Kirsten Gillibrand’s Chameleonic Ability

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D, N.Y.) during a press conference calling for an end to forced arbitration on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., December 6, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Happy Valentine’s Day! Making the click-through worthwhile: How New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand reminds me of the Marvel comics villain, the Super-Adaptoid; the budget deal is small but doesn’t look that bad; and wondering how that implausible story from Chicago will be resolved.

Kirsten Gillibrand, New York’s Super-Adaptoid

Here’s what I find fascinating about New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, having compiled the latest “Twenty Things” list about her: Gillibrand’s family wasn’t quite as wealthy and connected as the Kennedys or the Bushes, but that’s a high bar to clear. Her grandmother, Polly Noonan, more or less ran the Democratic Machine in Albany politics for about four decades. When this comes up in profiles, it’s usually presented as a sweet story of a grandmother taking her granddaughter to hand out bumper stickers and stir an early interest in politics. Her father Douglas Rutnik was a well-connected lobbyist, close to Republican governor George Pataki and Senator Alphonse D’Amato.

(It’s extremely revealing that to the extent folks on the Right know anything about Rutnik, it’s his brief connection to the sex cult NXIVM. He did legal work for them for four months back in 2004, and there’s no evidence he knew about their activities. Many seem to want to believe that this is, somehow by osmosis, a major scandal for Senator Gillibrand; meanwhile, everyone’s ignoring the fact that Gillibrand’s family was one of the best-situated in the state if you wanted to rise in New York Democratic politics.)

Gillibrand describes herself as having “the stereotypical 1970s middle-class experience” and the Washington Post described her upbringing as that of a “middle-class Roman Catholic Albany schoolgirl.” Come on. Most middle-class families don’t have the city’s “mayor for life” coming over to their house most nights. Gillibrand attended one of, if not the most, prestigious private high schools in the state, got into Dartmouth, studied abroad in China and Taiwan, got into UCLA law, and interned for D’Amato and the U.S. Attorney’s office, and, from September to December 1990, the United Nations over in Vienna, Austria. (The U.N. does not pay interns, so Gillibrand’s family could afford to cover the costs of her taking an unpaid internship over in Europe for four months.) The Rutnik family may not have been fabulously wealthy, but they were not “stereotypical middle class.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this. Gillibrand’s life shows that she was bright and driven. Philip Morris doesn’t keep you as one of its main attorneys in fighting the tobacco lawsuit wars if you’re not smart. Gillibrand wrote in her autobiography that she found it hard to find a job in government — although it’s much more likely that she found it hard to find a job in government that would not represent a huge drop in pay from her work at a top-shelf Manhattan law firm. She talks about Andrew Cuomo offering her first job in government . . .  but never quite acknowledges that her grandmother and his father were friends and allies.

She writes about her first fundraising campaign:

True to his reputation, Rahm [Emanuel] was a hard-ass and a skeptic. He kept giving me outrageous fundraising goals, assuming I’d fall short and thus give him an excuse to bar me from his Red to Blue program, aimed at turning Republican districts Democratic. But I jumped through every hoop, rang every bell, called every number of every contact, and eventually Rahm ran out of reasons not to support me.

Again, this is a woman whose grandmother ran the Albany Democratic machine, whose father was a well-connected lobbyist, and who worked in two of Manhattan’s top law firms, and who had been a big donor and party fundraiser herself the previous cycles. If any potential candidate was ever perfectly situated to be a great fundraiser, it was Gillibrand.

There’s a strange false modesty at work in Gillibrand’s nascent campaign. When she announced her bid on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, she declared, “I’m going to run for president of the United States because as a young mom, I’m going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own.” But America has a lot of wonderful young moms, and very few of them get elected to the House or Senate or get invited to sit on Colbert’s couch. “Vote for me because I’m a mom like you” is an argument that hand-waves away everything that makes Gillibrand unique.

What makes her unique is that year by year, she became exactly what is required to succeed in New York politics, which is basically a synonym for New York Democratic politics. This meant dramatic flip-flops on issues like guns and illegal immigration when she moved from the House to the Senate. When she was appointed to fill out Hillary Clinton’s term, both Democratic rivals and New York Republicans thought she would be beatable. No one’s ever cracked more than 36 percent against her in a statewide primary or general election. She can schmooze both farmers and Wall Street, charm reporters from Vogue and Politico, laugh with Jon Stewart, and hit it off with Charlie Rose. She defends abortion on demand, then attends Bible studies with her GOP Senate colleagues. She calls for bipartisanship and boasts that she’s voted against every one of President Trump’s cabinet appointees. She boasts about voting against the TARP bailout twice, but is now courting Wall Street executives to help out her campaign.

Marvel comics used to feature a villain called the “Super-Adaptoid,” a robot that could adopt or mimic the powers of anyone it encountered. Gillibrand evolves to fit her environment quickly — and her foes would be foolish to underestimate her.

The Budget Bill Is a Small Deal . . .  But a Pretty Good One

The conventional wisdom is that President Trump is about to cave and sign a funding bill that includes a paltry $1.375 billion in funding for 55 miles of fencing along the U.S. border with Mexico. But Shikha Dalmia may be closer to the mark. Trump’s not getting a lot, but he’s also not giving up much. This deal doesn’t include a path to citizenship or legalization for the Dreamers or those under rescinded Temporary Protected Status, which many figured would be part of a larger deal.

On paper, the number of beds in Immigration and Custom Enforcement detention facilities is dropping by about 9,000, to 40,520. But that’s about the amount authorized by Congress last year, and the Trump administration actually exceeded the allocated number by a considerable amount by shifting funds from other programs. Democrats wanted to reduce it to 35,000 beds, but ultimately agreed to keep the status quo.

The deal also provides a separate $900 million for “enhanced inspections at ports of entry, new technology, opioid detection and customs officers.” Again, more border enforcement, separate from the 55 miles of new fencing.

Three weeks ago, when Trump agreed to reopen the government, he had none of this, and he was getting blamed for the shutdown. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the wall “an immorality” and wanted to provide zero funding. Now a significant number of House Democrats are going to vote to provide for $1.37 billion for this policy she deemed immoral, and in exchange, Democrats got . . . what?

We’re Just Going to Forget About This Story, Huh?

We’re all just going to pretend that everything that Empire star Jussie Smollett told the police about being attacked in the middle of the night in Chicago’s coldest night in 30 years was accurate, huh? He recently declared in an interview that he’s “pissed off” that people don’t believe him.

Who’s giving him advice these days, Ralph Northam? Very little about his initial account made sense, he later changed his story and described fighting them off, none of the closed-circuit security cameras saw the attack but noted that it had to happen in a 60-second window, he somehow managed to keep his cell phone and Subway sandwich during the attack, and when police asked for his phone records — he had claimed he was on the phone when it happened —  the police said the submitted records did “not meet the burden for a criminal investigation as they were limited and heavily redacted.”

Smollett doesn’t get to turn the skeptics into the villains in this story.

ADDENDUM: Katherine Timpf urges men to stop complaining about Valentine’s Day because women spend way more time and effort on their appearances than men do. I’d concur, and just add that even if the roses, chocolates, meals out, etc. are silly and often overpriced and a giant national effort to ensure the financial health of the greeting-card industry, it’s a small price to pay for the joy the women in our lives bring us the other 364 days of the year.

Politics & Policy

California Governor Gavin Newsom Tears Off the Bullet-Train Band-Aid

((Justin Sullivan/Getty))

Making the click-through worthwhile: California governor Gavin Newsom shocks his state and advocates of the Green New Deal by pulling the plug on a gargantuan and exorbitant high-speed-rail project, a question about how lauded creators approach their work after achieving their dream, and a senator tries to save Americans from the terrifying menace of roller-coasters.

The Twist Ending: Gavin Newsom Kills Off California’s High-Speed-Rail Project

Back in 2015, most television-watchers were grumbling about the second season of the HBO series True Detective, finding it much less interesting than the first one. But I found one choice by the creators fascinating: A major plot point was sleazy, mob-connected businessmen talking about federal funding for California’s high-speed-rail project as an easy way to line their pockets. Vince Vaughn played a ruthless, ambitious, mob-connected businessman who yearned to be a legitimate, respected mogul, and he envisioned building his small fortune into a massive one by overcharging taxpayers for land and services through front companies.

HBO’s programming isn’t exactly known for depicting conservative or small-government arguments. The decision to depict an ongoing statewide “green” project as a shady, opaque source of corruption suggested two things. First, that even within the likely left-leaning creative class of Hollywood, the high-speed-rail project was starting to get a reputation as a perpetually delayed money pit. And second, in an era where interest groups and social-media users are apt to take offense and protest almost everything, the creators of the program did not fear that they would hear complaints from environmentalists that they were unfairly vilifying a noble program.

That was about three-and-a-half years ago. Yesterday, California’s not quite pulling the plug, but dramatically scaling down the project:

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in his first State of the State speech that he intends to scale back California’s $77-billion bullet train project, saying that while the state has the capacity to complete the first leg in the Central Valley, extending the rail line to Southern California and the Bay Area would “cost too much and, respectfully, take too long.”

The Democratic governor supports finishing the controversial high-speed rail line between Bakersfield and Merced, and said it would invigorate the economy in California’s midsection and reduce the region’s air pollution. But because of the project’s persistent cost overruns, mismanagement and delays, the grand vision of bullet trains whisking passengers from San Diego to San Francisco doesn’t appear viable and will need to be reassessed, Newsom said.

“There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency,” Newsom said. “Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were.”

Newsom also said he will continue to push for federal and private funding for the entire rail system, leading to some confusion about whether he planned to scrap all but the Central Valley portion or simply postpone construction of the remaining legs of the project. After the speech, a spokesperson for the governor’s office confirmed the latter.

If the state government finds this project too expensive, too slow-moving, and not used enough to justify the use of state funds . . . why should federal taxpayers offer more money? Why would private investors?

As our Kevin Williamson summarizes, “At the time of its demise, the bullet train was years behind schedule, had spent more than seven times its originally allocated budget, and, of course, carried no passengers.”

As I wrote last fall, Gavin Newsom is the personification of San Francisco liberalism. He would not make this move unless he financially saw no other options. He just got elected last November; best to tear off the Band-Aid quickly in his first term and move on.

Of course, this news comes at about as bad a time as possible for advocates of the “Green New Deal.” If California — which, if measured as a separate country, would be the fifth-biggest economy on earth — doesn’t have the tax base to support a project like this, no state does. Defenders of high-speed rail as a concept might be able to argue that California is uniquely bad for costs of land acquisition, environmental review, legal fights, and construction materials and labor. But every state is going to have these problems on some level.

California appeared to have the rare advantages of a bunch of heavily populated cities in a line and a patient group of lawmakers who were committed to the idea. When people rave about high-speed rail in other countries such as Japan or parts of Europe, that’s what you have. The United States has that in the northeast corridor, but beyond that, our major cities are too spread out for these projects to make financial sense. This morning, Colby Itkowitz reminds us that back in 2009, Obama’s transportation secretary Ray LaHood declared, “One of the legacies for this administration, for the president and the vice president, will be high-speed rail. That will be their transportation legacy.”

Newsom and California’s decision to pull the plug on the high-speed-rail project dovetails with Vermont’s experience trying to create a statewide single-payer health-care system from 2011 to 2014. Vermont, like California, is a heavily Democratic state, where one party controlled the governors’ mansion and both houses in the legislature. There was no Republican sabotage, no foot-dragging from those allegedly nefarious conservatives, no sinister lobbyists blocking some oh-so-easy win idea. This was Vermont, where it’s just well-meaning progressives as far as the eye can see in every direction. And no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t make the numbers work; the analysis kept telling them they had to double their tax revenue overnight and that the savings for patients were modest. Even a liberal progressive governor could grasp that businesses would flee the state in droves. Activists and true believers were left sputtering that the plan failed because lawmakers just didn’t try hard enough.

California’s lawmakers tried really hard . . . and they still couldn’t make it work.

What Do You Create After Your Most Beloved Masterpiece?

Our Kyle Smith offers an assessment that is sure to bring scathing denunciation, even though it’s pretty defensible: Most of what Hamilton creator Lin Manuel Miranda has done since his masterpiece is . . . eh, just okay. He’s appeared in the Mary Poppins reboot, some television cameos here and there, and he’s just released a new book of “inspirational verses.”

(I had a chance to see the Chicago production of Hamilton in autumn and went in ready to enjoy it but suspecting that it couldn’t possibly live up to the monumental hype. Folks, it’s really, really good. I know getting tickets usually involves selling a kidney on the black market, but it’s almost worth participating in illicit organ-trafficking.)

Shortly after marveling at Hamilton, I wondered what Miranda would do next — and maybe that’s a really daunting question for Miranda himself. Once you’ve created something that’s nearly universally beloved, how do you follow that? How do you meet astronomical expectations once you’ve set the bar so high? Do you become more self-critical? Does picking up the pen (or sitting at the computer) become more difficult because of the trepidation that whatever you produce, a significant number of people are likely to say, “Eh, it’s not as good as Hamilton”?

(Idea: Manuel reads the rest of Ron Chernow’s biographies, and creates the musicals Grant, Washington, Rockefeller, and Morgan, and then at the end, a time-traveling Nick Fury recruits all of them into The Avengers.)

A potential parallel to Miranda: Back in the 1990s, almost everybody and their brother loved John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a book about the city of Savannah that was one part travelogue, one part history, and one part true crime. It was one of the biggest nonfiction books of all time. and then in 2004, Berendt wrote The City of Falling Angels, which was about Venice and a fire which destroyed the historic La Fenice opera house in 1996. Most readers and reviewers responded with “Eh, it’s okay I guess.” (The book came out in 2005, and I think one reviewer noted that the torching of an opera house with no fatalities just didn’t feel like that big of a deal in the years after 9/11.)

I don’t think Berendt’s written anything since — which seems sad, but it’s his life, and he’s brought at least one wildly beloved book to the world. How many people can say that?

America’s Anti-Roller-Coaster Senator

Our Charlie Cooke declared that Senator Ed Markey was “obsessively anti-rollercoaster” and that seemed too absurd a position to be real. Nope. Right now, states oversee and regulate the safety of roller-coasters, and Markey is convinced that this is a wildly dangerous arrangement that only the federal government can solve.

