This Should Be the Best of Times for Gun Owners. And Yet…

by Jim Geraghty

This Should Be the Best of Times for Gun Owners. And Yet…

Atlanta, Ga. — This should be the happiest National Rifle Association Annual Meeting in many years, and it probably will be. Gun owners can celebrate the victory of a president the NRA endorsed, pro-gun majorities in the House and Senate, and Judge Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

And yet….

The first NRA convention I attended was in 2010 in Charlotte, and the political talk has always been focused on defense, stopping a powerful foe who would like to restrict or perhaps outright ban private ownership of firearms. But today, Barack Obama is retired. Hillary Clinton is walking in the woods in Chappaqua. Nancy Pelosi is still around, but she’s the minority leader in the House, and Democrats will need a wave in 2018 to make her Speaker again. Gun owners certainly don’t like Chuck Schumer, but he, too, is in the minority. Michael Bloomberg still has his billions for activism, but no longer runs New York City. Eric Holder is back in private practice.

As always, there are plenty of state level fights. Legislative efforts for “constitutional carry” — the right to carry a firearm without a permit, because the U.S. Constitution is the only permit you need — are moving ahead in Alabama, Texas, and South Carolina. Wisconsin State Attorney General Brad Schimel says he supports adopting constitutional carry in his state.

But considering GOP control of Washington, one might have expected “concealed-carry reciprocity” — national legislation declaring that if you have a concealed carry permit in one state, is must be recognized by all other states — to have been either featured in President Trump’s 100 days agenda or rapidly approaching passage. The bill has 188 cosponsors in the House, but has been sitting in subcommittee since January.

Justice Gorsuch is a fantastic win for the administration, but there’s still a lot of lower court judicial vacancies to fill: Circuit courts need nominees for 19 vacancies, and district courts are waiting to fill more than 100 vacancies. President Trump has yet to nominate his own director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has only six of the 26 assistant attorneys general and other major support staff he’s supposed to have at the Department of Justice.

Congress did pass, and Trump did sign, a bill that rescinded an Obama administration rule, requiring the Social Security Administration to send the names of anyone who was deemed mentally impaired and uses representative payee to help manage their benefits to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to block the purchase of firearms. The American Civil Liberties Union opposed the Obama rule because “it advances and reinforces the harmful stereotype that people with mental disabilities, a vast and diverse group of citizens, are violent. There is no data to support a connection between the need for a representative payee to manage one’s Social Security disability benefits and a propensity toward gun violence.”

Still, this should be the golden age for Second Amendment advocates, and by extension, conservatives. (On the Venn Diagram, the two circles representing these groups overlap a lot but not completely.) And yet…

I Think He Missed a Memo

Are you noticing a pattern in President Trump’s statements?

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” Trump told Reuters in an interview Thursday.This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

When discussing health care in February: “Very complicated issue…. I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

After the House GOP canceled the vote on the American Health Care Act: “We learned a lot about the vote-getting process. We learned a lot about some very arcane rules in obviously both the Senate and in the House.”

Discussing North Korea with Chinese president Xi Jinping:

Mr. Trump said he told his Chinese counterpart he believed Beijing could easily take care of the North Korea threat. Mr. Xi then explained the history of China and Korea, Mr. Trump said.

“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Mr. Trump recounted. “I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power [over North Korea], but it’s not what you would think.”

Earlier this week, discussing NATO:

“I was on Wolf Blitzer, very fair interview, the first time I was ever asked about NATO, because I wasn’t in government. People don’t go around asking about NATO if I’m building a building in Manhattan, right? So they asked me, Wolf … asked me about NATO, and I said two things. NATO’s obsolete — not knowing much about NATO, now I know a lot about NATO — NATO is obsolete, and I said, “And the reason it’s obsolete is because of the fact they don’t focus on terrorism.”

If only someone had told him!

Do You Care about President Obama’s Speaking Fees?

Should conservatives care that former president Barack Obama is scheduled to be paid $400,000 check from Wall Street when he delivers a speech in September at a health-care conference run by Cantor Fitzgerald, a trading and investment firm?

(Before we go any further, let’s just say that again… “former president Barack Obama.” Inhale, exhale slowly… just savor that for a moment. Okay.)

It’s a free country, and he’s not violating any law, government regulation or ethics code. Obama isn’t in a position to vote on legislation, sign anything into law, or directly influence government policy — although if he calls up a Democratic lawmaker on Capitol Hill, he’s got a good chance of getting a sympathetic ear.

Jill Abramson, former executive editor of the New York Times, lays out why so many Democrats are cringing at the early omens of Obama’s post-presidential life:

The habitual kowtowing of senior Democrats to the billionaire class has left their party close to morally bankrupt. Bernie Sanders was right to hammer Hillary during the primaries for her speaking fees from Wall Street. Even her most ardent supporters found these speaking fees indefensible. They were certain to be fodder for her opponents.

It was misguided of Obama to have signed on with the same D.C. speakers’ bureau as the Clintons, the Harry Walker Agency. For sure, it’s easy money. This giant of the speaking circuit has enriched the Clintons to the tune of $158 milion. During her campaign, Hillary explained that she took all that money because “it was what they offered”.

But do the Obamas really need the effortless lucre? One of the most attractive things about having Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House was the absence of ethical conflicts. They seemed to have impeccable moral judgment and real family values. And, thanks to a $65 million book deal with Penguin Random House, and a pot of money from the former president’s previous books, they are not in bad shape financially.

Can we be less upset with Obama and more upset with Cantor Fitzgerald? Yes, I know a firm that large is swimming in money, but does anyone who invests with them feel like that’s a little excessive for a guest speaker? I’ll bet you could get Biden for a quarter of the price, and he’s funnier.

The New York Post editorial board is gleefully quoting Obama’s words from 2010 back to him: “We’re not trying to push financial reform because we begrudge success that’s fairly earned. I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”

But for most Democrats, it’s Obama’s willingness to take the money that’s more disturbing. Ready for a phrase I didn’t think I would ever write? “Over at Vox, Matt Yglesias has a point.”

“Nobody can ever work in the private sector before or after joining the government” isn’t a viable rule. What’s troubling isn’t any one specific case. It’s the sheer accumulation of them, leading to the perception that service in Democratic Party politics was viewed in general as just a stepping stone to a higher-paid gig in New York or Silicon Valley.

But the difficulty of drawing a clear, overarching ethical line is exactly why an ex-president, who is uniquely high-profile and uniquely insulated from financial pressures, ought to set a high standard. Obama doesn’t need a next job. As a former president, he is entitled to lifelong health care and a pension worth more than $200,000 a year. He’s already written two best-selling books and could easily write a third or fourth.

The two hallmarks of almost every major figure in the Democratic party over the past quarter century are 1) being much wealthier than the average American and 2) denouncing the greed of “the rich” and “corporate America” as the root of all of the country’s problems. They speak as if they became rich by accident. They just set out to make the world a better place, with no interest in accumulating wealth, and just happened to end up fabulously affluent with multiple houses!

And it’s not hard to find other Democrats who are wary about powerful political figures collecting six-figure sums from financial elites. This week one leading Democrat declared, “Because of money and politics, special interests dominate the debates in Washington in ways that don’t match up with what the broad majority of Americans feel.”

That Democrat was, er… Barack Obama, speaking Monday.

ADDENDA: Can you smell what The Rock is cooking… on the cover of National Review? Our David French concludes:

Rather than self-seriously viewing his career as secondary to his activism, Johnson clearly aims to entertain. He understands a core truth: that there is nothing wrong — and a lot right — with sheer, unmitigated fun. Not everything has to have a Message. Not everything needs to reveal Larger Truth. Sometimes a man has to shoot down an attack helicopter with a minigun. Not for social justice and not for individual liberty — but because it’s a cool thing to do.

“Sometimes a man has to shoot down an attack helicopter with a minigun.” I want to have that embroidered on a throw pillow.

No new pop culture podcast this week. Browse our archives!

I’m happy with the Jets’ selection of safety Jamal Adams in last night’s first round of the NFL Draft.

What Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale Prefer to Ignore

by Jim Geraghty

What Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale Prefer to Ignore

Heather Wilheim:

According to a rash of earnest think pieces from dozens of news outlets, The Handmaid’s Tale is “timely” (the Washington Post), feels “chillingly real” (the San Francisco Chronicle), and has “an unexpected relevance in Trump’s America” (the New York Times). Atwood’s dystopia, writes Rebecca Nicholson in the Guardian, “has reignited the interest of readers, who have been drawing fresh parallels between Gilead and Trump’s America, and the novel topped the Amazon bestsellers list around the same time that signs at the global Women’s Marches asked to ‘Make Margaret Atwood fiction again.’”

Never one to miss a good marketing opportunity, Atwood affirmed our apparent unfolding national horror show on April 19, speaking to the Los Angeles Times about the Hulu series: “The election happened, and the cast woke up in the morning and thought, we’re no longer making fiction — we’re making a documentary.” According to a recent article in The New Republic, lo, have mercy, for great woes have apparently befallen me, a wide-eyed, unsuspecting resident of the Lone Star State: “Texas is Gilead and Indiana is Gilead and now that Mike Pence is our vice president, the entire country will look more like Gilead, too.”

We heard a bit of “We’re turning into The Handmaid’s Tale!” panic-hysteria-accusation during the Bush administration, too. I’ll dust off my argument from then: To picture a near-future United States that is a Christian theocracy with open, systematic, and brutal oppression of women, you have to picture some unbelievable changes occurring very quickly: repealing women’s right to vote; a re-acceptance of slavery; widespread Christian acceptance of government-mandated extramarital sexual intercourse; total repeal of the First Amendment; total bans on any other religious beliefs (there are references to “Baptist rebels”). Perhaps most absurdly, almost all men have accepted a regime where the only sexual outlet of any kind is government-monitored breeding with the fertile “handmaids,” reserved for the most powerful.

Do you picture lots of American men signing on for a system that denies them the freedom to have sex with women? You really have to have your “all men have fascist impulses just under their skin” blinders on to hear that and nod, “Oh, yeah, that could totally happen.”

But Margaret Atwood could have set her tale in other places and made it practically a modern-day documentary: say, Saudi Arabia. Or any corner of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

How about Yemen, where there is no legal minimum age for marriage, 52 percent of girls marry before 18, and there’s a tradition of “honor killings” for disobedient women?

Or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where one estimate calculates two million rapes have occurred as part of that country’s continued violent instability, and armed gangs commit rapes with horrifying frequency.

Or Egypt, where more than 125 million women and girls have endured the barbaric practice of “female genital mutilation” and the practice is the norm.

Sudan’s penal code legalized flogging women for inappropriate dress, and girls can be married at age 10.

Human Rights Watch’s most recent report on Pakistan:

In Pakistan, with 21 percent of girls marrying before the age of 18. In January 2016, a proposal submitted to parliament by WHOM aimed to raise the legal minimum age to 18 for females and introduce harsher penalties for those who arrange child marriage. However, on January 14, 2016, the proposal was withdrawn following strong pressure from the Council of Islamic Ideology, a body that advises the parliament on Islamic law. The council criticized the proposal as “anti-Islamic” and “blasphemous.”

Violence against women and girls—including rape, murder through so-called honor killings, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage—remained routine. Pakistani human rights NGOs estimate that there are about 1,000 “honor killings” every year.

Or Iran:

Women face discrimination in personal status matters related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. A woman needs her male guardian’s approval for marriage regardless of her age and cannot pass on her nationality to her foreign-born spouse or their children. Married women may not obtain a passport or travel outside the country without the written permission of their husbands.

The UN Children’s Rights Committee reported in March that the age of marriage for girls is 13, that sexual intercourse with girls as young as nine lunar years was not criminalized, and that judges had discretion to release some perpetrators of so-called honor killings without any punishment. Child marriage—though not the norm—continues, as the law allows girls to marry at 13 and boys at age 15, as well as at younger ages if authorized by a judge. Authorities continue to prevent girls and women from attending certain sporting events, including men’s soccer and volleyball matches.

And the United Arab Emirates:

UAE’s penal code allows the imposition of “chastisement by a husband to his wife and the chastisement of minor children” so long as the assault does not exceed the limits prescribed by Sharia, or Islamic law.

A 2010 decision by the United Arab Emirates Federal Supreme Court ruled that hitting a wife or child was legal up until the point where it leaves marks.

Horrific, brutal regimes that systematically deny basic rights to women and girls based upon religious beliefs are not hard to find. They’re just rarely Christian. (Worth noting about the above list, the most common religion in the Democratic Republic of Congo is Christianity.) The world has plenty of awful places that can be fairly compared to Atwood’s fictional dystopian regime of Gilead. They’re just mostly Muslim.

But Margaret Atwood wasn’t angry at Islamists back in 1985. She was angry at the trends she saw in the United States, and in particular, American Christian conservatives. Both then and now, American Christian conservatives are a very safe target for criticism and mockery. No priest or nun is going to strap on a suicide bomber’s vest and blow up the offices of Atwood’s publisher or Hulu, which is making the miniseries.

Thus you periodically hear some not-so-quiet scoffing at the priorities of Western feminists. They’re upset about how far some American women have to travel to an abortion clinic, while the world has plenty of girls who risk being scarred with acid for trying to go to school.

The Worldwide Leader In… People Sitting at a Table, Arguing About Sports

In yesterday’s Morning Jolt, we noted that some Internet conspiracy theorists feared something terrible was going to happen on April 26. Maybe those coded warnings were about something terrible happening at ESPN.

I think my colleague Dan McLaughlin has the right take — no, the massive job cuts at ESPN aren’t purely driven by declining ratings and the perception that ESPN’s programming is becoming more political and more overtly liberal. But the more outspoken and one-sided coverage of Colin Kaepernick, Michael Sam, and Caitlyn Jenner isn’t a non-factor, either.

I’ve quoted sportswriter Jason Whitlock a few times in this column, and I think he’s had two sharp observations worth keeping in mind. First, sports journalists used to be extremely interested in the world of sports and rarely interested in the world of politics, and that has changed considerably. Sports journalism is attracting a lot of writers who really aren’t that interested in sports, but who are interested in bringing progressive stances and issues to the fore in the sports world. An article earlier this year declared, with a vibe of pride and joy, that sports-writing had become “a liberal profession.”

The writers and commentators may have shifted to the left, but the audience and readers haven’t.

The second Whitlock observation worth keeping in mind at this moment is that sportswriting’s shift to the left reflects the broader media’s rapid movement to the left. Journalistic influence is now less measured by print circulation numbers than by clicks. The good news is, there’s a significant online audience for all kinds of news and opinion, both a conservative perspective and a liberal perspective. Big clicks can be garnered through solid, groundbreaking journalism, or through an impassioned screed…

But we know which one is easier. (“Yes, Jim, we notice how often the Jolt turns into an impassioned screed.”) ESPN’s debate programming is cheap to produce and probably generates a better return-on-investment than programs that require more time, effort and expense, like Outside the Lines or 30 for 30.

Does This Administration Know What It Doesn’t Know?

Take a look at President Trump’s inner circle: Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Senior Counselor Steve Bannon, First Daughter Ivanka, First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner, Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, and Counselor Kellyanne Conway…

Only Pence has spent any significant time dealing with the federal government from the inside as a Congressman. Most of those figures have been around politics, but haven’t necessarily been around government. And obviously, Trump himself has never worked in government.

This isn’t to say they aren’t smart or capable, just an observation that they’re used to looking at the government from the outside, and don’t know all the details about how it works, the kind of details that can usually only be seen and understood from being on the inside.

Even if all of those figures weren’t playing Game of Thrones, leaking about each other and jockeying to be the one who speaks to the president last — and thus has the most influence over his decisions — they simply don’t know what they’re supposed to be worrying about.

That’s my best explanation about how the administration could spend weeks trying to figure out how to fund and pass a massive infrastructure bill, while at the same time, at least $20 billion worth of big energy-infrastructure projects — 15 of them in 14 states, all 100 percent privately funded and all holding the potential to create thousands of new construction jobs — are sitting in front of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, awaiting approval. FERC can’t give approval until it has a quorum, which it has lacked since the beginning of February.

The blame can’t be put on the Senate for taking too long with the nominees; the administration hasn’t nominated anyone yet. (Three names keep getting mentioned in media reports, including one Mitch McConnell aide, so there’s little reason to think confirmation would be difficult.)

The administration has a big, public promise — rebuild America’s infrastructure! — and an easy way to get to it, by staffing up FERC and getting those projects approved. But they’re simply not getting around to it because… they’re just not on top of things.

ADDENDA: E.J. Dionne quotes one of my criticisms of Trump. Swell.

