As Flooding Continues in Houston, Texans Still Need Your Help

by Jim Geraghty

This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt until September 8. I’ll see some of you on the National Review cruise this week.

Texas Still Needs Our Help

The outlook for Houston is mixed; every charity that was mobilizing to help the victims yesterday is still doing so today, so if you feel like helping out financially or with your time, you can find links to all of them here. I’ve got friends evacuating and friends holding up and hoping the waters stop at their home’s edge. The good news is everybody I know has checked in on social media lately.

The rain slowing means that the waters will recede eventually — but “eventually” means the danger of floodwaters continues:

Rain still pelted the city, but rainfall totals were expected to fall sharply, opening some roads and neighborhoods. Officials now anxiously monitored rising river levels, which swelled with the rainfalls of the past two days. The Brazos River at Richmond, about 30 miles south of Houston, measured nearly 52 feet Tuesday morning and was expected to crest at 59 feet by Thursday — four feet greater than the record high set last year.

Outside help continued streaming into Houston. Search-and-rescue crews from Florida, California, Utah and other areas staged at different trouble spots around town. Walmart was shipping 2,000 kayaks to the area to help stranded residents.

Gov. Greg Abbott activated the state’s entire National Guard force, increasing to 12,000 the number of guardsmen deployed to flooded communities.

“Texas (officials) and FEMA will be involved here for a long, long time,” Abbott said. “Until we can restore things as back to normal as possible. But we have to realize it will be a new normal for the region.”

The death toll is at 14 victims so far.

Pyongyang, This Is Not the Time to Push Us.

These North Koreans do not know when to stop tugging on Superman’s cape, or spitting into the wind.

North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan Tuesday, the latest in a string of direct provocations that have destabilized the region and triggered global alarm.

The missile — the first Pyongyang has fired over Japan’s main islands since 2009 — prompted a fiery response from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“This outrageous action of firing a missile over our country is an unprecedented, grave and serious threat that seriously damages peace and security in the region,” he said. “We have firmly protested to North Korea.”

Mr. Abe called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. He said he spoke by phone with President Donald Trump for 40 minutes and that the president gave a “strong commitment” to Japan’s security.

This is why I am skeptical of both the “we need to reach out diplomatically” crowd and the “our scary rhetoric is escalating the conflict” argument. The Obama administration sure as heck wasn’t interested in fighting a second Korean War, and Trump administration has been quiet since the president’s “fire and fury” remarks. Pyongyang has a clear path to de-escalation; they just refuse to take it.

The American government and its allies cannot make any clearer that we have no interest in invading North Korea. (If the regime collapsed from within, well, we wouldn’t shed any tears.) But the perhaps not-quite-sane leadership in Pyongyang refuses to believe it, and clings to the paranoid belief that a U.S. strike could occur at any time, keeping the country on a war footing and cementing their draconian control over the people.

Eric Talmadge of the Associated Press lays out how North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un might think he could hit America first and then deter a counterpunch:

The trigger for North Korea could be unusual troop movements in South Korea, suspicious activity at U.S. bases in Japan or — as the North has recently warned — flights near its airspace by U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers out of their home base on the island of Guam.

If Kim deemed any of those an imminent attack, one North Korean strategy would be to immediately target U.S. bases in Japan. A more violent move would be to attack a Japanese city, such as Tokyo, though that would probably be unnecessary since at this point the objective would be to weaken the U.S. military’s command and control. Going nuclear would send the strongest message, but chemical weapons would be an alternative.

North Korea’s ability to next hit the U.S. mainland with nuclear-tipped missiles is the key to how it would survive in this scenario. And that’s why Kim has been rushing to perfect [them] and show them off to the world.

“The whole reason they developed the ICBM was to deter American nuclear retaliation because if you can hold an American city or cities at risk the American calculation always changes,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a nuclear strategy specialist.

“Are we really willing to risk Los Angeles or Chicago in retaliation for an attack on a U.S. military base in the region?” he asks. “Probably not.”

That, right there, is Kim’s big wager.

If “no” actually is the answer, then North Korea has a chance — though slim and risky — of staving off a full-scale conventional attack by the United States to survive another day.

Of course, a successful North Korean attack on American city requires A) their missile to launch correctly, B) our defense systems to fail in shooting it down, and C) their nuclear bomb detonating correctly.

A Quick Thought on the Evolution of Taylor Swift

I’m sure my pop culture podcast co-host will have more to say about this upon my return, but . . .  the latest song by Taylor Swift offers the lyric, “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh! ‘Cause she’s dead!”

Remember when Taylor Swift first hit it big, back in the last Bush years? Remember how she seemed like a breath of fresh air, with an onstage persona that seemed humble, down-to-earth, level-headed, a refreshing change from the self-absorbed narcissism of other pop stars of that era? People made fun of her seemingly-perpetual “surprised face,” but she always acted genuinely overwhelmed by the admiration of her fans and recognition of her talents by the music industry.

That was a long time ago, and it’s unrealistic to expect Swift, who became arguably the biggest and most influential pop star in America, to remain the same in either her onstage or offstage personas. But as Swift moved from country to pop, and came to dominate the pop charts, did she become less . . .  distinct?

Now she’s in another flashy music video with elaborate computer-generated effects, with another plethora of elaborate costume changes, served by computer-generated snakes, surviving a computer-generated car crash, berating the media for false reports about her, pledging that some unspoken rival or foe will pay for wrongdoing . . .  Maybe you love this video, maybe you hate it, but doesn’t it feel . . .  familiar, from the Thriller-like zombie makeup in the beginning to the biker chic to the models lined up on an assembly line? The well-trod themes are:

Being famous is difficult.
The media is unfair to me.
I have been wronged.
I am stronger than this adversity.
I will overcome this, and those who wronged me will suffer the consequences.

In other words, she’s singing the kinds of songs and making the kinds of videos we would not have been surprised to see Madonna, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, or Pink offer not too long ago.

In short, separate from good or bad, isn’t the “new Taylor” kind of . . .  generic?

By the way, the pop culture podcast is now available on iTunes.

ADDENDA: Yuval Levin and Mona Charen say farewell to the recently departed Mike Cromartie.

