White House

The Trump-Koch Alliance of Convenience Starts to Split

David H. Koch (1940–2019) (Carlo Allegri / Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The functional alliance between the Koch network and the Trump administration always ran on good policy outcomes, and once that ended, a split was inevitable; Washington’s lobbyists and bureaucrats live down to their worst reputations; and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes makes a revealing comment about the audience’s interest in climate change.

The Trump-Koch Alliance of Convenience Starts to Split Apart

President Trump began his morning fuming about the Koch brothers:

The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade. I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas. They love my Tax & Regulation Cuts, Judicial picks & more. I made them richer. Their network is highly overrated, I have beaten them at every turn. They want to protect their companies outside the U.S. from being taxed, I’m for America First & the American Worker — a puppet for no one. Two nice guys with bad ideas. Make America Great Again!

It’s hard to be “highly overrated” when you win most of your battles. In 2016, seven of eight Koch-backed Senate Republicans and 96 percent of all Koch-backed candidates nationwide won on Election Day. The Koch network spent $250 million in that cycle but effectively sat out the presidential race, as Charles Koch summarized the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as the choice between “cancer or a heart attack.”

What probably has Trump so irked, besides the past criticism, is the network’s announcement that they would not support GOP representative Kevin Cramer in his race to unseat vulnerable Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota. The network is upset that Cramer supported a $1.3 trillion spending measure in March, he’s taken a very measured tone in his discussion of the administration’s trade tariffs, and earlier this month he “commended the President for instructing the USDA to give our farmers a safety net during this short term uncertainty” — in other words, more government spending.

Let’s get real. North Dakota is one of the cheapest states to run a Senate campaign. In 2012, Heidi Heitkamp and Rick Berg spent a combined $11.7 million. In 2012, the average winner alone spent $10.2 million. The only poll since February put Cramer up by four. This isn’t likely to hurt Cramer that much, nor alter the odds of Republicans controlling the Senate significantly. This is the lowest-cost, minimally consequential “shot across the bow” that the Koch network can throw at the Republican party.

One of the things that separates the Koch network from other political groups is that they don’t just swoop in with television advertising in the closing months of a campaign. At their twice-yearly conferences, they like to tout their “permanent grassroots infrastructure in 36 states.” Americans for Prosperity is the most visible arm of the network, but in recent years others have sprung up: the Libre Initiative, aimed at America’s Latino communities; Generation Opportunity, which focuses on Millennials; Concerned Veterans for America, which addresses veterans’ issues; and Stand Together, which endeavors to build social capital.

One of my recurring irritations with coverage of the Koch network is that a lot of correspondents don’t really understand the Koch network philosophy, which will overlap with the Trump administration’s on issues such as taxes and regulation but have massive differences on trade and immigration. As I put it earlier this year, the Kochs are libertarians, and a particular kind of communitarian libertarian, if that doesn’t seem too contradictory. Their passions are for reducing the size of government, promoting entrepreneurship, solving social problems through community organizations, and, particularly this year, criminal-justice reform and anti-recidivism programs in prisons.

Some traditional libertarian causes aren’t really on their radar screen because not all donors share the Kochs’ libertarianism. At their conferences, you won’t hear much about government surveillance, the joys of legal drugs or the Second Amendment; those topics just aren’t their thing. It’s also not clear how uniformly socially conservative their donors are; if you drew a Venn diagram of the Koch-network donors and the attendees of, say, the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual meeting, you probably wouldn’t see a huge overlap.

Back in January, I wrote that the Koch agenda and Trump administration agenda were aligning more than either side expected — lower taxes, rolling back regulations, excellent judicial nominations. But a lot can change in six months. The administration has charged full speed ahead on tariffs and trade wars and is talking up $12 billion in aid to farmers. The deficit is likely to hit $1 trillion this year and for several years to come, a spending habit that we had hoped to have left behind in the early Obama years. The hopes for any immigration reform are pretty much kaput, and the separation of children from parents at the border doesn’t align with the Koch hope for an immigration policy that “treats everyone with dignity.” Entitlement reform is off the table, and congressional Republicans show little appetite for a broad-based reform agenda. At their meetings, most members of the network make clear that they find nothing to like in Trump’s incendiary comments and Twitter tirades. Good policy kept them on board, not his style.

In February, I wrote “Trump and the Kochs aren’t friends, they’re allies of convenience. And if the Kochs start to believe Trump endangers their vision of a society of maximized freedom and minimal barriers to pursuing the American dream, that alliance will break quickly.”

Well . . . here we are.

Lobbyists and Bureaucrats, Living Down to Their Reputation

This morning brings two more stories that illustrate why Washington is still a swamp, and why the disdain from the rest of the country is well-earned.

A comment from Politico’s morning newsletter, about the incentives for top-tier lobbyists, as revealed by the Paul Manafort indictment:

Blue chip clients — Fortune 500 companies, and the like — used to shell out massive retainers to lobbyists for basic government-relations work. No longer. So many lobbyists who want to keep up their high-flying lifestyle or make their corporate overlords happy have gone overseas to represent despots and strongmen who are willing to pay piles of dough because they have massive reputational problems and have a hard time finding someone willing to take up their cause in the U.S.

FOREIGN CLIENTS are often willing to pay ten times the fees for a sliver of the work. That’s created a skewed incentive structure that encourages operatives to take work from unsavory figures.

— WHILE UNSAVORY, IT’S ATTRACTIVE WORK. Countries fly American lobbyists all over the world in first class. They pay huge sums. They treat these influence peddlers like royalty. Tony Podesta saw himself as a man about the globe. Who wouldn’t like that?

Who wouldn’t like that? Oh, I don’t know, anybody with enough of a functioning conscience to be troubled by working for infamous dictators and brutal regimes? I mean, if the Islamic State had wanted a lobbyist and offered to finance a “man about the globe” lifestyle, would you take the money? “You have to see the luxury condo in Raqqa that they’re offering!”

Meanwhile, over in the civil service . . .

The personnel chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency — who resigned just weeks ago — is under investigation after being accused of creating an atmosphere of widespread sexual harassment over years in which women were hired as possible sexual partners for male employees, the agency’s leader said Monday.

Your tax dollars at work! Notice this is a guy hired in 2011 from the U.S. Secret Service, and the alleged repulsive behavior goes back to 2015; the article quotes officials as saying, “Many of the men and women Coleman hired were unqualified yet are still at the agency.” (Lots of unqualified workers at FEMA? Hey, what’s the worst that can happen?)

This is not a Trump scandal; this is not an Obama scandal. This is a “federal workers behaving badly, for a long time, in a way that a lot of people know and can see, with zero accountability” scandal.

Gee, if only someone had written a book about why the federal bureaucracy is the way it is . . . and if only the Trump appointees, so full of hopes to overhaul how government works, had read it.

A Revealing Quote about Climate-Change Coverage

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, discussing coverage of climate change and global warming: “Almost without exception, every single time we’ve covered [it], it’s been a palpable ratings killer.” Now, just think, this is an MSNBC audience, which presumably agrees with the arguments and believes in climate change. This is the television-news audience most inclined to watch segments discussing the issue. And Chris Hayes sees a “palpable” change in his ratings over it.

I could be wrong, but I suspect it’s because a lot of climate-change coverage offers the same predictable and usually deeply depressing themes, even if you agree with the scientific consensus: 1) The situation is terrible and it’s too late to really make any meaningful difference. 2) It’s all the fault of those people — those who drive SUVs, eat Big Macs, the Trump administration, coal miners. Environmental coverage rarely emphasizes that the wealthy elites in the audience — say, people who fly on airplanes frequently — add to carbon emissions.

I notice we don’t see a lot of cable news segments about the ticking time bomb of entitlement programs, and too many retirees and not enough workers. So maybe it’s just that television-news viewers don’t like hearing about problems that they think won’t affect them for a long while.

ADDENDUM: Bloomberg serves up a map showcasing how the United States uses its land, and inadvertently reveals the awesome power of Big Maple Syrup.

White House

The Liberal Faith in the Inevitability of Impeachment

A woman holds signs against Steve Bannon and encouraging the impeachment of Trump and Pence during a protest of Donald Trump’s travel ban at the International terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, January 28, 2017. (Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters)

I would inform you that President Trump is raging about special counsel Robert Mueller on Twitter again, but then you would shrug and conclude that the news is in reruns this morning.

This is the 440th day of the Mueller investigation. No doubt, the former FBI director is working the highest of high-stakes investigations, with enormous consequences for everything from the presidency to U.S.–Russian relations to Silicon Valley, and sorting all of that out will take time. There’s little to no room for error; the president and his allies will seize on any mistake, misstep, unsupported assertion, or legal setback. No one outside the investigation really knows whether it’s wrapping up or whether there’s still a lot of work ahead, and no one knows whether Mueller will turn in his final report before or after the midterm elections.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s trial starts Tuesday. USA Today summarizes the charges:

The multicount indictment against Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign manager, alleges two kinds of crimes: 1) hiding from U.S. authorities, including the IRS, millions of dollars in payments for work on behalf of the pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and then-President Viktor Yanukovych; and 2) falsifying applications for loans from banks after Yanukovych was deposed and Manafort’s income plunged precipitously, imperiling his extravagant lifestyle.

You notice that all of that . . . doesn’t really involve Trump, other than the egregious judgment to hire someone involved in that sort of muck, and we’ve been making fun of Trump’s “I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people” since the days of Corey Lewandowski, Omarosa Manigault, and Steve Bannon.

Former U.S. attorney Harry Litman writes that a conviction of Manafort would undermine Trump’s “witch hunt” argument, but . . . let’s face it, people’s opinions of Mueller are more or less determined by their opinions of Trump. There aren’t a lot of fierce Trump critics who don’t approve of Mueller, and there aren’t many enthusiastic Trump fans who think Mueller’s doing a fine job.

A few weeks ago, CBS late night host James Corden did a funny little sketch and song parody playing Mueller, and singer Shaggy played Trump — with parody lyrics to Shaggy’s song, “It Wasn’t Me,” an ode to implausible denials of cheating.

(I didn’t realize until now that Shaggy is a Marine who served in the Persian Gulf War. Thank you for your service, Shaggy.)

It ends with Corden-as-Mueller singing, “They may say I take too long, and my probe is a giant fail, but stay tuned, my investigation’s putting Donald Trump in jail,” and the sketch concludes with FBI agents taking Trump away in handcuffs.

I wonder how many people — particularly the not-tuned-in Trump haters — think that is how this is going to work. Mueller enjoyed a long and distinguished career at the FBI, taking over the bureau a week before 9/11, but he barely permeated the public consciousness in that role. Now he’s being portrayed as the ultimate no-nonsense tough guy by Robert De Niro on Saturday Night Live. How many Americans think that once Mueller issues his final report, this will be resolved quickly and neatly like a Scooby-Doo episode, with a mask being pulled off and everyone gasping, “It was Old Man Putin all along!”

For what it’s worth, back in April, the Washington Post reported that Mueller informed President Trump’s attorneys that he was a “subject” of the investigation but not a “target.” And remember that Mueller’s report is not public information — at least not at first. Mueller turns it in to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — you know, the guy that a faction of House Republicans want to impeach — and then Rosenstein has to decide what to do with it. He also has to make decisions about redactions of classified materials and grand-jury proceedings that are, traditionally, not released to the public. Mueller’s report is not likely to be short, and the decisions about what to redact are not likely to be simple or undisputed.

And all of this is just to get to the public disclosure of what Mueller found. To actually remove President Trump from office, his foes would need a majority of votes in the House — not so difficult if Democrats win control in the midterm elections — but then they would need two-thirds of the U.S. Senate to vote to remove Trump from office. Maybe some Senate Republicans would vote to impeach Trump if Mueller presents an airtight, scathing, absolutely indisputable account of criminal behavior on the part of Trump himself.

(Can we all agree that if Mueller doesn’t come back with airtight, scathing, absolutely indisputable evidence of crimes by Trump, it doesn’t exist? Does anyone want to argue that Mueller is rushing the job, or leaving stones unturned? De Niro is playing Mueller as U.S. Marshall Samuel Gerard right now; I don’t want to see arguments that Mueller is really Inspector Clouseau or Mister Magoo if he disappoints liberals.)

Short of that indisputable evidence, most GOP senators are not going to go along with what their grassroots supporters see as an attempt to undo the 2016 presidential election.

In other words, short of that airtight case, an impeachment vote in the Senate is likely to fail, offering something similar to the Clinton impeachment — a case where the president’s critics are convinced he committed crimes and escaped serious consequence, and the president’s supporters are convinced he was unfairly targeted by a partisan vendetta and a prosecutor who was determined to claim a scalp.

Corden’s audience laughed and applauded as “Trump” was taken away in handcuffs — but how do liberals react when they realize that their long-awaited, elaborately fantasized dream scenario won’t happen?

We’ve been here before. From 2005 to 2008, there were plenty of furious liberal voices who believed that President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and adviser Karl Rove would all be arrested for terrible crimes. Vermont Democratic senator Patrick Leahy argued that the United States needed a post-Apartheid South Africa–style “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to review the cavalcade of alleged crimes and horrors of the Bush years. In May, The New Republic ran a cover story calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the Trump years.

In the minds of many liberals, every Republican presidency ranks among history’s greatest injustices and terrors.

Mercy, Mercy Me

Former attorney general and potential 2020 presidential candidate Eric Holder weighed in on the issue of separating illegal-immigrant children from their parents at the border again, posting on Twitter an image of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the quote, “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”

It’s a powerful quotation from the former president, as long as you avert your eyes from the 120,000 Japanese Americans forced into internment camps during the Second World War or the thousands of Jewish refugees turned away and forced to return to Europe.

It’s time for government to be kind, says the attorney general whose Department of Justice oversaw the Fast and Furious scandal, subpoenaed the phone records of reporters, named reporters co-conspirators in leak cases, and approved a drone strike on a U.S. citizen. (Anwar al-Awlaki had it coming, but using military force to execute an American citizen without a trial is a pretty dangerous precedent to set.)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your 2020 Fundraising Engines

Michael Scherer of the Washington Post looks at the shadow fundraising campaign among Democrats thinking of a 2020 bid and finds this revealing quote from a former Obama official:

“I would say you have to have a path to raising at least $15 [million] or $20 million in that first quarter,” said Julianna Smoot, a Democratic consultant who oversaw then-Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 fundraising effort. “And I think there may be four or five who will be able to do that.”

The first quarter of the 2020 cycle is March 31, 2019 . . . 245 days from now, about eight months. This means a serious Democratic candidate will need to raise about $2 million a month, starting now.

Except . . . the Democrats will have a lot of not-so-serious candidates, and for that matter, you may see some not-so-serious Republican challengers to Trump, and not-so-serious independent or third-party bids.

ADDENDA: A new poll from CBS News finds that two-thirds of Republicans support federal payments to farmers adversely affected by tariff disputes, while 78 percent of Democrats oppose them.

So if I don’t want more big-spending government entitlement programs . . . am I a Democrat now?

Politics & Policy

Mark Zuckerberg’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill, April 11, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Happy Friday! Making the click-through worthwhile: some spectacular new economic numbers are unveiled, while polling shows Democrats believe the economy is getting worse; Facebook crashes on the rocks; and North Korea shows another small sign of good faith.

Enjoy the Trump-Era Economic Boom!

The U.S Department of Commerce unveiled some really good economic numbers this morning: “[The U.S.] gross domestic product grew at a solid 4.1 percent pace in the second quarter, its best pace since 2014, boosting hopes that the economy is ready to break out of its decade-long slumber.”

The question is, how much of this nice figure stems from a one-time burst from a “get-exports-in-before-the-tariffs-start” mentality? “In addition to the rise in consumer and business spending, increases in exports and government spending also helped. Exports rose in part as farmers rushed to get soybeans to China ahead of expected retaliatory tariffs to take effect in the coming days. Declines in private inventory investment and residential fixed investment were the main drags, the report said.”

Public perceptions of the economy are pretty good, according to the Gallup poll . . .

The economy is Americans’ top response when asked to name the “most important thing going well” in the U.S. today, showing the flip side of Gallup’s list of the “most important problems” facing the nation. Economic factors are cited by 37% of Americans as what is going most well. The social climate, including social awareness, civic activism and the “resistance” movement, is the next-largest category of responses, at 17%, followed by the 12% saying “nothing” or “not much” is going well.

According to the poll, 55% of Americans believe U.S. economic conditions are excellent or good, and the same percentage perceive the economy to be improving.

But considering the unemployment rate and these numbers . . . those figures seem a little low.

Almost 20 percent of Democrats told Gallup the economy was doing “poorly” and another 45 percent said it was performing “only fair.” Among Democrats, 60 percent said the economy was “getting worse.”

They just can’t possibly admit that the guy they didn’t vote for is getting something right, can they?

Trust Me, You Had a Better Week Than Mark Zuckerberg Did

Bad week? Lots of rain? Can’t wait for summer vacation? Trust me, you had a better week than Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The 19 percent drop vaporized $119 billion of the company’s stock-market value; CEO Mark Zuckerberg saw his net worth fall by roughly $16 billion as a result. It was Facebook’s worst trading day since going public in 2012; the collapse eclipsed Intel’s decline of $91 billion in September 2000, without adjusting for inflation.

Market analysts say the stunning drop is mostly a matter of missed earnings and a sense that Facebook’s growth has plateaued. The problems facing the company, in particular European- privacy laws starting to constrain the company’s ability to target particular groups of consumers for advertisers, are getting bigger. Investors figure they might as well sell, since the peak has probably passed.

Political pressure alone doesn’t explain a crash like this, but it is probably not merely coincidence that the crash comes at a time when the company has no friends on the political spectrum.

Some Democrats want to believe that the couple million that Russian entities spent on social media in 2016 made the difference in the election. (Never mind that roughly one quarter of their Facebook ads were never seen by anyone.)

A more compelling argument against Facebook is that 2016 demonstrated the company was mercenary — they didn’t care who was buying the ads, didn’t look into who was buying them, and had no real problem being manipulated by a foreign-intelligence service as long as the checks cleared.

If corporate America seems more jittery and politically correct as the Trump era progresses instead of less, perhaps that’s the real lesson that they learned from the 2016 shock: When the Democratic party’s grassroots, leaders, and media allies are looking for a scapegoat, they will find one and they will not be too picky about whether the scapegoat status is deserved or not.  Once Democrats find a reason to believe you’re to blame for Trump, you’re in trouble, and to hell with the facts.

Republicans don’t think that Facebook is on their side, either. They’ve heard too many stories of somebody’s account being suspended or groups being banned for vague or implausible reasons. Former Facebook workers said they routinely suppressed certain topics that conservatives found interesting, such as CPAC, Mitt Romney, or Glenn Beck. They allowed the 2012 Obama campaign to use data from users without their consent, the same act that has Cambridge Analytica in so much trouble.

A quick scan of headlines about Facebook shows that the company built something amazing and far-reaching but didn’t really figure out how to manage it — as if it had put a newspaper printing press and vast network of street-corner distribution racks in the hands of every user. They trusted their users, and some users abused that trust.  On a site like Amazon or eBay, if a user promises to deliver something and doesn’t, frustrated buyers can leave public complaints and one-star reviews, and discourage others. For “fake news” . . . there isn’t the same system of self-policing.

That’s because nobody likes it when they order a widget and it doesn’t arrive . . . but some of us kind of like “fake news.” We like a glimpse of a world where our side is even more noble and righteous and the other side is even more openly corrupt, malevolent, and incompetent. Some of us want to believe, and are eager to share it with the Facebook friend or neighbor who strikes us as everything we can’t stand about the other side.

Fake profiles are proliferating faster than they can be recognized and shut down.

Facebook tried to set up a policy of blocking advertisements that depict nudity . . . and accidentally banned a tourism campaign for the Belgian city of Flanders, because it featured nude paintings from the Rubens House Museum. (I guess you could say the anti-nudity policy is . . .Baroque-en.)

(Apparently there’s no amount of financial pressure that can get Facebook to simply switch back to the old system of showing posts in reverse chronological order.)

Mike Allen, who composes that other morning newsletter, writes this morning,“People who invested in utopian visions are beginning to feel bait-and-switched.”

Gee, there’s no historical precedent for that, now is there?

Look Who’s Playing Nice as the Week Progresses . . .

Huh. Another small, but significant example of North Korea keeping a promise after the Singapore summit.

Remains believed to be those of 55 American servicemen were flown out of North Korea on Friday, the first visible result of President Trump’s efforts to bring the American war dead home 65 years after the end of combat in the Korean War.

“We are encouraged by North Korea’s actions and the momentum for positive change,” the White House said in announcing the handover.

An American Air Force C-17 Globemaster cargo plane carrying the remains landed later at Osan Air Base south of Seoul, the South Korean capital. Hundreds of American service members as well as a military honor guard lined up on the tarmac to mark the return of the fallen troops.

As the honor guard and the troops stood at attention, 55 small coffins containing the remains were individually carried out of the plane by dress-uniformed soldiers and loaded into six vans. Each of the boxes was wrapped with the United Nations flag, the flag that American troops fought under in the Korean War.

We’re still a long way from the preeminent goal of U.S. policy — a North Korea that doesn’t have nuclear weapons. But there have been no test detonations, no test missile launches, one facility reportedly dismantled, and now the returned remains. This is, all things considered, the easy stuff — but it is progress.

ADDENDA: How long until we start touting Maryland’s GOP governor Larry Hogan as a Scott Walker-style triumphant conqueror? Maryland Democrats used to be nearly impossible to beat; now their gubernatorial nominee, Ben Jealous, is struggling to keep everybody on the same page:

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett is declining to endorse Jealous for now because of concerns that Jealous’s positions on taxes, school funding and Amazon.com’s second headquarters would penalize Leggett’s constituents in the state’s most populous jurisdiction.

Long-serving Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (Calvert), an influential moderate, offered only tepid backing for Jealous while praising Hogan for “governing from the middle.”

Other top Maryland Democrats, while voicing strong support for Jealous, disagree with him on issues such as his support for state-based, single-payer health care. They include U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (Anne Arundel), all of whom say they favor the goal of universal health care but question whether Maryland can afford it.


Woke Culture

The Controversy over Controversy

Writer and director James Gunn poses at the world premiere of Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” in Hollywood, California, April 19, 2017 (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

It wasn’t that long ago — the 90s? — when controversy and being “edgy” was practically a requirement in popular culture.

You could start the day awakening to wacky, occasionally off-color “Morning Zoo” radio hosts on your clock radio and end it with an HBO series that pushed the envelope of the language, sex, or violence portrayed in a drama series. In between, your hours could be filled with Howard Stern, the furious voices of some corners of conservative talk radio, and hip-hop lyrics that its fans insisted were a form of nonfiction narrative about urban black culture but that usually seemed to offer a uncomfortably sympathetic portrayal of gang members, drug dealers, and pimps. Beyond hip-hop, the easiest way to stand out on MTV was to have the network either refuse to air your video as is or demand it be edited.

If you tuned in to stand-up comedians, at least half, if not more, were working “blue.” Only once in a great while did one of the crasser voices wear out their welcome, like Andrew Dice Clay. If you went to the cineplex, there was at least one Tarantino-inspired quasi-“independent” film featuring violence, sex, vulgar language, and a generally nihilist attitude. Even children’s entertainment got “edgy.” Ren and Stimpy featured fart jokes and lessons like “Don’t Whiz on the Electric Fence.” Don’t like Demi Moore’s naked-pregnant cover of Vanity Fair? Then there’s Madonna on the cover of Esquire in a dog collar and bra. Don’t like that? Oh, here’s Britney Spears in a Lolita-esque pose on the cover of Rolling Stone. Oh, you think that was as offensive as we could get? Here’s Kanye West in a crown of thorns on the cover of the same magazine.

A few years back, I wrote about the edgy “I say the things that are true that no one else will” persona:

You’ve seen this style of television personality before. We saw it in 1990s-era Dennis Miller, and Denis Leary’s old stand-up persona, and more or less Bill Maher today. This is not a comparison of their quality, just their tone and attitude: I’m the guy who’s got the guts to tell it like it is, whether you like it or not. In the sports world, we’ve seen it from Jim Rome and more recently, Colin Cowherd, who may have gotten me to yell “YOU ARE COMPLETELY WRONG” at my car radio more than any other host. For a while, Glenn Beck’s old CNN show offered billboards with a slightly obscured “Cut the cr*p” slogan.

Regardless of whether you liked any of these offerings, they represented a very big cultural change. Instead of avoiding taboos, entertainers steered towards them, hit the accelerator, and attempted to crash through the barrier. Once in a while, someone like Sinead O’Connor would step over the line and encounter a consequential backlash. The tawdry Showgirls crashed, although it gained a fan base for its purported so-amazingly-bad-it’s-entertaining qualities. Roseanne Barr wore out her original welcome for her egregious national anthem antics.

Now, seemingly all of a sudden, edgy is bad. Very, very bad, or at least, very risky. Your controversial statements now might spur a furious reaction on social media, a threatened boycott, and make your advertisers nervous. Your movie’s sex scene is exploitational — and let’s face it, a segment of the audience now wonders if a casting couch was involved in the creation of the film. Your minor one-joke supporting character now is accused of being an ethnic stereotype.

And apparently there’s no statute of limitations. Hollywood Reporter columnist Marc Bernardin points out that the current mentality — where year-old tweets can mean instant termination if they’re bad enough, regardless of how you treat people in real life — does not allow people to make awful decisions and learn from them and become better.

Is the content of those past tweets revolting? Absolutely. Undeniably. And Gunn, now 51, was in his 40s when he sent them, hardly a kid. But so long as there has been no actual criminal activity, there has to be a difference between who a person was and who a person is. And we have to allow for the fact that people can change.

Roseanne Barr is the kind of person who dresses up in a Hitler costume and threatens to bake Jews in an oven. She is the kind of person who fires off racist tweets and conspiracy theories. Jeffrey Tambor is someone who creates a hostile work environment on the sets of his television shows. You fire that person today for something she or he did yesterday. 

What’s weird is that the culture is moving in two different directions in its thinking about crimes and punishment simultaneously. On both sides of the aisle, we’re seeing a policy push for criminal-justice reform and prison reform — and a sense that people who have made bad decisions and broken the law need a path to a better way, in addition to punishment. Advocates for reform like to point out that about 95 percent of all state prisoners will be released someday, so we might as well put some effort into helping them stay away from the criminal life and bad decisions. If our country is indeed founded upon and sustained by Judeo-Christian values, we can’t just ignore the redemption part.

But a certain segment of society doesn’t feel there’s any path of redemption for those who commit thought crimes. There doesn’t seem to be much of a “medium” setting for bad decisions, particularly in the realm of social media. There’s no penalty box, paid or unpaid leave, counseling, community service, or fines. Usually the consequence jumps straight to termination and presumably a struggle to find different work in obscurity. Social media can galvanize and accelerate outrage, but it sure hasn’t figured out how to do the same for forgiveness.

(Chris Brown still walks the streets a free man, right? He pled guilty to felony assault on Rihanna in 2009. Anybody in the music industry refusing to work with him? How does the outrage mob nail Brendan Eich and James Damore but leave Brown unscathed?)

Sonny Bunch points out that many of these outrage mobs generate those instant, perhaps-panicked firings by threatening boycotts, and he has his doubts that those boycotts will ever come to fruition if an employer chose to stand by a controversial figure.

Corporations are so used to caving without a fight in order to avoid a few bad headlines that we don’t really have any idea if social-media boycott campaigns of mega-popular entities — an actual refusal to hand over money for goods and services — would really make a dent in anyone’s bottom line.

This will take a little backbone, and lord knows corporations don’t exactly have a surfeit of vertebrae. But it’s worth trying out if only as a means of breaking the cycle of stupidity. The next time a mob — conservative, liberal, nihilist, whatever — comes for one of your employees, refuse to play along until you see how serious they are.

Guys, You Can’t Use NATO Troops as a Bargaining Chip

The fairest point in Michael Brendan Dougherty’s column, disagreeing with myself and several other NR contributors on the value of NATO:

Also, NATO lately makes decisions on military matters for non-military reasons. The U.S. State Department recently protested Poland’s recent law on Holocaust scholarship by threatening to redeploy NATO troops and resources outside of Poland. Why? Either the troops had a strategic reason to be stationed in Poland, or they did not. NATO is a either a military alliance to deter Russia, or it is a political project to deter central European populists.

Dougherty’s weakest point is the argument that Montenegro “offers no significant military or intelligence capability to the alliance and its financial contributions will not be noticed.”  That’s true enough as it goes, but the decision to welcome Montenegro into NATO had little to do with its military and a lot to do with its tiny stretch of coastline on the Adriatic Sea. Look around the Adriatic: Croatia’s a member of NATO, Albania’s a member, Slovenia, Italy, Greece . . . Until recently, everybody around that body of water was in NATO except one. And guess who noticed?