Trump, discussing NATO with the Associated Press:

I was on Wolf Blitzer, very fair interview, the first time I was ever asked about NATO, because I wasn’t in government. People don’t go around asking about NATO if I’m building a building in Manhattan, right? So they asked me, Wolf … asked me about NATO, and I said two things. NATO’s obsolete — not knowing much about NATO, now I know a lot about NATO.

So Trump said his assessment of NATO’s obsolescence was based on not knowing much about it, and now he knows more and feels NATO is improving. You think you’re chagrined at this revelation from Trump? Imagine how Vladimir Putin must feel!

Marlins Fans, It’s Time to ‘Please Clap’ for the Home Team!

by Jim Geraghty

Marlins Fans, It’s Time to Root, Root, Root Please Clap for the Home Team!

The era of “Let’s Make Some Noise!” is ending for the Florida Marlins baseball team. Instead, get ready for… “Please clap.” Yes, Jeb Bush could end up being a part owner of the franchise:

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has reached an agreement in principle to sell the team to a group led by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and including former New York Yankees star Derek Jeter, pending Major League Baseball approval and other details still to be worked out in the drawing-up and execution of a contract, an MLB source said Tuesday.

According to the source, Bush’s group has agreed to pay $1.3 billion for the team.

The source said the Marlins and the Bush group are very optimistic a deal will be finalized, but the process could take months to conclude.

Bush plans to be the Marlins’ “control person,” the individual who would have ultimate control over franchise decisions, according to the source.

Somewhere, George W. Bush is thinking, “Boy, everything I do, my kid brother has to try to do too!”

Under Jeb’s ownership, the Florida Marlins right fielder will play in right but not too far on the right, not too far from centerfield. He will attempt to persuade umpires that any high inside pitches that come close to hitting the batter do not represent an improper crossing of a boundary, but instead “an act of love.”

‘Just Like ISIS’? Come On, Man.

Gubernatorial primaries are coming up here in Virginia on June 13. On the Republican side, Ed Gillespie’s the favorite over Corey Stewart and State Senator Frank Wagner.

With less than two months remaining, Stewart is… well, this looks like a “Hail Mary” pass:

“Exactly like ISIS”? Exactly like ISIS? Wouldn’t we all agree that if you’re not killing anyone, you’re doing a poor imitation of ISIS?

This is the kind of hyperbolic attack on a lawmaker over terrorism that might even get Representative Peter King to say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Even Alex Jones might say that’s going too far.

This stems from a decision down in New Orleans…

New Orleans on Monday began removing four monuments dedicated to the era of the Confederacy and its aftermath, capping a prolonged battle about the future of the memorials, which critics deemed symbols of racism and intolerance and which supporters viewed as historically important.

Workers dismantled an obelisk, which was erected in 1891 to honor members of the Crescent City White League who in 1874 fought in the Reconstruction-era Battle of Liberty Place against the racially integrated New Orleans police and state militia, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement.

The monument, which was sometimes used as a rallying point by David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, has stirred debate for decades. Local leaders unsuccessfully tried to remove it in 1981 and 1993.

The workers were dressed in flak jackets, helmets and scarves to conceal their identities because of concerns about their safety. Police officers watched from a nearby hotel.

Before you start saying, “wait, this is part of history, it ought to be preserved, even if it offends people,” note that the Battle of Liberty Place Memorial has the inscription:

“United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.”

Yeah, I can’t begrudge citizens of any color for wanting to remove a public memorial declaring the importance of recognizing “white supremacy.”

Think of all the great Louisiana citizens who don’t have a comparable public monument, who have great accomplishments in history or played a role in the city’s comeback from Hurricane Katrina: Fats Domino. Tennessee Williams. Doug Williams. Hank Williams and Hank Williams Jr. (Heck, you need a monument just to the various famous Williamses from Louisiana.) Paul Brudhomme. Anne Rice. Drew Brees. Harry Connick Jr. Bobby Jindal.

There’s no shortage of Confederate monuments in Virginia, but none have garnered quite as much controversy as the ones down in New Orleans. (Richmond added famous African-American tennis star Arthur Ashe to Monument Avenue.) In Alexandria, they renamed their portion of “Jefferson Davis Highway.” (I suggested renaming the highway after two famous Virginians, Thomas Jefferson and former local Congressman Tom Davis. Then the city could save a lot of money by just adding hyphens and making the signs say “Jefferson-Davis Highway.”)

Denouncing the removal of Confederate monuments seems like an odd move; it’s hard to imagine this is front and center in the minds of Virginia Republicans right now. As Liam Donovan pointed out, Virginia is a state of transplants; just under half of all voters in the state are native Virginians.

Cue The X-Files Theme…

Watch your head. The online conspiracy theorists think something big and bad will happen today.

In defense of the tin-foil hat brigade, a couple of unusual events are aligning today. In Washington, D.C. and the surrounding suburbs, “law enforcement officials and other first responders will participate in a full-scale exercise on April 26 designed to prepare for the possibility of a complex coordinated terror attack in the National Capital Region.”

The entire U.S. Senate is invited to the White House today for a private briefing about North Korea, the sort of briefing that is usually held on Capitol Hill.

North Korea conducted its largest-ever artillery firing drill this morning.

It’s a big time of year for emergency drills, apparently. FEMA just finished “Gotham Shield,” practicing for a nuclear attack on New York City. Today is emergency drill day for Raritan Bay Medical Center, Rockland County, New York, Slippery Rock University, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, and the state of South Dakota is holding a statewide tornado drill. I hardly suspect that a shadowy conspiracy is organizing these drills in these far-flung locations because of advance knowledge of an impending disaster.

In all likelihood, the sun sets on April 26, 2017, with no disaster or terror attack striking, and we can all chuckle at the paranoia and fevered imaginations of those online commentators…

…probably. Right?

ADDENDA: You will want to read the symposium of tributes and farewells to our friend, Kate O’Beirne, from dozens of conservative figures, friends, and media voices.

I am told that in lieu of flowers, the family is requesting contributions to Oakcrest School.

 ‘I’m Not an Expert, but I Play One on TV.’

by Jim Geraghty

 ‘I’m Not an Expert, but I Play One on TV.’

This would be a better country if those engaged in public debate had a little humility about what they know and what they don’t know. No one is an expert in everything.

But we’ve seen several high-profile commentators go beyond the realm of understandable errors and flubs to the realm of spouting at length and getting things completely wrong.

Shaun King, the “senior justice writer” of the New York Daily News, asked his Twitter followers how to change the Constitution, and upon learning how difficult it was, wrote a column wishing it was easier. Last fall, CNN’s Chris Cuomo contended that it was illegal for anyone who wasn’t a member of the news media to possess the DNC and John Podesta documents posted on WikiLeaks. That was a muddy explanation at best; hacking or stealing information is a crime but looking at it or publishing it is not.

And now we have Howard Dean arguing that the Constitution doesn’t protect nebulously defined “hate speech” and citing three Supreme Court cases whose rulings are the opposite of the position he supports.

Dean cites three court cases, and he mischaracterizes the decisions in all of them. The first case he references, Snyder v. Phelps, was an 8 to 1 decision in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church’s freedom to chant the horrible slogans and hold up the horrible banners it favors at a military funeral. If the church is free to protest at a military funeral, it makes no sense to argue that Ann Coulter is not free to give a speech at Berkeley. Dean is perhaps unknowingly citing a case that argues the reverse of his position. The second case Dean cites, Virginia v. Black, struck down a state law that deemed cross-burning a prima facie attempt at intimidation. The decision was complicated, with multiple justices concurring in part and dissenting in part, but its upshot was that if prosecutors wanted to charge someone with a crime for burning a cross, they had to prove that the cross-burner intended his action as a threat.

“Criminal threats”, “intimidation” and criminal harassment are already crimes on the books in many states. If Ann Coulter explicitly threatens an individual in her speech, she can be charged with a crime for that. But whatever her flaws, Coulter is unlikely to make an explicit incitement to violence in a speech at Berkeley.

The third case Dean cites, Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, has come up a bit more frequently as of late. Eugene Volokh points out that while the Chaplinsky precedent hasn’t yet been struck down, subsequent decisions have drastically narrowed its definition of “fighting words.” In 1971, the court ruled that a vulgar phrase on a jacket didn’t fall within said definition because it was unlikely that any “individual actually or likely to be present could reasonably have regarded the words” to be “a direct personal insult.” In R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, the Court struck down a hate-crime statute, decreeing that the state can restrict speech to a certain “time, place, or manner,” but only if those restrictions were “justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech.” (I.e., the government can ban flag-burning by, say, banning all outdoor fires in certain areas, but not explicitly because it dishonors the U.S. flag.)

The generous interpretation is that this reflects the difficulty of explaining complicated concepts off-the-cuff while the bright lights of the television studio are shining. Or maybe Dean has, at best, a cursory understanding of these cases, or maybe no understanding at all. At the core of his argument is an effort to blur the line between speech that is merely objectionable or offensive to someone and speech that presents an imminent threat of physical harm to someone. The former is protected under the Constitution, and the latter isn’t, particularly if the threat is explicit and specific.

First Amendment lawyers across the country and across the political spectrum probably threw things at their television as Dean asserted that the three cases supported greater government restrictions on speech instead of the opposite.

Just how harmful is ill-informed talking-head blather on television? I can’t help but wonder if it adds to public skepticism and distrust of “elites” or scoffing about “so-called experts.” Of course, actual experts are indeed actual experts. But our country has a lot of people who aren’t experts, but who play them on TV.

The joy of journalism is that if you’re doing it right, you learn something new every day. The dark side of journalism is the number of people who write about topics they… maybe, kinda-sorta understand.

I was talking with a neighbor about his work, a complicated profession measuring and projecting the economic effects of corporate mergers, and asked him how his field is covered by the media. He mentioned an article in a national magazine that made his profession seem secretive, greedy, and a bit sinister, and scoffed at how the reporter simply didn’t understand the work he and his colleagues did. He described a version of what the late author Michael Crichton called “the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.”

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

It’s not hard to find cases of reporters metaphorically tripping over their shoelaces, and either forgetting or never learning about facts and events important to their beat: Forgetting Obama statements from five years earlier. Botching a description of what the Easter holiday is about. Not knowing who Alger Hiss is, not knowing about the Clinton administration bombing Iraq in the 1990s, not know who A.Q. Khan is.

Recall the sneering contempt that Obama administration official Ben Rhodes had for the White House press corps:

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.”

There’s nothing wrong with not knowing something. We all start at zero. The real shame comes from not picking up more knowledge as we stumble along the path of life.

As Hugh Hewitt put it:

I would not go through life ignorant of key facts, especially important facts. So many of the people writing under bylines are willing to do just the opposite today. It cannot end well when a free people are choosing leaders based upon the reporting of a class of people both biased and blind as well as wholly unaware of both or if aware, unwilling to work at getting smart enough to do their jobs well.

Still, young journalists at least have the excuse of being young. What’s Howard Dean’s excuse?

Samantha Power Sends Her Regrets

Samantha Power, formerly President Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, declared yesterday on Twitter, “I am very sorry that, during our time in office, we in the Obama administration did not recognize the Armenian Genocide.” Obama promised he would do this on the campaign trail in 2008, and then never quite got around to it, making the same decision he had previously denounced by his predecessor, that the U.S.–Turkish relationship was too valuable and delicate to risk by publicly recognizing it.

(In Turkey, it is literally illegal to declare that there was an Armenian Genocide; the Turkish position was that it was just a big, messy, bloody war. Back when I was living there, the other Americans and I just called it “SCAG” to avoid any listening Turkish hosts — short for the “So-Called Armenian Genocide.”)

My pop culture co-host podcast pointed out, “The Kardashians spoke out on #ArmenianGenocide more than the Obama administration did.” After that tweet, Power was immediately taken to the nearest emergency room for treatment of third degree burns.

Kim Kardashian was actually something of an impassioned activist on this issue on her social media feeds.

ADDENDA: Not your typical beer ad, from Modelo USA: “After being deployed six times with the armed forces, Juan Rodriguez-Chavez came out as a decorated war hero. To retired Gunnery Sergeant Rodriguez-Chavez, having a fighting spirit means never giving up and coming out successful in whatever you do.”

“…. noting that he wasn’t born in the U.S., but “that fact never once crossed his mind the four times he put himself in harm’s way to save the men who were.” While it seems like the ad might be making a subtle political statement, Mr. Sabia said that was not the intent. “The objective is to celebrate a war hero,” he said.

Celebrating a legal immigrant war hero? I might order Modelo next time I’m out.

Kate O’Beirne, RIP

by Jim Geraghty

Kate O’Beirne, RIP

If you never had a chance to meet Kate O’Beirne, you really missed out.

Before I knew Kate, when I was a politically wonky polliwog in the 1990s, I watched her on CNN’s Capitol Gang. It’s easy to forget how good television news debate programs used to be, before the stage was turned over to interchangeable telegenic bobble-heads who aren’t really into reading. On Capitol Gang, the panelists had to be journalists, published regularly in print publications, who knew their stuff and could think on their feet. And on screen, Kate O’Beirne seemed like a cross between Katharine Hepburn and a velociraptor.

The late Robert Novak described Kate in his autobiography, The Prince of Darkness:

Tall, blond, New Yorker-feisty, and exceptionally well-informed… Kate auditioned for the Gang for the first time on June 24, and she was dynamite. My decision was quickly made. Kate O’Beirne was a tremendous asset to the program, informed and able to charm the socks off [liberal panelist Al] Hunt. I think Boston Irish [Mark] Shields was less susceptible to the charms of an Irish lass from New York, and Kate always felt Mark resented a strong conservative woman. But Kate radically improved the program.

Watching her vivisect the arguments of the liberal panelists over the years, I was more than a little intimidated when I first met her. I joined National Review full-time in 2004, and in a circumstance where she had every reason to say or imply, “keep your mouth shut and learn, rookie,” she bent over backwards to make me feel welcome and an important contributor to the magazine as a whole. I recall at Democratic convention in Boston 2004, my first big event as new guy on National Review’s team, she asked me in front of my new co-workers, “how did you learn so much about politics?” I’m sitting in front of a Murderer’s Row of political journalism — Ramesh Ponnuru, John J. Miller, Jonah Goldberg, Byron York — and she’s asking what I think. More than a few folks inside and outside of National Review have those stories — where Kate made you feel like a big deal, even when you weren’t.

As merciless as she could be on air and in print, she was as gracious and kind in real life. When she hosted a party, she made sure every guest felt at home. She gushed about her sons, serving in the military and law enforcement, two success stories of parenting. She sent gifts when my children were born.

Every once in a while, she left you with the feeling she could see around corners. In 2009, I remember her chatting, in one of her seemingly ever-present clouds of cigarette smoke, after a group of editors had met with some young no-name state legislator. This guy, who looked like he wouldn’t be able to buy booze without his ID, was named Marco Rubio and was talking up a long-shot bid against Charlie Crist in next year’s GOP Senate primary. Impressed, Kate speculated that this kid could be Romney’s running mate in 2012 (this was when the idea of Romney running again was considered unlikely) and that Rubio would run for president someday. Not quite on the nose, but in the ballpark.

You’ll want to read the remembrances from Ramesh, Jonah, Rich, John J. Miller, John O’Sullivan and Mona Charen.

William Kristol accurately observed, “Kate was a stalwart of the conservative movement who never manifested the stodginess or self-importance that one associates with stalwarts.”

She is dearly missed already.

Should Tax Dollars Finance Broadway Shows?

Apparently one argument in favor of continuing taxpayer funding for the National Endowment for the Arts is that it frequently gives grants to Broadway productions. Some have argued that without the NEA, there wouldn’t be Hamilton, even though as CNBC’s Jake Novak pointed out, “this successful private-sector project was backed and funded for real by private investors all the way.”

The roundabout way of crediting the NEA for Hamilton stems from the endowment providing $30,000 “to support New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Season in 2013, an eight-week residency on Vassar College’s campus. Theater artists live and work together to develop new plays and musicals, one of which was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster.”

This is the blockbuster Hamilton, where tickets began at $175 per ticket and then went to $850 per ticket. Please stop telling me that this show would not exist without a check from the taxpayers. By last year, it was making $600,000 a week in profit and depending on how long it runs, it could be the first Broadway production to make $1 billion. (Is it too much to ask that they pay back the NEA for that early help? It’s not like they can’t afford it. The total annual budget for the NEA is $148 million; that’s about what Broadway grosses in a month.)

The average cost of a ticket for a Broadway show is more than $100 per seat. Some of the shows supported by grants from the NEA charge a bit less than that for the cheap seats, but none of them are “affordable” in the eyes of the average American.

