Politics & Policy

Bannon’s Out, But Was He Ever Really In?

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Hey, anything big happen while I was gone?

Making the click-through worth your while: A couple of tough questions about what, exactly, Steve Bannon brought to the White House; why proud Southerners need a unifying symbol beyond the Confederate Flag; and Great Britain encounters a snag in the Brexit process.

The Bannon-less White House

Does President Trump have advisors or merely scapegoats-in-waiting?

As the first week of the Trump administration without senior presidential advisor Steve Bannon begins, it seems fair to ask what the White House is actually going to lose with his departure. The media loved the narrative that Bannon was somehow Trump’s Svengali or Rasputin, whispering in Trump’s ear and steering him toward some sinister nationalist agenda, or the notion that he was the unique conduit for the non-traditional Republican alt-right philosophy into the White House. The mythology and imagery around Bannon is vivid and dramatic, but reality tells a different story.

Are there really a lot of Trump supporters ready to abandon the president because Bannon is out? In other words, did 2016-era Breitbart.com make Trump, or did Trump make 2016-era Breitbart.com? (Note Breitbart.com’s traffic numbers took some suspiciously sudden drops after the election, even compared to other sites having post-election traffic slumps.) Did Bannon’s arrival in August 2016 really change the trajectory of the Trump presidential campaign, or was the election cake baked at that point? It is hard to believe that if Bannon had remained at Breitbart.com instead of joining the campaign, Trump would have lost the election.

As many people have pointed out in the past few days, once in the White House, Bannon didn’t get his way much at all. He was removed from the National Security Council in April. The White House is still fighting to get money for border wall construction. The executive order on immigration restrictions was partially struck down in court, and is awaiting a hearing at the Supreme Court. Bannon’s idea for a tax hike on the highest earners never went anywhere, and his other big idea on taxes, a Border Adjustment Tax on imports, was rejected by Congressional Republicans — and that was an idea that Paul Ryan liked!

Breitbart.com launched an extensive effort attempting to drive out National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. Bannon is out, and McMaster remains. Bannon advised against firing FBI Director James Comey. Tonight the president will address our military efforts in Afghanistan, and is expected to go in the opposite direction of what Bannon wanted. If American foreign policy is more isolationist under Trump than Obama, then it is only nominally so, at least so far. There have been some slight changes on trade policy around the edges, but “the U.S. trade deficit with China is up more than 6 percent this year.” Bannon famously hates Wall Street traders and bankers, but they’re riding high and the booming stock market is one of Trump’s biggest accomplishments he likes to brag about.

Bannon had a seat at the table, and a voice in the biggest debates in the White House. But he rarely won those debates, particularly when squaring off against Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump . . .  suggesting that the White House in the months to come will not be too different from the decisions in the White House of the past few months.

What Do You Do When Hate Groups Decide to Adopt One of Your Symbols?

Every time I write about the Confederate flag or “Confederaphilia,” a few readers respond that I just don’t understand, that I can’t understand because I’m not a native Southerner, that I should keep my Yankee mouth shut, etcetera.

Assume for a moment that there are people who want to express pride in their Southern heritage or honor their ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, and who do not want to endorse racism or slavery.

What do you do when a hate group suddenly decides to adopt one of your preferred symbols? Over the years, white supremacist groups have adopted several symbols that aren’t immediately connected to racism, such as Celtic crosses (crosses in circles), Thor’s hammer, and the number 88. Wiser anti-hate groups, like the Anti-Defamation League, are quick to point out that none of these symbols are, by themselves, indications of support for hate groups, and advises everyone to examine their contexts closely to avoid false accusations. Nonetheless, hearing this can be a little unnerving for fans of Celtic Christian art, the Marvel comics superhero, or NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. There’s a deliberate desire on the part of hate groups to take seemingly innocuous symbols and turn them into secret signals of belief, only recognized by other members of the club.

If you’re really into waving the Confederate flag and don’t want to endorse white supremacy or racism, you have an increasingly serious problem, because even if you’re the least racist person in the world, a lot of openly racist people have embraced that flag as their symbol. At some point, non-racist proud Southerners may need to let that symbol of regional pride go and adopt another one.

And then there was this display in Charlottesville:

That’s a Nazi flag. Once that appeared, no one could plausibly argue that the gathering in Charlottesville was aimed at preserving history or battling political correctness run amok. Everyone who marched alongside that Nazi flag was endorsing what the swastika represents. If you disagree with that statement, try to imagine a scenario where you would willingly march alongside a Nazi flag.

This is why it’s so outrageous to hear the president of the United States insisting that the clash in Charlottesville “had some very fine people on both sides.”

No, it didn’t. Once you’re marching alongside the Nazi flag, you’re not a good person anymore.

If those Confederate statues are to remain standing, it will require a better argument than what we have now. Charlottesville demonstrated that keeping the statues is important to American Nazis. (Non-metaphorical Nazis! The term has been so overused in overwrought political arguments it’s hard to grasp that we’re talking about actual, Seig-Heil-ing, Nazi-saluting, goose-stepping morons!) If American Nazis want those statues to keep standing, that’s a really strong argument to take them down. If those statues have become a rallying point and symbol for those who disagree with nearly all of America’s values – the rule of law, equality in the eyes of the law, pluralism, the right to vote, the right to free speech – then they have no place in public squares, public parks and courthouses, etcetera.

There seems to be this insistence that to denounce the marchers in Charlottesville is to somehow endorse the violence of the “Antifa” movement, as if this is binary, and we must approve of one side of this fight. This is ridiculous. Life often gives us two bad choices. Think of the Eastern front in World War II, the Iran-Iraq War, or the choice between tanking your season or losing the highest-round draft pick.

The marchers in Charlottesville chanted, “Jews will not replace us!” It’s hard to believe Donald Trump is an anti-Semite; few anti-Semites are at peace with their daughter converting to Judaism and marrying a Jew. But why did that chant and the Charlottesville neo-Nazis not seem to anger him? Trump is a man who is capable of lashing out at Megyn Kelly, Mika Bryzenski, or John McCain with ferocious fury; why did he not bring a comparable fury at those who marched alongside the banner of the Fuhrer? Is it that he simply can’t get that angry at people who aren’t insulting him personally, but merely insulting America’s ideals? Or is it as simple as he thinks many of the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and elsewhere voted for him, and he fears losing their support?

In the latter half of last week, America’s political press debated whether Charlottesville represented a tipping point for the Trump presidency or point of no return. One thing is clear for anyone who wants to morally or politically remain aligned with this presidency: If Trump can foul up a moment that required him to simply denounce people marching under the Nazi flag, then he is capable of fouling up anything.

The View of Brexit from Ireland

As you can gather, last week was a terrific week to be paying only intermittent attention to the news back in the United States. In Ireland, the big news – beside the womens’ international rugby championship – was the United Kingdom’s continued efforts to manage the “Brexit” process, and how it would affect the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The Irish press sees Brexit as foolish and unmanageable, but in between all the sneering, there was something of a point that separating from the European Union creates a big question for how you adjust when a long, busy, heavily-trafficked, and largely unsecured border between two EU countries becomes a border between an EU-country and a non-EU one. There’s peace in Northern Ireland now, but Taoiseach (Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland) Leo Varadkar expressed worries that a “hard” border might increase tensions again.

Until Brexit, both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., operated under the same trade rules; right now, moving people and goods across the border involves minimal hassle. The British government wants to try to keep the changes to a minimum: “No border posts after Brexit and future customs arrangements whereby 80 percent of businesses involved in cross-border trade would be exempt all any new tariffs.”

The mostly pro-EU Irish (or at least their newspaper columnists) point out that this is a desire to keep the good part of trade with EU countries and ditch the bad parts.

ADDENDA: Last week was a good week to be away, and instead of dealing with accusations of racism, counter-accusations, and rage, to be contemplating sights like this one at the Cliffs of Moher . . . 

Of course, thanks to the odd scheduling of this last family vacation, in just ten days, I head back across the Atlantic for the National Review cruise. I’ll see some of you there.

Politics & Policy

Put ‘Em in the Hoosegow

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This is the last day of a very long work week, maybe one of major consequence as the multiculturalists seek to radically alter public debate and the nature of our democracy, while Islamofascists murder innocent people in Spain in their campaign against freedom and Western civilization. Let’s hope the weekend will allow us to catch a breather.

Down to the business of the Morning Jolt. Here are four NRO pieces I hope you might consider this Friday. Please read them and share them.

1. I’ll give away the punchline of Michael Brendan Dougherty’s impressive essay, The Fascists Were Using Antifa against Conservatives, atop NRO this morning.

Most of the debate about Confederate monuments after Charlottesville has been a distraction. The rally organizers came prepared for violence, and they wanted it. They wanted footage of themselves getting punched and maced so that they could use conservative antipathy to Antifa to erode conservative antipathy to ActualFascists. Don’t fall for it.

2. David French sees a disturbing pattern at violent rallies and says it is time for the Men and Women in Blue to step up. From his piece:

While the police can’t be everywhere, and they’re certainly not omnipotent, this pattern of abdicating control of the streets to the violent mob is extraordinarily dangerous. Police passivity threatens individual liberty.

3. Related: Jim Talent says law, order, and jail are necessary responses to madness in the streets, as so many violent demonstrators go unpunished.

The problem has grown so great that nothing less than incarceration will be sufficient to stop it. The message must be that if you are involved in a protest and you break the law, you will go to jail, and not just overnight. You will cool your heels in the county jail for a minimum of a month or two until you learn to respect the rights of other people.

4. Jonathan Carl wrote an important essay earlier in the week, How to Break Silicon Valley’s Anti-Free-Speech Monopoly. He follows that today with a very important Corner post today, which reports on how

big Internet companies began undertaking an orgy of censorship far beyond that even described in my article — kicking dozens of sites from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, PayPal, and numerous hosting providers.

I’ve been on the web for a long time — When I started using the web, there were about one hundred web sites in the entire world. Even in those early days, the Internet’s greatest strength has always been freedom – It’s a place you can promote, great ideas, terrible ideas, silly ideas, or just display your collection of thousands of vintage beer cans to the world. But right now that freedom is under threat like never before.

I’m spent. Jim is back next week, not soon enough. Pray for our country and for our liberties, and for those in Spain touched this week by the evil hand of Islamofascism.

Politics & Policy

Billionaire Letters of Transit

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Good morning. Welcome to Big Jim’s Joltateria. My name is Jack and I will be your waiter. Before I show you the menu of range-free, locally grown, organic, artisan NRO selections, let me tell you about today’s special:

My friend Anne Sorock, who runs The Frontier Lab (I am on the board; TFL uses corporate-marketing and consumer-analysis techniques and methods, and applies them to political situations, social movements, and key issues in order to find the deeply held values which motivate them), has a new video out today about Black Lives Matter that shows how this particular movement is truly a tool of far-left activists hellbent on creating a large social divide in America. Per Anne:

Organizers of Black Lives Matter who participated in our study were almost wholly unconcerned with furthering issues important to aiding the Black community in America. Instead, movement operatives see victory for a decades-long struggle to divide Americans into ‘haves and have-nots’ within reach, more tangibly, for the first time in many of their lifetimes.

Anne’s ongoing study of BLM – its players, its mission, the consequences – includes this fascinating 2016 document, The Privileged and the Oppressed: Progressives’ Latest Narrative, Revealed Through Black Lives Matter. Among its key finding is this: “Black Lives Matter’s core message is built upon, depends upon, and has as its ultimate goal, the larger retelling of the American story as one of oppression and racism.” I suggest you watch the video and read the report.

Now, here are six NRO selections that should meet everyone’s tastes.

1. On the question of Confederate statues, Kevin Williamson echoes Paul McCartney and says Let It Be. From his piece:

The Democrats’ motives here are tawdry and self-serving, for the most part. As cheap and silly as Southern sentimentality can be, the desire to reduce and humiliate one’s fellow citizens is distasteful. We would all do better to take Abraham Lincoln’s advice: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” Friends overlook one another’s little vices.

And friends do not terrorize one another by torchlight. Republicans would do well to remember what the alternative to being the party of Lincoln really is.

2. Victor Davis Hanson calls phony on progressives who give endless free passes to Silicon Valley robber barons. Read his excellent piece. I love the last line: “Hip billionaire corporatism is one of the strangest progressive hypocrisies of our times.”

3. How about four ways of getting out of President Obama’s insane nuke deal with Iran? Well, Matthew R.J. Brodsky suggests them.

4. No, Piers Morgan and other chooches, there is not a Nazi exemption to America’s free speech protection. American wannabe Charlie Cooke explains it brilliantly.

5. Speaking of Charlie . . .  speaking of Kevin . . .  you may want to listen to the most recent episode of the popular Mad Dogs and Englishmen podcast, in which the dynamic duo talk about the “Google Memo” and Rep. Kathleen Rice’s disgraceful comments about the NRA.

6. It is always welcome to get a reminder, as Greg Jones does wonderfully, of the brutal consequences of leftist economics at home and abroad.

Sparkling or tap? Good. I’ll be back shortly with your bread.

Until tomorrow,

Jack Fowler

P.S.: The theme song that’s been quickly adopted by statues everywhere: Take it away Helen Reddy.

Politics & Policy

Vulnerable Babies Need Not Apply

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Well, that was a rough day, America. I’d count on more of the same today. But with all its insanity and hoopla, it is this story by Alexandra DeSanctis, on Iceland having no room for babies with Down Syndrome, that frightens, enrages, and is most likely to result in God’s wrath and fury.

And now, back to the fallout of the Charlottesville Weekend. About those other matters, here are nine suggestions of worthwhile pieces and podcasts that you will find on NRO today.

1. “Very fine people?” David French writes in The Corner that “Donald Trump Just Gave the Press Conference of the Alt-Right’s Dreams.”

2. Jonah Goldberg slams Conservatism’s Damaging Game of Footsie with the Alt-Right.

3. Limitations of statues: Kyle Smith asks Destroying Symbols: Where Does It End? From his piece:

Once every Confederate monument in the country is down, what then? How is a statue of an ordinary rebel soldier in Durham, N.C., more offensive than a gorgeous building-sized tribute to slave-owning racist Thomas Jefferson on the Tidal Basin? We are reaching the point where, if the Washington Monument were to be blown up tomorrow, it would be anyone’s guess whether jihadists or the “anti-fascist” Left did it.

4. Related: Quin Hillyer argues in The Corner against removing all “Confederate Monuments.”

5. A Nobel Peace laureate dies in a Chinese prison. Here is a slice of Jianli Yang’s article “Liu Xiaobo’s Stern Warning”:

Liu Xiaobo feared then that the West might repeat the same mistake as it did during the rise of the fascist Third Reich and the Communist USSR. He warned that the international community must remain vigilant in the face of the rising Chinese Communist dictatorship because the game for world dominance had changed. The Chinese Communists had also morphed into a new beast — more adaptive, cunning, and deceptive.

6. Michelle Malkin wants to know Where Is the Corporate Disavowal of Black Lives Matters?

7. Will the Trump Administration give billions to West Virginia’s coal industry? Michael Tanner calls the plan corporate welfare that needs to be stopped.

8. On a new episode of The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and Dan McLaughlin discuss the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—and its fallout. Listen here.

9. And in a special history edition of The Editors, Rich Lowry talks with eminent historians Victor Davis Hanson and Andrew Roberts to discuss the evacuation of British and French forces from Dunkirk at the outset of World War 2. Listen here.

It’s 7AM and I am already exhausted. Only a few more days and Big Jim Geraghty will be back in the MJ saddle. Until tomorrow, God bless.

Politics & Policy

Mothball the Monuments

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Good morning. Sorry, Jim Geraghty is still away. If you ask “When will this nightmare end?” I can assure you, soon. In the meanwhile, I’ll pinch run (see more below).

OK, now to the current scene. Here are six (of many) very worthwhile pieces you will find today on NRO. I suggest you read and share them. And enjoy.

1. Despite the calls for federal prosecution, Andy McCarthy says Let Virginia Prosecute the Charlottesville Terrorism.

2. Victor Davis Hanson asks, Is There Still a Conservative Foreign Policy?

3. Couples euthanasia seems to be a new acceptable in the Netherlands, and elsewhere in Europe. Wesley Smith reports on this brutal new aspect of the West’s culture of death.

4. Rich Lowry thinks it’s time to Mothball the Confederate Monuments.

5. Conrad Black looks at The Media ‘In Crowd’ and finds “a group of anti-theistic, ultra-materialist, narcissistic poseurs, hedonists of self-celebration.”

6. Father Gerard Hammond is an 84-year-old Maryknoll missionary helping the poor and starving in North Korea. Kathryn Jean Lopez files a beautiful profile of this plucky priest.

Before we split, know this: That in his exceptional, 14-seaon MLB career (1975-88), Yankee great Ron Guidry never once had a plate appearance in a regular season game. Yet ‘Gator’ scored four runs (he was a highly regarded pinch runner). I’ll find inspiration in this as I chug around the bases this week on behalf of Jim G.

Lord knows what political uproar awaits us today (which is the Feast of the Assumption, a Holy Day of Obligation, my Catholic friends!). Say your prayers, and we’ll see you tomorrow.

Politics & Policy

Will Losers Be Called Losers?

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Given the events of the weekend past, I do wish Jim Geraghty were here to share his very special wisdom and analysis. Alas, he is away this week, so Yours Truly will pinch hit. We’ll keep the Monday MJ short, sweet, and joke-free. Here are six NRO pieces you should consider reading and sharing.

1. Our editorial, Condemn the White Supremacists, Mr. President.

2. Rich Lowry weighs in on “so-called both-sidism.”

3. There are losers who the President, the nation’s premier loser-namer, needs to name “losers.” Read this Michael Brendan Dougherty post on The Corner.

4. You cannot have an informed opinion about the role and influence of General McMaster in his role as President Trump’s National Security Advisor unless you read Andy McCarthy’s important analysis of his underestimating the threat of Sharia supremacism.

5. The size of chairs is being deemed a “microaggression” against chubby folks. And more. Kat Timpf reports on the latest lunacy.

6. What is this thing called Rees-Mogg? Intern Jeff Cimmino profiles an emerging Tory leader.

And don’t forget this podcast: On the new episode of The Liberty Files, David French and Andrew Walker, director of policy studies at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, discuss his new book, God and the Transgender Debate.

We’ll see you tomorrow,

Jack

National Security & Defense

On Preventing War with North Korea

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In today’s Jolt, making the click-through worth your while: Trump’s critics forget how deterrence works, how Google radicalized New York Times columnist David Brooks, and why being an outrage-driven social justice warrior appeals to the lazy.

This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt until August 21. I will return with either an awesome tale of an ambitious family vacation or just rocking back and forth and murmuring, “we’re never taking the kids on a long flight again, we’re never taking the kids on a long flight again.”

Convenient Amnesia on How Deterrence Works

This morning, President Trump tweeted, “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!” Unsurprisingly, this is causing Trump critics to freak out.

Begin with the assumption that we do not want to fight a war on the Korean peninsula. If we want to avoid that, we need to deter North Korea from taking any other actions that will be so provocative, they will require retaliation. If North Korea were to hit Guam, sink a U.S. naval vessel, or fire artillery at American troops in South Korea, failure to retaliate would be to declare a form of surrender; it would demonstrate we and our allies fear war so intensely that we are willing to accept loss of life to avoid it. Of course, this effectively gives the green light to more acts of military aggression.

As mentioned yesterday, North Korea’s recent history is littered with aggressive acts that have killed and injured South Korean soldiers and civilians. The regime announced this week it was considering launching long-range missiles toward, but not directly at, Guam. And our intelligence agencies now think they have successfully miniaturized devices.

Each of those individual risks – North Korea’s habitual unpredictable aggression, their possession of nuclear weapons (that may or may not work), their missiles that can hit the United States – is separately a tolerable problem but collectively, they represent a risk that the American people cannot accept.

The only way deterrence works is if the other guy gets convinced that you’re willing to actually fight. In a game of chicken, the only way the other guy swerves is if he’s convinced you’re not afraid to have a head-on collision.

In other words, to preserve peace, North Korea has to believe that the United States is completely willing and able to fight a war, and fight it until the regime in Pyongyang is destroyed.

It is worth noting at this point that neither side is declaring an intention for a first strike. Neither side is likely to do this, because that would cost the element of surprise to announce it in advance. All of the heated rhetoric about “fire and fury” and “final doom” is basically an exchange of pledges for a devastating counterattack if the other side strikes first. While both sides are capable of launching a devastating counterattack, it is worth noting that there is in imbalance in that devastation. If North Korea did their worst, it would be terrible for South Korea, very bad for Japan, and bad for the United States. But if America and its allies inflicted their worst, North Korea would cease to exist.

For what it’s worth, none of the Korea policy experts quoted by the Washington Post think war is imminent.

‘He Should Seek a Non-Leadership Position.’

Well, now you’ve done it, Google. You’ve gone and radicalized New York Times columnist David Brooks.

The mob that hounded [fired Google engineer James] Damore was like the mobs we’ve seen on a lot of college campuses. We all have our theories about why these moral crazes are suddenly so common. I’d say that radical uncertainty about morality, meaning and life in general is producing intense anxiety. Some people embrace moral absolutism in a desperate effort to find solid ground. They feel a rare and comforting sense of moral certainty when they are purging an evil person who has violated one of their sacred taboos . . . 

Google CEO Sundar Pichai fired Damore and wrote, “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not O.K.”

That is a blatantly dishonest characterization of the memo. Damore wrote nothing like that about his Google colleagues. Either Pichai is unprepared to understand the research (unlikely), is not capable of handling complex data flows (a bad trait in a C.E.O.) or was simply too afraid to stand up to a mob.

Regardless which weakness applies, this episode suggests he should seek a non-leadership position. We are at a moment when mobs on the left and the right ignore evidence and destroy scapegoats. That’s when we need good leaders most.

When a guy fouls up like that, you know what consequence is coming: Brooks will never take him to his favorite fancy Italian sandwich shop.

Who Has ‘Radical Uncertainty about Morality, Meaning and Life’?

Let’s pick at that paragraph from Brooks about “radical uncertainty about morality, meaning and life in general,” because it feels like there’s still some meat on that bone, so to speak. One of the periodic complaints I find myself expressing about American society as I get older is the fear that the search for novelty and “edginess” has driven too many voices to celebrate our villains and demonize our heroes.

Think about anyone who’s been targeted by a social justice warrior online mob for writing or saying something offensive or controversial, and think about the consequences for their actions compared to society’s more infamous figures. Chris Brown walks the streets a free man with the music industry and his fans collectively choosing to forget his brutal beating of Rihanna. Ray Lewis pled guilty to lying to police in exchange for prosecutors dropping a charge of murder; when his playing days were over he worked for ESPN and now does commentary on Fox Sports One. (Quite a few people will point to the current president as a giant inversion of American values. Whatever else you think of him, he is not a polite, respectful, humble, or gracious man.)

Speaking generally, conservatives probably don’t feel like they too are experiencing  “radical uncertainty about morality, meaning and life in general.” The nice thing about being a traditionalist is that you don’t need to constantly revise what you think based on the latest trends. The right thing to do yesterday is still the right thing to do today, and it will be right tomorrow.

I suspect the social justice mobs target a random Google programmer, or Lena Dunham publicly indicts random American Airlines employees for “transphobic talk” she claims to have overheard, because these are very easy targets and very easy “problems” to solve. Society has no shortage of real problems: drug addiction, poverty, homelessness, crime, lack of economic opportunity, those who need counseling or mental health treatment, angry young men lashing out with random violence at strangers, radicalized groups plotting violence on a mass scale.

Experience has taught us that all of those problems are difficult to solve, and many are intertwined. Oftentimes our efforts to solve those problems take two steps forward and then one step back, or they solve one problem but create another. The “broken windows” theory of police work drives down crime rates, but then policemen put Eric Garner in a chokehold for selling cigarettes without a license, and people wonder if the strict enforcement of minor laws has gone too far. Trying to solve any of society’s real problems requires determination, flexibility, empathy, and most of all, patience.

By comparison, whipping up a froth of anger around some random person, with no high-powered lawyers, media friends, or money, over a perceived sexism, racism, transphobia, etcetera, that’s quick and easy! It’s a simple story, usually resolved in a matter of days: Someone commits the thought-crime, the social justice warrior discovers it, calls attention to it, the denunciations and outrage grows until some authority, usually the employer, fires the person as punishment. Then the social justice warriors celebrate; someone has paid a serious financial and reputational price for daring to offend them. Then they move on, looking for the next one. To be a social justice keyboard warrior, you don’t need much determination, flexibility, or patience, and you certainly don’t need empathy. All you need is anger.

ADDENDA: Sometime in the near future, appearing in this space: an edition of the pop culture podcast discussing how every big media company seems to want its own streaming service, Amazon’s Communist-mocking Comrade Detective, upcoming fall television shows from the inspired to the idiotic, and our listeners’ picks for the best commercials of all time.

Politics & Policy

North Korea’s Recent History of Random, Sudden, Violent Provocations

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One aspect of the threat from North Korea that doesn’t get addressed seriously enough is the regime is either unable or unwilling to accurately assess the risks of its actions. It’s as if the entire Pyongyang government has no sense of what kind of provocation is so serious that its foes will retaliate with force.

Put aside the regime’s blustery threats; look at what the North Korean government and its military actually does:

November 10, 2009: A North Korean navy patrol boat crosses into South Korean territorial waters, ignores radio warnings and warning shots from South Korean naval units, and opens fire on a South Korean patrol boat. The two boats exchange fire, take light damage, and the North Korean boat returns to its national waters. Similar exchanges of fire between naval vessels occurred in 1999 and 2002, with more significant casualties.

March 26, 2010: A North Korean “midget submarine” fired a torpedo and sunk the South Korean Naval corvette Cheonan, killing 46 sailors and wounding 56 more. North Korea denied responsibility but South Korea and its allies have no doubt they committed the attack.

November 23, 2010: North Korean forces fired around 170 artillery shells and rockets at Yeonpyeong Island in South Korea, hitting both military and civilian targets. The attack left four South Koreans dead and 19 injured. South Korean forces returned fire.

October 19, 2014: “North and South Korean soldiers exchanged gunfire when the North’s soldiers approached the military border and did not retreat after the South fired warning shots.”

August 10, 2015: “North Korean soldiers sneaked across the heavily guarded border with South Korea and planted land mines near one of the South’s military guard posts, and two southern soldiers were maimed after stepping on them.”

In other words, every once in a while, North Korea just goes out and tries to kill some South Koreans without warning because it wants to send a message. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t. So far, South Korea is willing to suffer those casualties and respond proportionally, managing not to escalate a particular clash into a second Korean War. If the North Koreans sank a U.S. Navy ship, shelled U.S. troops in South Korea, or made some other direct attack, how would we respond?  Would it be proportional to North Korea’s attack, or would there be an attempt to deter further attacks by demonstrating overwhelming force? More importantly, would North Korea perceive our response as the opening salvo in an invasion? These are big questions under any U.S. president, but Donald Trump is another giant X factor. How does Trump respond to a fast-moving crisis with many lives at stake?

There’s another more recent event worth keeping in mind as well:

February 13, 2017: At the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, two women believed to be North Korean agents wipe a substance in the face of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He dies shortly after; the substance is later found to be VX nerve agent, “believed to be the most toxic known nerve agent and is banned globally except for research.”

There are a lot of ways to kill somebody; the North Korean regime used a particularly dangerous method in an extremely busy public location. It’s almost as if they’re trying to pick the most reckless and escalating means of achieving their goal as possible. What if North Korea’s regime tried something like that in LAX, LaGuardia, or Dulles?

Right now, a lot of people are probably thinking, “eh, they would never do that” – except that no one foresaw the attack on the Cheonan or Yeonpyeong Island coming, either. North Korea just commits some random, unprovoked act of aggression every once in a while, seemingly confident that they won’t trigger an all-out war in the process.

Elsewhere, our David French imagines how a conventional, non-nuclear war in Korea could unfold, and unfold badly:

There were so many plans – plans upon plans – for dealing with this moment, but no one really reckoned with the human factor. No one could quite foresee how a modern, prosperous nation would react to an instant apocalypse. After generations of the long peace, the world had forgotten total war. We weren’t prepared, and the shock of the moment meant that the plans failed. For crucial hours, for crucial days, until the allies adjusted to the new reality, North Korea had the advantage.

Barring some last-minute dramatic intervention from China, it appears the United States has to choose among three bad options: A) Learn to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea that can strike the United States with Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles; B) a conventional war sooner to eliminate the threat, that will involve massive casualties on the Korean peninsula and possibly elsewhere; or C) a nuclear exchange with North Korea sometime in the future.