“Russia’s interest in Montenegro heightened several years ago. As the reliability of its naval base in Tartus, Syria became less certain, Russia began seeking alternatives. In September 2013, the Russian government requested a meeting with the Montenegrin Ministry of Defense to discuss the temporary moorage of Russian warships at the ports of Bar and Kotor,” Tuesday’s report reads. “By Moscow’s proposal, Russian ships would dock under a privileged status that would allow for the extensive use of territorial waters.”

Geography turned Montenegro into a prize. Had Russia signed an alliance with it, Russian ships would be able to sail into the Adriatic and dock in Montenegro’s ports . . .and use that as a way to keep a naval presence in the Adriatic and keep an eye on NATO’s members around there. NATO brought Montenegro in to keep the Russians out.

Is having Montenegro as a member of the alliance worth it? NATO’s naval chiefs seem to think so.

If You Outlaw Straws, Only Outlaws Will Have Straws

Really, how difficult would it be to become an illegal plastic straw cartel kingpin?

As bans on plastic straws are cropping up in municipalities up and down the West Coast, Santa Barbara has escalated things with a ban that includes the possibility of jail time for repeat plastic straw-distributing offenders.

Honest to goodness, you know somebody in Santa Barbara is contemplating the Breaking-Bad-to-Scarface route right now.

Noah Rothman observes how quickly we move from “commonplace” to “controversial” to “banned” in some parts of the country:

If there had been a genuine give and take between adversarial factions, as was once customary in American politics before one-party municipalities summarily banned minor conveniences, the cities and towns behind this new prohibition might have been told that it would have almost no effect on the amount of plastic pollution in the ocean.

ADDENDA: If you don’t like the idea of Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avanetti being discussed as a serious presidential candidate, don’t get mad at him. Get mad at the Iowa Democratic groups that are inviting him and treating him like a serious candidate.

White House

Michael Cohen Turns on Trump

President Donald Trump’s onetime personal attorney, Michael Cohen and President Donald Trump (Lucas Jackson, Leah Millis/File Photos/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Michael Cohen starts revealing the audiotapes of his conversation with Trump, leaving us wondering just what his long-term strategy is here; New Jersey senator Cory Booker pulls muscles reaching too far; and a sad tale of a celebrity demonstrates that fame doesn’t actually solve those personal troubles and doubts that keep us up in the middle of the night.

Michael Cohen Turns Against Trump — Are We Supposed to Like Him Now or Something?

We’re in pretty uncharted waters here, so who knows what the final ramifications of Michael Cohen’s secret taped conversations with Donald Trump will be. But having said that, doesn’t this make one feel a little sympathy for Trump? After all, your lawyer is supposed to be on your side, not accumulating blackmail or leverage material to use against you at some later date. Maybe this will get special counsel Robert Mueller off Cohen’s back, but it will be interesting to see what career options remain for Cohen when all of this is over. Trump and his allies will hate him as a turncoat, while Trump critics are unlikely to warmly embrace the man who cleaned up Trump’s ugliest legal messes for years.

Even if Cohen’s reputation wasn’t the public-relations equivalent of Chernobyl, no one would want to talk to him . . . knowing Cohen’s habit of surreptitiously recording conversations.

Cohen’s secret taping of his conversations with Trump was probably legal, because in New York you only need “one party to the conversation” to consent to taping to make it legal.

Of course, this assumes that both Trump and Cohen were in New York when the discussion occurred. This conversation was in September 2016, when Trump was campaigning around the country. Eleven states require all parties involved in a conversation or phone call to consent before the conversation can be recorded. If Trump was in California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, or Washington during these conversations . . . then technically Cohen violated that state’s law on wiretapping.

For what it’s worth, the American Bar Association prohibited secret recordings, ruling it “professional misconduct,” from 1974 to 2001. That year, it changed its opinions to argue that it could be acceptable in certain circumstances if the recording has a “valid purpose” and doesn’t violate the other party’s legal rights, but that a lawyer should not “falsely represent that a conversation is not being recorded.” Did Cohen ever tell Trump he wasn’t being recorded?

Do the tapes suggest that Trump knew about efforts to buy the rights to women alleging extramarital affairs with him, and prevent those allegations from being revealed to the public? Sure. But how many of us were buying Trump’s denials on that?

How many of us were buying Trump’s denials of the affairs?

Look, maybe this crew all deserves each other. But at some point, Trump will argue, “my own lawyer betrayed me in order to save his own skin,” and . . . he’ll largely be right.

Senator Cory Booker vs. the Forces of Evil

Do you remember John Kerry on the presidential stump? I think it was Rob Long who said Kerry was a comedic godsend, the embodiment of the comedic stock character of the smug snob, using terms like “would that it were” while trying to joke around with Jon Stewart. Whenever Kerry needed to come across as a “relatable guy,” he would try too hard, and call the Packers home “Lambert Field” or call the Neil Diamond song associated with his hometown Red Sox “Sweet Adeline.” He kept trying, really hard, to be something that he wasn’t, and it inevitably broke through in a cringe-inducing way.

I’m wondering if Cory Booker has a similar streak of overexertion and phoniness. We know from his mayoral record and early years in the Senate that Booker spent much of his career building a reputation as “Mister Bipartisan” and reaching across the aisle, trying to emulate the early Obama image of the post-partisan problem solver. But by 2016, the Democratic party was mad as heck about Trump, and Booker was left trying to reinvent himself as Shouty McAngryPants. He once worked with Sessions on legislation and praised him but then jumped to oppose his nomination as attorney general. He berates Trump administration officials when they testify before the Senate.

As our Jack Crowe reports, Booker keeps going one step beyond plausibility:

Flanked by a deacon and fellow Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Booker described the Kavanaugh confirmation battle as a “moral moment” that demands that all who oppose evil also oppose the constitutional originalists’ confirmation.

“I’m here to call on folk[s] to understand that in a moral moment there is no neutral. In a moral moment there is no bystanders,” Booker told the crowd. “You are either complicit in the evil, you are either contributing to the wrong, or you are fighting against it.”

The rising progressive star then suggested that opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation was tantamount to walking through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

“It doesn’t say that I sit in the valley of the shadow of death. It doesn’t say I’m sitting on the sidelines in the valley of the shadow of death. It says I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death. It says I am taking agency that I am going to make it through this crisis,” Booker said. “And so I am calling on everyone right now who understands what’s at stake, who understands who Kavanaugh is. My ancestors said ‘if someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.’ He has shown us who he is.”

Kavanaugh, a Christian father of two who regularly donates his time to serve food to the homeless, has been pilloried in the media for taking on credit-card debt to purchase season tickets to the Washington Nationals.

Anybody buying the argument that Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is . . . evil?

Fame Really Doesn’t Fix Any Problems, Does It?

Awful news about pop star Demi Lovato . . .

One can’t help but wonder if we’re witnessing a drawback to celebrities publicly discussing their struggles with addiction — a gesture no doubt taken with the best of intentions. The idea, presumably, is that ordinary, non-celebrity folk look at the rich and famous celebrity’s struggles and think, “Wow, they’re just like me. I’m not so different or uniquely troubled after all. If it could happen to them, there’s no shame in my struggle with this.” But how many non-celebrities hear about the rich and famous battling the bottle or pills, and think, “Wait, that person is famous and rich and successful and has all kinds of advantages that I don’t, and if they still relapsed . . . what chance do I have?” (Of course, a celebrity’s glamorous lifestyle may offer more temptations, opportunities for relapse, and enabling figures than the average person’s life.)

I came across this deeply sad anecdote about Lovato:

Lovato’s tolerance for artifice reached its breaking point at the 2016 Met Gala in New York, the annual celeb-packed, black-tie fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, presided over by Vogue’s Anna Wintour. “I had a terrible experience,” says Lovato, her voice rising in pitch for the only time during our conversation. “This one celebrity was a complete b**** and was miserable to be around. It was very cliquey. I remember being so uncomfortable that I wanted to drink.” She texted her manager, then went straight to a 10 p.m. Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

“I changed my clothes, but I still had my diamonds on — millions of dollars of diamonds on in an AA meeting. And I related more to the homeless people in that meeting who struggled with the same struggles that I deal with than the people at the Met Gala.”

This probably showcases how these problems aren’t rational, or at least aren’t easily understood by most of us. Lovato found the event “very clique-y”? She’s at the Met Gala, one of the most exclusive parties in America! Most of us would think that’s the ultimate validation, perhaps the most spectacular and high-profile venue to declare “you belong” in the world.

How could one other celebrity make Lovato feel so miserable? She’s a superstar — six albums, worldwide sales, critically acclaimed, touring around the world, her own line of skincare products, regular gigs on television shows such as The X Factor and Glee, a New York Times bestselling book . . . and she feels insecure and not accepted by others? What more could she want? What more could she need?

Shortly after Anthony Bourdain’s suicide, I came across this quote from actor Anthony Hopkins about fame:

He understands that we can all be terrible, and we can all be kind. Fame and power have nothing to do with it. I tell Hopkins something the singer Tony Bennett once said — “Life teaches you how to live it if you live long enough” — and he is delighted. “How extraordinary. What an amazing thing to say! You know, I meet young people, and they want to act and they want to be famous, and I tell them, when you get to the top of the tree, there’s nothing up there. Most of this is nonsense, most of this is a lie. Accept life as it is. Just be grateful to be alive.” 

The odds are good that you’ll be the same person at the top of the tree that you were at the bottom — and that you’ll have the same inner problems there that you do here.

ADDENDUM: So this . . . really didn’t turn out to be “Iran Week” after all, huh?

Politics & Policy

North Korea Makes Progress on Their Promise

President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shake hands after signing documents during a summit at the Capella Hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, Singapore, June 12, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A surprising, and welcome, sign of progress in North Korea; the White House floats a dumb and vindictive idea; Hollywood finds comfort in denouncing “toxic fans” when films disappoint; and a familiar face fans the flames of the 2020 presidential-campaign discussion.

Could It Be That Very, Very Slowly, the U.S. Policy on North Korea Is . . . Working?

Everyone could be forgiven for expecting the North Koreans to enjoy their global summit and then walk away laughing, confident that they had pulled another fast one on the Americans yet again.

But now there’s a little tangible evidence that maybe — just maybe — North Korea is willing to make a few tangible moves to keep the process moving in the right direction:

North Korea has started dismantling a missile-engine test site, as president Donald Trump said the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, promised he would during their historic summit meeting in Singapore in June, according to an analysis of satellite imagery of the location.

The North Koreans have started taking apart the engine test stand at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, said Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., an expert on North Korea’s weapons programs, in a report published on Monday on the website 38 North. The dismantling work probably began sometime within the last two weeks, he said.

North Korea has also started dismantling a rail-mounted building at the Sohae station where workers used to assemble space launch vehicles before moving them to the launchpad, Mr. Bermudez said.

Mr. Bermudez compared satellite photos of the Sohae facilities taken on Friday and Sunday to conclude that North Korea had begun taking “an important first step toward fulfilling a commitment made by Kim Jong-un.”

On Sunday, there were reports that President Trump was growing frustrated with the lack of visible progress with North Korea. On Saturday, the top U.S. military commander on the Korean peninsula, Vincent Brooks, said that the North Koreans had “gone now 235 days without a provocation.” That’s better than the alternative, obviously.

Maybe the adulation at the summit gave Kim Jong-un something he doesn’t want to lose.

Another Dumb, Vindictive, Half-Baked Idea . . .

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, yesterday: “Not only is the President looking to take away [former CIA director John] Brennan’s security clearance, he’s also looking into the clearances of [former FBI director James] Comey, [Former Director of National Intelligence] Clapper, [former CIA director and NSA director Michael] Hayden, [Former national-security adviser Susan] Rice, and [former deputy FBI director Andrew] McCabe. The President is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they’ve politicized and, in some cases, monetized their public service and security clearances.”

They’ve “politicized their public service”? Every former CIA director has done public interviews and weighed in on current events and U.S. policy. James Woolsey chaired the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, joined the Project for a New American Century, and advised John McCain and Donald Trump — until he quit the transition team after Trump started publicly criticizing the intelligence community.

You want to talk about former intelligence officials who became active in politics? How about Michael Flynn, who became one of Trump’s top advisers and surrogates? He headed the Defense Intelligence Agency until 2014; he joined the Trump campaign in February 2016.

Oh, what’s that? The Trump administration doesn’t like people with security clearances cashing in with book deals? I guess Trump and the administration are really upset about Michael Flynn’s Field of Fight, published in 2016, right? Hey, is there a clearer form of “monetizing” one’s former job and security clearance than secretly working as a lobbyist for the Turkish government — while working on a presidential campaign?

Oh, I see. This administration only has a problem with the security clearances and “monetizing” when the former official is an outspoken Trump critic. Unless they’re leaking classified information, that criticism is protected by the First Amendment.

For what it’s worth, both Comey and McCabe lost their security clearances when their employment with the FBI ended. Michael Hayden says that he no longer goes back for classified briefings. Clapper said yesterday that the president has the authority to revoke clearances, but that it would be “very, very petty.”

Look, if any of the figures that Sarah Huckabee Sanders listed have leaked classified or sensitive information, then the proper move isn’t revoking their security clearance — it’s referring the allegations to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation. Short of that, there’s no good argument for revoking the clearance. The criteria for a security clearance have always been, “Can this person be trusted with sensitive or classified information? Does this person have some vulnerability to blackmail or coercion?” The question has never been, “Does this person say things that the president doesn’t like?”

I realize that everyone is too blinded by partisan rage to look too far down the road, but if the Trump administration goes ahead with this move, then it’s a safe bet that a future Democratic administration will revoke the clearances of John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and the rest of the Trump administration national-security team. And dumb, blind, stupid, vindictive partisanship will claim another victim, weakening our government further.

An All-Female Remake of a Beloved Movie . . . Still Has to Be a Good Movie

Peter Spiliakos has a good article on the new trend of Hollywood’s creative class blaming “toxic fans” for movies that get less-than-sterling receptions, and how the “culture war is becoming the last defense of artistic mediocrity.”

After a while, condemning “toxic” critics can morph into an effort to drown out all critics. If you don’t like the movie (or rather say too loudly that you don’t like the movie), the bad guys win. One could adopt the common saying: If you have the law on your side pound the law. If you have the facts on your side pound the facts. If you have neither the law nor the facts on your side, pound the table.

If you can’t defend the movie on the merits, pound on “toxic fandom.”

The all-female Ghostbusters remake was generally awful, and it’s hard not to suspect that its creators were eager to blame “misogyny” rather than face the movie’s considerable flaws. The guys at RedLetterMedia did a pretty insightful video noting that besides the usual problems of remaking a beloved classic, the four lead actresses have all been funny in other work, and that one of the film’s problems was an inability to keep the balance between four comediennes ad-libbing and keeping the narrative going. (Profanity warning at that link.)

This summer’s Ocean’s Eight was . . . perfectly fine, although a little disappointing considering the level of talent accumulated. I notice that in Ocean’s Eleven, one of the key points is that, to protagonist Danny Ocean, the heist isn’t about the money at all — it’s all about getting the love of his life, Tess, back from the insufferable casino owner, Terry Benedict. The entire movie builds up to the moment where Danny can force Benedict to make a choice and prove to Tess that she’s less important to Benedict than the money. Besides Benedict’s smug arrogance, casinos make great villains. They lure people in, leave them penniless, and are associated in the public’s mind with the mob. As we root for the heroes, we’re certain that the villains have it coming.

In Ocean’s Eight, the all-female crew is robbing . . . Tiffany’s. What did Tiffany’s ever do to anyone?

ADDENDUM: Oh, good, former attorney general Eric Holder is thinking about running for president in 2020. The Democratic field in 2020 might make the Republican field in 2016 look small and cohesive. My guess is that the political parties don’t start thinking about ways to prevent the gadflies, riff-raff, also-rans, and never-weres from launching publicity-seeking, never-that-serious “campaigns” until 2021.


Trump Tweet Makes Iran This Week’s Topic

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference after his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. (Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information)

Making the click-through worthwhile this week: The president tweets about Iran and the question before the media is now how they choose to discuss that country’s regime, what you need to know about state election officials’ efforts to secure the vote for the 2018 election, and a funny ad in Wisconsin thankfully doesn’t live down to the fears of toilet humor implied by the title.

Oh, the National Media Is Going to Pay Attention to Iran This Week?

President Trump on Twitter, shortly before midnight last night:

I guess the national political media will spend this week talking about Iran.

Iran didn’t go anywhere. They’re threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz, cutting off the Persian Gulf from the rest of the world, but those of us with long memories will remember this is an Iranian habit. They’re still prepping for cyber attacks against the United States. They’re still arresting teenagers for dancing, and cracking down on student activists. The regime’s police are still shooting protesters who are objecting to a lack of water in drought-stricken areas. Their diplomats are being arrested for helping assist plots to bomb opposition-group meetings in France.

They’re filing a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice over our latest sanctions.  

I don’t mind the national political media spending this week talking about Iran. I wish we spent more weeks talking about Iran, and outside of the context of the Iranian nuclear deal, which basically turned into a proxy for how you felt about Obama. If you liked Obama, it was a diplomatic masterstroke, a triumph of peace in the most difficult of circumstances; if you didn’t like Obama, it was a slew of concessions in exchange for a spotty inspection regime that allowed the biggest state sponsor of terror in the world to race to build a nuke in eleven years.

Just because we only hear about the Iranian regime doing bad things sporadically doesn’t mean the Iranian regime is only doing bad things sporadically.

The good news is, if you’re reading National Review, you’re hearing about Iran even when the president isn’t tweeting about it. In the latest issue, we note that Iranian military general Gholam Reza Jalali is running around saying the Israelis are stealing the rain from his country — another advocate of the “Jews control the weather” theory. (He should run for D.C. city council.)

Back in June, our Jay Nordlinger wrote a bit about Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, and how after the short-lived “Green Revolution” against the regime in 2009, he spent 118 days in prison, 107 of them in solitary confinement. He was tortured, both physically and psychologically. “Every day, I was told I was going to be executed.”

(When you see women dressed as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale” at speeches by Vice President Mike Pence, it seems overwrought and ridiculous; when contrasted with the actual tyranny and systematic oppression of Iranian women, it’s galling. In Iran, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is much closer to reality.)

Tzvi Kahn, a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argued that the United States needed to sanction Mahmoud Alavi, the head of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. And Victor Davis Hanson called our attention to Mohammad-Javad Larijani, a high-level official in Iran’s judiciary, who announced recently in public that the regime allowed several of the 9/11 hijackers to go through their country without passport stamps to ensure they could travel freely elsewhere.

This is what the Iranian regime is, day after day, year after year. Sanctions against the regime weakened it but did not change its nature and, if we’re being honest, didn’t mitigate the threats from it nearly as much as we would like. Years of Obama-era engagement and endless summits in Geneva and the Iran Deal strengthened the regime, but did little to change its nature or aggression. As much as some of us would probably prefer to ignore Tehran, it sponsors too much terrorism to ignore and backs dangerous factions in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Iran is well along the road to being the dominant power in the Middle East.

The country would be well-served by a national discussion of what to do about Iran’s mullahs, one that went beyond “Are the president’s tweets provocative or not?”

What You Need to Know About the Security of Your Vote in November

Toward the end of last week, you probably saw headlines such as, “Additional election security funding left out of bill passed Thursday.” House Democrats wanted to add another $380 million for election security to an appropriations bill for the Interior Department.

The argument from House Republicans was that this problem had already been addressed. The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill passed in March included $380 million for election security.

Inconveniently for the Democratic argument, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission announced earlier in the week that more than $333 million had been transferred into state accounts. (States have to cover 5 percent of the cost of security measures; they can cover their portion at any time within two years of receiving the grant.)

States can use the money to replace old equipment, ensure that the voting machines leave a paper record of the vote, upgrade election-related computer systems and cyber-security, post-election audit systems, and train state and local officials.

If any official in any local or state government doesn’t feel like their system of voting and tabulating votes is safe from tampering, fraud, or hacking, the time to say so is now — not after the election!

Another point worth noting is that earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed data from 564 voting jurisdictions across the country and concluded that “80 percent of the population nationwide resided within jurisdictions that used voting equipment that resulted in an auditable paper trail — and more jurisdictions are heading in that direction every day.” That same GAO report found that 96 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the way their voting equipment worked in the 2016 election.

A paper trail makes it much tougher for hackers to mess around with the recorded votes. The Center for Election Innovation and Research notes that Pennsylvania and Delaware are currently moving towards paper-record systems and they calculate that by the 2020 general election, “85 or even 90 percent of Americans will live in jurisdictions that used voting equipment with an auditable paper trail.”

Governing magazine points out that all of the “Russia hacked the election” and “Russia influenced the election” talking points conflate efforts to influence the election with actual incidences of breaking into computer systems and altering the votes or vote totals: “There’s no proof that any actual votes were changed by hackers in 2016, but the whole menu of Russian attacks — fake social media profiles, political ads on the internet, hacking into Democratic Party emails — has undermined public confidence. Actual voting infrastructure, such as voting machines and voter registration rolls, are often conflated in media accounts with these other types of attacks on the political process as a whole.”

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s latest indictment indicates that hackers affiliated with Russian military intelligence did get access to voter-information data in Illinois in July 2016. But there’s no evidence that they actually managed to alter or make mischief with any of the data and no indication that they could alter the vote total. (Note that Hillary Clinton won Illinois by a larger margin in 2016 than Barack Obama did in 2012 and 2008.)

Usually You Cringe When You Hear About a Political Ad Entitled ‘Flush’ . . .

By far, the best use of a toilet in a campaign ad this year comes from GOP Senate candidate Leah Vukmir.

Vukmir, a state senator, is in a tight primary fight with Kevin Nicholson. She’s earned an A+ and an endorsement from the NRA. The primary is August 14; Wisconsin’s Republican senator, Ron Johnson, pushed a plan earlier this year to ensure that all of the Republican candidates unify behind the nominee in the fall.

ADDENDA: I’m scheduled to appear on HLN sometime around noon today.

National Security & Defense

Are the 2018 Midterms Under Continuing Threat of Foreign Meddling?

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Russian ambassadors and representatives to international organizations in Moscow, Russia, July 19, 2018. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

Yesterday, I wrote that there’s no reason to believe that Russia, and its myriad intelligence agencies, will continue to meddle in American politics in a way that benefits the Republican party. The natural inclinations of the GOP and the Democratic party make Donald Trump a Russophile rarity, and in future elections, Moscow will probably conclude that a Democratic candidate’s victory would be better for its interests. Thus, Republicans have a strong incentive to push for cybersecurity and other anti-meddling measures, lest they find themselves on the losing end of foreign-intelligence plots to sway elections.

Garrett Graff, a longtime writer on national-security issues, concurs and points out that a lot of hostile states watched what Russia did and are probably planning to emulate it:

Democratic control of one or both houses of Congress might, from a brass tacks Chinese or Russian perspective, guarantee two years of a paralyzed America, a country continuing to look inward, not outward. And Democratic control of Congress could help arrest Trump’s trade war, which actually could be harming China’s growth and rise — and the one thing China can’t afford to lose right now is it’s [sic] economic growth. A Democratic House might lead to a polarizing impeachment fight that would further exacerbate America’s political divides and weaken the country globally, at least in the short term.

. . . If it weren’t for the president’s fragile ego, it would be easy for Republican lawmakers to say, “We don’t think the Russian effort affected the 2016 election, but we can’t take the chance that similar efforts in the future ever succeed.” And then throw themselves into an all-out, no-expense-spared, herculean effort to lock down every county-level voter system, ensure paper backups in every elementary school gymnasium voting precinct, install two-factor authentication on every GOP congressional campaign email account, and pound the social media platforms every day to remove disinformation, minimize bots and trolls and block dark-money ads.

One point to keep in mind: The social-media advertising is going to be tough to stamp out. It’s not hard for a foreign-intelligence service to move money to some front company, group, or individual, and have them start pumping out memes and messages to favor one candidate, attack another, or divide Americans in general.

Thankfully, that’s the form of foreign influence least likely to be effective. The 2016 Russian Facebook ads were ludicrously ham-fisted, even silly, as in the case of “muscular Bernie Sanders.” To the extent that Russian efforts influenced the election, it’s doubtful the Facebook ads changed a single vote. If any Russian operation did influence the voters and the narrative of the election, it was the grabbing and publishing of the emails of John Podesta and the DNC.

Washington Post writer Erik Wemple went back and asked news organizations if they thought it was unethical to write news stories based on those emails that were hacked by a hostile foreign government. Few believed that it was.

There’s an angle that people don’t like to focus on too much, because it sounds like victim-blaming. But one of the reasons people were fascinated to learn about what was in those emails is because they revealed truths that were hidden from the public. People reacted strongly to the revelation that Donna Brazile was passing CNN’s questions to the Clinton campaign because Brazile was actually passing CNN’s questions to the Clinton campaign. Bernie Sanders supporters were outraged to learn that purportedly neutral DNC staffers were mocking and sneering at his campaign, because they had been lied to about the DNC’s neutral status throughout the primary. The Clinton campaign didn’t like to talk about the fact that they allowed lobbyists who represented foreign governments to raise money for her campaign, but the emails confirmed that their philosophy was “just take the money and deal with any attacks.” People were fascinated to read Hillary Clinton’s speech to Goldman Sachs because she and her campaign refused to release it.

The emails were unethically obtained, but that didn’t make the information in them any less true — and to the extent that the emails were damaging, that was why they were damaging. People wouldn’t have paid any attention to WikiLeaks if there wasn’t anything consequential in them. If the Hillary campaign had released the speech, if Brazile hadn’t passed along the message, if the DNC staffers had been as neutral as they claimed to be, if the Clinton campaign had refused to let lobbyists for foreign governments become fundraisers . . . the whole Russian hacking operation would have been a dud.

If the argument from Hillary supporters is “Russian hacking of these emails cost her the election,” the argument is really, “the revelation of the truth about Hillary Clinton’s campaign and her supporters cost her the election.” And their argument is that the public never should have been informed of all of this. In other words, she would have won if the public had never seen the truth — which does not strike me as the strongest argument against hacking.

Of course, it’s always possible that the next time a foreign-intelligence service hacks an American political organization, they throw in some damaging fakes.

Mitch McConnell: Okay, Democrats, You Want to Slow Down? We Can Slow Down

Oh, man. Don’t mess with Cocaine Mitch. Democrats want to slow down the nomination and confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh — but it’s unlikely they’ve really thought this through:

The Senate majority leader privately told senior Republicans on Wednesday that if Democrats keep pushing for access to upwards of a million pages in records from President Donald Trump’s high court pick, he’s prepared to let Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote slip until just before November’s midterm elections, according to multiple sources.

Delaying the vote past September would serve a dual purpose for McConnell, keeping vulnerable red-state Democrats off the campaign trail while potentially forcing anti-Kavanaugh liberals to swallow a demoralizing defeat just ahead of the midterms. Senators said McConnell believes the Democratic base will be “deflated” if they raise hopes of defeating Kavanaugh only to lose just days before the election.

Let’s see: Election Day is November 6; most states begin early voting from ten to 15 days before Election Day. How does sometime on the week of October 22 work for you guys? Or do Senate Democrats want to delay it even more, to the following week?

Are they really eager to spend most of the last month before Election Day in Washington? Aren’t all of those endangered red-state Democrats eager to get back to the campaign trail? I mean, we can work the schedule that way if Democrats want, but as they say, be careful what you wish for . . .

What’s interesting is that the GOP opponents to senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana are all predicting that their opponents will vote for Kavanaugh. There’s always a chance for a surprising revelation or curveball at the confirmation hearings, but barring that, Kavanaugh’s close to a lock for confirmation. The question is, when do Senate Democrats want to lose this fight?

Are Great Short-Lived Television Shows Great Because They Were Short-Lived?

It’s been a heavy week, so let’s end with something lighter. I’ve mentioned before that while I’ve liked plenty of popular long-running television series — Cheers, 24, Seinfeld, Homeland, Castle — most of my all-time favorites were cult hits that were canceled pretty quickly: Max Headroom, Twin Peaks, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and Firefly.

I came across a video discussing the Firefly sequel-film Serenity, and it made the point that sometimes a quickly canceled show’s overall quality and legacy is strengthened by its premature demise.

Shows that get canceled after only a few episodes never last long enough for the creative team to hit a wall. They never coast knowing that the network ordered 22 episodes or spin their wheels; there’s rarely a decision to all their big revelations and consequences for the season finale. They don’t last long enough to go off the rails in the manner of The X-Files or The Sopranos. They rarely have to adjust to unplanned cast changes like in Coupling. They’re never given the time to go wrong.

