Politics & Policy

A String of Words

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British prime minister Boris Johnson speaks in Parliament on September 3, 2019. (Parliament TV via Reuters)

From time to time, I’ve written about political labels, political designations: “conservative,” “liberal,” and so on. What do they mean, and to whom, and where? Meanings shift from place to place, and time to time, and person to person. There are those who consider themselves a “true conservative,” and no one else. Etc.

In 2012, I wrote an essay called “A World of Labels: ‘Moderate liberals’ and other interesting creatures.” This past summer, I wrote an essay called “May I See Your ID? On ‘conservative’ and other contentious identities.” (This essay is personal, as well as general, for those interested.)

Today, I was listening to Prime Minister’s Questions in the British parliament, an extra-tumultuous session, given Brexit tensions and fears. In one of his answers, the new prime minister, Boris Johnson, said, “What this country needs is sensible, moderate, progressive, conservative government.”

That’s quite a string, a lot of bases covered. But I knew what Johnson meant. It was a deeply conservative statement, in one sense of conservatism. But try pulling it off at C-PAC!

Elections

A Perfect Distillation of Beto O’Rourke

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Beto O’Rourke (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

To make bastard use of the Lionel Trilling phrase, Beto O’Rourke’s bid for the White House has been but a series of “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”

O’Rourke’s campaign has wandered about the political wilderness in pursuit of some transcendent “moment,” one that might elevate it above that which it most plainly is: an ego trip for Robert Francis O’Rourke, who will not be the Democratic nominee, and never, in truth, was anything more than an heir to the Jon Ossoff–mania that so exercised a certain sort of MSNBC viewer. The Blue Wave has come and gone, but Beto O’Rourke has not.

Beto went on CNN on Sunday desperate for a viral moment, one that might energize his campaign. It came while discussing the spate of mass shootings, when O’Rourke casually dropped the F-bomb mid-sentence, delivered with a certitude that captured the very essence of his candidacy — a caricature of authenticity. The vulgarity is shorthand meant to show that Beto is really serious, serious in a way you might not divine from his profligate use of a skateboard or insistence that the public watch him at the dentist. If you’re unconvinced, consider that in the immediate aftermath of the CNN interview, O’Rourke’s website started selling— what else? – profanity-laden t-shirts in honor of the episode.

He is so serious.

O’Rourke uses profanity as shorthand for seriousness. He skateboards as a crude stand-in for verve. His tabletop jeremiads beg for an energy from the audience that he does not and will never inspire. Clunky Spanish sentences delivered without a hint of affect are recited as though it they were genuine outreach. His trite bumper stickers are pathetic simulacra of the thoughtful, if misguided, policy solutions offered by some of his peers.

The flashes of emotion and patented stop-start cadence belie O’Rourke’s capacity to pursue that most elusive — and demanding! — task: to traffic in the realm of ideas rather than mimetic innuendo. The CNN F-bomb is not merely a distillation of the O’Rourke campaign. It is the O’Rourke campaign: glorified performance art, laden with that most noxious pretense that voters will fall for it. Thus far, to their credit, they haven’t.

Sports

Jim and Other Harbaughs: A Celebration

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Jim Harbaugh (left) and John Harbaugh prior to a game in 2014 (Mitch Stringer / USA TODAY Sports)

Happy college football season. Good luck to your team. My old classmate, John U. Bacon — great middle initial, right? — has published a new book. He is a prominent writer about sports and other subjects. His new book is Overtime: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football. I haven’t read it yet, but I bet it’s good.

I shared with John a tidbit or two. I thought I would share them with you, here and now. I don’t think I have ever written about Jim — Jim Harbaugh — in all my years of writing. He is a wonderful subject.

We grew up together, playing baseball, basketball, and a little football. His father, Jack, was our baseball coach for a while — Connie Mack League, I believe. His brother, John, was on that team too. John would later coach in the NFL, and so would Jim. They faced each other in the 2013 Super Bowl (nicknamed the “Harbaugh Bowl”). That was an amazing day.

When we were growing up, Jack Harbaugh was an assistant football coach at the University of Michigan. Have I said we were in Ann Arbor? We were. Mrs. Harbaugh was — and is — a lovely woman named Jackie. So, the Harbaughs were Jack and Jackie, like the Kennedys. (Jim and I were born right after the Kennedy presidency. Actually, I was born the night before the assassination; Jim was born the next month.) Jim and John had a sister, Joani, one of the prettiest girls in Ann Arbor. She later married a big-time college basketball coach, Tom Crean, now at Georgia.

Anyway, it was a wonderful family, with a dose of glamor. More than a dose. They were a pleasure to be around, and always lively.

Jim was a phenom — a big personality and a great athlete. I could regale you with Harbaugh stories for an hour or two, but let me give you just a bit, same as I did John U.

This concerns Little League. Our coach was the great Howard Zuckerman, father of our classmate David. One day, we were practicing. I’m thinking of infield practice, in particular. For some reason, I was standing behind the first-base line with Mr. Zuckerman. Jim was at shortstop, his customary position (along with pitcher). He fielded one between his legs.

Mr. Zuckerman and I agreed that Jim was hot-dogging. That was bad. “Hey, Jim!” Mr. Zuckerman called out. “No hot-dogging! Cut it out!” But then, we had a private moment. Mr. Zuckerman and I looked at each other, grinned, and agreed: “That was pretty damn impressive. Maybe he shouldn’t have done it. But, wow.”

Jim was a natural at anything he did, practically. He was a really good basketball player. I thought it was his best sport, frankly. He was a very good shooter, passer, rebounder (because of positioning, not because of leaping ability, as I recall), floor leader.

Could Jim have played in college? Basketball, that is? I don’t know. Probably. I lost track of him, as Coach Harbaugh (Jack) got a job at Stanford after our tenth-grade year, I believe. The Harbaughs moved to California.

After starring at quarterback at Michigan, Jim went to the NFL — playing for the Bears, Colts, and others. He has since had an illustrious coaching career, both in the NFL and in college. Even if he ends up in the pantheon with Vince Lombardi, Bear Bryant, et al., I will always be most impressed that he played quarterback in the NFL. And I will always think of him as a great athlete, pretty much the best I ever saw.

Politics & Policy

Here’s One Way to Stop Cancel Culture — Stop Canceling

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Facebook and Twitter logos are seen on a shop window in Malaga, Spain, June 4, 2018. (Jon Nazca/Reuters)

Earlier today a Bloomberg reporter named Ben Penn published one of the more dishonest mainstream media attacks I’ve ever read. It was an extraordinary hit piece on a recent Trump Labor Department appointee named Leif Olson. To make a long story short, he took Facebook posts that Olson obviously intended as insults and mockery of the alt-right and then cast them as actually anti-Semitic. In doing so, he omitted a segment of the Facebook thread that made the sarcasm and mockery crystal clear. Olson’s targets were Paul Nehlen and Breitbart, not Jews.

To get a full sense of the sheer obvious bad faith of the attack on Olson, I’d urge you to read Michael Brendan Dougherty’s excellent piece on our home page.

All this would be bad enough, but it gets worse. Olson is now out of a job. After Penn’s inquiries, the Department of Labor accepted Olson’s resignation “effective immediately.” An unfair journalistic hit has now cost a capable attorney his job. It’s absurd. Cancel culture has reared its ugly head . . . again.

