Give Gianforte a Brooks Award

Even if we credit an Alex Jones-style conspiracy theory that Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs is a perfect ass who was trying to provoke GOP congressional candidate Greg Gianforte into some kind of indiscretion, there really isn’t much excuse for Gianforte’s complete loss of discipline and composure. If Gianforte wins the election today, the House GOP leadership will face a dilemma about whether to use its constitutional powers to refuse to seat Gianforte.

And Gianforte may well win the election today, not just because Montana is a GOP-leaning state (though it currently has a liberal Democratic governor, Scott Bullock), but because nearly two-thirds of the likely electorate has already cast their ballots through early voting. There is disagreement among political scientists whether early voting makes a significant difference to most election outcomes. Some studies conclude early voting just represents the advance turnout of a reliable partisan vote. Perhaps so, but I remain opposed to early voting because it dilutes the way in which election day represents a concrete collective decision of one electoral body based on the same temporal information. Things can happen late in campaigns that cause people to change their minds, or cause undecided voters to make up their minds. This happened in the 1980 and 2000 presidential races (and maybe 1988 too), for example, and in a number of state and local races I can think of from yesteryear.

I think it is doubtful that Montana voters would elect Gianforte if everyone voted today, when the special election is actually taking place. If Gianforte does win, at least he can claim a lineage to South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks, the man who nearly beat Sen. Charles Sumner to death with his cane on the Senate floor in 1856. Maybe there should be a Preston Brooks Award created for circumstances such as this.

JOHN demurs: While I can’t endorse assaulting journalists, I wonder whether the incident will have much of a negative impact for Gianforte. Donald Trump carried Montana by 20 points, and I suspect that a good many Trump voters are not particularly horrified by someone throttling a rather twittish reporter. Especially in Montana. The bigger issue, it seems to me, is turnout. At this point, anti-Trump voters may be considerably more motivated to turn out for a special election than pro-Trump voters. If that is the case, the Democrat could well win.

But if Gianforte pulls it out, I don’t agree that there should be any serious question about whether to seat him. A misdemeanor assault charge can hardly be disqualifying for a House member.

Middlebury students disciplined; none expelled or suspended

Middlebury College announced its punishments this week for the students involved in the protests against Charles Murray — protests that devolved into violence and resulted in injury to a Middlebury professor. Most of the protesters who faced the possibility of discipline were placed on probation. None was expelled or suspended.

The school announced that 67 students have been disciplined. Forty-one students received sanctions from the College administration for participating in the first stage of the disruptive protest in Wilson Hall. The remaining 26 students, who faced more serious consequences for actions in the hall and outside the building, were sanctioned by the College’s Community Judicial Board, which held group and individual hearings in May.

The sanctions ranged from “probation to official College discipline, which places a permanent record in the student’s file.”

Some are characterizing the discipline as just slaps on the wrist. For example, former White House press secretary and Middlebury alum Ari Fleischer tweeted:

Middlebury slaps everybody on the wrist. A letter in the files. No one IDd who engaged in violence. The mob wins.

My take is somewhat different. Some form of probation seems like appropriate punishment for those who prevented Murray from speaking. Assuming no prior offenses, I think suspension would be too harsh.

Those who behaved violently or who threatened violence are a different story. They should be suspended, at a minimum. However, Middlebury claims it was unable to identify the people who engaged in violence. The claim seems plausible, since, as I understand it, these folks wore masks. It’s also likely that the worst offenders, or some of them, weren’t Middlebury students.

We also know, however, that the administration was under pressure from some professors to be lenient. That being the case, and college administrators being college administrators, it’s possible that Middlebury either feigned ignorance or, more likely, didn’t make a strong effort to identify those who engaged in violence.

Without knowing the facts, though, I can’t conclude that the discipline meted out was too soft under the circumstances.

My view on disciplining disruptive college protesters may be colored by my experience as one. In 1969, I was part of a group of activists that took over and occupied the administration building at Dartmouth. We were arrested for contempt of court and served 27 days in jail (we got three days off for “good behavior”).

After our release, we faced Dartmouth’s discipline process. As I recall, nearly all of us were placed on probation for various lengths of time (I got two trimesters, which was typical). Probation meant things like not being able to study abroad, have a car on campus, or participate in extracurricular activities (in my case, debate). Post-graduate institutions would be informed that we had been placed on probation, though I doubt many cared. (In this era, I doubt that any will care about the Middlebury students’ probation).

As I recall, only one student was expelled. He had manhandled one of the deans when we took over the building. Last I heard, he was a carpenter (I think).

I couldn’t reasonably have complained if Dartmouth had suspended or expelled me, but probation was also within the range of reasonable responses. It’s understandable, and maybe even commendable, when a college looks to the lower end of the range of reasonable punishments in deciding how to treat a 20 year-old first-time offender.

Unlike the Middlebury students, though, we spent almost a month in jail. That was more than a slap on the wrist.