In 2007, Markey decried “the roller coaster loophole,” demanded federal regulation of roller coasters at amusement parks in 2012, demanded national safety standards in 2013, and repeated the call in 2016.

You are, quite literally, more likely to die from a lightning strike than get killed by a rollercoaster ride. “In the U.S., around 1.7 billion rides are taken by nearly 300 million people each year, and from 1994 to 2004, the country reported an average of just four deaths per year. Comparatively, an average of 39 people die each year in the U.S. from being struck by lightning.”

ADDENDUM: Shoshanna Weissman with a succinct summary of how most people describe interest groups: “Groups you dislike ‘buy influence.’ Groups you like ‘change policy.’”


Ilhan Omar and Ralph Northam’s Cheap Apologies

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

Making the click-through worthwhile: What the not-terribly-heartfelt apologies from Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Governor Ralph Northam teach us about politics in 2019, Beto O’Rourke acts like a presidential candidate without actually bothering to announce that he’s running for president, we might avoid another government shutdown, and a key point to remember when people start defending the Green New Deal resolution.

Cheap Apologies

After declaring on Twitter that congressional support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins, baby” — a reference to $100 bills — from AIPAC, an organization that makes no direct political contributions, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar apologized after a day of bipartisan condemnation. “My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole,” Ms. Omar wrote, adding, “I unequivocally apologize.”

This comes a few weeks after she apologized for a 2012 claim that Israel “hypnotizes the world” and past statements condemning “the apartheid Israeli regime.”

Virginia governor Ralph Northam refused to resign despite a rare, broad, bipartisan consensus in support of his departure, and now he is launching a “listening tour” across the state. (Apparently he’s willing to listen, just not to people who think he shouldn’t be governor anymore.) BuzzFeed reports, “Northam has also been urged by his advisers to watch parts of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, which shook the country with its racist and disturbing view of black Americans after the Civil War. (Northam was not previously familiar with the racist depictions in the film, an adviser said.)” It’s easy to understand not having seen The Birth of a Nation; because of its controversy and age it’s not often screened. But how do you live your whole life in Virginia and rise in the state’s politics — representing a state-senate district that is nearly 30 percent black — and not . . . be familiar with The Birth of a Nation as a racist film? The Ku Klux Klan are the heroes in the story!

Few partisans enjoy kicking out somebody from their own party, particularly if they voted for that figure,“invested” in that figure in the form of donations, had access to his ear, or foresaw great things from him in the future. Voters very rarely “reward” a party for doing the right thing and getting rid of a creep, a demagogue, or a scoundrel, and a lot of voters are willing to forgive a lot for a guy who they’ve voted for in past cycles. (In 2018, Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter Jr. won reelection under indictment. Collins’s trial on insider-trading charges will begin in February 2020, and Hunter’s trial for using campaign funds for personal expenses will begin in September.) From a raw cost-benefit analysis, doing “the right thing” and telling the misbehaving guy in your own party he’s got to go almost never “pays off” in a tangible way.

The alternative reaction, forgiving and/or making excuses, is so much easier. We like forgiveness and redemption, even in non-cynical contexts. Almost anyone’s misdeeds, sins or crimes don’t look so bad once you apply the “look at his whole life” lens. (“Think of all the people O.J. Simpson didn’t kill!”) We convince ourselves that a little bribery, a little skirt-chasing, a little teenage blackface or whatever is forgivable . . . particularly for someone who “fights for the right thing” elsewhere and when we consider all the bad things that we’re certain the other side does . . .

But what we’re living with now is what happens when both sides become convinced that holding your own guys accountable for their misdeeds is a fool’s game and amounts to unilateral disarmament. I’m not convinced this is the case, or the tired cry, “We always eat our own.” Step back and look at the big picture. The kinds of candidates who get in this kind of trouble — Steve King, Northam, and the rest of the Virginia gang — often turn out to be political liabilities for the party or movement as a whole.

Do Democrats really think that they would be in worse shape without Ilhan Omar or Ralph Northam in the future? Collins and Hunter deserve their day in court, but if they’re found guilty of the accusations, would their departure from public life really be such a dark day for the GOP?

What Is Beto O’Rourke Doing?

This morning, many media organizations are treating Beto O’Rourke’s counter-rally in El Paso as if it was a big deal. Politico describes it as a “showdown between Donald Trump and Beto O’Rourke.” A more accurate headline would have been:

Former Congressman and Unsuccessful Senate Candidate, Last Seen Wandering the American West like Jack Kerouac and Being Strangely Reticent About Declaring a Presidential Campaign, Holds Rally Against President Near President’s Rally

Admittedly, that headline is a little longer and clunkier.

Once again, we’re left asking . . . what is Beto O’Rourke doing? Had he announced a bid for president last night, it would have been the perfectly dramatic campaign kickoff, going head to head against the incumbent president, making Amy Klobuchar’s snowstorm announcement look boring by comparison. A week ago, he did an interview with Oprah, another high-profile venue, and said he was thinking about it . . . but apparently he’s either still thinking about it, or he wants to run these sort of rallies as a “soft opening” to his campaign.

There are eight major declared candidates, nine if you count Congressman John Delaney. The other candidates are already hiring staff, setting up campaigns, walking around and shaking those coffee shops in Iowa and New Hampshire — and a bunch of them are currently serving lawmakers. O’Rourke has no day job to ignore! This would presumably be one of his competitive advantages.

The other revelation of last night was that O’Rourke will continue to get Obama messiah-level coverage if he does jump in. World-famous photographer Annie Liebovitz is following him, taking pictures. He’s getting his own campaign documentary aired on HBO. (Just how much are we going to see that’s new in a documentary about the most heavily covered and heavily hyped Senate campaign in a generation?)

No Shutdown . . . Probably.

Good news, we appear to be on a path to avoiding a government shutdown . . . as long as no one gets into the ear of Trump or Pelosi that they’ll get a better deal by shutting down the government and waiting for the opposition to capitulate.

Republicans were desperate to avoid another bruising shutdown. They tentatively agreed Monday night to far less money for President Donald Trump’s border wall than the White House’s $5.7 billion wish list, settling for a figure of nearly $1.4 billion, according to congressional aides. The funding measure is through the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

Get that $1.4 billion out the door and spent on wall materials fast!

ADDENDUM: Every time you see someone on the Left insisting that talk of banning airplanes or a campaign to eliminate cow flatulence is GOP paranoia, and using the argument ‘the Green New Deal resolution doesn’t include that,’ remember that assertion is a spurious dodge. A House resolution is not the same thing as legislation to enact the plan. A resolution just declares, ‘we should do this.’ It has few details on how the goals — such as replacing roughly 88 percent of current U.S. energy production within 10 years — would be achieved.


Ralph Northam Has Nobody to Blame but Himself

Governor Ralph Northam (D, Va.), accompanied by his wife Pamela announces he will not resign during a news conference in Richmond, Va., February 2, 2019. (Jay Paul/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Virginia governor Ralph Northam blames everyone but himself for the current scandal, Rep. Adam Schiff suggests that special counsel Robert Mueller isn’t “doing much of a money laundering investigation,” and Kamala Harris admits a violation of the law in her younger years that may stir tougher questions about her record of prosecutions as a district attorney.

Governor Blackface Brags about His Moral Compass and Explains How It’s All Our Fault

When Virginia governor Ralph Northam agreed to his first print interview since his flaming dumpster fire of a press conference, he required the Washington Post to not post audio or a transcript of the entire interview, and the paper assented. (I thought democracy died in darkness.) Why does Governor Blackface think he’s in a position to make demands?

In the Post interview, Northam spoke as if the citizens of his state had done something terrible, and needed to make amends:

“It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do. There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity,” he said. “There are ongoing inequities to access to things like education, health care, mortgages, capital, entre­pre­neur­ship. And so this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes.”

What’s this “we” stuff? Northam added that he would take action to ensure that others would not be as insensitive as he had been: “First of all what I plan to do . . . is to make sure that we have sensitivity training — in our Cabinet, in our agencies. I also plan to reach out to our colleges and universities and talk about sensitivity training. Even into the K through 12 age range, that’s very important.”

Governor, Virginia’s kindergarteners are not the problem. You are.

Then Northam did a televised interview with CBS News, and declared, “Virginia needs someone that can heal. There’s no better person to do that than a doctor. Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass. And that’s why I’m not going anywhere.”

You don’t get to brag about your moral compass when you’re in this situation.

Northam’s quickly offered and then quickly rescinded apology for “the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo” suggests he was willing to admit he was in the photo as long as people would not demand his resignation over it. Northam now claims he rushed to judgment . . .  about himself, and what he did and didn’t do, an explanation that strains credulity.

In the CBS interview, Northam made a reference to “indentured servants” arriving in Virginia in 1619, and interviewer Gayle King quickly interjected, “Also known as slavery.” As the Richmond Times-Dispatch notes, “Northam appeared to be making a technical distinction — Virginia’s key laws regarding slavery were passed after 1640 — but some of the state’s African-American lawmakers thought his comments appeared to minimize the degradation imposed on Virginia’s early Africans.”

Northam declared:

I really think that I’m in a position where-where I can take Virginia to the next level and it- it will be very positive and you know we have a number of inequities in this country right now and in Virginia and we’re in a position to really stop talking so much and now to take action with policy to address a lot of these inequities.

One of the inequities in this country is that some people suffer great professional and personal consequences for saying and doing things that offend others, and others escape professional and personal consequences for doing things that are much worse because of their political and financial power. Northam went on to suggest that the state’s lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax must resign if the accusations of sexual assault are true, and that the state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, who also wore blackface to a party, should contemplate resignation.

Got that? Northam thinks he should stay because he can play a role as a healer, but he’s open to his attorney general resigning for doing the same thing at a younger age.

There’s an argument to be made that no one should suffer severe career consequences for legal if tasteless actions taken 35 years ago. But the bigger question before Virginians is how Northam has responded since the revelation of the photos. His explanation of the yearbook photo is implausible and his comments since have been tone deaf. He embarrasses the state every time he opens his mouth. He has no self-awareness, believes he can recast himself as the hero in this narrative, and is eager to lecture the rest of the state — with millions of diverse citizens who have never worn blackface — about the necessity of sensitivity to racial minorities.

Schiff: Mueller Isn’t Investigating Trump’s Finances Enough

Is this the first hint that Congressional Democrats are setting up a “Mueller dropped the ball” narrative?

In particular, Schiff said the House panel plans to investigate Trump’s two-decade relationship with Deutsche Bank, a German institution that has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties in recent years after admitting its role in a $10 billion money laundering scheme that allowed clients in Russia to move vast sums overseas.

Schiff voiced concern that Mueller has shied away from investigating Trump’s ties to the German lender, saying that “if the special counsel hasn’t subpoenaed Deutsche Bank, he can’t be doing much of a money laundering investigation.”

Schiff was referring to reports last year that Mueller’s office had told Trump’s lawyers it was not seeking Deutsche Bank records related to Trump’s accounts or loans. Deutsche Bank became a critical lender to Trump in the late 1990s when major U.S. banks refused to do business with the New York real estate developer after repeated bankruptcies.

In December, Schiff told The New Yorker::

Schiff went on, “At the end of the day, what should concern us most is anything that can have a continuing impact on the foreign policy and national-security policy of the United States, and, if the Russians were laundering money for the Trump Organization, that would be totally compromising… We are going to be looking at the issue of possible money laundering by the Trump Organization, and Deutsche Bank is one obvious place to start.”

For most of the course of this investigations, Democrats have gushed about Mueller’s virtues. When he was named, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. said, “Former Director Mueller is exactly the right kind of individual for this job. I now have significantly greater confidence that the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead.” Robert De Niro’s playing him as the ultimate tough guy on Saturday Night Live.

This is the 636th day of the special-counsel investigation. At what point can we call the investigation sufficiently thorough?

Kamala Harris, Pot-Smoking Drug Prosecutor

This morning, Kamala Harris admitted she once smoked marijuana when she was younger.

This would hardly be a scandal in the world of 2019 — except that when running for reelection as San Francisco’s district attorney, Harris boasted she had increased convictions of drug dealers from 56 percent in 2003 to 74 percent in 2006. Almost certainly, some of those convicted dealers were selling marijuana. California did not legalize marijuana for recreational purposes until 2016. She also boasted that she “closed legal loopholes that were allowing drug dealers to escape prosecution.” In one of her books, Harris wrote, “60 percent of the new felony cases annually were nonviolent drug crimes.”

In other words, as a young woman Harris obtained marijuana and enjoyed it, and then later in life she prosecuted people for selling and possessing the same product that she had enjoyed.

ADDENDUM: I thought the technical issues that forced breaking the pop-culture podcast into three parts last week would scare people away. It has not, so thank you for listening!

Energy & Environment

Just How Many Versions of the Green New Deal Are There?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (at right) hold a news conference for their proposed “Green New Deal” on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., February 7, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Everything you need to know about the multiple versions of the Green New Deal, Virginia’s state government continues its streak of beginning the day with embarrassing headlines, a new podcast, and a look at one of the most soft-spoken and mundane men to ever become a lightning rod of controversy.

The Bait-and-Switch on the Green New Deal

How does a political movement make a radical plan sound not quite so radical? Offer several versions of the plan and let political figures be vague about what version they support.

Just what is “the Green New Deal”? It depends upon which one you mean.

There was the 2008 proposal from the U.K’s New Economic Foundation, which called for making “‘every building a power station,” praised “rapidly rising carbon taxes” and explicitly declared, “at the heart of a successful programme to tackle climate change will be ever-rising fuel costs per unit of economic activity.” It also referred to “the imminence of peak oil.”

(Can we take a moment to laugh at the “peak oil” discussion of a decade ago? According to 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, the world achieved a new oil-production record of 92.6 million barrels per day, which is the eighth straight year global-oil production has increased. New estimates of worldwide proven-oil reserves are at about 1.67 trillion barrels. At this pace, we would exhaust the current reserves in about 50 years, and that’s assuming we make no discoveries of additional supplies and make no innovations in improving efficiency in oil usage.)

