Taking the Defense Industry Seriously

by Jim Talent

The ability of the United States to produce the necessary inventory for the Department of Defense is a key, if often overlooked, feature of its national security. That’s why the Executive Order that President Trump issued last Friday is so important.

The order directs a constellation of agencies, led by the Department of Defense, to study the condition of the defense industrial base, identify weaknesses, and recommend legislative or other measures to strengthen the supply chains that both produce the platforms needed for the force and protect the Department’s ability to sustain that force.

It’s a major problem, in part because, as the Order notes, the United States has lost 60,000 factories and a number of manufacturing companies in the last 15 years. Whatever the effect on total manufacturing as a percentage of GDP, the industrial base is thinner and less resilient than it was.

The effect has been particularly pronounced in the defense industry, because there is only one consistent customer there, and that customer has, for a long time, not been a robust purchaser. The government has underfunded procurement for 20 years. Total defense spending has been, for most of that time, too low, and the Department has consistently sacrificed its modernization programs, and reduced the number of service personnel, in order to maintain the readiness of the force that it has.

The defense sequester has exacerbated the problem. Not only has it yanked the defense topline at least $100 billion below what it is needed, but the imposition of the sequester, and its continuation in the face of the disastrous consequences it has caused, have created intense pressure on the industrial base to downsize.

That makes it hard for business leaders today to justify investing in defense manufacturing. There is a reason the United States has lost half of its public shipyards in the last 20 years.

To take another example, Boeing is one of two prime contractors that can produce tactical military fighter aircraft. The United States now has exactly one operational fifth-generation fighter line (the F-35), and there are periodically calls to shut that line down. It wouldn’t be unusual if the line did close; in the past, the government has terminated a number of modernization programs without buying anything near the stated requirement of platforms.

Boeing is not just a defense contractor. It also has a commercial airline business, and that side of the business is doing very well. Given that Boeing has a responsibility to its shareholders and employees, that the sequester is still in force, and that the trend line of defense procurement spending has been low for a long time, in which side of the business is Boeing likely to invest?

The weakness of the defense industrial base has not gone unnoticed in the past. There is an office in the Office of the Secretary of Defense that assesses the problem regularly. The Pentagon, and the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, spread some money around just to sustain certain vital supply lines. I remember, for example, working with then Senator Joe Lieberman ten years ago to put some funding into General Dynamics just to make sure that the United States retained the capacity to design nuclear submarines.

But the Trump Order is the highest level and most comprehensive such directive since the Eisenhower years. It is evidence that the administration is taking a serious problem seriously, and it should produce a plan to address the shortfalls in the industrial base. But that plan will be just a plan unless there is money to operationalize it — and that means the budget caps, which should never have been on, must come off.

Draining the Swamp Means Ignoring the Pressure of Cronies

by Veronique de Rugy

As I noted last week, it’s apparently not enough that large U.S. companies have their own government agency, the Export-Import Bank, devoted to propping up their profits, they also want to pick the guy who runs this agency to make sure that business as usual will continue in the world of cronyism.

In this case, Boeing, GE, and other giant manufacturers are throwing a temper tantrum because President Trump picked former representative Scott Garrett to be the head of the Ex-Im Bank. See, Garrett was a staunch opponent of the Ex-Im Bank when he was in Congress, and he is exactly the kind of guy you would want there because he won’t be the kind of pushover we had in the past who can’t be trusted to watch over taxpayers’ money.

Cronies are very upset about the nomination and they are making their opposition known to the president. Politico reports:

President Donald Trump is reconsidering his nomination of former Rep. Scott Garrett to lead the Export-Import Bank and may drop him amid growing resistance from industry, according to West Wing aides and Trump advisers.

Garrett has become a political headache for the White House and its economic agenda thanks to intensifying lobbying against the nomination by companies that rely on the agency to guarantee loans for foreign buyers of U.S. exports. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has also been pressing for the president to dump him, according to White House officials. . . . 

If Garrett were to withdraw, it would come as a major relief to firms that rely on the bank, including Boeing and GE.

National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons called out the administration in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, saying Garrett’s confirmation would be “a terrible trade deal for our country.” On Friday, the Business Roundtable, a group representing the chief executives of the nation’s biggest corporations, announced that it could not support Garrett, either.

I have written about Timmons’s article in the Journal here.

But let me say it again: It would be a mistake for President Trump to withdraw Garrett’s nomination. Taxpayers deserve someone who is driven by a profound desire to reform the agency he is presiding over for the sake of the American people. This is particularly the case when the agency is serving powerful interests, picking winners and losers (and the losers are small companies, consumers, and taxpayers), and embodying the very swamp the president campaigned against.

Indeed, what kind of signal would it send about the president’s campaign promise to drain the swamp that is Washington, D.C.? Dropping Garrett would mean that the president is beholden to the interests of large corporations who want to protect their profits with the help of their connections in Washington. Seriously, the swamp is the marriage of the government to large corporations and that’s the unhealthy relationship the American people are sick and tired of. By allowing the Ex-Im Bank to function fully, President Trump is already following in the steps of President Obama, who also claimed the bank was nothing more than a corporate-welfare program for the powerful but reversed his position once in office.

