The Coming Trump-Mueller Collision

by Jim Geraghty

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

Those odds must be a little higher this morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Congressional Republicans Save Themselves?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

911: Okay. You just want him to leave?

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

911: And then he left and he came back?

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

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

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

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

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

by Jim Geraghty

Awful, awful news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The President Won’t Stop Steering Himself Directly into Controversy

by Jim Geraghty

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

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

You can’t save a president from himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can’t save a party from itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Reporters Want to Know More Every Day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Jim Geraghty

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee:

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to a Wall Street Journal editorial:

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

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

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

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

Do We Want to Continue the Iran Deal or Not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chuck Schumer’s Political Instincts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Jim Geraghty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Governing Is Supposed to Be Boring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Tolerance We Need Right Now

by Jim Geraghty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, I Have to Vent Some Criticism of Trump

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

The reality:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Little More Faith in the Return of Twin Peaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow’s News Today

by Jim Geraghty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Correcting the Record . . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Jim Geraghty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sandwich Order That Launched a Thousand Hot Takes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos showed hundreds of police officers standing on the Grand Concourse with their backs to the World Changers Church as the mayor’s speech was heard via the public address system.

“The mayor is the compass for the City of New York,” Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said before the funeral. “And unfortunately, when a police officer got killed, his compass led him to Germany rather than here on the Grand Concourse.

Early in the mayor’s tenure, hundreds of officers turned their backs on de Blasio at the funerals for NYPD partners Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were slain in December 2014. Union officials complained at the time the mayor was not supportive of the Finest.

In mid May, de Blasio’s approval rating was at 60 percent.

ADDENDA: Hey remember Greentech, that electric-car company that was so eagerly and happily touted by GOP Mississippi governor Haley Barbour and current Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe?

Mississippi’s state auditor on Wednesday demanded that a troubled electric car maker or its leader repay $4.9 million in state and local aid the company received, plus $1.5 million of interest.

Auditor Stacey Pickering issued the demand to GreenTech Automotive and its CEO, Charles Wang, saying the company has failed to live up to pledges to invest $60 million and create 350 jobs in Tunica County, just south of Memphis, Tennessee.

GreenTech once planned to build 250,000 cars a year and invest $2 billion, but first sharply downsized its goals, and then failed to meet them, authorities said. In a July 2011 agreement, GreenTech promised to invest $60 million and hire 350 full-time workers by the end of 2014, paying each at least $35,000 and maintaining those jobs for at least 10 years.

“I would venture that there isn’t really much of an operation in Tunica at all,” Pickering told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “This appears to have been a game of smoke and mirrors, and a corporate entity that never had any intention to deliver on the promises it made.” . . . 

The company, which sought to raise money from Chinese people who can obtain U.S. residency by investing $500,000 and creating 10 jobs, came under scrutiny after the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security found an official violated ethics policies when he intervened in visa proceedings for GreenTech.

GreenTech also has faced an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The status of that probe is unclear.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act Request show Homeland Security in 2016 denied other visa requests, saying the company had overstated its job creation.

Remember when a Virginia state official looked at the company’s proposals and asked if the whole thing was a “visa-for-sale scheme”? Good times, good times.

McAuliffe resigned as the firm’s chairman in December 2012 shortly before launching his gubernatorial campaign, and said he divested his interest.

There’s a Rumor That ISIS Leader al-Baghdadi Is Dead . . . Again

by Jim Geraghty

Here’s hoping.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters on Tuesday that it had “confirmed information” that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed.

“(We have) confirmed information from leaders, including one of the first rank, in the Islamic State in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zor,” the director of the British-based war monitoring group Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters.

Baghdadi’s death had been announced many times before but the Observatory has a track record of credible reporting on Syria’s civil war.

Abdulrahman said Observatory sources in Syria’s eastern town of Deir al-Zor had been told by Islamic State sources that Baghdadi had died “but they did not specify when”.

Yes, a lot of times, these rumors about an enemy leader’s death turn out to be wishful thinking or mistaken identity, but, every once in a while, they pan out. The Taliban covered up the death of Mullah Omar for two years.

We’ve learned better than to get our hopes up from rumors like this, but . . . assume for a moment it’s true: ISIS loses Mosul, is getting squeezed in Raqqa, and then al-Baghdadi bites the dust?

And while it’s not like these latest victories against ISIS have accumulated overnight . . .  doesn’t it seem like the momentum in the fight against these terrorists in 2017 is considerably stronger than in previous years?

Just What Did Donald Trump Jr. Know Going into That Meeting?

On yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, Greg and I wondered just how loose the requirements were to get a face-to-face meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner last year. Could just anybody get in the door and get a sit-down meeting at the height of the campaign just by promising they knew damaging information about the Clintons? I mean, didn’t we all know some (already-disclosed) damaging information about the Clintons?

This morning, the New York Times reveals that mutual friend who arranged the meeting, and quotes unnamed sources claiming the origin of the alleged damaging information wasn’t so vague after all:

Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

The email to the younger Mr. Trump was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting.

At any point did anyone ask, “Hey, why would a publicist and former British tabloid reporter have access to Russian government information?” Most of the media world is jumping up and down, excited that this is the long-desired evidence of collusion that they’ve sought. I find the bigger, more troubling question to be the performance of Donald Trump Jr.’s BS detector.

The Guardian offers a bit of background on Mr. Goldstone:

The music publicist has for several years shuttled between the US and Russia while representing Agalarov. According to his Instagram account, Goldstone has made at least 19 visits to Russia since the spring of 2013. In one post he described Moscow as his second home.

He has also made at least eight trips to Baku, the capital of the former Soviet state Azerbaijan, where his client Agalarov was born and retains a large fan base. Donald Trump appeared in a music video with Agalarov in 2013 that featured several Miss Universe contestants, a pageant he owned at that time. In November that year, Trump tweeted to Agalarov: “I had a great weekend with you and your family. You have done a FANTASTIC job. TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next. EMIN was WOW!”

Over at PJ Media, Liz Sheld points out that the Times article appears to contradict itself. First . . . 

Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

But then a few paragraphs later . . . 

It is unclear whether Mr. Goldstone had direct knowledge of the origin of the damaging material. One person who was briefed on the emails said it appeared that he was passing along information that had been passed through several others.

Wait, if he may not have known the “direct origin” of the material, how did he know it was “part of a Russian government effort”?

Oddly, the Times appears to have interviewed Goldstone, but can’t clear up that question of if or how he knew the information was from the Russian government.

Mr. Goldstone said Ms. Veselnitskaya offered “just a vague, generic statement about the campaign’s funding and how people, including Russian people, living all over the world donate when they shouldn’t donate” before turning to her anti-Magnitsky Act arguments.

“It was the most inane nonsense I’ve ever heard,” he said. “And I was actually feeling agitated by it. Had I, you know, actually taken up what is a huge amount of their busy time with this nonsense?”

This morning, Natalia Veselnitskaya offered her side of the story to NBC News.

“I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton. It was never my intention to have that,” Natalia Veselnitskaya said.

When asked how Trump Jr. seemed to have the impression that she had information about the Democratic National Committee, she responded:

“It is quite possible that maybe they were longing for such an information. They wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted.”

She also appears to want to get Kushner and Manafort off the hook:

“I could recognize the young gentleman who was only present in the meeting for probably the first seven to 10 minutes, and then he stood up and left the room,” she said. “It was Mr. Jared Kushner. And he never came back, by the way.

“And the other individual who was always in the same meeting, but all the time he was looking at his phone. He was reading something. He never took any active part in the conversation. That was Mr. Manafort.”

I wonder if Manafort was texting someone, “Remind me never to accept an invitation to a meeting from Donald Jr. again.”

Will West Virginia Republicans Unite after Their 2018 Senate Primary?

The good news for Republicans is that they’ll probably have a good shot at knocking off West Virginia Democatic Senator Joe Manchin next year. The bad news is that state attorney general Patrick Morrisey and Congressman Evan Jenkins both want to be the Republican Senate nominee very badly, and they’re likely to fight hammer and tongs in the primary — and that’s not even mentioning former coal miner Bo Copley.

Yesterday I broke the news that Morrisey was making his Senate bid official; he had been strongly rumored to be likely to run in recent months. In fact, the 35th PAC is already hitting Jenkins as being one of “two peas in a pod with Manchin.”

Right now, the primary is scheduled for May 8, 2018, although legislation could possibly move it to February. But at minimum, we’re looking at seven and a half months of primary fighting between the GOP candidates . . . or maybe it will be ten and a half months of primary fighting. Better hope everyone’s in a mood to unite when all is said and done.

