Politics & Policy

God Bless the Kellys and Every Family of Those Who Serve


White House chief of staff John Kelly, addressing reporters yesterday, describing the process of notifying the families of those slain while in uniform:

A casualty officer typically goes to the home very early in the morning and waits for the first lights to come on. And then he knocks on the door; typically a mom and dad will answer, a wife. And if there is a wife, this is happening in two different places; if the parents are divorced, three different places. And the casualty officer proceeds to break the heart of a family member and stays with that family until – well, for a long, long time, even after the internment. So that’s what happens.

Who are these young men and women? They are the best 1 percent this country produces. Most of you, as Americans, don’t know them. Many of you don’t know anyone who knows any one of them. But they are the very best this country produces, and they volunteer to protect our country when there’s nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that selfless service to the nation is not only appropriate, but required. But that’s all right . . . 

As I walk off the stage, understand there’s tens of thousands of American kids, mostly, doing their nation’s bidding all around the world. They don’t have to be in uniform. You know, when I was a kid, every man in my life was a veteran — World War II, Korea, and there was the draft. These young people today, they don’t do it for any other reason than their selfless — sense of selfless devotion to this great nation.

We don’t look down upon those of you who that haven’t served. In fact, in a way we’re a little bit sorry because you’ll have never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kinds of things our service men and women do — not for any other reason than they love this country. So just think of that.

Do we as a country do enough to appreciate these families? Can we do enough to demonstrate our gratitude to these families?

President Trump Should Visit the DMZ in Korea.

President Donald Trump should visit the Demilitarized Zone during his visit to South Korea in early November. Those contending that a presidential visit would be “provocative” are urging the United States to conduct its foreign policy in a defensive crouch, terrified of causing offense to a regime that doesn’t hesitate to suddenly fire missiles over U.S. allies.

A presidential visit to the Demilitarized Zone is not only legal and protected under treaties, it is traditional: every president since Reagan has made the visit except George H.W. Bush, who visited when he served as vice president. Earlier this year, Vice President Mike Pence visited.

The advocates of scrapping the traditional visit don’t seem to realize what they’re advocating. They want the United States to limit its own activities out of fear of causing offense or angering a regime that A) seems to find everything to be an outrageous provocation, including the continued existence of South Korea, Japan, and the United States, and B) demonstrates no concern about its own actions being perceived as “provocative,” including those usually interpreted as acts of war, such as firing artillery shells into another country’s territory or sinking their naval vessels.

No other regime would seriously object to an American president visiting any location within the territorial borders of an ally. A presidential visit is only provocative because the North Koreans decree it is provocative.

This amounts to terms where the Pyongyang regime can do anything it wants without serious consequence and we meekly decide to rule out certain actions to avoid giving offense.

Not only will we never have peace under this approach, but it actually increases the likelihood of eventual all-out war. If you keep rewarding aggressive and threatening behavior, you only get more of it.

The other objection to a Trump visit is the fear that the president would not be safe there:

However, officials in both the U.S. and South Korean governments have raised concerns that Trump could become a target in the heavily fortified area that separates the two Koreas, according to a source familiar with U.S.-South Korea relations.

If the North Korean regime really is tempted to try to kill President Trump while he’s visiting South Korea . . .  then the situation is even more dangerous than we thought. A regime that is willing to carry out a surprise attack on the commander-in-chief cannot be trusted to live with nuclear weapons.

It is worth remembering that Presidents Bush and Obama visited war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and also countries with intense terrorist threats like Pakistan, and the U.S. Secret Service rose to the challenge.

William F. Buckley once said, “When the Soviet Union challenged America and our set of loyalties, it did so at gunpoint. It became necessary at a certain point to show them our clenched fist and advise them that we were not going to deal lightly with our primal commitment to preserve those loyalties.”

The North Koreans want to negotiate at gunpoint. The point of these visits is to remind them that we have a gun, too.

The Current Liberal Appreciation of George W. Bush Is Nice and All, But . . . 

Jennifer Sabin echoes many folks on the left this week, expressing a newfound appreciation for former President George W. Bush, as well as John McCain:

However much and often I disagreed with [Bush], thought him misguided, unfit for the job, led by war mongers, etc., etc., I never thought he was insane, or anti-American, or in bed with an oversees enemy and/or white supremacists . . .   I look back at how determined I was that John McCain could not be president. When the worst thing that could happen was to elect a war hero with conservative views, and a moron for vice president.

Excuse me. Most of us are old enough to remember the Bush years. (Some of us are old enough to remember the first Bush presidency.) We remember “Bushitler,” “Chimpy McHalliburton,” “Bush doesn’t care about black people,” the awards for films depicting Bush’s assassination, Howard Dean speculating that the Saudis warned Bush about 9/11 and the president letting it happen, MoveOn.org running ads comparing Bush to Hitler, Keith Ellison comparing the 9/11 attack to the Reichstag fire . . . 

One of the reasons Trump became president is because a sufficient portion of the electorate tuned out or disregarded the criticism of him from the Left. One of the reasons people ignored that criticism is because at least three good men – Bush, McCain, and Mitt Romney — were demonized as the irredeemable epitome of all evil by liberal voices for almost the entirety of their public lives. One could throw Sarah Palin in there as well — whatever else you think of her, she’s not a monster, and she’s done so much for families with children with Down Syndrome – as well as the ads featuring Paul Ryan pushing a grandmother off a cliff. When every single prominent Republican figure is the WORST MONSTER IN HUMAN HISTORY, people stop believing the criticism.

A few voices on the left recognized this. Right before the election, comedian Bill Maher had what appeared to be a painful moment of clarity:

I know liberals made a big mistake because we attacked your boy Bush like he was the end of the world. And he wasn’t. And Mitt Romney we attacked that way. I gave Obama a million dollars because I was so afraid of Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney wouldn’t have changed my life that much or yours. Or John McCain. They were honorable men who we disagreed with, and we should have kept it that way. So we cried wolf and that was wrong. But this is real. This is going to be way different.

But I don’t want our friends on the left to merely regret the past, I want them to learn from it. (And perhaps we could or should learn something similar. The agenda of Bill Clinton in the 1990s looks pretty centrist these days.)

We don’t fix this by praising retired members of the other party, or wishing that everyone in the other party could be as reasonable as the one who deviates from party orthodoxy the most. We fix this by reasserting the unwritten rule in our political discourse that our opponents are not to be treated like inhuman monsters unless they actually do something monstrous. And mere disagreement on issues does not make one a monster! We think poorly of Harvey Weinstein’s donation of $100,000 to Planned Parenthood because an impassioned disagreement about when human life begins. But it’s his long history of sexual exploitation and cruelty that makes him a monster.

ADDENDA: Jeff Blehar, who hosts our excellent musical podcast Political Beats, reminds Chelsea Handler about the Koch brothers’ $1.5 billion in contributions to charity over the years.

Politics & Policy

The Post-Election Twist on #NeverTrump


Making the click-through worthwhile: wondering just what counts as “Never Trump” anymore; Roy Moore urges everyone else to always obey the law; New Hampshire lays out the flaws of Boston; and we have a special request.

What Counts as #NeverTrump These Days?

Conrad Black: “The Never Trumpers seem to have retreated, more or less in unison, to the last trench before they throw down their arms and run backwards for their lives: They are now invoking the 25th Amendment. This indicates that they realize the impeachment movement has failed.”

Actually, impeachment efforts are not all that related to the thinking and actions of those who describe themselves as “Never-Trump.” Impeachment is extremely unlikely as long as Republicans control the House, but extremely likely if Democrats win the House in 2018. Whether the Senate would vote to remove Trump from office will also likely depend upon the partisan makeup of the chamber; it is worth remembering that removal from office requires a two-thirds majority. Barring some sort of smoking-gun evidence, like videotape of Trump and Putin evilly cackling as they coordinate plans to destroy the country, it is unlikely that many Republican senators will ever vote to remove a Republican president.

Jonah asks where all these Never-Trumpers calling for invocation of the 25th Amendment are. The only source mentioned by Black is “The New Yorker magazine, still feverish with Obama deprivation” which is . . .  not really “Never Trump,” at least as the term was traditionally defined.

You can find discussions of the 25th Amendment in Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, Vogue, Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig, and so on. So if these traditional lefty media sources and voices count as “Never Trump,” it’s fair to ask . . .  what is “Never Trump” anymore?

Evan McMullin? I didn’t realize that when I voted for him, I was helping pass the “Evan McMullin-Eternal-Presence-in-Media-as-a-Trump-Critic-Who-Never-Sounds-All-That-Conservative Act.” Unsurprisingly, McMullin’s entire Twitter feed since the election has been relentless criticism of Trump, a general credulity of claims of election collusion with Russia, and denunciation of GOP leaders for being insufficiently opposed to Trump. When McMullin appears on television, do you ever hear him arguing for a larger defense budget, tax cuts, originalist judges, or any other conservative priority? Maybe he’s done so and I just haven’t seen it, but it seems like McMullin’s message is, 24-7, “Trump is always wrong and he has to go.” I mean, if I wanted that, I could have voted for Hillary Clinton.

It’s a free country, and McMullin can argue for any priorities he likes, but if that’s going to be his message all the time, I don’t think he’s really representative of conservatives as a whole anymore. Insisting Trump is always wrong is as silly as insisting that Trump is always right. Broken clocks are right twice a day, blind squirrels find acorns, and even Sean Hannity can express dismay over a Trump tweet once in a great while.

There’s a lot for conservatives to like in the new administration: The sudden reduction in illegal immigration, the accelerating defeats of ISIS on the battlefield, the rollback of various regulations, a punitive strike on Syria for chemical weapons use, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinding Obama rules that undermined due process, Nikki Haley kicking tail and taking names at the United Nations, big changes underway at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and, of course, the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and many fine judges in the lower circuits. If you have a 401(k), you’ve probably felt good for most of 2017. We might get tax cuts.

But these accomplishments come at the cost of a president who generates his own daily distraction; who constantly responds to what’s said on cable television; who lashes out at his own cabinet; who is impatient and ill-informed about how his own government works; who is so unfocused he sometimes contradicts himself within a matter of hours; who is apparently unwilling to study the details of policy; and who sometimes throws a bone to the worst of America, as when he insisted “fine people” were among the Charlottesville protesters.

We Must Obey the Law, Moore or Less

Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama, discussing NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem:

“I back the President in upholding respect for the patriotism for our country, on two grounds,” he said. “One, it’s respect for the law. If we don’t respect the law, what kind of country are we going to have? Two, it’s respect for those who have fallen and given the ultimate sacrifice. I’m surprised that no one brought this up.”

He added that it’s a matter of the “the rule of law.”

“If they didn’t have it in there, it would just be tradition. But this is law,” he said. “If we disobey this, what else are we going to disobey?

He is correct in the sense that U.S. code does mention appropriate actions during the national anthem:

During a rendition of the national anthem –

(1) When the flag is displayed –

(A) Individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;

(B) Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and

(C) All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

(2) When the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

Of course, anyone who’s been to a ball game knows this law is not really enforced. Thankfully, people are generally respectful, but there’s never been a consequence for those who are sitting, talking, wandering in from getting hot dogs and nachos, etcetera.

If a law is not enforced and does not carry a penalty for disobedience . . . is it really a law?

Moore asks, “If we disobey this, what else are we going to disobey?” I don’t know, maybe a court order to remove a monument depicting the Ten Commandments? Maybe a Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage? Is Roy Moore really the right guy to make the argument that citizens must always obey the law, even when they believe a law is unjust?

New Hampshire: Hey, Amazon, You Know Boston Stinks, Right?

Kind of funny: When the state of New Hampshire wanted to convince Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to locate his new facility there, they trashed nearby Boston like an enraged Yankees fan:

‐ “Choose Boston and next year when you leave your tiny $4,000-a-month apartment only to sit in two hours of traffic trying to make your way to an overburdened airport, you’ll be wishing you were in New Hampshire.”

I’ve enjoyed my visits to Boston, but no doubt there are some other criticisms worth mentioning.

This is a touchdown, former directors of NFL officiating say so, and the call just happened to go wrong to benefit the team that benefited from the “Tuck Rule,” and get disciplined for Spy-gate and get disciplined for Deflate-gate.

Boston readers, we tease because we love. If you feel a need for equal time, here’s my recent assessment of why living in the D.C. area stinks.

ADDENDA: We at National Review are asking for money. I know, it stinks. You hate being asked and we hate asking, but it is a reality of running a political magazine. If it makes it any easier, we’re being clear about what we’re seeking to fund: a tech guy for our growing stable of podcasts, new video software, a new revenue officer, and expanding our intern program. Give if you can.

Editor’s Note: This article orginally identified Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch as Robert Gorsuch.

National Security & Defense

American Troops Liberate Raqqa from ISIS Control


Making the click-through worthwhile today: The forces allied against ISIS inflict a stinging defeat to the terror group; the Federal Communications Commission assures Americans that they aren’t going to yank broadcasting licenses because of presidential disapproval of news reports; a stunning allegation against the Clintons that feels like it’s coming to light a year late; and why Virginia voters are right to be concerned about MS-13.

ISIS Is Now Caught Between Raqqa and a Hard Place

Outstanding news as the week progresses:

American-backed forces said on Tuesday that they had seized the northern Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State, a major blow to the militant group, which had long used the city as the de facto capital of its self-declared caliphate.

Celebrations erupted in Raqqa, where residents had lived under the repressive rule of militants who beheaded people for offenses as minor as smoking. Fighters could be seen cheering and firing celebratory gunfire in the streets, according to residents reached by phone and text message.

The United States Central Command stopped short of declaring victory, saying that “more than 90 percent of Raqqa is in S.D.F. control,” a reference to the Syrian Democratic Forces, an American-backed militia group made up of Syrian Kurds and Arabs.

Col. Ryan S. Dillon, a spokesman for the United States military in Baghdad, said Tuesday that Raqqa was on the verge of being liberated, but that there were still pockets of the city controlled by the Islamic State. Syrian Democratic Forces officers, however, were emphatic in phone interviews and public statements that they had finally wrested control of the city from the militants after a monthslong campaign.

“The military operation is over,” said Talal Salo, a commander reached by phone at the group’s headquarters in Hasaka.

Newsweek looks at recent presidential boasting about ISIS and it’s easy to get the sense that the publication would love to rebuke Donald Trump for taking credit for something he did not influence. But the magazine can’t quite dismiss all of the evidence that the momentum of battle has shifted in the past year. Maybe that’s a result of presidential decisions, or perhaps Trump’s decision to defer to his generals on most of the details. Either way, Trump hasn’t loused it up, and he’s in position to reap the accolades.

Perhaps the two most symbolic victories against ISIS have occurred while Trump has been in office: the retaking of the Iraqi city of Mosul in July, and now the liberation of Raqqa. U.S. officials have also claimed that the recapturing of ISIS-held territory has accelerated under Trump. Special Presidential Envoy McGurk — who held the same role in the Obama administration — said that of the 27,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria reclaimed from ISIS since 2014, around 8,000 square miles have been retaken under Trump’s watch.

But some commentators have claimed that Trump is simply reaping the benefits of the hard graft put in by the former administration. The battle for Mosul, for example, commenced in October 2016 and lasted for nine months: Iraqi forces had liberated the whole of eastern Mosul by January 24 — four days into Trump’s presidency — with the remaining six months consisting of a gruelling slog for the Old City.

This is a bit like arguing that Harry S. Truman didn’t preside over the Allied victory in World War Two, because Franklin Roosevelt had done so much before.

It is worth noting that while controlling swaths of territory made ISIS distinct, it was not the only feature that made it dangerous. The New York Times talks to terrorism experts and concludes that the group will probably refocus its efforts on the method that worries us the most, attacks in Western countries:

The group has also developed a powerful social media network that with no physical presence allows it to spew propaganda, claim responsibility for terrorist attacks, and not just inspire attacks but also help plot and execute them remotely.

A large share of its attacks in the West in recent years have been carried out by men who communicated online with ISIS, taking detailed instructions through encrypted messages, but never meeting their terrorist mentors . . . 

And the group has continued to sow chaos even as it has lost territory. In 2017 alone, it has claimed responsibility for three terrorist attacks in Britain that killed 37 people, the Istanbul nightclub bombing on New Year’s Eve that killed 39 people, and strikes in more than seven other countries.

As the group was losing Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in August, it sent a van tearing through crowds in the heart of Barcelona, killing 13 people and loudly declaring its continued relevance.

Our fight against ISIS, and the broader movement of violent Islamist extremism, is far from over. But we have enough bad days; we should take moments to celebrate the victories.

The Good News Is the First Amendment Isn’t in Real Danger . . . 

This is not surprising, but it is worth mentioning:

In his first public appearance since [President] Trump tweeted that Comcast’s NBC and other broadcasters should lose their licenses for reporting “fake news,” Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai instead noted that his agency could not do what the president wanted. Pai has served as a commissioner on the FCC since 2012, before Trump elevated him to chairman this year.

“Look, I will reiterate what I have said for many years at the FCC up to and including last month,” Pai said in an appearance at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. “I believe in the First Amendment. The FCC under my leadership will stand for the First Amendment. And under the law, the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast.”

Asked a second time more directly if he would block a broadcaster’s license application based on content, Pai said he would “stand with exactly what I’ve said last month and for years at the FCC.” Pai did not mention the president by name.

One of the problems of the Trump administration is that we have a government assigned the duty of protecting the citizenry’s rights under the U.S. Constitution, led by a president who appears to not understand what the government can and cannot do under that constitution.

The president urged the Senate Intelligence Committee to “[look] into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!” Probably because that’s not the jurisdiction of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the First Amendment protects all kinds of unpopular speech, including reports derided as “fake news.”

He’s expressed irritated impatience with the way Congress passes legislation: “Well, I think things generally tend to go a little bit slower than you’d like them to go. It’s just a very, very bureaucratic system. I think the rules in Congress and, in particular, the rules in the Senate, are unbelievably archaic and slow-moving.” Of course, the legislative process is designed to be slow-moving and deliberate. While it’s not clear Thomas Jefferson or George Washington ever made the “cup and saucer” comparison, it is clear that the Senate is designed to prevent the quick passage of bad ideas.

When complaining about the Russian sanctions, Trump declared, “it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking . . .  The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President. This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice.” But Congress does indeed get a big role in setting America’s foreign policy! The Senate has to confirm the Secretary of State and all ambassadors, appropriate funds for the State Department budget and foreign aid, and ratify all treaties. This is why so many Republicans were upset by the Iran deal, which was never ratified by the Senate as a treaty.

How Did All of This Alleged Russian Bribery and Extortion Remain Secret for So Long?

Now here’s something for the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate, with great haste and thoroughness:

Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews.

Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather extensive financial records, make secret recordings and intercept emails as early as 2009 that showed Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show.

They also obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill.

But FBI, Energy Department and court documents reviewed by The Hill show the FBI in fact had gathered substantial evidence well before the committee’s decision that Vadim Mikerin — the main Russian overseeing Putin’s nuclear expansion inside the United States — was engaged in wrongdoing starting in 2009.

How does this get uncovered and no charges are filed? How does this not become public knowledge? Some Hillary Clinton fans argued during the 2016 campaign that the FBI had become politicized and was driven by a vendetta against her. If that was the case, how did these allegations remain secret all the time?

These revelations point in the opposite direction, suggesting that while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, no one in law enforcement wanted to press charges against the Clintons, no matter how damning the evidence.

ADDENDA: Guy Benson on Ed Gillespie’s commercials focusing on crime and the MS-13 gang: “The issue clearly has traction, and I’ve been told the GOP possesses some data indicating that it resonates.” Perhaps it’s as simple that the northern Virginia Democratic thinking class believes that any discussion of illegal immigrants and gangs constitutes paranoid xenophobia. Except . . .  northern Virginia really does have an MS-13 problem, committing unspeakably brutal crimes.

Here’s the Washington Post local news section today:

One MS-13 member clicked a cigar cutter open and closed with a metallic ring, while another told the 15-year-old they would cut her fingers off, the prosecutor said. Another gang member asked where the gasoline was so they could burn the girl up.

Ten members and associates of MS-13 lured Damaris A. Reyes Rivas to a Springfield park in January because they wanted revenge. They blamed the Gaithersburg teen for the death of their clique’s leader, Christian Sosa Rivas, whose body had been dumped in the Potomac about a week earlier.

[Prosecutor] Stott then recounted the ruthless slaying of Damaris, whose killing, along with that of Sosa Rivas and the abduction of another teen, has led to the arrests of 18 young people and highlighted the resurgence of MS-13, the region’s largest and most violent gang. Damaris’s killers were remorseless, capturing her final minutes in gruesome cellphone videos.

Do you have to be a paranoid xenophobe to find that horrifying and want state government to do something about it?

Politics & Policy

Yes, Virginia, You Still Have a Close Race for Governor


Yesterday, I wrote about why Democrats fear their candidate, Ralph Northam, is in danger of losing the Virginia governor’s race, despite a relatively consistent polling lead: a hangover from the shock of 2016, Northam’s general lack of charisma and cookie-cutter campaign, and memories of late GOP surges in 2013 and 2014 statewide races that completely eluded pollsters. 

This morning, Democrats are probably reaching for the antacids again.

Three weeks before Virginians choose their next governor, current Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam maintains a lead in a tightening race with former Republican National Committee Chair Ed Gillespie. Northam’s lead stands at 4% (48 percent to 44 percent), according to a Wason Center survey of likely voters. Libertarian Cliff Hyra polled at 3 percent, with 5 percent undecided. This is the first poll in the Wason Center’s tracking series in which Northam’s lead is within the survey’s margin of error. In the benchmark poll, released September 25, Northam’s lead stood at 6 percent (47 percent to 41 percent), and it grew to 7 percent (49 percent to 42 percent) in the first tracking poll, released October 9.

Yes, you would rather be leading than trailing . . .  but this is an off-year election, with the older, whiter, and more conservative electorate than in a presidential year. Both polling and anecdotal evidence — yard signs, etcetera — suggest that this year’s race is attracting much less attention and enthusiasm than in 2013 and 2009.

It’s Typical Trump, but . . .  Is the President Really to Blame for the GOP’s Senate Woes?

President Trump discussing Republican senators yesterday: “I’m not going to blame myself, I’ll be honest. They are not getting the job done.”

This is where I would usually go on a tear about how I yearn the good old days of Harry S. Truman, and how the buck should stop in the Oval Office, and remind everyone that Trump declared, “I alone can fix it.” When it comes to passing his own agenda, Trump could indeed help things by not labeling legislation he previously wanted “mean,” by studying the details of legislation and understanding what the priorities are to different legislative factions, and by being a better salesman by constructing an actual argument, instead of platitudes that “it will be great, believe me,” etcetera.

But on repealing and replacing health care reform . . .  the president has a fair gripe. As Ramesh points out, Congressional Republicans never really had much of a detailed sales pitch for their own plan. No doubt the president was caught off guard by the fact that there was no real GOP consensus on what a replacement for Obamacare should look like. But a lot of conservatives were surprised by that, too!

The first mission of any Republican replacement proposal is earn the support of 50 out of 52 GOP senators. So far, no plan can do that. Perhaps a better president, a Lyndon Johnson type with well-established relationships with all GOP senators and years of experience, would be able to get fifty senators to sign on to a particular bill. Then again, Mitch McConnell has that experience and those relationships, and he can’t bring together 50 votes either. When John McCain opposes a proposal offered by Lindsey Graham, we’re probably past the point of collegial arm-twisting.

Jerry Brown Concurs with DeVos on Campus Due Process Rules

Conservatives find themselves in the unexpected position of cheering some of California Governor Jerry Brown’s recent vetoes.

Most significantly, the Democrat-dominated state legislature wanted to effectively keep the Obama-era standards on campus sexual assault in place within their state. The Obama administration guidelines, which were never subjected to public notice and comment, triggered some far-reaching changes:

 . . . [they] lowered the burden of proof to a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which meant that accused students could be found responsible for sexual misconduct if administrators were only 51 percent convinced of the charges; it discouraged allowing the accused and accuser to cross-examine each other, reasoning that this could prove traumatizing for survivors of rape; and it stipulated that accusers should have the right to appeal contrary rulings, allowing accused students to be re-tried even after they had been judged innocent.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced in September she was withdrawing those rules and beginning the process of establishing new guidelines.

While vetoing the bill, Brown wrote:

 . . . thoughtful legal minds have increasingly questioned whether federal and state actions to prevent and redress sexual harassment and assault — well-intentioned as they are — have also unintentionally resulted in some colleges’ failure to uphold due process for accused students. Depriving any student of higher education opportunities should not be done lightly, or out of fear of losing state or federal funding.

Given the strong state of our laws already, I am not prepared to codify additional requirements in reaction to a shifting federal landscape, when we haven’t yet ascertained the full impact of what we recently enacted. We have no insight into how many formal investigations result in expulsion, what circumstances lead to expulsion, or whether there is disproportionate impact on race or ethnicity. We may need more statutory requirements than what this bill contemplates. We may need fewer. Or still yet, we may need simply to fine tune what we have.

It is time to pause and survey the land.

Brown also vetoed legislation that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns for the past five years in order to qualify for the California ballot, legislation obviously designed to pressure President Trump. Brown wrote, “Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?” (Interesting irony: Brown failed to release copies of his tax returns during campaigns for governor in 2010 and 2014.)

Brown also vetoed “a bill that would have required companies with more than 500 employees to report median and mean salary data on male and female exempt employees, which would have been published online by the Secretary of State.”

Of course, conservatives won’t like all of the Democratic governor’s recent decisions. Brown signed a slew of other bills, including one to allow Californians to select “gender-neutral” on their driver’s licenses, and a ban on K-12 teachers carrying firearms in schools.

Perhaps most significantly, he signed a “sanctuary state” bill into law that will “limit communication between California police officers and federal immigration agents about people detained by police or in jail awaiting trial. Exceptions include those who have been convicted of at least one of hundreds of serious crimes within the past 15 years and suspects in serious crimes punishable with prison time for which a judge has found probable cause. It also prohibits California officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status.”

ADDENDA: Our David French makes a heck of an entertaining sportswriter, taking a long look at every team in the National Basketball Association and classifying them in divisions named after current political figures. He puts the San Antonio Spurs in the “Ted Cruz Division: Still around, but no one talks about them anymore” and a slew of teams in the “Cory Booker Division: Talented, but no one quite believes they’re for real.”

Politics & Policy

The Tired ‘But Pence Might Be Worse’ Argument


One major advantage that President Trump enjoys is that while he has vehement critics on both the left and on the right, it is unlikely the two groups will ever work in tandem for long. The Trump critics on the right generally want a return to pre-Trump conservatism, emphasizing traditional values, personal responsibility, a rejection of isolationism, and a genuine free market and small government with no corporatism. The Trump critics on the left generally want to get rid of everyone to the right of them.

We saw this in the response to Trump’s selection of Mike Pence. A lot of Trump critics, myself included, thought the Pence pick was about as solid and reassuring a selection as he could possibly make: he was more experienced, more well-versed in policy, more level-headed than Trump and exponentially more consistently conservative. But to a lot of people on the left, Pence’s qualities didn’t matter.

To the Left, despite their belief that Trump is a devilish figure and a major threat to destroy the country, Pence is no real improvement – meaning the Left’s problem with Trump is not that he’s uniquely crude, ill-informed, erratic, narcissistic, misogynist, etcetera; it’s that he’s a Republican.

This week in The New Yorker, Jane Mayer makes the argument explicit: “The Danger of President Pence: Trump’s critics yearn for his exit. But Mike Pence, the corporate right’s inside man, poses his own risks.” If you genuinely believe that a Pence presidency would be every bit as bad for the country as Trump’s . . .  well, I guess you won’t bother putting any effort into impeachment, huh?

Large swaths of the Left seem to believe acknowledging any positive qualities in any living figure on the Right is just too dangerous.

Then again, how is their current approach working out for them?

Is Someone Trying to Blow Up Civil War Reenactors?

A story from outside Washington that deserves more national attention: A reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek of the Civil War was temporarily interrupted as law enforcement dealt with some sort of explosive device.

Local and federal law enforcement officials declined Sunday to describe the “suspicious item” found at the battlefield here about 4 p.m. Saturday, which prompted law enforcement to evacuate the immediate area. Several re-enactors said they were told it looked like a pipe bomb.

In a statement Sunday, the FBI said that “the device was located during an annual re-enactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek. No persons were harmed and the device was rendered safe by the Virginia State Police.”

Dee Rybiski, an FBI spokeswoman, said Sunday that the bureau “was not elaborating on the device.”

The FBI is investigating the incident, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Virginia State Police; the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office; and the Middletown Police Department.

The battle re-enacted Sunday took place on Oct. 19, 1864, and was a Union victory.

Last week, organizers of the Cedar Creek event posted a warning on the group’s website.

“We would like to make everyone aware that the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation has received a letter threatening bodily harm to attendants of this event,” the foundation said in the statement. “With this in mind security has been increased and we ask that everyone work with us for a safe and enjoyable event.”

What’s going on here?

The organizers and law enforcement seem particularly tight-lipped about what the threatening message stated. One reenactor quoted in the story relates that “the letter sent to the foundation threatened that excrement would be thrown or weapons fired at the reenactors.” Why would someone hate a Civil War reenactment so much?

The simplest and most logical explanation is that this is a new, violent extension of the effort to remove Confederate statues. Down in New Orleans, the now-removed Battle of Liberty Place Memorial had the inscription: “United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.” One does not have to be a bleeding-heart liberal to believe that public squares should not feature inscriptions touting “white supremacy.”

But to terrorize or threaten a Civil War reenactment is a completely different; this marks an indisputable attack on America’s history. The participants at Cedar Creek bristled with resentment at the suggestion that their passion for studying and re-enacting history is driven by a desire to celebrate the Confederacy or white supremacy. (For starters, it’s a Union victory!)

We live in an era where far too many Americans remain profoundly ignorant of even basic facts about their own country’s history:

A 2012 ACTA survey found that less than 20 [percent] of American college graduates could accurately identify the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation, less than half could identify George Washington as the American general at Yorktown ((Virginia)), and only 42 [percent] knew that the Battle of the Bulge occurred during World War II.

And somebody wants to put a stop to a tradition that gets Americans to travel to Civil War battlefields and actually learn what happened there? Who did this, the Proudly Ignorant Insurgency? The Counter-Education Guerillas? The Anti-History Brigade?

If Civil War reenactments are somehow unacceptable because of people playing the roles of Confederate soldiers, how much further must this effort to erase history go? Museums? Books? Movies or television shows?

(There is also the possibility that someone made the threat and left the device to discredit the effort to remove Confederate statues. If this was an episode of Law & Order, Bones, Castle, or any other police procedural drama, the big twist would be that the would-be bomber’s motive was personal, not political.)

You no doubt have heard the Santayana quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” I can’t help but wonder if those who did worst in history class are determined to destroy it, because it reminds them of their inadequacies.

Meanwhile, We’re Still Looking for the Las Vegas Shooter’s Motive

Speaking of mysteriously unexplained acts of violence . . . 

A few days after the Las Vegas shooting, one of the talking heads on CNN offered a pretty plausible supposition, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation knew a lot more than they had said publicly so far. Police no doubt had searched the shooter’s home, unlocked his phone and computers and any other electronic devices, and were interviewing all known significant associates.

That supposition seemed reasonable . . .  but now we can’t be quite so sure. Maybe the authorities don’t know much more than what they’re saying, and the traditional methods of investigation have come up empty. The massacre occurred two weeks ago, and the public is still waiting for a clear answer on the shooter’s motive. Even worse, the official timeline of events keeps changing, and seems to get weirder each day. Why did he stop shooting after just ten minutes? Why did it take an hour to breach the door? Why did he have explosives in his car? How can a meticulously planned mass murder be perpetrated by a person with no criminal record, no known chemical addictions, no recorded history of mental illness, no religious or political affiliations, and according to the first study of his brain, apparently no tumors, injuries or abnormalities?

No doubt the men and women of law enforcement at all levels are giving their best effort in challenging circumstances, and it’s strangely reassuring to see them frustrated as much as we are. After an event like this, there is a deeply human hunger for answers. If people don’t get them from the proper authorities, there will be no shortage of conspiracy theorists willing to fill the vacuum. There are three explanations for mass shootings in the United States that the public has grown used to: Islamist extremism, alienated teenage rage, or a political extremist. It’s not surprising to see people attempting to shoehorn the Las Vegas shooter into the first or third options; that answer may not be right, based upon the available evidence, but at least it “makes sense,” so to speak.

