collects an annual salary of roughly $180,000 per year for part-time work from his own nonprofit. He argued that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in the U.S. Congress.

Whatever you think of his character and approach to government, Moore was bad enough to lose a special election in a deeply Republican state.

In West Virginia’s GOP Senate primary, Don Blankenship is a bad candidate. There is a strong argument he’s a bad person. In 2015, he was convicted of “conspiring to willfully violate mine safety and health standards” in the aftermath of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster that killed 29 miners. He spent a year in jail because of this conviction. (Blankenship ran an ad featuring a miner boasting, “his first priority was safety.” A separate ad claimed the ad disaster was “Obama’s deadliest cover-up.”) He keeps referring to Mitch McConnell’s Chinese-American father-in-law as a “Chinaperson.” He bizarrely seems to think he can convince voters that Mitch McConnell is either a cocaine addict or a drug smuggler by repeatedly calling the Senate majority leader “Cocaine Mitch.”

(Separately from being a bad person, but in the category of being a bad candidate, his onscreen persona is . . . challenging. I’ve seen more natural and comfortable statements in hostage tapes.)

Whatever you think of his character and approach to government, Blankenship is probably bad enough to lose a winnable race against Democrat Joe Manchin, in a state that President Trump won 68.5 percent to 26.4 percent. (The other two major GOP Senate candidates, state attorney general Patrick Morrisey and congressman Evan Jenkins, do not represent anywhere near the risk that Blankenship does.)

If Republican primary voters in West Virginia select the worst possible candidate, right after Republican primary voters in Alabama chose the worst possible candidate . . . it starts to become really difficult to get emotionally invested in the fate of the Republican party. What’s the point of pulling for this party if its voters keep nominating the worst possible choice over and over again?

This isn’t the first time Republicans have nominated deeply flawed candidates for key Senate races: Todd Akin in Missouri, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada. If West Virginia Republicans nominate Blankenship, it will be depressingly clear is that the party’s electorate as a whole will not learn from experience.

ADDENDA: Some parts of the NRA Annual Meeting in Dallas were like a zoo . . . that never moved.

U.S.

A Good-News Jobs Report to End the Week

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May the Fourth be with you. Stay tuned to the Corner today for coverage of the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meeting in Dallas.

Good Morning. How Does a 3.9 Percent National Unemployment Rate Sound?

Hey, let’s have some good news to end the week!

The unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent in April, an 18-year low, even as nonfarm payrolls rose by just 164,000, according to a report Friday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected payroll growth of 192,000 and the jobless rate to drop by one-tenth of a percent to 4.0 percent. The official jobs tally showed an increase from an upwardly revised 135,000 in March.

A more encompassing measure of unemployment that includes discouraged workers and those holding part-time positions for economic reasons fell to 7.8 percent, the lowest since July 2001. Unemployment for blacks fell to a fresh record-low of 6.6 percent, down three-tenths of a point.

When you take the portrait of the economy from the jobs numbers, stock market performance, wage numbers, and data like that . . . and match it up against the general public’s really-modestly-optimistic, nothing special, nothing like the dot-com-boom poll responses on economic confidence . . . it becomes clear that for a significant portion of respondents, their perception of the economy is only loosely connected to the actual performance of the economy.

Where Do You List ‘Secret Payments to Mistress’ on Government Financial Disclosure Forms?

The New York Times raises the question of whether the president violated the law by not listing his alleged payments to Stormy Daniels through Michael Cohen on his financial disclosure forms.

Legally, the failure to disclose the payments could be a violation of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, which requires that federal officials, including Mr. Trump, report any liabilities of more than $10,000 during the preceding year. Mr. Trump’s last disclosure report, which he signed and filed in June, mentions no debt to Mr. Cohen.”

Government watchdog groups warned that willfully violating the financial disclosure laws can be punished by a fine of up to $50,000 and a year in prison. Although federal officials who lie on the forms are also typically charged with other, more serious offenses such as bribery or fraud, more than 20 officials or former officials have been charged in the past 12 years with making false statements to federal officials, a felony offense. An Environmental Protection Agency official who failed to report a source of income on the form, for instance, was convicted and sentenced to probation.

Anybody think Jeff Sessions is going to want to charge Trump with violating the Ethics in Government Act?

Our Andy McCarthy points out that this all stems from fighting the Stormy Daniels fight with every tool imaginable, when a quiet admission would have caused just another quick-passing thunderstorm of media outrage. Trump’s no-holds-barred approach to every fight, big or small, may work legally but cause much worse political problems. “I already miss the quiet calm of the Mueller investigation,” Andy sighs.

Look, one way or another, whether Trump talks to Robert Mueller or not, Mueller is going to offer a pretty comprehensive report to Congress. We have no idea when that report will arrive; everyone assumes that it will arrive before the midterm elections, but . . . how many “Mueller is in the final stages of his investigation” reports have we heard over the past few months?

That report is either going to list criminal acts by Trump that could qualify as high crimes and misdemeanors or not. There is a small but unlikely chance that Mueller will uncover something so indisputable and disqualifying for an American president that a significant number of Republican lawmakers support his impeachment. But again, that’s a pretty small chance.

More likely, Mueller comes back with something that most Democrats perceive as the greatest crime in American history and most Republicans perceive as no big deal, or insufficient to require the first successful impeachment of a president in U.S. history. And then, in a way, the decision is likely to be turned over to the American electorate. A Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is extremely likely to impeach the president; a Republican-controlled one is not.

Why Are Big Media Institutions Afraid to Mention the Friendly Neighborhood NRATV Host?

The Dallas Morning News did a profile of NRATV Thursday. The piece is headlined “Inside NRA TV, where the gun group spreads alarm and keeps lawmakers in line” and describes the channel as “high-pitched and hyper-partisan.”

The description of NRATV’s lineup may strike some viewers as curious.

The channel has three main anchors, all based in Dallas: [Grant] Stinchfield, 49, a former KXAS-TV (NBC5) reporter who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012; Collins Idehen, 34, a lawyer who amassed a YouTube following for his pro-gun videos under the moniker “Colion Noir”; and Dana Loesch, 39, a former tea party activist and Breitbart editor.