Years ago in this newsletter, I wrote that those big four listed above featured rich, detailed worlds with a sense that a lot was happening offscreen — the bizarre, cheerful television-addled dystopia of Max Headroom, the ominous paranormal in the woods outside Twin Peaks, the vivid canvas of First World War–era Europe for Young Indiana Jones, and the colorful Chinese-American colonized worlds of Firefly. If those shows had lasted four or five seasons, maybe there would have been time to explore what was going on in those offscreen spaces, and perhaps whatever the creators depicted wouldn’t live up to what my imagination contemplated at the time or in the intervening decades. (Oh, wait, with Twin Peaks, this isn’t so theoretical; give the original creative team 18 episodes to play with, and they’ll give you a lot of Dougie stumbling around Las Vegas instead of exploring a small town unknowingly influenced by angels and demons.)

As that video commentator put it, “As first loves go, Serenity was the one that broke everyone’s heart and got away.” Maybe that’s part of what makes those shows special — besides their own strengths, we “remember” those unwritten, un-filmed, but easily pictured subsequent seasons that never were.

ADDENDUM: If you haven’t joined NRPlus, and aren’t yet involved in the members-only Facebook group, you’re missing out on discussions of Kim Jong-un and game theory, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s legal philosophy, how much faith the U.S. intelligence community has earned and when skepticism is warranted, as well as the debut of a “totally unofficial NRPlus Book Club.” Think of it as a really smart, well-connected Facebook group, with all the riff-raff stuck behind the velvet rope at the door.

Politics & Policy

Letting NATO Fail Leads to an Occupied World

President Donald Trump arrives to hold a news conference after participating in the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018. (Reinhard Krause/Reuters)

The other night, Tucker Carlson interviewed President Trump about the NATO alliance and asked, “Let’s say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked. Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?” (Is Carlson’s son in the military? If not, is Carlson implying that to honor NATO commitments, the U.S. government would reinstate the draft?)

David French answers, “If you don’t want Americans fighting in foreign lands, you maintain your alliances.”

“What price are we willing to pay to defend our allies?” is a fairer question than we may want to admit. If, God forbid, Russian tanks suddenly rolled up to the borders of the Baltic states and started firing, what percentage of the American public would support deploying U.S. troops to defend those countries — or, more likely, to retake those countries from Russian forces? (Wargame simulations suggest those countries would only be able to hold out for a few days.)

There was an anti-war movement in the United States just weeks after 9/11. Russia would no doubt have covert efforts to fan the flames of dissent and division, but it might not be all that necessary. Americans who didn’t want to use military force against al-Qaeda and the Taliban after thousands of Americans were killed will not support military force to retake foreign capitals that they’ve never heard of, such as Tallinn and Riga. You would hear a lot of cries about the dangers of nuclear escalation, the long-standing Russian ties to that region (as if that would ever justify a military invasion), and the insistence that peace could be achieved by offering modest territorial concessions over a negotiating table in Geneva.

I’ve been raving about Brad Thor’s latest thriller Spymaster, which deals with a Russian plot to undermine NATO. One of the plot points is that the fictional, not-very-Trump-y U.S. president tells his team to prevent or avoid “an Article Five situation” — meaning, an at all costs, don’t allow a NATO ally to be attacked, so that Article Five is invoked and the United States is obligated to launch a counterattack. Separate from whether he wants to honor the American commitment to its allies, he doesn’t want to test the commitment of NATO members, or the American public, to that promise.

To imagine a future where American commitment to NATO ends, turn to the Norwegian drama series Occupied — compelling and thrilling enough to be worth reading subtitles. The near-future world of Occupied imagines that fighting in the Middle East has cut off most oil exports (not that far-fetched), a United States that is energy-independent has left NATO (once really far-fetched, now less so), and a Green party winning a majority in Norway after a Katrina-style hurricane. Green party prime minister Jasper Berg pursues a policy of shutting down Norway’s oil and gas exports in the name of reducing carbon emissions and pursuing a clean-energy plan relying on the element of Thorium.

(This is all shown in the first few minutes, so it’s not really a spoiler. General, non-specific, thematic spoilers ahead.)

Norway’s environmental ambitions and sudden disruption of energy supplies cause all kinds of economic problems across Europe, and one day Berg . . . finds himself kidnapped by Russian-speaking masked men. They give him an ultimatum: Allow Russia to reopen Norway’s oil and gas production or face a full-scale invasion. Berg turns to the European Union for help, and finds the EU has more or less given Russia its blessing. It becomes clear that without the United States, NATO doesn’t really function at all.

A good portion of Occupied portrays Norway’s progressive, sophisticated, well-educated political class slowly realizing that no one is coming to rescue them. Month by month, the Russians take over more and more of how the country operates, and the country’s beloved soft power is impotent in the face of hard power and military force. There are a lot of darkly funny deer-in-the-headlights moments for Norwegian Green politicians as they realize that they have no idea how to handle the kind of military crisis that they thought was left to history; meanwhile, the tough old grouch who runs the national military academy is the only guy who sees the threat clearly and is formulating a plan to deal with it. (This is the most inadvertently conservative show in a long time.)

Late in the first season, the American ambassador briefly appears, offering a little help but telling Berg, “We no longer get into wars unless we have a clear strategy to win them.” In short, you’re not important enough for the United States to fight a war to liberate. All of the Norwegian characters face the decision of whether to join an underground liberation movement, or to try to make the best of living in an occupied country — sensing that if push comes to shove, Russia could resolve the dispute with an extremely bloody invasion.

We get intermittent glimpses of the rest of the continent, with the Eastern European countries deeply concerned but generally afraid to take much action to help Norway, and the Western European countries are mostly happier now that Norway’s oil and gas is flowing, and their economies are stable again. No one is willing to stand up to Russia alone, and everyone else is whistling past the graveyard, hoping that Russia’s military shows up at their border last.

And that, I suspect, is where Europe will eventually end up if the United States government ever indicates that it will not honor Article Five. If we don’t honor it, nobody else will. And the day that becomes clear, the question becomes just how much European territory Russia wants to claim.

No, We Don’t Hand over Former U.S. Ambassadors to Foreign Authorities

In theory, an “outsider” president will shake things up and bring new ideas. In practice, an “outsider” president nods along and contemplates outlandish proposals by the Russian government.

The White House confirmed Wednesday that Trump was considering a proposal from the Russian president to allow Kremlin officials to question former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul and other individuals in exchange for allowing U.S. investigators to sit in on the questioning of 12 Russians indicted on charges of trying to undermine the 2016 U.S. election.

The arrangement, which Trump called an “incredible offer,” has been condemned by critics and dubbed “absolutely absurd” by the State Department.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the request had been discussed but there “wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States.”

All U.S. diplomatic personnel are protected by diplomatic immunity — they can be expelled but generally not prosecuted for crimes. (Despite what you saw in Lethal Weapon 2, it’s not absolute, but countries waive their personnels’ immunity in exceptionally rare and egregious cases.) Only barbaric regimes such as the Iranians fail to respect the sovereignty of foreign embassies and the right of diplomats to operate unmolested. You’ve seen American elected officials prosecuted and convicted in absentia by kangaroo-court “war crimes tribunals” in foreign countries, but the U.S. State Department has always refused to cooperate with that nonsense. The Pentagon negotiates Status of Forces Agreements with host governments to hash out when U.S. service personnel can and cannot be tried in a foreign court.

In other words, when you go to work for the American government overseas, they make a promise to have your back, no matter how much the you-know-what hits the fan.

Even entertaining this proposal from Putin is a violation of that promise. If you hand over McFaul to Russian authorities, even for mere “questioning,” there’s no guarantee that you’ll get him back, or that he’ll come back in one piece. What’s more, if the Trump administration ends this longstanding U.S. policy of protecting our personnel, no matter which administration they served, then it is extremely likely that some future administration will fail to offer protections to Trump-administration officials.

Remembering the Last Young Democrat Touted as Their Great Hope Among Hispanics

As I mentioned to Greg Corombos and Kurt Schlichter lately, the hype and excitement surrounding Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reminds me of not too long ago when then–San Antonio mayor Julian Castro was supposedly the next big rising star and future of the Democratic party. Just about every political publication did a big glossy profile of him, touting him as more or less the “Latino Obama.” After Castro gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in 2012, I dove into his record, writing what I hoped was an important profile of what he had done as mayor at that point . . . and finding not that much to brag about.

In 2014, Castro joined Obama’s cabinet as secretary of housing and urban development and . . . well, he might as well have joined the Witness Protection Program. There was a lot of speculation that he might be Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, but after Clinton selected Tim Kaine, Castro more or less disappeared from the public debate. He was booked for a few Iowa events last month, and he’s got a new book coming out later this year, but let’s face it, you probably hadn’t even thought about him this year until I mentioned him.

Maybe, six years from now, we’ll still be talking about Ocasio-Cortez. But sometimes “the next big thing” doesn’t turn out to be so big.

ADDENDA: Delightful: “Progressives promised an army to fight Brett Kavanaugh. They’re barely recruiting.”

Politics & Policy

Obama Decries the Political Habits That Drove His Career

Former President Barack Obama delivers the 16th Nelson Mandela annual lecture, marking the centenary of the anti-apartheid leader’s birth, in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 17, 2018. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

Yesterday, President Obama stood in a cricket stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, and said a lot of things that could, or should, get conservatives nodding in agreement. But as he offered a grim assessment of both modern American politics and the broader geopolitical scene, you had to wonder when, if ever, he would confront the fact that he had a lot to do with the shaping of modern American politics and the broader geopolitical scene. He certainly had more influence on it than you or I did.

Obama pointed out that history’s many horrific systems of oppression can’t be simplified to a simple narrative of racism: “Whites were happy to exploit other whites when they could. And by the way, blacks were often willing to exploit other blacks. And around the globe, the majority of people lived at subsistence levels, without a say in the politics or economic forces that determined their lives.”

And he took a shot at identity politics: “You can’t [change minds] if you insist that those who aren’t like you — because they’re white, or because they’re male — that somehow there’s no way they can understand what I’m feeling, that somehow they lack standing to speak on certain matters.”

Of course … this is the president who made Al Sharpton his “go-to man on race” and who said Latinos needed to “punish” their “enemies.” It’s great that Obama realizes that identity politics can be corrosive to civil society and that they can Balkanize a once-thriving, relatively harmonious society. It just would have been good to hear this wisdom from a president instead of an ex-president.

Obama offered a nostalgic look at the close of the Reagan-Bush era, when a wave of freedom and liberation swept the globe in the aftermath of the Cold War:

As a law student, I witnessed [Nelson Mandela] emerge from prison, just a few months, you’ll recall, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I felt the same wave of hope that washed through hearts all around the world.

Do you remember that feeling? It seemed as if the forces of progress were on the march, that they were inexorable. Each step he took, you felt this is the moment when the old structures of violence and repression and ancient hatreds that had so long stunted people’s lives and confined the human spirit — that all that was crumbling before our eyes.

For Americans and the rest of the world, life in the ’90s was better and safer than it was at the beginning of the 1980s — which is why it is unwise for adults who should know better to say things like, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country” in 2008. Some might even say comments like that are “strikingly ungracious.” Perhaps “Make America Great Again” and “American Carnage” are unduly dark and pessimistic assessments of the country — but they simply echoed the apocalyptic perspective of Democrats in the latter years of the Bush presidency.

Obama said yesterday, “For once solidly middle-class families in advanced economies like the United States, these trends have meant greater economic insecurity, especially for those who don’t have specialized skills, people who were in manufacturing, people working in factories, people working on farms.” Had he focused on this more during his presidency, would Hillary Clinton have lost?

Obama lamented, “In the West, you’ve got far-right parties that oftentimes are based not just on platforms of protectionism and closed borders, but also on barely hidden racial nationalism.” Would those parties have flourished if the Barack Obamas and Angela Merkels of the world had taken citizens’ demands for border security and carefully scrutinized immigration more seriously? How much faith was lost in U.S. immigration controls when the 9/11 hijackers, the Boston Marathon bombers, and the San Bernardino terrorists entered the country legally? Is anyone surprised that many Germans bristled when Merkel decided, unilaterally, to allow in more than 1 million migrants — many of them fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan?

Former United Kingdom prime minister Gordon Brown was caught on a hot mike calling one of his own supporters a “bigoted woman” because she lamented people staying on public assistance for too long and asked where all of the recent immigrants were coming from. If you’re wealthy and powerful, your life is insulated from a lot of problems in society. Among those problems is illegal immigration, and because you’re not dealing with any crime, any overcrowded schools, any language barriers, you see it as harmless, or even as an economic benefit.

Later in his speech, Obama added, “In the West’s current debate around immigration, for example, it’s not wrong to insist that national borders matter; whether you’re a citizen or not is going to matter to a government, that laws need to be followed; that in the public realm newcomers should make an effort to adapt to the language and customs of their new home.”

How different would the Obama era look if he had emphasized that message at every opportunity?

Obama said progress requires “laws that root out corruption and ensures fair dealing in business.” Does he think the Clinton Foundation fits into that vision? How about the former Obama Treasury secretary Tim Geithner’s tax evasion? How about former congressman Charlie Rangel’s tax evasion? The six-figure and seven-figure sums of unpaid taxes of Tom Daschle, Claire McCaskill, or Al Sharpton? Does Obama grasp why the public might virulently recoil when those who support higher taxes escape serious consequence for not paying their own?

Obama declared, “It’s not just money that a job provides; it provides dignity and structure and a sense of place and a sense of purpose.” Amen, Mr. President! How long have conservatives made this argument in various welfare-to-work proposals?

Some parts of Obama’s speech were great, such as when he directly attacked the idea that human rights, freedom, and pluralism were incompatible with some cultures: “We have to resist the notion that basic human rights like freedom to dissent, or the right of women to fully participate in the society, or the right of minorities to equal treatment, or the rights of people not to be beat up and jailed because of their sexual orientation — we have to be careful not to say that somehow, well, that doesn’t apply to us, that those are Western ideas rather than universal imperatives.”

But in that light, a more generous assessment of the Bush administration’s “freedom agenda” is warranted. It wasn’t naïve or unrealistic or happy talk; it was principled.

Discussing partisanship and division, Obama said, “Maybe we can change their minds, but maybe they’ll change ours. And you can’t do this if you just out of hand disregard what your opponents have to say from the start.” That’s a great message. But this is the man who responded to GOP criticism of his stimulus package with, “I won.”

And when Obama complained, “Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up,” a lot of Americans no doubt heard, “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan, and if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” ringing in our ears. Obamacare was passed with the necessary assistance of a pack of lies, with its architect gloating about the “stupidity” of the American voter and boasting that the “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.” Obama hates cynical, dishonest politics — up until the moment he needs it.

Identity politics, cynicism, tolerance of corruption, hardline partisanship, shameless dishonesty, a shallow obsession with celebrities, an appetite for utopian slogans instead of serious and realistic proposals, demagoguery … if all of these forces play bigger roles in American politics in 2018 than they did in 2008, whose fault is that?

Is Phony Appreciation of America’s Intelligence Agencies Better Than an Honest Disregard?

Look, if President Trump thinks that the meddling in the 2016 election was committed by the Russian government but “could be other people also — a lot of people out there,” as he ad-libbed during his press conference at the White House yesterday, then he doesn’t really “accept our intelligence community’s conclusion.”

Yes, it’s great that this administration has been tougher on Russia than Obama, Bush, or Clinton. But no one worries about the Russia stance of Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, or James Mattis. None of them have ever said nice things about Putin, or talked repeatedly about how well they think they would get along with the Russian dictator, or had a lot of business dealings with Russians, or offered moral equivalence along the lines of, “Do you think our country is so innocent?”

It’s not surprising that an administration filled with Pence, Haley, Pompeo, Mattis, and the likes of John Bolton, Rick Perry, Dan Coats, and John Kelly would be tough on Russia. But none of them can speak for the country the way the president of the United States can and does. What we’ve seen is that when given the opportunity to confront Putin and Russia about issue after issue, President Trump whiffs or holds back. The lone exception I can think of came in April of this year, when Trump tweeted, “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

ADDENDUM: My chat yesterday with Tony Katz can be found here.

Politics & Policy

If All of Your Trusted Friends Say You’re Wrong … Maybe You’re Wrong

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich greets Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally at the Sharonville Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio July 6, 2016. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Let’s put aside what all of President Trump’s critics are saying — of course they will go to DEFCON 1 after Trump’s comments at his joint press conference with Vladimir Putin. Let’s see what the president’s usual allies think of Trump’s performance.

Laura Ingraham: “Hint: Don’t use ‘strong and powerful’ to describe Putin’s denial re. election meddling. Use words ‘predictable and damaging to US-Russian relations’ to describe Russian meddling.” (In a subsequent interview with Sean Hannity, Trump instead repeated that description, saying that he “thought Putin was very, very strong.”)

Newt Gingrich: “President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected — immediately.”

Brian Kilmeade, on Fox & Friends this morning: “When Newt Gingrich, when General Jack Keane, when Matt Schlapp say the president fell short and made our intelligence apparatus look bad, I think it’s time to pay attention and it’s easily correctable from the president’s perspective. Nobody’s perfect, especially [after] ten intensive days of summits, private meetings, and everything on his plate. But that moment is the one that’s going to stand out unless he comes out and corrects it.”

Brit Hume: “Gingrich is dead right about this. And he’s nowhere near the only Trump defender who’s appalled at Trump’s response today. And Trump’s subsequent tweet did not undo the damage.”

Mark Corallo, who briefly worked as a spokesman for President Trump’s legal team: “Clarify? How about apologizing for equating in any way the United States of America and the regime of a murderous kleptocrat?”

Matt Drudge went with the headline, “Putin Dominates In Hel” — meaning, Helsinki.

The editorial board of the New York Post: “President Trump sought to boost US-Russian ties when he met with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday. But his failure to publicly hold the Russian accountable for his aggressive behavior — on numerous fronts — will only embolden him and fuel more tension down the road … President Trump had a real opportunity to forge a new relationship with Russia by projecting strength and commanding respect. He failed to do so — and it likely will come back to haunt him.”

Post columnist Michael Goodwin, another usually-friendly-to-Trump voice: “With Putin, Trump bordered on being deferential. He looked hunched over, as if trying to minimize their height differences . . . The wishy-washy “both parties” dodge serves to create a moral equivalency between Putin and Coats, and between Russia and America. What happened to America First?”

Trump’s comments were “appalling,” declares . . . er, our old friend Byron York, now with the Washington Examiner, and one of the media voices most likely to examine an issue in the light most sympathetic to the president.

Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake is among those who have argued that the claims that Trump has some sort of illegal tie to Russia lack any credible evidence. But he concluded that Trump demonstrated shameful gullibility yesterday:

After Putin said he would allow U.S. law enforcement officials to come to Moscow and watch as his police question the 12 agents Mueller indicted, Trump responded by calling it “an incredible offer.”

It isn’t. Putin was falsely equating his own country’s information operation against the Democratic Party with the U.S.’s refusal to recognize an arrest warrant for William Browder, the chief executive of Hermitage Capital. Browder has spent the last nine years of his life pursuing justice for Sergei Magnitsky, his Russian lawyer, who died in prison in 2009 after exposing embezzlement by government officials.

And who knows what Trump said in private to Putin; they met alone (with only translators present) for two hours before meeting the press. But Trump’s failure to summon a micron of public outrage at Putin’s false equivalency is telling . . .

Even on arms control, Trump is playing the sucker. Right now, Russia is in violation of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, something Putin himself confirmed in March when he unveiled a new line of nuclear weapons (and an animation showing a Russian nuclear attack on the U.S.). Why would Trump seek new arms control agreements with Russia when it keeps violating the old ones?

It’s worth noting that Trump got really tough with Germany over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline . . . but after he met with Putin, Trump said he knows where they’re coming from and wishes them luck. What happened to the tough guy? What happened to the master of “the art of the deal”? What happened to America First?

Douglas Schoen is a Democrat, but as a Fox News analyst, he’s deviated from his party quite a bit over the years. He was scathing, declaring that Putin ate Trump’s lunch:

When asked if he would hold Russia accountable for any of its past actions, Trump deflected and deferred. President Trump’s unwillingness to stand up to Russia on this issue only serves to weaken the Western alliance and encourage further Russian incursions into the territory of sovereign nations now that Putin knows Trump will give him a pass.

Most importantly, on election meddling, Trump refused to stand with U.S. intelligence and charge Putin with interference, saying he doesn’t “see any reason why it would be” the Russians carrying out the illegal meddling. For a sitting U.S. president to say publicly that he believes a foreign leader over his own intelligence team is shocking and admonishable. At a time when our democracy faces grave threats, it is deeply troubling that the president would side with the very country who attacked us.

Congressional Republicans, including ones who are usually supportive of the president, kept making clear that the president had gone out way too far on a limb.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas:U.S.–Russia relations remain at a historic low for one simple reason: Vladimir Putin is a committed adversary of the United States. In the last few years alone, Russia meddled in our presidential campaign, violated arms-control treaties with the United States, invaded Ukraine, assassinated political opponents in the United Kingdom, made common cause with Iran in propping up Bashar al-Assad’s outlaw regime in Syria, and cheated not only in the Olympics, but even in the Paralympics. These are not the actions of a friend, an ally, or merely a nation with aligned interests. Until Russian behavior changes, our policy should not change. The United States should stay on the strategic offensive against Russia by maintaining sanctions, rebuilding our military, modernizing our nuclear forces, expanding missile defenses, sending more weapons to our allies, and producing more oil and gas. Strength is the one language for which Vladimir Putin needs no interpreter.”

Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma: “I trust the assessments of Dan Coats, Gina Haspel & their teams more than I trust a former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin. U.S. Presidents should meet w/ foreign leaders. But we must unequivocally denounce Russia’s election interference attempts & human rights abuses around the world.”

When’s the last time you heard from Ash Carter, secretary of defense in the later years of the Obama presidency? As far as Obama administration officials go, he was one of the least partisan and most respected ones, rarely if ever shooting his mouth off. His comment yesterday? “I never saw or imagined so uneven a handover of American security interests and principles with nothing in return . . . It was like watching the destruction of a cathedral.”

The Long and Irritating History of American Presidents and Vladimir Putin

I nod in begrudging acknowledgment that former President George W. Bush sounded foolish when he declared, “I looked into [Putin’s] eyes and saw his soul.” I enjoy reminding people about Hillary Clinton’s “reset button” — stolen from a hotel pool or jacuzzi in Geneva by Philippe Reines and mistranslated with label that said “overcharge.” We all relish reminding everyone about President Obama’s smug, oblivious “the Eighties called, they want their foreign policy back” jab in his 2012 debate with Mitt Romney. I remind people about Obama’s uncomfortable “This is my last election . . . After my election I have more flexibility” pledge to then–Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

Yes, the Democrats have traditionally been collectively softer on the Soviet Union and Russia, always more inclined to see Moscow’s leaders in a more sympathetic light, always more willing to make tangible concessions in exchange for intangible promises. Yes, there’s some laughably implausible politicking in their reinvention as hawks. There’s nothing wrong with rubbing Democrats’ noses in their past dismissiveness of any threat from Russia.

But the question is . . . what do we want to do about Vladimir Putin and Russian aggression today?

A Key Point about Tyrants, the World Stage, and Technology

This weekend, we had friends visiting from out of town, and some wanted to go to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Back in 2008, I went to one of the museum’s temporary exhibits, about the 1936 Olympic Games, displaying how Hitler largely pulled off the propaganda victory he wanted — with the notable exception of Jesse Owens blowing up the argument about Aryan genetic superiority. (Owens returned home to the United States to live under our own legal racial discrimination.)

Sports boosters and some foreign-policy thinkers have argued, decade after decade, that the privilege of hosting big international sporting events such as the Olympics or World Cup makes despotic, authoritarian, or brutal regimes stay on their best behavior. But it never works out that way. Russia just hosted the Olympics and World Cup, and they’re as aggressive as ever. We didn’t see much improvement in China’s behavior before the Beijing Olympics. Qatar’s building its stadiums with what amounts to migrant slave labor. As I wrote only-partially-tongue-in-cheek a few weeks ago, we would be better off having the World Corruption Games.

I was reminded of that when I read this comment by John Hayward: “As I’ve mournfully noted many times, the Internet was supposed to be a super-weapon for freedom, but instead it has become an instrument of tyranny, a weapon that can be used by authoritarians against free societies. Authoritarianism is now more viral than liberty.”

Dictators and brutal regimes look at all technology advances with one overriding question: “How can I use this to stay in power?”

ADDENDA: I’m scheduled to chat with Tony Katz sometime today.

Politics & Policy

Seeing Russia Clearly, Whether the President Wants to or Not

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. (Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why we need to keep track of Russia’s aggressive actions, whether or not President Trump wants to do the same; the Democrats’ favorite rising star is beginning to wilt in the spotlight; a surprising controversy in Paris; and The New Yorker offers some familiar complaints about the Constitution.

At What Point Do We Hold Putin and the Russian Government Accountable?

President Trump, on Twitter this morning: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”

Perhaps this is just the typical morning fuming before the eyes of the entire world, but if Trump wonders why he gets called a puppet of Putin and why so many people speculate that Putin has some sort of leverage over him . . . it’s comments like these that add fuel to that fire. If Trump is genuinely bothered by those accusations, it’s entirely within his power to stop them, or at least mitigate them, by taking a tougher line with Vladimir Putin.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s put aside the allegations of hacking and stealing data and then funneling it through WikiLeaks during the 2016 election.

Did the United States make Russian intelligence use that Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury, England?

Did the U.S. make Russian-aligned separatists use a Russian military anti-aircraft missile to shoot down a Malaysian Airlines jet, full of innocent civilians? More than a few aviation experts will contend that a Boeing 777 cannot easily be mistaken for a military aircraft, and air-traffic and radar records indicate that no Ukrainian aircraft was within 30 miles of the Malaysian Airlines plane — meaning either the separatists knew it was a civilian jetliner and fired anyway, or the Russian military handed off anti-aircraft weapons to militants so utterly incompetent that they couldn’t distinguish between military and civilian aircraft. In any other context, we would consider that state-sponsored terrorism.

In 1983, the Soviet military shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, and President Reagan held a nationally televised address calling it “a crime against humanity” and “an act of barbarism, born of a society which wantonly disregards individual rights and the value of human life and seeks constantly to expand and dominate other nations.” He suspended negotiations on some issues and pushed for other countries to bar Aeroflot, the Soviet airline, from their skies.

I seem to recall a lot of us finding Obama’s response in 2014 muffled. There’s no statute of limitations on accountability; the Trump administration could press Putin’s regime hard on this, but they choose another path.

The four-year anniversary of the attack on Malaysian Airlines is tomorrow.

Did the U.S. make the Russian military roll into Crimea?

When Syria’s Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons, after the regime in Tehran, who’s the first to defend him? Why is Russia so eager to end investigations into the use of chemical weapons in Syria, using veto power at the United Nations again and again?

I recall during the election, an esteemed former colleague — who at one point knew Russia pretty darn well — insisting that Russia was “going to help us defeat ISIS.” Unfortunately, Russian forces have sometimes refused to strike ISIS targets in parts of Syria they control. In Syria, Russia has been absolutely brutal in hitting anti-Assad forces, inflicting plenty of civilian casualties, yet they never brought that ruthless ferocity to the fight against ISIS.

And at least once, some forces aligned with theirs took shots at our forces. Why did a large group of Russian mercenaries fire upon American special forces in Deir al-Zour Province in Syria? (They paid the price; anywhere from 200 to 300 members of the opposition died, and no Americans were harmed.)

Why does the Russian military conduct mock invasion drills just beyond the territorial waters of NATO members?

Just how is the United States supposed to react to this steadily worsening record of aggression? In this context, why would anyone find Russia hacking, stealing data, exposing private emails, and perhaps even mixing in some disinformation so unthinkable?

At what point do we hold Putin and the Russian government accountable for its actions?

Trump said at a recent rally: “Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people.”

No, he’s not “fine.”

‘I’m Willing to Learn and Evolve on this Issue as I Think Many Americans Are’

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic party’s new favorite young Democratic Socialist and effectively a congresswoman-in-waiting, appeared on the new Firing Line. Her comments about Israel . . . did not go smoothly. Margaret Hoover asked about her characterization of Israel:

Hoover: You use the term “the occupation of Palestine,” what did you mean by that?

Ocasio-Cortez: Oh — I think, what I meant is that the settlements that are increasing in some of these areas and places where Palestinians are experiencing difficulty in access to housing and homes.

Hoover: Do you think you can expand on that?

