Politics & Policy

Most Other Presidents Would Be Touting This News for Weeks

Just think, this is the sort of thing that the president could be talking about if he would just stop shooting himself in the foot:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is feeling good about tax reform. So good that it says it’s moving some of its truck production from Mexico to Michigan.

The automaker announced Thursday that it will spend more than $1 billion to revamp its Warren Truck Assembly Plant, which will start making the Ram heavy-duty truck in 2020. The truck is currently made in Saltillo, Mexico.

Fiat Chrysler said it will add 2,500 jobs in Michigan to support the move.

The company also said it’s giving one-time $2,000 bonuses to 60,000 U.S. workers.

“It is only proper that our employees share in the savings generated by tax reform and that we openly acknowledge the resulting improvement in the U.S. business environment by investing in our industrial footprint accordingly,” CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a press release.

Fiat Chrysler said it does not plan to shut the Saltillo plant, but declined to comment on which models will be made in Saltillo after Ram production moves north.

The president is keeping a campaign promise; manufacturing jobs are moving from Mexico to the Rust Belt. But he’s so addicted to saying the first thing that pops into his head, regardless of context or who’s in front of him, that he can’t stop hurting his own administration.

An Execrable Presidential Comment

Yes, the world has many unpleasant places.

Yes, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, and many other presidents used crude and salty languages in private settings as president.

Yes, one can fairly ask why the United States takes in a particular number of immigrants from a particular country.

But the president’s comment is appalling. For starters, this is the Oval Office and it is a responsibility of the president show some respect for his surroundings. Conservatives objected to Bill Clinton’s infamous behavior in the office, and then blew a gasket when President Obama put his feet on the Resolute desk. Any conservative who raged about all of that but shrugs at this sort of language in one of our national secular sacred spaces is a grade-A hypocrite.

Vulgarity is a choice. No one forced the president to use that particular term, and anyone with even the smallest amount of self-awareness would have recognized that in a meeting with lawmakers, discussing a highly-charged issue, dismissing whole countries and apparently an entire continent with that term was spectacularly unwise and unlikely to win over any skeptics to the president’s position.

Beyond that, it is now abundantly clear that President Trump believes that certain countries have absolutely no value, and that the United States should not welcome or accept anyone from them. A few weeks ago, the White House denied that the president said all Haitans have AIDS and that Nigerians live in huts. That denial is harder to believe now; a president who will use the S-word to refer to Haiti and Africa might very well make those other offensive comments.

The message from the president — and the subsequent refusal to deny, retract, or disavow the comments — is clear: People from these places have no value. A person with even the most cursory knowledge of American history should see parallels to past bigotry, such as the hostility to German-Americans during and after the First World War. One wonders if Trump’s grandfather, the Kallstadt, Germany–born Friedrich Drumpf, experienced it before his death in 1918, or if Trump’s father experienced it himself. Irish, Italians, Jews, Catholics — at one point or another, all kinds of groups now largely seen as “white” were seen as outsiders, untrustworthy, “dirty,” “unhealthy,” and incompatible with American values.

It was present in the United States from the very beginning: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?” That was written by Benjamin Franklin in 1751.

A lot of us thought we had largely left that behind. The story of the United States of America is a long and difficult journey towards the ever-wider recognition that a person’s value as a human being has nothing to do about where he or she comes from. A person’s value is shaped by his or her character, decisions and willingness to work hard and play by the rules.

If you want to concur with the president that Haiti is execrable, and that no one of value can possibly come from there, then you’re stating that you wish Congresswoman Mia Love of Utah had never been born in this country. Needless to say, she is disgusted by the president’s statement:

“The President’ comments are unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values. This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation. My parents came from one of those countries but proudly took an oath of allegiance to the United States and took on the responsibilities of everything that being a citizen comes with. They never took a thing from our federal government. They worked hard, paid taxes, and rose from nothing to take care of and provide opportunities for their children. They taught their children to do the same. That’s the American Dream,” the statement continued. “The President must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned.”

A person’s value is also shaped by what kind of behavior they exhibit in a position of responsibility. The president made every American parent’s life just a little bit more difficult yesterday: “In an unusual move, the word “s***hole” was repeated in print and on air Thursday evening, in capital letters on the CNN and MSNBC headlines that appear on the lower part of the screen. Fox News censored the word with asterisks.”

I’m not happy with the media’s decision to use and print the word, but they wouldn’t be in this situation if the president hadn’t said it in a meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office.

Yup, Missouri Will Be a Huge Race to Watch This Year

More-or-less affirming that other poll from earlier this week, the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling finds Missouri senator Claire McCaskill in a tough spot as 2018 begins. She’s at 44 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable, and she is effectively tied with Republican challenger Josh Hawley, leading 45 percent to 44 percent.

ADDENDA: If you’re not already listening to the Three Martini Lunch podcast, give it a try. We continue to have an exceptional rate of people completing the podcast, suggesting that our ten to 20-minute length is just right for the commute, jog, or other short earphone-wearing chunk of your day.

Politics & Policy

Message to House Democrats: You Can’t Always Get What You Want

strange development: Liberal members of the U.S. House of Representatives seem to think they can get everything they want on legislation for DACA without making major concessions to Republicans and the Trump administration.

Democratic leaders are facing a potential revolt within their ranks as they edge toward a deal with Republicans that would protect Dreamers from deportation but also include concessions to conservatives that many Democratic lawmakers say are unacceptable.

Senate negotiators say they’re inching toward a bipartisan deal that broadly mirrors the parameters laid out during a meeting this week between lawmakers and President Donald Trump at the White House. They include ensuring legal status for Dreamers, strengthening border security and making changes to both family-based migration and the diversity lottery. . . . 

“I believe we need to pass a ‘clean’ Dream Act,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said. “If we’re going to talk about, you know, all these other factors, then let’s just talk about comprehensive immigration reform.”

Several House liberals worry that Democratic senators, led by Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, will strike a bad deal and force them to swallow it.

Why, it’s almost as if Democrats are in the minority of the House of Representatives, and they won’t be able to influence immigration legislation without making concessions!

The National Review editors assess what the immigration-control priorities ought to be:

Reforming chain migration would mitigate the follow-on consequences of amnestying hundreds of thousands of people, as well as reducing the number of legal immigrants we are admitting annually. (Democrats have been willing to consider changes to the chain-migration rules at least for the DACA population itself.) The visa diversity lottery doesn’t directly relate to DACA, but it allows immigrants to come here on a completely random basis and few are willing to defend the program on its merits.

Of course, Trump has made a top priority of securing funding for the border wall. We can always use more resources at the border, but the wall should rightfully be down the page of any restrictionist wish list (in addition to E-Verify, a working entry-exit visa system and cooperation from local officials on enforcement are more important). And reforming chain migration and ending the visa lottery are, substantively, much more meaningful changes.

The question is . . . does anyone at the White House feel like they know where the president’s “red lines” for negotiation are? Does it all come down to what the president’s gut tells him when a deal is presented to him?

Armageddon, Part Five

As Nancy Pelosi warned us . . . it’s Armageddon out there! (See parts one, two, three, and four.)

It’s Armageddon for the roughly 1 million hourly employees of Wal-Mart!

Walmart’s employees will reap the benefits of the recent tax law changes, as the company raises its starting wage and distributes bonuses to eligible workers.

The big-box retailer announced Thursday it will be increasing its starting wage rate for hourly employees in the U.S. to $11, and expand maternity and parental leave benefits. The retailer also will pay a one-time cash bonus to eligible employees of as much as $1,000.

Currently, Walmart’s starting wage is $9 until workers complete a training program. Then, they receive $10.

The company is also creating a new benefit that provides financial assistance to its employees who are looking to adopt a child, giving them as much as $5,000 per child to cover expenses such as adoption agency fees, translation fees and legal costs.

It’s Armageddon for trash collectors!

Waste Management, Inc. announced today that, in light of the meaningful contributions of its employees and the new U.S. corporate tax structure, the company will distribute US $2,000 in 2018 to every North American employee not on a bonus or sales incentive plan; that includes hourly and other employees.

Approximately 34,000 qualified Waste Management employees could receive this special bonus.

It’s Armageddon for electricity customers!

Washington Gas officials say they plan to pass on an estimated $34 million in annual tax savings in the rates charged to 1.1 million customers in the District, Maryland and Virginia. The lower rates would kick in early this year, the company said.

Dominion Energy, Virginia’s largest utility, with 2.5 million customers, is evaluating the impact of the corporate tax cut and “how it might benefit our customers,” spokesman Chuck Penn said.

It’s Armageddon for winery employees!

In response to the tax cut bill that passed this week, John Jordan, owner of Jordan Winery in Sonoma County, California, announces that he will give all eligible winery employees a$1,000 bonus as a result of the passage of the 2017 tax reform bill.

It’s Armageddon for . . . digital sheet-music makers!

The new year brings a new salary increase for all 55 employees at Musicnotes, Inc., the worldwide leader in digital sheet music based in Madison, Wisconsin. Effective January 1st, the 3% salary increase is tied specifically to corporate tax reform and is in addition to Musicnotes’ existing annual raises to eligible employees.

It’s Armageddon for pharmaceutical companies!

Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation CEO Lou Kennedy today announced five percent increases for all employees with the exception of commissioned employees. The raises are a direct result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was signed into law last week by President Donald Trump.

It’s Armageddon for credit-card company employees!

“Tax reform in the United States will strengthen Visa’s competitive position globally and create new opportunities for Visa to invest in our business,” the company said in a statement. “With the additional 401(k) match, Visa’s U.S. employees will enjoy a sustained benefit, consistent with the role they will play in building our business.”

The company said it will increase its 401(k) contribution to 10 percent of base salary. In other words, an employee who earns $100,000 a year can set aside $5,000 and the company will contribute $10,000. Visa’s longstanding policy has been to contribute $2 for every $1 an employee contributes. Employees can now contribute up to 5 percent of base pay, up from 3 percent.

Oh, the humanity! When will it all end?

The Impossibility of Bannonism without Bannon, or Populism without a Dark Fringe

Quite a few folks I respect are describing a desire for a “populism without Bannon” or a “Bannonism without Bannon.” It would indeed be nice if you could separate the ideas of a political movement from its most odious advocates and adherents.

But I don’t think that’s possible, or at least easily done. If a particular idea is advocated by horrible people, it’s going to lose support among everyone else. We see this in polling, where people will suddenly oppose a political idea they supported in a previous question once it’s associated with a figure they dislike, like Donald Trump or Barack Obama. If David Duke invented cold fusion, a significant number of people would be uncomfortable with using the clean energy it provided.

Or for a less theoretical example, take Ron Paul’s campaign and platform. He was at one point a Libertarian candidate for president, but he was also passionately pro-life. He vehemently opposes the War on Drugs, was a fierce critic of the Federal Reserve, and was isolationist on foreign policy. He opposed just about all taxes, deficits, capital punishment, and proposals for gun control. He wants to eliminate the departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Interior, and Education. I’ve probably listed off a couple of things you like, and a couple of things you don’t like. But nothing in those beliefs is inherently disreputable or associated with anti-Semitism, racism, or white nationalism.

But as I noted a little while back, for some reason a lot of hateful anti-Semites sure took an interest in the Ron Paul campaigns. There was the big dust-up about his old political newsletters, which frequently veered into nutty conspiracy theories about the Mossad committing terror attacks on American soil. The congressman insisted he had no idea what was being written in the Ron Paul Political Report, Ron Paul’s Freedom Report, the Ron Paul Survival Report, and so on. His former aide claimed that Paul’s perspective on the Second World War was that “saving the Jews” was “absolutely none of our business.” As far back as 2007, white supremacists were discussing the benefits of a Ron Paul presidency. Maybe Ron Paul genuinely never did anything to attract or encourage this kind of support. But if he didn’t, it sure is a mysterious coincidence the way members of these kinds of groups kept trying to jump on his bandwagon, cycle after cycle.

In the end, I don’t think you’ll ever see a populism that is freed from its lunatic fringe and darker, more hateful voices. At the heart of populism is a need for an enemy of “elites.” That always aligns pretty well with an anti-Semite’s view of the world, that “the Jews” are secretly pulling the strings behind every major institution in society. But I’d also argue that it’s really difficult to cultivate a populism that is aligned with a strong emphasis on personal responsibility.

If the elites are up to no good, then they’re probably responsible for most of the problems in the lives of the citizenry, and if they’re responsible, well then, you, an ordinary citizen, are not responsible. It’s not your fault. Sure, maybe you dropped out of school, fought with your boss, did shoddy work, developed a drug or drinking problem, or made other bad choices, but none of that really mattered because the corporate fatcats/globalists/Bilderbergers/Illuminati were manipulating things behind the scenes. None of your bad decisions had any real consequence because the game was rigged anyway.

At the heart of populism is the argument, “It isn’t your fault, it’s their fault” — which is an unsurprisingly popular message.

ADDENDA: Over on NRO’s home page, I take a look at Senator Ron Johnson’s idea to unify his state’s Republican party after primary season.

Politics & Policy

The Sudden, Steep Fall of Steve Bannon

Making the click-through worthwhile today: What the fall of Steve Bannon says to current White House staff; finally, some good signs on North Korea; Missouri’s Senate race gets even more complicated; and wondering what David Cameron really thought about Barack Obama.

Will White House Staffers Take Bannon’s Defenestration as a Warning?

Steve Bannon’s fall from the highest heights of politics is as steep and sudden as anyone can remember. As recently as April, he was sitting on the National Security Council and serving as President Trump’s “chief strategist” at the White House. Now he’s out of the White House, being denounced by the president as “Sloppy Steve,” cut off from his financial patrons, forced to step down from Breitbart.com, and losing his SiriusXM radio show. He’ll presumably have to move out of the “Breitbart Embassy” townhouse in Washington.

What’s left? Michael Wolff has already effectively written Bannon’s White House memoir.