There’s the Data for Progress plan, which at least left the door open to nuclear power. But that plan also wanted “100 percent of [automobile] sales [to be] zero emission passenger and light duty vehicles by 2030, followed with a swift phase out of internal combustion engines.” That’s now less than eleven years from now.

Then there’s the Green Party’s “Green New Deal” which I discussed earlier this year. I found it pretty infuriating that there had been no real public discussion of proposals like “cut military spending by at least half,” withdrawing all U.S. troops from overseas, replacing about 88 percent of America’s current energy sources (nuclear power, coal, natural gas, liquid natural gas, and oil), banning all internal-combustion engine cars and “replacing non-essential individual means of transport with high-quality and modern mass transit” — which is another way of saying banning the private ownership of cars.

So Thursday Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and several other Congressional Democrats introduced the legislative text of a resolution calling for the Green New Deal. Keep in mind, this resolution wouldn’t do anything, even if it passed both the House and Senate. The resolution simply declares that “it is the sense of the House of Representatives that it is the duty of the federal government to create a Green New Deal.” Passage would be a symbolic victory, but it wouldn’t change current policies.

Vast chunks of the resolution are vague, like the call to “promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.” What does that mean in terms of policy? They’ll tell you later, apparently.

Where the resolution does get slightly more specific, it gets expensive. It calls for “upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification.” All existing buildings in the United States!

It calls for “providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States.” Roughly one-third of Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

But while the resolution was vague, an overview of the proposal released by supporters in Congress had more details. It began with declaring that the United States would transition to entirely renewable energy within ten years. Again, this requires the country to replace roughly 88 percent of its current energy production.

Many mocked the proposal for “economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work.” (Finally, someone is willing to stand up for the country’s Indolent-American communities.) The overview was clearly rushed, with sentences like, “When JFK said we’d go to the by the end of the decade, people said impossible.” Someone forgot the word “moon.” The overview is written in an oddly casual language, including declarations “we set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.”

(You notice the casual admittance that “fully getting rid of airplanes” is an eventual goal.)

The overview says that the plan is to completely eliminate nuclear power, even though nuclear plants do not emit direct carbon-dioxide emissions.

In terms of paying for it all, the overview declares, “The Federal Reserve can extend credit to power these projects and investments and new public banks can be created to extend credit.” (Extending credit is a loan. The unspoken argument is that all of these new programs could generate so much money in the long run that the government would be able to pay back the loans.)

The proposal of creating public banks — that is, government-run banks — is an increasingly popular idea on the left these days. We’ve had various federal-government-run and state-run banks throughout American history, although most of them had their charters expire after a few decades. The state government of North Dakota still runs the Bank of North Dakota, created in 1919. In November, Los Angeles voters considered a referendum to create a public bank, but only 42 percent of voters supported it. Critics argue that creating a public bank to deal with a revenue shortfall doesn’t make sense, as it takes a lot of money to start up the bank in the first place, and that government-run banks are likely to become politically driven banks, and make bad financial decisions based upon pressure from government officials. If a state or locality has a lot of money lying around, creating a bank is one way to create a long-term revenue stream . . . but how many governments want to spend a surplus that way? And if you’re a federal government with close to $22 trillion in debt . . . does borrowing more to set up a bank really alleviate your financial problem?

The overview insists, “92 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans support the Green New Deal.” The survey the overview cited found 82 percent of Americans had never heard of it before the survey.

How do you make the Green New Deal sound less controversial? You just leave out the details until you have the political power to enact the plan.

Democrats know that nothing resembling the Green New Deal is getting enacted while Trump is in the White House or the GOP controls the Senate. The plan is to get the Democratic presidential candidates to sign on to the general idea, win the presidency and both houses of Congress . . . and then, as Nancy Pelosi once said, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

Oh, Come On, Virginia!

Just when you thought you wouldn’t see more Virginia politicians get embroiled in blackface scandals . . . now a Republican figure is getting tough questions about old yearbook photos:

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, served as one of the leading editors of the 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook that features at least one image of people in blackface and some racially offensive language.

The yearbook includes several instances of derogatory terms for Asian-Americans, and one reference to a student as the “Barracks Jew.” An editor in chief served over Norment, who was managing editor of The Bomb.

Norment said in a statement Thursday afternoon: “The use of blackface is abhorrent in our society and I emphatically condemn it. As one of seven working on a 359-page yearbook, I cannot endorse or associate myself with every photo, entry, or word on each page.”

And really . . . what the heck was going on in these campuses?

University of Richmond President Ronald Crutcher released a statement Thursday calling a racist photo from the school’s 1980 yearbook “repulsive” and “antithetical to the values of the University today.”

The photo depicts five people dressed in Ku Klux Klan costumes surrounding a smiling African-American man holding a drink and pretending to be hanged by a noose.

The African-American man is Michael Kizzie, who played basketball at Henrico High School and for the Richmond Spiders. In a phone interview Thursday night, he said he was unaware of the photo until he was contacted by a reporter for The Collegian, UR’s student newspaper.

“I’m just getting over the shock and embarrassment of it right now, and that’s going to take a while,” said Kizzie, who now lives in suburban Washington.

We discussed blackface yesterday. But how was dressing up as a Klansman considered just another joke back then?

ADDENDA: Mickey and I found time to tape a podcast yesterday, with a lot more politics than usual, because our mutual home state has suddenly become a flaming tire fire of political scandal, and we’ve got a lot of frustration to vent. A warning, this week’s episode was broken into three parts because of technical issues.

NRPlus readers, you can check out my profile of Howard Schultz, potential independent presidential candidate.

Schultz’s flirtation with an independent bid shows, in spectacularly vivid fashion, how quickly the Democratic-media-entertainment complex will turn on a person who up until a moment ago had been one of its celebrated heroes. The Daily Beast suddenly discovered that the music selection at Starbucks featured too many white artists. Think­Progress editor Ian Millhiser called for a boycott of Starbucks even though Schultz has left the company. Late-night host Stephen Colbert joked, “Who hasn’t been in a Starbucks bathroom and thought, ‘The guy in charge of this should be in charge of everything’?” Mika Brzezinski demanded of Schultz in his Morning Joe interview, “How much does an 18-ounce box of Cheerios cost?” (He didn’t know.)

A week ago, none of these people had any gripe with Schultz or Starbucks. He hasn’t officially announced a bid yet, and no polling has hinted at his level of support. But overnight, the well-regarded liberal former CEO became progressives’ enemy No. 1. Dozens of left-leaning public voices took to print, social media, and the airwaves to destroy him, like a shoal of piranhas.

Politics & Policy

The Virginia Blackface Scandal Is Only Getting Worse

Making the click-through worthwhile: You’re going to want to read this whole thing. You may have thought the scandals surrounding Virginia’s Democratic officials couldn’t have gotten worse, but . . . yeah, they’ve gotten worse. Plus, reasons why Governor Ralph Northam shouldn’t be able to even attempt the “everyone was doing it” excuse; Congressional Democrats unveil a Green New Deal that cuts out all of the details and the most wildly controversial, under-discussed aspects of earlier versions.

Virginia’s Democrats Have Become a Virtual Superfund Site on the James River

They should have set House of Cards in Richmond. To bring you up to speed . . .

Governor Ralph Northam has a college yearbook saying his nickname was “Coonman” and a medical-school yearbook that depicts on his page someone in blackface and someone in a Klan outfit. He insists that he doesn’t know how he got the nickname, that he’s not either person in the picture, that he did not select the picture, and that he had never seen the picture before — but only after stating on Friday, “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.” On Saturday, he insisted that he had been mistaken. He admitted that he did wear shoe polish as blackface on a separate occasion to imitate Michael Jackson. Almost every Democratic lawmaker in the state called for Northam’s resignation over the weekend, but there’s been only quiet murmurs of an effort to impeach him.

The man who would replace Northam if he resigned, Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax, faces an accusation of sexual assault from Vanessa Tyson, a professor at Scripps College in California. She named a specific date and offered a graphic description of the encounter in a lengthy statement. Fairfax insists the 2004 sexual encounter in a Boston hotel room was consensual. He claimed that the Washington Post declined to run an article about Tyson’s accusations because of “significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations,”; the paper said it did not find inconsistencies but simply could not find evidence to verify or contradict her account. The National Organization for Women called on Fairfax to resign after Tyson came forward, saying, “We always believe and support survivors.”

The man who would replace Northam and Fairfax if they both resigned, Virginia attorney general Mark Herring, apologized yesterday for wearing blackface while portraying a rapper as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia in 1980. Herring said on Saturday, in response to Northam’s yearbook photo, “It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down. I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to the governorship, he will have my complete support and commitment to ensuring his success and the success of our Commonwealth.” Herring is now in the awkward position of arguing that wearing blackface in medical school demands departure from office but wearing blackface as an undergraduate does not.

Herring stepped down as co-chair of the Democratic Attorneys General Association on Wednesday. He now must explain why his actions warrant his resignation from that partisan political organization, but not his role as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.

And now there’s a fourth Virginia Democratic official getting ensnared in this:

Virginia Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott was made aware of allegations of sexual assault against now-Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax over a year ago by the alleged victim herself, ABC News has learned.

In a statement given to ABC News on Wednesday, Scott wrote, “Allegations of sexual assault need to be taken seriously. I have known Professor Tyson for approximately a decade and she is a friend. She deserves the opportunity to have her story heard.”

In late December 2017 and early January 2018, aides to Scott said he learned that it was Tyson herself who was involved in a “MeToo allegation,” concerning Fairfax. She also informed him that she had already told the Washington Post about an alleged incident involving Fairfax and that she had given the Post Scott’s name as a character witness.

Scott can fairly ask what he was in a position to do. He’s not a law-enforcement officer, and at that point, Tyson didn’t want her name going public. On the other hand, he’s now in a position where his longtime friend told him that the lieutenant governor had assaulted her and he did . . . nothing, really.

One irony about all three top Virginia elected officials facing a career-threatening scandal simultaneously is that it makes it more likely that all three survive the political maelstrom. If wearing blackface as a younger man is serious enough to drive Northam from office, it’s hard to understand why it should be acceptable in the state’s attorney general, and if blackface is sufficient reason to remove a lawmaker from office, it raises the question of whether a detailed accusation of sexual assault from a woman with no discernable political motivation shouldn’t be as well.

Virginia politics is now something of a political suicide pact or Mexican standoff. In order to ensure Virginia House speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican, doesn’t become the next governor, Democrats must keep at least one of them, which means all three will probably survive.

One under-discussed aspect of these revelations is that for once, we know that it’s unlikely that they’re being leaked by Republicans; if the GOP had this information, they would have used it during the 2017 campaigns. No, what’s much more likely is that Northam, Fairfax, and Herring or allies of the three men are leaking them against each other. Virginia’s term limit for governors means that the state is never more than four years away from an open seat and, considering the state’s rapidly changing demographics, if you win the Democratic nomination, the odds are no worse than 50-50 that you win. There are a lot of ambitious Virginia Democrats with sharp elbows.

For what it is worth, Virginia Republicans are telling me that they are hearing all kinds of secondhand claims of additional scandals, additional accusers, and additional embarrassing photos involving the state’s top Democrats. Those claims are, so far, unverified. I said to one, “There’s always another shoe to drop.” He responded, “Just how many feet do they have?”

Just How Racist Was Virginia in the 1980s?

One of the arguments you may hear in coming days is some variation of a “They all do it” excuse or explanation: “What do you expect? Virginia was always a really racist state.”

There’s no getting around the fact that for a long, long stretch, the legal, political, and cultural treatment of African-Americans in Virginia was appalling: The legacy of slavery; from June 1861 to April 1865 Richmond was capital of the Confederacy; no African-Americans were elected to the Virginia General Assembly from 1890 to 1968; counties instituted poll taxes and literacy tests; Davis v. Prince Edward County was one of five school segregation lawsuits folded into the case that became Brown v. Board of Education; for four decades the state’s politics were shaped by vehement segregationist Harry F. Byrd Sr. and the Byrd Organization; the state saw “Massive Resistance” to school desegregation, including Prince Edward County’s decision to close all public schools for five years rather than desegregate!

But by the time Ralph Northam and Mark Herring were heading off to college in the early to mid-1980s, the civil-rights movement had swept in changes, and the state saw some significant signs of progress. Fredericksburg and Roanoke elected black mayors in 1976 and by the next year, the majority of Richmond’s city-council members were black. By 1985, there were seven black members of the general assembly.

How common was blackface in the 1980s? Amos and Andy had been off the air for decades, and in most corners, Birth of a Nation and The Jazz Singer had been long forgotten. But white actors wearing blackface for comedic purposes continued to pop up here and there. The 1983 film Trading Places had Dan Ackroyd in blackface and dreadlocks in one scene; comedian Billy Crystal wore dark makeup to impersonate Sammy Davis Jr.; the 1986 film Soul Man featured it as part of the plot. (Ted Danson wore blackface at the 1993 Friar’s Club Roast, and more recently, Robert Downey Jr. played an Australian actor playing an African-American character in the comedy Tropic Thunder.) Clearly, some white people and some white audiences thought it was funny.

Still, it wasn’t that long after Northam and Herring were wearing blackface that Doug Wilder was (narrowly) elected governor in 1989, becoming the first African-American governor in U.S. history. Rep. Scott was elected to the U.S. House in 1992. By 1984, Bryant Gumbel was anchoring the Today Show, Vanessa Williams was Miss America, Martin Luther King Day was a federal holiday, The Color Purple had won the Pulitzer Prize, Jesse Jackson had won more than 3 million votes in the Democratic presidential primary, and The Cosby Show had debuted. White America’s attitudes towards African-Americans had changed pretty dramatically from just a decade or two earlier, making any “Oh, everyone was doing it back then” excuse from Northam unconvincing.

The Suddenly Quickly Edited, Vaguer, More Politically Safe ‘Green New Deal’

This morning Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey introduced “a  framework” for the Green New Deal. It is essentially a press release in legislative form, listing goals but offering no specifics on how to achieve them.

Still, the Democratic lawmakers have taken out references to the most controversial aspects of the Green New Deal as laid out by the Green Party earlier: cutting the U.S. military budget in half, withdrawing all U.S. forces from overseas, banning all internal-combustion engine cars, and letting the government decide who is allowed to own a car.

