Politics & Policy

Paying Attention to the Most Provocative Young People Never Turns Out Well

Lauren Duca (Women in the World/via YouTube)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Sure, we can kick around some of the most infamous controversy-courting Millennial wunderkinder, but they don’t represent their generation; perhaps it’s time to hold those big institutions accountable for their choices about hiring, promoting, and spotlighting the edgiest and most provocative young people; Israel’s latest election results don’t clear up much; Nancy Pelosi and Jerrold Nadler are getting angrier with each other; and the hard truths that presidential candidates are reluctant to face.

God Save Us from the Controversy-Courting Famous Wunderkinder

BuzzFeed offers an eye-opening profile of Lauren Duca, the young feminist columnist for Teen Vogue who rocketed to a certain level of fame after a confrontational interview with Tucker Carlson and who New York University selected to teach a six-week journalism course for both high school and college students about “The Feminist Journalist.” The portrait is a deeply unflattering one; as a teacher, she seems unprepared, self-absorbed, unprofessional, and basically offered students “a master class in [her] personal life.” Perhaps most disturbingly, Duca allegedly regularly berated and mistreated one foreign exchange student for whom English was her second language. Students sent a collective formal complaint to the heads of the NYU journalism school about Duca’s conduct, saying “We are disappointed at the department and NYU for hiring a professor with more interest in promoting her book than teaching a group of students eager to learn.”

You can be mad at Duca, but there’s another glaring question in this piece: How did NYU come to the conclusion this person would make a good teacher? Who did the university not select to teach a course on journalism in favor of Duca?

Elsewhere, in The Hollywood Reporter, the cast of HBO’s Girls get together to mark the end of the show and reveal that Lena Dunham was 23 years old when she sold Girls to HBO with “a page-and-a-half-long pitch that included nary a character nor a plot.” For those of you familiar with the television industry, this never happens. You may recall that Dunham went on to fame, fortune, and more than a little bit of controversy, particularly for her autobiography. She described childhood sexual acts in troubling ways, and a sexual assault in her college years that tiptoed up to the line of libel by using an allegedly random pseudonym and description that just happened to match a student at Oberlin a little too precisely.

Last week, The Cut, a website published by New York magazine, wrote a lengthy profile piece about Carolina Calloway, a 27-year-old “Instagram influencer” who once received a $375,000 book deal from Flatiron Publishing but who found she couldn’t finish the book, and who hosted a “creativity workshop” that reportedly didn’t deliver on its promises. She then went on to host another workshop she called, “The Scam.”

You’re familiar with Tomi Lahren, right? Conservative political commentator, started hosting her own television show on One America News Network at age 22. She’s the one with the new “athleisure” line of red, white, and blue, stars-and-stripes apparel entitled “Freedom” that is manufactured overseas. A few years ago, when asked what books most influenced her, Lahren responded, “I’m not a reader. I don’t read long books.” She has a new book out, Never Play Dead: How the Truth Makes You Unstoppable. It is 256 pages.

And when last we heard from Milo Yiannopoulos, he was banned from a Midwestern convention of “furries,” a gathering of people who enjoy dressing up in full-body animal costumes.

Millennials — and Generation Z, the generational border is a little fuzzy — get a lot of undeserved grief, in part because generations are largely defined by stereotypes. Only some of the members of the Greatest Generation went overseas to fight the Axis; only a fraction of the members of the Baby Boomers protested the Vietnam War and went to Woodstock; and only a small segment of the members of Generation X listened to Nirvana, were depressed when Kurt Cobain died, and went on to work at dot-coms.

Millennials have a wide variety of life experiences; they weren’t all suckered by the Fyre Festival, and they aren’t all obsessed by the actions of  “celebrity influencers,” or incapable of having a face to face conversation because they need to check their phones every five seconds. Perhaps the rise of social media accelerated the need to stand out in a crowd by saying and doing outrageous things. Or perhaps social media created sufficient financial incentive to make saying and doing outrageous things a lucrative career path, particularly with those who didn’t believe they had the brains, talent, or work ethic to achieve success on other paths.

We like to laugh and scoff at Olivia Jade Giannulli, the daughter of Lori Loughlin caught up the college admissions scandal. But she already had endorsement deals with Hewlett-Packard, Sephora, the online fashion retailer Lulus, Amazon, Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs Beauty, Smashbox Beauty Cosmetics, Smile Direct Club, Too Faced Cosmetics, Boohoo, and Unilever’s TRESemmé. There are Super Bowl MVPs who don’t have that many endorsement deals!

When Giannulli sounded insufferably entitled and declared, “I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend. I do want the experience of like game days, partying . . . I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know” . . . think about her life experiences up to that point. If your kids had lined up endorsement deals with eleven companies by the age of 19, how enthusiastic would they be about studying? If they were getting paid money to mention products in their social-media feed, do you think you could still get them to prioritize hitting the books for that chemistry test?

There are a lot of bright young people with big dreams out there, and the vast majority of them are willing to work hard. Many are smart, many are talented, many are willing to devote a relentless focus to the task at hand and demonstrate a tireless dedication to doing the job before them well. Many see life as more than just an endless series of opportunities for self-promotion. You just don’t hear much about them, because they’re too busy working and doing what they’re supposed to do to. They don’t become the subject of juicy profile pieces laying out their worst decisions and scandals.

But big institutions have a choice in who they select to hire, promote, and spotlight. Maybe, just maybe, rewarding the edgiest, most provocative, and controversial young people doesn’t generate the best results?

Come on, Israeli Voters, Make up Your Minds

So much for those latest Israeli elections clearing things up, huh?

Israeli politics now appears all-but-deadlocked and destined for complex negotiations between the two main parties and the smaller parties over possible coalition arrangements.

Addressing his Blue and White party supporters in Tel Aviv a few hours after the polls closed, Gantz struck a tone of measured optimism, saying that an era of “polarization and antagonism” now lay in the past with “unity and reconciliation” being the way forward.

Gantz said contacts with other parties to build what he described as a “broad unity government” had already started.

“I intend to talk to everybody, starting tonight,” he said.

Netanyahu meanwhile, was hoarse as he addressed his Likud Party supporters, neither claiming victory nor conceding defeat.

I know lots of people insist they like the multiparty parliamentary system, but you always seem to end up with coalition governments that are cobbled-together from factions that have almost nothing in common with each other. “The new majority European Union Parliament coalition includes the Christian Democrats, the Swedish Donald Duck Party, the Polish Good Humor Party, the Italian Partito dell’Amore, Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party, and the Norwegian Beer Unity Party.” (Those were all real parties, by the way, although most were jokes or political stunts.)

Pelosi to Nadler: Your Ego Is Writing Checks That This Caucus Can’t Cash

In a battle of Nancy Pelosi vs. House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, my money’s on Pelosi: “Pelosi criticized the panel’s handling of impeachment in harsh terms, complaining committee aides have advanced the push for ousting President Donald Trump far beyond where the House Democratic Caucus stands. Democrats simply don’t have the votes on the floor to impeach Trump, Pelosi said. “And you can feel free to leak this,” Pelosi added, according to multiple people in the room.”

If you want an impeachment process to be taken seriously, don’t begin it by inviting Corey Lewandowski to testify. At CNN, Elie Honig puts a tough question to lawmakers who support impeachment:

House Democrats essentially have conceded the Mueller report is not enough — perhaps politically more than legally — and there needs to be something more to proceed. But there very likely won’t be evidence relating to Russian interference or obstruction beyond what’s already in the Mueller report. House Democrats have set themselves up for failure.

Moving forward, House Democrats need to address this question squarely: Is the conduct in the Mueller report enough to impeach? If so, then why are we wasting time with the kind of absurd hearing we saw on Tuesday? 

ADDENDA: Somebody’s going to win this Democratic presidential nomination — probably Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren — but boy, has it been fun to watch some once-promising Democrats crash and burn. Kirsten Gillibrand’s already out, Julian Castro now looks like a jerk, Beto O’Rourke looks like a joke, and Kamala Harris is at 6 percent in her home state, behind Andrew Yang! Maybe this will discourage some of the no-hopers the next time around. The shame isn’t in running and losing; the shame is in believing your own hype, not being able to see yourself clearly, and jumping into the race unprepared.

Running for president is hard. Being “pretty good” is never good enough to get the nomination. Candidates are never as well-known as they think they are, their accomplishments never wow audiences the way they think — “in the House, I introduced a bill to—” — and their grandiose promises slam into a wall of well-justified skepticism. In the eyes of the average potential Iowa caucus-goer, you’re just another guy, and they’ve met dozens of guys just like you running for president over the years. Those other also-rans are barely remembered . . . and the odds are good you’ll barely be remembered, too.

Law & the Courts

The New York Times’ Activism on Kavanaugh Ignores Fundamental Ethics of Journalism

(Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the New York Times takes what’s left of its credibility and sets it on fire, burning it to ashes; how well-off politicians are adapting to our era of stylish populism; an old parody with new relevance; and the new public service announcement that the country needs, not the one that it wants.

The New York Times Throws a Bonfire of Its Credibility

Conservatives have complained about The New York Times for a long time, but now the newspaper’s increasingly slippery standards for reporting and verification are getting so glaring, even its own former staffers can’t ignore it. Joe Pompeo writes in Vanity Fair:

Sources say Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly initially pitched their reporting to the news side, but top editors ultimately felt that there wasn’t enough juice to warrant a story there—punting the scoop to the Sunday Review section. “In today’s journalistic world, the conversation is a bit irrelevant,” one source said. “Your average reader is not gonna really know or care where it is.”

Similarly, in the words of a former high-ranking Times figure, “In today’s journalistic world, the conversation is a bit irrelevant, because for most of the people who read the New York Times online or on their phones, it doesn’t matter. It’s all the same. Your average reader is not gonna really know or care where it is. They played it up pretty big, and I have to tell you: When I first read it, I had no idea it was in the Review. I tapped on a link, and at the top it said ‘News Analysis.’ And I also didn’t know it was a book adaptation, because I didn’t even get to the end. I get the point of view of the activists. They want the Times to further their agenda, but that’s not the Times’ job.”

Wait, it gets worse! Pogrebin and Kelly told MSNBC last night that the qualifier about the other alleged Kavanaugh accuser not remembering an incident at Yale was included in the initial draft but removed. And then this morning, Pogrebin started describing the woman who said it didn’t happen in not-so-flattering terms: “She was incredibly drunk at that party . . . Memory here is really a questionable issue.”

The article — er, pardon me, “book excerpt” that ignored the alleged victim saying the event didn’t happen — did its job, by one measure: House Democrats are now beginning a push to impeach Justice Kavanaugh. Senate Democrats, who realize they don’t have the votes to impeach Trump, never mind Kavanaugh, are calling the effort unrealistic.

Our Kyle Smith makes the compelling argument that this is battle-space preparation for upcoming Supreme Court decisions that progressives won’t like. The Left knows they’re going to lose a lot of 5–4 decisions, and if Trump gets the opportunity to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, maybe a bunch of 6–3 decisions, too. Because progressives believe they can never legitimately lose a battle over what America’s laws ought to be, they need to lay the groundwork for the argument that any decision that involves Justice Brett Kavanaugh (and maybe Clarence Thomas, too) shouldn’t “really” count because one or both should never have been appointed to the court in the first place.

There’s one other point, though. The election of Donald Trump really shocked America’s progressives (and a lot of other people, too) and stands as a global disaster on par with 9/11 or the rise of Hitler. (Jonathan Chait declared Trump’s election is the “worst thing that has happened to the world in my life.” He was alive during 9/11!)

If you could go back and time and falsely report things that would lead to the early and abrupt end of a brutal dictator’s rule, would you do it? Most people would make that trade; a bit of dishonesty to prevent widespread injustice and misery. The end justifies the means. Once you see Trump as history’s greatest nightmare, every action taken in opposition to him and those allied with him is justified. This kind of thinking is how you get people trying to shoot up a baseball field full of Republican congressmen.

Our Populist Era of Faux-Downscale Politicians

Quite a few people — including quite a few Joe Biden fans — liked yesterday’s column, “Inside the Mind of the Biden Voter.” Part of understanding politics is understanding the thinking, values, and priorities of people who aren’t like you, and I’m trying to be better at that.

Many contend we’re in a populist moment; some might argue this is a new populist era. Part of populism is an inescapable awareness of and focus upon who society’s big guys and little guys are, and a seething distrust and even contempt for those at the top. Back in 2008, Robert Reich talked about four classic narratives in American politics, and one of them was “the rot at the top.”

The last story concerns the malevolence of powerful elites. It’s a tale of corruption, decadence, and irresponsibility in high places–of conspiracy against the common citizen. It started with King George III, and, to this day, it shapes the way we view government–mostly with distrust. The great bullies of American fiction have often symbolized Rot at the Top: William Faulkner’s Flem Snopes, Willie Stark as the Huey Long-like character in All the King’s Men, Lionel Barrymore’s demonic Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, and the antagonists that hound the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath. Suspicions about Rot at the Top have inspired what historian Richard Hofstadter called the paranoid style in U.S. politics–from the pre-Civil War Know-Nothings and Anti-Masonic movements through the Ku Klux Klan and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts. The myth has also given force to the great populist movements of U.S. history, from Andrew Jackson’s attack on the Bank of the United States in the 1830s through William Jennings Bryan’s prairie populism of the 1890s.

You don’t have to look far in post-2000 America to see why millions of Americans not only believe in “the rot at the top,” but are driven or even consumed by the thought of it. The housing bubble, the Wall Street collapse, the bailouts and the Great Recession, and the sense that no one was ever held accountable for reckless decisions. Enron. Federal bureaucrats at the General Services Administration enjoying a lavish taxpayer-funded party in Las Vegas. Executives at nonprofits making a half-million a year. At least two separate waves of abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. GM’s cars not being safe, Boeing’s planes not being safe, one database breach after another. Bernie Madoff. Harvey Weinstein. #MeToo. Jeffrey Epstein. A giant, far-reaching bribery scandal to get dumb kids of rich and famous parents into top schools.

There are enough egregious examples of bad behavior by powerful people to convince the masses of two powerful conclusions. The first is that the people currently in charge of American society should not be in charge, that they did not earn their positions of power and authority fairly, that they frequently and shamelessly abuse their power and betray people’s trust, and not only does the cream not rise to the top, but the scum does. The second is that the reason they don’t feel as powerful and successful in American life as they wish they were is that they weren’t willing to cheat, lie, steal, and be as immoral as the powerful people were.

That first conclusion is an exaggeration, and that second one is a soothing explanation that hand-waves away anyone’s individual mistakes, bad judgments, attitude, ability to work with others, etc. But it’s easy to see why people believe them.

One of the points of yesterday’s column is that Biden voters and Trump voters see their guy in a similar way: “Sure, maybe he’s technically one of the elites, but he’s always been on the side of the little guy.”

This is why Joe Biden insists everyone calls him “Middle-Class Joe” even though the only person who’s ever been quoted calling him “Middle-Class Joe” is Joe Biden. He was elected to the Senate at 29 because his birthday was before the day of his swearing-in ceremony. He may well have been “poor” by the standards of the U.S. Senate, but every senator is wealthy by the standard of the average American.

