White House

Trump’s Ignorant Comments on Israel

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. August 20, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: figuring out what President Trump meant when he said Jews who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty”; examining the data on how American Jews actually feel about Israel; and why Democrats will always find a way or a reason to avert their eyes from any overt anti-Semitism from Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and their allies.

‘Any Jewish People that Vote for a Democrat, I Think it Shows Either a Total Lack of Knowledge or Great Disloyalty.’

President Trump, speaking in the Oval Office yesterday: “Where has the Democratic party gone?  Where have they gone where they’re defending these two people over the State of Israel? And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

Disloyalty to whom?

Disloyalty to Israel? Is Trump suggesting that American Jews owe a loyalty to Israel? In a year when American Jews have bristled at the accusation of dual loyalties from the likes of Ilhan Omar, is President Trump arguing that not only do American Jews have loyalty to two countries, but that they ought to?

Disloyalty to him? Americans pledge allegiance to a flag and the country for which it stands, not a particular leader or politician. If “the choice is binary,” as so many insisted about 2016 and are sure to insist again in 2020, then Trump’s statement that voting for a Democratic party that defends Omar and Tlaib is disloyal amounts to a contention that being a “loyal” Jew requires voting for him.

Disloyalty to themselves or their community, as Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks argues? This is probably the most justifiable interpretation of Trump’s remarks – that an American Jew who ignores, defends, or averts his eyes from Omar and Rashida Tlaib represents a person acquiescing to the demonization of his own community and who is betraying himself, his own family, and his fellow members of the faith or heritage community. (Pardon that clunky description of America’s Jews, but there are Jews who aren’t religious and there are converts who are not ethnically Jewish, so this feels like the most accurate wording to describe the “Jewish community.”)

But the interpretation from Brooks comes uncomfortably close to the accusation that Jewish Democrats who have not openly opposed Omar and Tlaib are self-hating members of that community, or that those members of the Jewish community are not really or authentically Jewish. In many circumstances, conservatives loathe the notion that holding a particular viewpoint means you’re not an “authentic” member of a demographic community.

It’s not difficult to understand why many American Jews will bristle or react angrily to President Trump’s comment.

One of the messages that people are least receptive to is, “I’m not a member of your group, but I know what is best for your group, better than you do.” Lots of Americans don’t like it when foreign countries tell us what our foreign policy ought to be, lots of Catholics don’t like it when non-Catholics tell them what the faith’s doctrine ought to be, and conservatives don’t like it when those they perceive as RINO pundits tell them how they need to change. A chunk of our ongoing political debates are variations of, “your life experience and group affiliations are different from mine, so how can you possibly understand what the right choice for me is?”

How Do American Jews Actually Feel about Israel?

Beyond that, pro-Israel Republicans who wonder why they don’t win more Jewish votes perpetually overestimate how much that the issue of Israel drives voting decisions among American Jews.

A survey conducted last year by the American Jewish Committee found significant gaps between the views and attitudes of American Jews and Israelis:

While . . .”39% of the total Israeli sample say Israel should be willing to dismantle all or some of the settlements in a peace deal . . . the figures for the religious subgroups [in Israel] show deep differences: 59% of the secular (exactly matching the percentage of the whole American sample), 39% of the not-that-religious traditional, 29% of the religious-traditional, 14% of the religious Zionists, and 12% of the haredim would dismantle settlements.”

Grossman concluded his analysis in somber terms after noting that when “Asked to choose a familial metaphor to describe how close they feel to each other, 31% of the Americans, and 22% of the Israelis went so far as to respond: ‘not part of my family’ about the other. Only 28% of the Israelis consider American Jews ‘siblings’ — and that was more than twice as high as the 12% of American Jews who viewed their Israeli counterparts that way. Pluralities of about 40% in both groups responded, ‘extended family.’”

Earlier this year, when the same organization asked American Jews, “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew,” 38 percent said they strongly agree, 24 percent said they somewhat agree, 20 percent said they somewhat disagree, and 15 percent said they strongly disagree.

Asking the family metaphor question again, only 13 percent said “siblings,” 15 percent said “first cousins,” 43 percent said “extended family,” and 28 percent answered, “not part of my family.” Only 38 percent said they strongly or somewhat approved of how Donald Trump was handling U.S.-Israeli relations.

It is likely that part of this growing sense of separation stems from Bibi Netanayhu being a right-of-center political leader and most American Jews residing on the left side of the U.S. political spectrum. Trump’s close relationship with Netanyahu, and vice versa, is not likely to win over many American Jews. Jews who adored President Barack Obama probably found Netanayhu’s vehement public opposition to the Iran deal an intransigent obstacle to the administration’s effort for peace. From a 2015 poll:

“By a wide margin, American Jews support the recently concluded agreement with Iran to restrict its nuclear program, and a clear majority of Jews wants Congress to approve the deal. In fact, as compared with Americans generally, Jews are more supportive of the ‘Iran deal,’ in large part because Jews are more liberal and more Democratic in their identities. It turns out that liberals (Jewish or not) support the deal far more than conservatives (Jewish or not), just as most Democrats are in favor, while most Republicans are opposed.”

There are some American Jews for whom a political candidate’s policy towards Israel is the paramount issue of their vote, but for many, particularly the more secular Jews, it’s one of many issues they consider  not that much of a factor at all.

Those of us who are not Jewish could argue that American Jews should prioritize this issue, but many Jews will respond, “why should I trust your assessment of what issues should be most important for me? Who the heck are you to tell me what issue I should care about the most?”

Republicans should not adopt pro-Israel stances because they think they will win them votes from Jews in future elections. They should adopt pro-Israel stances because they think they are the right policies — both in terms of morally correct and best for U.S. national security interests.

There are other reasons why American Jews are unlikely to warm up to President Trump.  As I’ve noted before, if President Trump is an anti-Semite, he’s the odd kind of anti-Semite who is close to his Jewish son-in-law, whose daughter converted to Judaism, and who moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. But for some reason, many anti-Semites believe or believed Trump was on their side: David Duke and the Daily Stormer endorsed him early in the 2016 cycle, his election was celebrated with Richard Spencer with former MTV star Tila Tequila making Nazi salutes, and of course the white nationalists marching through the University of Virginia campus, chanting “Jews will not replace us.” (For what it’s worth, the Poway Synagogue shooter and the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooter left manifestos denouncing Trump as a sellout to the Jews. Perhaps some anti-Semites are awakening to the idea that Trump isn’t really secretly one of them.

But that doesn’t change the fact that plenty of American Jews believe Trump is secretly or not-so-secretly allied with groups that hate Jews, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

It’s Always Easier to Avert Your Eyes from Idiotic, Unhelpful Political Allies

If every last Democratic lawmaker and voter was forced to confront the views, statements, and beliefs of Omar, Tlaib, and their allies, the vast majority would probably recoil, or declare them beyond the pale. But they’re rarely if ever exposed to that information, much less forced to grapple with the ramifications of it.

A lot of Republicans and conservatives don’t like Iowa congressman Steve King. But you haven’t seen a ton of commentary and discussion among conservatives about King’s latest asinine outburst, “what if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?” When King or any other lawmaker goes out and says something embarrassing, the instinct of most folks on the Right is to publicly express disapproval or opposition and then move on to other topics. House Republican leaders have already stripped King of his committee assignments and condemned him. An attempt to expel him from the House would call greater attention to his remarks, preempt any verdict of his constituents who will have their say in the 2020 primary and general, and perhaps turn him into something of a martyr for free speech. (Lots of members of Congress say lots of controversial and offensive things all the time; why would these particular controversial and offensive remarks warrant the career death penalty?)

A significant number of Democrats probably have heard little or nothing about the remarks and allies of Tlaib and Omar. Only the smallest fraction of Democrats knows about Miftah, the group that wanted to sponsor their trip, and the organization’s overt and explicit anti-Semitism. To the extent they choose to think about it, most Democrats probably smell the same whiff of bull droppings from Omar’s shifting explanations about why she wants to travel, and her odd refusal to visit her grandmother after Israel agreed to permit it.

But they’re not interested in dwelling on the issue; that would involve a difficult clash with political allies. Besides, the president said something outrageous again, which only happens on days that ends in a “y,” and sitting around on an MSNBC panel, listening to one talking head after another say why this is the worst thing Trump has ever done, is much more emotionally satisfying.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it yesterday, Joe Biden’s new ad basically skips the Democratic primary; all the African-American historical figures who get cropped out of the “reframing” from the New York Times’s 1619 Project; and the bizarre, strangely fascinating Bernie Sanders cameo in a 1999 independent romantic comedy you won’t want to miss.

Elections

Please, America, Let’s Take a Break from the Kennedys

U.S. Congressman Joe Kennedy III greets a well-wisher following ceremonies on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Congressman Kennedy’s great-uncle, U.S. President John F. Kennedy, outside the home where President Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S., May 29, 2017. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Yet another member of the Kennedy family aspires to the title “Senator,” prompting the question of whether both the voters and the Kennedys would be better off taking a break from each other; China starts pumping out disinformation on Twitter and Facebook; and a new poll indicates that support for Kamala Harris has rapidly collapsed.

The Kennedys Need to Learn When to Stop

You would think one family couldn’t suffer so many untimely deaths, generation after generation. At the beginning of the month, Saoirse Kennedy Hill, the 22-year-old granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, died of an apparent drug overdose at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. She was enrolled at Boston College, where she was vice president of the College Democrats, and had written about struggles with depression and mental illness for the student newspaper at Deerfield Academy, a private preparatory school in Massachusetts, in 2016.

In the wake of her tragic death, news broke that Representative Joe Kennedy III is seriously considering a primary challenge to incumbent Democratic senator Edward Markey. Few Massachusetts Democrats have much of a problem with Markey; a reliably liberal Democratic vote, who’s been in office since 2013. Even those organizing the “Jump In, Joe” groups say they don’t have a complaint with Markey. His main flaws, in their eyes, are that he’s 73 years old and not a Kennedy.

If you’re born into the Kennedy family, you’re instantly living with enormous expectations; in particular that someday you will run for elected office – or as they tend to phrase it, “go into public service.” That election to public office is expected to be a steppingstone, and someday you will be elected president and restore the storybook, heavily airbrushed image of “Camelot.” Your family’s beloved and departed elders had notorious flaws, but despite the fact that almost everyone in America knows about them, you’re not supposed to ever talk about them openly. Alcoholism, adultery, two assassinations, a forced lobotomy, a dead girl left to drown, a high-profile trial on rape charges that ends in acquittal, allegations of “waitress sandwiches” in restaurants near Capitol Hill, activism against vaccinations, conspiracy theories, relentless public scrutiny, one tragic sudden death after another, the list goes on and on. This is probably an extraordinarily stressful environment to grow up in. For all their wealth, fame and, power, you’d probably never want to trade places with them.

The Kennedys would likely be happier and healthier if there wasn’t an enormous image to live up to and if they could just happily pursue nonpolitical careers and pursuits outside of the public spotlight.

Back in 2015, former congressman Patrick Kennedy wrote A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction. His memoir delved deeply into his difficulties with living up to the expectations of his family and in particular his father, Senator Edward Kennedy. He described breaking down in public during the height of the William Kennedy Smith rape accusations, when he was a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly:

Within two weeks, I could no longer handle the pressure. On April 14, the editor of the Providence Journal published an op ed ripping my dad, entitled “Downhill All the Way.” I was so livid that I drove over to the office of the Journal – which was, of course, the main publication I relied upon to cover my own political career; This was long before cell phones, so I went to the pay phone outside the ProJo building, called the editor, and started screaming and swearing at him. I dared him to come down and meet me on the street.

He very calmly said that if I had a problem with anything he had written, I was welcome to submit a letter to the editor.

I kept on screaming at him, yelling that he was scared I would beat him up. It started out as just totally mad blind rage, but soon I realized I was trembling. I was crying, weeping into the pay phone. I felt every cell of my body was in turmoil. This was about so much more than anger over an op-ed – it was the first time I really got in touch with what, in recovery, we say is that shame we carry within us. And I had never felt so exposed before. I didn’t really have my own identity yet and I felt terrorized by not being able to separate from my parents’ identities, as they were being so harshly criticized. My core of shame was being uncovered for the first time and I was melting down. And I was doing it on the phone with the editor of the Journal, the most important journalist in the world to me.

And that day, the editor of the Journal did the kindest thing: nothing. He pretended none of this had ever happened. He never reported on the incident.

It’s very easy to dislike Patrick Kennedy for his political positions, or how in 1988, the Kennedy family basically bumped off a veteran Democratic state legislator so that the 21-year-old Providence College junior could have his seat. The Kennedy family spent $15,000 just on lawyers to challenge the registrations of about 170 voters; overall, Patrick Kennedy spent about $66 per vote.

It’s very difficult to not wish Patrick Kennedy had gotten help and found an inner peace much earlier in life, or to sympathize with him, concluding that the pressure of family and politics turned into an extremely toxic influence in his life:

His father once told him that he knew his son struggled with drug problems when he was young. He had seen Patrick’s ATM receipts that showed him withdrawing hundreds of dollars at 3 a.m. He was 18 and attending Andover at the time, and Kennedy writes he long wondered — but never asked — why his father didn’t do anything.

In another telling anecdote, Kennedy writes about his father admonishing him at a family gathering after the funeral of Ted Kennedy’s sister, Patricia Kennedy Lawford, in 2006.

His father was upset that, after he had crashed into a barrier at the US Capitol, Kennedy had gone public with his issues of addiction, in a New York Times article that appeared just days before the funeral.

“He called the article a disaster — the word he always used to describe the most extreme situations,” Kennedy writes. “How dare I talk about the family this way? How dare I discuss ‘these things’ in public? I stood there on the verge of disintegration. I was early in my sobriety and still pretty vulnerable. And I watched my father circulate around the room, talking about the article.”

Patrick Kennedy might have been happier doing something else with his life besides serving in elected office.