Funny how Democrats don’t want to talk about those proposals!

ADDENDUM: Over on NRO’s home page, twenty things you didn’t know about Cory Booker. If you’re a conservative, you probably would have loved the year 2000 edition of Booker — pro-school voucher, furiously denouncing unresponsive and failed government bureaucracies, and adopting Giuliani-era tactics against crime. But that Booker is long gone.

Valentine’s Day is just a week away. If you’re the kind of person who gets in trouble for forgetting it, start thinking of a gift or evening plans now.

White House

President Trump’s Home Run State of the Union Address

President Trump delivers his State of the Union address, February 5, 2019. (Doug Mills/Pool via Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: President Trump delivers a home run of a State of the Union address; three passages that didn’t work quite as well as the rest; yet another Democratic senator hints at a presidential campaign, while a potential rival candidate’s problems grow worse.

A Terrific State of the Union Address . . . But Will the Impact Last?

For those who gripe that I’m always so negative about Trump . . . last night’s State of the Union address was terrific. A home run.

Every president since Ronald Reagan has saluted extraordinary Americans invited and seated in the gallery — “Lenny Skutnicks” is the Washington slang. Trump’s selection was terrific and he and his team wisely determined that the antidote to the angriest and most partisan environment in Washington in a long time was a celebration of heroes and figures far beyond the realm of politics: astronaut Buzz Aldrin; drug-dealer-turned-sentencing-reform-activist Alice Johnson; drug-dealer-turned-law-clerk Matthew Charles; ICE Special Agent (and legal immigrant) Elvin Hernandez; 10-year-old brain-cancer survivor Grace Eline; Tom Wibberley, whose son, Navy Seaman Craig Wibberley was killed on the U.S.S. Cole; Pittsburgh SWAT officer Timothy Matson; Judah Samet, who survived both the Holocaust and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting; Holocaust survivor Joshua Kaufman; World War Two veteran Herman Zeitchik, who fought at Normandy and liberated Dachau. Their stories made the speech . . . actually interesting to hear. It was a long speech, but it was never boring.

Sure, the guests were used to illustrating various policy proposals or arguments. But that’s just effective communicating. At last month’s Koch network winter meeting, Johnson said, “People won’t remember statistics, but they’ll never forget a face.”

Trump’s last State of the Union was widely praised, as was his first address to a joint session of Congress. When Trump sticks to the teleprompter, lays out his agenda, stops talking about himself and starts talking about what his policies would do for the American people, you get a glimpse of the president he could be with a little more discipline and focus and a little less self-absorption and sensitivity to criticism.

But we’ve learned that the tone of Trump’s State of the Union addresses and the tone of the rest of his presidency are, at most, distant cousins. There are plenty of Trump-friendly Republicans who wish he would stop jumping online to denounce every CNN anchor or pundit who irritates him with criticism, and some variation of “Sad!” “Witch hunt!” “Enemy of the People!” If Trump stayed off Twitter for a week, just as an experiment, it would be fascinating. My suspicion is that he would end up giving more media oxygen to the repellent freakshow that the Democrats are turning into, from Ralph Northam to cheers for socialism to the draconian measures of the Green New Deal. Before you scoff that the media would never cover Democratic infighting and scandals, keep in mind this is the most wonderful time of the presidential cycle for those of us on the Right, as Democratic candidates attempt to shiv each other through leaks of opposition research.

But there’s ample evidence that what’s said in the State of the Union address doesn’t actually mean much in terms of policy change. Ramesh observed Trump ad-libbed a comment that suggested he’s making a dramatic change to his stance on immigration . . . or he just doesn’t pay much attention to what he’s saying at any given moment “Trump said, in a line absent from his prepared remarks, that he wanted legal immigration ‘in the largest numbers ever.’ Never mind that last year he endorsed large cuts to legal immigration, and rejected a Democratic offer of funding for a wall in part because it did not include those cuts . . . ”

If the State of the Union address really articulated the policy stances of the administration, we would be talking about Trump’s triangulation: nationwide paid family leave, a “government-wide initiative focused on economic empowerment for women in developing countries”, $500 million dollars over the next 10 years for childhood cancer research, “eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years,” “[prescription drug] legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients,” “ legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment” . . . On paper, the Trump administration and Congressional Democrats could find common ground and compromise on any of those policy priorities. But the Democrats have spent the last three years publicly insisting that Trump is Beelzebub. You can’t go to your constituents and say, “Hey, I worked out a great compromise on highway funding with that guy I told you was Evil Personified.”

If you’re a conservative, this speech had sufficient servings of red meat. On illegal immigration and smuggling, “humanitarian assistance, more law enforcement, drug detection at our ports, closing loopholes that enable child smuggling, and plans for a new physical barrier, or wall, to secure the vast areas between our ports of entry.” A call to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, which isn’t all that different from NAFTA. A full-throated call for “legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children.”

The State of the Union has turned into a game where the president says good things that are happening that he may or may not deserve credit for and dares the opposition to not stand and clap for it. Democrats were slow to rise to applaud fighting sex traffickers, were “meh” on the good jobs and economic news that Trump bragged about, higher wages, lower unemployment for women and minorities, higher energy production . . .

But when he congratulated the new record of women in Congress — boy, did they jump up and applaud themselves.

Three Passages that Didn’t Work

The three notes in the State of the Union address that did not go over as well as the rest of the speech:

One: The upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un at the end of February in Vietnam. What did the last one achieve for American interests? They got the pomp and circumstance of the formal summit, and we got a bunch of broken promises:

North Korea is moving its nuclear and ballistic weapons to hide them from potential US military strikes, according to a UN Security Council diplomat citing a confidential UN report.

The North Korean nuclear and missile program remains intact and shows no change in North Korea’s behavior, says the bi-annual report.

The UN diplomat said the report found “evidence of a consistent trend on the part of the DPRK to disperse its assembly, storage, and testing locations.”

North Korea, which has called for sanctions to be lifted, “continues to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal” the summary alleges. Previous reports have also charged North Korea with these violations.

The summary also accuses North Korea of violating a UN arms embargo and supplying small arms, light weapons and other military equipment to Libya, Sudan, and Houthi rebels in Yemen, through foreign intermediaries.

In the most classically Trump moment in the speech, he boasted, “If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.” Right, as if Madam Reset Button, who pleasantly chatted with Hugo Chavez and talked about Bashar al-Assad’s reputation as a “reformer,” was itching for a conflict with a nuclear-armed regime. Ironically, if Hillary Clinton had won, she would probably be pursuing a similar strategy — making symbolic and substantive concessions to Pyongyang in exchange for promises of nonaggression.

Two: Negotiating with the Taliban. Back in 2012, a broad bipartisan coalition supported the idea and Mitt Romney didn’t, and he was allegedly an unhinged extremist for that perspective. You notice peace did not break out in Afghanistan in the mid-to-late Obama years. Efforts to negotiate with the Taliban have proceeded on and off for years, almost since the moment they lost control of the country. Every few months, the Taliban succeeds in some new attack that kills a lot of civilians in at attempt for leverage, and the negotiators look like naïve suckers. Back in 2014, Ahmad Majidyar wrote a history of the Taliban’s negotiations going back to the Soviet days and concluded:

The Taliban’s track record of negotiation is replete with trickery and deception. Over the past two decades, the Taliban has used negotiation as a tactic to gain political and military advantages rather than to settle conflicts. With the looming exit of foreign troops, the terrorist group appears more confident about a military victory and has even less incentive to negotiate in good faith.

Why do we think this time would be any different?

We’re getting tough on the brutal and authoritarian regimes in Iran and Venezuela but negotiating with the brutal and authoritarian regime in North Korea and the Taliban.

Three: “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!” Ridiculous partisan investigations can’t stop business investments, consumer confidence and spending, investor optimism, technological innovation, or the business cycle. Perhaps Trump means he won’t sign legislation if Congress is investigating him, but this would mean cutting off his nose to spite his face. Any legislation that can get passed in a Democratic-controlled House and a GOP-controlled Senate would be broadly popular, and Trump would be hurting himself by vetoing it.

This Democratic Presidential Primary Is Getting Crowded . . .

Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar says she’s making a big announcement on Sunday. For an oft-mentioned potential Democratic presidential candidate, she’s not that well known outside of her home state: Catch up on her here.

Inevitably, when I write those “Twenty Things” lists, I get some response along the lines of, “What, this is the worst you have on her?” Er, no, this is just 20 things I’ve collected from reading the candidate’s books, news coverage from the early years of their career, old profile pieces, old press releases, and so on. Some of them are scandalous and unflattering, some funny, some just odd and surprising. And most importantly, they’re not well-known; that’s why I didn’t mention the Native American stuff in the one about Elizabeth Warren.

Speaking of Warren . . .

Using an open records request during a general inquiry, for example, The Post obtained Warren’s registration card for the State Bar of Texas, providing a previously undisclosed example of Warren identifying as an “American Indian.” … The Texas bar registration card is significant, among other reasons, because it removes any doubt that Warren directly claimed the identity. In other instances Warren has declined to say whether she or an assistant filled out forms.

She’s toast, right?

ADDENDUM: Thanks to Kathy Gyngell for the kind words about this newsletter.


Ten News Stories that Dominated Headlines — and then Disappeared

Michael Cohen exits the United States Courthouse after his sentencing in New York City, December 12, 2018 (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: ten recent news stories that dominated the headlines and then suddenly disappeared, becoming modern unsolved mysteries worthy of an ominous Robert Stack narration; the latest in the suddenly twisted, scandalous world of Virginia state politics; Beto O’Rourke prepares to sit on a famous couch; and an invitation you can’t afford to miss.

Modern Unsolved Mysteries

Ten questions on my mind:

One: Whatever happened to that BuzzFeed story claiming that President Trump “directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow”? Did those “two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter” ever give reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier any more information? Did they ever show them the documents? Did BuzzFeed ever give a good explanation as to why the office of special counsel Robert Mueller made a public statement that the story was “not accurate”?

Two: Whatever happened to that McClatchy wire-service story that justice department special counsel had evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign? Since Cohen’s a more cooperative witness now, wouldn’t that be an easy thing to corroborate?

Three: How’s the Chicago Police Department investigation into the alleged attack on Jessie Smollett coming? According to the police report, “the friend who called police told the authorities that Smollett ‘did not want to report offense however he believed it to be in the best interest to.’” Why would Smollett be hesitant about reporting two men who recognized him from his television show Empire, who put a rope around his neck, beat him with their hands and threw a liquid on him, and yelled homophobic and racist slurs and “MAGA country”? And all of this on one of the coldest nights in Chicago in decades, and somehow occurred within 60 seconds or so? And somehow Smollett managed to retain his cell phone and Subway sandwich while fighting off his attackers?

Four: Did Joy Reid ever catch that hacker who she claimed had hacked into the archives of her defunct blog and inserted homophobic statements?

Five: Did Kavanaugh accuser Julie Swetnick — who described weekly parties of drugging and assaulting women going on for three years in the Washington D.C. area involving dozens of individuals — ever name anyone else at those parties?

Six: Did Al Sharpton ever pay back the $4.5 million in back taxes he and his companies owed? Is the Internal Revenue Service comfortable with the nonprofit National Action Network paying Sharpton for $531,000 for his “life story rights for a 10-year period”? Is the IRS okay with a nonprofit spending such a sum to purchase the life story of its own president?

Seven: Did anyone ever ID the guy who allegedly threatened Stormy Daniels? I know everyone joked that the sketch looked like Tom Brady, but did the dramatic unveiling on national television back in April ever generate any credible leads?

Eight: What did Roy Moore do with the money donated to his post-election “Election Integrity Fund” that was supposed to pay for a recount? During the Senate campaign, Moore threatened to sue the Washington Post over their reporting about his young girlfriends in the 1980s, and despite filing a countersuit against accuser Leigh Corfman last year, never sued the paper. Why?

Nine: The Washington Post learned, after Jamal Khashoggi’s death:

Text messages between Khashoggi and an executive at Qatar Foundation International show that the executive, Maggie Mitchell Salem, at times shaped the columns he submitted to The Washington Post, proposing topics, drafting material and prodding him to take a harder line against the Saudi government. Khashoggi also appears to have relied on a researcher and translator affiliated with the organization, which promotes Arabic-language education in the United States.

Editors at The Post’s opinion section, which is separate from the newsroom, said they were unaware of these arrangements, or his effort to secure Saudi funding for a think tank.

While these actions by no means justify Khashoggi’s brutal murder, they do complicate the established narrative of a noble reformer using his pen to fight brutality within the Saudi state. In that light, out of all the slain reporters the Post could have spotlighted . . . why was Jamal Khashoggi included in the newspaper’s Super Bowl ad?

Ten: After producing one of the most highly discussed, praised, and hated commercials in recent years, Procter & Gamble said Gillette sales remained the same after the airing of the ad. The company declared the ad a success. Is the goal of advertising campaigns to keep sales at the same level?

Ralph Northam Might Outlast This Whole Thing

While I think Virginia governor Ralph Northam ought to resign, he’s not likely to resign.

For the sake of argument, assume Northam is telling the truth: that he’s neither person in the picture, that he’s never seen the picture before, that it was erroneously or mischievously put on his yearbook page, that he doesn’t know how he got that nickname, and the most racially insensitive thing he has ever done is wear shoe polish on his face to look like Michael Jackson in a dance contest 35 years ago. If all of that’s true, then he shouldn’t resign, because he’s an innocent man who’s being unfairly depicted as a racist.

If Northam is lying, then he doesn’t have the kind of character that would spur him to resign out of a sense of shame, or out of a concern that he’s damaging his agenda or his party.

None of Northam’s actions easily fit under the definition of grounds for impeachment in the Virginia state constitution. They’re not criminal. They were committed long before he entered politics, much less the governor’s mansion. He’s not neglecting his duties. (He may be incompetent, yes, but he’s not neglecting his job.) The statues defining “malfeasance” generally involve trading favors for gifts or other abuses of power. Even if state legislators get the votes to impeach him, Northam probably would argue before the state courts that his impeachment is invalid because state legislators could not prove he had committed any act that counts as grounds under the state’s constitution — and he might win!