You can read my February profile of Morrisey here . . . and I notice my words have become one of those floating-headline blurbs in his first campaign video.

ADDENDA: Representative Trent Franks, asking the most disturbing question in the controversy surrounding the lack of treatment for British infant Charlie Gard:

I am Charlie Gard. You are Charlie Gard. Theresa May is Charlie Gard. Every person on the European Court of Human Rights — each one who has sentenced him to death — is Charlie Gard.

If this ruling stands, how long before each of us is just one bad accident, one disease, one diagnosis away from being too old, too fragile, too disabled, too “unfit,” to be worth keeping alive?

Why a Joint ‘Cyber Security Unit’ or Treaty Probably Won’t Work

by Jim Geraghty

President Trump on Twitter yesterday morning: “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..”

President Trump on Twitter yesterday evening: “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t-but a ceasefire can,& did!”

The good news is that someone — H. R. McMaster, perhaps? — managed to get in front of the president and was able to explain why creating a joint “cyber security unit” with the Russian government is unlikely to work. As Marco Rubio said, “Partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit’.” (I suppose in both cases that those men know a lot about the subject.)

Elsewhere, Bloomberg View columnist Leonid Bershidsky wonders if the concept of an international cyber-security agreement could be broadened to become a major international treaty:

Attacks on civilian services, and especially on nuclear plants, are a different matter. They are unambiguous acts of war. It is known that the U.S. is capable of them, and it would stand to reason that Russia wouldn’t let itself be outdone. Nor would China and, given that cyberweapons are relatively cheap to develop, smaller players such as Israel or North Korea. And yet there are no rules of engagement for countries that have the capability to shut off each other’s power grids or, say, traffic light systems. There’s no cyberwar equivalent of the Geneva and Hague conventions, which set rules for the treatment of civilians and ban certain kinds of cruel weapons.

In February, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2341 calling on states to arm themselves against terrorist attacks on critical infrastructure. But what about such attacks initiated by other governments, not terror groups? It’s time there were some internationally recognized principles that applied to them, defining, for example, what constitutes an attack, what response is permissible, and what can and cannot be done to civilian networks. It would be helpful to establish some international attribution mechanism; a nation’s intelligence services cannot be trusted to make an assessment that would be used to justify international sanctions.

That’s a really wonderful idea that will probably never quite work. For starters, just about every foe that the United States has fought since the Geneva Conventions were enacted has violated them, more or less without the slightest regard for them or hesitation: al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Serbian paramilitary groups, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, the North Korean and Chinese armies, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany . . . in other words, a rule banning a particular weapon or act doesn’t really prevent that weapon from being used or that action from occurring by itself. Past experience tells us that many countries would sign the treaty banning certain forms of cyber-warfare and then promptly ignore it.

(Every U.S. administration ignores international treaties that it finds inconvenient. In 2011, the Obama administration approved secret arms shipments to Libyan rebels and ordered NATO air and sea forces around Libya not to interdict the cargo planes and freighters transporting weapons into Libya from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, violating United Nations resolution 1970 banning arms transfers into Libya’s civil war.)

Back at the beginning of the Obama administration, after having the chance to meet some of the country’s top cyber-security experts, I wrote, “cyber-warfare is, generally speaking, more controllable than a biological weapon, doesn’t run afoul of as many established treaties as a chemical weapon, is nowhere near as expensive and visible as a nuclear weapon, and is much harder to attribute than conventional terrorism. It is another asymmetrical tool that allows weaker countries and groups to play on the same field as the big boys.”

It’s the deniability and ability to “mask” the origin of cyber-attacks that make them particularly tempting for malefactors, rogue states, and hostile superpowers alike. It’s a chance to sucker-punch your foe anonymously. Way back when, one of those cyber-security experts compared cyber-warfare by asking “how do you win a boxing match when you’re blindfolded?” The answer was “you put the boxer in a suit of armor.” The only real way to win the fight is to harden your defenses until they’re impenetrable and no one wants to step into the ring with you.

Bershidsky concludes, “Rules of engagement are still useful: Most belligerent parties aim to act honorably and avoid being branded as war criminals. Official cyberwar rules wouldn’t stop attacks, but they would define unacceptable behavior for all concerned.”

I don’t know how much I want to bet my country’s safety on other countries’ desire to “act honorably.” Fear of retaliation always struck me as a more effective deterrent. It appears now, far too late, some Democrats are expressing this philosophy more vocally:

Obama’s former national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, says as much in a new interview for The Global Politico, telling me there’s “no doubt about it” that Obama should have publicly pinned the blame on the Russians much sooner and taken more aggressive steps to retaliate.

Now he tells us.

Did Donald Trump Jr. Have a Lot of Time on His Hands, or What?

Boy, it didn’t take much to get a personal meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul J. Manafort, and Jared Kushner back in June, did it?

But on Sunday, presented with The Times’s findings, [Donald Trump Jr.] offered a new account. In a statement, he said he had met with the Russian lawyer at the request of an acquaintance from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which his father took to Moscow. “After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said, “the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”

He said she then turned the conversation to adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The 2012 law so enraged President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that he halted American adoptions of Russian children.

“It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting,” Mr. Trump said.

You’re telling me you can get three of the most important people in the Trump campaign, five weeks before the convention, into a face-to-face meeting just by making vague promises of damaging information about Hillary Clinton? And they were willing to take the meeting, without having any idea of what this information was, or knowing much about this woman?

Wouldn’t you figure these guys would be . . . you know, busier? Or that they or their staff would do a little more due diligence?

How many meetings did they take with people who were promising magic beans?

ISIS Is Losing Territory in both Iraq and Syria. Why Aren’t We Celebrating?

In a world where it seems like a lot is going wrong, we should recognize the victories. Back in 2015, the Iraqi Army was stumbling and bumbling, running away, and abandoning its weapons in the face of ISIS. This weekend, it just kicked ISIS out of the country’s second-largest city:

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Mosul Sunday to announce victory over ISIS forces in the city.

“Al-Abadi said the battle is settled and the remaining pockets of ISIS are encircled in the last inches of the city,” his media office said in a statement.

“It is a matter of time before we declare to our people the great victory.”

The Prime Minister said the Iraqi military is fighting to free civilians whom ISIS is “using as human shields in approximately 50 to 100 houses.”

Video showed al-Abadi walking through streets in Mosul as crowds cheered him.

Mosul is Iraq’s biggest metropolis outside of Baghdad, and gaining control of the city was one of ISIS’ most significant strategic wins.

The battle for Mosul began in October.

Meanwhile, over in Syria:

US backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) pushing into Raqqa on two fronts are now less than three miles apart from each other . . . 

it could still be weeks if not months before they are able to fully liberate ISIS’s once self-declared capital, according to a US defense official directly familiar with the status of the fight.

Nonetheless, the US-led coalition has begun planning for an internal security force of local recruits that could “hold” Raqqa once military operations are over.

The retaking of Raqqa and Mosul won’t be the end of the Islamic State . . . but part of their “glamour” or appeal for lack of better terms was their ability to hold territory; this is what separated them from al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. Pretty soon . . . they could look like just another group of jihadis, just with better branding.

ADDENDA: Michael Rodgers disagrees with me and contends conservatives should cheer for Calexit because of the obvious disaster that an independent California would become. Er, yay?

Trump’s Latest Tweets at the G20 and the Rising Tide of Political Violence

by Jim Geraghty

Welcome to sunny Hamburg for the G20 Summit!

Is it just me, or did the ambush of the NYPD police officer — an African-American mother of twins! — get relatively little national coverage? I ask this because the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, is over in Hamburg for the G20 protests.

Dissecting Trump’s Latest Tweets, Way Too Early

Mumblemumblemumble. You’ll have to pardon me, I was up at 3:45 a.m. for a 4:15 a.m. pickup for the first of two appearances on Fox News Channel this morning, the first at 5:20 a.m. and the second an hour later.

In the first, my liberal counterpart on the panel lamented that Trump’s speech in Poland was too “pro-Western.” Readers, you know I’m far from a reflexive defender of Trump. I would greatly prefer if the president, when asked about allegations of Russian attempts to meddle in the election, expressed confidence that the intelligence community gives him the best information it can and that he has faith in them and their assessments. But as far as Trump speeches go, yesterday’s was one of the best of them and it included the explicit pledge to honor Article Five of the NATO charter that everyone wanted to hear on the president’s first trip to Europe.

In my second appearance, I discussed Trump’s tweet: “Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA. Disgraceful!” Maybe in yesterday’s meeting, Angela Merkel was looking for a waiter and said out loud, “Where the heck is that server?!”

