Politics & Policy

Ilhan Omar’s Remarks about Israel Don’t Provoke the Ire of Many Democrats

Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) participates in a gun violence prevention roundtable with former Representative Gabby Giffords in Minneapolis, Minn., October 26, 2018. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Ilhan Omar demonstrates that Democrats aren’t really that upset about anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Most Democrats Are Fine with Ilhan Omar’s Comments About ‘Allegiance to a Foreign Country’

In case you’ve lost track of what the latest controversy surrounding Representative Ilhan Omar is about, during an appearance at a Washington D.C. bookstore, she declared, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

This was in the context of a discussion about U.S. policy towards Israel and the controversy surrounding her remarks from three weeks earlier, when she had said that Congressional support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins, baby” and funded by AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. Now it’s not clear whether the House will even consider a resolution denouncing anti-Semitism.

The bookstore remarks were a separate controversy from her previous labeling of Israel as an “apartheid regime,” which was separate from her previous declaration that “Israel has hypnotized the world,” and her conspiracy theory about Senator Lindsey Graham, declaring, “They got to him, he is compromised.” Oh, and for good measure, she contended that Donald Trump had a “culture of intolerance that emboldens racist individuals to acts of violence.”

After the “all about the Benjamins” comment, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer declared, “Rep. Omar’s use of an anti-Semitic stereotype was offensive and irresponsible. This kind of intolerance has no place in Congress — or anywhere in American society. No one should invoke anti-Semitic tropes during policy disagreements.”

That’s all nice to hear, but if he really believed that, he and other Democrats would stop giving Omar a slap on the wrist after the fourth or fifth offense. There’s also surprisingly little discussion about Omar accusing her Jewish Democratic colleagues of anti-Muslim bias while speaking at the bookstore: “What I’m fearful of — because Rashida and I are Muslim — that a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel to be anti-Semitic because we are Muslim.”

It’s also worth noting that in her complaints about “political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” we’ve never heard Omar lodge any complaints about the Arab American Institute, the Armenian Association of America, the Cuban American National Foundation. We’ve never heard her lament about the lobbying firm Akin Gump working for the United Arab Emirates, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, or the government of the Marshall Islands.

No, when Ilhan Omar complains about foreign influence on U.S. decision-making, she really only complains about one country.

When you look at the numbers, Israel is one of many, ranking highly, but not quite the biggest spender. More than 300 lobbying firms represent 409 foreign countries and foreign interests, and since January 2017, they’ve collectively spent $857 million on lobbying and public-relations campaigns.

The top spender is the government of South Korea, having spent more than $57 million. The second is the government of Bermuda (!) with almost $53 million. The Japanese government comes in third with $45.5 million. Israel’s government comes in fourth, having spent a bit more than half South Korea, at $34.6 million. When you add in non-government organizations such as the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency for Israel, Israeli-affiliated groups rise to second-highest on the list — still behind South Korea, because their non-government spending includes the Korean Broadcasting Company, the Korean Institute for International Economic Policy, the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation, and the Korean International Trade Association.

(Have you ever heard anyone complaining about the powerful South Korean lobby?)

There are fair criticisms of Israel. The Israel Defense Forces almost never use a light touch. The Israeli government knows new construction in disputed territories will stir up a hornet’s nest and they do it anyway. They’re determined to demonstrate complete military dominance of their territory and surrounding region, and that approach inevitably fuels further conflict and confrontation.

But after your neighbors tried to invade a few times and keep pledging to kill you, when foreign leaders keep promising to wipe you off the map, and when the United Nations keeps picking on you as the world’s worst villain while genocides and bloody civil wars are ongoing elsewhere, you’re probably going to live on a hair-trigger and to tune out all criticism.

In the wide range of U.S. allies and countries we’re on good terms with, Israel’s nowhere near the most morally questionable. We give a lot of aid to Pakistan, and we’re not even sure how much of their government opposes the guys who want to kill us. China still has “most favored nation” trade status, and they’ve got a million Uighurs in reeducation camps. Ask the Kurds about Turkey. We’ve just had a long-overdue national discussion about our relationship with the Saudi royal family and its actions. We were really happy to warm up our relations with Myanmar under Aung San Suu Kyi, and now their government is turning a blind eye to massacres of the Rohingya.

Again — if you’re always furious about Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, but never utter a word about the Uighurs, Kurds, or Rohingya, people start to think you’re just obsessed with hating the world’s lone Jewish country.

Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories Represent the Losers’ Hunt for Scapegoats

Let’s go back to one of the first articles I wrote for National Review Online, after I spent two weeks in Cairo, Egypt in 2003. (The Iraq War had just started, and I was one of the few palefaces on the street. Good times, good times . . . ) It will not surprise you that the Egyptian media — either state-run or state-censored — blamed Israel for just about everything under the sun.

Even with tourism revenues, U.S. foreign aid, the Suez Canal, relative stability and one of the better economies of the region, Egypt’s still got a lot of problems: poverty on a scale difficult for Americans to grasp, limited economic opportunity, about a quarter of the population still illiterate, new infrastructure gleaming in a few places but falling apart everywhere else, and unbearable smog over Cairo. I recall seeing a lot of de facto wheelchair ramps on every corner, made out of compressed garbage.

It was a similar story when I was over in Turkey from 2005 to 2007; Turkish translations of Mein Kampf prominently displayed on bookstore tables and all kinds of conspiracy theories.

I can see why the Egyptian government and state-run media — and their counterparts in other Arab and Muslim counties — would blame Israel for everything. It’s a handy excuse! Those governments don’t have to take responsibility for their countries’ poverty, illiteracy, lack of opportunity, infrastructure, and education problems when there’s always the Jews to blame. If Israel and the Jews are responsible for all of the problems of Egypt or Turkey (or insert any other Muslim country here), then it’s not the fault of the local governments, never mind how blatantly corrupt, incompetent, kleptocratic, autocratic, or brutal they are.

What I can’t understand is why any American would go along with that don’t-blame-us, it’s-all-the-Jews-fault fairy tale. It’s like helping an addict deny the problem when there’s a rehab center right next door. These countries don’t have to be unstable basket cases with looted treasuries and rampant human-rights abuses.

Anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists rarely acknowledge that if sinister Jewish powers really are trying to keep Arabs and Muslims down, they’ve done a really hit-and-miss job with it.

Despite all of Turkey’s current problems, the country’s post-Ataturk history demonstrates a Muslim country can prosper with free elections, a fairly free media and expression, and separation of mosque and state. (Okay, and maybe a military coup once a decade or so to reset the system.) There are plenty of Muslim countries where the problem isn’t a lack of resources. Morocco, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates have figured out stability and economic prosperity. Despite living in one of the roughest regional neighborhoods on earth, Jordan has developed a skilled workforce and comparative stability. Tunisia adopted a new constitution and has held full parliamentary and presidential elections.

“The Jews secretly control everything and are holding us down” is the rallying cry of the paranoid loser. Unfortunately, the world has a lot of losers who are eager to embrace any explanation that lets them off the hook.

Finally, is it really all that surprising that most Americans feel closer to Israel, the pro-Western democracy full of beautiful women carrying automatic weapons, compared with the Palestinians, who let Hamas make their case for them?  Hamas runs around in white hoods and robes that would blend in well at a Ku Klux Klan rally (or the Virginia governor’s mansion).

Democrats to Biden: Hurry Up, Either You’re In Or You’re Out

The New York Times reports that Democrats are getting impatient about Joe Biden’s decision.

At times like this, it’s worth remembering that the political landscape can change really dramatically, really quickly. The New York Times didn’t mention Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s name until May 29, 2018, about a month before the Democratic congressional primary.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s name appeared 33 articles on the New York Times newspaper and web site in the seven days of March, as of 9 a.m. this morning.

ADDENDUM: McClatchy’s David Lightman writes about the growth of conservative podcasts.

Elections

Hillary Clinton’s Latest Excuse for Losing the 2016 Presidential Election

Hillary Clinton speaks at the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C., November 2, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Hillary Clinton offers her most audacious and erroneous excuse for her defeat in 2016 yet, why any successful effort to change the course of government requires wonks and writers, and the Republican party of Virginia offers a reward for embarrassing photos of the state attorney general.

Hillary Clinton’s Epically Bogus Excuse for 2016

Ashe Schow wonders about what excuses for the 2016 election Sherrod Brown could offer in the future. Hillary Clinton — apparently not interested in running in 2020 — decided to invent a dark conspiracy of racism to explain her loss:

I was the first person who ran for president without the protection of the Voting Rights Act, and I will tell you, it makes a really big difference. And it doesn’t just make a difference in Alabama and Georgia; it made a difference in Wisconsin, where the best studies that have been done said somewhere between 40 [thousand] and 80,000 people were turned away from the polls because of the color of their skin, because of their age, because of whatever excuse could be made up to stop a fellow American citizen from voting.

The Washington Post Fact-Checker team basically breaks out the separate keys held by separate operators, verifies the launch codes, and nukes her alternate history:

There’s an important debate to be had over voter ID laws and their effect on turnout, considering how rare voter fraud cases are in the United States and the risk of disenfranchisement. We’re looking at something different here. Clinton made a series of specific claims that were way off-base.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in 2013 had no bearing on Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin-Madison study she relied on for her 40,000 estimate says its findings from two counties should not be extrapolated to form statewide conclusions. Her spokesman did not cite any study for the 80,000 estimate. Voter registration in Georgia did not decline from 2012 to 2016.

Wrong on multiple levels, seriously misleading, and worth a cumulative Four Pinocchios.

How different from this is Donald Trump’s claim, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally”? If the mainstream media could offer some belated acknowledgement that the 2016 campaign was between two dishonest, egomaniacal narcissists prone to rewriting history to please their egos, it would be appreciated.

Government Is Not Supposed to Be Exciting or Entertaining

During one of our endless ongoing controversies about conservatism and its direction in past years, someone wrote that William F. Buckley Jr. created the modern conservative movement as a literary movement: the gateway drug was often reading National Review, and people became active members of the movement by writing for NR or other publications. Yes, Buckley had a busy schedule of speeches, debates, and radio interviews and hosted the television show Firing Line. But this was a movement fueled by the written word. The Black-Eyed Peas’s will.i.am once used the term “baton-able” media, meaning forms of communication that can easily be handed from one person to another like a baton, and newspaper columns, magazines, and books are much more easily passed from person to person than a verbal argument displayed on radio or television.

Labeling our current era “illiterate” is an exaggeration, but our discourse is more focused on sight and sound than text, most often through broadcast and cable television and increasingly videos streamed over the Internet. Social media like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram involves bite-sized servings of text, often with an illustration. The president can often set the day’s news agenda with a Tweet, and Mediaite will let us know and replay every outrageous things said by every talking head on cable-news television. Podcasts are booming, and talk radio still reaches millions. The old print format hasn’t died off — thank God! — and you’re reading these words on a screen, unless you decided to print them out.

But the process of governance is heavily based on the written word. Laws come from bills and amendments. Some might argue that the real power of government comes in the form of written regulations. The laws get challenged and overturned by legal briefs and court decisions. Governance is usually a process that includes minimal visual excitement. (Mario Cuomo once said, “You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose.”) There are occasional flourishes of pageantry — the balloon drop at a political convention, the swearing in at a presidential inauguration, the State of the Union address, presidential debates, state funerals — but by and large, when you see laws being made, it’s a series of people talking and then watching the vote numbers add up in that old-fashioned font on C-SPAN.

And there’s a reason we joke about the boredom of C-SPAN or your local cable provider offering coverage of your city council meeting. There’s nothing inherently exciting about how government works. It’s not supposed to be entertaining. You might even argue that if the process of government is dramatic and exciting and high-stakes, then something has gone terribly wrong.

While raving about a recent succinct argument about the size of government from Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas — maybe the best communicator to come along on the GOP side in a long time — on yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, I noted that he may benefit from an “only Nixon could go to China” aspect of his personal story and personality. Because of his eyepatch, almost the first thing that anyone learns about him is his wartime heroism and inspiring recovery from serious injuries. People lean in to hear him instinctively and he commands attention almost effortlessly. For obvious reasons, no one doubts Crenshaw’s toughness or sincerity. He doesn’t need to shout, pound the table, or turn up the dudgeon to the highest setting.

Shouting, pounding the table, and frothing at the mouth in high dudgeon can be very entertaining — and one way to build an audience is to be entertaining. If you have an idea or a message, but no one hears it, it has no impact. Those who have managed to attract an audience fear losing it by growing boring or repetitive. Communicating that idea requires charisma and stirring some sort of emotion in the audience — fear, anger, inspiration, joy, hope. (Thinking about the tone of this newsletter, is incredulity an emotion? Befuddled amusement? Gleeful cynicism?)

Governance is homework. It often involves math. The devil is in the details, and any government system, even the most important and universally appreciated, has myriad details. The Department of Veterans Affairs Board of Veterans’ Appeals handles about 50,000 cases per year and has a backlog of 425,000 cases pending. It takes an average of seven years to resolve an appeal. A new Stanford study found that numerous efforts at quality control in the process have had little to no impact, and that a BVA quality control program that reviewed random cases to look for errors led to no discernable improvement: “The caseload makes it difficult to guarantee no errors, but intensive review by an elite set of attorneys to correct errors had little effect.”

It’s one thing to say, “I support our veterans!” It’s another thing to take 377,000 employees, 2,800 on-staff doctors, $273 billion in funding, 1,243 health care facilities, including 170 VA Medical Centers and 1,063 outpatient sites, a crisis hotline and make sure 9 million veterans get the best care in a timely fashion. It’s not exciting or dramatic or make for good segments on radio or television. It’s difficult to talk about the details of the challenges in the VA system for long stretches without boring a portion of the general audience. But it’s important.

Earlier this week I wrote, “I may think conservatism’s ‘governing wing’ is getting undervalued and less attention than the ‘entertainment wing,’ but that doesn’t mean that the conservative movement doesn’t need an entertainment wing in the modern political and media environment.” The governing wing is the policy wonks who continually study problems and what programs and approaches actually work in topics ranging from veterans’ care to foreign policy to education to health care to entitlement programs and budgeting to immigration. When these people aren’t working in government, they’re usually working in think tanks. There’s a lot of scoffing about “eggheads” and “Conservatism, Inc.”, but as President Trump learned, if you don’t have a small army of like-minded souls eager to come work in your administration, you end up with a lot of staffing challenges. The permanent bureaucracy sure isn’t going to move quickly to enact your agenda.