But wait. Why did he leave? Perhaps there are personal reasons for the resignation that aren’t apparent from any of the public reports. If that’s the case, then we should accept his decision and focus our attention on Penn’s terrible report. But if the Labor Department tossed him overboard on the basis of Penn’s report alone, well then that’s a different situation entirely. Penn has no power over the Labor Department. It could have easily stood by its man, and it would have had a legion of defenders — and not just conservatives.

For example, writing in Vox, Dylan Matthews said this:

You do not need a PhD in linguistics to correctly identify this as obvious sarcasm — another commenter on the thread praised the post’s “epic sarcasm.” Conservatives, especially ones of a neoconservative bent on foreign policy, have made sarcastic jokes like this about what they perceive as (and what sometimes, as in the case of Nehlen, is) anti-Semitic criticism of neoconservatism, a movement primarily founded by Jewish intellectuals.

Here was Jonathan Chait:

Within hours of his terrible report, Penn was on the defensive, not Olson. Yet Olson has no job, and Penn is still employed.

And that brings me to a fundamental reality of cancel culture — neither the media nor the online mob can actually “cancel” anyone. They can’t fire a single person. Cancel culture requires two to tango. First, the media prints the smear, then the employer responds to the smear. All too often the employer acts hastily, sometimes in response to a controversy that may well blow over in a matter of hours. There is no single answer to cancel culture, but here’s at least one thing that employers, schools, and government agencies should do: stop canceling. Push back when appropriate, let the controversy blow over, and move on with your life.

Last month, I wrote an essay that generated a good bit of pushback calling for conservatives to show more courage in response to intolerance and public attacks. Regarding the Labor Department, I’d say that this case is a perfect example — except that standing by Olson actually required zero real courage at all. Assuming we know the relevant facts, it just required a few days of basic fortitude. The administration stood by other appointees in the face of far worse public campaigns and far more serious allegations. It’s mystifying.

The fight against cancel culture has two fronts. First, continue the campaign against those who publish dishonest hit pieces or try to destroy the public reputations of good men and women. Second, encourage those who hold the actual power in the situation to stay strong in the face of unfair attacks — even when those attacks contain explosive allegations. In fact, given the culture and incentives on Twitter (and the desperate desire for clicks), it may well be ultimately easier to defeat cancel culture by fortifying the relevant institutions — by depriving the attackers of the scalps they seek.

Culture

Ten Things That Caught My Eye Today (September 3, 2019)

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1. Asia Bibi pleads for justice for victims of Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws as she plans to settle in Europe (Telegraph).

2. China’s Prisons Swell After Deluge of Arrests Engulfs Muslims (New York Times).

3.

 

4. Bill McGurn writes in the Wall Street Journal under the title “White Supremacy and Abortion, Are pro-lifers in bed with white supremacists?”:

That’s Marissa Brostoff’s contention in a Washington Post op-ed last week, wherein she alleged that “antiabortion politics” can provide “cover for white nationalist sentiments.” Her argument followed a Laurence Tribe tweet in which the Harvard law professor told his followers, “Never underestimate the way these issues and agendas are linked.”

The timing is likely not accidental. The hope may be that tarring pro-lifers with white nationalism will distract attention from the agenda the Democrats have rallied around as they head into 2020. That would include federally funded abortion on demand up to the moment of birth—and even after birth, if necessary, as Ralph Northam, the pediatric neurologist and Democratic governor of Virginia, awkwardly made clear earlier this year.

As with all single-issue movements, pro-lifers can be accused of many things, from political rigidity to moral absolutism. But single-issue movements also offer undeniable clarity. The pro-life proposition is simple: Human life begins at conception, and every human life is equal in dignity and worth.

Whatever else this may be, it is incompatible with white supremacism. Perhaps that’s why so many African-Americans, especially African-American women, have been leaders in the pro-life cause.


Against these white nationalists stand the pro-lifers, and not just on behalf of African-American babies. They also speak for the unborn child with Down syndrome, for the child conceived in rape or incest, for the unplanned pregnancy that will undeniably crimp any career plans a mother might have if she carries the baby to term. These are all hard cases, and the clarity of the pro-life proposition— the insistence that each of these lives is no less precious than any other human life—can make for a difficult political sell.

But no pro-lifer ever said life is easy. We say life is beautiful.

5. Former Foster Kids Show What Philadelphia Loses By Defenestrating Catholics Over Gay Marriage (Federalist).

6. Pope Francis condemns euthanasia.

7. What if real life became more like Twitter?

8. Maria McFadden Maffucci: The Bond of Motherhood Lasts Even After Life Is Gone.

9. An opportunity for poets, judged by Dana Gioia.

10. Maddy Kearns’ beautiful interview with composer James Macmillan.

Music

A Break for Your Ears

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Danielle de Niese (right) and Malena Ernman in a dress rehearsal of Handel’s Serse at Theater an der Wien (Vienna) on October 13, 2011 (Herwig Prammer / Reuters)

That saucy singer up there, on the right, is Danielle de Niese, La Belle Danielle — an Australian-American soprano of Sri Lankan origin (and other origin). In my new Music for a While, I call on her to demonstrate some Handel. (By pure coincidence, she is rehearsing a Handel opera in the above photo.) I have a little instruction in this episode — concerning tempo in a Beethoven concerto, for example. But mainly this is pure enjoyment, with a variety of composers, performers, and observations. Give it a whirl (again, here). All politics and no play makes Jack — or at least Jay — a dull boy.

World

What Is Happening in Parliament?

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If I’m reading all the reports right, and interpreting the cacophony of noise from the House of Commons correctly, then two contradictory things hold true:

1) A majority of Parliament wants to puppeteer Boris Johnson in his late negotiations with the EU on Brexit. They want to rule out a no-deal Brexit option, one he is using as a threat to force the EU to give up the Northern Irish border backstop. They want to force him to accept any Article 50 extension offered by the EU that would assist in avoiding a no-deal exit.

2)  And yet, even though they clearly don’t trust the government’s strategy, a majority of Parliament is unwilling to vote its lack of confidence in this government and trigger a new election. A conservative MP today left the Tory benches to join the Liberal Democrats, thereby depriving Boris Johnson of even a notional working majority.

These are constitutionally irreconcilable. The first may not even be legal. It is not the Parliament’s job to hamstring a government in this way but to withdraw its support for one that has lost its confidence to conduct business.

Economy & Business

Re: Trump on ‘Badly Managed Companies’

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Jim, Trump’s press-conference statement actually makes more sense than the tweet he had been asked to comment on, which read, “If the Fed would cut, we would have one of the biggest Stock Market increases in a long time. Badly run and weak companies are smartly blaming these small Tariffs instead of themselves for bad management…and who can really blame them for doing that? Excuses!” If the problem is the Fed, then why aren’t the companies blaming it instead of the tariffs or their bad management? Trump was trying to work too many of his hobbyhorses into one post, and ended up with something convoluted.

World

Brexit in Peril

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson inside 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, September 3, 2019. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Reuters)

From inception, the Boris Johnson premiership meant high risk and high reward — both for the country and for Brexit. The intensity and imminence of that risk have never been greater.

Due to the defection of Phillip Lee, the Tories no longer have a parliamentary majority. Lee summarized how other Tory rebels are feeling in his public statement:

This Conservative Government is aggressively pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways. It is putting lives and livelihoods at risk unnecessarily and it is wantonly endangering the integrity of the United Kingdom.