It’s probably going to be option A. Yesterday, Jonah recalled a debate about North Korea from the mid-1990s, and pointed out how the natural dynamics of American politics create incentives to continue “diplomatic outreach” even when it is clear no agreement is possible: “There will always be loud and large constituencies insisting there is more time to talk. There will always be strong forces encouraging leaders to kick-the-can to some future administration. If you don’t decide before you enter negotiations what you want from negotiations, all you are doing is negotiating for more negotiations while your opponent is negotiating for more time in pursuit of a concrete goal. In the meantime, their position becomes stronger and ours weaker, which means future negotiations are less likely to yield more desirable outcomes.”

You’re already hearing recommendations that the same diplomatic outreach attempted with Cuba and Iran be applied to North Korea, and that the United States should “formally end the Korean War with a peace treaty and normalize relations – even if the North remains a nuclear power.”

I don’t know about you, but these promises and predictions sound familiar:

With normalization of relations, the United States will be in a better position to deal with North Korea on any issue of mutual concern. Human rights organizations will have the opportunity to address concerns in North Korea directly, rather than observing from the outside. Moreover, U.S. companies and brands could also conceivably move into North Korea. Direct economic interactions between the United States and North Korea might bring about changes that the United States has long pressed for but could not achieve.

But as laid out yesterday, back in the mid-1990s, the United States already gave the North Koreans $6 billion in new reactors and other aid in exchange for promises, promises that the regime had no intention of keeping.

In fact, here comes Obama’s former national security advisor, Susan Rice, today: “History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea – the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War. It will require being pragmatic.”

The proposal for diplomatic outreach assumes that the North Korean regime is rational and is willing to end its long history of violent provocations, shady arms deals, and other hostile behavior. Does this look like a regime that can change its character that fundamentally?

Isn’t ‘Better Than the Left’ a Pretty Low Bar to Clear for a Republican?

In the pages of NRO, Conrad Black made another effort at persuading the NeverTrump crowd to jump on the bandwagon, and unsurprisingly, many of Trump’s critics on the Right are not persuaded. But there’s one point of Black’s article that deserves more attention:

The president’s course is clear: Speak and tweet more carefully, as he is generally doing; show more focus; shut down the nonsense and indiscretions in the White House; prepare an unstoppable tax bill; take a strong line in North Korea (after three successive administrations have failed and dropped this horrible mess into his lap); denounce the Mueller investigation for the outrage that it is; do the necessary to set another special counsel on the backs of the Clintons, Lynch, Comey, Wasserman Schultz, and the unmaskers and leakers (the Democrats deserve the heat more than Trump does and this one-way shooting gallery must end); and, if Rosenstein allows Mueller to go fishing, challenge it in the courts.

I concur with much of this, particularly, “Speak and tweet more carefully; show more focus.” I don’t mind Trump’s “fire and fury” comment about North Korea; there’s something deeply satisfying about watching North Korea’s propagandists get a taste of their own rhetoric served back to them. I just wish he had bothered to review his comments with his own national security team ahead of time instead of springing it on them without warning. Too often, the president still acts like he’s fighting about a real estate deal by offering colorful quotes to the New York Post.

Black concludes, “The choice, for sane conservatives, is Trump or national disaster.” Maybe you saw Election Day 2016 as that strict binary choice. But we’re past Election Day. It’s time to stop measuring Trump merely as an alternative to Hillary and to start measuring him on his own merits. So far, he’s better on policy than I expected – particularly in improving care for veterans — but worse on temperament than I feared. A bunch of grumbling conservatives are a much smaller problem for this administration than the president’s habitual erratic impulsiveness.

ADDENDA: Ha! “Jon Ossoff will be leading a panel discussion at Netroots on Saturday about winning the 2018 midterm elections.” Another case of “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” huh?

Politics & Policy

Thomas Friedman on Trump, Clintons on North Korea, Google on Diversity

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Today’s effort to make clicking through worth your while: a New York Times columnist surprises everyone by acknowledging Trump’s campaign raised some valid concerns, the origins of that mild threat of mushroom clouds in the Pacific, and some eye-popping figures that raise serious questions about Google and corporate diversity initiatives.

Thomas Friedman: Hey, Maybe Trump Has a Point on Some Issues

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls on Democrats to acknowledge President Trump makes some valid points. He picks four issues:

  •  We can’t take in every immigrant who wants to come here; we need, metaphorically speaking, a high wall that assures Americans we can control our border with a big gate that lets as many people in legally as we can effectively absorb as citizens.

  • The Muslim world does have a problem with pluralism – gender pluralism, religious pluralism and intellectual pluralism – and suggesting that terrorism has nothing to do with that fact is naïve; countering violent extremism means constructively engaging with Muslim leaders on this issue.

  • Americans want a president focused on growing the economic pie, not just redistributing it. We do have a trade problem with China, which has reformed and closed instead of reformed and opened. We have an even bigger problem with automation wiping out middle-skilled work and we need to generate more blue-collar jobs to anchor communities.

  • Political correctness on college campuses has run ridiculously riot. Americans want leaders to be comfortable expressing patriotism and love of country when globalization is erasing national identities. America is not perfect, but it is, more often than not, a force for good in the world.

The problem is, this runs afoul of amnesty, kumbaya “diversity” talk, tax-the-rich-and-redistribute-the-money economic plans, and urban elites’ sense of smug superiority over those less educated. That’s pretty much the Democratic platform right there! If you take that away, what’s left?

History’s Brutal Verdict on the Last U.S. Agreement with North Korea

Are the current tensions with North Korea something new, a harbinger of a new era of nuclear threats and negotiations that feel akin to blackmail? Or just the latest act in a three-decade cycle of almost regularly-scheduled provocations and demands that no longer surprise the United States and its allies?

Let’s go back to June 1994: the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup, The Lion King opened up in theaters, O.J. Simpson was on the run in a slow white Bronco, and the world slowly recognized that North Korea was seriously pursuing nuclear weapons.

The cover of Time magazine, June 13, 1994:

A few months earlier, North Korea had declared, during “peace” talks, “We are ready to respond with an eye for an eye and a war for a war. If war breaks out, we will turn Seoul into a sea of fire.” The public didn’t know it at the time, but the United States was quite close to a major escalation that week, one that many in the Pentagon expected would lead to a Second Korean War:

It was a tense scene in the White House on June 15, 1994. [Secretary of Defense William] Perry and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. John Shalikashvili were briefing President Clinton and other top officials on three options to substantially reinforce the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed on the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean War.

The Pentagon was advocating a “middle option” — moving 10,000 more troops, along with F-117s, long-range bombers and an additional carrier battle group to Korea or nearby.

“We were within a day of making major additions to our troop deployments to Korea, and we were about to undertake an evacuation of American civilians from Korea,” Perry recalled.

The real fear was that North Korea would read the buildup and evacuations as certain signs of an impending attack, and launch a preemptive invasion of South Korea. U.S. analysts believed the North Koreans took one main lesson from the 1991 Persian Gulf War: Don’t give the United States time to mass its forces.

Perry told Clinton all the options were unpalatable, but that not to pick one of them would be disastrous.

“My recollection is that before the president got to choose — was asked to choose — the door of the room opened and we were told that there was a telephone call from former president Carter in Pyongyang and that he wished to speak to me,” Gallucci remembered.

Jimmy Carter had been meeting as a private citizen with North Korea’s aging leader Kim Il Sung, and was calling to report a breakthrough. The White House session broke up and relieved officials watched television as Carter informed CNN by telephone of the latest development.

In other words, a conflict with non-nuclear North Korea was averted by Jimmy Carter freelancing. By October, Bill Clinton announced the U.S. and North Korea had a deal:

I am pleased that the United States and North Korea yesterday reached agreement on the text of a framework document on North Korea’s nuclear program. This agreement will help to achieve a longstanding and vital American objective: an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula. This agreement is good for the United States, good for our allies, and good for the safety of the entire world. It reduces the danger of the threat of nuclear spreading in the region.

As with the Iran deal many years later, the deal with North Korea was not a formal treaty and thus never ratified by Congress.

Of course, the North Koreans cheated; the U.S. provided oil, two light water reactors, and a new electric grid, altogether worth roughly $5 billion, in exchange for promises.

U.S. intelligence agencies found evidence that North Korea was up to something; spy satellites detected massive underground excavations and construction. A.Q. Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, traveled to North Korea several times. A telling anecdote, reported in 2002:

One Western diplomat who visited North Korea in May 1998, just as world attention focused on Pakistan, which had responded to India’s underground nuclear tests by setting off six of its own, recalled witnessing an odd celebration.

“I was in the Foreign Ministry,” the official recalled last week. “About 10 minutes into our meeting, the North Korean diplomat we were seeing broke into a big smile and pointed with pride to these tests. They were all elated. Here was a model of a poor state getting away with developing a nuclear weapon.”

The Clinton administration did not let the intelligence get in the way of a happy narrative of improving relations with North Korea. By 2000, Secretary of State Madeline Albright was traveling to Pyongyang to meet Kim Jong Il and declaring the administration no longer labeled them a “rogue state.”

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright disclosed the change in the official lexicon today when she was asked about “the rogue state” of North Korea and its “rogue leader,” Kim Jong Il.

“First of all, we are now calling these states ‘states of concern,’” Dr. Albright told a radio interviewer on the same day the administration moved to ease trade restrictions against North Korea, a former battlefield foe that is continuing to develop weapons that may one day be capable of striking the United States.

In a long history of naïve foreign policy decisions and deals, the Clinton administration’s approach to North Korea ranks as one of the worst.

By 2002, the Bush administration confronted North Korea with evidence that they had an ongoing program to develop nuclear weapons.

“We need nuclear weapons,” Kang Sok Joo, the North Korean senior foreign policy official, said, arguing that the program was a result of the Bush administration’s hostility.

[Assistant Secretary of State James] Kelly responded that the program began at least four years ago, when Mr. Bush was governor of Texas. The Americans left after one North Korean official declared that dialogue on the subject was worthless and said, “We will meet sword with sword.”

Reading about the 1994 North Korean deal today feels like watching The Usual Suspects the second time. You know who the villain is, and who is not to be trusted, and you shake your head every time you see someone naively trust the villain.

Senator Dianne Feinstein responded to the news that North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its intercontinental ballistic missiles by declaring, “our policy of isolating North Korea has not worked. The United States must quickly engage North Korea in a high-level dialogue without any preconditions.”

What does she want to do in that high-level dialogue? North Korea has already demonstrated that they’re willing to lie and cheat. How likely is it that they’ll just give up their nukes and ICBM capabilities at the negotiating table?

The Aspect of Diversity at Google the Company Would Rather Not Talk About

Two ideas that don’t necessarily conflict: 1) Diversity is “good” in the sense that a group that has a varied set of viewpoints and experiences is likely to find better solutions and generate better ideas than one that has a uniform set of viewpoints and experiences. 2) A lot of corporate “diversity” initiatives are expensive public relations efforts that don’t amount to much, and may even worsen tensions because of their insistence upon defining people by race, ethnicity, gender, and religion instead of seeing all aspects of an individual.

President Obama’s cabinet certainly looked diverse, in terms of the number of women and racial minorities, but 22 of Obama’s first 35 appointments had a degree from an Ivy League university, MIT, Stanford, the University of Chicago, Oxford, or Cambridge. Out of more than 3,000 institutions that offer four-year degrees, thirteen institutions educated more than 60 percent of the top positions in government. The government values diversity, except for the kinds of people who go to a state university, apparently.

A point worth noting in the Google controversy: Starting in 2014, Google spent at least $264 million to improve diversity in the company; 29 percent of the company’s employees are women, 5 percent are Latino, and 2 percent are black – all largely unchanged from when the diversity initiative began. So where’s all the money going, and what are they doing with it?

ADDENDA: Joe Mathieu with a timely suggestion for a Hollywood reboot: The Day After.

For this week’s pop culture podcast, my co-host wants to know your favorite commercial of all time.

Politics & Policy

Google, Searching for Lawyers

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When does one employee holding an opinion contrary to another employee’s become harassment? My guess is that a lawsuit at Google is going to explore that question under the harsh glare of public scrutiny.

Google on Monday fired the employee who wrote an internal memo suggesting men are better suited for tech jobs than women, escalating a debate over free speech at the company.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said in an email to his staff that the employee’s memo violated company policy. Google, part of Alphabet Inc., didn’t publicly name the memo’s author.

Software engineer James Damore, who said in an email that he wrote the memo and was fired for it, said he was considering legal action against Google for firing him after he complained to federal labor officials about executives’ alleged efforts to silence him.

Mr. Damore published an internal memo last week that criticized Google’s efforts to increase diversity at the company, arguing the program discriminated against some employees. He said men were generally better at engineering jobs than women and a liberal bias among executives and many employees made it difficult to discuss the issue at Google.

The memo went viral inside the company, which spilled into public view when Google employees publicly criticized it and eventually leaked it to the media. The controversy posed a thorny question for one of the world’s largest companies, one that espouses free speech: How would it handle an employee who offered opinions that were, to many inside the company, offensive?

“Portions of the memo violate our code of conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace,” Mr. Pichai said in his email. He added that the company’s code of conduct requires “each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.”

Damore was talking to the National Labor Relations Board before the firing . . .  so Google just fired an employee who was talking to the government about a hostile working environment.

One of the statements in that memo: “In highly progressive environments, conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility. We should empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves.”

Google couldn’t prove his point any better if they had deliberately tried!

Before the firing, CNBC pointed to two other potential legal issues:

First, federal labor law bars even non-union employers like Google from punishing an employee for communicating with fellow employees about improving working conditions. The purpose of the memo was to persuade Google to abandon certain diversity-related practices the engineer found objectionable and to convince co-workers to join his cause, or at least discuss the points he raised.

In a reply to the initial outcry over his memo, the engineer added to his memo: “Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired.” The law protects that kind of “concerted activity.”

Second, the engineer’s memo largely is a statement of his political views as they apply to workplace policies. The memo is styled as a lament to “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” California law prohibits employers from threatening to fire employees to get them to adopt or refrain from adopting a particular political course of action.

On matters like this, you want to hear from our David French:

It’s important to note that Google and American Airlines are both private corporations. They have enormous latitude to advance their own corporate viewpoints and to regulate the speech of their employees. There is no First Amendment violation here. There’s nothing illegal about fellow employees or corporate employers attempting to squelch the speech of employees who quite literally dissent from the company line.

But just because something is legal does not mean it’s right, and the result is a crisis in the culture of free speech in the United States. As the politicization of everything proceeds apace, the “company line” has increasingly moved well beyond promoting its own products to promoting a particular kind of politics. Major corporations and virtually every university in the nation are now political entities just as much as they’re commercial entities, and they wear their progressivism on their sleeves.

Our Michael Brendan Dougherty with a terrific observation:

For what’s it’s worth, I’m not sure that even apologists for Diversity with a capital D really believe that all disparities are the result of oppression. Before I joined the class of people who type into a screen for a living, I did short stints of decently-compensated work sealing driveway pavement and making industrial quantities of ammonium formate on the floor of a chemical plant. They were all-male environments. No one worries that women are being held back from these jobs. Diversity is surely important. Diversity is good. Diversity is the best. But for now it is a fight among priests. Only God can judge it.

One other detail worth noting:

Google said in its annual diversity report in June that 31% of its employees are women, unchanged from a year earlier. The percentage of black employees also was unchanged at 2 percent, and the number of Hispanic workers increased to 4 percent from 3 percent. Most Google workers are white and Asian men.

Wait, I Thought We Were Heading into a Democratic Wave Midterm Election

Ohio’s 16th Congressional District, which includes some of Cleveland’s western suburbs, is neither the most heavily Republican district in the state nor easy territory for Democrats, scoring an R+8 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Democrat John Boccieri won in this district in the Obama wave of 2008, and it’s an open seat, as incumbent Republican Jim Renacci is running for governor in 2018.

You would think this district would be a second-tier or at least third-tier target for Democrats seeking to retake the House – no easy pickings, but the sort of seat they could win if they get a national wave.

And yet, candidate recruitment isn’t going as smoothly as Democrats might have hoped:

Democrat Keith Mundy, who was trounced by U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci last year, says he’s going to run again next year in Ohio’s 16th Congressional district.

The thing is, though, Mundy doesn’t really want to run again.

“Personally, I would rather see someone else run who’s younger who might be smarter and have more money,” Mundy, a 67-year-old legal research and delivery service owner from Parma, told cleveland.com’s Jeremy Pelzer. “But right now, I don’t see anyone else stepping up to run in the 16th District.”

Political novice Aaron Godfrey, a physicist from North Olmsted, is the only Democrat to formally enter the race so far. Mundy said he’s worried Godfrey would be “eaten alive” in a general election.

Even if a viable Democrat does enter the race, Mundy said, he would continue running with the idea that a Democratic primary would bring more media attention to that candidate.

Mundy, who got involved in politics through Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign last year, said he has little chance of winning the heavily Republican district. With Renacci running for governor in 2018, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Patton and state Rep. Christina Hagan are squaring off in the GOP primary.

I almost admire the open reluctance:

Keith Mundy 2018: Well, I Guess, If Nobody Else Wants to Run I’ll Do It

The Uncomfortable Ease of Jumping from News Jobs to Campaign Jobs

I’m going to attempt to speak gently here, in part because of my past interactions with everyone involved, i.e., CNN and CNN International periodically inviting me to join their panels and the eye-roll seen around the world . . . 

You may have seen Kayleigh McEnany departed CNN and signed on to do news-report-style appearances on Trump’s Facebook page, as well as a public role with the Republican National Committee. She signed off from her Trump-approved appearance on Trump’s social media platform with the slogan, “and that is the real news!” – echoing, of course, Trump’s assertion that media reports critical of him are “Fake News.”

As a CNN contributor, McEnany was everything the Trump campaign and administration could possibly want; if she ever uttered a critical word, I missed it. You have to wonder if she does more good to promote the administration’s arguments as a talking head on CNN or as a spokeswoman role for the RNC. (She offers the same message in both venues; the question is whether she does it on the network’s dime or on the party’s, and which audience she reaches in each one.) You also have to wonder how CNN is feeling right now. They hired McEnany and turned her into a familiar face to television viewers; she suddenly departed to formally join the party. Or how McEnany feels about telling viewers on the Facebook page to stay there for “real news” as opposed to the cable news networks . . .  like the one that hired her.

CNN aired a fairly critical segment about their former employee’s new role, with Brian Stelter asking, “The president has railed against ‘fake news,’ isn’t this a sign the president create his own version, he’d rather make his own newscast?” (I wonder if this is the news-world equivalent of fans burning an old player’s jersey when he signs a free agent contract with another team.)

Our Tiana Lowe points out the network’s perspective on assembling panels:

The New York Times Magazine’s disturbing profile of Zucker last spring made that much clear: As Zucker sees it, his pro-Trump panelists are not just spokespeople for a worldview; they are “characters in a drama,” members of CNN’s extended ensemble case. “Everybody says, ‘Oh I can’t believe you have Jeffery Lord or Kayleigh McEnancy,’ but you know what?” Zucker told me with some satisfaction. “They know who Jeffery Lord and Kayleigh McEnany are.”

(Jim looks in the mirror and asks, “which character am I?”)

(Every once in a while, I get asked about this; I am not paid contributor to CNN or CNN International, but they cover the costs of getting me to and from their studios. I have never been asked to argue a particular perspective for or against the administration. We’re told the topics of discussion ahead of time, but not the questions that will be asked.)

ADDENDA: It took a little while, but the new edition of the pop culture podcast is indeed now posted.

Politics & Policy

Responding to Russia

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In today’s Jolt, we’ll explore a question of how and when to confront Russia, why the Senate is being a little more productive than before, and why Ohio governor John Kasich is the thing that wouldn’t leave. I know some you find clicking through on “READ MORE” to be a pain, so I’ll try to make it worth your while.

What Is the Wisest, Least-Dangerous Way to Confront Russia?

Our Michael Brendan Dougherty asks a fair question on the topic of whether the United States should provide weapons to Ukraine. Just what is it we want to achieve?

Ultimately, Ukraine is of peripheral interest to the United States and Western Europe even if annoying Russia has incredible appeal right now. Giving it arms, or extending to it a kind of quasi-membership in NATO might irritate Russia, but it would also create a new dependent for the U.S. And it could embolden Ukrainian nationalists to do something foolish, the way that Mikheil Saakashvili jeopardized Georgia in 2008 by acting provocatively once he thought he had the backing of the West. Punishing Russia is obviously at the top of our leaders’ minds. But arming Ukraine would mean escalating tensions precisely where American commitments can do the least good and are not at all credible. There are better ways to get Vladimir Putin’s goat. We should consider them, instead.

A few days ago I asked, “when do we feel like [the Russian government] has suffered sufficient consequences? What constitutes ‘winning’ to us?”

America’s Democrats were not so angry when Russia rolled into Crimea, when Russian-backed rebels shot down a passenger airliner, or when Russian spy planes and bombers fly near Alaska and other parts of American airspace. No, their anger at Russia begins and, I suspect, ends over their belief that Russia helped beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. The only proper “fix” in their minds is to make Clinton president; they’re not that concerned about Russia’s other hostile activities.

My fear in escalating our hostility towards Russia is that the Democrats will pull an Iraq War: support the conflict fully until the first setbacks, then suddenly reverse themselves and demonize the opposition as warmongers for agreeing with them.

Separately, how should we react when Russia does something we want them to do, like support us at the United Nations on sanctions on North Korea?

After a month of deliberations and negotiations, the Security Council on Saturday unanimously passed a resolution that would slash about $1 billion off North Korea’s annual foreign revenue.

China and Russia, the council’s two permanent members who resisted new economic sanctions on North Korea, ultimately endorsed the resolution, saying the rogue nation’s recent provocations were unacceptable.

This could be interpreted as a conciliatory step on their part. How do we want to respond?

That Do-Something Senate

President Trump receives a lot of grief for his slow pace of formally nominating cabinet officials, and the president has offered legitimate complaints about the Senate’s slow pace of confirming those nominations.

There’s finally some good news. Before heading out of town for the August recess, the Senate approved a lot of nominations. Four had recorded votes — FBI Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouilette, National Labor Relations Board Marvin Kaplan, and Kevin Newsom to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eleventh Circuit.

Another 65 nominees were confirmed by voice vote, including Kay Bailey Hutchison to be U.S. Ambassador to NATO, former Congressman Mark Green to be head of the U.S. Agency for International Development and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson to be ambassador to the United Kingdom. Yes, it’s a rebuilding year for our relationship with Great Britain.

Also, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a quorum again! Now they can get started on those fifteen gas pipeline and pumping station projects seeking approval!

John Kasich, The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave

The New York Times contends — only somewhat convincingly — that Republicans are thinking about 2020 presidential race beyond a President Trump reelection campaign. One of their key examples is John Kasich:

Mr. Kasich has been more defiant: The Ohio governor, who ran unsuccessfully in 2016, has declined to rule out a 2020 campaign in multiple television interviews, and has indicated to associates that he may run again, even if Mr. Trump seeks another term.

Color me supremely skeptical of the notion that many Republicans of any stripe will be eager to support a John Kasich presidential bid in 2020.

John Kasich obviously doesn’t appeal to Trump supporters, but those of us who are critical of Trump on the Right don’t have particularly fond memories of the Kasich 2016 effort, either. The Ohio governor turned out to be more of an obstacle than an ally to the #NeverTrump crowd, because he kept dividing the non-Trump vote in the wildly unrealistic belief that his amazing comeback was always just around the corner.

Kasich never had significant support in the field; he barely met the threshold to qualify for the prime-time debate in his home state. He won just under 2 percent in the Iowa caucuses, and won a single delegate. Then he went to New Hampshire, which was supposed to be his strongest early state; he had held more than 100 town-hall meetings there. The good news is that he finished second in a crowded field. The bad news is that he won . . .  15 percent, 20 points behind Trump. With the modesty that became his hallmark, Kasich characterized his distant second finish as, “the light overcame the darkness of negative campaigning.”

He went on to finish fifth with 7.5 percent in South Carolina and 3.6 percent in Nevada. He flopped on Super Tuesday, and reached the point where there really wasn’t much point in remaining in the race. But like John Belushi in the old Saturday Night Live sketch, The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave, Kasich just hung around, ensuring that the opposition to Trump was always split between at least two candidates. Kasich continued to run, even as he performed worse than candidates who had already withdrawn from the race; as CNN described the Arizona primary, “It was a three-man race, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich came in fourth.” Kasich hung around until May 4, one day after Ted Cruz withdrew from the race, and Trump had already effectively won the nomination.

Did John Kasich’s determination to remain in the race make Trump the nominee? No, not by itself, but it certainly ensured that the Republican primary electorate was never given a binary choice between Trump and a more traditional conservative like Cruz.

If for some reason, Trump isn’t on the ballot in 2020, then Republicans will have better options than, say, a governor who’s always willing to criticize his own party and winning rave reviews from Joy Behar and the editorial board of the New York Times. And even if Trump is on the ballot and looks extremely unlikely to win reelection . . .  why would anti-Trump Republicans reward the Republican who played such a key role in his winning the nomination in 2016?

ADDENDA: Did you see that over the weekend, two Americans, Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman, beat the Fastest Man Alive, Usain Bolt, in the 100 meter dash? Maybe America really is great again.

I concur with our Kyle Smith’s assessment of Amazon’s faux-found Romanian Communist cop comedy Comrade Detective. The gist is that Channing Tatum and his friend Jon Ronson have uncovered the original footage of Romania’s long-lost and most beloved television series, a gritty cop drama from the 1980s (although the visual style looks more like the 1970s), where the cops uncover sinister American plots to smuggle in Jordache jeans and Monopoly board games, undermining their Romanian worker’s paradise. (They keep pronouncing the jean brand, “Jor-dock-key.”) Picture Miami Vice in Bucharest. My favorite line so far comes when a suspect appears to commit suicide, and the crusty police captain exclaims, “No man has the right to take his own life! That right is reserved entirely for the state!”

Politics & Policy

Sources Say Mueller Has a Grand Jury; Others Say It’s Just an Okay One

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Notice that in one day, the public learned three different things about former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s investigation, from three different news organizations.

The Wall Street Journal: “Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, a sign that his inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase.”

CNN: “Federal investigators exploring whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian spies have seized on Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward, according to people familiar with the investigation.”

Reuters: “A grand jury has issued subpoenas in connection with a June 2016 meeting that included President Donald Trump’s son, his son-in-law and a Russian lawyer.”

As Trump would say, “this will all come out in the wash.” Right now, we don’t know what Mueller and his team knows or has found. At some point, if they want to prosecute someone, they will have to showcase their evidence against particular individuals, and the jury – and presumably the interested public – will have a chance to consider that evidence. There’s no point in Trump or his defenders going to DEFCON 1 this early. This could end with minor charges against indivudals on the periphery of Trump’s orbit, or it could lead to something much bigger. Best to keep the powder dry until it’s needed.

But our Andy McCarthy makes an important point:

The Justice Department told the public that this was a counterintelligence investigation; thus, neither the American people nor the people implicated in the investigation were given notice that crimes were suspected, much less what particular crimes and who the suspects are. That is intolerable now that we are formally in a criminal-investigation mode.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that the special counsel should be barred from investigating any crimes he reasonably suspects at this point. Nor do I mean to imply that the president is entitled to more favorable legal standards than any other American would be. But in the higher interest of his capacity to function as president and our capacity to hold our political representatives accountable, President Trump and the American people should be told whether he is suspected of criminal wrongdoing and, if so, what wrongdoing.

Wasserman Shultz: Anti-Muslim Bias Led to My Staffer’s Arrest

Wow. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is basically accusing the FBI of anti-Muslim bias in their arrest of her former IT staffer, Imran Awan. Several members of Awan’s family were accused of “stealing equipment from members’ offices without their knowledge and committing serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network” and the FBI arrested him

His arrest, the congresswoman said, had nothing to do with the months-long investigation of Awan as an IT worker for a variety of members of Congress. An FBI affidavit filed with the criminal complaint said Awan and his wife claimed a property used to secure a home equity line of credit was a “principal residence,” when it was, in fact, a rental property. Wasserman Schultz said there still hasn’t been any evidence presented that he’s done anything wrong involving his work for Congress.

And, she said, she believes he may have been put under scrutiny because of his religious faith. Awan is Muslim.