You need the people who have done the homework to turn your ideas into reality.

If You Went to School with Mark Herring, and Need Some Quick Cash . . . 

The Republican party of Virginia offers $1,000 for anyone who can produce “a verified copy of a picture of [state attorney general] Mark Herring in blackface or verifiable contact information for Herring’s Sigma Chi fraternity brothers from Herring’s time as an undergraduate.”

I’ve heard the rumors, and if they’re true, the image is not as easily explained or excused as Herring made it sound in his description. But at this point, they’re just rumors. My suspicion is that the only people who would have the photo after all these years are the men who were in the photo — and that for obvious reasons, it would require more than $1,000 to get them to publicly display an image that portrays themselves in such a scandalous and disgraceful situation.

ADDENDUM: McClatchy news service tells the Daily Caller that it stands by its reporting that Michael Cohen visited Prague during 2016, as alleged in the Steele dossier, even though the former Trump attorney disputed the claim in sworn congressional testimony last week. That was one of my modern “unsolved mysteries” from early February.

Elections

Don’t Mistake Sherrod Brown for Being a Moderate

Senator Sherrod Brown (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: why the conventional wisdom around Ohio senator Sherrod Brown and his potential 2020 bid is probably all wrong, Virginia’s attorney general Mark Herring explains why Ralph Northam will stick around, and an event you don’t want to miss.

What You Need to Know about Sherrod Brown

In case you missed it yesterday, twenty things you probably didn’t know about Sherrod Brown. The whole series can be found here.

Every recent profile of Brown hits the same notes and makes the same case for him to be the Democratic nominee: He’s blue-collar, working-class white union member personified, he’s won Ohio cycle after cycle while other Democrats have had trouble, he’s amiable and unassuming and “rumpled” — someone please get these correspondents a thesaurus — and he’ll be able to win the populism-minded voters back from Trump.

I’m not so sure that the conventional wisdom is solid on this one.

Like Tulsi Gabbard and Amy Klobuchar, Brown sometimes gets labeled a “moderate” or “centrist” or even “conservative enough for people in the center” when his voting record and stances are nothing of the sort. Slate called Brown “centrist” because he isn’t signing on to cosponsor the Green New Deal. Be careful of all of the broken glass around here; somebody tried to move the Overton Window too quickly.

The guy is liberal. Really liberal. I know people might quibble with the ratings of various interest groups, but the vast majority of them are open about which votes they score and why. Sherrod Brown scoring a 5.92 out of 100 in his lifetime ACU rating, ranking him among the most liberal senators. He’s rated 13 out of 100 by the NRA, 4 percent lifetime by Club for Growth, 3 percent by Americans for Prosperity, 2 percent by NumbersUSA, a zero by the Center for Security Policy, a zero by the American Energy Alliance, and a zero by Citizens Against Government Waste.

He’s rated 100 percent lifetime — meaning he’s never voted against their preferred position —  by Planned Parenthood and NARAL (abortion), the Brady Campaign (gun control), the Human Rights Campaign (gay rights), the National Education Association (teacher’s unions), National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (government workers and spending), Council on Islamic-American Relations the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, a 93 percent out of 100 by the League of Conservation Voters, and anywhere from 83 to 100 by various labor unions.

 I really think a lot of folks in political media label Democratic officeholders and candidates “centrist,” “moderate” or “liberal” based entirely on aesthetics and personal style. Brown votes like Bernie Sanders but get covered, and is perceived, completely differently.

Brown is about as far from “Washington outsider” as you can get. He was elected to public office before I was born, elected to Congress when I was in high school, and elected to the Senate before the iPhone was announced. He’s spent two years in the private sector in his adult life. For a populist, he’s spent a lot of time in the establishment; for an agent of change, he’s spent a lot of time running things. Some might wonder how Brown can keep getting easily reelected in his not-so-liberal state. Observe that if you’re going to run for Senate in Ohio as a Democrat, then 2006, 2012, and 2018 were three really good years to do it — two Democratic wave years and Obama’s successful reelection bid.

Beyond that, the New Yorker profile offered this anecdote:

Just after Thanksgiving, while riding the stationary bike in his basement, Brown read a David Brooks column in the Times, which argued that a “crisis of connection” now defined the nation. “Economic anxiety is now downstream from and merged with sociological, psychological and spiritual decay,” Brooks wrote. “It’s not jobs, jobs, jobs anymore. It’s relationships, relationships, relationships.” From his bike, Brown let out a groan audible from upstairs. Brown has about the opposite intellectual approach from Brooks, whose columns can move rapidly from a mundane policy question to the question of the relationship between man and God. A few days later, the Times published a letter to the editor from the Ohio senator, with a Cleveland dateline. “Actually it’s wages, wages, wages,” Brown wrote. “And respecting the dignity of work.”

Except wages grew more than 3 percent in 2018. Wages could grow faster, but Brooks seems to have a point about “sociological, psychological and spiritual decay.” Unemployment is extremely low by historical patterns, but new data out today shows “the number of deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide in 2017 hit the highest level since federal data collection started in 1999.” We’re in an economic boom and a psychological depression.

Maybe you love Trump’s bravado, maybe you don’t, but it speaks to a yearning to restore a lost pride in America as a nation and in ourselves. Trump hasn’t lived his life in a particularly Christian way; his life is a vivid exhibition of all seven deadly sins. But even his intermittent public embraces of Christianity represent an acknowledgement that faith and the connectivity of religious communities are important, and that this acknowledgment of a higher power and these values are the glue that hold everything together or keep us going when times are toughest. If “hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue,” at least the hypocrite is paying a tribute. Some folks would prefer to erase the virtue entirely.

Beyond that, I don’t know how well Brown will be able to bridge his union-focused agenda with the worldview of modern progressivism that the average suburban Americans — most likely, suburban dads at backyard barbecues — are the root of all evil by driving environmentally unfriendly SUVs, eating too much meat, gripped by unconscious bias, refusing to give up their guns, opposing abortion, wariness about government control of health care, politically incorrect beliefs and problematic jokes, and so on.

Looking over Brown’s career, he seems to think that the best way to fix what’s wrong with America is to raise the minimum wage, have more Americans join unions, and enact more tariffs on foreign imports. I’m not so sure that’s the slam-dunk against Trump that the Democrats believe it is.

Herring: Maybe Governor Northam Doesn’t Have to Resign Anymore

Let’s give a molecule or two of credit to Virginia attorney general Mark Herring, more commonly known as, “the other Virginia statewide official who wore blackface in his younger years.” He’s got an internal logic to his belief that Governor Ralph Northam should resign, but that he shouldn’t.

“I myself struggled with what to do when the governor’s medical school yearbook photo came out that Friday night,” Herring said. “I was shocked as I’m sure everyone was. Shocked also when the governor admitted that he was in the photo and apologized for it. And I was also thinking, would I need to have a reckoning, a public reckoning for something I had done in my past?”

The photo on Northam’s page of the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook showed one man wearing blackface and a second in Ku Klux Klan garb. On February 2, the day after the scandal broke, Northam changed his account and said he was not in the photo. Later that day, Herring joined many elected Virginia Democrats calling on Northam to resign. He said Monday that it was more than just a photo that prompted his call for Northam’s resignation.

Northam’s contradictory accounts “led to an evaporation of a lot of trust, especially public trust in the people whose support he would need to be effective, which is when I came out with a statement about it,” Herring said. “But I really wrestled with what to do given what I had done, and talked to my family about it. I talked to a couple of college friends about it.”

In other words, it’s not the action in 1984 that merits resignation, it’s the implausible explanation, offered to the public as a governor in 2019 that does. But Herring is now dodging questions about whether he still thinks Northam should resign.

Out of the three Virginia lawmakers mired in scandal, you can probably make the strongest argument in defense of Herring. He came forward with his own blackface before any pictures surfaced. He was 19 years old when he wore blackface while Northam was 25; those who met with Herring say he seems genuinely contrite. Of course, because Virginia Democrats are afraid to attempt articulating those fine distinctions, they seem content to keep everyone in place. The voters will get to weigh in on that decision in the state legislative elections in November.

Book Your Spot at the Ideas Summit Now!

Time is running out! The National Review Ideas Summit is occurring March 28th and 29th at The Mandarin Oriental in Washington, D.C. — and I’ll be there! I don’t know what I’m doing yet, but apparently I’m doing something! Two years ago, I got to ask KellyAnne Conway about spying through microwaves and we heard, for the first time, her account of Hillary Clinton’s concession phone call to President Trump. The only way to know what will happen this year . . .  is by being there!

ADDENDUM: Yesterday’s assessment of Max Boot crops up in the Jerusalem Post profile of the ex-Republican . . .

Politics & Policy

Democrat Eric Holder Decides Not to Run for President

Eric Holder at the Human Rights Campaign dinner in Washington, September 15, 2018 (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Eric Holder decides he doesn’t want to run in 2020; Democrats start talking up Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for mayor of New York City in 2021; an argument about NeverTrump, CPAC, and what it takes to get conservatives to listen; and a stray thought about America’s most embarrassing governor and offseason football.

Shocking News: A Democrat Decides He Doesn’t Want to Run for President

Former Attorney General Eric Holder isn’t running for president. Man, that decision came fast . . .  and furious.

His decision is a shame, because he had a lot of good options for slogans, such as, “Vote for me, you nation of cowards.” Or, “As president, Eric Holder will send our hopes to the moon, our dreams to the stars, and our guns to Mexico.”

You may recall that in October, while urging people to vote for Democrats in the midterms, Holder declared, “Michelle [Obama] always says, ‘When they go low, we go high.’ No. No. When they go low, we kick them.” He later clarified,” When I say we kick them, I don’t mean we do anything inappropriate, we don’t do anything illegal, but we have to be tough and we have to fight.” It’s always nice to see the man who was the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer belatedly recognizing that he shouldn’t imply an endorsement of assault.

Announcing that he won’t run, Holder writes:

For too long, Democrats have lost sight of the state and local races that shape the day-to-day lives of the people we serve. With state legislatures set to begin drawing new voting districts in 2021, what happens in those races over the next two years will shape the next decade of our politics. Our fight to end gerrymandering is about electing leaders who actually work for the interests of the people they are supposed to represent. I will do everything I can to ensure that the next Democratic president is not hobbled by a House of Representatives pulled to the extremes by members from gerrymandered districts.

Holder can reasonably say that he was busy running the Department of Justice and hunting down dangerous menaces like James Rosen at the time, but it’s obvious that the Democrats “lost sight of the state and local races that shape the day-to-day lives of people” during the Obama presidency. It’s also clear that the gerrymandering that bothers Democrats today was practiced by Democrats in many states for decades — Obama drew his state legislative district lines himself back in 2001. Back then, it was just old-fashioned politics, but now it’s an unconstitutional menace.

The rest of Holder’s op-ed is the usual blather, but it sometimes veers into amusingly contradictory blather: “Our next president should prioritize the healing of the nation — and not be hesitant in identifying all forms of bias and discrimination, nor be meek in seeking their elimination. Americans must recognize each other as partners and not adversaries.” If you are seeking to eliminate any action or statement you deem a form of bias or discrimination, you are inevitably seeing some other Americans as adversaries. This is calling for confrontation and unity simultaneously.

Holder also lies about the sorts of things an attorney general shouldn’t lie about, claiming that Republicans have done “nothing to protect our electoral system from another foreign attack.”

The efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to ensure the safety and integrity of the 2018 elections were unprecedented. The U.S. military took down a Russian troll farm on Election Day 2018 and kept it out of commission for several days afterwards. After the midterms, the Director of National Intelligence found “no intelligence reporting that indicates any compromise” of election infrastructure that would have changed vote totals.

This is fearmongering aimed at undermining public faith in the election results. And as for all of those efforts by Moscow leading up to the 2016 election, it’s just a shame that the Department of Justice was asleep at the wheel as the threat of Russian hackers and disinformation was building in 2014 and 2015. Hey, who was running the place back then?

Ocasio-Cortez Just Arrived in Congress — Now Democrats Think She Should Run for Mayor?

New York City Democrats are already buzzing about whether Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will run for mayor in 2021.

Many new members of Congress learn, to their disappointment, that the job involves a lot more drudgery than it appears from the outside.

Being a leader of a political movement is a lot easier, fun, and more lucrative. I don’t know if I buy Michael Cohen’s claim that Donald Trump never expected to win either the GOP nomination or the presidency, but I can see Trump seeing the bid as all upside — even if he lost in the primaries, he promoted his brand, fed his ego, and ensured he could become a major player, maybe even kingmaker in GOP politics in the future. If he lost in the general, he would make Hillary’s life miserable by constantly claiming that voter fraud and votes from illegals had denied him the win.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may want political power, but again, it’s way less glamorous than it looks in the movies. Power in the legislature generally comes from being there a long time, building up a vast network of allies (which requires playing nice with others, including members of your party who don’t align with your views, which does not appear to be AOC’s forte) and doing your homework about the legislative process, your fellow members, and what kinds of policies can fly and which ones can’t — again, not her specialty. It took McConnell and Pelosi decades to get where they were; judging from the rhetoric about the Green New Deal, Ocasio-Cortez thinks that the world ends in eleven years.

As the reality of life in the House of Representatives becomes clearer, Ocasio-Cortez could conclude between now and the 2020 primary that part of her wouldn’t mind being defeated and becoming a martyr to the cause of True Progressivism, establishing a narrative that she was unjustly taken out of office by a sinister cabal of The Establishment, Dark Money, Big Capitalism, and Neoliberals. (“And don’t forget the Jews!” — Ilhan Omar.) Out of office, she can get that lucrative book deal, the MSNBC (or HBO or Showtime or Netflix) contract, set up the totally-not-a-superPAC “activist organization,” sit on the boards of the right nonprofits and corporations eager to purchase some Woke Points, maybe even establish the Ocasio-Cortez Foundation. We would hear the inevitable (extremely debatable) argument, “I can bring about more change from outside the system than I can from within.”

And she would probably be much happier doing that than attending lots of hearings in the House for the next decade. AOC is a celebrity, which doesn’t really lend itself as well to governing as many people think. Obama found it harder than he expected. Trump’s learning his hard lessons. Arnold Schwarzenegger learned it with great difficulty. Sarah Palin, Cynthia Nixon . . .  the celebrities who made their political careers work had generally left their old celebrity life behind and had faded into “Oh, hey, it’s that guy” status: Reagan, Bill Bradley, Al Franken, Sonny Bono, Fred Thompson, Jack Kemp, Steve Largent, J.C. Watts.

