Politics & Policy

Billionaire Letters of Transit


Good morning. Welcome to Big Jim’s Joltateria. My name is Jack and I will be your waiter. Before I show you the menu of range-free, locally grown, organic, artisan NRO selections, let me tell you about today’s special:

My friend Anne Sorock, who runs The Frontier Lab (I am on the board; TFL uses corporate-marketing and consumer-analysis techniques and methods, and applies them to political situations, social movements, and key issues in order to find the deeply held values which motivate them), has a new video out today about Black Lives Matter that shows how this particular movement is truly a tool of far-left activists hellbent on creating a large social divide in America. Per Anne:

Organizers of Black Lives Matter who participated in our study were almost wholly unconcerned with furthering issues important to aiding the Black community in America. Instead, movement operatives see victory for a decades-long struggle to divide Americans into ‘haves and have-nots’ within reach, more tangibly, for the first time in many of their lifetimes.

Anne’s ongoing study of BLM – its players, its mission, the consequences – includes this fascinating 2016 document, The Privileged and the Oppressed: Progressives’ Latest Narrative, Revealed Through Black Lives Matter. Among its key finding is this: “Black Lives Matter’s core message is built upon, depends upon, and has as its ultimate goal, the larger retelling of the American story as one of oppression and racism.” I suggest you watch the video and read the report.

Now, here are six NRO selections that should meet everyone’s tastes.

1. On the question of Confederate statues, Kevin Williamson echoes Paul McCartney and says Let It Be. From his piece:

The Democrats’ motives here are tawdry and self-serving, for the most part. As cheap and silly as Southern sentimentality can be, the desire to reduce and humiliate one’s fellow citizens is distasteful. We would all do better to take Abraham Lincoln’s advice: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” Friends overlook one another’s little vices.

And friends do not terrorize one another by torchlight. Republicans would do well to remember what the alternative to being the party of Lincoln really is.

2. Victor Davis Hanson calls phony on progressives who give endless free passes to Silicon Valley robber barons. Read his excellent piece. I love the last line: “Hip billionaire corporatism is one of the strangest progressive hypocrisies of our times.”

3. How about four ways of getting out of President Obama’s insane nuke deal with Iran? Well, Matthew R.J. Brodsky suggests them.

4. No, Piers Morgan and other chooches, there is not a Nazi exemption to America’s free speech protection. American wannabe Charlie Cooke explains it brilliantly.

5. Speaking of Charlie . . .  speaking of Kevin . . .  you may want to listen to the most recent episode of the popular Mad Dogs and Englishmen podcast, in which the dynamic duo talk about the “Google Memo” and Rep. Kathleen Rice’s disgraceful comments about the NRA.

6. It is always welcome to get a reminder, as Greg Jones does wonderfully, of the brutal consequences of leftist economics at home and abroad.

Sparkling or tap? Good. I’ll be back shortly with your bread.

Until tomorrow,

Jack Fowler

P.S.: The theme song that’s been quickly adopted by statues everywhere: Take it away Helen Reddy.

Politics & Policy

Vulnerable Babies Need Not Apply


Well, that was a rough day, America. I’d count on more of the same today. But with all its insanity and hoopla, it is this story by Alexandra DeSanctis, on Iceland having no room for babies with Down Syndrome, that frightens, enrages, and is most likely to result in God’s wrath and fury.

And now, back to the fallout of the Charlottesville Weekend. About those other matters, here are nine suggestions of worthwhile pieces and podcasts that you will find on NRO today.

1. “Very fine people?” David French writes in The Corner that “Donald Trump Just Gave the Press Conference of the Alt-Right’s Dreams.”

2. Jonah Goldberg slams Conservatism’s Damaging Game of Footsie with the Alt-Right.

3. Limitations of statues: Kyle Smith asks Destroying Symbols: Where Does It End? From his piece:

Once every Confederate monument in the country is down, what then? How is a statue of an ordinary rebel soldier in Durham, N.C., more offensive than a gorgeous building-sized tribute to slave-owning racist Thomas Jefferson on the Tidal Basin? We are reaching the point where, if the Washington Monument were to be blown up tomorrow, it would be anyone’s guess whether jihadists or the “anti-fascist” Left did it.

4. Related: Quin Hillyer argues in The Corner against removing all “Confederate Monuments.”

5. A Nobel Peace laureate dies in a Chinese prison. Here is a slice of Jianli Yang’s article “Liu Xiaobo’s Stern Warning”:

Liu Xiaobo feared then that the West might repeat the same mistake as it did during the rise of the fascist Third Reich and the Communist USSR. He warned that the international community must remain vigilant in the face of the rising Chinese Communist dictatorship because the game for world dominance had changed. The Chinese Communists had also morphed into a new beast — more adaptive, cunning, and deceptive.

6. Michelle Malkin wants to know Where Is the Corporate Disavowal of Black Lives Matters?

7. Will the Trump Administration give billions to West Virginia’s coal industry? Michael Tanner calls the plan corporate welfare that needs to be stopped.

8. On a new episode of The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and Dan McLaughlin discuss the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—and its fallout. Listen here.

9. And in a special history edition of The Editors, Rich Lowry talks with eminent historians Victor Davis Hanson and Andrew Roberts to discuss the evacuation of British and French forces from Dunkirk at the outset of World War 2. Listen here.

It’s 7AM and I am already exhausted. Only a few more days and Big Jim Geraghty will be back in the MJ saddle. Until tomorrow, God bless.

Politics & Policy

Mothball the Monuments


Good morning. Sorry, Jim Geraghty is still away. If you ask “When will this nightmare end?” I can assure you, soon. In the meanwhile, I’ll pinch run (see more below).

OK, now to the current scene. Here are six (of many) very worthwhile pieces you will find today on NRO. I suggest you read and share them. And enjoy.

1. Despite the calls for federal prosecution, Andy McCarthy says Let Virginia Prosecute the Charlottesville Terrorism.

2. Victor Davis Hanson asks, Is There Still a Conservative Foreign Policy?

3. Couples euthanasia seems to be a new acceptable in the Netherlands, and elsewhere in Europe. Wesley Smith reports on this brutal new aspect of the West’s culture of death.

4. Rich Lowry thinks it’s time to Mothball the Confederate Monuments.

5. Conrad Black looks at The Media ‘In Crowd’ and finds “a group of anti-theistic, ultra-materialist, narcissistic poseurs, hedonists of self-celebration.”

6. Father Gerard Hammond is an 84-year-old Maryknoll missionary helping the poor and starving in North Korea. Kathryn Jean Lopez files a beautiful profile of this plucky priest.

Before we split, know this: That in his exceptional, 14-seaon MLB career (1975-88), Yankee great Ron Guidry never once had a plate appearance in a regular season game. Yet ‘Gator’ scored four runs (he was a highly regarded pinch runner). I’ll find inspiration in this as I chug around the bases this week on behalf of Jim G.

Lord knows what political uproar awaits us today (which is the Feast of the Assumption, a Holy Day of Obligation, my Catholic friends!). Say your prayers, and we’ll see you tomorrow.

Politics & Policy

Will Losers Be Called Losers?


Given the events of the weekend past, I do wish Jim Geraghty were here to share his very special wisdom and analysis. Alas, he is away this week, so Yours Truly will pinch hit. We’ll keep the Monday MJ short, sweet, and joke-free. Here are six NRO pieces you should consider reading and sharing.

1. Our editorial, Condemn the White Supremacists, Mr. President.

2. Rich Lowry weighs in on “so-called both-sidism.”

3. There are losers who the President, the nation’s premier loser-namer, needs to name “losers.” Read this Michael Brendan Dougherty post on The Corner.

4. You cannot have an informed opinion about the role and influence of General McMaster in his role as President Trump’s National Security Advisor unless you read Andy McCarthy’s important analysis of his underestimating the threat of Sharia supremacism.

5. The size of chairs is being deemed a “microaggression” against chubby folks. And more. Kat Timpf reports on the latest lunacy.

6. What is this thing called Rees-Mogg? Intern Jeff Cimmino profiles an emerging Tory leader.

And don’t forget this podcast: On the new episode of The Liberty Files, David French and Andrew Walker, director of policy studies at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, discuss his new book, God and the Transgender Debate.

We’ll see you tomorrow,


National Security & Defense

On Preventing War with North Korea


In today’s Jolt, making the click-through worth your while: Trump’s critics forget how deterrence works, how Google radicalized New York Times columnist David Brooks, and why being an outrage-driven social justice warrior appeals to the lazy.

This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt until August 21. I will return with either an awesome tale of an ambitious family vacation or just rocking back and forth and murmuring, “we’re never taking the kids on a long flight again, we’re never taking the kids on a long flight again.”

Convenient Amnesia on How Deterrence Works

This morning, President Trump tweeted, “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!” Unsurprisingly, this is causing Trump critics to freak out.

Begin with the assumption that we do not want to fight a war on the Korean peninsula. If we want to avoid that, we need to deter North Korea from taking any other actions that will be so provocative, they will require retaliation. If North Korea were to hit Guam, sink a U.S. naval vessel, or fire artillery at American troops in South Korea, failure to retaliate would be to declare a form of surrender; it would demonstrate we and our allies fear war so intensely that we are willing to accept loss of life to avoid it. Of course, this effectively gives the green light to more acts of military aggression.

As mentioned yesterday, North Korea’s recent history is littered with aggressive acts that have killed and injured South Korean soldiers and civilians. The regime announced this week it was considering launching long-range missiles toward, but not directly at, Guam. And our intelligence agencies now think they have successfully miniaturized devices.

Each of those individual risks – North Korea’s habitual unpredictable aggression, their possession of nuclear weapons (that may or may not work), their missiles that can hit the United States – is separately a tolerable problem but collectively, they represent a risk that the American people cannot accept.

The only way deterrence works is if the other guy gets convinced that you’re willing to actually fight. In a game of chicken, the only way the other guy swerves is if he’s convinced you’re not afraid to have a head-on collision.

In other words, to preserve peace, North Korea has to believe that the United States is completely willing and able to fight a war, and fight it until the regime in Pyongyang is destroyed.

It is worth noting at this point that neither side is declaring an intention for a first strike. Neither side is likely to do this, because that would cost the element of surprise to announce it in advance. All of the heated rhetoric about “fire and fury” and “final doom” is basically an exchange of pledges for a devastating counterattack if the other side strikes first. While both sides are capable of launching a devastating counterattack, it is worth noting that there is in imbalance in that devastation. If North Korea did their worst, it would be terrible for South Korea, very bad for Japan, and bad for the United States. But if America and its allies inflicted their worst, North Korea would cease to exist.

For what it’s worth, none of the Korea policy experts quoted by the Washington Post think war is imminent.

‘He Should Seek a Non-Leadership Position.’

Well, now you’ve done it, Google. You’ve gone and radicalized New York Times columnist David Brooks.

The mob that hounded [fired Google engineer James] Damore was like the mobs we’ve seen on a lot of college campuses. We all have our theories about why these moral crazes are suddenly so common. I’d say that radical uncertainty about morality, meaning and life in general is producing intense anxiety. Some people embrace moral absolutism in a desperate effort to find solid ground. They feel a rare and comforting sense of moral certainty when they are purging an evil person who has violated one of their sacred taboos . . . 

Google CEO Sundar Pichai fired Damore and wrote, “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not O.K.”

