Considering Paul Ryan, Roughly 16 Months into His Speakership

by Jim Geraghty

Considering Paul Ryan, Roughly 16 Months into His Speakership

And now, the prosecution and the defense of Paul Ryan…

For the prosecution, my friend Kurt Schlichter:

It’s the tactics that Ryan has botched; he’s shown no aptitude for the basic blocking and tackling of legislating and consistently falls back on the errors of the past. Here’s how healthcare should have gone. Paully, starting the morning of November 9th, you should have orchestrated an inclusive effort to create a bill based on a consensus that incorporated every stakeholder with the ability to icepick it (the transition team, the Freedom Caucus, the squishes, the think tanks, and most vitally, the Senate). Once you had something everyone agreed on – and 216 sure votes in the House and 51 in the Senate – you all appear with the Prez in front of the cameras to announce it before you actually put out the document, thereby cementing in the narrative about why the people should dig it before the haters can hate it into little pieces. Then you pass it and win.

But what did we get? A tactical clusterflunk. Seven years in and Ryan wasn’t ready. He putzed around with no sense of urgency until there was a sense of urgency. Who was expecting this dog’s breakfast to drop when it did? And it just dropped on us out of the blue — one day, suddenly, there’s this whole plan out there. Surprise! I listened to Hugh Hewitt the morning after it was released; he was stunned that he couldn’t get any of the Republican House leadership [sic] on his show to talk to his conservative audience about the biggest piece of legislation in Trump’s first term.

Paully, you gave the enemy precious hours to set the narrative, and the bill never recovered.

For the defense, my friend Jonah Goldberg:

On Saturday morning, Trump placed the blame squarely on the House Freedom Caucus, the 30-odd members of Congress who reportedly kept changing their demands until it was clear they were never going to support the American Health Care Act. Nor is there a single quote from a member of Congress echoing this sentiment (blaming Ryan), even from the Freedom Caucus. The people in the room understand that Ryan, who clearly made some mistakes, nonetheless acted in good faith to move the president’s agenda.

The argument is moot in one sense; right now there’s no House Republican who’s publicly expressing interest in being speaker of the House, no obvious unifying, stronger leader on the horizon, and no sense that there are 218 Republicans who would unify around an alternative. The modern job of the speaker is a lot like herding cats, and the easiest thing in the world to do is to be a powerless backbencher and insist, “I would have been able to negotiate a better deal.” Even at his worst, Ryan is probably as good as it gets.

Still, this is a massive disappointment, and one that leaves a lot of Paul Ryan fans wondering how he could so thoroughly misjudge what his caucus was willing to pass.

Politicians, pundits, and wonks have discussed the flaws of the American Health Care Act at length. It was an attempt to placate almost everyone and left no one with any particular enthusiasm about passing it. Because of the potential Democratic filibuster in the Senate, it could only deal with the financial aspects of health care; major chunks of the conservative agenda had to wait for a “phase three” that may never come. It says something about the relationship between Ryan and Mitch McConnell that Ryan hasn’t used the Senate as a scapegoat. “Hey, don’t blame me. If the Senate Republicans had the guts to get rid of the filibuster, we could enact all of our best ideas quickly and easily.”

Of course, nothing prevented Trump or his team from writing up their own legislation that would enact their own replacement for Obamacare. (Nothing still prevents them now!) During the campaign, Trump promised he would repeal the law entirely, eliminate the individual mandate, permit the sale of health insurance across state lines, allow individuals to fully deduct health-insurance premium payments, require price transparency from all health-care providers and allow consumers access to imported, safe, and dependable drugs from overseas. The AHCA didn’t include most of that, although it would have eliminated some fees on importing prescription drugs.

Looking at the Trump Record after 69 Days

The good things to come out of the Trump administration so far:

· The nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

· Most of the cabinet picks, particularly Secretary of Defense Mattis, Secretary of Education DeVos, and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. Ryan Zinke, riding his horse to work and allowing his employees to bring their dogs to their offices, appears on track to be the most lovable Secretary of the Interior ever.

· Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley already forced the resignation of a U.N. official who called Israel an “apartheid state” and issued a report citing a scholar who defended the Boston Marathon bombings.

· The approval of the Keystone Pipeline and continuing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

· The border wall construction process is beginning, albeit very slowly. Customs and Border Protection issued requests for proposals and prototypes of wall construction.

· The stock market boom, perhaps best reflected in the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumping from 18,807 to 20,701 (although it was as high as 21,115 a few weeks ago).

· Many of the corporate announcements of hiring sprees are repackaging of previously announced hiring plans, but it’s still nice to see daily headlines of companies hiring in big numbers.

· In February, NATO’s secretary general announced that the 2016 defense expenditure of the Canadian and European member countries was 3.8 percent higher than expected.

· Bombing of ISIS has ramped up considerably, up to 500 to 600 airstrikes per week. Yes, this means increased civilian casualties, as ISIS hides behind civilians. Secretary Mattis put it directly: “There is no military force in the world that has proven more sensitive to civilian casualties. We go out of our way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people. The same cannot be said for our adversaries.”

The bad things to come out of the Trump administration so far:

· Tweeting that President Obama tapped his phones at Trump Tower, an accusation that no one could find any evidence to support.

· Not merely the inability to pass health care reform on the first try, but the clumsy way it was handled, with Trump clearly not caring about the details and Bannon trying to bully the House Freedom Caucus, telling them they had “no choice” but to vote for it.

· Trump continues to make big promises with few details on how he’s going to make it work. Last night he said, “I know that we are all going to make a deal on health care. That’s such an easy one.” Is it? Is it really?

· The administration had a series of defeats in court; the initial travel ban appeared to be hastily written, ignored career lawyers of DHS, and created chaos at the nation’s airports.

· The FBI is investigating whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia on illegal hacking of places like John Podesta’s computer and the DNC and other efforts to influence the election.

· The outlook for tax reform is complicated by the failure to get health-care reforms done first, as the reforms were supposed to create the savings to pay for the tax cuts. Ditto for the dreams of a big infrastructure bill.

· It’s very early, but there are signs that the “energized Democratic grassroots” storyline isn’t just media wish-fulfillment. Just as Republicans woke up and got active as the Obama era began in 2009, Democrats may be the same…

· We’re cool with a president golfing now, huh, conservatives?

· We don’t care if White House visitor logs are no longer accessible to the public, huh? We’re fine with the Trump administration being less open and transparent than the Obama administration?

Yesterday I wrote about one of the more bewildering and unnerving early stumbles of the administration, a persistent complaint about the “deep state” while failing to nominate anyone for hundreds upon hundreds of important positions. Yes, the Senate could confirm the 40 or so nominees faster, but the Trump administration just looks flatly unprepared for one of the key tasks of governing.

ADDENDA: Barring a falling meteorite, the pop culture podcast will return this week after a long hiatus spurred by conflicting schedules…

A Good Week for Montenegro, a Slow Week for Neil Gorsuch

by Jim Geraghty

A Good Week for Montenegro, a Slow Week for Neil Gorsuch

Under Senate rules, any senator can request a one-week delay in any nomination. Because Democrats requested a delay on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the Senate won’t begin debate until the first week of April. Surely it’s an annoying delay for the administration and Republicans, but this means that after being unfairly maligned and judged by a group of self-righteous authorities, Gorsuch will rise to the Supreme Court around, er… Easter.

Instead, the Senate will turn to other business, and it appears that one of the first major changes to U.S. foreign policy in the Trump administration is likely to be… the expansion of NATO. Russia, if it will make you feel any better, we thought electing Trump would mean the end of Obamacare, so everybody’s getting the opposite of what they expected these days.

The Senate voted 97-2 on Monday in favor of allowing a vote later this week on the ratification of Montenegro’s NATO membership. Senate aides reportedly said they expected a final vote in the Senate on Tuesday or Wednesday and said they expect Montenegro’s NATO membership to get the required two-thirds majority.

Progress on Montenegro’s accession bid had been held up in Congress by two senators.

Besides the US, the Netherlands and Spain also have yet to ratify Montenegro’s membership. All members of the alliance must ratify a bid to join in order for the petition to proceed.

The loudest opponent to this move in the Senate is Rand Paul of Kentucky.

”Most Americans can’t find Montenegro on a map,” Paul said in a sharply worded Senate speech. “Are you willing to send your kids there to fight?”

Come on. If Americans’ ability to find a place on a map was our sole measuring stick of whether a country as a worthy ally, our only alliance would be with Australia. And that’s mostly because of Crocodile Dundee and Outback Steakhouse.

If you look at the map of NATO members, you’ll see Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia… in other words, Montenegro is already surrounded by NATO countries, so this doesn’t represent NATO expanding eastward. It does, however, represent another former Soviet state (really more of a region) wishing to be closer to the West. There’s one other wrinkle: Montenegro is the only country on the Adriatic Sea that is not a NATO member, and Russia doesn’t have a lot of warm-weather ports for its navy. Back in 2013, Russia requested “allowing Russian warships temporary moorage at the ports of Bar and Kotor for refueling, maintenance and other necessities.” The Montenegro government rejected the request.

In other words, bringing Montenegro into NATO limits the Russian navy’s ability to operate in the Adriatic Sea between Italy and the Balkans. Sure, Montenegro’s got a tiny military and gets dismissed as a “postage stamp of a country“, but sometimes foreign policy is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location.

The Tax-Revenue Raiders and the NFL’s Ominous Future

The National Football League is testing the patience of fans once again.

For the third time in fifteen months, an NFL franchise is moving to a new city. Last year the St. Louis Rams became the Los Angeles Rams; the San Diego Chargers moved up the coast to become the Los Angeles Chargers and will play next season in a converted soccer stadium. Monday, the league’s owners voted to approve the Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas.

The taxpayers of Nevada – or more specifically, hotel guests – are ponying up a large sum of cash to make the move happen:

The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee unanimously approved $750 million of public money to build a football stadium in Vegas, presumably for the Raiders, who have been lobbying for a move to Las Vegas.

The public money would be raised through hotel taxes.

“We are excited and thanks to the committee,” Raiders owner Mark Davis told USA TODAY after the committee vote Thursday.

How’s this for chutzpah? Davis asked Raider fans to come out and cheer until the team officially moves in 2019 or 2020 (depending on how fast they can complete the new stadium).

The Raiders were born in Oakland and Oakland will always be part of our DNA. We know that some fans will be disappointed and even angry, but we hope that they do not direct that frustration to the players, coaches and staff. We plan to play at the Coliseum in 2017 and 2018, and hope to stay there as the Oakland Raiders until the new stadium opens. We would love nothing more than to bring a championship back to the Bay Area.

“And then, we will leave.” As ESPN’s Mike Greenberg observed, this is like your spouse announcing they’re divorcing you in two to three years because they’ve found someone better, but they expect you to love them until they leave. His colleague Dan Graziano offered a twisted thought: If the Raiders, who made the playoffs last year, won the Super Bowl this year or next, would the city of Oakland throw them the traditional parade?

I am sure I disagree with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff on almost everything, but she’s completely in the right here when she says, “I am proud that we stood firm in refusing to use public money to subsidize stadium construction and that we did not capitulate to their unreasonable and unnecessary demand that we choose between our football and baseball franchises.” This came down to one city/state putting a ton of taxpayer money on the table, and another city/state refusing to do so.

Each time a franchise succeeds in getting a shiny, state-of-the-art, luxury-box-laden stadium heavily financed by the taxpayers, it increases the incentive for other owners to pressure cities for the same deal. Marcus Thompson II, writing in the East Bay Times (which used to be the Oakland Tribune) wonders which city will get a raw deal next:

One: will the other 32 owners just let the San Francisco 49ers expand its kingdom and have a top-five market to itself? All the while, the Raiders dip into the Los Angeles fan base.

Two: how long before another team in a small market — which just saw a major market open up with an abandoned fan base and a potential boon in revenue — tries to make a move on Oakland?

The Jacksonville Jaguars owner has plenty of money. Can the Titans survive long term in a college town in Nashville? How committed are the Bengals to Cincinnati?

Don’t give me the they-would-never speech. It’s been proven that emotional, fan-centered view is just a marketing ploy. The NFL owners will go where the money is.

Wait, there’s one more ominous angle, from a Deadspin commentator: Let’s take an NFL team, a roster of 53 athletic young men, some as young as 21 or so. Some of them are making enormous amounts of money; the league minimum is roughly $465,000. They are active from mid-to-late July to January, or February if they’re in the playoffs. Sometimes, when injured, they have significant amounts of time away from the regimented routine of the season… now let’s put all of those young men in Sin City, surrounded by casinos, clubs, strippers, and every other temptation under the sun. What’s the worst that could happen, right?

How many years until a player gets caught in gambling scandal?

There’s genuine reason to wonder if the future of the NFL is as bright as the owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell have come to expect.

The NFL went through a bout of sudden franchise moves in the mid-90s. The Raiders moved from L.A. back to Oakland, the Rams moved to St. Louis, the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and renamed themselves the Ravens and the Houston Oilers moved to Memphis and eventually renamed themselves the Tennessee Titans.

The NFL’s popularity wasn’t hurt by that franchise roulette, but the situation is different now. Back in the 1990s, the economy was running good-to-hot and the public was a less wary of giant taxpayer expenditures on stadiums to host ten to twelve home games a year. (And that’s counting the preseason.)

In 2016, the NFL’s television ratings were down nine percent from the previous year in the regular season and down six percent in the playoffs. Undoubtedly some of that represents exasperation with the likes of Colin Kaepernick. But there are a lot of complaints of fans that won’t go away if Kaepernick keeps his word and stands for the upcoming season: sloppy play, long commercial breaks, long instant-replay delays, too many games being played between the Thursday Night Game, Sunday’s games, the Sunday Night Game, and the Monday Night Game, overseas games in London starting at 9 a.m. Eastern…

One other major factor for the future of the sport: I occasionally see voices on the Right scoffing at parents who won’t let their sons play football, contending this is an example of overprotectiveness or “snowflake culture.” Well, 12 former NFL players are telling their sons and grandsons the same thing, players like Harry Carson, Mike Ditka, and Troy Aikman. At age 44, Brett Favre said he doesn’t remember his daughter’s soccer season. Most of us will go through life and never suffer a concussion, or only experience one or two. Former Jets receiver Al Toon was diagnosed with nine during an eight-year career. (Toon says he has lingering conditions but “nothing significant.”) How many concussions can a young man suffer before serious long-term damage occurs? When it’s your child, how many hits to the head seem like “too many”?

You can go through life with a sore knee. You need a functioning mind for the rest of your life, long after your playing days are over. Parents and grandparents being extremely wary about concussions on their sons’ developing brains doesn’t strike me as being overprotective. It strikes me as being extremely careful about the risks and rewards.

ADDENDA: My old coworker from our States News Service days, David Enrich, went on to bigger and better things at the Wall Street Journal. Now David’s got his first book, a nonfiction epic about one of the biggest financial scandals in world history, entitled The Spider Network: The Wild Story of a Math Genius, a Gang of Backstabbing Bankers, and One of the Greatest Scams in Financial History. You’re probably thinking, “Eh, I don’t care about bankers.” Trust me, it’s an engrossing, enlightening tale that reveals some depressing details about the financial and regulatory world. Key figures are convicted, but the resolution may not fit your definition of justice. It’s a wild ride featuring mildly-autistic mathematicians, coke-snorting “Wolf of Wall Street” ids in suits, investigators, lawyers, families… David puts it, “The banking industry does a really good job of making itself seem more complicated than it really is. (It’s a convenient way to keep peddling mediocre products to clients and to justify sky-high profits and bonuses.) The reality is that much of finance, when boiled down to its essence, is pretty intuitive, and one of my goals with this book is to demystify things for laypeople.”

The Outsider Enters Boldly and Trips Over His Own Shoelaces

by Jim Geraghty

The Outsider Enters Boldly and Trips Over His Own Shoelaces

“There’s a new sheriff in town” is a pretty popular power fantasy. We find ourselves stuck in a circumstance where everyone seems to be running amok, pursuing their own selfish or petty agenda, acting in complete disregard of the needs of others or the community as a whole. Our patience is exhausted, we’re fed up with it, and we make a bold, impossible to ignore, vaguely threatening gesture that demonstrates our supreme power. ENOUGH! Everyone freezes. We declare that order has returned. We begin dictating orders to others, to put everyone in their place. Cowed and intimidated, everyone dutifully returns to their proper place as part of a well-organized machine.

Saturday, Mike Allen shared a rather revealing anecdote about the way the Trump administration is approaching the task of getting legislation passed:

When the balky hardliners of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, this was Steve Bannon’s opening line, according to people in the conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building:

“Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.”

Bannon’s point was: This is the Republican platform. You’re the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But people in the room were put off by the dictatorial mindset.

One of the members replied: ”You know, the last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn’t listen to him, either.”

“You have no choice…” Except, the members did. Perhaps at Breitbart.com, Bannon got used to negotiating with people he could fire. The president and his team can’t make a member vote for a bill, particularly one the member thinks is terrible or severely disappointing.

I wrote Friday that one glaring, unavoidable problem for the White House is that the president was trying persuade reluctant members of the House without really understanding why they were objecting. Our old friend Tim Alberta offered a vivid anecdote:

Thursday afternoon, members of the House Freedom Caucus were peppering the president with wonkish concerns about the American Health Care Act—the language that would leave Obamacare’s “essential health benefits” in place, the community rating provision that limited what insurers could charge certain patients, and whether the next two steps of Speaker Paul Ryan’s master plan were even feasible—when Trump decided to cut them off.

“Forget about the little s***,” Trump said, according to multiple sources in the room. “Let’s focus on the big picture here.”

The group of roughly 30 House conservatives, gathered around a mammoth, oval-shaped conference table in the Cabinet Room of the White House, exchanged disapproving looks. Trump wanted to emphasize the political ramifications of the bill’s defeat; specifically, he said, it would derail his first-term agenda and imperil his prospects for reelection in 2020. The lawmakers nodded and said they understood. And yet they were disturbed by his dismissiveness. For many of the members, the “little s***” meant the policy details that could make or break their support for the bill—and have far-reaching implications for their constituents and the country.