Ocasio-Cortez: Yeah, I think — I am not the expert on geo-politics on this issue. You now, for me, I’m a firm believer in finding a two-state solution in this issue. And I’m happy to sit down with leaders on both of these . . . for me, I just look at things through a human-rights lens, and I may not use the right words — I know this is a very intense issue.

Hoover: That’s very honest and you’re going to — and when you get to Washington and you’re an elected member of Congress you’ll have an opportunity to talk to people on all sides and visit Israel and visit the West Bank.

Ocasio-Cortez: Absolutely. And especially with the district that I represent, I come from the South Bronx, I come from a Puerto Rican background. And Middle Eastern politics is not exactly at my kitchen table every night. But I also recognize that this is an intensely important issue for people in my district, for Americans across the country. And I think at least what is important to communicate is that I am willing to listen. And that I’m willing to learn and evolve on this issue as I think many Americans are.

Maybe 28-year-old members of Congress are rare for a reason.

Should a Governments Bar a Particular Performer from a Site of Terror Attack?

Meanwhile, over in France, there’s controversy brewing over a Muslim rapper who’s scheduled to perform at the Bataclan theater — the site of the terrorist attack in 2015 — and whether he’s sufficiently anti-Islamist.

Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris, writing over at the Gatestone Institute:

The concerts will most likely not be canceled. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that “freedom of speech” has to be respected and accused the complaining organizations of playing the game of the “extreme right.” Muslim organizations spoke of “Islamophobia.”

Laurent Wauquiez, president of the conservative Les Républicains party, said that “the role of the police and the army is to watch over the safety of people and not wait passively while people get killed.” He also said that if the concerts were held, it would be a “sacrilege” and the second death of the victims of the attacks. Other conservative politicians shared his opinion.

They were immediately accused of “racism”.

Most mainstream French media outlets remained silent. Those who broke the silence accused the lawyers of needlessly wanting to reopen old wounds. Virtually no journalist spoke of booking Médine’s concerts at the Bataclan: those who did, such as Edouard Philippe, invoked “freedom of speech”.

ADDENDA: Amazon’s discount-filled Prime Day starts at 3 p.m. Eastern, so you may want to peruse the NR book gift list I compiled back on Cyber Monday . . .

I notice none of the objections to the Electoral College, and the argument that it somehow unfairly favors Republicans, address the fact that Democrats won presidential elections in 1992, 1996, 2008, and 2012. Odd how the unfairness seems to fade away when the Democrats run charismatic candidates and only kicks in when Republicans run better candidates.

Over in The New Yorker, John Cassidy laments, “Despite being trounced in the popular vote in 2016, the G.O.P. has controlled the upper chamber since 2014.” Why, it’s almost as if senators are elected to six-year terms, and Republicans did exceptionally well in the 2014 midterms! And it’s almost as if Republicans got no votes in California in 2016 and Democrats ran two candidates in the general election to win almost twice their usual total of votes — which is in fact exactly what happened!

Politics & Policy

Ending the Week with Hard Truths

Protesters hold signs during a “March For Our Lives” demonstration demanding gun control in New York City, March 24, 2018. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

A line from an essay by Sally Quinn in Politico, on President Trump, the media, and the prevalence of lying in American politics:

Bob Woodward told me he wonders whether we still have the same commitment to accountability in our political culture: “Lying is bad public policy and bad for human relations but it doesn’t always have the consequences it should. That’s the problem … the penalties for lying are insufficient in many cases.”

That’s one way of putting it. Or, to flip it, the reward for telling the truth is insufficient in many cases.

Will the voters reward you if you say that our annual deficits and the debt are too high, and that addressing the problem will require cutting spending, raising taxes, or both? No. If you tell them that changing demographics make the entitlement programs unsustainable, and that the only way to avoid a collapse is to reduce benefits, raise taxes, or shift workers to a riskier form of personal investing for retirement, how do they respond?

Do they sit down, look at the numbers, do the math for themselves, and carefully contemplate which path is least painful for themselves and the country as a whole? Or do they vote for the guy who promises to “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts” and who contends he can solve the entire problem just by eliminating “waste and abuse”?

Will the voters reward you if you say that health care is complicated and expensive, and that any health-care system can only offer two of the three desired qualities — good, fast, or cheap?

Localities (e.g., Seattle’s city council) keep learning the hard way that massive tax increases chase away businesses. Do voters like hearing this?

Do people like hearing that while the quality of schools are important, the single most important factor in a child’s success is parental involvement and engagement?

Do they like hearing that no government-jobs program can help them if they don’t have a work ethic and the drive, ambition, and dedication to succeed?

How many people will cheer if you say that police work is challenging and difficult, that police officers are human beings and that they make mistakes, that while we can attempt to hold bad cops accountable we’ll never have a perfect system, and that if officers get less aggressive in how they police a minority community, the rate of violent crime will probably increase?

If you tell Democratic primary voters that no gun-control proposal is going to end violent crime, how do they take this? If you tell Republican primary voters that it probably makes long-term financial sense to spend some money on anti-recidivism programs, to steer criminals away from repeat offenses, what percentage is receptive?

Do fans of a border wall know that two-thirds of illegal immigrants now enter legally and overstay their visas? Do they realize that their preferred solution won’t address this aspect of the problem?

How many voters will cheer if you say that our options in foreign policy basically amount to Iraq versus Syria — the consequences of intervention in dangerous situations versus the consequences of nonintervention in dangerous situations? “It’s not our problem, let them fight it out” sounds appealing until the caravans and boatloads of refugees show up at your borders. How many voters want to hear that a problem that seems far away and irrelevant to our lives — like some bearded yahoo in a cave declaring war against the United States — can one day end up transforming our lives forever?

Governing, like life, is full of choices and trade-offs. Sometimes you need to sacrifice a little freedom for security, and sometimes you have to accept a little risk in order to enjoy freedom. The problems are complicated, and the solutions are rarely simple or easy.

But the voters give the same preferred answer to this conundrum pretty frequently: Give us the guy who promises everything can be solved quickly and easily.

President Trump’s Instinctive, Unplanned Attack on U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May

I think the best part is this diplomatic incident is that President Trump probably doesn’t think that he’s meddling in British politics; he’s just saying what he thinks —  which, of course,  amounts to a knife in the back of the prime minister who is hosting him:

Theresa May’s new soft Brexit blueprint would “kill” any future trade deal with the United States, Donald Trump warns today.

Mounting an extraordinary attack on the PM’s exit negotiation, the President also reveals she has ignored his advice on how to toughen up the troubled talks.

Instead he believes Mrs May has gone “the opposite way”, and he thinks the results have been “very unfortunate”.

His fiercest criticism came over the centrepiece of the PM’s new Brexit plan — which was unveiled in full yesterday.

It will pour nitroglycerine on the already raging Tory Brexiteer revolt against the PM.

And in more remarks that will set off alarm bells in No. 10, Mr Trump also said Mrs May’s nemesis Boris Johnson — who resigned over the soft Brexit blueprint on –Monday — would “make a great Prime Minister”.

If all of this ends with Trump’s preferred figure, Boris Johnson, becoming prime minister, then the provocative interview with The Sun may be remembered as shrewd maneuvering: the seven-level chess that the president’s fans insist he’s always playing. But if the topping of Theresa May ends with Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn — a man who characterized supporting ISIS as a “political point of view” that did not warrant prosecution — as prime minster, then it is Trump living down to all of his critics’ accusations: blundering, loud, unthinking, oblivious, and counterproductive.

Of course, this morning, in a joint press conference with May, Trump declared, “Whatever you’re going to do is okay with us. Just make sure we can trade together.” He also called the claim that he criticized May to be … “fake news.”

“I didn’t criticize the prime minister,” Trump said. Er … okay, pal.

Ho-Hum, Lefty Londoners Are Protesting an American President Again

Back in 1982, “115,000 anti-nuclear protestors gathered in Hyde Park” to protest President Ronald Reagan’s visit.

Then in 2003, “tens of thousands of demonstrators in Trafalgar Square cheered and whistled Thursday as a papier-mâché effigy of President Bush, painted gold to resemble the toppled statue of Saddam Hussein, was yanked to the ground at a peaceful rally.”

I’m sure that those protesters in London that day believed that Bush was the worst American president ever, the personification of all that was dangerous and malevolent in the world, a force for chaos and instability and xenophobia and hatred, and so on.

Except … he wasn’t.

Sure, you can argue with any one of Bush’s decisions or all of them — it’s rather shocking to hear John McCain call the Iraq War “a very serious mistake” — but the protesters in London today, launching their “Baby Trump” balloon in the air, probably ought to hoist a “Sorry We Were So Harsh, President Bush” banner or two. George W. Bush supported NATO, the World Trade Organization, free trade, human rights, insisted Islam was not the enemy, visited a mosque a week after 9/11, was much more welcoming of immigrants both legal and illegal, and his Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief probably saved a couple million people in Africa. Those protesters in London ought to get down on their knees and thank Gaia that George W. Bush was president from 2001 to 2009; by their own measures, Bush made the world a better, safer, healthier place. Instead, they and much of the broader European political establishment held Bush and his administration in glowering contempt.

When the European Left insists that Ronald Reagan is the most dangerous man in the world, and then a decade and a half later insists George W. Bush is the most dangerous man in the world, and then a decade and a half later insists Donald Trump is the most dangerous man in the world … you feel pretty confident that in 2033 or so, they’ll be insisting that another Republican president is the most dangerous man in the world.

ADDENDA: Apparently about 1,000 or so of my Twitter followers were bots. Dang, these Cylons get better at blending in every year.

Politics & Policy

The Democratic Party’s Favorite New Candidate Hits a Snag

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez marches during the Bronx’s pride parade in the Bronx borough of New York City, June 17, 2018. (David 'Dee' Delgado/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hits an unexpected complication for November; tough questions about whether opposing Brett Kavanaugh is worth it for endangered Senate Democrats; and whether America can continue to function if political parties see each other as enemies and threats instead of mere opponents.

The Road to Congress for New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Democrats’ favorite new congressional candidate, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, hit a bump in the road this week. New York State has lots of small political parties and allows candidates to run as the nominee of multiple parties. Ocasio-Cortez beat incumbent congressman Joe Crowley in the Democratic party’s primary. But the Working Families party had endorsed Crowley, and made him their nominee. The Working Families party asked Crowley to agree to remove his name from the ballot and . . . he won’t.

Ocasio-Cortez now accuses Crowley of bailing on three scheduled concession calls and “mounting a 3rd party challenge against me.”

New York’s 14th congressional district is heavily, heavily Democratic — in 2016, Hillary Clinton won 77 percent of the vote and Donald Trump won 20 percent, and Crowley beat Republican challenger Frank Spotorno, 75 percent to 19 percent.

But what happens if, in November, the 30,000 or so residents who voted for Spotorno in 2016, joined up with the 12,000 or so who voted for Crowley in the primary, and some undetermined number of tuned-out voters who mark the box for Crowley out of habit? Sure, Ocasio-Cortez is the safest bet. But how many Republicans in this district would love to see the congressional career of the self-described Democratic Socialist derailed before it began?

Could you imagine how livid the hard-left Democratic activists would be if they witnessed Ocasio-Cortez defeated in the general election?

UPDATE: This morning, Crowley responded on Twitter: “Alexandria, the race is over and Democrats need to come together. I’ve made my support for you clear and the fact that I’m not running. We’ve scheduled phone calls and your team has not followed through. I’d like to connect but I’m not willing to air grievances on Twitter.”

Yes, Yes, Every GOP-Nominated Supreme Court Nominee Is Extreme, Blah Blah Blah

Elsewhere in the Times, Bret Stephens reminds us that liberal interest groups always react the same way to Supreme Court nominees from Republican presidents, even when they turn out to be exactly what they wanted:

In 1987, the National Organization for Women declared that Anthony Kennedy would be a “disaster” for the rights of women and minorities. Yet the libertarian-minded Kennedy went on to defend abortion rights in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and cast the decisive vote for marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). In 1990, Judith Lichtman of the Women’s Legal Defense Fund warned in a Times op-ed that “Judge Souter’s confirmation must be denied” based on his evasiveness during his confirmation hearings. Over time, Souter emerged as a reliably liberal vote on the court. Similar fury greeted John Roberts’s 2005 nomination — until his vote to preserve Obamacare remade him into a consensus-oriented pragmatist.

The discussion about potential “Yes” votes among Senate Democrats is focusing heavily upon Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, because they voted for Neil Gorsuch. But we shouldn’t rule out Bill Nelson of Florida, and there should be a lot of attention focused upon Alabama’s Doug Jones — and the question of whether Jones wants to be reelected or whether he’s basically renting his Senate seat for three years. Asked whether abortion should be legal or illegal in a 2017 exit poll, 52 percent of Alabamans said “illegal” and 48 percent said “legal” — and that’s in an election where some Republicans probably either stayed home or flipped for Jones because of Roy Moore’s scandals and problems.

What Happens If You Try to Redefine the Entire Opposition as the ‘Outgroup’ of America?

I really liked this column from Damon Linker, because I think he accurately diagnosed where the United States is headed if current trends of partisan animosity continue — two sides of the debate who think the opposition is not merely misguided or foolish but malignant and evil, and who basically see the other side as the biggest threat to the country, and who must be stamped out at all costs.

If Republicans really do pose such a threat, that’s very bad. But it’s also bad if Democrats merely think and act as if it’s true, since it implies that they now believe that the only way to be a “good American” is to … be a Democrat. The problem with Kavanaugh, after all, isn’t Trump’s corruption or the gratuitous cruelty and ineptitude of his administration. The problem with Kavanaugh is the agenda of his party and its ideology going back decades.

Do Democrats really intend to suggest that Americans need to agree with them or else risk subverting American democracy as such? If so, they should be clear about it — and honest with themselves about what it implies, which is that what was formerly considered perfectly normal (the ordinary give-and-take of democratic politics) has now become a luxury the country can no longer afford.

That would signal the end of normal politics in America — and constitute a genuine crisis of American democracy.

At the heart of this is what separates “the opposing side in our national politics is a bunch of buffoons with bad ideas who must be countered and beaten at the ballot box” from “the opposing side in our national politics is a menace that will destroy our country and who must be fought by any means possible.”

A lot of how we see the world stems from how we define our ingroups and outgroups — not merely “the in crowd,” although that can be an element of it; it’s more which groups we define ourselves as a part of, and who else we recognize as part of our ingroups. The term “RINO” — “Republican In Name Only” — stems from an effort to clarify that some figures deviate from the party so much that they really shouldn’t be cited as representatives of the Republican party. (In some cases, such as Charlie Crist, Arlen Specter, and Lincoln Chafee, they eventually leave.) It’s why many progressives insisted Joe Lieberman wasn’t really a Democrat, and why Trump-skeptic conservatives note how many years Donald Trump was a registered Democrat. Because of how common guilt-by-association has become in our politics, we’ve become particularly attuned to who gets labeled what. Timothy McVeigh is often cited as an example of “Christian terrorism,” although he was an atheist. (It is more accurate to point out that many members of the militia movement in those days identified as Christians.)

Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Maxine Waters, Barack Obama, Rachel Maddow, Michael Moore — you may not be able to stand those folks, but they’re Americans. The moment we take them out of the ingroup of Americans and put them into an outgroup — i.e., suggesting that they’re “not real Americans” — we sail into some dangerous waters. Because we will do things to members of an outgroup that we would never do to an ingroup. We owe things to members of the ingroup that we don’t owe to the outgroup. We can live with a wacky neighbor who believes the moon landing was faked. We can’t live with a wacky neighbor who pledges allegiance to ISIS.

There’s a flip side to this, of course; if you run around accusing several hundred American citizens and organizations of secretly being agents of the Russian government, you’re attempting to redefine lots of American citizens into the outgroup. If you’re refusing to serve the White House press secretary and her family at your restaurant, or going into a screaming rage at Steve Bannon as he browses in a Richmond bookstore, or throwing water at Tomi Lahren as she dines with her parents, you’re attempting to throw them out of the ingroup of humanity, or people who deserve to be left alone despite disagreement.

The idea of “national divorce” —  the concept explored in Kurt Schlichter’s People’s Republic series — which some people wildly misinterpret as pro-national-division — seemed really farfetched just a few years ago. Today? Perhaps not so much. The give-and-take and less-than-fully satisfying compromises that make a constitutional republic work apparently bore today’s young activists; they want to play “Nazi-hunter.” Progressives argue, fairly, that President Trump’s rhetoric often offers frustrated people a scapegoat for their problems — illegal immigrants, foreign countries making unfair trade deals, violent criminals, big businesses — and that he whips them up into an unpredictable anger and belief that they make the country “great again” by lashing out at these scapegoated groups. They contend that he tags whole populations with outgroup labels — all illegal immigrants are potential rapists and gang members, all Muslim immigrants are potential terrorists, every critic is a smug elitist, every member of big media organizations an “enemy of the American people.”

What a lot of progressives don’t realize is that they’re responding to Trump with the exact same playbook! (Or perhaps they realize it and enjoy it.) Everyone to their right is a potential Russian agent, a potential secret member of the alt-right or a neo-Nazi, every employer a heartless exploiter of American labor, every Christian a dangerous theocrat.

How do you coexist with a political opposition that you think is trying to kill you? You can’t.

ADDENDA: Headline on the New York Times front page: “‘I Believe in NATO’: Trump Affirms Support for Alliance.”

Headline on the New York Times op-ed page: “Sorry, NATO. Trump Doesn’t Believe in Allies.”


Worried about Russia? Then Keep an Eye on Germany’s Former Chancellor

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (right) and German former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (center) greet Vladimir Putin, who is sworn as Russian President during an inauguration ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia May 7, 2018. (Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why those concerned about Russia should be paying a lot more attention to former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder; the Eastern European NATO members’ baffling and self-destructive decision to skimp on defense spending; why Judge Kavanaugh’s clerks loved him; and the United States approaches a new threshold of energy power.

Why Is Germany’s Former Chancellor Now Putin’s Chief Lobbyist in Europe?

A lot of folks in the United States will scream furiously about this statement from President Trump at the NATO Summit:

“I have to say, I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we’re supposed to be guarding against Russia,” Trump said at a breakfast with NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg. “We’re supposed to protect you against Russia but they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that’s very inappropriate . . . Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia.”

As usual, Trump is down the street and around the corner from a legitimate point. Well, perhaps he’s a bit closer this time. If you think Trump’s past business connections to Russian figures are troubling, you probably ought to be livid about how former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s has decided to become the chief lobbyist for Vladimir Putin in Europe.

One of Schroeder’s last acts in office in 2005 was authorizing “Nord Stream,” a pipeline bypassing key territories and controlled by Russia’s Gazprom energy company. Shortly after leaving office, Vladimir Putin arranged for Schroeder to chair the project, and then he started pushing for a second pipeline, Nord Stream 2. Instead of diversifying Europe’s energy supply, Schroeder’s pushed policies that make the continent more dependent upon Russia, not less. In September 2017, Putin arranged for Schroeder to become chairman of Rosneft, the state-owned Russian oil giant.

The Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins wrote earlier this year that Schroeder is exactly the kind of wealthy, well-connected, influential figure acting on behalf of Russia that U.S. sanctions are supposed to target:

Germany’s allies and its European Union partners, including the quietly frantic Poles and Balts, can’t quite refer to Mr. Schroeder as a Putin agent nestled in the heart of Germany’s political and business elite. His name doesn’t appear on any U.S. government list. Section 241 of last summer’s sanctions law required the U.S. Treasury to identify the ‘most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs’ behind the Putin regime. These descriptors would seem to apply to Mr. Schroeder but it remains diplomatically impermissible to say so.

Lately, Schroeder has been hanging out with Putin at the World Cup. How is it, in an era when U.S. politics is suddenly deeply concerned — some would say paranoid — about Russian influence, that Schroeder’s cheerful embrace of lobbying for Russia has barely made a ripple on this side of the pond? The cynical answer is that most of those screaming the loudest about Russia today don’t think of Putin as sinister because of his lack of criticism of Trump; they think of Trump as sinister because of his lack of criticism of Putin. Indeed, Russia shot down a passenger airliner over Ukraine in 2014, and it was out of the news within a week.

But their cynicism doesn’t change the fact that Russia is generally hostile to American policies under presidents of either party, and Vladimir Putin would love to see the NATO alliance collapse. Their military actions in Georgia and Crimea demonstrate that when the Russians think they can get away with naked aggression, they’ll try it.

In that light, the reluctance of some NATO members to honor their agreements and spend the required 2 percent of GDP on military spending is baffling. In 2017, just four member states hit that 2 percent threshold — the United States (3.57 percent), Greece (2.36 percent), the United Kingdom (2.12 percent), and Estonia (2.08 percent), and we’ll give Poland the benefit of the doubt because it hit 1.99 percent.

Tiny Luxembourg ranked last, spending less than one-half of 1 percent on their military. Perhaps Luxembourg’s leaders figure that because they’re nestled between France, Germany, and Belgium, they can count on their neighbors to slow down any invading Russians.

But the NATO members in Eastern Europe have no excuse.

Look, Hungary, you’re just beyond Ukraine. If the Russian army rolls through the breadbasket of Europe, they might want some goulash to go with it, and in 2017, you spent just 1.06 percent of your GDP on your military. Dear friends in the Czech Republic, you’re just past Poland, and you’re at 1.05 percent. Maybe Slovenia is spending less than 1 percent of GDP on defense because they’re certain Melania Trump would never allow the nation of her birth to be invaded.

Guys, you’re the ones facing the biggest risk. If Russia’s military starts acting out its expansionist fantasies, we’re not going to see them begin with Russian ships advancing up the Potomac River. What’s really baffling is that these countries are reluctant to finance a military buildup with an American president who talks about the NATO alliance as if it’s a giant scam and who talks about European nations as if they’re delinquent on the rent. If there was ever a time for these countries to start spending on their own defense, this is it.

Lithuania figured out the score. They share a border with Russia and just got it up to 2 percent. NATO thinks that eight member countries will meet the 2 percent threshold in 2018, which is an improvement — but there are 29 members!

The Norwegian drama series Occupied offers the painfully funny lesson that if the United States ever decides that the NATO alliance isn’t worth it, it more or less ceases to exist. Sure, Trump has a crude, ahistorical perspective on the value of the alliance, but less than half of NATO member states are putting much effort into dispelling the notion that they’re a bunch of freeloaders who won’t take responsibility for the safety and security of their own citizens.

‘Judge Kavanaugh Has Been a Role Model to Us Personally as well as Professionally’

We would expect Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s former clerks to like him and endorse him . . . but it is reassuring to see 34 of them writing a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee touting his exceptional qualities as a legal mind and as a human being:

During his time on the D.C. Circuit, Judge Kavanaugh has come to work every day dedicated to engaging in the hard work of judging. We never once saw him take a shortcut, treat a case as unimportant, or search for an easy answer. Instead, in each case, large or small, he masters every detail and rereads every precedent. He listens carefully to the views of his colleagues and clerks, even – indeed, especially – when they differ from his own. He drafts opinions painstakingly, writing and rewriting until he is satisfied each opinion is clear and well-reasoned, and can be understood not only by lawyers but by the parties and the public. We saw time and again that this work ethic flows from a fundamental humility. Judge Kavanaugh never assumes he knows the answers in advance and never takes for granted that his view of the law will prevail. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Judge Kavanaugh has been a role model to us personally as well as professionally. He is unfailingly warm and gracious with his colleagues no matter how strongly they disagree about a case, and he is well-liked and respected by judges and lawyers across the ideological spectrum as a result.

It’s rather fascinating to watch lefty voices complain about news coverage of Kavanaugh being too focused on him as “a carpool dad” and focused on humanizing personality traits . . . when there’s an entire line of merchandise about “the notorious RBG” and gobs of glowing coverage of tough grandma Ruth Bader Ginsburg in places such as Glamour magazine, and she’s been invited to do her workout routine on Stephen Colbert’s comedy show. Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we were only allowed to have lighter, humanizing, personality-based coverage of Supreme Court justices appointed by Democrats.

Put Crudely, We’re Pretty Awesome, America

Remember when we were worried that America’s future would be one of crippling weakness and dependence on foreign oil? Yeah, never mind.

“In 2019, [the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA)] forecasts that the United States will average nearly 12 million barrels of crude oil production per day,” said Linda Capuano, Administrator of the EIA. “If the forecast holds, that would make the U.S. the world’s leading producer of crude.”

We’ve been producing more than 10 million barrels a day in 2018.

ADDENDA: Our Charlie Cooke lays out why the press earns its distrust. Elsewhere, I point out a frustrating, deeply misleading headline that suggests that some copy editors at major newspapers simply don’t know much about the places that their outlets are covering.

Politics & Policy

Don’t Worry, Conservatives — Everybody You Like Loves This Guy

Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh speaks in the East Room of the White House , July 9, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Brett Kavanaugh is a fine pick for the Supreme Court.

Yes, Amy Coney Barrett might have triggered a clarifying culture war Ragnarök. Yes, at 53, if confirmed, Kavanaugh will probably be on the Court until “only” the 2040s.

Yes, some Democrats will point to Kavanaugh’s work with Ken Starr and his role in investigating the suicide of Vince Foster and attempt to demonize him with those long-ago tawdry chapters of presidential history. Yes, Kavanaugh is “establishment” in the sense that he worked on the Florida recount and in the Bush White House. Yes, twelve years on the D.C. Circuit Court mean he has a lot of rulings, and modern young progressive activists will attempt to pick out whichever ones seem surprising and paint him as some sort of cross between Torquemada and Pontius Pilate.

(Of course, that assumes modern young progressive activists know who Torquemada and Pontius Pilate are. They’re probably going to pick malicious authority figures from Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, aren’t they?)

But just about everybody in the conservative legal and policy community was doing cartwheels over the selection.

Douglas Johnson, senior policy adviser to National Right to Life: “Judge Kavanaugh’s record, viewed as a whole, indicates a willingness to enforce the rights truly based on the text and history of the Constitution, while otherwise leaving policymaking in the hands of elected legislators. Kavanaugh is exceptionally well qualified to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court — and like Neil Gorsuch, he will be subjected to a smear campaign by those on the Left who are addicted to the imposition of social policy by judicial decree.”

Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser: “President Trump has made another outstanding choice in nominating Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, keeping his promise to nominate only originalist judges to the Court. Judge Kavanaugh is an experienced, principled jurist with a strong record of protecting life and constitutional rights, as evidenced by his opinions in Garza v. Hargan and Priests for Life v. HHS.”

Chris W. Cox, executive director, NRA-ILA: “President Trump has made another outstanding choice in nominating Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court. He has an impressive record that demonstrates his strong support for the Second Amendment. . . . We urge the Senate to swiftly confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, just as it confirmed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.”

Stephen Law, president of One Nation (one of Karl Rove’s groups): “Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a constitutional conservative in the same tradition of Justice Kennedy and Justice Gorsuch. We applaud President Trump for the careful consideration he has given to this nomination, and are disappointed by those senators who pre-determined their opposition to the President’s nominee before knowing who it was.”

Judicial Crisis Network just launched ConfirmKavanaugh.com, which will soon offer probably more than you ever wanted to know about the life and work of Brett Kavanaugh.

The editors of National Review are cheery this morning: “Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s new nominee for the Supreme Court, is a whip-smart legal conservative. As a judge in the highest-profile appeals court in the nation, he has shown an exemplary dedication to the rule of law. He has defended the separation of powers against threats coming from multiple directions. He has repeatedly cautioned his colleagues on the bench not to attempt to play a legislative role. He has also insisted on enforcing constitutional structures of accountability on government agencies. He has vindicated the right to free speech (against certain campaign-finance regulations), to bear arms (against the D.C. government’s attempts to implement sweeping bans), and to religious liberty (against a version of the Obama administration’s ‘contraceptive mandate’). And he has followed Supreme Court precedents even when gently suggesting they should be rethought.”

Before the selection, I thought David French offered the most even-tempered cautionary note, laying out the two decisions by Kavanaugh that troubled him. Last night he concluded that while he’ll proudly defend Kavanaugh, he has a slight sigh of regret: “Over time, I think he’ll prove to be a solid (and perhaps even excellent) pick. And, over the next several weeks, we’ll see an avalanche of progressive attacks, many of them labeling even his best and most rigorous opinions ‘extremist’ or ‘dangerous.’ Kavanaugh will be an easy pick to defend. But it’s simply a fact that tonight my inbox is lighting up with responses — many of them from Trump supporters — expressing a sense of regret.”

Mike Allen, who writes that other morning newsletter: “He delivered what he promised, as he promised, on the one thing most Rs care most about.”