A hoaxer boasts that he managed to get Louise Mensch and Claude Taylor to re-tweet made-up details about a criminal investigation into Trump. Is that really a difficult thing to do? In terms of degree of difficulty, isn’t this the prank version of making a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich?

How You Can Help the Victims of Hurricane Harvey

by Jim Geraghty

Making the click-through worthwhile: What we need to do to help Texas right now; why a mandatory evacuation of the city of Houston might been even more dangerous than what we have now; and Antifa shows its true, dark colors in Berkeley in front of the television cameras.

Texans Need Help. Let’s Show Them They Can Count on Us.

If you know someone in Texas, the chances are good you know someone who’s facing some hard times from Hurricane Harvey. I’m doing my best not to text, direct message, and ping them on Facebook every hour on the hour. Everyone in that region, know that everybody outside of your neck of the woods is praying, thinking of you, and looking for ways to help.

National Voluntary Organizations in Active Disasters, an association of organizations that mitigate and alleviate the impact of disasters, is asking for volunteers and donations. Through their site you can find every charity of every stripe: the Red Cross, Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, the United way, etcetera.

A friend of mine is helping coordinate donations for the Texas Diaper Bank. A lot of disaster relief organizations think of and prep for everything except a lack of diapers, so the San Antonio-based Texas Diaper Bank focuses on this basic necessity for families with young children. They’re restarting their operations of collecting and distributing diapers at 8 a.m. Monday morning local time.

For the Red Cross, you can donate here, or pick up your phone and text REDCROSS to 90999. You’ll instantly send $10 to the organization, with the fee on your next cell phone bill.

FEMA expects that more than 30,000 people will need temporary shelters when the rain ends and 450,000 people will register as disaster victims.

Houston’s airport received a little more than sixteen inches of rain yesterday. The previous daily record was a bit more than eight inches.

Don’t Let Anyone Tell You the Decision to Evacuate Houston Is An Easy Call.

It’s a little early for finger-pointing in the preparations for Hurricane Harvey; most cities and municipalities are prepared for a big storm but not necessarily a once-in-a-century or once-in-a-millennium flooding. One commentator on the morning shows half-jokingly said that if they had to build Houston all over again, they might have picked a different spot than a broad, flat plane next to a gulf coast that experiences hurricanes.

On Friday, Texas governor Greg Abbott more or less strongly urged those in the Houston area to get out: “Even if an evacuation order hasn’t been issued by your local official, if you’re in an area between Corpus Christi and Houston, you need to strongly consider evacuating,” Abbott said. “What you don’t know, and what nobody else knows right now, is the magnitude of flooding that will be coming. You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you could be subject to a search and rescue.”

Local officials did not agree with the governor.

“At this time I can reemphasize there will be no mass evacuations called,” said Harris County Judge Edward Emmett, who is responsible for overseeing emergency operations, at a joint press conference with Turner on Friday. He noted that several coastal towns within Harris County, where Houston lies, had issued voluntary evacuations because of the storm surge.

A mandatory evacuation of Houston isn’t theoretical for the city; residents went through this in 2005 with Hurricane Rita. That storm, which appeared quite powerful while moving through the Gulf of Mexico, arrived one month after Hurricane Katrina, with local and state officials determined to not underestimate the threat. They may well have overestimated the threat — not their fault, as the strength and direction of hurricanes are hard to predict — and the evacuation brought its own cost in human lives: “An estimated 2.5 million people hit the road ahead of the storm’s arrival, creating some of the most insane gridlock in U.S. history. More than 100 evacuees died in the exodus. Drivers waited in traffic for 20-plus hours, and heat stroke impaired or killed dozens. Fights broke out on the highway. A bus carrying nursing home evacuees caught fire, and 24 died.”

For almost everyone involved, the evacuation was a hellacious ordeal:

The large number of residents fleeing from Hurricane Rita overwhelmed the infrastructure of many rural East Texas communities. On September 22, 2005, in one rural county alone, it was estimated that 150,000 vehicles sat bumper-to-bumper on four lanes of a 30-mile stretch of Interstate 45 north of Houston. The congested roadways prevented emergency medical workers from quickly responding to the medical emergencies of evacuees, including dialysis, oxygen, insulin, births, and deaths. Extended evacuation times caused major fuel shortages. Vehicles of every type ran out of gas and became stranded along the evacuation routes, worsening the congestion. A trip that usually takes three and a half hours became a 24-hour drive during the evacuation. When evacuees did reach their rural destinations, their huge demand for goods and services such as food, water, ice, and restroom facilities soon overwhelmed supply. Temperatures soared to 100 degrees and humidity hovered at 94%. Evacuees were forced to turn off their car air conditioners to conserve fuel or to keep engines from overheating. Lack of adequate restrooms along evacuation routes forced evacuees to use blankets and towels as privacy screens to construct makeshift facilities along the roadside. This unsanitary disposal of human waste created potential public health hazards such as the spread of infectious diseases and the contamination of the ground water supply.

The areas that have been declared a disaster area from Hurricane Harvey are the home of 6.8 million people in 18 counties. That is a stunning amount of people to attempt to move with 24, maybe 48 hours’ warning before the storm hits.

Now picture all of these people stuck in traffic on the road as Hurricane Harvey makes landfall . . .  and then the flooding begins. As bad as it is to be stuck in your home as floodwaters approach, the roof of your house is probably higher than the roof of your car.

This mess in Houston is really bad. An attempted evacuation might have gone even worse than it did during Rita, however.

The Fascist Antifa

A headline in the Washington Post many on the Right probably figured they would never see:

The article doesn’t soft-pedal it, either:

Their faces hidden behind black bandannas and hoodies, about 100 anarchists and antifa – “anti-fascist” — members barreled into a protest Sunday afternoon in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

Jumping over plastic and concrete barriers, the group melted into a larger crowd of around 2,000 that had marched peacefully throughout the sunny afternoon for a “Rally Against Hate” gathering.

Shortly after, violence began to flare. A pepper-spray wielding Trump supporter was smacked to the ground with homemade shields. Another was attacked by five black-clad antifas, each windmilling kicks and punches into a man desperately trying to protect himself. A conservative group leader retreated for safetybehind a line of riot police as marchers chucked water bottles, shot off pepper spray and screamed, “Fascist go home!”

