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The Horror in Brooklyn


The perpetrator alone bears responsibility for this evil act. We will learn more about him soon enough, but he was boasting of how he was going to kill police officers to avenge the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, which were, of course, widely and falsely portrayed as racist executions. Here is the New York Daily News on the killer’s self-professed motivation: 

Two NYPD cops were executed Saturday after a suspected gang member from Baltimore trekked to Brooklyn to kill police officers in a twisted bid to avenge the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, sources told the Daily News.

The shooter — identified as Ismaaiyl Brinsley— boasted about wanting to murder cops in the hours before he ambushed the officers outside the Tompkins Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant around 2:45 p.m. — around the same time Baltimore officers sent a wanted flier to the NYPD. 

“I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today. They Take 1 Of Ours…Let’s Take 2 of Theirs,” Brinsley, 28, wrote on Instagram alongside a photo of a silver handgun.

He also included the sick hashtags: #ShootThePolice #RIPErivGarner #RIPMike Brown.

“This May Be My Final Post…I’m Putting Pigs In A Blanket.”

If the anti-police protestors in New York who were braying for dead police officers meant what they said, they should be very pleased tonight. Here is video of their chant“What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!”

Also, according to the Daily Beast, at least one eyewitness says that some people at the scene were cheering the assassinations:

But the scene outside Woodhull Hospital wasn’t entirely supportive. “You’re a bunch of killers,” a passerby told cops standing sentry there, according to one police source. And short distance from the crime scene — where a crowd was backed up by the police tape — a few members of the crowd repeated “f*** the cops” within earshot of a Daily Beast reporter.

One 30-year-old local who gave his first name only as Carlos, didn’t hear the fatal gunfire but saw the hysteria aftewards and walked to the police tape.

“A lot of people were clapping and laughing,” he said.

“Some were saying, ‘They deserved it,’ and another was shouting at the cops, ‘Serves them right because you mistreat people!’” he said.

We’ve heard a lot lately about tensions between the police and the communities they serve. But usually no one is willing to point out that a major source of that tension is an irrational animus toward the police, fueled by activists and commentators who lie about what they do.


‘Blood on His Hands’: Phalanx of NYPD Officers Turn Backs on de Blasio at Press Conference


A throng of NYPD officers at New York’s Woodhull Hospital turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio as he arrived at a press conference on the execution-style murder of two New York cops, with police union president Pat Lynch claiming the mayor has “blood on [his] hands.”

The two officers were killed on Saturday as they sat in their patrol car by a Baltimore man, whose social media posts strongly suggest he traveled to New York to take revenge for the killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police.

Many NYPD officers were angry at de Blasio even before the killings, accusing the mayor of inciting weeks of protests and maligning an entire police department after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to try the cop who killed Garner. 

While the police at Woodhull Hospital stuck to their silent protest against the mayor, Lynch explicitly placed culpability for the murders on de Blasio.

“There is blood on many hands tonight — those that incited violence on the streets under the guise of protest, that tried to tear down what New York police officers did every day,” the union president told the media Saturday night. “That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the mayor.”

Web Briefing: December 21, 2014

2 NYPD Cops Shot Dead -- Execution Style -- in Brooklyn


From the New York Post:

Two uniformed NYPD officers were shot dead — execution style — as they sat in their marked police car on a Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, street corner.

According to preliminary reports, both officers were working overtime as part of an anti-terrorism drill when they were shot point-blank by a single gunman who approached their car at the corner of Myrtle and Tompkins avenues.

“It’s an execution,” one law enforcement source told The Post of the 3 p.m. shooting.

The gunman just started “pumping bullets” into the patrol car, another source said.

The suspected gunman fled to a nearby subway station at Myrtle and Willoughby avenues, where he was fatally shot. Preliminary reports were unclear on whether he was shot by police or his own hand.

“They engaged the guy and he did himself,” one investigator said….


Is Christmas Possible?


I wrote a reflection on Christmas and epistemology which NRO published last year (and The American published the year before that). Since these issues are timeless and we’re just days away from the main event, I thought to share it.

