NR Live: Obama Faith-Based Office Insider on Christians, Politics and the White House

by Ericka Andersen

Michael Wear has written a book that gives fascinating insight into life working for the Obama Administration and the way the White House approached issues pertaining to the faith community. Wear was in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and worked on both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Jim Geraghty wrote a review of “Reclaiming Hope” here, so you can glean some insight on the book.

In this interview, we discuss everything from the role President Obama’s faith played in his decision making to how Christians can deal with some of the hostility coming at them in the political public square. Take a listen, consider reading the book and if you aren’t already, begin to approach politics as a Christian with “joyful confidence” knowing that our job, in the end, isn’t victory — but faithfulness. 

 

If Trump’s Executive Order Is a ‘Muslim Ban’ — Then Obamacare Is a ‘Government Takeover of Health Care’

by Jason Richwine

Not content with being amateur philosophers, judges are branching into amateur psychoanalysis. As Eugene Kontorovich, David French, and others have pointed out, the Ninth Circuit is open to divining President Trump’s motivations for restricting travel from seven countries. The court has decided that a presidential order that does not mention Islam might actually be a “Muslim ban” because that’s the policy the president supported in the past. Another judge, this time in Virginia, made the same claim on Monday.

Two can play this game. Take PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” from 2010: Obamacare is “a government takeover of health care.” PolitiFact tells a long story about devious Republicans who cooked up the takeover “lie” and drowned out the Democrats who were just trying to tell the truth, which is that Obamacare preserved most of the private market. But that was outdated 2010 logic. If PolitiFact were to apply 2017 reasoning, then Obamacare was a government takeover because Barack Obama once endorsed a single-payer system. Obamacare is not actually single-payer, but the president’s motivation was to take over the health system eventually. Therefore, Obamacare is a government takeover.

If we are going to treat policies not as they are, but as what we suspect our opponents want them to be, then our legal system is even more politicized than I thought. Consider: Under the psychoanalytic approach to judging, courts would allow President Hillary Clinton to issue the same executive order as Trump did because, unlike him, she has no history of supporting a Muslim ban. In other words, the constitutionality of an executive order depends on who occupies the White House. That doctrine cannot coexist with the rule of law. It does coexist nicely, however, with the rule of judges.

Justice Department Won’t Defend Obama-Era Bathroom Guidance

by Alexandra DeSanctis

Under the leadership of attorney general Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice has announced that it will no longer defend guidance issued under President Barack Obama regarding transgender students’ access to bathrooms and other single-sex areas in public schools.

Last May, the Justice and Education departments released what has been termed a “dear colleague” letter, providing “significant guidance” to school districts across the country about the best policies for respecting the rights of transgender individuals in schools. Under the auspices of Title IX, the letter advised that schools ought to permit students to use the bathrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities that align with their gender identity rather than their biological sex.

Then, in August, a judge placed a temporary hold on this guidance letter, leaving school bathroom policies in limbo. In a new one-page filing, the Justice Department has advised that it will not continue to push its appeal against the judge’s decision, meaning, in part, that the oral arguments scheduled to take place this week will be put off for the foreseeable future. In addition, 13 states sued the Obama administration over the “dear colleague” letter; the Justice Department’s latest move leaves uncertain the future of that lawsuit.

This decision will leave schools across the country free to craft their own bathroom, shower, dorm-room, and locker-room policies in the absence of federal guidance. In practice, this means that every locality will control its own policies, allowing parents, teachers, and local school boards to determine the best path forward.

According to Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, the Trump administration ought to take another step and acknowledge that the Obama letter from May was unlawful, because it misinterpreted Title IX’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex. As Anderson put it, “sex” in the context of Title IX refers to “a biological, anatomical reality, not gender identity.”

With its letter last May, the Obama administration effectively attempted to unilaterally redefine the Title IX statute by claiming that “sex” in this context somehow actually means “gender identity.” But the executive branch doesn’t have the authority to impose a particular understanding of biological sex and gender identity on the entire country, and especially not to force schools in all 50 states to change their bathroom policies to comply with a progressive understanding of “sex.”

Furthermore, Anderson said in an interview with EWTN that the Obama policy was flawed because it focused solely on protecting the rights of transgender students without acknowledging the competing privacy concerns of other students. Going forward, the best approach would seek to balance the concerns of those on both sides of this complex issue.

