Politics & Policy

An Attempted Terrorist Attacker at the Louvre Is Taken Down Quickly

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“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed.” – Denzel Washington.

An Attempted Terrorist Attacker at the Louvre Is Taken Down Quickly

This could have turned out much, much worse:

A French soldier shot a man who attempted on Friday to enter the Louvre, Paris’ landmark art museum, carrying two backpacks and wielding a machete.

CBS Radio News correspondent Elaine Cobbe says the assailant was shot and wounded after pulling a machete on the soldier guarding the entrance to the museum from the adjoining, underground shopping area known as Carrousel du Louvre.

Paris Police chief Michel Cadot confirmed the attacker had been taken into custody after being shot and seriously wounded. The soldier who stopped him was slightly wounded. 

The soldier fired a total of five shots, according to Cadot. Luc Poignant, the head of a French police union, told France Info radio the suspect had gunshot injuries to his abdomen and leg.

French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said later Friday that the incident was “terrorist in nature.”    

Bomb technicians were called to the scene to investigate the bags the man was carrying, but an Interior Ministry spokesperson at the scene said no explosives were found. The spokesman said police were established a security perimeter around the museum, and that about 250 museum guests were being evacuated.

Way down in the tenth paragraph:

While French officials have not expounded on their determination that the attack was “terrorist in nature,” police have said the suspect shouted “God is great” in Arabic during the incident.

Yeah, see, when a guy does that, it does seem to clear up his motive.

Thank God no civilians were hurt, and this aspiring jihadist was dumb enough to literally bring a knife to a gunfight.

Patriots Fans Suddenly Morally Troubled by Political Disagreements

The Boston Globe finds that some New England Patriots fans… just aren’t as enthusiastic as they used to be, because of the team leaders’ ties and support for President Trump:

In the midst of a contentious presidential election, the three figures most commonly credited with the Patriots’ success — Brady, head coach Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft — all expressed support for their friend Donald Trump, despite many divisive and polarizing statements made by the then-candidate.

Now, at a time when [Patriots fan Chuck] Daly should be exulting in yet another banner season — Sunday’s Super Bowl LI matchup with the Atlanta Falcons will be the team’s seventh title-game appearance in 16 years — he is among a contingent of fans who admit to feeling somewhat . . . conflicted.

“With sports, there definitely are a lot of things that you overlook in order to just enjoy the entertainment of it,” said Daly, a 26-year-old South Shore native. “I was a Pats fan my whole life. I want to watch and love them and root for them. I just feel like I can’t.”

The “Make America Great Again” hat that Brady kept stationed in his locker for a time put some on edge, as did the letter of support Belichick wrote to Trump prior to the election. Kraft, a longtime friend who credits the president with supporting him after the 2011 death of his wife, Myra, attended last month’s inauguration.

The willingness of three prominent members of the organization to associate themselves with Trump — particularly in a state as blue as Massachusetts — has left some scratching their heads.

Hey, fellas, welcome to the world of any conservative fan of movies, television, or music. I think it was Lachlan Markay who said something like, “every musician and pop star on my playlist thinks I’m ‘The Man,’ but I listen to them anyway.”

Patriots fans, I would offer to trade football allegiances with you, but that would leave you rooting for the New York Jets, and the team’s owner Woody Johnson is Trump’s selection to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

In fact, I thought about the single most devious thing I could do to the New England Patriots franchise, a nefarious plan guaranteed to bring their two-decade run of excellence to a crashing end, and to steer them into a ditch of hapless futility for decades to come. I could… abandon the Jets and adopt New England as my team. Don’t test me, Patriots fans. My favorite television shows get canceled early, Serenity crashes at the box office, and my favorite GOP candidate last cycle was Bobby Jindal. I can jinx a team faster than the cover of Sports Illustrated, the cover of Madden NFL video games, the Bambino, the Billy Goat, or Gillette. If I start rooting for you guys, you won’t even see a Lombardi Trophy until the 2060s…

‘Looks Like Clock Boy’s Time…’ (Puts On Sunglasses)… ‘Has Run Out.’

(Cue opening scream of Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who)

Ben Shapiro – and his lawyer and my friend, Kurt Schlichter – get a big win:

In a decisive victory for free speech and freedom of the press, a legal team led by Chris Gober and The Gober Group, PLLC (Austin, TX) has won a dismissal and an attorneys’ fee award in a high-profile defamation suit filed by the father of a Muslim teenager who was arrested and suspended in 2015 for bringing a clock, which some said looked like a bomb, to school.

The incident put the Irving, Texas student, who came to be known in the media as “Clock Boy,” at the center of a national debate about terrorism and racial profiling and set off a firestorm of social media support for the teen who received invitations to visit Facebook, MIT, NASA and the White House. The incident was widely discussed in the press, and well-known political commentator Ben Shapiro discussed the controversy with Megyn Kelly during a segment on The Kelly File. Nearly a year later, the father filed a defamation lawsuit against various media defendants who reported on and commented on the controversy, including Shapiro.

Representing Mr. Shapiro, Schlichter & Shonack and The Gober Group moved to dismiss the suit using the Texas Citizens Participation Act, widely known as the “anti-SLAPP” statute, a Texas law that protects Texans from retaliatory lawsuits that aim to punish them for exercising their First Amendment rights. Through extensive briefing (which received praise from outside legal observers online), and during the district court hearing on January 30 argued by Gober, the team successfully established that Shapiro’s statements were covered by the Act and successfully argued that the claims should be dismissed because the statements were not defamatory per se, and were opinion or fair, true, and impartial statements involving a matter of public concern. Notably, the court also ordered the Mohameds to pay Shapiro’s attorneys’ fees, which are substantial.

Is there a deadline to pay those fees? Because I’m sure…

(puts on sunglasses again)

the clock’s ticking.

ADDENDA: Big podcast today! All the behind-the-scenes details about the Koch winter meeting that I couldn’t get into print, like my security escort to the men’s room; preparing for the “Big Game” (because the NFL doesn’t like anyone using the term “Super Bowl”); conclusions after watching the Ghostbusters reboot and the difference between a boring bad movie and an entertaining bad movie; elaborated thoughts on why social media networks aren’t fun anymore, and an extensive review of our listeners’ nominations for the worst movie of all time.

Mike Rowe kindly mentions last week’s story about the winter meeting on his Facebook page.

A week from today, I’m scheduled to guest-co-host WMAL’s Mornings on the Mall with Brian Wilson.

Berkeley 2017: ‘We Will Control the Streets. This Is War.’

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Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, indicating six more weeks of winter. Here in Authenticity Woods, northern Virginia, that means six more weeks of delayed school openings for any dusting of snow whatsoever.

Berkeley 2017: ‘We Will Control the Streets. This Is War.’

We didn’t expect the hard Left to learn anything useful from the 2016 election. Instead, they have chosen to double down:

The Hard Left doesn’t fear the law. They’ve decided they are the law.

Let’s be clear: a significant number of Americans, both on and off America’s college campuses do not believe in other people’s right to give speeches with perspectives and ideas they oppose. The boss noticed how frequently the term “un-American” is thrown around these days in the debates about immigration law. Physically attacking people because they have different beliefs is about as un-American as it gets.

Kiara Robles braved the crowd wearing a red “Make Bitcoin Great Again” hat in the style of President Trump’s red hats, which made her and our crew a target. The video in the player above shows the graphic exchange between a protester and Robles, who was pepper sprayed. “I’m looking to make a statement by just being here and I think the protesters are doing the same. Props to the ones who are doing it non-violently, but I think that’s a very rare thing indeed.”

She later told ABC7 News she was alright.

She was not the only person attacked at the protest Wednesday.

“I hope I don’t have a broken nose over this,” said Joe Scherer, an observer. “The First Amendment is fundamental to our Constitution.”

By 9 p.m. protesters had taken to the streets of Berkeley carrying protest signs. Some marched while others threw rocks at buildings. A Chase location and a Wells Fargo location were vandalized. Broken glass could be seen flying into the streets from Sky7.

Officials held a news conference while the protests were happening saying it wasn’t a proud moment for the city.

The violence and vandalism spread far beyond the school’s campus.

U.C. Berkeley police and university officials issued warnings to the students not to exit their dorms. A shelter-in-place was ordered as well.

When you are willing to pepper-spray right in front of the television cameras, you’re not just attacking that person; you’re trying to intimidate everyone else who sees that image, too. It’s a signal to everyone else – if the angry hard-Left mob thinks you’re against them, they won’t wait to read the fine print on your red cap. They will inflict pain on you and not even bother to ask questions later.

Meanwhile, across the bay in San Francisco:

The San Francisco police department is suspending ties with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The announcement comes amid growing concerns of spying on Muslim Americans by the new Trump Administration.

While you’re at it, why not paint a bulls-eye on the TransAmerica building?

The DeVos Nomination: This Is Why It’s Hard to Trust ‘Moderate Republicans’

If Betsy DeVos gets confirmed, it is going to be by the skin of her teeth. The editors contend that a pair of Republican senators are on the verge of making a terribly consequential mistake:

Two Republican senators — Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins — have declared that they intend to vote against Betsy DeVos, putting Donald Trump’s nominee for Education secretary at risk of failing confirmation. Murkowski and Collins, and any other Republicans who might be on the fence, should think twice before giving America’s teachers’ unions a huge victory.

Assume all 48 Democrats in the Senate vote no, and the vote is 50-50, with Vice President Mike Pence offering the tiebreaking vote… assuming that Jeff Sessions is still a senator. Otherwise, you would have to wait for his replacement to be named and sworn in.

I’ve got a Facebook friend, nice woman, very much on the left and I don’t bother to argue with her. I’m not going to change her mind, and she’s not going to change mine. But a few days ago, I saw her comment on her page that in Detroit, DeVos “completely destroyed their public school system.”

Completely destroyed! Apparently there are no public schools in Detroit anymore, it’s just an apocalyptic wasteland, with desperate huddled masses of desperate parents and uneducated children, lamenting that everything went to hell once Axel Foley went out West and yearning for the arrival of a messiah figure like Jesus Christ or RoboCop.

Our Ramesh Ponnuru has written a lot about Detroit’s charter schools, and the increasingly dramatic reinterpretation of study results about student test scores:

Here are some of the conclusions of a study: Based on the findings presented here, the typical student in Michigan charter schools gains more learning in a year than his [traditional public school] counterparts, amounting to about two months of additional gains in reading and math. These positive patterns are even more pronounced in Detroit, where historically student academic performance has been poor. These outcomes are consistent with the result that charter schools have significantly better results than [traditional public schools] for minority students who are in poverty. 

The study found that 47 percent of Detroit charter schools significantly outperformed traditional public schools on reading and 49 percent of charters significantly outperformed traditionals on math. One percent of charters significantly underperformed on reading and 7 percent on math. For the rest, the study found no significant difference. 

That’s a really different definition of “completely destroyed” than I know.

‘In War, Truth Is the First Casualty.’

Remember yesterday’s Jolt point about the New York Daily News headline, “First President Trump-ordered raid kills 8-year-old American girl?”

Today the New York Times reveals new details about the raid that make that headline even more appalling.

With the crucial element of surprise lost, the Americans and Emiratis found themselves in a gun battle with Qaeda fighters who took up positions in other houses, a clinic, a school and a mosque, often using women and children as cover, American military officials said in interviews this week.

When terrorists use children as human shields, the odds of a child being killed increase exponentially. Responsibility for this tragedy falls at the feet of the al-Qaeda members who chose to use them as cover, rather than the American and Emirati soldiers engaging.

And to use her death as a not-so-subtle to slam Trump… look, guys, I know you hate President Trump so much, it makes your Bush derangement syndrome from 2005 to 2008 look mild. But this move is cheap and exploitative.

ADDENDA: Inspired by the mad-lib “STOP (insert name here)” signs, I offer my own vanilla version that’s ice cold on our heated partisan passions…

Politics & Policy

Gor-Such a Good Pick!

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Gor-Such a Good Pick!

For any Trump fan who thought I was incapable of writing this: “Neil Gorsuch is a terrific pick, and President Trump should be congratulated for making it.”

I’ve never seen Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, do a cartwheel before, but I think the Gorsuch nomination might spur him to try.

While he has rightly recognized that no one could ever replace Justice Scalia, there are strong reasons to expect Justice Gorsuch to be an eminently worthy successor to the great justice.

Gorsuch is a brilliant jurist and dedicated originalist and textualist. He thinks through issues deeply. He writes with clarity, force, and verve. And his many talents promise to give him an outsized influence on future generations of lawyers.

 . . . Gorsuch acknowledges that Justice Scalia’s project had its critics, from the secular moralist Ronald Dworkin to the pragmatist Richard Posner. He explains why he rejects those critics and instead sides with Justice Scalia in believing that “an assiduous focus on text, structure, and history is essential to the proper exercise of the judicial function.” The Constitution itself carefully separates the legislative and judicial powers. Whereas the legislative power is the “power to prescribe new rules of general applicability for the future,” the judicial power is a “means for resolving disputes about what existing law is and how it applies to discrete cases and controversies.” This separation of powers is “among the most important liberty-protecting devices of the constitutional design.” Among other things, if judges were to act as legislators by imposing their preferences as constitutional dictates, “how hard it would be to revise this so-easily-made judicial legislation to account for changes in the world or to fix mistakes.” Indeed, the “very idea of self-government would seem to wither to the point of pointlessness.”

I love this bit of cold logic from Kevin Williamson:

[Gorsuch is] “extreme”? Gorsuch sits on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. He was confirmed to that post unanimously. If he is an “extremist,” then Senate Democrats confirmed a right-wing extremist to one of the nation’s highest courts without a single vote against him.

Why would they do that? Why would Senator Obama have done that? The word “extremist” of course no longer means anything. It is something like what George Orwell said of “fascism.”

 . . . “Fascism,” he wrote, had come only to mean “something not desirable.” I do sometimes wonder, sincerely, at what appears to me to be a genuine lack of self-respect on the Left. No one believes Chuck Schumer helped put a right-wing extremist on a federal court, and no one believes Gorsuch is an extremist. But the ritual incantation must be made, because that is what is demanded.

Senator Ben Sasse tweeted that he “Went to the Supreme Court to talk to the protesters. But it turns out to be a Mad-Lib protest.”

The Judicial Crisis Network is launching a $10 million national campaign to confirm President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. This phase consists of a $2 million broadcast, cable, satellite and digital ad buy starting in Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota, Montana, and the nation’s capital. (I guess we know which four Democratic senators will be facing the pressure.)

“Neil Gorsuch is exceptionally qualified – a fair and independent judge who bases his decisions on the Constitution, and he is widely respected on both sides of the aisle,” said Carrie Severino, Chief Counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network. “He was confirmed unanimously to one of our highest courts in 2006, and I am confident he will receive bipartisan support again this time. Some Democrats may be tempted to obstruct his nomination, but we have already launched a robust campaign in key states, and we will ultimately force vulnerable Senators to choose between obstructing and keeping their Senate seats.”

The message from the world of the Koch network: In the 36 states where the Americans for Prosperity, Generation Opportunity, the Libre Initiative, and Concerned Veterans of America are active, they’ll be getting their 3.2 million supporters to push their senators to support Gorsuch’s confirmation. Efforts and resources will focus in 10 targeted states with direct mail, door knocks, phone calls, and digital advocacy, i.e., paid ads and social media.

The Bonfire of the Public’s Trust in the Media

My podcast co-host Mickey White, writing at RedState, notices that in just four days, major members of the mainstream media botched stories and declared falsehoods in five major ways:

  • Whatever you think of Trump’s executive order, and there’s plenty to criticize, it isn’t a “Muslim ban.”
  • When the New York Taxi Unions decided to protest at the Airports, they canceled service for Saturday night. Uber drivers picked up stranded passengers at those airports and suspended “surge pricing.” By Sunday morning, the unions had convinced their liberal allies that Uber had somehow aligned itself with Trump and was trying to profit from Trump’s policy.
  • Liberals convinced themselves that Trump was preparing “an executive order opening up discrimination against the LGBTQ community on the basis of religious belief.”
  • The “Monday Night massacre“ consisted of the president firing one person who refused to defend a legal executive order, as her job required.

Finally, here’s an actual New York Daily News headline: “First President Trump-ordered raid kills 8-year-old American girl.” This was a U.S. Navy SEAL raid in Yemen that targeted the local al-Qaeda branch that is among the world’s most dangerous. This is the group that organized the Charlie Hebdo magazine attack in Paris in 2015 and has repeatedly tried to down U.S. planes. The girl was Nawar al-Awlaki, U.S.-born daughter of Yemeni terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki. No 8-year-old deserves to die, but this is what happens when wanted terrorists hide with their families. There is no option for raiding dangerous individuals like this that does not put their families at risk as well. The headlines easily leave the impression that Trump ordered a child executed.

The interesting question is whether leftist agitation in the news pages actually works to help leftist causes anymore. The answer increasingly appears to be, “no.”

Why You Hate Twitter

Christopher Cooper – a.k.a. “Coop” – is an artist with some libertarian sensibilities known for skateboards, concert posters, album covers. He noted Monday night that he’s thinking of leaving Twitter. His thoughts, cleaned-up for a family newsletter:

Had lunch today with a friend (with way more twitter followers that me) and we both agreed we’re just about ready to shutter our accounts. Neither of us needs the promotion badly enough to deal with the constant barrage of ****heads. If you tweet about politics, you get trolled by ****s, and if you deliberately do not tweet about politics, you get attacked by “woke” ****s. I’ve also seen too many of my friends on here get threats against their families from ****heads & I don’t want to go down that road.

Whatever Twitter once was – I initially used it to stay in touch with far-off friends – it’s now a way to reach a mass audience. Almost anyone can interact with almost anyone. The bad news is, this gives almost anyone in the world an ability to send you messages, and to do so anonymously. No inventor ever likes to contemplate the worst possible application of their new creation; surely Jack Dorsey didn’t think in 2006, “Hey, I’ve just found an amazing way to empower racists, stalkers, psychos, and the most malevolent voices in society!”

Will Rogers famously said he never met a man he didn’t like. Put him on Twitter today and within a week he would turn into H.L. Mencken. Jean-Paul Sartre was close; Hell is other people on Twitter.

The world is full of people who you would never choose to have a conversation with – not because you aren’t open minded or you’re hypersensitive, but because you have better things to do with your life than to spend time around people who mock, berate, sneer, or just overall hate you. And yet, on Twitter, they’re metaphorically right in front of you. Yes, you can block them with the touch of the button. But very few people like being hated, or being reminded that they are hated. And in 2017 America, whatever your view on politics is, someone hates you for holding that view, and is eager to let you know how much they hate you.

(All of this should be a deep, deep concern to the Twitter company.)

So why is anyone on Twitter? Because there’s positive feedback, and that feels good. It feels like an affirmation. You’re right. People agree with you. People like you. They like your one-line joke, your thought, your snappy headline, your photo of what you’re about to eat. Every once in a while, they react in ways that make you think or reconsider what you thought before.

On Twitter, the ratio of useful/enjoyable interaction to useless/unenjoyable interaction has been steadily sliding in the wrong direction.

ADDENDA: Yesterday I did a Facebook Live chat about the Koch network winter meeting and the then-upcoming Supreme Court pick. Thanks to the 10,000 or so viewers!

One last observation from the Koch winter meeting. At a gathering of free-market libertarian/conservatives, the line, “I didn’t know you were a mercantilist” is the social equivalent of a “yo momma” joke.

Politics & Policy

Acting Attorney Generals Can’t Overrule Presidents on Enforcement of Legal Orders.

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Acting Attorney Generals Can’t Overrule Presidents on Enforcement of Legal Orders.

The editors sum it up:

Like most Democrats, [now-fired Acting Attorney General Sally] Yates objects to the president’s executive order. Fair enough. But she is not a political operative, she was a Justice Department official — the highest such official. If her opposition to the president’s policy was as deeply held as she says, her choice was clear: enforce the president’s policy or quit.

Instead, she chose insubordination: Knowing she would be out the moment Senator Sessions is confirmed, she announced on Monday night that the Justice Department would not enforce the president’s order. She did not issue this statement on the grounds that the order is illegal. She declined to take a definitive position on that question. She rested her decision, rather, on her disagreement with the justice of the order. Now, she’ll be a left-wing hero, influential beyond her heretofore status as a nameless bureaucrat. But she had to go.

That’s what struck me about Yates’ letter. She says the executive order is not “lawful” but never specifies what law it breaks. That’s the sort of thing you would expect the attorney general of the United States to mention.

In fact, as far as the U.S. Department of Justice was concerned, Trump’s order was perfectly legal:

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel had reviewed the order and signed off on its legality. But Ms. Yates and her staff lawyers believed that the department had to consider the intent of the order, which she said appeared designed to single out people based on religion.

I know that Constitutional rights don’t appeal to non-citizens, but I’m surprised Yates didn’t even try to argue that the executive order violates the equal protection clause by implementing a religious test. The fact that she didn’t lay out any legal or Constitutional argument makes me, a layman, suspect there wasn’t a convincing legal or Constitutional argument to make.

Instead, she wrote, “I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right. At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities.” So she doesn’t think the policy is right? Boy, that sounds subjective. Good thing every single lawyer in the Obama administration’s DOJ believed that it was morally correct to enforce federal marijuana statutes in states that had legalized medical marijuana.

The ongoing controversy generated another good what-the-heck moment, as it appears some Hill staffers helped put together the language of the executive order and never got around to telling their bosses what the White House was working on:

Senior staffers on the House Judiciary Committee helped Donald Trump’s top aides draft the executive order curbing immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations, but the Republican committee chairman and party leadership were not informed, according to multiple sources involved in the process.

Kathryn Rexrode, the House Judiciary Committee’s communications director, declined to comment about the aides’ work. A Judiciary Committee aide said Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) was not “consulted by the administration on the executive order.”

The work of the committee aides began during the transition period after the election and before Donald Trump was sworn in. The staffers signed nondisclosure agreements, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Trump’s transition operation forced its staff to sign these agreements, but it would be unusual to extend that requirement to congressional employees. Rexrode declined to comment on the nondisclosure pacts.

Gonna be some heated arguments in Goodlatte’s office this morning, huh? “Hey, does anybody else in this office have any secret outside projects they forgot to mention?”

From Mike Rowe to Deion Sanders, Signs That America’s Problems Are Fixable

A few more highlights from the Koch network winter meeting in Indian Wells that you have to read about….

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs and was there discussing MikeRoweWorks Foundation, his charity that granting more than $3 million in scholarships to students with a work ethic to attend trade schools across the country. (He joked that he initially didn’t want to name it after himself, and named it “MicroWorks,” but Bill Gates complained.)

Rowe offered his familiar but no less accurate assessment that society will continue to have a skills gap as long as any job that involves working with your hands is seen as second-class or inferior to white-collar work.

“We right now have 5.8 million jobs that exist that nobody can fill right now,” Mike Rowe told the assembled Koch donors. “About 75 percent do not require four year degree. We have in our heads this idea that the best path for everybody is a four-year degree. We have ‘higher education’ and — we’re not crass enough to call it ‘lower’ education — we’ll call it ‘alternative’ education. Implicit in the language that we choose is the judgment and the ultimate outcome. It’s a reflection of the kinds of jobs we’ve rewarded, and the perception that these jobs are vocational consolation prizes. We’ve absolutely created a hierarchy in work.”

Monday morning brought a presentation about the Urban Specialists program in Dallas, run by Pastor Omar Jahwar with some high profile help from Deion Sanders, the only man to play in both the World Series and a Super Bowl, and the only man to score a touchdown in the NFL and hit a home run in Major League Baseball in the same week.

Urban Specialists has connected with the lives of more than 2,000 young people in the Dallas area, and a related athletic program has helped 12,000 kids. They’ve funded scholarships, both athletic and academic, youth mentoring, and perhaps most intriguingly, using former gang members to reach out to at-risk kids.

“Nobody knows how to keep a kid out of a gang better than the people who ran in gangs themselves,” said Antong Lucky, one of the “ambassadors” of Urban Specialists.

“We’re a full service… I don’t even know what to call us,” Sanders said. “We’re out there touching the whole family. Single mothers — 70 percent of our kids are living in a single parent home. We’ll reach out to the dad, saying, ‘you may not be able to see eye to eye with your child’s mother, but can you see your child face to face?’”

Programs like these are the best of America – driven, big-hearted, smart people looking at the worst problems in their communities and figuring out how to tackle them effectively, and measurable results with optimism and good cheer. You’ll probably notice the news and political discourse hasn’t made you feel optimistic lately. It wasn’t just the desert landscape beyond the golf courses that made me feel like I was on Mars in the past few days.

At the Koch summit, yes, there was political talk, but a lot of the meeting was focused on spotlighting excellent charitable and nonprofit programs that had demonstrated tangible results in their communities. The political talk was less about who’s up and who’s down, and what’s actually going to get done in the coming two years. Koch donors want to hear about the policies, and they want the details. The Koch crowd isn’t afraid to offer a tough pushback against a traditional ally when he strays – let’s just say someone whose name rhymes with “Schmaul Schryan,” not in attendance, was accused of forgetting his free-market principles with the border adjustment tax idea – and the Koch network has made it pretty clear they’re completely willing to work with a Democrat or left-leaning group if they think it will help advance one of their priorities. It’s not bipartisanship or non-partisanship, it’s almost anti-partisanship. Just find somebody who shares one of your goals and get it done. Today’s ally might be tomorrow’s foe and vice versa, and just take it as it comes.

Checking into the news or my Twitter feed, the rest of the world had gone mad over Trump’s executive orders, with airports turning into chaos.

ADDENDA: The nation will hear President Trump’s decision on a Supreme Court nominee this evening at 8 p.m. Eastern. That’s right, a prime-time television announcement of a big decision, to know who’s going to be moving from one home court to another and making a huge impact on who wins in the most consequential battles of our era. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we go through this with LeBron James every few years.

National Security & Defense

Seeing Red Over a Decision to Bar Green Card Holders

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Seeing Red Over a Decision to Bar Green Card Holders

A good idea implemented badly isn’t much of a good idea anymore.

If you’re trying to keep dangerous terrorists out of the country, why would you institute a sweeping new rule that went into effect immediately that denied entry to U.S. green card holders?

Green card holders:

Senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security initially interpreted Trump’s order to not apply to green card holders from the seven banned countries. Trump White House overruled that reading, however, meaning those green card holders were initially barred.

Our Charlie Cooke, green card holder, describes his experience:

It took me a year from application to acceptance, and the vast majority of that time was taken up by the FBI. In addition to furnishing the government with my residential history, my employment history, and my criminal record (which is clean), I had to provide details of any clubs or societies to which I have ever belonged, to promise I wasn’t a terrorist or a Nazi or a communist, and to submit my fingerprints and a government-taken photograph on top. Which is to say: I had to go through the wringer before my card was issued. Because I was spotlessly clean my application wasn’t too involved, but I have friends whose days have been taken up by details of their parking tickets or their boyhood indiscretions or their penchant for getting fired. This is a tough nut to crack. 

Green card holders have already had their fingerprints collected, and their identity is checked against ​the FBI’s Universal Index. What is the second interview and check against the FBI database going to do?

Kirk W. Johnson is founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, and the author of To Be a Friend is Fatal: the Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind. Sunday afternoon, he offered a devastating description of the sacrifices of brave Iraqi men and women and their families who helped the U.S. military and who are now barred from entering the United States. Whatever you think of the broader effort for more intense vetting and scrutiny of those entering the country, to treat these men and women like this is appalling. 

The Best News You Will Read All Day… and Then Maybe Some of the Worst

The good news is there are good people in this world, dedicated to making it better.

You may know Dean Kamen as the inventor of the Segway – as well as the drug infusion pump, a wheelchair that can climb stairs, and the “Luke” prosthetic arm.

At the Koch Seminar Network’s winter meeting, Kamen was there, showcasing his Slingshot water purification device. He noted that most efforts to bring clean water to poor, isolated communities eventually run into technical problems. Chlorine pills can prevent infectious diseases, but if the locals use too many or too few, they’ll get sick anyway. Testing water requires specialized skills and equipment. Kamen concluded that the world needed the simplest system possible: a box with two hoses – put bad water in, get good water out. 

The Slingshot boils water and then collects the pollutant-free condensation – but unlike other water purifiers, it collects the heat and then recycles it back to continue the boiling, a closed circuit of energy. Kamen said the Slingshot uses less power than a hair dryer and can produce 1,000 liters of clean water a day – enough for a village. It’s already been used in Ghana, South Africa, Paraguay, and Dominica.

Dr. Ian Tong is part of the Doctors on Demand company/service, which lets patients download an app, set up an account, and then set up a live video chat with a doctor. There’s usually a three-minute wait. The patient types in or uses the voice-transcription software to describe their symptoms or ailment, listing their current medication, allergies, or other conditions. From there the doctor can refer them to a hospital or clinic if needed; the app also directs users to nearby pharmacies. The cost is $49 for a fifteen minute consultation; they’re already taking insurance from United Healthcare, Humana, some Blue Cross Blue Shield plans. The service already has more than a million registered users.

Then there’s e-NABLE, a project where volunteers who own 3-D printers – the kind you can buy at Home Depot – and use them to create parts for artificial hands, assemble them, and send them to children with upper limb injuries. The previously-existing artificial limbs are expensive and difficult for children; the ones from e-NABLE look like part of a superhero. Children who need them go from feeling different to feeling awesome.

The network estimates that it has delivered about 1,800 artificial limbs for children.

Catherine and Charles Hoke founded Defy Ventures, a nonprofit that goes into prisons and teaches incarcerated men, women and youth key business and entrepreneurial skills. Participants in their program have a 3.2 percent recidivism rate over the past five years, and a 95 percent employment rate. (Nationally, about 76 percent of convicted criminals are arrested for another offense within five years.)