At nine p.m. GMT tonight (five p.m. ET), MPs will vote on whether or not Parliament can take back control of the Brexit process from the government, thus blocking a no-deal Brexit on October 31st. If that happens, Johnson has said that he will immediately push for a general election. His only real option.

This is high risk, clearly. As for the “high reward” — well, under the terms laid out in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, Johnson requires two-thirds of MPs to agree to a general election. Of course Parliamentarians, depending on which party they belong to and their particular pro-Brexit or anti-Brexit strategy, are divided over this prospect. But let’s assume they green light an election. What then? Would it be before or after the Brexit date on October 31? Knowing his audience, Johnson has assured MPs that it would be on October 14, the day of the Queen’s speech. But might this be an elaborate ruse?

Moreover, what if Labour MPs then find a way to pass a law blocking no-deal prior to the election? In such a scenario, Robert Peston, the ITV news political editor, has explained:

Johnson would [then] have to cancel the election – because if he were to lead his party into an immediate general election with Brexit delayed, the Tories would probably be smashed to pieces by the Brexit Party.

More and more, the situation resembles the story of the Three Little Pigs.

Little pigs, little pigs, let no-deal Brexit in! cry Johnson and co.

Not by the hairs on our chinny chin chins! replies Parliament.

Well then, we’ll huff, and we’ll puff, and we’ll blow this House in! 

Who, then, shall stand in the winds that blow?

Economy & Business

Trump: Badly Managed Companies Are Using the Tariffs as a Scapegoat

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President Trump, Friday: “A lot of badly run companies are trying to blame tariffs.  In other words, if they’re running badly and they’re having a bad quarter, or if they’re just unlucky in some way, they’re likely to blame the tariffs.  It’s not the tariffs.  It’s called “bad management.’. . . It was on one of the important shows, and I read it this morning someplace, that some companies, for their poor performance, are blaming tariffs, even though they don’t mean that.  They’re just getting away with it.”

Hillary Clinton, 1993, in response to a question about whether plan’s “employer mandates” — payroll taxes — might injure small businesses: “I can’t go out and save every undercapitalized entrepreneur in America.”

Politics & Policy

Remembering a Foot Soldier in the Reagan Revolution

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Dr. Burton Yale Pines (YouTube)

I just learned the terrible news about the loss of Dr. Burton Yale Pines. My recent e-mails to him went unanswered. I checked online and my worst fears were confirmed: A great friend and greater American left us at age 78.

I was very fortunate to have met Burt in the mid-1980s, in the full heat of the Reagan years. He was a senior executive at the Heritage Foundation, having survived his previous life as a Time correspondent in Vietnam, and Cold War Bonn, West Germany. He also served as one of that magazine’s top editors.

We worked on a few projects together, including a speech I was honored to deliver at a fall 1985 Heritage Foundation tribute to the late, great Senator Barry Goldwater. Burt patiently helped me with my draft, suggested appropriate phrases, and offered much-needed encouragement to a then-college student who was more than a bit nervous about such a daunting assignment. We stayed in touch, and periodically enjoyed fine dinners in New York City, where we both found ourselves by the end of that decade and remained thereafter.

Burt was invariably fun, fascinating, and erudite company. A widely traveled and deeply read man, Burt could converse on virtually any topic. He added historical perspectives, philosophical insights, and hilarious details to our chats, usually over fine French or Italian food, with exquisite bottles of red wine easily within reach. He had an endearing weakness for Pomerols.

Burt loved his wife, Helene Brenner, very much and always spoke warmly of her. I enjoyed spending time with her as well and liked to hear about her life as a psychologist who fills her days ministering to Manhattan’s vast population of neurotics. I have lost a great friend, and she has lost a devoted husband.

Due to the relentless distractions of modern life and my extensive travel at the time he passed away of a sudden illness, I only got the bad news about Burt’s early February departure now, in late August. I was about to e-mail Burt to invite him to see 1917, a forthcoming epic on World War I. That was one of his favorite topics and was the subject of America’s Greatest Blunder, an excellent and provocative volume on what he saw as the disastrous unintended consequences of U.S. involvement in The Great War. I bet Burt would have liked this film, or at least found it worthy of thought and discussion — two things that he did damn well. I will think fondly of him when I see this picture.

According to his online obituary, “When asked what made him most proud, Pines always answered: ‘Being a foot-soldier in the Reagan Revolution.'”

Rest in peace, Dr. Burton Yale Pines, Ph.D.

Politics & Policy

Memories of a Gramm Cracker

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Senator Phil Gramm waves after endorsing Senator Bob Dole for president in New Hampshire on February 18, 1996. (Gary Hershorn / Reuters)

“Ferdinand Piëch, Domineering Volkswagen Chief, Dies at 82,” read the headline in the New York Times. Frankly, he seems to have been a bit of an SOB. A passage from the obit reminded me of Phil Gramm — not an SOB. Here is the passage in question:

“Only when a company is in severe difficulty does it let in someone like me,” Mr. Piëch wrote in his autobiography, with startling frankness. “In normal, calm times, I never would have gotten a chance.”

In 2001, I interviewed and wrote about Phil Gramm, the Texas senator: “Our Splendid Cuss.” There is not a proper “copy” of this piece on the Internet — not that I could find — but here is sort of a makeshift one. Anyway, I was always a Gramm fan — a “Gramm cracker,” as we called ourselves.

He ran for president in 1996, not getting very far. In 2001, I wrote,

He raised a lot of money, but not a lot of supporters. What went wrong? “I was a poor candidate. I did a bad job. There’s no one to blame but myself.” What’s more, “America was never going to elect me unless there was a crisis. And people didn’t see a crisis in 1996. I was the wrong person at the wrong time. And there may never have been a right time for me.”

Hell, it’s always the right time for you, Gramm.

Culture

Recycling, Updating

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Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. (Stephen Lam / Reuters)

Some people say that there are only five or ten jokes in the world. And what we do is craft endless variations on them. I don’t know whether this is true, but the theory came to mind the other day.

Years ago, I heard a joke. Actually, I think I saw a cartoon. The volumes of an encyclopedia were placed on a card table, sitting on a front lawn. A sign said, Encyclopedia for Sale. No Longer Needed. Wife Knows Everything.

Last week, I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt: No Need for Google. Husband Knows Everything.

Everything’s up to date in Kansas City.

Elections

Two North Carolina House Races to Keep on the Radar Screen

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North Carolina electors rehearse in the North Carolina State Capitol building in Raleigh, N.C. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

A week from today, voters in two of North Carolina’s congressional districts will go to the polls for special elections to the U.S. House.

In the third district, voters will select the replacement for the late Representative Walter Jones. Republican state representative Greg Murphy is taking on former Greenville mayor Allen Thomas. This is the sort of district a Republican should win easily; Trump carried the district by 23 points, and Jones, who often won with more than 65 percent of the vote, was unopposed in 2018. A new survey by the right-leaning site Red Racing Horse Elections finds Murphy ahead by a margin of 51 percent to 40 percent.

That’s the good news for Republicans. The less-reassuring news comes in the state’s ninth congressional district, where the 2018 election results were not certified due to irregularities involving requests for absentee ballots, unreturned absentee ballots, and individuals who illegally collected absentee ballots. This race matches up Republican Dan Bishop against Democrat Dan McCready, in a seat that Republicans have held since 1963 — but the uncertified results of 2018 put the GOP’s Mark Harris ahead by just 905 votes. President Trump will hold a rally in the district the night before the special election. Outside analysts are rating the race a toss-up, with perhaps a slight edge to Bishop. The race is another familiar case of trying to guess which side’s base is more likely to come out and vote in a special election. Red Racing Horse Elections says they will release survey results for this race later today.

