Economy & Business

Congressional Republicans’ Tax Plan Isn’t Great For Trump Suburbanites

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Making the click-through worthwhile: How one aspect of the GOP tax plan could accidentally sock it to a group of Trump voters, a reviled figure prepares to return to American society, several NFL teams announce they’ll stand for the anthem going forward, and what 80s sitcoms can teach us about the American founding.

The Tax Hike Coming to Trump Voters in Blue States

Get ready for an epic fight on taxes in Congress that won’t necessarily break along partisan lines, but along state lines.

You’re going to hear a lot of scoffing from Republicans that the places where taxpayers use the state and local tax deduction the most are deep blue places like New York and Westchester counties in New York State and Marin and San Francisco counties in California. Some on the right will ask why they should care about hitting the wealthiest, and often most liberal, places in the country with a giant tax increase. They’ll argue, with some justification, that this amounts to a federal subsidy for high-taxing states, and shields big-spending state and local governments from the full consequences of their appetite for tax increases.

But fans of this move are probably going to want to avoid confronting the fact that it would also hit the suburbs that supported Trump in those blue states hard, too. It’s not just Nancy Pelosi and the folks on Billionaire’s Row in San Francisco who deduct their state and local taxes.

The Tax Foundation calculated which counties’ taxpayers deduct their state and local taxes the most by taking 2014 returns, adding up the total of all of the deductions for state and local taxes, and dividing by the number of returns filed. They created a really cool interactive map with the data. In a lot of ways, it looks like a familiar red/blue map of the presidential vote by county. East coast urban counties take a lot of state and local deductions, and rural parts of the country do not. This is because urban counties usually have high property and local taxes, and more rural red counties usually have lower taxes.

But just because Trump lost states like New York and New Jersey doesn’t mean he didn’t win any places in those states. The county that ranks ninth in the nation in deductions for state and local taxes is Morris County, New Jersey, with $11,440. Trump won that county, 49 percent to 45 percent. Not too far from there is Monmouth County, where Trump won, 52 percent to 43 percent. The average return there deducts $9,105.

Trump lost his home state of New York overall by a wide margin, but won several counties in the suburbs of New York City. He won Suffolk County on Long Island 51 percent to 46 percent; the average taxpayer there deducts $8,096. He won Putnam County, north of the city, 55 percent to 39 percent. The average Putman taxpayer deducts even more, $8,855. Trump narrowly won Frederick County, Maryland; residents there average $5,729.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans from these parts of the country hate this idea.

Congressman Peter King (R., N.Y.), who represents part of Long Island, says he is on board with the GOP’s philosophy of eliminating tax breaks and cutting rates, right up to the point where it thwacks his constituents and their ability to subtract $12,000 annual property-tax bills from their federal income.

“I am a Jack Kemp Republican,” he said in a recent interview. “I believe in supply-side economics. I’m all for that. But again, this has a unique hit on Long Island.”

In the weeks leading up to the White House’s announcement, Mr. King, New York Democrats and business groups had been urging Republican leaders in Congress to back off their proposal to repeal the deduction. Instead, the administration—in which the president and his two top economic advisers are high-income residents of blue states—chose repeal.

Yes, the overall tax rates are going to go down, but a lot of these taxpayers are going to see their level of taxable income go up by a couple thousand dollars, eating up a big chunk of whatever reduction the other cuts give them. Are Republicans sure they want one of the first major legislative accomplishments of the Trump era to be a giant tax hike on suburbanites in coastal states?

Look Who’s Back, at the Worst Possible Time

Ugh. The country is angry, divided, tense, full of suspicion and accusations about racism, police misconduct, lack of accountability, a legal system that is tied in knots by opaque thinking of jurors, and a sense that football players have insufficient respect for the challenging lives of those in law enforcement.

How could this possibly get any worse? Oh, that’s right, O.J. Simpson is getting out of prison.

CBS News has a new poll:

Looking back, most Americans today think that O.J. Simpson is guilty of the 1994 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. 71 percent think so, a slight increase from the 67 percent who thought so in October 1995, when the jury came back with a not guilty verdict.

A large majority of white Americans thought then, and still think today, that O.J. Simpson is guilty of the murders. There has been a shift in the perspective of black Americans however. While 69 percent of blacks said that O.J. Simpson was innocent in 1995, today black Americans are evenly divided.

CBS glides over one of the more fascinating aspects of the poll. When asked whether the 1995 trial was mostly decided on the merits of the case, or mostly decided by factors of race, 41 percent of whites and 39 percent of blacks think it was on the merits. But 37 percent of whites and 44 percent of blacks think it was decided by race. I interpret that as blacks being slightly more willing to say that the jurors let Simpson off the hook because of his race than whites are.

What Does an NFL Player Have to See in Order to Stand Again?

During last night’s Thursday Night Football game, all of the Green Bay Packers and all of the Chicago Bears stood and locked arms. Meanwhile, over in Pittsburgh:

After facing backlash about standing in the tunnel during the national anthem last Sunday, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey says the team will stand this Sunday.

“I promise you one thing, this week we will all be standing out there for the national anthem. Trust me,” Pouncey said Wednesday.

Pouncey says he expects the entire team to be on the field for the anthem.

“As far as I know it’s 100 percent participation,” Pouncey told reporters. “We love this country. It’s America. We know there are injustice in this world, but to me, personally, football is football and that’s what we need to approach it as.”

The Denver Broncos also announced they will stand for the anthem Sunday.

A question I’d like asked of NFL players who continue to choose to kneel for the national anthem: What would you need to see to make you decide to stand again?

If you’re taking a knee because you feel like America has fallen short of living up to the values it proclaims . . .  well, it’s only done that every day since July 4, 1776, and it will probably do that every day until the Second Coming. We’re a flawed nation because we’re full of human beings, and human beings are flawed. We will always have some lawmaker taking bribes, we will always have some cop somewhere abusing his power, some citizen committing a crime against another, someone demonizing another group of people. There is no heaven on this earth, and you cannot measure the quality of your country against heaven.

What Winston Churchill said about democracy feels like a good way of describing the country as a whole: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. . . . ” The United States of America is really flawed, but we’ll choose our flaws against other countries’ flaws any day of the week.

Those of us who stand aren’t saying that the country is perfect. The song doesn’t say that the country is perfect. Oddly, it ends on a question, almost a challenge: “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” In other words, is that flag still flying (yes) and is the country it flies over still the land of the free and the home of the brave? The answer, throughout our history has been, generally yes, although maybe not quite free enough, and perhaps not brave enough.

Everybody who stands for the anthem can probably point to some aspect of American life that really disappoints or angers them. Individuals and groups within this country can be materialistic, shallow, ignorant, lazy, spoiled, selfish, abusive . . .  but those flaws aren’t what define us as a whole. The vast majority of us stand because we love and honor our country despite its flaws.

Is that perspective too much to ask of an NFL player?

ADDENDA:  I know I promised a new edition of our pop culture podcast that hasn’t been posted yet; our production team is dealing with issues that cannot be postponed. The archives are still there, so you can put together your own “best of” show.

In yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch, Greg illustrated a point about the Declaration of Independence by citing an old episode of the NBC sitcom Family Ties. Today we have to see if we can make a point about judicial restraint by citing Night Court.

Culture

Long-Awaited Republican Tax Plan is Underwhelming

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Making the click-through worthwhile: Republicans leave out some consequential details about their plan to cut taxes; President Trump makes the right call on shipping aid to Puerto Rico; why Oprah 2020 isn’t so unthinkable despite the record of celebrity-politicians; and how Trump is, for better or worse, delivering exactly the kind of presidency he promised.

Hey, Did You Guys Forget Some Pieces of this Tax Plan?

My colleagues weigh in on the tax plan unveiled by Congressional Republicans and the White House, and they seem a little underwhelmed, at least until the GOP fills in some of the blanks.

Ramesh Ponnuru observes that there’s a piece missing that could have far-reaching effects: the total amount of the child tax credit — an amount of taxes the government “credits” you with paying just by claiming a child as a dependent.

The relevant parts of the plan 1) increase the standard deduction to $24,000 for married couples, 2) increase the child credit by an unspecified amount, 3) raise the lowest marginal tax rate from 10 to 12, and 4) eliminate the personal and dependent exemptions. How it nets out depends on a particular household’s configuration and the ultimate answer to 2. It’s a pretty big detail to leave out. It determines how much middle-class tax relief the plan offers, and whether the plan has a pro-family element. As I pointed out in recent testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, the child credit would have to increase at least $600 per child to offset the elimination of the dependent exemption.

I would have vastly preferred if the framework had said that the child credit will increase by at least $1,000. And I think Republicans would be having a better rollout today if it had. Republicans have plenty of time to fix this problem. Recognizing it and committing to solving it would be a good start.

Robert Verbruggen points out that for taxpayers without children, some of these changes will offset each other, making the total reduction in tax bills disappointingly minor.

Under current law, someone single and childless gets to knock $10,400 off their income before the bottom rate of 10 percent applies; under the GOP plan, they’d knock $12,000 off but see a rate of 12 percent. The low-income would still get a tax cut, but often a tiny one — at least until you factor in some vaguely worded changes to the child tax credit for parents, as well as “additional tax relief” that is not specified at all. Here’s what this change looks like for those who are single, childless, and making up to $19,725 — where the first bracket ends, after accounting for deductions and exemptions, under current law. It’s a pretty mild cut, especially toward the top of that range. If you make exactly $19,725, you save all of $5.50.

Don’t spend it all in one place!

Kevin Williamson:

The bottom half of income earners pay essentially no federal income tax, though they pay other federal taxes, including the payroll tax. Trump’s tax plan would add to the burden at the top and take even more people off the tax rolls at the bottom. Ronald Reagan used to boast of all the low-income Americans his policies took off the tax rolls entirely. I’m not sure that was all to the good. We have a large, active federal government that redistributes a lot of money. Everybody ought to pay a little something in federal income tax if we are going to have a federal income tax. Surely, nobody’s “fair share” is really $0.00. Everybody likes to sit by the fire, nobody wants to chop the wood.

Of course, the final changes could end up considerably different from this outline.

Trump Makes the Right Call, Waives the Jones Act for Puerto Rico Aid

Credit where it’s due: President Trump made the right call.

The White House has authorized a waiver to loosen shipping rules regarding Puerto Rico that island officials say would be a significant help for recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria.

“At @ricardorossello request, @POTUS has authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico. It will go into effect immediately,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted Thursday morning.

He joined the growing list of officials who argued that lifting the the Jones Act — a federal law designed to protect the financial interests of US shipbuilders by limiting shipping by foreign vessels — would help expedite supplies to the ravaged island. The act has had the unintended consequence of making it twice as expensive to ship things from the US mainland to Puerto Rico as it is to ship from any other foreign port in the world, according to Arizona Republican senator John McCain’s office.

Yesterday, Trump had said, “There are a lot of people who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted. And we have a lot of ships out there right now.” No doubt the arguments in favor of the Jones Act resonate with Trump’s protectionist instincts – i.e., ‘if aid is going to be shipped out of American ports, it should be done by American ships!’ But even if you think the benefit to American shipbuilders was worth the additional cost to consumers, this is an emergency, and the people of Puerto Rico need every ship available to be mobilized.

Oprah Winfrey, Needs, Wants, and 2020

There was a time when John Podhoretz’s suggestion that the Democratic party should nominate Oprah Winfrey for president in 2020 could be dismissed as a joke, click-bait, or a silly pipe dream.

But Al Franken is a senator, Donald Trump is president, Republicans are hoping Kid Rock runs for Senate in Michigan and Tennessee Republicans hoped Peyton Manning would run for Senate in their state. (Yesterday Manning denied any interest in being a politician; no word on whether he issued the denial in the sing-song-y tone of the Nationwide-Is-On-Your-Side jingle.)

Podhoretz:

If you think that Trump can be beaten by a two-term governor of a Midwestern state with really good ideas about health care, or by a senator who really attracts young people, think again. The idea that a relatively conventional elected official will differentiate herself from Trump by dint of her seriousness or that an unconventional elected official can out-populist Trump is crazy.

If you need to set a thief to catch a thief, you need a star — a grand, outsized, fearless star whom Trump can neither intimidate nor outshine —  to catch a star. We’re through the looking glass here. America is discarding old approaches in politics. Democrats will have to do the same to match the mood to the moment.

I would argue that outside of Ronald Reagan, who had transitioned to the realm of politics much earlier in his career, the record of celebrity officeholders is a generally depressing one, looking in particular at Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura.

(Fred Thompson is one of those unusual cases where he began in politics (minority counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee, special counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Intelligence Committee), then started acing in the late 80s, then was elected to the Senate in 1994. Sonny Bono was a good and kind man, but I don’t know if anyone would consider him a legislative giant.)

The skills of a movie or television star translate well to campaigning, but not necessarily to governing. No doubt Schwarzenegger meant well and wanted to deliver the best possible results for his state, and his efforts were . . .  er, Herculean? But the Democrat-controlled state legislature was intractable, voters rejected his referendums on reform proposals at the ballot box, and he ended his time as governor taking the centrist path of least resistance. By the time he left office in 2011, as the Great Recession was hitting California hard, his approval rating was just 23 percent.

Voters are demonstrating that they want exciting, charismatic faces that they know from non-political contexts. But I’m not sure that’s what they need. Pick your measurement of good governance at the state level: low unemployment, good environment for business, low crime, good schools. Wherever you find the results that please you the most, the odds are low that you’ll find a celebrity-like figure governing that state.

If our measuring stick is whether people feel like they’re governed well, Americans are most pleased with the governors who are anti-celebrities, largely unknown outside of their states. As of July 2017, the most popular governors in America are Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Matt Mead of Wyoming, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, and Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota. (Also note, the top ten most popular governors in America are all Republican.) The least popular right now is also one of the best known, and who has popped up in celebrity contexts like late-night talk and comedy shows, New Jersey’s Chris Christie.

This isn’t to say Podhoretz is wrong, and that Democrats wouldn’t maximize their likelihood of victory with a celebrity candidate to challenge a celebrity president. We need a lot of things that we don’t necessarily want: exercise, green vegetables, saving for a rainy day, to watch mindless television less and to read more . . . 

But how often do we choose what we need over what we want?

ADDENDA: Over on the home page, I write that no Republican should be particularly surprised that Trump is relishing public fights with professional athletes while his legislative agenda moves slowly. This is the presidency that he promised Republican primary voters, and this is the option they chose.

Politics & Policy

Moore Wins Alabama Senate Primary

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Making the click-through worthwhile: GOP Alabama Senate primary winner Roy Moore’s unlikely role as the resistance to DACA, who’s most likely to replace retiring Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, an observation about how our government spending disputes usually turn into cultural disputes, and how conservatives are awfully quiet about one case of wasteful government spending.

An Unlikely Figure to Represent Resistance to DACA

Judge Roy Moore is the man most likely to represent Alabama in the Senate, barring an enormous upset in the general election against Democrat Doug Jones, which will be held December 12.

Breitbart.com this morning, characterizing Moore’s win in the Alabama Senate Republican primary:

Roy Moore’s insurgent victory in Tuesday’s U.S. Senate Republican primary runoff in Alabama marks a definitive rejection by Donald Trump’s base of his shift toward working with Democrats on issues like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

This is a little ironic, because until mid-summer, Moore apparently had no idea what the DACA program was, judging from this interview with radio host Dale Jackson from July 11:

JACKSON: “Would you support an end to the Dreamer program that President Trump has still continued to push?

MOORE: “Pardon? The Dreamer program?”

JACKSON: “Yes sir. The DACA/DAPA. You’re not aware of what dreamers are?”

MOORE: “No.”

JACKSON: “Dreamers are — this is a big issue in the immigration debate. Dreamers are . . . ”

MOORE: “Why don’t you tell me what it is Dale, and quit beating around, and tell me what it is?”

JACKSON: “I’m in the process of doing that, Judge Moore.”

The controversial DACA program established in 2012 had somehow escaped his attention, but once he was up to speed, Moore concluded he opposed it. The man he defeated, Senator Luther Strange, did a good job of sounding like he opposed DACA for what it does (allowing those who entered the country illegally while children to stay) but if you look closely at his words, his primary objection to the program was President Obama implementing it through an executive order:

Since my tenure as Attorney General, I have been fighting, and winning, against Obama-era experiments with illegal amnesty. Today, the Trump administration rightly affirmed that Congress must lead the way in securing our borders and ending the crisis of illegal immigration.

We actually sued successfully to stop the Obama administration program to allow adults to stay here illegally (DAPA). I think this program is the same category — I think it’s unconstitutional.

The President makes the best point — Congress should address this issue. I’m in the camp, and maybe it’s a small camp, that [believes] we can do more than one thing at a time.

Extraordinary measures [were already taken] in the past administration to benefit noncitizens over citizens of our count country. The last thing we need is the help of foreign nations trying to tell us how to straighten our own immigration system.

Of course, nowhere in his statement does he say, “I believe those who entered the country illegally as children must not be allowed to stay.”

As the man most likely to be the next senator from Alabama, hopefully Moore will continue to study his briefing books and not just wing it when discussing topics he sort-of, kind-of remembers reading about once:

Jeff Stein: Some right-wing conservatives think Sharia law is a danger to America – do you?

Roy Moore: There are communities under Sharia law right now in our country. Up in Illinois. Christian communities; I don’t know if they may be Muslim communities. But Sharia law is a little different from American law. It is founded on religious concepts.

Stein: Which American communities are under Sharia law? When did they fall under Sharia law?

Moore: Well, there’s Sharia law, as I understand it, in Illinois, Indiana — up there. I don’t know.

Stein: That seems like an amazing claim for a Senate candidate to make.

Moore: Well, let me just put it this way — if they are, they are; if they’re not, they’re not.

No Corking It Up and Saving It For Later . . . 

Is it fair to wonder whether retiring Tennessee Senator Bob Corker finds it harder to get things done in Washington in the Trump era than he expected?

“After much thought, consideration and family discussion over the past year, Elizabeth and I have decided that I will leave the United States Senate when my term expires at the end of 2018,” Corker said in a statement.

“When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms,” said Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But I have always been drawn to the citizen legislator model, and while I realize it is not for everyone, I believe with the kind of service I provide, it is the right one for me.

In Tennessee, the big guessing game today is figuring out whether GOP Governor Bill Haslam wants to be a senator. If he doesn’t, and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn is interested, she would be the most-likely new frontrunner.

Her House office issued a statement: “Rep. Blackburn appreciates the outpouring of encouragement and support she has received about a possible Senate run. She ran for Congress to advance conservative values and fight for the people of Tennessee. Over the next week she will take a look at the Senate race and decide how, and where, she believes she can best serve her state and her nation.”

Andy Ogles, the head of Americans for Prosperity in Tennessee, already announced a Senate bid.

Americans, Competing With Each Other Instead of With Other Countries

There are a lot of times I disagree with David Frum, but he’s still a heck of a political diagnostician:

As societies become more diverse, political competition among groups intensifies. When you have diversity at a time of steep recession, the competition becomes even more intense still. I made this point in my 2012 book about Mitt Romney: In a multi-ethnic society that is rapidly becoming more multi-ethnic, economic redistribution is inevitably also ethnic redistribution.

The traditional parties of the left thought expected that their voters would look at the redistributionist project and say: “This is still the same thing as I remember from the 1950s, you’re transferring from the rich to the poor. I’m less rich, so I’m in favor.”

What they discovered instead was that a lot of voters who traditionally voted for the left, said: “You’re distributing from the existing inhabitants of the country to the newcomers. I identify not as ‘not rich’, I identify as ‘an existing inhabitant of the country.’”

I think this is a point I stressed to you when we talked previously about Obamacare. Of those who lacked health insurance before the Great Recession of 2008, 27 percent were foreign-born. When you take money out of the existing social insurance programs to fund a new one, the people who get angry are both those who feel that they are economic losers, and those who feel they are ethnic losers.

This is at the heart of a lot of our debates — the sense that the government doesn’t really want to serve everyone equally and that not only does it prioritize certain citizens’ concerns over others, the government doesn’t like even having to pretend to care about the concerns of certain groups.

ADDENDA: If Obama’s Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius had “taken taxpayer-funded flights on private jets in which [she] traveled to places where [she] owns property, and paired official visits with meetings with longtime colleagues and family members,” Congressional Republicans and conservatives in media would be screaming bloody murder about it, with good reason. If she had taken 26 flights on corporate jets at taxpayer expense, we would be raging with fury about it. It would be the lead story throughout Fox News Channel’s prime-time lineup.

But it’s Trump’s Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, who is doing all this, so we’re cool with it. We just want to our side to enjoy the perks of office, not be frugal with taxpayer’s money.

Politics & Policy

Stranger Things in Alabama

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Making the click-through worthwhile: Trying to figure out just what’s wrong with Senator Luther Strange, the Republicans prep for the fight on tax cuts, the legacy of German chancellor Angela Merkel takes a dark turn, and the underwhelming Star Trek: Discovery.

The Moore-Strange Race Cannot Get Any More. . . Strange

Happy primary day, Alabama Republicans. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

So what exactly is the argument against the incumbent, Senator Luther Strange? What has he done in office to make Alabama Republicans decide they need a change?

He’s voted in agreement with President Trump’s position about 92 percent of the time. He disagreed on imposing sanctions on Russia, a vote where only 2 senators voted “no.” He voted against the 2017 fiscal year appropriations bill, declaring, “Planned Parenthood and sanctuary cities will continue to receive federal funding, while our nation’s aging military arsenal will still have to keep tightening its belt.” (The Senate passed it anyway, 79 to 18.)

Perhaps the fairest gripe is Strange’s flip-flop on the filibuster. In April, Strange wrote a letter to McConnell and Chuck Schumer, urging they “preserve existing rules, practices and traditions as they pertain to the rights of Members to engage in extended debate on legislation before the United States Senate.”

Earlier this month — as the primary race was heating up — Strange changed his mind: ”I respectfully withdraw my signature from the aforementioned letter and instead make a declaration that it is necessary for Republican Senate Leadership to work to change the filibuster rule, as President Trump as requested, and give the American people’s Senators the opportunity to debate on any legislation that can receive a simple majority vote.”

I occasionally hear, “Strange is McConnell’s guy!” But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that McConnell has a closer relationship with the senator he’s worked with for the past six months than Roy Moore. And of course McConnell is going to support keeping the incumbent in office; that’s how a majority leader ensures he still has a majority! Incumbent Republicans support other incumbent Republicans; complaining about that is like complaining about the rain.

During their moderator-free debate, Moore suggested that McConnell is somehow manipulating the president to abandon his agenda:

“The problem is President Trump’s being cut off in his office,” Moore said. “He’s being redirected by people like McConnell who do not support his agenda, who will not support his agenda in the future. I think we need to go back and look at these things. And look at what’s going on. This is the most unbelievable race I have ever been in.”

(Have you noticed how little Trump is held accountable for his own decisions? It’s always some bad outside influence that somehow Jedi mind-tricked Trump into making a decision against his own interest and agenda: McConnell, Paul Ryan, Jared Kushner, Ivanka . . .  Where does the buck stop, again?)

Is it just that Roy Moore has a better flair for the dramatic?

Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore drew a handgun from his pocket during a campaign rally on Monday as he made a final push to sway voters ahead of the state’s Republican runoff for U.S. Senate on Tuesday.

Moore — who’s vying for the Republican Senate nomination against the incumbent, Sen. Luther Strange — pulled the gun out in an effort to convince voters that he believes in the Second Amendment, or the right to bear arms.

“It’s been very hard for my wife and myself to wither two, nearly three months of negative ads that we couldn’t answer with money because we didn’t have it. Ads that were completely false. That I don’t believe in the Second Amendment,” Moore, a former chief justice, moments before he pulled out the handgun.

The good news is, his finger is not on the trigger. Remember, everyone:

‐ Always treat all guns as if they are loaded.

‐ Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to kill.

‐ Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target (and you are prepared to shoot).

‐ Be sure of your target and what is beyond it or behind it.

If Alabama Republicans genuinely believe that Moore is “conservative” and Strange isn’t, it confirms the notion that “conservative” no longer measures ideology, policy positions, philosophy or ideas. It’s all about attitude and style now.

Would a Roy Moore victory mean trouble for other Senate incumbents? Maybe, but these circumstances may not be easily replicated: Roy Moore is much better known than a lot of Senate primary challengers, and the runoff law helps him a lot.

“There are those who think that the potential success of Moore’s candidacy could be a jumping off point for insurgent challengers to sitting GOP senators in 2018,” said Geoffrey Skelley, associated editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which is produced at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“However, each race will have its own idiosyncrasies and different candidates with certain strengths and weaknesses,” said Skelley. “A Moore win will galvanize insurgent forces in the GOP, but it wouldn’t necessarily guarantee the start of something bigger.”

He noted that 2018 races in Nevada and Arizona will likely feature insurgent candidates facing incumbents who have been critical of Trump. Neither of those states, however, have primary runoffs and only a plurality is needed to win.

“Funny enough, additional candidates in states like Arizona and Nevada might help the GOP incumbents by fragmenting the anti-incumbent vote,” he said.

Ask Lindsey Graham. Every Senate incumbent prefers three to six primary rivals instead of just one.

Enough Repeal-and-Replace Disappointment. On to Tax Cuts!

Who’s ready for a big argument about tax cuts?

This week’s planned release of a unified GOP blueprint from the Senate, the House and the Trump administration marks the beginning of a race to a tax overhaul that will likely take months to complete. The plan will call for driving down the corporate tax rate into the low 20% range, from 35%, according to a person familiar with the discussions. It will also likely include a doubling of the standard deduction that would benefit many individual filers, lower individual rates, fewer tax brackets and sharply reduced rates for “pass-through” business owners who pay tax on business income through their individual returns.

The tax rates laid out in the plan will present achievable guideposts that could shift as tax bills move through the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee, the person said.

Republicans also have said they want to eliminate the estate tax, repeal the alternative minimum tax, expand write-offs for business investments and reduce taxes on U.S. corporate foreign profits.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, if you add up the sum of all the taxes Republicans want to cut, you get $5 trillion over a decade, but Republicans budgeted for $1.5 trillion over a decade in their latest budget resolution, aiming to keep the annual deficits manageable. You may see these tax cuts phased in over time, instead of going into effect immediately.

Merkel’s Legacy in Germany Gets Murkier and Messier

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen no doubt has deep admiration for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But his “she will be remembered as one of the great German leaders” conclusion is discordant with the opening paragraphs:

The enduring image of an election that saw Merkel win a fourth term as chancellor will not be her drawn face during the televised post-vote debate. It will be an exultant Alexander Gauland, a leading politician of the extremist Alternative for Germany (or AfD) party, vowing to “take back our country and our Volk!”

 . . . The arrival in Parliament, for the first time in decades, of about 94 members of a party that flirts with neo-Nazism, expresses pride in the Wehrmacht soldiers of World War II, and hails once more the German Volk constitutes a shattering of the accepted political contours of the Republic. There will be a before and an after.

Germany will be angrier and more turbulent. Taboos have fallen. The forces taking down mainstream parties in Western democracies are well known by now. They are fear of the future, of immigrants, of Islam and of terrorism; and anger at impunity, inequality and the arrogance of a globalized elite. Germany was not immune to them.

This reminds me of the insistence by some commentators on the Left that Obama was a remarkably successful, healing, inspiring, ground-breaking, near-ideal president . . .  whose country inexplicably turned ignorant, angry, racist and extremist on his watch.

ADDENDA: CBS is attempting to launch a new streaming service with the show Star Trek: Discovery. The pilot aired Sunday, the first time a Star Trek program appeared on a major television network since 1969. (Sorry, Voyager, I said a major television network and the short-lived UPN doesn’t count.) The rest of the episodes only available with a subscription to the new streaming service. Creating a good television series pilot is hard enough; this one faced a supreme degree of difficulty: offer a first hour so thrilling and intriguing that people would pay extra to see the second hour that resolves the cliffhanger.