Finally, Virginia Republicans are in an odd spot, with narrow majorities in the state senate and state legislature. Northam is a walking catastrophe for Virginia Democrats as long as he’s in office. Beyond that, if they lead the charge to remove Northam from office, Northam will no doubt claim the effort is “partisan nonsense,” so Virginia Democrats will have to lead the effort to remove a governor of their own party. And it’s fair to wonder if some Democrats who are comfortable calling on Northam to resign might be hesitant about eating up a big chunk of the year with impeachment proceedings, heading into November elections.

If Northam quits, he’s hated and notorious for the rest of his life. If Northam stays, he’s still the guy who has to sign legislation, make appointments, and has all of the other powers of the governorship. People will need favors from him. He’s still got a veto and a line-item veto. He can still commute sentences and issue pardons. Northam may calculate that three years from now, few will remember the accusations from February 2019, and some portion of Virginians will choose to believe his denials.

Meanwhile, the fate of the man who would replace Northam, Justin Fairfax, just got a lot more complicated:

A California woman who has accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assaulting her 15 years ago, has hired the same law firm that represented Christine Blasey Ford in her allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Fairfax claims that there was a consensual encounter; the Washington Post investigated and concluded it could not corroborate either person’s version of events. (You may recall that Ford could not recall the specific date or place and named witnesses that could not corroborate her story.)

If you’re a Democrat who believed Ford . . . what is different about these circumstances?

Hey, Beto, Do You Want In or Not?

If you’re Beto O’Rourke, an appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s show would be a good time and place to announce a presidential campaign. And if he doesn’t do it today . . . does he really want to run?

ADDENDUM: Please join National Review Institute at the 2019 Ideas Summit in Washington, D.C. on March 28 and 29. This year’s conference, “The Case for the American Experiment,” will bring together the conservative movement’s most influential thinkers and policy makers for discussions and presentations on American exceptionalism, and the country’s resilience and economic recovery. Space is limited, so please register now!

Politics & Policy

Resign, Ralph Northam

Ralph Northam’s yearbook page from 1984 (Obtained by National Review)

Making the click-through worthwhile: a conveniently timed accusation against Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax, moonwalking governor Ralph Northam botches the complicated political task of asking for forgiveness, and evidence that Democrats have some good reasons to freak out about Howard Schultz.

Every Virginia Democrat Who Doesn’t Have a Deep Dark Scandal, Raise Your Hand

You never know what’s going to happen in politics. One day you’re offering a defense of an abortion bill that is completely indistinguishable from infanticide, a few days later someone reminds a reporter of photos of your medical-school yearbook and almost every political figure in the state is demanding your resignation.

This morning brings another unexpected turn in the sudden drama of Virginia governor Ralph Northam:

As Virginia Governor Ralph Northam faces increasing pressure to resign over a racist photograph from his 1984 medical school yearbook, the man who would take his place — Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax — is responding to accusations of his own.

The allegation involves an unsubstantiated claim of sexual assault against Fairfax during the Democratic National Convention in 2004. The claim was posted Sunday night on the same website that first published the racist photo from Gov. Northam’s yearbook.

WUSA9 is refraining from publishing further details of the claim, as key elements have not been able to be verified. Broad outlines of the claim are only being published after Farifax’s office released an official statement now in public view.

Who benefits the most from this accusation against Justin Fairfax surfacing now? Ralph Northam.

It feels like it was only yesterday when one of Northam’s few public defenders, notorious former congressman Jim Moran, was crediting Northam for Fairfax’s career, saying Northam “has promoted the career of his very talented lieutenant governor in every possible way.” In fact, it was yesterday.

Get Out, Ralph Northam

There’s room in our society for a good, honest debate about how much someone should be held accountable for their non-criminal actions more than three decades ago. And if Northam had taken a different approach on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, maybe he wouldn’t look quite so doomed. One of his first comments in his insane press conference went down this road: “In the place and time where I grew up, many actions that we rightfully recognize as abhorrent today were commonplace.” But he quickly shifted to a narrative where he was a victim of circumstance who did nothing worse than attempt to imitate Michael Jackson.

Judging from the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook of 1984, blackface, coffee mugs with references to slavery, and other crass and tasteless comments were not rare. We can all picture the sort of genuinely remorseful tone Northam could have given:

The atmosphere at my college years and medical school in the early to mid-80s and the types of things we found funny back then would shock many people in 2019. Even if I was never the worst offender, I laughed along with everyone else, and did nothing to stand up against it. I left those attitudes behind when I began my medical practice and saw the humanity of every patient who walked through my door. It did not take long before I realized my attitudes and behaviors in my years of higher education were racist, derogatory, and obnoxious. Because I belatedly recognized that what I had thought were harmless jokes and pranks were in fact horribly offensive and shameful, I never spoke of my actions during that time.

Would that guarantee Northam could stay in office? Maybe, maybe not. But at least it would involve an element of taking responsibility. As is, Northam is casting himself as a mostly innocent victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy, insisting that he was neither figure in the photo, that he didn’t take the photo, that his initial apology on Friday night about “the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now” was inaccurate, that he only realized he was not in the photo after he “reflected with ‘his family and classmates from the time,” that refusing to resign was the honorable choice because stepping down would “duck my responsibility to reconcile,” that he had no idea how he got the nickname “Coon-man,” that he “dressed up in a — what’s his name, the singer — Michael Jackson,” and that at the dance contest in San Antonio, Northam “had the shoes, I had a glove, and I used just a little bit of shoe polish to put on my cheeks. And the reason I used a very little bit is because, I don’t know if anybody has ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off. But it was a dance contest. I had always liked Michael Jackson. I actually won the contest because I had learned how to do the moonwalk,” and that he only realized that darkening his face with shoe polish could be considered offensive during a conversation with a campaign aide during the 2017 campaign.

Oh, and that whoever called reporters’ attention to the photo last week “had an agenda.” In his mind, he found the real villain in this story.

Does the widespread denunciation of Northam amount to piling on? In 2017, Northam and his allies spent a lot of time and energy insinuating or outright accusing Ed Gillespie of being racist, sometimes under nonsensical terms such as insisting that any campaign ad that mentioned MS-13 was, ipso facto, xenophobic. Maybe you like Gillespie, maybe you can’t stand him. There are fairer criticisms of him — i.e., he’s pretty much the walking definition of a party loyalist and Washington insider. But there’s nothing about him that can be fairly called racist, and the fact that Northam spent so much time making this accusation, knowing that at the very least, his college nickname and old use of “shoe polish” would represent a major embarrassment and alienate the state’s African-Americans, is galling. (Assuming this is an honest and full accounting of Northam’s actions in his twenties.)

Furthermore, considering the way Northam has handled decisions in his time as governor — from the giving-away-the-store Amazon deal to the factually wrong and horrific comments defending the proposed abortion bill to the way he’s handled this controversy . . . it’s possible that despite his medical degree, Northam just isn’t that bright, or at least that he just doesn’t have good judgment.

Maybe Northam is just lucky, or was until very recently. (Republicans are lucky he didn’t accept their invitation to switch parties back in 2009.) In a low-turnout primary in 2013 (really low; plenty of counties saw less than 1,000 votes), he beat former U.S. chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra. (Terry McAuliffe faced no competitors for the gubernatorial nomination, lowering interest in that year’s primary.) His GOP opponent that year, E. W. Jackson, was a political neophyte minister with a history of controversial statements, the state GOP was still dealing with the fallout of Bob McDonnell’s donor gift scandal, and the state party was so divided that the outgoing GOP lieutenant governor appeared to be trying to help the Democrats. After four unremarkable years as lieutenant governor, Northam fought off Tom Perriello in the Democratic primary and then in 2017, the state’s Democrats were white-hot with rage at the first ten months of the Trump administration, sweeping Northam into office in a landslide.

Are Democrats Really Vulnerable to an Independent Candidate in 2020?

A new poll suggests the Democrats’ panic attack over Howard Schultz is somewhat justified:

While only 26 percent of voters who approve of Trump’s job performance as president are very or somewhat likely to consider a third-party candidate, a larger percentage of Trump disapprovers, 41 percent, would consider voting for an independent. By party, nearly a third of Democrats, 31 percent, say they would consider a third-party candidate — greater than the 25 percent of Republicans who would consider voting for someone other than the two major-party nominees.

Keep in mind, “considering” a candidate is a pretty low bar to clear. Getting people to actually vote for that third-party candidate is a much more difficult task.

There’s an easy way for Democrats to mitigate that risk from Schultz, of course, which is to nominate the candidate with the broadest appeal. We can debate who that is, but if you’re worried about a soft-spoken billionaire simultaneously criticizing Trump and a candidate effectively promising socialist revolution . . . then don’t nominate someone who’s effectively promising a socialist revolution.

A Schultz candidacy raises the stakes for Democrats, as they can’t simply run on “Aren’t you tired of this? Vote for the major party candidate that isn’t Trump” in 2020. In a three-way race up against an incumbent president and a socially liberal guy who’s running on a record of job creation, they would have to make a positive case for themselves, not merely a negative case against the status quo of Trump. Having experienced one shocking surprise in 2016, Democrats are positively paranoid about another one in 2020.

ADDENDUM: Ugh. Congratulations to the New England Patriots, again. This might be their most impressive championship yet, because I feel like for three straight playoff games we heard variations of, “The Chargers/Chiefs/Rams are really loaded with talent, equipped at all the key positions, built to beat a team like New England, this game could mark the changing of the guard and the end of an era . . . ” and in three straight games, Belichick and Brady and a seriously underrated defense made it look pretty easy. Last night some disputed the argument that the Patriots handled the Chiefs easily, but it felt like on every third-and-long, Brady found Edelman, Hogan, or Gronk for pitch-and-catch.


If Cory Booker Wants to Win, He’ll Need to Play Partisan

Sen. Cory Booker (D, N.J.) during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., April 12, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Everything you need to know about newly announced Cory Booker that his fan base won’t tell you, some good news on the job-creation front even with the government shutdown, and some absolutely bonkers state regulations about licensing for certain jobs.

‘Sparty’ Is In

New Jersey senator Cory “Call Me Spartacus” Booker is running for president, to the surprise of no one who’s been paying attention for the past three years or so.

In a political era that seems long ago, Cory Booker was one of the more interesting figures in the Democratic party. He began his career by taking on an established Democratic machine, and failing in his first bid to be mayor of Newark. Incumbent Sharpe James was the old guard using every strong-arm tactic in the book to keep power and the city’s appalling status quo, and Booker was the young, fresh-faced Rhodes scholar determined to show that city government could be more than just a corrupt, favor-dispensing fiefdom.

After being elected mayor four years after his first attempt, Booker quickly became master of the dramatic announcement. Perhaps his biggest was in September 2010, when he joined then-New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on The Oprah Winfrey Show, to accept an eye-popping gift: $100 million to reform Newark Public Schools, with local philanthropists and others matching it and raising it to $200 million. Few big city mayors have ever had a day that good.

A study completed in 2017 found that the Zuckerberg gift was neither a complete failure nor a rousing success: Student test scores in the city improved dramatically in English but stayed about the same in math. Some complained that a portion of the lucrative gift went to $1,000-per-day consultants. But by 2013, Booker was already off to the Senate.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Booker didn’t just murmur disagreements with the way the Obama campaign attacked Romney’s work in the private sector, he denounced it.

“I have to just say, from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity,” Mr. Booker said. “To me, it’s just we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me, I’m very uncomfortable with.”

“The last point I’ll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides,” Mr. Booker continued. “It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.”

But within a few days, Booker backtracked almost completely, releasing a video that was such a complete reversal that some of us compared it to a hostage tape, with Booker being punished by his party’s Ayatollahs for blasphemy against their deity. It was a key early indicator that Booker was willing to defy his party to stand up for what he believed was right . . . until it became difficult.

At the end of that year, the New York Times noticed that the social-media star mayor had succeeded a lot in promoting himself but not so much in improving daily life in his troubled city:

When snow blanketed this city two Christmases ago, Mayor Cory A. Booker was celebrated around the nation for personally shoveling out residents who had appealed for help on Twitter. But here, his administration was scorned as streets remained impassable for days because the city had no contract for snow removal.

Last spring, Ellen DeGeneres presented Mr. Booker with a superhero costume after he rushed into a burning building to save a neighbor. But Newark had eliminated three fire companies after the mayor’s plan to plug a budget hole failed.

In recent days, Mr. Booker has made the rounds of the national media with his pledge to live on food stamps for a week. But his constituents do not need to be reminded that six years after the mayor came into office vowing to make Newark a “model of urban transformation,” their city remains an emblem of poverty.

Blunt assessments of his time as mayor of Newark concluded that “Booker cared more about the optics of a social media moment than actually delivering on basic city services” and “Newark has a steep climb before anyone deems it the model city Booker envisioned.”

You probably recall Cory Booker’s stories of his old friend T-Bone, who probably doesn’t exist. He raves about the joy of pedicures. He’s been vegan since 2014. His very limited release of his tax returns revealed that he made more than $1.3 million in paid speeches while being mayor, and getting $700,000 as part of a confidential separation agreement from his old law firm — a firm that just happened to have contracts with two city agencies. Despite all of this, Booker gets some of the most glowing coverage in the Senate, and it is hard to overstate how thoroughly Booker can charm the reporters sent to profile him. In 2014, the Daily Beast raved about his “Christ-like quality.”

Once Booker entered the Senate, he got somewhat more predictable and partisan in his stances. A Republican senator once said to me, paraphrasing, that he actually liked working with Cory Booker on legislation because Booker wasn’t a partisan jerk. But in order to win the Democratic presidential nomination, Booker was going to have to act like a partisan jerk, and this Republican senator predicted that this wasn’t going to turn out well for him, because he believed that this would only make Booker come across as an inauthentic partisan jerk.

Year by year, Booker stopped being the genuinely surprising and unpredictable urban reformer and became the guy who tries too hard to get his party’s base to love him. He tends to shout his speeches:

And then Booker’s shouting just kept going on, and on, and on. He had to quote or cite Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln and Maya Angelou and John F. Kennedy. Towards the end, he tried to get the audience to chant with his punctuating phrase, “we will rise!” Unfortunately, his verbiage in between the chant opportunities dragged on so long, the audience forgot they were supposed to join in.