This is why Elizabeth Warren frequently tells the story that “at 19, I got married, dropped out of school, took a minimum wage job, thought my dream was over.” Okay, but she was an associate dean of a law school by the time she was 31. By 1998, Harvard was paying her $192,550 in salary and an additional $133,453 in “other compensation” — which included a faculty mortgage subsidy, housing allowance, moving expenses, and imputed interest.

This is why Bernie Sanders talks about “growing up in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, New York, the son of an immigrant who came to this country without a nickel in his pocket.” You could argue Sanders’ first regular job came with his election to mayor in 1981. But that job paid $33,824, the equivalent of more than $100,000 in today’s dollars, and money went pretty far in 1980s Burlington. As many know, Sanders is now a multimillionaire.

None of this means these figures were never poor or of modest means, or that they don’t remember what it was like to be that way. But every major presidential candidate in either party has been living, at minimum, an upper-middle-class lifestyle for many years. A populist mood in the nation forces politicians to pretend that they’re poorer than they are, that those hard times weren’t as long ago as they were, and that they still share or at least freshly remember the economic anxiety that stresses so many Americans.

Perhaps in the often sordid and shamefully dishonest realm of politics, a candidate downplaying his wealth and how long he’s lived comfortably is a small sin. But this sort of thing caught up to Hillary Clinton — “We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.”

I recall years ago watching prominent liberal journalist lamenting the greed of millionaires on television and the roughly $200K-per-year magazine columnist referring to “ordinary people like us.” To paraphrase that slang term of incredulous skepticism, “rich, please.”

An Oldie but a Goodie

This old Onion parody of Vox has never seemed more accurate.

ADDENDA: Finally, the public service announcement about mono that the country always needed.


While the Media Focus on Inconclusive Kavanaugh Allegations, There’s Evidence of Iran Striking Saudi Arabia

Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh speaks at a ceremonial swearing-in at the White House, October 8, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

This weekend brought another moment where what the majority of the American news media thinks is important and what is actually important diverged wildly. Someday, the news media will be chasing clicks and ratings discussing their cotton-candy news story while ignoring the important and consequential broccoli news story, which will later blow up in a way that millions of Americans feel it. News consumers will wonder how it happened, why it happened, and why they weren’t being told about the broccoli when it mattered. Kind of like the “summer of the sharks” before 9/11.

The Broccoli Story: Iran — Or Somebody — Wants to Blow Up Saudi Arabia’s Oil Production

That brewing fight between Iran and Saudi Arabia isn’t just brewing anymore. It’s looking more and more like an all-out war.

Global energy prices spiked on Monday after a weekend attack on key oil facilities in Saudi Arabia caused the worst disruption to world supplies on record, an assault for which President Donald Trump warned that the U.S. was “locked and loaded” to respond.

U.S. officials offered satellite images of the damage at the heart of the kingdom’s crucial Abqaiq oil processing plant and a key oil field, alleging the pattern of destruction suggested the attack on Saturday came from either Iraq or Iran — rather than Yemen, as claimed by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels there.

Iran for its part called the U.S. allegations “maximum lies.”

The Houthis on Monday warned of more attacks on Saudi oil facilities and urged foreign companies doing business in the kingdom to stay away from its energy sites. Yahia Sarie, a rebel spokesman, said facilities such as the Abqaiq oil processing plant and the oil field hit this weekend could again “be targeted at any time.”

Hope you filled up your tank. President Trump said the country will tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve if necessary, and this sort of emergency is why we have the reserve.

At Bloomberg, Eli Lake argues that the U.S. has tried the “open to negotiations” approach and gotten its hand bitten in response too many times.

Trump also now needs to reconsider military options to deter future escalations. As I have reported, U.S. intelligence agencies have mapped the precise locations of Iranian bases and commanders in Yemen and the Middle East. If Trump wants to respond militarily without attacking Iranian territory, he has many targets outside the country.

If Trump continues to pursue negotiations with Iran’s regime, he will be inviting more attacks on America’s allies. This is exactly the strategy — and the consequences — followed and paid by his predecessor, Barack Obama, in his second term. During and after the negotiations for the nuclear deal, Iran armed and trained its proxies in Syria and later in Yemen. The Middle East is now paying for these mistakes. Trump would be a fool to repeat them.

Nobody — or perhaps its more accurate to say few Americans — want a war with Iran, but the Iranians get a say in that, too. Assume the coming days bring proof that Iran launched an attack that shut down half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production. What would the appropriate response from the United States be?

The Cotton Candy Story: Sure, Let’s Rehash the Whole Kavanaugh Drama All Over Again

Our John McCormack notes that a New York Times book excerpt — not an article — that is supposedly a bombshell new accusation against Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh is really a dud, in large part because the book includes rather glaring counter-evidence that the accuser does not recall the incident of Kavanaugh that the book describes. And the Times didn’t feel it was important to mention that!

The New York Times added a correction that essentially says “never mind” to the explosive allegation:

An earlier version of this article, which was adapted from a forthcoming book, did not include one element of the book’s account regarding an assertion by a Yale classmate that friends of Brett Kavanaugh pushed his penis into the hand of a female student at a drunken dorm party. The book reports that the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident. That information has been added to the article.

We keep hearing liberal commentators insist that Kavanaugh has been “credibly accused.” They have an odd definition of this. The three witnesses that Ford mentioned said they don’t remember any party like the one she described. Another man told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he believes he was the man whom Ford remembers. The second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, “contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself,” according to the New York Times. Julie Swetnick contradicted her own affidavit in her media interviews, backtracking about what she specifically saw. Senate Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley found her tales of weekly rape parties in Georgetown going on interrupted for three years — with no contemporaneous reporting, complaints to parents, or police investigations of any kind — so implausible that she was referred the matter to the Justice Department for investigation of whether she could be prosecuted for lying to Congress.

Terry McDermott is a Los Angeles Times staff writer who wrote a book about the 9/11 hijackers. In 2005, he wrote about the number of people convinced they encountered Mohammad Atta in places and times he simply couldn’t be there:

Over the last four years, I have interviewed dozens of people who swore they saw Atta somewhere he wasn’t. This includes an assortment of waiters, students, flight instructors, taxi drivers and, more dramatically, two women who each claim to have been married to Atta, this despite the fact that they were never in the same city at the same time he was.

How could it be that so many people remember that they knew Atta, that they saw him or his name, when all the facts argue otherwise? I don’t think they are all lying. Maybe none of them is.

I think Atta entered an American psyche desperate for a name and face and an explanation. He came complete with what has become one of the iconic images of 9/11 — his Florida DMV mug shot, an image so memorable, so powerful and perfect for the moment that it allowed people to see in it whatever they needed to see. I think people subsequently, subconsciously placed that face where it made sense to them.

Research indicates that over time, our brain “edits” our memories. It’s not like bringing a photo out of a file cabinet. It’s like re-painting a portrait each time. This is one of the ways people who are not telling the truth can pass lie detectors. They’ve convinced themselves that they remember something happening, but their memory isn’t quite accurate.

For someone who went to Yale, who vaguely remembers a party with heavy drinking and some guy being a jerk who engaged in unforgivable or embarrassing behavior, who wants the perpetrator to be Kavanaugh because he now represents in their mind everything they hate about Trump, or Republicans, or conservatives, or pro-lifers, the perpetrator’s face becomes that of Kavanaugh. Motivated reasoning meets motivated remembering.

The Times correction doesn’t matter this morning. Way too many prominent Democrats have already pushed their chips to the center of the table and can’t change their bets now. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Julian Castro all called for impeaching Kavanaugh and removing him from the court. Joe Biden didn’t quite join them, but said, “We need to get to the bottom of whether the Trump Administration and Senate Republicans pressured the FBI to ignore evidence or prevented them from following up on leads relating to Justice Kavanaugh’s background investigation, subsequent allegations that arose, and the truthfulness of his testimony to the Senate.” This morning Biden is getting grief for a “tepid” response.

Democrats and their allies in the media have to pretend that correction never happened, the same way they have to pretend Debra Katz, the attorney for Christine Blasey Ford, never said, “When he takes a scalpel to Roe v. Wade, we will know who he is, we know his character, and we know what motivates him, and that is important; it is important that we know, and that is part of what motivated Christine.” Oh. So she knew how he was going to rule on a particular issue, and that was part of what motivated her?

Wonder of Wonders, It Turns Out Joe Biden’s Memory Might Be Underrated

At first, I thought Michael Harriot’s dissection of Joe Biden’s not-quite-so-plausible tale of confronting the notorious gangster “Corn Pop” at a Wilmington swimming pool in 1962 was painfully hilarious. (Some bad language at the link.) Actually, it’s indisputably hilarious, the question is whether it’s fair. Because it turns out CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale found some evidence to corroborate parts of Biden’s story. William Morris, nicknamed “CornPop,” existed and passed away a few years ago. A former mayor of Wilmington knew him and knew he was a rough kid in his teen years. There was indeed a gang called “the Romans” in Wilmington in the 1960s, and other longtime residents recall the story of Biden confronting a gang member at a pool.

Go figure. Good for you, Joe Biden.

Of course, Michael Graham wonders how Biden could work as a lifeguard during the summers in college and simultaneously be medically excused from Vietnam for “asthma as a teenager.”

ADDENDA: Thanks to everyone who came out to Barnes and Noble for the book signing Sunday afternoon! For about half of you, I spared you the kickoff of a disappointing day of professional football. The reader reviews remain happy, and I will try to line up other book events as opportunities arise.


Why Last Night’s Debate Was Both Comically Bad and Painfully Annoying

From left: Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Cory Booker, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Beto O’Rourke and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro pose before the start of the Democratic presidential debate in Houston, Texas, September 12, 2019. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why last night’s Democratic presidential primary debate was so bad; a suddenly hot issue that surprisingly never came up last night; an important and under-discussed detail about that Trump resort in Scotland; and a very important appointment for this weekend.

The Democratic Debates Have Curdled from Somewhat Illuminating to Bad

Last night is when the Democratic presidential primary debates shifted from mildly entertaining showcases of comically overambitious narcissists with little to no self-awareness — “I’m ready to be commander-in-chief on day one because in the House, I’ve introduced a bill that would —” to a genuinely annoying group exercise in ritualized belief that bumper-sticker slogans can fix the world, that most of the country’s problems go away once Donald Trump is no longer president, and that anecdotes prove it.

Readers, you know I have plenty of beefs with President Trump. Some of you write in to let me know you disagree, and some of you let me know that you’re tired of me pointing out where Trump gets it wrong. But I have no illusions — if somebody else steps into the Oval Office on January 21, 2021, the country’s still going to have big, complicated problems. We have 7.2 million job openings, but most of the people who are unemployed either aren’t qualified or aren’t near where the jobs are. We still are struggling with opioid addiction and suicides, with the longest sustained decline in expected lifespan in a century. Amidst prosperity and a decline in crime, we have these dark underground subcultures of “Columbiners,” and “Incels,” and hate groups: angry young men eager to lash out through violence and justify it all with an incoherent manifesto. We’re dependent upon technology in so many ways, but we don’t know if we can trust technology. The world still has terrorists, hostile states, aggressive and expansion-minded powers. Whether or not you buy into the particulars of climate change, we’re a country that loves to live on the coast and build it bigger and more expensive every time — even though powerful hurricanes are a fact of life.

Trump-bashing is a really useful crutch for every candidate on that stage. No matter how the moderators ask, “what would you do on this issue?” the candidates can offer some version of, “I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t do, I wouldn’t do what Trump has done, because he’s done X, Y, and Z and that’s destroying the American dream/dividing us/corrupting the ideals of America/leaving a worse world for our children.” Cue audience applause.

These debates would be so much more edifying, useful, and revealing if there was no audience, and no candidate felt the need to try to awkwardly shoehorn in an applause line at the end of their answer. Judging from the transcript, the audience applauded 136 times last night. This isn’t Saturday Night Live or a sporting event; we don’t need to hear “WHOOOOO” when a candidate promises to create a special White House office for hate crimes and white supremacy, as Cory Booker did last night. If creating a special White House office focusing on a problem solved it, the country would have no problems.

Almost everything that was bad about last night’s debate stemmed from having ten candidates on stage. The answers were limited to a minute and 15 seconds because ABC News didn’t want to leave candidates quiet for a half-hour at a time. The debate was scheduled to be three hours long — mercifully, it actually ran about two hours and forty-five minutes, because there are ten candidates on stage and the moderators wanted to cover a lot of issues. As much as the candidates want to believe that that there are glaring and consequential differences among them in policy, those differences are hard to articulate without getting into the weeds, which is difficult to explain in 75 seconds. So the night turns into a competition of emoting and who can tell the best anecdote about an average American they met on the campaign trail who is dealing with a problem that only the candidate can solve.

The fact-checkers will have their hands full, to the extent their efforts make any difference.

Former vice president Joe Biden declared, “comparing this president to the president we have is outrageous, number one. We didn’t lock people up in cages. We didn’t separate families. We didn’t do all of those things, number one.” That’s just flat-out false; immigrants at border processing facilities were kept in chain-link enclosures during the Obama administration, too.

As many irritated conservatives have pointed out, the Associated Press file photo that accompanies many articles about the Trump administration’s policy was taken in 2014 at a Customs and Border Protection facility in Nogales, Ariz. And the Obama administration did separate families, but on a case by case basis, not as an explicitly recommended policy.

Biden also declared “nobody should be in jail for a nonviolent crime,” which no doubt thrilled viewers like Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. The vice president will be walking that one back soon.

Our John McCormack caught Elizabeth Warren insisting that the assault weapons ban failed to pass in 2013 because of “corruption, pure and simple.” McCormack noted that it received only 40 votes — 16 Democrats joined 44 Republicans in opposition. That’s a lot of broad and bipartisan “pure and simple corruption.”

Andrew Yang offered Democrats a reassuring fairy tale: “Why are we losing to the fossil fuel companies? Why are we losing to the gun lobby and the NRA? And the answer is this, we all know, everyone on this stage knows that our government has been overrun by money and corporate interests.” Right, right. It has nothing to do with how people vote, and that those 16 Democrats and 44 Republicans knew that if they voted for the assault weapons ban, they would likely get tossed out of office by their constituents.

Bernie Sanders declared, “we have the highest child poverty rate of almost any country on earth.” He’s exaggerated a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that put the U.S. in the middle of 38 countries studied; there are 195 countries on earth. The frustrating thing is that Sanders could have said, “too many American children live in poverty, and we should do everything we can to bring that number to zero” and everyone across the political spectrum would agree.

Beto O’Rourke called the El Paso shooting an “act of terror, that was directed at our community, in large part by the president of the United States.” Trump says a lot of controversial, incendiary, and ill-considered things, but it is a damnable lie to contend that Trump directed the shooter to kill Latinos in a Walmart.