The program trains the incarcerated on everything from the basics of running a business, to full Emily Post etiquette training, to tying a necktie, to using LinkedIn. Participants in the program take the tests for a Baylor University MBA certificate. They have a passage rate close to 100 percent – partially because of desire and drive, and partially because there’s not a lot else to do in prison but study. The Koch network’s new arm focusing on social capital, Stand Together, has given an unspecified but “generous” grant to Defy Ventures, and the Hokes met with additional potential donors at the Koch network’s winter meeting.

The bad news is that some of these efforts – greatness in human form – are seen as controversial in some circles; sometimes this is because the efforts are driven by private enterprise and charity instead of the government, and sometimes it’s simply because of the connection to the Koch bothers.

The state of Arkansas only allowed telemedicine last year. In Texas, the state medical board only wants telemedicine used when there is a previously-existing doctor-patient relationship. Tong said the state’s wary perspective “has put a lot of fear in many doctors.”

As you probably know, the Koch network is seen as Public Enemy No. 1 by the progressive Left. Back in 2014, Kamala Harris, then-California attorney general, now a U.S. senator, demanded the names and addresses of anyone who had donated more than $5,000 to the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. No crime was alleged and all of the group’s filings with the IRS were in order. Americans for Prosperity strongly suspected that Harris’s office would leak the list and subject their donors to harassment from leftist groups.

Last year a District Court judge ruled against Harris; she appealed to circuit court.

Security at the Koch winter meetings feels just short of the kind you would expect at a presidential event. Every event organizer and staffer was as polite and pleasant as could be, but offered those slightly ominous, first-act-of-a-thriller foreshadowing warnings to not wander off and to always wear my media badge at all times. Maybe that’s why the conference is in a desert; if I break the rules, they could just drive me out to the middle of nowhere and leave me there.

The New Republic had a decent piece pointing out that the allegedly oh-so-sinister Koch network is effective because it doesn’t just focus on winning elections and it doesn’t just focus on Washington. The piece quotes Jane Mayer’s Dark Money book:

“The first phase required an ‘investment’ in intellectuals whose ideas would serve as the ‘raw products.’ The second required an investment in think tanks that would turn the ideas into marketable policies. And the third phase required the subsidization of ‘citizens’ groups that would, along with ‘special interests’ pressure elected officials to implement the policies. It was in essence a libertarian production line, waiting only to be bought, assembled and switched on.”

If you use the verbal equivalent of the scary lighting used in that photo shoot of John McCain for The Atlantic in 2008, then yes, this all sounds terribly sinister. Shift the lighting a little, and all the Kochs are doing is effective activism. They have a set of values – freedom, independence, private community-based efforts, and personal charity – and they’ve used their considerable fortune to set up a lot of venues to promote those values.

The only real difference between the Koch brothers and Tom Steyer or George Soros is that the Koch brothers are better at achieving their goals, and particularly better at getting the team around them to focus on the long-term and easily-overlooked corners of the governing process – i.e., state legislatures, local tax initiatives and the political races that aren’t “sexy.”

Above: Charles Koch. Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.

Pulling the Thread on a Comment from Joy Reid…

From Ana Marie Cox’s interview with MSNBC’s Joy Reid in the New York Times on Sunday:

What did you think about [Hillary Clinton’s] efforts to capture the African-American vote?

At the end of the day, you have to go to those cities and be on the ground. Clinton believed the data that black people were just going to show up just because we’re Democrats. But black people know how to live in a terrible system; we’ve been living in a terrible system most of the time we’ve been in America. You’re not going to scare us by saying: “If you don’t vote, a racist is going to be the president.” Black people are just like: “Really? Again?”

Look, I’m an outsider to the African-American community, I haven’t walked in their shoes, and so I should assess the political decision-making of members of that group with some humility. But it seems to me that if a “racist president” is going to be a consequential menace in a person’s life, it would be worth going out and actually voting to stop his election. All things considered, voting is a pretty mild imposition upon one’s time. One day a year, one line to stand in.

And if an allegedly “racist president” isn’t troubling enough to get an African-American to show up and vote for the alternative… then just how troubling is he? Or maybe the more accurate assessment is, if African-Americans don’t find Donald Trump to be as racist as his most ardent critics insist… maybe he isn’t as racist as they claim.

ADDENDA: I’ll be flying back to the East Coast today, so if all of these protesters could clear out of the nation’s airports, that would be great.

Politics & Policy

The First Sanctuary City Surrenders!

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The First Sanctuary City Surrenders!

Beautiful.

President Trump is hailing the first victory in his fight against “sanctuary cities” after a South Florida mayor ordered his employees on Thursday to begin working more closely with federal immigration authorities.

For years, Miami-Dade County has refused to hold some undocumented immigrants in its jails for federal immigration agents. But after Trump signed an executive order threatening to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez changed his mind.

Gimenez signed an executive order Thursday ordering the director of his corrections department to begin honoring all requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE) to hold immigration suspects in Miami-Dade County jails.

“Miami-Dade County complies with federal law and intends to fully cooperate with the federal government,” the order read.

Gimenez said he made the decision to ensure that the county does not lose out on $355 million in federal funding it has coming in 2017.

The Trouble With the Newly-Recharged ‘Accountability Journalism’

Over at the Neiman Journalism Lab, Ken Doctor offers an essay about mutual accountability – the audience holds the media accountable, the media holds the powerful accountable – that runs along fine until we hit this point:

If publishers, editors, and general managers — at dailies, public radio stations, alternative weeklies, TV outlets and emerging digital startups — assert such values, what work will they point to, each week or each day, that fulfills that promise? Those news organizations — The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, The Guardian — that have seen a boom in subscription sales have done just that. They’ve done the visible work, and readers have responded.

Er, okay, except… all of those examples are center-left to pretty far left. If you can’t find any publication on the Right that represents the values of good journalism you want to salute, then I start to draw some conclusions about how you define “holding the powerful accountable.”

He continues with this example:

The real-life implications for Americans, given the spate of policy/law changes, looks like it is going to be profound. Especially at the local level (where, let’s remember, everyone lives), health care, environmental, education, and criminal justice impacts should be quite reportable. This week, via NPR’s All Things Considered, I heard the kind of report we need. NPR, in partnership with Phoenix’s KJZZ and Kaiser Health News, produced “Arizona Children Could Lose Health Coverage Under Obamacare Repeal.” In less than four minutes, it made human impacts clear.

The NPR piece does quote a health care policy expert from the Goldwater Institute, but otherwise it follows a really familiar narrative: The good and generous government is giving something to the deserving needy, and bad people want to take it away. Repealing a law that has been largely disliked since its inception is framed as cruel act to a mom who survived ovarian cancer in college.

Perhaps the potential repeal of Obamacare strikes many journalists as outrageous. It’s a free country, and they’re free to come to that conclusion. But what else outrages them?

Did the falsity of ‘if you like your plan, you can keep your plan’ outrage them? Did veterans dying while waiting for care from the VA outrage them? Did the administration’s actions before, during and after the Benghazi attack outrage them?  This isn’t “whataboutism,” allegedly a disingenuous form of changing the subject. This is a challenge to political journalists, that if they saw these other Obama-era scandals as regrettable, but inconsequential snafus, with no larger lesson or meaning… why?

If you see certain other stories of scandal and incompetence as deeply meaningful, and national “teachable moments”, why is that? Hopefully your sense of a meaningful and consequential cause for outrage doesn’t align perfectly with one party’s interests. Ideally, the course of human events will periodically bring you to offer a critical assessment of someone you previously liked or agreed with. (Ahem. Bob McDonnell. Ben Carson. Mike Huckabee.) 

There is desire among the president’s most high-profile critics to build a broad bipartisan coalition of permanent opposition to Trump, to minimize his ability to change national policies, and to leave him a legacy as one of America’s least consequential presidents. But is the motivation for that opposition Trump’s deviation from traditional Republicanism, or because of his partial alignment with it?

Trump critics catch my attention when their argument is that he is uniquely troubling in the Oval Office because of his lack of impulse control, his belief in implausible theories, his petty vindictiveness, his crude comments and language, his contradictory statements and persistently ameliorating perspective on Russia.  These critics lose me when they suggest Trump is dangerous because he wants abortion restrictions, border security, Obamacare’s repeal, to cut particular government spending, and for sanctuary cities to start cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Trump is a controversial personality, but that doesn’t mean that everything he does is automatically controversial.

The Death-Stroke for Heavy-Handed Gun Control Storylines

The news of the gun violence storyline in DC Comics’ Deathstroke comic isn’t quite as absurd and insufferably politically-correct as it seems at first-glance. For starters, the writer, Christopher Priest, at least recognizes that a Deathstroke comic is just about the last place to expect a story that talks about how bad guns are. See, if you collected comics in the late 80s and early 90s, this is what you’re used to with Deathstroke:

And the more recent live-action version of the character on the television series Arrow used guns as well:

Deathstroke is perhaps the most gun-focused comics character this side of the Punisher. Yes, he also uses swords and various other weapons, but Deathstroke shooting a gun at a bad guy is the bread and butter of his stories. A Deathstroke comic telling you that “gun violence is bad” is like Baskin Robbins telling you that calories are bad. What the heck do you think you’ve been selling all these years?

Secondly, Deathstroke is one of those former-villain anti-hero characters. Meaning that he’s not the kind of character with the moral authority to shake his head in disapproval of America’s gun laws, or just about anyone else. At least when I was reading, his day job was being an assassin. The standard gun control message is even less persuasive within the fictional world depicted in superhero comics books. With dangerous killers like Deathstroke and every other super-villain threat running around, any civilian in the D.C. comics universe would be foolish to not own every possible gun he can.

But at least Priest – interestingly, a Baptist minister – recognizes his character cannot be a plausible messenger for the message he wants to send:

Priest uses a reporter to investigate rumors that the families of shooting victims have hired Deathstroke to take out the armed killers of their children. Deathstroke is mostly silent through the issue, while Chicago citizens debate whether an eye for an eye can ever be the right way to answer back to violence.

The silence from the assassin was intentional, according to Priest. “I wanted Deathstroke to be a force of nature more,” Priest said. “I wanted to have as objective an analysis of the crisis as I’d be able to do. So I used a reporter’s voice.”

Still, even the modified effort within the story runs into some serious cognitive dissonance with the comic’s established narrative and rules. The preview of the comic at the link features an “armed citizen” story going horribly wrong – a case of mistaken identity causes a fatal shooting of a child on a bicycle. Surely, we are to conclude from this sequence of events that private citizens carrying guns is just a formula for tragic, unnecessary bloodshed.

Except… Deathstroke has been around in the comics since 1980, and in every time he’s been on the heroic side of the line, he’s been a private citizen carrying a gun – sometimes really huge ones – and blowing the smithereens out of villains and looking awesome while doing it. Having access to cool guns and good aim has been a big part of what made Slade Wilson a heroic character. DC Comics has glamorized being a good shot with a gun for decades now – ask Deadshot, Nemesis, Vigilante, Jonah Hex, etcetera – and now this fictional sequence is supposed to make the audience believe that gun ownership is recklessly dangerous and morally abhorrent? Come on. You cannot have your cake and eat it on a scale like this, comic book creators.

Coming next week: the Deathstroke creative team teaches us all that torture and threats are not effective interrogation tools!

ADDENDA: This morning, as you read this, I am off to the Koch Network’s winter meeting. Pardon me, as the Democrats and their aligned media prefer to call it, “the shadowy Koch brothers far-reaching network” gathering; I imagine the whole thing is going to look something like the secret Stonecutters meeting from The Simpsons, lots of masked individuals in robes singing about their far-reaching power:

Who controls the British crown? Who keeps the metric system down? We do, we do!

Who keeps Atlantis off the maps? Who keeps the Martians under wraps? We do, we do!

Who holds back the electric car? Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star? We do, we do!

Who robs cavefish of their sight? Who rigs every Oscar night? We do, we do!

Politics & Policy

Tulsi Gabbard Disappoints

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Tulsi Gabbard Disappoints

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii was quickly turning into one of my favorite Democrats.

An Iraq war veteran, Gabbard was one of the few Democrats who grumbled about Obama’s refusal to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” She said that the Obama administration’s preference for the generic term “violent extremism” and suggestion that poverty motivates terrorism amounted to “a diversion.” She argued that the Obama national-security team “misidentified the enemy and their motivation.” In 2015, she was way more wary about Iran than the Obama administration was.

“We have the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, omitting Iran and Hezbollah from the list of threats to our country for the first time in a long time,” she said, noting that the Islamic theocracy is meanwhile building an empire in the region. “There seems to really be a lack of a coherent strategy with regards to how we, as the United States, are dealing with Iran, as we look at this threat of a nuclear-armed Iran,”

More recently, Gabbard famously clashed with Debbie Wasserman Shultz at the Democratic National Committee, arguing that the DNC’s decision-making helped Hillary Clinton, hurt Bernie Sanders, and amounted to favoritism.

“It’s very dangerous when we have people in positions of leadership who use their power to try to quiet those who disagree with them,” she added. “When I signed up to be vice chair of the D.N.C., no one told me I would be relinquishing my freedom of speech and checking it at the door.”

All if this is why it’s so dispiriting to see Gabbard head to Syria, meet with ruthless dictator Bashar Assad, and come back with an assessment that undoubtedly pleases the Assad regime. From Gabbard’s interview with Jake Tapper:

My reason for going to visit Syria was really because of the suffering of the Syrian people that has been weighing heavily on my heart. I wanted to see if there was, in some small way, a way that I could express the love and the aloha and the care that the American people have for the people of Syria and to see firsthand what was happening there, to see that situation there.

TAPPER: What did Assad have to say?

GABBAR: Initially I hadn’t planned on meeting him. When the opportunity arose to meet with him, I did so because I felt it’s important that if we profess to truly care about the Syrian people, about their suffering, then we’ve got to be able to meet with anyone that we need to if there is a possibility that we could achieve peace, and that’s exactly what we talked about.

TAPPER: Now, Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people. You said it’s going to be up to the Syrian people. But there really aren’t free and fair elections in Syria.

GABBARD: I’ll tell you what I heard from the Syrian people that I met with, Jake, walking down the streets in Aleppo, in Damascus, hearing from them. They expressed happiness and joy at seeing an American walking through their streets. But they expressed a question. They said, why is it that the United States, its allies, and other countries, are providing support, are providing arms to terrorist groups like al-Nusra, al-Qaeda, Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS, who are on the ground there, raping, kidnapping, torturing, and killing the Syrian people? Children, men, women, people of all ages.

They asked me, why is the United States and its allies supporting these terrorist groups who are destroying Syria when it was al-Qaeda who attacked the United States on 9/11, not Syria? I didn’t have an answer for them.

Look, if you want to say the line between the “good” Syrian rebels and the vicious Islamists is too murky to have any faith in U.S. efforts to arm the opposition to Assad, that’s a reasonable position to have. Compelling, even. But what worries me is that in the entire interview, Gabbard never makes a criticism of Assad.

You can read about Assad’s war crimes and horrific widespread human rights abuses here, here, and here as well as plenty of other places. You can read about the regime’s repeated use of chlorine, nerve agents, sarin,. Despite the highly publicized deal to eliminate the regime’s chemical weapons, evidence indicates the regime continues to produce Sarin and VX. There’s a particular kind of fool in denial who insists that the dozens of attacks on opposition-held neighborhoods are all elaborate “false flag” operations designed to frame the Assad regime. Never mind the testimony of Syrian military officials who defected.

(ISIS is producing its own chemical weapons as well, particularly mustard agents.)

No doubt the intent behind Gabbard’s trip was indeed sympathy for the people. But she came back expressing a perspective that’s all too close to sympathy for the devil.

It All Begins With Andrew Cuomo.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo: “If there is a move to deport immigrants, I say then start with me. Because I am the son of Mario Cuomo, the son of Andrei Cuomo, a poor Italian immigrant who came to this country without a job, without money, without resources!”

Okay, so we’re all agreed on a plan, then? See, I knew we could find a bipartisan deal!

Are we sure Andrew Cuomo knows what an immigrant is? He was born in Queens, New York, in 1957.

Secondly, the United States deports immigrants all the time. The United States deported more than 400,000 immigrants in 2012. What the Trump administration is proposing is a change in scale, not a change in the law.

You’ll Never Guess Who Got Arrested at the Inauguration Protests…

So just to clarify, if I’m to understand the Left’s narrative, the country has been taken over by a Russian-controlled dictatorial oaf who has no respect for the First Amendment, and one of the first acts of the new regime was… to arrest a reporter for RT Television, the Kremlin-sponsored, relentlessly pro-Putin cable network?

Several major international press freedom organizations have called for charges to be dropped against six journalists arrested while covering unrest in Washington DC on Donald Trump’s inauguration day last week. They all now face up to 10 years in prison.

RT America’s Alexander Rubinstein was among the journalists arrested along with protesters on January 20th. He has been charged with inciting a riot, the highest level offense under the District of Columbia’s public disturbances law. The reporters were released a day after being arrested, but still face court hearings. They could each be sentenced to 10 years behind bars and fined up to $25,000 if convicted. Preliminary hearings are scheduled for February and March, according to court filings.

What’s the lesson here, that one small hand doesn’t know what the other small hand is doing?

ADDENDA: A reason for optimism: Some Democrats are starting to realize that weird, shameless, fiercely combative Hillary Clinton loyalist David Brock isn’t actually helping his side win elections or arguments:

But the friction between Brock and Democrats is not merely limited to its more progressive faction—many alumni of Obama’s campaigns and White House, as well as Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 run, say they want Brock to stay far away from the Democrats’ future plans.

“I don’t think David Brock has been helpful to the party to date, and I don’t think he will be a big part of its future,” a former senior Clinton campaign official told The Daily Beast. “And it’s surprising that many other people don’t see it that way.”

Another senior 2016 Clinton aide, who asked not to be named because the ex-staffer did “not want to deal with Brock’s bull****,” described Brock and his organizations in 2016 as “useless—you might as well have thrown those [tens of] millions of dollars down a well, and then set the well on fire.”

Politics & Policy

Meet Your Next Supreme Court Nominee (Maybe)…

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Meet Your Next Supreme Court Nominee (Maybe)…

Big news is breaking this morning…

The choice to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia is down to two names — Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch and U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, according to two sources close to the selection process.

Gorsuch has a slight edge — CBS News’ Jan Crawford reported that Gorsuch was the front-runner over the weekend.

President Trump tweeted this morning that he will name his nominee on Thursday of next week, February 2. Hmm. Groundhog Day. Maybe Trump will nominate Supreme Court justices over and over and over again…

At ScotusBlog, Eric Citron writes up the biographical sketch of Gorsuch:

Neil Gorsuch was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit by President George W. Bush on May 10, 2006, and confirmed shortly thereafter. Both his pre-judicial resumé and his body of work as a judge make him a natural fit for an appointment to the Supreme Court by a Republican president. He is relatively young (turning 50 this year), and his background is filled with sterling legal and academic credentials. He was a Marshall Scholar at the University of Oxford, graduated from Harvard Law School, clerked for prominent conservative judges (Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as well as Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy of the Supreme Court), and was a high-ranking official in the Bush Justice Department before his judicial appointment. He is celebrated as a keen legal thinker and a particularly incisive legal writer, with a flair that matches — or at least evokes — that of the justice whose seat he would be nominated to fill. In fact, one study has identified him as the most natural successor to Justice Antonin Scalia on the Trump shortlist, both in terms of his judicial style and his substantive approach.

With perhaps one notable area of disagreement, Judge Gorsuch’s prominent decisions bear the comparison out. For one thing, the great compliment that Gorsuch’s legal writing is in a class with Scalia’s is deserved: Gorsuch’s opinions are exceptionally clear and routinely entertaining; he is an unusual pleasure to read, and it is always plain exactly what he thinks and why. Like Scalia, Gorsuch also seems to have a set of judicial/ideological commitments apart from his personal policy preferences that drive his decision-making. He is an ardent textualist (like Scalia); he believes criminal laws should be clear and interpreted in favor of defendants even if that hurts government prosecutions (like Scalia); he is skeptical of efforts to purge religious expression from public spaces (like Scalia); he is highly dubious of legislative history (like Scalia); and he is less than enamored of the dormant commerce clause (like Scalia). In fact, some of the parallels can be downright eerie. 

That difference, in case you’re wondering:

In short, Gorsuch definitely has a different take from Scalia on the administrative state — one that grants it less power, and so accords even more closely with the conservative conception of small government. Indeed, this is an area in which Gorsuch is plainly a thought leader, expressing judicial sentiments many conservatives with similar concerns have rarely voiced, and which even Scalia might have bristled at. 

Andy Schlafly, son of the late Phyllis Schlafly, has been critical of Gorsuch for a little while now; our Ed Whelan looks at the criticisms and finds them baseless:

In the panel ruling in Games-Perez, Gorsuch did indeed regard himself as bound to abide by controlling circuit precedent, just as nearly every circuit judge not named Stephen Reinhardt also does. But Gorsuch didn’t stop there. In a 20-page opinion, he urged the en banc Tenth Circuit to reconsider and overrule the wrong precedent. In short, Schlafly’s claim that Gorsuch “clings to bad precedent, and is an extreme supporter of stare decisis” is flatly contradicted by the very case that Schlafly invokes.

Nor, I’ll add, did the defendant in that case assert, or did Gorsuch rule against, any Second Amendment rights. Rather, it was Gorsuch who, in support of his criticism of circuit precedent, observed that “the Supreme Court has held the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own firearms and may not be infringed lightly.”​

But before you fall in love, take a look at Thomas Hardiman, reportedly the other finalist.

The Massachusetts-born Hardiman became the first person in his family to go to college when he went to the University of Notre Dame, and he financed his law degree at the Georgetown University Law Center by driving a taxi. (If nominated and confirmed, Hardiman would also bring educational diversity to a court on which all of the other justices attended Ivy League law schools.)

During his nearly ten years as a federal appeals court judge, Hardiman has weighed in on a variety of hot-button topics important to Republicans, and his votes in these cases have consistently been conservative. For example, the gun rights cases in which Hardiman has participated reflect an originalist approach to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Although he rejected a Second Amendment challenge to the general constitutionality of the federal law barring felons from possessing firearms, last year he concurred in a pair of challenges to the law by two men who had been convicted of corruption of a minor and carrying a handgun without a license, respectively. Hardiman agreed with the would-be gun owners that, at least as applied to them, the federal law violates the Constitution. He explained that “the threshold question in a Second Amendment challenge is one of scope: whether the Second Amendment protects the person, the weapon, or the activity in the first place. This,” he continued, “requires an inquiry into ‘text and history.’” Based on that inquiry, he concluded that “the most cogent principle that can be drawn from traditional limitations on the right to keep and bear arms is that dangerous persons likely to use firearms for illicit purposes were not understood to be protected by the Second Amendment” – a category into which the individuals in this case, in his view, did not fall. Relying on this principle, Hardiman also joined an unpublished and unsigned opinion rejecting a Second Amendment challenge to the federal and state bars on gun ownership by an inmate released from prison after serving time for armed robbery.

Hardiman is 51, Gorsuch is 49. (Those are ages, not percentages.)

Fact-Checking Donald Trump, Poorly

One of the lead items on the local Washington D.C. television news last night was District of Columbia officials raising heck over the White House web site featuring outdated statistics for the local homicide rate.

Here’s PolitiFact, declaring Donald Trump and the White House web site “mostly false” for declaring, “In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent.”

In 2014, there were 105 homicides in D.C. The following year — 2015 — there were 162. That’s an increase of 54 percent — and that’s in line with what the White House website said.

But the story doesn’t end there. There is already city-level data for homicides in 2016, and the release of that data painted a different picture.

The figure for 2016 was 135 homicides. That’s down 17 percent from the previous year — not up roughly 50 percent.

Yeah… but 2016’s total is still 30 homicides higher than 2014. D.C. had a slight decline after a spike the previous year. So far, it doesn’t look like the 2015 spike was a one-year blip. From 2011 to 2014, the number of homicides ranged from 88 to 108. As the Brennan Center for Justice put it at the end of last year, the murder rate in D.C. “remains relatively high compared to recent history.”

So yes, Trump and the White House would have been wiser and more accurate to say, “In our nation’s capital, killings are on the rise.” But we can arrange the statistics another way, and measure biennially instead of annually: 2013 and 2014, 209 people were killed in the District. In the next two years, 297 people were killed. Any way you slice it, I think everyone would agree the number of homicides in the District is too damn high.

Keep in mind the context of the White House statement:

In the section titled, “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community,” it says in part, “The Trump Administration is committed to reducing violent crime. In 2015, homicides increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. There were thousands of shootings in Chicago last year alone.”

The gist is pretty clear: Violent crime is too high, and the Trump administration is determined to bring it down.

Like the homicide rate, the overall violent crime rate in the District of Columbia declined slightly in 2016, but probably not enough to reassure residents. Cases of sex abuse remained the same, assault with a deadly weapon was down six percent, and total violent crime was down ten percent. But the long-term statistics aren’t quite so pretty. In 2011, 95 percent of the city’s homicides were “cleared” or solved. By 2015, that was down to 61 percent.

If I were local officials, I’d be more worried about the homicide clearance rate than outdated statistics on the White House web site.

ADDENDA: Over on the home page, a look at Michael Wear’s memoir of his time in the administration, Reclaiming Hope, is a spectacularly readable portrait of a unique niche in Obama-world to which many progressives grew hostile over time, representing as it did faith in general and Christianity in particular.

Politics & Policy

You Down On TPP? Yeah, You Know Me.

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President Trump did three big things Monday: He formally ended U.S. involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, he instituted the Mexico City policy for family planning funds, and enacted a hiring freeze for the federal government.

You Down On TPP? Yeah, You Know Me.

A reminder of what TPP would have actually done:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a sweeping trade pact negotiated by the Obama administration with 11 U.S. trading partners on both sides of the Pacific. It includes six countries that have already signed free-trade agreements with the United States — Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia, and Singapore — and five that would be new FTA partners — New Zealand, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Japan.

TPP would eliminate 18,000 tariffs now imposed on U.S. exports to other TPP countries. Nearly 90 percent of those duties would go to zero upon enactment, and nearly all would be eliminated within 16 years. U.S. duties would also be phased out almost completely, with the steepest reduction on imported apparel and footwear, delivering benefits directly to low-income U.S. households.

If your business requires importing raw materials from any of those countries, TPP looked like a good deal. If your company was interested in having more competitive prices while selling in New Zealand, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Vietnam, or Japan, it looked like a good deal. If you wanted to buy stuff made in those countries – check the labels on the clothes you’re wearing – for a lower price, TPP looks like a good deal.

It’s worth remembering that this probably would have happened even if Hillary Clinton had won the election. Last August on the campaign trail, Clinton pledged, “I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages — including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.” She could have flipped on that promise, but then the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic party would be revolting – er, would be in a state of revolt.

If low tariffs are such a good idea, why does the public fear them so? Which came first, the politicians fueling to protectionist attitudes, or the protectionist attitudes striking fear into the hearts of the politicians? Why was Obama so unable to persuade his own party on his own trade deal?

Speaking of Sanders

Sanders praised Trump’s decision, saying TPP is “dead and gone”.

“Now is the time to develop a new trade policy that helps working families, not just multinational corporations,” Sanders said in a statement. “If President Trump is serious about a new policy to help American workers then I would be delighted to work with him.”

“For the past 30 years, we have had a series of trade deals … which have cost us millions of decent-paying jobs and caused a ‘race to the bottom’ which has lowered wages for American workers,” he said.

A lot of political figures who don’t usually applaud a Republican president were cheering Monday. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka declared, “today’s announcement that the US is withdrawing from TPP and seeking a reopening of NAFTA is an important first step toward a trade policy that works for working people.”

Teamsters general president James P. Hoffa:

“Today, President Trump made good on his campaign promise to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. With this decision, the president has taken the first step toward fixing 30 years of bad trade policies that have cost working Americans millions of good-paying jobs.

“The Teamsters Union has been on the frontline of the fight to stop destructive trade deals like the TPP, China PNTR, CAFTA and NAFTA for decades. Millions of working men and women saw their jobs leave the country as free trade policies undermined our manufacturing industry. We hope that President Trump’s meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Jan. 31 opens a real dialogue about fixing the flawed NAFTA.

Usually, a Republican would be really wary about any decision that brought cheers from Bernie Sanders, Trumka, and the big unions.

The Mexico City Policy Has Little to Do With Mexico City Itself

Monday brought a small but significant victory for the pro-life movement, a genuine reason for cheer at this Friday’s March for Life.

When pro-abortion former President Barack Obama took office, Obama overturned a policy that prevented funding of groups that promote or perform abortions overseas. The Mexico City Policy covered over $400 million in federal funds, part of which flowed to the abortion businesses International Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International for their foreign efforts.

As LifeNews.com reported, the pro-life policy had been in place during the entirety of the Bush administration and Obama rescinded it on his first week in office. Named for a 1984 population conference where President Reagan initially announced it, the Mexico City Policy made it so family planning funds could only go to groups that would agree to not do abortions or lobby foreign nations to overturn their pro-life laws.

Today, Trump restored the Mexico City Policy by executive order.

The Executive Memorandum to reinstate the Mexico City Policy stops taxpayer funding of groups that perform and promote abortions overseas but does not stop non-abortion international assistance. The order ensures U.S. foreign aid will continue to go to health care and humanitarian relief in the millions of dollars. It just will not subsidize abortion overseas.

Freeze, Job Applicants!

The federal hiring freeze is one of those ideas that sounds terrific in theory but gets a little more complicated in practice.

The Office of Personnel Management says the federal government had 2,663,000 employees in 2014; the government hires about 220,000 workers a year. That’s actually down from 2,776,000 in 2010 (which included some U.S. Census hiring). The number of uniformed service personnel – which is not covered by the Trump administration hiring freeze – has declined from 1.6 million in 2010 to 1.45 million.

The executive order states, “the head of any executive department or agency may exempt from the hiring freeze any positions that it deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” That’s just common sense, but you can surely imagine how Adam Humphrey and the Agency of Invasive Species would interpret that wording.