The claim that NRATV has only three main anchors will be surprising to anyone watching from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., or anyone who’s watched my friend Cam Edwards on the show named after him for the past 14 years on the network.

Now, most readers probably know by now that Cam is my best friend. He’s far too humble and gentlemanly to complain when he gets airbrushed out of the picture. He’s probably cringing right now reading me make a stink about it.

But I can’t help but get the feeling that his absence from any of the national media coverage of NRATV this year is not accidental. I don’t know Colion Noir or Stinchfield, and I’ve had pleasant limited interactions with the Loesches over the years. Maybe you love the table-pounding, television-smashing style or maybe you hate it; it isn’t my cup of tea, but whatever. The gist of all of the profiles of NRATV – in The New Yorker, on John Oliver’s TV show, and this one in the Morning News is the same – “wow, look at how incendiary and angry and frightening this channel is! America’s gun owners are terrifying!”

Except . . . Cam’s show is a different style and you really have to stretch to get him to fit the rootin’-tootin’ Yosemite Sam stereotype.

The one time a major media publication went out to profile Cam that I can recall, the Los Angeles Times came away calling him . . . a “calm, steady voice,” “methodical” and — I assume this is no pun intended  — “disarming.” The article quoted Cam addressing the stereotypes and expectations head on: “I sort of get the impression that when people tune in for the first time, if they’re not a gun owner in particular, they think they’re going to get some slack-jawed yokel, screaming about the ‘libtards’ who are coming to take their guns away,” he said. “And that’s not my show.”

Our discourse and definitions get set by who’s included and who’s excluded. Remember when Megyn Kelly called Alex Jones a “conservative radio host”? A considerable percentage of conservatives would argue that Alex “chemicals are turning the frogs gay” Jones does not represent us, does not speak for us, and cannot be accurately categorized as one of us. (We believe frogs should have the liberty to determine their own sexual preference.)

Major publications consistently cropping Cam out of the NRATV portrait feels intentional. The narrative of “America’s scary and menacing gun culture” is undermined by the example of an easygoing, joke-cracking host who knows the law, knows the facts, and is firm but courteous to guests, even when he disagrees.

Make no mistake, the argument about guns is not about which types of guns are allowed and not allowed; it is an explicitly cultural one. Notice how the Gun Safety Alliance describes itself: “an open source group of business leaders and concerned citizens from across every single industry — a ‘coalition of the willing’ — who are working together to propel cultural change and prevent unnecessary gun deaths in the United States.” They declare that gun owners “have every right if they follow the law, but we should all understand the risks and responsibilities with owning a firearm.” The not-so-subtle aim is to turn gun ownership into smoking — something still technically legal but widely seen as inherently irresponsible and dangerous, and so socially disapproved that no one would voluntarily choose that option.

ADDENDUM: Terry Teachout with a bluntly honest observation to Ross Douthat: “I’m touched, Ross, by your steadfast belief that you can persuade people who don’t care what you really think to follow your argument more closely.”

Culture

The Next Giant #MeToo Scandal Hits the Sports World

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Call me crazy, but I think the Washington Redskins are about to become the next huge focus of #MeToo:

When the Washington Redskins took their cheerleading squad to Costa Rica in 2013 for a calendar photo shoot, the first cause for concern among the cheerleaders came when Redskins officials collected their passports upon arrival at the resort, depriving them of their official identification.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. This is the sort of thing that sex traffickers do. What on God’s green earth could justify an employer taking away a person’s passport in a foreign country?

The cheerleaders’ trip moves from an ethical gray area . . . to charcoal:

For the photo shoot, at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort on Culebra Bay, some of the cheerleaders said they were required to be topless, though the photographs used for the calendar would not show nudity. Others wore nothing but body paint. Given the resort’s secluded setting, such revealing poses would not have been a concern for the women — except that the Redskins had invited spectators.

A contingent of sponsors and FedExField suite holders — all men — were granted up-close access to the photo shoots.

One evening, at the end of a 14-hour day that included posing and dance practices, the squad’s director told nine of the 36 cheerleaders that their work was not done. They had a special assignment for the night. Some of the male sponsors had picked them to be personal escorts at a nightclub.

The New York Times says its sources for this story are “five cheerleaders who were involved, and many details were corroborated with others who heard descriptions of the trip at the time.” None of the cheerleaders said they had sex with any of the male sponsors. The Redskins organization responded to the Times with what strikes me as a revealingly generic statement: “The Redskins’ cheerleader program is one of the NFL’s premier teams in participation, professionalism, and community service. Each Redskin cheerleader is contractually protected to ensure a safe and constructive environment. The work our cheerleaders do in our community, visiting our troops abroad, and supporting our team on the field is something the Redskins organization and our fans take great pride in.”

Whether he deserves it or not, a lot of the blame for this is going to end up on Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who was not on the trip. The Times article points out that while the job of a cheerleader has always been tied up in sex appeal, the Redskins under Snyder, in the words of one local sports columnist, have been “bringing the craft closer to pole dancing with every season.”

It is hard to overstate how much Snyder is hated in Washington — by the fans who are frustrated by the level of play and the owner’s impatience with coaches, by the media for secrecy that would impress the intelligence community and baseless lawsuits over critical coverage, and by players such as former quarterback Kirk Cousins who apparently felt unappreciated.

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson had to sell his team after multiple serious allegations of workplace misconduct. One can’t help but suspect that the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would prefer to see a new owner and fresh start for the Redskins. Of course, the other team owners may be just fine with a perennially dysfunctional dumpster fire of an organization playing at FedEx Field.

One angle that fascinates me is that the New York Times broke this story, and not any Washington-based news organization. For those of you outside the nation’s capital, it is equally hard to overstate the obsessive coverage on the Redskins in Washington’s print, television, and radio media. Tune in to sports radio this week, and the hosts are still arguing about the decision to let Cousins go in free agency. But all of those man-hours devoted to covering the team managed to miss this story for about five years!

Guiliani: Oh, Hey, Yeah, Trump Knew about the Payments to Stormy Daniels

President Trump, April 5, speaking to reporters on Air Force One: “Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?” “No.”