I didn’t subscribe; that first hour was awful.

The protagonist felt like a grab-bag of tropes and clichés: traumatic memories of murdered parents, raised by Vulcans, trying to live up to the high expectations of a stern mentor/father figure, impulsive, but fighting the impulse for revenge against the Klingons. The Science Officer might as well have been named “Kvetching Worrywart” and was insufferable. The captain and first officer kept stepping off the bridge to have confrontations or heart-to-hearts. (This could have been played for laughs if the rest of the crew heard them yelling through the wall. Fox’s Star Trek parody show, The Orville, would have done something like that.) One of the revelations of the first hour is that the Vulcans figured out how to reach peace with the Klingons by relentlessly preemptively attacking them until the Klingons were willing to negotiate, which is . . .  either really bold storytelling, or just ignoring everything else Star Trek has shown about Vulcans since the beginning.

Is it possible we were wrong about Kathryn Jean Lopez’s “Star Trek ban” in the Corner all along?

Culture

Our Sports-Talk-Radio-Caller President

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According to the Washington Post’s database, there have been 721 fatal police shootings in the United States so far in 2017. Out of these shootings, nine were unarmed black males. Only 32 total were unarmed.

The phenomenon of police fatally shooting an unarmed black man can simultaneously be fairly rare and a deeply troubling problem deserving of further effort to eliminate.

We know from video of the fatal shootings of Walter Scott in South Carolina and Philando Castile in Minnesota that there are cases of police officers fatally shooting unarmed black men for no justifiable reason. We also know this is not strictly a phenomenon of white cops shooting black citizens; think of the fatal police shooting of the unarmed Australian woman in Minneapolis. The rise of ubiquitous cellular phone cameras means the public now sees a lot of police work that once had no reliable witnesses; think of the Utah cop who arrested a nurse for no good legal reason.

Americans would be better off tackling this problem with empathy. For the average law-abiding young black man, getting pulled over on a traffic stop can be terrifying, gripped by the fear that one can do everything right and still get killed over a misunderstanding. Similarly, citizens should pause and recognize that every time a police officer puts on his badge and goes out to perform his duties, he wonders if this day will be his last, and whether he will be ambushed by some nut with a grudge against cops.

Of course, instead of understanding, the country got former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick wearing cops-are-pigs socks and denouncing police brutality while wearing a t-shirt bearing the image of Fidel Castro.

Still, Kaepernick being incendiary and uninformed about his heroes doesn’t actually change the facts on the ground about police shootings in the United States. The appalling brutality of the Castro regime doesn’t compare to criticisms of law enforcement in the United States. 

NFL players protesting police misconduct and those supporting them would do well to better define what outcome they want to see. A country where every cop wears a body camera? Federal civil rights prosecutions, as seen in South Carolina? More police training? Because police officers are human beings and human beings make mistakes, we will probably never have a country or a world where there are no fatal police shootings of unarmed individuals. We can try to minimize them. The intermittent coverage of this issue, and focus on particularly dramatic cases, can easily create the impression that this is a constant and worsening problem. But the number of fatal shootings of unarmed individuals nationwide in the first six months of 2017 was actually almost half the total in 2015.

How do we know when we’re making progress in this problem? When is it fixed?

Ironically, Kaepernick himself suggested he saw improvement. Back in August 2016, he declared, “When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.” He sat or kneeled for the anthem throughout the 2016 season, became a free agent, and then in March he suddenly announced he would stand again: “Kaepernick no longer wants his method of protest to detract from the positive change he believes has been created, sources told ESPN. He also said the amount of national discussion on social inequality — as well as support from other athletes nationwide, including NFL and NBA players — affirmed the message he was trying to deliver.”

But we don’t know if Kaepernick is standing when he hears the national anthem these days, because no team signed him. Some argued this amounted to a “blacklist” by the team owners; others point out that Kaepernick’s play has gradually plateaued or declined and he’s probably on the down slope of his career. After Kaepernick went unclaimed in free agency for a few weeks, Trump took credit: “Your San Francisco quarterback, I’m sure nobody ever heard of him . . .  It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump! Do you believe that? I just saw that.”

Saturday, at a rally supporting Luther Strange in Alabama, President Trump decided to reignite the issue, and essentially argued that players who kneel for the national anthem should be fired: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, get that son of a b—h off the field right now. He is fired.”

Once again, we see people’s perspective on whether one’s personal views should cost them their job depend almost entirely upon whether one agrees with their views. If you’re on the left, you think that a baker ought to be fired if he refuses to bake a wedding cake for gays, that Kentucky clerk Kim Davis should have been removed from office, that the Google guy deserved to be fired, and that no NFL player should be fired for taking a knee. Many conservatives feel the precise opposite in each case. Many Americans believe in First Amendment protections in the workplace for viewpoints they agree with and no protections for viewpoints they oppose.

It’s one thing for you or me to say, “they ought to fire that guy.”  It’s another thing for the President of the United States, with enormous power and influence over laws, regulations, federal policy, and government personnel decisions to do so. The National Football League will interact with the federal government plenty of times in the Trump era: antitrust exemptions, military plane fly-overs, security for the Super Bowl and other big events, tax laws. Every time the federal government balks at a league request, some will wonder, is this based of the merits of the arguments, or is this because of Trump’s fight with the players over the national anthem? This is one of the reasons presidents don’t usually weigh in on topics like this. The head of state is not supposed to issue verdicts on every controversy that comes down the pike.

But a lot of Americans want their president to be a culture warrior. Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee more or less declared they wanted to be president to change the culture, and it wasn’t Trump’s detailed policy knowledge that won him the nomination or the presidency. In Trump, America has a president who watches television, gets irked at what he sees and Tweets about it – and a lot of Americans don’t just agree; they conclude “he fights!” because of it.

It’s unsurprising that Trump jumped with two feet into the anthem controversy as the Senate Republicans find themselves unable to find 50 votes to repeal and replace Obamacare (again), there’s no easy solution to the threats from North Korea, Luther Strange could very well lose his Senate primary Tuesday, the wall isn’t built, and the outlook for major tax reform is cloudy at best.

The Trump White House may not get a lot of laws passed, but by golly, he sure can irk ESPN commentators, and for some voters, that’s good enough.

Former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan, who endorsed Trump for president in 2016, is now appalled with the president.

“I’m p***ed off, I’ll be honest with you,” Ryan said Sunday on ESPN. “I supported Donald Trump, I sat back when he asked me to introduce him at a rally in Buffalo, I did that. But I’m reading these comments, and it’s appalling to me. And I’m sure it’s appalling to almost any citizen in our country. And it should be. Calling our players SOBs, and that kind of stuff, that’s not the men that I know. The men that I know in the locker room I’m proud of, I’m proud to be associated with those people.

Let’s face it, this is not the first time Rex Ryan selected a particular person for a high-stakes job and found himself deeply disappointed with the results.

Meanwhile, in Alabama . . . 

Speaking of that Alabama Senate primary, our Alexandria DeSanctis covers the odd twists and turns:

As Election Day approaches, Strange’s polling numbers aren’t sufficient to comfort his fans. The two most recent major surveys have put Moore up by eight points and 14 points. And in August, Moore ended up outperforming his polling numbers once ballots were counted.

In the event that Strange loses on Tuesday, it certainly won’t be because Washington’s GOP didn’t put enough resources into supporting him. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC with close ties to McConnell, pledged $10 million to support the incumbent leading up to August 15 and into the runoff campaign. And earlier this summer the McConnell-controlled National Republican Senatorial Committee warned GOP strategists not to assist Strange’s primary opponents.

The Free Speech Week That Wasn’t

Lisa de Pasquale, author of The Social Justice Warrior’s Handbook*, offers her take on the cancellation of Free Speech Week events at UC-Berkeley, and offers her speech on feminism that she never got to deliver.

No doubt the university was no help to the organizers, but at times they didn’t seem all that . . .  organized:

Charles Murray, a libertarian conservative political scientist, posted a tweet Friday saying that he has “never heard of this event.”

“I was never contacted by the organizers of this event,” Murray said in an email. “The inclusion of my name in the list of speakers was done without my knowledge or permission. I will add that I would never under any circumstances appear at an event that included Milo Yiannopoulos.”

Pranav Jandhyala, news editor for the Berkeley Patriot, said that the publication was recently made aware of this issue and is in the process of dealing with it.

According to Jandhyala, Yiannopoulos was the primary person organizing the invitations for speakers, so the Berkeley Patriot “had not been in contact with most of the individual speakers.”

“The Berkeley Patriot was under the impression that those speakers were confirmed and it’s seeming like some speakers didn’t know that they were invited,” Jandhyala said. “That’s a big issue and we’re going to try to figure this out with Milo and his team.”

* Lisa’s book is a very funny parody, but it’s so on-the-nose that I suspect some conservatives will denounce her, not recognizing it’s a parody.

ADDENDA: And how was your weekend? Forgive my gloating, I’m not going to get too many chances to do that this year . . . 

Politics & Policy

Same Ol’ Plame

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Making the click-through worthwhile: The mask slips from Valerie Plame, the media continues to treat unhinged political voices quite seriously, a cynical prediction on the health care debate, and a long-lost pop culture podcast returns!

Don’t Lay the Plame on Me.

If Valerie Plame always had a certain interest in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, it would explain a few things, wouldn’t it?

Thursday’s controversy began with former CIA employee Plame tweeting out a link to an article headlined, “America’s Jews Are Driving America’s Wars.” The article’s sub-headline asked, “Shouldn’t they recuse themselves when dealing with the Middle East?” (Got that? If you are a particular religion, you should not deal with Middle East policy at all, because your religion will automatically skew your judgment. Good thing Christianity and Islam don’t have any ties to the Middle East, right? I guess the author would prefer that U.S. foreign policy in the region was managed by Scientologists.)

The article — which I won’t link to, go find it yourself — was pretty explicit in the insistence that Jews couldn’t be trusted to work on American foreign policy:

Any American should be free to exercise first amendment [sic] rights to debate possible options regarding policy, up to and including embracing positions that damage the United States and benefit a foreign nation. But if he or she is in a position to actually create those policies, he or she should butt out and leave the policy generation to those who have no personal baggage.

For those American Jews who lack any shred of integrity, the media should be required to label them at the bottom of the television screen whenever they pop up, e.g. Bill Kristol is “Jewish and an outspoken supporter of the state of Israel.” That would be kind-of-like a warning label on a bottle of rat poison — translating roughly as “ingest even the tiniest little dosage of the nonsense spewed by Bill Kristol at your own peril.”

Public identification of Jews? Would he prefer a gold star sewn onto the clothes or maybe a tattoo?

(Separately . . .  this guy is worried about Bill Kristol setting the foreign policy in Trump administration? Has he completely missed everything that’s happened in American politics since 2014 or so?)

In the face of objections, Plame doubled down, declaring the article, “very provocative, but thoughtful. Many neocon hawks ARE Jewish . . .  Read the entire article and try, just for a moment, to put aside your biases and think clearly.” That’s right, we’re the ones who are biased (in favor of treating everyone equally and fairly, regardless of religious belief!) and not thinking clearly.

At some point between 11:50 a.m. and 1 p.m., someone must have reached out to Plame and explained just how virulently anti-Semitic she sounded, just how reprehensible the article’s arguments were, and just how politically radioactive she was becoming. She followed up with, “OK folks, look, I messed up. I skimmed this piece, zeroed in on the neocon criticism, and shared it without seeing and considering the rest.” (This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, considering how an hour earlier, she was telling everyone else to “read the entire article.”)

Looking through Plame’s Twitter feed, we see this is not a one-off. She repeated an urban legend about dancing Israelis sighted after 9/11 and an article touting “Israeli fingerprints all over the place” in the investigation of the worst terror attack in American history. She shared an article entitled “Why I Still Dislike Israel” that laments the “Israel Lobby electing and controlling a malleable congress [sic] and increasingly even officials at state and local levels.” She commented Natalie Portman was a fine choice to play a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg because “they are both Jewish.” (By itself that’s harmless comment, but in the context of the other ones, Plame seems particularly focused on knowing who’s Jewish and who isn’t.)

The heavily-fictionalized movie version of Plame’s autobiography, Fair Game, featured her and her husband Joe Wilson (played by Sean Penn) on the run from . . .  a shadowy conspiracy of powerful people who secretly control the government. All of a sudden, those Hollywood thriller clichés have an uncomfortable new context.

If Plame has always had a sympathy or curiosity about anti-Semitic conspiracy theories . . .  well, a couple of things start to fall into place, don’t they? The animosity towards the Bush administration, the focus on “neocons” . . .  the possibility that her work at the Agency was less-than-stellar? If she genuinely missed any anti-Semitic themes in the articles she shared, I guess we should be glad she wasn’t an analyst. Sheesh.

Putting America’s Craziest Voices in the Spotlight

Today on the home page, I have a piece attempting to sum up one of the most important lessons in the first eight months of the Trump presidency: Almost all of the people who are opposed to Trump want to use the same methods, tactics and tone that didn’t work as well as they hoped in 2016.

I had debated doing an entire piece on this aspect:

American society has never lacked outrageous controversy-courting personalities who probably need several hours (or years) on a therapist’s couch instead of being taken seriously. But in the Trump era so far, our public debate is more focused, not less, upon these types, and we keep rewarding these gadflies with fame and a high-profile platform. Harvard offered and then rescinded a fellowship to Chelsea Manning, convicted of six counts of espionage. Perhaps Harvard was expecting a scintillating lecture that called for abolishing the CIA and the presidency, or they Manning would once again compare U.S. immigration enforcement to the Gestapo. Vogue gave Manning a glossy profile, complete with glamorous photos by Annie Liebovitz.

Upon arrival at NBC News, Megyn Kelly profiled Alex Jones, who worries that chemicals are turning frogs gay and who has asked whether the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax. (She described him as a “conservative radio host.”) The Huffington Post still reports the utterances of Kathy Griffin, who thought that it was a good idea to pose, ISIS-style, with a fake severed head, dripping fake blood and made to look like President Trump’s.

Members of the media are finally growing reluctant to re-tweet the increasingly outrageous claims of Louis Mensch; all it took for serious skepticism to kick in was her claim that Russian president Vladimir Putin had Andrew Breitbart killed, that both Steven Bannon and President Trump were facing the death penalty for espionage, and that Utah senator Orrin Hatch was preparing to assume the presidency.

(Cue the jokes: Nobody who roots for the Jets or who thought they could follow the plot of Twin Peaks should criticize anyone else’s sanity.)

We all know people who are odd, eccentric, or march to the beat of their own drummer, but these cases feel like they take several steps beyond that point of amiable idiosyncrasies.

 And no, it’s not merely the Left that has self-appointed advocates who seem to have a shaky grasp of reality.  There are many critics of the president who doubt his sanity, or would point to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s belief that the Charlottesville riot was a left-wing “setup for these dumb Civil War re-enactors,” or those who believed Hillary Clinton and the highest levels of the Democratic party were running a child abuse and trafficking ring out of a pizzeria.

But I feel like a growing portion of our media conversation is, “oh my goodness, you won’t believe what this person known for making controversial statements has just said!” Er, yes I will! This is what these people do!

A Cynical Prediction:

The U.S. Senate will attempt to pass the Graham-Cassidy health care reform bill, and again come close but no cigar. At least three of the following senators will vote “no”: Rand Paul, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, or John McCain.

In this scenario, everyone gets close to what they want, except the American people who want to get rid of Obamacare. About 48 to 49 Senate Republicans will be able to say they voted multiple times to repeal and replace. House speaker Paul Ryan will point to the House’s passage of the American Health Care Act, and that he was ready to pass Graham-Cassidy if it passed the Senate.

John McCain will get cheered by the media for being a maverick — “The Republican who ran against Barack Obama in 2008 turned out to be the man who saved his signature accomplishment” — and Collins and Murkowski will insist they’re just being sensible moderates who want to protect the most vulnerable in their state.

Rand Paul will continue to insist that he supports repeal and replace, just not this repeal and replace, and lots of Kentucky residents will keep their benefits from Medicaid expansion. Republicans will insist you need to reelect them to get rid of Obamacare and fix the health care system, and they won’t be responsible for the condition of the health care system in November 2018.

Oh, and Jimmy Kimmel will get lauded by progressives as the hero who stopped those mean, nasty Republicans.

ADDENDA: After a long absence because of schedule coordination issues, the pop culture podcast returns with a new episode later today! Mickey shares her adventures in dispensaries in Colorado; I let out a final frustrated yowl about what the Twin Peaks reboot became; we salute American Horror Story for an unpredictable perspective on Trump-era anxiety; we take some comfort in the fact that NBA superstar Kevin Durant is as bothered by social media criticism as the rest of us; and Rolling Stone looks for a buyer. Now available on iTunes!

Education

Fifth-Grade Teacher Fuels the War on Grammar with List of “Preferred Pronouns”

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Making the click-through worthwhile: A math teacher in Florida demands the rules of grammar change in her classroom; how the prominent role of Jimmy Kimmel in our current health care reform debate illustrates how Americans don’t want to think too hard about the problem; and Lawrence O’Donnell explodes – metaphorically, not literally.

Forget the War on Christmas, We’re Losing the War on Grammar

Oh, here we go again.

A new fifth grade teacher at Canopy Oaks Elementary is asking students to use gender-neutral pronouns in the classroom.

Math and science teacher Chloe Bressack sent the request home in a letter to parents headlined “About Mx. Bressack.”

“ . . . my pronouns are ‘they, them, their’ instead of ‘he, his, she, hers.’ I know it takes some practice for it to feel natural,” the letter reads, “but students catch on pretty quickly.”

The letter also asks that students use “Mx.,” (pronounced ‘Mix’) when addressing the teacher rather than Mr. or Ms.

The note alarmed some parents.

I suppose we should be relieved that this teacher instructs students in math and science, and not English. Then again, we have a math teacher with some confusion on distinguishing between one and more than one.

As with the argument about whether it’s wrong to refer to Caitlyn Jenner as “he,” we have a blurring of the line between manners and propriety – the generally good rule that you should call someone by the name they prefer – and preexisting socially-established rules for identification.

If my child’s teacher wants to be called “Mix Surname,” that’s unusual, but fine. Be respectful, kids. But the words “they, them, and their” already have particular meanings in the English language, and they are used when referring to a group, more than one. This teacher is one person, and thus “they,” “them,” and “their” are not the appropriate pronouns.

Using a plural pronoun when referring to a singular noun is grammatically incorrect, as editors remind me on a frustratingly regular basis. You can’t just decide that in one classroom, the grammatical rules are one way, and in another classroom, they’re different. Grammar isn’t sexist, patriarchal, hetero-normative, racist, or somehow otherwise sinister; it’s just grammar.

You do have a right to ask others to call you by the name you prefer. You don’t have the right to demand schoolchildren use incorrect grammar just because you feel like it.  The rules of grammar are not set by personal preferences.

The school district seems to just want everyone to calm down and go about their business:

Superintendent Rocky Hanna addressed the situation in a statement sent to the Democrat. He said he met with Canopy Oaks administrators after learning about the letter.

“According to Principal Lambert, the teacher addresses students daily by using the pronouns he, she, him and her. The teacher also uses ma’am and sir when responding to students. As a personal preference, however, the teacher simply prefers to be referred to in gender neutral terms as that of a coach,” Hanna wrote.

Fun question: Would the English teacher down the hall mark a paper incorrect for referring to Bressack as “they” in a sentence? Or would the school district insist that it is correct to refer to Bressack as “they” but not to refer to other teachers as “they”?

Do Not Let Late-Night Comedians Write Your Health Care Policy

You would like to think that at some point, the country would realize that the skills required for successful policymaking and governing are different than the ones needed to be a celebrity. Instead, we’ve got Donald Trump and Jimmy Kimmel leading the argument about what our nation’s health care policies ought to be.

Our Theodore Kupfer:

Is Jimmy Kimmel worth listening to beyond monologues or celebrity chats? He can make people laugh, sure, and coax conversation out of the most vapid stars. But on health care? “Health care is complicated, it’s boring. I don’t want to talk about it. The details are confusing,” the comedian allowed last night on Jimmy Kimmel Live! But not, apparently, confusing enough to lower Kimmel’s self-confidence. Graham-Cassidy would “kick about 30 million Americans off insurance” and is “actually worse than” the skinny repeal the Senate rejected in July, Kimmel said. He even added the humble parenthetical, “This is not my area of expertise.” That, at least, is truth on display: Anyone who figured being a comedian and talk-show host was a natural fit with policy expertise has been duly warned.

Comedians have become public intellectuals in the popular imagination, so maybe some charity is in order. We should be open to the possibility that Kimmel has deep and hidden reservoirs of knowledge on risk-adjustment programs, the Medicaid expansion, or per capita caps. After all, Kimmel has, in the words of CNN, become the “conscience of the health care fight.” It’s not hard to see why: Kimmel has a moving family story to tell, a huge audience, and an unmistakable gift for the big screen. His infant son Billy has a heart condition that required surgery soon after birth and, like any father, Kimmel takes his son’s well-being seriously.

What Kimmel does is what a lot of voters do: they don’t think about the issue much; they just have strong feelings about it, and believe that those emotional reactions are sufficient to find the right solution. They conclude, “health care is a right!” and don’t think about what health care is – i.e., a doctor’s time and expertise, obtained at great cost and effort; an office, clinic, or facility, and X-rays and MRI machines and every kind of specialized equipment, designed and obtained at considerable cost, and of course, prescription drugs. All of that adds up to a value measured in trillions of dollars. Many Americans assert they have a right to all of that, and often they imply that they have a right to it for free, or a right to it without paying anything resembling the actual cost of the good or service.

About 70 percent of doctors accept new Medicaid patients, about 66 percent of general practitioners. (A few studies found much lower percentages.) These doctors have this policy not because they are mean or cruel or greedy or selfish, but because they find the government’s reimbursement rate is too low. For example, most hospitals take a loss on every Medicaid patient they treat; the money to make up that gap has to come from somewhere.

Medicaid pays roughly 80 percent of what a private insurer charges. The government expects doctors and caregivers to do the job for 20 percent less than other patients; unsurprisingly, doctors limit the number of Medicaid patients they’re willing to see. (This isn’t even getting into the bureaucracy, paperwork, and other hassles.)

A lawmaker in Hawaii came up with a simple solution: “Physicians who refused to take Medicare patients wouldn’t be able to reapply for their state medical license, which must be renewed every two years.” In other words, force doctors to see patients at the reduced government rate. This is where “health care is a right!” always ends: the state requiring a doctor to see a patient for reimbursement that the doctor deems unfair. The doctor stops being a independent citizen free to enter into agreements with patients on mutually-agreed terms; the doctor becomes a tool of the state who must obey the rules set by faraway lawmakers who know nothing about their practice and who they’ll never meet. Lawmakers rarely think too far down the road and ask how many people would want to become doctors under this sort of arrangement.

Anyway, the Senate could end up voting on Graham-Cassidy in the near future. “According to the chamber’s parliamentarian, senators only have until the end of the month to pass a bill with just 51 votes under the procedure known as reconciliation.” A huge question is whether John McCain is willing to be the deciding vote to kill off a healthcare reform bill cosponsored by his good friend Lindsey Graham.

O’Donnell Smash!

Those of us with long memories remember back in 2004 when Lawrence O’Donnell, then a talking head on MSNBC, flipped out on John O’Neill, head of Swift Boat Vets for Truth, and just started shouting “LIAR!” over and over again during an appearance. Television debates get heated, passions and tempers flare, but it entered the realm of unprofessional. Then there was the furious outburst on Morning Joe in 2010 and various other moments over the years suggesting that O’Donnell is one burst of gamma radiation away from becoming the Incredible Hulk when he’s angry.

Thirteen years later, Lawrence O’Donnell’s anger surfaces again as a newly-released video shows him raging over technical issues during commercial breaks. To his credit, he apologized: “A better anchorman and a better person would’ve had a better reaction to technical difficulties. I’m sorry.”

John Sexton: “The fact that this tape apparently leaked suggests some of the people on his staff are sick of working for a rage-a-holic. I wonder what they’ll decide to leak next.”

ADDENDA: Once again, we hope you will join us on Wednesday, October 25 for NRI’s fourth annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner at Gotham Hall in New York City honoring our close friends, Tom Wolfe and Bruce and Suzie Kovner. 

The annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner brings together an audience of conservative leaders, philanthropists, and friends of National Review Institute from around the country to celebrate the lasting legacy of William F. Buckley Jr and our esteemed honorees. The William F. Buckley Jr. Prize was created to honor those who advance the principles Buckley championed during his lifetime and foster the conservative movement that he helped launch.

Politics & Policy

Confederate Statue Debate Rages on in Virginia Gubernatorial

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Happy Rosh Hashanah, y’all. Today, making the click-through worthwhile: Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam debate in Virginia, FEMA goes door-to-door to help out Texans recovering from Hurricane Harvey, Florida learns its own lessons from Irma, and Kurt Schlichter’s important point about double standards.

Look Who’s Reticent about Removing Confederate Statues in Virginia!

Pop quiz, Virginians: Find the distinctions between the positions of Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam on the issue of Confederate statues:

“Our history is our history,” Gillespie said. “And I believe that we need to educate about it, and that we need to teach about it. And so my view is that the statues should remain, and we should place them in historical context so that people can learn.”

Northam reiterated that he wants to see local governments maintain control of the decisions over statues, but he added that if “these statues give individuals, white supremacists like that, an excuse to do what they did, then we need to have a discussion about the statues.”

“Personally, I would think that the statues would be better placed in museums with certainly historical context,” Northam added.

To clarify, Gillespie wants localities to make the decision, but prefers them to be kept in place with a greater historical context, while Northam wants localities to make the decision, but prefers them to be moved to a museum with greater historical context. It says a great deal that Northam isn’t willing to jump on the bandwagon of the “tear down the statues” movement; most national media coverage of the issue would leave the impression that this is a majority of enlightened modernists battling a small minority of radical, racially-incendiary troglodytes.

In Suffolk’s most recent survey, the pollster asked Virginians, “Do you think Confederate statues should be removed from public spaces?” and about 32 percent supported removal, and 57 percent opposed them.

Fox News asked Virginians recently, “When you see the Confederate flag, do you have a positive reaction, a negative reaction, or don’t have a reaction one way or the other?” Only 13 percent said they have a positive reaction, 33 percent said negative, and 51 percent said they had neither. Once again a media echo chamber leaves progressives with the perception that their perspective is much more common than it actually is.

I liked this line from Gillespie:

Gillespie specifically pointed to the marchers who gathered in Charlottesville last month for what was dubbed the “Unite the Right” rally, arguing they shouldn’t be tied to any partisan viewpoints, despite what the rally was called.

“These Neo-Nazis, these white supremacists, these KKK members with their shields and their torches — If ‘1’ were the most liberal on the spectrum and ‘10′ were the most conservative, these people are a yellow,” Gillespie said. “They’re not on the same continuum.”

Another good line of the night, one that probably should be a focus in Northern Virginia:

Responding to the assertion that his plan would only benefit the wealthy, Gillespie said it would help everyone. He also noted that the state’s highest income bracket for tax purposes applies to all those who make more than $17,000 per year.

“My opponent thinks you’re rich,” Gillespie said. “And that’s just flat wrong.”

Checking in on Our Friends in Texas and Florida After the Hurricanes

Texans, Floridians, and other residents of areas hit by the recent hurricanes, you are not forgotten, even if most of the national media has moved on to other big news stories.

The good news is that in both parts of the country, some aspects of life are back to “normal,” or something like it. No doubt some Houstonian is scoffing that he’s unsurprised that traffic jams would be the first part of normality to return.

