Culture

Hollywood Contemplates Looking in the Mirror, Then Turns Away

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Jimmy Kimmel and Warrren Beatty (left) on stage at the Oscars, February 26, 2017. (Reuters photo: Lucy Nicholson)

Last night’s Academy Awards broadcast was Hollywood’s way of addressing the sexual-harassment scandal without really addressing it, discussing it without really discussing it, and assuring the public that all the worst stuff is in the past and that no one needs to worry about it anymore.

Yes, it was nice to see Ashley Judd and Annabella Sciorra again, up on stage alongside Salma Hayek. But no one involved in the ceremony could ever quite come out and say why those three were up on stage.

“It’s nice to see you all again, it’s been a while,” Sciorra began.

That is a really subtle way of alluding to the fact that she was blacklisted, and that she contends Harvey Weinstein had enough influence in the industry to prevent her from working at all for several years. Weinstein’s a demon, but how many people in that room acquiesced to his demand that those actresses not be hired anymore? How many people applauding Sciorra, Hayek, and Judd enabled the demon?

My beef is not with Sciorra, but with whoever wrote the watered-down “inspirational talk” she was asked to recite: “It’s an honor to be here tonight. This year many spoke their truth and the journey ahead is long, but slowly, a new path has emerged.”

This sounds like a fortune cookie. This is not “speaking truth to power.”

“The changes we are witnessing are being driven by the powerful sound of new voices, different voices, of our voices, who are joining together in a mighty chorus that is finally saying Time’s Up,” Judd said. “We work together to make sure that the next 90 years empower these limitless possibilities of equality, diversity, inclusion, intersectionality. That’s what this year has promised us.”

Changes from what?

The closest we came to mentioning that was when Mira Sorvino, another Weinstein victim, who walked the Oscar carpet with Judd, opened the following video clip, by declaring, “This entire fall, the #MeToo, the Time’s Up movements, everyone is getting a voice to express something that’s been happening forever, not only in Hollywood but in every walk of life.”

No one could bring themselves to say out loud what that “something that’s been happening forever” was: sexual harassment, and in some cases, sexual assault.

That led into a video that mostly discussed the joys of diversity in the latest crop of Hollywood films. That’s nice, but Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker and Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the New York Times didn’t uncover an abominable lack of diversity at the Weinstein company. They discovered that one of the most powerful men in the industry — a man thanked in more Oscar speeches than God — was a serial sexual predator who employed a small army of henchmen to assist and cover up his crimes and who destroyed careers with impunity for decades. And the Weinstein revelations brought about a tidal wave of more claims of predatory behavior flourishing in the studios, audition rooms, and hotel rooms.

This was the first Academy Awards in many years where Hollywood had something serious to talk about, something closer to home than a president they don’t like. They chose not to dwell on it, and to quickly turn it into a celebration of itself.

Hollywood’s brightest stars came together as one and told us they had stood up to something bad — but never quite defined — and assured us that everything was different now. It was a powerful night for vague euphemisms.

Elsewhere, the founder of #MeToo talked about her desire to work with gun-control activists, demonstrating that the movement is quickly mutating from a broad-based coalition in support of an unassailable cause — stop harassment and assault — into garden-variety progressive leftism.

I wish they had just let Rose McGowan come out and yell at everyone for ten minutes.

Everything You Didn’t Know About Devin Nunes but Ought to Read about Now

I spent much of last week working on this 6,200-word soup-to-nuts profile of Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The odds are good that he escaped your attention until after the 2016 election, and a few profiles have asked, “Why is this young-by-congressional-standards farmer chairing the intelligence committee?”

Over the course of several hours, the congressman answered my questions about just about everything: the memo and the FBI, of course, but also his family life; what growing up on a farm taught him; what spurred him to go into politics; the conversation that changed his life’s direction and his first almost-accidental race for elected office; the water wars of California; his early friendships with Bill Thomas, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan; how he snuck out to meet sources in foreign countries; what it’s like to drive eight hours along the Indian side of the India–Pakistan border with Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas . . .

Give it a read. You may need to set aside some time for it.

On Trade, the President Grabs the Wheel and Sets Course Straight for the Rocks

Trump’s decision on tariffs may be a tipping point in his presidency. He’s pushing for a policy that a lot of conservative Republicans don’t like. (It doesn’t help that it comes after the White House meeting with lawmakers where Trump sounded like an enthusiastic gun-control activist.) The tariffs could end up having significantly bad economic consequences, and the economy had been the shining success story of the Trump presidency so far. The president’s defenses of protectionism are incoherent babble that is just factually wrong; Trump insists that “our Steel and Aluminum industries are dead” when the U.S. Department of Commerce figures show that since the beginning of 2009, the six major U.S. steel companies have collectively reported net earnings for 20 quarters.

The president still hasn’t figured out that you can’t change government policy as quickly and impulsively as you type out and send a Tweet.

By midnight Wednesday, less than 12 hours before the executives were expected to arrive, no one on the president’s team had prepared any position paper for an announcement on tariff policy, the official said. In fact, according to the official, the White House counsel’s office had advised that they were as much as two weeks away from being able to complete a legal review on steel tariffs.

There were no prepared, approved remarks for the president to give at the planned meeting, there was no diplomatic strategy for how to alert foreign trade partners, there was no legislative strategy in place for informing Congress and no agreed upon communications plan beyond an email cobbled together by Ross’s team at the Commerce Department late Wednesday that had not been approved by the White House.

No one at the State Department, the Treasury Department or the Defense Department had been told that a new policy was about to be announced or given an opportunity to weigh in in advance.

The Thursday morning meeting did not originally appear on the president’s public schedule.

Shortly after it began, reporters were told that Ross had convened a “listening” session at the White House with 15 executives from the steel and aluminum industry.

Then, an hour later, in an another unexpected move, reporters were invited to the Cabinet room. Without warning, Trump announced on the spot that he was imposing new strict tariffs on imports.

By Thursday afternoon, the U.S. stock market had fallen and Trump, surrounded by his senior advisers in the Oval Office, was said to be furious.

This reminds me of Steve Bannon’s “plan” to announce the immigration restrictions without any warning in the first days of Trump’s presidency. No one in the rest of the government was prepared to implement them; John Kelly, then the secretary of Homeland Security, learned from television that Trump had signed the order.

Veronique de Rugy, a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a regular contributor in the Corner, tries to spell out in today’s New York Times how the tariffs will benefit one smaller group of U.S. employers but hurt other larger groups of U.S. employers:

Like President Bush, Mr. Trump will raise the cost of doing business in steel- and aluminum-consuming companies. In turn, it will make life much harder for the 6.5 million workers those industries employ. Many will lose their jobs — possibly more than the 170,000 workers currently employed in the steel and aluminum producing industries.

Adding insult to injury, the president is comfortable with the knowledge that his import tax will make our cars, infrastructure, soda cans and aircraft more expensive. And he’s flat-out wrong when he claims, “Maybe it’ll cost a little bit more, but we’ll have jobs.” As the Department of Commerce’s own report shows, the decline of jobs in the steel and aluminum industries predates the competition with China by decades. Industry experts know that this is mostly because of innovation and industry consolidation. The era of labor-intensive metal production is over.

But he’s not going to listen until it’s too late, will he?

ADDENDA: Bethany Mandel in a terrific, deeply personal essay in the New York Times: “For many, support for gun rights is motivated precisely by our devotion to protecting our kids.”

Health Care

Ten Observations from the White House Opioid Summit

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President Trump meets with members of Congress at the White House, February 28, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

First of all, if you ever get a chance to visit the White House, do so.

One: The White House Opioid Summit began with a short video of Fox News personality Eric Bolling describing getting the call that his son had died of an overdose. You can see it here, and it is simply heartbreaking. He warned that “‘Not My Kid Syndrome’ is a killer.” The coroner’s report determined that Eric Chase Bolling had “cocaine, marijuana, alprazolam (commonly known as Xanax), and the opioid drugs fentanyl and cyclopropyl fentanyl in his system.” Despite a rumor at the time, there was no sign of self-harm; this was an accidental overdose, ending the life of a 19-year-old University of Colorado sophomore with his whole life ahead of him.

College students can begin by seeking out Ritalin and stimulants to handle all-night study sessions and handle an exhausting schedule, and then turn to Xanax and other opioids to calm down and relax on the weekends. We need to tell our kids not merely, “don’t do drugs.” We need to tell them, “don’t ingest any pill that didn’t come from a pharmacist, because there is a greater-than-zero risk that it could kill you.”

Two: A second video featured Daniel Goonan, the fire chief of Manchester, N.H., whose department now responds to more overdoses than fires. The city instituted a “Safe Station” program, where anyone struggling with addiction can show up, get assessed, and steered to a treatment program. “As most city hospital emergency rooms may be overwhelmed with patients, this program assists all by weeding out those individuals seeking assistance that may not need immediate medical attention but need immediate help.”

Three: Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar was the first of five cabinet secretaries to speak, and pointed out that his department was eager to provide states with waivers from federal regulations if they felt those regulations were impeding efforts to provide addiction recovery and treatment. One good example:

One way they can be used is to allow more healthcare facilities to be reimbursed for providing treatment. By law, medical facilities are not allowed to have more than 16 beds to receive Medicaid funds. The rule, which dates to 1965 and was intended to promote the expansion of smaller community-based substance abuse treatment centers, has contributed to long wait lists for treatment. More beds are allowed for states that ask to make changes through a waiver.

Azar has urged more governors to apply for waivers so more people can have access to treatment for addiction.

“I actually berated the governors saying, ‘Why have I only gotten five of these so far?’ We are eager to work with them, we have a streamlined process for approving them, and I want more,” he said.

Four: Azar said the philosophy at HHS was to see opioid addiction as a “medical challenge, not a moral failure.” One of the parents of a young man who died of an overdose discussed the need to fight the stigma of addiction that makes people want to hide their addiction problem, and avoid getting help and treatment. That left me wondering if we can de-stigmatize addicts while keeping the stigma on the addictive substances. Perhaps we as a society are managing to do that with tobacco products. It’s much less accepted and some might even argue demonized, but no one thinks badly of a person trying to quit, and in fact almost everyone applauds it.

I notice I’ve heard about people seeing a doctor for back trouble, twisted knees, and things like that and explicitly wanting non-opioid pain relief, because of all of the discussion of the possibility of addiction.

Five: Wariness about addiction is stirring a completely different approach to prescribing opioids for pain management. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin said that since 2012, VA hospitals have reduced the use of opioids by 40 percent and reduced the number of new prescriptions of opioids by 90 percent.

Six: It is worth noting that addiction psychiatrist Sally Satel stirred the pot recently by contending in a Politico op-ed that the current discussion overstates the role of prescription-medication abuse in the opioid crisis:

Only a minority of people who are prescribed opioids for pain become addicted to them, and those who do become addicted and who die from painkiller overdoses tend to obtain these medications from sources other than their own physicians. Within the past several years, overdose deaths are overwhelmingly attributable not to prescription opioids but to illicit fentanyl and heroin. These “street opioids” have become the engine of the opioid crisis in its current, most lethal form.

Seven: Jim Carroll, the newly appointed acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, made his first major remarks at the summit and revealed that someone in his family is currently struggling with addiction.

Eight: Bruce Carroll — no relation — was in attendance and showed me a fascinating device from his company, Proteus Digital Health. It is a monitor/sensor roughly the size of a grain of sand that can be attached to a pill and ingested. The monitor sends out a signal communicating if the pill was consumed, when it was consumed, and helps a doctor know if a patient is taking the right amount of medication at the right time. For example, if a doctor is worried about a patient passing along or selling painkiller pills, the electronic record would show if the patient was given twelve pills and only ingested two.

Nine: Bolling was in attendance, and toward the end of the summit, he described a phone call from President Trump on Thanksgiving Day, the first major holiday for his family without his son. Bolling said he knew that sitting down for the dinner, and seeing the empty chair, would be a devastating moment for everyone gathered. That moment that afternoon was interrupted by the phone ringing — the president of the United States was calling, checking in, offering his sympathies, and asking if there was anything he could do.

Ten: At the conclusion of the event, President Trump joined us.

“I’ve also spoken with Jeff [Sessions] about bringing a lawsuit against some of these opioid companies,” Trump said. “I mean, what they’re doing and the way — the distribution. And you have people that go to the hospital with a broken arm, and they come out and they’re addicted. They’re addicted to painkillers, and they don’t even know what happened. They go in for something minor, and they come out and they’re in serious shape.”

After the remarks, Trump stepped off the stage to applause and started shaking hands with the people on the aisle, and then did something of a double-take when he saw Bolling, sort of a “I didn’t know you would be here!” response. He pulled him in to a half-embrace, heads close, and they exchanged a few words. Trump’s older brother Freddy died in 1981 as a result of alcoholism, and that influenced Trump greatly; Trump doesn’t drink. There are many times Trump has lashed out and seemed to be lack empathy, but the consequences of addiction may bring out the president’s softer side. Several times in his remarks, standing before assembled families of those struggling with addiction and those who lost their battles, Trump said, “I know what you’re going through.”

If you read yesterday’s Jolt, you know what I think of the man. But seeing him in the flesh, I felt some sympathy. The president looks exhausted. The presidency comes with far-reaching responsibilities that are hard to imagine. Men who step into the job start to age as quickly as the guy who drinks from the wrong cup in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Oh, Hey, We’re Starting a Trade War. Happy Friday, Everybody!

That was the good Trump at the White House yesterday; bad Trump appeared a short time earlier at a separate event, where he apparently shocked his advisors by announcing a plan for tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

Q: How long, do you think, on the tariffs?

THE PRESIDENT: Unlimited period. Unlimited.

Q: Twenty-five on steel?

THE PRESIDENT: Twenty-five percent for steel. It will be 10 percent for aluminum. And it will be for a long period of time.

Our Ramesh: “The new tariffs on aluminum and steel products that may or may not be coming — but seem, as I write, to be walloping stocks either way — are a bad idea. They will hurt the industries that use steel and aluminum, which employ many more people and add more to our economy than the steel and aluminum industries themselves. And they will invite retaliation.”

Molson-Coors warned in a statement, “Like most brewers, we are selling an increasing amount of our beers in aluminum cans and this action will cause aluminum prices to rise and is likely to lead to job losses across the beer industry.” The company contends that domestically, “there simply isn’t enough supply to satisfy the demands of American beverage makers.”

ADDENDA: The National Review Institute is continuing to hold events in the coming weeks to mark ten years since the passing of William F. Buckley Jr. and celebrate his legacy. The upcoming events will be held March 6th in Dallas, Texas; March 7th in Houston, Texas; March 27th in San Francisco, Calif.; March 28th in Newport Beach, Calif., and April 12th in Chicago, Ill. Details can be found here.

Politics & Policy

Skipping School Until Gun-Rights Laws Pass Is a Foolish Idea

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Making the click-through worthwhile: I vent my spleen about the Florida kids planning to stay out of school and the proposed national school walkouts; a familiar name makes a ruling that that the Trump administration applauds; one more thought on Black Panther; and a warning for companies who think cutting ties with the NRA will help them overall.

A Midweek Rant About Cutting School, Walkouts, Children, Politics, and Fear

At least two of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students say they’re not going back to school until Congress passes gun-control legislation. I guess their classes haven’t covered “how a bill becomes a law” yet, because otherwise they would know they could easily miss a semester or two.

I wish I’d thought of that for every time I cut classes. “I’m not being lazy; I’m just making a bold and principled stand by refusing to do that thing I’m supposed to do.” Maybe I can refuse to clean out the gutters until we’ve wiped out the Taliban.

We can always find a good reason to be outraged about some injustice in the world, and we can always point to that injustice as to why we can no longer go about our daily routine. Never mind that attending school and getting an education is the process that’s supposed to equip us with the tools we need to bring about the changes that we want to see in the world.

We won’t go to class until Congress passes gun control; after that, we won’t go to class until they’ve solved homelessness. There’s always a good cause to stand for or something to protest. Under this philosophy, we will never have to actually show up and, you know, do what everybody else expects us to do.

At my sons’ elementary school, some parents are talking about having their kids participate in the national student walkout on March 24. You can imagine what I think of this, but I don’t want to be “that dad.” The one that makes all of the big-hearted progressives on the PTA sigh, “oh, Merciful Gaia, here we go, Mr. Geraghty is at it again. Scandinavia help us.*”

You’ve heard me rant about the Authenticity Woods school district’s policies on snow days — if there’s a chance of precipitation, school is canceled as a precaution, lest one of the trial-lawyer parents skid off the road and accidentally hit a seven-figure settlement. Now throw in the winter holidays, teacher-training days, the various winter colds going through the class, and now they want to add protest time. Apparently, the Cosmos just does not want my children to spend five consecutive days in class ever.

We can’t just have some safety program where kids are taught not to touch guns, can we? That would be too much to ask. Better to have them walk out onto the playground, listen to someone read a long list of names of murdered children, and be informed that everyone is protesting because the measures in place to protect them just aren’t sufficient right now. What, the local therapists aren’t busy enough already?

Call me crazy, but I think kids have enough on their minds with kid problems, never mind the ones we grown-ups are supposed to sort out.

Every parent worries about protecting their children in a dangerous world. The irony is that overall, our children are probably safer than we were. Those of us who grew up in the 1980s watched after-school specials about child abduction, some of us didn’t go trick-or-treating because of “razor blades in Halloween candy,” crime rates were much higher than today, schools were much less worried about bullying, we had no cell phones to reach parents or guardians away from home, we didn’t use bike helmets, DUI rates were much higher, and of course, the Cold War hadn’t ended yet. Life involves managing risk, and most of us can figure it out okay.

Fear is a powerful motivator — which is why we see it used in politics and activism so much.  I think the ease and frequency with which political leaders press the fear button to advance their agendas is exacerbating some people’s difficulties in handling the usual anxieties and troubles of life. How many times have you been told recently that a policy change will kill you?

Muslim immigrants “will kill Americans.” Republicans health-care proposals “will kill Americans.” The tax cuts make Americans “more likely to die.” Ending net neutrality will “throw us back to the Dark Ages” and “destroy the Internet.”

I guess at least now I have an excuse for the next time I have bad-blood pressure numbers at my doctor’s**. She’ll say, “I thought I told you to stop eating so much and exercise more,” and I’ll be able to reply, “Well, doctor, it must be the tax cuts. We were warned.”

* Come on, they’re not going to say, “Heaven help us.”

** Lately it’s fine.

Guess Which Judge Just Dismissed a Complaint Against the Proposed Border Wall?

An important legal victory for the Trump administration:

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled against an environmental challenge to President Trump’s border wall, delivering a win to the Trump administration in a decision that allows construction plans to move forward.

The case involved the Trump administration’s ability to ignore environmental laws in the construction of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The project had been challenged by several environmental groups and the state of California.

The ruling will now allow the administration to issue waivers on environmental laws and build sections of the border wall.

The U.S. District Court judge who issued the ruling was . . . Gonzalo Curiel. Does that name ring a bell?

Judge Curiel was on Donald Trump’s mind a lot in June of 2016:

Trump: Let me just tell you, I’ve had horrible rulings, I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I’m building a wall, OK? I’m building a wall . . .

Tapper: I don’t care if you criticize him, that’s fine. You can criticize every decision. What I’m saying, if you invoke his race as a reason why he can’t do his job.

Trump: I think that’s why he’s doing it. I think that’s why he’s doing it . . . We are building a wall. He’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico. The answer is, he is giving us very unfair rulings, rulings that people can’t even believe.

As many pointed out at the time, Curiel was born in Indiana to Mexican-immigrant parents.

Those of us who bothered to look at Judge Curiel’s record back in July of 2016 didn’t see a lot of reasons to characterize him as a hardline ideologue or an activist on the bench. He had ruled against labor unions, Native American tribes, and was vice president of a charter school.

I remember having a conversation with someone at the time who said something along the lines of, “Look, this judge is Hispanic, and most Hispanics are Democrats and lean to the left, and thus he’s not going to rule fairly.” In other words, they were completely comfortable reaching a conclusion about whether Curiel could be objective based upon his racial heritage.

Accusations of racism get tossed around really casually in this world, but if you don’t trust someone’s judgment because of their ethnicity or ancestry. . . well, you’re racist, aren’t you?

One More Thought on Black Panther

Clarence Page with a nicer-than-usual assessment of my column about Black Panther and Wakanda:

This is not a dialogue limited to blacks. The conservative National Review’s Jim Geraghty enjoyed the movie but offers a cautionary note about utopian thinking. “Wakanda can’t exist, not owning to any inherent flaw in Africans but because of the inherent flaws of human beings,” he writes.

“Every human society involves trade-offs. . . . In theory you can avoid wealth disparity through socialism, but collectivism destroys the incentives to create, innovate and work hard, and a corrupt few inevitably rise to the top, creating new wealth disparities.

People have to choose what values they prioritize in their nation.”

Indeed we must. But every vision begins with some imagination. Wakanda, I suspect, gives us a vision of paradise that has ancient roots. But it also echoes today’s social arguments. The two principal male stars offer a leadership choice similar to that offered by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, among other leaders of the past.

Frustratingly, after I finished the column, I came up with an even simpler way of putting the movie’s contradiction.

(SPOILER)

In the closing scene, T’Challa says to the United Nations, “In times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.” Put aside the implied slam at Trump for a moment. T’Challa is expressing this noble, idealistic sentiment that is completely contradicted by what we just watched in the movie’s plot. Wakanda built its barriers long ago and thrived within them for many generations. Within a day or two of allowing in Eric Killmonger, the country was gripped by a civil war!

The implication is that Wakanda will have much more interaction with the rest of the world going forward — presuming that the malevolent alien Thanos leaves some of the country standing after the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. If the writers so chose, an upcoming sequel could depict Wakanda as thriving peacefully with open borders, high levels of immigration, and economic inter-connectedness in a globalized world. But considering how this is a sci-fi/action/superhero franchise, it seems safe to assume that some crisis will strike.

ADDENDA: If companies think that cutting ties to the NRA is going to buy them goodwill or a public relations win, they’re completely wrong. A new survey finds that Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Norton Antivirus, Lifelock, MetLife, Alamo, National Car Rental, and SimpliSafe all saw their public opinion decline in the past week.

National Security & Defense

‘How Do We Keep [Reducing Arrests] Without Making the Schools a More Dangerous Place?’

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Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel speaks at a press conference outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., February 15, 2018 (Thom Baur/Reuters)

Despite the intensity and anger of the gun debate, everyone in America is in agreement on one thing: Nikolas Cruz should never have been able to get his hands on a gun. What we’re now learning is that local law enforcement — and indeed, even the FBI — had several opportunities to prevent him from being able to purchase a weapon legally and did not do so, by choosing not to press charges, despite a recurring pattern of violent and dangerous behavior and multiple warnings from Cruz’s peers.

Just what do you have to do to get arrested in that county?

The Miami Herald and BuzzFeed lay out multiple times Cruz could have been arrested and charged with a crime, but authorities chose otherwise.

First, February 2016:

One key misstep in Cruz’s case came in February 2016, when a Broward deputy responded to a report that the teenager “planned to shoot up the school.” An Instagram photo of a “juvenile” with a gun prompted the tip, according to a time line released by BSO on Thursday.

A Broward deputy determined that Cruz “possessed knives and a BB gun.” But the information was not forwarded to a detective bureau or Broward’s Intelligence Unit, which routinely monitors possible violent offenders who post online.

Threats to kill or harm are felonies in Florida.

Then, April 2016:

Dana said she started getting threats over direct messages from Cruz’s ex-girlfriend’s Instagram account. Dana said Cruz had access to the account and that the messages read as though he was sending them.

“I’m going to get you and I’m going to kill you because you took this person away from me. I’m going to kill your family,” Dana remembered the messages saying. Dana no longer has the messages because they were removed using Instagram’s “unsend” direct message function. Two classmates and one adult — who didn’t want her name used because she didn’t want to get in trouble with her job — told BuzzFeed News that Dana told them about the troubling messages at the time.

Not long after, Dana said she went to Kelvin Greenleaf, at the time a security specialist at Marjory Douglas Stoneman high school who the students knew as the head of security, to tell him about the threats and show him the messages. Cruz was later expelled.

(It is worth noting that Cruz was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School but was never expelled entirely from the Broward County school system. The school system could not legally expel him. Under federal law, a school district cannot deny a student an education because of physical, emotional, or intellectual disabilities.) Why couldn’t gun-violence restraining orders be implemented for anyone who is expelled from a school for making violent threats?

The Herald has more details:

Then Cruz’s ex began dating another student, Enea Sabadini. Cruz threatened Sabadini on several occasions in 2016 and 2017, calling him racial slurs and saying, “I have guns … I will kill you,” as well as sending a photo of at least six weapons laid out on his bed. Sabadini also reported Cruz’s threats to the school, according to Buzzfeed.

Cruz’s threats to the teens could constitute aggravated cyberstalking, a felony, said Louis, the former Miami-Dade prosecutor. They could also violate state law against issuing written threats to kill.

“You have no right to say to somebody, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ ” Louis said.

Richard Della Fera, a Miami defense attorney, agreed. And he said the lack of investigation into what was clearly a crime was troubling.

“If law enforcement saw the messages and could identify the person who was sending them, the ball got dropped when the investigation didn’t go any further,” said Della Fera, who has handled high-profile cases of people accused of posting violent material online.

Most important: Being charged with aggravated cyberstalking could have prevented Cruz from possessing the weapon he used to kill 17 people.

A condition of bond for felony stalking charges in Broward is the surrender of all firearms.

“He would be required to surrender any firearms that he had,” Della Fera said. “He wouldn’t have had the firearm.”

And had he been convicted, Cruz’s status as a registered felon would have further impeded his ability to purchase weapons under Florida law.

Then in September 2017:

In September, he wrote “I’m going to be a professional school shooter” on a YouTube channel. The comment would have been enough to charge Cruz with a threat of terrorism, a felony, according to an official in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.

The comment was reported to the FBI. But a lackluster investigation did not identify Cruz as its author.

Three opportunities to charge Cruz with a crime, all missed by law enforcement. If a single felony charge had been filed, Cruz wouldn’t have been able to purchase the AR-15.

Sarah Rumpf looks at that theory on Twitter that Cruz was caught up in the county’s policy to avoid arresting juvenile offenders, and runs across a horrifyingly prescient 2015 quote from Maria Schneider, head of the juvenile unit in the Broward State Attorney’s Office: “We’ve accomplished reducing the arrests. Now it’s ‘how do we keep that up without making the schools a more dangerous place.’”

How Do You Wear Out a Streetcar in Two Years?

An easily-overlooked tale that showcases why many conservatives are wary about big, expensive light-rail projects: Just two years after the District of Columbia unveiled a shiny new $200 million streetcar system that runs just 2.2 miles, the D.C. Department of Transportation is planning on replacing the cars.

The District Department of Transportation said there have been problems already with getting spare parts to complete repairs in a timely manner. One manufacturer is out of business, and the other is overseas, so the issues are likely to continue.

“Long term parts availability will likely require reverse engineering parts,” DDOT officials wrote to the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment. The agency said it is exploring a strategy of acquiring vehicles in the future that “considers the feasibility of disposal of the current fleet.”

The District began laying track for this project about eight months after Barack Obama was inaugurated president. Back then, they estimated the streetcars would begin running in August 2012. They started running in February 2016.

The District is still moving ahead with plans for two extensions that would bring the cost of the project to roughly $800 million.

The Benning Road extension is projected to cost about $89 million, plus $95 million in related roadway and bridge construction improvements, and $20 million for additional streetcars.

Once the $400 million extension to Georgetown is completed, there are no active plans to build the rest of what was originally billed as a 37-mile streetcar system throughout the city, DDOT said.

The District is pleased with the current ridership; in January — a low tourism, low-activity month — the line “averaged 3,061 riders each weekday and 2,177 each weekend.”

Did I mention that the streetcar is free? The local government doesn’t want to charge riders for the streetcar, because that would discourage use.

The great James Lileks diagnosed “streetcar chic”:

Look: In my ideal urban world, I walk out the front door, a trolley clatters up, I swing on board, the conductor touches his cap, and off we go! But this world also requires that I don’t have a child to pick up from school, an errand to run 20 miles away, groceries to fetch, soccer game after supper, and so on. I do not live in a European city in a flat the size of my college dorm room with a fridge that makes R2D2 look like Optimus Prime.

Now the wires are back up for the light rail. There’s a big push to bring back streetcars, which are just like buses, except they require iron lines in the pavement and wires overhead, and can’t be rerouted. But dang, they look fine in promotional brochures and videos. A millennial who might move here to get a job as a web designer at a nonprofit looks at those pictures and thinks: These are the signs of enlightenment. President Obama himself paid a visit to a refurbished train station in neighboring St. Paul, to praise our forward-looking transit strategy, right on the day they tested a stretch of the new line that links downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. The car derailed. But hey. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single misstep.

Once again, “The Simpsons already did it.” When fast-talking con man Lyle Lanley persuaded Springfield to build a monorail with unrealistic promises and a song and dance, and the town ignored Marge’s warning about diverting funds from more mundane needs like fixing up the main street’s potholes, the show foreshadowed the decisions of many local government and their mass transit visions.

ADDENDA: I’m sure Shane Bauer and I disagree on a lot of things, but this is an astute observation: “One of the main problems with Twitter’s effect in journalism is that followers measure status and one of the major ways followers are gained is simply by picking fights and being controversial. Being controversial has nothing to do with the skills required to be a journalist.”

Politics & Policy

The Broward County Sheriff Is Fumbling His Public Statements

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Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel speaks at CNN’s town hall meeting, February 21, 2018. (Michael Laughlin/Pool/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: There’s a clear theme this Monday — why you shouldn’t trust Broward County sheriff Scott Israel, why you shouldn’t trust big corporations, why you shouldn’t trust Elizabeth Warren, and why you shouldn’t trust Richard Wolff.

You can trust me, though.

‘If Ifs and Buts Were Candy and Nuts,’ the Sheriff of Broward County Would Be Coherent

The moment on CNN’s State of the Union when all of America realized that the Sheriff’s Department of Broward County, Fla., had been run by a lunatic since 2012:

TAPPER:  The last question, sir.  Do you think that if the Broward Sheriff’s Office had done things differently, this shooting might not have happened?

ISRAEL:  Listen, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, O.J. Simpson would still be in the record books.

TAPPER:  I don’t know what that means. There’s 17 dead people, and there’s a whole long list of things your department could have been done differently.

ISRAEL:  How could — listen, that’s what after-action reports are. That’s for — lessons-learned reports are for.

Watch the whole interview or read the whole transcript.

“If ifs and buts were candy and nuts”? What the hell is this, Dr. Seuss? I never thought we would see an elected official actually attempt the “Chewbacca defense” from South Park — a counter-argument so nonsensical and confusing that it distracts from the original accusation.

The shooting was on Valentine’s Day, twelve days ago. Here’s Sheriff Israel’s answer to the report that three more deputies waited outside the school instead of engaging the shooter.

We have not taken statements yet from the Coral Springs officers. We found out, I believe, five or six days ago from their police chief that he told one of our colonels about the — about the information. We’re going to be taking statements from those Coral Springs police officers. Then we’re going to be speaking with our deputies. If any deputies are alleged to have dereliction of duty, we will look into that.

Israel later added that he had not yet listened to the radio recordings of his officers during the shooting.