The American People Were Aware of the Trump Team’s Alleged Ties to Russia — and Chose Him Anyway

by David French

While there is considerable genuine concern that the Trump team has had improper or illegal contact with Russian intelligence, it’s plain that some of the fury against Trump is rooted in the notion that this election was somehow “stolen” by Russia (and Trump.) You see all the time the contention that if the FBI or the media had paid as much attention to Trump’s alleged Russia connections as it did to Hillary’s emails, Trump wouldn’t be president.

But while reviewing the timelines for my piece on the homepage today, I was struck by the amount of relevant information that was in the public domain before the election. Consider the following:

-The candidates and the press extensively discussed (and debated) Russian efforts to hack the DNC and Russian use of WikiLeaks to embarrass Democrats. 

-The press widely reported that Trump’s campaign chair, Paul Manafort, stepped down in large part because of controversies surrounding his alleged ties to Russia

-Democrats attacked Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page for his alleged ties to Moscow, causing him to step down from the campaign.

-In August, the New York Times reported that a “secret ledger” showed “$12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated from Mr. Manafort” from a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party between 2007 and 2012. 

-One week before the election, “law enforcement and intelligence sources” leaked that the FBI was conducting a “preliminary inquiry” into Manafort’s business connections. 

-It was well known and thoroughly debated that Trump had an odd and troubling habit of praising Vladimir Putin and excusing Russian crimes

Given all this, consider me extremely skeptical that a few public statements from Obama (who campaigned his heart out for Hillary) or another leaked story or two would have made a difference. Remember, Hillary built virtually her entire campaign around a single theme — Donald Trump is dreadful. Entire news cycles spent on claims of sexual assault, or on responses to Trump’s attacks on a Gold Star family, or any of the countless pre-election controversies hammered home the Democrats singular message. But it wasn’t enough. 

None of this means that investigations aren’t necessary. Presidential victories can’t whitewash wrongdoing. But Democrats can’t take solace in the idea that but for Russia interference — or but for better media coverage — Clinton would have won. The voters heard a considerable amount of evidence, and they made their choice. Trump is not an “accidental” president.

The Academic Left Has Learned Nothing

by George Leef

One might think that scholars would be willing to entertain the idea that their actions have been counterproductive. Doctors, after all, have examined beliefs they held about how to treat disease and sometimes discarded them as badly mistaken. But in the insulated world of higher education, especially in the soft academic fields, you seldom find any such self-criticism. Exhibit A: The way the Left has reacted to the election of Donald Trump. Despite plenty of evidence that one reason why Trump won states the “progressives” figured were theirs was that many voters had been turned off by the rhetoric coming from American campuses, academic leftists have dug in their heels. “We aren’t the problem,” they scream. “The rest of you are!”

That’s the gist of this Martin Center article by University of North Carolina senior Alex Contarino.

He focuses first on a revealing Association of American Colleges and Universities meeting in January. AAC&U president Lynn Pasquerella opined that Americans who didn’t support Hillary have fallen for “anti-intellectualism” and that the goal of the academic community should be “to destabilize the attitudes at the basis of proposals that devalue education.” In the world of the left-wing academic, the problem is that too many backward-thinking Americans devalue education.

At that meeting, Michael Roth of Wesleyan University suggested that the academic community should consider learning more how non-leftists think. But that idea fell on deaf ears. Tolerance and understanding were not on the menu for the rest of the conference. Instead, attendees were regaled with panels like “Reclaiming the Racial Narrative.” In other words, double down on haranguing Americans about their horrible attitudes as the cause of so many of our problems.

Turning to UNC, Contarino sees angry leftist students and faculty members proudly proclaiming their moral righteousness. He writes that “identity-obsessed lectures and workshops remain popular events across the University of North Carolina system. For example, at UNC-Chapel Hill, the Anthropology Department is hosting a ‘Race, Difference, Power’ colloquium in early March.” That’s the progressives’ obsession and they’re sticking with it. Question it and you must be one of those terrible anti-intellectuals.

Perhaps the red-hot rhetoric and tactics of the academic Left are causing some students to sour on them. “Speaking as a current UNC-Chapel Hill student,” Contarino writes, “I can attest that most students — which even includes some of my friends who used to ‘Feel the Bern’ — find the constant policing of ‘problematic language’ and the progressive outrage machine to be tiresome and off-putting.”