“I had grave concerns about his due process rights being violated,” she said. “When their investigation was reviewed with me, I was presented with no evidence of anything that they were being investigated for. And so that, in me, gave me great concern that his due process rights were being violated. That there were racial and ethnic profiling concerns that I had,” she said.

Elsewhere in that interview, Wasserman Schultz says she doesn’t think Awan was fleeing the country. The affidavit from the FBI said that Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi, left the country abruptly, with a great deal of cash in March.

ALVI was with her three children, who your Affiant later learned were abruptly taken out of school without notifying the Fairfax County Public School System. ALVI had numerous pieces of luggage with her, including cardboard boxes. A secondary search of those items revealed that the boxes contained household goods, clothing, and food items. U.S. Customs and Border Protection conducted a search of ALVI’s bags immediately prior to her boarding the plane and located a total of $12,400.00 in U.S. cash inside. ALVI was permitted to board the flight to Qatar and she and her daughters have not returned to the United States. ALVI has a return flight booked for a date in September 2017. Based on your Affiant’s observations at Dulles Airport, and upon his experience and training, your Affiant does not believe that ALVI has any intention to return to the United States.

I guess we’ll see whether his wife returns in September. If she doesn’t, then the theory that they planned to flee the country doesn’t seem so farfetched, now does it?

Maybe Awan is innocent of all the charges. But if he isn’t, Wasserman Schultz really deserves to be raked over the coals for making a spurious charge of racial bias.

The Republicans Seek Out and Find Justice in West Virginia

The Republican Party added its 35th governor last night without an election.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced Thursday he’s switching parties to join Republicans as President Donald Trump visited the increasingly conservative state.

Justice told about 9,000 Trump supporters at a rally in Huntington that he will be changing his registration Friday, Aug. 4. He recently visited the White House twice with proposals on manufacturing and coal, noting that neither he nor Trump are politicians and they both ran to get something done, he said.

“This man is a good man. He’s got a backbone. He’s got real ideas,” Justice said. “He cares about America. He cares about us in West Virginia.”

Trump said they spoke a few weeks ago about working together to open coal mines and create jobs in furniture manufacturing and other forms of manufacturing. “But Governor Justice did something else very important tonight. He showed the country that our agenda rises above left or right,” Trump said.

There are some voices who think the West Virginia governor is making a terrible mistake. Matthew Dowd calls it “one of the few examples of getting on the Titanic after it has already hit the iceberg.” Taegan Goddard reacts, “Who knows . . .  but this could go down as one of the most poorly-timed political moves in a long time.”

These guys seem really convinced that there’s going to be an exceptionally broad-based backlash against President Trump that will hurt many, many Republicans out of office. That could happen, of course . . .  although we haven’t seen it so far in any of the House special elections. When we look at the near future, the New Jersey gubernatorial race is a dumpster fire and virtually already over for Republicans, and Virginia’s looks close.

Let’s also remember, this is West Virginia. Assume that the country begins to strongly prefer Democrats in the coming year or three. Justice won’t face the voters again until November 2020, and even if Democrats do make a comeback in that state, what kind of Democrats do you think will be riding that wave? Do you think they’ll be pro-choice, anti-coal gun control advocates? Or do you think they’ll be more like Joe Manchin – pro-government spending cultural conservatives?

In other words, if and presumably when Justice runs for reelection, just how different do you think his agenda and perspective are going to be when he runs as a Republican instead of as a Democrat?

ADDENDA: Hopefully today, a new episode of the pop culture podcast will arrive here. Mickey and I contemplate the siren’s call of high school reunions, the existential crisis of the NFL preseason – with starters now not playing in two of the five weeks, what’s the point? — that bizarre New York Post article announcing zaftig figures are back in style, ABC’s Somewhere Between and other summer programming, and those cultural phenomenon you hate that everyone else seems to love.

This is one of the rare recent podcasts where I didn’t discuss Twin Peaks. Indulge me again.

With six episodes remaining in the new and likely final season on Showtime, I now suspect that Dale Cooper will not “come back” from his lengthy psychological vacation, living an alternate life as addle-brained insurance salesman Dougie Jones.

I predict that at some point, Coop will have a choice of returning to his life as Dale Cooper, an FBI agent who’s been missing for 25 years, or remaining as Dougie, with a wife and son who need him. He’ll choose the path of Dougie.

Right now, everything’s pointing to this. Viewers have been treated to a recurring theme of fathers and their children. Ben Horne laments that his grandson, the child-killing monster Richard Horne, “never had a father.” We saw Warden Murphy get killed right in front of his son. Bobby Briggs turned around his life in part because of his father’s benevolence and faith in him. (He’s having a tough time doing the same with his daughter Becky, but we know Bobby cares about his daughter.) Andy and Lucy are so proud of their faux-thoughtful ninny son. We got a farewell to Doc Hayward, played by Warren Frost, co-creator Mark Frost’s real-life father. And of course, the plot of the entire show was put in motion by the ultimate Bad Father, Leland Palmer.

FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole at times seems like a fatherly figure to Albert, and Albert seems to tolerate him as an increasingly nutty/Alzheimer’s-ridden father. (At times Albert seems strangely nonchalant about the search for Coop, and I’m starting to think about them sort of as surrogate brothers, learning from the father figure Cole. Miguel Ferrer is a little older than Kyle MacLachlan and Chris Isaak; maybe Albert’s previous irritability stemmed from sibling rivalry with the younger agents being invited into the “Blue Rose” family.)

The FBI is Cooper’s only real family; My Life, My Tapes makes clear that Cooper had been estranged from his brother for decades and his mother died fairly young. Annie, the love interest from season two, has only been mentioned in passing once this season. We saw in the last episode that Audrey’s life has moved on, in a generally bad direction. Other characters discuss Harry Truman as if he’s at death’s door. Life moved on without Dale Cooper; he can’t return to the Twin Peaks he knew because the Twin Peaks he knew doesn’t exist anymore.

The theme of the new series may well be that despite the subtitle “The Return,” you can’t go home again, and a lesson that we can’t spend our days dwelling in nostalgia – which may come across as some heavy-handed lecturing to a devoted fan base.

(I’m reminded that Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost wrote a book called The Six Messiahs, imagining Arthur Conan Doyle traveling the United States in 1894 and being constantly hounded by Sherlock Holmes fans, demanding to know how he could have killed off Holmes, and whether he will bring him back in a future book.)

Learning to accept the twists and turns that life has brought to us is a theme in line with David Lynch’s transcendental meditation/Eastern philosophy thinking. If it shakes out this way, I’ll probably end up chalking up the Showtime series as a fascinating disappointment. This message, well-intended as it is, required a giant bait-and-switch upon the audience, promising a return of a beloved show but only using its trappings to present a very different story . . . 

Politics & Policy

Jeff Sessions Isn’t Going Anywhere

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New White House chief of staff John Kelly, in one of his first acts in his new post, called Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reassure him that his position was safe despite the recent onslaught of criticism he has taken from President Donald Trump.

Kelly called Sessions on Saturday to stress that the White House was supportive of his work and wanted him to continue his job, according to two people familiar with the call. The people demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about a private conversation. Kelly, who was appointed to the post the day before, described the president as still miffed at Sessions but did not plan to fire him or hope he would resign.

Trump’s public scapegoating of Sessions was perhaps his lowest point as president, arguably the most self-destructive expression of presidential rage in recent memory. The true accelerant for the Russia investigation was Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey, not Sessions’ recusal. The fact that the president was willing to publicly vent his blame-shifting fury at Sessions, a man who had stuck with him through thick and thin, and who had been one of his first and most important supporters, was one of the best pieces of evidence that Trump was increasingly growing too impulsive and erratic to function in the job. He keeps chasing away his own allies and handing his enemies more ammunition.

Maybe Kelly is righting the ship. Maybe.

Two Good Bills for Veterans Head to the President’s Desk

Thank bipartisan support for helping veterans, or lingering anger over the previous scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but whatever the reason, Congress is managing to get legislation passed addressing veterans’ needs.

First, Congress finally worked out a deal on funding for Veterans Choice. If you believe that veterans should be able to seek out and get the best care wherever they prefer, whether it’s within the VA or from a private health care provider, Veterans Choice is a nice half-step, but hardly a sweeping change. (The booming demand for treatment through the program can be interpreted in veterans’ interest in exploring other treatment options.)

Under Veterans Choice, any veteran who lives 40 miles or more from the closest VA medical facility, or who faces a 30-day or more wait time, can seek out treatment from a private facility and the VA will handle the payment. (Veterans in Alaska and Hawaii are automatically enrolled in the program, and for New Hampshire, the distance requirement is only 20 miles.)

The accusation from some on Capitol Hill, particularly Democrats, is that Veterans Choice is some sort of step on the road to “privatizing” the VA. But the government-run health care system, for all of its flaws, is probably irreplaceable, at least for a long while. While there are VA institutions that fall far short of the public’s expectations, there are plenty of ones that offer excellent care, and plenty of veterans who are satisfied with their treatment. VA hospitals specialize in treating the types of injuries and health ailments that veterans are most likely to suffer, particularly limb replacement and PTSD.

VA secretary David Shulkin is probably breathing a little easier, as he had estimated that the Veterans Choice program would run out of money this week. “Congress took an important step in helping the VA to continue to build an integrated system that allows veterans to receive the best healthcare possible, whether from VA or the private sector,” Shulkin said. “The $2.1 billion in Choice funding ensures there will be no disruptions to quality care for our veterans.”

Concerned Veterans for America, one of the groups most enthusiastic about promoting choice for veterans, is slightly dissatisfied that the $2.1 billion in Choice funding had to be attached to $1.8 billion in funding new leases for VA medical centers, which they would have preferred be considered separately.

“The good news is that veterans who are able to successfully use the Choice Program won’t have to worry about lapses in their care,” said CVA’s policy director, Dan Caldwell. “The bad news is that this bill is unnecessarily costly because some veterans groups and elected officials decided to make this moment about political games instead of veterans’ needs. We saw a preview of how opponents of expanding veterans’ access to health care will try to inject their anti-choice agenda into the legislative process in upcoming months.”

The Senate also passed the “Forever GI Bill,” a series of reforms to veterans’ education benefits. The most significant change enacted by the legislation is that future service members will be able to use their GI Bill benefits at any point in their lifetimes, doing away with a previous 15-year limit. Members of the National Guard and Reserve who are training, deployed, or undergoing certain medical treatment related to their service will be able to accrue benefits like active duty service members; veterans who are studying science, technology, engineering, or math receive additional benefits if their field of study requires additional credits; and if a service member dies before being able to use the benefits, they transfer to a dependent.

“This bill will launch a new era for all who have honorably served in uniform, and for the nation as a whole,” said Charles E. Schmidt, national commander of the American Legion, in an issued statement. “In essence, it will help today’s GI Bill live up to the world-changing accomplishments of the original, which transformed America after World War II.”

These may not seem like the biggest pieces of legislation in the world, but to some veterans, they’re going to make a consequential difference in their lives.

Hey, Remember Common Core, Continued . . . 

Following yesterday’s update about Common Core, and the New York Times’ casual mention that there’s been no discernable improvement in students’ writing skills, Frederick Hess at AEI points to his 2014 piece revealing how the idea was sold as all things to all people, and how its advocates have largely ignored or mocked valid criticism. A good sample:

Common Core advocates have been battered with bad press over poorly designed class assignments. Advocates say it’s misguided to blame Common Core for dumb math lessons or worksheets because the Common Core is simply a set of standards and not a curriculum. Reports of ridiculous worksheets or infuriating homework assignments may well be unfortunate instances of teachers getting it wrong, but if an organization adopts an otherwise wonderful mission statement that lots of employees proceed to interpret “incorrectly,” it is not unreasonable to raise questions about the whole exercise. In point of fact, the Common Core is very much a blank canvas, and given the faddish pedagogies endemic to American education, critics are hardly being unreasonable when they worry that the Common Core may invite new-age goofiness into the classroom.

If Common Core is as good as its advocates contended . . .  shouldn’t we see a dramatic improvement in student scores right about now?

ADDENDA: Indulge me a little.

We’re twelve episodes in to the 18-episode run of Twin Peaks, probably the last portrayal of the fictional town and its residents that we’ll ever see. We’ve been told to think of it as an 18-hour movie or an 18-chapter novel instead of 18 separate episodes. The first two “acts” of the story are, presumably, complete.

Back in March, Entertainment Weekly made the show’s return its cover story and offered three covers, sold simultaneously. The covers featured nine members of the original cast who are in the new Showtime series, as well as co-creator and director David Lynch, who plays a hard-of-hearing, goofy FBI deputy director.

The characters featured on the cover were . . . 

1) Nadine Hurley, who has been seen three times briefly, with perhaps one line of dialogue.

2) Big Ed Hurley, unseen so far.

3) James Hurley, who appeared in one scene in the pilot. I can’t even remember if he had a line of dialogue.

4) Laura Palmer, who appeared in one scene in the pilot.

5) Dale Cooper. We’ve seen plenty of Kyle MacLachlan, but he’s mostly been playing the manifestation of his character’s evil side and a mentally impaired man-child. The main character of the original series has been gone since episode three.

6) Audrey Horne, who finally appeared last week, in a really odd, opaque, and seemingly deliberately confusing scene.

7) Shelley Johnson, who has gotten a bit more to do in the past few episodes.

8) Bobby Briggs, perhaps the member of the old cast who’s gotten the most to do so far, although even he’s only been a key figure in four or five episodes.

9) Norma Jennings, who has appeared in probably four episodes and spoken no more than a half-dozen lines of dialogue.

In the promotion before the show aired, David Lynch said, “I love these characters, and I love the actors and actresses. This was like getting together for a family reunion.” Does he really love these characters? Because they seem to be getting little more than cameos. It’s no longer “too early to judge.”

I won’t give Lynch or Mark Frost any grief about not using characters when the actor died or wasn’t interested in coming back. This knocked out Sheriff Harry Truman, Donna, Major Briggs, BOB, and the Little Man from Another Place. And perhaps I should evaluate the show in light of the difficulty of writing around those absences; any of those first three could have been the centerpiece of a new show, and the last two are pretty iconic and central to the narrative.

But they’ve got MacLachlan, and the coaches are benching their best player, so to speak. One of the biggest strengths of the original show, perhaps its defining strength, was the fascinating protagonist Dale Cooper. Quirky, smart, unpredictable, funny, the audience surrogate as a stranger in town . . .  and Lynch and Frost seem to have no interest in bringing that character back.

Politics & Policy

Hey, Remember Common Core?

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A hidden point in a New York Times article about how children are being taught writing:

Poor writing is nothing new, nor is concern about it. More than half of first-year students at Harvard failed an entrance exam in writing — in 1874. But the Common Core State Standards, now in use in more than two-thirds of the states, were supposed to change all this. By requiring students to learn three types of essay writing — argumentative, informational and narrative — the Core staked a claim for writing as central to the American curriculum. It represented a sea change after the era of No Child Left Behind, the 2002 federal law that largely overlooked writing in favor of reading comprehension assessed by standardized multiple-choice tests.

So far, however, six years after its rollout, the Core hasn’t led to much measurable improvement on the page. Students continue to arrive on college campuses needing remediation in basic writing skills. . .

The Common Core has provided a much-needed “wakeup call” on the importance of rigorous writing, said Lucy M. Calkins, founding director of the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University, a leading center for training teachers in process-oriented literacy strategies. But policy makers “blew it in the implementation,” she said. “We need massive teacher education.”

Maybe this is the simpler and more persuasive argument against Common Core: Never mind whether it’s a vast progressive effort to indoctrinate children . . .  maybe it just doesn’t work.

A Key Point to Consider About that Bombshell Lawsuit Against Fox News

The allegation in a new lawsuit that individuals in the White House and Fox News employees worked together to spread a false story about slain Democratic National Committee intern Seth Rich is jaw-dropping, but there a few reasons for wariness about the explosive charges.

The false story that Fox News subsequently retracted was an all-too-perfect conspiracy theory for Trump defenders. The report contended Seth Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks and was the most likely source for the e-mails that were hacked during the 2016 campaign, getting the Russians off the hook. The report implied that Rich was murdered as a result of his contact with WikiLeaks, that the DNC was somehow connected to Rich’s shooting death, and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan police were complicit in a cover-up. It’s a plot that belongs in a John Grisham novel.

The central figure in that Fox News report was Rod Wheeler, a former District of Columbia cop, private investigator, and longtime paid commentator for the news network who is now suing his former employer.

Yesterday, NPR reported on Wheeler’s lawsuit that claims that the network made up quotes and attributed them to him, that the network always knew that there was no evidence to support the theory, that Sean Spicer was involved, and that President Trump himself read a draft of the article and urged its immediate publication.

We have replaced an all-too-perfect conspiracy theory for Trump defenders with Rod Wheeler as the central supporting witness with an all an all-too-perfect conspiracy theory for Trump and Fox News critics with Rod Wheeler as the central supporting witness.

Wheeler’s account suggests that not only did the president and Fox News contributor Ed Butowsky conspire to spread this conspiracy theory, but that Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, and Department of Justice spokeswoman Sarah Flores were all in regular contact with Butowsky in his efforts to portray Rich’s death as a murder to retaliate for leaking the DNC e-mails.

Wheeler, of course, made appearances on Fox News and its affiliates discussing the story, giving what are now obviously false statements. He told the local Washington, D.C. affiliate that he had uncovered “a possible underground corruption, organized crime corruption group that may be operating in the district” and that “this case may open up a can of worms about what’s happening here in D.C.”

You can watch Wheeler’s appearance on Sean Hannity here, where Wheeler says, “There was a federal investigator that was involved with the inside, a person that is very credible. Very credible, and he said he laid eyes on that computer and he laid eyes on the case file. And he came across very credible. When you look at that with the totality of everything else that I found in this case, it’s very consistent for a person with my experience to begin to think, ‘Well, perhaps there were some email communications between Seth [Rich] and WikiLeaks.’”

The FBI said that they were never involved in the investigation of Rich’s murder.

In that Hannity interview, Wheeler also contended that a short time after he called the D.C. police, an unnamed official from the DNC contacted the family, suggesting the police force was particularly concerned with keeping the committee in the loop on who was asking about the investigation. Wheeler went on to say that Seth Rich had “problems” with that particular DNC official before his death. (Some may interpret Wheeler’s meandering, complicated answers as an indication that he’s not comfortable with the answers he’s expected to give; others may find it standard-issue evasiveness about making false statements on national television.) At no point is there any indication that Wheeler’s false statements are being coerced.

Yet Wheeler’s lawsuit audaciously suggests he never quite lied in his television appearances:

At no point in time did Mr. Wheeler say that his investigation revealed that Seth Rich sent any emails to WikiLeaks, nor did he say that the DNC, Democratic Party or Clintons were engaged in a cover-up. In fact, the only purported source saying that Seth Rich sent any emails to WikiLeaks was Butowsky and Zimmerman’s supposed source within the FBI. Mr. Wheeler had never even spoken with this individual, to the extent he or she even exists. In fact, when Mr. Wheeler was interviewed by a Fox affiliate on the evening of May 15, 2017, he made sure not to confirm as fact the proposition that Seth Rich sent emails to WikiLeaks, instead confirming only that a “source” (i.e., Zimmerman’s and Butowsky’s alleged source) had information that could link Seth Rich to WikiLeaks.

Wheeler’s suing his former employer for defamation, and he wants damages, including “compensation for his mental anguish and emotional distress, emotional pain and suffering and any other physical and mental injuries” as well as punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

It’s not often that you see someone involved in a conspiracy to mislead the public turn around and sue his co-conspirators for getting him involved.

Which Democrats Will Run in 2020? How About All of Them?

What does the already-announced presidential campaign of little-known congressman John Delaney mean for 2020? It means we’re likely to get a stampede of candidates, including quite a few never-had-a-chance wannabes who are angling for book deals and television gigs in 2021. This might be good for President Trump’s reelection odds, but I’d contend it’s not particularly good for democracy. I go through the coverage and buzz and find 18 Democratic lawmakers at various levels that have indicated they’re thinking about running in 2020, and that’s not even counting all the celebrity gadflies who could end up jumping into the race.

For what it’s worth, Hugh Hewitt thinks California senator Kamala Harris is going to cut through the field the way Sherman marched through Georgia.

ADDENDA: If you’re feeling glum, check out your retirement savings if you have them in the stock market; it’s been a very good year so far.

Apple’s latest results pushed global technology shares higher Wednesday, fueling expectations that the Dow Jones Industrial Average could rise above 22000 for the first time when the U.S. market opens.

The Dow has climbed 11.14 percent year-to-date, fueled by signs of global growth and strong corporate earnings. Futures pointed to a 0.2 percent opening gain for the index.

And if you don’t have an individual retirement account, maybe it’s worth scraping together the funds to set up one . . .  there’s no minimum. You could start with 50 dollars if you wanted.

Politics & Policy

Flake’s Criticism of Trump Isn’t Good Enough for The New York Times

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Welcome to August. This time of year is known for vacations, preseason football, and, every once in a while, some terrible foreign policy crisis: the start of World War I, the Berlin Wall Crisis, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the coup against Gorbachev, and the Ghouta chemical weapons attack. Here’s hoping the month is quiet.

The New York Times, Gleefully Trashing Trump’s Critics on the Right

The New York Times reviews a new book from Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona that rips Trump, and offers an incoherent criticism along the way:

But Flake has also cast most of his votes in favor of Trump’s policies. Just last week, he voted for the bill to repeal Obamacare without replacing it, and then he voted for the hastily assembled “skinny repeal.”

On that point, he seems to be at odds with his book, in which he specifically cautions Republicans against engineering a sloppy repeal of Obamacare behind closed doors. “Legislation executed without hearings and written by only one side is always a bad idea, regardless of who does it,” he writes.

The primary intellectual failing of “Conscience of a Conservative” is that it doesn’t untangle the dysfunction in Washington from the dysfunction of his own party. Republicans haven’t just embraced Trump’s nativism and politics of resentment because it’s politically expedient. Many Republicans have peddled anti-immigrant sentiment for years, and a return to Goldwater’s principles probably wouldn’t remedy that; the rejection of free trade agreements also has complex roots.

But Flake doesn’t like Obamacare and the current rickety pileup of broken promises that make up our health insurance system. Why does it undermine his criticism of Trump to vote to get rid of the status quo? And don’t think we didn’t notice that casual use of “anti-immigrant sentiment” to label opposition to illegal immigration, Times editors.

Another New York Times critic trashed Senator Ben Sasse’s book earlier this year, on similar grounds, sneering that he had nothing to say about America’s systemic oppression of groups and “It must be nice to be Ben Sasse, in a position to pick and choose the hardships one will adopt in order to learn some life lessons — and to feel morally superior for having triumphed over phony adversity.”

The lesson here is no conservative critic of Trump should look for useful support from any major institution on the Left. The general perspective of the Times, or at least their literary critics, is that all human virtue is found on the political Left, and adherence to conservative views is a reflection of greed, bigotry, selfishness, small-mindedness, and repression. A free-market, Russia-hawk, traditional-values conservative criticism of Trump scrambles their sense of right and wrong. This is why liberal critics of Trump rarely spend much time dwelling on his past agreement with them on abortion, his current support for affirmative action, his hiring of immigrant workers at his resorts, his long history of donating to Democrats . . . 

Arrivederci, Scaramucci

Removing Anthony Scaramucci from the White House staff was like ripping off a Band-Aid. You can do it fast, or you can do it slowly, but it is going to hurt either way. Many will conclude that because the pain is the same, it’s better to get it done quickly.

Scaramucci was just about the last person any president or administration would want in a role like White House communications director. Recall that what started much of this brouhaha was Ryan Lizza’s report that Scaramucci had dined in the White House with the president, First Lady, Sean Hannity, and the former Fox News executive Bill Shine.

Interesting, but hardly a state secret. But as Jonah noted, Scaramucci treated it like a leak of the nuclear launch codes. “You’re an American citizen,” he told Lizza. “This is a major catastrophe for the American country. So, I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it.” I can hear the scoffing about the futility of appealing to the patriotism of a journalist, but the relevant question here is what is at stake. There are plenty of reporters who will withhold particular information if the government makes a compelling case that publishing it will put lives at risk. Reporters who cover the intelligence agencies withhold information fairly regularly. But it’s just about impossible to argue that the leaking of the Trump-Scaramucci-Hannity dinner represented a threat to American national security. That sort of leak is an annoyance to the White House, not a reason to move to DEFCON 1.

When Lizza wouldn’t name his source, that’s when Scaramucci launched his obscene tirade against the rest of the White House staff, either not remembering that he was still speaking on the record to a reporter for The New Yorker or not caring.

Anyone whose judgment is that spectacularly bad from the get-go is unlikely to climb the learning curve fast enough to meet the administration’s needs. On Friday, I noted that Scaramucci’s defenders argued he was performing for an audience of one, the president. But the problem with that approach is that everyone else can see that performance, and many others were appalled — including, it seems, new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

If you feel like one of the biggest threats to this administration is the president’s own impulsive decision-making, and failure to recognize the long-term consequences of his actions — like, say, firing the FBI director, or trashing his own cabinet members in public — anecdotes like this one are reassuring:

Raised voices could be heard through the thick door to the Oval Office as John Kelly — then secretary of Homeland Security — offered some tough talk to President Donald Trump.

Kelly, a whip-cracking retired general who was sworn in as White House chief of staff on Monday, had demanded to speak to the president alone after Trump complained loudly that the U.S. was admitting travelers from countries he viewed as high risk.

Kelly first tried to explain to Trump that the admissions were standard — some people had legitimate reasons to visit the country — but the president insisted that it was making him look bad, according to an administration official familiar with the exchange about a month ago.

Kelly then demanded that other advisers leave the room so he could speak to the president frankly. Trump refused at first, but agreed when Kelly insisted.

It was an early indication that Kelly, a decorated retired Marine general who served three tours in Iraq, is not afraid to stand up to his commander-in-chief.

You know what’s really great about that anecdote? That Kelly didn’t want anyone else seeing him disagreeing so strongly with the president. Judging from this, when Kelly thinks the president is making a mistake, he’s going to make his views exceptionally clear, but not in a way that undermines the president or implies insufficient respect for the office. Considering how temperamental Trump can be, and the fact that this blunt exchange didn’t lead to Kelly’s dismissal, we should also recognize that perhaps the president is more willing to listen to strong disagreement than his reputation suggests.

Baltimore Ravens: Hey, Fans, Should We Sign Colin Kaepernick?

The Baltimore Ravens are contemplating signing social justice activist/quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and they’re doing something rather unusual. Rather than hiding from the controversy, they’re acknowledging it and inviting their fans to weigh in.

“I hope we do what is best for the team and balance that with what is best for our fans,” Bisciotti said in response to a question from a fan about how signing Kaepernick could ‘damage your brand.’ “Your opinions matter to us . . .  We’re very sensitive to it, and we’re monitoring it, and we’re trying to figure out what’s the right tact. So pray for us.”

The Ravens have been inundated with phone calls at their Owings Mills headquarters since Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters following the team’s first full-squad workout on Thursday that the team was considering signing Kaepernick to help a currently shaky quarterback situation.

I have no idea if the movie Concussion is any good, but it featured a good line in the trailers when a lawyer warns, “A corporation that has 20 million people on a weekly basis craving their product, the same way they crave food. The NFL owns a day of the week, the same day the Church used to own. Now it’s theirs.”

And yet . . .  Colin Kaepernick managed to get a small but noticeable percentage of NFL fans to turn off their televisions — as did players who get in trouble off the field for domestic violence. (Former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice might be the highest-profile example of that infamous figure.)

The NFL enjoys the largest fan base in the country — one that is significantly older and more conservative than, say, the fan base of the NBA. To hear some commentators tell it, the NFL and its players have some sort of duty to change the minds or alter the perspectives of the fans. But the fans don’t become fans because they want to tune in to Monday Night Consciousness-Raising.

ADDENDA: Congressman Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, is calling for Robert Mueller to resign:

Bob Mueller is in clear violation of federal code and must resign to maintain the integrity of the investigation into alleged Russian ties. Those who worked under them have attested he and Jim Comey possess a close friendship, and they have delivered on-the-record statements effusing praise of one another.

No one knows Mr. Mueller’s true intentions, but neither can anyone dispute that he now clearly appears to be a partisan arbiter of justice. Accordingly, the law is also explicitly clear: he must step down based on this conflict of interest.

Already, this investigation has become suspect – reports have revealed at least four members of Mueller’s team on the Russia probe donated to support Hillary Clinton for President, as President Trump pointed out. These obviously deliberate partisan hirings do not help convey impartiality.”