All told, the Associated Press reported at least five individuals were attacked. An AP reporter witnessed the assaults. Berkeley Police’s Lt. Joe Okies told The Washington Post the rally resulted in “13 arrests on a range of charges including assault with a deadly weapon, obstructing a police officer, and various Berkeley municipal code violations.”

Antifa is not a peaceful movement, it does not promote “tolerance,” and its methods and motivations epitomize the fascism they claim to oppose. Their tools are intimidation and violence, their target is anyone who isn’t them.

(I’m reminded of that op-ed by Yoav Fromer in the Post declaring, “the willingness to employ organized violence to achieve political goals remains a signature quality of only one side. And it’s not the left.” Violence sure looks like a signature quality of Antifa to me!)

Where were the police? They let the mob take over out of fear of violence:

The decision by police to step aside and allow black-clad demonstrators to take over Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Sunday was based on the safety of officers and protesters, a spokeswoman for the Berkeley Police Department said.

For hours, some 400 law enforcement officers from Berkeley, Oakland, UC Berkeley and Alameda County had control of the scene at the park, stopping anyone who entered at a single checkpoint, where they confiscated anything on a list of banned objects, including skateboards, eggs and any items that could be used as weapons.

But shortly after the scheduled 1 p.m. start time of an anti-Marxism rally, hundreds of black-masked agitators arrived at the scene. Rather than trying to take on the horde, the clearly overwhelmed police force allowed hundreds of people to pass barriers and enter the park unchecked.

The police effectively surrendered control of the park to guys in black masks, who promptly began physically assaulting people.

Is this America?

Do people wonder why Trump’s “law and order” rallying cry resonates?

ADDENDA: Speaking of “law and order,” Jon Gabriel lays out the aspects of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s record that you may have missed:

During one three-year period, his Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office didn’t properly investigate more than 400 alleged sex crimes, many of them involving child molestation.

In all, the department improperly cleared as many as 75% of cases without arrest or investigation, a fact outlined in a scathing report by the conservative Goldwater Institute.

When local journalists delved into Arpaio’s dealings, he had them arrested, a move that ultimately cost taxpayers $3.75 million. We paid $3.5 million more after the sheriff wrongfully arrested a county supervisor who had been critical of him.

About the same time, Arpaio sought charges against another supervisor, a county board member, the school superintendent, four Superior Court Judges and several county employees. All of these were cleared by the courts and also resulted in hefty taxpayer-funded settlements for his targets.

As a U.S. District Court judge presided over a civil contempt hearing, Arpaio’s attorney hired a private detective to investigate the judge’s wife.

On the pretext of going after an alleged cache of illegal weapons, a Maricopa SWAT team burned down an upscale suburban Phoenix home and killed the occupants’ 10-month-old dog. There were no illegal arms, so they arrested the resident on traffic citations.

Regardless of his approach to illegal immigrants, the rest of Arpaio’s record paints an ugly and abusive portrait, one that is far from what any real conservative should expect from law enforcement.

Looks Like Harvey Is Daring to Mess with Texas

by Jim Geraghty

Everybody on the Texas coast, be careful.

Forecasters said they expect Hurricane Harvey to make landfall on the middle Texas coast, between Corpus Christi and Matagorda, on Friday night or early Saturday, and then stall along the coast through the weekend.

As of 11 p.m., Thursday, Hurricane Harvey was about 180 miles southeast of Corpus Christi, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The hurricane was moving northwest, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Harvey is currently a Category 2 hurricane, but is expected to make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane, with winds upwards of 110 mph.

The wind-field of the hurricane has expanded, so a higher storm surge is projected for the upper Texas coastline. Coastal flooding is also predicted to be an issue over the weekend and possibly into next week because of strong onshore winds that will keep water piled up along the coastline.

Residents of Calhoun and parts of Matagorda counties were ordered to evacuate their homes as Harvey neared. The threat prompted the city of Galveston to issue a voluntary evacuation call for the West End Island, and for Galveston County to extend the same to Bolivar Peninsula.

The Houston region could be seeing rainfall and feeling the storm’s winds by late Friday morning.

The Weather Channel is forecasting some eye-popping numbers: Between North Padre Island and Galveston, a storm surge of 6 to 12 feet; then throw another foot or more of rain on top of that:

Earlier this morning, Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, declared, “If you have been asked by local officials to evacuate in TX, your window to do so is closing.”

Kasich-Hickenlooper. Try to Contain Your Enthusiasm.

Axios has an intriguing scoop this morning, although I have my doubts that it will come to fruition:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) – ”the Johns,” as insiders are calling them – have been making a flurry of joint appearances to talk about state-driven improvements to health care.

But Axios has learned that their duet is part of an alliance that’s gaining momentum toward a possible joint independent bid for president in 2020, likely with Kasich at the top of the ticket.

Insert all appropriate caveats: It’s August 2017, and we have no idea what the state of the Trump presidency, the country, the economy, the world stage, etcetera, will be in 2020.

If you’re a vehement Trump foe, you want the anti-Trump vote split in as few ways as possible. Whether or not the Green Party re-nominates Jill Stein, there will be a Green Party nominee, and that nominee will almost certainly be insisting that the Democratic nominee is a sellout corporatist squish who will not bring about real change. The Libertarians will nominate someone touting limited government in the abstract, and some anti-Trump Republicans might drift in that direction. (Again, why would anti-Trump Republicans reward Kasich, one of the guys who played a key role in ensuring Trump won the nomination in 2016?)

So imagine a 2020 ballot that looks something like this:

GOP: Trump-Pence
Independent: Kasich-Hickenlooper.
Democrat: Kamala Harris-Sherrod Brown
Green: Winona LaDuke-William Kreml
Libertarian: Austin Peterson-John McAfee

It’s a lot easier for even a hobbled president with the advantages of incumbency to hold onto a plurality than a majority. Presume the Green and Libertarians amount to their usual 2 to 6 percent of the vote in most states. With Kasich and Hickenlooper running as an independent ticket, Trump and Pence just need to hold on to the largest slice of the remaining 95 percent or so, instead of needing close to half. The threshold of a win becomes the high 30s instead of close to 50 percent.