The least the president can do now is sit a man at the head of Ex-Im who will try his best to minimize the damage to the economy that the program inflicts and alert Congress of any wrongdoing by its employees (e.g., if they inevitable try to grant loans to Iran to buy Boeing planes). Under no circumstances should the president listen to the cronies. Being “pro-business” doesn’t mean doing to bidding of corporations eager to protect their government handouts. That would be adding to the swamp instead of draining it.

The Investigation Wars

by NR Staff

Here’s the cover of the new issue of National Review, out today for subscribers, featuring Andrew C. McCarthy’s cover story on Robert Mueller v. Donald Trump.

For this and more from the best conservative writers, subscribe to National Review’s digital magazine here, and print magazine here.

‘Trump Family Values’

by Rich Lowry

I wrote about the Sessions flap for Politico today:

Jeff Sessions thought he was on the Trump team, but he was sadly mistaken.

For President Donald Trump, the world breaks down into three neat categories — there’s family, who are part of the charmed Trump circle by blood or marriage; there are “winners,” who have earned Trump’s regard by making lots of money (often at Goldman Sachs); and then there’s everyone else, who are adornments to be cast aside as Trump finds convenient.

Sessions is emphatically in the latter category. If the former Alabama senator wanted to be securely ensconced in Trump world, he should have had the foresight to marry Ivanka. Nothing else — not endorsing early, not lending candidate Trump staff and policy expertise, not carrying water in trying circumstances — will ever make him anything more than some guy who happens to be attorney general of the United States.

Anthony v. Reince

by Rich Lowry

It’s always seemed possible that Scaramucci would end up as Trump’s chief of staff. Certainly, this makes sense for Scaramucci. Besides it being a more powerful position (at least, in theory), his current communications gig probably has a limited shelf life for at least two reasons: 1) When you are in front of the cameras every day, even if you are very adept (Anthony is), you are going to get dinged up, especially when you are constantly defending Trump’s various statements; 2) The more time Scaramucci has in front of the camera and as his profile grows, it is more likely that Trump gets sick of seeing him and becomes jealous of the attention he’s getting. So it’d be much better to parlay the communications gig into something bigger and a little less out-front. Surely, this dynamic is part of the reason for the completely bizarre episode last night where Scaramucci appeared to be implicitly accusing Reince of an alleged leak of his financial disclosure forms to Politico. Just going by the rumors, Reince has been the most-ousted chief of staff in history, but his tenure with Trump has obviously entered a new and much more treacherous phase.

Early Polling Strong for Bawitdaba Da Bang a Dang

by Jim Geraghty

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Early Polling Strong for Bawitdaba Da Bang a Dang Diggy Diggy Diggy

No, the headline writer has not had a stroke; that is a lyric to Kid Rock’s 1998 hit, “Bawitdaba.”

Robert Ritchie, a.k.a. Kid Rock, offered a public update on his potential plans for running for office. The short version is he’s thinking about it and will probably announce in the next six weeks; until then, he’s setting up a nonprofit to promote voter registration.

During this time while exploring my candidacy for US Senate, I am creating a 501(c)(4) – a non-profit organization for the promotion of voter registration. Not only can I raise money for this critical cause, but I can help get people registered to vote at my shows. Since the announcement, the media has speculated this was a ploy to sell shirts or promote something. I can tell you, I have no problem selling Kid Rock shirts and yes, I absolutely will use this media circus to sell/promote whatever I damn well please (many other politicians are doing the same thing, they just feed you a bunch of b******* about it). But either way, money raised at this time through the sale of merchandise associated with this very possible campaign will go towards our ‘register to vote’ efforts.

One thing is for sure though…The democrats are ’s******’ in their pantaloons’ right now…and rightfully so!

We will be scheduling a press conference in the next 6 weeks or so to address this issue amongst others, and if I decide to throw my hat in the ring for US Senate, believe me… it’s game on m*******s.

The really interesting thing is that despite all the other profanity, he didn’t spell out the mother-you-know-what term. It’s good to see Rock’s appreciation for manners and decorum; I knew Mitt Romney would rub off on him eventually.

I would turn your attention to the one poll we have so far that asked voters about this still-hypothetical matchup between Kid Rock and incumbent Democratic Michigan senator Debbie Stabenow. (Other pollsters have said they will ask about this matchup in the near future.) Delphi Analytica found:  

Of respondents who stated a preference between Debbie Stabenow and Robert Ritchie, 54% stated they would vote for Ritchie while 46% said they would vote for Debbie Stabenow. These results could indicate that Ritchie is a popular figure in Michigan, Debbie Stabenow is unpopular, or some combination of concurrent trends. The relatively large, 44%, number of undecided respondents may be due to the early stages of the campaign.

Yes, the poll surveyed “Michigan residents,” not registered voters or likely voters. Break that down, and it comes out Ritchie at 30 percent, Stabenow at 26 percent, and 44 percent undecided. Democrats should not be freaking out about the celebrity candidate enjoying a narrow lead. They should be freaking out that Stabenow is at 26 percent in a sample with the broadest definition of potential voters possible.

As mentioned on the Three Martini Lunch Tuesday, Debbie Stabenow has been in elected office of one kind or another for about as long as I’ve been alive; she was first elected as a county commissioner in 1975. She’s seeking her fourth six-year term in the U.S. Senate. Her name recognition in the state should be close to 100 percent and everyone in Michigan should have a pretty clear idea of what they think of her by now.