From the main thoroughfares, it looks like the city is bustling again: Offices and schools are open, retail is up and running, and freeways are jammed. But one turn onto a residential street offers a starkly different scene. Neighborhoods look like the houses were turned inside out. Everything, soggy and smelly, is rotting on the front lawn, and homes stand stripped to the studs. That work was mostly done by the owners themselves.

Houston’s mayor declared the city is “open for business,” but there’s an enormous amount of construction work to be done, and a need for a lot more workers.

The Greater Houston Builders Association estimates that Hurricane Harvey and its relentless rain destroyed at least 30,000 homes; thousands more sustained significant damage. The city already suffered a labor shortage because so many construction workers left during the housing crash and again when oil prices slumped. When prices came back, not enough workers did.

Before Harvey hit, Houston issued permits for about 27,000 single-family homes to be built this year. Now the work will more than double.

Most of Houston’s construction workers come from Mexico, and that has made matters even more difficult, as immigration policies tighten under the Trump administration. The National Association of Home Builders has already made a plea for help.

Clean water is flowing in a lot of places, but not everywhere:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality continue to coordinate recovery efforts. As of Sept. 14, the TCEQ reported that of 2,238 drinking water systems affected by Harvey, some 2,014 systems are fully operational, 77 have boil-water notices and 19 were shut down. Also, the TCEQ said its personnel had made contact with 1,219 wastewater treatment plants in the 58 counties within the governor’s disaster declaration, and 31 of those were inoperable.

As for the continuing federal response, “FEMA opened disaster recovery centers in Houston, Bay City, Brookshire and Orange with recovery specialists who can speak to residents and business owners about assistance and help with filing applications.”

And FEMA employees and contractors are going door to door to help people out.

The people of Bear Creek emerged cautiously from their ruined houses to greet the men and women wearing blue FEMA shirts who came to their front doors. They stood amid enormous piles of discarded belongings that covered their front lawns and spilled over the sidewalks and into the streets.

The FEMA workers answered question after question: Why do I have to fill out a Small Business Administration loan application when I don’t own a business? (It’s a required part of the process.) Why won’t my homeowners’ insurance cover flood damage? (You need flood insurance for that.) Why does FEMA need a copy of the denial letter from my insurer? (To avoid duplicating benefits.)

Yet these survivors of Hurricane Harvey’s floods, like thousands of others across the Houston area and beyond, needed more than information. They needed a bit of encouragement and support.

“Don’t give up,” disaster assistance team member Howard Higgins advised a group of women who had just told their story to him and his colleagues. “We wish you the best. I hope we clarified some of it for you today.”

Higgins was part of a team that had been working for days in Bear Creek, a northwest Harris County community where Harvey’s floods damaged hundreds of houses. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had dispatched this group and others like it to hard-hit areas up and down the Texas Gulf Coast to guide survivors through the first steps toward recovery.

Meanwhile, in Florida, life is also returning to normal; close to 99 percent of those who lost electricity had it back Tuesday and the schools are open again. Some Floridians complained about Miami-Dade County’s preparation and response the at the county budget hearing Tuesday, but even that is another indication that life is getting back to normal. Mayor Carlos Gimenez responded that the county distributed nearly 400,000 meals after Irma and hundreds of tons of ice. “I’m not swayed by the 50 people who came here. I’m swayed by the 2.7 million people who didn’t come here.”

State and local officials are learning lessons:

In Sarasota, Fla., the American Red Cross struggled to staff emergency shelters because many of its local volunteers are snowbirds who don’t arrive in Florida until October or later, said Jacqueline Fellhauer, who manages one of the Red Cross shelters.

“We were just trying to grab people out of the sky,” she said.

 . . . There were “glitches” in the shelter plan in Miami-Dade County, Mayor Carlos Gimenez admitted as the storm roared toward Florida. He had insisted that the county open enough space for 100,000 people. But the Red Cross had trouble mustering volunteers amid difficult travel conditions, and many shelters were short-staffed.

There’s still a long and difficult road ahead, but the story of the hurricanes is, so far, that the weather was the worst and most people brought out their best. The government responses at the federal, state, and local levels were pretty much as good as one can expect.

As Jonah noted in the G-File last week, “if there were even a few convenient excuses to attack Trump over the administration’s response, he would have gotten a ton of blame.” The fact that you’re hearing so little about the response to the hurricanes is a strong indicator that it is going about as well as anyone can reasonably expect.

Of course, we’ll soon need to be raising money to help Puerto Rico . . . 

ADDENDA: My friend Kurt Schlichter and I have different styles of argument, but we end up in similar places. The double standard and hypocrisy of the modern Left created dysfunctional public debate; it will be nearly impossible to resolve anything until we rebuild a consensus on just how a public debates shall proceed. We conservatives can live happily in an anything-goes public arena where controversial statements of any stripe do not risk one’s employment. Or we can live happily in a politer, higher-minded society where sufficiently incendiary, obnoxious, or comments can be deemed beyond the pale and carry significant social consequences. But what we won’t accept is a world where the rules only apply to one side.

Oh, conservatives are now for firing people when they didn’t used to be.” Well, yeah. See, you changed the rules. The rule used to be that you can’t be fired for what you say or think. But that’s not the rule anymore, thanks to you liberals. Just ask that guy who was at Mozilla or that heretic who thinks men and women are different and got fired from Google. Sure, we were against the new rule, but you used your cultural power through the media, the Democrat party, and your corporate coward allies to impose it. So we are not hypocrites for employing the rule that exists now, thanks to you. And we hope you choke on it.

Hey, if you want to change the rule back, let’s do that. Let’s all gather together and state, unequivocally, “No, we are not going to fire people for what they say or think.” Except you don’t really want to do that. You want to have a special rule that applies only to conservatives, but we’re not going to allow that to happen. That’s why we’re going to make the argument to normals for the universal application of the new rules you created. And it’s an effective argument, which is why you hate it. Normal people naturally understand that there can’t be two sets of rules, one for us normals, and one for you America-hating, alternately perverted and prudish, progressive weirdos.

You can’t denounce talk radio or Fox News for being incendiary and vulgar and then cheer for Bill Maher and Kathy Griffin just because you agree with them. America can have a freewheeling public debate with no economic repercussions for unpopular views, or a calmer, politer, less shout-y and more respectful public debate. Pick one, progressives, and stick to it.

Politics & Policy

Look Who Really Was Wiretapping Trump Tower Resident Paul Manafort

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Remember this Tweet from President Trump back on March 4? “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

Last night, from CNN — you know, that allegedly terrible failing network that the President enjoys sending gifs imagining himself hitting:

US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe.

The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.

Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive.

A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014. It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine’s former ruling party, the sources told CNN.

The surveillance was discontinued at some point last year for lack of evidence, according to one of the sources.

The FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year.

The article notes, “It’s unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance,” but considering how often a candidate and his campaign manager speak on the phone, the odds seem pretty good. (The FBI would presumably tap both Manafort’s cell phone and landline, right?)

Perhaps those wiretaps were entirely lawful — in fact, it is pretty likely. But it does mean that the president’s wiretapping claim wasn’t imaginary.

Our David French wonders if the Department of Justice was honest in its past denials of the allegation in Trump’s Tweet:

Obviously, wiretapping Manafort is not the same thing as wiretapping Trump, but the repeated, blanket denials seem disingenuous if Trump is actually on tape. The legal distinctions do matter, but these legal distinctions tend to get lost in the heat of partisan debate. I hope and pray that DOJ officials’ desire to rebut the president didn’t get ahead of their prudence. Would “no comment” have been a better response than a vigorous denial?

At the same time, Trump partisans need to understand that it’s outrageous to wiretap Manafort only if the law and evidence don’t support the DOJ’s action. If there was probable cause that he is or was an agent of a foreign power, his status as Trump’s campaign chair doesn’t and shouldn’t protect him from appropriate scrutiny. Did the FBI do the right thing? Time will tell.

Meanwhile:

Paul J. Manafort was in bed early one morning in July when federal agents bearing a search warrant picked the lock on his front door and raided his Virginia home. They took binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files, looking for evidence that Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, set up secret offshore bank accounts. They even photographed the expensive suits in his closet.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.

I hope he was dressed!

Looking Closer at the Only Competitive Statewide Governor’s Race of 2017

Tonight, Virginians see Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie face off in another gubernatorial debate. Yesterday, two state universities released new polls on the race; University of Mary Washington’s survey found Northam ahead, 44 percent to 39 percent, while the Suffolk University poll had the race tied, 40 percent to 40 percent. (The individual respondents in that latter poll split perfectly evenly, 202 to 202.)

Something that should worry Democrats: In the Suffolk poll, almost 20 percent of respondents said they had never heard of Ralph Northam; ten percent said the same for Gillespie. (His oh-so-close Senate bid from 2014 probably helps with his name recognition.)

A bit more than 29 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Northam, 22 percent said they had a negative one. The remaining 29 percent said they had no opinion or were undecided. Gillepsie had a 37-28 split on favorability.

Ralph Northam has been lieutenant governor for the past four years, and roughly half the state is unfamiliar with him. What, has he been in witness protection? I was initially underwhelmed with the Gillespie campaign’s “No-Show Northam” theme – mocking Northam for missing a lot of meetings. But maybe this will resonate; maybe the message can be even simpler: Did you know Ralph Northam has been your lieutenant governor for the past four years? If he hasn’t done anything that you’ve even heard about in that job . . .  why would anyone make him governor?

Northam’s campaign is running ads that introduce him to voters — emphasizing his service as a doctor in the U.S. Army and a pediatrician. Notice the closing image of his ad:

“Doctor-Veteran” Northam’s campaign doesn’t want to remind voters he’s been lieutenant governor for the past four years.

It’s mid-to-late September. Absentee voting starts Friday.

One oddity in the Mary Washington poll is also worth spotlighting. More respondents supported Northam than Gillespie, but when asked, “Regardless of how you might vote in the 2017 election for governor in Virginia, as far as you know, do you think most of your neighbors will vote for (Ed Gillespie, the Republican), most will vote for (Ralph Northam, the Democrat), or will most of them split their votes?” Among registered voters, 30 percent said Gillespie and 22 percent said Northam, and among likely voters, 32 percent said Gillespie and 25 percent said Northam. In other words, a slightly larger number of Virginians think their neighbors will mostly vote for Gillespie.

Finally, the Suffolk survey also asked, “Does Senator Tim Kaine deserve to be reelected in 2018 — yes or no?” and 43.4 percent answered yes, 45.8 percent answered no. I would be shocked if Kaine lost next year, but that feels like a terrible number for an incumbent. In fact, this isn’t just any incumbent; this is a guy who had 1.9 million people in the state vote to make him vice president last year!

ADDENDA: My inner taxpayer rejoices, my inner deficit hawk cringes:

A budget that creates fiscal room for a $1.5 trillion tax cut, if adopted, would then be followed by a tax bill that would specify rate cuts and other policy changes that don’t exceed that figure. Calling for a tax cut in the budget would let Republicans lower tax rates while making fewer tough decisions on what tax breaks to eliminate to help pay for the cuts.

Republicans contend that some expiring tax cuts would have been extended anyway and that their plan would boost economic growth and generate revenue, reducing the actual impact on the deficit below whatever overall number they agree on. Still, they may need to make some of the tax cuts expire after 10 years, leaving decisions to a future Congress they may not control.

With this latest turn in budget talks, Republicans are gradually shifting away from an earlier stance some took in favor of a tax plan that fully paid for itself in the first decade.

Politics & Policy

The Difficulty of Changing the Status Quo in the U.N. General Assembly

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The annual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly is the sort of gathering that should be a big deal, but passes without incident or much consequence most years. Almost every major world leader speaks, and the assembled United Nations delegates might as well be listening to their iPods on those translation headphones. (Ever notice that in comic books, villains are frequently attacking gatherings of world leaders? A good plotline would be the villains taking over and realizing how many countries can operate just fine with their heads of state held hostage.)

The big story of this year’s gathering is President Trump meets the world, and he may be able to get some institutional reforms adopted:

The U.S. drafted a 10-point document, “U.N. Reform Declaration,” and asked member states to sign it to attend Monday’s event with Mr. Trump, diplomats said. More than 100 out of 193 member states did so.

The declaration, seen by the Wall Street Journal, combines the U.S.’s agenda for change — including a commitment to reduce redundancy within U.N. organizations — with [Secretary General] Guterres’s vision for management and bureaucratic overhauls.

In the declaration, countries will “commit to reducing mandate duplication, redundancy, and overlap including among the main organs of the United Nations.” The signatories encourage Mr. Guterres to “pursue impactful and field-centric management reforms,” the document said.

Maybe this is a meaningless piece of paper, or a wish list, or just “kumbaya” good feelings that won’t lead to consequential action. But it does say something that when America has a president that the rest of the world allegedly disdains, we can still get a good chunk of the world to sign on to an idea. (It helps that it is, in fact, an actual good idea.)

Then again, Anne Bayefsky, friend of National Review, writes at Fox News that she expects the reform initiative to have no real effect:

It’s an old UN game trotted out whenever Americans get fed up with throwing money down the UN drain or paying for a global platform used to trash the USA’s best interests and spew anti-semitism. It goes by the name of “UN reform.” And President Trump appears to have taken the bait — hook, line and sinker.

The London Bomber Was a . . .  Teenage Refugee?

The fact that a young refugee placed a bomb in the London tube train Friday morning doesn’t mean that the United States shouldn’t accept any refugees. But it does mean that a system of “extreme vetting” and barring refugees from countries where the local government cannot or will not help us determine that they have no ties or sympathies to jihadism is just common sense.

The arrest of the London bomber showcases another colossal problem for our friends in the United Kingdom: This guy entered the country as a 15-year-old refugee . . .  and within three years, he had become a terrorist.

The 18-year-old, who is suspected of placing the powerful device on a rush hour tube train on Friday morning, was detained by Kent police as he tried to purchase a ferry ticket to Calais.

The teenager is thought to have arrived in Britain three years ago as an orphan refugee, who had travelled across Europe to get to the so-called Jungle camp at Calais.

As an unaccompanied child he was allowed entry to the UK and after being processed through a migrant centre in Kent, was found a home with a foster family in Sunbury on Thames.

 . . .  However detectives will [now be] seeking to establish if those responsible for the failed attack had travelled to Britain as genuine refugees, or if they were actually members of Islamic State of of Iraq and the Levant who had been sent to specifically carry out an attack.

Will Geddes, CEO of security consultants ICP, said he believed those responsible may have “infiltrated” the UK.

He said: ‘“I think the age of the man arrested is significant, we are not talking about people in their 40s or 50s we are talking about young people. This is a generational struggle that will be difficult to root out.”

Notice the reference to “failed attack.” Thirty people injured, 19 taken to the hospital, a pregnant woman trapped in a pile of people, others injured by the stampede . . .  this was “failed’ in the sense that it didn’t kill anyone, thank God.

The notion that this young man was some sort of ISIS sleeper is, in a twisted way, reassuring; it means that he was always secretly driven by a hateful ideology that he successfully hid from everyone. The more unnerving — and, I’d argue, plausible — possibility is that he came to London as a terrified teenage orphan, given an opportunity to start a new life with a (presumably) caring foster family in one of the greatest and freest countries of the world . . .  and he absorbed the enthusiasm for radical jihadism and terrorism that is incubating in certain corners of society in the United Kingdom. If all of this checks out, it indicates that the danger to society doesn’t really come from refugees . . .  it comes from how life in the U.K. can change refugees.

It’s worth recalling that the U.S. Supreme Court permitted a good portion of President Trump’s executive order barring certain refugees and countries of origin — at least for now. In June, the Court approved a limited version of the ban  that temporarily blocked refugees and citizens of six Muslim-majority countries. Last week, the court “blocked a federal appeals court ruling that would have exempted refugees who have a contractual commitment from resettlement organizations from the travel ban while the justices consider its legality. The ruling could impact roughly 24,000 people.”

Kurdexit

In about a week, the Kurds of Iraq will hold a referendum on whether they want to become an independent state.

Iraqi Kurdistan is already “semi-autonomous,” and the referendum has no legal effect; it’s sort of a giant poll of Iraqi Kurds. But quite a few Kurds, including Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, want international support for “an eventual negotiated exit from Iraq and the declaration of a new UN-recognized state, probably within the next five to ten years.”

The Iraqi government in Baghdad does not like this one bit. Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi denounced the upcoming referendum in an interview this weekend with the Associated Press:

Al-Abadi: Well, our position is that it is unconstitutional, it is illegal, there is nothing that will be taken seriously out of it. It’s like taking public opinion but for us it is illegal, it clearly contradicts the constitution. And especially when it’s done with a vision that there is a problem within the region itself, the Kurdish region. The parliament hasn’t been held for 22 months, so there is a constitutional, legal crisis inside the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and this is a very, very bad move for the Kurdish population, the Iraqi Kurdish population.

 . . . This is a public invitation to the countries in the region to violate Iraqi borders as well would be a very dangerous escalation.

AP: Is the use of force on the table?

Al-Abadi: It will only come into effect and we will only resort to this to protect our population, to protect our Kurdish population and our Arab and Turkmen and other ethnic populations of our own country. If they are threatened by the use of force outside the law, then we will intervene militarily.

Turkey and Iran don’t want an independent Kurdistan on their borders, lest their own adjacent Kurdish populations get the same idea. The Trump administration doesn’t like the referendum, either:

“The United States does not support the Kurdistan Regional Government’s intention to hold a referendum later this month,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday. “The United States has repeatedly emphasized to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat [the Islamic State] and stabilize the liberated areas.”

This probably won’t lead to an all-out shooting war, but if the referendum passes, we can expect increased tensions between the Kurds and the Iraqi government. The Iraqi government, the Kurds, and the United States and its allies have beaten the tar out of ISIS and driven them out of Mosul, but there’s still enormous amounts of work to be done. Most of the cities liberated from ISIS are largely wrecked, and the International Monetary Fund had to loan the Iraqi government $5 billion last year to ensure they had the money to run a government and fight ISIS simultaneously. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Kurdistan says, “to hell with all of you, we’re formally declaring independence,” and then the Middle East finds a new way to have a messy, complicated, violent conflict.

ADDENDA: The Fourth Annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner is about five weeks away! We hope you can join us Wednesday, October 25, at Gotham Hall in New York City.

The theme of this year’s dinner is “Books, Arts, & Manners,” honoring world-class journalist and novelist Tom Wolfe, author of The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, A Man in Full, I Am Charlotte Simmons, and Back to Blood.

The National Review Institute will also honor Bruce and Suzie Kovner with the WFB Prize for Leadership in Supporting Liberty. The Kovners have supported and led organizations that defend private enterprise, free markets and free trade, protect individual rights, promoted scholarly research that strengthens American democratic principles; fought for education reform, particularly charter schools; and helped ensure the future of the major performing arts institutions of New York City. The master of ceremonies will be James Rosen of Fox News, who I hope will do his William F. Buckley impression at some point during the evening. It’s like he’s possessed.

The event will also feature performances by students of The Juilliard School. More information about tickets and sponsorship can be found here. Hope to see you there.

Culture

Berkeley Survives Ben Shapiro’s Speech

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Might as well call this Culture Wars Friday: Berkeley’s campus survives a visit from Ben Shapiro, Harvard University suddenly has second thoughts about Chelsea Manning, and a complicating new wrinkle in the ESPN-Jamele Hill controversy. Also, Showtime’s reboot of Twin Peaks gets what it deserves.

Berkeley Didn’t Burn from Ben!

A pleasant surprise: Ben Shapiro is pleased with his experience in Berkeley! “Well done, @UCPD_Cal and @berkeleypolice! Thank you for restoring order and ensuring the exercise of free speech!”

All in all, considering the expectations for chaos and past problems at Berkeley, the night went pretty smoothly:

Though the campus had prepared extensively for potential violence, Ben Shapiro’s speaking event at UC Berkeley on Thursday went on largely uninterrupted, drawing a peaceful protest that ended in a short march through Berkeley’s streets.

Shapiro, who was invited to speak by campus group Berkeley College Republicans and was co-sponsored by Young America’s Foundation, spoke at Zellerbach Hall to a crowd of about 700 people. Nearly 50 people gathered near Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue [at] about 5 p.m. to protest Shapiro’s appearance, but the crowd soon grew to about 1,000 people by 7 p.m.

“I’m here because I can’t condone people who think that some problems in my culture represent the entire culture,” said campus freshman Simone Muhammad. “I’m here because they’re infringing on my rights as a bisexual and a black woman.”

Ma’am . . .  how? Someone giving a speech you don’t like is not an infringement of your rights. Then again, she’s a freshman, so maybe she hasn’t taken the Constitutional law class yet.

Both the campus and the city prepared for violent retaliation to Shapiro’s event in various ways, including setting up barricades around and inside campus Thursday morning. AC Transit buses with routes running south of campus via Telegraph Avenue or Bancroft Way were also diverted, and BART trains skipped over the Downtown Berkeley station.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office made nine arrests in conjunction with Berkeley Police Department, as of 10:42 p.m.

BPD also received reports of one individual who was injured as a result of a fall, according to Officer Byron White. In a Nixle alert released early Friday morning, BPD confirmed that there were no reported injuries due to violence and no reports of property damage.

Ah Yes, Harvard, that Conservative Traditionalist Citadel!

Quite a few folks scoffed and objected when Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government made Chelsea Manning — convicted of 19 charges, including six counts of espionage — a visiting fellow. Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell resigned from Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in protest, declaring, “I have an obligation to my conscience — and I believe to the country — to stand up against any efforts to justify leaks of sensitive national security information.”

(Near the end of his term, President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence to a total of 7 years confinement.)

Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School, announced he was rescinding the title Thursday night.

We invited Chelsea Manning to spend a day at the Kennedy School. Specifically, we invited her to meet with students and others who are interested in talking with her, and then to give remarks in the Forum where the audience would have ample opportunity — as with all of our speakers — to ask hard questions and challenge what she has said and done. On that basis, we also named Chelsea Manning a Visiting Fellow. We did not intend to honor her in any way or to endorse any of her words or deeds, as we do not honor or endorse any Fellow.

However, I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility . . .  We are withdrawing the invitation to her to serve as a Visiting Fellow — and the perceived honor that it implies to some people — while maintaining the invitation for her to spend a day at the Kennedy School and speak in the Forum. I apologize to her and to the many concerned people from whom I have heard today for not recognizing upfront the full implications of our original invitation.

On Twitter, Manning responded with all of the even-tempered understanding, graciousness and gratitude that we have come to expect:

If this account is true, this smudges the emerging portrait of ESPN as a company gripped by paranoid politically-correct groupthink, where Curt Schilling gets dismissed for a meme, Linda Cohn is given a harsh warning, and Robert Lee is reassigned out of a fear of social media memes, but Hill is given free reign. The Disney subsidiary may be afraid of controversy and ire from either political direction — but still deal with offenders on the right differently from ones on the left.

There’s a fairly easy way to keep your existing audience and well-established band identity, avoid unnecessary controversies, and keep advertisers happy: cover sports.

ESPN is not alone among media companies in a strange habit of seeking out those who are known for certain types of controversy, and then recoiling when those figures behave as they always had. This arguably goes back to Rush Limbaugh’s short-lived work on the NFL Sunday show in 2003.

This morning, President Trump tweeted, “ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!”

ADDENDA: You may have noticed I stopped writing about the Showtime revival of Twin Peaks a couple months ago, and several readers asked what I thought of the finale. Today, I let it all out.

Unfortunately, I can only conclude that the revival was a deep disappointment, driven mostly by the decision by co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost to abandon most of the tenets of traditional narrative — an active protagonist, a clear motivation for the villain, a clear sense of what’s at stake, storytelling set-ups and pay-offs — and instead explore more abstract concepts and moods and vignettes, sometimes resembling a sketch show or dream journal. Professional critics who raved about the series may insist that I set some sort of unfair expectation because I wanted the episodes and series to tell a more complete story. What they’re neglecting is that the show was built on a traditional narrative in the 1990-1991 run, and that the Showtime series was explicitly marketed upon the image and style of the original series. The original ABC series was about both the protagonists and audience investigating; the Showtime series was about both the protagonists and audience waiting.

Politics & Policy

If Only Someone Had Warned Them!

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Then-candidate Donald Trump, speaking in Arizona, September 1, 2016: “NO AMNESTY! For those here today illegally who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and only one route: to return home and apply for re-entry under the rules of the new legal immigration system.”

Last night, after dining with the president, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement declaring, “We had a very productive meeting at the White House with the President. The discussion focused on DACA. We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”

President Trump, in a series of Tweets this morning: “No deal was made last night on DACA. Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote. The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built. Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!…..”

Er, yes, Mr. President, that is what is generally what “no amnesty” means.

President Trump concluded, “ . . . They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own — brought in by parents at young age. Plus BIG border security.”

Ann Coulter reacts this morning: “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?”

That’s the author of In Trump We Trust. Now she tells us!

Congressman Steve King of Iowa, another big Trump supporter in 2016, reacts this morning: “Unbelievable! Amnesty is a pardon for immigration law breakers coupled with the reward of the objective of their crime. If AP is correct, Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible.”

Breitbart.com goes with the headline: “AMNESTY DON . . .  DEMS DECLARE VICTORY AS TRUMP CAVES ON DACA”

How bad is it? Bad enough to shake the faith of Sean Hannity!

Hannity: “If POTUS doesn’t keep that promise [for a wall], and goes for amnesty, it will be the political equivalent of ‘read my lips, no new taxes.’”

In fact, when you look at President Trump’s biggest fans from the 2016 campaign, a recurring pattern emerges — even before reports of last night’s deal.

Julius Krein, founder and editor of American Affairs: “I can’t stand by this disgraceful administration any longer, and I would urge anyone who once supported him as I did to stop defending the 45th president. Not only has the president failed to make the course corrections necessary to save his administration, but his increasingly appalling conduct will continue to repel anyone who might once have been inclined to work with him.”

Mike Cernovich: “I don’t want anyone to think of me as a pro-Trump guy. I’m going to specifically reject any kind of branding about pro-Trump or whatever . . .  Do you gain anything by risking your reputation, your career, your business, supporting Trump? What is the upside? Backing Trump has been bad for business.”

Stephen Bannon, upon his departure from the White House: “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over. We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else.”

Caitlyn Jenner: “I apologize to all of the trans community. I made a mistake. I will never do it again and I’m getting rid of the [Make America Great Again] hat.”

Gee, if only someone had been around in 2015 and 2016, to warn these poor folks that Trump had no ideological principles; that he was erratic, mercurial and quick to seek out scapegoats; that he had almost no knowledge about how the federal government worked and little interest in learning; that he was temperamentally ill-suited to the daily pressures of the presidency and the inevitable criticism from the press, and that he was more focused on gratifying his own ego and feeling an abstract sense of “winning” than particular policy outcomes or building broad coalitions to enact his agenda . . . 

I kid, of course. All of these people were warned, time and again, with mountains of history and supporting evidence about Trump’s true nature and instincts. But these folks were completely convinced that they knew better.

The Battle of Jamele Hill

A lot of right-of-center sports fans don’t particularly like Jamele Hill, the co-host of the 6 p.m. Sportscenter on ESPN, who tweeted Monday that “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”

Late last night, she issued the statement: “My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs. My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my colleagues remains unconditional.”

This portrait of the show raises the question of just what ESPN wanted to do with Hlll and her co-host Michael Smith, and whether their preferred ideas and format really fit with the past identity of SportsCenter, their flagship program of scores, highlights and news. I recall the commercials touting the show as “Sports Music Movies + More”, and thinking . . .  why is ESPN covering music and movies? Doesn’t this implicitly verify the charge that ESPN, which touted itself as “The Worldwide Leader in Sports,” is turning into a progressive-minded network for people who are only kind-of sort-of interested in sports?