UPDATE: The new RRHE survey finds Republican Dan Bishop barely ahead of Democrat Dan McCready, by a margin of 46 percent to 45 percent, “well within the poll’s 4% margin of error.”

Education

NC’s Campus Free Speech Act Kicks In — How Are the Schools Doing?

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Students walk at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C., September 20, 2018. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

North Carolina was the first state to enact a bill that NR’s Stanley Kurtz helped draft, the Campus Free Speech Act. It requires the University of North Carolina system to produce a yearly report on how its constituent institutions are doing with respect to both free speech and institutional neutrality (which means that schools are not supposed to take positions on controversial public issues). How is it working?

In this Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins looks at pertinent events of the last year. There is some good news and some bad news.

On the good side, three campuses sufficiently cleared impediments to free speech to earn FIRE’s “green light” rating. Five others, however, made no progress in becoming more speech friendly.

One school really blew it on neutrality. UNC-Asheville adopted a policy of divesting from all fossil fuel companies. Others remained on record as supporting a “climate change” pledge, and one commencement speaker was a firebrand leftist zealot.

In sum, some of the UNC campuses are ignoring the law. The Board of Governors needs to take action.

World

Russia, Crimea, and Us

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A boat with tourists sails past a Russian warship at sunset ahead of the Navy Day parade in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Crimea, July 27, 2019. (Alexey Pavlishak / Reuters)

On August 26, while attending the G-7 summit in France, President Trump argued for the readmission of Russia, which was ousted from this group when the Kremlin invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. Trump said that Barack Obama, in particular, excluded Russia, because he was embarrassed at having been “outsmarted” by Putin.

Trump said that Crimea

was sort of taken away from President Obama — not taken away from President Trump, taken away from President Obama. President Obama was not happy that this happened, because it was embarrassing to him, right? It was very embarrassing to him, and he wanted Russia to be out of the — what was called the G-8, and that was his determination. He was outsmarted by Putin.

Crimea, bear in mind, was taken away from Ukraine, not from Barack Obama.

Trump further said,

President Obama was pure and simply outsmarted. They took Crimea during his term. That was not a good thing. It could have been stopped, it could have been stopped with the right, whatever. It could have been stopped, but President Obama was unable to stop it, and it’s too bad.

That word “whatever” is interesting. I wonder what Donald Trump would have done to stop Putin’s annexation of Crimea, particularly given Trump’s America First stance. For that matter, I wonder what Obama and his administration could have done.

It was important for the democracies to exclude Russia from their annual summit, given Putin’s gross violations of international law (not to mention his repression at home). What has Putin done to earn readmission?

It is also important to hold the line on Crimea — not to recognize the Kremlin’s seizure of it. The democratic nations, though they wobbled, held the line on the Baltic states for more than 40 years — even though Moscow’s control of those states was a blatant “fact on the ground.” Only a handful of nations recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, including Cuba, North Korea, and Zimbabwe.

Traditionally, U.S. presidents do not criticize their predecessors on foreign soil. I knocked Obama, hard, for a statement he made to Turkish students early in his presidency: April 2009. He said, “George Bush didn’t believe in climate change. I do believe in climate change. I think it’s important.”

On August 27, the day after President Trump spoke in France, his national security adviser, John Bolton, did something stand-up, in my opinion. In Kiev, he laid a wreath, subsequently tweeting the following: “It was an honor to represent the American people in paying our solemn respects to Ukrainians who have died in the defense of their nation against Russian aggression.”

Law & the Courts

Texas’s Gun Laws Loosened on Sunday, but Texas Did Not Loosen Them Then

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A Texas state trooper monitors the scene at a local car dealership following a shooting in Odessa, Texas, September 1, 2019. (Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters)

Sometimes a red state will loosen its gun laws in response to a mass shooting. Indeed, according to a study released yesterday, that’s one of the most reliable responses to mass shootings here in the U.S.

If you were reading headlines over the weekend, though, you might get a sense that Texas acted with record speed this time around. Slate: “Texas Loosens Gun Laws One Day After Mass Shooting in the State.” Vibe: “Texas Loosens Its Gun Laws Hours After The Odessa Shooting.” Houston Chronicle: “On day after Midland shooting, Texas loosens gun laws.”

The problem is that these bills were signed months ago. That they went into effect September 1 is just a coincidence.

Incidentally, the National Rifle Association has a rundown of the new policies. Most of them are pretty minor: School districts can no longer regulate the way that firearms are stored inside locked vehicles (they were already prevented from banning guns in such vehicles entirely), foster parents can lock up their guns and ammo together in the same place as long as the guns also have trigger locks (which still seems too restrictive to me), and concealed weapons will be allowed in places of worship unless the owner decides otherwise, for example.

I’m not crazy about a couple of the rules pertaining to private property, though. Landlords and condo buildings can no longer prohibit tenants from having or carrying guns. In addition, gun-carriers who ignore businesses’ “no firearms” signs can no longer be punished for trespassing, so long as they depart promptly when asked to leave. I’d prefer the government to keep its hands off both my gun rights and my property rights.

Elections

The Case for ‘Non-Strict’ Voter ID

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(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Conservatives say that voters should be required to show ID as a measure to prevent fraud. Liberals say that ID requirements disenfranchise the disproportionately poor and minority voters who don’t have IDs and might have trouble getting them — even if efforts are made to provide IDs for free. The liberals’ panic has always struck me as overblown, though it’s also difficult to say how much fraud exists that’s preventable by requiring IDs.

A new study argues that voter ID probably doesn’t matter much either way, and also suggests a middle road: “non-strict” ID laws that ask voters to provide identification but allow them to vote, subject to some restrictions, even if they don’t. It focuses on two states that already have such laws: In Michigan, those without IDs must sign an affidavit certifying their identity; in Florida, their signatures at the polls are checked against the signatures on their registration forms.

For scientific purposes, the neat thing about these states is that they keep track of how many people vote without ID, which tells us how many voters might be disenfranchised if these alternative voting processes weren’t available. The answer is not many:

Our best guess as to the fraction of ballots cast without identification in local elections in Florida is only 0.03%. Our upper bound estimate is that 0.10% of ballots cast are without ID. Similarly . . . in state and national elections in Florida, our best estimate and upper bound of the fraction of votes cast without identification are only 0.016% and 0.064%, respectively. The rate of voting without ID is somewhat higher in Michigan, where we estimate that 0.3% (from 2004–2016) and 0.31% (2012–2016) were cast without IDs.

The question, of course, is how much we can generalize from these states to other states with different laws. The results do suggest that stricter states could switch to non-strict rules without opening the floodgates to massive numbers of ID-less, potentially fraudulent voters. It’s slightly less clear what the numbers mean for lax states: It’s possible that some ID-less voters, fraudulent or legitimate, might vote when there’s no ID law at all but would be discouraged by an affidavit requirement or signature check.

To me, the takeaway is that these middle-of-the-road laws are a good approach. With these policies in place, no claim of “disenfranchisement” can pass the laugh test, there are systems in place to discourage ID-less voters from committing fraud, and rates of ID-free voting are low enough that any such fraud will virtually never affect an election.