The Early Line on the Confirmation Fight

Patrick Morrisey, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in West Virginia: “This evening, Senator [Joe] Manchin snubbed President Trump’s invitation to the White House, lining up with Chuck Schumer and Washington liberals. I hope Senator Manchin will drop the act and put aside the interests of the Washington Democrat establishment, and do the right thing for the people of West Virginia. The men and women of West Virginia urge Senator Manchin to stand up for the Constitution, and our West Virginia conservative values, and support the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Manchin voted for Neil Gorsuch.

Representative Kevin Cramer, the GOP nominee for Senate in North Dakota: “[Kavanaugh’s] temperament, academic background and past judicial experience more than qualify him to serve on the highest court in the land. I believe these characteristics and values match perfectly with the expectations of the majority of North Dakotans and for these reasons, I support his nomination and strongly encourage our North Dakota Senators to unite in support of this outstanding nominee. This is a winning pick for North Dakota and deserves our two votes.”

His opponent, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, also voted for Neil Gorsuch. It’s a similar story for Indiana senator Joe Donnelly.

“I am sure Senator Donnelly will eventually say that he will vote for him, because it is an election year,” said Indiana GOP Senate candidate Mike Braun. “But I can immediately say without hesitation that I would support this nomination and I hope the Senate moves quickly to confirm the President’s choice.”

Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving member of the Senate Judiciary Committee: “Judge Kavanaugh understands the proper role of the judiciary and will faithfully honor the Constitution. That’s why I will lift heaven and Earth to see that he is confirmed.”

Unsurprisingly, Democratic senators and progressive activists insist that Brett Kavanaugh is history’s greatest monster.

Twenty minutes after the nomination, California senator Kamala Harris announced she would vote “No,” declaring that Kavanaugh “represents a direct and fundamental threat to the rights and health care of hundreds of millions of Americans.” Her fellow Californian Dianne Feinstein insisted, “Brett Kavanaugh’s views are far outside the mainstream when it comes to health care, executive power, privacy and gun safety.”

The Women’s March was furious about the nomination of “XX” to the court.

What Do Voters in States with High-Stakes Senate Races Think?

The Susan B. Anthony List commissioned a poll of registered voters in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and West Virginia, and asked voters, “As you may know, Justice Kennedy recently retired from the Supreme Court. The President will appoint a replacement and the U.S. Senate will vote on that person. Do you think Senator [Nelson, Donnelly, McCaskill, Heitkamp, or Manchin: depending on the state] should vote to confirm President Trump’s appointment to the Supreme Court?” (Note this poll is conducted before Kavanaugh was named.)

In Florida and Indiana, 56 percent of registered voters answered Yes. In Missouri, 57 percent of respondents said Yes, in West Virginia it was 59 percent, and in North Dakota it was all the way up to 68 percent.

ADDENDUM: Before the selection, Caleb Howe queried a bunch of conservative pundits about their predictions and preferences . . . sounds like most of us were hoping for Barrett!

Law & the Courts

Tune in to ABC’s Monday Night Judicial Nominations!

President Donald Trump announces his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House, January 31, 2017. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

They’re all good judges, but for what it’s worth, I hope President Trump nominates Amy Coney Barrett to be the next justice on the Supreme Court.

Ramesh offers several strong arguments for Barrett, and I’ll throw in one more. The way Senate Democrats treated Barrett last autumn — in particular, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s argument that Barrett was simply too religious and too devoutly Catholic to serve on the bench, declaring, “the dogma lives loudly within you,” revealed an argument this country needs to have: whether the country accepts deeply religious people in positions of legal authority.

(It’s kind of amazing that a country that has freedom of religion, that was founded in part by Pilgrims, was a beacon for those seeking religious freedom for generations, and that has had George Washington, John Adams, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush as presidents would even need to have this debate. But it is illustrative of how different the modern Left is from previous generations.)

Yes, there are plenty of progressive and Democratic Catholics in this country. But I don’t think you have to look too hard to find progressives who believe, more or less, that devout Catholics — perhaps devout Christians of any stripe — simply can’t be trusted to rule on the law and should be prevented from serving in the judiciary whenever possible. A Catholic judge can insist, loudly and often, that they believe their role as a judge is to rule on the law and the Constitution alone, and that while their faith no doubt shapes their values and their worldview — as much as any religion, philosophy, or atheism shapes the values and worldview of any other judge — and some progressives will insist it’s all a ruse. Some are determined to see any religiously active Christians as theocrats in black robes. (As this 2007 cartoon demonstrates, the arguments are sometimes not that subtle at all; merely an affiliation with a Catholic faith makes you an agent of the Pope.)

You know that if Barrett is the nominee, someone on the Left will make an openly sexist criticism. You know her seven children will be discussed in depth. You know that someone will inevitably make an argument that amounts to, “Look, if we’re going to allow Catholics to be judges, they at least have to be lapsed Catholics.”

Why do some progressives see Catholics and/or Christians as aspiring dictators from the bench, eager to toss away any established rights, established traditions, and impose an oppressive doctrine on the entire country and stifle dissent and differing points of view?

Because that’s how some progressives see the role of the judiciary.

We know that progressives’ recent hosannas (no pun intended) to precedent are as arbitrary and conditional as anyone else’s. Yes, Roe v. Wade (abortion) and Obergfell (gay marriage) are precedents. So is Heller (the Second Amendment). At various times in our history, Korematsu (interment of Japanese Americans), Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal), and Dred Scott (African Americans are not citizens) were precedents. Thankfully, subsequent courts reexamined the issues and reversed the decisions. A good judge respects precedent but is always open to the possibility that his predecessors missed some way in which a law violated the Constitution.

There are a lot of ways to define what conservatives consider a good judge — “originalist,” “strict constructionist” — but one of the core concepts is surely that not everything that is bad is unconstitutional, and not everything that is good is constitutional. We would all be better off eating more vegetables, but we don’t want the law and the power of the state forcing us to eat more vegetables.

You may giggle, but that was the example that Justice Antonin Scalia used when the individual mandate of Obamacare came before the Court. When the Obama administration argued that it was constitutional to require people to buy health insurance or pay an additional tax penalty, because everyone had to buy insurance eventually, Scalia suggested, “Everybody has to buy food sooner or later. Therefore, you can make people buy broccoli.” The government insisted requiring citizens to buy a particular vegetable is completely different from requiring them to buy health insurance. Folks on the left scoffed at the comparison, but to a lot of people on the right, it illuminated a key question in evaluating a new law: Just what is the limit on the government’s power to make you do things for your own good?

Progressives want the Supreme Court to be pushing society and its laws leftward — more expansion of the rights of the accused, more expansion of government power (except when it comes to access to abortion), more restriction of expression of religious belief in public spaces, an elimination of the Second Amendment, and restrictions upon the First Amendment that they deem a threat to democracy — i.e., unregulated speech before elections. They can’t imagine that anyone would really want John Roberts’s concept of an umpire judge, calling balls and strikes, with no favor for either team.

Looking Ahead to the Confirmation Vote

Alabama Democratic senator Doug Jones appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and offered the “maybe, we’ll see” noncommittal position that I expect every red-state Democrat to hold for as long as possible:

Oh, I’m open to voting yes. I’m open to voting no. We don’t know who this nominee is going to be yet. I don’t think my role is a rubber stamp for the president, but it’s also not an automatic, knee-jerk No either. My job is to exercise that independent voice. I want to look for a judge that has the intellect and capacity to do the right thing, to follow the rule of law, to adhere to precedents, and move the country forward. And I think that that’s the best role. . . . I am going to make an independent judgment and a view. I don’t think anyone should expect me to simply vote Yes for this nominee just simply because my state may be more conservative than others.

Nate Silver argues that the red-state Democrats will probably just wait to see what Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska do. If the pro-choice Republicans back the nominee, then confirmation is a certainty, and they might as well jump on the bandwagon and get some credit for working across party lines. If the two pro-choice Republicans indicate they’ll vote No, then the nomination will go down if all Democrats remain united in opposition.

The Judicial Crisis Network has already spent $1 million on ads touting the importance of this coming Supreme Court fight. Tonight, immediately after the nomination is announced, the group will spend another $1.4 million on ads on national cable, digital, and in four states including Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota, and West Virginia, “featuring an introductory bio spot about the nominee. The ad will run for one week, and JCN has already reserved another four weeks of air time nationally and in the four states.”

Over in the New York Times, David Leonhardt writes that progressives have to accept that they can’t count on the Court to dismiss conservative arguments and ideas — which means they have to win more elections.

Progressives can still win many of these issues. They simply will have to do so in a small-d democratic way, by winning elections — as they’ve begun to do lately. If Democrats win more governorships and state legislatures, they can keep Republicans from drawing ridiculous congressional maps and infringing on African-Americans’ voting rights — among many other things. If Democrats retake Congress this fall, they can halt the Republican legislative agenda and gain subpoena power.

I realize that a post-Kennedy Supreme Court may one day start throwing out progressive legislation, as happened in the early 20th century. But that’s a fight for another day. Most experts I’ve talked to — scholars and people in politics — believe that elected politicians can prevail in a long-term struggle with unelected judges. Regardless, until Democrats win more elections, it’s a hypothetical concern. “The potential center-left majority in this country — and it’s very real — has to actually organize and elect people to office,” Skocpol says.

[Keep in mind, that for a long time, Republicans and African-American Democrats cooperated to create those majority-minority districts that bother him so much.]

One of the biggest drivers of conservative activism over the past 40 years or so has been pro-lifers who feel like Roe v. Wade short-circuited the legislative debate that America was supposed to have about abortion. Had the Supreme Court not reached that decision, perhaps over the last 45 years we would have had a country where some states have high rates of abortion and some states where it is banned entirely. Our state and local politics might have been much more heated, and people might have voted with their feet.

But perhaps that sense of injustice, that belief that the Supreme Court stole decision-making power that wasn’t meant to be theirs, was the coal in the engine for the Right for decade after decade.

ADDENDUM: David Greenberg with a warning to the Left that nasty tactics don’t always pay off:

Joining Trump in the project of trashing the unwritten rules of public conduct won’t change his policies or governing style. But it will betray our own values and make it harder, once he’s gone, to reconstitute a decent, humane politics. We have nothing to gain from the eradication of a politics-free zone, from a war of all against all that greenlights once-verboten behaviors and permeates once-private spaces.

Besides, as the events of the late 1960s and early 1970s show, the outrageous and obnoxious antics of the militant left ended up hurting their cause. The taunting of public figures isn’t well remembered, and neither will history long record June’s showdown at the Red Hen. But insofar as these actions stem from a determination to score political points by violating civil norms, they—and the repellent and violent methods of extreme protesters more generally—engender a backlash and alienate allies.

Let’s also observe that segments of the angry leftist protesters of the early 1970s morphed into the Weather Underground, Black Panthers, FALN, and even the Symbionese Liberation Army. Radicalism easily curdles into a nihilistic hatred of everything, a belief that nothing is worth preserving and that violence for its own sake is justified.

Economy & Business

Trade Wars Are Bad and Hard to Win… But China Isn’t Innocent Here

A crane unloads shipping containers at a port in Lianyungang, China, in 2014. (China Daily/via Reuters)

It’s awful to see the way this administration is constantly accusing China of unfair trade practices — export duties on various metals, imposing duties on American chicken, exempting domestically made aircraft from certain taxes while imposing them on American-made aircraft, and excessively subsidizing its corn, wheat, and rice production.

Wait, wait, never mind — all of those U.S. actions before the World Trade Organization were filed during the second term of the Obama administration.

It’s easy to tire of President Donald Trump’s surface-level understanding of trade; he seems to think that only a perfect equilibrium of even value of imports to exports is fair. His public fuming against Harley Davidson, and threats that if they move production overseas, the company will be “taxed like never before!” go right up to the line of abuse of presidential power. His declaration that “trade wars are good and easy to win!” suggests an astounding ignorance of economics and history.

But down the street and around the corner from Trump’s position is the legitimate point that China does not play fair — it signs trade agreements, and then violates them, and the U.S. has to go to the WTO to sort it out. The good news for the United States is that they’ve won their past 16 fights against China before the WTO. The bad news is that the WTO can take years to hash out these fights, and while the WTO is reviewing and deliberating, American companies have to live with unfair tariffs.

In December 2011, China imposed duties ranging from 2 percent to 21.5 percent on imports of large American-made cars and SUVs. On July 5, 2012, the U.S. government filed a complaint with the WTO, contending that China had claimed, rather implausibly, that the U.S. automakers were selling their cars below the cost of production, and that their tariffs were retaliation for U.S. government support of the American auto industry, like the government bailout of GM and Chrysler. The Obama administration argued that China could not prove any harm to Chinese automakers. China eventually backed down in December 2013, and the WTO offered its official ruling in May of 2014. In other words, U.S. automakers had to live with the unfair, unjustified tariffs for two years.

The WTO touts that less than half of the disputes brought before it require dispute resolution panels; most of the time the two countries work out an agreement before that step — and that the average time for the panel to investigate and decide is about ten months.

But sometimes resolving a case at the WTO takes a lot longer, and sometimes China will insist that it is complying with a WTO ruling and simply doesn’t. The fight over chicken parts stemmed from duties imposed in 2010; the United States went to the WTO in 2011. The WTO ruled that China violated its agreements in February 2013. China lowered the duties in 2014, but the United States said the new levels still violated treaty agreements. The United States went back to the WTO in 2016. The U.S. Department of Agriculture calculated that the Chinese tariffs have cost American companies a billion dollars in sales. Then in January of this year, the U.S. won at the WTO again.

On the one hand, it doesn’t make much sense for the United States to withdraw from an international organization like the WTO that rules in its favor so often. On the other hand, Trump has a fair gripe that the WTO is very slow-moving in its enforcement. It’s easy to picture Chinese leaders knowing that their positions are indefensible and that their arguments are weak, but, because they can drag out the WTO process so long, their companies enjoy long stretches of competitive advantages from tariffs, duties, and subsidies.

In this light, maybe someone needs to take a tougher stance with China. But that doesn’t mean the coming months or year will be easy:

U.S. tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods kicked in on Friday, escalating a war of words between the world’s two largest economies into a full-blown trade conflict.

Washington’s 25 percent duties went into effect at midnight EDT, and China immediately implemented retaliatory tariffs on its $34 billion list of goods issued last month, including soybeans, pork and electric vehicles. Beijing called it the “biggest trade war in economic history.”

It’s unlikely to stop there. In fact, there will be probably be “escalation upon escalation,” warned Geoff Raby, Australia’s former ambassador to China.

Ahead of the Friday implementation of American and Chinese tariffs, Raby told CNBC that “it looks like the first shots to the trade war are about to be fired.”

As Yoda would say, “Begun, the trade wars have.”

Good Riddance, Scott Pruitt

Yes, conservatives generally liked what he was doing in terms of policy. But at some point, something was going to have to give.

In December, our Kevin Williamson did a deep dive into the changes Pruitt was making at the Environmental Protection Agency: “Pruitt has ended the “sue and settle” process under which the EPA effectively outsourced regulation to activist groups and paid them for the courtesy, and he has barred, as an obvious conflict of interest, parties receiving EPA grants from serving on EPA advisory panels. He is rhetorically sharp, but his administration so far has been far from slash-and-burn.” By April, Jonah was arguing Pruitt should apologize for bad judgment when arranging his condominium in Washington and giving raises to staffers without authorization.

By June, the National Review editors were fed up with the stories of lavish spending and general irresponsibility: “He seems to have used government employees to secure a job for his wife and to get a discount on a mattress. His top aides got hefty raises, and Pruitt first told Fox News he did not know about those raises and then told a House committee that he did. He reportedly told aides to find reasons for him to take official trips to countries he wanted to see, and had security aides run errands such as searching for his favorite lotion. And that’s just the start.”

Finally, Ramesh concludes that Pruitt’s time in Washington came to an ignoble end because of his own inexcusably bad judgment: “The aides who told journalists, or congressional investigators, or both about Pruitt’s misbehavior weren’t all or even mostly liberals or deep staters. Several of them were conservative Trump supporters who were disturbed by Pruitt’s behavior and thought he was serving both the president and taxpayers poorly. Some of them had come with Pruitt from Oklahoma because they believed in him. The more they saw him in action in D.C., the less they did. Today it caught up with him.”

Building Social Unity and a Sense of National Connection Requires Trust First

Michael Brendan Dougherty ate his Wheaties this morning:

GDP goes up. Incomes sometimes go up. Real wages tick up. But, at a basic level, people live in a world where fewer and fewer people owe them consideration, compassion, favors, tips for getting ahead in a career, or consolation for getting through life’s disasters.

This is the background noise behind our politics today. And it is unsurprising that the two insurgent ideological trends on the left and on the right — socialism and nationalism, respectively — emphasize shared burdens, our duties to one another.

If you’re on the right side of the aisle, your worldview probably includes a healthy, heaping serving of individualism — a belief in being independent and self-reliant, a wariness or skepticism towards authority, perhaps membership in some portion of Grover Norquist’s old “Leave Us Alone” coalition — home schooler, gun owner, business owner.

But a country is more than just a collection of individuals. It would be nice to have more universal American experiences and something that cultivated a sense of unity and connection. (I think Megan McArdle is on the right track in her discussion of the human need for unifying, identity-affirming rituals.)

But social cohesion is extraordinarily difficult to build without trust. The slogan “We’re all in this together” is less compelling when people regularly see evidence that we’re not all in this together — watching Wall Street banks get bailed out, watching high-level officials escape consequences of breaking the law, watching the incompetent get promoted, watching Harvard accept a class that is nearly one-third “legacy students,” and learning that powerful men lived as sexual predators for years and almost everyone they encountered averted their eyes.

ADDENDA: I’m scheduled to appear with my friend and co-author Cam Edwards at 2 p.m. today on NRATV.

Look, they’re all good potential Supreme Court nominees. At this point, the argument is whether you prefer steak, lobster, or barbequed ribs.

Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes yesterday.

Politics & Policy

How an Anti-ICE Activist Shut Down Liberty Island

Demonstrators listen to the cries of illegal immigrant children held in a U.S. detention facility after being separated from their parents that Venkatraman is playing through her megaphone during a protest against the separation of immigrant families outside the White House, June 22, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Ugh. I know it’s tough to go back to work today. Think of today as starting a two-day workweek.

Making the click-through worthwhile: An anti-ICE activist inadvertently undermines everything she claims to stand for; Brad Thor’s latest novel spotlights a threat we would rather not think about too deeply or often; some extremely ominous news out of the United Kingdom; and President Trump offers a writer the excuse she’s always wanted.

Notice Which Side of the Immigration Debate Is Forcing the Evacuation of Liberty Island

What better way to ensure that a lot of people have their Independence Day ruined than to perform a dangerous political stunt that requires the evacuation of Liberty Island?

A woman wearing an anti-Trump T-shirt climbed the base of the Statue of Liberty on Independence Day, sparking a mass evacuation of Liberty Island and a nearly four-hour standoff with first responders before she was taken into custody, officials said.

The protester, identified as Therese Patricia Okoumou, 44, was seen scaling the base of the statue about 3 p.m., moments after the group Rise and Resist formed a protest against Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Liberty Island.

“We started engaging in a dialogue of why she was up there,” said ESU cop Brian Glacken, one of two officers who ascended the ladder. “She was basically up there about the children in Texas. At first she wasn’t friendly with us, but we took our time to get a dialogue with her, to get her to trust us. That took a while.”

Glacken said she threatened to push the officers’ ladder off the statue’s base.

Okoumou, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, tied herself to one of the copper vents by the feet of Lady Liberty.

“She didn’t realize one of those vents could rip right out,” Glacken said. “Once I explained that could rip right out, she got kind of worried.”

Okoumou faces trespassing and other charges, officials said. She is due to appear in Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday. The charges are expected to be violation of national park regulations or public use limit; trespassing; disorderly conduct, and interfering with government functions. All are federal misdemeanors.

“She broke the law and will be charged federally,” said Willis, who added there was a concern Okoumou could damage the 132-year-old statue.

“She was on the copper of a national icon,” Willis said, adding that the copper is very thin and malleable. “She could do some damage.”

In order to defend liberty, Okoumou risked damaging the Statute of Liberty; to help her country, she concluded she had to disrupt the Fourth of July events at an iconic national park. To demonstrate her commitment to justice, she threatened to push the ladder of law-enforcement officers. To fight back against the stereotype that immigrants are dangerous and have no respect for the law, the Congolese immigrant did something dangerous and against the law.

Brad Thor’s Spymaster and Our Real-World Dangers

Brad Thor’s newest novel, Spymaster, is his best work in several years, keeping me up well past my bedtime Tuesday night, unable to put it down. I say that as someone who enjoyed Use of Force, Foreign Agent, Code of Conduct, and the rest. But Spymaster is a refreshing change of style and pace; if you read Use of Force and Foreign Agent around the same time as you read Daniel Silva’s The Black Widow and House of Spies, you begin to feel like you’ve spent a lot of time hanging around ruthless jihadist master terrorists inspired by ISIS.

Thor’s latest is a modern Cold War 2.0 thriller, with an unnervingly plausible plot about Russia aiming to destabilize NATO with potential Crimea-style military operations looming over the horizon. All of Thor’s novels are realistic and focus on the details of military and intelligence operations, but there are large swathes that are nonfiction, showcasing the lesser-noticed developments in a dangerous world. Back in 2017, there was a bit of coverage of Sweden — not a member of NATO — beefing up their barely existent defenses on the island of Gotland, in the middle of the Baltic Sea.

Last month, the Marine Corps Times wrote about the strategic value of the island, noting that if Russia took over Gotland, it could and likely would immediately deploy anti-air and anti-ship defenses on what is “essentially an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the middle of the Baltic Sea.” That would cut off the Baltic member states of NATO from air-support or reinforcements — and put most of the Nordic states and the eastern members of NATO at much greater risk. Recent wargames projected that Russia could conquer the Baltic states in about three days.

Lurking over Spymaster, and our real world, is the question of how much the United States is really committed to its NATO partners. We say we honor Article Five — which treats an attack on one country as an attack on all NATO members . . . but are we willing to fight a war with nuclear-armed Russia over Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania? What about for just one of those countries? What if Russia just wants one piece of territory from those countries?

For Vladimir Putin, the challenge is to find something that is valuable to him and his country, but not important enough for NATO to risk a war over. The day Moscow finds it can successfully grab a piece of NATO territory without consequence, a clear signal will be sent to every member of the alliance — the mutual-defense agreement isn’t worth paper it’s written upon, and the United States of America can’t be counted on to protect you. Suddenly, every European country will begin to look for ways to placate and appease the Russian bear. (It takes a lot to get me to watch an entire television series with English subtitles, but the Norwegian show Occupied is absolutely fascinating, depicting an in-over-his-head Norwegian Green-party prime minister coping with Russia gradually taking over his country, in a world where the United States withdrew from NATO and the rest of Europe has no interest in fighting a war with Moscow.)

The best way to avoid either nightmare scenario – the gradual conquest of Eastern Europe or an escalating war with Russia — is deterrence; shore up the Baltic defenses and make abundantly clear to Moscow that no act of military aggression would be worth the price. The question is . . . are we sending that clear signal?

Speaking of Russia . . .

A Chilling Tale of Russian Skullduggery Gets Worse

Hey, be careful if you’ve got a summer vacation planned for the United Kingdom this year. The forecast for Salisbury, England, is now cloudy with a chance of Russian nerve agent:

Two British citizens have been critically sickened by the same nerve agent, Novichok, that was used to poison a former Russian spy and his daughter four months ago, the British authorities announced on Wednesday.

The two victims, a man and a woman, both in their 40s, fell ill on Saturday in the southern town of Amesbury, England, after having visited nearby Salisbury, including a spot near where the spy and his daughter were stricken in March, the police said.

The emergence of additional Novichok victims, after four months of meticulous decontamination and public reassurances, presents British authorities with a daunting challenge.

If the nerve agent was left behind by attackers in March, then traces of it may remain in places the authorities did not search, presenting an unpredictable threat to the public. If the agent was deposited more recently, then the March poisoning was not an isolated attack.

The victims, identified locally as Charlie Rowley, 45, and Dawn Sturgess, 44, are British citizens, and the police said there was no indication that they would have been targets.

What, you Russkies can’t use ricin-shooting umbrellas anymore? When did you thugs get so sloppy?

ADDENDA: Bridgid Delany offers fascinating example of how Donald Trump can turn into the universal excuse everyone was looking for in the Guardian. In fall 2016, the owner of her gym predicted that Trump would win the election; she offered to bet $100, and he countered that if Trump won, she would have to double her usual lift on a weight sled. She honored the bet but quit the gym shortly thereafter: “In the spirit of the Donald, I drank more bottles of Diet Coke and ate more McDonald’s. I dropped the gym — embracing Trump’s belief that we are given a certain amount of energy and if we use it then we are depleting a finite resource.”

You hate him so much, you chose to emulate him, huh?


Do Democrats Really Want to Enforce Immigration Laws?

People march during a “Free Our Future” demonstration to protest the expected introduction of the U.S. Department of Justice and Immigration Customs Enforcement ( I.C.E.) new sped up mass immigration hearings and deportation in San Diego, California, July 2, 2018. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Happy Fourth of July midweek! The Morning Jolt will return Thursday. Making today’s click-through worthwhile: why we have good reason to doubt Democrats when they say that “Abolish ICE!” doesn’t mean ending immigration law enforcement; the you-know-what hits the fan in San Francisco; and the evidence that ’90s television helped fuel belief in conspiracy theories.

Democrats’ Immigration-Enforcement Mirage

The first reason we should be wary of Democrats’ calling to “abolish ICE” in the context of protests against the family-separation policy is that ICE is only one agency out of four playing a role in the policy. (It’s five if you count the Department of Defense building tent cities at Fort Bliss and Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas to temporarily house migrants.)

Families that cross the border illegally or turn themselves in at ports of entry in hope of gaining asylum typically first encounter the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the largest law enforcement agency in the U.S. with nearly 20,000 agents.

Under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, adults who cross into the U.S. illegally — in between ports of entry along the nearly 2,000-mile border — are transferred to the custody of the U.S. Marshals under the U.S. Department of Justice. They are then bused to federal courts along the border where they are prosecuted.

Once prosecuted, adults are sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one of several agencies under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security. The agency oversees or contracts with more than 200 detention centers, jails and prisons across the country. Parents can be detained anywhere in the country, often far away from they where they were separated from their children on the southern border.

Under the family separations policy, children held at the border were handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services, where they became part of more than 11,000 “unaccompanied minors” held under a program managed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Many are teenagers who crossed the border without their parents.

In other words, it’s the U.S. Border Patrol that does the separating, the Department of Justice that does the prosecuting, ICE holds the adults and prepares them for deportation and then deports them, and HHS handles the care of the children while the adults are being detained. Notice which agency is attracting the most ire from the Left.

Over in USA Today, attorney Raul Reyes lists the allegations of abuse and mismanagement and declares, “No one is calling for a halt to immigration enforcement. Either ICE needs to do it in a more humane way with greater oversight, or the agency should be dismantled and its functions reassigned to other agencies.”

But I notice liberal protesters aren’t chanting, “Reform ICE! Reform ICE!” or “Reassign the duties to other agencies! Reassign the duties to other agencies!” Apparently, we’re being tremendously unfair by believing that they actually want to do what they say.

It’s rather hard to believe that these protesters only want a change in methods.

San Francisco: “Demonstrators pitched five tents, a small pavilion and a section of chain-link fence with barbed wire outside San Francisco’s U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services office Monday night.”

Portland: “A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman says the agency’s Portland headquarters will resume normal operations Tuesday. The office was closed June 20 after protesters upset with President Trump’s immigration policies blocked entrances to the facility.”

Philadelphia: “Establishing a small encampment for a prolonged occupation, several hundred protesters gathered late Monday afternoon outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Center City to demand an end to that agency’s policies and cooperation between the city of Philadelphia and ICE . . . Protesters were still there Tuesday morning.”

Hartford, Conn.: “Nearly 500 people participated in the protest, including clergy and American Civil Liberties Union observers. In an act of civil disobedience, some protesters tried to shut down an ICE office on Main Street for the day by blocking the entrance. Hartford Police Department said 35 people were arrested.”

The article above quotes organizer Carolina Bortolleto of the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance as saying, “We don’t need ICE to be reformed. We need it gone.” If these rallies really are just a call for a change in tactics, someone ought to inform the protesters.

We keep hearing comments like this one from New Jersey senator Cory Booker, “Achieving [ICE’s] high-minded purpose might be achieved better in other ways.” But we never hear much about what those “other ways” might be.

In fact, some Democratic lawmakers get really slippery when pressed for details about how they envision the immigration laws being enforced. Here’s Congressman Adriano Espaillat, New York Democrat, in an interview with NPR:

Ari Shapiro: Isn’t there a need for some branch of the government to address immigration enforcement, whether you call that ICE or something else?