Again, it’s been twelve days since the shooting. What has he been doing, besides these television appearances?

Tapper, who hosted that awful pep rally of a town hall, asked Sheriff Israel when he learned that at least one of his deputies had waited outside for at least four minutes during the shooting instead of engaging the shooter. I think the sheriff’s answer was unintentionally revealing.

ISRAEL:  Not for days.  We — our investigators looked . . .

TAPPER:  How many days? 

ISRAEL:  I’m not sure. 

TAPPER:  Because you spent much of the Wednesday night town hall on CNN, with the entire Stoneman Douglas community, students and teachers and parents, attacking the NRA, saying that police need more powers, more money to prevent future tragedies. You didn’t disclose any of this to the crowd then, to the Stoneman Douglas High School community. Did you know it then? Did you know it Wednesday night?

ISRAEL:  It was spoken about during that — earlier during that day. I’m not on a timeline for TV or any news show. We need to get it right. We need to get it accurate. We’re talking about people’s lives. We’re talking about a community. We need to corroborate, we need to verify.

Can we all agree that if the sheriff had not known the night of the CNN town hall, he would have said so during yesterday’s interview? One of my unofficial rules of life is skepticism that people withhold their own exculpatory evidence. Instead of owning up to his department’s failure, the sheriff turned the crowd’s ire towards Dana Loesch and the NRA.

More comments from the sheriff yesterday: “Leaders are responsible for the agency, but leaders are not responsible for a person. I gave him a gun. I gave him a badge. I gave him the training. If he didn’t have the heart to go in, that’s not my responsibility.”

With a guy like this overseeing their protection, those kids didn’t stand a chance.

Glenn Reynolds, writing in USA Today:

The chief problem facing America today is the decline of its institutions, coupled with the denial of that decline by the people in charge of its institutions. The latest example of this problem is the Parkland school shooting in Florida. From the FBI, to local law enforcement, to the schools, everyone failed. There was failure early, there was failure in the middle, and there was failure late. And no one has taken responsibility.

Broward County commissioner Michael Udine, whose daughter attends Stoneman Douglas, to the Sun-Sentinel: “Everybody who had a chance here failed our kids and our community.”

A Changing ‘Social Compact’ That Only Turns to the Left

Over in the Axios newsletter, Mike Allen wrote Sunday about how corporate executives are leading policy changes at their companies over global warming and gun control and concludes “corporations, under intense social pressure, are filling a void left by governmental gridlock or avoidance.”

Wait a second. It’s not “governmental gridlock or avoidance” that is setting federal policies here or maintaining the status quo. It’s the elected officials, who are a reflection of the preferences of those who have voted in recent elections.

If a majority of Americans wanted to elect members of Congress and a president who prioritized climate change, they would do so. If a majority of Americans wanted to elect members of Congress and a president who prioritized gun control, they would do so. Or perhaps they would like to see a climate-activist, pro-gun-control Congress and president, but prioritized other stances on other issues more.

Allen writes, “The social compact between private enterprise, government and citizens has permanently changed.” That’s one way of putting it. When New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin calls for credit-card companies to make it impossible to purchase certain legal weapons, he is calling for your choices to be limited by corporations. If Visa, MasterCard, and American Express decide retailers must drop a product or stop working with them, on a consumer level, it’s hard to distinguish that action from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg banning flavored tobacco products, trans fats, sodium levels in processed foods, sodas larger than 16 ounces, any taxicabs besides Nissan NV200s, black roofs, cigarette in-store displays, and dancing in a bar without a license. Except the voters of New York always had the option of voting Bloomberg out of office.

Voters try to push policies in a rightward direction; social-media mobs and activist shareholders try to use corporations as leverage to push in a leftward direction. The Left is now willing to embrace corporatist model of government if that generates the policy outcomes it wants.

Elizabeth Warren’s Cultural Misappropriation

Politico checks in on Elizabeth Warren’s efforts to neutralize claims that she’s made sketchy-to-unfounded claims of Native American heritage:

Elizabeth Warren’s surprise address this month on her disputed Native American heritage was just one piece of a concerted campaign by the Massachusetts senator and potential 2020 hopeful to put the controversy behind her.

Derisively nicknamed “Pocahontas” by President Donald Trump over allegations that she used claims of Native American heritage to get a head start in her job search — a claim she and former colleagues strongly deny — Warren has met with close to a dozen tribal leaders and prominent activists recently.

She has also signed onto at least six bills directly related to Native American policy. It’s clearly an organized effort: Four of those co-sponsorships came within two days of her speech, and Warren endorsed two bills around that time even though they’d been introduced months earlier.

Warren defenders are quick to insist she never benefitted from claiming to be Native American, but that’s not quite so easy to prove.

In 1984, she contributed five recipes to a Native American cookbook entitled “Pow Wow Chow: A Collection of Recipes From Families of the Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole.” In the book, which was edited by her cousin and unearthed during her 2012 campaign by the Boston Herald, her name is listed as “Elizabeth Warren, Cherokee.”

Warren also listed herself as a minority in a legal directory published by the Association of American Law Schools from 1986 to 1995. She’s never provided a clear answer on why she stopped self-identifying.

She was also listed as a Native American in federal forms filed by the law schools at Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania where she worked.

And in 1996, as Harvard Law School was being criticized for lacking diversity, a spokesman for the law school told the Harvard Crimson that Warren was Native American.

You know that if she’s the Democratic nominee in 2020 — an outcome I doubt — that Trump will just hold up a box from Ancestry.com to every rally and dare Warren to take the test. Maybe Warren does indeed have some Native American ancestors. But the fact that she hasn’t taken a test like that (as far as we know) suggests she’s afraid of what it might show. If she did take the test, and it showed Native heritage, she would have already rubbed it in the faces of her critics.

ADDENDA: A television-interview exchange that shows everything you need to know about Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury. The interview runs smoothly until the host asks Wolff about his contention that he is “absolutely sure” Trump is having an affair from several weeks ago, a contention that he appeared to back away from in an interview last week.

Host: Do you owe the first lady and president an apology, Mr. Wolff?

Wolff: I can’t hear you. … Hello? I’m not getting anything.

Host: You’re not hearing me, Mr. Wolff?

Wolff: No- I’m not getting anything.

If Wolff can’t hear the host, how does he know to answer the host’s question?

National Security & Defense

Four Minutes of a Massacre That Demonstrate Why We Cannot Rely on the Police Alone

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We know about the FBI getting a direct, detailed tip about Nikolas Cruz and never forwarding it to their Florida personnel.

We learned, in recent days, about the police responding 39 times to emergency calls at Cruz’s home over a seven-year period.

It is easy to miss anecdotes about the shooter that are jaw-dropping:

Long before he slaughtered 17 people at the South Florida high school he once attended, Nikolas Cruz had a disturbing way of introducing himself.

“Hi, I’m Nick,” he used to say, according to an acquaintance interviewed by CNN. “I’m a school shooter.”

I’m rather stunned that someone can call 911 and say that you’ve put a gun to people’s heads in the past, and they’ll walk away after a mere conversation because you had “hugged and reconciled” with the person you threatened.

But the worst revelation, that left many I spoke to at CPAC last night almost speechless with anger, is the news that an armed sheriff’s deputy remained outside the high school building in Parkland, taking a defensive position and simply waiting for four minutes as the shooter murdered people inside.

A school campus cop heard the gunfire, rushed to the building but never went inside — instead waiting outside for another four agonizing minutes as Cruz continued the slaughter.

In November, a tipster called BSO to say Cruz “could be a school shooter in the making” but deputies did not write up a report on that warning. It came just weeks after a relative called urging BSO to seize his weapons. Two years ago, according to a newly released timeline of interactions with Cruz’s family, a deputy investigated a report that Cruz “planned to shoot up the school” — intelligence that was forwarded to the school’s resource officer, with no apparent result.

The school’s resource officer, Scot Peterson, 54, was suspended without pay then immediately resigned and retired. Two other deputies have been placed on restricted duty while Internal Affairs investigates how they handled the two shooter warnings.

On Thursday, Israel said surveillance footage captured the officer’s inaction. Asked what Peterson should have done, Israel said: “Went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer.”

Israel added: “I am devastated. Sick to my stomach. He never went in.”

Since the Columbine school shooting that left 12 dead in 1999, cops have been trained not to wait for heavily armed SWAT officers but to enter buildings to find and kill the threat.

“When we train police, the first priority is to stop the killing,” said Pete Blair, the executive director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University.

Finally, there’s one exceptionally odd wrinkle to this story:

Peterson is mentioned as part of a 2016 social services agency investigation into Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old identified by police as the gunman. According to a Florida Department of Children and Families report detailing that investigation, Peterson was approached by investigators and “refused to share any information . . . regarding [an] incident that took place with” the teenager.

Why would this cop refuse to cooperate with social services?

It’s hard to sort through all the outraged thoughts running through the country’s collective mind.

For starters, isn’t it convenient that this is revealed the day after Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel appeared on a nationally televised CNN forum? At that embarrassing pep-rally of an event, the sheriff had the gall to turn his ire towards Dana Loesch, telling her, “You’re not standing up for [the children] until you say, ‘I want less weapons.’” It is not difficult to guess why the sheriff would want to refocus public anger on another figure.

In the eight days since the mass shooting, we’ve had a relentless, and often one-sided, national conversation about how to respond, focusing almost entirely on gun control. At the heart of that conversation is the contention that private ownership of guns is inherently dangerous, that armed citizens are basically ticking time bombs who can’t be trusted with firearms, and that in a safer and more just society, only the police would have guns.

Instead, the Parkland shooting is proving to be a colossal cascading failure of both local and federal law enforcement. We know the world has plenty of good cops and good FBI agents. But as American citizens, we never know when we’re going to roll snake-eyes and find that the threat in our midst was missed by cops and that they will not come quickly to our rescue. This is why we need the option to protect ourselves — a right which is in the Constitution.

What is the point of changing our laws if the police cannot rise to the challenge of enforcing them?

An Update on the Trump Administration’s Efforts on Prison Reform

Yesterday, I had a chance to meet with Doug Deason, a wealthy businessman and advocate for criminal-justice reform, Derek Cohen, who is director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice, and John Koufos, who is national director of Reentry Initiatives for Right on Crime. The good news is that the Trump administration’s interest in prison anti-recidivism programs is alive and well, and that sometime this spring, it is likely that the Trump administration will issue an executive order directing the federal Bureau of Prisons to open their doors to outside service providers — faith-based organizations, drug rehabilitation, and related services — and to add the bureau to an interagency group focusing on anti-recidivism.

In 2011, the Obama administration created the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, aiming to reduce recidivism and help guide released felons to build non-criminal lives through employment, education, housing, health, and child welfare. But there’s something odd if you look at the Federal Interagency Reentry Council and its list of participating parts of the government: There are 21 agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau . . . but not the federal Bureau of Prisons. This is an odd omission, considering how the job of the Bureau of Prisons is to, you know, run federal prisons. This is like organizing a meeting about changing drug policy and not inviting the DEA.

It’s a good sign that Brooke Rollins, formerly CEO and president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, is joining a new White House office run by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Koufos mentioned to me a good example of the sort of challenge a felon reentering society faces, something I never thought about: getting a new form of valid identification. A prisoner is sentenced and serves their term, and oftentimes finds that on release, their only form of identification is their prison ID, which expires in one to three months, depending upon the jurisdiction. While they were in prison, their driver’s license expired.

“They can’t get an ID, because either they don’t have money to get a birth certificate” — official copies of birth certificates can cost anywhere from $15 to $50 — or if they go to their local DMV, a warrant check occurs, and they might have an old warrant for an old traffic ticket or an old speeding ticket that they didn’t pay forever ago,” Koufos said. While they were in jail, the unpaid tickets and failure to appear in court turned into warrants for arrest. “So they don’t want to go the DMV, because that might send them back to the county jail.”

Unless you’re getting paid under the table, under U.S. law, “employees must present, to their employer, evidence of identity and employment eligibility within three business days of the date employment begins.” Just by getting felons started on the process of getting ID — and resolving any unpaid tickets or fines before they’re released — enhances their chances of being able to get and keep a job and stay out of trouble.

ADDENDAJohn Podhoretz, with the sort of information his gun-control-advocating friends and neighbors in New York City should consider, but probably won’t:

There are 126 million households in the United States. In 35 percent of those households — some 44 million — there is a gun. There is an average of 2.8 people per household, according to the Census Bureau. This means that something like 120 million people in this country live with at least one gun in their homes.

In 2013, 107,000 crimes in the United States were committed with a gun. There are 330 million people in the United States. If we assume every one of those crimes was the work of a different individual, then .03 percent of all those who live with a gun in the United States used that gun in the commission of a crime.

That’s not 3 percent. That’s not one-third of a percent. That’s three-hundredths of a percent.

There are approximately 120,000 schools in the United States. If we use the term “school shooting” in the most capacious way, there have been 145 incidents since 2010. That means .12 percent of all schools in the United States have suffered the horror of a school shooting.

U.S.

Do We Want Armed Teachers or Security Guards in Our Children’s Schools?

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A protester holds a defaced placard at a rally calling for more gun control three days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.,February 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

The case against arming teachers, and/or armed personnel in school:

  • This seems like a prime candidate for local control, and the kind of idea that works a lot better if all the parties “buy in” from the beginning. If you can build a reasonable consensus among local law enforcement, the school board, the principal, the teachers and the parents of the children attending the school think it’s a good idea, go for it. If you don’t have a consensus, the decision is likely to spur a lot of enraged accusations and counter-accusations of endangering children.
  • Think of all the teachers you had as a kid, and all of the teachers of your children. You can probably recall ones you would trust with a gun in a crisis and probably some you would not.
  • Depending upon the size of the school, the armed officer may not be in the right place at the right time. There was an armed officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, but he was elsewhere on campus when the attack began and never encountered the gunman.
  • Accidental shootings are probably inevitable, and not just by teachers. Imagine there’s a school shooting, and a teacher gets his gun and starts looking for the shooter. The cops arrive and see a man with a gun.

The case for arming teachers, and/or armed personnel in school:

Forgive me for asking you to imagine every parent’s worst nightmare: There’s a man with a gun approaching your child’s school right now. How quickly will the local police get there? Maybe everyone will be lucky and the nearest patrol car is close, just a minute or two away. But maybe it’s five minutes, or closer to ten minutes.

In that interim, the only thing standing between the gunman and your child are some locked doors and any adult willing to confront the gunman while unarmed.

If a teacher or security guard in that school has a gun, doesn’t that increase your child’s chances of survival? Suddenly the gunman doesn’t have impunity. He has to stop, he has to find cover, he has to retreat or refocus his attack from unarmed children and teachers to the person who’s shooting at him. That’s not a good situation, and there’s still danger to all of the innocent lives surrounding the gunman and the armed guard or teacher. But now the odds of the shooter being incapacitated are dramatically better.

I’ve wondered about the “shelter in place” policy practiced at most schools. Is that really the safest approach when someone has arrived with murderous intentions?

A 2013 report, put together by FEMA, the FBI, and the Department of Education, recommended, “If it is safe to do so for yourself and those in your care, the first course of action that should be taken is to run out of the building and far away until you are in a safe location.” It also recommended, “If neither running nor hiding is a safe option, as a last resort when confronted by the shooter, adults in immediate danger should consider trying to disrupt or incapacitate the shooter by using aggressive force and items in their environment, such as fire extinguishers and chairs.”

We can, and should, have a long and detailed discussion about how to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental problems, endless rage, and malevolent motives. I keep pushing for a start with fixing the NICS background check system and more consistently prosecuting straw buyers. But a lot of the current debate features comments that amount to, “We shouldn’t be in this situation, our children don’t deserve this.” Indeed, we shouldn’t, and they don’t. But that doesn’t change what our situation actually is.

Asking a teacher to be ready to confront a school shooter with a firearm is an enormous, almost unthinkable request. But is it any better to ask a teacher to be ready to confront a school shooter with a fire extinguisher or chair?

Wisconsinites, Get Ready to Hear a Lot About Michael Brennan

You’ve seen activist groups get mobilized and fired up over Supreme Court nomination fights. Are you ready to get mobilized and fired up over . . . U.S. Court of Appeals fights?

Americans for Prosperity is announcing this morning that they’re making a “significant investment” in digital ads in Wisconsin, supporting Michael Brennan, nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and urging people to contact their senators to confirm Brennan without delay. The group will also specifically target Senator Tammy Baldwin (D., Wisc.) — who failed to return her blue slip for Brennan. (A blue slip is a form of approval from a nominee’s home-state senators.)

“We applaud Senator [Chuck] Grassley for ushering Brennan through committee and ignoring the political games of Senator Baldwin, who continues to value partisanship over the best interests of her constituents,” said AFP vice president of judicial strategy Sarah Field. “We will continue mobilizing our activists as needed to ensure fair and qualified nominees are confirmed to the federal bench, and we will hold accountable those who play games with the American judiciary.”

The Senate vote to confirm Brennan broke along — surprise! — partisan lines, and Democrats contend Judicial Committee chairman Chuck Grassley is perpetrating some sort of hideous assault on tradition by not honoring Baldwin’s lack of support.

This is precisely the sort of argument that would be a lot more compelling if Senate Democrats hadn’t filibustered three of President Bush’s judicial nominees in 2007 and then turned around and nuked the filibuster for all non-Supreme Court nominees in 2013.

CPAC, the Pundit Concert

CPAC begins in earnest today.

Back in 2016, I wrote . . .

The conference was and is always a cacophonous mix of the serious and the sublimely silly: think-tank policy experts and lawmakers rubbing shoulders with gadflies and niche celebrities such as Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty, Kirk Cameron, Stephen Baldwin, the Duggars, and “Hercules” Kevin Sorbo. The biggest issues facing the country and the world were debated on stage, while outside, convention-goers posed for pictures with Marvel superheroes in full costume, a Revolutionary-garb tea-party guy, and Uncle Sam on stilts.

Former John McCain strategist and MSNBC contributor Steve Schmidt once called CPAC “the Star Wars bar scene of the conservative movement.” That seemed like a hyperbolic, sneering assessment . . . until the 2014 conference featured Imperial stormtroopers, Boba Fett, and other Star Wars characters walking around.

CPAC represents the conservative movement, in the sense that it represents people who are willing to pay for a ticket — $300 for regular, $150 for seniors and veterans, $85 for a student, $5,000 for the “gold package” and, if they don’t live within driving distance of National Harbor, Md., are willing to pay travel costs and get a hotel room. This means the participants aren’t all wealthy, but they’ve got some disposable income, and their political passions aren’t just a hobby. In past years, certain campaigns and factions within the party were sure to mobilize their supporters. From 2007 to 2014, the only winners of the conference’s annual straw poll had the last names “Romney” or “Paul,” both Ron and Rand. In recent years, the conference has attracted more than 10,000 attendees.

The media coverage of CPAC is usually overwhelming, in part because it’s one-stop shopping for political journalists. In one spot, for three days, you’ve got some lawmakers (including this year, the president and vice president), some controversy-generating speakers, a long line of radio shows taping live, every conservative activist group under the sun, and a steady supply of conservative-leaning Republican primary voters. It is not often that I quote Matt Yglesias, but he had a smart observation: “[CPAC] assembles en masse a certain kind of unicorn character who is good to write about — the “normal person” (as opposed to the professional political operative) who is also highly attuned to politics and willing to express opinions about it to a perfect stranger.”

Judging from this year’s schedule, organizers sense that the folks who are willing to buy tickets are eager to hear from contributors and familiar faces from Fox News: Sebastian Gorka, John Bolton, Eric Bolling, Greta Van Susteren, Katie Pavlich, Laura Ingraham, Michelle Malkin, Sheriff David Clarke, and a live taping of Sean Hannity’s show, among others. (In fact, I’d wonder what percentage of people appearing on this year’s CPAC stage have never appeared on Fox News as a guest.)

People can have every album of a performer, comedian, or band, and still relish attending their concerts and shows and listening to the same performances live. That’s . . . what CPAC has become, in a way: pundit concerts. You’ve seen these people on TV making similar arguments and points, but now you can watch them do it right before your eyes, buy the souvenir t-shirt, and if you’re lucky, they’ll stop and pose for a picture with you.

ADDENDA: Michael Graham lays out his argument about why CNN’s town hall about gun control made the country “a little crappier” last night. “It was essentially an anti-gun, the-NRA-[stinks], kill-the-NRA rally that was framed as a town hall meeting . . . It was just a screaming, yelling rally.”

Religion

RIP Billy Graham, 1918-2018

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Oh, no. This is one of those deaths that you knew was coming because of the person’s age, but it still feels like a shock.

The world’s best-known evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham, has died. He was 99.

From the gangly 16-year-old baseball-loving teen who found Christ at a tent revival, Graham went on to become an international media darling, a preacher to a dozen presidents and the voice of solace in times of national heartbreak. He was America’s pastor.

Graham retired to his mountain home at Montreat, N.C., in 2005 after nearly six decades on the road calling people to Christ at 417 all-out preaching and musical events from Miami to Moscow. His final New York City crusade in 2005 was sponsored by 1,400 regional churches from 82 denominations.

Presidents called on Graham in their dark hours, and uncounted millions say he showed them the light. He took his Bible to the ends of the Earth in preaching tours he called “crusades.” Even now, anywhere a satellite, radio, TV, video or podcast can reach, his sonorous voice is probably still calling someone to Christ.

In some of my more cynical moments, I quip, “we’re all replaceable” — and indeed, life goes on without any particular one of us. But that does not change the fact that we are all unique, and that the loss of some of us stings because it marks such a clear ending of one chapter and the beginning of another. Billy Graham’s passing marks one of those stinging losses, and a consequential turning of the page.

CPAC 2018: Governors Aren’t Cool Anymore?

I noticed this year’s CPAC schedule features fewer governors and congressmen than recent years.

Keep in mind that the agenda is subject to change, that congressional votes have interfered with elected officials’ plans to speak in the past, and that this is a midterm election year, so some governors may be a little less eager to fly to Washington and give a speech or appear on a panel in National Harbor.

That having been said, Governors Matt Bevin of Kentucky and Pete Ricketts of Nebraska are the only governors listed as speakers, and Ted Cruz is the only senator. Ohio’s lieutenant governor, Mary Taylor, is speaking on a panel entitled, “Breaking Bad: What it Takes to Rise Above Circumstances.”

This year seven House Republicans will address the audience: Representatives Michael Burgess of Texas, Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Mark Walker of North Carolina, and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers of Washington.

You might think, this is because there’s a Trump administration now, with both President Trump and Vice President Pence addressing the crowds as well as a slew of administration officials, and so there’s less interest and need to spotlight what’s going on in Congress and the states. But that was the situation last year as well, and there were six more elected lawmakers speaking.

Last year, the main stage featured five governors — Bevin, Ricketts, Scott Walker, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Doug Ducey of Arizona — and four other statewide elected state officials: Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer of Missouri, Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin of Arkansas, Nevada’s attorney general Adam Laxalt, and West Virginia’s attorney general Patrick Morrissey.

In 2017, Cruz was the lone senator, but ten members of the House addressed the masses:

Burgess, Loudermilk, Walker, Ron DeSantis of Florida, Kevin Brady of Texas, Jody Hice of Georgia, Bob Beauprez of Colorado, French Hill of Arkansas, Andy Biggs of Arizona, and Ken Buck of Colorado.

This may very well reflect the preferences of the CPAC audience; politicians give speeches all the time, and it’s a Conservative Political Action Conference, not a Republican Political Action Conference.

Why There Can Never Be a Real-Life Wakanda

I saw Black Panther Monday and liked it a lot. But over on the home page, I write a bit about how its near-utopian vision of Wakanda is impossible because of the way it glosses over human nature.

Don’t think I’m overstating this; in the Washington Post, Ishaan Thardoor writes, “as an idealized homeland, Wakanda also represents the powerful promise of black liberation dreamed by generations of African Americans.”

E.R. Shipp writes:

Now hashtags like #whatblackpanthermeanstome and #wakandaforever are inspiring people to pour out their feelings on social media. The film, even though it is a product of Hollywood and not a black liberation manifesto, is a revelation, a catharsis, an occasion for celebrating blackness and Africanness and, yes, womanhood. The festive turnout at movie theaters across the country resembles the height of Mardi Gras.

Why? Because “Black Panther” taps into a hunger to belong and, for black viewers, provides a chance to imagine an alternative narrative to the one that began with the transatlantic slave trade more than 500 years ago. What if . . . ?

It’s a free country, and if the filmmakers or comic creators’ vision of Wakanda inspires you, God bless you, go enjoy it. But recognize that whatever better future you build won’t look quite like the Wakanda you see on the page and screen, because that vision is a bit like Star Trek’s Federation — it makes assumptions that human nature will change in some fundamental way enabling that ideal society. History teaches us that human nature does not change.

A key word in Thardoor’s description is “idealized.” Had Africa never been colonized by the European powers, it would be a better place. But it would not be utopia, because humans cannot build utopia. The Wakanda that opens the film is ideal because the writers decreed it so, not because it broke the code on some perfect combination of factors for building a better society.

Yes, Wakanda was never colonized, but never-colonized corners of the map aren’t as rare as one might think. Europe never colonized Thailand/Siam, Bhutan, or most of Nepal. Saudi Arabia was never colonized by Europeans (although we can debate whether the Ottoman Empire counts as ‘European’). Iran lost portions of its territory to the British and Russians, but it was never completely colonized. Inner China was never colonized (although the coast was). Ethiopia was occupied by Italy for five years, but never colonized, depending on how you define the term. In sub-Saharan Africa, Liberia was liberated from colony status first and gained independence in 1847. All of those nations have various virtues and problems.

And the comic book and film use vibranium as a catch-all hand-waving way to explain how and why Wakanda is prosperous — and overwhelmingly prosperous, with no discernible international trade. (North Korea shows us how much your economy can thrive when you shut yourself off from the rest of the outside world.) Think about it: Wakanda builds its amazing stealth aircraft, skyscrapers, magnetic-levitation trains, mining equipment, and gadgets without ever importing a single tool, part, nut, bolt, or raw material.

I also enjoyed this observation over at The Ringer: “Wakanda is an isolationist nation of pacifists whose core commercial innovations, outside of medicine, are in warfare and air travel.”

ADDENDA: Over at Newsbusters, Curtis Houck wrote up a piece on my appearance on HLN yesterday.

Politics & Policy

The Public Likes Tax Cuts, Worries About Mental Health, and Is Divided on Gun Control

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer looks on during a news conference about the Republican-sponsored Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., December 20, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Let’s start off the week with some surprising poll numbers. For starters, despite a near-unanimous tone of media coverage praising the old Assault Weapons Ban and pointing to it as the solution to mass shootings, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds Americans are about evenly split on the idea.

But Americans are roughly split on this proposal, with 50 percent in support and 46 percent opposed, a stark contrast from the 80 percent support for the ban in 1994, the year it was enacted. The current level of support is little different from 51 percent in 2016.

Also . . .

A slight 51 percent majority of parents with children under 18 who live at home say the Florida shooting could have been prevented if teachers were able to carry firearms, compared with 38 percent of Americans without young children. There is a smaller parental divide in support for banning assault weapons, a policy backed by 46 percent of parents and 51 percent of non-parents.

What’s more, Americans are fairly unified in seeing mass shootings as a mental-health problem, much less so than seeing it as a problem with gun laws or the Second Amendment.

Americans are more unified in saying improved mental health screening and treatment could have prevented Florida’s attack, with more than three-quarters of Democrats, Republicans and independents in agreement on this question.

Asked about mass shootings more broadly, the public says by a roughly 2 to 1 margin that they reflect problems identifying and treating people with mental health problems rather than inadequate gun control laws. Fully 8 in 10 Republicans say mass shootings are mainly reflective of problems dealing with mental health issues, as do more than 6 in 10 independents. A slight majority of Democrats, 52 percent, say they mainly reflect inadequate gun laws.

Meanwhile, the New York Times and Survey Monkey ask Americans how they feel about the recently passed tax cuts, and surprise! They like them more with each passing month.

The tax overhaul that President Trump signed into law now has more supporters than opponents, buoying Republican hopes for this year’s congressional elections.

The growing public support for the law coincides with an eroding Democratic lead when voters are asked which party they would like to see control Congress. And it follows an aggressive effort by Republicans, backed by millions of dollars of advertising from conservative groups, to persuade voters of the law’s benefits.

That campaign has rallied support from Republicans, in particular. But in contrast with many other issues — including Mr. Trump’s job approval rating — it also appears to be winning over some Democrats. Support for the law remains low among Democrats, but it has doubled over the past two months and is twice as strong as their approval of Mr. Trump today.

Over all, 51 percent of Americans approve of the tax law, while 46 percent disapprove, according to a poll for The New York Times conducted between Feb. 5 and Feb. 11 by SurveyMonkey. Approval has risen from 46 percent in January and 37 percent in December, when the law was passed.

The tax cuts, Net Neutrality, gun control legislation . . . it’s as if Democratic leaders in Washington interpreted Remy’s “PEOPLE WILL DIE!” music video as a how-to manual instead of a parody.

America the Tribal

David Brooks writes about a group that facilitates small, respectful discussions between citizens in “Red America” and “Blue America” and concludes:

We don’t really have policy debates anymore. We have one big tribal conflict, and policy fights are just proxy battles as each side tries to establish moral superiority. But just as the tribal mentality has been turned on, it can be turned off. Then and only then can we go back to normal politics and take reasonable measures to keep our children safe.

To have a policy debate, you have to know about policy. That takes time and usually some reading. You need to know what the law is, how it is applied and enforced, how it could be applied and enforced differently, and the trade-offs. That requires some thinking. You usually have to be a particular kind of person — a wonk — to find it enjoyable.

After a shooting, it’s not hard to find people screaming, “this is why we need to ban automatic weapons and machine guns!” oblivious to the fact that they are already illegal. Those who intensely study gun laws, statistics, and history tend to revise their perspective that more gun laws will stop mass shootings, and start preferring mental-health programs, prioritized restraining orders, and mentoring programs for troubled young men.

Sorting out different policy options, and accounting for all of the strengths and weaknesses — it’s hard to do that on even a cursory level in anything shorter in length than a newspaper column. A magazine piece probably does that better. But policy analysis doesn’t always make for good television or radio. It’s rarely entertaining. It does not build an audience.

But tribal arguments do.

“Stand up to those gun nuts” is a tribal argument. It essentially contends, “We are the good people, and they are the bad people; everyone who does not associate with our side is a terrible person who deserves scorn.”

Elsewhere in the New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin writes that “Visa could easily change its terms of service to say that it won’t do business with retailers that sell assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and bump stocks, which make semiautomatic rifles fire faster.” In other words, having failed to persuade lawmakers to make these changes he prefers, Sorkin wants the executives at economically powerful institutions to create a de facto ban on legal products and blacklist companies for holding a different view. What could go wrong, right?

Sorkin casually acknowledges, deep in the column, “the banks’ actions would affect millions of their own law-abiding customers, effectively dictating what they can and cannot buy.” This is a future he is comfortable with, a world where CEOs at companies decide what you’re allowed to purchase; Sorkin is fine with that as long as the companies are banning things he doesn’t like.

And You Thought We Had It Bad with Russian Meddling in Our Politics . . .

Oh, hey, the leader of the Labour Party over in the United Kingdom . . . might have been a spy for the USSR-aligned Czechoslovakian secret police back during the Cold War.