Many White House watchers expected that big-name staffers who depart the Trump administration will write gossipy tell-alls offering an unflattering portrait of their former co-workers and perhaps the president. Someone once joked that the unwritten subtitle of every Washington memoir was “If Only They Had Listened to Me.” But the systematic dismantling of Bannon’s professional life may prove as something of a warning shot for departed and departing staff. As long as Trump is president, he’ll have a lot of power and leverage over a lot of people. If you want to tell an unsavory tale of the president or his family behind closed doors, maybe you’ll want to wait until after Trump departs the Oval Office.

Then again, maybe this is just a giant meteorite of karma finally catching up to Bannon. In 2012, he took over a website where the staff was in shock and mourning after the sudden death of Andrew Breitbart. It did not take long for Bannon to demonstrate he would be a different kind of leader, one with little or no respect for anyone he worked with, and no regard for what had been built before his fairly-recent arrival. Some have speculated that the site’s draconian nondisclosure agreements for staffers were designed to keep them from warning others about Bannon’s mercurial hostility.

In interviews, a dozen former Bannon employees and associates agreed with those scathing assessments of the man Trump has turned to oversee his campaign, painting a picture of a boss who repeatedly used inappropriate language in front of his employees and in many cases directed expletive-laced tirades at them. At Breitbart, the former employees said, he would regularly order subordinates to write stories that supported his allies and tore down adversaries, such as conservative radio host Glenn Beck, and admonished them when their posts didn’t toe his line.

A steady stream of key staff departed in the early Bannon years. At conservative gatherings from 2012 to 2015 or so, bloggers and writers would lament how the site had changed. The site started making embarrassing, high-profile errors like claiming Chuck Hagel’s ties to a the mythical “friends of Hamas” and the claim that Attorney General Loretta Lynch had been part of Bill Clinton’s defense team during the Whitewater scandal. The site embraced Milo Yiannopoulos’s shtick with open arms. The signal-to-noise ratio worsened, and the comments section became a sewer. Andrew Breitbart was a rebel through and through, but he had no patience or tolerance for bigots. He urged CPAC and other conservative groups to welcome gays and threw a “a big ol’ gay party at CPAC” in 2011. Breitbart hated leftists and liked everybody else.

At Breitbart.com, during the campaign, in the White House . . . every step of the way, Bannon could have built alliances or at least treated people professionally and cordially. But he just found new ways to alienate and antagonize everyone.

Bannon had astonishingly bad judgment. By itself, giving such unprecedented access to Wolff was a colossal mistake. Surely Bannon isn’t the first White House staffer to resent the influence of the president’s family, but what kind of fool tells a guy working on a book about the White House all of his criticisms of Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Jared Kushner? Who does that and expects to stay on good terms with the president?

Once outside of the White House, Bannon’s judgment continued to be terrible. Everyone else in the Republican party could see Roy Moore was a walking disaster; Bannon gave a full-throated endorsement and tore into critics like Mitt Romney.

By the way, back in November 2015, Bannon along with Ben Carson lied about my reporting, so . . . karma’s a rough mistress.

A Glimmer of Hope on the Korean Peninsula?

Look, no one’s saying the potential threat of war on the Korean Peninsula is gone. But for the first time in a while, things look a little better than they did the day before.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in credited U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday for helping to spark the first inter-Korean talks in more than two years, and warned that Pyongyang would face stronger sanctions if provocations continued.

Seoul and Pyongyang agreed at Tuesday’s talks, the first since December 2015, to resolve all problems between them through dialogue and also to revive military consultations so that accidental conflict could be averted.

“I think President Trump deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks, I want to show my gratitude,” Moon told reporters at his New Year’s news conference. “It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure.”

Perhaps Moon is just attempting to ensure that Trump gets some of the credit, or to warm U.S.–South Korean relations. Or maybe those international sanctions are starting to squeeze North Korea’s economy in ways that the regime can’t afford to ignore:

Exports may have declined by “as much as 30 percent last year”, according to Byung-Yeon Kim, author of the book “Unveiling the North Korean Economy”.

In particular, exports to China — North Korea’s biggest trading partner and the reason many believe Pyongyang is able to survive — are down as much as 35 percent.

That’s a third of the regime’s economic growth wiped out. And Professor Kim’s figures don’t take into account the latest sanctions that were passed in December which targets, amongst other things, visas for North Koreans working overseas.

Remittances from those workers are the second biggest foreign exchange earner for Pyongyang. And some predict that new sanctions could cut North Korea’s hard currency earnings by up to 80 percent.

Everyone expects North Korea to be on its best behavior during the Olympics.

S. Nathan Park, writing in the Washington Post, notes that South Korean President Moon is probably as good an ally in Seoul as the U.S. could hope for at a time like this:

Moon is emblematic of this newer generation. Moon served his military duty as a special forces soldier defending the demilitarized zone. His own family comes from the North, which they escaped during the Korean War on a U.S. ship. Moon [has] little reason to romanticize the regime in Pyongyang and has consistently stated his support [of] the alliance with the United States. Despite considerable controversy at home and intense economic and political pressure from China, he allowed the Americans to deploy a missile-defense system to protect U.S. troops in South Korea. He has even managed to get along with President Trump, who has criticized South Korea for not paying enough for the stationing of U.S. forces. (In a recent phone call before the inter-Korean talks, Trump said: “America supports President Moon 100 percent.”)

It’s worth noting that South Korea remained a steadfast ally of the United States even at the peak of anti-Americanism in 2002. Today, Trump is personally even more unpopular in South Korea than Bush was, but there are simply no large anti-U.S. protests in South Korea — not even when Trump personally visited Seoul. Nor is there any indication that South Korean liberals are displeased with Moon’s pro-U.S. stance. A recent opinion poll puts his approval rating at a remarkable 77.2 percent.

Finally, there was that surprising leak that the U.S. is “quietly discussing” a limited military strike in North Korea. Considering the likelihood that Pyongyang would retaliate (and perhaps escalate by using chemical or nuclear weapons), one wonders whether this is a real discussion or a strategic leak, a verbal warning shot that lets Pyongyang know that they’ve got a good incentive to calm things down, too.

Oh, Dear! A New X-Factor in Missouri’s Senate Race

Man, Missouri’s Senate race just got even more dramatic and complicated.

A Kansas City lawyer could shake up one of the most competitive Senate races in the country as he seriously considers running as a centrist independent against U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and her eventual Republican challenger.

Craig O’Dear, a Kansas City attorney who has the backing of the national Centrist Project, has launched an exploratory campaign committee for a possible independent bid for the Senate.

O’Dear, a 60-year-old Missouri native, is a partner with Bryan Cave LLP, an international law firm that has an office in Kansas City. He also is involved with the Midwest Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works to exonerate people who have been wrongfully convicted.

A January poll from Missouri Scout of 1,122 likely voters found that 49 percent support [GOP front-runner and Missouri attorney general Josh] Hawley compared to 45 percent for McCaskill, with 6 percent undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

I hadn’t seen that poll; trailing, even close, is a bad sign for an incumbent like McCaskill. Life sure was easier when she was taking on Todd Akin.

Now the big question is, which side does an independent candidate hurt more?

ADDENDA: Publicly, former British prime minister David Cameron and former U.S. President Barack Obama got along great. But one of Cameron’s advisors, Steve Hilton, says that the smiles didn’t continue behind the scenes.

“My old boss, former British prime minister David Cameron, thought Obama was one of the most narcissistic, self-absorbed people he’d ever dealt with. Obama never listened to anyone, always thought he was smarter than every expert in the room, and treated every meeting as an opportunity to lecture everyone else. This led to real-world disasters, like Syria and the rise of Isis.”

A spokesman for Mr Cameron said: “This does not represent David Cameron’s opinion at all and could not be further from the truth. David Cameron’s views on President Obama, whether in public or in private, are the same: he considers Barack Obama a hugely accomplished president, a great partner for Britain and a good friend to our country and to him personally.”

If you did feel that way, Mr. Cameron . . . well, let’s just say we understand.

Politics & Policy

Our Future: Twin Cults of Personality, Battling on Twitter Forever

The notion of Oprah Winfrey running for president is the sort of thing that dramatically shakes up the American political world and stirs a reaction in just about everybody.

She seems very nice, and many Americans look up to her in an almost quasi-religious reverence. If she runs, I’ll be able to re-use all of my “Munificent Sun-King” and “he stepped down into the presidency” jokes from the Obama years. The gif of her joyously screaming, “You get a car! And you get a car! And you get a car!” will be ubiquitous.

Spare a moment to pity the likes of, say, Colorado governor John Hickenlooper. I’d never vote for the guy, but as far as Democrats go, he’s not that bad. His state’s voters seem to like him. He’s got a job approval of 54 percent and disapproval of 30 percent. During his two terms, the state legalized marijuana and same-sex marriage, approving in-state tuition for students who are illegal immigrants and limits on the size of ammunition magazines. He’s pushing for bills on green spaces and apprenticeships.

In short, he’s done all of the things that a Democrat with presidential ambitions is supposed to do and won two terms in a purple state. And he wouldn’t amount to a speedbump against Oprah. If he wanted to be president someday, he should have tried to host a talk show.

We may have an electorate that now punishes accomplishment. If you get elected to office and work hard to pass legislation, that legislation will inevitably upset someone, and that legislative change will be cited as evidence of your stupidity and malice. But the television star never did anything like that. The television star never let you down, voted for a bill you didn’t like and never accepted a compromise that you find disappointing. They’re a blank slate that you can project your ideal upon.

If Oprah ran, she would have a very good chance of winning. If she wanted this sort of deafening political buzz to stop, she could stop it with a single issued statement — something Shermanesque like, “”If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.” But she hasn’t issued that statement.

More or less the opposite, really:

Oprah Winfrey is not actively considering a run for president in 2020 but has been “intrigued” by the buzz sparked by her impassioned speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday, her friend Gayle King said Tuesday on CBS’s “This Morning” program.

“I don’t think she’s actively considering it at this time,” King, a host on the CBS show, said. “I do think she’s intrigued by the idea, I do think that. I also know that after years of watching the Oprah show you also always have the right to change your mind.”

For what it’s worth, on the same program in October 2017, Oprah herself declared, “there will be no running for office of any kind for me.”

Everybody and their brother has a response to the thought of an Oprah presidential bid.

Michael Brendan Dougherty offers the grim theory that the interest in celebrity presidents reflects the fact that the modern presidency is no longer a position about making decisions about governing.

But I blame the wonks. It was the wonks who, unawares, made the celebrity president not just desirable but logically necessary . . . Where this model of government is most advanced — in Europe — policy questions are routinely taken away from the passions of democratic peoples, and quarantined for expert management. o there is little use for the traditional politician, a person of judgment and charisma who represents the community from which he or she emerges, using his own wisdom in reconciling the diverse interests and needs of his nation and constituency. Having eliminated the need for real probity in politicians, why shouldn’t the parties turn to celebrities as their political leaders?

Ben Shapiro concurs in part, contending that the modern presidency is becoming more like an elected royal family than we would like to admit:

Then there’s what Americans really think the president does. They think he talks. They think he speaks. They think he acts as a figurehead on the prow of state, thrusting a certain picture of American character into the world. In this world, what the president says matters far more than what he does. After all, legislative priorities change and executive policy morphs, but character is forever. Unfortunately, when it comes to electoral politics, it’s the second picture of the presidency that prevails. That’s why Trump’s Twitter antics damage him, and it’s why Oprah’s delivery of an overblown speech in front of her cronies in Los Angeles could launch her. The image of America is bound, in Americans’ mind, with the image of the presidency.

Kevin Williamson, sharp and funny as always, noting the transactional nature of the Hollywood and political worlds:

Democrats don’t really need a celebrity. They have a great talent for making celebrities out of ordinary politicians, converting a clan of low-rent grifters and halfwits such as the Kennedys into an ersatz royal family and making the lightly accomplished Barack Obama into a kind of rock-star messiah for the Davos set. The Democrats have a more fruitful relationship with celebrity because, unlike most Republicans, they understand the transactional nature of the celebrity-politician relationship. Movie stars get into political activism for the same reason they sometimes take six months off to do serious theater: They want to feel smart, maybe even a little profound, and, more important, they want to be perceived as that, as intellectually serious.

Democratic politicians connect with celebrities because they want to be seen as cool. Smart and cool is a very powerful combination for public-relations purposes, and it’s not what you get when you pair up Mike Pence with the Duck Dynasty guys.

Philip DeVoe reminds us of the many strange guests that Oprah flattered and nodded along to over the years.

If Oprah endorses it, odds are it’s pseudoscience.

Hers is a strange, unethical, and bizarre system, but it’s a commercially beneficial one. From Oprah, the champions of a yet-to-be-proven, seems-too-good-to-be-true practice receive validity. From her guests, Oprah receives trend points. The only victims are . . . well, everybody else, including people such as Kirby Brown, for whom a high-profile endorsement doubles as a reassurance.

A particularly alarming example of the “Oprah effect” is the widespread skepticism about vaccines. On a 2007 episode, Oprah left unchallenged Playboy model Jenny McCarthy’s theory that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was responsible for her child’s autism. No scientific experts appeared on the show, and the only pushback Oprah offered was a brief statement she read from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which explained that no scientific connection between the two has yet been observed. McCarthy concluded the segment with this response: “My science is named Evan, and he’s at home. That’s my science.”

But the boss reminds us that an Oprah presidential bid would probably not be entirely smooth sailing, and she might have good reasons to hesitate.

Half the country would, by definition, begin to dislike her. She would have to fight with that part of the Democratic base committed to Bernie Sanders and suspicious of her as a Hollywood billionaire. She’d experience something that she’s never truly had to encounter: negative press.

For the first time, she wouldn’t be completely in control of her own image. She’d have to answer for her promotion of kooky products and theories over the years, and open up more about a private life that has been almost entirely shielded from public view.

Meanwhile, in actual government . . . 