Adriano Espaillat: I don’t know. Let’s see what other countries are doing because immigration is not a U.S.-only debate. Let’s take a look at best practices of around the world. And let’s try to develop a new agency that has a heart and is able to enforce the law.

When a lawmaker is asked, “Isn’t there a need for some branch of the government to address immigration enforcement?” and his answer is not an immediate “yes,” it means he really thinks the answer is “no” but doesn’t want to admit it.

Credit the Huffington Post for putting the question of abolishing ICE before a polling sample, and telling its readers an answer that they probably don’t want to hear: “Just 21 percent of respondents said they support abolishing ICE, while 44 percent said they oppose it, with 35 percent undecided. Nearly 3 in 10 Americans polled said they strongly oppose the idea.”

We’re still waiting on actual legislative language from Democrats, but Ed Morrissey points out that the initial description makes it sound like a blatantly unconstitutional Congressional power grab:

House Democrat Mark Pocan is now drafting an “abolish ICE” bill that doesn’t actually abolish anything; instead, it creates a “commission” to run ICE rather than the executive branch, an option that would run into immediate constitutional issues. Even apart from this obvious flaw, the commission would have to wait for direction from Congress to act.

You can’t cut the executive branch leadership out of the management of an executive-branch agency.

I Thought You Were Only Supposed to Leave Your Heart in San Francisco

Not long ago I wrote about Gavin Newsom and the painful declines of quality of life in San Francisco and California overall, and the possibility that progressive policies can ruin even one of the most beautiful cities in America. Now there’s another piece of evidence that the city’s strengths in climate and sights and culture cannot overcome the failures of local government:

In a move that is alarming San Francisco’s biggest industry, a major medical association is pulling its annual convention out of the city — saying its members no longer feel safe.

“It’s the first time that we have had an out-and-out cancellation over the issue, and this is a group that has been coming here every three or four years since the 1980s,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of S.F. Travel, the city’s convention bureau. . . .

The doctors group told the San Francisco delegation that while they loved the city, postconvention surveys showed their members were afraid to walk amid the open drug use, threatening behavior and mental illness that are common on the streets.

You may have seen on Drudge that report of a 20-pound bag of human waste being left on a San Francisco street corner, and Nancy Alfaro, a spokesperson for the city’s 311 service, saying that while reports of human waste are common, this large of an amount is “not typical.”

It must be difficult to have pride in a city where “reports of human waste are common.”

Did ’90s Television Make Conspiracy Theories Cool?

I came across this interesting argument that the 1990s sci-fi series The X-Files — terrific fun for the first few seasons, until it became clear that series creator Chris Carter was making it up as it went along — inadvertently legitimized, or at least romanticized, conspiracy theories and those who believe them.

I’ve heard it argued that, “We aren’t supposed to sympathize with Mulder’s crazy,” and, well, no, we really rather are. Mulder is constantly vindicated. It is he who wins Scully to his side by the end of the series, not the other way around. And I don’t think that conspiracy theory narratives are going to go away — nor should they go away — but I want to think that we’re reaching a level of sophistication in both our fiction and our relationship to conspiracy theorists that we need to more thoughtful about these kinds of narratives. The X-Files did absolutely romanticize Mulder’s quest for truth far more often than it played it for comedy or sexual tension, and that approach does, on some level, help to prop up this increasing proportion of the population who do believe in vast conspiracies.

It’s pretty implausible to argue that Fox Mulder and The X-Files made people paranoid or made people believe in conspiracy theories. But a little less implausible to wonder if the way the show made Mulder seem (generally) like a heroic, good character, and so often right and vindicated . . . removed some of the stigma about believing conspiracy theories. Put another way, the supporting character trio called “the Lone Gunmen” are portrayed as good-hearted weirdo conspiracy theorists — likable, but not really heroic or attractive characters in most senses of the word. But Mulder is our co-protagonist, the romantic lead, the best detective, etc. — and no doubt, this is how a lot of paranoid people see themselves.

Let’s also point out that real-world events since the 1990s might fuel people’s belief in shadowy conspiracies. If you were paranoid about Islamist terrorists before 9/11, you probably feel vindicated. No doubt the failure to find the expected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq spurred a lot of Americans to believe a shadowy conspiracy must have pushed the country into war. If you suspect corporate America is up to no good, the Enron scandal and the collapse of Lehman Brothers probably made you feel vindicated. The revelations about the NSA’s domestic collection of data vindicated a lot of the claims that “the government is watching you” — and whatever the government isn’t collecting, social-media companies probably are. And the CIA really did use a vaccine program to find Osama bin Laden.

So the fact that the vast majority of conspiracy theories are paranoid nonsense . . . doesn’t mean that all of them are, or that some of them didn’t get started with some factual basis.

ADDENDUM: I hit a nerve: “There are no permanent majorities and no permanent victories. Therefore, whatever rules you want to enact when you’re in power, you should be ready to live under those rules when you’re in the minority again.”

Politics & Policy

Barack Obama Urges Democrats to Try to Sound More Like Him in 2018

Former President Barack Obama speaks during an unveiling ceremony for portraits of himself and former First Lady Michelle Obama at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, February 12, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Former president Barack Obama offers some self-serving advice to his fellow Democrats; why the headline “Mexico election results promise sweeping change” sounds so familiar; and a reminder that William F. Buckley’s old sparring partner, Gore Vidal, got really cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs as the years passed.

Isn’t Obama the Wrong Guy to Denounce Politics as Entertainment?

Michael Scherer of the Washington Post warns that Democrats had a bad week last week, and focuses upon a comment from former President Barack Obama:

Obama urged Democrats at a fundraiser in Beverly Hills on Thursday to aim their energies squarely on the ballot box in November, saying that “it is entirely within our power” to solve the political problems of the moment.

“All these people are out here kvetching and wringing their hands and stressed and anxious and, you know, constantly watching cable TV and howling at the moon, ‘What are we going to do?’ Their hair is falling out,” said Obama, arguing for a reasoned response. “The good news is that if you act, if we act, then the majority of the American people prefer a story of hope.”

In my friend Kurt Schlichter’s forthcoming book, Militant Normals, he describes life from the perspective of a veteran in the small city of Fontana, in San Bernardino County, Calif., and writes,

You would see on Channel 7 News every couple of weeks that the president had flown into Los Angeles (and gridlocked traffic for his fans on the Westside) to do a Beverly Hills fundraising dinner with David Geffen, whoever that was. But he never seemed to find time to make it out the sixty-eight miles to Fontana to see how normal Americans were doing.

“Stop being so stressed and anxious” is an easy message to sell at a Democratic fundraising party in Beverly Hills, probably the least-stressful and anxious environment imaginable. As CNN apparently wrote with either a straight face or with some really dry, subtle snark: “The former President even suggested to the roughly 200 donors in attendance, who also enjoyed a performance from Christina Aguilera, that Democrats can’t get fixated on the glitz and personality of politics.”

Yeah, why don’t you sit this one out, champ. Barack Obama telling you to not “expect (politics) to be entertaining all the time” is like LeBron James telling you to try to stay in one place for your whole career.

Americans may want a hopeful message, but hope is just happy talk unless it is tied to a concrete plan to tackle the country’s problems. There are a lot of American voters who loathe Donald Trump — more than 65 million people voted against him — and a significant chunk of Republicans who find his persona anywhere from cringe-inducing to barely tolerable. But the Democratic agenda is largely repeal the tax cuts, enact “Medicare for All” (which would require $32 trillion (!) in new taxes — that comes out to $24,000 per American household), and “abolish ICE,” which means either come up with a completely new federal agency to handle immigration enforcement . . . or, as The Nation put it, “the goal of abolishing the agency is to abolish the function.” This isn’t a policy agenda, it’s a list of wishes for a genie.

I suppose you could say that is indeed a “hopeful” approach — as in, Democrats hope that none of those who entered the country illegally intend to harm others, either through crime or terrorism.

Are We Witnessing a ‘Profound Change’ or a Familiar Cycle Down in Mexico?

South of the border, we’re hearing promises of a “profound change” from the newly elected left-wing presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Back in 2000, Vicente Fox of the National Action Party was touted as “the winds of change” after seven decades of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

In 2006, Fox’s successor, Felipe Calderón, was of the same party but focused upon a crusade against corruption and the drug cartels. He led a campaign against them that generated a lot of violence and not-terribly-inspiring results. Foreign Policy magazine concluded, “Calderón accomplished notably little in the way of needed reforms during his six years in office. Yet if these problems are not addressed, progress in all other areas will be futile. The fate of much of the president’s legislative agenda, which has been stalled, blocked or diluted beyond recognition, is a stark reminder of this.”

In 2012, the Mexican electorate turned back to PRI. Enrique Peña Nieto was elected with similar headlines: “Will Mexico’s new president bring change?” Peña Nieto promised a dramatic new era, declaring, “there is no return to the past.”

I know this is going to stun you, but after six years, many Mexicans don’t believe enough has changed regarding corruption, economic growth and opportunity, and crime and security.

This is the fourth straight election where the international media has covered a Mexican election with a sense that dramatic change is around the corner. Who knows, perhaps this time will be different; López Obrador is significantly further to the left than his predecessors. But he’s likely to face the same institutional obstacles, inertia, and bureaucracy that impeded his predecessors.

For better or worse, President Trump and the United States were not major topics in the campaign debates: “It’s fascinating that the Mexican election campaign hardly focused on Donald Trump or the United States at all,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Washington-based Migration Institute. “That’s probably a sign of what’s to come. López Obrador will likely be far less focused on the United States than all of his predecessors in recent memory. That means he may not react to every statement by President Trump about Mexico, but he may also do less to salvage areas of cooperation with the U.S. government around security, migration, and trade.”

Every six years, a Mexican politician appears, announcing he will succeed where his predecessors failed in fighting corruption, ending the endemic crime and brutality of the cartels, creating more jobs and economic opportunity, and mitigating the chasm separating the haves and the have-nots. And six years later, the Mexican people collectively shrug in disappointment and look for other options.

Let’s Not Be So Quick to Give Gore Vidal a Pass on Some of This . . .

On NRO, Paul Ingrassia writes about the debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal and concludes, “The significance of the Buckley–Vidal debates in 2018 is not that they drew battle lines for the modern culture wars but rather that they were the swansong of the final American generation to have a shared and mutual reverence for their country’s founding principles — a reverence that is, perhaps, never to be seen again.”

Whatever Gore Vidal was at the beginning and middle of his literary career, towards the end he was cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. And “the end” started early — it was in 1986 that he was calling for a U.S.–Soviet alliance because “the white race is the minority race and if the two great powers of the Northern Hemisphere don’t band together, we are going to end up as farmers — or, worse, mere entertainment — for more than one billion grimly efficient Asiatics.” Even aside from the appalling and explicit racism in that perspective, if you spend a lot of time forecasting a grand alliance between the Chinese and the Japanese, you deserve ritualistic cashiering of your reputation as a historian.

One of the nice things about joining a longstanding debate late in the game is that we’re not swayed by many years of encountering Vidal being praised for being so sophisticated and literary and debonair — so that by 2001, when he’s declaring of Timothy McVeigh, “I am sure he didn’t do it,” and writing long, rambling essays about the Oklahoma City bombing declaring, “the stoic serenity of McVeigh’s last days certainly qualified him as a Henley-style hero” . . . we can conclude, oh . . . Gore Vidal is a nut case with a soft spot for some of the worst of humanity.

(I’m almost done reading Andrew Gumbel and Roger Charles’ Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed — and Why It Still Matters, and that lays out a really unnerving and compelling array of evidence that McVeigh and Nichols probably had additional co-conspirators who never saw the inside of a courtroom; at the very least, it seems that a lot of people in militia circles knew “something” was going to happen on the two-year anniversary of Waco. But none of the authors’ exhaustive research provides any evidence that McVeigh didn’t have a central role in the terrorist plot.)

Vidal completely bought McVeigh’s implausible claim that he didn’t know there was a day-care center in the Murrah federal building; the former director of the day-care center said McVeigh visited the center in December 1994, claiming he had two young children but asking questions only about layout and security arrangements. In other words, McVeigh knew damn well there were kids in that building, and 19 children paid the ultimate price for his monstrous action. Vidal contended the FBI let the Oklahoma City bombing happen to get legislation passed, and became a 9/11 Truther as well.

Buckley entered the history books destined to be remembered as a titan, while Vidal turned into the guy in the subway station ranting about conspiracies to passersby — only in nicer clothes and with a fancier vocabulary.

ADDENDA: Following up last week’s article about how the border fence/wall is gradually being enhanced, Shelly Henderson of the Orange County Breeze points out that a significant portion of the illegal immigrants in California overstay visas — and that the cries of “build the wall!” should probably be replaced with “require E-Verify!”


Yet Another Case of a Convicted Harasser Legally Purchasing a Gun

Police walk past a vehicle near a shooting scene after a gunman opened fire at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, June 28, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The week draws to a close with horrific news out of Annapolis, some grim thoughts about why violence and hate seem so inevitable, and some hopeful news from the U.S. southern border.

A Terrible Day in Maryland

All of the available evidence so far indicates that the shooter in Annapolis yesterday wasn’t motivated or “set off” by any comment from President Trump criticizing the media. The strange new world of social media means that immediately after an infamous criminal’s name leaks, you can find his personal pages and peer more-or-less directly into what was on his mind.

In the case of this shooter, it was a longstanding grudge against the paper, stemming from a 2011 article about a criminal harassment case against him. The gunman filed a defamation suit against the paper and lost, and apparently his obsessive hatred only grew. On his Twitter account, he said he was “making corpses of corrupt careers and corporate entities.”

The staff of the Capital Gazette somehow managed to put out a newspaper the afternoon and evening after being the target of a mass shooting. God bless everybody over there:

Journalists dived under their desks and pleaded for help on social media. One reporter described the scene as a “war zone.” A photographer said he jumped over a dead colleague and fled for his life.

The victims were identified as Rob Hiaasen, 59, a former feature writer for The Baltimore Sun who joined the Capital Gazette in 2010 as an assistant editor and columnist; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent who headed special publications; Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, a staff writer who had covered high school, college and professional sports for decades; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant hired in November.

Two others were injured in the attack that began about 2:40 p.m. at the Capital Gazette offices at 888 Bestgate Road in Annapolis.

In one of the stomach-turning ironies, no one involved in the original article about the gunman is still with the newspaper. From the paper’s article: “Neither the columnist, Eric Hartley, nor the editor and publisher, Thomas Marquardt, are still employed by the Capital Gazette. They were not present during the shootings.”

The shooter sounds like one of those people that everyone could see was a ticking time bomb.

“He’s not a forgettable character,” [William Shirley, one of the lawyers who defended the Capital Gazette] told the Daily News. “I remember at one point he was talking in a motion and somehow worked in how he wanted to smash Hartley’s face into the concrete. We were concerned at the time. He was not stable.”

Those who had encountered the gunman previously were apparently not all that surprised by his actions.

“I was seriously concerned he would threaten us with physical violence,” Marquardt said from his retirement home in Florida. “I even told my wife, ‘We have to be concerned. This guy could really hurt us.’”

Marquardt said he called the Anne Arundel County police about Ramos in 2013, but nothing came of it. He consulted the paper’s lawyers about filing a restraining order, but decided against it.

“I remember telling our attorneys, ‘This is a guy who is going to come in and shoot us,’” he said.

The coming days will no doubt bring questions and answers about how a person so unstable obtained a firearm. Sadly, it’s not that difficult to figure out:

The online abuse lasted for months and eventually [the shooter] lashed out at her friends and employers, in which he demanded she be fired. He was slapped with probation instead of a jail sentence after pleading guilty.

The shooter pled guilty to harassment, which is a misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of 90 days. Maryland law has a lot of restrictions on who can purchase a gun, including anyone convicted of a crime of violence, convicted of a felony, or who has been “convicted of any Maryland-classified misdemeanor that carries a statutory penalty of more than two years.”

Had the shooter been convicted of stalking instead of harassment, it’s possible yesterday’s events would have turned out differently. Stalking carries a penalty of “imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or a fine not exceeding $5,000 or both.” In other words, convicting this man of stalking instead of harassment would have made it impossible for him to legally purchase or possess a firearm.

Of course, just because the president’s statements had nothing to do with this shooting doesn’t mean it’s okay or even accurate for him to declare that institutions such as the New York Times and various television networks are “the enemy of the American People!” No. ISIS and al-Qaeda are the enemies of the American people. The Iranian mullahs are the enemies of the American people. Gangs such as MS-13 and drug cartels are the enemy of the American people. Russia’s intelligence services are often the enemies of the American people, outside of some intermittent cooperation on terrorism. (And that cooperation is much less frequent and genuinely productive than U.S. intelligence would like it to be.) And, if it gets back to its old tricks, the North Korean regime is the enemy of the American people. We need to re-learn the distinction between enemies and domestic political opponents. Enemies want to kill you.

Hate and Menace, Lurking All Too Close to Home

A church not far from my house in “Authenticity Woods” has been repeatedly attacked and vandalized: “The vandalism marked the seventh time since May 11 that Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Annandale, Virginia, has been defaced — and this time was the most vile. The sanctuary walls were graffitied with racial slurs, a swastika and a message, ‘Youre (sic) all going to hell.’”

Apparently the perpetrator is a Nazi, but not a grammar Nazi.

A little more than a year ago, a 20-year-old man “was arrested on hate-related charges after a Jewish community center, a church and a community college in Fairfax County were defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti and stickers, police said.”

Why does someone do something like this? Because it makes them feel powerful? They’ve got so little pride in themselves as individuals that they have to take pride in not being one of those people?

But between this and the Annapolis shooter, I’m finding myself grappling with that question of “why” again. To be fair, you can find contradictions in my avenues of thought over the years. In October of last year, I wondered if it even mattered, because it all amounted to the same irrational complaint about life:

Aren’t all of these shooters more or less the same? In their minds, they’ve been wronged by the world; the world owed them something and it refused to give it to them. The Isla Vista shooter believed he deserved pretty women; the Alexandria shooter who tried to kill GOP Congressmen believed he deserved a world where his party was in charge. The Columbine killers believed they deserved a world where they would never feel ostracized.

After mass shootings, I often find myself referring back to the observations of Willard Gaylin, one of the world’s preeminent psychology professors. Gaylin writes about the dangers of “grievance collecting” in his book Hatred: The Psychological Descent into Violence:

Grievance collecting is a step on the journey to a full-blown paranoid psychosis. A grievance collector will move from the passive assumption of deprivation and low expectancy common to most paranoid personalities to a more aggressive mode. He will not endure passively his deprived state; he will occupy himself with accumulating evidence of his misfortunes and locating the sources. Grievance collectors are distrustful and provocative, convinced that they are always taken advantage of and given less than their fair share. . . .

Underlying this philosophy is an undeviating comparative and competitive view of life. Everything is part of a zero-sum game. Deprivation can be felt in another person’s abundance of good fortune.

The irony, of course, is that nearly a year after the Las Vegas massacre, law enforcement still hasn’t been able to figure out the motive of the worst mass shooting in American history.

In October 2015, I wondered if certain aspects of modern society aided and abetted “grievance collecting.”

Is it that our society makes it so easy to hide away from the world in a dark room, illuminated by only the computer screen, clicking from angry chat rooms to Internet porn to first-person shooter games to Facebook pages of people who seem happier than us, marinating in bitter envy?

Is it that for too many young people, when they say something insanely irresponsible and self-pitying —“the problems in my life are the world’s fault, not mine!” — there isn’t someone around to say, “No, that’s not true. Your problems are at least partially, and probably largely your fault and a consequence of choices you have made. The good news is this means you have the power to do something about them”?

Remember the Virginia shooter who was a classic “grievance collector”? Is it that we as a society become too accepting of people who practice this philosophy, and that we sort of acquiesce to it, or aren’t willing to stand up to it and rebuke it enough? Does something about our society cultivate grievance and resentment, instead of gratitude for our blessings?

What is it that makes someone go from “I’m really angry at those people” to “I’m really angry at those people. I’m going to go shoot them.”?

Good News on Our Southern Border

One of the joys of journalism is that as you think up questions — “Hey, I wonder how things are going with the building of the wall at the border?” — you can call up people and they’ll answer your questions.

The good news for those who wish to see a wall built along the U.S.–Mexican border is that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has built seven miles of 30-foot-high wall in the past few months, and roughly 30 more miles of high fencing are slated for construction.

The bad news is that there’s still a lot of border to go.

New reports from Carlos Diaz, southwest branch chief of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, indicate that one of the three current wall projects is nearly complete, another is about a quarter of the way done, and one just began earlier this month.

There are about 700 miles of fencing along our nearly 2,000-mile border. For what it’s worth, the National Border Patrol Council — the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol — contends that the country doesn’t need a wall stretching across every inch from the Pacific to the Atlantic; they believe drug smuggling and illegal immigration can best be controlled with an expansion of current walls and fences that leaves certain areas open, steering those attempting to cross illegally into fewer, more easily-managed spots.

ADDENDUM: Former New York Times public editor Jill Abramson: “From four years of teaching at Harvard, so many of my students are interested in journalism, but they mostly want to write first-person, highly personal narratives about themselves. That may reflect their age. But I think there’s too much of that in journalism. It’s not about us. It’s about the world, and covering the world.”

Law & the Courts

Living Under the Sword of Damocles That Is Elderly Supreme Court Justices

Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy arrives for the funeral of fellow justice Antonin Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, February 20, 2016. (Carlos Barria/File Photo/Reuters)

For at least a generation, we’ve lived with elderly Supreme Court justices. Last year, David Ingold of Bloomberg noted, “With two current justices more than 80 years old and a third joining them next year, the projected age when a justice will leave the Supreme Court is now about 83 — that’s a 10-year increase from the 1950s.”

We live in an era of judicial supremacy, decisions that some would argue constitute judicial activism . . . and in any given year, at least a handful of justices who are old enough to join the cast of a reboot of The Golden Girls. It’s sort of a Damocles Sword for our system of laws — at any given moment, one of the nine might announce a retirement or move on to the Pearly Gates and suddenly “alter the balance of the Court,” ushering in a period of dramatically different interpretations of the First Amendment, Second Amendment, the commerce clause, and “emanating penumbras” than just a few years earlier.

However, it’s fair to wonder just how much Justice Anthony Kennedy’s departure will really alter the dynamic on the Court. (For what it’s worth, he voted with the “conservative” majority on 15 out of 20 cases this term.) Those of us who can remember the era of Sandra Day O’Connor will recall her as the perceived “swing vote” and a time when Kennedy was considered a reasonably reliable ally to Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and, sometimes, William Rehnquist.

We’ve already seen Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by George W. Bush, shock the world and outrage the Right by ruling that the individual mandate in Obamacare was indeed constitutional. In all likelihood, the appointment of one of the reliably strict-constructionist judges on President Trump’s pre-election list of potential nominees will move the Court one notch in the right/Right direction . . . but only one notch. There’s always going to be one justice who is the least rightward justice on the right, or the least leftward justice on the left, and that person will realize that they are, arguably, the most powerful person in the country. Quite a tempting position to be in.

President Trump appointed Neil Gorsuch, and he will name a replacement for Anthony Kennedy soon and, in all likelihood, have that nominee confirmed (more on that below). As noted last night, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 and Stephen Breyer turns 80 in August. Justice Clarence Thomas is 70.

We never know what the future holds, and all of those justices may very well serve until after Trump leaves office. But it’s also not hard to imagine a scenario where Trump appoints replacements for one or two of them, or maybe all three — perhaps even before the 2020 presidential election.

The last four presidents each appointed two justices; Reagan appointed three, Carter none, and Gerald Ford appointed one. You have to go back to Richard Nixon to find a president who named four Supreme Court justices. (Finally, a Nixon comparison that this White House probably wouldn’t mind.)

The Coming Senate Fight, After ‘One of the Biggest Political Blunders in Modern History’

The U.S. Senate currently consists of 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats (counting Angus King and Bernie Sanders, because they caucus with the Democrats).

If every Democratic senator voted “no” — not a guarantee — they would need not one Republican to flip, but two, because a 50-50 tie would be broken by Vice President Mike Pence.

There is the complication that John McCain, undergoing cancer treatment, hasn’t cast a vote since December. Currently in Washington, there are 51 Republican senators but only 50 Republicans present. But that still leaves Republicans with a 50-49 advantage on any party-line votes. (It is conceivable that by the time the Senate holds its confirmation vote, McCain could be still undergoing treatment and unavailable to vote . . . or it’s possible that the governor will have appointed a replacement if McCain chooses to retire or has moved on to his heavenly reward.)

It is exceptionally rare to see a Republican senator vote against a Republican president’s Supreme Court nominee — presuming, of course, that nominee gets a vote; Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination. No Republican voted against Neil Gorsuch. One Republican voted against Samuel Alito — Lincoln Chafee, who by that time had virtually left the GOP by any . . . metric. No Republican voted against John Roberts. Bob Packwood and Jim Jeffords voted against Clarence Thomas. No Republican voted against David Souter. No Republican voted against Anthony Kennedy.

Yesterday on Twitter, I saw Democrats wishcasting, “We just need to persuade three Senate Republicans to vote No to block Trump’s nominee!” (As noted above, it’s technically two, but maybe they’re expecting one of the three Democratic senators who voted for Gorsuch to vote for the next nominee.) This is where I want to insert the “one does not simply” meme of Boromir from The Lord of the Rings.

Guys, you’ve had three Republican senators vote no on a GOP president’s nominee, in total, since 1991. Presuming the nominee is qualified and scandal-free and doesn’t completely slip on a banana peel in the confirmation hearings, you’re going to have a tough time peeling away even one GOP senator. Voting against a qualified Supreme Court nominee and derailing that nomination because of Democratic pressure is a career-ender for any GOP senator.

But a unanimous Democratic caucus is not guaranteed. Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana voted for Gorsuch in April 2017. All three are running for reelection in red states. Assuming the confirmation vote is in late summer or early fall, all three will face the decision of voting “Yes,” and being able to tout their independence and difference from the rest of the party, or voting “No,” and handing their GOP opponents a major issue for the final months of the campaign. (It is also conceivable that by early fall, Manchin, Heitkamp, or Donnelly or perhaps all three appear to have no chance in November and may feel free to vote “No.”)

For what it’s worth, the gang at SCOTUSBlog predicts, “Any serious potential nominee is — barring a shocking discovery — essentially a lock to get at least 55 votes. The vote will be before the midterms. Democratic Senators defending seats in states Trump won have little to gain and lots to lose in opposing, because they can’t block the nominee.”

Up until last year, Democratic senators could have contemplated filibustering the nominee. The first filibuster of a Supreme Court justice was Lyndon Johnson’s nomination of Abe Fortas — who was already on the Court — to become chief justice in 1968. Then in 2006, some Senate Democrats — including then-senator Barack Obama, as well as Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer — attempted to filibuster Samuel Alito, but they only had 25 votes. (By 2016, President Obama said he “regretted” his attempt to filibuster Alito.)

In 2013, frustrated with how the Republican Senate minority was using the filibuster, Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democrats nuked the filibuster for judicial nominees except for the Supreme Court. On October 24, 2016, when everyone thought Hillary Clinton would win the presidency, the retiring Reid said he expected that Senate Democrats would nuke the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations as well.

But the electorate threw a curveball, and suddenly it was Senate Democrats who wanted to use the filibuster to block a nomination from President Trump, Gorsuch — even though, as many observed at the time, naming Gorsuch to Scalia’s old seat didn’t really change the dynamic of the court. Some observed that Democrats would be wiser to keep the filibuster in their back pocket for when they really needed it — like the replacement for Kennedy. Instead, Democrats attempted a filibuster, and Republicans nuked the filibuster, citing Harry Reid’s 2013 decision as precedent. Jan Crawford, legal analyst for CBS News, called squandering the filibuster on the Scalia’s replacement “one of the biggest political blunders in modern history.”

Actual CNN Column Sub-Headline: ‘All White Men Are Not the Evil Empire.’

Jen Psaki — former Obama White House communications director, and also a former employee of defeated New York representative Joe Crowley — notices that a lot of progressives saw Tuesday night’s surprise finish entirely through the lenses of race, age, and gender.

The progressive Twittersphere is making it sound like the defeat of Joe Crowley is akin to defeating a combination of Darth Vader and Donald Trump. This is not only ludicrous, it is missing the point. A liberal-leaning immigration advocate who voted with progressives most of the time is not the enemy. The enemy is sitting in the White House. And he won’t be defeated if liberal-leaning white men are not allowed to be a part of the fight.

This is where we are, folks. Former Obama administration officials are trying to restrain excessive obsessiveness with identity politics.

