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

by Jack Fowler

Dear Jolters,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, for the good of the cause:

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

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

Best,

Jack Fowler

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

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

by Jack Fowler

Dear Jolters,

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

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

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

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

Now let’s talk about conservative ear candy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manana amigos,

Jack Fowler

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

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

Beware the ‘Virtually Eliminating Medicaid’ Argument

by Jim Geraghty

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

What You’re Going to Hear from Democrats about Medicaid

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

The year 2025 brings the big changes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, Twin Peaks Kicks into a Higher Gear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘They Are Never Talking about Issues Like Russia’

by Jim Geraghty

“Our brand is worse than Trump.”

That quote from Ohio Democratic representative Tim Ryan in the New York Times is going to get a lot of attention; for Republicans it’s a reason for glee and for Democrats, a devastating self-assessment that challenges them on an almost existential level.

But the comment that probably ought to spur even more thought in Democratic lawmakers’ offices is this one from Chris Murphy, who dares to utter the heretical thought that the preeminent obsession of Democrats since Election Day 2016 — the as-yet-unproven possibility of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign — simply is a non-factor in the lives of most Americans:

“The fact that we have spent so much time talking about Russia has been a distraction from what should be the clear contrast between Democrats and the Trump agenda, which is on economics,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” whether Ossoff’s defeat means the party should become more progressive, the senator responded that it’s more an issue of what they’re talking about. “When I’m back in Connecticut, I often get on a commuter bus and ride it for just an hour to talk to folks that don’t normally call my office or write my office,” Murphy explained. “They are never talking about issues like Russia. They are not talking, frankly, about what’s on cable news at night.”

Now, this idea that a party should only focus on “kitchen table issues” or what’s on the mind of the “common man” can be taken too far. There are a lot of issues that the average voter doesn’t think about much that are still important. The debt and deficit, the long-term outlook for entitlement programs, almost everything involving foreign relations that don’t involve the war on terrorism, cyber-security, most issues involving the judiciary and debates about interpreting the Constitution, most government regulations outside of a few high-profile news stories, the state of higher-education institutions, most energy issues beyond gas prices . . . People tend to talk about anything that affects them directly or something that has been in the news a lot, particularly if there’s an element of human drama.

The New York Times article makes a fleeting reference that probably deserves more attention . . . 

Part of the Democrats’ challenge now is that the jobless rate is low, and many of the districts they are targeting are a lot like the Georgia seat: thriving suburbs filled with voters who have only watched their portfolios grow since Mr. Trump took office.

Back in March, during his address to Congress, President Trump boasted that the stock market had gained almost $3 trillion in value since his election; since then, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen another couple hundred points. In other words, if you’re an investor, these are the good times. Your 401(k) probably looks better than you ever figured it would a year ago. Yes, the stock market could go down, and some analysts think it will.

Ben Shapiro points out how apocalyptic modern political rhetoric is on both sides. How apocalyptic do you think those voters in those white-collar suburban congressional districts feel?

The Failure of Cellular Violence

Speaking of not being apocalyptic, about a week ago, John Podhoretz recoiled from the mad bloodlust of the Alexandria shooter and wondered if we are about to experience “a similar feeling of chaos” as in 1968; our Max Bloom laid out the numerous ways that the circumstances just aren’t parallel.

Over on NRO’s home page, I pointed out that despite the feeling that we are besieged by violence and terrorism, since 9/11 terror on American soil has just about always been perpetrated by one or two assailants, not a group. This is a major difference from the late ’60s and early ’70s.

It’s easy to forget just how comparably vast some of these radical groups were. About 800 members of the Weathermen came out to square off against the Chicago police on October 8, 1969. After two clashes with the police left many injured and arrested, about 200 to 300 members of the Weathermen decided at the “Flint War Council” to shift to working in cells or small groups and to plot bombings. The moral inversion on display was jaw-dropping:

Some who attended the War Council said the highlight was a speech given by [Bernardine] Dohrn.

Dohrn reportedly spoke admiringly of the murders of actress Sharon Tate and others in California by Charles Manson and his cult family in 1969, according to later accounts. Holding up three fingers, Dohrn described how Manson’s people used forks to stab the bodies after they murdered their victims.

For the rest of the council, the Weathermen used the three-finger salute as a rallying symbol.

It may seem we’re living in the most dire of troubled times, but then you read about two generations ago, when groups of people gathered to celebrate Charles Manson as a role model for social change, and suddenly modern society doesn’t seem to be doing so badly . . . 

Ben Franklin reportedly said, “Three people can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” It appears that keeping a terror plot secret is much harder when it involves three or more perpetrators than when it has just one or two. There are just too many opportunities for someone to spill the beans, get caught in an NSA or FBI surveillance net, associate with someone on a watch list, or attract attention for suspicious behavior.

Latasha Harlins and Philando Castile

You may recall me raving last year about the ESPN five-part documentary, O.J.: Made in America. One of the things that made it great was how much it was willing to dive into topics that might seem peripheral to O.J. Simpson’s life story but in fact provided enormous context and background, and a better understanding of why events played out the way they did. The producers clearly decided early on that you couldn’t discuss the racial divide in Los Angeles, and the distrust of the LAPD during Simpson’s trial, without explaining the L.A. riots of a few years earlier, and you couldn’t really understand what triggered the L.A. riots without discussing the 1991 killing of Latasha Harlins.

Latasha Harlins was a 15-year-old African-American girl who got into a dispute with 51-year-old female Korean-American store owner Soon Ja Du. As seen on the store’s security tape, Du accused Harlins of shoplifting. Hu grabbed Harlins’s sleeve; Harlins punched Hu. They continue to exchange words, then Harlins turned away, and Du pulled out a gun and shot Harlins in the back of the head from a distance of three feet. The video can be seen here and is . . . grim viewing.

Between the videotape and the witnesses in the store contradicting Du’s claim it was an attempted holdup, this was an open-and-shut case. The jury found Du guilty of voluntary manslaughter, an offense that carries a maximum prison sentence of 16 years. But trial judge Joyce Karlin sentenced Du to five years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and a $500 fine. No jail time.

Shocked and enraged protesters scuffled with police outside the courthouse, a precursor to the riots that would arrive less than a year later. Rioting is wrong, but it’s not hard to understand the seething outrage of African Americans in Los Angeles at that moment. If a person casually executes someone who looks like you, and the system treats it like a minor crime, do you feel like your rights are being protected? Do you feel like the justice system cares about you? Do you feel like society at large believes your life matters?

Fast forward to 2016, and think of the traffic stop that cost Philando Castile his life. Once again, we have videotape and this time, audio of what led to the shooting.

Our David French lays out all the facts succinctly and clearly. As far as anyone can see and hear, Castile did exactly as he was told, and exactly what he was supposed to do. Officer Jeronimo Yanez asked for his driver’s license and proof of insurance, Castile handed over his car-insurance information card. Then he calmly informed officer Yanez that he had a gun; the officer responds, “don’t reach for it.”

In a span of about 20 seconds, Yanez instructed Castile to hand over his driver’s license and to not reach for his gun. Give me something that is in your pocket, but do not look like you are reaching for something by your waist. Within seven seconds, Yanez has interpreted Castile reaching to get out his driver’s license, as instructed, as reaching for a weapon, and shoots at Castile seven times.

Is there a legal consequence for fatally shooting someone over a misunderstanding?

In the courtroom, no. The jury found Yanez not guilty on all counts — second-degree manslaughter in as well as two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. After the verdict, the police department fired him: “The City of St. Anthony has concluded that the public will be best served if Officer Yanez is no longer a police officer in our city. The city intends to offer Officer Yanez a voluntary separation agreement to help him transition to another career other than being a St. Anthony officer.”

The protests in Minnesota since the verdict have been pretty peaceful; Friday night, 18 people were arrested for blocking traffic on I-94. Thankfully, nothing resembling the L.A. riots has occurred.

We live in a world with a lot of overheated rhetoric, a lot of racial demagoguery, and a lot of people who are quick to demonize the police, lie, or throw gasoline on the fires of public anger. But sometimes events play out as just as badly as everyone fears. An innocent man was shot to death by a police officer, with no significant legal consequence.

ADDENDA: The Missouri chapter of Americans for Prosperity is doing something unusual. Most activist groups push to get a law passed or changed, and then move on to new goals. But this group won their fight to get “right to work” legislation passed earlier this year . . . now they’re out to tell everyone why it’s such a good idea. The organization is launching “a six-figure issue education effort to inform Missourians about the benefits of the recently-passed right-to-work legislation. AFP-Foundation will use digital ads, door-to-door canvassing, volunteer phone calls, and mailers to educate residents of how right-to-work affects Missouri workers.” You can see the mailer here.

I’ll be out next week, so someone — probably Jack Fowler? — will be pinch-hitting in my absence.

You’ve Earned a Little Victory Dance This Morning, GOP!

by Jim Geraghty

Go ahead and do a little dance this morning, Republicans!

Watch to see if the conventional wisdom on Jon Ossoff as a candidate changes quickly. (I can’t tell whether Jonah is serious when he refers to Ossoff as a ‘hipster dufus candidate’.) Remember, heading into yesterday, he was considered a pretty solid candidate for this district, once you put aside the residency issue and his baby face. He’s got a pretty good resume (Georgetown, London School of Economics, held a security clearance while working in Congress, made a documentary about ISIS) and avoided gaffes on the trail and in debates.

For a long time, Republican campaign consultants and their allies would look at a Democratic opponent who had served in a state legislature or Congress, and add up every time they had voted in subcommittee, committee, or the full chamber for a bill, amendment, or budget resolution that included tax increases. Sometimes they would throw in any vote against a tax cut as well. You know the end result from attack ads: “John Smith voted to raise taxes 132 times.”

In a legislature, a lawmaker votes on all kinds of matters, and sooner or later, he’ll make a controversial one. Democrats gradually realized that an inexperienced candidate, with no time spent in government, has something of an advantage in that there’s no record to examine and attack. A big part of the Democrats’ wave election in 2006 was built on first-time candidates or those with non-traditional candidate backgrounds: Jim Webb in Virginia, Tim Mahoney in Florida, Brad Ellsworth in Indiana (he had been a sheriff), Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack in Iowa, John Yarmuth in Kentucky, Tim Walz in Minnesota, Heath Shuler in North Carolina, Jason Altmire, Joe Sestak, Patrick Murphy, and Chris Carney in Pennsylvania, and Steve Kagan in Wisconsin. It’s easier to argue “I’m not like those other Democrats” when you have no record of voting like all those other Democrats.

Of course, in subsequent cycles, a lot of those Democrats elected in 2006 got knocked off, as they gradually accumulated a voting record that gave Republicans avenues of attack to make the increasingly plausible argument that those representatives had grown too liberal for their districts.

Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional aide and documentary filmmaker, didn’t have much of a record. His ads were about what he wanted to do, and were pretty nonpartisan:

How do we keep metro Atlanta’s economy growing? Just ask the entrepreneurs who do it every day. Promote high-tech and biotech research, because it drives innovation. Prioritize our college and tech schools, so we can hire young people with the right skills. And cut the wasteful spending in Washington, because the deficits are holding back our economy. I approved this message because I’ll work with anyone to keep our economy growing. I’m listening to them.

The promises in that ad script could be run by just about any Republican running in a swing district across the country.

This was the playbook that worked for Democrats in districts like this before and this was the approach Democrats thought they could use heading into 2018 to regain control of the House. Let Trump’s low approval rating and the GOP’s difficulty passing legislation speak for themselves; target the suburbs full of white-collar and middle-class whites, particularly women, and come across as the sensible alternative.

That approach was good enough to get Ossoff to 48 percent twice.

Democrats can say this morning that they always knew this was a difficult district, but you don’t spend $31 million to finish a few points behind in a difficult House district. Democrats and progressives were convinced they had a chance to win this race, and the fact that they didn’t suggests that their real problem is that they don’t actually know where they can win. They’re walking around with a false sense of their own electability — just seven months after they were convinced Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election easily.

Yes, there’s a lot of road ahead, and there will be easier districts for Democrats to win in 2018. But when you add up all the spending and use the most recent numbers reported in the New York Times, it calculates to a $9 million advantage for the Democrats. ($23.6 million raised by Ossoff + $7.6 million spent by outside groups preferring him = $31.2 million; $4.5 million spent by Handel + $18.2 million spent by outside groups preferring her = $22.7 million.)

If you fall short in an open-seat special election, in a district Trump barely carried, with a candidate who avoids gaffes and with a giant spending advantage . . . just where the heck are you going to win?

The other big story of the night was the special election in South Carolina’s fifth congressional district, which received almost no attention because no one thought it would be competitive. Surprise! Ralph Norman, the Republican, defeated Archie Parnell, a Democrat, but only won by four points, a much smaller margin than expected. This is spurring some cries that the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fumbled by focusing so much on Georgia and barely at all on South Carolina. But if that race had gotten more attention from outside the district, it probably wouldn’t have been as competitive.

Turnout in South Carolina’s special election was extremely low, less than 90,000 votes. Even in a noncompetitive midterm year, like 2014, when Mick Mulvaney was cruising to an easy victory, more than 175,000 voted in this district. More attention would have likely brought out more unmotivated Republicans and helped Norman cushion his lead.

Hey, Remember Health Care?

Josh Kraushaar had the observation of the night when he pointed out that the “big tell” in Georgia’s special election was that Ossoff didn’t run ads against the American Health Care Act, a.k.a. “Trumpcare.” We’re constantly told that this is an abysmally unpopular piece of legislation, with oodles of impassioned critics and almost no defenders, and that this is the issue Democrats will use to hammer the GOP in the run-up to November 2018.

Back in March, Ossoff’s ad’s declared, “We can find common ground to fix Obamacare while keeping what works. Repealing it makes no sense.” But that wasn’t in his closing message, and it’s extremely difficult to believe that Ossoff and his team just forgot about it.

You Won’t Believe What the Afghan National Army’s Wardrobe Cost

The fine folks at the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction continue to do eye-opening, if depressing, work.

For the past decade, the U.S. Department of Defense bought new uniforms for the Afghan National Army . . . and used a proprietary camouflage pattern. This means the uniforms cost 40-43 percent more “than similar non-proprietary patterned uniforms used by the Afghan National Police.”

Wait, it gets worse; the decision was made in “consultation with the Afghan [minister of defense], decided to adopt the camouflage pattern containing a “forest” color scheme for ANA uniforms, despite the fact that forests cover only 2.1 percent of Afghanistan’s total land area.” In other words, this camouflage doesn’t particularly . . . camouflage the wearers.

The inspector general’s office is recommending “changing the ANA uniform to a non-proprietary camouflage pattern could save U.S. taxpayers between $68.61 million and $72.21 million over the next 10 years.”

ADDENDA: For every feminist who’s raving about the Wonder Woman movie — and as discussed on the pop-culture podcast, it is a really fun time at the movies — you can thank Treasury secretary and executive producer Steven Mnunchin. He’s helped arrange and produce financing for a lot of Hollywood movies.

And apparently even answering a light-hearted question can get him in trouble in this area:

On Friday, Mnuchin, who was a former Hollywood producer, tried to clarify remarks he made last week in an interview with Axios during which he appeared to endorse the movie when asked for a film recommendation.

“It was not my intention to make a product endorsement,” Mnuchin wrote in a letter to the head of the Office of Government Ethics seen by CNNMoney. The ethics office works with executive branch officials to avoid conflicts of interest and can recommend penalties.

“I should not have made that statement,” he wrote.

During last week’s interview, the secretary initially declined to give his preference for his favorite movie and acknowledged as a cabinet member he wasn’t “allowed to promote anything that I’m involved in.” But added quickly, “But you should all send your kids to Lego Batman.”

Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, has already asked the ethics office to examine Mnuchin’s comments. Wyden said those remarks showed a “blatant disregard and disrespect to the office he serves.”

Come on, man, lighten up.

A Brutal North Korean Crime That Must Not Be Forgotten

by Jim Geraghty

Let’s not mince words: Otto Warmbier was an American kid who made one foolish mistake, one that should not have cost him his life. The North Korean regime arrested him on unjust grounds, possibly as a bargaining chip in negotiations, and ultimately tortured him to death. Josh Rogin of the Washington Post tracked down Warmbier’s roommate in North Korea, and offers a new, even more chilling account of events:

When Danny Gratton met Otto Warmbier in Beijing in late December 2015, they were on their first day of a tour to North Korea that only one of them would successfully complete. On the tour’s last day, Gratton was the only Westerner to see Warmbier detained by North Korean security services, the beginning of an 18-month ordeal for the 21-year-old American student, who finally returned to the United States in a coma this week.