One other significant problem is, who retires or leaves the federal workforce, and do you have the right personnel around to replace the people who leave with the hiring freeze in place?

What happens when a Veterans Affairs hospital needs to hire a new doctor? What happens when a great researcher at the National Institutes of Health decides to retire, or a viral pathologist at the Centers for Disease Control goes on maternity leave? How much of what goes on at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is covered by the exception for national security? The technicians who keep the machines running at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing or the U.S. Mint?

ADDENDA: Who did those moronic thugs trashing downtown Washington on Inauguration Day hurt the most? Immigrants.

A limo driver was injured while the stretch limousine he drove was torched and destroyed by protesters near the intersection of 12th and K Streets NW in Washington, DC.

Muhammad Ashraf, the owner of the company, Nationwide Chauffeured Services, is now speaking out against the protesters for what they did.

Ashraf’s employee, Luis Villarroel, 58, was dropping a client off at their destination when things turned ugly. Protesters smashed doors and windows in the vicinity, but then turned their attention to Villarroel and the limo. People began pounding on the car and started throwing stones and bricks in his direction. The driver ended up going to the hospital for cuts on his hands and arms from glass being shattered by thrown projectiles.

Ashraf explained that with the loss of the vehicle, his company is now in the hole for $70,000 (if insurance doesn’t cover riots) plus commission and the medical bills for his driver.

It’s ironic to think that protesters are angry with President Trump for his proposed plan to harm and demonize immigrants and Muslims, yet they personally have a hand in destroying the livelihood of a Muslim immigrant.

They said if Trump were elected, gangs of thugs in the streets would attack immigrants… and they were right!

Politics & Policy

The Democrats Find Their Own Version of the Tea Party Movement

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Day Four of the Trump Administration. Sky status: Intact.

The Democrats Find Their Own Version of the Tea Party Movement

If the Tea Party movement had held its first rally on January 21, 2009, instead of midsummer of that year, would anything have changed?

Probably not, as the Obama administration and the majority of Congressional Democrats were hell-bent on passing Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, their version of the stimulus, and so on. Scott Brown’s improbable Senate victory in Massachusetts didn’t drive them to the center, so it’s unlikely that any outside force could have spurred them to rethink their approach to governing in the opening years of the Obama presidency.

Critics argued that the Tea Party movement was driven by a panoply of issues: opposition to Obamacare, outrage over the TARP bailouts, the threat of tax increases, the growth of government, concern about the national debt, among others. It was a fair criticism, but it was ultimately moot. Most members of the Tea Party unified around the idea of staunchly opposing what that guy in the Oval Office is doing.

The Women’s March on Washington Saturday certainly had its own smorgasbord of concerns: abortion rights, racial profiling, gay rights, opposition to deporting illegal immigrants, opposition to Islamophobia, workers’ right to organize, concern over global warming…

But as much as we on the right might chuckle at the contradictions – a lot of labor unions work in the industries that environmentalists would like to see shut down, and a lot of Muslims have views on gay rights that this movement would oppose – the people involved in Saturday’s marches will unify around the idea of staunchly opposing what that guy in the Oval Office is doing.

Fear is a powerful motivator; fear gets people’s butts up off their couches. When you have more people caring about what’s going on in Washington, you have more people who become interested in running for office. In 2010, Republicans suddenly had bushels of candidates – usually good ones – in places they rarely had one before: “After surpassing a goal to recruit 80 candidates in key races, Leader Boehner set a more ambitious objective of 100.  At the end of the day, McCarthy and the team at the NRCC were able to help get a Republican on the ballot in 431 of the 435 House congressional districts.”

The Tea Party movement gift-wrapped a message for Republican candidates: Democrats in Congress had grown arrogant and out of touch, and were completely oblivious to the growing anger and dissatisfaction in their districts:

The townhall protests that erupted in August 2009 provided the first visible signs of the anger and frustration that Americans of all political parties were feeling.  While Speaker Pelosi and other Democrat leaders criticized these citizens as “un-American,” the NRCC embraced the movement and highlighted the rude awakening that vulnerable Democrats were receiving with daily emails entitled “Recess Roastings.”  Events held by Reps. Baron Hill (IN-09), Steve Driehaus (OH-01) and others became instant YouTube sensations and were proof that Democrats had a much bigger problem on their hands than they originally expected.

Throughout the Obama presidency, the Democrats desperately yearned for their own version of the Tea Party. They envied the crowds, the passion, the visible signs of grassroots opposition, cropping up across the country. You only demonize something if it matters.

It now appears that as the Trump presidency dawns, angry liberals are building something akin to the Tea Party movement. It will look different, it will be geographically concentrated in different areas, and of course, it will get much more sympathetic media coverage. But it will be there, and it could be a big factor in 2018 midterms.

It’s also worth remembering that the Tea Party was ultimately a mixed bag for the Republican party. Yes, it brought them Mike Lee, Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio, Paul LePage, Trey Gowdy, Ron Johnson, etc., but it also brought Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Carl Paladino, and Richard Mourdock. An impassioned grassroots movement giveth, and an impassioned grassroots movement taketh away.

If You Want to Speak in Front of a Memorial Wall, Remember Where You Are.

Here’s the video and full speech transcript of President Trump’s remarks in front of the Memorial Wall at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

The Memorial Wall has 117 stars, each honoring a CIA employee who died in the line of service. Just 83 of them are identified. The others are individuals whose identities were so consequentially secret, they cannot be named even after their death. This location is akin to Arlington National Cemetery or the Vietnam War Memorial. You simply must behave a certain way in its presence; the space demands reverence. Marc Barnes recently wrote, “Reverence is an emotion that responds to the presence of a value higher than ourselves – a  value that exists in its own right and does not need us.”

Here is the sum total of what Trump said about the wall behind him in his remarks: “And the wall behind me is very, very special.”

The president went on to boast about how many votes he received in the intelligence community, the Senate confirmation process, how young he feels, the crowd size at his campaign stops, how we should have kept the oil from Iraq, how he has “a running war with the media,” the crowd size at his inauguration, and how many times he’s been on the cover of Time magazine.

Whether or not you agree with the substance of Trump’s remarks, I’d like to think a broad bipartisan swath of the public can recognize that you don’t give those remarks at that time and place. We on the right have fumed, rightly, over comments and behavior that politicize events and locations that should be beyond politics – Paul Wellstone’s memorial service, the Tucson memorial service, the memorial service for the slain cops in Dallas. This is not a case where we can righteously argue that if a Democrats and a Democratic president could do this, Republicans and a Republican president should be able to do the same. This is not about what we expect of them; this is about what we expect of ourselves.

ADDENDA: Coming today: the 100th edition of the pop culture podcast! Thanks to all who have listened for the past two years and change.

For the milestone, Mickey and I took a look at the state of the pop culture.

Nielsen reports that the average household has 189 channels. (They watch 17 of them.) Then there’s streaming services Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and so on. There are more movie screens in America than ever before, more than 40,000 of them. The latest figures are still a few years old, but the iTunes store has 575 million active user accounts. 43 million songs. 190,000 TV episodes. 45,000 films.

So the good news is, barriers to bringing your artwork to an audience has never been smaller. The options for the audience, have never been greater.

You would think we would be deliriously happy with entertainment, and never bored. But obviously, we aren’t. In some ways, with the explosion of options, it’s probably never been more challenging to sort through all of those options and find the ones you really love. (This is a part of what we do on the podcast, but I wouldn’t say it’s primarily what we do.)

We have a million producers of art and entertainment, but it still can feel like we’re in a demographic Hollywood isn’t interested in reaching. Our podcast isn’t that political, but because of what I do at NR and what Mickey does at Red State and formerly Ricochet, every once in a while we’ll get a listener who says they expected more discussion of pop culture through a political lens. We do that every now and then, although I think if we spent too much time saying, “those darn liberals in Hollywood,” the show would get boring and predictable.

It feels like a lot of the people professionally employed to create entertainment are out of touch with the rest of the country in ways that go well beyond politics. You don’t see a ton of workplace comedies that feel like they were written by someone who worked in an office, like Office Space. You see a LOT of shows and movies set in New York and Los Angeles, and a lot fewer in places like Cleveland or Omaha. (For cost reasons, you don’t see much on-location filming of places like that.) If you see entertainment about a world you inhabit – in my case, Washington or journalism – you see a wildly-distorted funhouse mirror. I’m sure real-life cops, lawyers and doctors feel the same way about the endless a police, legal, and medical dramas…

Finally…. Oof! Rough way to end the season, Packers and Steelers fans. It’s a testament to the expectations of those franchises that losing in the conference championship game counts as a disappointment.

Hail to the Legitimate Chief

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Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Hail to the Legitimate Chief

Senator Ben Sasse explains why we celebrate Inauguration Day: “For over 200 years, this nation has been peacefully transferring power from one president to the next. We don’t reflect enough on how odd that is historically. And if it doesn’t give you goose bumps, you need to pause, and we need to re-learn some history together, because this isn’t the way it used to be done.”

Not everyone is ready to come together. David Frum writes in The Atlantic:

The message will be stated and restated this day: For the 58th time, the system has worked, and power has smoothly transferred from one heir of George Washington to another. The truth is not so happy. With full advance notice, and despite the failure to gain a plurality of the nation’s vote, the United States will soon inaugurate someone who owes his office in some large part to a hostile foreign intelligence operation. Who is, above and beyond that, a person whose character that leaves him unqualified to hold the presidency, and threatens the country with an impending sequence of financial and espionage scandals—a constitutional crisis on two legs.

The real message of today is that the system has failed. The challenge of the morrow is to know what to do to save the remainder.

This is close to concurring with the statements from Representative John Lewis, Al Sharpton, and Michael Moore that Donald Trump is not a legitimate president. Because Russia was pretty transparently rooting for one side and because the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, John Podesta, was dumb enough to click on a phishing e-mail that gave hackers access to tens of thousands of his past e-mails, the election was a giant scam. The 137 million votes that were cast don’t really count, and we should ignore or discard the results.

(If you’re a member of Congress, and you really think that Trump is not legitimate, you should be introducing Articles of Impeachment immediately. Put your money where your mouth is; anything less is just a pose.)

In this narrative, the American people are really hapless and gullible. A decisive slice makes their decision on the presidential race solely because of the contents of the WikiLeaks revelations, a naïve faith in the good intentions and impeccable honesty of this guy:

The idea that the American people were oblivious to Trump’s faults strains credulity. The contention, from Clinton advisor Peter Daou, that “The national media” was “obsessed with taking down Hillary” is so laughably, self-evidently untrue that you want the believers to get counseling. The idea that Americans might have known Trump was guilty of all manner of sins and character flaws and chose to roll the dice on him anyway — because they liked him better than four years of the Democratic alternative — simply cannot compute for the crowd crying “illegitimate.”

I might be more sympathetic to Democrats if I hadn’t lived through election of 2000. This was another case where a hard-fought race came down to a small margin of votes, another case where the Democrat won the popular vote and the Republican won the Electoral College, another case where Democrats insisted the election wasn’t fair. Fairness is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Democrats believed that the layout of the butterfly ballot was so unfair, that it invalidated the election results. A lot of Republicans look at relentlessly one-sided media coverage, election after election, and think that isn’t fair.

Were the WikiLeaks revelations significantly more “unfair” than the revelations of the Access Hollywood tape? Or the revelation of George W. Bush’s DUI in 1976 just four days before the election of 2000? Or independent counsel Lawrence Walsh indicting former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger four days before the presidential election, an indictment that was tossed out a month later for being beyond the statute of limitations? There is always some unexpected outside force in an election that the loser can claim was the decisive factor.

Even after the 2004 election, some Democrats believed that Bush had “stolen” the election in Ohio. According to The New Yorker, this was not merely a belief of the lunatic fringe: “In 2004, when Kerry lost the Presidential race to George W. Bush, who is widely considered the worst President of the modern era, he refused to challenge the results, despite his suspicion that in certain states, particularly Ohio, where the Electoral College count hinged, proxies for Bush had rigged many voting machines.”

In other words, the last presidential election where a Republican won and the Democrat didn’t contend that the winner cheated was 1988. In my adult life, there have been only two possible outcomes to a presidential election: A Democratic win or a Republican win that Democrats believe is illegitimate.

If you believe that the past three Republican presidential victories are the result of cheating, you have a child’s view of the world, where your side is always right and your side should always win. Yes, Trump’s a boor, incapable of brushing off petty insults, and completely unlike any president we’ve had before. But I’ve seen all the “not my president” and “selected, not elected” crap before, for a much more decent, dignified man. Let’s turn the clock back sixteen years:

George W. Bush’s motorcade lurched through the largest inaugural protests since Richard Nixon on Saturday, enduring thousands of protesters who hurled insults, bottles, tomatoes and an egg. Protesters clashed briefly with police clad in riot gear at a few flash points while Bush remained inside his armored stretch car for most of the parade up a soggy, cold Pennsylvania Avenue. Police ordered the motorcade to slow in anticipation of some protests, and then to speed through others. A couple of protesters threw bottles and tomatoes before the presidential limousine arrived, and one hurled an egg that landed near the motorcade, the Secret Service said.

George W. Bush indisputably had his flaws, but he was a gracious man who tried to treat his opposition with a certain amount of respect and who appreciated the dignity and decorum of the office. He reached out after that bitterly divided election, inviting the Kennedys to the White House for a screening of a film about JFK, and paying tribute to Rep. Joe Moakley in his first address to Congress. Plenty of the same Democrats complaining the loudest now — John Lewis, Al Sharpton, Michael Moore — treated Bush like crap.

I simply don’t believe that Democrats are upset because Trump is uniquely bad as a person or a president. History tells me that they’re upset because a Republican won.

Farewell, President Obama. A Kind, Appreciative, Parting Thought…

Our old friend Patrick Brennan reminds us of one of President Obama’s best moments, one that many of us overlooked at the time…

The president of the United States — the country we worry is losing all touch with religious faith, with Christian values, with any spirituality at all — there he is, going solo in what might as well be a beatitude of the black church, singing a rousing spiritual, with AME clergy, in their purple robes and two centuries of tradition, joining him in heavenly praise.

Yes, it wasn’t exactly impromptu — but it was a cappella, and it was an exceptional spiritual moment on full display to a mass culture that has precious few of them. The words the president continues on with — “Clementa Pinckney found that grace, Cynthia Hurd found that grace . . .” — are no less beautiful. When a Christian says those words — when John Newton wrote them, and Obama sang them — it’s not about some kind of anodyne, humanistic grace. It’s about Grace. It’s the president of the United States proclaiming the beatific vision.

He who sings, Saint Augustine said, prays twice. I didn’t agree with much of what President Obama did in office, but I’m so glad he sang on that day in Charleston, when we needed at least double the prayers.

ADDENDA: RIP, Miguel Ferrer, known for Twin Peaks, Robocop, NCIS: Los Angeles, and a slew of other movies and television shows.

Politics & Policy

Tonight, the Sun Sets on the Obama Administration for the Last Time

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Tonight, the Sun Sets on the Obama Administration for the Last Time

This is it. The last full day of the Obama presidency.

Think about where you were when you sensed that he was going to win the 2008 election, and how you felt. Think even more about where you were when you realized he was going to win the 2012 election.

How did the Obama presidency measure up to your expectations? If your expectations are low enough, it wasn’t that bad.

Looking back, there have been fewer ISIS attacks on our soil than I expected. Fewer instances of foreign brutes indulging in blatant territorial aggression, concluding Obama wouldn’t intervene or respond. North Korea has rattled the saber, but hasn’t really pushed its luck. China didn’t invade Taiwan. Syria’s a mess, but the Iraqi government didn’t fall to ISIS.

Then again, you had this presidential belief, communicated to the public by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic:

Obama believes that the clash is taking place within a single civilization, and that Americans are sometimes collateral damage in this fight between Muslim modernizers and Muslim fundamentalists.

Even putting the casual and callous terminology beside, American victims of terrorism are not “collateral damage.” They are the intended damage. If Muslim fundamentalists were primarily focused on fighting Muslim modernizers, then the attacks in Boston and San Bernardino and Orlando would have been against mosques, imams, Quran scholars, or other voices calling for moderation in the Muslim world. But the attackers targeted Americans as a whole. They want to kill us, because we are outsiders, nonbelievers, infidels, and it’s chilling to have a president who is in denial of that basic fact.

Maybe the basic fulcrum of the 2016 election was whether you felt like your personal financial circumstances had recovered from the Great Recession or not. No doubt, millions of Americans felt like the economy was doing fine or even better than fine, but equally indisputably, millions more felt like they were treading water at best or had never made up what they had lost. The status quo worked for some people. It didn’t for many, many others.

Yes, some people who didn’t have health insurance before now have it because of Obamacare. But lots of people who thought they were going to get a better deal are frustrated with the changes: plans that were canceled despite numerous presidential assurances, doctors that patients couldn’t keep despite numerous presidential assurances, higher premiums instead of lower ones, higher deductibles, higher co-pays.

As Matthew Fleischer wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2013, “Most young, middle-class Americans I know are happy that millions of previously uninsured people will receive free or heavily subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act. We just didn’t realize that, unless we had health insurance at work, we’d be the ones paying for it.” The chief architect later glibly joked about how gullible the public was when the administration was selling it: “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the ‘stupidity of the American voter’ or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

The national debt is now nearly $20 trillion, but apparently there’s now a broad bipartisan consensus that we just don’t worry about that anymore.

Maybe every president has a cult of personality, but the one around Obama was particularly messianic (and more than a little creepy) in 2007-2008. The emotional fervor waned a bit, but over the course of his presidency, he grew increasingly comfortable with the notion that he and his administration alone should govern the country. The New York Times described him thus:

[Obama] sought to reshape the nation with a sweeping assertion of executive authority and a canon of regulations that have inserted the United States government more deeply into American life.

Once a presidential candidate with deep misgivings about executive power, Mr. Obama will leave the White House as one of the most prolific authors of major regulations in presidential history… once Mr. Obama got the taste for it, he pursued his executive power without apology, and in ways that will shape the presidency for decades to come.

Fundamentally, Obama’s reelection sent conservatism into a serious funk, as it challenged the faith that the country was “center-right.” The United States may never have been ready to embrace every single idea that came out of the Heritage Foundation, American Conservative Union, and like-minded think tanks and institutions, but it was wary about the power, scope, and competence of the federal government.

Donald Trump is not a consistent conservative, but his election, coupled with the wipeout of Democrats at the Senate, House, gubernatorial, and state-legislative levels smashes the idea that the country had shifted irrevocably to the left. Ramesh makes a really important point:

At no point in Obama’s presidency did his political success make Republicans consider assimilating some of his views into their philosophy, as Bill Clinton had done with Reaganism. Republicans are even less likely to make such an adjustment now. 

Who has the Obama era really been better for? Democrats as a whole, or Republicans?

‘A Year of Intense Action Is Beginning’

Yuval Levin offers his best take on what to expect in health care reform this year:

At this point, the intra-Republican health-care debate is chaotic and uneasy. There is no unanimity on substance and not much of a margin for internal dissent. And it is still unclear whether the new administration can help steer Congress toward any particular path. But major legislative efforts are always chaotic and uneasy. They proceed in fits and starts and frequently seem on the verge of collapse. The difference between success and failure often depends upon a combination of strategy, luck, and a willingness to take action.

On health care, Republicans have long lacked the latter in particular. But in that respect, at least, this time could well be different. The GOP has been preparing for this opportunity for years, and it now faces both a party electorate and a health-care system that will not allow for endless indecision. It is too soon to know what the final product will look like, and whether a series of reconciliation bills or some uneasy combination of partisan and bipartisan measures will emerge. But it does seem likely that a year of intense action on health care is beginning. 

Elsewhere on NRO, James Capretta points out that the birth-control mandate for religious organizations can be eliminated at will by the incoming administration:

The new administration could issue a regulation that provides a blanket exemption to the mandate to any organization that can reasonably claim to have religious objections to compliance. That would immediately provide relief to all of the organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church that have been battling the Obama administration in court over this issue for several years.

The Value of ISIS’s Real Estate in Sirte, Libya Just Dropped

From the perspective of ISIS in Libya, the Obama administration is going out with a bang. A statement from Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook, right before the Jolt gets sent off to the editors:

In conjunction with the Libyan Government of National Accord, the U.S. military conducted precision airstrikes Wednesday night destroying two ISIL camps 45 kilometers southwest of Sirte. The ISIL terrorists targeted included individuals who fled to the remote desert camps from Sirte in order to reorganize, and they posed a security threat to Libya, the region, and U.S. national interests. While we are still evaluating the results of the strikes, the initial assessment indicates they were successful. This action was authorized by the President as an extension of the successful operation the U.S. military conducted last year to support Libyan forces in freeing Sirte from ISIL control. The United States remains prepared to further support Libyan efforts to counter terrorist threats and to defeat ISIL in Libya. We are committed to maintaining pressure on ISIL and preventing them from establishing safe haven. These strikes will degrade ISIL’s ability to stage attacks against Libyan forces and civilians working to stabilize Sirte, and demonstrate our resolve in countering the threat posed by ISIL to Libya, the United States and our allies.

ADDENDA: Over on the home page, a look at Hugh Hewitt’s new book and proposed agenda for the Trump administration.

National Security & Defense

Manning Was Always One of the Bad Guys

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Manning Was Always One of the Bad Guys.

I’m feeling really consistent this morning. I never liked, trusted, or defended Manning, whether it was the Bradley or the Chelsea edition. I never liked, trusted, or defended Julian Assange. I never forgot that he outed the U.S. military’s secret Afghan informers to the Taliban, believes in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, appears to be working with Russian hackers and Russian intelligence, blames America for ISIS terror attacks, and stands accused of raping at least one woman — charges that he has thus far refused to face. (I did wonder aloud if exposing something as significant as a foreign government bribing a presidential candidate would justify an action like hacking.) I had serious gripes with the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance operations, but I never liked, trusted, or defended Edward Snowden. Snowden released a ton of information that had nothing to do with spying on Americans, and everything to do with spying on foreign states and potential threats, which is literally the NSA’s job. (Judging from the reviews, the new book by Edward Jay Epstein makes Snowden sound like an egomaniacal lunatic.)

The good guys don’t reveal classified secrets that endanger other people’s lives. That’s not a hard or complicated rule. And after they’re convicted and sentenced, they shouldn’t be given a get-out-of-jail-free card because they’ve become a national symbol of gender change. That doesn’t change what Manning did, or the consequences.

But you don’t have to listen to me. You can listen to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who opposed the commutation of Manning’s sentence.

Allahpundit:

We spent the last two months hearing that Wikileaks is a tool of the devil and that Trump has nothing but contempt for America’s intelligence community, and Obama’s parting gesture as he steps out the door is … to groin-punch the IC by commuting the sentence of the most famous Wikileaker of them all?

Am I awake? Why would Obama forfeit Democrats’ momentary “we’re the party of national security!” messaging this way?

Kemberlee Kaye:

President Obama’s decision to commute the sentence of an individual who leaked confidential information to Wikileaks is in direct conflict with Democratic rhetoric lambasting Wikileaks for publishing illegally obtained emails from the DNC and Hillary adviser, John Podesta.

Wikileaks is only evil when it’s politically expedient. At least if you’re a Democrat.

Our David French: “Manning is a traitor who pled guilty to a lesser offense to avoid the full penalty for his crimes. He has received too much mercy already. Obama’s commutation of his sentence is a disgrace.”

Our Andy McCarthy:

It is also disgraceful for the New York Times to report without balance that “Prosecutors … presented no evidence that anyone was killed because of [Manning’s] leaks.” As the Times well knows, in cases involving classified information, the government frequently cannot reveal – let alone prosecute – the damage done. As a practical matter, such revelations end up disclosing more classified information and, critically, identifying other informants and countries who have covertly provided national-security assistance to the United States. That is why it is always a gimmee for apologists of the Mannings, Snowdens, and Clintons to minimize the harm they have done; it is generally impossible to provide concrete information to counter this claim absent exposing more intelligence and endangering sources for obtaining it.

For what it’s worth, some Democrats are not so enthused about the move:

Democratic New Jersey senator Bob Menendez questioned what message Obama was sending to future whistleblowers. 

“What happened here is that literally hundreds of thousands of documents were released. It put national security at risk. It put individual operatives at risk. It put our national interest at risk,” he said. “At a time when we are seriously questioning what Russia did, as it relates to our recent elections and the role of Wikileaks, I’m not sure what kind of message we send here. I’m really surprised that the president took this action, and I have concerns what message we send about ultimately revealing sensitive national security documents.”

President YOLO.

Remember, Davos, Free Trade Requires Free Partners

A point or two to add to yesterday’s piece, contending that the economically super-elite crowd at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland should stop panicking and start looking at how it can give the working-class citizens of Western democracies a better deal…

At Davos yesterday, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared to applause, “No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war.”

True. But it’s not unreasonable for American workers to be wary about competing with a Chinese workforce where the average salary is about $9,000 per year.

If leaders want electorates to look at imported goods less warily, they have to snuff out imports from forced, child, or exploited labor. You can’t have a free market with workers who aren’t free. In China, prison labor manufactures Christmas lights; in Thailand, human-trafficked workers are brutally forced to prepare shrimp for export for little or no pay; Cambodian sweatshops churn out apparel, and children are forced to make bracelets in India. The U.S. Department of Labor has found 139 goods from 75 countries produced by child labor or forced labor.

If a political leader wants a trade deal, they have to clearly and convincingly lay out who will prosper and how and why. For example, when GM chooses to make Chevy Cruzes in Mexico as opposed to the U.S. or Canada, one major reason is because Mexico has free trade deals with 44 other countries that allow the car to be sold without tariff, meaning it can be sold in another country for roughly $2,500 less than one made in the United States. (Do Mexican workers earn less in wages? Yes, roughly $600 less per vehicle. In other words, the tariff drives up the cost of the car four times more than a U.S. worker’s wages.) The U.S. has vehicle-tariff-eliminating trade deals with 20 countries.

If you want to persuade the public to support a trade deal, you have to spell out, this particular U.S. auto manufacturer will be able to sell its car for this amount less, which should increase sales by about this many, which should lead to higher profits and higher wages for these automaker employees. The argument needs to amount to, “here’s how you, personally, will profit from this new arrangement.”

There doesn’t need to be endless cultural hostility between elites in the national and financial capitals and voters in rural areas. Those elites need to look at and speak to those rural citizens with respect. Salute their hard work. Give the same respect to their traditional Christian faith that you give to the nebulous concept of multiculturalism. Stop depicting them as a mass of hicks, ignoramuses, lunatics, and inherently dangerous terrorists in fiction and nonfiction. Find individuals in their midst you can admire; seek out the great among them and celebrate them.

Wonderful News: the Abortion Rate Keeps Dropping, Lower and Lower

Sometimes good news comes along and it seems like almost no one notices:

The abortion rate in the US has fallen to its lowest level since Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure, a new report finds.

The report, by the Guttmacher Institute, found the rate has declined to 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of, what is considered, childbearing age (that’s 15 to 44). That’s the lowest rate recorded since the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1973.

Another notable finding: the annual number of abortions in the US has dropped to under 1 million for the first time since the mid-1970s. It reached its peak of more than 1.6 million abortions in 1990.

The survey, “Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2014,” was authored by Rachel Jones and Jenna Jerman for the institute, which supports legalized abortion.

And even though the authors didn’t directly look at reasons for the decline, they attribute it to two contrasting developments:

  • improved contraceptive use
  • a wave of abortions restrictions in several states

If you believe that the termination of human life within the womb is morally unacceptable, then the next best thing to an American society with no abortions is a society with fewer and fewer abortions. Even if you’re wary of an American society where the procedure is outright banned entirely, there’s reason to cheer when fewer and fewer women decide that this is the option that is best.

This might be the single best development in American life during the Obama years… not that the president would ever take credit for it.

This part is absolutely fascinating, suggesting that “access to clinics” does not actually impact the number of abortions:

There appeared to be no correlation between the number of clinics and abortion rates.

The number of clinics in the Midwest declined 22% during the study period, for instance, while the abortion rate in that region declined 9%.

In the Northeast, however, the number of clinics increased 14% and the abortion rate declined 11% between 2011 and 2014.

ADDENDA: Now he tells us:

“I’d take George W. back in a minute,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in an interview Tuesday.”If it was Bush, Reagan, Romney, McCain, you’d kind of know what to get ready for. I don’t know what to get ready for.”

You know, fellas, people might have heeded to your warnings about Trump more if you hadn’t already compared every major preceding Republican figure to the devil.

Politics & Policy

Inauguration Week Continues: Stink Bombs and Lincoln’s Bible

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Inauguration Week Continues: Stink Bombs and Lincoln’s Bible

There’s a group called the “Anti-Fascist Coalition”… and they apparently believe the best way to fight fascism is to prevent other people from freely assembling in a private location by throwing butyric acid bombs.

Quick, guys, I think I spotted another fascist in your mirror!

An undercover investigation by Project Veritas has exposed the D.C. Anti-Fascist Coalition’s plans to attack the inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Rather than allow Trump-Pence supporters and others to celebrate the peaceful transition of power between the 44th and 45th presidents of the United States, leaders of the DCA-FC are conspiring to sabotage the pro-Trump DeploraBall, scheduled for Thursday, January 19, at the National Press Club.

“If you had . . . a pint of butyric acid, I don’t care how big the building is, it’s closing,” DCA-FC conspirator Luke Kuhn said at another planning session at Comet Ping Pong, a D.C. pizzeria. “All you got to do is pull the pin, press the plunger, and the whole can discharges.”

The DeploraBall may be filled with genuinely deplorable people, but genuinely deplorable people have the same right as anyone else to pay the rental fee and throw their own inaugural ball. The rights in the Constitution – including the right to “peaceably assemble” – aren’t just guaranteed to the people we like; they’re guaranteed for everybody.