My colleague David French strenuously objects to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declaring that Hill’s statement is “something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN.” (It is depressing that once-venerable journalistic institutions like The Hill succumbed completely to the instinct to hype the statement for social media outrage, declaring “White House demands ESPN fire host.” Huckabee’s statement is newsworthy enough as is when you report it accurately.)

I concur with French that I don’t want the White House urging private companies to fire employees for criticizing the president. (It’s also probably counterproductive; the moment Huckabee criticized Hill from the podium, she became indispensible to ESPN, which was not going to let the world think that it had knuckled under and obeyed instructions from a president with a job approval below 40 percent. No self-respecting company would do that.)

But in a world where the slightest whiff of controversy in a statement can get someone fired, it’s hard to begrudge those on the right attempting to demonstrate that the door can swing both ways. This is a world where Google fires engineers for expressing politically incorrect ideas, Berkeley’s campus looks like a war zone preparing for Ben Shapiro’s speech, and a violent mob can encircle Charles Murray on Middlebury’s campus. The American people will not accept a society where only one side of the political debate is acceptable to express publicly. Corporate America cannot be the enforcers of a contingent understanding of the First Amendment, where employment is dependent upon your personal political views staying within the company’s accepted (and rapidly shrinking) parameters.

If Clay Travis of Outkick the Coverage is right, that’s more or less what ESPN is doing, with ESPN president John Skipper allegedly berating longtime anchor Linda Cohn for daring to offer some mild and well-founded criticism of the network getting too political for the tastes of some viewers.

ADDENDA: Once again, National Review hopes you can join us for the Fourth Annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner, held Wednesday, October 25, at Gotham Hall in New York City.

The theme of this year’s dinner is “Books, Arts, & Manners,” honoring world-class author Tom Wolfe with the William F. Buckley Prize for Leadership in Political Thought and Bruce and Suzie Kovner with the WFB Prize for Leadership in Supporting Liberty. The Kovners have supported and led organizations that defend private enterprise, free markets and free trade, protect individual rights, promoted scholarly research that strengthens American democratic principles; fought for education reform, particularly charter schools; and helped ensure the future of the major performing arts institutions of New York City.

The master of ceremonies will be James Rosen of Fox News and the event will feature performances by students of The Juilliard School. More information about tickets and sponsorship can be found here. Hope to see you there.

Politics & Policy

In Single-Payer, Who Really Pays?

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Making the click-through worthwhile: the not-so-solid public support for single-payer, the inconvenient details behind the boast that Hillary Clinton “made history,” a stunningly low percentage of Americans can answer basic questions about how our government works, and the former Democratic nominee’s odd interepretation of classic literature.

The Public Preference for Single-Payer Is Oh So Fragile

I’m headed up to New York City today, appearing on CNN to discuss Senator Bernie Sanders’ latest proposal for “single-payer” health care and on CNN International to discuss – well, something, possibly the Sanders proposal, perhaps something else.

The coverage of health care rarely suggests that public support for single payer is a mile wide but an inch deep. But this Kaiser poll from July is usefully illustrative. It found that a majority (55 percent) supports “single-payer,” but when respondents hear the argument that it would give the government “too much control,” then 61 percent oppose it.

When you mention the tax increases, 60 percent oppose single-payer. This concept does not enjoy ironclad support from the masses.

People hear “single payer” and think “ah, that’s nice, somebody else will pay.” Once they realize that they’re the ones paying, they’re reticent, and once they realize that the government will get to make the decisions about what procedures they deem cost-effective and which ones aren’t, the notion doesn’t look quite as appealing against the status quo as it did before.

Put another way, Bernie Sanders wants all Americans to enjoy the speedy, compassionate care that our men and women in uniform enjoyed from the Phoenix offices of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

What will be intriguing about the coming year is how much Democrats pretend that 2009-2010 is ancient history, and that no one remembers how Obamacare was supposed to provide affordable care to all Americans. It didn’t live up to its promises for many Americans — they didn’t get to keep their plan, they didn’t get to keep their doctor, and they didn’t see a dramatic drop in their premiums.

There’s no way for Democrats to tout their current bold promises about affordable health care without acknowledging their failure to keep their last round of bold promises about affordable health care. Writing at the Huffington Post, Jonathan Cohn acknowledges the obvious facts that many Obamacare fans prefer to ignore:

Millions of Americans still don’t have insurance. Millions who do are stuck with high premiums or out-of-pocket expenses. The new system seems to have particular trouble in more rural parts of the country, where sparse populations make it difficult for private insurance markets to thrive. That’s why Republicans have been able to get as far as they have with their repeal effort — and why even Democrats are talking about how they’d like to improve the system.

Cohn’s also pretty honest about the costs and trade-offs from single payer:

Suddenly introducing sharply lower prices, however justified on paper, would be a severe shock to the health ecosystem. Some combination of job losses and care shortages would likely follow, as hospitals, drug- and device-makers, and other parts of the industry scrambled to readjust their business models.

 . . . [Single-payer supporters] would also need to sketch out a plausible political scenario for overcoming the inevitable political resistance ― again, not just among familiar rogues in the health care industry, like drug companies, but also among the millions of Americans who are pretty happy with the insurance they have today.

If you like your plan . . .   you’re part of the problem now.

What Kind of History Did Hillary Clinton Make?

Hillary Clinton is on her book tour, and you’re still hearing a lot of damning-with-faint-praise plaudits that salute her for “making history” — in the Boston Globe, Glamour, Democrats speaking to RealClearPolitics, and elsewhere.

Yes, Clinton was indeed the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination in American history. But the “SHE MADE HISTORY!” rallying cry is a lot of hand-waving to distract from not merely her defeat, but that she had perhaps the easiest path to winning that nomination of any presidential candidate in recent memory, other than Al Gore in 2000. There’s a strong argument that Hillary Clinton was the Democratic party’s presidential nominee-in-waiting since spring of 2008 when she lost the nomination to Barack Obama. If she didn’t have the nomination quite handed to her by the party, she didn’t need to yank it away from anyone else, either.

She was the heaviest of favorites in the primary from the beginning. Back in 2012, 86 percent of Democrats said they had a favorable opinion of her, and 61 percent said they wanted her to be the party’s nominee; the next closest was Vice President Joe Biden with 12 percent. That’s about as big an advantage as one can imagine in this era.

Her primary win would be more impressive if she had defeated Biden, but the vice president chose not to run, in large part because of unforeseen family tragedies. The rest of the field was a freak-show: Jim Webb running for the nomination of a hawkish rural Democratic party that didn’t exist anymore; bland, forgettable Martin O’Malley, neither centrist nor leftist but just kind of there; weird and awkward Lincoln Chafee, pledging to convert America to the metric system. Not even boxing promoter Don King ever lined up a bunch of tomato cans like this.

That left Bernie Sanders, the 75-year-old socialist with little name ID who resembled Larry David and came from a state with three electoral votes. Even then, in late October 2015, Clinton led Sanders in national polling, 62 percent to 31 percent. She headed into the primary fight with way more money, the endorsement of just about every major figure in the Democratic party, and the widespread perception that the Democratic National Committee was attempting to grease the skids for her. The Democratic Party’s “super-delegates” — elected officials whose votes are the equivalent of many, many primary voters — preferred her, 570 to 44.

That’s a huge set of institutional advantages, and yet she still almost bobbled the nomination away! In hindsight, her difficulty in putting away Sanders week after week should have been a screaming klaxon of her deficiencies as a presidential candidate. Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver was prophetic when he wrote in May, “the Democratic Party must decide if they want the candidate with the momentum who is best positioned to beat Trump or if they are willing to roll the dice and court disaster simply to protect the status quo for the political and financial establishment of this country.” Democrats chose to roll the dice, and came up snake-eyes.

“Hillary made history by winning the nomination” is another way of saying “Hillary made history by managing not to lose the nomination with institutional advantages that no other candidate is likely to enjoy for the next few decades.”

And then she headed into a general election with another slew of institutional advantages: her campaign spent twice as much as Trump’s did, the media detested Trump, and the Republican nominee stumbled from one mess to another. Many prominent Republicans skipped their party’s convention in Cleveland while the Democrats’ gathering in Philadelphia went off without a hitch. Clinton may complain about FBI Director James Comey’s last minute reopening (and re-closing!) of the  bureau’s investigation of her, but it’s not like Trump had a smooth final month with the revelation of the Access Hollywood tape in early October. Sure, the first line of Hillary’s obituary will mention she was the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination. But it’s likely to continue, “and the loser in the most shocking upset in American political history.”

Americans’ Dwindling Interest in Self-Government

Think of these poll results the next time someone laments that voter turnout is low in the United States. A disturbingly high percentage of Americans can’t name the three branches of government and basically don’t know anything about how their government works.

That’s nearly three-quarters of the American population that can’t cough up “legislative, executive, judicial” on demand and fully 60 percent that can’t name *more than one* of those . . . 

Nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent) say that freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. But, unprompted, 37 percent could not name any First Amendment rights. And far fewer people could name the other First Amendment rights: 15 percent of respondents say freedom of religion; 14 percent say freedom of the press; 10 percent say the right of assembly; and only 3 percent say the right to petition the government . . . 

Another 53 percent believe that illegal immigrants have no rights under the U.S. Constitution.

If you don’t know anything about how the government works, what it does, what it’s supposed to do, or what rights you and your fellow citizens have . . .  I’m fine with you not voting.

ADDENDA: James Heartfield reads Hillary Clinton’s new memoir, What Happened, and finds an astounding passage where she concludes the lesson of George Orwell’s 1984 is the need to “trust our leaders, the press, and experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence.”

Does she think Brave New World is an endorsement of pharmaceutical products, too?

Politics & Policy

Opioid Crisis Has Reached a New High

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Today making the click-through worthwhile: more jaw-dropping statistics on the scope of the country’s epidemic of addiction to opioids, the risk in trusting Jared Kushner with your presidency, some utopian promises on education in Virginia’s governor’s race, and a key point about the cost of journalism and staying informed.

The Real ‘Opium of the People’ Is . . .

Karl Marx confidently declared that religion is the opium of the people. Come on. America in 2017 is proving that the opium of the people is . . . actual opium, or at least opioids.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 2.6 million people are now addicted to drugs derived from the opium poppy. The CDC says there were 33,000 such fatalities last year, helping turn drug overdoses into the leading cause of death among the under-50s.

If you’re wondering about those estimated 1.5 million working-age people who are missing from the labor force, not working or looking for work . . .  a considerable percentage are probably dropping out of the workforce (and most of life itself) because of their addictions:

Research from the National Safety Council and the NORC research group at the University of Chicago show opioid users miss twice as many days of work than those with alcohol addiction. According to Princeton economist Alan Krueger, 47 percent of prime-age men not in the labor force used pain medication — and two-thirds of that subgroup used prescription drugs.

The most baffling statistic is that within a quarter of U.S. counties, opioid prescriptions exceed one per person, at least according to 2015 statistics. Hey, guys, I think I’ve got a lead on where people are writing phony prescriptions.

Some Trump Lawyers Wanted Jared to Exit Stage Left

Does jumping on the Trump Train require jumping on the Jared Kushner Train as well? Because that’s a jump I doubt I’ll ever be willing to make, because of the accumulating evidence that Kushner just doesn’t have good judgment. Maybe he knows the world of Manhattan real estate really well, but he’s a novice in politics, governing, and the ways of Washington, and it’s hard to believe the president is well served by relying on him so much.

Apparently some of the president’s lawyers agree:

Some of President Donald Trump’s lawyers earlier this summer concluded that Jared Kushner should step down as senior White House adviser because of possible legal complications related to a probe of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election and aired concerns about him to the president, people familiar with the matter said.

Among their concerns was that Mr. Kushner was the adviser closest to the president who had the most dealings with Russian officials and businesspeople during the campaign and transition, some of which are currently being examined by federal investigators and congressional oversight panels. Mr. Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, has said he had four such meetings or interactions.

Another issue was Mr. Kushner’s initial omission of any contacts with foreign officials from the form required to obtain a security clearance. He later updated the form several times to include what he has said were more than 100 contacts with foreign officials.

The president’s lawyers were not united in the view that Mr. Kushner should step down.

What does Kushner bring to Trump that no other adviser in or out of government can bring him? Ivanka’s approval?

The Difficulty in Finding True Northam

We haven’t had a new poll in the Virginia governor’s race in about three weeks, and campaign commercials are starting to pop up more frequently on the local television airwaves. In a dramatic change from last cycle, when wealthy Democrat Terry McAuliffe outspent Republican Ken Cuccinelli two to one, this year Republican Ed Gillespie is spending more — $1.7 million compared to Democrat Ralph Northam’s $1.1 million.

The Washington Post notices that a Northam ad tells viewers to go online and check out his tax plan . . . without, you know, actually having a tax plan on his web site.

There is no detailed tax plan on Northam’s campaign website, aside from his call to lower grocery taxes for poor people and to create a bipartisan tax panel.

What’s more, Northam’s campaign said in April it would release a set of “guiding principles” on tax reform within a week. It never did, and a reference to that promise to voters was removed from the campaign’s website — until a reporter pointed it out.

This is what happens on Democratic campaigns when the left hand doesn’t know what the other left hand is doing.

On NRO today, I take a look at another one of Northam’s ads, focused (and focus-group tested, probably) on education and point out that the rhetoric seems pretty rote and aimed more at addressing suburban parents’ feelings than any actual problems in Virginia schools:

Northam pledges in a new commercial that if he is elected, he will raise teacher pay, emphasize science and math, and make college more affordable — because “every child in Virginia should know if they work hard, there is a bright future ahead of them.” The agenda laid out in that commercial is really a list of solutions looking for problems. Virginia students are actually exemplary compared with students in the rest of the country; according to the Virginia Education Department, they ranked best in the country in science and third in the nation in math in the most recent national tests in these subjects.

A study of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics concluded that Virginia teachers rank tenth in the nation in average pay and related benefits, at $63,493 per year. The National Education Association puts the salary alone (not benefits) at merely $50,834, ranking it as the 30th in the country. But that measuring stick leaves out a lot: A first-year teacher in Virginia Beach City Public Schools system will collect $14,492 in fringe benefits including insurance and contribution to the Virginia retirement system. (For perspective, the average per capita personal income in Virginia is $53,723.)

The more I thought about this, the more irked I became at the implied message that the best way to ensure your children have a bright future is just to vote for some guy. What the heck is he going to do for you child that you can’t do?

Can a governor really help your child get a better education? Perhaps on the margins, but how much your child learns in the classroom largely depends upon your child, your child’s teacher, you, your spouse, and perhaps the rest of the community helping out a bit. If you really want your child’s school to get better, then interact with your child’s teacher, join the PTA, volunteer in the classroom, and do all the little things that help young students thrive. Despite the grandiose promises, Northam can’t do it for you while sitting in the governor’s office in Richmond, and neither can Gillespie.

Politicians love this passivity, this pervasive belief that your life stinks and the only thing that can change it is their election and the ever-expanding power of the state.

ADDENDA: Avi Woolf with an observation that I should probably share around the time of our fundraising drive: “Folks, you get what you pay for. You can’t complain about low-quality reporting and empty hot takes if you won’t pay for more.”

Culture

Irma Continues Her March through Florida

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Today is September 11. For the rest of our lives, whenever we see an image of the Twin Towers — basically, any image of the New York City skyline between 1973 and 2001 — we’re going to think of that day.

Making the click-through worthwhile: The latest on Hurricane Irma, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg hints he has a disturbing disdain for privacy, a new politically-themed horror show on FX offers some unintended revelations, and National Review offers a special invitation.

Irma, the Southeast’s Unwanted Houseguest

The good news is Hurricane Irma is weakening. The bad news is that it has inflicted a heck of a lot of damage on Florida, and it’s not done yet.

Hurricane Irma was downgraded to a Category 1 storm Monday after it barreled into Florida on Sunday, crashing through the Florida Keys before making a second landfall near Naples on the Gulf Coast and setting a course for Georgia.

It flooded streets, snapped construction cranes and left 58 percent of all Florida electricity customers without power — about 5.8 million accounts — according to Florida’s State Emergency Response Team. The storm has killed at least 20 people since roaring out of the open Atlantic Ocean and chewing through a string of Caribbean islands.

At least 5 deaths in Florida were attributed to Irma, according to ABC News.

At 5 a.m. ET, the center of the storm was about 60 miles north of Tampa, Fla., the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Irma is moving to the northwest at 18 mph with sustained winds of 75 mph.

Irma is expected to weaken further before becoming a tropical storm between northern Florida and southern Georgia on later Monday, the center said.

The current projection has Irma continuing northward and gradually weakening until it becomes a mere tropical depression . . .  in Indiana. (Come on, no one can be that depressed in a state that has Tony Katz.)

The hurricanes have been terrible, but doesn’t it feel like the response has been . . .  well, better? Perhaps the days, weeks, and months after Hurricane Katrina set a low bar, but these past few weeks have shown us the worst of times being met with the best of America. Perhaps it’s appropriate to note this on a date like today.

Houston Texans star J.J. Watt raised more than $30 million, volunteers continue to fly into Texas from all around the country to assist with cleanup and recovery, and a jaw-dropping 122,331 people were rescued or evacuated, along with 5,234 pets.

In Florida, television news crews recorded looters and they were promptly arrested, those sheltered in a hotel were serenaded by actress Kirsten Bell, and even manatees stranded on mudflats are getting rescued by hardy volunteers. The Department of Defense mobilized to help victims in the Caribbean. The only good thing about a disaster is that almost everybody wants to find some way to help:

States are obligated in most cases to pay a “match” for federal disaster aid, generally about 10 percent of the amount the federal government is paying in the immediate aftermath. But FEMA policy allows states to count volunteer hours as a payment toward that match, at $25 per hour. Harrison said that his group has already logged and reported to Texas more than 27,000 volunteer hours worth more than $675,000 toward the state’s required match.

Our Kevin Williamson looks at the fairly short-lived spikes in the cost of gasoline in Texas, the difficulty of getting additional gasoline to Florida before Hurricane Irma hit, and offers an assessment particularly resonant on this day:

Can we handle a couple of hurricanes? Sure. But the world contains uglier truths and wilder dangers – and the world knows where we live. In 2001, 19 misfits with box-cutters changed the course of world history and showed us that we were by no means prepared for the future – or even for the here and now. A little bit of weather can seriously disrupt Americans’ ability to provide themselves with food, fuel, and the other necessities of life. There are worse things than the weather, and we’d better get ready for them.

Why Does the Creator of Facebook Deem Private Life ‘A Lack of Integrity’?

I had not heard this comment from Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, until I encountered it in Franklin Foer’s essay in Sunday’s Washington Post:

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has exclaimed his desire to liberate humanity from phoniness, to end the dishonesty of secrets. “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly,” he has said. “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Tell that to Batman.

Really, if not different identities, don’t we all have slightly-different versions of ourselves that we sort through and showcase throughout the days and weeks of our lives? The kind of person we are at work, the kind of person we are when we’re alone with our spouses or significant others, the kind of person we are with our kids, the kind of person we are when we’re with our friends, and the kind of person we are when with a stranger? Why is it a “lack of integrity” to showcase one side of yourself on a job interview on Tuesday morning and another side of yourself Saturday night? Why on earth does Zuckerberg want to eliminate that? Why can’t we have different images for different groups of people? What on earth would bring this inherently a lack of integrity? Japan has the concept of honne and tatemae, public self and private self; Freud offered his elaborate theories about our ids and hidden desires and sides of ourselves we hide from the world. What makes this 33-year-old so hell-bent on blowing up this concept of human existence?

Foer concludes, “Privacy won’t survive the present trajectory of technology – and with the sense of being perpetually watched, humans will behave more cautiously, less subversively.”

Who knew that the Emma Watson film The Circle was a documentary?

American Horror Story: Hollywood Projection

Our Kyle Smith finds the latest Trump-focused season of FX’s show American Horror Story hilarious, and more than a bit revealing: in Hollywood’s eyes, they’re the bold independent freethinkers, and all of those folks on the right are the hive-like conformists:

When AHS stitches together liberal fears, a lot of ragged seams are left showing. One of the good Trump-hating liberals on the show lectures Kai (a Fox News-watching Trump fan), “You are afraid, we are not,” just before another Trump-hating liberal tells her shrink about all of her debilitating Trump-induced phobias, not excluding a fear of coral. Nor does it make a lot of sense when the Fox News–loving villain gives an angry speech praising collectivism: “Every single member of the hive is completely committed to a single task.” Er, remind me, which party’s last president said things like “preserving our individual freedom ultimately requires collective action”? Which party’s 2016 candidate issued a campaign manifesto called Stronger Together? Which one insists it takes a village to raise a child? To minute the most vivid left-wing fears is to produce a catalogue of projection.


Look, their fear is different!

ADDENDA: All of us at National Review hope you can join us for the Fourth Annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner, held Wednesday, October 25 at Gotham Hall in New York City. (Sounds like the sort of place Batman would hang out, doesn’t it?)

The theme of this year’s dinner is “Books, Arts, & Manners” and we will be honoring world-class author Tom Wolfe with the William F. Buckley Prize for Leadership in Political Thought and Bruce and Suzie Kovner with the WFB Prize for Leadership in Supporting Liberty. The Kovners have supported and led organizations that defend private enterprise, free markets and free trade, protect individual rights, promoted scholarly research that strengthens American democratic principles; fought for education reform, particularly charter schools; and helped ensure the future of the major performing arts institutions of New York City.

Our master of ceremonies will be James Rosen of Fox News and the event will feature performances by students of The Juilliard School. More information about tickets and sponsorship can be found here. Hope to see you there.

Politics & Policy

Hurricane Irma Sets Her Sights on Florida

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Jim’s back from the cruise, and here’s what’s in the Jolt to make the click-through worthwhile: Didn’t we leave on this note? A terrible hurricane bears down on America’s shores, Trump practices the Art of the Complete Concession In Order to Get Good Press and enjoys it, and selected highlights from the just-completed Transatlantic National Review cruise.

Batten Down the Hatches, Florida Man!

If you’re in Florida and reading this right now – well, maybe you’ll want to save that cell phone battery. The outlook is about as grim as it gets:

Hurricane Irma tightened her grip on South Florida early Friday, becoming overnight what everyone has long dreaded: a monster hurricane bearing down on Miami and a coast with 6 million people.

Reliable forecast models projecting the storm’s path predictably began to agree on a final, fateful track, with a direct hit along the southeast coast Sunday. Irma is heading west and should continue moving in that direction over the next 24 to 36 hours, forecasters said early Friday, with hurricane conditions in the Keys and mainland starting Saturday night. Tropical storm-force winds should start in the morning.

Irma was located just under 450 miles southeast of Miami at 8 a.m., forecasters said. Sometime Saturday, the storm should begin making a critical turn to the north. But the turn will likely be too late to spare Florida from punishing hurricane winds that extend 70 miles from Irma’s center.

Once again, the odds are good that you know someone who’s evacuating or contemplating evacuation. If you’re north or west of the storm path, maybe ping them and let them know if they need a place to stay for a few days, you’ve got that  lumpy spare bed. In time, we’ll donate money for cleanup

Speaking of money for cleanup, you may have seen an unusual commercial during the football game last night: All of our living former presidents coming together for One America Appeal. President George W. Bush quoted another resident, “We’ve got more love in Texas than water.” According to the organization’s website, “all donations made today will go to help victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas through the Houston Harvey Relief Fund focusing on the greater Houston region, and the Rebuild Texas Fund assisting communities across the state.” President Trump tweeted his support for the effort as well. Sadly, I suspect the Presidents of the United States of America — the actual men, not the band – may need to launch a parallel effort for Florida in the coming weeks.

The Art of the Surrender

It’s not a good deal in the eyes of conservatives or Republicans, but I don’t get why anyone should be surprised. Trump has a much stronger appetite for good press than he does for limited government.  When President Trump does what Democratic Congressional leaders want, he will get good press. It appears we’re entering a new chapter of the Trump administration, one where he’s eager to work with the Congressional minority to enact his priorities rather than the majority:

Wednesday’s agreement on $15.25 billion in relief for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, combined with a three-month extension of the government’s funding and its borrowing limit, was followed by further outreach to Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.).

The Harvey package, originally proposed by Democrats and approved on an 80-17 vote, now heads to the House, which is expected to vote on it on Friday. The House approved a smaller hurricane aid bill, without anything else attached, earlier in the week. Many conservatives there are reluctant to vote to increase the debt limit without taking any other steps to curb federal spending. But most, if not all, Democrats are likely to support it, as are many Republicans from Texas, Louisiana and Florida, all states affected by or bracing for the storms.

You can see the logic from Trump’s perspective; he relied on Congressional Republicans to send him an Obamacare repeal and replace bill, and they couldn’t do it. So why shouldn’t he turn to the Democrats? He gets some agenda items done and he doesn’t end up looking foolish. The people who nominated him to enact a Republican agenda end up looking foolish.

Of course, a sudden shift like this on the president’s part will make for one of the more spectacularly awkward “strange new respect” moments for the media and some Democrats. “Hey, remember that president who we were pretty sure was a neo-Nazi white-supremacist fascist demagogic aspiring-dictator? It turns out he’s pretty reasonable when it comes to infrastructure spending and eliminating the debt ceiling . . . ”

[Insert “Mussolini made the trains run on time” joke here.]

Notes and Highlights from the National Review Cruise . . . 

The cruise was another reminder that we at National Review have the best readers in the whole wide world, and I thank each and every one of you, whether you were able to join us on the cruise or not, whether you read the print magazine or just the web site, whether you love us or just tolerate us or just read us to see what we’re rambling about now.

I asked former attorney general Michael Mukasey whether he thought former FBI director James Comey’s July 5, 2016 press conference, during which he criticized Hillary Clinton for sloppy handling of classified material but not recommending criminal charges, was Comey’s version of “splitting the baby like King Solomon.” (You’re probably familiar with the story: Two women came to King Solomon, each claiming to be the mother of an infant, with no way of determining who was telling the truth. King Solomon suggested that the child should be cut in two, which each mother having half. One mother, horrified at the thought, immediately conceded her claim, saying she would rather have her child raised by another woman than to see it cut in half. The King ruled that her willingness to sacrifice demonstrated she was the real mother, and awarded her custody.)

Mukasey agreed, but pointed out, “Comey forgot that King Solomon is remembered as wise because he didn’t actually split the baby. If he had, he would have been remembered as Solomon, that maniac who ran around chopping babies in half.”

‐ Author and all-around savant Mark Helprin is deeply concerned that the United States has a much smaller military than it will need to meet the challenges to come. He wants to see 1,000 F-22s, a 500-ship Navy — and preferably a 600-ship one – missile defense, and a lot more air capacity to rapidly deploy troops – C-5, C-17, and C-130 cargo aircraft.

‐ In a panel discussion touching on national security, our David French raised a thoroughly unnerving thought that the North Korean regime’s nuclear capacity and appetite for risk grow concurrently — so that as they develop more weapons and more precise delivery systems, they will behave more aggressively and provocatively toward the United States and its neighbors. This appetite for conflict is almost certain to lead to confrontation.

‐ John Hillen, who chairs NR’s board of directors, began by asking the audience where the Libyan nuclear program was right now. The answer is in Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, voluntarily surrendered after the Iraq War. We hear a lot about the failures in American foreign policy, and we ought to, but it is worth remembering that previous administrations have managed to defuse a few bombs in their time. He offered a skeptical assessment of whether Afghanistan could ever become a stable country; in his time there he found it so far behind in poverty, technology, and tribal divisions that it couldn’t be fairly described as Stone Age banditry; it still “aspires to Stone Age banditry.”

‐ James Lileks to Douglas Murray, trying to summarize the differences between, say, Nancy Pelosi and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: “Our Left is not as lefty-left as your Left.”