The NEA provided $30,000 for the production of Can You Forgive Her?, a Gina Gionfriddo play at the Vineyard Theatre that’s “an exploration of privilege and class in America” featuring “incendiary conversations about the differences between haves and have-nots in America.” Tickets are $79 per seat, meaning that very few have-nots will be attending those incendiary conversations.

The NEA provided $60,000 for the production of Gloria, a play that “chronicles the experiences of an ambitious, culturally diverse group of young people working as editorial assistants at a renowned New York magazine who experience an unexpected act of violence and are confronted with questions of authorship as it relates to identity, race, class, and privilege.” Seeing the play was indeed a privilege, as tickets ranged from $79 to $100.

The NEA provided $50,000 to the world premiere of Oslo, a “comic fiction that imagines the secret negotiations among a coalition of Palestinians and Israelis that led to the 1993 Oslo Accords” at the Lincoln Center Theater. The cheap seats in the balcony are $87, the good seats up front are $187.

Put aside all gripes about any heavy-handed political messages in these shows or their quality. Live theater can be wonderful, but there is no getting around the fact that it is an entertainment choice for the very wealthy, particularly on Broadway. The latest survey finds that the Broadway audience is 67 percent female, 77 percent white, 81 percent college graduates, 47 percent with post-graduate education, with an average household income of $195,000. About 40 percent of attendees report a personal income of more than $150,000.

Considering all the other indisputably important and costly priorities our government has, should taxpayers be underwriting entertainment that is priced so it can only be enjoyed by the wealthiest Americans?

If extremely expensive entertainment for an extremely wealthy audience deserves government subsidies, then everything deserves government subsidies.

The Hard Truths about Foreign Aid That We’ve Been Ignoring

Speaking of wasteful spending, anthropologist Tom Dichter says it’s time to radically change the approach to foreign aid — and that while the Trump administration might be cutting it for the wrong reason, any cuts will not be the tragedy that “the aid establishment” will claim it is:

Aid has resulted in remarkably few significant shifts in economic growth and poverty reduction. The truth is much of aid’s promise has come up empty.

It is striking that the aid establishment has not dug deeper into the reasons why. It has not listened to four decades of trenchant critiques, many of them by insiders. Countless articles and at least thirty widely read books about aid (such as Michael Maren’s 1997 The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity, or William Easterly’s 2006 The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, or Dambisa Moyo’s 2009 Dead Aid), have pointed out that outsiders cannot “nation build,” that development must be led by the people in the poor countries themselves, that dependency has been one of the few tangible results of the trillions we have spent, that the complexity and the context-specific nature of each country’s politics, social structure, and culture cannot be easily understood by outsiders and thus the short term three to five year aid “project” is a wildly inappropriate vehicle for aid, and so on. Moreover, a number of highly respected historians and economists like David S. Landes and J.K. Galbraith have pointed out that aid simply cannot produce development…

The main reason there is so little change is that aid has become an industry, and is rapidly moving towards what a present day Eisenhower might call an “aid-industrial complex,” an interlocking set of players (NGOs, government agencies, and private contractors, among others) who have largely closed off outside criticism and internal learning and become self-referential and entrenched. The main goal of this complex is to keep the money flowing…

If the aid industry were to listen to its critics, it would have to conclude that development aid ought to be less about money and more about collegial discourse, with “us” admitting that we really have very few answers. By far the most important conclusion to draw is that if the goal of development aid to poor countries is to be met, our agencies need to become smaller, not larger; we need to take a back seat and “do” less. Indeed someday soon, we need to prepare to go out of business. No industry wants to hear this, but aid is not like the auto industry. It was meant not to last.

ADDENDA: The latest pop culture podcast didn’t get uploaded until late Friday, so if you missed it that day, you can find it here.

Why do Americans choose to live and work in countries with hostile regimes? Yes, there are great humanitarian needs, but at any given moment, you can be arrested on bogus charges, imprisoned and turned into a human bargaining chip. North Korea arrested a third American citizen this weekend on unspecified charges. The U.S. State Department already “strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to North Korea/the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) due to the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement.”

Can we get these people to sign waivers or something? “I, the undersigned, realize the risk, and do not expect my government to make any concessions to get my foolish tush out of a Nork hellhole prison”?

The Aspects of Health-Care Reform Republicans Don’t Like Discussing

by Jim Geraghty

The Aspects of Health-Care Reform Republicans Don’t Like Discussing

My colleague Dan McLaughlin has good advice for congressional Republicans regarding the effort to reform health care, which means they almost certainly will not follow this advice:

All of this is why Republicans should not hitch their wagon to any single, comprehensive bill, nor should they promise the voters a “Republican health-care plan.” Instead, they should seek to roll out a series of improvements to the health-insurance system, each with its own voting coalitions. That conclusion is supported by two observations. One, many parts of the AHCA were more popular than the bill itself, so the odds of passage — and sustainable entrenchment over time — increase as votes are broken into pieces. And two, the entire dynamic of each party seeking to pass party-line total overhauls of the system is bad for the system and bad for Republicans and conservatives, neither of which groups is truly comfortable having gigantic fights over health-care issues every two to four years.

This next point is particularly important, and my sense is that very few “Why can’t they just repeal the whole thing now?” Republicans don’t want to hear it at all:

A lot of people, many of them now Republican voters, depend on government subsidies (via Medicaid or otherwise) to cover their health insurance. Republican deregulatory policies can reduce some of the costs of insurance, by eliminating barriers to interstate competition, reducing tort liabilities, converting “essential benefits” mandates into disclosure requirements, etc. But they can’t, any time soon, solve the basic problem, which is pervasive in education and health-care debates these days: The costs have spiraled so far out of the reach of ordinary middle-income people that they’ve despaired of paying for them from their own earnings. And even if they could, it would take time to resolve the political reality of finding new insurance for the people who are currently on the Obamacare dole, who will need to be grandfathered to allow them to stay on the current system for some time.

I don’t like the fact that Obamacare added 10 to 11 million new people to the Medicaid rolls. But I also don’t think it’s wise, fair, or good to yank Medicaid coverage away from these people without a reliable way to move them to alternative affordable private coverage. This doesn’t make for good table-founding talk radio or cable news segments, but it is a fact of life. What do we, as conservatives, want to tell a single mom with two children making about $40,000 per year, whose employer does not offer coverage, about health insurance? The Obamacare answer is, “relax, you’ve got Medicaid.” (Medicaid has plenty of flaws, most notably the number of doctors who aren’t accepting new patients on it, but at least it’s something.) The Republican answer can’t be, “don’t worry, with enough competition amongst different insurers, you’ll find a plan with premiums, co-pays, and deductibles that you can afford someday, maybe in about ten years, based on the CBO score.”

The French Elites, Comfortable with American Elites’ Playbook from 2016

Writing in the New York Times, Kamel Daoud contends that France’s political elites are telling themselves reassuring lies about how Marine Le Pen couldn’t possibly win:

Why is it, finally, that Ms. Le Pen cannot become president? Because while the far right has changed its discourse, the mainstream elites still hold on to their old ways of seeing the world, or imagining what it is.

Their analysis of the rise of populism is out of sync. It rests on assumptions, faulty reasoning and denial. The prospect of a Le Pen presidency upsets a kind of political positivism: the view that democracy can go only from good to better, from being a necessity to being a right. Ms. Le Pen’s election would run counter to the course of history, the reasoning goes, and therefore it cannot be. This is a happy ending for elites: a narrative convention, a marketable concept, a variant form of utopia — and the basis of an irrational political analysis.

Out-of-touch elites believing that they are destined to win forever because they represent progress? We know the feeling.

Fox News’s Steady Nurturing of a Certain Kind of Right

Our Ian Tuttle offers an intriguing assessment of Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump, and a generational divide on the right:

The last year has revealed just how significant that divide really is. Eager for a young, conservative, idea-oriented presidential candidate, many second- and third-generation conservatives lined up behind Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. But Donald Trump leapt into the race and unwittingly found himself the beneficiary of a center-right energy that many thought had dissipated forever. The clearest example was among the “religious Right,” where older, Moral Majority–era types (such as Jerry Falwell Jr. and Pat Buchanan) backed Trump vigorously, while younger Evangelicals (such as Southern Baptist minister Russell Moore) rejected him. A similar dynamic played out in conservative media, where Trump alienated many young, prominent conservatives (early opponents of Trump included Ben Shapiro, Katie Pavlich, and Ben Domenech) but found fierce defenders in O’Reilly and Hannity. When much of Fox News de facto backed Trump, midway through the primary season, it could hardly come as a shock: It was already obvious that the same type of person Fox had targeted for 20 years was likely to be an ardent Trump supporter.

It is difficult, of course, to distinguish cause and effect in all of this. Has the Right made Fox? Or has Fox made the Right? The answer is surely: both, to a degree. But what becomes increasingly clear is that, to the extent that Fox has made the Right, it has made a certain kind of Right and become the model for other conservative media. Tomi Lahren, a former host on Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, was attempting to re-create the glib, pugnacious Fox News model for a younger audience. It is not clear, though, that the model can be translated — or ought to be. Fox News’s success has to no small degree depended on its appeal to a particular form of right-wing sentiment, and that success has sharpened a divide between groups of right-wingers with very different visions of what a “conservative” America ought to look like.

I recall a somewhat similar generational split in 2011 when easily forgotten presidential candidate Herman Cain was accused of sexual harassment and affairs. Prominent conservative voices of the Baby Boomer generation were quick to insist the accusers had to be lying and this was all part of a smear campaign by liberals. Generation-X conservative writers weren’t so eager to rush to the ramparts to insist there was no way Cain would behave badly. It seemed to the older voices, Cain was “one of us” and thus deserved to be trusted and defended on faith; the younger voices weren’t quite so certain that “one of us” couldn’t possibly have done something wrong. They remembered John Ensign, Vito Fossella, Larry Craig, David Vitter, Mark Foley, Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, Bob Packwood…

By December, Cain was denying an affair with one woman, insisting he merely been friends with the accuser for thirteen years, that his wife didn’t know about the friendship, and that he had given the woman money to help with paying her rent and not told his wife about that gift, either. Furthermore, Cain was unwilling to say how much money he had given her. When you’re not willing to say… we can assume it’s considerable enough to be embarrassing to disclose. People will draw their own conclusions from that sort of generous secret arrangement.

ADDENDA: A packed show on this week’s pop culture podcast: Mickey and I look ahead to the joys and aggravations of spring wedding season; wonder about just what the culture of Fox News was like behind closed doors; dissect People’s debatable criteria for the most beautiful people alive; ask whether there’s a point to wanting healthier options at fast-food places; react to the many, many listeners who offered beloved bad movies; and finish with a quick dissection of the new Star Wars trailer.

Shattered and the Irritating Consequences of Access Journalism

by Jim Geraghty

Shattered and the Irritating Consequences of Access Journalism

Post-election campaign books aren’t new. But Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, the new book by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, stands out because the believable portrait it paints of dysfunctional, incompetent senior leadership of the Clinton campaign is so at odds with the narrative we were told from the media during 2016.

Sure, there were a lot of logical reasons for her to be the favorite in 2016: Democrats had just come off of two big wins in the previous two presidential races; she had the backing of the incumbent president; she had run before and her husband had won twice; she had the historical excitement of being the first woman nominee of a major party; the obvious flaws of the Republican nominee…

There were also some that were assumed or told to us by the Democratic-friendly political media: Hillary Clinton had an experienced, well-organized campaign team that worked well together and focused on the big picture. She had learned from the Obama team and his victories about how to get out the vote. Her team knew how to collect and analyze data and accurately assess the state of the race and the electorate. They were raising more money and spending more money, and that was a significant advantage. They had oodles of campaign offices across all the key swing states, and would have a spectacular “ground game” where it mattered most. They were confident, and the reports from on the ground backed up the campaign’s expectations to win most or all of the contested swing states.

According to Shattered, none of those were true.

Why was the 2016 election result such a shock to so many people? Because the dominant narrative from most of the media was a delusion. Hillary was, if not exactly what the media wanted in every detail, the Democrat, and the majority of the media thinks of the Democrats as the smart good guys and the Republicans as the dumb bad guys.

The narrative of the impending Clinton landslide was combination of Democrats’ wishful thinking, Clinton campaign spin, conventional wisdom, groupthink, and dismissal of contrary indicators.

I bought into it too much myself, and I’m still kicking myself for it. Although every once in a while I expressed a little bit of doubt:

We’re about to learn just how much a candidate needs campaign offices in these swing states. When you see Hillary Clinton having 36 offices in Ohio and Trump only 16, or Hillary having 36 offices in Pennsylvania and Trump only having two, or Clinton having 34 offices in Florida and Trump having one… if the number of offices influences get-out-the-vote operations and total turnout, Trump should get blown out in those states. But right now the polls in those states look mixed-to-bad for Trump, but not abysmal. Emerson has them tied in Ohio and Clinton only up by 3 in Pennsylvania, and the last three polls in Florida have them within the margin of error.

Perhaps Trump doesn’t need to open many offices if the RNC ground game efforts will make up the slack.

In a year with such an unorthodox nominee, the lack of Trump campaign offices seems like a giant gamble. Maybe he’ll win by sheer force of personality, dominating the news coverage while conceding the commercial breaks. Maybe Trump’s instinct that data-driven get-out-the-vote efforts are “overrated” will be proven correct. But if Trump flops, and Republican turnout is below 2012, it will prove to be a painful lesson to the GOP and all future candidates that a campaign infrastructure really matters.

And as I wrote yesterday, this leaves me wondering if Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes kept their word to their sources… but ended up somewhat complicit in this inaccurate narrative that dominated the nation’s perception of the race. They agreed to hold all of the quotes, information, and anecdotes from their on-background conversations for the book, to be published long after Election Day. Clinton campaign staffers could vent and speak frankly about all of their serious problems hidden from the public eye, knowing that Allen and Parnes wouldn’t report it and the public wouldn’t know until after their decision had been made.

Except… this means a reporter for The Hill and a columnist for Roll Call knew that the media narrative was wrong, and didn’t tell anyone. Hillary Clinton’s campaign wasn’t a well-oiled machine, and in the closing weeks there were a lot of warnings and grim indicators in those key swing states. If you’re a Republican, you’re probably thankful that the Clintons and their inner circle were ignoring and dismissing these troubling data and anecdotes from key states, and that the Democrats were oblivious to the real state of the race. But as a citizen and consumer of news… wouldn’t you have liked to know then?

Killing The O’Reilly Factor

Mike Allen, who writes probably the second- or third-best morning newsletter out there, making a point about the dismissal of Bill O’Reilly:

Life is more fair than unfair. If you do the right things for the right reasons, the arc of life bends toward goodness — with good results. But if you do the wrong thing for the wrong reason, the arc of life bends toward justice — almost always with bad results. Who cares if you make millions, and earn fame and power, if you end in public or private humiliation?

You’ll recall Mary Katharine Ham used to appear on O’Reilly’s program regularly, and in 2014, the pair had some particularly eye-opening heated exchanges about marijuana. To me, what was most important was not the issue or the positions — I’m wary about the long-term consequences of marijuana legalization, which puts me a little closer to O’Reilly’s position — but how each figure treated the other. For some reason, O’Reilly fixated on then-new mother Ham’s daughter, and kept hounding her about why she would be comfortable with her daughter — then less than a year old, if I recall correctly — smoking marijuana. His side of the “debate” quickly devolved into sneering insults:

O’REILLY: Answer my question!

HAM: No, I’m answering the question by saying it doesn’t have to be illegal because I can step in and handle things! And the fact is that freedom is far less likely to be damaging than paternalism and a nanny state!

O’REILLY: Mary Katharine, you’re babbling, you don’t want to engage in a conversation!

HAM: No, I’m saying clear words and making an argument to you.

They debated the issue again a week later, and once again, O’Reilly went straight to the “what kind of a mother are you?”

O’REILLY: You have a child.

HAM: Yes, who, by the way, did not sign up to be brought up on national TV in a drug discussion, but let’s go ahead.

O’REILLY: Sorry, but if you’re going to advocate the legalization about marijuana, you’re going to have to answer questions about children and your child, who I’m sure you love more than anything else in the world. You don’t want that child, at age 13 to 17, to be using marijuana. I know you. And I know you don’t want that.

HAM: Yes, and I answered that specifically that week.

O’Reilly concluded, “by the time your daughter gets to the teenage years, pot will be like chewing gum, smoking a cigarette.” (In O’Reilly’s mind, support for marijuana legalization always automatically includes support for use by teenagers, which is an assignment of bad faith where it is undeserved.)