World

Here Comes the American Deal with the Taliban

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U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 28, 2019. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

On Monday, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, told Afghanistan reporters that American negotiators had reached “an agreement in principle” with the Taliban, a proposal that would have the U.S. pull troops from five bases across Afghanistan within 135 days, as long as the Taliban meets conditions set in the agreement, including no longer cooperating with al-Qaeda.

“We have reached an agreement with the Taliban in principle, but of course until the U.S. president agrees with it, it isn’t final,” Khalilzad said.

The Taliban marked the agreement in principle by blowing up a bomb in Kabul, killing at least five people and injuring at least 50, while Khalilzad was speaking with reporters. These bastards couldn’t even wait until the press conference ended to get back to their old habits.

Last month, Andy McCarthy wrote, “No matter how deft the diplomacy that papers over a pullout, wars are either won or lost. For years, the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies have vowed to outlast us and drive us out. Now, we’re getting ready to leave and they are getting ready to rule. What would you call that?”

In January, David French wrote, “If American forces leave in the face only of an empty pledge not to permit safe havens, a temporary cease-fire, and an agreement that the Taliban merely speak to the Afghan government, then the Trump administration will enhance jihadist prestige immeasurably. Insurgents will be able to make a plausible claim to have chased the Americans out of Afghanistan. They’ll have a plausible claim that jihadists have defeated a second superpower — first the Soviets and now the Americans.”

If the “agreement in principle” moves forward, the Democratic presidential candidates are unlikely to loudly disagree. Beto O’Rourke promised that all U.S. troops would be out of Afghanistan by the end of his first term. Pete Buttigieg pledged to get all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of his first year in office. Bernie Sanders declared, “there are probably more terrorists out there now than before it began.”

There is no significant constituency in favor of a continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan; there’s a broad public consensus that the American military has done all it can do. The public sees no major threat from Afghanistan, or at least none that could justify the continued presence of thousands of American troops.

Then again, the public saw no major threat from Afghanistan before 9/11, either.

White House

Ignore the Mental Health ‘Experts’

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President Donald Trump speaks to reporters from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., August 21, 2019. (Tasos Katopodis/Reuters)

There are reports circulating that President Trump’s advisors are looking at ways to effectuate his call to “open up institutions” for the most seriously mentally ill in response to recent mass shootings. The standard army of “mental health experts” are out in force, expressing the same breathless canon of  “concerns” to credulous journalists all-too-eager to “debunk” the president.

Glenn Liebman, the chief executive of Mental Health America’s New York chapter, asks (and proceeds to answer, because there’s only one acceptable answer to the question he asks): “Do we need more funding for mental health? Of course. But the funding for mental health shouldn’t be going back to the past and saying that we should be building more institutions. We need less [sic] institutions and more community money.”

What “past?” This is tired– no one is advocating for a full-throated return to the days of “snake pits” and insulin shock. If one imagines things like a pendulum, and the days of mass institutionalization which Mr. Liebman and I both find imprudent are considered on the one hand, consider how far things have swung in the other direction:

The institutionalized population Liebman’s home state has fallen over 97%, from roughly 93,300 in 1955 to 2,300 in 2017. And the decline is similar across the country– states are consolidating their once-extensive networks of hospitals down to levels unseen since the 1850s, and the rates 0f incarceration and homelessness among the most severely ill have skyrocketed in their stead. The typical resident left in the sort of facility that Liebman insists–and this is remarkable– requires less investment, is one so profoundly debilitated by psychosis, a mood disorder, or other condition that no “community” placement would be safe, either in the short or long run. The Glenn Liebmans of the world– the “community mental health” advocates, the “experts” anonymously cited in every breathless anti-stigma piece, the ones who claim, in contravention of all evidence to the contrary, that mental illness is unrelated to violence, the ones who advocated for the mass exodus from the state hospitals in the name of liberation– have gotten almost everything they’ve asked for. The “asylums” are shells of themselves. You can’t get committed there, in many cases, until it’s too late. As DJ Jaffe says, it’s harder to get into Bellevue than Harvard.

I worry that the president will make this issue toxic, because whatever his virtues, Donald Trump is not a man of tact or nuance. This is a matter of great importance to people who are voiceless in a debate that, too often, involves questions of life or death– is there a bed for my schizophrenic son in the state hospital? But with a class of “mental health experts” wont to pretend that failure is success and loath to address the substance of the crisis, maybe the brash real estate mogul is the last best hope that someone will, to use that most tired phrase, “do something.”

Economy & Business

William Cohan’s Bad Advice for the Fed

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Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Because William Cohan’s op-ed urges the Fed to stand up to Trump and appeared days after Bill Dudley’s much-discussed call for the Fed to defy Trump, the arguments are likely to get mashed together. But the differences are big: Dudley argues that the Fed should tighten money (or refrain from loosening it) in order to make the costs of Trump’s trade policies more apparent to voters and to sway the 2020 election against him. Cohan doesn’t argue that either goal should influence the Fed’s policy. Instead his argument is that the economy needs tighter money and that Powell should stand up to Trump by delivering it over Trump’s objections.

It’s a much more responsible argument than Dudley’s, which was well outside the norm for arguments about monetary policy. But Cohan is still wrong. His central error is one that has plagued a lot of thinking about monetary policy since the financial crisis. He treats low interest rates as though they were purely and simply a choice of the Federal Reserve, rather than (for example) in part a function of low expectations of inflation and of economic growth. And so he thinks that raising interest rates is easier than it may actually be.

Cohan glosses over an episode that illustrates the complication. On his telling, Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell signaled in November 2018 that he was not going to keep raising interest rates (Cohan’s paragraphs one to four) and then actually lowered them in July (paragraphs 5 and 6). It’s not until paragraph 20 that we learn that “interest rates ticked up just a bit” in December; actually, Powell and his colleagues raised them, just weeks after Cohan had Powell vowing not to do that.

What happened then? Judging from stocks and indicators of expected inflation, the rate hike put interest rates above the neutral or equilibrium rate justified by economic conditions — and judging from fed-funds futures, caused markets to project lower interest rates over the next few years.

If the Fed were right and Trump wrong about the proper stance of monetary policy at the moment, then the proper course of action for the Fed would indeed be to resist Trump’s pressure to loosen. But he is correct, and so it’s Cohan’s advice that should be defied.

Economy & Business

The Overtime Exception

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The Trump administration has been much more restrained in regulation than its predecessors, but unfortunately it’s tightening the rules on overtime pay.

Politics & Policy

Watch: Kat Timpf Examines ‘Extreme’ Media Reaction to DWTS Sean Spicer Pick

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In her latest video for National Review, Kat Timpf reports that people are “really, really mad” that ABC has chosen former White House press secretary Sean Spicer as a Dancing with the Stars contestant.

Education

‘Hire the Best People, Not the Best Resumes’

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(Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

The huge college bubble is slowly deflating as more and more employers figure out that the BA degree isn’t a very good tool for sorting prospective workers. In today’s Martin Center article, John Locke Foundation writer Dan Way looks at an array of alternatives that have sprung up to give young people the actual training they want and need rather than years of coursework they find boring.

Way quotes Isaac Morehouse, founder of two organizations that enable students to prepare for the labor force without college: “People will realize more and more you can bypass that, and you can learn the skills cheaper and quicker in other ways, and you can prove that you’re worth hiring in ways that are more effective than that diploma.”