ADDENDA: The Citizen-Tribune takes a longer look at the sudden interest in unseating Republican senator John Barrasso of Wyoming.


The Weinstein Scandal Undermines Hollywood’s Tradition of Scolding America on Politics


Making the click-through worthwhile: Hollywood loses its right to lecture anyone, Susan Collins makes a key decision, and Senate Republicans face the prospect of being a man or two down in the near future.

Hollywood Loses Its Right to Lecture Anyone

For decades, the stars and powerful players of Hollywood instructed us about which political candidates deserved election. They told us which causes were worthy of support and which ones needed to be opposed. In their works and in their speeches, they told us how to be a better person.

Hollywood, you don’t get to lecture us about anything anymore. You’ve had a serial sexual predator operating in your midst as an open secret for decades and no one did anything about it. He appears to have abused his way through a wide swath of the industry’s women with no significant consequence in the film, publishing, and media industries.

When they did respond, their actions were insufficiently consequential. They created an entire sub-genre of jokes, allusions, and villainous portrayals of Harvey Weinstein: a character on Entourage, Tom Cruise’s wildly over-the-top character in Tropic Thunder, jokes on 30 Rock, a joke at the Oscar nominee announcement. But no one could quite bring themselves to actually do something that could stop him.

His behavior didn’t really harm his image within the industry, at least as far as the general public could tell. A 2015 analysis of 1,396 Oscar speeches found that Harvey Weinstein was the second most-thanked individual; he was thanked more frequently than God.

We can’t blame his victims; Weinstein was powerful and they were comparably powerless. But we can blame everyone who worked with him. His contract more or less spelled out that the company expected to have regular complaints of inappropriate sexual conduct and that as long as he paid settlements, the company would take no action:

TMZ is privy to Weinstein’s 2015 employment contract, which says if he gets sued for sexual harassment or any other “misconduct” that results in a settlement or judgment against TWC [The Weinstein Company], all Weinstein has to do is pay what the company’s out, along with a fine, and he’s in the clear.

According to the contract, if Weinstein “treated someone improperly in violation of the company’s Code of Conduct,” he must reimburse TWC for settlements or judgments. Additionally, “You [Weinstein] will pay the company liquidated damages of $250,000 for the first such instance, $500,000 for the second such instance, $750,000 for the third such instance, and $1,000,000 for each additional instance.”

The contract says as long as Weinstein pays, it constitutes a “cure” for the misconduct and no further action can be taken. Translation — Weinstein could be sued over and over and as long as he wrote a check, he keeps his job.

You can find bad people in every industry, and you can find sexual harassment in every industry. But I suspect that most American companies would refuse to set up an arrangement like this for a man with a long and infamous history. A contract like that is just far too risky in terms of litigation and bad publicity if ever revealed. Imagine going to your boss and attempting to negotiate that you can never, ever be fired for sexual harassment of employees.

Yes, Weinstein was powerful, but he was not the only powerful person in Hollywood. No other studio head ever heard these stories and felt a need to address this injustice?

How is it that almost every actress seemed to know, but none of the actors whose careers were built by Weinstein knew? Are we to believe that the biggest-name stars in the industry feared that Weinstein could end their careers?

What are we to make of the claims that Weinstein is just the tip of the iceberg?

“There’s a lot of abuse in this town,” said producer and director Judd Apatow. “Young actresses are mistreated in all sorts of ways by powerful men who can dangle jobs or access to exciting parts of show business. I think a lot of people are mistreated and they don’t realize how badly they’re being mistreated.”

“Everyone knew [about Weinstein’s alleged behavior], just as they know about other high-profile people with power in the industry who get away with the exact same things,” said screenwriter and producer Kelly Marcel (“Saving Mr. Banks” and the upcoming “Venom.”) “This is far-reaching, it is endemic, and we have to believe that the toppling of this mogul will lead to the toppling of others. . . .  This is a bigger issue than taking down one person.”

Hollywood has demonstrated an amazing propensity for believing the problems are “out there” — out in middle America, where the audience lives — instead of within its own industry, actions, and behavior. Back in 2015, after winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, Patricia Arquette closed her speech with:

To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights, it’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.

Everyone in the room stood up and applauded, including all the producers and studio heads who negotiate the salaries for actresses. I remember thinking, when she’s discussing “wage equality,” who do they think she’s addressing? Apple? IBM? Exxon? Or is she speaking quite literally to the audience sitting directly in front of her, who apparently pay actresses significantly less than actors? It’s not you, me, or the shoe salesman from Des Moines who decide how much an actress gets paid. It’s a handful of powerful people, who apparently so insulated by thick layers of denial that they can’t even tell when they’re the ones who are getting called out on national television.

The legal and media worlds are close to having their lecture rights revoked as well.

Does Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance’s excuse that the tape of Weinstein admitting groping a woman didn’t prove “criminal intent” sound right to legal experts? Bennett Gershman, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan D.A.’s office, writes “if Vance allowed the sexual abuse case against Harvey Weinstein to go forward, a jury would have convicted Weinstein in about three minutes.”

Why did the top brass at NBC News give Ronan Farrow so much grief and opposition while he was working on this story? How many thinly-sourced or single-anonymously-sourced reports have we seen over the years — particularly in political journalism! — while Farrow is told that his report, with interviews with eight women, was insufficient.

How much can viewers trust NBC News today?

Sen. Susan Collins (Kind of Republican-Maine) Intends to Stay in the U.S. Senate

Susan Collins will not leave the U.S. Senate to run for governor of Maine.

The current Republican governor of Maine, Paul LePage, is term-limited. The decision is not that surprising, despite the buzz about a potential gubernatorial bid for the past few weeks:

 . . . it’s hard to leave the U.S. Senate after racking up enough seniority after two decades to provide her with growing clout in congressional committees where longevity is the most crucial ingredient of power. Collins has said as much.

The other reason is one she doesn’t mention: that her own party might not want her.

A recent poll by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that Collins has the approval of only a third of likely Republican voters. But it was taken at a moment when passions were running especially high after Collins voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act, perhaps not especially indicative of what GOP voters normally think.

Democrats are probably grumbling this morning; open seat races are almost always easier than beating an incumbent.

Speaking of other potential Senate vacancies . . . 

How Is Thad Cochran Feeling?

We keep saying Republicans have 52 votes in the Senate, but they really don’t, and I don’t mean because of ideological straying . . . 

Republicans are worried about Thad Cochran.

The Mississippi senator has been recovering the past several weeks from a urological procedure. And concern is growing on and off Capitol Hill over whether the 79-year-old lawmaker will return to work on Monday when the Senate comes back from recess — not to mention how long he’ll be able to continue leading a high-profile committee or even remain in the Senate.

Cochran’s office maintains that the Mississippi Republican will return next week as planned, and Senate Republican aides said they expect him back as well. But several K Street sources and Cochran allies said he’s unlikely to be back next week. Multiple sources said there’s increasing worry his absence could stretch through the end of the year.

Cochran is slated to oversee an Appropriations Committee markup on Thursday.

Cochran missed the last two weeks that the Senate was in session. Any further absence would cause major problems for Senate Republicans.

John McCain is undergoing cancer treatments. So it’s possible that McConnell will be missing two senators in the coming days; the Senate will be missing three members on the days Sen. Bob Menendez is in court battling corruption charges.

I hate to tell octogenarian senators that they have to hang it up for health reasons, but . . .  there’s a thin margin in the Senate. If you’re not going to be able to show up for work for several weeks at a time, you’re hurting your constituents, your state, and your peers.

ADDENDA: It’s Friday the 13th, so be careful out there.

Tom Nichols and T. Becket Adams team up for a key observation about how the Republican Party and the United States ended up with Trump.

Nichols: “the mindless smearing of people like Romney and others made people tone-deaf to criticisms of someone like Trump.”

Adams: “More than that, I think. It made people desperate. If a remarkably decent boy scout like Romney could be portrayed as Charles Manson . . . ”


The Rap on Trump


Somewhere in the music industry, recently:

Producer One: This is terrible! Every morning I wake up and hear about our president, an egomaniacal celebrity who is vulgar, obnoxious, rude and disrespectful to everyone, ignorant of anything about policy, says terrible things about women, mocks people’s appearances, encourages violence, and whose long history of provocative behavior suggests he’s out of his mind!

Producer Two: I know exactly what we need to put a stop to this: A denunciation from Eminem!

Look, I’m no connoisseur of rap, and I’m not the target audience, although as a longtime Trump critic, one might think I would be a lot more receptive. But Eminem’s anti-Trump performance at the BET Hip-Hop Awards sounded pretty terrible. If Eminem had focused on any other topic, the buzz this week would have been about how awful his performance was and how he had lost his touch. But because he’s attacking Trump, he’s getting hosannas and glowing non-music mainstream media coverage.

CNN called it “the fiercest and most exhaustive attack” on the president. The Washington Post declared it “delivers more blows than even the most scathing talking-head could on a cable-news hit.”

It reads better than it sounds.

When Eminem says “he’s orange” and “sick tan,” is he giving Trump a taste of his own medicine, or is he simply verifying Trump’s method, that the best way to discredit someone you oppose is to ridicule the way they look? Can you applaud those lines and denounce Trump for his nasty tweets about Mika Bryzynski, his comments about Carly Fiorina, his calling Chuck Todd “sleepy eyes”? Ironically, at one point Eminem declares, “like him in politics, I’m using all of his tricks.” You can choose to do that, but if you’re making that choice because you believe his tricks are effective, that’s a form of endorsement and validation.

Eminem refers to Trump’s mockery of John McCain:

He says, “You’re spittin’ in the face of vets who fought for us you bastards,”

Unless you’re a POW who’s tortured and battered,

’Cause to him, you’re zeros,

’Cause he don’t like his war heroes captured.

Trump made his infamous remark in July 2015, two years and two months ago. Welcome to the party, Eminem.

Eminem delivered his litany of criticism in a tone of near-sputtering frustration, exasperation and outrage . . .  which is how a lot of people across the political spectrum from gays to feminists to cultural conservatives reacted to Eminem’s more incendiary lyrics back in the day.

Trump thrived in the pop culture and media world that Eminem helped create. It’s not like Eminem’s audience wants to hear about the long-term unsustainability of the entitlement system, or how it’s nearly impossible to keep health insurance coverage of preexisting conditions and reduce premiums. The pop culture audience is as allergic to policy details as the president is, so the president rarely if ever talks about them.

Instead he sticks snide nicknames on his foes and critics: “Little Marco”, “Lyin’ Ted,” “Low Energy Jeb.” Trump’s method of returning fire on his rivals is not light-years away from the style of a freestyle rap showdown. Trump’s style on the campaign trail in 2015 and 2016 was a lot more like Eight Mile than the Oxford Debating Society.

Eminem complains about Trump’s obsession with pop culture disputes . . . 

 . . . this is his form of distraction,

Plus, he gets an enormous reaction,

When he attacks the NFL, so we focus on that,

Instead of talking Puerto Rico or gun reform for Nevada,

All these horrible tragedies and he’s bored and would rather,

Cause a Twitter storm with the Packers.

When he says, “he gets an enormous reaction,” Eminem comes right up to the line of recognizing that Trump wasn’t some conquering alien invader but a dark reflection of what Americans really wanted in a president. Why do Trump’s fights with pop cultural figures like professional athletes and late-night hosts and ESPN commentators get so much more attention than, say, his fight with the mayor of San Juan? Because as a whole, the American public cares more about celebrities than the mayor of San Juan. Trump alone among Republican presidential candidates was a figure of the world prime-time television, reality shows, People magazine, TMZ, Page Six. Most of the rest of the candidates wasted their pre-campaign careers working in governor’s mansions and the U.S. Senate and studying government; Trump studied America’s celebrity culture. He was the only presidential candidate who had already hung out with the Kardashians.

Notice Eminem’s form of response, a performance at a music awards show. He’s keeping the fight in the realm of pop culture, right where Trump wants it.

Finally, I notice the one area where Eminem didn’t criticize Trump was his misogyny and treatment of women. Credit Eminem for having the self-awareness to recognize he was a deeply flawed messenger for that argument.

Trump 1, NFL 0

Speaking of presidential fights with pop cultural figures, the boss writes that Trump won his fight with the National Football League.

“Like many of our fans,” [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell wrote, “we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem.” Now he tells us.

The climbdown comes only weeks after a clueless bout of self-congratulation by the NFL and the media over widespread protests during the anthem. Wasn’t it marvelous that the owners and players were so united? Hadn’t Donald Trump badly overplayed his hand? Weren’t we possibly on the cusp of a glorious era of activism in sports?

NFL executives and supporters of the protests instead should have been wondering, What the hell is the end game?  . . . 

There were all sorts of unobjectionable means available for players to take a stand of defiance toward Trump, but they allowed themselves to, in effect, get double-dared into disrespecting the flag.

The perils here should have been obvious. The flag is one of our most potent national symbols. The U.S. Code sets out how it should be treated. It drapes the coffins of fallen warriors. It flies at half-staff to mark national tragedies and the loss of the country’s heroes. People can get extremely emotional seeing it displayed the wrong way or touching the ground.

I’d also point out that kneeling during the National Anthem is a gesture that is extremely open to interpretation. Had a player written on his socks, “HOLD BAD COPS ACCOUNTABLE” or something like that, the player would be fined by the league for violating the uniform policy, but there would be no national outrage. The more precise the message, the less likely it is to be misunderstood. But the refusal to stand when everyone else is standing suggests that “I do not feel about this country the way all the rest of you do,” which is very easy to construe as “I do not love this country as much as you do.”

Ben Domenech, who writes that other morning newsletter, declares that “the Left is losing the Culture War for the first time in three decades.”

Eh, did it just start this year? Or did it start in 2016? The forces of progressivism received a lot of humiliating losses even before Election Day: Target backed down on its bathroom policy, the no-holds-barred nastiness of Gawker led to its own demise, the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters flopped . . . 

Same Old Hillary

Even in retirement, Hillary Clinton hasn’t lost a single step; her political instincts are every bit as bad as they were in her prime.

On her donations, Clinton added that it wasn’t possible to give the money back but that she would donate it to charity.

“What other people are saying, what my former colleagues are saying, is they’re going to donate it to charity, and of course I will do that,” she said. “I give 10% of my income to charity every year, this will be part of that. There’s no — there’s no doubt about it.”

Clinton said she had no idea that Weinstein acted that way in private, despite some in Hollywood saying that people close to him had known.

“I certainly didn’t, and I don’t know who did,” she said. “But I can only speak for myself, and I think speak for many others who knew him primarily through politics.”

What, she can’t say, “I’m donating every penny he ever gave me to battered women’s shelters, because as far as I’m concerned, Weinstein’s money is as disgusting as he is”?

The printed word doesn’t do it justice; her tone is the same measured, remembering-my-talking-points, she used in all of her campaign appearances. If you had found out that one of your biggest supporters for decades had been secretly living like Caligula, wouldn’t you be spitting mad? Wouldn’t you be eager to jump in front of cameras and declare, with your hands balled into fists, that you wanted to get your hands on him for all of the awful things he had done?

And finally . . .  she’s Hillary Clinton. She’s got a ton of friends and supporters in Hollywood, and knows plenty of actresses and journalists, just about every high-profile self-identified feminist, every person who was in position to know about Weinstein’s behavior. And she never heard about any of this at all?

Fascinatingly, Anthony Bourdain called Clinton’s response “shameful” and “disingenuous.”

ADDENDA: Thanks to everyone who wrote in about Tuesday’s subway encounter with helpful hints on how, and when to attempt to break up a fight . . .  and when to let discretion be the better part of valor.

Politics & Policy

Trump Doesn’t Need Different GOP Senators, He Needs More of Them


Steve Bannon to Sean Hannity this week, discussing efforts to recruit primary challengers to incumbent Republican senators: “Nobody’s safe. We’re coming after all of them.”

If every Republican senator is going to get a primary challenger backed by Bannon, no matter what, then what’s the incentive to vote Bannon’s way between now and Election Day?

“It’s about sending a message!” Yes, it sends the message that there is no amount of loyalty to Trump that is sufficient to placate the Steve Bannons of the world, so you might as well vote the way you and your constituents prefer and let the chips fall where they may.

The problem for the Trump administration is not really one of insufficiently loyal or cooperative Republican senators. Peruse the tables over at Five-Thirty-Eight about how often GOP senators vote the way the Trump administration prefers. Fifteen Republican senators have voted with the White House 95.9 percent of the time. The least “loyal” Republican senator is Susan Collins of Maine, and even she has voted with the White House position 79 percent of the time. The most cooperative Democrat has been Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who votes with the White House position 55 percent of the time.

Apparently the angry populists can’t read a chart. If the Trump administration wants to get more legislation passed by the Senate, it doesn’t need different Republicans; it needs more Republicans. Replacing the most cooperative Democrat with the least cooperative Republican will still get a vote going your way an additional 24 percent of the time. A person who really wanted to see the Trump agenda become law would skip over the primary challenges and focus entirely on unseating the half-dozen or so vulnerable Democratic senators in 2018.

As I noted this weekend, one of Bannon’s targets, John Barrasso of Wyoming, is one of those senators who has voted with the White House’s position 95.9 percent of the time. The two times he didn’t was on Russian sanctions; on one of the votes the tally was 98 to 2. There is no right-of-center ideology or policy argument against Barrasso remaining as a senator. It is entirely stylistic. Ask a Trump supporter why Barrasso has to go – and I have – and you get answers like “they didn’t pass repeal and replace.” But that’s the fault of John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and, in the most recent case, Rand Paul! Barrasso voted for it.

No, the Bannon argument is entirely about style. Barrasso is an even-tempered, soft-spoken statesman and that sort of lawmaker doesn’t hold the interests of the angry populists. This is an argument about aesthetics masquerading as one about ideology and policy. The angry populists want to be entertained. They want drama. They prefer Roy Moore suddenly pulling out a handgun on stage. A good portion of people probably tuned out the paragraph up there because it involves numbers and percentages. Barrasso feels like an establishment squish to them, so he’s got to go.

Steve Bannon wants to send former Congressman Michael Grimm back to the House of Representatives, describing Grimm as “a straight-talking, fire-breathing, conservative populist.” Perhaps, but he’s also a convicted tax felon who served seven months in prison and who admitted in court to hiring illegal immigrants at a restaurant he co-owned. I thought the populist revolution was supposed to go after employers who hire illegal immigrants. But Grimm is an angry guy who once threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony, so I guess he gets a pass. Aesthetics!

How Long Has Hollywood Known about Weinstein’s Alleged Misconduct?

The fallout from the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal is just getting started.

As more women have come forward, questions have swirled over who in Hollywood might have known something and even directly or indirectly enabled him or protected him. Roughly two dozen former assistants and young actresses have said the powerful and widely feared producer routinely asked them to his hotel room under the pretense of talking about roles or work, and then solicited massages while he was naked or wearing a bathrobe, or sexually forced himself on them.

Ms. Paltrow told The Times that when she was 22, Mr. Weinstein invited her to his hotel bedroom for a work meeting and later proposed a massage. She said she had fled in terror and later relayed the incident to her boyfriend at the time, Brad Pitt. Mr. Pitt confirmed that he later confronted Mr. Weinstein at a theater premiere and told him to never touch her again.

Mr. Affleck later dated Ms. Paltrow, though it is not known whether she relayed news of the incident to him.

George Clooney has also weighed in on the controversy, telling The Daily Beast in an interview that was published Monday night that while he was aware of rumors that young actresses had slept with Mr. Weinstein to get roles, he had been unaware of any misconduct or the settlements Mr. Weinstein had reached with women.

“I didn’t hear anything about that, and I don’t know anyone that did. That’s a whole other level, and there’s no way you can reconcile that,” said Mr. Clooney, who has worked with Mr. Weinstein repeatedly over 20 years. “There’s nothing to say except that it’s indefensible.”

A lot of people will be asking how the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., could not bring charges against Weinstein after the New York City Police Department managed a sting operation and caught Weinstein saying “I’m used to it” and “I won’t do it again” when discussing previous groping of a 22-year-old model.

The evidence that this was an “open secret” in Hollywood is piling up. The NBC sitcom 30 Rock had a character declare, “I’m not afraid of anyone in show business, I turned down intercourse with Harvey Weinstein on no less than three occasions.” In 2013, while hosting the Oscars, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane cracked a joke referring to the nominees for best supporting actress: “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”

Were these jokes, or a twisted warning? And what does it say about Hollywood that there could be veiled jokes or allusions to Weinstein’s behavior, but no actual consequence?

Hey, Remember the Dakota Access Pipeline?

Finally, some good news from a reader in the Dakotas:

The Dakota Access Pipeline has boosted North Dakota’s tax revenues by $18 million in its first three months of operation, according to an analysis by the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

Director Justin Kringstad said Tuesday producers have seen a $2 increase in the average price for Bakken crude in June, July and August compared to 2016 figures. He attributes the increase to more competitive transportation costs as a result of Dakota Access going into service in June.

That $2 boost for every barrel equates to $6 million in additional oil tax revenue for the state each month, Kringstad said.

His figures are based on current North Dakota oil production, which increased 3.5 percent in August to an average of 1.08 million barrels per day, the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources reported Tuesday.

Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger said the figures he’s seeing in his office are consistent with Kringstad’s estimates.

“It’s helping all the producers and royalty owners regardless of whether those barrels are actually traveling down the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Rauschenberger said. “That has really set the market and made the transportation much more competitive leaving North Dakota.”

If that trend continues, Rauschenberger estimates North Dakota will see a boost in oil tax revenue of $140 million each two-year budget cycle.

Some people think conservatives hate higher tax revenues. No, we hate higher tax revenues when they’re driven by tax increases. When production and economic activity increase, generating more tax revenue, we’re quite happy.

ADDENDA: Odd and tough day yesterday. On the way back from CNN on the New York City subway yesterday afternoon, a fistfight broke out right in front of me. I missed what triggered the altercation, apparently a bald guy thought a long-haired guy had either tripped him or tried to snatch something from him. It was like one of those scenes in a Western when all the townspeople close the shutters and hide before the big gunfight; everyone around me seemed to scatter and disappear; it’s as if the other riders somehow developed the ability to blend into the walls. Being the big idiot that I am, and not having much space to maneuver or back away, I reacted by going into . . .  “Dad mode” and yelling at them. I know this will probably shock you, but yelling “Stop it! That’s enough! Calm down! Separate!” does not work on two enraged grown men. I actually did get the bald guy to stop whaling on the long-haired guy after . . .  oh, probably ten to fifteen punches . . .  and then the long-haired guy decided to kick the bald guy, starting the fight up again. No one else dared to even verbally intervene. (If New Yorkers are redeveloping the ability to avert their eyes from violence perpetrated right in front of them, I guess this means the Giuliani era really is over.)

Eventually the train finally stopped in a station, and the two guys headed to the platform, where they continued to yell at each other. The conductor announced the train was staying in this station — I don’t know if it was because someone managed to report the fight, or because of some other issue — and the two guys blended into the crowd. I stepped off the train, saw two cops descending the stairs, and ran over to them, relaying what had happened.

So how was your Tuesday?

Politics & Policy

Corker’s Criticism of Trump Isn’t Completely Correct


Making the click-through worthwhile: one aspect of Senator Bob Corker’s criticism of President Trump that doesn’t ring true, ESPN suspends anchor Jamele Hill for being Jamele Hill, and why Hillary Clinton’s silence about Harvey Weinstein is not the least bit shocking.

The Flaw in Corker’s Critique

President Trump’s war of words with Senate foreign relations chairman Bob Corker is a giant pile of preventable, self-destructive folly, but there’s one part of Corker’s indictment that doesn’t quite ring true.

Corker says Trump’s “reckless threats toward other countries” could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

Look, if the United States is one hyperbolic presidential Tweet away from all-out war, we’re already doomed. If the world really is just 140 characters away from Armageddon, that’s a stinging indictment of several preceding administrations as well as Trump’s.

What’s more, if all it took to get Kim Jong Un to attempt to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile carrying a nuclear weapon was an insult from the president, then we would have seen the missiles flying already.  I refer you to the most recent public words from the Central Intelligence Agency on this:

“There’s a clarity of purpose in what Kim Jong Un has done,” according to Yong Suk Lee, deputy assistant director of the CIA’s Korea Mission Center, who discussed the escalating tensions between North Korea and the US during a conference organized by the agency at George Washington University.

“Waking up one morning and deciding he wants to nuke” Los Angeles is not something Kim Jong Un is likely to do, Lee said. “He wants to rule for a long time and die peacefully in his own bed.”

“Kim’s long-term goal is to come to some sort of big power agreement with the US and to remove US presence from the peninsula,” Lee said, adding he wants to make North Korea relevant on the global stage again.

(In a great irony, Kim’s long-term goal sounds like the sort of thing that Trump favored as a presidential candidate. Back in January 2016, Trump said, “We have 28,000 soldiers on the line in South Korea between the madman and them. We get practically nothing compared to the cost of this.”)

It’s also worth noting that the Korean peninsula has a lot of potential triggers for conflict beyond what the president says or tweets.

“The South Korean and North Korean Navy’s are going toe-to-toe every day . . .  there is potential for conflict at anytime,” Lee said.

That circumstance existed before the Trump presidency and is likely to exist after the Trump presidency. What do you think is most likely to spur military conflict on the Korean peninsula: North Korean hackers, Pyongyang firing artillery at South Korean islands again, North Korea firing at a South Korean naval vessel again, or a Trump tweet?

Corker suggested that Trump’s comments about North Korea had somehow undermined an ongoing effort at diplomatic outreach:

“A lot of people think that there is some kind of ‘good cop, bad cop’ act underway, but that’s just not true,” Mr. Corker said.

Without offering specifics, he said Mr. Trump had repeatedly undermined diplomacy with his Twitter fingers. “I know he has hurt, in several instances, he’s hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway by tweeting things out,” Mr. Corker said.

Corker’s got a higher security clearance than you and I do (then again, I don’t know what yours is) but without any specifics, it is difficult to evaluate the validity of this accusation. What is clear is that for all of his inflammatory language, the broad contours of Trump’s view on North Korea is correct: the Clinton administration provided $5 billion in aid in exchange for broken promises. The North Korean regime needs to know that the United States is no longer willing to be suckered into a phony deal, just to enjoy a false sense of security.

The Second Battle of Jamele Hill

The President of the United States, 6:42 a.m.: “With Jemele Hill at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have “tanked,” in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!”

In case you’ve lost track . . . 

ESPN suspended anchor Jamele Hill after she wrote on Twitter, “Change happens when advertisers are impacted. If you feel strongly about JJ’s statement, boycott his advertisers.”

Hill appeared to encourage fans to boycott the sponsors of the Dallas Cowboys, after a report that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would bench any player who refused to stand for the national anthem. Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross has also instructed his players to stand, declaring that the president “changed that whole paradigm of what protest is . . .  And I think it’s incumbent upon the players today, because of how the public is looking at it, to really stand and really salute the flag.”

Hill also tweeted, “Cowboys have a huge national following. Lot of black & brown folks are Cowboys fans. What if they turned their backs on them?”

ESPN broadcasts Monday Night Football; the Cowboys do not appear for the remainder of the season but the Dolphins are scheduled to appear twice.

As with the last controversy surrounding Hill about a month ago, I find myself strangely sympathetic that she’s suddenly found herself in hot water for doing what she’s done her entire career. What exactly did ESPN expect when they gave her and co-host Michael Smith the 6 p.m. SportsCenter slot? The network apparently wants her to be controversial but not too controversial, provocative but not too provocative, and to somehow address racial issues, but not offend anyone in the process. They want her to speak her mind, but not speak too critically of a league for whose television rights her employer paid $15 billion.

Our David French emphasizes the painful lesson for ESPN: large profitable corporations can try to co-opt the voracious progressive movement, but it will never be satisfied.

 . . . It’s pretty clear that ESPN is pursuing irreconcilable goals. It obviously wants to be progressive, and it obviously needs to protect its multi-billion dollar investment in the NFL. Yet every day that the sport gets more politicized, there is greater pressure on politicized hosts and athletes to up the stakes. After all, lots of folks are actually hoping to achieve Real Change, not just indulge in a dash of virtue signaling before returning to the discussing the decline and fall of the Patriots’ defense.

ESPN, by contrast, seems to have been hoping a little bit of light politics — with political perspective sprinkled into the coverage like croutons on a salad. You know, polite progressivism for the chattering classes. But you can’t control the Wokening, and if we’ve learned anything from our out-of-control campuses, activists don’t like guardrails, even if the corporate (or academic) bosses are broadly sympathetic.

Progressive sports fans insist that in an era where Vice President Pence walks out of an NFL game to protest the players’ kneeling protest, it’s impossible for a sports media to “stick to sports.” But when a network “sticks to sports,” fans across the spectrum are willing to tune in for . . .  you know, sports, particularly on a network that touts itself “the worldwide leader in sports.”

Do People Really Care About Gross Sexual Misconduct? Consistently?

Hillary Clinton’s silence about Harvey Weinstein is so unsurprising, it’s barely even disappointing.

It’s been five days since the New York Times exposed a long and sordid history of sexual harassment and abuse on the part of the super-connected Hollywood producer and mogul. Hillary Clinton hasn’t even issued a written statement; she was on a book tour, but the interviews suddenly stopped. Some left-of-center voices are now wondering just what their favorite leaders stand for:

Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show: I feel like it happens a lot with women’s issues. I feel really disappointed in both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. If you took money from this person because this person had really good progressive goals that were in line with the politics, great. When you find out that this person is a monster, especially a monster towards women, why wouldn’t you denounce it? Why would you have shame? Come out and denounce it.

But you know, otherwise you will never have credibility when trying to denounce oh, I don’t know, a president who talks about the freedom to sexual assault a woman in a tape we hear on Access Hollywood? You know, you got to wonder, did that incident that just weirdly happened practically to the anniversary of the date we found out about this, go past America and America gave Trump a pass because we didn’t call out this kind of behavior from Democrats?

I suspect that is the case. Diehard partisans appear only truly motivated to denounce piggish and sleazy behavior when reinforces their argument that the other side is full of creeps and enablers. Progressives denounce Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Congressman Tim Murphy, and Trump’s infamous boast of his entitlement to grab; conservatives gleefully denounce Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner, Bob Filner, etc. We can find many examples of this hypocrisy, but perhaps the gold standard remains Gloria Steinem’s defense of Bill Clinton’s behavior with Kathleen Willey: “Mr. Clinton seems to have made a clumsy sexual pass, then accepted rejection.” (That is not, in fact, what Willey described at all.) Steinem’s standard became nicknamed the “one free grope” rule. Similarly, it’s hard to imagine many conservative Christian leaders shrugging off the “grab them by the you-know-what” comment as mere “locker room talk” if it had come from a prominent liberal Democrat.

How much can we blame voters for concluding that if so many people in politics are willing to give the leaders on their own side a pass, the behavior can’t really be that objectionable?

ADDENDA: If the day runs smoothly, I’ll appear on HLN in the 11 a.m. hour, CNN International at 2:30, and CNN sometime in the 3 p.m. hour. However, experience has taught me that in the world of television news and breaking news events, the day rarely runs smoothly.

Politics & Policy

On Making a Deal with Democrats


Yesterday, the White House delivered a list of items to Congress, which are what it expects to receive in exchange for preserving DACA and keeping DREAMers in the country.

The White House on Sunday delivered to Congress a long list of hard-line immigration measures that President Trump is demanding in exchange for any deal to protect the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, imperiling a fledgling bipartisan push to reach a legislative solution.

Before agreeing to provide legal status for 800,000 young immigrants brought here illegally as children, Mr. Trump will insist on the construction of a wall across the southern border, the hiring of 10,000 immigration agents, tougher laws for those seeking asylum and denial of federal grants to “sanctuary cities,” officials said.