Presidential elections are decisions. If you think the electorate hasn’t gotten it right in some of the past elections, it’s likely that part of the problem stems from what sort of information the public is using to make the decision, and I don’t just mean disinformation on social media from the Russians. Do the voters recognize that the president is not a king? Do they realize that most of these proposals must be enacted by legislation, not executive orders, and that to become law they must get majorities in the House and Senate — and 60 votes, if the filibuster is intact? Do they understand that everything they want to enact into law has to be considered constitutional by the Supreme Court? The only person who uttered the word “Constitution” last night was Joe Biden. No wonder the online progressives can’t stand him; he keeps reminding them about reality.

Do the voters understand that some problems in American life are probably not solvable? While the government can take steps to reduce poverty and maximize the opportunities for a better life, there is no country on earth that has completely eliminated poverty. (I suppose if you want to count Vatican City. Separately, it’s worth noting that global poverty has been cut in half since 2000. All that international trade is good for something!) “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

The Missing Issue of the Night Was . . .

By the way, something that didn’t come up at all, which surprised me: Trump calling for a ban on flavored vaping products. Put vaping, flavored or unflavored, on that long list of “Things I Don’t Like and Don’t Do Myself, but Don’t Want the Federal Government Banning.”

About Those Stays at Trump Hotels . . .

The headline: “The U.S. Air Force has lodged crews at President Donald Trump’s Scotland resort up to 40 times since 2015, a figure that is far higher than previously known.” Wow, that sounds bad!

Deeper in the story: “The Air Force has significantly ramped up its overnight stops in Scotland under Trump after signing a contract with the Prestwick Airport — situated 20-plus miles from Turnberry — in the waning months of the Obama administration. Since 2015, the service has lodged crews in the area 659 times, meaning up to 6 percent of those stays were at Turnberry.”

Wait, 6 percent? That’s it? If this is a scheme to funnel government money to the Trumps, someone’s doing a terrible job. And the fact that this deal was signed before Trump was president suggests that at some point, someone in the Pentagon thought it made sense to have crews stay at the resort. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, but it doesn’t appear that the decision was driven by a desire to enrich Trump.

ADDENDA: Okay, last sales pitch to readers in northern Virginia and the DC area. I’m doing a book signing Sunday at 1 p.m. for Between Two Scorpions at the Barnes and Noble in Mosaic District. A lot of Sundays, my family and I go to the farmer’s market. If it isn’t the biggest farmer’s market in the area, it’s pretty close, and it runs year-round. Sunday at 1 p.m., There’s parking in a couple of garages in the Mosaic complex. It’s a 15-minute walk or a short Uber or Lyft ride from the Dunn-Loring Metro stop.


What to Expect during Tonight’s Democratic Presidential Debate

Former Vice President Joe Biden gestures during the second night of the first Democratic presidential candidates debate in Miami, Fla., June 27, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Joe Biden takes on Elizabeth Warren tonight, and she’ll almost certainly take shots at him — will he use his killer countermove? Also, fan culture takes over American political discourse, and the French offer a terrible idea for dealing with Iran.

It’s Biden vs. Warren Tonight. The Successor vs. the Professor! The Pesterer vs. the Lecturer!

It’s Democratic debate night! Can you feel the excitement, down to the marrow in your bones?

This is the first debate since the Great Culling of 2019, where the merciless Democratic National Committee required candidates to meet a threshold at least 130,000 individual donors and earned 2 percent support in at least four qualifying polls. They’re so mean! Tom Steyer and Tulsi Gabbard might make the next one, but for tonight, it’s ten candidates.

Victims of the Great Culling include Kirsten Gillibrand, John Hickenlooper, and Jay Inslee, who’ve left the race. Still running but stuck outside the arena doors are Colorado senator Mike Bennet, Montana governor Steve Bullock, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, Delaware congressman John Delaney, Gabbard, Ohio congressman Tim Ryan, former Pennsylvania representative Joe Sestak, Steyer, and the not-so-secret favorite of a lot of conservatives — Marianne Williamson.

Other than Williamson, you’re not going to notice they’re missing tonight, are you? She really was a breath of fresh air. Every other Democratic candidate else on stage was insisting that their health care plan would also address the effect of carbon emissions by providing illegal immigrants free tuition to grad school so they could help enforce nationwide gun confiscation and then Williamson would say none of that mattered until we confronted the soul impulses driven by malevolent entities from the Black Lodge who are feeding upon the garmonbozia generated by the nation’s chakras.

Come on, everybody, let’s get her into the October debate. She’s an indisputable visionary, and by that, I mean it is often hard to tell whether she’s hallucinating, or we are.

(Another interesting comment from Williamson recently: “What does it say that Fox News is nicer to me than the lefties are? What does it say that the conservatives are nicer to me? . . .  It’s such a bizarre world. I didn’t think the left was as mean as the right, they are.”)

For a while, it’s been a three-person race, and the new poll from CNN this morning shows roughly the usual: former vice president Joe Biden at 24 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 18 percent, and Sanders at 17 percent. After that, it’s a steep drop: Kamala Harris at 8 percent, Pete Buttigieg at 6 percent and Beto O’Rourke at 5 percent.

Tonight will be the first time Biden is on the stage with Warren, so everyone expects her to go after the vice president hard. Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania and a Biden surrogate, gets in a preemptive shot in today’s Washington Post in an op-ed that begins, “I like Elizabeth Warren. I like her a lot. Too bad she’s a hypocrite.” He takes some fair shots at her for taking big-money donations from her Senate bid and transferring money to her presidential campaign and for hitting Biden for holding “a swanky private fund-raiser for wealthy donors” when she hosted the same kinds of events during her Senate run in 2018.

“It’s one thing to fashion a campaign that relies on grass-roots fundraising, but it’s another to go out of your way to characterize as power-brokers and influence-peddlers the very people whose support you have previously courted,” Rendell writes.

A fair shot, but it’s not clear it will do that much damage to Warren. Hypocrisy on campaign finance is deeply woven into the Democratic party. Rendell notes that Obama bragged about not accepting donations from Wall Street firms, while collecting millions of dollars from people who worked in Wall Street firms. When Democratic candidates fume about “wealthy donors” and “fat cats,” they mean the perception of mean, miserly Republican rich people, not the good Democratic rich people like Tom Steyer, George Soros, Mike Bloomberg, Haim Saban, the Hollywood crowd, trial lawyers . . .

Warren is enjoying a good burst of momentum lately, but we all know this is a campaign that has had a metaphorical ticking time-bomb in it from the beginning. You don’t go after Warren on hypocrisy. Any rival who wants to nuke Warren’s campaign, particularly in a Democratic primary, should go right at her glaring weakness: “You’re not a woman of color, you were wrong to describe yourself as a woman of color, and when you claim you had no idea that Harvard Law School was touting you to the public as a woman of color, I don’t believe you.” The notion that Harvard was running around describing Warren this way and she simply never noticed it in any of their statements, press materials, or other documents is the most implausible aspect of Warren’s explanation. Even if you buy her story, it means she wasn’t following the debate about minority representation at the law school back in the 1990s, a pretty heated controversy at the time. No demographic likes a white person trying to benefit from fraudulent minority status. Warren will insist she never benefited from any affirmative action program, but many voters are unlikely to believe that claiming a minority status at an Ivy League law school faculty didn’t bring her any professional benefit at all.

My guess is that Bernie Sanders will never play that card, as he likes Warren too much that would be too personal an attack on a longtime ally. (Oh, and Sanders has his own racial controversy; in a 1997 book he used the n-word repeatedly in a critique of American racism. No one’s saying he’s used the term out of racial animosity, but there are people who will bristle at him using the term in any context.)

Biden won’t play that card against Warren until he needs it. But if you’re a Warren fan, you’ve got a difficult choice. Would you rather she face that storm in the Democratic primary, or in the general election against Trump?

Our Painfully Stupid Era of ‘Fan Culture’ Politics

If you can get past the garish graphics, Amanda Hess has a good essay in the New York Times, observing that the most important political figures in American life no longer have constituents, they have fans who adore them. They’re consumer brands, complete with merchandise — the Ruth Bader Ginsburg action figure (inaction figure?), the MAGA hats, the GIFs, and the dissection of their playlists: “civic participation is converted seamlessly into consumer habit. Political battles are waged through pop songs and novelty prayer candles and evocative emoji . . . This is democracy reimagined as celebrity fandom, and it is now a dominant mode of experiencing politics.”

For those of us who actually pay attention to policy, know a thing or two about history, and believe all changes to U.S. law and policy should be kept within the boundaries set out by the Constitution, all of this is also painfully stupid. We’re not marketing a new Hollywood blockbuster, Netflix series, or new album. We’re trying to change laws and policies to make the country a better place, and it’s not always going to be exciting. Not everything that is important in life is going to be exciting, and getting things done in life requires an ability to sustain attentiveness to things that are not sexy, colorful, fun, or dramatic. You probably wouldn’t use those words to describe your mortgage, your retirement savings, your health insurance, your car maintenance, your cholesterol, or even your kid’s school curriculum, but all of those things are important.

In 2015, Kathryn Lopez did an “exit interview” for the Campaign Spot, and I noted:

You might say the presidency of Barack Obama is a natural end result of a cultural shift that really picked up steam when you and I were teenagers. The 1992 election was the first presidential election to feature MTV’s “Rock the Vote,” which featured Madonna and other celebrities urging young people to vote. It was a turning point in trying to make politicians and presidential candidates “cool.” It was cool celebrities telling young people that voting was cool. And we knew which candidate that year was going to be the cool one: Bill Clinton on The Arsenio Hall Show, wearing shades and playing the saxophone, and so on. But politics, governing, lawmaking — these things were never supposed to be cool. By 2008, you saw discussion of Obama as a “brand.”

If readers of Campaign Spot ever suspected I was an astronomic-scale dweeb in high school, they’re correct. But I’d be happier with a world where the “cool” people went off and did their “cool” stuff, and left politics and governing to the rest of us who actually know about it and care about it.

That was before we made a reality show host president, of course.

Wait, Why Are We Even Considering Agreeing to a French Bailout of Iran?

Come on. The president can’t seriously be considering this option, can he?

Trump has in recent weeks shown openness to entertaining President Emmanuel Macron’s plan, according to four sources with knowledge of Trump’s conversations with the French leader. Two of those sources said that State Department officials, including Secretary Mike Pompeo, are also open to weighing the French proposal, in which the Paris government would effectively ease the economic sanctions regime that the Trump administration has applied on Tehran for more than a year. The deal put forward by France would compensate Iran for oil sales disrupted by American sanctions.

If the president wants to repeal the sanctions, then he should urge Congress to repeal the sanctions, and accept the consequences of reversing one of the most important foreign policy moves of this presidency. Don’t go along with a wink-and-nod deal and hope no one notices.

ADDENDA: Our John McCormick:

The results in North Carolina’s ninth congressional district did show that Republicans continue to struggle in the suburbs. But it’s also worth keeping in mind the results in the other special congressional election held in North Carolina on Tuesday. In the third congressional district, which includes the Outer Banks, a special election was held because incumbent Republican Walter Jones died earlier this year. Trump carried North Carolina’s third congressional district with 60.6 percent of the vote in 2016; on Tuesday, the Republican candidate carried the third district with 61.7 percent of the vote.

White House

The 18th Anniversary of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

The wreck of the World Trade Center smolders as a man passes a subway stop in New York City on September 11, 2001. (Peter Morgan/Reuters File Photo)

Making the click-through worthwhile: No matter how far the 9/11 attacks get in the rear-view mirror, this date is never going to feel normal for as long as we live; Republicans breathe a sigh of relief in North Carolina’s special House elections; and the sudden departure of John Bolton suggests that things are getting bad on the president’s national security team.

No Matter How Much Time Passes, This Date Is Never Going to Feel ‘Normal’

No matter how much American daily life goes back to “normal” on September 11, this day is never going to feel normal, is it? You guys will be coming to visit me in the Old Blogger’s Home in forty years and this date on the calendar will still have that particular ominous feeling, those memories coming back, that sense that on his day all those years ago, history changed direction, and not for the better.

As I noted last year, in a bunch of ways, we’ve “won.” Osama bin Laden is fish food. Hamza bin Laden, Osama’s son and heir, was killed earlier this year. The Taliban leader who hosted and protected al-Qaeda, Mullah Omar, is dead. We don’t hear much from Ayman al-Zawahiri anymore. Al-Qaeda isn’t even the big worry in Islamist terror anymore, compared to ISIS. One expert concludes, “The last international attack in the West connected to al-Qaeda was the 2015 shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.”

The Taliban is beaten—er, being invited to Camp David by the President of the United States—er, involved in negotiations with the United States about the future of Afghanistan.

In many ways, our modern discourse has moved on to other fears — mass shooters, Russian hackers, Chinese ambitions, waves of refugees, homegrown extremists cooking up their own nihilist manifestos about how they’ve been wronged by a sinful and decadent Western civilization.

We can’t live in the past, trapped in amber, forever reliving that day. But the day becoming too normal doesn’t feel right, either. This must be how the Baby Boomers felt when Generation X came along and November 22 passed with minimal marking of the anniversary of JFK’s assassination, or how the Greatest Generation felt when December 7 became just another day in the pre-holiday rush. You can’t blame the kids for not quite getting in their bones what this day meant to us, how many of us feared our loved ones had perished — either in New York, or Washington, or in a field in Pennsylvania. Those hours of rumors, the knowledge that someone was deliberately crashing planes into skyscrapers and buildings and not knowing if there were other planes up there. (That morning’s rumors and false reports included claims that a car bomb had exploded at the State Departmenttruck bombs at the Capitol, fires on the Mall, and a “suspicious” rental truck near the Pentagon.)

For a few hours, almost everyone in America lived through the same shared traumatic experience. If you or your loved ones were in the wrong place at the wrong time — that was it, there was no way to outrun an oncoming jumbo jet. The phone lines were jammed, reaching your loved ones was just about impossible for a while. Up and down the east coast, parents had just dropped off their kids at school when they first heard reports that something terrible had happened in New York City.

Way back in 2006, I wrote Voting to Kill, and I remember this anecdote from Republican pollster David Winston, describing a focus group he conducted:

One woman in this group had three or four kids. We were discussing the 9/11 attacks and how they affected us, and she went into this very short, very tense description of driving from school to school and picking up her children. All of us — myself, the other participants — were riveted. It was clear that while this story wasn’t unique, something else was there. I was describing this story to my wife and her immediate reaction was, “which child did she pick up first?” And with that, it was like the tumblers falling into place. That mother in the focus group and every mother who had children in more than one school had the moral equivalent of Sophie’s Choice on that day: which child did she pick up first?

He described another focus group in Ohio, where one woman said that she had dropped off her kids, and contemplated going back to pick up her kids, but decided against it because the radio made it sound like the attacks were only in New York and Washington. And another mom in the focus group whipped her head around and declared, “I picked my kids up!” Three years later, the emotion was still close to the surface. Here we are, eighteen years later, and the emotion isn’t quite so close to the surface . . . but it isn’t buried all that deep, either.

All dates fade into history eventually. We honor Veterans Day, but there’s no particular day to honor the Battle of the Somme in 1916, where a million men died; on July 1 alone, roughly 20,000 men died. On Aug. 22, 1914, more than 27,000 French soldiers died at the Battle of the Frontiers; and September 17, 1862 ended with more than 20,000 Americans killed and wounded at the battle of Antietam. Two generations from now, September 11 will be just another day for most Americans.