Back in April, the Morning Consult poll found Stabenow at 47 percent job approval and 38 percent disapproval — numbers that at first glance appear to be not great, but not catastrophic, either. Then again, that ranked Stabenow the 83rd most popular senator out of the 99 the firm surveyed. (Alabama’s Luther Strange had just been sworn into office, so they didn’t ask about him.)

In this light, Democrats really should be in a panic about a potential Stabenow-Rock matchup. As my co-host Greg Corombus put it, the debate stage would look like the high school assistant principal up against the guy who keeps getting sent to the office of the high school assistant principal.

A Little (More) Language

by Jay Nordlinger

My Impromptus today touches many subjects, as that column is supposed to do. (Sometimes it just touches a few, or one.) I begin with Trump and Lincoln; I end with Jordan Spieth, the golfer. In between are China, Russia, France, and a lot more.

The lot more includes language: language notes. I think “impact” as a verb is here to stay. (Hurts my ear. Impacts my ear terribly.) I think “to advocate for” is here to stay. (We used to advocate a policy; now we advocate for it.) It looks like Americans have given up on “I” and “me” and just fallen back on “myself.” (This is very sad to myself.)

There is something else: We used to prohibit someone from doing something, while we forbade him to do it. “Prohibit from,” “forbid to.” “I forbid you to leave this house!” That’s how a parent might have prohibited a child from leaving the house. But more and more I am hearing “forbid from.”

Even from the New York Times! This morning, I read the following in an article about Bayreuth: “He is contractually forbidden from revealing details of what his ‘Meistersinger’ will look like …” Ay, caramba!

Maybe this paper is failing, just as our president says! This morning, by the way, he tweeted, “Wow, the Failing @nytimes said about @foxandfriends ‘….the most powerful T.V. show in America.’” I like the capitalization of “Failing.” Is that sort of like Crooked? Also, what is the president doing reading the Failing Times? Or was the statement reported on his morning show?

Here is another Trump tweet, from yesterday: “IN AMERICA WE DON’T WORSHIP GOVERNMENT – WE WORSHIP GOD!” I think the all-caps means he’s shouting. Also, has he become a religious leader, as well as the president of the United States? Donald J. Trump? As WFB might say, mirabile dictu, twice over.

Human Genetic Engineering Begins!

by Wesley J. Smith

Some of the most powerful technologies ever invented — which can literally change human life at the DNA level — are moving forward with very little societal discussion or sufficient regulatory oversight. Technology Review is now reporting an attempt in the US to use CRISPR to genetically modify a human embryo. From the story:

The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon, Technology Review has learned.

The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR, according to people familiar with the scientific results…

Now Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.

Although none of the embryos were allowed to develop for more than a few days—and there was never any intention of implanting them into a womb—the experiments are a milestone on what may prove to be an inevitable journey toward the birth of the first genetically modified humans.

It may begin with curing disease. But it won’t stay there. Many are drooling to engage in eugenic genetic enhancements.

So, are we going to just watch, slack-jawed, the double-time march to Brave New World unfold before our eyes? 

Or are we going to engage democratic deliberation to determine if this should be done, and if so, what the parameters are?

Considering recent history, I fear I know the answer.

And NO: I don’t trust “the scientists” to regulate themselves.

Mr. President: We need a presidential bioethics/biotechnology commission now!

More Republican Health-Care Follies

by Ramesh Ponnuru

I. The Charade of “Repeal”

Over the last two days it has been a little harder than usual to figure out what, if anything, the Republicans are thinking on health care. Let’s start with the conservatives who wanted the Senate to vote on “repeal” of Obamacare and are now complaining about the Republicans who voted against it.

In 2015, the Republican Congress sent President Obama a bill to “repeal” Obamacare. The quotation marks are there because the bill wouldn’t have repealed the bill’s regulatory heart, just its spending and tax provisions. So Obamacare-compliant policies would have still been expensive, but people would have had no subsidies to help pay for them. And, since people would now be free to drop their insurance without paying a fine, in all likelihood a lot of healthy people would have just stopped buying insurance, sending premiums even higher.

In recent days a group of conservatives — including Senators Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ben Sasse – demanded and got another vote on this “repeal” legislation. Now some conservatives are complaining that several senators voted for this bill in 2015 but voted against it this time. They should be complaining that anyone voted for this bad idea either time, not that some people had the sense to vote against it this time. Why it’s supposed to be more conservative than the legislation Republicans had been working on over the last few weeks is beyond me. That legislation would have relaxed some of Obamacare’s regulations, reformed Medicaid, and pulled premiums downward.

One theory holds that passing this partial repeal would bring Democrats to the table. It takes effect after two years, and supposedly Democrats would work with Republicans on health legislation to prevent the damage the bill would do to health-care markets. Whatever else you think about this theory — and I think it’s crazy — it’s not contingent on the bill’s being good conservative policy; it’s contingent on its being terrible. So at least its premise is correct.

II. The Magical Mystery Conference

The latest Republican plan seems to have three steps. First, the Senate will, if enough Republicans agree, pass a “skinny bill” that gets rid of the individual mandate, the employer mandate, and maybe some Obamacare taxes. This bill, though, is not supposed to be the Republicans’ final product: Its limits are disappointing to Republicans who want more, and it would have perverse effects. Getting rid of the individual mandate, for example, will raise premiums if not coupled with other measures. So then comes step two: Form a conference committee including House and Senate Republicans to come up with something better than the skinny bill. And step three: Pass this better bill through both the House and the Senate.