Until now, Gratton has not spoken publicly about the case. He was never contacted by the U.S. government or the tour company that arranged the visit. His recollections form a part of the story that speaks to Warmbier’s innocence and further undermines the North Korean government’s version of events. His message is that Warmbier was an innocent victim of a cruel and evil regime and did nothing to warrant his sad fate.

“Otto was just a really great lad who fell into the most horrendous situation that no one could ever believe,” Gratton told me in an interview Thursday. “It’s just something I think in the Western world we just can’t understand, we just can’t grasp, the evilness behind that dictatorship.”

If you’re part of the subculture that never rejected the concept of evil, perhaps this isn’t that shocking. If you study history, the existence of evil isn’t shocking either. And if you’ve studied anything about the insanely brutal regime that rules North Korea, then no, this isn’t that surprising, either.

Gratton said that in the four days they spent together, Warmbier never said anything about a banner and that he saw zero evidence that Warmbier was planning any such act — quite the opposite. The first Gratton heard of the alleged attempted theft was when it was mentioned in news reports weeks later. Gratton and Warmbier weren’t together 24 hours each day, but they traveled together during the day and hung out each night.

“I’ve got nothing from my experiences with him that would suggest he would do something like that,” he said. “At no stage did I ever think he was anything but a very, very polite kid.”

Warmbier’s unjust murder should not have occurred. The North Koreans should not have tortured him, and should never have detained him. If he really did tear down the banner, this is the sort of manner that is resolved with a fine in most countries.

As mentioned earlier, Warmbier made one mistake: going to North Korea. There is no good reason for any American citizen to go to a land where they can be arrested at any time for any reason and tortured to death. Curiosity, charitable impulses, the desire to reach across a divide and see a place that few others dare – none of them are worth your life in the eyes of your loved ones. Do not go to North Korea. Do not go to North Korea. Do not go to North Korea.

Affinity magazine is an online, teen-written magazine that last night offered an astonishingly tone-deaf assessment: “Watch whiteness work. He wasn”t a “kid” or “innocent” you can’t go to another country and try to steal from them. [sic] Respect their laws.” (I wonder if that writer would extend the “respect their laws” approach to illegal immigrants, protesters who refuse lawful orders, and drug users.)

Still, presuming this is written by a teenager, we ought to tone down the outrage and attempt to illuminate this corner of the world that has probably escaped their attention.

The reason you’ll see adults referring to Warmbier as a “kid” is because most of us over 21 look back at our 21st year and marvel at everything we thought we knew and everything we later realized we still had to learn. We had adult bodies but not necessarily adult judgment. Plenty of us made foolish decisions at age 21 or a little before or a little after, but none of those foolish decisions warranted pain and death.

Warmbier’s guilt cannot be taken for granted, considering what we know of the arbitrary North Korean justice system. The regime sentenced him to 15 years hard labor. His confession was beaten out of him; he claimed that he stole the banner on behalf of the United States government. The Obama administration had no qualms about accusing the North Korean regime of arresting Warmbier for political purposes, in other words, as a negotiating pawn.

There’s no shortage of places to read and hear about the brutality, cruelty and paranoia of the North Korean regime. Begin with John J. Miller’s interview with Melanie Kirkpatrick, author of Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad and Jay Nordlinger’s profile of defector Jung Gwang-il. The editors assessed “a small, hopelessly isolated prison-state that suffers from perpetual food shortages, crushing poverty, Zimbabwe-style inflation, and a cartoonishly severe electricity problem, [that] is nonetheless able to summon the rapt attention of the United States whenever it chooses.” Move on to Victor Davis Hanson on the limits of deterrence.

What, One Drug Wasn’t Enough?

We will always admire her unforgettable performances, her grit, her spirit, her smile, and her openness about her difficulties in life. But is it okay to be a little angry at the late Carrie Fisher?

Carrie Fisher had cocaine, methadone, heroin and ecstasy in her system when she died in December, according to an autopsy report released Monday.

The coroner’s report listed sleep apnea as the primary cause of death, with drug intake as a contributing factor. The report stated that Fisher’s family objected to a full autopsy, and coroner’s investigators had access to limited toxicology specimens. The conclusions were based on toxicology results and an external examination of Fisher’s body.

If you take cocaine, methadone, heroin, ecstasy, and a slew of prescription drugs in a short period of time . . . just what do you think is going to happen? Even if you don’t think it’s going to be fatal . . . what do you think that’s going to do to your body?

I see all the flaws with the war on drugs. But the world has a significant number of people who achieve remarkable success and yet still feel an emptiness inside, and who are still consumed by anxieties, fears, isolation, alienation, and a sense that happiness eludes them even after they’ve achieved everything that others can only imagine. I suppose you could say drugs are so ubiquitous in Hollywood that they’re practically legalized already.

Get Out to Vote, Georgians

Polls are open in Georgia’s sixth congressional district. It’s so close, no one knows which pre-emptive spin to deploy. Former district resident Michael Graham offers his take:

It appears the GOP is likely to eke out a win. Kent points to analysis from the U.S. Elections Project showing that early voting by hardcore Republicans has exceeded that by core Democrats by about 20,000. In addition, a new poll by Opinion Savvy finds that 62 percent of those voting today plan to vote for Handel.

This doesn’t mean the race is over or that Ossoff can’t win. Everyone I spoke to in the district agreed that he has the passion and the momentum, thanks almost entirely to anti-Trump sentiment.

But the race has evolved (or perhaps “devolved”) into a traditional GOP vs. Dem campaign. Republicans have spent quite a bit of money on their own, much of it linking Ossoff to Nancy Pelosi. Their message: “Say ‘No’ To Pelosi’s ‘Yes Man.’ ” Pelosi is to Georgia Republicans what Trump is to Democrats — someone they love to vote against.

In the end, the slim GOP majority in the district is likely to be enough to carry the day. But either way, this election had nothing to do with picking a congressman and everything to do with picking sides.

ADDENDA: Thanks to everyone putting up with the experiment in new forms of the Jolt. I know some folks don’t like it. (Remember, give feedback to Russell at [email protected].) The aim is to make it more mobile-friendly and less likely to get caught in people’s spam filters. I know some folks don’t like clicking through to the site for portions, and that’s being discussed above my pay grade. Either way, thank you for reading and know that we’re listening.

I mean, Russ is listening.

Why Is Russia Providing Air Defense over Raqqa, Syria?

by Jim Geraghty

The airspace over Syria is about to get a lot busier and more dangerous.

Step one: Nice shooting, Maverick and Goose:

A U.S. Navy fighter jet shot down a Syrian regime fighter jet on Sunday that had dropped bombs on Syrian rebel forces fighting ISIS in Syria, marking the first time the U.S. has engaged in air-to-air combat there and signaling an escalation of the conflict.

The incident market the first time an American aircraft has shot down another country’s aircraft in air-to-air combat since 1999 during the Kosovo air campaign when a U.S. Air Force F-16 shot down a Serbian Mig-29.

Step two: NPR’s Moscow correspondent reports, “Russia to consider any airborne objects detected west of Euphrates River — including coalition aircraft — as legitimate targets.” A subsequent report said the Ministry of Defense statement indicated “all coalition aircraft & UAVs detected to the West of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM as targets.”

Step three: Agence France-Presse reports, “Russia halts incident-prevention hotline with US in Syria.”

The Russians are threatening to shoot down anything that flies over Raqqa — you know, the headquarters of the Islamic State — and they’re refusing to answer the phone so we can’t even warn them when and where our jets will be flying.

I remember during the campaign, Trump fans assuring us that Russia would help us fight ISIS. Ah, such happy days back then . . . 

Is Running Down Pedestrians ‘an Eye for an Eye’?

Our friends over in the United Kingdom are enduring a brutal stretch: an attempt to mow down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, the bombing at the concert in Manchester, the van and stabbing attacks near London Bridge, the inferno that engulfed the Grenfell Tower public-housing project . . . and now, it seems, another act of brutal violence allegedly committed in the name of opposing terrorism that is indistinguishable from the terror it claimed to oppose.

One man has died and 10 others are injured after a van was rammed into worshippers in a terror attack near a London mosque, before the driver is said to have screamed: “I’m going to kill all Muslims”.

The van driver – described by witnesses as a large white man – was detained by members of the public after the incident in Finsbury Park early on Monday that police said had “all the hallmarks of terrorism”.

The white van ploughed into pedestrians who were helping an elderly worshipper who had collapsed in an area that was busy with people who had attended Ramadan night prayers.

The pensioner they were helping later died. Police said he had already been receiving first aid from members of the public and it is not yet known if his death was caused by the attack.

A 48-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder over the incident in Seven Sisters Road at 12.20am.

Another said the attacker shouted about killing Muslims as he was held by local people. He his alleged to have said: “I did the job… I done my bit”. Witnesses claimed he added: “I’d do it again, I’d do it again.”

Eight people were taken to hospital and two more were treated for minor injuries at the scene. Police said all the casualties were Muslims.

Perhaps this is relevant in our current moment here in the United States. We’ve been living in an era of escalating political and cultural animosity and provocation. Quite a few politically-active Americans are starting to think, “because the other side has done X; at the very least, they deserve X done to them in response and perhaps even an escalation to Y.”

Radical Islamists have committed several attacks using vans and other vehicles and hitting pedestrians; this hate-filled maniac decided to do the same to Muslims coming out of a mosque. In his mind, it didn’t matter that these were old men and women with no known connection to terrorism or extremism of any kind; all that mattered is that they were a group of “those people.”

He became, quite literally, what he thought he was fighting, the kind of murderous lunatic who tries to kill as many people as possible in the name of a cause.

Since 9/11, there have been many heated debates among non-Muslims about just how much separates radical Islamist jihadist and the average Muslim; some intemperate voices contend there really isn’t that much separating the Muslim family that lives down the street and Osama bin Laden. If you really believe that, then was the driver of the van wrong?

Writing over at Popehat, Ken White considers the protesters disrupting the performance of Julius Caesar in Central Park, contending the play is “normalizing political violence against the Right” because in this production, Caesar resembles President Trump.

The “eye for an eye” theory of respecting free speech is particularly pernicious because it represents the worst sort of collectivism, something the principled Right ought reject. Note that people who say “apply the Liberals’ own rules to the Liberals” aren’t disrupting, say, an Antifa rally or the meeting of some Berkeley student group that advocated shutting down a conservative speaker. They’re disrupting other people entirely, on the theory that everyone they deem part of the nebulous collective “Liberal” deserves to be silenced because someone else in that nebulous collective engaged in silencing behavior. The actors and playgoers in New York, under this theory, deserve to be shut down because they stand responsible for the acts of all “liberals” everywhere. (The suggestion that anyone going to see Julius Ceasar must be a liberal does not reflect a very healthy self-image amongst the Right.) This closely resembles the logic of hecklers on college campuses, who argue that nearly any conservative speaker stands responsible for Klansmen and neo-Nazis and overt bigots everywhere. It’s contemptible and can be used to justify doing nearly anything to nearly anyone. It’s the sentiment behind saying American Muslims may fairly be oppressed because Christians are oppressed in Saudi Arabia — even while celebrating our nation having greater freedoms than Saudi Arabia.

Quite a few people like to invoke the slogan “by any means necessary,” because they think it communicates determination; hopefully, they don’t actually mean it. Because running people down in a van is a “means” to stop members of a group you oppose; we reject this option because it’s morally wrong, as well as illegal.

Everyone’s Applauding Megyn Kelly, But . . . 

The general consensus is that Megyn Kelly tore into Alex Jones last night, and that she’s getting applause in the aftermath her profile piece on the talk show host.

Jack Shafer, writing at Politico:

When Kelly’s show finally aired, she took the mendacious Jones apart in such a textbook manner you had to wonder what all the shouting had been about. The Jones pattern, she said at the segment’s top, is making “reckless accusations followed by equivocations and excuses” when questioned. The two best examples of this are his promotion of the “Pizzagate“ lies about a satanic child porn ring and his wild allegation that Chobani was “importing Migrant Rapists,” as InfoWars hyped its report on Twitter. In both cases, lawsuits have forced Jones to retract and apologized for airing these dishonest stories, and yet in conversation with Kelly he still hedges and quibbles like a con artist in an effort to have his conspiracy pizza and keep his yogurt, too. Likewise with the pathetic claims about the Sandy Hook killings. He’s still throwing the see-through drapery of devil’s advocacy to blur the fact that on most subjects he’s talking out of his tinfoil hat.

Short of waterboarding him, I don’t know what more Kelly could have done to expose Jones’ dark methods.

Michael Grynbaum in the New York Times:

For viewers who had never heard of Alex Jones before Sunday evening, Megyn Kelly’s much-hyped interview with him on NBC did not paint a flattering picture…#

Ms. Kelly’s solemn and scolding tone — “That doesn’t excuse what you did and said about Newtown,” she told Mr. Jones at one point as he tried to explain his views on Sandy Hook — may placate some who objected when the former Fox News anchor announced her feature on Mr. Jones.

Okay, but how many viewers of Kelly’s show thought that Sandy Hook was a hoax? My guess is almost none. Doesn’t this interview represent confronting a crazy person over a crazy belief? Is anyone who bought into the cockamamie hoax theory going to be persuaded by this report? And if everyone has the same viewpoint about Alex Jones after the segment that they had before the segment . . . is the segment’s real appeal seeing Jones confronted and watching him equivocate?

Keep in mind that in order to do this interview that portrays Jones badly, Megyn Kelly had to make effusive promises that she wouldn’t portray Jones badly:

In the tape, Kelly repeatedly reassures Jones she intends to be fair. “You’ll be fine with it,” she can be heard saying. “I’m not looking to portray you as a bogeyman… The craziest thing of all would be if some of the people who have this insane version of you in your heads walk away saying, ‘You know, I see the dad in him. I see the guy who loves those kids and is more complex than I’ve been led to believe.”

The next time Alex Jones screeches that the media is full of liars who are out to get him . . . he’ll have a little evidence to support his paranoia.

ADDENDA: You’re going to want to check out Alvin Felzenberg’s A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr.; today the web site features the first part of a two-part excerpt on Buckley and the John Birch Society:

Controversy over [Robert] Welch and the John Birch Society continued into the 1960s, eliciting a response from President John F. Kennedy. During a trip to Los Angeles in 1961, Kennedy spoke of “discordant voices of extremism.” He said the real danger to the nation came from extremist elements within rather than from foreign powers without. The President was referring to the John Birch Society, which had begun to attract considerable press attention. When asked whether he thought it dangerous to the electoral process that large financial contributions were going to “right wing extremist” entities, Kennedy responded, “The only thing we should be concerned about is that it does not represent a diversion of funds which might be taxable for non-taxable purposes. Days after this press conference, IRS Commissioner Mortimer H. Caplin launched a “test audit” of twenty-two organizations the administration considered “extremist.” The agency termed this the Ideological Organizations Audit Project.

I wonder if those alleged “rogue employees in the Cincinnati field office” of the IRS ever heard about the “Ideological Organizations Audit Project.”

Thanks to everyone who checked out this week’s edition of the pop-culture podcast. It figures that right after I air my frustration with the first six episodes of Twin Peaks, the seventh episode finally kicks into higher gear and advances the plot . . . 

A Source Familiar with White House Thinking: ‘Mueller Is Moving Quickly’

by Jim Geraghty

How serious is the White House about defending itself from allegations of impropriety in the election and in any contact with the Russian government? “Someone familiar with internal White House thinking” reached out to me. Sadly, I cannot describe this carbon-based life-form in the Washington, D.C., area more specifically than that. Longtime readers know I’ve had days where I’ve defended President Trump and I’ve had days where I have criticized him intensely, but apparently, the White House and its allies are no longer talking only to media that is willing to march in lockstep in defending Trump.

This person said that the news from earlier this week about Mueller’s investigation now turning to obstruction of justice is not necessary terrible news. The Washington Post reported that “Daniel Coats, the current director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Rogers’s recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators as early as this week.”