Rudy Giuliani, appearing on Sean Hannity’s program last night:

GIULIANI: Having something to do with paying some Stormy Daniels woman $130,000? Which, I mean, is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. That money was not campaign money. Sorry, I’m giving you a fact now that you don’t know. It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation.

HANNITY: They funneled it through a law firm.

GIULIANI: They funneled through a law firm, and the president repaid it.

HANNITY: Oh. I didn’t know that. He did.

GIULIANI: Yep.

HANNITY: There’s no campaign-finance law.

GIULIANI: Zero. Just like every — Sean, Sean —

HANNITY: So this decision was made by —

GIULIANI: Everybody was nervous about this from the very beginning. I wasn’t. I knew how much money Donald Trump put into that campaign, and I said, “$130,000? He could do a couple of checks for $130,000.” When I heard of Cohen’s retainer for $130,000, he was doing no work for the president. I said, “Well, that’s how he’s repaying it, with a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes for Michael.

HANNITY: But you know the president didn’t know about this?

GIULIANI: Ah, he didn’t know about the specifics of it, as far as I know. But he did know about the general arrangement, that Michael would take care of things like this. Like, I take care of this with my clients. I don’t burden them with every single thing that comes along. These are busy people.

You can say you don’t care about Trump’s sex life, and that’s your right. You can say you don’t care about Trump’s non-disclosure agreements with women, and that’s your right, too.

But if your perspective is, “Of course he’s going to lie about secret payments to her, lying to cover up an affair isn’t a big deal . . .” I’d love to check your viewpoint against your viewpoint in 1998 during Bill Clinton’s scandal with Monica Lewinsky. Yes, Democrats are epically hypocritical about this, but we’re left with the question: Beyond the double standard, what do we want the standard to be?

I would prefer a president who didn’t say “no” when the truth is “yes.”

The Infinity War Goes on for a Long Time . . . But Can’t Quite Nail the Ending

Avengers: Infinity War gets about 90 percent of the way to being the most awesome superhero movie of all time. And then, in a extraordinarily daring attempt to conclude a summer blockbuster on a truly original note, it goes one step too far and tears its storytelling anterior cruciate ligament.

SPOILERS AHEAD

First, let’s give credit where it’s due: Few filmmakers and studios have ever tried to make a movie anywhere near as ambitious, big, difficult, or complicated as this one. Depending upon how you count, it’s got anywhere from a dozen to 20 protagonists. The villain has been touted as the big bad in post-credit scenes and other allusions since 2012. It’s, if not a direct sequel, then a semi-sequel that continues storylines from Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2, Captain America: Civil War, and Doctor Strange. For those of you who don’t read comics, this is a pretty good cinematic interpretation of the once-a-year-or-so massive crossover storylines that would run through a lot of comic titles at once.

And the Marvel creative team knows what its strengths are — fun, interesting characters and funny dialogue — and for two hours, they nail it. Yes, all the action scenes and fights are great, but what we’re really going to remember is Thor trading insults with the Guardians of the Galaxy, the egos of Doctor Strange and Tony Stark clashing, Bruce Banner flabbergasted that there’s now both a Spider-Man and an Ant-Man, and Captain America and Groot introducing themselves to each other.

But the problem with the (NO REALLY, SPOILER COMING) shock ending of the heroes’ defeat and Thanos successfully killing off half of all life in the entire universe is that as daring as it is . . . our suspension of disbelief is among the casualties of Thanos.

Come on. The movie Black Panther made a billion dollars worldwide. Ain’t no way T’Challa’s gone for good. Same for Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and five-sevenths of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

And once you realize the character’s deaths can’t really be permanent . . . you start to wonder if any of the movie’s preceding deaths will be permanent. For two hours, every preceding major character death felt like it was consequential. Idris Elba famously complained about the schedule while playing Heimdall, and so it’s believable he would want out of future movies. Maybe Tom Hiddleston wants to go off and play James Bond or something, so it’s believable this is the last time we’ll see him playing Loki. Gamora’s death was the real gut punch, but it represented a key character-defining moment for the villain: He’s so obsessed with his goal that he’s willing to kill the only person he even remotely “loves,” his adopted daughter. The robotic Vision could be rebuilt, but it’s likely that having a chunk of his computer “brain” ripped out would leave him changed permanently.

But once the characters with their own movie series start drifting away like leaves in the wind, we know this is going to get undone somehow. (Yes, I’m old enough to have collected the original Infinity Gauntlet series, where Thanos’s first-issue magical random genocide wiped away all of Marvel’s less popular heroes but just so happened to keep the most popular characters around to take him on later.) What’s more, Marvel isn’t likely to set future superhero movies in a world where humanity is dealing with the chaos of three and a half billion people suddenly disappearing.

Once we know that most of these deaths are going to be reversed by some time travel, or Infinity Stone magic, or whatever in a future Marvel movie, we’re left wondering . . . what else will be undone? Did any of this really matter? (The greatest superhero cinematic “never mind” is probably The Wolverine, where everything Logan does in that movie is erased by the time travel in the subsequent movie, Days of Future Past.)

It’s easy to see why Marvel chose this route. The most common criticism of their movies (besides that they’re too jokey) is that they’re enjoyable but predictable. Because we know the hero will always win in the end, there’s not much real tension. Mentors and superfluous sidekicks might get struck down, but all of the audience favorites will survive until the credits roll. Kevin Feige and the rest of the creative team might as well have said, “Oh yeah? You think our movies are getting predictable? Watch this!” But even without the not-buying-it closing twist, we’re left with just part one of a two-part story, and the result is an conclusion that isn’t really satisfying, despite the buffet table of superhero fun we’ve devoured in the preceding two hours or so.

ADDENDA: If you haven’t checked it out already, peruse my Corner piece discussing Jungian psychology and how it explains some of the raging antagonism in our politics . . .

Starting tomorrow, coverage of the NRA Annual Meeting in Dallas!

World

Obama Alums Are Trying Everything to Defend the Iran Deal

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Making the click-through worthwhile: The Obama national-security team throws everything up against the Israeli intelligence presentation and sees what works; Nancy Pelosi helps out Republicans by pledging to run for speaker of the House again; finding examples of good sportsmanship and character on a giant obstacle course; and Jonah’s 453-page deep-thought trigger.