Maybe to Trump these details about the bill were “the little s***.” But to the members in front of him, this was the make-or-break criteria of what makes a good reform bill. You would think the author of The Art of the Deal would have understood the importance of knowing the other side’s priorities. I seem to recall impassioned, insistent assurances during the 2016 Republican presidential primary that Trump was the ultimate dealmaker. Now we’re assured by Trump fan Bill Mitchell, “Trump is prescient and a brilliant strategist; therefore, the death of today’s bill was part of his long term strategy.”

We’ve seen the growing enthusiasm for “outsiders” in American politics in recent years. A pratfall like this isn’t the only potential outcome with an outsider, but it’s a strong possibility. They either think they can completely rewrite how the system works, haven’t bothered to study how the system works, or don’t care how the system works. But they don’t actually change how the system works.

Like most of my colleagues, I found AHCA pretty “meh” at best. (With all the bashing going on right now, it’s worth remembering that the bill did offer flexibility to the states on Medicaid, did reduce the deficit, would reduce premiums in the long term if not the short term, and constituted the biggest effort at entitlement reform in a generation.) But because of the impossibility of getting 60 votes in the Senate, it didn’t include tort reform, insurance companies selling across state lines, and a couple of other big elements of the conservative health care reform agenda. It’s quite possible that had this bill been enacted, most Americans would feel like nothing had changed or improved by November 2018.

This was always a thorny, multifaceted problem. But the president and congressional Republicans were quite clear in their promises in 2016. They told us they could handle this, and they made fixing it sound easy. At what point is it fair to conclude their self-assurance was evidence they had no idea what they were talking about?

Could You Guys Stop Finger-Pointing for a Minute?

Historians and students of the presidency love Abraham Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals” in his cabinet. They describe it as messy and complicated but effective and a way to guarantee a diverse range of viewpoints and options are considered. But I’ve always wondered whether the “team of rivals” approach worked because it’s a good system… or whether it worked because Abraham Lincoln was using it.

Because if you have a “team of rivals” in your White House, everybody spends a lot of time jockeying for position and addressing “palace intrigue” instead of, you know, their jobs.

What would be the worst possible way to respond to a defeat? Oh, probably recriminations and finger-pointing, instead of refocusing on common goals and getting everyone on the same page, rowing in the same direction.

With President Donald Trump’s sweeping agenda hitting the rocks as he edges toward the 100-day mark, top aides, political allies and donors are embroiled in a furious round of finger-pointing over who is at fault.

The recriminations extend far beyond the implosion of the GOP’s Obamacare repeal on Friday. Senior aides are lashing each other over their inability to stem a never-ending tide of negative stories about the president. There is second-guessing of the Republican National Committee’s efforts to mobilize Trump’s electoral coalition on behalf of his legislative priorities. At the Environmental Protection Agency, a top official quit recently amid accusations the department is failing to advance the president’s campaign promises. And one of Trump’s most generous benefactors, Rebekah Mercer, has expressed frustration over the direction of the administration.

It’s not even April yet.

Keeping Up with the Joneses in Our Friends Feed

Two sharp and thought-provoking observations from Kevin Williamson:

Two things are going on here related to American unhappiness: The first is that as our economy becomes less physical and more intellectual, success in life is less like war and more like chess, and extraordinary success in life — i.e., being part of the founding of a successful new company — is a lot like being a grandmaster: It is an avenue that simply is not open to everyone. It requires talents that are not distributed with any sense of fairness and that are not earnable: Hard work is not enough. Peter Thiel is both a successful entrepreneur and a ranked chess master — and these facts are not merely coincidental. You can blame Thiel a little bit for the second factor in American unhappiness: Facebook. Facebook and other social-media communities are a kind of ongoing high-school reunion, the real and unstated purpose of which is to dramatize the socioeconomic gulf between those who have made it in life and those who have not. We simply know more about how our more successful friends and neighbors live than our ancestors knew about John D. Rockefeller, about whom they thought seldom if at all. Our contemporary tycoons have reality shows (some of which blossom into presidencies, oddly enough), but social media is itself a kind of reality show for everybody else.

Of course, Facebook does not present to our friends the way our lives really are. It presents what we choose to share, which in most cases is the best moments, the triumphs, the joy and the humble-brags. It’s not hard to look at Facebook pages and think other people’s lives consist of nothing but good times, happy families, thrilling vacations, adorable children, birthday thanks, spectacular-looking food…

ADDENDA: RIP, Linda Bridges. Life has many awful feelings; one in particular is hearing about someone’s death and then looking at your e-mail archives, seeing the nice notes over the years and all the times you didn’t reply.

Our old friend Elaina Plott writes a wonderful profile of Mary Katharine Ham for Washingtonian magazine.

Why No GOP Health Care Bill Will Ever Be Really Popular

by Jim Geraghty

Why No GOP Health Care Bill Will Ever Be Really Popular

The conventional wisdom this morning is that Republicans are suffering a colossal defeat by failing to unify behind the American Health Care Act. It’s only a colossal defeat if they let it become one. President Trump has offered a bold ultimatum: If the House doesn’t pass the American Health Care Act, he’s abandoning Obamacare. If this isn’t a bluff to win passage and he genuinely means it, it means he’s more reckless, more capricious, and more unworthy of conservative support than even his skeptics thought. A presidential declaration that repeal and replacement efforts are kaput for the remainder of his presidency would be the anti-Gorsuch, a giant vindication of his critics from the primary. He denounced Obamacare over and over again on the campaign trail. Now, in the face of predictable problems of a Republican party divided on how best to replace it, he’s willing to abandon the effort?

Different Republicans are going to have different priorities in what replaces Obamacare. The U.S. health-care system is big and complicated and has a lot of problems because it’s trying to address a lot of contrary desires. Americans want health care to be excellent, widely available, and cheap. Experience tells us we can only pick two of those qualities.

A gigantic lingering problem for any reform effort is that many members of the public have wildly unrealistic expectations about what their health care should be and how much they should pay for it, and no politician in either party has much incentive to be honest about hard truths. There’s a strong argument that the entire concept of insurance doesn’t work well for health care, compared to, say, auto insurance. The vast majority of drivers will not get in a major accident in any given year, and plenty of drivers will go years and years without an accident. Consumers are comfortable with a system where most years, they will pay in a considerable sum and get nothing from their auto insurer for that year.

Auto insurance works because a lot of people pay in and get little or nothing in return (other than peace of mind and meeting the legal requirements), but a few people pay in a little and then wreck their car, and the company can afford the costs of repairs or replacing it and make a profit on top, enough to run lots of ads with that little gecko.

Everyone needs health care eventually. And even if you’re healthy and don’t foresee health expenses in the near future, you can get hit by a bus or fall off a ladder or slice your finger with a steak knife at any time. (That’s one reason why “preventative care” rarely saves as much as the reformers hope.) Obamacare decreed that insurance should cover birth control, which is a monthly expense. Quite a few Americans take prescription drugs regularly to control chronic conditions. Significant health expenses aren’t as rare as car wrecks, meaning the insurers have to pay out more… which means they have to charge more in premiums.

The way to bring down prices in most markets is supply and demand, but that’s difficult to apply to health-care costs compared to, say, shopping for a plane ticket on Expedia. If you’re hit by a bus, you need emergency care and it’s difficult to request the ambulance take you to the less-expensive hospital. People get very attached to the doctors they know and they’ve been seeing for years — thus the importance of Obama’s pledge, “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” Pediatricians watch kids grow up. People don’t like the idea of breaking off an established care relationship and shopping around.

On paper, we can increase supply, and you’ve seen market forces improve health services not covered by insurance; LASIK surgery and plastic surgeries are the most-cited examples. But while you can increase the number of doctors in the country (and nurse practitioners, etc.) it’s difficult to increase the number of the very best doctors. Even if we somehow forced medical schools to admit more students and produce more doctors, U.S. demand for health care is only going to increase as the Baby Boomers age.

The popular argument on the Left is to declare that health care is a right, and thus shouldn’t be subject to the pressures of supply and demand. It’s a lovely thought, until you start thinking through how this would work, because all health care is the result of someone’s labor. Somebody’s got to go through college and medical school and spend all those years studying to become a doctor or nurse or specialist. Somebody’s got to research and develop the prescription medication. Somebody’s got to invent, design, and build the MRI machine, robotic surgery arm, artificial limb, etcetera. And all of those people expect to get paid, and almost everyone would agree that considering their skill, education, talent, and hard work, they deserve to be paid well.

When you declare something is a right, it means it cannot be denied, particularly due to an inability to pay. Which means someone else, i.e., the government is in charge of payment.

Put aside the exorbitant cost of having the government pay for everyone’s health care for a moment. You could argue the “government pays” system is close to what we have with Medicaid… except a lot of doctors find Medicaid payments to be way below fair market value, “around 50 to 85 cents on the dollar of the actual cost of medical care.” Many doctors say that they’re still willing to take the personal financial loss that comes from treating Medicaid patients, up until the point that they can’t afford it. As of 2015, only 67 percent of doctors take Medicaid, and only 45 percent of doctors take new patients on Medicaid. Even the illustrious Mayo Clinic announced it is going prioritize non-Medicaid and non-Medicare patients.

The Democratic solution? Introduce laws forcing doctors to accept Medicaid payments. Some gratitude for the caring profession, huh? Making health care a “right” means that doctors are forced to work for reimbursement set by the government. It reduces them to tools of the state.

But this hasn’t sunk in with much of the general public. They still believe that there’s some system out there where they can get the very best care, choose any doctor they like, see any specialist they prefer, and pay little or nothing for it. And until that perception is dispelled, any health-care reform proposal will be greeted as a disappointment.

Man, This Thing Is Going to Become Redefined as ‘Ryancare’ Fast

Here comes the scapegoating:

Privately [President Trump] is grappling with rare bouts of self-doubt.

Mr. Trump has told four people close to him that he regrets going along with Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s plan to push a health care overhaul before unveiling a tax cut proposal more politically palatable to Republicans.

He said ruefully this week that he should have done tax reform first when it became clear that the quick-hit health care victory he had hoped for was not going to materialize on Thursday, the seventh anniversary of the act’s passage, when the legislation was scheduled for a vote.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

The End of ‘Cute Kid Conservatism’

I concur with my friend Kurt Schlichter, who urges us to rekindle our appreciation for experience:

We need to dispense with the cute kid conservative novelty acts and understand that our ideology — unlike liberalism — is not based on feelings and preferences but is instead drawn from a wisdom and understanding of human nature that comes only from hard-won life experience. That’s not to say young people should sit down and shut up — far from it. They have valuable insights we need to hear, especially from worlds they uniquely inhabit, like colleges or the company-level military. Sometimes they have done in-depth study and reporting on specific issues, including writing books. That’s earned expertise, not some mere knack for viral ranting, and that’s not what we are talking about here.

It’s our own fault for letting them represent us to the world — maybe we do it because they flatter us by offering a dim reflection of what we believe. But when they recite conservative chapter and verse for us, that’s all they’re doing — reciting. It’s not ingrained, it’s not seared into them through study and experience. It’s a stunt, a parlor trick. One of several reasons we conservatives need to stop putting them out there is because most conservatives have a youthful liberal phase and the kid who delights us today by mimicking our views will likely take a misguided off-ramp or two along the road to adulthood.

ADDENDA: Yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch was one of our most Die Hard-focused episodes yet.

Actual headline in the Los Angeles Times: “Just like her mother, Chelsea Clinton never gets a break.”

The Guardian calls me “a conservative blogger who is now a big presence at National Review.” Weight-wise, yes.

The Point Devin Nunes Is Making That Trump Critics Refuse to Acknowledge

by Jim Geraghty

The Point Devin Nunes Is Making That Trump Critics Refuse to Acknowledge

It’s perfectly fair to ask whether the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee should be traveling to the White House to brief the president when the FBI director just announced that there is an ongoing investigation into whether there was any collusion between the president’s campaign and a foreign government in the past year.

But everybody is whacking Representative Devin Nunes around like a piñata right now, and it’s easy to forget he’s raising a perfectly valid concern.

On January 12, the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote:

According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

This is a leak of classified information. Michael Flynn was not, as far as we know, a target of any U.S. government surveillance. He was one of the figures whose conversations was “incidentally” recorded, presumably as part of the regular monitoring of Kislyak.

People within the U.S. government are not supposed to take the information that is incidentally recorded and then run to David Ignatius because they don’t like the American citizen who was recorded. That’s not the purpose of our domestic counterintelligence operations. Even if Flynn had violated the Logan Act — which, as we all know, no one has never been prosecuted for violating — there are legitimate avenues for dealing with that, namely going to law enforcement and a prosecutor.

(Invoking the Logan Act in this circumstance is particularly nonsensical, because the interpretation Ignatius floats would criminalize just about any discussion between a presidential candidate, a president-elect or his team and any representative of a foreign government on any matter of importance. If you ask a foreign official if his country would make a concession on Issue X in exchange for a U.S. concession on Issue Y, BOOM! Call out the SWAT teams, we’ve got a Logan Act violation!)

There are a lot of reasons not to like Michael Flynn, but that doesn’t change the fact that somebody broke the law and leaked classified information in an effort to get him in trouble. That is wrong and that is illegal, and Nunes is right to point out we’re going down a dangerous road when information collected by U.S. intelligence agencies about American citizens starts getting strategically leaked for partisan purposes.

Here’s what Democrats and their friends in the media are too shortsighted to recognize: any skullduggery they excuse now will be used against them in the future. Anything that the Obama administration did during the transition can be done by figures in the Trump administration against future Democratic candidates.

Just about any serious presidential campaign and any presidential transition is going to speak with someone under U.S. government surveillance at some time. It seems reasonable to think that every ambassador and representative of a foreign government, but particularly those of Russia, China, and any other not-always-friendly country, is monitored 24/7 or as close to that as possible. Executives at foreign and international companies, scholars, retired officials — anyone connected to a foreign government is probably a potential source of intelligence and a potential target of surveillance.

The default setting for most of the media right now is, “well, the eavesdropping on Trump’s transition team was incidental; no harm, no foul.” But leaking of even incidental eavesdropping is harmful and is a foul. Nunes has a right to be angry, and to remind us that this strategic illegal leaking should bother us as well.

These Guys Hurt All of Us. Why Aren’t All of Us Punching Back Simultaneously?

Considering how Islamist terror, and particularly ISIS, targets everyone, you would think it would be easier to build a robust and aggressive global coalition that could hit ISIS with so much ordinance, it makes “shock and awe” look like “milk and cookies.”

The toll in London:

Consistent with the multicultural character of London, the victims of the attack — three dead and around 40 others wounded — included 12 Britons, at least four South Koreans, three French schoolchildren, two Romanians and one citizen each of China, Germany, Greece, Ireland and Italy.

The police also said that they had lowered the death toll in the attack on Wednesday to four from five, including the assailant. He drove his vehicle over pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then fatally stabbed a police constable, Keith Palmer, 48, before being shot dead by the police.

A moment of silence was observed in London at 9:33 a.m. on Thursday, to be followed by a 6 p.m. vigil in Trafalgar Square. But even as the city returned fairly quickly to normalcy, and as Parliament resumed normal business — starting with a debate on trade policy — police officers were pursuing leads in the case.

Regarding the perpetrator…

Prime Minister Theresa May described the assailant as a British-born man whom the country’s domestic intelligence agency had investigated for connections to violent extremism.

Addressing lawmakers in Parliament who only a day earlier had been under lockdown, Mrs. May said Thursday morning that the attacker was “a peripheral figure” who had been examined by MI5, Britain’s domestic counterintelligence agency, but who had not been “part of the current intelligence picture.”

Why are people not afraid of being connected to violent extremism?

A Proposed ‘Deal’ That Sounds More Like a ‘Unilateral Concession’

Ladies and gentlemen, the worst deal proposal for Republicans on judges since Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico proposed nominating both Neil Gorsuch and Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court:

A group of Senate Democrats is beginning to explore trying to extract concessions from Republicans in return for allowing Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

The lawmakers worry that Gorsuch could be confirmed whether Democrats try to block him or not — and Democrats would be left with nothing to show for it. That would be a bitter pill after the GOP blocked Merrick Garland for nearly a year.

News flash to Democrats: Gorsuch indeed will be confirmed whether Democrats try to block him or not.

The deal Democrats would be most likely to pursue, the sources said, would be to allow confirmation of Gorsuch in exchange for a commitment from Republicans not to kill the filibuster for a subsequent vacancy during President Donald Trump’s term. The next high court opening could alter the balance of the court, and some Democrats privately argue that fight will be far more consequential than the current one.

Wait, where’s the upside for Republicans? The GOP can nuke the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations now or they can do it later. It doesn’t make much difference for them.

Here is the brutal reality for Democrats: As long as 1) Trump is president and 2) he picks qualified legal minds that conservatives like such as the names on his list of 21 potential choices and 3) Republicans control the Senate, then Trump’s nominees will end up on the court. As the late Bill Paxton would say, “Game over, man, game over.”

This sort of deal would represent Republicans accepting a Democratic veto of Trump’s next pick in exchange for Democrats not building a speed-bump on this pick.

For everything else going wrong in this world, at least conservative legal eagles got a good laugh out of this proposal.

Leonard Leo, one of Trump advisors for the Supreme Court who’s on leave from Federalist Society, called the proposal “delusional.”

“This absurd ‘deal’ would prolong an environment in which Democrat Supreme Court nominees get up or down simple majority votes and Republican nominees get filibustered,” he said in a released statement. “That’s not a deal, it’s unilateral disarmament.”

Judicial Crisis Network policy director Carrie Severino: “Now that Neil Gorsuch is well on his way to confirmation, Democrats hope Republicans will fumble at the one yard line. The silly proposal being floated by Democrats would merely prolong their ability to filibuster exceptionally qualified nominees, while giving Republicans nothing in return. Republicans would be fools to take it, and I don’t think they are fools.”

ADDENDA: Just when you think the world can’t get any more bizarre…

A youth with both American and Israeli citizenship is suspected of being behind a host of fake bomb threats directed at Jewish institutions worldwide.