Professor Uses Lecture to Defend Islamic Slavery

by Paul Crookston

On February 7, Georgetown University’s Professor Jonathan Brown used his clout as an endowed chair to deliver a defense of the Islamic practice of slavery, which he claimed to be entirely different than slavery in the West.

Brown pointed out some interesting facts, such as the high position of “privileged Sultanic slaves” at certain points in Turkey. But they were obscured by his attempt to qualify — and even defend — the ownership of other humans that was rampant in the Islamic world just as it was in the West. Brown even went as far as defending “non-consensual sex” that most would now term “sex-slavery,” because it was not expressly forbidden through much of Islamic history. The full lecture is embedded below:

A Muslim student who attended, Umar Lee, was so incensed about what he called a “90 minute defense of slavery” that he wrote about it on the site Student Voices:

While the lecture was supposed to be about slavery in Islam, Brown spent the majority of the lecture talking about slavery in the United States, the United Kingdom and China. When discussing slavery in these societies Brown painted slavery as brutal and violent (which it certainly was). When the conversation would briefly flip to historic slavery in the Arab and Turkish World, slavery was described by Brown in glowing terms. Indeed, according to Brown, slaves in the Muslim World lived a pretty good life.

I thought the Muslim community was done with this dishonest North Korean style of propaganda. Obviously not. Brown went on to discuss the injustices of prison labor in America and a myriad of other social-ills. Absent from his talk (until challenged) was any recognition of the rampant abuse of workers in the Gulf, the thousands of workers in the Gulf dying on construction sites, the South Asian child camel-jockeys imported into the United Arab Emirates to race camels under harsh conditions, or the horrific conditions of prisoners in the Muslim World (the latest news being 13,000 prisoners executed in Syria).

Lee had no prior experience with Brown and his biased approach to Islamic history, but if he had, he may not have been able to even see the lecture. Jihad Watch’s Andrew Harrod was expelled from the room because he had previously written critically of Brown’s defenses of Islam.

What kind of logic did the professor use to defend his coreligionists from their past with slavery? By relativizing the idea of freedom:

We usually think of slavery as something that exists in a dichotomy with freedom. But what does freedom mean? As the legal scholar Vaughan Lowe jibes, inverting Rousseau’s famous line about man’s natural state of freedom, “Man is born in chains, but everywhere he thinks himself free.” I think this is a very astute observation . . . We all think we are free. Almost no human being is free of dependence on others and on society as a whole — almost everyone is forced to work in order to earn wages to buy food.

Slavery, of course, does exist in dichotomy with freedom. It is not the same as working to pay for food; it is the state of being owned by other people. All historical evidence points to this latter definition being widely practiced in the Islamic world. Nevertheless, Brown claims that Sharia has rules about treating slaves, and therefore Islamic slavery cannot be compared to the “real” slavery in the West.

Brown also defended sex slavery. Questioning the validity of consent as the standard for morally correct sexual activity, he said:

For most of human history, human beings have not thought of consent as the essential feature of morally correct sexual activity. And second, we fetishize the idea of autonomy to the extent that we forget, who is really free? . . . What does autonomy mean?

Pointing out that women in the Islamic world had duties, Brown compared his responsibility of a mortgage to sexual bondage. He summarized: “We are all born into and live in a network of relationships and responsibilities and duties. We [modern Americans] have an obsession with the idea of ‘autonomy.’”

Georgetown has been coming to grips with its own connections to slavery in recent months. In September the university announced that, because it profited from the sale of slaves, it would “offer a formal apology, create an institute for the study of slavery and erect a public memorial to the slaves whose labor benefited the institution.”

Brown takes a much less absolutist view on slavery, to say the least. But his standing at Georgetown does not seem to be in any danger, since he has an endowed chair paid for by Al-Waleed bin Talal, a Saudi prince.

Stop Comparing Trump’s Election to 9/11.

by Jim Geraghty

Jim Hoeft notices Tom Perriello, a former Democratic congressman now running for governor in Virginia governor, comparing President Trump’s election to 9/11. “The election of Donald Trump is a little bit like a political and constitutional September 11 for us, to be honest.”