Our Dartmouth mob didn’t win. Fleischer may be right when he says that the Middlebury mob did.

Let’s see if another conservative speaker shows up on campus and, in that event, whether he or she is able to speak without being harassed or disruptive.

Is Rex Tillerson clueless?

No, not as a general matter. But when it comes to Middle East, he may be.

Consider this statement by the Secretary of State:

We solve the Israeli Palestinian peace dilemma, we start solving a lot of the peace throughout the Middle East region.

We’ve been railing against this sort of nonsense for almost the entire 15 years (as of this weekend) of Power Line’s existence. Tillerson’s statement is a particularly incoherent version of the view, often expressed by the Obama administration but not confined to it, that the Israeli-Palestinian impasse is the source of the difficulties that plague the wider region. What does it mean to “solv[e] a lot of the peace” in the Middle East? Are we seeking peace with ISIS?

Two big problems plague the Middle East. The first is jihadist terrorist groups, most notably ISIS. Does Tillerson believe that the creation of a Palestinian state would cause these groups to eschew jihad? I doubt it.

Tillerson may believe that the creation of a Palestinian state would facilitate the building of an Arab coalition to combat ISIS (through a “whole lot” of war). But this claim is only slightly more plausible than the view that a settlement in Israel would cause ISIS to wither away. As Caroline Glick says: “The notion that it is necessary to empower the PLO to win Arab allies when the Arabs are beating a path to Israel’s door begging for help in defeating Sunni jihadists and Iran is ridiculous.”

Arab powers oppose Sunni jihadists, when they do, out of self interest. The jihadists, or some of them, pose an existential threat to their rule and their state. Regardless of what’s occurring on the West Bank, Arab rulers prefer not to see their territory absorbed into a “caliphate.”

The calculus is the same when it comes to the other big problem in the Middle East — Iran. The mullahs seek regional dominance. The Arab states prefer that Iran not dominate the region and undermine their rule from within. That’s why they are beating a path to Israel’s door notwithstanding the status of Palestinians.

So Tillerson’s statement is clueless about the Middle East. That doesn’t mean, though, that Tillerson is. The Arab states have an interest in pretending to care about the Palestinians. The pretense plays well domestically.

Accordingly, the U.S. also has an interest in pretending to care about a “peace” agreement, as it tries to firm up a coalition of Arab states to oppose ISIS and Iran. President Trump and his Secretary of State provide cover for Arab leaders by talking about the need for Israel to make concessions in order to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.

Is that what’s going on? I don’t know. My guess is that Tillerson and the president are doing more than putting on a show. Tillerson’s statement may be idiotic, but it’s been the conventional wisdom in Washington for decades, and it’s the gospel at the State Department. There’s no reason to assume that Tillerson and Trump are immune to such thinking.

Thus, when Tillerson and Trump, following in the footsteps of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, start “putting a lot of pressure” (Tillerson’s words) on Israel, we should be concerned. It may be just for show, but more likely it isn’t.

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Washington Post makes wild claim about Trump’s budget

“President’s plan could stretch nation’s income inequality to ‘extreme’ levels.” That’s the headline in the paper edition of the Washington Post of an article about President Trump’s proposed budget.

Can a budget that cuts taxes and makes appreciable but relatively minor cuts in spending on giveaway programs really “stretch [the] nation’s inequality to ‘extreme’ levels”? I doubt it, and nothing in the Post’s story supports such a claim.

To assess the impact of Trump’s proposed budget on income inequality, one would have to project the impact of the budget cuts on incomes across the spectrum (along with the impact of increased defense spending). One would also have to project the stimulative effect of tax cuts on these incomes.

The Post’s article, by Max Ehrenfreund does neither. It cites no such research or analysis. It just quotes economists who say that income inequality has gotten worse — during eight years of Obama’s redistributionist policies — and opine that it will get worse yet under the policies described in Trump’s budget.

Ehrenfreund cites cuts in food stamps ($191 billion over ten years). Are food stamps really a meaningful response to income inequality in America? I don’t know and Ehrenfreund doesn’t tell us.

It does seem to me that imposing work requirements on food stamp recipients, as Trump proposes, might well reduce inequality. At a minimum, it should improve lives by restoring the dignity associated with having a job, just as the work requirements imposed for welfare during the Clinton administration did.

Ehrenfreund also punts on the impact of tax cuts on incomes. His only response to claims that such cuts would stimulate the economy and lift Americans across-the-board is to sniff that the Trump administration’s estimate of 3 percent growth may well be too optimistic.

John has already ridiculed the sudden skepticism of liberals about the possibility of 3 percent economic growth. But there’s another point to be made in the context of Ehrenfreund’s article.

The issue, for purposes of assessing the impact of the Trump budget on inequality isn’t just what the economic growth rate will be. The issue is also, and more fundamentally, what it would be without the tax cuts Trump proposes. This matter too is beyond the scope of the Post’s article.