The cyberattack unit of Israel’s fraud squad arrested the suspect, 18, on Thursday in wake of information it received from the FBI and other law enforcement authorities abroad. The police seized computers and other items that allegedly allowed him to perpetrate the threats in a manner that made it difficult for the police to locate him.

The suspect has lived in Israel many years. The army refused to draft him on personal grounds after finding him unfit for service. The suspect’s motive is unknown. The police also detained his father for questioning.

What Does It Take to Declare a School ‘Unsafe’?

by Jim Geraghty

What Does It Take to Declare a School ‘Unsafe’?

Something has gone terribly wrong in the public school system of Montgomery County, Maryland.

Only one of the two Rockville High School students charged with rape last week knew the freshman girl whom he’s accused of brutally attacking inside a bathroom stall, authorities said.

The 17- and 18-year-old students arrested Thursday did not share classes with the girl and had no prior contact with Montgomery County police, Capt. James Humphries and Montgomery County Public School officials said during a Tuesday evening press conference.

During the briefing at the district’s Rockville headquarters, MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith sought to address the shock, criticism and concern coming from the governor’s office, White House and the community in the wake of the alleged attack.

The two accused students—Henry Sanchez-Milian, 18, and Jose Montano, 17,—had arrived from Central America within the past year, and their arrest has set off a firestorm of debate about immigration and county education policy. In an address to the media, Smith pleaded passionately against using sweeping generalizations and denounced the surge of racism that he’s seen since the arrests.

County citizens have since learned that an illegal immigrant can be 18 years old, enroll in the public schools, undergo no background check, and because they have no verifiable high-school credits, automatically be enrolled as a freshman, putting them in the same classes as 14 and 15-year-olds. Under the law, the school cannot ask about the student’s immigration status; the school system chooses not to perform background checks on incoming students.

In this light, the shock is not that this happened, the shock is that this hasn’t happened until now.

Here’s the assessment from the district superintendent, Jack Smith: “This horrible incident shouldn’t change anyone’s mind that those schools are safe for our students and we work very hard and our families and our community works very hard to keep all children safe in Montgomery County,”

Just stop. After you’ve had a brutal rape in your school during the school day, you can’t say that your schools are safe anymore. You don’t get to brag about what a terrific job everyone is doing at keeping them safe.

Montgomery County officials are quick to emphasize that they aren’t a “true” sanctuary city:

The county and City of Rockville for many years have had a policy in place that directs their police officers not to ask about an individual’s immigration status during interactions. However, the county and city both share information about individuals who are arrested with federal agencies such as the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in case those agencies have pending issues with the individuals. This policy, according to county officials, is different from true sanctuary jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with federal immigration agencies.

I’m reminded of Chris Rock’s routine about wanting special credit for meeting standard obligations. “We share information about individuals arrested with the FBI and immigration”? That’s what you’re supposed to do! What do you want, a cookie?

No, He Doesn’t Have a Great Nose for These Things.

Back on March 6, Mike Allen quoted an unnamed White House official who said President Trump is “absolutely convinced” he’ll be vindicated on his accusation that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

“The president just has a great nose for these things,” the official said. “It’s the bureaucratic leaks — the deep state — that bother him most. Even if it turns out not to be true that they surveilled Trump Tower, he will have a very good point to make about the level of sabotage coming from Obama holdovers.”

In light of both Senate Intelligence Committee chairs, the House Intelligence Committee chair, the director of National Intelligence, the Justice Department, FBI director James Comey, and everyone else with access to our surveillance systems declaring there’s no evidence to support Trump’s accusation… can anyone around the president — Ivanka? Jared? Mr. Vice President? — gently nudge the president to recognize that he actually doesn’t have a great nose for these things? Could the people around him at least stop telling him that he has a “great nose for these things”?

Everybody’s completely convinced they have great instincts. If we all had instincts as good as we think, we would never lose in the stock market, never trust the wrong person, never make the wrong turn while driving, and never make other miscalculations.

America’s Problem with Chelsea-nomics

Can you stand a bit more griping about Chelsea Clinton? I realize I probably sound like a broken record, but you may recall I’m one of the guys most prone to going on tirades against softball media coverage that insists the former first daughter is some sort of extraordinary leader for our times.

It just keeps coming. Variety will be awarding her as a Lifetime Impact Honoree. TeenVogue sorts through her Twitter replies and denounces her “haters.” She’s just joined the board of directors for Expedia.

Twitter user Alan Smithee went through Chelsea’s work history and reminded us that all of her past employers had good reason to want a senator or secretary of state as a friend, and went on to be Clinton Foundation donors. Extraordinary opportunities and titles kept getting laid at her feet in adult life; in one interview, the correspondent choked a bit in disbelief that New York University had made her an assistant provost without her completing her dissertation.

She humble-bragged in 2014 that she didn’t particularly enjoy her work for consulting and financial firms like McKinsey and Company and Avenue Capital Group,  “I was curious if I could care about [money] on some fundamental level, and I couldn’t.” You know who doesn’t care about money? Really rich people. She thinks she’s demonstrating virtue and a lack of greed in that statement, blithely oblivious to the fact that so many people seem to “care” so much about money because they have to, because they don’t have the privileges and advantages that Chelsea Clinton has.

It’s not surprising that Chelsea periodically finds herself insisting to interviewers that her past employers that were incredibly, fiercely meritocratic.” Eh, maybe. It’s hard for us on the outside to evaluate her work in those private firms, and it’s not like she’s ever going to get fired from the Clinton Foundation.

The one bit of her work that we in the public could scrutinize was her NBC gig, where she, with no experience, set up a bidding war among networks for an on-air correspondent job, and ended up getting $600,000 per year from NBC for work that any honest critic would label “journalistically bankrupt.” The whole thing was a ludicrously transparent embarrassment, but most of the media world was expected to avert its eyes. These are the sorts of back-scratching deals among the rich, famous and powerful that we’re supposed to accept as just part of doing business.

Nepotism isn’t the biggest problem in America, but it lives in the same gated community as our real problems: a sense of declining opportunities and social mobility, the feeling that America’s good life is increasingly closed off to newcomers by an ever-tightening web of educational, social, financial, and political barriers, and the perception that the country is governed and lectured to by an extremely comfortable, extremely insulated elite class whose concerns (Microaggressions! Transgender bathroom rights!) are light-years away from the concerns of the majority of people (finding a good job, living in a safe community, ensuring your kids will have opportunities for a better life, and dealing with a relative’s opioid addiction).

A few years ago, Ross Douthat pointed out how those who attended Ivy League schools usually marry other people who attended the Ivy Leagues, go to work for people who attended the Ivy Leagues, live amongst others who attended the Ivy Leagues, and send their own kids to the Ivy Leagues.

That this “assortative mating,” in which the best-educated Americans increasingly marry one another, also ends up perpetuating existing inequalities seems blindingly obvious, which is no doubt why it’s considered embarrassing and reactionary to talk about it too overtly. We all know what we’re supposed to do — our mothers don’t have to come out and say it!

Why, it would be like telling elite collegians that they should all move to similar cities and neighborhoods, surround themselves with their kinds of people and gradually price everybody else out of the places where social capital is built, influence exerted and great careers made. No need — that’s what we’re already doing! (What Richard Florida called “the mass relocation of highly skilled, highly educated and highly paid Americans to a relatively small number of metropolitan regions, and a corresponding exodus of the traditional lower and middle classes from these same places” is one of the striking social facts of the modern meritocratic era.) We don’t need well-meaning parents lecturing us about the advantages of elite self-segregation, and giving the game away to everybody else. …

The comments responding to that column from New York Times readers were pretty revealing. From a reader in Portland:

Can you think of any other reason besides elitist snobbism, that a PhD in philosophy might not marry or be close friends with, an auto mechanic. Could it be that they wouldn’t have anything to talk about? Or even a lowly English major trying to share his/her love of literature with an uneducated bank teller. How about a mathematics professor sharing his life with a beautician?

(I’ve met some pretty philosophical auto mechanics and some pretty literary bank tellers in my time.) Then a reader in San Francisco:

So Ross is advocating at young people graduating for ivies should go find a good for nothing low life who has no interest in raising kids, having a job, or staying Out of jail, so that we can produce dysfunctional kids who are all mediocre in order to create greater “social equality”?

That’s a pretty vivid portrait of what this San Franciscan thinks of people who didn’t go to Ivy League schools. Either you’re one of us, or you’re dirt.

America has a quasi-aristocracy that is completely convinced that it rose to the top of a meritocracy; perhaps no more clearly illustrated than in Chelsea Clinton’s belief that her workplaces were “incredibly, fiercely meritocratic.” (We should spare her a moment of genuine sympathy: It must be incredibly difficult to go through life with the suspicion that everyone who is nice to you is really just angling for a favor from your parents.) She deserved every chance to go off and live a happy life somewhere far from the glare and nosy questions of the press. But she’s chosen to live in the public eye and accept these accolades and opportunities, reminding us of her de facto royal status.

ADDENDA: You can hear me, but not see me, on the podcast of yesterday’s “State of America” on CNN International.

The FBI’s Coming Catch-22

by Jim Geraghty

The FBI’s Coming Catch-22

FBI director James Comey, testifying before Congress yesterday:

The FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

He later added, “We’ve been doing this — this investigation began in late July, so for counterintelligence investigation that’s a fairly short period of time.”

Late July? When did the FBI think it was pertinent to tell the public?

Talk about a Catch-22. If the FBI finds evidence of some collusion or violation of U.S. laws, it’s an epic scandal, will set up Democratic conspiracy theories for years, will take a sledgehammer to public faith in the Trump presidency… and everyone will rightly ask why the FBI couldn’t uncover anything, or even inform the public about the investigation, until after the election. Heck, not even until after the inauguration!

If the FBI doesn’t find evidence of some collusion or violation of U.S. laws, it’s an epic farce, where the Trump administration can rightfully ask where they can go to get their reputations back.

The jump headline on page A2 of this morning’s USA Today says Inquiry could drag on for years. I realize counter-intelligence investigations take a long time to do correctly and completely, but what is the consequence to Russia or any other foreign power if the consequences to their actions don’t arrive until years later?

It’s Bad. But Should a 22-Year-Old Be in That Position In the First Place?

If you’re on the right, you probably have a sneaking suspicion that non-conservative media prefer to spotlight two distinct types of voices to represent the conservative point of view.

The first is the “Reasonable” Conservative. This figure may or may not be connected to a Republican campaign from a long time ago. This type of pundit for figures like John Kasich, Jon Huntsman, Christie Whitman, and Jim Jeffords, and saw the departure of Charlie Crist and Arlen Specter as great losses for the GOP. This kind of conservative talking head seems to particularly relish criticizing his or her own side, not for failing to live up to conservative principles or inexcusable ethics failures but for “extremism.” They seem to always accept the liberal frame of the host or opposing guest and deep down wish that all thorny issues in governing could be resolved by a bipartisan special blue-ribbon commission to study an issue and come up with a plan.

You’ve probably read some mockery of David Brooks for this non sequitur assessment of Barack Obama:

“I remember distinctly an image of–we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant,” Brooks says, “and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.”

Or, you know, maybe he’s got a really good dry cleaner. The reason this particular brain fart stuck to Brooks for so long was because the New York Times columnist always seemed like an intellectual who knew so much more than the rest of us… and it turns out he can be as shallow and capricious in his assessment of political figures as we are.

Then there’s the flip side of that coin, the unappealing “Extreme” Conservative, the one who few conservatives want to be caught associating with, and who can be counted on to provide the least likeable, least persuasive, least appealing version of the conservative argument, time after time. The classic example is when then-CNN host Piers Morgan invited Alex Jones onto his program to debate gun control with him. America has many eloquent gun owners and Second Amendment defenders who don’t rant about chemicals in the water turning the frogs gay. The Unappealing Conservative talking heads are usually doing a version of the pugnacious personas of other, better-known conservatives like Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, but they’re doing the shtick badly, and come across as shrill, poorly informed, sneering automatons. They’re either completely unaware of how unlikeable they come across on camera, or cynically enjoy playing the villainous role in the television news version of professional wrestling.

(Yes, I know this comes from a guy who’s got a double chin, offers comments that meander like the Mississippi River, has a lot of “ums” and “ahs” in every podcast, and is neither dignified and refined enough to be a “reasonable conservative,” nor impassioned-on-demand enough to be a firebrand. I’ll let you decide what an entity like CNN International is getting on days like today when they invite me to the roundtable.)

The story of Tomi Lahren is a fascinating example of a young rising star in the world of conservative punditry who somehow managed to jump rapidly from Category B to Category A, or maybe like she’s like Schrödinger’s cat, simultaneously existing in both.

Here’s Lahren on December 22, appearing on TheBlaze, lambasting Lena Dunham for declaring she hasn’t had an abortion but she “wishes she had.”

This woman, and I use the term loosely, single-handedly kills legitimacy of the modern-day feminist movement every time she speaks.

…Does she realize how damaging she is to her own narrative? Think about it: the “pro-choicers” are supposed to be about rare and safe abortions. That’s how they avoid sounding like straight-up baby killers…

Then we have Lena freakin’ Dunham out there wishing she could have murdered a fetus. Wishing for the option to kill your child doesn’t exactly say much about the cause, her character, or the pro-choice movement.

And here I thought the loving Left…were all about peace, and love, and light, except when it comes to the unborn, I suppose. Then it’s a different story, a story they write and rewrite to fit their narrative…

And here’s Lahren appearing on The View Friday:

I’m pro-choice, and here’s why. I am a constitutional, y’know, someone that loves the Constitution. I’m someone that’s for limited government. So I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government but I think the government should decide what women do with their bodies. I can sit here and say that, as a Republican and I can say, you know what, I’m for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well.

Now, most folks would say that if you support limited government and abortion rights, you’re more accurately labeled somewhere on the “libertarian” realm of the spectrum. (It’s not that every last conservative is pro-life, but you certainly don’t see a lot of self-identified conservatives choosing to label their brethren “hypocrites” over that stance.)

The seeming flip-flop on abortion isn’t a good look, but there’s nothing wrong with being 24 and changing your mind, or having conflicting views as you sort out how you see the world. Of course, some might say this is why self-identified conservative cable news networks shouldn’t have 22-year-old anchors.

After our tour we went back to Robert Herring’s office. He asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I would literally “do whatever.” I just wanted the opportunity. He looked at me and said, “how about your own show.” My jaw dropped. I was stunned. I just wanted an internship. He gave me a show.

By age 23, Lahren had her own show on TheBlaze. She’s now 24.

Look, sometimes there are real prodigies. William F. Buckley wrote his first book at 26. Rich became editor of National Review at 29. I don’t remember how old Kathryn Lopez was when she started handling the many spinning plates of National Review Online, but I’m pretty sure she was still getting carded when she ordered alcohol.

When I was 22, I thought it was egregious that self-evidently brilliant 22-year-olds like myself weren’t given their own political talk shows. Now I look back and thank God no one gave me the platform to make a fool of myself. Not only did I not know enough, not only did I not know what I didn’t know; I didn’t even know that I was supposed to know what I didn’t know!

At that time, I thought I was unjustly sentenced to this bitter “dues-paying” duty of summarizing legislation at Congressional Quarterly — followed by really dry, boring, technical reporting of House floor votes, and then years of work on dot-coms and at wire services, covering milk producers complaints about a U.S.-Australia trade deal and senators’ responses to energy legislation and the Boston water system preparation for terrorism and the National Spelling Bee.

What I only gradually realized was that all those years of boring reporting and “paying your dues” is the Mr. Miyagi of reporting and writing training. Wax on, wax off. Inverted pyramid. Who, what, when, where, why, and sometimes how. Interview subject. Almost everybody’s got to pitch in the minor leagues for a while in order to be ready for the challenges of the big leagues.

We go through this every couple years with some articulate teenager who is suddenly appointed a “spokesman for conservatism” by some less-discerning corner of the conservative-media complex; Jonathan Crohn and C.J. Pearson were the two highest-profile examples. Then after a while, the kids change their minds and it’s written as if it’s this giant loss for the conservative movement.

Don’t blame Tomi Lahren for this mess entirely; blame the managers who put her in that position before she was ready.

ADDENDA: I’m up to New York today for another appearance on CNN International.

Finally, Neil Gorsuch’s Moment in the Spotlight!

by Jim Geraghty

Finally, Neil Gorsuch’s Moment in the Spotlight!

In an administration where very little runs smoothly, the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Neil Gorsuch should be the political equivalent of relaxing in a Jacuzzi. USA Today:

…thus far, he has emerged from the confirmation battle relatively unscathed, and his unanimous popularity among Republicans should be enough to carry him over the finish line — either by winning the 60 votes needed to clear a Democratic filibuster, or through a Senate rules change that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has threatened to carry out.

If Senate Democrats filibuster Gorsuch, and Senate Republicans nuke the filibuster… well, that just makes things easier for the next opening on the court.

About that Poor, Struggling ‘Meals on Wheels’…

Genuinely good news…

Meals on Wheels, a non-profit program that serves senior citizens around the U.S., has seen its online donations surge since President Trump’s administration released a budget proposal that could result in funding cuts for the organization.

The White House released its proposed budget early Thursday, and during the course of that day, online donations to Meals on Wheels were 50 times the usual daily total — $50,000 compared to the typical daily rate of $1,000, Jenny Bertolette, vice president of communications for Meals on Wheels America, told ABC News.

The increased giving has continued. By Saturday afternoon, Meals on Wheels had received just over $100,000 in mostly small individual gifts since the proposed budget was released, Bertolette said.

Wonderful! That should make any cut in the 3.3 percent of Meals on Wheels funding that comes from government sources — according to their own 2015 financial statements to the government — much easier to bear!

How We Got Here on the ‘Wiretapping’ Claims…

Amazing how one series of tweets, just a few weeks ago, can end up having such a far-reaching consequence for an administration and the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.

Recall that all this began on March 4, when Trump tweeted, “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” He wrote three more tweets, even more specific.