On one of my panels, Reihan Salam, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Kevin Williamson noted that at least two big economic debates of our time — the long term stability of our entitlement programs and trade — are marked by concentrated costs and dispersed benefits.

Most government spending is the reverse, dispersed costs but concentrated benefits: We would all benefit from lower taxes if the government reduced spending, but those who benefit from farm subsidies, the National Endowment for the Arts, or the Weed Agency raise holy hell whenever someone proposes cuts to those programs.

Americans are wary about entitlement reform, because they know that if the United States shifted from Social Security – where you get a monthly payment, no matter what — to universal 401(k)s that gained or lost value depending upon the market’s performance, many would be better off, but some people could make bad investments and end up with less than they would have with the status quo.

Similarly, almost all Americans enjoy the fruits of free trade; if you don’t believe me, check your clothing labels. But we’re all moved by the image of a closed factory, with a padlocked gate and “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS” sign. Free trade benefits most people but less expensive imported goods will hit some domestic producer hard, and that minority is a lot more visible than the modestly reduced prices for all of those imported goods.

I mentioned a point that isn’t original but is still worth keeping in mind when discussing public opinion on economic issues like this: Human beings are largely moved by stories and images, not by numbers and data. The numbers might say that collectively Americans are better off with free trade, but we remember the images of the shut-down factories and workers being laid off – and that influences people’s thinking and reactions much more than numbers on a spreadsheet.

This is one of Trump’s gifts; unlike policy wonks, he thinks in stories and images instead of numbers or data. This may not make for better policies, but it is a campaigning gift for connecting with people. Unsurprisingly, President Trump’s performance so far was a regular point of discussion on the cruise; I’d say most NR cruise-goers were still Trump fans, some vocally and strongly so, quite a few generally pleased but irked with the Tweeting and drama.

ADDENDA: Thanks to Philip DeVoe for filling in while I was on the cruise. I saw several readers declaring on Twitter that Philip nailed the tone of this newsletter so well, they didn’t even realize that I wasn’t writing it. And let’s face it, there’s no higher compliment than being mistaken for me.

Culture

The Atlantic Hurricane Season Grows Worse

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Today making the click-through worthwhile: Hurricanes are hammering the Atlantic basin, the latest New York state government boondoggle arrives in the small town of Jamestown, N.Y., and the state of modern journalism.

No Way, Jose

Hurricane Harvey looks like just the beginning of the Atlantic basin’s worries, as tropical storm Jose has been upgraded to a hurricane, joining Hurricane Katia and Hurricane Irma. Irma poses the most immediate threat to the Caribbean and the U.S. — as the most powerful storm in the Atlantic basin’s recorded history, it has already claimed eleven lives and damaged 95 percent of structures in Barbuda.

Irma is expected to make landfall in Florida early Sunday morning, and Florida governor Rick Scott and Miami mayor Carlos Gimenez have begun preparations for one of the worst storms to ever face Miami. Scott has deployed the National Guard, and an evacuation order from Gimenez for Miami-Dade County went into effect today at 7:00 a.m.

The evacuation orders are the largest since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and came as Miami-Dade was the regional holdout in not instructing at least some residents to flee in advance of the storm. Broward issued its evacuation orders for coastal areas on Wednesday morning and said 14 shelters would be opening. On Tuesday, Monroe County ordered residents and tourists to begin leaving Wednesday. . . . 

In all, about 150,000 people are covered by the order.

Mayor Gimenez stressed that if Miami-Dade residents plan on leaving, they must leave quickly, to avoid the disastrous effects of gridlock evacuation traffic.

Boondoggle in the Boondocks

New York governor Andrew Cuomo is planning on building a comedy museum in Jamestown, N.Y., which is six and a half hours from New York City and four from Pittsburgh. The price tag? Only $50 million.

Jamestown? It’s a place of “empty storefronts and underused buildings,” according to the New York Times. . . .  Home to some 31,000 souls, it doesn’t exactly scream “arts capital.” There’s a reason the most popular museums tend to be concentrated in cities rather than scattered randomly in rural areas, hamlets, and deserted islands: One museum, especially one small museum, isn’t usually enough to make tourists to go much out of their way. Especially a museum that proposes to offer stuff few want to see in the first place.

Cuomo selected Jamestown because it is the birthplace of Lucille Ball, a widely recognized comic — but for a style that had mostly disappeared by the late 1970s. By comparing the proposed comedy museum to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., which is four hours away from Manhattan, proponents of the museum have suggested it will enjoy similar attendance.

But why would people flock to Jamestown for comedy? As Kyle Smith reports for NRO, the museum would need upwards of 114,000 visitors to be profitable with tickets costing $20 each. Cuomo has a lot of faith in his project: He said last month that he believes it will be a national attraction.

Let’s look at what else he believes: He avers that the project could create “scores” of jobs, according to the New York Times. Wow, scores? As in, maybe 40? Most of them presumably in such areas as custodial work, gift-shop attendant, and ticket-sales clerk, with a handful of cushy “curator” gigs steered toward reducing by two or three society’s surplus of holders of Ph.D.s in “culture studies”? If 40 jobs result, that’s $250,000 Cuomo is spending per job.

What the comedy museum will really be is a monument to the New York government’s notorious over-spending. Now that I would drive six hours to see.

When Opinions Become Facts

Writing for NRO, Johnathan S. Tobin explores how authors of fake news stories still believe the facts are true, despite clear evidence that they were not. The phenomenon goes back to 2004’s CBS News story claiming George W. Bush was a frequent no-show during his time in the National Guard. CBS’s Dan Rather was quickly fired upon the network’s discovery that many of the documents used as evidence had been forged. To this day, however, Rather believes he was correct.

His conviction that Bush was lying and needed to be taken down was greater than his duty as a journalist to report facts rather than arguments. . . . 

While Rather’s conduct seemed to illustrate the traditional liberal bias of the mainstream media, his exit from CBS was also seen as an object lesson of what happens when journalists let their political opinions get the better of their professional judgment. But though his conduct was viewed, perhaps incorrectly, as an outlier in 2004, by 2017 such attitudes are now very much mainstream.

Many of today’s journalists believe facts are secondary to convictions and beliefs. Take the Russia collusion “investigation” into Trump. James Comey testified during his Senate hearing that the foundation for the media’s case at the time, a New York Times article suggesting Trump’s campaign had colluded with Russians [right?], was found to be factually untrue. “Have you found any evidence of collusion?” “Not at this time,” Comey replied. Yet journalists remain undeterred.

Smith concludes by observing that the line between opinion and fact has been blurred in today’s journalism, which leads to opinions being considered as facts.

But while opinion is one thing – even on shows where there is no longer a semblance of balance with respect to the voices arrayed against Trump — letting that same spirit insinuate itself into investigative reporting is quite another. Groupthink in which negative stories about Trump are assumed to be true until proven false and even then are allowed to linger in the public imagination (such as the claim that a wave of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers was inspired by Trump even though the crime was the work of a disturbed Israeli teenager).

ADDENDA: A Texas woman slipped out of her handcuffs and stole the police car she was being held in yesterday. She then led police on a 20-mile pursuit, reaching speeds of nearly 100 mph. The video’s quite incredible.

Politics & Policy

Trump’s DACA Decision and the Way Forward

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This morning on the click-through: Trump’s DACA decision, how congressional Republicans have wrought the controversy surrounding DACA, and the flawed logic that supposes disasters help the economy.

The Stay Is Over

On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced the president’s decision to rescind the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order. The DACA rescission is good policy, putting an end to the five years of functional amnesty for many who were brought to the U.S. as minors by their illegal-immigrant parents. The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. given deferred status under DACA tops 800,000, and fixing the errant executive order has been a promise of Trump’s since his campaign — and one many conservatives support wholeheartedly.

In the administration’s statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered another reason to rescind DACA:

The Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach,” Sessions said. “There is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws. Enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers, and prevents human suffering. Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism. The compassionate thing is to end the lawlessness, (and) enforce our laws.”

Tuesday night, however, Trump tweeted that he plans to revisit his executive action should Congress fail to pass legislation that replaces DACA:

Wonderful.

National Security & Defense

What Are Our Options on North Korea?

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Making the click-through worthwhile: North Korean aggression opens talks of U.N. sanctions, Christie’s path to the Senate, and opting out of public-school sexual-education programs.

Sanctioning North Korea

In response to North Korea’s nuclear test this weekend, its most powerful yet, the U.S. began pressuring the U.N. to levy sanctions against the Kim regime. Senior Trump officials have said that cutting off oil and other fuels to North Korea is the “last best chance” to end North Korean aggression diplomatically.

Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that the U.S. is even considering stopping all trade with North Korean allies if the tests continue.

Rocklin Academy is the school where, last week, a kindergarten teacher staged a “transition ceremony” for a boy who wanted to dress like a girl. After the ceremony, a first-grader was disciplined for “misgendering” the student.

Cleveland goes on to add D.C. and Colorado to this list, noting that only Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Texas have a blanket opt-out right for all sexuality-based education. Until the other state legislatures fix the loophole, she advises parents to pull their students out of the public-school system or lobby the states to change the laws.

ADDENDA: The U.S. is well represented in the women’s U.S. Open quarterfinals this year, where four of the eight qualifiers are American: Coco Vandeweghe, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys. Good luck, ladies!

National Security & Defense

The Growing North Korea Crisis

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Happy Labor Day. Today’s Jolt is a bit truncated: Here’s an update on North Korea and Hollywood.

North Korea Detonates Nuclear Weapon; Mattis and Trump Respond

News out of North Korea, as the nation tests a new nuclear weapon:

The crisis with North Korea escalated Sunday as President Trump reviewed military options and suggested sweeping new economic sanctions in response to the crossing of a dangerous threshold by the isolated nation in detonating its most powerful nuclear weapon ever.

Defying Trump’s blunt warnings, North Korea claimed it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb that could be attached to a missile capable of reaching the mainland United States.

Though not yet confirmed, Pyongyang’s apparent show of force was extraordinary — the hydrogen weapon is vastly more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — and drew swift condemnation in capitals around the globe. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the action “absolutely unacceptable.”

President Trump signaled to reporters that the U.S. has not ruled out retaliating against North Korea. When asked after leaving St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C., Sunday morning how the U.S. planned to respond, the president answered, “We’ll see.”

As we’ve come to learn, “we’ll see” is Trump-speak for “I’m not going into details with you, but we’re leaving all options open.” Defense Secretary James Mattis gave a more definitive answer at a press conference outside the White House yesterday, warning of “a massive military response” to a threat against the U.S. or its allies.

A Flop of a Summer

NRO’s Kyle Smith writes about the dreadful summer Hollywood’s been having:

“This film’s not perfect!” could have been the tagline for any number of films released this horrendous summer. Sales were the weakest since 2006, off a huge 16 percent from last summer. From the big-screen adaptation of Baywatch that no one was waiting for to chapter eleventy-five of Pirates of the Caribbean and the umpteenth Transformers movie, it has been the Summer of Flops. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword cost something like $175 million but earned $39 million in North America. Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets cost about the same and took in about the same. The Emoji Movie piled up only $78 million. Alien: Covenant drew $77 million. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower didn’t even make it to $50 million. The Mummy, an ambitious effort from Universal to launch a new universe of interlocking horror titles, earned only $80 million and seems likely to be remembered mainly for the unintentionally hilarious performance by Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The only movies that made any money the entire summer were Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Despicable Me 3, and, on a smaller scale, Dunkirk, Baby Driver, and Girls Trip. Even Pixar stumbled with its second-lowest-grossing effort among its 18 releases, Cars 3. Half a dozen hits can’t make up for the losses racked up by dozens of flops. Nor does the fall look particularly promising.

High-profile releases in the next few weeks, such as Stephen King’s It, hope to give the movie industry a late-season boost in ticket sales, but these won’t help turn Hollywood around.

When the movie industry has had market lulls in the past, they have often looked to new sources of revenue or new demographics to pull in. Videocasettes, DVDs, and the Chinese market come to mind. But Hollywood doesn’t seem to have any new ideas or gimmicks, and with people leaving their houses less often, it seems the movie business is in trouble. As Smith quotes from an August headline, it’s “‘time to panic.’”

ADDENDA: For those of you missing Jim’s Twin Peaks updates, here’s one from NRO.

Politics & Policy

Chemical Blasts Release Hazardous Waste into Houston Waters

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Making the clickthrough worthwhile: Chemical explosions add more danger to Houston, a banana peel sparks a conversation on race at Ole Miss, and a Slate op-ed praises the socialist behavior Harvey has brought to Houston.

The Latest Catastrophe in Houston

Explosions at a Houston-area chemical plant have complicated rescue efforts and escalated the danger in a region already grappling with Hurricane Harvey:

When the hurricane blew in, workers at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Tex., faced the problem of keeping the plant’s volatile chemicals cold. The plant had 19.5 tons of organic peroxides of various strengths, all of them requiring refrigeration to prevent ignition.

But the power went out, and then the floodwaters came and knocked out the plant’s generators. A liquid nitrogen system faltered. In a last-ditch move, the workers transferred the chemicals to nine huge refrigerated trucks, each with its own generator, and moved the vehicles to a remote section of the plant.

That was doomed to fail, too. Six feet of water swamped the trucks, and the final 11 workers gave up. At 2 a.m. Tuesday, they called for a water evacuation and left the plant to its fate.

Early Thursday, two loud pops signaled an explosive combustion in one of the trucks, and a black plume of smoke spread from the plant, sending 15 police officers and paramedics to the hospital. All eight remaining vehicles are now likely to burn, said Robert W. Royall Jr., assistant chief of emergency operations for the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office.

We are “watching physics at work,” Arkema spokesman Jeff Carr said Thursday. “Probably a couple more tonight.”

Arkema isn’t the only plant to succumb to floodwaters, however. The failure of several Texas chemical plants in the wake of the storm has alerted plant managers and chemical-manufacturing organizations to the permeability of their backup systems. Bill Hoyle, a former senior investigator for the Chemical Safety Board, told the Washington Post that the explosions are “a wake-up call for an industry and their safety regulators who have not adequately taken action on lessons from Hurricane Katrina as well as the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.”

Just as Fukushima threatened the region with the devastating effects of nuclear fallout, Texan chemical plant explosions such as Arkema threaten to add fuel to an already uncontrollable fire in the form of hazardous petrochemicals:

The plant produced organic peroxides, which are used in a variety of products including pipes, plastics, acrylic paints, countertops and pharmaceuticals. A company spokesman estimated that 19.5 tons of chemicals were at the site. Small amounts can irritate the skin or damage corneas, and in larger amounts could cause liver damage, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). But the company spokesman said “the issue is a combustion event, not a chemical release.”

The Arkema emergency raises anew a host of concerns for chemical manufacturers. After the 1984 tragedy in Bhopal, India, in which a chemical leak from a Union Carbide plant killed more than 2,000 people and injured many thousands more, then-Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) pressed for legislation requiring chemical companies to describe their own worst-case scenarios.

Hopefully, our response to these disasters will eventually help make chemical plants safer, especially during floods.

Everyone’s Going Bananas

A banana stuck to a tree ended a fraternity retreat at the University of Mississippi early after three students told Greek life leaders that they were frightened and upset about the racial implications. From National Review’s Kat Timpf:

The leaders then shared their concerns with the rest of the camp, and one of the attendees, Ryan Swanson, admitted that he had placed the peel on the tree — explaining that he had actually not done so because he hates people of color and wants to intimidate them, but because he just couldn’t find a garbage can to put it in. But it didn’t end there: In fact, it prompted an entire day of “camp-wide conversation” about the racist “symbolism, intended or not” of the banana, a conversation that made some students feel so upset that they didn’t feel “safe” enough to stay, which ultimately led to the rest of the retreat being canceled altogether.

One of the “hurt, frightened” students claimed the peel reminded her of a display of bananas hanging from nooses at American University in May, directed at the school’s first female black president. As Kat points out, Swanson carelessly tossing his peel on the tree’s trunk is far different from hanging bananas from nooses.

The student, president of historically black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, even found something to complain about in the way the peel was discussed.

“I just don’t feel as though it was being facilitated in a constructive way,” McNeil told [the Daily Mississippian]. “At that point, we didn’t feel welcome; we didn’t feel safe,” McNeil continued. “If we didn’t feel wanted or safe at the camp, our best option was to leave.”

There are no reports of what exactly was said during the banana-peel-gate discussions that made some students so upset, but the school’s administration is reportedly working on a plan to help the students who are still coping.

Bananas were provided as a breakfast option during the retreat, which is probably how Swanson got ahold of one, so will they be removed from future retreats? And the school’s cafeterias?

Houston Doesn’t Show America at Its Best, Apparently

NRO’s Kyle Smith responds to an article by Katy Waldman for Slate, in which she laments the eventual recession of the progressive, socialist spirit of collectivism brought out by the Harvey disaster.

Underlying the piece is an old impulse of the Left dating back to Lenin and beyond: A wish to keep society in emergency mode because of the opportunities it opens up. Catastrophe tends to loosen up all that red tape that gets in the way of progressive action. Catastrophe leads to immediate mobilization. Catastrophe gives us spontaneous collectivism. Why can’t we have collectivism always and everywhere, not just in the Houston area when 50 inches of rain falls on it? Waldman is looking toward the aftermath of Harvey and fears that this disaster will be allowed, in the deathless words of Rahm Emanuel, to “go to waste”; i.e., it won’t lead to a major leftward turn for Texas or the U.S.

Waldman celebrates a suspended “norm” in Houston, where “something lovelier and more communal has been allowed to flourish in their place.” While Waldman — and many on the left – believe cooperation and community dies under capitalism, Smith uses a quote by F. A. Hayek to push back: Capitalism actually facilitates “the extended order of human cooperation.” Business owners want their customers to like them, they want their stores to be welcoming, and they provide good services to keep business flowing.

If it is cooperation Waldman wants, a centralized authority isn’t the answer. “‘Utopia’ means nowhere. It isn’t achievable. The conservatives in Texas understand this better than most.”

ADDENDA: Cy Young winner and MVP pitcher Justin Verlander was traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Houston Astros yesterday evening. Twitter users have unearthed a 2012 criticism of the pitcher from President Donald Trump, Tweeted the morning of the third AL Championship game, while the Tigers were up 2-0 in the series against the Yankees:

Verlander’s ERA in that game was 1.08.

 

Have a good Labor Day weekend!

Politics & Policy

New Details in Senator Menendez’s Corruption Case

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First, your Harvey update: Floodwaters led to a series of explosions in a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, early this morning. Port Arthur is now underwater, and the death toll has risen to 37.

Now, making the clickthrough worthwhile: the prosecution releases the details of Senator Bob Menendez’s case, Richard Parker eulogizes the “death” of Texas’s rugged individualism in Politico Magazine, and baseball errs (and then makes amends) with its plans for the Astros.

Do Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

The prosecution in the Bob Menendez trial has released the details of its case against the New Jersey senator and his co-defendant, Salomon Melgen. Menendez was indicted for accepting a slew of bribes from Florida eye specialist Salomon Melgen in exchange for promoting Melgen’s business.

Flights on a private jet, vacations in a Paris hotel suite and a Caribbean villa, and nearly $800,000 in campaign contributions were some of the bribes Sen. Bob Menendez received to promote the business and personal interests of Florida eye specialist Salomon Melgen, a 14-count federal indictment charged Wednesday.

In exchange, the indictment said, Menendez tried to help Melgen keep $9 million that Medicare said he overbilled the government; pressed the State Department to provide visas so Melgen’s girlfriends from Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Ukraine could study in or visit Florida; and pushed for federal pressure to sway the Dominican government over a port security contract Melgen owned.

Menendez and Melgen have been friends for more than 20 years, and the senator has stressed that they often exchanged gifts. To get a conviction, legal experts said, the government is going to have to prove that the benefits Melgen provided were specifically tied to official actions by Menendez.

The trial may have immediate political consequences: The prosecution is attempting to shoot down the senator’s request for breaks during the trial so he can attend Senate votes or participate in debate. Prosecutors argue that the regular activities of the court and its pursuit of justice shouldn’t be put on hold for politics.

Menendez’s absence would increase the GOP’s thin 52-48 margin in the Senate, which might make things a bit easier for Mitch McConnell. Of course, that would also mean Menendez’s constituents wouldn’t be fully represented in the Senate in the interim, and there are many crucial issues that will be taken up in the next few months (e.g., the debt ceiling, funding the government, a Hurricane Harvey–relief bill, etc.).

To put Menendez’s trial in historical context, of the twelve sitting senators who have been indicted, four were acquitted, one had his charges dropped, and two of the verdicts were overturned. That only four senators have been convicted of a crime while in office certainly says something about our democracy. It’s reassuring to know we live in a country where the senators might not be as corrupt as we think.

Unless that is . . . you’re from New Jersey, which is the only state to have two senators indicted. The other, Harrison Williams, was also one of the four convicted.

Messing with Texas

Richard Parker, writing in Politico Magazine, offers his analysis of the situation in Texas:

When Gov. Greg Abbott won election in 2014, he said of his agenda: “We will celebrate the frontier spirit of rugged individualism.” Since then, he and the legislature have sought to limit government power — except their own. They have enabled individuals to more freely carry guns and knives and diverted taxpayer money from public to private schools. Most recently, Abbott led the failed effort to nullify local tree ordinances — regulations limiting tree removal — because these posed, Abbott argued, a threat to individual freedom.

But Harvey has changed all that.

“A Texas-sized storm requires a Texas-sized response, and that is exactly what the state will provide,” Abbott said Monday in Corpus Christi. “While we have suffered a great deal, the resiliency and bravery of Texans’ spirits is something that can never be broken. As communities are coming together in the aftermath of this storm, I will do everything in my power to make sure they have what they need to rebuild.”

This is a man whose signature boast was that he got up every day, went to work and sued the federal government, who has called for a constitutional convention to strip power from Washington and yet, on Monday, said, “To see the swift response from the federal government is pretty much unparalleled.”

Parker’s tone deafness — in an article positing that Harvey’s legacy might signal the end of “the Lone Star State’s rugged individualism” — is hard to fathom. While state, local (and federal) officials seem to have reacted competently under the circumstances, the true story of the last week has been private citizens spontaneously rising to the occasion to help their families, friends, and communities in need. The “Cajun Navy” of flat-bottom boats, canoes, and bass boats is the product of the local citizenry — not the federal behemoth in Washington or even the state government in Austin.

To Parker, “self-reliance” must mean something like “dying in a flood before letting the government help” — most Texans, however, believe it means taking the initiative to help your neighbors, your community, and even strangers in an emergency. also ignores the fact that Texans — and most Americans — don’t hate the federal government, they just don’t trust it, especially when it comes to disaster relief. Governor Abbot’s award of an “A+” to FEMA isn’t some sacrifice of rugged conservative values, it’s an acknowledgement of a government that’s functioning properly.

Then, Politico published a cartoon (in a now deleted tweet) accusing Texans of hypocrisy for accepting federal aid while the state harbors a secession movement:

https://twitter.com/BuckSexton/status/902956683911147522

Already, the prediction that baseball can help heal a broken community is coming true. Houston mayor Sylvester Turner commented that the decision will “provide an opportunity for families to start returning to some aspect of familiar life.” Baseball has the power to bring people together, distract them from hardship, and give them something to root for. The people of Houston — and all Texans — certainly need all three.

Also, the Astros have announced that the Carlos Correa jerseys the team had planned to give away during the game will now go to a local charity, and the first 5,000 tickets will go to first responders.

Well done, Astros.

ADDENDA: Planned Parenthood asked its Twitter followers to “Fill in the blank: The person I’m going out with can never ______. Tell us your dating dealbreakers.” Unsurprisingly, it backfired on them, with comments ranging from “Think abortion is acceptable” to “Sell kids for spare parts.”

Editor’s Note: The article originally referenced “Politico’s Richard Parker’s analysis” of Hurricane Harvey and its effect on Texas. The wording has been changed to clarify that Parker, whose opinion piece was published in Politico Magazine, is a freelance columnist from Texas.

Politics & Policy

When Image Trumps Character

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Today, making the click-through worthwhile, it’s Harvey all around: an update on the status of the storm and the inspiring togetherness it has bred; Harvey’s impact on the government shutdown; and Heelgate, possibly the most undeserving Watergate analogy yet.

When the Levee Breaks, People Come Together

The five-day total of Harvey rainfall has reached 52 inches, and a Harris County Flood Control meteorologist estimates that up to 30 percent of Houston is underwater.

This morning, Harvey — now a tropical storm — made its second landfall, in southwest Louisiana. Yesterday, a levee at Columbia Lakes broke, but thankfully many had already evacuated the resort village, which lies southwest of Houston. The death toll has now reached 30.

As disasters often do, Hurricane Harvey has brought out the best in people. The city and county police have rescued 6,100 Houstonians from the waters. Now-viral videos depict a CNN reporter helping rescue a geriatric from his home and a chain of volunteers leading a pregnant woman — in labor during the flooding — into the back of a rescue truck. One video shows neighbors celebrating their safety with shots from a bottle of what a reporter erroneously calls water.

Houston Texans defensive end J. J. Watt’s YouCaring page has far surpassed its original goal of $200,000, now totaling more than $5.5 million. You can donate using the link attached. University of Mississippi’s Kappa Sigma fraternity has promised to donate $0.25 for every retweet and $0.10 for every like on a Tweet it posted 17 hours ago. See the current totals below:

In fact, Melania was wearing the heels while boarding the plane. When she arrived in Corpus Christie, she had changed into a button-down, a trendy FLOTUS hat, and, yes, sneakers.

More importantly, though, judging the president by minor quirks in his and his wife’s behavior are irresponsible criticisms. Instead of focusing on his policies — how he’s approaching disaster funding, what impact it will have on the government shutdown — some decided to deride Melania’s fashion choices. And do we really need a media focused on shoes? Heelgate is an example of how detail-focused many in the media have become when covering the president, equating the superficial and the real and ignoring in-depth analysis on merits, choosing instead to judge by emotion.

In fact, Vogue raises a good question by including “The White House’s Continual Failure to Understand Optics” in the headline for their Heelgate report. Why do we care so much about optics? Maybe we should be demanding media organizations that value quality of content over quality of image.

ADDENDA: Sean Spicer finally met Pope Francis. Recall from Trump’s visit to the Vatican earlier this year that the former press secretary was snubbed from the papal audience.

But nothing will beat Jim Harbaugh’s visit to Vatican City, when he gave the Holy Father Wolverine-themed Jordans and a University of Michigan football helmet. Hail Mary, indeed.

Politics & Policy

As Flooding Continues in Houston, Texans Still Need Your Help

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This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt until September 8. I’ll see some of you on the National Review cruise this week.

Texas Still Needs Our Help

The outlook for Houston is mixed; every charity that was mobilizing to help the victims yesterday is still doing so today, so if you feel like helping out financially or with your time, you can find links to all of them here. I’ve got friends evacuating and friends holding up and hoping the waters stop at their home’s edge. The good news is everybody I know has checked in on social media lately.

The rain slowing means that the waters will recede eventually — but “eventually” means the danger of floodwaters continues:

Rain still pelted the city, but rainfall totals were expected to fall sharply, opening some roads and neighborhoods. Officials now anxiously monitored rising river levels, which swelled with the rainfalls of the past two days. The Brazos River at Richmond, about 30 miles south of Houston, measured nearly 52 feet Tuesday morning and was expected to crest at 59 feet by Thursday — four feet greater than the record high set last year.

Outside help continued streaming into Houston. Search-and-rescue crews from Florida, California, Utah and other areas staged at different trouble spots around town. Walmart was shipping 2,000 kayaks to the area to help stranded residents.

Gov. Greg Abbott activated the state’s entire National Guard force, increasing to 12,000 the number of guardsmen deployed to flooded communities.

“Texas (officials) and FEMA will be involved here for a long, long time,” Abbott said. “Until we can restore things as back to normal as possible. But we have to realize it will be a new normal for the region.”