How confident should Democrats or the Kasich-Hickenlooper team be that they wouldn’t lose a bunch of 37-34-33 splits in key states? President Trump has had a really lousy run for a while, and his approval rating remains in the mid-to-upper 30s or low 40s. Assuming that’s his floor of support, that doesn’t look so bad in a three-way race.

Let’s not forget: Donald Trump was wildly outspent, went through three campaign managers, had a lot of his party stay away from the national convention in Cleveland, outsourced his ground game to the Republican National Committee, kept having disastrous news cycle after another, and faced the raging enmity of the national political press throughout the race. And he managed to win 304 electoral votes (with two faithless electors). Now give him the advantage of incumbency (a Rose Garden campaign, etcetera) and recall we’ve reelected four of the last five presidents.

The mission for the Democratic nominee in 2020 is to win the states Hillary won and find another 38 electoral votes. For the sake of argument, assume the independent ticket headed by Kasich wins his home state of Ohio; this leaves Trump with 288 electoral votes, assuming he keeps all the rest of his 2016 states red. But Kasich winning Ohio would keep those 18 electoral votes out of the Democratic nominee’s pile as well. If Hickenlooper helps the independent ticket carry Colorado, that’s 9 electoral votes that the Democrat will have to make up elsewhere.

Axios reports, “Some establishment Dems are apoplectic about the idea of Hickenlooper teaming up with a Republican.” They probably should be.

Time to Push Back Against the Cuban Regime’s Brutal Attacks on Americans

Credit the editorial board of the Washington Post for publicly discussing two facts that most people aligned with the board’s general philosophy would prefer to ignore. First, despite President Obama’s outreach, the Cuban regime is every bit the ruthless brutes they always were. Second, most liberals and the left-of-center foreign policy establishment prefer to avert their eyes from shameless, violent acts of provocation by regimes like this . . .  and it’s not clear that our own State Department is ready to respond appropriately.

President Barack Obama’s much-hyped restoration of relations with Cuba was a bet that diplomatic and economic engagement would, over time, accomplish what 50 years of boycott did not: a rebirth of political freedom on the island. So far, the results have been dismal. In the two years since the U.S. Embassy in Havana reopened, repression of Cubans — measured in detentions, beatings and political prisoners — has significantly increased, while the private sector has remained stagnant. U.S. exports to Cuba have actually decreased, even as the cash-starved regime of Raúl Castro pockets millions of dollars paid by Americans in visa fees and charges at state-run hotels.

Now there’s another sinister cost to tally — the serious injuries inflicted on the U.S. diplomats dispatched to Havana.

News organizations have since provided shocking details: At least 16 American diplomats and family members received medical treatment resulting from sonic attacks directed at the residences where they were required to live by the Cuban government. A number of Canadian diplomats were also affected.

CBS News reported that a doctor who evaluated the American and Canadian victims found conditions including mild traumatic brain injury, “with likely damage to the central nervous system.”

That is an illegal assault on our people that differs only in scale to the attack on our embassy in Tehran back in 1979. Just what are we willing to do about it?

ADDENDA: Thanks to John Micek for his kind words about the Morning Jolt over at PennLive.

Ed Gillespie’s Clever Play in the Virginia Gubernatorial

by Jim Geraghty

Today making the click-through worthwhile: Ed Gillespie re-uses a shrewd move in Virginia’s governor’s race, why a government shutdown would be another example of Republicans shooting themselves in their own feet, and how Twitter makes journalists dumber.

A Familiar Move From the Gillespie Playbook

Really late in Virginia’s 2014 campaign, everyone thought Democrat incumbent Mark Warner was going to skate to an easy victory over Ed Gillespie. September polls had Warner up by 20 and the final Real Clear Politics average had the Democrat ahead by almost 10 points.

Then, in late October, the Republican aired an ad during Monday Night Football when the Washington Redskins were playing the Dallas Cowboys.

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a bill to force the Redskins to change their name,” the narrator says in the ad for Gillespie. “Mark Warner refused to answer if he supports the bill or not. Why won’t Warner fight the anti-Redskins bill? Why won’t he answer the question?”

“I’ll answer the question,” Gillespie then said with a chuckle. “I’ll oppose the anti-Redskins bill. Let’s focus on creating jobs, raising take-home pay and making our nation safer, and let the Redskins handle what to call their team.”

It was a precisely targeted message for Washington Redskins fans in the northern Virginia suburbs. There was little or no sign that the Mark Warner campaign sensed any vulnerability on this issue or the race overall.

Warner won by about one percentage point.

Yesterday Ed Gillespie tweeted that ESPN’s decision to reassign Robert Lee from a University of Virginia football game represented “When political correctness becomes self parody.” At this point, Gillespie doesn’t have a good way to tie his Democratic opponent, Ralph Northum, to the idiocy of the network’s decision. But the theme is the same: incoherent political correctness has invaded the world of sports, and Gillespie is as tired of it as you are, Virginia.

We’ll see if that theme has the same traction in 2017.

Government Shutdowns Are Stupid.

Funding for the federal government’s operations runs out on October 1. Congress needs to pass additional appropriations bills before then to keep the government open; the bills may or may not end up including significant funds to begin construction of the border wall that President Trump promised on the campaign trail last year.

At his rally in Phoenix, Trump declared, “Believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”

Over at Hot Air, Jazz Shaw suggests President Trump might as well dig in his heels and shut down the government if Congress won’t send over a funding bill that includes wall funding:

If he vetoes a bill without funding for the wall, a number of things would almost undoubtedly happen.

The Democrats would scream bloody murder and blame him.
The media would scream bloody murder and blame him.
The establishment GOP leadership would cluck their tongues and call it “regrettable” or something similar.
The President’s poll number might take a slight additional hit, but remain somewhere in the 30s and his base would love him.

 . . . what in that scenario is different from each morning’s news out of Washington lately? That’s just another day at the office for Trump. He’s always spoiling for a fight, and this would be a big one. That scenario ends in one of two ways. The first is that Congress caves and comes up with at least some money to start construction on the wall, giving Trump room to claim a big win rhetorically if not in substance, and the government reopens. The second is the unheard of idea that enough Democrats and Republicans come together with some compromises to override the veto and pass a bill where both sides get something. (And the government still reopens.)

What does Trump really have to lose? And for that matter, what does the country really have to lose?