Trump’s new conditions raise questions — especially in light of the deal the president made with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer three weeks ago, an unlikely alliance for an unlikely cause (protecting DREAMers and preserving DACA). The Left hailed the deal as a way to ensure 800,000 immigrants remain in the country, but many speculated about what exactly Trump was getting out of it. Some suggested it was a slap in the face of Senate Republicans, others wondered if it was just Trump wanting to get something done. If the White House plays hardball on DACA, he will make many conservatives happy.

The Bubbas vs. Uncle Sam

In a column for NRO, Michael Brendan Dougherty answers the claim that no citizens can be effective in a fight against the government, thus rendering the Second Amendment irrelevant. It’s a claim that crops up during every gun-control debate, but, as Michael argues, it’s not a very good one:

They ask something like this: “Do you really think Bubba in camo gear hiding in the forest is going to take on the U.S. military? The U.S. military has nuclear weapons!”

Who exactly do you think has stymied the U.S. in Afghanistan for 16 years? The Taliban is made up of Afghan Bubbas. The Taliban doesn’t need to defeat nuclear weapons, though they are humiliating a nuclear power for the second time in history. They use a mix of Kalashnikovs and WWII-era bolt-action rifles. Determined insurgencies are really difficult to fight, even if they are only armed with Enfield rifles and you can target them with a TOW missiles system that can spot a cat in the dark from two miles away. In Iraq, expensive tanks were destroyed with simple improvised explosives.

The argument that the U.S. military is stronger than the American people is factually true, but functionally illogical. Sheer military power can fall — and has fallen — to the “bubbas” of history. Defending one’s home and family from tyranny is an undervalued measure of militaristic capacity. In 1922, for example, Britain was one of the strongest, most widespread, and most feared empires. It controlled a quarter of global land and global population. And yet:

In that very year, they were forced to make an effective exit from the main part of their oldest colony, Ireland. Why? Because a determined group of Irish men with guns made the country ungovernable.

So don’t underestimate the bubbas.

A Strange History of the anti-Columbus Day Narrative

Every Columbus Day, social progressives employ the same narrative: Because Christopher Columbus was a racist who enslaved indigenous people, it’s racist to set aside a holiday for him. But the roots of the perennial Columbus bashing stretch far deeper, as Jennifer Braceras points out, to Marxism and white supremacy:

Friedrich Engels, who with Marx authored the Communist Manifesto, lambasted Columbus as the godfather of modern capitalism. According to Engels, Columbus’s westward journeys unleashed the era of “big commerce,” the world market, and the birth of the bourgeoisie. “The discovery of America was connected with the advent of machinery,” he wrote in 1847, “and with that the struggle became necessary which we are conducting today, the struggle of the propertyless against the property owners.”

For Marx and Engels — and, therefore, their supporters — Columbus is synonymous with capitalism. The hatred for him may not be as rooted in anti-racism as those who hate him argue; if anything, it is his lust for profit that created the monster of Columbus, not inherent racism.

White supremacists, too, helped promote anti-Columbus rhetoric:

In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan promoted negative characterizations of Columbus in order to vilify Catholics and immigrants, many of whom celebrated Columbus not only as a source of ethnic and religious pridebut also as a symbol of the free and diverse society that resulted from the European presence here. The Klan tried to prevent the erection of monuments to the Great Navigator, burned crosses in opposition to efforts to honor him, and argued that commemorations of his voyage were part of a papal plot. Rather than honor a Catholic explorer from the Mediterranean, Klansmen proposed honoring the Norseman Leif Eriksson as discoverer of the New World and a symbol of white pride.

So, Braceras concludes, it’s with great irony that the party of inclusion adopts a narrative invented to exclude.

ADDENDA: At Florida’s homecoming game against LSU (which they lost), the Florida fans broke into an impromptu rendition of Gainesville native Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” It’s quite a sight:

Politics & Policy

Virginia Gubernatorial Candidates Debate a Ridiculously Low Top Tax Bracket


This is the last Jolt until October 10. Happy Columbus Day! Celebrate by going someplace you’ve never been before and calling it “India.”

Forget a Millionaires’ Tax, Virginia Has a Seventeen-Thousand-aires’ Tax

The campaign of Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie unveils a new ad today:

GILLESPIE: “Virginia’s top personal income tax rate kicks in at $17,000 a year. Ralph Northam thinks that makes you rich. Maybe that’s why he’s never voted for a tax cut. My plan cuts taxes for all Virginians, increasing take-home pay for the average family by nearly $1,300 and creating 53,000 good-paying jobs. With a stronger economy, we can invest more in our schools and increase teacher pay. I’m Ed Gillespie, candidate for governor, and I sponsored this ad.”

Northam’s accusation that $17,000 in income makes you rich stems from this exchange at their debate September 19:

NORTHAM: This plan, ladies and gentlemen, that you just heard, is a tax cut for the rich at the expense of the working class, and you have to look no further than Kansas to see exactly what a plan such as this would do. It almost bankrupt them. They actually had to turn around and raise taxes. It put schools in jeopardy. They went from a five day week to a four day week. Let me tell you what we need to do in Virginia. We need to invest in Virginia. Because when we invest in Virginia we can beat, as I said earlier, any other state. . . . 

Northam went on to call for more transportation spending and education spending. Gillespie responded:

GILLESPIE: This is really important. This is very important. First of all, Ralph says these are tax cuts for the rich. These are tax cuts for all Virginians. And the fact is, if you paid $7,000 in taxes under current law under my plan, when fully implemented responsibly phased in over three years, you would have $700 less in tax burden, that you could spend as you see fit for your family. Virginians need that tax relief. Tax cut for the rich — the top rate in Virginia, 5.75 percent kicks in at an income level of $17,000 a year. I didn’t say $70,000; I said $17,000. And my opponent thinks you’re rich and that’s just flat wrong.

Virginia’s tax rates can be found here, and the state’s top tax rate does indeed kick in after $17,000 in income. As the state helpfully points out, if your taxable income is $54,000, your tax is $720 + 5.75 percent of the amount over $17,000. This comes out to $2,848.

Northam spent six years in the state Senate and never voted for a tax cut at all?

Unanswered Questions and Another Era of American Paranoia

It’s been five days since the worst mass shooting in American history, and the public still doesn’t know the Las Vegas shooter’s motive.

The investigation into what drove Stephen Paddock to open fire on a music festival in Las Vegas last Sunday is crawling into its fifth day with ever-mounting questions and few answers.

Paddock, the lone suspect according to Las Vegas police, killed himself in the hotel suite he had rented on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino as police closed in on his location. And along with Paddock went any clear answer for why he opened fire on the festival and killed 58 people and wounded 489 others.

Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, the public face of the investigation, has had few answers for why Paddock committed the crime. Authorities did not hold a press conference on Thursday, the first day since Sunday there was none.

Lombardo has said investigators are looking at a computer and multiple electronic devices found in the suite at the Mandalay Bay hotel. Authorities have also removed evidence from homes Paddock owned in Mesquite and Reno, Nevada. There have not been any revelations so far.

Authorities also found a note in Paddock’s hotel room but said it was not a suicide note. The contents are unknown.

A couple of the retired law enforcement talking heads on the network assure us that the FBI knows more than they are saying. I hope the good men and women at the Bureau understand that we’re rapidly approaching a moment where the public could use some reassurance. We’re used to certain explanations for a sudden horror like this: he’s a jihadist (Orlando), he’s an angry, disturbed teenager (Columbine), he’s got some extreme political agenda (the Alexandria Congressional baseball practice shooter).

It’s a new level of troubling to think that someone could spend months planning an elaborate massacre – perhaps an entire year? – hide it from everyone who knew him, and not even have any discernable motive. We have a certain set of behaviors we’ve consciously or subconsciously learned be on alert for – i.e., jihadism, angry disturbed teenagers, or extreme political views.

One of the better discussions of the week came from a fellow on Twitter who felt perplexed about Americans’ attachment to their guns and observed, accurately, I think, “This goes beyond rights, hunting, collectors. People are afraid and preparing. It’s not a sign of a healthy society.”

(Yesterday President Trump said to reporters, without elaborating, “this is the calm before the storm.”)

Trust in government has been declining for a long time, but it hasn’t declined steadily. It declined steeply after Watergate, rebounded healthily during the Reagan and Bush presidencies, took a steep dive a the end of the George H.W. Bush presidency, gradually had a modest recovery during the Clinton presidency, jumped back up after 9/11, and declined from about mid-Bush, throughout the Obama presidency, and into Trump’s.

Republican administrations earned their share of the blame for the erosion of public trust: Iran-Contra, the failure to find the expected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the difficulties in the response to Hurricane Katrina, the bursting of the housing bubble and onset of the Great Recession in 2008…

Now throw in, “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” “jayvee team,” the initial claim that Benghazi was a protest that got out of control, the characterization of the Fort Hood shooting as “workplace violence,” the initial claim that the San Bernardino attack was also “workplace violence,” the claims that the Orlando attack was a result of “Republican hate” and homophobia. The FBI initially redacted all references to ISIS in the transcript of the Orlando shooter’s call.

It is not wildly irrational to believe that there are some people out there who want to kill you, and that the United States government isn’t willing to be honest with you about the situation.

But those who have long memories or who have studied history may dispute that this is the most paranoid, frightening, or dangerous moment in American life.

When you think about times when it felt like American society was coming apart at the seams, I can only imagine how Americans felt in 1974 when the long-lost kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst reappeared, only to have been brainwashed into becoming a bank robber for a cult/terrorist group, the Symbionese Liberation Army. The level of political violence in the early 1970s is jaw-dropping today:

The first actual bombing campaign, the work of a group of New York City radicals led by a militant named Sam Melville, featured attacks on a dozen buildings around Manhattan between August and November 1969, when Melville and most of his pals were arrested.

Weather’s attacks began three months later, and by 1971 protest bombings had spread across the country. In a single eighteen-month period during 1971 and 1972 the FBI counted an amazing 2,500 bombings on American soil, almost five a day. Because they were typically detonated late at night, few caused serious injury, leading to a kind of grudging public acceptance. The deadliest underground attack of the decade, in fact, killed all of four people, in the January 1975 bombing of a Wall Street restaurant. News accounts rarely carried any expression or indication of public outrage.

That’s before my time, but the paranoia of the 1990s wasn’t. Start with the first World Trade Center bombing, then move on to Waco, Ruby Ridge, the Oklahoma City bombing, the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics, TWA Flight 800, John F. Kennedy Jr.’s death in a plane crash, and EgyptAir flight 990 suddenly descending and crashing into the ocean with a seemingly calm pilot at the controls.

It’s not surprising that The X-Files was a hit and Art Bell was a sensation on radio during those years, because the nightly news was turning twisted and weird and disturbing. Jeffrey Dahmer ate people. That old football star who was in wacky comedies was charged with murdering two people. A Long Island teenager shot her married lover’s wife, and turned into some sort of weird celebrity. A rivalry between Olympic figure skating stars turned violent.

When things are bad, and weird, and ominous, it helps to remember . . .  we’ve been though variations of this before, and managed to pull through. We’ll get through this, too.

ADDENDA: A perfectly faux-inspiring slogan from my friend Lisa De Pasquale’s new book, The Social Justice Warrior Handbook: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of good over evil is to tweet about it.”

Politics & Policy

Please, Democrats, Take Bret Stephens’ Advice


New York Times columnist Bret Stephens — allegedly one of the right-of-center voices on the newspaper’s editorial page — is going to get a tsunami of grief for today’s column, which is not-too-subtly titled, “Repeal the Second Amendment.”

And if you take all of his arguments at face value, Stephens demonstrates an infuriatingly snobby contempt for his fellow citizens — “gun enthusiasts fantasizing that Red Dawn is the fate that soon awaits us” — and gets basic facts wrong. He declares, “from a personal-safety standpoint, more guns means less safety,” ignoring the fact that crime rates have steadily declined as gun ownership has increased.

But then we come to this section:

In fact, the more closely one looks at what passes for “common sense” gun laws, the more feckless they appear. Americans who claim to be outraged by gun crimes should want to do something more than tinker at the margins of a legal regime that most of the developed world rightly considers nuts. They should want to change it fundamentally and permanently.

There is only one way to do this: Repeal the Second Amendment.

Call me crazy, but I think Stephens’ proposal is a giant bear trap for liberals and Democrats.

We haven’t amended the Constitution since 1992, when we decreed any law affecting Congressional salaries cannot take effect until the next election — i.e., banning members of Congress from voting themselves a pay increase. We’ve never repealed a part of the Bill of Rights. And that’s just what Stephens is urging Democrats to openly embrace, promise, and campaign on.

Can you picture some Democratic candidate supporting the repeal of the Second Amendment? The attack ads would declare: “John Smith thinks the U.S. Constitution gives you have too many rights . . .  and he wants to cut the Bill of Rights by ten percent!”

Or even better: “If John Smith doesn’t think you deserve your Second Amendment rights . . .  how many more of your Constitutional rights does he want to take away?”

If the Democrats made a sustained push for a Constitutional amendment repealing the right to bear arms, Republicans would never have to worry about getting out the vote again. NRA membership would explode. Pro-gun Democrats would switch parties. Portions of key groups within the party could recoil, no pun intended. According to the most recent Pew Research Center survey, 32 percent of African-Americans say either they or someone else in their household owns a gun.

The most incendiary Republican accusation of Democrats — that they don’t really care about the Constitution, that they just want ever-expanding government power and the authority to micro-manage every little decision in your life — would be largely verified in many American minds.

(Democratic congressman Phil Hare of Illinois in 2010, when asked where in the Constitution it authorized Congress to make Americans purchase health insurance: “I don’t worry about the Constitution on this.” When pressed, he said, “I believe that it says we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When informed that he has just quoted the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, he responded, “it doesn’t matter to me.”)

And when asked by Gallup in October 2016 “whether there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons?”, just 23 percent supported it, 76 percent of respondents opposed it.

The Democrats have 48 senators, 194 House members, 15 governors, and 3,114 members of state legislatures, their fewest number of elected offices held in generations. And now Bret Stephens wants them to spend the next few cycles campaigning for the repeal of America’s gun rights? This is some Iago-level manipulation right here.

New Ad Push Will Pressure Democrats to Support Tax Reform

Americans for Prosperity is launching a $4.5 million ad campaign, calling on Democratic senators to unify around the tax reform framework released recently by the “Big 6.” The ads, which will air on cable and local networks over the next three weeks, call on Senators Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.), Tammy Baldwin (D., Wisc.) and Joe Donnelly (D., Ind.) to join with lawmakers working to advance tax reform that simplifies the tax code and provides relief to middle-income Americans.

You can watch the McCaskill version here, the Baldwin version here, and the Donnelly version here.

AFP is quick to point out that these three Democratic senators have all said in recent years that they want to overhaul and simplify the tax code:

Tammy Baldwin has said tax reform should level the playing field and bring stability. “At the heart of any comprehensive tax reform package,” Baldwin urged fellow lawmakers, “there needs to be recognition that the biggest gap facing America is the gap between the economic security Americans work so hard to achieve, and the economic uncertainty that they are asked to settle for.”

This year, Joe Donnelly has been calling for some of the same reforms AFP supports. “Hoosiers deserve a tax code that is fair, efficient, and encourages businesses to invest here at home,” his website reads. Donnelly says he will “work with members on both sides of the aisle to develop a tax code that is fair and encourages economic growth.” Now’s his chance to make good on that promise and un-rig the American economy.

In 2014, McCaskill called for an end to special-interest handouts. “We just want to level the playing field,” she said, noting that closing loopholes would allow Congress to cut tax rates for everyone. “I think we all want to lower corporate tax rates,” McCaskill added.

Why do I get the feeling that certain Democratic senators will treat tax reform the way certain Republican senators treated legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare? “Oh, I completely support the idea in theory and share the goal, but I just can’t support this particular legislation because argle-bargle blah blah blah hey look squirrel. I support perfect legislation that exists in theory but that I will never quite getting around to writing down and introducing myself.”

How Nervous Should Virginia Republicans Be Right Now?

Ugh. I thought I was seeing more ads for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam in Virginia on my local airwaves, and this new poll from the Washington Post suggests Northam’s ad blitz might be having an effect:

Northam leads [Republican Ed] Gillespie by 53 percent to 40 percent among likely voters, with 4 percent supporting Libertarian Cliff Hyra. The advantage is similar to a Post-Schar School poll this spring but larger than in other public polls of likely voters released over the past month, most of which found Northam up by single digits.

But the race is still fluid, with a sizable number of likely voters — one in four — saying they could change their mind before Nov. 7.

“There’s a lack of intensity right now,” said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, which co-sponsored the survey. “Many fewer people than typically at this stage are paying close attention, and the candidates at this point have really not excited the electorate. . . .  A lot can change in the next month. If I were the Northam campaign, I would not feel too comfortable right now.”

Then again, the last time the Washington Post surveyed Virginians about this race, way back in May, they had an 11-point margin; most polls in the interim showed a much closer race. Around this time four years ago, the Post poll found Republican Ken Cuccinelli trailing by 8 points; he lost on Election Day by 2.5 points. Maybe the Post’s samples overestimate Democratic turnout by a couple of points.

Four years ago, exit polls showed a Virginia electorate that was 37 percent Democratic, 32 percent Republican, and 47 percent independent or something else. (Keep in mind, Virginia does not register voters by party, so this is entirely self-identified.) The Post survey sample is 34 percent Democrat, 24 percent Republican, 32 percent independent, 6 percent “other,” and 5 percent said “no opinion” when asked “Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a . . . ”

Maybe that last group meant, “none of your business”?

ADDENDA: The New Republic bothers to watch NRATV and is surprised to find my friend Cam Edwards is “mild-mannered.”  He could start a collection of these observations; the Los Angeles Times profiled him in 2016 and was surprised to find him “a calm, steady voice.”

Hey, guys, not every gun owner is Yosemite Sam.

Politics & Policy

How to Stop the Next Mass Shooter


When you express skepticism about the value, legality, or effectiveness about gun control proposals after a mass shooting, you’re often asked, “okay, smart guy, how would you prevent the next one?”

When you look at the more infamous mass shootings in recent years, you see a disturbing pattern.

After the Virginia Tech shooting, Lucinda Roy, co-director of the university’s creative writing program, described her meeting with police, attempting to describe her concerns about the shooter:

“The threats seemed to be underneath the surface. They were not explicit,” she recalled. “And that was the difficulty that the police had. I would go to the police and to the counselors and to student affairs and everywhere else, and they would say, ‘There’s nothing explicit here. He’s not actually saying he’s going to kill someone.’ And my argument was he seemed so disturbed anyway that we needed to do something about this.”

In Aurora, Colorado: “When [the Aurora shooter’s] psychiatrist warned campus police at the University of Colorado how dangerous he was, they deactivated his college ID to prevent him passing through any locked doors.”

In Tuscon, Arizona:

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik told ABC News that campus police had to get involved at the college where [the shooter] once attended after a number of complaints.

“All I can tell you is that teachers and fellow students were concerned about his bizarre behavior in class to the point where some of him were physically afraid of him,” Dupnik said. “He was acting in very weird fashion to the point where they had several incidents with him to the point where law enforcement at Pima College got involved and they decided to expel him. And they did.”

In Isla Vista, California: “Last month, the 22-year-old wrote, his mother was so concerned about his well-being after seeing some of his videos on YouTube that she contacted mental-health officials, who dispatched sheriff’s deputies to check on him at his apartment in Isla Vista, an enclave near the University of California at Santa Barbara.”

The Sandy Hook shooter made unbelievably bloody and disturbing drawings. In case after case, we see fairly clear signals that the shooter is deeply troubled and in many cases is growing obsessed with violence.

A stunning number of school shooters since Columbine indicated an obsessive interest in that shooting. Fascinating and disturbing research by Mother Jones found that the shooting inspired “at least 74 plots or attacks across 30 states” and “in at least 14 cases, the Columbine copycats aimed to attack on the anniversary of the original massacre. Individuals in 13 cases indicated that their goal was to outdo the Columbine body count. In at least 10 cases, the suspects and attackers referred to the pair.”

We have all heard the slogan, “If you see something, say something.” Lots of people do say something; quite a few of the infamous mass shooters of recent years had already been reported to police for strange, threatening, or troubling behavior. Unfortunately, the police did not see sufficient reason to press charges or have the person placed in a mental institution.

What will stop the next mass shooting? The family, loved ones, peers and psychologists of the next shooter taking their disturbing or threatening behavior seriously, reporting it to the police, and the police taking it seriously.

Were there warning signs or strange behavior in the case of the Las Vegas shooter? Maybe.

Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock encouraged his girlfriend Marilou Danley to leave the country before his attack that left 58 people dead, her sisters told CNN affiliate in Australia 7 News.

The sisters, who spoke to 7 News exclusively, did not want to be identified by name and requested their faces be blurred.

“I know that she don’t know anything as well like us. She was sent away. She was away so that she will be not there to interfere with what he’s planning,” one of Danley’s sisters told 7 News from their home in Australia’s Gold Coast region.

“In that sense, I thank him for sparing my sister’s life,” she said, adding her sister was “really in love with Steve.”

The other sister said Danley, who arrived back in the US from the Philippines on Tuesday, “didn’t even know that she was going to the Philippines, until Steve said, ‘Marilou, I found you a cheap ticket to the Philippines.’”

Do people often urge their significant others to leave the country suddenly and out of the blue?

Reagan’s Argument for Eliminating the State and Local Tax Deduction

You’ll recall that I’m wary about the GOP proposal to eliminate the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes. I argued it amounts to a punishment for a lot of people who voted for Trump in places like New York, New Jersey, and California. I thought one of the reasons Republicans wanted to cut taxes was to let people keep more of their money, so they will then use it to buy things and stimulate the economy. Eliminating the deduction would dramatically reduce the impact of the coming tax cut for millions of Americans.

America Rising reaches out, sharing two clips of President Ronald Reagan calling for this deduction to be eliminated. First, in an address to the nation, May 1985:

REAGAN: “We’re reducing tax rates by simplifying the complex system of special provisions that favor some at the expense of others. Restoring confidence in our tax system means restoring and respecting the principle of fairness for all. This means curtailing some business deductions now being written off; it means ending several personal deductions, including the state and local tax deduction, which actually provides a special subsidy for high-income individuals, especially in a few high-tax states. Two-thirds of Americans don’t even itemize, so they receive no benefit from the state and local tax deduction. But they’re being forced to subsidize the high-tax policies of a handful of states. This is truly taxation without representation.”

Then a month later, speaking to state and local officials at the White House:

REAGAN: “Now, I know that many are concerned about our proposed elimination of the state and local tax deduction. Well, the first point to make here is an argument for fairness — and I have a hunch that maybe somebody here’s already made this argument — but only about one in three itemize their deductions and get the benefit of that deduction. There can be no justification for a preference that gives the wealthiest — one taxpayer in three — a rebate on local taxes while its less fortunate members or neighbors pay a full dollar locally plus higher Federal taxes in order to fund that rebate. Recently, too, I heard some good news from my home state of California. Now, California is generally considered one of the high-tax states and so, according to the prevailing wisdom, would have the most to lose from the loss of deductibility. The Los Angeles Times has reported, however, that the State Franchise Tax Board has completed a study, finding that Californians would dramatically benefit under our new plan. In the end, all America will benefit from this fairer, pro-growth tax plan. In the words of Democratic governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, ‘If my taxpayers are better off, particularly my middle-income taxpayers are better off under this plan, that’s really the issue, isn’t it?’”

First, doesn’t it feel good to hear that voice again?

Second, the Reagan argument is compelling, but it basically contends that those who find their cumulative level of federal, state, and local taxation unbearable should move to different states. That may work as economic theory, but many Americans won’t find that easy to do for a variety of reasons — jobs, families, roots, etc. And if these frustrated taxpayers did move from these blue states to red states, this policy change would basically drain the blue states of the voters most concerned about taxes.

Third, did Republicans tell the voters they wanted to do this on the campaign trail in 2016? It wasn’t mentioned in the party platform at the convention.

Fourth, in the House of Representatives, there are 14 Republicans from California, nine Republicans from New York, and five Republicans from New Jersey. How many of those Republicans get reelected if their constituents feel like they missed out on the tax cut the rest of the country got? Keep in mind, Democrats need to flip 24 seats to take over the House.

Who Wants to Work in Trump’s Cabinet?

This is why presidents don’t usually berate, criticize, or mock members of their own cabinet in public. Your own people stop wanting to work with you.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on the verge of resigning this past summer amid mounting policy disputes and clashes with the White House, according to multiple senior administration officials who were aware of the situation at the time.

The tensions came to a head around the time President Donald Trump delivered a politicized speech in late July to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization Tillerson once led, the officials said.

Just days earlier, Tillerson had openly disparaged the president, referring to him as a “moron,” after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials, according to three officials familiar with the incident.

While it’s unclear if he was aware of the incident, Vice President Mike Pence counseled Tillerson, who is fourth in line to the presidency, on ways to ease tensions with Trump, and other top administration officials urged him to remain in the job at least until the end of the year, officials said.

In light of Trump’s continuing mocking of Tillerson on Twitter, is it likely Tillerson is out by January? Or perhaps even sooner?

Tillerson must be thinking, “I left Exxon Mobil for this?”

Working in the Trump administration has brought frustration, humiliation, and/or sudden departures to Tom Price, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Bannon, and Sebastian Gorka.

Yesterday in the Corner, we discussed the notion of former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal joining the Trump administration as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services.  His name came up as an option during the transition, and I, super-Jindal-fan, was excited at the thought then. But now that we’ve seen the Trump administration in operation for eight months?

How likely is it that the relationship would run smoothly, or that Trump and the new HHS Secretary will get the results they want? When Trump gets frustrated, he blames his staff, often publicly.

So yes, I concur with Jonah and Yuval Levin that Tevi Troy would be an excellent choice to be the next HHS Secretary, perhaps even the best possible choice. I just don’t know why we would want to punish Tevi that way.

ADDENDA: I’m told listeners to the Three Martini Lunch podcast are reaching amazing rates for completion; that is, people who start listening tend to listen to the end. (Most episodes range from about twelve to twenty minutes.) Either Greg and I are really good, or our show is just quicker than our audience’s attention span.

Politics & Policy

On Journalism and Speculation after a Tragedy


Making the click-through worthwhile: Why speculation after a horrible event is natural and not all that harmful at all, an update on that report of a mysterious woman seemingly warning about the coming attack, and the outlook for that “common sense gun legislation.”

Who Exactly Is Harmed When People Speculate After a Terrible Event?

Quite a few times on Monday, various scolds on Twitter told us not to speculate about the motivation behind the abominable mass shooting in Las Vegas.

And in the realm of journalism, discussing an unproven theory on camera or in print is, well, bad journalism, because it can easily be misconstrued as reported fact. It assumes facts not in evidence, jumps to conclusions, and can point the finger of blame in a particular direction that could very well be the wrong one.

And yet, when human beings are confronted with something shocking, horrifying, and not easily explained, they speculate. They search for answers based upon what little they know. When the talking heads and experts finish not speculating on camera, they speculate too, floating theories, attempting to examine the few clues and details we know and arrange a narrative that explains them. This is one of those times where Twitter’s role in the journalism realm isn’t quite clear. Does a Tweet from a journalist count as a publication, with all of the weight and responsibility that suggests? Or is it the equivalent of off-the-cuff water-cooler talk? If a journalist says, “I think the shooter did it because X,” is that dangerous baseless speculation, or is it just saying what he thinks?

A few folks flipped out about David French’s Corner post from yesterday, accusing David of feeding conspiracy theories. All he did was point out that based upon what we know of past mass shootings, the Las Vegas shooter is quite incongruous. While many mass shooters use more than one firearm, this shooter had 23 guns (!) in his hotel room.

The shooter’s brother described the shooter as “not an avid gun guy at all”; perhaps that comment is best explained as the siblings simply not knowing each other well or shock. Still, but no one else noticed anything odd about the aspiring mass-murderer in the weeks and days leading to the attack? He left no manifesto, no screed, no litany of grievances?

The killer has no criminal record, and no known mental-health record. As far as we know, no one who knew him saw this coming.

Even more bizarrely, this wasn’t just a sudden burst of rage. Add up the purchase price of the guns, the ammunition, and the cost of the hotel room and you have a sizable sum of money. His brother described him as a multi-millionaire.

The selection of the hotel room provided the shooter with a small, locked, secure location overlooking a large crowd, a location where return fire from the ground was impossible or impossibly dangerous. Yesterday I rubbed some people the wrong way with this observation, so I’ll try to articulate it more clearly now: At this time, the authorities have no evidence that this shooter was connected to any terror group. But this is precisely the sort of thing a terror group would like to do, and we should be on alert for attempts to copy these methods. (How many hotels overlook large gathering spaces like parks, plazas, public squares, stadiums?)

This was no spree; this was a meticulously planned monstrous crime.  And now since David’s post, we’ve learned that the shooter had ammonium nitrate in his car, a substance that can be used to build a bomb.

Returning to the maligned notion of speculation . . .  what exactly are we worried about here? That we’ll smear the name of a mass murderer? That public speculation will lead the police authorities in the wrong direction? Come on, give the authorities credit. The Las Vegas police and FBI are professionals, they’re not going to refocus their investigation on a theory just because it’s popular on social media.

Could speculation inadvertently feed into false rumors and conspiracy theories that flourish after an event like this? Perhaps, and no honorable American should be spreading around nonsense and lies designed to make people more fearful and suspicious of their fellow citizens. That’s Russia’s job. But even there, the problem stems from believing the speculative theory in the face of contrary evidence, not with speculation itself.

Author Thomas Wictor examines what is known about the shooter’s father, an infamous bank robber once on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, and points out some other oddities in the details of the shooter’s life, at least as currently reported.  The shooter allegedly had multiple residences, moved frequently and with little warning, consistent gambling winnings to finance a luxurious lifestyle, took very few photographs (when was the last time you saw the news media use a photo of a person with his eyes closed?) and a large personal arsenal of guns. The shooter may not have had a criminal record, but in light of all this how certain can we be this is the first time he committed a violent crime?

One Mystery, Sort-Of Solved

Over at Hot Air, Allahpundit looks at the strange report that a woman approached concertgoers 45 minutes before the shooting started and told them, “you’re all going to die tonight.” Obviously, that mysterious anecdote stirred questions about whether someone knew what the shooter was planning.

But a subsequent report in the Daily Mail makes the mysterious woman’s comments seem less prophetic and more mentally-unstable.

Hendricks never mentions the detail about the woman acting crazy and playing with people’s hair or babbling about “them” being “all around us” in the interview with the reporter below. That makes it sound like the mystery woman was off her nut, possibly high on God knows what drug (it’s Vegas, after all), and paranoid. If she was annoying people by harassing them and they started yelling for security to kick her out, she might have gotten angry and threatened them. It really might have been nothing more than an amazing coincidence.

According to Hendricks, security officers did come and escort the woman out. Assuming they’ve already been interviewed by police, which is a safe assumption, what are we to make of the fact that Las Vegas police hasn’t issued a BOLO for a Hispanic couple matching Hendricks’s description? They must have concluded it was a coincidence too.

Reality is mysterious enough.

The Chimerical ‘Common Sense Gun-Control Legislation’

You’re going to hear a lot of calls for “common sense gun-control legislation” in the coming days and weeks. Last night, all of the late-night talk show hosts sang from the same songbook.

What “common sense gun-control legislation” would have stopped this? As noted above, the shooter had no criminal record and no history of mental illness, so all of his gun purchases were legal.

Hillary Clinton immediately tweeted about the danger from “silencers” — more accurately called suppressors — that were not used in the shooting. Gun experts doubt the presence of suppressors would have made any difference in Las Vegas, between the sound of the concert, the echoes of the gunshots, and the fact that suppressors usually only work for the initial shots.

You may see more discussion of banning “bump stocks” and other tools that allow a person to fire a semiautomatic weapon at a much faster rate, akin to an automatic weapon. It’s easier to picture this proposal getting some real legislative traction. The ban on automatic weapons is constitutionally sound, and the laws banning the conversion of semi-automatic weapons to automatic weapons is also surviving legal challenges, so it seems likely that the courts would look sympathetically upon banning tools designed to work around a constitutionally-approved restriction. Unlike silencers, the Las Vegas gunman reportedly did use at least one bump stock.

Yesterday, talk-show host Andy Cohen asked, “How about we ban machine guns?” Quite a few people pointed out to him that they have been banned since 1986.