This source says that the fact that the investigation is leaking is bad, but it also shows Mueller is moving quickly. In public hearings, Coats and Rogers said that while they didn’t particularly like talking to the president when he complained and asked about Comey’s inquiry, they didn’t feel pressured to stop any investigation.

“Don’t think Mueller is happy about the leaks,” this source said. “Hopeful he will shut them down.”

This is a more positive perspective on Mueller than you’ve seen from some other Trump surrogates, and one that seems to make more sense. If everyone says Mueller’s a straight arrow, then it probably means that in addition to not willing to avert his eyes from crimes, he also won’t want to put the country through the extraordinarily divisive process of an attempted removal of power of a newly elected president over a gray area or a ticky-tack foul. Based on what we know, it’s easy to picture him issuing some statement like, “The president’s comments and inquiries about the Flynn investigation were inappropriate, and such comments must be avoided in the future, but they do not rise to the level of obstruction of justice.” In a great irony, that would echo the standard James Comey applied to Hillary Clinton’s classified information: This was a bad thing to do, but we can’t find proof of any malicious intent.

The Washington Lawyer Who, Like a Bad Penny, Always Turns Up

Jamie Gorelick is now Jared Kushner’s personal lawyer, and her friends and neighbors are apparently cattily bashing her off-the-record to Washington Post reporters while insisting publicly they have no quarrel with her.

Matthew Continetti scoffs: “These are, after all, the same well schooled, affluent, smooth-talking men and women who erupt in outrage at the slightest suggestion that a lawyer might decline to represent an unsavory client. What does it say about them that Javanka’s attorney is held to a different standard than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s?”

Instead of worrying if Gorelick’s reputation will be sullied by associated with Kushner, I wonder if Kushner should fear his reputation will be sullied by associating with Gorelick. She’s like the Forrest Gump of American misfortune in the past three decades; she keeps showing up right before or right after things go terribly, terribly wrong.

Start at the Department of Justice in the mid 1990s. In 1993, Mary Lawton, counsel for intelligence policy and head of the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, passed away, leaving a large gap in the decision-making at DOJ; Lawton and her staff set the standards for sharing information between the intelligence community and law enforcement. Janet Reno put Gorelick in charge of settling the ensuring dispute and putting together new rules.

Gorelick’s memo suggested written regulations, which were formally adopted in the 1995 Procedures. According to Gorelick, her procedures “exceeded the requirements of FISA and then-existing federal case law” in regulating information sharing.

The 1995 Procedures turned the “primary purpose” standard into written Justice Department policy and ultimately had the effect of limiting the coordination between intelligence and criminal officials who wanted to avoid the appearance that a foreign intelligence investigation was becoming a criminal investigation. By their own terms, the 1995 Procedures did not totally ban the sharing of information between criminal and intelligence officials; they simply heavily regulated that communication. However, the procedures for passing information “over the wall” — the slang phrase for transferring information between intelligence and criminal officials — were often so burdensome or complicated that officials simply chose not to share information.

You may recall Gorelick serving on the 9/11 Commission, and a particularly dramatic moment as then-attorney general John Ashcroft tore into the “snarled web of requirements, restrictions and regulations… prevented decisive action by our men and women in the field.” Referring to the 1995 document that firmly established the scope of the metaphorical wall, Ashcroft testified, “full disclosure compels me to inform you that the author of this memorandum is a member of the commission.”

Gorelick and her allies contended that was scapegoating, but she eventually chose to recuse herself from the panel’s discussion of her own decisions. She did contend publicly that “the wall” had existed before her memo. But if it’s unfair to say she created the wall, she enhanced the foundation and height and it’s indisputable that she set the standard that was in place in the years leading up to 9/11.

From DOJ, Gorelick went on to become vice chairman of Fannie Mae, and stayed there six years. She was paid $26 million, but there were some significant problems during those years.

Fannie Mae employees falsified signatures on accounting transactions that helped the company meet earnings targets for 1998, a “manipulation” that triggered multimillion-dollar bonuses for top executives, a federal regulator said yesterday… In 1998, Gorelick was paid a $779,625 bonus.

By 2006, federal regulators concluded “financial results at Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest buyer of mortgages, were ‘illusions deliberately and systematically’ created by its top executives in an $11 billion accounting scandal.”

By 2000, she announced that Fannie Mae would be expanding into the exciting new lending and investment realm of Community Reinvestment Act loans, declaring, “We want your CRA loans because they help us meet our housing goals.”

From 2001–2007, Fannie and Freddie bought roughly half of all CRA home loans, most carrying subprime features. The taxpayer bailout for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac added up to $187 billion.

Some would give Gorelick grief for representing Duke University in the infamous lacrosse player case or BP oil company after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but this is pretty much what a super-lawyer does. Controversial, publicly-vilified institutions with deep pockets are the clients who need the services of a lawyer like her the most.

No, what’s more ironic and potentially bothersome is that Gorelick is pretty much the living embodiment of everything that Donald Trump went to Washington to oppose, remove, and fix. And now… she’s on the team, metaphorically.

Are Left-Wing Militias on the Way?

From Vice:

Chris Hamilton, an expert on American extremist movements at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, says anti-authoritarian sentiment may be blurring what once seemed to be clear ideological lines. “If you think about it, leftists never joined the National Rifle Association — unless they were radicals, they never thought about stockpiling weapons,” he said. “Ok. Well, maybe we’re entering a period where leftists will start thinking about things in that way, like the eco-radicals did in the ’70s.”

Hamilton says that as he browses far-left websites and listens to left-wing talk radio, he hears some of the same sentiments he’s been hearing for years on the right. “These days, that kind of sentiment is popping up in the middle and on the left; it’s not just in the sovereign citizen movement,” he said. “I’m really worried about rising civil strife in the U.S.”

Glad someone’s noticing. Right-wing militias lost any claim to moral authority among any sensible conservatives after Oklahoma City. Will we see the same dynamic on the Left?

ADDENDA: There’s a new edition of the pop-culture podcast coming today! After a long unplanned hiatus prompted by scheduling issues, Mickey, Dave Perkins, and I lament that the NBA and NHL seasons ended with whimpers instead of bangs; my less-than-fully-pleased assessment of Twin Peaks after six episodes; what Wonder Woman gets right, whether the producers of The Bachelor were playing with fire all these years and the latest insane products from the twisted mind of Gwenyth Paltrow’s “Goop.”

After Alexandria, We Have a Lot to Talk about, America

by Jim Geraghty

Three arguments to consider in the aftermath of Wednesday’s awful shooting attack on Republican lawmakers in Alexandria… let me know if you think they contradict.

First, attempting to limit political speech or rhetoric because of the potential to set off a mentally unstable violent person is a fool’s errand, because we can never know what will set off a mentally unstable violent person.

Ace of Spades and I went at it Wednesday afternoon about this. I completely understand his view that turn about is fair play, and that because so many individuals on the Left have argued that heated rhetoric on the right spurs violence, now they deserve a taste of their own medicine.

But here’s the problem. I don’t think that talk radio made the Oklahoma City bombing happen, I don’t think violent video games made Columbine happen, I don’t think Sarah Palin’s Facebook page made the Tuscon shooter take his actions, and I don’t think crazy rumors posted on Facebook made that guy bring a gun into that Adams Morgan pizzeria. In each of those cases, an individual made the conscious choice to set off a bomb or pick up a gun and shoot at people. I think blaming these outside forces amounts to letting the perpetrator off the hook for his own actions and scapegoats a politically convenient target.

One of the sharper bits of social commentary on this topic came in the cinematic, er, classic, Scream 2, where a murderous film student boasts: “I’ve got my whole defense planned out. I’m going to blame the movies… Can you see it? The effects of cinema violence on society! I’ll get Dershowitz or Cochran to represent me. Bob Dole on the witness stand in my defense. Hell, the Christian Coalition will pay my legal fees. It’s airtight, Sid. I’m an innocent victim.”

So as satisfying as it might be to make Bernie Sanders squirm at the thought that his words may have driven the Alexandria shooter to take his actions, making that accusation requires asserting something that we don’t think is true. We didn’t think that conservative political rhetoric incites violence, so why should we contend that liberal political rhetoric incites violence, unless we just really enjoy embracing hypocrisy?

I should be fair to Ace’s argument; he thinks that if the Right applies the same standard to the Left, the Left will realize how unfair and unjust it is to be blamed for a crime you had nothing to do with, and abandon the belief that political rhetoric incites violence. If I thought it would work, I would be more supportive. I think the more likely outcome is that the Left takes this argument on the Right as concurrence, and moves to restrict political rhetoric, particularly that of conservatives, because of the now bipartisan agreement that rhetoric incites violence.

Of course, then this morning the New York Times editorial board insisted “the link to political incitement was clear” in Tucson and “there’s no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack”, even though the shooter was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed that grammar was part of a vast government conspiracy for mind control.

Fine. If that’s the way the game is going to be played, if prominent liberal voices are going to blame political perspectives even in situations where it has been proven as a non-factor in a court of law, then go get them, Ace.

Two: The Double Standard on Political Violence

Second, there has been a double standard on how our society deals with politically-motivated violence, and while there is so far nothing indicating this is a primary cause of the awful crime committed Wednesday, it is dangerous to cultivate a perception that certain kinds of political violence are justified or less wrong.

In light of Wednesday’s shooting, does anyone want to revisit the government and university response to violent mobs on Berkeley’s and Middlebury’s campuses?

At Middlebury College, the administration punished 67 students with consequences “ranging from probation to official college discipline, which places a permanent record in the student’s file.” That sounds somewhat serious, but remember what actually happened when Charles Murray visited campus:

Most of the hatred was focused on Dr. Murray, but when I took his right arm to shield him and to make sure we stayed together, the crowd turned on me. Someone pulled my hair, while others were shoving me. I feared for my life. Once we got into the car, protesters climbed on it, hitting the windows and rocking the vehicle whenever we stopped to avoid harming them. I am still wearing a neck brace, and spent a week in a dark room to recover from a concussion caused by the whiplash.

That is a violent assault. This is not student misconduct, this is a crime.

In Berkeley, only one person was arrested during a violent riot, and police were explicitly told to have a ‘hands off’ approach:

Only one person was arrested in the mayhem that injured six people — prompting criticism of training for campus police at the entire University of California system that emphasizes officer restraint and patience during protests in the name of protecting students’ free speech rights.

“The UC ‘hands-off’ approach was to the citizens’ detriment and the officers’ detriment in this situation,” said John Bakhit, a lawyer for the union representing about 400 of the system’s police officers.

Officers should have been given more discretion to prevent the vandalism and violence and make arrests at the Berkeley protest, Bakhit said.

“The frustrating thing for the police officers is that they weren’t allowed to do their jobs,” he said.

If universities and local police authorities are unwilling to address violent students and protesters, doesn’t that fuel the perception that some sorts of politically based violence are acceptable?

How about when The Nation runs a piece calling the sucker-punch of Richard Spencer “pure kinetic beauty”? Violence against people you disagree with is okay, as long as the target’s views are odious enough? Is that the new rule? Because I’ll bet there are plenty of people that find the views of The Nation editors odious.

Three: Why Are We Always Hearing About Red Flags When It’s Too Late?

Third, preventing future attacks like this requires less in the realm of adjusting political rhetoric and a lot more in the realm of getting law enforcement, the judicial system, and other authority figures to take violent and threatening behavior seriously before it escalates to a mass shooting. The Alexandria shooter is just the latest in an abominable string of shooters and dangerous criminals who have committed multiple serious felonies and raised one red flag after another, only to be ignored by “the system.”

Hodgkinson was the foster the father of at least two girls. The first, Wanda Ashley Stock, 17, committed suicide in 1996 by pouring gasoline on herself and setting herself on fire after a few months of living with the Hodgkinsons, the Belleville News-Democrat reports. The Hodgkinsons gave an interview to the paper after her suicide, calling her a “very practical, level-headed girl.”

Privacy laws do not allow the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to release foster records.

In 2002, Hodgkinson became the foster father of another girl whom he allegedly abused, according to police record.

In 2006, he was arrested for domestic battery and discharge of a firearm after he stormed into a neighbor’s home where his teenage foster daughter was visiting with a friend. In a skirmish, he punched his foster daughter’s then 19-year-old friend Aimee Moreland “in the face with a closed fist,” according to a police report reviewed by The Daily Beast. When Moreland’s boyfriend walked outside of the residence where Moreland and Hodgkinson’s foster daughter were, he allegedly aimed a shotgun at the boyfriend and later fired one round. The Hodgkinsons later lost custody of that foster daughter.

“[Hodgkinson] fired a couple of warning shots and then hit my boyfriend with the butt of the gun,” Moreland told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.

Hodgkinson was also “observed throwing” his daughter “around the bedroom,” the police report said. After the girl broke free, Hodgkinson followed and “started hitting her arms, pulling her hair, and started grabbing her off the bed.”

Moreland said Hodgkinson’s daughter “told me a lot of stories that he was really awful to her.”

“According to his foster daughter, he was always angry,” Moreland said. “She was really unhappy there. She had come over to get away from them.”

When Moreland tried escaping with Hodgkinson’s daughter in a vehicle, Hodgkinson reached inside and “turned off the ignition,” the report said.

“We were panicked and when I tried to reverse, I hit neutral instead and he opened my car door and hit me, and then came to her car door and pulled out a knife and cut her seatbelt and dragged her out,” Moreland said. “She was only 15 or 16, I think. She was so tiny.”…

At court, Hodgkinson was no less angry. Moreland said that at an initial court appearance, Hodgkinson had to be removed from the courtroom after a series of eruptions.

“Every time the judge would talk to me, he would have an outburst and start screaming,” Moreland said.

The charges were dismissed, Moreland said, after she got her dates “mixed up” and failed to appear on time for a second court date.

In June 2006, police were dispatched to Hodgkinson’s home in response to a domestic dispute that began when Hodgkinson allegedly hit a woman’s dog while it slept in her driveway, according to a sheriff’s report.

Gun control? How about we start with trying some violent-maniac control?

Hell of a job, legal system. When a guy like this slips through the cracks time and time again, it is amazing that this world doesn’t have more Frank Castle–like vigilantes. This is not an endorsement of vigilantism, merely an observation that if you see the criminal justice system completely fumble its duty to protect the innocent and powerless… how do you think people are going to respond?

ADDENDA: Bad timing for a dyspeptic mood; I’m supposed to tell a room full of fourth-graders at Authenticity Woods Elementary School what I do all day.

But the good news is after a long, unavoidable hiatus, a new edition of the pop culture podcast is on its way later this week!

Why Did Trump Demand His Own Party Pass a ‘Mean, Mean, Mean’ Bill?

by Jim Geraghty

Breaking, horrible news:

CBS News has learned the shooting happened in the dugout at a field used for congressional baseball practice. Four people were shot and one congressman was shot in the hip.

A congressional source says the injured include two Capitol Hill police officers, the gunman and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana.

Why Did Trump Demand His Own Party Pass a ‘Mean, Mean, Mean’ Bill?

This is a president who is not trusted, and who should not be trusted. This is a president who will urge, cajole, plead, arm-twist, and threaten members of his own party to vote for a particular bill… and then turn around and trash that bill after they’ve done as he’s asked and voted for that bill.

President Donald Trump told Republican senators Tuesday that the House-passed health care bill he helped revive is “mean” and urged them to craft a version that is “more generous,” congressional sources said.

The president’s criticism, at a White House lunch with 15 GOP senators, also came as Senate Republican leaders’ attempts to write their own health care package have been slowed by disagreements between their party’s conservatives and moderates.

Trump’s characterizations seemed to undercut attempts by Senate leaders to assuage conservatives who want restrictions in their chamber’s bill, such as cutting the Medicaid health care program for the poor and limiting the services insurers must cover. Moderate GOP senators have been pushing to ease those restrictions.

One source said Trump called the House bill “mean, mean, mean” and said, “We need to be more generous, more kind.” The other source said Trump used a vulgarity to describe the House bill and told the senators, “We need to be more generous.”

Two other congressional GOP officials confirmed that the general descriptions of Trump’s words were accurate.

The sources say the president did not specify what aspects of the bill he was characterizing.

For those who insist that any unnamed source must not exist or lying, we can narrow the list of possible sources down to at least four of those 15 senators. And the notion of a quartet of GOP senators getting together and making up a false story about Trump trashing his own bill is implausible.

“Mean”? This was the bill that Trump celebrated at a victory party at the White House after the House passed it!