Congressman Joe Kennedy III may be a swell guy, with none of the issues that have troubled other members of his family who served in public office. He reportedly doesn’t drink, and there are no reports of womanizing or other scandals. Then again, his impatient ambition to become a senator at age 38, and seeming willingness to step on Markey to get there, reminds us of the Kennedy family’s habitual ruthlessness when it comes to getting potential Democratic rivals out of the way.

We were starting to make progress towards that day when Kennedys stopped being “America’s Royal Family” and had become just another wealthy family in Massachusetts. The “Kennedy mystique” was fading and there were indicators that voters were less interested in voting for a candidate just because they’re part of the famous family. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost her gubernatorial race in Maryland in 2002. Chris Kennedy lost his bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018. Edward M. Kennedy Jr. chose not to run for reelection to the Connecticut State Senate in 2018. Caroline Kennedy returned to private life and largely avoided the spotlight after serving four years as U.S. Ambassador to Japan. We were even starting to see a long-overdue reckoning about the uglier side of the family history.

But now it looks like we’ll be witnessing an intense Massachusetts Democratic party fight about whether there should be yet another “Senator Kennedy.”

Facebook and Twitter Catch China’s Government Pumping Out Disinformation

Social media disinformation campaigns: they’re not just for Russia anymore! (Actually, if you read my presentation from the spring, you already knew Iran was getting into this game.)

Twitter announced last night that it had found and suspended, “936 accounts originating from within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Overall, these accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground. Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation.”

Around the same time, Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy for Facebook announced, “Today, we removed seven Pages, three Groups and five Facebook accounts involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior as part of a small network that originated in China and focused on Hong Kong. The individuals behind this campaign engaged in a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake accounts — some of which had been already disabled by our automated systems — to manage Pages posing as news organizations, post in Groups, disseminate their content, and also drive people to off-platform news sites. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government.”

It’s worth noting that it’s not yet clear how effective these Chinese efforts were. As I said in the spring, “The best defense against disinformation is a better-informed and less credulous public that doesn’t automatically believe everything they read on the Internet and doesn’t gleefully share any information they encounter that reaffirms their preconceptions.”

Is Kamala Harris’ Campaign Collapsing?

Rarely do you see a poll that holds genuinely surprising result this early in the process, but this morning CNN’s new national poll of the Democratic primary finds Joe Biden at 29 percent, Bernie Sanders at 15 percent, and Elizabeth Warren at 14 percent. Notice who’s missing? Kamala Harris is now tied for a distant fourth with Pete Buttigieg with 5 percent.

In early July, Harris was at 17 percent in this poll.

We’ll see if other polls show similar results, but the narrative makes sense: Harris had a great first debate, which catapulted her into the first tier, and then she had a really difficult second one, taking flak from all sides and proving she’s much better at attacking other candidates’ records than defending her own.

Democrats desperately want to win, and they know Trump’s reelection campaign will relentlessly tear into the party’s nominee. The party’s primary voters aren’t going to waste much time on any candidate who can’t defend her record.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it yesterday, apparently a lot of high-profile Democrats just forgot about the accusations against Mark Halperin; Trump continues to publicly rage about staffers he hired; Jay-Z joins the ranks of the insufficiently woke; Elizabeth Warren’s No First Use policy is a solution in search of a problem; and the dangers of rewarding no-hope presidential candidates who suddenly drop down to a Senate race.

In some professional news, I’ll be doing a book signing at the Barnes and Noble in the Mosaic District in Fairfax County on Sunday, September 15 at 1 p.m. – yes, that’s right around the time football games start, but I promise I’ll keep you updated on the scores. Plus, Mosaic hosts arguably the region’s best farmer’s market on Sundays. The recent reviews of Between Two Scorpions on Amazon declare…

 “Amazed at the depth of his knowledge of the history and culture of the various places which were part of this story…”

“Equal parts enjoyable and scary! He has created an interesting team of operators and infuses the dialog with wonderful metaphors of popular cultural references (Quotes from Star Wars to familiar ad libs of the unnamed president).” 

“Geraghty creates a world that is both fantastic and utterly believable, with vivid characters and a plot line that draws the reader in and won’t let him go. It’s fast paced, fun, funny and compelling…” 

“Loved the humor that Jim is known for in his writing & podcasts coming out of these characters, too.”

Economy & Business

Don’t Root against the Economy

President Donald Trump talks to reporters from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., August 9, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

I’m back! Making the click-through worthwhile: President Trump fears a conspiracy of forces is trying to push the country into an economic recession; Antifa clashing out in Portland spurs a really ominous historical comparison; assessing the great writing but odd character choice in Daniel Silva’s The New Girl, and what I learned on my summer vacation.

Is there a ‘Conspiracy’ to Talk Down the Economy?

This morning, Maggie Haberman – if not Trump’s favorite reporter at the New York Times, then the one he talks to most regularly – writes that President Trump is responding to ominous economic signs by:

Lashing out at what he believes is a conspiracy of forces arrayed against him… He has insisted that his own handpicked Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, is intentionally acting against him. He has said other countries, including allies, are working to hurt American economic interests. And he has accused the news media of trying to create a recession.

Members of the opposition party are always pessimistic about the economy; members of the party in power are always more optimistic. Right after the presidential election in November of 2016, Gallup found sudden dramatic swings in Americans’ economic confidence, aligning with their party affiliation: “Just 16 percent of Republicans said the economy was getting better in the week before the election, while 81 percent said it was getting worse. Since the election, 49 percent say it is getting better and 44 percent worse. Before the election, 61 percent of Democrats said the economy was getting better and 35 percent worse. Now, Democrats are evenly divided, with 46 percent saying it is getting better and 47 percent saying it is getting worse.”

HBO’s Bill Maher has repeatedly expressed a desire for a recession because it would hurt President Trump’s reelection chances, and on a recent show, NBC News correspondent Richard Engel somewhat concurred, declaring “short-term pain might be better than long-term destruction of the Constitution.” (Because ignoring the Second Amendment, abolishing the Electoral College, court-packing the Supreme Court, mandatory disclosure of political donor addresses, and direct taxes on wealth instead of income or transactions don’t harm the Constitution, apparently.)

Benjamin Hart of New York magazine wrote, “if you believe a second Trump term would be a true disaster for the country and for the world — and I count myself among those who do — it’s not insane to have mixed feelings about all this.”

Hoping for a recession does not cause a recession. A recession could be triggered by widespread pessimism and anxiety that made people less likely to invest or spend, lowering sales and profits and creating a vicious cycle. But Bill Maher and a couple of writers are unlikely, by themselves, to generate enough economic pessimism to make people change their economic behavior. And if you think Democratic lawmakers can sound sufficiently gloomy to make businesses less interested in hiring new employees or unveiling new products, recall that the Democrats’ message on the economy hasn’t changed since Trump was elected.

Elizabeth Warren sees “a lot to worry about” in an economy with the lowest unemployment rate since 1969, record stock prices, record after-tax corporate profits, record single-family home prices, weekly wages growing faster than inflation, and the number of people getting food stamps the lowest in nearly 10 years. None of this means a recession is impossible, obviously; in fact, when so many economic indicators look this good, it’s probably hard to maintain that level for an extended period of time; similar to how the New England Patriots, the Toronto Raptors, Boston Red Sox and Saint Louis Blues will have a hard time doing better than they did last year.

Democrats are determined to paint a portrait of widespread economic misery, no matter what the actual data indicates. Kamala Harris says the low unemployment rate reflects an overworked America and predicted “as many as 300,000 autoworkers may be out of a job before the end of the year” (That would be 44 percent of all jobs in the auto industry.) Joe Biden claims the top one percent pay a lower tax rate than teachers, firefighters and cops, which just isn’t true; he’s conflating the tax rate on capital gains with the overall tax rate. Kirsten Gillibrand claims that “Trump promised manufacturing jobs would stay but they’re not;” as of July, the U.S. has added 486,000 manufacturing jobs since Trump took office.

If the United States does go into a recession, it will have earned it because of real economic changes, not because of excessively pessimistic assessments from the Democratic party or the media (Ask yourself if the national media was a cheerleader for the economy under Trump his first two years in office). A recession would have multiple causes – some independent of the president (a slowing global economy) and some caused by the president (tariffs and trade wars).

For what it’s worth, any anxiety among economists has not yet caught up with the general public: Gallup found “Americans’ confidence in the U.S. economy improved in July, with Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index rising seven points to +29. The latest index is the highest Gallup has measured since February.”

We’re Not That Far Along the Path to Political Violence, Are We?

One of the most ominous comments from Allahpundit at Hot Air ever, coming in response to Democratic freshman Rep. Deb Haalan, describing Antifa as “the folks who are the peaceful protesters working to safeguard their city from domestic terrorism.”

If the country is far enough along into its Weimar period to have gangs of ideologues swinging at each other in the streets, it’s far enough along to have members of the legislature defending their own side’s gang. Thirteen people were arrested in Portland yesterday, by the way. A half-dozen were injured.

I’d like to argue that the comparison to the Weimar Republic is overwrought . . . but is it?

The Bleeding Paint in Daniel Silva’s The New Girl

The long flights and train rides over in Portugal gave me time to finish Daniel Silva’s latest Gabriel Allon thriller, The New Girl. Minor spoilers are ahead; if you want to stay spoiler-free, the short version is that Silva is as good as ever but there’s one big oddity about one of his storytelling choices this time.

First, the good stuff: Silva hasn’t lost a step at all, even after telling thirteen stories about Allon. He’s gifted enough with characterization, dialogue and scene-setting to make even the rivalries among the faculty at an elite Swiss boarding school intriguing and amusing. Yes, his hero Allon, the head of Israeli intelligence, probably should have retired a long time ago, and you have to hand-wave away the fact that Allon still finds himself back in the field and in dangerous situations so regularly when he’s supposed to be behind a desk and managing a staff. Allon is a shrewd, patient, calculating, cool-under-fire protagonist, who’s always worth hanging around with for a couple hundred pages.

But The New Girl has one of the odder problems I’ve encountered in a thriller lately. The plot revolves around a Saudi prince set to be king, who directed the execution of a dissident journalist who wrote for a Western publication, was dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and is known by his initials. Instead of the real-life Saudi prince Muhammed bin Salman’s “MBS,” Silva’s fictional prince is Khalid bin Mohammad, known as “KBM.”

The problem is that the fictional Saudi prince is (if not consistently depicted sympathetically) , as Silva explains in a short author’s note at the end, an “ultimately a redeemable figure.” In fact, a major plot point is about a secret motivation for murdering the journalist at the consulate in Istanbul; a plot to alter the balance of power within the Saudi royal family, with the fictional KBM being manipulated by malevolent family members.

But as far as we know, in real life, MBS is a really bad guy – an impetuous, ruthless, reckless ruler who figured he could get away with murdering a critic without too much consequence. Most of the heads of state in the world of Gabriel Allon mirror that of the real world, with references to the deep baritone of the Israeli Prime Minister, brief references to an American president who sounds like Trump, a fictional CIA director whose biography matches a lot of Mike Pompeo’s, and a ruthless ruler of Russia nicknamed “the Czar” who targets foes of the regime with radioactive poisons.

In other words, just about every other aspect of Gabriel Allon’s world is the same as ours, except the story is about a fictional alter ego of Muhammad bin Salman who is… redeemable and even intermittently likeable. In an opening author’s note, Silva writes that he began work on a novel about “a crusading young Arab prince who wanted to modernize his religiously intolerant country” and he set aside that manuscript when MBS was implicated in the Jamal Khashoggi murder. One wonders if that portrait of an unlikely Saudi hero bled through into the new version like an old paint color showing up through a fresh coat of white. Some sections of The New Girl feel like an odd-couple buddy movie featuring the head of the Mossad and a spoiled and temperamental Saudi Prince teaming up to solve a kidnapping. Silva clearly didn’t set out to exonerate or excuse MBS, but the character of the not-so-bad KBM is just odd and off-putting, knowing that he’s so clearly inspired by a real-life figure who has shown no appetite for redemption.

Creating a more likable version of Muhammad bin Salman in fiction isn’t quite on the par of Quentin Tarantino dramatically rewriting the ending of World War Two in Inglourious Basterds. (John Podhoretz: “Taken literally, as though Tarantino were Oliver Stone trying to rewrite the facts of the Kennedy assassination to suit his own conspiratorial idiocy, Inglourious Basterds is so offensive that it beggars one’s vocabulary to find words to condemn it.” As I understand it, Tarantino takes similar liberties about rewriting history in the recent Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.)

I wasn’t offended by the reimagining of the Saudi prince, but a reader with a vehement disdain to MBS might.

ADDENDA: How would I summarize Portugal? Think of it all the stuff you like about Europe – castles, museums, history, old architecture, grand squares with statues of long-forgotten monarchs on horseback, good food, good drink – for somewhat less money than most of the rest of the continent. And it has a slew of beautiful beaches, although if you’re used to the water temperatures of the American south, get ready to freeze your buns off. (Thanks to the widespread enthusiasm for thongs, you’ll see a lot of those buns on display.) Speaking of baked goods on display, I was struck by the ubiquitous bakery windows featuring pastelas de nada, small single-serving egg custard tarts that are basically Portugal’s national dessert. They’re not the most delicious dessert I’ve ever had, but there’s something charming and admirable about how the Portuguese have decided, “this is ours, it is uniquely ours, and we’re going to celebrate it every chance we get.” Nationalism is always easier to digest when it comes in pastry form.

The warnings about the crowds in summer are frustratingly accurate. The Monastery of Jeronimos? Long lines, big crowds. The Belem Tower? Long lines, big crowds. The Moorish castle in Sintra? Short line, moderately crowded, absolutely spectacular with ledges that would make an inspector from the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration drop dead from a heart attack. The Palacio Nacional Da Pena in Sintra? Super-long lines, big crowds. The Livraria Lello bookstore in Porto, which allegedly helped inspire J.K. Rowling to write Harry Potter? Long lines, big crowds. And the Santa Justa Elevator might as well be the Space Mountain ride of Lisbon. The New York Times touts it, seemingly oblivious to the two to three-hour waits to take an old-fashioned elevator.