Until Mueller resigns, he will be in clear violation of the law, a reality that fundamentally undermines his role as Special Counsel and attending ability to execute the law.

Politics & Policy

Welcome to the Kelly Era

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It’s the last day of July, and the first day of the rest of new White House chief of staff John Kelly’s life. Good luck, sir. If you succeed, I’m sure John Cena will play you in a wacky comedy version of the hard-nosed military disciplinarian who’s brought in to coach a wacky band of White House misfits.

Some conservatives I respect have convinced themselves that Reince Priebus was the key problem in the Trump White House all along. They’ve suspected he was a leaker, or wondered why he never looked bad in the information that leaks out from the White House. They saw him as “establishment.” They perceived him as disloyal, although it’s hard to point to when or where Priebus acted disloyally to Trump.

Priebus certainly couldn’t keep the “Team of Mortal Enemies Rivals” from fighting amongst themselves, but who could? How much do you think the worldview of Steve Bannon overlaps with that of Jared Kushner? How much do you think Ivanka Trump and Mike Pence really agree on? How much does the economic perspective of Gary Cohn and Stephen Miller overlap? How much does Anthony Scaramucci get along with anyone except the president? Everyone wants to be the last one to consult with the president before a decision, in hopes of being the most influential. Everyone’s far too focused on their rank in the pecking order, and we never see everyone rowing in the same direction.

We will see. Maybe in a few months, the White House will seem like a well-run ship, and the conclusion will be that it was indeed Priebus that was the problem. But my sense is that the Wall Street Journal editorial board has the more accurate assessment: “The reason Mr. Priebus wasn’t as effective as he could have been is because Mr. Trump wouldn’t listen to him and wouldn’t let him establish a normal decision-making process.”

Putin Delivers ‘Biting’ Response to New Sanctions from Washington

Kind of an odd twist if you believe Russia hacked the election in order to bring Donald Trump and Republicans to power, so that they could turn the United States into a compliant vassal state . . . 

The White House said on Friday night that President Trump would sign legislation imposing sweeping sanctions against Russia and curtailing his own power to lift them by himself, bowing to the near-universal bipartisan will of Congress at the risk of escalating tension with Moscow.

Unsurprisingly, Russia retaliated:

President Vladimir V. Putin announced Sunday that the American diplomatic mission in Russia must reduce its staff by 755 employees, an aggressive response to new American sanctions that seemed ripped right from the Cold War playbook and sure to increase tensions between the two capitals.

“We waited for quite a long time that, perhaps, something will change for the better, we held out hope that the situation would somehow change,” Mr. Putin said in an interview on state-run Rossiya 1 television, which published a Russian-language transcript on its website. “But, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon.”

Mr. Putin said the staff reduction was meant to cause real discomfort for Washington and its representatives in Moscow.

“Over 1,000 employees – diplomats and technical workers – worked and continue to work today in Russia; 755 will have to stop this activity,” he said.

“That is biting,” Mr. Putin added.

Although the initial news alerts in Russia said that Mr. Putin had ordered 755 Americans out of the country, he had actually ordered an overall staff reduction. Part of the confusion stemmed from the fact that Mr. Putin used a Russian verb that can mean to “pack up,” when referring to his action.

In making the initial announcement on Friday, Russia said that the American diplomatic staff would have to be reduced to 455, matching the number of Russians employed at diplomatic missions in the United States. Russia also seized two diplomatic compounds, a warehouse and a bucolic enclave used for barbecues, which mirrored the United States’ seizing of two country estates in December that it said were used for espionage.

Hey, how about we give them back one or both of the country estates, but load them up with hidden listening devices before we give them back?

More broadly, it’s time for lawmakers, particularly Democrats still enraged about the presidential election, to decide just how much they’re willing to escalate in their responses to Moscow. Do we want to push them further, or do we think they’ve gotten the message? The Russians have shrewdly gotten themselves involved in several corners of the world where we have ongoing interests: Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Afghanistan, putting themselves in a position to play a helpful role or a hindering one.

It’s possible that the imposition of new sanctions by overwhelming majorities — 419-3 in the House of Representatives, 98-2 in the Senate — will teach Russia that interfering in American politics is not worth the risk. The irony was that up until recently, the Democrats were seen as the more Russia-friendly party – “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back! The Cold War’s been over for 20 years!” – and now both parties are fairly hostile to Russia – if not for the election, than for aggression in Ukraine, taking over Crimea, shooting down airliners, etcetera.

The Russians will never admit their role in meddling in our elections. So if a confession is out of the question, when do we feel like they’ve suffered sufficient consequences? What constitutes “winning” to us?

Officers! Arrest That Man for Looking at his Phone!

The Nanny State will never stop.

When you cross the street in Honolulu, look both ways — but NOT at the life-changing text your best friend just sent.

The city just approved a law making it illegal for pedestrians to “cross a street or highway while viewing a mobile electronic device.” The law covers video games, pagers and laptops, and the ubiquitous smartphones.

The law goes into effect October 25, giving police time to explain the situation to people who can’t take their eyes off that tiny screen in their hands.

“Sometimes I wish there were laws we did not have to pass, that perhaps common sense would prevail,” the mayor said. “But sometimes we lack common sense.”

Funny, on Hawaii 5-0 the police seem so competent and focused on real criminals, not people looking at their phones while crossing the street. Honolulu residents, please demonstrate “common sense” by voting lawmakers out of office who seek to criminalize every unwise decision under the sun.

ADDENDA: I stopped over by the Trump International Hotel a little while ago. A couple of observations . . . 

The least-expensive sparkling wine on the menu was from . . .  Trump Winery.

I don’t know about you, but $100 for a single cocktail seems like a lot, and including raw oysters and caviar as ingredients in a cocktail does not sound appetizing. Perhaps instead of “the Benjamin” they should just call it, “Conspicuous Consumption.”

Finally, maybe when you get the check, you feel like you’ve spent more than you should . . .  but then Trump Hotels mentions they support St. Jude Children Research Hospital, so maybe you don’t feel so bad 

Just don’t try to list that $100 oysters-and-caviar cocktail as a charitable deduction.

Politics & Policy

John McCain’s Curious Definition of ‘Leading the Fight to Stop Obamacare’

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May 2016: A John McCain reelection campaign ad, airing in Arizona:

Obamacare is failing Arizonans. First, a massive rate hike more than twice the national average. Then, America’s largest health insurer abandoned Arizona’s failing Obamacare exchange. That’s devastating – especially to rural counties. Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick bragged about her Obamacare vote, saying “it’s also the one I’m most proud about.” While Kirkpatrick’s “proud” of putting us at risk, John McCain is leading the fight to stop Obamacare.

“John McCain is leading the fight to stop Obamacare.” Plenty of other McCain ads and campaign events and messaging pointed to stopping Obamacare as a big reason, perhaps the biggest reason, Arizonans needed to return him to the Senate.

Then, last night, push came to shove. The options were clear: vote for “skinny repeal” and get that version of the repeal bill to conference committee with the House of Representatives, where negotiators from the House and Senate could revise the bill further, or vote it down and effectively end the process, as no version of repeal legislation could reach 50 votes.

McCain made his choice:

Sen. John McCain cast the deciding vote to sink his fellow Republicans’ so-called “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act.

McCain, R-Ariz., joined Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and every Senate Democrat to bring down the bill on a 49-51 vote.

The late-night failure of the skinny-repeal option, which would have ended the Affordable Care Act’s individual and employer insurance mandates and medical device tax for three years and made other limited changes, effectively ended the current GOP push to undo what Republicans call “Obamacare.”

“From the beginning, I have believed that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with a solution that increases competition, lowers costs, and improves care for the American people,” McCain said in a written statement issued after the vote, which happened early Friday Eastern time.

“The so-called ‘skinny repeal’ amendment the Senate voted on today would not accomplish those goals. While the amendment would have repealed some of Obamacare’s most burdensome regulations, it offered no replacement to actually reform our health care system and deliver affordable, quality health care to our citizens.”

“I’ve stated time and time again that one of the major failures of ‘Obamacare’ was that it was rammed through Congress by Democrats on a strict-party line basis without a single Republican vote,” McCain said. “We should not make the mistakes of the past that has led to Obamacare’s collapse, including in my home state of Arizona where premiums are skyrocketing and health care providers are fleeing the marketplace.

“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of the aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people,” he continued. “We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”

McCain didn’t like the substance of the replacement or the process by which that replacement was written, so he – along with Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – blew up the process and forced Congressional Republicans to start over again.

We can argue about whether that is the right or wrong move at that moment. But it’s very difficult to characterize McCain’s decision as “leading the fight to stop Obamacare.” That’s more like leading the fight to keep Obamacare in place while you continue to look for a replacement that you like better. Had Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick won the 2016 Arizona Senate race, she would have voted the same way.

Profane Scaramucci

This week, new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci called The New Yorker Washington correspondent Ryan Lizza and served up a profane tirade against everyone in the White House except the president. He sounded a bit like Tony Montana from Scarface; while Scaramucci never quite invited the swarm of leakers that allegedly surround him to “say hello to my little friend,” he did say, “What I want to do is I want to f***ing kill all the leakers.”

People who are far more in tune with the individuals in Trump’s inner circle look at this spectacle and tell me that this is a performance with an audience of one, President Trump, and the president is likely to relish this. Scaramucci, the new guy, is out to show that his sole loyalty is to the president, and that he’s fearless, that he’s not afraid to use the f-bomb more frequently than a comma, that he’s willing to threaten people, and that he takes no prisoners.

Last night, Scaramucci responded on Twitter, “I made a mistake in trusting in a reporter. It won’t happen again.” But Lizza wrote that Scaramucci called him and “did not ask for the conversation to be off the record or on background.” One might expect a White House Communications Director to understand the importance of declaring when his statement is off the record, particularly when you’re going to accuse the White House chief of staff of being a paranoid schizophrenic, the White House senior counselor of attempting anatomically difficult sex acts, and claim that the FBI and Department of Justice are investigating the White House chief of staff.

Of course, Scaramucci is denouncing everyone else in the White House for talking to reporters . . .  while talking to a reporter from the New Yorker.

The problem with the “performance with an audience of one” mentality is that everyone else can see and read this, too. And while the president may look at Scaramucci’s rant as entertaining and tough, lots of other people – the press, other White House staff, Republican lawmakers and staffers on Capitol Hill, conservative interest groups, lobbyists, etc. – will look at Scaramucci as a raving maniac who openly expresses a desire to murder his colleagues.

What is the job of the White House communications director? Is it to just replicate the work of the White House press secretary? Or is it to promote the president’s agenda by pitching stories and ideas and touting accomplishments that otherwise might not be covered by the nation’s media?

What Is Fusion GPS?

You may have heard a bit about Fusion GPS, “the opposition research firm that paid former MI6 spy Christopher Steele to collect intelligence on the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.” This is what ultimately turned into that dossier that was full of increasingly absurd and salacious claims of collusion, blackmail, and other nefarious ties between Donald Trump and the Russian government. William Browder, the head of Hermitage Capital Management, testified before the Senate yesterday, and offered some really intriguing allegations.

Go back a few years, when Congress debated, and ultimately passed, the “Magnitsky Act,” aiming to punish Russian officials who were thought to be responsible for the death of Russian auditor Sergei Magnitsky. The law prohibits these Russian officials from entering the United States and using its banking system.

Browder testified:

Veselnitskaya, through Baker Hostetler, hired Glenn Simpson of the firm Fusion GPS to conduct a smear campaign against me and Sergei Magnitsky in advance of congressional hearings on the Global Magnitsky Act. He contacted a number of major newspapers and other publications to spread false information that Sergei Magnitsky was not murdered, was not a whistle-blower, and was instead a criminal. They also spread false information that my presentations to lawmakers around the world were untrue.

The “Veselnitskaya” he’s referring to is Natalia Veselnitskaya, that Russian lawyer who looks like Valerie Bertinelli who was in that meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner. You may recall their characterization of the meeting as being about “Russian adoptions” – in particular, the law the Russian government passed in response to the Magnitsky Act. In other words, here’s this Russian lawyer, pushing for a goal of the Russian government . . .  who has also hired a firm to investigate the presidential candidate she’s seeking to persuade on a policy change. And that dossier was being shopped around to journalists for months, meaning before the 2016 presidential election:

The documents have circulated for months and acquired a kind of legendary status among journalists, lawmakers, and intelligence officials who have seen them. Mother Jones writer David Corn referred to the documents in a late October column.

Does this sound like someone was hedging their bets? Trying to persuade the Republican nominee, while simultaneously putting together an unsavory dossier on him?

Fusion GPS’s defense is, “The President’s political allies are going after Fusion GPS because it was reported to be the first to raise the alarm about the Trump campaign’s links with Russia.” Except, if Browder’s telling the truth, they were working for the Russians at that time.

Move on to this exchange with Sen. Lindsey Graham:

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: This whole story reads like some kind of novel that nobody would buy, it’s got to be fiction, but unfortunately maybe it’s true. Let’s just break down sort of why you’re here. You believe that Fusion GPS should have registered under FARA, because they were acting on the behalf of the Russians?



WILLIAM BROWDER: That’s correct.



SEN. GRAHAM: So, I just want to absorb that for a moment. The group that did the dossier on President Trump hired this British spy, wound up getting it to the FBI. You believe they were working for the Russians?



BROWDER: And in the spring and summer of 2016 they were receiving money indirectly from a senior Russian government official.



SEN. GRAHAM: Okay. So, these are the people that were trying to undermine Donald Trump by showing the nefarious ties to Russia. Is that what you’re saying?



BROWDER: Well, what I’m saying with 100% certainty is that they were working to undermine the Magnitsky act and the timing of that.



SEN. GRAHAM: But, the Fusion GPS products apparently as they hired a guy to look into Trump?

BROWDER: Yes.

Lee Smith, writing at Tablet, points out that we’re now in a really murky area where the line between a typical public relations firm pitching stories and a foreign government shaping American news coverage is really hard to see anymore. “What’s new about Fusion GPS and its fellow DC oppo shops – few of which register as foreign lobbyists – is that they take money from entities linked to foreign governments that are eager to re- frame or invent news stories to punish their enemies at home and torque American foreign policy by controlling information.”

ADDENDA: What a week. At least Congressional Republicans are dropping the Border Adjustment Tax, or BAT, the proposal that would place new taxes on imported goods . . .  a tax hike that would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher taxes. Glad to see they took the advice of conservative groups . . .  and, you know, the Joker:

Politics & Policy

Senate Judiciary Chairman: Sorry, We Don’t Have Time to Replace Sessions

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Washington continues to spin off its axis: Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa is more or less telling President Trump that he and his committee doesn’t have time to replace Jeff Sessions as Attorney General if Trump fires him: “Everybody in D.C. [should be] warned that the agenda for the Judiciary Committee is set for rest of 2017. Judges first, subcabinet second / AG no way.”

It sounds like everyone around the president is telling him to stop publicly antagonizing his own attorney general, but the president won’t listen. In today’s Wall Street Journal: “Privately, friends and White House aides have urged Mr. Trump to back off, but he has shown no sign of letting up, and he and Mr. Sessions haven’t yet met to see if they can resolve differences.”

The chaos of this White House is increasingly predictable and boring:

Does the president walk around the White House, wondering why all these bad things keep happening to him through no fault of his own? Does he see himself as a lone, tortured strategic genius constantly held back by the incompetent staff around him? Or can he realize that some of the problems of his White House stem from his own behavior and decision-making?

If President Trump wants the rest of his presidency to be better and more productive than the first six months, he will have to make some changes — not to his staff, and not to his policies, but to himself.

It’s the sort of thing that everyone from therapists to friends to addiction counselors encounter all the time. “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.” If you want different results, you have to change yourself, your decisions, and your actions. But is the president capable of change? And if he is, is he willing to try a more disciplined approach to the presidency?

Early Polling Strong for Bawitdaba Da Bang a Dang Diggy Diggy Diggy

No, the headline writer has not had a stroke; that is a lyric to Kid Rock’s 1998 hit, “Bawitdaba.”

Robert Ritchie, a.k.a. Kid Rock, offered a public update on his potential plans for running for office. The short version is he’s thinking about it and will probably announce in the next six weeks; until then, he’s setting up a nonprofit to promote voter registration.

During this time while exploring my candidacy for US Senate, I am creating a 501(c)(4) – a non-profit organization for the promotion of voter registration. Not only can I raise money for this critical cause, but I can help get people registered to vote at my shows. Since the announcement, the media has speculated this was a ploy to sell shirts or promote something. I can tell you, I have no problem selling Kid Rock shirts and yes, I absolutely will use this media circus to sell/promote whatever I damn well please (many other politicians are doing the same thing, they just feed you a bunch of b******* about it). But either way, money raised at this time through the sale of merchandise associated with this very possible campaign will go towards our ‘register to vote’ efforts.

One thing is for sure though . . .  The democrats are ’s******’ in their pantaloons’ right now . . .  and rightfully so!

We will be scheduling a press conference in the next 6 weeks or so to address this issue amongst others, and if I decide to throw my hat in the ring for US Senate, believe me . . .  it’s game on m*******s.

The really interesting thing is that despite all the other profanity, he didn’t spell out the mother-you-know-what term. It’s good to see Rock’s appreciation for manners and decorum; I knew Mitt Romney would rub off on him eventually.

I would turn your attention to the one poll we have so far that asked voters about this still-hypothetical matchup between Kid Rock and incumbent Democratic Michigan senator Debbie Stabenow. (Other pollsters have said they will ask about this matchup in the near future.) Delphi Analytica found:

Of respondents who stated a preference between Debbie Stabenow and Robert Ritchie, 54% stated they would vote for Ritchie while 46% said they would vote for Debbie Stabenow. These results could indicate that Ritchie is a popular figure in Michigan, Debbie Stabenow is unpopular, or some combination of concurrent trends. The relatively large, 44%, number of undecided respondents may be due to the early stages of the campaign.

Yes, the poll surveyed “Michigan residents,” not registered voters or likely voters. Break that down, and it comes out Ritchie at 30 percent, Stabenow at 26 percent, and 44 percent undecided. Democrats should not be freaking out about the celebrity candidate enjoying a narrow lead. They should be freaking out that Stabenow is at 26 percent in a sample with the broadest definition of potential voters possible.

As mentioned on the Three Martini Lunch Tuesday, Debbie Stabenow has been in elected office of one kind or another for about as long as I’ve been alive; she was first elected as a county commissioner in 1975. She’s seeking her fourth six-year term in the U.S. Senate. Her name recognition in the state should be close to 100 percent and everyone in Michigan should have a pretty clear idea of what they think of her by now.

Back in April, the Morning Consult poll found Stabenow at 47 percent job approval and 38 percent disapproval — numbers that at first glace appear to be not great, but not catastrophic, either. Then again, that ranked Stabenow the 83rd most popular senator out of the 99 the firm surveyed. (Alabama’s Luther Strange had just been sworn into office, so they didn’t ask about him.)

In this light, Democrats really should be in a panic about a potential Stabenow-Rock matchup. As my co-host Greg Corombus put it, the debate stage would look like the high school assistant principal up against the guy who keeps getting sent to the office of the high school assistant principal.

 

Veterans Choice Saved? Or Just Premature Celebration?

The good news is it looks like there’s a deal to save the Veterans Choice program, at least for a while. But the big question is whether that deal will hold together long enough for the revised version of the funding bill can pass the House and Senate before the August recess.

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Wednesday that House and Senate lawmakers came to a compromise to keep the Veterans Choice Program funded, while authorizing leases for new VA clinics and research locations.

The legislation announced by the VA would include $2.1 billion for the Choice program, which allows veterans to receive health care from private medical facilities, according to a VA statement. It would also invest in 28 leases for VA facilities, some of which have been held up by Congress for two years.

Notice some careful wording in that coverage: the VA is announcing a deal is done but the relevant lawmakers haven’t issued their own “we did it!” press releases yet . . .  which is odd. You can’t help but wonder if the VA is attempting to force a tentative agreement into reality by 

Secretary David Shulkin’s statement:

The Committees included measures that will improve VA’s most valuable asset – its employees. The legislation will make it easier to hire the most sought after medical specialists, as well as establish innovative human resources programs to strengthen workforce management.

I urge the House of Representatives to act swiftly, so this legislation can be considered in the Senate before the August recess begins.

Pass the deal . . .  assuming they actually have a deal!

ADDENDA: News beyond the beltway: “A 926-pound Mako shark caught off the New Jersey coast won’t be recognized as a state record because more than one angler helped catch it.” It’s as if the universe is conspiring to make Chris Christie jokes.

Politics & Policy

President Ingrate

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A quick observation about President Trump’s criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. While we had heard reports of tensions between them about the recusal in the spring, this latest bit of public criticism seemed to flare up without any warning, didn’t it? Perhaps it’s just exasperation over television coverage of the Russia investigation. And technically, someone else brought it up; when Trump declared in his interview with New York Times reporters that a special counsel should never have been named, they asked, “Was that [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions’s mistake or [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein’s mistake?”

But Trump certainly seemed intent upon beating this drum for the past few days. What if it’s something else? Wouldn’t it make more sense if there had been some particular trigger for Trump suddenly focusing so much of his ire on Sessions publicly?

Is there some other disagreement between the two men that we haven’t heard about yet? Or is it as simple as Trump really wants to fire Mueller, but he doesn’t want to deal with the firestorm that would follow if Trump ordered Rosenstein to do so? (Sessions presumably cannot or is unwilling to fire Mueller because of his recusal.)

Either way, Trump has demonstrated he ranks among the world’s biggest ingrates.

Mr. Sessions was the first U.S. senator to back Mr. Trump, a decision that was seen as a major blow to rival Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas). The endorsement came ahead of a handful of primary contests in Southern states with large numbers of evangelical voters—including Alabama, Mr. Sessions’s home—that Mr. Cruz’s campaign had banked on winning.

Mr. Sessions’s endorsement came at a rally in Alabama, one of the biggest of the campaign.

“When they say he endorsed me, I went to Alabama,” Mr. Trump said on Tuesday, recalling the endorsement. “I had 40,000 people. He was a senator from Alabama. I won the state by a lot, massive numbers. A lot of the states I won by massive numbers. But he was a senator, he looks at 40,000 people and he probably says, ‘What do I have to lose?’ And he endorsed me. So it’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement. But I’m very disappointed in Jeff Sessions.”

Really? Let’s go to the way-back machine and see how the Sessions endorsement was covered in, say, Politico (emphasis added):

While New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who threw his support behind Trump on Friday, is a pillar of the GOP establishment, Sessions is a tea party idol who helps validate the New York City billionaire with the conservative grassroots.

Sessions’ endorsement is a major blow to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose success may hinge on winning those Tea Party and evangelical voters — and who has so often cited Sessions as an ally in his fight against the 2013 immigration reform effort.

All of a sudden, Breitbart.com has become fascinating reading, as their favorite president lashes out at their favorite senator. Matt Boyle:

 . . . before there was a Trump administration, Sessions was a critical part of the “movement” that elected Trump to the presidency. Losing Sessions could endanger the administration and the split the critical coalition that helped Trump to the presidency. Doing that is something Trump supporters nationwide do not want to see—and in fact, with all the reports of Trump being upset after he fired Gen. Mike Flynn earlier this year, it might be wise for the president to slow down and think about this one before he fires away too harshly and quickly.

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but… give the crew at Breitbart credit. They’re less of a cult of personality than their critics suspected. Of course, the fact that they have to write these save-Sessions pieces reveals that the president that they glorified and deified for nearly two years has no loyalty to anyone, no principles, no foresight, no understanding of the role of the attorney general in the U.S. government, and not even much grasp of his own interests. If only someone had warned them!

The Increasingly Bizarre Criminal Investigation of Schultz’s IT Aide

I’m not saying it’s more exciting or important than a president throwing a public tantrum against his own attorney general, but could the national media at least briefly turn its attention to the increasingly bizarre charges surrounding that staffer of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and his family?

Back in February, five House staffers were accused of “stealing equipment from members’ offices without their knowledge and committing serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network.”

A few days later, another odd twist was revealed, as at least four of the accused staffers are related: Imran Awan, his wife Hina Alvi, Abid Awan and Jamal Awan.

Imran Awan was first employed on Capitol Hill by former Rep. Robert Wexler in January 2004 as an “information technology director.” Awan has worked for at least 25 other House Democrats since that time as a shared employee providing technical support including to previous House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, currently the California attorney general.

Then it got even weirder in late May, when Wasserman Schultz had a tense exchange with the U.S. Capitol Police chief during a hearing, appearing to threaten “consequences” over the police’s refusal to return equipment belonging to her that is presumably connected to this investigation.

Wasserman Schultz: “Under my understanding the Capitol Police is not able to confiscate members’ equipment when the member is not under investigation. It is their equipment and it’s supposed to be returned.”

Verderosa: “I think there’s extenuating circumstances in this case, and I think that working through my counsel and the necessary personnel, if that in fact is the case, and with the permission of, through the investigation, then we’ll return the equipment. But until that’s accomplished I can’t return the equipment.”

Wasserman Schultz: “I think you’re violating the rules when you conduct your business that way and should expect that there would be consequences.”

In a public hearing, a member of the appropriations committee that controls funding for the U.S. Capitol Police appears to be telling the chief to give her stuff back or suffer consequences!

This week, the case took another dramatic turn when the FBI arrested Imran Awan Monday evening as he was about to board a flight to Lahore, Pakistan.

Awan and his wife, Hina Alvi, were accused of lying about a housing equity loan to pilfer $165,000 from the Congressional Federal Credit Union, according to documents filed in the District of Columbia. The couple obtained the loan for a rental property – rather than a primary residence. That money was then wired to Pakistan, documents allege.

Alvi left the country suddenly in March. She pulled their three children from school and flew to Lahore, Pakistan, with “numerous pieces of luggage” and at least $12,000 cash. Investigators believe Awan was ready to do the same with a Monday flight bound for Pakistan, court documents show.

One final utterly bizarre oddity: Wasserman Schultz had him on staff until Tuesday.

Why was Wasserman Schultz so impatient to get her computer back from the Capitol Police if it’s relevant to a criminal investigation? Why did she keep Imran Awan on staff until this week? Who’s got the money now? Did a bunch of longtime Capitol Hill IT staffers risk it all for $165,000?

ADDENDA: Just as this e-mail was ready to be sent off to the editors, President Trump provided the media distraction of the day over Twitter: “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow.Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming . . . 

Glad to see he’s focused on helping get 50 votes for passage of Obamacare’s repeal in the Senate!

Politics & Policy

Donald Trump, Raging at His Own Cabinet

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President Trump, discussing repealing Obamacare, February 28: “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

A comment attributed to the president on infrastructure, earlier this week: “The president — echoing his ill-received remarks about repealing the Affordable Care Act — has told people around him that he did not expect the process to be this difficult, according to one longtime adviser.”

“If [Attorney General Jeff Sessions] was going to recuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” President Trump said in a New York Times interview last week.

“So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” — President Trump on Twitter yesterday.

Yesterday: “Trump was asked by a reporter if Sessions should resign. As interns laughed around him, Trump shook his head, rolled his eyes and smirked.”

President Trump on Twitter this morning: “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – ‘quietly working to boost Clinton.’ So where is the investigation A.G.” and, moments later, “Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!”

President Trump, turning to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price at yesterday’s event with the Boy Scouts: “By the way, you’re going to get the votes? He better get ’em. He better get ’em. Ah, he better — otherwise, I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired!’” (Why is the president counting on his HHS Secretary to persuade those final reluctant Republicans? Didn’t he tout himself as the ultimate dealmaker?)

Everything is so much more complicated than he thought… and yet the president insists upon publicly attacking the people whom he selected to help enact his agenda.

The Outlook for Veterans Choice Suddenly Darkens

Remember yesterday when the House of Representatives was going to allocate another $2 billion to keep the Veterans Choice program going? The vote failed. Not because of a lack of support, as 219 Republicans voted for the bill, but it was brought to the floor of the House under rules that required a two-thirds majority. House Republicans thought they had an agreement with House Democrats to pass the additional $2 billion and then go back to reevaluate the program with an eye on the long term, but apparently too many House Democrats see Veterans Choice as a backdoor effort to privatize veterans care… so they’re willing to let money run out in early August. 

Quite a few Democrats seem strangely eager to declare the program a failure; Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said, “The VA Choice program has failed to deliver on the promise of shorter wait times.” (Gee, do you think demand for the program increasing 50 percent from last year has anything to do with it?)