There’s still a weird bit of denial about confronting about what happened that day. This morning, the New York Times tweeted,“18 years have passed since airplanes took aim and brought down the World Trade Center. Today, families will once again gather and grieve at the site where more than 2000 people died.” Huh? “Airplanes took aim and brought down the World Trade Center?” What, did we declare war on airplanes after that?

Republicans Let Out a Sigh of Relief in North Carolina

Special elections are not determinative of the following election cycle. But you would rather win them than lose them, and if a party starts losing special elections in districts that would normally be safe territory, it’s a rattle in the engine. Usually it’s only the diehards and the party loyalists who show up for a special election. Losing a special in a district that leans your way can indicate that your base isn’t that tuned in or fired up and that the opposition party’s grassroots are.

Last night, the GOP eked out a win in a district that really shouldn’t be too much of a sweat: “With 99 percent of precincts reporting, [Republican Dan] Bishop led [Democrat Dan] McCready 50.8 percent to 48.6 percent in a race that analysts saw as a harbinger for 2020.” For Republicans, this was the result they wanted, if not a particularly reassuring final score. The state GOP has no need to panic, but also no reason to think that 2020 will be an easy or safe year.

Yeah, Things Are Really Bad.

It is bad that President Trump has now gone through three national security advisors in 31 months — four if you count Keith Kellogg filling in for a week in between Michael Flynn and H. R. McMaster. (Kellogg, currently the National Security Advisor to Mike Pence, is a contender to replace John Bolton.) 

It is bad that Trump keeps ending up in the same position of impassioned disagreement with the people he appoints and keeps reaching the point where he can’t work with them anymore.

It is bad that the people Trump appoints to national security positions keep telling him that his ideas are counterproductive to American interests and the country’s security. It’s one thing if one or two appointees express objections to inviting the Taliban to Camp David, adding Russia to the G-7, delaying the imposition of sanctions on Russia, slowing down U.S. assistance to Ukraine, echoing Kim Jong-un’s language on U.S.–South Korean joint military exercises, or meeting face to face with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. But when everyone around the president who has spent their career in service to their country, studied the issues for years, knows the players and history, and who swore an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution all have the same assessment of the president’s ideas, and the president ignores their assessments, it’s really bad.

When the president believes that we should not be collecting intelligence on other countries because it could undermine his relationship with the leaders of other countries, it’s really, really bad.

Marc Thiessen is probably the most pro-Trump columnist at the Washington Post. He’s a former spokesman and advisor to the late Senator Jesse Helms. He was a speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon and then George W. Bush. He’s written a book defending “enhanced interrogation techniques” (waterboarding). He’s about as far as you can get from a liberal squish or a knee-jerk Trump-hater.

And he’s livid over the now-canceled presidential invitation to the Taliban:

These are murderous terrorists with American blood on their hands. It is an outrage that Obama freed them. But for Trump to even consider allowing leaders of a designated terrorist organization to set foot in Camp David is worse than an outrage; it is an insult to all those who died on 9/11 and the American troops who gave their lives fighting them in Afghanistan.

. . . Trump’s defenders say this would have been no different from his diplomacy with Kim Jong Un, or his offer to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Yes, it is. First, Kim and Rouhani are heads of government. Taliban leaders are terrorists. They claim to be the heads of a state — the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Hosting them at Camp David grants them undeserved legitimacy.

By killing an American soldier, Taliban leaders were rubbing the United States’ defeat in Trump’s face. That move backfired. Trump now says the Taliban talks “are dead.” Let’s hope so — and that with the death of those talks dies one of the most shameful moments of the Trump presidency.

We’re sailing into really uncharted waters now.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it yesterday, why Biden’s not really the “centrist”the media says he is; and Beto O’Rourke stumbles onto a good point on housing policy but flinches from confronting limousine liberals.


China May Cry ‘Uncle’ Sooner Than We Think

President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping shake hands in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Some signs that China is starting to feel the pain from Trump’s trade war; a special House election in North Carolina and what it could tell us about 2020; and Beto O’Rourke declares that living close to work is “a right for everyone.”

Is China Starting to Feel the Pain from the Trade War?

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a fascinating front-page article that could have deep political ramifications.

Right now, Trump’s trade war with China looks like slamming our collective foreheads against a brick wall, hoping we do more damage to the wall than the wall does to our skulls. We institute tariffs, China gets mad and responds with their own tariffs, Trump gets mad and responds with more tariffs, and the cycle goes on and on. The escalating battle hurts our farmers and exporters, while the leaders of Beijing just sit and wait for either a new president with a different attitude or for political pressures to convince Trump to change course.

There’s an argument to be made that extensive trade ties with China have empowered them, while making us more dependent upon a country that is hostile to our national security interests, values, and human rights. The president would be wise to go beyond the familiar complaints about intellectual property — a fairly abstract issue — and discuss China’s inhumane working conditions, military aggressiveness, artificial island construction, and persecution of religious minorities on a massive scale. A lot of people groaned or rolled their eyes when Senator Lindsey Graham said that Americans needed to “accept the pain” that comes from a trade war with China, but I thought he deserved an “attaboy” for his honesty. When’s the last time an American political leader admitted his preferred policy was going to mean pain for some people?

The trade war is a giant bet that we can get China to do what we want through economic pressure and that they need access to our markets more than we need access to theirs. They’re betting that they can endure more economic pain than we can.

As you may have noticed, the Chinese government lies a lot. When the government in Beijing puts out economic numbers, investors, businesses, and people who need to know are left wondering whether those are accurate numbers, or whether they’ve been airbrushed to assure the world that the Chinese economic engine is humming along as it should.

Mike Bird and Lucy Cramer of the Wall Street Journal reported:

Beneath China’s stable headline economic numbers, there is a growing belief among economists, companies, and investors around the world that the real picture is worse than the official data. That has analysts and researchers crunching an array of alternative data — from energy consumption to photos taken from space — for a more accurate reading.

Their conclusion: China’s economy isn’t tanking, but it is almost certainly weaker than advertised. Some economists who have dissected China’s GDP numbers say more accurate figures could be up to 3 percentage points lower, based on their analysis of corporate profits, tax revenue, rail freight, property sales and other measures of activity that they believe are harder for the government to fudge.

Meanwhile, China’s central bank decided to add another $126 billion into the economy, and the country is facing a crisis in its pork supply:

The price of pork has been rising for months and is now nearly 50 percent higher than a year ago, data published on Tuesday showed. Consumers are frustrated, and officials are quietly expressing alarm as they fight the outbreak of a disease that is devastating the country’s pork supply.

And in the middle of all this are the Hong Kong protests, which are effectively shutting down one of the cities most important to China’s economy.

The Chinese government is authoritarian and can force its people to endure economic pain for the sake of national competitiveness for quite a while — right up to the point where it can’t. No one knows exactly where that point is and when enough important people in China look at the price of pork and other imported goods and decide it’s time to say “uncle” and offer a deal with better terms to the United States. But perhaps that moment isn’t quite as far away as the Chinese government wants the world to think.

A Special Election in North Carolina and the Outlook for 2020

Today is Election Day for two congressional districts in North Carolina. The GOP really doesn’t need to worry much about the third congressional district, where Republican state representative Greg Murphy is expected to beat former Greenville mayor Allen Thomas. The one they’re sweating is in the ninth congressional district, where the little polling that exists shows Republican Dan Bishop just barely ahead of Democrat Dan McCready. This is the district where the election in 2018 was super close, and then the results were not certified due to irregularities involving requests for absentee ballots, unreturned absentee ballots, and individuals who illegally collected absentee ballots. On paper, the GOP should hold this seat, but nobody really knows what happens in these low-turnout special elections; every once in a while, the party that usually loses by a large margin can eke out a victory, like when Charles Djou won in Hawaii or when Robert Turner won in the special election to replace Anthony Weiner in New York City.

If McCready the Democrat wins in traditionally GOP territory, does it mean something? If you’re the North Carolina Republican party, yeah, you start to worry about your canary in the coal mine suddenly coughing terribly. It would mean that Republicans either aren’t tuned in or aren’t motivated, and Democrats are. Trump needs to keep the Tarheel State in his column the next time around.

There are a few indicators that suggest 2020 could be catastrophic for the Republican party. Democrats gained 41 seats in the House last year, and so far this year, 14 incumbent House Republicans announced their intention to retire. Most of them are from relatively safe seats, but each open seat is a little bit tougher to keep than an incumbent running for reelection. In the Senate, Democrats are getting the candidates they want — John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Mark Kelly in Arizona. Some non-incumbent appointee has to keep the Georgia seat. Roy Moore, having learned nothing, wants to mess up the GOP’s hopes in Alabama again. Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, currently leads the race to be the GOP Senate nominee in New Hampshire.

Trump’s approval is not good, particularly in the states he needs to keep.

The news isn’t all bad. A lot of first-term presidents would love to run for reelection under these conditions. Those who have openly hoped for a recession continue to be disappointed. Private payrolls continue to climb healthily. For all that Trump publicly fumes about fed chairman Jay Powell, the chairman said Friday, “We are not forecasting or expecting a recession.” The Democratic nominee is certain to be flawed in one way or another — either aging and gaffe-prone (Joe Biden), a lecture-prone, dishonest “woman of color” (Elizabeth Warren), or an outright socialist (Bernie Sanders).

Is ‘Living Close to Work’ Really ‘a Right for Everyone’?

Remember yesterday’s point about the Democratic presidential candidates offering wild, implausible promises that ignore the difficult realities of making even modest improvements in existing federal programs, never mind enacting new ones?

Late last night, Beto O’Rourke invented a new right for Americans: “Living close to work shouldn’t be a luxury for the rich. It’s a right for everyone.”

The federal government is not a genie that can grant you three wishes.

Home prices and rent prices are always going to be primarily driven by supply and demand. If you want more people to be able to live closer to work, you need to increase the supply of housing near workplaces. Policymakers can set this as a goal, but you still will inevitably run into difficult obstacles. People who live in homes with high real estate markets are not eager to see new high-rises aimed at demographics that want to spend less on rent or mortgages. NIMBY-ism thrives in all kinds of communities, but particularly in urban progressive ones. You need to find land near the workplace that can be redeveloped into housing units. For obvious reasons, people like their old charming neighborhoods with small and historic three-level brownstones, townhouses, or apartments and aren’t eager to see high-rise units replace them. And even people who want to live close to work may not love the idea of living in an apartment or condo or some other shared building — they want lawns and backyards and the extra bedroom and a basketball hoop in the driveway and all the other things that come with suburban life.

Living close to work shouldn’t be a luxury for the rich. It’s a right for everyone,” inevitably means telling people, “you cannot keep your neighborhood, where you have lived for many years, the way you like it. You have to allow outsiders to come in and change things.”

Give O’Rourke a little credit for acknowledging a truth that wealthy Democrats would prefer to avoid: “Rich people are going to have to be forced to allow lower-income people to live near them.” I just hope he is willing to emphasize this point at his next $500-per-plate fundraiser in Manhattan.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it yesterday, Washington Post columnist Max Boot offers the shocking news that he does not support Donald Trump, will not vote for him, and will not vote for Republicans; doubting that Joe Biden’s lead is as fragile as some Democrats think; and Valerie Plame’s new ad tries to get everyone to forget her anti-Semitism.


High Hopes Will Never Make the Government Run Perfectly

Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Dover, N.H., September 1, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: How every Democratic presidential candidate is ignoring the reality of the federal bureaucracy and not-so-distant history with their grand, sweeping proposals; the absolute moral and strategic insanity of inviting the Taliban to meet with the president at Camp David; and a lesser-known Democratic presidential candidate qualifies for the October presidential primary debate.

None of These Charlatans Can Keep Their Promises

Bernie Sanders promises that if he is elected, no one will ever have to pay college tuition for public colleges or universities ever again. Kamala Harris promises that if she is elected, the average teacher in America would receive a $13,500-per-year raise. Elizabeth Warren promises that if she is elected, no American parents would ever pay more than 7 percent of their income on childcare. Julian Castro promises that if he is elected, he will create 10 million new jobs in the “clean energy economy.” Pete Buttigieg promises that he will cut the number of incarcerated Americans in half without any increase in crime. Andrew Yang says that if he is elected, all citizens over age 18 will get $1,000 per month from the government, forever.

And Joe Biden, the supposed sensible centrist in the Democratic primary, promises that if elected, he will cure cancer.

Keep that in mind the next time Biden is unaware that a fossil fuel company executive is co-hosting a fundraiser for him; or Warren says releasing the video about her alleged Native American heritage was a mistake; or Harris insists that she misheard some question, which explains her controversial answer.

Governing well is difficult, people. Enacting some sort of sweeping change like the candidates are now proposing would be extremely difficult; it is just about inevitable that the program would not work as promised at first, and it would take time to get it right. (And this all assumes that the votes are there to pass their ideas into law in the first place.)

It’s not just a matter of “can taxpayers afford it?” although that is a good question to ask when someone comes up with huge ideas like these. An even fairer question is, “what makes you confident that the federal government will implement this program effectively?”

During the Bush years, a common argument in the comments sections of Daily Kos and other liberal corners was that George W. Bush and his administration were in effect a giant sabotage operation within the federal government. Because the administration did not ideologically support a big, powerful, far-reaching federal government*, they were constantly undermining the natural competence that the federal government could achieve if they only had the support from the top. Thus, everything that went wrong in the Bush years — the bad intelligence surrounding Iraq’s WMDs, Abu Gharib, Hurricane Katrina response, and the circumstances that led to the real estate bubble, the Wall Street meltdown and the Great Recession — could be laid at the feet of an administration that never really wanted government to succeed in the first place.

Barack Obama and the people around him believed in the capacity of the federal government to do good. Their faith in the power of the federal government to change peoples’ lives for the better was unshakable. And after a great deal of effort, the finest team Obama could assemble ended up with a website tracking stimulus spending that was full of bad data, “shovel-ready” projects that the president later admitted weren’t so shovel-ready, the taxpayers underwriting the failed Solyndra solar panel manufacturer, Operation Fast and Furious, the hacking of the Office of Personnel Management, veterans dying while waiting for care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, lavish spending on conferences for the General Services Administration, $126 billion in overpayments to beneficiaries and contractors in 2015, the IRS targeting of conservative groups, the blindsiding attack on the consulate in Benghazi, the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov, the scandal and revelations of Edward Snowden, the rise of ISIS, a foreign policy team that steadily misjudged and underestimated growing threats from Russia and China, and a $500 million program to train Syrians to fight ISIS that resulted in “four or five” fighters. Oh, and they bailed out General Motors when the company knew it was selling cars that could kill you if your key chain was too heavy.

The problem was not that Obama or anyone in his administration wasn’t trying hard enough, or that they didn’t want effective government programs badly enough, or that they didn’t believe in the abilities of the government enough — it was probably the opposite. They had far too much faith in government agencies’ abilities to achieve a task without delays, cost overruns, bad decisions, wasteful spending, petty corruption, and grinding bureaucratic inertia.