FERC: Sorry, Secretary Perry, We Don’t Think Coal and Nuclear Plants Need That Aid

Remember the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission? That was the little-known branch of the Department of Energy that has responsibility for reviewing and approving energy infrastructure projects, including natural gas pipelines. In the closing months of the Obama administration and the opening weeks of the Trump administration, several commissioners retired, leaving the commission without the quorum needed to make an official decision. This absence stalled $50 billion big, privately funded infrastructure projects — mostly new pipelines, pressure-management stations and liquid-natural-gas terminals — that will create thousands of construction and operating jobs, both union and non-union, in places like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. These are exactly the sort of good-paying blue-collar construction and heavy-industry jobs that President Trump promised he would bring back to these places, that cost U.S. taxpayers nothing, and all of them were left collecting dust for a few months because the White House couldn’t get its act together and nominate new commissioners. Thankfully, FERC regained a quorum by August.

Over the past year, Trump appointed four of the five commissioners, and they surprised the administration by rejecting a proposal from Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to help out coal and nuclear plants.

The Proposed Rule on Grid Reliability and Resilience Pricing, was immediately controversial when the Department of Energy first revealed it in September. It would require the regional markets that set electricity prices to compensate power plants that keep 90 days of fuel supplies on site Coal and nuclear power plants typically fit that description.

But FERC just wasn’t convinced that the change was needed. “While some commenters allege grid resilience or reliability issues due to potential retirements of particular resources, we find that these assertions do not demonstrate the unjustness or unreasonableness of the existing RTO/ISO tariffs,” FERC said, referring to regional transmission organizations and independent system operators. “In addition, the extensive comments submitted by the RTOs/ISOs do not point to any past or planned generator retirements that may be a threat to grid resilience.”

FERC’s been busy working through the backlog. At the end of 2017, they approved $3.2 billion in expansions to TransCanada’s Mountaineer XPress pipeline expansion, which will build 170 miles of new pipeline and three new compression stations, and Gulf Xpress, which includes the construction of seven new compressor stations, and upgrades to one existing compressor station.

ADDENDA: David Brooks, with an admission against interest: “In every war, nations come to resemble their enemies, so I suppose it’s normal that the anti-Trump movement would come to resemble the pro-Trump movement. But it’s not good. I’ve noticed a lot of young people look at the monotonous daily hysteria of we anti-Trumpers and they find it silly. This isn’t just a struggle over a president. It’s a struggle over what rules we’re going to play by after Trump. Are we all going to descend permanently into the Trump standard of acceptable behavior?”

Politics & Policy

Trump’s Good News for the 2018 Elections

Happy Monday morning; it looks like this is going to be one of those weird weeks. What are the odds of a fire at the Clintons’ home in Chappaqua on January 3 and a fire in Trump Tower this morning?

Apparently, an electrical box in the Trump Tower’s HVAC system caught fire. The New York Fire Department extinguished it and thankfully no one was hurt.

Trump: I Don’t See Myself Supporting GOP Primary Challengers in 2018

President Trump has good news for every incumbent Republican, and bad news for any aspiring lawmaker who thought they could ride Trump-ism to a successful primary challenge the way Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and Nikki Haley rode the Tea Party wave in 2010.

Trump told reporters after meeting GOP House and Senate leaders at Camp David on Saturday that he’s planning a robust schedule of campaigning for the 2018 midterm elections and that includes involvement in the Republican primaries.

He’ll campaign for incumbents, he said, and “anybody else that has my kind of thinking.”

But after a stinging loss in Alabama, Trump said he’s done supporting challengers, declaring: “I don’t see that happening.” Trump had supported Roy Moore after he won the GOP primary. Moore’s defeat in the subsequent special election handed Democrats another seat in the Senate.

Of course, this is Trump, so he could change his mind at any time. But it’s good that Trump is realizing he doesn’t need different Republican senators, he needs more Republican senators.

Two Cheers for Oprah Winfrey

Look, I enjoy bashing hypocrisy as much as the next guy. But is bashing hypocrisy a sufficient response to a scandal?

Last night, Hollywood held the Golden Globe Awards, and with almost everyone dressed in black, the hosts and winners and audience tried to grapple with the scandal in its own sometimes narcissistic, sometimes self-congratulatory, sometimes-off-key way. Yes, it’s likely that a significant portion of the people in the room knew about the “open secret” of Harvey Weinstein — and/or heard the rumors about Kevin Spacey, and Louis CK, and numerous other figures in the industry. Maybe there was some guilt behind that fancy black attire and the “Time’s Up” pins.

But does being insufferably smug mean that anything they said about the need to end sexual harassment wasn’t . . . you know, right and true? If “hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue” . . . doesn’t it still mean something that virtue deserves that tribute? If you want to scoff, “oh, Hollywood was always notorious for the ‘casting couch’” . . . Yes, it was, but what if the women (and some men) of Hollywood want that unsavory tradition to end? If there’s an effort to reform a corrupt institution, should we on the outside applaud or snicker that it will never change?

If you want to say their words are insufficient, fine. It would be nice to see Asia Argento, Mira Sorvino, and other women who had their careers derailed by Weinstein to start getting some jobs again.

This morning, quite a few people are buzzing about Oprah Winfey’s speech, and speculating whether it’s a veiled indication of presidential ambitions. John Podhoretz revved up the bandwagon about this a while back. I doubt it; she’s no doubt heard similar cries throughout her career, and one has to wonder if she wants to spend 2019 to whenever getting briefings on the throw-weights of intercontintental ballistic missiles.

From Winfrey’s speech:

I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. We know the press is under siege these days. We also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To—to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.

If you feel like the line “the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice” is an attack on Trump . . . well, that says something about how you see Trump.

A couple people object to the wording, “speaking your truth” as opposed to “speaking the truth.” If Oprah means that as a full-throated endorsement of relativism, that “truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning, and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them” — then yes, she’ll deserve the criticism she will get.

But did she mean it that way, or is “speaking your truth” another wording for “trusting your instincts”? Picture working or living in an environment where certain behaviors that strike you as wrong are widely accepted. Imagine, say, a loose, laid-back working environment where profanity or “your momma” jokes are common. Or teasing that is supposedly “just having fun” but doesn’t feel fun for the target of the teasing at all. As I noted, everyone who encountered and worked with Weinstein considered him to be a violently tempered, verbally abusive egomaniac who enjoyed humiliating subordinates.

The consensus “truth” of the workplace is that these behaviors are acceptable and do no real harm, but our “truth” — maybe those quotation marks should be removed — is that it is not acceptable and does violate some aspect of our social code.

Now, perhaps “speaking our truth” isn’t always the most powerful weapon we have. (Confronted with a home invader, I’d rather have a Smith & Wesson than the power of speaking my truth.) But I think Oprah’s point is that standing up for what we know to be true and right can be powerful, because it can inspire others to do the same, until the intolerable is genuinely no longer tolerated.

Look, we’re conservatives. We’re supposed to believe in propriety and decency and manners and decorum, all of that old-fashioned stuff that allegedly makes us “squares,” prudes, “bluenoses” and Bourgeoisie Babbitts. Whether or not we’ve ever felt sexually harassed, we no doubt know what it feels like to be outsiders, to feel rejected or derided because we don’t live up to other people’s expectations of what we should be. We’re the uncool folks that the cool comedians mock, and maybe, just maybe, the fallout from the Weinstein scandal is pushing our society to grapple with the long-simmering unspoken cultural consensus that being “cool” excuses bad behavior.

The Fallout Continues for Stephen Bannon . . . 

Derek Hunter talks to a lot of former Breitbart employees — most of whom I would describe as friends or friendly acquaintances — about the turn of events for Stephen Bannon and the future of Breitbart.com.

Meanwhile . . . 

He has tried to convince allies in recent days that all will be fine — even texting one “onward!” — but he seems jolted and “even more manic than normal,” in the words of one person who spoke to him. He has remained ensconced in his Capitol Hill townhouse, with a rope on the steps blocking people from approaching. “STOP!” a large red sign reads, urging visitors to check in downstairs.

Breitbart’s coverage of the nation’s capital operates out of a three-story townhouse named the “Washington Embassy.” Most news organizations have offices in Washington, and NR used to have a floor of a townhouse. But on December 17, the owner filed an application to the D.C. Historic Preservation Office that “states the property is the home of Stephen K. Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News and a former White House chief strategist.”

Does Bannon pay rent? Or is Breitbart.com providing Bannon with housing as well as his salary and other benefits?

ADDENDA: In case you missed it, Friday afternoon I noted that the first year of Trump has brought conservatives good policy outcomes with disturbing reports of presidential behavior and inability to focus or control his impulses. From here on out, conservatives ought to evaluate Trump with the cold-hearted cost-benefit analysis that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick brings to an aging veteran. “Applaud President Trump when he’s right, criticize him when he’s wrong, and ride the horse as far as he can take you — and the moment he can carry you no further, leave him behind. If Trump proves incapable of resisting temptation and irreparably sabotages his own presidency, conservatives shouldn’t strain any muscles to defend him.”

You can’t save a man who isn’t willing to try to save himself.

Politics & Policy

Forget the Nicknames. It’s Cold and Snowy.

I concur with John Kelly – the columnist, not the White House chief of staff – in his exhaustion of special names for weather patterns.

These days, nothing can be normal. Now a full moon is a “supermoon.” A cold snap is a “polar vortex.” A snowstorm is a “bomb cyclone.”

Really? A bomb cyclone? That doesn’t even make sense. Shouldn’t it be cyclone bomb?

Actually, it should be: “It’s January. It’s going to be cold. It may get windy. It may snow.”

It’s as if the weather suddenly hired a public-relations consultant: “We’re really going to try to add drama and danger to your brand, to make people sit up and take notice and maybe want to hide under the bed when they hear your new, much more menacing name.”

I’ll make one exception for our cute-nickname purge: The 2011 “Carmageddon” in Washington D.C., because the horror of that event — I sent about six hours in traffic trying get from downtown D.C. to the suburbs — was driven less by the weather than by how little most Washingtonians can function with even the slightest bit of snow. The federal government let workers leave early, ensuring everyone tried to leave at once. The plows couldn’t get onto the roads because of the traffic, and all of those BMWs, sports cars, and Priuses found themselves struggling in the accumulating slush. (It was a great night to have an SUV with four-wheel drive, my friends.) Buses committed gridlock in intersections, people abandoned cars by the side of the road and walked, and I recall one of the radio traffic guys saying that for the first time, he had absolutely no moving routes at all anywhere on any of his monitors. It was a vivid demonstration that any talk about evacuating the city during a crisis is thoroughly unrealistic.

2018 In Preview

Each year, I buy The Economist’s special annual publication, “The World In [insert year here],” a compendium of columns and articles attempting to give readers a preview of the coming year’s big issues, events, controversies and threats. It’s usually interesting reading, other than the written-a-long-while-back-by-staff string-of-buzzwords essay by some world leader. I love you, Bibi Netanyahu, but “the future belongs to those who innovate” is pretty generic wisdom.

Trying to accurately envision America or the world a year from now is a tough task.

From last year’s edition:

Trump could withdraw from the North American Free-Trade Agreement with just six months’ notice, without consulting Congress. With the right legal manoeuvres, he could probably impose the tariffs he has floated: 45% on goods from China and 35% on those from Mexico. He has claimed that these are merely threats which will lead to better trade deals. However, ‘when planning a war, it is not advisable to assume that one’s adversary will surrender when the first shot is fired,’ notes a gloomy forecast from the Peterson Institute, a think-tank. This could spook investors, derailing growth whatever Mr Trump ends up doing.

Of course, here we are in 2018, we’re still in NAFTA, GDP growth was above 3 percent for the last three quarters, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared 25 percent in a year. I don’t point this out to mock a prediction that didn’t come true; I’ve done plenty of that in my life. My point is that this president’s decisions and priorities aren’t that predictable, world events aren’t predictable, and the way people react to them is sometimes even less predictable.

You could argue it’s the surprising events that really define and shape our era: Trump’s election, Brexit, the death of Antonin Scalia, the rise of ISIS and then the subsequent pummeling of the Islamic State, North Korea’s increasingly frequent and seemingly increasingly effective nuclear and missile tests.

We’re five days into the new year and no one foresaw Steve Bannon accusing Donald Trump Jr. of committing treason in his Trump Tower meeting with Russians, nor Trump declaring that Bannon “lost his mind.” No one expected Intel chips to be vulnerable, Iran’s people to rise up in protest, or whatever happens in this afternoon’s end-of-the-week news dump.

Still, we know a few things for certain about the coming year.

The World Economic Forum will meet in Davos January 23, and world leaders will discuss how terrible Donald Trump is, and how bizarre it is that so many things are going well despite his presidency.

The Winter Olympics start in February in South Korea. While there will be some talk about the tensions on the border not too far away, we’ll mostly be asking each other if we saw the video of that guy wiping out on the giant slalom.

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference begins February 21, and I suspect that like last year, both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will speak to attendees. Some alt-right type will attend and he will be surrounded by cameras, and many media stories will be written about “the Right is in crisis” and the “conservative crack-up.”

The Academy Awards ceremony is held March 4, and stars are pledging to wear black to protest sexual harassment. How, precisely, this is any different for any of the guys who usually wear tuxedos is unclear. There will be quite a few speeches about how terrible President Trump is, because that’s a much more fun topic to discuss than how the entire industry was a factory for enabling sexual harassment for decades.

AIPAC’s annual conference begins March 4, and the mood will be cheerful as the U.S. embassy slowly begins the process of moving to Jerusalem.

Russia will hold its presidential election on March 18 and Vladimir Putin will win his fourth term as dictator.

The NFL draft begins April 26 and I will probably be complaining about the Jets pick.

The National Rifle Association holds its annual meeting in Dallas beginning on May 3, and I would be surprised if President Trump did not speak to attendees again. If Congress has passed concealed-carry reciprocity, the mood will be cheerful. If not, there may be some grumbling.