From the words, “just found out,” one would ordinarily have thought that the evidence for that extraordinary accusation would follow quickly. After all, Trump is now the president. At any moment he can call the FBI director, the NSA director, or anyone else into his office and say, “what is the meaning of this?” He can declassify anything he likes. Logs, records, transcripts — he could declassify it all, particularly if it exposed criminal behavior by government officials. And Trump didn’t say, “I suspect,” he said he “just found out.”

President Obama denied the accusation; former director of national intelligence James Clapper denied it.

By March 15, House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, a Republican who is clearly not eager to call the president a liar, declared, “We don’t have any evidence that that took place. … I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.”

Also that day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied he had never briefed Trump on any ”investigations related to the campaign” or “give him any reason to believe that he was wiretapped by the previous administration.”

That evening, Trump did an interview with Tucker Carlson, where he suddenly sounded as if the whole matter was too sensitive to discuss publicly: “I’m not going to discuss it, because we have it before the committee and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon that hasn’t been submitted as of yet. But it’s potentially a very serious situation.”

Trump also said, “We will be submitting certain things and I will be perhaps speaking about this next week, but it’s right now before the committee, and I think I want to leave it. I have a lot of confidence in the committee.”

The next day, the two leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican chairman Richard Burr and Democratic vice chair Mark Warner, put out a joint statement: “Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.”

That seems like a pretty definitive blanket rejection of the president’s accusation. But perhaps you’re the kind of person who believes that all of those figures would get together to conspire and cover up the truth of blatant abuse of powers by the Obama administration.

Back on April 14, ten days after the accusation with no hard evidence of the wiretapping, Andrew Napolitano of Fox News offered a new version of events that suggested no evidence of American surveillance of the Trump campaign exists, but implicated our closest ally:

Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ. What is that? It’s the initials for the British intelligence finding agency. So, simply by having two people saying to them president needs transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump’s conversations, involving president-elect Trump, he’s able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on this. Putting the published accounts and common-sense together, this leads to a lot.

By Thursday, Sean Spicer reads aloud Napolitano’s accusation at the White House press briefing, giving the accusation something of an official stamp of approval from the United States government… and by Friday, the rest of Fox News backed away from Napolitano’s accusation. Shepard Smith with a statement from the network:

Judge Andrew Napolitano commented on the morning show Fox and Friends that he has sources who say British intelligence that was involved in surveillance at Trump Tower. Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-President of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way, full stop.

Catherine Herridge, Jennifer Griffin, James Rosen, Eric Shawn, Shannon Bream, Ed Henry… all very well-connected reporters, with lots of sources throughout government, unable to confirm the accusation. Nor had Sky News, the U.K. partner of Fox News, been able to find sources to confirm it either.

By Friday afternoon, Trump acted as if the White House could repeat others’ accusations without consequence:

We said nothing — all we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make any opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox and so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox, okay?

Many in the British government are rightly outraged by the seemingly baseless accusation, and the deputy director of the National Security Agency is now in the awkward position of denying allegations repeated by the White House press secretary.

The claim that GCHQ carried out surveillance on Donald Trump during the election campaign is “arrant nonsense”, Rick Ledgett, the number two at the US National Security Agency (NSA) has told the BBC in an exclusive interview.

So now the U.S.–U.K. relationship has just taken a hit because of the adamant insistence that the president’s accusation had to be true, even though no one in our government can find any solid evidence of this.

At the heart of the accusation… do we find it plausible that Obama and his inner circle would be that fascinated by what was being said at the highest levels of the Trump campaign? Remember, the Obama White House was so convinced that Hillary Clinton was going to win that they didn’t think it was worth making a stink out of the Russian hacking.

The Obama administration didn’t respond more forcefully to Russian hacking before the presidential election because they didn’t want to appear to be interfering in the election and they thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win and a potential cyber war with Russia wasn’t worth it, multiple high-level government officials told NBC News.

“They thought she was going to win, so they were willing to kick the can down the road,” said one U.S. official familiar with the level of Russian hacking.

The key lesson is not that the Obama White House was arrogant enough to think they would wiretap Trump Tower and get away with it. The key lesson is that the Obama White House was arrogant enough to think they would never need to do that.

Maybe in the rough-and-tumble world of Manhattan real estate and the New York tabloids, you can get out of trouble by making an outrageous counter-accusation. Maybe you can falsely accuse someone in that realm with little real long-term damage, as everything blurs into a haze of impassioned denials and furious allegations.

But the operating rules are different when you’re president. When the commander in chief accuses someone, particularly his predecessor, of criminal wrongdoing, people will investigate. People will figure out whether there’s evidence to back up the charge or not. And if it’s false, the administration will find itself lacking credibility that it needs when it makes an accurate accusation.

ADDENDA: Thanks to everyone who attended last week’s National Review Institute Ideas Summit, which was a smashing success. Many of the newsmaker interviews and panel discussions can be viewed in the C-SPAN archives.

What You’re Missing at the National Review Ideas Summit

by Jim Geraghty

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, America. On behalf of Irish Americans everywhere, I invite all of you to share our cultural tradition of soda bread, corned beef, and drinking way too much, just as our Mexican-American brethren have watched Cinco De Mayo become de facto Drink Too Many Margaritas Day, our German-American friends have seen Oktoberfest become Drink Beer Outdoors Week, and our French-American brethren have seen Mardi Gras turn into Remove Your Top for Beads While Inebriated Week. Don’t let anyone tell you America is xenophobic; we’ve always been a big-hearted, joyous people willing to reach out and fully embrace any other culture’s annual excuse to drink.

What You’re Missing at the National Review Ideas Summit

Good news! You can watch some portions of the National Review Institute Ideas Summit on C-SPAN. My interview with Kellyanne Conway went well from where I sit. She seems fairly confident that they’ll get some version of the House bill to the president’s desk, that Tom Price can enact all of “Phase Two” at the Department of Health and Human Services, and that “Phase Three” isn’t a faraway dream; once Obamacare is repealed, Democrats may want to have a say in what replaces it, and thus offer some support for the second round of replacement legislation. To get to all the good stuff in Phase Three, like selling insurance across state lines and tort reform, you need 60 votes in the Senate.

One fascinating story from Conway about Election Night:

We had agreed the night before, [Clinton campaign manager] Robby Mook had agreed the night before through an e-mail to me, that within 15 minutes of the [Associated Press] calling the race for Secretary Clinton they would wait 15 minutes, and then she would go to the podium and declare victory. So he was basically saying that you have 15 minutes for Trump to get out there [and concede]. And then he said, “in the event that Mr. Trump wins –” Conway offered a wink, indicating Mook was convinced this would never happen — “Secretary Clinton will call him within 15 minutes of the AP [calling the race].” Jason Miller tells me that the AP has called it, and I ask, “What state?” He says, “The whole thing!” And I look down, literally, (to my phone) and it says, “Huma Abedin.” And I say, “Hey, Huma, what’s up?” And she’s absolutely lovely, she really is. And she said, “Hey, Kellyanne, Secretary Clinton would like to speak to Mr. Trump.” And I said, “Now?” And she says, “Is he available?” And I said, “We are very available!” And my husband took a shot of that moment, handing Trump the phone . . . And the rest is history. That was a really remarkable moment.

Stop Shoving Our Political Debates into Childhood

It was an offhand comment from Jeff Blehar (who tweets as @EsotericCD), but the sentiment is important enough to deserve underlining in red: “Of all the literary subgenres out there, can we all agree none is more grotesque than ‘political children’s book?’”

He was responding to the news that Chelsea Clinton is about to unveil a children’s book. This is separate from her 2015 book for young adults, It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired and Get Going. The new book:

Clinton, the daughter of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, is writing a new children’s picture book showcasing inspirational women in American history, EW can exclusively announce. The book is titled She Persisted — a callback to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s defense after the Senate silenced Warren.

Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger (Max and Marla), She Persisted will tell the stories of 13 women who overcame immense opposition to achieve their goals. The 13 women include Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Nellie Bly, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Clara Lemlich, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, and Sonia Sotomayor. The picture book will also feature a cameo by another important female figure.

Oh, I see. Hillary Clinton. Some of us are going to roll our eyes at the idea that Clinton ranks right up there with Harriet Tubman, who risked her life, over and over again, for others’ freedom. It’s a not-too-subtle sleight-of-hand, attempting to connect the genuinely extraordinary like Keller and Ride with the Democratic flavors of the month. Last year I noticed that another Hillary Clinton picture book for children, Some Girls Are Born to Lead, threw Clinton (as well as Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan, but not Sandra Day O’Connor) in with history’s most indisputably accomplished women leaders. Oh, and Madonna.

There’s an entire subgenre of Hillary Clinton books for children: Hillary Clinton: The Life of a Leader, Who Is Hillary Clinton?, Hillary, Dreams Taking Flight. I haven’t yet found any copy of Encyclopedia Brown and the Missing Whitewater Records or Caillou Visits Benghazi.

How you raise your children is your business. But I figure that if most grownups find the world of politics intermittently maddening, aggravating, exhausting, infuriating, intelligence-insulting, and exasperating, there’s really no need to rush children into it. American history? Sure, you’ve got to teach them that. How our government works or how it’s supposed to work? Sure. (“I’m just a bill, I’m only a bill, and I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill…”)

But the world of modern politics? Eh, let kids develop an interest in that messy world at their own pace.

For obvious reasons, you can’t easily translate today’s political fights into simple lesson-teaching fables without heavily editing and rewriting reality. I noted that Some Girls Are Born to Lead just gets some stuff completely wrong, like depicting the Troopergate story being written before Bill Clinton’s election, a William Safire column headline being depicted as a New York Times front-page banner headline, or contending that “the odds were against her” in her Senate campaign 2000. That’s simply not the way it happened, and rearranging not-so-distant history to set up a simple story of people being mean to Hillary for no good reason is a disservice to the kids who read it (or, more likely, have it read to them).

What do you want to teach your children about the political world? Some people are really comfortable telling their kids that certain political figures are heroic, practically flawless, and that everyone who opposes them are as bad as The Grinch and Cruella de Vil, and Captain Hook. That’s not how the world works, and it’s bad enough when partisan children’s book authors do it. Why would anyone applaud when the likes of Chelsea Clinton do it?

Beware the Easily Remembered Budgetary Anecdote

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal on the president’s budget proposal:

Mr. Trump is also picking fights with some of his political opponents by proposing to zero out such long-time untouchables as public broadcasting and the national endowments for the arts and humanities. The programs are small relative to the $4 trillion budget, but it’s fair to ask if taxpayers should still have to subsidize PBS in an age with hundreds of cable channels and social-media networks. Every program should have to defend itself against, say, grants for Alzheimer’s research.

A good political rule for conservatives is if you’re going to propose cutting a program, you might as well try to eliminate it. The political pain is as great and if you succeed the payoff is greater. The mistake to avoid is cutting some popular program that critics can make a political focus that defines your entire budget. The White House is probably going to learn that lesson with its proposal to cut Meals on Wheels for the elderly.

I’ll be honest, I don’t quite understand the extraordinary excitement and drama that surrounds Budget Day. (I forgot to decorate my Budget Tree this year.) It’s a presidential priority list — some would say, “wish list” — but the actual allocation of funds is done through the appropriations process, or in far too many years, this giant omnibus bill. But now Trump critics have their easy storyline that the mean, nasty president is going to cut Meals on Wheels.

The sort of detail that really ought to be more widely known today:

According to the Meals on Wheels annual IRS filing for 2015 (it isn’t a government program), approximately 3.3 percent of its funding comes from government sources. Most is from corporate and foundation grants, with individual contributions the second largest source. Government grants are actually the fifth largest source of revenue.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it, a quick write-up of the remarks of Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and Arizona governor Doug Ducey at the summit yesterday. You can follow the proceedings on Twitter with the hashtag #NRISummit17.

Just Think, Everyone Was So Certain We Would Get Another Clinton Presidency

by Jim Geraghty

Just Think, Everyone Was So Certain We Would Get Another Clinton Presidency

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, when asked by Matt Lauer whether Trump’s Tweet accusing President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower is “presidential”:

I’m not going to say that – he is our president, Matt, and so what he does, faults and all, he’s our president. And so I want him to be successful. When these tweets come out, I mean, do I look at them and say, “Where did that come from?” Yes. But I don’t pick up the phone and say, “What are you doing?” I just know that’s who he is.

Is this how Democrats felt when Bill Clinton was president?

It’s easy to think of the 1990s as just a rollicking good time, a roaring dot-com economy, salacious sex scandals, and a comforting if illusory sense that the world was at peace. Certainly, our recent experience with the Obama presidency probably persuaded some Republicans that Bill Clinton was not the worst Democratic president of our lifetime and in fact there’s a good chance he was the best, depending on how long your life has been. Welfare reform, a budgetary surplus, crime dropping – in a lot of ways, times were good.

But there was this nagging problem of Bill Clinton lying habitually and breaking the law pretty regularly. The Lewinsky scandal is remembered the most, but there were plenty: firing the White House travel office staffers, the “accidental” access to the FBI files of prominent Republicans, the suspicion of financial misdeeds and fraud in the Whitewater Development Corporation, Paula Jones, the Chinese money in the 1996 campaign, the de facto renting out of the Lincoln Bedroom, the bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan…

Even when there was no crime proven, things looked odd and troubling and highly unusual for the White House. Vince Foster was the highest-level government official to commit suicide since Secretary of Defense James Forrestal in 1949. (And like Foster, there was a lot of speculation that Forrestal’s death wasn’t a suicide.)

During all this time, when Republicans objected to the behavior ranging from tawdry to illegal, most Democrats and plenty of apolitical Americans would just shake their heads with a smile and sigh, “Oh, that rascal! Our president is just incorrigible!” It’s not that they applauded much of that behavior; they just didn’t think it was worth getting upset about. If the economy was rocking and rolling, and everything else seemed to be going well, then we could all “compartmentalize” the way the president did and disapprove of him as a man but approve of the job he was doing.

There aren’t a lot of conservatives who like Trump making a shocking claim of illegal wiretapping and offering no supporting evidence. They just don’t see it as something worth getting that upset about. Trump is a vessel to enact their goals, and everybody knows this is the way he operates. The Red Sox used to say, “That’s just Manny being Manny.” This is just Trump being Trump. He’s karma for all the times figures on the left told lies and the fact-checkers were asleep at the switch.

Is this a good way to think of our leaders? Back in the 1990s, we were told that sophisticated Europeans didn’t worry about the character of their leaders; they simply focused upon results. At this moment, Democrats will scoff that character is destiny (let’s all pause to let Bill Bennett wipe the coffee from his screen) and there’s no comparison between the Clinton economy and the Trump economy.

Wait, what’s that noise? Do you hear the sound of joyful yelling?

Wait, my mistake, it’s the sound of a joyful Yellen:

Janet Yellen has a message for Americans: It’s finally safe to “feel good” about the U.S. economy.

“We have confidence in the robustness of the economy and its resilience to shocks,” the Federal Reserve chief said during a press conference on Wednesday.

Yellen, the normally-cautious economist, sounded a far more confident and upbeat tone than in the past. She said the Fed’s decision to raise rates is a signal that the “economy is doing well” and “people can feel good” about the outlook.

The Fed chief is particularly optimistic about America’s ability to add back millions of jobs after the Great Recession.

“Many more people feel optimistic about their prospects in the labor market. There’s job security. We’re seeing more people who are feeling free to quit their jobs,” Yellen said.

Asked about the big rally on Wall Street, Yellen declined to voice any concern about market valuations. Instead, she mentioned how higher stock prices could lead to stronger consumer spending.

Yellen joins a chorus of CEOs, small business owners and everyday Americans who are feeling more confident these days.

I know, I know, it can’t be the 1990s all over again . . . even if Twin Peaks is coming back to television, Zima is back, TLC and Sugar Ray are on tour, the fashion of that decade is returning . . . 

Those who do not study history are doomed
to use the same memes over and over again.

‘That Hype Is External to What We Did!’

Somebody’s having a bad week. It’s all the viewers’ fault!

Rachel Maddow says that if people felt let down by her story about President Donald Trump’s 2005 tax document it’s more because of the weight of expectation than anything she did.

The MSNBC host found herself in the odd position Wednesday of defending herself from criticism following one of the biggest-ever scoops for her show. Maddow’s show revealed, through reporter David Cay Johnston, two pages of tax return information that showed Trump earned $150 million in 2005 and paid $38 million in income taxes that year. Trump has steadfastly refused to release his tax returns.

Maddow’s tweet less than 90 minutes before her show that “we’ve got Trump’s tax returns” set off a social media frenzy. Although a subsequent tweet specified it was only two pages from one year’s returns, expectations were sky high.

Maddow told the AP that she never misrepresented what she had.

“Because I have information about the president doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a scandal,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s damning information. If other people leapt to that conclusion without me indicating that it was, that hype is external to what we did.”

Riiiiight.

Remember when Glenn Beck, then on Fox News, had an exclusive interview with the recently resigned “tickling” congressman, Eric Massa? Massa was claiming that he had been forced out, and that he was ready to spill the beans on all kinds of shady strong-arm tactics by Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel. Except once Massa was on Beck’s show live, he wouldn’t give any specifics. The interview grew more and more confrontational, as Beck began to get the feeling that Massa had promised detailed accounts of high-level wrongdoing and now didn’t have the goods. What followed was one of the most delightfully honest moments in television news history:

“America, I’m gonna shoot straight with you,” Beck said, looking into the camera. “I think I’ve wasted your time. I think this is the first time I have wasted an hour of your time, and I apologize for that.” He turned to Massa and added, “Because I think we could have spent a lot less time with you backtracking a lot. You’re a liar.”

That’s television accountability!

Evolution, Not Revolution…

A section of Ross Douthat’s column about the future of Christianity in America discusses an incremental approach, and it’s one that probably works well in a lot of areas of life where we find it difficult to live up to our own standards . . . 

 . . . one might also think of the Benedict Option not as an absolute demand – to the monastery, go! – but as an invitation to sort of religious ratchet, in which people start from wherever they are and then take one step toward a greater rigor and coherence in the way they marry faith and life.