One of the points I tried to make in The Weed Agency is that plenty of federal government employees are good people, work hard, and do their best; often working against a system that is not designed to encourage or reward individual excellence. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but few people take the civil service exam or seek out a job in the federal government because they want to do a bad job. They are told to adhere to a giant binder of regulations, to avoid potential lawsuits at all costs, to not dismiss incompetent underlings, to not make waves, and to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. If you sign up when you’re young, you’ll find a lot of older employees telling you to wait your turn. The Economist notes this week, “the federal IT workforce has five times as many people over the age of 60 as under 30.”

Some offices of the federal government do great work. Some do terrible work. The National Weather Service appears to have done a great job during this recent hurricane, keeping their heads down and focused on their duties, and not what the forecaster-in-chief was saying.

Federal bureaucracies are full of human beings, and human beings are not uniform. There are postal workers who run into burning buildings or confront burglars. And then there are ones who steal mail to get gift cards and cash.  It is really difficult to recruit and retain a good team. Because the people in charge of administering any particular program are going to have varying levels of judgment, experience, competence, trustworthiness, diligence, and drive, the results are not all going to be uniformly good. And even when the results are good, they’re never quite as good as they sounded when the candidate was promising them on the campaign trail.

The experience with Healthcare.gov should have splashed some cold water of reality into progressives’ happy dreams: As it stands, this federal bureaucracy and its most familiar contractors can’t get you where you want to go. These aspiring presidents are planning a cross-country trip in a car with two flat tires, burned-out headlights, brakes worn down, and an engine that is sputtering.

And yet, all of these candidates make these vast new programs and benefits and rules and spending sound like the easiest task imaginable. Cleaning up the language a bit in Kevin Williamson’s First Law: ‘Everything is simple when you don’t know a thing about it.’

Lest you have any lingering doubts about the difficulties of keeping campaign trail promises and enacting policies: “I alone can fix it.” “Trade wars are good and easy to win.” “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall.” “We will end the sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths.” “Department of Environmental Protection. We are going to get rid of it in almost every form.” And so on.

*I know, I know, the whole idea of Bush as some anti-government saboteur is nonsense. This is the administration that added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, created the Department of Homeland Security, enacted No Child Left Behind, and in a Labor Day address to union workers, famously said, “we have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move.”

The Worst Idea in an Era Chock Full of Really Bad Ideas

Who thought it was a good idea for the President of the United States to host members of the Taliban at Camp David, just days before the 9/11 anniversary?

Oh. “In the days that followed, Mr. Trump came up with an even more remarkable idea — he would not only bring the Taliban to Washington, but to Camp David, the crown jewel of the American presidency. The leaders of a rugged militant organization deemed terrorists by the United States would be hosted in the mountain getaway used for presidents, prime ministers and kings just three days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that led to the Afghan war.”

I suppose I should be reassured that on September 7, the President of the United States realized that a Camp David invitation to the Taliban would be a bad idea after their car bomb killed Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Morovis, Puerto Rico two days earlier. But it is hard for the sudden cancellation to outweigh the preceding spectacularly unwise decision. As of this morning, 1,833 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action in Afghanistan since 2001, and the Taliban is responsible for a significant portion of those casualties. They are the same Taliban they were Wednesday, when Trump was eager to have them at Camp David.

As you’ve read, the Taliban has continued to blow up innocent people and target U.S. servicemen and women throughout the negotiations. This is not some calculated provocation for negotiating leverage on their part; this is who they are. There is no kindler and gentler Taliban waiting to be revealed once the right incentives are presented to them. Two administrations and the Pakistanis have been trying to negotiate with the Taliban for more than a decade. The negotiations always break down, at least in part because the Taliban keep blowing people up during the talks.

The Taliban invitation is the sort of thing that ought to make the American people sit up and take notice and ask just what kind of foreign policy this administration is attempting to enact.

In other news, the President of the United States declared on Twitter that model and celebrity Chrissy Teigen has a “filthy mouth.”

Fourth Episode of ‘The Democrats Debate’ TV Show Will Introduce a New Cast Member

Here’s an odd development: billionaire Tom Steyer didn’t qualify for the September Democratic debate, but he did qualify for the October one. Tulsi Gabbard is apparently knocking on the door as well. This means that Thursday night, the Democrats will have a one-night, ten-candidate debate, and next month they’re likely to hold two nights of six-candidate debates, a setup that is more likely to give each candidate more time and probably longer and better answers.

ADDENDA: As a New York Jets fan, I look forward to the start of professional football season sometime in the coming weeks. I mean, yes, technically the team played yesterday, but that wasn’t professional football.

We are now t-minus six days from the book signing at Barnes and Noble in Mosaic District in northern Virginia! Hope to see you there!


A Sigh of Relief over the Death of a Brutal Left-Wing Dictator

Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe participates in a discussion in Durban, South Africa, May 4, 2017. (Rogan Ward/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The brutal dictator who seized all the farms finally buys the farm; Howard Schultz calls it quits long after everyone forgot he was running; the president still wants to argue about Alabama and the hurricane; and a point about the European Union’s behavior since the Brexit referendum.

Robert Mugabe’s Dead, So Today’s a Good Day Already

Robert Mugabe was — ah, what a delight it is to use the past tense — one of those demonic despots whose name and crimes ought to be commonly known. Yet somehow, he never quite caught the imagination of the Western press, even if he caught its attention. The average person walking down the street knows about the Kims in North Korea, Saddam Hussein, and Ayatollah Khamenei; but you had to be interested in foreign affairs to recognize the name Mugabe as a monster who deserved to be lined up alongside them in hell.

Some might argue Mugabe’s relative obscurity reflects a Western press that is uncomfortable with acknowledging the fact that a leftist anti-Colonialist revolutionary leader can turn out to be a bloodthirsty and brutal despot; some might argue his relative obscurity reflects a Western press that simply isn’t all that interested in Africa.

Earlier this year, John Fund offered a succinct summary of Mugabe’s catastrophic rule:

Robert Mugabe became the president of Zimbabwe in April 1980, back when Jimmy Carter was still president. Within two years he had deployed his infamous North Korea–trained Fifth Brigade against minority tribes in Matabeleland in a campaign of deliberate killing and starvation. The organization Genocide Watch estimated that 20,000 people were ultimately killed.

Mugabe would later launch an insane seizure of white-owned farms. That led to widespread food shortages and destructive hyperinflation that resulted in almost-worthless 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollar notes in circulation.

But henchmen from the ruling party, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), violently tamped down protests, and he ruled until November 2017, when a clique of his own generals worried that his wife would replace him overthrew the 94-year-old dictator in a coup. Since then, former minister of defense and current president Emmerson Mnangagwa has proclaimed that his country is “open for business,” when in reality the regime’s slogan should be “The new boss is just like the old boss.”

Just how similar are Zimbabwe’s new rulers? This summer Jay Nordlinger caught up with Evan Mawarire — a pastor and democracy leader from Zimbabwe:

The current regime in Zimbabwe is just as bad as Mugabe’s. In fact, it is a continuation of it. As Pastor Evan says, Mugabe is gone but the Mugabe system remains.

When the old man fell, there was euphoria in the streets, Evan says. People of all ages and tribes rejoiced. There had not been such unity since independence, says Evan. But it quickly turned to ash.

As before, democracy leaders and protesters were arrested (Evan among them). Their wives and daughters were raped. The men were beaten in prison. Evan wound up in the very same cell, incidentally — not just the same prison but the same cell.

Perhaps the Western world never paid much attention to Mugabe because Zimbabwe is far away and most Americans couldn’t find it on a map. It has little strategic geopolitical value. Back in 2017, Helen Andrews wrote a long piece for NRO observing that he reflected and greatly exacerbated his country’s problems, but he didn’t invent them. She also tackled the question of how things could have turned out differently, and ended up rejected a lot of the easy answers. These questions that arise are relevant to places much closer to home:

The most inviting answer to the question of what should have been done differently, which beckons like an oasis in the desert, is to blame the colonial regime. If only Rhodesia had been governed better, its oppressed native population would not have presented such an easy foothold to Marxist guerrillas. Alas, this particular oasis is a mirage — not because conditions for Africans were so splendid under Ian Smith and his predecessors, but because no amount of peace, prosperity, and good government has ever been a prophylactic against violent nationalism when other factors have made it an advantageous ideology to embrace. If nationalism were a function of oppression, there would have been a Mau Mau revolt in Hungary under the Soviets and rather less of one there under the Hapsburgs. Nationalism, like a contagious disease, does not discriminate.

Thanks for Nothing, Howard Schultz

About a week ago, I put an inquiry to Howard Schultz’s organization, asking about the back injury that interrupted his independent presidential campaign at the beginning of the summer and whether he would be returning to the campaign trail. No one replied. This morning, Axios reports what has been increasingly obvious since Schultz effectively disappeared from the public scene: Schultz isn’t running for president in 2020.

Schultz will tell his supporters today, “[N]ot enough people today are willing to consider backing an independent candidate because they fear doing so might lead to re-electing a uniquely dangerous incumbent president. If I went forward, there is a risk that my name would appear on ballots even if a moderate Democrat wins the nomination, and that is not a risk I am willing to take.” In other words, Schultz really wants a moderate Democrat to be the next president, even more than he wants to be president.

Fine, but if Schultz’s real driving motivation all along had been to ensure Bernie Sanders didn’t become president, he should have just said so.

Most conservatives felt no affection for Schultz, but after some initial mockery, I found his earnest naïveté strangely appealing. In the end, he had almost nothing in common with today’s angry Left or the modern nihilists. A man who spent his life in business and philanthropy had significantly more faith in the ability of business and philanthropy to make a better world, and didn’t see the private sector as a malevolent force that needed to be subjugated by government. The reaction to him from the Left was extremely revealing. Overnight, Schultz transformed from a well-liked and respected, do-gooder CEO to Public Enemy Number One, mocked in Stephen Colbert’s monologues and profanely heckled by leftist protesters. Nothing he did previously in his life mattered, nothing he was actually saying mattered. He had dared to publicly express a desire to do something that might have interfered with a Democratic Restoration, and for that he had to be destroyed.

It’s a little frustrating Schultz didn’t decide to run just to mess with everyone who joined the effort to demonize him.

Isn’t This a Press Secretary’s Job?

The President of the United States has too much time on his hands“Fox News senior White House correspondent John Roberts had just finished his 3 p.m. live shot on Thursday when President Donald Trump beckoned him into the Oval Office. The President had one argument to make, according to an internal Fox email Roberts sent about the meeting provided to CNN. ‘He stressed to me that forecasts for Dorian last week had Alabama in the warning cone,’ Roberts wrote. ‘He insisted that it is unfair to say Alabama was never threatened by the storm.’”

The European Union and the United Kingdom Can’t Go into Counseling

Felix Salmon, writing about “global disintegration” at Axios, makes a quick reference to the Brexit fight: “the desire of half the nation to cut itself off from its major trading partners is going to dominate British politics and economics for decades to come.

Comparatively unexamined in all of this is why so many people in the United Kingdom thought membership in the European Union was such a bad deal, particularly if the benefits are so obvious, as many British economic, political and media elites insist. The easy and self-flattering answer is to scoff that 52 percent of the British public was consumed by ignorance and xenophobia.

Put yourself in the EU’s shoes. One of your members has been grumbling for a long while, but then one day in the summer of 2016, it publicly announces it wants to leave you. You’re shocked; you never thought it would reach this point. But then you have a choice: Do you try to examine what went wrong and how the relationship could be rebuilt so that both sides feel like it’s working for them? Or do you try to punish them for growing unhappy with you?

The EU has shown no interest in reassessing why so many British think they’re getting a bad deal. They’ve shown little willingness to cooperate, work things out, attempt a good-faith effort to work through British concerns. The general reaction has been an indignant outrage that the British could think they’d be better off on their own, and a repeated expressed desire to make the negotiation and departure process as painful as possible for the U.K.

Why is slightly more than half of the British public willing to “cut itself off from its major trading partners”? Because those trading partners refuse to recognize any legitimate complaints about their rules and have demonstrated a desire to inflict as much economic pain on the U.K. as possible for daring to want to leave. European Union leaders say they don’t want the Brits or anyone else to leave, but they’re sure as heck not acting like it.

Maybe, immediately after the referendum, there was a chance the EU and U.K. could have worked out their differences. But now it’s like a bitter, messy divorce, where both sides have grown to loathe each other.

ADDENDA: I joined Rich Lowry, Charlie Cooke, and Michael Brendan Dougherty on the most recent episode of The Editors, discussing the latest twists and turns in Brexit, gun control, and Democratic climate change proposals.

Whole lot of listeners to the pop-culture podcast this week. I know we hear “maybe this is a turning point in the battles over political correctness” a lot, but maybe Dave Chappelle’s Netflix comedy special really did break the back of “cancel culture.”

Politics & Policy

You Can’t Call People ‘Terrorists’ Just for Having Different Viewpoints

David Rohwer of Austin holds his assault rifle during an open carry firearm rally on the sidelines of the annual National Rifle Association meeting in Dallas, Texas, May 5, 2018. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: San Francisco’s city leaders try to redefine the word terrorist to mean “people who we disagree with on gun policy”; the fight over Brexit in the United Kingdom takes another dramatic turn; the not-so-big NFL preview; and Joe Biden finds a way to laugh at his own gaffes.

San Francisco Tries to Redefine the Word ‘Terrorist’

We live in a time when authorities attempt to brazenly redefine the meaning of words by sheer force of will right before our eyes: “By a unanimous vote, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors have passed a resolution declaring the National Rifle Association a domestic terrorist organization and urging other cities to follow their example.” The resolution also orders city employees to “take every reasonable step to limit” business interactions with the NRA and its supporters.

First, does the city of San Francisco have any business interaction with the NRA? Did the supervisors even bother to look before passing this resolution? Or were they too high on performative outrage to even ask?

But let’s assume the guy who heads up the company that makes the orange traffic cones that the city uses is an NRA member and big donor to the organization. Would the city cancel a contract for more traffic cones over the guy’s support for the NRA? Federal courts have overturned agency decisions to cancel contracts over perceived bias against a contractor, even when the contractor was behind schedule. “Objectivity must be the hallmark of any decision to terminate for default.  Therefore, government personnel should remember to focus on the facts and make every attempt to work with the contractor before taking steps to terminate for cause.” A contractor who lost a job primarily because of his support for the NRA would probably have a winning court case.

But back to the label of “domestic terror organization.” You don’t have to like the NRA to recognize that it does not even remotely fit the definition of a “domestic terrorist organization.” What these eleven lawmakers mean to say is that they loathe the NRA and vehemently oppose their views on the Second Amendment and the right to own a gun. They’re free to have those views, but they do not have the authority to declare someone else a terrorist for having that different view.

These city supervisors aren’t the FBI. They’re not the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. They’re not the National Counterterrorism Center.

Terrorism is a crime, not merely a viewpoint. Being a member of Occupy Wall Street does not make you a terrorist. Being a member of Occupy Wall Street and planning to blow up a bridge makes you a terrorist. Being a Trump supporter doesn’t make you a terrorist. Being a Trump supporter and mailing pipe bombs to people you see as his enemies does make you a terrorist.