I know something of what I’m talking about when I say that babies are pretty helpless. Think of Jesus that first Christmas night — he couldn’t see farther than a few feet, he didn’t know that he controlled his hands, he couldn’t hold his head up, he couldn’t feed himself. And yet the Christian church boldly claims that this little baby is the eternal being who has been worshipped and pondered and mythologized for centuries — the turning point of history, the necessary condition without which the universe, and all of us, would not exist.

That is some claim.

Could it be true? Could God have become man two thousand years ago on the first Christmas night?

Is Christmas possible?

You can read the rest here.

— Michael R. Strain is deputy director of economic policy studies and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at

Well, Whaddya Know



A New York City charter school offers a whopping $125,000 salary to staff its classrooms with top-tier teachers. A new study suggests the model has worked.

The study shows that students attending the Manhattan middle school, called The Equity Project, progressed more quickly than similar children attending traditional city schools, the Wall Street Journal reported. The contrast is stark—students’ test scores jumped the equivalent of an extra year and a half of schooling in math, with a half-year progression in both English and science…

The school skimps on administrative staff and maintains larger class sizes than city schools, 31 compared to an average of roughly 27 students, in order to afford lofty teacher salaries. The $125,000 salary nearly doubles the average of city school districts, and the school’s highest-paid teacher took in almost $140,000 with bonuses last year, the Journal said.

Krauthammer: Liberalization Hasn’t Worked in Vietnam or China, Won’t Work in Cuba


Economic liberalization has not changed the politics of Vietnam or China, and it’s not going to change much in Cuba, either, says Charles Krauthammer.

“In the early days of the Cold War, the very early days, there was a semi-tongue-in-cheek proposal that, instead of having bombs on the B-52s, we ought to fill them with nylons and drop them over the Soviet Union. As a result, there will be a revolution, they’re going to become capitalists.”

“This is exactly the same idea for Cuba,” he continued. “It hasn’t worked for Vietnam or China, if your objective is to liberalize it. And the bulk of the benefit is going to go to the military and the repressive apparatus. That’s the argument against normalization.”

The NRLB Gave Unions a Huge Boost Today . . . But It’s Not Likely to Last


The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) just charged several dozen McDonalds franchises with unfair labor practices. In an unusual move, the NLRB also charged McDonalds Corp. as a co-defendant with its franchisees. As I wrote in August, these charges are part of a larger push by unions to curtail the franchise business model.

Small-business owners run most fast-food restaurants in the United States. They often purchase the rights to use a brand name — such as McDonalds — in exchange for agreeing to meet price and service standards. The franchisees, however, run the rest of the business as they choose. They choose whom to hire, what to have them do, and how much to pay them. Federal labor law has long recognized franchisees as the sole employer of their employees.

Unions want to change that. They want to make the corporate brand the “joint employer” of franchisees’ employees, despite having no control over their employment. Why? In short, unions prefer trying to organize a handful of big businesses to trying to organize thousands of small ones. (For more information, read the earlier article.)

Unions now find it easier to pressure businesses to accept unionization than to persuade workers to accept their services. As Joe Crump, former Secretary-Treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 951, put it:

Who do we really need to convince of the advantages of being union? Employees or employers? . . . Employees are complex and unpredictable. Employers are simple and predictable. We [unions] can use these conclusions to our advantage in a pressure [unionizing] campaign.

Unfortunately for unions, the franchise model has created tens of thousands of small businesses across the country. They present a much more difficult target than a handful of large firms. So unions want to effectively do away with franchising. By making McDonalds Corp. a joint-employer, they can try to pressure it into foisting “card check” (i.e., no secret-ballot vote) on its franchisees.

Of course if McDonalds Corp. faces liability as an employer, then it has to control employment decisions. It can’t expose itself to lawsuits for activities outside its control. If the NLRB’s “joint-employer” theory stands, it would cripple the franchise business model.

Fortunately, it probably won’t stand. The law expressly allows franchising. Earlier this year the NLRB general counsel admitted “we have a problem legally for our theory.” Sadly, that did not stop him from filing charges.