ADDENDUM: A funny comment on my Facebook page about the Democratic calls to abolish ICE: “Can’t I just celebrate — for one brief second — that there’s a Democrat somewhere, anywhere, that supports abolishing a federal agency?”


The Winner of Last Night’s Big Primary… Wants to Abolish ICE!

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (YouTube screengrab via Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)

Every once in a while, the primary electorate really surprises you — like last night in New York City when Congressman Joe Crowley, the No. 4 leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives and a ten-term incumbent, lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Bernie Sanders organizer.

It was just two months ago that Politico wrote, “Rep. Joe Crowley — buoyed by a caucus thirsty for change and his rising national profile — is angling to become the next House Democratic leader if Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats fall short.” (File this under, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.”)

Here’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s perspective on illegal immigration:

As overseen by the Trump administration, ICE operates with virtually no accountability, ripping apart families and holding our friends and neighbors indefinitely in inhumane detention centers scattered across the United States. Alex believes that if we are to uphold civic justice, we must abolish ICE and see to it that our undocumented neighbors are treated with the dignity and respect owed to all people, regardless of citizenship status.

She spent the last weekend before the election outside the detention facility in Tornillo, Texas.

In The Nation, she went even further, calling for a post-Apartheid South Africa–style “truth and reconciliation commission” to review the agency’s conduct and practices. As Sean McElwee put it in that article, “the goal of abolishing the agency is to abolish the function.” At least in some circles, the objection of the hard Left is not to the current style or kind of immigration enforcement; their objection is to the existence of immigration enforcement.

That Nation article also concludes, “It’s time to rein in the greatest threat we face: an unaccountable strike force executing a campaign of ethnic cleansing.” In the current climate, Democrats have a nice winnable position of, “Treat everyone with decency and respect, even if they entered the country illegally.” Instead, the hard Left wants to push their stance towards, “Our law-enforcement officials are comparable to Slobodan Milosevic.”

(This is a D+29 district, so don’t get your hopes too high about a GOP upset in November.)

One of the emerging storylines of this cycle had been that despite the higher Democratic turnout and energy among anti-Trump activists, the Bernie Sanders wing of the party — and more specifically, the group that grew out of his campaign, Our Revolution — hadn’t really had a signature primary victory. As of last week, fewer than half of their endorsed candidates had won their primaries, and some of the candidates that Sanders campaigned with were finishing in distant second and third places. Political correspondents were starting to wonder just how much the highly touted Sanders campaign email list was really worth. In Ocasio-Cortez, Our Revolution has its big winner yet.

Sanders also campaigned for Ben Jealous, who won a crowded Democratic gubernatorial primary in Maryland last night — so Our Revolution can put another feather in its cap. The bad news for Jealous is that incumbent Larry Hogan is one of those Republicans who ought to be endangered in this environment but who is, so far, looking extraordinarily strong in his reelection bid.

Last night at his primary victory party Hogan joked, “Six percent of Marylanders strongly disapprove of the job we’ve been doing. Every single one of them is running for governor.”

The Reality Is . . . She’s Not a Winner After All

Score one for accountability:

Reality L. Winner, a former Air Force linguist who was the first person prosecuted by the Trump administration on charges of leaking classified information, pleaded guilty on Tuesday as part of an agreement with prosecutors that calls for a sentence of 63 months in prison.

Ms. Winner, who entered her plea in Federal District Court in Augusta, Ga., was arrested last June and accused of sharing a classified report about Russian interference in the 2016 election with the news media.

Ms. Winner, who is now 26, has been jailed since her arrest and wore an orange prison jumpsuit and white sneakers to the hearing. Her decision to plead guilty to one felony count allows the government both to avoid a complex trial that had been scheduled for October and to notch a victory in the Trump administration’s aggressive pursuit of leakers.

Sometimes it’s reasonable to ask, “Why aren’t they doing something about the leakers? Where is Jeff Sessions?” Well, here’s the Department of Justice doing what its supposed to do.

Be Careful With that Flyer Stuck Under Your Car Windshield Wiper . . .

In this morning’s “what the heck?” news . . .

A Texas deputy was treated at a hospital and then released on Tuesday after she touched a flyer suspected of being laced with fentanyl, a potent and potentially deadly opioid.

The sergeant found a flyer on her windshield, removed it and soon began feeling light-headed, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.

She went to the hospital for treatment, according to Gonzalez. A Tuesday afternoon tweet from the sheriff’s office said the deputy was treated for possible fentanyl exposure and released from the hospital.

An investigation revealed that the flyers had been placed on more than 10 vehicles, and one of the fliers tested positive for fentanyl, Gonzalez said.

The positive fentanyl test did not come from the flyer on the sickened sergeant’s vehicle, but all flyers are currently being tested, a spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff’s office told USA TODAY in an email.

The fliers were found on cars near a precinct that houses the Houston-area sheriff’s department’s violent crime unit and homicide division.

It’s almost enough to make one yearn for the simpler days of the Unabomber and anthrax mailings . . .

ADDENDA: After Charlottesville, the Alexandria GOP baseball shooting, and protests of Trump administration officials’ homes, some people are saying, “It’s never been this bad.”

I beg to differ, as I start to read Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence.

“People have completely forgotten that in 1972, we had over nineteen hundred domestic bombings in the United States,” notes a retired FBI agent, Max Noel. “People don’t want to listen to that. They can’t believe it. One bombing now and everyone gets excited. In 1972? It was every day. Buildings getting bombed, policemen getting killed. It was commonplace.”

Bombings today often mean someone dies. The underground bombings of the 1970s were far more widespread and far less lethal. During an eighteen month period in 1971 and 1972, the FBI reported more than 2,500 bombings on U.S. soil, nearly 5 a day. Yet less than one percent of the 1970s-era bombings led to a fatality; the single-deadliest radical-underground attack of the decade killed four people.

Politics & Policy

How the Number of ‘Credible Fear’ Refugees Skyrocketed in the Obama Years

People caught crossing the border illegally in custody at the McAllen Border Patrol Station in McAllen, Texas, July 15, 2014. (Rick Loomis/Pool via Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: How our refugee system works, and how the number of “credible fear” cases before the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service exploded during Barack Obama’s presidency; David Lynch makes a surprising assessment of our politics (or maybe it’s just his doppelgänger from the Black Lodge), and Leaving Cloud 9 hits bookstore shelves.

Is the Asylum-Application Process Being Abused?

In the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980, Congress defined a refugee as a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country, and cannot obtain protection in that country, “because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Refugees can request asylum and, if granted, they are protected from being returned to their home country, are authorized to work in the United States, may apply for a Social Security card, may request permission to travel overseas, and can petition to bring family members to the United States. Asylees may also be eligible for certain benefits, such as Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance.

If a person who does not have permission to enter the country encounters an immigration official, they can inform the official that they have a “credible fear” of being tortured or prosecuted if they return to their country. Then they will be taken before an immigration judge with an opportunity to prove that they “either have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion if returned to their country.” (This is all language from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services web site.) Fears of prosecution are not sufficient for entry if there is evidence that the applicant is a potential threat to the United States.

It’s fair to wonder whether fear of a cartel or gang, or other groups of criminals is what the law intended when it referred to “persecution.” Traditionally, persecution is done by someone in a position of official or semi-official authority.

The number of “credible fear” cases skyrocketed during the Obama years. In fiscal 2009, there were 5,523 cases handled by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. The number of cases increased slowly during Obama’s first term; in fiscal 2012, CIS handled 12,056 cases. But in fiscal 2013, the annual total nearly tripled to 33,283, and the year after that jumped to 45,216. By fiscal 2016, it was up to its peak, 81,864. In fiscal 2017 — which covers roughly the last five months of the Obama administration and the first seven months of the Trump administration — the numbers dipped somewhat, to 69,152. In fiscal 2018 so far, it is 24,774 cases.

As I asked on Twitter over the weekend, did the world get 16 times more dangerous from 2009 to 2016? (I’ll bet quite a few critics of the Obama administration’s foreign policy would say, “Well, yeah!”)

Or did the Citizenship and Immigration Service get more lenient in its assessment of “credible fear”? Or did migrants coming across the border get instructions on what to say to immigration officials to meet the threshold for “credible fear”?

Last year, in an article about Latin American migrants, the Guardian offered this quote:

“Domestic violence is one of the main motivations for women fleeing Central America but which has been made invisible by the domination of the gang discourse,” said Amarela Varela, a migration and gender scholar at the Autonomous University of Mexico City.

An abusive boyfriend or husband is a crime and a tragedy, but that does not make a woman a refugee. If our law redefines refugee as anyone fearing any violence from anyone, we will turn the United States into the shelter for everyone in an abusive relationship or in a dangerous neighborhood around the world. Keep in mind, the United States has welcomed more than 1 million legal immigrants a year since 2004.

We would be well served to focus on why the number of people seeking and meeting the “credible fear” threshold octupled in a four-year span. We are a generous and merciful country, but we expect our rules to be followed. If your life experience doesn’t meet the legal definitions and requirements to be considered a “refugee,” and you’re granted asylum anyway, then you are abusing the system. The asylum system is designed to protect refugees and political prisoners and human-rights activists, not to be used as an easier backdoor alternative to the regular immigration system.

As the boss notes on the Corner, “About 90 percent pass [credible fear] interviews, even though less than 20 percent ultimately get asylum. Clearly, we should be tightening up on the front end before a migrant making a dubious claim enters into a years-long legal process.”

But because there are likely to be at least some genuine refugees, with send-me-back-to-my-home-country-and-authorities-will-torture-or-kill-me status, we still need some sort of system for emulating these claims. When President Trump tweets, as he did Sunday, “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came” . . . well, it’s kind of hard to square that sentiment with “the rule of law.”

David Lynch, Not Quite a Trump Fan, But Not Quite a Critic, Either

You probably saw the surprising headline, “David Lynch: Trump could be remembered as one of the greatest presidents.” The famously strange and enigmatic director’s full comment is a little more nuanced.

Politically, meanwhile, Lynch is all over the map. He voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary and thinks – he’s not sure – he voted Libertarian in the presidential election. “I am not really a political person, but I really like the freedom to do what you want to do,” says the persecuted Californian smoker.

He is undecided about Donald Trump. “He could go down as one of the greatest presidents in history because he has disrupted the thing so much. No one is able to counter this guy in an intelligent way.” While Trump may not be doing a good job himself, Lynch thinks, he is opening up a space where other outsiders might. “Our so-called leaders can’t take the country forward, can’t get anything done. Like children, they are. Trump has shown all this.”

From that, he sounds pretty disengaged from the day-to-day debates roiling our politics and merely appreciating Trump more as an outsider figure than for any of his policies.

But status as an outsider isn’t inherently good or bad; almost everyone begins as an outsider, except for the offspring of powerful politicians like Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson and Florida governor Rick Scott were outsiders when they first ran for statewide office. So was recently resigned Missouri governor Eric Greitens and infamous Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura. Oprah, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, liberal billionaire activist Tom Steyer, and outgoing Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz are all “outsiders” the way Trump is, but they would pursue drastically different policies. It’s not hard to imagine a future president who has all of Trump’s unfamiliarity with Washington, how laws are made, and how the government works, but with Leftist ideology.

My obsessive appreciation for the original version of Twin Peaks is well established, but that short-lived legendary series is easier to appreciate than Lynch himself. As a creator, he’s like strong liquor — not for everyone, and sometimes better appreciated with a mixer such as Peaks co-creator Mark Frost, who can take Lynch’s otherworldly visions and translate them into something more grounded and with a more traditional narrative. (I don’t care how much the two men insist they’re on the same page; Frost’s books paint a dramatically different and much more accessible portrait than the Showtime series did.)

Lynch is clearly sometimes brilliant but also indisputably, deeply weird — far too strange for most people to connect with — and he returns to the “life is a dream” themes so much that one wonders if, in his mind, the dreaming world and the awake world blur.

It’s Publication ‘Day One’ for Leaving Cloud Nine

It’s publication day for a new book from our old friend Ericka Andersen — Leaving Cloud 9: The True Story of a Life Resurrected From the Ashes of Poverty, Trauma and Mental Illness. As the excerpt on NRO shows, this is not necessarily easy reading, but if you need to be reassured that people can overcome the hardest and most depressing circumstances, and that if you’re going through hell, keep on going, because someday you may emerge safer and wiser and stronger, this is the book for you.

ADDENDUM: Today I’m scheduled to appear on HLN around 12:30 Eastern — talking about civility, politics, and the current trajectory of our public discourse.

Politics & Policy

Representative Maxine Waters Calls for Political Violence

Waters walks in a Fourth of July parade in Los Angeles in 2013. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Alcorn)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Maxine Waters advocates mob politics; examining Gavin Newsom’s particular brand California progressivism; and a look at Derek Hunter’s new book.

Does She Know Where This Leads?

Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters, calling for attacks on the Trump administration at a rally in Los Angeles Saturday: “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”

How exactly does Maxine Waters think this is going to shake out?

Does she think this tactic will be used only by leftist protesters, only against Trump cabinet officials, and that in no circumstance will “pushing back at them” lead to violence against those targeted individuals? Does she think that there is no possible scenario where the security details assigned to protect cabinet officials from harm respond to threatening behavior with force? Does she think that there’s a scenario where the cabinet officials, the president, and his supporters in general decide that because so many leftists are angry, they had better change their minds and their policies?

Does she envision a near-future where Trump and the Right in general avoid policy proposals that offend or anger Leftists, out of a fear of being targeted for “pushback” that will make them unwelcome anywhere?

The only counter-evidence for these scenarios is the entirety of human existence and the complete history of angry mobs. Angry mobs are not discerning or careful. They do not distinguish between their initial target and anyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Charles Murray described how an angry mob at Middlebury College attacked political-science professor Allison Stanger as she attempted to walk him to his car after a disrupted speech event:

I didn’t see it happen, but someone grabbed Allison’s hair just as someone else shoved her from another direction, damaging muscles, tendons, and fascia in her neck. I was stumbling because of the shoving. If it hadn’t been for Allison and Bill keeping hold of me and the security guards pulling people off me, I would have been pushed to the ground. That much is sure. What would have happened after that I don’t know, but I do recall thinking that being on the ground was a really bad idea, and I should try really hard to avoid that. Unlike Allison, I wasn’t actually hurt at all.

Stanger disagrees with Murray politically — but the mob didn’t care; she was next to him and for that she got a concussion.

Angry mobs are not good for deterring a particular unwanted behavior. They are good for instilling fear and giving a lot of people an excuse to let out all of their antisocial or violent impulses with a thin patina of moral righteousness. “I’m not harassing and assaulting another human being, I’m standing up for human rights!” No doubt the man who tried to kill as many GOP congressmen as he could at the baseball field in Alexandria, Va., believed he was standing up for good causes and doing the right thing.

Harassment of public figures on the right is only going to lead to harassment of public figures on the left. No doubt everyone remembers their own favorite example of a breach of decorum and proper behavior: the guy in the Miami cheesecake factory, Joe Wilson shouting out “you lie!” at an Obama address to Congress, the man who dumped a beer on a lawmaker in a bar, the guy who harangued Ivanka Trump on a flight. The fake blood thrown at the private home of an NRA lobbyist. The guy who threw water at Tomi Lahren in a restaurant in New York. The audience disruptions at Julius Ceasar and Robert De Niro’s A Bronx Tale.

Some no doubt would argue that the president himself threw gasoline on this fire. At a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in February 2016, Trump said, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, okay. Just knock the hell — I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise.” And then in Saint Louis a month later, Trump lamented that no one sufficiently hurts protesters at his speeches: “Nobody wants to hurt each other anymore, right? And they’re being politically correct the way they take them out, so it takes a little bit longer. And honestly, protesters, they realize it. They realize that there are no consequences to protesting anymore.”

This is a genie that does not go back into the bottle easily. A lot of people in politics remember the examples of their side being attacked and conclude this is how the entirety of the opposition wants to play the game. The rallying cry on the Right on Twitter these days is “you’re going to hate the new rules” — basically conservatives cheerfully announcing they or their brethren will adopt any tactic used by the Left. Turnabout is fair play; what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. (Lord knows I’ve long lamented the glaring double standard and the need for one bipartisan set of rules for public debate.)

The problem is that this cycle of tit-for-tat leads more and more people conclude that the opposition only understands the language of force and that they cannot be negotiated with, persuaded, or even tolerated in a form of coexistence.

We could steer away from this path, if there was a broad, across-the-spectrum denunciation of comments like the one from Waters, reemphasizing that in the United States, we settle our differences through debate and discourse and the ballot box and in the courtroom — not by stirring up an angry crowd and implying (or maybe more than implying) a threat of physical violence against the political opposition. But that’s too much to ask in this polarized — Balkanized? — environment, isn’t it?

A Look into California’s Likely Future

Comedian Dennis Miller used to joke that Ted Kennedy was “the distilled essence of liberalism — emphasis on distilled.” Gavin Newsom — the former San Francisco mayor, current lieutenant governor of California, and likely the next governor — could be similarly characterized as the distilled essence of his state’s unique brand of liberalism — except that could be interpreted as an unfair shot at Newsom’s 2007 statement about a “problem with alcohol.”

While I was on vacation last week, NR ran the profile I wrote about Newsom. A few details that got trimmed out:

  • The connections between powerful California political families are fascinating. (Gavin Newsom’s aunt, Barbara, was married for almost two decades to Ron Pelosi, the brother-in-law of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.)
  • As the Sacramento Bee summarized, “Newsom opened [his] wine shop in 1992 with the financial backing of family friend and oil fortune heir Gordon Getty. Newsom’s father, a classmate and close adviser of Getty, urged another prominent friend, John Burton, to recommend then-Mayor Willie Brown to appoint him to a vacant seat on the Board of Supervisors.” It’s not often you read sentences like, ‘[Gordon and Ann Getty] paid about $233,000 toward his first wedding reception.”
  • Newsom is now married to Jennifer Siebel, a feminist documentary filmmaker whose works include Miss Representation and The Mask You Live In. On October 6, after the revelations about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, Seibel wrote, “Based on my years in the industry and unfortunately, my own personal experience with Harvey Weinstein, I can tell you that I believe every single word that was written.”
  • Siebel did not specify when Weinstein’s “aggressive advances” toward her occurred. But she said that the world needed more powerful men like “my very own husband Gavin Newsom who understand their place of privilege in the public eye and use it to defend and protect those who need defending.” Unfortunately, Weinstein had donated $5,000 to Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign in 2009. On October 13, Newsom donated an equivalent amount to a nonprofit organization — an awkward announcement that he was effectively returning a donation from a creep who had harassed his own wife.
  • There’s little reason to think that as governor, Gavin Newsom would deviate much from the current Democratic status quo. He pledges “guaranteed health care for all,” which would probably require at least another $100 billion in taxes, to “alert immigrants of ICE activity,” to put the state on the path to “100 percent renewable energy,” which would require changing about 70 percent of the current suppliers, to eliminate all diesel pollution by 2030, and to create a state-level technology-research institution like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It’s all as ambitious as his pledge to end long-term homelessness in ten years.

Good luck, California.

The Flaws of Modern Journalism Do Not Make the Mission Any Less Important

An important conclusion from Derek Hunter’s newly-released Outrage, Inc: How the Liberal Mob Ruined Science, Journalism, and Hollywood:

For all the problems I have with modern journalism, journalism itself is incredibly important. Or at least it should be. And you won’t find many people who love movies more than I do or are a bigger supporter of the pursuit of truth.

That last part, the pursuit of truth, permeates everything else. Without it, nothing has meaning, nothing matters. If the truth is Play-Doh, it can be molded and bastardized to fit whatever the holder of it wants it to. . . .

The United States, or any other free people, needs access to accurate, truthful information. Without it we’re serfs making decisions based on lies told by those in power. When you make decisions based on lies, you are under the control of those feeding you the lies. . . .

The American people have never been more misinformed by the media, but they’ve also never had more access to more information. The house of cards that is the mainstream media will either fall or be forced to change completely. Until that happens, it’s up to you not only be informed but to inform others.

ADDENDA: If you haven’t already, check out NRPLUS, National Review’s new membership undertaking offering lots of benefits — including a Facebook group where editors and writers (including yours truly) pop in regularly and chat with readers. Get complete information here.

The best news of the morning: While she’s still got a difficult road ahead, GOP congressional candidate Katie Arrington is expected to make a full recovery from a serious car accident that occurred Friday night. She is expected to continue her campaign and could be walking around in a few days. God bless her.

Politics & Policy

The New Democratic Party

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during an event to introduce the “Medicare for All Act of 2017” on Capitol Hill in 2017. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

It’s a strange news day today to cap off an intense week. Jim Geraghty will be back on Monday. Today we look at the political future of the Democratic party and read from Nicholas Eberstadt’s diagnosis of the North Korea summit.

Democratic Candidates Are Marching Left

Are the Democrats moving leftward? Mike Konczal, a writer and fellow at the progressive Roosevelt Institute, says the answer is yes. In response to a column in The Week by Ryan Cooper, who lamented that Democrats do not “put forward a consistent party line on economic issues,” Konczal perused the campaign websites of a smattering of Democrats. He found large-scale agreement on a set of key economic issues: “Every candidate but one has expanding Medicare on their website, either as a public option or as single-payer. All but one has a living wage, with the majority explicitly stating $15 an hour as the goal. Some version of free college, most notably the ‘debt-free’ model, was represented across the board.”

That Democrats are increasingly embracing radical policies might seem obvious to conservatives who take for granted the party’s leftward orientation. But this is in fact a meaningful shift for the party, which during the Clinton era was defined by marrying social liberalism to center-left, neoliberal economics. A Democratic party whose lodestar is economic populism might be a potent electoral force. A shift in this direction is certainly something to attend to.

But there are obstacles in the way of the Democrats, who increasingly rely on the votes and dollars of upper-middle class whites, from implementing mass redistribution to fund these social programs. Konczal is aware of the uncomfortable fact that raising taxes is simply an unpopular thing to do, hence his admission that “the work is going to get harder.” It’s easy to run on something; much harder to actually pass these laws when you are in power.

Konczal points out another problem: prioritization. Party rhetoric increasingly casts all of these economic policies as matters of basic justice: It simply ought to be the case that people are guaranteed free college, free health care, and a living wage, by the state. But how to prioritize among these policies when you take control of the government? The pressure from progressive interest groups will be immense, and voters might feel bitterly disappointed if something they were told is a basic human right is put on the back-burner.

So there are problems with the new Democratic agenda that make it something other than an inevitability. But the Left has plenty of intelligent people working to solve them. Conservatives should think about what a world where that work pays off will look like. Maybe then the calls for a slight relaxation of GOP orthodoxy — pass some kind of universal catastrophic health insurance, offer larger tax credits refundable against more liabilities, open up the college system to expand online education and loosen accreditation rules — will begin to seem more attractive. For now, recalcitrance is what we’re getting, no matter how risky it might be.

Kim Wins in Singapore

The new print issue of National Review features a must-read cover story by Nicholas Eberstadt on the North Korean summit. Eberstadt, one of the world’s leading DPRK experts, is the bearer of bad news:

Given the hopes that President Trump’s North Korea policy had generated in the roughly 18 months leading up to Singapore, the results were little short of shocking. There is no way to sugarcoat it: Kim Jong-un and the North Korean side ran the table. After one-on-one talks with their most dangerous American adversary in decades and high-level deliberations with the “hard-line” Trump team, the North walked away with a joint communiqué that read almost as if it had been drafted by the DPRK ministry of foreign affairs. . . .

Kim Jong-un’s first and most obvious victory was the legitimation the summit’s pageantry accorded him and his regime. The Dear Respected Leader was treated as if he were the head of a legitimate state and indeed of a world power rather than the boss of a state-run crime cartel that a U.N. Commission of Inquiry wants to charge with crimes against humanity. In addition to the intrinsic photo-op benefit of a face-to-face with an American president who had traveled halfway across the globe to meet him, the Dear Respected Leader bathed in praise from the leader of the free world: Kim Jong-un was “a talented man who loves his country very much,” “a worthy negotiator,” and a person with whom Trump had “developed a very special bond.” Kim even garnered an invitation to the White House. These incalculably valuable gifts went entirely unreciprocated.

Second: Kim was handed a major victory in terms of what went missing from the summit agenda. For the Kim regime’s security infractions are by no means limited to its domestic nuke and missile projects. . . .

. . . Third: Regarding the key issues that were mentioned in the joint statement, the U.S. ended up adopting North Korean code language.

Until (let’s say) yesterday, the U.S. objective in the North Korean nuclear crisis was to induce the DPRK to dismantle its nuclear armaments and the industrial infrastructure for them. Likewise with long-range missiles. Thus the long-standing U.S. formulation of “CVID”: “complete verifiable irreversible denuclearization.”  But because the nuclear quest is central to DPRK strategy and security, the real, existing North Korean state cannot be expected to acquiesce in CVID — ever. Thus its own alternative formulation, with which America concurred in Singapore: “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

In this sly formulation, South Korea would also have to “denuclearize” — even though it possesses no nukes and allows none on its soil. How? By cutting its military ties to its nuclear-armed ally, the U.S. And if one probes the meaning of this formulation further with North Korean interlocutors, one finds that even in this unlikely scenario, the DPRK would treat its “denuclearization” as a question of arms control — as in, if America agrees to drawing down to just 40 nukes, Pyongyang could think about doing the same. The language of “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” ensured that no tangible progress on CVID was promised in the joint statement.

One hopes there is nonpublic information mitigating our losses from the summit. But it is hard to place too much confidence in the administration. Read the whole cover story here.

ADDENDA: Your weekend reading: “Tribal World,” Amy Chua, Foreign Affairs; “The Campus Intersectionality Craze,” Elliot Kaufmann, Commentary; “Send Anarchists, Guns, and Money,” Jacob Siegel, Baffler

Biggest winners from last night’s NBA Draft: Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets. The Mavs were able to trade the rights of Trae Young — who, despite the Steph Curry comparisons, can’t finish at the rim or play defense — and a future first-round pick for perhaps the best prospect in the draft, European guard Luka Doncic. Doncic succeeded at the second-toughest level of competition in the world, the Euroleague, and is a guy Dallas can build around for the next ten years. Meanwhile, the Nuggets, at the 14 spot, picked Michael Porter Jr: a top-three talent who due to injuries slid down teams’ draft boards. But Denver is a budding team that can afford to bring him along slowly. And if he’s ready to play within the next couple of years, he’ll add dynamism and talent to an already-solid core.


Will Democrats Catch a November Wave?

Anti-Trump protesters hold a rally outside Amsoil Arena during a visit by President Donald Trump in Duluth, Minn., June 20, 2018. (Adam Bettcher/Reuters)

Today, we take a look at recent polls in the upcoming midterm elections, the possible effect of rising home values on birth rates, and the administration separating itself from its own policy.

Midterm Update

For all the talk of a “blue wave” this November, the outcome of the midterm elections seems entirely in doubt. The Senate map is extremely favorable to Republicans; the Democratic lead in the “generic ballot” is nowhere near its double-digit highs from winter; Democrats did not do as well as they would have hoped in the recent California primary elections.

The widely followed Cook Political Report has downgraded two competitive House races in the Democratic direction. The seat of Barbara Comstock (R., Va.), representing the state’s tenth congressional district, is now considered a Democratic lean rather than a toss-up. Comstock faces Democratic state senator Jennifer Wexton. In Kentucky, the race between three-term incumbent Andy Barr, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Amy McGrath, is now considered a toss-up.

Some interesting polls have emerged in key Senate races. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) seems poised to fend off challenger Lou Barletta, whom I profiled last September. A Franklin and Marshall poll has Casey up 17 percentage points. Meanwhile, a Mason-Dixon poll suggests incumbent Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) is vulnerable: She trails Republican challenger Kevin Cramer 48–44. Two recent polls from Wisconsin show Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin with a solid lead (eleven and nine percentage points), while a Monmouth poll puts Joe Manchin up 50–39 over Republican Patrick Morrisey.

Plenty, however, depends on turnout, and none of these pollsters can see the future. The story of the midterm elections will be the story of two parties trying to turn out two countervailing groups of people: Democrats want to capitalize on their gains in white, upper-middle-class suburbia (especially among women), while Republicans want to tighten their hold on the white working class. The first group could turn the House election into a blue wave; the second group could form a countervailing red wave for the Senate. Trump has had a catalyzing effect on the Democratic base in most high-profile special elections since taking office, leading to the blue-wave chatter. Time will tell whether the GOP can muster a reciprocal wave of its own.

Home Values and Birth Rates

We know that the U.S. birth rate has broadly declined since 2008. For Millennial women, Zillow Research finds, that trend has been strongest in counties where home values have risen.