If you bring up somebody else’s kids in a debate — several times — you’re a bunch of words that the editors don’t want me to use in this newsletter. (Maybe I’ll turn it into an explicit-lyrics rap. “Call your guests a bunch of pinheads and dimwits, but what the f***’s wrong with you? Kids are off limits!”)

We don’t know if Bill O’Reilly really did treat his employees and coworkers as badly as those five women who settled lawsuits or accepted payouts alleged. But we do know that he had no problem being shamelessly obnoxious, insulting, gratuitously personal, and unfair to his regular guests on camera.

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

Democrats Turned Off by Ossoff’s Fall Off And Need for a Runoff Face-Off

by Jim Geraghty

Democrats Turned Off by Ossoff’s Fall Off And Need for a Runoff Face-Off

Poor Alyssa Milano.

Look, it stinks to work hard, actually get active and volunteer to drive people to the polls, and perform pretty well… and fall just short of your goals. Did Democrat Jon Ossoff do well? Sure, getting 48.1 percent is nothing to sneeze at. The problem is that this means the race goes to a runoff between Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel, and unless a lot of supporters of other GOP candidates stay home, the odds are good that Handel will win the runoff. A longtime GOP-held House seat, consisting of Atlanta suburbs that weren’t particularly enamored with Donald Trump, will likely remain Republican, and the status quo will continue.

Ossoff also had a huge fundraising advantage that he’s not likely to enjoy again, and that few candidates anywhere ever get to enjoy: more than $8 million, quadruple the next-closest contender. Not many Democratic House candidates get Samuel L. Jackson making radio ads for them, either, declaring, “We have to channel the great vengeance and furious anger we have for this administration into votes at the ballot box.” That’s nice. Democrats kind-of, sort-of did. But… Hillary Clinton won 47 percent in this district on Election Day 2016, and Ossoff won 48 percent.

In all likelihood, furious Democrats donated $8 million to Ossoff to win a “moral victory.” Milano’s understandable nausea comes from Democrats’ genuine hopes that Ossoff could win 50 percent in the jungle primary and win outright, an outcome that appeared plausible in the early returns of the evening, influenced heavily by Democrat-heavy early voting, and that slipped out of reach as the more Republican-heavy Election Day returns were added to the total.

As Jeff Ditzler put it, “Ossoff leading all night, then fading at the end might help in the runoff. Atlanta Falcon fans will be able to relate to that.”

You could almost feel the “what it all means” essays being furiously rewritten as the results shifted to a runoff and likely GOP victory June 20. There was a narrative of backlash, the Resistance and the Democratic comeback, all ready to go… but the voters in the district missed that memo and loused it all up by voting more or less the same way they did in November.

Progressive leaders put the evening’s results in the best possible light. Adam Green, co-founder, Progressive Change Campaign Committee declared in a statement, “Jon Ossoff’s first-place finish in ruby-red Georgia shows the huge opportunities for progressive candidates across the country — from Tom Perriello for Governor in Virginia to Rob Quist for Congress in Montana.” Yes, there are indeed opportunities. But opportunities for victory are not the same as actual victories.

Last night, David Freedlander observed that the allegedly newly energized Democrats have fallen short in the three Congressional races since Election Day 2016: the Louisiana Senate runoff, the Kansas special House election, and last night’s special House election in Georgia. I pointed out that none of those were particularly friendly territory for Democrats – and neither are the other remaining special House elections for this year, in Montana’s at-large district and South Carolina’s fifth district. (The record is a little more mixed in the handful of special state legislative elections so far this year, but it’s a stretch to argue that these little-noticed races represent early referendums on the president.)

He reminded me about Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, undoubtedly a Republican upset for the ages. But it’s probably worthwhile to think back to all the special elections in that cycle where Republicans thought they might have a shot and fell short: Scott Murphy beating Jim Tedisco in New York, John Garamendi beating David Harmer in California, Bill Owens beating Doug Hoffman in New York, Ted Deutch beating Ed Lynch in Florida, Mark Critz beating Tim Burns in Pennsylvania… Looking at those special elections, you would have thought Democrats were in “good enough” shape for the 2010 midterms. Then in May 2010, Charles Djou won a seat in Hawaii that Republicans would ordinarily never win, and the signs of a GOP wave started to build. Are special elections early indicators of what’s going to happen in the next major election? Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t.

One other point about last night worth mentioning — the “jungle primary” system has candidates running simultaneous primary and general election campaigns. A candidate like Karen Handel had to argue why she was better than the other GOP alternatives and better than the Democrat at the same time. If you have a crowded GOP field on one side, and a small or de facto unified Democrat field on the other, that’s an enormous advantage to the Democrat.

Much like in the 2016 presidential primary, last night the GOP was bedeviled by a bunch of no-hope no-names clogging up a ballot. As Patrick Ruffini observed, “It’s really hard to motivate people to vote for an anybody-but-X basket of candidates.” Last night saw seven Republican candidates get less than one percent. Unfortunately, parties don’t have much power to keep gadfly candidates off a ballot, if they file the right papers, collect the required signatures, and pay the proper fees.

Perhaps it’s time to consider new ideas…

“There will be a substantial reward for the one who eliminates the most no-name GOP candidates on the ballot. You are free to use any methods necessary.”

Remember When Republicans Supported Disclosure of Public Records?

There’s no good reason for any Republican to stick his or her neck out and defend the Trump administration’s policies of ending past public-disclosure policies. If the White House staff wants to not release visitor logs anymore, let them defend that decision. If the White House wants to end the tradition of presidents releasing their tax returns, fine. Let them defend it. We used to like disclosure and mocked Obama’s claim that he was running “the most transparent administration in history.” Just because Trump doesn’t think the public doesn’t have a right to know doesn’t mean we have to change our principles and beliefs.

In Claremore, Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford surprised a questioner by saying he believes that President Donald Trump should release his income tax returns.

“He promised he would,” Lankford said. “He should keep his promise.”

Is Fox News Approaching the End of an Era?

If Brian Stelter’s sources are correct, we’ve seen the last episode of Bill O’Reilly hosting the Factor.

Fox News will no longer even respond to questions about whether Bill O’Reilly will return to his show.

A well-placed source said Tuesday afternoon that representatives for Fox and O’Reilly have begun talking about an exit. But this prompted a denial from sources in O’Reilly’s camp.

Even one person close to O’Reilly, however, said he will probably not be back on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

The original well-placed source said an announcement about O’Reilly’s fate was likely by the end of the week.

I wonder if that announcement will be “pithy.”

ADDENDA: If you’re not listening to the Three Martini Lunch or any of the other excellent podcasts at Ricochet… do so!

May Tells Everyone to March to the Polls in June

by Jim Geraghty

May Tells Everyone to March to the Polls in June

Surprise! The United Kingdom will hold parliamentary elections June 8.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has announced plans to call a snap general election on 8 June.

She said Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership following the EU referendum.

Explaining the decision, Mrs May said: “The country is coming together but Westminster is not.”

There will be a Commons vote on the proposed election on Wednesday – Labour have said they will vote with the government.

The prime minister needs Parliament’s backing to hold a vote before the next scheduled date of 2020.

Explaining her change of heart on an early election, Mrs May said: “I have concluded the only way to guarantee certainty and security for years ahead is to hold this election.”

I’m sure the parliamentary system of snap elections makes sense to our cousins across the Atlantic, but it feels really odd over on this side. Could you imagine waking up one morning and finding out there’s a new election for the country’s leader in six weeks? (Cue Democrats saying, “If only!”)

Apparently the biggest opposition party was caught completely unprepared: My old friend Marshall Manson observes, “Watching coverage on the BBC. They can’t get a Labour spokesperson on camera. No front benchers. No one at all.”

The Dems Went Down to Georgia, Looking for a House Seat to Steal

Here it comes! Tonight brings the second and probably most interesting special House election of 2017, in Georgia’s sixth congressional district. Today 30-year-old Democrat Jon Ossoff, a quartet of other little-known Democrats, nearly a dozen Republicans, and an independent face off, and if anyone gets 50 percent, they’re the new representative. If no one reaches 50 percent, then the two top candidates — probably Ossoff and either former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel and local businessman or former Johns Creek city councilman Bob Gray — head to a runoff June 20.

As I wrote back in February, “These are not the most glamorous of contests, but as Republican success at the state level during the Obama years demonstrates, they can be consequential. If there is indeed a massive grassroots mobilization of anti-Trump voters in the works, its first glimmers should be seen in this year’s races.” Democrats ran a lot better than usual in the heavily Republican Kansas district last week… but they still fell short.

Democrats think Ossoff has a shot of breaking 50 percent tonight. If he doesn’t, he’ll probably have a tough time in the runoff; as Erick Erickson observes, “There hasn’t been any significant poll showing Jon Ossoff equaling or exceeding Hillary Clinton’s 46.8 percent” that she received in the district in 2016. Getting almost 47 percent is a nice figure in a 20-candidate traffic jam of a race, and disappointing in a two-candidate runoff.

Our Alexandra DeSanctis is covering the race from the trail:

Georgia’s sixth congressional district — which is made up of the eastern part of Cobb County, as well as the northern parts of Fulton and DeKalb counties — has been represented by a Republican for nearly four decades straight, since 1979. For about two of those decades, the district’s congressman was Newt Gingrich; he was followed by Johnny Isakson (who is now one of Georgia’s two senators), and then Price. None of these candidates ever had any difficulty holding on to the seat.

Many who know the district well — much better than the outside Democrats who have swooped in to peddle Ossoff as the antidote to Trump — are quick to point out that, while GA-06 has long been Republican, it has never been Trump Republican. In the GOP presidential primary last year, Florida senator Marco Rubio won the district with nearly 40 percent of the vote. Trump came in a distant second with 28 percent, topped by a margin of about 14,000 votes. This may explain why voter enthusiasm in GA-06 paled come November. It is worth noting, too, that, skeptical though they are of his strand of conservatism, Trump is faring better with voters in GA-06 than he is with the median voter. While his current national approval rating is at 42 percent, in March he had an approval rating of 51 percent in the sixth district.

If tonight shakes out the way the polls suggest, with Ossoff in the high 40s, then the news for Democrats is mixed. Anger over Trump has motivated their grassroots to come out in better-than-usual numbers in special elections… just not enough to win in heavily Republican districts.

It’s Hard to Keep It Light if There’s an Approaching ‘Dark Age’

James Kirchick’s The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age is not a fun read, but it’s an important one.

Early on, he details how the Hungarian government is choosing to forget some aspects of the country’s history regarding the Holocaust:

On the Sunday of July 20, 2014, police cordoned off Freedom Square [in Budapest] while construction workers put the finishing touches on an addition to this urban tableau already brimming with historical tributes: the Memorial to the Victims of the German Occupation. From the moment its construction was announced, following an opaque artistic competition lacking public consultation, it had been the subject of heated dispute. Beginning with its very title, which labels the tempted movement of German soldiers onto friendly territory an “occupation” the memorial absolves Hungarians’ complicity in the Holocaust. Depicting the Archangel Gabriel (described in the plans as the man of God, symbol of Hungary) under attack from a sharp-clawed German Imperial Eagle, it portrays the Hungarian nation as a collective victim of Nazi predation. BLOCK This distortion of history obscures both the specifically anti-Jewish nature of the Holocaust and the Hungarian state’s active collaboration in mass murder.

It’s striking how a monument built by a government that claims for itself the exclusive legacy of Hungarian anticommunist resistance so much resembles a work of socialist realism. By obscuring Jewish victimhood entirely and ascribing total innocence to Hungarians and total evil to Germans, the memorial is actually as exploitative as any Stalinist icon.

… [Prime Minister Viktor] Orban’s defense of the occupation memorial was also notable for studiously dodging the fact that the main victims of the Nazis in Hungary, as everywhere else in Europe, were Jews. “The victims,” he wrote, “whether Orthodox, Christian, or without faith, became the victims of a dictatorship that embodied an anti-Christian school of thought” — essentially claiming that Christians were as much victims of the Nazis as Jews, a word his letter does not use even once.

… When I visited Freedom Square [in summer 2015], an eighty-seven year old Holocaust survivor sat directly opposite the memorial addressing a small group of people. A rotating crew of citizens stand watch over the Living Memorial to prevent its defacement by neo-Nazis. I asked that evening’s attendant, a man who appeared to be in his late fifties, a gentile, why he was spending a beautiful Budapest summer night in what seemed like a lonely, futile protest. “History is more complicated than this falsifying, simplifying monument,” he answered.

Second to Russia, no European country is manipulating its history for political purposes more egregiously than Hungary. In both places, rewriting the past is done with an eye to the future, as governments inculcate their citizenries with nationalism, irredentism, and intolerance and then marshal these attitudes in service of the state. The clashing historical narratives embodied in the dueling memorials in Freedom Square have engaged the wider public in a debate reaching far beyond the usual esoteric academic circles. As Hungary creeps further into authoritarianism, its revisionism has worrisome implications for Europe’s future.

I’m sure there are some U.S. conservatives who conclude that because Orban heads up the party of the Right in that country’s politics, he must be the good guy. Eh, don’t be so sure. Back in 2014, he declared, “Hungarians welcomed illiberal democracy… ‘Checks and balances’ is a U.S. invention that for some reason of intellectual mediocrity Europe decided to adopt and use in European politics.” Hey, pal, we’re fighting like the Dickens to keep checks and balances in place over here. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and all that.

If that all seems too dark and depressing, here’s Kirchick getting kicked off RT television after going rogue and using his interview time to denounce Putin’s record on the human rights of homosexuals.

ADDENDA: In the Morning Jolt of April 7:

This morning, we finally have one big change to U.S. foreign policy that you have heard me yearning for, month after month: There is now a consequence to using chemical weapons. Not an all-out war, not an invasion, not even a full effort at regime change, just… consequences. And just maybe, the Syrian military will decide to leave the sarin and the chlorine on the shelf in the next battle.

It’s now April 18, and so far, Assad’s regime hasn’t used chemical weapons since the U.S. strike. Syria is still a horrific bloodbath, but we might be looking at a successful case of deterrence.

North Korea: ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis in Slow Motion’

by Jim Geraghty

Happy Easter Monday! Good news, you’ve got one extra day to file your taxes.

Keep your head on a swivel this week. It’s the anniversary week of the Boston Marathon bombing (April 15), the Virginia Tech shooting (April 16), the Oklahoma City bombing (April 19), which was itself selected to occur on the anniversary of the Waco siege, and the Columbine shootings (April 20).

North Korea: ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis in Slow Motion’

The status quo continues, until the day it just can’t anymore:

… another embarrassing setback, a missile test that failed seconds after liftoff, the same pattern seen in a surprising number of launches since President Barack Obama ordered stepped-up cyber- and electronic-warfare attacks in early 2014. Finally, there was the test that did not happen, at least yet — a sixth nuclear explosion. It is primed and ready to go, satellite images show.

What is playing out, said Robert Litwak of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who tracks this potentially deadly interplay, is “the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion.” But the slow-motion part appears to be speeding up, as President Trump and his aides have made it clear that the United States will no longer tolerate the incremental advances that have moved Mr. Kim so close to his goals.

Back in January, Charles Krauthammer observed, “North Korea may be just an unexploded ordnance of a long-concluded Cold War. But we cannot keep assuming it will never go off.”

The good news is, maybe, must maybe, China is listening to President Trump and putting a little pressure on North Korea’s regime to calm down and cool it:

On a visit to the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea, [Vice President Mike] Pence said he was “heartened” by early signs from China and hoped its leaders would “use the extraordinary levers they have” to prod Kim into giving up his nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. He repeated President Donald Trump’s warning that the U.S. would act without China if necessary.

One of those small, symbolic gestures of Chinese disapproval:

China Monday denied any political motive in the cancellation of flights by its flag carrier to North Korea, as pressure mounts on Beijing to help curb Pyongyang’s weapons programmes.

State broadcaster CCTV reported last Friday that Air China had suspended its Beijing-Pyongyang route, leading to speculation the move was intended to pressure the North.

But foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang distanced his government from the decision and said it was purely “market-based”.

The bad news is, North Korea may not even listen to China anymore:

North Korea did not respond this month to requests from senior Chinese diplomats, including the country’s foreign minister, to meet North Korean counterparts, amid rising tension with the US, Bloomberg reported on Monday.

Citing unidentified sources, the report said China’s special envoy for the North Korea nuclear issue, Wu Dawei, was the other official whose requests for meetings went unanswered.

Check out a photo essay looking at life on the Chinese-North Korean border.