In the Trump era, Booker quickly realized that his party had absolutely no interest in nominating a lawmaker who had cultivated a bipartisan image, and so he had to transform himself into the Trump administration’s biggest foe. After previously cosponsoring legislation with Jeff Sessions, Booker chose to testify against his confirmation to be attorney general, the first time in Senate history that a sitting senator testified against another sitting senator for a cabinet post during a confirmation. (President Trump probably wishes he had listened to Booker’s objections.) By 2018, Booker insisted that supporters of Brett Kavanaugh were “complicit in evil” — and this was before the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford were revealed.

And now, here Booker is, trying to out-#Resistance the rest of the Democratic field, who are all attempting to metamorphize into the ultimate anti-Trump, some sort of amalgamation of Rachel Maddow, Tom Steyer, Jimmy Kimmel, Jim Acosta, Jorge Ramos, and Stormy Daniels. The painful irony is that early-stage Cory Booker would stand out in this giant field of candidates, offering a genuinely different option as a more pragmatic problem-solver, willing to defy liberal orthodoxy in search of solutions that worked best.

What Layoffs? America’s Hiring Spree Continues!

Everyone expected this month’s jobs report to be pretty lousy, because of the government shutdown. And yet . . . it’s pretty darn good!

The US economy added 304,000 jobs in January, a surprisingly strong month of hiring as employers continue to bring in new workers.

The unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 4 percent.

January was the 100th straight month of job gains. The government said there were “no discernible impacts” from the government shutdown on hiring and wages, but did contribute to the uptick in unemployment.

Licensed to Grill

One last note from the Koch network meeting: Russell Latino reminds me of the full spectrum of rather absurd occupational-licensing requirements in the states. Some of these are pretty understandable – pest-control workers handle potentially dangerous chemicals, and you want anyone working with children to be properly trained, school bus drivers, etc.

But there are some cases where it seems ridiculous, such as interior designers:

Although licensed in only three states and D.C., the requirements are onerous. Aspiring designers must pass a national exam, pay an average of $364 in fees and devote an average of almost 2,200 days— six years—to a combination of education and apprenticeship before they can begin work.

Really? I watch HGTV. I know that a set of curtains can clash with the wallpaper, but they don’t clash violently.

Five states require a license to be a shampooer — i.e., the person who shampoos your hair before a haircut at a salon, requiring an average of $67 in fees and 23 days of education and experience. Just how many days can you spend on “Don’t get it in the customers’ eyes”?

Terrifying news for Senator Booker:

To become a manicurist—licensed in every state but Connecticut—requires an average of 87 days in education and training and two exams. In 10 states, securing a manicurist license takes more than four months.

Three states require a license to be dietician: “Dietetic technicians must spend 800 days in education and training, making for the eighth most burdensome requirements.” Mind you, this isn’t medical treatment, this is encouraging people to eat more vegetables and not deep-fry food. Honestly, you need a license to grill.

My absolute favorite is the requirement in Massachusetts that you need a state license to be a . . .  fortune teller. I wondered how, exactly, do they test for this? “Give me three predictions, and we’ll check back in a week?” But it turns out that you don’t need to be tested — just reside in the locality for a year, pay a $175 hearing and advertisement fee, and a $50 annual fee.

ADDENDA: Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. Be careful, groundhogs — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio still walks the streets in his bloody reign of terror. If you ever doubt that there is a ludicrous double standard in media coverage, try to imagine how everyone from news media to cable news to the late-night comics to PETA would handle a Republican mayor who killed a groundhog by accidentally dropping it.

Politics & Policy

‘Safe and Rare’ Also Means ‘Post-Birth Abortion’

Ralph Northam at a campaign stop in Richmond, Va., in October. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The Virginia governor makes the cause of pro-lifers much easier with his honest brutality, a couple of questions about the account of the actor attacked in a potential hate crime in Chicago on Tuesday night, Rand Paul gets some justice, a bad deal in Wisconsin gets worse, and an event in Washington you won’t want to miss.

The Democrats’ Brutal Honesty and Honest Brutality About Abortion

When President Bill Clinton said that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare” in 1996, he staked out what looked like something of a middle ground on the single most passion-stirring issue in American politics. In the eyes of one group of Americans, Roe v. Wade had finally ensured that no woman would face life with an unwanted pregnancy and child; in the eyes of the other, the American government had legalized the murder of children as long as the child was on one side of the birth canal — and later, in defenses of partial-birth abortion, as long as some part of the child was still in the birth canal.

But there was always an uncomfortable contradiction in Clinton’s formulation. If abortion was sufficiently morally justified to be safe and legal, why did it have to be rare? And if it was sufficiently morally troubling that it should be rare . . .  should it be legal? (Advocates for the unborn would also ask, safe to whom?) Throughout the Clinton presidency, more than a few pro-lifers observed that the administration did plenty to ensure abortion was safe and legal but not so much to make it rare.

Perhaps that contradiction was always untenable, at least in Democratic circles. This debate was always marked by galling dishonesty. For many years, pro-choice advocates insisted that partial-birth abortion was extremely rare, probably about 500 cases in the entire country per year, and almost always for reasons of medical need.

Then a Bergen Record investigation in 1997 found that clinics in the state did about 1,500 per year. One doctor told the paper, “most are Medicaid patients, black and white, and most are for elective, not medical reasons: people who didn’t realize or didn’t care how far along they were. Most are teenagers.” Pro-choice advocates insisted the article had to be false disinformation, but this would require us to believe that abortion doctors wildly exaggerated the frequency of and reasons for the procedure — a perfect definition of “argument against interest.”

Continuing the tradition that the public not be informed about what the laws actually are, Governor Ralph Northam made comments this week that either he doesn’t know what’s in the bill his party is supporting or he straight-up lied. Discussing a new abortion bill brought up by Democrats in the state legislature that would legalize abortion up until the point of birth, Northam insisted late-term abortions would only occur if there was approval by “more than one physician.” That’s actually what the proposed legislation aims to change, requiring only one doctor.

Northam then elaborated on a scenario where the infant would be born alive, and then not resuscitated if the child was not wanted: “If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

It was reminiscent of Barbara Boxer’s spectacularly weird assertion on the Senate floor in 1999 that human life begins not at conception, not at some point during the pregnancy, not at birth, but when the infant leaves the hospital:

SANTORUM: But I would like to ask you this question — you agree, once the child is born, separated from the mother, that that child is protected by the Constitution and cannot be killed? Do you agree with that?

BOXER: I would make this statement, that this Constitution as it currently is — some want to amend it to say life begins at conception. I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born — and there is no such thing as partial-birth — the baby belongs to your family and has the rights.

A moment later:

SANTORUM: I ask the senator from California, again, you believe — you said “once the baby comes home.” Obviously, you don’t mean they have to take the baby out of the hospital for it to be protected by the Constitution. Once the baby is separated from the mother, you would agree — completely separated from the mother — you would agree that baby is entitled to constitutional protection?

BOXER: I will tell you why I don’t want to engage in this. You had the same conversation with a colleague of mine, and I never saw such a twisting of his remarks.

Clarity helps prevent a “twisting of remarks.” Declaring that a child “has the rights” “when you bring your baby home” is precisely the sort of thing that would lead people to believe that a U.S. senator believes that human beings aren’t guaranteed a constitutional right to life until some period of time after birth. Northam’s comments indicate that he finds it morally acceptable to not resuscitate a newborn baby if that death is the outcome that “the family desired.” They don’t merely want to defend partial-birth abortion; they’re willing to defend post-birth abortion.

If you’re pro-life, the comments of Governor Northam can be horrifying and depressing, but also invigorating. Since the mid-1990s, the Democratic party has concluded that procedure worth being “safe and legal” has no reason to be rare.

It easy to forget that abortion advocates are losing this debate; the abortion rate reached a historic low in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, and the decline in abortions was seen in women across all age groups. The number of abortion providers continues to decline.

And even some Democrats are having second thoughts:

Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, said she “did not exercise due diligence” before co-sponsoring the abortion legislation with Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax. Tran became the focus of a social media firestorm this week after Republicans circulated video of her saying the bill would allow abortions up until the moment of birth if one doctor certified that the mother’s physical or mental health was at risk.

“I made a mistake, and all I know to do is to admit it, tell the truth, and let the chips fall where they may,” said Adams, a first-term delegate who won a close upset victory in 2017 in her suburban district and could face a competitive re-election campaign this year.

In testimony, Tran said that the law would permit a woman to have an abortion performed while she was in labor. “This remains a crime and would not be something any sane licensed physician would perform,” Adams said. “The code is very specific and clear about what this means and it is different from an abortion, even late term.”

Just What Happened on that Dark Street in Chicago Tuesday Night?

“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett’s claim of being attacked by two men yelling “MAGA country” seems like another one of those circumstances where it is wise to be circumspect until more evidence comes in verifying or contradicting his account. Certainly, many aspects of the actor’s story seem particularly odd. He said he was walking back to an apartment after a late-night meal at a Subway restaurant around 2 a.m. Tuesday.

You may have noticed that Chicago is enduring the most intensely cold weather in 30 years, with temperatures and wind chill so low that frostbite can occur within minutes. It would be an exceptionally unusual night to select to go around downtown Chicago looking for a member of a minority group to attack. On the other hand, it’s probably the kind of night where people wearing ski masks wouldn’t seem unusual.

Smollett told police that two men recognized him, yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him, hit him in the face, poured what was suspected to be bleach on him and put a rope around his neck. After describing the attackers as men wearing ski masks and all black clothing in an initial report filed with police, Smollett told detectives in a follow-up interview that the men yelled “This is MAGA country.”

Then there’s this detail:

Smollett was talking to his agent on the phone when the attack started, Guglielmi said. Detectives could not “independently verify” that claim because neither man wanted to turn over their cell phones. But police have no reason to doubt the story, according to Guglielmi.

Chicago police released surveillance images of two possible persons of interest in the reported attack, but it’s not much of an image, just two dark figures in the lower right-hand corner of the picture.

One other detail: Household bleach freezes at around 18 or 19 degrees Fahrenheit. The overnight low on the evening of January 28-29 was nine degrees below zero. Smollett’s account would require the assailants to have some way to keep the bleach from freezing as they were walking around outside that frigid evening.

(I like to think that in some alternative universe, I’m either a quirky FBI agent or a wise-cracking genius who consults with a city police force and teams up with an attractive, female, by-the-book, exasperated-but-not-really homicide detective.)

The Guy Who Attacked Rand Paul Is Going to Pay

Good for Sen. Rand Paul:

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul was awarded more than $580,000 in damages and medical expenses on Wednesday in his lawsuit against the neighbor who tackled him and broke several of his ribs in a dispute over lawn maintenance.

A jury in Bowling Green, Kentucky, deliberated less than two hours before delivering the award to the Republican lawmaker who had been attacked while doing yard work at his Kentucky home.

Paul’s attacker served a 30-day prison sentence after pleading guilty to assaulting a member of Congress, paid a $10,000 fine and served 100 hours of community service in the criminal case.

ADDENDA: Former governor Scott Walker, you’ll always be one of my favorites, but there’s no other way to say it. The Foxconn deal was bad — it was bad corporate welfare, it involved bad eminent-domain use, and lo and behold, the bad deal is getting worse in projections of job creation. National Review tried to warn him and other Wisconsin Republicans . . . but they didn’t listen.

The National Review Institute invites you to the 2019 Ideas Summit in Washington, D.C. on March 28 and 29! This year’s conference, “The Case for the American Experiment,” will bring together the conservative movement’s most influential thinkers and policy makers for discussions and presentations on American exceptionalism, and the country’s resilience and economic recovery. Space is limited, so please register today!

Health Care

Kamala Harris Is Already Backtracking on Health Care

Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris confer during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, September 4, 2018. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Kamala Harris suddenly changes her mind on eliminating private insurance; many in the Senate GOP say that they have no interest in another government shutdown and won’t support the president if there is one; and Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams is cursed to give the response to the State of the Union address.

Kamala Harris Retreats on Banning Private Insurance

Kamala Harris pulls an Emily Litella: “Never mind.”

By stating she would eliminate private insurers as a necessary part of implementing “Medicare-for-all,” California Sen. Kamala Harris during a CNN town hall Monday night sent a shockwave through the national health care debate.

. . . As the furor grew, a Harris adviser on Tuesday signaled that the candidate would also be open to the more moderate health reform plans, which would preserve the industry, being floated by other congressional Democrats. It represents a compromise position that risks angering “Medicare-for-all” proponents, who view eliminating private health insurance as key to enacting their comprehensive reform.

The effort to enact Medicare-for-all would not look like a rerun of the passage of Obamacare. One of the reasons Obamacare passed was because health-insurance companies bought into the idea, seeing it as a bonanza of new customers — literally, the government would require you to purchase their product, or pay a fine in the form of a new tax. (Even after the Supreme Court ruled that the penalty was constitutional because it was a tax increase and not a criminal penalty, the Obama administration and its surrogates continued to insist that it was not a tax increase. In short, it was a tax increase when they wanted it to be one before the court, but not a tax increase when they didn’t want it to be one on the campaign trail.) After several years of insurers leaving the exchanges, 2018 was a pretty good year for insurers.

In any given year, the insurance industry spends anywhere from $140 million to 168 million on lobbying alone. In the 2018 cycle, Blue Cross/Blue Shield spent $18 million, Cigna Corp. spent $7 million, the industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans spent $6.7 million. That’s separate from the hard-money donations of the industry to political campaigns; nearly $3 million from Blue Cross/Blue Shield, $1.7 million from AFLAC in the past cycle.

Much like “the Green New Deal,” “Medicare for All” is a brilliantly selected phrase that picks two things that people like and mushes them together, whether or not it accurately describes what the program would do. Medicare is generally popular, and people like the idea of something that they like being extended to everyone.

The Kaiser Family Foundation found that if you tell respondents, “Some argue this would give the government too much control over health care,” support drops by 21 percent! Saying it would eliminate the Affordable Care Act drops it 13 percent, and that it would require higher taxes drops support by 19 percent. In other words, people love Medicare-for-all until they learn what it actually would require.