That is a blatantly dishonest characterization of the memo. Damore wrote nothing like that about his Google colleagues. Either Pichai is unprepared to understand the research (unlikely), is not capable of handling complex data flows (a bad trait in a C.E.O.) or was simply too afraid to stand up to a mob.

Regardless which weakness applies, this episode suggests he should seek a non-leadership position. We are at a moment when mobs on the left and the right ignore evidence and destroy scapegoats. That’s when we need good leaders most.

When a guy fouls up like that, you know what consequence is coming: Brooks will never take him to his favorite fancy Italian sandwich shop.

Who Has ‘Radical Uncertainty about Morality, Meaning and Life’?

Let’s pick at that paragraph from Brooks about “radical uncertainty about morality, meaning and life in general,” because it feels like there’s still some meat on that bone, so to speak. One of the periodic complaints I find myself expressing about American society as I get older is the fear that the search for novelty and “edginess” has driven too many voices to celebrate our villains and demonize our heroes.

Think about anyone who’s been targeted by a social justice warrior online mob for writing or saying something offensive or controversial, and think about the consequences for their actions compared to society’s more infamous figures. Chris Brown walks the streets a free man with the music industry and his fans collectively choosing to forget his brutal beating of Rihanna. Ray Lewis pled guilty to lying to police in exchange for prosecutors dropping a charge of murder; when his playing days were over he worked for ESPN and now does commentary on Fox Sports One. (Quite a few people will point to the current president as a giant inversion of American values. Whatever else you think of him, he is not a polite, respectful, humble, or gracious man.)

Speaking generally, conservatives probably don’t feel like they too are experiencing  “radical uncertainty about morality, meaning and life in general.” The nice thing about being a traditionalist is that you don’t need to constantly revise what you think based on the latest trends. The right thing to do yesterday is still the right thing to do today, and it will be right tomorrow.

I suspect the social justice mobs target a random Google programmer, or Lena Dunham publicly indicts random American Airlines employees for “transphobic talk” she claims to have overheard, because these are very easy targets and very easy “problems” to solve. Society has no shortage of real problems: drug addiction, poverty, homelessness, crime, lack of economic opportunity, those who need counseling or mental health treatment, angry young men lashing out with random violence at strangers, radicalized groups plotting violence on a mass scale.

Experience has taught us that all of those problems are difficult to solve, and many are intertwined. Oftentimes our efforts to solve those problems take two steps forward and then one step back, or they solve one problem but create another. The “broken windows” theory of police work drives down crime rates, but then policemen put Eric Garner in a chokehold for selling cigarettes without a license, and people wonder if the strict enforcement of minor laws has gone too far. Trying to solve any of society’s real problems requires determination, flexibility, empathy, and most of all, patience.

By comparison, whipping up a froth of anger around some random person, with no high-powered lawyers, media friends, or money, over a perceived sexism, racism, transphobia, etcetera, that’s quick and easy! It’s a simple story, usually resolved in a matter of days: Someone commits the thought-crime, the social justice warrior discovers it, calls attention to it, the denunciations and outrage grows until some authority, usually the employer, fires the person as punishment. Then the social justice warriors celebrate; someone has paid a serious financial and reputational price for daring to offend them. Then they move on, looking for the next one. To be a social justice keyboard warrior, you don’t need much determination, flexibility, or patience, and you certainly don’t need empathy. All you need is anger.

ADDENDA: Sometime in the near future, appearing in this space: an edition of the pop culture podcast discussing how every big media company seems to want its own streaming service, Amazon’s Communist-mocking Comrade Detective, upcoming fall television shows from the inspired to the idiotic, and our listeners’ picks for the best commercials of all time.

Politics & Policy

North Korea’s Recent History of Random, Sudden, Violent Provocations


One aspect of the threat from North Korea that doesn’t get addressed seriously enough is the regime is either unable or unwilling to accurately assess the risks of its actions. It’s as if the entire Pyongyang government has no sense of what kind of provocation is so serious that its foes will retaliate with force.

Put aside the regime’s blustery threats; look at what the North Korean government and its military actually does:

November 10, 2009: A North Korean navy patrol boat crosses into South Korean territorial waters, ignores radio warnings and warning shots from South Korean naval units, and opens fire on a South Korean patrol boat. The two boats exchange fire, take light damage, and the North Korean boat returns to its national waters. Similar exchanges of fire between naval vessels occurred in 1999 and 2002, with more significant casualties.

March 26, 2010: A North Korean “midget submarine” fired a torpedo and sunk the South Korean Naval corvette Cheonan, killing 46 sailors and wounding 56 more. North Korea denied responsibility but South Korea and its allies have no doubt they committed the attack.

November 23, 2010: North Korean forces fired around 170 artillery shells and rockets at Yeonpyeong Island in South Korea, hitting both military and civilian targets. The attack left four South Koreans dead and 19 injured. South Korean forces returned fire.

October 19, 2014: “North and South Korean soldiers exchanged gunfire when the North’s soldiers approached the military border and did not retreat after the South fired warning shots.”

August 10, 2015: “North Korean soldiers sneaked across the heavily guarded border with South Korea and planted land mines near one of the South’s military guard posts, and two southern soldiers were maimed after stepping on them.”

In other words, every once in a while, North Korea just goes out and tries to kill some South Koreans without warning because it wants to send a message. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t. So far, South Korea is willing to suffer those casualties and respond proportionally, managing not to escalate a particular clash into a second Korean War. If the North Koreans sank a U.S. Navy ship, shelled U.S. troops in South Korea, or made some other direct attack, how would we respond?  Would it be proportional to North Korea’s attack, or would there be an attempt to deter further attacks by demonstrating overwhelming force? More importantly, would North Korea perceive our response as the opening salvo in an invasion? These are big questions under any U.S. president, but Donald Trump is another giant X factor. How does Trump respond to a fast-moving crisis with many lives at stake?

There’s another more recent event worth keeping in mind as well:

February 13, 2017: At the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, two women believed to be North Korean agents wipe a substance in the face of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He dies shortly after; the substance is later found to be VX nerve agent, “believed to be the most toxic known nerve agent and is banned globally except for research.”

There are a lot of ways to kill somebody; the North Korean regime used a particularly dangerous method in an extremely busy public location. It’s almost as if they’re trying to pick the most reckless and escalating means of achieving their goal as possible. What if North Korea’s regime tried something like that in LAX, LaGuardia, or Dulles?

Right now, a lot of people are probably thinking, “eh, they would never do that” – except that no one foresaw the attack on the Cheonan or Yeonpyeong Island coming, either. North Korea just commits some random, unprovoked act of aggression every once in a while, seemingly confident that they won’t trigger an all-out war in the process.

Elsewhere, our David French imagines how a conventional, non-nuclear war in Korea could unfold, and unfold badly:

There were so many plans – plans upon plans – for dealing with this moment, but no one really reckoned with the human factor. No one could quite foresee how a modern, prosperous nation would react to an instant apocalypse. After generations of the long peace, the world had forgotten total war. We weren’t prepared, and the shock of the moment meant that the plans failed. For crucial hours, for crucial days, until the allies adjusted to the new reality, North Korea had the advantage.

Barring some last-minute dramatic intervention from China, it appears the United States has to choose among three bad options: A) Learn to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea that can strike the United States with Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles; B) a conventional war sooner to eliminate the threat, that will involve massive casualties on the Korean peninsula and possibly elsewhere; or C) a nuclear exchange with North Korea sometime in the future.

It’s probably going to be option A. Yesterday, Jonah recalled a debate about North Korea from the mid-1990s, and pointed out how the natural dynamics of American politics create incentives to continue “diplomatic outreach” even when it is clear no agreement is possible: “There will always be loud and large constituencies insisting there is more time to talk. There will always be strong forces encouraging leaders to kick-the-can to some future administration. If you don’t decide before you enter negotiations what you want from negotiations, all you are doing is negotiating for more negotiations while your opponent is negotiating for more time in pursuit of a concrete goal. In the meantime, their position becomes stronger and ours weaker, which means future negotiations are less likely to yield more desirable outcomes.”

You’re already hearing recommendations that the same diplomatic outreach attempted with Cuba and Iran be applied to North Korea, and that the United States should “formally end the Korean War with a peace treaty and normalize relations – even if the North remains a nuclear power.”

I don’t know about you, but these promises and predictions sound familiar:

With normalization of relations, the United States will be in a better position to deal with North Korea on any issue of mutual concern. Human rights organizations will have the opportunity to address concerns in North Korea directly, rather than observing from the outside. Moreover, U.S. companies and brands could also conceivably move into North Korea. Direct economic interactions between the United States and North Korea might bring about changes that the United States has long pressed for but could not achieve.

But as laid out yesterday, back in the mid-1990s, the United States already gave the North Koreans $6 billion in new reactors and other aid in exchange for promises, promises that the regime had no intention of keeping.

In fact, here comes Obama’s former national security advisor, Susan Rice, today: “History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea – the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War. It will require being pragmatic.”

The proposal for diplomatic outreach assumes that the North Korean regime is rational and is willing to end its long history of violent provocations, shady arms deals, and other hostile behavior. Does this look like a regime that can change its character that fundamentally?

Isn’t ‘Better Than the Left’ a Pretty Low Bar to Clear for a Republican?

In the pages of NRO, Conrad Black made another effort at persuading the NeverTrump crowd to jump on the bandwagon, and unsurprisingly, many of Trump’s critics on the Right are not persuaded. But there’s one point of Black’s article that deserves more attention:

The president’s course is clear: Speak and tweet more carefully, as he is generally doing; show more focus; shut down the nonsense and indiscretions in the White House; prepare an unstoppable tax bill; take a strong line in North Korea (after three successive administrations have failed and dropped this horrible mess into his lap); denounce the Mueller investigation for the outrage that it is; do the necessary to set another special counsel on the backs of the Clintons, Lynch, Comey, Wasserman Schultz, and the unmaskers and leakers (the Democrats deserve the heat more than Trump does and this one-way shooting gallery must end); and, if Rosenstein allows Mueller to go fishing, challenge it in the courts.

I concur with much of this, particularly, “Speak and tweet more carefully; show more focus.” I don’t mind Trump’s “fire and fury” comment about North Korea; there’s something deeply satisfying about watching North Korea’s propagandists get a taste of their own rhetoric served back to them. I just wish he had bothered to review his comments with his own national security team ahead of time instead of springing it on them without warning. Too often, the president still acts like he’s fighting about a real estate deal by offering colorful quotes to the New York Post.

Black concludes, “The choice, for sane conservatives, is Trump or national disaster.” Maybe you saw Election Day 2016 as that strict binary choice. But we’re past Election Day. It’s time to stop measuring Trump merely as an alternative to Hillary and to start measuring him on his own merits. So far, he’s better on policy than I expected – particularly in improving care for veterans — but worse on temperament than I feared. A bunch of grumbling conservatives are a much smaller problem for this administration than the president’s habitual erratic impulsiveness.

ADDENDA: Ha! “Jon Ossoff will be leading a panel discussion at Netroots on Saturday about winning the 2018 midterm elections.” Another case of “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” huh?

Politics & Policy

Thomas Friedman on Trump, Clintons on North Korea, Google on Diversity


Today’s effort to make clicking through worth your while: a New York Times columnist surprises everyone by acknowledging Trump’s campaign raised some valid concerns, the origins of that mild threat of mushroom clouds in the Pacific, and some eye-popping figures that raise serious questions about Google and corporate diversity initiatives.