Avengers: Infinity War opens May 4, and it will probably be awesome, if overstuffed.

The royal wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle is scheduled for May 19.

In July, Mexico picks a new president. We will be told that the new president represents a potentially dramatic change for U.S.-Mexican relations and then notice no real changes.

The midterm elections will be held in November.

The next National Review cruise will begin December 1.

‘President Trump Is Reshaping the Judiciary for Generations.’

Here’s something you don’t see every day: political ads thanking candidates for a job well done!

The Judicial Crisis Network is launching a weeklong, more than $350K television and digital ad campaign thanking President Trump and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell “for their work on appointing and confirming exceedingly well-qualified judges.” They will air on Sunday morning, January 7 on the network public affairs shows in the D.C. metro area, and will continue through the rest of the week running on Fox News morning and primetime shows, as well as MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

The ad thanking the president can be found here, the ad thanking McConnell can be found here.

ADDENDA: For a few moments Thursday night, a decent portion of political Twitter wondered if Michael Wolff’s new book really did include an anecdote of newly-inaugurated President Trump demanding “The Gorilla Channel” be added to the White House’s television options, and the White House staff quickly putting together a regular feed of nature documentaries and tailoring it to his taste for watching gorilla fights.

It’s one of those jokes where the ludicrousness grows so slowly and steadily that you almost don’t notice.


Is That Marijuana Legal? Attorney General Jeff Sessions Says No.

I’ve written in the past from a wary perspective about marijuana legalization. I have no shortage of more libertarian-minded friends who find me an old fuddy-duddy on this. The argument denouncing the expansion of government, runaway expenses, and limited results of the War on Drugs is a pretty clear and compelling one. The case for decriminalization of marijuana — i.e., not putting somebody in prison over it — is pretty persuasive as well. (It is worth noting that less than one percent of those in state and federal prison for drug crimes are doing time for mere possession of marijuana.) But if you legalize something, you are likely to get more of it. (The potential for legal troubles, and/or the stigma of criminal behavior, likely deter at least some portion of potential users.) We can argue whether the country would be a better or worse place with more marijuana users.

With all of that in mind, this new administration move seems like an unnecessary fight:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going after legalized marijuana. Sessions is rescinding a policy that had let legalized marijuana flourish without federal intervention across the country.

That’s according to two people with direct knowledge of the decision. They were not allowed to publicly discuss it before an announcement expected Thursday and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The move will leave it to U.S. attorneys where pot is legal to decide whether to aggressively enforce federal marijuana law. The move likely will add to confusion about whether it’s OK to grow, buy or use marijuana in states where it’s legal, since long-standing federal law prohibits it.

The decision comes days after California began selling recreational marijuana.

Sessions compares marijuana to heroin and blames it for spikes in violence.

How often does marijuana make a person violent?

It is rather interesting that during the eight years of President Barack Obama — once of the infamous “choom gang” — the White House did not push for legalization of the substance, and they did not make their preference for decriminalization public: “Officials at the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Barack Obama wanted to take a more lenient stance on marijuana, with one former official telling HuffPost that staff pushed to ease federal prohibitions against the drug. But they never made that case directly to the public.”

Trump vs. Bannon

The tumultuous, theatrical, bitter split between President Trump and former top advisor Steve Bannon was inevitable.

I hope you don’t have any toxic personalities in your life; if you do, I hope you can separate yourself from them soon and with minimal pain and aggravation. There are certain people in life who are miserable and can only find pleasure in making other people miserable. Roughly ninety percent of these people’s difficult behavior is completely unnecessary, but they’ve convinced themselves that their snarling is toughness, that their petty grievances are about an all-important code of respect, that their bluster genuinely impresses others, and that their narcissism is because they are doing or are destined to do great things. Their lies are a tool for leverage, their explosive temper a weapon, their refusal to treat others with respect a sign of their “authenticity.”

You may or may not think this description applies to the president of the United States. I don’t think there’s much dispute that this applies to Steve Bannon, who has managed to alienate just about every potential ally along the way in his career in politics. (The exodus of talent from Breitbart.com during Bannon’s tenure should have been a clear red flag.) Every previous White House has had top staffers with different views and priorities, and rivalries and tensions aren’t that uncommon. But only the Trump White House turned into Washington’s Game of Thrones, where so many of the top staff entered their jobs seeing each other as enemies to be eliminated instead of teammates, and only Bannon had Breitbart.com trashing other members of the president’s staff like Gary Cohn and H.R. McMaster. (Do you notice there is less leaking and anonymously-sourced slams of top advisors since John Kelly took over as chief of staff and Bannon left?)

Bannon has one setting, “war,” and he launches it against everyone who isn’t signing his paycheck. He’s incapable of working with anyone who is anything more than a lackey. In his first big test of Congressional negotiations, Bannon met with the leaders of the House Freedom Caucus and declared, “Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.” Except, they did have a choice, and exercised that choice on the first version of the legislation. Perhaps at Breitbart.com, Bannon got used to negotiating with people he could fire.

Not everyone you disagree with has to be an enemy; Bannon made them enemies. Back in October, he announced intentions to recruit and finance primary challengers against all incumbent Republican senators, even the ones who are voting with the president’s position more than 90 percent of the time. (Despite Bannon’s perception of himself as a fighter, he won’t stand up for his own people when it might mean friction with his preferred candidate or campaign.)

The “war”/I-am-the-toughest-guy-here mentality means Bannon rarely even thinks to attempt to recruit allies or get buy-in on his ideas. Bannon and Stephen Miller wrote up and had the president sign the so-called “Muslim ban” without coordinating with the Department of Homeland Security, TSA, or any other government agency that needed to actually enforce it. This led to chaos at the airports and the first version got drop-kicked by the courts within two days. Subsequent, more carefully-written versions survived scrutiny from the courts, indicating that a version of this policy could have been Constitutionally sound if Bannon and those around him had written it with a wiser eye towards the legal challenges it would face.

In part because of this relentless toxicity, Bannon never actually got much done in his short tenure in the White House. He was removed from the National Security Council in April. The White House is still fighting to get money for border wall construction. 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!

He undermined the president by declaring there is no military option to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program. Bannon was apparently the one who urged President Trump to say “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville, and of course, he pushed Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate primary.

In this light, it is not surprising that Bannon would eventually lash out at the president for being yet another person who disappointed him, another person who failed to recognize and appreciate his genius, another person who wasn’t enough of a fighter and who didn’t have the guts to fight the “war.” It’s not surprising that Bannon would trash Trump’s family. Because Steve Bannon’s disappointments and problems can never be his own fault; they can never be a consequence for the way he treats people and the methods he uses to achieve his goals.

WMAL’s Larry O’Connor:

After President Trump’s scorching and devastating statement about his former “staffer” it was virtually impossible to find anyone to say anything in defense of Bannon. And that’s not much of a surprise because for as long as Bannon has been involved in the conservative media he has engaged in a scorched earth agenda.

Bannon is finally reaping what he has sown in the conservative media. After eight years making documentaries, hosting fringe radio programs, taking the reins of Breitbart after the death of its founder, Andrew Breitbart, and eventually transitioning to the Trump campaign and White House, Bannon stands alone.

Unlike Breitbart (the man) who routinely sought to unify voices on the right in opposition of what Andrew called “the Democrat Media Complex,” Bannon enjoyed a policy of chaos. He used the website (in his own words) as a weapon to destroy his enemies, and his enemies were often websites, publications and broadcasters who he felt were not ideologically pure enough for his unique, Jacskonian/Roosevelt vision of the conservative movement.

After several years of attacking fine people at The Daily Caller, Townhall, National Review, The Blaze, Weekly Standard, Red State and Hot Air not to mention multitudes of talk radio hosts and even a good portion of analysts, reporters and anchors on Fox News, Bannon’s chickens finally came home to roost.

Very few of us will ever get the opportunity to shape a presidency and the country’s laws like Steve Bannon had in January 2017. And it’s hard to imagine that anyone else will fumble away that opportunity the way he did.

ADDENDA: I’m scheduled to appear on HLN around 11:30 a.m. Eastern today to speak about the administration.

Stay warm, folks. They’re building snowmen in South Carolina!

Politics & Policy

Armageddon, Part Four!

As noted, Nancy Pelosi declared of the GOP tax bill on December 4, “It is the end of the world! The debate in health care is like death! This is Armageddon!” Initial updates of the economic Armageddon can be found here, here, and here.

But it just won’t stop!

American and Southwest said Tuesday that they will pay employees bonuses of $1,000 each, a gesture that American said would cost $130 million.

Southwest also said that it exercised options to buy more new jets from Boeing while delaying orders for some others.

Armaggedon continues to roll through the banking community. . .

Tuesday, U.S. Bank became the latest bank to take similar action in the wake of the tax bill’s passage.

U.S. Bancorp, the parent company of U.S. Bank, announced Tuesday that it is handing out a $1,000 bonus to nearly 60,000 employees. The bank also plans to increase its minimum wage for all hourly employees to $15 per hour.

Additionally, the bank will be making “enhancements” to its employees’ health care options, effective for the 2019 enrollment period.

“We believe that tax reform is positive for the U.S. economy because it provides an immediate opportunity to benefit our employees, our communities and our customers,” Andy Cecere, president and chief executive officer, U.S. Bancorp, said.

But it’s just banks and airlines, right? No! Armageddon spreads to insurers!

Columbus-based supplemental insurer Aflac that it will increase investment in its U.S. operations and employees by $250 million over the next three to five years due to the tax reform law.

Specifically, Aflac workers will see the the company’s 401(k) match rise from 50 percent to 100 percent on the first 4 percent of employee contributions, with a $500 one-time contribution going to each staffer’s 401(k) plan. The firm, well known for its comical Aflac duck advertisements, also plans to offer certain hospital and accident insurance products to employees at no charge.

It’s spreading to air conditioning manufacturers!

Aaon Inc., which manufactures air conditioning units at a plant in Longview, said Tuesday that it will give $1,000 bonuses to all employees, excluding officers, in recognition of the federal tax overhaul.

And fuel companies! And smokeless tobacco companies!

When will this “Armageddon” end?

The Case For, and Against, Romney for U.S. Senate

Should Mitt Romney be the next U.S. senator from Utah?

The Salt Lake Tribune, this morning:

One Romney confidant, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said Tuesday was “[retiring Senator] Orrin [Hatch]’s day” and the Romney circle didn’t want to intrude on that.

But the trajectory seems set.

“We all know the direction this is going,” said the Romney insider. “And I think we’ll know within the next couple of weeks definitively.”

I love the guy, and I believe the country’s decision to reelect Barack Obama instead of electing Romney will rank as one of the electorate’s worst mistakes. I think a good portion or perhaps all of the business world’s confidence and optimism that we’ve enjoyed in the past year could have started in 2013 if the electorate had made a different decision. I suspect a President Romney would have responded to the rise of ISIS dramatically differently, would never have pursued a magic-beans deal with Iran, would have enforced a “red line” on chemical weapons in Syria, spat hot fire at the first inkling of the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs . . . 

No doubt, Mitt Romney has all of the skills and intellect to make a great senator. He knows the issues in great detail, studies them, analyzes them — it’s what he’s done professionally his entire life. He’s got deep-rooted principles but aims to be pragmatic and to reach the best compromise possible. His passions never get the best of him, he’s calm, polite, respectful but direct. His humor is G-rated, and when he does mock, he makes fun of himself — fighting boxer Evander Holyfield in an event for charity.

During the 2012 campaign he was mocked for being old-fashioned, a throwback, out of date with modern sensibilities. That strikes me as an enormous compliment. Our political world would be better with more Mitt Romneys and fewer bomb-throwers who want a television contract with Fox News. His presence in the U.S. Senate could make our politics more respectful, more focused on problem-solving, and just plain better.

With all of that having been said . . . 

If elected, Romney would instantly become perceived as “the leader of the Republican opposition” to Trump, and I’m not sure that’s such a good idea for the cause of conservatism. Fairly or not, Romney is the man who took on a flawed incumbent Democratic president and came up short. He turns 71 on March 12. No doubt he’s in fine physical and mental health, but he is not the future of the Republican party or the conservative cause.

It’s Utah. There are probably bright, driven, accomplished, scandal-free conservative Republicans growing on trees out there. If Romney jumps in, is there some other great conservative rising star whose debut on the national stage will be delayed as a result?

Romney’s relationship with Trump is complicated at best. In early March 2016, Romney gave a highly-publicized speech about Trump, ripping the then-frontrunner to pieces from top to bottom, denouncing his economic policies, his foreign policies, and his character. It had little to no effect on Trump’s ascendance. Trump later interviewed Romney to be secretary of State, although he may very well have only asked Romney to be considered just so that he could reject him.

Utah voters may not want their junior senator to be the leader of the Republican Resistance. No doubt the departing Senator Orrin Hatch and Trump have plenty of ideological and personal differences, but they worked well enough together and Trump called him “a friend” in his statement about the senator’s retirement yesterday. No doubt, plenty of Utah voters disapprove of Trump or regard him warily, but he still won the state by 17 points. The anti-Trump conservative candidate, Evan McMullin — a Provo-born, Brigham-Young-graduate Mormon — won just 21 percent.

One of the Most Enabling Sentences Ever Put Into Print

During the brief but long-overdue reevaluation of Bill Clinton’s behavior while in office last autumn, I vaguely remembered a book by James Carville from around that time that argued loyalty to Clinton was the right virtue, and that those who rebuked the president for his actions with Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, and Kathleen Willey had committed some sort of morally-repulsive betrayal.

I tracked down a copy of the book and found I had recollected it pretty accurately. James Carville’s Stickin’: The Case for Loyalty is a pretty remarkable artifact of a time when people were unafraid to argue that absolute devotion to a president, no matter how bad his actions, was morally right and that speaking out against unethical and illegal behavior represented true villainy.

But there was one key quote — repeated twice — that really jumped out at me: “In my world, you don’t abandon a guy over sex. You stick with him.”