The chairman of the House Veterans Committee, Phil Roe, contends the Democrats backed out of a deal at the last minute.

“Last week, during a bipartisan member meeting, members of both parties came together and agreed to fund the Choice program for six months while Congress worked on other reforms,” the Republican from Tennessee said in a released statement. “This was a bipartisan agreement, and I’m disappointed the concerns raised on the House floor today were not mentioned during what I thought was an open and honest conversation. I will continue to fight tirelessly to ensure the Choice Fund does not run out of money so veterans can continue to access care.”

Veterans groups didn’t like the stopgap measure; one exception was Concerned Veterans for America. That group’s executive director, Mark Lucas, blasted the other veterans groups for putting the program at risk by opposing the temporary extension.

“The Veteran Service Organizations and members of Congress who used this as an opportunity to advance a misleading anti-choice agenda are standing directly between millions of veterans and their health care,” Lucas said. “They spread false information about Chairman Roe’s proposal in a transparent attempt to tie this bill to unnecessary VA spending. It didn’t look like they were opposing the Veterans Choice Program several months ago when they happily stood behind the President for a photo op as he signed an extension without the funding increases they are demanding today.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that Rep. Walz, who supported this measure as early as last week, flip-flopped on his position at such a critical moment,” Lucas concluded. “He let veterans down.”

And the NRCC started hitting House Democratic incumbents over their votes.

Charlie Gard Deserved Better. Everyone Did.

Some stories are too heartbreaking to spend much time examining; they’re so awful, and hit so close to home, we just turn away and choose to think of other things. Thank God Ian Tuttle is willing to watch the horrific saga of Charlie Gard. And he so succinctly summarizes the stomach and soul-turning injustice at the heart of this twisted process:

Successive courts in the United Kingdom and in Europe simultaneously found that Connie Yates and Chris Gard had devoted themselves unhesitatingly to their son’s welfare for ten months, and also that Yates and Gard could not be trusted to act in their son’s best interests . . . 

The question, then, is not what would Charlie Gard want — a question no one can answer. The question is what do we owe to people such as Charlie, who cannot speak for themselves? What duty of care do we owe them simply on account of their being human beings, who are by nature possessed of an inalienable dignity? What obligations do we have to those who suffer, and how should we understand their suffering? And, pertinent to this case, under what circumstances should the tightest bonds of affection — those between parent and child — be subordinated to the judgment of the state?

The precedent established by Charlie Gard’s case will metastasize, as similar decisions have. It will be made to apply to children with more-familiar illnesses and better prognoses; it will be used to dismiss the input of parents whose values and priorities when it comes to medical care and end-of-life issues do not align with those of the state; it may be used simply to clear beds for “worthier” patients in a health-care system with very limited resources. This, presumably, will be “compassionate,” too.

ADDENDA: Yesterday’s difficulty in saving Veterans Choice aside, the House of Representatives is passing legislation pretty regularly. Over on the home page, I have a piece detailing what Speaker Paul Ryan and the gang have been working on while the news cycle has obsessed over the Russia investigation and Trump’s tweets. Kate’s Law, a pay raise for the troops, punishments for “sanctuary cities,” class-action lawsuit reform, bills to streamline the approval process for gas and oil pipelines and electric transmission lines, accountability for the federal bureaucracy . . .  all awaiting action in the Senate.

Because of the particular Senate seats that are on the ballot in 2018 — 23 Democrats, two independents aligned with Democrats, and just eight Republicans — most political observers think it is unlikely that Democrats will be able to flip three seats and regain control of the Senate. Democrats feel much better about their odds of winning the House of Representatives. This month an ABC News/Washington Post poll gave Democrats a 14-point edge on the generic ballot question.

It would be a painful irony for the Republicans if some of their traditional voters or some of the Trump loyalists stayed home on Election Day 2018 out of a sense that the president is stymied by a “do-nothing Congress.” If that came to pass, GOP House members would find themselves paying the price for a national political conversation — including, arguably, the contributions of the current president — that finds their legislative accomplishments too boring to deserve much attention.

Politics & Policy

Today, an Easily-Overlooked Vote on Choice in Veterans Health Care

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Remember the Veterans Choice program, discussed in my recent article about reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs?

In 2014, in response to the scandal of veterans in Phoenix and other locations facing interminable waits for needed care, Congress and the Obama administration established the Veterans Choice Program (VCP), allowing veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA health clinic or who face a wait of more than 30 days for an appointment to get treatment from non-VA facilities. The VCP was intended as a pilot program and scheduled to end this August, but earlier this year President Trump signed legislation extending its duration until funding runs out.

Demand for the program has increased rapidly, almost a 50 percent increase over last year’s number of appointments. In the first six months, veterans made eight million community care appointments through the program. Current funding is projected to run out by the second week of August.

Today the House is scheduled to vote on a bill that will provide another $2 billion in funding for the program by diverting funds from other parts of the VA budget.

Eight veterans groups — AMVETS, (Disabled American Veterans), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association, Military Officers Association of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America and the Wounded Warrior Project – issued a statement opposing the legislation, contending it’s just a band-aid solution:

As we have repeatedly told House leaders in person this week, and in a jointly-signed letter on June 28, we oppose legislation that includes funding only for the “choice” program which provides additional community care options, but makes no investment in VA and uses “savings” from other veterans benefits or services to “pay” for the “choice” program.

In order to ensure that veterans can receive necessary care without interruption, we call on House leaders to take the time necessary to work together with Senate leaders to develop acceptable “choice” funding legislation that not only fills the current funding gap, but also addresses urgent VA infrastructure and resource needs that led to creation of the “choice” program in the first place.

That’s a lot of scare quotes. But another veterans group, Concerned Veterans for America, is supporting the bill, seeing it as the best possible temporary solution as Congress considers a bigger change. (Keep in mind some groups on the Left are wary about the Veterans Choice program, seeing it as a backdoor effort to promote the privatization of veterans care and/or reducing the government’s role in getting veterans care.)

“The Veterans Choice Program isn’t perfect, but many veterans depend on it to access care in the private sector when the VA fails them. CVA Executive Director Mark Lucas [and] Chairman Roe’s proposal to quickly solve the program’s budget shortfall is pragmatic, fiscally responsible and will prevent lapses in care in upcoming weeks. Opponents of this measure are transparently using this situation as an opportunity to advance their own anti-choice agenda instead of doing what’s best for veterans. It’s critical that Congress take decisive action to keep the choice program afloat until more permanent choice reforms are in place and we urge elected officials to vote in favor of the House solution today.”

Sanctions Move Ahead, and Russia Loses

Boy, that Russian meddling hasn’t really worked out the way Putin expected, did it?

The White House indicated Sunday President Donald Trump would sign a sweeping Russia sanctions measure, which the House could take up this week, that requires him to get Congress’ permission before lifting or easing the economic penalties against Moscow.

Lawmakers are scheduled to consider the sanctions package as early as Tuesday, and the bill could be sent to Trump before Congress breaks for the August recess. The legislation is aimed at punishing Moscow for meddling in the presidential election and its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the newly appointed White House press secretary, said the administration is supportive of being tough on Russia and “particularly putting these sanctions in place.”

“We support where the legislation is now, and will continue to work with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia until the situation in Ukraine is fully resolved,” Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The sanctions “would tighten restrictions on the extension of credit to Russian entities and limit Russian businesses in the energy and defense sectors from partnering with U.S. citizens. It also would require the president to seek Congress’s permission to relax any sanctions against Russia.”

The editors looked closer and figured out exactly where this would hit the Russian economy and leverage over its European neighbors: “Discretionary sanctions also apply to investment in the construction of Russian energy-export pipelines — for example, the controversial Nord Stream II pipeline. This massive project, which would link Russia to Germany while bypassing Ukraine, would double the Russian natural-gas company Gazprom’s capacity to move oil directly into Europe and make the Continent even more dependent on Russian resources.”

The Russians are warning that they will not like it . . . 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that “we heard of some corrections to the administration’s stance on sanctions and will wait patiently until it is clearly articulated.” He reiterated that Russia believes the restrictions are “counterproductive” and are harming both US and Russian interests.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier warned that any new sanctions on Russia will only result in the deterioration of US-Russia relations.

 . . . which is kind of the point of sanctions!

What Are Those Great Bipartisan Ideas for Health Care Reform?

The great Peggy Noonan was kind enough to quote me at length in her most recent column. We hear a decent amount about how Democrats are willing to help “fix” Obamacare but we never hear many details about what their idea of a “fix” is. Once you look, you see a lot of familiar ideas that Republicans reject: stricter enforcement of the individual mandate, government funding for insurance companies to offset unexpected losses, and of course, “Medicaid for all.”

Noonan quotes Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, as insisting that a bipartisan agreement is achievable:

For now, Mr. Manchin says, both parties should focus on Medicare, Medicaid, the private market, pre-existing conditions – issues on which quick or clear progress can be made. He notes that the Senate has 11 members who are former governors. As executive branch veterans with on-the-ground experience, they’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. They’re mostly moderate, not extreme. Get them in on this, he urges. “We still have some reasonable people here,” he says. “Some are just a little too quiet.”

So what are those moderate bipartisan ideas that those former governors are so eager to enact? My sneaking suspicion is that they’re not all that moderate or bipartisan after all.

ADDENDA: Friday afternoon, I wondered if there was a good reason that there was no depiction of Winston Churchill in the new Christopher Nolan World War Two drama, Dunkirk. Having seen Dunkirk this weekend, I think Dorothy Rabinowitz’s complaint is misguided; this is three particular stories set during the Dunkirk evacuation and there wasn’t much need to cut back to the Cabinet War Rooms.

As for what I thought of Dunkirk, it is generally as excellent and powerful as the rave reviews say, but this was the first Christopher Nolan film where I felt like his flashback-then-flash-forward style of storytelling got in the way instead of enhancing the tale. An editor once told me I was very sequential in my writing, and I found myself wishing someone had said to Nolan’s otherwise spectacular film, “start in the beginning, then go to the middle, and finish with the end.”

Politics & Policy

The Coming Trump-Mueller Collision

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On his podcast yesterday, National Review editor Rich Lowry asked the percentage chance that President Trump will fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Michael Brendan Dougherty put it at 200 percent, Charlie Cooke was 50 percent, and Rich put it at 70 percent or higher.

Those odds must be a little higher this morning.

President Trump’s lawyers and aides are scouring the professional and political backgrounds of investigators hired by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III looking for conflicts of interest they could use to discredit the investigation — or even build a case to fire Mr. Mueller or get some members of his team recused, according to three people with knowledge of the research effort.

The search for potential conflicts is wide-ranging. It includes scrutinizing donations to Democratic candidates, investigators’ past clients and Mr. Mueller’s relationship with James B. Comey, whose firing as F.B.I. director is part of the special counsel’s investigation.

The effort to investigate the investigators is another sign of a looming showdown between Mr. Trump and Mr. Mueller, who has assembled a team of high-powered prosecutors and agents to examine whether any of Mr. Trump’s advisers aided Russia’s campaign to disrupt last year’s presidential election.

You only do this much preparation to discredit an investigator if you think it’s likely he will find something disparaging. If there’s this much simmering animosity between the White House and Mueller’s investigative team already, how likely is it that the man who fired James Comey will resist the impulse to order Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to fire Mueller? And if Mueller refuses, will Trump fire Rosenstein?

Mueller himself doesn’t seem like a likely candidate to be leading a partisan witch-hunt; he was, at least until this assignment, widely respected on both sides of the aisle and regarded as a straight shooter. But the gripes about some of the investigators working underneath him are at least a little less outlandish:

For weeks, Republicans have publicly identified what they see as potential conflicts among Mr. Mueller’s team of more than a dozen investigators. In particular, they have cited thousands of dollars of political donations to Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, made by Andrew Weissmann, a former senior Justice Department official who has expertise in fraud and other financial crimes. News reports have revealed similar donations by other members of Mr. Mueller’s team, which Mr. Trump’s allies have cited as evidence of political bias. Another lawyer Mr. Mueller has hired, Jeannie Rhee, represented the Clinton Foundation.

To seek a recusal, Mr. Trump’s lawyers can argue their case to Mr. Mueller or his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. The Justice Department has explicit rules about what constitutes a conflict of interest. Prosecutors may not participate in investigations if they have “a personal or political relationship” with the subject of the case. Making campaign donations is not included on the list of things that would create a “political relationship.”

Those Justice Department rules are convenient for federal prosecutors eager to build relationships with officeholders and with political ambitions. Back in 2012, I pulled all the donation records for the 93 U.S. Attorneys and found that 46 had donated a cumulative $235,651 to President Obama, the DNC, and Democratic candidates since January 1, 2007. Not one had donated to any Republican candidate, which isn’t all that surprising, because the president selects the U.S. Attorneys. Ironically, several of the donors gave more than the legal maximum and had their run-over sums returned to them.

Back then, Hans A. von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and formerly a senior lawyer in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, told me, “I don’t have a problem with political donations from U.S. Attorneys, because these positions are ultimately political appointments. However, any time a U.S. Attorney’s office gets a case where the target is someone they’ve given funds to, clearly and obviously that attorney needs to recuse himself and hand over the reins.”

How about when you’ve donated to the political opponent of the subject of your investigation?

Can Congressional Republicans Save Themselves?

The editorial board of the Richmond Times-Dispatch concurs with my assessment that a failure to reform Obamacare at all will leave right-leaning voters wondering what the point of having a Republican Party is.

When it came time for their votes to actually mean something, to fulfill promises repeatedly made to voters, Republicans balked.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promises to keep working on health care. But every day spent on the issue is time not spent on tax reform, immigration and all the other issues the GOP promised voters. The party seems so deeply divided that one wonders how its members will be able to accomplish any major legislation. National Review’s Jim Geraghty wrote, “You can’t save a party from itself.” He’s right. And if the GOP flatlines in 2018, it will have only itself to blame.

Just floating an idea . . .  what Congressional Republicans passed malpractice tort reform? Even if the Democrats in the Senate filibustered it, the GOP could at least argue that they tried to enact a change that would make health care less expensive . . .  and they would have a stronger argument about the need to replace Democratic Senate incumbents.

In National Spotlight, Kansas City Chiefs Can’t Contain O.J. Simpson

For one brief period on Thursday afternoon, we went back to the 1990s.

The good news is that at age 70, former football star, convicted felon, and Totally-Not-a-Double-Murderer-He-Swears O.J. Simpson is less likely to represent a physical threat to anyone else. This is good, because he is likely to be walking the streets on parole this autumn.

The bad news is that once again we saw shockingly implausible claims made on his behalf in a legal proceeding, and those who sit in judgment of him just shrugged it off.

“I’ve basically spent a conflict-free life. I’m not a guy that ever got into fights on the street with the public and everybody,” Simpson told the parole board.

Are you kidding me? Even if we accept the jury’s decision on the charges of double murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, let’s take a look at that history of violence before the arrest for murder charges:

The reports say that when police arrived at Simpson’s North Rockingham Avenue house Jan. 1, 1989, they saw Nicole Simpson running out of some bushes, bruised and scratched.

“He’s going to kill me, he’s going to kill me,” she cried while running toward the officers, one of them wrote. “She kept saying: ‘You never do anything about him. You talk to him and then leave.’”

During a fight after a New Year’s Eve party at the house, Simpson had punched and kicked his wife and pulled her hair and screamed, “I’ll kill you!” according to the documents. He had slapped her so hard, one police report said, that a handprint was left on her neck.

Four months later, when Simpson pleaded no contest to spousal battery charges, Municipal Judge Ronald Schoenberg overruled prosecutors’ requests that he serve a month in jail because of the severity of the beating and undergo an intensive yearlong treatment program for men who batter their wives.

Instead, according to the court documents and interviews with prosecutors Thursday, Simpson received no jail time and was allowed to pick his own psychiatrist and receive counseling over the phone, which prosecutors said was unprecedented.

Then the 911 call from Nicole Brown Simpson in October 1993:

911: Okay. You just want him to leave?

NS: My door. He broke the whole back door in.

911: And then he left and he came back?

NS: He came and he practically knocked my upstairs door down but he pounded it and he screamed and hollered and I tried to get him out of the bedroom because the kids are sleeping in there.

Then Simpson lost the civil suit about the wrongful deaths of Goldman and his ex-wife. And then he was convicted of kidnapping and robbery.

This may be only the second most shocking legal decision involving O.J. Simpson, but let’s face it, that top one is a high bar to clear.

ADDENDA: Another edition of the pop culture podcast will land today, examining why R. Kelly is the celebrity most likely to be surrounded by salacious accusations and rumors for the rest of his life, why Game of Thrones fans need to switch to decaf, the national tragedy of robot suicides, the asinine suggestion that the new Christopher Nolan World War II drama Dunkirk is somehow insufficiently diverse, and whether Chicagoans can be persuaded to put ketchup on hot dogs by simply renaming it “Chicago Dog Sauce.”

Politics & Policy

Senator John McCain Faces One More Fight, and Everyone’s in His Corner

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Awful, awful news.

Sen. John McCain revealed Wednesday that he has a primary brain tumor. The cancer was discovered during cranial surgery last week to remove a blood clot above his left eye.

In a statement from Mayo Clinic, McCain’s doctors described the tumor as a glioblastoma.

The American Brain Tumor Association describes glioblastoma tumors as typically malignant and difficult to treat because they contain many types of cells.

“It’s a very aggressive tumor,” said Dr. Joseph Zabramski, a neurosurgeon at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix not involved in McCain’s treatment. “In general, it is a tumor that has relentless force. You can slow it down but not stop it.”

The median survival rate for the most common type of glioblastoma is 14.6 months, according to the association. About 30 percent of patients live two years with glioblastomas.

The 80-year-old McCain, R-Ariz., is reviewing treatment options with his family. Those could include a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, according to the Mayo statement.

One can only imagine the thoughts going through the minds of members of the McCain family right now; Meghan McCain offered a heartfelt statement here.

As much as the senator’s fighting spirit and love for his work is irrepressible, it is quite possible that he may choose to resign to focus on his treatment. If McCain resigns, Governor Doug Ducey would appoint an interim senator, and Arizona law requires that the replacement be of the same political party as the departing senator. That senator would serve until the next statewide election, which in Arizona is in 2018. The winner of the 2018 special Senate election would serve the remainder of McCain’s term, which ends in 2022.

Arizona’s other senator, Jeff Flake, is up for reelection next year, so it is possible the state will have two Senate elections going on simultaneously. If McCain does not resign from the Senate before November 2018, the special Senate election would be held in 2020.

Back in June, McCain had an odd, slow-speaking exchange with former FBI Director James Comey during a hearing, one that left a lot of watchers confused and wondering what McCain was thinking. McCain later issued a statement in which he attempted to clarify his remarks, joking, “I get the sense from Twitter that my line of questioning today went over people’s heads. Maybe going forward I shouldn’t stay up late watching the Diamondbacks night games.” One can’t help but wonder if the brain tumor played a factor.

Trump on Sessions: ‘I Would Have Picked Someone Else’

How supported do you think Attorney General Jeff Sessions feels this morning?

President Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.”

In a remarkable public break with one of his earliest political supporters, Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Sessions’s decision ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel that should not have happened.

“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump said.

Once again, the president is off on his own, blurting the first thing that comes into his mind, not coordinating with anyone around him, and either oblivious or indifferent to the consequences.

It goes without saying that not a single adviser to President Trump would urge him to publicly criticize his own attorney general like this, and they would probably tell him that there’s no benefit to expressing this kind of frustration publicly. Sessions can’t undo the recusal decision, there’s no indication that Sessions thinks he made a mistake in that decision, and this can only lead to two things: more whispers that Sessions’ days are numbered as attorney general because the president doesn’t have faith in his judgment or Sessions deciding he’s had enough of it and resigning.

Tensions between a president and attorney general aren’t new to Washington, but when you add yesterday’s comments from the president to the earlier reports that Sessions had offered his resignation during an earlier tense exchange with Trump, it’s fair to wonder at what point Sessions feels too publicly undermined to continue in his position. Or considering the president’s tempestuousness, Trump could pull off a sequel to his Comey firing. The attorney general serves at the president’s pleasure like the rest of the cabinet.

But Sessions’ departure would set up another headache for an administration that’s already full of them, and just add to the narrative that the Trump White House simply cannot govern. It’s worth thinking back to all of the political capital expended to get Sessions confirmed back in February. Trump seems strangely oblivious to how capricious he’s behaving; Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russian investigation was more or less unavoidable once the Senate learned he had forgotten to mention a few casual meetings with the Russian ambassador. Sessions’ successor would face even more scrutiny; Sessions at least had his former colleagues on the GOP side willing to go to bat for him. And if Trump is going to rage for months over unavoidable decisions and rip his attorney general publicly over every decision he doesn’t like, who in their right mind would want the job?

Oh, and if the “failing” New York Times is always full of “fake news,” why is President Trump giving them an exclusive interview that lasts 50 minutes?

ADDENDA: Friends and supporters of National Review will want to mark October 25 on their calendar, as that is the night of this year’s William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner. The Prize for Leadership in Political Thought will be awarded to author Tom Wolfe, recognizing his acclaimed writing and influence on American culture over five decades. The Prize for Leadership in Supporting Liberty, which recognizes conservative philanthropy, will be awarded to Bruce and Suzie Kovner for their support and leadership of organizations that defend private enterprise, free markets and free trade; protect individual rights; and perform scholarly research that strengthens American democratic principles. They will also be honored for their support of education reform, particularly with regard to charter schools; and for their leadership of the major performing arts institutions of New York City.

The National Review Institute has rooms at a discounted rate at The Knickerbocker Hotel, where a shuttle to Gotham Hall will be provided. In addition, we have a very limited number of discounted rooms available at The Algonquin. But be careful over there, I hear the crowd at the round table can be a little rough.

 . . . I’m scheduled to appear on CNN International today at 2:30 p.m.

Politics & Policy

The President Won’t Stop Steering Himself Directly into Controversy

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The theme for today’s Jolt: You can’t save everybody.

Donald Trump’s astonishing second meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G-20.

You can’t save a president from himself.

The White House official said Mr. Trump spoke with many leaders during the dinner [at the G20 summit] and said the president “spoke briefly” with Mr. Putin, who was seated next to first lady Melania Trump, toward the end of the evening.

Mr. Bremmer said the two spoke for about an hour, joined by Mr. Putin’s translator.

The White House official said Messrs. Trump and Putin used the Russian translator because the American translator accompanying Mr. Trump spoke only English and Japanese. Mr. Trump had been seated next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“The insinuation that the White House has tried to ‘hide’ a second meeting is false, malicious and absurd,” the White House official said. “It is not merely perfectly normal, it is part of a president’s duties, to interact with world leaders.”

It is indeed normal and dutiful to have those conversations. But it’s also normal and dutiful to rely on an American translator. This is to protect the president’s interests, to ensure nothing he says is accidentally mistranslated as, “I think your occupation of Crimea is fine and dandy.” The presence of another American is a firewall in case the Russians start offering an inaccurate account of their conversation.

Also, we already have one case of Trump allegedly disclosing classified information to Russian officials during a meeting. With no other U.S. official present, there’s no way to ensure that doesn’t happen again — or to even know if it happens again. Much like Jared Kushner’s alleged interest in using a Russian Secure Compartmentalized Information Facility (SCIF), this is a case of the Russian government knowing things that the president or a member of his family is saying and the rest of the American government not knowing.

It’s also normal and dutiful to inform the American public about these conversations — particularly if the conversation was, as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insists, just “pleasantries and small talk.”

Think about it — if you wanted to throw gasoline on the fire of collusion talk, and to undermine the public’s faith in the president’s ability to stand up to Putin when necessary, isn’t this exactly what you would do? Have as much conversation between Trump and Putin, with no other U.S. officials present, as possible?

They Fear Responsibility for Change More Than They Fear the Status Quo

You can’t save a party from itself.

I like Ohio senator Rob Portman quite a bit. But there’s no getting around the fact that his campaign website in 2016 said this . . . 

Senator Rob Portman believes that Obamacare must be repealed and replaced with reforms that will actually lower costs and improve the quality of our health care. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the health care law the Democrats shoved through Congress in 2009 will slow economic growth over the next decade, cost 2.5 million jobs, and contribute a trillion dollars to the deficit.

There are alternatives to Obamacare that would actually reduce the costs in health care. Ohio Senator Rob Portman believes that we should allow companies to sell insurance across state lines, pass tort reform to reduce the extra costs due to frivolous lawsuits, and allow smaller businesses to band together and get the same tax benefits that larger businesses have when providing health care to their employees.

Other proposals include establishing well-funded high-risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions and providing tax credits for people to purchase insurance on the individual market.

Together, we can repeal Obamacare and replace it with common-sense reforms to lower costs and improve our health care system.

The Senate version of the Obamacare replacement bill was far from perfect, but it was a giant step in the direction that Portman claimed he wanted back in 2016. There wasn’t much wiggle room in his rhetoric on the trail; Obamacare “must be repealed and replaced.” Now the senator prefers the status quo to the GOP alternative.

Back in 2015, when Obama was president and sure to veto it, Portman voted for a repeal-only proposal. His tune this week:

“If it is a bill that simply repeals (Obamacare), I believe that will add to more uncertainty and the potential for Ohioans to pay even higher premiums, higher deductibles,” the Ohio Republican told MSNBC on Tuesday.

“The circumstances have changed altogether for Ohio,” Portman said. “We’ve gone from a situation in Ohio where [we] had a lot of competition [and] multiple insurance companies” offering plans to a situation where 19 counties in the state have no insurer offering coverage on the individual market for the next enrollment period.

Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski also voted to repeal in 2015, and she, too, says repeal-only is now unacceptable.

So yes, blame the senators for changing their tune as soon as there was a Republican president who might actually sign their ideas into law. But don’t let the president off the hook; his interest in using the bully pulpit to get this bill passed was intermittent at best.

Imagine a world where Trump tweeted to his Alaskan supporters to call Murkowski’s office and urge her to support the bill. He won the state by 15 points. Imagine a world where Trump held a rally in West Virginia, telling all of his supporters who attend that they need to call Senator Caputo.

Instead, he’s tweeting: “As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!”

Do Reporters Want to Know More Every Day?

You can’t save the institution of journalism from itself.

Over at Hot Air, John Sexton looked back at the infamous “Journolist” e-mail listserv, wondering what, if anything, has changed in the way those increasingly prominent figures see the role of the media in the nation’s political debates.

The May 2016 New York Times profile of White House deputy national-security adviser Ben Rhodes and his colleagues offered a jaw-dropping portrait of the way the Obama White House spun and manipulated those covering it. That story’s revelations should have been a bigger deal, spurring a lot of internal discussion and self-examination in the nation’s “mainstream” institutions. This wasn’t the usual conservatives griping that Washington reporters were ignorant and happy to repeat the White House’s messages, this was the president’s men themselves boasting about how easy it was:

You have to have skin in the game — to be in the news business, or depend in a life-or-death way on its products — to understand the radical and qualitative ways in which words that appear in familiar typefaces have changed. Rhodes singled out a key example to me one day, laced with the brutal contempt that is a hallmark of his private utterances.

“All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

In this environment, Rhodes has become adept at ventriloquizing many people at once. Ned Price, Rhodes’s assistant, gave me a primer on how it’s done. The easiest way for the White House to shape the news, he explained, is from the briefing podiums, each of which has its own dedicated press corps. “But then there are sort of these force multipliers,” he said, adding, “We have our compadres, I will reach out to a couple people, and you know I wouldn’t want to name them — ”

“I can name them,” I said, ticking off a few names of prominent Washington reporters and columnists who often tweet in sync with White House messaging.

Price laughed. “I’ll say, ‘Hey, look, some people are spinning this narrative that this is a sign of American weakness,’ ” he continued, “but — ”

“In fact it’s a sign of strength!” I said, chuckling.

“And I’ll give them some color,” Price continued, “and the next thing I know, lots of these guys are in the dot-com publishing space, and have huge Twitter followings, and they’ll be putting this message out on their own.”

When members of the White House press corps complain that the Trump White House talks too much to friendly media, and refuses to take questions from less friendly media . . . do they think this was invented on January 20 of this year?

Do White House correspondents and other people covering the movers and shakers in Washington know enough about their beats? Or maybe a more relevant question is, do they care to know? One of the insidious effects of viewing modern politics through the lens of a convenient narrative — i.e., Democrats are noble, smart, and good; Republicans are corrupt, dumb, and bad — is that you disregard evidence that contradicts your pre-established narrative.