Thomas Friedman: Hey, Maybe Trump Has a Point on Some Issues

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls on Democrats to acknowledge President Trump makes some valid points. He picks four issues:

  •  We can’t take in every immigrant who wants to come here; we need, metaphorically speaking, a high wall that assures Americans we can control our border with a big gate that lets as many people in legally as we can effectively absorb as citizens.

  • The Muslim world does have a problem with pluralism – gender pluralism, religious pluralism and intellectual pluralism – and suggesting that terrorism has nothing to do with that fact is naïve; countering violent extremism means constructively engaging with Muslim leaders on this issue.

  • Americans want a president focused on growing the economic pie, not just redistributing it. We do have a trade problem with China, which has reformed and closed instead of reformed and opened. We have an even bigger problem with automation wiping out middle-skilled work and we need to generate more blue-collar jobs to anchor communities.

  • Political correctness on college campuses has run ridiculously riot. Americans want leaders to be comfortable expressing patriotism and love of country when globalization is erasing national identities. America is not perfect, but it is, more often than not, a force for good in the world.

The problem is, this runs afoul of amnesty, kumbaya “diversity” talk, tax-the-rich-and-redistribute-the-money economic plans, and urban elites’ sense of smug superiority over those less educated. That’s pretty much the Democratic platform right there! If you take that away, what’s left?

History’s Brutal Verdict on the Last U.S. Agreement with North Korea

Are the current tensions with North Korea something new, a harbinger of a new era of nuclear threats and negotiations that feel akin to blackmail? Or just the latest act in a three-decade cycle of almost regularly-scheduled provocations and demands that no longer surprise the United States and its allies?

Let’s go back to June 1994: the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup, The Lion King opened up in theaters, O.J. Simpson was on the run in a slow white Bronco, and the world slowly recognized that North Korea was seriously pursuing nuclear weapons.

The cover of Time magazine, June 13, 1994:

A few months earlier, North Korea had declared, during “peace” talks, “We are ready to respond with an eye for an eye and a war for a war. If war breaks out, we will turn Seoul into a sea of fire.” The public didn’t know it at the time, but the United States was quite close to a major escalation that week, one that many in the Pentagon expected would lead to a Second Korean War:

It was a tense scene in the White House on June 15, 1994. [Secretary of Defense William] Perry and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. John Shalikashvili were briefing President Clinton and other top officials on three options to substantially reinforce the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed on the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean War.

The Pentagon was advocating a “middle option” — moving 10,000 more troops, along with F-117s, long-range bombers and an additional carrier battle group to Korea or nearby.

“We were within a day of making major additions to our troop deployments to Korea, and we were about to undertake an evacuation of American civilians from Korea,” Perry recalled.

The real fear was that North Korea would read the buildup and evacuations as certain signs of an impending attack, and launch a preemptive invasion of South Korea. U.S. analysts believed the North Koreans took one main lesson from the 1991 Persian Gulf War: Don’t give the United States time to mass its forces.

Perry told Clinton all the options were unpalatable, but that not to pick one of them would be disastrous.

“My recollection is that before the president got to choose — was asked to choose — the door of the room opened and we were told that there was a telephone call from former president Carter in Pyongyang and that he wished to speak to me,” Gallucci remembered.

Jimmy Carter had been meeting as a private citizen with North Korea’s aging leader Kim Il Sung, and was calling to report a breakthrough. The White House session broke up and relieved officials watched television as Carter informed CNN by telephone of the latest development.

In other words, a conflict with non-nuclear North Korea was averted by Jimmy Carter freelancing. By October, Bill Clinton announced the U.S. and North Korea had a deal:

I am pleased that the United States and North Korea yesterday reached agreement on the text of a framework document on North Korea’s nuclear program. This agreement will help to achieve a longstanding and vital American objective: an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula. This agreement is good for the United States, good for our allies, and good for the safety of the entire world. It reduces the danger of the threat of nuclear spreading in the region.

As with the Iran deal many years later, the deal with North Korea was not a formal treaty and thus never ratified by Congress.

Of course, the North Koreans cheated; the U.S. provided oil, two light water reactors, and a new electric grid, altogether worth roughly $5 billion, in exchange for promises.

U.S. intelligence agencies found evidence that North Korea was up to something; spy satellites detected massive underground excavations and construction. A.Q. Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, traveled to North Korea several times. A telling anecdote, reported in 2002:

One Western diplomat who visited North Korea in May 1998, just as world attention focused on Pakistan, which had responded to India’s underground nuclear tests by setting off six of its own, recalled witnessing an odd celebration.

“I was in the Foreign Ministry,” the official recalled last week. “About 10 minutes into our meeting, the North Korean diplomat we were seeing broke into a big smile and pointed with pride to these tests. They were all elated. Here was a model of a poor state getting away with developing a nuclear weapon.”

The Clinton administration did not let the intelligence get in the way of a happy narrative of improving relations with North Korea. By 2000, Secretary of State Madeline Albright was traveling to Pyongyang to meet Kim Jong Il and declaring the administration no longer labeled them a “rogue state.”

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright disclosed the change in the official lexicon today when she was asked about “the rogue state” of North Korea and its “rogue leader,” Kim Jong Il.

“First of all, we are now calling these states ‘states of concern,’” Dr. Albright told a radio interviewer on the same day the administration moved to ease trade restrictions against North Korea, a former battlefield foe that is continuing to develop weapons that may one day be capable of striking the United States.

In a long history of naïve foreign policy decisions and deals, the Clinton administration’s approach to North Korea ranks as one of the worst.

By 2002, the Bush administration confronted North Korea with evidence that they had an ongoing program to develop nuclear weapons.

“We need nuclear weapons,” Kang Sok Joo, the North Korean senior foreign policy official, said, arguing that the program was a result of the Bush administration’s hostility.

[Assistant Secretary of State James] Kelly responded that the program began at least four years ago, when Mr. Bush was governor of Texas. The Americans left after one North Korean official declared that dialogue on the subject was worthless and said, “We will meet sword with sword.”

Reading about the 1994 North Korean deal today feels like watching The Usual Suspects the second time. You know who the villain is, and who is not to be trusted, and you shake your head every time you see someone naively trust the villain.

Senator Dianne Feinstein responded to the news that North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its intercontinental ballistic missiles by declaring, “our policy of isolating North Korea has not worked. The United States must quickly engage North Korea in a high-level dialogue without any preconditions.”

What does she want to do in that high-level dialogue? North Korea has already demonstrated that they’re willing to lie and cheat. How likely is it that they’ll just give up their nukes and ICBM capabilities at the negotiating table?

The Aspect of Diversity at Google the Company Would Rather Not Talk About

Two ideas that don’t necessarily conflict: 1) Diversity is “good” in the sense that a group that has a varied set of viewpoints and experiences is likely to find better solutions and generate better ideas than one that has a uniform set of viewpoints and experiences. 2) A lot of corporate “diversity” initiatives are expensive public relations efforts that don’t amount to much, and may even worsen tensions because of their insistence upon defining people by race, ethnicity, gender, and religion instead of seeing all aspects of an individual.

President Obama’s cabinet certainly looked diverse, in terms of the number of women and racial minorities, but 22 of Obama’s first 35 appointments had a degree from an Ivy League university, MIT, Stanford, the University of Chicago, Oxford, or Cambridge. Out of more than 3,000 institutions that offer four-year degrees, thirteen institutions educated more than 60 percent of the top positions in government. The government values diversity, except for the kinds of people who go to a state university, apparently.

A point worth noting in the Google controversy: Starting in 2014, Google spent at least $264 million to improve diversity in the company; 29 percent of the company’s employees are women, 5 percent are Latino, and 2 percent are black – all largely unchanged from when the diversity initiative began. So where’s all the money going, and what are they doing with it?

ADDENDA: Joe Mathieu with a timely suggestion for a Hollywood reboot: The Day After.

For this week’s pop culture podcast, my co-host wants to know your favorite commercial of all time.

Politics & Policy

Google, Searching for Lawyers


When does one employee holding an opinion contrary to another employee’s become harassment? My guess is that a lawsuit at Google is going to explore that question under the harsh glare of public scrutiny.

Google on Monday fired the employee who wrote an internal memo suggesting men are better suited for tech jobs than women, escalating a debate over free speech at the company.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said in an email to his staff that the employee’s memo violated company policy. Google, part of Alphabet Inc., didn’t publicly name the memo’s author.

Software engineer James Damore, who said in an email that he wrote the memo and was fired for it, said he was considering legal action against Google for firing him after he complained to federal labor officials about executives’ alleged efforts to silence him.

Mr. Damore published an internal memo last week that criticized Google’s efforts to increase diversity at the company, arguing the program discriminated against some employees. He said men were generally better at engineering jobs than women and a liberal bias among executives and many employees made it difficult to discuss the issue at Google.

The memo went viral inside the company, which spilled into public view when Google employees publicly criticized it and eventually leaked it to the media. The controversy posed a thorny question for one of the world’s largest companies, one that espouses free speech: How would it handle an employee who offered opinions that were, to many inside the company, offensive?

“Portions of the memo violate our code of conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace,” Mr. Pichai said in his email. He added that the company’s code of conduct requires “each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.”

Damore was talking to the National Labor Relations Board before the firing . . .  so Google just fired an employee who was talking to the government about a hostile working environment.

One of the statements in that memo: “In highly progressive environments, conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility. We should empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves.”

Google couldn’t prove his point any better if they had deliberately tried!

Before the firing, CNBC pointed to two other potential legal issues:

First, federal labor law bars even non-union employers like Google from punishing an employee for communicating with fellow employees about improving working conditions. The purpose of the memo was to persuade Google to abandon certain diversity-related practices the engineer found objectionable and to convince co-workers to join his cause, or at least discuss the points he raised.

In a reply to the initial outcry over his memo, the engineer added to his memo: “Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired.” The law protects that kind of “concerted activity.”

Second, the engineer’s memo largely is a statement of his political views as they apply to workplace policies. The memo is styled as a lament to “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” California law prohibits employers from threatening to fire employees to get them to adopt or refrain from adopting a particular political course of action.

On matters like this, you want to hear from our David French:

It’s important to note that Google and American Airlines are both private corporations. They have enormous latitude to advance their own corporate viewpoints and to regulate the speech of their employees. There is no First Amendment violation here. There’s nothing illegal about fellow employees or corporate employers attempting to squelch the speech of employees who quite literally dissent from the company line.

But just because something is legal does not mean it’s right, and the result is a crisis in the culture of free speech in the United States. As the politicization of everything proceeds apace, the “company line” has increasingly moved well beyond promoting its own products to promoting a particular kind of politics. Major corporations and virtually every university in the nation are now political entities just as much as they’re commercial entities, and they wear their progressivism on their sleeves.

Our Michael Brendan Dougherty with a terrific observation:

For what’s it’s worth, I’m not sure that even apologists for Diversity with a capital D really believe that all disparities are the result of oppression. Before I joined the class of people who type into a screen for a living, I did short stints of decently-compensated work sealing driveway pavement and making industrial quantities of ammonium formate on the floor of a chemical plant. They were all-male environments. No one worries that women are being held back from these jobs. Diversity is surely important. Diversity is good. Diversity is the best. But for now it is a fight among priests. Only God can judge it.