For many years, the trend was for employers to insist on college credentials for applicants — even for jobs that call for no particular skill or knowledge. That trend seems to have reversed. Way writes, “Phil Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, said his organization’s recent study showed 62 percent of employers have shifted away from hiring practices focused on a candidate’s college major or are contemplating doing so. And in an Association of American Colleges and Universities study, 78 percent of CEOs and upper management said academic discipline doesn’t matter as much as what a job candidate can do.”

One person who has made that change is Charles Marohn, president of the online media company Strong Towns. He admits that he had some bad hiring decisions by looking at impressive resumes and cover letters. Now he tries to “hire the best people, not the best resumes.”

Way explains how Marohn now evaluates candidates: “His first step is to simply ask for an email address and location. Online Q&A sessions and two sets of questionnaires are used to gauge candidates’ style and approach, work habits, and life experiences. Only after that four-step process are resumes and references requested, and interviews scheduled. Marohn said some of his best hires would have been weeded out of the process quickly if he sought resumes first.”

This is great news. The “college for everyone” movement has been extremely wasteful for the country and a boon for the academic left. The faster the bubble deflates, the better.

World

Brexit: Avoiding the Cliff (Even Now)

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a speech on domestic priorities at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, Britain, July 27, 2019. (Lorne Campbell/Reuters)

Whatever else the prorogation of Parliament may be, it is not (as some excitable sorts are claiming, and other excitable sorts are reporting) a “coup.” Rather, it is the use of a commonplace (and legal) device but at a time when British politics are anything other than business as usual.

Whether or not it is a wise move is a different question. My own guess is that it is a possibly smart, certainly risky tactical move, but strategically a mistake: If it succeeds, it will allow Remainers to reinforce their claim that Brexit was brought about by trickery, a claim that may well have staying power if the U.K. moves towards the sort of ‘no deal’ Brexit that is looking increasingly likely, a no deal that will led to a great deal of difficulty both economically and politically.

As so often, it’s worth reading what Richard North has to say over at EUReferendum. And as so often, his remarks are a touch acerbic, but the central point he has been making for years is as correct as it always has been. A Brexit that involved severing the U.K.’s relationship with the EU in one abrupt move has never been the way to go. Instead:

The aim [should]  be to keep the best of [the UK’s] agreements with the EU, while freeing the remaining Member States to follow their own path towards political integration, a route which [the UK] no intention of following.

This should not be a matter of ending the U.K.’s relationship with the EU, but of redefining it:

There are no circumstances where [the UK] could not have a continued relationship with the remaining 27 EU Member States. And, since the EU is increasingly the mechanism by which the EU-27 organise their external affairs, that requires [the UK] having a relationship with the EU as well.

Given the complexity of the relationship that the U.K. had developed over decades, North argues that Brexit “should always have been regarded as a process rather than an event, taking decades rather than months or even years.”

Indeed, but that process has to start somewhere, and . . .

When I’ve managed personally completely to mess up a complex piece of software-driven electronic equipment, the last resort before one is forced to admit defeat and trash the whole thing – or return it to the manufacturers for a “service” that will cost more than the original equipment – is press the “factory reset” button….

In political terms, we already have a factory reset button for what some people (wrongly) call a half-way house – the Efta/EEA or “Norway Option”. It would solve the “backstop” problem, and buy us time to discuss seriously our long term options – a debate we’ve never really had.

We need to rethink this option as a “middle way” that could command the majority support of the electorate, if addressed correctly and honestly, on a realistic timescale

Already, the EFTA 4 UK is seeking funding to write to 650 MPs, 73 UK MEPs and hundreds of peers to remind them of the availability of this option. They should be given a chance.

The big mistake made by so many of the advocates of this option in the recent past is to assume that it is an off-the-cuff answer that can be implemented quickly. Yet there is no EEA treaty as such, but multiple treaties, each adapted to the specific needs of the three NIL Efta Members.

To adapt such a complex and comprehensive treaty to serve the relationship needs of the EU and the UK would take all of the two years allowed for in the original transitional period, which now already needs an extension.

But, with proroguing parliament, that does leave Johnson the option, in a new session of parliament, to re-present the Withdrawal Agreement, asking for their support against the assurance that he will use an extended transitional period to implement the Efta/EEA option, with the added proviso that we are probably looking for a 10-20 year membership before any drastic new step is taken.

Where I would differ with Richard North is in his view of the Norway option. To him, it’s a step along the way, to me it is a perfectly adequate final destination, with the bonus that the mere addition of the large U.K. economy to a grouping currently consisting of Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein will change its clout, its appeal and its direction — all in good ways.

North notes that adopting this route will allow Boris Johnson to meet some of the key commitments regarding Brexit that he has made, commitments that seem unachievable (North takes a harsher view of these commitments) if the prime minister sticks to the approach he is now taking.

World

The Math, the Prime Minister, and the Speaker

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Tellers announce the results of the vote on Brexit in Parliament in London, England, March 13, 2019. (Reuters TV via REUTERS )

One man’s problem of Parliamentary arithmetic is another’s opportunity, at least in Brexit.

There was no Parliamentary majority for Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

There is no Parliamentary majority willing to withdraw the U.K.’s Article 50 notice and cancel Brexit outright.

There is no Parliamentary majority for having another referendum or able to agree on what that referendum might be.

There is no Parliamentary majority that would vote affirmatively for a no-deal Brexit at this point (even if previous votes created this scenario as a default).

There is no Parliamentary majority willing to make Jeremy Corbyn a caretaker prime minister until the other questions are sorted out.

To make the threat of No Deal more credible to Europeans, new prime minister Boris Johnson drastically shortened the time at which opponents of No Deal could organize to force him to give it up, even as a threat.

Essentially, the PM is leveraging  the lack of a pro-Corbyn majority, and the lack of a no-Brexit majority, to make No Deal look more credible. In the game of chicken with the European Union, he has ostentatiously unscrewed the steering wheel to signal to the negotiators on the other side that Parliament can’t jerk the wheel at the last second.

Well, that has infuriated John Bercow the occasionally scandal-plagued Speaker of the House, who is decidedly and dismissively anti-Brexit. He seemed confident until recently that there was no Parliamentary majority for any Brexit on offer, which could mean that eventually the whole thing will have to go. But now he is looking to take unconstitutional means to stop the prime minister, namely, he is looking to break precedent and give MPs the power to score the steering wheel back in, and force the PM to request or accept another extension on the October 31st deadline. In a sense the speaker is seeking to use an anti-No Deal majority to bring about a No Brexit outcome that also doesn’t have full and express Parliamentary support.

And this bonfire of precedent is brought about by the fact that the referendum result created a democratic mandate to leave the European Union, but it did not create a sovereign Parliament with a majority of MPs truly committed to it, whatever their election manifestos claimed.

It’s quite thrilling to watch, at least.

World

‘In Iran’s Hierarchy, Talks With Trump Are Now Seen as Inevitable’

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This is interesting. I know at least one well-placed U.S. hawk who thinks there’s going to be a new deal. 

Culture

Chappelle’s Pro-Life Premise

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Dave Chappelle in The Bird Revelations (Netflix)

Kyle Smith is probably right that Sticks and Stones, the new hour long comedy set by Dave Chappelle that was released on Netflix this week, isn’t his best work. Though his section on Jussie Smollett is pretty great.