What didn’t have long lines or big crowds were the National Pantheon, which has an amazing observation deck; the children’s science museum in Lisbon, and the exhibit of Picasso’s sketches at the Palacipo das Artes in Porto.

White House

Let’s Buy Greenland

Town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 15, 2018 (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Making the clickthrough worthwhile: President Trump considers buying Greenland; CVS foments feminist outrage; and the president wants to bring back mental institutions.

Greenland New Deal

The president is considering purchasing the country of Greenland, with what a source close to the administration called — a better distillation of the Trump presidency, I cannot conceive — “varying degrees of seriousness.” As CNN reports, historians generally consider the United States to have made two significant inquiries into the polar isle: once in the summer of 1867, when then-Secretary of State William H. Seward concurred with former Kansas governor Robert J. Walker’s suggestion that the U.S. consider “the propriety of obtaining . . . Greenland,” and the other in 1946, when then-Secretary of State James F. Byrnes reportedly told a Danish foreign minister that “Greenland was nothing but a huge lump of ice that happened to be of great strategic importance to the United States but could never be anything but a burden to Denmark.” The negotiations, to the extent that they could be so described, ended soon thereafter.

The Danes don’t seem warm to the idea. From AOL:

Danish politicians on Friday poured scorn on the notion of selling Greenland to the United States following reports that President Donald Trump had privately discussed the idea of buying the world’s biggest island with his advisers.

Trump is due to visit Copenhagen in September and the Arctic will be on the agenda during meetings with the prime ministers of Denmark and Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory.

“It has to be an April Fool’s joke. Totally out of season,” former prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said on Twitter.

The notion of purchasing the territory has been laughed off by some advisers as a joke but was taken more seriously by others in the White House, two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters on Thursday.

Talk of a Greenland purchase was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Regardless of what Rasmussen has to say, everyone has their price, and the Danes, no doubt, have theirs. Let’s buy Greenland.

#CVSDeniesCare

CVS stoked the outrage of the left-wing Twitter mob for engaging in standard corporate negotiations with a subscription-model birth control company. The service “Pill Club” delivers, per Business Insider, oral contraceptives that arrive at “a customer’s front door, in a ‘care package’ that also includes goodies like sweets and stickers.”

The pharmacy giant was engaged in negotiations with Pill Club over reimbursement rates; it’s standard fare for other providers that use CVS as a third-party intermediary to sell their medication. But in the course of these negotiations, the director of NARAL saw that CVS intended to change its payment structure, which might cut into the profit margins of the candy-and-contraceptive delivery service, and sent out a scathing series of tweets. #CVSdeniescare and #BoycottCVS began setting Twitter ablaze not soon thereafter. More from Business Insider:

The CVS spokesman told Business Insider that earlier this year the company notified “non-traditional pharmacies” like Pill Club that had been receiving reimbursements at the same rate as retail pharmacies that they would be subject to different terms and reimbursement, based on their business models.

“Other pharmacies in our network with similar business models as Pill Club have agreed to the same terms and reimbursement,” the spokesman said.

Joel Wishkovsky, the CEO of Simple Health, a startup that provides birth control online, said his company was on a similar contract as Pill Club. He said Simple Health wouldn’t turn away Caremark patients even if CVS paid his company less.

Pill Club has sought to portray CVS as hostile to women’s health issues. In an email to Business Insider, a Pill Club spokeswoman wrote that “CVS clearly doesn’t see women’s health as a priority,” citing the health giant’s connections to the Trump administration and its majority-male board of directors.

The language used by Pill Club also closely mirrors that of some people on social media.

Woke Capital once again employs the useful idiots on Twitter to predictable ends.

Mental Institutions

The president has turned his attention to mental health after flirting with gun control measures. Speaking with reporters before his New Hampshire rally yesterday, Trump said that “We have to start building institutions again because, you know, if you look at the ’60s and ’70s, so many of these institutions were closed, and the people were just allowed to go onto the streets.”

To a shamelessly self-referential journalist, the statement sounded like a fantastic idea, one that highlighted a niche issue that they have a borderline-undue interest in.

From my NRO editorial:

Congress might start by repealing the Johnson administration’s so-called “IMD (Institutions for Mental Disease) exclusion” in the Medicaid statutes, which prevents individuals from using Medicaid funds at a facility with more than 16 psychiatric beds … While every state still has psychiatric hospitals, it’s almost impossible to be admitted to one unless an individual is an immediate danger to himself or others, a standard which is often met only after it is too late. Repealing the IMD exclusion (a move which the administration has shown itself open to) would allow both states and private providers to expand existing institutions or even create new residential services as institutions without running into the blatant discrimination against the most severely ill that is baked into the Medicaid cake. This, combined with more proactive commitment policies for the incapacitated in these hospitals, is an evidence-based means to reduce state homicide rates: A 2011 study from the University of California at Berkeley found a statistically significant association between looser involuntary commitment standards and declines in statewide homicide rates.

Next, the president should direct the Department of Justice to stop its obstreperous Olmstead litigation. Olmstead v. L.C. was a 1999 Supreme Court case which held that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) granted persons with mental illness and intellectual and developmental disabilities the right to treatment in a community-based setting, provided 1) that the “community-based” care, as opposed to institutional services, is medically appropriate; 2) the individual does not oppose a transfer from an institution to a community setting; and 3) it can be reasonably accommodated by the state without a fundamental alteration to their delivery of services.

The Obama DOJ made a point of ravaging the existing care networks of some of the states that were most reliant on state hospitals and institutional services. While there are legitimate Olmstead violations to be fought — an individual, for instance, who is medically capable of living in the community, and whose transfer from an institution would not force a fundamental alteration to state services, represents the ideal candidate for such action — the DOJ has gone far beyond these individual remedies, preferring class-action suits that indict statewide paradigms of care. The Department’s discordant and often-abrasive actions leave one with little alternative but to presume that their Civil Rights division would, if made king, close every last public psychiatric hospital in this country. DOJ, as I write this, is going after Mississippi (a state that, despite its poverty, has the single lowest statewide rate of homelessness) for its supposedly disproportionate reliance on state hospitals. A better approach would be to expand community services for those qualified, while leaving open the hospitals that are providing care to the most vulnerable citizens in Mississippi…

Litigious activists at DOJ are making states reluctant to make use of institutional services, even for those who need it, for precisely that “fear of litigation” of which Justice Kennedy so presciently forewarned. The president could stop it tomorrow by shifting the Department’s focus toward individual abuses and away from class-action suits, which often conscript unwitting and unwilling parties and are explicitly designed to change entire systems of care.

It’s possible to do what the president is talking about, if he actually means it.

Economy & Business

That Crazy Inverted Yield Curve

A trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, July 31, 2019. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the yield curve inverts amid drama on Wall Street; new developments in the Jeffrey Epstein saga; and, at long last, John Hickenlooper drops out of the Democratic primary.

Are We Heading Towards a Recession?

The yield curve inverted yesterday, with yields on two-year bonds rising above yields on ten-year bonds for the first time since 2005. The inversion of the yield curve has been among the most reliable postwar predictors of a recession, though some analysts are attributing yesterday’s events to a confluence of global and seasonal variables that don’t necessarily portend a domestic economic decline. Still, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped over 800 points yesterday, reflecting market anxiety about the inverted yield curve, the Trump administration’s trade dispute with the Chinese and the threat of retaliatory tariffs, as well as fluctuations in global and domestic interest rates. The ever-acerbic President Trump weighed in on Twitter:

If it would stimulate the economy—even if it wouldn’t, actually—I would buy a crazy inverted yield curve t-shirt. Buy American, and all that.

Fortune examines the anomalous nature of the inversion:

“Typically these inversions occur 12 to 18 months before a recession,” said Andrew Aran, a partner at Regency Wealth Management. But an inversion is just an indicator, as in recent times, only two-thirds of them have actually come before a recession.

But the inversion today is different from the past. “Every recession that we’ve had in the U.S. since World War II, with one exception of the Great Recession, was preceded by the Federal Reserve raising interest rates too far, too fast from much higher levels than the current levels,” said David Kass, clinical professor of finance at the University of Maryland. The Great Recession, which Kass called “one of a kind,” was the result of “an excessive amount of debt in the housing market and the collapse of the housing market and the economy.”

But the Fed just dropped the rate by 0.25% and investors expect as many as three more small cuts by the end of the year. As for debt, “I don’t see an excessive amount of debt in any sector,” Kass said…”Generally speaking…what is a little different is a broad flattening across the curve,” said Tim Alt, portfolio manager at Aviva Investors. People may not expect trouble in the long run but are nervous about medium-term prospects. “One way to interpret that is the market is pricing in lower odds that this is a mid-cycle slowdown and higher odds that it is going to end up in a recession,” he said. There is also worry that central banks may have run out of tricks to stimulate the economy. “The concern is that the market is moving toward believing that fiscal policy is the only thing to move the needle,” Alt said.

A recession or significant economic slowdown would make the president’s reelection much more tenuous.

Epstein’s Autopsy Reveals Injuries Consistent with Homicide

Jeffrey Epstein, the finance mogul accused of sex trafficking, died last Saturday in his Manhattan cell under curious circumstances. Officials had initially deemed it a suicide, but the story appeared unseemly and ad hoc from the outset—the prison camera broke, Epstein was removed from suicide watch, his cellmate was relocated, the guards inexplicably vacated the area, etc. New details from the medical examiner are adding further intrigue to a story that has, from the start, been subject to conjecture and conspiracy.

From the Washington Post:

An autopsy found that financier Jeffrey Epstein suffered multiple breaks in his neck bones, according to two people familiar with the findings, deepening the mystery about the circumstances around his death.

Among the bones broken in Epstein’s neck was the hyoid bone, which in men is near the Adam’s apple. Such breaks can occur in those who hang themselves, particularly if they are older, according to forensics experts and studies on the subject. But they are more common in victims of homicide by strangulation, the experts said.

The details are the first findings to emerge from the autopsy of Epstein, a convicted sex offender and multimillionaire in federal custody on charges of sex trafficking. He died early Saturday morning after guards found him hanging in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan and he could not be revived.

Attorney General William P. Barr, whose department oversees the Bureau of Prisons facility where Epstein died, has described his death as an “apparent suicide.” Justice officials declined to comment on the new information from Epstein’s autopsy.

The office of New York City’s chief medical examiner, Barbara Sampson, completed an autopsy of Epstein’s body Sunday. But Sampson listed the cause of his death as pending…People familiar with the autopsy, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive stage of the investigation, said Sampson’s office is seeking additional information on Epstein’s condition in the hours before his death. That could include video evidence of the jail hallways, which may establish whether anyone entered Epstein’s cell during the night he died; results of a toxicology screening to determine if there was any unusual substance in his body; and interviews with guards and inmates who were near his cell.

CBS is reporting that “shouting and shrieking” were heard in Epstein’s cell the morning he died as corrections officials tried to revive him.

John Hickenlooper Drops Out

John Hickenlooper, one of the ostensible moderates in the 2020 Democratic primary field, is dropping out of the race. The long-time Colorado governor was polling well in his home state but was a non-entity otherwise; most national polls had him between 0-1%, per Axios. Hickenlooper was famously booed at the California Democratic Convention for asserting that “socialism is not the answer” for the Democratic party. They boo all the wrong things, don’t they?

From USA Today:

Hickenlooper was struggling to meet the donor and polling thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee to qualify for the September debate in Houston and was unlikely to make the stage.

One of the aides told USA TODAY that Hickenlooper is still weighing a Senate bid against Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, among the most vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in the 2020 election cycle. The aide said Hickenlooper will not announce whether he’ll seek the party’s nomination to run against Gardner during Thursday’s announcement.

Hickenlooper has previously acknowledged that Democratic leadership would like him to run for the Senate, but pushed back against the notion that the party needs him with a large field of high-profile Colorado Democrats who have already announced their candidacy.

“There are several other top-flight candidates running for Senate in Colorado, I think any one of which could beat Cory Gardner,” Hickenlooper said during a campaign stop in Iowa last month. “I mean, he is amazingly vulnerable.”

Hickenlooper is presumably burning—draw whatever inference you like— to return to his home state to mull over his political future.

Elections

Can Warren Emerge as the Biden Alternative?

Senator Elizabeth Warren during the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, August 10, 2019. (Scott Morgan/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: New reports indicate that guards responsible for Jeffrey Epstein fell asleep and missed several hours of routine checks; Elizabeth Warren settles into the top tier of the Democratic primary along with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders; and another Democratic hopeful, Julian Castro, took out an ad on Fox News blaming President Trump for the El Paso shooting.

The Epstein Mystery Carries On

New reports out this morning indicate that the failure of responsibility that allowed financer and alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein to apparently commit suicide in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City was more widespread than we initially thought. Here are details from the New York Times:

The two staff members who were guarding the jail unit where Jeffrey Epstein apparently killed himself fell asleep and failed to check on him for about three hours, then falsified records to cover up their mistake, according to several law enforcement and prison officials with knowledge of the matter.

Those disclosures came on Tuesday as the two employees were placed on administrative leave and the warden of the jail . . . was temporarily reassigned, pending the outcome of the investigation into Mr. Epstein’s death, the Justice Department announced.

The two staff members in the special housing unit where Mr. Epstein was held — 9 South — falsely recorded in a log that they had checked on the financier, who was facing sex trafficking charges, every 30 minutes, as was required, two of the officials said. Such false entries in an official log could constitute a federal crime.

This wasn’t the first indication in the case that someone, or several people, were asleep on the job — whether literally or figuratively. Just six days after Epstein reportedly attempted to commit suicide in late July, he was removed from suicide watch and returned to a normal cell, with a cellmate. According to the Times, that inmate later was transferred out of Epstein’s cell, leaving him alone on the night he apparently killed himself.