You can catch a short excerpt here, where I noted the current class of leaders of the Democratic party resemble the cast of a sequel to the film Cocoon.

Update Your Scorecards on Recent Threats of Political Violence

In Arizona:

Two men have been arrested for trespassing and one is facing another charge after making a threat during a protest at Arizona Senator Jeff Flake’s office in Tucson, authorities said.

Deputy Cody Gress, spokesman for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, said Mark Prichard and Patrick Diehl were arrested on charges of third-degree criminal trespass Thursday morning, July 6.

Gress said the 59-year-old Prichard is also facing a misdemeanor charge of threats and intimidation.

“Staffers working at the office indicated one of the protesters had made comments referencing the shooting of Rep. Scalise, which prompted them to call the Sheriff’s Department as well as lock the office doors,” the PCSD said in a news release.

Prichard was told he wasn’t allowed back on the property and was arrested after he “made a point to step back onto the property,” according to Gress.

Jason Samuels, Communications Director for Sen. Flake, said Prichard threatened a staff member and said the following:

“You know how liberals are going to solve the Republican problem? They are going to get better aim. That last guy tried, but he needed better aim. We will get better aim.

Gress said the 70-year-old Diehl tried to force his way into the office and was immediately arrested.

Say, is this the same Mark Pritchard who wrote to the Tucson newspaper on June 29, “Considering the broken health-care system in the U.S. and the current Republican plan to make it worse. The stage is now set for a people’s plan. Seems that Bernie Sanders, among others, has it right”? In other words, is this another Bernie Sanders supporter making threats against Republican lawmakers?

Then in Springfield, Illinois:

The Illinois Capitol reopened Thursday after being on lockdown for about two hours after a woman allegedly threw a powdery substance in the governor’s office.

A hazardous materials unit was called in, and Springfield fire officials said the substance was found to be not hazardous, although what it was remained unclear.

A few minutes before the House’s 1:30 p.m. scheduled start time, two security guards walked a woman with her arms handcuffed behind her through a hallway in back of the chamber.

As of Thursday afternoon, the woman was still being interviewed by investigators, and no charges had been filed, according to Dave Druker, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office. The woman was expected to eventually be transferred to Sangamon County Jail, though no details were expected to be released on her identity Thursday evening, Druker said.

Meanwhile, over in Chicago:

Activist Linda Sarsour, co-chair of the 2017 women’s march against Donald Trump, called for a “jihad” against the president at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention in Chicago over the weekend. Sarsour was a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Sarsour is a supporter of the BDS movement against Israel and opposes bans of sharia. She also is a somewhat frequent MSNBC guest and has appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show.

“I hope that we when we stand up to those who oppress our communities that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad. That we are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or in the other side of the world, but here in these United States of America where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House,” Sarsour said.

“Better aim”? Thrown powdery substances? Jihad? Doesn’t anybody want to, you know, argue anymore?

It’s really awful that the wife and parents of CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski are getting 50 harassing phone calls a day. If you’re one of those mouth-breathers — I know you aren’t, my readers are far too classy to ever do something like this — stop. Even the mafia makes distinctions between “soldiers” and “civilians.” Kaczynski’s family never did anything to you.

But once again we see that on-again, off-again sensibility that angry rhetoric “spurs” “inspires” or “incites” violence. Days after that former Sanders volunteer tried to murder as many Republican lawmakers as he could, the Vermont senator did an appearance on Facebook urging his supporters to “stand up and fight back in every way that you can” because under the GOP health-care bill, “there is no question but that thousands of Americans will die.”

Now, think about that. If you really believed the literal meaning of Sanders’s words, and that congressional Republicans were attempting to kill thousands of Americans . . . wouldn’t a violent or threatening response seem justified?

A Rattle in the Engine for Emmanuel Macron’s Administration in France

The bigger they are . . . 

 . . . the harder they fall:

The Paris prosecutor’s office opened a formal judicial inquiry Friday into suspected irregularities in the organization of a costly, high-profile event at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show that [President Emmanuel] Macron headlined when he was a French government minister.

The inquiry is for “favoritism,” but it doesn’t name a suspected perpetrator yet, leaving it to investigators to determine later who might be at fault.

The company tasked with organizing the “French Tech Night” event, advertising firm Havas, is believed to have won the contract without undergoing open tender procedures, among other suspected problems.

It’s unclear whether Macron himself was aware and the investigation doesn’t target him directly. It is problematic, however, for his labor minister, Muriel Penicaud.

Macron hasn’t fallen yet, of course. But it’s hard to maintain those visual comparisons to Jesus if you’re caught up in allegations of a scandalous no-bid contract.

ADDENDA: Michael Graham passes along a quote from CBS News’ Will Rahn that is both painfully accurate and painfully funny: “It’s hard to be an elitist once you’ve met the elites.”

Trump’s Energetic Presidential Welcome in Poland

by Jim Geraghty

Yes, there are times when President Trump seems too easygoing, naïve, or oblivious about the nature of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government. But then again, you don’t choose to go to Poland and give a speech like this if you’re a stooge of Moscow:

President Donald Trump on Thursday visibly enjoyed the praise showered on him by large crowds of flag-waving Poles in sun-splashed Krasinski Square. And the President, outside the United States for his second foreign trip, reciprocated by giving Polish leaders what they wanted: Public validation of their leadership and concerns over Russia.

Trump, in his most forceful terms to date, reaffirmed the United States support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“To those who would criticize our tough stance, I would point out not merely with words but with its actions that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defense commitment,” Trump said. “Words are easy but actions are what matter and for its own protection, and you know this, everybody has to know this, Europe must do more.” . . . 

Looking beyond Polish history, Trump pledged energy cooperation with Poland in a not-so-subtle knock against Russia’s use of energy as a coercive power.

“We are committed to securing your access to alternative sources of energy so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy,” Trump said.

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Poland’s ambassador to the U.S., Piotr Wilczek wrote:

America’s renewed interest in our region is also visible in last month’s delivery of American liquefied natural gas to Poland. Central and Eastern Europe have long been dominated by an energy monopoly left over from the Cold War era. We no longer have to be victims of geopolitics. Thanks to the newly constructed LNG import terminals on the Baltic coast and a system of interconnected pipelines, LNG delivered by ship to Świnoujście, Poland, can be transported throughout our region and beyond. These terminals allow us to exert greater energy independence, and we look toward our American partners for continued LNG gas exports.

In fact, we may be looking at an era in which the United States is an increasing superpower in the world’s energy markets.

The Easily Overlooked Boom in U.S. Oil Exports

The Failing New York Times notices that the United States is becoming a bigger and bigger oil exporter.

Oil exports grew slowly through most of 2016, but this year there has been a surge reaching 1.3 million barrels a day — roughly 15 percent of domestic production — which even at today’s depressed prices is worth more than $1.5 billion a month. . . . 

The United States still imports far more oil than it exports, and probably will continue to do so for many years. But since many American refineries were designed for heavy crudes from Mexico, Venezuela and Canada, the light shale oil from Texas is an awkward mismatch. Meanwhile, that oil is coming out of the fields in a record gush, and despite persistently low oil prices, the Energy Department projects that domestic production next year will top 10 million barrels a day, an all-time high. . . . 

Much of Texas has been in an economic slump in recent years, having lost about 100,000 oil jobs since late 2014, when the price of oil fell from over $100 a barrel to less than $50. But because of the exports, the job losses have been stemmed and there is the promise of new jobs to come. Oil executives said that if weren’t for exports, so much oil would be stockpiled in already flush domestic inventories that the American benchmark price would be $10 to $20 below the current $45 a barrel, making most new drilling uneconomical.

Even with exports and the U.S. need to refine heavy crude, gas prices at the pump this Independence Day weekend were the lowest since 2005. That’s an economic stimulus that touches just about every American, whether they drive or simply purchase goods that are transported by land. And as the U.S. exports more, that creates more jobs:

Many more jobs may be on the way. Ray Perryman, a leading Texas economist and president of the Perryman Group, a consulting firm, estimated that expanded crude exports will add more than 30,000 jobs in Corpus Christi over the next couple of decades. For the nation, 484,000 jobs could be added, nearly 60 percent of which will be in Texas, even if oil prices remain moderate to low, he estimated.

What Brad Thor’s Use of Force Does So Well

As mentioned earlier, I’m a huge fan of Brad Thor’s thriller novels, so it almost goes without saying you should go out and buy or download his latest, Use of Force, at your earliest convenience. There are a lot of good thriller writers out there, but I don’t think anybody else has Thor’s consistency of quality — of pacing, scope, real-world details, dynamic characters, twists, action, and exploration of the world’s less-tread corners.

