Making the click-through worthwhile: The Supreme Court rules against Virginia’s state legislature (and Elbridge Gerry is slandered again!), President Trump weighs his options in the wake of Iranian malfeasance, and I attempt (and fail) to find one redeeming quality in O. J. Simpson’s decision to join Twitter.
Supreme Court Strikes down Virginia’s ‘Racially Gerrymandered’ Districts
Gerrymandering is a practice with a lengthy bipartisan history, though you’d never know it from the relentless messaging of Democratic operatives and the press corps. Dan McLaughlin’s 2017 piece here at NR on gerrymandering is worth a read, if only for the evidence that it provides of the unremarkable electoral impact of Republican redistricting efforts and the selective amnesia of Democrats who “dominated the House of Representatives for four uninterrupted decades from 1954 to 1994, and . . . did so with the considerable help of partisan gerrymanders.”
With that as context, the Supreme Court reached a decision yesterday in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, which found that an electoral map in Virginia was “racially gerrymandered in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.” The Virginia House appealed a district court’s finding of a racial gerrymander, which ultimately made its way to the Supreme Court. So often, the line between partisan gerrymandering — which the Rehnquist Court held to be “non-judiciable” in Vieth v. Jubelirer — and racial gerrymandering is difficult to establish as political polarization breaks out along racial lines. Justices Thomas and Gorsuch joined Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan in striking down a map drawn by the Virginia state legislature, but largely avoided the substance of this distinction and instead took issue with the Virginia House’s standing. From Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog:
The House of Delegates, Ginsburg explained, argued first that it had standing to appeal to the Supreme Court to represent Virginia’s interests. But Virginia law makes clear, Ginsburg emphasized, that only the state’s attorney general has the authority to represent the state in civil litigation. Indeed, Ginsburg noted, even if Virginia had given the House of Delegates the power to represent the state, the House of Delegates never indicated in the lower court that it was doing so; instead, “the House has purported to represent its own interests” throughout the case… Ginsburg observed that state law gives power over redistricting to the state’s General Assembly, “of which the House constitutes only a part.” This case is therefore different, Ginsburg reasoned, from a 2015 case in which the Supreme Court agreed that both houses of Arizona’s legislature could challenge the constitutionality of a referendum that gave authority over redistricting to an independent commission.
CNN reports that former attorney general and presidential “wingman” Eric Holder said the court’s ruling ensures that “all Virginians will now — finally — have the opportunity this fall to elect a House of Delegates that actually represents the will of the people.”
Worth noting: Dan points out in his 2017 piece that both former President “Obama and Holder are . . . ardent fans of interpreting the Voting Rights Act to require race-conscious gerrymandering to create ‘majority minority’ districts — i.e., districts in which a majority of voters are members of the same racial-minority group.”
Also worth noting: It’s unfortunate that former vice president Elbridge Gerry — whose surname forms the first half of the infamous “gerrymander” portmanteau — has come to be defined exclusively by the creatively culled voting districts that he sanctioned as governor of Massachusetts. Gerry himself reportedly called the decision “highly disagreeable”; more than that, he was a voice of principled opposition to federal overreach at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and ultimately helped to secure the freedom of assembly clause in the First Amendment.
Trump Commits One Thousand Troops to Iran
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Trump administration will deploy 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East in response to Iran’s announced eclipse of the uranium limits set by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The president’s proposed action comes as Iranian officials express their frustration with global sanctions imposed on the country.
From the Wall Street Journal:
U.S. military officials said the additional troops will help provide security and intelligence in the region amid heightened tensions over a series of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Washington has blamed Iran for the attacks. Tehran has denied any involvement.
The U.S. already has more than 20,000 troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Last month the Pentagon deployed an aircraft carrier, other warships, bombers and additional forces to counter what officials said was a growing threat from Iran. Officials declined to say where or when the new troops would be deployed.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Tampa, Fla., for Tuesday meetings with Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, and Gen. Richard Clarke, who heads U.S. special operations forces.
Fox’s Tucker Carlson weighed in on his program last night, comparing Pompeo’s confidence to what he called the “misplaced certainty” of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell in the prelude to the Iraq war.
Early this morning, the Washington Postreports that Trump “characterized alleged attacks by Iran against two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman as ‘very minor’ and suggested that the United States might not go to war to protect international oil supplies.”
The Juice Is Loose
O. J. Simpson is on Twitter, and wants you to know, to borrow his most unfortunate choice of words, that he has “some getting even to do.”
The former Bills running back (that’s what he’s most famous for, no?) joined the platform last week, promising his followers that his account would be his venue to promote his sizzling-hot takes on “sports” and “politics.”
I’m generally disposed to believe in second chances — I think everyone in my generation does after Shinedown’s 2008 power ballad — but Simpson’s Twitter is utterly devoid of self-awareness and restraint. He has “some getting even to do?”
I won’t link to his Twitter account, for both your sanity and to expedite the facilitation of his.
Making the click-through worthwhile: Protestors in Hong Kong expand their list of demands, Joe Biden’s support seems to be dropping as Elizabeth Warren gets a little lift in the polls, and Harvard rescinds its acceptance of Parkland shooting survivor Kyle Kashuv over old texts and comments.
Hong Kong Protests Continue
In Hong Kong, pro-democracy protestors are continuing their efforts to block a bill that would allow extradition to China, but their list of demands is expanding. On Sunday, protestors swarmed the streets even after the government agreed to suspend the bill in question and Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam offered an apology over the measure.
The sheer size of the demonstration — organizers gave an unverified estimate of close to two million of the territory’s seven million people — made clear the public remained unsatisfied.
Many of the protesters said they were disappointed with Mrs. Lam’s statement, saying it seemed insincere. . . .
The marchers filled broad avenues and ran the length of downtown Hong Kong, parents with their children, groups of students and numerous retirees. Reflecting their changing mood, most dressed in black, a stark change from the white most wore the previous week.
They chanted and carried signs listing their demands: the complete withdrawal of the bill, not just an indefinite suspension; an impartial investigation into the police use of force during Wednesday’s clashes with protesters; and the rescinding of the official description of that protest as an illegal riot, which could expose anyone arrested during the violent demonstration to long jail terms.
Many of the demonstrators are beginning to call for Lam’s resignation, as well as for the departure of her ministers for justice and security, but the leader shows no signs of preparing to step down. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that President Trump will discuss the protests with Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit at the end of the month in Japan.
Some observers suggest that Lam’s decision to suspend the proposed bill should be viewed as a huge concession to demonstrators’ demands, comparing these protests to previous demonstrations in Hong Kong over anti-democratic Chinese policies. From Timothy McLaughlin at The Atlantic this morning:
Though it was not completely withdrawn, the proposal’s temporary shelving was a concession that had been unthinkable, even to the most committed demonstrators, just a few days earlier. It marked a deeply embarrassing retreat for Lam, who, in a humiliating press conference, repeatedly dodged questions about her ability to lead, the possibility of stepping down, and why she hadn’t moved to suspend the bill earlier—before the accusations of police brutality.
Hong Kong’s recent protests have drawn comparisons to the 2014 Umbrella Movement demonstrations, which saw young protesters occupy thoroughfares for 79 days to call for universal suffrage for Hong Kong. There are, however, significant differences, perhaps the most obvious of them being the lack of a clear leader. Five years ago, Joshua Wong, just a teenager at the time, rose to be the central figure of the movement. Time magazine put him on its cover, and the Financial Times called him “the teen doing battle with Beijing.” Wong was released Monday morning after serving nearly five weeks in jail on charges stemming from his involvement in the 2014 protests. Moments after being escorted from jail, he called for Lam to step down and the extradition bill to be withdrawn.
No single person has risen to Wong’s status this time around, but the Civil Human Rights Front—a coalition of 50 organizations, including pro-democracy political parties—has been instrumental in building and helping sustain the protest movement, and in the process has obtained remarkable results, even if incomplete by its own measure.
Biden Starts to Slump as Warren Slowly Rises
As the Democratic primary lurches toward its first round of debates — which will feature nearly the entire field with 20 candidates on stage, split between two debates — former vice president Joe Biden seems to be losing his luster, even as he continues to lead the pack in polls.
He has spent the last several weeks making relatively little news, aside from his sudden decision to backtrack from his decades of support for the Hyde amendment, a bipartisan rider added to federal spending bills to prohibit the direct public funding of abortion procedures. After calling himself “personally pro-life” during his decades in office, and backing Hyde out of a supposed desire to protect the conscience rights of pro-life Americans, Biden’s reversal on this issue was a clear concession to the demands of the increasingly radical pro-abortion Left.
Until his reversal on Hyde, Biden was the only candidate in the field with a policy position other than total support for government-funded abortion on demand. Since entering the race, the former Delaware senator hasn’t commented on his previous support for the federal ban on partial-birth abortion. His choice to back taxpayer funding for abortion came after several weeks of uncertainty, first telling an activist that he no longer supported the amendment, then claiming he had “misheard” the question and still supported Hyde, and then finally reversing himself yet again to say he no now longer supports it.
As Biden falters a bit on policy, his poll numbers appear to be lagging. At the start of the month, he led his next-closest competitor, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, by nearly 20 points. The latest poll of the field, from Fox News, shows Biden up by only 9 points.
And his slump comes as Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren seems to be on the rise, showing up third behind Biden and Sanders in four national surveys over the last week, as well as in several polls of voters in early primary states. Even so, the extent of Biden’s slide is hard to gauge, because his decline in support likely has been distributed somewhat evenly among his rivals.
Harvard Rescinds Kyle Kashuv’s Admission over Old Comments
This morning, Kyle Kashuv — a high-school graduate who survived the mass shooting last February in Parkland, Fla. — announced that Harvard University has withdrawn his offer of admission after his past racist comments came to light. Here’s the letter Harvard sent Kashuv announcing the decision:
The comments in question appeared in a Google document that Kashuv had with friends in high school and that he wrote when he was 16 years old. Since the remarks were publicized, Kashuv issued a lengthy apology and cooperated with Harvard’s requests for further information. According to Kashuv, some of his political opponents then began to repeatedly contact Harvard and urge the university to rescind his admission.
After being notified of Harvard’s decision, Kashuv requested an in-person meeting with administration officials to discuss the situation, but the university declined. Here’s some of what Kashuv said this morning about his offer being rescinded:
11/ Throughout its history, Harvard’s faculty has included slave owners, segregationists, bigots and antisemites. If Harvard is suggesting that growth isn't possible and that our past defines our future, then Harvard is an inherently racist institution.
Harvard’s decision is incredibly disappointing. The rise of social media has made it possible for egregious comments such as Kashuv’s to linger forever, and we have yet to shape the norms we will apply for personal growth and recovering from mistakes. Harvard’s choice to deny Kashuv admission over his comments is more evidence that too much of our society isn’t willing acknowledge sincere repentance or allow for forgiveness. We’ve lost sight of the importance of grace.
I’ll be out next week. Remember that if you’re in the Hilton Head area, you can hear me ramble about the book, answer some questions about politics and the presidential race, and get some free food Monday night. It’s free, just RSVP here.
Making the click-through worthwhile: contemplating whether the attacks Trump used against Hillary Clinton will work against Elizabeth Warren; the Democrats pick their top 20 candidates for the debates, leaving a governor, a former senator, a Congressman and a mayor out in the cold; and Trump proves, once again, that he will never change, no matter the consequence.
Which 2020 Democrat Reminds You the Most of Hillary Clinton?
The Boston Herald declares, “Elizabeth Warren is on the rise — the presidential hopeful’s aggressive policy push is translating into a surge in the polls just in time for the first set of debates.”
Anytime you compare a current candidate to a past presidential candidate, you’re going to get counter-arguments that “Candidate X is different from Candidate Y!” No two candidates are exactly alike. Matthew Continetti asked if Joe Biden would be the next Hillary Clinton; Jonah and David French pointed out the differences, I had wondered about the pair back in April.
But if you’re trying to figure out which Democratic presidential candidate would have the worst shot of beating Trump, one way to look at it is to ask, out of the entire 2020 field, which candidate reminds you of Hillary Clinton the most?
Elizabeth Warren is 69; Hillary Clinton turned 69 right before Election Day 2016. Both lawyers, both served in the Obama administration, both elected to the Senate in a big Northeastern state. Both women were trailblazers in high-powered legal circles; one attended an Ivy league law school, one taught in an Ivy league law school.
Clinton took a lot of grief about implausible claims of being “dead broke” when she left the White House or her Tuzla Dash; Warren gets a lot of grief about her implausible claims of Native American heritage. Hillary Clinton faced accusations that her career’s rapid ascent involved insider deals and dishonesty; Warren faces accusations that her career’s rapid ascent involved dishonesty about minority status and institutions eager to tout that unsupported claim. For women who have risen to the top of national politics, they’ve faced criticism for being tone-deaf about how they’ve handled sensitive issues.
Both have friends and colleagues who insist they are warm and personable in private; both face accusations of being cold and stiff and inauthentic on the campaign trail. (Recall Warren’s beer chat on Instagram.) Both face the criticism that they’re not “likeable,” and both have allies insisting that criticism is sexist. Warren may face the accusation that her speeches have a lecturing tone, but for most of her adult life, she’s been employed in a job that involves giving lectures.
Both think of themselves as technocrats — insightful policy wonks who are best-positioned to enact sweeping changes to the nation’s health-care system and economic policies because they’ve researched the topics deeply. While both have lived quite comfortably in adulthood, they both see themselves as defenders of the impoverished and downtrodden. Both discuss harder times in earlier chapters of their life and face accusations that they lost touch long ago and don’t really relate to problems of today’s poor.