No correspondent is going to know everything. Arguably the most important quality a journalist can bring to his work is curiosity — an acknowledgement of what he doesn’t know, a desire to know more, and the ability to communicate that to an audience. A journalist should wake up every morning determined to know more by bedtime than he knew that morning — and that requires an openness to learning things that contradict his previous understanding of how the world works.

Conspiracy theories, strangely obsessive coverage of Trump handshakes, continued breathless coverage of polls that left an inaccurate perspective of the state of the 2016 race (never mind the fact that Trump won’t face the voters for another three years and change)… are these really informing the public?

ADDENDA: Want to know how quickly the year is flying by? NFL training camps open today for the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, and New Orleans Saints.

Politics & Policy

The Obamacare Repeal Can, Kicked Down the Road, One More Time

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After all this time, it increasingly appears impossible to get 50 Republican senators to agree on legislation to replace Obamacare.

Last night brought genuinely shocking news as two GOP senators, who up until now hadn’t appeared to be likely “no” votes, announced their opposition: Jerry Moran of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah.

Moran:

There are serious problems with Obamacare, and my goal remains what it has been for a long time: to repeal and replace it. This closed-door process has yielded the BCRA [Better Care Reconciliation Act], which fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare’s rising costs. For the same reasons I could not support the previous version of this bill, I cannot support this one.

We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy. Furthermore, if we leave the federal government in control of everyday healthcare decisions, it is more likely that our healthcare system will devolve into a single-payer system, which would require a massive federal spending increase. We must now start fresh with an open legislative process to develop innovative solutions that provide greater personal choice, protections for pre-existing conditions, increased access and lower overall costs for Kansans.

The problem is that “starting fresh” doesn’t change any of the dynamics in place. Republicans (and, by extension, much of the country) want contradictory changes, changes that Moran lists as his requirements. Americans want lower premiums, but they also want insurance companies to keep covering preexisting conditions. They want to see the cost of Medicaid go down, or at least rise slower, but they also don’t want to throw anyone off of Medicaid. They want the number of uninsured to go down, and they want the mandate repealed.

To govern is to choose. The reason health-care policy is so complicated and thorny is because so many people keep insisting that they can have the best of both worlds — more money coming out of the system in the form of innovative, top-of-the-line treatment and care with minimal waiting times, and less money going into the system in the form of premiums, copays, and deductibles.

Lee:

After conferring with trusted experts regarding the latest version of the Consumer Freedom Amendment, I have decided I cannot support the current version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act. In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations.

The recent decision to keep some of the Obamacare taxes in there — in particular, a 3.8 percent tax on investment income on high earners — was designed to defuse the easiest Democratic criticism that the bill takes away from the poor and gives tax cuts to the rich. That particular tax cut could be readdressed in the tax-reform bill later in the year.

But no, these guys have to torpedo this particular bill, and its effort at improvement, in the name of some theoretical much better version that has yet to be written.

While recovering from eye surgery, Senator John McCain issued this statement:

One of the major problems with Obamacare was that it was written on a strict party-line basis and driven through Congress without a single Republican vote. As this law continues to crumble in Arizona and states across the country, we must not repeat the original mistakes that led to Obamacare’s failure. The Congress must now return to regular order, hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation’s governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care.

McCain and the likes of Ohio governor John Kasich keep spouting this “input from both parties” happy talk, but that optimistic assessment ignores an ugly truth. The Democrats — the party that rammed this through and promised America they could keep their plan, keep their doctor, and would pay $2,500 per year less than before — aren’t willing to go along with any significant conservative ideas for reform.

According to a Wall Street Journal editorial:

When Senate Republicans reached out to Heidi Heitkamp this spring to negotiate on health care, the North Dakota Democrat told Politico she had these demands: No per capita Medicaid block grants to the states and no rollback in ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion. And that was merely “the price of admission for me sitting down.” Ms. Heitkamp is the second most conservative Senate Democrat after West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.

Ms. Heitkamp would never get a real chance to negotiate in any case. If their current effort fails, Republicans would then need 60 Senate votes to pass anything, and that gives Mr. Schumer the whip hand. His price for cooperating would include the Medicaid status quo; preserving the individual and employer mandates; tens of billions in higher subsidies to lure insurers back into the failing exchanges; and probably a limit on the policy flexibility the Trump Administration could allow states.

Some congressional Democrats insist the main problem with the law is that the mandate is not enforced enough, and that if the administration and IRS would start cracking down on people who aren’t buying health insurance, everything would get better. Or they want higher subsidies for purchasing insurance. Or, like senators Tim Kaine of Virginia and Tom Carper of Delaware, they want to “provide funding to offset larger than expected insurance claims for health-insurance companies participating in the state and federal insurance marketplaces.” (More taxpayer money getting sent to health- insurance companies.) And quite a few congressional Democrats want the public option — “Medicaid for all,” which would allow any American at any income level to set up insurance through the federal government.

Conservatives who oppose government mandates, subsidies, bailouts, and state-run health care wouldn’t like any of that.

Do We Want to Continue the Iran Deal or Not?

An eye-opening bit of reporting from Eli Lake, albeit one that showcases the problems with impulsive, ad hoc policymaking from the White House:

So just as [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson was preparing to inform Congress on Monday that Iran remained in compliance with what is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Trump called it off, according to administration officials. He wanted to know his options and what would happen if Tillerson didn’t make the announcement.

And for a few hours on Monday afternoon, it looked like the White House was going to tell Congress it could not certify Iran was complying, without saying Iran was in breach of the pact. This would have triggered a 60-day period in which Congress could vote to re-impose the secondary sanctions lifted as a condition of the deal, or to strike it down altogether.

The predicament, according to administration officials, was that Congress, not to mention the other signatories to the seven-party agreement, was not prepared. Trump had yet to even put forward a broader Iran policy. What’s more, the U.S. intelligence community feels that Iran is pushing the edges, but overall is in compliance [with the] Iran deal.

Eventually, Trump walked back from the ledge, and the administration certified Tehran’s compliance.

I’m all for a tougher stance on Iran, and this is a situation where I’ll go so far as to say the president’s instincts are serving him well. But this sort of policy U-turn can’t be enacted at the last minute.

Chuck Schumer’s Political Instincts

Over in Mike Allen’s newsletter, he shares an anecdote from Josh Green’s Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency.

Early on, Chuck Schumer was deeply worried that [Steve] Bannon’s nationalism might fracture the Democratic coalition: “I know what you’re doing, and I’m not going to let it happen,” the Senate Dem leader told Bannon in the early days of the administration.

I read that and remembered who I had heard confidently declaring that working-class white voters wouldn’t gravitate to Trump last summer: Chuck Schumer.

Back in July 2016, I saw Schumer speak to Democrats and media at a restaurant during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. He spoke about the upcoming election, and quoted demographic figures, geographic trends, all kinds of information about the electorate in particular detail . . . 

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

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

Schumer knew his data, but the trade-off of blue-collar Democrats for white-collar suburban Republicans didn’t shake out the way he predicted.

ADDENDA: Jamie Dimon is CEO of JPMorgan Chase, and during a conference call on July 14, he just let loose with his frustration with the country:

We have become one of the most bureaucratic, confusing, litigious societies on the planet. It’s almost an embarrassment being an American citizen traveling around the world and listening to the stupid **** we have to deal with in this country. And at one point we all have to get our act together or we won’t do what we’re supposed to [do] for the average Americans. And unfortunately people write about this saying like it’s for corporations. It’s not for corporations. Competitive taxes are important for business and business growth, which is important for jobs and wage growth. And honestly, we should be ringing that alarm bell, every single one of you, every time you talk to a client.

Dimon is a Democrat. Is there room for a pro tort-reform, pro-tax-simplification, anti-bureaucracy movement in the Democratic party?

Politics & Policy

Don’t Blame ‘Sexism’ for the Demise of Jane Sanders’s College

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Maybe it’s “sexism” that’s driving the investigation into Jane Sanders, the wife of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, as she claims . . . or maybe not.

The story is convoluted, but one thing is clear: Jane Sanders has had enough of [attorney and state GOP vice chairman Brady] Toensing and his tactics.

“I find it incredibly sexist that basically he’s going after my husband by destroying my reputation, and that’s not OK,” she said in her first interview about the man responsible for an FBI probe that centers on her leadership at Burlington College, a small liberal arts school on Lake Champlain that she led from 2004 to 2011.

But did you know that the college Sanders ran shut down last year? It’s an ugly story, and it’s hard to shake the sense that whether or not financial fraud was involved, the college grew wildly financially overextended during Sanders’s tenure.

Burlington College officials announced Monday that the school will close effective May 27 because of the “crushing weight of the debt” incurred with the purchase of a lakefront property on North Avenue.

College trustees voted unanimously Friday — the day before commencement — to close the school. . . . 

Burlington College, under the leadership of former President Jane Sanders, the wife of Sen. Bernie Sanders, bought for $10 million the former headquarters of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington in 2010 as part of an expansion plan. The purchase was made with $6 million in bank debt and a $3.5 million loan from the diocese. The college never collected many of the pledges made under Sanders’ tenure that were used as collateral for the deal, and ultimately, the diocese lost about $2 million in the deal. Sanders left the school in 2011 under a cloud and with a $200,000 buyout package.

Obviously, every husband is going to defend his wife, but the argument from the senator doesn’t really hold up: “My wife is about the most honest person I know,” Sanders told CNN. “When she came to that college, it was failing financially and academically. When she left it, it was in better shape than it had ever been.”

Really? The debt from the land purchase she directed appears to have been at the heart of the college’s financial woes.

Governing Is Supposed to Be Boring

Maybe Robert James Ritchie — a.k.a. Kid Rock — would make a great senator for the state of Michigan, maybe not. But there’s something I’d like to ask him, neither endorsing nor denouncing the idea of a Rock senatorial bid.

Mr. Rock, are you sure you want to actually do the work of being a senator? Because I imagine it’s a lot less fun and exciting than being a rock star.

Governing is different from campaigning. It involves a lot of hearings and markups of legislation. It involves getting up to speed on a lot of issues that a lot of Americans, even politically active Americans, don’t really pay much attention to in the course of their days. It involves getting into the weeds and figuring out the details of obscure federal programs, figuring out whether they’re needed at all, and if so, how best to make them work. It means constantly encountering people who want you to use your limited amount of power and authority to help them, and frequently having to tell them, “no.” Being in public office usually means being criticized no matter what you do. And with a few exceptions, there are a lot fewer groupies.

Let’s take a look at the last couple things the incumbent senator, Democrat Debbie Stabenow, has done or discussed. This is not an endorsement of Stabenow, just citing this as an example of the sort of issues a senator worries about and thinks about on a day-to-day basis.

Stabenow recently boasted that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration Runway Incursion Mitigation Program will provide $3.4 million to construct a service road and rehabilitate runways at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. She also pointed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters Grants program which provided $141,715 for the Graafschap Fire Department to help purchase equipment.

She’s touting the fact that 29 Michigan counties will receive $4.6 million through the Department of the Interior’s Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. “Michigan is home to more than two million acres of federal lands, meaning that county governments throughout Michigan miss out on important property tax revenue every year.”

She urged Defense Secretary James Mattis to establish the TRICARE Acquisition Cost Parity Pilot Program, which “will allow beneficiaries to get their medications from local pharmacies while preserving access through the existing military treatment facility and mail order systems, and reduce costs by allowing the Department of Defense to purchase non-generic medications at the same lower rate it pays for drugs dispensed through the mail or MTFs.”

She’s searching for nominees for the vacancies on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and one vacancy on the United States District Court for the Western District, as well as both U.S. attorney positions.

In late June, “an eight-pound adult Silver carp was caught only nine miles from Lake Michigan,” by a commercial fishing vessel whose activities to combat Asian carp are funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.” Stabenow said. “GLRI funding is also providing resources for emergency monitoring and response actions that will be taken over the next two weeks by the Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and the State of Illinois to detect and stop any additional Silver carp in these waters near Lake Michigan.”

Maybe Kid Rock hears about relatively obscure issues such as these and feels excitement and interest in tackling them. Maybe this stirs an appetite to learn more about these issues and problems and to figure out the best way to solve them. If it doesn’t . . . he probably shouldn’t run for Senate.

Kid Rock may very well be a great guy with his heart in the right place, good instincts, and values shared by many Michiganders. His efforts to help the youth of Detroit and revitalize its arts community point to a genuine empathy and passion for helping others. But governing isn’t just about values; it’s about getting the details right.

(I recall one of the 2012 presidential debates, when President Obama was asked about Social Security, and he began, “the basic structure is sound. But — but I want to talk about the values behind Social Security and Medicare and then talk about Medicare.” Everybody loves to talk about values because there is no math involved. But that doesn’t change the reality of the math.)

Obviously, there are celebrities who do successfully make the jump to governing: Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Franken. It’s easy to forget Clint Eastwood served one term as mayor of Carmel, California. And then there are cases like Jesse Ventura, who seemed to get bored with the job, taking time to referee for the World Wrestling Federation and work as a color commentator for the short-lived XFL, before choosing to not run for reelection.

Donald Trump didn’t invent the idea of celebrities running for public office, but his success undoubtedly has plenty of Americans famous in other fields asking themselves, “Why not me?” The most important question after that initial inquiry is, “Do I really want to do the work involved in this job?”

Manchester, N.H.: The Next Big Test Case of VA Accountability

Sunday morning, the Boston Globe offered a horrific portrait of conditions at the Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New Hampshire:

One operating room has been abandoned since last October because exterminators couldn’t get rid of the flies. Doctors had to cancel surgeries in another OR last month after they discovered what appeared to be rust or blood on two sets of surgical instruments that were supposedly sterile.

Thousands of patients, including some with life-threatening conditions, struggle to get any care at all because the program for setting up appointments with outside specialists has broken down. One man still hadn’t gotten an appointment to see an oncologist this spring, more than four weeks after a diagnosis of lung cancer, according to a hospital document obtained by the Globe.

And when patients from the Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center are referred to outside specialists, those physicians are sometimes dismayed by their condition and medical history. A Boston neurosurgeon lamented that several Manchester patients sent to him had suffered needless spinal damage, including paralysis, because the hospital had not provided proper care for a treatable spine condition called cervical myelopathy.

By 4 p.m. Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin, M.D., announced actions the department is taking immediately to respond to whistleblower concerns at the Manchester medical center.

The VA Office of the Medical Inspector and the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection are being sent in beginning Monday to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the Manchester VAMC, including all allegations in the article.

In addition, effective immediately, the department has removed the director and chief of staff at the facility, pending the outcome of the review. Alfred Montoya, the director of the VAMC in White River Junction, Vermont, will serve as the new director of the Manchester VAMC and the new chief of staff will be announced shortly.

Dr. Shulkin said, “These are serious allegations, and we want our Veterans and our staff to have confidence in the care we’re providing. I have been clear about the importance of transparency, accountability and rapidly fixing any and all problems brought to our attention, and we will do so immediately with these allegations.”

The bad news is that once again it took a media report for these problems to come to the attention, and spur serious action, from top officials at the VA in Washington. The good news is that it didn’t take long for Shulkin to move. We’ll see if this change in director and chief of staff becomes permanent.

ADDENDA: Thanks to everyone who listened to the return of the pop-culture podcast. Naturally, as soon as I make a public assessment of Twin Peaks, the subsequent episode of the show makes my view outdated . . . 

Politics & Policy

The Real Tolerance We Need Right Now

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I’m sure at some point in the future I’ll disagree with Josh Barro, senior editor at Business Insider, but the other day he offered some very good advice to the Left that, sadly, their adherents are unlikely to follow.

In a series of tweets, Barro observed, “Tell people to eat less meat because of the planet and they’ll find you annoying. Tell them to have fewer kids, they’ll find you very annoying.”

This was likely inspired by Jill Filipovic’s tweet declaring, “Having children is one of the worst things you can do for the planet. Have one less and conserve resources.”

Barro continues, “It’s not good to spend a lot of time telling people what they think of as their non-political behaviors are Actually Problematic And Bad.”

I don’t know whether this is a more dominant thread of thought in the modern progressive’s mind than it was a decade or two ago, or whether we just see more of this theme in progressive media outlets. One reason this type of “your seemingly mundane, apolitical choice is terrible and must be denounced” article is increasingly common is because it is cheap and easy.

You don’t need much specialized knowledge, a lot of research, travel or anything like that to write a piece such as that. Just take something that a lot of people do — particularly people who aren’t like you — and denounce it in logically-shaky-at-best, furious, hyperbolic terms. Let’s say, “Your Decision to Eat Bacon Is Worse Than Apartheid.” This will undoubtedly turn heads, and some people will click on the headline just out of curiosity, wondering why something they always thought was good is actually so bad for the world. Bacon fans will denounce the essay, and in the process, drive more traffic. People will write blog posts and make counterarguments, prompting even more readers and web-surfers to check out what launched the latest brouhaha. In the Web-traffic numbers, an incredulous or angry click looks the same as an approving click.

Barro continues, “Especially when this amounts to telling people that what’s wrong with them is they’re not more like you.”

Bingo. “I’m a childless adult, telling all of you people out there to stop having children.” “I’m a vegan, telling you that you must stop eating meat.” I’m an urbanite who doesn’t own a car, telling you that your automobile is destroying the planet and gas taxes should be higher to support the costs of mass transit.”

The not-so-subtle subtext is, “Why aren’t you more like me?” And the simple answer from most people is . . . “Because I don’t want to be more like you.” It’s rare that those lifestyle choices have never been considered by the target audience; they just don’t find them appealing or workable for their lives. In some cases, there’s a remarkable obliviousness about the reality of life for their target audiences — i.e., “Why aren’t you buying organic?”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that progressives are exhibiting all of the traits that they accused Christian conservatives of embodying: smug judgmental attitudes, harsh denunciation of those who make different choices, lack of respect for others who see things differently and a refusal to recognize individual autonomy, an eagerness to enforce a stifling code of behavior, and a conditional-at-best view towards liberty.

As Jonah observes this morning, “Filipovic is precisely one of those writers you’d expect to go ballistic if some conservative Christian opined about the reproductive choices women should make. But if it’s in the name of the environment? Let’s wag those fingers, everybody!”

I used to think that the most important value for living in a constitutional republic such as ours was a bit of faith in people to eventually make the right choices for themselves. But I’m starting to wonder if an even more important value is an acceptance of people making what we perceive to be the wrong choices for themselves.

Sorry, I Have to Vent Some Criticism of Trump

The perception of Trump, in the minds of his most ardent fans:

The reality:

President Trump said on Wednesday that he had confronted President Vladimir V. Putin twice about whether Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election, and changed the subject after Mr. Putin flatly denied it because, “What do you do? End up in a fistfight?”

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One as he flew to Paris to take part in Bastille Day celebrations, Mr. Trump offered his first extended account of a dramatic closed-door meeting he held with Mr. Putin last week in Hamburg, Germany [emphasis added].

He’s fearless! He fights! He’s not afraid to get in somebody’s face! He never backs down!

Eh, better not press on that issue, it might escalate tensions.

Separately, you can’t help a man who won’t help himself:

The challenge for President Trump’s attorneys has become, at its core, managing the unmanageable — their client.

He won’t follow instructions. After one meeting in which they urged Trump to steer clear of a certain topic, he sent a tweet about that very theme before they arrived back at their office.

If you refuse to follow the advice of very smart, very skilled, very experienced people who you specifically hired to keep you out of trouble . . . then you deserve to get in trouble.

“Why are you always bashing Trump!?” his fans will cry, ignoring yesterday’s article on the good signs of reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs, writing about progress in the war against ISIS, the boom in U.S. oil exports, the resulting jobs boom in certain areas of the industry, the sharp decline in illegal immigration, the reduction in White House staff, praise for the president from the Israeli ambassador, and the fact that Trump accurately characterized James Comey’s statement that he was not under investigation three times.

In other words, how many times do I have to write something positive about the president or his administration for my criticism to Not be dismissed as more than knee-jerk “bashing”?

A Little More Faith in the Return of Twin Peaks

As I discuss in this week’s pop-culture podcast, the last three episodes of Twin Peaks on Showtime have reassured me. This is an 18-episode run, and it’s possible the first six episodes should be seen as “Act One,” the next six as “Act Two,” and the final six as Act Three. The pace of those first six was glacial, the tone almost relentlessly dark and bleak, and the variety of characters and scenes far too varied to get much of a sense of a coherent plotline. But the plot threads are gradually starting to intertwine, and the pace is accelerating.

David Lynch and Mark Frost still know how to throw curveballs; a trio of seemingly-yokel Las Vegas police detectives, all brothers, prove surprisingly competent. The Sheriff’s Department in Twin Peaks is suddenly tracking down clues and putting the pieces together. And even the slowest-moving scenes are starting to provide an unexpected payoff.

Perhaps the best example of this in the last episode, in what initially seemed like a meaningless fluff scene featuring the lovable but ditsy couple of Deputy Andy Brennan and sheriff’s station receptionist Lucy. The pair have a slow, repeating argument about whether they should order a red chair or a beige chair for their house. After a few rounds, Andy relents. Lucy nods triumphantly, goes to the website, and, when Andy isn’t looking, orders the chair in the color Andy had wanted and smiles. The scene suddenly becomes a wonderful moment of characterization: Lucy wants to give Andy what he wants, but she also wants to be reassured that she’s in charge.

One of the weirdest aspects of the already famous or infamous Episode Eight is that despite the acid-trip visuals and overall otherworldly tone, it’s not that hard to figure out what’s happening. The detonation of the first atomic bomb in New Mexico in 1945 appears to have widened the door for the spirits to enter this realm. Mankind loses some more of its innocence as it splits the atom; something malevolent, vomited forth by the alien-feminine creature that may represent nature (and looks a lot like the Thing in the Glass Box), emerges and becomes BOB.

The Giant and the woman — called Senorita Dido in the credits — appear to be residing in the White Lodge (which looks an awful lot like where Cooper landed in Episode Three). The giant bell in their room is a sort of alarm; he goes to his home theater and sees what we just saw — the atomic detonation and the emergence of BOB. His response is to give a part of himself (the golden energy) that forms a sphere and either forms or includes what we can surmise is the soul of Laura Palmer. (This is turning into an Extremely Christian allegory, and I wonder how much Lynch and Frost intended this.) Using his giant golden tuba-like tube, they send the soul to Earth . . . 

Eleven years later, elsewhere in the desert, a creature that looks like a combination of a frog and bug hatches. Some think the frog-bug-thing is BOB, I wonder if it’s Laura’s soul. The “Gotta Light?” Woodsmen — probably the same as the ones who help BOB/Cooper earlier in the episode — are awakened at the same time as the frog-bug-thing, and terrorize some people. I have no idea what the “this is the water” mantra is supposed to be, other than a less impressive version of the “through the darkness of future past the magician longs to see” poem from the original series.

Yes, the frog-bug-thing crawls into the girl’s mouth in one of the creepiest scenes ever, and yet, I don’t quite buy the idea that the frog-bug-thing is malevolent. (The Woodsman, for example, clearly are wicked, from the moment we first see them.) One theory that seems to make sense is that the young girl is young Sarah Palmer. At some point, she will meet Leland, and her child will be imbued with the golden-soul-stuff from the Giant.

If this is how things shake out, it’s a huge deal: It means Laura was far from the average troubled American teenager of 1989 and was in fact meant to “save the world” in some way. (Some fans are already grumbling about this.) On the other hand, those close to Lynch said he wanted to make Laura more than a victim character, and the end of Fire Walk with Me, grim as it was, demonstrated that she died because she chose the path of self-sacrifice rather than give up her soul. If Laura had some sort of . . . grand fate or spiritual uniqueness, it makes her death both more tragic and her choice even more consequential; if BOB had claimed Laura’s soul, the consequences could have/would have been even greater.

One of the things that made the supernatural elements of the original series unique and intriguing was the idea that this demonic evil didn’t want to blow up the world; they just wanted it to continue along and feed off of “normal” problems hiding in the shadows of society: drug abuse, exploitation, domestic abuse, etc. The Leo Johnsons, Renaults, and even the Benjamin Hornes of the world created plenty of pain and suffering without any demonic possession . . . 

ADDENDA: Coming soon to this space, an edition of the not-canceled, just-busy pop-culture podcast, featuring Mickey’s disappointment with the Millennial heist film Baby Driver, why I’m off the ledge when it comes to Twin Peaks, why Kim Kardashian apparently isn’t a cokehead after all, child-rearing challenges from George Clooney to Japan, and a quick assessment of HBO’s The Defiant Ones.

Politics & Policy

Tomorrow’s News Today

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Am I the only one who’s finds the daily whirlwind of controversy, accusations, counter-accusations, allegations, breathless reporting from anonymous sources, non-answers, implausible excuses, implausible spin, angry protests, and shameless behavior that makes up the Trump presidency increasingly . . . boring? Increasingly predictable?

This morning, Mike Allen of Axios opens his newsletter by reemphasizing that everything we’ve seen from the president and his family in the past few weeks is “not normal.” No kidding. Normalcy departed around the time Scott Walker left the presidential race. Normalcy isn’t coming back until the Trump presidency ends, and only God knows whether that will occur seven years from now or sometime sooner.

But we’ve lived with the abnormalcy for so long now, it may not seem all that new or surprising anymore. Heck, it’s almost predictable.

At some point, either today or in the coming days, President Trump will tweet something that will shock and appall his critics, delight his fan base, and get re-tweeted tens of thousands of times. Trump will probably tweet out something is “sad!” or “Fake News” or “the lying media” or a particular media figure. Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski and their roundtable will shake their heads in consternation and stern disapproval. Scarborough will ask what happened to his party — er, his former party.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Sean Spicer will stand behind the lectern at the White House and repeat, over and over again, that she or he has not discussed that topic with the president yet. He or she will insist that the president’s tweet speaks for itself. White House correspondents will complain that they’re getting nothing useful or newsworthy out of these briefings. Then they will flip out at the suggestion that the briefings be ended or no longer be on camera.

Vice President Mike Pence will do something far from the president, offering anti-controversy at whatever event he’s attending. He will ignore a shouted question about the latest controversial statement from the president and focus on his remarks thanking our veterans, our men and women in uniform, our law enforcement, our teachers, our doctors, or whichever other group is hosting him that day.

House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) will declare that the latest revelation is “deeply troubling,” “extremely important,” “very significant,” and “profoundly disturbing,” and that he will want that person — whoever is in the news — to testify before the committee.

There will be a rumor that Senate Republicans will be close to a deal on health care. And then there will be rumors that they don’t have the votes. And then there will be talk that with just a few more tweaks, they could reach 51 votes, and that it should be done before the shortened August recess. Or right after.

At some point, liberals will gather in large numbers to protest the president, the administration, congressional Republicans, and the existence of the Right in general. They will give heated, angry speeches about how all of this must end. They will cheer and chant. And then they will go home, and someone else will pick up the litter they leave behind.

Some liberal pundit you’ve either never heard of or barely ever heard of before will write something that appears to endorse violence against Trump, his family, GOP congressional leaders, or conservatives in general. The liberal pundit will insist they never meant that, and that it was only a joke or only sarcasm. Conservatives will scream for that person’s firing; liberals will insist that a controversial political statement should not cost someone their job. Then a few weeks later, a conservative figure will do the same and most people will instantly reverse their positions.

Someone, somewhere, who has a long history of mental problems will steal a gun and attempt a mass shooting. Liberals will blame the NRA and gun owners. The NRA and gun owners will argue about the need for better mental-health programs. Subsequent reporting will detail many red flags and warnings ignored. Voices in the mainstream media will insist it’s time for a “real national conversation” about guns, as if that real national conversation hasn’t been going on for years now.

Someone on a sports channel will insist that the reason former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been signed by a new team is a reflection of political pressure, intolerance in the Trump era, censorship, or racial bigotry. Other people who actually watch football will point out that Kaepernick’s performance really slid last year and he appears to be on the downward slope of his career.

While all of this is going on, some other predictable things will be occurring outside the realm of politics, some good and some bad.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average will reach another new high. You’ll feel a little more relief when you get your quarterly statements for your 401(k). ISIS in the form of the aspiring nation-state will continue getting pulverized in Iraq and Syria. Almost entirely obscured by the national controversies, reforms will move forward at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and new Secretary David Shulkin will continue incremental improvement where it is needed. (Seriously, read my article on this, as reforming the VA may end up being one of the most significant accomplishments of the Trump administration’s first year.) Conservatives will continue to high-five every time they read a Supreme Court opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch.