The Obama Team’s Response to Israel’s Intelligence Scoop Is Unintentionally Revealing

Former Obama administration national-security spokesman Tommy Vietor: “After years of bashing U.S. intelligence agencies for getting Iraq WMD wrong, Trump is now cooking up intel with the Israelis to push us closer to a conflict with Iran. A scandal hiding in plain sight.”

Former Obama administration deputy national-security adviser Ben Rhodes: “By reminding everyone of the well-known pre-Iran Deal history, Netanyahu inadvertently made the case for why the Iran Deal needs to stay in place. Without it, all the restrictions on Iran’s program and the inspections regime that verify compliance go away.”

As John Cooper observed . . . pick one, guys. Bibi Netanyahu’s presentation can’t be made-up nonsense AND undisputed facts that everyone already knew. And the fact that two former Obama officials are offering two contradictory counter-arguments simultaneously suggests that they’re throwing everything up against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Iran deal defenders seem to think that repeating the phrase “stringent and invasive verification procedures” over and over again somehow changes the fact that Iran has said it will never allow inspections of its military sites. If outside inspectors are allowed to examine sites A, B, and C, and not allowed to inspect sites X, Y and Z, where do you think a regime would be tempted to research and develop nuclear weapons? This is like saying to a search warrant, “officer, you can look anywhere in my house except my bedroom.”

This is why Iran’s long history of lying, revealed in depth and detail by the Israeli intelligence operation, matters. It further reconfirms that we are dealing with a regime that wanted nuclear weapons for a long time and tried to hide its efforts. It cannot be disputed that if they have the opportunity to cheat, they will cheat. Deal defenders insist that the inspectors will be able to find anything that should concern us. That’s a giant gamble, with literally nuclear consequences. Iran got everything it wanted in the deal, including an end to sanctions and $1.7 billion in pallets of cash, in exchange for a promise to not develop nuclear weapons for eleven years and a limited system of inspections to verify they’re keeping that promise.

Vietor also called Ben Shapiro “Baby Bannon Ben” which suggests he’s . . . either not informed or gleefully dishonest about the openly hostile relationship between Shapiro and Steve Bannon.

May House Democrats Never Have the Courage to Replace Nancy Pelosi

Finally, some good news for Republicans.

Despite grumblings from some Democrats and dismal approval ratings, the House minority leader aims to keep an iron grip on her leadership role, saying in an interview Tuesday that she fully intends to lead House Democrats if they recapture control of the chamber in November, as many prognosticators believe is likely.

“We will win. I will run for speaker. I feel confident about it. And my members do, too,” Pelosi told a meeting of Globe reporters and editors. She was in Boston for a Democratic fund-raiser hosted by Representative Katherine Clark.

Had Pelosi gone the other way, she would have deprived Republicans of their simplest, easiest message to motivate their base: “Do you want to see Nancy Pelosi become speaker of the House again?”

Back in late 2016, I wrote, “With Harry Reid leaving office, she’s now clearly the least gifted communicator in the ranks of the Democratic leadership. From her ‘we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it’ defense of Obamacare to her boast that the law would create 400,000 jobs ‘almost immediately’ to her entirely avoidable spat with then–CIA director Leon Panetta, this is a woman with a penchant for stepping in it.”

But poor communication skills are only part of Pelosi’s problem. She’s also grown old and very rich during her time in government, slowly becoming a populist’s paranoiac fantasy before our eyes. She literally lives on “Billionaire’s Row” in San Francisco. She was a big fan of earmarks, and has been accused of steering subsidies to donors and engaging in insider trading. And voters know it, too. She’s now such an effective stand-in for out-of-control, big-spending, out-of-touch progressivism that the National Republican Congressional Committee uses her in swing-district television ads every cycle.

The headline in the Globe article is, “Nancy Pelosi doesn’t plan on going anywhere.” Doesn’t that wording suggest she won’t be moving into the speaker’s office?

The Underappreciated Appeal of America’s . . . Ninja Warriors

The other day, Wall Street Journal sports writer Jason Gay wrote about the upcoming “all jocks” edition of Dancing with the Stars. Apparently, everyone’s rooting for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

If we’re offering tributes to skilled competitors in reality show clashes, allow me to tout my gradual surrender to the inescapable appeal of American Ninja Warrior. You’ve probably clicked past it on NBC, watching spunky amateur athletes struggling past elaborate obstacle courses that look like backyard jungle gyms somehow mated with construction scaffolding and the gargantuan offspring took over a city street. Leaping, climbing, and hanging by their arms for minutes at a time, the aspiring “ninjas” are very gradually eliminated round by round and episode by episode, building up to a rarely-claimed million-dollar prize for completion of the most difficult course, in the finals. (The entire course is above pools or mats, so no one gets hurt too badly from a fall.) All along, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila and Matt Iseman provide play-by-play announcing and commentary with a level of enthusiasm that makes Dick Vitale sound like Ben Stein. (I had no idea until I looked it up that Iseman was a licensed physician, an honors graduate of Princeton University and the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, and did a residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Colorado.)

My sons have become obsessive fans of American Ninja Warrior, regaling me with what happened last time and asking me to sort out whether Isaac Caldiero or Geoff Britten is better. I mostly stare and contemplate what kind of shoulder, arm, and finger muscles you must have to be able to literally hang by your fingertips for several minutes while shimmying along a hanging girder.

The kind of short biographical film that quickly gets insufferable in Olympics coverage — I know, I know, this athlete had a beloved relative die recently, he survived a car accident, his dog ran away, he lost a sock in the dryer, just get to the ski jump already — actually makes up a good bit of the bread-and-butter of ANW, and here it works. Almost all of the warriors have day jobs like emergency physicians, ranchers, school teachers, or rabbis-in-training, and the short films showcase their efforts to balance pursuing some non-athletic dream or career while training  to be a “ninja” in gyms and backyards and playgrounds. Britten was a freelance television cameraman who worked Orioles and Nationals games. Caldiero was a busboy. These are not athletes who have spent their entire youth in the glare of the spotlight and enjoyed the perks of fame. There are some exceptional women athletes as well, and there are no lowered standards or tilted playing field; women compete on the same course as the men.