What’s mysterious about this strategy is why, if there’s a bill that hangs together and could get 51 Senate votes, Senate Republicans don’t just pass it now instead of waiting for the conference committee to work its magic. Maybe the committee is expected to perform literal magic?

III. Pro-Tax Republicans?

One line of conservative criticism of the “skinny bill” is that it would cater to corporate interests. The medical-device tax, for example, would be abolished. I agree with those conservatives who say that business lobbies have too much sway among Republicans. It distorts their priorities, reduces their political appeal, and sometimes results in bad policies. But conservatives should not need reminding that sometimes businesses are right to want what they want and that, well, “corporations are people, my friend.” There’s a reasonable argument, for example, that the medical-device tax takes away good jobs.

Likewise, stopping Obamacare’s sales tax on insurance from happening — it’s one of the few parts of the law that hasn’t gone into effect yet — would be good for insurers. But it would also reduce premiums. The consulting firm Oliver Wyman did an analysis for the health insurers’ lobby in 2015 that estimated that getting rid of the tax would bring premiums down in the individual market by more than $200 a year. The per-employee savings in company plans would be bigger. If Republicans can’t even exert themselves to stop a pending Obamacare tax, they have even less justification for being in office than has previously seemed to be the case.

How About a Truce in the Sessions Fight?

by Andrew C. McCarthy

Response To...

‘Winning’ the Sessions Fight

The dim forecast Rich and Jonah offer, I admit, is a lot more plausible, but my column today proposes a potential path out of the president’s unseemly and self-destructive pummeling of Attorney General Sessions. A lot of what’s driving this is the assumption that what’s done is done when it comes to (a) Sessions’s recusal and the subsequent (b) appointment of Mueller as a special counsel running a fishing expedition of unlimited jurisdiction under the classified cover of a counterintelligence investigation. But these moves are not irreversible.

Trump can direct his Justice Department subordinates to go back and follow the letter of the applicable regulations. He would be on the side of the law by doing this. And it could not be said that he was firing Mueller or trying to end his investigation. As the column explains, the regs for recusal of an AG and appointment of a special counsel require these moves to be predicated on a criminal investigation that the AG and/or Justice Department are too conflicted to handle in the normal course. To the contrary, Sessions recused because of, and Mueller was appointed to handle, a counterintelligence investigation. The regs do not permit this. If Trump directed the Justice Department to reconsider what it has done in light of the regs, Sessions’s recusal would be much narrower, and Mueller’s investigative warrant would be limited to specified, reasonably suspected criminal violations. We would all finally find out exactly what laws — if any — Trump is suspected of violating.

My column concludes:

Instead of badgering his attorney general on Twitter, perhaps the president could, you know, act like a president and instruct his Justice Department to comply with federal regulations.

Sessions could be directed to consider whether his recusal complies with the regulation that limits disqualification to criminal investigations as to which there is a conflict. To the extent it does not, he should amend the recusal to conform to the regulation.

Rosenstein could be directed to consider whether his appointment of a special counsel complies with the regulations that limit such appointments to criminal investigations or prosecutions as to which the Justice Department is conflicted. He could further be directed to specify exactly what potential crimes the special counsel is authorized to investigate.

Finally, after Rosenstein specifies the crimes, Mueller could be invited to seek an expansion of his jurisdiction if he can demonstrate that he has legitimately found evidence of other crimes.

If this were done, if the regulations were followed, all of us, including the president, would know what crimes the president is suspected of committing . . . if there are any.

Individual Empowerment Is Not a Military Objective

by David French

Watching Twitter and much of the online commentary about Trump’s tweeted ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, it’s obvious that most people flat-out don’t understand the process of military recruitment or how the military should make decisions about who serves and who doesn’t.

Simply put, forget what you know about private employment. Forget it. In private employment, as a general rule you approach your employer as an individual and are judged by that employer entirely on your individual merit. Gay, straight, trans, white, black — the question is simple: Can you do the job? And while “the job” can be challenging — and it can require teamwork — the consequence of poor performance is rarely, if ever, horrific death, dismemberment, and/or world-historical civilizational changes.

The military is different. You’re trying to forge men into a team, place them into the most stressful situations humanity has ever seen, and get them to perform under pressure. Oh, and in total war you need numbers. Lots of numbers — but without fracturing unit cohesion, coddling weakness, or taking on unacceptable risks.

So, here’s what you do — you make group decisions. Do people with certain kinds of criminal backgrounds tend to be more trouble than they’re worth? They’re out. How about folks with medical conditions that have a tendency to flare up in the field. They’re out also. It’s foolish to create a force that contains numbers of people who are disproportionately likely to have substantial problems. Increased injuries lead to manpower shortages in the field. Prolonged absences create training gaps. Physical weakness leads to poor performance.

With that in mind, I want you to read again the statistics on transgender mental health my colleague Dan McLaughlin quoted earlier today:

Fifty three percent (53%) of USTS respondents aged 18 to 25 reported experiencing current serious psychological distress [compared to 10% of the general population] . . . Forty percent (40%) of respondents have attempted suicide at some point in their life, compared to 4.6% in the U.S. population. Forty-eight percent (48%) of respondents have seriously thought about killing themselves in the past year, compared to 4% of the U.S. population, and 82% have had serious thoughts about killing themselves at some point in their life . . . 29% of respondents reported illicit drug use, marijuana consumption, and/or nonmedical prescription drug use in the past month, nearly three times the rate in the U.S. population (10%). . . . The prevalence of HIV and AIDS has been found in prior research to be higher among transgender people than in the U.S. general population. . . .