After being corrected, Cohen just altered his goal:  “Great news. How bout semi-automatics?”

PolitiFact is reasonably accurate and clear on this:

In simplest terms, “semi-automatic” refers to any firearm designed to fire one bullet with one trigger squeeze, then automatically reload the chamber with a cartridge from a magazine and be ready to fire again.

The term applies to a whole range of modern firearms, from hunting and target rifles all the way up to so-called black rifles that look like what a soldier would carry. Gun control arguments often focus often focus on the black rifles, but the differences between those and any other semi-automatic rifle often are only cosmetic. Semi-automatic guns all largely operate the same way.

Automatic weapons, which are often described as machine guns, are different, in that squeezing the trigger once fires cartridges repeatedly until the shooter releases it.

While semi-automatic rifles are widely available, fully automatic weapons are not. You can still buy an automatic weapon, but their sale and ownership is highly regulated and exceptionally expensive.

Banning semiautomatics would ban the vast majority of guns in private hands today. Enforcement would be quite challenging; the same people who believe that the government could never round up all illegal immigrants seem to believe the government could quickly and peaceably seize millions of firearms from millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans.

Any semiautomatic ban would be challenged in court for violating the Second Amendment, and there is a good chance the Supreme Court, at least as currently constituted, would strike down a semiautomatic ban as unconstitutional.

If Democrats want to campaign on repealing the Second Amendment — and let’s face it, most of them actually believe that the amendment is an outdated menace — no conservative will stand in their way.

ADDENDA: Not all is dark in the world. The Major League Baseball playoffs begin tonight, and the league must be thrilled. The four most-populated cities in the country have a team in the mix: the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs, and the Houston Astros. There’s a classic feel with the presence of legendary franchises like the Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, and Minnesota Twins. And then there are new or relatively new powerhouses like the Washington Nationals, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Colorado Rockies.

Politics & Policy

Awakening to the News of the Most Deadly Shooting in U.S. History


An awful way to start the week:

At least 50 people are dead and more than 200 wounded after a gunman opened fire on a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in the most deadly shooting in U.S. history.

Police said the suspect, identified as 64-year-old local resident Stephen Paddock, was located on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino when he took aim at the nearby Route 91 Harvest Festival.

Local television news reports showed crowds of people in Las Vegas ducking for cover as the sound of rapid gunshots rang out, while dozens of patrol vehicles descended on the Strip.

Joseph Lombardo of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said the suspect was shot dead by officers and that authorities were confident there was no longer a threat.

He said police found numerous firearms in the room he occupied and that officers were also at his residence.

The death toll may surpass the current total, from the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, when jihadist Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured 58 more. The death toll from Virginia Tech was 32; Sandy Hook, 27.

Notice this detail: “The suspect was known to police in Mesquite and had a criminal history, the sources said. Lombardo said authorities believe they had found a traveling companion of the deceased gunman they were seeking, who Lombardo identified as Marilou Danley, 62. Law enforcement sources tell Milton that Danley was Paddock’s wife.”

One can’t help but wonder if she is related to this particular unnerving detail from a survivor’s account:

A woman who was at the concert told a local news station that a “lady pushed her way forward in the concert venue. And she started messing with another lady and told us that we are all going to die tonight. … It was about 45 minutes the shots were actually fired. But then she was escorted out by security.” But police have not confirmed if they believe that was related to the shooting.

Is it possible this was a case of a woman knowing the man in her life was about to do something terrible and rash, but she didn’t have the mental wherewithal to stop him or call the police, so she ran into the crowd and tried to warn people?

One of the most enraging aspects of mass shootings in recent years is the now almost predictable reports of individuals close to the shooter feeling threatened and  warning authorities, only to see either insufficient response or no response at all. Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora — in each case, individuals went to school administrators or campus police, only to have their warnings fall on deaf ears.

Two off-duty police officers attending the concert were killed, according to Clark County sheriff Joseph Lombardo. The Las Vegas Police Department reported that two on-duty officers were injured during the shooting. “One is in stable condition after surgery and the other sustained minor injuries.”

We’re going to hear a lot of questions in the coming days about “why did he do it? Does it matter? Aren’t all of these shooters more or less the same?” In their minds, they’ve been wronged by the world; the world owed them something, and it refused to give it to them. The Isla Vista shooter believed he deserved pretty women; the Alexandria shooter who tried to kill GOP congressmen believed he deserved a world where his party was in charge. The Columbine killers believed they deserved a world where they would never feel ostracized.

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

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

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

In this light, a worldview of gratitude, counting one’s blessings, and always keeping in mind that no matter how bad our troubles, there’s someone else out there who’s dealing with worse ones, isn’t just nicer, more optimistic, or more Christian. It’s a tool for warding off self-absorption, bitterness, and madness. A relentless focus on how others have failed you and how the world at large doesn’t live up to your standards could just turn you into a monster.

I Thought Spaniards Were Laid Back . . . 

A NATO ally just violently suppressed a referendum on independence by a region. And surprise! It wasn’t Turkey this time.

Catalonia’s defiant attempt to stage an independence referendum descended into chaos on Sunday, with hundreds injured in clashes with police in one of the gravest tests of Spain’s democracy since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s.

National police officers in riot gear, sent by the central government in Madrid from other parts of Spain, used rubber bullets and truncheons in some places as they fanned out across Catalonia, the restive northeastern region, to shut down polling stations and seize ballot boxes.

The clashes quickly spoiled what had been a festive, if expectant, atmosphere among voters, many of whom had camped inside polling stations and stayed on into late Sunday night, fearful that officers might seize ballot boxes.

More than 750 people were injured in the crackdown, Catalan officials said, while dozens of Spanish police officers were hurt, according to Spain’s interior ministry.

The Madrid government, with the backing of Spanish courts, had declared the referendum unconstitutional and ordered the vote suspended. But that did not stop Catalans from gathering before sunrise on Sunday, massing on rain-slicked streets across the region.

Catalonian independence may or may not be in the interest of the United States. But it is not in our interest to just shrug when one of our allies engages in heavy-handed political censorship:

The website of the National Catalan Assembly at assemblea.ca was also shut down and for a while displayed a message from the Spanish military police announcing in Spanish and English that the domain has been “seized pursuant to a seizure warrant.” The domain has since been redirected to assemblea.eu, outside the purview of the Spanish authorities.

The Spanish government has not officially admitted it ordered ISPs to prevent people from accessing specific websites, but DNS observers have seen unusual activity, suggesting servers are being blocked by domain name. Meanwhile, the Catalonian government has sent a letter to the European Commission claiming that the Spanish government is in breach of EU law.

“These articles have been violated by the order sent to Spanish telecommunications operators to cut access to web pages that inform about the referendum on self-determination, as well as those internet domains that are publicized or published to the social networks of the . . .  members of the Government,” the Catalonian government complains in the letter.

The Federal Response to the Crisis in Puerto Rico

FEMA has a detailed timeline of their response to hurricane damage in Puerto Rico. As of Friday:

‐ There are more than 10,000 federal staff representing 36 departments and agencies, including more than 800 FEMA personnel on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands engaged in response and recovery operations from hurricanes Maria and Irma.

‐ The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) made $40 million available to the PR Highways and Transportation Authority (PHRTA) for emergency relief work to impacted roads.

‐ In Puerto Rico, 56 of 68 hospitals are partially operational, and one hospital is fully operational.

‐ The Concordia potable water pump station is online in St. Croix.

‐ FEMA search and rescue teams have accessed 90 percent of Puerto Rico, conducting search and rescue operations and helping to assess hospitals.

‐ All municipalities in Puerto Rico have been reached by FEMA US&R, the Department of Health and Human Services, Commonwealth officials, and/or the National Guard.

‐ 17 chainsaw teams (34 individuals) and one Incident Management Team (IMT) (23 individuals) from the Department of Agriculture United States Forest Service arrive in Puerto Rico to conduct emergency road clearance and manage logistics.

‐ To bolster the delivery of fuel throughout Puerto Rico, 100 delivery trucks were dispatched by the Defense Logistics Agency.

Then there’s this stunning bottleneck:

A mountain of food, water and other vital supplies has arrived in Puerto Rico’s main Port of San Juan. But a shortage of truckers and the island’s devastated infrastructure are making it tough to move aid to where it’s needed most, officials say. At least 10,000 containers of supplies — including food, water and medicine — were sitting Thursday at the San Juan port, said Jose Ayala, the Crowley shipping company’s vice president in Puerto Rico.

As of last week, the San Juan port was at capacity. The arguments against the administration are predictable: “Donald Trump Doesn’t Care About Puerto Ricans.”

The San Juan Mayor’s infamous “I am mad as hell” speech was delivered . . .  in front of pallets of food and water.

“We are dying here, and I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles.” If the situation is that dire, literally life-and-death, why is the food and water sitting on pallets behind her during the press conference, instead of being distributed right then and there? Who had the time and resources to print up a “Help Us We Are Dying” t-shirt for her in the middle of an ongoing crisis?

Naturally, President Trump responds to the criticism in the most inflammatory and least illuminating way possible: “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”

ADDENDA: Hey, look at those AFC East standings . . . 

Raise your hand if you expected, after one quarter of the season, for the Patriots defense to have allowed 36 more points than the Jets’ defense.

Economy & Business

Congressional Republicans’ Tax Plan Isn’t Great For Trump Suburbanites


Making the click-through worthwhile: How one aspect of the GOP tax plan could accidentally sock it to a group of Trump voters, a reviled figure prepares to return to American society, several NFL teams announce they’ll stand for the anthem going forward, and what 80s sitcoms can teach us about the American founding.

The Tax Hike Coming to Trump Voters in Blue States

Get ready for an epic fight on taxes in Congress that won’t necessarily break along partisan lines, but along state lines.

You’re going to hear a lot of scoffing from Republicans that the places where taxpayers use the state and local tax deduction the most are deep blue places like New York and Westchester counties in New York State and Marin and San Francisco counties in California. Some on the right will ask why they should care about hitting the wealthiest, and often most liberal, places in the country with a giant tax increase. They’ll argue, with some justification, that this amounts to a federal subsidy for high-taxing states, and shields big-spending state and local governments from the full consequences of their appetite for tax increases.

But fans of this move are probably going to want to avoid confronting the fact that it would also hit the suburbs that supported Trump in those blue states hard, too. It’s not just Nancy Pelosi and the folks on Billionaire’s Row in San Francisco who deduct their state and local taxes.

The Tax Foundation calculated which counties’ taxpayers deduct their state and local taxes the most by taking 2014 returns, adding up the total of all of the deductions for state and local taxes, and dividing by the number of returns filed. They created a really cool interactive map with the data. In a lot of ways, it looks like a familiar red/blue map of the presidential vote by county. East coast urban counties take a lot of state and local deductions, and rural parts of the country do not. This is because urban counties usually have high property and local taxes, and more rural red counties usually have lower taxes.

But just because Trump lost states like New York and New Jersey doesn’t mean he didn’t win any places in those states. The county that ranks ninth in the nation in deductions for state and local taxes is Morris County, New Jersey, with $11,440. Trump won that county, 49 percent to 45 percent. Not too far from there is Monmouth County, where Trump won, 52 percent to 43 percent. The average return there deducts $9,105.

Trump lost his home state of New York overall by a wide margin, but won several counties in the suburbs of New York City. He won Suffolk County on Long Island 51 percent to 46 percent; the average taxpayer there deducts $8,096. He won Putnam County, north of the city, 55 percent to 39 percent. The average Putman taxpayer deducts even more, $8,855. Trump narrowly won Frederick County, Maryland; residents there average $5,729.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans from these parts of the country hate this idea.

Congressman Peter King (R., N.Y.), who represents part of Long Island, says he is on board with the GOP’s philosophy of eliminating tax breaks and cutting rates, right up to the point where it thwacks his constituents and their ability to subtract $12,000 annual property-tax bills from their federal income.

“I am a Jack Kemp Republican,” he said in a recent interview. “I believe in supply-side economics. I’m all for that. But again, this has a unique hit on Long Island.”

In the weeks leading up to the White House’s announcement, Mr. King, New York Democrats and business groups had been urging Republican leaders in Congress to back off their proposal to repeal the deduction. Instead, the administration—in which the president and his two top economic advisers are high-income residents of blue states—chose repeal.

Yes, the overall tax rates are going to go down, but a lot of these taxpayers are going to see their level of taxable income go up by a couple thousand dollars, eating up a big chunk of whatever reduction the other cuts give them. Are Republicans sure they want one of the first major legislative accomplishments of the Trump era to be a giant tax hike on suburbanites in coastal states?

Look Who’s Back, at the Worst Possible Time

Ugh. The country is angry, divided, tense, full of suspicion and accusations about racism, police misconduct, lack of accountability, a legal system that is tied in knots by opaque thinking of jurors, and a sense that football players have insufficient respect for the challenging lives of those in law enforcement.

How could this possibly get any worse? Oh, that’s right, O.J. Simpson is getting out of prison.

CBS News has a new poll:

Looking back, most Americans today think that O.J. Simpson is guilty of the 1994 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. 71 percent think so, a slight increase from the 67 percent who thought so in October 1995, when the jury came back with a not guilty verdict.

A large majority of white Americans thought then, and still think today, that O.J. Simpson is guilty of the murders. There has been a shift in the perspective of black Americans however. While 69 percent of blacks said that O.J. Simpson was innocent in 1995, today black Americans are evenly divided.

CBS glides over one of the more fascinating aspects of the poll. When asked whether the 1995 trial was mostly decided on the merits of the case, or mostly decided by factors of race, 41 percent of whites and 39 percent of blacks think it was on the merits. But 37 percent of whites and 44 percent of blacks think it was decided by race. I interpret that as blacks being slightly more willing to say that the jurors let Simpson off the hook because of his race than whites are.

What Does an NFL Player Have to See in Order to Stand Again?

During last night’s Thursday Night Football game, all of the Green Bay Packers and all of the Chicago Bears stood and locked arms. Meanwhile, over in Pittsburgh:

After facing backlash about standing in the tunnel during the national anthem last Sunday, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey says the team will stand this Sunday.

“I promise you one thing, this week we will all be standing out there for the national anthem. Trust me,” Pouncey said Wednesday.

Pouncey says he expects the entire team to be on the field for the anthem.

“As far as I know it’s 100 percent participation,” Pouncey told reporters. “We love this country. It’s America. We know there are injustice in this world, but to me, personally, football is football and that’s what we need to approach it as.”

The Denver Broncos also announced they will stand for the anthem Sunday.

A question I’d like asked of NFL players who continue to choose to kneel for the national anthem: What would you need to see to make you decide to stand again?

If you’re taking a knee because you feel like America has fallen short of living up to the values it proclaims . . .  well, it’s only done that every day since July 4, 1776, and it will probably do that every day until the Second Coming. We’re a flawed nation because we’re full of human beings, and human beings are flawed. We will always have some lawmaker taking bribes, we will always have some cop somewhere abusing his power, some citizen committing a crime against another, someone demonizing another group of people. There is no heaven on this earth, and you cannot measure the quality of your country against heaven.

What Winston Churchill said about democracy feels like a good way of describing the country as a whole: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. . . . ” The United States of America is really flawed, but we’ll choose our flaws against other countries’ flaws any day of the week.

Those of us who stand aren’t saying that the country is perfect. The song doesn’t say that the country is perfect. Oddly, it ends on a question, almost a challenge: “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” In other words, is that flag still flying (yes) and is the country it flies over still the land of the free and the home of the brave? The answer, throughout our history has been, generally yes, although maybe not quite free enough, and perhaps not brave enough.

Everybody who stands for the anthem can probably point to some aspect of American life that really disappoints or angers them. Individuals and groups within this country can be materialistic, shallow, ignorant, lazy, spoiled, selfish, abusive . . .  but those flaws aren’t what define us as a whole. The vast majority of us stand because we love and honor our country despite its flaws.

Is that perspective too much to ask of an NFL player?

ADDENDA:  I know I promised a new edition of our pop culture podcast that hasn’t been posted yet; our production team is dealing with issues that cannot be postponed. The archives are still there, so you can put together your own “best of” show.

In yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch, Greg illustrated a point about the Declaration of Independence by citing an old episode of the NBC sitcom Family Ties. Today we have to see if we can make a point about judicial restraint by citing Night Court.


Long-Awaited Republican Tax Plan is Underwhelming


Making the click-through worthwhile: Republicans leave out some consequential details about their plan to cut taxes; President Trump makes the right call on shipping aid to Puerto Rico; why Oprah 2020 isn’t so unthinkable despite the record of celebrity-politicians; and how Trump is, for better or worse, delivering exactly the kind of presidency he promised.

Hey, Did You Guys Forget Some Pieces of this Tax Plan?

My colleagues weigh in on the tax plan unveiled by Congressional Republicans and the White House, and they seem a little underwhelmed, at least until the GOP fills in some of the blanks.

Ramesh Ponnuru observes that there’s a piece missing that could have far-reaching effects: the total amount of the child tax credit — an amount of taxes the government “credits” you with paying just by claiming a child as a dependent.

The relevant parts of the plan 1) increase the standard deduction to $24,000 for married couples, 2) increase the child credit by an unspecified amount, 3) raise the lowest marginal tax rate from 10 to 12, and 4) eliminate the personal and dependent exemptions. How it nets out depends on a particular household’s configuration and the ultimate answer to 2. It’s a pretty big detail to leave out. It determines how much middle-class tax relief the plan offers, and whether the plan has a pro-family element. As I pointed out in recent testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, the child credit would have to increase at least $600 per child to offset the elimination of the dependent exemption.

I would have vastly preferred if the framework had said that the child credit will increase by at least $1,000. And I think Republicans would be having a better rollout today if it had. Republicans have plenty of time to fix this problem. Recognizing it and committing to solving it would be a good start.

Robert Verbruggen points out that for taxpayers without children, some of these changes will offset each other, making the total reduction in tax bills disappointingly minor.

Under current law, someone single and childless gets to knock $10,400 off their income before the bottom rate of 10 percent applies; under the GOP plan, they’d knock $12,000 off but see a rate of 12 percent. The low-income would still get a tax cut, but often a tiny one — at least until you factor in some vaguely worded changes to the child tax credit for parents, as well as “additional tax relief” that is not specified at all. Here’s what this change looks like for those who are single, childless, and making up to $19,725 — where the first bracket ends, after accounting for deductions and exemptions, under current law. It’s a pretty mild cut, especially toward the top of that range. If you make exactly $19,725, you save all of $5.50.

Don’t spend it all in one place!

Kevin Williamson:

The bottom half of income earners pay essentially no federal income tax, though they pay other federal taxes, including the payroll tax. Trump’s tax plan would add to the burden at the top and take even more people off the tax rolls at the bottom. Ronald Reagan used to boast of all the low-income Americans his policies took off the tax rolls entirely. I’m not sure that was all to the good. We have a large, active federal government that redistributes a lot of money. Everybody ought to pay a little something in federal income tax if we are going to have a federal income tax. Surely, nobody’s “fair share” is really $0.00. Everybody likes to sit by the fire, nobody wants to chop the wood.

Of course, the final changes could end up considerably different from this outline.

Trump Makes the Right Call, Waives the Jones Act for Puerto Rico Aid

Credit where it’s due: President Trump made the right call.

The White House has authorized a waiver to loosen shipping rules regarding Puerto Rico that island officials say would be a significant help for recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria.

“At @ricardorossello request, @POTUS has authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico. It will go into effect immediately,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted Thursday morning.

He joined the growing list of officials who argued that lifting the the Jones Act — a federal law designed to protect the financial interests of US shipbuilders by limiting shipping by foreign vessels — would help expedite supplies to the ravaged island. The act has had the unintended consequence of making it twice as expensive to ship things from the US mainland to Puerto Rico as it is to ship from any other foreign port in the world, according to Arizona Republican senator John McCain’s office.

Yesterday, Trump had said, “There are a lot of people who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted. And we have a lot of ships out there right now.” No doubt the arguments in favor of the Jones Act resonate with Trump’s protectionist instincts – i.e., ‘if aid is going to be shipped out of American ports, it should be done by American ships!’ But even if you think the benefit to American shipbuilders was worth the additional cost to consumers, this is an emergency, and the people of Puerto Rico need every ship available to be mobilized.

Oprah Winfrey, Needs, Wants, and 2020

There was a time when John Podhoretz’s suggestion that the Democratic party should nominate Oprah Winfrey for president in 2020 could be dismissed as a joke, click-bait, or a silly pipe dream.

But Al Franken is a senator, Donald Trump is president, Republicans are hoping Kid Rock runs for Senate in Michigan and Tennessee Republicans hoped Peyton Manning would run for Senate in their state. (Yesterday Manning denied any interest in being a politician; no word on whether he issued the denial in the sing-song-y tone of the Nationwide-Is-On-Your-Side jingle.)


If you think that Trump can be beaten by a two-term governor of a Midwestern state with really good ideas about health care, or by a senator who really attracts young people, think again. The idea that a relatively conventional elected official will differentiate herself from Trump by dint of her seriousness or that an unconventional elected official can out-populist Trump is crazy.

If you need to set a thief to catch a thief, you need a star — a grand, outsized, fearless star whom Trump can neither intimidate nor outshine —  to catch a star. We’re through the looking glass here. America is discarding old approaches in politics. Democrats will have to do the same to match the mood to the moment.

I would argue that outside of Ronald Reagan, who had transitioned to the realm of politics much earlier in his career, the record of celebrity officeholders is a generally depressing one, looking in particular at Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura.

(Fred Thompson is one of those unusual cases where he began in politics (minority counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee, special counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Intelligence Committee), then started acing in the late 80s, then was elected to the Senate in 1994. Sonny Bono was a good and kind man, but I don’t know if anyone would consider him a legislative giant.)

The skills of a movie or television star translate well to campaigning, but not necessarily to governing. No doubt Schwarzenegger meant well and wanted to deliver the best possible results for his state, and his efforts were . . .  er, Herculean? But the Democrat-controlled state legislature was intractable, voters rejected his referendums on reform proposals at the ballot box, and he ended his time as governor taking the centrist path of least resistance. By the time he left office in 2011, as the Great Recession was hitting California hard, his approval rating was just 23 percent.

Voters are demonstrating that they want exciting, charismatic faces that they know from non-political contexts. But I’m not sure that’s what they need. Pick your measurement of good governance at the state level: low unemployment, good environment for business, low crime, good schools. Wherever you find the results that please you the most, the odds are low that you’ll find a celebrity-like figure governing that state.

If our measuring stick is whether people feel like they’re governed well, Americans are most pleased with the governors who are anti-celebrities, largely unknown outside of their states. As of July 2017, the most popular governors in America are Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Matt Mead of Wyoming, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, and Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota. (Also note, the top ten most popular governors in America are all Republican.) The least popular right now is also one of the best known, and who has popped up in celebrity contexts like late-night talk and comedy shows, New Jersey’s Chris Christie.

This isn’t to say Podhoretz is wrong, and that Democrats wouldn’t maximize their likelihood of victory with a celebrity candidate to challenge a celebrity president. We need a lot of things that we don’t necessarily want: exercise, green vegetables, saving for a rainy day, to watch mindless television less and to read more . . . 

But how often do we choose what we need over what we want?

ADDENDA: Over on the home page, I write that no Republican should be particularly surprised that Trump is relishing public fights with professional athletes while his legislative agenda moves slowly. This is the presidency that he promised Republican primary voters, and this is the option they chose.

Politics & Policy

Moore Wins Alabama Senate Primary


Making the click-through worthwhile: GOP Alabama Senate primary winner Roy Moore’s unlikely role as the resistance to DACA, who’s most likely to replace retiring Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, an observation about how our government spending disputes usually turn into cultural disputes, and how conservatives are awfully quiet about one case of wasteful government spending.

An Unlikely Figure to Represent Resistance to DACA

Judge Roy Moore is the man most likely to represent Alabama in the Senate, barring an enormous upset in the general election against Democrat Doug Jones, which will be held December 12.

Breitbart.com this morning, characterizing Moore’s win in the Alabama Senate Republican primary:

Roy Moore’s insurgent victory in Tuesday’s U.S. Senate Republican primary runoff in Alabama marks a definitive rejection by Donald Trump’s base of his shift toward working with Democrats on issues like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

This is a little ironic, because until mid-summer, Moore apparently had no idea what the DACA program was, judging from this interview with radio host Dale Jackson from July 11:

JACKSON: “Would you support an end to the Dreamer program that President Trump has still continued to push?

MOORE: “Pardon? The Dreamer program?”

JACKSON: “Yes sir. The DACA/DAPA. You’re not aware of what dreamers are?”

MOORE: “No.”

JACKSON: “Dreamers are — this is a big issue in the immigration debate. Dreamers are . . . ”

MOORE: “Why don’t you tell me what it is Dale, and quit beating around, and tell me what it is?”

JACKSON: “I’m in the process of doing that, Judge Moore.”

The controversial DACA program established in 2012 had somehow escaped his attention, but once he was up to speed, Moore concluded he opposed it. The man he defeated, Senator Luther Strange, did a good job of sounding like he opposed DACA for what it does (allowing those who entered the country illegally while children to stay) but if you look closely at his words, his primary objection to the program was President Obama implementing it through an executive order:

Since my tenure as Attorney General, I have been fighting, and winning, against Obama-era experiments with illegal amnesty. Today, the Trump administration rightly affirmed that Congress must lead the way in securing our borders and ending the crisis of illegal immigration.

We actually sued successfully to stop the Obama administration program to allow adults to stay here illegally (DAPA). I think this program is the same category — I think it’s unconstitutional.

The President makes the best point — Congress should address this issue. I’m in the camp, and maybe it’s a small camp, that [believes] we can do more than one thing at a time.

Extraordinary measures [were already taken] in the past administration to benefit noncitizens over citizens of our count country. The last thing we need is the help of foreign nations trying to tell us how to straighten our own immigration system.

Of course, nowhere in his statement does he say, “I believe those who entered the country illegally as children must not be allowed to stay.”

As the man most likely to be the next senator from Alabama, hopefully Moore will continue to study his briefing books and not just wing it when discussing topics he sort-of, kind-of remembers reading about once:

Jeff Stein: Some right-wing conservatives think Sharia law is a danger to America – do you?

Roy Moore: There are communities under Sharia law right now in our country. Up in Illinois. Christian communities; I don’t know if they may be Muslim communities. But Sharia law is a little different from American law. It is founded on religious concepts.

Stein: Which American communities are under Sharia law? When did they fall under Sharia law?

Moore: Well, there’s Sharia law, as I understand it, in Illinois, Indiana — up there. I don’t know.

Stein: That seems like an amazing claim for a Senate candidate to make.

Moore: Well, let me just put it this way — if they are, they are; if they’re not, they’re not.

No Corking It Up and Saving It For Later . . . 

Is it fair to wonder whether retiring Tennessee Senator Bob Corker finds it harder to get things done in Washington in the Trump era than he expected?

“After much thought, consideration and family discussion over the past year, Elizabeth and I have decided that I will leave the United States Senate when my term expires at the end of 2018,” Corker said in a statement.

“When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms,” said Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But I have always been drawn to the citizen legislator model, and while I realize it is not for everyone, I believe with the kind of service I provide, it is the right one for me.

In Tennessee, the big guessing game today is figuring out whether GOP Governor Bill Haslam wants to be a senator. If he doesn’t, and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn is interested, she would be the most-likely new frontrunner.

Her House office issued a statement: “Rep. Blackburn appreciates the outpouring of encouragement and support she has received about a possible Senate run. She ran for Congress to advance conservative values and fight for the people of Tennessee. Over the next week she will take a look at the Senate race and decide how, and where, she believes she can best serve her state and her nation.”

Andy Ogles, the head of Americans for Prosperity in Tennessee, already announced a Senate bid.

Americans, Competing With Each Other Instead of With Other Countries

There are a lot of times I disagree with David Frum, but he’s still a heck of a political diagnostician:

As societies become more diverse, political competition among groups intensifies. When you have diversity at a time of steep recession, the competition becomes even more intense still. I made this point in my 2012 book about Mitt Romney: In a multi-ethnic society that is rapidly becoming more multi-ethnic, economic redistribution is inevitably also ethnic redistribution.

The traditional parties of the left thought expected that their voters would look at the redistributionist project and say: “This is still the same thing as I remember from the 1950s, you’re transferring from the rich to the poor. I’m less rich, so I’m in favor.”

What they discovered instead was that a lot of voters who traditionally voted for the left, said: “You’re distributing from the existing inhabitants of the country to the newcomers. I identify not as ‘not rich’, I identify as ‘an existing inhabitant of the country.’”

I think this is a point I stressed to you when we talked previously about Obamacare. Of those who lacked health insurance before the Great Recession of 2008, 27 percent were foreign-born. When you take money out of the existing social insurance programs to fund a new one, the people who get angry are both those who feel that they are economic losers, and those who feel they are ethnic losers.

This is at the heart of a lot of our debates — the sense that the government doesn’t really want to serve everyone equally and that not only does it prioritize certain citizens’ concerns over others, the government doesn’t like even having to pretend to care about the concerns of certain groups.

ADDENDA: If Obama’s Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius had “taken taxpayer-funded flights on private jets in which [she] traveled to places where [she] owns property, and paired official visits with meetings with longtime colleagues and family members,” Congressional Republicans and conservatives in media would be screaming bloody murder about it, with good reason. If she had taken 26 flights on corporate jets at taxpayer expense, we would be raging with fury about it. It would be the lead story throughout Fox News Channel’s prime-time lineup.

But it’s Trump’s Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, who is doing all this, so we’re cool with it. We just want to our side to enjoy the perks of office, not be frugal with taxpayer’s money.

Politics & Policy

Stranger Things in Alabama


Making the click-through worthwhile: Trying to figure out just what’s wrong with Senator Luther Strange, the Republicans prep for the fight on tax cuts, the legacy of German chancellor Angela Merkel takes a dark turn, and the underwhelming Star Trek: Discovery.

The Moore-Strange Race Cannot Get Any More. . . Strange

Happy primary day, Alabama Republicans. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

So what exactly is the argument against the incumbent, Senator Luther Strange? What has he done in office to make Alabama Republicans decide they need a change?

He’s voted in agreement with President Trump’s position about 92 percent of the time. He disagreed on imposing sanctions on Russia, a vote where only 2 senators voted “no.” He voted against the 2017 fiscal year appropriations bill, declaring, “Planned Parenthood and sanctuary cities will continue to receive federal funding, while our nation’s aging military arsenal will still have to keep tightening its belt.” (The Senate passed it anyway, 79 to 18.)

Perhaps the fairest gripe is Strange’s flip-flop on the filibuster. In April, Strange wrote a letter to McConnell and Chuck Schumer, urging they “preserve existing rules, practices and traditions as they pertain to the rights of Members to engage in extended debate on legislation before the United States Senate.”

Earlier this month — as the primary race was heating up — Strange changed his mind: ”I respectfully withdraw my signature from the aforementioned letter and instead make a declaration that it is necessary for Republican Senate Leadership to work to change the filibuster rule, as President Trump as requested, and give the American people’s Senators the opportunity to debate on any legislation that can receive a simple majority vote.”

I occasionally hear, “Strange is McConnell’s guy!” But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that McConnell has a closer relationship with the senator he’s worked with for the past six months than Roy Moore. And of course McConnell is going to support keeping the incumbent in office; that’s how a majority leader ensures he still has a majority! Incumbent Republicans support other incumbent Republicans; complaining about that is like complaining about the rain.

During their moderator-free debate, Moore suggested that McConnell is somehow manipulating the president to abandon his agenda:

“The problem is President Trump’s being cut off in his office,” Moore said. “He’s being redirected by people like McConnell who do not support his agenda, who will not support his agenda in the future. I think we need to go back and look at these things. And look at what’s going on. This is the most unbelievable race I have ever been in.”

(Have you noticed how little Trump is held accountable for his own decisions? It’s always some bad outside influence that somehow Jedi mind-tricked Trump into making a decision against his own interest and agenda: McConnell, Paul Ryan, Jared Kushner, Ivanka . . .  Where does the buck stop, again?)

Is it just that Roy Moore has a better flair for the dramatic?

Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore drew a handgun from his pocket during a campaign rally on Monday as he made a final push to sway voters ahead of the state’s Republican runoff for U.S. Senate on Tuesday.