This latest news comes just after the Department of Justice announced late last night that the correctional officers guarding Epstein’s unit on the night of his death had been placed on leave and that the warden of the MCC had been reassigned. Those decisions were made by Attorney General William Barr, who is overseeing an investigation into what happened at the center that allowed Epstein to die.

Reporting from the Wall Street Journal indicates that systemic problems with the federal Bureau of Prisons, and specifically the MCC, were largely responsible:

The staffing shortage has forced prison officials to fill the void with secretaries, counselors and teachers within the prison who step in as correctional officers, a practice known as “augmentation.” Lawmakers in recent months have urged the Justice Department to stop relying on the practice, warning it puts employees in harm’s way.

At the Metropolitan Correctional Center, which housed Mr. Epstein, the staff was so overworked that some were sleeping in their cars because they were too tired to drive home, according to Darrell Palmer, a regional vice president for the federal prison union.

“When you don’t have the proper amount of staff to run a prison, bad things happen,” Mr. Palmer said. “It’s just systemic across the United States.”

This latest news will certainly ratchet up already bipartisan pressure on the investigation to determine exactly how and why Epstein didn’t make it to his court date.

Elizabeth Warren Settles into the Top Tier of the Democratic Primary

As the long summer of campaigning wears on, it’s fairly clear that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has become one of two candidates vying for the second-place spot behind current primary frontrunner, former vice president Joe Biden.

Warren has been swapping places with Vermont senator Bernie Sanders in nearly every poll of the race since the last primary debates at the end of July, and in national surveys, she’s more consistently coming in second. In fact, according to Morning Consult data, Warren was the only top-tier candidate to get a bump in polling following her performance in those debates, rising from 13 to 15 percent support.

Now, she seems to have settled, with Sanders, into a competition for second place. Here’s a rundown of the most recent surveys released over the last week. The August IBD/TIPP survey puts Biden at 30 percent, Warren at 17, and Sanders at twelve. Quinnipiac shows Biden with 32 percent support, Warren with 21, and Sanders with 14. Data from the latest Economist/YouGov survey shows Biden in a narrower lead, at 25 percent compared to Warren’s 18 and Sanders’s 13.

Two polls, meanwhile, show Sanders in second place: SurveyUSA puts Biden at 33 percent, Sanders at 20, and Warren close behind at 19, and yesterday’s Politico/Morning Consult data are similar, with Biden again at 33 percent, Sanders again at 20, and Warren dropping to 14.

For Warren, it’s probably worth celebrating that she’s managed to step out above the middle of the pack, and for now, at least, has put some distance between herself and California Senator Kamala Harris — who after June’s primary debates appeared poised to settle into second place behind Biden.

A recent analysis in the Washington Post suggested Warren’s main concern at the moment, even as she rises in the polls, ought to be electability. More from the Post:

Warren is not only among the most liberal candidates in the 2020 field; she’s also an older, white, intellectual woman running in the aftermath of the Hillary Clinton debacle, and she follows in a long line of failed presidential nominees from Massachusetts. Dukakis ’88. Kerry ’04. Romney ’12. It’s entirely too easy to caricature her as a liberal-elite former Harvard professor whom President Trump could drub with those oh-so-important working-class white voters. . . .

Quinnipiac University poll Tuesday showed Warren rising to 21 percent in the Democratic primary field — six points higher than last week, and her best showing to date in any national poll. The same poll, though, showed just 9 percent of Democratic primary voters viewed her as the most electable. So more than half of her supporters say they’ll vote for her but don’t say she’s the most likely to beat Trump.

As has been the case throughout 2019 — including in recent Washington Post-ABC News polling — that distinction belongs to former vice president Joe Biden, with 49 percent saying he had the best chance.

Maintaining a solid spot competing for second place might not mean a whole lot, given that Biden seems to have a lock on the frontrunner position, running double digit margins on his competitors. But at this stage of the race, and given how prone he is to missteps of his own, keeping up with him might be good enough.

Julian Castro Once Again Blames Trump for El Paso — This Time in an Ad

If President Trump was watching his favorite news program — Fox & Friends — this morning, he likely got a rude interruption in the form of a television ad from Democratic primary candidate Julian Castro. The presidential hopeful took out a 30-second spot during the show to address a message directly to the president, blaming him for the recent mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

“As we saw in El Paso, Americans were killed because you stoked the fire of racists,” says Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development. “Innocent people were shot down because they look different from you because they look like me. They look like my family.”

Castro isn’t the first Democratic candidate to blame the president for the anti-immigrant violence. After the shooting, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke said Trump is “causing this” by being “an open, avowed racist.” New Jersey senator Cory Booker declared Trump “responsible” for the attack. Several candidates, meanwhile, have insisted that Trump is a white supremacist.

For Democrats, it isn’t enough to criticize Trump’s rhetoric as being unpresidential or inadvisable. They always have to take it a step further, beyond defensible arguments, and make Trump out to be the cartoon villain they’re longing to run against.

World

Hong Kong Protests Heat Up, Chris Cuomo Melts Down

Riot police stand outside a branch of the HSCB bank during clashes with protesters in Hong Kong, China, August 11, 2019. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Pro-democracy protests at the airport in Hong Kong continue into their second day, CNN host Chris Cuomo is caught on video ranting at a man who called him “Fredo,” and Joe Biden revels in social-media attention — but most of it is negative.

Hong Kong Airport Protests Continue into Their Second Day

The Hong Kong airport is suspending check-ins and canceling flights for the second consecutive day as pro-democracy demonstrators swarm the departure and arrival areas at the airport for a sit-in. The New York Times has the details:

Hundreds of demonstrators occupied parts of Hong Kong International Airport’s departures and arrivals halls on Tuesday, with some using luggage trolleys to block travelers from reaching their departure gates. The Hong Kong Airport Authority closed check-in services in the late afternoon, and it advised all passengers to leave as soon as possible.

It was the second day in a row that demonstrators had seriously disrupted operations at the airport, one of the world’s busiest. On Monday, protesters effectively shuttered it after storming the arrivals and departures halls. As flight cancellations piled up on Tuesday, a few scuffles broke out between protesters and travelers.

The sit-in began in a quieter fashion over the weekend, when a smaller group of protestors gathered in the arrivals area without disrupting services. But after police used tear gas against demonstrators in a train station on Sunday evening — deemed a violation of international standards by the United Nations Human Rights Office — the sit-in grew exponentially, to the point where it now has blocked regular airport operations for two days.

Hong Kong police have used tear gas against protestors already this summer, and reports note that they’ve also deployed rubber bullets and beanbag rounds to force them out of the streets. Authorities in Hong Kong, meanwhile, say that protesters are guilty of launching bricks and gas bombs at police officers.

Though similar pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have been taking place since late 2014, they began to intensify again this June after leaders proposed legislation that would allow individuals to be extradited to China. Opponents of the bill argue that it would endanger critics of the Chinese government in Beijing, who would be vulnerable to the human-rights abuses of the harsh Chinese legal system.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong chief executive, tried to assure protestors earlier this summer that the bill would not extend to free-speech issues. But her efforts to pacify them failed, and despite saying she wouldn’t do so, Lam ultimately suspended the bill in mid June. Early last month, she proclaimed the legislation “dead,” though she still won’t commit to fully withdrawing it.

According to the Washington Post, the pro-democracy movement now has five demands for Hong Kong’s government: “to withdraw the extradition bill; to officially retract descriptions of the protests as a ‘riot;’ to drop charges against protesters; to launch an investigation into police force during the protests; and ‘universal suffrage,’ which would allow Hong Kong voters to directly pick their leaders rather than the current process that includes Beijing’s involvement.”

This video of protestors in the airport singing an anthem from the musical Les Miserables — a track the Chinese government blocked from streaming services on the mainland — is worth watching:

‘I Know It Was You, Fredo’

A video surfaced yesterday evening, showing CNN anchor Chris Cuomo launching into a profanity-ridden tirade after an unidentified man approached him in a bar and apparently referred to him as “Fredo,” a reference to one of Vito Corleone’s sons in the movie The Godfather.

Cuomo, son of former New York governor Mario Cuomo and younger brother of current New York governor Andrew Cuomo, responded by telling the man, “You call me ‘Fredo,’ it’s like I call you punk bitch, you like that?” and saying he would “throw him down these stairs.”

“Are any of you Italian?” Cuomo asked the men around him. “It’s an insult to your people. . . . It’s like the n-word for us.” As the video circulated yesterday evening, though, commentators generally agreed that Italian Americans don’t regard the name “Fredo” as that kind of insult, but rather that it’s often used to refer to the less intelligent of two brothers, as in the movie the name comes from.

It appears that Cuomo himself didn’t always consider the reference to be highly insulting, or at least that he wasn’t always willing to get in a confrontation over it. Late last night, Donald Trump Jr. shared a video of CNN commentator Ana Navarro on “Cuomo Prime Time” in January, in which she used the name “Fredo” to describe him. “He didn’t even make the cut that his brother-in-law and sister did to be part of the Oval Office and the White House staff,” Navarro said of Trump Jr. “Daddy kept Fredo back home.” Cuomo didn’t push back.

But the CNN anchor found support in some unlikely places last night. Fox News host Sean Hannity insisted that Cuomo shouldn’t apologize but was the one who “deserves the apology.” Meanwhile, short-lived White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said he was “very proud” of Cuomo because “this happens all the time” and “it’s quite racist.”

For his part, CNN spokesman Matt Dornic backed Cuomo in a statement on Twitter yesterday evening: “Chris Cuomo defended himself when he was verbally attacked with the use of an ethnic slur in an orchestrated setup. We completely support him.”

Perhaps Cuomo was right to be incensed at the unnecessary public attack, but the comparison to the n-word seems a little far-fetched.

Joe Biden Is Getting Lots of Attention — But Is It the Kind He Wants?

The former vice president and frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary might be glad that he’s dominated the field in social-media interactions over the last couple of months. But he should be a little less thrilled about the fact that most of the buzz has been fueled by a series of gaffes. Axios has the details from Newswhip data tracking interactions for 2020 candidates:

Articles about Joe Biden generated 3.8 million interactions on social media last week — more than that of any other candidate since June — but they were overwhelmingly on stories about his recent blunders. according to data from NewsWhip provided exclusively to Axios. . . .

Among the 100 stories about Biden that generated the most interactions (retweets, likes, comments, shares) on Facebook and Twitter last week, 67% of those interactions (1.78 million) were on stories about his gaffes.

The 1.78M interactions over the gaffes alone were higher than the interactions on the coverage of all of Biden’s 2020 rivals except Beto O’Rourke last week.

At the Iowa State Fair, Biden made more than his share of mistakes. He noted, for instance, that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.” He told reporters that he had been vice president at the time of last February’s mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school. And, for the second, time, he confused former British prime minister Theresa May with another former prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.

His mistakes haven’t been fatal, and as the most recognizable candidate with the best claim to being a successful moderate option, Biden has a leg up on the competition. But a series of mistakes like this give his opponents a lot to work with.

U.S.

Controversy Swirls around Jeffrey Epstein’s Death

Jeffrey Epstein in a photograph taken for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Service, March 28, 2017. (Handout/Reuters)

Jim Geraghty is off this week. Making the click-through worthwhile: Jeffrey Epstein is found dead in his cell as conspiracy theories abound, the Department of Education investigates policies allowing biological males to have a field day in women’s sports, and former Trump administration communications director Anthony Scaramucci says the president might have to be replaced atop the 2020 GOP ticket.

Jeffrey Epstein Dead in Apparent Suicide

Ostensible finance mogul and alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein was declared dead on Saturday after he was found unconscious in his cell. His remains were transferred to the medical examiner’s office for further investigation, but prison officials say he committed suicide. Which has some asking how Epstein — who had attempted suicide in late July and was the most high-profile inmate in the country — managed to commit suicide at a notorious federal lockup like the Metropolitan Correctional Center. The MCC in Manhattan is no joke — the Los Angeles Times calls it the “Guantanamo of New York” — and it is a universe apart from the Palm Beach County Stockade, where Epstein served time for soliciting a minor in 2008. But the Washington Post has detailed the timeline surrounding Epstein’s death, which suggests not a conspiracy but rather incompetence:

It was also not clear how much, if any, of the incident or authorities’ check-ins was captured on camera. E.O. Young, the national president of the Council of Prison Locals C-33, said that while cameras are prevalent in the facility, he did not believe they generally captured inmates’ cells.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons said Saturday that lifesaving measures were “initiated immediately” after Epstein was found, and then emergency responders were summoned.

Epstein had been placed on suicide watch after a July 23 incident in which he was found in his cell with marks on his neck — which subjected him to near constant monitoring and daily psychological evaluations, according to people familiar with the case. But he was taken off that about a week later and brought to the special housing unit, where there was a higher level of security, but not constant monitoring.

Before the incident, Epstein had a cellmate: Nicholas Tartaglione, a former police officer in custody on murder and narcotics charges. But Young, the national union president, said Epstein was in a cell alone immediately before his death.

Young said he was not certain why Epstein was in the cell alone, as the Federal Bureau of Prisons has moved recently to make sure fewer inmates are housed on their own. He said there was some speculation after the July 23 incident that Epstein was trying to get away from Tartaglione, whom he feared, and he believed that, at least for a time, Epstein had another cellmate after coming off suicide watch.

Young asserted that in the jail’s general population, Epstein also probably would have been a target and that there was only so much officers could do to prevent him from harming himself.

But Young said, even in Epstein’s case, correctional officers face a grim reality.

“We can’t ever stop anyone who is persistent on killing themselves,” Young said. “The only thing the bureau can do is delay that.”

The Internet is ablaze with conspiracy theories, given the potential dirt that Epstein held on power players in the worlds of politics and finance. Alas, the president joined in, retweeting actor Terrence K. Williams’s post which insinuated that the Clintons arranged for Epstein to be killed:

Epstein had been arraigned on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges and faced up to 45 years in prison if convicted.