As I wrote today on NRO, Carville eases his difficult argument by pretending that Jones, Willey, and Broaddrick don’t exist. But still there’s a certain unnerving implication of Carville’s flatly-stated principle, contending that none of us are right to object to the president of the United States carrying on an affair with an unpaid intern and then asking his powerful friend Vernon Jordan to help set her up with lucrative job opportunities. All of the White House interns who didn’t flash a thong at the president didn’t get that kind of career assistance.

Yes, we’re all flawed human beings, all capable of succumbing to sexual temptation, and the allure of sexual desire tends to short-circuit our good judgment. It’s because this is such an easy temptation that we have to be particularly careful, and fear of a negative consequence helps to reinforce codes of conduct. Yes, a consensual affair with in an intern is different from Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual predation, but in both cases, both men knew they could indulge their impulses to the fullest, in part because the men around them would not confront them or stop them. It’s never easy to confront a friend or co-worker when you think they’re doing something wrong, and it’s extremely difficult to confront a boss. But at the very least, we’re not supposed to actively justify and facilitate someone else’s bad behavior.

“You don’t abandon a guy over sex” has got to be one of the most enabling sentences ever put into print.

ADDENDA: Paul Musgrave assesses the president: “He has no grand strategy, just a profound need to demonstrate that he is a winner, a dealmaker and an influence wielder. And having suffered few consequences of importance to him for his behavior so far in his short political career, he recognizes few limits to his whims. He will ignore his critics and follow the applause he receives for his reckless behavior as far as he can.”

Politics & Policy

2018 Starts with Protests in Iran

Welcome to 2018! As Jocko Willink would say, “GET AFTER IT!”

New Year’s Resolution or New Year’s Revolution?

Go, protesters, go!

The most significant protests in eight years are rocking Iran, with state media reporting Tuesday that the death toll from clashes between demonstrators and security forces had reached at least 20.

Offering his first comments during the six days of unrest, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday accused the “enemies of Iran” of meddling in the country’s affairs.

Hundreds of people have been arrested and activists are taking the rare step of publicly criticizing the country’s religious leaders. They are the largest protests since the country’s disputed 2009 presidential election – which triggered the so-called “Green Movement.”

State TV reported Tuesday that six people were killed during an attack on a police station in the town of Qahdarijan. It reported that clashes were sparked by rioters who tried to steal guns from the police station.

Of course, that’s state TV during a time of crisis, so take it with way more than just the ordinary grain of salt. Maybe something along the scale of the Great Salt Lake.

President Trump, this morning: “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.’ The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!”

Bret Stephens of the New York Times: “If Trump had failed to weigh in, he’d be slammed (rightly) for ignoring human rights. Instead, he’s attacked (wrongly) for ‘meddling.’ So far, he’s getting Iran right. Behooves his usual critics (like me) to say so.”

Bloomberg’s Eli Lake argues, “Time to end the expert class nonsense that there are hardliners and moderates in Iran. Javad Zarif and Ayatollah Khamenei are on the same side, the side of clerical tyranny.”

Every couple of years I enjoy dragging out Fareed Zakaria’s 2009 Newsweek cover piece, “Everything You Know About Iran Is Wrong.” Zakaria’s got the sterling resume — Yale, Harvard, managing editor of Foreign Affairs, adjunct professor at Columbia — and he wrote, in what must have been a heavily researched piece, that Iran’s regime might “be happy with a peaceful civilian [nuclear] program,” “Iranians aren’t suicidal.” “Iran isn’t a dictatorship,” and it has a culture of “considerable debate and dissent.” Newsweek readers no doubt concluded that hyperbolic media coverage had obscured the reality of Iran, which was a sophisticated, multifaceted, modern state that is not so scary or brutal after all.

A month after the Zakaria piece ran, the Iranian regime announced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won reelection with 60 percent of the vote, a result that many Iranians concluded had to be fraudulent. The regime crushed the Green Revolution with brutal force, shooting women like Neda Agha-Soltan in the street. Within a matter of months, President Obama announced “the United States, the United Kingdom, and France presented detailed evidence to the IAEA demonstrating that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been building a covert uranium enrichment facility near Qom for several years.”

If you had previously seen Iran as a country dominated by a brutal, dangerously aggressive, nuclear-ambitious regime that already demonstrated a willingness to use children to clear minefields and embraced a philosophy of risk and sacrifice unthinkable to Western values . . . it turns out everything you knew about Iran wasn’t wrong. Everything Fareed Zakaria knew was wrong.

The point of this is not that Zakaria is dumb. The point is that Zarakia saw what he wanted to see in Iran. The world would be a better, happier, nicer place if the Iran of 2009 or today lived up to the benign, reasonable portrait that Zarakia painted in his cover piece.

Speaking of influential voices who insisted upon seeing Iran as they wished to see it, instead of acknowledging counter-evidence, Lake envisions former president Barack Obama speaking out for the protesting Iranians.

There is currently a Change.org petition urging Obama to speak out in favor of the demonstrations. That is a good start. But the former president should do more. He should devote his good offices to publicizing the cause of Iranian freedom. No American can lead Iran’s opposition, but Obama’s unique understanding of grassroots activism puts him in an ideal position to lead the Western cause of solidarity. He could organize lawyers, newspaper editors, teachers, librarians and human rights groups to partner Iranians under siege, following the Jewish-American movement to allow Soviet refuseniks to emigrate.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen, Eli!

This morning, Matthew Dowd looks back at the Obama administration’s Iran deal and laments, “I am wondering how many folks are aware that the money the US sent Iran as part of nuclear deal was actually Iran’s assets to begin with. It was their own money we returned. It wasn’t taxpayer money.”

Yes, but we froze those assets after they raided our embassy, took American diplomatic staff hostage in violation of just about every international law and treaty, paraded them before the cameras, and beat them. Think of the seized assets as a criminal fine, one of the few ways we could punish the Iranians for their barbaric acts against our people.

‘A Wave of Optimism Has Swept over American Business Leaders’

When the New York Times offers good news for the Trump administration, it is no longer “lying,” “failing,” or “Sad!” Because the president is probably grinning wildly at this front-page story:

A wave of optimism has swept over American business leaders, and it is beginning to translate into the sort of investment in new plants, equipment and factory upgrades that bolsters economic growth, spurs job creation — and may finally raise wages significantly.

While business leaders are eager for the tax cuts that take effect this year, the newfound confidence was initially inspired by the Trump administration’s regulatory pullback, not so much because deregulation is saving companies money but because the administration has instilled a faith in business executives that new regulations are not coming.

“It’s an overall sense that you’re not going to face any new regulatory fights,” said Granger MacDonald, a home builder in Kerrville, Tex. “We’re not spending more, which is the main thing. We’re not seeing any savings, but we’re not seeing any increases.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal finds more good news in the latest wage numbers:

In U.S. cities with the tightest labor markets, workers are finding something that’s long been missing from the broader economic expansion: faster-growing paychecks. Workers in metro areas with the lowest unemployment are experiencing among the strongest wage growth in the country. The labor market in places like Minneapolis, Denver and Fort Myers, Fla., where unemployment rates stand near or even below 3%, has now tightened to a point where businesses are raising pay to attract employees, often from competitors. It’s an outcome entirely expected in economic theory, but one that’s been largely absent until now in the upturn that began more than eight years ago.

If you missed how the tax bill was bringing about “Armageddon” just as Nancy Pelosi predicted, see the updates here, here, and here.

We Didn’t Need Stop-and-Frisk After All!

Our Kyle Smith, following the evidence where it leads, even if it wasn’t the outcome he expected or predicted:

Like many conservatives, I had grave concerns about curtailing the New York City police department’s controversial tactic of stopping and frisking potential suspects for weapons. I was inclined to defer to the police when they protested that they needed the option to stop, question, and frisk New Yorkers on a mere reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing instead of probable cause that the targeted person had committed a crime. Restricting the tactic, I thought, would cause an uptick, maybe even a spike, in crime rates. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who made ending stop-and-frisk the centerpiece of his successful 2013 campaign for mayor, struck me as a man who was cynically willing to tolerate an increase in crime if he thought it to his political advantage to amplify leftist voters’ core belief that policing was out of control. Today in New York City, use of stop-and-frisk, which the department justified via the 1968 Terry v. Ohio Supreme Court ruling, has crashed. Yet the statistics are clear: Crime is lower than ever. It’s possible that crime would be even lower had stop-and-frisk been retained, but that’s moving the goalposts. I and others argued that crime would rise. Instead, it fell. We were wrong.

ADDENDA: The new year kicked off with another brilliant essay from my colleague Kevin Williamson, who skeptically examines corporate America’s embrace of the “mindfulness” philosophy, and offers a spectacular quote from professor Ronald Purser: “It’s the new capitalist, secular religion. But calling something ‘secular’ doesn’t make it secular.”

This age is full of fundamentalist fervor, but it’s rarely tied to an established religious doctrine.

Politics & Policy

The 2017 End-of-the-Year Awards

This is the last Morning Jolt of 2017! I hope your year was full of joy and success, and that any frustrations, setbacks, and any tragedies were bearable. If not, at least 2017 is almost in the books, and 2018 promises a fresh start for all of us.

The Three Martini Lunch End-of-the-Year Awards

As mentioned earlier this week, Greg Corombus and I end our podcast’s year by handing out awards based upon the categories of the old McLaughlin Group. A selection of some of our choices in the traditional categories:

Most underrated political figure: I went with Virginia’s governor-elect Ralph Northam. Boring, vanilla, cookie-cutter, a complete nonentity as lieutenant governor for the past four years, and none of that mattered! He won, he won big, and no matter how that last disputed House of Delegates race turns out, he will have a closely-divided state legislature, which no one expected. He could end up being not just the most liberal Virginia governor in a generation, he could be the Virginia governor who enacts the most actions on the left’s agenda.

Greg selected EPA administrator Scott Pruitt — who’s also the subject of a detailed profile by Kevin Williamson in the most recent issue of National Review.

My choice for most overrated political figure was former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who enacted the so-called Muslim ban without coordinating DHS, TSA, or any other government agency that needs to actually enforce it; the first version got drop-kicked by the courts within two days. Subsequent, more carefully written versions have managed to survive scrutiny from the courts, indicating that a version of this policy could have been Constitutionally sound if Bannon and those around him had written it with a wiser eye towards the legal challenges it would face. Bannon went on to undermine the president by declaring there is no military option to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program. Bannon was apparently the one who urged President Trump to say “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville. Finally Bannon pushed Roy Moore, and before that, Paul Nehlen.

Trump would be in a much stronger position right now if he had not listened to Bannon on any of these issues.

Greg selected House speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell — who redeemed themselves some with passage of sweeping tax reform in December, but who saw frustrating defeats and setbacks through much of the year in what was supposed to be a golden era of Republican governance.

I found selecting the top rising political star of 2017 surprisingly difficult. In an off-year election cycle, fewer fresh faces rise to national prominence. But I noticed that a lot of the Republicans who have either overtly or subtly rebelled against Trump in this past year made clear that they did not intend to stick around in office long, such as Tennessee senator Bob Corker and Arizona senator Jeff Flake, and we know about John McCain’s health issues. This means that if there’s going to be a lasting traditionally conservative counterweight to Trumpist populism in the Republican Party, it’s probably going to come from someone like Nebraska senator Ben Sasse.

We come up with our picks separately and reveal them while recording the podcast, and Greg had one of those “dang, why didn’t I think of that” choices: South Carolina senator Tim Scott.

There were quite a few strong contenders for most underreported story. Ultimately I decided . . .  “Hey, did anybody notice the Islamic State is gone?” Greg selected the violent attacks on Republican lawmakers — the attempted mass shooting at the baseball field, the woman running Rep. David Kustoff off the road, and the attack on Sen. Rand Paul.

For the best story of the year, Greg selected one that has a lot of Republicans cheering: President Trump nominated a lot of good judges and the Senate gets a decent amount of them confirmed. Everyone knows about Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch, but the Senate also confirmed 12 appeals court judges in Trump’s first year, a modern record, as well as six district court judges and three judges to the U.S Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

My nomination for the year’s best story was the United States economy. CNNMoney declares that 2017 was “the year of the red-hot job market.” In November, unemployment stayed at 4.1 percent, the lowest since December 2000. GDP growth is looking healthy, business spending on equipment is accelerating, the labor force participation rate is inching back up again. Consumer confidence is at a 17-year high. Goldman Sachs declares the overall global economy “as good as it gets.”  And of course, there’s the stock markets. As ABC News summarized it, “Wall Street has taken stock investors on a mostly smooth, record-shattering ride in 2017. The major stock indexes are closing in on double-digit gains for the year.”

Savor the good times, America.

Did The Last Jedi End an Era of the ‘Old Rules’ of Star Wars?

Spoilers Ahead!

One of the things I enjoyed about The Last Jedi was how it upended all the previously known unwritten “rules” of Star Wars. For once, Poe can’t save the day by jumping in an X-Wing fighter and blowing something up. Luke doesn’t really come out of retirement, Rey can’t persuade Kylo Ren to turn towards the light, and Finn and Rose get caught when they try to infiltrate the enemy ship in disguise. (Think about it, they use a wastepaper basket as a disguise for BB-8, and we see him accidentally bumping into Stormtroopers. It’s a ludicrously risky plan, but because the audience saw other unlikely implausible disguises and bluffs in previous movies, we think their con is going to work!)

(A completely fair gripe: it seems odd that blowing up Starkiller Base did almost nothing to slow down the advance of the First Order. When The Empire Strikes Back begins, we know that some time – a year? Several years? – have passed since the end of A New Hope, and thus it’s a little more believable that despite that key victory, the tide has gradually turned and the Rebel forces are hiding and the Empire is hunting them. In The Last Jedi, how much time has passed since the end of The Force Awakens? A day? A week? For Rey and Luke, no time at all has passed; we return to the same moment of offering the lightsaber.