What stands out the most after watching a few episodes is that all of the competitors’ rivalries are friendly, there’s no trash-talking, and opponents cheer each other on — a level of sportsmanship and good character that is jarring if you’ve been watching NBA players jaw at each other, fights in the NHL, or listening to sports radio. This is what sports used to be before they turned into billion-dollar businesses.

ADDENDA: Jonah’s new book, Suicide of the West, is proving difficult to finish in the sense that after every chapter I find myself wanting to climb to the top of some hill and ponder deep thoughts about civilization, Western values, and how best to preserve them. Eventually I’ll have a full review, but this section from his most recent column is a good sample:

Humans have always come preloaded with the coalition instinct.

What feels different these days is that, more and more, one hears people jettisoning universal norms — free speech, constitutional fidelity, rhetorical decency — in favor of relativistic ones that simply suit the needs of one coalitional identity group or another. Some on the left now denounce free speech solely because it is a threat to their power. Many Trump supporters wave off his rhetorical grotesqueries because “he fights!”

Rather than simple blindness to our hypocritical violations of standards, we’re declaring war on the standards themselves. If this trend continues, we may get less hypocrisy and more open war between coalitions.

World

Apparently, Iran Deal Defenders Already Knew Iran Wasn’t to Be Trusted

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Making the click-through worthwhile: Iran deal defenders insist they always knew Tehran was lying all along; some overheated arguments about masculinity and books for kids; how most of the people making the loudest arguments in public discourse didn’t bother to do the homework; and a really strange and implausible accusation against Mitch McConnell.

Wait, Why Did We Ever Trust the Iranians Again?

Fans of the Iran deal scoff at Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu’s presentation about the long and sordid history of Iran’s secret nuclear program: “There was nothing we didn’t already know.” “Everything he said was already known.” “There is nothing new in Bibi’s presentation.”

I don’t quite get how “hey, everybody always knew the Iranian regime lies all the time” is such a sterling defense of the Iran deal. I mean, is that we’re so confident in the limited inspections that we don’t think Iran would cheat by doing things at military sites? You can’t argue, “Oh, we never trusted their word” and “That’s why we have to keep trusting them” in the same breath.

Our new secretary of State:

“I know there are people talking about these documents not being authentic,” Pompeo added. “I can confirm for you that these documents are real; they’re authentic.”

Pompeo said that the files “spell out the scope and scale of the program that they undertook there, and I think makes – I think makes very clear that, at the very least, the Iranians have continued to lie to their own people. So while you say everyone knew, the Iranians have consistently taken the position that they’ve never had a program like this. This will – this will belie any notion that there wasn’t a program like this.”

He added that the administration would “leave that to lawyers,” when asked if there was there anything in there that suggests there’s an actual violation of the 2016 agreement.”

I’m reminded of a past warning about Iran’s treachery and ambitions by an American leader known for launching military strikes in Middle Eastern countries:

This is not the first time that Iran has concealed information about its nuclear program.  Iran has a right to peaceful nuclear power that meets the energy needs of its people.  But the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program.  Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow — endangering the global non-proliferation regime, denying its own people access to the opportunity they deserve, and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world.

That was President Barack Obama on September 25, 2009.

Deep Thoughts About Mischievous Boys in Children’s Literature

Ah, Twitter, where grown men scoff at alleged “capitalizing on insecure masculinity” on the part of . . . Jocko Willink, a retired U.S. Navy SEAL who received the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his service in the Iraq War and who commanded SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser during the Battle of Ramadi.

The comment was spurred by a Fox News segment touting Willink’s Warrior Kid books — excellent, by the way, my older son called it “inspiring” — and poo-pooing the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. The grown man in question refused Willink’s offer of free copies so he could “not judge them by the cover — or their news coverage?”(I think it’s quite revealing when a person’s refuses invitations to more closely examine what  he’s denouncing.)

With both my boys devouring the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, I can generally concur with the growing assessment that the title character is less of a wimp than a narcissist. Author Jeff Kinney wrote, “He represents the worst of me. Some people have called him a young Larry David. I’m not sure if he’s a sociopath. He does and says the things the rest of us only wish we could do and say, which is what makes him funny. But I do think Greg needs to mature.”

But that’s okay. What makes the Wimpy Kid books hilarious is that in any given situation, Greg will do a ton of work to avoid doing work, and just about all of his schemes to avoid homework, chores or other responsibilities blow up in his face. And kids usually relate to Greg’s problems — long family car rides, gathering with distant relatives they barely remember and find kind of weird, wishing they could spend the whole summer playing video games. I doubt many kids reading the Wimpy Kid books wished they could be more like Greg, or want to emulate him by the end of the story. He’s an age-appropriate cautionary tale.

Sometimes we tell stories to children explicitly about what not to do. I think one of the reasons kids love Mo Willems’ Pigeon books is that they recognize the pigeon using all of their tricks that they use when they want to stay up late, have a cookie, avoid taking a bath, etcetera.

Heck, half of the comics pages are about kids who can’t avoid trouble: Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, Big Nate, Dennis the Menace. Stephan Pastis’ utterly hilarious Timmy Failure series is about a kid who clearly wants to be a modern-day Encyclopedia Brown-style kid detective but who is oblivious to his own incompetence.

This is all part of how children develop the ability to distinguish fantasy and reality.

Most of the Loudest Voices in Public Life Haven’t Done the Homework

The rote denunciation of a decorated Navy SEAL for being insecure in his masculinity is another example of one of the sadder lessons of life: a lot of people you see and hear haven’t done the homework.

By that I mean they haven’t done more than a cursory examination of whatever they’re discussing, and sometimes not even that much.  For example, the Washington Post wrote a whole article about the Parkland survivors howling about alleged “hypocrisy” for the firearms ban in effect for the president’s and vice president’s speeches at this week’s NRA Convention.

If you do a minute of Googling, you will see where the policy comes from and that headlines like “the NRA banned guns from its own convention” are not accurate. But that was too much to ask from the Associated Press. (Or, you know, they’re corrupt hacks who will lie in order to promote a particular message.) They were perfectly happy to make sweeping statements without doing the homework.