Education Department Investigates Biological Males Playing Girls’ Sports

“Biological males” — what other kind is there? — are having a field day competing against women in athletics across the country.

It is 2019, rendering us incapable of acknowledging that men are, on the aggregate, stronger, faster, and more coordinated than women. But whether or not the cultural hegemony allows it to be so stated, the plain biological reality remains — much to the dismay of women and girls involved in sports who are coming face to face with the vocal vanguard of America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier.

Now the Department of Education is investigating this phenomenon. From my colleague Maddy Kearns:

On Wednesday, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into the claims of three female athletes who maintain that the state of Connecticut’s transgender policy — allowing male athletes to compete with girls if they declare a female gender identity — violates Title IX and constitutes illegal discrimination on the basis of sex.

Since enacted in 2017, the Connecticut state conference policy has enabled two young men to win 15 women’s championships, titles that were held by 10 young women the year before. State athletic conferences in 18 other states have similar policies.

Last month, I visited the named complainant, 16-year-old Selina Soule, and her mom at their home in Glastonbury. Soule showed me the track where she trains as well as her collection of medals and trophies. She said that sports mean the world to her — and to her mom, an immigrant from Romania, and her inspiration. As I detailed in the Wall Street Journal, Soule feels that allowing boys to compete against girls is “just really frustrating and heartbreaking” as the girls “all train extremely hard to shave off just fractions of a second off of our time. And these athletes can do half the amount of work that we do, and it doesn’t matter. We have no chance of winning.”

No chance indeed.

‘The Mooch’ Thinks Trump Might Need to Be Replaced in 2020

Anthony Scaramucci was the communications director for the Trump White House for 11 days, in case you’ve somehow forgotten. To oblige: “The Mooch” told Axios that he thinks the president might need to be primaried in 2020, given his sense that “the reactor is melting down and the apparatchiks are trying to figure out whether to cover it up or start the clean-up process.” Mixed metaphor or not, Scaramucci appears to be turning on his former boss, as Axios reports:

Scaramucci, who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates, including Trump’s 2016 campaign, said that if Trump “doesn’t reform his behavior, it will not just be me, but many others will be considering helping to find a replacement in 2020.”

“Right now, it’s an unspeakable thing. But if he keeps it up, it will no longer be unspeakable. The minute they start speaking of it, it will circulate and be socialized. We can’t afford a full nuclear contamination site post 2020.”

The big picture: Scaramucci has said that Trump’s attacks on congresswomen of color “divide the country.” And yesterday the president attacked his former communications director in a couple of tweets.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham had this short response to Scaramucci’s comments about opposing Trump in 2020: “It sounds like his feelings are hurt.”

Anthony Scaramucci challenging Donald Trump to lead the GOP ticket would certainly be a memorable Republican primary.

Elections

Biden’s Campaign-Trail Gaffes

Joe Biden in Detroit, Mich., July 24, 2019 (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

It’s been a grim and infuriating week. Let’s end this week with some lighter topics, before I head out for a week: the floor of a Biden presidency; the former vice president’s recent verbal difficulties on the trail; a new television show that looked promising before a gruesome turn; and what you’ve always wanted to know about aliens.

The Safety Brakes on a Biden Presidency

Let’s put together two seemingly accurate observations. First, from Nate Silver: “It’s not that complicated, folks. Biden’s gonna lose the nomination if and when Democrats become convinced that he can’t beat Trump, or become convinced that someone else can. Otherwise he’s likely to be pretty resilient.” So far, that looks like a safe bet. Biden’s hit some bumps in the road, but he’s still ahead by a healthy margin, and voters who would prefer someone further to the left are divided among other candidates.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Chait is fuming about Biden’s declaration that “ending the filibuster is a very dangerous move.” It is, because you never know when your side will be in the minority and your only ability to block a bad idea is holding 40 members together. Chait interprets Biden’s position as, “I’ll let Mitch McConnell block everything.”

Now, a president doesn’t have any say over what the Senate does regarding its own rules and the filibuster. And the filibuster is gone for all judicial nominees.

But it does illustrate that as much as we might disagree with the policies and worldview of a Biden presidency, he would probably not be able to run roughshod over a GOP Senate minority, unless Senate Democrats won 51 seats and repealed the filibuster over Biden’s objections. Theoretically, if Democrats won 50 seats, Biden’s vice president could vote to eliminate the filibuster over the president’s objections . . . but that would be pretty weird.

A Biden presidency with the filibuster in place — along with four years of Trump judicial appointments in place, issuing injunctions and striking down new laws they thought were unconstitutional — would probably generate results along the lines of what Chernobyl engineers thought 3.6 roentgen was — “not great, not terrible.”

Slow Down, Mr. Biden. Take Your Time.

We all have moments where the words don’t come out right. We’re thinking of one name but say another, we mix up the words we’re trying to say, or get tongue-tied. Just about every candidate does it sooner or later — recall Obama’s declaration that he had visited “fifty-seven states.”

Former vice president Joe Biden’s had a rough stretch, though. Just as President Trump accidentally said “Toledo” when he meant “Dayton” in discussing the shootings, Biden lamented the shootings in “Houston and Michigan.” At the Iowa State Fair, Biden declared, “we choose truth over facts.” He also said the white supremacists in Charlottesville chanted, “you will replace us!”

And then he topped it off by declaring, “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”

Maybe he just needs a nap.

Pennyworth: Looking So Good Until . . .

I caught a few episodes of Pennyworth, the EPIX network’s concept of the young adventures of Batman’s butler Alfred. On paper it sounds like a terrible idea, but it’s much more enjoyable if you think of it as a 1960s-set British adventure series.

The first thing you should know is that almost nothing in this series ties in to Batman, other than the title character and the presence of Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father, as an American expat. Alfred Pennyworth is a young Londoner who’s just finished a stint in the British army, is working as a bouncer at a just-reputable-enough nightclub, is smitten with a charming young actress, and still lives with his middle-class parents, with intermittent friction. He’s trying to start a security guard business with his army buddies. The lead actor, Jack Bannon, does a masterful impression of a young Michael Caine. The whole series has an early James Bond feel, particularly in the musical theme and opening credits, which can be seen here. (There are also repeated allusions to Oliver Twist: A villainess is named Bet Sykes, and another character sings “As Long As He Needs Me” from the musical Oliver! .)

What intrigued me the most in the well-done pilot episode was the portrait of a slightly alternate 1960s London. Besides the Zeppelins in the sky over the city (the universal visual shorthand for ‘this is an alternate universe’), the streets are patrolled by Beefeaters with machine guns, and the bodies of executed criminals still hang from gibbet cages outside government buildings.

In an early scene, the never-named Prime Minister — who appears to have a drug habit and hangs out with some femme fatale — describes the country as being quietly threatened by two rival secret societies: the Raven Society, trying to overthrow the government in order to build a fascist paradise, and the No-Name Society, trying to overthrow the government in order to build a socialist paradise. For a secret society, the Ravens are powerful and well-known enough to abduct lords, kidnap children, and intimidate the police. The idea that the British Union of Fascists didn’t go away after World War II, or that certain segments of British society took the opposite moral lessons from the war, sets up some potentially great villains. It seemed like this not-quite-familiar London would be a fun place to explore . . .

. . . until the closing scenes of episode two. Then we learn that not only does this version of the United Kingdom still execute people, it regularly does so in public in front of a roaring crowd, and broadcasts it all on television. The government doesn’t merely hang the condemned; leather-hooded executioners slice open their bellies so that their internal organs spill to the ground — and the show shows us all of this, leaving nothing to the imagination. Alfred’s parents, who up until now seemed decent and kind if a bit stuffy, seem to be enjoying the bloody (no British pun intended) spectacle. Along the way, we’ve seen the Raven Society torturing its prisoners, the British government torturing a captured Raven Society leader, a sadistic crime lord dismembering the body of a victim, and our heroes threaten to torture a street thug. That’s a lot of torture in two episodes, and then we top it off with the audiences cheering for Monday Night Disembowelment.

Maybe the execution scene and frequent use of torture is meant to suggest that the fascists are closer to winning than anyone wants to admit. But with the public execution scene, Pennyworth had its entire fictionalized society cross the moral event horizon. You can have corrupt authority figures and flawed societies in your stories of heroes and villains. But we need somebody to root for, and while Alfred still seems to be a good guy, the fact that we see a lot of Londoners cheering for executioners slicing people open as they’re choking to death makes it hard to care if someone’s threatening the city or the country. This is a city full of horrible people who whip themselves up into an enthusiastic frenzy to watch people’s internal organs spill out. It makes tuning in for a third episode look particularly unappetizing.

ADDENDA: The Thursday edition of the Three Martini Lunch examined a recent Bernie Sanders statement about the government’s knowledge of aliens and UFOs, and I had to ask: just why is it that when aliens come to visit, they always seem to be most interested in some guy named Floyd driving down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night? If you were visiting an alien planet, wouldn’t you want to, I don’t know, catch a ball game or something? Just what is so fascinating about this guy’s colon that you need so many measurements of it?

And when once the public started hearing the rumors of the government’s shadowy, secretive “men in black” who showed up after alien visitations to discourage witnesses from speaking further . . . why didn’t any of the guys at the staff meeting say, “hey, fellas, I think they’re on to us, and maybe it’s because we all dress like undertakers. Jay, go out and buy a brown suit. You, go out and buy a blue one. Let’s mix it up a little, right now we stand out like sore thumbs.”

Politics & Policy

How America Stops Mass Shooters — Poorly

A police officer secures the area with a police cordon after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, August 3, 2019. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The El Paso shooter’s mom called the police well before the shooting . . . but left out some important details; mass shooters may be terrorists, but that doesn’t mean the usual tools used against Islamist terror will necessarily work against them; and a thrilling author calls our attention to a serious health problem among U.S. war veterans.

If You See Something, Say Something — Specific

There are times when it feels like the slogan and instruction to the public, “if you see something, say something,” is a cynical joke. We heard about police and the FBI ignoring warnings about the Parkland shooter. Mass shooters at Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson, Isla Vista, and Sandy Hook all had one thing in common: Before the shootings, concerned and frightened people who had encountered the future shooter told various non-police authorities about what they had seen and heard — in some cases, campus police; in other cases, college and school administrators.

The El Paso situation is not quite one of these. The shooter’s mother was concerned enough to call the police . . . but not concerned enough to give his name.

The El Paso shooting suspect’s mother called the Allen, Texas, Police Department weeks before the shooting because she was concerned about her son owning an “AK” type firearm, lawyers for the family confirmed to CNN.

The mother contacted police because she was worried about her son owning the weapon given his age, maturity level and lack of experience handling such a firearm, attorneys Chris Ayres and R. Jack Ayres said.

During the call, the mother was transferred to a public safety officer who told her that — based on her description of the situation — her son, 21, was legally allowed to purchase the weapon, the attorneys said. The mother did not provide her name or her son’s name, and police did not seek any additional information from her before the call concluded, they added.

According to the family’s attorneys, the mother’s inquiry was “informational” in nature and was not motivated out of a concern that her son posed a threat to anybody.

Mass Shooters Are De Facto Terrorists. Now What?

Kevin Williamson offers a really smart assessment that while we can accurately label the recent spate of mass shootings driven by angry young men with manifestos “terrorism,” that doesn’t necessarily offer a good roadmap a for a response:

It is not clear that the “terrorism” designation, appropriate though it is, will do us very much good in working to prevent these crimes. As far as we can tell, there isn’t really much of a White Boy al-Qaeda out there. What we have instead is a tribe of Richard Reids — you remember, the feckless would-be “shoe bomber” at whom we feel comfortable laughing because he failed to make his boots go boom. We probably would consider him less a figure of fun if he had managed to kill 197 people.

Terrorist organizations, like mafias, are powerful because of their complexity and vulnerable because of their complexity. A single maladjusted man sitting in his parents’ basement does not on a whim pull off a 9/11 or begin successfully to build a caliphate.

I have a slight quibble. Kevin is right that there is no “white boy al-Qaeda” in the sense of having a bin Laden figure, a structure, organization, funding networks, etc. But what we do have is a situation like those “lone wolf” terror attacks, where somebody is out there creating the message that inspires the desire to lash out through violence and a variety of obscure angry young men absorb the message, believe in it, and reach a point where they act upon it. It’s closer to the al-Qaeda propaganda that inspired the Boston marathon bombers. Some guys propagate the idea that these sorts of attacks are justified, and other guys buy into it and carry out the attacks.

The El Paso shooter believed in the “great replacement,” but he also believed in the sinister power of corporations and impending catastrophes from climate change. These guys don’t have one particular issue or grievance that motivates them. They are, as we’ve discussed before, grievance collectors. For incels, it’s the unacceptable injustice that women don’t like them. For some school shooters, it might be anger at their classmates. It’s never hard to find reasons to be angry, particularly when you seek out reasons to be angry. What a variety of online voices do – perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not — is formulate a narrative to young men that they’ve been victimized on an epic scale by society as a whole and that they have no path to a better future. The only option is to lash out with a gun.

(One of the questions that spurred the recent novel was wondering where you draw the lines between threatening people like a terrorist, a school shooter, and a serial killer. Their methods differ, but their goals and end results are roughly the same: a lot of dead innocent people. Apparently, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was just a general violent thug before he joined up with al-Qaeda in Iraq. He just gravitated to a group that would give him a religious justification for his preexisting brutal impulses. Once someone who seeks to do harm finds other people who have a similar appetite, how hard would it be to organize them into a more dangerous, organized structure? No link to the Amazon page today; I don’t want anyone accusing me of attempting to profit from tragedy.)

President Sweetness and Light

President Trump has tweeted quite a bit since declaring at the White House on Monday that “now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside — so destructive — and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion, and love.”