Above: Trump after the passage of the “mean” health care bill. Yesterday he metaphorically held up a different finger to the House GOP.

This is shooting your troops in the back after they’ve charged the hill for you. This president basically creates Democratic attack ads without even thinking.

“Americans won’t forget that @HouseGOP passed a ‘mean’ bill to rip healthcare from millions then celebrated @ the WH,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

You can’t help a president who won’t help himself. It’s his job to know what’s in the legislation that he’s urging lawmakers to pass. If he thought the bill’s provisions were “mean”, he should have said so before all of those efforts to pass it. It’s too late now; 217 Republican members of the House voted for this. They’re going to get attacked for that vote between now and November whether the legislation passes or not. “Congressman So-and-so voted to take away your health care” ads are coming soon to a television channel near you. Except now the Democrats can run ads saying, “even President Trump said the American Health Care Act was mean.” The only way to survive is to defend the bill, try to pass a Senate version, and enact health-care reform as quickly as possible so that any good effects kick in by November 2018.

Trump emulated Cortés and burned his ships… and then decided he wanted to sail back.

If Republicans lose control of the House in 2018, how much will it be because they followed Trump’s advice?

Check Your Executive Privilege!

Chuck Schumer: “If you had done nothing wrong, the obvious conclusion is you’d be happy to talk about things.”

That’s not how executive privilege works. This is not that hard to understand, but a lot of Democrats are pretending to not understand in order to advance a narrative that the president or attorney general are up to something nefarious.

Executive privilege covers conversations between the president and other officials in the executive branch. In United States vs. Nixon, the Supreme Court held unanimously that the president’s right to privacy in these conversations is not all-powerful; if the information is “evidence that is demonstrably relevant in a criminal trial,” it must be released. But we’re not there yet. No one is on trial for anything in the Russia investigation, Comey’s firing, or any controversy that has arisen out of that. At this point, it’s just that senators want to know, and legally, that’s not a good enough reason to overrule a claim of executive privilege.

Could Robert Mueller, the special counsel, someday convene a grand jury and ask for information about conversations that are now potentially covered by executive privilege? Yes, and depending upon the circumstances, there’s a good chance a judge would rule that the information needed to be released, depending upon how well Mueller or his team could prove the information was “demonstrably relevant” to criminal acts.

In the past, presidents have usually wanted to negotiate a release of some information but not all, giving a little ground in a show of good faith in order to preserve the privilege coverage of other documents or matters. (Right now, that doesn’t seem like the over-arching philosophy of the Trump White House.)

All of the Democratic senators griping about Sessions’s answers or non-answers should explain, if executive privilege does not cover the president and the attorney general discussing personnel matters — in the absence of those conversations being relevant to a criminal trial — then what is it for? Just what does it cover if not something like this? If the executive branch isn’t allowed to discuss who to hire and who to fire in confidentiality, then what’s left?

Our Andy McCarthy:

To be clear, the president’s decision not to assert his privilege in order to prevent the attorney general from appearing at the hearing is not a waiver of the privilege with respect to any individual question to which it may apply. And the attorney general’s refusal to answer any individual question is not an invocation of the privilege; it is a pause to enable the president to determine whether to waive the privilege. If the privilege is waived, then the attorney general will answer. And if senators want to advance the inquiry rather than create a misimpression of obstruction, they can submit the questions in writing ahead of time and ask whether the president will waive the privilege.

Of course, legal propriety has to be balanced against political accountability. It is important that Congress and the public be informed about any questions as to which the president is invoking executive privilege. But it is wrong to suggest that the attorney general is obstructing a congressional investigation by protecting a legitimate legal privilege.

Our Ian Tuttle summarizes yesterday well:

No doubt we will be hearing from Messrs. Manafort, Page, Flynn, et al. in the future, but it’s easy to see that there has been a decisive narrative shift: away from collusion, for which there seems to be little if any evidence, and toward obstruction. The latter is a very serious issue, too. But clearly the goalposts are moving.

Time for Virginia Republicans to Unite and Get to Work.

A grim outlook for Virginia Republicans in this year’s primaries:

In the closely watched Democratic race, Northam, the lieutenant governor, defeated former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello by 55.9 percent to 44.1 percent, ending Perriello’s bid to jump the Democratic establishment’s planned line of succession with a more ambitiously left-wing economic agenda.

Gillespie, the GOP favorite heading into the primary, prevailed in a surprisingly close contest with Corey Stewart, the Trump-style firebrand who is chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, received 43.71 percent of the vote, to 42.53 percent for Stewart and 13.75 percent for state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach.

Gillespie has to unite a divided party in a state trending from purple to blue; Virginia is one of the few states where Hillary Clinton performed better than Barack Obama. You’re going to hear a lot of out-of-state Republicans griping that northern Virginia is all a bunch of liberals and government employees. This is a bunch of whining and excuses. The right kind of Republican can win here; in 2009 Bob McDonnell won Fairfax, Loudon, and Prince William Counties, and in the attorney general’s race, Ken Cuccinelli, an indisputably conservative candidate, won 47 percent in Fairfax County.

Here’s the real problem: About 542,000 people voted in the Democratic primary, and only about 366,000 people voted in the Republican primary. Yes, it’s possible some Republicans crossed over (Virginia doesn’t register voters by party, so on primary day, you can vote in whichever party primary you choose). But it follows a plausible narrative that the Democratic grassroots are indeed fired up and the GOP grassroots have gotten somewhat complacent.

This is a surprisingly consistent pattern. In 1992, Democrat Bill Clinton won the presidency; the following year, George Allen won the governor’s race in Virginia, Christie Todd Whitman won the governor’s race in New Jersey, and Rudy Giuliani won the mayor’s race in New York City. In 1997, Clinton won reelection, and Republican Jim Gilmore won the Virginia governor’s race, and Whitman and Giuliani were reelected. In 2001, after George W. Bush won the presidency, Democrat Mark Warner won the Virginia governor’s race and Democrat Jim McGreevey won in New Jersey. (Mike Bloomberg won the New York City mayor’s race as a Republican, although it’s pretty clear he was a nontraditional Republican.) In 2004, Bush was reelected, and the following year Democrat Tim Kaine won in Virginia and Democrat Jon Corzine won in New Jersey. In 2008, Obama won the presidency, and Republicans Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Chris Christie of New Jersey won.

Last cycle broke the pattern a bit; Obama was reelected and Democrat Terry McAuliffe won the governor’s race, although the race was way narrower than polling suggested.

It worth noting that the wins in 1993, 2005, and 2009 all appeared, in retrospect, to be indicators of a big wave election in the following midterms.

ADDENDA: Because we could all use a little levity: “Mr. Attorney General, did you run into this man or this woman at the Mayflower Hotel? At any point did anyone discuss ‘moose and squirrel’ with you?”

Why Do We Have Executive Privilege?

by Jim Geraghty

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today, he may cite executive privilege to avoid answering certain questions. You can expect congressional Democrats and their allies in the media to scream bloody murder about this, and contend this is an inappropriate claim to this power.

Why do we have executive privilege?

It’s been invoked going all the way back to George Washington; President Dwight Eisenhower summarized it pretty simply: “Any man who testifies as to the advice he gave me won’t be working for me that night.” The theory behind this unique presidential power is simple: the president needs the best advice possible, and this means both the president and his advisers need to be able to speak to each other and discuss matters of state with confidentiality. Sometimes the right course of action is not the popular one; those who speak to the president may not want their actual perspective revealed to the public.

I made this point earlier when Trump tweeted about the possibility of a White House taping system of his recordings, and quite a few Trump fans insisted there was something inherently dishonest about having different public and private positions. But the world is full of ideas that may be good but are not popular: entitlement reform, benefits cuts, the decision to go to war or not go to war. (If the vote to authorize military action in Iraq had been anonymous, would many Democratic senators have voted for it? Wasn’t one of their key concerns the fear that they would look cowardly?)

A president and his team need to deliberate and sort through many options when it comes to big decisions. (This is why the stream of leaks from the White House is so damaging; how would you like to offer an idea in confidence in an Oval Office meeting only to read about it in the Washington Post the next day?) The legal tradition of executive privilege asserts that the public can and must know a great deal about how its government reaches decisions, but that the internal workings of the White House must be kept private in order for the executive branch to run smoothly.

Executive privilege is not absolute; the Supreme Court held, 8-0, in 1974 that executive privilege didn’t cover Nixon’s White House tapes and other subpoenaed material, ruling “the allowance of the privilege to withhold evidence that is demonstrably relevant in a criminal trial would cut deeply into the guarantee of due process of law and gravely impair the basic function of the courts.” Democrats will probably argue that Sessions invoking executive privilege today violates this ruling, except no one has been indicted yet and no one is under criminal trial. At that point, the issue of executive privilege will be revisited.

Most legal minds contend that the claim of executive privilege wouldn’t have applied to James Comey’s private memos that included his notes of his conversations with the president, as long as those memos did not contain classified information. Step away from how you feel about this particular president, and one starts to wonder whether perhaps executive privilege should have applied to those notes. On the one hand, you don’t want to unduly limit the First Amendment rights of those who work in the executive branch; if a former employee leaves government work and wants to lay out why he thinks the president is wrong, he should be free to do so.

On the other hand, presidents have the right and reason to think that their conversations in the Oval Office with staff are private until they authorize discussing them. You don’t want every president going though every high-stakes discussion wondering how he’s going to come across in the memoirs of every person sitting in the room. We as Americans want the deliberations around the president to be as candid and honest as possible, and the Comey Maneuver — keeping detailed, non-classified private notes to be leaked when convenient — is like an acid eating away at the trust within the executive branch. If the day comes when everybody does what Comey does, then executive privilege won’t mean anything.

Remember, just a few years ago, Ruth Marcus and Bob Schieffer argued that Robert Gates was kneecapping the President Obama by releasing his memoirs during the Obama presidency and laying out his disagreements:

MARCUS: Well, I wrote a little bit about loyalty and one of my big concerns, and look, all of us in the news gathering business love inside information so it’s a little churlish of us to be criticizing people who give us inside information. That said, I do think particularly with Secretary Gates a Republican brought into Democratic administration not in a sideline position, but in a really critical policy making job. To then turn around and write his memoirs while the president is still in office, really, if I were a president selecting a cabinet in the future, would give me pause about selecting somebody from the opposite party. Loyalty is an under appreciated virtue in Washington these days.

SCHIEFFER: I tell you what I found interesting about it. Much of the criticism that Mr. Gates made, I happen to agree with. But I thought making the criticism at this point while the president is still a sitting president, I was very surprised that Bob Gates did that. Because either you talk about loyalty, I think there’s a certain loyalty to the presidency. And I think when you make it harder for a president while he is still in office I think — I have problems with that. If he’d have said it after the president left office but maybe he thought it was important enough that it ought to be said now and obviously he did.

It may be fair to argue that if you really don’t want to work for a president, resign. Don’t hang around just so you can collect anecdotes and stories to portray that president in an unflattering light later.

Why Does NBC News Think We Need to Hear More from Alex Jones?

The only time I’ve encountered Alex Jones in person was at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where he walked through the media building with his own camera crew and easily a dozen, maybe 20 reporters, gawkers, and hangers-on recording him with their cell phones. As he walked through, staring at the cameraman in front of him, he was screaming at the top of his lungs some sort of unhinged rant. His words were barely understandable; it was just a spittle-flying, eye-bulging, red-faced gobbledygook tirade coming quickly and going quickly like a passing freight train.

In my circles, a semi-hot topic of debate is whether Jones is genuinely cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs or whether this is performance art, some sort of long-lost idea from Andy Kaufman’s dream journal. The persona is as if someone decided to merge Art Bell’s elaborate conspiracy theories and the old militia movement of the 1990s and put them in Crazy Eddie after snorting more cocaine than Tony Montana.

For what it’s worth, back in April, Jones’s lawyer argued that this is all an act:

At a recent pretrial hearing, attorney Randall Wilhite told state District Judge Orlinda Naranjo that using his client Alex Jones’ on-air Infowars persona to evaluate Alex Jones as a father would be like judging Jack Nicholson in a custody dispute based on his performance as the Joker in Batman.

“He’s playing a character,” Wilhite said of Jones. “He is a performance artist.”

But then Jones took the stand and denied that he considers himself a performance artist. For what it’s worth, Jones’s ex-wife contends that what you see is what you get; she argued during the custody battle that her ex-husband’s off-screen persona was indistinguishable from his unhinged on-camera one.

In fact, if Jones is genuinely mad or mentally ill, it should make us all uncomfortable that instead of getting him the help he needs, our society elevated him to the status of celebrity, guru, prophet, and sideshow freak. Whatever Alex Jones’s true nature is, I don’t particularly care enough to investigate further. Once you’ve chosen to do a wide-eyed, enraged segment about how “gay bombs” were used in Iraq and are in tap water and how chemicals in the water are turning frogs gay, I feel comfortable that I’ve heard enough to draw a conclusion.

But not Megyn Kelly, settling in at NBC News. No, for her second show, she feels you and the rest of the American news audience need to hear Jones talk more about his theory that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax.

I don’t feel the need for an in-depth interview with the crazy guy on the corner who’s yelling that his dog was a co-conspirator with Squeaky Fromme and aliens. What are we going to learn from another lengthy interview with Jones? That he believes some nutty things? That he’s willing to assert something outrageous, something that must be grievously painful for any of the families of those children slain at Sandy Hook? That he’s shameless? That there’s really nothing he won’t say, and that he voraciously devours controversy and denunciation as sustenance? That the only thing he truly fears is people not listening?

What is the NBC News justification for this? “You won’t believe what Alex Jones is saying now!”? Trust us, we will. This is like saying we absolutely have to hear the latest diatribe from Charlie Sheen. Thanks, I’ll pass, I think I get the general gist. Something something Vatican Warlock something something “winning.”

I thought the first three letters in “news” were NEW.

This isn’t censorship; this is just slapping around some awful news judgment. More than anything else in the world, Alex Jones wants attention. And Megyn Kelly seems awfully eager to give it to him.

When pushed, Kelly responded that the news value was the fact that President Trump has “been on & praises Alex Jones’ show. He’s giving Infowars a White House press credential. Many don’t know him; our job is to shine a light.”

Eh, doesn’t Alex Jones seem pretty well-lit as is? “Many don’t know him”? Some of us are envious of that state.

Monday evening, Jones flipped out — well, again — and demanded Kelly not air the interview he had just taped. For what it’s worth — which is not much — he claimed Kelly said the piece would be “really just a profile on you” and that Sandy Hook and Pizzagate would not be the focus of the interview.

Whether or not she gave those assurances… what did she expect to learn when she sat down with Alex Jones? What did she think she was going to bring her viewers that they didn’t already know?

ADDENDA: Nothing I write today will be as shocking as this revelation from Jay Nordlinger: Former NBA star Dennis Rodman has been a genuinely useful source of information about North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un.

Wait, All of a Sudden, Partisan Redistricting Is Unconstitutional? Now?

by Jim Geraghty

Jim’s Note: You might have noticed that we’ve rolled out a new template today for The Jolt and our other NR newsletters. We hope it provides a better user experience, but if you have any comments, you can direct them to Russ Jenkins at [email protected].

Not everything we dislike in this world violates the Constitution. Or at least, there used to be a separation between the merely annoying or disagreeable and the unconstitutional. But now the Supreme Court is asked to weigh in on everything — including whether it’s fair that Democratic-leaning voters cluster closely together in urban legislative districts.

The Supreme Court has regularly — and increasingly — tossed out state electoral maps because they have been gerrymandered to reduce the influence of racial minorities by depressing the impact of their votes.

But the justices have never found a plan unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering — when a majority party draws the state’s electoral districts to give such an advantage to its candidates that it dilutes the votes of those supporting the other party.

A divided panel of three judges in Wisconsin, though, decided just that in November. It became the first federal court in three decades to find that a redistricting plan violated the Constitution’s First Amendment and equal rights protections because of partisan gerrymandering.

The Supreme Court could announce as soon as Monday that it is either affirming or reversing the lower court’s decision, or, more likely, accepting the case for full briefing and arguments in the term that begins in the fall.

As Wisconsin Republicans point out, if their redistricting model is unconstitutional, so it that of about one third of the states. I suppose we should give one Democrat leading this effort a little credit for self-awareness:

Schultz’s Democratic partner in the Fair Elections Project, former state senator Tim Cullen, added that he constantly hears from audiences that if his party had been in charge of the process, it would have done the same thing Republicans did.