NeverTrump and CPAC

There’s an argument out there that NeverTrumpers or Trump-skeptics always were liberals in disguise, and that Trump’s appearance on the scene just caused the masks to slip.

That’s generally nonsense, particularly coming from supporters of a guy who wrote big checks to Democrats for years, described himself as pro-choice, endorsed a slew of gun-control proposals — from the Oval Office! — never met an infrastructure spending proposal he didn’t like, who has no interest in reforming entitlements, who’s running up the national debt at an early Obama-era pace, and all the other ways that Trump ignores or works against traditional conservative priorities.

But there are a few glaring cases where Trump prompted previously self-identified conservatives to jettison almost all of their past stances. In the Trump era, the Washington Post’s Jen Rubin changed her view on the Paris Climate Accord, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the Iran deal, tax cuts, welfare, energy, and gun control. (I’m old enough to remember in 2008 when she was the columnist most enthusiastic about Rudy Giuliani.) Max Boot wrote a whole book about how he realized he had been wrong about everything about conservatism all along.

Complete reversals like this fuel the perception that NeverTrumpers or Trump-skeptics are all in various stages of the journey that Rubin and Boot made — “Whoops, never mind, it turns out I didn’t really believe all this stuff that I spent the first decade(s) of my career writing about, forget all that, let me explain to you how terrible conservatives are.” David Brock made a pretty lucrative and powerful career out of this move.

This is all building up to the fact that if you’re launching a self-described conservative magazine, you probably want to avoid sending one of your writers to CPAC to write a piece with the tone, “Look at these wacky conservatives, who would ever want to be one of those people?” The audience can get that from The New RepublicThe NationMother JonesAmerican ProspectVanity FairRolling StoneEsquireThe New York Review of Books, SlateSalonNew YorkThe New YorkerHarper’sThe Advocate, most of The Atlantic, and I haven’t even gotten past the magazine rack yet, never mind the newspaper columns.

I mean, “CPAC is the bad place”? That story was tired the first time Stephen Glass made it up. When your opening observation about the entire conference is to remind readers that Ollie North was involved in Iran-Contra — yeah, no kidding. It’s been litigated.

Sure, CPAC’s a circus — I mean, literally, they had stilt-walkers a few years ago. Steve Schmidt compared it to “the bar scene in Star Wars” a few years back and that seemed like silly hyperbole until some group decided to get attention by having their staff dress up like stormtroopers and other Star Wars characters.  We’ve been discussing and debating this for years. The ACU and sponsors concluded that the circus elements and faces familiar from Fox News get people to buy tickets more than policy-wonk panels and movement staffers trading business cards. I’m not a huge fan of that trend but I can’t begrudge the organizers doing what they need to do to keep butts in the seats. They promise a show, and they put on a show. I may think conservatism’s “governing wing” is getting undervalued and less attention than the “entertainment wing,” but that doesn’t mean that the conservative movement doesn’t need an entertainment wing in the modern political and media environment.

Mocking CPAC from the outside — metaphorically and literally — is a pretty clear statement that the institution sees itself as outside of the movement as represented by the folks inside the convention center. Publications are free to make that choice, but they should keep in mind that’s where the rest of the Left is standing, too. If you want to be seen as distinct from the Left . . . act distinctly from the Left!

ADDENDA: Part two of my conversation about the New York Jets offseason is now posted. I’ve changed my mind on Le’Veon Bell, I’m wary about Antonio Brown, and I fully expect to hate the new uniforms being introduced in a few weeks.

Judging from the reaction to this Tweet, there is still a hunger for better answers about Ralph Northam’s yearbook photo. If he didn’t put it there, who did? If he’s not one of the people in the picture, who are they? A month later, and the only account of Northam wearing shoe polish to look like Michael Jackson in a dance contest came from Northam himself.

Economy & Business

A Company’s Politics Rarely Matches Its Actions

(Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A new report about big companies and the perception of their political stances reveals unintended truths about short-lived political controversies, some other Democrat who the rest of the country has barely noticed announces he’s running for president, and Democrats with thin résumés enjoy the fantasy stage of campaigning for president.

The Perception of a Company’s Politics Rarely Matches the Company’s Actions

A few oddities arose in a newly released survey of consumers and their views of companies and politics. The survey asked, “How appropriate is it for a corporation to take a position on each of the following issues?” As one might expect, more than 90 percent of respondents approved of companies taking a position on less controversial topics like “hiring and training U.S. military veterans” and “fair labor standards for workers.”

Coming in dead last? “Against President Trump,” at 47 percent — behind “legalization of marijuana” at 49 percent, “transgender issues” at 58 percent.

The survey asked, “If (company) were a person, do you think it would be a Democrat, a Republican, or an independent?” Unsurprisingly, Nike was the company scored most likely to be a Democrat. But the perception of other companies is surprising, considering what those companies have actually done.

Dick’s Sporting Goods scored just barely on the Republican side, which is surprising considering the company’s post-Parkland stance on gun gales (and resulting drop in earnings). Similarly, Delta Airlines scored as a Republican company, which is a little bit surprising considering the short-lived brouhaha over their quickly forgotten dropped discount for NRA members (that apparently only 13 people used anyway).

General Motors scored on the Republican side, which suggests the entirety of the bailout and “Government Motors” debate has been forgotten by the public. And the company that ranked the second most “Republican” in responses was the department store Nordstrom . . .  which stands out as a company specifically denounced by President Trump for dropping his daughter’s line of luxury apparel. (Ivanka Trump closed up her fashion brand last year.)

The company perceived to be most “Republican” is the bank- and financial- services company J.P. Morgan Chase. Most years, the company’s employees donate slightly more to Democrats than Republicans. In 2012, Obama called them “one of the best-managed banks there is.” Asked about his political views earlier this year, CEO Jamie Dimon said, “My heart is Democratic, but my brain is kind of Republican.”

Facebook is perceived as the second-most Democratic company, despite a considerable number of online activist Democrats believing that the company let Russia manipulate the election through various ads. Starbucks is fourth-most Democratic, which isn’t enormously surprising, but the company has certainly attracted the ire of progressive activists over the years.

Target is considered a Democratic company, Walmart is considered a Republican company; this probably has to do with the short-lived “transgender bathroom” policy announcement of 2016. Beyond that, Target’s policies aren’t all that distinguishable from Walmart’s. There is one dollar’s worth of difference in the two companies’ minimum wages. Both companies stand accused of using contractors who hire undocumented immigrants and pay them a pittance, and Target settled a class-action discrimination lawsuit last year.

The authors of the analysis of the survey declare, “There is reward for companies that take action on political and social issues, and a penalty for inaction.” But I think the evidence points to the opposite conclusion. I think the clearer lesson is that most consumers quickly forget about most of these controversies that kick up like a summer thunderstorm – they appear quickly, suddenly get very intense, and then disappear quickly, and almost everyone forgets about them. Despite all the loud talk of boycotts against Starbucks, Nike, and Facebook, most people just want to drink coffee, wear sneakers, and see which high-school classmates got fat.

The perception of a company’s politics often has only a nominal connection to what the company actually does. State Street, the financial-services company that paid for and positioned “Fearless Girl,” the statue of a young woman challenging Wall Street’s “Charging Bull,” agreed to pay $5 million in a settlement over allegations that it paid female employees less than their male counterparts.

A lot of people, led by a far-too-credulous media that is eager for clicks and controversy, are gullible when it comes to corporate image-shaping and public relations. Nike figured out how to get Americans to stop worrying about sweatshops. Patagonia realized its supply chain had been profiting off human trafficking, forced labor, and exploitation.

Outspoken progressive activism is the quickest and easiest way to buy your way back into the good graces of certain corners of society. Witness Michael Cohen this week, as well as James Comey’s reinventing himself from the favorite election scapegoat of many Democrats to a leader of #TheResistance.

Perhaps the most egregious attempt at this, and one of the rare cases where it didn’t work, was Harvey Weinstein’s first statement after the revelations of gross sexual abuse, a display of cynicism so blinding it might as well have been written on white phosphorus: “I am going to need a place to channel that anger, so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention. I hope Wayne LaPierre will enjoy his retirement party. I’m going to do it at the same place I had my Bar Mitzvah. I’m making a movie about our President, perhaps we can make it a joint retirement party.” Forget what I’ve done, remember the real enemy, liberal friends!

 Christian Toto points out all the ways that Spike Lee, Ellen Page, and Alec Baldwin keep getting “second chances” and minimal scolding after bad behavior. When a modern political movement keeps offering its members a behavioral “get out of jail free card”. . .  why wouldn’t they use it?

Whatshisname Is Running for President. No, Not That One. The Other One.

Jay Inslee is running for president.

He’s the governor of Washington.

Oh, to clarify, he’s running for president of the United States of America.

Politico:

No one has ever won a major statewide race, let alone a presidential nomination, with a single-issue, climate-focused candidacy. But Jay Inslee is about to try. The Washington state governor launched a White House bid Friday that stands to have a significant effect on the electoral politics surrounding climate change.

So basically, he’s running to be EPA Administrator in the next Democratic administration.

Pew Research Center survey, conducted Jan. 9-14 among 1,505 adults, gave respondents a list of 18 issues and asked which ones should be a top priority for President Trump and Congress this year. Climate change was second from the bottom, with 44 percent. “The environment” came in eighth place, with 56 percent.

Fantasies on the Campaign Trail Are More Fun than Governing in Reality

The Washington Post observes that a lot of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are emulating elements of Trump’s approach from 2016: make sweeping, previously unthinkable promises, ignore the price tag, be fuzzy on the details, disregard the necessity of a cooperative Congress, hand-wave-away questions about whether the idea is even Constitutional, and dismiss the opposition as timid and hapless. (Changing the source of 90 percent of America’s current energy supply within ten years makes getting Mexico to pay for a border wall look easy.)

This may not work as well for the average Democratic senator as it does for a celebrity with no governing experience and no previous runs for office. In most of these cases, these Democratic lawmakers have been in elected office for decades, and they’ve never even introduced legislation to do anything like it, much less enacted proposals on this scale. A lot of politicians say things like, “I led the fight to [do X],” when they really mean, “when X was being passed, I gave a speech in support of it.”

Trump at least had a (heavily stage-managed and often wildly exaggerated) image as “the guy who could get things done” — his name on big buildings, the personal fortune that was somewhere between substantial and epic, the endless glossy media profiles, and of course, holding everyone accountable on The Apprentice.

Liz Mair observed the stunning fact that before Trump announced that he was running for president in 2015, he had 99.2 percent name recognition among polled GOP-leaning voters.  If you want to be the next Donald Trump, step one is to spend several decades as a not-that-overtly-political pop-culture celebrity associated with ostentatious wealth.

ADDENDA: Thanks to everyone who attended yesterday’s CPAC panel on podcasting. I understand the Leadership Institute may organize a similar one sometime this summer.

At some point, the second half of my (obsessive, probably manic-depressive) talk about the Jets offseason will appear on TurnOnTheJets.com — thanks once again to Scott for having me.

National Security & Defense

President Trump’s No Deal with North Korea Is a Good Deal

President Donald Trump shows a document that he and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed after their summit meeting on Sentosa Island in Singapore, June 12, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Before we make the click-through worthwhile, an important message from the realm of real life: We had a missing child alert in my neighborhood last night; thankfully everything turned out okay. But last night’s tromping through the muddy woods with a flashlight left me brimming with unsolicited advice: Hug your kids, tell them they can always come home no matter what’s wrong, and make sure you know where they would be likely to go if they didn’t come home from school. This morning I’m wondering whether my wariness about grade-school kids owning cell phones — at least the old-fashioned, non-smart, but-has-a-GPS-tracker phones — needs to be reconsidered.

Making the click-through worthwhile: Trump walks away from a bad deal with the North Koreans, Michael Cohen plays for Democratic sympathies, and an old friend makes a surprising move.

Good for You, Mr. President: No Deal Is Better than a Bad Deal

Something I don’t say often: Hey, good for you, Mr. President. When it became increasingly clear that Kim Jong Un just wanted to string the United States along, Trump had the good sense — yes, I just wrote those words! — to realize that he was not getting a serious offer, and he walked away from the table.

President Trump and Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, abruptly ended their second summit meeting on Thursday after talks collapsed with the two leaders failing to agree on any steps toward nuclear disarmament or measures to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

“Sometimes you have to walk,” Mr. Trump said at an afternoon news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. He said Mr. Kim had insisted that all of the harsh United Nations sanctions imposed on the North be lifted in exchange for dismantling its most important nuclear facility but not other elements of its weapons program.

“It was about the sanctions,” Mr. Trump said. “Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that.”

You’ll probably see references to this being called a “failed summit” in the news. But this isn’t the worst-case scenario; the worst-case scenario would be if we made serious concessions on sanctions and other issues in exchange for unverifiable promises about North Korea’s nuclear-weapons programs.

Looking back, President Ronald Reagan’s decision to walk away from the negotiating table in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1986 was one of the most important moments of the Cold War. At the time, many considered it the biggest failure of Reagan’s career. But the clock was working against the Soviet Union — to an extent that not even U.S. intelligence expected — and the deal on the table at Reykjavik would have allowed the Soviets to divert military funding to keep their system going longer. By walking away, Reagan increased the pressure on Gorbachev and the Soviet regime — and with just a few years, it ceased to exist. The Soviet Union ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Let’s hope history repeats itself.

Go Away, Michael Cohen

Three observations from yesterday’s marathon hearing:

One: Cohen’s testimony bugged me more than I expected. He really seems to think that he can play the noble whistleblower now and win some sort of accolade as the self-sacrificing truth-teller. Counselor, you were in this muck up to your eyeballs, don’t tell me about how troubled your soul was all along. If Cohen was wrestling with his conscience during his employment with Trump, it’s amazing how he managed to pin his conscience to the mat every day for more than a decade.

Two: Cohen’s portrait of the mendacity, sleaze, and corruption within Trump-World all sounds plausible enough, and corroborates with other tales, like the claim that Trump referred to “s***hole countries.”

But I’m going to need more than just Cohen’s word before I accept anything that he says as fact. His rhetorical games like insisting, “I lied, but am not a liar,” does not enhance his credibility. A wiser investigation would have just sought Cohen’s documentary evidence — the checks, recordings, bank records, phone records — and considered his testimony unreliable.