Can anyone in San Francisco grasp the danger in letting politicians declare by proclamation that those who have committed no crimes but who have differing views are terrorists? Can anyone over there imagine how this mentality could turn out badly for someone they like?

For example, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib wanted to go to Israel on a trip sponsored by Mitfah, an organization that runs articles contending “the Jews used the blood of Christians in the Jewish Passover”; and an American neo-Nazi screed about how Jews control the media; as well as praising suicide bombers, Palestinian terrorists, and bus hijackers who killed people, not metaphorical terrorists. Omar and Tlaib are associating with some really unsavory characters. This doesn’t make the congresswomen terrorists. But if we all decide to follow the San Francisco city supervisors’ example, we can label them terrorists morning, noon, and night. There’s no way that could possibly lead to something bad, right?

Leaders of the NRA frequently argue that they’re the only organization in America who is regularly blamed for the actions of people who aren’t members. I imagine that when they say that, somewhere the Koch network, AIPAC, Focus on the Family, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and National Right to Life grumble, ‘hey, it’s no picnic over here, either, pal.’ But being declared terrorists by a city government might take the cake.

This is the same city government that wants to restrict the use of words like ‘felon’ and ‘convict.’

Some examples include changing “felon” and “offender” to “returning resident” or “formerly incarcerated person.” A “parolee” could be described as a “person under supervision.” “Convict” could be referred to as a “currently incarcerated person,” while a “juvenile offender” or “delinquent” would be described as a “young person impacted by the justice system.”

The city government wants to take it easier on people who have broken the law, while vehemently demonizing people who have not broken the law.

Brexit Cancelled? Postponed? Rebooted?

Wednesday brought its share of surprises to the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Johnson no longer has a Conservative majority in Parliament; ordinarily, this would lead to a new election. But the anti-Brexit forces aren’t so eager for a new election, because they know there’s a chance is that the result would be a decidedly pro-Brexit majority. The anti-Brexit forces passed a bill requiring the prime minister to ask the EU for a three-month extension before a “hard exit.” Johnson is refusing, and now we have a standoff.

Daniel Hannan argues that the train tracks only run in one direction — Brexit — and that the current disputes are simply debating how fast the train goes on those tracks.

The parties that have spent the past month accusing Johnson of mounting some sort of coup just voted to prevent him from subjecting his tenure to a national vote.

The House of Commons has thus put itself in a ridiculous position. Pro-EU MPs have voted to keep in office a government they have calculatedly undermined. They have done so for the sole purpose of overturning a referendum result which they had previously promised to uphold. That, my friends, is our political crisis in a nutshell.

Now the good news. Voters are not idiots. They can see what is going on. Sooner or later, probably sooner, there will have to be a general election. The Conservatives have, in effect, deselected 21 of their MPs, including several former ministers, for voting with Labour to prevent Brexit. Although that purge has horrified commentators, most of whom are in awe of the Europhile grandees, it is a necessary prelude to an election campaign that will turn on Brexit. The Tories could hardly fight an election promising to leave the EU while several of their candidates refused to accept that policy. Though the pundits are fainting like affronted matrons, voters appreciate Boris Johnson’s strength of purpose.

In the meantime, the loss of those 21 votes has deprived the government of its majority, making an election before the end of the year almost inevitable.

Hannan’s not being a wild-eyed optimist. Politico points out that every faction is slowly recognizing that their only option is another election to serve as a second referendum on Brexit.

The Not-So-Big NFL Preview

The NFL season starts tonight, with the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears squaring off.

Tom Brady’s been playing quarterback since 2001; he’s appeared in nine Super Bowls and won six of them. Thus, he’s won the Super Bowl two out of every three years, and appeared in the Super Bowl in half of his seasons; though some New England Patriot fans would argue the 2008 season shouldn’t count, as he missed almost all of that season with an ACL injury. This means that almost every year, the New England Patriots are the safest bet to win the Super Bowl.

For several years, I’ve wondered if this is the year the Patriots’ dynasty ends. Each year, there’s some reason to think time is catching up with all of them. Tight end Rob Gronkowski retired, Brady is now 42, and head coach Bill Belichick has to be thinking about retiring. Josh McDaniels’ quickly rescinded acceptance of the Indianapolis Colts head coaching job in 2018 suggests that he’s the heir apparent in New England, and he probably expects to take over sooner rather than later. And while his desire for championships is clear, owner Bob Kraft seems focused on pursuing different happy endings.

Obviously, the Patriots’ dynasty hasn’t ended. I talked about the upcoming season a bit with Mickey on the pop-culture podcast and predicted the Saints and Chiefs in the Super Bowl. But today I want to revise my pick to the Patriots winning it all again. If they do so, I look clairvoyant; if they don’t, it means I probably cursed them by picking them. Win-win.

I’m predicting the Patriots over the Saints in the Super Bowl. The AFC division winners will be New England, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville, with San Diego Chargers and the Cleveland Browns making the wild card slots. (I still think Cleveland is getting overhyped this year.) My Jets will finish 8-8 and far too many fans will accept it as a sign of gradual progress. Over in the NFC, the division winners will be New Orleans, Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Rams, and the Chicago Bears, with the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons in the wild card slots.

The five teams picking first in the 2020 draft will be Miami, Washington, Detroit, the Raiders, and Indianapolis.

Later today, Greg Corombus and I will hold our Democratic Presidential Primary Fantasy Draft.

ADDENDA: Okay, this is pretty funny: Last night on Stephen Colbert’s program, former vice president Joe Biden told the host that his gaffes weren’t substantial . . . and then deliberately called him “Jimmy Kimmel.”


Brexit Is in the Final Countdown

A pro-Brexit yellow vest protester demonstrates in London, England, March 30, 2019. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A detailed explainer of the intense, unpredictable fight in the United Kingdom regarding Brexit and what steps come next; finally a bit of good news in Hong Kong; a bad deal with the Taliban doesn’t take long to get even worse; and a long-awaited new episode of the pop-culture podcast!

This Brexit Stuff Is Complicated, But It’s Reaching the Dramatic Climax

When it comes to Brexit, there are five people I turn to in order figure out what’s happening: John O’Sullivan, Daniel Hannan, Andrew Stuttaford, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and Madeline Kearns is rapidly ascending into those top ranks.

The short version: Some of the Conservatives in Parliament are freaked out by the option of a “no-deal” Brexit, and yesterday voted to block that option, which more or less tied the hands of British prime minister Boris Johnson. Johnson’s counter-maneuver is to call for new parliamentary elections — “snap elections” — that would more or less turn into a de facto second referendum on Brexit. Parliament will vote on whether to hold new elections today, and they’re expected to agree. If they do schedule one, it would be held sometime soon, as the October 31 deadline for a “no-deal” Brexit is now two months away. Kearns reports, “Knowing his audience, Johnson has assured MPs that it would be on October 14, the day of the Queen’s speech.”

The longer version . . .

You may recall that under Theresa May, the U.K. Parliament kept voting not to do anything, and rejecting every option it was offered. Just this year, Parliament held thirteen “meaningful votes” on various plans to execute the withdrawal from the European Union, and every single one of them lost; other than the votes that demanded the government come up with a new plan. The lawmakers rejected every deal for Brexit and the “no-deal” Brexit option.

Enter new Prime Minister Johnson, who initially wavered on Brexit, then endorsed it, and who has been pushing for it without an overabundance of details on how the withdrawal would work. Johnson sounded like he was ready to go ahead with the “no-deal” departure.

The “no-deal” option kicks in if no departure agreement is in place by Halloween. Under that scenario, every existing agreement, rule, and regulation with the EU disappears, and everybody has to replace them on the fly; a process that is likely to get messy, confusing, and perhaps lead to shortages of certain products in the U.K. as replacement agreements are hammered out. The British Retail Consortium contends that it is inevitable that food shipments will be delayed as new checks at the border create delays. “Soft fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, tomatoes, and lettuce, would likely see reduced availability as they are largely imported during the winter months.”

One of the bigger and thornier questions is how you handle the border between Northern Ireland, which as part of the United Kingdom would no longer be part of the EU, and the Republic of Ireland, which still be part of it. During “the Troubles,” the border crossings had checkpoints manned by the British military. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 started winding down the sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland, and by 2005, the situation had improved enough for the checkpoints to evaporate. (Within the EU, you can travel from one country to another with no real interruptions; the trains from Germany to Austria don’t even announce when you’ve left one country and entered another. Picture taking Amtrak to Toronto.) People on both sides of the border, who have gotten used to traveling freely and easily over the past 15 years, worry about the return of customs inspectors and police and waiting in line.

But Daniel Hannan warns that if the British government takes the “no deal” option off the table, the European Union will take the country to the cleaners in the negotiations in the aftermath — after all, the U.K. would have effectively promised they would never walk away from the negotiating table. “[Members of Parliament] know that taking “no deal” off the table means taking Brexit off the table. All the E.U. has to do to keep us in is offer intolerable terms. Let’s call this what it is: an attempt by MPs, despite everything they promised, to overturn the referendum.”

Stuttaford warns, “A Brexit that involved severing the U.K.’s relationship with the E.U. in one abrupt move has never been the way to go.” He points to an argument that what the Leave voters really wanted was political independence from the EU’s decision-making process, not a complete cessation of all existing economic ties.

Michael Brendan Dougherty isn’t sure that if there is a new election, it will go so well for Johnson and the conservatives. The issue of Brexit didn’t split cleanly along party lines; there are Remain Conservatives who think the country is committing economic suicide, and there are Leave liberals. Conservative prime ministers have been pledging to get it done since the referendum in 2016, but they clearly don’t have enough votes in parliament to pass any particular plan. There’s a separate Brexit Party as well, headed by Nigel Farage; beyond Brexit, it supports cutting foreign aid, having British Steel part-owned by workers, and installing wi-fi on all public transportation.

Quite a few people think that Johnson’s secret weapon is the current leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who is an anti-Semitic Communist lunatic.

The Conservative Party already has their message: Voting for Johnson means “Brexit delivered on October 31,” while a vote for Corbyn means “more talk, delay, and indecision.” They’re gleefully pointing out that Corbyn has been saying for months that he wants a new general election — and now that they’re on the verge of getting it, they’re backing away.

One of the British politicians I like best, despite the fact that most U.K. conservatives can’t stand him, is former prime minister Tony Blair. He’s desperately trying to get his party to realize that they’re about to stumble into a national election with the one British leader who frightens the country more than a hard Brexit. “Boris Johnson knows that if no-deal Brexit stands on its own as a proposition it might well fail, but if he mixes it up with the Corbyn question in a general election, he could succeed despite a majority being against a no-deal Brexit because some may fear a Corbyn premiership more.”

John O’Sullivan thinks Johnson may attempt to finalize the “no-deal” departure from the EU before the new election. Some polling indicates that if he pulled it off, the public would be more likely to support Conservatives; certainly, the Brexit party would find its primary policy goal suddenly achieved.

Perhaps one of the lessons of all this is that when you hold a referendum and split 52 percent to 48 percent, enacting the wishes of the 52 percent is going to be extremely difficult because the opposition is nearly half the country.

Hong Kong’s Leader: Okay, Okay, We’ll Really Drop That Extradition Bill

Finally, some good news out of Hong Kong: “Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said Wednesday that the government would withdraw a contentious extradition bill that ignited months of protests in the city, moving to quell the worst political crisis since the former British colony returned to Chinese control 22 years ago.”

This move probably isn’t going to make all the protesters back up and go home. Push came to shove in the last couple of days, and at those pivotal moments, the Hong Kong police looked as brutal and thuggish as any authoritarian regime’s, with the whole world watching. It wasn’t that long ago that locals by and large trusted the police; that trust is gone. And without free and fair elections to select the leaders of Hong Kong, who’s to say that the extradition bill doesn’t come back in some modified form? Or that figures who particularly irk the Chinese government don’t start getting extradited in secret?

Over at Axios, Mike Allen declares, “this is a victory for democracy over the world’s largest totalitarian state.” To paraphrase Mr. Wolf from Pulp Fiction, let’s not start patting each other on the back quite yet. The formal withdrawal of the bill is a good first step — but this is still a situation where the Chinese government has a lot of leverage, and they’re patient.

You Cannot Trust the Taliban.

Let’s check in with our new partners in peace, the Taliban: “The Taliban on Tuesday defended their suicide bombing against an international compound in the Afghan capital that killed at least 16 people and wounded 119, almost all local civilians, just hours after a U.S. envoy said he and the militant group had reached a deal ‘in principle’ to end America’s longest war.”

You know what’s in the Green Village in Kabul? The Romanian Embassy and international aid organizations. They are promising us they will no longer work with terrorists while committing acts of terrorism.

The Taliban’s methods worked, by the way; locals in the neighborhood are tired of being targets and are violently protesting, demanding the foreign aid workers move somewhere else.

They’re as mad at the victims of the bombing as they are at the guys who built and detonated the bomb.

If the United States is to leave Afghanistan, we should do it on our own terms, with no pretense of “negotiating” with a malevolent force that demonstrates its bad faith and untrustworthiness every day. Leave with a promise: If the Taliban return to power and the country becomes a base of operations for anti-American terrorists again, then the United States will not invade like in 2001. If we must respond a second time, we will simply bomb targets of our choosing, over and over again, with no corresponding aid programs or relief efforts to help the country. We will not seek out allies on the ground or to establish a legitimate government that will attempt to govern by consensus or establish basic human rights. We will simply destroy whoever is in charge, leaving a lesson for whatever forces replace them.

ADDENDA: A new, extra-long version of the pop-culture podcast is out this morning! Mickey and I have a lot to say about that Dave Chappelle comedy special on Netflix that has the “Cancel Culture” crowd tearing their hair out; plus dissections of the other controversial offerings from the streaming service, like Mindhunter and 13 Reasons Why. I explain why I think that upcoming Joker movie is going to be an inadvertent moral disaster. Why try to figure out why those JUUL vapor devices seemed to change overnight from some new thing smokers were doing to Public Health Enemy Number One, and our NFL preview, with a lot more frostbite than either of us expected.

Politics & Policy

James Mattis Gives the Country a Warning

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis in Washington, D.C., October 23, 2018 (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A warning from former secretary of defense James Mattis about what really threatens our country; House Democrats conclude that what the country really needs right now is high-profile hearings about the payments to Stormy Daniels; and Bill de Blasio loses interest in his day job.

‘Tribalism Must Not be Allowed to Destroy Our Experiment.’

In his new autobiography, former secretary of defense James Mattis writes:

What concerns me most as a military man is not our external adversaries; it is our internal divisiveness… We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions. All Americans need to recognize that our democracy is an experiment and one that can be reversed. Tribalism must not be allowed to destroy our experiment.

I’m close to finishing the first draft of the second thriller novel, thinking through the theme, as well as heroes, villains, chases, explosions, and all that good stuff. One of the themes that’s emerging is how few Americans recognize that peace, prosperity, freedom, and relative social harmony are really glaring outliers in human history* — and how many Americans think that peace, prosperity, freedom, and relative social harmony are “normal” — and that no matter what goes wrong, no matter how many bad decisions we make, our lives will always bounce back to what we think is normal. We don’t realize how good we have it, even in the bad times, and we don’t realize that we can lose it all if we don’t tackle our challenges responsibly.