The Anti-Fascist Coalition claims that they knew the James O’Keefe plant was a plant all along, and so they just acted like a bunch of maniacal hooligans in order to fool him. Uh-huh. Yes, what better way to show the world that you would never do such a thing as throw stink bombs than saying out loud that you want to throw stink bombs in front of a hidden camera that you claim to know is recording you. I guess they’re an Anti-Logic Coalition, too.

The general public isn’t quite filled with warm and fuzzy thoughts towards President-elect Trump right now, I can’t think of anything that would stir public sympathy for the incoming administration more than radicals attacking other people for having different beliefs. But then again, groups like this don’t really care about persuasion or winning over public opinion. They just want the emotional catharsis that comes from hurting people who have different beliefs. You know… kind-of fascist.

In other news, Trump will use two Bibles for his swearing-in ceremony. From the Presidential Inaugural Committee:

President-elect Donald J. Trump will be sworn-in on January 20, 2017 using his Bible, as well as the same Bible that President Lincoln used at his first inauguration. The oath of office will be administered by the Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts.

“In his first inaugural address, President Lincoln appealed to the ‘better angels of our nature,’” said PIC Chairman Tom Barrack. “As he takes the same oath of office 156 years later, President-elect Trump is humbled to place his hand on Bibles that hold special meaning both to his family and to our country.”

President-elect Trump’s Bible was presented to him by his mother upon his graduation of Sunday Church Primary School at First Presbyterian Church, Jamaica, New York, on Children’s Day, June 12, 1955. The Bible is a revised standard version published by Thomas Nelson and Sons in New York in 1953 and is embossed with his name on the lower portion of the front cover. The inside cover is signed by church officials and is inscribed with his name and the details of when it was presented.

The Lincoln Bible was purchased for the first inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln by William Thomas Carroll, Clerk of the Supreme Court. The Bible is bound in burgundy velvet with a gold-washed white metal rim along the edges of the covers. It is part of the collections of the Library of Congress and has been used at three inaugurals: 1861, 2009, and 2013.

A Half-Brexit Isn’t a Plan; It’s the Hokey-Pokey.

Over in the United Kingdom, Brexit is more or less full speed ahead:

Prime Minister Theresa May emphasized Britain’s determination to regain control of migration from the European Union and rejected the supremacy of the European Court of Justice, even at the risk of losing unfettered access to the single market and its nearly 500 million consumers.

“Let me be clear,” she said, adding that any agreement would be sent to both houses of Parliament for approval, “What I am proposing cannot mean remaining in the single market.”

Mrs. May struck a diplomatic note, including an appeal for a new partnership with Continental Europe, but she made clear that controlling its borders and setting its own laws were Britain’s priority.

“We seek a new and equal partnership — between an independent, self-governing, global Britain and our friends and allies in the E.U.,” Mrs. May was to say, according to excerpts from her speech released by her office.

“Not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half in, half out,” she said.

Our Andrew Stuttaford has a nuanced view of Brexit – he supports it, but wants it done slowly and deliberately: “detaching the UK from the EU is best achieved carefully, surgically, and with a recognition that some compromises may have to be made. Storming out and slamming the door is a tantrum, not a plan.”

Still, when push came to shove, the leaders of the European Union believed they had the right to… well, push and shove, regardless of the perspective of the governed. And that lack of choice, Stuttaford concludes, left the people of Great Britain no choice:

Yes, the Continent’s elites, at least in Western Europe, remain wedded to the idea of ‘ever closer Europe’. But voters don’t seem so sure. They don’t want the EU to break up, but, on the rare occasions they are given the chance to vote against deeper integration, they tend do so. Then they are ignored. And that, in the end, is why Britain has to leave: It’s the post-democracy stupid. But that’s no reason for Brexiteers to make Brexit any more difficult than it already will be. 

GM: Look, We’re Hiring, We’re Hiring, Stop Nagging Already!

The playbook is now clear. If you’re a big company, the kind that could end up on President-elect Trump’s radar screen and a target of his morning Tweets, you look at any preexisting expansion plans and leak them or announce them, making it look like you’re suddenly newly optimistic about the economy, eager to expand hiring, and happy to credit the president-elect. A few weeks ago, Trump tweeted about General Motors selling about 4,500 Mexican-manufactured Chevy Cruzes in the United States. Now GM is about to announce it will invest $1 billion in U.S. plants over several years.

The largest U.S. automaker expects to add or retain 1,000 jobs at several existing facilities, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. The investment announcement, which is being accelerated amid pressure from the president-elect, is related to building products that were in the works and approved before Trump won the election in November, the person said.

When you get a headline like this one from Bloomberg news, I don’t think the president-elect minds that the “add or retain” detail sounds an awful lot like the stimulus’ “jobs saved or created” statistic.

Has the election of Trump spurred U.S. corporations to hire more workers? We’ll know soon from the job and wage statistics. But Trump’s election sure has spurred U.S. corporations to look like they’re hiring more workers.

Once again… remember back in 2014 when everyone hated General Motors?

ADDENDA: You might think the Clintons would keep the Clinton Global Initiative going for another year, just to dispel the perception that it was a backdoor way for wealthy foreign citizens and foreign governments to buy access and goodwill. You would be wrong.

Politics & Policy

No Filibuster For Any Judicial Nominees?

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Welcome to the last week of the Obama presidency. It’s Inauguration Week, a time turn the page and leave behind the mistakes of the past… and to look ahead with new confidence to the mistakes of the future.

No Filibuster For Any Judicial Nominees?

Back in 2005, then-senators Barack Obama and Harry Reid voted to filibuster the confirmation vote on Supreme Court justice nominee Samuel Alito. They didn’t have the votes. This year, White House press secretary Josh Earnest declared that Obama regretted his actions then.

Then in 2013, Reid and the rest of the Senate Democrats ended the right to filibuster any nominee to federal appeals and district courts, as well as any cabinet appointments, but kept it in place for Supreme Court nominations.

Then in October of 2016, Harry Reid, predicting a Hillary Clinton presidency, said he would invoke the nuclear option and eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations as well.

“It’s clear to me that if the Republicans try to filibuster another circuit court judge, but especially a Supreme Court justice, I’ve told ‘em how and I’ve done it, not just talking about it. I did it in changing the rules of the Senate. It’ll have to be done again,” Reid told the liberal blog Talking Points Memo. “They mess with the Supreme Court, it’ll be changed just like that in my opinion.”

And now, today…surprise, surprise, the shoe is on the other foot, and Senate Republicans may nuke the filibuster for Trump’s nominee.

Democrats have not firmly said if they will filibuster a nominee — and Republicans have not flatly said they would break that filibuster through a rules change known as the “nuclear option” — but those cards are effectively on the table, weeks before Trump submits a nominee.

But the Trump team is still plotting for a possible climb that includes picking off at least eight Democrats, a tall order by any measure, much less a vacant seat on the Supreme Court.

Pence went to work on a group of six senators at the Capitol Wednesday and

Trump aides have been working behind the scenes at the Capitol.

“Today was really about talking about our legislative agenda, but also meeting with members of the Senate to get their input on the president’s decision about filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court,” Pence told reporters last week.

Pence said he “hopes” moderate Democrats will come on board with his pick.

“The President-elect made very clear today we do expect — he’s not yet made a decision — but we’re in the process of winnowing that list now,” Pence said.

The 60-vote bar has been somewhat informally set by Schumer himself, who told MSNBC last week that he would “absolutely” do all he could to keep the Supreme Court seat open.

And the threat of a filibuster was clearly on the minds of lawmakers as Pence tested their feelings on the Supreme Court nomination.

Once you’ve nuked the filibuster for all nominations… how long does the Senate majority keep it around for legislation?

The Circus Is No Longer Coming to Town

In an era of ever-larger raging public furies aiming to get more clicks and attention, take a moment to read and salute Jazz Shaw’s nuanced assessment of the news that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is shutting down.

In later years I came to dislike the circus animal acts… a subject which can’t be separated from the topic of Ringling Brothers closing, but also doesn’t account for the entire story. Much like zoos and SeaWorld style marine parks, I didn’t care to see the large, intelligent mammals like the elephants and big cats put on display and made to perform unnatural tasks while living in cramped quarters and being trucked around the continent. It wasn’t some sort of torture, however. The circus beat back the animal rights groups accusing them of cruelty a few years ago and even obtained a $25M judgment against them, but a significant portion of public sentiment had clearly shifted. Personally, looking at the animals just made me sad.

Is there something in between animal cruelty and treating an animal the way it should be treated? Life on the road is rough enough for human beings, I can only imagine what it’s like from the perspective of an animal. I suspect Jazz and most people don’t feel the same way about zoos that give the animals sufficient space to run and move around and live a life that somewhat resembles their life in the wild. He continues:

If the government had swooped in and shut down the show in some misguided mission of social justice it would have been an outrage (absent any proof of criminal behavior). But that’s not what happened. Ringling Brothers is going down because consumers voted with their wallets. Part of it centered on the animal shows to be sure. The owners admitted that some people stopped coming because of the elephants, but another large group stopped attending after the elephants were retired a few years ago.

…Ringling Brothers is going out of business because they failed to deliver a product which a sufficient number of consumers desire. In the end, that’s all there was to it.

Unmentioned in the coverage: Kristen Michelle Wilson just debuted as the first female ringmaster in the company’s 146-year history, a promotion she described as “living her dream.”

It is indeed the end of an era. Big Apple Circus declared bankruptcy back in November.

Then again, Cirque de Soleil has never been bigger: “The company has close to 4,000 employees, including 1,300 performing artists from close to 50 different countries. Cirque du Soleil has brought wonder and delight to more than 155 million spectators in more than 300 cities in over forty countries on six continents.”

The Twin Peaks Preparation Guide

Last week, Showtime announced that Twin Peaks will return to television after a twenty-six year absence on May 21. This weekend, the network ran a marathon of the first season’s episodes and released a brief teaser commercial that appeared after the premiere of Homeland.

I know, half of you are skipping ahead, and that’s fine. But if you are curious about this show that I and most of your weird friends keep ranting and raving about, here’s the proper viewing and reading order to get completely caught up:

Pilot: Two just-bout perfect hours, setting up the premise, the characters, the setting, the mood, and the mystery. The old VHS tapes didn’t include this because of a complicated fight over who owned the copyright. It was sold separately with a tacked-on ending that was stylistically intriguing but made even less narrative sense than usual. You can find that alternate ending on the DVD set.

Rest of season one, episodes 2 through 8: Really, really, really good.

Before moving on to Season Two, I would urge fans to watch… Kyle MacLachlan’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, to get a sense of the hype that built up during that first season, and a couple jokes that illustrate the mood of the audience. First, in the opening monologue, MacLachlan blurts out the identity of the murderer – albeit one that doesn’t make much sense – and gets a furious phone call from David Lynch, akin to announcing the nuclear launch codes on national television. Then the sketch parodying the series, where Agent Cooper ignores glaring evidence pointing to an obvious killer because he likes the town so much and doesn’t want to leave. The SNL writers predicted the complication in the show: a terrific mystery has to have a resolution – and once you solve the mystery… what happens to the show?

The beginning of Season Two, episode nine: The slow-as-molasses opening scene to Season Two is perhaps where the show started to go wrong. The first half of the second season didn’t lose quality, but it did lose the audience’s patience. ABC went to co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost and basically demanded they reveal the killer. The killer is revealed in Episode 15, and it’s about as terrifying an hour of television as you’re ever going to see. Two episodes later, justice is done. And then…

Episode 18 is where the show starts to go terribly awry, as the town seems to nonchalantly shrug off the events of the previous days. They’re holding an almost jovial wake at the site of one of the murders. (A spectacular takedown of the complete breakdown in narrative logic found this episode can be found here.)

Most fans will admit that the episodes from 19 to 26 range from mediocre to almost unwatchably bad, as the creative team, the cast, and way too many guest stars flailed around for a new main plot to drive the narrative. But by episode 27, an antagonist who’s been lurking in the background steps forward and becomes truly menacing, and the final three episodes regain the first season’s momentum. And then the show ends on the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers.

The Twin Peaks movie, Fire Walk With Me, is a prequel, which is one of the many reasons fans are fiercely divided on the movie. On the one hand, it’s an emotionally intense look at a self-destructive young woman and her last attempts to claim some semblance of control over her destiny.  On the other hand, it’s the fever-dream vision of David Lynch without the calming, logical perspective of co-creator Mark Frost.

Lynch filmed a ton of scenes for Fire Walk With Me that he didn’t use, and those scenes were released on the Blu-Ray collection, entitled “The Missing Pieces.” A lot of fans found these scenes intriguing, and a few of them particularly illuminating.

Fans who want answers to the cliffhanger may find something a bit more satisfying in the spin-off books. The Autobiography of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper fills in the appropriate backstory of the main character, and suggests that otherworldly forces of good and evil have been at work in his life from his earliest years. Twin Peaks: An Access Guide to the Town is a light, fluffy, funny tourist guide to the fictional town, but doesn’t shed much light on the show’s stories. The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, written by David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer Lynch, is not for the faint of heart. It came out before the killer was revealed, but gives a really chilling sense of what it’s like to live in fear. It’s one of those books that is well done but you never feel the urge to pick it up again.

Then there’s the newest offering from Mark Frost, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, which I reviewed here. It’s best seen as a series of vignettes about mysterious and odd events in American history, a lot of nonfiction with a bit of fiction sprinkled in to tie the events to the town of Twin Peaks or its unique depiction of supernatural phenomena.

ADDENDA: The new season of Homeland that debuted last night features a woman president-elect who was a junior New York senator, is rather brusque with underlings, and is regarded warily by members of the national-security community. Boy, the writers and producers thought that concept would be a lot more resonant right now, huh? (For what it’s worth, the producers describe the character as having parts of Trump, Clinton, and Sanders.)

Politics & Policy

It’s Awards Season in Washington, Too

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It’s Awards Season in Washington, Too

As the Obama administration draws to a close, Defense Secretary Ash Carter awards to President Obama the Medal of Distinguished Public Service . . . 

 . . . and Obama gives Vice President Joe Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Could anyone say, “You know, I really appreciate this generous gesture, but there are other people who deserve this more than me”? Yes, I know George W. Bush and Bill Clinton received the Department of Defense medal before. It looked bad then, too. If a federal department wants to award a president, at least let it be awarded by a secretary not appointed by that president.

Past winners of the Presidential Medal of Honor include the crew of Apollo 13, Mother Theresa, and Stephen Hawking.

Joe Biden’s a good man who has endured tragedies no human being should ever have to experience, and offered a role model on how to go on when life gives you some of the worst possible tragedies. But the whole thing seems a little too self-congratulatory as the Obama administration comes to a close.

Go Figure, Jeff Sessions Looks Likely to Be Confirmed This Month

It was easily missed, but this more or less wraps up the confirmation for Jeff Sessions to be attorney general: West Virginia Democrat senator Joe Manchin reaffirmed that he will vote for Sessions this week.

Fifty-two Republicans, plus Manchin, means Sessions has 53 votes. Traditionally, senators nominated to the cabinet don’t vote for themselves; they vote “present.” Take away Sessions and the vote looks like 52 in favor, 47 against, one present.

So if three Republican senators flipped, the vote would be 49 in favor, 50 against, 1 present. Under that scenario, maybe Sessions wouldn’t vote present, and would vote for himself. (No law bars this.) In a 50-50 split, Vice President Mike Pence would break the tie. Sessions would be confirmed, 51 votes in favor, 50 votes opposed.

So Sessions opponents really need four Republicans to oppose Sessions. So far, no Republican has indicated they will vote against him. When the most high-profile opposition to him comes from the incoherent shouting of Code Pink and the camera-hugging grand-standing of Cory Booker, how do you think most Senate Republicans are going to vote?

There was a small window of opportunity for Sessions foes, but that would have required Senate Democrats to make an argument against the Alabama senator that appealed to the worldview of Senate Republicans. Sessions is a big fan of civil forfeiture, a process that allows law enforcement to take private property that more than a few conservatives contend is widely abused and has become “a cash cow for state and local police and prosecutors.” His support for drug prohibition isn’t by itself a glaring problem, but quite a few Republicans aren’t sure the War on Drugs is working out the way it was supposed to, and Sessions doesn’t appear to have doubted its effectiveness one bit. A lot of conservatives are taking a long look at sentencing reform, wondering if our prisons and jails are just taking the bad and making them worse. Sessions is wary at best about these efforts, fearing they will release violent offenders back on the streets, and he blocked legislative efforts last year.

Had the argument against Sessions focused primarily on those areas, maybe you could have shaken loose a few Republican senators. But hey, Code Pink wants to shout, so . . .  go ahead, guys. Have at it.

The Davos Man Suddenly Realizes He Might be Out of Touch

Hey, maybe the folks at Davos are starting to get it:

For the 3,000 people who will convene in the small Swiss town from Jan. 17 to 20, the 2017 event could be a moment of reckoning. At speakers’ podiums, coffee bars, and the ubiquitous late-night parties, they’ll be asking themselves whether Davos has become, at best, the world’s most expensive intellectual feedback loop—and, at worst, part of the problem. “Since the recession, the boom has benefited the upper-income earners and done little for those in the middle or on less. That’s the backlash,” says Nariman Behravesh, the chief economist for research provider IHS Markit. “The Davos vision of the world has not delivered a broad-based economic recovery.”

Then again, maybe we’re about to get a broad-based economic recovery here in the U.S.; it sounds like companies are going on a hiring spree to avoid the wrath of Trump:

Amazon.com Inc. on Thursday said it plans to create more than 100,000 full-time jobs in the U.S. within the next 18 months, leveraging plans already in the works in part to patch up its contentious relationship with President-elect Donald Trump.

The additional jobs would swell Amazon’s U.S. workforce to 280,000, compared with 30,000 in 2011.

Amazon said many of the new positions will be at already-announced warehouses under construction in Texas, California, Florida and New Jersey. Others will be in areas such as cloud technology, machine learning and advanced logistics—some of which eliminate jobs, experts say.

ADDENDA: I didn’t believe in that Friday the 13th stuff, but right now I’m the only one in the house who doesn’t have the flu. Thanks to the good folks at WMAL for putting up with my last-minute cancellation.

The epic 100th episode of the pop culture podcast is slated to be taped next week.

Politics & Policy

The Worst Excuse for BuzzFeed: ‘Eh, Trump Had It Coming to Him’

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The Worst Excuse for BuzzFeed: ‘Eh, Trump Had It Coming to Him’

By the way, a quick Google search can confirm a few of the pieces of that implausible dossier on Donald Trump. For example, on page 23, the document states:

Senior Russian MFA official reported that as a prophylactic measure, a leading Russian diplomat, Mikhail KULAGIN, had been withdrawn from Washington at short notice because Moscow feared his heavy involvement-in the US presidential election operation, including the so-called veterans’ pensions ruse (reported previously), would be exposed in the media there. His replacement, Andrei BONDAREV however was clean in this regard.

Mikhail Kugalin is referred to as a press attaché in the Russian embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania in publicly-available reports in October 2005. Over on the publicly-available staff list of the Russian embassy in Washington, we can find Kugalin is not listed, and Bondarev is:

ANDREY BORISOVICH BONDAREV; MRS. DARIA VLADIMIROVNA BONDAREVA COUNSELOR (HEAD OF ECONOMIC SECTION)

This is basic stuff, found after a couple minutes of Googling. So if BuzzFeed wanted to, they could have at least told readers which details they could verify and which ones they couldn’t. Kugalin indeed left his posting at the Russian embassy this year, but for what it’s worth, the Russian foreign ministry says it was part of a planned rotation. (Not like they would admit, “yes, he was a spy involved in meddling the Russian elections,” but it always good to make the call and get the official denial in what you publish.)

Instead, the web publication just told us, “BuzzFeed News reporters in the U.S. and Europe have been investigating various alleged facts in the dossier but have not verified or falsified them.” Thanks, guys, that’s a huge help.

In yesterday’s Jolt, we mentioned the allegation that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen met with Russian officials in Prague. We don’t know if Buzzfeed asked Cohen for a comment or to confirm or deny the trip before publishing the dossier. We now know the dossier had been floating around for months. What was the rush?

Jack Shafer offers some implausible defenses for BuzzFeed’s decision to publish the implausible dossier on Donald Trump:

So far, the U.S. government appears to have been overly prudent about leaking or sharing the sensitive Trump information it holds. Like BuzzFeed’s Smith, I believe the public has an interest in knowing what the much-disparaged elites have been gossiping about for months now. Information like this can’t be bottled up forever, especially in the Web era. You can say it’s “wrong” to publish raw scuttlebutt like this, and I can agree with you. You can see hypocrisy in liberals whinging about the rise of fake news, only to embrace Goldengate, and I can agree with you. But to reprise an earlier point, conventional journalists no longer have the capacity to gate-keep in a perfect way. Complaining about it is pointless.

No, it’s not. Complaining about it is how we demonstrate our expectations of the field of journalism. If publishing unverified information is widely criticized and mocked, publications will do it less frequently. You can find a lot of shocking but never-quite-verified reports from Alex Jones, Debka, Dan Rather, various bloggers with shaky history, etcetera. Most journalists don’t want to be one of those.

Shafer continues:

And even if the dossier turns out to be pure bunk, there is a good bit of karma blasting back at Trump for inciting the Russians to hack and leak on Hillary, not to mention all the birther stuff. How does it feel to be the aggrieved party, Donald?

Is this what the role of the news media is going to become now? Trump makes unfounded accusations, so we’re free to make unfounded accusations now, too? The decisions you make don’t tell the world about the standards of other people; the decisions you make tell the world about your standards. The gleeful tone of Shafer’s paragraph suggests that publishing false reports is okay if the public figure “has it coming.”

At first I thought the latest journalism scandals like this and Rolling Stone reflected a young, improperly-trained reporters, like the infamous Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair. Then I checked on the ages of some of the more infamous perpetrators of our age. Nope, they’re in their forties.

When I decided I wanted to go into journalism, it was the era where the major news institutions were under fire for going tabloid and doing a bad job: the O.J. Simpson trial, the “Long Island Lolita” Amy Fisher, the obsessive Olympics coverage of Tanya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, the sordid, bloody tale of Lorena Bobbitt and John Wayne Bobbitt. Weird Al Yankovic wrote a song about two the four, to the Crash Test Dummies’s 1993 hit “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”, and called it “Headline News.” It’s among the few times Weird Al slips a little social critique in his usual silliness: (“They got paid for their sound-bites… and sold their TV-movie rights.”) It wasn’t that long after a guest hit Geraldo Rivera in the nose with a chair, and the world cheered.

When people would recoil when I mentioned my career plans, I said, “That’s why I want to go into it – to make it better than this.”

I’m not sure today’s journalism is much better. It’s way more diversified, thanks to the Internet, but it’s not necessarily better.

Meet Your New VA Secretary Nominee, David Shulkin

Out of all of Trump’s campaign promises, fixing the VA and getting our veterans excellent care has to rank among the top two or three in terms of importance. Perhaps no other Obama administration scandal was so egregious or unforgivable.

A lot of people thought fixing the Veterans Administration was going to require an outsider. Donald Trump apparently thinks differently.

President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday announced his choice of David Shulkin to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Shulkin is the current undersecretary for health at the VA and has been in that post since July 2015.

“I’ll tell you about David: He’s fantastic, he’s fantastic,” Trump said. “He will do a truly great job. One of the commitments I made is that we’re going to straighten out the whole situation for our veterans.

“Our veterans have been treated horribly, they’re waiting in line for 15, 16, 17 days, cases where they go in and they have a minor early stage form of cancer, they can’t see a doctor. By the time they get to a doctor, they’re terminal,” Trump said. ”It’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen.”

During his tenure, Shulkin told USA TODAY recently that he had cut the number of veterans waiting for urgent care from 57,000 to 600. At the same time, he spearheaded an effort to provide same-day care at all 167 VA medical centers across the country by the end of last year. It’s unclear whether he reached that goal.

Will we see more privatization of veterans care? Eh, kind-of, sort-of:

Shulkin has said in interviews that he favors a hybrid model, where the VA provides care that it specializes in, such as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and loss of limbs, for example. And he said the VA should consider discontinuing other services that the private sector may better provide, such as obstetrics and gynecology.

At first glance, that makes sense, but the evaluation that counts will come from the veterans.

Cory Booker: He Is Who We Thought He Was

Allahpundit confirms Cory Booker’s testimony against Jeff Sessions was every bit as bad as we expected:

If you thought Cory Booker’s testimony against Jeff Sessions would be all about grandstanding for 2020, collect your prize. That was Ed’s suspicion yesterday as well as the suspicions of, oh, everyone to the right of Bernie Sanders. Booker was going to break with Senate precedent and testify against Sessions, we thought, not because had evidence to submit about Sessions’s views on the law and its enforcement but because he wanted footage for his first campaign commercial in Iowa in 2020 or 2024. Annnnnd that’s exactly what happened. There’s nothing new in the clip below.

Booker wanted camera time so that he could emote, badly, about Selma and the arc of moral universe, and to make an impression on the left that his objections to Sessions were so extra woke that he’d go so far as to take unprecedented action — testifying against a Senate colleague — to register them. Watch this poor bastard try and pitifully fail to feign genuine emotion between 6:10 and 6:25, closing his eyes because he’s that much in the moment. I have a high tolerance for Senate grandstanding (I voted for Ted Cruz in the primaries, remember) but even I have my limits. As the saying goes, it would take a heart of stone not to laugh at a performance this shameless.

Cory Booker 2020: Why just stand when you can grandstand?

ADDENDA: The extra-special 100th episode of the pop culture podcast may be delayed, as the local Authenticity Woods school district is dealing with a winter-cold season out of a Richard Preston novel.

Why You Should Doubt that Salacious Trump Espionage Memo

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Why You Should Doubt that Salacious Trump Espionage Memo

It’s looking more and more implausible by the hour, but go ahead, read the 35-page memo posted by BuzzFeed detailing a scenario where Vladimir Putin and the Russian government developed Donald Trump as an ally and an asset, gathered salacious compromising information about him, used him to collect information on Russian émigrés, and colluded with him and his campaign to defeat Hillary Clinton.

Shortly after it was posted, Jonah Goldberg pointed out that the details that made the narrative so compelling are the sorts of ones that could and should be corroborated… before publication.

Buzzfeed’s decision to publish the report is going to be second-guessed by a lot of people and may bring legal action. There are a lot of facts that could have been corroborated before publication. 5b) If Trump can disprove some/any of the specific allegations in the report, it will likely do more to inoculate him than cripple him.

David French pointed out that BuzzFeed is dodging when they say they want Americans to make up their own minds about the veracity of the claims.

How can “Americans make up their own minds” when they have no ability to fact-check the allegations? The public knows nothing about the sources, nothing about the underlying claims, and has no means of discovering the truth. Buzzfeed admits that “there is serious reason to doubt the allegations.” It’s been using its journalistic resources trying to verify the claims for “weeks” and hasn’t been able to. But “Americans” can somehow do what Buzzfeed can’t? This isn’t transparency; it’s malice.

Last night, in response to one of the memo’s claims, Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen denied that he had ever been to Prague and posted a photo of his passport.

Elaina Plott confirms: “Two USC baseball sources confirm for me that Michael Cohen and his son visited campus on August 29th, time report places him in Prague.”

Wait, there’s more, from the Wall Street Journal: “The FBI has found no evidence that he traveled to the Czech Republic, where the meeting allegedly took place in August of last year, officials said.”

So one major detail in the memo is already proven false: a claim of Cohen secretly meeting with Kremlin officials in Prague in August. If that part is made up, there’s no reason to put more faith in the other allegations.

Various items in the memo that jumped out at me as being odd:

  • For a memo allegedly written by “a former British intelligence agent,” it contains only a few British spellings of words. (I found “cauterise” and “favourably.”) There are other interesting linguistic and style quirks, and a few errors; the author uses the article ‘a’ before the plural noun “showers.”
  • On the other hand, the author knows the plural of “ruble” can be spelled “Roubles.”
  • The author uses the term “e-mail,” not “email”. This is generally the older way of referring to electronic mail.
  • The author refers to “US” not “U.S.”
  • Some pages have hand-written numbering in the corner, some do not.
  • These are photographs of the document, not scans. On pages 10, 11 and some others you can see the shadow of the hand and (presumably) the cell phone used to take the pictures.

Two explosive but implausible claims on page 7. First, “PUTIN motivated by fear and hatred of Hillary CLINTON.” Hatred, I guess I can see, but fear? Really? You think he was afraid of what a Clinton administration would do to Russia? After Hillary’s State Department signed off on a deal that gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States?

Secondly, the memo claims the Russian government was getting “intel from TRUMP’s team on Russian oligarchs and their families in US.” If true, this would be the most devastating allegation in the memo; Trump would be acting as an agent of Russian intelligence.

But think about this for a moment. Yes, Trump has had some dealings with Russian oligarchs over the years. But how much relevant information about those oligarchs would Trump have access to? How much would he know that Russian intelligence wouldn’t already know? And if you were a Russian émigré who the Kremlin didn’t like, would you be hanging around with Donald Trump? Would you be revealing potentially compromising or sensitive information to him?

Page 12: Sometime in July, “Kremlin concerned that political fallout from DNC e-mail hacking is spiraling out of control… President PUTIN and others in the leadership thought things had gone too far now and risked spiraling out of control.” Really? Did it feel like the political fallout was spiraling out of control in July?

Still, Trump’s Getting Briefed on This Stuff By the Intelligence Community

So the memo isn’t all that plausible. But the fact that U.S. intelligence chiefs briefed Trump about it is:

Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.

The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.

The classified briefings last week were presented by four of the senior-most US intelligence chiefs — Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers.

One reason the nation’s intelligence chiefs took the extraordinary step of including the synopsis in the briefing documents was to make the President-elect aware that such allegations involving him are circulating among intelligence agencies, senior members of Congress and other government officials in Washington, multiple sources tell CNN.