Another key criticism or concern I’m coming around to conceding: blowing up the pre-established “rules” of Star Wars raises some giant questions of what kinds of stories Star Wars is going to tell from here on out. I mentioned in my Rogue One review that if you played the 1980s-era Star Wars Roleplaying Game, you knew there were certain rules for a Star Wars adventure. One key point was that while you could write some fascinating stories about moral dilemmas, exploring “What is right and wrong?” . . . that wasn’t really what Star Wars stories were about. In Star Wars, the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and anybody who’s initially unaligned doesn’t stay that way for long: think Boba Fett or Lando Calrissian.

But The Last Jedi hints that the galaxy has a lot of morally-neutral and/or apathetic characters just off screen. The weary cynicism of Benicio Del Toro’s character, along with the fact that no one responds to Leia’s distress signal, suggests that perhaps the rest of the galaxy doesn’t really like the Resistance and doesn’t mind the First Order that much. We’ve seen very little of civilian life in the new trilogy. Jakku has some scavengers and junk traders eking out an existence, Maz Kanata ran a castle-like pub where everybody knew your name, and the disappointing casino-world of Canto Bight shows a lot of wealthy folks making fortunes selling arms to both sides.

And if most of the galaxy’s citizens don’t care if they’re ruled by the (presumably good and democratic) New Republic or the (seemingly brutal and despotic) First Order . . . how hard should the Resistance try to save them?

In past Star Wars movies, we more-or-less knew that our heroic protagonists would never die. Wise old mentors might, but even they would come back as translucent ghosts for some expository dialogue or to offer approving smiles upon a final victory. Any protagonist character could fly through an asteroid field or take on a fleet of enemy fighters or dozens of Stormtroopers and come out with nothing more serious than a flesh wound. The droids could be repaired, severed hands replaced, and even lengthy stretches of being frozen in carbonite leave nothing more than temporary vision loss. There’s a reason kids go crazy for Star Wars: it’s a ton of exciting action and feeling of risk with the comforting sense, deep down, that the heroes will triumph and the story will have a happy ending.

Writer-director Rian Johnson aimed to shake all of that up and take away part of that sense of comfort and make the story more dramatic and tense. He didn’t go as far as Game of Thrones, where any likeable protagonist can die at any moment, but the good guys don’t have as easy a time in this movie. There isn’t a critical flaw in the enemy’s giant doomsday weapon. Now the battles have noticeable casualties on the rebel side, and not even splitting the enemy’s flagship and killing their supreme leader guarantees an overall battlefield victory. It seems Episode Nine is going to have to take place several years later; the Resistance needs time to rebuild itself, and maybe that kid in the stables will have some key role.

Will future Star Wars movies go back to the old George Lucas and J.J. Abrams “classic” rules? Or do they stick to Johnson’s tougher, “more realistic” rules?

ADDENDA: As 2017 draws to a close, I would be wise to remind you of the good work of the National Review Institute.

We encourage you to consider NRI as a recipient for your generosity. If for no other reason than this: Its powerful array of fellows make NRI America’s premier conservative journalism think tank. The collective wisdom and influence of these fellows — each one a writer of great talent and persuasiveness — are key to the defense of the principles you cherish and hope to see propagated, now and for future generations. With your selfless support, we will continue to carry out this mission, which has been especially entrusted to us by Institute founder William F. Buckley Jr. As you consider this, we recommend you read Kevin Williamson’s excellent piece making the case why your help truly matters. Please make your generous, tax-deductible end-of-year contribution to National Review Institute here.

I’ll see you in 2018.


Facebook’s Futile Attempt to Curb Fake News

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why social media companies like Facebook can’t stop “fake news”; Roy Moore’s latest bold gambit to embarrass himself and his supporters; and an unexpected about-face from the Trump team about a former key supporter.

Why Social Media Companies Can’t Stop ‘Fake News’

Right before the holiday, Guy Benson noted that two widely spread viral tweets about the tax reform bill were flat-out false. The first, from actress Jenna Fischer, contended that because of the GOP-supported tax reform, “school teachers can no longer deduct the cost of their classroom supplies on their taxes.”

Cut Fischer a little bit of slack; she eventually corrected her assertion and offered a lengthy apology. Her information was outdated; the House version of the bill would indeed have eliminated the $250 deductions that teachers could take for purchasing school supplies for their students. A short time earlier, it was a fair complaint; the final version of the bill kept the deduction intact, however. Still, her original complaining Tweet was retweeted at least 46,000 times; her apology was retweeted 3,600 times.

The second, from a now-deleted Twitter account called “@Sykotik_Dreams” — declared, “My wife’s friend just received a letter from Medicaid and Social Security saying her severely disabled autistic 7 year old son just lost his healthcare and benefits. The letter states that it’s due to your #TaxScamBill. It’s 3 days before Christmas you [bad word] [bad word]!!” This, too, was retweeted more than 46,000 times before it was deleted.

Everyone should have smelled “lie” coming off this one. Nothing in the tax bill affected Medicaid and Social Security benefits decisions. The tweet was written on December 22, and the final version of the bill passed the House of Representatives on December 20. A decision like that almost certainly would have been reached, and the letter drafted, before passage of the final legislation. The individual sharing the story offered no further illuminating details — which agency wrote the letter, any justification, or anyone who could be reached to verify the claim.

“Fake news” doesn’t just come from Moscow or Lithuanian server farms. It comes anytime someone offers something false, inaccurate, or deeply misleading, and people choose to believe it and spread it to their friends. In many cases, those who spread it and amplify it want it to be true, because it confirms part of their previous worldview. If you hate Republicans, you want to believe that their tax bill is doing nothing but terrible things to good people, that it’s living up to Nancy Pelosi’s label of “Armageddon,” and that it’s taking away health care from innocent 7-year-old autistic boys. If this dire scenario is true, it means you, the good outspoken liberal who keeps berating your relatives for their intolerably retrograde political views at Thanksgiving, is a hero, and your relatives are monsters for disagreeing with you.

Who’s to blame for fake news, the creators or those segments of the public who choose to believe it?

Facebook just learned the hard way that labeling something “fake news” does not erode the audience or appetite for that information.

Today, we’re announcing two changes which we believe will help in our fight against false news. First, we will no longer use Disputed Flags to identify false news. Instead we’ll use Related Articles to help give people more context about the story. Here’s why.

Academic research on correcting misinformation has shown that putting a strong image, like a red flag, next to an article may actually entrench deeply held beliefs – the opposite effect to what we intended. Related Articles, by contrast, are simply designed to give more context, which our research has shown is a more effective way to help people get to the facts. Indeed, we’ve found that when we show Related Articles next to a false news story, it leads to fewer shares than when the Disputed Flag is shown.

Second, we are starting a new initiative to better understand how people decide whether information is accurate or not based on the news sources they depend upon. This will not directly impact News Feed in the near term. However, it may help us better measure our success in improving the quality of information on Facebook over time.

Let me help you understand how people decide whether information is accurate or not, Facebook. A great many people have strong belief systems, and at the core of those strong belief systems is the idea that they are good and people who disagree are bad; alternately, my tribe is good and the other tribes are bad. If new information comes along and appears to confirm that they and their tribe are good, or that the other tribes are bad, then they choose to believe it. If new information comes along and appears to confirm that they and their tribe are bad, or that the other tribes are good, they will declare the information false.

Roy Moore Hasn’t Finished Embarrassing Himself and His State Yet

Speaking of fake news, Roy Moore claims that Senator-elect Doug Jones’ 20,000-vote margin of victory is a result of voter fraud.

Moore and his campaign filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Montgomery, Alabama, listing several allegations and called for “a new special election.”

His complaint alleges that out-of-state residents had been allowed to vote and that election fraud experts had concluded through statistical analyses that fraud had taken place. One of the election experts Moore cites is Richard Charnin, who also posts about JFK conspiracy theories and the murder of DNC staffer, Seth Rich.

Moore’s complaint also alleged “anomalous” higher voter turnout in Jefferson County, in which census data shows 43% of the population is black. He called the county’s 47% voter turnout as “highly unusual” and questioned the integrity of its election results.

Statewide turnout was 40 percent, so the 47 percent turnout in the most heavily-populated county, where the Jones campaign no doubt focused their get-out-the-vote efforts, isn’t all that “highly unusual” at all.

You will recall that first Roy Moore claimed that the military ballots that had yet to arrive and the provisional balance could make a difference in that 20,000-vote margin. I pointed out that the math simply didn’t add up; Moore needed roughly half the combined military personnel in Alabama to be deployed overseas, for all of them to have voted in this election, and for him to have won all of their votes just to reach the automatic recount threshold, never mind win.

Then the Alabama Secretary of State announced that 366 military ballots had been returned by the deadline. Then, out of 4,967 provisional ballots, just 2,888 were accepted.

None of Moore’s new complaints will matter:

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill confirmed Thursday morning that Democrat Doug Jones will be certified the winner of the Alabama special Senate election despite Republican Roy Moore’s refusal to concede and request for a new election.

[Sad trombone noise.]

He’ll just keep finding new excuses for being the worst Senate candidate in modern history.

Brace Yourself, You Can Get Whiplash from this Change in Perspective on Flynn

Oh . . . now the Trump team tells us that Michael Flynn is an unreliable liar.

President Trump’s legal team plans to cast former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn as a liar seeking to protect himself if he accuses the president or his senior aides of any wrongdoing, according to three people familiar with the strategy.

The approach would mark a sharp break from Trump’s previously sympathetic posture toward Flynn, whom he called a “wonderful man” when Flynn was ousted from the White House in February. Earlier this month, the president did not rule out a possible pardon for Flynn, who is cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Who’s worse, the liar or the man who hires a liar to handle the country’s national security?

Who’s worse, the liar, or the man who gives a presidential pardon to a liar?

ADDENDA: John Micek kindly mentions “The Morning Jolt” in his end-of-the-year roundup declaring, 2017 to be “the year that email news digests really seem to have come into their own.”

Jack Hunter: “You can’t complain about governments not raising the minimum wage and then get mad when some private corporations do it on their own.”

Politics & Policy

No ISIS to be Seen in 2018!

President Barack Obama, July 6, 2015, describing U.S. military efforts against ISIS: “This will not be quick. This is a long-term campaign. ISIL is opportunistic and it is nimble.”

The headline, this morning:

ISIS has lost 98 percent of the territory it once held — with half of that terror group’s so-called “caliphate” having been recaptured since President Trump took office less than a year ago, U.S. military officials said Tuesday.

The latest American intelligence assessment says fewer than 1,000 ISIS fighters now remain in Iraq and Syria, down from a peak of nearly 45,000 just two years ago. U.S. officials credit nearly 30,000 U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and regional partners on the ground for killing more than 70,000 jihadists. Meanwhile, only a few thousand have returned home.

The remaining ISIS strongholds are concentrated in a small area along the border of Syria and Iraq. ISIS, at one point, controlled an area the size of Ohio.

“The rules of engagement under the Obama administration were onerous. I mean what are we doing having individual target determination being conducted in the White House, which in some cases adds weeks and weeks,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the former head of U.S. Air Force intelligence. “The limitations that were put on actually resulted in greater civilian casualties.”

Two weeks ago, our David French noticed that the country and its allies had won a war against a vicious, once-terrifying enemy, and somehow the public had largely tuned it out.

Now, however, the caliphate is a smoking ruin. It courted conflict with the great powers. It craved Armageddon, and it got its wish. No one knows ISIS’s exact casualty figures, but its fighters have died by the tens of thousands. I’ve spoken to men who were directly involved in the air campaign, and they have told me that the public doesn’t yet understand the sheer scale and ultimate effectiveness of the American attacks.

Yes, we withdrew from Iraq too soon. Yes, our counteroffensive against ISIS unfolded slowly. But we fought back, we trained and equipped allies, and we won. This is one of the best stories of the young Trump administration. While many of the battles were fought under Obama, Trump pursued the enemy relentlessly. He delegated decision-making to commanders in the field, they fought within the laws of war, and they prevailed.

Trump promised to defeat ISIS, and he has delivered a tremendous victory.

An important point from David, for when the urge to complain “it’s the media!” becomes strong:

But part of the blame still rests with us. Let’s be honest: Panic and fear make for a better story than victory and peace. I hear all the time from friends who ask me to “write more about good news.” Yet I write about good news all the time, and those pieces are often among my least-read articles. Perhaps I’m simply bad at writing about good things. Or perhaps the public has less appetite for the positive.

Why aren’t people talking about the defeat of ISIS more? Why aren’t more conservatives, hawks, and fans of Trump talking about the defeat of ISIS more?

My friend Cam has spent his adult life working in talk radio, and he told me a long time ago that radio is all about creating an emotional connection with the audience. (You certainly can’t rely on exciting visuals.) The easiest emotion to stir in someone else is anger. “Did you hear about this? Can you believe this? This is an outrage! We oughta go down there and straighten those morons out!” etc.) There’s an element of this to print media, as well. A furious denunciation full of ridicule, sneering, and condemnation will usually get better traffic, more shares on social media, and more “you tell ‘em!” affirmation than either a balanced assessment or an optimistic, cheery piece.

This is partially why the ideological press aligned with the opposition party usually enjoys circulation jumps, advertising jumps, and traffic bumps when the other party wins power. Everyone wants to know what the other guys are up to in power. Once your guy is in the Oval Office, you feel like you can relax and tune out from politics for a bit.

Writers, columnists, radio talk show hosts, television hosts and commentators — they all respond to audience responses. If people get fired up and excited and you get more feedback and the caller phone lines light up and the ratings go up when you’re angry, you’ll feel a strong incentive to be angry. I know this is true, because I feel those same incentives! You probably enjoyed this section more because I put the foolish-sounding prediction from President Obama at the top.

A More Productive Year in Congress Than Most Americans Thought

Politico writes about the 74 bills and 23 joint resolutions signed into law by President Trump, and notes that several are pretty significant and far-reaching, describing them as “bills passed by Congress and signed by Trump that you may never have heard about — but which carry real implications for millions of Americans.”