Moore — who’s vying for the Republican Senate nomination against the incumbent, Sen. Luther Strange — pulled the gun out in an effort to convince voters that he believes in the Second Amendment, or the right to bear arms.

“It’s been very hard for my wife and myself to wither two, nearly three months of negative ads that we couldn’t answer with money because we didn’t have it. Ads that were completely false. That I don’t believe in the Second Amendment,” Moore, a former chief justice, moments before he pulled out the handgun.

The good news is, his finger is not on the trigger. Remember, everyone:

‐ Always treat all guns as if they are loaded.

‐ Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to kill.

‐ Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target (and you are prepared to shoot).

‐ Be sure of your target and what is beyond it or behind it.

If Alabama Republicans genuinely believe that Moore is “conservative” and Strange isn’t, it confirms the notion that “conservative” no longer measures ideology, policy positions, philosophy or ideas. It’s all about attitude and style now.

Would a Roy Moore victory mean trouble for other Senate incumbents? Maybe, but these circumstances may not be easily replicated: Roy Moore is much better known than a lot of Senate primary challengers, and the runoff law helps him a lot.

“There are those who think that the potential success of Moore’s candidacy could be a jumping off point for insurgent challengers to sitting GOP senators in 2018,” said Geoffrey Skelley, associated editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which is produced at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“However, each race will have its own idiosyncrasies and different candidates with certain strengths and weaknesses,” said Skelley. “A Moore win will galvanize insurgent forces in the GOP, but it wouldn’t necessarily guarantee the start of something bigger.”

He noted that 2018 races in Nevada and Arizona will likely feature insurgent candidates facing incumbents who have been critical of Trump. Neither of those states, however, have primary runoffs and only a plurality is needed to win.

“Funny enough, additional candidates in states like Arizona and Nevada might help the GOP incumbents by fragmenting the anti-incumbent vote,” he said.

Ask Lindsey Graham. Every Senate incumbent prefers three to six primary rivals instead of just one.

Enough Repeal-and-Replace Disappointment. On to Tax Cuts!

Who’s ready for a big argument about tax cuts?

This week’s planned release of a unified GOP blueprint from the Senate, the House and the Trump administration marks the beginning of a race to a tax overhaul that will likely take months to complete. The plan will call for driving down the corporate tax rate into the low 20% range, from 35%, according to a person familiar with the discussions. It will also likely include a doubling of the standard deduction that would benefit many individual filers, lower individual rates, fewer tax brackets and sharply reduced rates for “pass-through” business owners who pay tax on business income through their individual returns.

The tax rates laid out in the plan will present achievable guideposts that could shift as tax bills move through the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee, the person said.

Republicans also have said they want to eliminate the estate tax, repeal the alternative minimum tax, expand write-offs for business investments and reduce taxes on U.S. corporate foreign profits.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, if you add up the sum of all the taxes Republicans want to cut, you get $5 trillion over a decade, but Republicans budgeted for $1.5 trillion over a decade in their latest budget resolution, aiming to keep the annual deficits manageable. You may see these tax cuts phased in over time, instead of going into effect immediately.

Merkel’s Legacy in Germany Gets Murkier and Messier

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen no doubt has deep admiration for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But his “she will be remembered as one of the great German leaders” conclusion is discordant with the opening paragraphs:

The enduring image of an election that saw Merkel win a fourth term as chancellor will not be her drawn face during the televised post-vote debate. It will be an exultant Alexander Gauland, a leading politician of the extremist Alternative for Germany (or AfD) party, vowing to “take back our country and our Volk!”

 . . . The arrival in Parliament, for the first time in decades, of about 94 members of a party that flirts with neo-Nazism, expresses pride in the Wehrmacht soldiers of World War II, and hails once more the German Volk constitutes a shattering of the accepted political contours of the Republic. There will be a before and an after.

Germany will be angrier and more turbulent. Taboos have fallen. The forces taking down mainstream parties in Western democracies are well known by now. They are fear of the future, of immigrants, of Islam and of terrorism; and anger at impunity, inequality and the arrogance of a globalized elite. Germany was not immune to them.

This reminds me of the insistence by some commentators on the Left that Obama was a remarkably successful, healing, inspiring, ground-breaking, near-ideal president . . .  whose country inexplicably turned ignorant, angry, racist and extremist on his watch.

ADDENDA: CBS is attempting to launch a new streaming service with the show Star Trek: Discovery. The pilot aired Sunday, the first time a Star Trek program appeared on a major television network since 1969. (Sorry, Voyager, I said a major television network and the short-lived UPN doesn’t count.) The rest of the episodes only available with a subscription to the new streaming service. Creating a good television series pilot is hard enough; this one faced a supreme degree of difficulty: offer a first hour so thrilling and intriguing that people would pay extra to see the second hour that resolves the cliffhanger.

I didn’t subscribe; that first hour was awful.

The protagonist felt like a grab-bag of tropes and clichés: traumatic memories of murdered parents, raised by Vulcans, trying to live up to the high expectations of a stern mentor/father figure, impulsive, but fighting the impulse for revenge against the Klingons. The Science Officer might as well have been named “Kvetching Worrywart” and was insufferable. The captain and first officer kept stepping off the bridge to have confrontations or heart-to-hearts. (This could have been played for laughs if the rest of the crew heard them yelling through the wall. Fox’s Star Trek parody show, The Orville, would have done something like that.) One of the revelations of the first hour is that the Vulcans figured out how to reach peace with the Klingons by relentlessly preemptively attacking them until the Klingons were willing to negotiate, which is . . .  either really bold storytelling, or just ignoring everything else Star Trek has shown about Vulcans since the beginning.

Is it possible we were wrong about Kathryn Jean Lopez’s “Star Trek ban” in the Corner all along?


Our Sports-Talk-Radio-Caller President


According to the Washington Post’s database, there have been 721 fatal police shootings in the United States so far in 2017. Out of these shootings, nine were unarmed black males. Only 32 total were unarmed.

The phenomenon of police fatally shooting an unarmed black man can simultaneously be fairly rare and a deeply troubling problem deserving of further effort to eliminate.

We know from video of the fatal shootings of Walter Scott in South Carolina and Philando Castile in Minnesota that there are cases of police officers fatally shooting unarmed black men for no justifiable reason. We also know this is not strictly a phenomenon of white cops shooting black citizens; think of the fatal police shooting of the unarmed Australian woman in Minneapolis. The rise of ubiquitous cellular phone cameras means the public now sees a lot of police work that once had no reliable witnesses; think of the Utah cop who arrested a nurse for no good legal reason.

Americans would be better off tackling this problem with empathy. For the average law-abiding young black man, getting pulled over on a traffic stop can be terrifying, gripped by the fear that one can do everything right and still get killed over a misunderstanding. Similarly, citizens should pause and recognize that every time a police officer puts on his badge and goes out to perform his duties, he wonders if this day will be his last, and whether he will be ambushed by some nut with a grudge against cops.

Of course, instead of understanding, the country got former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick wearing cops-are-pigs socks and denouncing police brutality while wearing a t-shirt bearing the image of Fidel Castro.

Still, Kaepernick being incendiary and uninformed about his heroes doesn’t actually change the facts on the ground about police shootings in the United States. The appalling brutality of the Castro regime doesn’t compare to criticisms of law enforcement in the United States. 

NFL players protesting police misconduct and those supporting them would do well to better define what outcome they want to see. A country where every cop wears a body camera? Federal civil rights prosecutions, as seen in South Carolina? More police training? Because police officers are human beings and human beings make mistakes, we will probably never have a country or a world where there are no fatal police shootings of unarmed individuals. We can try to minimize them. The intermittent coverage of this issue, and focus on particularly dramatic cases, can easily create the impression that this is a constant and worsening problem. But the number of fatal shootings of unarmed individuals nationwide in the first six months of 2017 was actually almost half the total in 2015.

How do we know when we’re making progress in this problem? When is it fixed?

Ironically, Kaepernick himself suggested he saw improvement. Back in August 2016, he declared, “When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.” He sat or kneeled for the anthem throughout the 2016 season, became a free agent, and then in March he suddenly announced he would stand again: “Kaepernick no longer wants his method of protest to detract from the positive change he believes has been created, sources told ESPN. He also said the amount of national discussion on social inequality — as well as support from other athletes nationwide, including NFL and NBA players — affirmed the message he was trying to deliver.”

But we don’t know if Kaepernick is standing when he hears the national anthem these days, because no team signed him. Some argued this amounted to a “blacklist” by the team owners; others point out that Kaepernick’s play has gradually plateaued or declined and he’s probably on the down slope of his career. After Kaepernick went unclaimed in free agency for a few weeks, Trump took credit: “Your San Francisco quarterback, I’m sure nobody ever heard of him . . .  It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump! Do you believe that? I just saw that.”

Saturday, at a rally supporting Luther Strange in Alabama, President Trump decided to reignite the issue, and essentially argued that players who kneel for the national anthem should be fired: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, get that son of a b—h off the field right now. He is fired.”

Once again, we see people’s perspective on whether one’s personal views should cost them their job depend almost entirely upon whether one agrees with their views. If you’re on the left, you think that a baker ought to be fired if he refuses to bake a wedding cake for gays, that Kentucky clerk Kim Davis should have been removed from office, that the Google guy deserved to be fired, and that no NFL player should be fired for taking a knee. Many conservatives feel the precise opposite in each case. Many Americans believe in First Amendment protections in the workplace for viewpoints they agree with and no protections for viewpoints they oppose.

It’s one thing for you or me to say, “they ought to fire that guy.”  It’s another thing for the President of the United States, with enormous power and influence over laws, regulations, federal policy, and government personnel decisions to do so. The National Football League will interact with the federal government plenty of times in the Trump era: antitrust exemptions, military plane fly-overs, security for the Super Bowl and other big events, tax laws. Every time the federal government balks at a league request, some will wonder, is this based of the merits of the arguments, or is this because of Trump’s fight with the players over the national anthem? This is one of the reasons presidents don’t usually weigh in on topics like this. The head of state is not supposed to issue verdicts on every controversy that comes down the pike.

But a lot of Americans want their president to be a culture warrior. Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee more or less declared they wanted to be president to change the culture, and it wasn’t Trump’s detailed policy knowledge that won him the nomination or the presidency. In Trump, America has a president who watches television, gets irked at what he sees and Tweets about it – and a lot of Americans don’t just agree; they conclude “he fights!” because of it.

It’s unsurprising that Trump jumped with two feet into the anthem controversy as the Senate Republicans find themselves unable to find 50 votes to repeal and replace Obamacare (again), there’s no easy solution to the threats from North Korea, Luther Strange could very well lose his Senate primary Tuesday, the wall isn’t built, and the outlook for major tax reform is cloudy at best.

The Trump White House may not get a lot of laws passed, but by golly, he sure can irk ESPN commentators, and for some voters, that’s good enough.

Former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan, who endorsed Trump for president in 2016, is now appalled with the president.

“I’m p***ed off, I’ll be honest with you,” Ryan said Sunday on ESPN. “I supported Donald Trump, I sat back when he asked me to introduce him at a rally in Buffalo, I did that. But I’m reading these comments, and it’s appalling to me. And I’m sure it’s appalling to almost any citizen in our country. And it should be. Calling our players SOBs, and that kind of stuff, that’s not the men that I know. The men that I know in the locker room I’m proud of, I’m proud to be associated with those people.

Let’s face it, this is not the first time Rex Ryan selected a particular person for a high-stakes job and found himself deeply disappointed with the results.

Meanwhile, in Alabama . . . 

Speaking of that Alabama Senate primary, our Alexandria DeSanctis covers the odd twists and turns:

As Election Day approaches, Strange’s polling numbers aren’t sufficient to comfort his fans. The two most recent major surveys have put Moore up by eight points and 14 points. And in August, Moore ended up outperforming his polling numbers once ballots were counted.

In the event that Strange loses on Tuesday, it certainly won’t be because Washington’s GOP didn’t put enough resources into supporting him. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC with close ties to McConnell, pledged $10 million to support the incumbent leading up to August 15 and into the runoff campaign. And earlier this summer the McConnell-controlled National Republican Senatorial Committee warned GOP strategists not to assist Strange’s primary opponents.

The Free Speech Week That Wasn’t

Lisa de Pasquale, author of The Social Justice Warrior’s Handbook*, offers her take on the cancellation of Free Speech Week events at UC-Berkeley, and offers her speech on feminism that she never got to deliver.

No doubt the university was no help to the organizers, but at times they didn’t seem all that . . .  organized:

Charles Murray, a libertarian conservative political scientist, posted a tweet Friday saying that he has “never heard of this event.”

“I was never contacted by the organizers of this event,” Murray said in an email. “The inclusion of my name in the list of speakers was done without my knowledge or permission. I will add that I would never under any circumstances appear at an event that included Milo Yiannopoulos.”

Pranav Jandhyala, news editor for the Berkeley Patriot, said that the publication was recently made aware of this issue and is in the process of dealing with it.

According to Jandhyala, Yiannopoulos was the primary person organizing the invitations for speakers, so the Berkeley Patriot “had not been in contact with most of the individual speakers.”

“The Berkeley Patriot was under the impression that those speakers were confirmed and it’s seeming like some speakers didn’t know that they were invited,” Jandhyala said. “That’s a big issue and we’re going to try to figure this out with Milo and his team.”

* Lisa’s book is a very funny parody, but it’s so on-the-nose that I suspect some conservatives will denounce her, not recognizing it’s a parody.

ADDENDA: And how was your weekend? Forgive my gloating, I’m not going to get too many chances to do that this year . . . 

Politics & Policy

Same Ol’ Plame


Making the click-through worthwhile: The mask slips from Valerie Plame, the media continues to treat unhinged political voices quite seriously, a cynical prediction on the health care debate, and a long-lost pop culture podcast returns!

Don’t Lay the Plame on Me.

If Valerie Plame always had a certain interest in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, it would explain a few things, wouldn’t it?

Thursday’s controversy began with former CIA employee Plame tweeting out a link to an article headlined, “America’s Jews Are Driving America’s Wars.” The article’s sub-headline asked, “Shouldn’t they recuse themselves when dealing with the Middle East?” (Got that? If you are a particular religion, you should not deal with Middle East policy at all, because your religion will automatically skew your judgment. Good thing Christianity and Islam don’t have any ties to the Middle East, right? I guess the author would prefer that U.S. foreign policy in the region was managed by Scientologists.)

The article — which I won’t link to, go find it yourself — was pretty explicit in the insistence that Jews couldn’t be trusted to work on American foreign policy:

Any American should be free to exercise first amendment [sic] rights to debate possible options regarding policy, up to and including embracing positions that damage the United States and benefit a foreign nation. But if he or she is in a position to actually create those policies, he or she should butt out and leave the policy generation to those who have no personal baggage.

For those American Jews who lack any shred of integrity, the media should be required to label them at the bottom of the television screen whenever they pop up, e.g. Bill Kristol is “Jewish and an outspoken supporter of the state of Israel.” That would be kind-of-like a warning label on a bottle of rat poison — translating roughly as “ingest even the tiniest little dosage of the nonsense spewed by Bill Kristol at your own peril.”

Public identification of Jews? Would he prefer a gold star sewn onto the clothes or maybe a tattoo?

(Separately . . .  this guy is worried about Bill Kristol setting the foreign policy in Trump administration? Has he completely missed everything that’s happened in American politics since 2014 or so?)

In the face of objections, Plame doubled down, declaring the article, “very provocative, but thoughtful. Many neocon hawks ARE Jewish . . .  Read the entire article and try, just for a moment, to put aside your biases and think clearly.” That’s right, we’re the ones who are biased (in favor of treating everyone equally and fairly, regardless of religious belief!) and not thinking clearly.

At some point between 11:50 a.m. and 1 p.m., someone must have reached out to Plame and explained just how virulently anti-Semitic she sounded, just how reprehensible the article’s arguments were, and just how politically radioactive she was becoming. She followed up with, “OK folks, look, I messed up. I skimmed this piece, zeroed in on the neocon criticism, and shared it without seeing and considering the rest.” (This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, considering how an hour earlier, she was telling everyone else to “read the entire article.”)

Looking through Plame’s Twitter feed, we see this is not a one-off. She repeated an urban legend about dancing Israelis sighted after 9/11 and an article touting “Israeli fingerprints all over the place” in the investigation of the worst terror attack in American history. She shared an article entitled “Why I Still Dislike Israel” that laments the “Israel Lobby electing and controlling a malleable congress [sic] and increasingly even officials at state and local levels.” She commented Natalie Portman was a fine choice to play a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg because “they are both Jewish.” (By itself that’s harmless comment, but in the context of the other ones, Plame seems particularly focused on knowing who’s Jewish and who isn’t.)

The heavily-fictionalized movie version of Plame’s autobiography, Fair Game, featured her and her husband Joe Wilson (played by Sean Penn) on the run from . . .  a shadowy conspiracy of powerful people who secretly control the government. All of a sudden, those Hollywood thriller clichés have an uncomfortable new context.

If Plame has always had a sympathy or curiosity about anti-Semitic conspiracy theories . . .  well, a couple of things start to fall into place, don’t they? The animosity towards the Bush administration, the focus on “neocons” . . .  the possibility that her work at the Agency was less-than-stellar? If she genuinely missed any anti-Semitic themes in the articles she shared, I guess we should be glad she wasn’t an analyst. Sheesh.

Putting America’s Craziest Voices in the Spotlight

Today on the home page, I have a piece attempting to sum up one of the most important lessons in the first eight months of the Trump presidency: Almost all of the people who are opposed to Trump want to use the same methods, tactics and tone that didn’t work as well as they hoped in 2016.

I had debated doing an entire piece on this aspect:

American society has never lacked outrageous controversy-courting personalities who probably need several hours (or years) on a therapist’s couch instead of being taken seriously. But in the Trump era so far, our public debate is more focused, not less, upon these types, and we keep rewarding these gadflies with fame and a high-profile platform. Harvard offered and then rescinded a fellowship to Chelsea Manning, convicted of six counts of espionage. Perhaps Harvard was expecting a scintillating lecture that called for abolishing the CIA and the presidency, or they Manning would once again compare U.S. immigration enforcement to the Gestapo. Vogue gave Manning a glossy profile, complete with glamorous photos by Annie Liebovitz.

Upon arrival at NBC News, Megyn Kelly profiled Alex Jones, who worries that chemicals are turning frogs gay and who has asked whether the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax. (She described him as a “conservative radio host.”) The Huffington Post still reports the utterances of Kathy Griffin, who thought that it was a good idea to pose, ISIS-style, with a fake severed head, dripping fake blood and made to look like President Trump’s.

Members of the media are finally growing reluctant to re-tweet the increasingly outrageous claims of Louis Mensch; all it took for serious skepticism to kick in was her claim that Russian president Vladimir Putin had Andrew Breitbart killed, that both Steven Bannon and President Trump were facing the death penalty for espionage, and that Utah senator Orrin Hatch was preparing to assume the presidency.

(Cue the jokes: Nobody who roots for the Jets or who thought they could follow the plot of Twin Peaks should criticize anyone else’s sanity.)

We all know people who are odd, eccentric, or march to the beat of their own drummer, but these cases feel like they take several steps beyond that point of amiable idiosyncrasies.

 And no, it’s not merely the Left that has self-appointed advocates who seem to have a shaky grasp of reality.  There are many critics of the president who doubt his sanity, or would point to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s belief that the Charlottesville riot was a left-wing “setup for these dumb Civil War re-enactors,” or those who believed Hillary Clinton and the highest levels of the Democratic party were running a child abuse and trafficking ring out of a pizzeria.

But I feel like a growing portion of our media conversation is, “oh my goodness, you won’t believe what this person known for making controversial statements has just said!” Er, yes I will! This is what these people do!

A Cynical Prediction:

The U.S. Senate will attempt to pass the Graham-Cassidy health care reform bill, and again come close but no cigar. At least three of the following senators will vote “no”: Rand Paul, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, or John McCain.

In this scenario, everyone gets close to what they want, except the American people who want to get rid of Obamacare. About 48 to 49 Senate Republicans will be able to say they voted multiple times to repeal and replace. House speaker Paul Ryan will point to the House’s passage of the American Health Care Act, and that he was ready to pass Graham-Cassidy if it passed the Senate.

John McCain will get cheered by the media for being a maverick — “The Republican who ran against Barack Obama in 2008 turned out to be the man who saved his signature accomplishment” — and Collins and Murkowski will insist they’re just being sensible moderates who want to protect the most vulnerable in their state.

Rand Paul will continue to insist that he supports repeal and replace, just not this repeal and replace, and lots of Kentucky residents will keep their benefits from Medicaid expansion. Republicans will insist you need to reelect them to get rid of Obamacare and fix the health care system, and they won’t be responsible for the condition of the health care system in November 2018.

Oh, and Jimmy Kimmel will get lauded by progressives as the hero who stopped those mean, nasty Republicans.

ADDENDA: After a long absence because of schedule coordination issues, the pop culture podcast returns with a new episode later today! Mickey shares her adventures in dispensaries in Colorado; I let out a final frustrated yowl about what the Twin Peaks reboot became; we salute American Horror Story for an unpredictable perspective on Trump-era anxiety; we take some comfort in the fact that NBA superstar Kevin Durant is as bothered by social media criticism as the rest of us; and Rolling Stone looks for a buyer. Now available on iTunes!


Fifth-Grade Teacher Fuels the War on Grammar with List of “Preferred Pronouns”


Making the click-through worthwhile: A math teacher in Florida demands the rules of grammar change in her classroom; how the prominent role of Jimmy Kimmel in our current health care reform debate illustrates how Americans don’t want to think too hard about the problem; and Lawrence O’Donnell explodes – metaphorically, not literally.

Forget the War on Christmas, We’re Losing the War on Grammar

Oh, here we go again.

A new fifth grade teacher at Canopy Oaks Elementary is asking students to use gender-neutral pronouns in the classroom.

Math and science teacher Chloe Bressack sent the request home in a letter to parents headlined “About Mx. Bressack.”

“ . . . my pronouns are ‘they, them, their’ instead of ‘he, his, she, hers.’ I know it takes some practice for it to feel natural,” the letter reads, “but students catch on pretty quickly.”

The letter also asks that students use “Mx.,” (pronounced ‘Mix’) when addressing the teacher rather than Mr. or Ms.

The note alarmed some parents.

I suppose we should be relieved that this teacher instructs students in math and science, and not English. Then again, we have a math teacher with some confusion on distinguishing between one and more than one.

As with the argument about whether it’s wrong to refer to Caitlyn Jenner as “he,” we have a blurring of the line between manners and propriety – the generally good rule that you should call someone by the name they prefer – and preexisting socially-established rules for identification.

If my child’s teacher wants to be called “Mix Surname,” that’s unusual, but fine. Be respectful, kids. But the words “they, them, and their” already have particular meanings in the English language, and they are used when referring to a group, more than one. This teacher is one person, and thus “they,” “them,” and “their” are not the appropriate pronouns.

Using a plural pronoun when referring to a singular noun is grammatically incorrect, as editors remind me on a frustratingly regular basis. You can’t just decide that in one classroom, the grammatical rules are one way, and in another classroom, they’re different. Grammar isn’t sexist, patriarchal, hetero-normative, racist, or somehow otherwise sinister; it’s just grammar.

You do have a right to ask others to call you by the name you prefer. You don’t have the right to demand schoolchildren use incorrect grammar just because you feel like it.  The rules of grammar are not set by personal preferences.

The school district seems to just want everyone to calm down and go about their business:

Superintendent Rocky Hanna addressed the situation in a statement sent to the Democrat. He said he met with Canopy Oaks administrators after learning about the letter.

“According to Principal Lambert, the teacher addresses students daily by using the pronouns he, she, him and her. The teacher also uses ma’am and sir when responding to students. As a personal preference, however, the teacher simply prefers to be referred to in gender neutral terms as that of a coach,” Hanna wrote.

Fun question: Would the English teacher down the hall mark a paper incorrect for referring to Bressack as “they” in a sentence? Or would the school district insist that it is correct to refer to Bressack as “they” but not to refer to other teachers as “they”?

Do Not Let Late-Night Comedians Write Your Health Care Policy

You would like to think that at some point, the country would realize that the skills required for successful policymaking and governing are different than the ones needed to be a celebrity. Instead, we’ve got Donald Trump and Jimmy Kimmel leading the argument about what our nation’s health care policies ought to be.

Our Theodore Kupfer:

Is Jimmy Kimmel worth listening to beyond monologues or celebrity chats? He can make people laugh, sure, and coax conversation out of the most vapid stars. But on health care? “Health care is complicated, it’s boring. I don’t want to talk about it. The details are confusing,” the comedian allowed last night on Jimmy Kimmel Live! But not, apparently, confusing enough to lower Kimmel’s self-confidence. Graham-Cassidy would “kick about 30 million Americans off insurance” and is “actually worse than” the skinny repeal the Senate rejected in July, Kimmel said. He even added the humble parenthetical, “This is not my area of expertise.” That, at least, is truth on display: Anyone who figured being a comedian and talk-show host was a natural fit with policy expertise has been duly warned.

Comedians have become public intellectuals in the popular imagination, so maybe some charity is in order. We should be open to the possibility that Kimmel has deep and hidden reservoirs of knowledge on risk-adjustment programs, the Medicaid expansion, or per capita caps. After all, Kimmel has, in the words of CNN, become the “conscience of the health care fight.” It’s not hard to see why: Kimmel has a moving family story to tell, a huge audience, and an unmistakable gift for the big screen. His infant son Billy has a heart condition that required surgery soon after birth and, like any father, Kimmel takes his son’s well-being seriously.

What Kimmel does is what a lot of voters do: they don’t think about the issue much; they just have strong feelings about it, and believe that those emotional reactions are sufficient to find the right solution. They conclude, “health care is a right!” and don’t think about what health care is – i.e., a doctor’s time and expertise, obtained at great cost and effort; an office, clinic, or facility, and X-rays and MRI machines and every kind of specialized equipment, designed and obtained at considerable cost, and of course, prescription drugs. All of that adds up to a value measured in trillions of dollars. Many Americans assert they have a right to all of that, and often they imply that they have a right to it for free, or a right to it without paying anything resembling the actual cost of the good or service.

About 70 percent of doctors accept new Medicaid patients, about 66 percent of general practitioners. (A few studies found much lower percentages.) These doctors have this policy not because they are mean or cruel or greedy or selfish, but because they find the government’s reimbursement rate is too low. For example, most hospitals take a loss on every Medicaid patient they treat; the money to make up that gap has to come from somewhere.

Medicaid pays roughly 80 percent of what a private insurer charges. The government expects doctors and caregivers to do the job for 20 percent less than other patients; unsurprisingly, doctors limit the number of Medicaid patients they’re willing to see. (This isn’t even getting into the bureaucracy, paperwork, and other hassles.)

A lawmaker in Hawaii came up with a simple solution: “Physicians who refused to take Medicare patients wouldn’t be able to reapply for their state medical license, which must be renewed every two years.” In other words, force doctors to see patients at the reduced government rate. This is where “health care is a right!” always ends: the state requiring a doctor to see a patient for reimbursement that the doctor deems unfair. The doctor stops being a independent citizen free to enter into agreements with patients on mutually-agreed terms; the doctor becomes a tool of the state who must obey the rules set by faraway lawmakers who know nothing about their practice and who they’ll never meet. Lawmakers rarely think too far down the road and ask how many people would want to become doctors under this sort of arrangement.

Anyway, the Senate could end up voting on Graham-Cassidy in the near future. “According to the chamber’s parliamentarian, senators only have until the end of the month to pass a bill with just 51 votes under the procedure known as reconciliation.” A huge question is whether John McCain is willing to be the deciding vote to kill off a healthcare reform bill cosponsored by his good friend Lindsey Graham.

O’Donnell Smash!

Those of us with long memories remember back in 2004 when Lawrence O’Donnell, then a talking head on MSNBC, flipped out on John O’Neill, head of Swift Boat Vets for Truth, and just started shouting “LIAR!” over and over again during an appearance. Television debates get heated, passions and tempers flare, but it entered the realm of unprofessional. Then there was the furious outburst on Morning Joe in 2010 and various other moments over the years suggesting that O’Donnell is one burst of gamma radiation away from becoming the Incredible Hulk when he’s angry.

Thirteen years later, Lawrence O’Donnell’s anger surfaces again as a newly-released video shows him raging over technical issues during commercial breaks. To his credit, he apologized: “A better anchorman and a better person would’ve had a better reaction to technical difficulties. I’m sorry.”

John Sexton: “The fact that this tape apparently leaked suggests some of the people on his staff are sick of working for a rage-a-holic. I wonder what they’ll decide to leak next.”

ADDENDA: Once again, we hope you will join us on Wednesday, October 25 for NRI’s fourth annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner at Gotham Hall in New York City honoring our close friends, Tom Wolfe and Bruce and Suzie Kovner. 

The annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner brings together an audience of conservative leaders, philanthropists, and friends of National Review Institute from around the country to celebrate the lasting legacy of William F. Buckley Jr and our esteemed honorees. The William F. Buckley Jr. Prize was created to honor those who advance the principles Buckley championed during his lifetime and foster the conservative movement that he helped launch.

Politics & Policy

Confederate Statue Debate Rages on in Virginia Gubernatorial


Happy Rosh Hashanah, y’all. Today, making the click-through worthwhile: Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam debate in Virginia, FEMA goes door-to-door to help out Texans recovering from Hurricane Harvey, Florida learns its own lessons from Irma, and Kurt Schlichter’s important point about double standards.

Look Who’s Reticent about Removing Confederate Statues in Virginia!

Pop quiz, Virginians: Find the distinctions between the positions of Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam on the issue of Confederate statues:

“Our history is our history,” Gillespie said. “And I believe that we need to educate about it, and that we need to teach about it. And so my view is that the statues should remain, and we should place them in historical context so that people can learn.”

Northam reiterated that he wants to see local governments maintain control of the decisions over statues, but he added that if “these statues give individuals, white supremacists like that, an excuse to do what they did, then we need to have a discussion about the statues.”

“Personally, I would think that the statues would be better placed in museums with certainly historical context,” Northam added.

To clarify, Gillespie wants localities to make the decision, but prefers them to be kept in place with a greater historical context, while Northam wants localities to make the decision, but prefers them to be moved to a museum with greater historical context. It says a great deal that Northam isn’t willing to jump on the bandwagon of the “tear down the statues” movement; most national media coverage of the issue would leave the impression that this is a majority of enlightened modernists battling a small minority of radical, racially-incendiary troglodytes.

In Suffolk’s most recent survey, the pollster asked Virginians, “Do you think Confederate statues should be removed from public spaces?” and about 32 percent supported removal, and 57 percent opposed them.

Fox News asked Virginians recently, “When you see the Confederate flag, do you have a positive reaction, a negative reaction, or don’t have a reaction one way or the other?” Only 13 percent said they have a positive reaction, 33 percent said negative, and 51 percent said they had neither. Once again a media echo chamber leaves progressives with the perception that their perspective is much more common than it actually is.

I liked this line from Gillespie:

Gillespie specifically pointed to the marchers who gathered in Charlottesville last month for what was dubbed the “Unite the Right” rally, arguing they shouldn’t be tied to any partisan viewpoints, despite what the rally was called.

“These Neo-Nazis, these white supremacists, these KKK members with their shields and their torches — If ‘1’ were the most liberal on the spectrum and ‘10′ were the most conservative, these people are a yellow,” Gillespie said. “They’re not on the same continuum.”

Another good line of the night, one that probably should be a focus in Northern Virginia:

Responding to the assertion that his plan would only benefit the wealthy, Gillespie said it would help everyone. He also noted that the state’s highest income bracket for tax purposes applies to all those who make more than $17,000 per year.

“My opponent thinks you’re rich,” Gillespie said. “And that’s just flat wrong.”

Checking in on Our Friends in Texas and Florida After the Hurricanes

Texans, Floridians, and other residents of areas hit by the recent hurricanes, you are not forgotten, even if most of the national media has moved on to other big news stories.

The good news is that in both parts of the country, some aspects of life are back to “normal,” or something like it. No doubt some Houstonian is scoffing that he’s unsurprised that traffic jams would be the first part of normality to return.