Three: The camera-preening and antics of members of Congress at televised hearings like this is genuinely embarrassing for the country. You would not trust this crew to search for that missing sock in the dryer, never mind unravel a complicated criminal conspiracy.

As Jonah notes, “The Russia collusion narrative took a pretty big hit today.” Cohen said he had no direct knowledge of any, and that he had never been to Prague, a key part of the infamous “Steele dossier.” He did say that Trump had knowledge about foreign hacking of the DNC and John Podesta’s emails because of communications through Roger Stone, which Democrats will insist amounts to collusion.

Michael Cohen is attempting to seduce Democrats into forgiving him. And it appears to be working, Noah Rothman observes:

Cohen’s testimony before Congress—a text that he admitted was composed following consultations with Democratic members of Congress and what he called “the party”—contained even more scene-chewing efforts to flatter the anti-Trump left. Not only did Cohen confess to lying for the president, intimidating his enemies, and covering up for his indiscretions—all of which would be sufficient indictment of Trump’s character, if not concrete evidence of criminal wrongdoing—Cohen insisted that Trump harbored racial animus.

 . . . Cohen’s newfound discomfort with the president’s racial antagonism toward President Obama eluded him when Trump was the nation’s leading purveyor of the notion that Barack Obama was not a natural-born citizen. Under a federal prosecutor’s interrogation lamps, Cohen has seen the light.

If these transparent efforts to trigger a sense of solidarity among Democrats weren’t grating enough, when he was asked why he was testifying against the president, Cohen insisted it was to protest the “daily destruction of civility to each other.” This from a man who warned journalists reporting on the sordid detail of Donald Trump’s checkered private life to “tread very f***ing lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f***ing disgusting.”

Cohen is looking for the same role-reversing, reputation-salvaging arrangement and narrative that former FBI director James Comey received: a figure who was once nearly universally loathed by Democrats suddenly offers the public a vivid portrait of Donald Trump that matches the Left’s nightmares and fantasies, and the revelation transmogrifies the figure into a hero of the Resistance.

Cohen said yesterday that in the future — presumably after his prison term for, ahem, lying to Congress — he may pursue a book deal and that he’s already had offers for television shows and movies.

Today’s Democrats are a very cheap date.

ADDENDUM: Speaking of Jonah, you may have seen this news already: My reaction is a deep mix of sadness that he will be departing his current role, but happiness for him that he’s getting the exciting opportunity to create something from the ground up. Lest anyone ask, this is an amiable departure on both sides, and Jonah will continue to be around National Review in some form.

Law & the Courts

There Won’t Be Any Good Guys During the Michael Cohen Testimony

Michael Cohen arrives at his hotel in New York City, N.Y., May 9, 2018. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Michael Cohen’s testimony is likely to be shocking, but he’s not a particularly reliable witness; India and Pakistan are shooting at each other, and we usually try to avoid having nuclear powers do that; former vice president Joe Biden inches closer to a presidential bid that will probably be more difficult than he expects; and a little offseason football talk.

A Pit of Vipers, With No Good Guys

A lot of people in the national media — I’d call them “blue checkmarks” for their status as being verified accounts on Twitter, but I’ve got the same status — seem quite excited about Michael Cohen testifying today. Cohen is expected to tell the House Oversight and Reform committee that President Trump is pathologically dishonest, sleazy, racist, and perhaps even one of the worst human beings on the face of the earth. His prepared testimony calls Trump a “conman” and a “cheat” who campaigned for president on a platform of “hate and intolerance.” Cohen is likely to repeat a variation of what was said through his spokesman last year, that Trump was “corrupt and dangerous” as president.

This might raise some questions, like if Cohen believed that Trump had this awful character . . .  why he chose to work for him for twelve years. Cohen was free to resign at any point. Cohen will tell Congress today, “I regret all the help and support I gave him along the way.”

That’s twelve years of work that just ended in May 2018. What, he just woke up one day and realized Trump’s character and ethics were terrible? At some point, doesn’t Cohen’s current stance amount to practically boasting of his own obtuseness and moral blindness?

Cohen is expected to testify that Trump “knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop of Democratic National Committee emails.” From Cohen’s prepared remarks:

Days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of ‘wouldn’t that be great.’

This is dramatic testimony that strongly suggests Trump had knowledge of foreign hacking into the DNC and John Podesta’s emails. But for many reasons, it’s difficult to just take Cohen’s word for it.

No doubt the president or the White House staff will shoot back today that Cohen is pathologically dishonest, sleazy, and perhaps even one of the worst human beings on the face of the earth. Trump himself already called Cohen “not very smart and a very weak person.”

The White House staff will likely remind everyone that Cohen recently pled guilty to five counts of tax evasion and a single count of bank fraud. Cohen said to Vanity Fair in 2017, “I’m the guy who stops the leaks. I’m the guy who protects the president and the family. I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president.” The man is the biggest turncoat since Benedict Arnold, and little that he says can be taken at face value.

But this, too, raises questions, such as why, if Cohen is so awful, Trump had him working as his lawyer and fixer for twelve years. Trump previously claimed it was because “a long time ago, he did me a favor.” That’s a spectacularly implausible explanation. You don’t keep someone as your personal lawyer for twelve years as a favor if you think he’s a weak person and not a very smart person.

I suspect later today or tonight, Fox News channel host Sean Hannity will echo the Trump team’s arguments about Cohen’s glaring dishonesty and character defects. People will understandably wonder why Hannity chose to work with Cohen as well.

Some situations are just a pit of vipers with no good guys. Stormy Daniels is not, as a New York Times column contended, a “feminist hero.” Trump is an appalling husband, who reportedly dangled opportunities to appear on The Apprentice to entice Daniels. The affair proceeded while Melania was taking care of their son. When the presidential campaign began, either Trump sought her silence about their affair through large amounts of cash, or she effectively blackmailed or extorted money out of Trump, through Cohen. Everyone knew the score, everyone knew what they were doing, everyone had opportunities to walk away from an arrangement that violated their moral principles, and they all chose to remain and move ahead with the deal.

That New York Times defense of Daniels stated, “She is refusing to slink away, despite being paid to do exactly that in a pattern we’ve seen too many times from influential men seeking to maintain their dominance and avoid responsibility.” Yes, but she also kept the money. She’s getting praise from some corners for revealing the truth while also enjoying the compensation for a broken promise of secrecy.

Sometimes you don’t get a hero. The Iran-Iraq War. Aliens vs. Predator. [Insert any sports championship that featured two of your least-favorite teams here.] No one involved in this moral morass is a good guy, so we shouldn’t let the media paint any of them in a heroic light.

Hey, Is Anybody Paying Attention to India and Pakistan?

Two nuclear powers shooting at each other’s military forces seems like the sort of thing that should be big news:

India has disputed Pakistan’s claims that its air force shot down two Indian fighter jets inside Pakistani airspace on Wednesday amid a potentially dangerous border crisis between the two nuclear-armed powers.

The alleged incident comes a day after India said it launched airstrikes in Pakistan territory in the first such incursion by Indian Air Force planes since the India-Pakistan war of 1971.

In a press conference Wednesday, the Indian foreign ministry said one of its Air Force pilots was missing after a plane was shot down in an aerial engagement with Pakistani military aircraft.

That account differs from Pakistan’s version of events, though CNN could not independently verify Pakistan or India’s claims.

Gee, I’d sure like it if this sort of thing could break through in the news cycle every now and then.

Does Joe Biden Know What He’s in For?

Former vice president Joe Biden says that his family wants him to run for president.

The moment he declares, he loses the protective aura of being Barack Obama’s wingman. And then all of the old positions, statements, gaffes, actions, and personality traits that torpedoed his last two presidential campaigns become fair game to his Democratic foes. I look forward to the “explain to us why you killed off busing for integration” in the coming debates.

ADDENDUM: For those who care about pro football and the New York Jets, I chatted with Scott Mason of TurnOnTheJets.com about new head coach Adam Gase, expectations for Sam Darnold, top targets in free agency, the draft, LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown. By the end of the conversation, I concluded I was probably overestimating Bell’s chances of being signed by the Indianapolis Colts, underestimating the value of defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, and slightly overestimating the value of offensive tackle Jonah Williams.

Between Alabama’s Quinnen Williams and Jonah Williams and LSU cornerback Greedy Williams and Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams, this year’s mock NFL drafts are pretty easy. Just put “I think they take Williams” next to every selection.

Elections

Bernie Sanders Will Rebuke Billionaires, But Not Ruthless Dictators

Bernie Sanders 2020 Presidential Campaign
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Rochester, Minn., February 2016. February 27, 2016. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Bernie Sanders picks a heck of a night to refuse to denounce Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro; an old monologue from a television show that warns us about the dangers of revolutionaries for the people; and another, sadder, fake hate crime that illustrates the incentive structure of modern political activism.

Bernie Sanders Is a Sucker for Any Self-Professed Socialist

Perfect: Bernie Sanders refused to call Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro a “dictator” on a night when Maduro temporarily detained Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos and his network colleagues, and seized their cameras and equipment.

Last night on CNN, anchor Wolf Blitzer asked Sanders, “Why have you stopped short of calling Maduro of Venezuela a dictator?”

After a long and awkward pause, Sanders answered:

Well, he . . .  I think It’s fair to say that the last election was undemocratic. Uh, but there are still democratic operations taking place in that country. The point is, what I am calling for right now, is, uh, internationally supervised free elections. And I do find it interesting that Trump is very concerned about what goes on in Venezuela, but what about the last election that took place in Saudi Arabia? Oh, there wasn’t any election in Saudi Arabia. Oh, women are treated as third class citizens. So I find it interesting that Trump is kind of selective as to where he is concerned about democracy.

Is he any less selective than Sanders, who couldn’t bring himself to utter one critical word about Maduro himself in his answer? And please, no mealy mouthed excuses on behalf of Sanders, claiming that his mild utterance of “undemocratic” constitutes substantive criticism. We’ve seen Sanders get angry, castigating “the millionaires and billionaires and the big banks” with bug-eyed, finger-jabbing, full-throated fury. The company that holds your savings and checking accounts outrages the Vermont senator; Nicolás Maduro does not.

Here’s what else is going on in Venezuela that Sanders didn’t mention:

The masked motorcyclists roared into the border town, shooting pistols in the air. They sent terrified demonstrators racing to cower in doorways or tremble in the homes of strangers. They formed roadblocks to shake down dissidents, and late into the night they prowled debris-strewn streets in deafening patrols

In San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, colectivos — gangs loyal to autocratic President Nicolas Maduro — led the charge against those who challenged the regime this past weekend. They terrorized thousands who tried to usher humanitarian aid into the hungry nation from Colombia, brutalizing them within a block of an international bridge where food and medicine were waiting.

 . . . Maduro said the convoys were a pretext for a foreign invasion, and his forces crushed the effort with tear gas, plastic buck shot and often bullets. At least 200 people were wounded, and in the remote town of Santa Elena de Uairen at least four died as troops and colectivos ran rampant, according to eyewitnesses.

This is a campaign of terror to prevent starving people from getting to food aid. This is as straight-up evil as it gets. This is not a hard call. This is not “very fine people on both sides.” The oppressor and the oppressed are crystal clear in this situation, and Bernie Sanders cannot bring himself to offer anything beyond the most perfunctory criticism of Maduro.

Bernie Sanders is the unchanging man. Back in the 1980s, he sang the praises of Daniel Ortega and attended a Nicaraguan rally where the crowd chanted, “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die.” Sanders insisted that the United States was unreasonably hostile to the Soviet Union. He happily met with representatives of the Irish Republican Army.

There’s an amazing inversion in Sanders’s worldview, as some of the villains he denounced most frequently were the Central Intelligence Agency, private hospitals, banks, and of course, “millionaires and billionaires,” no matter how they made their money.

Maduro’s stepsons allegedly plotted to skim $200 million from the state-owned oil company, and there are other claims of an attempt to embezzle $1.2 billion. Hugo Chavez’s daughter is believed to be the richest woman in Venezuela, with a personal fortune of more than $4 billion hidden in bank accounts in Europe. (Finally, Bernie Sanders found some “millionaires and billionaires” that he likes.)

Bernie Sanders is a sucker, who will always give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who claims to be a socialist. Most of us, at an early age, recognize that people who claim to act on behalf of others can be selfish. Plenty of people who say they love humanity turn out to treat individual human beings terribly. Plenty of leaders who claimed to fight for freedom turned out to be lusting after power and ruthless in getting it and keeping it. You have to be careful who you trust with authority, because absolute power corrupts absolutely. And you have no obligation to defend someone you once saw as an ally once they start abusing their power and demonstrating cruelty and brutality.

Bernie Sanders never learned this. At 77 years old, he’s unlikely to ever learn.

‘Presidents Rise and Fall. They All Stole Your Chickens.’

Way back in 1992, ABC television debuted the short-lived but elaborate television series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. In the second half of the pilot episode, young Indy finds himself first captured by Pancho Villa’s army in Mexico, then pressed into service as a translator, and then a believer in the cause. But Indy begins to rethink his stance after watching Villa’s army take chickens from an old farmer in Pueblo. Young Indy tells the farmer that the revolutionaries are fighting on his behalf. The old farmer is unimpressed, and offers a hard-truth monologue — one of the few times you’ve seen a speech performed entirely in Spanish, with subtitles, on American prime-time television:

“Listen, years ago I rode with Juárez against Emperor Maximilian. I lost many chickens but I thought it was worth it to be free. When Porfirio became President, I supported him – but he stole my chickens. Then came Huerta and he stole my chickens. Then it was Carranza’s term, and he stole my chickens too. Now comes Pancho Villa to liberate me and the first thing he does is steal my chickens… What makes one different from the others? My chickens don’t know. All over the world revolutions come and go. Presidents rise and fall. They all stole your chickens. The only thing to change is the name of the man who takes them.”

When Activists Can’t Take ‘Yes’ for an Answer

No matter how many times members of the mainstream media declare the motivation of hate-crime hoaxers to be an impenetrable mystery, most of us can figure this out. People like attention, and they like the sympathy that comes from others when they are recognized as a victim. (Our culture has blurred the line between sympathy for a victim and admiration for a hero for quite some time now.) Hate groups make perfect, nearly universally detested enemies, and someone who runs afoul of them must be on the side of the angels. The praise and recognition and reassurance of their good qualities can be intoxicating, and hard to move beyond when it starts to fade with time.