Those are staggering numbers. And while I know that trans activists may argue that military service is one way that trans people can feel more accepted in society, that’s not the purpose of the military.

Coincidentally, yesterday the L.A. Times published a compelling op-ed outlining the staggering physical problems faced by women in ground combat. It turns out that social justice can’t trump biology. Here’s some basic science:

Testosterone also causes development of a heavier and stronger skeleton in males and has a specific effect on shaping the male pelvis, adding greater strength for load-bearing tasks and enabling more efficient locomotion. It increases the size and function of their hearts and lungs and consequently males have 40% greater aerobic capacity, and higher endurance compared with females. Women’s smaller hearts require more blood to be pumped each minute at a given level of exertion because they have less hemoglobin in their blood to carry oxygen.

These differences will put women at a distinct disadvantage in newly opened infantry jobs, where they will be expected to carry 100-pound packs routinely, or in armor jobs, where they will have to load 35-pound rounds again and again. Women in these roles will have to constantly work at a higher percentage of their maximal capacity to achieve the same performance as men. No training system can close the gap.

That is absolutely right, and as political pressure increases, we will fling disproportionately unfit soldiers into the most stressful of jobs. But it’s not just individuals who suffer. The mission suffers. The nation suffers. Warriors are distracted, units are depleted, and enemies who care nothing about political correctness and social justice will be all too happy to exploit performance gaps and take advantage of weakness.

So, please, stop taking about individual rights. Stop talking about individual goals. The military has to make hard choices on the basis of odds, probabilities, and centuries of hard-earned experience. Our national existence — ultimately, our very civilization — depends on getting those answers right. And if there’s one thing that any person learns in war, “fairness” has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome. The battlefield is the most unjust place on earth.

The Start of a Two-Front War?

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Some Trump loyalists have taken Anthony Scaramucci’s appointment as the first move in a campaign to rid the White House of everyone with ties to the Republican National Committee:

Scaramucci has long complained to associates that some White House staffers have been more focused on managing the image of Priebus than on defending Trump and promoting his agenda. An informal list of names, including several officials who previously worked under Priebus and Spicer at the Republican National Committee, has been circulating among Scaramucci allies as those whose jobs may be in jeopardy.

One of Priebus’s deputies, Katie Walsh, was pushed out of the White House earlier this year, and Scaramucci’s planned overhaul is likely to leave Priebus even more isolated in the West Wing.

The same story mentions longtime Republican operative Wayne Berman as a possible Priebus replacement.

Leave aside the wisdom of purging Priebus and his allies from the White House. Leave aside the wisdom of firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and alienating his supporters in the process. Doing both of these things around the same time — simultaneously attacking two different groups of Republicans who have been trying to work with Trump, however unsatisfactorily in Trump’s mind — would seem to be even less wise than doing either of them individually. But the president is full of surprises, and they have usually worked out for him.

‘Winning’ the Sessions Fight

by Jonah Goldberg

Response To...

Will Attorney General Sessions Win — ...

Rich writes below:

Trump can keep on pounding Sessions — there was another Twitter blast this morning — but if Trump doesn’t actually take the leap and do something about it, all the attacks and criticism will start to make him look weak and indecisive. In which case, he’ll need to move on to the next thing, having succeeded only in diminishing his attorney general and himself.

I think this is right and it’s hard not to see this morning’s Twitter announcement about barring transgenders from serving in the military as an attempt to change the subject and/or to remind the base that even if he fires Sessions he can still be counted on to advance Sessionsism, as it were.

But I expect that he will fire Sessions soon enough. Perhaps during the August recess, on the theory he could appoint a temporary and more pliant AG without Senate approval. But the more likely reason he will fire Sessions is the one Rich alluded to. Not firing him runs the risk — in his mind at least — of making him look weak. We know already that the easiest way to get him to do something is to tell him he can’t. That box has already been checked. If the story becomes that Trump backed down, the urge to “win” will likely become even harder for him to resist.

It will be an interesting test of the Democrats’ cynicism. It would be bad for both Trump and the country for the president to fire the attorney general. I would expect at least some Democrats to recognize the former but downplay the latter. Goading Trump into firing Sessions must be awfully tempting for people like Chuck Schumer, never mind left-wing pundits and reporters. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start hearing “he choked” or “Sessions won” talk to proliferate in the days or weeks ahead. It would be good if the president ignored such taunting. But I have little confidence he will.

Why Was Wife of DWS’s Swindler Staffer Allowed to Leave the Country?

by Andrew C. McCarthy

In the Morning Jolt, Jim nicely outlines the increasingly bizarre story of a family of Pakistani information technologists who became House staffers under the auspices of Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz (DWS) of Florida, the former head of the Democratic National Committee and a Clinton partisan. Over the years, family members were paid millions of dollars, and there are allegations of fraud, property theft, and potential swiping of information to which they had access on the House IT network.

The entire story merits attention and follow-up, working backwards from yesterday’s arrest of Imran Awan, DWS’s top IT staffer, whom she has gone to great lengths to protect despite the swirling investigation. Awan was bagged trying to flee to Lahore, Pakistan. According to the complaint filed in federal court in support of his arrest, Awan wired $283,000 in January from the Congressional Federal Credit Union to Faisalabad, Pakistan. He has been charged with bank fraud in a scheme involving mortgages on various properties owned by the Awan family. The FBI has also reportedly searched his home, seizing computer hard drives that had been smashed to pieces.