He echoes Jonathan Chait – who called Trump’s election “the worst thing that has happened in my life”; a Seattle teacher who allegedly told a class of students that Trump’s election is “worse than the Terror Attacks on 9/11″ and a New York private school principal who told parents in an e-mail that Trump’s election was more troubling than watching “soot-covered New Yorkers grimly trudging north on West End Avenue on September 11, 2001.”

A significant chunk of Democratic primary voters are absolutely unhinged about Trump, and Democratic candidates, desperate to not get out-flanked to their left, are echoing their unhinged assessments.

‘It is also unclear whether the conversations had anything to do with Mr. Trump himself.’

by Rich Lowry

That’s a line in the eye-popping New York Times piece from last night on contacts between Trump officials and Russia during the campaign. I’d say it’s a pretty big caveat, wouldn’t you? I think the Russia story obviously deserves investigation and it’s always best to assume the worst of Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and the gang, but trial by leak and innuendo doesn’t serve anyone well. A congressional committee or committees should grind down on all this, get the facts out, and let the targets respond.

Secondhand Smoke, Not That Dangerous

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Slate goes through the evidence that the dangers of secondhand smoke have been vastly exaggerated. The exaggerated claims about the health impact of secondhand smoke were central to the successful campaign to get smoking banned in most enclosed public places.

I always thought that in the private sector, property owners should generally be allowed to set their own policies on smoking. Even if secondhand smoke really were dangerous, people should be allowed to take the risk of going to places that allow smoking–just as people should be allowed to take the much greater risk of actually smoking. If secondhand smoke posed no dangers at all, owners should still be allowed to ban smoking on the ground that they, or other customers, just don’t like the smell.

Humana to Pull out of Obamacare Exchanges for 2018

by Alexandra DeSanctis

Yesterday, major health-insurance company Humana announced that it would pull out of the Obamacare exchanges in 2018, the first large insurer to announce its plan to withdraw from the exchanges entirely for next year. Last year, Humana reduced its participation in the healthcare exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), participating in only eleven states rather than 15 for 2017. But now, the company cites a lack of stability in the marketplace, leading to this new decision.

“Based on its initial analysis of data associated with the company’s healthcare exchange membership following the 2017 open enrollment period, Humana is seeing further signs of an unbalanced risk pool,” the company’s statement said.

This year, Humana is covering about 150,000 people through the Obamacare exchanges. This latest announcement follows a trend that began last year, as major insurer after major insurer pulled out of the exchanges for 2017, and those that remained increased their premiums by an average of 25 percent.

Meanwhile, this morning the CEO of another major insurance company, Aetna, said in an interview at a Wall Street Journal event that the Obamacare markets are in a “death spiral.” Though he wouldn’t comment on whether or not Aetna will completely pull out of the exchanges for 2018, CEO Mark Bertolini stated emphatically that many regions will likely totally lack Obamacare insurer options for the coming year.

This latest news on the continued collapse of the Obamacare exchanges increases the pressure on the GOP and the Trump administration to push through a repeal and replace plan that limits the damage of the Affordable Care Act as much as possible.

The Trump administration this morning proposed a rule that, in part, would alter the existing ACA regulations in order to stabilize its insurance marketplaces until Congress can settle on a repeal — and possibly even a replacement — plan. Two congressional Republicans, Kentucky senator Rand Paul and South Carolina representative Mark Sanford, are expected to unveil an Obamacare replacement bill today that would lift restrictions on insurers and provide tax breaks to Americans who purchase healthcare.

The Perils of Music

by Jay Nordlinger

Yesterday, in my column and here on the Corner, I had notes about a serious situation in Germany: The town of Limburg has a carillon that plays a repertoire of tunes. One tune is, or was, a children’s song about a fox and a goose (and a hunter). A vegan complained. So the mayor has ordered that song out of the repertoire. Out of the rotation.

I received a note from a reader in Japan:

You’ve reminded me of something that happened here a few years ago. To help blind people know when the light turns green so they can cross the intersection, they play tunes on speakers. (Check it out.) One town chose “Three Blind Mice” until someone pointed out that it was a little insensitive.

“Three Blind Mice”: the bane of umpires down the ages. See, for example, this incident: when a music-choosing intern was ejected.