There will be more rumors that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is going to retire. And then there will be rumors that no, he’s going to hang on for one more year.

Some bad predictable things will continue. ISIS in the form of the Islamist terrorist movement will continue to inspire angry, often mentally troubled young Muslim men, who have largely failed at life, to attempt acts of mass murder. A lot of struggling, poorer communities will continue to feel disconnected and shut off from any national prosperity. The jobs numbers will be “eh, okay,” but nothing special compared to past economic booms. American politics at the grass roots will continue to be marked by a widespread seething contempt for the other side.

Oh, and while I’m listing safe predictions, the Jets will stink this year.

Look at Who’s Enjoying the Fruits of Outsourcing to Foreign Labor!

It’s been nice knowing you, Senator Donnelly. Might as well pack up your office now.

An Indiana senator railed against Carrier Corp. for moving manufacturing jobs to Mexico last year, even as he profited from a family business that relies on Mexican labor to produce dye for ink pads, according to records reviewed by The Associated Press.

Joe Donnelly, considered one of the nation’s most vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election next year, has long blasted free-trade policies for killing American jobs. He accused Carrier, an air conditioner and furnace maker, of exploiting $3-an-hour workers when it announced plans to wind down operations in Indiana and move to Mexico.

However, an arts and crafts business Donnelly’s family has owned for generations is capitalizing on some of the very trade policies — and low-paid foreign labor — the senator has denounced.

For more than a year, Stewart Superior Corp. and its subsidiaries have been shipping thousands of pounds of raw materials to Mexico, where the company has a factory that produces ink pads and other supplies, according to customs records from Panjiva Inc., which tracks American imports and exports. The finished products are then transported back to a company facility in California, the records show.

Stewart Superior, which also has an operation in LaPorte, Indiana, says on its website that the company’s Mexican factory “brings economical, cost competitive manufacturing and product development to our valued customers.”

Although Donnelly’s brother runs the company, the senator previously served as a corporate officer and its general counsel before he was first elected to Congress in 2006. In a financial disclosure form he filed in May, Donnelly reported owning as much as $50,000 in company stock and earning between $15,001 and $50,000 in dividends on it in 2016 alone.

You can picture the attack ads already, right? “Senator Donnelly says he stands for working Hoosiers . . . but for years, he’s been profiting from outsourcing jobs to Mexico.”

Correcting the Record . . . 

Supporters of Representative Evan Jenkins contend I got one of the facts wrong in Monday’s Corner post when I wrote: “From 1994 to 2013, Jenkins served in the state legislator as a Democrat, he supported Hillary Clinton for president in 2008, and he and his campaign committee donated $2,000 to Manchin that year.”

The claim came from backers of Jenkins’s primary rival, state attorney general Patrick Morissey, who cited a July 27, 2007 article in the Huntington, W.Va., Herald Dispatch; the relevant sections are quoted below:

HUNTINGTON — Cabell County Democrats are heading to Charleston’s West Virginia State University today to hear presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., discuss her economic policy.

“Any time you have a presidential candidate from any party come to the state, it’s a time to rally the troops and energize those involved in the political process,” said state Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell. “It’s important not to miss an opportunity to hear a candidate speak about the issues that matter to the people in this state.”

“It’s a good idea when a candidate is on our turf, our home state, to listen to their thoughts about the issues important to the state,” Jenkins said.

With Clinton’s stop in Charleston today, Democrats have said that major presidential candidates are now taking notice of the state’s importance to the party.

“One by one we’re getting attention by the presidential candidates,” Jenkins said.

Clinton’s Economic Policy Town Hall will take place today in WVSU’s Wilson Student Union in room 135 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The argument from the Jenkins camp is that this inferring an endorsement or explicit support where none was intended: “He never says Hillary Clinton’s name; he does not refer to her campaign or support; and the event was not a campaign rally — it was a policy town hall tucked in a room in a university student-union building.” This strikes me as a fair objection and I regret the inaccuracy.

The argument from the Morissey camp is, “He attended a Hillary Clinton rally in 2008, which is not something you do as an elected official unless you support Hillary. If a Republican attended a Bush rally and didn’t voice opposition to Bush at said rally, it would be fair to assume he supported Bush.” (For what it’s worth, Jenkins attended an event with President George W. Bush focusing on Social Security in April 2004; he was a Democratic member of the state legislature at that time.)

At the very least, the claim that Jenkins “supported Hillary in 2008” is unproven without any explicit statement of support from Jenkins from that year. Jenkins says he voted for John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. On the other hand, he did make the decision to show up to the Hillary Clinton event, so it seems fair to characterize Jenkins as not a critic or foe of Clinton at that time.

At this time, the primary is scheduled for May 2018. Great, just ten more months of these campaigns arguing.

ADDENDA: A new edition of the pop culture podcast is coming . . . probably tomorrow.

Politics & Policy

Yes, There Is Such a Thing as ‘Too Dumb for Government Work’

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We don’t know that there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign. What we do know now is that if given the opportunity to collude with the Russian government — in the form of an offer of “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” that is “obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Donald Trump Jr. would say, “I love it especially later in the summer.”

This is really bad. This may or may not be a crime; because there was, as far as we know, no actual “damaging information” offered at the meeting. But this is nuclear-level bad judgment.

For starters, did Donald Trump Jr. really not recognize the danger here? Does he think the Russian government does much that Vladimir Putin and the FSB doesn’t know about? At any point, did it ever cross his mind that he might be stepping into a blackmail plot on the part of the FSB?

And why didn’t it disturb, bother, worry, or unnerve him to hear that the Russian government was “supporting” his father? Vladimir Putin is not any American’s “friend.” He doesn’t just want to help. He’s not a nice guy, and he never gives something away for free. Whatever kind motivations he may appear to have at a given moment, his nature, ambitions, worldview, and modus operandi does not change. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes: “I fear the Greeks, even when they bring gifts.” *

“Trust me, comrade, I am from the Russian government and I am here to help.”

When the Russian government offers you secret help in American domestic politics, you nod, smile, and attempt to leave the room as quickly as possible.

I keep seeing Trump defenders bringing up Ted Kennedy’s efforts to reach out to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, citing mutual opposition to various anti-Soviet efforts in the American government, including the Reagan administration. I thought we hated that. I thought we on the right thought that was a textbook example of letting partisan passions overrun good judgment and loyalty to one’s country. On what planet is citing Ted Kennedy exculpatory?

The editors: “No campaign professional would have accepted such a dodgy meeting the way Trump Jr. did, and no person with a strong sense of propriety — Russia is a hostile power run by a deeply corrupt regime — would have wanted to.”

The New York Post editorial board is not subtle in its assessment:

* There’s a long tradition of Latin phrases in National Review; I’m probably the lone contributor who thinks of them in the context of Michael Bay movies.

The Sandwich Order That Launched a Thousand Hot Takes

There is nothing wrong with taking some swings at David Brooks for tone-deaf statements about elitism and leadership and the disconnect between Americans; I’ve done that myself. And yes, out of all the possible examples and anecdotes that Brooks could cite about Americans being separated by social class and life experience, this is a particularly awkward and unconvincing one:

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

Maybe she didn’t understand the menu, or maybe she just didn’t like the options, David.

But the rest of the column makes points about exclusion and lack of opportunity that almost everyone else on the right would applaud. Allahpundit is right, this is the most populist column he’s ever written.

The most important is residential zoning restrictions. Well-educated people tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.

Educated parents live in neighborhoods with the best teachers, they top off their local public school budgets and they benefit from legacy admissions rules, from admissions criteria that reward kids who grow up with lots of enriching travel and from unpaid internships that lead to jobs.

It’s no wonder that 70 percent of the students in the nation’s 200 most competitive schools come from the top quarter of the income distribution. With their admissions criteria, America’s elite colleges sit atop gigantic mountains of privilege, and then with their scholarship policies they salve their consciences by offering teeny step ladders for everybody else.

I could ask this about the editorial side of the New York Times, but let’s broaden it to any institution of the elite: the most highly regarded law firms, the top levels of government, the publishing houses, television networks, the nebulous not-quite-government institutions such as lobbying firms and think tanks, well-known nonprofits, the super-lucrative Wall Street firms . . . How many of the individuals atop those institutions went to an Ivy League school, and how many went to a state school?

Quite a few Ivy Leaguers would say, “Of course we ended up with the best jobs in the best places; we’re the best!” Eh, maybe in some cases. And then in plenty of high-profile cases, we’ve seen the best and brightest, selected early in life for the fast-track to cultural leadership because of stratospheric SAT scores and gleaming college applications, fall flat on their faces. Malcolm Gladwell ran the numbers, looking at the rate of publication in academic journals, and concluded, “the very best students from the very best schools are extraordinary. After that, though? You wouldn’t be able to pick the rest of the Harvard (or MIT or Yale) grads out of a crowd.” Sometimes the very worst end up attending the Ivy Leagues, too: Ted Kaczynski went to Harvard. Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling went to Harvard Business School. Stephen Glass went to the University of Pennsylvania.

I wrote a while back that “America has a quasi-aristocracy that is completely convinced that it rose to the top of a meritocracy; perhaps no more clearly illustrated than in Chelsea Clinton’s belief that her workplaces were ‘incredibly, fiercely meritocratic.’”

Is Any Other Mayor So Loathed by His Own City’s Police Force?

How is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio not in greater danger of losing his reelection bid?

Several hundred cops turned away in protest Tuesday morning as the mayor delivered his eulogy at the Bronx funeral of slain Officer Miosotis Familia.

The blue rage was spurred by the mayor’s excursion to Germany to join protesters at the G20 summit one day after last Wednesday’s execution of 12-year NYPD vet Familia.

Photos showed hundreds of police officers standing on the Grand Concourse with their backs to the World Changers Church as the mayor’s speech was heard via the public address system.

“The mayor is the compass for the City of New York,” Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said before the funeral. “And unfortunately, when a police officer got killed, his compass led him to Germany rather than here on the Grand Concourse.

Early in the mayor’s tenure, hundreds of officers turned their backs on de Blasio at the funerals for NYPD partners Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were slain in December 2014. Union officials complained at the time the mayor was not supportive of the Finest.

In mid May, de Blasio’s approval rating was at 60 percent.

ADDENDA: Hey remember Greentech, that electric-car company that was so eagerly and happily touted by GOP Mississippi governor Haley Barbour and current Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe?

Mississippi’s state auditor on Wednesday demanded that a troubled electric car maker or its leader repay $4.9 million in state and local aid the company received, plus $1.5 million of interest.

Auditor Stacey Pickering issued the demand to GreenTech Automotive and its CEO, Charles Wang, saying the company has failed to live up to pledges to invest $60 million and create 350 jobs in Tunica County, just south of Memphis, Tennessee.

GreenTech once planned to build 250,000 cars a year and invest $2 billion, but first sharply downsized its goals, and then failed to meet them, authorities said. In a July 2011 agreement, GreenTech promised to invest $60 million and hire 350 full-time workers by the end of 2014, paying each at least $35,000 and maintaining those jobs for at least 10 years.

“I would venture that there isn’t really much of an operation in Tunica at all,” Pickering told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “This appears to have been a game of smoke and mirrors, and a corporate entity that never had any intention to deliver on the promises it made.” . . . 

The company, which sought to raise money from Chinese people who can obtain U.S. residency by investing $500,000 and creating 10 jobs, came under scrutiny after the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security found an official violated ethics policies when he intervened in visa proceedings for GreenTech.

GreenTech also has faced an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The status of that probe is unclear.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act Request show Homeland Security in 2016 denied other visa requests, saying the company had overstated its job creation.

Remember when a Virginia state official looked at the company’s proposals and asked if the whole thing was a “visa-for-sale scheme”? Good times, good times.

McAuliffe resigned as the firm’s chairman in December 2012 shortly before launching his gubernatorial campaign, and said he divested his interest.

Politics & Policy

There’s a Rumor That ISIS Leader al-Baghdadi Is Dead . . . Again

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Here’s hoping.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters on Tuesday that it had “confirmed information” that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed.

“(We have) confirmed information from leaders, including one of the first rank, in the Islamic State in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zor,” the director of the British-based war monitoring group Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters.

Baghdadi’s death had been announced many times before but the Observatory has a track record of credible reporting on Syria’s civil war.

Abdulrahman said Observatory sources in Syria’s eastern town of Deir al-Zor had been told by Islamic State sources that Baghdadi had died “but they did not specify when”.

Yes, a lot of times, these rumors about an enemy leader’s death turn out to be wishful thinking or mistaken identity, but, every once in a while, they pan out. The Taliban covered up the death of Mullah Omar for two years.

We’ve learned better than to get our hopes up from rumors like this, but . . . assume for a moment it’s true: ISIS loses Mosul, is getting squeezed in Raqqa, and then al-Baghdadi bites the dust?

And while it’s not like these latest victories against ISIS have accumulated overnight . . .  doesn’t it seem like the momentum in the fight against these terrorists in 2017 is considerably stronger than in previous years?

Just What Did Donald Trump Jr. Know Going into That Meeting?

On yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, Greg and I wondered just how loose the requirements were to get a face-to-face meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner last year. Could just anybody get in the door and get a sit-down meeting at the height of the campaign just by promising they knew damaging information about the Clintons? I mean, didn’t we all know some (already-disclosed) damaging information about the Clintons?

This morning, the New York Times reveals that mutual friend who arranged the meeting, and quotes unnamed sources claiming the origin of the alleged damaging information wasn’t so vague after all:

Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

The email to the younger Mr. Trump was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting.

At any point did anyone ask, “Hey, why would a publicist and former British tabloid reporter have access to Russian government information?” Most of the media world is jumping up and down, excited that this is the long-desired evidence of collusion that they’ve sought. I find the bigger, more troubling question to be the performance of Donald Trump Jr.’s BS detector.

The Guardian offers a bit of background on Mr. Goldstone:

The music publicist has for several years shuttled between the US and Russia while representing Agalarov. According to his Instagram account, Goldstone has made at least 19 visits to Russia since the spring of 2013. In one post he described Moscow as his second home.

He has also made at least eight trips to Baku, the capital of the former Soviet state Azerbaijan, where his client Agalarov was born and retains a large fan base. Donald Trump appeared in a music video with Agalarov in 2013 that featured several Miss Universe contestants, a pageant he owned at that time. In November that year, Trump tweeted to Agalarov: “I had a great weekend with you and your family. You have done a FANTASTIC job. TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next. EMIN was WOW!”

Over at PJ Media, Liz Sheld points out that the Times article appears to contradict itself. First . . . 

Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

But then a few paragraphs later . . . 

It is unclear whether Mr. Goldstone had direct knowledge of the origin of the damaging material. One person who was briefed on the emails said it appeared that he was passing along information that had been passed through several others.

Wait, if he may not have known the “direct origin” of the material, how did he know it was “part of a Russian government effort”?

Oddly, the Times appears to have interviewed Goldstone, but can’t clear up that question of if or how he knew the information was from the Russian government.

Mr. Goldstone said Ms. Veselnitskaya offered “just a vague, generic statement about the campaign’s funding and how people, including Russian people, living all over the world donate when they shouldn’t donate” before turning to her anti-Magnitsky Act arguments.

“It was the most inane nonsense I’ve ever heard,” he said. “And I was actually feeling agitated by it. Had I, you know, actually taken up what is a huge amount of their busy time with this nonsense?”

This morning, Natalia Veselnitskaya offered her side of the story to NBC News.

“I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton. It was never my intention to have that,” Natalia Veselnitskaya said.

When asked how Trump Jr. seemed to have the impression that she had information about the Democratic National Committee, she responded:

“It is quite possible that maybe they were longing for such an information. They wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted.”

She also appears to want to get Kushner and Manafort off the hook:

“I could recognize the young gentleman who was only present in the meeting for probably the first seven to 10 minutes, and then he stood up and left the room,” she said. “It was Mr. Jared Kushner. And he never came back, by the way.

“And the other individual who was always in the same meeting, but all the time he was looking at his phone. He was reading something. He never took any active part in the conversation. That was Mr. Manafort.”

I wonder if Manafort was texting someone, “Remind me never to accept an invitation to a meeting from Donald Jr. again.”

Will West Virginia Republicans Unite after Their 2018 Senate Primary?

The good news for Republicans is that they’ll probably have a good shot at knocking off West Virginia Democatic Senator Joe Manchin next year. The bad news is that state attorney general Patrick Morrisey and Congressman Evan Jenkins both want to be the Republican Senate nominee very badly, and they’re likely to fight hammer and tongs in the primary — and that’s not even mentioning former coal miner Bo Copley.

Yesterday I broke the news that Morrisey was making his Senate bid official; he had been strongly rumored to be likely to run in recent months. In fact, the 35th PAC is already hitting Jenkins as being one of “two peas in a pod with Manchin.”

Right now, the primary is scheduled for May 8, 2018, although legislation could possibly move it to February. But at minimum, we’re looking at seven and a half months of primary fighting between the GOP candidates . . . or maybe it will be ten and a half months of primary fighting. Better hope everyone’s in a mood to unite when all is said and done.

You can read my February profile of Morrisey here . . . and I notice my words have become one of those floating-headline blurbs in his first campaign video.

ADDENDA: Representative Trent Franks, asking the most disturbing question in the controversy surrounding the lack of treatment for British infant Charlie Gard:

I am Charlie Gard. You are Charlie Gard. Theresa May is Charlie Gard. Every person on the European Court of Human Rights — each one who has sentenced him to death — is Charlie Gard.

If this ruling stands, how long before each of us is just one bad accident, one disease, one diagnosis away from being too old, too fragile, too disabled, too “unfit,” to be worth keeping alive?

Politics & Policy

Why a Joint ‘Cyber Security Unit’ or Treaty Probably Won’t Work

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President Trump on Twitter yesterday morning: “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..”

President Trump on Twitter yesterday evening: “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t-but a ceasefire can,& did!”

The good news is that someone — H. R. McMaster, perhaps? — managed to get in front of the president and was able to explain why creating a joint “cyber security unit” with the Russian government is unlikely to work. As Marco Rubio said, “Partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit’.” (I suppose in both cases that those men know a lot about the subject.)

Elsewhere, Bloomberg View columnist Leonid Bershidsky wonders if the concept of an international cyber-security agreement could be broadened to become a major international treaty:

Attacks on civilian services, and especially on nuclear plants, are a different matter. They are unambiguous acts of war. It is known that the U.S. is capable of them, and it would stand to reason that Russia wouldn’t let itself be outdone. Nor would China and, given that cyberweapons are relatively cheap to develop, smaller players such as Israel or North Korea. And yet there are no rules of engagement for countries that have the capability to shut off each other’s power grids or, say, traffic light systems. There’s no cyberwar equivalent of the Geneva and Hague conventions, which set rules for the treatment of civilians and ban certain kinds of cruel weapons.

In February, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2341 calling on states to arm themselves against terrorist attacks on critical infrastructure. But what about such attacks initiated by other governments, not terror groups? It’s time there were some internationally recognized principles that applied to them, defining, for example, what constitutes an attack, what response is permissible, and what can and cannot be done to civilian networks. It would be helpful to establish some international attribution mechanism; a nation’s intelligence services cannot be trusted to make an assessment that would be used to justify international sanctions.

That’s a really wonderful idea that will probably never quite work. For starters, just about every foe that the United States has fought since the Geneva Conventions were enacted has violated them, more or less without the slightest regard for them or hesitation: al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Serbian paramilitary groups, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, the North Korean and Chinese armies, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany . . . in other words, a rule banning a particular weapon or act doesn’t really prevent that weapon from being used or that action from occurring by itself. Past experience tells us that many countries would sign the treaty banning certain forms of cyber-warfare and then promptly ignore it.

(Every U.S. administration ignores international treaties that it finds inconvenient. In 2011, the Obama administration approved secret arms shipments to Libyan rebels and ordered NATO air and sea forces around Libya not to interdict the cargo planes and freighters transporting weapons into Libya from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, violating United Nations resolution 1970 banning arms transfers into Libya’s civil war.)

Back at the beginning of the Obama administration, after having the chance to meet some of the country’s top cyber-security experts, I wrote, “cyber-warfare is, generally speaking, more controllable than a biological weapon, doesn’t run afoul of as many established treaties as a chemical weapon, is nowhere near as expensive and visible as a nuclear weapon, and is much harder to attribute than conventional terrorism. It is another asymmetrical tool that allows weaker countries and groups to play on the same field as the big boys.”

It’s the deniability and ability to “mask” the origin of cyber-attacks that make them particularly tempting for malefactors, rogue states, and hostile superpowers alike. It’s a chance to sucker-punch your foe anonymously. Way back when, one of those cyber-security experts compared cyber-warfare by asking “how do you win a boxing match when you’re blindfolded?” The answer was “you put the boxer in a suit of armor.” The only real way to win the fight is to harden your defenses until they’re impenetrable and no one wants to step into the ring with you.

Bershidsky concludes, “Rules of engagement are still useful: Most belligerent parties aim to act honorably and avoid being branded as war criminals. Official cyberwar rules wouldn’t stop attacks, but they would define unacceptable behavior for all concerned.”

I don’t know how much I want to bet my country’s safety on other countries’ desire to “act honorably.” Fear of retaliation always struck me as a more effective deterrent. It appears now, far too late, some Democrats are expressing this philosophy more vocally:

Obama’s former national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, says as much in a new interview for The Global Politico, telling me there’s “no doubt about it” that Obama should have publicly pinned the blame on the Russians much sooner and taken more aggressive steps to retaliate.

Now he tells us.

Did Donald Trump Jr. Have a Lot of Time on His Hands, or What?

Boy, it didn’t take much to get a personal meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul J. Manafort, and Jared Kushner back in June, did it?

But on Sunday, presented with The Times’s findings, [Donald Trump Jr.] offered a new account. In a statement, he said he had met with the Russian lawyer at the request of an acquaintance from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which his father took to Moscow. “After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said, “the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”

He said she then turned the conversation to adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The 2012 law so enraged President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that he halted American adoptions of Russian children.

“It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting,” Mr. Trump said.

You’re telling me you can get three of the most important people in the Trump campaign, five weeks before the convention, into a face-to-face meeting just by making vague promises of damaging information about Hillary Clinton? And they were willing to take the meeting, without having any idea of what this information was, or knowing much about this woman?

Wouldn’t you figure these guys would be . . . you know, busier? Or that they or their staff would do a little more due diligence?

How many meetings did they take with people who were promising magic beans?

ISIS Is Losing Territory in both Iraq and Syria. Why Aren’t We Celebrating?

In a world where it seems like a lot is going wrong, we should recognize the victories. Back in 2015, the Iraqi Army was stumbling and bumbling, running away, and abandoning its weapons in the face of ISIS. This weekend, it just kicked ISIS out of the country’s second-largest city:

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Mosul Sunday to announce victory over ISIS forces in the city.

“Al-Abadi said the battle is settled and the remaining pockets of ISIS are encircled in the last inches of the city,” his media office said in a statement.

“It is a matter of time before we declare to our people the great victory.”

The Prime Minister said the Iraqi military is fighting to free civilians whom ISIS is “using as human shields in approximately 50 to 100 houses.”

Video showed al-Abadi walking through streets in Mosul as crowds cheered him.

Mosul is Iraq’s biggest metropolis outside of Baghdad, and gaining control of the city was one of ISIS’ most significant strategic wins.

The battle for Mosul began in October.

Meanwhile, over in Syria:

US backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) pushing into Raqqa on two fronts are now less than three miles apart from each other . . . 

it could still be weeks if not months before they are able to fully liberate ISIS’s once self-declared capital, according to a US defense official directly familiar with the status of the fight.

Nonetheless, the US-led coalition has begun planning for an internal security force of local recruits that could “hold” Raqqa once military operations are over.

The retaking of Raqqa and Mosul won’t be the end of the Islamic State . . . but part of their “glamour” or appeal for lack of better terms was their ability to hold territory; this is what separated them from al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. Pretty soon . . . they could look like just another group of jihadis, just with better branding.

ADDENDA: Michael Rodgers disagrees with me and contends conservatives should cheer for Calexit because of the obvious disaster that an independent California would become. Er, yay?

Politics & Policy

Trump’s Latest Tweets at the G20 and the Rising Tide of Political Violence

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Welcome to sunny Hamburg for the G20 Summit!

Is it just me, or did the ambush of the NYPD police officer — an African-American mother of twins! — get relatively little national coverage? I ask this because the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, is over in Hamburg for the G20 protests.

Dissecting Trump’s Latest Tweets, Way Too Early

Mumblemumblemumble. You’ll have to pardon me, I was up at 3:45 a.m. for a 4:15 a.m. pickup for the first of two appearances on Fox News Channel this morning, the first at 5:20 a.m. and the second an hour later.

In the first, my liberal counterpart on the panel lamented that Trump’s speech in Poland was too “pro-Western.” Readers, you know I’m far from a reflexive defender of Trump. I would greatly prefer if the president, when asked about allegations of Russian attempts to meddle in the election, expressed confidence that the intelligence community gives him the best information it can and that he has faith in them and their assessments. But as far as Trump speeches go, yesterday’s was one of the best of them and it included the explicit pledge to honor Article Five of the NATO charter that everyone wanted to hear on the president’s first trip to Europe.

In my second appearance, I discussed Trump’s tweet: “Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA. Disgraceful!” Maybe in yesterday’s meeting, Angela Merkel was looking for a waiter and said out loud, “Where the heck is that server?!”

You can catch a short excerpt here, where I noted the current class of leaders of the Democratic party resemble the cast of a sequel to the film Cocoon.

Update Your Scorecards on Recent Threats of Political Violence

In Arizona:

Two men have been arrested for trespassing and one is facing another charge after making a threat during a protest at Arizona Senator Jeff Flake’s office in Tucson, authorities said.

Deputy Cody Gress, spokesman for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, said Mark Prichard and Patrick Diehl were arrested on charges of third-degree criminal trespass Thursday morning, July 6.

Gress said the 59-year-old Prichard is also facing a misdemeanor charge of threats and intimidation.

“Staffers working at the office indicated one of the protesters had made comments referencing the shooting of Rep. Scalise, which prompted them to call the Sheriff’s Department as well as lock the office doors,” the PCSD said in a news release.

Prichard was told he wasn’t allowed back on the property and was arrested after he “made a point to step back onto the property,” according to Gress.

Jason Samuels, Communications Director for Sen. Flake, said Prichard threatened a staff member and said the following:

“You know how liberals are going to solve the Republican problem? They are going to get better aim. That last guy tried, but he needed better aim. We will get better aim.

Gress said the 70-year-old Diehl tried to force his way into the office and was immediately arrested.

Say, is this the same Mark Pritchard who wrote to the Tucson newspaper on June 29, “Considering the broken health-care system in the U.S. and the current Republican plan to make it worse. The stage is now set for a people’s plan. Seems that Bernie Sanders, among others, has it right”? In other words, is this another Bernie Sanders supporter making threats against Republican lawmakers?

Then in Springfield, Illinois:

The Illinois Capitol reopened Thursday after being on lockdown for about two hours after a woman allegedly threw a powdery substance in the governor’s office.

A hazardous materials unit was called in, and Springfield fire officials said the substance was found to be not hazardous, although what it was remained unclear.

A few minutes before the House’s 1:30 p.m. scheduled start time, two security guards walked a woman with her arms handcuffed behind her through a hallway in back of the chamber.

As of Thursday afternoon, the woman was still being interviewed by investigators, and no charges had been filed, according to Dave Druker, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office. The woman was expected to eventually be transferred to Sangamon County Jail, though no details were expected to be released on her identity Thursday evening, Druker said.

Meanwhile, over in Chicago:

Activist Linda Sarsour, co-chair of the 2017 women’s march against Donald Trump, called for a “jihad” against the president at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention in Chicago over the weekend. Sarsour was a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Sarsour is a supporter of the BDS movement against Israel and opposes bans of sharia. She also is a somewhat frequent MSNBC guest and has appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show.

“I hope that we when we stand up to those who oppress our communities that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad. That we are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or in the other side of the world, but here in these United States of America where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House,” Sarsour said.

“Better aim”? Thrown powdery substances? Jihad? Doesn’t anybody want to, you know, argue anymore?

It’s really awful that the wife and parents of CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski are getting 50 harassing phone calls a day. If you’re one of those mouth-breathers — I know you aren’t, my readers are far too classy to ever do something like this — stop. Even the mafia makes distinctions between “soldiers” and “civilians.” Kaczynski’s family never did anything to you.