The death toll is at 14 victims so far.

Pyongyang, This Is Not the Time to Push Us.

These North Koreans do not know when to stop tugging on Superman’s cape, or spitting into the wind.

North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan Tuesday, the latest in a string of direct provocations that have destabilized the region and triggered global alarm.

The missile — the first Pyongyang has fired over Japan’s main islands since 2009 — prompted a fiery response from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“This outrageous action of firing a missile over our country is an unprecedented, grave and serious threat that seriously damages peace and security in the region,” he said. “We have firmly protested to North Korea.”

Mr. Abe called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. He said he spoke by phone with President Donald Trump for 40 minutes and that the president gave a “strong commitment” to Japan’s security.

This is why I am skeptical of both the “we need to reach out diplomatically” crowd and the “our scary rhetoric is escalating the conflict” argument. The Obama administration sure as heck wasn’t interested in fighting a second Korean War, and Trump administration has been quiet since the president’s “fire and fury” remarks. Pyongyang has a clear path to de-escalation; they just refuse to take it.

The American government and its allies cannot make any clearer that we have no interest in invading North Korea. (If the regime collapsed from within, well, we wouldn’t shed any tears.) But the perhaps not-quite-sane leadership in Pyongyang refuses to believe it, and clings to the paranoid belief that a U.S. strike could occur at any time, keeping the country on a war footing and cementing their draconian control over the people.

Eric Talmadge of the Associated Press lays out how North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un might think he could hit America first and then deter a counterpunch:

The trigger for North Korea could be unusual troop movements in South Korea, suspicious activity at U.S. bases in Japan or — as the North has recently warned — flights near its airspace by U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers out of their home base on the island of Guam.

If Kim deemed any of those an imminent attack, one North Korean strategy would be to immediately target U.S. bases in Japan. A more violent move would be to attack a Japanese city, such as Tokyo, though that would probably be unnecessary since at this point the objective would be to weaken the U.S. military’s command and control. Going nuclear would send the strongest message, but chemical weapons would be an alternative.

North Korea’s ability to next hit the U.S. mainland with nuclear-tipped missiles is the key to how it would survive in this scenario. And that’s why Kim has been rushing to perfect [them] and show them off to the world.

“The whole reason they developed the ICBM was to deter American nuclear retaliation because if you can hold an American city or cities at risk the American calculation always changes,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a nuclear strategy specialist.

“Are we really willing to risk Los Angeles or Chicago in retaliation for an attack on a U.S. military base in the region?” he asks. “Probably not.”

That, right there, is Kim’s big wager.

If “no” actually is the answer, then North Korea has a chance — though slim and risky — of staving off a full-scale conventional attack by the United States to survive another day.

Of course, a successful North Korean attack on American city requires A) their missile to launch correctly, B) our defense systems to fail in shooting it down, and C) their nuclear bomb detonating correctly.

A Quick Thought on the Evolution of Taylor Swift

I’m sure my pop culture podcast co-host will have more to say about this upon my return, but . . .  the latest song by Taylor Swift offers the lyric, “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh! ‘Cause she’s dead!”

Remember when Taylor Swift first hit it big, back in the last Bush years? Remember how she seemed like a breath of fresh air, with an onstage persona that seemed humble, down-to-earth, level-headed, a refreshing change from the self-absorbed narcissism of other pop stars of that era? People made fun of her seemingly-perpetual “surprised face,” but she always acted genuinely overwhelmed by the admiration of her fans and recognition of her talents by the music industry.

That was a long time ago, and it’s unrealistic to expect Swift, who became arguably the biggest and most influential pop star in America, to remain the same in either her onstage or offstage personas. But as Swift moved from country to pop, and came to dominate the pop charts, did she become less . . .  distinct?

Now she’s in another flashy music video with elaborate computer-generated effects, with another plethora of elaborate costume changes, served by computer-generated snakes, surviving a computer-generated car crash, berating the media for false reports about her, pledging that some unspoken rival or foe will pay for wrongdoing . . .  Maybe you love this video, maybe you hate it, but doesn’t it feel . . .  familiar, from the Thriller-like zombie makeup in the beginning to the biker chic to the models lined up on an assembly line? The well-trod themes are:

Being famous is difficult.

The media is unfair to me.

I have been wronged.

I am stronger than this adversity.

I will overcome this, and those who wronged me will suffer the consequences.

In other words, she’s singing the kinds of songs and making the kinds of videos we would not have been surprised to see Madonna, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, or Pink offer not too long ago.

In short, separate from good or bad, isn’t the “new Taylor” kind of . . .  generic?

By the way, the pop culture podcast is now available on iTunes.

ADDENDA: Yuval Levin and Mona Charen say farewell to the recently departed Mike Cromartie.

A hoaxer boasts that he managed to get Louise Mensch and Claude Taylor to re-tweet made-up details about a criminal investigation into Trump. Is that really a difficult thing to do? In terms of degree of difficulty, isn’t this the prank version of making a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich?

Politics & Policy

How You Can Help the Victims of Hurricane Harvey

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Making the click-through worthwhile: What we need to do to help Texas right now; why a mandatory evacuation of the city of Houston might been even more dangerous than what we have now; and Antifa shows its true, dark colors in Berkeley in front of the television cameras.

Texans Need Help. Let’s Show Them They Can Count on Us.

If you know someone in Texas, the chances are good you know someone who’s facing some hard times from Hurricane Harvey. I’m doing my best not to text, direct message, and ping them on Facebook every hour on the hour. Everyone in that region, know that everybody outside of your neck of the woods is praying, thinking of you, and looking for ways to help.

National Voluntary Organizations in Active Disasters, an association of organizations that mitigate and alleviate the impact of disasters, is asking for volunteers and donations. Through their site you can find every charity of every stripe: the Red Cross, Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, the United way, etcetera.

A friend of mine is helping coordinate donations for the Texas Diaper Bank. A lot of disaster relief organizations think of and prep for everything except a lack of diapers, so the San Antonio-based Texas Diaper Bank focuses on this basic necessity for families with young children. They’re restarting their operations of collecting and distributing diapers at 8 a.m. Monday morning local time.

For the Red Cross, you can donate here, or pick up your phone and text REDCROSS to 90999. You’ll instantly send $10 to the organization, with the fee on your next cell phone bill.

FEMA expects that more than 30,000 people will need temporary shelters when the rain ends and 450,000 people will register as disaster victims.

Houston’s airport received a little more than sixteen inches of rain yesterday. The previous daily record was a bit more than eight inches.

Don’t Let Anyone Tell You the Decision to Evacuate Houston Is An Easy Call.

It’s a little early for finger-pointing in the preparations for Hurricane Harvey; most cities and municipalities are prepared for a big storm but not necessarily a once-in-a-century or once-in-a-millennium flooding. One commentator on the morning shows half-jokingly said that if they had to build Houston all over again, they might have picked a different spot than a broad, flat plane next to a gulf coast that experiences hurricanes.

On Friday, Texas governor Greg Abbott more or less strongly urged those in the Houston area to get out: “Even if an evacuation order hasn’t been issued by your local official, if you’re in an area between Corpus Christi and Houston, you need to strongly consider evacuating,” Abbott said. “What you don’t know, and what nobody else knows right now, is the magnitude of flooding that will be coming. You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you could be subject to a search and rescue.”

Local officials did not agree with the governor.

“At this time I can reemphasize there will be no mass evacuations called,” said Harris County Judge Edward Emmett, who is responsible for overseeing emergency operations, at a joint press conference with Turner on Friday. He noted that several coastal towns within Harris County, where Houston lies, had issued voluntary evacuations because of the storm surge.

A mandatory evacuation of Houston isn’t theoretical for the city; residents went through this in 2005 with Hurricane Rita. That storm, which appeared quite powerful while moving through the Gulf of Mexico, arrived one month after Hurricane Katrina, with local and state officials determined to not underestimate the threat. They may well have overestimated the threat — not their fault, as the strength and direction of hurricanes are hard to predict — and the evacuation brought its own cost in human lives: “An estimated 2.5 million people hit the road ahead of the storm’s arrival, creating some of the most insane gridlock in U.S. history. More than 100 evacuees died in the exodus. Drivers waited in traffic for 20-plus hours, and heat stroke impaired or killed dozens. Fights broke out on the highway. A bus carrying nursing home evacuees caught fire, and 24 died.”

For almost everyone involved, the evacuation was a hellacious ordeal:

The large number of residents fleeing from Hurricane Rita overwhelmed the infrastructure of many rural East Texas communities. On September 22, 2005, in one rural county alone, it was estimated that 150,000 vehicles sat bumper-to-bumper on four lanes of a 30-mile stretch of Interstate 45 north of Houston. The congested roadways prevented emergency medical workers from quickly responding to the medical emergencies of evacuees, including dialysis, oxygen, insulin, births, and deaths. Extended evacuation times caused major fuel shortages. Vehicles of every type ran out of gas and became stranded along the evacuation routes, worsening the congestion. A trip that usually takes three and a half hours became a 24-hour drive during the evacuation. When evacuees did reach their rural destinations, their huge demand for goods and services such as food, water, ice, and restroom facilities soon overwhelmed supply. Temperatures soared to 100 degrees and humidity hovered at 94%. Evacuees were forced to turn off their car air conditioners to conserve fuel or to keep engines from overheating. Lack of adequate restrooms along evacuation routes forced evacuees to use blankets and towels as privacy screens to construct makeshift facilities along the roadside. This unsanitary disposal of human waste created potential public health hazards such as the spread of infectious diseases and the contamination of the ground water supply.

The areas that have been declared a disaster area from Hurricane Harvey are the home of 6.8 million people in 18 counties. That is a stunning amount of people to attempt to move with 24, maybe 48 hours’ warning before the storm hits.

Now picture all of these people stuck in traffic on the road as Hurricane Harvey makes landfall . . .  and then the flooding begins. As bad as it is to be stuck in your home as floodwaters approach, the roof of your house is probably higher than the roof of your car.

This mess in Houston is really bad. An attempted evacuation might have gone even worse than it did during Rita, however.

The Fascist Antifa

A headline in the Washington Post many on the Right probably figured they would never see:

The article doesn’t soft-pedal it, either:

Their faces hidden behind black bandannas and hoodies, about 100 anarchists and antifa – “anti-fascist” — members barreled into a protest Sunday afternoon in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

Jumping over plastic and concrete barriers, the group melted into a larger crowd of around 2,000 that had marched peacefully throughout the sunny afternoon for a “Rally Against Hate” gathering.

Shortly after, violence began to flare. A pepper-spray wielding Trump supporter was smacked to the ground with homemade shields. Another was attacked by five black-clad antifas, each windmilling kicks and punches into a man desperately trying to protect himself. A conservative group leader retreated for safetybehind a line of riot police as marchers chucked water bottles, shot off pepper spray and screamed, “Fascist go home!”

All told, the Associated Press reported at least five individuals were attacked. An AP reporter witnessed the assaults. Berkeley Police’s Lt. Joe Okies told The Washington Post the rally resulted in “13 arrests on a range of charges including assault with a deadly weapon, obstructing a police officer, and various Berkeley municipal code violations.”

Antifa is not a peaceful movement, it does not promote “tolerance,” and its methods and motivations epitomize the fascism they claim to oppose. Their tools are intimidation and violence, their target is anyone who isn’t them.

(I’m reminded of that op-ed by Yoav Fromer in the Post declaring, “the willingness to employ organized violence to achieve political goals remains a signature quality of only one side. And it’s not the left.” Violence sure looks like a signature quality of Antifa to me!)

Where were the police? They let the mob take over out of fear of violence:

The decision by police to step aside and allow black-clad demonstrators to take over Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Sunday was based on the safety of officers and protesters, a spokeswoman for the Berkeley Police Department said.

For hours, some 400 law enforcement officers from Berkeley, Oakland, UC Berkeley and Alameda County had control of the scene at the park, stopping anyone who entered at a single checkpoint, where they confiscated anything on a list of banned objects, including skateboards, eggs and any items that could be used as weapons.

But shortly after the scheduled 1 p.m. start time of an anti-Marxism rally, hundreds of black-masked agitators arrived at the scene. Rather than trying to take on the horde, the clearly overwhelmed police force allowed hundreds of people to pass barriers and enter the park unchecked.

The police effectively surrendered control of the park to guys in black masks, who promptly began physically assaulting people.

Is this America?

Do people wonder why Trump’s “law and order” rallying cry resonates?

ADDENDA: Speaking of “law and order,” Jon Gabriel lays out the aspects of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s record that you may have missed:

During one three-year period, his Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office didn’t properly investigate more than 400 alleged sex crimes, many of them involving child molestation.

In all, the department improperly cleared as many as 75% of cases without arrest or investigation, a fact outlined in a scathing report by the conservative Goldwater Institute.

When local journalists delved into Arpaio’s dealings, he had them arrested, a move that ultimately cost taxpayers $3.75 million. We paid $3.5 million more after the sheriff wrongfully arrested a county supervisor who had been critical of him.

About the same time, Arpaio sought charges against another supervisor, a county board member, the school superintendent, four Superior Court Judges and several county employees. All of these were cleared by the courts and also resulted in hefty taxpayer-funded settlements for his targets.

As a U.S. District Court judge presided over a civil contempt hearing, Arpaio’s attorney hired a private detective to investigate the judge’s wife.

On the pretext of going after an alleged cache of illegal weapons, a Maricopa SWAT team burned down an upscale suburban Phoenix home and killed the occupants’ 10-month-old dog. There were no illegal arms, so they arrested the resident on traffic citations.

Regardless of his approach to illegal immigrants, the rest of Arpaio’s record paints an ugly and abusive portrait, one that is far from what any real conservative should expect from law enforcement.

Politics & Policy

Looks Like Harvey Is Daring to Mess with Texas

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Everybody on the Texas coast, be careful.

Forecasters said they expect Hurricane Harvey to make landfall on the middle Texas coast, between Corpus Christi and Matagorda, on Friday night or early Saturday, and then stall along the coast through the weekend.

As of 11 p.m., Thursday, Hurricane Harvey was about 180 miles southeast of Corpus Christi, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The hurricane was moving northwest, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Harvey is currently a Category 2 hurricane, but is expected to make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane, with winds upwards of 110 mph.

The wind-field of the hurricane has expanded, so a higher storm surge is projected for the upper Texas coastline. Coastal flooding is also predicted to be an issue over the weekend and possibly into next week because of strong onshore winds that will keep water piled up along the coastline.

Residents of Calhoun and parts of Matagorda counties were ordered to evacuate their homes as Harvey neared. The threat prompted the city of Galveston to issue a voluntary evacuation call for the West End Island, and for Galveston County to extend the same to Bolivar Peninsula.

The Houston region could be seeing rainfall and feeling the storm’s winds by late Friday morning.

The Weather Channel is forecasting some eye-popping numbers: Between North Padre Island and Galveston, a storm surge of 6 to 12 feet; then throw another foot or more of rain on top of that:

Earlier this morning, Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, declared, “If you have been asked by local officials to evacuate in TX, your window to do so is closing.”

Kasich-Hickenlooper. Try to Contain Your Enthusiasm.

Axios has an intriguing scoop this morning, although I have my doubts that it will come to fruition:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) – ”the Johns,” as insiders are calling them – have been making a flurry of joint appearances to talk about state-driven improvements to health care.

But Axios has learned that their duet is part of an alliance that’s gaining momentum toward a possible joint independent bid for president in 2020, likely with Kasich at the top of the ticket.

Insert all appropriate caveats: It’s August 2017, and we have no idea what the state of the Trump presidency, the country, the economy, the world stage, etcetera, will be in 2020.

If you’re a vehement Trump foe, you want the anti-Trump vote split in as few ways as possible. Whether or not the Green Party re-nominates Jill Stein, there will be a Green Party nominee, and that nominee will almost certainly be insisting that the Democratic nominee is a sellout corporatist squish who will not bring about real change. The Libertarians will nominate someone touting limited government in the abstract, and some anti-Trump Republicans might drift in that direction. (Again, why would anti-Trump Republicans reward Kasich, one of the guys who played a key role in ensuring Trump won the nomination in 2016?)

So imagine a 2020 ballot that looks something like this:

GOP: Trump-Pence

Independent: Kasich-Hickenlooper.

Democrat: Kamala Harris-Sherrod Brown

Green: Winona LaDuke-William Kreml

Libertarian: Austin Peterson-John McAfee

It’s a lot easier for even a hobbled president with the advantages of incumbency to hold onto a plurality than a majority. Presume the Green and Libertarians amount to their usual 2 to 6 percent of the vote in most states. With Kasich and Hickenlooper running as an independent ticket, Trump and Pence just need to hold on to the largest slice of the remaining 95 percent or so, instead of needing close to half. The threshold of a win becomes the high 30s instead of close to 50 percent.

How confident should Democrats or the Kasich-Hickenlooper team be that they wouldn’t lose a bunch of 37-34-33 splits in key states? President Trump has had a really lousy run for a while, and his approval rating remains in the mid-to-upper 30s or low 40s. Assuming that’s his floor of support, that doesn’t look so bad in a three-way race.

Let’s not forget: Donald Trump was wildly outspent, went through three campaign managers, had a lot of his party stay away from the national convention in Cleveland, outsourced his ground game to the Republican National Committee, kept having disastrous news cycle after another, and faced the raging enmity of the national political press throughout the race. And he managed to win 304 electoral votes (with two faithless electors). Now give him the advantage of incumbency (a Rose Garden campaign, etcetera) and recall we’ve reelected four of the last five presidents.

The mission for the Democratic nominee in 2020 is to win the states Hillary won and find another 38 electoral votes. For the sake of argument, assume the independent ticket headed by Kasich wins his home state of Ohio; this leaves Trump with 288 electoral votes, assuming he keeps all the rest of his 2016 states red. But Kasich winning Ohio would keep those 18 electoral votes out of the Democratic nominee’s pile as well. If Hickenlooper helps the independent ticket carry Colorado, that’s 9 electoral votes that the Democrat will have to make up elsewhere.

Axios reports, “Some establishment Dems are apoplectic about the idea of Hickenlooper teaming up with a Republican.” They probably should be.

Time to Push Back Against the Cuban Regime’s Brutal Attacks on Americans

Credit the editorial board of the Washington Post for publicly discussing two facts that most people aligned with the board’s general philosophy would prefer to ignore. First, despite President Obama’s outreach, the Cuban regime is every bit the ruthless brutes they always were. Second, most liberals and the left-of-center foreign policy establishment prefer to avert their eyes from shameless, violent acts of provocation by regimes like this . . .  and it’s not clear that our own State Department is ready to respond appropriately.

President Barack Obama’s much-hyped restoration of relations with Cuba was a bet that diplomatic and economic engagement would, over time, accomplish what 50 years of boycott did not: a rebirth of political freedom on the island. So far, the results have been dismal. In the two years since the U.S. Embassy in Havana reopened, repression of Cubans — measured in detentions, beatings and political prisoners — has significantly increased, while the private sector has remained stagnant. U.S. exports to Cuba have actually decreased, even as the cash-starved regime of Raúl Castro pockets millions of dollars paid by Americans in visa fees and charges at state-run hotels.

Now there’s another sinister cost to tally — the serious injuries inflicted on the U.S. diplomats dispatched to Havana.

News organizations have since provided shocking details: At least 16 American diplomats and family members received medical treatment resulting from sonic attacks directed at the residences where they were required to live by the Cuban government. A number of Canadian diplomats were also affected.

CBS News reported that a doctor who evaluated the American and Canadian victims found conditions including mild traumatic brain injury, “with likely damage to the central nervous system.”

That is an illegal assault on our people that differs only in scale to the attack on our embassy in Tehran back in 1979. Just what are we willing to do about it?

ADDENDA: Thanks to John Micek for his kind words about the Morning Jolt over at PennLive.

Politics & Policy

Ed Gillespie’s Clever Play in the Virginia Gubernatorial

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Today making the click-through worthwhile: Ed Gillespie re-uses a shrewd move in Virginia’s governor’s race, why a government shutdown would be another example of Republicans shooting themselves in their own feet, and how Twitter makes journalists dumber.

A Familiar Move From the Gillespie Playbook

Really late in Virginia’s 2014 campaign, everyone thought Democrat incumbent Mark Warner was going to skate to an easy victory over Ed Gillespie. September polls had Warner up by 20 and the final Real Clear Politics average had the Democrat ahead by almost 10 points.

Then, in late October, the Republican aired an ad during Monday Night Football when the Washington Redskins were playing the Dallas Cowboys.

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a bill to force the Redskins to change their name,” the narrator says in the ad for Gillespie. “Mark Warner refused to answer if he supports the bill or not. Why won’t Warner fight the anti-Redskins bill? Why won’t he answer the question?”

“I’ll answer the question,” Gillespie then said with a chuckle. “I’ll oppose the anti-Redskins bill. Let’s focus on creating jobs, raising take-home pay and making our nation safer, and let the Redskins handle what to call their team.”

It was a precisely targeted message for Washington Redskins fans in the northern Virginia suburbs. There was little or no sign that the Mark Warner campaign sensed any vulnerability on this issue or the race overall.

Warner won by about one percentage point.

Yesterday Ed Gillespie tweeted that ESPN’s decision to reassign Robert Lee from a University of Virginia football game represented “When political correctness becomes self parody.” At this point, Gillespie doesn’t have a good way to tie his Democratic opponent, Ralph Northum, to the idiocy of the network’s decision. But the theme is the same: incoherent political correctness has invaded the world of sports, and Gillespie is as tired of it as you are, Virginia.

We’ll see if that theme has the same traction in 2017.

Government Shutdowns Are Stupid.

Funding for the federal government’s operations runs out on October 1. Congress needs to pass additional appropriations bills before then to keep the government open; the bills may or may not end up including significant funds to begin construction of the border wall that President Trump promised on the campaign trail last year.

At his rally in Phoenix, Trump declared, “Believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”

Over at Hot Air, Jazz Shaw suggests President Trump might as well dig in his heels and shut down the government if Congress won’t send over a funding bill that includes wall funding:

If he vetoes a bill without funding for the wall, a number of things would almost undoubtedly happen.

‐ The President’s poll number might take a slight additional hit, but remain somewhere in the 30s and his base would love him.

 . . . what in that scenario is different from each morning’s news out of Washington lately? That’s just another day at the office for Trump. He’s always spoiling for a fight, and this would be a big one. That scenario ends in one of two ways. The first is that Congress caves and comes up with at least some money to start construction on the wall, giving Trump room to claim a big win rhetorically if not in substance, and the government reopens. The second is the unheard of idea that enough Democrats and Republicans come together with some compromises to override the veto and pass a bill where both sides get something. (And the government still reopens.)

What does Trump really have to lose? And for that matter, what does the country really have to lose?

What does Trump have to lose? A government shutdown probably enhances the risk that Nancy Pelosi will be the next Speaker of the House. We’ve seen government shutdowns before, all under a Democratic president and Republican control of Congress. For the federal government to shut down when Republicans control the House, Senate, and White House will be a supreme embarrassment, a vivid verification of the accusation that Republicans are incapable of governing. Republicans should be able to pass a bill to fund wall construction, full stop.

A lot of conservatives insist that government shutdowns are inconsequential, mostly because they themselves do not immediately see the impact.

A quick refresher on the sorts of things that happen when the government shuts down, based upon our experience in 2013:

‐ Social Security benefits checks will continue to go out, but if you’re applying for benefits, the workers won’t be there to process your request.

You can shut down the federal government for a couple of days before people feel any genuine frustration — more if it’s a weekend. But after a while, people get irritated that they’ve paid their taxes and the people running the government can’t work out an agreement to keep the whole operation working as it should.  

(One caveat: it’s possible Congressional Republicans and the Trump White House could cooperate to pass funding bills to mitigate the most unpopular consequences of a government shutdown.)

During a government shutdown, people who don’t care about politics and who don’t follow the news closely usually respond, “Why can’t those knuckleheads get their act together?” If there is a government shutdown this fall, people will respond, “why can’t those Republican knuckleheads get their act together?” Yes, Democrats are not helping get the funding bills passed, but with great power over the federal government comes great responsibility. Voters could well get fed up with the drama and dysfunction of Republican control of Washington and decide to vote for Democrats next November.

Twitter Reveals the Vocabulary Limitations of Headline Writers

I think social media, particularly Twitter and the ability to dash off half-formed thoughts instantly, is making a lot of people in the world of news journalism dumber. Look, none of us is perfect, none of us are born with complete knowledge of everything, and the desire to write a dramatic headline can obscure dry facts. But some of these mistakes are difficult to excuse.

Reuters made two embarrassing mistakes while touting its coverage of ESPN’s decision to reassign sportscaster Robert Lee from a University of Virginia football game. The first was a Tweet declaring, “Confederate General Lee namesake pulled from upcoming University of Virginia football.”

Merriam-Webster gives Reuters a tiny sliver of coverage on this usage, defining namesake “one that has the same name as another; especially one who is named after another or for whom another is named.” But Robert Lee, the Asian-American sportscaster, is not named after Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. Reuters later deleted the original Tweet and offered another with a clarification.

The mistake that stuck in my craw was this Tweet: “Confederate General Lee doppelganger [sic] pulled from upcoming University of Virginia football broadcast.” Ever hear someone attempting to sound smart by using a word they just learned, but they use it incorrectly? That’s what we appear to have here with the person running Reuters’ Twitter account. Two people who share the same name are not doppelgängers.

The sound of the word hints at its German origins (it literally translates to “double walker” or “double goer”) and it comes from that culture’s mythology.

Doppelgänger is a German word [meaning] “double goer” and refers to a wraith or apparition that [casts] no shadows and is a replica or double of a living person. They were generally considered as omens of bad luck or even signs of impending death — a doppelgänger seen by a person’s relative or friend was said to signify that illness or danger would befall that person, while seeing one’s own doppelgänger was said to be an omen of death.

Some accounts of doppelgängers, sometimes called the ‘evil [twin,’] suggests that they might attempt to provide advice to the person they shadow, but that this advice can be misleading or malicious. They may also attempt to plant sinister ideas in their victim’s mind or cause them great confusion. For this reason, people were advised to avoid communicating with their own doppelgänger at all costs.

One of the more intriguing tales of a doppelgänger comes from Abraham Lincoln, who claimed to friends in 1860 that he had seen two “separate and distinct” reflections of himself in a mirror. His account: “I never succeeded in bringing the ghost back after that, though I once tried very industriously to show it to my wife, who was somewhat worried about it. She thought it was a “sign” that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term.”

(Why yes, doppelgangers are a recurring concept in Twin Peaks.)

Anyway, journalists and copy editors, if you don’t know what a word means, don’t use it in a headline.

ADDENDA: A really astute observation from John Podhoretz: “The thing about good entertainment for adults is that it does not exclude the young — rather, it can show the young that there are wonders into which they can grow and that will help them to grow.”

 That’s “entertainment for adults,” not “adult entertainment”!

Politics & Policy

Angry Trump and Angry Protesters Meet in Arizona

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Today making the click-through worthwhile: President Trump vents his anger in a late-night rally in Phoenix while protesters outside throw canisters at cops, ESPN makes perhaps its wildest and dumbest capitulation to political correctness yet, and the embarrassing public spat between Hollywood director Joss Whedon and his ex-wife raises some good questions about how we measure a good person.

Trump, the News Networks, and the Protesters All Deserve Each Other

Trump’s speech, in a nutshell: “Look back there: the live red lights, they’re turning those suckers off fast,” Trump said. “They’re turning those lights off fast. Like CNN. CNN does not want its falling viewership to watch what I’m saying tonight.”

Of course, CNN and all of the other networks broadcasted Trump’s speech live and in its entirety.