— James Sherk is the senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis.

If We Put North Korea Back on List of State Sponsors of Terrorism, Why Not China?


The Obama administration is apparently considering putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, in response to its attack on Sony Pictures’ computer system and threats against movie theaters showing the now-canceled film The Interview. The truth is, it never should have been taken off the list in the first place. The Bush administration in 2008 removed the designation in a foolhardy attempt to keep alive its diplomatic negotiations with Pyongyang. Compounding the mistake, Obama kept it off the list, despite North Korean aggression like the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in 2010, its breaking of the 2012 “Leap Day Agreement,” a third nuclear test in 2013, and other destabilizing actions.

Putting North Korea back on the list won’t change anything much, but it will at a minimum be a moment of moral clarity. Rewarding North Korea for transient adherence to diplomatic agreements it had already broken, and when the nature of the regime had in no way changed, showed intellectual confusion and moral weakness on the part of the U.S. government. It sent the clearest of signals that Pyongyang did not have to alter its behavior in any meaningful way; it even encouraged more aggression, such the incidents listed above, and probably led the Kim regime to think they were winning their struggle against Washington. Since Washington has so far failed in its goal of denuclearizing the North and modifying the regime’s actions, Pyongyang isn’t wrong.

What happens if/when the Obama administration puts the country back in the diplomatic doghouse? Being designated a state sponsor of terrorism triggers four different type of sanctions, according to the State Department: restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual-use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions. The last is the one that would have any real impact, as it did in the mid 2000s, before the Bush administration surrendered that leverage, as well, in the hopes of getting North Korea to negotiate. Being largely a mafia-regime running a country, cutting off access to the world’s financial system seems to be the only thing that really hurts the Kim thugocracy. 

There is another twist to this story, though, that has more complex implications. If Washington does re-label North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, what about China? After all, U.S. officials at the least intimated that North Korea uses Chinese networks and firewalls to launch cyberattacks, including possibly the one against Sony. At a minimum, that makes Beijing an abettor, since it cannot believably feign ignorance about Pyongyang’s cyber activities. But Beijing may be more than an ignorant bystander; it may be an accomplice to North Korea’s cyberterrorism, actively helping it, given the complexities of this attack, as noted by U.S. officials. 

Intellectual consistency and moral clarity would require the United States to designate China a state sponsor of terrorism. That will never happen, of course. And since it will not happen, North Korea and other cyberterrorists will likely always find a haven and a supporter in China, itself the greatest cyber criminal of all. 

The bottom line is: Expect more attacks. Now that two of America’s largest entertainment corporations have caved into threats or the fear of threats and self-censored themselves, the template is set for more destruction of intellectual and private electronic property, the sowing of greater fear for personal safety, and the exposure of the inability of American businesses to protect themselves from the dark spots of the cyber world, many of which originate in the world’s most aggressive and anti-liberal regimes: China, North Korea, and Russia. 

Does Rand Paul’s Trolling Marco Rubio Make Any Political Sense?


Andrew, about that senatorial Twitter melee:

I am willing to entertain the possibility that Rand Paul supports rolling back the Cuban embargo as a matter of principle — “peace through commerce,” etc., as he wrote — and that his conscience demanded that he publicly plant his flag. But as a matter of politics for an all-but-declared 2016 GOP presidential candidate, his zeal in confronting Rubio is surprising.

In 1997, Gallup found that the country was evenly split on the question, “Do you favor or oppose re-establishing U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba?” In 2009, when Gallup last posed the question, 60 percent of Americans favored normalizing relations, and 30 percent opposed. According to the Atlantic Council and the New York Times, which both conducted polls this year, those numbers have held steady, and the Atlantic Council found that those numbers were no different among Hispanics or Floridians generally.

All of that would seem to favor Paul — except for the fact that effectively no one is going to select a candidate based on their position on the Cuban embargo. (Which is not to say that it will not be employed as an indicator of a general inclination toward or against foreign policy hawkishness — but even on that score there are much better pointers: policy toward the Islamic State, Iran, China, Russia, etc., to name only a few).