From the main thoroughfares, it looks like the city is bustling again: Offices and schools are open, retail is up and running, and freeways are jammed. But one turn onto a residential street offers a starkly different scene. Neighborhoods look like the houses were turned inside out. Everything, soggy and smelly, is rotting on the front lawn, and homes stand stripped to the studs. That work was mostly done by the owners themselves.

Houston’s mayor declared the city is “open for business,” but there’s an enormous amount of construction work to be done, and a need for a lot more workers.

The Greater Houston Builders Association estimates that Hurricane Harvey and its relentless rain destroyed at least 30,000 homes; thousands more sustained significant damage. The city already suffered a labor shortage because so many construction workers left during the housing crash and again when oil prices slumped. When prices came back, not enough workers did.

Before Harvey hit, Houston issued permits for about 27,000 single-family homes to be built this year. Now the work will more than double.

Most of Houston’s construction workers come from Mexico, and that has made matters even more difficult, as immigration policies tighten under the Trump administration. The National Association of Home Builders has already made a plea for help.

Clean water is flowing in a lot of places, but not everywhere:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality continue to coordinate recovery efforts. As of Sept. 14, the TCEQ reported that of 2,238 drinking water systems affected by Harvey, some 2,014 systems are fully operational, 77 have boil-water notices and 19 were shut down. Also, the TCEQ said its personnel had made contact with 1,219 wastewater treatment plants in the 58 counties within the governor’s disaster declaration, and 31 of those were inoperable.

As for the continuing federal response, “FEMA opened disaster recovery centers in Houston, Bay City, Brookshire and Orange with recovery specialists who can speak to residents and business owners about assistance and help with filing applications.”

And FEMA employees and contractors are going door to door to help people out.

The people of Bear Creek emerged cautiously from their ruined houses to greet the men and women wearing blue FEMA shirts who came to their front doors. They stood amid enormous piles of discarded belongings that covered their front lawns and spilled over the sidewalks and into the streets.

The FEMA workers answered question after question: Why do I have to fill out a Small Business Administration loan application when I don’t own a business? (It’s a required part of the process.) Why won’t my homeowners’ insurance cover flood damage? (You need flood insurance for that.) Why does FEMA need a copy of the denial letter from my insurer? (To avoid duplicating benefits.)

Yet these survivors of Hurricane Harvey’s floods, like thousands of others across the Houston area and beyond, needed more than information. They needed a bit of encouragement and support.

“Don’t give up,” disaster assistance team member Howard Higgins advised a group of women who had just told their story to him and his colleagues. “We wish you the best. I hope we clarified some of it for you today.”

Higgins was part of a team that had been working for days in Bear Creek, a northwest Harris County community where Harvey’s floods damaged hundreds of houses. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had dispatched this group and others like it to hard-hit areas up and down the Texas Gulf Coast to guide survivors through the first steps toward recovery.

Meanwhile, in Florida, life is also returning to normal; close to 99 percent of those who lost electricity had it back Tuesday and the schools are open again. Some Floridians complained about Miami-Dade County’s preparation and response the at the county budget hearing Tuesday, but even that is another indication that life is getting back to normal. Mayor Carlos Gimenez responded that the county distributed nearly 400,000 meals after Irma and hundreds of tons of ice. “I’m not swayed by the 50 people who came here. I’m swayed by the 2.7 million people who didn’t come here.”

State and local officials are learning lessons:

In Sarasota, Fla., the American Red Cross struggled to staff emergency shelters because many of its local volunteers are snowbirds who don’t arrive in Florida until October or later, said Jacqueline Fellhauer, who manages one of the Red Cross shelters.

“We were just trying to grab people out of the sky,” she said.

 . . . There were “glitches” in the shelter plan in Miami-Dade County, Mayor Carlos Gimenez admitted as the storm roared toward Florida. He had insisted that the county open enough space for 100,000 people. But the Red Cross had trouble mustering volunteers amid difficult travel conditions, and many shelters were short-staffed.

There’s still a long and difficult road ahead, but the story of the hurricanes is, so far, that the weather was the worst and most people brought out their best. The government responses at the federal, state, and local levels were pretty much as good as one can expect.

As Jonah noted in the G-File last week, “if there were even a few convenient excuses to attack Trump over the administration’s response, he would have gotten a ton of blame.” The fact that you’re hearing so little about the response to the hurricanes is a strong indicator that it is going about as well as anyone can reasonably expect.

Of course, we’ll soon need to be raising money to help Puerto Rico . . . 

ADDENDA: My friend Kurt Schlichter and I have different styles of argument, but we end up in similar places. The double standard and hypocrisy of the modern Left created dysfunctional public debate; it will be nearly impossible to resolve anything until we rebuild a consensus on just how a public debates shall proceed. We conservatives can live happily in an anything-goes public arena where controversial statements of any stripe do not risk one’s employment. Or we can live happily in a politer, higher-minded society where sufficiently incendiary, obnoxious, or comments can be deemed beyond the pale and carry significant social consequences. But what we won’t accept is a world where the rules only apply to one side.

Oh, conservatives are now for firing people when they didn’t used to be.” Well, yeah. See, you changed the rules. The rule used to be that you can’t be fired for what you say or think. But that’s not the rule anymore, thanks to you liberals. Just ask that guy who was at Mozilla or that heretic who thinks men and women are different and got fired from Google. Sure, we were against the new rule, but you used your cultural power through the media, the Democrat party, and your corporate coward allies to impose it. So we are not hypocrites for employing the rule that exists now, thanks to you. And we hope you choke on it.

Hey, if you want to change the rule back, let’s do that. Let’s all gather together and state, unequivocally, “No, we are not going to fire people for what they say or think.” Except you don’t really want to do that. You want to have a special rule that applies only to conservatives, but we’re not going to allow that to happen. That’s why we’re going to make the argument to normals for the universal application of the new rules you created. And it’s an effective argument, which is why you hate it. Normal people naturally understand that there can’t be two sets of rules, one for us normals, and one for you America-hating, alternately perverted and prudish, progressive weirdos.

You can’t denounce talk radio or Fox News for being incendiary and vulgar and then cheer for Bill Maher and Kathy Griffin just because you agree with them. America can have a freewheeling public debate with no economic repercussions for unpopular views, or a calmer, politer, less shout-y and more respectful public debate. Pick one, progressives, and stick to it.

Politics & Policy

Look Who Really Was Wiretapping Trump Tower Resident Paul Manafort


Remember this Tweet from President Trump back on March 4? “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

Last night, from CNN — you know, that allegedly terrible failing network that the President enjoys sending gifs imagining himself hitting:

US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe.

The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.

Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive.

A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014. It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine’s former ruling party, the sources told CNN.

The surveillance was discontinued at some point last year for lack of evidence, according to one of the sources.

The FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year.

The article notes, “It’s unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance,” but considering how often a candidate and his campaign manager speak on the phone, the odds seem pretty good. (The FBI would presumably tap both Manafort’s cell phone and landline, right?)

Perhaps those wiretaps were entirely lawful — in fact, it is pretty likely. But it does mean that the president’s wiretapping claim wasn’t imaginary.

Our David French wonders if the Department of Justice was honest in its past denials of the allegation in Trump’s Tweet:

Obviously, wiretapping Manafort is not the same thing as wiretapping Trump, but the repeated, blanket denials seem disingenuous if Trump is actually on tape. The legal distinctions do matter, but these legal distinctions tend to get lost in the heat of partisan debate. I hope and pray that DOJ officials’ desire to rebut the president didn’t get ahead of their prudence. Would “no comment” have been a better response than a vigorous denial?

At the same time, Trump partisans need to understand that it’s outrageous to wiretap Manafort only if the law and evidence don’t support the DOJ’s action. If there was probable cause that he is or was an agent of a foreign power, his status as Trump’s campaign chair doesn’t and shouldn’t protect him from appropriate scrutiny. Did the FBI do the right thing? Time will tell.


Paul J. Manafort was in bed early one morning in July when federal agents bearing a search warrant picked the lock on his front door and raided his Virginia home. They took binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files, looking for evidence that Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, set up secret offshore bank accounts. They even photographed the expensive suits in his closet.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.

I hope he was dressed!

Looking Closer at the Only Competitive Statewide Governor’s Race of 2017

Tonight, Virginians see Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie face off in another gubernatorial debate. Yesterday, two state universities released new polls on the race; University of Mary Washington’s survey found Northam ahead, 44 percent to 39 percent, while the Suffolk University poll had the race tied, 40 percent to 40 percent. (The individual respondents in that latter poll split perfectly evenly, 202 to 202.)

Something that should worry Democrats: In the Suffolk poll, almost 20 percent of respondents said they had never heard of Ralph Northam; ten percent said the same for Gillespie. (His oh-so-close Senate bid from 2014 probably helps with his name recognition.)

A bit more than 29 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Northam, 22 percent said they had a negative one. The remaining 29 percent said they had no opinion or were undecided. Gillepsie had a 37-28 split on favorability.

Ralph Northam has been lieutenant governor for the past four years, and roughly half the state is unfamiliar with him. What, has he been in witness protection? I was initially underwhelmed with the Gillespie campaign’s “No-Show Northam” theme – mocking Northam for missing a lot of meetings. But maybe this will resonate; maybe the message can be even simpler: Did you know Ralph Northam has been your lieutenant governor for the past four years? If he hasn’t done anything that you’ve even heard about in that job . . .  why would anyone make him governor?

Northam’s campaign is running ads that introduce him to voters — emphasizing his service as a doctor in the U.S. Army and a pediatrician. Notice the closing image of his ad:

“Doctor-Veteran” Northam’s campaign doesn’t want to remind voters he’s been lieutenant governor for the past four years.

It’s mid-to-late September. Absentee voting starts Friday.

One oddity in the Mary Washington poll is also worth spotlighting. More respondents supported Northam than Gillespie, but when asked, “Regardless of how you might vote in the 2017 election for governor in Virginia, as far as you know, do you think most of your neighbors will vote for (Ed Gillespie, the Republican), most will vote for (Ralph Northam, the Democrat), or will most of them split their votes?” Among registered voters, 30 percent said Gillespie and 22 percent said Northam, and among likely voters, 32 percent said Gillespie and 25 percent said Northam. In other words, a slightly larger number of Virginians think their neighbors will mostly vote for Gillespie.

Finally, the Suffolk survey also asked, “Does Senator Tim Kaine deserve to be reelected in 2018 — yes or no?” and 43.4 percent answered yes, 45.8 percent answered no. I would be shocked if Kaine lost next year, but that feels like a terrible number for an incumbent. In fact, this isn’t just any incumbent; this is a guy who had 1.9 million people in the state vote to make him vice president last year!

ADDENDA: My inner taxpayer rejoices, my inner deficit hawk cringes:

A budget that creates fiscal room for a $1.5 trillion tax cut, if adopted, would then be followed by a tax bill that would specify rate cuts and other policy changes that don’t exceed that figure. Calling for a tax cut in the budget would let Republicans lower tax rates while making fewer tough decisions on what tax breaks to eliminate to help pay for the cuts.

Republicans contend that some expiring tax cuts would have been extended anyway and that their plan would boost economic growth and generate revenue, reducing the actual impact on the deficit below whatever overall number they agree on. Still, they may need to make some of the tax cuts expire after 10 years, leaving decisions to a future Congress they may not control.

With this latest turn in budget talks, Republicans are gradually shifting away from an earlier stance some took in favor of a tax plan that fully paid for itself in the first decade.

Politics & Policy

The Difficulty of Changing the Status Quo in the U.N. General Assembly


The annual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly is the sort of gathering that should be a big deal, but passes without incident or much consequence most years. Almost every major world leader speaks, and the assembled United Nations delegates might as well be listening to their iPods on those translation headphones. (Ever notice that in comic books, villains are frequently attacking gatherings of world leaders? A good plotline would be the villains taking over and realizing how many countries can operate just fine with their heads of state held hostage.)

The big story of this year’s gathering is President Trump meets the world, and he may be able to get some institutional reforms adopted:

The U.S. drafted a 10-point document, “U.N. Reform Declaration,” and asked member states to sign it to attend Monday’s event with Mr. Trump, diplomats said. More than 100 out of 193 member states did so.

The declaration, seen by the Wall Street Journal, combines the U.S.’s agenda for change — including a commitment to reduce redundancy within U.N. organizations — with [Secretary General] Guterres’s vision for management and bureaucratic overhauls.

In the declaration, countries will “commit to reducing mandate duplication, redundancy, and overlap including among the main organs of the United Nations.” The signatories encourage Mr. Guterres to “pursue impactful and field-centric management reforms,” the document said.

Maybe this is a meaningless piece of paper, or a wish list, or just “kumbaya” good feelings that won’t lead to consequential action. But it does say something that when America has a president that the rest of the world allegedly disdains, we can still get a good chunk of the world to sign on to an idea. (It helps that it is, in fact, an actual good idea.)

Then again, Anne Bayefsky, friend of National Review, writes at Fox News that she expects the reform initiative to have no real effect:

It’s an old UN game trotted out whenever Americans get fed up with throwing money down the UN drain or paying for a global platform used to trash the USA’s best interests and spew anti-semitism. It goes by the name of “UN reform.” And President Trump appears to have taken the bait — hook, line and sinker.

The London Bomber Was a . . .  Teenage Refugee?

The fact that a young refugee placed a bomb in the London tube train Friday morning doesn’t mean that the United States shouldn’t accept any refugees. But it does mean that a system of “extreme vetting” and barring refugees from countries where the local government cannot or will not help us determine that they have no ties or sympathies to jihadism is just common sense.

The arrest of the London bomber showcases another colossal problem for our friends in the United Kingdom: This guy entered the country as a 15-year-old refugee . . .  and within three years, he had become a terrorist.

The 18-year-old, who is suspected of placing the powerful device on a rush hour tube train on Friday morning, was detained by Kent police as he tried to purchase a ferry ticket to Calais.

The teenager is thought to have arrived in Britain three years ago as an orphan refugee, who had travelled across Europe to get to the so-called Jungle camp at Calais.

As an unaccompanied child he was allowed entry to the UK and after being processed through a migrant centre in Kent, was found a home with a foster family in Sunbury on Thames.

 . . .  However detectives will [now be] seeking to establish if those responsible for the failed attack had travelled to Britain as genuine refugees, or if they were actually members of Islamic State of of Iraq and the Levant who had been sent to specifically carry out an attack.

Will Geddes, CEO of security consultants ICP, said he believed those responsible may have “infiltrated” the UK.

He said: ‘“I think the age of the man arrested is significant, we are not talking about people in their 40s or 50s we are talking about young people. This is a generational struggle that will be difficult to root out.”

Notice the reference to “failed attack.” Thirty people injured, 19 taken to the hospital, a pregnant woman trapped in a pile of people, others injured by the stampede . . .  this was “failed’ in the sense that it didn’t kill anyone, thank God.

The notion that this young man was some sort of ISIS sleeper is, in a twisted way, reassuring; it means that he was always secretly driven by a hateful ideology that he successfully hid from everyone. The more unnerving — and, I’d argue, plausible — possibility is that he came to London as a terrified teenage orphan, given an opportunity to start a new life with a (presumably) caring foster family in one of the greatest and freest countries of the world . . .  and he absorbed the enthusiasm for radical jihadism and terrorism that is incubating in certain corners of society in the United Kingdom. If all of this checks out, it indicates that the danger to society doesn’t really come from refugees . . .  it comes from how life in the U.K. can change refugees.

It’s worth recalling that the U.S. Supreme Court permitted a good portion of President Trump’s executive order barring certain refugees and countries of origin — at least for now. In June, the Court approved a limited version of the ban  that temporarily blocked refugees and citizens of six Muslim-majority countries. Last week, the court “blocked a federal appeals court ruling that would have exempted refugees who have a contractual commitment from resettlement organizations from the travel ban while the justices consider its legality. The ruling could impact roughly 24,000 people.”


In about a week, the Kurds of Iraq will hold a referendum on whether they want to become an independent state.

Iraqi Kurdistan is already “semi-autonomous,” and the referendum has no legal effect; it’s sort of a giant poll of Iraqi Kurds. But quite a few Kurds, including Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, want international support for “an eventual negotiated exit from Iraq and the declaration of a new UN-recognized state, probably within the next five to ten years.”

The Iraqi government in Baghdad does not like this one bit. Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi denounced the upcoming referendum in an interview this weekend with the Associated Press:

Al-Abadi: Well, our position is that it is unconstitutional, it is illegal, there is nothing that will be taken seriously out of it. It’s like taking public opinion but for us it is illegal, it clearly contradicts the constitution. And especially when it’s done with a vision that there is a problem within the region itself, the Kurdish region. The parliament hasn’t been held for 22 months, so there is a constitutional, legal crisis inside the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and this is a very, very bad move for the Kurdish population, the Iraqi Kurdish population.

 . . . This is a public invitation to the countries in the region to violate Iraqi borders as well would be a very dangerous escalation.

AP: Is the use of force on the table?

Al-Abadi: It will only come into effect and we will only resort to this to protect our population, to protect our Kurdish population and our Arab and Turkmen and other ethnic populations of our own country. If they are threatened by the use of force outside the law, then we will intervene militarily.

Turkey and Iran don’t want an independent Kurdistan on their borders, lest their own adjacent Kurdish populations get the same idea. The Trump administration doesn’t like the referendum, either:

“The United States does not support the Kurdistan Regional Government’s intention to hold a referendum later this month,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday. “The United States has repeatedly emphasized to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat [the Islamic State] and stabilize the liberated areas.”

This probably won’t lead to an all-out shooting war, but if the referendum passes, we can expect increased tensions between the Kurds and the Iraqi government. The Iraqi government, the Kurds, and the United States and its allies have beaten the tar out of ISIS and driven them out of Mosul, but there’s still enormous amounts of work to be done. Most of the cities liberated from ISIS are largely wrecked, and the International Monetary Fund had to loan the Iraqi government $5 billion last year to ensure they had the money to run a government and fight ISIS simultaneously. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Kurdistan says, “to hell with all of you, we’re formally declaring independence,” and then the Middle East finds a new way to have a messy, complicated, violent conflict.

ADDENDA: The Fourth Annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner is about five weeks away! We hope you can join us Wednesday, October 25, at Gotham Hall in New York City.

The theme of this year’s dinner is “Books, Arts, & Manners,” honoring world-class journalist and novelist Tom Wolfe, author of The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, A Man in Full, I Am Charlotte Simmons, and Back to Blood.

The National Review Institute will also honor Bruce and Suzie Kovner with the WFB Prize for Leadership in Supporting Liberty. The Kovners have supported and led organizations that defend private enterprise, free markets and free trade, protect individual rights, promoted scholarly research that strengthens American democratic principles; fought for education reform, particularly charter schools; and helped ensure the future of the major performing arts institutions of New York City. The master of ceremonies will be James Rosen of Fox News, who I hope will do his William F. Buckley impression at some point during the evening. It’s like he’s possessed.

The event will also feature performances by students of The Juilliard School. More information about tickets and sponsorship can be found here. Hope to see you there.


Berkeley Survives Ben Shapiro’s Speech


Might as well call this Culture Wars Friday: Berkeley’s campus survives a visit from Ben Shapiro, Harvard University suddenly has second thoughts about Chelsea Manning, and a complicating new wrinkle in the ESPN-Jamele Hill controversy. Also, Showtime’s reboot of Twin Peaks gets what it deserves.

Berkeley Didn’t Burn from Ben!

A pleasant surprise: Ben Shapiro is pleased with his experience in Berkeley! “Well done, @UCPD_Cal and @berkeleypolice! Thank you for restoring order and ensuring the exercise of free speech!”

All in all, considering the expectations for chaos and past problems at Berkeley, the night went pretty smoothly:

Though the campus had prepared extensively for potential violence, Ben Shapiro’s speaking event at UC Berkeley on Thursday went on largely uninterrupted, drawing a peaceful protest that ended in a short march through Berkeley’s streets.

Shapiro, who was invited to speak by campus group Berkeley College Republicans and was co-sponsored by Young America’s Foundation, spoke at Zellerbach Hall to a crowd of about 700 people. Nearly 50 people gathered near Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue [at] about 5 p.m. to protest Shapiro’s appearance, but the crowd soon grew to about 1,000 people by 7 p.m.

“I’m here because I can’t condone people who think that some problems in my culture represent the entire culture,” said campus freshman Simone Muhammad. “I’m here because they’re infringing on my rights as a bisexual and a black woman.”

Ma’am . . .  how? Someone giving a speech you don’t like is not an infringement of your rights. Then again, she’s a freshman, so maybe she hasn’t taken the Constitutional law class yet.

Both the campus and the city prepared for violent retaliation to Shapiro’s event in various ways, including setting up barricades around and inside campus Thursday morning. AC Transit buses with routes running south of campus via Telegraph Avenue or Bancroft Way were also diverted, and BART trains skipped over the Downtown Berkeley station.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office made nine arrests in conjunction with Berkeley Police Department, as of 10:42 p.m.

BPD also received reports of one individual who was injured as a result of a fall, according to Officer Byron White. In a Nixle alert released early Friday morning, BPD confirmed that there were no reported injuries due to violence and no reports of property damage.

Ah Yes, Harvard, that Conservative Traditionalist Citadel!

Quite a few folks scoffed and objected when Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government made Chelsea Manning — convicted of 19 charges, including six counts of espionage — a visiting fellow. Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell resigned from Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in protest, declaring, “I have an obligation to my conscience — and I believe to the country — to stand up against any efforts to justify leaks of sensitive national security information.”

(Near the end of his term, President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence to a total of 7 years confinement.)

Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School, announced he was rescinding the title Thursday night.

We invited Chelsea Manning to spend a day at the Kennedy School. Specifically, we invited her to meet with students and others who are interested in talking with her, and then to give remarks in the Forum where the audience would have ample opportunity — as with all of our speakers — to ask hard questions and challenge what she has said and done. On that basis, we also named Chelsea Manning a Visiting Fellow. We did not intend to honor her in any way or to endorse any of her words or deeds, as we do not honor or endorse any Fellow.

However, I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility . . .  We are withdrawing the invitation to her to serve as a Visiting Fellow — and the perceived honor that it implies to some people — while maintaining the invitation for her to spend a day at the Kennedy School and speak in the Forum. I apologize to her and to the many concerned people from whom I have heard today for not recognizing upfront the full implications of our original invitation.

On Twitter, Manning responded with all of the even-tempered understanding, graciousness and gratitude that we have come to expect:

If this account is true, this smudges the emerging portrait of ESPN as a company gripped by paranoid politically-correct groupthink, where Curt Schilling gets dismissed for a meme, Linda Cohn is given a harsh warning, and Robert Lee is reassigned out of a fear of social media memes, but Hill is given free reign. The Disney subsidiary may be afraid of controversy and ire from either political direction — but still deal with offenders on the right differently from ones on the left.

There’s a fairly easy way to keep your existing audience and well-established band identity, avoid unnecessary controversies, and keep advertisers happy: cover sports.

ESPN is not alone among media companies in a strange habit of seeking out those who are known for certain types of controversy, and then recoiling when those figures behave as they always had. This arguably goes back to Rush Limbaugh’s short-lived work on the NFL Sunday show in 2003.

This morning, President Trump tweeted, “ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!”

ADDENDA: You may have noticed I stopped writing about the Showtime revival of Twin Peaks a couple months ago, and several readers asked what I thought of the finale. Today, I let it all out.

Unfortunately, I can only conclude that the revival was a deep disappointment, driven mostly by the decision by co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost to abandon most of the tenets of traditional narrative — an active protagonist, a clear motivation for the villain, a clear sense of what’s at stake, storytelling set-ups and pay-offs — and instead explore more abstract concepts and moods and vignettes, sometimes resembling a sketch show or dream journal. Professional critics who raved about the series may insist that I set some sort of unfair expectation because I wanted the episodes and series to tell a more complete story. What they’re neglecting is that the show was built on a traditional narrative in the 1990-1991 run, and that the Showtime series was explicitly marketed upon the image and style of the original series. The original ABC series was about both the protagonists and audience investigating; the Showtime series was about both the protagonists and audience waiting.

Politics & Policy

If Only Someone Had Warned Them!


Then-candidate Donald Trump, speaking in Arizona, September 1, 2016: “NO AMNESTY! For those here today illegally who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and only one route: to return home and apply for re-entry under the rules of the new legal immigration system.”

Last night, after dining with the president, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement declaring, “We had a very productive meeting at the White House with the President. The discussion focused on DACA. We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”

President Trump, in a series of Tweets this morning: “No deal was made last night on DACA. Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote. The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built. Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!…..”

Er, yes, Mr. President, that is what is generally what “no amnesty” means.

President Trump concluded, “ . . . They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own — brought in by parents at young age. Plus BIG border security.”

Ann Coulter reacts this morning: “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?”

That’s the author of In Trump We Trust. Now she tells us!

Congressman Steve King of Iowa, another big Trump supporter in 2016, reacts this morning: “Unbelievable! Amnesty is a pardon for immigration law breakers coupled with the reward of the objective of their crime. If AP is correct, Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible.”

Breitbart.com goes with the headline: “AMNESTY DON . . .  DEMS DECLARE VICTORY AS TRUMP CAVES ON DACA”

How bad is it? Bad enough to shake the faith of Sean Hannity!

Hannity: “If POTUS doesn’t keep that promise [for a wall], and goes for amnesty, it will be the political equivalent of ‘read my lips, no new taxes.’”

In fact, when you look at President Trump’s biggest fans from the 2016 campaign, a recurring pattern emerges — even before reports of last night’s deal.

Julius Krein, founder and editor of American Affairs: “I can’t stand by this disgraceful administration any longer, and I would urge anyone who once supported him as I did to stop defending the 45th president. Not only has the president failed to make the course corrections necessary to save his administration, but his increasingly appalling conduct will continue to repel anyone who might once have been inclined to work with him.”

Mike Cernovich: “I don’t want anyone to think of me as a pro-Trump guy. I’m going to specifically reject any kind of branding about pro-Trump or whatever . . .  Do you gain anything by risking your reputation, your career, your business, supporting Trump? What is the upside? Backing Trump has been bad for business.”

Stephen Bannon, upon his departure from the White House: “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over. We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else.”

Caitlyn Jenner: “I apologize to all of the trans community. I made a mistake. I will never do it again and I’m getting rid of the [Make America Great Again] hat.”

Gee, if only someone had been around in 2015 and 2016, to warn these poor folks that Trump had no ideological principles; that he was erratic, mercurial and quick to seek out scapegoats; that he had almost no knowledge about how the federal government worked and little interest in learning; that he was temperamentally ill-suited to the daily pressures of the presidency and the inevitable criticism from the press, and that he was more focused on gratifying his own ego and feeling an abstract sense of “winning” than particular policy outcomes or building broad coalitions to enact his agenda . . . 

I kid, of course. All of these people were warned, time and again, with mountains of history and supporting evidence about Trump’s true nature and instincts. But these folks were completely convinced that they knew better.

The Battle of Jamele Hill

A lot of right-of-center sports fans don’t particularly like Jamele Hill, the co-host of the 6 p.m. Sportscenter on ESPN, who tweeted Monday that “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”

Late last night, she issued the statement: “My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs. My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my colleagues remains unconditional.”

This portrait of the show raises the question of just what ESPN wanted to do with Hlll and her co-host Michael Smith, and whether their preferred ideas and format really fit with the past identity of SportsCenter, their flagship program of scores, highlights and news. I recall the commercials touting the show as “Sports Music Movies + More”, and thinking . . .  why is ESPN covering music and movies? Doesn’t this implicitly verify the charge that ESPN, which touted itself as “The Worldwide Leader in Sports,” is turning into a progressive-minded network for people who are only kind-of sort-of interested in sports?

My colleague David French strenuously objects to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declaring that Hill’s statement is “something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN.” (It is depressing that once-venerable journalistic institutions like The Hill succumbed completely to the instinct to hype the statement for social media outrage, declaring “White House demands ESPN fire host.” Huckabee’s statement is newsworthy enough as is when you report it accurately.)

I concur with French that I don’t want the White House urging private companies to fire employees for criticizing the president. (It’s also probably counterproductive; the moment Huckabee criticized Hill from the podium, she became indispensible to ESPN, which was not going to let the world think that it had knuckled under and obeyed instructions from a president with a job approval below 40 percent. No self-respecting company would do that.)

But in a world where the slightest whiff of controversy in a statement can get someone fired, it’s hard to begrudge those on the right attempting to demonstrate that the door can swing both ways. This is a world where Google fires engineers for expressing politically incorrect ideas, Berkeley’s campus looks like a war zone preparing for Ben Shapiro’s speech, and a violent mob can encircle Charles Murray on Middlebury’s campus. The American people will not accept a society where only one side of the political debate is acceptable to express publicly. Corporate America cannot be the enforcers of a contingent understanding of the First Amendment, where employment is dependent upon your personal political views staying within the company’s accepted (and rapidly shrinking) parameters.

If Clay Travis of Outkick the Coverage is right, that’s more or less what ESPN is doing, with ESPN president John Skipper allegedly berating longtime anchor Linda Cohn for daring to offer some mild and well-founded criticism of the network getting too political for the tastes of some viewers.

ADDENDA: Once again, National Review hopes you can join us for the Fourth Annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner, held Wednesday, October 25, at Gotham Hall in New York City.

The theme of this year’s dinner is “Books, Arts, & Manners,” honoring world-class author Tom Wolfe with the William F. Buckley Prize for Leadership in Political Thought and Bruce and Suzie Kovner with the WFB Prize for Leadership in Supporting Liberty. The Kovners have supported and led organizations that defend private enterprise, free markets and free trade, protect individual rights, promoted scholarly research that strengthens American democratic principles; fought for education reform, particularly charter schools; and helped ensure the future of the major performing arts institutions of New York City.

The master of ceremonies will be James Rosen of Fox News and the event will feature performances by students of The Juilliard School. More information about tickets and sponsorship can be found here. Hope to see you there.

Politics & Policy

In Single-Payer, Who Really Pays?


Making the click-through worthwhile: the not-so-solid public support for single-payer, the inconvenient details behind the boast that Hillary Clinton “made history,” a stunningly low percentage of Americans can answer basic questions about how our government works, and the former Democratic nominee’s odd interepretation of classic literature.

The Public Preference for Single-Payer Is Oh So Fragile

I’m headed up to New York City today, appearing on CNN to discuss Senator Bernie Sanders’ latest proposal for “single-payer” health care and on CNN International to discuss – well, something, possibly the Sanders proposal, perhaps something else.

The coverage of health care rarely suggests that public support for single payer is a mile wide but an inch deep. But this Kaiser poll from July is usefully illustrative. It found that a majority (55 percent) supports “single-payer,” but when respondents hear the argument that it would give the government “too much control,” then 61 percent oppose it.

When you mention the tax increases, 60 percent oppose single-payer. This concept does not enjoy ironclad support from the masses.

People hear “single payer” and think “ah, that’s nice, somebody else will pay.” Once they realize that they’re the ones paying, they’re reticent, and once they realize that the government will get to make the decisions about what procedures they deem cost-effective and which ones aren’t, the notion doesn’t look quite as appealing against the status quo as it did before.

Put another way, Bernie Sanders wants all Americans to enjoy the speedy, compassionate care that our men and women in uniform enjoyed from the Phoenix offices of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

What will be intriguing about the coming year is how much Democrats pretend that 2009-2010 is ancient history, and that no one remembers how Obamacare was supposed to provide affordable care to all Americans. It didn’t live up to its promises for many Americans — they didn’t get to keep their plan, they didn’t get to keep their doctor, and they didn’t see a dramatic drop in their premiums.

There’s no way for Democrats to tout their current bold promises about affordable health care without acknowledging their failure to keep their last round of bold promises about affordable health care. Writing at the Huffington Post, Jonathan Cohn acknowledges the obvious facts that many Obamacare fans prefer to ignore:

Millions of Americans still don’t have insurance. Millions who do are stuck with high premiums or out-of-pocket expenses. The new system seems to have particular trouble in more rural parts of the country, where sparse populations make it difficult for private insurance markets to thrive. That’s why Republicans have been able to get as far as they have with their repeal effort — and why even Democrats are talking about how they’d like to improve the system.