After visiting Dayton and aboard Air Force One on his way to El Paso, Trump tweeted, “Watching Sleepy Joe Biden making a speech. Sooo Boring! The LameStream Media will die in the ratings and clicks with this guy. It will be over for them, not to mention the fact that our Country will do poorly with him. It will be one big crash, but at least China will be happy!”

Also yesterday afternoon, Trump tweeted, “Just left Dayton, Ohio, where I met with the Victims & families, Law Enforcement, Medical Staff & First Responders. It was a warm & wonderful visit. Tremendous enthusiasm & even Love. Then I saw failed Presidential Candidate (0%) Sherrod Brown & Mayor Whaley totally….. misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital. Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud. It bore no resemblance to what took place with those incredible people that I was so lucky to meet and spend time with. They were all amazing! ” (For what it’s worth, after saying he was thinking about running for president for several months, Brown chose not to run.)

Trump went on to slam Shephard Smith of Fox News and Joaquin Castro (although oddly, Trump didn’t mention Castro posting the list of Trump donors on Twitter).

Trump is “a fighter,” he and his campaign constantly remind us. And the president is free to spend the day lashing out at anyone he saw on television criticizing him. But if Trump wonders why his personal approval rating is consistently lower than his job approval, and why his job approval is consistently lower than his approval of how he’s handling the economy, he ought to examine days like yesterday. “He fights,” even on days when he’s supposed to be playing the healing figure who is rising above petty and partisan politics. Consoling the nation after a terrible shock is an inevitable part of the modern presidency: Ronald Reagan had the Challenger disaster, Bill Clinton had Oklahoma City, George W. Bush had 9/11, and Obama had Sandy Hook and the Charleston church shootings. There are certain days where the President of the United states is supposed to put aside whatever is irritating him and reassure an American public that has just witnessed something horrific. Millions of Americans right now are asking, “what if that had been my family at that Walmart? What if my friends had been out on a Saturday night like those people in Dayton? How do I explain this to my children? When’s the next isolated nut job going to go into a public place with a desire to commit mass murder?”

There are issues and problems that are much bigger than whatever some Democratic politician said about Trump that day. But we can all see what sets off Trump the most.

ADDENDA: Today is a terrific day, for many reasons, including the fact that my friend Matthew Betley, author of the awesome Logan West thriller series, has his first article on NationalReview.com, a detailed examination of burn pits used on or near U.S. military bases in Iraq, the Department of Veterans Affairs mishandling of those health problems stemming from those pits, and the effort to update VA regulations and rules regarding this problem.

Betley writes, “It is infuriating when I hear stories of healthy men and women who suddenly contracted illnesses — in some cases, cancer — for which they had no preexisting symptoms or family history. The common thread for them all was a call to serve in a combat zone in defense of our great nation. Unfortunately, the combat zone followed them home, and for many, their battle is not over.”

Culture

Dear Congressman: Doxing Is Wrong, No Matter How Angry You Are

A police car parked outside of Ned Peppers Bar the day after the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, August 4, 2019. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

Sorry to say it’s another grim one today. A member of Congress forgets the lessons about how public information can be exploited for malevolent purposes; a lot of public voices respond to Dayton and El Paso by throwing gasoline on the fire; a forgotten detail about Oklahoma City and the militia movement; and a Democratic presidential candidate calls it quits.

Think of This as a Public Service Announcement for Angry Members of Congress

If you were a congressman, a person could find your home address pretty easily by going through property records. You already have a publicly listed office in Washington and offices in your district. You have a home in the Washington suburbs and a home in your district. Your spouse’s and children’s names are mentioned in news coverage, and you’ve shared pictures of your family on Twitter. All of the information that politicians give out in interviews and on social media to humanize themselves, and show that they’re normal, “just like us,” is also sharing bits and pieces of information about where they and their families have been and are likely to return: which summer camp, which vacation spots, which restaurants, barbershops, coffee shops . . . Heck, in your speeches, you might overtly say that you always visit a particular constituent’s restaurant or barbershop or small business when you’re in town. If you were a congressman, you would frequently be inadvertently telling people where they can find you if they’re patient enough.

If you were a congressman, it would probably be a bad idea for your spouse to post a lot of pictures of your family on Instagram — pictures of your house, pictures of your children, pictures of your car, pictures of the family just hanging out and eating dinner.

You know those scenes in the movies, where the detective finds the stalker’s apartment, and an entire wall is covered with photos and information about the stalker’s target? There’s usually some line of dialogue like, “Good God, he’s been secretly watching her for months!” and it involved the stalker surreptitiously following the target and secretly taking photos with a long lens. Today, the stalker can gather enough photos to create a mosaic on the wall without ever getting up from a desk.

If you’re a congressman, the odds are good that there’s already a ton of information about you already out on the Internet that could enable those who would seek to harm you. We would think that no congressman would ever want to get a reputation for posting people’s employers and hometowns out of partisan spite, even if the information was in public Federal Elections Commission records. To do that would be like playing with matches around gasoline — not just the potential threat of harassment and violence to the named donors, but the potential for some nut to get outraged about it and start looking up personal information about the congressman in response. Because in an era where all kinds of personal information ends up on the Internet . . . it’s all out there; it’s just a question of knowing where to look. And we haven’t even gotten to the question of hacking and cybersecurity.

We would think that any congressman, no matter how angered he was that some of his constituents were donating to a political figure he opposed, would recognize the extraordinary dangers of inaugurating a new form of partisan warfare by “doxing” the other side’s donors.

We would think.

The Latest Developments in (sigh) All Three Shooting Investigations

Once again, we see that mass shooters may have ideologies, but they don’t fit a neat partisan template, and their views on particular political issues are less relevant than their key belief that they are justified in mass murder: “The 19-year-old gunman who used an assault-style rifle to shoot people at the Gilroy Garlic Festival last week had a “target list” made up of religious institutions and political groups of both parties, as well as federal buildings and courthouses, authorities said.”

In other news, the owner of 8chan contends the shooter did not upload his manifesto to 8chan but someone else did. The owner of 8chan contended the manifesto was posted to Instagram, a claim that Instagram denies; they say that the account connected to the gunman hadn’t been used in more than a year.

Elsewhere, an indication that my sense of “normal human behavior” is much narrower than other people: An ex-girlfriend of the Dayton gunman says “he showed her a video of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting on their first date.”

Wait, that’s not the worst part. The worst part was that there was a second date. “Johnson says she met [the gunman] in a college psychology class this year and they dated for a couple of months until May.”

I don’t want to hear any more complaining from the self-proclaimed “incels.” If showing a massacre video on the first date isn’t a deal-breaker, then what is?

Meanwhile, on MSNBC, former FBI assistant director Frank Figluizzi theorized that the White House’s announcement that American flags would remain at half-staff until August 8 was somehow connected to neo-Nazis: “The numbers 88 are very significant in neo-Nazi and white supremacy movement. Why? Because the letter ‘H’ is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and to them the numbers 88 together stand for ‘Heil Hitler.’ So we’re going to be raising the flag back up at dusk on 8/8.”

If August 8 is always going to be 8/8, and that number is important to neo-Nazis, what exactly are we supposed to do? Skip the date on the calendar?

(Putting aside the paranoia about the White House flag decisions, assuming that Figluizzi is right and that August 8 represents an important date for neo-Nazis . . . should we expect neo-Nazis to do something tomorrow?)

Elsewhere on MSNBC, Nicolle Wallace apologized for saying, on air, that President Trump intended to “exterminate Latinos.”

Last night I wrote that it feels like the country is standing on the edge of a precipice. Instead of backing away carefully, a lot of people want to lean over even further.

This current outburst of violence has me thinking about the Oklahoma City bombing — and how thankfully, the moral abomination of that act undermined most enthusiasm for the militia movement. It’s one thing when you’re publicly raging against the Internal Revenue Service; it’s another when you blow up a federal building with a day care center and contend all the children inside were acceptable collateral damage.

Last year I finished reading Andrew Gumbel and Roger Charles’s Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed — and Why It Still Matters, probably one of the most unnerving books I’ve ever read. Before we go any further, I must emphasize that the book does not include any conspiracy theories or dispute that Timothy McVeigh didn’t have a central role in the terrorist plot. But the book lays out a really troubling and compelling array of evidence that McVeigh and Terry Nichols probably had additional co-conspirators who never saw the inside of a courtroom; at the very least, it seems that a lot of people in militia circles knew “something” was going to happen on the two-year anniversary of Waco. And there’s some evidence that those in law enforcement also strongly suspected “something” was going to happen on or around that date — but didn’t know specifically where or when.

Our President’s Passions

A noted yesterday, Trump delivered a pretty good prepared speech Monday morning, declaring that “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated.”

Of course, since that speech, he hasn’t said much more about racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. Trump has tweeted about the political leanings of the Dayton shooter, griped about how the New York Times changed its headline about him in response to reader pressure, that Beto O’Rourke isn’t respecting the victims and law enforcement in El Paso, and argued that California’s new law requiring the release of tax returns to appear on the ballot constitutes “presidential harassment.”

He will be going to Dayton and El Paso today to meet with first responders, law enforcement, and some of the victims of the terrible shootings. We will see if Trump returns to the topics of racism, bigotry, and white supremacy, or whether he’s said all he intends to say.

Trump doesn’t like white supremacy, and he’s capable of giving a speech that says all the right things and checks all the right boxes. But he’s not particularly angry about it, compared to all the things in life that do anger him.

ADDENDA: As discussed on yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch, former Alaska senator Mike Gravel is quitting the presidential race. In other news, Mike Gravel was running for president. In other, other news, Mike Gravel is still alive.

Politics & Policy

Trump Responds to the Weekend’s Shootings

President Donald Trump speaks about the shootings in El Paso and Dayton in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., August 5, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: At the White House, Trump turns his attention and anger toward the sinister ideologies of “racism, bigotry, and white supremacy”; suggestions that the alt-right has already peaked and is splintering; and the most interesting Democrat running for president who’s getting no attention from big media institutions.

Trump versus Hate

President Trump, speaking at the White House yesterday: “The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate. In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul. We have asked the FBI to identify all further resources they need to investigate and disrupt hate crimes and domestic terrorism — whatever they need.”

Every couple of weeks or months, the national discourse returns to familiar questions about whether Donald Trump is xenophobic, racist, or anti-Semitic. People who already disagreed with all of his policies insist that he is, and often declare that anyone who supports him wears those labels as well. People who already agreed with all of this policies vehemently deny the accusation, and point out that Trump would be the odd kind of xenophobe who married two immigrants, the odd kind of racist who hangs out with Al Sharpton and previously expressed support for affirmative action, and the odd kind of anti-Semite who is close to his Jewish son-in-law, whose daughter converted to Judaism, and who’s pro-Israel.

For some, that resolves the issue.

Trump may never have explicitly or overtly sought the support of white supremacists, but for some reason they seemed to gravitate to him in 2015 and 2016. The Daily Stormer endorsed him two weeks after he entered the race. Klan members described his candidacy as a “recruitment tool.”

You may recall Trump being asked whether he would reject the support of David Duke on the campaign trail and answering, “I just don’t know anything about him,” even though Trump had criticized Duke in interviews years earlier. Trump eventually added in a subsequent comments, “David Duke endorsed me? Okay, alright. I disavow, okay?” During the campaign, Trump kept retweeting praise from white supremacist accounts, either strikingly oblivious to who he was retweeting or simply not caring. Some interpreted the pattern as a subtle signal of alliance.

Stephen Bannon famously proclaimed Breitbart was “the platform of the alt-Right;” he became one of Trump’s campaign strategists and went on to become Trump’s chief strategist in the White House. Trump fired him and eventually did get mad at Bannon, but over the personal sin of trashing the president’s children in front of Michael Wolff. Trump only saw Bannon as a bad guy after the personal insult, not because of anything in Bannon’s worldview.

During the presidential campaign, Trump chose to appear on Alex Jones’ program, telling the conspiracy-minded host, “your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down. You will be very, very impressed, I hope.” By that point, Jones had spent several years insisting that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged.

Whether or not Trump was actually on the side of racists, white supremacists, and white nationalists, they certainly believed he was on their side — and Trump never seemed all that bothered by their alleged misperception. Every American has witnessed Trump’s fury when it’s directed at Jim Comey, or Robert Mueller, or Don Lemon, or Mika Brzezinski or whoever irritated him on television that day. But for some reason, the man who obsesses about what other people are saying about him never got all that mad about these folks telling the world that he was on their side.

An outspoken white nationalist sought to be a convention delegate for him. Recall the odd post-election celebration for Richard Spencer with former MTV star Tila Tequila, making Nazi salutes. Trump’s actions and statements around the Charlottesville white-nationalist rally have been debated to death.

Every public figure runs the risk of attracting mentally unstable fans; no one blames Jodie Foster for John Hinkley Jr. attempting to assassinate President Reagan. Trump never told Cesar Sayoc to do anything; but Sayoc seemed to believe he was helping the president by sending thankfully non-functioning bombs to media figures critical of the president.

It is fair to note that a variety of recent white-nationalist terrorists have denounced President Trump as a traitor to their cause, like the Poway Synagogue shooter and the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooter. The El Paso shooter declared that his opinions “predate Trump and his campaign for president,” and predicted that the media would, in his opinion, erroneously report that he was a white supremacist. Of course, he had just predicted a Hispanic takeover of the government and argued that he opposes “race mixing because it destroys genetic diversity and creates identity problems” and proposed dividing America into several separate nations, each one representing a particular race. Gee, I can’t imagine why anyone would consider him to be a white supremacist. [Cue the lengthy debate among pedants about why white separatism isn’t quite as bad as white supremacism.]

It also worth noting that some mass shooters or domestic terrorists are quite opposed to the president — the Dayton shooter, the guy who tried to shoot Republican congressmen at the baseball field, the guy who tried to blow up the ICE facility in Tacoma. Pundits diminish the threat posed by domestic terrorism when they discuss it as if it is just a particularly angry and motivated segment of Trump’s political base.