Both women want a much larger role for the federal government in regulating the economy, but both reject the label “socialist.” Hillary’s campaign tangled with the “Bernie Bros,” and Warren’s is tangling with them now. Both found a portion of their traditional protectionist agenda in alignment with President Trump; Warren and Clinton pledged to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, although Clinton flip-flopped on that issue.
Perhaps most significantly, Trump is likely to criticize Warren the way he criticized Clinton — as an elite who enjoyed the benefits of a rigged system. If Warren gets the nomination, we’ll hear a lot of “Pocahontas” jabs, but probably some version of the “Crooked Hillary,” “the queen of corruption,” “Lyin’ Hillary” attacks. Whether you think it’s sexist or not, Trump and his allies are likely to paint Warren as an insufferable know-it-all nag, an academic who thinks she knows how to best manage every detail of your life, condescending and badgering. For at least four years, that persona will be addressing you from the Oval Office, telling you how things are going to change and how it’s for your own good.
It’s an open question about whether these attacks will be as effective against Warren as they were against Hillary Clinton. There is no Warren Foundation with foreign donors, Warren’s husband didn’t generate a slew of embarrassing sex scandals, Warren has no Benghazi-like foreign-policy debacle in her past, she’s not seen as a continuation of a political dynasty, and Warren hasn’t been front and center in American politics since 1992. It is likely that a factor in the 2016 election results was Americans’ sheer exhaustion with the Clintons.
Still, if you’re the Trump campaign, you probably see Elizabeth Warren as the candidate who is the closest to Hillary Clinton 2.0. And that’s the one kind of candidate that Trump has beaten in a general election.
The Great Culling of the Democratic Field Has Begun
Guess who didn’t make the debate? “Those who did not meet the threshold for the first debate include: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel; Miramar, Florida Mayor Wayne Messam; and Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts.”
I certainly knew getting in at the time I did would give me fewer opportunities to be on shows with you and others, but I had a job to do and if it ultimately ever came down to choosing between getting Medicaid reauthorized, getting 100,000 Montanans health care, versus getting in earlier just to bump up on another poll, I would make that same choice time and time again.
Great. But you made a choice, and this is the consequence of that choice. Accept it.
Gravel, you had your shot. When you announced this year, people were shocked — mostly because they figured you had passed away a few years ago. You’re the only candidate that Bernie Sanders can call old.
Mayor Messam, you are so obscure, there are no good jokes to be told about you.
Moulton . . . think about it, you couldn’t reach a threshold of polling and donor support that was met by Eric Swalwell, Tim Ryan, Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney, and Bill de Blasio.
Guys, there is no great surge of support awaiting you just around the corner. It is not your year, and it never was.
Of Course, Trump Would Accept Foreign Help Again.
Meanwhile, as for the man they seek to replace, why is there surprise that Trump said he would accept opposition research or dirt from a foreign government if offered in the 2020 cycle? He never apologizes. He never admits mistakes. In his mind, something or someone who helps him is good, regardless of all other factors, and something or someone who criticizes him is bad, regardless of all other factors. This is why he keeps talking about how nice those letters from Kim Jong Un are. He cannot assess the quality of someone or something outside of the context of self-interest.
He is who he is, he will not change, he will not modify or adapt, and most of us figured that out a long time ago. This is why the “You won’t believe what Trump said” coverage gets tuned out after a while. Yes, we will believe it.
ADDENDA: Yesterday I taped another long and wide-ranging conversation with Jonah over at his podcast, The Remnant. Look for it sometime next week.
Joe Scarborough mentioned a recent Corner post of mine on his program. I suspect that “American Christians have never been more attacked” is the sort of rhetoric that attracts attention and probably motivates followers. “Hey, we’re actually winning the cultural argument on abortion” probably does not get people to open up their checkbooks.
Making the click-through worthwhile: The anti-vaccination forces continue to gain strength, Joe Biden makes promises he knows he can’t keep, and Howard Schultz’s back turns out to be a key factor in the 2020 presidential cycle.
Celebrities, Politicians, and Hucksters Are Willing to Kill You
Earlier this week, actress Jessica Biel joined anti-vaccination advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as he lobbied California state lawmakers to oppose a law that would make it more difficult for parents to get exemptions from state rules requiring children to receive vaccines before being enrolled in public or private elementary and secondary schools. Biel has a child with Justin Timberlake. Forget his old lyric about “bringing sexy back”; the family is bringing measles back.
Biel joins renounced scientific minds Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and Rosie O’Donnell in warning the American people to avoid vaccines that protect them from dead diseases at all costs.
(After this newsletter was sent, Biel posted a statement on Instagram declaring, “I support children getting vaccinations and I also support families having the right to make educated medical decisions for their children alongside their physicians. My concern with #SB276 is solely regarding medical exemptions.” For what it is worth, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. characterized her views as “my body, my choice.” and if you support vaccinations, you probably don’t want to be photographed alongside one of the loudest anti-vaccination voices as you lobby legislators on this issue.)
The mother of an unvaccinated child here in the New York suburbs says eating papaya helps to combat measles. The father of another child who has not been immunized believes that big pharmaceutical companies are paying millions of dollars to doctors, government officials and even judges to bury the truth about vaccine complications.
Another mother says the souls of her children are on a journey that vaccines would impede. “As a parent, for me, a lot of my job is to just not put extra obstacles in that soul’s way,” she said.
All three parents represent an anti-vaccine fervor on the left that is increasingly worrying health authorities. They often cluster around progressive private schools that are part of the Waldorf educational movement, and at the Waldorf school here, 60 percent of the school’s 300 or so students were not vaccinated against measles and other highly contagious diseases as of late last year.
Your child’s education is your business, but if your child is at a Waldorf school . . . you might have reason to be concerned:
There are about 150 Waldorf schools in North America, including several in the New York region.
New data from the California Department of Public Health shows that the rate of vaccinations for San Diego County kindergartners is declining and falling behind other kindergarten students statewide.
According to information from the state, San Diego kindergarteners had a 92.5 percent vaccination rate in the 2018-2019 school year, which is below the 94.8 percent average for kindergarten students across the state.
San Diego County is below the 95 percent vaccination threshold which public health experts say is necessary to prevent an outbreak of measles or another highly contagious virus.
Recall that back in 2014, President Trump tweeted, “Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!” At least he got the message at some point. Back in April, Trump made his first comments about vaccinations as president, telling reporters, “They have to get the shots. The vaccinations are so important. This is really going around now. They have to get their shots.”
These anti-vaccine celebrities — not really a bunch of rock-ribbed conservatives, I notice — are getting broad public condemnation. But while we’re denouncing famous people for telling people false information about their health . . . could we all muster a little more ire for Joe Biden telling people he can cure cancer, instead of most people averting their eyes and pretending they didn’t hear it?
Some argue this is the equivalent of John F. Kennedy declaring in 1962 that the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. But that was not a campaign pledge; it was not a carrot dangled to the American people, conditional upon Kennedy being reelected. Secondly, if you read the text, Kennedy never promises it or guarantees it. The closest he comes is when he says, “I think we’re going to do it, and I think that we must pay what needs to be paid.” Kennedy did not undersell the challenges, difficulties or the risk of failure.
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
The tone of Biden’s statement is different: “I’ve worked so hard in my career that, I promise you, if I’m elected president, you’re going to see the single most important thing that changes America: We’re going to cure cancer.”
If America could simply buy a cure for the more than 100 varieties of cancer, we would spend that money in a heartbeat. Finding a cure for cancer is hard because cancer cells are always changing, and the cancer cells in a patient’s body aren’t all the same. Research showed that “cells collected from four different regions of the same kidney cancer tumor were in fact quite different.” This means that even if you develop a treatment really effective against one type of cell, it may not be effective against others, and what worked at one time may not work at a later time:
It also means the cancer you find today may differ from the one you try to treat in the weeks and months to come. With modern sequencing and analysis, it’s now possible to track cancer cell evolution and begin to predict the changes before they occur. Nonetheless, it’s much harder to hit a moving target than a stationary one, and even a highly effective, precisely targeted combination of therapies may not succeed if enough cancer cells survive initial treatment and further evolve.
The Flat White of Presidential Candidates Is off the Menu for a While
Howard Schultz — remember him? — wants you to know that he isn’t suspending his interest in a presidential campaign because Joe Biden is the Democratic frontrunner. Instead, he’s being sidelined by back pain. In a letter to supporters, he announces:
While I was in Arizona, I unfortunately experienced acute back pain that required me to cut my travels short. Over the following two months, I underwent three separate back surgeries. Today, I am feeling much better, and my doctors foresee a full recovery so long as I rest and rehabilitate. I have decided to take the summer to do just that.
I take this detour from the road reluctantly.
See, this is why you’re supposed to stretch extensively before you flirt with an independent bid for president. Schultz stretched credulity, but not his flexors and erector spinae.
Everybody and their brother has enjoyed dunking on Schultz — no Dunkin’ Donuts pun intended — so I’ll take a moment to defend him. He represents a philosophy and worldview that was, until 2016 or so, common and in fact dominant in Democratic party circles: socially liberal and supporting government intervention in the economy, up to a point. This isn’t really centrism, even though media voices often describe it this way.
Schultz was reasonably well-informed, more interested in listening than speaking, and polite, courteous, and soft-spoken in his public appearances. In a political media world that thrived on drama and conflict, he was amiably boring and conciliatory. He disappeared from the cable-news cycle quickly because he had no interest in feeding its appetites.
For holding the mainstream Democratic ideas of 2016 in the year 2019, and publicly contending the party should stay where it is, he became the Democratic grassroots public enemy number one, overnight. The entire Democratic-media-entertainment complex turned on him overnight; Stephen Colbert started making jokes about how lousy Starbucks bathrooms were; the Daily Beast suddenly discovered that the music selection at Starbucks featured too many white artists; and Mika Brzezinski demanded Schultz answer, “How much does an 18-ounce box of Cheerios cost?” The reaction to Schultz’s bland personality and once-mainstream ideas was more illuminating than he was.
The party faithful, while understandably eager to take on the loathed President Trump, are perhaps not dedicated enough to sit through four hours of listening to people who are rather transparently hawking their books, auditioning for third-tier cabinet posts or jockeying to be the Jim Webb of the 2020 primary debates. And senior Democrats really should consider whether they want the party represented to a national audience by some of these goofballs.
*My aliases: Edison Carter, Dale Cooper, Henry Jones Jr.
Due to a technical error, an old edition of the Morning Jolt was sent out. This is the new Morning Jolt. We apologize for the error.
Making the click-through worthwhile: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez explains why annual salaries for members of Congress should be raised from $174,000 to $178,900 and how the increase is “not even like a raise,”; an inspiring display of courage in the streets of Hong Kong; and the year gets even more embarrassing for Virginia Democrats.
Ocasio-Cortez: Members of Congress Turn to Insider Trading Because They Are Underpaid
If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did not exist, conservatives would have to invent her.
Her remarks on increasing the Congressional salary from $174,000 to $178,900, as a cost of living increase, in their entirety, verbatim:
There’s so much pressure to turn to lobbying firms and to cash in on members’ service after people leave, because of precisely of this issue. So it may be politically convenient and it may make you look good in the short term, for saying ‘oh, we’re not voting for pay increases,’ but we should be fighting for pay increases for every American worker. We should be fighting for a fifteen dollar minimum wage pegged to inflation so that everybody in the United States with a salary, with a wage gets a cost-of-living increase. Members of Congress, retail workers, everybody should get cost-of-living increases to account for the changes in our economy, and then when we don’t do that, it only increases the pressure on members to exploit loopholes like insider trading loopholes to make it on the backend…
That’s my issue, is that it’s superficial. You can vote against pay increases all you want. It’s – in my opinion, voting against a pay – it’s not even like a raise, it’s a cost of living adjustment. So, you can vote against a cost of living adjustment all you want, and it’ll look good on its surface, but it will – every cost of living adjustment that, that gets bypassed, is voting to increase the pressure to exploit loopholes and legal loopholes to kind of lean on other ways to enrich oneself from service. And so my whole side of it is like, it may not be optics, it may not be great optics, it may not, like, look the best in terms of your opponents could use it, exploit it as a political issue. But in substance, you might as well be transparent about a cost of living increase, fight for a cost of living increase for all American workers, peg them to a minimum wage to a cost of living increase, and then on top of it, close all of the loopholes that a lot of people use when it comes to, you know, sitting on a committee and knowing what legislation may be coming down the, the loophole and changing your stock holdings, or letting — you know these are real issues, and I don’t think that voting against a cost of living increase is going to negate the actual issues at hand. In fact, I think it only increases the pressure.
For those wondering whether a salary of only $174,000 forces members of Congress to seek out loopholes and “cash out” as lobbyists, the current base congressional salary puts members in the top 8 percent in the country, assuming their spouse has no income. They get an office budget — currently somewhere in the $1.2 million to $1.38 million range — based upon their distance from their district (for travel expenses) and the number of people it contains. They can travel, at taxpayer expense, on “Codels” — Congressional Delegations — for official business. Best of all:
. . . “members of Congress become eligible to receive a pension at the age of 62 if they have completed a total of 5 years of service. Members who have completed a total of 20 years of service are eligible for a pension at age 50, are at any age after completing a total of 25 years of service. . . . No matter their age when they retire, the amount of the members’ pension is based on their total years of service and the average of their highest three years of salary.”
Courage in the Streets of Hong Kong
Last week, residents of Hong Kong turned out in massive numbers to mark the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square massacre, and now protests against a proposed extradition law that critics contend would allow virtually anyone in the city to be picked up and detained in mainland China. The public outrage and protests against the law have turned violent:
Hong Kong’s police commissioner says the scene around the city’s government headquarters was “chaotic” and is appealing for protesters to leave the area.
Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung told reporters Wednesday that officers used batons, pepper spray, beanbag rounds, rubber bullets, water hoses and tear gas against the demonstrators.
He said police took action after a large group of masked protesters charged onto the roads surrounding the complex in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district and started throwing objects including metal barriers at officers. He called the situation a riot.
Lo said: “This is very dangerous action that could kill someone.”
He said several people including some officers had been injured.
Thousands of protesters have descended on the area to try to prevent Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government from pushing through deeply unpopular extradition bill.
Hong Kong is part of China, but maintains a certain amount of autonomy under an agreement in place until 2047 — 50 years after the agreement that required the British to hand the city-state over to the Chinese government. Hong Kong has always had its own culture and many of its residents have no interest in becoming merely the wealthiest corner of the unfree Chinese state. Over at Slate, Joshua Keating summarizes the growing clash between Beijing and the city’s activists trying to keep an independent political climate intact:
As China’s political and economic clout has grown, so has the pressure on Hong Kong. The city’s special status is due to end in 2047, by prior arrangement, but leaders in Beijing don’t seem to want to wait that long, creating several flashpoints in recent years. In 2012, Hong Kongers took to the streets to protest a new school curriculum that included a “patriotic education” requirement. In 2014, the Occupy Central movement, also known as the Umbrella Revolution, shut down the city’s financial center in response to a new election law that allows a Beijing-approved election committee to prescreen political candidates for the city’s chief executive office.
This world can seem pretty grim some days. Vladimir Putin’s grip on Russia seems as strong as ever. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman thought he could kill Jamal Khashoggi in the consulate in Istanbul with minimal consequence. Iran’s leaders openly defend their policies of executing gays. In Turkey, Recep Erdoğan just nullified an Istanbul mayoral election when he found the result inconvenient, and the world is watching the re-vote scheduled for June 23.
But right now, over in Hong Kong, a big group of ordinary citizens — right after marking the massacre in Tiananmen Square, knowing the potential deadly consequences of defiance — are standing up to the world’s biggest and arguably most powerful authoritarian government in the world and saying “no.” The Chinese government is almost certainly contemplating a brutal crackdown. The odds of those protesters emerging unscathed, and being able to lead anything resembling a normal life, are not good. But they’re standing up and protesting anyway, because they don’t want to live in a city where the police can knock on your door in the middle of the night and take you to a Chinese prison.
Virginia, Strongly Challenging All Other States for the ‘Most Embarrassing Politicians’ Title
Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance (D-Petersburg) lost by a wide margin to former delegate Joe Morrissey for the nomination in her district outside Richmond after campaigning with Gov. Ralph Northam, former governor Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine.
In 2014, Democrats pressured Morrissey into resigning from the House of Delegates after he pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor after prosecutors said he had sex with Myrna Warren, his then-17-year-old receptionist.
He spent days at the General Assembly while sleeping nights at the Henrico County jail as he served a three-month work-release sentence.
His first attempt at a political comeback was in 2016, when he ran for mayor of Richmond — a race he led in the polls until his campaign tanked after a female legal client accused him of making unwanted sexual advances.
Here’s the really bad news: No Republican ran in this district.
ADDENDUM: You know the drill: buy, buy for a friend, buy a copy for Father’s Day. If you have bought, thank you, and if you have thoughts about the book upon completion –– or heck, maybe even before you finish, drop me a line or rate it on Amazon. I am told one of the best things you can do to support a book is to offer high ratings on the site and leave comments about what you liked.
As I’ve mentioned, for now, the book is only available through Amazon, so you will probably not find it in your local bookstore — unless they order a copy themselves. This is part of the deal when you publish through Amazon; after a certain period of time, other venues will have the option of offering the book if it sells well enough.
Making the click-through worthwhile: an unsent letter from Osama bin Laden you’ve probably never heard about, and its lessons about terrorism and the American people; a Trump critic explains how Joe Biden’s shift on abortion helps Trump in 2020; and the Democratic candidates show a lack of interest in some big issues.
The Terrorism of Tomorrow
On June 1, 2016, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a letter written by Osama bin Laden to the American people that was found in his compound in Abbottabad. The letter is undated but appears to have been written early in Barack Obama’s presidency. Despite the letter’s surprising content, reporting about the letter never really broke through the endless news cycle.
To the American people, Peace be upon those who follow the righteous track. Hereafter, The subject of my talk to you is the overwhelming control of capital (Var.: money) and its effect on the ongoing war between us. I direct my talk specifically to those who support real change, especially the youth.
Your current president [Obama] warns you now about the enormity of capital control and it has a cycle whereby it devours humanity when it is devoid of the precepts of God’s law (Shari’a). The tyranny of the control of capital by large companies has harmed your economy, as it did ours, and that was my motivation for this talk. Tens of millions of you are below the poverty line, millions have lost their homes, and millions have lost their jobs to mark the highest average unemployment in 60 years. Your financial system in its totality was about to collapse within 48 hours had not the administration reverted to using taxpayer’s money to rescue the vultures by using the assets of the victims…
Whoever enters the White House, even with good intentions to safeguard the peoples’ interest, is no more than a train operator. His only task is to keep the train on the tracks that are laid down by the lobbyists in New York and Washington to serve their interests first, even if it is counter to your security and economy. Any president who tries to move the train from the lobbyist’s tracks to a track for the American people’s interests will confront very strong opposition and pressures from the lobbyists.
That is not . . . all that far away from a bunch of recent speeches across the political spectrum, is it? Concentration of wealth, the evils of capitalism, the greed of Wall Street elites, and the power of lobbyists. God only knows that if bin Laden actually believed any of the stuff he was writing, or whether he was just tailoring his message for an American audience. But this letter suggests he had figured out how to echo the populist arguments emerging from anger, fear, and frustration of the Great Recession. One wonders if bin Laden hadn’t had a nighttime visit from the Navy SEALS in 2011, whether at some point he would have reemerged with videotape messages that were familiar — and perhaps even persuasive — to many Americans.
Since 9/11, the United States of America has had good days and bad days, but on the whole, we’ve been lucky. For the most part, our enemies don’t really understand us. Al-Qaeda believed that destroying the Twin Towers would destroy the American economy. Khalid Sheik Mohammad once told his interrogator that he and his allies expected a completely different American response to the attack: “How was I supposed to know that cowboy George Bush would announce he wanted us ‘dead or alive’ and then invade Afghanistan to hunt us down?’” ISIS thought their videos of cruelty and barbarity would intimidate and terrify Americans, instead of outraging them.
A lot of topics and ideas shaped the story I wrote in Between Two Scorpions, but a big one was the question, “If you were a terrorist who really understood American culture and how we think and what frightens us, what would you do?”
Islamism may have some surprisingconverts, but it’s never going to have widespread appeal to those of other faiths or no faith. The strict lifestyle and brutal consequences for disobedience aren’t even that appealing among Muslims. The primary appeal of Islamism may not even really be theological; it may simply be the way it offers a religious justification for some of humanity’s cruelest and most destructive impulses.
Remember Abu Musab al-Zarqawi? He was not always religious: “He was a thug. He was in and out of prison. He was a petty criminal. It was rumored that he had worked as a pimp. He led a very different life initially growing up, as a teenager, as a young 20-something, than he ended up in at his death.” He was a violent, brutal, cruel guy who found an institution that valued and rewarded those traits.
A lot of Americans who have malevolence in their hearts have no particular interest in becoming jihadists. But the United States has no shortage of angry young men with a wide variety of grievances, and we see their twisted manifestos and litanies after every mass shooting or other act of violence. “Columbiners” are angry about the indignities of teenage life and their high schools; “Incels” are angry about women; serial killers feed their twisted obsessions; and sometimes, like in the case of the Las Vegas shooter, a homicidal madman takes his motives to the grave.
The ideologies may differ, but the result is always the same: dead or wounded innocent people. The Orlando nightclub shooter who pledged loyalty to ISIS was filled with rage at America. But so was the guy who shot up the Pittsburgh synagogue, the guy who shot up the congressional softball game, and the guy who mailed non-functioning bombs to critics of President Trump. We have no shortage of Americans who yearn to find meaning and validation through killing their fellow citizens.
I won’t give away spoilers for the novel, but you don’t have to be a mastermind to see that if you hate America, you’ve got a huge resource in our steady supply of angry people full of grievances and hungering for the chance to lash out. I thought about how a group with malevolent intent could find angry, violence-minded people, groom and train them, communicate with them, keep them far from any law-enforcement or intelligence radar, help them select targets for maximum effect on the public, and then, once everything is in place, hit us in ways that would undermine our trust in our fellow citizens the most. I suspect this is the part of the story that made Mark Greaney, author of the Gray Man Series, call the novel “powerful, real, and relevant,” and John A. Daly, author of the Sean Coleman Thriller Series, to tout the novel’s “recognizable backdrop of societal division and cultural ruthlessness.”
Lest you think this is a horror story, the other side of the coin is that this is a country that is full of good, brave, noble people — in our armed forces, our law-enforcement agencies from the federal level to the local level, our intelligence community, the forensic accountants chasing down terrorist financing, and in every community where concerned citizens and first responders run towards the threat instead of from it. I try to remain optimistic about the future of the United States while being clear-eyed about the threats facing us. Terrorism discussions often mention the term “soft targets,” but in the United States, as many would-be killers have learned to their regret, even the softest-looking targets can have tough people inside.
Separately, the capabilities of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency are jaw-dropping, and I’m just basing my writings on what has already been declassified and publicly disclosed. For example, if you’ve ever wondered whether the NSA could spy on your laptop if you visited particular web sites . . . yeah, they can:
Her next move used an NSA program called Quantum, a name that Dee always thought must have come from some overeager James Bond fan. When a computer like Fein’s laptop connected to a website like CNN.com or the New York Times, it received data from several different sources—the Times server, as well as some banner ads and images that the site’s advertisers kept on different servers, as well as some additional code within the page that directed the browser what fonts to use and how to lay out the page. The NSA exploited a vulnerability in that additional code, slipping their own program into the user’s computer.
Anyway, in the end, it’s a thriller novel and meant to be enjoyed. I hope you will give it a try — at $3.99, the ebook is probably worth the gamble. (If you’ve got Kindle Unlimited, it’s free!) In addition to next week’s event in South Carolina, I’m attempting to line up some events and signings in other areas. (If your local bookstore would be interested in hosting an event, drop me a line!)
And now the rest of the day’s news . . .
How Abortion Supporters Just Made Trump’s Reelection Effort a Little Easier
By forcing Joe Biden to abandon his support for the Hyde Amendment — which currently prevents the funding of abortions through Medicaid — the abortion lobby and activist liberals have taken the first, major step toward reelecting Trump.
The problem here is not only that Biden appears weak and vacillating on an issue of conscience — which he does. Or that he will now be pressured to repudiate every hint of moderation in his 36-year legislative career — though he will be… Supporting the amendment has let them claim neutrality on abortion even while being effectively pro-choice. For Biden, this fig leaf is now removed.
It is difficult for any leader to defy his party on any issue of great importance, and our current era of polarization is only making it harder. Think of Tony Blair or Joe Lieberman backing the Iraq War, Dick Cheney supporting gay marriage, John McCain touting campaign-finance reform, David Cameron on Brexit, or perhaps now Nancy Pelosi on impeachment. If the leader doesn’t want what the movement he leads wants, that leader probably won’t be leading for much longer. Thus, every major Democratic leader will eventually end up supporting abortion funding, gun control, vast expansions of government power, etcetera. There are 24 Democratic candidates — with, what, five or six having a real shot at the nomination? — but the differences in policy will turn out be pretty negligible. Whether it’s Biden or Bernie Sanders, they’re leading the same party with the same outlook.
The Presidency Requires Some Thought, Guys
I strongly suspect that a large portion of the thundering herd of Democratic candidates have not really thought through what they would do as president. Peter Beinart notices that most of the Democratic candidates have little or nothing to say about China.
How do the major Democratic presidential candidates feel about this potentially epic shift? We don’t really know. They rarely bring it up on their own. Bernie Sanders says nothing about China on his website. Neither do Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, or Kirsten Gillibrand. All Joe Biden says about China on his website is that it’s “rising.” On hers, Amy Klobuchar pledges to “invest in diplomacy and rebuild the State Department and modernize our military to stay one step ahead of China.” Kamala Harris’s website says the United States should “work in lockstep with our partners” to confront “China’s unfair trade practices.” That’s about as substantive as it gets.
For that matter, have we heard more from these candidates on challenges with Russia or Iran or North Korea beyond “work closer with our allies”?
Making the click-through worthwhile: A handful of long-shot Democratic presidential candidates reach the inevitable stage of whining about how difficult and unfair everything is, social-media companies are slowly strangling what made their platforms worthwhile, a bit of book news, and a remembrance of the complicated legacy of someone who chose to leave us far too soon.
Reality Is Hitting the Democratic Presidential Candidates Like a Folding Chair to the Head
Some Democratic presidential campaigns are like the protagonist in an M. Night Shyamalan movie: They’re dead already, they just don’t know it. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say they were never really alive.
The first Democratic presidential primary debates will be held in two weeks. The threshold for participation is exceptionally low, particularly for any candidate who announced near the beginning of the year: Either reach just 1 percent in three surveys approved by the Democratic National Committee or have 65,000 or more donors that include 200 people from at least 20 states. If you think reaching that threshold is difficult, keep in mind, this limit has already been reached by Andrew Yang, Marianne Williamson, John Delaney, and Irving Schmidlap.
(Okay, I threw Irving Schmidlap in there just to see if you were paying attention.)
Top Montana Democrats sent a scathing letter to Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez on Friday in response to the DNC’s decision to change its debate qualification rules in a way that would prevent Gov. Steve Bullock, a 2020 presidential candidate, from participating.