Kamala Harris is selling the idea through the same slogans and bromides as Obama did back in 2008. A bit more than ten years ago, Tom Brokaw asked the presidential candidates if health care was a right, a privilege, or a responsibility.  Obama answered:

I think it should be a right for every American. In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can’t pay their medical bills — for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.

(By the way, Obama’s mother did not fight with her insurance company about a preexisting condition. A biography of Ann Durham published in 2011 revealed that the insurance company covered her medical treatment; Durham fought with the insurance company about disability insurance, intended as a replacement for lost wages.)

At the CNN Town Hall, Harris declared, “We have to appreciate and understand that access to health care should not be thought of to be a privilege. It should be understood to be a right.”

Treating health care as a right is a wonderful concept that is exceptionally difficult in practice because everyone needs it; asking the government to pay for all of the health care needs for every citizen inevitably leads to long waits as demand overwhelms the supply in efforts to control costs that involve the government restricting care in some way. Pick your flaws: Do you want the current system, where patients complain about co-pays or deductibles? Or do you want a system where the government pays, but because of high demand and limited supply, you have to wait for care, and the government gets to veto treatments it deems too expensive or not cost-effective? Harris describes her plan as if the government will cover any treatment you want at no cost to the patient, as quickly as you like.

That’s not the way it’s worked in Canada. Up north they’re celebrating the fact that the wait time for consultation with a specialist is only about nine weeks, and the wait for treatment from that specialist is eleven weeks. It’s “only” a four-week wait for a CT scan, about the same for an ultrasound, ten-and-a-half weeks for an MRI scan. More than a million Canadians are waiting for treatment at any given time.

Finally, don’t let anyone tell you that Harris isn’t backtracking. Do you see any openness to keeping private insurance in this answer at the CNN town hall?

TAPPER: So for people out there who like their insurance, they don’t get to keep it?

HARRIS: Well, listen, the idea is that everyone gets access to medical care, and you don’t have to go through the process of going through an insurance company, having them give you approval, going through the paperwork, all of the delay that may require. Who of us has not had that situation, where you’ve got to wait for approval, and the doctor says, well, I don’t know if your insurance company is going to cover this? Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on.

Senate Republicans: We’re Not Going to Get Dragged into Another Government Shutdown

A little while back, Dan McLaughlin observed that if you’re going to have a government-shutdown fight, you need to go in knowing exactly what your negotiation priorities are and how long your congressional allies are willing to stand with you.

In the case of President Trump, Senate Republicans aren’t willing to stand with him at all.

Republicans are in no mood to be dragged back into another partial closure in mid-February, the deadline to get a deal on spending for roughly a quarter of the government.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), modifying a well-known quote, told reporters Tuesday that “there certainly would be no education in the third kick of the mule.”

“I don’t like shutdowns. I don’t think they work for anybody, and I hope that they would be avoided,” McConnell said. “I’m for whatever works, which means avoiding a shutdown and avoiding the president feeling that he should declare a national emergency.”

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, characterized a shutdown as a “pox on all of our houses.”

“I think the leader wants to see a result come from this,” said Thune. “There’s no appetite for government shutdowns and there is not much appetite for an emergency declaration for a lot of reasons.”

In other words, if there’s no deal on border-security funding, many Senate Republicans will vote for a spending bill that doesn’t include it.

Back on December 20, I wrote that Trump had already functionally surrendered on the wall. I was told by Trump fans that I was wildly premature in that assessment, that he would get it by forcing the Democrats to make concessions to end the government shutdown.

Well, here we are.

Stacey Abrams Gets Selected as This Year’s Sacrificial Lamb

Sure, Stacey Abrams is a “loser” in the sense that she didn’t win the 2018 Georgia governor’s race. But Republicans shouldn’t chuckle too loudly; that was the best performance by a Democrat in a statewide race in the Peach State in many years.

No, the more interesting question is why Democrats would doom a woman that they think is a rising star by sending her to the cursed task of responding to the State of the Union. Really, almost everyone who does it ends up having some terrible setback or defeat in their careers. It’s the political equivalent of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx or “the Madden curse.”

As for the notion that speaking for about 15 minutes before a national-television audience makes stars . . . last year the response was given by Congressman Joe Kennedy III. Heard much about him since?

ADDENDUM: Let’s say you think Kamala Harris’s policy of jailing parents of kids who are truant is not such a bad idea.

Do you think a child arriving 30 minutes late to school more than three times warrants a “truant” label? Do you think it warrants a $2,000 fine?

Do you think the problem of a chronically truant child is helped by locking up a mother for 20 days? Or in another example, 180 days?

Does that strike you as problem-solving, or a prosecutor chasing headlines?

Law & the Courts

Kamala Harris’s History of Jailing Parents of Truants

Making the click-through worthwhile: Kamala Harris sets the tone for the 2020 Democrats with some wild far-left plans, why the Koch network talks so much about charities and nonprofits, news and notes from the winter meeting, and a bit of perspective about forgiveness in American history.

Kamala Harris 2020: You Can’t Keep Your Plan, Your Car Is Banned, and If Your Kids Miss Class I’m Sending You to Jail

Last night, presidential candidate Kamala Harris participated in a town hall with CNN and announced that she wanted a Medicare-for-all plan that would eliminate all forms of private insurance. (If you like your plan . . . you can’t keep your plan.) She said she supports the Green New Deal — no follow up questions on banning private ownership of cars, banning internal-combustion engines entirely, and cutting the military in half.

Also last night, Twitter started buzzing about an old video of Harris talking about her decision to start prosecuting parents for the truancy of their children.

I believe a child going without an education is tantamount to a crime. So, I decided I was going to start prosecuting parents for truancy. Well, this was a little controversial in San Francisco! (laughs) Frankly, my staff went bananas. They were very concerned, at the time, we didn’t know at the time whether I was going to have an opponent in my reelection race. I said, look I’m done. This is a serious issue, and I’ve got a little political capital, and I’m going to spend some of it. And this is what we did. We recognized, as a prosecutor in law enforcement, I have a huge stuck. The school system has got a carrot. Let’s work in tandem around our collective objective and goal, which is to get those kids in school.

Maybe there’s something in the water out here in Indian Wells, but am I soft on crime if I think a situation of a student’s chronic truancy probably needs a social worker, and not the state AG or local DA threatening to put the parents in jail? How much teen truancy occurs with parental consent? How many parents of truant kids are dealing with some other significant issue — drug use, an absent parent, financial pressures, unusual working hours, or some other complication that enables the truancy? In the above video, Harris gleefully tells a story of a parent “freaking out” upon receiving the letter announcing the policy. Does that . . . sound like reassuring law-enforcement judgment to you?

We’re in an era during which we’re decriminalizing some drug offenses, repealing mandatory minimums, giving prosecutors and judges more discretion . . . and of course, Kamala Harris has never encountered an illegal immigrant she wanted to deport in a state full of sanctuary cities. But we’re going to throw parents of truant kids in prison? This is where we get tough and lock ‘em up?

“I believe a child going without an education is tantamount to a crime.” That sounds really good as an applause line in a speech, but “crime” should not become a synonym for “something bad” or “something tragic” in the minds of prosecutors. Because not every bad situation can be resolved by putting somebody in jail — particularly putting parents in jail in order to resolve a family problem.

But hey, if you like Harris’s views on jailing parents of truants, wait until you hear her views on civil-asset forfeiture!

Why the Koch Network Spends So Much Time Talking about Helping Nonprofits

This was the third Koch seminar network winter meeting I’ve covered, and some of the other reporters here are concluding that the group is attempting to depoliticize its image, or at least distance itself from its Tea Party–era association with so many Republicans.

Fairly or not, it will be a long time before anyone in the general public hears “Koch brothers” and doesn’t think of politics, particularly libertarian, small-government, generally right-of-center politics. As I’ve written before, the wealthy donors of the Koch network crowd are not necessarily Republican party loyalists and they’re not classic capital-L Libertarians either. They don’t talk about guns much. While they want to help fight drug addiction and see those convicted of drug offenses avoid prison, you don’t hear a ton of talk about marijuana legalization (although Mark Holden mentioned it to me during a brief interview). A lot of the network members are religious, but the group as a whole doesn’t really fit the traditional definition of “the religious right.” Controversies like abortion or gay marriage are never mentioned.

This year featured a new effort on fighting poverty including the “Giving Together Initiative.” By the end of the month, the Koch network’s social capital branch, Stand Together, will have handed out $20 million in grants to nonprofit organizations. What’s more, for the rest of 2019, they will match all donations of up to $1,000 to any of 115 nonprofits that are fighting poverty, from Ace Scholarships in eight states, to Bonton Farms in Dallas, to Coalfield Development in West Virginia (despite the name, it’s not about coal, it’s about job training), to Thistle Farms in Nashville to The Phoenix addiction recovery centers.

I get the feeling that some think spotlighting these nonprofits is the Koch network’s window dressing, or a way of softening their image, or an attempt to distract from the political fights they’ve been in over the years. But some of this reflects the fact that if you’re skeptical of the government’s ability to solve these problems, you want private organizations to step in, and you need these private organizations to be well-funded, well-managed, and well-connected. When you hear conservatives talking about Edmund Burke’s little platoons, this is pretty close to it — small, local, community-based organizations (although a lot of these plan to expand to new communities) that aim to get a homeless person a job and a roof over their head, an addict into a system for lasting recovery, an at-risk youth a path to continue his education, or a woman who’s been trafficked and abused a new life in a safe environment.

Assorted Notes from the Koch Network Winter Meeting

  • Russ Latino, vice president at Americans for Prosperity, noted that Louisiana is the only state in the country that requires a state license to be a florist. To acquire a florist’s license, you have pass a 40-question test and arrange flowers in a way that other florists deem adequate. How do you flunk? “Good God, man, you don’t put carnations and daisies together like that! That combination is more volatile than nitroglycerin!” (You know my position on the Second Amendment; but does it seem strange that you don’t need a license to purchase a gun in Louisiana, but you do need a license to be a florist?)
  • A discussion about the opioid crisis and how to fight it brought some unnerving observations from Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University.* “People have an opioid addiction or drug problem, they get put in the county jail, they dry out in a sense while they’re there,” Berman said. “When they’re released, they’re released back into the neighborhood and community they had been using, but their tolerance level goes down. I believe the statistic is you’re twelve times more likely to die from a drug overdose within weeks of being released from incarceration.”
  • Berman observed that research into reports from coroners in Ohio revealed that “one of the latest cutting-edge issues is that people are still dying with opioids in their system, but it’s not seemingly coming from heroin or direct use of fentanyl, it’s cocaine and methamphetamine that happens to be laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl is getting into the drug supply in a way that was unanticipated.” One of the ideas being discussed among drug policy analysts is whether it would make sense to give addicts a place to have their drugs tested for fentanyl. As Berman dryly observed, if an addict takes his drugs to the cops, worried the drugs might have fentanyl in them, the cops will arrest him.
  • Mark Holden, discussing Kim Kardashian’s influence on the commutation of the sentence of Alice Johnson and the passage of criminal-justice reform last year, said her role had to be “some divine intervention or something.”

Seriously, the way I understand it is that day she hadn’t looked at her phone, and she picked it up and it was Alice [who had posted a video essay about her life sentence on mic.com]. And the next thing you know [she retweeted it and it went viral and] it went all the way up to Jared Kushner. It went to the president, she met with the president, and the president okayed it. I met Kim Kardashian at the White House, we had a clemency reform meeting. She’s very serious about these issues. I knew who she was, my kids watch her, but I never had that much of an opinion on her. But I think it’s great she’s involved. She’s using her place in society for better.

*I know, I know, “THE Ohio State University.”

ADDENDUM: The next time you feel like your political side needs to take a particular course of action to “get back” at the opposition for some unforgivable act of wrongdoing, remember this: George Washington urged his countrymen to show mercy to the Tories after the American Revolution (with mixed results), and Abraham Lincoln urged citizens of the north to do the same to the former Confederacy (also with mixed results). And these men were addressing groups of foes that had tried to kill each other! And, with some notable exceptions, Americans did generally, eventually, grow to forgive and put their animosity behind them.

Kind of puts all of today’s endless vindictive score-settling and petty grievances into perspective, doesn’t it?


The Flat White of Potential Presidential Bids: Howard Schultz

Howard Schultz at the Starbucks annual shareholder meeting in Seattle, Wash., March 18, 2015. (David Ryder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the man who brought cappuccinos to seemingly every street corner in America announces that he’s thinking about running for president as an independent; a long list of news, sights, and comments from the Koch network’s winter meeting in Indian Wells, Calif.; and a surprising figure tries to persuade Democrats that they don’t want to nuke the filibuster if they win a majority in the Senate in 2020.

Grande, Quad, Nonfat, One-Pump, No-Whip, Vanilla Independent Presidential Candidate

I’ve given former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz more than his share of grief already in this nascent presidential cycle by calling him “a giant pile of money” and “a political consultant’s dream client”: super-rich, unfamiliar with the hard-knock world of presidential campaigns, and probably naïve enough to believe that lofty and noble ideals stated clearly are enough to win the presidency.

But you almost have to admire the audacity of Schultz ditching the always-ridiculous notion of competing for the Democratic presidential nomination and aiming to become the first serious independent presidential candidate since H. Ross Perot. This is like a figure skater announcing plans to do a lengthy series of quadruple axels in the Olympics — amazing if it works, a formula for falling flat on your face if it doesn’t. The two most likely outcomes are a distant third place (embarrassing) or splitting the anti-Trump vote and helping Trump win reelection, which would make Schultz a spectacularly hated figure among America’s Democrats.

Schultz announced last night that he would run as “a centrist independent,” and the conventional wisdom among a lot of pundits is that there’s simply not enough votes in the middle to come close to the presidency in a three-way race. The study Hidden Tribes surveyed 8,000 people across the country and found that 67 percent of respondents didn’t fit either the “progressive activists” or “devoted conservatives” classifications, and were in what the study called “the exhausted majority.” You figure that there will be a decent number of Americans who aren’t in Trump’s camp and who will find the Democratic nominee too left-wing for their tastes. Some small segment of the electorate will appreciate a presidential candidate talking about the debt as a “a reckless failure of [lawmakers] constitutional responsibility” instead of indulging the electorate’s preference for denial. Republicans will appreciate him for declaring the Democratic vision of “free health care for all” unaffordable.