Chappelle has developed a habit of shifting into longer and longer “preaching” segments in his sets, especially where it comes to politics. And that can get a little tired. Kyle points out that in this show, Chappelle seems to have a weird take on the wave of abortion restrictions across states, implying that they’re a result of a backlash against #MeToo. It is odd. But by the end of the sketch, I had come around to the idea that Chappelle had softened the audience up with his rhetorically pro-abortion sympathies, only to pull the rug out from them toward the end. Here’s how it goes:

If you have a d***, you need to shut the f*** up on this one. Seriously! This is theirs; the right to choose is their unequivocal right. Not only do I believe they have the right to choose, I believe that they shouldn’t have to consult anybody, except for a physician, about how they exercise that right.

Gentlemen, that is fair. And ladies, to be fair to us, I also believe that if you decide to have the baby, a man should not have to pay. That’s fair. If you can kill this motherf***er, I can at least abandon him. It’s my money, my choice. And if I’m wrong, then perhaps we’re wrong. So figure that sh-t out for yourselves.

The last few lines depend quite a bit on the delivery. He proceeds through “I can at least abandon him” to “My money, my choice” quickly in a way to stir up a storm of applause and shocked expressions about what he said. And then the very last lines are delivered slowly underneath that little riot of appreciation. I thought it was deft.

Conservatives have been pretty giddy about Chappelle’s new routine, because it is constructed as a taunt against his politically correct critics, and many liberal outlets are putting out schoolmarmish tut-tutting commentaries on it. I appreciated Kyle’s pushback against the general tide of enthusiasm on our side. I suspect Chappelle wants to make the bulk of his traditional audience more sane and light-hearted about comedy, not seek out an entirely new audience of people like us.

Elections

One Thing Biden Has Going for Him

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A counter-argument, Rich: Warren’s replacement of Harris as the leading rival to Biden is good news for the former vice president, because so far Harris has shown more appeal to black voters than Warren.

Elections

Julian Castro, the 2020 Primary’s Forgotten Man

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Julian Castro speaks to members of the media the morning after participating in the first Democratic debate in Miami, Fla., June 27, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

For right-of-center folks who can’t stand the media’s reflexive swooning for any Democrat with an ounce of charisma, the 2020 Democratic presidential primary is turning into a multi-course banquet of schadenfreude. Vehement anti-gun congressman Eric Swalwell kept coming up zeroes in polling. Even people who agreed with Kirsten Gillibrand on the issues found her increasingly insufferable. Beto O’Rourke is vindicating those of us who contended his 2018 rise represented the national media seeing what it wanted to see instead of what was actually there.

And then there’s Julian Castro, who on paper should be doing much better than he is; today Politico unveils a long profile asking, “what went wrong?” His sputtering campaign should challenge a lot of conventional wisdom about identity politics.

We’re on the right, so we’re not going to like or often agree with any of the Democratic candidates. But by a lot of measures, Julian Castro is a pretty good candidate. On the stump, he can be funny and charismatic and impassioned. He comes prepared to the debates. He’s been a mayor of a sizable city and worked in Washington as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Compared to the rest of the field, his policy proposals are detailed and far-reaching. He hasn’t made any killer gaffes, although he probably could have done without his twin brother, Representative Joaquin Castro, listing the names and employers of Trump donors in his district.

And it has to be said: he’s the only Latino candidate in a crowded field. If all Latino Democrats backed Castro in this race, he would be, at minimum, a major player. Immigration has been a huge issue in the primary so far, and Castro has emphasized the immigrant roots of his family.

And yet, all of that appears to have meant nothing. Castro is at 1.1 percent in the national RCP average right now. He’s at 2 percent in the most recent poll of Democrats in his home state of Texas! Travel back in time to 2012, when the media was calling Castro “the Latino Obama” and he was giving the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, and tell people that seven years from now, Castro will be trailing the then newly elected mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Latino voters are not going to just automatically flock to a Latino candidate, just as African-American voters have not automatically flocked to Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. Politico writes, “polling that does exist shows that immigration isn’t the big concern among Latinos that many analysts assume it to be. Jobs and health care rank above immigration, and polling shows that Latinos tend to favor the candidates who are preferred by the rest of the Democratic electorate like Warren, Sanders and Biden.” It would be nice if “analysts” could catch up to what Latinos are actually thinking.

There’s another line in the Politico profile that reveals a lot: “Part of Castro’s pitch as a nominee is that he would change that calculus, that seeing one of their own onstage would mean that the quarter or so of the Latino electorate that now supports Trump would come his way in big numbers.” A president who is allegedly the most stridently anti-Latino xenophobic monster to ever stride across the American landscape shouldn’t still have the support of a quarter or so of the Latino electorate.

Politico theorizes that Castro never caught on because almost all of his strengths are duplicated by other candidates: “Elizabeth Warren is the ‘policy candidate.’ And Pete Buttigieg, seven years younger than Castro, is the Millennial Mayor candidate. Joe Biden is the one with better ties to the Obama administration.” That’s probably part of it; what’s more, many of the also-rans and asterisk candidates have been in denial about the reality that the objective is not to be a good candidate, but to be the best candidate. Whether it’s a pollster calling or their actual ballot, voters can only pick one person as their top choice.

One other strong possibility is that Democratic voters simultaneously like Castro and don’t like his odds in a head-to-head debate against Trump. Castro is 44 and looks younger. Whatever his height and weight are, he looks short and skinny next to other candidates on the debate stage, adding to the perception of his youth. He met with vehemently anti-Trump New York Times columnist Charles Blow in December, and Blow summarized Castro as “a nice guy who made it” and predicted that “Trump would have a field day” with Castro’s declaration that he got into Stanford because of affirmative action.

Democrats are terrified of a second term for Trump — and they don’t seem to be willing to bet all their chips on Castro.

Law & the Courts

The Johnson & Johnson Decision

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I hadn’t realized just how shoddy it was until I read Jacob Sullum:

Ruling against Johnson & Johnson on Monday, Cleveland County District Court Judge Thad Balkman claimed the “current stage of the Opioid Crisis . . . still primarily involves prescription opioids.” According to records collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, pain pills were involved in just 30 percent of opioid-related deaths in 2017. Most of those cases also involved other drugs, mainly heroin and illicit fentanyl or fentanyl analogs, which were implicated in three-quarters of opioid-related deaths.

Balkman likewise seems to have accepted at face value Oklahoma’s assertion that “opioids are highly addictive.” The evidence also contradicts that claim . . .

But a lot of officials aren’t looking at the evidence.

Elections

Color Me Biden-Skeptical

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Gaffes aside, Biden still has a healthy lead in most national polls of the Democratic field (two polls had his lead only at 4 and 7 percent the last couple of days, but most have it comfortably in double digits). I’m still not a believer, though. It’s important to be able to light people up, and Biden is unlikely to do it. Given her recent crowds, Warren is looking much stronger on this metric. Also, a nomination battle is always path-dependent. If Biden wins Iowa, where he also leads, although by a smaller margin than nationally, he’s almost certainly the nominee. If he loses, he’ll need to win New Hampshire to survive. Maybe Democrats think that Biden is the best candidate against Trump, and that’s simply that, but it’s hard to believe that there isn’t turbulence ahead. 

Elections

Poll: Pro-Life Democrat Leads in Louisiana Governor’s Race

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Democrat John Bel Edwards won a first term as Louisiana governor in 2015, when he defeated scandal-plagued U.S. senator David Vitter by twelve points. A new poll shows that the Democratic governor, who signed a bill this year banning abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, is leading his GOP opponents in his 2019 bid for reelection:

If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote during the October “jungle primary,” the top two candidates will advance to a runoff election in November.