America’s West and America’s Rest

One of the most intriguing comments I read over the Easter break came from sportswriter Jason Whitlock:

Yes, sportswriting has moved far left. The entire media has moved far left. The media used to cater to New York, the hub for traditional liberal values. Journalists used to be obsessed with working at a New York magazine or newspaper or TV network. Now the entire industry is obsessed with going viral and how words will be received via social media. Who determines this? San Francisco/Silicon Valley, the hub for revolutionary, far-left extremism, the home base for Twitter and Facebook. Twitter and Facebook’s employee base is from the area. New York and San Francisco are distinctly different. San Francisco is driving the American media, not New York. You have young, microwaved millionaires and billionaires reshaping the American media in a way that reflects San Francisco values. This is a major story the mainstream media ignore. San Francisco hacked the media. Frisco-inspired clickbait is the real fake news.

There’s a lot of truth to that, and Whitlock puts his finger on why today’s conservative complaint about a liberal media is different from that of ten years ago or twenty years ago. The old New York establishment Left, shaped heavily by Watergate — Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Anthony Lewis, Woodward & Bernstein — could drive the right batty but it was all driven by a noblesse oblige: a self-awareness of the power of their positions and a duty to correct the world’s injustices through exposure. The old journalism saying, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” implied punching up; the more powerful you were, the more you needed scrutiny. For Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, My Lai, all that the press needed to do was expose the wrongdoing and the public would instinctively recoil and dole out appropriate consequences.

Today’s social-media outrage-mob-driven click-bait journalism is much more about punching down, finding someone who has deviated from the range of acceptable thought and ostracizing them and enforcing the tenets of a shame culture. It’s less about exposing the sins of the powerful than exposing the sins of the near-powerless, whether it’s those gorillas-in-the-mist reports from Red State America or gleeful exposé about the hypocrisies of religious conservatives. (The hypocrisy of a self-proclaimed environmentalist who enjoys a private jet with a massive carbon footprint never quite stirs the hearts of the media as much as a preacher’s affair.) Reading some media sources, you would conclude the biggest threat to America isn’t found in terrorists, hostile threats, runaway government power, or violent mobs at Berkeley or Middlebury, but in the menace of haircuts at CPAC or an Indiana pizzeria unsure if it would cater a gay wedding, an obscure Tucson school board member, an Idaho pastor claiming evangelical Christians are bullied by the culture at large, or Washington Redskins fans who wanted to keep their team’s name. No wonder their dominant attitude towards immigration, legal and illegal, is so welcoming, if they feel such contempt for the Americans who are already here.

This is why you see the headline “Republican Lawmaker [Makes Controversial Statement X]” so often. You’ve probably never heard of that Republican lawmaker — in most cases, an obscure state legislator — and after the controversy ends, you probably never will again. (Think of, say, Todd Akin.) You probably don’t live in the same state. If some no-name backbencher says something stupid, it doesn’t affect your life much at all, certainly not as much as the actual laws being passed by your state legislature. But if most of those in journalism are driven by the impassioned belief that Republican lawmakers represent the preeminent threat to all that is good in America, then spotlighting the brain-farts of no-name GOP state legislators to a national audience is good and important work, because it tells the public that no matter how reasonable, well-informed, and good-hearted some local Republican seems, deep down his mind is a dark and tortured place of hateful and selfish turmoil.

If Whitlock’s assessment is right, then our media today is driven primarily an ostentatious, smug progressivism from those who practice their purported values the least in their working lives. What do Silicon Valley’s elites hate the most? There’s a lot of competition, but surely the plutocratic rich, the old slave owners of the South, the robber-barons, and the little mustached man from the Monopoly game. The titans of Silicon Valley are rarely seen in suits and ties, never mind tuxedos. Of course, a good portion of what Silicon Valley develops runs on our now-ubiquitous smartphones, built by Chinese workers on 12-hour shifts that few Americans would ever tolerate for themselves. Silicon Valley’s super-elites may not be as different from those old, exploitative plutocrats as they like to think.

One can’t help but wonder if there is some repressed guilt coming out in the form of demonization of others:

“Silicon Valley has stopped being the place where people who can’t get jobs elsewhere go. Now it’s like the first stop on the privileged elite bus from the Ivy League—and do not even stop by Wall Street on the way,” Mr. Garcia Martinez said.

He said that Silicon Valley’s ethos allows startup founders to easily justify their quick riches. “To maintain this status of extreme income and outcome inequality you have to think that somehow the moral universe conspired to make you a billionaire and the other guy not,” he said.

Surely at least some of California’s wealthy progressives find solace in the thought that if flyover country is comparably poorer and struggling to get by, it must be because they’re morally worse people – “deplorable,” even.

Elsewhere in the Golden State, our Kevin Williamson chats with the leaders of the California secession movement. It will probably not shock you to learn that those guys haven’t studied much history:

“When I talk to people about California independence, they always say: ‘Well, what would you do if China invades?’” says Yes California president Louis Marinelli from his home in . . . Yekaterinburg, formerly Sverdlovsk (city motto: Don’t call us Siberia), an industrial center on the edge of the Ural Mountains in Russia. “Seriously,” he asks, “when’s the last time China invaded another country?” I mention the obvious ones: Tibet, India, and the Soviet Union. There’s Vietnam and Korea. Marinelli is a young man; perhaps much of this seems like ancient history to him. It does not to the Indians, or the Russians, or the Vietnamese, or many others. “No, I mean: When’s the last time China crossed an ocean to invade another country?” he clarifies. “Only the United States does that.” Only?

The American war machine must surely be of some intense concern to California’s would-be Jefferson Davis, inasmuch as there is no legal or constitutional process for a state’s separating from the Union, a question that was settled definitively if not in court then just outside the courthouse at Appomattox.

ADDENDA: I’m slated to be on CNN International this Thursday at 2:30.

A Meditation before Easter

by Jack Fowler

Dear Morning Jolt Readers,

The offices of National Review are closed in observance of Good Friday. Or, as it is now formally known in Bloomington, Indiana, thanks to Mayor John Hamilton’s determined leftism, “Spring Holiday.”

Father, forgive him, even though he knoweth precisely what he doeth.

In 1987, D. Keith Mano, our late friend who wrote the magazine’s beloved “The Gimlet Eye” column, penned a beautiful reflection titled “A Meditation after Easter.” We find Keith’s piece is also appropriate before Easter, and encourage you to read it, here.

God bless,

Jack Fowler

P.S.: Courtesy of Johnny Cash, a powerful hymn for the day.

In Llama Land There’s a One-Man Band…

by Jack Fowler

 . . . who will toot his flute for you.

Dear Jolter,

Airlines, tickets, seats — these are just some of the Icarus-based topics that everyone seems to be talking about in the wake of United Airlines’ dragged-passenger fiasco. So much anger! Remember back when Old Blue Eyes sang about how cool and hip flying was? Let’s marinate in Frank’s golden voice, where the air is rarified, before we take on United:

Nice, no? Now, back on earth, and on NRO, among the weigh-ins are Kevin Williamson’s new essay, “United Is Why People Hate Capitalism,” which is crammed with the usual KDW wit and wisdom.

And then there’s David French’s take: He looks at all the evidence and finds plenty of blame to go around, and also finds something missingthe Golden Rule. (By the way, David will be speaking in Chicago on April 20th at an event co-sponsored by National Review Institute and Illinois Policy).

But wait: In all this hullabaloo, is it possible to have some sympathy for United and other U.S. airlines? Maybe. Last month U.S. carriers’ Partnership for Open and Fair Skies began to aggressively lobby Donald Trump and his administration to take on the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, the charge being that the Gulf States have violated their “Open Skies” agreements with the U.S. by pumping over $50 billion in documented subsidies to their state-owned carriers — Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. These subsidies undercut the U.S. carriers, which the Partnership claims risks 1.2 million American jobs. From the Partnership’s March 16th letter to the President:

On Sunday, Emirates launched its maiden flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Athens, Greece.

This flight represents a real and growing threat to the 10 million American jobs that rely on the U.S. aviation industry, as well as U.S. airlines’ ability to provide international service. That’s because the Emirates flight from Newark to Athens is fueled by billions of dollars in government subsidies from the United Arab Emirates. These subsidies allow carriers like Emirates to fly some of the biggest planes on the planet at the lowest fares, regardless of whether they have enough seats filled to make a profit. It hurts American customers, markets and, most importantly, middle-class workers.

Every time a U.S. carrier is pushed off a route by a subsidized airline, such as Emirates, it means we lose 1,500 American jobs. Eventually, this situation places the jobs of everyone in the U.S. aviation industry at risk. These subsidies clearly violate an important international agreement with our country and place our U.S. airlines at a severe competitive disadvantage.

We stand for Open Skies and fair competition among all airlines. It’s an important principle, and one we respect. But when foreign governments violate their agreements with our country, we cannot turn a blind eye. To date, the UAE and Qatar have provided $50 billion In subsidies — that we know of — to Emi rates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

Mr. President, you campaigned to protect and promote American jobs against foreign interests who for too long have taken advantage of hard-working people right here in this country. This is an incredible opportunity to make good on that pledge. Only you can act to right this wrong. You can protect America’s aviation workers by enforcing our agreements with the UAE and Qatar. We need your help.

On Monday, the Partnership hit the Gulf airlines for their 50% increase in U.S. flights, which “in a clear violation of their Open Skies agreements with the United States. . . . Data show that these flights are not stimulating new demand, but are instead leeching off fair-playing competitors.” No, this passel isn’t running ads on NRO or in NR (grrrr!), but here’s the Partnership’s TV spot. All I can say, given my limited judgment capacities and bar-room logic, is that I am glad America will be enjoying true energy independence soon enough, so we can stop giving our cash to these blankety blanks who turn around and use our dough against us.

Now, while we are looking at TV spots, Americans for Prosperity released one on Monday, taking on the Border Adjustment Tax:

AFP’s report on the B.A.T. impact claims it is equivalent to a $1.2 trillion tax on consumers. The top five to-get-screwed states, based on imports and state GDP, would be Michigan, Louisiana, Tennessee, New Jersey, and Kentucky. Here’s the report’s dismal conclusion:

Every state will be impacted by a border adjustment tax, and those states that rely more on imports face a graver threat from the tax hike. At a cost of more than $1 trillion, this tax on businesses and consumers is on par with the Affordable Care Act or former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s plans to reshape the American tax system.

American importers — 95 percent of whom are small businesses employing fewer than 250 workers — could see their tax bills skyrocket to unsustainable levels. In today’s highly-integrated global economy, every consumer in every corner of the country would feel the effects of the BAT, in the form of higher costs at the department store, grocery store, gas pump, and online. Lawmakers who think that the BAT can’t impact their states are mistaken; the risks and costs that would come along with border adjustment are too much for American consumers and businesses to bear.

Mama mia. Okay, enough about planes and BAT. Let’s talk about . . . bread. I’m exercising a point of personal privilege here to deride government idiocy in my home state, Connecticut. An economic basket case — No. 1 at being No. 50. My pals at the Yankee Institute (trust me, if it were named the Red Sox Institute there would be no mention of the name) are reporting that the feds have indicted one Moshen Youssef, who received a $400,000 in loans and grants from the Malloy Administration for a fake pita bread located (except, because it was fake, it wasn’t) in South Windsor. Our tax dollars at work, so expertly husbanded (am I allowed to say that?) by Big Brother in Hartford. Geeeesh!

Back to NRO. Today I encourage you to linger there and enjoy all the terrific writing at hand. For example, the piece with the year’s longest title — Outrage Over Dave Chappelle’s Jokes Reveals That Progressives Know Nothing about Comedy — is most definitely worth your time. And then there is Heather Wilhelm’s latest column: The Left’s New Cure-All: ‘Science’. It comes with a free picture of Bill Nye, the Alleged Science Guy. Gads!

Okay, I can see you are heading for the exits, no doubt to prepare for Spy Wednesday stuff. I’ll catch you tomorrow. If before then you book a cabin on the National Review 2017 Trans-Atlantic Crossing, you’ll make me very happy. And then Mrs. Fowler won’t have to deal with a grump. Do it for her!


Jack Fowler

PS: Jimmy Boy, how is that sun tan coming along?

It Only Took 81 Days

by Jack Fowler

Dear Jolters,

Pesach Sameach! To my brothers and sisters in Abraham. Happy Passover. All people of good will can cherish the celebration of freedom from enslavement.

Finally Edition of “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” It usually is, and without question was a principle motivator for Trump voters in 2016 — no jobs, limited employment opportunities, stagnant wages, shuttered factories, etc. were voter-resonating themes that the Donald hit relentlessly on the campaign trail. Why it then took him nearly three months to announce (last Friday) his chairman for the Council of Economic Advisers puzzles the heck out of many, myself included. But that said, conservatives should be commending the president for his choice: Keven Hassett, the chief economic guru at AEI and the always-wise National Review contributor who has been writing for the magazine for years. I might be a little eager here, because what we’d be commending is only President Trump’s intention to nominate Kevin, a conservative happy warrior, but let the celebration begin anyway.

Moe, Barry, or Curly? Turns out Putin’s stooge is The One We Have Been Waiting For. Rich Lowry’s new column hits Barry O right between the eyes: “It’s impossible to conclude anything other than that Obama was a Russian stooge, and not out of any nefarious deals, but out of his own naivete and weakness.”

More Celebrating. I’d like to wish a happy 5th birthday to Gatestone Institute, which, like NRO, is a daily must-read, especially for those who care about issues of free speech and Islamofacism. Each morning Gatestone (run by my dear friends, Nina Rosenwald and Mimi Perlman) publishes powerful pieces — by ace reporters and analysts such as Soeren Kern and Guy Milliere — that expose the chokehold Islam has on Europe, and the suicidal multiculturalism perpetrated by EU officials. And a heck of a lot more. Like the very troubling actions of General H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s national-security adviser. This important Gatestone report by Kern hits him hard for some troubling anti-Israel and pro-Iran personnel picks. If you’d like to follow Gatestone daily, sign up for its newsletter.

Even More Celebrating: Ian Tuttle has a terrific tribute to Norman Podhoretz and the 50th Anniversary of his acclaimed memoir, Making It.

Is Susan Rice’s chronic deception socio-pathological? Victor Davis Hanson asks today on NRO. And answers. It’s a doozie, but then, isn’t it always.

PBS Praises . . . School Choice? You read that right. Paul Crookston has a great piece on the new documentary, School, Inc.

Here, There, and Everywhere. Jay Nordlinger, traveling man, will be out West these next couple of days, sharing his wisdom, on behalf of the National Review Institute, at various venues. Tomorrow the author of Digging In will be talking about “Politics on Campus” at Claremont McKenna College. Then on Thursday Jay will be LA bound, discussing “Adventures in Journalism” at Cal State Fullerton (get complete details here, the fun starts at 1:30), and later, in partnership with the American Freedom Alliance, he’ll be at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel — you can sign up here.

Freedom Day: It’s coming. Thursday! Find out more about this now-annual effort sponsored by the National Constitution Center.

I’m betting Jim Geraghty is feeling very unthreatened as he basks in the sun on his private island getaway. Don’t worry Jimbo: You’re no Wally Pipp.

I’ll see you back here tomorrow, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel.


Jack Fowler

PS: Could there be a Fowler-penned Jolt with a mandatory NR Cruise promotion?

A Jack Fowler Morning Jolt: NR Podcasts and Remembering Linda Bridges

by Jack Fowler

Ear Friend,

I am accused, rightly, by my colleagues – including surely the vacationing Jim Geraghty, whose colossal shoes my tiny feet will try to fill this week – of trading in lousy puns, such as the salutation. Groan if you must, but please be tolerant . . . because I think this one applies to what follows.

If you aren’t yet a fan of podcasts, you should be. At least the podcasts produced by NR and featuring NR’s talent — they are very much worth your while. Here’s a sampler:

· David French’s new podcast, “The Liberty Files,” launched last week. The inaugural episode features a conversation with Professor Mike Adams from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, who has been alongside David (a First Amendment attorney) in various battles on behalf of liberty. It’s great stuff.

· I got around this weekend (finally!) to listening to Jay Nordlinger’s terrific “Q&A” podcast interview with Princeton professor Robert George. You can catch it here.

· When he’s not gallivanting on some beach, Big Jim broadcasts a daily podcast conversation, “Three Martini Lunch,” hosted by Radio America’s Greg Corombos, on the day’s pressing matters. At NRO we park them here. You ought to listen.

· Every week my pal John J. Miller, on his podcast “The Bookmonger,” gives ten minutes to the author of a new important book. It’s always quick and interesting. Lend it an ear — try this recent episode with Rod Dreher about his new book, The Benedict Option.