There are a lot of really valid criticisms to be made of the press and its coverage of the Trump administration. CNN retracted a story that a Russian bank linked to a close ally of Trump was under Senate investigation. Back in early June, FBI Director James Comey said many stories about the Russia investigation were “dead wrong.” The New York Times turned over op-ed space to Louise Mensch, who is an increasingly incoherent conspiracy theorist. No objection to the president is too small, silly, or petty to ignore; the Washington Post ran an op-ed claiming Trump’s use of the term “Paddy Wagon” was an insult to Irish-Americans.

But with all of these options, Trump has to pick an example that is not only false, it is glaringly false to anyone watching the speech on television at the time!

How CNN can squander the moral high ground: Afterward Don Lemon declared, “He is clearly trying to ignite a civil war in this country. He has not tamped down race, and I’m just going to say — I mean, if he was on my team in this newsroom and said those things, he would be escorted out of the building by security.”

Got that? “Clearly”! It’s not a frustrated man venting and ranting about how unfair all the media coverage of him is — as if he’s the first president to ever encounter a hostile press; he really should ask one of the Bushes how nice the media was to them — he’s “clearly trying to ignite a civil war.”

Yes, last night’s speech in Arizona was Trump at his worst: angry, blame-shifting, rewriting history, rambling, vague . . . 

Then we look at the opposition outside:

Video recorded on a downtown Phoenix street Tuesday night shows a lit object that begins smoking after striking a police officer as the scene outside President Donald Trump’s rally descended into chaos.

The video was recorded by a reporter for The Arizona Republic at 8:36 p.m. from an area near the intersection of Second and Monroe streets in downtown Phoenix. That’s the spot where thousands gathered to protest the president and his supporters.

Seconds prior to the object hitting the officer, yellow smoke rises from something on the side of the street where the protesters are standing. While the scene already is tense, it escalates seconds after the projectile hits the officer, who is standing in line with other law-enforcement members.

So these are our options. A blustering, buffoonish, blame-shifting president or anarchists who try to hurt cops.

ESPN: Endlessly Stupid Progressive Nitpickers

Where is someone within corporate America who is willing to say “enough” when the most asinine forms of political correctness attempt to enforce their will?

In the wake of the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Va., ESPN has pulled announcer Robert Lee from broadcasting University of Virginia football games because he shares a name with the famous Confederate general Robert E. Lee, according to Outkick the Coverage’s Clay Travis.

ESPN reportedly provided Outkick the Coverage with the following statement: “We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name. In that moment it felt right to all parties. It’s a shame that this is even a topic of conversation and we regret that who calls play by play for a football game has become an issue.”

I don’t care if it “felt right” to all parties. Robert Lee the sportscaster has nothing to do with Robert E. Lee the Confederate general. What, did they think viewers at home would see an Asian man saying, “Hi, I’m Robert Lee, and welcome to ESPN’s coverage of University of Virginia Cavalier football!” and somehow interpret that as an endorsement of the Confederacy or slavery?

You cannot insulate yourself from someone else’s stupidity.

We can only imagine what’s going through the mind of sportscaster Robert Lee; a corporate statement that it “felt right to all parties” and that he didn’t object doesn’t mean much. ESPN just went through a brutal round of layoffs. How much does any given employee at the network want to make a stink about any decision from above?

David French: “Parents, if your last names are Grant, Meade, or Sherman, might I suggest Ulysses, George, or Bill as boy’s names? They’ll have an inside track at ESPN.”

Speaking of ESPN, today on NRO, I look at recent financial troubles at the sports network, as well as the University of Missouri and Marvel Comics. In each case, it’s overstating it to say that a turn to the Left has single-handedly brought those institutions to dire straits. But the perception of overt politicization seriously exacerbated the normal challenges faced by those long-standing, once-widely-respected establishments.

In each case, the institution sought to placate or win over a non-traditional audience or customer base consisting of the social justice warrior crowd. The problem is that there’s limited evidence that the social justice warrior crowd wants to enroll and pay full tuition, watch televised sports or sports chat shows, or collect comic books — at least in the numbers necessary to support those institutions. And in making that political shift, those institutions alienated their existing base of support, whether it was alumni and prospective students, sports fans, or comic book readers.

ESPN, the University of Missouri, and Marvel were all founded and thrived with missions that were quite different than “promote the progressive agenda.” Progressives took the wheel and decided to substitute their political mission for the institutions’ previous missions of sports coverage, education, and workforce preparation, and telling fun superhero stories. And with the Left at the steering wheel, they drove right off the road into a ditch.

How Do We Measure a Good Person?

Insert all the appropriate caveats. Messy divorces can bring out the worst in people, and angry accusations and counter-accusations are sadly par for the course. We never really know what someone else’s marriage is like behind closed doors.

Kai Cole, the ex-wife of Hollywood director Joss Whedon, offered a blistering portrait of her ex in an essay contending he publicly proclaimed high-minded feminist ideals while having multiple secret affairs with (unspecified) actresses in his productions.

“I want the people who worship him to know he is human, and the organizations giving him awards for his feminist work, to think twice in the future about honoring a man who does not practice what he preaches,” she wrote.

Whedon’s representatives said the “account includes inaccuracies and misrepresentations which can be harmful to their family, Joss is not commenting, out of concern for his children and out of respect for his ex-wife.”

I was reminded of Eleanor Clift’s assessment after Senator Edward Kennedy died:

Feminists who proclaimed “The personal is the political” made an exception for Kennedy. They argued that the political outweighs the personal: if a politician’s private life doesn’t interfere with his public life, why should it be a problem? You have to search hard to find an example where Kennedy’s personal behavior affected his public life.

Is a voting record in line with feminists’ preferences a get-out-of-consequences free card for womanizing and making “waitress sandwiches” with Chris Dodd? The subsequent experience of Bill Clinton would suggest so, which makes the whole enterprise look as cynical and corrupt as buying indulgences. “I’m a good person by doing X, so I don’t have to even try to stop doing bad behavior Y.”

How do we measure a good person? I’m not so sure your publicly-professed beliefs are supposed to provide moral cover for how you actually treat other human beings you encounter. If Cole’s description is accurate, it suggests that Whedon felt like writing strong female protagonists, endorsing Democrats and public professions of progressivism in general justified seeing portions of his casts over the years as a personal harem. Some folks wondered if the concept of Whedon’s short-lived television series Dollhouse – imagining a world where attractive young people were brainwashed into being the full-service playthings of the wealthy and powerful — was Whedon’s cynical perspective of Hollywood. Perhaps he wasn’t just depicting the exploitative nature of the entertainment industry in the abstract.

Maybe the ugly portrait of Whedon offered by Cole is accurate, and maybe it isn’t. What is worth noting is that Hollywood and the performing arts community in general, which loves to celebrate its own progressivism, feminism, and overall shining virtue, is still notorious for its “casting couch.” Last month, Equity, the United Kingdom trade union for actors, issued a manifesto declaring, “No sex act should be requested at any audition.” The need to state that rule is rather revealing.

Every year during awards season, actors, directors, and screenwriters come together and use their acceptance speeches to tell America that they should try to be more like the noble paragons of virtue in Hollywood. It is somehow less than surprising that many Americans ignore them.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it because of the delayed posting: an edition of the pop culture podcast discussing how every big media company seems to want its own streaming service, Amazon’s Communist-mocking Comrade Detective, upcoming fall television shows from the inspired to the idiotic, and our listeners’ picks for the best commercials of all time.

Politics & Policy

Trump’s Tough Call on Afghanistan

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Today on the click-through: Trump’s Afghanistan speech and why he had to take the path he wanted to avoid; why Trump may need a new “ideas guy” with Steven Bannon gone; and the New York Times unintentionally veers into the realm of a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous parody.

Why Trump Had to Make the Decision He Did

For the last couple of years, I’ve kept an eye on reports from the office of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, and the news is rarely good.

Since 2012, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan reconstruction John F. Sopko has done the grim, thankless work of looking at what the federal government’s massive investment in Afghanistan’s future is yielding. He and his team have found taxpayer money spent on soybeans that won’t grow, weapons that Afghan military forces lost, a $2.9 million farming-storage facility that was never used, and a $456,000 training center that “disintegrated” within four months. He’s documented the Afghan government’s inability to pay for basic services, curtail opium production and the drug trade, or utilize the country’s natural resources.

Last year, Sopko attempted to sum up his years of work and declared he saw “evil omens for the future of a desperately poor and largely illiterate country.”

He finds cases of contractor misconduct and misspent funds, but the largest problems remain with the host country: “Afghanistan has had the lead responsibility for its own security for more than a year now, and is struggling with a four-season insurgency, high attrition, and capability challenges. Heavy losses in the poppy-growing province of Helmand have required rebuilding an Afghan army corps and replacing its commander and some other officers as a result, a U.S. general said, of ‘a combination of incompetence, corruption, and ineffectiveness.’”

From 2002 to 2016, Congress appropriated more than $113 billion to rebuild Afghanistan, paying for roads, clinics, schools, civil-servant salaries, and Afghan military and police forces. That total does not include U.S. military spending on the country. Adjusted for inflation, the amount we’ve spent to reconstruct Afghanistan now exceeds the total amount we gave to the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Western Europe after WWII.

In light of all this, and sixteen years of war, it is completely understandable that Americans want to throw up their hands, say to hell with it all, and withdraw all U.S. military forces.

The problem is we know what happens if we do. The Obama administration withdrew from Iraq and assured the public that the departure of coalition troops would not lead to an increased threat to Americans. Then ISIS gradually grew in our absence; Obama was so wedded to the idea that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was the right move and did not exacerbate threats to Americans that he insisted the Islamists taking over Fallujuah were merely the “JV team.”

If our forces leave Afghanistan, it is likely that the Taliban will take over eventually. When they do, it is unlikely that they will be chastened and reformed and unwilling to host other jihadist terrorists like the ones in al Qaeda. If 9/11 had never occurred, the United States never would have invaded Afghanistan. For most of our history, Americans have paid little or no attention to that country, and would be content to let them set their own course, whether it is civilized or barbaric. The Taliban are barbaric, but the world is full of ruthless regimes and rulers that we’re not eager to topple: Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea.

The Taliban are different because they decided to be an Airbnb to the world’s most wanted terrorists and provided the safe haven for guys who killed 3,000 of our citizens. Who knows, perhaps if the Taliban had turned over al-Qaeda’s leaders to the United States or the Hague back in September 2001, a lot of our recent history would have turned out differently. But given a choice between us or them, the Taliban chose them.

This morning, President Trump’s old Amen corner at Breitbart.com is deeply disappointed, accusing him of a “flip-flop” and declaring, “The speech was a disappointment to many who had supported his calls during the campaign to end expensive foreign intervention and nation-building.”

The boss writes, “At the end of the day, this is Trump concluding that he doesn’t want to lose a war on his watch, and if that means jettisoning some of his presuppositions, he’s willing to do it. If only President Obama had handled the question of whether or not to pull out of Iraq the same way.”

Quin Hillyer is downright impressed: “The policies outlined tonight are exactly of the sort that were hoped for by knowledgeable conservatives who backed Trump despite misgivings about his personal conduct and temperament. They are of the sort that some of us did not trust him to make. At least tonight, and at least on this one set of issues, he proved that those of us in the latter camp were mistaken.”

With Bannon Gone, Will Trump Need a New ‘Ideas Guy’?

Writing in Politico, NRO contributor Tevi Troy offers the unexpected advice that Trump needs “another Steven Bannon” – i.e., an “ideas guy” to ensure the political fight du jour is connected to the broader agenda and to coordinate and articulate, where possible, the Trump agenda and the traditional conservative agenda align and overlap.

Trump likes to think of himself as the whole show – his own strategist, his own communications guru, his own political whisperer. And he’s had some successes in those arenas. But this is one area in which Trump really does need the help: He doesn’t have the patience, the background, or the interest to be able to articulate a consistent conservative-friendly vision and to get other conservatives on board. Bannon’s absence means the White House lacks someone who can attempt to create a coherent narrative for the administration’s efforts. A post-Bannon idea person adviser could attempt to articulate a larger coherent message, and at the same time galvanize supporters with outside media platforms to pass on the administration’s messages and goals.

Not filling the role would be a self-inflicted wound, while filling the role with the wrong person would be a missed opportunity. But finding the right person to serve as a White House intellectual, one with real credibility and a larger vision that Trump might listen to, could help chief of staff John Kelly in his effort to right a troubled administration, and provide an idea conduit both to and from a White House that manifestly needs one.

Pssst. You know who’s really smart, thinks a lot about history, public policy, military and foreign affairs, cultural and social issues, can be erudite, sophisticated and combative all at the same time, AND who’s usually sympathetic to Trump, even when most of his colleagues are not?

Victor Davis Hanson. Just putting that out there.

Almost As Bad as When the Guy in the Next Limo Won’t Pass His Grey Poupon

Dear New York Times: I know you have a wealthy readership, perhaps the wealthiest of any American newspaper, and I realize that “elitist” is not necessarily a slur in the circles of your newsrooms. And yes, sometimes those of us who are not in the seven-figure trust-fund lifestyle are amused by the problems that come with the perks of that life. But it’s a fine line, and when you’re not careful, you can leap right past it into a tone of Hamptons one-percent snooty self-parody:

For many people, summer means time for family vacations at the beach, on a lake or in the mountains.

But for some, summer signifies a time to return to a family vacation home, a place they went as children and now take their children. They see their parents, perhaps even old friends.

It’s idyllic, unless the conversation turns to what happens to that summer home after their parents are gone. Will it be shared as part of an inheritance or will it be sold?

For wealth advisers, the fight over the summer home is one of the most common – and vexing – family conflicts. Such battles can be as high in emotional stakes as fights over philanthropic giving or the future of a family business.

Boy, we’ve all been there, right? Muffy can be so unreasonable about the summer estate. But the article’s proposed solution is an even more perfectly distilled essence of Times snobbery:

Enter transformative mediation, an ambitious but often lengthy process with a single goal: to get the people involved to think differently. If siblings are successful in changing their thoughts about each other, practitioners say, the present conflict will be resolved and the relationships that the siblings have with each other will be altered.

News you can use!

ADDENDA: If you’ve ever wondered how long Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) can talk about music, now a new podcast on NRO will attempt to answer that question. Jeff and Scot Bertram are unveiling “Political Beats,” where figures from the world of politics discuss the world of music and their passions.

NRO now has TEN regular podcasts: Political Beats, Mad Dogs and Englishman with Kevin Williamson and Charles C.W. Cooke (you can figure out which one is which); Radio Free California with Will Swain and David Bahnson; Need to Know with Mona Charen and Jay Nordlinger; Q&A with Jay; Ricochet with Rob Long, Jon Gabriel, and James Lileks; the Bookmonger with John J. Miller and interviews with authors; The Editors with Charlie, Rich Lowry, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and Dan McLaughlin; The Liberty Files with David French, exploring current stories of battles for liberty; and of course, the daily Three Martini Lunch with Greg Corombus of Radio America and myself, summing up the day’s headlines in about fifteen minutes or so with frequent references to Die Hard, the tears in the eyes of Defense Secretary James Mattis, and how the state of Nevada must forever be punished for the crime of electing Harry Reid.

I chatted about Trump’s Afghanistan speech and being a soccer dad with Hugh Hewitt this morning; he insisted I share this short video with the world.

Politics & Policy

Bannon’s Out, But Was He Ever Really In?

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Hey, anything big happen while I was gone?

Making the click-through worth your while: A couple of tough questions about what, exactly, Steve Bannon brought to the White House; why proud Southerners need a unifying symbol beyond the Confederate Flag; and Great Britain encounters a snag in the Brexit process.

The Bannon-less White House

Does President Trump have advisors or merely scapegoats-in-waiting?

As the first week of the Trump administration without senior presidential advisor Steve Bannon begins, it seems fair to ask what the White House is actually going to lose with his departure. The media loved the narrative that Bannon was somehow Trump’s Svengali or Rasputin, whispering in Trump’s ear and steering him toward some sinister nationalist agenda, or the notion that he was the unique conduit for the non-traditional Republican alt-right philosophy into the White House. The mythology and imagery around Bannon is vivid and dramatic, but reality tells a different story.

Are there really a lot of Trump supporters ready to abandon the president because Bannon is out? In other words, did 2016-era Breitbart.com make Trump, or did Trump make 2016-era Breitbart.com? (Note Breitbart.com’s traffic numbers took some suspiciously sudden drops after the election, even compared to other sites having post-election traffic slumps.) Did Bannon’s arrival in August 2016 really change the trajectory of the Trump presidential campaign, or was the election cake baked at that point? It is hard to believe that if Bannon had remained at Breitbart.com instead of joining the campaign, Trump would have lost the election.

As many people have pointed out in the past few days, once in the White House, Bannon didn’t get his way much at all. He was removed from the National Security Council in April. The White House is still fighting to get money for border wall construction. The executive order on immigration restrictions was partially struck down in court, and is awaiting a hearing at the Supreme Court. Bannon’s idea for a tax hike on the highest earners never went anywhere, and his other big idea on taxes, a Border Adjustment Tax on imports, was rejected by Congressional Republicans — and that was an idea that Paul Ryan liked!

Breitbart.com launched an extensive effort attempting to drive out National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. Bannon is out, and McMaster remains. Bannon advised against firing FBI Director James Comey. Tonight the president will address our military efforts in Afghanistan, and is expected to go in the opposite direction of what Bannon wanted. If American foreign policy is more isolationist under Trump than Obama, then it is only nominally so, at least so far. There have been some slight changes on trade policy around the edges, but “the U.S. trade deficit with China is up more than 6 percent this year.” Bannon famously hates Wall Street traders and bankers, but they’re riding high and the booming stock market is one of Trump’s biggest accomplishments he likes to brag about.

Bannon had a seat at the table, and a voice in the biggest debates in the White House. But he rarely won those debates, particularly when squaring off against Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump . . .  suggesting that the White House in the months to come will not be too different from the decisions in the White House of the past few months.

What Do You Do When Hate Groups Decide to Adopt One of Your Symbols?

Every time I write about the Confederate flag or “Confederaphilia,” a few readers respond that I just don’t understand, that I can’t understand because I’m not a native Southerner, that I should keep my Yankee mouth shut, etcetera.

Assume for a moment that there are people who want to express pride in their Southern heritage or honor their ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, and who do not want to endorse racism or slavery.

What do you do when a hate group suddenly decides to adopt one of your preferred symbols? Over the years, white supremacist groups have adopted several symbols that aren’t immediately connected to racism, such as Celtic crosses (crosses in circles), Thor’s hammer, and the number 88. Wiser anti-hate groups, like the Anti-Defamation League, are quick to point out that none of these symbols are, by themselves, indications of support for hate groups, and advises everyone to examine their contexts closely to avoid false accusations. Nonetheless, hearing this can be a little unnerving for fans of Celtic Christian art, the Marvel comics superhero, or NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. There’s a deliberate desire on the part of hate groups to take seemingly innocuous symbols and turn them into secret signals of belief, only recognized by other members of the club.

If you’re really into waving the Confederate flag and don’t want to endorse white supremacy or racism, you have an increasingly serious problem, because even if you’re the least racist person in the world, a lot of openly racist people have embraced that flag as their symbol. At some point, non-racist proud Southerners may need to let that symbol of regional pride go and adopt another one.

And then there was this display in Charlottesville:

That’s a Nazi flag. Once that appeared, no one could plausibly argue that the gathering in Charlottesville was aimed at preserving history or battling political correctness run amok. Everyone who marched alongside that Nazi flag was endorsing what the swastika represents. If you disagree with that statement, try to imagine a scenario where you would willingly march alongside a Nazi flag.

This is why it’s so outrageous to hear the president of the United States insisting that the clash in Charlottesville “had some very fine people on both sides.”

No, it didn’t. Once you’re marching alongside the Nazi flag, you’re not a good person anymore.

If those Confederate statues are to remain standing, it will require a better argument than what we have now. Charlottesville demonstrated that keeping the statues is important to American Nazis. (Non-metaphorical Nazis! The term has been so overused in overwrought political arguments it’s hard to grasp that we’re talking about actual, Seig-Heil-ing, Nazi-saluting, goose-stepping morons!) If American Nazis want those statues to keep standing, that’s a really strong argument to take them down. If those statues have become a rallying point and symbol for those who disagree with nearly all of America’s values – the rule of law, equality in the eyes of the law, pluralism, the right to vote, the right to free speech – then they have no place in public squares, public parks and courthouses, etcetera.

There seems to be this insistence that to denounce the marchers in Charlottesville is to somehow endorse the violence of the “Antifa” movement, as if this is binary, and we must approve of one side of this fight. This is ridiculous. Life often gives us two bad choices. Think of the Eastern front in World War II, the Iran-Iraq War, or the choice between tanking your season or losing the highest-round draft pick.

The marchers in Charlottesville chanted, “Jews will not replace us!” It’s hard to believe Donald Trump is an anti-Semite; few anti-Semites are at peace with their daughter converting to Judaism and marrying a Jew. But why did that chant and the Charlottesville neo-Nazis not seem to anger him? Trump is a man who is capable of lashing out at Megyn Kelly, Mika Bryzenski, or John McCain with ferocious fury; why did he not bring a comparable fury at those who marched alongside the banner of the Fuhrer? Is it that he simply can’t get that angry at people who aren’t insulting him personally, but merely insulting America’s ideals? Or is it as simple as he thinks many of the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and elsewhere voted for him, and he fears losing their support?

In the latter half of last week, America’s political press debated whether Charlottesville represented a tipping point for the Trump presidency or point of no return. One thing is clear for anyone who wants to morally or politically remain aligned with this presidency: If Trump can foul up a moment that required him to simply denounce people marching under the Nazi flag, then he is capable of fouling up anything.

The View of Brexit from Ireland

As you can gather, last week was a terrific week to be paying only intermittent attention to the news back in the United States. In Ireland, the big news – beside the womens’ international rugby championship – was the United Kingdom’s continued efforts to manage the “Brexit” process, and how it would affect the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The Irish press sees Brexit as foolish and unmanageable, but in between all the sneering, there was something of a point that separating from the European Union creates a big question for how you adjust when a long, busy, heavily-trafficked, and largely unsecured border between two EU countries becomes a border between an EU-country and a non-EU one. There’s peace in Northern Ireland now, but Taoiseach (Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland) Leo Varadkar expressed worries that a “hard” border might increase tensions again.

Until Brexit, both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., operated under the same trade rules; right now, moving people and goods across the border involves minimal hassle. The British government wants to try to keep the changes to a minimum: “No border posts after Brexit and future customs arrangements whereby 80 percent of businesses involved in cross-border trade would be exempt all any new tariffs.”

The mostly pro-EU Irish (or at least their newspaper columnists) point out that this is a desire to keep the good part of trade with EU countries and ditch the bad parts.

ADDENDA: Last week was a good week to be away, and instead of dealing with accusations of racism, counter-accusations, and rage, to be contemplating sights like this one at the Cliffs of Moher . . . 

Of course, thanks to the odd scheduling of this last family vacation, in just ten days, I head back across the Atlantic for the National Review cruise. I’ll see some of you there.

Politics & Policy

Put ‘Em in the Hoosegow

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This is the last day of a very long work week, maybe one of major consequence as the multiculturalists seek to radically alter public debate and the nature of our democracy, while Islamofascists murder innocent people in Spain in their campaign against freedom and Western civilization. Let’s hope the weekend will allow us to catch a breather.

Down to the business of the Morning Jolt. Here are four NRO pieces I hope you might consider this Friday. Please read them and share them.

1. I’ll give away the punchline of Michael Brendan Dougherty’s impressive essay, The Fascists Were Using Antifa against Conservatives, atop NRO this morning.

Most of the debate about Confederate monuments after Charlottesville has been a distraction. The rally organizers came prepared for violence, and they wanted it. They wanted footage of themselves getting punched and maced so that they could use conservative antipathy to Antifa to erode conservative antipathy to ActualFascists. Don’t fall for it.

2. David French sees a disturbing pattern at violent rallies and says it is time for the Men and Women in Blue to step up. From his piece:

While the police can’t be everywhere, and they’re certainly not omnipotent, this pattern of abdicating control of the streets to the violent mob is extraordinarily dangerous. Police passivity threatens individual liberty.

3. Related: Jim Talent says law, order, and jail are necessary responses to madness in the streets, as so many violent demonstrators go unpunished.

The problem has grown so great that nothing less than incarceration will be sufficient to stop it. The message must be that if you are involved in a protest and you break the law, you will go to jail, and not just overnight. You will cool your heels in the county jail for a minimum of a month or two until you learn to respect the rights of other people.

4. Jonathan Carl wrote an important essay earlier in the week, How to Break Silicon Valley’s Anti-Free-Speech Monopoly. He follows that today with a very important Corner post today, which reports on how

big Internet companies began undertaking an orgy of censorship far beyond that even described in my article — kicking dozens of sites from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, PayPal, and numerous hosting providers.

I’ve been on the web for a long time — When I started using the web, there were about one hundred web sites in the entire world. Even in those early days, the Internet’s greatest strength has always been freedom – It’s a place you can promote, great ideas, terrible ideas, silly ideas, or just display your collection of thousands of vintage beer cans to the world. But right now that freedom is under threat like never before.

I’m spent. Jim is back next week, not soon enough. Pray for our country and for our liberties, and for those in Spain touched this week by the evil hand of Islamofascism.

Politics & Policy

Billionaire Letters of Transit

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Good morning. Welcome to Big Jim’s Joltateria. My name is Jack and I will be your waiter. Before I show you the menu of range-free, locally grown, organic, artisan NRO selections, let me tell you about today’s special:

My friend Anne Sorock, who runs The Frontier Lab (I am on the board; TFL uses corporate-marketing and consumer-analysis techniques and methods, and applies them to political situations, social movements, and key issues in order to find the deeply held values which motivate them), has a new video out today about Black Lives Matter that shows how this particular movement is truly a tool of far-left activists hellbent on creating a large social divide in America. Per Anne:

Organizers of Black Lives Matter who participated in our study were almost wholly unconcerned with furthering issues important to aiding the Black community in America. Instead, movement operatives see victory for a decades-long struggle to divide Americans into ‘haves and have-nots’ within reach, more tangibly, for the first time in many of their lifetimes.

Anne’s ongoing study of BLM – its players, its mission, the consequences – includes this fascinating 2016 document, The Privileged and the Oppressed: Progressives’ Latest Narrative, Revealed Through Black Lives Matter. Among its key finding is this: “Black Lives Matter’s core message is built upon, depends upon, and has as its ultimate goal, the larger retelling of the American story as one of oppression and racism.” I suggest you watch the video and read the report.

Now, here are six NRO selections that should meet everyone’s tastes.

1. On the question of Confederate statues, Kevin Williamson echoes Paul McCartney and says Let It Be. From his piece:

The Democrats’ motives here are tawdry and self-serving, for the most part. As cheap and silly as Southern sentimentality can be, the desire to reduce and humiliate one’s fellow citizens is distasteful. We would all do better to take Abraham Lincoln’s advice: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” Friends overlook one another’s little vices.

And friends do not terrorize one another by torchlight. Republicans would do well to remember what the alternative to being the party of Lincoln really is.

2. Victor Davis Hanson calls phony on progressives who give endless free passes to Silicon Valley robber barons. Read his excellent piece. I love the last line: “Hip billionaire corporatism is one of the strangest progressive hypocrisies of our times.”

3. How about four ways of getting out of President Obama’s insane nuke deal with Iran? Well, Matthew R.J. Brodsky suggests them.

4. No, Piers Morgan and other chooches, there is not a Nazi exemption to America’s free speech protection. American wannabe Charlie Cooke explains it brilliantly.

5. Speaking of Charlie . . .  speaking of Kevin . . .  you may want to listen to the most recent episode of the popular Mad Dogs and Englishmen podcast, in which the dynamic duo talk about the “Google Memo” and Rep. Kathleen Rice’s disgraceful comments about the NRA.