As I and many other folks pointed out, this reflects longstanding U.S. Secret Service policy, and yes, their authority has held up in court. For the National Rifle Association, the choice is simple: If you want the president or vice president to speak, you must accept a ban on firearms in the building while they’re speaking. Unsurprisingly, the NRA concurs with this, and with all local and state laws on firearms during their annual meetings.

Why would the U.S. Secret Service want no firearms in the audience of a presidential speech? I can think of five reasons off the top of my head: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy, and Reagan.

This isn’t a policy in place for a particular menace stemming from NRA meeting attendees; this is a blanket rule for all presidential visits to all buildings.

(As for the alleged hypocrisy, how many gun owners argue that privately owned firearms should be everywhere at all times? I don’t see many gun owners objecting to gun bans on planes, courthouses, prisons, the U.S. Capitol Building, or federal office buildings. The gun-control crowd is gleefully mowing down straw men, this nonsensical notion that American gun owners believe everyone should be armed at all times. Neither “Less guns make us more safe!” nor “More guns make us more safe!” are inherently correct; it all depends upon who has the guns and what they do with them.)

Once you start listening for “didn’t do the homework,” you hear it everywhere. Yesterday, I was listening to the local D.C. sports radio, and the midday host said something like, “I don’t think Sam Darnold is going to work out, he’s a USC quarterback,” and then he went on to discuss the other drafted quarterbacks.

If you’ve seen my Twitter avatar, you can guess that I’ve got a strong opinion about Darnold! But it wasn’t the criticism that bothered me so much as the lack of effort or analysis that went into it. Valid criticisms of Darnold exist: He didn’t improve as much from 2016 to 2017 as some hoped or expected, he turned the ball over a lot last year, some scouts wonder about his throwing motion. But those are all assessments of Darnold and how he played, not the school he attended. You might as well argue that quarterbacks who wear red uniforms are always disappointments.

Not every viewpoint has to be defended like a Ph.D. dissertation, but dude, you’ve got a sports radio show! I’m just a fan, you’re supposed to know more than I do. I expect you to have thought about this some more than just, “oh, he went to that school.” It’s lazy, it’s shallow, it suggests you’ve done no actual research or thinking about the sweeping conclusion you’re offering. (And if you want to scoff about USC quarterbacks and bring up Mark Sanchez and Matt Leinart, fine, but Carson Palmer was a USC quarterback, too.)

ADDENDA: Fresh off calling Chinese American James Chao, father of the secretary of Labor and father-in-law to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a “wealthy Chinaperson,” West Virginia Senate candidate Don Blankenship calls McConnell “cocaine Mitch” in a campaign ad unveiled today, a week away from the primary.

Does . . . Mitch McConnell strike you as a cocaine kind of guy? Has he ever seemed wild-eyed, speaking quickly, jittery, on edge, twitchy, full of nervous energy?

Quaaludes, maybe, but not cocaine.

World

Negotiating with North Korea Isn’t a Walk in the Park

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Kim Jong Un meets scientists and technicians in the field of researches into nuclear weapons in this undated photo released March 9, 2016. (KCNA via Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: what President Trump can expect when he meets with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un; the New York Times takes a swing at Devin Nunes and misses; the increasingly insufferable White House Correspondents’ Dinner; and the steadfast refusal to embrace a single standard for public discourse, and a slew of important bits of political news.

What to Expect When You Sit Across the Table from North Korea

It seems like every day now brings some once-unimaginable statement of goodwill from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. It’s difficult to trust that regime, but like the old poster on The X-Files said, “I want to believe.”*

Keeping diplomatic developments coming at a head-snapping pace, the South Korean government said on Sunday that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had told President Moon Jae-in that he would abandon his nuclear weapons if the United States agreed to formally end the Korean War and promise not to invade his country.

Want to know what to expect from a Trump–Kim summit, and what it’s like to negotiate with the North Koreans? I recently had a chance to pick the brain of Robert Carlin, who has more experience in interacting with the North Koreans than almost any other American. Currently a visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, Carlin was an analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency from 1971 to 1989. Then he moved to the U.S. State Department, taking part in all negotiations with the North Koreans during the Clinton presidency. During the Bush administration, he became a senior policy adviser to the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, the international group that implemented the 1994 nuclear deal Clinton struck with Pyongyang. Altogether, Carlin has made 25 trips to North Korea, and he’s among the few outsiders who have ever visited sites like North Korea’s uranium-enrichment plant in Yongbyon.

“They are good at their game . . . When they get precise in their presentation, it’s important to pay attention — they mean what they say,” Carlin says. “But it’s often only possible to understand what they mean by having a good grasp of their previous positions. . . . My experience is that Americans sometimes don’t recognize progress when they see it from the North Koreans, and thus may miss openings.”

*Wanting to believe is not the same as believing.

The New York Times’s Half-Empty Perspective on Devin Nunes

In March, when I was writing my lengthy profile of Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he mentioned that other publications were working on profiles of him as well. This weekend, the New York Times unveiled its profile of Nunes, contending that he “displays a deep mistrust of the expert consensus on reality.” Mollie Hemingway tears it to pieces over at The Federalist.

I also notice that comments such as this in the Times article . . .

“He’d go out to these hinterlands and run into security guys there, and they’d give him crazy ideas,” the former committee staff member says. “He wasn’t discerning. These guys might have something interesting that’s one piece of the whole puzzle, but he’d think whatever they had to say was the whole truth.” Then, when Nunes brought back that information to Washington and intelligence officials would try to put it in context for him — or correct any misinformation — he would become suspicious. “He didn’t take people at face value,” a former government official recalls, “and didn’t always believe leadership.”

. . . are the glass-half-empty view of the same Nunes actions I wrote about. (I presume this quote is from a Democratic committee staff member.) Here’s how Nunes described his work on the intel committee to me:

“We go off the beaten path, taking cars and trains,” Nunes says. “You can only truly learn what’s going on in a country if you talk to people outside the bubble. In my mind, if I meet with someone and they’re just repeating the conventional wisdom or reading talking points, it’s a red flag” that there’s something more to uncover.”