What does Trump have to lose? A government shutdown probably enhances the risk that Nancy Pelosi will be the next Speaker of the House. We’ve seen government shutdowns before, all under a Democratic president and Republican control of Congress. For the federal government to shut down when Republicans control the House, Senate, and White House will be a supreme embarrassment, a vivid verification of the accusation that Republicans are incapable of governing. Republicans should be able to pass a bill to fund wall construction, full stop.

A lot of conservatives insist that government shutdowns are inconsequential, mostly because they themselves do not immediately see the impact.

A quick refresher on the sorts of things that happen when the government shuts down, based upon our experience in 2013:

Death benefits to military families won’t get mailed out. About 1.4 million active-duty military personnel remain on the job but won’t get paid until a new deal is signed into law — or unless Congress passes and the president signs a separate military pay bill.
Active National Guard units also must continue to work. About half the Pentagon’s civilian workforce (roughly 400,000 workers) are furloughed — temporary unpaid leave until further notice.
All Smithsonian Museums and the Smithsonian’s National Zoo close to the public. This inevitably leads to national news reports about the grade schoolers who saved up for a class trip to Washington only to find all the museums closed.
All National Parks close.
Most workers at the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs are furloughed as “nonessential” and won’t be around to process visa and passport applications. If you don’t have a passport, you won’t be getting a passport.
Most of the federal law-enforcement personnel stay on the job, but not all: At the FBI, 30,208 of 35,267 employees are deemed essential and stay on the job. At the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): 7,437 of 8,842 employees are excepted, and at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF): 4,206 of 5,117 employees are excepted.
Regarding illegal immigration, “Citizens and U.S. businesses will not be able to access E-Verify, the Internet- based system that allows employers to voluntarily determine the eligibility of prospective employees to work in the United States. Over 404,000 employers are enrolled, with more than 21 million queries run through the system during FY 2012.”
Social Security benefits checks will continue to go out, but if you’re applying for benefits, the workers won’t be there to process your request.

You can shut down the federal government for a couple of days before people feel any genuine frustration — more if it’s a weekend. But after a while, people get irritated that they’ve paid their taxes and the people running the government can’t work out an agreement to keep the whole operation working as it should.  

(One caveat: it’s possible Congressional Republicans and the Trump White House could cooperate to pass funding bills to mitigate the most unpopular consequences of a government shutdown.)

During a government shutdown, people who don’t care about politics and who don’t follow the news closely usually respond, “Why can’t those knuckleheads get their act together?” If there is a government shutdown this fall, people will respond, “why can’t those Republican knuckleheads get their act together?” Yes, Democrats are not helping get the funding bills passed, but with great power over the federal government comes great responsibility. Voters could well get fed up with the drama and dysfunction of Republican control of Washington and decide to vote for Democrats next November.

Twitter Reveals the Vocabulary Limitations of Headline Writers

I think social media, particularly Twitter and the ability to dash off half-formed thoughts instantly, is making a lot of people in the world of news journalism dumber. Look, none of us is perfect, none of us are born with complete knowledge of everything, and the desire to write a dramatic headline can obscure dry facts. But some of these mistakes are difficult to excuse.

Reuters made two embarrassing mistakes while touting its coverage of ESPN’s decision to reassign sportscaster Robert Lee from a University of Virginia football game. The first was a Tweet declaring, “Confederate General Lee namesake pulled from upcoming University of Virginia football.”

Merriam-Webster gives Reuters a tiny sliver of coverage on this usage, defining namesake “one that has the same name as another; especially one who is named after another or for whom another is named.” But Robert Lee, the Asian-American sportscaster, is not named after Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. Reuters later deleted the original Tweet and offered another with a clarification.

The mistake that stuck in my craw was this Tweet: “Confederate General Lee doppelganger [sic] pulled from upcoming University of Virginia football broadcast.” Ever hear someone attempting to sound smart by using a word they just learned, but they use it incorrectly? That’s what we appear to have here with the person running Reuters’ Twitter account. Two people who share the same name are not doppelgängers.

The sound of the word hints at its German origins (it literally translates to “double walker” or “double goer”) and it comes from that culture’s mythology.

Doppelgänger is a German word [meaning] “double goer” and refers to a wraith or apparition that [casts] no shadows and is a replica or double of a living person. They were generally considered as omens of bad luck or even signs of impending death — a doppelgänger seen by a person’s relative or friend was said to signify that illness or danger would befall that person, while seeing one’s own doppelgänger was said to be an omen of death.

Some accounts of doppelgängers, sometimes called the ‘evil [twin,’] suggests that they might attempt to provide advice to the person they shadow, but that this advice can be misleading or malicious. They may also attempt to plant sinister ideas in their victim’s mind or cause them great confusion. For this reason, people were advised to avoid communicating with their own doppelgänger at all costs.

One of the more intriguing tales of a doppelgänger comes from Abraham Lincoln, who claimed to friends in 1860 that he had seen two “separate and distinct” reflections of himself in a mirror. His account: “I never succeeded in bringing the ghost back after that, though I once tried very industriously to show it to my wife, who was somewhat worried about it. She thought it was a “sign” that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term.”

(Why yes, doppelgangers are a recurring concept in Twin Peaks.)

Anyway, journalists and copy editors, if you don’t know what a word means, don’t use it in a headline.

ADDENDA: A really astute observation from John Podhoretz: “The thing about good entertainment for adults is that it does not exclude the young — rather, it can show the young that there are wonders into which they can grow and that will help them to grow.”

 That’s “entertainment for adults,” not “adult entertainment”!

Angry Trump and Angry Protesters Meet in Arizona

by Jim Geraghty

Today making the click-through worthwhile: President Trump vents his anger in a late-night rally in Phoenix while protesters outside throw canisters at cops, ESPN makes perhaps its wildest and dumbest capitulation to political correctness yet, and the embarrassing public spat between Hollywood director Joss Whedon and his ex-wife raises some good questions about how we measure a good person.

Trump, the News Networks, and the Protesters All Deserve Each Other

Trump’s speech, in a nutshell: “Look back there: the live red lights, they’re turning those suckers off fast,” Trump said. “They’re turning those lights off fast. Like CNN. CNN does not want its falling viewership to watch what I’m saying tonight.”

Of course, CNN and all of the other networks broadcasted Trump’s speech live and in its entirety.