If every Catholic high school or college were one degree less secularized and worldly; if every Protestant megachurch were one degree more liturgical and theological; if not every Catholic but more Catholics became priests and nuns; if not every Christian family but more Christian families decided to have a third child or a fourth or fifth; if not every young Christian but more young Christians looked at working-class neighborhoods as an important mission field; if Catholics and Protestants alike could imitate even part of Mormonism’s dense networking … all this would be a form of the Benedict Option in action, and both the churches and the common culture would be better for it.

Could we all be one percent better — however you choose to define it, whether it’s more faithful, more generous, more patient, more understanding, etc. – today than we were yesterday?

ADDENDA: See you at the National Review Ideas Summit today!

Scheduling issues interrupted the taping of the pop culture podcast this week. Peruse the archives…

Senate GOP: Our Replacement’s Got to Help Out Seniors Who Don’t Qualify for Medicaid

by Jim Geraghty

It’s the Ides of March. Watch your backs.

Senate GOP: Our Replacement’s Got to Help Out Seniors Who Don’t Qualify for Medicaid

The work in progress… remains a work in progress.

Nervous Senate Republicans on Tuesday suggested changes to the [Republican replacement for Obamacare]…

They told Trump administration officials — including the health secretary, Tom Price — that they wanted to see lower insurance costs for poorer, older Americans and an increase in funding for states with high populations of hard-to-insure people.

They said those changes would greatly improve the chances of Senate approval even though they might further alienate conservatives.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, a member of the Republican leadership, said Senate Republicans could take steps to make the bill “more helpful to people on the lower end.”

…Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, noted that Americans over 60 who earn a little too much to qualify for Medicaid would “have a hard time affording insurance” under the House plan, since insurance premiums would rise far higher than the modest tax credits on offer. “That’s not good,” he said.

The House bill includes large transition grants to the states that can be used to help cover people with pre-existing medical conditions, subsidize insurance purchases beyond the bill’s tax credits, or other interventions; some Senate Republicans would seek to make those bigger as well. Mr. Thune wants to revise the tax credits so that they would be focused more on lower-income people.

The final House vote is supposed to come next week. If they’re still tossing out significant changes to the bill (that would presumably alter the CBO scoring)… how intractable is that deadline?

Mad-Doh!

Last night, Rachel Maddow breathlessly declared on Twitter, “we’ve got Trump’s tax returns!”

What she meant, we later learned, was that someone had mailed a few pages from Trump’s 2005 return to David Cay Johnston. And after a good seventeen minutes of Maddow pounding the table about Trump’s threat to democracy and all we hold dear, and his sinister Russian connections, and how Trump probably made too much profit on a home sale to a Russian oligarch, and how the whole thing was like a “choose your own adventure” book, and how the other returns probably showed “inexplicable dumps of foreign money into the president’s coffers that cannot be explained”…

(This sinister conspiracy theory requires us to believe that years and years ago, powerful Russian interests thought it was not merely plausible that Trump would be president someday, but the prospect was such a likely prospect that it was worth investing large sums of money into the idea.)

After the commercial break, we learned Trump paid $31 million in taxes under the Alternative Minimum Tax provision of the tax code, which he would like to eliminate. There’s Rachel Maddow’s big scoop: Trump would like to change the tax system so he pays a lot less.

If wanting to change the tax code so that you pay a lot less in taxes is a scandal, almost all of us are guilty. (Hey, did Maddow ever get around to giving her fellow MSNBC hosts any grief for their unpaid taxes?)

David French:

Maddow began her show excoriating Trump for not releasing his tax returns (on that point, we agree; he should release his returns) but then departed from that basic point to launch into a series of truly wild speculations of foreign influence that included (I’m not making this up) conspiratorial references to private plane parking and yacht docking. Honestly, the musings came so fast and furious that I gave up jotting down notes and just soaked it all in. It made me wonder if Maddow and company truly believe that Trump is a full-blown criminal, and media review of the tax returns is somehow the key to bringing down his entire empire.

If you subscribe to the theory that Trump’s tax returns include all kinds of evidence of nefarious criminal activity… what has the Internal Revenue Service been doing all these years? They had time to target all of those small-time Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status, but they ignored the criminal mastermind who lives in a giant golden tower in the middle of Manhattan?

The new conventional wisdom this morning is that Trump or someone close to him mailed them to get the media on a wild goose chase, or to fool them into breathlessly touting a tax return that shows Trump obeying all appropriate tax laws and paying quite a bit of tax.

“Almost as if somebody selected the single year and the precise 2 pages that would do Trump least harm- and found a way to release only those,” says David Frum. “The Trump camp released one positive tax return to distract from Russia hearings and the Trumpcare meltdown. That’s painfully obvious,” declares Joe Scarborough.

This is all entirely possible, but think about what had to happen here. Trump (or more likely, some associate with his blessing) anonymously mails copies of the pages to David Cay Johnston. He doesn’t know for certain that Johnston will go to Maddow. Johnston’s an experienced reporter, and could have looked at the tax return (from twelve years ago!) and concluded he had a story, but not a particularly shocking or scandalous one. It’s Trump’s “luck” that Maddow chose the treat the tax return with the wildest hype since Geraldo Rivera opened up Al Capone’s vault.

Best to Kill Off Bad Ideas Like ‘Calexit’ As Quickly As Possible

An angle I didn’t get into in yesterday’s piece about secession chic among liberals and the “Calexit” campaign: The state’s extreme dependence upon water sources from beyond the state lines. About 65 percent of the water for Southern California comes from the Colorado River. Los Angeles, San Diego, all the agricultural production in that region… if you think there are tensions about water usage now, think about what it will be like when authorities and consumers in Arizona and Nevada control the water flow to a different country, a group of ex-Americans who chose to secede.

In an irate liberal response to the liberal suggestions of secession, Hamilton Nolan writes, “Donald Trump was just elected president. It is no longer safe to assume that wild, half-joking political ideas will not be realized.” 

Nolan’s a passionate lefty, but everyone across the spectrum can applaud his excoriation of the “I’m taking my bat and ball and going home” attitude after the election:

The impulse to bandy about the threat of secession is not rooted in concern for the vulnerable. It is a tantrum by rich people who are angry that their political power temporarily does not match their economic power. Think about how shallow a self-proclaimed liberal’s commitment to social justice has to be for them to say that the proper response to the ascent of a quasi-fascist amoral strongman is to cede him the majority of the nation’s territory and stop helping to support social programs for everyone not lucky enough to live in a coastal state. Ah, what brave commitment to justice for all! If 51% of your state voted for the bad man, we will condemn the other 49% to misery. That’s what good liberals are all about! We all remember how Abraham Lincoln became an American hero by telling the Confederacy: If you are uneducated enough to think that slavery is good, go be your own country. With time your slaves will certainly come to realize that blue states are preferable!

The other point that California fans forget is that most of the industries that it boasts about the most could transfer to other locations if the tax and regulatory environment became bad enough. More than half the country’s television pilots were made in New York, Vancouver, and Atlanta. Silicon Valley is the country’s biggest tech cluster, but it has plenty of others – Seattle, New York, Austin, northern Virginia, North Carolina’s research triangle, Boston. Farms, mines, fisheries, and scenic views are hard to move. A company isn’t.

ADDENDA: The updated agenda for the National Review Ideas Summit is out. Early Friday morning, I’ll be interviewing Kellyanne Conway. First rule of NR Ideas Summit: You can sit on the chair or couch any way you like.

The Congressional Budget Office Is Very ‘In’ Right Now

by Jim Geraghty

The Congressional Budget Office Is Very ‘In’ Right Now

If you want health-care reform to cost the U.S. government less than the status quo, that requires less money to go out the door to pay for other people’s health care and/or health insurance. This means someone else has to pay more, or someone else has to pay for their care or insurance entirely by themselves.

This is the core conflict of all health-care debates. Some pleasant-sounding voices claim they can get “somebody else” to pay for your health care, and imply that it is free to you. The cost is actually spread to everyone, which results in either higher spending by the government (and at some point, higher taxes or higher borrowing) or higher premiums by everyone who did purchase insurance. For the vast majority of us, you’re going to pay one way or another. Pick your poison: premium, co-pay, deductible, or tax penalty for not having insurance.

Everybody screaming “Medicaid for all!” basically means, “I don’t want to pay anything for my health care.” They think of themselves as being generous.

The “Medicaid for all” crowd also usually hand-waves away the fact that a lot of doctors don’t take Medicaid. As of 2015, only 67 percent of doctors take Medicaid, and only 45 percent of doctors take new patients on Medicaid. The “Medicaid for all” fans usually answer that this can be resolved by forcing doctors to see Medicaid patients, even if they don’t like the limited reimbursement rates.

There’s also the inconvenient fact that the best study we have shows that Medicaid doesn’t actually improve people’s health. It makes them feel better by self-reported measures, and less financially stressed.  But it also had “no statistically significant effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, or cardiovascular risk” and “found no evidence that Medicaid caused new enrollees to substitute office visits for [emergency room] visits; if anything, Medicaid made them more likely to use both.”

Yesterday’s big news was the Congressional Budget Office studying the text of the Republican health-care plan, the “American Health Care Act,” and concluding that it would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion over the next ten years, but also that in the coming ten years, 24 million people would join the ranks of the uninsured.

Our Dan McLaughlin:

The whole thing is a silly system, given that CBO scores are thus classic “Washington facts” that have power totally unrelated to whether or not they are accurate. The CBO has been wrong every time in the past it has tried to project the number of people with health insurance, including being off by 24 million people when it updated its projections after the Supreme Court struck the mandatory nature of its Medicaid expansion in 2012. But rules are rules even if they require you to declare that the sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken. The projections of who will and won’t be insured don’t actually mean anything. But the projections of deficit reduction mean a lot, whether or not they are accurate – because they give the bill the procedural green light to go forward.

Avik Roy goes back and checks the numbers:

In 2010, when the Affordable Care Act was passed, CBO estimated that 21 million people would enroll in the ACA exchanges in 2016. The actual number was closer to 10 million. Even now, CBO believes that 18 to 19 million people will soon be enrolled in the exchanges, when in fact enrollment is degrading under current law, and will likely end up stabilizing at about 10 to 11 million.

Roy has offered his share of criticism of the bill, but he gives it credit for including “the most significant effort at entitlement reform in American history” and “reduc[ing] federal spending by more than $2 trillion over the next 20 years.”

I think Megan McArdle may have the most politically sound approach, which is to try to pass a set of reforms but fail, and have Democratic obstructionism as a convenient excuse for everything that follows:

I foresee two potential futures for the current status quo. One, the exchanges where individuals buy policies could fail, leaving people unable to buy insurance. Or two, the exchanges don’t fail, and we’re left with an unsatisfactory but still operational system.

In either case, the Republicans’ best option is to wait. Why? Because what they can do now — hastily, without touching the underlying regulations that have destabilized the individual market — is worse than either of those outcomes. The partial-reform structure they think they’ll be able to get through the Senate is likely to make the problems in the individual market worse, not better. And the fact that they’ve tinkered with the program means that Republicans will take 100 percent of the blame.

So I’d wait to see if the long-feared disaster comes at the end of this year, and if it does I’d make sure that Democrats own as much of the blame as possible. If they want to block reform, make sure the public knows they did: Throw up a comprehensive bill that they can filibuster. Appoint a blue-ribbon commission to come up with a unified Republican plan. Stop the funding games the Democrats were using to prop up the exchanges. And if the exchanges collapse, say to the public: “Hey, look, we didn’t touch the individual market. It was the garbage program Democrats rammed down your throats. We tried to save it, but they wouldn’t let us.”

The Republican focus then becomes what kind of reforms will create affordable insurance options for people when the exchanges collapse and no insurance company is willing to sell insurance on them, because too many of the remaining patients are sick and not enough customers are healthy.

Hey, Remember the Supreme Court Nomination Fight?

The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch begin Monday. If it feels like this nomination process has been running so smoothly that it’s easy to forget about… well, it’s because it is.

President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee has breezed through more than 70 meetings with senators. Opponents who’ve scoured his record have found little to latch onto. And some Democrats are privately beginning to believe that Gorsuch — barring a blunder at his Senate confirmation hearings next week — will clinch the 60 votes he needs to be approved without a filibuster.

Deep down, Democrats know they don’t have the votes to stop this nomination, so… just how much effort do they want to put into an effort that they know is going to fail?

“When is it that [Democrats] fall on the sword?” said New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, summing up his party’s quandary. “Is it on this one or the next one?”

Exacerbating the indecision is the fact that a handful of Democrats facing tough reelection bids next year may face political retribution from the right or left, no matter how they vote on Gorsuch. The competing impulses have produced a public posture of apparent ambivalence and, according to one Democratic senator, a feeling that “there is no caucus strategy.”

It was really only last week — when a trio of liberal senators held a news conference to denounce what they called Gorsuch’s “anti-worker, pro-corporate” record — that some Senate Democrats began criticizing the judge’s credentials.

“There’s a fierce urgency at the grass roots that is not being echoed by the Senate Democrats,” said Ben Wikler, the Washington director for MoveOn, which joined 10 other groups in a letter urging Senate Democrats to, essentially, step it up. “The notion that Democrats should wait until after the hearings to speak their mind is a strategy to win a race by running hard in the last 30 seconds.”

ADDENDA: Hope to see you at the National Review Ideas Summit this Thursday and Friday.

The Only Thing She Got Wrong Was Everything

by Jim Geraghty

The Only Thing She Got Wrong Was Everything

In a new black-and-white short film, Madonna declares we have entered a “new age of tyranny” where “all marginalized people are in danger” and “where being uniquely different might truly be considered a crime.”

Notice what stirs her to this declaration of modern tyranny. It’s not an angry mob at Middlebury College surrounding Charles Murray and assaulting a professor. It’s not the riots in Berkeley preventing Milo from speaking. It’s not a judge imposing a fine of $135,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a wedding.

It’s not civil asset forfeiture, where law-enforcement authorities can seize property from someone without charging them with a crime. (Justice Clarence Thomas is the most prominent judicial figure asking how this doesn’t violate “the Due Process Clause and our Nation’s history.”)

It’s not private probation, where private collection agencies take over the role of the government in collecting fines.

It’s not the vast domestic surveillance tools in the hands of the National Security Agency.

No, it’s the legal democratic election of a president and congressional majorities she doesn’t like. Notice that the president and congressional majorities can’t agree on key details of their agenda, and the courts struck down one of the new president’s first executive orders. Criticism of the new president and his legislative allies is unrestricted and fairly common. You don’t have to like any of this, but governmental checks-and-balances and freedom of expression is pretty much the opposite of tyranny.

Also notice Madonna’s artistic stance against this “new age of tyranny” requires her to march towards the camera in semi-Fascist chic clothing holding snarling dogs.

America’s Opioid Addiction Crisis Is So Much Worse Than We Thought

Christopher Caldwell’s “American Carnage” is one of the more spectacularly reported and important works of journalism to come down the pike in a while. I don’t know about you, but I feel like every six weeks or so I read something about the opioid addiction crisis that tells me it’s much worse than I thought.

There have always been drug addicts in need of help, but the scale of the present wave of heroin and opioid abuse is unprecedented. Fifty-two thousand Americans died of overdoses in 2015—about four times as many as died from gun homicides and half again as many as died in car accidents. Pawtucket is a small place, and yet 5,400 addicts are members at Anchor. Six hundred visit every day. Rhode Island is a small place, too. It has just over a million people. One Brown University epidemiologist estimates that 20,000 of them are opioid addicts—2 percent of the population.

Salisbury, Massachusetts (pop. 8,000), was founded in 1638, and the opium crisis is the worst thing that has ever happened to it. The town lost one young person in the decade-long Vietnam War. It has lost fifteen to heroin in the last two years. Last summer, Huntington, West Virginia (pop. 49,000), saw twenty-eight overdoses in four hours. Episodes like these played a role in the decline in U.S. life expectancy in 2015. The death toll far eclipses those of all previous drug crises…

A heroin scourge in America’s housing projects coincided with a wave of heroin-addicted soldiers brought back from Vietnam, with a cost peaking between 1973 and 1975 at 1.5 overdose deaths per 100,000. The Nixon White House panicked. Curtis Mayfield wrote his soul ballad “Freddie’s Dead.” The crack epidemic of the mid- to late 1980s was worse, with a death rate reaching almost two per 100,000. George H. W. Bush declared war on drugs. The present opioid epidemic is killing 10.3 people per 100,000, and that is without the fentanyl-impacted statistics from 2016. In some states it is far worse: over thirty per 100,000 in New Hampshire and over forty in West Virginia.

Caldwell’s report is thorough and unsparing. It’s hard to dispute that America’s pharmaceutical companies at the very least were remarkably uncurious about the explosion of demand for painkillers. In West Virginia, state attorney general Patrick Morrissey is suing McKesson Corporation, contending they should have recognized something was wrong as they shipped more than 100 million doses of painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone to West Virginia — a state with fewer than 2 million people — in a five-year period.

Here’s a story of enormous suffering among the American people, hitting all walks of life, fueled in part by big pharmaceutical companies chasing profits and averting their eyes from the human consequences. It’s rather amazing that the Democrats couldn’t capitalize on this in 2016, and indicates how little they focus on some communities in America.

Logan and the Realm of Films That Are Well-Done but Not Enjoyable

Caught Logan this weekend. Spoilers ahead…

By and large, Logan earned those rave reviews. But I came away thinking that every creative decision that made it bold and intriguing and strikingly different from the usual comic-book fare also made the movie not particularly fun to watch.

The time: The last time we saw the character of Logan/Wolverine, it was at the end of Days of Future Past, and a dystopian future had appeared to be averted. Life for the X-Men seemed to be going very well, in what was, if you keep up with the team’s math, 2023 or so, but that looked not all that different from the film’s release date, 2014. Suddenly in Logan, we’re a few years down the road, and everything’s gone terribly wrong.