One other detail worth noting:

Google said in its annual diversity report in June that 31% of its employees are women, unchanged from a year earlier. The percentage of black employees also was unchanged at 2 percent, and the number of Hispanic workers increased to 4 percent from 3 percent. Most Google workers are white and Asian men.

Wait, I Thought We Were Heading into a Democratic Wave Midterm Election

Ohio’s 16th Congressional District, which includes some of Cleveland’s western suburbs, is neither the most heavily Republican district in the state nor easy territory for Democrats, scoring an R+8 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Democrat John Boccieri won in this district in the Obama wave of 2008, and it’s an open seat, as incumbent Republican Jim Renacci is running for governor in 2018.

You would think this district would be a second-tier or at least third-tier target for Democrats seeking to retake the House – no easy pickings, but the sort of seat they could win if they get a national wave.

And yet, candidate recruitment isn’t going as smoothly as Democrats might have hoped:

Democrat Keith Mundy, who was trounced by U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci last year, says he’s going to run again next year in Ohio’s 16th Congressional district.

The thing is, though, Mundy doesn’t really want to run again.

“Personally, I would rather see someone else run who’s younger who might be smarter and have more money,” Mundy, a 67-year-old legal research and delivery service owner from Parma, told cleveland.com’s Jeremy Pelzer. “But right now, I don’t see anyone else stepping up to run in the 16th District.”

Political novice Aaron Godfrey, a physicist from North Olmsted, is the only Democrat to formally enter the race so far. Mundy said he’s worried Godfrey would be “eaten alive” in a general election.

Even if a viable Democrat does enter the race, Mundy said, he would continue running with the idea that a Democratic primary would bring more media attention to that candidate.

Mundy, who got involved in politics through Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign last year, said he has little chance of winning the heavily Republican district. With Renacci running for governor in 2018, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Patton and state Rep. Christina Hagan are squaring off in the GOP primary.

I almost admire the open reluctance:

Keith Mundy 2018: Well, I Guess, If Nobody Else Wants to Run I’ll Do It

The Uncomfortable Ease of Jumping from News Jobs to Campaign Jobs

I’m going to attempt to speak gently here, in part because of my past interactions with everyone involved, i.e., CNN and CNN International periodically inviting me to join their panels and the eye-roll seen around the world . . . 

You may have seen Kayleigh McEnany departed CNN and signed on to do news-report-style appearances on Trump’s Facebook page, as well as a public role with the Republican National Committee. She signed off from her Trump-approved appearance on Trump’s social media platform with the slogan, “and that is the real news!” – echoing, of course, Trump’s assertion that media reports critical of him are “Fake News.”

As a CNN contributor, McEnany was everything the Trump campaign and administration could possibly want; if she ever uttered a critical word, I missed it. You have to wonder if she does more good to promote the administration’s arguments as a talking head on CNN or as a spokeswoman role for the RNC. (She offers the same message in both venues; the question is whether she does it on the network’s dime or on the party’s, and which audience she reaches in each one.) You also have to wonder how CNN is feeling right now. They hired McEnany and turned her into a familiar face to television viewers; she suddenly departed to formally join the party. Or how McEnany feels about telling viewers on the Facebook page to stay there for “real news” as opposed to the cable news networks . . .  like the one that hired her.

CNN aired a fairly critical segment about their former employee’s new role, with Brian Stelter asking, “The president has railed against ‘fake news,’ isn’t this a sign the president create his own version, he’d rather make his own newscast?” (I wonder if this is the news-world equivalent of fans burning an old player’s jersey when he signs a free agent contract with another team.)

Our Tiana Lowe points out the network’s perspective on assembling panels:

The New York Times Magazine’s disturbing profile of Zucker last spring made that much clear: As Zucker sees it, his pro-Trump panelists are not just spokespeople for a worldview; they are “characters in a drama,” members of CNN’s extended ensemble case. “Everybody says, ‘Oh I can’t believe you have Jeffery Lord or Kayleigh McEnancy,’ but you know what?” Zucker told me with some satisfaction. “They know who Jeffery Lord and Kayleigh McEnany are.”

(Jim looks in the mirror and asks, “which character am I?”)

(Every once in a while, I get asked about this; I am not paid contributor to CNN or CNN International, but they cover the costs of getting me to and from their studios. I have never been asked to argue a particular perspective for or against the administration. We’re told the topics of discussion ahead of time, but not the questions that will be asked.)

ADDENDA: It took a little while, but the new edition of the pop culture podcast is indeed now posted.

Politics & Policy

Responding to Russia


In today’s Jolt, we’ll explore a question of how and when to confront Russia, why the Senate is being a little more productive than before, and why Ohio governor John Kasich is the thing that wouldn’t leave. I know some you find clicking through on “READ MORE” to be a pain, so I’ll try to make it worth your while.

What Is the Wisest, Least-Dangerous Way to Confront Russia?

Our Michael Brendan Dougherty asks a fair question on the topic of whether the United States should provide weapons to Ukraine. Just what is it we want to achieve?

Ultimately, Ukraine is of peripheral interest to the United States and Western Europe even if annoying Russia has incredible appeal right now. Giving it arms, or extending to it a kind of quasi-membership in NATO might irritate Russia, but it would also create a new dependent for the U.S. And it could embolden Ukrainian nationalists to do something foolish, the way that Mikheil Saakashvili jeopardized Georgia in 2008 by acting provocatively once he thought he had the backing of the West. Punishing Russia is obviously at the top of our leaders’ minds. But arming Ukraine would mean escalating tensions precisely where American commitments can do the least good and are not at all credible. There are better ways to get Vladimir Putin’s goat. We should consider them, instead.

A few days ago I asked, “when do we feel like [the Russian government] has suffered sufficient consequences? What constitutes ‘winning’ to us?”

America’s Democrats were not so angry when Russia rolled into Crimea, when Russian-backed rebels shot down a passenger airliner, or when Russian spy planes and bombers fly near Alaska and other parts of American airspace. No, their anger at Russia begins and, I suspect, ends over their belief that Russia helped beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. The only proper “fix” in their minds is to make Clinton president; they’re not that concerned about Russia’s other hostile activities.

My fear in escalating our hostility towards Russia is that the Democrats will pull an Iraq War: support the conflict fully until the first setbacks, then suddenly reverse themselves and demonize the opposition as warmongers for agreeing with them.

Separately, how should we react when Russia does something we want them to do, like support us at the United Nations on sanctions on North Korea?

After a month of deliberations and negotiations, the Security Council on Saturday unanimously passed a resolution that would slash about $1 billion off North Korea’s annual foreign revenue.

China and Russia, the council’s two permanent members who resisted new economic sanctions on North Korea, ultimately endorsed the resolution, saying the rogue nation’s recent provocations were unacceptable.

This could be interpreted as a conciliatory step on their part. How do we want to respond?

That Do-Something Senate

President Trump receives a lot of grief for his slow pace of formally nominating cabinet officials, and the president has offered legitimate complaints about the Senate’s slow pace of confirming those nominations.

There’s finally some good news. Before heading out of town for the August recess, the Senate approved a lot of nominations. Four had recorded votes — FBI Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouilette, National Labor Relations Board Marvin Kaplan, and Kevin Newsom to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eleventh Circuit.

Another 65 nominees were confirmed by voice vote, including Kay Bailey Hutchison to be U.S. Ambassador to NATO, former Congressman Mark Green to be head of the U.S. Agency for International Development and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson to be ambassador to the United Kingdom. Yes, it’s a rebuilding year for our relationship with Great Britain.

Also, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a quorum again! Now they can get started on those fifteen gas pipeline and pumping station projects seeking approval!

John Kasich, The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave

The New York Times contends — only somewhat convincingly — that Republicans are thinking about 2020 presidential race beyond a President Trump reelection campaign. One of their key examples is John Kasich:

Mr. Kasich has been more defiant: The Ohio governor, who ran unsuccessfully in 2016, has declined to rule out a 2020 campaign in multiple television interviews, and has indicated to associates that he may run again, even if Mr. Trump seeks another term.

Color me supremely skeptical of the notion that many Republicans of any stripe will be eager to support a John Kasich presidential bid in 2020.

John Kasich obviously doesn’t appeal to Trump supporters, but those of us who are critical of Trump on the Right don’t have particularly fond memories of the Kasich 2016 effort, either. The Ohio governor turned out to be more of an obstacle than an ally to the #NeverTrump crowd, because he kept dividing the non-Trump vote in the wildly unrealistic belief that his amazing comeback was always just around the corner.

Kasich never had significant support in the field; he barely met the threshold to qualify for the prime-time debate in his home state. He won just under 2 percent in the Iowa caucuses, and won a single delegate. Then he went to New Hampshire, which was supposed to be his strongest early state; he had held more than 100 town-hall meetings there. The good news is that he finished second in a crowded field. The bad news is that he won . . .  15 percent, 20 points behind Trump. With the modesty that became his hallmark, Kasich characterized his distant second finish as, “the light overcame the darkness of negative campaigning.”

He went on to finish fifth with 7.5 percent in South Carolina and 3.6 percent in Nevada. He flopped on Super Tuesday, and reached the point where there really wasn’t much point in remaining in the race. But like John Belushi in the old Saturday Night Live sketch, The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave, Kasich just hung around, ensuring that the opposition to Trump was always split between at least two candidates. Kasich continued to run, even as he performed worse than candidates who had already withdrawn from the race; as CNN described the Arizona primary, “It was a three-man race, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich came in fourth.” Kasich hung around until May 4, one day after Ted Cruz withdrew from the race, and Trump had already effectively won the nomination.

Did John Kasich’s determination to remain in the race make Trump the nominee? No, not by itself, but it certainly ensured that the Republican primary electorate was never given a binary choice between Trump and a more traditional conservative like Cruz.

If for some reason, Trump isn’t on the ballot in 2020, then Republicans will have better options than, say, a governor who’s always willing to criticize his own party and winning rave reviews from Joy Behar and the editorial board of the New York Times. And even if Trump is on the ballot and looks extremely unlikely to win reelection . . .  why would anti-Trump Republicans reward the Republican who played such a key role in his winning the nomination in 2016?

ADDENDA: Did you see that over the weekend, two Americans, Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman, beat the Fastest Man Alive, Usain Bolt, in the 100 meter dash? Maybe America really is great again.

I concur with our Kyle Smith’s assessment of Amazon’s faux-found Romanian Communist cop comedy Comrade Detective. The gist is that Channing Tatum and his friend Jon Ronson have uncovered the original footage of Romania’s long-lost and most beloved television series, a gritty cop drama from the 1980s (although the visual style looks more like the 1970s), where the cops uncover sinister American plots to smuggle in Jordache jeans and Monopoly board games, undermining their Romanian worker’s paradise. (They keep pronouncing the jean brand, “Jor-dock-key.”) Picture Miami Vice in Bucharest. My favorite line so far comes when a suspect appears to commit suicide, and the crusty police captain exclaims, “No man has the right to take his own life! That right is reserved entirely for the state!”

Politics & Policy

Sources Say Mueller Has a Grand Jury; Others Say It’s Just an Okay One


Notice that in one day, the public learned three different things about former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s investigation, from three different news organizations.

The Wall Street Journal: “Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, a sign that his inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase.”

CNN: “Federal investigators exploring whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian spies have seized on Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward, according to people familiar with the investigation.”