Jan Sarkocy, a former Czech spy who worked for the Statni Bezpecnost (StB) secret police during the Cold War, says he met Jeremy Corbyn a number of times in 1986 and 1987 – including twice in the House of Commons and once in the Islington North MP’s constituency office.

Mr Sarkocy, who operated under the name Jan Dymic, claims there were more than 10 meetings between the two.

He says the Labour MP was a paid informant, known by the codename Agent Cob, who passed on information as part of a process of “conscious cooperation.”

The former agent dismissed Mr Corbyn’s claims that he believed he was meeting a Czech diplomat, not a spy, saying: “Everybody knew that ‘diplomat’ was just a cover for spy. It was a conscious cooperation. Diplomat and agent were the same thing.”

Of Mr Corbyn, he said: “He was our asset. He had been recruited. He was getting money from us.”

Mr Sarkocy was expelled from the UK by Margaret Thatcher three years after the meetings, having being exposed as a spy.

He says the now Labour leader had warned him to be careful by giving him a newspaper cutting about MI5 clamping down on foreign spies . . .

Records appear to confirm three meetings between Mr Corbyn and Mr Sarkocy in 1986 and 1987: two in Parliament and one in Mr Corbyn’s constituency office.

Czech authorities have also confirmed the meetings, but say Mr Corbyn was not an informant. There are signs that Czechoslovakian intelligence officials made attempts to hide Mr Sarkocy’s true identity from the Labour MP, they said.

Of course, perhaps Corbyn’s best defense against accusations of being a Soviet agent is that most Soviet agents wouldn’t be so obvious. In 1991, he gave a speech lamenting the breakup of the Soviet Union:

I have never accepted the idea that Soviet Union was about to march across Western Europe, get the ferry from Dover and come up the Holloway Road and then nuke the job centre . . .

There have been people in this room condemning what has been happening in Cuba in the past thirty years. Have some caution . . .

I am concerned at the break-up of the Soviet Union and the leadership it gave and the break-up of the Socialist International, which was always very weak. It means that there is no international forum for putting forward socialist ideas and seeking to organise those.

I love the new hardline stance of America’s Democrats on Vladimir Putin and Russia, but I doubt it will last long once Trump departs the scene. Democrats never complained that loudly over Russia’s invasion of Georgia, occupation of Crimea, shooting down the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, or many other hostile gestures, stances, and actions from Moscow.

If Democrats were really worried about Russia attempting to exert influence over Western democracies, instead of merely liking him as a scapegoat about Hillary Clinton’s loss, they might be grumbling about Corbyn right about now.

ADDENDA: Our publisher, E. Garrett Bewkes IV, offers a few words about the how and the why of NationalReview.com’s recent redesign and overhaul.

I’m scheduled to appear on HLN at 12:30 this afternoon.

Elections

If Your Voters were Persuaded by Bad Russian Ads, They Were Never Your Voters

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery in St. Petersburg, January 18, 2018. (Anatoly Maltsev/Pool/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Russia’s ham-fisted propaganda efforts, and what makes people gullible; the limits of the Assault Weapons Ban, then and now; a limited defense of FBI Director Christopher Wray; and a sign that Russian athletes cheat, even when it isn’t necessary for victory.

You Can’t Legislate Away the Desire to Believe the Lie

The New York Times looks at Russia’s propaganda efforts and offers an unflattering assessment of how easily Americans could be influenced by foreigners posing as out-of-town activists:

Heart of Texas and Blacktivist were phony groups, part of a sweeping Russian disinformation campaign that was funded with millions of dollars and carried out by 80 people operating out of St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Russian attempt at long-distance choreography was playing out in many cities across the United States. Facebook has disclosed that about 130 rallies were promoted by 13 of the Russian pages, which reached 126 million Americans with provocative content on race, guns, immigration and other volatile issues.

The Russian efforts were pretty devious, planning rallies for and against a particular perspective in the same time and place and hoping the two groups would confront each other.

The Heart of Texas group had more success with a Houston rally to “Stop the Islamization of Texas,” which provoked an angry confrontation in May 2016. United Muslims of America, another Russian creation, called its own rally to “Save Islamic Knowledge” for the same time and place, outside the Islamic Da’wah Center.

Although even in this case, the effect was . . . limited. Coverage at the time: “A rally outside the downtown Houston Islamic Da’wah Center Saturday attracted about a dozen protesters, more than 50 counter-protesters and a local resident armed with a fully charged bubble machine.”

Facebook’s vice president for advertising, Rob Goldman, is grumbling that the coverage of Russia’s online manipulation efforts is ignoring the fact that a lot of Russia’s social media efforts were so ham-fisted that they reached . . . no one:

44% of total ad impressions (number of times ads were displayed) were before the US election on November 8, 2016; 56% were after the election.

Roughly 25% of the ads were never shown to anyone. That’s because advertising auctions are designed so that ads reach people based on relevance, and certain ads may not reach anyone as a result.

You may recall that most of the social-media materials the Russians were posting were not sophisticated messages or images. If anything, they were so over-the-top that they seemed too ridiculous to be genuinely persuasive. I mean, if you’re swayed by an image that suggests that Hillary Clinton is the devil and she wants to get into a boxing match with Jesus Christ . . . I’m pretty sure you were probably leaning against her already. The woman’s gotten into a heck of a lot of scandals, but I don’t think she’s ever explicitly challenged the Son of God to get into the UFC Octagon with her.

And if Hillary Clinton supporters really want to argue that they lost the votes of a segment of progressives because Bernie Sanders supporters were persuaded by muscular-Bernie cartoons . . . look, if that’s really the case, then it’s not Russia’s, Trump’s, or the Republicans’ fault that a part of the Democratic base is a bunch of easily-distracted shallow idiots. If your voters are getting deterred by doodles, they never really were “your” voters.

How do you get someone to believe a lie? It’s much easier if the mark wants to believe before the con begins. Right now, we have a lot of Americans who are quite eager to believe the worst about prominent figures on the other side. They choose not to distinguish between “I strongly disagree with this person’s political views” and “this person is terrible in every conceivable way.” That’s why we have Americans convinced that Obama was born overseas, and why we have Americans who believe the “pee tape” and evidence of Trump conspiring with Vladimir Putin is out there somewhere.

The Limits of the Assault Weapons Ban

Unsurprisingly, advocates of gun control insist that one of the best possible responses to the mass shooting in Florida is to reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban that was in effect from September 1994 to September 2004.

Those of you with long and accurate memories will recall that the Columbine shootings occurred while the Assault Weapons Ban was in effect, as well as another mass shooting in Atlanta the same year that killed twelve.

In late 2013, Northeastern University criminologists James Alan Fox and Monica J. DeLateur wrote a detailed study that irked a lot of advocates on both sides by using data to dispel a lot of popular theories about mass shooters, from the danger of video games to the value of mental-health treatment to the effectiveness of security measures in schools. Among their conclusions: “a comparison of the incidence of mass shootings during the 10-year window when the assault weapon ban was in force against the time periods before implementation and after expiration shows that the legislation had virtually no effect, at least in terms of murder in an extreme form.”

Mother Jones calculated that of the 143 weapons used in mass shootings from 1982 to 2012, 48 would be banned under the revised version of the Assault Weapons Ban proposed in 2013. That’s about a third. It is worth recalling that some of the most infamous mass shooters of recent years used just handguns: the Virginia Tech shooter, the Umpqua Community College shooter, the Charleston church shooter, the 2014 Isla Vista shooter.

Keep Christopher Wray Until There’s a Better Option

This is one of the exceptionally rare moments when I disagree with Kevin Williamson, and I should note that I only disagree with the final conclusion of the final paragraph. Like almost everyone in America, Kevin is infuriated by the news that the Federal Bureau of Investigation received a fairly specific tip about the Florida shooter in January and failed to follow up on it.

The Friday press conference on that little oversight was a masterpiece of modern bureaucracy. The FBI has “protocols” for handling specific credible threats of that sort, “protocol” here being a way of saying, “Pick up the phone and call the local field office or, if we really want to get wild, the local police.” “The protocol was not followed,” the FBI bureaucrats explained. Well, no kidding. Why not? No answer — the question wasn’t even asked aloud. Did law enforcement’s ball-dropping mean that a preventable massacre went unprevented because of bureaucratic failure? “I don’t think anybody could say that,” says Broward County sheriff Scott Israel, who is leading the investigation. His department had over the years received no fewer than 20 calls related to the shooter. What about that? “Make no mistake about it, America, the only one to blame for this incident is the killer himself,” which is exactly the sort of thing a sanctimonious schmuck says when he doesn’t want to consider the institutional failures right in front of his taxpayer-subsidized nose and the culpable negligence — to say nothing of the sand-pounding stupidity — of his own agency.

The FBI has a budget of $3.5 billion, almost all of which goes to salaries, benefits, and other personnel costs. Do you know how many employees the FBI field office in South Florida has? It has more than 1,000. Do you know how many employees the FBI has in total? It has 35,158 employees. It has 13,084 agents and 3,100 intelligence analysts.

Kevin concludes, “Governor Rick Scott wants FBI director Chris Wray to resign. A self-respecting society would have him whipped.”

If you want to fire the person whose responsibility was to evaluate and forward the tip to the local bureau, fine. But it’s not like the FBI director himself is working the tip lines.

Wray was sworn in on August 2, 2017, so he’s been on the job for about six and a half months. Let’s assume that the failure to forward the tip to the local field office wasn’t a unique set of circumstances, and that it reflects a culture of complacency throughout the Bureau. Let’s assume that the accusations are correct, that the Bureau does a poor job of keeping track of all of the tips that come in, evaluating the accuracy or utility of those tips, and acting upon them in a timely manner. In March 2016, the Bureau boasted in a press release:

Tips to the FBI have led to captures of Top Ten fugitives and short-circuited scores of criminal and terrorist plots. Established in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the tip line receives about 100 “actionable” tips every day related to possible criminal, cyber, terrorism, and espionage acts. Since its inception, the public has submitted more than four million tips via the Internet at tips.fbi.gov. In addition, phone calls to FBI field offices result in thousands of pieces of reporting a day.

“We will check them all,” said William Dayhoff, head of the tips unit, which is staffed around the clock by about two-dozen Bureau employees. In most cases, after tips are assessed they are routed to FBI field offices and local law-enforcement agencies for follow-up.

How much time is it reasonable for an FBI Director to ask for before he is evaluated on progress in changing the culture of an organization? Six months? A year? Most sports franchises try to give coaches at least a year or two before concluding they stink and deserve to get axed. When does a team’s loss reflect bad coaching, and when does it just mean that the wide receiver dropped the game-winning pass?

We do know one thing about Wray: He will tell the truth, even when it is inconvenient for the White House.

Wray, in testimony on Capitol Hill, said the agency completed in late July a background check for security clearance for then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned under pressure last Wednesday amid the abuse allegations.

Wray’s comments conflicted with the White House assertion that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and intelligence agencies had not completed investigations into Porter.

Wray and the FBI announced the embarrassing failure to act on the tip about the Florida shooter within 48 hours of the shooting. Owning up to a fiasco ought to count for something considering the recent history of bureaucratic cover-ups. News of the tip didn’t come from an inspector-general report or from a leak from Congress several weeks from now. That’s twice that we know Wray has told the truth, even when it is embarrassing or certain to cause political headaches.

You may have noticed that there’s been a lot of churn in the Trump administration, particularly in the realm of law enforcement. Trump fired Comey. Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand is stepping down to take a gig at Walmart. Trump criticizes Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Twitter, Sessions reportedly offered to resign at one point, and is allegedly fuming about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The president periodically refers to “the deep state Justice Department.”

Wray seems to be a straight shooter who is open about mistakes and broadly respected. Let’s not toss out guys like that unless we know we have a better option available.

ADDENDA: Russians: Even their curlers are doping. Dude, it’s housework on ice.

National Security & Defense

We Need an Accurate National Conversation About Guns

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From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

We Need an Accurate National Conversation About Guns

Thank you, Washington Post, for stepping up to the plate and correcting a widely-cited and shared piece of misinformation in the aftermath of the Florida shooting. There have not been 18 school shootings in the United States so far this year.

The figure originated with Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit group, co-founded by Michael Bloomberg, that works to prevent gun violence and is most famous for its running tally of school shootings…

It is a horrifying statistic. And it is wrong.

Everytown has long inflated its total by including incidents of gunfire that are not really school shootings. Take, for example, what it counted as the year’s first: On the afternoon of Jan. 3, a 31-year-old man who had parked outside a Michigan elementary school called police to say he was armed and suicidal. Several hours later, he killed himself. The school, however, had been closed for seven months. There were no teachers. There were no students.

Also listed on the organization’s site is an incident from Jan. 20, when at 1 a.m. a man was shot at a sorority event on the campus of Wake Forest University. A week later, as a basketball game was being played at a Michigan high school, someone fired several rounds from a gun in the parking lot. No one was injured, and it was past 8 p.m., well after classes had ended for the day, but Everytown still labeled it a school shooting.

We keep hearing, “we need to have a national conversation about guns,” and then we keep hearing statements from those same voices that are simply not true. If we’re going to have that national conversation, I want the other side to do its homework first.

I don’t want to hear CNN lamenting that Florida doesn’t require a concealed carry permit for an AR-15 or shotgun. (They are too large to conceal.) I don’t want to hear people referring to the AR-15 as an “automatic assault weapon” and I want them to learn the difference between automatic and semiautomatic, and which kind is already illegal. I don’t want to hear about “the gun show loophole” unless the shooter purchased his gun at a gun show. (To the best of my knowledge, not a single mass-shooter has done so.) I want former presidents to stop asserting that it’s easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than buy a computer or a book.

If someone wants to ban AR-15s, I want them to say so. I also want to know what they want to do about the 5 million to 10 million AR-15s already in private hands. I want them to realize that if they don’t grandfather in the already-owned ones, they will instantly turn millions of law-abiding Americans, who have never fired a shot in anger, into criminals. If a gun control advocate proposes a buyback program like Australia’s, I want that person to recognize that the compliance rate down under was about 20 percent and it created a violent black market for guns. If a gun control advocate calls for law enforcement to confiscate AR-15s from private homes, I want that person to realize that they’re calling for violent chaos. And I want them to know that as long as groups advocate ideas like this, the line “no one wants to take away your guns” is a disingenuous lie.

Politics & Policy

Thirteen Months In, the White House Still Has Unfilled Spots

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Making the click-through worthwhile: Why personnel and staffing-up remains a problem for the Trump administration even after 13 months, Americans for Prosperity unleashes $4 million in advertising hitting Missouri’s Claire McCaskill and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly for not supporting tax cuts, and an important book tackling America’s “crisis of responsibility” and self-destructive love affair with the mentality of victimhood.

Happy Shrove Tuesday (also known as Mardi Gras and the eve of Lent)! Tomorrow marks Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, which is an inconvenient combination. “Happy Valentine’s Day, honey, I got you a heart-shaped box of chocolates. Too bad we’re fasting today.” If you think that’s odd, just wait 40 days, when Easter Sunday is on April Fool’s Day.

Why the Trump Administration Still Has Personnel Troubles

Yes, the security-clearance process takes a while, but . . . it’s mid-February in the second year of the Trump administration. Shouldn’t at least the folks who arrived with Trump have completed background checks by now? Today the New York Times calculates that the White House has had a 34 percent turnover rate — way higher than any previous administration, and a sign that there are probably new folks in jobs who are still awaiting their background checks to be completed.

Jared Kushner, now a senior White House adviser with a broad foreign policy portfolio that requires access to some of the intelligence community’s most closely guarded secrets, still has not succeeded in securing a permanent security clearance. The delay has left him operating on an interim status that allows him access to classified material while the F.B.I. continues working on his full background investigation . . . 

Officials with previous administrations said it is not uncommon for the full background checks to take as long as eight months or a year, in part because of a long backlog in vetting the backgrounds of people needing clearance across the federal government.

Last week, CNN reported that “30 to 40 White House officials and administration political appointees are still operating without full security clearances.” The point of the background check process is primarily to protect national security, but it also helps avoid embarrassments like the one surrounding Rob Porter and his dismissal. The president is being ill-served by this sluggish process.

If you live in Washington long enough, eventually your friends and neighbors start listing you as possible references and contacts in their security-clearance-renewal process. You get a call and some nice person from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s National Background Investigations Bureau shows up at your door, and asks you a bunch of reasonable questions (“Have you ever seen or heard any indication this person has a drinking problem?” “Anything that you think might make this person vulnerable to blackmail?”) and a few somewhat silly ones (“Have you ever seen or heard anything to suggest this person might want to overthrow the government?” “Is there any reason to think this person has loyalty to a foreign power or terrorist group?”). If you have no criminal record and no glaring red flags like gambling debts, the process should move pretty smoothly.

Most presidents come to Washington with a “kitchen cabinet,” a thick Rolodex of people interested in working for the federal government and a slew of loyal staffers who have worked in the federal government before, and who probably already went through initial background checks for previous jobs. Trump is an outsider; it’s worth remembering that of his initial close advisers — Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, Kellyanne Conway, Hope Hicks — none of them had worked in any civilian government job before, never mind the federal government. In the cabinet, Rex Tillerson, Steven Mnuchin, Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, and Wilbur Ross are in their first government jobs.

There are advantages to being an outsider, but there are disadvantages as well. A traditional Republican presidency has a slew of potential high-level staffers; a government-in-waiting in conservative think tanks — the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Hudson Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, perhaps the Cato Institute — places full of policy wonks who eat, sleep, and breathe conservative ideas and policies and how to enact them. Trump has selected a few folks from those places, but there really isn’t a large, well-regarded, high profile populist think tank aiming to transform the “Trumpist” philosophy into policy. “Personnel is policy,” as they said in the Reagan administration, and this may be one more reason why Trump’s policies are turning out more traditionally conservative-libertarian than populist.

Some Trump fans might prefer the thought of successful businessmen staffing up the Trump administration, but successful businessmen generally don’t like the thought of leaving their businesses to be undersecretaries for a few years and make a government salary. There is still a  slew of high-level appointed positions still awaiting a nominee in Trump’s second year: fifty-nine positions at the State Department with no nominee (including lots of ambassadorships), seven at the Department of Defense, ten at the Department of Energy, four at Homeland Security, 16 at the Department of Justice, ten at the Department of Transportation, and 15 at the Department of the Treasury. There’s no nominee for the director of the Counterterrorism Center in the office of the DNI, and we’re short one FCC commissioner, two FEC commissioners, a White House director of drug control policy, a White House director of science and technology policy, and two governors of the Federal Reserve.

Some might argue a president shouldn’t need a small army of policy wonks to enact his agenda, but if you want to change how government operates, overcome the permanent bureaucracy, and are wary about a “deep state,” you had better get your own people in place. When the history of this administration is written, it is likely that one conclusion will be that they unnecessarily impeded themselves with their own disorganization.

Here Comes $4 Million in Ads Hitting McCaskill and Donnelly

Americans for Prosperity, part of the Koch brothers network, will launch a major ad campaign in Missouri and Indiana beginning Thursday, hitting Senators Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill over “broken promises on tax reform.”

AFP will spend $4 million in TV and digital ads.

“Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill promised tax reform for years but chose partisan politics over Indiana and Missouri families when they had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide tax relief,” AFP President Tim Phillips said in a released statement. “Americans deserve better, which is why AFP is committed to ensuring citizens see the pro-growth benefits of tax reform despite dismissals and deception from ‘no’ votes like Donnelly and McCaskill.”

The ad hitting Donnelly can be seen here; the ad hitting McCaskill can be seen here.

Tackling America’s Crisis of Responsibility

There are a lot of wise words in David Bahnsen’s new book, Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It. But two of my favorite passages are this . . . 

At the heart of our responsibility crisis is an increasingly heated love affair with victimhood — we are addicted to blame. And all of us have lusted after it one way or another — conservatives and liberals, on the outside and on the inside, rural America and cosmopolitan America. We have all found different bogeymen to blame for the things that dissatisfy us, but they are bogeymen nonetheless. The Left caricaturizes financial fat cast and corporate executives while the Right demonizes journalists and politicos. Kernels of truth turn to wholesale excuses for passivity, inactivity, and apathy. All too often, our society has fixated on what has been done to us, whether real or imagined, while losing a healthy and rugged fixation on self-reliance and actualization.

And this:

Your view of yourself cannot be one of “me against the world.” Believing that your boss, spouse, customers or political leaders are all out to get you results in a life shaped by fear, not love — and certainly not joy. Might a spouse, boss, neighbor or politician actually have it in for you? It’s possible, I suppose. Yet even then, the productive response is not despair or defeatism, but courageous faithfulness. I’ve never seen someone who lives in a perpetual state of victimhood make good decisions. I’ve never seen defeatism result in anything but being defeated, or victimization create anything but a victim.

This is self-help in the best sense of the term, and a message Americans really need to hear right now.

Some sections reminded me of Tony Robbins, and I hope Bahnsen takes that as the praise it’s meant to be. I get the feeling Robbins is widely perceived as a salesman for a sort of blind happy-talk, which I don’t think is an accurate characterization at all. I haven’t shelled out for one of Robbins’ rah-rah seminars, but one of his books really shaped my thinking at a key point in my life.

Picture the winter of 2001-2002: My job stinks, my paychecks are bouncing, after 9/11 we’re all awaiting the next terror attack, anthrax was in the mail, the economy was sputtering and better jobs are scarce, and everything seemed dark and gloomy. I picked up Robbins’s Awaken the Giant Within thinking that it was naïve happy talk, but thinking I’d prefer to be naïve and happy than realistic and glum all the time.

Ironically, the book didn’t offer unrealistic happy talk and instead served up the opposite. It was ebullient but firm straight talk, which is what I needed to hear: Improving your life is your responsibility and no one else’s. No one is going to just show up and make your life better for you. You have to decide how you want to change your life to get better results, and you have to stop blaming anyone else — not bosses, not parents, not “luck” or fate or God. You have to start looking at your problems as potential opportunities and you have to refocus your perspective on how you’ve been blessed, not how you’ve been cheated, hurt, shortchanged, or denied. I finally saw my frustrating wire-service job as a remarkable opportunity in disguise if I just approached it differently, and within a month, I had a front-page story in the Boston Globe; within a year, I had my first freelance articles on National Review Online. “Seek and ye shall find.” When you look for scapegoats and excuses, you find scapegoats and excuses; when you look for opportunities, you find opportunities.

Crisis of Responsibility is the kind of book you want to leave in public places so that random strangers will pick it up and be influenced by it.

ADDENDA: David Brooks, writing in the New York Times today: “The Trump era has produced a renaissance in conservative writing. National Review is a more interesting magazine now than at any time in its history.”

I’ll take the compliment, but let’s be honest, that’s a really high bar to clear.

Politics & Policy

Is That a Little Sunshine Breaking Through the February Gloom?

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Let’s start the week with some easily overlooked polls, all gradually moving in the right direction for Republicans. . .

In mid December, President Trump’s job approval-disapproval split was abysmal, 37.2 percent approval, 58.1 percent disapproval in the RealClearPolitics average. Now it’s 41.5 approval to 53.9 percent disapproval. (Recall Trump took office with roughly a 44-44 split and he went “underwater” almost immediately. He’s got a low ceiling and high floor.) Put another way, Trump is only four and a half points off his all-time high in that average.

The “right track”/“wrong direction” numbers are also looking better in recent weeks. In mid October, just 28.6 percent of respondents said the country was on the right track and almost 64 percent said the country was headed in the wrong direction; now 37.9 percent say the country is on the right track, 55 say wrong direction.

The Democrats’ advantage on the generic congressional ballot — a deeply flawed measure, admittedly, because we don’t have a nationwide vote to determine control of Congress — is down to 6.7 points; the Democrats enjoyed a 12.8 percent margin as 2017 ended.

Finally, two pollsters have surveyed Floridians on how they would respond to a matchup between Florida senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Rick Scott, the Republican governor whose term ends this year. Mason-Dixon put Nelson up by one, the University of North Florida put Nelson up by six. In both polls, Nelson was below 50 percent.

None of this is to say 2018 looks hunky-dory for Republicans. One GOP gubernatorial candidate put it to me that his numbers showed 90 percent of Republicans liking Trump (unsurprising) and 90 percent of Democrats hating Trump (also unsurprising) — but 70 percent of independents disliking Trump, which is a tough hurdle to overcome. But with the passage of the tax cuts, perhaps the country’s mood is starting to lift and Republicans’ enthusiasm is starting to return.

The True North of the American Media’s Coverage of the Olympics

The ludicrous coverage of North Korea’s presence at the Winter Olympics suggests that for the metaphorical compass of many of the biggest institutions in America’s mainstream media, there is a new true north (no pun intended, but now that I think about it, I should have intended it): Whoever is in opposition to the Trump administration is the hero of the story — no matter the circumstances, no matter the stakes.

John McCain, Jeff Flake, Jim Comey, LaVar Ball, the intelligence community, corporate CEOs, kneeling NFL players, the North Korean regime — no matter what you’ve done in the past, no matter how much the media collectively previously hammered you, if you’re butting heads with the Trump administration, you will get the more sympathetic angle in the news coverage of that dispute.

No foreign leader has enjoyed coverage as good as North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong since Vogue profiled Asma al-Assad, first lady of Syria, back in 2011. (That was right before Assad’s regime killed tens of thousands of people and used chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war.) A sampling:

Reuters: “North Korea has emerged as the early favorite to grab one of the Winter Olympics’ most important medals: the diplomatic gold.”

CNN: “Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics!”

Business Insider: “From her “side-eye” of US Vice President Mike Pence to hints at Korean unification, Kim has stolen the spotlight at the Winter Olympics.”

Washington Post: “The ‘Ivanka Trump of North Korea’ captivates people in the South at the Olympics.”

In the name of Otto Warmbier, could we avoid variations of the term “captive” in praising North Korea’s leaders during the Olympics?

The New York Times wrote, “Her quietly friendly approach while in South Korea — photographers repeatedly captured her smiling — seemed to endear her to some observers.”

If a smile is all it takes to “endear” you to a regime as brutal as North Korea’s, you are an exceptionally cheap date. Could you lower the bar a little more? As I joked Sunday, I await the headline, “Kim Jong Un’s Sister Shocks, Delights World By Not Killing Anyone During Meeting.”

And why the heck has every reporter in South Korea suddenly developed a crush on those cheerleaders?

The Associated Press: “North Korean Cheerleaders Spark Fashion Envy”

The U.K. Metro newspaper gushed, “North Korea’s 200 cheerleaders could be the best thing about the Winter Olympics.”

ABC News: “Clad in coordinated outfits of red with white and blue accents, North Korea’s throng of more than 200 cheerleaders are stealing the spotlight at the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in South Korea as they chant, sway and dance in unison.”

Give USA Today some credit for remembering some history, deep in a story:

In 2006, 21 members of a North Korean cheering squad that had traveled to South Korea for an international athletic event were sent to a prison camp for talking about what they saw in the South, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported.

It was left to BuzzfeedBuzzfeed! — to bring some sanity and perspective back to the situation:

In 2015, a South Korean report said that between 2000 and 2013, almost 1,400 North Korean citizens were publicly executed, reportedly as a means to “keep the population in line. Thousands of North Koreans were required to witness firing squad executions in public stadiums in 2013, according to a South Korean newspaper.

Some of these reporters will no doubt insist they’re not touting the charm of Kim Yo Jong and the North Koreans; they’re merely reporting on the reaction of some portion of South Korean public. The South Koreans live their daily lives in the crosshairs and no doubt have a strong cultural appetite for dreams of a peaceful reunification. Last month I wrote, “Sometimes South Korea feels like our buddy who’s still convinced he can patch things up and get back together with the crazy ex-girlfriend who tried to run him over with her car.” I suppose that if you live next door to a crazy dangerous psychopath long enough, you welcome the days the neighbor smiles instead of threatening you.

Finally, in my circles, I saw a bit of grumbling that the United States Olympic team entered the opening ceremonies by dancing to the South Korean star Psy’s 2012 hit, “Gangram Style.” Back in 2004, Psy performed a virulently anti-American song about killing U.S. soldiers and their families. In 2012, Psy apologized, declaring, “While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one’s self, I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words. While it’s important that we express our opinions, I deeply regret the inflammatory and inappropriate language I used to do so . . . I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world.”

In some ways, this sort of seems appropriate, a testament to the power of America. We’re hard to hate for long. One year you’re denouncing the United States in the vilest terms, eight years later you’re embraced by that same country as a star, and five years after that your biggest hit is adopted as the U.S. Olympic team’s entrance anthem.

Happy Days Are Here Again?

Where do I begin in summarizing how wonderful the folks at the Leadership Program of the Rockies are? It’s a first-class organization, aiming to help those who have already dipped their toes into the waters of political activism or fighting for a good cause, and who want to become more effective in communication, outreach, networking, and enacting change. My thanks to Bob Schaffer, Shari Williams, Mark Hillman, Kelly Maher, Laura Carno, and everyone else out there who helped put together such a special event this weekend. If you’re a Coloradan interested in promoting the principles of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence, you must check this organization out — presuming you haven’t already.

The speaker at the closing luncheon was the legendary economist Art Laffer, who sang the praises of the recently-passed tax cuts and contended that the United States is entering a period of remarkable economic growth. He pointed out that the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta projected that the U.S. gross domestic product will grow by 5.4 percent in the first quarter of 2018, which would be the best quarter since 2003. (In 2014, U.S. GDP growth did hit 5.2 percent.)

A booming economy would mitigate or alleviate a lot of problems in this country. Not all of them, but a lot.

ADDENDA: Spotted on my flights to and from Colorado . . . Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, getting back to his home state for the weekend. He flies coach! A citizen-justice.

As David Jones observed, when professor Robert Kelly appears on our television screens, commentating live from his home office, everyone is watching the door for surprise visitors.

Politics & Policy

Everyone Gets a Spending Boost!

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Greetings from Colorado Springs — altitude 6,035 feet — where I’m attempting to follow the locals’ wise advice to drink water constantly. I’ve felt weird since I arrived; I spent two years in Ankara, Turkey (altitude 3,077 feet) and I had no problems; covered the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver (5,280 feet) and I had no problems; I made another trip to Evergreen, Colorado a few years ago (7,220 feet), and had no problems. . .but for some reason, on this trip I’m getting so dehydrated I need my own personal Tennessee Valley Authority irrigation project. But things are improving slowly. I fear that when I speak to the good folks at the Leadership Program of the Rockies tomorrow, I’m going to have an endless series of “Rubio moments.”

The Trump Era Brings Its First Genuine Bipartisan Compromise

You get a spending boost! And you get a spending boost! And you get a spending boost!

I like this quote from Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate.com, weighing the deal that avoided any significant government shutdown:

On the one hand, a move to fund the government and suspend the debt ceiling is welcomed, avoiding further disruption or worse. With the House and Senate voting to boost spending, the nation’s debt continues to expand at an unsustainable rate. This comes after the tax cut, approved late in the economic expansion added $1.5 trillion to the debt. This spree is reminiscent of the Oprah program where she exclaims, ‘you get a car,’ providing a gift to everyone in the audience. Only in this case, the cost is being put on the proverbial federal credit card.