“We know many consider us to be fly-over country or little more than an ideal vacation spot, but we know we’ve offered countless invaluable contributions to the Democratic Party and our nation as a whole,” the letter says. “The recent implementation of extra qualification rules for the June debates in Miami could deny the Democratic Party a voice representing rural America.”
Of course. It can’t just be that Bullock is largely unknown outside of his home state, he jumped in too late, and Democratic primary voters are satisfied with all of the other 23 choices. No, no, it has to be a sinister effort of those urban elitists to dismiss the voices of rural American.
[Seth] Moulton admitted he won’t make the cut for the first primary debates during an appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s nationally syndicated radio show Thursday.
“No, I’m not going to make the first debate, but I knew that, getting in so late. But I think that’s OK,” Moulton said. “This first debate’s going to have 20 people. Folks are barely going to get a chance to speak.”
That part is probably true, which is why the debate is unlikely to be a rousing success for the bottom 15 or so candidates. Ten candidates over a two-hour span would be 12 minutes each, and that’s before we take out time for questions, audience applause, etcetera. After you finish your answer, the audience is probably going to hear from nine candidates before they hear from you again. And then there’s a whole other night of candidates!
But if you’re not on the debate stage, you’re missing out on even that limited opportunity to reach potential primary supporters. A lot of these presidential candidates are walking around with the delusion that they will make some appearances in Iowa and New Hampshire — states full of voters who run into three presidential candidates on the way to the grocery store — and somehow win over these voters through the sheer force of their personality. Guys, it’s not going to work. In 2007, Connecticut senator Chris Dodd moved with his family to Iowa and enrolled his children in Iowa schools. He finished with less than one percent in the 2008 caucus.
What these candidates don’t want to hear (but must) is that if they didn’t qualify for the first debate, there’s no guarantee that they’ll qualify for the second debate, and the outlook really isn’t good for the third or fourth debates. The DNC recently announced that for the third and fourth debates — in September and October respectively — candidates must hit 2 percent in four polls from a slightly changed list of approved pollsters and have 130,000 unique donors from the date of their campaign’s creation.
If that two percent polling threshold were in place now, Kirsten Gillibrand, Jay Inslee, Tulsi Gabbard, Bill de Blasio, John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet, Julian Castro, Eric Swalwell, Andrew Yang, Marianne Williamson, and John Delaney would not be on the stage, as well as Moulton and Bullock. Amy Klobuchar would be just above the threshold.
Gillibrand called the 65,000-donor threshold an “odd measurable” that is “random and inaccurate.” Although she added, “They’re the DNC, so I’ll follow the rules that are given and I’ll have to play by the rules,” the senator said the measure “is not determinative of any of the things that matter about whether I’d beat Trump.”
“Because if Madonna was running, she’d have a million supporters. She’d have more than anybody,” Gillibrand concluded.“What having followers is a measurable of is whether you’re famous, it’s a measure of whether people know enough about you to send you a dollar.”
If people wonder why complaints about fairness are so frequently ignored, it’s because of circumstances like this one. The DNC is being really generous, their thresholds are low, and if you can’t reach one percent — one percent! In either national or early primary state polls! — then no, you really don’t belong up there on that debate stage. You’re not supposed to run for president because you want a national reputation; you’re supposed to have a national reputation before you run for president. Presidential campaigns are not supposed to be publicity stunts or longer book tours. If you want to be the next commander in chief, I don’t want to year you whining about how hard all of this is. The job that you claim to be qualified for is going to have much tougher challenges than reaching one percent in a survey or attracting 130,000 donors.
Social-Media Companies Are Slowly Making Their Product Unusable
My advice: Delete your Facebook, yesterday. Don’t get your news from Twitter. The issues of free speech on social media will no longer matter to you. They don’t matter to me. I’ve made a decision not to subjugate myself to the whims of our new overlords. They can open their platform to everyone from neo-Nazis to Kim Jong-un, or they can have a litmus test that includes denouncing Donald Trump or the pope at regular intervals — a sort of school-bathroom pass fitting for our generation’s extended adolescence in which Mark Zuckerberg plays the schoolmarm. It won’t affect my life either way. In my own mind at least, I am free because these things no longer define my life. I am happier as a result. I can still read a book of some length, an ability I see dropping off sharply among my peers.
Imagine a day when Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey or Susan Wojcicki or all three announced:
We’ve tried to be a platform for public discourse, but it’s just too difficult and as many users have noticed, we’re not really interested in that role. We established these companies to make money, and we’ve grown into a role we never initially envisioned. And after years of trying to play that role we never sought, we’ve rethought everything and concluded we’re not interested in letting both sides have a say. We have strong political views, and we’re going to shut down content on our platforms that we don’t like. We believe that our platforms can help build a more progressive future, and we will de-platform anyone who we feel stands in the way. There will not be an appeals process. The range of acceptable opinions will run from about the New York Times op-ed page to Jacobin. We’re a private company, there’s nothing you can do about it, so get used to it.
Would we at least credit them for honesty? Would they be happier? Would we be happier, knowing that the only solution is to make a different company with a different philosophy?
For Those Who Pre-Ordered, We’re Almost There . . .
Tomorrow is publication day for Between Two Scorpions, so if you’ve ordered the e-book, sometime around midnight it should instantly download into your Kindle. If you’ve ordered the paperback, copies head out the door tomorrow, on their way to you. If you missed the chance to order the paperback at $11.69 price, you missed your window.
As of this morning, almost 70 people have RSVPed for the book event in Bluffton, South Carolina June 17. If you’re interested, please RSVP on that EventBrite link so we know how much food to get — and if you RSVP, please come, otherwise I’ll be eating leftover food all week. We will have about 100 copies of the paperback on hand.
Stunning: Since 2006, 73 Percent of U.S. Service Casualties Are ‘Unrelated to War’
With Memorial Day not long ago and the 75th anniversary of D-Day this week, hopefully much of the country has been thinking about those who wore our country’s uniform. Thursday brought sad news that reminded us that everyone who puts on the uniform in the armed services ends up accepting some level of risk, even if they never see combat.
A vehicle loaded with West Point cadets on summer training overturned on a dirt road Thursday, killing one cadet and injuring 22 other passengers, according to the U.S. Military Academy.
Twenty cadets and two soldiers were injured when their light medium tactical vehicle overturned around 6:45 a.m. off Route 293, said Lt. Col. Christopher Ophardt. The vehicle, a military truck that can carry personnel, had two people in the front cab and the rest in the back.
“Since 2006 … a total of 16,652 active-duty personnel and mobilized reservists have died while serving in the US armed forces. Seventy-three percent of these casualties occurred under circumstances unrelated to war,” the report states.
It is a trend that has only seemed to pick up momentum of late, as noncombat deaths have exceeded the number of military members killed in action every year since 2015.
Perhaps some of these deaths are unavoidable. But are we certain that the military has all the funding it needs for sufficient training, sufficient equipment, and a manageable pace of operations?
Jim Scuitto’s Quiet Indictment of Obama’s Foreign Policy
CNN national security correspondent Jim Sciutto wrote The Shadow War, an interesting and well-researched book looking at U.S. policy towards Russia and China over the past decades — and how successive administrations have underestimated the threats from these two countries. This is a little more interesting than usual because Sciutto spent two years as chief of staff and senior policy adviser to U.S. ambassador China Gary Locke, and he does not skimp on criticism of the Obama administration’s policies, quoting other quietly frustrated and disappointed Obama administration officials as well. (Of course, now that I’ve pointed out Sciutto’s criticism of the Obama policies, the usual nutty lefties on Twitter are now attacking him as a pro-Trump shill, which is ridiculous.)
You can’t begrudge Sciutto for keeping his book focused on Russia and China, but to me the plethora of examples illustrated a systemic problem. If the Obama administration was so persistently naïve and so willfully blind to risks and threats emerging from Russia and China, why would we think the same foreign-policy minds, guided by the same philosophies and worldviews, would have a more correct assessment of Iran and its nuclear ambitions? Or the Syrian civil war? Or North Korea?
Joe Biden: Hey, Forget All Those Years I Supported the Hyde Amendment
Elsewhere at CNN, Rebecca Buck notices that Joe Biden and his campaign completely reversed position on the Hyde amendment so suddenly that the surrogates were left defending a position that the candidate himself wouldn’t defend. “Just how abrupt/poorly orchestrated was Joe Biden’s shift on [the] Hyde [amendment]? Wednesday night, Biden campaign co-chair Cedric Richmond went on [Chris Cuomo’s program to] defend Biden’s support for the Hyde amendment. Less than 24 hours later, Biden reversed his position.”
The Hyde amendment bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion except in the cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. For a guy who’s supposed to be enjoying a huge lead, flip-flopping on taxpayer-financed abortions is a panicked move. And Biden’s explanation doesn’t sound all that plausible — particularly considering how he’s spent years insisting he was “middle of the road” on abortion.
“I have supported the Hyde Amendment like many, many others have,” Biden said Thursday, “because there were sufficient monies and circumstances where women were able to exercise that right — women of color, poor women, women who were not able to have access — and it was not under attack as it is now. But circumstances have changed . . . I’ve been struggling with the problems that Hyde now represents.”
As I’ve emphasized, Joe Biden isn’t really a centrist. He’s a guy who moves to wherever the center of the Democratic party is. As it moves further left, so will he.
Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and the Draft for Vietnam War
An interesting theory from a Democratic strategist talking to Michael Graham: When lesser-known Democratic presidential candidates start focusing on Trump as a draft-dodger, they’re trying to introduce the issue to the discussion, in order to take a shot at Joe Biden.
Military veterans running on their record of service is nothing new. And criticism of an opponent’s military background — or lack thereof — isn’t unusual either, as the Bill Clinton and John Kerry campaigns can attest. But by highlighting Trump’s record, they’re also turning a spotlight on other candidates who were eligible for service during the Vietnam War, including Biden.
In fact, some Democratic strategists believe that’s their true goal.
“They’re not talking about Donald Trump. They’re talking about Joe Biden,” one long-time Democratic activist told InsideSources.
Some might groan and wonder when our politics will not revolve around the controversies of the Baby Boomers’ youth. But the younger candidates in the Democratic field are putting a tough question to primary voters: Are we sure we want to run a 76-year-old against a 72-year-old incumbent?
‘He’s Just Not as Strong a Contender as He Looked Like the First Time He Ran.’
Sanders is still in second place, and he retains a strong base of support among progressives. He’s certainly not out of the race. But he’s nowhere near where he hoped he’d be. The Democratic base is obviously more swayed by Biden than last cycle’s insurgent; Sanders hasn’t managed to position himself as the logical successor. And he’s having trouble establishing himself as the main challenger. Despite enormous name recognition, he hasn’t run away from Warren, Harris, or even the previously unknown South Bend Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg. Sanders had a head start, but Biden lapped him, and nobody else has fallen back. That’s not a good sign.
Sanders hasn’t made any single mistake. He’s just not as strong a contender as he looked like the first time he ran. After 2016, his fans could reasonably hope that some 40 percent of the Democratic base who voted for him were committed to him personally. As it turns out, though, much of his support last cycle was from people who wanted an alternative to Clinton.
I’d just add that Sanders has a prickly crankiness to his personality that he can’t hide and that comes out in any interview that gets contentious. This part of Sanders’s personality is probably perfect for an insurgent campaign against an entitled frontrunner and funny when we see it in a Larry David character, but not all that appealing when the electorate is given a full buffet table of candidates. Bernie Sanders is your elderly neighbor who shows up at the town-council meeting and says he has a four-part question in the form of long meandering monologue that begins with complaints that the city is supposed to be collecting recyclables on Monday but the truck came on Tuesday, and ends with complaining about too many different choices at the store for brands of deodorant and sneakers.
ADDENDA: Earlier this week, Jonathan Last argued that the David French Wars were just a rehash of the fights over Trump from the 2016 primary, and included the line, “The only pro-Trump writer I found taking French’s side unequivocally was Jim Geraghty, who is French’s colleague at National Review.”
I don’t think of myself as a particularly “pro-Trump writer,” and I suspect the Trump fans who gripe about my articles and columns and this newsletter would argue my assessment is more accurate than Last’s. My attitude on Trump for a while has been that he’s an unprincipled buffoon with God-awful instincts, zero impulse control, a short attention span, and no real interest in the job of president as traditionally understood. But we on the Right can get him to sign good laws, enact good policies, and appoint good judges, so we might as well try to do that while he’s in office. We shouldn’t waste a Republican presidency, and there’s no point in putting much energy or effort on super-long-shot fight like a scenario where Trump loses the 2020 GOP nomination — particularly to the likes of a William Weld or John Kasich, who might be even worse on policy. Am I pro-Trump? Like the old joke, “Compared to what?” I’ll take the Trump status quo over the Democrats’ proposed socialist revolution, and traditional Reaganite conservatism over the Trump status quo.
As for the idea that the current debate about Frenchism is really just a proxy fight/rehash of the 2016 primary fight, I really liked and have been noodling over this obvious-but-underdiscussed point from Benjy Sarlin that because there is little to no coherent “Trumpism,” and because there’s no truly Trumpist heir apparent, once the current president departs the stage, control of the GOP (and/or conservative movement) is a jump ball.
It’s the 75th anniversary of D-Day. There are many ways to remember; one of my first lessons about it came from a Peanuts special, What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? It features a haunting but age-appropriate sequence that is unlike any other in any other children’s programming.
I responded by asking what would qualify as “actual culture wins.” The release of more movies the writer liked, or higher box-office revenues? Fewer movies or television shows he didn’t like? The former is possible, the latter is controlled by a wide variety of factors, from the decision-makers at studios, the career ambitions of stars, the impulses of screenwriters, the tastes of audiences, and even just what else is playing at the movie theater that weekend.