For now, I want to focus on a narrow part of the story. In early March, as Jim details, Imran’s wife, Hina Alvi, suddenly left the country for Lahore, by way of Doha, Qatar. Notwithstanding the return flight she booked for a date in September 2017, the FBI believes that she actually has no intention to return to the U.S. She had abruptly pulled the couple’s three daughters out of school without alerting the school’s staff, and brought them with her — along with lots of luggage and household goods — to Pakistan.

Hina had also been on the House payroll.

I want to draw attention to a detail about her apparent flight. According to the aforementioned complaint, agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) found $12,400 in cash when they searched her belongings. Yet, “ALVI was permitted to board the flight to Qatar and she and her daughters have not returned to the United States.” Her husband, Awan, appeared to be headed to join her when he was arrested yesterday.

Why was Hina Alvi permitted to leave? Why was she not arrested?

Under federal law, a person may carry as much cash in or out of the U.S. as she wishes. There are, however, reporting requirements. A Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments must be completed and filed with CBP if the amount of currency being removed from the country exceeds $10,000. An effort to smuggle out such an amount of cash without completing the report form is a felony, punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. If it is done in conjunction with some other crime (e.g., fraud), or as part of a pattern of illegal activity, the penalty is up to ten years’ imprisonment.

The complaint does not indicate whether Alvi filed the currency-transportation report. I would be very surprised if she did. The form requires the person providing information to identify whose money it is, how the person transporting it came to have it, where it is destined to go, who is to receive it, and so on. Whether a person in the middle of a fraud probe provides truthful information or lies in answering these questions, the answers are usually relevant to the investigation. If she’d filled out the form, you’d expect to find reference to it in the complaint.

So, given the highly suspicious circumstances of her sudden flight from the country, and the indications that the CBP agents had grounds to arrest and detain her, why was Alvi permitted to board the plane and fly to Doha?

Military Fitness Is a Military Decision

by Dan McLaughlin

So today we are talking about transgender troops, because that’s what President Trump tweeted about this morning. Maybe the most remarkable thing that happened in the aftermath of the tweets is that a flurry of Republican senators, many of them not the likeliest champions of transgender soldiers, came out in varying degrees of opposition or criticism. It’s clear that a good deal of this was due to the way in which Trump made the announcement (and since Tweets are not executive orders, we don’t even know whether, when, or how he plans to implement this). John McCain, who currently serves as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, put out a statement that perfectly captured the problem:

The President’s tweet this morning regarding transgender Americans in the military is yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter.

The statement was unclear. The Department of Defense has already decided to allow currently-serving transgender individuals to stay in the military, and many are serving honorably today. Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving. There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity. We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so — and should be treated as the patriots they are.

The Department of Defense is currently conducting a study on the medical obligations it would incur, the impact on military readiness, and related questions associated with the accession of transgender individuals who are not currently serving in uniform and wish to join the military. I do not believe that any new policy decision is appropriate until that study is complete and thoroughly reviewed by the Secretary of Defense, our military leadership, and the Congress.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will continue to follow closely and conduct oversight on the issue of transgender individuals serving in the military.

The military is no place for social experiments, or really any other social-policy battles, from the left or the right. The stakes are too high. The only issue in determining who serves in the military should be military fitness, readiness, and loyalty. Any deviation from those priorities gets people killed. Unfortunately, liberals and progressives have a habit of (1) hand-waving away any issues presented by, say, introducing women into previously all-male combat units, and then (2) setting about complaining that the culture of those units needs to change to accommodate women. We can expect the same pattern here.

Because this is an issue of military fitness and the good order and discipline of military units, there should be a strong presumption that those decisions be made by the people in uniform. The “chickenhawk” argument that nobody can have an opinion on military matters if they haven’t served is dumb and offensive on a lot of levels. Decisions of war, peace, and national security are too important to the nation to be left only to the soldiers and generals. But there’s an important lesson here on experts in general. Like any group of experts, the military needs to be left to manage its day-to-day affairs without a lot of outside interference, but also needs civilian oversight and subordination to civilian authority on the major, big-picture decisions. The question of fitness to serve is much more in the day-to-day affairs area, so the rest of us should generally stay out of it.

That distinction has long been one that a lot of Republicans respected. It’s why there was a lot of GOP opposition to Bill Clinton when he tried to introduce openly serving gays in the military over the objections of a lot of the military; by the time the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was repealed in 2010, the military was less unified on the issue, and while most Republicans (including McCain) still opposed legislation repealing it, the arguments still tended to focus on whether the support for repeal by President Obama’s Joint Chiefs of Staff was representative of military opinion on the matter. Here, by contrast, DoD is looking into the issue, and most Republican senators are — properly — uncomfortable having to stake out a position without much backing or cover from the uniformed services. Thus, even military veterans like McCain and Joni Ernst are unwilling to give Trump their support on this without some backup from the military.