The gloom: There’s been a fascinating discussion about whether the America of 2029 seen in Logan represents dystopia. I think Sonny Bunch is correct (words I never thought I would write) is that this is a pretty good future for most of humanity, but one of near-extinction for mutants, the genetically-gifted heroes of the world. One of the rarely-discussed realities of the fictional world of the X-Men among fans and creators is that the general public that fears mutants has very good reasons to do so. The X-Men comic was always meant to be an allegory about discrimination and prejudice, with Charles Xavier/Professor X and Magneto offering philosophies roughly akin to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The problem with powerful mutants as an allegory for any minority group in our real-life society is that if people were born with immense powers of mind-reading, magnetism, or the ability to shoot lasers from their eyes, everyone who didn’t have those powers would have perfectly logical reasons to be terrified.

Still, the world of the X-Men taps into the same vein of Harry Potter, aiming to appeal to any kid or teen who feels different and an outsider and wants to find some place where they’re recognized as special. The X-Men, along with the hard luck of Peter Parker and the nomadic loneliness of Bruce Banner, offered young readers a valuable lesson: The world wasn’t always going to reward you for doing the right thing. Sometimes it would hate you or fear you for making that choice. The dream of a better world was worth fighting for, but it was, at least at this point in our history, still a dream, waiting to be realized.

The world of Logan suggests that the gradual extinction of mutants has created a much safer world for the average human being.

The aging of the characters means we see Logan and Professor X as shadows of their former selves. Logan, once arguably the deadliest man on the planet, struggles to handle a bunch of guys trying to steal his hubcaps. Patrick Stewart’s portrayal of an elderly, mentally deteriorating Charles Xavier will break the heart of anyone who’s dealt with a relative with Alzheimer’s. At one point, the movie’s villain scoffs, “It hurts to see you like this, Logan,” and he might as well be speaking for the audience.

This raises the stakes of the movie considerably. Logan might not make it out of any given fight scene, and Xavier can’t telepathically shut down any adversary. But by making the movie more “real”… do we want to be reminded of the cruelty of aging and mental deterioration in an X-Men movie?

The elusive backstory: The movie comes right up to the edge of explaining what happened in recent years, but never quite spells it out, which is surprising considering the importance of this in the mind of the audience. Professor X has some sort of degenerative brain disease that gives him seizures and his powerful telepathy means everyone around him experiences them as well. At some point (really just a year ago?) in Westchester (the site of Xavier’s school), he had a seizure and as the report says on the radio, “injured 300 people and killed seven mutants.” Logan shuts off the radio at a most inconvenient time, but we can surmise that Charles accidentally killed the X-Men. Let me put it this way: If the only person left to help Logan care for Professor X is Caliban, then it seems safe to assume that the rest of the X-Men are dead. (Although clearly someone — a woman? — is protecting mutants at some unseen hidden sanctuary in Canada.) One of the big themes of this movie is the importance of connection and family, yet the movie won’t show its cards on the fate of the old “family” of these characters.

The fictional world within a world: One of the movie’s odder twists is the revelation that this fictional world has X-Men comics and even a Wolverine toy. As noted, most of the X-Men movies have portrayed them as “feared and hated by a world they’re sworn to protect” — so it seems odd that a group of fugitives would be celebrated has heroes in any media, never mind their own merchandising for kids. Within the film, Logan scoffs at the comics as wildly inaccurate “ice cream for bed-wetters” — perhaps an accusation at the comic movie genre as a whole — but it turns out that there’s an extremely important plot point related to a coded message within those comics. Who’s writing and publishing them?

Finally, it will not surprise you that some reviewers are insisting the film is an anti-Trump argument:

Like Children of Men, its vision of the future has political teeth. In passing, we see massive lines of Latino deportees at an intimidating border wall. The mutant minority has mostly died out, and a Limbaugh-esque radio host says he’s sick of talking about their extinction. We learn of an American biotech firm that’s exploiting the uneven relationship between the U.S. and Mexico by setting up a lab conducting horrific experiments south of the border. Their victims are overwhelmingly black and brown — but so are nearly all of the non-Wolverine heroes of the movie. As is true of most great X-Men stories, the film is a story about the forgotten, the desperate, and the marginalized finding strength in one another. Logan is a superpowered protest against Trumpism — and a chillingly effective one, at that.

Look, if you think America of today is dystopian, you can’t plausibly argue that dystopia began January 20. Maybe this reviewer’s been talking to Madonna.

ADDENDA: I chatted about Matt Mackowiak about the state of Obamacare repeal and replace, the state of the GOP, and the outlook for traditional conservatism in the Trump era.

Tired of All the Winning

by Jim Geraghty

Good morning, and Happy Friday. No matter how rough your week is, there’s always somebody who’s had it worse. For example, you could be desperately trying to sell Chelsea Clinton to the American public as an inspiring and visionary leader.

Tired of All the Winning, Part One

Okay, so it’s not a jaw-dropping number, just continued movement in the right direction:

The U.S. economy added a robust 235,000 jobs in February, the Labor Department said Friday.

The unemployment rate ticked down to 4.7%. Unemployment peaked at 10% in 2009, after the financial crisis.

Last year the economy averaged about 190,000 new jobs per month. The economy is showing other signs of strength: Consumer and business confidence is high and stocks are at record levels.

Wage growth continued showing signs of progress after persisting at a sluggish pace for years until 2016. Wages grew a solid 2.8% in February compared with a year ago.

We’ll take it!

Tired of All the Winning, Part Two

So much for illegal immigration being an intractable problem.

Arrests of people crossing the border illegally dropped roughly 44 percent during President Donald Trump’s first month in office, according to Homeland Security data.

The Border Patrol reported that about 23,500 people were arrested trying to cross the border illegally in February, compared to about 42,500 arrests in January.

The February figures, which also include significant drops in the arrests of families and children trying to cross the border alone, are the lowest monthly tallies since at the least the start of the 2012 budget year.

Two things jump out. The Associated Press account declares, “The number of people caught crossing the border illegally in the winter typically is lower than during warmer summer months,” but that doesn’t explain a sudden drop from January and February, and this detail from Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly’s announcement indicates the drop is historically anomalous:

This change in the trend line is especially significant because CBP historically sees a 10-20 percent increase in apprehensions of illegal immigrants from January to February.  Instead, this year we saw a drop from 31,578 to 18,762 persons — a 40 percent decline.

New York Times reporters in Mexico offer fascinating details about the perspective among the migrants, and indicate that the election of Trump is having a deterrent effect:

Some migrants who might once have headed to the United States for safety and work are instead looking elsewhere, including Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama and even South America.

“If the United States isn’t a country that will provide the guarantees, they will go somewhere else,” said Vinicio Sandoval, executive director of the Independent Monitoring Group of El Salvador, a labor and legal rights organization involved in migration issues.

Think of it as the Semisonic “Closing Time” policy. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

Tired of All the Winning, Part Three

Remember Raqqa, capital city of the Islamic State? The good guys — or at least the good guys, working with the better than ISIS guys — are knocking on the door.

U.S.-backed Syrian forces said on Thursday they were closing in on Islamic State-held Raqqa and expected to reach the city outskirts in a few weeks, as a U.S. Marines artillery unit deployed to help the campaign.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia alliance including the Kurdish YPG, is the main U.S. partner in the war against Islamic State in Syria. Since November it has been working with the U.S.-led coalition to encircle Raqqa.

SDF spokesman Talal Silo said: “We expect that within a few weeks there will be a siege of the city.”

Coalition spokesman U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian said the additional U.S. forces would be working with local partners in Syria – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Arab Coalition – and would not have a front line role.

Some 500 U.S. personnel are already in Syria to help the fight against IS. A 400-strong additional deployment which arrived in recent days comprised both Marines and Army Rangers, Dorrian said, adding they were there temporarily.

In that fantastic 2015 Atlantic article, looking deep into what is unique about ISIS, Graeme Wood offered the possibility that losing control over territory could be a crippling blow to ISIS.

Al€‘Qaeda is ineradicable because it can survive, cockroach-like, by going underground. The Islamic State cannot. If it loses its grip on its territory in Syria and Iraq, it will cease to be a caliphate. Caliphates cannot exist as underground movements, because territorial authority is a requirement: take away its command of territory, and all those oaths of allegiance are no longer binding. Former pledges could of course continue to attack the West and behead their enemies, as freelancers. But the propaganda value of the caliphate would disappear, and with it the supposed religious duty to immigrate and serve it.

Tired of All the Winning, Part Four

While James Clapper announced his intention to retire in November, he served as director of national intelligence until January 20. Between Trump’s election and inauguration, there was a lot of speculation about Russian efforts to influence the presidential election.

Last week, on Meet the Press, Clapper said this:

We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, “our,” that’s N.S.A., F.B.I. and C.I.A., with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report.

Clapper said that evidence could conceivably have been discovered since January 20; if so, he wouldn’t know about it. And yes, yes, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” But you have to figure that U.S. intelligence agencies would have been looking pretty darn hard for evidence of collusion in the time period between Election Day and Inauguration Day.

Ali Watkins of BuzzFeed talked to staffers on the Senate Intelligence Committee on their review of the information so far.

A month into its sweeping investigation into the Kremlin’s efforts to undermine the US election, the Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to answer all those questions — publicly, coherently, and fast. As the days tick by, they’re less and less sure they’ll be able to.

Even some Democrats on the Intelligence Committee now quietly admit, after several briefings and preliminary inquiries, they don’t expect to find evidence of active, informed collusion between the Trump campaign and known Russian intelligence operatives, though investigators have only just begun reviewing raw intelligence. Among the Intelligence Committee’s rank and file, there’s a tangible frustration over what one official called “wildly inflated” expectations surrounding the panel’s fledgling investigation.

Her BuzzFeed colleague, Miriam Elder, contends that the obsession with finding evidence of Trump’s guilt is downplaying focus on Russia’s actions, which are not disputed and should be a bipartisan concern.

The Russian cyberattack of 2016 was widely documented, but what’s happening now is that some of Trump’s critics are turning the fabric of diplomacy into conspiracy. They’re trying to find evidence that it was his camp that directed those hacks, rather than investigating how they originated in Russia.

Now throw in Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, who has displayed an unexpected level of skepticism about the speculation fueling this story. (He lived in Russia in the 1990s.)

 . . . whether the investigation involved a potential Logan Act violation, or election fraud, or whatever, the CIA, FBI, and NSA had the ability to act both before and after Donald Trump was elected. But they didn’t, and we know why, because James Clapper just told us – they didn’t have evidence to go on.

Thus we are now witnessing the extremely unusual development of intelligence sources that normally wouldn’t tell a reporter the time of day litigating a matter of supreme importance in the media. What does this mean?

Is it likely that the Russians wanted to muck around, mess with Hillary, expose embarrassing information from the DNC and John Podesta? Yes, it is. Is it likely that Russia saw Trump as friendlier or more easily manipulated U.S. leader? Yes.

Based on what we know so far, and barring some stunning new revelation, what the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to find is two separate entities (Russia and the Trump campaign) working separately towards the same goal (Hillary’s defeat). Surely the Trump campaign didn’t mind, and in fact gleefully touted the WikiLeaks revelations about the DNC and Podesta. But that isn’t the same as collusion, which is defined as “secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose.”

We don’t know what the Senate Intelligence Committee’s final report will say; the investigation is still ongoing. But we know the intelligence community, with all of its resources and every incentive in the world, couldn’t find a smoking gun in the two-and-a-half months or so between Election Day and Inauguration Day.

ADDENDA: No new edition of the pop culture podcast this week. Browse our archives!

Decision Time Approaches for Republicans on Replacing Obamacare

by Jim Geraghty

Decision Time Approaches for Republicans on Replacing Obamacare

Nigel Lawson, a member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet, once famously summarized, “To govern is to choose.”

We’re reaching a moment of decision for President Trump on the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. There is no replacement legislation that will make everybody happy. There isn’t even replacement legislation that will make everybody on the right happy. Somebody’s going to be left disappointed and grumbling that the replacement is worse than Obamacare for their priorities. President Trump has to decide who he’s willing to disappoint.

The temptation will be to punt and demand congressional Republicans come up with a “better plan” that satisfies all of the contradictory demands of the party and country. But that just kicks the can down the road.

Trump has to start by making a decision on the timetable for repeal and replacement.  Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas declared that the House of Representatives should ditch the current replacement legislation and start over. “Start over. Get it right, don’t get it fast. What matters in long run is better, more affordable health care for Americans, NOT House leaders’ arbitrary legislative calendar.” I think he’s right. But this also means that repeal legislation won’t get passed until later this year, maybe much later this year, or even early next year. A certain number of conservatives will perceive a delayed repeal as a failure of will or spinelessness and complain loudly. FreedomWorks called the current GOP bill “a betrayal” and “Obamacare Lite.” There will always be groups eager to believe the worst about Republican lawmakers.

A lot of conservatives want to get rid of the Medicaid expansion enacted under Obamacare. If you’re in a state that hasn’t expanded Medicaid, then to be covered you have to be at or under the poverty level. For a family of four, that’s $24,300 or less. If you’re in a state that did expand Medicaid, you qualify if your family of four gets by on $33,534 or less. Right now, 10 million to 11 million people are covered under Medicaid who wouldn’t be covered under the old rules. I’d bet a healthy chunk of those folks voted for Trump.

Senators Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have stated that any replacement legislation must meet a “test of stability for individuals currently enrolled in the program” – in other words, you can’t just yank Medicaid away from these people without some sort of comparable replacement.

Some conservatives don’t like the fact that the current plan has refundable tax credits, meaning if you qualify, and the total sum of the credit is greater than your tax bill, you get the remainder to apply to your insurance costs. As I’ve joked, “under the old system of subsidies, the government gave you money to pay for your health insurance. But under the new system of tax credits, the government gives you money to pay for your health insurance.” But right now, too many markets don’t have plans that most consumers consider anywhere near “affordable.” (It’s fair to argue whether people have a realistic definition of “affordable” when it comes to on-demand access to the miracles of modern medicine.) The conservative philosophy has argued, correctly, that competition brings prices down. The problem is that in a lot of places, there isn’t much competition at all. In 2016, 85 percent of people using the marketplace on Healthcare.gov had at least three insurers to choose from in their area. This year, it’s down to 57 percent. Even if you believe competition will bring prices down, that rarely happens overnight.

Then there’s the trade-off between the individual mandate and the death spiral. Conservatives rage against the individual mandate – correctly, in my mind – because the federal government has no business punishing you for not purchasing a particular product. We also warn, correctly, about the “death spiral,” a cycle where higher and higher costs are expected to be covered by a shrinking pool of customers.  

In February, Aetna chief executive Mark Bertolini declared the “death spiral” had already begun:

Bertolini drew a portrait of the health insurance landscape caught in a deteriorating cycle. With too many sick people and not enough healthy ones buying insurance, he argued, the premiums have to keep going up. The more the premiums increase, the fewer healthy people want to sign up for care. They opt to pay the penalty instead of buying insurance with a massive deductible. That causes the balance of sick and healthy people buying insurance to worsen, prompting more rate increases and causing people — and insurers — to drop out.

He said that Aetna’s heaviest utilizers of health care — the top 1 percent to 5 percent — are driving half of the costs in the exchanges.

Of course, if you take away the individual mandate, the death spiral accelerates instead of decelerating.

The GOP replacement bill tries to finesse this by removing the individual mandate but allowing insurance companies to charge you 30 percent more if sign up for coverage outside of the normal open enrollment period. In other words, you can drop your plan if you don’t think you need it, but if you decide to buy it again once you do need it, it’s going to cost you more. But this still isn’t going to mitigate the death spiral, as Avik Roy points out:

There are going to be plenty of people who game the system when their health costs are greater than 30 percent of the normal premium. Let’s say you decide not to buy insurance, then you have a heart attack and then buy health insurance. Your health care consumption is going to be way higher than 30 percent above normal. So the AHCA effectively mandates insurers to sell you coverage at a loss.

This is the equivalent of not buying car insurance until after you’ve been in an accident. The insurance company is always paying out money and not enough money is coming back in.

(Note that many people across the political spectrum hate health-insurance companies in general, and will cheer their financial troubles. Of course, the only thing worse than having an insurance company is not having an insurance company.)

Replacing Obamacare is complicated. There are trade-offs. Somebody’s going to walk away convinced they got a bad deal. Even worse, whenever a legislator has the courage to tell the public that trade-offs and compromises are necessary, a political challenger will insist that it is not, that it represents lawmakers being stupid, or spineless, or selling out. In 2018, congressional challengers will declare that if elected, they will give you excellent coverage for all of your health care needs and lower premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, and a tax cut, and a pony. Because it is very easy to promise a better health-care system with no compromises and trade-offs; it is pretty much impossible to deliver it.

As President Trump is no doubt learning.

Wait, What Did Michael Flynn Forget to Disclose?

As Allahpundit would say, “Dude? Dude?”

President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was fired from his prominent White House job last month, has registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for $530,000 worth of lobbying work before Election Day that may have aided the Turkish government.

Paperwork filed Tuesday with the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Unit said Flynn and his firm were voluntarily registering for lobbying from August through November that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” It was filed by a lawyer on behalf of the former U.S. Army lieutenant general and intelligence chief.

After his firm’s work on behalf of a Turkish company was done, Flynn agreed not to lobby for five years after leaving government service and never to represent foreign governments.

How do you “forget” that you did a half-million dollars’ worth of work for a foreign company?

The Woes of ESPN

I think ESPN’s troubles are at least partially driven by the increasingly open and strident liberal politics that are percolating in the network’s sports-talk shows. But we on the right shouldn’t ignore the fact that the network took some giant financial risks that are no longer paying off:

Over the past several years ESPN has lost over 13 million cable and satellite subscribers. Given that each subscriber pays ESPN in the neighborhood of $7 a month for the network, that’s over a billion dollars a year in lost revenue that will never be recouped. And those losses aren’t stopping. Indeed, every single day in 2017 ESPN is losing 10,000 subscribers or more.

At the same time that ESPN has been hemorrhaging subscribers, the network has also been paying incredible sums of money for live sports rights. In fact, ESPN will pay out $7.3 billion for sports rights in 2017, that’s more than any company in America will pay for media content.

So no, it’s not just politics. But emulating the tone and topics of MSNBC won’t stop the financial bleeding, either.

ADDENDA: Happy NFL Free Agency Day! Right now I’m just feeling good that the Jets didn’t agree to pay Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup quarterback Mike Glennon $14.5 million per year. Sorry, Greg Corombos, the Chicago Bears just won that lottery.