History isn’t just full of massacres; it’s full of massacres that most Americans never heard of during their educations.

The massacre of the Herero and Namaquain German South West Africa of 1904, — 30,000 to 110,000 people were killed. The Holodomor in Ukraine of 1932 — 3.3 million to 7 million killed in a manmade famine; and the concurrent Kazakh genocide, when another 1.5 million to 3 million were killed. Nanking, China, 1937 — anywhere from 30,000 to 300,000 killed. The Parsley Massacre in the Dominican Republic, 1937 — up to 35,000 killed.

This isn’t just long-ago history, either. Mass killings in Indonesia in 1965, 500,000 to 3 million dead. The Nigerian Civil War — 100,000 killed, and up to 2 million more were killed from starvation. The Bangladesh genocide in 1971 — between 300,000 and 3 million killed. The Red Terror in Ethiopia in 1976 — up to 500,000 killed. The Cambodian genocide in the late 1970s — 1.3 million to 3 million killed. Somalia of 1987 — an estimated 200,000 killed.

Did I say not just ancient history? I meant really recent. Forty-five worshippers killed by the Red Mask paramilitary group in Chiapas, Mexico, 1997. Anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 killed in riots in Gujarat, India, 2002. Several hundred to 1,500 killed in Andijan, Uzbekistan in 2005. About 3,000 massacred in South Sudan, 2012. During the Syrian Civil War, forces loyal to Bashir Assad summarily executed 108 people — half children! — in Houla, Syria, in 2012.

But we don’t have to look to foreign shores to find horrors and monstrosities. The Bear River massacre of 1863; a mob of about 500 people conducted mass lynchings in Los Angeles’s Chinatown in 1871. Maybe you’ve heard a bit more about the Red Summer of 1919 or the Tulsa race riot of 1921; and the destruction of Rosewood, Fla. in 1923.  In 1979, in Greensboro, N.C., the Communist Worker’s Party, the American Nazi Party, and the KKK had a violent clash that killed five and injured twelve.

You’re smart, well-informed readers, yet you’ve probably only heard of half of these; I hadn’t heard about them until I started reading up on massacres in history. If you haven’t heard of these, it isn’t necessarily your fault. Your teachers only had so much time, and the story of one group slaughtering another group was simultaneously depressing and seemingly not all that relevant to students who wanted to do well on the SAT or AP tests. But perhaps a side effect of teaching history the way we do — here are some ancient bloody battles, then things gradually got better, and now we’ve left all those ugly sentiments and feelings and actions behind — is that we inadvertently feed the notion that human nature has changed.

Tribalism, xenophobia, hate — the temptation to succumb to these passions may well be baked in the cake of the human condition. But the fact that massacres and hatred are not omnipresent means we can overcome them. “The internal beast is human nature. It cannot be killed; it can only be tamed. And even then, constant vigilance is required. The story of civilization is, quite literally, the story of taming, directing, channeling or holding at bay human nature,” as Jonah writes in Suicide of the West.

It also means we need to appreciate what Americans have built — slowly, gradually, and with great struggle. Even when we’ve had it bad, we’ve had it pretty good. If you grew up even lower middle-class in the United States with minimal encounters with crime and violence, you won the lottery of human experience, historically speaking. For most of the time man has walked this earth, people lived with the fear that the next village over, or the next kingdom over, or the next country over could suddenly come riding over the hill and kill everyone — just because they wanted their resources, their territory, or slaves.

There is no shortage of malevolent people who would be comfortable with our society backsliding towards the historical norm, just for the opportunity to express that endless rage within them.

In another passage on leadership, Mattis writes, “institutions get the behavior they reward.” What behavior does our media reward? What behavior does our electorate reward? What behavior does our government reward?

*Suicide of the West explores this lesson with a lot more history and economics and a lot fewer gunfights and chases.

Oh, Just What We Needed. Stormy Daniels Hearings.

The Washington Post reports, “The House Judiciary Committee is preparing to hold hearings and call witnesses involved in hush-money payments to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult-film star Stormy Daniels as soon as October, according to people familiar with the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.”

Is there anyone who feels like they have major unanswered questions about the payments to Daniels and McDougal? Does anyone in America feel like they need to know more, or that they can’t figure out anyone’s motivations or actions in this whole sordid cesspool? This isn’t the JFK assassination or Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide. Federal prosecutors finished their work in July. Michael Cohen pled guilty, saying that he directed the payments at Trump’s direction. Trump offered his usual denial. The question of whether Trump broke federal law hinges upon whether Trump made the payments for the purposes of the election, or whether he would have made the payments anyway.

Trump’s interactions with women have always sounded like they’re one step above Caligula’s, and this has been clear to anybody who has been reading the New York Post since the 1980s. Some of us argued against this path, and the GOP and the country chose this path anyway. The country knew full well who this guy was when they elected him; they know who he is now. Just what are congressional hearings going to do? Even by the cynical motivation of, “we’re going to hold hearings on this, in order to embarrass the president,” isn’t likely to work. Trump went after Mark Sanford for adultery last week. You can’t shame the terminally shameless.

This administration is a target-rich environment for mismanagement, dishonesty, and incompetence, and the House Judiciary Committee keeps tilting at windmills. Remember when we were told that Robert Mueller’s testimony was going to be “the most anticipated hearing in a decade”?

Bill de Blasio, the Mayor Who Wasn’t There

Look, aspiring presidents. If you want to run for president, run for president — and quit your day job. I mean formally quit, instead of simply not bothering to do the day job anymore:

Mayor Bill de Blasio spent a mere seven hours — less than one full workday — at City Hall during the month he launched his bid for the White House, records reviewed by The Post show.

Hizzoner showed up at his office on just six occasions in May, taking part in two meetings, four events, and five phone calls, one of which was his weekly appearance on WNYC radio, according to entries on his official calendar.

The obvious joke here is that de Blasio is such a lousy mayor, that the city was probably better off without him. Or that considering past questions about how much time de Blasio spends actually working as mayor, no one noticed that he wasn’t there.

Perhaps one of the silver linings to this clown-car-pile-up of a Democratic primary is that for all of their flaws, Democratic primary voters are at least noticing which ones are the worst of the worst and keeping them at arm’s length. Bill de Blasio already has a big important job, and quite a few folks who are ideologically inclined to agree with him can’t stand him because of worsening problems in New York City’s quality of life. His record stinks, and he’s always moving on to the next big and exceptionally impractical proposal — Ban steel and glass skyscrapers! Eliminate the gifted and talented programs from public schools! — without bothering to try to fix the biggest problems on his constituents’ minds.

ADDENDA: We’re about two weeks away from the book signing over at Barnes and Noble in the Mosaic District in northern Virginia. There’s now a sign with my giant noggin near the front of the store, which is flattering and a little weird because I go over there to browse and buy books pretty regularly. “Hey, are you Jim Geraghty? Wait . . . are you reading a comic book?” “First, it’s a graphic novel, and, second, um, I’m getting it for my kids. Er, really!”


How to Think about Biden’s Gaffes

Joe Biden speaks at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, August 10, 2019. (Gage Skidmore)

Making the click-through worthwhile and wrapping up your week before Labor Day weekend: the worst-case scenario for Democrats if they nominate Joe Biden; a lesson about money in politics that needs to be taught and retaught, seemingly endlessly; a shocking poll up in Massachusetts; and a whole bunch of Hillary Clinton fans suddenly like leaks from the former FBI director.

The Worst-Case Scenario for Democrats with Biden

Joe Biden is probably mentally and physically fine — or within the parameters of fine for a man who turns 77 in November and who never had the greatest verbal discipline at the height of his career.

When Biden tells a story where he gets just about all of the details wrong, when he mixes up New Hampshire and Vermont, or calls former British prime minister Theresa May “Margaret Thatcher,” or when he says, “those kids in Parkland came up to see me when I was vice president” or when he mangles the address of his campaign web site at the end of a debate, it’s probably just a normal man in his mid-to-late 70s behaving like a normal man in his mid-to-late 70s.

I believe that if Biden were genuinely mentally or physically unwell and incapable of handling the duties of the presidency, his family and friends would sit him down and make him withdraw from the race. No one would want their loved one to go out into the national spotlight and stumble and be embarrassed. Watching a loved one succumb to age and gradually lose their mental acuity and memory from Alzheimer’s is an extremely painful process.*

(In a strange way, “I want to be clear, I’m not going nuts,” is kind of a cute and charming unofficial slogan. With the news being what it is these days, Mr. Vice President, we’ve all felt the need to reassure others and ourselves of that fact.)

But even assuming that these are just normal septuagenarian memory lapses, it’s more than a little uncomfortable to watch Biden appear to forget Barack Obama’s name, saying during a recent appearance, “he’s saying it was president . . . (pause) My boss’s, it’s his fault.” If part of the reason to vote for Biden is his superior experience and knowledge in foreign policy, it’s a little unnerving to hear Biden say, “I don’t know the new prime minister of England. He looks like Donald Trump, I know that.” Really? Does the former veep need glasses?

The problem for Biden and his campaign is that nothing gets easier from here. Running for president consists almost entirely of long days of extemporaneous speaking in front of cameras and getting asked difficult questions from both reporters and voters. It is physically and mentally grueling marathon even to the healthiest and youngest candidates. Sure, the Biden campaign can rely on ads where Biden barely speaks and try to get him to stick to a prepared script as much as possible. But we know this man. Biden likes to talk. He likes to tell stories. He will tell stories where he doesn’t really remember the details, fills in the blanks with how he wanted it to have happened, and insist, “this is the God’s honest truth.”

We’re going to get more implausible claims like the idea that Seattle was a hotbed of homophobia five years ago. We’re going to get more impossible-to-check but credulity-straining stories, like the idea that Biden and his father saw two men kissing in the street in Delaware in 1961, and that his father taught him, “It’s simple, Joe. They love each other.”

Jonah writes that Biden ought to run an old-fashioned “front porch campaign”, declaring, “while he may be showing signs of age, the truth is that he’s always been prone to gaffes, malapropisms, exaggerations, and misstatements. Every time Biden opens his mouth in an unscripted situation, there’s a chance he’ll say something goofy that undercuts his elder-statesman status.”

It’s entirely possible that Biden’s gaffes never amount to much during the primary. So far, they haven’t caused enough concern to eat into Biden’s lead. The former vice president had a lousy first debate but generally pulled it together in the second one. Biden’s memory, mental acuity, and age are probably only going to be issues if he has an absolutely terrible lapse on camera during a debate, or if one of the other candidates decides to make it an issue. And the candidate who brings it up will be playing with fire. Make no mistake, a lot of voters will see “you’re too old to be president and your mind is failing you” to be a mean, nasty, personal attack.

But the general election is going to feature an incumbent who specializes in mean, nasty, personal attacks.

The worst-case scenario for the Democrats is that Biden rides to the nomination on a combination of voter familiarity and comfort, his usual empathy and goofy charm, and carefully managed appearances . . . and then Biden’s memory lapses and brief moments of confusion become too prominent to ignore after he’s the nominee. We know the Trump campaign will not ignore them, and gleefully contend that Biden is indeed losing his mind. (Oh, what about Trump’s gaffes, you’re asking? Have you noticed the president’s Infinity Gauntlet of Shamelessness that makes him immune to all accusations of hypocrisy?)

In fact, if Biden’s memory is going to be an issue, it would be better for Democrats if his lapses were so glaring and troubling that they generated a broad consensus within the party that he had to be replaced for the nominee. The worst range would be that if the problems were frequent and persistent enough to make voters doubt he could handle the job as president, but not quite frequent and persistent enough to convince Biden friends and allies that he should probably head for a quiet, well-earned retirement.

The whole thing is vaguely reminiscent of the questions about Hillary Clinton’s health during the 2016 campaign. The good news is, it is the end of August 2019 and Hillary Clinton is still alive and, as far as we know, in good health for a 71-year-old woman. But at an absolute minimum, when she was having intermittent coughing fits during her speeches, she had pneumonia and a sinus and ear infection, all while her staff insisted to the press that her health was fine. (Why would we be surprised that political candidates, who shake hands with strangers all day, would catch colds and other infections?) That video of her staff trying to get her into the van at Ground Zero was scary stuff. Maybe that incident added to voter doubts about her health, or maybe it just added to voter doubts that she and her campaign were being honest about her health.

Democrats would be fools to repeat that pattern of indignantly insisting the nominee is fine, right before something happens that shows the country that the nominee is not fine.

I hope Joe Biden is fine. He’s probably fine, or about as fine as he’s ever been. But if elected, on inauguration day 2021, Biden would be 78 years, 61 days old, the oldest sitting president. The second-oldest president at their inauguration was Trump at 70 years, 220 days; the third-oldest was Ronald Reagan at 69 years, 349 days. Questions like this about the condition of Biden’s body and mind are inevitable — and fair.

*You want to know which movie has an absolutely beautiful scene, out of nowhere, about living with someone with Alzheimer’s? Friends With Benefits, an otherwise mostly forgettable romantic comedy with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. Timberlake has a father whose Alzheimer’s is getting worse, and at one point he’s called to the airport, where his father has taken off his pants and is sitting at a restaurant table in his underwear. The other patrons are embarrassed and giving him awkward stares. Timberlake knows that telling his father to put on his pants on will just create a scene, and there’s no point in arguing with him. So he takes off his pants as well, sits down and orders a steak.

Now They Tell Us!

A CNN headline that ought to be remembered the next time someone proposes campaign finance reform to “get big money out of politics”: Tom Steyer learns, again, that money doesn’t always matter in politics. You would think high-profile examples like H. Ross Perot, Steve Forbes, and Michael Huffington would have taught people that spending a lot of money doesn’t always translate to a win in a hard-fought campaign.

Here Come the Kennedys, Yet Again

A little while back, I said that the Kennedy family might be better off if their members took a break from running for office. With a new survey showing Congressman Joe Kennedy ahead of Senator Ed Markey, 42 percent to 25 percent (!), it is unlikely that Kennedy will resist the temptation to run.

How can you be a relatively boring, not particularly controversial, loyal party man incumbent senator and be polling at just 25 percent in a primary poll? What, did Markey put a Yankee cap or something?

ADDENDA: It’s kind of amazing; people who are big fans of James Comey and big foes of President Trump think “Comey didn’t leak classified information” is all they need to say in response to yesterday’s IG report. That report was pretty damning! If you’re FBI director, you don’t get to pick and choose which Bureau rules and regulations you follow, but some people seem to believe that it’s okay for the FBI director to leak sensitive but unclassified information if he has as sufficiently low opinion of the president.


Kirsten Gillibrand and America’s Meritocracy

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D, N.Y.) waits to go on stage during her campaign kick off event in New York, March 24, 2019. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: As a presidential candidate, Kirsten Gillibrand never made much of a splash, but the crash and burn of her campaign offers quite a few lessons about the American meritocracy and how people perceive those at the top; Andy McCarthy asks a tough question about mercy; Bernie Sanders plans to restructure your life; and an unexpected but fitting reimagining of two of my favorite fictional characters.