Reuters: “A grand jury has issued subpoenas in connection with a June 2016 meeting that included President Donald Trump’s son, his son-in-law and a Russian lawyer.”

As Trump would say, “this will all come out in the wash.” Right now, we don’t know what Mueller and his team knows or has found. At some point, if they want to prosecute someone, they will have to showcase their evidence against particular individuals, and the jury – and presumably the interested public – will have a chance to consider that evidence. There’s no point in Trump or his defenders going to DEFCON 1 this early. This could end with minor charges against indivudals on the periphery of Trump’s orbit, or it could lead to something much bigger. Best to keep the powder dry until it’s needed.

But our Andy McCarthy makes an important point:

The Justice Department told the public that this was a counterintelligence investigation; thus, neither the American people nor the people implicated in the investigation were given notice that crimes were suspected, much less what particular crimes and who the suspects are. That is intolerable now that we are formally in a criminal-investigation mode.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that the special counsel should be barred from investigating any crimes he reasonably suspects at this point. Nor do I mean to imply that the president is entitled to more favorable legal standards than any other American would be. But in the higher interest of his capacity to function as president and our capacity to hold our political representatives accountable, President Trump and the American people should be told whether he is suspected of criminal wrongdoing and, if so, what wrongdoing.

Wasserman Shultz: Anti-Muslim Bias Led to My Staffer’s Arrest

Wow. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is basically accusing the FBI of anti-Muslim bias in their arrest of her former IT staffer, Imran Awan. Several members of Awan’s family were accused of “stealing equipment from members’ offices without their knowledge and committing serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network” and the FBI arrested him

His arrest, the congresswoman said, had nothing to do with the months-long investigation of Awan as an IT worker for a variety of members of Congress. An FBI affidavit filed with the criminal complaint said Awan and his wife claimed a property used to secure a home equity line of credit was a “principal residence,” when it was, in fact, a rental property. Wasserman Schultz said there still hasn’t been any evidence presented that he’s done anything wrong involving his work for Congress.

And, she said, she believes he may have been put under scrutiny because of his religious faith. Awan is Muslim.

“I had grave concerns about his due process rights being violated,” she said. “When their investigation was reviewed with me, I was presented with no evidence of anything that they were being investigated for. And so that, in me, gave me great concern that his due process rights were being violated. That there were racial and ethnic profiling concerns that I had,” she said.

Elsewhere in that interview, Wasserman Schultz says she doesn’t think Awan was fleeing the country. The affidavit from the FBI said that Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi, left the country abruptly, with a great deal of cash in March.

ALVI was with her three children, who your Affiant later learned were abruptly taken out of school without notifying the Fairfax County Public School System. ALVI had numerous pieces of luggage with her, including cardboard boxes. A secondary search of those items revealed that the boxes contained household goods, clothing, and food items. U.S. Customs and Border Protection conducted a search of ALVI’s bags immediately prior to her boarding the plane and located a total of $12,400.00 in U.S. cash inside. ALVI was permitted to board the flight to Qatar and she and her daughters have not returned to the United States. ALVI has a return flight booked for a date in September 2017. Based on your Affiant’s observations at Dulles Airport, and upon his experience and training, your Affiant does not believe that ALVI has any intention to return to the United States.

I guess we’ll see whether his wife returns in September. If she doesn’t, then the theory that they planned to flee the country doesn’t seem so farfetched, now does it?

Maybe Awan is innocent of all the charges. But if he isn’t, Wasserman Schultz really deserves to be raked over the coals for making a spurious charge of racial bias.

The Republicans Seek Out and Find Justice in West Virginia

The Republican Party added its 35th governor last night without an election.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced Thursday he’s switching parties to join Republicans as President Donald Trump visited the increasingly conservative state.

Justice told about 9,000 Trump supporters at a rally in Huntington that he will be changing his registration Friday, Aug. 4. He recently visited the White House twice with proposals on manufacturing and coal, noting that neither he nor Trump are politicians and they both ran to get something done, he said.

“This man is a good man. He’s got a backbone. He’s got real ideas,” Justice said. “He cares about America. He cares about us in West Virginia.”

Trump said they spoke a few weeks ago about working together to open coal mines and create jobs in furniture manufacturing and other forms of manufacturing. “But Governor Justice did something else very important tonight. He showed the country that our agenda rises above left or right,” Trump said.

There are some voices who think the West Virginia governor is making a terrible mistake. Matthew Dowd calls it “one of the few examples of getting on the Titanic after it has already hit the iceberg.” Taegan Goddard reacts, “Who knows . . .  but this could go down as one of the most poorly-timed political moves in a long time.”

These guys seem really convinced that there’s going to be an exceptionally broad-based backlash against President Trump that will hurt many, many Republicans out of office. That could happen, of course . . .  although we haven’t seen it so far in any of the House special elections. When we look at the near future, the New Jersey gubernatorial race is a dumpster fire and virtually already over for Republicans, and Virginia’s looks close.

Let’s also remember, this is West Virginia. Assume that the country begins to strongly prefer Democrats in the coming year or three. Justice won’t face the voters again until November 2020, and even if Democrats do make a comeback in that state, what kind of Democrats do you think will be riding that wave? Do you think they’ll be pro-choice, anti-coal gun control advocates? Or do you think they’ll be more like Joe Manchin – pro-government spending cultural conservatives?

In other words, if and presumably when Justice runs for reelection, just how different do you think his agenda and perspective are going to be when he runs as a Republican instead of as a Democrat?

ADDENDA: Hopefully today, a new episode of the pop culture podcast will arrive here. Mickey and I contemplate the siren’s call of high school reunions, the existential crisis of the NFL preseason – with starters now not playing in two of the five weeks, what’s the point? — that bizarre New York Post article announcing zaftig figures are back in style, ABC’s Somewhere Between and other summer programming, and those cultural phenomenon you hate that everyone else seems to love.

This is one of the rare recent podcasts where I didn’t discuss Twin Peaks. Indulge me again.

With six episodes remaining in the new and likely final season on Showtime, I now suspect that Dale Cooper will not “come back” from his lengthy psychological vacation, living an alternate life as addle-brained insurance salesman Dougie Jones.

I predict that at some point, Coop will have a choice of returning to his life as Dale Cooper, an FBI agent who’s been missing for 25 years, or remaining as Dougie, with a wife and son who need him. He’ll choose the path of Dougie.

Right now, everything’s pointing to this. Viewers have been treated to a recurring theme of fathers and their children. Ben Horne laments that his grandson, the child-killing monster Richard Horne, “never had a father.” We saw Warden Murphy get killed right in front of his son. Bobby Briggs turned around his life in part because of his father’s benevolence and faith in him. (He’s having a tough time doing the same with his daughter Becky, but we know Bobby cares about his daughter.) Andy and Lucy are so proud of their faux-thoughtful ninny son. We got a farewell to Doc Hayward, played by Warren Frost, co-creator Mark Frost’s real-life father. And of course, the plot of the entire show was put in motion by the ultimate Bad Father, Leland Palmer.

FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole at times seems like a fatherly figure to Albert, and Albert seems to tolerate him as an increasingly nutty/Alzheimer’s-ridden father. (At times Albert seems strangely nonchalant about the search for Coop, and I’m starting to think about them sort of as surrogate brothers, learning from the father figure Cole. Miguel Ferrer is a little older than Kyle MacLachlan and Chris Isaak; maybe Albert’s previous irritability stemmed from sibling rivalry with the younger agents being invited into the “Blue Rose” family.)

The FBI is Cooper’s only real family; My Life, My Tapes makes clear that Cooper had been estranged from his brother for decades and his mother died fairly young. Annie, the love interest from season two, has only been mentioned in passing once this season. We saw in the last episode that Audrey’s life has moved on, in a generally bad direction. Other characters discuss Harry Truman as if he’s at death’s door. Life moved on without Dale Cooper; he can’t return to the Twin Peaks he knew because the Twin Peaks he knew doesn’t exist anymore.

The theme of the new series may well be that despite the subtitle “The Return,” you can’t go home again, and a lesson that we can’t spend our days dwelling in nostalgia – which may come across as some heavy-handed lecturing to a devoted fan base.

(I’m reminded that Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost wrote a book called The Six Messiahs, imagining Arthur Conan Doyle traveling the United States in 1894 and being constantly hounded by Sherlock Holmes fans, demanding to know how he could have killed off Holmes, and whether he will bring him back in a future book.)

Learning to accept the twists and turns that life has brought to us is a theme in line with David Lynch’s transcendental meditation/Eastern philosophy thinking. If it shakes out this way, I’ll probably end up chalking up the Showtime series as a fascinating disappointment. This message, well-intended as it is, required a giant bait-and-switch upon the audience, promising a return of a beloved show but only using its trappings to present a very different story . . . 

Politics & Policy

Jeff Sessions Isn’t Going Anywhere



New White House chief of staff John Kelly, in one of his first acts in his new post, called Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reassure him that his position was safe despite the recent onslaught of criticism he has taken from President Donald Trump.

Kelly called Sessions on Saturday to stress that the White House was supportive of his work and wanted him to continue his job, according to two people familiar with the call. The people demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about a private conversation. Kelly, who was appointed to the post the day before, described the president as still miffed at Sessions but did not plan to fire him or hope he would resign.

Trump’s public scapegoating of Sessions was perhaps his lowest point as president, arguably the most self-destructive expression of presidential rage in recent memory. The true accelerant for the Russia investigation was Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey, not Sessions’ recusal. The fact that the president was willing to publicly vent his blame-shifting fury at Sessions, a man who had stuck with him through thick and thin, and who had been one of his first and most important supporters, was one of the best pieces of evidence that Trump was increasingly growing too impulsive and erratic to function in the job. He keeps chasing away his own allies and handing his enemies more ammunition.

Maybe Kelly is righting the ship. Maybe.

Two Good Bills for Veterans Head to the President’s Desk

Thank bipartisan support for helping veterans, or lingering anger over the previous scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but whatever the reason, Congress is managing to get legislation passed addressing veterans’ needs.

First, Congress finally worked out a deal on funding for Veterans Choice. If you believe that veterans should be able to seek out and get the best care wherever they prefer, whether it’s within the VA or from a private health care provider, Veterans Choice is a nice half-step, but hardly a sweeping change. (The booming demand for treatment through the program can be interpreted in veterans’ interest in exploring other treatment options.)

Under Veterans Choice, any veteran who lives 40 miles or more from the closest VA medical facility, or who faces a 30-day or more wait time, can seek out treatment from a private facility and the VA will handle the payment. (Veterans in Alaska and Hawaii are automatically enrolled in the program, and for New Hampshire, the distance requirement is only 20 miles.)

The accusation from some on Capitol Hill, particularly Democrats, is that Veterans Choice is some sort of step on the road to “privatizing” the VA. But the government-run health care system, for all of its flaws, is probably irreplaceable, at least for a long while. While there are VA institutions that fall far short of the public’s expectations, there are plenty of ones that offer excellent care, and plenty of veterans who are satisfied with their treatment. VA hospitals specialize in treating the types of injuries and health ailments that veterans are most likely to suffer, particularly limb replacement and PTSD.

VA secretary David Shulkin is probably breathing a little easier, as he had estimated that the Veterans Choice program would run out of money this week. “Congress took an important step in helping the VA to continue to build an integrated system that allows veterans to receive the best healthcare possible, whether from VA or the private sector,” Shulkin said. “The $2.1 billion in Choice funding ensures there will be no disruptions to quality care for our veterans.”