Is it the right way to do the job? Eh, you can travel into the sticks too much or too little, but I hardly think it’s ipso facto evidence to support the Times piece’s thesis that Nunes is a nutty conspiracy theorist.

Wait, Nunes “didn’t take people at face value and didn’t always believe leadership”? Is that a criticism? Isn’t that the trait we would want to have in a person doing congressional oversight?

The Times is correct that there’s bad blood between former committee chairman Mike Rogers and Nunes, and thus it’s not all that surprising that Rogers could offer unflattering anecdotes about his successor. But Nunes is hardly the only Republican, or only intelligence-committee member, who had strong disagreements with Rogers over the years.

In November 2014, Rogers and ranking-member representative Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland — who’s been representing the district that includes NSA headquarters since 2003 —  offered a committee report that irked quite a few Republicans, concluding “there was no intelligence failure prior to the attack, no stand-down order to CIA operatives trying to go assist at the besieged consular building and found conflicting intelligence in the wake of the attack about the motive and cause, which were reflected in early public comments by the administration.” Clinton allies like Lanny Davis took the Rogers report and basically did a touchdown dance, declaring that the report proved “every one of the charges Republicans have been making for the last two years against the administration about Benghazi — every one — is untrue.”

As Stephen F. Hayes and Thomas Jocelyn reported:

At a meeting of intelligence committee Republicans in early 2013, just four months after the attacks, Rogers laid out his priorities for the new Congress. Not only was Benghazi not on that list, according to three sources in the meeting, he declared to the members that the issue was in the past and that they wouldn’t be devoting significant time and resources to investigating it. Whatever failures there had been in Benghazi, he explained, they had little to do with the intelligence community, and his intelligence committee would therefore have little to do with investigating them.

It’s not often you see members of a committee ripping their own panel’s report, but it happened: Representative Tom Rooney said, “I don’t think this is the official government report. It’s Mike Rogers’s report. The members of his own committee don’t even agree with it.” For whatever reason, Rogers became convinced quite quickly that there was little reason to blame the intelligence community for failing to be prepared for the Benghazi attack — and thus, the Obama administration as well.

I have no doubt that Nunes has a combative streak that has only gotten stronger as he stepped from obscurity to become Public Enemy Number One in the eyes of the Left. MSNBC commentators are speculating he’s a Russian spy, his opponent put up a billboard depicting him on Putin’s leash, and he was the subject of a much-hyped House Ethics Committee probe that turned up empty. (You know an ethics investigation added up to nothing when it only gets mentioned once in a critical New York Times profile.) Like many high-profile members of Congress, he’s living in a world with more yahoos making threats than ever before. Think about how Nunes sees the world right now. He tried to do the right thing, and everyone around him is paying the price. That would make any man warier and less willing to give others the benefit of the doubt.

The White House Correspondents’ Blather

Do we need to hash out the White House Correspondents’ Dinner controversy any more, or have we emerged from that news cycle?

Yes, the comedienne’s routine was obnoxious, crass, and far too personal in the eyes of many. It says quite a bit about her that she joked about the inappropriateness of her routine: “Should have done more research before you got me to do this.” In other words, she knew what was appropriate at that time and place, and she chose the other path. It’s fascinating to see various commentators insisting her comments were not too gross or nasty for the occasion, when she herself was effectively admitting that they were.

Our former colleague Tim Alberta: “Every caricature thrust upon the national press — that we are culturally elitist, professionally incestuous, socioeconomically detached and ideologically biased — is confirmed by this trainwreck of an event. Journalists, the joke’s on us.”

Michael Graham: “Inviting Michelle Wolf was the DC media revealing their views of the president. They didn’t offer critiques of policy or comic takes on presidential foibles. They held a ‘We Hate Trump!’ party and invited the rest of America to look upon their loathing of a guy 60 million of their fellow citizens voted for. That was the set up.”

She said obnoxious things. Yes, the president says and tweets obnoxious things. Citing one to justify the other in either direction is an ipso facto defense of obnoxiousness. I will accept one of two universal standards. One is a public discourse where no holds are barred, everything is fair game, and nothing is beyond the pale for everyone on both sides. The second is one where decorum, decency, and respect are required in public discourse, from everyone and to everyone on all sides. I’d actually prefer the latter, but can function in either world.

But whichever standard we pick, it must be universal; it can’t be the first standard for political allies and the second standard for political foes. None of this “Hitchens was in the family, you aren’t,” open double-standard nonsense from The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. If you want our discourse to be Firing Line or the Oxford Union Debates, you have to hold everyone to that standard. If you’re comfortable with a four-way debate between Bill Maher, Alex Jones, Ted Nugent, and Kathy Griffin, I can live with that, too. But under those rules, no one gets punished for inappropriate speech; no one ever gets fired for an offensive comment on social media anymore.

Pick one, friends.

ADDENDA:  Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman and former White House chief of staff John Podesta lends his expertise to the History Channel’s shlocky Ancient Aliens program.

In Florida, Republican governor-turned-senatorial candidate Rick Scott raises in three weeks what incumbent Democratic senator Bill Nelson raised in three months.

The editors of National Review endorse state attorney general Patrick Morrissey their nod in Tuesday’s West Virginia Senate primary. I profiled Morrissey last year. Of the other two GOP candidates, one spent a year in jail on a charge related to a deadly mining accident and the other was a member of the Democratic party until 2013.

When are we allowed to discuss Avengers: Infinity War without spoiling it?

World

An Extraordinarily Hopeful Handshake between the Two Koreas

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Future Nobel peace laureates?

Peace in our time on the Korean Peninsula? Let’s not get too optimistic; if any regime ever justified the mentality of “trust but verify,” it’s the North Koreans. But we’re light-years away from the sudden missile launches and nuclear tests of just a few months ago.

The leaders of North and South Korea agreed on Friday to work to remove all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula and, within the year, pursue talks with the United States to declare an official end to the Korean War, which ravaged the two nations from 1950 to 1953.

At a historic summit meeting, the first time a North Korean leader had ever set foot in the South, the leaders vowed to negotiate a peace treaty to replace a truce that has kept an uneasy peace on the divided Korean Peninsula for more than six decades, while ridding it of nuclear weapons. A peace treaty has been one of the incentives North Korea has demanded in return for bargaining away its nuclear weapons.