Now the state of Michigan offers a perfect sequel to the Jussie Smollett story:

When the home of Nikki Joly burned down in 2017, killing five pets, the FBI investigated it as a hate crime.

After all, the transgender man and gay rights activist had received threats after having a banner year in this conservative town.

In the prior six months, he helped open the city’s first gay community center, organized the first gay festival and, after 18 years of failed attempts, helped lead a bruising battle for an ordinance that prohibits discrimination against gays.

Authorities later determined the fire was intentionally set, but the person they arrested came as a shock to both supporters and opponents of the gay rights movement. It was the citizen of the year — Nikki Joly . . .

Two people who worked with Joly at St. Johns United Church of Christ, where the Jackson Pride Center was located, said he had been frustrated the controversy over gay rights had died down with the passage of the nondiscrimination law, according to the report.

The church officials, Barbara Shelton and Bobby James, when asked by police about a possible motive for the fire, said Joly was disappointed the Jackson Pride Parade and Festival, held five days before the blaze, hadn’t received more attention or protests.

Think about it: This person “won” their struggle . . .  and did not know what to do next. The enemy of intolerance and homophobia had been slain, but if the comments about this activist are accurate, the battle had to go on, even in the absence of an enemy. Some people are drawn to a conflict because they believe in a cause, but some people just want to fight. And some people’s sense of self-worth is so tied into a conflict with an opponent that when the opponent disappears . . . they fear that they’ll metaphorically disappear as well.

Last September I wrote:

The more time I spend covering politics, the more I’m convinced that a significant chunk of grassroots political activists aren’t really arguing about politics at all. These folks are actually grappling with personal psychological issues and projecting it onto the world of politics. Every problem they had with a parent is projected onto authority figures. Every religious person who ever scolded them or made them feel guilty becomes the embodiment of organized religion and demonstrates its menace. Because they’ve had a bad experience with a member of a minority group, that experience reveals something sinister about every member of that minority group. The cop who wrote them a ticket instead of giving them a warning demonstrates the danger and corruption of law enforcement, the boss who fired them for shoddy work exemplifies the inherent cruelty of the capitalist system, and every frustrating experience they had with an ex-girlfriend demonstrates some defect in all women.

We should be discouraging this, but the incentive structure of our public discourse encourages it.

ADDENDUM: Over at Fox News, Howard Kurtz concurs with much of yesterday’s assessment — without having a high-ranking position or much time in office, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become one of the de facto leaders of the Democratic party, simply because she commands such an outsized share of the public debate.

Politics & Policy

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Lies, Controversies, and Allegations

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the Netroots Nation political conference in 2018. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: I relent and drink from the firehose of statements, lies, stories, controversies, allegations, and accusations of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — from her Malthusian impulses to her strangely delayed district office to what her stance on Congressional staffer salaries actually means for her office.

Ocasio-Cortez: ‘A Legitimate Question, You Know, Is It Okay to Still Have Children?’

“There’s scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult. And it does lead, I think, young people to have a legitimate question, you know, is it okay to still have children?” — Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, discussing climate change in a livestream Sunday night, while chopping vegetables in her kitchen.

There is ample evidence that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is over-covered by both the mainstream media and conservative media. She’s been in office about two months. She is near the very bottom of House Democrats in terms of seniority. There is considerable evidence that Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t take her or “the green dream, whatever they call it” seriously.

But she embodies what a loud section of the online Left wants to see and what a loud section of the online Right loves to denounce and probably fears. There is probably no figure in American life doing more to push the Overton Window to the Left. In making her arguments, she is impassioned and often flat-out wrong on the facts — contending that the Pentagon misspent $21 trillion over 17 years  (the total budget for the Pentagon during that time period was about $8.5 trillion), that unemployment is low because “everyone is working two jobs,” and that “ICE is required to fill 34,000 beds with detainees every single night.” She whines when fact-checkers point out that she gets things wrong.

Even when she has an easily defensible position, like the argument that the city of New York gave Amazon far too generous a package of incentives to open a new headquarters, she flubs basic facts, contending that the tax breaks the city offered represented money that can now be spent elsewhere.

She urges people to stop using disposable razors, to eliminate meat and dairy from at least one meal a day, and that allowing billionaires to exist is immoral.

She is the progressive id; she says out loud what plenty of her fellow believers think but hesitate to state publicly because they fear the reaction from others. When she gets things wrong, she’s describing how things feel to her instead of how they actually are — that the Department of Defense is unimaginably wasteful (in a way the rest of the federal government is not), that Trump’s election triggered a catastrophe for the U.S. economy, and that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is unjust, draconian, and cruel on an epic scale.

Ocasio-Cortez expresses the repressed desires of the progressive movement — as Trump did so for a significant chunk of the conservative movement — and because of that, we should expect her to only become more prominent, arguably the de facto leader of the Democratic party, even if she holds little formal power. (Does anyone doubt that Ocasio Cortez’s endorsement could make or break several Democratic presidential candidates?)

Last night, while discussing the Green New Deal and climate change, her stream of consciousness comments seemed to argue that the threat of climate change made parenthood morally unjustifiable, or at least morally troubling:

There’s scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult. And it does lead, I think, young people to have a legitimate question, you know, is it okay to still have children? And I mean, not only just financially, because people are graduating with twenty, thirty, a hundred thousand dollars worth of student loan debt, and they can’t even afford to have kids in the house, but also just this basic moral question, what do we do? And even if you don’t have kids, there are still children here who are in the world, and we have a moral obligation to them, to leave a better world for them. This idea that if we just, you know, I’ve been working on this for X amount of years [sic] it’s like, not good enough. We need a universal sense of urgency. And people are trying to, like introduce watered-down proposals that are frankly going to kill us. A lack of urgency is going to kill us. It doesn’t matter if you agree that climate change is an important issue. At this point it doesn’t matter. If you believe climate change is a problem, that’s not even the issue. The issue is, how urgently you feel the need to fix it.

Any lawmaker with any familiarity with the One Child Policy in China would be wary about floating these kinds of arguments. We don’t want government officials going anywhere near the argument that one size of a family is moral and a different size is immoral. It’s funny how quickly the argument “my body, my choice,” disappears outside of its most prominent context.

Separately, the New York Post asked whether Alexandria Ocasio Cortez actually lives in her district, and a day later the congresswoman confirmed that she had moved to a different address within the same congressional district.

The article stated that the congresswoman doesn’t have a district office, which is technically true but not for long; a district office is under construction and is expected to be open by early March. The congresswoman blamed the government shutdown for the delays, but other freshmen members of Congress managed to get their offices up and running. In fact, the legislative branch appropriations bill passed before the shutdown, meaning that there should not have been any disruption to the funding of her office.

Ocasio-Cortez also bragged that she will pay every staffer at least $52,000 per year, considerably more than most Congressional staffer salaries for lower-level staff. She has separately pledged to pay interns at least $15 an hour.

The less you know about the budget process for congressional offices, the more her $52,000-per-year stance sounds bold or wasteful. (Congressional staff salaries are public information; you can browse them here. Considering the responsibilities, hours, cost-of-living, and lack of job security, I’d argue that the vast majority of staffers are underpaid. Congressional staffers, please remember me making this argument next time I need a phone call returned.)

Each member gets an office budget consisting of three amounts. The first is roughly $1 million for staff salaries, divided among employees at the member’s discretion. The second is a separate sum for official office expenses, which is calculated based upon local rental costs in the district and the distance between a member’s district and Washington. (Way back when I covered Congress for a wire service, I did a story on how Hawaiian representatives are often among those who return the most unused money to the U.S. Treasury at the end of the fiscal year. This was less driven by any inherent fiscal conservatism than the fact that members went home less frequently than other members on weekends, because of the travel time.) The third is an amount for official mail, which is calculated based on the number of nonbusiness addresses in the district.

Congressional staff salaries have a wide range from job to job and from office to office. A study last year found that the office of Representative Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), had the highest median salary at $81,491; Representative Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), had the lowest median salary of just $35,925.

Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to pay each staffer $52,000 means that she will have fewer staffers than other offices, unless she uses some sort of other personal funds to hire additional ones — unlikely, considering how she’s lamented her modest means. Even fiscally conservative members of Congress come to different conclusions about how best to use the money available for hiring staff. Some believe the preeminent objective should be to keep staffing costs low, while others believe that hiring the highest number of capable staffers (and paying them enough to keep them) represents the best avenue for constituent service — which is, of course, a big reason why they were elected.

As the House member who gets the most media attention next to the speaker, Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t bother with the usual communications avenues. As of this morning, her Congressional web site has four press releases — three from her first day — and the lone “In the News” article links to Wikipedia.

ADDENDUM: CPAC is this week! If you’re going to be there, I hope you’ll join me for a panel on podcasting — how to start, what works, what doesn’t, lessons I’ve learned with Greg and Mickey, and lots of other useful advice.

Politics & Policy

How Worried Should We Be about White Nationalists in the Military?

((Jonathan Ernst/Reuters))

Making the click-through worthwhile: why Green New Deal advocates deny themselves the pleasure of nuclear power; a look at how worried we should be about white nationalists in the ranks of the U.S. military; and an IRS employee with a political agenda violates the law — again.

Why the Green New Deal Fans Are Afraid of Nuclear Power

Sometime today I’m scheduled to talk to CNN for an upcoming segment on the Green New Deal. (Amazing what happens when you read the specifics and compare all of the different versions.) One point I didn’t get into much, and may discuss further if I have time, is GND advocates’ opposition to nuclear power.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, today there are 60 commercially operating nuclear-power plants with 98 nuclear reactors in 30 states. Two more are under construction in Georgia. The U.S. has 34 “retired” or shut-down reactors.

As of last year, there are about 450 nuclear power reactors operating around the world; as of this month, the world’s reactors can say they’ve been operating more than 17,000 reactor years of experience. Most days you never hear anything about them, because they’re doing what they’re supposed to do: generate power, safely and efficiently, with no direct carbon emissions.

But nuclear power still scares a lot of people, because most people only know the names of three nuclear power plants: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

Three Mile Island forever tainted the image of nuclear power in the United States; no new plants were opened for 30 years after the accident. As the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission summarizes:

In the months following the accident, although questions were raised about possible adverse effects from radiation on human, animal, and plant life in the TMI area, none could be directly correlated to the accident. Thousands of environmental samples of air, water, milk, vegetation, soil, and foodstuffs were collected by various government agencies monitoring the area. Very low levels of radionuclides could be attributed to releases from the accident. However, comprehensive investigations and assessments by several well-respected organizations, such as Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh, have concluded that in spite of serious damage to the reactor, the actual release had negligible effects on the physical health of individuals or the environment.

No one died at the plant or in the surrounding area; for many years conservatives offered the dark joke, “More people died because of Ted Kennedy’s car than because of Three Mile Island.” But in 2017, a Penn State study contended that there was a correlation between subsequent thyroid cancer rates in the surrounding area and the radiation leak. The research of 44 thyroid cancer patients born in counties around the plant, and present in the area during the leak, “developed thyroid cancer on average five to 30 years after exposure and about 11 years earlier than the average thyroid cancer case.”

Chernobyl can best be summarized as the Soviets bringing their trademark cronyism, ignorant and incompetent management, inadequate funding, fanatical secrecy, and cheap and flawed designs to nuclear power, complete with a safety measures that made everything more dangerous, and inexperienced backup operators.

Fukushima was built to handle earthquakes and tsunamis, but not one as powerful as the March 2011 9.1 magnitude earthquake, the fourth-most powerful earthquake ever recorded, and powerful enough to alter the earth’s axis. The resulting tsunami was 43 to 49 feet high; the plant had a 19-foot seawall. The epicenter was about 30 miles away from the nuclear plants.

That’s three serious problems — two we can accurately label mass-scale disasters — out of several hundred plants operating for many decades. The truth is that nuclear power is safe, as long as the plants are properly designed, operators are well-trained and competent, the right procedures are followed, and the plant isn’t close to the epicenter of one of the worst earthquakes in human history.

The great irony is that if you’re worried about carbon emissions, nuclear power is your best friend. “In 2017, the U.S. nuclear industry avoided 547.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions — providing more low-carbon electricity than solar and wind power combined.”

The Green New Deal projects eliminating coal, natural gas, liquified natural gas, oil, and nuclear power within ten years; that adds up to about 88 percent of our current energy production. Anyone who knows anything about our current energy production and usage finds that spectacularly unrealistic, and this is what spurs the snarky dismissals of the plan being “rainbows and unicorns.” But nuclear power is currently about 9 percent of our energy production, and that it’s realistic to envision that sector’s share of our production rising, replacing other sources of energy that produce carbon. (The Tennessee Valley Authority recently announced plans to close down their coal plants and build new natural gas and possibly small nuclear ones.)

The priorities on the wish list of the Green New Deal are so often contradictory that they’re almost funny. I liked this observation from University of Texas-Austin professor David Spence:

There are more permanent union jobs in a coal plant or a nuclear power plant at the operational stage than there are in a wind or a solar or even a hydro station, modern versions of which are typically operated remotely from the control room with nobody on site. So, we have to think through these various tradeoffs.

You can build more solar panels in the United States instead of importing them from China, but that makes them more expensive. Solyndra cost taxpayers $500 million, when it learned buyers preferred the cheaper Chinese versions than their costlier American-made panels.

How Worried Should We Be About White Nationalists in the Military? 

The news that a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant was arrested for plotting terror attacks was midlevel news in a busy news week. But if he had successfully executed any one of the many plots he envisioned, we would awaken the next day in a much more frightened, much more divided, much more suspicious country. Externally, he was the kind of man that is ubiquitous in the greater Washington area: “To outward appearances, the 49-year-old lieutenant was a suburban father with a desk job supplying Coast Guard ships, who was glimpsed by neighbors coming and going in uniform or walking his dogs with his wife.”

In October 2017, in the wake of the white-nationalist demonstration and clashes in Charlottesville, the publication Military Times conducted a voluntary, confidential survey of 1,131 active-duty troops. About one in four respondents said they had seen examples of white nationalism among their fellow service members; “42 percent of non-white troops who responded to the survey said they have personally experienced examples of white nationalism in the military, versus about 18 percent of white service members.” Some greeted the survey with headlines like “the military has a serious white nationalist problem.”