“And, of course, the answer to that is Democrats probably would have done the same thing. But that doesn’t make it right,” he said.

How quickly we forget: Careful redrawing of district lines to maximize a political advantage was a big part of launching the career of Barack Obama:

Like every other Democratic legislator who entered the inner sanctum, Obama began working on his “ideal map.” Corrigan remembers two things about the district that he and Obama drew. First, it retained Obama’s Hyde Park base — he had managed to beat Rush in Hyde Park — then swooped upward along the lakefront and toward downtown. By the end of the final redistricting process, his new district bore little resemblance to his old one. Rather than jutting far to the west, like a long thin dagger, into a swath of poor black neighborhoods of bungalow homes, Obama’s map now shot north, encompassing about half of the Loop, whose southern portion was beginning to be transformed by developers like Tony Rezko, and stretched far up Michigan Avenue and into the Gold Coast, covering much of the city’s economic heart, its main retail thoroughfares, and its finest museums, parks, skyscrapers, and lakefront apartment buildings. African-Americans still were a majority, and the map contained some of the poorest sections of Chicago, but Obama’s new district was wealthier, whiter, more Jewish, less blue-collar, and better educated. It also included one of the highest concentrations of Republicans in Chicago.

“It was a radical change,” Corrigan said. The new district was a natural fit for the candidate that Obama was in the process of becoming. “He saw that when we were doing fund-raisers in the Rush campaign his appeal to, quite frankly, young white professionals was dramatic.”

Obama’s retired and doesn’t need this practice anymore, so I guess we can ban this now.

The Outlook on the Seemingly Eternal Georgia Special House Election Runoff

I spoke with Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, about a variety of topics Friday but perhaps the most interesting comment was his assessment of the runoff election in Georgia’s sixth congressional district, now officially the most expensive House race in American history and eight days away from completion.

“The race is effectively tied, a jump ball,” Reed said, noting that one poll had Democrat Jon Ossoff ahead by seven points and another had Republican Karen Handel ahead by two, and adding he didn’t have reason to think one poll was more accurate than another.

One of the reasons that the race as grown so expensive is that this is a high-stakes race where the runoff is well into its second month. Republicans have controlled the seat for nearly four decades, but Ossoff fell just short of winning the 50 percent necessary to avoid the runoff on April 18. More than 75,000 early votes have been cast in the runoff so far; that’s ahead of the roughly 55,000 early ballots cast in the first round. That may reflect voter exhaustion with the runoff, as the television advertising has been relentless.

Reed said that his organization aims to contact roughly 100,000 voters in the district — twice by mail and three times by phone, and by the time the runoff is done, they expect to have knocked on 22,000 doors. The Faith and Freedom Coalition will also disperse 100,000 voter guides to churches in the district.

“It’s not Trump country,” Reed said of the district overall. “North Fulton, that’s our sweet spot: mega-churches, strip malls, and office towers. If we get our 100,000 voters out, we’re fine. The Left is coming; the question is, do our voters come out?”

After such an intense air war, there’s no harm in bringing in Vice President Mike Pence and using other national GOP figures in the closing days to hammer home the Handel campaign messages. “The race is nationalized at this point,” Reed said.

Reed said he doesn’t think the runoff is a useful measuring stick for the 2018 midterms. “Unless you can recreate $30 million in spending in each district, it’s hard to replicate,” Reed said, and the open-seat dynamic won’t be in place for most of the House races in 2018. “If Republicans had [the previous longtime incumbent] Tom Price running, the race would not be competitive.”

Still, Reed was far from guaranteeing a victory for Handel. “Ossoff, he’s a very good candidate — he’s done well in the debates and stays on message,” Reed said. “No matter what the polls say, you should always run like you’re behind. We are today where the Democrats were in 2009 and 2010” — meaning that the opposition party, suddenly finding itself with no control of anything in Washington, is fired up and the majority party is in danger of complacency.

Sunday Liam Donovan made a related point: Ossoff is running strong in part because his central message is attacking both parties on “wasteful spending” — something I would contend is pretty conservative argument. Will Democrats accept their House members running on a message like this in 2018? Can the average Democratic challenger win a primary with a message like that when the party’s grassroots are full of anti-Trump fury?

Today on NRO, Blake Seitz writes, “Any Democrat [who] is polling ahead of a Republican in this slice of suburbia should be a firebell in the night for establishment-GOP leaders. Having been reduced to rubble during the Obama years, Democrats are reemerging in unexpected places. The cracks of a populist–cosmopolitan split with national implications may be widening in the suburbs.”

Ask Not for Whom the Sponsor Boycott Tolls, It Tolls for Thee

Remember those attempts to organize boycotts against conservative talk-show hosts? You think folks on the left are going to regret this approach?

Kathy Griffin lost her endorsement deals, including her gig of offering off-color and hideously unfunny antics on New Year’s Eve with Anderson Cooper on CNN. The network also cut ties with Reza Aslan, an Iranian-American scholar who was the host of the network’s weekly show Believer, after he offered a series of profane Tweets about Trump.

The advice about Twitter applies to the president and his critics as well. Not every thought needs to be expressed to the world. Everybody gets mad, just about everybody fumes and lashes out and says things they regret; it’s just that now with modern technology, our angriest, most impulsive thoughts can be communicated to the world, instantly. Self-control is the new coin of the realm.

In other Trump-critic news, it turns out that corporate America is increasingly wary of associating itself with assassination chic.

New York’s Public Theater lost support from two high-profile corporate donors, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, on Sunday amid intense criticism of its production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which depicts the assassination of a Trump-like Roman ruler.

The companies’ decisions came after days of criticism online and in right-leaning media outlets that was amplified by Donald Trump Jr., a son of the president, who appeared to call into question the theater’s funding sources on Twitter on Sunday morning.

“No matter what your political stance may be, the graphic staging of Julius Caesar at this summer’s Free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect Delta Air Lines’ values,” the company said in a statement on Sunday night.

“Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste,” the company said. “We have notified them of our decision to end our sponsorship as the official airline of the Public Theater effective immediately.”

Bank of America followed hours later, saying it would withdraw financial support from the production of Julius Caesar but would not end its financial relationship with the theater, which a spokeswoman, Susan Atran, said had lasted for 11 years.

“The Public Theater chose to present Julius Caesar in a way that was intended to provoke and offend,” Ms. Atran said. “Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it. We are withdrawing our funding for this production.”

Is metaphor not good enough anymore? Is it too much to ask that a theater just present a Shakespearean play about an ancient ruler and just let the audience draw their own comparisons to the rulers of today?

Or is perhaps one of the problems the fact that no one remembers the play? Caesar is a returning conquering hero well-known for his concern for the least fortunate, he turns down the offer of the crown three times, and the conspirators decide to assassinate him as a preemptive measure, not as a response to any terrible acts committed by Caesar himself.

Aren’t there other, clearer villains in Shakespeare that more accurately fit Trump in the minds of his critics? King Lear? Richard III? MacBeth? (He doesn’t really have a Lady MacBeth figure in his life, though.)

ADDENDA: National Review lost one of its own Friday, Alex Batey. Jack Fowler offers a tribute and Rich Lowry adds his own memories to the portrait. When you lose someone without warning, and out of the blue… it’s a good reminder to tell your loved ones that you love them. As the most philosophical one-liner in the history of SportsCenter declared, “he’s listed as day-to-day, but then again, aren’t we all?”

For those who can view CNN International, I’ll be on State of America with Kate Bolduan today at 2:30 Eastern.

What We Learned from Comey Thursday

by Jim Geraghty

Among certain Democrats, there is a certain faith that at some point in the not-too-distant future, some government entity will unveil smoking-gun evidence that Donald Trump and his campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 elections. Not everyone who buys into this is as far out there as, say, Louise Mensch, who was last seen insisting that Vladimir Putin was the true force behind last weekend’s London stabbing attacks. The thinking is that at some point, the FBI, or the NSA, or one of the congressional committees investigating will dramatically unveil Trump or someone in his campaign saying to the Russian government something along the lines of, “You help us win the election, we’ll get rid of the sanctions.”

But Thursday we learned that as of May 9, the day James Comey was fired, President Trump was never under investigation by the FBI. (As Senator Marco Rubio pointed out, this is the one piece of information about the FBI investigation into Russia that somehow never leaked. It is hard to believe that the leakers’ decision to withhold the most exculpatory fact is a coincidence.)

Think about it, between Election Day and May 9, that’s a good six months of the FBI digging into Russia’s attempts to influence the election. Is it that the evidence connecting Russia to Trump is proving particularly difficult to find, or is it that the evidence just doesn’t exist?

This is what had MSNBC’s Chris Matthews so surprised — and, we can suspect, disappointed — after the morning’s testimony.

The big story has always been the assumption of the critics of the president — of his pursuers, you might say — is that somewhere along the line in the last year, the president had something to do with colluding with the Russians. Something to do, a helping hand, encouraging them feeding their desire, to affect the election in some way. Some role they played, some conversation he had with Michael Flynn, or Paul Manafort, or somewhere. What came apart this morning was that theory . . . the president said according to the written testimony of Mr. Comey, ‘go ahead and get anybody satellite to my operation and nail them, I’m with you on that,’ so that would mean Manafort, Carter Page, someone like that.

President Trump’s decision-making is rarely predictable, but even by his standards, it would be really strange to see a president encouraging the investigation of a co-conspirator who knew incriminating information about him.

Matthews continued, “And then he also came across today, what was fascinating, Comey said that basically Flynn wasn’t central to the Russian investigation.”

Matthews is referring to this exchange:

Sen. Angus King, Maine: Back to Mr. Flynn, would the — would closing out the Flynn investigation have impeded the overall Russian investigation?

Comey: No. Well, unlikely, except to the extent — there’s always a possibility, if you have a criminal case against someone and you bring in and squeeze them, you flip them, and they give you information about something else. But I saw the two as touching each other, but separate.

Of course, this could all end with indictments for individuals like Flynn that are unrelated to the 2016 election. As Comey put it, “in any complex investigation, when you start turning over rocks, sometimes you find things that are unrelated to the primary investigation, that are criminal in nature.”

But Trump foes didn’t gather in bars yesterday in excitement and full of hope that this all ends in Flynn and/or Manafort and/or Page getting nailed on failure to file the proper foreign-agent registration and compensation paperwork. They’re hoping this all ends in impeachment. Much to their surprise, they ended the day further from that goal than when they started.

Also unforeseen yesterday was how Comey would, out of the blue, paint an unflattering light of Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

At one point, the attorney general had directed me not to call it an investigation, but instead to call it a “matter,” which confused me and concerned me.

But that was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude, I have to step away from the [Justice] Department if we’re to close this case credibly.

I’m sorry, I thought the “I” in FBI stood for “Investigation.” For what it’s worth,  “a person close to her who requested anonymity” told the New York Times that “the bland term was intended to neither confirm nor deny that the investigation existed.” Except the investigation did exist, and it appeared that Lynch thought it was important that the public not be informed that such an investigation existed.

Despite all this, Thursday wasn’t a good day for President Trump. Comey painted an ugly portrait of the president as flagrantly and shamelessly dishonest, oblivious to traditional limits on presidential power, obsessed with personal loyalty to him, having no regard for the independence of law enforcement and the justice system, petty, micromanaging, erratic, mercurial, and vindictive. This description of Trump is undoubtedly shocking to all of the Americans who were in comas for the entirety of the 2016 election.

Theresa: Mayday! A Bad Night for the Subprime Minister . . . 

What a disaster for the UK Conservative party.

Theresa May will form a minority Government to deliver Brexit in the wake of a disastrous election night for the Conservatives which left the UK with a hung parliament.

Mrs May failed to secure the 326 seats she needed to form another majority government and will now seek to stay in power with the informal backing of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Our Charlie Cooke argues that after steering her party onto the rocks, there’s little reason for May to remain Prime Minister:

What, I wonder, is the case for her staying on? Having become prime minister solely because the last one resigned, she can hardly claim to be indispensable; she was not, let’s say, the obvious or much-desired choice. Having made this campaign about herself and then so spectacularly blown it, she cannot claim a mandate from the people. And, having materially diminished herself, her party, and the prospects for Brexit, she cannot credibly sell herself as a “steady” or “wise” hand. Yes, if she resigns, things will be even more dramatic, and the Brexit negotiations may have to be delayed a few weeks. But what is worse: A month or so of turmoil, or Britain’s sending into battle a mortally wounded emissary? May’s whole pitch was “give me your proxy.” The British people declined to do so. How she can stay is beyond me.

Labour gained 31 seats, running Jeremy Corbyn, who makes Bernie Sanders look like Ronald Reagan.

NSA Employee: ‘I Want to Burn the White House Down’

Dear National Security Agency . . . if somebody like Reality Winner got through your interview process, who the heck are you not hiring? What, did Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi turn down a job offer because he didn’t like the dental plan?

The government claimed that they had found handwritten notes during a search at Winner’s home which appeared to sympathize with Osama bin Laden and other terrorists.

Authorities claim another handwritten statement found during a search of Winner’s home allegedly read: ‘I want to burn the White House down and go live in Kurdistan.’

Prosecutors said in recorded jailhouse calls that Winner told her mother how to play her side of the story in the media.

Winner’s notes allegedly contained sympathetic statements on Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, and referenced going to live in a number of countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Mexico. Solari said that Winner had taken a three-day trip to Belize last month and had researched travelling from Atlanta to Tel Aviv in September 2017.

Solari also said that in recorded conversations from jail, Winner had told her mother to ‘play that angle’ with the press that she had been afraid for her life when FBI agents arrested her at her home. In a separate call she also told her sister that she would ‘go out and play the cute, blonde white girl. Braid my hair, going to cry.’

In another recorded call, she reportedly said: ‘Go nuclear with the press — because that’s how Manning got out’ apparently in reference to the recent release of military intelligence leaker, Chelsea Manning.

Nice going with that sentence commutation, Mr. President. Now every NSA employee with an ego and a grudge is going to run that playbook.

ADDENDA: That former NSA employee leaked a report that the Russian military targeted a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing e-mails to more than 100 local election officials.

As you hear these sorts of reports, fanning the flames of the “Russia hacked the election!” narrative, ask yourself . . . where was our government? Where was the Obama administration?

Oh: “Neither former President Barack Obama nor any member of his cabinet warned state election officials of any Russian effort to hack or interfere with the country’s electoral systems, according to the president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.”

Look at What We Learn Once We Have an On-The-Record Source!

by Jim Geraghty

Go figure. James Comey really did tell Trump three times that he wasn’t under investigation.

Earlier this week, ABC News had reported, “Although Comey has told associates he will not accuse the president of obstructing justice, he will dispute the president’s contention that Comey told him three times he is not under investigation.”

Er, no, in fact, Comey’s testimony will affirm that claim from Trump in his statement about the FBI Director’s dismissal.

January 6:

Prior to the January 6 meeting, I discussed with the FBI’s leadership team whether I should be prepared to assure President-Elect Trump that we were not investigating him personally. That was true; we did not have an open counter-intelligence case on him… During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President Elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance.

January 27:

During the dinner, the President returned to the salacious material I had briefed him about on January 6, and, as he had done previously, expressed his disgust for the allegations and strongly denied them. He said he was considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn’t happen. I replied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren’t, and because it was very difficult to prove a negative. He said he would think about it and asked me to think about it.

March 30:

I explained that we had briefed the leadership of Congress on exactly which individuals we were investigating and that we had told those Congressional leaders that we were not personally investigating President Trump. I reminded him I had previously told him that. He repeatedly told me, “We need to get that fact out.” (I did not tell the President that the FBI and the Department of Justice had been reluctant to make public statements that we did not have an open case on President Trump for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct, should that change.)

In other words, if at some point in the investigation the FBI did find something that related directly to Trump’s actions, Comey could find himself in a situation like the one he had during the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server. That case was closed… and then once they found those e-mails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop, Comey had no choice but to reopen it because of the discovery of new evidence that had to be reviewed. He also had no choice but to notify Congress… and then the “Hillary under investigation by the FBI” story started up again.

This probably ought to throw some more cold water on the crowd that expects impeachment to come down the pike because of Trump colluding with the Russians. At least as of the end of March, Comey had seen nothing to indicate Trump had committed crimes.