Use of Force is the 17th book in Thor’s Scot Harvath series. So beyond the basic question of whether the book is any good — which it is — perhaps we should explore the question of how Thor keeps his protagonist and world exciting and dynamic and fresh after so many stories?

For starters, Harvath is indeed aging, albeit slowly. His mentor is succumbing to old age, the appeal or even need for a family is tugging more urgently at his heart. There’s a sense that he can’t keep doing what he’s so good at, hunting down the world’s most dangerous men, for much longer . . . but the work is never really finished.

I’m not spoiling much to say that by page four, Use of Force has set up a dramatic scenario where you’re already wondering what’s going to happen. In one of those “I can’t believe no one has thought of this already” concepts, Scot Harvath is hunting down a potential suicide bomber at the Burning Man Festival, a loud, crowded, visually overwhelming, anarchic environment that makes looking for a needle in a haystack look easy-peasy by comparison.

In a thriller, there’s always a question of how much your villain should succeed, in order to demonstrate the severity of the threat. Hans Gruber and the terrorists in Die Hard make short work of the LAPD and are one step ahead of the FBI. Several times in 24, the terrorists’ bombs went off, despite the best efforts of Jack Bauer. In a real thriller, the creator has to dispel the audience’s instinctive assurance that everything will turn out okay, an assurance conditioned by previously watching dozens or hundreds of happy endings. There has to be a real sense of risk. In the recent Superman movie, Man of Steel, the audience instinctively knows General Zod isn’t going to succeed in his plot to destroy the earth; there would be no room for a sequel. But in The Dark Knight, it’s possible the Joker could manipulate the passengers on one of the ferries to blow up the other. Life would go on for most of Gotham, but the Joker would have “won” by proving his point about human nature and the selfish, even savage instincts of people who think of themselves as being “good.”

In Use of Force, an ISIS-affiliated terror mastermind with considerable military and police experience manages to score some wins as Harvath is still looking for clues. It’s pretty clear from early on, the stakes are high and there is no guarantee the good guys will win. The bad guy may not destroy the world, but he can commit another Beslan, another Bataclan, another Ghouta.

You can tell Thor has done his homework on the experiences of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa, hoping to start new lives — and in some cases, wreak new havoc — in Europe. Thor credits the journalism of Barbie Latza Nadeau for shining a light in this dark corner of a beautiful world.

A key portion of Use of Force takes place in northern Libya, with fleeting references to the Benghazi attacks. (The Thor books take place in a world a lot like ours, but the president is different — generic and mostly “off screen” – and there are occasional references to the dramatic events of previous Scot Harvath stories. The world seems to have recovered so thoroughly from that Ebola-like plague outbreak unleashed in Code of Conduct that no one feels the need to mention it.) I can’t help but get the feeling that Thor wanted to depict how things should work when another small group of Americans is under fire from all directions in Libya and they call the U.S. government for help. Only one person out of roughly 150 was ever brought to justice for the Benghazi attacks.

Finally, Thor takes a villain that most readers probably thought had retired — the mafia and Italy’s organized crime — and brings us into their modern world of nightclubs, gangs, prostitution, migrant-smuggling, gunrunning, illegal horse-racing, and other vicious vices. Thor paints a vibrant but disturbing portrait of their world, suggesting he’s been able to see into those little-noticed corners or Southern Italy . . . or at the very least, taken a lengthy stay in Italy as a tax-deductible research business expense.

ADDENDA: Speaking of thrillers . . . 

Ships chartered by two oil traders responsible for a significant share of Iran’s fuel exports last year failed to transmit their location and the origin of their cargo — red flags for governments seeking evidence of evasion of sanctions on Tehran.

The ships’ radio-signal tracking systems were often not in use and occasionally indicated the ships had sailed from countries other than Iran, a Wall Street Journal investigation found.

Maybe Those Anonymous Internet Trolls Aren’t as Anonymous as They Thought

by Jim Geraghty

Before we dive into what’s left of a short work week, a quick thought: Yesterday, a couple hundred million Americans gathered at parades, ballparks, backyard barbecues, harbors, marathons, pools, and other locations to celebrate Independence Day.

Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and every other anti-American extremist would have loved to disrupt those events with an attack and mar the day. And they couldn’t. The Department of Homeland Security gets a lot of grief, sometimes deservedly so, in part because their public face is the men and women in blue who are touching your junk in search of a non-metaphorical concealed weapon. But yesterday — and almost every holiday — DHS, FBI, our armed forces, our intelligence agencies, and police officers across the country did an exceptional job at ensuring everyone had a safe and enjoyable day. Thanks, everybody.

Should the press respect the anonymity of online commenters?

You’re up to speed on Trump tweeting the video that superimposed the CNN logo atop the head of Vince McMahon, in an old appearance during a professional-wrestling bout in which Trump pretended to beat up McMahon, right?

The cable-news network decided to go looking for the person who created that video, and apparently that person is mortified at the thought of their actual identity being exposed:

The Reddit user who initially claimed credit for President Donald Trump’s tweet that showed Trump tackling CNN issued an apology Tuesday for the video and other offensive content he posted — one day after CNN identified the man behind the account and attempted to make contact with him.

Reddit user “HanA**holeSolo” first shared the GIF last Wednesday of Trump pummeling a wrestler with CNN’s logo imposed on his face. CNN could find no earlier instance of the GIF. The GIF was later edited into a video with sound and tweeted by the President on Sunday.

On Reddit, “HanA**holeSolo” took credit for inspiring the tweet. Soon after, “HanA**holeSolo’s” other posts on Reddit, some of which included racist and anti-Semitic imagery, quickly circulated on social media.

Now the user is apologizing, writing in a lengthy post on Reddit that he does not advocate violence against the press and expressing remorse there and in an interview with CNN for other posts he made that were racist and anti-Semitic.

The apology came after CNN’s KFile identified the man behind “HanA**holeSolo.” Using identifying information that “HanA**holeSolo” posted on Reddit, KFile was able to determine key biographical details, to find the man’s name using a Facebook search and ultimately corroborate details he had made available on Reddit.

On Monday, KFile attempted to contact the man by email and phone but he did not respond. On Tuesday, “HanA**holeSolo” posted his apology on the subreddit /The_Donald and deleted all of his other posts.

Welcome to what could turn into one of the biggest debates of the Trump era: Does an anonymous online troll have the right to remain an anonymous online troll?

This tweet from CNN anchor Christopher Cuomo — quickly deleted — feels more than a little menacing:

A little while back, after Trump wrote a tweet that suggested he may have taped his conversations in the White House with former FBI director James Comey, I argued that Trump’s implied threat was against his own interests. The whole point of “executive privilege” was that the president needed and deserved the most honest, unvarnished advice possible, and ensuring those sorts of honest exchanges meant they had to be kept secret. “Sometimes the right course of action is not the popular one; those who speak to the president may not want their actual perspective revealed to the public.”

Quite a few Trump fans — including those tweeting under pseudonyms! — insisted there was something inherently dishonest about having different public and private positions. I suspect many of those same people will denounce CNN today without recognizing any contradiction in their positions. (I also wonder how many people denouncing CNN today cheered on WikiLeaks after it posted the private e-mails of John Podesta.)

Should the press respect the anonymity of online commenters? I suspect Silence Dogood would argue yes. I’ll bet Richard Bachman could write a terrifying story about a television network dedicating itself to exposing the worst side of you. I wonder if Joe Klein will cheer for CNN in this circumstance.

This certainly looks like major news network utilizing its considerable resources to expose one of its online critics, a rather petty use of those resources. On the other hand, the sense of shame and regret exhibited by the Reddit commenter is pretty revealing. Deep down, a lot of obnoxious online trolls don’t want their comments and behavior associated with their real identity. They know it’s wrong, and it violates their own conception of who they are, and how they want other people to see them. If you’re doing something that would cause you that much personal and professional ruination if it were ever exposed . . . eh, maybe you shouldn’t do it? (“Maybe just put it in the background there,” as Dr. Oatman would say.)

When I talk to cyber-security professionals, they periodically insist that nothing on the Internet can be made permanently secret. Given enough time and resources, just about anything can be hacked and revealed — even the things you’re absolutely certain are deleted. That online venting had better be worth it, because there’s always that infinitesimal chance that somebody with the know-how and time might decide to figure out who’s behind that clever pseudonym you chose. Maybe the potential exposure of this one Reddit commenter will be a useful cautionary tale.