I remember some Christian-right pastor declaring that Caitlyn Jenner being on the cover of Vanity Fair represented some awful cultural turning point, and I thought, the cover of Vanity Fair always featured some lefty celebrity doing something allegedly provocative. (Am I the only one who remembers naked and pregnant Demi Moore? That was back in 1991!) If that’s our measuring stick for “culture” then we’ve always lost. There’s never going to be a day when we wake up and see something conservative on the cover of Vanity Fair. So why have we decided that that is the measuring stick we’re going to use? And why would celebrities who want attention, doing something cynically provocative, outrank, say, the declining abortion rate in our assessment of cultural health?
But just because the terms of the lament about cultural defeat were frustratingly vague, it doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes share the sentiment. The cultural power of celebrities — or more specifically, the average American’s misplaced trust in the judgment of people who they recognize from being on television or in the movies or hearing their music — is profoundly disturbing. I suspect that the process of becoming a celebrity is almost inherently psychologically damaging. They enjoy the cheers and adoration of large crowds but have difficulty developing and sustaining real behind-the-scenes relationships. Their fans love the characters they play, sometimes oblivious to the fact that the actor is not the character. Most of them are constantly evaluated based upon their appearance by strangers, developing all kinds of obsessions and disorders and frequently going under the knife to preserve their youthful looks. Their ideas for maintaining good health would give the American Medical Association nightmares. Addictions flourish and are almost endlessly enabled. Almost everyone they encounter wants something from them — an autograph, a picture, sex, to read a script, to play a role, or to offer help breaking into the business. And this is before we get to the point that their world lets the likes of Harvey Weinstein thrive and flourish.
Most of the people who create our popular culture are constantly marinating in a culture of exploitation, greed, envy, objectification, abuse, hedonistic excess, and runaway lust of every kind. It’s amazing any of them come out of the process of becoming famous with their head on straight. And yet so many of our fellow countrymen are endlessly fascinated with the inmates of the asylum.
The loneliness thesis taps into a widespread intuition of something true and real and grave. Foundering social trust, collapsing heartland communities, an opioid epidemic, and rising numbers of “deaths of despair” suggest a profound, collective discontent. It’s worth mapping out one major cause that is simultaneously so obvious and so uncomfortable that loneliness observers tend to mention it only in passing. I’m talking, of course, about family breakdown. At this point, the consequences of family volatility are an evergreen topic when it comes to children; this remains the subject of countless papers and conferences. Now, we should take account of how deeply the changes in family life of the past 50-odd years are intertwined with the flagging well-being of so many adults and communities…
While the loosening of traditional rules gave women freedom to leave violent or cruel husbands, it also changed the cultural environment for couples trying to weather less dangerous stresses and disappointments, including a pink slip. Lower-income men and women are bound to have more financial anxieties, more work accidents, and more broken-down cars and evictions, and they lack the funds for Disneyland vacations, massages, and psychotherapists that might take some of the edge off a struggling marriage. And they see few, if any, long-term married couples who could offer a successful model. With single parenthood and cohabitation both on the lifestyle menu, what they see instead is an easy out.
When so many marriages melt into thin air, lower-income kin networks, a source of job connections, child care, and family meals, attenuate as well. Your mother’s sister’s husband—your uncle by marriage—might give you a tip about a job opening at a local machine shop; an uncle separated from your aunt and living with a girlfriend with her own kids in the next town over, maybe not. Communities flush with fatherless households tend to be troubled. In his landmark study of county-level social mobility, economist Raj Chetty discovered that places thick with married-couple families created more opportunity for kids, regardless of whether they were living in a married or single-parent household; places with large numbers of single-parent homes, on the other hand, pulled kids down—including those living with married parents. It’s hard to imagine more concrete evidence of the truth of the old cliché that family is the building block of society.
Are we likely to fix this by changing laws? It’s unlikely that many Americans would want to dramatically change divorce laws, although we may prefer to encourage counseling and trial separations attempted before finalizing the legal dissolution of a marriage. At heart, the question is how you get people to make better and more responsible choices — to not have children before they’re ready, to get married and try to make the marriage work when times get hard, and to embrace the responsibilities of parenthood instead of running from them. Perhaps we need to reemphasize the benefits of those right choices. (Ahem. Only five left in stock, apparently.)
Nancy Pelosi: Trump Should Be in Prison . . . But Please Don’t Impeach Him
“I don’t want to see him impeached, I want to see him in prison,” [Nancy] Pelosi said, according to multiple Democratic sources familiar with the meeting. Instead of impeachment, Pelosi still prefers to see Trump defeated at the ballot box and then prosecuted for his alleged crimes, according to the sources.
And if Trump wins reelection, would she support impeachment then, at the start of his second term?
Republican businessman John James of Michigan announced Thursday that he will challenge first-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters in 2020 in a key state for President Donald Trump’s re-election chances.
James, a 37-year-old African American combat veteran and CEO of an automotive logistics company in Detroit, lost to longtime Sen. Debbie Stabenow last year. But he did better than expected, considering he was a political unknown initially and the race was never prioritized as a battleground by the national GOP in what was a successful year for Michigan Democrats.
A Michigan Senate race will never be easy for Republicans to win. But in contests like this, you improve your odds when you have your best talent on the field.
ADDENDUM: Remember yesterday’s recognition of YouTube for ignoring a liberal demand that a conservative be punished for posting material the liberal found offensive? Yeah, never mind, the company folded as soon as mainstream media allies of the liberal jumped in and started writing about the controversy . . .
Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima are three distinct nuclear power plant disasters, and people who lump the three together as interchangeable are revealing they don’t know what they’re talking about. The people who designed, built, managed and operated Fukushima were prepared for a disaster — but not the fourth-most powerful earthquake ever recorded striking with the epicenter 30 miles away from the reactor, and triggering a 49-foot tsunami.
Making the click-through worthwhile: how the socially approved suicide of a traumatized 17-year-old girl in the Netherlands proves that anti-euthanasia forces were right when they warned about a slippery slope; Jussie Smollett needs to find new options; and a social-media company surprises us.
The Pro-Lifers Were Right All Along
Let’s go back — way back — to 1991. The people of the United States are just getting to know a controversial doctor named Jack Kevorkian. He has assisted in the suicide of a distraught woman named Janet Atkins, administering a series of drugs to her in a lethal combination in the back of a Volkswagen van. Atkins was a woman whose doctor told her there was a 90 percent chance she had Alzheimer’s disease, and in a video taped shortly before her death, she spoke in short, clipped sentences. But one of her doctors said she had “three or four” good years left, and she appeared to be in otherwise good physical health, still capable of playing tennis. She was 54 years old.
Kevorkian called the machine he created the “Thanatron” — it translates to “death machine.”
Lead prosecutor Michael Modelski cites David Letterman jokes to exemplify the dangerous but seductive appeal of the machine. Letterman has devoted two “Top Ten” lists to it and prosecutor Modelski’s got them both at hand. One day over the phone he reeled off for me Letterman’s “Top Ten Promotional Slogans for Dr. Kevorkian’s Suicide Machine.” Number five: Claus von Bülow says, “I liked it so much, I bought the company!” Number four: “While I’m killing myself I’m also cleaning my oven!”
But the one Modelski emphasizes to me is the one that, he says, illustrates the true danger of the Thanatron, Promotional Slogan Number Eight: “Isn’t it about time you took an honest look at your miserable, stinking life?”
Modelski believes that the machine, if widely available, would become all too tempting to those suffering transient depressions, encourage them to “take the easy way out.”
Chief defense attorney Fieger counters that it’s not the prosecutor’s role to impose his “paternalist morality” on the citizenry. Fieger has his own thoughts about why the machine “gets people crazy.” He thinks it’s because “it forces people to face their own mortality, stirs up questions, feelings they don’t necessarily want to face.” (Have you taken an honest look…?) “They start asking themselves, Would I ever consider using it?”
spiritually, [psychiatrist/historian Robert Jay] Lifton’s thesis in The Nazi Doctors is at the heart of the prosecution’s case against Dr. Kevorkian. Lifton argues that there was an inevitable progression from the “medicalization of killing” introduced by the Nazis’ involuntary-euthanasia campaign in the thirties to the mass murder in the camps in the forties. “At the heart of the Nazi enterprise,” Lifton states, in a quote that opens the prosecution’s final written argument in the Kevorkian case, “is the destruction of the boundary between healing and killing” (emphasis added).
Modelski believes that participation by a doctor in “killing” (even if it’s only assisting a voluntary suicide) is the first step in a dangerous continuum, a “slippery slope” leading from medically assisted suicide to medically encouraged suicide (of the poor and uninsured, say) to medically pressured suicide (of those whose lives are “not worth living” but expensive to sustain) to involuntary euthanasia—the same slippery slope that led in the thirties and forties to genocide. Modelski, a tall, saturnine fellow, is particularly passionate about this because, he tells me, his father’s father (who’d served in the Polish army) and one of his father’s brothers died at Auschwitz. And because the uncle who died was a twin, Modelski suspects he may have fallen victim to the kinds of medical experiments on twins that were pursued so obsessively by Dr. Mengele in the camps.
Anyone who looked past Jack Kevorkian’s statements and the mostly glowing media profiles would recognize he was an extremely unusual man to be a doctor, much less considered a hero by any corner of the population. In the 1950s, as a resident pathologist at the University of Michigan, he showed up unannounced at an Ohio death row penitentiary and proposed doing experiments on the death-row inmates. He boasted of “a unique privilege . . . to be able to experiment on a doomed human being.” He was asked to leave the university, and moved on to a hospital, where he experimented with removing blood from corpses and injecting it into live patients. Writing in a medical journal in 1986, Kevorkian “questioned whether psychiatrists should have the right to decide whether mentally ill patients were competent to choose suicide. He outlined a system of centers for death-on-demand, calling them “obitoria.” At obitoria, research could be carried out on any consenting adult.”
During the trial, Kevorkian called Adkins’ death “the first concrete step in a long-range plan that I have envisioned long ago . . . toward true enlightenment, in which we can develop a rational policy of planned death for the entire civilized world.” He argued the mental state of the patient was immaterial, and that no assessment of mental impairment could or should invalidate a desire for suicide. The Detroit Free Press investigated his practice and found 60 percent of those he assisted weren’t actually terminally ill. In several cases, autopsies revealed “no anatomical evidence of disease.” The paper found that in at least 19 cases, Kevorkian did not consult psychiatrists, even when dealing with patients diagnosed with depression.
“I don’t rely on mental problems,” Kevorkian testified. “I rely on their physical disease, which then affects the mind. Anybody who’s got a terrible crippling disease and is not depressed is abnormal.”
Kevorkian publicly claimed that he would only administer the lethal drugs after extensive consultation with the patient, but he regularly violated his own rule: “At least 19 patients died less than 24 hours after meeting Kevorkian for the first time.”
A certain segment of the population insisted upon seeing Kevorkian as a heroic crusader for the dignity of the dying . . . and not, say, just a guy who really liked killing people. From a certain point of view, Kevorkian looks less like an icon of mercy and more like a de facto serial killer who used a machine made up of parts accumulated at garage sales to prey on the frightened and vulnerable.
The possibility of being diagnosed with a terminal disease is terrifying, and few of us can know for certain how we would react to that nightmare scenario. No one wants to suffer or watch a loved one suffer. The Catholic Church teaches that “effective management of pain in all its forms is critical in the appropriate care of the dying” and that “we may reject life-prolonging procedures that are insufficiently beneficial or excessively burdensome.” But to take deliberate action to end a life crosses a moral line, their philosophy is that “two extremes are [to be] avoided: on the one hand, an insistence on useless or burdensome technology even when a patient may legitimately wish to forgo it and, on the other hand, the withdrawal of technology with the intention of causing death.”
Maybe that philosophy strikes you as the right one; maybe you come down differently. But what is no longer disputable is that the “slippery slope” that Jack Kevorkian’s critics warned about was real and we have slid down it rapidly.
Here we are, trying to prevent teen suicide, and reduce the teen-suicide rate, and a Western country has decreed that if teenagers decide that a traumatic experience makes their lives no longer worth living, they’ll provide the means and assistance.
We lost the argument about Jack Kevorkian back in the 1990s. And Western societies will be paying the price for that for a long, long time . . . unless the case of Noa Pothoven spurs the Netherlands — and the rest of us — to rethink the path we’ve taken, and head in a different direction.
I Guess Jussie Smollett Will Have to Direct Himself in His Own Projects
Ed Morrissey notices Lee Daniels, co-creator of Empire, declaring definitively that Jussie Smollett will not be returning to the program. Apparently the cast members want him back, but the behind-the-scenes show staff don’t, and naturally, some jump to the conclusion that this must reflect racism. Ed notes:
Isn’t it more likely that the division is between Smollett’s colleagues and friends, and the people who aren’t his colleagues and friends? Racism isn’t a very good explanation in this case anyway. The leadership of the Chicago police department is African-American, as seen in their angry press conference after the joke of a deal Smollett got from Kim Foxx. The two brothers who admitted to perpetrating the hoax with Smollett are also both African-Americans. Which should we believe in order for racism not to enter into the decision?
A Liberal Complained to a Social-Media Company, and You Won’t Believe What Happened
Something that a lot of conservatives thought never happened: A liberal (Carlos Maza) complained about a conservative (Steven Crowder) being hateful and offensive and harassing on social media (YouTube) and the social-media company responded . . . with the conclusion that “while we found language that was clearly hurtful, the videos as posted don’t violate our policies.”
Will wonders never cease!