Cohn’s also pretty honest about the costs and trade-offs from single payer:

Suddenly introducing sharply lower prices, however justified on paper, would be a severe shock to the health ecosystem. Some combination of job losses and care shortages would likely follow, as hospitals, drug- and device-makers, and other parts of the industry scrambled to readjust their business models.

 . . . [Single-payer supporters] would also need to sketch out a plausible political scenario for overcoming the inevitable political resistance ― again, not just among familiar rogues in the health care industry, like drug companies, but also among the millions of Americans who are pretty happy with the insurance they have today.

If you like your plan . . .   you’re part of the problem now.

What Kind of History Did Hillary Clinton Make?

Hillary Clinton is on her book tour, and you’re still hearing a lot of damning-with-faint-praise plaudits that salute her for “making history” — in the Boston Globe, Glamour, Democrats speaking to RealClearPolitics, and elsewhere.

Yes, Clinton was indeed the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination in American history. But the “SHE MADE HISTORY!” rallying cry is a lot of hand-waving to distract from not merely her defeat, but that she had perhaps the easiest path to winning that nomination of any presidential candidate in recent memory, other than Al Gore in 2000. There’s a strong argument that Hillary Clinton was the Democratic party’s presidential nominee-in-waiting since spring of 2008 when she lost the nomination to Barack Obama. If she didn’t have the nomination quite handed to her by the party, she didn’t need to yank it away from anyone else, either.

She was the heaviest of favorites in the primary from the beginning. Back in 2012, 86 percent of Democrats said they had a favorable opinion of her, and 61 percent said they wanted her to be the party’s nominee; the next closest was Vice President Joe Biden with 12 percent. That’s about as big an advantage as one can imagine in this era.

Her primary win would be more impressive if she had defeated Biden, but the vice president chose not to run, in large part because of unforeseen family tragedies. The rest of the field was a freak-show: Jim Webb running for the nomination of a hawkish rural Democratic party that didn’t exist anymore; bland, forgettable Martin O’Malley, neither centrist nor leftist but just kind of there; weird and awkward Lincoln Chafee, pledging to convert America to the metric system. Not even boxing promoter Don King ever lined up a bunch of tomato cans like this.

That left Bernie Sanders, the 75-year-old socialist with little name ID who resembled Larry David and came from a state with three electoral votes. Even then, in late October 2015, Clinton led Sanders in national polling, 62 percent to 31 percent. She headed into the primary fight with way more money, the endorsement of just about every major figure in the Democratic party, and the widespread perception that the Democratic National Committee was attempting to grease the skids for her. The Democratic Party’s “super-delegates” — elected officials whose votes are the equivalent of many, many primary voters — preferred her, 570 to 44.

That’s a huge set of institutional advantages, and yet she still almost bobbled the nomination away! In hindsight, her difficulty in putting away Sanders week after week should have been a screaming klaxon of her deficiencies as a presidential candidate. Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver was prophetic when he wrote in May, “the Democratic Party must decide if they want the candidate with the momentum who is best positioned to beat Trump or if they are willing to roll the dice and court disaster simply to protect the status quo for the political and financial establishment of this country.” Democrats chose to roll the dice, and came up snake-eyes.

“Hillary made history by winning the nomination” is another way of saying “Hillary made history by managing not to lose the nomination with institutional advantages that no other candidate is likely to enjoy for the next few decades.”

And then she headed into a general election with another slew of institutional advantages: her campaign spent twice as much as Trump’s did, the media detested Trump, and the Republican nominee stumbled from one mess to another. Many prominent Republicans skipped their party’s convention in Cleveland while the Democrats’ gathering in Philadelphia went off without a hitch. Clinton may complain about FBI Director James Comey’s last minute reopening (and re-closing!) of the  bureau’s investigation of her, but it’s not like Trump had a smooth final month with the revelation of the Access Hollywood tape in early October. Sure, the first line of Hillary’s obituary will mention she was the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination. But it’s likely to continue, “and the loser in the most shocking upset in American political history.”

Americans’ Dwindling Interest in Self-Government

Think of these poll results the next time someone laments that voter turnout is low in the United States. A disturbingly high percentage of Americans can’t name the three branches of government and basically don’t know anything about how their government works.

That’s nearly three-quarters of the American population that can’t cough up “legislative, executive, judicial” on demand and fully 60 percent that can’t name *more than one* of those . . . 

Nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent) say that freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. But, unprompted, 37 percent could not name any First Amendment rights. And far fewer people could name the other First Amendment rights: 15 percent of respondents say freedom of religion; 14 percent say freedom of the press; 10 percent say the right of assembly; and only 3 percent say the right to petition the government . . . 

Another 53 percent believe that illegal immigrants have no rights under the U.S. Constitution.

If you don’t know anything about how the government works, what it does, what it’s supposed to do, or what rights you and your fellow citizens have . . .  I’m fine with you not voting.

ADDENDA: James Heartfield reads Hillary Clinton’s new memoir, What Happened, and finds an astounding passage where she concludes the lesson of George Orwell’s 1984 is the need to “trust our leaders, the press, and experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence.”

Does she think Brave New World is an endorsement of pharmaceutical products, too?

Politics & Policy

Opioid Crisis Has Reached a New High


Today making the click-through worthwhile: more jaw-dropping statistics on the scope of the country’s epidemic of addiction to opioids, the risk in trusting Jared Kushner with your presidency, some utopian promises on education in Virginia’s governor’s race, and a key point about the cost of journalism and staying informed.

The Real ‘Opium of the People’ Is . . .

Karl Marx confidently declared that religion is the opium of the people. Come on. America in 2017 is proving that the opium of the people is . . . actual opium, or at least opioids.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 2.6 million people are now addicted to drugs derived from the opium poppy. The CDC says there were 33,000 such fatalities last year, helping turn drug overdoses into the leading cause of death among the under-50s.

If you’re wondering about those estimated 1.5 million working-age people who are missing from the labor force, not working or looking for work . . .  a considerable percentage are probably dropping out of the workforce (and most of life itself) because of their addictions:

Research from the National Safety Council and the NORC research group at the University of Chicago show opioid users miss twice as many days of work than those with alcohol addiction. According to Princeton economist Alan Krueger, 47 percent of prime-age men not in the labor force used pain medication — and two-thirds of that subgroup used prescription drugs.

The most baffling statistic is that within a quarter of U.S. counties, opioid prescriptions exceed one per person, at least according to 2015 statistics. Hey, guys, I think I’ve got a lead on where people are writing phony prescriptions.

Some Trump Lawyers Wanted Jared to Exit Stage Left

Does jumping on the Trump Train require jumping on the Jared Kushner Train as well? Because that’s a jump I doubt I’ll ever be willing to make, because of the accumulating evidence that Kushner just doesn’t have good judgment. Maybe he knows the world of Manhattan real estate really well, but he’s a novice in politics, governing, and the ways of Washington, and it’s hard to believe the president is well served by relying on him so much.

Apparently some of the president’s lawyers agree:

Some of President Donald Trump’s lawyers earlier this summer concluded that Jared Kushner should step down as senior White House adviser because of possible legal complications related to a probe of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election and aired concerns about him to the president, people familiar with the matter said.

Among their concerns was that Mr. Kushner was the adviser closest to the president who had the most dealings with Russian officials and businesspeople during the campaign and transition, some of which are currently being examined by federal investigators and congressional oversight panels. Mr. Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, has said he had four such meetings or interactions.

Another issue was Mr. Kushner’s initial omission of any contacts with foreign officials from the form required to obtain a security clearance. He later updated the form several times to include what he has said were more than 100 contacts with foreign officials.

The president’s lawyers were not united in the view that Mr. Kushner should step down.

What does Kushner bring to Trump that no other adviser in or out of government can bring him? Ivanka’s approval?

The Difficulty in Finding True Northam

We haven’t had a new poll in the Virginia governor’s race in about three weeks, and campaign commercials are starting to pop up more frequently on the local television airwaves. In a dramatic change from last cycle, when wealthy Democrat Terry McAuliffe outspent Republican Ken Cuccinelli two to one, this year Republican Ed Gillespie is spending more — $1.7 million compared to Democrat Ralph Northam’s $1.1 million.

The Washington Post notices that a Northam ad tells viewers to go online and check out his tax plan . . . without, you know, actually having a tax plan on his web site.

There is no detailed tax plan on Northam’s campaign website, aside from his call to lower grocery taxes for poor people and to create a bipartisan tax panel.

What’s more, Northam’s campaign said in April it would release a set of “guiding principles” on tax reform within a week. It never did, and a reference to that promise to voters was removed from the campaign’s website — until a reporter pointed it out.

This is what happens on Democratic campaigns when the left hand doesn’t know what the other left hand is doing.

On NRO today, I take a look at another one of Northam’s ads, focused (and focus-group tested, probably) on education and point out that the rhetoric seems pretty rote and aimed more at addressing suburban parents’ feelings than any actual problems in Virginia schools:

Northam pledges in a new commercial that if he is elected, he will raise teacher pay, emphasize science and math, and make college more affordable — because “every child in Virginia should know if they work hard, there is a bright future ahead of them.” The agenda laid out in that commercial is really a list of solutions looking for problems. Virginia students are actually exemplary compared with students in the rest of the country; according to the Virginia Education Department, they ranked best in the country in science and third in the nation in math in the most recent national tests in these subjects.

A study of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics concluded that Virginia teachers rank tenth in the nation in average pay and related benefits, at $63,493 per year. The National Education Association puts the salary alone (not benefits) at merely $50,834, ranking it as the 30th in the country. But that measuring stick leaves out a lot: A first-year teacher in Virginia Beach City Public Schools system will collect $14,492 in fringe benefits including insurance and contribution to the Virginia retirement system. (For perspective, the average per capita personal income in Virginia is $53,723.)

The more I thought about this, the more irked I became at the implied message that the best way to ensure your children have a bright future is just to vote for some guy. What the heck is he going to do for you child that you can’t do?

Can a governor really help your child get a better education? Perhaps on the margins, but how much your child learns in the classroom largely depends upon your child, your child’s teacher, you, your spouse, and perhaps the rest of the community helping out a bit. If you really want your child’s school to get better, then interact with your child’s teacher, join the PTA, volunteer in the classroom, and do all the little things that help young students thrive. Despite the grandiose promises, Northam can’t do it for you while sitting in the governor’s office in Richmond, and neither can Gillespie.

Politicians love this passivity, this pervasive belief that your life stinks and the only thing that can change it is their election and the ever-expanding power of the state.

ADDENDA: Avi Woolf with an observation that I should probably share around the time of our fundraising drive: “Folks, you get what you pay for. You can’t complain about low-quality reporting and empty hot takes if you won’t pay for more.”


Irma Continues Her March through Florida


Today is September 11. For the rest of our lives, whenever we see an image of the Twin Towers — basically, any image of the New York City skyline between 1973 and 2001 — we’re going to think of that day.

Making the click-through worthwhile: The latest on Hurricane Irma, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg hints he has a disturbing disdain for privacy, a new politically-themed horror show on FX offers some unintended revelations, and National Review offers a special invitation.

Irma, the Southeast’s Unwanted Houseguest

The good news is Hurricane Irma is weakening. The bad news is that it has inflicted a heck of a lot of damage on Florida, and it’s not done yet.

Hurricane Irma was downgraded to a Category 1 storm Monday after it barreled into Florida on Sunday, crashing through the Florida Keys before making a second landfall near Naples on the Gulf Coast and setting a course for Georgia.

It flooded streets, snapped construction cranes and left 58 percent of all Florida electricity customers without power — about 5.8 million accounts — according to Florida’s State Emergency Response Team. The storm has killed at least 20 people since roaring out of the open Atlantic Ocean and chewing through a string of Caribbean islands.

At least 5 deaths in Florida were attributed to Irma, according to ABC News.

At 5 a.m. ET, the center of the storm was about 60 miles north of Tampa, Fla., the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Irma is moving to the northwest at 18 mph with sustained winds of 75 mph.

Irma is expected to weaken further before becoming a tropical storm between northern Florida and southern Georgia on later Monday, the center said.

The current projection has Irma continuing northward and gradually weakening until it becomes a mere tropical depression . . .  in Indiana. (Come on, no one can be that depressed in a state that has Tony Katz.)

The hurricanes have been terrible, but doesn’t it feel like the response has been . . .  well, better? Perhaps the days, weeks, and months after Hurricane Katrina set a low bar, but these past few weeks have shown us the worst of times being met with the best of America. Perhaps it’s appropriate to note this on a date like today.

Houston Texans star J.J. Watt raised more than $30 million, volunteers continue to fly into Texas from all around the country to assist with cleanup and recovery, and a jaw-dropping 122,331 people were rescued or evacuated, along with 5,234 pets.

In Florida, television news crews recorded looters and they were promptly arrested, those sheltered in a hotel were serenaded by actress Kirsten Bell, and even manatees stranded on mudflats are getting rescued by hardy volunteers. The Department of Defense mobilized to help victims in the Caribbean. The only good thing about a disaster is that almost everybody wants to find some way to help:

States are obligated in most cases to pay a “match” for federal disaster aid, generally about 10 percent of the amount the federal government is paying in the immediate aftermath. But FEMA policy allows states to count volunteer hours as a payment toward that match, at $25 per hour. Harrison said that his group has already logged and reported to Texas more than 27,000 volunteer hours worth more than $675,000 toward the state’s required match.

Our Kevin Williamson looks at the fairly short-lived spikes in the cost of gasoline in Texas, the difficulty of getting additional gasoline to Florida before Hurricane Irma hit, and offers an assessment particularly resonant on this day:

Can we handle a couple of hurricanes? Sure. But the world contains uglier truths and wilder dangers – and the world knows where we live. In 2001, 19 misfits with box-cutters changed the course of world history and showed us that we were by no means prepared for the future – or even for the here and now. A little bit of weather can seriously disrupt Americans’ ability to provide themselves with food, fuel, and the other necessities of life. There are worse things than the weather, and we’d better get ready for them.

Why Does the Creator of Facebook Deem Private Life ‘A Lack of Integrity’?

I had not heard this comment from Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, until I encountered it in Franklin Foer’s essay in Sunday’s Washington Post:

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has exclaimed his desire to liberate humanity from phoniness, to end the dishonesty of secrets. “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly,” he has said. “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Tell that to Batman.

Really, if not different identities, don’t we all have slightly-different versions of ourselves that we sort through and showcase throughout the days and weeks of our lives? The kind of person we are at work, the kind of person we are when we’re alone with our spouses or significant others, the kind of person we are with our kids, the kind of person we are when we’re with our friends, and the kind of person we are when with a stranger? Why is it a “lack of integrity” to showcase one side of yourself on a job interview on Tuesday morning and another side of yourself Saturday night? Why on earth does Zuckerberg want to eliminate that? Why can’t we have different images for different groups of people? What on earth would bring this inherently a lack of integrity? Japan has the concept of honne and tatemae, public self and private self; Freud offered his elaborate theories about our ids and hidden desires and sides of ourselves we hide from the world. What makes this 33-year-old so hell-bent on blowing up this concept of human existence?

Foer concludes, “Privacy won’t survive the present trajectory of technology – and with the sense of being perpetually watched, humans will behave more cautiously, less subversively.”

Who knew that the Emma Watson film The Circle was a documentary?

American Horror Story: Hollywood Projection

Our Kyle Smith finds the latest Trump-focused season of FX’s show American Horror Story hilarious, and more than a bit revealing: in Hollywood’s eyes, they’re the bold independent freethinkers, and all of those folks on the right are the hive-like conformists:

When AHS stitches together liberal fears, a lot of ragged seams are left showing. One of the good Trump-hating liberals on the show lectures Kai (a Fox News-watching Trump fan), “You are afraid, we are not,” just before another Trump-hating liberal tells her shrink about all of her debilitating Trump-induced phobias, not excluding a fear of coral. Nor does it make a lot of sense when the Fox News–loving villain gives an angry speech praising collectivism: “Every single member of the hive is completely committed to a single task.” Er, remind me, which party’s last president said things like “preserving our individual freedom ultimately requires collective action”? Which party’s 2016 candidate issued a campaign manifesto called Stronger Together? Which one insists it takes a village to raise a child? To minute the most vivid left-wing fears is to produce a catalogue of projection.

Look, their fear is different!

ADDENDA: All of us at National Review hope you can join us for the Fourth Annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner, held Wednesday, October 25 at Gotham Hall in New York City. (Sounds like the sort of place Batman would hang out, doesn’t it?)

The theme of this year’s dinner is “Books, Arts, & Manners” and we will be honoring world-class author Tom Wolfe with the William F. Buckley Prize for Leadership in Political Thought and Bruce and Suzie Kovner with the WFB Prize for Leadership in Supporting Liberty. The Kovners have supported and led organizations that defend private enterprise, free markets and free trade, protect individual rights, promoted scholarly research that strengthens American democratic principles; fought for education reform, particularly charter schools; and helped ensure the future of the major performing arts institutions of New York City.

Our master of ceremonies will be James Rosen of Fox News and the event will feature performances by students of The Juilliard School. More information about tickets and sponsorship can be found here. Hope to see you there.

Politics & Policy

Hurricane Irma Sets Her Sights on Florida


Jim’s back from the cruise, and here’s what’s in the Jolt to make the click-through worthwhile: Didn’t we leave on this note? A terrible hurricane bears down on America’s shores, Trump practices the Art of the Complete Concession In Order to Get Good Press and enjoys it, and selected highlights from the just-completed Transatlantic National Review cruise.

Batten Down the Hatches, Florida Man!

If you’re in Florida and reading this right now – well, maybe you’ll want to save that cell phone battery. The outlook is about as grim as it gets:

Hurricane Irma tightened her grip on South Florida early Friday, becoming overnight what everyone has long dreaded: a monster hurricane bearing down on Miami and a coast with 6 million people.

Reliable forecast models projecting the storm’s path predictably began to agree on a final, fateful track, with a direct hit along the southeast coast Sunday. Irma is heading west and should continue moving in that direction over the next 24 to 36 hours, forecasters said early Friday, with hurricane conditions in the Keys and mainland starting Saturday night. Tropical storm-force winds should start in the morning.

Irma was located just under 450 miles southeast of Miami at 8 a.m., forecasters said. Sometime Saturday, the storm should begin making a critical turn to the north. But the turn will likely be too late to spare Florida from punishing hurricane winds that extend 70 miles from Irma’s center.

Once again, the odds are good that you know someone who’s evacuating or contemplating evacuation. If you’re north or west of the storm path, maybe ping them and let them know if they need a place to stay for a few days, you’ve got that  lumpy spare bed. In time, we’ll donate money for cleanup

Speaking of money for cleanup, you may have seen an unusual commercial during the football game last night: All of our living former presidents coming together for One America Appeal. President George W. Bush quoted another resident, “We’ve got more love in Texas than water.” According to the organization’s website, “all donations made today will go to help victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas through the Houston Harvey Relief Fund focusing on the greater Houston region, and the Rebuild Texas Fund assisting communities across the state.” President Trump tweeted his support for the effort as well. Sadly, I suspect the Presidents of the United States of America — the actual men, not the band – may need to launch a parallel effort for Florida in the coming weeks.

The Art of the Surrender

It’s not a good deal in the eyes of conservatives or Republicans, but I don’t get why anyone should be surprised. Trump has a much stronger appetite for good press than he does for limited government.  When President Trump does what Democratic Congressional leaders want, he will get good press. It appears we’re entering a new chapter of the Trump administration, one where he’s eager to work with the Congressional minority to enact his priorities rather than the majority:

Wednesday’s agreement on $15.25 billion in relief for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, combined with a three-month extension of the government’s funding and its borrowing limit, was followed by further outreach to Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.).

The Harvey package, originally proposed by Democrats and approved on an 80-17 vote, now heads to the House, which is expected to vote on it on Friday. The House approved a smaller hurricane aid bill, without anything else attached, earlier in the week. Many conservatives there are reluctant to vote to increase the debt limit without taking any other steps to curb federal spending. But most, if not all, Democrats are likely to support it, as are many Republicans from Texas, Louisiana and Florida, all states affected by or bracing for the storms.

You can see the logic from Trump’s perspective; he relied on Congressional Republicans to send him an Obamacare repeal and replace bill, and they couldn’t do it. So why shouldn’t he turn to the Democrats? He gets some agenda items done and he doesn’t end up looking foolish. The people who nominated him to enact a Republican agenda end up looking foolish.

Of course, a sudden shift like this on the president’s part will make for one of the more spectacularly awkward “strange new respect” moments for the media and some Democrats. “Hey, remember that president who we were pretty sure was a neo-Nazi white-supremacist fascist demagogic aspiring-dictator? It turns out he’s pretty reasonable when it comes to infrastructure spending and eliminating the debt ceiling . . . ”

[Insert “Mussolini made the trains run on time” joke here.]

Notes and Highlights from the National Review Cruise . . . 

The cruise was another reminder that we at National Review have the best readers in the whole wide world, and I thank each and every one of you, whether you were able to join us on the cruise or not, whether you read the print magazine or just the web site, whether you love us or just tolerate us or just read us to see what we’re rambling about now.

I asked former attorney general Michael Mukasey whether he thought former FBI director James Comey’s July 5, 2016 press conference, during which he criticized Hillary Clinton for sloppy handling of classified material but not recommending criminal charges, was Comey’s version of “splitting the baby like King Solomon.” (You’re probably familiar with the story: Two women came to King Solomon, each claiming to be the mother of an infant, with no way of determining who was telling the truth. King Solomon suggested that the child should be cut in two, which each mother having half. One mother, horrified at the thought, immediately conceded her claim, saying she would rather have her child raised by another woman than to see it cut in half. The King ruled that her willingness to sacrifice demonstrated she was the real mother, and awarded her custody.)

Mukasey agreed, but pointed out, “Comey forgot that King Solomon is remembered as wise because he didn’t actually split the baby. If he had, he would have been remembered as Solomon, that maniac who ran around chopping babies in half.”

‐ Author and all-around savant Mark Helprin is deeply concerned that the United States has a much smaller military than it will need to meet the challenges to come. He wants to see 1,000 F-22s, a 500-ship Navy — and preferably a 600-ship one – missile defense, and a lot more air capacity to rapidly deploy troops – C-5, C-17, and C-130 cargo aircraft.

‐ In a panel discussion touching on national security, our David French raised a thoroughly unnerving thought that the North Korean regime’s nuclear capacity and appetite for risk grow concurrently — so that as they develop more weapons and more precise delivery systems, they will behave more aggressively and provocatively toward the United States and its neighbors. This appetite for conflict is almost certain to lead to confrontation.

‐ John Hillen, who chairs NR’s board of directors, began by asking the audience where the Libyan nuclear program was right now. The answer is in Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, voluntarily surrendered after the Iraq War. We hear a lot about the failures in American foreign policy, and we ought to, but it is worth remembering that previous administrations have managed to defuse a few bombs in their time. He offered a skeptical assessment of whether Afghanistan could ever become a stable country; in his time there he found it so far behind in poverty, technology, and tribal divisions that it couldn’t be fairly described as Stone Age banditry; it still “aspires to Stone Age banditry.”

‐ James Lileks to Douglas Murray, trying to summarize the differences between, say, Nancy Pelosi and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: “Our Left is not as lefty-left as your Left.”

On one of my panels, Reihan Salam, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Kevin Williamson noted that at least two big economic debates of our time — the long term stability of our entitlement programs and trade — are marked by concentrated costs and dispersed benefits.

Most government spending is the reverse, dispersed costs but concentrated benefits: We would all benefit from lower taxes if the government reduced spending, but those who benefit from farm subsidies, the National Endowment for the Arts, or the Weed Agency raise holy hell whenever someone proposes cuts to those programs.

Americans are wary about entitlement reform, because they know that if the United States shifted from Social Security – where you get a monthly payment, no matter what — to universal 401(k)s that gained or lost value depending upon the market’s performance, many would be better off, but some people could make bad investments and end up with less than they would have with the status quo.

Similarly, almost all Americans enjoy the fruits of free trade; if you don’t believe me, check your clothing labels. But we’re all moved by the image of a closed factory, with a padlocked gate and “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS” sign. Free trade benefits most people but less expensive imported goods will hit some domestic producer hard, and that minority is a lot more visible than the modestly reduced prices for all of those imported goods.

I mentioned a point that isn’t original but is still worth keeping in mind when discussing public opinion on economic issues like this: Human beings are largely moved by stories and images, not by numbers and data. The numbers might say that collectively Americans are better off with free trade, but we remember the images of the shut-down factories and workers being laid off – and that influences people’s thinking and reactions much more than numbers on a spreadsheet.

This is one of Trump’s gifts; unlike policy wonks, he thinks in stories and images instead of numbers or data. This may not make for better policies, but it is a campaigning gift for connecting with people. Unsurprisingly, President Trump’s performance so far was a regular point of discussion on the cruise; I’d say most NR cruise-goers were still Trump fans, some vocally and strongly so, quite a few generally pleased but irked with the Tweeting and drama.

ADDENDA: Thanks to Philip DeVoe for filling in while I was on the cruise. I saw several readers declaring on Twitter that Philip nailed the tone of this newsletter so well, they didn’t even realize that I wasn’t writing it. And let’s face it, there’s no higher compliment than being mistaken for me.


The Atlantic Hurricane Season Grows Worse


Today making the click-through worthwhile: Hurricanes are hammering the Atlantic basin, the latest New York state government boondoggle arrives in the small town of Jamestown, N.Y., and the state of modern journalism.

No Way, Jose

Hurricane Harvey looks like just the beginning of the Atlantic basin’s worries, as tropical storm Jose has been upgraded to a hurricane, joining Hurricane Katia and Hurricane Irma. Irma poses the most immediate threat to the Caribbean and the U.S. — as the most powerful storm in the Atlantic basin’s recorded history, it has already claimed eleven lives and damaged 95 percent of structures in Barbuda.

Irma is expected to make landfall in Florida early Sunday morning, and Florida governor Rick Scott and Miami mayor Carlos Gimenez have begun preparations for one of the worst storms to ever face Miami. Scott has deployed the National Guard, and an evacuation order from Gimenez for Miami-Dade County went into effect today at 7:00 a.m.

The evacuation orders are the largest since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and came as Miami-Dade was the regional holdout in not instructing at least some residents to flee in advance of the storm. Broward issued its evacuation orders for coastal areas on Wednesday morning and said 14 shelters would be opening. On Tuesday, Monroe County ordered residents and tourists to begin leaving Wednesday. . . . 

In all, about 150,000 people are covered by the order.

Mayor Gimenez stressed that if Miami-Dade residents plan on leaving, they must leave quickly, to avoid the disastrous effects of gridlock evacuation traffic.

Boondoggle in the Boondocks

New York governor Andrew Cuomo is planning on building a comedy museum in Jamestown, N.Y., which is six and a half hours from New York City and four from Pittsburgh. The price tag? Only $50 million.

Jamestown? It’s a place of “empty storefronts and underused buildings,” according to the New York Times. . . .  Home to some 31,000 souls, it doesn’t exactly scream “arts capital.” There’s a reason the most popular museums tend to be concentrated in cities rather than scattered randomly in rural areas, hamlets, and deserted islands: One museum, especially one small museum, isn’t usually enough to make tourists to go much out of their way. Especially a museum that proposes to offer stuff few want to see in the first place.

Cuomo selected Jamestown because it is the birthplace of Lucille Ball, a widely recognized comic — but for a style that had mostly disappeared by the late 1970s. By comparing the proposed comedy museum to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., which is four hours away from Manhattan, proponents of the museum have suggested it will enjoy similar attendance.

But why would people flock to Jamestown for comedy? As Kyle Smith reports for NRO, the museum would need upwards of 114,000 visitors to be profitable with tickets costing $20 each. Cuomo has a lot of faith in his project: He said last month that he believes it will be a national attraction.

Let’s look at what else he believes: He avers that the project could create “scores” of jobs, according to the New York Times. Wow, scores? As in, maybe 40? Most of them presumably in such areas as custodial work, gift-shop attendant, and ticket-sales clerk, with a handful of cushy “curator” gigs steered toward reducing by two or three society’s surplus of holders of Ph.D.s in “culture studies”? If 40 jobs result, that’s $250,000 Cuomo is spending per job.

What the comedy museum will really be is a monument to the New York government’s notorious over-spending. Now that I would drive six hours to see.

When Opinions Become Facts

Writing for NRO, Johnathan S. Tobin explores how authors of fake news stories still believe the facts are true, despite clear evidence that they were not. The phenomenon goes back to 2004’s CBS News story claiming George W. Bush was a frequent no-show during his time in the National Guard. CBS’s Dan Rather was quickly fired upon the network’s discovery that many of the documents used as evidence had been forged. To this day, however, Rather believes he was correct.

His conviction that Bush was lying and needed to be taken down was greater than his duty as a journalist to report facts rather than arguments. . . . 

While Rather’s conduct seemed to illustrate the traditional liberal bias of the mainstream media, his exit from CBS was also seen as an object lesson of what happens when journalists let their political opinions get the better of their professional judgment. But though his conduct was viewed, perhaps incorrectly, as an outlier in 2004, by 2017 such attitudes are now very much mainstream.

Many of today’s journalists believe facts are secondary to convictions and beliefs. Take the Russia collusion “investigation” into Trump. James Comey testified during his Senate hearing that the foundation for the media’s case at the time, a New York Times article suggesting Trump’s campaign had colluded with Russians [right?], was found to be factually untrue. “Have you found any evidence of collusion?” “Not at this time,” Comey replied. Yet journalists remain undeterred.

Smith concludes by observing that the line between opinion and fact has been blurred in today’s journalism, which leads to opinions being considered as facts.

But while opinion is one thing – even on shows where there is no longer a semblance of balance with respect to the voices arrayed against Trump — letting that same spirit insinuate itself into investigative reporting is quite another. Groupthink in which negative stories about Trump are assumed to be true until proven false and even then are allowed to linger in the public imagination (such as the claim that a wave of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers was inspired by Trump even though the crime was the work of a disturbed Israeli teenager).

ADDENDA: A Texas woman slipped out of her handcuffs and stole the police car she was being held in yesterday. She then led police on a 20-mile pursuit, reaching speeds of nearly 100 mph. The video’s quite incredible.

Politics & Policy

Trump’s DACA Decision and the Way Forward


This morning on the click-through: Trump’s DACA decision, how congressional Republicans have wrought the controversy surrounding DACA, and the flawed logic that supposes disasters help the economy.

The Stay Is Over

On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced the president’s decision to rescind the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order. The DACA rescission is good policy, putting an end to the five years of functional amnesty for many who were brought to the U.S. as minors by their illegal-immigrant parents. The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. given deferred status under DACA tops 800,000, and fixing the errant executive order has been a promise of Trump’s since his campaign — and one many conservatives support wholeheartedly.

In the administration’s statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered another reason to rescind DACA:

The Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach,” Sessions said. “There is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws. Enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers, and prevents human suffering. Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism. The compassionate thing is to end the lawlessness, (and) enforce our laws.”

Tuesday night, however, Trump tweeted that he plans to revisit his executive action should Congress fail to pass legislation that replaces DACA:


National Security & Defense

What Are Our Options on North Korea?


Making the click-through worthwhile: North Korean aggression opens talks of U.N. sanctions, Christie’s path to the Senate, and opting out of public-school sexual-education programs.

Sanctioning North Korea

In response to North Korea’s nuclear test this weekend, its most powerful yet, the U.S. began pressuring the U.N. to levy sanctions against the Kim regime. Senior Trump officials have said that cutting off oil and other fuels to North Korea is the “last best chance” to end North Korean aggression diplomatically.

Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that the U.S. is even considering stopping all trade with North Korean allies if the tests continue.

Rocklin Academy is the school where, last week, a kindergarten teacher staged a “transition ceremony” for a boy who wanted to dress like a girl. After the ceremony, a first-grader was disciplined for “misgendering” the student.

Cleveland goes on to add D.C. and Colorado to this list, noting that only Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Texas have a blanket opt-out right for all sexuality-based education. Until the other state legislatures fix the loophole, she advises parents to pull their students out of the public-school system or lobby the states to change the laws.

ADDENDA: The U.S. is well represented in the women’s U.S. Open quarterfinals this year, where four of the eight qualifiers are American: Coco Vandeweghe, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys. Good luck, ladies!