About the Current Storm, Six Quick Ones

by Jay Nordlinger

1) A line is developing on the right — it is even embraced by the president himself: General Flynn was the victim of unpatriotic saboteurs within the government. Okay. Why did the president fire him? Why didn’t the president stick with this victim of unpatriotic saboteurs?

The president didn’t have to fire him, you know. Flynn could be at his side today — and forever, or as long as the Trump presidency lasts.

Oddly, Trump is crying foul play. Almost as though he had nothing to do with Flynn’s ouster. When he was the ouster.

Just yesterday, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, said, “We’ve been reviewing and evaluating this issue with respect to General Flynn on a daily basis for a few weeks trying to ascertain the truth. The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation and a series of other questionable incidents is what led the president to ask General Flynn for his resignation.”

“Other questionable incidents.” That is an intriguing phrase.

Anyway, the line now is that Flynn is a victim? I find this hard to square.

2) The president has tweeted, “This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign.”

Could be. Or could be that there were contacts between Trump officials and Russian officials during the campaign — contacts that warrant an inquiry.

3) Apparently, General Flynn, through his conduct, was made vulnerable to Russian blackmail. This is undesirable, to say the least.

4) The reaction to the Flynn affair, and to Trump-Kremlin allegations, has been extreme, many people say. A “freakout.” It is also true, I think, that, just as you can overreact, you can underreact. (Under-freak?) Going nuts is stupid; so is being blasé.

5) It’s often useful to ask, “What if the shoe were on the other foot? What if it were the other party doing it, not my party? What would I think and say?”

If Democrats had an identical relationship to the Putin regime, what would Republicans say? And since when are Democrats so national security–conscious?

Bill O’Reilly said to Trump, “Putin’s a killer.” Trump replied, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?”

If a Democratic president had said the same — can you imagine the Republican reaction?

6) Campaigning in October, Trump said, “WikiLeaks! I love WikiLeaks.” The crowd cheered. Trump continued, “It’s amazing how nothing is secret today.” He meant that positively.

Scientists Want to Genetically Engineer Humans

by Wesley J. Smith

I first became involved deeply in the debates over biotechnology during the great embryonic stem cell debate.

During that time, I watched in stunned and appalled amazement as scientists lied to legislators and hyped the imminent likelihood of CURES! CURES! CURES! in order to win a political debate and gain federal research grants.

During that experience, I concluded that many in the sector essentially have an arrogant “we decide” what should and should not be done in science ethic–rather than society as a whole determining proper parameters through democratic processes–and moreover, that some have an essentially “anything goes” mentality at odds with the views of the rest of society.

More, these advocates pretend to be willing to accept reasonable limitations. But a close look reveals these restraints are primarily over things they cannot yet do.

Then, after a controversial technology becomes doable, the once “unthinkable” is suddenly moved into the “full speed ahead!” file.

Now, that pattern holds with human genetic engineering. From the New York Times story:

An influential science advisory group formed by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine on Tuesday lent its support to a once unthinkable proposition: the modification of human embryos to create genetic traits that can be passed down to future generations.

This type of human gene editing has long been seen as an ethical minefield. Researchers fear that the techniques used to prevent genetic diseases might also be used to enhance intelligence, for example, or to create people physically suited to particular tasks, like serving as soldiers…

Just over a year ago, an international group of scientists said it would be “irresponsible to proceed” with making heritable changes to the human genome until risks could be better assessed and there was “broad societal consensus about the appropriateness” of any proposed change. No one is pretending that such a consensus now exists.

But in the year that the committee was deliberating, [bioethicist] Ms. [Alta] Charo said, the techniques required to perform this sort of gene editing have passed crucial milestones.

See what I mean?

Know this: It starts with health and that justification is deployed to sway the public and regulators.

But soon, these technologies move to promoting enhancement and eugenic design–already seen in currently deployed reproductive technologies.

Those Finely-Worded Denials Don’t Pass the Smell Test

by Jim Geraghty

From the midweek Morning Jolt

Those Finely-Worded Denials Don’t Pass the Smell Test

Just what were “suspected Russian operatives” and folks like Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn talking about last year?

High-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to US intelligence, multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials tell CNN.

President-elect Trump and then-President Barack Obama were both briefed on details of the extensive communications between suspected Russian operatives and people associated with the Trump campaign and the Trump business, according to US officials familiar with the matter.