How Many Consecutive Good Months Do You Need to Make an Economic Boom?

by Jim Geraghty

How Many Consecutive Good Months Do You Need to Make an Economic Boom?

Nice start to the Trump economy, huh?

Companies added jobs at a blistering pace in February, with a notable shift away from the service-sector positions that have dominated hiring for years, according to a report Wednesday.

Employment in the private sector surged by 298,000 for the month, with goods producers adding 106,000, ADP and Moody’s Analytics said. Construction jobs swelled by 66,000 and manufacturing added 32,000.

The total shattered market expectations of 190,000, according to economists surveyed by ADP.

“February proved to be an incredibly strong month for employment with increases we have not seen in years,” Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute, said in a statement.

In addition to the construction and manufacturing positions, mining and natural resources also contributed 8,000 to the total. Trump has promised to restore mining jobs as well.

The year is off to a sizzling start for job creation, according to the ADP counts. January added 261,000 positions, a number that was revised upward from the originally reported 246,000.

“Confidence is playing a large role,” Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, told CNBC. “Businesses are anticipating a lot of good stuff — tax cuts, less regulation. They are hiring more aggressively.”

Boom, baby, boom.

Forecast for ‘A Day Without a Woman’: Closed Schools, Less Traffic

Prince George’s County Schools decided to close today for “A Day Without a Woman,” giving parents less than 24 hours notice.

Prince George’s County Public Schools have announced they will close schools on Wednesday after 1,700 teachers and nearly a third of their transportation staff requested for the day off in observance of International Women’s Day and “A Day Without a Woman” protest.

Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell said in a statement:

“Throughout Prince George’s County Public Schools, a high number of school-based and support staff have requested leave for Wednesday, March 8. As of 5:30 p.m., approximately 1,700 teachers and 30 percent of transportation staff have requested leave. We cannot transport students and provide safe, productive learning environments without adequate staff. As a result, schools will be closed tomorrow for students. We apologize for the inconvenience this will surely cause to many families.

Yeah, I’m starting to doubt the school district’s slogan. I can remember when only meteorological snowflakes could shut down D.C.-area schools.

Over on the home page, I have a piece that most readers can guess is fueled by personal experience. I used to live in “Yuppie Acres” – I guess I can reveal now that it was the Cameron Station neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia. My older son had a wonderful experience with the local public elementary school, Samuel Tucker Elementary. But my wife and I figured out quickly that the public schools in Alexandria weren’t that great at the middle school level and the city’s lone public high school, T.C. Williams, ranked 79th out of 190 high schools in the region – not bad, but nowhere near the level you would expect considering the hefty property taxes.

If you’re wealthy enough in Alexandria, you eventually send your kids to one of the city’s many excellent, but extremely expensive, private schools. (Episcopal High School, which was John McCain’s high school, looks like a college campus. The annual fee is $54,250.)

Or you do what we did, and you move across the border to Arlington or Fairfax County, districts that offer some of the best public schools in the country. Here in “Authenticity Woods,” we’re thrilled with our sons’ local elementary school, and we notice many of our neighbors from Yuppie Acres have made the same trek.

As laid out in my piece, Alexandria public schools have real problems: test scores below the state average, discipline and crime issues, a school that lost accreditation, and a considerable number of parents voting with their feet and taking their kids out of the school system. It is hard to argue that this is a funding issue; the district spends $16,999 per student, according to the latest statistics. (As of 2014, the Virginia statewide average was $10,973 per student.) Class sizes in Alexandria are small, averaging 18 students in elementary school, 20 in middle school, and 22 in high school. 

Local taxes are fairly high. The Alexandria property tax on real estate is $1.043 per $100 of assessed value; the Virginia average tax rate is $0.74 per $100. The personal property tax rate on vehicles in Alexandria is fairly high at $5 per $100 of assessed value, and there is a one percent sales tax on retail purchases and meals.

When you think about the resources available to Alexandria as a city, the performance of the schools looks less disappointing than disgraceful.

In light of all this, “sexism” seems like an amorphous problem for the city’s teachers and educational staff to spend a day addressing considering the tangible, real-life problems in front of them every weekday.

They have already succeeded in blowing up the plans of working parents in Alexandria, who now have two days notice to find all-day child care or take an involuntary day off from work. The school staffers have really managed to send a signal to the oppressive patriarchy of Alexandria, where Hillary Clinton won 76 percent of the vote.

The Hyping of Chelsea Clinton Continues

There really is an effort going on to persuade us that Chelsea Clinton is an important voice on the national political scene, isn’t there? Neontaster notices that The Hill newspaper has tweeted about Chelsea Clinton 70 times since the beginning of the year.

Politico declares that she “lets loose on Twitter” showcasing “a spicy, sarcastic online personality.” CNN concurs, “Chelsea Clinton embraces her Twitter sass.”

Why is this news? Why should we care? She’s the daughter of a president and former presidential candidate. Despite the insistence of the Clinton circle that she’s earned all of her jobs on her own merits, we have no evidence that she’s done anything in life that wasn’t driven by her famous name and parents. She made $600,000 per year to interview the Geico Gecko for NBC News. She is the embodiment of inherited privilege, making insanely high speaking fees simply for being who she is. When are we allowed to stop going along with this media assertion that she’s an enthralling leader who just happens to have famous parents?

She writes for the BBC that “America is suffering from an opioid epidemic.” Aren’t we glad she’s here to inform us about these things? She’s not a doctor. She’s not an addiction expert. Her claim to expertise on the subject is the “Clinton Foundation’s work with researchers at Johns Hopkins University to study the opioid epidemic.” Yet instead of getting someone who actually studies the issue for the university, BBC invites Chelsea Clinton to weigh in on the subject. Why?

The New York Times interviews her about her favorite books. Why? It’s as if a vast swath of the media has decided she must be considered fascinating and thought-provoking, regardless of whether she actually fascinates or provokes thoughts.

Michael Sainato argues this relentless, hard-to-justify coverage represents the Clintons reestablishing themselves as the true power brokers in the Democratic party, even after Hillary’s stunning defeat in the presidential election.

This appearance and the constant coverage of her tweets provide Chelsea Clinton with the cult-like coverage necessary to gain political power while avoiding political risk. This coverage also inadvertently benefits Hillary Clinton, who cannot make such appearances without garnering negative coverage for exercising the same expediency. With Chelsea Clinton, the Clinton brand is still able to receive praise and admiration from the elite mainstream media.

Any resistance to Trump offered from the Clintons—whether it’s from Bill, Hillary, or Chelsea—is not resistance at all. Rather, it’s the Democratic establishment’s attempt to oppose Trump while they reaffirm their power and subvert reform within the party. As long as a Clinton “resists” on behalf of the Democratic Party, there is little to no opportunity for newcomers on the left to emerge. Chelsea Clinton’s manufactured role as a resistance spokesperson allows the “resistance” to Trump to remain in the control of the Democratic establishment and prevents progressives from reforming the Democratic Party to fight on behalf of working and middle class Americans.

The family dynasty must live on.

ADDENDA: Andy McCarthy sorts through the statements of former Director of James Clapper:

Bear in mind that while the media and Democrats are now using Clapper’s statements to try to downplay Obama-administration investigation efforts against Trump associates, they were very content for the last four months to have Americans believe an aggressive investigation was underway. As I explained in yesterday’s column, fueling the public perception that Trump and his campaign were under investigation has been essential to propping up the false narrative of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Putin regime to “hack the election.”

Welcome to the Era of GOP-amacare.

by Jim Geraghty

Welcome to the Era of GOP-amacare.

Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner looks at the current Republican Obamacare-replacement plan and concludes that the GOP isn’t going to change nearly as much as conservative free-market health-care policy wonks hoped:

Supporters of the bill could argue that it does make changes to Obamacare – repealing taxes, reducing spending, and scaling back some mandates and regulations. There are even a few areas in which one could argue the bill moves health policy in a more conservative direction relative to the pre-Obamacare status quo. It provides for expanded health savings accounts and, though it would spend more money than otherwise would have been the case before Obamacare, it would overhaul Medicaid into a program in which states are given a per capita grant and provided the flexibility to run their own programs.

But at the same time, the GOP bill preserves much of the regulatory structure of Obamacare; leaves the bias in favor of employer healthcare largely intact; replaces Obamacare’s subsidies with a different subsidy scheme; and still supports higher spending for Medicaid relative to what was the case before Obamacare.

Ultimately, it doesn’t do much to foster the development of a free market system. Under GOPcare, individuals would not be able to take insurance with them from job to job, because tax credits would not be available to people who have an offer of job-based insurance. They would not be able to purchase whatever plan they want, because the federal government will still be dictating what has to be in insurance policies, making insurance more expensive then it needs to be. If this bill passes, everybody would have to get their insurance either through government, their employer via tax subsidy, or be left to purchase government-designed health policies using federal subsidies.

For a long time, policy wonks on the right have argued we need a system of health insurance where your plan follows you from job to job instead of being offered by, and primarily paid for, by your employer. It would be a better idea, but it’s extremely difficult to implement, particularly if you want your employer to cover the same share of the cost from job to job. Currently, most plans aren’t offered nationwide

Among the health plans 156 million of us get from our jobs, only a few insurers offer national networks of participating doctors and hospitals. And most of the plans available to people who buy their own insurance through the individual or small group market are local and limited by specific geographic areas. Policyholders who move away generally must change carriers. And insurers sometimes pull out of markets, meaning stranded consumers would also have to pick new plans.

Employer-based health insurance works with you kicking in a certain percentage of the costs (usually a small one, even with the deductibles, premiums, and co-pays) and your employer kicking in the other percentage. A 2016 study found the average percent of health insurance paid by employers is 83 percent for single coverage and 72 percent for family coverage. How do you design a plan where the party that’s covering 72 percent of the cost can be removed – the employee is fired, laid off, or quits – and the employee can maintain the coverage until they find a new employer?

Health savings accounts? They’re a terrific idea. But a lot of people don’t have good impulse control and don’t save money the way they should. They don’t save for retirement, they don’t save for their children’s college educations, and they don’t save for unexpected expenses. A certain percentage of the public simply won’t save for health expenses.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been joking, “Republicans are set to replace Obamacare’s system of subsidies, where the government gives you money to help pay for health insurance, with a system of refundable tax credits, where instead, the government will give you money to help pay for health insurance.” (I wonder how many readers will think there’s a typo in there somewhere.) Is this a surrender? Or is this a concession to the realities of the issue? I’m sure there are a lot of free-market purists who would love to repeal Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid and yank away coverage from about 10.7 million people, and leave it to them to find affordable replacement coverage. For obvious reasons, Republicans in office are not eager to embrace this plan.

The editors of NR have more or less made their peace with the idea of replacing subsidies with tax credits:

…we will stipulate that in an ideal world we would not be subsidizing health insurance as much as we do and perhaps not at all. But there’s no compelling reason to maintain subsidies for a much larger number of people while cutting off a small number cold turkey.

Political considerations buttress the case for providing tax credits to this fraction of Americans. For seven years, Republicans have been saying that they would “repeal and replace” Obamacare when they got the chance. They didn’t say that they would only repeal it, and they did not include the word “replace” only because conservatives have health-policy ideas of our own that we would like to see implemented. They included it to reassure people who had gotten insurance through Obamacare that they would not be left without coverage in a post-Obamacare world. Republicans cannot keep that promise, which seems to have been important to a significant number of voters who backed them, without a tax credit.

Tax credits would promote a stronger individual insurance market, a more level playing field for different types of insurance, and Republican political health. Those interests ought to be considered sufficiently strong to overwhelm our friends’ objections.

Klein concludes, “Liberals, in other words, have won the central philosophical argument, and Republicans are reduced to fighting over the mechanics.” He is right, but we shouldn’t be surprised, because the conservative argument is thoroughly unappealing. The liberal argument is “somebody else” should pay for your health care (meaning everyone through taxation). The conservative argument is that you should pay for your health care.

Maybe the Trump Administration Won’t Be So Cozy with Moscow after All…

Good news!

President Donald Trump is telling advisers and allies that he may shelve, at least temporarily, his plan to pursue a deal with Moscow on the Islamic State group and other national security matters, according to administration officials and Western diplomats.

In conversations with diplomats and other officials, Trump and his aides have ascribed the new thinking to Moscow’s recent provocations.

Trump’s new skepticism about brokering a deal with Moscow also suggests the rising influence of a new set of advisers who have taken a tougher stance on Russia, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and new national security adviser H.R. McMaster. During his first meeting with National Security Council staff, McMaster described Russia — as well as China — as a country that wants to upend the current world order, according to an administration official who attended the meeting.

Also notice that European leaders are wising up and adjusting their arguments to appeal to Trump’s perspective:

European allies also have been pushing the Trump administration not to make any early concessions to Russia. To bolster their case, European officials have tailored their rhetoric to appeal to Trump’s business background, including emphasizing the risks of negotiating a bad deal, rather than more nuanced arguments, according to one Western diplomat. Given Trump’s “America First” mantra, foreign officials emphasize how U.S. standing in the world could be diminished by making concessions to Russia instead of focusing on the importance of the U.S. and Europe sticking together to counter Moscow.

Middlebury College Students Learn Nothing.

Even the New York Times editorial board is appalled by the angry mob that attacked Charles Murray and injured a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont.

A student-run publication at Middlebury College insists that it’s all the fault of campus security:

As people were dressed for the cold, it was not always possible to distinguish between students of the college and community members. In recounting the events of Thursday night, it is essential to emphasize that protesters did not escalate violence and had no plan of violent physical confrontation. We do not know of any students who hurt Professor Stanger; however, we deeply regret that she was injured during the event. We are also deeply disturbed that Public Safety, private security officers and [Vice President for Communications Bill] Burger incited and continually used violent and abusive force towards students and community members…

Over the course of the livestream, alarms went off three times, which further disrupted Murray’s speech and Q&A.

Y’all know that pulling the fire alarm in a situation that isn’t an emergency is a crime, right?

In the first of a series of disproportional and escalating acts of violence, security personnel immediately and without warning began pushing and pulling protesters out of the way as soon as they were within arm’s reach. Some people were thrown to the ground by security personnel, and one person was struck hard in the chest. A student reports that Professor Stanger’s hair was not intentionally pulled but was inadvertently caught in the chaos that Public Safety incited. It is irresponsible to imply that a protester aggressively and intentionally pulled her hair.

Protesters then surrounded the parked car, with some pushing on the sides of the car. Several people stood behind the car, yet Burger attempted to back out of the parking spot. He managed to back out by inching through a throng of security personnel and protesters. He proceeded to drive through the crowd. At times Burger accelerated forward into protesters. Security personnel pushed, grabbed and dragged students and community members to the asphalt to clear the area around the car. Security personnel inflicted bruises and other physical harm on many people.

Don’t stand in front of or behind the car of somebody you’re protesting. Period. Refusal to avoid the spaces directly in front of or behind a car from a frightened foe is less potential vehicular manslaughter than Darwinism in action.

Charles Murray gives his account of the evening here.

ADDENDA: Interesting reaction to this Tweet: former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has generated so much wariness and skepticism because of his past inaccurate testimony to Congress (some would call that “perjury”) that Trump fans don’t believe Clapper, even when he’s saying something that exonerates Trump.

Twitter page.

Facebook.

Amazon author page.

Do Any Sources Go on the Record Anymore?

by Jim Geraghty

Happy Monday. Start your day by taking a look behind the curtain at the Koch Seminar Network’s efforts to pressure Democratic senators on Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Do Any Sources Go on the Record Anymore?

In this entire epic allegation of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign to influence or even swing the 2016 presidential election… how many on-the-record sources have we heard from?

Last week, we noticed that “U.S. officials” could tell NBC News that the Yemen raid yielded no significant intelligence and “American officials” could tell the New York Times that computers and cellphones seized offered “insights into new types of hidden explosives the group is making and new training tactics for militants.” A difference in assessments that stark is hard to chalk that up to a mundane difference of opinion on the value of the intelligence. It’s hard to shake the feeling that some officials are leaking a false version of events and hiding behind anonymity in an effort to influence public perceptions.

So far, the story of alleged Russian collusion with Trump has relied just about entirely on anonymous sources. Take, for example, this morning’s news:

F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones, senior American officials said on Sunday. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement.

Mr. Comey, who made the request on Saturday after Mr. Trump leveled his allegation on Twitter, has been working to get the Justice Department to knock down the claim because it falsely insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law, the officials said.

A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment. Sarah Isgur Flores, the spokeswoman for the Justice Department, also declined to comment.

Look, Trump’s claim could very well be nonsense, and probably is. But if it is akin to claiming that pigs can fly, or that Elvis ran off with Bigfoot, etcetera, you would think everyone associated with law enforcement in the Obama era would happily go on the record and declare the accusation is nonsense.

We got an on-the-record denial from Obama’s spokesman:

A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance of any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.

Of course, that denies that President Obama ordered wiretapping of President Trump or his associates. It doesn’t deny that Trump or his associates were wiretapped.

We already know that some Trump officials’ conversations with foreign officials were picked up by U.S. intelligence services, because the wiretaps were “aimed” at the foreign officials. If you call a foreign official or diplomat, you really don’t have any expectation of privacy:

It is certainly true that U.S. intelligence services can get orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor foreign officials. The Russian ambassador, simply by virtue of his nationality and official position, is an “agent of a foreign power” under FISA and hence a valid target for wiretapping. It is publicly known and acknowledged that the U.S. government uses FISA to wiretap foreign embassies and consulates. So, the Journal may be right that Flynn was picked up on a wiretap of the Russian ambassador.

Is everyone 100 percent absolutely certain that at no point, based upon Trump officials’ chats with foreign (possibly Russian) agents, did further wiretapping go on — wiretapping that was focused less on the foreign officials and more on figures associated with the Trump campaign?

You must read former prosecutor Andy McCarthy on these subjects:

[In June], the FISA court reportedly turned down the Obama Justice Department’s request, which is notable: The FISA court is notoriously solicitous of government requests to conduct national-security surveillance (although, as I’ve noted over the years, the claim by many that it is a rubber-stamp is overblown).