In the ongoing discussion of the importance of protecting pen names and pseudonyms, Voltaire, Ayn Rand, Mark Twain, the Red Baron, Pancho Villa, Che Guevara, John Barron, John Miller, Cat Stevens, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and Jay Gatsby could not be reached for comment.

Darker Clouds Gathering over the Korean Peninsula

Is there no military option in North Korea? No, no, it’s just that there is no good military option in North Korea:

The last time the United States is known to have seriously considered attacking the North was in 1994, more than a decade before its first nuclear test. The defense secretary at the time, William J. Perry, asked the Pentagon to prepare plans for a “surgical strike” on a nuclear reactor, but he backed off after concluding it would set off warfare that could leave hundreds of thousands dead.

The stakes are even higher now. American officials believe North Korea has built as many as a dozen nuclear bombs — perhaps many more — and can mount them on missiles capable of hitting much of Japan and South Korea.

And no, there’s no guarantee that the U.S. could take out all of North Korea’s nukes, because they’re hidden in underground bunkers. So, North Korea could retaliate with any surviving nukes. But what’s even worse is that the Norks don’t even need nukes to inflict devastating damage upon civilians in response:

North and South Korea, separated by the world’s most heavily armed border, have had more than half a century to prepare for a resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. While the North’s weaponry is less advanced, the South suffers a distinct geographical disadvantage: Nearly half its population lives within 50 miles of the Demilitarized Zone, including the 10 million people in Seoul, its capital.

“You have this massive agglomeration of everything that is important in South Korea — government, business and the huge population — and all of it is in this gigantic megalopolis that starts 30 miles from the border and ends 70 miles from the border,” said Robert E. Kelly, a professor of political science at Pusan National University in South Korea. “In terms of national security, it’s just nuts.”

North Korea has positioned as many as 8,000 artillery cannons and rocket launchers on its side of the Demilitarized Zone, analysts say, an arsenal capable of raining up to 300,000 rounds on the South in the first hour of a counterattack. That means it can inflict tremendous damage without resorting to weapons of mass destruction. END

(Yes, that’s the Robert Kelly from the delightful child-invading BBC interview. Hopefully, his daughter invading his home office is the only invasion Kelly has to deal with in the coming years.)

Checking in with the top U.S. general in South Korea . . . 

BL “Self-restraint, which is a choice, is all that separates armistice and war,” said General [Vincent K.] Brooks, referring to the 1953 cease-fire that halted but never officially ended the Korean War. “As this alliance missile live-fire shows, we are able to change our choice when so ordered by our alliance national leaders.

“It would be a grave mistake for anyone to believe anything to the contrary.”

ADDENDA: It’s the end of the Independence Day holiday and back to the regular schedule at Three Martini Lunch, NRO, Facebook, and probably in the not-too-distant future, the pop-culture podcast . . . 

Oh, Hey, No Big Deal, Just Illegal Immigration from Honduras Drying Up

by Jim Geraghty

Ah, it’s good to be back. Thanks to Jack Fowler for holding down the fort in my absence; I’m sure all of you have finally bought a cabin on the upcoming NR cruise now.

Why does our president care so much about what Mika Brzezinski thinks?

Good News from the Border

While the president is envisioning himself punching a cable-news network logo into submission, take a look at what The Failing New York Times™ reports from Choloma, Honduras:

While some of Mr. Trump’s most ambitious plans to tighten the border are still a long way off, particularly his campaign pledge to build a massive wall, his hard-line approach to immigration already seems to have led to sharp declines in the flow of migrants from Central America bound for the United States.

From February through May, the number of undocumented immigrants stopped or caught along the southwest border of the United States fell 60 percent from the same period last year, according to United States Customs and Border Protection — evidence that far fewer migrants are heading north, officials on both sides of the border say.

Arrests of immigrants living illegally in the United States have soared, with the biggest increase coming among those migrants with no criminal records.

The shift has sown a new sense of fear among undocumented immigrants in the United States. In turn, they have sent a warning back to relatives and friends in their homelands: Don’t come.  . . . 

Migrant smugglers in Honduras say their business has dried up since Mr. Trump took office. Fewer buses have been leaving the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula bound for the border with Guatemala, the usual route for Honduran migrants heading overland to the United States. In hotels and shelters along the migrant trail, once-occupied beds go empty night after night.

Marcos, a migrant smuggler based near San Pedro Sula, said that last year he had taken one or two groups each month from Honduras to the United States border. Since Mr. Trump’s inauguration, however, he has had only one client. He blames Mr. Trump.

“People think he’s going to kick everyone out of the country,” Marcos said, asking that his full name not be published because of the illegal nature of his work. “Almost nobody’s going.”

Give Trump critics credit: They predicted he would destroy jobs, and they were right; he appears to have destroyed a considerable number of positions in the previously vibrant and lucrative illicit people-smuggling industry.

Also, all of us who gripe about the New York Times — often with good reason – should retire our “the Times never reports any good news for Trump!” complaint. This is good journalism. Yes, the article is written with a great deal of sympathy for those who seek to cross the border illegally, declaring that “many potential migrants in the Northern Triangle are choosing to sit tight and endure the poverty and violence that have driven hundreds of thousands to seek work and sanctuary in the United States in recent years.”

And there’s an implied argument that the change in U.S. policies is worsening conditions in these countries: “Experts in the region warn that the decline in migration could put additional pressure on Central American countries, increasing competition for work, which is already in short supply, and potentially driving more people into the criminal gangs that have terrorized the region.”

But, ultimately, the United States cannot build a better Honduras; only the Hondurans can do that. Mass illegal migration only helps those in power maintain the status quo by driving the most determined, the hardest-working, and the most ambitious out of the country. Yes, those poor people in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras deserve a better life than they have in their current circumstances. But they really deserve a chance to build that better life in their home countries.

A Smaller Government — At Least At 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

On Friday, the Trump administration released its annual report on White House office personnel. It includes the name, status, salary, and position title of all 377 White House employees. OpenTheBooks.com, a private organization that tracks government spending, calculates that the Trump White House is costing taxpayers $5 million less, and employing 110 fewer staffers than the Obama White House in 2015.

Perhaps the biggest reduction comes in the size of the first lady’s staff: “There are five staffers dedicated to Melania Trump vs. 24 staffers who served Michelle Obama (FY2009).” God bless Melania.

In the eyes of a fiscal conservative, this is good. Of course, it’s not even a drop in the bucket of our overall government-spending problems, but it is good to see the White House leading by example.

One point to consider is whether the White House might work a bit more effectively if it had, say, a few more assistants for legislative affairs attempting to coordinate with Capitol Hill. (I notice that in the final year of the Obama presidency, the White House had 68 people with the word “policy” in their job titles; the new Trump administration has 27.) Yes, fewer White House assistants, deputies, support specialists, project managers, analysts, and so on qualifies as cutting government. But then again, these are among the very few positions in the entire federal bureaucracy with the duty of implementing conservative policies across the government.

You Probably Don’t Want to Be Seen There During a Government Shutdown

Man, is Chris Christie trying to end his second term as the most hated politician in New Jersey history?

People hoping to visit Island Beach State Park this holiday weekend were not allowed in because of the state government shutdown. Gov. Chris Christie ordered amid the state budget standoff in Trenton.

But there was one family there: Christie’s. They are using the summer beach house provided by the state for a weekend down the Shore.

At that news conference, Christie was asked if he got any sun Sunday.

“I didn’t,” he said. “I didn’t get any sun today.”

When later told of the photo, Brian Murray, the governor’s spokesman, said: “Yes, the governor was on the beach briefly today talking to his wife and family before heading

into the office.”

“He did not get any sun,” Murray added. “He had a baseball hat on.”

That is a bad liar. But wait, it gets worse.

Christie told reporters Saturday that the beach house is separate from the park and that his family will not ask for any state services.

Asked if this is fair, Christie said Saturday: “Run for governor, and you can have a residence there.”

This was just handed to me: Marie Antoinette issued a statement declaring that relaxing on the beach while a nearby state-park beach is shut down is a “bad look.”

Then again, Chris Christie’s approval rating is 15 percent, and his Republican Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno is at just 26 percent in this year’s upcoming governor’s race. Maybe Christie just doesn’t care anymore.

ADDENDA: Happy Independence Day. I finished Brad Thor’s latest, Use of Force, last week and will have a full (glowing) review and analysis later this week. I will reveal one shocking twist: Unlike the previous two books, neither Larry O’Connor nor Brian Wilson of Washington’s WMAL radio station end up in harm’s way in this one.