Concerned Veterans for America, one of the groups most enthusiastic about promoting choice for veterans, is slightly dissatisfied that the $2.1 billion in Choice funding had to be attached to $1.8 billion in funding new leases for VA medical centers, which they would have preferred be considered separately.

“The good news is that veterans who are able to successfully use the Choice Program won’t have to worry about lapses in their care,” said CVA’s policy director, Dan Caldwell. “The bad news is that this bill is unnecessarily costly because some veterans groups and elected officials decided to make this moment about political games instead of veterans’ needs. We saw a preview of how opponents of expanding veterans’ access to health care will try to inject their anti-choice agenda into the legislative process in upcoming months.”

The Senate also passed the “Forever GI Bill,” a series of reforms to veterans’ education benefits. The most significant change enacted by the legislation is that future service members will be able to use their GI Bill benefits at any point in their lifetimes, doing away with a previous 15-year limit. Members of the National Guard and Reserve who are training, deployed, or undergoing certain medical treatment related to their service will be able to accrue benefits like active duty service members; veterans who are studying science, technology, engineering, or math receive additional benefits if their field of study requires additional credits; and if a service member dies before being able to use the benefits, they transfer to a dependent.

“This bill will launch a new era for all who have honorably served in uniform, and for the nation as a whole,” said Charles E. Schmidt, national commander of the American Legion, in an issued statement. “In essence, it will help today’s GI Bill live up to the world-changing accomplishments of the original, which transformed America after World War II.”

These may not seem like the biggest pieces of legislation in the world, but to some veterans, they’re going to make a consequential difference in their lives.

Hey, Remember Common Core, Continued . . . 

Following yesterday’s update about Common Core, and the New York Times’ casual mention that there’s been no discernable improvement in students’ writing skills, Frederick Hess at AEI points to his 2014 piece revealing how the idea was sold as all things to all people, and how its advocates have largely ignored or mocked valid criticism. A good sample:

Common Core advocates have been battered with bad press over poorly designed class assignments. Advocates say it’s misguided to blame Common Core for dumb math lessons or worksheets because the Common Core is simply a set of standards and not a curriculum. Reports of ridiculous worksheets or infuriating homework assignments may well be unfortunate instances of teachers getting it wrong, but if an organization adopts an otherwise wonderful mission statement that lots of employees proceed to interpret “incorrectly,” it is not unreasonable to raise questions about the whole exercise. In point of fact, the Common Core is very much a blank canvas, and given the faddish pedagogies endemic to American education, critics are hardly being unreasonable when they worry that the Common Core may invite new-age goofiness into the classroom.

If Common Core is as good as its advocates contended . . .  shouldn’t we see a dramatic improvement in student scores right about now?

ADDENDA: Indulge me a little.

We’re twelve episodes in to the 18-episode run of Twin Peaks, probably the last portrayal of the fictional town and its residents that we’ll ever see. We’ve been told to think of it as an 18-hour movie or an 18-chapter novel instead of 18 separate episodes. The first two “acts” of the story are, presumably, complete.

Back in March, Entertainment Weekly made the show’s return its cover story and offered three covers, sold simultaneously. The covers featured nine members of the original cast who are in the new Showtime series, as well as co-creator and director David Lynch, who plays a hard-of-hearing, goofy FBI deputy director.

The characters featured on the cover were . . . 

1) Nadine Hurley, who has been seen three times briefly, with perhaps one line of dialogue.

2) Big Ed Hurley, unseen so far.

3) James Hurley, who appeared in one scene in the pilot. I can’t even remember if he had a line of dialogue.

4) Laura Palmer, who appeared in one scene in the pilot.

5) Dale Cooper. We’ve seen plenty of Kyle MacLachlan, but he’s mostly been playing the manifestation of his character’s evil side and a mentally impaired man-child. The main character of the original series has been gone since episode three.

6) Audrey Horne, who finally appeared last week, in a really odd, opaque, and seemingly deliberately confusing scene.

7) Shelley Johnson, who has gotten a bit more to do in the past few episodes.

8) Bobby Briggs, perhaps the member of the old cast who’s gotten the most to do so far, although even he’s only been a key figure in four or five episodes.

9) Norma Jennings, who has appeared in probably four episodes and spoken no more than a half-dozen lines of dialogue.

In the promotion before the show aired, David Lynch said, “I love these characters, and I love the actors and actresses. This was like getting together for a family reunion.” Does he really love these characters? Because they seem to be getting little more than cameos. It’s no longer “too early to judge.”

I won’t give Lynch or Mark Frost any grief about not using characters when the actor died or wasn’t interested in coming back. This knocked out Sheriff Harry Truman, Donna, Major Briggs, BOB, and the Little Man from Another Place. And perhaps I should evaluate the show in light of the difficulty of writing around those absences; any of those first three could have been the centerpiece of a new show, and the last two are pretty iconic and central to the narrative.

But they’ve got MacLachlan, and the coaches are benching their best player, so to speak. One of the biggest strengths of the original show, perhaps its defining strength, was the fascinating protagonist Dale Cooper. Quirky, smart, unpredictable, funny, the audience surrogate as a stranger in town . . .  and Lynch and Frost seem to have no interest in bringing that character back.

Politics & Policy

Hey, Remember Common Core?


A hidden point in a New York Times article about how children are being taught writing:

Poor writing is nothing new, nor is concern about it. More than half of first-year students at Harvard failed an entrance exam in writing — in 1874. But the Common Core State Standards, now in use in more than two-thirds of the states, were supposed to change all this. By requiring students to learn three types of essay writing — argumentative, informational and narrative — the Core staked a claim for writing as central to the American curriculum. It represented a sea change after the era of No Child Left Behind, the 2002 federal law that largely overlooked writing in favor of reading comprehension assessed by standardized multiple-choice tests.

So far, however, six years after its rollout, the Core hasn’t led to much measurable improvement on the page. Students continue to arrive on college campuses needing remediation in basic writing skills. . .

The Common Core has provided a much-needed “wakeup call” on the importance of rigorous writing, said Lucy M. Calkins, founding director of the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University, a leading center for training teachers in process-oriented literacy strategies. But policy makers “blew it in the implementation,” she said. “We need massive teacher education.”

Maybe this is the simpler and more persuasive argument against Common Core: Never mind whether it’s a vast progressive effort to indoctrinate children . . .  maybe it just doesn’t work.

A Key Point to Consider About that Bombshell Lawsuit Against Fox News

The allegation in a new lawsuit that individuals in the White House and Fox News employees worked together to spread a false story about slain Democratic National Committee intern Seth Rich is jaw-dropping, but there a few reasons for wariness about the explosive charges.

The false story that Fox News subsequently retracted was an all-too-perfect conspiracy theory for Trump defenders. The report contended Seth Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks and was the most likely source for the e-mails that were hacked during the 2016 campaign, getting the Russians off the hook. The report implied that Rich was murdered as a result of his contact with WikiLeaks, that the DNC was somehow connected to Rich’s shooting death, and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan police were complicit in a cover-up. It’s a plot that belongs in a John Grisham novel.

The central figure in that Fox News report was Rod Wheeler, a former District of Columbia cop, private investigator, and longtime paid commentator for the news network who is now suing his former employer.

Yesterday, NPR reported on Wheeler’s lawsuit that claims that the network made up quotes and attributed them to him, that the network always knew that there was no evidence to support the theory, that Sean Spicer was involved, and that President Trump himself read a draft of the article and urged its immediate publication.

We have replaced an all-too-perfect conspiracy theory for Trump defenders with Rod Wheeler as the central supporting witness with an all an all-too-perfect conspiracy theory for Trump and Fox News critics with Rod Wheeler as the central supporting witness.

Wheeler’s account suggests that not only did the president and Fox News contributor Ed Butowsky conspire to spread this conspiracy theory, but that Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, and Department of Justice spokeswoman Sarah Flores were all in regular contact with Butowsky in his efforts to portray Rich’s death as a murder to retaliate for leaking the DNC e-mails.

Wheeler, of course, made appearances on Fox News and its affiliates discussing the story, giving what are now obviously false statements. He told the local Washington, D.C. affiliate that he had uncovered “a possible underground corruption, organized crime corruption group that may be operating in the district” and that “this case may open up a can of worms about what’s happening here in D.C.”

You can watch Wheeler’s appearance on Sean Hannity here, where Wheeler says, “There was a federal investigator that was involved with the inside, a person that is very credible. Very credible, and he said he laid eyes on that computer and he laid eyes on the case file. And he came across very credible. When you look at that with the totality of everything else that I found in this case, it’s very consistent for a person with my experience to begin to think, ‘Well, perhaps there were some email communications between Seth [Rich] and WikiLeaks.’”

The FBI said that they were never involved in the investigation of Rich’s murder.

In that Hannity interview, Wheeler also contended that a short time after he called the D.C. police, an unnamed official from the DNC contacted the family, suggesting the police force was particularly concerned with keeping the committee in the loop on who was asking about the investigation. Wheeler went on to say that Seth Rich had “problems” with that particular DNC official before his death. (Some may interpret Wheeler’s meandering, complicated answers as an indication that he’s not comfortable with the answers he’s expected to give; others may find it standard-issue evasiveness about making false statements on national television.) At no point is there any indication that Wheeler’s false statements are being coerced.

Yet Wheeler’s lawsuit audaciously suggests he never quite lied in his television appearances:

At no point in time did Mr. Wheeler say that his investigation revealed that Seth Rich sent any emails to WikiLeaks, nor did he say that the DNC, Democratic Party or Clintons were engaged in a cover-up. In fact, the only purported source saying that Seth Rich sent any emails to WikiLeaks was Butowsky and Zimmerman’s supposed source within the FBI. Mr. Wheeler had never even spoken with this individual, to the extent he or she even exists. In fact, when Mr. Wheeler was interviewed by a Fox affiliate on the evening of May 15, 2017, he made sure not to confirm as fact the proposition that Seth Rich sent emails to WikiLeaks, instead confirming only that a “source” (i.e., Zimmerman’s and Butowsky’s alleged source) had information that could link Seth Rich to WikiLeaks.

Wheeler’s suing his former employer for defamation, and he wants damages, including “compensation for his mental anguish and emotional distress, emotional pain and suffering and any other physical and mental injuries” as well as punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

It’s not often that you see someone involved in a conspiracy to mislead the public turn around and sue his co-conspirators for getting him involved.

Which Democrats Will Run in 2020? How About All of Them?

What does the already-announced presidential campaign of little-known congressman John Delaney mean for 2020? It means we’re likely to get a stampede of candidates, including quite a few never-had-a-chance wannabes who are angling for book deals and television gigs in 2021. This might be good for President Trump’s reelection odds, but I’d contend it’s not particularly good for democracy. I go through the coverage and buzz and find 18 Democratic lawmakers at various levels that have indicated they’re thinking about running in 2020, and that’s not even counting all the celebrity gadflies who could end up jumping into the race.

For what it’s worth, Hugh Hewitt thinks California senator Kamala Harris is going to cut through the field the way Sherman marched through Georgia.

ADDENDA: If you’re feeling glum, check out your retirement savings if you have them in the stock market; it’s been a very good year so far.

Apple’s latest results pushed global technology shares higher Wednesday, fueling expectations that the Dow Jones Industrial Average could rise above 22000 for the first time when the U.S. market opens.