Both the frequency of the communications during early summer and the proximity to Trump of those involved “raised a red flag” with US intelligence and law enforcement, according to these officials. The communications were intercepted during routine intelligence collection targeting Russian officials and other Russian nationals known to US intelligence.

Among several senior Trump advisers regularly communicating with Russian nationals were then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and then-adviser Michael Flynn.

Officials emphasized that communications between campaign staff and representatives of foreign governments are not unusual. However, these communications stood out to investigators due to the frequency and the level of the Trump advisers involved. Investigators have not reached a judgment on the intent of those conversations.

Manafort is denying this, and certain points that he emphasizes in his blanket denial start to strain credulity:

Manafort said he did not know where US officials got the idea that he was in contact with suspected Russian operatives during the campaign but said he never spoke with any Russian officials during that time.

“I don’t remember talking to any Russian officials, ever. Certainly during the time we’re talking about,” he said, calling the allegations “boggling.”

“I have knowingly never talked to any intelligence official or anyone in Russia regarding anything of what’s under investigation,” he said. “I have never had any connection to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin or the Russian government before, during or after the campaign.”

A direct connection? Perhaps not. But Manafort spent 2007 to 2012 working for and advising [Ukranian Prime Minister] Viktor Yanukovich, who was called “at heart a Soviet-style autocrat” and “loyal to Moscow” and a “a Putin ally.”

In case you’ve forgotten how things turned out for Yanukovich…

Ukraine’s former President Viktor Yanukovych has said he accepts some responsibility for the killings that led to his overthrow in February 2014.

“I don’t deny my responsibility,” he told BBC Newsnight, when asked about the shooting of demonstrators in Kiev’s Maidan Square.

He never ordered the security forces to open fire, he said, but admitted he had not done enough to prevent bloodshed…

In February 2014 Mr Yanukovych was whisked away by Russian special forces to a safe haven in Russia.

Within weeks Russian troops in unmarked camouflage took over Ukrainian bases in Crimea. Then in April pro-Russian rebels stormed government buildings in the heavily industrial Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, triggering civil war.

His opulent residence outside Kiev, thrown open to public gaze by protesters after he fled, did not belong to him personally, he said.

Receipts detailing millions of dollars spent on the complex were, he said, “political technology” and spin. The ostriches in the residence’s petting zoo, he maintained, “just happened to be there”.

“Yes, there was corruption, no one denies that. But a year and a half has passed, those in power have all the means at their disposal. Show us, where are the bank accounts of Yanukovych? They don’t exist and never have done.”

Interpol placed him on a wanted list in January this year, as Ukrainian officials accuse him of embezzling millions of dollars.

When Yanukovich found himself in trouble in the uprising against him, Vladimir Putin sent in Russian special forces to rescue him. You don’t do that for just any old guy. Yanukovich says Putin saved his life. Yanukovich is still in Russia, and Putin’s government granted him asylum.

So when Manafort says he has “no connection” to the Russian government, he’s hoping no one remembers his years of service to Putin’s man in Kiev.

This isn’t the first time Manafort has offered a finely-worded denial that left a lot of wiggle room. Back in August, Manafort insisted, “I have never received a single ‘off-the-books cash payment’ as falsely ‘reported’ by The New York Times, nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia.”

As noted above, Manafort had worked for the political party that was running Ukraine, which makes that last bolded part seem like a bit of a dodge. If someone insisted they had never worked for President Obama, but had worked for the Democratic National Committee or Obama for America in 2012, would we have nodded in agreement? In both cases, they’re answering to the president, and it seems reasonable to conclude their viewpoints and interests align.

Way back in March 2016, I asked, “So the guy who’s been advising Vladimir Putin’s man in Ukraine is now running Trump’s delegate-securing operation? Will polonium be involved?” Ha-ha! Silly me, making FSB jokes about a high-level advisor to Trump! What are the odds?

The System Is Working

by David French

Response To...

Why the Flynn Debacle Matters

Each day of the young Trump presidency brings a reminder that the American republic was built from the ground-up to resist authoritarianism and corruption. That of course doesn’t mean that we’re immune from man’s fallen nature, just that our system is better equipped than virtually any other to repel it, to keep it from fundamentally tainting the entire governmental enterprise. 