It’s not quite as simple as ‘Republicans got the defense spending they wanted, and Democrats got the domestic spending they wanted.’ Notice that some Republicans are touting the domestic spending in this bill.

“While neither side got everything they wanted, this compromise provides critical funding that will go towards improving the VA, CHIP, the opioid epidemic, and infrastructure spending,” said Senator Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican. “I look forward to now working with my colleagues on a solution for DACA, border security, and immigration policy.”

Congressional Republicans didn’t get everything they want. Congressional Democrats didn’t get everything they want. President Trump didn’t get everything he wants. That’s . . . pretty much how compromises work. Last night’s “government shutdown” amounted to the store clerk locking up and putting a “be back soon” sign on the door while he runs to the bank to get more singles for change.

When the president needed to put the best spin on the deal, he tweeted, “Just signed Bill. Our Military will now be stronger than ever before. We love and need our Military and gave them everything — and more. First time this has happened in a long time. Also means JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!”

Congressman Dave Brat, a Virginia Republican, points out that the House did what it was supposed to do and did its best to avoid massive last-minute all-in-one spending bills.

“The House completed our work on time by passing 12 appropriations bills over 100 days ago. Earlier this week, the House sent our government funding bill to the Senate. The Republican majority is so narrow in the Senate, that 9 Democrats stalled the process. As a result, $300 billion dollars were added to the measure in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Now the Democrats have the nerve to say the House can’t get our work done on time and that the budget spends too much — I believe my constituents are smarter than that.”

Congressman Jim Banks, a Republican who represents Indiana’s third district, writes in NRO about the on-the-ground consequences of the sequester and trying to operate under short-term continuing resolutions.

As the most recently deployed member of Congress, having served in Afghanistan in 2014 and 2015, I have seen our readiness crisis firsthand. It has only intensified after a period of stepped-up military activity carried out while the Budget Control Act shrank defense budgets.

Fewer than half of the Navy’s aircraft can fly, owing to lapses in maintenance and a lack of spare parts. Only 50 percent of the Air Force’s combat forces are sufficiently ready for a highly contested fight. This year alone, the pilot shortage has grown from 1,500 to 2,000. In the Marine Corps, as F-35s replace legacy aircraft, increasing the flying cost per hour, readiness will be even more difficult to achieve. Special Operations Forces are trying to maintain an extraordinarily high global operations tempo, which puts them near the breaking point.

My sense is that while we can argue the merits of particular programs, weapons, and initiatives, no matter how much Americans may think they don’t need more defense spending, the world will always surprise us with some crisis where it comes in handy.

The Case for Keeping John Kelly, Even When He Makes Mistakes

What does Trump gain if he dismisses John Kelly as chief of staff?

Axios reports, “The president is mulling potential replacements, though aides doubt he has it in him to actually fire the retired general.”

The Trump administration has its own time-displacement effect, where the pace of breaking news and shocking events and new controversies makes recent events feel long ago. (The State of the Union was ten days ago.) But it’s worth remembering that Kelly took over as chief of staff on July 31, meaning he’s been on the job a bit more than six months. Reince Preibus was on the job for about six months.

If you want to replace Kelly . . . who else is out there who A) Trump respects and is willing to listen to when he disagrees; B) has the managerial and leadership skills to tackle one of the most challenging jobs in the world during the best of times; C) is capable enough to handle the unique challenges of this White House, with several key advisors like Ivanka and Jared who cannot be dismissed or shut out because they’re family; D) will mitigate, if not help, a hostile relationship with the White House press corps; and E) is willing to leave their current job for a White House gig that very well could end in six months?

People who meet all of those criteria are pretty rare.

Under Kelly, this White House seems to be leaking less. The Game of Thrones palace intrigue and staff infighting has died down some from the first year. In the end, the White House is defined by the president and his behavior and decision-making. When he’s at his best — say, the State of the Union — the White House has a good day. When he starts doing things like insisting he can talk to Mueller under oath without anything going wrong, well . . . things tend to turn out sub-optimally.

Hey, Wasn’t Carter Page Supposed to Be . . . Actually Charged with a Crime at Some Point?

Bloomberg’s Eli Lake makes another important point about how the FBI and Department of Justice have handled figures close to Trump. They have effectively tried and convicted Carter Page in the court of public opinion without the pesky trouble of an actual trial:

The disclosure of the warrant placed a cloud of suspicion over a U.S. citizen without due process. The standard for obtaining a FISA surveillance warrant is much lower than, for instance, charging an American citizen as a foreign agent. There is good reason for this. Counter-intelligence investigations are usually aimed at secretly monitoring the activities of foreign spies, not building public cases against U.S. citizens. When the details of such probes are selectively disclosed, the reputational damage is immense. Unlike someone facing charges, the subject can’t even really mount a defense.

Look, maybe Carter Page really is an agent for the Russians. Back in 2013, he wrote in a letter, “Over the past half year, I have had the privilege to serve as an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin in preparation for their Presidency of the G-20 Summit next month.” Page has certainly offered contradictory statements at various times.

But Page hasn’t been charged with a crime.

If Page is an agent for the Russians, the right way to deal with it is in a courtroom with evidence that a jury can see, not through a series of leaks, where Page and his lawyers have no ability to cross-examine those accusing him.

ADDENDA: If you’re here in Colorado Springs for the Leadership Program of the Rockies annual retreat, I look forward to meeting you! Please forgive me if I stop mid-conversation to drink more water.

Politics & Policy

Weighing the Good and the Bad in the Spending-Caps Deal

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Let’s start with the good news about the “spending caps deal:”

Finally, a substantial boost to the Pentagon’s budget. Yesterday I mentioned the complaint by Defense secretary James Mattis that funding the government through continuing resolutions was eating away at the Pentagon’s ability to make long-term spending decisions. Mattis sounds genuinely pleased with this deal:

Steep increases in U.S. defense spending over the next two years — up more than 15 percent in 2018 alone, the largest boost in more than a decade and a half.

The full agreement remains to be hammered out between the House and Senate, but Defense Secretary James Mattis pronounced himself “very happy with $700 [billion] for this year, and $716 [billion] for next.”

This adds up to the biggest increase in defense spending since 2003.

The domestic spending is mostly aimed at genuine national priorities. Republicans dislike “increased domestic spending” in general, but once you see the specifics, you understand why Republican leaders signed off on it: $80 billion in disaster relief funding, $6 billion toward opioid and mental health treatment, $4 billion to the Veterans Administration to rebuild and improve veterans hospitals and clinics, $2 billion toward research at the National Institutes of Health. These are popular programs and broadly supported national priorities.

Remember the so-called “death panels”? They’re gone, repealing another key and unpopular component of Obamacare. It was always a stretch to claim that Republicans had “basically repealed Obamacare” just by repealing the individual mandate. But getting rid of the individual mandate and the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board? Now we’re getting somewhere. The IPAB was created under Obamacare and given the duty to slow the growth of Medicare spending, but no board members were ever nominated. But as written under the law, IPAB would have enjoyed a lot of power over what Medicare was willing to pay for and how much, with little opportunity for Congress to overrule their decisions. This deal gets rid of IPAB for good.

Democrats have once again failed to use the threat of a government shutdown to get a DACA fix on their terms, for the second time in two months. In the eyes of the pro-amnesty lawmakers, this is a surrender. Representative Luis Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, is livid, declaring yesterday, “if Democrats join with Republicans on this deal and lift the caps, what you will have is a collusion with Donald Trump to deport Dreamers.”

It avoids a government shutdown. You know my perspective: No one ever “wins” a government shutdown. Democrats looked at polling numbers on DACA immigrants and thought Americans would support a government shutdown over them. Nope. President Trump thinks Americans will support a government shutdown over border security. Probably not. As soon as the government shuts down and Americans start seeing images of kids on a field trip finding the doors of the Smithsonian locked, they start to respond, “Those idiots, why can’t they keep the government open? A pox on both your houses.”

The bad news about the deal . . . 

This is a big spending increase, when the debt is $20 trillion and we’re starting to approach the risk of trillion-dollar-per-year deficits again. The biggest spending increase since 2009, in fact. (It is fair to remember that Donald Trump did not run as a fiscal conservative.)

We just don’t care about deficits and the debt anymore, do we?

I should point out one dollop of budgetary good news: In January, tax revenues . . . are up, about five percent higher than they were a year ago. Now, not all companies had implemented the payroll withholding in January, so this month and coming months may see lower revenue. But as Investor’s Business Daily put it, “Those 3 million-plus workers who are getting bonuses and raises thanks to the Trump tax cuts will end up paying more in taxes on those extra earnings, offsetting at least some of the tax cuts they will enjoy this year.”

The editors focus on the opportunity cost of this deal:

This is a bad deal. It is a bad deal because it hikes domestic spending. It is a bad deal, as well, because it may end the chance for a conservative legislative achievement in 2018.

A two-year spending deal means Republicans probably won’t go to the trouble of passing a formal budget for 2019. That would mean no chance for a so-called reconciliation process that could allow them to enact meaningful legislation with only 50 votes in the Senate. If Republicans accept this deal and then forgo the reconciliation process, they will have given up their chance to pass a law without Democratic support, and measures such as easing the Obamacare regulations that will contribute to higher premiums in the coming years or reforming welfare will stand no chance of making it through Congress. With this deal, Republicans are hurting the chance to add to their ledger of accomplishments prior to November.

A Hard Lesson about the Two Faces of Abusive People

Someone asked me recently, “how does someone like [convicted sex abuser and former USA Gymnastics team doctor] Larry Nassar happen? How did no one know what was going on?” Similarly, we hear this morning from Axios’ Jonathan Swan, “Colleagues tell me they can’t reconcile the [former White House Staff Secretary] Rob Porter they know (consummate gentleman) with the Rob Porter they’re reading about, with a police report and photos of a black eye by a former wife.”

A quick, frightening, true, and important point about abusive people: they tend to be as multifaceted as non-abusive people, meaning that they will behave “normally” in a lot of circumstances, oftentimes being charming and pleasant to those they aren’t abusing. 

Despite the popular perception and oftentimes their own self-description, abusive people are very rarely “out of control.” If they are genuinely unable to control their urges to hurt others, they generally run into insurmountable consequences quickly. An abusive person will often become a lot calmer when confronted with an authority figure they cannot abuse, such as a cop at the door. Abusive people can usually recognize the difference between the consequences of hitting a partner or spouse in public — where someone may see and confront them or call the cops — and doing so in private, and thus they keep those impulses in check in public. This is, in fact, one of the traits that can emotionally and psychologically trap the victim; the victim finds herself baffled and wondering, “he’s so nice and normal sometimes, so what am I doing that’s setting him off?

A man who hits his wife is generally not going to run around the office hitting his co-workers or hit pedestrians walking down the street. Abusive people are generally pretty good at measuring what they can get away with in a given circumstance. They want to indulge their impulses right up to the point where it generates a permanent consequence. For example, if the abuser picks up a knife and begins chasing his partner around the house pledging to stab the partner, the partner is almost always going to flee and end the relationship, and/or file a restraining order. (As Jordan Peterson notes in his new book, restraining orders usually only work on the kind of people who don’t require restraining orders.) A man who is violently angry on the first date is not going to get a second date.

The creepy guy who hangs around a playground and stares at the children is going to get reported and caught pretty quickly. The creepy guy who works his way into a position of trusted authority, and who manages to seem kind, caring, and all of those other good traits around other adults, can pursue prey at will for a long time, because accusations of abuse will seem so unthinkable to other adults.

This doesn’t mean that every nice person we encounter is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or that all accusations are true. But it does mean that being professional and pleasant in a work environment does not disprove an accusation of awful behavior in a private environment. Many people have a hard time rectifying the two, and we should have a bit of sympathy for the friends and co-workers experiencing that cognitive dissonance upon learning of a person’s private sins.

ADDENDA: Matt Cooper gives us a depressing and unsavory glimpse behind the scenes of what Newsweek became in recent years — a click-bait-chasing unprofessional mess that made egregious errors week after week and simply didn’t care.

Politics & Policy

We’re about Five Weeks Away from the Next Big Omen for the 2018 Midterms

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The next big political race on the horizon arrives March 13, when voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district go to the polls to replace former Representative Tim Murphy.

Fifty-nine-year-old GOP state legislator Rick Saccone faces against Democrat Conor Lamb, a 33-year-old former federal prosecutor and Marine veteran, and Republicans are more than a little nervous and going all out: “Republicans were outspending Democrats on TV by a ratio of nearly 5-to-1. The GOP push will only intensify: The Republican National Committee is set to invest about $1 million, much of it on digital, field and other get-out-the-vote activities.

This is the southwest corner of the state, including a portion of the southern suburbs of Pittsburgh. Under the current district lines — soon to be redrawn by the state supreme court — the district scores an R+11 and Trump won by 20 points. Murphy represented the region since 2003. By most standards, this ought to be a safe seat for Republicans . . . but one poll in January put Saccone up by twelve points, while another put him up by only three points.

After the mess of Election Day 2017 in New Jersey and Virginia, the debacle in Alabama, and various other Democratic wins in special elections, Republicans are learning the hard way not to take anything for granted.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC endorsed by House Republican leadership, today released its third television ad in the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, titled, “Out Of Touch.” The ad, part of CLF’s $1.7 million buy, slams Lamb for echoing Nancy Pelosi’s arguments while arguing against the recently-passed tax cuts.

Announcer: A $2,900-dollar middle-class tax cut for our community. Now businesses are giving workers raises and bonuses and creating jobs. Yet Nancy Pelosi and Conor Lamb are still opposing your tax cut. Lamb called it a complete betrayal. And Pelosi said . . . 

Nancy Pelosi: This is Armageddon.

Announcer: Middle-class tax cuts. Bonuses? Pay raises?

Pelosi: Crumbs. So pathetic.

Announcer: Pelosi and Lamb . . . Too out of touch. Too many taxes.

In early January, CLF opened two field offices in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district with 50 full-time door knockers, aiming to make 250,000 voter contacts in door-to-door efforts by Election Day in March.

Because we tend to over-interpret special elections, by Saint Patrick’s Day, a lot of pundits will cite this race and insist that the GOP tax cut is either a magic shield that will protect their majority or a political loser that can’t even save Republican candidates in once heavily pro-Trump districts. The stakes aren’t quite that high, but a Lamb victory, with the GOP going all-out, would indeed be a serious rattle in the engine heading into 2018.

Literal Marching Orders

Are you ready for a . . . different kind of parade later this year in Washington?

President Trump’s vision of soldiers marching and tanks rolling down the boulevards of Washington is moving closer to reality in the Pentagon and White House, where officials say they have begun to plan a grand military parade later this year showcasing the might of America’s armed forces.

Trump has long mused publicly and privately about wanting such a parade, but a Jan. 18 meeting between Trump and top generals in the Pentagon’s tank — a room reserved for top-secret discussions — marked a tipping point, according to two officials briefed on the planning.

Surrounded by the military’s highest-ranking officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Trump’s seemingly abstract desire for a parade was suddenly heard as a presidential directive, the officials said.

Shows of military strength are not typical in the United States — and they don’t come cheap. The cost of shipping Abrams tanks and high-tech hardware to Washington could run in the millions, and military officials said it was unclear how they would pay for it.

A White House official familiar with the planning described the discussions as “brainstorming” and said nothing was settled. “Right now, there’s really no meat on the bones,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

David French: “In the more than 16 years since 9/11 our military has 1) Toppled the Taliban. 2) Toppled Saddam. 3) Defeated the follow-on AQI insurgency. 4) Defeated the ISIS caliphate in Iraq and Syria. 5) Endured years of grinding deployments while fighting with honor. I’m fine with a parade.”

The politics of this are pretty sharp; by proposing the idea, Trump ensures some of his critics will instinctively publicly oppose the idea. The historically ignorant will insist it’s unprecedented — apparently 1991 is long forgotten ancient history — and some paranoid types will insist the sight of American soldiers marching down American streets is too reminiscent of a military dictatorship, even though occupying forces usually don’t wave and smile as ticker-tape runs down. (Does this country even make ticker-tape any more? I figure in 1991 they had a steady supply of long strands of dot-matrix printer paper edges with holes in them. Right now half my readership is thinking, “oh, I remember tearing those off!” and the other half is asking, “what is Jim babbling about?”) You can see the Fox News chyrons now: LIBERALS OPPOSE PARADE FOR MILITARY. Some of Trump’s more idiotic critics may very well protest the parade.

The Post article above notes that the parade could occur this November 11, to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and that does seem like an occasion worth marking on a grand scale – and an anniversary worth considering, as we contemplate coming years with potential conflict among great powers and the modern use of poison and gas as weapons of war.

Having said all that, I just . . . feel like we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

I’m sure our men and women in uniform appreciate applause and cheers, but they probably could use a raise, better benefits, and all the equipment, spare parts, and training they can get. As we speak, the House and Senate are still hammering out a deal to keep the government open and hopefully give defense spending a boost.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis was characteristically blunt: “It is not lost on me that as I testify before you this morning, we are again on the verge of a government shutdown or, at best, another damaging continuing resolution. I regret that without sustained, predictable appropriations, my presence here today wastes your time, because no strategy can survive without the funding necessary to resource it.”

Mattis said the Pentagon was seeking new investment in “space and cyber, nuclear deterrent forces, missile defense, advanced autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, and professional military education to provide our high-quality troops what they need to win.” That is not small, quick, or cheap.

All of this is occurring while the U.S. Treasury Department announced they expect to borrow close to $1 trillion this fiscal year and more than $1 trillion in the next two years. Some folks will instinctively blame the recently passed tax cuts, but the amount of money coming in through taxes has consistently hit new records in past years, even adjusted for inflation. For example, from October to December, the U.S. government took in $769 billion, the highest in any three-month span in history. That still left the federal government with a deficit of approximately $225 billion.

A Dastardly NFL Betrayal That Belongs in Game of Thrones

Oof. My sympathies to the Kevoians, Tony Katz, and all Morning Jolt readers who are fans of the Indianapolis Colts, as their team is suddenly abandoned by the man they expected to become their next head coach, three weeks after an agreement was reached. Sometimes the National Football League is just . . . Shakespearean.

Josh McDaniels just ditched the Indianapolis Colts at the altar.

Five weeks after the end of the regular season and six days into the month of February, the Colts find themselves in unprecedented NFL territory: Spurned by the man they’d announced just hours earlier would become their next head coach.

So much for Wednesday’s introductory news conference.

So much for marrying McDaniels’ offensive mind with franchise quarterback Andrew Luck.

So much for the contract agreement the Colts had come to with New England’s longtime offensive coordinator.

In a stunning move Tuesday night, McDaniels informed the Colts he has decided not to become head coach, instead choosing to remain with the Patriots, a league source confirmed.

Even more awkwardly, three assistant coaches already signed with the Colts with the expectation that they would be working under McDaniels. Whoops.

Indianapolis Star columnist Greg Doyel probably has the right attitude:

As for the Colts, they have a second chance to get this right, and how many times can you rectify a grievous error before the error does actual damage? In the long run, the franchise will be better with someone else, anyone else, as head coach. That’s not easy to see right now, I know it, but if McDaniels can be this destructive, this selfish, this fraudulent in three weeks as de facto head coach of the Colts, imagine how much damage he would have done here in three years.

As many in the sports world are speculating, this is almost certainly a sign that Josh McDaniels expects to be the next head coach of the New England Patriots when Bill Belichick retires, and probably a sign that Belichick’s retirement is coming sooner rather than later. Most of the New England fan base is still wondering why Belichick benched cornerback Malcolm Butler for the biggest game of the season, with little to no warning. Butler had no injury and had played almost 98 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps this year. He contends that the post-game rumors are false and that he did not miss curfew or otherwise behave in any manner detrimental to the team.

The discipline issue would at least explain the decision a little. Imagine you’re Belichick. You’re 65 and you have five Super Bowl rings as a head coach and two as a defensive coordinator. You’ve built and maintained “the Patriot Way.” You’ve instilled a sense of consummate professionalism, discipline, attention to detail, and unsentimental replacement of players once their skills are on the decline. “Do your job.” Everyone around you from Tom Brady to the ball boy knows exactly what their duties are. (COUGHdeflationCOUGH) If you’re not the most respected man in professional football, you probably ought to be.

If after all that, key players are still behaving recklessly in the days before the Super Bowl . . . maybe you start to think you’ve had enough of the job.

ADDENDA: Congratulations to Elon Musk and Space X for creating the album cover for every “Greatest Hits” collection of every 80s band.

“Orbital Commute” would make a good band name.

Politics & Policy

Small Anecdotes about Illegal Immigration Can Have a Big Impact

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The NFL linebacker you have probably never heard of is likely to become the new Kate Steinle – an innocent victim of an illegal immigrant who violated U.S. laws time and time again, with minimal consequence:

The man suspected of driving drunk and fatally striking an Indianapolis Colts player and his Uber driver early Sunday had twice been deported and was in the country illegally, police confirmed Monday. 

Police say Manuel Orrego-Savala, 37, had a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit when he hit and killed Edwin Jackson, a 26-year-old Colts linebacker, and 54-year-old Jeffrey Monroe, Jackson’s Uber driver, around 4 a.m. Sunday.  

Orrego-Savala is from Guatemala, according to Indiana State Police. He was first deported in 2007 and again in 2009 following arrests in San Francisco, according to a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE officials say Orrego-Savala has a prior conviction in California for driving under the influence.

Unsurprisingly, there are now voices lamenting that Jackson’s death should not be “politicized.” This inevitable discussion is not politicizing what occurred; it is vividly illustrating the consequences of when a governments decides, without much public debate, that certain laws like entering the country illegally may be violated without much consequence. Yes, some people enter the country illegally as adorable moppets and grow up to be high school valedictorians. But some people who enter the country illegally end up becoming drunk drivers. When you’re convicted of a DUI and then deported, we must have an ability to ensure those people will not come back.

Don’t Panic, Investors!

I guess yesterday morning was a good time to warn you about a stock market correction, huh?

You’re an educated audience, so you probably know this already, but one-day or even two-day drops shouldn’t generate a panic. If you look at charts of the stock markets over most periods of time, you see a jagged line gradually going up. The good news is that the markets overall — if not particular stocks — usually go up over time and generally represent a sound long-term investment. (Look, I’m neither a financial advisor nor a financial columnist, so may the buyer beware.) But those jagged lines mean that there are days the market will decline, sometimes steeply.

An important, and perhaps under-remarked, milestone from January 18: “the Dow has spiked more than 7,000 points, or about 40 percent, since President Trump’s election.”

Now, ask yourself: are shares of the stock of the companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average — companies like Apple, Boeing, Coca-Cola, Disney, IBM, Nike and Visa  – really 40 percent more valuable than they were fifteen months ago? No doubt they’re more valuable by some percentage. The growing economy and wages mean that the outlook for sales is good. The corporate tax cuts mean that the companies will be keeping more of their profits, and dividends to stockholders should be higher. The companies have less fear that Washington will suddenly impose some new regulation that will be costly, complicated, or divert resources. The outlook for most or all of these companies is bright.

But is it 40 percent brighter? Probably not quite that high. In January, the Dow Jones rose 1,000 points in five days, by far the fastest 1,000-point rise on record. A rise that far, that fast, probably reflects what Alan Greenspan used to call “irrational exuberance.”

From the Associated Press:

For now, the economy remains on firm footing, even with the prospect of somewhat higher inflation. The inflation concerns escalated after Friday’s monthly U.S. jobs report showed that average wages surged 2.9 percent in January from 12 months earlier — the sharpest year-over-year gain since the recession.

“What we’re seeing right now is an economy overall that is doing quite well and has strong fundamentals,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “The economy remains on track to expand at a fairly solid pace, and along with that comes inflation.”

An All-Too-Easily Forgotten Veterans Scandal in Wisconsin Resurfaces

Concerned Veterans for America is launching an advertising campaign reminding Wisconsinites about Senator Tammy Baldwin’s failure to address an opioid over-prescription scandal at the Tomah Veterans Administration Medical Center in 2015.

The story faded from the headlines, but represented the sort of scandal a senator dreads:

Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s office received an inspection report last summer detailing high amounts of opiates prescribed at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah, but there is no indication her office took action on the findings until last week, when she called for an investigation after a news report revealed a veteran died from an overdose at the facility.

The report by the VA inspector general, a copy of which was obtained by USA TODAY, noted that two practitioners at the center were among the highest prescribers of opiates in a multistate region — at “considerable variance” compared with most opioid prescribers. That, the report said, raised “potentially serious concerns.”

A whistleblower who learned in November that Baldwin had had a copy for months and hadn’t acted, repeatedly emailed her office asking that she do something to help the veterans at the center, according to copies of the emails obtained by USA TODAY.

In them the whistleblower — former Tomah VA employee Ryan Honl — asked that Baldwin call for an investigation, that she push colleagues on the Veterans Affairs committee to take action, and that she help bring the issues in the report to public attention. The report had not been made public, but Baldwin’s office received a copy in August.

Honl, a Gulf War vet and West Point graduate who left the Tomah facility in October, said in an interview Monday he believes Baldwin’s inaction after receiving the report is a “travesty.”

If that sounds indefensible . . . well, it is:

Sen. Tammy Baldwin said Friday she is disciplining her chief of staff and two other aides for failing to take appropriate action on complaints about improper care of veterans at the Veterans Affairs’ medical center in Tomah where a veteran died in August.

In an interview Friday, the Madison Democrat said that at every level, her office made mistakes in handling an inspection report, which found “serious concerns” about “unusually high” opiate-prescription rates in Tomah. She said subsequent pleas from a whistleblower also were mishandled.

As a result, Baldwin said, she is fining her chief of staff, demoting the director of her Wisconsin offices, reassigning a veterans’-outreach staffer and looking for a new aide in Milwaukee.

“Mistakes were made, and I’m taking the action that I need to assure the people of Wisconsin that we are not going to make these mistakes again, and I’ll renew my reputation for excellent casework,” she told USA TODAY.

Concerned Veterans for America is backing the Veterans Community Care and Access Act, a bill introduced by Senators Jerry Moran of Kansas and John McCain of Arizona, which would expand veterans’ opportunities to seek out care from private hospitals. The legislation is also supported by the American Legion and AMVETS, and the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee is expected to consider the legislation tomorrow.

One of the provisions of the bill would make the VA responsible for coordinating the prescription of opioids, which would be directed to VA pharmacies for dispensing, except in the case of a prior authorization or when the provider determines there is an immediate medical need for the prescription.

“We plan to make veterans health care a major issue this year as part of our long-term campaign to reform the way the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) delivers care to our veterans,” said CVA Executive Director Dan Caldwell. “Part of this effort includes highlighting when elected officials like Senator Tammy Baldwin fail to ensure that the veterans they represent are being properly served by the VA. Senator Baldwin put Wisconsin veterans in danger when she failed to act on reports of serious misconduct at the Tomah VA. In order to ensure that veterans in Wisconsin aren’t trapped in failing VA hospitals like the one in Tomah, Senator Baldwin needs to step up and support legislation that offers real health choice for veterans at the VA.”

Concerned Veterans for America is one of the groups that is part of the Koch Seminar Network, and Baldwin is one of the group’s top targets in the 2018 cycle.

Reexamining the Costs of the Iran Deal

In Slate, Joshua Keating reevaluates the Iran Deal that he once supported:

While the Obama administration kept its public expectations low, the president also suggested it was possible the deal might impact Iranian domestic politics by empowering moderates within the ruling regime. After all, moderate President Hassan Rouhani was elected on the premise that through improved relations with the West, he could deliver economic growth to Iran. Rouhani got his nuclear deal and won re-election last year, but it’s hard to say that his faction has been “empowered” beyond that. In the months following the deal, the conservative hard-liners who had opposed it stepped up arrests of political opponents in what was seen as a bid to re-establish their position. Human Rights Watch noted that “Iranian dual nationals and citizens returning from abroad were at particular risk of arrest by intelligence authorities, accused of being ‘Western agents.’ “Iran led the world in executions per capita in 2016 and global democracy monitor Freedom House stated last year that there was no indication that Rouhani’s moderates were “willing or able to push back against repressive forces and deliver the greater social freedoms he had promised.”

The protests that swept the country in January, sparked by economic grievances, suggest that most Iranians have not benefited from the lifting of sanctions, and the thousands of arrests and dozens killed in those protests certainly don’t indicate that Iranian security forces have become any more tolerant of dissent. The more recent acts of defiance by women protesting the country’s mandatory hijab rules may be another sign that Iranians are tired of waiting for the regime to reform at its own pace-and that the deal did not motivate the change they so desperately desire . . . 

Many critics, including former members of his administration, have charged that Obama’s reluctance to intervene to a greater extent in Syria was motivated in part by the desire to achieve the nuclear agreement with Bashar al-Assad’s patron, Iran. In the new documentary, The Final Year, which follows Obama’s foreign policy team throughout 2016, adviser Ben Rhodes essentially legitimizes this claim by defending Obama’s hands-off policy in part by saying that if the U.S. had intervened more forcefully in Syria, it would have dominated Obama’s second term and the JCPOA would have been impossible to achieve. Rhodes may be right, but it’s less and less clear as time goes on that this was the right trade-off. Looking at the devastating consequences of the Syrian war, not just for that country but for the region and the world, it’s hard not to argue that Obama should have made Syria his main and overwhelming foreign policy focus, to the exclusion of nearly everything else, Iran deal be damned.

It appears no one has a reliable, recent number of the death toll in Syria; estimates range from 320,000 to 470,000, and even that high number comes from February 2016. (Official estimates of Iraq War casualties range from 110,000 to 460,000.) U.S. military intervention can generate hundreds of thousands of casualties . . . just like what happens when the U.S. military stands on the sidelines.

ADDENDUM: When President Trump, seemingly in jest, suggests that Congressional Democrats committed “treason” by not applauding during his State of the Union speech . . . if the president doesn’t pay much attention to what he says, or seems to not know or care the meanings of the words he uses . . . why should we?

Culture

The Eagles Win Their First Super Bowl

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Making the click-through worthwhile: The Philadelphia Eagles get their long-sought Lombardi Trophy, and some Philadelphians get their long-sought excuse to smash things; a few ominous signs in the stock markets that will probably be exploited by the president’s critics; California Democrats lurch to the left and tout a wildly unworkable proposal; and where I’ll be next weekend.

A Great Night for Eagles Fans, a Rough Night for Philadelphia Insurance Companies

That’s great, Philadelphia. You deserve all of this joy after so many years of disappointment.

And a lot of the city is still standing after last night. Just not quite all of it.

Philadelphia is cleaning up after its late-night street celebrations, where some overzealous fans smashed windows, climbed traffic lights and trashed some convenience stores.

Rowdy fans clambered atop the awning at the swanky Ritz Carlton Hotel on Broad Street near City Hall, jumping off into the crowd in what one Twitter post calls “Ritz Carlton Skydiving.” The awning could be seen collapsing later with a large group of people on top of it. It’s not clear if anyone was injured. Nearby, windows were smashed at a Macy’s department store.

And apparently no amount of grease in the world can keep some Eagles fans from climbing poles in celebration. A few managed to shimmy up traffic lights and street sign poles on Broad Street. And after 1 a.m., the only people allowed inside the Wawa convenience store were police officers.

An observation: No one is ever so overcome by euphoria and the joy of victory that they turn their own car upside down — suggesting that there’s a little more self-control at work than the hooligans would claim.

Could Investors Have a Bumpy Ride Even as the Economy Grows?