Ending June with a Bang at NR

by Jack Fowler

Dear Jolters,

June ends with a bang. But to your ears, it should end with the smooth sounds of Charlie Cooke and Kevin Williamson — now up on NRO (and iTunes et al.) is the latest episode of Mad Dogs & Englishmen, in which the Bearded Ones talk minimum-wage madness and much more.

You know, the vacationing Jim Geraghty has his own daily podcast, the long-running Three Martini Lunch, which you need to catch. Jim’s days of catching rays will be coming to an end — he’s back in the saddle here on Monday. Jim is a tolerant man, allowing me to muck around in his domain while he gets toasted on Southern beaches. Grazia.

Okay, let me send you off to the weekend with a few NRO reading suggestions:

Cruz Care. The Texas senator looms larger in the health-care debate. Tiana Lowe has the very interesting story. Here is a part:

Critics speculated that Cruz was merely bluffing when he publicly came out against the initial version of the BCRA along with Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ron Johnson — but then Cruz began passing out memos entitled “Path to ‘Yes,’” which detailed the four concessions required from Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to earn Cruz’s vote. The most significant of those points, a consumer-freedom option allowing insurance companies to sell non-Obamacare-compliant plans so long as they sell at least one Obamacare-compliant plan as well, may actually be coming to fruition.

Attention NYC Haters. Kyle Smith give Mayor Bill de Blasio a kick in the big apples, and saves one for Governor Andrew Cuomo too.

Twump. Both Michael Brendan Dougherty and David French weigh in on the president’s attack tweets against MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski.

Planned Parenthoodwink. Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins are hell-bent on making sure that your tax dollars bankroll Planned Parenthood and seek to strip a ban from the Senate health-care bill. Alexandra DeSanctis has the story. And here’s some of it:

The vast majority of the group’s services are related to reproductive issues, not general health. Of the 9.5 million services Planned Parenthood self-reported for the 2015–16 fiscal year, not even 40,000 were family-practice services. In fact, the group treats significantly more urinary-tract infections in a year than it provides general health-care services.

Planned Parenthood provides less than 1 percent of the nation’s Pap tests and less than 2 percent of its breast exams and cancer screenings. Despite frequent claims to the contrary, not a single Planned Parenthood clinic has a mammogram machine. And even the reproduction-related services on offer are rather limited: Earlier this year, Live Action team members called 97 Planned Parenthood facilities and found only five that provided prenatal care; the majority of the others repeatedly insisted that the organization doesn’t provide prenatal care at all, because it specializes in abortion.

Over at McClatchy newspapers D.C. bureau, Lesley Clark reports that House pro-lifers will not allow Murkowski-Collins to prevail. From her report:

“We’ve warned the Senate that there’s nothing they could do that would blow the health care bill to Mars more than taking the pro-life components out of it,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who signed a Republican Study Committee letter to McConnell outlining the group’s concerns. “I think they know if they do, they might as well not vote. It would blow it to smithereens over here.”

Twitter Gag. Alexandra also reports that Twitter has blocked the pro-life group Live Action from advertising until it deletes tweets that the company finds “offensive.”

The Mighty Have Fallen. This should not surprise you, but Professor Samuel J. Abrams has an interesting piece on just how poorly the “elite” colleges of New England, from Harvard and Yale to Tufts and Amherst, rank when it comes to the amount of “viewpoint diversity one can expect to find on a particular campus.”

Programming Notes. Please subscribe to NR magazine, in the print or digital versions . . . lots of people are still giving to the Spring Webathon (God bless you!) and you can send a few bucks NR’s way here . . . I am going to cry if you don’t buy a copy of Al Felzenberg’s magnificent new biography, A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr. . . . There is a Queen Mary 2 cabin waiting for your reservation on the National Review 2017 Trans-Atlantic Crossing.

I yearn for a simpler time. Back in the day when I was the delivery boy on Tony Spagnuola’s fruit-and-vegetable truck (serving the little old ladies of Yonkers and Woodlawn in The Bronx, making sure they had their weekly fill of plums and potatoes), the radio was set to WOR-AM, and Bob and Ray were on in the late afternoons, and every Friday they would play the silly old tune, “Run Rabbit Run.” Well, it was said to be Churchill’s favorite, so if it was good enough for Winston, it’s good enough for us this last day of June. Listen to it here.

We’ll meet again. I don’t know where and I don’t know when, but I am sure we are going to meet again, probably on some sunny day.

God bless,

Jack Fowler

P.S.: No P.S. today!

Why Gawker Media Deserved to Go Down and More

by Jack Fowler

Dear Jolters,

Crazy stuff happening today on the World Wide Web. Jim Geraghty picked a good week to vacay. Well, I did get a few things written before systems went kaflooey. So, here’s a truncated Jolt. As I used to tell me folks — it’s not my fault!

The man can write. If you want to see a terribly swift pen loose some fateful lightning, read Kyle Smith’s look Inside the Delightful Suicide of Gawker. Here’s a slice of brilliance:

Gawker saying its mission is to make war with the unkind is like the Queen of England decrying nepotism. Gawker’s very escutcheon was cruelty, obnoxiousness, unkindness. It published stories too nasty and sleazy for tabloids, and wrote them up with sophomoric zeal for vulgarism and profanity. I happily worked at tabloids for many years, but I felt ashamed of myself every time I read Gawker. I can hardly imagine what it must have been like actually to work at such a flatulence farm, a scum ranch, an academy of pus.

EPA boss Scott Pruitt lives up to the billing, and drops the hammer on the leftist madness that turned the federal WOTUS (“Waters of the United States”) rule into an excuse for land grabbing that equated, get this, wet grass with the Mighty Mississippi. NRO has an excellent editorial on Pruitt reining in the out-of-control regulatory agency.

“Any day now, they’ll kill Charlie Gard.” Ian Tuttle writes an unnerving report on a sick little British boy and the courts that rule he is better off dead. Weep for our culture.

That’ll do for NRO. Elsewhere in the ether let me suggest the following:

Is “Throwback Thursday” still a thing? If it is, here is a classic edition of Firing Line, from 1987, with Bill Buckley, of course, and Allan Bloom. The subject: “Higher Education Has Failed Democracy.” Watch it here.

Here’s a short and worthwhile video on Jack Phillips, the Colorado cake-baker being tormented by foes of religious freedom.

Is the West “too tired” to defend freedom? Over at Gatestone, Giulio Meotti bemoans the descent. He wisely quotes from James Burnham’s Suicide of the West.

Tomorrow we’ll provide a fuller Jolt once Al Gore fixes the Interweb. Until then, behave.

Best,

Jack Fowler

P.S.: Interested in what’s up in New York politics? Then check out empirereportnewyork.com.

Why the Senate’s Medicaid Reforms Are Necessary, the Chevron Lawsuit, and More

by Jack Fowler

Dear Jolt Friends,

As the first half of 2017 hurtles to a finish, NRO fills the web this Humpday with beaucoup wisdom for you. Embrace it!

Today you will find two new editorials very worth your while. The first is titled “The Senate Health-Care Bill’s Needed Medicaid Reforms” and it opines “when it comes to Medicaid, Republicans should not be cowed by Democrats’ hysteria. The program is unsustainable, and must be reformed in the name of fiscal sanity.” But you should read the whole thing.

Ditto for “Prosecute Steven Donziger’s ‘Egregious Fraud,’” which looks at the latest development in the Left’s racketeering efforts to shake down Chevron, and urges the Justice Department to seek criminal prosecution of the scheme’s mastermind, one Steven Donziger.

Editorials aside, let me recommend five worthwhile articles.

1. Minimum Wage, Maximum Stupidity. This is the kind of subject you want Kevin Williamson to plunge into, and he does, and boy oh boy is “Magical Thinking about Minimum Wages” ever a delightful read boy is it a delightful read. Here’s a shred, on Seattle’s boomerang:

BL the law that was supposed to increase low-wage workers’ incomes actually reduced them — substantially, by an average of $125 a month. END

2. That Ted Cruz? Yeah, that one. Looks like the Texas Senator is becoming the point man for crafting a Senate health-care bill that might (with a heavy dollop of maybe) gain enough votes to pass. Alexandra DeSanctis has the story.

3. Jay Nordlinger’s “Impromptus” column is always a smorgasbord of wisdom, observations, fun. Today’s is typical — it launches with thoughts on the fate of Saif al-Islam, Moammar Qaddafi’s once-allegedly “good son,” proven later by events to be not so. Jay would know (after all, he is the author of Children of Monsters).

4. The Dirt on Clean Energy. Julie Kelly has a terrific report on how environmentally toxic discarded solar panels (“piling up all over the world”) are. For example, “solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than nuclear-power plants.” Wow. Question: Is it okay to have a thrill up your leg when you see tree-huggers flummoxed.