However, at least some voters may be inclined to change their vote based on the embargo: namely, Cuban Americans. They are not of one mind on the subject: A Florida International University poll of Cuban Americans in Miami found that 52 percent of all respondents oppose continuing the embargo, with a similar split among registered voters. That is a significant drop in support (30+ points) from two decades ago. But it is not necessarily a swing of opinion, as much as a fade. Older Cuban-American voters, many of them first-generation refugees, are staunchly in support of the embargo; younger Cuban Americans, removed by a generation (or more) from life in Cuba, are less likely to support it — and also more likely to just not care. In a recent poll of Cuban-American voters by Latino Decisions, one-third said the issue is “very important.” They are much more likely to be supporters.

And that matters a whole lot in the key swing state of Florida (electoral votes up for grabs: 29). Mitt Romney lost the state by less than 75,000 votes in 2012, and won Cuban Americans, according to a survey by Bendixen & Amandi International, just 52–48 — down from 2008. Considering that there are more than enough Cubans (125,000) in Miami-Dade County alone to make up Romney’s losing margin, and more than 1.2 million in the state, move the needle just a few ticks rightward, and a Republican presidential nominee could take Florida.

Why alienate those potential voters from the get-go?

And that’s to say nothing of a primary battle. There is a range of opinion on the embargo within the Republican party, but certainly no one is inclined to think the U.S. should simply hug it out with the Castro brothers, which seems to be President Obama’s plan, given that he is normalizing relations without requiring anything substantive in the way of political or human-rights reforms in return. Perhaps Paul would make these demands, but his statement suggests that the embargo deserves to go solely on account of its ineffectiveness — a fact that, itself, is debatable.

And, finally, there is the way that this was done: a poke-in-the-ribs, quasi-trolling outburst aimed at a party colleague over social media — one whose connections to this issue, furthermore, are deeply personal. Yes, Rubio said Paul “has no idea what he’s talking about” when it comes to Cuba.

But this did not do much to prove him wrong.

Nebraska, Oklahoma Challenge Colorado’s Marijuana Legalization


Nebraska and Oklahoma filed suit in the Supreme Court yesterday, arguing that Colorado’s legalized marijuana has crossed into their borders. Given the increased burden on their law-enforcement and judicial systems, their ire is somewhat understandable — but also totally misplaced.

The suit should instead be filed against the Obama administration for failure to enforce federal law.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is “Schedule One” substance, classified alongside hard-core drugs like heroin and ecstasy. While it’s fair to question whether such categorization is reasonable, the rules on the books remain the same.

Nevertheless, President Obama publicly stated that enforcement of recreational marijuana use is not “a top priority” because “we’ve got bigger fish to fry.” A Justice Department memo issued in August 2013 echoes this sentiment, directing states that have legalized marijuana to “implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health, and other law-enforcement needs.”

As the lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma notes, there’s substantial logic behind considering marijuana a federal-level issue, instead of deferring the decision to states: The federal government already oversees the regulation of drugs, and inter-state commerce concerns remain, too.

By shirking the decision to the state level, the Obama administration has created a rule-of-law dilemma. Expect more similar conflicts until federal law and state-level realities match.

Even so, the same states complaining about how Coloradoan weed is unduly straining their police and courts may want to consider the costs of over-criminalization.

— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Sony CEO Fires Back at ‘Mistaken’ Obama: ‘We Have Not Caved’


Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton pushed back against President Obama’s claim that his company “made a mistake” by pulling a movie after a devastating cyberattack by North Korea, claiming the White House is “mistaken as to what actually happened.”

Sony endured a strong lecture from Obama during his year-end press briefing on Friday, with the president saying he wished the company had spoken to him before pulling The Interview, a dark comedy depicting the fictional assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Lynton, however, said Sony repeatedly spoke to the White House throughout the crisis. “I personally did reach out and speak to senior folks at the White House . . . and inform them that we needed help,” he said. “We definitely spoke to senior advisors in the White House to talk about the situation . . . The White House was certainly aware of the situation.”