While this exchange still has the president making comments that most observers of law enforcement and the presidency will cringe at and declare inappropriate, it’s not hard to understand Trump’s perspective. He’s being told by the head of the FBI that he’s not under investigation, and yet the media coverage and buzz around Washington keeps implying he is. Trump wants Comey to publicly declare that Trump’s not under investigation, and Comey’s reluctant because he cannot predict what new evidence will end up on his desk tomorrow.

John Podhoretz asks a fair query: “The question: Why wouldn’t Comey say Trump wasn’t under investigation? Because he might be later? That makes no sense. We all might be later.”

In Comey’s written account, even the president’s comments about Mike Flynn seem somewhat understandable. Trump never says anything so explicit as an instruction to shut down the investigation. It’s just praise and a qualified defense for Flynn and an expression of a desired outcome.

The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go.”

The President returned briefly to the problem of leaks. I then got up and left out the door by the grandfather clock, making my way through the large group of people waiting there, including Mr. Priebus and the Vice President.

I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.

Inappropriate? Yes. Obstruction? Hardly. What you’re seeing is behavior that is ugly and unpresidential, but not criminal — but that probably won’t be enough for Democrats.

The boss: “In short, this isn’t much of a bombshell and is going to be a very thin reed to try to build an obstruction case on.”

David French:

Overall, one gets the impression that the president views himself less as the president of a constitutional republic and more as the dictatorial CEO of a private company. This is understandable, given his long experience in the private sector, but it’s unsustainable. President Trump has to better understand not just the separation of powers but also the constitutional and legal obligations of governance, or the turmoil surrounding Comey’s termination will be but the first of a series of controversies that could well shake his presidency to its foundation.

Dan McLaughin:

The narrative the Democrats desperately want is that Trump is under FBI investigation for criminal activity that invalidates the 2016 election, and has committed impeachable offenses. The facts they actually have are a lot less sexy: a president who wouldn’t respect the FBI’s independence and couldn’t understand why the FBI Director couldn’t publicly exonerate him when he wasn’t under investigation. But those facts are ugly enough in what they say about Trump’s ability to run a government that inspires confidence in the impartial administration of justice.

When You Do It, It’s ‘Greed,’ When They Do It, It’s ‘Financially Ambitious’

Over on the home page, I point out that the politicians who most frequently denounce that they perceive as others’ “greed” think nothing of taking high six-figure or seven-figure sums to write books.

According to his latest U.S. Senate financial-disclosure forms, Bernie Sanders made more than $1 million in 2016. The vast bulk of Sanders’s earnings came from advances from publishers and book royalties: He received $795,000 in payment for Our Revolution, which hit number three on the New York Times Best Sellers list. He was paid $63,750 for his forthcoming Bernie Sanders’ Guide to Political Revolution, and made $6,735 in royalties from sales of his 1997 memoir Outsider in the House

For a moment, put aside the question of how many politicians write their own books, or use a ghostwriter. Do any of them ever feel any guilt about accepting a fortune for the relatively mild labor of committing words to paper? Do any of them ever say to their publisher, “You know, I don’t think I really deserve this. You should pay me less money”?

Let it be known far and wide that I support enormous payments to book authors, out of principle and naked self-interest. But Sanders, Clinton, Obama, and Cuomo have suggested that wanting too much money for your labor hurts the country as a whole.

Obama said in a 2010 speech, “I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” One wonders if Penguin Random House representatives were tempted to quote this back to the Obamas’ agent at any point during negotiations about the Obamas’ advance.

Are professional athletes greedy and overpaid? They’ve spent their entire formative years working on one skill, can get cut at any time, and they’re just one torn ACL away from their playing days suddenly ending. Are Hollywood actors overpaid? Well, aren’t they what separates big-release, heavily hyped hits from the direct-to-video films? Are rock stars overpaid? How much would you pay to attend a concert of a cover band compared to the real thing?

In a world with so much uncertainty, why shouldn’t anyone creating a good or perform a service seek out the highest compensation possible?

In other words, if these Democratic politicians can justify their own desire to make a lot money… why do they demonize other people who do the same thing?

ADDENDA: The polls close in the United Kingdom at 10 p.m. local, 5 p.m. Eastern time. Our friend Andrew Stuttaford offers some final thoughts here, finding Theresa May at times disappointing, but concluding that for “far-left Jeremy Corbyn, it remains a disgrace that he has come as close to 10 Downing Street as he has.”

A Wray of Sunshine During a Challenging Time for the FBI

by Jim Geraghty

A Wray of Sunshine During a Challenging Time for the FBI

Big news from President Trump today: “I will be nominating Christopher A. Wray, a man of impeccable credentials, to be the new Director of the FBI. Details to follow.”

Meet the new nominee:

He graduated from Yale University in 1989 and received his law degree from Yale Law School in 1992. He then clerked for Judge J. Michael Luttig of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In 1993, Mr. Wray started working in private practice in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1997, he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia. In 2001, he served at Main Justice as an Associate Deputy Attorney General and, later, as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General. In 2003, Mr. Wray was nominated by President George W. Bush as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division. He served in that position until 2005.

From his private-practice biography:

Christopher Wray is a litigation partner in the firm’s Washington, D.C., and Atlanta offices. Mr. Wray chairs the King & Spalding Special Matters and Government Investigations Practice Group, which represents companies, audit and special committees, and individuals in a variety of white-collar criminal and regulatory enforcement matters, parallel civil litigation, and internal corporate investigations. The group has been twice recognized by Law360 as “White-Collar Group of the Year” and described as “the premier firm in this practice area” by the U.S. News & World Report/Best Lawyers’ “Best Law Firms” survey.

As the Criminal Division’s head, Mr. Wray led investigations, prosecutions, and policy development in nearly all areas of federal criminal law, including securities fraud, healthcare fraud, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and trade sanctions violations, bank secrecy and money laundering offenses, public corruption, intellectual property piracy and cybercrime, and RICO. Mr. Wray was also integral to the DOJ’s response to the 9/11 attacks and played a key role in the oversight of legal and operational actions in the continuing war on terrorism. At the conclusion of his tenure in 2005, Mr. Wray received the Edmund J. Randolph Award, the Department’s highest award for public service and leadership.

One of Wray’s most recent jobs? Defending Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey in connection with investigations relating to the George Washington Bridge toll-lane closings.

Can Trump Really Be Fed Up with Sessions after Just Four Months?

This story is deeply troubling — assuming it is true; wariness about unnamed sources is understandable.

President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have had a series of heated exchanges in the last several weeks after Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, a source close to Sessions told CNN Tuesday.

A senior administration official said that at one point, Sessions expressed he would be willing to resign if Trump no longer wanted him there.

Tuesday afternoon, White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to say whether Trump has confidence in Sessions.

“I have not had a discussion with him about that,” Spicer said.

As of 9 p.m. ET Tuesday, the White House still was unable to say whether or not the President backs his attorney general, a White House official said. The official said they wanted to avoid a repeat of what happened when Kellyanne Conway said Trump had confidence in Flynn only to find out hours later that the national security adviser had been pushed out.

Remember that huge confirmation fight over Sessions? That was four months ago! What’s the point of going through all that trouble if Trump is going to get into a fight with his attorney general and want to get rid of him by June? Yesterday, I mentioned that there are only three people nominated by Trump working in the Department of Justice. Do you think Trump will be better off with only two? And if Trump has this much friction with Sessions, one of his earliest and most enthusiastic supporters, who’s out there who he’s going to work with better?

If Trump did ditch Sessions, how long would it take for him to find a replacement?

Remember at the end of May, when communications director Mike Dubke resigned? Sean Spicer is filling that job and the press secretary job . . . but of course, we’ve heard a lot of rumors that Trump has contemplated firing Spicer, too.

Remember all the reports back in April that Trump was considering getting rid of both Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon?

There’s one argument of management that says you shouldn’t get rid of someone until you have a good plan to replace them or at least have someone else who can temporarily handle their duties.

Michael Dubke, the White House communications director, said he would step down, but four possible successors contacted by the White House declined to be considered, according to an associate of Mr. Trump who like others asked not to be identified discussing internal matters [my emphasis].

Is it any wonder this White House is having a hard time attracting people?

We discussed how Trump tweets out messages that directly contradict the arguments of his lawyers. He gave Spicer an hour’s warning about the decision to fire Comey. He didn’t even fire Comey face-to-face. And it’s Trump who apparently fumes that his staff is “incompetent.”

Speaking of Comey . . . 

Presuming Comey’s testimony before Congress takes this course, doesn’t this take the steam out of the “impeach Trump over obstruction of justice” argument? Isn’t it safe to assume that the director of the FBI would recognize obstruction of justice when he saw it? What, are Democrats going to argue that Trump obstructed justice with Comey and the FBI director just didn’t notice?

There will be much in former FBI Director James Comey’s upcoming congressional testimony that will make the White House uncomfortable, but he will stop short of saying the president interfered with the agency’s probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a source familiar with Comey’s thinking told ABC News.

Although Comey has told associates he will not accuse the president of obstructing justice, he will dispute the president’s contention that Comey told him three times he is not under investigation.

Well, duh. Did anyone actually believe that?

The president allegedly said he hoped Comey would drop the Flynn investigation, a request that concerned Comey enough that he documented the conversation in a memo shortly after speaking with the president. In the memo, according to sources close to Comey who reviewed it, Trump said: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” during a February meeting.

The request made Comey uncomfortable, but the source tells ABC News that Comey has told associates he will not accuse the president of obstructing justice.

It’s not particularly wise or comfortable for a president to say out loud to the FBI director, I hope this doesn’t lead to a recommendation of an indictment. But it’s not quite criminal, either. As our Andy McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney, observed:

In this instance, moreover, Trump’s exertion of pressure was relatively mild: He did not deny Comey the freedom to exercise his own judgment; the president expressed hope that Comey’s judgment would be exercised in Flynn’s favor. Any of us who has ever had an overbearing boss is familiar with this kind of prodding. It can be unpleasant, even anxiety-inducing. But Comey is a big boy, he has a history of not being intimidated by presidents, and what we’re talking about here is not exactly the rack.

This is no doubt why Comey did not resign, and did not report to the Justice Department, his FBI staff, or Congress, that he had witnessed — indeed, been the victim in a sense — of an obstruction of an FBI investigation . . . 

To constitute an obstruction offense, the administration of law has to be impeded with a corrupt state of mind. Your disagreement with an exercise of discretion does not turn it into corruption. It may be a lapse in judgment, even a serious lapse; but that doesn’t make it a crime.

ADDENDA: A well-written point from Michael Brendan Doughterty, one of our new guys:

There is a deeper reason why so many in the media reach for car accidents and lightning bolts and other disasters that have no moral content. They know that deep down they really don’t share a society with the Islamic extremists. Their fellow citizenship exists only on paper, not as a social reality, and it gives them no authority to speak into that subculture, nor any hope of using their public platforms to reason with its members. They have admitted by this evasion the very fact that they wish no one to acknowledge: that these fellow citizens are alien to us.

At What Point Is Islamist Rhetoric a Crime?

by Jim Geraghty

No matter how bad your day goes today, you can always feel like a real winner… compared of course, to Reality Winner.

At What Point Is Islamist Rhetoric a Crime?

From a new report by Professor Peter Neumann & Dr. Shiraz Maher, King’s College London, commissioned by the BBC:

The Internet plays an important role in terms of disseminating information and building the brand of organisations such as [ISIS], but it is rarely sufficient in replacing the potency and charm of a real-world recruiter. Perhaps more than any other radical cluster, the network around [British extremist Anjem] Choudary has been linked to scores of attacks, both at home and abroad, and dozens of foreign fighters joining IS in Syria.

In September 2016, Choudary was sentenced to five years and six months in prison for his support for ISIS.

Yesterday on Twitter, Sam Hooper gave me a little grief — perhaps deserved — for my comments on the day’s Three Martini Lunch podcast generally supportive of U.K. prime minister Theresa May’s proposal of new measures in response to the recent Islamist terror attacks.

Hooper asked, “should someone be arrested for saying ‘I want to overthrow the U.S. government and establish an Islamic state?” Not for actually doing it, mind you, but merely for saying the words. Are saying those words aloud a crime? If so, aren’t we getting unnervingly close to the concept of “Thought Crimes”?

It’s fair to ask that question; it’s entirely possible that my perspective on terrorism right now is emotionally clouded by the thought of those ten children, and 22 people overall, who went to an Ariana Grande concert one night and never came home. Indeed, it would be odd and unnerving and inconsistent with our traditions of free expression to arrest and imprison someone for the mere expression of the thought.

(On the other hand, if you’re going to have a hate-crime law the way the United Kingdom does, it’s pretty ridiculous to not apply it to someone who’s preaching violence against infidels.)

But when we’ve witnessed and endured Islamist terror attack after Islamist terror attack in one Western city after another, isn’t it fair to ask how many who call for an Islamist overthrow of the government and imposition of Sharia law are truly harmless? Is that a threshold where an angry young male who’s drifting into Islamism reaches and stops? Or is it a stepping stone on a path to launching an attack? Are there many young Muslims out there who say, “Yes, I want to see the U.K.’s traditional governing structure destroyed; stoning and beheading added to the system of criminal punishments; adultery, dishonor, and blasphemy added to the criminal code; the criminalization of homosexuality; the devaluing of the testimony of a female witness in court; the banning of conversion from Islam to another faith, the imposition of dhimmi status upon all non-Muslims… but I don’t want to be violent about it”?

If you really buy into all that and express those views, a lot of people are going to start looking at you like you’re a ticking time bomb. And I’m not sure that’s unfair stereotyping, because so many people who believe all that turn out to be wearing literal ticking time bombs.

Put another way, how many permanently nonviolent radicals are out there?

Hooper at least concurs that comments like that seem to be sufficient reason for investigation and surveillance, and that additional factors, like traveling to Syria, are good reason for authorities to intervene. The problem then becomes one of scale; a few weeks ago the British government stated that “security services are currently running 500 active investigations looking at some 3,000 potential suspects.” Considering how it usually takes a dozen or more law-enforcement officials to conduct around-the-clock surveillance, the ability to monitor every potential threat is beyond them without drastically expanded resources.

(When you have 3,000 potential suspects, aren’t we beyond “a few bad apples”? Aren’t we talking about a subculture that is embracing, incubating, and nurturing extremism?)

From the number of times we’ve seen a terror attack launched by someone who was on a government “watch list,” it sounds like security services here and in the U.K. and in other European countries are pretty good at finding guys who are potential threats. They’re just not intervening fast enough, because they can’t collect sufficient evidence for a conviction of an imminent criminal act.

We’re at a point where the tools of some of the terrorists — knives, trucks — are so common that there’s not much of a “planning stage” where law enforcement can intervene. When an aspiring jihadist contemplates a truck attack instead of building a bomb, there’s no step of buying the chemicals for the bomb, no time spent building the bomb, no strange smells for neighbors to report, no chemicals for the dogs to sniff while searching his home, etcetera. The terrorist can suddenly decide to launch his attack during his commute; all he has to do is swerve onto a crowded sidewalk.

There’s an old cliché in cop films, when a really bad guy is under suspicion, the lieutenant tells the cops, “If he so much as spits on the sidewalk, book him.” Perhaps a possible solution is for Western countries to take our ludicrously complicated criminal codes and stop applying them to little kids selling lemonade on the street corner and throw them at those touting Islamist rhetoric. Finally, the nanny state could be good for something useful. If you call for overthrowing the government, the government will push back by the Al Capone approach — looking for any excuse including tax evasion to put you behind bars.

We’re in that familiar territory of trying to figure out when merely controversial or incendiary speech becomes incitement. I don’t have a precise guideline; perhaps incitement will always be in the eye of the beholder. Or perhaps it’s like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography; we know it when we see it.

ESPN Reverses Stance on Acceptance of Williams, Rowdy Friends

Is the return of Hank Williams Jr. to Monday Night Football a good thing? I’m happy, mostly because I like the song.

Williams will debut a new version of “All My Rowdy Friends,” featuring its “Are you ready for some football?” catchphrase, before the first Monday night game of the season, between the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis on Sept. 11.

ESPN pulled the song midseason in 2011, following controversial comments made by Williams on Fox News that compared then-President Barack Obama golfing with then-Rep. House Speaker John Boehner to a meeting of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Adolf Hitler. Williams also called Obama and Joe Biden “the enemy.”