Okay, a busy and somber day ahead of us: We’ll be attending the funeral service for our late colleague, Linda Bridges. Here is the formal and beautiful obituary which was published in the April 17, 2017, issue of National Review:

LINDA BRIDGES came to NR in a way that was characteristic both of her and of WFB. The literary critic Hugh Kenner, polymath and archpriest of high modernism, had written Bill criticizing the lede of one of his columns as too rambling. Bill published Kenner’s letter, and a detailed defense of his handiwork. Into this smackdown waded Miss Bridges, a junior at USC, majoring in English and minoring in French, who forthrightly offered her own opinion. Bill knew a good thing when he saw it and offered her a job when she graduated in 1970.

Linda wrote (about the arts, most passionately) and cleaned up other people’s writing, which she did with unerring care. She loved the sheer mechanics of putting out a magazine: She used a manual typewriter to the last (and acquired one in Cyrillic), and sometimes daydreamed about owning her very own linotype machine. But when the computer age bore down like a glacier, she mastered its techniques too. She served John O’Sullivan as managing editor and WFB as his primary late-life amanuensis, deciphering his handwriting and typing, checking the details of his multitudinous books. Along the way she co-wrote two of her own, with NR vets: The Art of Persuasion: A National Review Rhetoric for Writers, with William F. Rickenbacker, a guide to usage that was, like its co-authors, learned, eccentric, and delightful; and Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement, with John Coyne Jr., informed by her unmatched knowledge (and love) of its subject.

Linda was a devout parishioner of St. Mary the Virgin, that highest of Anglo-Catholic churches (her church would have to be beautiful, and detailed). In her free time she traveled, often with her long-time roommate Alice Manning, from Cortina, Italy, for skiing, to the Orient Express. On her office door and around her desktop she pinned cut-out cartoons she found particularly amusing; there were many. Her smile lit up a room, her laugh filled it. She died, a month before her 68th birthday. R.I.P. And, –30–.

Kindly pray for her soul’s deservedly peaceful repose. Now, I’ll limit the remainder of today’s Jolt to three NRO recommendations.

One: Jay Nordlinger’s new “Impromptus” column is a worthwhile expansion of his piece in the latest NR magazine, “A Defender of His Country,” about Russian democracy champion Vladimir Kara-Murza, twice poisoned — as can happen to Russian democracy champions.

Two: Aaron Hedlund proposes the cure for the House Republicans’ current funk over Obamacare repeal and replace. From his piece:

Given the united Democratic opposition, inside-the-bubble D.C. thinking has made the tug-of-war between Republican moderates and the Freedom Caucus into an impossible zero-sum game. But a viable path for free-market health-care reform still exists — if Republicans in Congress can coalesce around some key ideas, such as pursuing smart insurance deregulation that puts families back in charge, creating a targeted and robust free-market safety net, and unleashing productivity and innovation by unshackling the health-care-delivery system.

Three: Jim Talent has a most informative Corner post on defense spending, China, and America’s national security interests.

I’ll catch you tomorrow, but before I do, why don’t you go book that cabin on the National Review 2017 Trans-Atlantic Crossing?

Best, and a Dios, Linda –

Jack Fowler

Bashir Assad and the Syrian Air Force Had a Blast Thursday Night

by Jim Geraghty

This is my last Morning Jolt until April 17, and in the meantime, Jack Fowler will be taking over. Have a happy Passover, blessed Easter, and just a good week.

Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Air Force Had a Blast Thursday Night

It’s like Christmas, but instead of presents, Santa Claus is delivering Tomahawk missiles to the folks on his naughty list.

On the orders of President Donald Trump, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from US warships in the eastern Mediterranean. The missiles were directed at the Shayrat airfield, believed by the US to be the base for warplanes that carried out the chemical attack on a rebel-held town in Idlib on Tuesday.

Syria said six people were killed in the strike.

Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis:

The strike was conducted using Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) launched from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. A total of 59 TLAMs targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars. As always, the U.S. took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict. Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield.

The strike was a proportional response to Assad’s heinous act. Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4. The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.

Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line. U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.

We are assessing the results of the strike. Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian Government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated.

One of my big disagreements with Trump during the primary was his quasi-isolationist views, although in fairness, Trump’s foreign-policy comments could be contradictory, boasting that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning one moment and insisting “we should take the oil” the next. Sometimes he would argue, “Let Russia take care of ISIS,” and sometimes he would pledge to “bomb the s*** out of them.”

This morning, we finally have one big change to U.S. foreign policy that you have heard me yearning for, month after month: There is now a consequence to using chemical weapons. Not an all-out war, not an invasion, not even a full effort at regime change, just… consequences. And just maybe, the Syrian military will decide to leave the sarin and the chlorine on the shelf in the next battle.

Oh, and we ended up getting much closer to a Marco Rubio foreign policy than anyone ever expected.

“Tonight’s actions show that the days of being able to act with impunity are over when it comes to Bashar al-Assad,” Rubio said. “There is now an American President prepared to do what it takes to ensure that [Assad] does not have the capability, or that his capability to conduct these sort of heinous war crimes is diminished and that he’s held accountable.”

An interesting point from Andrew Exum:

Poor John Kerry was left to bring about [Assad’s exit] in the last years of the administration with very few carrots and no sticks at his disposal. President Obama did not want to strike the regime, understandably uneasy about where such strikes might lead and not wanting to take everyone’s eye off the ball with respect to the Islamic State.

That did not stop the administration from pursuing quixotic and ultimately humiliating negotiations with the Russians throughout 2016. With the use of force off the table, we were forced to engage with the Russians over the fate of East Aleppo, in particular, as if the Russians were genuine partners for peace and not in fact enabling the very deliberate, brutal regime offensive that brought the last stronghold of the moderate opposition in Syria to its knees. We initially offered up carrots—such as increased military and intelligence cooperation with the Russians against Islamist extremists—if they would help us remove Bashar al-Assad from power, but by the end, we were practically begging the Russians to just let humanitarian aid shipments into East Aleppo. As one of the U.S. negotiators, I found the whole experience degrading.

You know what’s degraded now? Shayrat Airfield.

The World Reacts to America’s Strikes on Syria

Hey, remember when everyone said we were electing a Putin stooge? Man, somebody did not get their money’s worth out of their election meddling.*

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced the US strike against a Syrian government airbase as “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday that it plans to bolster and increase the effectiveness of the air defense system in Syria following the attack.

Russia complaining about you dropping bombs in Syria is like Kim Kardashian complaining you’re overexposed.

The Iranian government declared that it “regards this unilateral measure as dangerous, destructive and a violation of international law.” Tell ya what, fellas, every time you claim the United States is violating “international law,” why don’t you go file a complaint at our embassy in Tehran?

Meanwhile, around the world:

The Turkish deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmuş, has backed the US strikes.

Speaking on Turkish Fox TV, Kurtulmuş said he hoped the operation would contribute to achieving peace in Syria, and said the international community needed to maintain pressure on Assad.

A spokeswoman for United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May said: “The UK government fully supports the US action, which we believe was an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime, and is intended to deter further attacks.”

Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has said he “strongly supports” the US military strike on Syria’s al-Shayrat airfield, calling it a calibrated, proportionate and targeted response to the Syrian regime’s “shocking war crime”.

He said Australia was in close discussions with its allies about the next steps, but said the airstrike had sent an important signal that the world would not tolerate the use of chemical weapons.

France and Germany declared Assad had it coming to him:

“President Assad alone bears responsibility for this development,” Merkel and Hollande said. “His repeated use of chemical weapons and his crimes against his own population had to be sanctioned.”

The Russians and Iranians are furious, and our traditional allies are cheery. It’s a good day for America.

* It’s also an odd day when President Obama’s ambassador to Israel retweets you making this joke.

Meanwhile, Back in Washington…

Over in the Wall Street Journal, Jason Riley makes the compelling case that this is Mitch McConnell’s finest hour:

The Garland nomination was described widely at the time as a maneuver to put Senate Republicans in a box. The Democrats bet that Republicans would wave through Mr. Garland to avoid President Hillary Clinton appointing someone to the left of Sonia Sotomayor.

It must have been a shock when Mr. McConnell took that bet and waited for the results of the 2016 election to decide the future direction of the Supreme Court. He won. Mr. McConnell deserves great credit both for holding his ground then and for holding his caucus together on breaking the filibuster Thursday in the face of a cynical Democratic narrative about their “stolen” Supreme Court seat.

Doesn’t this earn McConnell a break from the cries of “RINO sellout!” for a while?

ADDENDA: On this week’s pop culture podcast, Mickey and I talk about the supernova-level inanity of that new Pepsi commercial; the unjust pain of Oakland Raider fans; big-grossing bad movies, or movies that are terrible but beloved by most people anyway; Alicia Keyes’s Tweet about the Muslim ballerina and the difference between the world as it is and the world as we wish it to be, and the unique candies of Easter season.

‘Nuke ‘Em: Get Them Before They Get You!’

by Jim Geraghty

‘Nuke ‘Em: Get Them Before They Get You!’

Cue the air-raid sirens! Head to the bomb shelters! Stock up on potassium-iodide pills! Get the home game version of “Nuke ‘Em!”


Lawmakers are expected to convene in the late morning to decide whether to end debate and advance to a final vote on Judge Gorsuch. If the Democratic filibuster holds — meaning fewer than 60 senators agree to proceed — Republicans have pledged to pursue the so-called nuclear option: abandoning long-held practice by lifting President Trump’s nominee with a simple majority vote. His final confirmation is expected on Friday.

Ed Whelan reminds us that Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer shrugged in 2013 when asked whether they had concerns that Republicans could someday eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. “Let ’em do it,” Reid said. “Why in the world would we care? … If they want simple majority, fine.”

One of the reasons it’s worthwhile to periodically check in with overtly liberal publications is they reveal the thinking of the other side. Mother Jones offers a fascinating look at how Democratic strategists think triggering the nuking of the filibuster is a loss, but the activists are convinced it’s a long-term win.

Given the possibly terrifying likelihood that awaits progressives if they lose the filibuster—not just with Trump’s Supreme Court nominee this time, but also with future fights—what’s the upside?

Some fear there is none, and that the Democratic Party is rushing toward a decision it will likely regret, at the behest of the party’s progressive and increasingly powerful base. A filibuster “prevents a revolt by the base—it’s the base here that’s not being smart,” said a political consultant who asked not to be named because of a client list that includes Democratic senators. The small donor base and activist core of the party “have boxed these folks in to a position that is not the wisest one.”

The decision to oppose Gorsuch, and to let Republicans put an end to the filibuster entirely, the consultant said, is more about survival today than long-term planning.

But it’s not hard to find a progressive activists convinced this is a winning issue for them in next year’s elections.

“This is an exercise of a raw political power grab, and the hope is that the American people see that for what it is in coming elections,” said Neil Sroka, communications director for Democracy for America, a progressive group that is supportive of Democrats’ current strategy of filibustering Gorsuch. This is a position echoed by Schumer himself. When asked at a press conference Tuesday what would happen if Republicans ended the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, he responded, “They will lose if they do it.” That’s because the voters will see that McConnell “will do anything to get his way,” and Republicans will not be seen as acting in a reasonable or bipartisan fashion.

… All these potential upsides are worth the risk of losing the filibuster, because McCaskill’s hope that Republicans won’t remove the filibuster in a future Supreme Court battle is a fantasy. “There is a fiction that the filibuster isn’t already dead,” says [Neil Sroka, communications director for Democracy for America]. “Any vote that Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans take is really just the icing on the cake—this thing has been cooked since Senate Republicans defied any sense of decorum in their treatment of Barack Obama.”

Right, right. The treatment of Judge Bork, the filibuster of Miguel Estrada (“because he is Latino” as a Democratic memo put it), the attempted filibuster of Samuel Alito, Harry Reid nuking the filibuster for non-Supreme Court nominees… none of that had anything to do with how we ended up here, it’s all Republicans’ fault. Got it.

So the plan is to use the nuked filibuster as a winning issue in 2018, huh? Wasn’t this the plan in 2016, too, when Democrats said the failure to confirm Merrick Garland was going to really hurt Republicans on the campaign trail?

No Democratic Senate candidate has run a television commercial on the issue of Garland’s nomination. No major Democratic figure mentioned his nomination during the party’s convention in Philadelphia. Neither Garland nor the Supreme Court even came up in Monday’s first presidential debate. Hillary Clinton barely mentions Garland on the campaign trail, and has indicated that she might nominate someone else if elected.

The public’s lack of interest in Garland’s nomination must come as a rude surprise to his biggest supporters, who confidently contended for most of the year that Republicans were making a terrible error and that their stance would cost them dearly at the ballot box.

“Not only are Republicans losing on this issue, they can’t even keep their own voters in line,” Paul Waldman declared in May. “I think the vast number of voters in states with vulnerable Republicans are expressing disapproval over the failure of the Senate to treat Garland fairly and my sense is this expression will only grow over the next several weeks and months,” Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, said in August. “[Senate Republicans] have this death wish, and that’s what it is. They are going to end up losing really, really big,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the same month.

No one knows how 2018 will shake out, but clearly Republicans didn’t get punished by voters for allegedly “defying any sense of decorum in their treatment of Barack Obama” in 2016.

Our Ramesh Ponnuru contemplates how things would be different if Senate Republicans had given Merrick Garland a hearing and voted to reject his nomination.

Under this scenario, we would have largely avoided arguments that Senate Republicans had somehow violated the Constitution. While the argument that the Senate has a constitutional obligation to hold hearings and a vote on a nominee is laughable, the argument that the Senate has a constitutional obligation to confirm a nominee is even more clearly laughable. But what else would have changed?

Democrats would still be outraged that Republicans had rejected a middle-of-the-road nominee who was unquestionably qualified in terms of professional competence and reputation. They might even be more outraged: Holding hearings and a vote would have led some Republicans to make Garland-specific arguments, and some of those arguments would have struck Democrats as reprehensible distortions (as indeed some of them probably would have been).

… In this alternative universe, I imagine we’d be in roughly the same place we are today.

Like a BAT out of Hell…

As reported earlier this year, the Koch Seminar Network, the association that include Americans for Prosperity, is not a fan of the proposed “Border Adjustment Tax.” In fact, it’s not going too far to say they hate it. Under the proposal, U.S. companies that import goods from foreign suppliers would no longer be allowed to deduct those purchases, so a new tax would be effectively implemented on all imported goods, including crude oil.

It amounts to a 20 percent tax on everything imported. Fans of the idea say this will help domestic production of imported goods; critics say you should contemplate paying 20 percent more for everything you buy that comes from overseas. Checked your clothing labels lately? How about that cellular phone of yours? Your car? How about that produce in the winter?

Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity today released a new study showing how the BAT would impact importers on a state-by-state basis.

They determined that the states that would get hit hardest are Michigan, Louisiana, Tennessee, New Jersey, Kentucky, South Carolina, Illinois, Texas, Georgia, and California. (Notice seven of those states voted for Trump last year.)

Tough break, Michigan; imported goods make up more than 27 percent of your state’s gross domestic product. (All those global supply chains in the automotive industry.) Great news if you’re in South Dakota, though; just 2.29 percent of the state’s GDP is tied to foreign imports.

The report finds, “If a BAT had been in effect in 2014, for example, importers in just three states—California, Texas, and Illinois—would have faced a potential combined $170 billion liability under a 20 percent tax on imports on top of their regular income tax liability.” The argument from BAT supporters is that including it in a tax reform package helps pay for other tax cuts. But if you’re paying more for everything you buy… well, the real benefit from that tax cut is going to disappear really quick, now, isn’t it?

The report points out how the tax would hit retailers:

Consider a shoe retailer that imports the shoes it sells from a manufacturer in China. It buys a pair of shoes from the manufacturer for $50 and pays $10 in shipping costs. The retailer sells the shoes for $70, earning a $10 profit. Under the current tax system, the retailer would owe 35 percent in taxes on the $10 profit, because it would get to deduct the $60 it paid in business costs acquiring the shoes. The total tax bill would be $3.50.

Under the proposed tax reform plan with a border adjustment tax, the retailer would pay a 20 percent (the proposed corporate rate) tax on the $10 profit, or $2. However, the retailer would also pay a 20 percent BAT on the $50 cost of the imported shoes, bringing the total tax bill to $12 — which is more than the retailer’s profit from the sale. It is easy to see how devastating a BAT could be for the retail industry, which faced with skyrocketing tax bills, would need to raise prices, cut jobs, or shut their doors altogether.

In light of all this, I find myself in agreement with the Joker…

ADDENDA: Over on the home page, my favorite form of criticizing President Trump: pointing out how his or his team’s inattention to the details of governing — i.e., having a lot of good, qualified candidates ready to nominate for management jobs at the start of his administration — is impeding one of his own popular goals, i.e., creating jobs through energy infrastructure projects.