There are arguments both ways on this (although as usual, liberal commentary on the matter uniformly assumes that it’s completely impossible for there to ever be two sides to the argument). On the one hand, you can look anecdotally at individuals who have served successfully. On the other hand, the stress of combat brings to the fore all sorts of mental and emotional vulnerabilities, and by definition, you’re dealing here with a population of people suffering a mental disconnect with their own bodies, and who as a result have highly elevated rates of suicide and other major mental and emotional issues (to say nothing of ongoing requests for surgeries, therapies, and the like). One study, done in 2015 by the National Center for Transgender Equality found, for example:

Fifty three percent (53%) of USTS respondents aged 18 to 25 reported experiencing current serious psychological distress [compared to 10% of the general population] . . . Forty percent (40%) of respondents have attempted suicide at some point in their life, compared to 4.6% in the U.S. population. Forty-eight percent (48%) of respondents have seriously thought about killing themselves in the past year, compared to 4% of the U.S. population, and 82% have had serious thoughts about killing themselves at some point in their life . . . 29% of respondents reported illicit drug use, marijuana consumption, and/or nonmedical prescription drug use in the past month, nearly three times the rate in the U.S. population (10%). . . . The prevalence of HIV and AIDS has been found in prior research to be higher among transgender people than in the U.S. general population. . . . 

That’s a pretty big series of red flags. The question, from a military perspective, is whether it’s enough (combined with experiences at home and abroad with such soldiers and their effects on their units) to justify a ban, or simply to justify a higher level of scrutiny of individuals’ fitness to serve. That’s precisely the sort of question that ought to be handled by the military brass, or at least in careful consultation with them. Without that input, even Republicans who might agree with Trump aren’t going to stick their necks out on this one.

Will Attorney General Sessions Win — or ‘Win’ — His Showdown with President Trump?

by Rich Lowry

Sessions may very well weather this storm, because all he has to do is not quit, whereas Trump has to affirmatively fire him against the advice (if you believe what you hear) of his White House advisers, and despite opposition from Republican senators, conservative activists, and media loyalists, and at the risk of causing a crisis at the DOJ and within his party. Trump can keep on pounding Sessions — there was another Twitter blast this morning — but if Trump doesn’t actually take the leap and do something about it, all the attacks and criticism will start to make him look weak and indecisive. In which case, he’ll need to move on to the next thing, having succeeded only in diminishing his attorney general and himself.

Would It Help if Law Schools Tried Teaching Virtue?

by George Leef

As the thousands of lawyer jokes attest, the legal profession is perceived as having a problem with virtue. One law school, that of Faulkner University in Alabama, is trying to do something about that with an introductory course taught by Professor Adam MacLeod. It gets the incoming students thinking about questions of virtue and morality — questions that ought to be in the minds of lawyers throughout their careers.

In today’s Martin Center article, Professor MacLeod writes about his Foundations of Law course.

“In the course,” he writes, “students consider matters both profound and useful. They examine the relationship between legal justice and natural justice, the difference between rights and privileges, the operation of formal logic in legal arguments, different approaches to interpretation and adjudication, and much more.”

Notice — nothing about “social justice.”

The course works like a “Great Books” course, having students read the great books of the law: Blackstone, Joseph Story, and more. It also includes parables from the Bible.

MacLeod concludes:

Law students who grapple with such questions come gradually to see transcendent truths. They are not daunted by changes in the law, for they can locate new rules within enduring categories. And they perceive the ends that ennoble their practice of law.

It seems to me that this course is a splendid addition to the first-year law-school curriculum. Unfortunately, most law-school deans would snicker if a faculty member were to propose anything like it.

Implanting Chips into Your Body Is a Dangerous Step

by Philip H. DeVoe

Wisconsin company Three Square Market has begun offering microchip installation in its employees’ hands to grant them keyless access to the building and cash- and card-less payment for food in the cafeteria. Fifty of the company’s 80 employees agreed to participate in the program and, on August 1, will be the proud owners of a rice-sized radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip embedded between their thumb and forefinger. While some employees were eager to participate, others had doubts:

“It was pretty much 100 percent yes right from the get-go for me,” said Sam Bengtson, a software engineer. “In the next five to 10 years, this is going to be something that isn’t scoffed at so much, or is more normal. So I like to jump on the bandwagon with these kind of things early, just to say that I have it.”

Jon Krusell, another software engineer, and Melissa Timmins, the company’s sales director, were more hesitant. Mr. Krusell, who said he was excited about the technology but leery of an implanted device, might get a ring with a chip instead.

“Because it’s new, I don’t know enough about it yet,” Ms. Timmins said. “I’m a little nervous about implanting something into my body.”

Still, “I think it’s pretty exciting to be part of something new like this,” she said. “I know down the road, it’s going to be the next big thing, and we’re on the cutting edge of it.”

Though it isn’t clear yet, the program seems to function as a test to see if Three Square can incorporate the technology into their products — self-serve canteens for businesses, offering a simple and efficient way of purchasing food and drinks in the workplace. Microchips would enhance the experience the company’s mini-markets boast, and, as Timmins said, represent cutting-edge technology.

But does the fact that it’s cutting-edge make it inherently good, especially when it poses such an evident threat to privacy? Three Square downplays the threat in their official statement:

As with a proximity card, the chip implant works in a similar fashion — by holding the chip up to the device reader, the unique serial number associates the user with the software, the software then performs the requested function . . . 

The chip is not trackable and only contains information you choose to associate with it. This chip does not have GPS capabilities.

RFID readers are proximity readers and can only be read with a few inches of an appropriate device . . . 

The data on the chip is encrypted, like the technology used in credit card[s].