The original Williams song had been on Monday Night Football broadcasts since 1989.

One of my favorite sportswriters, Jason Whitlock, is unimpressed, calling ESPN’s move, “ceremonial, symbolic and token.”

Maybe. On the other hand, maybe it says something that ESPN feels the need to make ceremonial, symbolic, and token moves.

I’d prefer if Disney and/or ESPN didn’t feel any particular need to cater to any political view; I just want to know what’s going on in the world of sports. Yes, some days the news in that world that will align with the world of politics — financing sports stadiums, athletes attempting to alleviate the troubles of inner-city neighborhoods they grew up in, athletes participating in protests and causes, the gradual growth of women’s sports, the Turkish government effectively declaring war on an NBA player. But most of the time, I want the scores, the highlights, the injury updates, the occasional soft-focus feature and who’s likely to win tonight.

ADDENDA: You know what will be thrilling about former FBI director James Comey’s testimony on Thursday? We’ll finally get to hear about a Trump administration controversy from a named, on-the-record source.

This morning I showed my boys this segment of What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?, a Peanuts television special from 1983 marking the anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. It’s a good age-appropriate way to show kids a sense of what we remember and honor this day.

Is Supporting ISIS Just Another ‘Political Point of View’?

by Jim Geraghty

Is Supporting ISIS Just Another ‘Political Point of View’?

The United Kingdom holds its parliamentary elections Thursday, just days after a brutal terror attack near London Bridge that left seven dead, 48 people injured, 21 critically.

If the Labour party wins a majority — most do not expect this to occur — this is the man who would become the new prime minister:

Jeremy Corbyn has argued that people who support Islamic State should not be prosecuted for “expressing a political point of view”.

The Labour leader told MPs that Britain should not make “value judgments” and that holding a view was not in itself “an offence.”

Asked by a Conservative MP if he believed Isis fighters should be subject to special measures when they return to Britain, Mr Corbyn suggested they should not be prosecuted for “expressing a political point of view”.

He said: “I have no support for ISIS whatsoever, and obviously that should apply to someone who has committed crimes, but we should bear in mind that expressing a political point of view is not in itself an offence.

“The commission of a criminal act is clearly a different matter, but expressing a point of view, even an unpalatable one, is sometimes quite important in a democracy.

Of an estimated total of 850 British men and women who have left to go to Iraq and Syria, around 130 are thought to have been killed and nearly 350 have returned to the UK.

Is overthrowing the British government and establishing a caliphate just “a point of view”?

President Trump, Meet the Department of Justice; DOJ, President Trump

This morning, President Trump tweeted several times: “People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.” “The Justice Dept. should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down Travel Ban before the Supreme Court — & seek much tougher version!” “In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political!”

Why is the president fuming about the Department of Justice like it’s some faraway entity? Someone reminded him he gets to make appointments to the DOJ, right?

It’s June 5, and right now there are only three Trump appointees working at DOJ:

Attorney general Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand have been confirmed. Trump has named Noel J. Francisco as his nominee to be Solicitor general, Steven Engel to be his assistant attorney general for the Office of the Legal Counsel, Stephen Elliott Boyd to be assistant attorney general for the Office of Legislative Affair, and Makan Delrahim to be assistant attorney general for the antitrust division. The Senate can be blamed for the slow action on those nominees.

But President Trump still hasn’t even named a nominee for the positions of assistant attorney general for the national-security division, assistant attorney general for the civil division, assistant attorney general for the civil-rights division, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, assistant attorney general for the environment and natural-resources division, assistant attorney general for the justice-programs division, assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Policy, or assistant attorney general for the tax division.

While these positions may not relate directly to litigating the travel ban, Trump still hasn’t named a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, administrator or deputy administrator for the Drug Enforcement Agency, or a director of the U.S. Marshals Service.

And, of course, he fired FBI Director Comey. He said we would have a replacement quickly . . .  three weeks ago.

Whenever I make this point, some ill-informed Trump defender insists this is a wise cost-cutting measure. No, those positions don’t go unfilled; they’re just filled by “acting” replacements . . .  who, at this rate, are likely to be acting for quite a while. Those acting replacements may or may not agree with the Trump administration’s perspective; while they’re no doubt professionals, why wouldn’t Trump want his own people in these positions, who understand his priorities?

Trump’s complaining about the courts? There are 131 judicial vacancies in the federal courts. Trump has nominated ten judges so far. Nominating qualified figures to the executive and judicial branch is a key part of governing. Reacting to what’s said about you on Morning Joe isn’t.

By the way, that second travel ban that Trump is complaining about? He signed it! If he thought it was such a terrible idea, Trump should have said so back in March when discussing it with his legal and national-security team, instead of chewing their work out in public two months later.

This is the problem with a president whose decisions can be swayed by whether he talked with Steve Bannon or Ivanka Trump most recently. Trump makes a decision, and then if he decides he doesn’t like the outcome, he blames the person who offered that advice, instead of himself for following that advice.

For the readers who will grumble this is “bashing” President Trump . . .  what am I supposed to say? Pretend this is the way a president and his administration are supposed to work? The president is publicly fuming about the decisions of his own Department of Justice, decisions he signed off on! He’s got a phone. He can call Jeff Sessions anytime he likes. I’m sure they’ll wake him up if the president calls.

Yes, there are a lot of judges with starkly different philosophies who will block an executive order on sketchy grounds. This is the opposite of unprecedented. If you think Trump is the first president who have his desired policy about who to let into the country nullified by decisions by judges, ask President Obama how his executive order about illegal-immigrant children and their parents turned out.

A Leader Has to Help His Team Help Him

Speaking of the extraordinary difficulty of working for this president . . . 

When President Donald Trump addressed NATO leaders during his debut overseas trip little more than a week ago, he surprised and disappointed European allies who hoped — and expected — he would use his speech to explicitly reaffirm America’s commitment to mutual defense of the alliance’s members, a one-for-all, all-for-one provision that looks increasingly urgent as Eastern European members worry about the threat from a resurgent Russia on their borders.

What’s not is that the president also disappointed — and surprised — his own top national security officials by failing to include the language reaffirming the so-called Article 5 provision in his speech. National security adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all supported Trump doing so and had worked in the weeks leading up to the trip to make sure it was included in the speech, according to five sources familiar with the episode. They thought it was, and a White House aide even told The New York Times the day before the line was definitely included.

It was not until the next day, Thursday, May 25, when Trump started talking at an opening ceremony for NATO’s new Brussels headquarters, that the president’s national security team realized their boss had made a decision with major consequences — without consulting or even informing them in advance of the change.

“They had the right speech and it was cleared through McMaster,” said a source briefed by National Security Council officials in the immediate aftermath of the NATO meeting. “As late as that same morning, it was the right one.”

How would you like to be H. R. McMaster at that moment? You make a recommendation, there seems to be a consensus on the national-security team, the president seems to agree . . .   you check and re-check to make sure the decision is going the way you think it should . . .  and then at the last second, without telling you, the president changes his mind and goes in the opposite direction.

ADDENDA: Keep an eye on this; even by the standards of the Middle East, this sounds like a major storm brewing: “Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Egypt, severed diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing the gas-rich nation of supporting regional terrorist groups. The four nations also moved to cut off Qatar’s land, sea and air routes to the outside world.”

The Most Important Measuring Stick of the Trump Era: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

by Jim Geraghty

Good morning! The short week has ended.

The Most Important Measuring Stick of the Trump Era: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

This morning the unemployment rate stayed the same — 4.3 percent — and the economy added 138,000 jobs in May — not great, but not bad. What’s perhaps most intriguing is that the economy added 6,000 jobs in mining and almost 8,000 jobs in “support activities for mining.”

I wonder how many of these are up in Alaska, where there’s been a flurry of activity:

Canadian company Quaterra Resources Inc., said last week that it will invest in copper exploration 200 miles southwest of Anchorage. Another Canadian firm, Graphite One Resources, is looking at developing a graphite mine near Nome. White Rock Minerals, based in Australia, plans to conduct field work this summer at a mineral deposit just south of Fairbanks. In Willow, just north of Anchorage, residents are preparing for the restart of the Lucky Shot Mine in Hatcher Pass. Alaska Gold Torrent LLC wants to reopen that mine next year.

Pechanga Resort in California is hiring 560 new people. Amazon has begun hiring for 2,500 full-time positions at its new robotics fulfillment center in Houston and another 1,000 in Georgia. Facebook is hiring 3,000 new content monitors (although it’s a tough job, spending your days looking for disturbing or criminal activity).

The Impasse in the Debate About Climate Change

We’re at an impasse.

For years, professor Glenn Reynolds, a.k.a., the Instapundit, has examined high-profile climate-change activists and responded skeptically, “I’ll believe it’s a crisis when they start acting like a crisis” — i.e., they believe the problem can only be solved with punitive measures like higher energy costs, but refuse to make any discernable sacrifices themselves.

There’s no shortage of glaring contradictions. When the Paris Conference certified itself as carbon-neutral, they didn’t count the carbon emissions of the 40,000 attendees traveling to and from the conference. One round-trip flight from New York to the West Coast or Europe has a warming effect equivalent to two or three tons of carbon dioxide per person. Richard Branson, who owns an airline, spoke at a march about climate change recently. Self-described environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio continues to crisscross countries in his private jet. Al Gore made $500 million selling his television network to Al Jazeera, a network owned and funded by the Qatari royal family, which enjoys the world’s third-largest oil and natural gas reserves. Gore has a giant home in Tennessee, although maybe not as big as Thomas Friedman’s 11,000-square-foot mansion in Maryland; he wrote in one of his books the construction of the giant house “prevented it from being redeveloped into a subdivision of a dozen more houses.” He’s willing to live in luxury to avert the carbon footprint of those other families.

The celebrities are the most glaring examples, but you can find non-famous cases of environmentalist hypocrisy, too. Residents of Park Slope, Brooklyn, filed a lawsuit against a bike lane. Cape Cod, Mass., residents fought the construction of a wind farm off the coast. Berkeley, Calif., residents fought the establishment of bus-only lanes on roads.

Now, in the years and years Americans have been debating climate change and what to do about it, have you ever heard an environmentalist say, “You know, you’re right. We really do look like we’re not practicing what we preach. We really do look like we’re telling other people to make sacrifices we’re not willing to make ourselves. The glaring hypocrisy of these figures really undermines the message we want to communicate”? If so, please point out those statements; I haven’t found many.

Environmentalists and climate-change activists know that a lot of people on the right see them as egregious hypocrites, and they don’t care. To them, this is getting wrapped up in petty details; when the core of your argument is “the fate of the planet and humanity itself is at stake!” you can hand-wave away a lot of the details.

Environmentalists fume at the average voter’s inability to see the big picture and the long-term consequences. They think Americans are insufferably entitled, way too focused on their own individual material and financial circumstances, unwilling to see how their decisions collectively impact everyone else, and stubbornly resistant to data, numbers, and bad news. They insist that the collective shrugging belief that someone else will solve the problem someday is willful blindness. They fume that the status quo is one of worsening circumstances, but moving so slowly and gradually that most people can ignore it. By the time the crisis is really visible, it will be too late; the only way to mitigate the problem at that point will be drastic, unpopular action and widespread sacrifice. They believe that whatever pain they’re proposing now, it’s exponentially milder than the pain that awaits us if we do nothing.

Perhaps we should have a little sympathy. When they talk like this, they sound a lot like us conservatives when we talk about the ticking time bomb of our entitlement programs and the need for reform.

Making Sense of Showtime’s Twin Peaks, Episode 4

As episode four begins, Dale Cooper’s soul is back on earth, but it’s now in the body of shlubby lookalike “Dougie Jones.” He’s barely coherent and wandering in a stupor, but he’s been guided by visions to insane winnings at slot machines at a casino in Las Vegas. Strangely, the casino managers aren’t suspicious of his unimaginable luck and merely send him on his way home in a limo.

Dougie makes it to his home in the Vegas suburbs as an owl flies overhead. (Owls are a bad omen in Native American mythology, and in a previous season, a benevolent spirit warned Cooper, “The owls are not what they seem.”) His wife has been in a panic about him being missing for three days. She’s relieved that he’s home and has won thousands of dollars in cash from the casino, declaring cryptically, “there’s enough here to pay them back.” She’s bizarrely nonchalant about the fact that her impassive husband is acting like he’s had a stroke.

Back on the East Coast, FBI regional director Gordon Cole meets with the Bureau’s new chief of staff, Denise Bryson, the transvestite DEA agent who appeared in a few episodes of the show’s second season, played by David Duchovny in his pre-X-Files days. In one of the most cringe-inducing scenes yet, Bryson contends Agent Tamara Preston is too young and beautiful to be qualified agent. Maybe this is David Lynch mocking himself and his own taste in casting young, beautiful actresses.

Finally, we return to the town the show is named after. Lovable and ditzy sheriff’s office receptionist Lucy Moran screams and faints at the sight of Sheriff Truman — the new Sheriff Frank Truman, played by Robert Forster, instead of the old show’s Sheriff Harry Truman, played by Michael Ontkean. Lucy’s freak-out is sort of a wink to the audience that one of the show’s key characters has been replaced, and that Ontkean’s inability to come back meant that the show had to sort-of recast the role and invent an older brother no one ever mentioned before.

Some fans speculate we’re seeing another aspect of Lucy this season; she’s not merely ditzy, she actually has Alzheimer’s and that’s why she’s confused by cell phones and why the actual police dispatch work is done in a back room. We see that the problems of Twin Peaks, Wash., of today are like a lot of other small towns across the country: domestic disturbances, drunk drivers, and a high-school student overdosed on drugs. “When the bell rang, he never got up from his desk.”

We also learn that Bobby Briggs, once an angry, coke-dealing punk, grew up to be a sheriff’s deputy and now catches drug smugglers. Sheriff Frank Truman seems a lot more skeptical of the Log Lady’s cryptic warnings, and if I had to guess, he’s keeping Deputy Andy and Lucy on staff simply out of loyalty to his brother’s wishes. Deputy Bobby sees Laura Palmer’s picture, and for the first time in four episodes, we hear the show’s classic music. Bobby’s briefly overcome with memories of his high-school girlfriend’s untimely murder, and mentions that Dale Cooper was the last man to see his father, Major Garland Briggs alive. We’re left to surmise that the BOB-possessed Cooper murdered Major Briggs.

Then we head outside the sheriff’s station, where Lucy and Andy’s son, “Wally Brando,” has returned to town. Played by Michael Cera, Wally is apparently obsessed with Marlon Brando and imitates Brando’s accent and quotes his movies. Some fans love this scene, some hate it; it’s definitely one of the silliest we’ve seen so far. He portentously declares, “My shadow is always with me . . . sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, sometimes to the left or sometimes to the right . . . except on cloudy days or at night.” Sheriff Truman seems to find the whole Brennan family sweet but hapless.

Dougie/Cooper has a vision of the One-Armed Man in the Red Room, who has figured out that BOB has stuck Cooper’s soul into another body. “You were tricked. Now one of you must die.” He finds he has a young son, Sonny Jim, who seems to instinctively know a new soul is in his dad’s body, and takes it all in stride. With a first scalding taste of coffee and a smile, there’s a hint that Cooper’s old soul might finally be reawakening.

In South Dakota, the FBI team of Gordon Cole, Albert Rosenfeld, and Tamara Preston arrive at the prison where the BOB-possessed body of Cooper is being held. (The late Miguel Ferrer’s performance as Albert is muted, and one can’t help but wonder if his health was a factor.) They conduct a distinctly unnerving interview with Cooper behind glass, where a slowed-down, deeper demonic voice tries to imitate the “normal” Cooper but can’t quite get it right, repeating phrases and pausing oddly. “I never really left home, Gordon.” The FBI agents are deeply confused, but concluded something’s terribly wrong with Cooper. This ominous, unnerving scene might be the best one in the new season so far.

Outside the prison, in a heavily blue-tinted scene, Albert confesses that 25 years ago, another long-missing FBI agent named Philip Jeffries — played by David Bowie in the movie — called him up and asked for some information to pass along to Cooper: “Who our man was in Columbia. A week later, that man was killed.” Cole is deeply disturbed by Albert breaching this trust. Cole asks if Albert understands what’s going on. Albert answers, “blue rose” — the FBI’s code phrase for a case that involves the supernatural or otherworldly.