There are a lot of really valid criticisms to be made of the press and its coverage of the Trump administration. CNN retracted a story that a Russian bank linked to a close ally of Trump was under Senate investigation. Back in early June, FBI Director James Comey said many stories about the Russia investigation were “dead wrong.” The New York Times turned over op-ed space to Louise Mensch, who is an increasingly incoherent conspiracy theorist. No objection to the president is too small, silly, or petty to ignore; the Washington Post ran an op-ed claiming Trump’s use of the term “Paddy Wagon” was an insult to Irish-Americans.

But with all of these options, Trump has to pick an example that is not only false, it is glaringly false to anyone watching the speech on television at the time!

How CNN can squander the moral high ground: Afterward Don Lemon declared, “He is clearly trying to ignite a civil war in this country. He has not tamped down race, and I’m just going to say — I mean, if he was on my team in this newsroom and said those things, he would be escorted out of the building by security.”

Got that? “Clearly”! It’s not a frustrated man venting and ranting about how unfair all the media coverage of him is — as if he’s the first president to ever encounter a hostile press; he really should ask one of the Bushes how nice the media was to them — he’s “clearly trying to ignite a civil war.”

Yes, last night’s speech in Arizona was Trump at his worst: angry, blame-shifting, rewriting history, rambling, vague . . . 

Then we look at the opposition outside:

Video recorded on a downtown Phoenix street Tuesday night shows a lit object that begins smoking after striking a police officer as the scene outside President Donald Trump’s rally descended into chaos.

The video was recorded by a reporter for The Arizona Republic at 8:36 p.m. from an area near the intersection of Second and Monroe streets in downtown Phoenix. That’s the spot where thousands gathered to protest the president and his supporters.

Seconds prior to the object hitting the officer, yellow smoke rises from something on the side of the street where the protesters are standing. While the scene already is tense, it escalates seconds after the projectile hits the officer, who is standing in line with other law-enforcement members.

So these are our options. A blustering, buffoonish, blame-shifting president or anarchists who try to hurt cops.

ESPN: Endlessly Stupid Progressive Nitpickers

Where is someone within corporate America who is willing to say “enough” when the most asinine forms of political correctness attempt to enforce their will?

In the wake of the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Va., ESPN has pulled announcer Robert Lee from broadcasting University of Virginia football games because he shares a name with the famous Confederate general Robert E. Lee, according to Outkick the Coverage’s Clay Travis.

ESPN reportedly provided Outkick the Coverage with the following statement: “We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name. In that moment it felt right to all parties. It’s a shame that this is even a topic of conversation and we regret that who calls play by play for a football game has become an issue.”

I don’t care if it “felt right” to all parties. Robert Lee the sportscaster has nothing to do with Robert E. Lee the Confederate general. What, did they think viewers at home would see an Asian man saying, “Hi, I’m Robert Lee, and welcome to ESPN’s coverage of University of Virginia Cavalier football!” and somehow interpret that as an endorsement of the Confederacy or slavery?

You cannot insulate yourself from someone else’s stupidity.

We can only imagine what’s going through the mind of sportscaster Robert Lee; a corporate statement that it “felt right to all parties” and that he didn’t object doesn’t mean much. ESPN just went through a brutal round of layoffs. How much does any given employee at the network want to make a stink about any decision from above?

David French: “Parents, if your last names are Grant, Meade, or Sherman, might I suggest Ulysses, George, or Bill as boy’s names? They’ll have an inside track at ESPN.”

Speaking of ESPN, today on NRO, I look at recent financial troubles at the sports network, as well as the University of Missouri and Marvel Comics. In each case, it’s overstating it to say that a turn to the Left has single-handedly brought those institutions to dire straits. But the perception of overt politicization seriously exacerbated the normal challenges faced by those long-standing, once-widely-respected establishments.

In each case, the institution sought to placate or win over a non-traditional audience or customer base consisting of the social justice warrior crowd. The problem is that there’s limited evidence that the social justice warrior crowd wants to enroll and pay full tuition, watch televised sports or sports chat shows, or collect comic books — at least in the numbers necessary to support those institutions. And in making that political shift, those institutions alienated their existing base of support, whether it was alumni and prospective students, sports fans, or comic book readers.

ESPN, the University of Missouri, and Marvel were all founded and thrived with missions that were quite different than “promote the progressive agenda.” Progressives took the wheel and decided to substitute their political mission for the institutions’ previous missions of sports coverage, education, and workforce preparation, and telling fun superhero stories. And with the Left at the steering wheel, they drove right off the road into a ditch.

How Do We Measure a Good Person?

Insert all the appropriate caveats. Messy divorces can bring out the worst in people, and angry accusations and counter-accusations are sadly par for the course. We never really know what someone else’s marriage is like behind closed doors.

Kai Cole, the ex-wife of Hollywood director Joss Whedon, offered a blistering portrait of her ex in an essay contending he publicly proclaimed high-minded feminist ideals while having multiple secret affairs with (unspecified) actresses in his productions.

“I want the people who worship him to know he is human, and the organizations giving him awards for his feminist work, to think twice in the future about honoring a man who does not practice what he preaches,” she wrote.

Whedon’s representatives said the “account includes inaccuracies and misrepresentations which can be harmful to their family, Joss is not commenting, out of concern for his children and out of respect for his ex-wife.”

I was reminded of Eleanor Clift’s assessment after Senator Edward Kennedy died:

Feminists who proclaimed “The personal is the political” made an exception for Kennedy. They argued that the political outweighs the personal: if a politician’s private life doesn’t interfere with his public life, why should it be a problem? You have to search hard to find an example where Kennedy’s personal behavior affected his public life.

Is a voting record in line with feminists’ preferences a get-out-of-consequences free card for womanizing and making “waitress sandwiches” with Chris Dodd? The subsequent experience of Bill Clinton would suggest so, which makes the whole enterprise look as cynical and corrupt as buying indulgences. “I’m a good person by doing X, so I don’t have to even try to stop doing bad behavior Y.”