But once again we see that on-again, off-again sensibility that angry rhetoric “spurs” “inspires” or “incites” violence. Days after that former Sanders volunteer tried to murder as many Republican lawmakers as he could, the Vermont senator did an appearance on Facebook urging his supporters to “stand up and fight back in every way that you can” because under the GOP health-care bill, “there is no question but that thousands of Americans will die.”

Now, think about that. If you really believed the literal meaning of Sanders’s words, and that congressional Republicans were attempting to kill thousands of Americans . . . wouldn’t a violent or threatening response seem justified?

A Rattle in the Engine for Emmanuel Macron’s Administration in France

The bigger they are . . . 

 . . . the harder they fall:

The Paris prosecutor’s office opened a formal judicial inquiry Friday into suspected irregularities in the organization of a costly, high-profile event at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show that [President Emmanuel] Macron headlined when he was a French government minister.

The inquiry is for “favoritism,” but it doesn’t name a suspected perpetrator yet, leaving it to investigators to determine later who might be at fault.

The company tasked with organizing the “French Tech Night” event, advertising firm Havas, is believed to have won the contract without undergoing open tender procedures, among other suspected problems.

It’s unclear whether Macron himself was aware and the investigation doesn’t target him directly. It is problematic, however, for his labor minister, Muriel Penicaud.

Macron hasn’t fallen yet, of course. But it’s hard to maintain those visual comparisons to Jesus if you’re caught up in allegations of a scandalous no-bid contract.

ADDENDA: Michael Graham passes along a quote from CBS News’ Will Rahn that is both painfully accurate and painfully funny: “It’s hard to be an elitist once you’ve met the elites.”

Politics & Policy

Trump’s Energetic Presidential Welcome in Poland

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Yes, there are times when President Trump seems too easygoing, naïve, or oblivious about the nature of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government. But then again, you don’t choose to go to Poland and give a speech like this if you’re a stooge of Moscow:

President Donald Trump on Thursday visibly enjoyed the praise showered on him by large crowds of flag-waving Poles in sun-splashed Krasinski Square. And the President, outside the United States for his second foreign trip, reciprocated by giving Polish leaders what they wanted: Public validation of their leadership and concerns over Russia.

Trump, in his most forceful terms to date, reaffirmed the United States support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“To those who would criticize our tough stance, I would point out not merely with words but with its actions that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defense commitment,” Trump said. “Words are easy but actions are what matter and for its own protection, and you know this, everybody has to know this, Europe must do more.” . . . 

Looking beyond Polish history, Trump pledged energy cooperation with Poland in a not-so-subtle knock against Russia’s use of energy as a coercive power.

“We are committed to securing your access to alternative sources of energy so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy,” Trump said.

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Poland’s ambassador to the U.S., Piotr Wilczek wrote:

America’s renewed interest in our region is also visible in last month’s delivery of American liquefied natural gas to Poland. Central and Eastern Europe have long been dominated by an energy monopoly left over from the Cold War era. We no longer have to be victims of geopolitics. Thanks to the newly constructed LNG import terminals on the Baltic coast and a system of interconnected pipelines, LNG delivered by ship to Świnoujście, Poland, can be transported throughout our region and beyond. These terminals allow us to exert greater energy independence, and we look toward our American partners for continued LNG gas exports.

In fact, we may be looking at an era in which the United States is an increasing superpower in the world’s energy markets.

The Easily Overlooked Boom in U.S. Oil Exports

The Failing New York Times notices that the United States is becoming a bigger and bigger oil exporter.

Oil exports grew slowly through most of 2016, but this year there has been a surge reaching 1.3 million barrels a day — roughly 15 percent of domestic production — which even at today’s depressed prices is worth more than $1.5 billion a month. . . . 

The United States still imports far more oil than it exports, and probably will continue to do so for many years. But since many American refineries were designed for heavy crudes from Mexico, Venezuela and Canada, the light shale oil from Texas is an awkward mismatch. Meanwhile, that oil is coming out of the fields in a record gush, and despite persistently low oil prices, the Energy Department projects that domestic production next year will top 10 million barrels a day, an all-time high. . . . 

Much of Texas has been in an economic slump in recent years, having lost about 100,000 oil jobs since late 2014, when the price of oil fell from over $100 a barrel to less than $50. But because of the exports, the job losses have been stemmed and there is the promise of new jobs to come. Oil executives said that if weren’t for exports, so much oil would be stockpiled in already flush domestic inventories that the American benchmark price would be $10 to $20 below the current $45 a barrel, making most new drilling uneconomical.

Even with exports and the U.S. need to refine heavy crude, gas prices at the pump this Independence Day weekend were the lowest since 2005. That’s an economic stimulus that touches just about every American, whether they drive or simply purchase goods that are transported by land. And as the U.S. exports more, that creates more jobs:

Many more jobs may be on the way. Ray Perryman, a leading Texas economist and president of the Perryman Group, a consulting firm, estimated that expanded crude exports will add more than 30,000 jobs in Corpus Christi over the next couple of decades. For the nation, 484,000 jobs could be added, nearly 60 percent of which will be in Texas, even if oil prices remain moderate to low, he estimated.

What Brad Thor’s Use of Force Does So Well

As mentioned earlier, I’m a huge fan of Brad Thor’s thriller novels, so it almost goes without saying you should go out and buy or download his latest, Use of Force, at your earliest convenience. There are a lot of good thriller writers out there, but I don’t think anybody else has Thor’s consistency of quality — of pacing, scope, real-world details, dynamic characters, twists, action, and exploration of the world’s less-tread corners.

Use of Force is the 17th book in Thor’s Scot Harvath series. So beyond the basic question of whether the book is any good — which it is — perhaps we should explore the question of how Thor keeps his protagonist and world exciting and dynamic and fresh after so many stories?

For starters, Harvath is indeed aging, albeit slowly. His mentor is succumbing to old age, the appeal or even need for a family is tugging more urgently at his heart. There’s a sense that he can’t keep doing what he’s so good at, hunting down the world’s most dangerous men, for much longer . . . but the work is never really finished.

I’m not spoiling much to say that by page four, Use of Force has set up a dramatic scenario where you’re already wondering what’s going to happen. In one of those “I can’t believe no one has thought of this already” concepts, Scot Harvath is hunting down a potential suicide bomber at the Burning Man Festival, a loud, crowded, visually overwhelming, anarchic environment that makes looking for a needle in a haystack look easy-peasy by comparison.

In a thriller, there’s always a question of how much your villain should succeed, in order to demonstrate the severity of the threat. Hans Gruber and the terrorists in Die Hard make short work of the LAPD and are one step ahead of the FBI. Several times in 24, the terrorists’ bombs went off, despite the best efforts of Jack Bauer. In a real thriller, the creator has to dispel the audience’s instinctive assurance that everything will turn out okay, an assurance conditioned by previously watching dozens or hundreds of happy endings. There has to be a real sense of risk. In the recent Superman movie, Man of Steel, the audience instinctively knows General Zod isn’t going to succeed in his plot to destroy the earth; there would be no room for a sequel. But in The Dark Knight, it’s possible the Joker could manipulate the passengers on one of the ferries to blow up the other. Life would go on for most of Gotham, but the Joker would have “won” by proving his point about human nature and the selfish, even savage instincts of people who think of themselves as being “good.”

In Use of Force, an ISIS-affiliated terror mastermind with considerable military and police experience manages to score some wins as Harvath is still looking for clues. It’s pretty clear from early on, the stakes are high and there is no guarantee the good guys will win. The bad guy may not destroy the world, but he can commit another Beslan, another Bataclan, another Ghouta.

You can tell Thor has done his homework on the experiences of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa, hoping to start new lives — and in some cases, wreak new havoc — in Europe. Thor credits the journalism of Barbie Latza Nadeau for shining a light in this dark corner of a beautiful world.

A key portion of Use of Force takes place in northern Libya, with fleeting references to the Benghazi attacks. (The Thor books take place in a world a lot like ours, but the president is different — generic and mostly “off screen” – and there are occasional references to the dramatic events of previous Scot Harvath stories. The world seems to have recovered so thoroughly from that Ebola-like plague outbreak unleashed in Code of Conduct that no one feels the need to mention it.) I can’t help but get the feeling that Thor wanted to depict how things should work when another small group of Americans is under fire from all directions in Libya and they call the U.S. government for help. Only one person out of roughly 150 was ever brought to justice for the Benghazi attacks.

Finally, Thor takes a villain that most readers probably thought had retired — the mafia and Italy’s organized crime — and brings us into their modern world of nightclubs, gangs, prostitution, migrant-smuggling, gunrunning, illegal horse-racing, and other vicious vices. Thor paints a vibrant but disturbing portrait of their world, suggesting he’s been able to see into those little-noticed corners or Southern Italy . . . or at the very least, taken a lengthy stay in Italy as a tax-deductible research business expense.

ADDENDA: Speaking of thrillers . . . 

Ships chartered by two oil traders responsible for a significant share of Iran’s fuel exports last year failed to transmit their location and the origin of their cargo — red flags for governments seeking evidence of evasion of sanctions on Tehran.

The ships’ radio-signal tracking systems were often not in use and occasionally indicated the ships had sailed from countries other than Iran, a Wall Street Journal investigation found.

Politics & Policy

Maybe Those Anonymous Internet Trolls Aren’t as Anonymous as They Thought

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Before we dive into what’s left of a short work week, a quick thought: Yesterday, a couple hundred million Americans gathered at parades, ballparks, backyard barbecues, harbors, marathons, pools, and other locations to celebrate Independence Day.

Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and every other anti-American extremist would have loved to disrupt those events with an attack and mar the day. And they couldn’t. The Department of Homeland Security gets a lot of grief, sometimes deservedly so, in part because their public face is the men and women in blue who are touching your junk in search of a non-metaphorical concealed weapon. But yesterday — and almost every holiday — DHS, FBI, our armed forces, our intelligence agencies, and police officers across the country did an exceptional job at ensuring everyone had a safe and enjoyable day. Thanks, everybody.

Should the press respect the anonymity of online commenters?

You’re up to speed on Trump tweeting the video that superimposed the CNN logo atop the head of Vince McMahon, in an old appearance during a professional-wrestling bout in which Trump pretended to beat up McMahon, right?

The cable-news network decided to go looking for the person who created that video, and apparently that person is mortified at the thought of their actual identity being exposed:

The Reddit user who initially claimed credit for President Donald Trump’s tweet that showed Trump tackling CNN issued an apology Tuesday for the video and other offensive content he posted — one day after CNN identified the man behind the account and attempted to make contact with him.

Reddit user “HanA**holeSolo” first shared the GIF last Wednesday of Trump pummeling a wrestler with CNN’s logo imposed on his face. CNN could find no earlier instance of the GIF. The GIF was later edited into a video with sound and tweeted by the President on Sunday.

On Reddit, “HanA**holeSolo” took credit for inspiring the tweet. Soon after, “HanA**holeSolo’s” other posts on Reddit, some of which included racist and anti-Semitic imagery, quickly circulated on social media.

Now the user is apologizing, writing in a lengthy post on Reddit that he does not advocate violence against the press and expressing remorse there and in an interview with CNN for other posts he made that were racist and anti-Semitic.

The apology came after CNN’s KFile identified the man behind “HanA**holeSolo.” Using identifying information that “HanA**holeSolo” posted on Reddit, KFile was able to determine key biographical details, to find the man’s name using a Facebook search and ultimately corroborate details he had made available on Reddit.

On Monday, KFile attempted to contact the man by email and phone but he did not respond. On Tuesday, “HanA**holeSolo” posted his apology on the subreddit /The_Donald and deleted all of his other posts.

Welcome to what could turn into one of the biggest debates of the Trump era: Does an anonymous online troll have the right to remain an anonymous online troll?

This tweet from CNN anchor Christopher Cuomo — quickly deleted — feels more than a little menacing:

A little while back, after Trump wrote a tweet that suggested he may have taped his conversations in the White House with former FBI director James Comey, I argued that Trump’s implied threat was against his own interests. The whole point of “executive privilege” was that the president needed and deserved the most honest, unvarnished advice possible, and ensuring those sorts of honest exchanges meant they had to be kept secret. “Sometimes the right course of action is not the popular one; those who speak to the president may not want their actual perspective revealed to the public.”

Quite a few Trump fans — including those tweeting under pseudonyms! — insisted there was something inherently dishonest about having different public and private positions. I suspect many of those same people will denounce CNN today without recognizing any contradiction in their positions. (I also wonder how many people denouncing CNN today cheered on WikiLeaks after it posted the private e-mails of John Podesta.)

Should the press respect the anonymity of online commenters? I suspect Silence Dogood would argue yes. I’ll bet Richard Bachman could write a terrifying story about a television network dedicating itself to exposing the worst side of you. I wonder if Joe Klein will cheer for CNN in this circumstance.

This certainly looks like major news network utilizing its considerable resources to expose one of its online critics, a rather petty use of those resources. On the other hand, the sense of shame and regret exhibited by the Reddit commenter is pretty revealing. Deep down, a lot of obnoxious online trolls don’t want their comments and behavior associated with their real identity. They know it’s wrong, and it violates their own conception of who they are, and how they want other people to see them. If you’re doing something that would cause you that much personal and professional ruination if it were ever exposed . . . eh, maybe you shouldn’t do it? (“Maybe just put it in the background there,” as Dr. Oatman would say.)

When I talk to cyber-security professionals, they periodically insist that nothing on the Internet can be made permanently secret. Given enough time and resources, just about anything can be hacked and revealed — even the things you’re absolutely certain are deleted. That online venting had better be worth it, because there’s always that infinitesimal chance that somebody with the know-how and time might decide to figure out who’s behind that clever pseudonym you chose. Maybe the potential exposure of this one Reddit commenter will be a useful cautionary tale.

In the ongoing discussion of the importance of protecting pen names and pseudonyms, Voltaire, Ayn Rand, Mark Twain, the Red Baron, Pancho Villa, Che Guevara, John Barron, John Miller, Cat Stevens, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and Jay Gatsby could not be reached for comment.

Darker Clouds Gathering over the Korean Peninsula

Is there no military option in North Korea? No, no, it’s just that there is no good military option in North Korea:

The last time the United States is known to have seriously considered attacking the North was in 1994, more than a decade before its first nuclear test. The defense secretary at the time, William J. Perry, asked the Pentagon to prepare plans for a “surgical strike” on a nuclear reactor, but he backed off after concluding it would set off warfare that could leave hundreds of thousands dead.

The stakes are even higher now. American officials believe North Korea has built as many as a dozen nuclear bombs — perhaps many more — and can mount them on missiles capable of hitting much of Japan and South Korea.

And no, there’s no guarantee that the U.S. could take out all of North Korea’s nukes, because they’re hidden in underground bunkers. So, North Korea could retaliate with any surviving nukes. But what’s even worse is that the Norks don’t even need nukes to inflict devastating damage upon civilians in response:

North and South Korea, separated by the world’s most heavily armed border, have had more than half a century to prepare for a resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. While the North’s weaponry is less advanced, the South suffers a distinct geographical disadvantage: Nearly half its population lives within 50 miles of the Demilitarized Zone, including the 10 million people in Seoul, its capital.

“You have this massive agglomeration of everything that is important in South Korea — government, business and the huge population — and all of it is in this gigantic megalopolis that starts 30 miles from the border and ends 70 miles from the border,” said Robert E. Kelly, a professor of political science at Pusan National University in South Korea. “In terms of national security, it’s just nuts.”

North Korea has positioned as many as 8,000 artillery cannons and rocket launchers on its side of the Demilitarized Zone, analysts say, an arsenal capable of raining up to 300,000 rounds on the South in the first hour of a counterattack. That means it can inflict tremendous damage without resorting to weapons of mass destruction. END

(Yes, that’s the Robert Kelly from the delightful child-invading BBC interview. Hopefully, his daughter invading his home office is the only invasion Kelly has to deal with in the coming years.)

Checking in with the top U.S. general in South Korea . . . 

BL “Self-restraint, which is a choice, is all that separates armistice and war,” said General [Vincent K.] Brooks, referring to the 1953 cease-fire that halted but never officially ended the Korean War. “As this alliance missile live-fire shows, we are able to change our choice when so ordered by our alliance national leaders.

“It would be a grave mistake for anyone to believe anything to the contrary.”

ADDENDA: It’s the end of the Independence Day holiday and back to the regular schedule at Three Martini Lunch, NRO, Facebook, and probably in the not-too-distant future, the pop-culture podcast . . . 

Politics & Policy

Oh, Hey, No Big Deal, Just Illegal Immigration from Honduras Drying Up

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Ah, it’s good to be back. Thanks to Jack Fowler for holding down the fort in my absence; I’m sure all of you have finally bought a cabin on the upcoming NR cruise now.

Why does our president care so much about what Mika Brzezinski thinks?

Good News from the Border

While the president is envisioning himself punching a cable-news network logo into submission, take a look at what The Failing New York Times™ reports from Choloma, Honduras:

While some of Mr. Trump’s most ambitious plans to tighten the border are still a long way off, particularly his campaign pledge to build a massive wall, his hard-line approach to immigration already seems to have led to sharp declines in the flow of migrants from Central America bound for the United States.

From February through May, the number of undocumented immigrants stopped or caught along the southwest border of the United States fell 60 percent from the same period last year, according to United States Customs and Border Protection — evidence that far fewer migrants are heading north, officials on both sides of the border say.

Arrests of immigrants living illegally in the United States have soared, with the biggest increase coming among those migrants with no criminal records.

The shift has sown a new sense of fear among undocumented immigrants in the United States. In turn, they have sent a warning back to relatives and friends in their homelands: Don’t come.  . . . 

Migrant smugglers in Honduras say their business has dried up since Mr. Trump took office. Fewer buses have been leaving the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula bound for the border with Guatemala, the usual route for Honduran migrants heading overland to the United States. In hotels and shelters along the migrant trail, once-occupied beds go empty night after night.

Marcos, a migrant smuggler based near San Pedro Sula, said that last year he had taken one or two groups each month from Honduras to the United States border. Since Mr. Trump’s inauguration, however, he has had only one client. He blames Mr. Trump.

“People think he’s going to kick everyone out of the country,” Marcos said, asking that his full name not be published because of the illegal nature of his work. “Almost nobody’s going.”

Give Trump critics credit: They predicted he would destroy jobs, and they were right; he appears to have destroyed a considerable number of positions in the previously vibrant and lucrative illicit people-smuggling industry.

Also, all of us who gripe about the New York Times — often with good reason – should retire our “the Times never reports any good news for Trump!” complaint. This is good journalism. Yes, the article is written with a great deal of sympathy for those who seek to cross the border illegally, declaring that “many potential migrants in the Northern Triangle are choosing to sit tight and endure the poverty and violence that have driven hundreds of thousands to seek work and sanctuary in the United States in recent years.”

And there’s an implied argument that the change in U.S. policies is worsening conditions in these countries: “Experts in the region warn that the decline in migration could put additional pressure on Central American countries, increasing competition for work, which is already in short supply, and potentially driving more people into the criminal gangs that have terrorized the region.”

But, ultimately, the United States cannot build a better Honduras; only the Hondurans can do that. Mass illegal migration only helps those in power maintain the status quo by driving the most determined, the hardest-working, and the most ambitious out of the country. Yes, those poor people in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras deserve a better life than they have in their current circumstances. But they really deserve a chance to build that better life in their home countries.

A Smaller Government — At Least At 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

On Friday, the Trump administration released its annual report on White House office personnel. It includes the name, status, salary, and position title of all 377 White House employees. OpenTheBooks.com, a private organization that tracks government spending, calculates that the Trump White House is costing taxpayers $5 million less, and employing 110 fewer staffers than the Obama White House in 2015.

Perhaps the biggest reduction comes in the size of the first lady’s staff: “There are five staffers dedicated to Melania Trump vs. 24 staffers who served Michelle Obama (FY2009).” God bless Melania.

In the eyes of a fiscal conservative, this is good. Of course, it’s not even a drop in the bucket of our overall government-spending problems, but it is good to see the White House leading by example.

One point to consider is whether the White House might work a bit more effectively if it had, say, a few more assistants for legislative affairs attempting to coordinate with Capitol Hill. (I notice that in the final year of the Obama presidency, the White House had 68 people with the word “policy” in their job titles; the new Trump administration has 27.) Yes, fewer White House assistants, deputies, support specialists, project managers, analysts, and so on qualifies as cutting government. But then again, these are among the very few positions in the entire federal bureaucracy with the duty of implementing conservative policies across the government.

You Probably Don’t Want to Be Seen There During a Government Shutdown

Man, is Chris Christie trying to end his second term as the most hated politician in New Jersey history?

People hoping to visit Island Beach State Park this holiday weekend were not allowed in because of the state government shutdown. Gov. Chris Christie ordered amid the state budget standoff in Trenton.

But there was one family there: Christie’s. They are using the summer beach house provided by the state for a weekend down the Shore.

At that news conference, Christie was asked if he got any sun Sunday.

“I didn’t,” he said. “I didn’t get any sun today.”

When later told of the photo, Brian Murray, the governor’s spokesman, said: “Yes, the governor was on the beach briefly today talking to his wife and family before heading

into the office.”

“He did not get any sun,” Murray added. “He had a baseball hat on.”

That is a bad liar. But wait, it gets worse.

Christie told reporters Saturday that the beach house is separate from the park and that his family will not ask for any state services.

Asked if this is fair, Christie said Saturday: “Run for governor, and you can have a residence there.”

This was just handed to me: Marie Antoinette issued a statement declaring that relaxing on the beach while a nearby state-park beach is shut down is a “bad look.”

Then again, Chris Christie’s approval rating is 15 percent, and his Republican Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno is at just 26 percent in this year’s upcoming governor’s race. Maybe Christie just doesn’t care anymore.

ADDENDA: Happy Independence Day. I finished Brad Thor’s latest, Use of Force, last week and will have a full (glowing) review and analysis later this week. I will reveal one shocking twist: Unlike the previous two books, neither Larry O’Connor nor Brian Wilson of Washington’s WMAL radio station end up in harm’s way in this one.

Politics & Policy

Ending June with a Bang at NR

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Dear Jolters,

June ends with a bang. But to your ears, it should end with the smooth sounds of Charlie Cooke and Kevin Williamson — now up on NRO (and iTunes et al.) is the latest episode of Mad Dogs & Englishmen, in which the Bearded Ones talk minimum-wage madness and much more.

You know, the vacationing Jim Geraghty has his own daily podcast, the long-running Three Martini Lunch, which you need to catch. Jim’s days of catching rays will be coming to an end — he’s back in the saddle here on Monday. Jim is a tolerant man, allowing me to muck around in his domain while he gets toasted on Southern beaches. Grazia.

Okay, let me send you off to the weekend with a few NRO reading suggestions:

Cruz Care. The Texas senator looms larger in the health-care debate. Tiana Lowe has the very interesting story. Here is a part:

Critics speculated that Cruz was merely bluffing when he publicly came out against the initial version of the BCRA along with Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ron Johnson — but then Cruz began passing out memos entitled “Path to ‘Yes,’” which detailed the four concessions required from Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to earn Cruz’s vote. The most significant of those points, a consumer-freedom option allowing insurance companies to sell non-Obamacare-compliant plans so long as they sell at least one Obamacare-compliant plan as well, may actually be coming to fruition.

Attention NYC Haters. Kyle Smith give Mayor Bill de Blasio a kick in the big apples, and saves one for Governor Andrew Cuomo too.

Twump. Both Michael Brendan Dougherty and David French weigh in on the president’s attack tweets against MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski.

Planned Parenthoodwink. Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins are hell-bent on making sure that your tax dollars bankroll Planned Parenthood and seek to strip a ban from the Senate health-care bill. Alexandra DeSanctis has the story. And here’s some of it:

The vast majority of the group’s services are related to reproductive issues, not general health. Of the 9.5 million services Planned Parenthood self-reported for the 2015–16 fiscal year, not even 40,000 were family-practice services. In fact, the group treats significantly more urinary-tract infections in a year than it provides general health-care services.

Planned Parenthood provides less than 1 percent of the nation’s Pap tests and less than 2 percent of its breast exams and cancer screenings. Despite frequent claims to the contrary, not a single Planned Parenthood clinic has a mammogram machine. And even the reproduction-related services on offer are rather limited: Earlier this year, Live Action team members called 97 Planned Parenthood facilities and found only five that provided prenatal care; the majority of the others repeatedly insisted that the organization doesn’t provide prenatal care at all, because it specializes in abortion.

Over at McClatchy newspapers D.C. bureau, Lesley Clark reports that House pro-lifers will not allow Murkowski-Collins to prevail. From her report:

“We’ve warned the Senate that there’s nothing they could do that would blow the health care bill to Mars more than taking the pro-life components out of it,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who signed a Republican Study Committee letter to McConnell outlining the group’s concerns. “I think they know if they do, they might as well not vote. It would blow it to smithereens over here.”

Twitter Gag. Alexandra also reports that Twitter has blocked the pro-life group Live Action from advertising until it deletes tweets that the company finds “offensive.”

The Mighty Have Fallen. This should not surprise you, but Professor Samuel J. Abrams has an interesting piece on just how poorly the “elite” colleges of New England, from Harvard and Yale to Tufts and Amherst, rank when it comes to the amount of “viewpoint diversity one can expect to find on a particular campus.”

Programming Notes. Please subscribe to NR magazine, in the print or digital versions . . . lots of people are still giving to the Spring Webathon (God bless you!) and you can send a few bucks NR’s way here . . . I am going to cry if you don’t buy a copy of Al Felzenberg’s magnificent new biography, A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr. . . . There is a Queen Mary 2 cabin waiting for your reservation on the National Review 2017 Trans-Atlantic Crossing.

I yearn for a simpler time. Back in the day when I was the delivery boy on Tony Spagnuola’s fruit-and-vegetable truck (serving the little old ladies of Yonkers and Woodlawn in The Bronx, making sure they had their weekly fill of plums and potatoes), the radio was set to WOR-AM, and Bob and Ray were on in the late afternoons, and every Friday they would play the silly old tune, “Run Rabbit Run.” Well, it was said to be Churchill’s favorite, so if it was good enough for Winston, it’s good enough for us this last day of June. Listen to it here.

We’ll meet again. I don’t know where and I don’t know when, but I am sure we are going to meet again, probably on some sunny day.

God bless,

Jack Fowler

P.S.: No P.S. today!

Politics & Policy

Why Gawker Media Deserved to Go Down and More

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Dear Jolters,

Crazy stuff happening today on the World Wide Web. Jim Geraghty picked a good week to vacay. Well, I did get a few things written before systems went kaflooey. So, here’s a truncated Jolt. As I used to tell me folks — it’s not my fault!

The man can write. If you want to see a terribly swift pen loose some fateful lightning, read Kyle Smith’s look Inside the Delightful Suicide of Gawker. Here’s a slice of brilliance:

Gawker saying its mission is to make war with the unkind is like the Queen of England decrying nepotism. Gawker’s very escutcheon was cruelty, obnoxiousness, unkindness. It published stories too nasty and sleazy for tabloids, and wrote them up with sophomoric zeal for vulgarism and profanity. I happily worked at tabloids for many years, but I felt ashamed of myself every time I read Gawker. I can hardly imagine what it must have been like actually to work at such a flatulence farm, a scum ranch, an academy of pus.

EPA boss Scott Pruitt lives up to the billing, and drops the hammer on the leftist madness that turned the federal WOTUS (“Waters of the United States”) rule into an excuse for land grabbing that equated, get this, wet grass with the Mighty Mississippi. NRO has an excellent editorial on Pruitt reining in the out-of-control regulatory agency.

“Any day now, they’ll kill Charlie Gard.” Ian Tuttle writes an unnerving report on a sick little British boy and the courts that rule he is better off dead. Weep for our culture.

That’ll do for NRO. Elsewhere in the ether let me suggest the following:

‐ Is “Throwback Thursday” still a thing? If it is, here is a classic edition of Firing Line, from 1987, with Bill Buckley, of course, and Allan Bloom. The subject: “Higher Education Has Failed Democracy.” Watch it here.

Here’s a short and worthwhile video on Jack Phillips, the Colorado cake-baker being tormented by foes of religious freedom.

‐ Is the West “too tired” to defend freedom? Over at Gatestone, Giulio Meotti bemoans the descent. He wisely quotes from James Burnham’s Suicide of the West.

Tomorrow we’ll provide a fuller Jolt once Al Gore fixes the Interweb. Until then, behave.

Best,

Jack Fowler

P.S.: Interested in what’s up in New York politics? Then check out empirereportnewyork.com.