“The unfortunate part is, in this instance, the president, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened,” Lynton explained. “We do not own movie theaters. We cannot determine whether or not a movie plays in movie theaters.”

The CEO noted that Sony “persevered for three and a half weeks under enormous stress,” before a terrorist threat from the hackers pushed movie theaters themselves to drop the film. 

“At that point in time, we had no alternative but to not proceed with the theatrical release on the 25th of December,” he said. “We have not caved, we have not given in, we have persevered and we have not backed down. We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”

MSNBC Gushes Over Obama’s Press Conference ‘Swagger’


An MSNBC panel could barely contain their glee at President Obama’s press conference performance on Friday, repeatedly noting the president’s “swagger” and gushing over what they termed “Obama 2.0.”

“This was relaxed, confident president today, in a way that we have not seen him in a news conference,” said former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

“Incredibly strong,” agreed “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd. “That was a president who feels as if he has earned the right to have some swagger.”

“You said swagger,” agreed MSNBC host Chris Matthews. “It wasn’t that kind of faux swagger that you got from [George] W. [Bush], where you always wondered where it came from. This seems to be based on a confidence that has come out of his own inner . . . what, reaction? Defiance? The right word, I haven’t come to it yet.”

“This is definitely Obama 2.0,” MSNBC host Joy Reid concluded.

Merry Christmas from Liberty Island


Our friends at Liberty Island — a website for fans and authors of conservative and libertarian fiction — have posted the results of a holiday fiction contest. Go here.

Sixteen Years Ago


Sixteen years ago today, the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton.

Let it be said that the House was right to do so. Clinton clearly committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” 

The House impeached Clinton not because he took advantage of his position of authority and degraded the Oval Office by having sexual relations with an intern. Clinton was impeached because he manifestly, inarguably perjured himself in sworn testimony to officers of the law, and he took several actions to obstruct justice (and, in effect, to suborn perjury by others). Most directly, the case in question involved a sexual-harassment lawsuit by Paula Corbin Jones against Clinton. Sexual harassment, according to all of Clinton’s allies on the Left, was a horrendous crime — the crime du jour – that merited serious punishment. The suit contained plenty of substance. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the case should go forward while Clinton was still president.

The reason special prosecutor Kenneth Starr was handling the Lewinsky matter at all was because Attorney General Janet Reno petitioned a court to expand Starr’s jurisdiction to cover the issue, because of serious allegations of witness tampering and obstruction of justice. It is worth noting that these allegations mirrored similar, highly believable allegations in the ongoing Whitewater investigation. It was part of a pattern and practice of obstruction of justice, across a broad swath of issues and involving criminal activity of various sorts by a rogue’s gallery of close Clinton associates. The pattern and practice quite arguably demonstrated a mens rea – a criminal mindset — for what was not an isolated incident of sexual misconduct, but rather an interlocking series of scandals in which many of the same players engaged in similar activities to cover up wrongdoing. It included a pattern of misusing protective details, and allegedly of threats to a series of women.

It was the interlocking nature of so many of the scandals that led Starr and, more important, even Reno to decide there was a legitimate nexus between Starr’s broad investigation into what was known by the shorthand of “Whitewater” (even though it included many more scandals than just the failed land deal) and the obstruction of justice in the Jones suit. The practice of cover-ups of sexual relationships, as alleged in the Jones suit, clearly was followed in the Lewinsky affair, which was therefore quite evidently relevant to the Jones suit.

When the president perjures himself — not just to cover up an “affair,” but to protect himself from liability for particularly egregious sexual harassment — that is a crime. When he suborns other government officials — other people supposedly there to serve the public — to obstruct justice in order to protect his own skin, that is a crime. 

Clinton did not just “lie about sex.” Clinton lied under sworn oath, before a grand jury, about a practice of sexual misdeeds that included fairly ample evidence of sexual harassment (and, frankly, worse: see the story of the rape of Juanita Broaddrick). It included highly believable accounts of sexual assault in the Oval Office itself.