How would you like to be a fly on the wall for that meeting? “Mr. President-elect, if you turn to page two, we have a summary of the embarrassing information about you that the Russians claim to have…”

Good News: A Bad Federal Program Is Almost Dead.

Over on the home page, I point out that public financing of political conventions is dead and public financing of presidential campaigns is almost dead. As long as elected officials have a lot of power, then powerful financial interests are always going to try to buy access to candidates and goodwill. The best disinfectant is sunlight, and an informed public.

I’m much more bothered by the idea of tax dollars supporting candidates, particularly no-shot gadflies who want to be a celebrity for a year. Guess what? You helped pay for Martin O’Malley’s presidential campaign last year.

On January 20, 2016, the FEC sent O’Malley for President a check for $846,365.09. On February 1, O’Malley suspended his campaign after a dismal showing in the Iowa caucuses. By year’s end, the FEC had given his short-lived campaign a bit more than $1 million. The campaign went on to spend $343,638.92 in 2016, according to FEC data — mostly settling bills for accounting, legal, printing, and consulting expenses. The good news is that O’Malley didn’t stiff his vendors. The bad news is your tax dollars helped settle the books.

Public financing is a bad deal for a serious presidential campaign. But if you’re a D-list candidate who wants to raise his profile in the eyes of those handing out book deals and cable-news shows, it’s a terrific deal. If you can raise $100,000 by collecting $5,000 in 20 different states, you’re eligible for matching funds, up to $250 for every individual donor.

Raise your own darn money, candidates.

ADDENDA: Big day ahead, taping the 100th edition of the pop culture podcast.

Politics & Policy

Cory Booker, No Longer ‘Mr. Bipartisan’

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Cory Booker, No Longer ‘Mr. Bipartisan’

It looks like New Jersey senator Cory Booker is interested in running for president in 2020. That’s the easiest way to explain a guy whose initial reputation in politics was “Mr. Bipartisan” throwing himself onto the tracks of an oncoming train of an all-but-certain confirmation:

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker is set to testify against Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions Wednesday in an unprecedented move during his attorney general confirmation.

This would be the first time in Senate history that a sitting senator will testify against another sitting senator for a Cabinet post during a confirmation.

“I do not take lightly the decision to testify against a Senate colleague,” Booker said. “But the immense powers of the attorney general combined with the deeply troubling views of this nominee is a call to conscience.”

Of course, it wasn’t that long ago that Sessions and Booker got along pretty well. Back in 2015, the pair introduced legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to participants of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

“It is fitting that we honor the courage and determination of the civil rights marchers at Selma 50 years ago,” said Senator Sessions. ”This was a truly pivotal event in the drive to achieve the right to vote for all Americans—a right which had systematically been denied. This action was historic and dealt a major blow to the deliberate discrimination that existed, producing a positive and lasting change for America. Those who stood tall for freedom on that fateful day deserve to be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal.”

“We are forever indebted to those brave Americans—men and women of diverse age, color, and creed—who gathered in Selma 50 years ago to march on the frontlines in the fight for equality and justice,” said Senator Booker. ”As an American who stands on the shoulders of their courageous sacrifice, I am proud to honor these unsung heroes who victoriously overcame bigotry and hate by walking in unwavering love and peace.”

Representative John Lewis of Georgia is scheduled to testify against Sessions, as well.  Representative Martha Roby posted photos taken Selma during the ceremony for the 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” showing Senator Sessions joining arms with civil rights icon Representative John Lewis and other leaders to cross the Edmund-Pettus Bridge.

Democratic primary voters detest Donald Trump, and they’re likely to feel the same way three years from now. If Booker wants to be the Democratic nominee, he can’t win it as “Mr. Bipartisan.” So we should expect Booker to pursue the Sanders-Howard Dean liberal ideal in the same way he chased the image of being a post-partisan healer, with grand, showy gestures that don’t accomplish much. 

One other indicator of Booker’s not-so-hidden presidential ambitions: He’s doing interviews with New Hampshire radio stations.

The Side of Sessions You Might Not Know

A lot of the coverage of Sessions is going to tell you about his rejection for a federal judgeship and his middle name (“Beauregard”). To their credit, the New York Times did a lengthy profile that showcases Sessions’ better side:

To Alabama voters, weary of decades of Democratic back-scratching and scandals, Mr. Sessions seemed a breath of fresh air when he emerged on the political scene in 1994, after 12 years as the top federal prosecutor in Mobile. As the state’s attorney general, his first elective post, he slashed staff, pay, travel, cars and supplies. Republican leaders hoped he would come to the rescue of the former governor, Guy Hunt, who was removed from office after a 1993 ethics conviction. Instead, Mr. Sessions asked a federal appeals court to uphold the conviction.

… After he was elected senator, taking a seat on the same Judiciary Committee that denied him the judgeship, Mr. Sessions seemed to bear no grudge against those who had humiliated him in 1986. He collaborated with Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts on a bill to reduce prison rape. He also worked with Democrats to correct sentencing disparities that resulted in harsher penalties for those convicted of crimes involving crack cocaine, who were predominately black, than those convicted of powder cocaine, who were more likely to be white.

More Fake News that Didn’t Come From a Teenager in Macedonia

Gizmodo completely drops the ball on a piece headlined, “Trump Is Letting Go the People In Charge of Maintaining Our Nuclear Arsenal.”

The blockbuster charge in the lead paragraph:

According to an official within the Department of Energy, the Trump transition team has declined to ask the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration and his deputy to temporarily stay in their roles after Trump takes office on January 20th.

The unnamed official makes it sound like an unbelievable change:

Trump, however, appears determined to be free of anyone who was appointed by Obama, regardless of whether or not he has anyone in line for the job. Or, as our source put it: “It’s a shocking disregard for process and continuity of government.”

The correction at the bottom of the page:

Another NNSA official, speaking on background to Gizmodo and Defense News, has disputed this report as “inaccurate” while confirming that “there have been no discussions between the president-elect’s transition team and any of NNSA’s political appointees on extending their public service past Jan. 20.” In other words, the Trump transition team has not asked the top two NNSA officials to stay on until they can be replaced.

After speaking to our source for clarification, we have updated the story and headline to reflect that, while Klotz and Creedon have submitted their resignations, intend to depart on January 20, and have not been asked by the Trump transition to stay past that date, the Trump team has not explicitly instructed them to leave or “clean out their desks,” as we reported. According to our source, both officials “have expressed [to the Trump team] that they would likely be willing to stay to facilitate a smooth transition, if asked,” as is the tradition for key officials, and have received no response.

 So basically, nobody’s replied to the standard ‘resignation submitted’ message.

ADDENDA: Urgh. My morning began by awakening at 5 a.m., spending 20 minutes on a 20-degree Metro platform with the wind cutting like a Dorothy Parker insult, rushing to the Acela and finding this was a bad day to skip the usual morning coffee. Hopefully things improve from here. I’m scheduled to appear on CNN International’s “State of the Nation” in the 2 p.m. hour and maybe sometime on CNN domestic if I look sufficiently lonely in the green room.

Politics & Policy

Brace Yourselves: Confirmation Hearings Are Coming

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The first full week of 2017: A new year has begun in earnest, a new Congress is in office, and a new president takes office in eleven days.

If you look, you can find announcements of companies expanding and hiring. Cable operator Charter Communications plans on hiring 20,000 over the next three years. Pison Stream Solutions in Brecksville, Ohio, plans to hire 150 people in the next three years. Cyber-security firm ReliaQuest in Tampa plans to hire at least 150 people in 2017. Information technology company S4 is hiring 100 employees in Colorado Springs. Proterra, a startup that makes electric transit buses with fast-charging batteries, planning openings in Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, and Greenville, South Carolina. UnitedHealthcare is hiring for 50 new jobs in Shelton, Connecticut.

Are we on the verge of an economic boom? Honestly, the data are mixed. But 2017 can still be a booming year for you.

Brace Yourselves: Confirmation Hearings Are Coming.

It’s the first big week of confirmation hearings, which… feels like some contrived drama.

Every one of these nominees begins with 52 Republicans heavily inclined to vote for the nominee that the president has named, with a couple of Democrats in red states feeling some heat for 2018. And everyone knows who they are; the Judicial Crisis Network is running ads touting attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions in Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota, and Washington, DC; it’s described as a “mid-six figure ad campaign comprised of both cable and digital and will run through the entire confirmation process.”

Let’s turn back the clock to January 2009, when there were just 41 Republicans in the Senate. The number of Democrats steadily increased as Roland Burris joined on January 15, Arlen Specter switched to the Democratic party at the end of April, and Al Franken’s election wasn’t settled until the end of June.

Hillary Clinton was confirmed as Secretary of State, 94 votes in favor, 2 opposed.

Eric Holder was confirmed as Attorney General, 75 votes in favor, 21 opposed.

Kathleen Sebelius was confirmed as Health and Human Services Secretary, 65 votes to 31 opposed.

Tim Geithner, who ran into some trouble over unpaid taxes, was confirmed, 60 votes in favor, 34 opposed.

Looking back, Republicans concentrated their objections to just a few of Obama’s selections. The Senate confirmed seven Obama nominees the day he was inaugurated, another five within his first week in office, and 13 were confirmed via voice vote without any recorded opposition.

Senate Democrats plan a very different approach:

Democratic senators plan to aggressively target eight of Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees in the coming weeks and are pushing to stretch their confirmation votes into March — an unprecedented break with Senate tradition.

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused Trump of trying to seat a “rigged Cabinet” of nominees who “have made billions off the industries they’d be tasked with regulating.”

“Any attempt by Republicans to have a series of rushed, truncated hearings before Inauguration Day and before the Congress and public have adequate information on all of them is something Democrats will vehemently resist,” Schumer added in a statement to The Washington Post confirming his caucus’s plans. “If Republicans think they can quickly jam through a whole slate of nominees without a fair hearing process, they’re sorely mistaken.”

“Why is everything in Washington so partisan?” Because our political leaders choose to behave this way.

When the President-Elect Tweets, CEOs Call Quickly

After President-elect Trump sent that Tweet critical of General Motors for producing a small but measurable number of Chevy Cruzes in Mexico – about 4,500 – GM’s Mary Barra chatted with Trump, according to the Wall Street Journal:

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra’s role as one of 20 business advisers to Donald Trump on economic issues and jobs growth was dealt a jolt shortly after the New Year, with the president-elect criticizing the auto maker’s production plans in a tweet.

Within hours, Ms. Barra called Mr. Trump and engaged in a “very positive and cordial” lengthy conversation, according to two people familiar with the call. The 55-year-old CEO is no stranger to political conflict, having steered GM through a safety-recall crisis shortly after taking the helm in 2014, and the discussion “went very well,” one of the people said.

The Journal editorial board points out that there are policy moves that can be made to reduce the incentive to produce small cars in Mexico – namely corporate average fuel economy standards and trade deals that help American exports.

It’s true that auto makers have shifted production of small cars to Mexico, where wages are about 85% lower than in the U.S. But small cars aren’t profitable to make in the U.S., though they are necessary to meet the Obama Administration’s increasingly onerous fuel-economy mandates.

Some brave soul should also tell Mr. Trump that auto makers have moved production in Mexico because of its free-trade deals that provide better access to global markets. Mexico has 10 trade deals with 45 countries including the European Union and Brazil, which make up half of the global car market. The U.S. has 14 agreements with a mere 20 countries.

As noted last week, GM used to be reviled for both the bailout and the faulty ignition, which forced the recall of 30 million cars… and now, about two years later, it’s just another powerful company. The company’s profitable again, the CEO was on Hillary’s longest potential running-mate list and is now on one of Trump’s advisory panels… you tell me, with an outcome like this, do you think if another U.S. car company gets in trouble, a government bailout is more likely or less likely?

The bailout did work, for everyone except the taxpayers, who lost $10.5 billion.

I’m scheduled to talk about Barra, GM, and Trump at 2 p.m. on the Fox Business Network.

‘They Can Only Hope He’s Alive.’

Jay Nordlinger knows how to grab your attention with an opening paragraph or two:

“Nastya! If you decide to publish this information about what is happening to me, then try to distribute it as widely as possible. This will increase my chances of staying alive.”

Ildar Dadin wrote those words to his wife, Anastasia Zotova“Nastya” — on October 31. He was in Penal Colony No. 7 in the town of Segezha, Republic of Karelia. This is in northwest Russia, near Finland. Where Dadin is now, no one knows. At least his wife and family don’t. They can only hope he’s alive.

In Russia, repeated public protests of the government without the permission of that same government is against the law. (Sometimes, it’s not so clear that a broad majority of Americans would object to that kind of restriction on free speech. Take your pick, from the ludicrous speech codes on campus, to the casual suggestion that “Tea Party rhetoric could lead to another Oklahoma City”, or Omarosa’s “Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump. It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, who ever disagreed, who ever challenged him.”)

Dadin might be in Penal Colony No. 7 in Segezha. Or he might be in some other prison. The Russian government refuses to tell his family.

Why is it such a priority to have a “good relationship” with the regime in Moscow?

ADDENDA: Thanks to Kevin Williamson for his kind words about The Weed Agency in his piece last week.

Politics & Policy

Trust the Public to Not Judge Groups by the Worst Among Them

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Trust the Public to Not Judge Groups by the Worst Among Them

The worst among us do not represent us as a whole, thankfully.

William Calley doesn’t represent men and women in uniform. Ward Churchill doesn’t represent professors. Jeffrey Dahmer doesn’t represent chocolate factory employees. Aaron Hernandez does not represent the New England Patriots.

Most of us know that. Most of us understand that it’s unfair, inaccurate, and a smear to take the worst individual in a group and contend that all members of a group are “like that.” James Holmes is rare among gun owners. Eric Rudolph is rare among abortion opponents. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik are rare among Muslims.

On that last one, is that why authorities keep acting like they never want to admit that a mass shooter is Muslim? Every time there’s a terror attack, we see coverage of local Muslims fearing a backlash. And while there are occasional incidents – mostly verbal abuse from strangers – we thankfully don’t see it on a massive scale or escalation. Most Americans go out of their way to demonstrate that they don’t blame all Muslims for the actions of a violent extremist among them. My sense is the kind of jerk who harasses the elderly shop owner down the street because of something ISIS did is the kind of jerk who’s just looking for an excuse to lash out.

So is there genuine fear among authorities that a public discussion of that God-awful attack in Chicago is going to stir some sort of mass reaction against African-American youth?

Because Noah Rothman notices some really odd assertions coming from the Chicago police:

By 6 a.m. Chicago time, local police cautioned reporters that it was too early to determine whether the attack had any racial motive. By 7:45, however, police were certain that there was no racial motive and that the man who was abducted from a local McDonalds was targeted only because he had a learning disability. Investigators believe that the victim knew one of his attackers from high school, and may have accompanied his tormenters willingly. To claim, however, that there was no racial element to a video in which a white man is tortured and berated about his skin color while his attackers shout epithets about white people and the Caucasian president-elect beggars belief.

Is there fear that Americans of all colors will hear about this attack and conclude, “yup, that’s the way blacks are”? Or “that’s the way black teenagers are”? Come on. Give us a little credit. Even if the facts are potentially inflammatory, it is the job of the authorities and the media to inform the public with the facts. It’s when authorities and the media lie, or offer implausible rationales – i.e., there was no racial motive to attackers who said “f*** white people” that people truly get suspicious that the real story is much worse than what they’re being told.

And now, the facts:

Charged in the attack were Jordan Hill, 18, of Carpentersville; Tesfaye Cooper, 18, of Chicago; and sisters Brittany Covington, 18, and Tanishia Covington, 24, who lived in an apartment in the 3300 block of West Lexington Street where the assault allegedly took place.

The four — who are all African-American — were each charged with aggravated kidnapping, hate crime, aggravated unlawful restraint and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, according to police. Hill also was charged with robbery, possession of a stolen motor vehicle and residential burglary, while both Covingtons were charged with residential burglary, police said.

Police said all four have given statements admitting to their roles in the alleged attack. They’re scheduled to appear for a bond hearing Friday at the Leighton Criminal Court Building.

Greg Jarrett, Fox News anchor and former defense attorney:

Because Illinois seeks to protect people from attacks based on both race and disability, this case presents two distinct kinds of hate crimes. Which means double trouble for the accused. 

The star witness will be the videotape. It speaks for itself. The suspects are caught in all their malignity. The victim is seen in all his misery. The prosecution can rest its case without much more.

Yes, I am well aware of the “presumption of innocence.” And the defendants will get their day in court should they so choose. But they would be wise to avoid it. A plea deal would be a more judicious course, if for no other reason than to avoid further inflaming their community and the court. 

I can’t imagine a jury ignoring the incontrovertible acts of brutality seen on the tape. But then, this is Chicago where criminal justice is to justice…as military music is to music.

But assuming the defendants are convicted, the real question is how the trial judge will punish. Judges in Chicago are notorious for meting out meager sentences. Thus, the rampant crime in “the windy city” that has made it the murder capital of America. 

A judge who cares about law and order should rule that the sentences run consecutively, not concurrently. Throw away the key. The remote chance at rehabilitation should take a back seat to deterrence and retribution.

Our David French’s conclusions:

We can’t look at the filmed Chicago beatings and the hundreds of Chicago killings as distinct, with the beatings “political violence” and the killings just crime as usual. They’re both the product of a depraved culture, and they’re both facilitated by the breakdown in law and order. It’s time to stop celebrating depravity. It’s time to stop crippling the police. And it’s time to speak the truth. Our nation’s social fabric is fraying — nowhere more than in Chicago. This is the Left’s city, a foundation of its national power. How many more people have to die before it changes course?

Okay, Now the Transition Sounds Like It’s Hitting Serious Turbulence

Two ominous signs on the presidential transition this morning: First, why doesn’t the rest of the Trump team trust Mattis on personnel? I thought the cabinet secretaries were going to pick their own supporting staff

The honeymoon seems to be ending between retired Gen. James N. Mattis and Donald Trump’s transition team amid an increasingly acrimonious dispute over who will get top jobs in the Defense Department — and who gets to make those decisions.

With only two weeks left before Inauguration Day and days before Mattis’s Senate confirmation hearing, most major Pentagon civilian positions remain unfilled. Behind the scenes, Mattis has been rejecting large numbers of candidates offered by the transition team for several top posts, two sources close to the transition said.

The dispute over personnel appointments is contributing to a tenser relationship between Mattis and the transition officials, which could set the stage for turf wars between the Pentagon and the White House in the coming Trump administration.

Mattis is also pushing for the Trump transition team to allow “Never Trump” Republicans to serve in the Pentagon, but so far the Trump team is refusing.

One position that is a source of tension is undersecretary of defense for intelligence, a powerful post that overseas all Defense Department intelligence agencies, which include the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Mattis has rejected all of the names the Trump team has offered to be the top intelligence official in the department, another transition source said. Mattis is also unlikely to accept Trump’s top Pentagon transition landing team official, Mira Ricardel, as a top official. She was rumored to be in line to be undersecretary of defense for policy, a hugely influential job.

Secondly, if you wanted to make sweeping reforms of the intelligence community… wouldn’t you want to run some ideas by the former CIA director on your team, just to see what he thought?

Former CIA director R. James Woolsey Jr., a veteran of four presidential administrations and one of the nation’s leading intelligence experts, resigned Thursday from President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team because of growing tensions over Trump’s vision for intelligence agencies…

People close to Woolsey said that he had been excluded in recent weeks from discussions on intelligence matters with Trump and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the incoming White House national security adviser. They said that Woolsey had grown increasingly uncomfortable lending his name and credibility to the transition team without being consulted. Woolsey was taken aback by this week’s reports that Trump is considering revamping the country’s intelligence framework, said these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.

Love Woolsey or hate Woolsey, if you want to make big changes, what would be the harm in asking him for input?

ADDENDA: This week on the pop culture podcast, our 99th edition, and first of the new year: Why New Year’s Eve needs to move to a different spot on the calendar, why ABC’s reality show The Bachelor is designed to make you feel good about your relationship; CW’s Riverdale and when a reboot changes the original material so much it’s no longer a reboot; why the Golden Globes are a little more fun than most Hollywood awards shows and Mickey’s breathless update on the Great Pillow Controversy of 2017, a.k.a., “Pillowgate.”

Big week coming up next week: I’m scheduled to talk about GM’s Mary Barra on Fox Business Channel at 2 p.m on Monday, appearing on CNN International Tuesday, and guest-co-hosting WMAL’s Mornings on the Mall on Friday.

It’s obvious that the Chicago Facebook Live kidnapping does not reflect all black people, but the media shouldn’t hide the facts. Also, Donald Trump’s transition problems.

Politics & Policy

Fry Dylann Roof

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Fry Dylann Roof.

In USA Today, Melinda Henneberger warns that the decision on whether to give Charleston mass shooter Dylann Roof the death penalty “will say a lot more about who we are than it does about him.”

Fine with me. I’m not really bothered by the statement “this country executes mass murderers.”

She continues:

Questions raised by the case touch on a tangle of intractable issues — race and rage, guns and mental illness, what constitutes terrorism and what we can do about self-radicalization on the Internet. Yet the racism that Roof spewed seems to have eclipsed all other considerations. As a result, many who generally agree with me that capital punishment is in all cases wrong are silent now. Or they’re willing to make an exception when it’s a deluded white supremacist like Roof on trial instead of a deluded Muslim terrorist like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who has been sentenced to death in the Boston Marathon bombings.

This is because a lot of self-identified death penalty opponents aren’t really full-spectrum death penalty opponents.

Whether or not they are willing to admit it or not, most death-penalty opponents prefer the easy cases, where there’s still some doubt about guilt, or questions about whether the convicted had a fair trial. Once they’re confronted with the worst of the worst, plenty of opponents suddenly understand and support the arguments of death-penalty supporters. Back in 2001, more than half of self-identified death-penalty opponents supported it for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. And that’s fine; more heinous crimes have always been given tougher punishments.

A lot of people I respect a great deal are full-spectrum opponents of the death penalty. So with all due respect to those fine people…

Are you kidding me? Fry this guy.

Henneberger seems quite convinced that Roof simply has to be insane:

And jurors won’t even have to try and sort out where free will ends and compulsion begins. The judge in the case kept them from hearing the evidence of mental illness, and they will never hear it now, because Roof intends to represent himself during the punishment phase of the trial.

He’s doing it to keep jurors from hearing information that might embarrass him, his lawyers have said. Surely, worrying about embarrassment while on trial for one’s life is itself evidence of a serious imbalance. But one of the symptoms of the paranoid schizophrenia that Roof’s defense team has suggested he suffers from is an unwillingness to believe he has a mental illness.

At some point, I hope we’ll acknowledge the difficult truth that while very few people with a mental illness ever hurt anyone, evil actions aren’t always freely chosen.

This is about a step away from “the Devil made me do it.” To quote the wise philosopher, Dennis Miller…

Why does insanity always get you off the hook? It’s like a “Get Out Of Reality Free Card.” All you have to do is say you were a little cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, and all of a sudden caring people with zero regard for the victim’s loved ones will convert some of their Delta miles and fly in to attend an anti-death penalty candlelight-vigil in your honor. All of a sudden people are feeling sorry for you, because you killed someone, because you were crazy! Of course you were crazy! That’s the point!

Kathleen Parker cites Roof’s difficult childhood in her column arguing against the death penalty.

I don’t care. The guy made the decision to load the gun, walk into a church, and shot ten people, murdering nine. All were killed by multiple gunshots fired at close range. During the shooting, he taunted the victims, “Y’all want something to pray about? I’ll give you something to pray about.” He sure as hell seemed to understand the consequences of his actions then! One of his victims was an 87-year-old church choir member. A five-year-old girl survived the shooting by pretending to be dead.

If doing something like that doesn’t earn a seat on the electric chair, what does? I don’t care if Roof did it because he hates blacks, he hates churches, he hates God, or if he thinks his dog told him to do it. The consequence is the same. I keep hearing we have to look inside Roof’s head and try to understand. Why? It doesn’t change what he did. It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.

Blanket opposition to the death penalty sets up a society where we innocent law-abiding citizens are consigned to a life where a murderer’s rage and evil could cross our path and cut our life short at any time, while one small sub-set of people in this country will live in 24-7 security and who can sleep soundly knowing they will never be murdered: convicted criminals.

Tiny Bubbles…

It’s Thursday morning. Do you know where your pickup-driving friends are? Kevin Williamson explains.

John Ekdahl set off an amusing storm on Twitter by noting that the three best-selling vehicles in the United States are pick-up trucks and asking journalists the seemingly anodyne question of whether they personally know anybody who owns one.

The responses were predictable: The sort of smug progressives who are proud of their smugness scoffed that pick-ups, pollution-belching penis-supplements for toothless red-state Bubbas, are found mainly in the sort of communities where they’d never deign to set foot; the sort of smug progressives who are ashamed of their smugness protested that it is a silly question (which it is — that’s part of the point) and made strained connections with pick-up-owning childhood friends back home in East Slapbutt; conservatives mainly said “Har har stupid liberal elites.”

… Russell Kirk, describing his “canons of conservative thought,” argued that to be a conservative is to appreciate genuine diversity, “the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.” The Left is living up to Kirk’s expectations: The increasingly sneering attitude of coastal elites toward the more conservative interior, particularly for the poor communities there, is as undeniable as it is distasteful. But conservatives are not immune to these Kulturkampf tendencies, either. No, the whole country does not need to be Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It doesn’t need to be Lubbock, Texas, either.

In case you’re wondering, off the top of my head, I know one person who drives a pickup truck, which puts me on the low end of the “connected to real America outside of Acela corridor journalistic elites” scale.

I liked Jon Gabriel’s point:

Many Americans, left and right, live in monochrome cultural enclaves. Many of my friends at D.C. think tanks and my relatives on the farm don’t interact with many people who live different lives than themselves. Admitting this isn’t a black mark on either group; it merely helps us understand our limited perspective.

Since I live in the Phoenix suburbs, I know plenty of people in both groups. The economist PhDs make me feel dumb and the ranchers make me feel wimpy, so I learn a lot from both. Humility is a requirement if you want to learn or write about the many subjects outside your ken. Journalism would be a lot better if our media accepted this truth.

It’s important to know who you are, and to know who you aren’t – and from there, understanding why other people might see an issue differently.

Trump: Time to Start Cutting the U.S. Intelligence Community!

We’ve established that the world is immensely dangerous to Americans at the close of Obama’s presidency.

So now the Trump administration wants to… shrink the intelligence community?

President-elect Donald Trump, a harsh critic of U.S. intelligence agencies, is working with top advisers on a plan that would restructure and pare back the nation’s top spy agency, people familiar with the planning said.

The move is prompted by his belief that the Office of the Director of National

Intelligence has become bloated and politicized, these people said.

The planning comes as Mr. Trump has leveled a series of social-media attacks in recent months and the past few days against U.S. intelligence agencies, dismissing and mocking their assessment that Russia stole emails from Democratic groups and individuals and then provided them to WikiLeaks for publication in an effort to help Mr. Trump win the White House.

One of the people familiar with Mr. Trump’s planning said advisers also are working on a plan to restructure the Central Intelligence Agency, cutting back on staffing at its Virginia headquarters and pushing more people out into field posts around the world. The CIA declined to comment.

Hey, it’s not like something bad happened when we cut the intelligence budget in the 1990s under Bill Clinton, right?

This is the sort of move that doesn’t just inspire cheering at the headquarters of the Russian intelligence apparatus, or ISIS’s headquarters in Raqqa. This will have those guys doing the wave.

ADDENDA: Inspired: a list of Cleveland Browns quarterbacks since 1999, sung in the form of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

Politics & Policy

I Guess We’re Just Not Going to Make a Fuss About That!

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I Guess We’re Just Not Going to Make a Fuss About That!

Remember throughout the summer when Republicans had great fun counting the number of days it had been since Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had held a press conference?

The Republican National Committee had fun pointing this out, again and again. Donald Trump had fun pointing this out.

Townhall. IJR. Yup, I noted it, too. When the networks didn’t make a fuss, Newsbusters called them out on it.

President-elect Trump hasn’t held a press conference since before the election – since July 27, in fact. You don’t see many Republicans complaining about it, though. I guess he’s “our” guy now, so we’re just not going to make a fuss about that.

Yesterday his office announced a press conference for January 11.

At this press conference, Trump is expected to give an update on how his separation from his vast personal financial empire is progressing. On November 30, he tweeted, “legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The Presidency is a far more important task!”

Good. Republicans spent a lot of time in the past few years arguing that the vast financial donations to the Clinton Foundation from private donors and foreign countries represented a massive conflict of interest. We wanted to cross-check every massive donation against every decision Clinton had made as Secretary of State – and we found plenty of reasons to be suspicious.

But you haven’t heard many Republicans demanding a full separation of President Trump from the Trump businesses. You really haven’t heard any complaining about the Kuwaiti, Bahraini, and Azerbaijani embassies booking events at Trump’s new Washington hotel, and that backdoor way of a foreign government putting money into Trump’s pocket. I guess Kuwaiti money is only bothersome when it ends up at the Clinton Foundation.

I guess he’s “our” guy now, so we’re just not going to make a fuss about that.

After promising to release his tax returns several times as a candidate, and then not doing so, the president-elect may not file any more financial disclosures than legally required:

The president-elect is not required to file the annual disclosure until 2018, but the past several presidents have filed in the spring after their inaugurations and then every year in office from then on, as a show of openness. Trump’s transition team did not respond to inquiries about whether he plans to follow that example.

Republicans would have been fine with that kind of a delay from Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Joe Biden, right? Those financial disclosure forms were key to showcasing the “pay-for-play” allegations at the Clinton Foundation.

But I guess he’s “our” guy now, so we’re just not going to make a fuss about that.

Back during the campaign, I said a temporary embrace of Julian Assange was dangerous for Republicans. I pointed out Assange’s deeply anti-American ideology and his exposure of Afghan informers to the U.S. military. Silly me for thinking the embrace would be temporary. Kellyanne Conway says “we should pay significant attention” to what Assange says, and Sarah Palin is publicly apologizing to him.