Publicly identified cases are, so far, relatively rare.

A few months earlier, former Marine recruiter Dillon Ulysses Hopper was identified as “the leader of white supremacist group Vanguard America,” a group whose members attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. (Hopper himself was not at the rally.)

Back in May 2018, Frontline and ProPublica identified three extremists who were, at the time, employed by the Army or Navy. Their story profiled Vasillios Pistolis and named Joshua Beckett, who “trained Atomwaffen members in firearms and hand-to-hand combat last fall, served in the Army from 2011 to 2015, according to service records.” The third was Florida National Guard Brandon Russell, who was sentenced to five years in prison in January 2018 for possession of an unregistered destructive device and improper storage of explosive materials.

The following month, the Daily Beast profiled Erik Sailors of Patriot Front, who was in the Marine Corps reserves at that time.

In September, “a civilian contractor working with the U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan has been fired after video footage posted online this week showed him wearing a white nationalist ‘Kekistan’ flag patch on his helmet.”

These are scary stories; members of our military are trained in combat and deadly force, and likely have access to weapons and explosive materials and dangerous substances. In the worst-case scenario and circumstances, these reprobates could do something unimaginable; we’ve already seen what Timothy McVeigh could do in Oklahoma City.

But it’s also worth remembering that so far, the number of publicly identified members of hate groups that are currently wearing our country’s uniform could not fill a school bus, never mind an auditorium. Obviously, many with white-nationalist, racist, or neo-Nazi views hide them, because membership in an extremist group is a quick route to a court martial. But if neo-Nazis are hiding their views, that’s more or less the point: The military can’t police the thoughts of their recruits, but they can police their statements and actions.

We have nearly 1.3 million men and women in uniform on active duty and about 800,000 in the reserves. We should not be surprised that over time, a small fraction of them will be revealed as horrible people. We should also note that the military is arguably the most integrated organization in the United States. (Getting to this point required a long and messy journey.)

Every member of the military takes an oath:

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

(The oath for members of the National Guard mentions the state constitution as well.)

The overwhelming majority of men and women in the military take that oath extremely seriously and plotting a race war is about as diametrically opposed to that oath as you can get. If you wanted to sow the seeds of white nationalism, hate, division and white supremacy, I suspect you would find military bases and homes to be fairly infertile soil.

ADDENDA: How secure are your tax records when you send them to the Internal Revenue Service?

An Internal Revenue Service employee has been charged with leaking confidential government reports that described financial transactions made by President Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, according to court documents unsealed Thursday.

According to the court documents, unsealed in federal court in San Francisco, Fry is accused of sharing the reports’ contents with Michael Avenatti, a lawyer who rose to national prominence representing adult-film actress Stormy Daniels in litigation arising from her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump more than a decade ago. Cohen pleaded guilty last year to arranging hush-money payments to Daniels and another woman who also alleged an affair with Trump.

In October, the Justice Department charged a senior Treasury Department official with giving a journalist the details of SARs involving financial transactions connected to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and other associates of the president’s.

If you want to undermine the public’s faith in the government, this is what you do.

Culture

Parenthood’s Public-Relations Problem

(Pixabay)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the public-relations problem of American parenthood; what you need to know about Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard; and the, er, “mastermind” behind the attack on Jussie Smollett finally gets arrested.

Why Does Parenthood Have a Public-Relations Problem?

Upon seeing a Pew Research poll showing that lower-income teens are much less interested in having children someday, Bethany Mandel observes, “parenthood has a public relations problem.” Isn’t that the truth!

After the Elian Gonzalez controversy in 2000, I remember watching a PBS roundtable that featured author Richard Rodriguez. He pointed to a cartoon that depicted Gonzalez and offered what I thought was an observation for the ages:

 

A cartoonist in the morning paper, mediocre talent, who every time he had a chance to draw Elián would put him in sunglasses with his Nike shoes, you know the consumerist Nike child. And I think, if you were really to ask a lot of American parents, would this boy be better off in Havana or would he be better off in South Beach on roller-blades with sunglasses, a lot of Americans, in our middle-aged caution, would say we would not want Elián to grow up like our own children.

The question is . . . why? Why would so many Americans feel like a child is better off in an oppressive country with an atrocious human-rights record, no freedom of expression, restrictions on travel, arbitrary detentions, and state-sanctioned beatings of prisoners? What made Americans believe that life in their country in the year 2000 — the height of the dot-com boom! The peak of perceived peace and prosperity! — would be such a harmful and warping experience for children?

I recall Rodriguez arguing that the cartoon encapsulated how many American adults saw the country’s children at that time (now nearly two decades ago) — spoiled, materialistic, and shallow. He contrasted this with the portrait of American children in stories such as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer: the boys were clever, full of energy, curious, prone to getting in trouble, but good at heart. Parents have always complained about children, and non-parents have always complained about other people’s children. How did the public perception change from some children being spoiled to “American children are spoiled”?

Why would Americans think so poorly of their own children — and by extension, themselves?

There is something nihilistic at work in our culture that amounts to us hating ourselves. (If you hate yourself, you do not want to perpetuate yourself through future generations.) There’s a weird fetish for the apocalypse at work in our culture. We see it in the declarations that climate change is not merely a generational problem but that we’re within the last decade to save the planet. If it’s not climate change, it’s nuclear war, or global-disease pandemics, or aliens, or giant meteorites, or some sort of technological collapse. We see it in the ubiquitous zombie movies and television shows, Mad Max and various knockoffs, The Terminator and Matrix series and various other fears that AI and machines will destroy us, the Fallout video games . . . we spend a lot of time imagining about what things will be like when most of us have been killed off. Even the newest Star Trek series abandoned the sunny optimism of the original William Shatner-Leonard Nimoy version: “Discovery takes place in a time before the Enterprise, before Kirk, Spock and Scotty. Prejudice is rife, war is prevalent, and while the show subsides on the hope of a better tomorrow, it is clear that Discovery’s world is a far cry from the one we’ve seen elsewhere.” Fans and creators argue whether the original series’ depiction of a hyper-competent, unified, happy humanity would feel relevant to today’s audiences.

(You notice the one kind of apocalypse movie or television show we never see? An American government that reaches the point where it cannot borrow further and cannot simultaneously finance existing entitlement programs, the defense budget, and other government programs.)

In 2009, comedian Denis Leary wrote a typically acerbic humor book entitled, Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid. By 2017, he wrote a follow up that more or less reversed himself: Why We Don’t Suck: And How All of Us Need to Stop Being Such Partisan Little B****s. I’ve wondered if Leary feared that sarcastic, cynical comedy was feeding into a dark and depressed worldview among the public.

I may be as guilty of this as anyone. I mock my local public-school system for closing at the first sign of a dropping dew point, but this doesn’t mean I think that the local kids are whiners and wimps. I joked that helping coach youth soccer was a delight because I could legally yell at children that weren’t my own, but the eight-year-olds were a joy who actually gradually learned to stop clumping around the ball. I joke that my kids are driving me crazy, but they’re not actually driving me crazy.

Do some people — particularly young people, who have only experienced family life from one side — lose that distinction? Do “oh, my crazy family” jokes and stories and television shows and movies and books leave some people thinking that starting a family isn’t worth it?

The Tulsi Gabbard You Don’t Know

A few times during Obama’s second term, Greg Corombos and I would examine Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s recurring criticism of the Obama administration on the Three Martini Lunch podcast, and we would joke, “Wow, here’s our new favorite Democrat.”

But having finished the latest “Twenty Things” article, and reviewing about every major profile of Gabbard, coverage of her early in her career, tons of speeches, articles about her politically active parents, her family nonprofits, and more, a more complete picture starts to emerge: Gabbard makes a lot of surprising decisions, even if they seem to contradict earlier ones.

She’s considered the first Hindu elected to Congress but clarifies that she’s “more into spirituality than I am religious labels.” She was raised with close ties to a religious organization that some former members characterized as a cult, but Gabbard insists that she never saw anything like the abuses they described. She set up a nonprofit with her father as a teenager — there are some cute pictures of her dressed up as “WaterWoman” to teach kids about the environment — but very few 21-year-olds would leave community college to run for the state legislature, and no woman had ever been elected to a state legislator at a younger age.

Once elected and beginning what looked like a promising career in elected office, not many would sign up for the Army National Guard, and not many would volunteer for a deployment to Iraq. Plenty of people change their views on homosexuality, gay marriage, and abortion, but not many say military deployment spurred a 180 degree change in their viewpoint. Once people have made that change — and if they want a future in Democratic politics — they don’t often say that their “personal views haven’t changed” but that they don’t want to enforce their values on others.

You don’t see a lot of people who are warmly welcomed at American Enterprise Institute events who also regularly denounce “neocon warmongers.” You don’t often find someone on the board of the Sanders Institute and who also reportedly has a big fan in Steve Bannon. Almost no other Democratic officials were willing to meet with the president-elect at Trump Tower between the election and the inauguration, and yet clearly Gabbard is no fan of this president. Not even many other Democrats went as far as to call Trump “Saudi Arabia’s bitch,” as Gabbard did . . . and let’s face it, out of all the people in the world to throw stones at this administration’s policy towards Riyadh, the woman who went to Damascus, met with Bashar al-Assad, and declared herself “skeptical” that his regime used chemical weapons is probably living in a glass house.

Add it all up and you have a figure who is unique and probably appealing to many but whose overall worldview seems . . . weird. She’s the hawkish dove, perceived as not-so-liberal but who wants free public- and community-college education for everyone, hated by the Hillary Clinton camp for a perceived betrayal but not really having many potential supporters among the traditional Republicans or MAGA crowd. Surely all of this makes sense to her; we’ll see if it makes sense to the electorate. As John McCain learned, it’s very hard to rise to the top of your party and lead it as a maverick.

And my God, it seems every major publication has sent a correspondent and photographer to Hawaii to get pictures or video of her surfing. The New Yorker, Vogue, People, Yahoo Sports, Fox News Channel, Ozy, Alive, The Inertia . . . She’s one of the rare members of Congress that TMZ is interested in.

This morning, Chicago Police took actor Jussie Smollett into custody; he faces felony disorderly conduct charges for filing a false police report. He faces a potential sentence of one to three years in prison and substantial fines.

As Morning Jolt reader Ken observed, “The theory that a conspiracy devised hastily by amateurs can survive weeks of intensive law enforcement scrutiny is surprisingly persistent. By coincidence, it was 25 years ago this month that it received its clearest refutation, thanks to Tonya Harding.”

ADDENDUM: May your day be as free from difficulty, pain and hardship as that of Congressman Eric Swalwell, who endured a light snow to avoid going to a coffee shop in Trump Tower.

Politics & Policy

It’s Not a Disinformation Campaign if the Facts Are True

Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., addresses Capitol Hill reporters in Washington, D.C., November 27, 2018. (Leah Millis/REUTERS)

Making the click-through worthwhile: new reports of Russian-amplified “disinformation” about Democratic presidential candidates that . . . doesn’t really sound like disinformation, potential Republican presidential candidate William Weld finds a fan, Senator Marco Rubio offers a more Constitutionally sound way to fund more border-fence construction, a new podcast, and one of our greats moves on to a new horizon.

Is It Really a Disinformation Campaign If It Uses Verified Facts?

Politico reports that certain Democratic presidential candidates are already the target of “wide-ranging disinformation campaign” with “signs that foreign state actors are driving at least some of the activity.”

You have to go pretty deep into the story to find examples.

One widely seen tweet employed racist and sexist stereotypes in an attempt to sensationalize Harris’ relationship with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. That tweet — and subsequent retweets and mentions tied to it — made 8.6 million “potential impressions” online, according to Guardians.ai, an upper limit calculation of the number of people who might have seen it based on the accounts the cluster follows, who follows accounts within the cluster and who has engaged with the tweet.

There’s no excuse for racist and sexist stereotypes, but as the well-informed audience of this newsletter knows, Harris and Brown did have an extramarital affair (he was married, she wasn’t) starting in 1993, he appointed her to two well-paying state positions during their relationship, and he was no doubt a key connection as she began her career, introducing her to California’s political movers and shakers. It’s completely fair to ask the candidate hard questions about this nepotism, and the fact that some Russian bot is tweeting about it doesn’t mean the topic transmogrifies into “disinformation.”

The article discusses the fringe attacks on Elizabeth Warren:

Among the fringe platforms Storyful identified were 4Chan and 8Chan, where messages appeared calling on commenters to quietly wreak havoc against Warren on social media or in the comments section under news stories.


“Point out that she used to be Republican but switched sides and is a spy for them now. Use this quote out of context: ‘I was a Republican because I thought that those were the people who best supported markets,’” wrote one poster on the 4Chan message board.

That is indeed out of context, from a 2011 interview discussing her political shift to the Left, and the notion that politicians switch parties to “spy” on the other side is the sort of thing believed by conspiracy theorists. But again, as you likely know, Warren was indeed a registered Republican from 1991 to 1996, she used to be a regular welcome guest of Lou Dobbs in his CNN days, and her 2003 book, The Two-Income Trap, got a fairly positive review from National Review. Warren was at one point, if not conservative, then in opposition to several arguments of progressives and feminists. All of that is completely fair game in what is likely to be a hard-fought Democratic primary.

Later in the story:

“All the infrastructure we’ve seen in 2016 and 2018 is already in full-force. And in 2020 it’s only going to get worse,” Kellner said, pointing to negative memes attacking Warren on her Native American heritage claims and memes surrounding Harris’s relationship with Brown.

Except . . . Warren really did make an implausible claim of Native American heritage!

The memes may be negative, harsh, tasteless or beyond the pale of acceptable discourse, but . . . most of the listed examples have at least an element of truth to them. (The one exception is a tale of Beto O’Rourke leaving a message using racist language on an answering machine in the 1990s. I searched Twitter and found . . . two tweets about this. Either the old bad tweets have been removed, or the scope of this disinformation is greatly exaggerated.)

The global nature of the Internet means we’re never going to be able to completely stamp out foreign governments attempting to surreptitiously send and amplify messages to influence the American public. Twitter, Facebook, and social-media companies can watch for this stuff and shut down accounts when they do, but the intelligence services will probably just move and set up new accounts. The technology is new, but the motive and methods are familiar to us. Back during the Cold War, Russia used to create fake racist letters from “ordinary Americans” and send them to African diplomats at the United Nations and hired goons to deface Jewish cemeteries.