ADDENDUM: Joe Biden’s own curious way of marking the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square is to emphasize that the United States faces no real threat from China or other countries in the region.
We’re in a position where we have the most agile venture capitalists in the world. They know — I mean, it’s not like we’re the bad guys, we’re the best at doing it,” Biden said. “Our workers are literally three times as productive as workers in the far East, I mean — excuse me, in Asia. And they are three times productive. And so, what are we worried about?
Making the click-through worthwhile: The United States has completely fumbled the ball regarding China in the 30 years since Tiananmen Square, to the point where your pension fund may be helping finance China’s Orwellian surveillance state; a couple of ideas on how to fight scam PACs; and the universal madness of authoritarian regimes.
Your Pension Fund Might Be Helping Expand the Chinese Surveillance State
On June 4, 1989 — 30 years ago today — the Chinese government decided it had been patient enough with the 50,000 to 100,000 demonstrators occupying Tiananmen Square. The protesters had called for democracy and liberty, but also denounced corruption and cronyism. What began as the Tiananmen Square protests became remembered as the Tiananmen Square massacre. Anywhere from hundreds to 2,600 Chinese protesters were killed, thousands more were wounded, and while many nations condemned the crackdown at the time, China and the world quickly moved on. The iconic “tank man” was never identified and his fate will probably forever remain unknown.
This morning Jonah shared a Twitter thread from a Chinese scholar, detailing how many of the protesters of that era adapted after the crackdown. The short version is that many who participated in the protest came to accept the rule of the Chinese Communist Party. The fight was unwinnable, those who went into exile were forgotten, and state-managed prosperity was arriving. He contends that most Chinese know exactly what happened at Tiananmen Square, but they see even acknowledging it to a foreign journalist as extraordinarily risky.
While outside of China the world will commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre that took place on June 4th, 1989, inside the country President Xi Jinping’s regime will continue its campaign of silence: not acknowledging the massacre ever took place; not apologizing to victims and their families; strongly condemning any commemorative activities outside China; and deploying its massive cyber-security force to vigorously scrub any mention of the incident from the domestic Internet.
The censorship will be so thorough that Chinese people won’t even be able to send a text message that contains any one of the numbers eight, nine, six, and four.
How overwhelming is Chinese censorship? They just banned 40 percent of numerals. If you lived in China, you wouldn’t be able to text the sentence preceding this one because of the “4.”
The American government’s reaction to the Chinese government since the Tiananmen Square massacre was pretty underwhelming; some would call it a betrayal of our values. Until very recently, there was a bipartisan tradition of the party out of power calling the party in power soft on China and calling for a tougher stance, followed by that party getting into power and deciding that they didn’t want to disrupt America’s trade relationship with China too much. In the 1990s and 2000, both Bill Clinton and some prominent GOP Congressional leaders assured us that greater trade with China would bring them closer to democracy, freedom of expression, and respect for human rights. That argument was either wildly naïve, willful blindness, or ruthlessly cynical in its dishonesty.
There are a lot of times when arguments about “the elite” and “the common people” get oversimplified and overwrought. But the issue of how to handle China, and whether an ever-growing trade relationship really serves our interests, is one where the divide is real. Year by year, American attitudes shift around about China, at least according to Pew Research, but Americans worry about debt to China, cyberattacks, China’s impact on the environment, loss of jobs to China, the trade deficit, China’s policies on human rights, and aggression to its neighbors. It’s likely most Americans found the “one child policy” morally unacceptable. When there’s a dispute between a dictator and free people somewhere in the globe, China’s usually stepping in to help out the dictator.
Oh, and the regime has put 2 million Uyghurs into concentration camps, complete with torture, squalid living conditions, and constant indoctrination. Modern minds look back at the genocidal regimes of the 20th Century and wonder how anyone could stand by as such brutality reigned. Then they shrug as every major country and government on the planet continues to do business with a government running concentration camps.
Status as one of our biggest trading partners turned into a get-out-of-consequences-free card for the regime.
Now the Chinese government is establishing some of the most explicitly Orwellian policies imaginable — massive facial-recognition databases that allow the government to monitor anyone walking down the street, connecting them with the extensive government file kept on their activities. Who’s financing these enormous projects to expand the Chinese government’s control over their citizens? In some cases, Americans, as BuzzFeed found.
Chinese authorities have detained more than a million Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in political-reeducation camps in the country’s northwest region of Xinjiang, identifying them, in part, with facial recognition software created by two companies: SenseTime, based in Hong Kong, and Beijing’s Megvii. A BuzzFeed investigation has found that U.S. universities, private foundations, and retirement funds entrusted their money to investors that, in turn, plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into these two startups over the last three years. Using that capital, SenseTime and Megvii have grown into billion-dollar industry leaders, partnering with government agencies and other private companies to develop tools for the Communist Party’s social control of its citizens.
Also among the diverse group of institutions helping to finance China’s surveillance state: the Alaska Retirement Management Board, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Rockefeller Foundation all of which are “limited partners” in private equity funds that invested in SenseTime or Megvii. And even as congressional leaders, such as Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, have championed a bill to condemn human rights abuses in Xinjiang, their own states’ public employee pension funds are invested in companies building out the Chinese government’s system for tracking Uyghurs.
In foreign-policy circles, you’ll often hear the cliché that “China represents a challenge to the United States of America, our role in the world, and our values.” Thirty years after Tiananmen Square, it’s clear we flunked that challenge. China’s rulers offered the world’s corporations a billion new customers, and the world’s companies, including almost all of the biggest American businesses, were willing to accept all kinds of moral compromises to make that money. The Chinese state is expanding their leverage on every continent, building up their army, expanding their territory through artificial islands, and hacked just about all of the records in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. By and large, our policymakers under-responded to every provocation, averted our eyes from countless crimes, and explained away almost every act of aggression.
Amazingly, we still have lawmakers and potential presidents who don’t see any of this, and cling to some wildly outdated and naïve perspective that China is a still-emerging technologically challenged rising power that will play nice with just a little more trade and U.S. concessions.
China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man. They can’t even figure out how to deal with the fact that they have this great division between the China Sea and the mountains in the east, I mean in the west. They can’t figure out how they are going to deal with the corruption that exists within the system. I mean, you know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what, they’re not competition for us.”
If Biden gets the Democratic nomination, let’s put China policy front and center in the 2020 election. Donald Trump is a man of copious sins and flaws and problems. But his reflexive protectionism has led him to see the leadership of China more clearly than a generation of elites going back to Tiananmen Square.
The New York Post op-ed page excerpted and linked to yesterday’s Morning Jolt laying out the scam PACs — a column that included an ardent defense of David French. The New York Post op-ed page is run by . . . Sohrab Ahmari. Whether or not you agree with Ahmari, he’s fair-minded and wants to showcase a wide range of views on the Post’s op-ed page. Or maybe I’m just that awesome.
The Universal Insanity of Authoritarian Regimes
Loving the Jolt lately? Buy a book! Think of it as a $3.99 thank you note — or if you have Kindle Unlimited, it doesn’t cost you a thing! (I think I get a half penny for every page read.)
In discussing authoritarian regimes lately — whether it’s discussing China above, or the recent discussions of the Soviet Union in the context of HBO’s Chernobyl — it is depressingly clear that the leadership almost always loses touch with reality and bends an entire nation to a will that grows increasingly deranged. A section of Between Two Scorpions takes place in Turkmenistan, and I came across details of life under dictatorship that are simultaneously fascinating, horrifying, and revolting:
A half-generation ago, Turkmenistan’s president, Saparmurat Niyazov, aspired to turn his country, a largely ignored, mostly poor but oil and gas-rich Central Asian landmass, into “the new Kuwait.” A key part of his vision was building a new airport, one he insisted upon designing himself. Leaving basic aeronautic engineering decisions to a man with no experience led to predictable problems, such as the control tower being built on the wrong side of the runway, and the new terminal blocking the view of air-traffic controllers when they were trying to guide pilots. The president hand-waved away the warnings, declaring simply, “It looks better this way.”
In a country such as Turkmenistan, nothing was required to make sense; the arbitrary will of the state claimed supremacy over all other forces, including logic and physics. Authoritarian, paranoid, unpredictable states like this were dangerous from the moment you booked the ticket, as Katrina knew from experience and family history. Katrina wondered if they were a giant involuntary experiment attempting to induce mass psychosis. Like the story of the emperor’s new clothes, everyone knew that telling the truth was dangerous and quickly punished, so daily life required insisting outwardly, at all times, that the authorities were correct, and your eyes were lying. And if you did it enough outwardly, did you begin to do it inside as well? At some point did it become easier to believe the lie, even when you knew it was a lie?
Absolute power corrupts absolutely; it also makes the consequences of mistakes or madness that much more severe.
ADDENDUM: K. J. Howe, author of the thrillers The Freedom Broker and Skyjack, kindly offers some praise for Between Two Scorpions: “Moral quandaries, believable characters, and a premise that rivets in its real-life possibilities. Between Two Scorpions offers a double-barreled reading experience akin to Le Carré on Red Bull, both entertaining and educational. Geraghty’s keen wit and ferocious pacing makes him an author to watch. Brilliant!”
Making the click-through worthwhile: A rare single-topic Jolt this morning, as I’ve watched the two millionth “the problem with conservatism is people like you, the solution for conservatism is people like me” debate, and I’m just sick and tired of so many of our brethren averting their eyes from the big, glaring, worsening problem that rips off so many decent, hard-working folks.
The Huge Albatross to the Conservative Movement that Few Want to Talk About
Back in 2013, Conservative StrikeForce PAC raised $2.2 million in funds vowing to support Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign for governor in Virginia. Court filings and FEC records showed that the PAC only contributed $10,000 to Cuccinelli’s effort.
Back in 2014, Politico researched 33 political action committees that claimed to be affiliated with the Tea Party and courted small donors with email and direct-mail appeals and found that they “raised $43 million — 74 percent of which came from small donors. The PACs spent only $3 million on ads and contributions to boost the long-shot candidates often touted in the appeals, compared to $39.5 million on operating expenses, including $6 million to firms owned or managed by the operatives who run the PACs.”
Back in 2015, RightWingNews reviewed the financial filings of 21 prominent conservative PACs and found the ten 10 groups at the bottom of their list spent $54.3 million only paid out $3.6 million to help get Republicans elected.
Back in 2016, campaign finance lawyer Paul H. Jossey detailed how some of the PACs operated and lamented, “the Tea Party movement is pretty much dead now, but it didn’t die a natural death. It was murdered — and it was an inside job. In a half decade, the spontaneous uprising that shook official Washington degenerated into a form of pyramid scheme that transferred tens of millions of dollars from rural, poorer Southerners and Midwesterners to bicoastal political operatives.”
In 2016, Great America PAC raised $28.6 million from donors. They donated $30,125 to federal candidates. In 2018, Great America PAC raised $8.3 million from donors. They donated $31,840 to federal candidates.
(UPDATE: Brent Lowder of Great America PAC reached out, contending that the effectiveness of his organization should be measured by more than just what percentage of the funds they raise is sent on to federal candidates. He says that the $23.69 million spent in the 2016 cycle and the $5.8 million spent on independent expenditures in the 2018 cycle went to 25,000 television ads, 300,000 radio ads, 1.5 million pieces of direct mail, and tens of millions of phone calls – supporting Donald Trump and opposing Hillary Clinton. He adds those pieces of mail and phone calls are separate from the group’s fundraising pieces of mail and phone calls. Also, Great American PAC was the group that had actor Jon Voight, Sheriff Clarke, Sarah Palin, and Rudy Giuliani touring the country in a bus to fire up Trump supporters and register voters. We can argue about the effectiveness of efforts like this, but spending like this shouldn’t be seen as the same as pocketing the money.)
In 2017, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke said that despite the actions of a PAC that claimed to be raising money for a Clarke bid for U.S. Senate, he was not running. That PAC raised $2 million.
In 2018, a federal indictment declared grassroots conservatives across the country gave $23 million to scam PACs run by William and Robert Tierney from 2014 to 2018, believing they were supporting conservative groups like “Republican Majority Campaign PAC,” “Americans for Law Enforcement PAC,” and “Rightmarch.com PAC.” Only $109,000 went to candidates.
Put Vets First PAC raised $3.9 million in the 2018 cycle; they gave $9,000 to federal candidates.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that David Bossie’s group, Presidential Coalition, had raised $18.5 million in 2017 and 2018 to support state and local candidates in furtherance of the Trump agenda. Only $425,442, or 3 percent, went to direct political activity.
Not every non-donation expense is illegitimate; legit political-action committees have to pay for rent, electricity, computers, the phone bill, etcetera. But when such an exceptionally small portion of the money they raise goes to the candidates they’re allegedly designed to support or measurable efforts on their behalf, one can fairly ask what the true purpose of the organization is.
Politico didn’t specify which 33 PACs they reviewed; if their list overlaps entirely with the RightWingNews list, then the total sum listed above would be $127 million; if they don’t overlap at all, it would be $177 million. That is money that could have gone directly to candidates’ campaigns or other actions that would have advanced the conservative cause in recent cycles. But instead it went into more fundraising expenses, more overhead costs, or into the pockets of those running these PACs.
And some folks want us to believe that the problem with the conservative movement is David French?
Why is the conservative movement not as effective as its supporters want it to be? Because day after day, year after year, little old ladies get called on the phone or emailed or sent letters in the mail telling them that the future of the country is at stake and that if they don’t make a donation to groups that might as well be named Make Telemarketers Wealthy Again right now, the country will go to hell in a handbasket. Those little old ladies get out their checkbooks and give what they can spare, convinced that they’re making a difference and helping make the world a better place. What they’re doing is ensuring that the guys running these PACs can enjoy a more luxurious lifestyle. Meanwhile, conservative candidates lose, kicking the dirt after primary day or the general election, convinced that if they had just had another $100,000 for get-out-the-vote operations, they might have come out on top.