“South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” read a statement signed by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, after their meeting at the border village of Panmunjom.

The agreements came at the end of a day of extraordinary diplomatic stagecraft emphasizing hopes for reconciliation and disarmament that was broadcast live around the world, beginning with a smile and handshake that Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon shared at the border and extending to a quiet, 30-minute talk they had near the end of the day in a wooded area of the village.

One of the fascinating bits of information to surface this week is the report that “the mountain above North Korea’s main nuclear test site has likely collapsed, rendering it unsafe for further testing and requiring that it be monitored for any leaking radiation.” Whoops! In other words, Pyongyang might really be ready to talk about giving up their nuclear program because they accidentally reduced a big chunk of that program to radioactive rubble in September.

The concept of North and South Korea coexisting in peace in the not-so-distant future is a lot to get our arms around. And speaking of a lot to get our arms around . . . Moon and Kim hugged!

Anonymous Sources 1, Ronny Jackson 0

I don’t want to harp on this, but it sure sounds like a dedicated doctor and Navy rear admiral just had his reputation destroyed by anonymous sources and opportunistic lawmakers.

Maybe Ronny Jackson wasn’t the right man to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. He certainly didn’t have the traditional experience in managing large organizations. It’s easy to believe that President Trump selected him based primarily on his personal rapport with Jackson and the physician’s energetic public insistence that the president is in fine health. And if Senate Democrats had wanted to debate his nomination on those terms, that would be an expected and necessary discussion.

But Democrats, and in particular, Senator Jon Tester of Montana, didn’t want to debate the nomination on just those terms. They laid out a laundry list of allegations of shockingly reckless and irresponsible behavior — but they relied entirely on anonymous sources, and with no dates, times, or places attached to those allegations. Democrats contended that every allegation was verified by two sources, but we never learned anything to indicate whether they would be in a position to witness the alleged drunken and reckless behavior.

Late yesterday, the U.S. Secret Service issued a statement:

Over the last 48 hours, media outlets have alleged that U.S. Secret Service personnel were forced to intervene during a Presidential foreign travel assignment in order to prevent disturbing (former) President Barack Obama. The Secret Service has no such record of any incident; specifically, any incident involving Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson.

A thorough review of internal documents related to all Presidential foreign travel that occurred in 2015, in addition to interviews of personnel who were present during foreign travel that occurred during the same timeframe, has resulted in no information that would indicate the allegation is accurate. The physical health and wellbeing of Secret Service personnel when fulfilling our protective mission is of paramount importance to the Secret Service. Rear Admiral Jackson, in his role as the official White House Physician, has provided years of dedicated support to the men and women of the Secret Service, often miles from home and under difficult travel conditions, in order to ensure our personnel are healthy and prepared to execute our critical mission.

The Secret Service is grateful for the dedicated and outstanding professional service Rear Admiral Jackson has provided to the agency – and more importantly – his role supporting the greater Presidential protection security apparatus.

(A point worth keeping in mind when the U.S. Secret Service categorically denies an allegation of a White House doctor’s drunken behavior on an overseas trip: the U.S. Secret Service has had its own scandals of drunken and other scandalous behavior on overseas trips in recent years.)

The New York Times tries to sort out the allegations in a follow-up piece this morning. There’s a clear divide. The on-the-record sources sing Jackson’s praises and say it’s hard to believe Jackson could engage in the alleged drunken behavior, considering his duties and security clearance. The unnamed sources describe an “intoxicated,” “abusive” “frat boy.”

CNN offers a similar, slightly more detailed version of the allegations, but once again, no source is willing to be identified.

The White House medical unit frequently functioned as a “grab and go” clinic where mid-level staffers to the most senior officials could obtain prescription drugs without being examined by a doctor, casually pick up the powerful sleeping aid Ambien even for their children, and get drugs that were not prescribed to the person actually taking the medication.

One of the more fascinating aspects of this story is the degree to which Democrats are willing to paint a portrait of a dysfunctional Obama White House in order to derail one of Trump’s nominations.

Some of the allegations against Jackson are easy to believe in the context of the usual workplace quarrels — doctors disagree about treatments, someone thinks someone else got too much credit, subordinates feel like they were chewed out unfairly for minor mistakes, and so on. But some of the allegations are hard to rectify with his presidential recommendations and the praise that so many officials from both administrations have for him.

John Ashbrook’s observation is astute: “if Republican Congressional staff assembled a blind sourced list of wild charges against a Democratic nominee, nobody would cover it . . .” Or it certainly would not have been covered so credulously as the Democrats’ claims about Jackson were. As Josh Holmes, former chief of staff to Mitch McConnell put it, “Not only would it not be covered, we’d be absolutely savaged for putting out a document with criminal allegations without citation or corroboration.”

Look Out for Joy Reid’s Time-Traveling Hacker!

If you think you’re having a tough week, at least you’re not MSNBC host Joy Reid, who is being confronted with obnoxious and homophobic comments on her blog from about a decade ago.

Monday, media-news site Mediaite published—using screenshots taken from The Wayback Machine’s cached versions of Reid’s blog—more homophobic blog posts from the late aughts. In them, Reid appeared to crassly mock gay celebrities like Anderson Cooper and Clay Aiken, defend homophobia as “intrinsic” to straight people, declare that she wouldn’t see Brokeback Mountain because of the gay sex scenes, and imply that gay advocacy groups prey upon “impressionable teens.” On Thursday, the Washington Free Beacon followed up by revealing another set of homophobic posts not previously reported by Mediaite.

Reid — a Daily Beast columnist — did not apologize this time around. Instead, she released a statement saying that “In December I learned that an unknown, external party accessed and manipulated material from my now-defunct blog… to include offensive and hateful references that are fabricated and run counter to my personal beliefs and ideology.”

The supposed hacker was posting alongside Reid for years. According to Reichmann, that even included inserting updates in Reid’s live blog of the Alito hearing in January 2006.

Reichmann claimed that the hacker was responsible for two consecutive updates sandwiched between Reid’s legitimate ones. The updates report that Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch was using his questioning time to metaphorically fellate the judge. “Oh, look, Or