In May 2016, Popular Science published an article meant to downplay the dangers of a chip implant:

The most common question I get about the implant (aside from “why would you do that?”) is whether I’m being tracked. The short answer is no. RFID chips aren’t that powerful. Think again of your office keycard: If you’ve ever had trouble getting it to work through a bag or wallet, you know that these chips aren’t good at transmitting through anything, let alone over long distances. My chip certainly can’t talk to a satellite.

But in April, the first company to offer RFID chip installation, Epicenter, revealed more functions than Popular Science and Three Square suggested:

“It’s an implant in the hand that enables [employees] to digitize professional information and communicate with devices both personal and within Epicenter. Once ‘chipped’ with this technology, members can interact with the building with a simple swipe of the hand. Chips can also be programmed to hold contact information and talk to smartphone apps,” [Co-founder and Chief Executive of Epicenter Patrick Mesterton] said.

And, from the LA Times:

And as with most new technologies, [the Epicenter chip] raises security and privacy issues. Although the chips are biologically safe, the data they generate can show how often employees come to work or what they buy. Unlike company swipe cards or smartphones, which can generate the same data, people cannot easily separate themselves from the chips.

Tripping over ourselves to accommodate devices that might save time and cut back on daily inconvenience is becoming commonplace today, but chip installation is a dangerous step in the fight for security in the modern world. Should governments utilize the technology to “simplify” the transmission or storage of federal information, they may close the door on true privacy.

Rogue governments installing chips in their citizens is a common theme in dystopian fiction — The Manchurian Candidate and Total Recall, for example — and the procedure is rarely as “risk-free” as the installer promises, ending poorly for the protagonists. Of course, movies and television shows aren’t pillars of argumentative fact, but there’s a reason the theme works.

We have been conditioned to approach technology with eager anticipation ever since the Industrial Revolution gave us more time outside of work to enjoy what we earned while in it, but it’s dangerous to believe new technology is good only on the basis that it makes life more convenient. We should be hesitant when third parties tap into our private life, and especially so when that wiretap is under our skin.

We Have Our Answer

by Jack Fowler

The Magic 8 Ball having been questioned — “Will you, the reader of this Corner post, make a tax-deductible donation to support National Review Institute’s emerging Center for Unalienable Rights?” — and shaken, while we awaited with great anticipation, it has returned the answer: Yes. Evidence is above.

That’s the same answer we got when we asked “Is it important to launch the Center?” We all know that those vital, Creator-endowed rights — free speech, free worship, open debate, tolerance, due process, and more (the right to own a gun!) — are under relentless attack by the Left, and that conservatism needs more focused and dedicated efforts to counterattack and to defend the . . . unalienable.

Hence the Center, which NRI fellow David French, a champion of liberty (listen to his new weekly podcast, The Liberty Files) will lead. Via this brief webathon, NRI is seeking to raise $100,000 to support the Center’s launch — and a very generous supporter has agreed to match any funds donated between now and the campaign’s end (July 31) dollar for dollar, up to a hundred grand. Wow.

So please, the cause of liberty needs your help, the Center will be an excellent way to stand by and for our rights, and, after all, the Magic 8 Ball has ruled (If we lose this effort, can you imagine how liberals would dictate the Ball’s answers?!). So please give generously. Again, you can make that important tax-deductible donation here.

Mr. President, Please Be Quiet

by Charles C. W. Cooke

Once again, Donald Trump has tweeted himself into the center of the day’s news. He does this almost every morning — even, perhaps especially, when he has nothing new to say. Upon seeing today’s efforts, I sighed and muttered “there goes Wednesday.” This is my increasingly frequent response.

Irrespective of the position being advanced, this habit is destructive in a free society, and those who hope for a more limited government should be appalled. Trump is the president, and he can speak as he wishes; he enjoys the same First Amendment protections as I do, and I would never wish to limit them by law. Nevertheless, I do wish that, just once, he’d just shut the hell up — not because the law compels him to, but because he has some understanding of the extent to which his behavior is crowding out civil society and making us all accessories to his ego. Calvin Coolidge was a great president not solely because he sought to limit the federal state, but because he did not feel a need to inject himself into the nation’s consciousness every single day. Donald Trump is the least Coolidge-like president we have ever had. Compared to him, Barack Obama looks like a Carthusian monk.

Every morning Trump is in the United States is a morning during which he is drawing attention to himself. The pattern is familiar: He wakes up, he picks up his phone, and he throws grenades onto Twitter – most of which, it should be said, rebound immediately off the wall and explode in his face. He announces policies in the most counter-productive way imaginable; he defends himself as might a cartoon character; he dredges up old fights and throws punches at skeletons. And then, of course, come the responses: Online, on Twitter, on TV, in the newspapers, in the magazines, on the streets, at the Oscars, at dinner tables across the land. In effect, the president is deciding daily what America will discuss, and more often than not that “what” is him. 

Whatever one’s politics, this is extraordinarily unhealthy. The president is the head of the executive branch within a free republic, he is not a King or spiritual leader. When the government is as big as it is, we will inevitably be forced to care what he thinks. But the attention that this man insists upon bringing upon himself transcends that inevitability, and ranges into the realm of narcissism and vaingloriousness. This is, in other words, a choice. It is a decision that Trump is making, day in, day out. Those who want to live their lives without constantly being dragooned into endless political hostility should band together and speak with one voice: “Mr. President. Please, please, please be quiet.”