If you’re a liberal, you probably think inequality in America is already “extreme” and that this constitutes a serious problem. If you’re a conservative, you may agree that inequality is extreme and view this as a problem; you may agree and think it’s not; or you may disagree. You might even be agnostic on the question.

Whatever your view, Ehrenfreund’s article sheds no meaningful light on how Trump’s budget would affect inequality and provides no meaningful support for the Post’s claim that it would “stretch inequality to extreme levels.”

GOP Montana congressional candidate accused of body-slamming reporter

Greg Gianforte is the Republican candidate in the Montana congressional district (an at-large one) formerly represented by Ryan Zinke, now the Secretary of Interior. The Democrats are running country music singer Rob Quist.

The Democrats have been cautiously optimistic about winning this race, though they face an uphill battle in a district (coextensive with a state) Donald Trump carried by about 20 percentage points. For their part, Republicans have viewed the race as closer than it should be.

The Dems are probably more optimistic now that Gianforte has been accused of body-slamming a reporter. The reporter is Ben Jacobs of the Guardian, a left-leaning paper. This evening, he tweeted: “Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses.”

Alexis Levinson, now at BuzzFeed and formerly with National Review, partially confirmed Jacobs’ accusation. She tweeted that the confrontation occurred behind a half closed door, so she didn’t see it all. However, she did hear “a giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor.”

A local television camera crew was on hand for an interview with Gianforte. Thus, we may be able see footage of the event.

Gianforte’s campaign has issued a statement about the altercation. It says that Jacobs “entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face and began asking badgering questions.” When Jacobs declined a request to lower his recorder, Gianforte “attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face.” Jacobs then “grabbed [the candidate’s] wrist and spun away. . .pushing them both to the ground.” The statement concludes by blaming “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist” for creating the scene at a campaign volunteer barbecue.

You can hear the audio of the confrontation here. After the physical alteration, Gianforte, still enraged, yells at Jacobs. The reporter says he will call the police, and apparently he has.

I imagine that many Montanans will have little sympathy for Jacobs, who comes across as an overly aggressive twit who may have wanted to goad the GOP candidate and become part of the story for the benefit of the Democrats (presumably in less dramatic fashion, though). Whether they will find Gianforte’s response to Jacobs appropriate behavior for a congressman is another matter.

Montanans will have to sort it out quickly. The election is tomorrow.

If nothing else, Republicans now have an excuse for losing this seat, if that’s what happens.

UPDATE: I just remembered that in the Alaska Senate race of 2010, a supporter of Joe Miller, the Tea Party candidate and Republican nominee, had a reporter handcuffed and detained after he asked Miller an unpleasant question. There were a number of fairly small problems and incidents that, collectively, derailed Miller and enabled Lisa Murkowski, whom he had defeated in the Republican primary, to win the general election as an independent. The “arrest” of the journalist may have been one of them.

Brits Outraged By US Intelligence Leaks

We noted earlier today that British authorities shared photographs and other information about the Manchester bombing with American intelligence agencies–presumably the CIA and the FBI–and that information was promptly leaked by Democrats at one or more of the agencies to Democrats at the New York Times, which published the photos and other information.

The Sun reports that British officials are irate about the American agencies’ inability to keep a secret:

Furious Theresa May is to demand answers from Donald Trump after US officials leaked bloody crime scene photos of the Manchester bombing.

Fury erupted across Whitehall after details of the probe continued to slip out in Washington DC in defiance of Britain’s Home Secretary.
***
The images, leaked to the New York Times by US intelligence sources, reveal the device was probably packed in a blue Karrimor rucksack.

And they suggest that Abedi may have triggered the blast using a detonator held in his left hand.

There are also suggestions that the bomb may have had a remote control.

Ministers were described as “seething” over the graphic disclosure, which could also risk endangering future prosecutions.

The PM will ask the US president for an explanation when they meet at the NATO summit in Brussels tomorrow.

This is ironic, of course. Democrats in the intelligence agencies generally leak against the president. If he knew how to stop the leaks, he would do it. But it appears that this time, the British are serious:

Protests were raised at every level of the government, including by National Security Adviser Mark Sedwill to his counterpart HR McMaster.

A senior Whitehall source said: “These leaks from inside the US system are likely to deeply distress the victims, their families and the wider public.

“Information has also been leaked which risks compromising the ongoing investigation into this appalling crime.

“Protests have been lodged at every relevant level between the British authorities and our US counterparts.

“They are in no doubt about our huge strength of feeling on this issue. It is unacceptable.”

I couldn’t agree more with this comment by an MP:

Former Ukip MP Douglas Carswell said: “There seem to be some seriously third rate, untrustworthy spooks in the US.”

There is more at the link, to the same effect. Who knows? Perhaps British anger will finally make it possible to identify, fire, and where appropriate criminally prosecute the leakers at the CIA and, in all likelihood, the FBI.