I guess he’s “our” guy now, too, so we’re just not going to make a fuss about that.

There must have been some memo I didn’t get, announcing that Republicans don’t care about press conferences, tax returns, payments from foreign governments, financial disclosure, or Julian Assange leaking classified information anymore. Or some revision emphasizing that we only care about these things when Democrats are involved.

As noted yesterday, Mary Barra is the CEO and longtime high-ranking executive of General Motors, the taxpayer-saved company once reviled by conservatives as “Government Motors.” She was saluted at the State of the Union by President Obama and in March, Clinton campaign chair John Podesta sent the candidate a “first cut of people to consider for VP”, a list of 39 names that included Barra.

Barra’s on Trump’s economic advisory panel now.

I guess she’s “our” gal now, so we’re just not going to make a fuss about that, either.

Chuck Schumer, Not All That Different From The Guy He Was Last Year

The glowing profiles of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are arriving. His new slogan is that repealing Obamacare will “make America sick again.”

The last time I saw Schumer in person was at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, when he was telling a cheerful audience just how terrific the outlook was for Hillary Clinton and his party’s Senate candidates. Lots of Democrats were blindsided by the 2016 results, but what’s worth noting now is how absolutely confident Schumer was that the Democrats wouldn’t be hurt by a lack of appeal to blue-collar voters who had traditionally supported the party:

“The number one factor in whether we retake the Senate is whether Hillary Clinton does well, and I think she’s going to do really well,” Schumer says of his former fellow New York senator. He notes that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged Senate Republicans in difficult races to localize their elections, rather than get too tied to Trump’s positions and comments and scoffs, “Sorry, Mitch, this is a national election if there ever was one.”

At least publicly, Schumer has no worries about his party’s dwindling fortunes among working-class white voters. “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”

Democrats lost both presidential and Senate races in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The party’s going to have to hope that Schumer’s learned from this cycle.

Although to give Schumer credit, back in 2013, he did have enough sense to recognize that the nuclear option could someday be used against a Democratic minority one day.

Paul Ryan Is Always Rumored to be Doomed, but Doom Never Quite Arrives

Ed Kilgore, October 25, 2016:

…the leader most likely to be left standing on November 9 — a pol, moreover, who has already been on a national ticket and has been lionized in the national media to the point of embarrassment — might well pack up the U-Haul and head back to Wisconsin.

The Hill, November 3, 2016:

Chatter is growing louder on Capitol Hill that Paul Ryan’s days as Speaker are numbered.

Four House Republicans, including a senior lawmaker close to leadership, told The Hill they expect Ryan to step down after Tuesday’s elections, arguing that he faces a daunting path to the 218 votes he needs to win a full two-year term leading the House GOP.

Sean Hannity, November 9, 2016:

“Paul Ryan is not going to be the speaker of the House in January,” he said. “… His state went for Donald Trump tonight. I mean, It’s an amazing turn of the events because the establishment on both sides ― Republican and Democrat ― have lost touch with the real lives of the real Americans who are really suffering,” Hannity continued. “Donald Trump has opened the door and said, ‘We’re going to fix it.’”

Yesterday 239 of 240 House Republicans voted for Ryan to be Speaker; 189 out of 193 House Democrats voted for Nancy Pelosi. Wait, more defecting Democrats than Republicans? I haven’t seen that since the Electoral College vote last month.

ADDENDA: Hurrah for all living presidents healthy enough to make the trip – basically, all but George H.W. Bush – attending the Inauguration this month.

Right now, I’m scheduled to appear on CNN International on January 10 and to return as a guest host on the extraordinarily early Mornings on the Mall with Brian Wilson on WMAL in Washington on January 13.

Politics & Policy

There’s Still a Group That Can Probe Alleged Crimes by Members of Congress

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There’s Still a Group That Can Probe Alleged Crimes by Members of Congress…

The headline is not subtle: “House GOP Guts Ethics Panel.”

The details… are a little more complicated:

The 119-to-74 vote during a GOP conference meeting means that the House rules package expected to be adopted Tuesday, the first day of the 115th Congress, would rename the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) as the Office of Congressional Complaint Review and place it under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee.

Under the proposed new rules, the office could not employ a spokesperson, investigate anonymous tips or refer criminal wrongdoing to prosecutors without the express consent of the Ethics Committee, which would gain the power to summarily end any OCE probe.

Under the current House ethics regime, the OCE is empowered to release a public report of its findings even if the Ethics Committee chooses not to take further action against a member.

Yes, the House is weakening the powers of an independent entity that was authorized to investigate allegations of wrongdoing. Boo, hiss. But keep some perspective: the Office of Congressional Ethics had two powers: the first was to issue those public reports – giving the accused member of Congress bad publicity. The second was to refer their findings to the House Ethics Committee, which could implement a more serious punishment, like fines and formal reprimands by the full House. Under the old system, the referrals went to the House Ethics Committee, consisting of five Democrats and five Republicans. Under the new system, the no-longer-public referrals will go to the same committee, consisting of five Democrats and five Republicans.

There are other entities that are also independent of Congress and that can investigate these sorts of allegations, with a lot more resources and power: the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice, and U.S. Attorneys around the country. And they do so: Representative Chaka Fattah, convicted of racketeering conspiracy, bribery, bank fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, making false statements to a financial institution, and falsification of records. Representative Rick Renzi, convicted on 17 counts. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., pleading guilty to wire and mail fraud. Sometimes a congressman’s wrongdoing ends up caught by local law enforcement, like the time Representative Trey Radel tried to buy cocaine from an undercover cop.

In fact, in the case of Michael Grimm, the House Ethics Committee deferred consideration of the allegations of Grimm upon the Department of Justice’s request; the federal criminal investigation was already underway.

Pop quiz: How many times since 2008 have you heard from the Office of Congressional Ethics? In the past three years, about half of what the office investigated resulted in the office’s board voting to end the investigation or dismiss the matter. In the 114th Congress, the Office of Congressional Ethics began 35 reviews, and referred 17 to the House Ethics Committee. In the 113th Congress, the office began 36 reviews, and referred 16 to the committee. In the 112th Congress, the office began 32 reviews, and referred 13 to the committee.

But apparently it’s impossible to just say that this is a small setback for oversight of Congressional ethics, or just a bad decision. No, in keeping with the Defcon One, Category-Five Permanent Social Media Freak-out, this has to be the worst decision ever.

Vox warns the decision “could signal a wider acceptance of corruption.” “Back to the auction house!” cries Josh Marshall. Paul Krugman concludes, “we are entering an era of epic corruption.” (Remember, he said the concerns about the Clinton Foundation were “bizarre.”)

It would be better if the House had that independent entity that could issue a public report, rather than giving the House Ethics Committee complete control over what gets released to the public. But the notion that this change legalizes corruption or represents some sort of enormous sweeping change is another triumph of the narrative over the facts.

Wait, Never Mind, Russia’s Not Trying to Destroy Vermont After All

Hey, remember that ominous Washington Post story about Russia hacking a Vermont electrical company, and the scary warnings from Vermont Democrats that Vladimir Putin was attempting to shut down the grid in the middle of winter?

This morning the Post reports, “Whoops!”

As federal officials investigate suspicious Internet activity found last week on a Vermont utility computer, they are finding evidence that the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility, according to experts and officials close to the investigation.

An employee at Burlington Electric Department was checking his Yahoo email account Friday and triggered an alert indicating that his computer had connected to a suspicious IP address associated by authorities with the Russian hacking operation that infiltrated the Democratic Party. Officials told the company that traffic with this particular address is found elsewhere in the country and is not unique to Burlington Electric, suggesting the company wasn’t being targeted by the Russians. Indeed, officials say it is possible that the traffic is benign, since this particular IP address is not always connected to malicious activity.

That Nagging Consequence of a Minimum Wage Hike

Massachusetts raises its minimum wage to $11 per hour… and the results are predictable: nice for the current workers, but bad news for people looking for a new job.

For some small business owners in Massachusetts, however, the effect of the wage increases has been significant.

The owner of two family entertainment centers in Massachusetts said she has reduced her staff to 20 people, down from 50, over the past two years, to counteract rising payroll costs.

The employer, who asked not to be named because she feared repercussions from workers’ advocates, said she and her husband have cut their hours of operation, replaced their DJ with canned music, and are working more themselves to stay afloat. They have also stopped hiring teenagers in favor of more experienced workers.

ADDENDA: I’m scheduled to chat with Bill Martinez on his syndicated radio program on at 11:46 Eastern and Tim Farley of Sirius XM POTUS at 12:25 Eastern.

Politics & Policy

The Year Ahead

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The Year Ahead

We don’t know exactly what 2017 will bring us, but we know a few key scheduled events and dates. A couple of the things I’ve got marked on the calendar…

January 17-20: The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Expect a lot of panic and screams, as the world contemplates Brexit, President Trump, populists and nationalist movements rising all over Europe, potential populist wins in French and German presidential elections, the charnel house that is Syria and the refugee waves, and a general uncertainty about whether the global economy is overdue for another recession. For the first time, a Chinese president, Xi Jinping, will attend.

“Oh, Jim, the only good thing to ever come out of the Davos conferences was Jay Nordlinger’s coverage!” The world has thrown down the gauntlet before the globe’s elites. Let’s see how they respond. If there’s anybody in the world who shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the problems of the world, it’s the crowd at Davos. They’ve got more money, power, resources, influences and connections than all of us. If they want to be leaders, this is the time to step up. Figure out how to steer refugees to countries that speak the same language and require the same skills. Figure out how to turn masses of unskilled workers into skilled workers. Figure out how to make a globalized economy a good deal for almost everyone who’s willing to work.

John Schindler says we’ll see a sudden lurch of progress if the elites of America and Europe to start treating those who disagree with respect:

We must learn to work with moderate nationalists and anti-globalists, who are rising politically across the West. Stop denouncing them as racists and xenophobes, listen to their legitimate concerns, and start cooperating with the reasonable ones against Moscow. Seventy years ago, Washington successfully forged a quiet alliance with the moderate left to fight the Kremlin, and today we must do the same with the West’s moderate right. If we refuse to do so, they will gravitate to the only force which welcomes them, and his name is Vladimir Putin.

February 22-25: The Conservative Political Action Conference, National Harbor, Maryland. And you thought CPAC was dramatic last year! Donald Trump spoke at CPAC for many years until last year; will he address the attendees this year? (I’m betting a video address.) One month into the Trump presidency should still be the honeymoon between Trump and conservatives; there’s a good chance the Supreme Court nominee confirmation will be going on at that date. But will there be conservative grassroots grumbling about a big-spending infrastructure bill? Will there be a sense that the repeal of Obamacare is going to take a lot longer than anyone expected? Will a package of tax cuts be on its way to passage by then?

April 27-30: The National Rifle Association Annual Meeting at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Trump spoke at last year’s convention in Louisville, and the NRA endorsed him there, the organization’s earliest endorsement ever. A projected 80,000 or so gun owners, enthusiasts, and Second Amendment activists are expected to attend. By this point in the year, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee is likely to have been confirmed (or less likely, rejected). Will gun owners be cheering the newest justice? Will the push for concealed carry reciprocity – making a concealed-carry permit that is legal in one state legal in all other states, like with driver’s licenses — be advancing in the new Congress? How about momentum for “Constitutional carry“ – the right to carry firearms without a permit?

While Hillary Clinton’s defeat and the elimination of a Hillary-nominated justice represented the biggest win for gun owners in 2016, gun-control advocates did score a few wins. Six new gun laws take effect in California this year. Nevada passed a universal background check measure that covered transactions by private citizens, but the FBI and Nevada’s attorney general deemed it unenforceable because the referendum didn’t include a funding measure. In blue states like Oregon, Democrats are likely to push new gun-control laws at the state level.

Sometime in 2017, probably May or June: The 2017 NATO Summit, Brussels, Belgium.

Usually NATO summits come and go with the usual bland speeches and pledges and tributes and photo opportunities. Nope. With a new president who called the alliance “obsolete” and Vladimir Putin’s Russia more aggressive than ever, it’s time for alliance leaders to demonstrate the value of the longstanding institution. Free-riders have to show they’re starting to pull their weight, not just offer more promises.

 Former Pentagon official and Joe Biden national security advisor Julianne Smith puts it:

Think about ways to make it anything but a normal summit. Get rid of the endless rounds of prepared talking points. Engage in candid conversation both at the summit and at the ministerial meetings that precede it. Don’t only think about the alliance’s core message, but engage with the practical aspects of its capabilities: Focus on readiness, on counter anti-access, area denial capabilities, command structure, resilience.

Get creative and act like the future of NATO depends on it. Because, as much as I hate to admit it, it does.

Relax, It’s Not Fake News, Just False News!

The Washington Post reported Friday ominous news that sounded like the opening scenes of War Games, Hackers, Die Hard Four (One of the Really Bad Ones) or any other Hollywood sinister-hackers-shut-down-society thriller.

A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials.

The response from U.S. lawmakers arrived fast and furious:

Friday night, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) called on federal officials “to conduct a full and complete investigation of this incident and undertake remedies to ensure that this never happens again.”

“Vermonters and all Americans should be both alarmed and outraged that one of the world’s leading thugs, Vladimir Putin, has been attempting to hack our electric grid, which we rely upon to support our quality-of-life, economy, health, and safety,” Shumlin said in a statement. “This episode should highlight the urgent need for our federal government to vigorously pursue and put an end to this sort of Russian meddling.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said he was briefed on the attempts to penetrate the electric grid by Vermont State Police on Friday evening. “This is beyond hackers having electronic joy rides — this is now about trying to access utilities to potentially manipulate the grid and shut it down in the middle of winter,” Leahy said in a statement. “That is a direct threat to Vermont and we do not take it lightly.”

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said the attack shows how rampant Russian hacking is. “It’s systemic, relentless, predatory,” Welch said . “They will hack everywhere, even Vermont, in pursuit of opportunities to disrupt our country. We must remain vigilant, which is why I support President Obama’s sanctions against Russia and its attacks on our country and what it stands for.”

“Direct threat!” “Systemic, relentless, predatory!” “One of the world’s leading thugs!”

And then, eleven hours later, the correction:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.

Oh. The actual details from Burlington Electric Department make the story much less dramatic:

Officials with The Burlington Electric Department spoke out Saturday after hacking codes with ties to Russia were discovered on one of its computers.

Neale Lunderville is the general manager at BED and says the grid itself was not compromised nor was there any sensitive information leaked. However, the discovery is being taken very seriously not only not only in Vermont but across the country.

On Thursday BED received a warning from the Department of Homeland Security to be on the lookout for suspicious internet traffic with links to Russia.

Lunderville said, “We started scanning Thursday night and on Friday morning when an employee came in and turned on their laptop there was some internet traffic that signaled our system linking our computer on our network to an IP address that was identified by the Department of Homeland Security.”

Its Lunderville’s understanding that these hacking codes start on websites running ads with a script. The script then locates a host computer and the hackers are in.

“We believe we caught it when it first said ‘we found a computer’… It is important that as soon as we saw the traffic and we knew it as traffic connected to the malicious cyber activity that we’ve seen around the world, we isolated the computer and took it off our network,” explained Lunderville.

The city-owned utility notified federal officials immediately.

Lunderville says the swift response ensured that the department was not compromised and that the information of the more than 20,000 customers was protected.

Lunderville said, “This computer was not connected to our grid control systems at no time was our electric grid breached or penetrated and we have not indication of comprise of our electric grid systems or any customer information.”

Lunderville says one expert in Washington D.C. says there is no indication these hackers are targeting Burlington Electric or even the nation’s electric industry as a whole.

A new poll found 52 percent of Democrats believe Russia “tampered with the vote tallies” to make Trump the winner in the presidential race. There is no evidence of this. When the big-name media institutions and elected Democratic officials twist the news to the point of falsehood, it’s not surprising that so many of the rank-and-file would believe something that isn’t true.

ADDENDA: It took a little longer than expected, but the new pop culture podcast, featuring a year in review and a look at the movie offerings of the coming year, is up and posted. This week’s show is brought to you by Old Glory 2016 Insurance.

Have you had a rough year? Are you ready to say goodbye forever to 2016? Do you want to ensure you never have another 2016 in your life again? Well, now there’s a company that offers coverage against the unfortunate event of 2016, with Old Glory Insurance. Starting January 1, Old Glory will over you coverage in case 2016 ever happens again, for only four dollars a month. Now, you can achieve peace of mind in a world full of crime, robots, and bad years. Old Glory will cover you with no health check-up or age consideration. You need to feel safe. And that’s harder and harder to do nowadays, because the year 2016 may strike at any time. And coverage for 2017 will be available for purchase just twelve months from now!

National Security & Defense

Good Riddance, John Kerry

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This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt of 2016, a tumultuous year. I hope the year has treated you well, and 2017 brings happy times for all of us.

Good Riddance, John Kerry

John Kerry’s been very good to me in some ways; it was the 2004 Kerry Spot blog that brought me to National Review. Having said that, he’s been very wrong about a lot of big foreign-policy issues over the course of his career, with the consistent theme that he’s almost always willing to give the world’s most hostile states the benefit of the doubt: Daniel Ortega, aid to North Korea, Yassir Arafat, Bashir Assad. . . time and time again, Kerry’s been willing to offer a trusting hand, and no matter how many times he gets bitten, he’s never gotten more wary.

But when it comes to Israel, then he gets tough.

Thus, it’s fitting that John Kerry’s last major act as secretary of state is a speech that offers up hot nonsense, a bitterly hostile address that called Israel’s government “the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements.” (Mind you, the opposing side in this conflict elected Hamas, an actual terrorist group, to govern the Gaza Strip.)

The cement hardens on the Obama-Kerry foreign-policy legacy: They were toothless and hapless against ISIS, Bashar al-Assad, North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, and the world’s worst and most ruthless regimes. But as for Bibi Netanyahu, they came down on him like a ton of bricks.

The Three Martini Lunch Awards of 2016…

If you’re not listening to the Three Martini Lunch podcast this week, you’re missing the Annual Awards that Greg Corombus and I give out to the year’s best and worst political figures. We use the old McLaughlin Group categories, and it feels particularly odd and sad to not have the legendary television host John McLaughlin himself on the air anymore, offering his own. He was my pick for “Sorry to See You Go” in a year when far too many big names left us too early; The McLaughin Group gets blamed for a lot of the problems in today’s television, but it was qualitatively different from today’s offerings. The panelists were there for their knowledge, bold thinking, and quick wits, they actually got along off-camera no matter how loud and heated the on-screen debates could get, and, at least by my young eyes in the late 1980s and 90s, they made politics fun. These days Saturday Night Live does news parodies, portraying pundits as dumb; Dana Carvey’s funhouse-mirror version of McLaughlin wasn’t dumb, just hilariously insane.

Greg Corombus picked the figure I suspect most readers would offer: Antonin Scalia.

A couple selections…

Most Underrated Political Figure: Ohio GOP Senator Rob Portman, who just crushed Ted Strickland by 21 points on Election Day. For perspective, in 2010, a midterm year, he won about 2.1 million votes. This year he won more than 3 million votes. This was the second-most votes ever for a Senate candidate in Ohio ever; the first was Voinovich in 2004, and that one was never really considered competitive. Then again, neither was this year’s.

Most Overrated Political Figure: I was thinking of naming Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, but let’s let him off the hook: He went into a Senate reelection fight that everybody figured would be close and Rubio won by 8 points. He’s still got some game.

Would it be harsh to name the Bush family? It’s not just that Jeb Bush didn’t win, it’s that he really didn’t coalesce the “establishment” behind him. Finished with 3 delegates, about 280,000 votes… We had a sense as 2016 dawned that the world of Republican politics had passed Jeb Bush by. None of the Bushes endorsed Trump other than George P. Bush in Texas.

Most Honest Political Figure: I don’t know whether she meets the technical definition of a “political figure,” but I’m going to give this to Salena Zito, formerly of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, now writing for the New York Post and contributing to CNN. Because she’s based in Western Pennsylvania, she’s been talking to voters in the Rust Belt for a long while, and there are very few reporters and analysts who write about the working-class whites with a better, or more nuanced eye. She isn’t a relentless cheerleader, she isn’t afraid to spotlight the ugly side, but she always writes with great sensitivity and clarity about he lives of these Americans who really don’t get much attention in the traditional media portrait of the country as a whole.

Most Under-Reported Story: The national sports media noticed the NFL enduring a ratings slide, but almost no one noticed that the ratings for college football remained the same. And the ratings for the non-biggest-game of the week were actually 10 percent higher than the previous year, suggesting that it’s something unique to the NFL, not to football, concussions, commercial breaks, too many games, etcetera.

So you put together the NFL ratings slide, the all-women Ghostbusters reboot flopping, enrollment down sharply at the University of Missouri, the short-lived crusade against the hosts of “Fixer Upper” on HGTV, this was the year of the backlash against political correctness, and it didn’t happen overnight. This was building, online outrage by online outrage, for a long time, and it blindsided most of the media. Political correctness was never popular, but you would never know it from the way the media talks about these issues. You would never know that almost half the country doesn’t support gay marriage. You would never know that the majority of people think there are two genders.

The most under-reported story of 2016 is the supreme unpopularity of political correctness and the “Social Justice Warrior” philosophy.

Most Over-Reported Story: I was tempted to go with hate crimes, since so many of them turn out to be hoaxes, but I’m going with Hillary Clinton’s ground game and state offices. In mid-autumn, Politico surveyed Democratic strategists and operatives and three-quarters convinced their party was set to do a better job of turning out their base voters in North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Hillary Clinton’s multitudes of state offices didn’t amount to a hill of beans. Clearly, her team was as blindsided as anyone else. All those data metrics, all those surveys, all that technology . . . In the end, all of that didn’t help her win a race where she was the front-runner all along. What’s more, none of that stuff gave her a clue that she was losing it. There has been a real Cult of Data built in the world of political campaigns, and I’ve genuflected a time or two to the idea that everything can be quantified, measured, and calculated.

ADDENDA: Debbie Reynolds, too? So that’s how it’s going to be, huh, 2016?

The final pop culture podcast of 2016 will arrive tomorrow, featuring tributes to George Michael and Carrie Fisher, the best television of the year (and the year that on-demand service programming caught up with premium cable), facets of life that today’s kids just wouldn’t understand like “Be Kind, Rewind” and cassette tapes, and what we’re looking forward to in 2017.

Politics & Policy

No, Harry Reid Is Not Yoda

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No, Harry Reid Is Not Yoda.

Harry Reid, proud of his most shameful moment:

“As my staff will tell you,” Reid said to me when we spoke the next day, “I’ve done a number of things because no one else will do it. I’ve done stuff no one else will do.” I expected him to give an ­example of a successful parliamentary maneuver or perhaps a brave political endorsement, but instead he mentioned one of the most disreputable episodes of his long career, when, during the 2012 presidential campaign, he falsely accused Mitt Romney of not having paid his taxes. (Even though the facts were wrong, the accusation spurred Romney to release his tax returns, which showed he had only paid 14.1 percent.) “I tried to get everybody to do that. I didn’t want to do that,” Reid said. “I didn’t have anything against him personally. He’s a fellow Mormon, nice guy. I went to everybody. But no one would do it. So I did it.”

That’s from a mostly glowing profile by Jason Zengerle in New York magazine, a piece that at one point compares him to Yoda:

Reid is as stern and blunt as ever, and the combined effect of his mental and physical condition has given him a Yoda-ish quality. As he busied himself trying to prepare his Democratic colleagues to battle Trump without him, it was easy to imagine Reid as an aging Jedi master training his young apprentices.

Dear friends in the media: You can’t complain about “fake news” and lament the poor ethics, overheated rhetoric, petty partisanship and sheer nastiness of our elected leaders, and then turn around and compare Harry Reid to Yoda. When you do that, you whittle away at the disincentive to do things like tell blatant lies and make baseless accusations about your political enemies.

Yes, it’s awful when Donald Trump does this sort of thing about his rivals. But where do you think Trump would get the idea that he could lie blatantly and suffer no consequential rebuke? Whatever criticism Reid endured, it wasn’t enough to make him think of his public lie as mistake. Reid’s been pretty open about his ruthlessly cynical view about how he likes to get things done in Washington:

Is there a line he wouldn’t cross when it comes to political warfare?

“I don’t know what that line would be,” [Reid] said.

Harry Reid is everything the political press claims to abhor in politics, but he never quite gets the full-throated denunciation we’ve seen thrown at… oh, say Todd Akin. Lawmakers of every party notice this, and conclude that if you’re powerful enough, the media will continue to give you the benefit of the doubt, if for no other reason than to maintain access to sources.

The Obama Administration’s Final Middle Finger to Israel

It’s easy to tune out the latest brouhaha about Israel at the United Nations. Delivering full-throated denunciations of Israel while offering mumbled, mealy-mouthed requests to North Korea, Syria, Iran, and other despotic regimes that export arms and terror? That’s just what the United Nations does. Syria blows up, chemical weapons get launched, refugees flood Europe, terror attacks in the streets of great cities… and the United Nations still finds time to denounce Israel.

Should the United States withdraw from the United Nations? The UN might behave better if we rattled that saber a bit – at least get them to pay for the $16 million in parking tickets those diplomats have accrued. At the very least, we should start deducting the annual parking fee sum from our contribution to the institution’s budget.

But what’s different about this brouhaha is that the United States, under direction of the president, chose to let the usual anti-Israel invective go ahead, and now, we learn, actively facilitated it:

The resolution, which declared Jewish settlement anywhere in the West Bank including the Old City of Jerusalem to be in violation of international law, passed by 14-0, with the United States abstaining—a game-changing action that broke with decades of diplomatic guarantees to Israel and which enraged American Jewish political leaders in both parties.

A wealth of evidence is now emerging that, far from simply abstaining from a UN vote, which is how the Administration and its press circle at first sought to characterize its actions, the anti-Israel resolution was actively vetted at the highest levels of the U.S. Administration, which then led a pressure campaign—both directly and through Great Britain—to convince other countries to vote in favor of it.

Tablet has confirmed that one tangible consequence of the high-level U.S. campaign was a phone call from Vice President Joseph Biden to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, which succeeded in changing Ukraine’s vote from an expected abstention to a “yes.” According to one U.S. national security source, the Obama Administration needed a 14-0 vote to justify what the source called “the optics” of its own abstention.

“Did Biden put pressure on the Ukrainians? Categorically yes,” said a highly-placed figure within the Israeli government with strong connections to Ukrainian government sources, who confirmed to Tablet that the Americans had put direct pressure on both the Ukrainian delegation—and on Poroshenko personally in Kiev.

“That Biden told them to do it is 1000% true,” the source affirmed.

For starters, everyone should stop trying to persuade us that the Obama administration is pro-Israel or isn’t anti-Israel. This is a giant obscene gesture to Israel to close out the Obama administration. Why would Obama do it?

1. Because he can with no consequence to himself at the ballot box.

2. Because he can with no consequence to Hillary Clinton or any other Democrats at at the ballot box.

3. Because it represents a way to “get back” Netanyahu before he leaves office.

Back in March, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a really long piece on “the Obama Doctrine” in world affairs, and tucked away was this little detail that the outgoing president thinks that he’s surrounded by idiots who don’t understand their own national interest:

Over the next three years, as the Arab Spring gave up its early promise, and brutality and dysfunction overwhelmed the Middle East, the president grew disillusioned. Some of his deepest disappointments concern Middle Eastern leaders themselves. Benjamin Netanyahu is in his own category: Obama has long believed that Netanyahu could bring about a two-state solution that would protect Israel’s status as a Jewish-majority democracy, but is too fearful and politically paralyzed to do so. Obama has also not had much patience for Netanyahu and other Middle Eastern leaders who question his understanding of the region.

Note: If multiple Middle Eastern leaders, who have spent their whole lives in the region, question Obama’s understanding of that region… shouldn’t the president reexamine his conclusions a bit? Obama’s fan-base in and out of the media kept telling us what a great analytic mind he has, he was the political equivalent of Spock, and so on.

In one of Netanyahu’s meetings with the president, the Israeli prime minister launched into something of a lecture about the dangers of the brutal region in which he lives, and Obama felt that Netanyahu was behaving in a condescending fashion, and was also avoiding the subject at hand: peace negotiations. Finally, the president interrupted the prime minister: “Bibi, you have to understand something,” he said. “I’m the African American son of a single mother, and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House. I managed to get elected president of the United States. You think I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I do.” Other leaders also frustrate him immensely. Early on, Obama saw Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the president of Turkey, as the sort of moderate Muslim leader who would bridge the divide between East and West—but Obama now considers him a failure and an authoritarian, one who refuses to use his enormous army to bring stability to Syria. And on the sidelines of a nato summit in Wales in 2014, Obama pulled aside King Abdullah II of Jordan. Obama said he had heard that Abdullah had complained to friends in the U.S. Congress about his leadership, and told the king that if he had complaints, he should raise them directly. The king denied that he had spoken ill of him.

In recent days, the president has taken to joking privately, “All I need in the Middle East is a few smart autocrats.” Obama has always had a fondness for pragmatic, emotionally contained technocrats, telling aides, “If only everyone could be like the Scandinavians, this would all be easy.”

Gee, why would any foreign leader think Obama doesn’t understand the Middle East?

ADDENDA: Oof. Carrie Fisher, RIP.

Chicago’s Bloody Christmas

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Chicago’s Bloody Christmas

You’ve read a lot of “terrible violence in Chicago” stories, and maybe you’re feeling numb to them. But this Christmas weekend in the city was appalling:

Seventeen people have been wounded in shootings since Monday morning, including a 14-year-old girl in critical condition after a shooting in Gresham.

She was among 61 people shot since Christmas weekend began on Friday afternoon, according to data kept by the Tribune…

Eleven of the 60 people shot over the weekend died from their wounds. More than a dozen others were listed in serious or critical condition. 