6. It is always welcome to get a reminder, as Greg Jones does wonderfully, of the brutal consequences of leftist economics at home and abroad.

Sparkling or tap? Good. I’ll be back shortly with your bread.

Until tomorrow,

Jack Fowler

P.S.: The theme song that’s been quickly adopted by statues everywhere: Take it away Helen Reddy.

Politics & Policy

Vulnerable Babies Need Not Apply

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Well, that was a rough day, America. I’d count on more of the same today. But with all its insanity and hoopla, it is this story by Alexandra DeSanctis, on Iceland having no room for babies with Down Syndrome, that frightens, enrages, and is most likely to result in God’s wrath and fury.

And now, back to the fallout of the Charlottesville Weekend. About those other matters, here are nine suggestions of worthwhile pieces and podcasts that you will find on NRO today.

1. “Very fine people?” David French writes in The Corner that “Donald Trump Just Gave the Press Conference of the Alt-Right’s Dreams.”

2. Jonah Goldberg slams Conservatism’s Damaging Game of Footsie with the Alt-Right.

3. Limitations of statues: Kyle Smith asks Destroying Symbols: Where Does It End? From his piece:

Once every Confederate monument in the country is down, what then? How is a statue of an ordinary rebel soldier in Durham, N.C., more offensive than a gorgeous building-sized tribute to slave-owning racist Thomas Jefferson on the Tidal Basin? We are reaching the point where, if the Washington Monument were to be blown up tomorrow, it would be anyone’s guess whether jihadists or the “anti-fascist” Left did it.

4. Related: Quin Hillyer argues in The Corner against removing all “Confederate Monuments.”

5. A Nobel Peace laureate dies in a Chinese prison. Here is a slice of Jianli Yang’s article “Liu Xiaobo’s Stern Warning”:

Liu Xiaobo feared then that the West might repeat the same mistake as it did during the rise of the fascist Third Reich and the Communist USSR. He warned that the international community must remain vigilant in the face of the rising Chinese Communist dictatorship because the game for world dominance had changed. The Chinese Communists had also morphed into a new beast — more adaptive, cunning, and deceptive.

6. Michelle Malkin wants to know Where Is the Corporate Disavowal of Black Lives Matters?

7. Will the Trump Administration give billions to West Virginia’s coal industry? Michael Tanner calls the plan corporate welfare that needs to be stopped.

8. On a new episode of The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and Dan McLaughlin discuss the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—and its fallout. Listen here.

9. And in a special history edition of The Editors, Rich Lowry talks with eminent historians Victor Davis Hanson and Andrew Roberts to discuss the evacuation of British and French forces from Dunkirk at the outset of World War 2. Listen here.

It’s 7AM and I am already exhausted. Only a few more days and Big Jim Geraghty will be back in the MJ saddle. Until tomorrow, God bless.

Politics & Policy

Mothball the Monuments

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Good morning. Sorry, Jim Geraghty is still away. If you ask “When will this nightmare end?” I can assure you, soon. In the meanwhile, I’ll pinch run (see more below).

OK, now to the current scene. Here are six (of many) very worthwhile pieces you will find today on NRO. I suggest you read and share them. And enjoy.

1. Despite the calls for federal prosecution, Andy McCarthy says Let Virginia Prosecute the Charlottesville Terrorism.

2. Victor Davis Hanson asks, Is There Still a Conservative Foreign Policy?

3. Couples euthanasia seems to be a new acceptable in the Netherlands, and elsewhere in Europe. Wesley Smith reports on this brutal new aspect of the West’s culture of death.

4. Rich Lowry thinks it’s time to Mothball the Confederate Monuments.

5. Conrad Black looks at The Media ‘In Crowd’ and finds “a group of anti-theistic, ultra-materialist, narcissistic poseurs, hedonists of self-celebration.”

6. Father Gerard Hammond is an 84-year-old Maryknoll missionary helping the poor and starving in North Korea. Kathryn Jean Lopez files a beautiful profile of this plucky priest.

Before we split, know this: That in his exceptional, 14-seaon MLB career (1975-88), Yankee great Ron Guidry never once had a plate appearance in a regular season game. Yet ‘Gator’ scored four runs (he was a highly regarded pinch runner). I’ll find inspiration in this as I chug around the bases this week on behalf of Jim G.

Lord knows what political uproar awaits us today (which is the Feast of the Assumption, a Holy Day of Obligation, my Catholic friends!). Say your prayers, and we’ll see you tomorrow.

Politics & Policy

Will Losers Be Called Losers?

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Given the events of the weekend past, I do wish Jim Geraghty were here to share his very special wisdom and analysis. Alas, he is away this week, so Yours Truly will pinch hit. We’ll keep the Monday MJ short, sweet, and joke-free. Here are six NRO pieces you should consider reading and sharing.

1. Our editorial, Condemn the White Supremacists, Mr. President.

2. Rich Lowry weighs in on “so-called both-sidism.”

3. There are losers who the President, the nation’s premier loser-namer, needs to name “losers.” Read this Michael Brendan Dougherty post on The Corner.

4. You cannot have an informed opinion about the role and influence of General McMaster in his role as President Trump’s National Security Advisor unless you read Andy McCarthy’s important analysis of his underestimating the threat of Sharia supremacism.

5. The size of chairs is being deemed a “microaggression” against chubby folks. And more. Kat Timpf reports on the latest lunacy.

6. What is this thing called Rees-Mogg? Intern Jeff Cimmino profiles an emerging Tory leader.

And don’t forget this podcast: On the new episode of The Liberty Files, David French and Andrew Walker, director of policy studies at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, discuss his new book, God and the Transgender Debate.

We’ll see you tomorrow,

Jack

National Security & Defense

On Preventing War with North Korea

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In today’s Jolt, making the click-through worth your while: Trump’s critics forget how deterrence works, how Google radicalized New York Times columnist David Brooks, and why being an outrage-driven social justice warrior appeals to the lazy.

This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt until August 21. I will return with either an awesome tale of an ambitious family vacation or just rocking back and forth and murmuring, “we’re never taking the kids on a long flight again, we’re never taking the kids on a long flight again.”

Convenient Amnesia on How Deterrence Works

This morning, President Trump tweeted, “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!” Unsurprisingly, this is causing Trump critics to freak out.

Begin with the assumption that we do not want to fight a war on the Korean peninsula. If we want to avoid that, we need to deter North Korea from taking any other actions that will be so provocative, they will require retaliation. If North Korea were to hit Guam, sink a U.S. naval vessel, or fire artillery at American troops in South Korea, failure to retaliate would be to declare a form of surrender; it would demonstrate we and our allies fear war so intensely that we are willing to accept loss of life to avoid it. Of course, this effectively gives the green light to more acts of military aggression.

As mentioned yesterday, North Korea’s recent history is littered with aggressive acts that have killed and injured South Korean soldiers and civilians. The regime announced this week it was considering launching long-range missiles toward, but not directly at, Guam. And our intelligence agencies now think they have successfully miniaturized devices.

Each of those individual risks – North Korea’s habitual unpredictable aggression, their possession of nuclear weapons (that may or may not work), their missiles that can hit the United States – is separately a tolerable problem but collectively, they represent a risk that the American people cannot accept.

The only way deterrence works is if the other guy gets convinced that you’re willing to actually fight. In a game of chicken, the only way the other guy swerves is if he’s convinced you’re not afraid to have a head-on collision.

In other words, to preserve peace, North Korea has to believe that the United States is completely willing and able to fight a war, and fight it until the regime in Pyongyang is destroyed.

It is worth noting at this point that neither side is declaring an intention for a first strike. Neither side is likely to do this, because that would cost the element of surprise to announce it in advance. All of the heated rhetoric about “fire and fury” and “final doom” is basically an exchange of pledges for a devastating counterattack if the other side strikes first. While both sides are capable of launching a devastating counterattack, it is worth noting that there is in imbalance in that devastation. If North Korea did their worst, it would be terrible for South Korea, very bad for Japan, and bad for the United States. But if America and its allies inflicted their worst, North Korea would cease to exist.

For what it’s worth, none of the Korea policy experts quoted by the Washington Post think war is imminent.

‘He Should Seek a Non-Leadership Position.’

Well, now you’ve done it, Google. You’ve gone and radicalized New York Times columnist David Brooks.

The mob that hounded [fired Google engineer James] Damore was like the mobs we’ve seen on a lot of college campuses. We all have our theories about why these moral crazes are suddenly so common. I’d say that radical uncertainty about morality, meaning and life in general is producing intense anxiety. Some people embrace moral absolutism in a desperate effort to find solid ground. They feel a rare and comforting sense of moral certainty when they are purging an evil person who has violated one of their sacred taboos . . . 

Google CEO Sundar Pichai fired Damore and wrote, “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not O.K.”

That is a blatantly dishonest characterization of the memo. Damore wrote nothing like that about his Google colleagues. Either Pichai is unprepared to understand the research (unlikely), is not capable of handling complex data flows (a bad trait in a C.E.O.) or was simply too afraid to stand up to a mob.

Regardless which weakness applies, this episode suggests he should seek a non-leadership position. We are at a moment when mobs on the left and the right ignore evidence and destroy scapegoats. That’s when we need good leaders most.

When a guy fouls up like that, you know what consequence is coming: Brooks will never take him to his favorite fancy Italian sandwich shop.

Who Has ‘Radical Uncertainty about Morality, Meaning and Life’?

Let’s pick at that paragraph from Brooks about “radical uncertainty about morality, meaning and life in general,” because it feels like there’s still some meat on that bone, so to speak. One of the periodic complaints I find myself expressing about American society as I get older is the fear that the search for novelty and “edginess” has driven too many voices to celebrate our villains and demonize our heroes.

Think about anyone who’s been targeted by a social justice warrior online mob for writing or saying something offensive or controversial, and think about the consequences for their actions compared to society’s more infamous figures. Chris Brown walks the streets a free man with the music industry and his fans collectively choosing to forget his brutal beating of Rihanna. Ray Lewis pled guilty to lying to police in exchange for prosecutors dropping a charge of murder; when his playing days were over he worked for ESPN and now does commentary on Fox Sports One. (Quite a few people will point to the current president as a giant inversion of American values. Whatever else you think of him, he is not a polite, respectful, humble, or gracious man.)

Speaking generally, conservatives probably don’t feel like they too are experiencing  “radical uncertainty about morality, meaning and life in general.” The nice thing about being a traditionalist is that you don’t need to constantly revise what you think based on the latest trends. The right thing to do yesterday is still the right thing to do today, and it will be right tomorrow.

I suspect the social justice mobs target a random Google programmer, or Lena Dunham publicly indicts random American Airlines employees for “transphobic talk” she claims to have overheard, because these are very easy targets and very easy “problems” to solve. Society has no shortage of real problems: drug addiction, poverty, homelessness, crime, lack of economic opportunity, those who need counseling or mental health treatment, angry young men lashing out with random violence at strangers, radicalized groups plotting violence on a mass scale.

Experience has taught us that all of those problems are difficult to solve, and many are intertwined. Oftentimes our efforts to solve those problems take two steps forward and then one step back, or they solve one problem but create another. The “broken windows” theory of police work drives down crime rates, but then policemen put Eric Garner in a chokehold for selling cigarettes without a license, and people wonder if the strict enforcement of minor laws has gone too far. Trying to solve any of society’s real problems requires determination, flexibility, empathy, and most of all, patience.

By comparison, whipping up a froth of anger around some random person, with no high-powered lawyers, media friends, or money, over a perceived sexism, racism, transphobia, etcetera, that’s quick and easy! It’s a simple story, usually resolved in a matter of days: Someone commits the thought-crime, the social justice warrior discovers it, calls attention to it, the denunciations and outrage grows until some authority, usually the employer, fires the person as punishment. Then the social justice warriors celebrate; someone has paid a serious financial and reputational price for daring to offend them. Then they move on, looking for the next one. To be a social justice keyboard warrior, you don’t need much determination, flexibility, or patience, and you certainly don’t need empathy. All you need is anger.

ADDENDA: Sometime in the near future, appearing in this space: an edition of the pop culture podcast discussing how every big media company seems to want its own streaming service, Amazon’s Communist-mocking Comrade Detective, upcoming fall television shows from the inspired to the idiotic, and our listeners’ picks for the best commercials of all time.

Politics & Policy

North Korea’s Recent History of Random, Sudden, Violent Provocations

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One aspect of the threat from North Korea that doesn’t get addressed seriously enough is the regime is either unable or unwilling to accurately assess the risks of its actions. It’s as if the entire Pyongyang government has no sense of what kind of provocation is so serious that its foes will retaliate with force.

Put aside the regime’s blustery threats; look at what the North Korean government and its military actually does:

November 10, 2009: A North Korean navy patrol boat crosses into South Korean territorial waters, ignores radio warnings and warning shots from South Korean naval units, and opens fire on a South Korean patrol boat. The two boats exchange fire, take light damage, and the North Korean boat returns to its national waters. Similar exchanges of fire between naval vessels occurred in 1999 and 2002, with more significant casualties.

March 26, 2010: A North Korean “midget submarine” fired a torpedo and sunk the South Korean Naval corvette Cheonan, killing 46 sailors and wounding 56 more. North Korea denied responsibility but South Korea and its allies have no doubt they committed the attack.

November 23, 2010: North Korean forces fired around 170 artillery shells and rockets at Yeonpyeong Island in South Korea, hitting both military and civilian targets. The attack left four South Koreans dead and 19 injured. South Korean forces returned fire.

October 19, 2014: “North and South Korean soldiers exchanged gunfire when the North’s soldiers approached the military border and did not retreat after the South fired warning shots.”

August 10, 2015: “North Korean soldiers sneaked across the heavily guarded border with South Korea and planted land mines near one of the South’s military guard posts, and two southern soldiers were maimed after stepping on them.”

In other words, every once in a while, North Korea just goes out and tries to kill some South Koreans without warning because it wants to send a message. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t. So far, South Korea is willing to suffer those casualties and respond proportionally, managing not to escalate a particular clash into a second Korean War. If the North Koreans sank a U.S. Navy ship, shelled U.S. troops in South Korea, or made some other direct attack, how would we respond?  Would it be proportional to North Korea’s attack, or would there be an attempt to deter further attacks by demonstrating overwhelming force? More importantly, would North Korea perceive our response as the opening salvo in an invasion? These are big questions under any U.S. president, but Donald Trump is another giant X factor. How does Trump respond to a fast-moving crisis with many lives at stake?

There’s another more recent event worth keeping in mind as well:

February 13, 2017: At the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, two women believed to be North Korean agents wipe a substance in the face of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He dies shortly after; the substance is later found to be VX nerve agent, “believed to be the most toxic known nerve agent and is banned globally except for research.”

There are a lot of ways to kill somebody; the North Korean regime used a particularly dangerous method in an extremely busy public location. It’s almost as if they’re trying to pick the most reckless and escalating means of achieving their goal as possible. What if North Korea’s regime tried something like that in LAX, LaGuardia, or Dulles?

Right now, a lot of people are probably thinking, “eh, they would never do that” – except that no one foresaw the attack on the Cheonan or Yeonpyeong Island coming, either. North Korea just commits some random, unprovoked act of aggression every once in a while, seemingly confident that they won’t trigger an all-out war in the process.

Elsewhere, our David French imagines how a conventional, non-nuclear war in Korea could unfold, and unfold badly:

There were so many plans – plans upon plans – for dealing with this moment, but no one really reckoned with the human factor. No one could quite foresee how a modern, prosperous nation would react to an instant apocalypse. After generations of the long peace, the world had forgotten total war. We weren’t prepared, and the shock of the moment meant that the plans failed. For crucial hours, for crucial days, until the allies adjusted to the new reality, North Korea had the advantage.

Barring some last-minute dramatic intervention from China, it appears the United States has to choose among three bad options: A) Learn to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea that can strike the United States with Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles; B) a conventional war sooner to eliminate the threat, that will involve massive casualties on the Korean peninsula and possibly elsewhere; or C) a nuclear exchange with North Korea sometime in the future.

It’s probably going to be option A. Yesterday, Jonah recalled a debate about North Korea from the mid-1990s, and pointed out how the natural dynamics of American politics create incentives to continue “diplomatic outreach” even when it is clear no agreement is possible: “There will always be loud and large constituencies insisting there is more time to talk. There will always be strong forces encouraging leaders to kick-the-can to some future administration. If you don’t decide before you enter negotiations what you want from negotiations, all you are doing is negotiating for more negotiations while your opponent is negotiating for more time in pursuit of a concrete goal. In the meantime, their position becomes stronger and ours weaker, which means future negotiations are less likely to yield more desirable outcomes.”

You’re already hearing recommendations that the same diplomatic outreach attempted with Cuba and Iran be applied to North Korea, and that the United States should “formally end the Korean War with a peace treaty and normalize relations – even if the North remains a nuclear power.”

I don’t know about you, but these promises and predictions sound familiar:

With normalization of relations, the United States will be in a better position to deal with North Korea on any issue of mutual concern. Human rights organizations will have the opportunity to address concerns in North Korea directly, rather than observing from the outside. Moreover, U.S. companies and brands could also conceivably move into North Korea. Direct economic interactions between the United States and North Korea might bring about changes that the United States has long pressed for but could not achieve.

But as laid out yesterday, back in the mid-1990s, the United States already gave the North Koreans $6 billion in new reactors and other aid in exchange for promises, promises that the regime had no intention of keeping.

In fact, here comes Obama’s former national security advisor, Susan Rice, today: “History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea – the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War. It will require being pragmatic.”

The proposal for diplomatic outreach assumes that the North Korean regime is rational and is willing to end its long history of violent provocations, shady arms deals, and other hostile behavior. Does this look like a regime that can change its character that fundamentally?

Isn’t ‘Better Than the Left’ a Pretty Low Bar to Clear for a Republican?

In the pages of NRO, Conrad Black made another effort at persuading the NeverTrump crowd to jump on the bandwagon, and unsurprisingly, many of Trump’s critics on the Right are not persuaded. But there’s one point of Black’s article that deserves more attention:

The president’s course is clear: Speak and tweet more carefully, as he is generally doing; show more focus; shut down the nonsense and indiscretions in the White House; prepare an unstoppable tax bill; take a strong line in North Korea (after three successive administrations have failed and dropped this horrible mess into his lap); denounce the Mueller investigation for the outrage that it is; do the necessary to set another special counsel on the backs of the Clintons, Lynch, Comey, Wasserman Schultz, and the unmaskers and leakers (the Democrats deserve the heat more than Trump does and this one-way shooting gallery must end); and, if Rosenstein allows Mueller to go fishing, challenge it in the courts.

I concur with much of this, particularly, “Speak and tweet more carefully; show more focus.” I don’t mind Trump’s “fire and fury” comment about North Korea; there’s something deeply satisfying about watching North Korea’s propagandists get a taste of their own rhetoric served back to them. I just wish he had bothered to review his comments with his own national security team ahead of time instead of springing it on them without warning. Too often, the president still acts like he’s fighting about a real estate deal by offering colorful quotes to the New York Post.

Black concludes, “The choice, for sane conservatives, is Trump or national disaster.” Maybe you saw Election Day 2016 as that strict binary choice. But we’re past Election Day. It’s time to stop measuring Trump merely as an alternative to Hillary and to start measuring him on his own merits. So far, he’s better on policy than I expected – particularly in improving care for veterans — but worse on temperament than I feared. A bunch of grumbling conservatives are a much smaller problem for this administration than the president’s habitual erratic impulsiveness.

ADDENDA: Ha! “Jon Ossoff will be leading a panel discussion at Netroots on Saturday about winning the 2018 midterm elections.” Another case of “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” huh?

Politics & Policy

Thomas Friedman on Trump, Clintons on North Korea, Google on Diversity

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Today’s effort to make clicking through worth your while: a New York Times columnist surprises everyone by acknowledging Trump’s campaign raised some valid concerns, the origins of that mild threat of mushroom clouds in the Pacific, and some eye-popping figures that raise serious questions about Google and corporate diversity initiatives.

Thomas Friedman: Hey, Maybe Trump Has a Point on Some Issues

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls on Democrats to acknowledge President Trump makes some valid points. He picks four issues:

  •  We can’t take in every immigrant who wants to come here; we need, metaphorically speaking, a high wall that assures Americans we can control our border with a big gate that lets as many people in legally as we can effectively absorb as citizens.

  • The Muslim world does have a problem with pluralism – gender pluralism, religious pluralism and intellectual pluralism – and suggesting that terrorism has nothing to do with that fact is naïve; countering violent extremism means constructively engaging with Muslim leaders on this issue.

  • Americans want a president focused on growing the economic pie, not just redistributing it. We do have a trade problem with China, which has reformed and closed instead of reformed and opened. We have an even bigger problem with automation wiping out middle-skilled work and we need to generate more blue-collar jobs to anchor communities.

  • Political correctness on college campuses has run ridiculously riot. Americans want leaders to be comfortable expressing patriotism and love of country when globalization is erasing national identities. America is not perfect, but it is, more often than not, a force for good in the world.

The problem is, this runs afoul of amnesty, kumbaya “diversity” talk, tax-the-rich-and-redistribute-the-money economic plans, and urban elites’ sense of smug superiority over those less educated. That’s pretty much the Democratic platform right there! If you take that away, what’s left?

History’s Brutal Verdict on the Last U.S. Agreement with North Korea

Are the current tensions with North Korea something new, a harbinger of a new era of nuclear threats and negotiations that feel akin to blackmail? Or just the latest act in a three-decade cycle of almost regularly-scheduled provocations and demands that no longer surprise the United States and its allies?

Let’s go back to June 1994: the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup, The Lion King opened up in theaters, O.J. Simpson was on the run in a slow white Bronco, and the world slowly recognized that North Korea was seriously pursuing nuclear weapons.

The cover of Time magazine, June 13, 1994:

A few months earlier, North Korea had declared, during “peace” talks, “We are ready to respond with an eye for an eye and a war for a war. If war breaks out, we will turn Seoul into a sea of fire.” The public didn’t know it at the time, but the United States was quite close to a major escalation that week, one that many in the Pentagon expected would lead to a Second Korean War:

It was a tense scene in the White House on June 15, 1994. [Secretary of Defense William] Perry and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. John Shalikashvili were briefing President Clinton and other top officials on three options to substantially reinforce the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed on the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean War.

The Pentagon was advocating a “middle option” — moving 10,000 more troops, along with F-117s, long-range bombers and an additional carrier battle group to Korea or nearby.

“We were within a day of making major additions to our troop deployments to Korea, and we were about to undertake an evacuation of American civilians from Korea,” Perry recalled.

The real fear was that North Korea would read the buildup and evacuations as certain signs of an impending attack, and launch a preemptive invasion of South Korea. U.S. analysts believed the North Koreans took one main lesson from the 1991 Persian Gulf War: Don’t give the United States time to mass its forces.

Perry told Clinton all the options were unpalatable, but that not to pick one of them would be disastrous.

“My recollection is that before the president got to choose — was asked to choose — the door of the room opened and we were told that there was a telephone call from former president Carter in Pyongyang and that he wished to speak to me,” Gallucci remembered.

Jimmy Carter had been meeting as a private citizen with North Korea’s aging leader Kim Il Sung, and was calling to report a breakthrough. The White House session broke up and relieved officials watched television as Carter informed CNN by telephone of the latest development.

In other words, a conflict with non-nuclear North Korea was averted by Jimmy Carter freelancing. By October, Bill Clinton announced the U.S. and North Korea had a deal:

I am pleased that the United States and North Korea yesterday reached agreement on the text of a framework document on North Korea’s nuclear program. This agreement will help to achieve a longstanding and vital American objective: an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula. This agreement is good for the United States, good for our allies, and good for the safety of the entire world. It reduces the danger of the threat of nuclear spreading in the region.

As with the Iran deal many years later, the deal with North Korea was not a formal treaty and thus never ratified by Congress.

Of course, the North Koreans cheated; the U.S. provided oil, two light water reactors, and a new electric grid, altogether worth roughly $5 billion, in exchange for promises.

U.S. intelligence agencies found evidence that North Korea was up to something; spy satellites detected massive underground excavations and construction. A.Q. Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, traveled to North Korea several times. A telling anecdote, reported in 2002:

One Western diplomat who visited North Korea in May 1998, just as world attention focused on Pakistan, which had responded to India’s underground nuclear tests by setting off six of its own, recalled witnessing an odd celebration.

“I was in the Foreign Ministry,” the official recalled last week. “About 10 minutes into our meeting, the North Korean diplomat we were seeing broke into a big smile and pointed with pride to these tests. They were all elated. Here was a model of a poor state getting away with developing a nuclear weapon.”

The Clinton administration did not let the intelligence get in the way of a happy narrative of improving relations with North Korea. By 2000, Secretary of State Madeline Albright was traveling to Pyongyang to meet Kim Jong Il and declaring the administration no longer labeled them a “rogue state.”

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright disclosed the change in the official lexicon today when she was asked about “the rogue state” of North Korea and its “rogue leader,” Kim Jong Il.

“First of all, we are now calling these states ‘states of concern,’” Dr. Albright told a radio interviewer on the same day the administration moved to ease trade restrictions against North Korea, a former battlefield foe that is continuing to develop weapons that may one day be capable of striking the United States.

In a long history of naïve foreign policy decisions and deals, the Clinton administration’s approach to North Korea ranks as one of the worst.

By 2002, the Bush administration confronted North Korea with evidence that they had an ongoing program to develop nuclear weapons.

“We need nuclear weapons,” Kang Sok Joo, the North Korean senior foreign policy official, said, arguing that the program was a result of the Bush administration’s hostility.

[Assistant Secretary of State James] Kelly responded that the program began at least four years ago, when Mr. Bush was governor of Texas. The Americans left after one North Korean official declared that dialogue on the subject was worthless and said, “We will meet sword with sword.”

Reading about the 1994 North Korean deal today feels like watching The Usual Suspects the second time. You know who the villain is, and who is not to be trusted, and you shake your head every time you see someone naively trust the villain.

Senator Dianne Feinstein responded to the news that North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its intercontinental ballistic missiles by declaring, “our policy of isolating North Korea has not worked. The United States must quickly engage North Korea in a high-level dialogue without any preconditions.”

What does she want to do in that high-level dialogue? North Korea has already demonstrated that they’re willing to lie and cheat. How likely is it that they’ll just give up their nukes and ICBM capabilities at the negotiating table?

The Aspect of Diversity at Google the Company Would Rather Not Talk About

Two ideas that don’t necessarily conflict: 1) Diversity is “good” in the sense that a group that has a varied set of viewpoints and experiences is likely to find better solutions and generate better ideas than one that has a uniform set of viewpoints and experiences. 2) A lot of corporate “diversity” initiatives are expensive public relations efforts that don’t amount to much, and may even worsen tensions because of their insistence upon defining people by race, ethnicity, gender, and religion instead of seeing all aspects of an individual.

President Obama’s cabinet certainly looked diverse, in terms of the number of women and racial minorities, but 22 of Obama’s first 35 appointments had a degree from an Ivy League university, MIT, Stanford, the University of Chicago, Oxford, or Cambridge. Out of more than 3,000 institutions that offer four-year degrees, thirteen institutions educated more than 60 percent of the top positions in government. The government values diversity, except for the kinds of people who go to a state university, apparently.

A point worth noting in the Google controversy: Starting in 2014, Google spent at least $264 million to improve diversity in the company; 29 percent of the company’s employees are women, 5 percent are Latino, and 2 percent are black – all largely unchanged from when the diversity initiative began. So where’s all the money going, and what are they doing with it?

ADDENDA: Joe Mathieu with a timely suggestion for a Hollywood reboot: The Day After.

For this week’s pop culture podcast, my co-host wants to know your favorite commercial of all time.