What’s more, most of these PACs thrive on telling conservative grassroots things that aren’t true. Clarke didn’t want to run for Senate in Wisconsin, Laura Ingraham wasn’t interested in running for Senate in Virginia, and Allen West wasn’t running for Senate in Florida. The PACs propagate a narrative in which they’re the heroic crusaders for conservative values, secure borders and freedom, up against corrupt establishment elites . . . when they’re in fact run by those coastal political operatives and keeping most of the money for their own operations.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Oh, every PAC does this.” Nope. In that RightWingNews study, Club for Growth Action PAC had 88 percent actually went into independent expenditures and direct contributions. Republican Main Street Partnership had 78 percent, and American Crossroads was at 72 percent. That allegedly corrupt “establishment” is way more efficient at using donors’ money than all of these self-proclaimed grassroots conservative groups. Over on the liberal or Democratic side, ActBlue charges a 3.95 percent processing fee when passing along donations to campaigns.
When these individuals get called out for the way they’re spending donors’ money, they revert to a familiar responses of denial, evasion, and blaming the messenger. When asked about how little of the money his group raised was spent on political activity, Bossie’s first response was “this is fake news brought to you by a collaboration of the biased liberal media and unabashed left-wing activists.” Never mind the fact that the criticism was based upon his own group’s periodic reports of contributions and expenditures with the IRS (forms 8872) in addition to annual tax returns (forms 990).
Imagine if instead of disappearing down rat holes and being spent on more fundraising, just $10 million of that $127 million to $177 million sum had been better spent. Imagine if that $10 million had gone to the campaigns of the GOP candidates in the 20 House districts that they lost by five percentage points or less in 2018. That’s $500,000 per campaign. If Mia Love had 625 more votes in Utah, she would have held her seat. Think she and her campaign could have identified and mobilized another 700 Love-supporting voters in her district if they had another half-million?
In California’s 21st District, David Valadao lost by about 900 votes. In Maine’s 2nd, Bruce Poliquin needed about 3,500 more votes. In Georgia’s 6th, Karen Handel needed 8,000 more votes.
If Leonard Lance had about 16,000 more votes, he would have kept his seat. Maybe not every one of these close races would be reversed if each one of those GOP candidates had another half million for GOTV. But right now, Republicans need to flip 19 seats to regain control of the House. Doing just 2.25 percentage points better in 2018 would have saved 13 seats!
What has grassroots donor money going to scam PACs cost the conservative cause? Perhaps GOP control of the U.S. House of Representatives, and now at least two years of Trump’s presidency will be spent on defense instead of attempting to turn conservative policy ideas into federal law.
But hey, tell me again how David French’s “civility and decency” are what’s holding the conservative movement back!
Like the drunk looking for his keys where the streetlight shines, some folks want to believe that the writer who annoyed them the most this morning must be the albatross that is dooming the Good Ship Conservatism. They’re either too lazy, too cynical, too incurious, or too scared to turn their scrutiny to lesser-known entities.
Of course, assessing that folks like David Bossie and Roger Stone are part of a major impediment to the effectiveness of the conservative cause means criticizing people who are considered close to Donald Trump. And for far too many inattentive grassroots conservatives, an association with Donald Trump is a moral get-out-of-jail-free card — even when these guys are acting contrary to the president’s interests and putting their own self-interest first. There are a lot of self-proclaimed watchdogs that will find it easier and more convenient to bark at whatever talking head said something about Trump on Morning Joe that day rather than point out that former allies of the president are using his name to raise money and line their own pockets, diverting funds away from efforts that would actually help the president enact his agenda. If you’re a Trump supporter, you should be livid with these guys.
So why the recent ire at David French? I suspect it is because David is a big easy target if you’re trying to win applause and attract the attention of Trump supporters. David thought about running for president as an independent for about 20 minutes in 2016, and a lot of folks want to believe he’s an amalgamation of Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist, and Benedict Arnold because of that.
David French has jack squat to do with whatever nutty “Bi-curious George” drag-queen reading is going on at the Sacramento Public Library. But if you’re trying to show Trump supporters that you’re one of the good guys and you’re standing up against the weak quisling types, by golly, denounce David French — the guy who served his country in uniform in Iraq, sues universities when they restrict speech, and who adopted a child. Because he’s the real problem with conservatism, not all those groups that continue to send those letters emails and phone calls to little old ladies, telling them that the nation’s future depends upon them writing one more check.
Copeland’s excuse was that flying commercial “like getting into a long tube with a bunch of demons.” I’m pretty sure I’ve sat next to the passengers he’s describing, and we all got through it okay.
ADDENDA: Late Friday, Mickey and I released another edition of the pop-culture podcast, raving about Chernobyl, wrapping up those last thoughts on Game of Thrones, a bit about my trip to Austria and irking the Russian government, some talk about writing Between Two Scorpions, trying to figure out that new Netflix film where Zac Efron plays Ted Bundy, and the latest on The Bachelorette — and how the audience does indeed see the women’s competition different from the men’s.
Making the click-through worthwhile: What we’re learning about American history, whether the pendulum is swinging too far on the crime issue and is due to swing back, and a well-covered Democratic presidential candidate isn’t as well known as his fans in the media may think.
Those Who Do Not Learn from History Are Doomed to Chaperone School Field Trips
However you’re ending your week, I hope it’s been a good one. As you read this, I’m on my way to Gettysburg National Military Park, chaperoning a school trip. Last time I did this, chaperoning a school trip to Jamestown, three kids barfed on the bus on the way there.
The National Park Service’s five major Civil War battlefield parks—Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, Chickamauga/Chattanooga and Vicksburg—had a combined 3.1 million visitors in 2018, down from about 10.2 million in 1970, according to park-service data. Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, the most famous battle site, had about 950,000 visitors last year, just 14% of its draw in 1970 and the lowest annual number of visitors since 1959. Only one of these parks, Antietam, in Maryland, has seen an increase from 1970.
The argument that modern Americans aren’t interested in history doesn’t quite mesh with certain cultural trends. If you look at the nonfiction bestseller list at any given moment, a good chunk of the top titles will be history books. At this moment, there’s David McCullough’s The Pioneers, Rick Atkinson’s The British Are Coming, Jared Diamond’s Upheaval, Tony Horwitz’s Spying on the South, Dan Abram’s Theodore Roosevelt for the Defense, and Tom Cotton’s Sacred Duty, about the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. The major book-review sections of American newspapers — to the extent they still exist — are heavily focused on history books.
Our pop culture is bursting with depictions of past eras — documentaries, docudramas, and historical fiction. More than $500 million has been spent on tickets for a musical about Alexander Hamilton, with roughly two million seats sold, an amazing sum for a live performance show. Historical dramas dominate the Oscar nominations. American audiences seem to have a persistent interest in British history. A few years back, folks went nuts for Downton Abbey, and now it’s Peaky Blinders, TheCrown, The Tudors, and Victoria. Beyond the British Isles, there are series about Marco Polo, the Medicis, and the Vikings.
I realize not everybody is into history, and perhaps popular interest focuses heavily on particular chapters of American history. Judging by the bookstore shelves, it’s easy to believe American history began with the Revolutionary War, moved on to the Civil War, then on to World War II, and that led up to today. Back in 2003, I watched the sketch comedy play The Complete History of America (Abridged)in London. The first act covered from the Revolutionary War up to the Civil War. The Second Act began with World War I. Apparently, nothing significant happened between 1865 and 1917.
You do wonder if part of our intense polarization comes from Americans learning and choosing to see two different versions of American history. John Daniel Davidson worries about the kids learning the Howard Zinn version. I wonder if those who learned the old-school version of American history realize just how many different groups shaped America from its earliest days. (The negative and in some cases furious reactions to that piece always surprised and baffled me. Who gets angry over discussion of Crispus Attucks, Maximiliano Luna, the Manilamen who fought alongside Andrew Jackson, Haym Salomon, Hadji Ali, or the Harlem Hellfighters? Why is there this perception that history is a zero-sum game, and that discussion of the achievements and bravery of nonwhite Americans somehow takes away from the discussion of the achievements and bravery of white Americans?) You know I’ll be telling the kids today about Canton-born Joseph Pierce fighting at Pickett’s Charge.
Your understanding of what made America is going to have an enormous impact on how you see the country today, and how you think it should be in the future. The slogan “Make America Great Again” assumes a certain understanding of history — that in some past era America was great, that it lost that greatness, and that electing a particular president is the right step to restore that greatness.
Is the Stage Getting Set for a ‘Law and Order’ Comeback?
By and large, crime is a second-tier issue at the national level — certainly compared to the 1980s and 1990s. Advocates of criminal-justice reform have scored significant policy victories at the federal and state level. But Michael Graham wonders if the pendulum might be swinging too far in that direction, and we may be headed towards a correction.
The 2020 field is committed to cutting America’s “highest in the western world” incarceration rate, but in order to bring numbers down significantly, criminals convicted of violent offenses would have to be released — an idea that even the leftwing website Vox.com admits is a non-starter.
“Even the majority of liberals oppose reducing prison sentences for violent criminals with a low risk of reoffending: 55 percent oppose it, versus 42 percent who support it,” Vox writes.
“There is a large misunderstanding across America that a significant number of people in prison are low-level, nonviolent offenders serving time for drug offenses or petty theft, etc.,” Mangual says. “That’s just not true. More than half of all prisoners are in for one of a very few violent offenses.”
Nonetheless, Sen. Cory Booker’s backing something called the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act that would hand out money to states for reducing their incarceration rates by 7 percent over a three-year period, but without increasing their crime rates by more than 3 percent.
I think Americans are a merciful group that is quite willing to give a nonviolent felon a second chance. But the moment a criminal’s actions include physical harm to someone, they’re much more wary. In Democratic and mainstream media circles — some would say I repeat myself — there’s an adamant belief that the 1988 Willie Horton ad of the George H.W. Bush campaign was shameless demagoguery and race-baiting. But weekend furloughs for violent criminals was an asinine idea that endangered public safety, and Michael Dukakis vetoed a bill that would have excluded first-degree murderers from the weekend-furlough program. Two people were murdered as a result of this policy, separately from Willie Horton’s raping and stabbing rampage. The policy was absolutely fair game for a national debate.
So is any candidate who proposes restoring voting rights to violent felons who are still serving their sentences.
John McCormack illuminates just how many Democratic voters aren’t really paying attention to the coverage of the Democratic presidential primary so far:
The latest Morning Consult poll, conducted from May 20 to May 26, continues to show a race dominated by Joe Biden (at 38 percent) and followed by Bernie Sanders (at 20 percent) with three candidates vying for third place: Elizabeth Warren at 9 percent, Pete Buttigieg at 7 percent, and Kamala Harris at 7 percent. While Biden and Sanders enjoy nearly universal name recognition among Democrats, 35 percent say they have “never heard of” Pete Buttigieg, while only 11 percent say they haven’t heard of Warren and 21 percent say the same of Harris. Other recent polls have shown similar results: The latest Gallup poll found that 41 percent of Democrats had “never heard of” Buttigieg.
Twitter may be a uniquely small and unrepresentative bubble, but these poll numbers are a reminder that there is a large chunk of voters who don’t regularly follow political news at all. You may be tired of the media’s fawning coverage of Mayor Pete, but a lot of Democratic voters don’t know the first thing about him. What does this mean for the primary? Perhaps Buttigieg hasn’t yet had his moment. If he can impress the much larger audiences who will tune into the Democratic debates the way he has impressed Democrats watching his cable news appearances, his support will likely continue to grow.
Then again, maybe these voters haven’t learned more about him because they’re just not that interested in a guy who’s “just” the mayor of South Bend, or so young, or some other factor. If these voters wanted to know more about lesser-known presidential candidates, they would seek out that information. It’s not like coverage of Buttigieg is hidden or hard to find; he and his husband are on the cover of Time magazine, for Pete’s sake.
Making the click-through worthwhile: How Robert Mueller dropped the ball on his one big job, the pro-life movement is on the verge of a major victory in Louisiana, a reviewer finally gives Michael Wolff what he deserves, and some far-flung strange and scary places you can read about soon.
You Had One Job, Robert Mueller!
Mueller’s press conference was extraordinarily frustrating, for a variety of reasons.
First, Mueller emphasized the grammatically muddled point, “If we had had confidence that the president had clearly not committed a crime we would have said so.”
As Charlie Cooke lays out, this is not the legal standard in the United States. Either the president committed a crime or he didn’t, and as Mueller said elsewhere in his statement, “Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in court.” Prosecutors and law-enforcement officials are not supposed to hold press conferences before the national media and say, “This person may have broken the law, or they may not have, after all my investigation, I can’t tell. But Americans should know it’s a possibility before they cast their vote.” That’s not all that different from what James Comey said about Hillary Clinton on July 5, 2016, and Mueller is now turning this into a tradition.
Second, Mueller is making it clear he has no interest in testifying before Congress. If he does, it is a near-certainty that he will get asked some variation of, “Did President Trump commit a crime/obstruct justice, yes or no?”
For whatever reason, Mueller does not want to directly answer “Yes, he did” or, “No, I cannot prove it.” He keeps giving us this “If we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that,” which is neither here nor there when the country really could use one or the other. As much as I understand Mueller’s reluctance to step into the partisan maelstrom, this is a big part — some might say the crux — of what he was assigned to figure out.
Mueller determined Trump didn’t collude, but along the way, evidence piled up that Trump at least wanted to obstruct justice — although he may have never succeeded in obstructing justice because his underlings ignored his orders.