Number two on their list:

In the biggest reform of education benefits for veterans in decades, Congress passed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act in August, a 68-page bill that combined 18 separate bills into one, with numerous reforms long sought by veterans’ advocates. Most notably, the law eliminates the 15-year time limit for veterans to use their education benefits — the main reason the bill was nicknamed the “Forever GI Bill.” It also expands education benefits to any service member who receives a Purple Heart — regardless of how long he or she served — and provides extra money for veterans who pursue a degree in science technology, engineering or math, a small incentive to help America’s shortage of STEM workers.

Jolt readers knew about that one!

Number three on their list was also at the Department of Veterans Affairs:

It’s hard to think of piece of legislation that is less sexy than reforms to the government’s personnel rules, a subject that can bore even the most careful Congress-watchers. But a bill reforming civil service rules at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which Trump signed into law in June, caught the eye of many administrative experts. The changes were the culmination of years of work by lawmakers who were frustrated at the department’s inability to fire workers responsible for the scandal at VA hospitals in 2014.

The reforms create a new office to provide protection to whistleblowers and significantly reduce the time needed to fire VA employees, a process that previously could take months, if not years. Agencies often decided it wasn’t even worth the effort. Under the new law, the review process remains largely the same for most employees — it changes more for senior executives — but the time allotted for filing an appeal is sharply reduced. Perhaps more importantly, the law also lowers the burden of proof necessary for firing employees. The changes were opposed by groups representing federal employees, but the bills sailed through Congress, passing by a voice vote in the Senate and 368-55 in the House.

Reforms to a single agency’s civil service rules may seem like a minor legislative change. But experts are carefully watching how the agency implements the new rules as something of an experiment to see whether they should be implemented across government. As the scandal at VA hospitals showed, the quality of federal employees can have a major impact on the lives of individual Americans. Civil service reforms might not be sexy, but they’re critical to an effective government.

National Review readers knew about that one, too!

Maybe these legislative accomplishments aren’t so obscure and hard to find good information about. Maybe some folks are just reading the wrong publications!

Yelling for Paul Ryan to Come Back Like the Little Boy Yelling at Shane

Paul Ryan’s hometown newspaper begs him to not retire:

As anyone familiar with Twitter knows, Congress is operating under unusual circumstances thanks largely to President Trump’s unpredictable leadership. Ryan has fortunately avoided getting into a tweet war with Trump, which might explain why Ryan has been spared from Trump’s infamous 140-character assaults. Nevertheless, working with Trump must be exhausting (in the daycare sense).

Through it all, Ryan has refused to debase himself by hurling insults at his critics. He reminds the Beltway of what life used to be like before Twitter, and he’s an example of how a leader should behave.

It’s not fair to blame Ryan for the antics of a president with little self-control.

Congress would lose a great deal — namely integrity — if Ryan were to leave. Paul, please don’t go.

Meanwhile, Ryan’s primary challenger from last year, Paul Nehlen, accused a journalist who criticized him of being “shill for the sheckles. [sic]” This idiot can’t even spell his anti-Semitic slurs right, it’s spelled “shekels.” Another great candidate selection from Team Breitbart, whose coverage left readers believing that Nehlen was on the verge of defeating Ryan last year. Ryan won, 84 percent to 16 percent.

ADDENDA: Already announced on the Three Martini Lunch podcast’s 2017 Awards: the year’s Worst Political Scandal, Best Political Theater, Worst Political Theater, Significant Passing, Rising Star, Fading Into Political Oblivion, Most Underrated Political Figure, Most Overrated Political Figure, and Most Honest Political Figure.


The Story of Those Hallmark Movies

Hope you had a wonderful holiday. Good luck if you’re heading to the malls to return something; this is traditionally the second-busiest shopping day of the year.

How Hallmark’s Christmas Movies Took Over Television 

Hopefully your recent holidays were full of family gathering in the kitchen or around the table, presents under the tree, and peace on earth and goodwill toward all men and women, or at least everyone in your family. Or perhaps your recent weeks featured a workaholic young woman falling for the handyman widower who’s rebuilding a small-town orphanage or youth center, a precocious child asking probing questions about your love life, or a man who resembles Ed Asner named “Nick” or “Kris” and who claims to be the real Santa, and you realized you were living in a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie. (I think Mary Katharine Ham put together the most definitive list of clichés.)

What you may not have known is that these syrupy, predictable, quasi-nostalgic picture-perfect romances — it’s a stretch to call most of these romantic comedies – are wildly popular:

Countdown to Christmas, Hallmark Channel’s annual two-month collection of round-the-clock Christmas-themed programming, helped it become the most-watched cable network last month in total day among 18- to 49-year-old and 25- to 54-year-old women.

Its five-night Thanksgiving event, which is always the highest-rated portion of the season, drove the most-watched week in network history across all key demos, culminating in Sunday, Nov. 26, its most-watched day ever among households, all 18- to 49-year-olds and 25- to 54-year-olds, and 25- to 54-year-old women. That night’s original movie, Switched for Christmas, drew 5.2 million total viewers, making it the network’s highest-rated holiday movie this year. 

Overall, this year’s Countdown to Christmas is up 4 percent year over year in the 18-49 and 25-54 demos as well as total viewers and households.

It turns out that being “anti-edgy” is working out quite well for the Hallmark channel.

The prime-time audience for Hallmark — which was launched in 2001 — grew 9% in the second quarter of 2017 from a year earlier while its companion channel Hallmark Movies & Mysteries was up 23%, according to Nielsen. Most other major cable channels, such as Freeform (formerly known as ABC Family), TBS, TNT, USA, Disney Channel and Lifetime, all saw declines in that period. Although Hallmark has an older audience — its median age is 58.6 — ad revenue has been on the rise. In the first half of 2017, the flagship network has taken in $190 million in revenue, up 7% from the same period in 2016, according to Standard Media Index. Hallmark is also getting higher prices from advertisers because it has cut the number of commercials running in its programs.

“They’ve been on a roll the past few years,” said Derek Baine, a senior analyst for the media research firm SNL Kagan . . . 

“What would have been considered dark 10 years ago would today be considered middle of the road,” Abbott said. “That allows us to play to the strength of our brand, which is quality and heritage and family friendly, and create a lot of original content for an underserved audience that just does not find it anywhere else.” 

At least a few times between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I relent and the Mrs. and I check in to see how Candice Cameron is aging. Because they’re so formulaic, you more or less know what every character is going to say and what’s going to happen in every scene before it happens. At least one of the romantic leads will be returning for the first time in many years to a picturesque elaborately-decorated small hometown, they’ll face a supremely implausible work deadline right around Christmas, they’ll have a best friend who incessantly mentions the handsome carpenter/Christmas tree farmer/amnesiac/reindeer veterinarian who’s restoring the town gazebo/volunteering at a new youth center/going to be a last-minute substitute to be Santa in the town parade . . . the contrived misunderstandings, the magic mistletoe, the overwrought declarations of lost Christmas spirit . . . and dear God, so many decorating montages.

Then, after putting up with a Hallmark movie or two, I can suggest rewatching a real Christmas movie featuring Clark Griswold or John McClane.

Hope That Prank Was Worth Losing Your Job!

Yeah, Trump Derangement Syndrome is a real thing.

It was one of those gag cards you can buy in a drugstore. “Merry Catsmess!” read the caption. And in a personal touch, as if for emphasis, Robby Strong had enclosed a box of horse manure. 

“To Stevie,” he wrote on the envelope, meaning Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, for whose doorstep the manure was bound.

“We’re returning the ‘gift’ of the Christmas tax bill. It’s b—.” Strong wrote on the card. “Warmest Wishes, The American People.”

And then, he says, he went through with it. On Saturday, Strong hand-delivered the manure to two Los Angeles homes he believed belong to Mnuchin — one in Beverly Hills, and one a mansion in Bel Air that consequently got a visit from Secret Service agents and a bomb squad.

Strong works as a psychologist for Los Angeles County, he told 89.3 KPCC, and expects that delivering animal feces to the man in charge of the U.S. Treasury Department could jeopardize his job. But Strong doesn’t sound as if he regrets it.

“I need someone to ride along and document my Secret Santa project. I’m going to hand deliver boxes of horse (expletive) to Steve Mnuchin,” he wrote on Facebook on Saturday afternoon, a couple of hours before police were called to Bel Air. “No disguises, no fake names. Totally owning this one. You’re only powerless if you do nothing!!!”

That guy’s a psychologist? Physician, heal thyself. 

The gentleman has been active with the “Occupy L.A.” movement. Well, that explains a bunch. 

Later in the article, he declares, “What I did, I would like to compare to what Jesus did when he went into the temple and overturned the tables of the money-changers, who were exploiting the people financially in the name of religion.”

If you study Christianity and you come away with the lesson, “I should leave boxes of poop on the doorsteps of those whom I politically disagree,” then you really, really flunked the “WWJD” test.

Think about it, this guy has a job with the county as a psychologist, presumably encountering people with real mental problems every workday. He’s been given the opportunity to be a helping hand for people in real dire straits, who really need someone who can understand and diagnose what’s troubling them and may not be able to communicate it clearly. He’s got the ability to make the world a better place every day just by showing up and doing his job . . . and he chose to risk throwing that away for a stupid political stunt. Did he really think Mnunchin himself was going to open the door and open the package? Did he really think that this would affect anything? The tax bill has passed.

It was an empty, rage-filled gesture that had no real impact on Mnuchin, but that may cost this guy his job (and probably should). I hope it was worth it for him.

Why is it that so many Americans have imbued political figures with this illusory power to make their lives exponentially better or worse?

Happy New Year, United Nations!

One national New Year’s resolution for 2018: Spend less money at the United Nations . . . 


On Sunday, when United Nations members reached agreement on a 2018-2019 budget of $5.4 billion, Ms. Haley issued a statement emphasizing the American role in achieving more than $285 million in cuts, along with hints of more reductions to come. 

“We will no longer let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of or remain unchecked,” Ms. Haley said. In future negotiations, she said, “you can be sure we’ll continue to look at ways to increase the U.N.’s efficiency while protecting our interests. 

Under a formula tied to economic size and other measurements established under an article of the United Nations Charter, the United States is responsible for 22 percent of the United Nations operating budget, the largest contribution. It paid about $1.2 billion of the 2016-2017 budget of $5.4 billion.

The United States also is the largest single financial contributor, at 28.5 percent, to a separate budget for United Nations peacekeeping operations, which totals $6.8 billion in the 2017-2018 budget finalized in June.

If you guys want to adopt resolutions denouncing our policy decisions, you guys are free to do that. Just don’t expect us to pick up the check.

I wonder if the New York City police could “accidentally” tow their cars for all of those unpaid parking tickets. “Whoops, sorry, didn’t see those diplomatic plates . . . we can get your car out of impound sometime in the next twelve to twenty-four hours.”

ADDENDA: Wonderful news right before the break: National Review contributor Tom Rogan will be restarting the McLaughlin Group, and a lot of the old crowd will be returning.

Speaking of the McLaughlin Group, from now until New Years’ Day, Greg Corombus and I are naming the winners of our sixth annual Three Martini Lunch awards on our podcast.

Economy & Business

Merry Christmas from National Review!

Good morning, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays! There will be no Morning Jolt on December 25th; the next one will be December 26th.

Until then, may your holiday travels be safe, may you find everything you wanted under your Christmas tree, may you spot your love standing under the Mistletoe unaware, may you have just the right number of batteries you need for that new toy, may you find the little twinkling light that burned out, may your eggnog not spoil, may your team either win or move up to get a better draft choice, and may the day of His birth bring you joy and peace.

More Armageddon Updates

In keeping with yesterday’s grim and spirit-breaking news, here’s another look at how the “Armageddon,” as House minority leader Nancy Pelosi called it, is sweeping the country:

In Texas:

New Braunfels-based Rush Enterprises is planning to give each of its employees a $1,000 bonus after President Donald Trump signs the tax reform bill into law.

The commercial truck dealer said all of its approximately 6,600 U.S. employees will receive the one-time payout — which will cost about $6.6 million.

“You’ve got a choice — we could’ve kept it and stuffed it in the company bank account or coffers, or we can share it with the people,” said Rush Enterprises’ Chief Financial Officer Steven Keller. “We chose to share it with the people because it’s the right thing to do.”

Rush Enterprises President and CEO W.M. “Rusty” Rush said in a statement “we believe tax reform to be beneficial for Rush Enterprises, our communities and overall economic growth.”

In Wisconsin:

Associated Bank said Thursday it will boost its minimum hourly wage to $15 and pay workers a $500 bonus when the recently passed federal tax reform is signed, making it the first major Wisconsin firm to announce it is joining the list of companies saying their employees will directly benefit from the legislation.

The Green Bay-based bank, the largest financial institution headquartered in the state, said it will raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour from $10 — a 50% boost — and distribute the one-time bonus to all hourly, non-commissioned employees once the tax legislation is signed into law.

The company said the moves would affect about 55% of its workers. Associated has about 4,400 employees, with 3,400 of them in Wisconsin.

In Idaho:

Idaho health care and home products company Melaleuca Inc. announced Thursday that it will be the latest major business to give its workers bonuses in response to President Donald Trump’s tax cuts.

Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot said in a phone interview that his 2,000 workers will get a one-time bonus of $100 for every year they have worked at the company. On average, Melaleuca employees stay at the company eight years – which would result in an $800 bonus. The company also has 147 employees who have worked for VanderSloot for 20 years or more.

“We’re going to be able to have quite a few substantial dollars after taxes,” VanderSloot said. “I suspect we’re one of the largest taxpayers in the state, so we’re going to have some more dollars to spread around. That money should go to the people who built the company.”

In Hawaii:

Royal Hawaiian Heritage Jewelry has been in business for about 40 years.