The Trump administration has been slow to nominate candidates to some of the 600 or so significant positions in the executive branch, including the three empty spots on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has been short of a quorum since President Obama’s appointed chairman, Norman Bay, resigned on February 3.

Here’s the sort of project that is indefinitely delayed because FERC doesn’t have enough members for a quorum to give final approval:

Enbridge Energy wants to build a new pipeline to transport Appalachian shale gas to high-demand markets in Canada and the Midwest, including Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Ontario. In addition to 255 miles of pipeline that is three feet in diameter, the project would involve the construction of “four new compressor stations, six new metering and regulating stations, and 17 new mainline valves in Ohio and Michigan.” Once completed, it would be capable of transporting 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. According to a union representative, welders and journeymen on the project would make $53 per hour plus benefits. The whole project would cost $2 billion and was originally slated to be completed this autumn.

Is this Trump’s fault? Trump’s team’s fault? Maybe if everyone in the White House spent a little less time on Game of Thrones–style jockeying for power and more time focusing on how the government actually worked, we would all be better off.

Last Chance for Taking Shots at Judge Gorsuch

by Jim Geraghty

Last Chance for Taking Shots at Judge Gorsuch

Democrats and their media allies put up their last shot against Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, accusing him of plagiarism.

CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski: “Seems sort of weak? This is what, 300 words in a 137K word book?”

The White House quickly put out a statement from Abigail Lawlis Kuzma, the author of the law review article Gorsuch supposedly plagiarized:

I have reviewed both passages and do not see an issue here, even though the language is similar. These passages are factual, not analytical in nature, framing both the technical legal and medical circumstances of the “Baby/Infant Doe” case that occurred in 1982. Given that these passages both describe the basic facts of the case, it would have been awkward and difficult for Judge Gorsuch to have used different language.

Leonard Leo, adviser to President Trump on the Supreme Court:

This is a last minute smear job, plain and simple. If this is plagiarism, then half of this city’s journalists are guilty of plagiarism. Some of the top scholars in the world — from Oxford, Princeton, Georgetown — have reviewed his work and concluded that these charges are absurd and false. In fact, the author of the piece he supposedly copied has explained, in her defense of Gorsuch, it was a technical description of a medical circumstance and “it would have been awkward and difficult for Judge Gorsuch to have used different language.” Judge Gorsuch is a good man, he is an exceptionally qualified and independent judge, and I look forward to seeing him confirmed later this week.

Why This May Not Be Just the Usual Trouble with North Korea

For decades it’s been such a predictable story, it’s almost a non-story: “Those crazy North Koreans are at it again.”

North Korea on Wednesday again fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, South Korean and U.S. military officials said, in a provocation that comes amid annual joint U.S.-South Korean military drills.

The single ballistic missile launched at around 6:42 a.m. Seoul time (5:42 p.m. Tuesday ET) from the area of the port city of Sinpo traveled about 60 kilometers, or just over 37 miles, before crashing into the sea, a South Korean military officer said.

Our new Secretary of State offered the tersest of terse statements in response: “North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”

That’s it. I understand the thinking that North Korea launches these missiles or commits other provocations because it wants attention and concessions, and that like an angry toddler, a big response is what the regime wants. And yet… it feels really odd to see the “we’re just not going to respond to that” approach put into action.

Clearly, someone else in the administration thinks we haven’t spoken enough about North Korea:

A senior White House official issued a dire warning to reporters Tuesday on the state of North Korea’s nuclear program, declaring “the clock has now run out and all options are on the table.”

US officials have grown increasingly wary of the pace of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs as the rogue regime has test-fired multiple ballistic missiles at a rapid clip in the first months of this year.

North Korea has successfully detonated nuclear weapons in the past, but experts say the country has yet to develop the technology to equip a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead.

The senior White House official who issued Tuesday’s ominous missive also said North Korea is a “matter of urgent interest for the President and the administration as a whole” and emphasized that “all options are on the table.”

By the way, North Korea could kill many, many Americans quite easily:

Brooks-English is one of nearly 140,000 Americans living in South Korea, according to the Korea Immigration Service. Of those, 28,500 are U.S. military personnel stationed here to help defend this nation of 55 million against the threat of war with the North.

We’re used to belligerent, aggressive talk from North Korea, and sometimes more than talk. People forget the regime actually sank a South Korean naval ship in 2010, killing 46 sailors and injuring 56. The Norks’ idea of “saber-rattling” is to draw the saber and stab you. And ordinarily, one would or could conclude that if something like that didn’t start a war, then the two Koreas aren’t really on the precipice of war the way everyone always says.

But Ethan Epstein, writing in The Weekly Standard, isn’t so sure this is “business as usual” in Pyongyang:

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is proving to be different from, even worse than his late father, Kim Jong-il. It’s not just that the young dauphin has rapidly moved ahead with his country’s missile and nuclear weapons programs while undertaking a vicious set of purges at home. Nor is it only the brazen assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother in a crowded Malaysian airport, ordered by the regime and committed with an internationally banned chemical weapon. He seems as well to have a different view of the purpose of his nuclear program than his father did…

Kim Jong-un, by contrast, appears to take a rather more expansive view of what his arsenal can achieve. As the astute Korea-watcher B. R. Myers noted last year, under Kim Jong-un’s leadership, Pyongyang’s propaganda has increasingly touted “autonomous unification,” a term that “has always stood for the conquest or subjugation of South Korea after nullification or removal of the U.S. military presence.” Myers further reports that Kim has been promoting “final victory” in addresses to North Korea’s military. This is alarming, for Kim’s vision of “final victory” is a unified Korea​—​under his dictatorship.

People say, and hope, “oh, Kim Jong-un isn’t crazy enough to use nuclear weapons.” But apparently he is crazy enough to use VX nerve agent as an assassination tool in a busy international airport.

Burned Rice

Recall what House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes said on March 22: “These were intelligence reports, and it brings up a lot of concern about whether things were properly minimized or not. What I have read bothers me, and I think it should bother the president himself and his team, because I think some of it seems to be inappropriate.”

Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, discussing Nunes’ allegations with Judy Woodruff on PBS, that day:

JUDY WOODRUFF: I began by asking about the allegations leveled today by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes that Trump transition officials, including the president, may have been swept up in surveillance of foreigners at the end of the Obama administration.

RICE: I know nothing about this. I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today… I really don’t know to what Chairman Nunes was referring, but he said that whatever he was referring to was a legal, lawful surveillance, and that it was potentially incidental collection on American citizens.

But Tuesday, after Eli Lake of Bloomberg reported that Rice herself “requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign”, Rice appeared on MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell and suddenly seemed to know a bit more than “nothing” about it all:

Every morning, we received from the intelligence community a compilation of intelligence reports that the IC, the intelligence community, has selected for us on a daily basis to give us the best information as to what’s going on around the world.

I received those reports, as did each of those other officials, and there were occasions when I would receive a report in which a U.S. person was referred to. Name not provided, just a U.S. person. And sometimes in that context, in order to understand the importance of the report, and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out, or request the information, as to who the U.S. official was.

So in two weeks, we went from “I know nothing about this” to “yes, I requested the ‘unmasking’ of these individuals, and it was perfectly appropriate and legal.”

Also notice this careful denial:

…the notion that — which some people are trying to suggest, that by asking for the identity of an American person, that is the same as leaking it, is completely false. There’s no equivalence between so-called unmasking and leaking.

No, but once information is unmasked, it’s a heck of a lot easier to leak, now, isn’t it?

On January 12, when Susan Rice and all of her deputies were still in their jobs, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius cited a source that was a “a senior U.S. government official” declaring that Michael Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on December 29. That information and the contents of the call are classified; whoever leaked the information to Ignatius was committing a crime.

Rice denies leaking the information. Of course, she also insisted the Benghazi attack was a “spontaneous protest” and denied that it was “premeditated or preplanned”; and that Bowe Bergdahl served the United States with “honor and distinction.” Maybe it was her, maybe it wasn’t, but no one with any sense should trust her denial; saying otherwise would be admitting to a crime.

ADDENDA: ESPN unveils new guidelines for its personnel discussing politics, and a lot of it just common sense: “The presentation should be thoughtful and respectful. We should offer balance or recognize opposing views, as warranted. We should avoid personal attacks and inflammatory rhetoric.”

It’s like they heard the rallying cry: “I just want to watch the game!”

To Quote the Joker, ‘It’s Simple… We Kill the BAT’

by Jim Geraghty

To Quote the Joker, ‘It’s Simple… We Kill the BAT.’

Remember that talk that compared to repeal-and-replace, tax reform was going to be easy? Yeah, not if you include the “border-adjustment tax.” Under the proposal, U.S. companies that import goods from foreign suppliers would no longer be allowed to deduct those purchases, so a new tax would be effectively implemented on all imported goods, including crude oil.

A group of businesses opposed to the tax, Americans for Affordable Products, gathers comments from just about every big-name conservative economic thinker criticizing the BAT proposal:

Americans For Prosperity’s Tim Phillips:

We are against this approach because in the end, it is making life more expensive for all Americans, especially low and fixed-income families. Instead of picking winners and losers, Congress should pursue a simple, pro-growth approach that lowers rates, eliminates loopholes, simplifies the tax code, and above all, protects consumers from new tax increases. (“AFP Issues Letter Opposing Border Adjustability Tax,” Americans For Prosperity, 1/27/17)

Koch Industries’ Mark Holden:

“[The Border Adjustment Tax is] just a tax that’s going to be passed on to people who shouldn’t be taxed,” said Mark Holden, who is now co-chairman of the Koch Seminar Network. He indicated the issue could be a key one for evaluating how strongly to support lawmakers in future elections. “It will be one of the things we look at,” Holden said. “Sure, there aren’t elections for a few years, but we’re hopeful that we can get with leadership and get them to think of better ways to do this, and not pass on a huge new burden to consumers.” (Jim Geraghty, “Koch Network Ready For A Fight On The Border Adjustment Tax,” National Review, 1/28/17.

I hear that piece was really good.

CATO’s Daniel Mitchell:

I don’t like [the Border Adjustment Tax] because I worry it sets the stage for a value-added tax. I don’t like it because it is designed to undermine tax competition. I don’t like it because it has a protectionist stench and presumably violates America’s trade commitments. I don’t like it because that part of the plan only exists because politicians aren’t willing to engage in more spending restraint. And I don’t like it because politicians should not try to reinvent the wheel when we already know the right way to do tax reform … My advice is that Republicans abandon the border-adjustable provision and focus on lowering tax rates, reducing double taxation, and cutting back on loopholes. Such ideas are economically sounder and politically safer. (Daniel J. Mitchell, “Don’t Ruin A Chance For Tax Reform With ‘Border Adjustments,’”Foundation For Economic Education, 2/22/17)

CNBC’s Larry Kudlow:

At this moment I am completely unconvinced about a Border Adjustability Tax. I don’t want a planned economy where we’re going to tax imports, which is going to blow the middle class, you know, Walmart shoppers and so forth, and subsidize exports. I want a market economy. We’ve lived this way for so many years. I don’t want to emulate Europe. I don’t want to emulate Asia, for example. I do agree with my friend Andy Busch that basically if we have the kind of business tax reform for large and small companies as Steve Moore and I wrote in the Journal today, that’s going to fix a lot of these issues. We will become the most hospitable investment environment in the world for our own companies and for international companies. So, that’s the way to fix it. (CNBC, 1/27/17)

Club For Growth President David McIntosh:

On the other side is the Club for Growth, a free markets advocacy group, which said the losers under a border tax will be average Americans. Former Rep. David McIntosh, the club’s president, said the House GOP was wrong to chase after the goal of revenue-neutral tax policy. “Instead of trading one tax for another, the GOP needs to focus on cutting rates, and cutting spending and the size of government to match,” he said. (Stephen Dinan, “GOP’s Border Adjustment Tax Divides Conservatives, Pits House Against Trump,” The Washington Times, 1/24/17)

Forbes Media’s Steve Forbes:

In fact, an outbreak of Beltway-itis seems to be the only reasonable explanation for the Border Adjustment Tax fanatically being pushed by establishment Republicans in the House of Representatives. Make no mistake, the BAT will inflict American working families – the very people critical for Donald Trump’s election – a whole lot of hurt … The BAT is absolutely unnecessary to attract businesses and capital to our shores. Cutting the profits tax to 15 percent and minimally taxing – or not taxing at all – overseas earnings would lead to a flood of money pouring into the U.S. Countless foreign companies would be eager to set up shop here … But on the BAT, Republicans have to cure themselves of this ailment if they want to rev up the economy – and avoid having to pursue other opportunities after next year’s elections. (Steve Forbes, “Will Washington Republicans Succumb To Beltway-Itis?,” FOX News, 2/22/17)

Former Reagan Economic Advisor Arthur Laffer:

I think the border tax adjustment is a major mistake to put into legislation. It’s a huge bureaucratic mess to be honest with you. If it’s done ideally, Maria, which would be a tax on imports matched by a subsidy on exports of the equal size, it would have the same effect as devaluing the currency which would lead to domestic inflation. But if you look at it, there will be all sorts of nuances, all sorts of political grab bags going in the process and I just think they should just do tax rate reductions, get rid of this pay-for notion and don’t touch a border tax adjustment. It just makes no sense. (FOX Business, 2/9/16)

Any big-name conservative economic thinkers left?

The Overlooked Menace of ‘Gangster Islam’

The one-year anniversary of a fairly significant terror attack came and went without much acknowledgement here in the United States. On March 22 of last year, three suicide bombers allegedly loyal to ISIS struck in in Belgium: two at Brussels Airport in Zaventem, and one at Maalbeek metro station in central Brussels. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in Belgium’s history, killing 32 and injuring more than 300 people. The perpetrators were part of a cell that had perpetrated the November 2015 Paris attacks.

In British GQ, Robert Chalmers offers some fantastic investigative journalism about the intertwined and criminal jihadist undergrounds in that neighborhood of Molenbeek. (This article isn’t online in an easily readable form, but you can see scans of the pages at the above link.) The sections I found most eye-opening were how the jihadist movement is flourishing not among the particularly religious but among the angry young men who are looking for a justification for their preexisting violent and aggressive impulses.

Belgium has produced more jihadist fighters, per capita, than any other Western European nation and is estimated to have dispatched around 520 recruits to the Islamic State cause in Syria.

Historically, Belgian jihadists have been more interested in [ISIS] than in religion. (Les Beguines, the café owned by the Abdeslam brothers, was closed on account of drug dealing.)

[Former Brussels Mayor Philippe} Moureaux told me, “we never had any evidence that the trouble eminates from the mosques.” Geraldine, mother of Anis, said that her son never attended mosques but was radicalized by people “on the street.” Her opinion was echoed by almost everybody I met in Molenbeek. “The people that do this,” one source told me, “are more familiar with a bar stool than a prayer mat.”

It is ten years since the journalist Hind Fraihi wrote her outstanding book Undercover in Little Morocco. Fraihi was one of the first to describe what she terms Molenbeek’s ‘synergy between crime and jihad” and has come to be called “Gangster Islam,” practiced by small, secretive gangs who drew inspiration from marginal figures, such has Khalid Zerkani. Zerkani, a major organizer of radicalization in Brussels, was imprisoned for 12 years in July 2015. The case for the defense wasn’t helped by the fact that Zerkani’s laptop contained tracts with titles including: “Thirty-Eight Ways to Engage in Jihad” and “Sixteen Must-Have Items If You’re Heading for Syria.”

At Zerkani’s trial, witnesses testified that he had taught small street gangs that “stealing from infidels is permitted by Allah.”

Anecdotal accounts concerning such groups aren’t hard to obtain, although, as ever in Molenbeek, people are understandably reluctant to speak on the record. One source told me that he knew of bounties of as little as 300 Euro being paid for the enlistment of naïve recruits like Olivier’s son Sean. The networks responsible, he said, are dominated by a Tunisian mafia. (Zerkani has close links with activists in that country.) The funds, my source insisted, originate from what he would only describe as “a very wealthy gulf state.”

Such organized gangs, Philippe Moureaux acknowledges, do exist. Could he have done more to prosecute them?

“When I was mayor,” he says, “we recognized the beginnings of fundamentalism. What we didn’t have were these organized networks.”

Last month, a confidential Belgian government report declared that out of “more than 1,600 organizations and NGOs registered in the neighborhood, 102 were suspected of having links with crime, and another 51 were linked to terrorism.”

I Can Remember When Chemical-Weapons Attacks Were a Big Deal

Speaking of Syria, yet another report of a serious chemical-weapons attack:

Dozens of people, including at least ten children, have been killed and more than 200 injured in a suspected chemical attack in northern Syria, multiple activist groups claim.