When someone uses the power of the highest office in the land to obstruct justice, to suborn others to do the same, and at least allegedly to threaten others who would blow the whistle on all sorts of misdeeds, those are impeachable offenses.

The House was right to impeach Clinton. The Senate should have removed him from office.

Obama: Sony ‘Made a Mistake’ by Pulling Movie After Cyberattack


President Obama finally weighed in on last month’s devastating hack attack against Sony Corporation, saying the company “made a mistake” by pulling a movie in face of hacker threats and wishing that the executives had “spoken to [him] first.”

With the FBI set to accuse the North Korean regime for the attack, the president lamented Sony’s decision to pull The Interview, a dark comedy revolving around the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. 

Obama noted that Sony is a private company and has suffered immensely under the cyber assault. “Having said that,” he continued, “yes, I think they made a mistake.”

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” the president later said, noting the dangerous precedent it sets in other fields — particularly journalism. “That’s not who we are,” he continued. “That’s not what America is about.”

“Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony, as a private company, was worried about liabilities and this, that, and the other,” Obama said. “I wish they had spoken to me first. I would have told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.’”

College Campuses’ Feelings-Based Tyranny


At Marquette University, an ethics teacher refused to allow a class discussion on gay marriage because gays in the room might be offended by negative opinions.

At Harvard Law, Dean Martha Minow cited “hurt” as her reason for sending a campus-wide e-mail excoriating a student who said, in a private message, that some research on race and intelligence might be worthwhile.

At Oberlin, a thousand people signed a petition  to “discontinue the standard grading system” this semester for black students because they have ”suffered significant trauma” from the grand jury decisions in the Ferguson and Staten Island cases.

At the University of Michigan, a conservative Muslim student, Omar Mahmood, set off a month-long campus uproar, and some vandalism, by hurting the feelings of  progressives with a satirical article on liberal attitudes.

And students at several law schools want to eliminate rape law from the curriculum because discussing it is too traumatic, according to Harvard Law professor Jeannie Suk, writing in The New Yorker.

These are routine reactions on the modern hypersensitive campus, where hurt feelings regularly trump free speech, free inquiry and ordinary common sense.

For more than 20 years, campus speech and behavior codes have been written in the language of feelings, banning “offensive language,” “hurtful comments,” “disparaging remarks,” or anything that would render a student “uncomfortable.” Though many of these codes have been ruled unconstitutional, the language tends to pop up again in various campus rules. The University of California’s sexual-harassment “info sheet” defines sexual harassment as, among other things, “Humor and jokes about sex in general that make someone feel uncomfortable or that they did not consent to . . . ” A particularly gross example of feelings-based regulation: recently Yale grounds for initiating a sexual-assault complaint to include a student’s “worry” about possible rape.

Feelings in effect are the measure of student misconduct, and causing a student to feel bad is viewed as a form of assault (at least if the offended student is gay, female or a member of a non-Asian minority). Hypersensitivity accounts for new concerns about “trigger warnings” on  potentially traumatic material and “microaggressions” (hard-to-notice little snubs on race and identity), plus the trauma some Wellesley students reported this year upon seeing a statue of a man in his underwear planted on campus.

Chris Rock drew attention to the campus hurt-feelings movement as an obstacle to comedy, telling Frank Rich of New York magazine that he no longer  performs on campuses because ”everything offends students these days.” Professor Suk writes: ”For at least some students, the classroom has become a potentially traumatic environment, and they have begun to anticipate the emotional injuries they could suffer or inflict in classroom conversation.”

So far resistance to the campus hurt-feelings culture has drawn little support from faculty and none from college administrations. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) opposes all form of speech codes and its president, Greg Lukianoff, warns that today’s students are “unlearning liberty “ on campus. FIRE’s latest  report, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2014: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses, finds that nearly 60 percent of the 427 colleges and universities analyzed maintain policies that seriously infringe upon the free-speech rights of students. What happens when students who tamely accept these policies are running the country?

