The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Welcome to the Kelly Era

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.