Investors have enjoyed a really, really, really good run in the stock market for the past year or so. No bull market lasts forever, and every good run ends with something of a “correction” as stock prices get back in line with their earnings ratio.

Are we witnessing the beginning of the “correction”? Apparently the Dow futures are down nearly 300 points this morning. Friday brought a good jobs report, but the Dow Jones Industrial Average still dropped 666 points. (The market of the devil!)

A week ago:

Goldman Sachs believes “correction signals are flashing” and is advising its clients to prepare for a correction in the coming months as investors pour cash into the stock market.

“Whatever the trigger, a correction of some kind seems a high probability in the coming months,” Peter Oppenheimer, chief global equity strategist at Goldman Sachs, wrote Monday. “Our Goldman Sachs Bull/Bear Market Indicator is at elevated levels, although the continuation of low core inflation and easy monetary policy suggests that a correction is more likely than a bear market.”

The S&P 500 has entered the longest period since 1929 without a correction of more than 5 percent, the strategist explained. And while bear markets risks are “low,” Oppenheimer wouldn’t be surprised to see a market re-rating in the next few months.

“Drawdowns within bull markets of 10 percent or more are not uncommon,” Oppenheimer added. “The average bull market ‘correction’ is 13 percent over four months and takes just four months to recover.”

This is why the president ought to be a little careful when touting the boom in the stock markets in his first year. The correction shouldn’t give back anything close to the 31 percent it gained in Trump’s first year. But we may see a decline in the coming weeks or months, and the president’s foes in the media will probably eagerly label it a sign of the “Trump Depression.”

California’s Future Looks Depressingly Clear

If we thought California was liberal before, apparently we haven’t seen anything yet.

[Winning a Democratic primary] means staking out the most liberal stance on issues such as single-payer health care in California, a highly expensive initiative that failed in the legislature last year. The push is in response to the uncertainty surrounding health-care revisions in Washington, but it is estimated to cost twice the state’s annual budget.

Candidates will be forced to defend California’s “sanctuary state” status on immigration and push investment in the solar power and electric car industries to reach strict environmental goals. They also will have to address a sexual harassment scandal that, in Democratic consultant Bill Carrick’s description, “hangs like a black cloud” over a State Capitol where two Democratic lawmakers have resigned and another has been suspended.

The single-payer health plan is likely to strike you as the most unrealistic plan and predictable failure imaginable.

California is undertaking an ambitious bid to establish a single-payer health care system, and now its plan has a price tag: $400 billion a year.

The state legislature has been debating a plan this year to implement a government insurance program to cover all Californians, including those without legal status.

It’s a very generous proposal, as currently conceived. The state would pay for almost all of its residents’ medical expenses — inpatient, outpatient, emergency services, dental, vision, mental health, and nursing home care — under the plan, and Californians would not have any premiums, copays, or deductibles. Those sweeping benefits drive up costs.

Think about it, if this goes into effect, if someone comes into the country illegally, the state of California will pay every penny of the bill for all of that person’s health care. I’m half-tempted to let them try it just for the “teachable moment.” The odds are good that the $400 billion estimate is low because it’s not accounting for the population shifts that would follow enactment of such a law; California would instantly become the destination of choice for everyone with health problems in the entire world.

The state already has a “severe” doctor shortage. Researchers recommend at least 60 doctors for every 100,000 people; only two of nine regions in the state meet that threshold. The Inland Empire has just 39 doctors for every 100,000 people. How many more people will head to doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospitals when the state is picking up the tab?

You know why California is dysfunctional? Because anyone who tells Democratic primary voters “we can’t afford it” or “this is unworkable” will lose the primary and thus lose the election.

In other news, Dianne Feinstein, who’s seemed a little confused lately, is seeking a fifth full term at age 84.

ADDENDUM: If you’re heading to the Leadership Program of the Rockies in Colorado Spring this coming weekend, I hope to see you there.

Politics & Policy

A Groundhog Day Miracle: Trump’s Stellar State of the Union Numbers

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Happy Groundhog Day! Or, as New York mayor De Blasio calls today, DAWN OF VENGEANCE. Allegedly he is skipping today’s ritual murder festivities, but we know that after-hours, when everyone has gone home, De Blasio will stalk the night, striking fear in the heart of every groundhog.

Look What Dr. Jekyll Can Do When Mr. Hyde Takes the Night Off!

Yes, Trump critics and skeptics are much less likely to want to sit through watching the State of the Union, so the audience is somewhat self-selecting. But the public assessment of Trump’s Tuesday night address is gangbusters:

A combined 62 percent of speech-watchers called Trump’s performance “excellent” or “good,” with 17 percent saying Trump did only a fair job, and another 20 percent calling the speech “poor.”

The sample consists of Americans aged 18 or older who said they watched the speech, either live or after it happened. It does not include people who said they watched or listened to news reports about the speech, or who didn’t see or hear anything about the speech at all.

One reason Trump’s numbers were so strong: The party-ID breakdown of the sample of speech-watchers was significantly more Republican than the overall electorate — 43 percent of poll respondents said they are Republicans, 29 percent are Democrats and 28 percent are independents.

When a president whose approval rating is in the low 40s steps out into the spotlight and delivers an address that leaves 62 percent applauding, we should sit up and take notice. He doesn’t have to be this unpopular. He’s got a good speechwriting team, he delivers his remarks well, and he’s got a compelling story to tell and a strong argument to make. I’d like to think that someone close to the president could remind him of the popularity of Disciplined, Policy-Focused Trump, and how much more political leverage his Dr. Jekyll persona has compared to his Mr. Hyde one.

Why Democrats Won’t Seriously Consider Trump’s Immigration Deal Offer

I realize it’s probably Memo Day, but let’s look ahead to where the immigration debate will be in the coming weeks. Funding for the government runs out on February 8; lawmakers are trying to put together another funding extension bill to keep things going through March 23.

In the New York Times, Thomas Edsall angers readers by declaring, “Trump has Democrats right where he wants them.”

The Trump proposal — which a lot of immigration restrictionists such as Mark Krikorian don’t like — offers a path to citizenship not just to the 690,000 registered Dreamers, but to 1.8 million who did not register for the program but are still eligible. That is a huge priority for the Democratic party.

In exchange, Trump wants $25 billion for the border wall, to shift priorities from family reunification to a skills-based merit system and limit family reunification to spouses and minor children, and to end the Diversity Immigrant Visa program. Needless to say, to most Democrats, those changes represent three enormous concessions to get that one huge priority enacted. Univision anchor Jorge Ramos spells out the perspective of many on the left quite explicitly: “Yes, the fight starts with the Dreamers but the goal is to legalize their parents, their siblings and the majority of the 11M undocumented immigrants. This is the REAL immigration reform (not what Trump and the GOP are proposing).” In short, citizenship for all 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States is the ultimate goal, and anything short of that does not meet their criteria of “real immigration reform.”

Daniel Drezner writes that “liberals have excellent reasons to reject any bargain with [Trump immigration-policy adviser Stephen] Miller on both policy and principled grounds.”

If Democrats want to reject the Trump proposal, that’s their right. But rejecting Trump’s offer, and/or not making a serious counter-offer, means that in the meantime, some of the Dreamers will get deported, as well as other illegal immigrants.

Among those four policies — 1.6 million Dreamers, no border wall, extended-family reunification status quo, the Diversity Immigrant Visa program status quo — Democrats have to prioritize. If they refuse to make a deal, they get the last three, but they don’t get the first one.

Democrats may believe they’ll have more leverage in ten months or so after the midterm elections. In other words, Democrats believe that time is on their side.

But no matter how the midterm elections shake out, Trump controls immigration enforcement for the next three years. Attempted border crossings are down, and arrests and deportations are up. Trump believes that time is on his side.

Yes, the pro-amnesty portion of the electorate will be enraged at the Trump administration. But the pro-amnesty portion of the electorate was enraged at Donald Trump on Election Day 2016, too. The pro-amnesty portion of the electorate might get irked with Democrats as DACA deportations continue. And the pro-amnesty portion of the electorate might get louder and sound more like Ramos, allowing Republicans to turn the 2018 midterms into a national referendum on amnesty. That would make life much more difficult for all of those red-state Senate Democrats up for reelection and all of those Democrats hoping to win swing House districts.

If Democrats were wiser, they might pocket the 1.6 million Dreamers, throw some money for the wall (knowing it will take forever to build and that they can run ads against Trump for breaking his promise to have Mexico pay for the wall), agree to some sort of cap on extended family reunification, and, say, cut the Diversity Immigrant Visa program by some percentage. Then they can run on “we saved the Dreamers, now let’s save the American dream” in 2018. Any concessions they make now can be reversed when there’s a Democratic president and Congress, and they can tell their voters that with enough effort, that can happen in January 2021.

But I’m not sure that rank-and-file grassroots Democrats really accept that they lost the election, and the minority party doesn’t have that much leverage in situations like this. Yes, Chuck Schumer could try to shut down the government again, but that’s punishing a Democratic constituency that votes (federal workers) for a Democratic constituency that legally cannot vote (Dreamers and other illegal immigrants). Trump and the Republicans would love to campaign on the theme, “the Democrats care more about illegal immigrants than they care about you.”

Democrats are really convinced the midterm electorate is going to empower them come January 2019 . . . as convinced as they were that Hillary Clinton would be taking the oath of office on January 20, 2017. We will see.

The Inadvertently Libertarian Trump Administration

On the home page today, I have one last point on the Koch network winter meeting: Don’t let the “the Kochs are jumping on the Trump train” headlines fool you. There’s still a giant personal and philosophical gap between the Koch brothers and the president. It’s just that the policy results of the administration and this Republican Congress have been a lot of what the Kochs like and not so much of what they don’t like, so they’re willing to put in a lot of effort to keep things that way.

ADDENDA: Our Andy McCarthy on the Mark Corallo–Hope Hicks meeting:

Like so much of what we’ve seen in the collusion/obstruction investigations, this episode makes one wince. The president and his subordinates decided to try to mislead experienced reporters. They did so after apparently deliberating for hours over what to say, under circumstances in which (a) it was nigh certain that the truth would come out and (b) Trump did not consult with his own lawyers before the statement was issued. It is an embarrassing display of poor character and ineptitude. Congress, however, has yet to make criminal stupidity a crime.

Heading into the weekend, I’d love to believe that the Philadelphia Eagles can provide us with a Rocky-esque underdog story and spare us another offseason of gloating New England Patriots fans. Alas, I do not foresee it happening. Last Super Bowl I rooted for the Patriots and you saw what happened; by halftime, I was convinced I had genuinely developed power over time and space and could tank anyone just by rooting for them. Just how good are Belichick and company? Good enough to overcome that!

Hopefully the commercials will be good.

Politics & Policy

Some Real ‘Bombshell News’ in the Mueller Investigation

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Making the click-through worthwhile today: Finally, a source I trust in the Mueller investigation, good news for a lot of Republican governors, why Trey Gowdy chose to retire, and Michael Wolff wears out his welcome.

The Days of the Triumph of Hope Over Experience May Be Coming to an End

Now the Mueller investigation is really getting dangerous for the Trump administration, and perhaps key adviser Hope Hicks in particular.

The latest witness to be called for an interview about the episode was Mark Corallo, who served as a spokesman for Mr. Trump’s legal team before resigning in July. Mr. Corallo received an interview request last week from the special counsel and has agreed to the interview, according to three people with knowledge of the request.

Mr. Corallo is planning to tell Mr. Mueller about a previously undisclosed conference call with Mr. Trump and Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, according to the three people. Mr. Corallo planned to tell investigators that Ms. Hicks said during the call that emails written by Donald Trump Jr. before the Trump Tower meeting — in which the younger Mr. Trump said he was eager to receive political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians — “will never get out.” That left Mr. Corallo with concerns that Ms. Hicks could be contemplating obstructing justice, the people said.

In a statement on Wednesday, a lawyer for Ms. Hicks strongly denied Mr. Corallo’s allegations.

“As most reporters know, it’s not my practice to comment in response to questions from the media. But this warrants a response,” said the lawyer, Robert P. Trout. “She never said that. And the idea that Hope Hicks ever suggested that emails or other documents would be concealed or destroyed is completely false.”

I’ve chatted with Corallo on and off since the days of the Fred Thompson campaign in 2008. He’s a straight shooter, an indisputable conservative, and it’s worth noting that throughout 2016, as I was looking at the Trump campaign and seeing a circus that couldn’t organize a two-car motorcade, Corallo was sending me good-natured notes saying, “Yes, but you know Trump’s going to win, right?”

In other words, Mark Corallo is a pro’s pro who went to work for the Trump legal team completely on board and who wanted to help the president . . . well, make America great again. When he left after two months with some reports that he was troubled by what he was seeing . . . that was a deeply ominous sign.

If Corallo ends up offering sort of critical testimony, this is not because he’s a Judas or because he’s part of the establishment or some sort of “Deep State” sellout. It’s because he saw stuff that genuinely struck him as either illegal or unethical or both and he’s not the kind of person who’s willing to lie under oath about it.

Guess Which Governors Begin 2018 With a Nice, Shiny Approval Rating?

Once again, the ten most popular governors in America are all Republicans; congratulations to Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Kay Ivey of Alabama, Phil Scott of Vermont, Matt Mead of Wyoming, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Gary Herbert of Utah, Asa Hutchison of Arkansas, Greg Abbott of Texas, and Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota.

Baker, Hogan, Ivey, Scott, Hutchison, and Abbott are up for reelection this year, and right now the outlook is sunny and bright for all of them. I would note that none of the above names are really “celebrity” governors or well-known outside their states; they’re workhorses, not show horses, who are focusing on . . . well, governing. What a concept!

The outlook is cloudier for the least popular governors in America. Chris Christie is at the bottom, although he’s already out of office. Dan Malloy of Connecticut announced last year he’s not seeking another term. Sam Brownback of Kansas is about to become the U.S. Ambassador-at-large for Religious Freedom. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma is term-limited, as is

Suzana Martinez, once one of the brightest rising stars in the GOP.

Bill Walker, an independent governor of Alaska, looks vulnerable heading into a reelection year; he’s at just 29 percent approval, 55 percent disapproval.

The outlook isn’t much better for GOP governor Bruce Rauner in Illinois, with a 31 percent approval, and 55 percent disapproval.

Paul LePage of Maine and Rick Snyder of Michigan are underwater, but both are term-limited as well.

Finally, Scott Walker clocks in with 43 percent approval, 50 percent disapproval. Yes, we’ve seen Democrats write Walker’s political obituary time and time again, but there’s probably good reasons for Wisconsin Republicans to take the 2018 political environment seriously.

Other bits of good news for the GOP:

In Florida, Senator Rick Scott is term-limited, and Republicans seriously hope he runs against incumbent Democrat governor Bill Nelson. His approval rating is 58 percent, his disapproval just 31 percent. Nice strong numbers for another statewide race, if Scott wants it. Sometimes he sounds like he really does.

In West Virginia, changing parties is working out well for Jim Justice. “Forty-seven percent of registered voters in West Virginia approved of Justice’s job performance during the final three months of the year, while 39 percent disapproved.”

In Arizona, Doug Ducey’s numbers look . . . okay. Not great, but okay: 42 percent approval, 36 percent disapproval.

Trey Gowdy Is Burned Out

A long while back, I heard a rumor that two members of South Carolina’s congressional delegation would not be there for very long — that Mick Mulvaney was being considered for a job in the administration and that Trey Gowdy was being considered for some judgeship. In February 2017, Mulvaney became director of the Office of Management and Budget, but Gowdy remained where he was in Congress.

This morning in Politico, we learned that Gowdy was indeed offered a federal judgeship recently, a pretty impressive one it sounds like, and he turned it down.

White House counsel Don McGahn in recent weeks broached Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, about filling a slot on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals — a newly vacated judgeship that Gowdy has eyed before, according to sources close to Gowdy. His fellow Palmetto State Republicans, Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham, also urged him to accept the post.

But Gowdy, who’s long complained about the increasingly toxic nature of politics, turned down the position, the sources said.

That’s pretty burned out!

If you’re a fan of Gowdy, the good news is that his retirement statement declared, “This is the right time for me to leave politics and return to the justice system. Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system.” Perhaps he is planning a return to a courtroom in a judicial role after recharging his batteries.

Separately, it’s fascinating how South Carolina consistently “punches above its weight” in Congress. Back in 2011, the state’s delegation to the House included Tim Scott (now a senator), Joe Wilson (now assistant Republican whip), Jeff Duncan, Trey Gowdy (eventually chairman of the Special Committee on Benghazi and Committee on Oversight and Government Reform), Mick Mulvaney (now OMB director) and the lone Democrat, James Clyburn (House Assistant Minority Leader).

Back in 1999, the House delegation included one future governor (Mark Sanford) and two future senators (Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint).

ADDENDA: Michael Wolff, whose book Fire and Fury might be better moved to the fiction section, has apparently worn out his welcome on Morning Joe. This morning, Mika Brzezinski abruptly cut off an interview segment when Wolff implausibly claimed he had never accused Nikki Haley of having an affair with Trump.

“You might be having a fun time playing a little game dancing around this, but you’re slurring a woman, it’s disgraceful,” Brzezinski said.

Economy & Business

The Economy Is Humming Along Nicely

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Making the click-through worthwhile: Good news on both job creation and wages, why Congressman Joseph Kennedy III brings too much family baggage to the cultural moment, good reviews for the president’s speech, and a universally-familiar look of confusion.

Can You Stand Some More Good Economic News?

Take your pick, do you prefer good news about job creation . . . 

The new year got off to a strong start for job creation, with businesses adding 234,000 [jobs] in January, according to a report Wednesday from ADP and Moody’s Analytics.

Economists surveyed by Reuters had been looking for private payrolls to grow by 185,000.

Job creation was concentrated largely in service-related industries, which contributed 212,000 to the total.

However, within that sector some of the better-paying industries showed solid gains: Trade, transportation, and utilities led with 51,000, education and health services added 47,000 and professional and businesses services contributed 46,000. Leisure and hospitality services also grew by 46,000.

Or good news about wages?

U.S. workers’ wages and benefits grew 2.6 percent last year, the fastest 12-month pace since the spring of 2015.

The 12-month gain in wages and benefits came despite a slight slowdown at the end of last year with wages and benefits rising 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter, a tiny dip from a 0.7 percent gain in the third quarter. Still, the 12-month gain was an improvement from a 2.2 percent gain for the 12 months ending in December 2016.

If the economy is still humming like this in November, and incumbent Republicans perform badly in the midterms, it will blow up the conventional political wisdom of, “it’s the economy, stupid.” Those of us who are not fans of the daily drama and perpetual controversies of this White House will have evidence to support the argument that Trump’s tweets and tirades are not just silly distractions; they’re enough to counteract what would be a key political strength for most administrations.

Or maybe Republicans will do fine in the midterms, and all of the daily drama really doesn’t matter that much. Time will tell.

Joe Kennedy III and America’s Long Overdue Reckoning about His Family

There’s a wide chasm between how Democrats perceive the Kennedys and the actual truth, and it’s not petty to keep pointing out that gap. There’s a stack of evidence showing that a lot of the Kennedys were horrible, selfish, abusive people who were somehow stage-managed and airbrushed into secular saints. The list of scandals runs generations, from lobotomizing Rosemary Kennedy, to JFK making Jackie get electroshock treatments, to the multiple allegations against William Kennedy Smith, to Patrick Kennedy driving under the influence. And of course, Chappaquiddick.

By Kennedy standards, Congressman Joe Kennedy III is an accomplished 37-year-old: Stanford and Harvard Law, two years in the Peace Corps, several years as an assistant district attorney. Defying his family stereotype, he doesn’t drink. But let’s not kid ourselves; if his name were Joe Smith and his family wasn’t an icon in American politics, he would have had a much tougher time winning a Democratic congressional primary in Massachusetts at age 32.

That’s why there’s a good reason to cringe when Joe Kennedy III, grandson of Bobby Kennedy and great-nephew of John F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, stands before the nation giving the Democratic response to the State of the Union address and laments “a system forcefully rigged towards those at the top.”

Last night, the congressman contended, “The [administration’s] record is a rebuke to our highest American ideal, the belief that we are all worthy, that we are all equal, that we all count, in the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God and our government.”

The Kennedy family spent the better part of two generations fighting for equality in the eyes of the law for everyone not named Kennedy. As a review of the forthcoming film Chappaquiddick declared, “The fact that the Kennedy family — the original postwar dynasty of the one percent — possessed, and exerted, the influence to squash the case is the essence of what Chappaquiddick means. The Kennedys lived outside the law.”

Let us also acknowledge that when someone from a clan that has been touted as “America’s Royal Family” since at least 1962 sings the praises for equality . . . it rings hollow.

Joe Kennedy III may be an absolute gentleman with women and I hope he is. But when he salutes America’s women for “bravely saying, ‘me too,’” some of us can only think of John F. Kennedy bedding 19-year-old White House interns and Ted Kennedy making a “waitress sandwich” with Chris Dodd. For a long time, the Kennedy men embodied everything that #MeToo opposes. Some people may object to this point, declaring it unfair to hold past generations’ sins against the congressman. Of course, if his name were Smith or Jones, would he be giving the response to the State of the Union? Last night Democrats wanted to cash in on the benefits of the family legacy without acknowledging the dark side of that legacy.

My Fellow Americans, the State of Our Union Is Long

The reviews are in and there’s a broad consensus that President Trump gave a great speech. It’s just a shame that this good mood won’t last, because the president will eventually lose his temper and either say or tweet something controversial and un-presidential. As the boss observes, “This point has been made over and over, but if Trump tried to strike this kind of tone all the time, he’d probably be at 47 percent and the party would be in much better shape heading into November.”

I’d love to be proven wrong, but I just don’t think Trump has the discipline to fume and vent privately.

You’ll recall Monday I broke the news that the president would mention prison reform. The section on the topic wasn’t long, but it was notable that it was included: “As America regains its strength, this opportunity must be extended to all citizens. That is why this year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.” This is part of how State of the Union addresses turn into laundry lists — a lot of proposals get mentioned for a sentence or two, so that no part of the White House staff feels neglected.

Ramesh wanted to hear more of an agenda for the rest of the year:

The great exception is immigration, where he laid out a relatively detailed proposal in a way that will strike people without strong views on the subject as fair and sensible. Long stretches of the speech were, however, simply vacuous, as when Trump endorsed higher infrastructure investment and lower opioid addiction rates without saying a word about how these goods would be achieved. These were goals, not policies. One reason the speech was so heavy on shout-outs to heroes and victims in the audience was that the policy cupboard is pretty bare. Congressional Republicans don’t appear to have any more specific idea of what to do now than Trump does. The speech did nothing to fill the vacuum.

Jim Talent notes that Democrats bet big that the economy would not be roaring after the tax cuts passed . . . and now they’re paying the price:

Many conservatives are criticizing the Democrats for not applauding at the economic good news that the president cited. But the Democrats were in a box on this one. If they applauded, it would look like they agreed with what the president was saying — and remember that six weeks ago they not only voted against the tax bill but predicted doom if it passed. On the other hand, not applauding made them look churlish. They might have compromised by applauding perfunctorily, but there’s a good chance that would have pleased no one. It was a tough position to be in, but that’s what happens when the facts on the ground prove you so wrong so quickly, and your political opponents have a high-profile occasion to take advantage of it.

Jonah says he heard a lot that sounded like “compassionate conservatism” of the Bush years:

This was for the most part a conservative speech culturally and thematically. But except for some laudable bits about streamlining the bureaucracy and improving FDA policy, there wasn’t a hint of fiscal conservatism to it. Trump wants a huge increase in infrastructure spending and an end to the sequester for military spending, but he never mentioned the debt or deficit. Well, there was one mention of the word “deficit” — the “infrastructure deficit.” And he endorsed a new entitlement — paid family leave — while failing to mention any effort to reform the existing entitlements.

ADDENDA: Quite a few folks made remarks about Nancy Pelosi’s facial expressions during Trump’s address last night. I think that look of consternation is best described as, “that feeling when you’ve assembled the IKEA cabinet but for some reason you have a whole bag of screws left over.”

Politics & Policy

Can You Feel the State of the Union Excitement?

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The State of the Union address is tonight. The good news is you’ll probably see President Trump at his best. Last year, in his “joint address to Congress” — the traditional name for the address of a president who’s been in office a short time — I wrote that Trump calmed down, chilled out, and rose to the occasion. Of course, we know how the rest of the year went. The policy is pleasing, but the erratic behavior, fuming over television comments, and general lashing out at everyone demonstrated we shouldn’t read too much into one well-delivered speech on one night.

The bad news is the State of the Union address doesn’t really change very much, according to Gallup. They saw little change in Obama’s numbers most years, and a 2010 review of all of the addresses going back through the Carter years found “across all presidents, the average change in approval has been less than a one percentage-point decline.” Why do Americans watch the State of the Union address? Because it pre-empts most of what they usually watch on a lot of the channels.

It’s driven Allahpundit to beg the president to be bold and blow up the tradition:

You’ve all endured this miserable spectacle at some point in your lives. You know firsthand how insufferable it is. Instead of me having to convince you, the burden should be on you to convince me: Why wouldn’t America be better off with the president submitting a written statement to Congress in lieu of a speech, as presidents did for nearly the entire 19th century?

Lamenting the symbolism of the invited guests, he writes . . . 

SOTU stuntcasting via the guestlist is an especially feeble way to pander to key constituencies, prove one’s ideological virtue, medal in the Victim Olympics, and generally mug for the cameras on a night when the news media is entirely focused on the Capitol. It’s another reminder that no one really cares what’s being *said* at the event, only about the opportunity to see and be seen at it. The president gets camera time, the tools who elbow each other out of the way along the aisles to shake his hand get camera time, and the dopes bringing Heroes of the #Resistance as guests get camera time. It’s the polar opposite of what a written SOTU would be — a serious no-bells-or-whistles message, all content.

Meanwhile, Democratic congressman Joe Kennedy is giving the official response, Virginia state delegate Elizabeth Guzman is giving the Spanish-language response, Bernie Sanders will be giving his own response, Maxine Waters will be giving a response on BET, and Donna Edwards will deliver an address on behalf of the Working Families Party.

We can scoff, but this door opened when Michele Bachmann decided she would give “the Tea Party response” to the State of the Union in 2011.

They’re all fools to volunteer, of course. As I noted two years ago, the job of responding to the State of the Union address is cursed, and terrible fates befall just about everyone who does it.

1989: House Speaker Jim Wright gives the response; he resigns later in the year in an ethics scandal.

1996: Bob Dole gives the response, and later that year, loses the presidential race.

1998: Trent Lott gives the response; by 2002, he resigns as Senate majority leader after controversial comments about Strom Thurmond.

2002: Dick Gephardt gives the response; in 2004, he runs for president and flames out in Iowa.

2004: Senate minority leader Tom Daschle gives the response . . . and loses his reelection bid that year.

2007: Newly elected senator Jim Webb gives the response, eventually grows to hate the Senate, and chooses to not run for reelection.

2008: Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius goes on to become Health and Human Services secretary and promptly unveils Healthcare.gov to the world, lets President Obama stand before the country and tout a non-functioning web site.

2009: Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal. People still give him grief about sounding like Kenneth from 30 Rock.

2010: Virginia governor Bob McDonnell — convicted on corruption charges in 2014.

2011: Paul Ryan — obviously, there’s a lot more chapters left in the book of Ryan’s career, but 2012 didn’t go as he hoped.

2013: Marco Rubio — the infamous water-bottle incident.

In fact, I found some some lesser-known examples of this as well.

In 1986, Governor Eugene Gatling gave the response to President Reagan; his reelection bid was impeded by the infamous “unresolved election” of that year.

In 1999, Senator David Palmer of Maryland gave the address, and years later, after a tumultuous career of many long days and constantly being up against the clock, he was assassinated by a vast conspiracy.

In 2000, Senator Robert Kelly gave the response, and later that year, he was turned into a giant mutant jellyfish.

In 2012, Congressman Nicholas Brody gave the response, and within one year, he was executed in Iran.*

The response to the State of the Union address has turned into a political Aztec human-sacrifice altar, where rising stars of the party are given 15 minutes in the national spotlight and then ritually humiliated by fate within a few years.

*Okay, technically, these last four lawmakers only exist in the world of Benson, 24, X-Men, and Homeland.

Release The Memo! Release the Counter-Memo! Release the Kraken! Release Everything!

Look, at this point, I want to see the memo, and the Democrats’ counter-memo, and unless they involve the nuclear codes or something justifiably super-secret, I want to see the source documents, too. Let’s get all of this out into the light, instead of being subject to a seemingly endless campaign of strategic leaking.

That way, a lot of things will probably be clearer and make more sense, like why FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe departed his job with little warning, a few months earlier than expected. Quite a few folks in the political realm insisted the president must have somehow pushed McCabe out, but maybe there’s something bad coming the bureau’s way, and it’s best if he exits the building sooner rather than later:

In a recent conversation, Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, raised concerns about a forthcoming inspector general report. In that discussion, according to one former law enforcement official close to Mr. McCabe, Mr. Wray suggested moving Mr. McCabe into another job, which would have been a demotion.

Agents and lawyers expect the report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, to be highly critical of some F.B.I. actions in 2016, when the bureau was investigating both Hillary Clinton’s email use and the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia. The report is expected to address whether Mr. McCabe should have recused himself from the Clinton investigation because of his wife’s failed State Senate campaign, in which she accepted nearly a half-million dollars in contributions from the political organization of Terry McAuliffe, then the governor of Virginia, who is a longtime friend of Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Mr. McCabe did not become deputy director until after his wife was defeated, and records show that he disclosed her candidacy and sought ethics advice from senior F.B.I. officials.

But critics, including some inside the bureau itself, said he should have recused himself from the Clinton investigation. The F.B.I. has said Mr. McCabe played no role in his wife’s campaign.

This inspector general’s report isn’t out yet, so we’ll have to wait, but that sure doesn’t sound like the IG is going to say, “Nah, everything was hunky-dory, nothing to see here.”

Former FBI director James Comey tweeted, “Special Agent Andrew McCabe stood tall over the last 8 months, when small people were trying to tear down an institution we all depend on. He served with distinction for two decades.” Of course, he was presumably among those who saw no problem with McCabe working on the Clinton cases after his wife had benefited from McAuliffe’s giant campaign donations. Comey’s on the hook in this IG report, too.

If you haven’t already done so, please click through and read my soup-to-nuts look at the Koch Seminar Network winter meeting — covering everything from their outlook for 2018, criminal-justice reform, relationship with the Trump administration, achievements in the states, fights against campus speech codes, structural advantages . . . it will make the suits grumble less when I submit my expense report for this trip.

On immigration, a previous sticking point between the Kochs and the Trump administration, it sounds like the network wants to “get to yes” and find an immigration deal they can support.

“The proposal from the White House is a good proposal and we want to applaud them for it,” said Brian Hooks, president of the Charles Koch Foundation and Charles Koch Institute, emphasizing that his nuanced perspective of the White House’s policy can’t be summarized briefly. “It is thoughtful to provide legal certainty for Dreamers, and a path to citizenship is enormous incentive to continue to contribute to this country.” But he also emphasizes that the network will not support “arbitrary reduction to future immigration levels” or “ending family migration in the absence of an alternative.” But they leave the door open to making changes to family-based immigration policies. “If they want to have a conversation about whether family status is the best standard to judge eligibility” for immigration, “that is a conversation that we think is appropriate to have.”