Airstrikes hit the city of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, giving off a “poisonous gas,” according to Anas al-Diab, an activist with the Aleppo Media Center.

The casualties reportedly came as a result of asphyxiation caused by exposure to an unknown gas or chemical agent.

Longtime readers of this newsletter know that I find the world’s nonchalance about the use of chemical weapons to be one of the darkest and most disturbing developments of the age. It is not exaggerating to say that within our lifetime, the position of the U.S. government was that any use of chemical weapons against our forces would be met with a nuclear response:

After the Persian Gulf war, General Avihu Ben-Nun, commander of the Israeli Air Force, concluded that “the fact that [Saddam Hussein] didn’t launch chemical weapons against us was only because he feared our retaliatory response.”

The threat of Israeli retaliation was not the only deterrent to Saddam’s use of chemical-armed rockets. On 14 August 1991, Defense Secretary Cheney stated that “[i]t should be clear to Saddam Hussein that we have a wide range of military capabilities that will let us respond with overwhelming force and extract a very high price should he be foolish enough to use chemical weapons on United States forces.” The American government reportedly used third-party channels to privately warn Iraq that “in the event of a first use of a weapon of mass destruction by Iraq, the United States reserved the right to use any form of retaliation (presumably up to and including nuclear weapons).”

If you hit us non-conventionally, we’ll hit you non-conventionally, and our non-conventional weapons will leave your neighborhood a pile of radioactive rubble. This was the philosophy of deterrence; this was, before the phrase became a bitter punch line, a “red line.”

The Syrian Civil War just entered its sixth year. Roughly 465,000 people are dead; the war has generated 5 million refugees.

ADDENDA: Over on the home page, a look at why our politicians are so divided: they can’t work together to address the problem because they’ve concluded the opposition party is the problem.

Democrats Aren’t Thinking Ahead to When They Might Need the Filibuster

by Jim Geraghty

Democrats Aren’t Thinking Ahead to When They Might Need the Filibuster

Ari Melber of MSNBC: “The GOP made the Garland debate about the seat and they won; Democrats making Gorsuch debate about the man and may lose.”

Change “may” to “will” and that’s a pretty good summation. This can end with Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and the Senate filibuster intact, or this can end with Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and the Senate filibuster nuked. Your call, guys.

Some Democrats may conclude that because it is likely that the filibuster will get nuked someday, they might as well get it over with and make Republicans nuke it now. But they do not appear to be thinking ahead to one not-so-crazy scenario.

When have Democrats come closest to victory in the Senate since January? You’d have to say the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education, where it was a 50-50 split and Vice President Pence had to come in to be the tiebreaking vote. Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski were willing to cross party lines, demonstrating that Senate Republicans don’t march in lockstep. A GOP vote against a Trump administration nominee is rare, but it does happen. Democrats learned the hard way that they shouldn’t have nuked the filibuster for cabinet nominations and lower-court judges.

Suppose that in the coming year, one of the non-conservative/originalist/strict constructionist judges steps down or passes away. In September, Trump offered a list of 21 judges and legal minds and declared, “This list is definitive and I will choose only from it in picking future Justices of the United States Supreme Court.” The only name on that list that isn’t likely to get 52 Republican votes is Mike Lee, because senators don’t usually vote for themselves as nominees.

But imagine that Trump picks someone else. We can skip past the nominations of Judge Judy, Pirro, Dredd, and Reinhold, but let’s assume Andrew Napolitano is right when he boasts that Trump is considering nominating him for the Supreme Court. Or Trump nominates his sister, or he nominates any figure who leaves conservative legal minds unnerved from a thin record or other flaws.

In other words, imagine Trump nominating his own version of Harriet Miers.

In that scenario, not only would Democrats be likely to have the votes to filibuster the nominee, but they might have some Republicans willing to join as well. Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans will nuke the filibuster without a second thought when it’s being used to block a sterling judge like Gorsuch.

Using the tactic now has persuaded even the most conciliatory Republicans that Democrats will filibuster any Trump nominee, regardless of his or her qualifications. As Senator Chuck Grassley — hardly a frothing-at-the-mouth bomb-thrower — writes today, “It’s become abundantly clear that if the Democrats are willing to filibuster somebody with the credentials, judicial temperament and independence of Judge Gorsuch, it’s obvious they would filibuster anybody.”

But what if the filibuster was used against some future nominee who generated reasonable, non-ideological objections? Then it would be a dramatically different story.

In other words, Democrats might want to use the filibuster later, in circumstances it’s more likely to work. Of course, this would require Senate Democrats to tell the party’s grassroots that they can’t always get what they want.

The Upcoming French Elections, and ‘Frexit’

Our Charlie Cooke traveled to France to preview the French national elections, less than three weeks away:

Politically, France is in a bad place. Under Hollande’s feckless leadership, the country has been attacked from both without and within and seen an average of 1 percent growth for almost half a decade. Unemployment among 15-to-24-year-olds is now at a staggering 25 percent and has led to an exodus that has rendered London the sixth-largest French-speaking city in the world. The reflexively proud French are no longer sure that they have a future. They are afraid for their economy. They are afraid of immigration. They are afraid of technology. There is, almost everywhere you go, a tangible sense of ennui. It is an uncertainty that does not suit the people that produced de Gaulle.

For the establishment, the consequences have been grim. As The Economist put it, this year’s primaries brought a “bonfire of the elites.” To have a familiar name in 2017 — be it “Hollande,” “Sarkozy,” or “Juppé” — is to carry a heavy weight around your neck. As in America, many voters are in a burn-it-down mood. And without a strong, “safe” option that can hoover up the middle, the extremists and opportunists have pounced.

Blame it on what you will — “populism,” “nationalism,” the revolt of the forgotten — the traditional French alliances are disintegrating before our very eyes. Why is it that so many are so worried that, this time, the execrable Le Pen family might finally get its hands on power? Because, this time, the support is coming from a variety of different places. The Front National has always had strongholds in the rural, revanchist South, but it is now converting the socialists in the Northeast, appealing to an unprecedented number of voters under 30, and winning over some key blocs of social conservatives who would historically have gone elsewhere. And, crucially, it is making its gains for a host of different reasons.

The Financial Times reports that polling shows 37 percent of respondents say they plan to sit out the first round of voting April 23.

Bloomberg finds the Front National gaining support even in an economically thriving shipyard community: “Saint-Nazaire is hardly a town in crisis. It’s an example of successful industrial renewal,” said Goulven Boudic, a political science professor at the nearby University of Nantes. “But the National Front has turned it into a land of conquest by raising concerns about the shipyard’s future, and by using the argument that foreign workers are taking bread away from French workers.”

Late last week, Senator Richard Burr, the GOP chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, declared, “I think it’s safe by everybody’s judgment that the Russians are actively involved in the French elections… So we feel part of our responsibility is to educate the rest of the world about what’s going on, because it’s now into character assassination of candidates.”

Marine Le Pen traveled to Moscow and met with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin last week, and declared in a photo op, “We don’t want to influence events in any way.”

You thought we argued about polls here in the States? In France, a polling commission is declaring that Russian sources are putting out unreliable numbers:

Almost all media in France are drawing on polls that have shown since mid-February that Fillon, a former prime minister, is trailing in third place behind Macron and the Front National candidate, Marine Le Pen, for the 23 April first round. Third place would mean Fillon’s elimination from the 7 May runoff.

State-run Sputnik carried different findings in a report on 29 March under the headline: “2017 presidential elections: the return of Fillon at the head of the polls.”

It quoted Moscow-based Brand Analytics, an online audience research firm, as saying that its study based on an analysis of French social media put Fillon out in front.

In a statement, France’s polling commission said the study could not be described as representative of public opinion and Sputnik had wrongly called it a poll as defined by law in France.

“It is imperative that publication of this type of survey be treated with caution so that public opinion is aware of its non-representative nature,” it said.

Just think, here in the states we used to have Research 2000 for that sort of thing. Just another job that foreigners are taking way from the locals, I suppose.

A good closing thought from Charlie:

On the plane from New York, I am struck again by the chasm that has opened between the jet set and everybody else, and by the scale of the opportunity that has presented itself to the iconoclasts. I am on a British airline, and the in-flight magazine is aggressively cosmopolitan. The “Editor’s Note” celebrates, among other things, that a third of Londoners were born abroad. The featured interviewee argues that British television should shed its famous and traditional period dramas in favor of shows about immigrants. And the most prominent advertisement describes “dual citizenship” as “the insurance policy of the 21st century.” If “globalization” were to be parodied by the sharpest minds in the West, it would look a little like this. This, to paraphrase an American refrain, is how you got Brexit. It’s how you’ll get Frexit, too.

ADDENDA: Not as many April Fool’s Day jokes this year, huh? As I noted Saturday, reality has made the holiday sort of superfluous.

Want to know what it’s like to be a woman working for Mike Pence? Let our Ericka Anderson tell you.

Are you going to Atlanta for the NRA Annual Meeting? I am!

Thanks to everyone who listened to the return of the pop culture podcast, which includes the first little glimpse of an upcoming project. We’ll be doing another this week, then everything is on hold for Holy Week next week.

An Unfair Hit on Rex Tillerson

by Jim Geraghty

An Unfair Hit on Rex Tillerson

The Washington Post offers a particularly unflattering portrait of Rex Tillerson’s early days as secretary of state, with a few details that don’t pass the smell test. For starters…

Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact.

Matt Lee, the chief diplomatic writer for the Associated Press, calls BS on the implausible “no eye contact” rule: “This is not true and people repeating it are making it more difficult to address very real issues. I was told of this allegation – weeks ago – and checked it out.”

I heard through the grapevine that Tillerson has held at least one getting-to-know-you meeting with career foreign-service employees and that the event went well. Of course, not everyone’s going to instantly bond over one casual meeting with snacks, but in the eyes of the people I heard from, he was making an effort, and they appreciated it.

I’ve heard a couple key impressions through the grapevine:

1. He’s a competent manager, but running Exxon is different from running the U.S. State Department, and he recognizes that. He’s smart enough to know what he doesn’t know, and he’s listening more than he’s talking. He understands that he’s got a steep learning curve.

2. With that lack of experience in mind, he’s doing pretty well. His experience in high-level negotiations shows.

3. He’s seriously undermined by the lack of staff around him. See this week’s article about the 110 or so State Department positions that still don’t have a nomination from Trump.

Also notice the sources who offer critical quotes in the Post article:

· Representative Eliot L. Engel (D., N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee

· a foreign diplomat posted in Washington

· a senior Senate Democratic aide

· one former State Department employee

· “another official”

· “one department official”

So we’ve got one congressional Democrat, one Senate Democratic aide, one foreign diplomat, one current official, and what is likely two former State employees who worked under Kerry or Clinton. Somehow it is less than stunning that they would be critical of Tillerson.

Two sources offer quotes of praise or explanation; an unnamed senior Tillerson aide and the British ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch.

Most would agree the decision to bring only one reporter on his first foreign trip, and not to make it a “pool reporter” (acting as the reporter for all news agencies covering the State Department) was a major mistake. Informing the American public back home of what the Secretary of State is doing is part of the job. Maybe Tillerson is used to having a lower-profile, but that simply doesn’t work when you’re the country’s chief diplomat.

The Post article says Tillerson skipped the traditional meeting with American embassy employees on his first three foreign trips, another avoidable mistake . . . but he met with embassy employees in Ankara this week. Also while in Ankara, Tillerson held a surprise meeting with Norine Brunson, wife of imprisoned American Pastor Andrew Brunson – the sort of gesture that turns heads and sends a clear signal.

So, yes, he’s made some early mistakes, but he’s learning the ropes.

Above: Secretary of State Tillerson laying a wreath at the Tomb of Ataturk in Ankara, Turkey, March 30, 2017.

Surveying the Dining Habits of Married Couples…

Two reactions to the Pence marriage brouhaha that genuinely baffle me:

The claim, “I’m married, and I have one-on-one dinners with women who aren’t my wife all the time.” Er, wait, all the time? I’ll chalk this up to hyperbole. Because if it really is exceptionally rare for you to have dinner with your spouse AND instead you frequently choose to have one-on-one dinners with a member of the opposite sex . . . well, people are gonna ask, as Annie Lennox sang, “Why-y-y-y-y-y-y-y?”

To gauge actual human behavior, I used the highly scientific method of asking my Twitter followers what they did*, and a clear majority of married people answered that they either never dined alone with non-spouse, non-family members of the opposite sex or rarely did so. The view wasn’t that any dinner with a member of the opposite sex was ipso facto evidence of an affair or burgeoning sexual desire, just that it could either set up a situation for temptation or set off the rumor-mill. Surely, it’s not fair to see every non-marital table for two as culinary foreplay — a friend visits from out of town, or the rest of the crowd bails — but the situation that the Pences avoid, a situation that their critics insist is common and harmless, seems rather unusual to a lot of Americans.

One respondent said that yes, they frequently go out for dinner with members of the opposite sex . . . of course, that person is in a polyamorous relationship.

“Women lose chances at networking and promotions if married men are reluctant to have one-on-one dinners with them after work.” Wait, what? Here I’ll recognize that I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in the rough-and-tumble, sharp-elbowed working world, and so I’ll try to be circumspect, but . . . do men and women with the authority to make promotions often ask their employees to join them for dinner, one-on-one? With booze? I can’t recall that happening to me with any bosses, female or male. Maybe none of my bosses have ever thought I’d be a particularly enjoyable dinner companion.

Do bosses often hang out with one particular employee after work? One particular employee of the opposite sex? Not after-work office happy hours or group entertainment of clients or potential customers, but “let’s grab a drink and dinner together, just the two of us”?

If you feel like you have to have dinner with the boss, one-on-one, in order to be considered for a promotion . . . isn’t that bad? If it isn’t clear sexual harassment, then aren’t we driving down the street towards the neighborhood of sexual harassment?

Once again, the Twitter responses showed a pretty clear consensus. The vast majority saw two co-workers or a boss and a subordinate having lunch or coffee as considerably different than dinner. The presence of alcohol was seen as another key variable. A few said they had occasionally grabbed a drink after work with their boss, but the idea of going out as a pair instead of a group definitely set off their antennae – particularly if it happened regularly.

Look, I get work-life balance is difficult, and there’s nothing wrong with camaraderie forged during the working day occasionally crossing over into the leisure hours. If your co-workers make up part of your social circle and everybody gets along, great. But the situation that the Pence critics describe – where women yearn to have one-on-one dinners with their married male bosses, in order to increase the likelihood of a promotion – simply doesn’t seem common or “normal” to many Americans.

Similarly, if the Pences or you and your spouse choose to have similar “rules” . . . well, God bless ya if it works for you. The inner dynamics of their marriage is their business; the inner dynamics of your marriage are your business.

Notice that Mike Pence has not spent the past 15 years going around the country, campaigning for married men to never dine with a woman who isn’t their wife. (“United As One Nation, Asking for a Table for One . . . ”) I’ve never heard David and Nancy French insist that their rules for handling the challenges of his deployment to Iraq should be mandatory for everyone. Find what works for you and the love of your life. Your mileage may vary. I dine with a woman who isn’t my wife a few times a year, and strangely, the women never find themselves overcome with raw passionate desire in my presence. They must have unbelievable self-control.

Our Charlie Cooke: “If you read the Post’s story in full, you’ll see that Mike Pence believes that, in Karen, he has a great thing going. For knowing himself well enough to avoid screwing that good thing up, he should be praised by the culture, not mocked and maligned. There’s a decency at play there. There’s a humility, too. Good for the vice president. He’s made his vows, and he’s sure as hell gonna keep ‘em.”

* Yes, I know this is the opposite of highly-scientific.

ADDENDA: The American Enterprise Institute’s Andy Smarick points out why the Trump administration is having such a hard time filling jobs in the cabinet agencies: too many conflicting criteria for potential candidates. Applicants have to pass the Trump team’s stringent loyalty test, have substantial experience in policy so as to add value to the department’s work, be aligned with the administration’s philosophy, not have disqualifying things in his or her background; and be willing to serve in this administration. Even worse, a sixth criterion is emerging.

After a long hiatus, the pop culture podcast returns, with a happy ending to a missing pet story, the unmentioned dangers of home improvement projects, the countdown to the return of Twin Peaks, and a discussion of how the show mixed our fears of evil both otherworldly and mundane . . . 

 . . . a hint about a future project, long in the works . . . 

 . . . the engrossing, relentless tension of HBO’s Big Little Lies . . . 

 . . . and how the E! network’s vacuous inanity can become strangely soothing.