The city has seen eight multiple-victim shootings, including two double homicides. One was an attack in the East Chatham neighborhood that left two dead and five others wounded, and an attack in the Austin neighborhood left two dead. 

Much of the violence happened in areas “with historical gang conflicts on the south and west side of Chicago,” said Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department. He also referenced the department’s “strategic subject list,” which is generated daily from a computerized algorithm and assigns a score from 1 to 500 based on such factors as a person’s arrests and the activities of his associates. Those people with a score in the upper 200s or higher are considered in danger of being shot or of shooting someone else.

“Ninety percent of those fatally wounded had gang affiliations, criminal histories and were pre-identified by the department’s strategic subject algorithm as being a potential suspect or victim of gun violence,” Guglielmi said Monday.

An algorithm to predict shooting victims and shooters – how innovative, right out of Person of Interest! Of course, it’s hard to ignore that the algorithm hasn’t done much to reduce the rate of shootings. This site with an off-color name counts 785 homicides in Chicago last year, 705 fatally shot, 4,330 people shot. All of them are up considerably from last year: 509 homicides, 447 fatally shot, 2,996 shot.

For all of our complaining, every now and then the national media notices. The New York Times did a lengthy, in-depth piece in June – albeit one that mentioned Mayor Rahm Emanuel exactly once. Maybe there’s a hesitation to spotlight the ugly side of Chicago, or Emanuel’s tenure, or the city’s legendarily heavily Democratic leadership over the past century, or Obama’s hometown. Maybe it’s the glaring evidence that having really strict gun-control laws has had little effect on gang violence. In August, the state passed a law toughening penalties on anyone without a gun-owner identification card who brings a gun into the state of Illinois to sell. So far, there’s not much sign that that new law is having much effect, either.

The problems of Chicago’s violent neighborhoods – poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunity, family breakdown, drug abuse and addiction – exist to varying degrees in every other big city in America as well. So why is the gang violence in Chicago so much worse?

What We Collectively Remember and What We Collectively Forget

I wondered if the notion of collective false memories was too silly a topic to write about, but then Allahpundit at Hot Air wrote about it…

Over at The New Statesman, Amelia Tait explores the phenomenon of people completely convinced that they saw an early 1990s movie featuring the comedian Sinbad as a genie, a movie that appears to have left no tangible proof of its existence.

On the subreddit, discussions about the film went into great detail. Unlike other false memories on r/MandelaEffect, the issue wasn’t a simple misspelling or logo-change, but an entire film’s disappearance. Many Redditors revealed they had distinct memories of the cover art of the movie. “It said ‘Sinbad’ in big letters that dwarfed the other print,” says Don, who goes by EpicJourneyMan on Reddit, and also remembers how Sinbad posed on the cover – facing left, with his arms crossed and an eyebrow raised. Jessica*, a 27-year-old office worker from Canada, also remembers the cover. “[It had] a purple background, featuring Sinbad dressed as a genie, back to back with a boy who looks about 11 or 12 years old. Sinbad has an annoyed expression on his face,” she says.

At this point I should mention something I have neglected to mention so far. In 1996, the basketball player Shaquille O’Neal played a genie who helped a young boy find his estranged father in a commercially unsuccessful film. The cover art of the film features Shaq with his arms folded, laughing, in front of a purple background. His name, “Shaq”, dominates the top half of the cover. The movie’s name is Kazaam.

Memories of a mythical movie that never existed are part of a phenomenon named the “Mandela effect,” named for the surprisingly high number of people convinced that they remember watching news reports that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s. (Small-scale examples of this phenomenon are commonly misremembered movie lines. Humphrey Bogart never says, “Play it again, Sam,” and Darth Vader never says, “Luke, I am your father.”) Many people insist they remember watching the man standing before the tanks in Tiananmen Square get run over; this past year many people insisted they, like Donald Trump, remember watching television coverage of thousands of American Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks in cities in New Jersey. (So far, all the evidence points to them mis-remembering footage of Muslims celebrating in East Jerusalem.)

The rational explanation is that true facts get mixed up and misremembered on a widespread scale; a more farfetched theory is that these groups of people remembering different facts are evidence of alternate realities and different historical timelines.

We live in a topsy-turvy world where things that didn’t happen are widely remembered and some consequential events that did happen are largely forgotten.

A blurred line between reality and misremembered history is fun for storytellers.

There is no Agency of Invasive Species in the Department of Agriculture, although there is an inter-agency working group that deals with the topic. There was no cheatgrass infestation in California wine country caused wine prices to increase in 2006.

I’ve got another novel in the works, and in the course of research for the book, I was struck by chapters of not-so-distant American history that were completely unknown to me. Fiction writers don’t have to make up much; look hard enough and you can find a variation of whatever you can imagine — even a series of stunning terror attacks. We live in an era defined by the fear of terrorism on American soil, yet many terrifying incidents are almost completely forgotten by the public at large.

For example, did you know that a terrorist group blew up a LaGuardia Airport terminal in 1975, killing 11 people and injuring 74? It is the deadliest unsolved terror attack in American history. One theory points to a radical Croatian group that was later arrested and jailed over another bomb, one planted in Grand Central Station. In 1980, radical Croatians detonated a bomb in the museum at the base of the Statue of Liberty; thankfully no one was hurt.

In 1982, a man drove a white van up to the entrance of the Washington Monument and threatened to detonate 1,000 pounds of explosives and kill hostages trapped atop the monument unless his demands were made. The surrounding buildings were evacuated, and the man made the demand that banning nuclear weapons be “the first order of business on every agenda of every organization” in the nation. He claimed to have an accomplice who would detonate the bomb if he was slain. The nation was riveted and television networks began live coverage of the crisis. After ten hours, the perpetrator tried to drive away, and he was shot dead by police. It turned out there were no explosives in the van and no accomplice. You can watch the television coverage of the aftermath here.

Large-scale terrorism using biological weapons on American soil? It already happened, in 1984:

In the fall of 1984, members of the Rajneeshee, a Buddhist cult devoted to beauty, love and guiltless sex, brewed a “salsa” of salmonella and sprinkled it on fruits and veggies in the salad bar at Shakey’s Pizza in The Dalles, Ore. They put it in blue-cheese dressing, table-top coffee creamers and potato salads at 10 local restaurants and a supermarket. They poured it into a glass of water and handed it to a judge. They fed it to the district attorney, the doctor, the dentist. Their plan: to seize control of the county government by packing polling booths with imported homeless people while making local residents too sick to vote.

It was the first large-scale bioterrorism attack on American soil, but it didn’t get much attention at the time. Nobody died–although at least 751 people got very sick.

Also in my research, I found the line between the criminally insane and politically powerful has always been a much thinner membrane than we would believe. For a while, California Governor Jerry Brown was a big fan of Jim Jones of Jonestown Kool-Aid fame. The Beach Boys hung out with Charles Manson. William Ayers helped spring Timothy Leary out of prison. This was before Ayers got tenure; within six years, Leary was writing pieces critical of 60s radicalism in (uncomfortable cough) National Review.

Those who do not learn history may not be doomed to repeat it; they may just walk through life remembering fiction as reality.

ADDENDA: Thomas Sowell hangs up his pen/keyboard after a long and illustrious career. Bravo, good sir. At age 86, you’ve earned a little rest. Among his wise words:

We cannot return to the past, even if we wanted to, but let us hope that we can learn something from the past to make for a better present and future.

This week on the Three Martini Lunch podcast, Greg and I offer our year-end award winners in categories like the most overrated, underrated, and most honest persons of the year.

Thanks to everyone who gave one of these books for Christmas or Hannukah – I understand Amazon has only two copies of The Weed Agency left!

Politics & Policy

Happy Hoax-idays!

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From all of us to all of you, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a joyful anything else you may celebrate at this time of year.

Happy Hoax-idays!

We constantly argue that the national news media has to be more discerning and wary about stories that crop up on social media and seem a little too perfect. It is increasingly clear that day will not come anytime soon. The coming years will be filled with lurid, even farfetched tales of horrific abuse in public places, and a slow trickle of retractions when the details of the accounts don’t add up.

For starters, history has taught us to be wary of “you won’t believe the offensive message written on this restaurant receipt” stories. The one in New Jersey was a hoax, the one in California was a hoax, and the one in Tennessee is sketchy, with a handwriting expert saying the writing on the receipt doesn’t match the customer’s. The gay slur on the cake from Whole Foods was a hoax. How many openly racist, sexist or homophobic wait staff feel the need to offer a perfectly offensive written statement to someone they’re hoping will tip them?

Surely, the world has genuine hate crimes. But a lot of the most covered ones in recent weeks have turned out to be hoaxes. A Jewish family is not fleeing Lancaster County after a backlash to their complaint about their school’s Christmas play. A drunken man did not threaten to set a Michigan woman’s hijab on fire. The November burning of an African-American church and spray-painting of “Vote Trump” was committed by an African-American parishioner. That Manhattan Muslim teen who claimed she was attacked by three drunks who called her a “terrorist” on the subway while lots of New Yorkers stood and watched? Hoax. (The hoaxer’s sister later went on Facebook and criticized the police for being excessively skeptical: “It became super clear to me these past two weeks that the police’s first instinct is to doubt your story and try to disprove it.”)

That “YouTube prankster” who claimed he was thrown off the plane for speaking Arabic? Other passengers say he was being disruptive and was only thrown off for repeatedly shouting.

There are lesser-covered cases, too:

Vincent Palmer, 27, told detectives he taped a note with racial slurs and the words “KKK” and “Trump” written on it to his ex-girlfriend’s mailbox early Saturday before throwing a brick through her car window and dousing the back seat in gasoline because they were having problems over the custody of their children, according to an arrest report.

In South Philadelphia, a group residents found racist, Nazi and pro-Trump graffiti spray-painted on their homes and cars the morning after the election. The perpetrator was a 58-year-old African-American man.

It’s not just the Left, of course; a New York City firefighter said his house was set aflame because he had a “Blue Lives Matter” flag outside. Earlier this month, he was charged with arson, setting his own house on fire.

Note for all future discussions of hate crimes: Did the victim file a police report? If a victim is strangely resistant to the idea of filing a police report, turn your wariness up a notch. If they say they don’t want to make too big a deal out of it, while simultaneously making a big deal out of it on social media, turn it up another notch. Of course, filing a false police report is a crime, and that makes the stunt a lot more dangerous and potentially consequential for the hoaxer.

It’s not just the political realm; social media is full of hoaxes, fueled by credulous people. U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota will not be open to the homeless on cold nights. Cee Lo Green’s phone did not explode in his hand. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are not posing as being from the gas company and robbing people’s houses during the Christmas season.

We can complain about the media’s eagerness to share and spread implausible tales – completely different from that Macedonian-generated “fake news” on Facebook, right? – but ultimately we need a warier news-consuming public. I fear we’re unlikely to get one.

A Spoiler-Heavy Evaluation of Rogue One

Back in the late 1980s, a small publishing company called West End Games created Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, emulating Dungeons and Dragons and letting creative super-nerds create their own Star Wars characters and play their own adventures, exploring that vast space opera universe. One of the very best parts of the original trilogy was the sense that you were peering into a world with almost limitless opportunities for excitement and action. What would happen if you walked down a different street in Mos Eisley spaceport, turned down another corridor in Cloud City, or found some other ancient structure on Dagobah?

Game-players were discouraged from playing the characters from the movies, and encouraged to imagine their own motley assembly of heroic Rebels, aliens, and droids, blasting away at Stormtroopers and making their own razor-thin escapes.

Rogue One feels a lot like an old roleplaying game story brought to the big screen. I think it’s the most “mixed bag” of all the Star Wars movies so far, a bold experiment that comes close to being a major disappointment halfway through and then salvages itself with a thrilling, dramatically risky conclusion. Spoilers ahead. . .

Something about the opening scene feels really different and off for a Star Wars film. The ominous score cues us that something bad is about to happen, but it seems to take forever to get there. Krennic’s personal guard of sleek, black “Deathtroopers” look enormously menacing but basically turn out to be Stormtroopers with better fashion sense.

The creative team tried to make some of the main protagonists complicated and nuanced, but they ended up giving them a lot of murky and confusing motivations. Why does Jyn initially have no interest in striking back against the Empire that murdered her mother and took her father away? Does the Rebel spy Andor shoot all of his best sources in the back? If he doesn’t trust Jyn, why did he send his loyal droid and a Rebel team to break her out of jail? Perhaps the movie is most confused about breakaway Rebel leader Saw Gerrera, who’s willing to use an alien brain-probe fitting the Dune novels and yet is still supposedly one of the good guys.

Finally, the main villain Krennic seems almost too “normal” and relatable: He’s trying to finish up a giant project at work to get that big promotion and deal with backstabbing rivals in the office and unresponsive bosses.

As usual, the most interesting characters are the supporting ones: a blind warrior monk who gives us our first sense of just how the Force shaped religion and belief in this universe; his gruff partner, fiercely loyal for never-to-be-mentioned reasons, and Alan Tudyk’s fantastic K2SO. I had heard the rumors of a computer-generated version of Grand Moff Tarkin, which exceeded my expectations. (You realize what this means, right? No actor in Star Wars will ever really die; their computer-generated alter-egos will just keep on making movies forever. In the meantime, give British actor Guy Henry an award for the greatest performance that no audience will ever actually see.)

I described the first third of the movie as Star Wars: Zero Dark Thirty, and the “Holy City of Jedha” setting leaned really heavily on the “exotic Middle Eastern city” tropes. I actually liked all of this part; the movie’s most troublesome portion was just around the corner.

In that old Star Wars role-playing game rulebook, the creators offered some tips about how to write a good adventure in this fictional world. One key point was that you could write some fascinating stories about moral dilemmas, exploring “What is right and wrong?”. . .  but that wasn’t really what Star Wars stories were about. In Star Wars, the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and anybody who’s initially unaligned doesn’t stay that way for long: think Boba Fett or Lando Calrissian.

By the time Jyn and Andor were arguing whether the Rebellion was really morally better than the Empire, I cringed, and was ready to chalk up the film as an interesting experiment that failed. The “you might as well be a Stormtrooper” scene is a giant tone change from the films we know and love. As many wonks and writers have observed, Han shoots Greedo first, Obi-Wan literally disarms some punk who tries to pull a gun on him in the bar, Luke blows up the entire Death Star. . . the original trilogy is full of the good guys mowing down bad guys with nary a thought, because they’re bad guys. Arguing about collateral damage from Rebel strike missions takes our fantasy fictional warfare and brings it too close to today’s real-life debates.

And then the “rogue” mission to steal the Death Star plans begins, and the movie kicks into higher gear, with genuine momentum and the suspense of a classic heist film. (We know something will go wrong, the question is what and when and how our heroes will adapt.) (LAST SPOILER WARNING!)

Killing off all of the major characters is the boldest decision by any major studio in ages; there will not be a Rogue Two. It’s the opposite of a narrative cheat, a decision that neatly explains why these characters aren’t mentioned in any subsequent films. This wasn’t just a “big” mission; it was the biggest imaginable, one where the MacGuffin (the Death Star plans) was so important, everyone was willing to die to ensure other Rebels got it.

I’m contemplating whether everything that has gone wrong with Star Wars began in the middle of Return of the Jedi, with the decision to make Darth Vader more than just the main villain. In Rogue One, he’s back to being the relentless, merciless, ruthless enforcer that we remember from the first two films. His two brief scenes create the impression he can barely stand anybody else in the Empire, either. Forget insulting the Force or failing your mission; Darth Vader will Force-choke you just for whining in his presence. Lord Vader, I’ve never admired you more; let me introduce you to some Millennials.

Finally, we all knew the movie would end with something leading into the opening scene from Episode IV, but there was something thrilling about how they led to that final scene. We get that last line of dialogue, the music swells, and we smile inside because we know exactly what happens next. We know that as downbeat as this film seems, the happy ending is just two hours away in the original Star Wars.

ADDENDA: Enjoy the holidays; the next Jolt I write will be Tuesday, December 27. Enjoy any vacation you take; Tevi Troy notes that for presidents, there isn’t much of a real vacation:

President James K. Polk frowned upon vacations. “No President who performs his duties faithfully and conscientiously,” he wrote in his diary in 1848, “can have any leisure.” Consequently, he expected “to remain constantly in Washington.” In four years as president he was away from the White House for only six weeks. And workweeks for Polk typically lasted a full seven days. All that took its toll: He died only four months after leaving the White House. Many historians surmise he was killed by exhaustion.

National Security & Defense

Heck of a Job, Germany

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Heck of a Job, Germany

Just what does a guy have to do to get deported by Germany?

The prime suspect sought in the deadly attack on a Berlin Christmas market – a 24-year-old Tunisian migrant – was the subject of a terrorism probe in Germany earlier this year and was not deported even though his asylum bid was rejected, a senior German official said Wednesday.

The suspect – who went by numerous aliases but was identified by German authorities as Anis Amri – became the subject of a national manhunt after investigators discovered a wallet with his identity documents in the truck used in Monday’s attack that left 12 dead, two law enforcement officials told The Washington Post. 

Meanwhile, a clearer portrait took shape of the suspect, including accusations that he had contact with a prominent Islamic State recruiter in Germany.

The Daily Mail reports, “He was put on a danger list shortly after arriving in Germany in June last year, which meant authorities considered him prone to extreme violence. Yet just how much surveillance he was under remains unclear.” Wait, somebody can be on a “danger list, prone to extreme violence” and not under surveillance?

The Wall Street Journal paints a thoroughly unnerving and depressing portrait of Germany internal counter-terrorism operations:

Successive mishaps in a separate case suggest the flaws in Germany’s antiterror effort run through the entire length of its security apparatus, from its long underfunded domestic intelligence to its police work and prison system.

In October, a police SWAT team stormed a flat in the eastern German city of Chemnitz in search of Jaber Albakr, a man suspected of planning a suicide bomb attack on a Berlin airport. He managed to flee on foot, partly because the officers’ tactical equipment was too heavy for them to catch up, security officials said at the time. Inside the flat, officers discovered large quantities of homemade TATP explosive.

Mr. Albakr was later caught in Leipzig–not by police but by Syrian refugees who restrained him and handed him over. Once he was detained, the Leipzig prison staff couldn’t immediately locate an interpreter to question him. When the prison’s psychologist finally interviewed him, she decided Mr. Albakr wasn’t a suicide risk. Two days after he was detained, Mr. Albakr’s lifeless body was found hanged in his cell.

Compared with France and the U.S., Germany is newer to facing the terror threat, a U.S. official said, adding more needs to be done in the country to overcome privacy concerns and allow deeper coordination among authorities on cases of interest.

Wait, how can any Western country be caught off guard by the “terror threat”? The 9/11 attacks were fifteen years ago! In the interim we’ve had the London bombings, the Madrid bombings, the Charlie Hebdo attack, the Paris attacks including the Bataclan theater, the Brussels airport bombing, the Nice truck attack, the New Year’s Eve sexual assaults all over Germany and the Normandy Church attack. You’re telling me the land of the Munich Olympics, the Baader-Meinhof gang, and the Red Army Faction attacks in the 1970s has forgotten about the threat of terrorism?

The VA Inspector General, Still Digging Into Reports of Falsified Records

For all the flaws at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the department’s Inspector General continues to periodically update the public on its investigations into reports of lengthy wait times and falsification of official records to hide those lengthy wait times. They have completed more than 90 investigations related to the VA scandal, and last night they released five more investigation reports in four states.

The good news is that in quite a few VA facilities, the inspectors couldn’t find evidence of falsified records or substantiate complaints. In Los Angeles, investigators found “no indication that any manager or employee was actively engaged in malicious behavior to alter, destroy, or manipulate records associated with patient appointments.”

The bad news comes in Canton, Ohio, and Las Vegas, Nevada.

In Canton, the inspector general found:

The investigation substantiated the allegation that clinic supervisor 2 directed medical support assistants to alter patient appointment records to meet goals established by VA. During the investigation, the supervisor took a voluntary downgrade to a subordinate position but this action was unrelated to the investigation. Emails, interviews, and other records showed numerous attempts by current VA management to properly train and enforce patient scheduling per VA regulations. Several VA employees indicated that, in the past under the former Cleveland director, the numbers were a game, with little communication or guidance, but since the current director took over, communication and guidance had improved and numbers were accurately reported.

VA OIG referred the Report of Investigation to VA’s Office of Accountability Review on February 27, 2016.

In Las Vegas, the inspector general’s report concluded:

The investigation determined that some medical support assistants were not scheduling appointments correctly because of confusion over the scheduling directive, incorrect information from coworkers, and incorrect information received during previous training. Several of the medical support assistants interviewed indicated that they were directed by supervisors to manipulate scheduling data.

VA OIG referred the Report of Investigation to VA’s Office of Accountability Review on February 29, 2016.

The President Will Be Safe and Secure, Anytime, Anywhere

One early mystery of the Trump era, solved:

A military airplane and two huge helicopters doing loops over Midtown Manhattan last week were conducting an “emergency relocation” planning mission in case they needed to extract President-elect Donald Trump during an emergency or attack, DNAinfo New York has learned.

The sight of the C-130 search-and-rescue aircraft and two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters making passes over the heart of “no-fly” Manhattan for 40 minutes Tuesday, without warning or explanation, unnerved countless New Yorkers and tourists, many of whom took to Twitter and Facebook expressing post-9/11 concerns.

Sources told “On the Inside” that the flyovers were part of an “emergency relocation drill” designed to identify locations, primarily in Central Park, where a chopper could touch down near Trump’s home inside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, and safely evacuate Trump and others from the city.

“It was the military doing their homework,” one source said.

“They were making plans how to remove him, mapping plans and strategizing,” another source said.

Hear that, terrorists? No point in even trying now. Cancel the London Has Fallen scenario!

ADDENDA: You’ve been warned; the spoiler-filled Rogue One review comes tomorrow.

The Morning Jolt will be written by Jack Fowler (I think) on December 26 and 30.

Next week Greg Corombus and I begin our end of the year awards on the Three Martini Lunch podcast.

And in case you missed them, the preceding three episodes of the pop culture podcast feature the disturbing implications of Frosty the Snowman, why “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is more flirty than creepy and why Hallmark desperately needs to try something new with their cookie-cutter Christmas movies.

Politics & Policy

The Culinary Cult

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The Culinary Cult

We’re all opposed to animal cruelty. . . until the definition of “animal cruelty” becomes so broad and far-reaching that it includes ordering McNuggets.

Matt Scully wrote on NRO earlier this week a defense of animal rights that included a de facto call for veganism — “you don’t really know your fellow man until you’ve pondered the fact that most people say they love animals, professing admiration and sympathy, and most people eat them” and a pretty harsh assessment of the world’s hunters, characterizing them as “the 5 or 6 percent of our population who still think it is normal, and indeed praiseworthy, to stalk, sneak up on, and dispatch animals for no better reason than the malicious thrill of it, memorializing these moments with their ‘trophies.’”

(I notice Scully never mentioned fish in his piece. Is it because fish just look more like food to us than cows or pigs? Is it because the fish on our plate can look more like a fish in the sea than a steak looks like a cow? Or is it that when fish is literally the main course on Jesus’ catering extravaganza, it’s harder to argue that eating a fish is inconsistent with Christian values?)

My friend Cam Edwards objects.

Scully’s moral argument against meat eating sounds great, as long as you don’t think about the mice, rabbits, squirrels, moles, groundhogs, and other creatures great and small killed by the combines in the cornfields and green spaces where our vegetables are grown. Anybody who lives in the country has seen turkey vultures circling and swooping down on the fields where the cornstalks have been reduced to stubble, or the murders of crows that gather to slowly hop and pick their way across the earth, taking sustenance in the animals killed in the raising of vegetables. There’s a hard truth in life that many of us either don’t think about or choose to ignore: We all eat to survive, and that means that something had to die in order for you to live. Chances are, even if you’re the most committed vegan you know, animals died in the making of your last, and next, meal.

Knowing this and recognizing this doesn’t make you a monster. It makes you mature. It gives you a greater understanding of your place in the world, and the responsibilities we all have to treat the creatures we eat with care and concern. Yes, we should be concerned about wanton cruelty to animals. We should actively work to stop it where we find it. But we shouldn’t define animal cruelty down to the point that eating free-range chicken is comparable to mass murder, nor should we casually condemn millions of Americans for being “trophy hunters” without considering the benefit that their hunting provides.

My friend Trent Marsh, who lives, hunts, farms, and writes in rural Indiana, thinks that Scully’s argument may make sense from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, or among those Americans who only view animals as a commodity, but it’s different for those raising and hunting these animals. To those Americans, these creatures aren’t abstract ideas or data points. “To the farmer the hog is a partner, both in life and death,” Marsh told me. “For the hunter, the hunted is the embodiment of the wild they seek to protect. These aren’t lives that can be read about in books. They can’t be studied, or made into role-player games for the masses to enjoy. These lives are earned through nights spent tending a laboring sow, or moving a herd of cattle into safer pastures ahead of a blizzard. Because for the farmer, large or small, reliance is a two-way street.”

Modern American society features many, many Americans choosing to embrace all kinds of dietary restrictions. Millions more have dietary restrictions imposed upon them by their health. Just contemplating holiday meals in the coming days, I’m realizing that at our house we’ll have at least two pescataraians (no meat, but eat fish), several lactose-intolerant folks, at least one gluten-free attendee and several kids who are picky eaters. Oh, and every once in a while I try to avoid carbs. (God bless my wife preparing Christmas dinner with this set of Byzantine culinary expectations. Also, I notice everybody drinks.) Everybody’s chosen the diet that makes the most sense for them. If everyone around the extended family dinner table tried to persuade everyone else to change what they choose to eat, we would have. . . well, an even more chaotic Christmas day than usual.

Why is it so hard to choose a dietary set of ethics that’s right for you. . . and just stop there? Why must everyone turn into an evangelist for the One True Dietary Faith? You’ve heard the joke: “A vegan, an atheist, and a cross-fitter walked into a bar… we all knew because they all chose to announce it to everyone else within the first two minutes.” Yes, we know, you’ve figured out which combination of super-foods will give you a better memory at age 98. I congratulate you on enjoying what will be, probably literally, the last laugh.

When it’s Lent, and I remember I’m not supposed to eat meat – which is usually 50-50 odds by dinnertime – I don’t run around the restaurant haranguing the other Catholics to order fish. If your set of food ethics satisfies you, go right ahead and enjoy that. . . and let everybody else eat in peace.

Tillerson’s Got a Surprisingly Wide-Ranging Fanbase

Secretary of State John Kerry, on Donald Trump’s pick to be his successor, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson:

He praised as thoughtful some of Trump’s nominees, including defense secretary nominee James Mattis and Rex Tillerson, who Trump has selected to be Kerry’s successor.

Former vice president Dick Cheney’s assessment of Tillerson:

“He has the vast experience, ability and judgment to deal with the very dangerous world we find confronting us,” he said. “His extensive knowledge of the global situation will be an asset in representing our nation.”. . .

“As the chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil, he has operated in nations all over the world and managed one of our largest corporations,” Cheney added. “I’m confident that he will do a superb job promoting our national interests in dealing with the complex and difficult choices that are on the agenda for the next administration.”

Between John Kerry and Dick Cheney, somebody’s going to be disappointed.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas met with Tillerson Monday:

“Rex Tillerson is one of the most distinguished business leaders in the world and he will bring a remarkable set of skills and experiences to the role of Secretary of State. Rex and I enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation about Russia, the Middle East, human rights, and many other geopolitical challenges and opportunities. Like Dick Cheney and Bob Gates, I’m confident that Rex will bring the same clear-eyed, hard-nosed approach to the interests of the American people as Secretary of State that he brought to the interests of ExxonMobil shareholders. I look forward to supporting his nomination.”

I Guess ‘Fake News’ Only Comes on Facebook and Is Written in Macedonia

A lot of professional journalists griped about this post, contending that quoting a Harvard professor making an unlikely prediction – that 20 Republican electors were ready to flip to another candidate — doesn’t qualify as “fake news.”

Oh, okay, fellas. That perspective may pervade in the newsroom, but I’m not sure the average news consumer draws that much of a distinction between a made-up news story and one that credulously transmits an implausible claim.

Who did you hear more about in the past few weeks? Texas elector Chris Suprun, who announced in the New York Times that he wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump? Or Robert Satiacum, the Washington state Democratic elector who announced months ago that he wouldn’t support Hillary Clinton? (As Jolt readers, you heard about him on November 23 and the morning of December 19.) Did the coverage in the mainstream media leave you with the impression that there would be more faithless Republican electors or more faithless Democratic electors?

Call me crazy, but I think the mainstream media was much more interested in Suprun’s preening and Larry Lessig’s implausible claims of significant GOP defections than any reports of dissention in the ranks among Democrats. They overhyped one side of the story and largely ignored another, because one story made them feel good and the other made them feel bad. And when your reporting creates an impression that is the precise opposite of what actually happens, I don’t see a huge difference from those nonsensical reports on Facebook, made up by Macedonian teenagers. In fact, the nonsensical reports on Facebook made up by Macedonian teenagers are easier to see as implausible and farfetched. If you place your faith in them, you get what you deserve.

It’s the mainstream media reporters who are supposed to be more reliable, more discerning, and have a better understanding of what’s actually happening in the world. We count on them to separate the likely from what they want to see happen – i.e. “wishcasting.”

ADDENDA: For those not riveted to Jeopardy!, last night the program aired the sixth-straight victory of our departed friend, Cindy Stowell. She won $100,000 and counting; that money will be going to cancer research. We knew she had been just well enough to tape her Jeopardy appearance, but had no idea how well she did – and how many more episodes she’ll continue.

Her longtime boyfriend Jason got a chance to talk about her on CNN yesterday.

World

All the Troubles in the World

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All the Troubles in the World

Hell of a Monday.