ADDENDA: In case you missed it, my magazine piece on the growing pains of Bernie Sanders’s grassroots group, Our Revolution:

“It’s a little like the Howard Dean movement on steroids,” says Brad Todd, a political strategist who was the lead consultant behind the National Republican Congressional Committee’s strategy to retake the House in 2010. “The story’s been written about the traditional Republican-party leadership being overthrown by Donald Trump. What hasn’t been written as much is the story of the traditional Democratic party run by Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Al Gore being overthrown by people who don’t care to call themselves Democrats much.”

Politics & Policy

Expect Criminal-Justice and Prison Reform from President Trump Tuesday Night

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Let’s start this week off with some news: President Trump will talk about criminal-justice reform and prison reform in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

For several months now, the president’s son-in-law and key adviser Jared Kushner has had monthly meetings with Mark Holden, Koch Industries general counsel; Brooke Rollins, president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation; and Doug Deason, a wealthy businessman and advocate for criminal-justice reform. The conservative groups aim to bring prison reforms and anti-recidivism programs that have achieved sterling results in Texas and Georgia to the nation’s federal prison system.

About 10 percent of all incarcerated individuals in the United States are in federal prison. “If they were a state, they would be the largest state in the country,” Deason said. To bring these kinds of anti-recidivism programs to federal prisons, “all it requires is an executive order instructing Jeff Sessions to open up the Bureau of Prisons to outside service providers,” he explained. “Right now they do so, but only on a very limited basis.”

The Koch network hopes to add momentum to the effort with new initiative called Safe Streets and Second Chances, which will research the most effective methods across eight prisons in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana, featuring a “randomized controlled trial involving more than 1,000 participants in a mix of urban and rural communities.” The research will be directed by Dr. Carrie Pettus-Davis of Washington University in St. Louis.

The aim is to provide “a counselor for a prisoner from the time he enters prison to years after he’s left, to stop this cycle of recidivism,” Deason said, and “have them leave better equipped to be a productive member of society than when they went in.”

Deason characterizes Sessions as open to proposals on prison reform and programs focused on a prisoner’s re-entry into society, but still “closed-minded” or reducing mandatory minimum sentences.

One other bit of surprising news in the same room Sunday night: Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told reporters that his optimism about an immigration deal, on a scale of one to ten, is “about an eight.”

The Koch Brothers’ Rorschach Test

Saturday afternoon at the Koch winter meeting, I was watching a panel of leaders from community-building and social-capital-building nonprofits: the Cara Program in Chicago, which helps workplace skills; Phoenix Multisport, a Boston-based peer-to-peer recovery organization for young addicts; Rising Tide Capital, which helps low-income individuals start businesses in Jersey City, New Jersey; and Chrysalis, which helps low-income and homeless individuals in Los Angeles prepare for, find, and retain employment.

The Koch network doesn’t single-handedly keep these organizations going, but their financial and operational assistance is considerable. Stand Together, part of the Koch network of organizations, provided Rising Tide $350,000 last year; the group’s annual budget is $5 million.

It struck me that the reaction to the Koch brothers is a pretty good example of how politics has gotten worse over the past two decades. (Alternatively, if you believe American politics has been getting worse for a long time, that worsening accelerated in just the past decade or so.) To hear Harry Reid and a lot of Democrats tell it, they’re “the shadowy Koch brothers.” David Axelrod called them “contract killers.” Liberal columnist Mark Morford once compared them to a combination of “a ruthless drug kingpin, a mafia crime lord, the willful blindness of the NRA, the combined CEOs of Monsanto, Exxon, and RJ Reynolds and a couple scared old wolverines with God complex and a penchant for contaminating the world.” A documentary labeled them “the one percent at its very worst.”

The very worst? They donate more to charity that most of us will ever earn in our entire lives. David Koch and his charitable foundation have pledged or contributed “more than $1.2 billion to cancer research, medical centers, educational institutions, arts and cultural institutions, and to assist public-policy organizations.” The Charles Koch Foundation donates tens of millions of dollars to colleges and universities each year; in 2014, it gave $25 million to the United Negro College Fund.

Yes, the Kochs are libertarian-leaning, free-market advocates for limited government and a big supporter of a lot of Republicans. As noted last year, they’ve rolled up big wins in large part because they don’t just throw up a bunch of television ads. Their organizations like Americans for Prosperity and the Libre Initiative are established to operate 365 days a year, not just around election time. Their organizations pay attention to state legislatures and state attorneys general. They notice and get involved in local tax fights like a referendum on a light rail plan for Nashville.

One can argue about the merits of this policy or that one. But if our national political discourse were better, saner, and more accurate, the Kochs would be universally seen as generous guys who are completely convinced that private organizations, non-profits, and free enterprise can tackle the country’s biggest problems. Maybe they have too much faith in the free market; the nonprofits mentioned above said they get about 10 percent of their funding from government grants. But they’re not evil, they’re not greedy, and you don’t invite two dozen reporters to your organization’s meeting if you’re “shadowy.”

Of course, they’re just one vivid example of a broader trend: the Kochs can’t just be wealthy guys with a clear philosophy on how to fix the world’s problems; they have to be monsters. The tax bill has to be “ARMAGEDDON!” A Republican president can’t just be bad; George W. Bush and Donald Trump, two very different men, both have to be the next Hitler. The White House proposal on immigration reform can’t be merely flawed, it has to be “a white supremacist ransom note.”

Who in their right mind would want to be involved in politics when people react like this?

The Eternal Prediction of a Democratic Comeback in Texas

You may have noticed in the great big 2018 open House seat roundup that a lot of Texas Republicans are retiring; the GOP will be aiming to hold seats in the second, third, fifth, sixth, 21st, and 26th congressional districts.

You’re probably going to hear a lot in the coming year about a potential Democratic comeback in the Lone Star State. The Republicans have been riding high in Texas for a long time, and nothing lasts forever. Donald Trump’s style of Republicanism may not be quite the best fit with the state of Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, and George W. Bush; Trump won Texas by nine percentage points, the smallest margin for a Republican since 1996. And Texas Democrats arguably have no place to go but up.

And then there’s the cover of Texas Monthly, featuring Democratic Representative Beto O’Rourke, and an epic-length featured article that declares there are “signs of a nascent Beto-mania taking hold.”

Since the beginning of 2017, O’Rourke has been profiled in the Washington Post, the Texas Observer,Vanity Fair, and Rolling Stone. His time playing in punk-rock bands during his high school and college years has proved irresistible for headline writers, who have identified him as “Ted Cruz’s Punk-Rock Problem” and asserted that his “Punk-Rock Past Could Help Him.” An in-production documentary titled Beto vs. Cruz promises that the coming Senate race will be the “most outrageous and consequential political fight of 2018.” O’Rourke’s fund-raising has been robust, with $3.8 million raised in the second and third quarters of 2017 — more than Cruz — and his campaigning has been relentless. O’Rourke plans to visit all 254 counties in Texas before the election, and his traveling town halls have drawn surprisingly large crowds in traditional Republican strongholds like Midland, Amarillo, and Tyler, where he attracted so many people to the restaurant Don Juan on the Square that he had to move the meeting out onto the sidewalk to comply with the fire code. (He answered questions for twenty minutes through a bullhorn.)

A Democratic group commissioned a survey and found incumbent Republican Ted Cruz ahead but not by a large margin, 45 percent to 37 percent. Of course, the organization didn’t talk much about the fact that the same survey found 61 percent of respondents didn’t have an opinion about O’Rourke, and only 20 percent had a favorable opinion of him. In other words, most Texans haven’t heard of him.

Beto O’Rourke is enjoying the best cover of Texas Monthly since . . . well, Wendy Davis and Julian and Joaquin Castro declared “Game On!” in the summer of 2014.

In that issue, Robert Draper wrote:

The Texas Democratic Party has suddenly found a spring in its step — and not just because of Davis’s performance. The national debut of Castro himself in a much-lauded keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention last summer underscored the growing recognition that a new Texas — replete with millions of untapped and largely nonwhite voters — might be there for the party’s taking. Then came the news, immediately following Barack Obama’s impressive defeat of Mitt Romney last November, that the grassroots brainiacs behind the president’s campaign would soon be descending on the Lone Star State in the form of Battleground Texas: a well-funded organization dedicated to the labor-intensive, long-term effort to turn America’s biggest red state blue.

The indelible image of that slender blond lady in the pink tennis shoes provided stark documentation. This was real. This could happen. Texas could, at minimum, become a state where elections are actually competitive.

That was in the magazine’s August issue; in November, the Texas Democrats went out and turned in perhaps the worst performance for any state party in a midterm election in recent memory. None of the 15 Democratic candidates running statewide surpassed 40 percent; Davis actually performed best with 38.9 percent.

Besides winning every statewide race in a landslide, Republicans added two state Senate seats and three state House seats, adding to their wide legislative majorities. Battleground Texas turned out to be an expensive, colossal failure; despite all the talk about Democrats having this new, fantastic get-out-the-vote operation, Davis won 300,000 fewer votes than the last Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

As for the cover trio, former state senator Wendy Davis is leading marches of women dressed like Handmaid’s Tale characters; Joaquin Castro is still a San Antonio congressman, predicting a Democratic comeback in 2018; and Julian Castro became secretary of Housing and Urban Development and might as well have entered the witness protection program.

I suppose I should give Texas Monthly a little credit for noting on the January cover that O’Rourke is “The Democrats’ (Latest) Great Hope” and the sub-headline asking, “Does Beto O’Rourke stand a chance against Ted Cruz?” (If you have to ask that, then it probably means you weren’t comfortable declaring outright, “Beto O’Rourke stands a chance against Ted Cruz,” huh?) The article by Eric Benson even mentions the magazine’s 2014 Draper article and notes, “Since the Democrats last won a statewide race more than two decades ago, hallucinations of a coming restoration have been frequent and fantastical, with a series of would-be saviors vanquished by consistently large margins.”

After a lengthy and largely positive portrait of the congressman, the piece admits that for O’Rourke to win, “he needs to be historically right, and the Castro brothers and every other Texas Democrat who might want a higher office and sat out the 2018 elections need to be historically wrong.”

As I said at the beginning, it’s possible, even likely, that Democrats will improve upon their abysmal performance in the 2014 midterms. But it’s difficult to tell if Texas Democrats are really coming back or not, because the national and state media have been so desperate to see a comeback happen that they find the evidence to write this story every single cycle.

ADDENDA: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it looks like John Kasich wants to run for president again. At the very least, he’s got the schedule of a man who wants to run for president in 2020. Tonight he’s on Seth Meyers (how many other governors get to make appearances on late-night shows?). Tuesday, the day of the State of the Union address, he’s appearing on Morning Joe, CNN’s New Day, and Nicole Wallace’s show on MSNBC. He’s visiting New Hampshire on April 3.

Finally, his team declared to his mailing list yesterday, “An Ohio poll was released last week that showed Gov. Kasich continues to receive high approval ratings in his job as governor with a 57 percent approval rating and only 29 percent disapproval. This is exceptional in a key battleground state like Ohio. Conversely, President Trump’s rating in the state is 43 percent approve and 52 percent disapprove.”

Why are you bragging about your popularity in a battleground state, and how you’re more popular than the president, if you’re not thinking about either challenging him in the GOP primary or running as an independent?

Politics & Policy

Uh-Oh. The Immigration Hawks Are Underwhelmed by the White House’s Proposal.

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Mark Krikorian, who probably knows the details of immigration policy inside and out better than anyone, is not pleased with the White House’s offer on immigration reform.

The amnesty and chain migration components are fatally flawed. The fact that the amnesty would include a path to citizenship (i.e., the beneficiaries would eventually get green cards like regular immigrants) is fine with me – if you’re going to amnesty illegal aliens, just rip off the band-aid and get it over with. Instead, the issue is the size of the amnesty, or rather the universe of people who would be amnestied.

If – as the White House promised just days ago – the amnesty were confined to those who now actually have DACA work permits (or even those who had them but didn’t renew), administering the amnesty would be relatively straightforward. All those people are already in the DHS database, and even if they were all re-examined as part of the amnesty process (to weed out the fraudsters that snuck past Obama’s eagle-eyed DHS), it could still be done relatively quickly and with minimal disruption of the work of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the DHS component that deals with green cards, work permits, and the like.

But going beyond DACA beneficiaries to those who could have applied but didn’t is a different thing. It’s not just a difference in degree, but in kind. A whole new process will have to be set up for the 1 million additional people who would be expected to apply. The other work of USCIS would grind to a halt, delaying other legal immigration applications, as happened when DACA was originally implemented (and remember that Obama’s DACA amnesty was smaller than what Trump is proposing). In addition, there would be an opportunity cost, with USCIS unable to pursue many urgently needed administrative reforms.

This objection from Krikorian is why the details and fine print matter:

The outline says that no new applications for the visa lottery and the chain-migration categories would be accepted, limiting family immigration to spouses and minor children. Great! But it also provides for the continuation of those categories (and reallocation of the lottery visas) until the admission of all 4 million people on the current chain-migration waiting lists. This is the same gimmick that was in the Hagel-Martinez amnesty bill in 2007 – and the estimate at the time was that it would take 17 years before all those people got their green cards. In other words, legal immigration would not actually be reduced until after President Kamala Harris’s successor took office.

I’m one of those folks who is fine with a modest decrease in legal immigration, and who doesn’t think that amounts to “xenophobia” or “anti-immigrant policies.” (I recall arguing with Nick Gillespie on Twitter about this; he seemed to contend that wanting any reduction in immigration amounted to being “anti-immigrant.”) We accept roughly one million legal immigrants per year. That seems like a lot. Put another way, each year we welcome a population the size of San Jose, California or Austin, Texas.

What if we only accepted a Charlotte (840,000) or a Seattle (700,000) or a Baltimore (614,000)? Can anyone, with a straight face, contend that a policy change of allowing hundreds of thousands of people to legally immigrate is xenophobic?

Off to California . . . 

Good morning! I’m off to the Koch Seminar Network’s Winter Meeting in Indian Wells, California, where the Koch brothers and the good folks associated with their various organizations will assess the work ahead in 2018. Those groups include Americans for Prosperity, which focuses on tax and spending issues; the Libre Initiative, aimed at America’s Latino communities; Generation Opportunity, which focuses on Millennials; Concerned Veterans for America, which addresses veterans’ issues; and the arm founded last year, Stand Together, which endeavors to build social capital.

It should be strangely cheery; in 2016, Charles Koch described the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as choosing between “cancer and a heart attack.” These men and their affiliated groups are better thought of as libertarian-leaning, and Trump-style populism just isn’t their thing. But the economy is roaring, regulations are being rescinded, and the president hasn’t started a trade war yet.

At last year’s meeting, there was general optimism about the Trump cabinet choices and tax cuts and reducing regulations. But the Koch groups strongly opposed the discussion of a potential “Border Adjustment Tax” — a tax on imports and a wariness about big infrastructure projects. Also, the first version of the so-called “Muslim ban” dropped during the conference, triggering confusion, protest and chaos in the country’s airports, and the group announced opposition to that policy. A few weeks later, the network made a big push for Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation in the Senate.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of last year’s meeting was the showcase of innovation — crowdsourced prosthetic hands for kids, telemedicine, entrepreneurial programs for incarcerated criminals to teach them skills for life after prison. I got to chat briefly with inventor Dean Kamen — you know him from the Segways you see zipping around — about his Slingshot device that can bring clean water to remote or dangerous areas. Politics and governance matter a lot, but creative problem-solving from great minds are what can really transform this country for the better.

The Strange, Forgotten History of Murphy Brown

They’re bringing back the old CBS sitcom Murphy Brown.

It’s worth recalling that for the first few seasons, the show was, for its time, pretty funny and not liberal agitprop. It was a classic workplace sitcom with some pretty talented performers and some instantly recognizable characters: the neurotic, stressed executive producer Miles; the stuffy, slightly-stuck-up anchor Jim; the insecure, competitive Frank, and the bimbo-esque Corky. Almost every week, Murphy would have some new wildly dysfunctional secretary, guaranteed to be fired within a few days. When out of the workplace, Murphy was bedeviled by her philosophical and unmotivated house painter Eldin (played Robert Pastorelli, the pride of Edison, New Jersey). Yes, the dirty little secret was that this was an ensemble show, where Candice Bergen’s role as Murphy was to respond acerbically to the wackiness of the characters around her, the last sane woman in an insane world.

Sure, by being set in Washington and in the news business, the show was always nominally political, but it was usually an offhand joke about “Strom Thurmond” or the Supreme Court or something. As the Onion’s AV Club observed, “The way the writers just drop in names like “Pat Buchanan” and “Bella Abzug” (and for that matter, “Barry Manilow”) as automatic laugh-getters, regardless of the context, resembles nothing so much as a Johnny Carson monologue on an off night.” But it became primarily defined and remembered by the events of the 1992 presidential campaign.

After a few seasons, the creators felt the need to shake things up a bit and decided Murphy Brown would become pregnant after sleeping with her ex-husband, an underground radical who had no interest in becoming a father. Then in May 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle gave his infamous speech that included a reference to the show. This is the section that referred to the character:

However, marriage is a moral issue that requires cultural consensus, and the use of social sanctions. Bearing babies irresponsibly is, simply, wrong. Failure to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this.

It doesn’t help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown — a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman — mocking the importance of a father, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another “lifestyle choice.”

Nothing in Quayle’s first paragraph is wrong. But in the second paragraph, the vice president didn’t quite describe the character’s situation and perspective right. While the ex-husband character should have been a better man, the storyline made clear he was not likely to ever become more responsible or less selfish. In some ways, the Murphy Brown character was making a radically conservative choice both for the time and for the implied moral lesson. In a circumstance where a significant percentage of “intelligent, highly paid, professional women” would have an abortion, Murphy Brown chose life.

With Quayle’s speech, the show now had an enemy, one that it and the rest of Hollywood and the media lashed at relentlessly and with relish. Quayle’s speech was written into the season premiere in the fall. Everyone who already thought Quayle was a bumbling fool laughed and contended he couldn’t tell fiction from reality and was somehow attacking single mothers.

But something strange happened after the controversy passed. After about a season, the character of the baby, Avery . . . more or less disappeared, with Murphy beginning scenes with a quick mention that Avery was with “the nanny” or “the sitter” or other circumstances off-screen. The show’s producers realized they didn’t want to turn the show into a working-mom family sitcom; the workplace comedy was their bread and butter. It was something of a strange vindication for Quayle; whether or not the fictional character Murphy Brown was ready for the responsibilities of parenthood, her writers and her audience were not.

Of course, in real life, you can’t hand-wave away a baby. And as time passed, Dan Quayle’s perspective changed from some laughable nonsense to . . . a much more widely-accepted truth. In 1993, The Atlantic shocked readers with a cover declaring, “Dan Quayle Was Right.”

According to a growing body of social-scientific evidence, children in families disrupted by divorce and out-of-wedlock birth do worse than children in intact families on several measures of well-being. Children in single-parent families are six times as likely to be poor. They are also likely to stay poor longer. Twenty-two percent of children in one-parent families will experience poverty during childhood for seven years or more, as compared with only two percent of children in two parent families. A 1988 survey by the National Center for Health Statistics found that children in single-parent families are two to three times as likely as children in two-parent families to have emotional and behavioral problems. They are also more likely to drop out of high school, to get pregnant as teenagers, to abuse drugs, and to be in trouble with the law. Compared with children in intact families, children from disrupted families are at a much higher risk for physical or sexual abuse.

None of this is contending that single parents are bad — the vast majority are heroic, and doing the best that they can in difficult circumstances. It’s just that parenting, like so many other actions in life, is easier when you have a partner.

Ironically, actress Candice Bergen relished the mockery of Quayle but . . . didn’t really disagree with his point. By 2012, Bergen declared, “I never have really said much about the whole episode, which was endless. But his speech was a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable and nobody agreed with that more than I did.”

Politics actually made Murphy Brown a worse, less funny, less enjoyable show; it will be interesting to see how political the new version is.

ADDENDA: Everyone should always listen to Ramesh, but Republicans in Congress should particularly listen to him right now and carefully read his suggestions for a legislative agenda for the coming year:

If Republicans in D.C. asked for my advice, I’d tell them that health care, immigration, middle-class taxes, and higher education are their most promising legislative issues for the year. (Come to think of it, I’m giving them that advice right now without their asking.) They might be able to do some good on these issues. Trying might also help them cut their election losses a little. Especially given that the less they are talking about legislation, the more they will be talking about Trump’s tweets.

Politics & Policy

Psst! Those Open Seat House Races Don’t Look Bad for the Republicans After All!

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Did it take a lot of time to go through the 34 House districts where an incumbent Republican is retiring? Yes. Yes, it did.

But when you go through those open seat House districts one by one, something becomes very clear: About two-thirds of them are very heavily GOP districts. I can give you a statistic like “25 out of the 34 districts are ones where Trump won by 10 points or more,” but it’s better to go through all of my one-paragraph summaries and get a sense of just how red some of these places are: The eastern half of Idaho. Muncie, Indiana. The suburbs of Jackson, Mississippi. Republicans have held New Mexico’s Second District every cycle except one since 1980. Republicans have held Ohio’s 16th district every cycle except one since 1973. The last time a Democrat represented Pennsylvania’s ninth district, Franklin Roosevelt was president. The last time a Democrat represented Tennessee’s second district was 1855.

Got it? Some of these open seats are in some really, really Republican districts.

Could Democrats win open House seats in the suburbs of Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Columbus, Tulsa, Knoxville, Dallas, the Shenandoah Valley, etc.? Sure, anything can happen. But I wouldn’t count on it, and it suggests the “generic ballot” questions are even less useful than usual. We don’t elect the House of Representatives in a nationwide vote, it’s 435 separate contests, and most years, less than 100 competitive ones.

You find four seats the GOP is likely to lose (CA-39, CA-49, FL-27, and WA-8) and another four that look like real toss-ups (AZ-2, MI-11, NJ-2, and PA-15). The remaining are all pretty heavily Republican-leaning territories.

The other half of the story is that 15 House Democrats are retiring, and a handful are in districts where the GOP has a decent shot. (I counted four, where the Cook Partisan Voting Index is about D+3 or D+4. Your mileage and measurement for competitiveness may vary.)

In short, 25 out of the 34 seats where a GOP member of Congress is retiring in 2018 are in districts Trump won by 10 percent or more. Winning the House is going to be harder for Dems than the conventional wisdom suggests. This is where a lot of conservatives would look at it all and exclaim, “ah-ha! Media bias! All of the 2018 coverage is meant to encourage Democrats and depress Republicans!” And that might be a factor, but I’d point to the fact that no one particularly likes covering the House races, because they’re much more complicated than the Senate races.

If I say, “Texas,” you probably picture certain things: Oil rigs, J.R. Ewing, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, the Alamo, everything being bigger there. You probably think of Ted Cruz, Greg Abbott, John Cornyn, and Rick Perry and feel like you have at least a general gist of the state’s politics.

If I say “Texas’ 27th Congressional District,” you probably don’t picture much of anything, because you don’t know what part of the state it covers. (It’s the district of the infamous pajama-wearing Blake Farenthold and stretches along the Texas coast from Corpus Christi to Bay City and then goes inland to Lockhart.)

Also, it’s a lot tougher to poll a House race. Area codes line up with state lines, so a pollster can program a certain area code and know they’re only reaching a particular state, making Senate and gubernatorial races much easier to survey. A pollster has to put in a lot more work to ensure he’s only calling respondents a particular house district.

John Kerry 2020! Hey, What’s John Edwards Doing These Days?

Wonderful: I’ll be writing the Kerry Spot until I’m old(er) and gray(er).

The Jerusalem Post quotes sources in the Palestinian Authority who said John Kerry is encouraging Palestinan officials to defy the Trump administration, that he has doubts Trump will be in office a year from now, and that he himself is thinking of running for president again.

Former US secretary of state John Kerry met in London with a close associate of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Hussein Agha, for a long and open conversation about a variety of topics. Agha apparently reported details of the conversation to senior PA officials in Ramallah. A senior PA official confirmed to Maariv that the meeting took place.

During the conversation, according to the report, Kerry asked Agha to convey a message to Abbas and ask him to “hold on and be strong.” Tell him, he told Agha, “that he should stay strong in his spirit and play for time, that he will not break and will not yield to President [Donald] Trump’s demands.”

According to Kerry, Trump will not remain in office for a long time. It was reported that Kerry said that within a year there was a good chance that Trump would not be in the White House.

It’s good to see Kerry’s assessment of American politics is as bad as his assessment of foreign politics. Look, maybe Trump has a heart attack (God forbid), or a full-scale public breakdown, or he gets bored with the job and decides he wants to turn it over to Pence and go back to being a television star. But Trump’s not getting impeached, barring an unbelievable smoking gun that spurs a bipartisan appetite to replace the president. You need a two-thirds majority in the Senate to remove a president from office, and at this point, there’s little sign of that happening.

He surprised his interlocutor by saying he was seriously considering running for president in 2020. When asked about his advanced age, he said he was not much older than Trump and would not have an age problem.

Let me offer a dollop of sympathy to Kerry — after all, he’s been very good for my career. Yes, his judgment is terrible, his mouth gets him in trouble all the time, he comes across as haughty and arrogant and smug and ludicrously out of touch and . . . er, where was I going with this?

Ah, yes, John Kerry, if nothing else, was willing to put in the work. He’s got the kind of résumé that usually made someone a presidential contender, in better, simpler times like . . . 2004. He’s not a reality show host, he’s not Oprah, he’s not some no-name congressman like John Delaney of Maryland, or some little-known mayor like Mitch Landrieu. By traditional standards, Kerry is qualified and prepared to be president. He’s spent his adult life working with policy and law, and that’s the sort of thing a president is actually supposed to do. Twitter, funny videos, NCAA Bracket picks, giving imaginary “awards” to media institutions the president hates — that’s all the circus that’s built up around the job, but none of that is the actual job.

Mind you, I think Kerry would be terrible at the actual job. But it’s not hard to imagine Kerry looking at the buzz around Mark Cuban, Mark Zuckerberg, The Rock, and thinking, “you’ve got to be kidding me.”

Of course, he’s already out trying to create a separate negotiation with the Palestinians. Allahpundit quips, “If Bob Mueller can bring FARA back from the dead to indict Paul Manafort, surely Jeff Sessions can bring the Logan Act back from the dead to put an end to Waffles’s freelance diplomatic career.”

This Job Requires Some Writing, Some Paperwork, and Being the Boss’s Soul Mate

You’ve probably heard about Congressman Patrick Meehan, the Pennsylvania Republican and 62-year-old married father of three who settled a sexual-harassment complaint with taxpayer funds from a staffer he described as his “soul mate.”

Yesterday during a discussion on CNN’s The Lead, correspondent Kaitlin Collins offered a message to grown men in workplaces:

The young women that work for you do not want to date you. They do not want to be your soulmate. They do not want to get ice cream with you. They do not want to be your partner. When they start dating someone else, you cannot get angry with them for that . . . I shouldn’t have to tell you this. When a woman goes to work, they do not want to date their boss.

She’s right. But there’s an aspect of this that hasn’t gotten mentioned, and I doubt will get much attention beyond this newsletter.

Back in my journalism pollywog days, I recall going to some gathering at the National Press Club where the Washington offices of most of the big news organizations were represented. They went around the room and introduced all of the bigwigs, and I noticed a clear pattern. The vast majority of the Washington bureau chiefs were older white men. (Considering the demographics of Washington-based political journalists in previous decades, this wasn’t surprising.) A decent number of institutions had deputy bureau chiefs who were women or African American, Latino, etcetera.

But the assembled rank-and-file reporters looked like a Benetton ad — with a fairly lopsided majority of young women, and quite a few of them were quite attractive.

The room made pretty clear the people who ran Washington political journalism had made an effort to diversify at every level . . . except the top. And this effort for diversity had created a lot of working environments where older men managed a lot of young women. Examined through the right lens, the “diversity” in the reporters in that room had all the diversity of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show: good looking young white women, good looking young black women, good looking young Latina women, good looking young Asian women . . . 

Young guys can’t make an older straight man feel attractive. Yes, older men can find mentoring and managing young men valuable and rewarding, but when the boss is the other side of middle age and wondering if he’s still attractive or if his best days are behind him . . . a warm smile from us is not going to brighten his day the same way.

You’ll have to pardon my cynicism if I suspect that a certain portion of older men in leadership positions embraced “diversity” and “welcoming young women in the workplace” because they liked managing and being around young, attractive women. This doesn’t mean that every boss who hires a younger attractive woman is a letch or a harasser. But it does mean that attraction has been playing a factor in workplaces for a long time.

ADDENDA: Jazz Shaw with a good point about why Democratic senators will hesitate before trying to replace Chuck Schumer, one that is familiar to anyone who watched the “Republicans should replace John Boehner/Paul Ryan/Mitch McConnell!” arguments in recent years.  

If that happened, one of these up and coming POTUS hopefuls could step into the void. That could be Booker, Warren, Harris, Gillibrand, or one of a couple others. (Not so much Bernie Sanders since he actually quit the party again after he lost the primary.) But they might not want to. Being one voice out of nearly fifty, albeit one of the ones who get the most face time on cable news, is actually a much safer position than taking control yourself. If you become Minority Leader, people will actually expect you to do things. That’s what’s weighing down Chuck Schumer right now. But as long as you leave the burden on his shoulders and make a point of voting against any sort of deal, you get to play the hero while suffering none of the consequences.

Politics & Policy

Could the Left Chuck Chuck?

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Making the click-through worthwhile this morning: Wondering if Chuck Schumer is the Democrats’ leader in the Senate for the long haul, a new initiative from the Koch network aiming to reduce criminal recidivism, some tough questions about corruption in American life before and during the Trump presidency, and some great news from Davos, Switzerland.

Will Chuck Schumer Offer Funding for the Wall Again or Not?

One of the more surprising headlines in the final days before the short-lived government shutdown was that Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and the Democrats appeared ready to make a concession and begin funding a wall on the southern border.

The administration has asked Congress for $18 billion to build the wall; Mr. Cornyn said that in negotiations with the White House before the shutdown, Mr. Schumer had offered the president $25 billion. A spokesman for Mr. Schumer declined to comment but did not dispute the figure.

But Mr. Schumer said he rescinded the offer because Mr. Trump had rejected the rest of the immigration package.

“The wall offer was made as part of a broader deal. The president rejected that broader deal, so the offer is off the table,” Mr. Schumer said.

Okay, so if the broader deal comes back, then the offer for Democrats’ support for wall funding comes back, right?

Or is Schumer now so unnerved by the thermonuclear freak-out among grassroots Democrats and immigration amnesty groups that he can’t make that offer again? Progressive writer Kate Aranoff wants Democratic rank-and-file voters to directly elect their Congressional leaders, instead of the current method of election by the party’s senators and House members. The proposal is an unworkable mess – picture presidential-style national campaigns, at any time, for Senate and House leadership jobs – but the sudden overt sentiment for replacing Schumer suggests that if some Senate Democrat announced today an intention to challenge him, that senator would instantly become the Bernie Sanders to Schumer’s Hillary Clinton.

There’s a logjam of Democratic senators who either want to run for president in 2020 or are thinking about it: Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sanders, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York . . . 