The Dow has climbed 11.14 percent year-to-date, fueled by signs of global growth and strong corporate earnings. Futures pointed to a 0.2 percent opening gain for the index.

And if you don’t have an individual retirement account, maybe it’s worth scraping together the funds to set up one . . .  there’s no minimum. You could start with 50 dollars if you wanted.

Politics & Policy

Flake’s Criticism of Trump Isn’t Good Enough for The New York Times


Welcome to August. This time of year is known for vacations, preseason football, and, every once in a while, some terrible foreign policy crisis: the start of World War I, the Berlin Wall Crisis, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the coup against Gorbachev, and the Ghouta chemical weapons attack. Here’s hoping the month is quiet.

The New York Times, Gleefully Trashing Trump’s Critics on the Right

The New York Times reviews a new book from Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona that rips Trump, and offers an incoherent criticism along the way:

But Flake has also cast most of his votes in favor of Trump’s policies. Just last week, he voted for the bill to repeal Obamacare without replacing it, and then he voted for the hastily assembled “skinny repeal.”

On that point, he seems to be at odds with his book, in which he specifically cautions Republicans against engineering a sloppy repeal of Obamacare behind closed doors. “Legislation executed without hearings and written by only one side is always a bad idea, regardless of who does it,” he writes.

The primary intellectual failing of “Conscience of a Conservative” is that it doesn’t untangle the dysfunction in Washington from the dysfunction of his own party. Republicans haven’t just embraced Trump’s nativism and politics of resentment because it’s politically expedient. Many Republicans have peddled anti-immigrant sentiment for years, and a return to Goldwater’s principles probably wouldn’t remedy that; the rejection of free trade agreements also has complex roots.

But Flake doesn’t like Obamacare and the current rickety pileup of broken promises that make up our health insurance system. Why does it undermine his criticism of Trump to vote to get rid of the status quo? And don’t think we didn’t notice that casual use of “anti-immigrant sentiment” to label opposition to illegal immigration, Times editors.

Another New York Times critic trashed Senator Ben Sasse’s book earlier this year, on similar grounds, sneering that he had nothing to say about America’s systemic oppression of groups and “It must be nice to be Ben Sasse, in a position to pick and choose the hardships one will adopt in order to learn some life lessons — and to feel morally superior for having triumphed over phony adversity.”

The lesson here is no conservative critic of Trump should look for useful support from any major institution on the Left. The general perspective of the Times, or at least their literary critics, is that all human virtue is found on the political Left, and adherence to conservative views is a reflection of greed, bigotry, selfishness, small-mindedness, and repression. A free-market, Russia-hawk, traditional-values conservative criticism of Trump scrambles their sense of right and wrong. This is why liberal critics of Trump rarely spend much time dwelling on his past agreement with them on abortion, his current support for affirmative action, his hiring of immigrant workers at his resorts, his long history of donating to Democrats . . . 

Arrivederci, Scaramucci

Removing Anthony Scaramucci from the White House staff was like ripping off a Band-Aid. You can do it fast, or you can do it slowly, but it is going to hurt either way. Many will conclude that because the pain is the same, it’s better to get it done quickly.

Scaramucci was just about the last person any president or administration would want in a role like White House communications director. Recall that what started much of this brouhaha was Ryan Lizza’s report that Scaramucci had dined in the White House with the president, First Lady, Sean Hannity, and the former Fox News executive Bill Shine.

Interesting, but hardly a state secret. But as Jonah noted, Scaramucci treated it like a leak of the nuclear launch codes. “You’re an American citizen,” he told Lizza. “This is a major catastrophe for the American country. So, I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it.” I can hear the scoffing about the futility of appealing to the patriotism of a journalist, but the relevant question here is what is at stake. There are plenty of reporters who will withhold particular information if the government makes a compelling case that publishing it will put lives at risk. Reporters who cover the intelligence agencies withhold information fairly regularly. But it’s just about impossible to argue that the leaking of the Trump-Scaramucci-Hannity dinner represented a threat to American national security. That sort of leak is an annoyance to the White House, not a reason to move to DEFCON 1.

When Lizza wouldn’t name his source, that’s when Scaramucci launched his obscene tirade against the rest of the White House staff, either not remembering that he was still speaking on the record to a reporter for The New Yorker or not caring.

Anyone whose judgment is that spectacularly bad from the get-go is unlikely to climb the learning curve fast enough to meet the administration’s needs. On Friday, I noted that Scaramucci’s defenders argued he was performing for an audience of one, the president. But the problem with that approach is that everyone else can see that performance, and many others were appalled — including, it seems, new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

If you feel like one of the biggest threats to this administration is the president’s own impulsive decision-making, and failure to recognize the long-term consequences of his actions — like, say, firing the FBI director, or trashing his own cabinet members in public — anecdotes like this one are reassuring:

Raised voices could be heard through the thick door to the Oval Office as John Kelly — then secretary of Homeland Security — offered some tough talk to President Donald Trump.

Kelly, a whip-cracking retired general who was sworn in as White House chief of staff on Monday, had demanded to speak to the president alone after Trump complained loudly that the U.S. was admitting travelers from countries he viewed as high risk.

Kelly first tried to explain to Trump that the admissions were standard — some people had legitimate reasons to visit the country — but the president insisted that it was making him look bad, according to an administration official familiar with the exchange about a month ago.

Kelly then demanded that other advisers leave the room so he could speak to the president frankly. Trump refused at first, but agreed when Kelly insisted.

It was an early indication that Kelly, a decorated retired Marine general who served three tours in Iraq, is not afraid to stand up to his commander-in-chief.

You know what’s really great about that anecdote? That Kelly didn’t want anyone else seeing him disagreeing so strongly with the president. Judging from this, when Kelly thinks the president is making a mistake, he’s going to make his views exceptionally clear, but not in a way that undermines the president or implies insufficient respect for the office. Considering how temperamental Trump can be, and the fact that this blunt exchange didn’t lead to Kelly’s dismissal, we should also recognize that perhaps the president is more willing to listen to strong disagreement than his reputation suggests.

Baltimore Ravens: Hey, Fans, Should We Sign Colin Kaepernick?

The Baltimore Ravens are contemplating signing social justice activist/quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and they’re doing something rather unusual. Rather than hiding from the controversy, they’re acknowledging it and inviting their fans to weigh in.

“I hope we do what is best for the team and balance that with what is best for our fans,” Bisciotti said in response to a question from a fan about how signing Kaepernick could ‘damage your brand.’ “Your opinions matter to us . . .  We’re very sensitive to it, and we’re monitoring it, and we’re trying to figure out what’s the right tact. So pray for us.”

The Ravens have been inundated with phone calls at their Owings Mills headquarters since Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters following the team’s first full-squad workout on Thursday that the team was considering signing Kaepernick to help a currently shaky quarterback situation.

I have no idea if the movie Concussion is any good, but it featured a good line in the trailers when a lawyer warns, “A corporation that has 20 million people on a weekly basis craving their product, the same way they crave food. The NFL owns a day of the week, the same day the Church used to own. Now it’s theirs.”

And yet . . .  Colin Kaepernick managed to get a small but noticeable percentage of NFL fans to turn off their televisions — as did players who get in trouble off the field for domestic violence. (Former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice might be the highest-profile example of that infamous figure.)

The NFL enjoys the largest fan base in the country — one that is significantly older and more conservative than, say, the fan base of the NBA. To hear some commentators tell it, the NFL and its players have some sort of duty to change the minds or alter the perspectives of the fans. But the fans don’t become fans because they want to tune in to Monday Night Consciousness-Raising.

ADDENDA: Congressman Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, is calling for Robert Mueller to resign:

Bob Mueller is in clear violation of federal code and must resign to maintain the integrity of the investigation into alleged Russian ties. Those who worked under them have attested he and Jim Comey possess a close friendship, and they have delivered on-the-record statements effusing praise of one another.

No one knows Mr. Mueller’s true intentions, but neither can anyone dispute that he now clearly appears to be a partisan arbiter of justice. Accordingly, the law is also explicitly clear: he must step down based on this conflict of interest.

Already, this investigation has become suspect – reports have revealed at least four members of Mueller’s team on the Russia probe donated to support Hillary Clinton for President, as President Trump pointed out. These obviously deliberate partisan hirings do not help convey impartiality.”

Until Mueller resigns, he will be in clear violation of the law, a reality that fundamentally undermines his role as Special Counsel and attending ability to execute the law.

Politics & Policy

Welcome to the Kelly Era


It’s the last day of July, and the first day of the rest of new White House chief of staff John Kelly’s life. Good luck, sir. If you succeed, I’m sure John Cena will play you in a wacky comedy version of the hard-nosed military disciplinarian who’s brought in to coach a wacky band of White House misfits.

Some conservatives I respect have convinced themselves that Reince Priebus was the key problem in the Trump White House all along. They’ve suspected he was a leaker, or wondered why he never looked bad in the information that leaks out from the White House. They saw him as “establishment.” They perceived him as disloyal, although it’s hard to point to when or where Priebus acted disloyally to Trump.

Priebus certainly couldn’t keep the “Team of Mortal Enemies Rivals” from fighting amongst themselves, but who could? How much do you think the worldview of Steve Bannon overlaps with that of Jared Kushner? How much do you think Ivanka Trump and Mike Pence really agree on? How much does the economic perspective of Gary Cohn and Stephen Miller overlap? How much does Anthony Scaramucci get along with anyone except the president? Everyone wants to be the last one to consult with the president before a decision, in hopes of being the most influential. Everyone’s far too focused on their rank in the pecking order, and we never see everyone rowing in the same direction.

We will see. Maybe in a few months, the White House will seem like a well-run ship, and the conclusion will be that it was indeed Priebus that was the problem. But my sense is that the Wall Street Journal editorial board has the more accurate assessment: “The reason Mr. Priebus wasn’t as effective as he could have been is because Mr. Trump wouldn’t listen to him and wouldn’t let him establish a normal decision-making process.”

Putin Delivers ‘Biting’ Response to New Sanctions from Washington

Kind of an odd twist if you believe Russia hacked the election in order to bring Donald Trump and Republicans to power, so that they could turn the United States into a compliant vassal state . . . 

The White House said on Friday night that President Trump would sign legislation imposing sweeping sanctions against Russia and curtailing his own power to lift them by himself, bowing to the near-universal bipartisan will of Congress at the risk of escalating tension with Moscow.

Unsurprisingly, Russia retaliated:

President Vladimir V. Putin announced Sunday that the American diplomatic mission in Russia must reduce its staff by 755 employees, an aggressive response to new American sanctions that seemed ripped right from the Cold War playbook and sure to increase tensions between the two capitals.

“We waited for quite a long time that, perhaps, something will change for the better, we held out hope that the situation would somehow change,” Mr. Putin said in an interview on state-run Rossiya 1 television, which published a Russian-language transcript on its website. “But, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon.”

Mr. Putin said the staff reduction was meant to cause real discomfort for Washington and its representatives in Moscow.

“Over 1,000 employees – diplomats and technical workers – worked and continue to work today in Russia; 755 will have to stop this activity,” he said.

“That is biting,” Mr. Putin added.

Although the initial news alerts in Russia said that Mr. Putin had ordered 755 Americans out of the country, he had actually ordered an overall staff reduction. Part of the confusion stemmed from the fact that Mr. Putin used a Russian verb that can mean to “pack up,” when referring to his action.