5. Big Bully. David French files a must-read analysis on how California

BL not only is increasing its resistance to the Trump administration but also is increasingly belligerent against other states and increasingly hostile to fundamental constitutional rights. In other words, it’s turning healthy federalism into a “soft secession” (to borrow Jason Willick’s excellent phrase). California is violating fundamental constitutional rights at the same time that it tries to use its economic power to coerce other states to adopt its social policies. To Golden State progressives, California should be California, and Tennessee should be California, too. END

Elsewhere amongst the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, two suggestions:

1. The good folks at Legal Insurrection report on the EPA’s move to rescind Obama’s noxious rules on the “Waters of the United States Act.”

2. Over at The Human Life Review, my dear old pal Maria McFadden Maffucci pens a lovely review of Pia Mathew’s God’s Wild Flowers: Saints with Disabilities. And yeah, you should subscribe to the Reviewget a free trial issue.

And for no particular reason, here is some unsolicited advice to Grill Meisters and Barbeque Lummoxes: As it ’tis the season, let Ike inspire you and your briquettes.

Enough of this! Now go read your NRO and report back here tomorrow. And Jim Geraghty, slather on that sunscreen lest you return overdone.

Best,

Jack Fowler

P.S.: Come on now — there is a cabin or three left. Get it at www.nrcruise.com.

P.P.S.: Say what?! You are not an NR subscriber? Why I oughta . . . You go fix that right now. You can subscribe to the print magazine here. Or you can subscribe to the digital edition here.

Breaking Down the Senate Health-Care Bill, Supreme Court Rulings & More

by Jack Fowler

Dear Jolters,

Lots going on today on NRO. You don’t need to read any tomfoolery from me, pinch-hitting for the vacationing Jim G, so let’s get right to the links.

Okay, here are five NRO pieces you should read — they have nothing to do with health care:

1. SCOTUS and the Travel Ban. Andy McCarthy finds the nine Black Robes’ ruling left a lot unanswered, including the lower courts instituting a “jurisprudence of Trump.”

2. No Sanctuary. Austin Yack has an interesting report on how state attorneys general are “spearheading their own legal fight against lax immigration policies, particularly with sanctuary cities and the temporary travel ban.”

3. Trump Deranged Dems. Victor Davis Hanson has a major essay on the Democrat party’s agenda — you know, the one that fails to connect with most Americans — and how the party has filled its program void with kvetching.

4. Liberals Going Emolumental. And you thought it was some kind of lotion, right? Well, in fact emoluments are things proscribed by the Constitution, and as William J. Watkins Jr. writes today, they are the latest craze of Trump-obsessed Democrats on Capitol Hill.

5. Trumpacadabra. In his new book, The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism, Henry Olsen say The Donald won in November by recapturing The Gipper’s magic. We provide an excerpt.

And here are five NRO pieces on health care that are well worth your time and attention:

1. Chris Pope asks and answers the question, Are the GOP’s Proposed Medicaid Reforms Mean?

2. My old pal from a million years ago, Doug Badger, who knows everything about America’s health-care system, says it’s time to Free the Obamacare 15 Million.

3. More on Medicaid: James Capretta says the GOP is right to seek fundamental reform.

4. What about those CBO numbers on McConnell Care, you ask? Tiana Lowe unpacks them deftly (the Santini Brothers would be thrilled!).

5. Looking ahead to court reviews of any new health-care reform law, Josh Blackman makes the case to “channel all litigation through a single three-judge panel, with a direct appeal to the Supreme Court.”

Hey, not everything out on the World Wide Webs is NR material. Here are some off-site suggestions:

James O’Keeffe and his video warriors at Project Veritas have stung CNN: Hot on the heels of its bogus story about alleged collusion between Russian officials and Trump buddy Anthony Scaramucci, CNN producer John Bonifield is caught on tape admitting that much of the cable outfit’s coverage of Trump/Russia affair is ratings driven, and that there’s no evidence of there being any there there. (I, for one, taking a cue from Casablanca, am shocked. Shocked.)

Over at Forbes, Ralph Benko has written a terrific review of Al Felzenberg’s new Bill Buckley bio, A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr. Ditto from the June 26 issue of National Review, where Rachel Currie also sings praises for the bio. You can (should!) order a copy at Amazon.

My pal Soeren Kern, a Gatestone Institute senior fellow, provides a regular feature in which he looks at Islamofascism’s impact on a country over a month. His latest entry is up today — A Month of Islam and Multiculturalism, May 2017. Read it and weep. You just may.

And now, for the good of the cause:

Most Happy Fella. There’s good news for those wanting to be a National Review Institute (NRI) fellow. Well, NRI is now seeking applicants for its Fall 2017 Regional Fellows Programs in San Francisco and Dallas. The ideal applicant will be a mid-career professional, working in a non-policy professional setting. Past Fellows have represented diverse industries, and professions ranging from oil and gas, venture capital, real estate, medicine, sporting industries, law enforcement, education, nonprofits, and the arts. The Program takes place over eight moderated dinner discussions. The 2017 Class will run from mid-September to mid-November. Moderators include popular writers/speakers at National Review and leading academics at local universities. The deadline to apply is July 15. Do that, here.

Enough of this. The salt mines are calling for me. So, until tomorrow, my friends, may God’s blessings fall gently upon you and yours and upon these United States.

Best,

Jack Fowler

P.S.: Some NRO-newbie suggestions for your Twitter followings: @rkylesmith (Kyle Smith) and @michaelbd (Michael Brendan Dougherty).

Health-Care Reform: Looking at the Good and the Bad

by Jack Fowler

Dear Jolters,

Jim’s away having fun with the clan, so we wish him a week of true R & R, during which Yours Truly will pinch hit and do his best not to embarrass the Morning Jolt brand. I am on the road myself — actually typing away on the floor of a corner of my hotel room (l don’t want to wake Mrs. F) — so this will be a quick Monday edition.

First off, there’s McConnell Care to deal with.

Yuval Levin has a detailed and informed analysis of the Senate GOP’s attempt at health-care-reform legislation, which he finds in the whole with more positives than negatives.

Meanwhile, NRO editors formally find the Senate bill to be rather flawed.

Now let’s talk about conservative ear candy:

The new edition of The Editors podcast features Rich Lowry, Charlie Cooke, Ian Tuttle, and Michael Brendan Dougherty discussing the GOP’s win in the Georgia special election for the sixth district House seat, McConnell Care, and the death of Otto Warmbier.

Editors Extra: In a special episode of The Editors, MBD sits down with Douglas Murray for a brief interview about his new book, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, and Islam.

More Podcast: Over at The Liberty Files, Princeton Professor Robert P. George joins David French to discuss a controversial court case in Massachusetts, the state of free speech on campus, America’s increasing polarization, and whether there are any trends that are pulling America together rather than pushing it apart.

Even More Podcast: Have you yet to become a Mad Dogs and Englishmen junkie? I suggest the habit. How about listening to the new edition, in which Charlie and Kevin discuss the problems with the debate over gun control, our creeping war with Syria, and the cyclical nature of politics.

And as a complete aside, listen to Noel Coward singing the hit tune which shares a name with our friendly neighborhood podcast.

And now, to show our institutional siblings a little affection, here’s one non-NRO suggestion:

The great Ruthie Blum has a piece on the nexus of terrorism-training and tech giants, “Google’s YouTube — Soap Box for Terrorists.” It’s up on www.gatestoneinstitute.com, my favorite website not named National Review. I encourage you to visit Gatestone daily.

OK, I entrust this drivel to the hands of our great editors, and now I will rouse the wife and hit the road (seven hours on I-95, what a joy!). But before I say adios, let me offer three cheers to Nat Brown, the former editor of MJ, who was married this weekend to the lovely Hannah Smith in Virginia (and who interrupted his jitters to write this wonderful piece for NRO just a few days back).

Manana amigos,

Jack Fowler

P.S. Speaking of sibling institutions, visit our sister site, www.nrinstitute.org, and learn about all of NRI’s many terrific programs.

P.P.S. Yes, you can still get a cabin on the forthcoming NR Trans-Atlantic Crossing. Visit www.nrcruise.com for the details.

Beware the ‘Virtually Eliminating Medicaid’ Argument

by Jim Geraghty

This is the last Jim-written Jolt until July 3 . . . unless National Review chooses to close that day for the Independence Day holiday, in which case I’ll return July 5. Enjoy the beginning of summer and the end of the school year. Also, if everyone on I-95 southbound in the states of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina could get out of the left lane today, that would be great.