The best defense against this is a less credulous and better-informed public, that doesn’t automatically believe everything they read on the Internet and doesn’t gleefully share any information they encounter that reaffirms their preconceived notions. I recently encountered a chain email, allegedly from a couple who had visited Paris and found the city overrun by awful, criminal migrants. No one who forwarded it found it strange that the pictures of anti-social behavior on the Paris metro had New York City subway maps in the background.

But this Politico article represents a bit of sleight-of-hand. The fact that Boris Badinov has a server farm churning out heavy-handed memes about a topic does not change the truth or falsity of an accusation, nor does it automatically make a topic out of bounds for discussion during a presidential campaign. We will see if the Democratic candidates seize upon this Politico article and the data within to dismiss these less-flattering topics as “Russian disinformation.”

All’s Well That Ends Weld

Who in the world might be interested in voting for William Weld in a GOP presidential primary? It turns out, libertarian-leaning GOP consultant Liz Mair:

The bottom line for people like [RedState founder Eric] Erickson is this: Mr. Trump has terrible character flaws and has eroded norms and worsened our system of government. But Democrats seem to have responded to the election of Mr. Trump not by pushing forward sensible, moderate candidates who understand the fundamentals of government and policy but rather far-left legislators in Congress (like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib) and policy like the late-term-abortion laws in Virginia and New York.

This is true. For those of us who find Trump’s character abysmal, his rhetoric unworthy of the office he holds, and his judgment erratic at best, his defeat by the Democratic nominee in 2020 would end up reversing some serious policy gains and most likely move the country fast and far in the wrong direction. Continuing Trump’s presidency is going to cost conservatives quite a bit in terms of respect for the Constitution; traditional cultural values; our established military alliances; our already seriously degraded standards for public discourse; and expectations of respect for all Americans of all races, creeds and colors. But the price of not continuing the Trump presidency keeps increasing even higher.

Mair writes:

As things stand right now, I’m inclined to vote my conscience and back Mr. Weld. I voted for him when he ran on the Libertarian Party line in 2016. He had a solid fiscal conservative rating as governor. He’s more capable than Mr. Trump of doing the job of commander in chief. He is likable and funny, and I can see him working well with other world leaders.

Your mileage may vary. As I wrote in 2016, Weld was surprisingly friendly with Hillary Clinton, dismissed her entire email scandal, is an outspoken defender of legal abortion, had only middling success in controlling state spending in a heavily Democratic state, backed gun control, and endorsed Obama in 2008. For a Republican, Weld spends a lot of time talking up the virtues of traditional Democratic party positions and candidates.

Hey, Guys, We Might Not Need that National-Emergency Declaration Fight

Senator Marco Rubio with a much simpler and much more Constitutionally sound way to generate significant amounts of funding for more border fencing: Start with the $1.375 billion appropriated in the most recent spending bill, add $601 million from Treasury Forfeiture Fund and move $2.5 billion from Department of Defense’s Counterdrug fund. Neither of the latter moves require Congressional approval; “Section 8005 of the most recent Defense Appropriations bill allows up to $4 billion to be moved around in the defense operating budget.”

That would add up to something in the neighborhood of 200 miles of new fencing, which I suspect a lot of Trump fans would see as significant progress towards keeping his campaign promise.

ADDENDA: Our Reihan Salam will soon be moving to become president of the Manhattan Institute. This is fantastic news for him, the institute, conservative ideas, and New York City as a whole, and bittersweet news for those of us who have benefited from his editorial judgment and wisdom.

Mickey and I found time to record a podcast yesterday, and a variety of political, media, and pop-culture news have put us in a dyspeptic mood: The willful blindness that drove much of the credulity around Jussie Smollett, the fact that Ralph Northam is still our governor, the endless drama surrounding outgoing Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, and the unstoppable growth of Goop — not generic slime, but Gwenyth Paltrow’s luxury brand. It’s all covered in the episode entitled, “The Dumbest Week Since Last Week.”

U.S.

Bernie Sanders Is Proof that You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during the markup of the FY2018 Budget reconciliation legislation in Washington, D.C. on November 28, 2017. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Bernie Sanders makes his 2020 bid official, demonstrating that no matter what happens in the world, his worldview will not change; billionaires who enjoyed the fruits of the Old Left suddenly find the New Left inhospitable; and our Kyle Smith has a few questions for those who believed Jussie Smollett.

Bernie Sanders, the Unchanging Man

Bernie Sanders is running for president, again.

Bernie Sanders is pretty much the exact same guy that he was four decades ago, running on the same platform. He’s making the same arguments for the same ideas about how America needs a socialist revolution that puts an end to millionaires and billionaires and private hospitals and moves social services from charities to government institutions. He’s always been friendly to leftist critics of America overseas and radicals eager to tear down the existing order and has been at best skeptical of U.S. military actions abroad (except during the Clinton administration) and U.S. intelligence agencies. Becoming a millionaire didn’t prompt him to revise his relentless demonization of millionaires as greedy. The collapse of the Soviet Union, several American economic booms, innovative technological revolutions, the fracking and energy boom, the alleviation of poverty around the world through global trade over the past two generations — none of them prompted him to change much of what he thinks about economics, politics, international relations, or society.

No government management scandal of the past four decades — vets dying while waiting for care at the Department of Veterans Affairs, vast sums on nonfunctional web sites, lavish conferences at the General Services Administration, IRS abuses, Fast and Furious, substandard conditions for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, endless allegations of cronyism, favoritism, and incompetence — has shaken Sanders’s faith that the federal government is equipped and ready to handle huge new programs that would exercise much more control over the daily lives of Americans.

No country’s experience with socialism, or countries that call themselves socialist, has prompted him to rethink whether the concepts work as well as the advocates insist.

In a 2016 debate, he showed his praise for Fidel Castro in 1985, saying that Castro “educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed their society.” Moderator Maria Elena Salinas asked Sanders three times if he regretted his characterizations of Nicaragua’s authoritarian ruler Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro. Three times, Sanders dodged, saying that “the key issue here was whether the United States should go around overthrowing small Latin American countries” and finally reiterating his praise for Castro’s regime: “It would be wrong not to state that in Cuba they have made some good advances in health care. They are sending doctors all over the world. They have made some progress in education.”

Back in 2016, Venezuela’s dictatorial president, Nicolas Maduro, said that he supported Bernie Sanders in the U.S. presidential race, adding that the candidate, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, would win if the vote were “free.” (Sanders was uncharacteristically quiet about Venezuelan politics since Maduro came to power, but he offered some criticism of the Maduro regime in January.)

He has his theories about how the world ought to work, and he’s going to stick to it.

The Fear of Being Considered the Wrong Kind of Billionaire

One argument of the billionaire-bashing club that has some merit: Some particular billionaires do have an astonishing ability to set the terms of discussion in America’s public discourse, and this is separate from the billionaire Twitter stormbringer in the Oval Office.

Each day, when you log on or pick up a newspaper or turn on your television or radio, there’s a good chance that what you read or hear is shaped by the decision of some billionaire. Howard Schultz is roiling the Democrats by considering an independent bid for president. Jeff Bezos’s company Amazon got almost every city in America to run around chasing their tales putting together incentive packages for HQ2, and of course he runs one of the most powerful news institutions in the country, the Washington Post. (This isn’t even counting the recent news about his, er, other “incentive package.”) People argue whether Mark Zuckerberg’s grand creation of Facebook is exacerbating American social divisions. Every few months, Elon Musk does something amazing or bizarre, whether it’s launching a car into space or smoking weed with Joe Rogan. Michael Bloomberg is also thinking of running for president, and he periodically throws a couple dozen million dollars into the gun-control movement.

The world has conservative billionaires such as the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, but most of those splashy cover-of-a-magazine billionaires are left-leaning. As I noted in my profile of Schultz, a whole lot of billionaires and big corporations had no real problem with the Obama administration. If a CEO wanted to stay on good terms with the administration and its media- and cultural-elite allies, he talked a good game about going green, building a diverse workforce and inclusive workplaces, and tut-tutted about gun violence and talked about the need for “common sense gun laws” and “universal background checks.” Throw some solar panels on your corporate headquarters, ensure your board had a few minorities, donate to the party, and the Democrats were generally going to be happy to see you.

In other words, left-leaning billionaires were happy to ally with the Democratic party on a wide range of social issues as the party enacted policies that posed no real threat to their wealth and stature (although they may hinder others’ efforts to climb the economic ladder). Throughout the Obama era, it became clear that political, financial, and cultural elites were (deliberately or inadvertently) establishing a progressive aristocracy — where once you had the right credentials and connections, and gave generously to the right causes, you were insulated from any real criticism or consequences of your actions. Nobody gave Tim Geithner grief for botching his taxes, environmentalists grief for their private jets, gun-control advocates flak for their armed security, or voucher opponents problems for sending their kids to private school. Filmmaker Michael Moore used non-union labor and lived to tell the tale; lawmakers insisting anything less than $15 per-hour wages was inhumane thought nothing about having unpaid interns. Apparently, the actions of Harvey Weinstein and Les Moonves were open secrets, but few high-profile feminist activists ever gave them too much grief; crossing them meant making a powerful enemy.

At a certain level of status, everyone agreed to avert their eyes from contradictions between how you live and what you profess.

The new socialism-friendly Democrats may not be willing to maintain this arrangement. Ironically, the part of this hypocrisy that they find most offensive is the part that the Right finds least offensive: being wealthy. Most conservatives don’t care if Al Gore uses a lot of electricity, Bloomberg has armed personal security guards, or that Democratic presidents send their kids to Sidwell Friends. Just don’t use your wealth and power to take away our options.

Even now, those who are quite wealthy on the Left are eager to establish that the threshold for problematic wealth begins just above what they could reasonably expect to earn, barring some unexpected good luck. Elizabeth Warren wants to “impose a 2 percent tax on Americans’ net worth above $50 million and a 3 percent tax on wealth above $1 billion.” Judging from her released tax returns and Senate financial-disclosure forms, Warren and her husband have combined assets between about $4 million and $11 million.

Quite the identity crisis: fake Native American, real multimillionaire.

Like Detective Columbo, Kyle Smith Has Just One More Question

Kyle Smith offers a really good – and fair – list of questions for those who believed the account of Jussie Smollett. The first two:

One: Had you ever heard of Jussie Smollett before the alleged January 29 attack?

Two: Do you think it likely that fans of President Trump had?

ADDENDUM: Charlie Sykes and the editors of the New York Post kindly mention my recent writing, discussing the lessons of Smollett.

Politics & Policy

The Jussie Smollett Hoax Reaffirmed Progressive Fears

Jussie Smollett attends a screening of the television series “Empire” in Los Angeles, Calif., March 12, 2015. (Phil McCarten/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: how actor Jussie Smollett’s tale was tailor-made to play into the existing stereotypes of progressive minds; a look at how fear drives our political divisions; the Left and the Right react to Amazon’s HQ2 incentives, and the scuttling of the deal with New York City, in different ways; and a hard truth about personal identity and social media.

If You Want to Understand Americans, Understand Their Fears

In light of the rapidly changing account of what happened to actor Jussie Smollett in Chicago, and the contention of unnamed police sources to local media that what was initially reported as a hate crime was a hoax staged by the actor himself . . .

Hate crimes happen. Sometimes you hear about them because of a high death toll, like in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

But a lot of times these are, with no irony intended, “local crime stories.” An assault on a Moroccan-American legal immigrant on a train in Massachusetts. A racially motivated murder with a sword near Times Square. The aggravated assault of a a Sikh man in Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. A man who fatally shot an Indian in Olathe, Kan. A Jewish man attacked outside a restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio. An allegedly anti-gay attempted mass shooting at an Asian restaurant in San Diego.  (Prosecutors are still deciding whether the evidence is conclusive that this was a “hate crime.”)  (Except for the San Diego one, none of the events listed above represent mere allegations or claims; they are news accounts of individuals being convicted of crimes, with judges and juries concluding that they were primarily driven by hate and prejudice.)

It’s not accurate to say, “This sort of thing almost always turns out to be a hoax,” and it’s also not accurate to say, “This sort of thing almost never turns out to be a hoax.” The way we measure hate crimes is imperfect; more police agencies are collecting data and providing it to the FBI than in the past, making year-to-year comparisons. Nearly 1,000 police agencies started providing data to the FBI in 2017 who weren’t in 2016. Last year many news organizations reported hate crimes “increased by 17 percent” but we don’t know how much of that represents the crimes occurring more frequently or simply more extensive data collection.

Longtime reader Grizzly Joe called my attention to this article by neuroscientist Bobby Azarian. I have a lot of bones to pick with some of how Azarian characterizes recent events, but his central thesis seems sound: Fear motivates people, like few other emotions. As I wrote way back in 2014, “Fear is an indicator that we care about something and fear losing something. Fear can be a powerful motivator to action.”

Right now, Americans feel fear, and they hear other Americans insisting that their fears are unrealistic or silly or paranoid, which drives political anger. A lot of folks on the Left think that their counterparts on the Right are paranoid and driven by fearmongering and terrified of mythical problems, and vice versa.

Today, it’s not hard to find a grassroots activist on the Left who is convinced that they have a great deal to fear. They’re convinced that they could be a victim of a hate crime — and as seen by the list above, they do indeed happen. They’re worried about climate change. (Forget the debates about forward-looking projections; extreme weather and fire events cost the federal government $350 billion from 2006 to 2016. The effect of 7.7 billion people generating carbon dioxide on our environment is likely to be somewhere between “no effect at all” and The Day After Tomorrow.) They fear “liberty is dying” and that Trump is a dictator — and while the president found many of his initiatives stymied by the courts, a lack of legislation from Congress, and perhaps even his own staff, he’s also sought to build upon past expansions of presidential power.

The Washington Post contended that right-wing terrorism is on the rise, and that right-wing terror attacks are more deadly. (It’s fair to ask if the death toll the best measuring stick; if we measure purely by fatalities, James Hodgkinson’s attempted mass shooting on Republican congressman at Alexandria baseball practice in 2017 didn’t kill anyone. Nor did Edgar Maddison Welch shoot anyone when he went into the Comet Pizza in Adams Morgan with an AR-15, seeking to investigate “PizzaGate.” Few would characterize either event as inconsequential because no one died.)