Last month, Vice declared, “the alt-Right’s love affair with Trump is over,” declaring a breakup driven “partly because the heyday of the “alt-right” as a coordinated bloc is over — and partly because they feel betrayed by Trump.” Some who watch the alt-right believe it’s losing steam, splintering, and generally crawling back under the rocks where it previously resided.

That’s good news, but perhaps one of the reasons those with extreme views are lashing out with violence more frequently as Trump’s presidency continues is that he’s not delivering on that white nationalist utopia they thought he would herald. When a paranoid conspiracy theorist doesn’t get what he wants from authorities, he quickly concludes that “they” got to him.

Someday Trump will depart the presidency, and most of these angry folks will still be out there. The specifics of their diatribes may change, but not their all-encompassing sense of grievance, rage, and entitlement. The yoga studio shooter’s rage was directed more at women, echoing the “incel” argument of frustrated young men who feel the world’s women are conspiring to deny them the sexual attention they deserve. These people aren’t dangerous because they think the president secretly agrees with them; these people are dangerous because they think violence is a justified tool to get what they want.

These days, David Duke is endorsing Tulsi Gabbard, contending she will put American interests over Israeli interests. (Does he care that her heritage is partially Samoan? Is it a strange triumph of our era that even the preferred candidates of white supremacists are getting more racially diverse?)

Our old friend Tiana Lowe writes over at the Washington Examiner, “Perhaps Trump breathed life into the alt-right, but Monday he showed he could quash it.” I would love for that to be true, and hope it turns out to be true. I would love to see Trump express vivid, public, and sustained anger at these groups and individuals, and take great outrage that any of these losers could possibly think he would approve of their actions. If there’s anything Trump is good at, it’s insulting people. I’d love to see the president mock and belittle those who think that a shooting spree will turn them into heroes.

This morning, Trump is fuming about President Obama’s criticism, retweeting a comment from Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade, “Did George Bush ever condemn President Obama after Sandy Hook. President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his reign. Not many people said Obama is out of Control. Mass shootings were happening before the President even thought about running for Pres.” Subsequent tweets fumed about Google attempting to “illegally subvert the 2020 election” and money moving from China to the United States.

The Really Under-the-Radar Democratic Presidential Candidate

Over on the homepage today, a profile of retired admiral and former congressman Joe Sestak, “the most interesting Democrat that you forgot was running.” Maybe you agree with Sestak’s stances, maybe you don’t, but he’s willing to take his arguments to any audience willing to hear them — from National Review to Sean Hannity to Breitbart Radio. The Democratic party would be better if more of its members shared that amiable willingness to engage with just about anyone, instead of dismissing half the country or nearly half the country as unenlightened, hopeless. . . well, I suppose “deplorables” would be the appropriate word.

ADDENDA: We’re going to spend much of the week hearing about the need for “universal background checks,” even though both shooters of this weekend passed the background check and purchased the gun. (As we argued yesterday, the Dayton shooter probably should have faced charges or mental health inquiries over his actions in high school.) See if anyone remembers that federal authorities failed to put the proper information into National Instant Criminal Background Check System, mistakes that failed to prevent gun sales to the shooters in Charleston and Sutherland Springs, TX, and the FBI did nothing when called and warned about the Parkland shooter.

A “universal background check” that uses a system that doesn’t work is a placebo.

Politics & Policy

Shoehorning Multiple-Causation Shootings into Single-Cause Narratives

A police cordon after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, August 3, 2019. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

On Saturday afternoon, after the El Paso shooting but before the Dayton shooting, New York Daily News opinion editor Josh Greenman observed, “It’s never just guns. It’s never just mental health. It’s never just radical ideology. It’s never just sad manhood. It’s almost always a toxic combination.”

We keep hearing the same kinds of anecdotes after a mass shooting. The details change, but the gist is the same. Often but not always, there’s no father in the home. Often but not always, the shooter has few or no friends and nothing resembling a real support network. Often but not always, the shooter is unemployed or barely employed. Often but not always, the shooter has some mental-health issue, sometimes formally diagnosed, sometimes not. Often but not always, the shooter played violent video games. Often but not always, the shooter was active on extremist or Columbine-focused chat boards or had a noticeable interest in or obsession with previous mass shootings. Often but not always, the shooter has gotten in trouble in school or has been kicked out of school.

And then in every single case, when the shooter leaves some sort of message, it reveals he has convinced himself that he is the real victim of powerful forces beyond his control, and that the only remaining option he sees for defiance is shooting as many random people as possible in a public place. And in every single case, the shooter manages to get his hands on a gun — sometimes legally purchasing them, sometimes stealing them or taking them from someone else.

Only a handful of those who play violent video games become mass shooters, and the same is true for those without a father in the home, loners, the unemployed or under-employed, those with mental-health issues, those with discipline issues at school, or gun owners. But if enough of those traits are found in the same individual, we have a formula for trouble.

In the coming days, you’re going to hear a lot of fruitless arguments about which ideological side is responsible for these monsters.

The El Paso shooter’s manifesto describes America being taken over by “unchecked corporations,” “invaders who have close to the highest birthrate in America,” and “our lifestyle is destroying the environment of this country,” and describes his attack as “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

 

The Dayton shooter’s social media history described himself as, “he/him / anime fan / metalhead / leftist / i’m going to hell and i’m not coming back.” He wrote on Twitter that he would happily vote for Democrat Elizabeth Warren, praised Satan, was upset about the 2016 presidential election results, and added, “I want socialism, and i’ll [sic] not wait for the idiots to finally come round to understanding.”

Then again, his expression of support for Warren seems pretty immaterial in assessing his character compared to this:

Dayton 24/7 Now spoke with other classmates of [the shooter] who said he was expelled from school after officials found a notebook where he reportedly wrote a list of people who he wanted to rape, kill and skin their bodies. The classmate we spoke with said Betts was supposed to write a letter of apology to the people on the list. After being expelled, Betts was allowed back to school, according to the classmate.

(Really? This is how schools are handling a student who threatens to rape, kill, and skin the bodies of other students? Readmittance after a letter of apology? How safe would you feel sending your children to that school knowing they handled this kind of a threat this way?)

The ideological leanings of the shooters don’t matter nearly as much as their conclusion that they are justified in trying to kill lots and lots of people. You’re free to believe whatever kooky stuff you want; you’re not allowed to conclude that your kooky beliefs justify violence to others.

Over the weekend, Twitter commentator Kilgore Trout offered an extreme option: Authorities can determine who posts on boards that celebrate mass shootings or troll about them, and they should charge them as accessories to the crime. (Profanity warning at the link; the term for posting memes and other messages celebrating, promoting, and encouraging mass shooters is a four-letter word.) Cleaning up his language a bit, his recommendation is. . .

You’re not going to fix the problem one white nationalist ****poster at a time. their networks need to be destroyed by putting them in constant fear that their next ****post body count meme is going to be the one that sends the feds to their door. Yes, this is a government action deliberately designed to suppress speech, and no, slyly conspiring to commit acts of terror in broad daylight on 8chan is not protected speech after the acts of terror are no longer hypotheticals. This is what we’d advocate for if ISIS set up shop in America and created a bunch of one-man splinter cells ready to activate at any moment. No one would bat an eye at arresting the accomplices – it’s just less recognizable as white nationalist ****posting. if you want to share ****posts about shooting the [offensive term for Latinos] and gassing the Jews, go right ahead, no one’s stopping you. But if one of your ****post buddies you go back and forth with on 8chan then goes out and does it, yeah, you should be good and[in deep trouble].

Earlier this year, Michelle Carter was sentenced to 15 months in jail for involuntary manslaughter charges, brought after she sent “hundreds” of texts to her boyfriend encouraging him to kill himself. She was 17 when her 18-year-old boyfriend killed himself through carbon monoxide poisoning.

In this particular case, an effort to shut down the message boards may be moot: “A San Francisco-based Web company announced Sunday it would no longer provide services to 8chan, a website notorious for hosting lawless message boards where manifestos have appeared before mass shootings.” Those who want to post and read these sorts of messages will probably find some other one.

I find the idea of pressing charges against those who encourage mass shootings uncomfortably appealing, even though it amounts to the government arresting people and charging them with crimes for what they write on the Internet. Maybe this just reflects an exhaustion with “trolling” culture. If you spend a significant amount of time online — particularly on Twitter — you’ve probably put up with more abuse than your ever imagined, often racist or anti-Semitic and more than vaguely threatening. The vast majority of us think of ourselves as a First Amendment supporters, but perhaps you can only be sent “Trump’s gonna put you in the ovens” memes so many times before you start thinking, “to hell with this, if this guy sending me this message is such a big fan of fascism, let’s have the government throw his butt in jail for what he posts and see if he likes it so much then.”

The editors call for a broad national effort to “crush this evil.”

President Trump, a man who is comfortable using his bully pulpit for the most frivolous of reasons, should take the time to condemn these actions repeatedly and unambiguously, in both general and specific terms. Simultaneously, the president should work with Congress to devote more resources to infiltrating, tracking, and foiling nascent plots (during the 1940s, the KKK was partly destroyed by a radio show that weaponized insider information against it), and he should instruct the federal government to initiate an information campaign against white-supremacist violence in much the same way as it has conducted crusades against drunk driving, human trafficking, and domestic violence. Just as the government must not react to these incidents by abridging the Second Amendment or the Fourth Amendment, obviously the First Amendment’s crucial protections must also remain intact. But where action is consistent with the law — there is no prohibition on monitoring hotbeds of radicalism, nor against punishing those who plan or incite violence — it must be vigorously taken.

Some folks hoped that after these stomach-turning abominable terrorist acts, President Trump would “call out white supremacist terrorism by name. He needs to take a break from Twitter trolling for several days at least. We need unifying, determined, presidential leadership from him.”

This morning, Trump offered to support universal background checks if they’re attached to immigration reform.

The president also contended that the shooters were driven by outrage over news coverage, and that it was the responsibility of the media to watch what it says, lest it drive someone to commit mass murder in the name of stopping an invasion by immigrants: “The Media has a big responsibility to life and safety in our Country. Fake News has contributed greatly to the anger and rage that has built up over many years. News coverage has got to start being fair, balanced and unbiased, or these terrible problems will only get worse!”

It is August 2019. I think it’s long overdue for people to give up on the hope that Donald Trump is going to become a different person or act differently than he has before.

As the president attempts to negotiate his preferred immigration policies in exchange for “background checks,” it is worth recalling that neither of these shooters had a criminal record that barred them from purchasing firearms. We can fairly ask whether one of the shooter’s threats to rape, kill, and wear the skin of his high school classmates should have generated some sort of criminal charge or an involuntary stay at a mental health facility that would have barred him from legally purchasing a firearm.

ADDENDA: Sorry, no jokes today. Let’s get through today with no more jaw-dropping tragedies and we’ll try again tomorrow.

Politics & Policy

How Barack Obama Contributed to the Left-Populist Wave

Former President Barack Obama (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: How Barack Obama’s unkept populist promises set the stage for today’s political anger; the House GOP is in real trouble as 2020 approaches; and some kind words from a big name.

The Long-Forgotten Populist Rhetoric of Obama

Steve Elmendorf, Democratic lobbyist and campaign worker, tells Politico that his party’s candidates were nuts to criticize Obama’s record on the debate stage: “Stay away from Barack Obama. I don’t know why you would attack Barack Obama or his record or any part of him when he’s the most popular person in the party. And I don’t think it helps for the general election voters, either. I don’t know what they’re thinking.”

What they’re thinking, fairly or not, is that Obama left a lot of promises unkept and disappointed both loyal Democrats and not-so-loyal Democrats, and it’s safe to say so now.

It’s easy to forget, but way back in 2008, Barack Obama ran as a populist. Long before Donald Trump turned “drain the swamp” as his rallying cry, Candidate Obama said he would ban lobbyists from working in the government. As a candidate, Obama said he was going to amend NAFTA, declaring “our trade agreements should not just be good for Wall Street, they should also be good for main street.” He certainly spent enough time criticizing Wall Street and the big banks, never mind the fact that he voted for the bailout in 2008.

Right now, you’re probably scoffing, “yeah, Obama made a lot of promises he couldn’t keep.” And you’re right. As a wise man said, “all statements from Barack Obama come with an expiration date, all of them.” But that dynamic — a bold new president, promising to hold the privileged elites accountable — explains a lot about our current era of politics. In short, a lot of people believed Obama when he made those promises.

But lobbyists did work in Obama administration. NAFTA remained the same. As for the bailouts, $75 billion more came back into the federal treasury than went out, not that most Americans know or would believe it. But taxpayers understandably recognized a special deal for the rich and powerful. When Joe’s company down the street runs out of money and no one is willing to loan him more, he goes out of business. When some of the biggest companies in America ran out of money and no one is willing to loan them more, the federal government stepped in to save them.

The anti-populism of the Obama White House was probably personified by Treasury Secretary Geithner. Few conservatives would forget the absurdity of Geithner, who had failed to pay $34,000 in back taxes without significant consequence, testifying to Charlie Rangel, who had failed to report $75,000 in income to the IRS, about the importance of cracking down on tax cheats. (A detail I had forgotten from that era: Geithner lived rent-free in a $3.5 million Washington townhouse of a Wall Street bank executive in 2009 while he was overseeing the bailout; the executive was hired by one of the banks getting bailed out.) Many Americans didn’t follow the numbers, but they understood the lesson that the rich and powerful operate by different rules than the rest of us.

At the time, most Democrats didn’t complain too loudly, because Obama was their guy and they earnestly believed he was doing the best he could. A few years earlier, conservatives who said they hated deficits and the debt were generally quiet about increasing spending under George W. Bush, because he was their guy and they earnestly believed he was doing the best he could.