What You’re Going to Hear from Democrats about Medicaid

You’re going to hear quite a few Democrats charging that the Senate bill “virtually eliminates Medicaid entirely by the time we get to 2025.” If you look at the text, the “virtual elimination” looks an awful lot like a per-patient spending cap, which, whether you like this idea or not, isn’t really elimination. By this standard, any reduction in defense spending is the “virtual elimination” of the U.S. military.

The year 2025 brings the big changes:

Both the House and Senate bills aim to set a per-person cap on Medicaid spending in each state. That cap would adjust annually to take into account inflation. Through 2025, both bills would adjust the cap based on a measure of how rapidly medical costs are expanding — a measure known as the CPI-M.

Starting in 2025, however, the Senate bill would change the formula, instead funding Medicaid based on a measure of how rapidly all costs are rising (technically, the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers, or just CPI-U).

General costs, however, typically rise more slowly than medical costs. After 2025, the increases to Medicaid would no longer be able to keep pace, with the gap growing each year. After a decade or two, that discrepancy would add up to of hundreds of billions of dollars.

It’s as if these people have never seen a Washington budget before. “We’re going to make the really politically difficult cuts to an entitlement program eight years from now, we swear.”

Our Kevin Williamson points out that this is a well-established bipartisan tradition of budgetary cynicism. The Senate plan promises the good stuff up front (retroactively repealing a 3.8 percent tax on investment income, including capital gains and dividends, starting January 1) and the unpopular cuts down the road. The Democratic plan did it in reverse to hide the fact that too much money was going out and not enough money was going in:

The Affordable Care Act was designed in a dishonest way, front-loading the revenue and backing in the expenses in order to get a nice budget score from the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO rolled its institutional eyes at this, and its report suggested very strongly that its analysts did not believe a word of what they were writing, inasmuch as the most popular parts of ACA were likely to be enforced while the unpopular bits — like the “Cadillac tax” — would be put off or softened, resulting in a program that in reality cost much more and produced less revenue than it did in the model version that CBO scored. Sure enough, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders both campaigned against the Cadillac tax (it hits their union foot soldiers first and hardest) while the House and Senate Republican plans would keep in, in theory, but put off collecting it until 2025 — at which point the smart money would be on its being put off again.

Kevin compares the American health-insurance system to the Swiss system and points out that every system is a trade-off. There’s a lot to admire in the Swiss system with universal coverage, but to make it work, there is an extraordinarily strictly-enforced mandate to purchase insurance, high copays, and no employer-based insurance.

An insurance system works when a lot of people pay into the system and get little or nothing in return. Most years, you don’t need anything from your auto insurance company. (At least, I hope you don’t!) The happy little gecko takes your money, you drive safely and avoid accidents, and the happy little gecko only has to pay out money to a small portion of his customers, keeping the rest of the incoming money to pay for all the company’s expenses, including that gargantuan advertising budget. Your homeowner’s insurance or renter’s insurance operates the same way. Thankfully, incidents of home damage are pretty rare.

But everybody gets sick eventually, particularly as they age, and this is what makes running a health-insurance company more difficult. To make it work, you need a lot of people paying in and getting nothing in return, so that you can cover the costs of the people who need a lot of expensive care, and who will never be able to afford those hospital stays, surgeries, and prescription drugs out of pocket. You know those stubborn guys (and it’s usually guys) who refuse to go to a doctor when something’s wrong with them? They’re probably keeping the system afloat. A 2016 survey suggested that only 60 percent of men get an annual physical, and around 40 percent only go to the doctor when they think “they have a serious medical condition.” This is bad for their personal health . . . but probably really useful for the nation’s fiscal health.

Finally, Twin Peaks Kicks into a Higher Gear

As I mentioned to a friend this week, I’ll probably say, “I was just about ready to give up on Twin Peaks” a bunch in the coming weeks/months/years. Of course, you know me well enough to know that probably wasn’t true. But after six episodes that felt like a wildly uneven slog, the seventh episode that aired Sunday finally kicked the plot into a higher gear and strung together one intriguing scene after another.

One of the theories floating around among TP fans was that because this was originally planned as a nine-episode limited series, and then David Lynch, Mark Frost, and Showtime later agreed to make 18 episodes, a plot designed for nine hours is now being stretched out to twice as long, creating an extremely slow-moving pace of storytelling. Or perhaps the first six episodes represent “Act One,” setting up everything, establishing where all the characters are in their lives now, and we’ve finally begun Act Two, where the plot starts moving . . . 

Finally, the Log Lady’s clue starts to pay off. We, the audience, know she isn’t crazy, just cryptic, and so it’s been a long wait for the other characters to take her seriously. The missing pages from Laura’s diary describe the scene in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, when Annie appears in Laura’s bed (not a dream) and says, “the good Dale is in the Lodge and he can’t leave.”

The initial hostility of Cooper’s previously-unseen assistant Diane is nothing like what we expected unless . . . Diane had been the loyal friend, co-worker (and perhaps even love/infatuation) to Dale for many years. During the interrogation scene, we learn the possessed Cooper and Diane were together at her house a long time ago. It appears they’ve had a disturbing intimate encounter and then he disappeared, and the FBI couldn’t find him for more than two decades. Suddenly her hostility to Albert, Gordon Cole, and the entire Bureau makes more sense.

It is nice to see the late Warren Frost one last time, and as old Doc Hayward, he offers the unnerving clue that the last time he saw Cooper, he was in the local hospital’s ICU, near the comatose Audrey Horne. The odds that local psychopath Richard Horne is the demon-spawn (almost literally) of Audrey and Cooper/BOB is now a stronger possibility.

We witness a rare moment of competence for Deputy Andy — he’s found the truck in the hit-and-run and the owner pretty obviously wants to tell him who was driving, but is afraid he’ll be seen talking to the cops. While it’s possible he skipped town, the ominous Laura Palmer’s theme music as we cut back to the house at the meeting time makes me think Richard Horne and/or the drug-smuggling ring got to this guy.

Even man-child Dougie finally gets to do something! While the bizarre vision of the Tree urging Dougie/Cooper to “Squeeze his hand off! Squeeze his hand off!” during the attempted murder was Level 11 surreal, it does sort of fit. The tree is the evolved form of “The Arm” and the Arm was the Little Man from Another Place, cut off from Mike/The One-Armed Man. Mike/The One-Armed Man is definitely a Black Lodge spirit (he takes some garmonbozia from BOB at the end of FWWM) but the interpretation that makes the most sense is that Mike/OAM is orderly evil while the demon BOB is chaotically evil. Mike wants evil deeds to be committed at a quiet, measured pace that keeps humanity in the dark about the existence of the lodges, while BOB wants as much garmonbozia (pain and suffering) as possible and has, in Leland and in Cooper, committed as much violent mayhem as possible.

The Little Man from Another Place was always mischievous or seemed to be teasing Cooper, but didn’t seem malevolent, and usually seemed to be working in tandem with Mike. Their preeminent goal in Season Three seems to be . . . well, “restoring balance to the force” and getting Bob back into the Black Lodge. Cooper’s comments in the first episode seemed to indicate that after 25 years, he would spontaneously return, thus the “Dougie” decoy. With both the “real” world and the spiritual world so imbalanced and chaotic — BOB wreaking havoc over 25 years, and Laura’s spirit seeming to be sucked away — even Mike is telling Dougie/Cooper, “You have to wake up. Don’t die. Don’t die.”

So when the hitman Ike the Spike, following orders from BOB/Cooper, shows up, the Tree has had enough of this nonsense, and urges Cooper to squeeze his hand off. Most creepily, Cooper seems to succeed in tearing off a chunk of flesh from his hand.

Most interesting development: Ben Horne seems to be trying to be a decent human being — he’s attracted to Ashley Judd, and it may be reciprocated, but he hasn’t made any inappropriate moves yet. We heard the reference to Audrey being in a coma; maybe he really did change for the better.

If you’re not a fan of Twin Peaks, and everything I’ve written above sounds like incoherent gobbledygook, my sympathies. As much as I enjoyed the seventh episode, I realize it’s something that’s almost completely inaccessible to a new viewer or a casual fan. Part of the joy is that everything has to be decoded and interpreted and discussed and analyzed; a show that always rewarded obsessive watching now almost requires it.

ADDENDA: The Three Martini Lunch will continue in my absence — coming soon to NPR One! — but I have no idea if next week shows will continue the tradition of Die Hard references. You have to listen carefully for Greg Corombus’s “We’re gonna need some more FBI guys” in yesterday’s edition.

Part of my vacation reading: Brad Thor’s latest thriller novel, Use of Force. Expect a full review when I get back.