Let’s begin in the Turkish capital of Ankara, where all ambassadors and visiting dignitaries are now going to look at their local police security assistance with a new wariness:

Turkey identified the killer as 22-year-old Mevlut Mert Altintas, who had worked for the Ankara riot police for 2-1/2 years. Altintas, who also shouted slogans associated with Islamist militancy after shooting ambassador Andrey Karlov, was killed minutes later by members of Turkey’s special forces.

His mother, father, sister and two other relatives were held in the western province of Aydin, while his flatmate in Ankara was also detained, the state-run Anadolu agency said.

One senior Turkish security official said investigators were focusing on whether Altintas had links to the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara blames for a failed July coup. Gulen has denied responsibility for the coup and Monday’s attack and has condemned both events.

The slogans that Altintas shouted, which were captured on video and circulated widely on social media, suggested he was aligned to a radical Islamist ideology, rather than that of Gulen, who preaches a message of interfaith dialogue.

“Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria. You will not be able to feel safe for as long as our districts are not safe. Only death can take me from here,” he shouted in Turkish.

In the eyes of Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, everything that goes wrong in Turkey from here on out is the fault of Fethullah Gulen, surely making him the world’s first global conspiratorial mastermind to operate out of the Poconos.

Sean McMeekin, a professor of history at Bard College writing over at The American Interest, argues it’s time for the United States government to turn over Gulen, even if he had nothing to do with this attack or any others:

It may or may not be true that Fethullah Gülen is behind the thwarted coup, or the downing of the Russian warplane last November, or the murder of the Russian Ambassador in Ankara this week. So long as the U.S. continues protecting him, however, the cancer of anti-Americanism in Turkey will continue to metastasize, enabling Putin to turn NATO’s most strategically placed member country into a Russian satellite, albeit a reluctant and resentful one. Whatever strategic logic may once have explained the bizarre American romance with the controversial Imam of the Poconos has surely past its sell-by date by now. It is time for Gülen to face the music, whether in Washington, Ankara, or Moscow.

But the Gulen movement was allied with Turkey’s ruling AKP Party until 2012 or so, and there was no shortage of anti-Americanism in Turkey before then. Trust me. Back in 2006, when I was living in Ankara, I wrote:

The biggest would be the release of the widely-hyped new movie, “Kurtlar Vadisi Irak,” or “Valley of the Wolves Iraq.” The movie is a spin-off of “Valley of the Wolves,” a cheesy television show about gangsters in which Sharon Stone taped a cameo a little while back, playing an American gangster. The movie itself is a bouillabaisse of conspiracy theories about the American military doing nefarious deeds to Turks and Iraqis; imagine “Rambo” as written by Jane Fonda, Michael Moore, al-Jazeera, and former Iraqi minister of propaganda “Comical Ali.”

In the film, American soldiers in Iraq attack a wedding and pump a little boy full of lead in front of his mother, slaughter dozens of innocent people, shoot the groom in the head, and assist a Jewish doctor in an organ-harvesting scheme in which he strip-mines the organs of Iraqis and sells them to wealthy clients in New York, London, and Tel Aviv.

The film format for this propaganda is new, but the sentiment isn’t; last year’s hit novel “Metal Storm” depicted an American invasion of Turkey. The “Metal Storm” authors have begun creating spinoffs and copycats multiplying more rapidly than the “Left Behind” series.

If it’s not Gulen, it’s the Iraq War; if it’s not the Iraq War, it’s global Jewish banker conspiracies (Mein Kampf was a big seller in Turkey last decade). Paranoia is embedded deeply in the Turkish DNA. Deporting Gulen might buy the U.S. some short-lived goodwill, but there’s not much reason to expect it to last. (The Iranian revolutionaries didn’t warm up to America once the Shah left the United States.) You can’t stop Turkish paranoia, you can only redirect it to more useful courses.

Meanwhile over in Berlin…

A temporary accommodation center for migrants was stormed by police in Berlin early Tuesday after a suspected terrorist deliberately rammed a truck into a crowded Christmas market, killing 12 people and wounding nearly 50.

Special operations police raided a hangar at the decommissioned Tempelhof airport, where thousands of new arrivals from abroad have been sheltering.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she feared the suspect may have been a migrant.

It would be “hard for us all to bear” if the perpetrator “was someone who sought protection and asylum,” she told reporters Tuesday morning.

Sorry, Germany, you’re just not capable of sorting through 2.1 million new immigrants in a year. Some bad guys are going to slip through – which is why sane countries don’t take in 2 million in a year.

Pray for Peace, People Everywhere

I’d like to believe that a more right-of-center presidency could bring stability to a world that former Obama defense secretary Chuck Hagel described as “exploding all over.”

But there’s only so much the American government can do. They can’t sort out Islamist sleepers from the Turkish police forces. They can try to help Germany vet those million refugees they’ve imported, but the recently-radicalized don’t leave much of a paper trail and those refugees are already there. Unless the refugees start outing the extremists among them, you know this is headed towards a violent crackdown. (The world does change, in some ways. Imagine telling our grandparents that oppressed religious minorities are fleeing into Germany, and they don’t seem to be all that worried about violent suppression from the government.)

Around this time of year, you might hear the Christmas carol, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” It’s now thought of as sweet and traditional. Not many people know it was written in 1962, in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the palpable fear that civilization itself was one tense miscalculation away from being wiped out in a series of nuclear blasts.

Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker wrote “Do You Hear What I Hear” in 1962, around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in response to the existential dread they felt because of the Cold War. “In the studio, the producer was listening to the radio to see if we had been obliterated,” Regney once explained. “En route to my home, I saw two mothers with their babies in strollers. The little angels were looking at each other and smiling.” This inspired the first line of the song: “Said the night wind to the little lamb. . . ”

That “star dancing in the night, with a tail as big as a kite” might be the Star of Bethlehem. Or it might be a mushroom cloud.

“Pray for peace, people, everywhere.”

Faithless, Senseless Electors

Back on December 8, I called the faithless electors who had come forward “preening narcissistic idiots who want to be rewarded for refusing to keep a promise.” Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe objected.

Monday, they made it official:

Of the 306 electoral votes Trump won Nov. 8, 304 voted for him Monday. Of Hillary Clinton’s 228, 224 cast a ballot for her.

All four who defected from Clinton are from Washington state. Three of them voted for Colin Powell and one for Faith Spotted Eagle — all symbolic votes. The two who defected on Trump were from Texas — and went for Ron Paul and John Kasich.

The six defecting votes are the most since 1808.

Faith Spotted Eagle is a Yankton Sioux Nation protester of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Without ever running for president, she is now one of two women in American history to win an Electoral College vote for president. (In 1972, Tonie Nathan won one vote for vice president, and Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin received plenty in their respective years.)

My view on Hillary Clinton is pretty clear, but she went out and earned 228 electoral votes this year. She got shortchanged, and so did Trump.

Neither Kasich nor Ron Paul qualified as write-in candidates in Texas this year, meaning they received no votes. Powell, Spotted Eagle, and Paul didn’t even run for president this year; Kasich explicitly said he didn’t want faithless electors to vote for him. Please explain to me what’s good and noble and inspiring about these faithless electors making a big show about how they just can’t go along with everyone else’s decision and their previous pledges, and how different and special they are compared to everyone else.

In theory, faithless electors could be a valuable tool in elections. In practice, they’re drama queens.

Speaking of fake news…

Continuing years of long-shot efforts to reform the American electoral system, Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig said Tuesday that at least 20 Republican members of the Electoral College may not cast their votes for President-elect Donald Trump.

Since Donald Trump’s upset victory in the 2016 presidential election, Lessig, who briefly ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his anti-Trump group, “Electors Trust,” have been working to offer legal advice to members of the Electoral College who are considering voting for a candidate that did not win the popular vote in their state. The group also promises to inform interested electors of how many others are planning to flip their votes.

Why did more Democratic electors flip than Republican ones? Either they’re more narcissistic and inclined to public preening about how special they are. . . or they put a lot of misplaced faith in Lessig’s predictions. Michael Tracey reports, “Protesters told me they sincerely thought upwards of 30 GOP electors were set to defect from Trump, based on rumors spread by Lessig.”

ADDENDA: If you’re wondering why we at National Review are asking for donations, Charlie Cooke offers an update:

Rather, we’re going to rebuild NRO from the ground up. And when I say “from the ground up,” I mean that literally. As I type, we are rethinking how the website works (and doesn’t); working hard on how best to present new types of content; and, at every stage, factoring in the reams of feedback we’ve had from our readers (please keep it coming). 

You can contribute on NRO here. If you prefer PayPal, you can donate here. Or if you like to do things the old-fashioned way, mail a check, payable to “National Review,” to 215 Lexington Avenue, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10016.

Politics & Policy

It Is a Beautiful Day: The 2016 Election Ends

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It Is a Beautiful Day: The 2016 Election Ends.

We’re all settled then, right? In all future elections, when the winning candidate is a Democratic candidate that Republicans intensely dislike and believe is unqualified, GOP voters can launch a public pressure campaign against members of the Electoral College not to vote for that candidate, right?

When a Republican loses in the Electoral College, we can write threatening letters to Democratic electors demanding they vote for the GOP candidate, right?

“Dear Electors, There will be no peace on earth unless you refuse the one accused of treason and vote for Hillary Clinton instead,” said a holiday letter sent to Oklahoma Republican elector Charles Potts, which he posted on his Facebook page over the weekend.

But Potts and most other electors have said for weeks that they plan to cast votes reflecting the will of their home states…

(Hey, pal, I don’t know if you noticed, but there wouldn’t be peace on earth if Hillary Clinton was elected either.)

Robert Asher, a Republican elector from Pennsylvania, said that Trump’s most ardent detractors will continue seeking ways to undermine him.

“If it’s not his business interests it’ll be whether he has his dog groomed on Fridays or Saturdays,” he said in a recent interview.

The election, Asher added, “is over. Donald Trump is president. The same as when President Obama was elected, he was elected and whether we liked it or not; it was over.”

Asher said he had received just a handful of messages from concerned voters.

“Ninety percent of it is anti-Trump and ‘Vote for Clinton,’” he said. “But look, she didn’t win Pennsylvania. If she had, I wouldn’t be going to Harrisburg on the 19th of December. And I would honor what the people in this commonwealth want. They wanted Donald Trump, so that’s who I will support with my vote.”

Now all of a sudden, this traditional ceremony requires more security.

When Pennsylvania’s 58th Electoral College meets Monday to cast votes for president, it will do so at a time when many more people are paying attention to the obscure process. In a normal presidential election year, the ceremonies take place with little fanfare or public attention. But this year, state officials are providing extra security and bracing for larger crowds and demonstrations after Republican Donald Trump won Pennsylvania, a key statewide victory in an election that saw him behind in the national popular vote but winning the projected electoral vote.

Are definitions of words supposed to be this malleable?

If an elector chooses someone besides Hillary Clinton, they face the possibility of fines and the label of a faithless elector. “I don’t care for the term faithless electors because I think how they decide is faith in itself, so there is no faithlessness to it,” Deirdra Hahn explained.

An even larger gathering is planned on the Capitol steps for Monday. Organizers are hoping for a large turnout at state capitols across the country.

No, see, when you pledge, ‘I will do X,” and then turn around and say, ‘on second thought, now that it’s too late to replace me, I have decided I will not do X,’ then most people define that as being faithless, or a betrayal of other’s faith placed in you.

The seriously under-covered aspect of today is how many foolhardy Democratic electors may decide to not vote for Hillary Clinton in a long-shot hope that lots of Republicans will prefer some other GOP candidate.

Bret Chiafalo is one of Washington’s 12 electors, and the nation’s 538 members of the Electoral College, who on Monday will be choosing the next United States president. The 38-year-old Democrat pledged months ago to cast his vote for his party’s nominee should they win in this state, which means he should vote for Hillary Clinton.

Chiafalo says he is not planning to keep his pledge when electors gather at noon, an act of defiance that could cost him money but he hopes contributes to keeping Republican president-elect Donald Trump out of the White House.

He and at least one other Washington elector, Levi Guerra of Eastern Washington, may vote for a Republican who they consider a consensus alternative to Trump. Under state law, such a political jaywalking violation would subject each of them to a potential $1,000 fine as a “faithless elector”, though they could possibly be let off with a warning.

I notice that in New Jersey, the Electoral College meeting and voting ceremony will feature Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno. Chris Christie has no public schedule today.

Brace Yourselves: More Elections Are Coming

It’s always election year. As Trump fills up his cabinet, he creates openings in Congress and governor’s mansions across the country.

Already there will be at least five, maybe six special elections for the U.S. House, probably within the next six months.

In California’s 34th congressional district, Xavier Becerra will resign to become the Attorney General of California.

In Georgia’s 6th congressional district, Tom Price will resign to become the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services.

In Kansas’s 4th congressional district, Mike Pompeo will resign to become the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

In Montana’s at-large district: Ryan Zinke will resign to become the United States Secretary of the Interior.

In South Carolina’s 5th congressional district, Mick Mulvaney will resign to become the director of the Office of Management and Budget. (I hear at least one more South Carolina lawmaker may resign in the near future to accept an appointed position.)

When governors resign their office, the lieutenant governor usually becomes governor.

In Iowa, Governor Terry Branstad will resign to become U.S. Ambassador to China, but there will not be a special election; his lieutenant governor of the past six years, Kim Reynolds, becomes governor. She is expected to run for a full term in 2018.

In South Carolina, Nikki Haley will become U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and Henry McMaster will become governor.

If Alabama senator Jeff Sessions resigns to become attorney general, then-governor Robert Bentley selects his replacement until 2018. This may get complicated, as Alabama attorney general Luther Strange publicly announced he intends to run for the seat in 2018.

Strange is also investigating the governor.

Bentley is under investigation by the Alabama House Judiciary Committee over impeachment articles approved by the House. The articles accuse the governor of neglect of duty and corruption in office. The charges appear to stem from allegations that Bentley used his office and state resources to further an extramarital relationship with his former top political adviser Rebekah Mason.

The judiciary committee halted its probe of Bentley – at least for now – after it received a letter from Strange in early November. The attorney general’s letter said it would be “prudent and beneficial” for the House committee to delay its work.

Strange asked the committee to cease interviews and the active investigation, “until I am able to report to you that the necessary related work of my office has been completed.”

In Oklahoma, if state attorney general Scott Pruitt resigns, Governor Mary Fallin would appoint a replacement:

Pollard told KOCO that four people are emerging as possible replacements for Attorney General Scott Pruitt – Secretary of State Mike Hunter, former state senator Clark Jolley, former candidate for attorney general Ryan Leonard, and Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, Aj Ferate.

ADDENDA: It’s the holidays, and there are people in need, so if you have a generous heart, head to the nearest Salvation Army kettle and donate your best running back.

Politics & Policy

That Faithless GOP Elector in Texas Has a Lot of Explaining to Do. . .

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Today’s Jolt comes to you late; I took Larry O’Connor’s place for the day, co-hosting Mornings on the Mall with Brian Wilson of WMAL.

That Faithless GOP Elector in Texas Has a Lot of Explaining to Do . . . 

Chris Suprun, Texas GOP faithless elector, snookered almost everyone…

Chris Suprun, 42, portrays himself as a heroic firefighter who was among the first on the scene after the third plane flew into the Pentagon on 9/11.

In a heavily-publicized editorial this month for the New York Times, Suprun stated that as a member of the Electoral College he will not cast his ballot for Trump because the president-elect “shows daily he is not qualified for the office.”

Suprun, a Dallas resident for more than a decade, even used his résumé to establish credibility in the Times piece, writing in the second paragraph: “Fifteen years ago, as a firefighter, I was part of the response to the September 11 attacks against our nation.”

He has founded a nonprofit called Never Forget and state records show he is a licensed paramedic — but much of the rest of résumé, publicly available on LinkedIn, is questionable.

In addition, on at least two occasions over the last couple years at crowded Major League Baseball games, Suprun has been introduced as a 9/11 veteran before throwing out first pitches. . .

The City of Manassas Park confirmed to WFAA that it hired Suprun on October 10, 2001, one month after the 9/11 attacks.

The fire chief there added that his department never even responded to the Pentagon or any of the 9/11 sites.

That’s the worst, but there are other glaring discrepancies:

 . . . Suprun’s résumé raises even more questions.

It shows he was, at the time this story aired on WFAA, a paramedic with Air Methods air ambulance service. But Christina Brodsly, a spokeswoman for that company, said he is not an employee there.

Suprun also claims to currently be a paramedic with Freedom EMS in Dallas.

But records from the Texas Department of State Health Services indicate there’s no such company. A firm with that name used to exist in Houston, but it went out of business in 2008, according to DSHS.

Turns out, federal court records show Suprun has spent the last five years in bankruptcy while his résumé says he was working. He even collected unemployment during part of it, court records show. Suprun was just released from bankruptcy supervision this month.

He never responded to multiple emails from WFAA and calls to his telephone go to a recording which says his voicemail is full.

The True Obama Doctrine: ‘We Will Not Help People Who Deserve Our Help.’

Two golden paragraphs from Leon Wieseltier, discussing Obama’s legacy regarding Syria:

It would be incorrect to analyze our delinquency in Syria in the dichotomously simple terms of action and inaction. The administration creatively pioneered a third option, which it pursued not only in Syria but also in Ukraine and elsewhere: Between action and inaction, it chose inconsequential action. There is the Obama doctrine! We backed moderate Syrian rebels, but not as seriously or as generously as the immoderate Syrian rebels were backed. We sent in small numbers of special operators. The CIA ran a few programs. We acted, in sum, only in ways certain not to affect the outcome. We were strategically feckless. I suspect that the president believes that the United States has no moral right to affect an outcome in another country. I suspect that he regards such decisive action as imperialism, or at least as Iraq-like. What this means in practice is that we will not help people who deserve our help. In the spirit of respecting other societies, we will idly gaze at their destruction. How would disrespecting them be worse?

As a direct or indirect consequence of our refusal to respond forcefully to the Syrian crisis, we have beheld secular tyranny, religious tyranny, genocide, chemical warfare, barrel bombs and cluster bombs, the torture and murder of children, the displacement of 11 million people, the destabilization of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, the ascendancy of Iran in the region, the emergence of Russia as a global power, the diminishment of the American position in the world, the refugee crisis in Europe, the resurgence of fascism in Europe and a significant new threat to the security of the United States. It is amazing how much doing nothing can do, especially when it is we who do nothing.

Yet Another Implausible Rumor, Debunked

Fake news doesn’t always come from Facebook, you know:

If, as reports suggest, President-elect Trump will nominate Carly Fiorina to be the next director of national intelligence, some Democratic senators contemplating her confirmation may feel tempted to claim that she leaked classified information in one of the Republican presidential debates. But they would be foolish decision to repeat that baseless charge, which is still rocketing around liberal blogs. 

The dubious accusation stems from Fiorina’s statement in a November 2015 debate on Fox News that “We have more IRS agents than we have FBI and CIA. Does that strike you as a misallocation of resources? Of course it is.” 

I know it will stun you, but no, that comment did not constitute leaking classified information.

ADDENDA: Some how, some way, fighting stage-four cancer and full of painkillers and running a fever… Cindy Stowell kept winning on Jeopardy! Those of us who knew her personally knew she had taped an appearance, but weren’t told how she had done. I don’t know if she loses tonight, her fourth episode, or she just kept on winning. Her appearance on the program, which began the week as surreal and oddly flattening, has become a way for the world to see her shine her brightest in her last days.

This week’s pop culture podcast features dramatically underrated Christmas songs,

the question of just why Disney feels the need to relentlessly advertise Rogue One;  a look at how Amazon has transformed holiday shopping and why service continues to die in America, and a discussion of why the Hallmark Channel keeps re-using the same clichés in their Christmas movies.

I saw Rogue One last night. I wouldn’t dare try to sneak in a spoiler; some other moviegoer last night tried and the crowd waiting for the next show beat him to death with their plastic light-sabers. Sticking only to themes and emotions, I was struck by how different this Star Wars film felt from all the preceding ones. It was like watching a chef take your favorite ingredients and cook something completely different from what you’re used to eating. The first third of this movie feels like the Star Wars version of Zero Dark Thirty. The middle third had some preachy notes, and I almost was ready to write off Rogue One as an interesting but ultimately unsuccessful experiment. And then in the third act climax, the slow burn really ignited. The stakes get higher and higher, the connections to events in other movies crystalize, and the closing scene left the audience roaring at the screening last night. Rarely have I seen a movie’s climax overcome the flaws of the preceding hour or so the way Rogue One’s big finale does.

National Security & Defense

The Post-Cyber-Security Era

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The Post-Cyber-Security Era

I didn’t write a lot of pieces praising President Obama over the last eight years, but way back in June 2009, I wrote that he was correct to want to establish a new position “cyber-security coordinator,” often nicknamed the “cyber czar.” As luck would have it, right before Obama announced the position, I had attended a gathering of some of the corporate world’s top cyber-security experts and wonks, and they had shared the familiar potential horror stories about our insecure infrastructure: attacks and shutdowns of electricity grids, air traffic control, finance and banking, telecommunications, etcetera.

At the heart of the discussion at that conference was the question of whether deterrence could work in the era of cyber-warfare:

A country that fires a missile at a U.S. military base has effectively declared war and can expect severe consequences; but a country that causes intermittent communications disruptions at that base is in a murkier area. Would the U.S. make a non-cyber response to a strictly cyber intrusion? Do you drop a bomb on a target if they’ve only broken into your computer?

The idea of a political campaign being a target for cyber-intrusion and mischief was familiar eight years ago. When announcing the formation of the “cyber czar” position, Obama said:

It’s no secret that my presidential campaign harnessed the Internet and technology to transform our politics. What isn’t widely known is that during the general election hackers managed to penetrate our computer systems. To all of you who donated to our campaign, I want you to all rest assured, our fundraising website was untouched. (Laughter.) So your confidential personal and financial information was protected.

But between August and October, hackers gained access to e-mails and a range of campaign files, from policy position papers to travel plans. And we worked closely with the CIA – with the FBI and the Secret Service and hired security consultants to restore the security of our systems. It was a powerful reminder: In this Information Age, one of your greatest strengths – in our case, our ability to communicate to a wide range of supporters through the Internet – could also be one of your greatest vulnerabilities.

(A lot of people wondered whether Obama was supposed to mention the CIA’s role. A CIA role would suggest foreign involvement in the hack.)

One of the lessons of the Obama era is that despite all the talk of cyber-security, no one in charge took it seriously enough. It took Obama seven months to name his first cyber czar.

It was in Obama’s second term that the cyber-intrusions, believed to be directed by foreign governments, really piled up.

In 2014, the U.S. Postal Service “suspended telecommuting for employees while it works to remediate a network intrusion that has exposed data on some 800,000 postal workers and an additional 2.9 million customers.”

Also in 2014, a private firm that performs background checks for U.S. government employees suffered a hack that “compromised data of at least 25,000 workers, including some undercover investigators.”

Also that year, China hacked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service, requiring the agencies to seal off data vital to disaster planning. A review determined that the agency did not notify the proper authorities when it learned of the attack.

In 2015, the IRS “disclosed a massive security breach that allowed hackers to obtain detailed tax-return information on 104,000 taxpayers.” In 2011, the Treasury Department’s Inspector General found the IRS did not have an adequate “screening process” nor adequate “minimum requirements” to ensure security and privacy.

The biggest hack of them all, at the Office of Personnel Management, involving the personnel records and security clearance files of 21.5 million federal employees. In March 2014, OPM became aware of a partially successful Chinese hack into its systems. In July, after a New York Times report, OPM director Katherine Archuleta publicly denied that any hack had occurred: “We did not have a breach in security. There was no information that was lost. We were confident as we worked through this that we would be able to protect the data.”

That was not only a lie, it represented blind denial of just how bad the consequences were. The information stolen basically amounts to a “how-to” guide for blackmailing federal employees with security clearances, with the confidential records including the intimate personal details of federal workers’ infidelity, drug abuse, and personal debts uncovered during the background-check process.

In February, an unknown hacker published contact information for about 20,000 FBI employees and threatened to publish information on another 9,000 Department of Homeland Security employees

While all of this hacking was going on, much of it believed to be directed by foreign-governments, the Obama administration mostly dithered on options for retaliation – or what could have been a form of deterrence.

“We’d have all these circular meetings,” one senior State Department official said, “in which everyone agreed you had to push back at the Russians and push back hard. But it didn’t happen.”

So the Russians escalated again — breaking into systems not just for espionage, but to publish or broadcast what they found, known as “doxing” in the cyberworld.

In other words, hackers managed to breach the federal government, an entity that enjoys way more resources, power, expertise, and incentive to have secure systems than the average Joe. And the federal government offered no significant retaliation or consequence.

And now we’re supposed to be surprised that the e-mails of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta weren’t secure enough?

Now we’re supposed to delay the vote of the Electoral College so that the electors can hear the CIA assessment that Russian hackers got into the e-mails of the DNC and Podesta? Why would this information be surprising to anyone in the Electoral College who has paid any attention to the world of cyber-security in recent years?

Despite this gruesome record of incompetence, we now have elected officials who claim the election results are “illegitimate” because of the Russian hacking. (Wasn’t there broad consensus in October that this precise argument was the worst possible thing Donald Trump could do?)

Don Beyer, the Virginia congressman calling for the delay in the Electoral College vote, declared, “If we don’t act early, and soon, we run the risk of having an illegitimate president.” What makes Trump illegitimate? The implied contention is that without the DNC and Podesta hacks, Hillary Clinton would have won – which is not proven at all. It’s impossible to prove, and also supremely implausible knowing what we know. The Beyer theory assumes that the electorate is hapless automatons, mentally enslaved by media coverage that is critical of Hillary, while somehow psychologically immune to media coverage that was critical of Trump. Still, I suppose we shouldn’t dismiss his theory of unthinking masses of voters; after all, they reelected Beyer.

In February – about six and a half years after he named his first “cyber czar” – Obama announced the creation of the nonpartisan Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity, They presented their report to the president. . . December 1. Enacting their recommendations will be almost entirely up to the Trump administration. During his remarks after meeting with his Commission, Obama announced, “I have consistently made cybersecurity a top national security and economic security priority.” Mm-hmmm.

Man Bites Dog: Federal Funds Left Unspent!

Speaking of President Obama not following through…

Obama the candidate ran on allowing bankruptcy judges to cut balances on primary mortgages; Obama’s administration actively whipped against the policy. Obama’s transition team earmarked up to $100 billion in funds appropriated through Bush’s bank bailout to mitigate foreclosures; eight years later only around $21 billion has been spent. Obama the president promised 4 million mortgage modifications; to date less than a million have been successfully achieved.

No Republican sign-off was necessary for Obama’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). The Treasury Department alone decided to run it through mortgage companies that had financial incentives to foreclose rather than modify loans. Treasury never saw the program as a relief vehicle, but a way to “foam the runway” for the banks, allowing them to absorb inevitable foreclosures more slowly. Homeowners were the foam being crushed by a jumbo jet in that scenario, squeezed for as many payments as possible before ultimately losing their homes.

He’s just not that into governing.

ADDENDA: She won again on last night’s episode. She’s turning into a legend.

Politics & Policy

The War in Syria Finds a Way to Get Even Worse

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The War in Syria Finds a Way to Get Even Worse

Look, we get it. There doesn’t seem to be many good guys in Syria. The American people are exhausted from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and feel like enormous sums of blood and treasure were wasted. We don’t do nation-building well. The countries we save never seem particularly grateful. When we descend into the world’s hellholes with the best of intentions, we mostly make ourselves a target for asymmetrical warfare. Most of the rest of the world has grown lazy, waiting for Americans to show up and pay the price for stopping the globe’s horrors and restoring order.

But how many people have to die before we as a country think, “We should have done something about that?”

We may never get a firm number on the death toll from the war in Syria. In February, one group estimated it at 470,000 people. ISIS has used chemical weapons at least 52 times in Iraq and Syria.

Our government is full of some really harsh words for those engaged in slaughter.

Syrian regime forces were on the brink of taking eastern Aleppo on Tuesday as the U.N. said pro-regime forces had reportedly carried out executions of at least 82 civilians.

The U.N. said it had received reports that some civilians had been shot in their homes and on sight.

Speaking at a U.N. Security Council Emergency Briefing on Syria on Tuesday, US ambassador Samantha Power had some scathing words for her Syrian, Iranian and Russian counterparts.

“You bear responsibility for these atrocities,” she said of the plight of eastern Aleppo residents amid reports of widespread summary executions, including of women and children, by Syrian forces in formerly rebel-held areas.

“When one day there is a full accounting of the horrors committed in this assault of Aleppo — and that day will come, sooner or later — you will not be able to say you did not know what was happening.”

She said the actions of the three players “should shame” them.

“Three Member States of the U.N. contributing to a noose around civilians. It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you. . . Are you truly incapable of shame?”

No, they aren’t. She literally wrote the book on genocide. Why does she seemed so surprised that the Syrian, Iranian, and Russian regimes have absolutely no concerns about civilian casualties?

We keep saying “Never again.” And then Cambodia happens, and Rwanda happens, and the Balkans happen, and North Korea continues to be a giant maniacal homicidal prison camp.

The world can have messy American military interventions, or the world can have massacres. Those are the options.

A Failed President, Continued

Another unforeseen consequence of the Syrian conflict: the insane belief that at some point, Russia would be a cooperative partner in negotiations about Syria was reportedly enough to get the Obama White House to be quiet about Russian hacking.

CNN discussions with multiple administration, law enforcement and intelligence officials tell a different story.

By July, law enforcement and intelligence agencies were sure that Russian intelligence hackers had breached the Democratic National Committee. A debate began inside the administration about what to do next.

A month earlier, the hackers had released an opposition file on Trump that had been stolen from the Democrats.

The U.S. and many other nations use cyberhacking to spy on each other. The Russian actions, administration officials determined, had crossed the line because they were releasing documents the administration believed were intended to undermine the U.S. elections.

Over the next three months, during a series of meetings at the White House and on conf