Maybe if you’re an ambitious Democratic senator, you don’t want to be one of a half-dozen or so senators competing for two minutes of nationally-televised debate time and praying Oprah doesn’t jump in and make you look boring. Maybe it would be more rewarding to be leader of your party in the Senate.

The Koch Network’s New Plan for ‘Safe Streets and Second Chances’

The Koch Seminar Network is probably one of the most misunderstood organizations in American politics. They’re denounced by Democrats as “shadowy” and “right-wing,” but their libertarian-leaning, pro-freedom philosophy brings them to advocate some positions that aren’t always in line with the traditional perception of the Republican party. They want to leave marijuana laws to states, are welcoming displaced Puerto Ricans who are moving to Florida, and they want permanent residency for DACA recipients. They also oppose gas taxes and expensive mass transit plans, and love the new tax cuts.

Last year’s winter meeting of the group focused heavily on criminal justice reform, and this year’s meeting is expected to center around a new initiative called Safe Streets and Second Chances, designed to promote anti-recidivism programs in U.S. prisons.

“Over 95 percent of people who are incarcerated will eventually be released, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to make sure that these individuals are better when they leave prison than before they went in,” said Koch Industries senior vice president and general counsel Mark Holden. “The vision of Safe Streets and Second Chances is that, rather than waiting until the end of an individual’s sentence, the reentry process should begin on day one. The Koch group contends that states that have reformed their reentry policies over the past decade “have shown that this data-driven approach keeps communities safe, reduces recidivism rates, and restores second chances to those who have paid their debt to society.”

The program will include a new research component using eight sites across Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana, featuring a “randomized controlled trial involving more than 1,000 participants in a mix of urban and rural communities.” The research will be directed by Dr. Carrie Pettus-Davis of Washington University in St. Louis.

The network hopes this is a project the Trump administration will find reason to support; it pointed to Trump comments supportive for prison reform and programs that reduce recidivism during an event at the White House earlier this month.

“The vast majority of incarcerated individuals will be released at some point and often struggle to become self-sufficient once they exit the correctional system,” the president said. “We have a great interest in helping them turn their lives around, get a second chance and make our communities safe.”

Did Trump Make America ‘Open to Corruption’?

A lot of folks on the left (and a few on the right) are still shocked and horrified that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election — well, some are still in denial — and some worry that he’s inflicting some sort of national moral stain that won’t be washed away within our lifetimes.

Our old friend David Frum says in a conversation with Ross Douthat that by electing Trump, “the Russians gained a United States that operates in ways they are comfortable with — open to corruption and oligarchy — and they have scored points for the argument that democracy is a joke and a fraud.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Trump didn’t step into the Oval Office and wave a magic wand, suddenly making the country corrupt and run by national elites that acted like an oligarchy. Trump reflects the problem, but he didn’t cause the problem, and no doubt many people voted for him as a reaction to the problem.

If you name any powerful American institution, it’s probably had at least one appalling scandal involving abuse of trust or abuse of power in recent years, and in most cases, it’s had quite a few.

The military? More than 500 cases of serious misconduct. Corporate America? The “toxic asset derivatives,” bailouts, Bernie Madoff, Enron. The church? Horrible child abuse scandals. Law enforcement and cops? Fatal shootings of debatable justification caught on video, sexual abuse, corruption scandals. The courts? We have judges taking bribes and impregnating witnesses before them and “systemic corruption” in prosecutors’ offices.

The media? Rathergate, Brian Ross blaming the Tea Party for the Aurora shooting, NBC misleadingly editing the audio from George Zimmerman, Rolling Stone’s outrageously false report about rapes at the University of Virginia . . . 

The government? Fast and Furious, abuses at the Internal Revenue Service, cronyism in the stimulus, incompetence and cover-ups at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the president standing in the Rose Garden, encouraging Americans to buy health insurance from a government-contracted web site that didn’t work . . . 

And the person leading the argument against the corruption that Trump represented was . . . Hillary Clinton.

Russia didn’t do any of that to us; though it would be psychologically easier to deal with if they had created our problems instead of ourselves. Moscow didn’t need to run some sort of elaborate psychological-manipulation or intelligence operation to persuade Americans that there is corruption and oligarchy-like elites within their own country. Americans saw it with their own eyes and lived with the consequences.

The point of this is not that “America stinks” or that the frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism you see at the Kremlin-funded RT is worthy of serious discussion. But Trump is turning into a scapegoat for a lot of problems that existed in the United States long before he descended that escalator and announced he was running for president. And those problems will probably still linger long after he leaves office.

At the heart of all corruption is some variation of, “I deserve this, I’m entitled to this.” Bribery, cronyism, secret favor-trading, sexual improprieties, it all stems from some sense of, “I do so much good in A, B, and C, that I’m entitled to some moral corner-cutting in X, Y, and Z.” No doubt the Clinton Foundation did some good work, but if Doug Band’s e-mail is to be believed, it also diverted resources to Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. The entire Clinton network was a revolving door between policymaking at the highest levels of government and the heights of corporate power, or sometimes doing both at once, as Huma Abedin managed to collect a State Department paycheck and corporate consulting fees at the same time.

And Trump made America “open to corruption”? Come on. He just continued the game with different, less sophisticated players.

You want to beat Trump? Set a better example.

ADDENDA: Absolutely spectacular news from the World Econmic Forum in Davos, Switzerland:

As Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan travels the world in 2018, he says he keeps hearing the same thing over and over: Foreign businesses want to pump money into the United States again after President Trump’s tax cuts. Like the White House, he thinks the positive bounce from the tax bill could be far bigger than most experts predict.

There’s growing cohesion among executives — cutting across industry and even geography — that Trump’s tax plan is going to deliver massive new investment in the United States, which should, in turn, boost growth and employment.

Politics & Policy

Democratic State Supreme Court Justices Suddenly Discover Partisan Redistricting Is Bad

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It’s not hard to notice that in many minds, drawing district lines to maximize partisan advantage only became a threat to democracy once Republicans started doing it.

In a move certain to upend state politics and the critical 2018 elections, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Monday that the state’s congressional map “clearly, plainly, and palpably” violates the state constitution and blocked its use in the May primaries.

The justices, a majority of whom are Democrats, sided with a group of voters who contended that the state’s 18 U.S. House districts were unconstitutionally drawn to discriminate against Democrats. The court ordered the Republican-led legislature to draw a new map immediately.

Senate Republicans vowed to request a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court. In a statement, President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and Majority Leader Jake Corman attacked the ruling as a “partisan action showing a distinct lack of respect for the Constitution and the legislative process.” The court, they said, had overreached.

Some are arguing this could bring about four or five new Democratic-leaning districts in the state, but having just looked at the map for an upcoming big roundup of the 2018 House races, I’m not sure it will be that much of an advantage. As Keegan Gibson points out, there are four Pennsylvania Republicans retiring this year, so they don’t need to preserve old district lines to protect those incumbents. Even if the Democrat-leaning Pennsylvania State Supreme Court draws the lines, this is a state where a bit more than a year ago Trump won, Senator Patrick Toomey won, Republicans won the state House and state Senate, and Republicans won 13 out of 18 U.S. House seats. In 2016, three million Pennsylvanians voted for Republican candidates for Congress, and 2.6 million Pennsylvanians voted for Democratic candidates for Congress. Eventually, you run out of Democratic voters.

As for the nefariousness of redistricting for partisan advantage, I swear, it’s like some aspects of recent history are subject to Stalinesque erasure:

One day in the spring of 2001, about a year after the loss to Rush, [Barack] Obama walked into the Stratton Office Building, in Springfield, a shabby nineteen-fifties government workspace for state officials next to the regal state capitol. He went upstairs to a room that Democrats in Springfield called “the inner sanctum.” Only about ten Democratic staffers had access; entry required an elaborate ritual—fingerprint scanners and codes punched into a keypad. The room was large, and unremarkable except for an enormous printer and an array of computers with big double monitors. On the screens that spring day were detailed maps of Chicago, and Obama and a Democratic consultant named John Corrigan sat in front of a terminal to draw Obama a new district. Corrigan was the Democrat in charge of drawing all Chicago districts, and he also happened to have volunteered for Obama in the campaign against Rush.

Obama’s former district had been drawn by Republicans after the 1990 census. But, after 2000, Illinois Democrats won the right to redistrict the state. Partisan redistricting remains common in American politics, and, while it outrages a losing party, it has so far survived every legal challenge. In the new century, mapping technology has become so precise and the available demographic data so rich that politicians are able to choose the kinds of voter they want to represent, right down to individual homes.

If you weren’t bothered by Democratic redistricting, you cannot be upset by Republican redistricting!

President Trump’s Successful Strategic Silence

“Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness.” – Sun Tsu

When Chuck Schumer gave his speech on the Senate floor Monday, announcing that Senate Democrats would support a continuing resolution to reopen the government in exchange for a promise of a vote on DACA in the coming weeks, everyone could tell he was surprised and dismayed that he had been forced to surrender so quickly. He was particularly irked that his position turned into a political loser over the course of a weekend, and that President Trump had failed to provide him some controversial statement to use as cover.

“The White House refused to engage in negotiations over the weekend,” Schumer fumed. “The great deal-making president sat on the sidelines.”

He’s trying to bait Trump; we will have to see whether that tactic works. The fact remains that Trump earned one of his biggest political victories of his presidency just by staying home and mostly staying quiet over the weekend.

I think Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is a deeply underrated leader, but it’s worth noting he and the Republicans had the wind at their back in this circumstance. Schumer had led his party further out on a limb than his red state senators were willing to go, and to a position a majority of the public did not support. The public is generally supportive of protecting the DACA kids from deportation, but they’re not willing to live with a government shutdown to get it.

The lingering problem for Democrats is that despite all of their Election Day setbacks in recent years, they’re not used to being out-negotiated or losing a messaging fight. They’re stunned.

It’s a debacle,” said Representative Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.) “I’m just saddened by it all.”

“This is a bad, outrageous deal. Trump and Republicans in Congress stood with their anti-immigrant nativist base, and too many Democrats backed down, abandoned Dreamers, and failed to fight for their values,” MoveOn.org political action executive director Ilya Sheyman said in a statement.

“The only thing more astonishing than the man in the White House and the demands he’s made on our national conscience is the fecklessness of the party opposing him,” writes Osita Nwanevu in Slate.

Tonight, liberal groups will be protesting outside Schumer’s house in Brooklyn.

Ezra Klein is one of the few Democrats insisting that Schumer did not cave, and that Democrats can and should shut down the government again in three weeks if they don’t get what they want:

If Democrats get a fair vote in the House and Senate on an immigration deal and it doesn’t pass, will they shut down the government again in three weeks? Put differently, is this a deal about a fair process or about a particular outcome? If Democrats don’t get a deal and they shut the government back down in three weeks, it’s hard to see what was lost here.

But if red state Democrats were exerting enough pressure on Schumer to capitulate and reopen the government after one weekday of a shutdown . . . what will change in their position in the next three weeks?

Among the Democrats who voted to reopen the government yesterday:

Bill Nelson of Florida

Joe Donnelly of Indiana

Debbie Stabenow of Michigan

Claire McCaskill of Missouri

Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota

Sherrod Brown of Ohio

Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania

Joe Manchin of West Virginia

Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin

All of them represent states Trump won, and all of them are up for reelection in ten months. The only Democrat in that category who didn’t vote to reopen the government was Jon Tester of Montana. Also voting “yes” were the four senators who represent the most federal workers, Virginia Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Maryland Democrats Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.

Do you think any of them will become fans of a government shutdown in the coming weeks? The only thing that will change about the politics of a government shutdown next month is that we’ll be a little bit closer to Election Day.

This morning, Schumer has a lot of egg on his face, and he’s probably going to be denounced and pilloried by his political allies for the rest of the week. But it’s worth keeping in mind that Monday’s move might eventually be seen as a wise tactical retreat. Because a shutdown-driven “pox on both your houses” mood is worse for vulnerable red state Democrats up for reelection in 2018 than the alternative, Schumer was wise to retreat and get back to traditional DACA negotiations. A lot of Republicans want the issue of DACA resolved and off their plate, and they want some concessions on border security. Schumer and Gutierrez made noises about reaching a deal on “the wall.” It’s not hard to imagine Democrats making sufficient concessions because they want to avoid a shutdown as well.

For the Democrats, the real big goal is success in the midterms. If they win the House, they’ll have a lot more leverage on negotiations on immigration policy and all kinds of other policies.

Most ‘Aren’t You Really Saying . . . ’ Questions are Thinly-Veiled Attacks.

Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf watches an interview of Jordan B. Peterson, a University of Toronto clinical psychologist, and notices that the interviewer’s style of questioning is to contend Peterson has said something way more controversial and indefensible than he actually said.

It was the most prominent, striking example I’ve seen yet of an unfortunate trend in modern communication.

A person says something. Then, another person restates what they purportedly said so as to make it seem as if their view is as offensive, hostile, or absurd.

Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and various Fox News hosts all feature and reward this rhetorical technique. And the Peterson interview has so many moments of this kind that each successive example calls attention to itself until the attentive viewer can’t help but wonder what drives the interviewer to keep inflating the nature of Peterson’s claims, instead of addressing what he actually said.

First, it’s not just “Fox News hosts” that do this on television. (I guess if you’re writing for the audience of The Atlantic, you need to reassure the readership that you’re on the correct side, even if your article is going to criticize a left-of-center British television host.)

Second, this isn’t that much of a mystery. A significant portion of those in the interviewing business don’t see their job as eliciting information; they see their job as haranguing their guest to ensure that the audience knows that the guest is to be demonized and disdained.

ADDENDA: From the Pew Research Center: “Since 2001, the share of Republicans sympathizing more with Israel than the Palestinians has increased 29 percentage points, from 50 percent to 79 percent. Over the same period, the share of Democrats saying this has declined eleven  points, from 38 percent to 27 percent.”

Y’all know the Palestinians elected Hamas to run their territories, right?

Politics & Policy

Are Democrats Certain They’re Going to Emerge Unscathed from a Shutdown?

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Government shutdowns happen when one side is convinced they can’t lose. They feel like almost all of the blame for the shutdown will end up assigned to the other political party, and that thus they can demand considerable concessions, because time is on their side.

The side that feels that way in these fights is usually the Democrats, and they have good reason to feel that way. Democrats “won” the government shutdown fights in the mid-1990s, and they would have won the one in 2013 if they hadn’t followed the reopening of the government with the launch of Healthcare.gov, the highly-touted, extraordinarily expensive online platform to buy health insurance… that didn’t work.

The reason Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer feels so confident is because he is convinced that the media will echo the narrative he prefers. That narrative is roughly, “caring, common-sense Democrats want to keep the government open, but the cruel, cold-hearted Republicans want to destroy the DACA program and deport all of these adorable moppets and inspiring high-school valedictorians.”

Schumer is so confident, Democrats filibustered a continuing resolution that would keep the government open and fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years. There were 50 votes in favor of that continuing resolution, without Senator McConnell voting. The 50 included Democratic senators Joe Manchin, W.Va.; Joe Donnelly, Ind.; Heidi Heitkamp, N.D.; and Claire McCaskill, Mo., plus newly elected Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama (all up for reelection in 2018 in Trump states). Four Republicans voted no: Senators Lindsey Graham, S.C.; Rand Paul, Ky.; Mike Lee, Utah; and Jeff Flake, Ariz.

The fact that red-state Democrats didn’t want to launch a shutdown over DACA probably ought to make other Democrats nervous. The public support for DACA is probably akin to the public support for innocuously-worded gun control proposals: a mile wide but an inch deep. On Friday, a poll from CNN indicated Americans didn’t want a government shutdown to preserve DACA: “Still, 56 percent overall say approving a budget agreement to avoid a shutdown is more important than continuing the DACA program, while just 34 percent choose DACA over a shutdown. Democrats break narrowly in favor of DACA — 49 percent say it’s more important vs. 42 percent who say avoiding a shutdown is the priority — while majorities of both Republicans (75 percent) and independents (57 percent) say avoiding a shutdown is more important.”

This morning, the Politico/Morning Consult poll showed similar numbers. When asked whether it was worth shutting down the government to ensure passage of a bill “that grants young people who were brought to the United States illegally when they were children, often with their parents, protection from deportation,” the sample split evenly, 42 percent to 42 percent.

The numbers on blame aren’t that much of an advantage for Democrats, either: “more voters would blame Republicans in Congress for the government shutdown, 41 percent, than would blame Democrats, 36 percent. Democratic and Republican voters, by wide margins, held the other side responsible. But more independents said they would blame Republicans, 34 percent, than Democrats, 27 percent.”

You don’t have to look that hard to find Democrats wondering if they’re making the right calculation. The people hit hardest by a government shutdown, federal workers, are a Democratic constituency, and it’s not clear how much economic anxiety they’re willing to endure for the DACA program. (See below.) Democrats are expecting a constituency that does vote for them (federal workers) to take a hit for a constituency that, at least under current law, cannot vote for them (DACA kids). If the shutdown stretches on, federal workers who live in Virginia and Maryland will notice soon that Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin had a chance to vote to send them back to work and didn’t.

David Leonhardt, writing in the New York Times: “The smart move now for Democrats is to accept a short-term funding bill that ends the shutdown and diffuses the tension.”

A Kind Word for Federal Workers

This morning, about 350,000 civilian Department of Defense workers are staying home. (Or, as I understand it, a few are heading into work for a few hours to ensure everything is set up to minimize disruption during the shutdown.) You may have heard about how Armed Forces Network, which brings U.S. television programming to our men and women in uniform based overseas, stopped operating once the shutdown began, but uniformed personnel were able to step in and set up the broadcast of yesterday’s football playoff games.

At the Department of Veterans Affairs, processing of claim appeals will cease, and processing of new claims is likely to be delayed.

At the Department of Homeland Security, E-Verify is shut down.

The Internal Revenue Service, customer service is shut down. Tax refunds may be delayed as a backlog builds up.

At the State Department, processing of U.S. passport applications is shut down.

At the National Institutes of Health, they cannot take in new patients.

The federal courts have enough funding to operate for the next three weeks.

The Smithsonian museums and National Zoo are open today, using leftover funds from the previous fiscal year, but it’s not yet clear beyond that.

During the last government shutdown in 2013, about 800,000 federal workers stayed home.

We all enjoy the joke, “wait, if they’re non-essential, why don’t we just fire them?” but the point is that they’re not essential for public safety; they are still essential for some non-public-safety role. As you can see from the above list, new claims at the VA, E-verify, tax refunds, passports, and NIH treatment for new patients may not be immediately essential to public safety or national security, but they’re still worth having.

If you’re thinking, “great, this is a good way to save taxpayer money,” it isn’t. The federal government usually pays the furloughed workers for the lost time. (After all, it’s not like the workers didn’t want to work or refused to do their duties; the government effectively locked them out.) The government eventually pays workers for the time spent at home, without getting the labor and services.

But if you think that is a sweet deal for federal workers, it really isn’t.

Picture, say, Joe, one of the 850 or so security guards at the Smithsonian museums. Joe knows he works today but doesn’t know if he goes to work Tuesday and beyond. He doesn’t know how long he won’t be working if the Smithsonian does close. Congress could work out a deal by the end of the day, or the shutdown could last weeks.

He knows he won’t get paid until the next pay period after the government reopens. He still needs to pay the rent, the grocery bill, pay for the gas for his car and so on, but he doesn’t know when the next paycheck will come in. He’s not quite laid off and he’s not quite working, either. He doesn’t want to change jobs and there’s probably not even much point in looking for a temp job somewhere; he’s probably expected back at work the day after the shutdown ends. He’s in employment Limbo.

Will Joe be alright? Probably, as long as the shutdown doesn’t stretch on for more than a week. But there’s a lot of economic anxiety in a lot of households that didn’t do anything wrong right now.

ADDENDA: How excited are we about an Eagles-Patriots Super Bowl? I’d like to see some drama, but the Brady-Belichick combo just feels like a machine right now. The Jaguars gave it everything they had. Well, maybe the commercials will be good.

Scott Mason and the good guys at TurnOnTheJets.com were kind enough to invite me back for another Jets-focused chat, this time about free agency. The big questions all focus around current Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, where I end up on the more skeptical side of the divide. Is he a safer selection than the big-name quarterbacks in the draft like Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Baker Mayfield? Yes. Is he a better one in the long-term? That’s tougher to say. And will a team win if they make him one of the highest-paid players in the game? That’s the toughest call.

Politics & Policy

Preparing for the #SchumerShutdown

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I’m not a fan of government shutdowns, as a matter of principle — we paid for this government, we ought to be getting its services — or as a political strategy, because it never works out well for Republicans.

Part of this is that most of the media portrays these fights as a simple morality tale between good and reasonable Democrats and mean and miserly Republicans, who want to keep kids on field trips locked out of the Smithsonian museums. But another key factor I suspect is that most Americans don’t want to be bothered with the details of government funding fights and prefer blaming everyone in Washington with a “pox on both your houses” attitude.

But I’ll concede two factors might make this shutdown a little different from the ones in 1995, 1996, and 2013.

For starters, with a Republican president controlling the executive branch, there will be a lot less “shutdown theater,” where government employees who are allegedly essential spend a lot of time and effort blocking the public from open air sites. The Department of the Interior already announced they’ll keep sites as open as possible.

“We fully expect the government to remain open, however in the event of a shutdown, national parks and other public lands will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures,” Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said in a statement. “Visitors who come to our nation’s capital will find war memorials and open air parks open to the public. Nationally, many of our national parks, refuges and other public lands will still allow limited access wherever possible.”

Second, the Democrats are really counting on the “Republicans control Washington” perception to shield them from the fact that House and Senate Republicans voted to keep the government open.

It requires 60 votes and/or no filibuster by the Democrats to pass a spending bill. As Leon Wolf wrote, “Republicans have already used reconciliation in order to pass the tax reform bill, and under Senate rules, reconciliation can be used only once per fiscal year. Therefore, Democrats in the Senate can filibuster any funding bill they dislike.”

Last night, Brendan Buck, counselor to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, laid out what is blocking a continuing resolution to keep the government open: “While it is a *very* smart take to point out Rs have a majority in the House and Senate, it is also purposefully obtuse to ignore that in the Senate a minority can filibuster and block any legislation . . . I stress that Democrats are asking for something entirely unrelated. Because, to be clear, Democrats have no underlying objection to the CR or CHIP. They are, quite openly, voting ‘no’ in an attempt to force action on something else. We are not jamming anything on Democrats they don’t support. We’re just saying keep the government open and fund children’s health insurance while we continue to work out a deal on DACA.”

This is where Democrats’ habitual rhetoric works against their position.

California senator Dianne Feinstein, yesterday: “Shutting down the government is a very serious thing. People die, accidents happen. You don’t know. Necessary functions can cease.” Never mind that government shutdowns are structured so that necessary functions don’t cease; I’d love for her to elaborate on how government shutdowns kill people and how they make accidents happen.

But let’s assume for a moment that she’s right. If government shutdowns do kill people, why on earth wouldn’t Senate Democrats vote to pass the continuing resolution? Just how many Americans are they willing to kill to keep the DACA program as it is?

(As Remy would put it . . .  PEOPLE WILL DIE!)

By the way, did you notice that Feinstein is . . . either starting to have memory lapses or otherwise sudden inexplicable shifts in position?

January 10, from CNN’s Manu Raju: “Feinstein says she’s sorry to Grassley for not giving him a heads up about the release of the Fusion GPS transcript. “I meant to tell him, and I didn’t have a chance to tell him, and that concerns me,” she told us. “I just got pressured, and I didn’t do it.”

January 11, from BuzzFeed’s Emma Loop: “Just asked Feinstein about her comment yesterday about being “pressured” to release the Simpson transcript. “I made no statement to that effect,” she said. Me: but there are recordings of you saying you felt pressured. “I don’t believe there are. I don’t believe I said that.”

Then yesterday on the spending bill:

“I said in December that I wouldn’t vote for [the spending bill] without the Dream Act, and I won’t do so now,” she said in the statement.

But hours later, Feinstein told CNN in an interview that she had not made her mind up about whether to vote for the measure, saying: “Shutting down the government is a very serious thing. People die, accidents happen. You don’t know. Necessary functions can cease.” She didn’t seem aware of her office’s earlier statement.

“I don’t know if we did today,” Feinstein said, looking toward an aide when asked about the news release.

“I don’t know how I would vote right now on a CR [continuing resolution], OK?” she added, ending the interview.

Is Senator Feinstein feeling okay?

The Cause of Life Is Winning in America Again

Some guy named “Michael R. Pence” writing in NRO today:

In short, life is winning in America again. It’s winning because of the policies of our administration, and because of the commitment and compassion of those who gather today in our nation’s capital, and in marches, meetings, and homes all across the country.

Life is winning through the steady advance of science that illuminates when life begins.

Life is winning through the generosity of millions of adoptive families, who open their hearts and homes to children in need.

Life is winning through the compassion of caregivers and volunteers at crisis-pregnancy centers and faith-based organizations who bring comfort and care to women, in cities and towns across this country.

And life is winning through the quiet counsel between mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, between friends across kitchen tables, and over coffee on college campuses, where the truth is being told, and hope is defeating despair.

This guy’s a good writer, maybe we should bring him on full-time. What’s his day job again?

Checking In on the Bernie Sanders Revolution

In the latest issue of the magazine, I take a long look at “Our Revolution,” the grassroots activism group that the Bernie Sanders campaign morphed into after the Democratic primary. Luckily for non-subscribers, the article is out from behind the paywall:

In the 2017 elections, Our Revolution endorsed 113 candidates, of whom 44 won. (In order to be endorsed by Our Revolution, a candidate must be nominated by a local group, agree with Our Revolution’s platform, and pledge to run “a positive campaign” and “reject money from corporate interests.”) The group also supported a winning Maine voter referendum to expand Medicaid coverage in the state.

These were mostly low-profile races for state legislatures, mayoralties, city councils, and school boards. Some were in predictable parts of the country — four of the wins came on the Cambridge, Mass., city council, and another five candidates were elected to local offices in Somerville, Mass. And as [GOP strategist Brad] Todd notes, off-year local races have the lowest turnout of any elections in the four-year cycle, and are thus the lowest-hanging fruit for a band of committed ideological activists.

Some Republicans are not-so-quietly cheering the rise of Our Revolution, contending it will nominate candidates too extreme to win, even if the wind is at their backs in the midterm elections. “I think you’re going to see a lot of Bernie clones winning congressional primaries,” says Todd. “The more Berniecrats get nominated, the more likely it is that Republicans will hold the House.

[But] Jason Johnson, former chief strategist for Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign, isn’t convinced that Our Revolution and the broader swathe of Sanders supporters are tilting at windmills. “It scares the hell out of me,” Johnson says. “Nature abhors a vacuum. Last time I checked, 2016 did not spawn an organized movement of champions of liberty. What seems radical to the over-65 crowd that has comprised the GOP base looks an awful lot like the future to the young radicals who are ‘feeling the Bern.’ And as of this moment our response –  at least at scale — is nada.”

ADDENDA: I’m scheduled to join the Ricochet podcast later today. Late next week I’ll be in California to cover the winter meeting of the Koch Seminar Network.

Politics & Policy

The President’s Achy Breaky Heart

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Making today’s click-through worthwhile: the strangely irrelevant controversy about the president’s health, a misleading headline about how corporate America is responding to tax reform, and the danger of giving 22-year-olds access to a wide audience without editors or wiser mentors.

An Odd National Debate About the President’s Non-Metaphorical Heart

The New York Times talks to cardiologists who contend that Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, a rear admiral and the White House physician, was way too optimistic in his assessment of the president’s health.

Cardiologists not associated with the White House said Wednesday that President Trump’s physical exam revealed serious heart concerns, including very high levels of so-called bad cholesterol, which raises the risk that Mr. Trump could have a heart attack while in office.

What exactly are we supposed to do with these disputing interpretations of the president’s health information?

Look, the thing about health, particularly cardiovascular health, is that you can fool yourself and you can try to fool others, but you can’t fool your own heart. Either the blood is getting to where it needs to go, or it isn’t. It doesn’t really matter much if the president and the White House are lying to us, because if they are lying, the truth will probably be revealed in a sudden and terrible way. Arterial blockages can’t be spun.

Those of us who aren’t Trump or on the White House medical staff don’t have any ability to influence the president’s decisions about this. Maybe Melania could persuade him to change his habits. Then again, Trump is 71 and he’s unlikely to change his behavior much. He’s probably going to keep eating McDonald’s, and his exercise will probably continue to be limited to golf. He has, arguably, one of the most stressful jobs in the world, a position that rapidly ages every man who has achieved it. If the president and the White House physician are not being honest about his risk for a heart attack . . . we will probably know sometime before Election Day 2020.

I hope the man lives to be 100, but there’s not much point in worrying about something you can’t control.

School Choice: The Most Popular Idea with the Least Reasonable Opposition

This morning the American Federation for Children and Beck Research, a respected Democratic polling firm, released their fourth annual National School Choice Poll. The survey of 1,100 likely November 2018 voters found that 86 percent of voters believe that publicly funded vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts should be available in some form.

The survey also found broad support for a federal tax-credit scholarship. Overall, 67 percent support a potential K-12 education tax-credit proposal; that breaks down to 55 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of independents, and 80 percent of Republicans.

Corporate America Isn’t Finished Responding to the Changes in the Tax Code

The headline is pretty disappointing: “Few large US companies say they’ll use tax savings to boost wages, CNBC survey finds.” But then you look a little deeper, and you realize that about 70 percent of the large companies CNBC contacted either didn’t respond or responded with “no comment.”

CNBC surveyed the largest 100 companies in America about how they were responding to the reduction in corporate tax rates. Half didn’t respond, and another 21 didn’t offer any specifics. Another 20 offered corporate variations of “we’re thinking about it,” or “we haven’t decided yet.”

Among those with detailed announcements:

AT&T last month said it plans to invest an additional $1 billion in the United States this year and pay a special $1,000 bonus to more than 200,000 AT&T U.S. employees.

Walmart will raise its starting minimum wage to $11 an hour and award worker bonuses of between $200 and $1,000, depending on years of service.

Comcast, the parent company of CNBC, said it will award a special $1,000 bonus to more than 100,000 workers.

Boeing last month announced plans to invest an additional $300 million as a result of the new tax law.

Wells Fargo said it will raise its minimum hourly pay rate to $15 and target $400 million in 2018 for philanthropic contributions.

Bank of America last month said U.S. employees making up to $150,000 per year — or about 145,000 workers — would get a one-time year-end bonus of $1,000.

PNC Financial said it would give a $1,000 bonus to about 47,500 workers.

U.S. Bancorp said it will pay a one-time, $1,000 bonus to nearly 60,000 employees; raise the minimum wage to $15 for all hourly employees; make a one-time, $150 million contribution to the U.S. Bank Foundation; and make enhancements to employees’ health-care offerings effective for the 2019 enrollment period.

Visa said it would raise the level of matching contributions to its employees’ 401k accounts, to 10 percent from the previous level of 6 percent.

It would be nice to see all 100 of the country’s biggest companies raise wages — and with labor in short supply, pretty soon they’re likely to need to do that regardless of the tax rate. But CNBC’s headline is much more pessimistic than accurate.