A desire to obstruct justice, and only being hindered by reluctant underlings, is a really bad quality in a president. But it’s also a really thin reed for the first removal of a sitting president in American history. Back in 1998, I thought suborning perjury was sufficient reason to remove a president, but the country disagreed. We are now approaching some sort of emerging consensus that suborning perjury isn’t enough to remove a president from office, but an unfulfilled desire to obstruct justice is. (The notorious David French points out that the legal definition of obstruction of justice is so broad, it could cover legitimate and lawful exercises of the president’s power.) My suspicion is a lot of people apply the legal standard that “presidents I don’t like should be impeached, but presidents I do like should not be impeached.” I would refer them to the landmark decision of Goose v. Gander.
Quite a few Democrats believe the subtext of Mueller’s remarks was, “Yes, you should impeach the president.” A matter as important as this shouldn’t be left to subtext. If Mueller really believes that what he laid out in the report warrants impeachment, he could have and should have said, “The actions described in the report meet the legal definition of obstruction of justice. If Donald Trump were not president of the United States, he would be charged with the crime of obstruction of justice. Under our Constitution, it is up to Congress to determine the appropriate steps from here.”
Third, if, as Mueller claimed, the aim of yesterday’s press conference was to ensure that people remained focused on the threat of Russian hacking and online disinformation, he failed completely. As John Podhoretz observes:
Mueller just made sure all the oxygen in Washington will be sucked into talking about the president’s post-election conduct and not Russia’s 2016 conduct. And he will reinforce the president’s willful refusal to take Russian hacking seriously (because he wrongly thinks if he does so, he would somehow be acknowledging his election was illegitimate). Mueller cannot be blamed for how Trump reacts, but he just made reaching bipartisan consensus on the need for cyber-protections against electoral interference far more difficult.
Fourth, if you just want your report to be all you have to say on the subject, let your report be all you have to say on the subject. Don’t hold a ten-minute press conference to reiterate some points and then announce that’s all you’re willing to say.
Fifth, if you’re hired by the Department of Justice to investigate matters of extraordinary importance, I think you’re obligated to answer some questions, either under oath before Congress or to reporters. If Mueller wants to answer every Congressional question with, “I discussed that matter extensively in the report, please read it completely,” then fine.
Sixth, put me down as someone who felt like Mueller was a good man put in a tough situation but also a man who made mistakes. His Sphinx-like silence throughout the investigative process was old school and professional, but also allowed a pop-culture driven narrative fill the vacuum, cultivating an always-unrealistic faith among less-informed Trump-haters that at some point Mueller was just going to take Trump away in handcuffs. Somehow Mueller spoke for nine minutes and we’re left with less clarity in what he thinks than before. As former FBI supervisory special agent James Gagliano — who served on Mueller’s protective detail — wrote, “I am disappointed. The Mueller report and the subsequent special counsel statement left me, and many others, still seeking answers… Though he announced his intention to return to private life, Robert Mueller must be subpoenaed to testify in front of Congress.”
Finally, can we dispense with this notion that there’s something significant in the redactions that the public ought to know? The redactions were made in cooperation with Mueller’s office, and if the special counsel had any objection to any of the redactions, he could have and would have expressed them yesterday. He did not.
Does the Abortion Debate Change When a Democratic Governor Approves a New Ban?
Conservatives might have gripes with the governor on a slew of other issues, but on abortion and life issues, he walks the walk:
It’s also not hard to understand where he comes from personally. Edwards is Catholic, and he and his wife Donna talk openly about their doctor’s long-ago recommendation that they terminate a pregnancy due to a spina bifida diagnosis. They never considered it, and their daughter, now a married college graduate, was featured in a memorable television ad on the subject.
That column by Stephanie Grace linked above laments that Edwards could be so ardently pro-life when he also “backs LGBTQ equality, who expanded Medicaid and has fought for a higher minimum wage and pay equity for women.” There’s your choice, progressives. Support Edwards and give him a pass for the new abortion restrictions, or sit out this year . . . and watch a conservative pro-life Republican replace him.
And do pro-choice advocates outraged about the bans in other states get angrier at Edwards for being a Democrat and ruining the “Republican war on women” narrative, or do they prefer to avert their eyes from him?
Finally, Somebody Treats the New Wolff Book Like It’s Fiction
Some credit where it’s due: I’ve been grumbling about national media institutions continuing to take unsourced stories from Michael Wolff too credulously and seriously, but Ryan Lizza reviews his new book in the Washington Post and finally brings the skepticism Wolff deserves.
For long stretches of Siege, Trump and the White House staff disappear and the reader is subjected to a tedious ticktock of Bannon’s travels and his plotting from the Embassy, where he pontificates throughout 2018 about how the Republicans will win the midterms (they didn’t), how his nationalist project is still ascendant in the GOP (it isn’t), how Robert Mueller will destroy the Trump presidency (he didn’t), and how Bannon himself may have to replace Trump and run for president in 2020, with Sean Hannity as his running mate (we’ll have to wait for Episode III)…
Dramatic scoops are plopped down on the page with no sourcing whatsoever. Would-be newsmaking quotes are often attributed to Trump and senior officials without any context about when or to whom they were made.
… By far the biggest scoop in the book is a document that Wolff alleges is a draft indictment, eventually ignored, of the president from inside the special counsel’s office. In addition to the alleged indictment, Wolff reports on several interesting and newsworthy memos outlining Mueller’s legal strategy for what to do if Trump pardoned Michael Flynn or tried to shut down the investigation. These documents, if verified, would rescue the book, because they offer the first real glimpse inside the nearly airtight Mueller operation.
On Tuesday, the special counsel’s office issued a rare on-the-record statement insisting that the “documents described do not exist.”
Why isn’t every newspaper, magazine, and web site handling Wolff with this kind of justified incredulity?
Making the click-through worthwhile: HBO shocks us all by offering us one of the greatest television miniseries of all time — and one that conservatives should be giving a standing ovation; the mainstream media’s biggest institutions flunk their latest test in the form of author Michael Wolff; and the Democrats finally begin laying out criteria to separate the real presidential candidates form the aspiring celebrities.
The Triumph of HBO’s Chernobyl
How often do conservatives get to celebrate an offering from HBO with full-throated rousing cheers and applause?
HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl is every bit as good as you’ve heard. The show is not fun to watch, unless you take a certain grim satisfaction in watching Soviet Union officials squirm in their seats, so terrified of the consequences of telling the truth that they assent to brazen lies that will lead to the painful deaths of hundreds and perhaps thousands of their countrymen. The Soviets experienced the biggest and most catastrophic nuclear disaster in human history and their first (and second, and third, and fourth) instinct was to not tell anyone and hope no one noticed.
Almost everyone in the Soviet system comes across as callous, shrugging off the painful deaths of good men and women as simply a requirement of ensuring the state’s good reputation. Mikhail Gorbachev appears in a few scenes, alternating between deer-in-the-headlights terror and grumpy irritability that he has to deal with it all. Chernobyl is that rare docudrama that is simultaneously a horror movie, and it’s way more terrifying than most offerings in the horror genre because it’s all true (or as accurate as the brilliant creator-writer Craig Mazin could determine, given contrasting historical accounts). The radiation is one of the monsters bedeviling the characters on screen. The other monster is the Soviet bureaucracy, full of blind denial, insane priorities, moral cowardice, and a depraved indifference to human life. And according to those who lived through the era, the attention to detail in portraying mid-1980s Soviet life is amazing.
The nearly all-British cast, and their use of their native accents, initially threw me. The series has everyone speak English, but radio broadcasts, emergency telephone-call recordings, the TV news, are in Russian, and I don’t know if the mix works as well as the creators intended. But if the first half-hour of the first episode doesn’t engross you, stick with it. The explosion is deliberately underplayed. Towards the end of the first episode, one of the managers of the plant insists the radiation levels are not dangerous, then mid-sentence becomes overcome with sickness and vomits right onto the table in front of local officials. But the episode really picks up near its close when an old apparatchik speaks up at the local government’s emergency meeting.
This is the moment when we would expect a sagacious old man, veteran of the wars and wise with experience in matters of life and death, to offer the confused and frightened local officials guidance and perspective they desperately need. Instead, the old man declares that as good Communists, they have a duty to not evacuate or even inform the residents of Pripyat that they should stay indoors; that scaremongering would only distract the people from their duties to the state. The room bursts into applause. All of us watching at home know that everyone in that room just simultaneously committed mass murder and collective suicide. They’re doomed — and the system they serve was perhaps always doomed. Chernobyl is an epic five-part comprehensive denunciation of the Soviet Union, and with it the intrinsic systemic dishonesty that was required to keep the Communist system in power.
But it’s worth keeping in mind that shameless dishonesty in order to avoid embarrassment is a human trait, not just a Socialist one. In almost any governmental system on earth, those running the system can blur their sense of their personal interest and the national interest.
A bad leader will prioritize his image above all else and see every issue through that lens. A bad leader will deny the seriousness of threats because speaking honestly about an emerging danger would require admitting being wrong earlier. A bad leader will insist that a failing solution is really working. When challenged, those types of leaders focus on finding scapegoats instead of solutions.
This approach to leadership is also futile; the Soviet government’s obsession about not being humiliated led to one of its greatest humiliations.
The Media Chooses to Learn Nothing from the Michael Wolff Debacle
Yesterday, after examining one particularly implausible claim in Michael Wolff’s new book, I wrote, “the mainstream media’s treatment of Wolff’s new book will be a good indicator of whether those institutions that once touted Fire and Fury learned anything from experience.”
Are Wolff’s sources reliable? Does Axios trust that they exist? Eh, as Fred Armisen said in his impression of Wolff on Saturday Night Live, “You read it, right? And you liked it? You had fun? Then what’s the problem? You got the gist, so shut up. Even the stuff that’s not true, it’s true.”
NPR acknowledges the author’s serious credibility issues, but concludes, “If nothing else, Wolff has performed a kind of service in Siege by taking us back over this rocky ground and reminding us what a long strange trip it has already been.” You will never see a kinder assessment of unreliable reporting.
The New York Times writes a review and an article about the book. The Atlanticwrites about the book with more skepticism, but still repeats some of Wolff’s biggest claims, and mostly laments that White House tell-all books haven’t damaged Trump’s reputation much. Newsweek eagerly repeats the book quoting Steve Bannon, predicting Trump’s downfall.
This is an embarrassing display of credulity towards a man who falsely claimed Trump and Nicki Haley were having an affair. It appears that if a story makes Trump look bad enough, no one needs to check it out.
The Democrats Prepare Steps to Pare down their Field of 24 Candidates
The DNC’s outline for its September debate — the third of at least a dozen promised matchups during the 2020 nominating fight — decrees that candidates can participate only by reaching 2% in four approved polls released between June 28 and Aug. 28 while also collecting contributions from a minimum of 130,000 unique donors before Aug. 28. That donor list must include a minimum of 400 individuals in at least 20 states. The qualifications would remain the same for an October debate, though the party hasn’t set the deadline for measuring fundraising and polling.
It’s a rare day when I disagree with Jay Nordlinger. Jay’s attitude towards presidential candidates is generally the more, the merrier. In theory, I’d agree with that, but in practice it is clear that in recent cycles, a good chunk of the people running for president aren’t really running for president. They’re running for more media appearances, a post-campaign cable-news gig, maybe hoping to be picked for vice president or a future cabinet post, a bigger book deal some years down the road, and maybe status as the de facto leader of one faction within the party. In short, a bunch of these candidates are running because they want to be celebrities.
If one third of the field is aspiring celebrities, another third are narcissists who might as well be running on the Dunning–Kruger unity ticket.They haven’t done the homework. They haven’t really thought through how they would enact their wish-list of policies. Half of their ideas would require rewriting the Constitution, not that they checked. Some of them barely understand how a bill becomes a law. They’ve practiced their talking points in front of the mirror, and they’ve convinced themselves that they’re ready to sit at Abraham Lincoln’s desk. Hey, all the paid staffers and sycophants around them assure them that they’re ready to make life-and-death decisions! Half these candidates don’t need a campaign manager, they need a psychiatrist.
And yeah, the 2016 Republican primary shaped my thinking on this matter. I liked a bunch of the candidates, but my thinking was that if you wanted a potential president who had walked into the biggest and most insurmountable mess, and left the place in way better shape than he found it, then the best option was Bobby Jindal, based upon how he had helped lead Louisiana from the depths of post-Katrina despair. Yeah, I know, you hated his response to the State of the Union, he’s short and skinny, he talks too fast, he’s too wonky. Some ninny on Twitter said he was “too foreign.” The only thing he’s got going for him is that he gets the farshtunken job done, which ought to be voters’ top priority, instead of all of this shallow, vapid, does-his-focus-group-tested-slogan-inspire-me BS. Any schmo can come along and promise you the moon, and anybody can check the right boxes on an interest group’s questionnaire. It’s candidates’ records that show what they’re really capable of achieving. The fact that so many voters resist this criteria is a reflection of their persistent, pervasive obliviousness and gullibility.
Jindal never appeared in the prime-time debates and never got a real look from primary voters for a variety of reasons, but high among them is that Jim Gilmore and George Pataki and Lindsey Graham looked in the mirror and saw a president smiling back at them. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee convinced themselves that GOP voters who hadn’t picked them in earlier cycles were going to somehow fall in love with them anew. Ben Carson convinced himself that people liking his remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast meant they wanted him to be commander-in-chief.
A debate stage that’s crowded with wannabes, also-rans and never-weres squeezes out the lesser-known but promising candidates who deserve a fair hearing from primary voters. A presidential campaign is not supposed to be a book tour with more speeches than usual.
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