And owner Jackie Breeden is hoping a sweeping tax overhaul approved by Congress and headed to the president’s desk will help her expand operations beyond her stores at Pearlridge Center and on Bishop Street, and a single neighbor island outlet in Kona.

“I’m from Kauai so I would like to open up a shop back on the island of Kauai and on the west side of Honolulu as well, and be back in Maui. Before we were on all the islands,” she said.

Reuters business reporters notice what I was discussing yesterday: it’s likely that the changes to the Alternative Minimum Tax will balance out or offset the effects of the cap on the deductions for state and local taxes for those in high-tax blue states. That change won’t be as devastating for Californians as the bill’s critics contend — or at least for a significant chunk of them.

The new $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions will have a less dramatic effect than feared because such deductions in many cases had already been rendered moot by the alternative minimum tax (AMT), a mechanism for assuring that the well-heeled pay at least 26 percent of their income in taxes.

“There is a lot of noise about workers in California, New Jersey, New York and Illinois (facing higher taxes), but 80 percent of our clients there were already paying the alternative minimum tax so they don’t benefit from the state and local deductions,” said Jack Meccia, a tax associate at financial planning firm Vestboard, which works with several hundred individuals in tech.

The new law alters the AMT in a way that vastly reduces the number of people who have to pay it, from more than 5 million to an estimated 200,000 next year, according to the Tax Policy Center. The AMT dynamics, combined with reduced overall tax rates and the doubling of the standard deduction to $24,000 should hold most Bay Area tax bills steady, said Bob McGrath, tax director at accounting firm Burr Pilger Mayer.

Meanwhile, down under in Australia, they’re worried that businesses will shift operations and investors will refocus upon the United States because of the lower tax laws.

The US company tax rate, however, is critical because as the world’s largest economy, a cut would result in investment and capital flowing back into the country at the expense of nations such as Australia, whose higher tax rates would make it uncompetitive and less attractive as an investment ­option.

Scott Morrison told The Australian that the Treasury analysis confirmed the IMF forecasts, which at the beginning of the year had been only hypothetical.

The Treasurer said they were now a reality. “The Trump tax cuts are coming. If we fail to respond, they will take Australian jobs, investment and wages with them,” Mr Morrison said.

Now, are companies looking for a particular tax advantage by announcing all of these bonuses immediately, and putting them into effect before the end of the year? Yes, they are!

Making the payment now would let AT&T record the expense in 2017, resulting in a $70 million deduction under the current 35% tax rate. Once the new tax rate is in effect in 2018, the bonus expense would mean a $42 million deduction. Should the president sign the bill after Dec. 31, AT&T stands to lose 40% of the tax deduction it could have claimed.

Similar calculations are currently being made for other companies that have pledged tax-bill bonuses, charitable donations or other year-end expenses ahead of the changes in the tax law.

I concur with Frank Fleming. “There [are] lots of good reasons to oppose the tax cuts, but the arguments we’re seeing now reveal that a lot of the people who opposed it are just idiots who opposed it for bad partisan reasons.”

In case you’re wondering here are the good reasons: this new tax structure is almost certain to worsen deficits over the next ten years, we still have a debt problem, and the government isn’t controlling spending at a level that could justify big cuts in revenue. The bill really didn’t do much for tax simplification, and you could argue the tax code is even more complicated now. (Either Ivanka Trump didn’t pay attention in her briefings, or someone needed to tell her that the vast majority will not be doing their taxes on a form as small as a postcard, and that the tax changes will go into effect starting next year, not retroactive to the beginning of this year. Your taxes that you file in April 2018 will be under the old tax rules, not the new ones.) The corporate tax rate will go down from 35 to 21 percent; the U.S. probably could have gotten similar benefits in international competitiveness just by reducing it to 24 percent or so. It would have been nice to see the child tax credit get more than a $400-per-child boost, and it would have been better to include Senator Mike Lee and Marco Rubio’s “expanded child tax credit that was refundable against the full payroll tax, meaning that the parents who do not make enough to have income tax liability would get their payroll taxes back up to the value of the credit for each child.”

Now He Tells Us!

Breitbart.com headline, November 21, 2017: “Court Documents Raise Significant Questions About Leigh Corfman’s Accusations Against Roy Moore.”

From that story: “The [Washington] Post failed to mention that the very reason for the February 21, 1979, court hearing where Moore allegedly met Corfman was because, according to the court documents, Corfman had exhibited “certain disciplinary and behavioral problems.”

Breitbart asserted that Corfman’s unspecified “disciplinary and behavioral problems” in her teen years created reasons to doubt her accusations against Moore.

The word from Breitbart.com’s top man, now:

[Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex] Marlow also stressed that he was personally uncomfortable with the behavior attributed by The Post to Moore, and noted that he did believe the accusations from Leigh Corfman, who said Moore assaulted her while she was 14 — they were “not perfect,” he said, but had “a lot of credibility.” He also noted that he, and much of the Breitbart audience, initially supported Mo Brooks in the Republican primary, and only shifted support to Moore because of his opposition to Strange as the establishment candidate. But he said he saw political motivations behind The Post’s reporting on Moore and wanted to home in on the “coverage of the coverage.”


So he believed her, but he, his team, and his site went all-out to tout and promote Moore anyway.

CNN’s Jake Tapper Tears the United Nations a New One

Rarely will you ever watch five minutes of CNN and want to stand up and applaud. Jake Tapper rips Venezuela, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Myanmar for thinking they have the moral authority to complain about where the United States puts its embassy in Israel.

ADDENDA: I’ll be joining my friend Cam Edwards on NRATV starting at 2 p.m. today.

Politics & Policy

Armageddon Updates

“Probably one of the worst bills in the history of the United States of America. The debate on health care is like death. This is Armageddon.” — House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, describing the Republican tax cut bill, December 4.

Ladies and gentlemen, witness the horror of our Armageddon:

In the hours after Congress approved the GOP tax cut plan, a handful of companies jumped to announce plans to share some of the proceeds on their employees and spend on infrastructure. Boeing was first out of the gate, followed by AT&T, which said it would give more than 200,000 unionized employees a special bonus of $1,000 once the tax bill is signed. The company also said it would increase its capital expenditures by $1 billion.

Both Fifth Third Bancorp and Wells Fargo followed, saying they would raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour. Fifth Third said it would also give workers a bonus, and Wells Fargo said it would give $400 million to community and nonprofit organizations next year.

Comcast, which owns CNBC parent NBCUniversal, said it would pay 100,000 frontline and non-executive employees special $1,000 bonuses. The company also said it is making the move because of the FCC’s recent change in broadband rules and tax reform. It also said it plans to spend well in excess of $50 billion over the next five years on infrastructure improvements.

“This is exciting stuff. This is good. This is not just a whole bunch of guys saying I can buy back a lot of stock here and jazz up my numbers through financial engineering. This is a bunch of business leaders saying we can use this tax benefit to grow our company, keep our loyal employees and assist the community,” said Dick Bove, banking analyst at Vertical Group.

What’s fascinating is how many commentators you will see who will offer variations of A) “This is just one/two/three/four/five companies!” B) “$1,000 isn’t really that much!” C) The companies and corporate executives will get a lot more!” and so on. They can’t look at announcements like this and say, “oh, good. A lot of workers will get some more money in their pockets as 2018 begins, this can only be a good thing.”

In a better, more reasonable, less reflexively partisan world, we would all be willing to applaud when an idea we didn’t support has at least one good effect.

Do you notice the irony of a giant tax cut motivating big companies to institute a $15/hour minimum wage for their workers? Could we at least get an “Amen!” from the Fight for 15 people?

Even if these companies are making these moves with less-than-noble motives, wanting good publicity or to ingratiate themselves with the administration . . . so what? Do you think the workers getting those bonuses will feel like they’re tainted? “I’m going to tear up my bonus check, I think they’re just trying to use me for a photo-op.”

Besides, I already liked Lily from AT&T, and she couldn’t possibly be trying to manipulate us, right?

Something to keep an eye on in the coming days are people who claim they’re getting socked with a big tax hike under the plan who don’t or won’t spell out how they reached that conclusion. Yesterday I encountered a Twitter user living in Detroit who insisted, “many of us pay way more than $10k in state and local taxes and don’t reach the AMT limit and only get a slight break on tax rate.”

For 2017, the alternative minimum tax kicks in at $54,300 for those filing singly and $84,500 for those married and filing jointly. If you’re under that level, your income tax rate is going down three percentage points under the new system both single and married taxpayers. Plus, if you’re making less than the AMT limit, I’m trying to figure out how you can possibly be paying “way more than $10,000 in state and local taxes.”

Maybe someone could find themselves with a bad tax bill if they make a modest salary but own a lot of property and get hit with property taxes. Michigan has a 4.25 percent state income tax, there’s a 2.4 percent Detroit income tax. Wayne County has a property tax that is complicated to calculate but is pretty high, averaging out to 2.6 percent. The property tax is high, but also remember that Detroit real estate is relatively cheap. How many people own non-revenue-generating high-value real estate in high-property tax jurisdictions, but their taxable earnings are below the AMT limit?

Liberal Sirius XM host Dean Obeidallah declared on Twitter, “Just spoke to a friend in Massachusetts — the GOP tax plan will raise their taxes by $10,000 a year because they can no longer deduct state and local taxes from federal income. For a family of 5 that is very painful tax hike.”

It’s difficult to determine without this unnamed person’s specific figures, but I don’t think that adds up; at the very least, they’re in a really unusual set of circumstances.

Remember, if you’re used to deducting $20,000, it doesn’t mean your tax bill goes up by $10,000. It means your taxable income goes up by $10,000. To calculate out to a tax hike of $10,000, this unnamed friend must have an unbelievably high state and local tax bill. (Remember, the average state and local tax deduction for a filer in New York City is $24,000; this unnamed friend would have to be deducting way more than that to add up a $10,000 increase in taxes due. (At 5.1 percent, Massachusetts’ income tax rate is actually on the lower end of the national spectrum.) Again, maybe this person has an enormous property tax bill, but it’s hard to believe that the reduction in this taxpayer’s income tax rate wouldn’t offset the increase in taxable income without the SALT deduction. (Keep in mind, this family of five, with presumably three dependents, just had their child tax credit increase by $400 per child, or $1,200 in total.)

In other words, in pretty rare circumstances, the changes in the tax bill could calculate out to a net tax hike. It’s just odd that all of those people happen to be the unnamed friends of liberal commentators.

Wait, Who’s Really Living in a Fantasy World?

I had not expected this particular dashed-off tweet to hit such a nerve. Some argue, fairly, that it’s a non-sequitur to respond to an accusation of being disconnected from reality — snide and disrespectful as it may be — with a comment about the recent scandal at the Today show, and it’s not fair to blame Guthrie for Matt Lauer’s behavior. (I don’t think that’s what the tweet does.)

I didn’t have any particularly strong feelings about the Today show before the scandal, and Savannah Guthrie seemed like a delightful person in my very limited interactions with her many years ago. But the revelations about Lauer divulged that the Today show’s warm onscreen atmosphere hid a repulsive behind-the-scenes core, one that at best turned a blind eye to Lauer’s actions and may have indulged and abetted it. The 2008 Friars Club Roast of Matt Lauer — attended by most of Lauer’s current and former colleagues at the time and many top stars of the media world, and only reported in the Village Voice — indicates Lauer was, at the very least, widely believed to be a notorious womanizer having relationships in the workplace. NBC’s claim that they responded to the “first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he’s been at NBC News” doesn’t pass the smell test. The Vanity Fair headline was blunt: “Everybody knew.”

It was awkward and cringe-inducing enough when Time magazine’s editor-in-chief announced “the silence breakers” were the newsmaker of the year on the set of the Today show . . . probably sitting in a seat that Matt Lauer had sat in just a few weeks earlier. It’s a little insufferable to watch a program denounce predatory men and unrestrained sexual harassment in the workplace . . . when it either tolerated or enabled that behavior behind the scenes for so long.

We still haven’t received much of an update about who knew what at NBC and when. We still haven’t gotten many good answers about why Ronan Farrow encountered such internal skepticism and hostility as he pursued the story about the scandals around Harvey Weinstein. Think about it, the New York Times reported that Lauer asked a staffer into his office, used his secret lock, and proceeded to have intercourse with her until she passed out. She had to be taken to get medical attention afterward. Think about how many journalists at NBC had that galling, shocking story under their noses . . . and either missed it or didn’t feel comfortable reporting or discussing that story.

This may not be fair to Guthrie, but I don’t think that NBC News or anyone associated with the Today show is in much of a position to accuse others of living in a fantasy world or being disconnected from reality. The show’s hosts, reporters and producers are ready to jump back to “normality,” where they can accuse the speaker of the House of living in a fantasy world because Michael Bloomberg is critical of his tax cut legislation. Hold up a minute, guys, you just tossed your moral authority and public trust into a giant bonfire.

ADDENDA: In an interview with CNBC, New Jersey governor-elect Phil Murphy says his state will challenge the “legality and constitutionality” of the tax cut.  Er . . . on what grounds? Earlier this year he claimed that “by ending the local tax deduction, the Republican tax bill could create an ‘unconstitutional double tax’ since people would pay federal taxes on income from which local taxes already were subtracted.” But the bill didn’t end the local tax deduction, it merely capped it, and if that’s the case, why wouldn’t someone be able to deduct their local taxes from their taxable income for the state?

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White House

The Impeachment Clock

Adam Schiff’s impeachment inquiry is incoherent. Given the impossibility of a senatorial conviction, the only strategy is to taint the president with the brand of impeachment and weaken him in the 2020 election. Yet Schiff seems to have no sense that the worm has already turned. Far from tormenting Trump and ... Read More

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Warren’s Wealth Tax Is Unethical

Senator Warren would impose a 2 percent annual tax on wealth above $50 million, and a 6 percent annual tax on wealth above $1 billion. These numbers may seem small, but remember that they would be applied every year. With wealth taxes, small numbers have large effects. Applied to an asset yielding a steady ... Read More