From the Mouths of Babe

To bring you up to speed, the site “babe.net” wrote the piece describing a woman’s uncomfortable evening with comedian Aziz Ansari that many felt didn’t quite rise to the level of sexual assault or sexual harassment, and HLN anchor Ashleigh Banfield tore into the article, contending that it harmed the #MeToo movement and accountability for sexual misconduct by blurring the line between unpleasant experiences and indisputable crimes.

“You had an unpleasant date. And you didn’t leave. That is on you,” Banfield declared into the camera. “And all the gains that have been achieved on your behalf and mine are now being compromised by allegations that are reckless and hollow.”

Babe reporter Katie Way responded to Banfield and her producer in a scathing and personal manner via e-mail: “Ashleigh, someone who I am certain nobody under the age of 45 has heard of, I hope the 500 retweets on the single news write up made that burgundy lipstick, bad highlights, secondwave feminist has-been really relevant for a little while.”

She continued, “No woman my age would ever watch your network. I will remember this for the rest of my career — I’m 22 and so far, not too shabby! And I will laugh the day you fold. If you could let Ashleigh know I said this, and that she is no-holds-barred the reason, it’d be a real treat for me.”

The revelation that the author of the Ansari piece is 22 explains a little bit. As Sonny Bunch observed, “there’s a reason this story appeared in babe.net, rather than the New York Times or BuzzFeed or the Los Angeles Times or, yes, the Washington Post. One of the reasons is that, however Grace now thinks of the encounter, what happened isn’t sexual assault or anything close to it by most legal or common-sense standards.”

What is babe.net? It is a web site that “started in May 2016 as an experiment by a group of editors in our early twenties.” That’s less than two years ago, so it seems safe to assume that the Babe editorial chain of command doesn’t include anyone above, say, 25.

In other words, there wasn’t anyone around or above Way to ask, “Hey, what’s the news value in reporting on a comedian’s aggressive but not criminal behavior on a date?” or “Are you sure you want to defend your feminist credentials by mocking Banfield’s age, appearance, and makeup?”

Journalist Mark Harris observed, “I’m remembering the many personal and professional missteps I made as a 22- or 23-year-old, and am grateful that I had no access to a public platform from which to make them. One of the worst aspects of the changing paradigm for novice journalists is the loss of day-in-day-out mentors. There is no substitute for the education that gives you.”

Way back in my pre-National Review days, I worked for a tiny Washington-based wire service and each summer we would get a dozen or so interns — way more than we needed, and probably more than we could manage well. Sometimes we had great ones; I’ll never forget one young woman saying she had learned more in a few weeks of watching how I actually did my job than she had learned in a whole semester in her classes. I probably made news reporting look a lot more haphazard and desperately improvised than she had previously pictured.

But another year we had an intern who was terrible. She clearly was just fulfilling some sort of course requirement, and she communicated with every statement, action,  and gesture that she would prefer to be anywhere else but within our office, a converted B. Dalton bookstore off the J.W. Marriott lobby. She would disappear for long stretches without explanation, not come to work some days, and once I caught her reading adult material in the office. It was as if she was acting out like an angry teenager and daring someone to fire her. She probably overestimated everyone’s interest in disciplining her. I just wanted her to stay out of my way and get through the week without a paycheck that bounced.

I’m looking back and realizing, for all the flaws of my old workplace, we didn’t give the interns access to the system we used to send stories to our client newspapers. For all of the headaches this bad intern or any other one could create, we could at least be reasonably sure that she wouldn’t do something stupid or malicious that would end up in front of readers. (Considering how often the system would succumb to glitches, it was hard enough for us staffers to actually send our articles.)

The point is that there were layers and barriers between the young journalists and the readership, and those layers and barriers were there to protect both sides. If you give the typical 22-year-old unfettered access to the readership, at some point, they will likely write or say something they regret. Those layers and barriers still exist in most “legacy media” institutions, but they may not at a site that’s new and/or understaffed.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube — they are all great for giving anyone in the world a platform to communicate to the world. But once we removed the protective layers and barriers of editors, something bad was bound to happen. Eventually you get something like this guy Logan Paul going into a Japanese forest known for suicides, and showing viewers a victim and joking about it. Reaching a mass audience is no longer an effort that requires a group of people that is likely to include at least one person who will ask, “Is this a good idea?”

Thanks to social media, our “national conversation” now includes a lot of people who would have  previously been kept out by those layers and barriers. There are a lot of advantages to that, but it comes at a cost — juvenile name-calling, inane comparisons, and participants who miss the point by a wide margin.

ADDENDA: Peter Suderman with an unnerving metaphor: “Sometimes I feel like we are living in a season of Lost, where crazy plot threads would be dangled and then just fade away. Why did Stephen Paddock go on a shooting rampage? Does anyone care about Trump paying off a porn star to keep an affair quiet? Remember the aliens?”

Politics & Policy

Despite Media Hype, President Oprah Isn’t a Slam Dunk

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Making the click-through worthwhile this morning: Oprah-mania turns out to be bigger in the media than the electorate at large, Wisconsin gives Republicans a good reason to worry about the midterms, and South Korea makes a dramatic announcement about the Olympics’ Opening Ceremony.

What If Oprah-Mania Is Really Just a Media Phenomenon?

Hey, remember last week when it seemed like there was this overwhelming appetite for a presidential campaign by Oprah Winfrey? It turns out that only a small percentage of folks thought that was such a good idea.

Fifty-nine percent of survey respondents said Winfrey should not run for president, compared to 24 percent who said she should. Seventeen percent said they did not know or had no opinion.

If the election were held today, Winfrey would lead Trump 40 percent to 38 percent, within the poll’s plus or minus 2-percentage point margin of error.

“If you were watching cable news the Monday after the Golden Globes, you would have thought the numbers would say 99 percent of Americans want her to run,” said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University, in a Tuesday interview. “Certainly polls have their limitations, but these numbers don’t quite indicate that degree of enthusiasm.”

Interestingly, the early numbers suggest Oprah wouldn’t be a slam-dunk to win the Democratic nomination after all, depending upon who her top rival is.

In head-to-head primary matchups with a handful of possible Democratic 2020 contenders, Winfrey performed best against New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand among Democrats, leading her 44 percent to 23 percent. She also leads Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren 39 percent to 35 percent. The poll found Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) would beat Winfrey, 46 percent to 37 percent. But former Vice President Joe Biden would beat Winfrey by a larger margin, 54 percent to 31 percent, among Democrats.

This kind of a wild disconnect between the media’s perspective and that of the larger public doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The irony is that the numbers on Oprah enthusiasm reverse the traditional narrative about a shallow, vacuous, celebrity-obsessed general public and a serious, deep-thinking, policy and detail-focused news media. What if it’s the other way around? What if the public wants a more serious discussion about government policies and their tangible consequences, and less fluffy discussion and debate about charismatic familiar faces?

When David Broder wrote with sadness about the death of columnist Robert Novak, he wrote that Novak and his colleagues of past eras had been brought to Washington by “by editors who had a passionate commitment to covering Congress and politics as if the decisions being debated really mattered.” He contended that good political journalism meant “’getting down in the weeds,’ really understanding the personal dynamics of a Ways and Means subcommittee or the ambitions of the lieutenant governor of Texas.”

I have this nagging feeling that a decent percentage of today’s political journalists don’t want to actually write about politics, and that they really want to write the kind of glossy celebrity profiles that we’re used to seeing in places like Vanity Fair, GQ, Vogue, and maybe even People or Us Weekly. I noticed last year that a glossy profile of Kirsten Gillibrand in Vogue couldn’t bring itself to really look at the senator’s record and left readers with at least three glaringly false impressions — that Gillibrand is an economic centrist, an iconoclast, and a campaigning powerhouse with cross-party appeal.

Look, you read this newsletter, so you know I enjoy writing about Star Wars and Twin Peaks and the Jets and lots of “fun stuff” in life. Not everything written about politics has to be as detail-heavy as Congressional Quarterly or Governing magazine. But the disconnect on Oprah suggests that a chunk of the American people are not automatically enraptured by every famous celebrity who flirts with a political campaign . . . unlike, say, bored political reporters who want to write about someone glamorous and exciting.

An Ominous Sign for Republicans in Wisconsin

Is it time for Republicans to panic about the midterms? Last night a corner of western Wisconsin held a special election for an open state Senate seat. The previous Republican incumbent, Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls, held the seat for 17 years. The district had voted for Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and Donald Trump. Part of the district overlaps with Dunn County, which is a “pivot county,” which means it voted for Obama in 2012 and then Trump in 2016. In other words, this is a state senate district where Republicans can win and should win.

But last night Democrat Patty Schachtner defeated Republican assemblyman Adam Jarchow, and it wasn’t that close: a 55 percent to 44 percent margin. Some optimistic Republicans might think, “eh, it’s the middle of winter, it’s easy for voters to tune out and forget about a special election like this.” Yes, but Republicans usually pay more attention to special elections and turn out in better numbers.

Last night in a series of tweets, Governor Scott Walker said the special election was “a wake up call for Republicans in Wisconsin. Can’t presume that voters know we are getting positive things done in Wisconsin. Help us share the good news. Can’t presume voters know that more people are working than ever before. Help us share the good news. Can’t presume that voters know that we invested more actual dollars into schools than ever before. Help us share the good news.”

Our old friend Christian Schneider observes, “In a low-turnout race, the Republican was getting an astounding 1/7th of the Sheila Harsdorf 2016 vote in GOP strongholds, while the Dem got about 1/3 of the 2016 Dem vote, leading to some insane local results. Enthusiasm gap, bad messaging and Trumpism are all suspects.”

If you paid attention to the state legislative elections late last year, you saw Democrats enjoying a lot of surprise wins in Virginia, adding to their majorities in New Jersey, flipping a seat in New Hampshire’s state house  in November, flipped two state house seats in Georgia, and winning a narrow upset victory in a state senate race in Oklahoma.

Yes, every election is influenced by the quality of the candidates and other outside factors, but the simplest and most likely explanation is that Democrats are fired up and motivated to pay attention and turn out, even in places where they aren’t a majority, like River Falls, Wisconsin and Athens, Georgia, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s not hard to figure out why, either. If the dominant spirit of a political party’s national leader, its most impassioned voices, and arguably even its grassroots is gleeful antagonism, cheering moves because “they drive the other side crazy” and how you crave “liberal tears,” that party cannot be surprised when the other side is antagonized and highly motivated to come out and defeat them.

The Olympics Opening Ceremony Just Got a Little More Dramatic

Is it just me, or does this sound like a reward to the North Koreans for bad behavior?

North and South Korean athletes will march together at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony under a unified flag, the South said Wednesday, in a diplomatic breakthrough following days of talks between the two countries.

They will also field a joint North and South Korean women’s ice hockey team for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which begin early next month, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said.

North and South Korean skiers will train together at a resort in North Korea before the Olympics start, and performers from the two countries will also hold a joint cultural event there.

South Korea is free to pursue its own policies to alleviate tensions with North Korea. But one of the stated goals of the North Korean regime is unification, on its terms. (Some analysts argue that Pyongyang says it wants unification, but isn’t willing to actually make any sacrifices to make unification happen. It’s a wish list, not a plan.) Still, North Korea’s been basically an angry drunk on the world stage for the past year, and South Korea just gave them the reward of pretending to be united on the biggest world stage.

ADDENDA: I know many Republicans want to love Trump, but many of his biggest problems come down to simple incompetence of himself and those around him: “Nearly everyone who spoke with [Fire and Fury author Michael] Wolff thought someone else in the White House had approved their participation. And it appears that not a single person in a position of authority to halt cooperation with the book — including Trump himself — raised any red flags, despite Wolff’s well documented history. His previous work included a critical book on Trump confidant Rupert Murdoch.”

Politics & Policy

Oh, Look, Republicans Think They Can Win a Government Shutdown Fight. Again.

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Republicans in Washington aren’t dumb enough to have a government shutdown while they control the executive and legislative branch, are they?

Chances of a government shutdown grew Monday as Republicans concluded that they would be unable to reach a long-term spending accord by the Friday deadline. GOP leaders are now turning to a short-term funding measure in hopes of keeping agencies open while talks continue, but Democratic leaders say they are unlikely to support any deal that does not protect young illegal immigrants.

Aides to key negotiators from both parties planned to meet Tuesday in an effort to rekindle budget talks, setting up a Wednesday meeting of the leaders themselves. If they cannot agree, the government would shut down at midnight Friday for the first time since 2013.

Some Republicans seem to think that Democrats would get blamed for shutting down the government in an effort to save the “Dreamers” from deportation. And it is interesting that Senator Claire McCaskill sounds unenthusiastic about a shutdown in comments to the New York Times.

But the political world offers many hard lessons that what ought to be is not what will be. Some chunk of the public will not grasp that it takes 60 votes to pass a spending bill, which means Republicans will need nine Democrats to break with their party. The public will just see the usual footage of school buses of kids outside a closed Smithsonian and think, “those stupid Republicans,” or just “those stupid idiots in Washington” and be more likely to oppose incumbents. When your party has the majority, an anti-incumbent mood is bad news.

Of course, some Republicans will insist, “no, no, see, this time it will be different!” Of course, that’s just what Wile E. Coyote thought every time he chased the roadrunner.

Women Writers Start Worrying About What, Exactly, Constitutes #MeToo

Perhaps it was inevitable that someone would claim the mantle of #MeToo in circumstances that were far murkier than the early scandals.

A photographer using the pseudonym “Grace” gives a lengthy, explicit description of a date with comedian Aziz Ansari that offers an unflattering portrait of him being clumsy and insistent to have sex, but never quite doing anything that most would characterize as sexual assault or harassment. As Andrea Peyser puts it, “Grace apparently believes that Ansari should have been able to read her mind, when a simple ‘Stop!’ would have promptly ended the activities.”

Quite a few women are deeply irked that this description of a bad date is getting lumped in with the #MeToo movement.

HLN host Ashley Banfield:

Banfield continued to criticize Grace’s claims, saying that “by your own clear description, this wasn’t a rape, nor was it a sexual assault. By your description, your sexual encounter was unpleasant.” The host then claimed that Grace had “chiseled away at a movement that I, along with all of my sisters in the workplace, have been dreaming of for decades. A movement that has finally changed an oversexed professional environment that I, too, have struggled through at times over the last 30 years in broadcasting.”

Added Banfield: “The #MeToo movement has righted a lot of wrongs and it has made your career path much smoother . . . what a gift. Yet, you looked that gift horse in the mouth and chiseled away at that powerful movement with your public accusation.”

Bari Weiss, writing in the New York Times:

I am a proud feminist, and this is what I thought while reading Grace’s story:

If you are hanging out naked with a man, it’s safe to assume he is going to try to have sex with you.

If the inability to choose a pinot noir over a pinot grigio offends you, you can leave right then and there.

If you don’t like the way your date hustles through paying the check, you can say, “I’ve had a lovely evening and I’m going home now.”

If you go home with him and discover he’s a terrible kisser, say “I’m out.”

If you start to hook up and don’t like the way he smells or the way he talks (or doesn’t talk), end it.

Caitlin Flanagan, writing in The Atlantic:

Was Grace frozen, terrified, stuck? No. She tells us that she wanted something from Ansari and that she was trying to figure out how to get it. She wanted affection, kindness, attention. Perhaps she hoped to maybe even become the famous man’s girlfriend. He wasn’t interested. What she felt afterward — rejected yet another time, by yet another man — was regret. And what she and the writer who told her story created was 3,000 words of revenge porn. The clinical detail in which the story is told is intended not to validate her account as much as it is to hurt and humiliate Ansari. Together, the two women may have destroyed Ansari’s career, which is now the punishment for every kind of male sexual misconduct, from the grotesque to the disappointing.

Karol Markowicz:

So many of the well-known #MeToo stories centered on power dynamics. Matt Lauer allegedly assaulting his underlings. Weinstein blocking the careers of actresses who turned him down. But no such power dynamic existed in this situation. Grace was not hanging out with Ansari for a career opportunity. Their date was understood to be romantic by both of them. If we’ve reached a point where #MeToo will include regrettable hook-ups the whole movement is diluted and actual sexual assault stories minimized.

It’s an odd feeling to write “Sonny Bunch is right,” but he’s got a point:

I would suggest there’s a reason this story appeared in babe.net, rather than the New York Times or BuzzFeed or the Los Angeles Times or, yes, The Washington Post. One of the reasons is that, however Grace now thinks of the encounter, what happened isn’t sexual assault or anything close to it by most legal or common-sense standards. And bad dates — including terrible ones that leave one person feeling humiliated — aren’t actually newsworthy, even when they happen to famous people.

An “I had sex with a celebrity and regretted it, and isn’t that kind of like Harvey Weinstein” claim is exactly the sort of unconvincing argument that a powerful sexual predator would want in the news right now. Because if people perceive #MeToo as being driven by a desire to publicly detail every sexual encounter that ends unsatisfactory or awkwardly, everyone will recoil from it. Sex is complicated and messy enough without the thought of having every encounter or attempted encounter broadcast to the world for dissection and analysis.

Meanwhile, actress Eliza Dushku described being sexually assaulted by a stunt coordinator on the set of True Lies; she was 12 at the time. Her agent went to the executive producer and told her about the assault, but “nobody really did anything.”

The Impassioned Minority Backing President Trump

Michael Graham makes a good and fair point that one reason Republicans are likely to have a challenging midterm election cycle is that a decent number of Republicans refuse to believe they could have a difficult midterm election cycle. Trump fans refuse to believe or accept that anything he’s doing could be repelling the electorate as a whole.

And the number of “Resisters” has edged up to 41 percent — more than twice the number of “Believers.”

Yes, the one voter out of five who loves Trump really loves him and revels in the chaos he creates. But 66 percent of all Americans dislike Trump personally — and 69 percent of all voters tell Gallup they’re dissatisfied with the direction of the country.

Yes, Trump supporters love his attacks on Hillary and want him to make investigating her a top 2018 priority. But the vast majority of Americans don’t agree or don’t care.

Know what you call a party that has the hard-core, passionate commitment of 20 percent of the country?

“Losers.”

Even with the economy rockin’ and the stock market rollin’ and a plurality of voters saying the economy is in better shape, President Trump and his party can’t poll above 40 percent on a good day. How is this #Winning?

Trump fans will point to the first-year record: tax cuts, bonuses and wage hikes, the unemployment rate remaining low, the stock market booming, the individual mandate’s repeal, the obliteration of the Islamic State, judicial nominations, ANWR drilling, the completion of the Keystone Pipeline, the repeal of a slew of regulations . . . 

Indeed, and with all of those accomplishments, Trump’s approval rating bounces from the mid-30s to the mid-40s, with disapproval between 50 and 60 percent. People who should like his results don’t like him as president; how he carries himself and what he says matters. His constant drama and controversies alienate voters who might otherwise be sympathetic or supportive of his policies. Republicans don’t have to like this fact of political life, but they shouldn’t ignore it.

Unfortunately, a lot of Republicans are emotionally invested in their choice of 2016 that they do not want to hear any criticism of the president — constructive or not-so-constructive. And thus, the trajectory for November 2018 is set.

ADDENDA: The Guardian offers an update on the hunt for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: “The most wanted man on the planet has been traced to a specific place at least three times in the past 18 months alone.”

Politics & Policy

A Failure on All Parties in Hawaii

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Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I’m reminded of a portion of the “I Have a Dream” speech that isn’t quoted as often, and perhaps ought to be, for its lessons to all of us: “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

Incompetence Is More Frightening Than Hackers

I spent much of Saturday wondering if the false warning of an imminent ballistic missile strike on Hawaii was the work of malicious hackers. That scenario would be strangely preferable, having a malevolent entity to blame, instead of accepting that the entire system for warning the public really can be activated by one employee pressing the wrong button, as the governor described it.

Apparently it wasn’t even a button; it was a drop-down menu on a computer screen.

Shortly after 8 a.m. local time Saturday morning, an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency settled in at the start of his shift. Among his duties that day was to initiate an internal test of the emergency missile warning system: essentially, to practice sending an emergency alert to the public without actually sending it to the public.

Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” He was supposed to choose the former; as much of the world now knows, he chose the latter, an initiation of a real-life missile alert.

“In this case, the operator selected the wrong menu option,” HEMA spokesman Richard Rapoza told The Washington Post on Sunday.

Around 8:07 a.m., an errant alert went out to scores of Hawaii residents and tourists on their cellphones: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” A more detailed message scrolled across television screens in Hawaii, suggesting, “If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.”

Imagine getting that text, turning on the television for some sort of confirmation or reassurance that it was only a drill, and finding the same message running across the top of the screen, with a pre-recorded voice repeating the warning. No wonder Hawaiians were terrified; they awoke to find themselves in the early scenes of The Day After.

If it hadn’t been terrifying, it would have been comic; having scared the bejeebers out of most residents in the state, the state agency couldn’t quickly figure out a way to tell everyone it had been a false alarm:

Part of what worsened the situation Saturday was that there was no system in place at the state emergency agency for correcting the error, Rapoza said. The state agency had standing permission through FEMA to use civil warning systems to send out the missile alert — but not to send out a subsequent false alarm alert, he said.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said it has also suspended all internal drills until the investigation is completed. In addition, it has put in place a “two-person activation/verification rule” for tests and actual missile launch notifications. On Saturday, Ripoza said, the employee was asked in the computer program to confirm that he wanted to send the message. In the future, a second person will be required for confirmation.

Our John Fund asks a fair question: if this sort of mistake doesn’t get you canned, what does?

“This guy feels bad, right. He’s not doing this on purpose. It was a mistake on his part and he feels terrible about it,” explained Hawaii EMA administrator Vern Miyagi, a former Army major general. But Miyagi declined to say that the staffer would face any disciplinary actions. Richard Rapoza, the official spokesman for EMA, declined to identify the errant employee and added, “At this point, our major concern is to make sure we do what we need to do to reassure the public. This is not a time for pointing fingers.”

Actually, it is. In the Air Force my father served in for some 20 years, anyone who committed such a blunder would have been demoted or cashiered — along with any superior officer, such as Miyagi, who had failed to put in place redundancies to prevent such a fiasco. That kind of accountability strikes me as a pretty good way to start to “reassure the public.” It’s not as if EMA didn’t have any clues something was potentially wrong. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that while 93 percent of test alerts issued last month had worked, some could hardly be heard and a dozen mistakenly played an ambulance siren.

See? Hackers would be a more reassuring explanation.

Learning the Backstory of the Infamous Media Men List

Moira Donegan stepped forward as the creator of the “[bad word]-y Media Men” list, an open spreadsheet that allowed her and her friends and colleagues to list bad behavior by men they knew in the (largely New York and Washington D.C.) media world, set up shortly after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke.

In the beginning, I only wanted to create a place for women to share their stories of harassment and assault without being needlessly discredited or judged. The hope was to create an alternate avenue to report this kind of behavior and warn others without fear of retaliation. Too often, for someone looking to report an incident or to make habitual behavior stop, all the available options are bad ones. The police are notoriously inept at handling sexual-assault cases. Human-resources departments, in offices that have them, are tasked not with protecting employees but with shielding the company from liability — meaning that in the frequent occasion that the offender is a member of management and the victim is not, HR’s priorities lie with the accused. When a reporting channel has enforcement power, like an HR department or the police, it also has an obligation to presume innocence. In contrast, the value of the spreadsheet was that it had no enforcement mechanisms: Without legal authority or professional power, it offered an impartial, rather than adversarial, tool to those who used it. It was intended specifically not to inflict consequences, not to be a weapon — and yet, once it became public, many people immediately saw it as exactly that.

She may have had the best of intentions, but there’s a pretty glaring contradiction there. First, she clearly wanted to warn as many women as possible, and she wanted it to be distributed as far and wide as possible within the industry. At the same time, she seems to think one can widely tell a significant number of people in the news industry about allegations of sexual assault and not inflict consequences!

Later in the same essay, she writes, “I hoped that women reporters who saw the document might use it as a tip sheet and take it upon themselves to do the reporting that the document couldn’t do and find evidence, if there was any, of the allegations made there.” In other words, she did want it to have consequences, and generate its own enforcement mechanism — one that would be more rigorous and careful about discerning the truth than the list was.

The value and consequence of the list comes down to the question, “what if one or more of the accusations on the list is false?” There was no system to appeal or dispute accusations. Every accuser was kept anonymous. There was absolutely no discernable cost to making a false accusation. No, the list wasn’t a criminal proceeding, but there’s a reason that criminal proceedings have the right to confront one’s accuser. The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution states that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” That wasn’t put in there by accident; the right of the accused (or the accused person’s counsel) to cross-examine an accuser makes false accusations less likely.

If a list of anonymous accusations is going to have serious consequences, then we are at a stage where one is guilty until proven innocent.

Donegan contends that a disclaimer was sufficient: “The document was indeed vulnerable to false accusations, a concern I took seriously. I added a disclaimer to the top of the spreadsheet: “This document is only a collection of misconduct allegations and rumors. Take everything with a grain of salt.” Although Donegan doesn’t mention this in her piece, the list also stated, “if you see a man you’re friends with, don’t freak out.”

Really? Were women reading the list supposed to just… pretend to not notice a friend being accused of sexual harassment or assault? Either a woman’s friend has done something bad, perhaps committing a heinous crime, or they’re being falsely accused of doing something bad, perhaps committing a heinous crime. Either way, a woman has good reason for “freaking out.”

Finally, the list included really vague and innocuous actions like “flirting” and “weird lunch dates” and it’s troubling that more women reading the list weren’t bothered by actions like that being on the same list as rape. Donegon never quite addresses that in her piece, beyond declaring, “Once a man had been accused of physical sexual assault by more than one woman, his name was highlighted in red. No one confused a crude remark for a rape, and efforts were made to contextualize the incidents with notes — a spreadsheet allows for all of this information to be organized and included.” Was everything contextualized? The whole list declared everyone on it as being “[bad word]-y,” regardless of the accusation. We in the general public have never learned what Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker did to deserve firing; he claims he only had a consensual relationship at work.

ADDENDA: Finally, a genuinely exciting weekend of football, with three of the four games going down to the wire. My sympathies to Falcons, Steelers and Saints fans. Someone who’s doing a good impression of Dennis Miller in his NFL announcing days remarked, “we haven’t seen Vikings beat up on the Saints like this since Edmund the Martyr was slain by the Great Heathen Army in 865.”

Closer to home, I’m scheduled to appear on the Turn on the Jets podcast with Scott Mason again in the near future, discussing free agency, and in particular, the merits and costs of Kirk Cousins, the Washington Redskins quarterback who is expected to depart in the offseason.

Politics & Policy

Most Other Presidents Would Be Touting This News for Weeks

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Just think, this is the sort of thing that the president could be talking about if he would just stop shooting himself in the foot:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is feeling good about tax reform. So good that it says it’s moving some of its truck production from Mexico to Michigan.

The automaker announced Thursday that it will spend more than $1 billion to revamp its Warren Truck Assembly Plant, which will start making the Ram heavy-duty truck in 2020. The truck is currently made in Saltillo, Mexico.

Fiat Chrysler said it will add 2,500 jobs in Michigan to support the move.

The company also said it’s giving one-time $2,000 bonuses to 60,000 U.S. workers.

“It is only proper that our employees share in the savings generated by tax reform and that we openly acknowledge the resulting improvement in the U.S. business environment by investing in our industrial footprint accordingly,” CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a press release.

Fiat Chrysler said it does not plan to shut the Saltillo plant, but declined to comment on which models will be made in Saltillo after Ram production moves north.

The president is keeping a campaign promise; manufacturing jobs are moving from Mexico to the Rust Belt. But he’s so addicted to saying the first thing that pops into his head, regardless of context or who’s in front of him, that he can’t stop hurting his own administration.

An Execrable Presidential Comment

Yes, the world has many unpleasant places.

Yes, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, and many other presidents used crude and salty languages in private settings as president.

Yes, one can fairly ask why the United States takes in a particular number of immigrants from a particular country.

But the president’s comment is appalling. For starters, this is the Oval Office and it is a responsibility of the president show some respect for his surroundings. Conservatives objected to Bill Clinton’s infamous behavior in the office, and then blew a gasket when President Obama put his feet on the Resolute desk. Any conservative who raged about all of that but shrugs at this sort of language in one of our national secular sacred spaces is a grade-A hypocrite.

Vulgarity is a choice. No one forced the president to use that particular term, and anyone with even the smallest amount of self-awareness would have recognized that in a meeting with lawmakers, discussing a highly-charged issue, dismissing whole countries and apparently an entire continent with that term was spectacularly unwise and unlikely to win over any skeptics to the president’s position.

Beyond that, it is now abundantly clear that President Trump believes that certain countries have absolutely no value, and that the United States should not welcome or accept anyone from them. A few weeks ago, the White House denied that the president said all Haitans have AIDS and that Nigerians live in huts. That denial is harder to believe now; a president who will use the S-word to refer to Haiti and Africa might very well make those other offensive comments.

The message from the president — and the subsequent refusal to deny, retract, or disavow the comments — is clear: People from these places have no value. A person with even the most cursory knowledge of American history should see parallels to past bigotry, such as the hostility to German-Americans during and after the First World War. One wonders if Trump’s grandfather, the Kallstadt, Germany–born Friedrich Drumpf, experienced it before his death in 1918, or if Trump’s father experienced it himself. Irish, Italians, Jews, Catholics — at one point or another, all kinds of groups now largely seen as “white” were seen as outsiders, untrustworthy, “dirty,” “unhealthy,” and incompatible with American values.

It was present in the United States from the very beginning: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?” That was written by Benjamin Franklin in 1751.

A lot of us thought we had largely left that behind. The story of the United States of America is a long and difficult journey towards the ever-wider recognition that a person’s value as a human being has nothing to do about where he or she comes from. A person’s value is shaped by his or her character, decisions and willingness to work hard and play by the rules.

If you want to concur with the president that Haiti is execrable, and that no one of value can possibly come from there, then you’re stating that you wish Congresswoman Mia Love of Utah had never been born in this country. Needless to say, she is disgusted by the president’s statement:

“The President’ comments are unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values. This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation. My parents came from one of those countries but proudly took an oath of allegiance to the United States and took on the responsibilities of everything that being a citizen comes with. They never took a thing from our federal government. They worked hard, paid taxes, and rose from nothing to take care of and provide opportunities for their children. They taught their children to do the same. That’s the American Dream,” the statement continued. “The President must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned.”

A person’s value is also shaped by what kind of behavior they exhibit in a position of responsibility. The president made every American parent’s life just a little bit more difficult yesterday: “In an unusual move, the word “s***hole” was repeated in print and on air Thursday evening, in capital letters on the CNN and MSNBC headlines that appear on the lower part of the screen. Fox News censored the word with asterisks.”

I’m not happy with the media’s decision to use and print the word, but they wouldn’t be in this situation if the president hadn’t said it in a meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office.

Yup, Missouri Will Be a Huge Race to Watch This Year

More-or-less affirming that other poll from earlier this week, the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling finds Missouri senator Claire McCaskill in a tough spot as 2018 begins. She’s at 44 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable, and she is effectively tied with Republican challenger Josh Hawley, leading 45 percent to 44 percent.

ADDENDA: If you’re not already listening to the Three Martini Lunch podcast, give it a try. We continue to have an exceptional rate of people completing the podcast, suggesting that our ten to 20-minute length is just right for the commute, jog, or other short earphone-wearing chunk of your day.