This is no proof that rising home values cause a decline in birth rates, but if that were the case, we’d expect to see data like this: “Birth records from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics show a strong negative relationship between home value growth and birth rate change across large counties in the U.S. for 25- to 29-year-old women, from 2010 to 2016,” Zillow writes. The effect they identify is significant: “On average, if a county’s home value increase was 10 percentage points higher than another county’s, its fertility rate fell 1.5 percentage points further.”

The trend doesn’t hold for some localities. Many of these are in the South, such as Miami-Dade County and Dallas County. Utah County, where Provo is located, saw its birth rate rise. For localities where the trend is unusually strong, look along the coasts: Los Angeles County, Orange County, Kings County, and Philadelphia County.

Zillow’s write-up of the research suggests there could be several causes for the trend. “One alternative explanation could be the possibility that there is clustering into certain counties of people with careers that pay well enough for expensive homes but make it difficult to have children before 30.” That is, people living in more-expensive houses might be the type to put off having kids, leading to a decline in birth rates that will even out as they age; it is well known that affluent Millennials are likelier to have kids later in life than were their elders.

But the more worrisome hypothesis is that higher housing prices will discourage people who might not be able to afford the rising costs of homeownership from deciding to settle down and have kids at all. This is an intuitively plausible explanation that researchers have set forth before. Though homeowners benefit from a bull market in real estate, those gains don’t flow to people who don’t own homes. In many cases, rising home prices might make it more difficult to attain financial stability. And contrary to cheap headlines that portray young people as a collection of irrational reprobates, plenty of us make decisions on a perfectly reasonable cost–benefit basis.

More research will be needed to confirm the trend. But for those of us with a strong prior in favor of market solutions to make housing cheaper, this would just mark another reason.

The Administration Separates Itself from Family Separation

The president signed an executive order yesterday purporting to end his administration’s practice of separating migrant children from their parents when families are found illegally crossing the border. But the crisis is far from over. More than 2,000 kids were detained before the order was signed, and Trump included no language to account for their situations. Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether the government has the resources to detain family units together as the order stipulates — much less the ability to do it legally, given the Flores consent decree prohibiting children from being held for more than 20 days. David French doubts the order is workable, while Dara Lind thinks the text is operative. The parade of incompetence marches on.

ADDENDA: I didn’t know Mike Potemra, NR’s late literary editor, personally, but the remembrances posted to NRO in the wake of his death were touching, and Mike’s writing was that of a deeply human, obviously intelligent man. Today the staff of National Review attends his memorial mass.

The NBA draft is tonight. Stay tuned for my thoughts in this space tomorrow. What I’m watching for tonight: Will Kawhi Leonard be dealt? Will the Kings go with Luka Doncic at No. 2? And who will be willing to take a flier on Michael Porter Jr.?

Music critics have had a difficult time dealing with the string of new Kanye West-associated albums. DAYTONA, the Pusha T album for which he was executive producer, was unimpeachable; critics swallowed their tongues and gave it high marks. If Yeezy’s solo project, ye, was uneven, it also featured some of his most personal work and interesting production. The album polarized critics, sometimes within their own reviews: Pitchfork’s Meaghen Garvey tore album and artist to shreds as her editors gave the album a respectable 7.1. But the next project, Kids See Ghosts by West and Kid Cudi, is Kanye’s best work in five years. Trendy outfits such as Pitchfork and The Ringer couldn’t bear to admit that Ye had returned to glory. Only Anthony Fantano was willing to admit the obvious.

Economy & Business

Should We Worry about the Flattening Yield Curve?

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell speaks at his news conference after the two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) on interest rate policy in Washington, June 13, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

In today’s Jolt, we’ll take a look at the bond markets and what they could mean for continued economic growth; how other countries are handling migration issues of their own; and Chuck Schumer’s resistance to legislative fixes to the family-separation crisis at the border.

It’s Time to Pay Attention to the Bond Markets

“Should we worry about the flattening yield curve?” That’s the question everyone was asking after last week’s Federal Reserve meeting and the subsequent market action. (“Everyone” might be a generous word.) The “yield curve” is simply the difference between treasury-bond yields of different maturities. Take the spread between the two-year yield, which is hovering around 2.5 percent, and the ten-year yield, which is hovering around 2.9 percent. The two–ten curve is the difference between those two numbers, and it currently sits at 37 basis points, or 0.37 percent: flatter than at any point since 2007.

Financial writers and investors often cite the two–ten curve as a relevant piece of information. Because the two-year yield is a rough signal of the bond market’s expectations for monetary policy over the next two years, and the ten-year yield is a rough signal of market expectations for growth and inflation over the next ten years, the difference between the two provides a clue as to how much room the market thinks might be left in an economic expansion.

If the spread between the two treasury yields is large — if the curve is steep — that suggests markets think the central bank has room to raise rates over the next two years without affecting prospects for future economic growth. A flatter curve, such as the one we have today, reflects, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, “investors’ confidence that the Federal Reserve will maintain its current pace of interest-rate increases despite continuing skepticism about the longer-term outlook for economic growth and inflation.” An inverted two–ten curve, meanwhile, is conventionally seen as a harbinger of a recession.

The Jay Powell–led Fed raised rates last week in an altogether expected move. It also included language that suggests it will take a moderately more hawkish stance to monetary policy than it did when the bank was led by Janet Yellen. With the economy ten years into its expansion and the yield curve flattening, should we worry about a recession? Is the business cycle about to turn?

Maybe not. External factors, such as large-scale bond purchases by central banks, pension funds, and foreign countries, can push down long-term interest rates; several commentators have argued that asset purchases by these entities are keeping the spread between short and long rates narrow. But former Bloomberg editor Robert Burgess points out that yield curves already have inverted overseas, and economist David Beckworth observes that the Fed itself seems to be willing to bring about an inverted yield curve. (Its estimate of the long-term federal-funds rate is 2.9 percent; it sees itself raising the short-term rate to 3 percent by 2019.) The yield curve is a wholly artificial metric, and the state of the underlying economy is what really matters. But it’s probably right to sound a note of concern.

Restrictive Migrant Policy Isn’t Just for the U.S.

It’s not just the United States that is flirting with a tougher policy toward migrants seeking to claim asylum. Several European countries are dealing with the issue as well. German chancellor Angela Merkel is facing political turmoil after Horst Seehofer, an interior official from the Christian Social Union party — a coalition partner of her Christian Democratic Union party — claimed the unilateral authority to turn back migrants coming from elsewhere in Europe. Merkel, who has consistently stressed the humanitarian importance of a permissive policy admitting migrants, has rejected the idea and called for an EU meeting to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, the new interior minister in Italy’s populist coalition government, Matteo Salvini from the right-wing Northern League, made waves last week by denying a ship with more than 600 migrants harbor at an Italian port. The move coincides with the Northern League taking the lead in polls for the first time. (Seehofer reportedly congratulated Salvini over the phone — restrictionist interior ministers stick together.)

Walter Russell Mead makes a necessary point about all of this in the Wall Street Journal. He writes:

Africa’s population, currently estimated at about 1.26 billion, is projected to double by 2050. Many of those additional people will be poor, but smartphones and the internet will keep them informed of the enormous gap between European and African living standards. It’s likely that for the next several decades many countries in Africa (as well as the Middle East and Central Asia) will remain underdeveloped, torn by civil and religious violence, and producing large numbers of desperate young men.

Europe simply cannot deal with these pressures unless it develops much stronger tools to control migration. Today, such ideas remain unthinkable among respectable European politicians, but that equilibrium is fragile. Almost two-thirds of Europeans cite either migration (38 percent) or terrorism (29 percent) as one of the European Union’s two most important problems, according to the most recent Eurobarometer poll. Addressing climate change and strengthening Europe’s place in the world, causes much closer to the heart of the European establishment, were each cited as important by only 11 percent of those surveyed.

This issue is not going away. It is likely to intensify over the coming decades as hotter temperatures and droughts in sub-Saharan Africa and across the Middle East propel more migrants to Europe. As these domestic disputes and the fierce debate they have provoked in the European press reveal, the continent still has not figured out what its approach to migrants ought to be.

One major theme of Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe is that Europe came about its current stance on immigration without a proper debate. The postwar necessity for migrant labor quickly elided into a lasting ideology of large-scale immigration whose justifications shifted depending on the interlocutor. Such an approach will not suffice; its political downsides are becoming clear as the “responsible” architects of Europe’s permissive immigration policy yield to populists. If these responsible actors want to prevent demagogues from exploiting the immigration issue, then they need to respond to the concerns of their voters with something beyond vague bromides about the value of inclusion.

Yes, more family separation

The front pages of the U.S.’s newspapers remain focused on family separation. Last night, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer announced that he opposes congressional action to end the practice because, “when the president can do it with his own pen, it makes no sense.” This rationale seems even more ridiculous when one considers that Republicans have drafted narrowly tailored legislation that would address the family-separation issue head-on. The administration, rather grotesquely, said it would block any legislation that did not also resolve surrounding immigration-policy questions. But if Democrats and Republicans were to agree on a bill, they could form a supermajority and render these negotiating tactics moot. I want to believe that our congressional leaders would put the best interests of the country before their own political interests and find a quick resolution to this problem. But Democrats might want to use this issue against Republicans for the midterm elections. There’s a reason Americans are deeply cynical when it comes to the legislative branch, and this is it.

ADDENDA: I’d like to plug “Taiwan’s Challenge,” my first print article for National Review, which appears in the June 25, 2018, issue. I’d like to mention that the NBA Draft is tomorrow, and Friday’s edition of the Jolt will feature plenty of words breaking down the fallout from that glorious occasion. And I’d like to stipulate that the Beach Boys’ album Sunflower is superior to the Beatles’ Abbey Road. See you all tomorrow.

Politics & Policy

The Con Woman of Silicon Valley

Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of Theranos, attends a panel discussion during the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in New York, September 29, 2015. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Yesterday’s Jolt dealt with family separation and a growing trade dispute with China. Much of the big news of the day again pertains to none other than family separation and a growing trade dispute with China. President Trump has announced 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods; China has vowed to retaliate; Trump has vowed to retaliate if they retaliate. Look for equity markets to slide today. Later, we’ll take a look at Theranos’s Elizabeth Holmes and her fall from grace in Silicon Valley.

Will Congress Put an End to Family Separation?

Some background, in case you haven’t been following the story: The Trump administration has been prosecuting all who are found illegally crossing the border. Many of these people are Central American asylum seekers who enter the country as family units. Because of a Bush-era consent decree, when they claim asylum the parents are detained separately from their children, who are being taken into the custody of HHS in makeshift shelters. Right now, thousands of kids, separated from their parents, are being held in such facilities. It’s grim.

Enter Congress. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) took a first pass at an anti-family-separation bill that would generally cripple the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward those crossing the border illegally. It won the support of all Democrats, but no Republicans have signed onto it. Last night, Ted Cruz (R., Texas) proposed a bill that looks as if it has a real chance at passing. The bill is narrowly tailored to solve the family separation problem, directing that the resources currently going toward child shelters go toward family shelters, doubling the number of immigration-court judges and ordering them to handle the asylum claims expeditiously, and forbidding the practice of family separation. Rumblings out of D.C. indicate that a House bill could be on the way as well.

Elizabeth Holmes’s Fall from Grace

Theranos was among the hottest startups just three years ago. Now its founder Elizabeth Holmes and former COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani have been charged with felony counts of wire fraud. It’s a precipitous fall from grace for the woman who had been hailed as the next Steve Jobs — she had a habit of wearing black turtlenecks and insisting she would change the world — and once had a net worth of $4.5 billion. But the charges are no surprise to anyone who has been following the story.

Dogged work by Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou cast light on Theranos’s issues with its blood-testing technology in October 2015. The company had said it was using groundbreaking, proprietary technology to test people’s blood with just a pinprick — marking a revolution in the medical-device world. But, Carreyrou reported, it had been struggling with its proprietary devices. Put simply, they didn’t work. Theranos had resorted to using other companies’ devices to test patients’ blood samples, but since those devices required a larger amount of blood to conduct the tests, it had to dilute the samples. All of this led to accuracy problems, and Theranos, then under contract with Walgreens, was conducting unreliable tests on the pharmacy’s behalf.

Is it fair to extrapolate the case of Theranos to the rest of Silicon Valley? Certainly the negative consequences of the move-fast-and-break-things ethos have become clear over the last few months, and dispatches from within Theranos’s doors evoke other Silicon Valley horror stories. But Matt Levine — to my mind the best morning-newsletter writer in the business outside of Brother Geraghty — identifies the salient distinction between Theranos and, say, a certain “disruptive” juicer company that wound up not having the goods:

It seems right to me that, of all the startups to charge with wire fraud, prosecutors went with the one whose allegedly fake blood tests allegedly endangered patient lives. You really can’t prosecute every little startup exaggeration as wire fraud. A lot of those exaggerations — quite possibly even a lot of Theranos’s — are motivated by CEO overconfidence and delusion, and it is hard to distinguish among the CEO who promises the impossible because she is committing fraud, the CEO who promises the impossible because she is deluded, and the CEO who promises the impossible and then goes and does it. All three types flourish in Silicon Valley.

And Silicon Valley is basically a good ecosystem. It produces a lot of good stuff and makes a lot of venture capitalists rich. And sometimes startups fail, and sometimes it turns out that they were lying to their investors, but the investors — in aggregate, in expectation — are okay with that. The investors want to be lied to! They want to look into the eyes of entrepreneurs, and see the abyss staring back at them, and say “well okay this is weird, let’s see where this goes.” Move fast and break etc. etc. etc., you know the drill; you put your money on weird rebels pursuing high-variance outcomes, and when the variance is high—in either direction—you congratulate yourself for your boldness.

Not everyone in Silicon Valley is a delusional con woman hell-bent on making herself rich off the diluted blood of patients who just wanted to find out if they had a disease; it’s just Elizabeth Holmes.

The Harvard Admissions-Discrimination Case

Harvard University almost certainly discriminates against Asian Americans in its admissions process. Documents were released last week in the course of a lawsuit by Students for Fair Admissions against the university that shed light on the process. The National Review editorial explains:

Evidence shows the discrimination happens along two lines. First, Harvard evaluates applicants according to a “holistic” process that considers, in addition to their academic, extracurricular, and athletic achievements, “personal” qualities: whether they have demonstrated “humor, sensitivity, grit, leadership,” etc. Asian Americans consistently rank below others on the personality metric, despite the fact that admissions officials never meet most applicants. The internal review showed that Asian Americans were the only demographic group to suffer negative effects from the subjective portion of the evaluation. Second, even after the subjective criteria are taken into account, the university tips the scales further by adjusting for “demographics.” The specifics of this adjustment have been redacted by the university, but the review found that the share of admitted Asian students fell from 26 percent to 18 percent after it was made.

Having skimmed over the relevant documents, I’m struck first by how overtly the university trafficked in racial stereotypes against Asian Americans. It frequently referred to them as “busy but bright” and was significantly more likely to give them “standard strong” ratings in the personality portion of the admissions evaluation, a rating that denotes a strong academic profile with little else to round it out. Yet Asian American students consistently piled up better-than-average ratings on the extracurricular portion of the evaluation. It was the personality metric on which they faltered. Harvard admissions officials were guilty of trafficking in some of the most well-trod stereotypes against Asian Americans without ever having met them: According to Harvard, they are undifferentiated drones who don’t have social skills, aren’t natural leaders, and can’t contribute to a vibrant community in meaningful ways. It is despicable that Harvard has been getting away with this for so long. One silver lining is that the political damage the university has been taking might encourage it to reform its admissions system, win or lose in court.

One issue that didn’t make it into the editorial that deserves some consideration was raised by Michael Brendan Dougherty in a Corner post last Friday. A better college-admissions system, he suggests, might allow universities to choose what their mission is and tailor their admissions criteria from there. This follows from the general principle that civil society ought to allow institutions to choose what type of institution they want to be. If Harvard thinks it is better off balancing its demographic in a certain way to cultivate a racially representative group of people for membership in the American elite, then it ought to make that case (though this would probably be illegal). We might benefit from a frank conversation about the potentially manifold roles that universities ought to play in our country. But Harvard’s deception certainly doesn’t help. Nor does its blatant racist stereotyping.

ADDENDA: Vladimir Putin will be hosting former FIFA president Sepp Blatter at the World Cup, a meeting between two of the worst people on the planet. Here are three essays you should try and read this week:

1) “David Lynch Keeps His Head,” by David Foster Wallace, Premiere, 1996

2) “The Face of Seung-Hui Cho,” by Wesley Yang, n+1, 2008

3) “The Killa in Manila,” by Christopher Caldwell, The Weekly Standard, 2018


Family Separation at the Border Is Set to Dominate the Week’s News

A demonstrator carries a Mexican flag while climbing the border fence between Mexico and the U.S., during a protest against the immigration policies of U.S. President Donald Trump’s government, in Tijuana, Mexico, May 10, 2018. (Jorge Duenes/Reuters)

Your humble correspondent will be filling in for Jim Geraghty this week.

Family Separation

The Trump-administration practice of separating families when they are detained for crossing the border illegally is coming under fire. The administration had been taking heat from the left, but over the weekend, several Republicans broke ranks. Senators Susan Collins and Jeff Flake penned a letter to Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (who is currently getting dragged on Twitter over the controversy) asking her to end the practice. Laura Bush wrote an op-ed for the New York Times calling it “cruel” and “immoral.” Melania Trump’s office issued a rare statement that concluded: “We need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.” The issue is all over the major newspapers and, I’m told, cable news.

Family separation has been happening for a while, but the criticism is approaching a crescendo. This is the story of the week, so it’s important to define our terms. The administration doesn’t exactly have a policy of separating children from their parents once family units are detained for crossing the border. The relevant policy is its zero-tolerance approach to illegal border crossings: Prosecute all adults who are found to be illegally entering (in contrast to the Obama-era policy of “catch and release,” which allowed family units entry into the U.S. interior while their cases were being adjudicated and was a major contributor to the current crisis). Rich Lowry explains:

When a migrant is prosecuted for illegal entry, he or she is taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals. . . . The child is taken into the custody of HHS, who cares for them at temporary shelters.

The criminal proceedings are exceptionally short, assuming there is no aggravating factor such as a prior illegal entity or another crime. The migrants generally plead guilty, and they are then sentenced to time served, typically all in the same day, although practices vary along the border. After this, they are returned to the custody of ICE.

If the adult then wants to go home, in keeping with the expedited order of removal that is issued as a matter of course, it’s relatively simple. The adult should be reunited quickly with his or her child, and the family returned home as a unit. In this scenario, there’s only a very brief separation.

Where it becomes much more of an issue is if the adult files an asylum claim. In that scenario, the adults are almost certainly going to be detained longer than the government is allowed to hold their children. That’s because of something called the Flores Consent Decree from 1997. It says that unaccompanied children can be held only 20 days.

The combination of the administration’s zero-tolerance policy, a scarcity of detention facilities, asylum claims by parents facing illegal-entry charges, and the Flores Consent Decree adds up to scores of children being held in converted Wal-Marts.

It’s a ghastly spectacle that is hard to defend. And the Trump administration has not exerted much effort in defending it. On Friday, Trump tried to lay blame at the foot of congressional Democrats, a talking point that has gotten little traction among even his most committed defenders. While some officials have privately defended the policy as a gruesome-but-necessary measure to deter future Central American asylum-seekers from crossing the border illegally, on-the-record defenses of the practice are conspicuously rare. The New York Times reports that the administration is internally divided over the measure. And the well-crafted first-person narratives in the media of young mothers who entered the United States only for their kids to be wrested away will only worsen the PR nightmare. I’d bet something changes sometime soon.

What are the available alternatives? It seems logical that the resources required to build these temporary shelters for children could instead go to building temporary shelters for family units. Then the families would be kept together as the gears of the law slowly turn, and the debate would shift to the zero-tolerance policy itself. The problem of the Flores Consent Decree could be solved by Congress, though as of now the anti-family-separation bills have been too broad to secure a consensus. And over a longer time frame, restrictionists could focus their energy not on cracking down on border crossings but on internal enforcement: a robust E-Verify policy that punishes businesses who hire illegal immigrants and causes many to leave on their own accord. (Maddeningly, the administration has been reported to oppose E-Verify.)

Trump succeeded as a candidate largely because he treated immigration as a contested issue. There are plenty of restrictionists in the United States whose concerns, for years, were ignored by Washington. But building a policy regime of tighter borders that lasts beyond the Trump administration means more than just returning the issue to the political map or taking provocative executive action against illegal border crossers — it means crafting legislation that can get through both houses of Congress and building a coalition for immigration restriction that extends beyond committed Trump supporters. There is plenty of misinformation in the family separation debate, to be sure. And on the margin, the practice indeed might deter some Central American asylum seekers from crossing the border. But over the long term, it will make the cause of immigration restriction ever harder to defend.

China Tariffs

China announced it will impose tariffs on $50 billion worth of U.S. goods in the latest retaliatory round of the ongoing trade war. The ball is now in Trump’s court, and it’s easy to see the president, who had vowed to retaliate if China retaliated, retaliating. The standoff appears to be weighing on global markets and generally increasing risk, and in a recent editorial, the Wall Street Journal explained that Trump’s steel tariff is hurting ordinary American businesses, including a locker-manufacturing company that happens to employ 400 factory workers in the Midwest. Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell threw cold water on a bill that would have helped reassert congressional authority over the imposition of tariffs. Tariff mania won’t end anytime soon.

Addenda: I went to Heterodox Academy’s inaugural Open Mind Conference last Friday, along with fellow NR colleagues Christian Gonzalez and Madeleine Kearns. It was fascinating. Stay tuned for some more thoughts on a slower news day.

Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open for the second year in a row at Shinnecock Hills. The tournament was notable for being a standard U.S. Open: impossible course conditions, rowdy fans, and complaining Europeans.

Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio and into Los Angeles. I could do without Kawhi’s weak excuses — the Spurs are a model franchise and everyone knows it — but the possibility of him teaming up with another superstar (or two) on the Lakers is a fascinating one.

Politics & Policy

Cancel the Monday Meetings for the Pakistani Taliban Leaders — And Everything Beyond That, Too

(Akhtar Soomro/Reuters)

This is the last Jim-written Jolt for a week. Buckley Fellow Theodore Kupfer will pinch hit while I’m out; I’ll be back Monday, June 25.

Happy Friday! Whatever kind of a week you’ve had, you’ve had a better one than Mullah Fazlullah Khorasani.

The leader of the Pakistani Taliban was killed by a U.S. drone strike, an Afghan official said Friday.

Mullah Fazlullah Khorasani was Pakistan’s most-wanted militant and blamed for attacks including a 2014 school massacre that killed 132 children and the 2012 shooting of schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In March, the U.S. offered a $5 million reward for information on Fazlullah.

. . . Pakistan is considered key to persuading Afghan Taliban leaders, who Washington believes shelter on Pakistani soil, to open negotiations to end the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.

Prior to the Afghan Defense Ministry stating that Fazlullah had been killed, several members of the Pakistani Taliban told NBC News they had been unable to make contact with him and other senior commanders since receiving word of the strike.

They said they feared four other top commanders may also have been killed.

I’m starting to read Steve Coll’s S Directorate, which is about the U.S. War on Terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 9/11 to the end of the Obama years.

In the United States, a lot of the public and some of the foreign-policy wonks have a mentality that suggests if the U.S. government applies the right combination of attention, resources, military force, diplomatic pressure, and finesse, we can get the outcome we want in foreign policy. You see it in questions such as, “How can we bring peace to the Middle East?” or “How can we stop North Korea?” We don’t like to spend a lot of time thinking, “What if managing the problem — keeping the status quo in place — is as good an outcome as we can produce?”

We may find that the status quo in Afghanistan — a rickety, corrupt, pro-U.S. government that controls the cities and not much else — is about as good as it gets. The Pakistani intelligence service has always had close ties to the Taliban. I think it was Bing West who said on one of the NR cruises that, to a young man growing up in a poor village in the remote provinces of Afghanistan, joining the Taliban and playing mujahedeen warrior is a lot more glamorous and exciting than being a farmer or goat herder. While not all Afghans supported the Taliban’s brutal rule, the population is largely deeply religious.

If 9/11 had never happened, both Republican and Democratic administrations probably would have been content to continue the pre-9/11 policy towards the Taliban — nonrecognition, denunciation, and small-scale aid to their nominally pro-Western enemies. The world has a lot of oppressive regimes; what set the Taliban apart was its hosting of al-Qaeda, a group that explicitly endorsed and promoted attacks against Americans. If Mullah Omar had agreed to our demands that he turn over bin Laden and shut down the al-Qaeda training camps, the U.S. might have been content to leave the Taliban in charge in 2001.

You haven’t heard much about Afghanistan in the news or in our foreign-policy discussions in recent years. Every once in a while we hear further whispers that President Trump would like to withdraw all U.S. troops from the country. You might have missed that the Afghan government and Taliban announced a brief holiday cease-fire. But if you had to guess what Afghanistan will look like five years from now . . . doesn’t it seem likely that it will look more or less the way it does today?

The Partisan FBI

As mentioned yesterday, the FBI inspector general’s report is bad for the FBI. Bad for Jim Comey — he used his private email for official business! — bad for former attorney general Loretta Lynch, and really bad for lead agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. It’s also bad for any of us who would like to trust the judgment of the nation’s preeminent law-enforcement agency.

What’s interesting is that everyone who wants to poo-poo Trump’s “deep state” talk is pointing to all of the times the IG report concludes it did not find evidence that bias influenced or altered the decision-making of FBI employees. But the inspector general can’t put a charge like that in there unless it’s airtight — and even then, it makes that assessment for one of Strzok’s decisions.

The inspector general concluded that Strzok’s text of “we will stop him” along with others disparaging Trump, “is not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.”

That’s about as harsh as an inspector general is going to get. That’s “burn him at the stake” in federal bureaucrat-ese.

Anyone who reads through the complete report will find that the IG didn’t exonerate the bureau at all, and it was more just than a handful of bad apples. One identified agent working on the Clinton case — separate from Strzok and Page — texted to another, “I find anyone who enjoys [this job] an absolute f***ing idiot. If you dont think so, ask them one more question. Who are you voting for? I guarantee you it will be Donald Drumpf.” In a different exchange on September 9, 2016, the agent said, “i would rather have brunch with trump and a bunch of his supporters like the ones from ohio that are retarded.”

The agents later told the IG they did not think their political and personal views affected the integrity of the investigation. It’s one thing to contend that your political views didn’t affect your decision-making; it’s another to contend that your bristling charge that anyone who disagrees with your political preference is “retarded” never affected your judgment or decision-making.

You’ll recall that when I reviewed Comey’s book, I called attention to one passage that everyone else seemed to gloss over, describing the October 27, 2016, meeting where he and his top staff concluded that they had to inform Congress that the investigation into Clinton’s emails had been reopened:

As we were arriving at this decision, one of the lawyers on the team asked a searing question. She was a brilliant and quiet person, whom I sometimes had to invite into the conversation. “Should you consider that what you are about to do may help elect Donald Trump president?” she asked.

I paused for several seconds. It was of course the question on everyone’s mind, whether they expressed it out loud or not.

“It is a great question,” I said, “but not for a moment can I consider it. Because down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent force in American life. If we start making decisions based on whose political fortunes will be affected, we are lost.”

Comey makes the right choice . . . but clearly at least one FBI lawyer felt comfortable suggesting that the FBI should not inform Congress about new developments in the investigation, as promised, because it could help elect Trump.

Is it a great question? Or is it arguing that the primary national law-enforcement organization in the United States should alter its decision-making process because it might hurt their preferred candidate?

How many other people in the room were thinking the way this unnamed lawyer did?

Uh, Director Comey, Were You in a Coma for a Few Years There, or What?

The most implausible claim in the 500-page report:

Comey said that he recalled first learning about the additional emails on the Weiner laptop at some point in early October 2016, although he said it was possible this could have occurred in late September 2016. Comey told the OIG that this information “didn’t index” with him, which he attributed to the way the information was presented to him and the fact that, “I don’t know that I knew that [Weiner] was married to Huma Abedin at the time.”

Really? Really?

Because the Anthony Weiner sexting scandals — er, both rounds of them, both 2011 and 2013 — were not exactly obscure news. Huma Abedin wasn’t exactly an obscure figure, either. All kinds of media wrote variations of “Why the heck is she still married to him?” columns.

You’re in charge of investigating things, and you somehow missed one of the biggest, most salacious, and heavily covered political scandals of the past decade?

ADDENDA: A new poll finds Maryland governor Larry Hogan ahead by double digits in his reelection bid against all rivals. I profiled Hogan’s record as governor in NR a few months ago.