We’re watching that reality unfold before our eyes. Look at the two tweets below — the first from Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz and the second from Republican senate majority leader Mitch McConnell:

This is the majority in Congress exercising its investigatory and oversight role on a president of its own party. Why? Part of it is simple integrity. This is the right thing to do, and both Chaffetz and McConnell should be commended for not automatically circling the partisan wagons. But there’s something else at work as well — institutional power and incentives. A legislature that abdicates on its core Constitutional responsibilities is a legislature that surrenders its own power and acts against its own self-interest. To be sure, some men and women will roll over in the face of a strong executive for the sake of short-term political gain, but wiser heads who care about the strength of their institutions will rebel. 

Indeed, if there’s a dominant story of the first few weeks of the Trump presidency, it’s how weak he’s proven to be, not how strong. So far, there are far fewer signs of a looming autocracy and far more signs of ineffective and contentious incompetence. Trump’s been checked by the courts, by the press (make no mistake, the press forced Flynn out the door), and is now facing scrutiny from the legislature. 

Here’s the reality Trump faces — he’s going to have to get better at his new job, or he’s going to find himself increasingly marginalized, not increasingly powerful. If his White House doesn’t start demonstrating basic competence (including showing that it can consistently tell the truth), the other branches of government will flex their muscles, quickly. 

The Trump/Clinton race represented a series of important and consequential failures — including failures of the parties and failures of the voters. But the Founders were wise enough to anticipate our fallibility. The last few weeks have been messy and painful, but so far the guardrails are holding. The constitutional system still works. 

Valentine’s Day links

by debbywitt

Video: The Science of Chocolate (a.k.a. the real meaning of Valentine’s Day).

Horror-movie-themed Valentine’s Day cards and a collection of really nerdy Valentine’s Day cards.​

The history of those chalky little pastel hearts with sayings on them.

Seven aphrodisiac cocktails to put you in The Mood.

A dose of cynicism for Valentine’s Day.

Forget chocolate on Valentine’s Day, try semen, says Surgery News editor. Retraction, resignation follow.

Mark Steyn tells you everything you ever wanted to know (and more) about My Funny Valentine.

Anti-Valentine’s Day cards from a bygone era, plus vintage Valentine’s from 100 years ago and a collection of vintage meat and weapons-related cards.

ICYMI, Friday’s links are here, including the “untranslatable” emotions you never knew you had, a supercut of people running in slow motion in movies, the human race’s 9,000 year old love affair with booze, and a DIY machine that sorts M&Ms and Skittles by color.

‘The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn’

The Battle Over Enforcement Is Joined

by Rich Lowry

We are at the outset of a massive war of political wills over immigration enforcement. The Left will try to make a cause of every sympathetic person who is caught up in enhanced enforcement (or even routine enforcement). We saw this last week in the case of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos. On the one hand, she has been here for more than 20 years and has a family and is no one’s idea of a gangster, making her an ideal example for how enforcement is allegedly unjust. On the other hand, she was convicted of a felony for using someone else’s Social Security number and has had a deportation order against her since 2013. There are about a million people with such orders who aren’t in custody, and if they aren’t going to be subject to deportation, it entails simply disregarding extensive proceedings in the immigration courts.

Stephen Miller was good on this Sunday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos:

We’ve been lectured all week long about respecting the rulings of the judiciary. And yet, in the last 24 hours, we’re being asked about whether or not we should respect the rulings of judiciary after final orders of removal have been issued, after all the immigration appeals boards have had their say, after the immigration lawyers and immigration judges have had their say.

Then they’re saying well, there’s a million people in our country who have final orders of removal and we, as the White House, should ignore that judicial proceeding.

You can’t have it both ways. You either respect the rulings of the court or you don’t.

What Happens When a Singer Wears a Pro-Trump Dress to the Grammys?

by Ericka Andersen

Singer Joy Villa made a risky decision when she chose to wear a dress to the Grammys featuring “Make America Great Again” in glittered lettering. The dress, which was rather stunning on an equally stunning Villa, obviously caused quite a stir online. Nevertheless, Villa’s album sales jumped on iTunes and she gained more than 50,000 new Twitter followers in only two hours after making the dress debut. 