— John Leo is editor of Minding the Campus, an online magazine of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. 

How Brave Are We, Really?


I’ve found the entire Interview cancelation fiasco deeply disturbing. It’s one story if Sony faced a vague threat and canceled the movie in a panic, a cancellation that would also have the collateral effect of perhaps appeasing the hackers and preventing the further release of damaging e-mails. But the collapse of will here was far more systematic. It wasn’t just Sony. Every major theater chain pulled out. Major online streaming services indicated they wouldn’t run it. Another studio, Paramount, canceled the small-scale screenings of an entirely separate film, Team America: World Police, a movie that’s been viewed countless times in theaters and online without incident.

Particularly disheartening is the fact that the cancellation came from corporations that have gained enormous market share precisely because they’re very, very good at determining what the American consumer wants. Was this corporate cowardice, or were the corporations reacting to years of accumulated information and experience about the American movie-goer? I think it’s a combination of both. 

Regarding corporate cowardice, the irony is that we’re talking about an industry that routinely applauds itself for “speaking truth to power” or for it’s own “courage” when it makes films that their fellow progressives love but might anger a few people in Tennessee and Alabama. It’s not courage when you seek the acclaim of your peers at the expense of the feelings and mores of people who will do no more than publicly criticize your product. So, now, in the face of a miniscule “real” threat, we see the stuff Sony and Paramount are made of. And it is weak stuff indeed.

But that’s only part of the story. Unrepresentative tweets and Internet comments to the contrary, I think to the extent that people were even aware of the threats, they would be more likely to steer away from the movie (and theaters that showed it) than they would be to defiantly attend. The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto is exactly right (and he quotes NRO’s own Charles Cooke):

Given the choice between the risk of a ruinous loss and even the certainty of a small one, most people will opt for the latter; thinkers from Blaise Pascal to Daniel Kahneman have recognized as much. And with few theaters willing to screen the film, Sony could hardly be expected to release it on schedule—though one suspects the studio’s execs were relieved to have the excuse.

There is of course another injury here—to America’s character as “a resolute and free people,” as National Review’s Charles Cooke puts it. But that loss is an abstract and diffuse one, not the sort of thing for which ordinary people risk life or livelihood except in conditions of emergency.

Free speech may be a value people broadly support, but they also take it completely for granted, giving it zero thought in their daily lives. If they hear about a terrorist threat at a movie theater, their first thought is not necessarily, “I’ll go to the movie as an act of defiance,” it’s more like, “Let’s go out to eat instead.” A critical mass of Americans are not necessarily going to see the meaning and purpose of enduring even the slightest risk for a raunchy comedy. 

But here’s the problem: Timidity is habit-forming. Most people like to think of themselves as the kind of person who will do the right thing when the stakes are high, but we can go through most of life without encountering truly high-stakes challenges to our courage and integrity. Instead, we tend to do the easy thing again and again, blissfully unaware that each easy step erodes just a bit more of our character. As I raise my three kids, I think often of Luke 16:10: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” Sony took the easy out, and so did a host of other companies. 

The right response to North Korea’s vague threats (and, let’s be honest, when is North Korea not making threats?) was easy: Beef up police presence at theaters to show that we take protecting our citizens seriously, donate a portion of the movie’s proceeds to humanitarian relief for North Koreans fleeing oppression, and celebrate our liberty in a small but meaningful way by seeing a movie — if you can stomach the raunch — that features the one thing that irritates self-proclaimed god-kings the most, pure mockery. 

But if the right thing was easy, Sony and a host of other companies saw capitulation as easier still. That’s certainly dispiriting, but the thought that they might be accurately reading their customer base is the most dispiriting thought of all.

Two Dem Lawmakers Indicted for Accepting Bribes to Oppose Voter-ID Law


Two Democratic Pennsylvania state representatives were indicted earlier this week for receiving thousands of dollars in bribes to vote against the state’s voter-identification law. The charges by a Philadelphia district attorney come after the Obama administration’s Department of Justice and Pennsylvania’s Democratic attorney general refused to pursue the case.