Voters Saw Kirsten Gillibrand as Type-A Girl from High School

Kirsten Gillibrand is out of the presidential race. I’d like to think that Tuesday’s Corner post, declaring that she was only delaying the inevitable, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

What’s left to learn from the crash and burn of Gillibrand?

Go back to Gillibrand’s biography. If you had a daughter who was accepted to Dartmouth and studied two semesters abroad in Beijing and Taiwan, you would probably be pretty proud. If she got into UCLA law school, and then was accepted for internships in her senator’s office and at the United Nations in Vienna, Austria, you would be proud of that, too. If, after law school, she got hired by one of Manhattan’s oldest and most distinguished law firms, and went on to get selected for coveted law clerk positions, you would probably be bragging to the neighbors.

By a lot of standards, Gillibrand did what a bright and ambitious woman is supposed to do. In fact, by the standards of America’s self-labeled meritocratic elite, Gillibrand’s path to success is exactly what a young person is supposed to pursue. This comparison hasn’t been made much, but in this way she’s like Pete Buttigieg — the bright young son of professors at Notre Dame who is accepted to Harvard, moves on to Oxford, and immediately gets hired by McKinsey consulting. They’re both Type-A personalities with grades to match, carrying around golden resumes and heads full of answers that wow teachers, professors, and potential employers. Quite a few parents look at standout young people like this and wish their kids could be more like that.

America’s self-labeled meritocracy (please avert your eyes from all the nepotism, bourgeoisie readers, it’s gauche to bring it up) unsubtly turns all aspects of life into a competition. You want to get the best grades, get into the best school, study under the best professors, get the best internships, get the best jobs, get the highest salary, move into the best house, drive the best car, have the biggest portfolio . . . This isn’t new; America has long had a competitive sense of “keeping up with the Joneses.” It’s easy to understand why many Americans would grow to find this rarely openly expressed but almost omnipresent mindset unappealing. People sigh about “the rat race.” Seemingly high-achieving workers hit burnout. People dream of winning the lottery and moving to some sparsely populated island somewhere and “leaving it all behind.” People crave a sense of being valued for who they are, not just for their big salary, prestigious job, or fancy car. A seemingly endless stream of nonfiction and fiction works explore “the cost of the American dream.”

When you have a competition, there are usually going to be a few winners and a lot of people who “lose.” We conservatives have grumbled about “class envy” for a long time, but maybe some resentment is natural. People who have thrived in America’s “meritocracy” include Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Eric Schneiderman, Bernie Madoff, Jeffrey Skilling, Elizabeth Holmes. We’ve seen plenty of millionaires and self-proclaimed billionaires who turned out to be terrible human beings. We’ve seen plenty of celebrities demonstrate every repugnant behavior under the sun, to the point of self-destruction. Lots of people who are in the middle or bottom have reason to doubt the notion that the best really do rise to the top in America.

When Kirsten Gillibrand — super accomplished, $500,000-per-year lawyer — turned her attention and ambitions to the political world, the best opportunity to run for office was a purple district in the middle of New York state. The top-tier Manhattan lawyer might not seem like the perfect fit, but she adapted, her opponent got caught in a scandal, and she won.

There’s a particular circle of elite New York Democratic party and media voices who found Gillibrand to be exactly what they wanted; she had risen to the top, and other people at the top found her to be as close to perfect as they could imagine. Their swoon spurred those ridiculous-in-retrospect overestimations of her appeal as a presidential candidate: Politico (“Her moment has arrived”), GQ (“the most fearsome contender”), The New Yorker (“the new face of moral reform”), and Vogue (“she’s got newfound street cred among lefties and progressives”).

The swoon started soon after her appointment to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. I love making fun of Vogue’s 2017 profile of Gillibrand, but the gushing in the 2010 profile — entitled, “In Hillary’s Footsteps” — is pretty over-the-top, too:

“Gillibrand is nothing if not genuine, and through sheer force of personality she bends the occasion to suit her style, which is essentially folksy and earnest. She radiates kindness. But she is also direct and no-nonsense. Despite the fact that she is a Democrat (and a fairly progressive one, at that) and worked for fifteen years as a hotshot Manhattan lawyer, she seems utterly at ease among this crowd of mostly Republican farmers, with their rough hands and weathered faces.”

For some reason, Iowa and New Hampshire farmers did not find her as appealing.

Gillibrand kept getting compared to the character of Tracey Flick from Election, and perhaps that is indeed sexist. But let’s reexamine that character and that movie. On paper, the villain of the story is Matthew Broderick’s high school social studies teacher, who grows so infuriated and antagonistic to Reese Witherspoon’s Flick that he’s willing to try to cheat to ensure she doesn’t win the election for student body election. Technically, Flick is the victim in the story. But we, the audience, relate to Broderick. Flick is a fascinating but thoroughly unlikeable character, and she’s supposed to be one. At one point she declares, “I feel sorry for Mr. McAllister. I mean, anyone who’s stuck in the same little room, wearing the same stupid clothes, saying the exact same things year after year for all of his life, while his students go on to good colleges and move to big cities and do great things and make loads of money — he’s gotta be at least a little jealous. It’s like my mom says, the weak are always trying to sabotage the strong.” Tracey Flick doesn’t have much beyond her all-consuming ambition and determination, and probably the single most important characteristic is that we never see her actually caring about anyone besides herself, and perhaps the desire to make her mother proud. Why was Election a hit that is remembered and still referred to, two decades later? Because a lot of people knew high school class presidents who reminded them of Tracey Flick.

No doubt, Gillibrand cares about people. But her sudden about-face on a bunch of issues — gun ownership, gay marriage, how the government should treat illegal immigrants — probably raised questions in a lot of Democratic primary voters about just what Gillibrand cared about more than her political ambitions. As Ramesh observed, Gillibrand had so little ability to offer plausible explanations for her sudden reversals on policy that she claimed her previous support for gun rights was because she didn’t care enough about people then. As recently as October 2018, she had vehemently and publicly insisted she would not run for president.

Finally, let’s recognize that deep blue or deep red states may not be the best training camp for candidates who want to run nationally. Say what you want about Beto O’Rourke; at least he out-hustled some overconfident Democratic incumbents to win his city council and U.S. House seats. Gillibrand’s opponents in her career so far have been a bunch of tomato cans: incumbent Republican John Sweeney right after allegations of hitting his wife surfaced; former New York secretary of state Alexander Treadwell, who had never won an election in his life; former congressman Joe DioGuardi, who had not won an election in 24 years, and Wendy Long, who had never been elected to any office before. Her two House elections were in 2006 and 2008, two of the best years for Democrats in recent memory.

A source in that 2010 Vogue profile declared, “She can do the same thing on derivatives, comfortably rapping about financial markets. She walks into these huge churches in Brooklyn and Queens and starts talking about the asthma rates and the environmental-justice movement. It’s just her comfort level with so many subjects.” A lot of political writers convinced themselves that Gillibrand had an amazing ability to connect with people, an ability that was entirely missing from this presidential bid.

We Would Have More Faith if Mercy Didn’t Align So Well with Partisan Affiliation

Andy McCarthy, author of the excellent Ball of Collusion, this morning: “FBI and Justice Department officials keep telling us they grasp that there must be one standard of justice applicable to everyone, not a two-tiered system. So, here’s the question: If Andrew McCabe’s name were Michael Flynn, how much mercy could he expect from, say, Andrew Weissmann, [chief of the criminal fraud section of the U.S. Department of Justice]?”

Restructure This.

This morning, an Axios headline promises, Senator Bernie “Sanders’ plan to restructure your life.”

Don’t let the door hit you where the Good Lord split you, senator. The American people don’t need you or any other elected official to “restructure” their lives. That’s not the job of the federal government — or the state and local ones, either. Everything I described a few paragraphs ago about the relentless competitiveness of American life and our national not-quite meritocracy and the rat race — I don’t trust anyone in government to make any of that better.

ADDENDA: A reader of Between Two Scorpions says the two married protagonists reminded him of Chip and Joanna Gaines, from HGTV’s Fixer Upper. I never pictured that, and yet somehow, it fits.


You Should at Least Read My Column before Writing a Hit Piece

President Donald Trump talks to reporters at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 30, 2019. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A not-so-persuasive accusation of “traveling fantastically creative routes to reach the sunny side of Trump” and a lesson from the world of comic books that probably applies to political columns; Trump orders his staff to build new border fences quickly, regardless of the consequences; and a new poll suggests that surprising Monmouth poll wasn’t at all accurate.

I Suppose This Means I’m ‘Fantastically Creative,’ in a Way

Frank Bruni of the New York Times writes, “‘Even Trump’s Supporters Are Getting Tired of His Daily Drama’ was the headline on Jim Geraghty’s Monday column in National Review, which sometimes travels fantastically creative routes to reach the sunny side of Trump.”

“Travels fantastically creative routes to reach the sunny side of Trump”? Is he referring to National Review as a whole, or me? And if he means me . . . has he read me?

If he’s referring to National Review as a whole, he realizes this is a publication that runs a variety of writers, right? We run Conrad Black and Kevin Williamson, Jay Nordlinger and David French, Victor Davis Hanson and Kat Timpf. And there are a bunch of our writers like Ramesh Ponnuru and the boss who probably should be classified somewhere in the middle, praising the president when he deserves it and criticizing him when he’s earned that, too. And we’ve got a bunch of extremely talented writers who weigh in on the president only intermittently. The cheapest, dumbest, least-accurate “you’re flip-flopping” or “you’re hypocrites” or “you’ve sold out” argument is when someone juxtaposes the “Against Trump” issue with some issue with a pro-Trump cover piece – say, “A Year of Achievement” — and insists that everyone associated with the magazine changed our minds.

Is looking at the bylines just too much effort? Or are there just a lot of numbskulls out there who believe that ever praising the president for anything he ever does somehow invalidates your criticism of him, and vice versa?

I never liked Trump’s character or how he sees the job on the presidency — talk-radio-caller-in-chief, don’t-bother-him-with-policy-details, demagogue-when-convenient — but I like some of the policies. I like almost all of the judicial nominations. I like tax cuts. I like rolling back federal regulations. I’m glad ISIS has been beaten to a pulp, if not completely eliminated. I like Right to Try for those facing terminal illnesses. I like the majority of the criminal-justice-reform legislation, particularly the anti-recidivism programs in federal prisons. I like getting rid of the individual mandate to purchase health insurance. I like keeping foreign aid money from paying for abortions. I want a secure border and concur with the Customs and Border Patrol that additional miles of barriers, or “bollard fence,” or whatever you prefer to call it is part of the solution (but not the entire solution). I like that the United States is now the world’s largest oil producer and a net natural-gas exporter, while our carbon emissions are declining slightly. I like blowing up Syrian air bases when Assad uses chemical weapons. I like NATO allies spending more on defense.

I also think that Trump only says variations of about six thingsI am the greatest, that good thing that happened was because of me, it’s not my fault, my critics are terrible people, here’s a version of history that I just made up in my head, and look at that woman’s appearance. He’s got no business lecturing anybody else about loyalty, and he’s easily fooled by sycophantic idiots; his attacks on critics cross the line into racism; he has indeed stoked xenophobic attitudes in this country, in part because he’s never contradicted his supporters’ belief that citizenship is conditional; he has the impulse control of a sugar-filled toddler; he constantly blames others for his own bad decisions; and he seems wildly naïve in his dealings with Kim Jong-un and certain other dictators.

I have an often-irritating president who gives me some of what I want — or who will at least sign some of what I want into law — up against a variety of options who pledge to give me almost nothing I want, and who are promising to repeal the things I like. I don’t particularly like this status quo, but I prefer it to a Bolshevik Revolution or turning our already-too-divided society into an endless status competition of woker-than-thou.

If I write one Corner post praising Trump for some decision, and another Corner post criticizing the president in the same day, you will often see my Twitter mentions full of people denouncing me as a racist xenophobic MAGA-head fascist Trump suck-up, alongside those denouncing me for being an elitist, out-of-touch, RINO, Acela-corridor, squishy soy-boy cuck. (I’d really love to see these people get together and hash it out amongst themselves . . . someplace far away from me.)

It is a sad state of modern political commentary that to a considerable number of readers, whatever you wrote most recently is the only thing you’ve ever written, and the only thing they ever need to read to reach dramatic conclusions about you. (Until they forget about it, and read the next thing you write, and love what you wrote because it reaffirms their pre-existing beliefs.)

I suppose I shouldn’t grumble too much. I’ve been reading a lot about the comic-book industry lately, and Jim Shooter, the editor at Marvel for many years, used to insist to writers that every issue of a comic book series was some reader’s first issue. Thus, every issue should be an “entry” point to the story, even if it was the second, third, or fourth part of a four-part story. Thus, the opening pages had to have at minimum a quick explanation of who everyone was, and ideally a reintroduction to each character, his or her goals, his or her powers, how they got to that moment, etcetera. Writers had to create a story that could be understandable to someone who had zero familiarity with the characters, setting, previous plot developments, etc. at any point.

(You see this in movies and television, too. The episode begins with the characters climbing a mountain and one asks, “why are we doing this again?” and another character explains — more to the audience than to the other character —  “because we received a mysterious letter that warned that a magic scroll was hidden in the secret temple just beyond Impassible Pass in the Ominous Mountains and that if we didn’t get to the scroll before the Brotherhood of Generic Badguys gets to it, the world will be doomed, blah blah blah . . .”)

Every column is some reader’s first. I can only imagine what someone thinks if this one is their introduction to me.

Trump: Build the Fence and Ask Questions Later

The Washington Post reports, “President Trump is so eager to complete hundreds of miles of border fence ahead of the 2020 presidential election that he has directed aides to fast-track billions of dollars’ worth of construction contracts, aggressively seize private land and disregard environmental rules, according to current and former officials involved with the project.”

In some circles, this is a critical article about the president. I suspect that Trump 2020 is tempted to send it out as a press release.

Theory: The voters who care the most about “building the wall” will be reassured by Trump’s declarations that he is building the wall and will take him at his word that he will finish the wall in his second term. The Ann Coulters and Mark Krikorians of the world, who pay attention to the details of policy and what’s actually been done, are relatively rare.

Separately, how should we count replacing fencing that is dilapidated? No, that’s not new fencing or border barriers. But it’s putting up a barrier that is either impassable or much more difficult to overcome, where previously people could climb, sneak through, or otherwise penetrate.

This Just Handed to Me, Joe Biden Is Still Ahead

Hey, remember when Monday’s Monmouth poll freaked a lot of people out and spurred some race-watches to contend that Joe Biden had lost his lead? This morning the new survey from USA Today has Biden at 32 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 14 percent, Bernie Sanders at 12 percent, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris, each at 6 percent, and businessman Andrew Yang at 3 percent.

Some people get irked when you point out that a small-sample poll with a surprising result is probably an outsider.

Hey, good for Yang, right? He can legitimately argue he’s in sixth place in a 21-candidate race.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it yesterday, a Corner post that bugged a lot of people,  Kirsten Gillibrand delays the inevitable, and Bernie Sanders offers some kind words about the Chinese government.

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