Today it is also not hard to find a grassroots activist on the Right who is convinced that they have a great deal to fear. They’re convinced that insufficient border and immigration enforcement leave them at higher risk for violent crime. Some illegal immigrants do commit violent crimes, even if they commit violent crimes at a lower rate than native-born citizens (but more frequently than legal immigrants). They worry about the Iranian nuclear program, and find it mind-boggling that the previous administration traded a giant payment and removal of sanctions in exchange for a temporary delay in that program. They notice and recoil from self-anointed enforcers of the “Antifa” movement behaving indistinguishably from fascists. They worry about a “deep state” of high-ranking law-enforcement officials who leak sensitive information in order to promote their own narrative in media reports, and who seek out criminal indictments of their political foes on the most tenuous or sketch evidence.

If what police sources are saying about Jussie Smollett are true — and their account makes more sense than the idea that two homophobic rednecks in MAGA hats, who watched enough Empire to recognize Smollett, wandered the streets of Chicago on the coldest night in 30 years with a rope and bottle of bleach, just happened to encounter him in a spot outside of the range of any surveillance cameras, then beat him and kicked him, but at no point did Smollett lose his cell phone or Subway sandwich — why did he do it?

Because his most likely motivation would not be all that different from infamous The New Republic hoaxer Stephen Glass: He understood that many people in prominent positions would choose to believe his story, because it reaffirmed all of their preexisting beliefs. Quite a few progressives believe that their country is beset by Trump voters itching to commit violent acts against minorities. (For everyone scoffing that those willing to do that sort of thing don’t exist in Chicago, notice the locations in the list of hate-crime convictions atop this column: Outside Boston, Times Square in New York, Dupont Circle in Washington D.C., San Diego. Hate crimes indeed occur in deep-blue cities.) The lessons of Smollett’s tale were tailor-made for the progressive worldview: Trump’s election had not only unleashed an ugly tide of racism and homophobia, the hatred and impulse to violence was manifesting itself in the most unexpected of places. No one was safe! And if no one was safe, then it was an emergency. As Kevin observed this weekend, “Emergencies offer a moral permission slip… [if you can convince yourself that the current moment is an emergency], then you can justify — to others, and to yourself — measures that are extraordinary. Among those extraordinary measures is the lie in the service of “a greater truth.”

When you look at the list of fake hate crimes, you notice quite a few on college campuses. Colleges aren’t likely to have a lot of closeted neo-Nazis, Klan members, or otherwise hateful individuals, so particularly aggrieved activists who wished they had overt racists around to denounce invent them. If caught, they often claim that they did so to “raise awareness” — like in cases in Malden, Massachusetts and Brown County, Ind. (Just how many people are completely unaware of the existence of hate crimes?)

The less flattering and self-serving explanation is that some people get a thrill and sense of purpose from cultivating the belief that evil is secretly working in their communities, hiding behind smiles of their neighbors and acquaintances. We saw this in the Salem witch trials, the contention that comic books were corrupting youth morals in the 1940s and 1950s, the day care sex-abuse panic, the claim that Dungeons and Dragons and/or heavy metal music were driving kids to Satanism, and the apparently almost-always-mythical stories of razor blades in Halloween candy.

The villains change, but the psychological motivations and almost-happy embrace of paranoia do not.

The Right and the Left Oppose Corporate Welfare for Different Reasons

The Amazon decision to no longer pursue a second headquarters in New York City is a splitting up the usual partisan lines. I hated the Amazon deal, but not because it was a big corporation or “greedy” or any of the usual arguments you hear from the Left. As a service, I love the company — just about anything you want, including obscure, out-of-print books, delivered quickly. I just don’t like government picking winners and losers in the marketplace or giving a special tax break to one company over another company. That’s not a free market, that’s corporatism.

The argument from the liberal opponents of the deal overlapped some, but . . .

As many noted last week, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seemed to think that the city was taking an existing pile of money and giving it to the company, declaring “we could invest those $3 billion in our district ourselves, if we wanted to. We could hire out more teachers. We can fix our subways. We can put a lot of people to work for that money, if we wanted to.” But the $3 billion was a discount on taxes the company would pay in the future. Without Amazon moving to the city, hiring people, and generating revenue that gets taxed, there’s no rebate to be given to the company.

Over at Bloomberg, Joe Nocera notices that the anti-deal Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took action quickly and loudly, and pro-deal Democrats moved slowly and quietly.

Meanwhile, as the backlashpallooza gained momentum, the officials who had lured Amazon to New York — particularly New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio — sat on their hands and let opponents like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and state senator Michael Gianaris control the narrative. Talk about arrogance! Assuming they didn’t need to do anything further after cutting the deal itself, Cuomo and de Blasio made no effort to organize Amazon’s local supporters, who were actually in the majority.

Meanwhile, down here in Virginia, the state legislature approved $550 million in incentives to Amazon after a whole nine minutes of debate, and Governor Blackface will sign it into law. Virginia’s deal gives Amazon cash grants of $22,000 per new full-time job for the first 25,000 jobs.

I suppose we should be thankful that the Washington Post headline wasn’t “Virginia Agrees to Help Local Heroic Job-Creating Entrepreneur.”

ADDENDUM: A really sharp observation from Beth Moore, about the nature of identity on social media:

The whole shebang of social media culture is driven by drawing attention. Warning: whatever builds public identity will invariably be required to sustain it. If we got attention with pain, we’ll need to stay in pain. If we got it by being offended, we’ll need to stay offended… If we got it by appearing fierce, we’ll need to stay fierce. Beautiful? We’ll need to stay beautiful. The best in our field? We’ll need to stay the best. Good luck with all that. If your platform is cause-oriented, that’s one thing but if it’s your personal identity, it’s a trap.

Almost every human being is multifaceted — but apparently “brands” can’t be.

U.S.

Jussie Smollett and the Hard Lessons about Facts and Assumptions

Jussie Smollett poses on the red carpet before the 47th Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony in New York, June 9, 2016. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The tale of actor Jussie Smollett enters its third act with Chicago law enforcement moving quickly and unnamed police sources contradicting the actor’s account; President Trump declares an emergency, and why this isn’t likely to work; and when it comes to the border barrier near El Paso, Beto O’Rourke wants to tear down this wall.

In an Actor’s Tale, Some Saw This Plot Twist Coming

We will see if the police source talking to the CBS affiliate in Chicago is accurate. If so, the revelations would vindicate the skepticism that many have expressed since the first reports emerged of actor Jussie Smollett being attacked.

Investigators believe Jussie Smollett and the non-cooperating witnesses in last month’s alleged attack of the Empire actor “potentially staged the attack,” a source with intimate knowledge of the investigation tells CBS 2 Investigator Brad Edwards.

Chicago police raided the home of two “persons of interest” Wednesday night, a relative of those men says.

Police took bleach, shoes, electronics, receipts and other items from the home.

The men, who are both of Nigerian descent, have appeared as extras on the show and their attorney, Gloria Schmidt, says they do both know Smollett.

“They do know Jussie,” she said. “They have worked with him on Empire. My preliminary investigations show that on set it’s very tight. They’re all very cordial with each other, so they’re baffled why they are people of interest.”

CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says media reports about “the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives.” He says the “supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate.”

From the beginning, Smollett’s claim that he was attacked by two men yelling “MAGA country” included many details that seemed odd. He said he was walking back to an apartment after a meal at a Subway restaurant around 2 a.m., during the most intensely cold weather in Chicago in three decades. One can fairly wonder how many virulent, racist homophobes would be out wandering Chicago looking for a victim in that weather, and how many in that demographic watch Empire and would recognize him. Smollett claimed that the assailants punched him, kicked him, poured bleach on him, and put a rope around his neck, but he never lost his cell phone and never lost his sandwich. According to surveillance videos, all of this had to occur in a 60-second window. As our Kyle Smith noted, Smollett’s story changed several times as he retold the story. He waited 40 minutes before calling the police.

Then there’s this fascinating detail of the investigation from the site CWB Chicago:

Smollett this week turned over “heavily redacted” phone records from the night of the alleged attack. [Chicago Police Department chief spokesperson Anthony] Guglielmi said the submitted documents did not meet the burden of a criminal investigation. Investigators already received Smollett’s complete phone records via a subpoena served on his service provider, according to a source quoted by CWBChicago on Feb. 4.

A source familiar with the records provided by the Empire star states that Smollett downloaded his phone activity into a spreadsheet and then deleted certain phone calls before handing over the records. “He did the [detectives’] job for them because then they only had to focus on the numbers he deleted.”

Ladies and gentlemen, don’t lie to cops.

Stephen Miller — the Twitter user, not the White House official — offers a long list of celebrities, Democratic presidential candidates, columnists, and activists who not only believed Smollett, but who insisted that his version of events revealed some sort of widespread malevolence in American life, directly tied to the administration and the Republican party.

There’s nothing wrong with being sympathetic to someone who comes to a hospital with a facial injury and describes being attacked; in fact, we ought to have compassion and sympathy for victims of assault. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to believe the account of an actor that you like. Not every claim of a hate crime is a hoax (although the number that are would surprise a lot of people). But once you step beyond compassion for victims and start citing an event as an indictment of large groups of people, you had better make sure your understanding of that event is accurate.

Highly touted free agent Cameron Gray collected politicians’ statements and columns about Smollett and his account, and my favorite was a column that declared that while “credible media outlets are professionally bound to use words like ‘allegedly’ when describing crimes, but those tentative references to ‘possible hate crimes’ are far more frequent, far more insidious, and deeply dangerous.”

This is so spectacularly wrong, it’s almost a work of art. Media organizations have rulebooks about these sorts of things called “stylebooks,” laying out how terms like “allegedly” and “accused” should be used. They aim for choosing the right word for both clarity to the reader and in part to protect themselves from libel suits. If a publication writes “John Smith punched Jane,” and John Smith did not punch Jane, then John Smith may sue the publication, and he has a better chance of winning. If the publication writes, “witnesses claimed John Smith punched Jane,” that little wiggle room gives the publication better odds at a trial.

One of the things they’re supposed to drill into your head in Journalism 101 is differentiating between what you know and what you think. What you know belongs on the news page, what you think belongs on the op-ed page.

We know that Smollett described being the victim of a hate crime. We know that he transported himself to Chicago’s Northwestern Hospital, where he was treated and discharged the next morning. We know that the Chicago Police Department publicly declared that they were treating the incident as “a possible hate crime.” But we don’t know that the hate crime occurred, and even if we can definitively establish that an assault occurred, it is a separate step to determine if it was driven by “hate” or by some other motive (theft, a personal dispute, etc.).

The news is not always going to be the version of events that you wished it was. If you can’t handle that, you don’t belong in journalism.

Here Comes the National-Emergency Declaration

If you believe in the separation of powers as required by the Constitution, are you politically homeless right now?

I hear Trump administration defenders citing Obama’s “I have a pen and a phone” approach. What some people seem to forget is that in a lot of ways, Obama’s “I have a pen and a phone” approach didn’t work. After the 2014 midterms, Obama announced an expansion of DACA called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans; various state attorney generals sued and a federal district court issued an injunction preventing the program from being enacted while the courts determined if it was within the president’s authority. The injunction was fought all the way up to the Supreme Court . . . where a 4-4 split kept it in place.

The odds are pretty good you’ll see a similar outcome here. And if the court doesn’t block it, it becomes a horrible precedent allowing some future Democratic president to start making sweeping changes in policy without the consent of Congress.

The NR editors, back on January 20:

It’s a terrible idea. Even if it’s legal — which is unclear, at best — it would represent another unwelcome step in America’s long march toward unilateral government by the executive. The problem isn’t declaring an emergency. There is ample authority to do that and we live under a couple of dozen little-noticed declarations of emergency that have accumulated over the decades. The issue is redirecting military funds to the border fence. That would require a strained interpretation that treats the border fence as a military matter, among other legal gymnastics.

It’s an offense against the spirit of our system for a president to fail to get he wants from Congress — in a dispute involving a core congressional power, spending — and then turn around and exploit a tenuous reading of the law to try to get it anyway.

Plenty of Republican senators can grasp that this move is like playing with matches and gasoline near the Constitution. Senator John Cornyn, speaking to CNN, Feb 4: “The whole idea that presidents — whether it’s President Trump, President Warren or President Sanders — can declare an emergency and somehow usurp the separation of powers and get into the business of appropriating money for specific projects without Congress being involved, is a serious constitutional question.”

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt told Politico: “While I’m in favor of what this president wants to do [on the border wall], I think it sets a dangerous precedent and I hope he doesn’t do it.”

Senator Marco Rubio: “We have a crisis at our southern border, but no crisis justifies violating the Constitution:  Today’s national emergency is border security. But a future president may use this exact same tactic to impose the Green New Deal. I will wait to see what statutory or constitutional power the President relies on to justify such a declaration before making any definitive statement. But I am skeptical it will be something I can support.”

Rand Paul: “I, too, want stronger border security, including a wall in some areas. But how we do things matters. Over 1,000 pages dropped in the middle of the night and extraconstitutional executive actions are wrong, no matter which party does them.”

To be fair, there were a few Republican senators who didn’t see a Constitutional problem. Senator Mike Braun said, “This legislation did not sufficiently address the humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border and left President Trump with no other option than to declare a national emergency, which I support.”

Senator Kevin Cramer concurred: “From day one, President Trump has made it clear he’s ready to address the crisis at the southern border, whether or not Congress works with him. While Democratic leadership has refused to tackle this issue, I stand with President Trump in favor of funding border security as we head into budget talks for the upcoming fiscal year.

Beto O’Rourke: Mr. Trump, Tear Down This Wall

It appears that if Beto O’Rourke runs for president, he will run on a platform of removing existing border barriers. Asked by Chris Hayes, “If you could, would you take the wall down now here? Knock it down?” O’Rourke responded, “Yes, absolutely.” O’Rourke contends the existence of the wall pushes “migrants and asylum seekers and refugees” to “inhospitable” places that kill them and denies them the right to “legally petition for asylum, to cross in urban centers like El Paso.”

El Paso has four legal border crossing points, three of which operate 24 hours a day.

The New York Times, June 27, 2018: “President Trump has falsely claimed at least two dozen times since taking office that Democrats want to open American borders.”

What was I just saying about differentiating between what you know and what you think?

ADDENDA: I will be at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, speaking on a panel entitled “Conservative Podcasting 101” at 10 a.m. at the Gaylord Convention Center. Hope to see you there.

Wrapping up the week, I did a mild redesign of the work-focused Facebook page.

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