Elections

‘We Can Lose a Vice President’ 

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Jim has a good take today on Biden’s gaffes and how the worst-case scenario for Democrats is that he wins the nomination, then the snafus become a major issue in the general. Regarding the botched war story that the Washington Post reported on, I understand a story getting fuzzy and better with the re-telling. But in discussing the valor of our troops in harrowing circumstances, there’s a special obligation to get the details right. And what’s unforgivable is Biden inserting his own apparently made-up bravery into the story:

Joe Biden painted a vivid scene for the 400 people packed into a college meeting hall. A four-star general had asked the then-vice president to travel to Konar province in Afghanistan, a dangerous foray into “godforsaken country” to recognize the remarkable heroism of a Navy captain.

Some told him it was too risky, but Biden said he brushed off their concerns.

“We can lose a vice president,” he said. “We can’t lose many more of these kids. Not a joke.”

There is nothing in the Post story that substantiates this part of the yarn, which appears to be a grotesque insertion of self-regarding fictional valor into a (mixed-up) story about true bravery and selflessness. 

Elections

Senator Joseph Kennedy?

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Democratic senator Ed Markey has the support of Elizabeth Warren and is sponsoring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal bill in the Senate. He spent nearly three decades representing Massachusetts in the U.S. House before joining the upper chamber, but that record may not be enough to save him from the Kennedy clan. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, the 38-year-old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, is looking at challenging Markey in the 2020 Democratic primary, and a new poll from Change Research shows Kennedy leading Markey 42 percent to 25 percent.

Health Care

The Opioid Shakedown

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Wise words from ACSH’s Josh Bloom on the opioid shakedown:

Once this mess is in the rearview mirror and Americans have moved on the next drug of choice (and they always do), the results will be predictable:

+ A bunch of rich lawyers

+ States grabbing what they can and spending it on . . . who knows.

+ Good luck trying to find a company insane enough to manufacture opioids.

+ Good luck trying to find a doctor who is brave enough to write prescriptions for the opioids that won’t be available.

+ Wait until you see what the pills cost, assuming you can get them at all.

In other words “[t]here will be pain in the form of pain”.

And so the drug wars roll on, from (on any decent measure) failure to failure, enriching more vultures, trashing civil rights, turning yet another manageable problem into a crisis, and, yes, adding to misery and to a death toll that could be a fraction of what it now is.

Alfred Einstein (allegedly):

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

World

The Power of National Pride

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Jair Bolsonaro, now the president of Brazil, campaigning in October 2018 (Ricardo Moraes / Reuters)

Reading about Brazil and Europe, I had a memory that goes back ten years. The article I have read is an Associated Press report from Porto Velho, about the Amazon fires and the spurning of European aid by Brazil’s new president, Bolsonaro. It was a proud spurning. And it put me in mind of Putin.

In 2009, he gave a speech at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Then he entertained some questions, including from Michael Dell, the American computer entrepreneur. Dell asked what the world at large could do to help Russians get online. This especially applied to students. Putin’s response was essentially as follows:

“We don’t need any help. We are a strong country. Invalids need help, small children need help, developing countries need help. Our computer experts are as good as anybody’s . . .”

The Russian journalists around me whooped in delight. National pride is a powerful, powerful thing.

Incidentally, Putin’s formal speech on that occasion was a piece of work. I smile to revisit it today. (I wrote about these matters here.) Speaking in the wake of the global financial crisis, Putin said,

In the 20th century, the Soviet Union made the state’s role absolute. In the long run, this made the Soviet economy totally uncompetitive. This lesson cost us dearly. I am sure nobody wants to see it repeated.

Nor should we turn a blind eye to the fact that the spirit of free enterprise, including the principle of personal responsibility of businesspeople, investors, and shareholders for their decisions, is being eroded in the last few months. There is no reason to believe that we can achieve better results by shifting responsibility onto the state.

And one more point: Anti-crisis measures should not escalate into financial populism and a refusal to implement responsible macroeconomic policies. The unjustified swelling of the budgetary deficit and the accumulation of public debts are just as destructive as adventurous stock-jobbing.

!!!!

Music

Beyond One Rhapsody

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George Enescu (Photo 12 / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

That fellow up there is George Enescu, a Romanian musician who lived from 1881 to 1955. He was a very rare, and exceptionally versatile, talent. He was one of the greatest violinists in history. And an excellent pianist. And a natural conductor. And a formidable composer. He is best known for his Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, which is familiar all over the world, even if people can’t name it, or its composer. To refresh yourself on what it is, go here.

Why am I going on about Enescu? Because the Salzburg Festival has shone a spotlight on him this summer. And I have written about him, and other doings at the festival, here. My piece is called “Mozart & Co.” Yes, don’t forget Mozart, who is the big kahuna in Salzburg — but who graciously makes room for lesser kahunas, including brilliant Romanians.

Music

A Man to Know

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Manfred Honeck, with the Camerata Salzburg, at the Salzburg Festival in August 2019
Manfred Honeck, with the Camerata Salzburg, at the Salzburg Festival in August 2019 (Salzburg Festival / Marco Borrelli)

Manfred Honeck is an Austrian conductor, born in 1958. He is the music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He is from a family of nine children, a highly musical family. His brother Rainer is a concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Manfred himself played in the orchestra too, before turning to conducting. These guys did not grow up in a Viennese manor. They were quite poor — although they did not exactly realize it, luckily — and their mother died early. Manfred was seven. Their father may not have had much materially, but he had a great love of music, and made sure that his children were filled with this art. The results were good.

I conducted a little interview of Manfred Honeck before an audience at the Salzburg Festival, and we have turned it into a Q&A podcast, here. At one point — this should be seen, as well as heard, but we will have to settle for hearing — Honeck gets up and dances, explaining how the dance relates to a Schubert symphony.

Honeck is a pure musician and a noble soul and a wonderful talker, and I bet you will enjoy getting to know him.

Culture

Fifteen Things that Caught My Eye Today (August 29, 2019)

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A quick NR Cruise “catch-up” list:

1. Syriac Catholic Church reestablishes diocese in northern Iraq (Crux)

2. Sold into sexual slavery: The women forced to take multiple husbands to combat India’s ‘wife shortage’ (London Telegraph)

3. “The Trump Administration Sides With Nurses Who Object to Abortion” (Emma Green/Atlantic)

4.

5. Identity Politics and the “Great Scattering” (Rod Dreher)

(More on Mary Eberstadt’s new book here and here.)

6. Ericka Andersen: Migrants who want better for their children aren’t bad parents. They’re the best. (Washington Post)

7. Tug-of-war over Michigan pro-life program threatens to put funding in jeopardy (Catholic News Agency)

8. About teens mental health and screens  (Institute for Family Studies)

9. What’s lost when we rush kids through childhood? (Edutopia)

10. ‘Life is always beautiful’: What 81 years and 6,000 babies have taught Flora Gualdani (Catholic News Agency)

11. A boy with autism wouldn’t sit still on a United Airlines flight. So crew and passengers stepped in to help. (CNN)

12. Another plane story worth reading

13. “Satan Is Real” (Monseigneur Charles Pope)

14. “The Divine Resurrection of Stained Glass” (NY Times)

15. “Teach me to sing the Song of Songs” (Medium)