“It doesn’t get any bluer,” Cole agrees. He concludes they need one certain person to take a look at Cooper. “Do you still know where she lives?”

“I know where she drinks,” Albert answers.

Throughout the first two seasons, Cooper dictated notes and instructions into a handheld tape recorder, addressed to “Diane.” While some fan speculated she was imaginary, he would send her requests and his requests arrived in the mail, suggesting she was someone in the FBI. Will we meet Diane next week?

ADDENDA: Kathy Griffin will hold a press conference about “the bullying from the Trump family she has endured.”

Yes, go ahead and play the victim card after depicting the beheading of the president and posing like ISIS.

Actually, There Was Extensive Improper NSA Collection Under Obama

by Jim Geraghty

President Trump, this morning: “The big story is the ‘unmasking and surveillance’ of people that took place during the Obama Administration.”

Trump has a fair complaint; his administration did come into office and learn of a National Security Agency program that was vacuuming up the personal information of law-abiding American citizens in violation of previous administration’s assurances and agreements.

The problems concerned the N.S.A. program’s “upstream” system, which collects emails and other internet messages entering or leaving the United States from the switches of network operators like AT&T. One thing that system did was collect messages that merely included identifying terms — like email addresses — for foreigners whom the agency is spying on, but are neither to nor from those targets. The agency called that “about” surveillance, because it gathered messages about its target.

For technical reasons, upstream collection is more likely to also capture some purely domestic emails than the program’s “downstream,” or “Prism,” system, which collects the contents of targeted foreigners’ accounts from providers like Gmail. As a result, the court had imposed a rule that analysts could not search for Americans’ information in the upstream repository.

But the study showed that when analysts searched for Americans’ information, they often failed to take steps to prevent the upstream repository from being queried, too — including 85 percent of a particular type of such searches. [The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s presiding judge, Rosemary] Collyer called that “a very serious Fourth Amendment issue” and criticized the N.S.A. for institutional “lack of candor” because it had not disclosed the problem earlier.

After the Trump administration ended the “about” collection in March and came back to the court, Judge Collyer authorized the revised program. She also lifted the ban on searching for Americans’ information in upstream messages collected in the future, eliminating the complexity that had led to the analysts’ compliance problem.

As Circa reported, this ties to the recent debate about “unmasking” and how often collected data is connected to an identified American citizen: “Since 2011, NSA’s minimization procedures have prohibited use of U.S.-person identifiers to query the results of upstream Internet collections under Section 702,” the unsealed court ruling declared. “The Oct. 26, 2016 notice informed the court that NSA analysts had been conducting such queries in violation of that prohibition, with much greater frequency than had been previously disclosed to the Court.”

Also in the judge’s ruling was the recognition that for most of the program’s history, “contractors had access to raw FISA information on FBI storage systems,” violating previous agreements on minimizing the spread of this sort of information gathered from American citizens. Contractor access wasn’t restricted until April 2016. “The Court is concerned about the FBI’s apparent disregard of minimization rules and whether the FBI may be engaging in similar disclosures of raw Section 702 information that has not been reported.” Also in 2016, the CIA discovered problems in its “purge practices” designed to prevent the improper retention of metadata, but could not definitively say how long those problems had been going on.

Yes, this revelation of “a very serious Fourth Amendment issue” was indeed covered in detail in the New York Times . . . on page A21 on May 12. Is it that government misbehavior that doesn’t tie back to Donald Trump just isn’t a big deal anymore?

Separately, the government admitted that in 2016, an FBI agent searched for and read private e-mail messages involving an American suspect that the National Security Agency had collected via its warrantless surveillance program. No matter how rotten that particular suspect was, some Americans will prefer a system where the FBI has to get a warrant to read your e-mails.

The Trump administration, defenders of Americans’ privacy and the Fourth Amendment! Who saw that coming?

Yeah, Hillary, It’s All the DNC’s Fault. Go with That.

Terrible news yesterday, as Debbie Wasserman Schultz was badly burned by a dangerous blamethrower.

“I’m now the nominee of the Democratic party. I inherit nothing from the Democratic party,” Hillary Clinton said yesterday. “It was bankrupt, it was on the verge of insolvency, its data was mediocre to poor, non-existent, wrong. I had to inject money into it — the DNC — to keep it going.”

Look, nobody’s saying Wasserman Schultz is the sharpest knife in the drawer, and no, President Obama didn’t care much about the Democratic National Committee while in office. But you can’t rewrite the history that we just lived through. Democratic strategists were absolutely convinced they had a better ground game than the GOP heading into Election Day. Here’s FiveThirtyEight, back on October 7: “Clinton has more than twice as many field offices as Trump nationwide (489 vs. 207), and her organization dominates Trump’s in every battleground state.”

In the 2016 cycle, Hillary Clinton and Super PACs that supported her spent $1.18 billion.

Donald Trump and the Super PACs that supported him spent $616 million.

When you’ve got about a $400 million advantage in spending and you still lose, you can’t blame it on an underfunded Democratic National Committee.

FWIW, the reaction from the DNC’s data guy is thermonuclear.

Making Sense of Showtime’s Twin Peaks, Episode 3

I’m not going to lie to you; this third season is not easy viewing. I want to love it. But this is light-years away from being “accessible.” Quite a few folks have asked me if they need to have watched the first two seasons from ABC back in the early ’90s to understand what’s happening in the third season. The answer is yes, and you ought to go back and watch the first 16 episodes and the final three or so because they’re a masterpiece. The jury is still out on this season.

As episode three begins, the soul of FBI Agent Dale Cooper has survived 25 years in the purgatory-like Red Room, only to have a malevolent spirit that manifests itself as a Bad Tree try to punish him further by banishing him to “non-existence.” Cooper plummets through space and reality, only to land in a strange mechanical room that floats between a vast sea and a universe of stars. (David Lynch’s work is always dreamlike, and probably never so much as when he’s got a blank canvas and the need to depict “the spiritual realm.”) Time moves choppily in this strange place, and Cooper encounters an unnerving eyeless woman who seems to want to help him but who can’t communicate clearly.

Looking out at the cosmos, he sees the floating image of Major Briggs (a character played by Don Davis, who passed away in 2008). This small piece of Briggs’ soul is still trying to help Cooper, telling him, “Blue Rose.” Cooper may not understand it, but Twin Peaks fans recognize the phrase as the code words that Cooper’s boss, Gordon Cole, uses for cases that involve something supernatural or unexplained. Think of this as a small way to bring back the Briggs character and write around Davis’s death.

Cooper determines that if he’s willing to withstand some physical pain, he can escape through a mechanical device on the wall. He slips through and we think this is it; Cooper’s soul and body will finally be reunited and the demon BOB will be forced back into the hell-like Black Lodge.

Back on earth, Cooper’s body, currently possessed by BOB, gets terribly sick while behind the wheel of a car, and he crashes. In one of the grossest scenes ever shown to television, the possessed Cooper regurgitates. Demons in the world of Twin Peaks are sustained by “garmonbozia,” human pain and suffering in corporeal form that resembles creamed corn. The fan in me can grasp that BOB-Cooper’s vomiting suggests he’s losing some of his accumulated sustenance . . . but this is really, really gross, and this was where the new series started to test my patience.

In the largely abandoned development of Rancho Rosa Estates, a man who resembles a shlubby version of Cooper named “Dougie” begins to feel strange after sleeping with a prostitute. His arm goes numb, he too becomes violently ill . . . and he is replaced by the familiar black-suited form of Cooper.

The soul of “Dougie” appears in the Red Room, where an older spirit, the one-armed man, begins to realize what happened, telling his new guest, “someone manufactured you for a purpose.” Dougie appears to be a sort of artificial person created by the demon BOB to escape the consequences of Cooper’s switch. The soul of poor “Dougie” shrinks to a small copper ball.

Cooper’s soul is out of the Red Room and back in the real world, but he’s in the body of “Dougie” and thoroughly confused; people keep wondering if he’s had a stroke. His prostitute gives him a ride to a casino, and along the way through sheer luck, a hitman — presumably hired by BOB to finish off Cooper once and for all  — narrowly misses his target. We spend a lot of time as Cooper/Dougie is guided by some sort of Lodge spirit to winnings at a casino in another sequence that tested my patience.

Our attention shifts to Philadelphia, where two beloved characters return: the well-meaning but batty hard-of-hearing FBI deputy director Gordon Cole and the acerbic forensic pathologist, Albert Rosenfield. A new character, Tammy Preston (a key character in co-creator Mark Frost’s book, The Secret History of Twin Peaks) updates them on the meager facts known from an investigation the bloody bodies found outside the “glass box” in the previous episode. But they’re interrupted with the shocking news that former special agent Dale Cooper, who’s been missing for 25 years, has been found . . . and he’s been locked up after a car accident in South Dakota. They prepare to head out and find him, and Albert sighs that he’s likely to need “a truckload of valium.”

ADDENDA: From Politico, covering President Trump’s expected decision to withdraw from the Paris climate-change accord: “Steve Bannon and Scott Pruitt have sought to outsmart the administration’s pro-Paris group of advisers, including Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who were hoping the president could be swayed by a global swell of support for the deal from major corporations, U.S. allies, Al Gore and even the pope.”

We have a Republican president whose daughter thinks he might be persuaded by Al Gore. And Dennis Prager can’t figure out why conservatives don’t trust Trump!

Why Europeans Won’t ‘Take Their Fate into Their Own Hands’

by Jim Geraghty

German chancellor Angela Merkel last weekend: “We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands — naturally in friendship with the United States of America, in friendship with Great Britain, as good neighbors with whoever, also with Russia and other countries. But we have to know that we Europeans must fight for our own future and destiny. . . . The times in which we could rely fully on others — they are somewhat over. This is what I experienced in the last few days.”

Percentage of GDP that a NATO member country is supposed to spend on defense: 2 percent.

Percentage of GDP that Germany is spending on defense: 1.2 percent.

German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel in March: “There is no apodictic 2 percent goal but rather . . . we should be moving in that direction.” (“Apodictic” means beyond dispute. Don’t feel bad, I had to look it up, too.)

Gabriel’s estimate of how much it would cost Germany to get to 2 percent: 30 billion euros over eight years, or roughly $33 billion.

That’s roughly $4.1 billion per year. That is not a lot of money in the overall German federal budget or economy. Total German federal spending in 2017 is roughly $349 billion. The German GDP is about $3.3 trillion.

For further perspective, U.S. defense spending in 2017 is about $611 billion. The Pentagon will spend about $2 billion just upgrading the USS George Washington aircraft carrier in the coming year.

A bit more than $4 billion per year is not a lot to ask. That’s about 40 percent of Amazon sales from last year.

If the Germans really want to take their fate into their own hands, providing for their own defense is going to cost them way more than just meeting the NATO threshold. The cost of one F-35 fighter jet is $94 million to $123 million, depending on which variation. The cost of one Eurofighter is roughly $112 million. That’s not covering fuel, spare parts, training, maintenance and operations, repairs . . . 

So, the Germans are so upset about the expectation that they spend eight-tenths of one percent of their GDP on the military, that they’re willing to go their own way on defense? Talk about being penny-wise and pound-foolish. My suspicion is that Germans will look at the cost of defending themselves from Russia or other potential hostile forces on their own and then happily get out the checkbook to cover that eight-tenths of one percent that NATO wants.

As our new guy, Michael Brendan Dougherty puts it, “How many aircraft carriers, nuclear subs, and fighter jets has Germany christened in these four months? How much closer has Germany come to military parity with Russia? What do you think Poland or Latvia thinks of trusting Germany for political and military protection, absent the United States? C’mon, everyone. Get a grip.”

#NeverStopComplainingAbout #NeverTrump

I don’t have a lot to add to what Jonah, David French, and Dan McLaughlin said about Dennis Prager’s off-key remote-sensing assessment of the motives of the old “Never Trump” crowd. I’ll just wonder aloud why Prager’s so focused on #NeverTrump conservatives five months into Trump’s presidency. What, was his column in reruns this week?

If every #NeverTrump conservative had been an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Trump administration starting January 20, do you really think the administration would be in measurably better shape? Trump still would have claimed Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, he still would have been content to let the House set the details of the Obamacare repeal, he still would have signed the giant omnibus spending bill, he still would have fired Comey, he still would have had the Bannon-Kushner-Priebus-Kohn-Ivanka “Game of Thrones” infighting, he still would have a glacial pace of naming appointments, tax reform and the infrastructure bill would still be passing slower than a kidney stone . . . This is a White House where the biggest problems are all self-inflicted.

As for Trump’s best moments like the confirmation of Justice Gorsuch, repealing regulations through the Congressional Review Act, and striking the Syrian airfield, most of the #NeverTrump conservatives I read applauded those moves.

Finally, Prager writes:

[#NeverTrump conservatives] do not believe that America is engaged in a civil war, with the survival of America as we know it at stake. While they strongly differ with the Left, they do not regard the left–right battle as an existential battle for preserving our nation. On the other hand, I, and other conservative Trump supporters, do.

If you really believe America is fighting a second Civil War . . . what do you do with people who disagree with you? Shoot them? Blow them up? Imprison them? Keep them in prisoner of war camps? Call our current conflict with the Left what you like – but it’s not war.

(This why, as much as I was an admirer of Andrew Breitbart, the “#WAR” slogan never quite sat right with me. Our men and women in uniform in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other far-flung corners of the earth are fighting a war. We’re in an intense political, cultural, and legal debate. It’s not the same, and insisting that it is the same feels like it’s creeping into the realm of stolen valor.)

Speaking of a Second Civil War . . . 

You know Kurt Schlichter is my friend, so I’m biased, but his new novel, Indian Country, is his best work. It is a prequel to his book People’s Republic, which envisioned a not-too-distant future where America’s red and blue states have split into two separate countries.

The more I thought about the world of People’s Republic, the more I wanted a story like the one in Indian Country: a detailed look of daily life shortly after a national and cultural divorce, building to the moment of maximum drama, where the lines of two new countries are being drawn, disputed, and redrawn, and people are realizing that their values don’t match their new country.

If there was any flaw to the tale and the world painted in People’s Republic, it was that the new progressive “People’s Republic of North America” was so dystopian and dysfunctional, it was hard to believe or understand that anyone thought it would be a good idea. (Picture Kafkaesque bureaucracy, ever-changing laws and social mores, thuggish authorities and general dysfunction.) Indian Country gives us that needed glimpse at the people who stayed in the more progressive parts of the country and who were really convinced it was going to work. As one key line of dialogue reveals:

Illegally organizing political groups? I thought this was supposed to still be a free country after the Split.” said Dale. “Maybe freer.”

This story has vibes of Red Dawn (the good one) or the old ABC miniseries Amerika. But where Kurt has really matured as a storyteller is in all the human touches of what could have otherwise been fine as an entertaining social satire and techno-thriller. The ordinary people of Jasper, Ind., in the late 2020s really don’t want to be involved in a political war and have no appetite for launching an insurgency against their own government. But sometimes bad laws and bad leaders set an unstoppable sequence of escalation in motion. Halfway through the book, I realized I’m reading a prequel, and I’m somehow still wondering what’s going to happen. The sense of dread and impending bloodshed is palpable.

Kurt, a retired Army infantry colonel, served in the Balkans, and this book is undoubtedly shaped by his experiences there. I’ve heard him speak about how Kosovo once was and could have remained a beautiful place, and how the locals made choices that amounted to throwing it all away, casting away the rule of law and the humanity of their neighbors in the process.

As much as conservative and liberals may smile at the thought of exiling the other side forever, a “national divorce” could not go smoothly and would not leave many people better off. This is at times a really funny book, but it’s also an epic portrait of a tragedy . . . the American experiment shouldn’t be abandoned because we forgot our traditions, our values, and our willingness to let others live their lives as they see fit.

And for those who think that our political passions are still far from murderous rage . . . have you checked out Kathy Griffin lately?

ADDENDA: Over on the home page, a look at how the impeachment talk among Democrats is mostly a desired outcome in search of a justification. If the only concern among Democrats was accountability for suspected “high crimes and misdemeanors,” you wouldn’t hear any talk of “but Pence would be worse!” You’ll have to pardon our skepticism about the fair-minded assessment of Democrats when 80 percent supported impeachment three weeks into Trump’s presidency.