But now that the Obama era is receding further into the horizon in the rear-view mirror. . . Democrats don’t feel that same reflexive need to defend him. It is now safer to publicly say his presidency disappointed them in some ways, perhaps many ways.

Back on May 10, 2016, I wrote of a then-potential Trump victory:

How successful can Obama’s two terms be if Americans were willing to take a chance on an outsider who stands for everything he abhors? Obama took office optimistic despite the Great Recession he inherited. How would it look if eight years later he left the office to Trump, who has risen on the strength of a despairing, angry, bitterly divided electorate eager to “burn it down”?

It would look like Obama left Americans with so little respect for the office of the presidency that they thought Trump could do the job. 

Joe Biden may find himself increasingly lonely as the defender of Obama’s record as the 2020 Democratic primary continues.

Retirements Are Lousing Up the House GOP’s Hopes for 2020

Congressman Will Hurd of Texas announced he won’t run for reelection — meaning Republicans will now have to defend a seat in a district that Hillary Clinton carried by three points in 2016. Hurd is the only black Republican serving in the House.

A hard truth: A lot of GOP members of Congress are losing interest in serving in the House while Trump is president.

In 2012, 20 House Republicans chose to not run for reelection.

In 2014, 25 House Republicans chose to not run for reelection.

In 2016, 20 House Republicans chose to not run for reelection.

In 2018, 34 House Republicans chose to not run for reelection — and separately, another 14 left office early, resigning from Congress.

So far this cycle, ten House Republicans announced they’re retiring, and two are running for another office. That’s ahead of the pace of 2018. But perhaps more troubling than the number are the ones who are choosing not to stick around — better-known, senior, but not old names who have no known health issues or other personal issues that might prevent them running for another term. Pete Olson and Mike Conaway in Texas. Susan Brooks of Indiana, Marthy Roby in Alabama, one of the rising stars in the Tea Party wave of 2010. They’re just. . . not interested in being in Congress anymore.

Remember that seemingly high-stakes fight to elect Greg Gianforte in Montana’s lone Congressional district in a special election in 2017? He was the guy who allegedly body-slammed a reporter the day before the election. He’s running for governor in 2020.

The deadline to file for running for Congress as a Republican varies by state, from as early as November of this year to June of 2020.

Some of these retirements may reflect a frustration with being in the minority, but if that’s the case, these GOP congressman don’t see their party retaking the House in 2020. And each retirement makes winning those 218 seats a little bit tougher. Most of these are pretty Republican-leaning districts, but not all. (Democrats picked almost all of the low-hanging fruit in 2018.)

As I’ve noted, impeachment would probably cost the Democrats the House, or at least a big chunk of the seats that Republicans need to close the margin.

Trump disrupts the usual ways of operating in Washington, and a lot of his fans love him for it. But that disruption also makes it harder to pass legislation. Veteran GOP lawmakers have told me they’ve concluded they’ll never get any useful messaging help from the White House. The day of the big Obamacare vote, where McCain voted no, the previous 24 hours of the news cycle had been dominated by Anthony Scaramucci calling up The New Yorker and talking about Steve Bannon’s anatomy. The White House is a daily circus, and if the message from the president on a particular day aligns with the message the House GOP wants to promote that day, it’s a miraculous coincidence.

On any given day, Trump can see something on Fox News and start tweeting about it, with no warning to anyone else in the party, taking over the news cycle. He changes his mind without warning,

Most Trump fans insist their man never says or does anything racist. Even Hurd, a black Republican who says he’s going to vote for the president in 2020, sees it differently.

“When you imply that because someone doesn’t look like you, in telling them to go back to Africa or wherever, you’re implying that they’re not an American and you’re implying that they have less worth than you,” Hurd said.

Hurd also repeated his earlier pledge to vote for Trump if he’s the Republican nominee in 2020. He said Hispanics, African Americans and other groups would be receptive to conservative themes if they weren’t drowned in racially charged rhetoric.

I know, I know, Hurd is just one of those anti-Trump Trump-voting Texas GOP congressman.

Trump is going to win 2020 in a landslide. He also said that a “Red Wave” was coming in 2018.

ADDENDA: Between Two Scorpions is up to 123 reviews on Amazon! Also, Brad Taylor – author of Daughter of War and the New York Times-bestselling Pike Logan series and a retired U.S. Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel — offers this kind praise: “A thoroughly researched thriller with a threat vector I wish I’d come up with — and a bite of humor rarely seen in the genre.”

Elections

Slogging Our Way through the Democratic Debates

From left: Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Cory Booker, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Washington governor Jay Inslee, and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio pose before the start of the second night of the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, Mich., July 31, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: America’s debate watchers learn that Kamala Harris can’t really defend her record; most candidates’ debate playbooks are predictable; and Kirsten Gillibrand manages to pick the single least-effective and least-plausible line of attack against Joe Biden.

Kamala Harris, a Bit More Brittle Than Most Democrats Thought

On paper, Kamala Harris is a really strong contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination. But last night, on the debate stage in Detroit, she demonstrated that as good as she is when she’s on the attack, she looks brittle, flustered, and flailing when other candidates attack her.

Harris’s first move when attacked is to simply deny the accusation. Five times last night, Harris began a sentence with “the reality is. . . ,” and what follows from Harris rarely directly refutes the accusation; she usually emphasizes a slightly different point.

Dana Bash asked Harris about the Biden campaign’s claim that her health care plan was “a have-it-every-which-way approach.” Harris’s responded, “the reality is that I have been spending time in this campaign listening to American families, listening to experts, listening to health care providers.” Listening to lots of people is nice, but that doesn’t really address whether the plan is an attempt to have it every which way.

Biden then said that her plan would cost $3 trillion. She responded, “the reality is that our plan will bring health care to all Americans under a Medicare for All system.” That doesn’t address the cost issue. Biden went after her on the cost again, and Harris’s best defense was “the cost of doing nothing is far too expensive. Second, we are now paying $3 trillion a year for health care in America. Over the next 10 years, it’s probably going to be $6 trillion.” Harris was left arguing that we need to spend more in order to ensure that we don’t spend more.

I don’t know if marijuana prosecutions and death row evidentiary decisions will be enough to derail Harris’s presidential campaign. But I do know that these sorts of examples are real complications to the image Harris wants to project, which is that of tough prosecutor who’s on the side of the typical Democratic presidential primary voter.

Tulsi Gabbard — who seems to have a genuine animosity towards Harris — ate her Wheaties before this debate and just ripped Harris’s record as a prosecutor: “There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana.” That generated applause from the crowd in the Fox Theater in Detroit.

Gabbard continued: “She blocked evidence — she blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California. And she fought to keep a bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way.”

The Harris response was to ignore all of the specific accusations: “I did the work of significantly reforming the criminal justice system of a state of 40 million people, which became a national model for the work that needs to be done. And I am proud of that work. And I am proud of making a decision to not just give fancy speeches or be in a legislative body and give speeches on the floor, but actually doing the work of being in the position to use the power that I had to reform a system that is badly in need of reform.”

Except Gabbard wasn’t giving a “fancy speech,” she was making specific accusations, and Gabbard had the facts on her side: on the marijuana prosecutions, on the laughing, on the blocking of the evidence, on the prison labor, and on the bail system. Rather than defend any of the specific decisions, Harris preferred to simply assert she had reformed the criminal justice system. Maybe she had, but not on the policies Gabbard listed.

Gabbard smelled blood and repeated the accusation: “In the case of those who were on death row, innocent people, you actually blocked evidence from being revealed that would have freed them until you were forced to do so. (APPLAUSE) There is no excuse for that and the people who suffered under your reign as prosecutor owe — you owe them an apology.”

Harris responded, “My entire career I have been opposed — personally opposed to the death penalty and that has never changed.” Again, notice how Harris answers a question that wasn’t asked. Gabbard didn’t say she supported the death penalty, she said she blocked evidence that ultimately exonerated an innocent man.

But Harris then responded in the worst possible way: “I think you can judge people by when they are under fire and it’s not about some fancy opinion on a stage but when they’re in the position to actually make a decision, what do they do.”

Yes, Harris dismissed the only Iraq War veteran on the stage as not knowing what it’s like “under fire.”

Look, a lot of folks in the media world and high-level Democratic circles really like Kamala Harris. She presses a lot of their buttons: black, Indian, woman, daughter of immigrants, Howard University, powerful lawyer. She’s got the profile of the “good” politician that sinister powerful forces want to derail in an uncreative Hollywood thriller. And if Harris didn’t have a media protective bubble around her, she would be getting crucified for that you don’t know what it’s like under fire, you’re just making some fancy opinion on a stage counterattack.

Beto O’Rourke was always a privileged lightweight weirdo, but most of the media refused to see it in 2018. Harris has been willing to cut corners in her ambitions to climb the greasy pole of California politics; time will tell if anyone in the media is willing to see that.

A Three-Hour Slog

You can find my assessment of last night here. There’s no good format for handling ten candidates, and most of the lesser-known candidates don’t grasp the degree of difficulty in this setup. The threshold is not merely, “be good in the debate.” The threshold for the asterisk candidates is, “be one or two of the most memorable candidates in the debate, when everyone else is trying to be the most memorable, too.” In any debate, the discussion afterwards is going to focus upon no more than a half-dozen exchanges or lines. Everything else that is said is likely to be forgotten pretty quickly, particularly the more it resembles the rest of the political blather from everyone else. The first debate is just, “the one where Kamala Harris went after Joe Biden on busing.”

Tuesday night, Tim Ryan had a perfectly fine debate. But a perfectly fine debate probably doesn’t get him past one percent. Last night, Michael Bennet had a good night. You’ll probably forget who is again by the weekend.

Debate organizers face a catch-22: Three hours is way too long, but if you limit it to two hours, then most candidates only get a few minutes each.

If you’re reading this newsletter, you’re probably pretty interested and knowledgeable about politics. (And you’re smarter than average, and have great taste, and are more attractive. . . .) If you follow politics long enough, you start to recognize what maneuver a politician is making as they’re making it — it’s like watching sports when you’ve read the team’s playbook. As seen above, Harris’ go-to move when attacked is to vehemently deny a slightly different accusation than the one actually made against her.

Last night when candidates got asked about health care, they often pivoted to a personal story about a time when they or someone they loved was sick. The maneuver was meant to say to everyone in the audience, “I’ve been through this sort of bad experience, too.” But your experience with a health emergency does not automatically mean your health care policy proposal will be a good one.

When you really get nailed, as Biden did with the issue with Newark policing when Cory Booker was mayor, sometimes the only countermove is to suggest your critic doesn’t know what he’s talking about in a folksy way: “Mr. Vice President, there’s a saying in my community, you’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor.” (I guess that’s Newarkian for “that dog won’t hunt.”) Notice the opening, “there’s a saying in my community,” where Booker is not-so-subtly reminding everyone that he’s black and Biden is not. It’s a cheap shot, but apparently it worked, because everyone loves feisty colloquialisms so much that they forget what was being discussed in the first place.

And sometimes you can see the desperation. . .

Kirsten Gillibrand Is Something of an Idiot, Isn’t She?

After writing an ode to the importance of math yesterday, let’s sing the praises of judgment. On paper, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is not an idiot. She graduated from Dartmouth and UCLA Law School, and was hired by one of the top law firms in Manhattan.

But last night, she seemed to think a 1981 op-ed by Biden would convince everyone watching that Biden was some sort of anti-feminist who opposed women working outside of the home. “Am I serving in Congress resulting in the deterioration of the family, because I had access to quality affordable day care? I just want to know what he meant when he said that.”

In her judgment on using that particular attack, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is indeed an idiot.

The first piece of evidence that Biden has no problem with women working outside of the home is his first late wife Neilia; the second piece of evidence that Biden has no problem with women working outside of the home is Jill Biden, who worked as a teacher throughout their marriage, although she took two years off when their daughter Ashley was born.

Of all the potential attacks on Biden, Gillibrand went with this?

(Biden’s op-ed was pretty clear: he didn’t want a day care tax credit being used by families with incomes of $100,000 or more. This was in 1981; the equivalent income would be roughly $282,000 today. We all know the op-ed was probably ghostwritten anyway.)

The other great irony is that in that op-ed, there’s a fairer hit in there that Gillibrand ignored.

Biden laments “the day care centers and nursing homes blossoming across the American landscape are monuments to our growing unwillingness to accept personal responsibility for those whom we owe the most — our children, our parents and our grandparents.” Anyone who’s ever had to put their grandparent or parent in a nursing home would probably be furious at the accusation that the decision was driven by an unwillingness to accept responsibility for their loved ones. For many people, it’s one of the hardest things they’ll ever do. People who go into nursing homes rarely come out and live unassisted lives. Those decisions are usually made with the recognition that Grandma or Grandpa or Mom or Dad can’t safely live on their own any longer. Their memory is going, they keep falling and breaking their hip, they get confused — the whole process is heartbreaking, and putting someone in home usually means they’ve stopped being that strong, clear-headed, independent person the family loves.

Biden wouldn’t write the same words today. [Insert the predictable joke about the 74-year-old Biden being worried about being sent to a nursing home himself here.] Gillibrand could have gone with a more accurate slam, “Thirty-eight years ago, Biden contended it was irresponsible to put elderly parents into nursing homes, and I just can’t believe he wrote something so callous.” But Gillibrand’s brand is that she’s a working mom, and so she went with the other attack.

And for once, Biden was completely prepared to nuke her: “You came to Syracuse University with me and said it was wonderful. I’m passionate about the concern making sure women are treated equally. I don’t know what’s happened, except that you’re now running for president.”

That’s a fair counterattack on just about everybody in the field: You loved this guy being a heartbeat away from the presidency for eight years. Now you’re telling us he’s some sort of racially insensitive, sexist fool who can’t be trusted with the presidency?

ADDENDA: Last night, Harris declared, “There are 10 clear incidents of obstruction of justice by this president and he needs to be held accountable. I’ve seen people go to prison for far less.”

Seen? Heck, Harris has sent people to prison for far less.

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