How do we measure a good person? I’m not so sure your publicly-professed beliefs are supposed to provide moral cover for how you actually treat other human beings you encounter. If Cole’s description is accurate, it suggests that Whedon felt like writing strong female protagonists, endorsing Democrats and public professions of progressivism in general justified seeing portions of his casts over the years as a personal harem. Some folks wondered if the concept of Whedon’s short-lived television series Dollhouse – imagining a world where attractive young people were brainwashed into being the full-service playthings of the wealthy and powerful — was Whedon’s cynical perspective of Hollywood. Perhaps he wasn’t just depicting the exploitative nature of the entertainment industry in the abstract.

Maybe the ugly portrait of Whedon offered by Cole is accurate, and maybe it isn’t. What is worth noting is that Hollywood and the performing arts community in general, which loves to celebrate its own progressivism, feminism, and overall shining virtue, is still notorious for its “casting couch.” Last month, Equity, the United Kingdom trade union for actors, issued a manifesto declaring, “No sex act should be requested at any audition.” The need to state that rule is rather revealing.

Every year during awards season, actors, directors, and screenwriters come together and use their acceptance speeches to tell America that they should try to be more like the noble paragons of virtue in Hollywood. It is somehow less than surprising that many Americans ignore them.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it because of the delayed posting: an edition of the pop culture podcast discussing how every big media company seems to want its own streaming service, Amazon’s Communist-mocking Comrade Detective, upcoming fall television shows from the inspired to the idiotic, and our listeners’ picks for the best commercials of all time.

Trump’s Tough Call on Afghanistan

by Jim Geraghty

Today on the click-through: Trump’s Afghanistan speech and why he had to take the path he wanted to avoid; why Trump may need a new “ideas guy” with Steven Bannon gone; and the New York Times unintentionally veers into the realm of a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous parody.

Why Trump Had to Make the Decision He Did

For the last couple of years, I’ve kept an eye on reports from the office of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, and the news is rarely good.

Since 2012, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan reconstruction John F. Sopko has done the grim, thankless work of looking at what the federal government’s massive investment in Afghanistan’s future is yielding. He and his team have found taxpayer money spent on soybeans that won’t grow, weapons that Afghan military forces lost, a $2.9 million farming-storage facility that was never used, and a $456,000 training center that “disintegrated” within four months. He’s documented the Afghan government’s inability to pay for basic services, curtail opium production and the drug trade, or utilize the country’s natural resources.

Last year, Sopko attempted to sum up his years of work and declared he saw “evil omens for the future of a desperately poor and largely illiterate country.”

He finds cases of contractor misconduct and misspent funds, but the largest problems remain with the host country: “Afghanistan has had the lead responsibility for its own security for more than a year now, and is struggling with a four-season insurgency, high attrition, and capability challenges. Heavy losses in the poppy-growing province of Helmand have required rebuilding an Afghan army corps and replacing its commander and some other officers as a result, a U.S. general said, of ‘a combination of incompetence, corruption, and ineffectiveness.’”

From 2002 to 2016, Congress appropriated more than $113 billion to rebuild Afghanistan, paying for roads, clinics, schools, civil-servant salaries, and Afghan military and police forces. That total does not include U.S. military spending on the country. Adjusted for inflation, the amount we’ve spent to reconstruct Afghanistan now exceeds the total amount we gave to the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Western Europe after WWII.

In light of all this, and sixteen years of war, it is completely understandable that Americans want to throw up their hands, say to hell with it all, and withdraw all U.S. military forces.

The problem is we know what happens if we do. The Obama administration withdrew from Iraq and assured the public that the departure of coalition troops would not lead to an increased threat to Americans. Then ISIS gradually grew in our absence; Obama was so wedded to the idea that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was the right move and did not exacerbate threats to Americans that he insisted the Islamists taking over Fallujuah were merely the “JV team.”

If our forces leave Afghanistan, it is likely that the Taliban will take over eventually. When they do, it is unlikely that they will be chastened and reformed and unwilling to host other jihadist terrorists like the ones in al Qaeda. If 9/11 had never occurred, the United States never would have invaded Afghanistan. For most of our history, Americans have paid little or no attention to that country, and would be content to let them set their own course, whether it is civilized or barbaric. The Taliban are barbaric, but the world is full of ruthless regimes and rulers that we’re not eager to topple: Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea.

The Taliban are different because they decided to be an Airbnb to the world’s most wanted terrorists and provided the safe haven for guys who killed 3,000 of our citizens. Who knows, perhaps if the Taliban had turned over al-Qaeda’s leaders to the United States or the Hague back in September 2001, a lot of our recent history would have turned out differently. But given a choice between us or them, the Taliban chose them.

This morning, President Trump’s old Amen corner at Breitbart.com is deeply disappointed, accusing him of a “flip-flop” and declaring, “The speech was a disappointment to many who had supported his calls during the campaign to end expensive foreign intervention and nation-building.”

The boss writes, “At the end of the day, this is Trump concluding that he doesn’t want to lose a war on his watch, and if that means jettisoning some of his presuppositions, he’s willing to do it. If only President Obama had handled the question of whether or not to pull out of Iraq the same way.”

Quin Hillyer is downright impressed: “The policies outlined tonight are exactly of the sort that were hoped for by knowledgeable conservatives who backed Trump despite misgivings about his personal conduct and temperament. They are of the sort that some of us did not trust him to make. At least tonight, and at least on this one set of issues, he proved that those of us in the latter camp were mistaken.”

With Bannon Gone, Will Trump Need a New ‘Ideas Guy’?

Writing in Politico, NRO contributor Tevi Troy offers the unexpected advice that Trump needs “another Steven Bannon” – i.e., an “ideas guy” to ensure the political fight du jour is connected to the broader agenda and to coordinate and articulate, where possible, the Trump agenda and the traditional conservative agenda align and overlap.

Trump likes to think of himself as the whole show – his own strategist, his own communications guru, his own political whisperer. And he’s had some successes in those arenas. But this is one area in which Trump really does need the help: He doesn’t have the patience, the background, or the interest to be able to articulate a consistent conservative-friendly vision and to get other conservatives on board. Bannon’s absence means the White House lacks someone who can attempt to create a coherent narrative for the administration’s efforts. A post-Bannon idea person adviser could attempt to articulate a larger coherent message, and at the same time galvanize supporters with outside media platforms to pass on the administration’s messages and goals.