Not taking no for an answer, the Obama Justice Department evidently returned to the FISA court in October 2016, the critical final weeks of the presidential campaign. This time, the Justice Department submitted a narrowly tailored application that did not mention Trump. The court apparently granted it, authorizing surveillance of some Trump associates. It is unknown whether that surveillance is still underway, but the New York Times has identified – again, based on illegal leaks of classified information – at least three of its targets: Paul Manafort (the former Trump campaign chairman who was ousted in August), and two others whose connection to the Trump campaign was loose at best, Manafort’s former political-consulting business partner Roger Stone, and investor Carter Page.

Again, everything we’re discussing comes from information in public reports, attributed to unnamed government sources. And we ought to be at least a little uncomfortable with the fact that everything we know about this investigation comes from sources who aren’t willing to go on the record or put their names next to their statements.

Ozzy Osbourne Was Wrong, This Is the True Crazy Train

Predictably, the New York Times portrays the Trump administration as mean and stingy for withholding a $647 million grant to California for “faster and less polluting electric trains.” Congressional Republicans fear the state will use the money for the endlessly-delayed, well-over-budget high-speed rail project connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Deep in the Times article, we get a sense of the epic delays that “Although the authority was established more than two decades ago, it was only in 2013 that construction began on the first, 119-mile segment of the project.”

You have to look back to a January article in the Los Angeles Times to get a sense of just how egregiously mismanaged the California high-speed rail project is, citing a confidential federal government report painting a disastrous picture:

California’s bullet train could cost taxpayers 50% more than estimated — as much as $3.6 billion more. And that’s just for the first 118 miles through the Central Valley, which was supposed to be the easiest part of the route between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

A confidential Federal Railroad Administration risk analysis, obtained by The Times, projects that building bridges, viaducts, trenches and track from Merced to Shafter, just north of Bakersfield, could cost $9.5 billion to $10 billion, compared with the original budget of $6.4 billion.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority originally anticipated completing the Central Valley track by this year, but the federal risk analysis estimates that that won’t happen until 2024, placing the project seven years behind schedule.

The Federal Railroad Administration has already given California $3.5 billion in grants for the “bullet train” project. Two other glaring details in that L.A. Times story that offer vital context:

About 80% of all bullet train systems incur massive overruns in their construction, according to Bent Flyvbjerg, an infrastructure risk expert at the University of Oxford who has studied such rail projects all over the world. One of the biggest hazards of such mega-projects is a government agency that is attempting to do something highly complex for the first time…

The environmental reviews have grown ever more costly, based on an analysis of the rail authority’s documents. The original cost projection, made in a September 2010 grant agreement with the Federal Railroad Administration, put the cost at $388 million. By last August, the authority’s official “funding contribution plan” showed that cost had jumped to $1.03 billion.

The cost increase amounted to 171%. 

California’s high-speed rail has turned into such a disaster, it may have put HBO’s True Detective on permanent hiatus. Okay, that’s not directly the fault of the rail project, but the much-derided second season did have sleazy criminals trying to get a piece of the federal spending as a major subplot.

“This project is so money, baby.”

When are federal taxpayers allowed to say, “no, we’ve given you enough; if you want to build a bullet train and tracks for electric rail, California, you have to do it yourself”? Why is it unreasonable for Washington to say to Sacramento, “based on your past record, we can no longer trust you to spend this money wisely and efficiently”?

Credit the New York Times, they finally noticed that the attacks on Kellyanne Conway have the same sexist themes as the attacks on Hillary Clinton they denounced.

ADDENDA: Thanks to Jim Lakely for the kind words about the Morning Jolt. Later this month his group, the Heartland Institute, will be hosting its 12th annual International Conference on Climate Change, showcasing contrarian assessments of the latest data.

Somebody’s Got to Set a Higher Standard. It Might As Well Be Sessions.

by Jim Geraghty

Somebody’s Got to Set a Higher Standard. It Might As Well Be Sessions.

The NR editors on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from any issues or investigation regarding potential Russian influence in the 2016 election:

It’s clear now that Sessions’s response to Franken was inaccurate, and the whole episode could have been avoided had Sessions been clearer up front. But the context makes it fairly clear that Sessions was denying coordination with the Russians about the presidential election. There is no indication that Sessions willfully misled the Congress; based on what we know so far, Democrats’ perjury accusations are fantasy.

Nonetheless, the cloud now around Sessions is unlikely to dissipate quickly. Given an ongoing FBI probe into various Trump associates with apparent links to the Russian government (former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former advisers Carter Page and Roger Stone), and Michael Flynn’s recent departure from the administration after he misled White House officials about his own contacts with [Russian ambassador] Kislyak, there is reason to take seriously concerns about Russia’s attempts to influence last year’s election and the new administration. That is why a thorough congressional investigation is in order.

As we’ve said before, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, which have extensive oversight powers, ought to conduct a fair, transparent, and expeditious inquiry into the allegations against the White House, and also into the source of the illicit leaks that are responsible for many of those allegations. Sessions’s contacts with the Russian ambassador ought to be a part of this probe. This is a political matter, and it is incumbent upon the people’s representatives to investigate.

In the meantime, Sessions has rightly recused himself from any Justice Department investigations into the Trump team’s links to Moscow. Government officials ought to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Given that that standard has been honored mainly in the breach over the past eight years — especially in the Justice Department — Sessions’s decision is a marked improvement on the conduct of his most recent predecessors.

Look Who’s Rising to His Feet Now!

We may cynically suspect soon-to-be unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick is doing the right thing (announcing he will stand for the National Anthem next season) for the wrong reasons (recognizing he’s no longer as valuable to a team because of the controversy, and this will cost him money in free agency). Kaepernick will leave the San Francisco 49ers next week, and is looking for a starting job with another team.

When somebody does the right thing for the wrong reasons, should we applaud?

Kaepernick no longer wants his method of protest to detract from the positive change he believes has been created, sources told ESPN. He also said the amount of national discussion on social inequality — as well as support from other athletes nationwide, including NFL and NBA players — affirmed the message he was trying to deliver.

I suspect ESPN’s Stephen A Smith spoke for a lot of people when he said, “It’s incredibly opportunistic, it’s flagrantly so, he’s not fooling anybody this way…. I’d appreciate if he went out and said, ‘I’m going to vote next time.’ That would resonate far more profoundly with me.”

ESPN business analyst Andrew Brandt: “He’s making his case to the 31 [other] teams. He has to get a job and eliminate the ‘distraction’ discrimination, [and not] let teams have any reason to not sign Colin Kaepernick. He’s really realizing the practical aspects of what’s going on here.”

Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherdmakes me yell at my radio more than any other host, but he seems to be pretty spot-on in his cynicism here:

Kaepernick now believes he’s made real change — of which, that is, at best, debatable. But now when he’s a free agent… What happened to your altruism? What happened to your ‘this is long term’? What happened to your strong belief, now that you’re on the market and you still want to get paid? Now! Now you won’t kneel for the anthem… Now you know [NFL general managers] don’t want you bringing politics to work. So now it takes courage to do it. It’s one thing when you’re under contract and [49ers backup] Blaine Gabbart is the best [other] quarterback on your team. It doesn’t take a ton of courage. It takes courage now… Feels like selling out to me. And I defended Kaepernick!

David Harsanyi adds his voice to the chorus imploring athletes to keep their political stances off the field and let everyone enjoy sports as a realm far removed from the tense, angry debates of the day.

How many voters are going to change their ideological views because Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox took a leadership position on, well, whatever it is that Todd believes is dividing Americans? Most voters, I assume, conduct business and relationships with co-workers and family who hold philosophical positions other than their own. Should a cashier at Target or an accountant at H&R Block feel compelled to lecture everyone he or she meets about public policy? What would our communities look like if everyone were an activist? Insufferable, that’s what.

Moreover, the MLB’s great diversity reflects not only the bravery of Robinson but also his victory. There will never be another Jackie Robinson. We don’t need another Jackie Robinson. Baseball already proves that rural whites, Hispanic immigrants, African-Americans, and Yankees can all live and play on a team, pull together, aspire to greatness, and make a vast amount of money in the process. The ability of diverse people to live peacefully under a free system is the American ideal. Demanding unanimity of opinion is not. In many ways, we still have the former. The latter is what tears us apart.

Longtime sportswriter Jason Whitlock has observed that sports journalism is attracting a lot of writers who really aren’t that interested in sports, but who are interested in bringing progressive stances and issues to the fore in the sports world.

“This hyper-progressive movement that has lurched into sports and changed the conversation about sports and in sports TV. … So much of the conversation is inconsistent with the values of sports culture. I’m gonna say it until I’m blue in the face: Sports culture is conservative and religious! And we’ve turned ‘conservative’ into a curse word in this country and it’s just not.

“We’re turning off our base, our base of support. The people that coach Pee Wee football, the people that participate in Pee Wee football all the way through, we’re making them uncomfortable by inviting in all these people that really don’t care about sports, don’t love sports — they have a political agenda — and they’re leading the conversation about sports? It’s turning people off.”

Orwellian Dystopia Arrived a Long Time Ago, But Not in This Country

No, this isn’t 1984, President Trump isn’t Big Brother, modern-day America isn’t Oceania, and you’re not running down the aisle in orange shorts with a sledgehammer to smash the screen.

(Yes, I know this is from the Apple commercial and not the book.)

Orwell’s 1984 is a brilliant, unforgettable warning about the dangers of an all-powerful state, cults of personality, mankind’s capacity for cognitive dissonance, and the willingness to believe what is obviously false in order to preserve a fatally flawed worldview. But the book’s memorable phrases and concepts are also now so chronically overused as a criticism of political leaders that they’re clichéd and, I suspect, easy to tune out if you don’t already agree that Leader X is a power-mad, ruthlessly manipulative tyrant-in-waiting.

The America of 2017 is the same as America has always been: a mix of good and bad, noble and selfish, exercised liberties and runaway politicians and bureaucrats. Of course we have problems, but overheated comparisons to dystopian novels obscure more than they illuminate and conveniently forget that we’ve seen much worse.

Maybe Fox News strikes you as a modern day Ministry of Truth, airbrushing away any criticism of the regime. But it’s worth remembering that there was a time when such criticism was criminalized in America by Woodrow Wilson’s Sedition Act.

If you believe Trump’s private security guards have the potential to become a force of unaccountable loyalist thugs, I’d like to introduce you to Mayor Richard Daley and the Chicago Police Department of 1968.

Perhaps you feel the new administration’s discussion of Muslims and terrorism is scaremongering, and like Representative Keith Ellison, you argue against it by quoting Franklin Roosevelt’s “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Of course, Roosevelt later rounded up Japanese Americans and put them into internment camps.

It’s not hard to find people who insist Trump is authoritarian because of the things he says. But authoritarians are not defined by the things they say; they’re defined by the things they do. The judicial branch already struck down Trump’s executive order on refugees. Despite Trump’s hyperbolic denunciations of the media, America’s press remains as free and vibrant as ever. The first weeks of the new presidency have not been marked by a meek and obedient Congress but by one that can’t unify behind a single legislative agenda.

Kevin Williamson points out that we’re not quite in 1984 nor in Brave New World either, concluding we’re in “a brave-ish new world at best.”

The development of technology has been a very, very good thing for the world — I, for one, welcome our new ping-pong-playing overlords — but it also has drawbacks that manifest themselves in funny ways. GPS is very useful — I rely on it almost every day, I am sure — but it also has become a substitute for knowing one’s way around. Whereas London taxi drivers have “the Knowledge,” New York taxi drivers, a great number of whom are very recent immigrants, are given a cell phone and the medallion owners’ best wishes. For some years, I lived in an impossible-to-miss building immediately adjacent to City Hall, and the majority of taxi drivers would simply give me a blank stare when I gave them my address…

The worlds of the two great dystopian novels intersect at unexpected points. For years, I resisted demands to give fingerprints for this or that reason, sometimes going to great lengths to avoid doing so. Now, I happily use my fingerprint to purchase Tom Waits albums from the Apple Store.

ADDENDA: This week on #TJAMS, the pop culture podcast, a quick recap of CPAC and the colossal Oscar snafu; some snarky comments about the latest cast of sorta-kinda celebrities on Dancing with the Stars; why Rachel Dolezal gets under our skin; a strangely appealing paid-leave program from Sweden, and what our listeners are giving up for Lent.

Maybe that Raid in Yemen Was More Fruitful Than the Early Reports Indicated

by Jim Geraghty

Maybe that Raid in Yemen Was More Fruitful Than the Early Reports Indicated

This is the problem with anonymous sources. NBC News, February 28:

Last month’s deadly commando raid in Yemen, which cost the lives of a U.S. Navy SEAL and a number of children, has so far yielded no significant intelligence, U.S. officials told NBC News.

Although Pentagon officials have said the raid produced “actionable intelligence,” senior officials who spoke to NBC News said they were unaware of any.

The New York Times, this morning:

Computers and cellphones seized during a deadly Special Operations raid in Yemen in January offer clues about attacks Al Qaeda could carry out in the future, including insights into new types of hidden explosives the group is making and new training tactics for militants, according to American officials.

The information contained in the cellphones, laptop computers and other materials scooped up in the raid is still being analyzed, but it has not yet revealed any specific plots, and it has not led to any strikes against Qaeda militants in Yemen or elsewhere, officials said.

American counterterrorism officials say the Qaeda wing in Yemen is one of the deadliest in the world and poses the most immediate threat to the American homeland, having tried unsuccessfully to carry out three airliner attacks over the United States.

Here’s the most intriguing section:

The preliminary intelligence findings from the raid are contained in a three-page classified document presented to Mr. Mattis. The findings, some of which were first reported by The Associated Press, included new explosives developed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. The group has specialized in developing nonmetallic bombs that can be inserted into body cavities to avoid detection. Other new insights concern Al Qaeda’s regional and global network, and training techniques that give clues to attacks it could carry out in the future.

Did the “U.S. officials” talk to the “American officials”? Are we sure that the first group of officials was really in a position to know if the teams had recovered valuable information? Doesn’t it take some time to figure out whether information is valuable? If you find a list of phone numbers, how long does it take to figure out if the numbers belong to other members of a terror cell, or just some guy’s buddies?

The quickly emerging narrative of Trump critics is that this was some sort of military disaster that is somehow directly Trump’s fault. To buy into this, you have to believe that up and down the chain of command, everyone simply shrugged off unacceptable risks or eagerly embraced a mission that would kill special-operations forces. Our men and women in uniform are human and imperfect, but I simply don’t buy that.

Secondly, let’s assume no valuable information was recovered… what’s the lesson? Clearly something indicated there was something of value at that target. Do we want our counterterrorism officials only launching raids when they’re 100 percent certain that they will recover valuable intelligence? If that was the standard, we never would have launched the raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden. This is war. Murphy’s Law applies. Things will go wrong. I don’t want the people responsible for stopping terrorists to be constantly worried about who will get blamed if things go wrong. Learn from every experience, study your failures, and plan for next time.

Maybe It’s Not a Lie, but an Omission Like This Isn’t Reassuring, Either

So did the attorney general just… forget about this?

Prior to his nomination as attorney general last year, then-Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador to the United States, but did not disclose the contacts during questioning during his contentious confirmation, Justice Department officials confirmed late Wednesday.

Sessions, who took office last month as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice last year — in July and September — while the FBI investigated Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election. Sessions’ meetings with the ambassador were confirmed by his spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, and another Justice Department official, who is not authorized to comment publicly.

In a released statement late Wednesday, Sessions denied discussing campaign-related matters with Russian officials.

“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” Sessions said. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

Yet when asked in January by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., whether he was aware if campaign associates had any contact with Russian government officials, Sessions said he did not have knowledge of such contacts nor did he communicate with Russian officials.

He provided a similar response to written questions submitted by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,’’ Flores said in a written statement, adding that Sessions took those meetings as a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee and not as a surrogate for President Trump’s campaign.

In his confirmation hearings, Sessions said, “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.” Was that a lie? The Sessions argument is that he did not have communications with the Russians as a Trump campaign surrogate; his meeting with the Russian ambassador was as a member of the Armed Services Committee. That’s slicing the baloney awfully thin. It would have done Sessions a lot of good now if he had said back in the confirmation hearing, “Last year I met with the Russian ambassador twice, and we discussed (whatever Sessions can disclose about those meetings).”

New Travel Ban: Green Cards, Visa Holders, Iraqis Okay

Speaking of learning from experience, I like the odds of this travel ban surviving a legal challenge much better than the last one:

The White House’s decision to remove Iraq from a list of countries subject to a travel ban came amid concerns in Washington and Baghdad the ban would undercut relations with a critical ally in the fight against Islamic State.

There was pushback in Iraq and at the Pentagon after President Donald Trump, citing terrorism concerns, signed an executive order suspending travel to the U.S. for people from seven Muslim-majority nations, including Iraq. A court put that order on hold, and the Trump administration has been working on a new version to address the concerns.

The White House decided to remove Iraq from the list of targeted countries after an extended internal debate, a person familiar with the planning said, and, while it will solve some of the White House’s problems, it could create new ones.

It won’t apply to existing visa holders or to legal U.S. permanent residents. It will remove a preference for religious minorities, typically Christians, in refugee applications. It still will temporarily suspend admission of refugees but no longer indefinitely bar those from Syria. It will also include a 10-day delay before taking effect, one person said.

Removing existing visa holders from the ban, in particular, could help address the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concern that the order denies people due process.

Here’s another nice development: Airports are likely to be ready this time.

Since last month’s ban, which courts have put on hold, a section of the international arrivals area at Dulles International Airport outside the nation’s capital has been transformed into a virtual law firm, with legal volunteers ready to greet travelers from affected countries and ask if they saw anyone being detained.

Similar efforts are underway at other airports, including Seattle-Tacoma International, where officials have drawn up plans for crowd control after thousands crammed the baggage claim area to protest the original ban.

ADDENDA: Here’s my chat with Ricochet during CPAC.

Booked my flights and hotel for the NRA Annual Meeting in Atlanta in late April. Hope to see you there!