See some of the racist, online backlash she received in this video, which includes some of the most vile language you can imagine. 

You can read more about Villa, who says she is a singer, author, model and vegan health coach, here. It was refreshing to see someone be so daring in the age of PC obsession, especially in a place full of self-righteous, liberal celebrities.  

Check out her bold Instagram post about the dress here

Trump, Without Blinders

by Jonah Goldberg

Charles Cooke writes below:

Along with “that’s why Trump won,” which pithy insistence serves now as a catch-all reaction to Democratic silliness, many of the Right’s pundits seem to have settled on a reflexive rejoinder to any criticism of the White House: “I don’t,” they will say, “think that anyone in Cuyahoga County cares about that.”

A bit further on he writes:

But there is a difference between saying “I don’t think anyone in Cuyahoga County cares about that” and “I don’t think anyone in Cuyahoga County cares about anything,” and that difference is often blurred. If, in four years, Trump’s administration has been marked by frequent departures, by simmering scandals, and by never-answered questions about pecuniary conflicts of interest, the Democrats will have a clear — and potently apolitical — campaign message with which to run: To wit, “this guy is corrupt and chaotic and he can’t fix anything.

I agree with all that (though I think there’s another distinction to be made: whether anyone in Cuyahoga County should care about X; I normally celebrate voter ennui and apathy, but not when X = Everything).

Anyway, I’ve been saying for a while now that the cumulative effect of these controversies can become a major problem down the road. In politics, scandals-of-the-day and even scandals-of-the-week can be dismissed, but at some point, a critical mass is reached and people look backward and connect what were once isolated dots. Those dots become the narrative of a presidency, and it is very difficult for a president to change that narrative once written in the public mind. It’s happened to every president of my lifetime, and I assume every one before I was born. That narrative, I should add, can emerge very quickly, leaving a lot of politicians who held their tongue for too long scrambling to compensate.

But I’d like to inter a different common retort: that Trump is playing ten moves ahead; that he’s playing 4D chess; that he’s brilliantly distracting the media by creating this or that controversy. I’m willing to concede that there are times when he’s deftly sent the media chasing their tails. But the idea that Trump’s brilliant master plan is unfolding just as he intended is frick’n bonkers.

Reasonable people can disagree about the merits of the travel ban, Flynn’s resignation, the umpteen tweet controversies, etc. On Flynn, I tend to agree with Rich that, to borrow Charles Krauthammer’s phrase of the day, “it’s a cover-up without a crime.” On the other hand, who knows what revelation will come next.​

But the fact that Trump lost one of his favorite and most loyal and important aides three weeks into his administration puts the lie to the idea that the Mastermind has everything well under control. Unless you believe that every negative story is “fake news” — even when heavily sourced, often on the record, from members of his own team — this has been obvious for a very long time. Trump campaigned saying the establishment was full of idiots and that everything would be incredibly easy. He is now coming to grips with the fact that he was simply wrong:

Being president is harder than Donald Trump thought, according to aides and allies who say that he’s growing increasingly frustrated with the challenges of running the massive federal bureaucracy.

In interviews, nearly two dozen people who’ve spent time with Trump in the three weeks since his inauguration said that his mood has careened between surprise and anger as he’s faced the predictable realities of governing, from congressional delays over his Cabinet nominations and legal fights holding up his aggressive initiatives to staff infighting and leaks.

Again, I know that I will be inundated with complaints on Twitter and e-mail from people insisting that Politico just makes this stuff up. But neither Politico nor “the failing New York Times” made up Flynn’s resignation or the chaotic events that led up to it.

Now, saying that Trump misled voters — and himself — by repeatedly suggesting this job would be a cakewalk from one win to another is not an argument for Trump supporters or the GOP generally to abandon the guy. It is an argument for a bit more skepticism from the faithful and a call for the grown-ups in the GOP to take a bit more control and responsibility (For instance, the White House should farm out as much of the Gorsuch nomination process to Mitch McConnell’s office as possible). It might also suggest to some of my friends on the right that pointing out the hypocrisies and failings of the mainstream media is not the full job description of a conservative journalist. “What about when Obama did X and the New York Times said Y” is rapidly becoming the lowest form of right-wing punditry. But unlike “he’s playing ten steps ahead!” such whataboutism isn’t wrong. It’s just not particularly interesting.