State representatives Vanessa Brown and Ron Waters were caught as part of a years-long investigation that found they accepted $4,000 and $7,650, respectively, in cash or money orders from a confidential informant in 2011 ahead of a vote for a bill that required voters to show identification at the polls; the law passed, but was struck down by a judge in January of this year. Waters also reportedly accepted a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet.

Following a grand-jury investigation, Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams said Brown and Waters “fully admitted that they knowingly took illegal cash payments.”

When the revelations emerged earlier this year, the Keystone State’s top law-enforcement officer, Democratic attorney general Kathleen Kane, said she would not charge Brown or Waters, and shut down the operation that began under her predecessor, then–attorney general and currently outgoing Republican governor Tom Corbett. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Kane called into question how the investigation was conducted and suggested that race played a role in targeting Brown and Waters, who are black.

As PJ Media notes, the Justice Department declined to investigate the case as well, although it has taken steps to investigate other cases of public corruption, such as that of former Republican Virginia governor Bob McDonnell. This left it to Williams, the local district attorney, to file charges after a grand-jury investigation.

Brown and Waters turned themselves in on Tuesday on charges of bribery and conflict of interest, among others, according to Harrisburg’s Patriot-News.

Cuba: Either Too Early or Too Late


I’m in favor of interacting with Cuba diplomatically like we do with the world’s other decrepit countries ruled by gangsters, and just calling our embassy there an “embassy” rather than an “interests section.” We have an embassy in Zimbabwe, after all, and in Sudan and Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia and Equatorial Guinea and Azerbaijan, all ruled by what amount to mafias – why should Cuba be different? In fact, the “normal diplomatic relations” thing is largely symbolic, mainly affecting the sign on the door of the embassies that we already operate in each other’s countries. Here’s a picture of our embassy in Havana:

US embassy Havana

and here’s Cuba’s embassy in Washington:

Cuba embassy DC

But symbolism matters. The justification for our differential treatment of Cuba was that Castro had turned it into a foreign colony in the Western Hemisphere, thus representing a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, and not a colony of just any foreign country but of our chief enemy in the world, that was bent on global domination. Cuba was an enemy base in our backyard and all measures, including even the use of force, were fully justified.

It follows, then, that there were two obvious opportunities for ending this extraordinary situation and normalizing relations. The first came in 1991, with the disappearance of the USSR. Once the Soviet empire evaporated, there was no longer any real rationale for non-recognition and the embargo. Castro became a lackey without a master, a common gangster oppressing his people, like so many other gangsters oppressing other peoples. Having lost its Moscow benefactor, Cuba hit hard times, its people reduced to breading and frying grapefruit peels for sustenance.

But we didn’t change at that time.

The second opening would have come when Fidel Castro dies; he’s 88 and, while he could well live into his 90s, he’ll be checking out soon enough. As the embodiment of Communist rule, his death will be a milestone, even if his brother Raul, the current president, continues the regime’s rule. 

Normalizing relations at either of those times would have communicated strength rather than weakness. A change in policy in either instance would have been seen as (and actually have been) the act of a victor, one that outlasted the USSR or Castro and now could return to the normal relationship a great power has with a puny nonentity.

Instead, Obama has normalized relations with Cuba in such a way as to communicate maximum weakness. The move is rightly being hailed as a victory for Cuba, both by the regime and by its lickspittles in the U.S. To wit:

When piled onto Obama’s other foreign-policy failures — the red line in Syria, the non-response to the Benghazi attack, the almost-certain non-response to North Korea’s attack on the United States, the talk of sanctions on Israel, just to name a few — even a foreign-policy minimalist like me starts to get worried. I’m for much less involvement in other countries’ business, but when that’s approached like Obama is approaching it — as weakness and retreat rather than a clearly defined narrowing of U.S. vital interests — the thugs and bandits who run much of the world will be emboldened to push us around. At some point we’re going to pay a price for Obama’s feckless and timid foreign policy; the smarter people in the White House are probably just hoping they can ride out the next two years without that bill coming due on their watch.


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