National Security & Defense

The Growing North Korea Crisis


Happy Labor Day. Today’s Jolt is a bit truncated: Here’s an update on North Korea and Hollywood.

North Korea Detonates Nuclear Weapon; Mattis and Trump Respond

News out of North Korea, as the nation tests a new nuclear weapon:

The crisis with North Korea escalated Sunday as President Trump reviewed military options and suggested sweeping new economic sanctions in response to the crossing of a dangerous threshold by the isolated nation in detonating its most powerful nuclear weapon ever.

Defying Trump’s blunt warnings, North Korea claimed it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb that could be attached to a missile capable of reaching the mainland United States.

Though not yet confirmed, Pyongyang’s apparent show of force was extraordinary — the hydrogen weapon is vastly more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — and drew swift condemnation in capitals around the globe. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the action “absolutely unacceptable.”

President Trump signaled to reporters that the U.S. has not ruled out retaliating against North Korea. When asked after leaving St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C., Sunday morning how the U.S. planned to respond, the president answered, “We’ll see.”

As we’ve come to learn, “we’ll see” is Trump-speak for “I’m not going into details with you, but we’re leaving all options open.” Defense Secretary James Mattis gave a more definitive answer at a press conference outside the White House yesterday, warning of “a massive military response” to a threat against the U.S. or its allies.

A Flop of a Summer

NRO’s Kyle Smith writes about the dreadful summer Hollywood’s been having:

“This film’s not perfect!” could have been the tagline for any number of films released this horrendous summer. Sales were the weakest since 2006, off a huge 16 percent from last summer. From the big-screen adaptation of Baywatch that no one was waiting for to chapter eleventy-five of Pirates of the Caribbean and the umpteenth Transformers movie, it has been the Summer of Flops. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword cost something like $175 million but earned $39 million in North America. Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets cost about the same and took in about the same. The Emoji Movie piled up only $78 million. Alien: Covenant drew $77 million. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower didn’t even make it to $50 million. The Mummy, an ambitious effort from Universal to launch a new universe of interlocking horror titles, earned only $80 million and seems likely to be remembered mainly for the unintentionally hilarious performance by Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The only movies that made any money the entire summer were Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Despicable Me 3, and, on a smaller scale, Dunkirk, Baby Driver, and Girls Trip. Even Pixar stumbled with its second-lowest-grossing effort among its 18 releases, Cars 3. Half a dozen hits can’t make up for the losses racked up by dozens of flops. Nor does the fall look particularly promising.

High-profile releases in the next few weeks, such as Stephen King’s It, hope to give the movie industry a late-season boost in ticket sales, but these won’t help turn Hollywood around.

When the movie industry has had market lulls in the past, they have often looked to new sources of revenue or new demographics to pull in. Videocasettes, DVDs, and the Chinese market come to mind. But Hollywood doesn’t seem to have any new ideas or gimmicks, and with people leaving their houses less often, it seems the movie business is in trouble. As Smith quotes from an August headline, it’s “‘time to panic.’”

ADDENDA: For those of you missing Jim’s Twin Peaks updates, here’s one from NRO.

Politics & Policy

Chemical Blasts Release Hazardous Waste into Houston Waters


Making the clickthrough worthwhile: Chemical explosions add more danger to Houston, a banana peel sparks a conversation on race at Ole Miss, and a Slate op-ed praises the socialist behavior Harvey has brought to Houston.

The Latest Catastrophe in Houston

Explosions at a Houston-area chemical plant have complicated rescue efforts and escalated the danger in a region already grappling with Hurricane Harvey:

When the hurricane blew in, workers at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Tex., faced the problem of keeping the plant’s volatile chemicals cold. The plant had 19.5 tons of organic peroxides of various strengths, all of them requiring refrigeration to prevent ignition.

But the power went out, and then the floodwaters came and knocked out the plant’s generators. A liquid nitrogen system faltered. In a last-ditch move, the workers transferred the chemicals to nine huge refrigerated trucks, each with its own generator, and moved the vehicles to a remote section of the plant.

That was doomed to fail, too. Six feet of water swamped the trucks, and the final 11 workers gave up. At 2 a.m. Tuesday, they called for a water evacuation and left the plant to its fate.

Early Thursday, two loud pops signaled an explosive combustion in one of the trucks, and a black plume of smoke spread from the plant, sending 15 police officers and paramedics to the hospital. All eight remaining vehicles are now likely to burn, said Robert W. Royall Jr., assistant chief of emergency operations for the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office.

We are “watching physics at work,” Arkema spokesman Jeff Carr said Thursday. “Probably a couple more tonight.”

Arkema isn’t the only plant to succumb to floodwaters, however. The failure of several Texas chemical plants in the wake of the storm has alerted plant managers and chemical-manufacturing organizations to the permeability of their backup systems. Bill Hoyle, a former senior investigator for the Chemical Safety Board, told the Washington Post that the explosions are “a wake-up call for an industry and their safety regulators who have not adequately taken action on lessons from Hurricane Katrina as well as the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.”

Just as Fukushima threatened the region with the devastating effects of nuclear fallout, Texan chemical plant explosions such as Arkema threaten to add fuel to an already uncontrollable fire in the form of hazardous petrochemicals:

The plant produced organic peroxides, which are used in a variety of products including pipes, plastics, acrylic paints, countertops and pharmaceuticals. A company spokesman estimated that 19.5 tons of chemicals were at the site. Small amounts can irritate the skin or damage corneas, and in larger amounts could cause liver damage, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). But the company spokesman said “the issue is a combustion event, not a chemical release.”

The Arkema emergency raises anew a host of concerns for chemical manufacturers. After the 1984 tragedy in Bhopal, India, in which a chemical leak from a Union Carbide plant killed more than 2,000 people and injured many thousands more, then-Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) pressed for legislation requiring chemical companies to describe their own worst-case scenarios.

Hopefully, our response to these disasters will eventually help make chemical plants safer, especially during floods.

Everyone’s Going Bananas

A banana stuck to a tree ended a fraternity retreat at the University of Mississippi early after three students told Greek life leaders that they were frightened and upset about the racial implications. From National Review’s Kat Timpf:

The leaders then shared their concerns with the rest of the camp, and one of the attendees, Ryan Swanson, admitted that he had placed the peel on the tree — explaining that he had actually not done so because he hates people of color and wants to intimidate them, but because he just couldn’t find a garbage can to put it in. But it didn’t end there: In fact, it prompted an entire day of “camp-wide conversation” about the racist “symbolism, intended or not” of the banana, a conversation that made some students feel so upset that they didn’t feel “safe” enough to stay, which ultimately led to the rest of the retreat being canceled altogether.

One of the “hurt, frightened” students claimed the peel reminded her of a display of bananas hanging from nooses at American University in May, directed at the school’s first female black president. As Kat points out, Swanson carelessly tossing his peel on the tree’s trunk is far different from hanging bananas from nooses.

The student, president of historically black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, even found something to complain about in the way the peel was discussed.

“I just don’t feel as though it was being facilitated in a constructive way,” McNeil told [the Daily Mississippian]. “At that point, we didn’t feel welcome; we didn’t feel safe,” McNeil continued. “If we didn’t feel wanted or safe at the camp, our best option was to leave.”

There are no reports of what exactly was said during the banana-peel-gate discussions that made some students so upset, but the school’s administration is reportedly working on a plan to help the students who are still coping.

Bananas were provided as a breakfast option during the retreat, which is probably how Swanson got ahold of one, so will they be removed from future retreats? And the school’s cafeterias?

Houston Doesn’t Show America at Its Best, Apparently

NRO’s Kyle Smith responds to an article by Katy Waldman for Slate, in which she laments the eventual recession of the progressive, socialist spirit of collectivism brought out by the Harvey disaster.

Underlying the piece is an old impulse of the Left dating back to Lenin and beyond: A wish to keep society in emergency mode because of the opportunities it opens up. Catastrophe tends to loosen up all that red tape that gets in the way of progressive action. Catastrophe leads to immediate mobilization. Catastrophe gives us spontaneous collectivism. Why can’t we have collectivism always and everywhere, not just in the Houston area when 50 inches of rain falls on it? Waldman is looking toward the aftermath of Harvey and fears that this disaster will be allowed, in the deathless words of Rahm Emanuel, to “go to waste”; i.e., it won’t lead to a major leftward turn for Texas or the U.S.

Waldman celebrates a suspended “norm” in Houston, where “something lovelier and more communal has been allowed to flourish in their place.” While Waldman — and many on the left – believe cooperation and community dies under capitalism, Smith uses a quote by F. A. Hayek to push back: Capitalism actually facilitates “the extended order of human cooperation.” Business owners want their customers to like them, they want their stores to be welcoming, and they provide good services to keep business flowing.

If it is cooperation Waldman wants, a centralized authority isn’t the answer. “‘Utopia’ means nowhere. It isn’t achievable. The conservatives in Texas understand this better than most.”

ADDENDA: Cy Young winner and MVP pitcher Justin Verlander was traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Houston Astros yesterday evening. Twitter users have unearthed a 2012 criticism of the pitcher from President Donald Trump, Tweeted the morning of the third AL Championship game, while the Tigers were up 2-0 in the series against the Yankees:

Verlander’s ERA in that game was 1.08.


Have a good Labor Day weekend!

Politics & Policy

New Details in Senator Menendez’s Corruption Case


First, your Harvey update: Floodwaters led to a series of explosions in a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, early this morning. Port Arthur is now underwater, and the death toll has risen to 37.

Now, making the clickthrough worthwhile: the prosecution releases the details of Senator Bob Menendez’s case, Richard Parker eulogizes the “death” of Texas’s rugged individualism in Politico Magazine, and baseball errs (and then makes amends) with its plans for the Astros.

Do Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

The prosecution in the Bob Menendez trial has released the details of its case against the New Jersey senator and his co-defendant, Salomon Melgen. Menendez was indicted for accepting a slew of bribes from Florida eye specialist Salomon Melgen in exchange for promoting Melgen’s business.

Flights on a private jet, vacations in a Paris hotel suite and a Caribbean villa, and nearly $800,000 in campaign contributions were some of the bribes Sen. Bob Menendez received to promote the business and personal interests of Florida eye specialist Salomon Melgen, a 14-count federal indictment charged Wednesday.

In exchange, the indictment said, Menendez tried to help Melgen keep $9 million that Medicare said he overbilled the government; pressed the State Department to provide visas so Melgen’s girlfriends from Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Ukraine could study in or visit Florida; and pushed for federal pressure to sway the Dominican government over a port security contract Melgen owned.

Menendez and Melgen have been friends for more than 20 years, and the senator has stressed that they often exchanged gifts. To get a conviction, legal experts said, the government is going to have to prove that the benefits Melgen provided were specifically tied to official actions by Menendez.

The trial may have immediate political consequences: The prosecution is attempting to shoot down the senator’s request for breaks during the trial so he can attend Senate votes or participate in debate. Prosecutors argue that the regular activities of the court and its pursuit of justice shouldn’t be put on hold for politics.

Menendez’s absence would increase the GOP’s thin 52-48 margin in the Senate, which might make things a bit easier for Mitch McConnell. Of course, that would also mean Menendez’s constituents wouldn’t be fully represented in the Senate in the interim, and there are many crucial issues that will be taken up in the next few months (e.g., the debt ceiling, funding the government, a Hurricane Harvey–relief bill, etc.).

To put Menendez’s trial in historical context, of the twelve sitting senators who have been indicted, four were acquitted, one had his charges dropped, and two of the verdicts were overturned. That only four senators have been convicted of a crime while in office certainly says something about our democracy. It’s reassuring to know we live in a country where the senators might not be as corrupt as we think.

Unless that is . . . you’re from New Jersey, which is the only state to have two senators indicted. The other, Harrison Williams, was also one of the four convicted.

Messing with Texas

Richard Parker, writing in Politico Magazine, offers his analysis of the situation in Texas:

When Gov. Greg Abbott won election in 2014, he said of his agenda: “We will celebrate the frontier spirit of rugged individualism.” Since then, he and the legislature have sought to limit government power — except their own. They have enabled individuals to more freely carry guns and knives and diverted taxpayer money from public to private schools. Most recently, Abbott led the failed effort to nullify local tree ordinances — regulations limiting tree removal — because these posed, Abbott argued, a threat to individual freedom.

But Harvey has changed all that.

“A Texas-sized storm requires a Texas-sized response, and that is exactly what the state will provide,” Abbott said Monday in Corpus Christi. “While we have suffered a great deal, the resiliency and bravery of Texans’ spirits is something that can never be broken. As communities are coming together in the aftermath of this storm, I will do everything in my power to make sure they have what they need to rebuild.”

This is a man whose signature boast was that he got up every day, went to work and sued the federal government, who has called for a constitutional convention to strip power from Washington and yet, on Monday, said, “To see the swift response from the federal government is pretty much unparalleled.”

Parker’s tone deafness — in an article positing that Harvey’s legacy might signal the end of “the Lone Star State’s rugged individualism” — is hard to fathom. While state, local (and federal) officials seem to have reacted competently under the circumstances, the true story of the last week has been private citizens spontaneously rising to the occasion to help their families, friends, and communities in need. The “Cajun Navy” of flat-bottom boats, canoes, and bass boats is the product of the local citizenry — not the federal behemoth in Washington or even the state government in Austin.

To Parker, “self-reliance” must mean something like “dying in a flood before letting the government help” — most Texans, however, believe it means taking the initiative to help your neighbors, your community, and even strangers in an emergency. also ignores the fact that Texans — and most Americans — don’t hate the federal government, they just don’t trust it, especially when it comes to disaster relief. Governor Abbot’s award of an “A+” to FEMA isn’t some sacrifice of rugged conservative values, it’s an acknowledgement of a government that’s functioning properly.

Then, Politico published a cartoon (in a now deleted tweet) accusing Texans of hypocrisy for accepting federal aid while the state harbors a secession movement:


Already, the prediction that baseball can help heal a broken community is coming true. Houston mayor Sylvester Turner commented that the decision will “provide an opportunity for families to start returning to some aspect of familiar life.” Baseball has the power to bring people together, distract them from hardship, and give them something to root for. The people of Houston — and all Texans — certainly need all three.

Also, the Astros have announced that the Carlos Correa jerseys the team had planned to give away during the game will now go to a local charity, and the first 5,000 tickets will go to first responders.

Well done, Astros.

ADDENDA: Planned Parenthood asked its Twitter followers to “Fill in the blank: The person I’m going out with can never ______. Tell us your dating dealbreakers.” Unsurprisingly, it backfired on them, with comments ranging from “Think abortion is acceptable” to “Sell kids for spare parts.”

Editor’s Note: The article originally referenced “Politico’s Richard Parker’s analysis” of Hurricane Harvey and its effect on Texas. The wording has been changed to clarify that Parker, whose opinion piece was published in Politico Magazine, is a freelance columnist from Texas.

Politics & Policy

When Image Trumps Character


Today, making the click-through worthwhile, it’s Harvey all around: an update on the status of the storm and the inspiring togetherness it has bred; Harvey’s impact on the government shutdown; and Heelgate, possibly the most undeserving Watergate analogy yet.

When the Levee Breaks, People Come Together

The five-day total of Harvey rainfall has reached 52 inches, and a Harris County Flood Control meteorologist estimates that up to 30 percent of Houston is underwater.

This morning, Harvey — now a tropical storm — made its second landfall, in southwest Louisiana. Yesterday, a levee at Columbia Lakes broke, but thankfully many had already evacuated the resort village, which lies southwest of Houston. The death toll has now reached 30.

As disasters often do, Hurricane Harvey has brought out the best in people. The city and county police have rescued 6,100 Houstonians from the waters. Now-viral videos depict a CNN reporter helping rescue a geriatric from his home and a chain of volunteers leading a pregnant woman — in labor during the flooding — into the back of a rescue truck. One video shows neighbors celebrating their safety with shots from a bottle of what a reporter erroneously calls water.

Houston Texans defensive end J. J. Watt’s YouCaring page has far surpassed its original goal of $200,000, now totaling more than $5.5 million. You can donate using the link attached. University of Mississippi’s Kappa Sigma fraternity has promised to donate $0.25 for every retweet and $0.10 for every like on a Tweet it posted 17 hours ago. See the current totals below:

In fact, Melania was wearing the heels while boarding the plane. When she arrived in Corpus Christie, she had changed into a button-down, a trendy FLOTUS hat, and, yes, sneakers.

More importantly, though, judging the president by minor quirks in his and his wife’s behavior are irresponsible criticisms. Instead of focusing on his policies — how he’s approaching disaster funding, what impact it will have on the government shutdown — some decided to deride Melania’s fashion choices. And do we really need a media focused on shoes? Heelgate is an example of how detail-focused many in the media have become when covering the president, equating the superficial and the real and ignoring in-depth analysis on merits, choosing instead to judge by emotion.

In fact, Vogue raises a good question by including “The White House’s Continual Failure to Understand Optics” in the headline for their Heelgate report. Why do we care so much about optics? Maybe we should be demanding media organizations that value quality of content over quality of image.

ADDENDA: Sean Spicer finally met Pope Francis. Recall from Trump’s visit to the Vatican earlier this year that the former press secretary was snubbed from the papal audience.

But nothing will beat Jim Harbaugh’s visit to Vatican City, when he gave the Holy Father Wolverine-themed Jordans and a University of Michigan football helmet. Hail Mary, indeed.

Politics & Policy

As Flooding Continues in Houston, Texans Still Need Your Help


This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt until September 8. I’ll see some of you on the National Review cruise this week.

Texas Still Needs Our Help

The outlook for Houston is mixed; every charity that was mobilizing to help the victims yesterday is still doing so today, so if you feel like helping out financially or with your time, you can find links to all of them here. I’ve got friends evacuating and friends holding up and hoping the waters stop at their home’s edge. The good news is everybody I know has checked in on social media lately.

The rain slowing means that the waters will recede eventually — but “eventually” means the danger of floodwaters continues:

Rain still pelted the city, but rainfall totals were expected to fall sharply, opening some roads and neighborhoods. Officials now anxiously monitored rising river levels, which swelled with the rainfalls of the past two days. The Brazos River at Richmond, about 30 miles south of Houston, measured nearly 52 feet Tuesday morning and was expected to crest at 59 feet by Thursday — four feet greater than the record high set last year.

Outside help continued streaming into Houston. Search-and-rescue crews from Florida, California, Utah and other areas staged at different trouble spots around town. Walmart was shipping 2,000 kayaks to the area to help stranded residents.

Gov. Greg Abbott activated the state’s entire National Guard force, increasing to 12,000 the number of guardsmen deployed to flooded communities.

“Texas (officials) and FEMA will be involved here for a long, long time,” Abbott said. “Until we can restore things as back to normal as possible. But we have to realize it will be a new normal for the region.”

The death toll is at 14 victims so far.

Pyongyang, This Is Not the Time to Push Us.

These North Koreans do not know when to stop tugging on Superman’s cape, or spitting into the wind.

North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan Tuesday, the latest in a string of direct provocations that have destabilized the region and triggered global alarm.

The missile — the first Pyongyang has fired over Japan’s main islands since 2009 — prompted a fiery response from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“This outrageous action of firing a missile over our country is an unprecedented, grave and serious threat that seriously damages peace and security in the region,” he said. “We have firmly protested to North Korea.”

Mr. Abe called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. He said he spoke by phone with President Donald Trump for 40 minutes and that the president gave a “strong commitment” to Japan’s security.

This is why I am skeptical of both the “we need to reach out diplomatically” crowd and the “our scary rhetoric is escalating the conflict” argument. The Obama administration sure as heck wasn’t interested in fighting a second Korean War, and Trump administration has been quiet since the president’s “fire and fury” remarks. Pyongyang has a clear path to de-escalation; they just refuse to take it.

The American government and its allies cannot make any clearer that we have no interest in invading North Korea. (If the regime collapsed from within, well, we wouldn’t shed any tears.) But the perhaps not-quite-sane leadership in Pyongyang refuses to believe it, and clings to the paranoid belief that a U.S. strike could occur at any time, keeping the country on a war footing and cementing their draconian control over the people.

Eric Talmadge of the Associated Press lays out how North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un might think he could hit America first and then deter a counterpunch:

The trigger for North Korea could be unusual troop movements in South Korea, suspicious activity at U.S. bases in Japan or — as the North has recently warned — flights near its airspace by U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers out of their home base on the island of Guam.

If Kim deemed any of those an imminent attack, one North Korean strategy would be to immediately target U.S. bases in Japan. A more violent move would be to attack a Japanese city, such as Tokyo, though that would probably be unnecessary since at this point the objective would be to weaken the U.S. military’s command and control. Going nuclear would send the strongest message, but chemical weapons would be an alternative.

North Korea’s ability to next hit the U.S. mainland with nuclear-tipped missiles is the key to how it would survive in this scenario. And that’s why Kim has been rushing to perfect [them] and show them off to the world.

“The whole reason they developed the ICBM was to deter American nuclear retaliation because if you can hold an American city or cities at risk the American calculation always changes,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a nuclear strategy specialist.

“Are we really willing to risk Los Angeles or Chicago in retaliation for an attack on a U.S. military base in the region?” he asks. “Probably not.”

That, right there, is Kim’s big wager.

If “no” actually is the answer, then North Korea has a chance — though slim and risky — of staving off a full-scale conventional attack by the United States to survive another day.

Of course, a successful North Korean attack on American city requires A) their missile to launch correctly, B) our defense systems to fail in shooting it down, and C) their nuclear bomb detonating correctly.

A Quick Thought on the Evolution of Taylor Swift

I’m sure my pop culture podcast co-host will have more to say about this upon my return, but . . .  the latest song by Taylor Swift offers the lyric, “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh! ‘Cause she’s dead!”

Remember when Taylor Swift first hit it big, back in the last Bush years? Remember how she seemed like a breath of fresh air, with an onstage persona that seemed humble, down-to-earth, level-headed, a refreshing change from the self-absorbed narcissism of other pop stars of that era? People made fun of her seemingly-perpetual “surprised face,” but she always acted genuinely overwhelmed by the admiration of her fans and recognition of her talents by the music industry.

That was a long time ago, and it’s unrealistic to expect Swift, who became arguably the biggest and most influential pop star in America, to remain the same in either her onstage or offstage personas. But as Swift moved from country to pop, and came to dominate the pop charts, did she become less . . .  distinct?

Now she’s in another flashy music video with elaborate computer-generated effects, with another plethora of elaborate costume changes, served by computer-generated snakes, surviving a computer-generated car crash, berating the media for false reports about her, pledging that some unspoken rival or foe will pay for wrongdoing . . .  Maybe you love this video, maybe you hate it, but doesn’t it feel . . .  familiar, from the Thriller-like zombie makeup in the beginning to the biker chic to the models lined up on an assembly line? The well-trod themes are:

Being famous is difficult.

The media is unfair to me.

I have been wronged.

I am stronger than this adversity.

I will overcome this, and those who wronged me will suffer the consequences.

In other words, she’s singing the kinds of songs and making the kinds of videos we would not have been surprised to see Madonna, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, or Pink offer not too long ago.

In short, separate from good or bad, isn’t the “new Taylor” kind of . . .  generic?

By the way, the pop culture podcast is now available on iTunes.

ADDENDA: Yuval Levin and Mona Charen say farewell to the recently departed Mike Cromartie.

A hoaxer boasts that he managed to get Louise Mensch and Claude Taylor to re-tweet made-up details about a criminal investigation into Trump. Is that really a difficult thing to do? In terms of degree of difficulty, isn’t this the prank version of making a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich?

Politics & Policy

How You Can Help the Victims of Hurricane Harvey


Making the click-through worthwhile: What we need to do to help Texas right now; why a mandatory evacuation of the city of Houston might been even more dangerous than what we have now; and Antifa shows its true, dark colors in Berkeley in front of the television cameras.

Texans Need Help. Let’s Show Them They Can Count on Us.

If you know someone in Texas, the chances are good you know someone who’s facing some hard times from Hurricane Harvey. I’m doing my best not to text, direct message, and ping them on Facebook every hour on the hour. Everyone in that region, know that everybody outside of your neck of the woods is praying, thinking of you, and looking for ways to help.

National Voluntary Organizations in Active Disasters, an association of organizations that mitigate and alleviate the impact of disasters, is asking for volunteers and donations. Through their site you can find every charity of every stripe: the Red Cross, Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, the United way, etcetera.

A friend of mine is helping coordinate donations for the Texas Diaper Bank. A lot of disaster relief organizations think of and prep for everything except a lack of diapers, so the San Antonio-based Texas Diaper Bank focuses on this basic necessity for families with young children. They’re restarting their operations of collecting and distributing diapers at 8 a.m. Monday morning local time.

For the Red Cross, you can donate here, or pick up your phone and text REDCROSS to 90999. You’ll instantly send $10 to the organization, with the fee on your next cell phone bill.

FEMA expects that more than 30,000 people will need temporary shelters when the rain ends and 450,000 people will register as disaster victims.

Houston’s airport received a little more than sixteen inches of rain yesterday. The previous daily record was a bit more than eight inches.

Don’t Let Anyone Tell You the Decision to Evacuate Houston Is An Easy Call.

It’s a little early for finger-pointing in the preparations for Hurricane Harvey; most cities and municipalities are prepared for a big storm but not necessarily a once-in-a-century or once-in-a-millennium flooding. One commentator on the morning shows half-jokingly said that if they had to build Houston all over again, they might have picked a different spot than a broad, flat plane next to a gulf coast that experiences hurricanes.

On Friday, Texas governor Greg Abbott more or less strongly urged those in the Houston area to get out: “Even if an evacuation order hasn’t been issued by your local official, if you’re in an area between Corpus Christi and Houston, you need to strongly consider evacuating,” Abbott said. “What you don’t know, and what nobody else knows right now, is the magnitude of flooding that will be coming. You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you could be subject to a search and rescue.”

Local officials did not agree with the governor.

“At this time I can reemphasize there will be no mass evacuations called,” said Harris County Judge Edward Emmett, who is responsible for overseeing emergency operations, at a joint press conference with Turner on Friday. He noted that several coastal towns within Harris County, where Houston lies, had issued voluntary evacuations because of the storm surge.

A mandatory evacuation of Houston isn’t theoretical for the city; residents went through this in 2005 with Hurricane Rita. That storm, which appeared quite powerful while moving through the Gulf of Mexico, arrived one month after Hurricane Katrina, with local and state officials determined to not underestimate the threat. They may well have overestimated the threat — not their fault, as the strength and direction of hurricanes are hard to predict — and the evacuation brought its own cost in human lives: “An estimated 2.5 million people hit the road ahead of the storm’s arrival, creating some of the most insane gridlock in U.S. history. More than 100 evacuees died in the exodus. Drivers waited in traffic for 20-plus hours, and heat stroke impaired or killed dozens. Fights broke out on the highway. A bus carrying nursing home evacuees caught fire, and 24 died.”

For almost everyone involved, the evacuation was a hellacious ordeal:

The large number of residents fleeing from Hurricane Rita overwhelmed the infrastructure of many rural East Texas communities. On September 22, 2005, in one rural county alone, it was estimated that 150,000 vehicles sat bumper-to-bumper on four lanes of a 30-mile stretch of Interstate 45 north of Houston. The congested roadways prevented emergency medical workers from quickly responding to the medical emergencies of evacuees, including dialysis, oxygen, insulin, births, and deaths. Extended evacuation times caused major fuel shortages. Vehicles of every type ran out of gas and became stranded along the evacuation routes, worsening the congestion. A trip that usually takes three and a half hours became a 24-hour drive during the evacuation. When evacuees did reach their rural destinations, their huge demand for goods and services such as food, water, ice, and restroom facilities soon overwhelmed supply. Temperatures soared to 100 degrees and humidity hovered at 94%. Evacuees were forced to turn off their car air conditioners to conserve fuel or to keep engines from overheating. Lack of adequate restrooms along evacuation routes forced evacuees to use blankets and towels as privacy screens to construct makeshift facilities along the roadside. This unsanitary disposal of human waste created potential public health hazards such as the spread of infectious diseases and the contamination of the ground water supply.

The areas that have been declared a disaster area from Hurricane Harvey are the home of 6.8 million people in 18 counties. That is a stunning amount of people to attempt to move with 24, maybe 48 hours’ warning before the storm hits.

Now picture all of these people stuck in traffic on the road as Hurricane Harvey makes landfall . . .  and then the flooding begins. As bad as it is to be stuck in your home as floodwaters approach, the roof of your house is probably higher than the roof of your car.

This mess in Houston is really bad. An attempted evacuation might have gone even worse than it did during Rita, however.

The Fascist Antifa

A headline in the Washington Post many on the Right probably figured they would never see:

The article doesn’t soft-pedal it, either:

Their faces hidden behind black bandannas and hoodies, about 100 anarchists and antifa – “anti-fascist” — members barreled into a protest Sunday afternoon in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

Jumping over plastic and concrete barriers, the group melted into a larger crowd of around 2,000 that had marched peacefully throughout the sunny afternoon for a “Rally Against Hate” gathering.

Shortly after, violence began to flare. A pepper-spray wielding Trump supporter was smacked to the ground with homemade shields. Another was attacked by five black-clad antifas, each windmilling kicks and punches into a man desperately trying to protect himself. A conservative group leader retreated for safetybehind a line of riot police as marchers chucked water bottles, shot off pepper spray and screamed, “Fascist go home!”

All told, the Associated Press reported at least five individuals were attacked. An AP reporter witnessed the assaults. Berkeley Police’s Lt. Joe Okies told The Washington Post the rally resulted in “13 arrests on a range of charges including assault with a deadly weapon, obstructing a police officer, and various Berkeley municipal code violations.”

Antifa is not a peaceful movement, it does not promote “tolerance,” and its methods and motivations epitomize the fascism they claim to oppose. Their tools are intimidation and violence, their target is anyone who isn’t them.

(I’m reminded of that op-ed by Yoav Fromer in the Post declaring, “the willingness to employ organized violence to achieve political goals remains a signature quality of only one side. And it’s not the left.” Violence sure looks like a signature quality of Antifa to me!)

Where were the police? They let the mob take over out of fear of violence:

The decision by police to step aside and allow black-clad demonstrators to take over Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Sunday was based on the safety of officers and protesters, a spokeswoman for the Berkeley Police Department said.

For hours, some 400 law enforcement officers from Berkeley, Oakland, UC Berkeley and Alameda County had control of the scene at the park, stopping anyone who entered at a single checkpoint, where they confiscated anything on a list of banned objects, including skateboards, eggs and any items that could be used as weapons.

But shortly after the scheduled 1 p.m. start time of an anti-Marxism rally, hundreds of black-masked agitators arrived at the scene. Rather than trying to take on the horde, the clearly overwhelmed police force allowed hundreds of people to pass barriers and enter the park unchecked.

The police effectively surrendered control of the park to guys in black masks, who promptly began physically assaulting people.

Is this America?

Do people wonder why Trump’s “law and order” rallying cry resonates?

ADDENDA: Speaking of “law and order,” Jon Gabriel lays out the aspects of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s record that you may have missed:

During one three-year period, his Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office didn’t properly investigate more than 400 alleged sex crimes, many of them involving child molestation.

In all, the department improperly cleared as many as 75% of cases without arrest or investigation, a fact outlined in a scathing report by the conservative Goldwater Institute.

When local journalists delved into Arpaio’s dealings, he had them arrested, a move that ultimately cost taxpayers $3.75 million. We paid $3.5 million more after the sheriff wrongfully arrested a county supervisor who had been critical of him.

About the same time, Arpaio sought charges against another supervisor, a county board member, the school superintendent, four Superior Court Judges and several county employees. All of these were cleared by the courts and also resulted in hefty taxpayer-funded settlements for his targets.

As a U.S. District Court judge presided over a civil contempt hearing, Arpaio’s attorney hired a private detective to investigate the judge’s wife.

On the pretext of going after an alleged cache of illegal weapons, a Maricopa SWAT team burned down an upscale suburban Phoenix home and killed the occupants’ 10-month-old dog. There were no illegal arms, so they arrested the resident on traffic citations.

Regardless of his approach to illegal immigrants, the rest of Arpaio’s record paints an ugly and abusive portrait, one that is far from what any real conservative should expect from law enforcement.