In making the initial announcement on Friday, Russia said that the American diplomatic staff would have to be reduced to 455, matching the number of Russians employed at diplomatic missions in the United States. Russia also seized two diplomatic compounds, a warehouse and a bucolic enclave used for barbecues, which mirrored the United States’ seizing of two country estates in December that it said were used for espionage.

Hey, how about we give them back one or both of the country estates, but load them up with hidden listening devices before we give them back?

More broadly, it’s time for lawmakers, particularly Democrats still enraged about the presidential election, to decide just how much they’re willing to escalate in their responses to Moscow. Do we want to push them further, or do we think they’ve gotten the message? The Russians have shrewdly gotten themselves involved in several corners of the world where we have ongoing interests: Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Afghanistan, putting themselves in a position to play a helpful role or a hindering one.

It’s possible that the imposition of new sanctions by overwhelming majorities — 419-3 in the House of Representatives, 98-2 in the Senate — will teach Russia that interfering in American politics is not worth the risk. The irony was that up until recently, the Democrats were seen as the more Russia-friendly party – “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back! The Cold War’s been over for 20 years!” – and now both parties are fairly hostile to Russia – if not for the election, than for aggression in Ukraine, taking over Crimea, shooting down airliners, etcetera.

The Russians will never admit their role in meddling in our elections. So if a confession is out of the question, when do we feel like they’ve suffered sufficient consequences? What constitutes “winning” to us?

Officers! Arrest That Man for Looking at his Phone!

The Nanny State will never stop.

When you cross the street in Honolulu, look both ways — but NOT at the life-changing text your best friend just sent.

The city just approved a law making it illegal for pedestrians to “cross a street or highway while viewing a mobile electronic device.” The law covers video games, pagers and laptops, and the ubiquitous smartphones.

The law goes into effect October 25, giving police time to explain the situation to people who can’t take their eyes off that tiny screen in their hands.

“Sometimes I wish there were laws we did not have to pass, that perhaps common sense would prevail,” the mayor said. “But sometimes we lack common sense.”

Funny, on Hawaii 5-0 the police seem so competent and focused on real criminals, not people looking at their phones while crossing the street. Honolulu residents, please demonstrate “common sense” by voting lawmakers out of office who seek to criminalize every unwise decision under the sun.

ADDENDA: I stopped over by the Trump International Hotel a little while ago. A couple of observations . . . 

The least-expensive sparkling wine on the menu was from . . .  Trump Winery.

I don’t know about you, but $100 for a single cocktail seems like a lot, and including raw oysters and caviar as ingredients in a cocktail does not sound appetizing. Perhaps instead of “the Benjamin” they should just call it, “Conspicuous Consumption.”

Finally, maybe when you get the check, you feel like you’ve spent more than you should . . .  but then Trump Hotels mentions they support St. Jude Children Research Hospital, so maybe you don’t feel so bad 

Just don’t try to list that $100 oysters-and-caviar cocktail as a charitable deduction.

Politics & Policy

John McCain’s Curious Definition of ‘Leading the Fight to Stop Obamacare’


May 2016: A John McCain reelection campaign ad, airing in Arizona:

Obamacare is failing Arizonans. First, a massive rate hike more than twice the national average. Then, America’s largest health insurer abandoned Arizona’s failing Obamacare exchange. That’s devastating – especially to rural counties. Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick bragged about her Obamacare vote, saying “it’s also the one I’m most proud about.” While Kirkpatrick’s “proud” of putting us at risk, John McCain is leading the fight to stop Obamacare.

“John McCain is leading the fight to stop Obamacare.” Plenty of other McCain ads and campaign events and messaging pointed to stopping Obamacare as a big reason, perhaps the biggest reason, Arizonans needed to return him to the Senate.

Then, last night, push came to shove. The options were clear: vote for “skinny repeal” and get that version of the repeal bill to conference committee with the House of Representatives, where negotiators from the House and Senate could revise the bill further, or vote it down and effectively end the process, as no version of repeal legislation could reach 50 votes.

McCain made his choice:

Sen. John McCain cast the deciding vote to sink his fellow Republicans’ so-called “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act.

McCain, R-Ariz., joined Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and every Senate Democrat to bring down the bill on a 49-51 vote.

The late-night failure of the skinny-repeal option, which would have ended the Affordable Care Act’s individual and employer insurance mandates and medical device tax for three years and made other limited changes, effectively ended the current GOP push to undo what Republicans call “Obamacare.”

“From the beginning, I have believed that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with a solution that increases competition, lowers costs, and improves care for the American people,” McCain said in a written statement issued after the vote, which happened early Friday Eastern time.

“The so-called ‘skinny repeal’ amendment the Senate voted on today would not accomplish those goals. While the amendment would have repealed some of Obamacare’s most burdensome regulations, it offered no replacement to actually reform our health care system and deliver affordable, quality health care to our citizens.”

“I’ve stated time and time again that one of the major failures of ‘Obamacare’ was that it was rammed through Congress by Democrats on a strict-party line basis without a single Republican vote,” McCain said. “We should not make the mistakes of the past that has led to Obamacare’s collapse, including in my home state of Arizona where premiums are skyrocketing and health care providers are fleeing the marketplace.

“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of the aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people,” he continued. “We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”

McCain didn’t like the substance of the replacement or the process by which that replacement was written, so he – along with Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – blew up the process and forced Congressional Republicans to start over again.

We can argue about whether that is the right or wrong move at that moment. But it’s very difficult to characterize McCain’s decision as “leading the fight to stop Obamacare.” That’s more like leading the fight to keep Obamacare in place while you continue to look for a replacement that you like better. Had Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick won the 2016 Arizona Senate race, she would have voted the same way.

Profane Scaramucci

This week, new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci called The New Yorker Washington correspondent Ryan Lizza and served up a profane tirade against everyone in the White House except the president. He sounded a bit like Tony Montana from Scarface; while Scaramucci never quite invited the swarm of leakers that allegedly surround him to “say hello to my little friend,” he did say, “What I want to do is I want to f***ing kill all the leakers.”

People who are far more in tune with the individuals in Trump’s inner circle look at this spectacle and tell me that this is a performance with an audience of one, President Trump, and the president is likely to relish this. Scaramucci, the new guy, is out to show that his sole loyalty is to the president, and that he’s fearless, that he’s not afraid to use the f-bomb more frequently than a comma, that he’s willing to threaten people, and that he takes no prisoners.

Last night, Scaramucci responded on Twitter, “I made a mistake in trusting in a reporter. It won’t happen again.” But Lizza wrote that Scaramucci called him and “did not ask for the conversation to be off the record or on background.” One might expect a White House Communications Director to understand the importance of declaring when his statement is off the record, particularly when you’re going to accuse the White House chief of staff of being a paranoid schizophrenic, the White House senior counselor of attempting anatomically difficult sex acts, and claim that the FBI and Department of Justice are investigating the White House chief of staff.

Of course, Scaramucci is denouncing everyone else in the White House for talking to reporters . . .  while talking to a reporter from the New Yorker.

The problem with the “performance with an audience of one” mentality is that everyone else can see and read this, too. And while the president may look at Scaramucci’s rant as entertaining and tough, lots of other people – the press, other White House staff, Republican lawmakers and staffers on Capitol Hill, conservative interest groups, lobbyists, etc. – will look at Scaramucci as a raving maniac who openly expresses a desire to murder his colleagues.

What is the job of the White House communications director? Is it to just replicate the work of the White House press secretary? Or is it to promote the president’s agenda by pitching stories and ideas and touting accomplishments that otherwise might not be covered by the nation’s media?

What Is Fusion GPS?

You may have heard a bit about Fusion GPS, “the opposition research firm that paid former MI6 spy Christopher Steele to collect intelligence on the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.” This is what ultimately turned into that dossier that was full of increasingly absurd and salacious claims of collusion, blackmail, and other nefarious ties between Donald Trump and the Russian government. William Browder, the head of Hermitage Capital Management, testified before the Senate yesterday, and offered some really intriguing allegations.

Go back a few years, when Congress debated, and ultimately passed, the “Magnitsky Act,” aiming to punish Russian officials who were thought to be responsible for the death of Russian auditor Sergei Magnitsky. The law prohibits these Russian officials from entering the United States and using its banking system.

Browder testified:

Veselnitskaya, through Baker Hostetler, hired Glenn Simpson of the firm Fusion GPS to conduct a smear campaign against me and Sergei Magnitsky in advance of congressional hearings on the Global Magnitsky Act. He contacted a number of major newspapers and other publications to spread false information that Sergei Magnitsky was not murdered, was not a whistle-blower, and was instead a criminal. They also spread false information that my presentations to lawmakers around the world were untrue.

The “Veselnitskaya” he’s referring to is Natalia Veselnitskaya, that Russian lawyer who looks like Valerie Bertinelli who was in that meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner. You may recall their characterization of the meeting as being about “Russian adoptions” – in particular, the law the Russian government passed in response to the Magnitsky Act. In other words, here’s this Russian lawyer, pushing for a goal of the Russian government . . .  who has also hired a firm to investigate the presidential candidate she’s seeking to persuade on a policy change. And that dossier was being shopped around to journalists for months, meaning before the 2016 presidential election:

The documents have circulated for months and acquired a kind of legendary status among journalists, lawmakers, and intelligence officials who have seen them. Mother Jones writer David Corn referred to the documents in a late October column.

Does this sound like someone was hedging their bets? Trying to persuade the Republican nominee, while simultaneously putting together an unsavory dossier on him?

Fusion GPS’s defense is, “The President’s political allies are going after Fusion GPS because it was reported to be the first to raise the alarm about the Trump campaign’s links with Russia.” Except, if Browder’s telling the truth, they were working for the Russians at that time.

Move on to this exchange with Sen. Lindsey Graham:

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: This whole story reads like some kind of novel that nobody would buy, it’s got to be fiction, but unfortunately maybe it’s true. Let’s just break down sort of why you’re here. You believe that Fusion GPS should have registered under FARA, because they were acting on the behalf of the Russians?

WILLIAM BROWDER: That’s correct.

SEN. GRAHAM: So, I just want to absorb that for a moment. The group that did the dossier on President Trump hired this British spy, wound up getting it to the FBI. You believe they were working for the Russians?

BROWDER: And in the spring and summer of 2016 they were receiving money indirectly from a senior Russian government official.

SEN. GRAHAM: Okay. So, these are the people that were trying to undermine Donald Trump by showing the nefarious ties to Russia. Is that what you’re saying?

BROWDER: Well, what I’m saying with 100% certainty is that they were working to undermine the Magnitsky act and the timing of that.

SEN. GRAHAM: But, the Fusion GPS products apparently as they hired a guy to look into Trump?


Lee Smith, writing at Tablet, points out that we’re now in a really murky area where the line between a typical public relations firm pitching stories and a foreign government shaping American news coverage is really hard to see anymore. “What’s new about Fusion GPS and its fellow DC oppo shops – few of which register as foreign lobbyists – is that they take money from entities linked to foreign governments that are eager to re- frame or invent news stories to punish their enemies at home and torque American foreign policy by controlling information.”

ADDENDA: What a week. At least Congressional Republicans are dropping the Border Adjustment Tax, or BAT, the proposal that would place new taxes on imported goods . . .  a tax hike that would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher taxes. Glad to see they took the advice of conservative groups . . .  and, you know, the Joker:

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