Not filling the role would be a self-inflicted wound, while filling the role with the wrong person would be a missed opportunity. But finding the right person to serve as a White House intellectual, one with real credibility and a larger vision that Trump might listen to, could help chief of staff John Kelly in his effort to right a troubled administration, and provide an idea conduit both to and from a White House that manifestly needs one.

Pssst. You know who’s really smart, thinks a lot about history, public policy, military and foreign affairs, cultural and social issues, can be erudite, sophisticated and combative all at the same time, AND who’s usually sympathetic to Trump, even when most of his colleagues are not?

Victor Davis Hanson. Just putting that out there.

Almost As Bad as When the Guy in the Next Limo Won’t Pass His Grey Poupon

Dear New York Times: I know you have a wealthy readership, perhaps the wealthiest of any American newspaper, and I realize that “elitist” is not necessarily a slur in the circles of your newsrooms. And yes, sometimes those of us who are not in the seven-figure trust-fund lifestyle are amused by the problems that come with the perks of that life. But it’s a fine line, and when you’re not careful, you can leap right past it into a tone of Hamptons one-percent snooty self-parody:

For many people, summer means time for family vacations at the beach, on a lake or in the mountains.

But for some, summer signifies a time to return to a family vacation home, a place they went as children and now take their children. They see their parents, perhaps even old friends.

It’s idyllic, unless the conversation turns to what happens to that summer home after their parents are gone. Will it be shared as part of an inheritance or will it be sold?

For wealth advisers, the fight over the summer home is one of the most common – and vexing – family conflicts. Such battles can be as high in emotional stakes as fights over philanthropic giving or the future of a family business.

Boy, we’ve all been there, right? Muffy can be so unreasonable about the summer estate. But the article’s proposed solution is an even more perfectly distilled essence of Times snobbery:

Enter transformative mediation, an ambitious but often lengthy process with a single goal: to get the people involved to think differently. If siblings are successful in changing their thoughts about each other, practitioners say, the present conflict will be resolved and the relationships that the siblings have with each other will be altered.

News you can use!

ADDENDA: If you’ve ever wondered how long Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) can talk about music, now a new podcast on NRO will attempt to answer that question. Jeff and Scot Bertram are unveiling “Political Beats,” where figures from the world of politics discuss the world of music and their passions.

NRO now has TEN regular podcasts: Political Beats, Mad Dogs and Englishman with Kevin Williamson and Charles C.W. Cooke (you can figure out which one is which); Radio Free California with Will Swain and David Bahnson; Need to Know with Mona Charen and Jay Nordlinger; Q&A with Jay; Ricochet with Rob Long, Jon Gabriel, and James Lileks; the Bookmonger with John J. Miller and interviews with authors; The Editors with Charlie, Rich Lowry, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and Dan McLaughlin; The Liberty Files with David French, exploring current stories of battles for liberty; and of course, the daily Three Martini Lunch with Greg Corombus of Radio America and myself, summing up the day’s headlines in about fifteen minutes or so with frequent references to Die Hard, the tears in the eyes of Defense Secretary James Mattis, and how the state of Nevada must forever be punished for the crime of electing Harry Reid.

I chatted about Trump’s Afghanistan speech and being a soccer dad with Hugh Hewitt this morning; he insisted I share this short video with the world.

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

by Jim Geraghty

Hey, anything big happen while I was gone?

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

The Bannon-less White House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there was this display in Charlottesville:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The View of Brexit from Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put ‘Em in the Hoosegow

by Jack Fowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Billionaire Letters of Transit

by Jack Fowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Jack Fowler

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

Vulnerable Babies Need Not Apply

by Jack Fowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mothball the Monuments

by Jack Fowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Losers Be Called Losers?

by Jack Fowler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see you tomorrow,

Jack

On Preventing War with North Korea

by Jim Geraghty

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

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

Convenient Amnesia on How Deterrence Works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘He Should Seek a Non-Leadership Position.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Jim Geraghty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Jim Geraghty

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

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

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

  •  We can’t take in every immigrant who wants to come here; we need, metaphorically speaking, a high wall that assures Americans we can control our border with a big gate that lets as many people in legally as we can effectively absorb as citizens.
  • The Muslim world does have a problem with pluralism – gender pluralism, religious pluralism and intellectual pluralism – and suggesting that terrorism has nothing to do with that fact is naïve; countering violent extremism means constructively engaging with Muslim leaders on this issue.
  • Americans want a president focused on growing the economic pie, not just redistributing it. We do have a trade problem with China, which has reformed and closed instead of reformed and opened. We have an even bigger problem with automation wiping out middle-skilled work and we need to generate more blue-collar jobs to anchor communities.
  • Political correctness on college campuses has run ridiculously riot. Americans want leaders to be comfortable expressing patriotism and love of country when globalization is erasing national identities. America is not perfect, but it is, more often than not, a force for good in the world.

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

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

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

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

The cover of Time magazine, June 13, 1994:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google, Searching for Lawyers

by Jim Geraghty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Michael Brendan Dougherty with a terrific observation:

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

One other detail worth noting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I almost admire the open reluctance:

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

The Uncomfortable Ease of Jumping from News Jobs to Campaign Jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Responding to Russia

by Jim Geraghty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Do-Something Senate

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

There’s finally some good news. Before heading out of town for the August recess, the Senate approved a lot of nominations. Four had recorded votes — FBI Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouilette, National Labor Relations Board Marvin Kaplan, and Kevin Newsom to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eleventh Circuit.
Another 65 nominees were confirmed by voice vote, including Kay Bailey Hutchison to be U.S. Ambassador to NATO, former Congressman Mark Green to be head of the U.S. Agency for International Development and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson to be ambassador to the United Kingdom. Yes, it’s a rebuilding year for our relationship with Great Britain.

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

John Kasich, The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Jim Geraghty

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

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

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

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

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

But our Andy McCarthy makes an important point:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Republicans Seek Out and Find Justice in West Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Sessions Isn’t Going Anywhere

by Jim Geraghty

Good.

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

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

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

Maybe Kelly is righting the ship. Maybe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, Remember Common Core, Continued . . . 

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

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

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

ADDENDA: Indulge me a little.

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

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

The characters featured on the cover were . . . 

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

2) Big Ed Hurley, unseen so far.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, Remember Common Core?

by Jim Geraghty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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