Democrats will fume about him being a CEO, but he can argue that he’s ensured his workers were treated well, enjoying health insurance, tuition aid, and stock. And when he tells 60 Minutes, “I’ve become bored with President Trump and his tweets . . . ” how many former Republicans will concur?

As for the Democrats panicking that Schultz would doom, or at least enormously complicate their efforts in 2020 . . . look, fellas, if you can’t get 270 electoral votes against Donald Trump and Howard Schultz, pack it up and go home. They aren’t Ronald Reagan and Lee Iacocca.

Hawks, Deion, Mayonnaise Legislation, and Celebrity Chefs

News and notes from the Koch Network winter meeting . . .

Hawkish Positions: The Koch meeting is held at the Renaissance Indian Wells resort, which is as luxurious as you would expect. The resort hires pest control staff who use predator birds, perched upon their gauntlet like a falcon, to hunt down and scare rodents and nuisance birds. Below you’ll see Ben from Winged Solutions, a local pest control company, with “Thomas Harris,” a bay-winged hawk named after the man who discovered him.

Big Crowd:  The Koch Seminar network’s James Davis was cheerful Saturday, announcing that this year’s winter meeting hit new records with about 700 total attendees, 634 donor partners (who pledge to donate at least $100,000 per year) and 181 first-time attendees. (The Koch Seminar Network has more than 100,000 total donors, many of whom are small donors.)

Prime Time: Deion Sanders appeared at the seminar for the second time in three years, discussing his work with Urban Specialists, a Dallas-based nonprofit aimed at reducing violence and helping at-risk youth run by Bishop Omar Jahwar. After hearing about how the group tackled the multitude of challenges in communities stricken with poverty, drug addiction, and single parents, I asked him if he ever felt like Sisyphus. He jokingly responded,:

Who’s he?” and then added, “It’s not a struggle or a chore to go into the inner city, to go out and do what we do. It’s not a chore. That’s how we get down. We do more in the dark than we ever do in the light.” Referring to Stand Together, the Koch network’s organization focusing on building social capital, Sanders said, “They help us dot our ‘I’s and cross our ‘t’s. They make sure our hearts and our minds are straight.

Jahwar, when asked about creating partnerships with people with different viewpoints: “Our secret sauce is that we believe in redemption.” If anyone can be redeemed, then no one is worthless or not worth engaging.

Oh, and Sanders predicts Tom Brady and the Patriots will win the Super Bowl.

Mayonnaise Wars: After a comment that Americans can’t even seem to agree about mustard or mayonnaise, Senator Mike Lee of Utah said that he had actually fought a battle on Capitol Hill in August about mayonnaise. A few years ago, a California company started selling vegan, or egg-free, mayonnaise. This disgruntled the country’s egg producers, who complained to the Food and Drug Administration. Under a 1938 Federal law, the FDA has the power to set “standards of identity,” or rules defining what does and does not qualify as a particular food product. The FDA declared that labeling an egg-free product “mayonnaise” was illegal. A similar controversy surrounded the labeling of almond milk, even though, as Lee put it, “No one buys almond milk under the false illusion that it came from a cow! They buy almond milk because it didn’t come from a cow!”

Lee teamed with New Jersey Democrat Senator Cory Booker to sponsor an amendment to an appropriations bill that essentially declared, as Lee summarized Saturday night, “The federal government has no business telling you what you can and can’t call mayonnaise!” Sadly, their amendment failed, 14 to 84; Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin called the amendment “an attack on dairy farmers across the country.”

Another memorable line from Senator Lee: “My great-great grandfather had a lot of children, and I mean a lot. My staff likes to joke that the only way I got elected was that I’m related to half the state.”

From Prison to the Kitchen: Last year’s winter meeting had a big emphasis on criminal-justice reform; this year, there’s a push for the next step, which is getting employers to give felons a chance to work. Sunday’s lunch session featured celebrity chef Curtis Stone, who runs two high-end restaurants, one in Beverly Hills and the other in Hollywood, who has hired about 50 employees over the past five years from a Koch-aided job placement program, Chrysalis.

Stone appeared with two of his employees; former convicted felon Darrell Stevenson started as a dishwasher at one of Stone’s restaurants and is now the back-of-house manager, and Byron Taylor struggled with addiction and is now an assistant manager. Taylor told the story of showing up an hour and a half early for his tryout.

“They have the keys when I’m not there, they have access to the restaurant, and not only do they take care of it, they’re very honest in how they go about their business, and they probably hold the rest of the team more accountable than I do,” Stone said.

The 2020 Decision: It’s fascinating to see some people react as if the Koch network announcing that they do not intend to support Trump in 2020 is surprising — or all that consequential, considering that the network sat out the 2016 election as well. Neither Charles Koch and the people heading up the network nor Trump have changed their positions, philosophies, or outlook since Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower in 2015. Koch himself often quotes Frederick Douglass’s statement, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong,” so it’s not surprising that the Kochs cheered the tax cuts and regulatory rollback and worked with the administration on criminal-justice reform.

But Koch also frequently speaks of the need to “recognize the dignity in all human beings and to treat them with that dignity.” It’s easy to see that Koch sees his philosophies on life as fundamentally incompatible with the way that Trump treats people.

Felon Voting Rights: The network said that it also expects to focus on initiatives at the state level, with the potential for unexpected short-term alliances in those efforts as well. In 2018, the Koch network cooperated with the ACLU on Florida’s Initiative Four, which automatically restored the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions who had completed their sentences, which chairman Brian Hooks characterized as “welcoming them as full citizens again.” The statewide referendum passed by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

“That was an exciting win,” he said. “More than 1.4 million people benefitted the next day.” In twelve states, felons lose their voting rights indefinitely; in 22 states, felons are not permitted to vote while on parole or on probation.

PAC-Man: Hooks said that the group was taking a “fresh look” at a wide range of options for enacting its ideas through policy, including creating long-term issue-focused political action committees (PACs), but he indicated a decision on that idea was not imminent.

Finally, Mike Rowe, responding to a fan who was horrified to learn that Rowe had worked with the Koch network on various initiatives:

I have no interest in changing your opinion of Charles Koch, or me. Nor will I ask you to ‘let it slide.’ If the sight of Koch’s name at the end of these videos is simply too painful for you to reconcile, then by all means, take your marbles and go home. Just remember, hundreds of people have benefited enormously from his support of MikeRoweWORKS. Do with that what you will, and good luck to you, regardless.

Look Who Wants to Keep the Filibuster Around

Kirsten Gillibrand argues for the preservation of the filibuster: “I don’t mind that you have to get 60 votes for cloture (ending debate and voting on a piece of legislation),” “That’s not an unreasonable goal . . . if you don’t have 60 votes yet, it just means you haven’t done enough advocacy and you need to work a lot harder.”

ADDENDUM: North Dakotan columnist Rob Port with a difficult but accurate observation: “Free markets and democracy are very good at delivering people what they want, even when they claim they don’t want it.”

Law & the Courts

Former Trump Adviser Roger Stone Is Arrested

Stone in 2013 (Getty Images)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Roger Stone gets arrested, a preview of this year’s Koch network winter meeting, and a quick peek at what’s being said at the Davos World Economic Forum.

Roger Stone Arrested After Robert Mueller Indicts Him on Seven Counts

Around 6 a.m. this morning, the office of special counsel Robert Mueller announced that former Trump adviser and associate Roger Stone “was arrested in Fort Lauderdale today following an indictment by a federal grand jury on Jan. 24, 2019, in the District of Columbia. The indictment, which was unsealed upon arrest, contains seven counts: one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, five counts of false statements, and one count of witness tampering.”

Stone, who has been under scrutiny for months by Mueller, has acknowledged exchanging messages during the 2016 campaign with Guccifer 2.0, a Twitter persona that U.S. intelligence officials say was a front operated by Russian military officers who conspired to hack Democratic emails.

Stone, who served briefly as an adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2015 and then continued to informally advise him, publicly cheered on WikiLeaks as it released emails hacked from Democrats during the race and before the election claimed he was in contact with the group’s founder, Julian Assange, whom he called “my hero.”

The indictment, which quotes Stone’s text messages and emails, looks pretty tough.

Stone told investigators that he never talked about his contact with an “intermediary” with anyone on the Trump campaign. The indictment then quotes various messages to “a high-ranking Trump Campaign official” and “multiple individuals involved in the Trump Campaign” about “Organization 1” (that is WikiLeaks) and Stone’s knowledge that it would release “a load every week going forward.”

(If you have any doubt that “Organization 1” is WikiLeaks, the indictment states, “the head of Organization 1 was located at all relevant times at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, United Kingdom.” That’s where Julian Assange has resided since June 2012.

The intermediary is referred to as Person 2, which left some thinking that it was Jerome Corsi, but sections of the indictment indicate that this is Randy Credico. The indictment declares, “On or about August 23, 2016, Person 2 asked STONE during a radio interview, ‘You’ve been in touch indirectly with [the head of Organization 1] . . . Can you give us any kind of insight?’” Stone made these comments on Credico’s program.

The indictment says that Stone was contacted by senior Trump officials and directed to inquire about future releases from WikiLeaks. In mid-August, Stone and WikiLeaks started using a “go-between,” according to the indictment. (This go-between is believed to be Jerome Corsi.) Stone allegedly lied to the House Intelligence Committee and attempted to get someone else to lie to the committee.

Way back in August 2015, I interviewed Stone after he made a dramatic public split from Trump. He’s always been one of the strangest creatures wandering through the political scene, gleefully welcoming the label “dirty trickster,” boasting of his Richard Nixon tattoo on his back, and wearing fancy clothes, but never socks. The Matt Labash profile is legendary, but it almost seemed like Stone was genetically engineered to be the subject of magazine profile pieces, a perfect combination of weird, funny, outlandish, occasionally insightful, never-boring, and more than a little bit crazy. (Other figures in this category: Democratic political consultant Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, Joe Biden, Donald Trump. Maybe throw in Newt Gingrich.) I had written years ago that Rahm Emanuel engaged in behavior that, if committed by other people, would be considered psychotic — mailing people dead fish, stabbing a restaurant table with a steak knife, etc. and that no Republican could ever count on such sympathetic “what a character!” coverage. Maybe Roger Stone comes closest to that Teflon sympathy. It is notable that Stone’s driving force in his political life has been personas, not policies. He aims to win the competition before him at all costs — what he wants to win for is secondary. A friend and former client Jeff Bell told Labash, “I don’t think he’s that ideological. He’s a political junkie. He loves to be in the middle of it.”

One last irony: The FBI agents who arrested Stone this morning . . . aren’t getting paid this month because of the shutdown.

Get Ready for Koch Coverage

I’m off to the Koch Seminar Network’s winter meeting today. Last winter, the group’s preeminent issue was criminal-justice reform and prison anti-recidivism programs, and I wondered if it would really get that much attention or effort in Washington in a reelection year. But by the end of the year, the House and Senate managed to pass legislation on those priorities and Trump signed it — one of the biggest, and few bipartisan achievements of this administration. My understanding is that this year the organizations under the Koch banner will be focusing their energies on chronic unemployment, drugs and addiction, and poverty.

The Washington Post is reporting that the Koch network expects to sit out the 2020 presidential race, and this shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. The Kochs sat out the 2016 race, and the feelings about the Trump administration among the Koch-aligned donors at the winter meetings have been quite mixed the past two years. By and large, the Koch crowd loves the tax cuts, regulatory rollback, judicial nominations and criminal-justice reform. They don’t like the administration’s positions on immigration (particularly skilled legal immigration) or tariffs, and generally loathe the president’s general tone and attitude towards the job. I’ve described the Koch philosophy in the past as being an odd form of “communitarian libertarian,”aiming to shrink the government but simultaneously strengthening civil society and private charity and community groups. A lot of groups on the Right talk about that second aspect but don’t quite bring as much energy to those efforts.

Meanwhile, at Davos . . .

I miss Jay Nordlinger’s old Davos diaries. He was like a sane, non-billionaire pilgrim in an unholy land of the world’s most rich and powerful. You may hate the Davos crowd, and it’s obvious that the world’s wealthiest, most-connected, and most influential individuals are all shaped, and some would say warped, by their near-permanent bubble of elitism.

Then again, maybe there’s a glimmer of humility after the repeated servings of humble pie — from Brexit to Trump’s election to the inability to mitigate the Syrian Civil War or stop waves of refugees or keep the Arab Spring from souring or keep North Korea from firing missiles or deter Russian aggression. Just think, at the darkest hour of the 20th century, world capitals featured men like FDR and Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle . . . forty years later, we had Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II. Our leaders were as big as our challenges.

Today we’ve got Trump, Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel on her way out . . . how confident do you feel?


Foreboding about the future was a prevailing theme at this year’s Davos, sometimes even with dash of dystopian prophecy. This brooding was accompanied often, in speeches and interviews, by a rueful acknowledgment that government leaders are desperately improvising — often with bleak results — to meet the political crises of the moment, much less the long-term technological and climatological challenges of the age.

In key Western capitals, governance is failing. China is exploiting. Global temperatures are rising. Tech titans are groveling. Prospects for economic downturn are rumbling.


Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam called politics the biggest risk for 2019 amid mounting populism. The U.S. government shutdown is having a “big impact on the economy,” said David Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group. Italy got admonished by European policy makers for its anti-EU rhetoric: “Changing Europe is one thing, destroying Europe is another thing,” said EU Commissioner Pierre Moscovici. As for Brexit, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond saw a “very real” risk of it happening without a deal.

Gee, fellas, if you really think populism is such a threat, maybe you ought to take some action to alleviate the issues that are driving people to support populists!

ADDENDUM: Jonah points out the inconvenient truth that the current shutdown fight could have been avoided, or at least resolved earlier, if Congressional Republicans had tried to fund a wall or additional border fencing when they controlled both houses:

By constantly paying lip service to the president’s cherished policy goal while doing nothing, Republicans made it inevitable that he would get fed up with the delays and force a confrontation. At the very least, the congressional GOP deserves a larger portion of the blame, and its insistence that this is only a crisis now that it is not in charge should be added to the hypocrisy list alongside the Democrats’ sudden moral horror of walls.

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