Magazine | December 31, 2014, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

‐ Think about it from Jeb’s perspective: Would you want to be the only Bush who doesn’t get to be president?

‐ An armed Islamic radical took hostages in a café in central Sydney; after a day-long standoff, he was killed by police. Two hostages also died. The hostage taker was no stranger to crime. An Iranian who had been given asylum in Australia in 1996, he had been convicted in 2012 of sending Westboro Baptist–style hate mail to the families of dead Australian soldiers. He was on bail for being an accessory in the murder of his ex-wife, and he faced 40 charges of sexual and indecent assault. Authorities hastened to say that he acted on his own. But so these days does many a terrorist. Australia’s intact self-confidence and its immigration control will serve it well in coming years.

‐ With the federal government set to run out of funding in the middle of December, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress managed to pass a bill that almost no one liked. The legislation will fund most of the federal government through the end of next September and the Department of Homeland Security just through February. There are some welcome details in the bill — a prohibition on taxpayer dollars’ being spent to bail out Obamacare insurers, for instance — but it was nonetheless a mistake. The party that easily won control of Congress last month now won’t get to set spending for another nine months. And it has punted instead of taking an early opportunity to refuse complicity in President Obama’s unconstitutional immigration policy. There were other options: As the bill nearly collapsed under attacks from the left and the right, it looked like all parties would have been willing to pass a short-term funding bill, allowing Republicans to assert themselves in the spring. But Republican leaders have not given many indications that asserting their party’s positions on the budget is a high priority.

‐ Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) used the government-funding debate to reinforce the impression that she is more interested in sound bites than sound policy. She, joined by House liberals, threatened to derail the proposed bill because it repealed a piece of the Dodd-Frank financial-regulation legislation. But it’s a very small piece indeed, and one of dubious merit. It forced banks to “push out” trading of certain kinds of derivatives to subsidiaries that don’t have federal deposit insurance. Warren, and even some conservatives, presented this regulation as a commonsense way to prevent banks from making “risky bets” with “taxpayer money.” That’s a complete misstatement of the rule’s content and effects, but it was an appealing fight for Warren to pick. Wall Street wants to start dismantling Dodd-Frank — not the worst idea we’ve heard from downtown — and Warren and other liberals want to start making a name for themselves in the post-Obama era. This skirmish, in which Wall Street triumphed, certainly won’t be their last.

‐ During this fight, Warren got a free pass from those who in other contexts are quick to scry threats to shut down the government. What the gods (liberal Democrats) can threaten, swine (conservative Republicans) may not. She also got queries about her ambitions: Although she told NPR “I’m not running for president,” NPR noted that her demurral was in the present tense only. Warren and her supporters would be foolish not to consider a run. Hillary Clinton has several liabilities (including her and her husband’s addiction to promiscuous fundraising), and Warren would be equally historic, i.e., female. The left wing of the Democratic party — what other wing is there? — could be dark and bloody ground.

‐ A district court has concluded that President Obama’s immigration order rewrites the law and is thus unconstitutional. Among those who appear to agree with this premise is the president himself. Taking questions at Nashville’s Casa Azafrán community center in early December, he reassured an audience member that, because of the Department of Homeland Security’s reshuffled immigration-enforcement priorities, “at the top are criminals, people who pose a threat, and at the bottom are ordinary people who are otherwise law-abiding. And what we’re saying, essentially, is in that low-priority list, you won’t be a priority for deportation. You’re not going to be deported. We’re not going to keep on separating families.” The comment comes shortly after the president told a heckler in Chicago that, contrary to previous assurances, he had in fact “changed the law.” Well, it’s always easier to be forthright when you think you’ll get away with it.

‐ Representative Bill Cassidy (R., La.) won a convincing victory over three-term senator Mary Landrieu, giving the Republicans a 54th seat in next year’s Senate. Commentators noted that Democrats had gone nearly extinct in the South. As Sean Trende explained at RealClearPolitics, though, this trend followed the prior near-extinction of the conservative southern Democrat. Even ten years ago, southern Democrats — Landrieu included — bucked their party more often. In the Obama years, they have frequently felt obliged to stand with a liberal national party. They can ponder that choice in retirement.

‐ Our economy, at long last, appears to be gathering strength. Job growth and industrial production are up, oil prices are down, and inflation remains subdued. This has happened without much real help from Washington, and indeed policy has been counterproductive overall, creating new obstacles to the creation of jobs and wealth. Conservatives will naturally fear that the good news, if it lasts, will redound to the undeserved credit of President Obama and the Democrats. They should, however, have room to make the case that better policies would have made for a stronger and earlier recovery and would still have a positive effect. At the same time, the Left’s resentment-based take on matters economic may lose some of its appeal. So: Rejoice, and prepare.​

#page#‐ After Jonathan Gruber became radioactive, Democrats, and their pliant media factota, began trying to minimize his role in the writing of Obamacare, with Jonathan Chait of New York insisting that the professor “played no direct role in writing the law.” Gruber himself told Representative Cynthia Lummis (R., Wyo.): “I didn’t draft the legislation.” And then more videos were discovered, in which Gruber said of the ACA: “I helped write it. . . . I was involved in writing the legislation.” In 2012, the New York Times reported that Gruber was being dispatched “to Capitol Hill to help Congressional staff members draft the specifics of the legislation.” After all this time, the Democrats are still banking on — how did Gruber phrase it? — “the stupidity of the American voter.”

‐ When Sabrina Rubin Erdely was commissioned by Rolling Stone to write an article on rape, she did not start where rape is likely to happen (jails, single-mother homes) but at the places that resonate with Rolling Stone’s perpetually adolescent readership: college campuses. Finding no gonzo rape at Harvard or Yale, Erdely targeted the University of Virginia: her rape safety school. She insisted that the rape happen at a fraternity party and that it be monstrous, irrespective of whether there had in fact been a monstrous rape at a UVA fraternity party. Erdely connected with “Jackie,” who has told at least three distinct versions of her story about being led into a brutal gang rape by a fraternity brother who turns out not to belong to a fraternity, or probably to exist. Jackie claimed to have been propelled through a glass table and raped for hours on the resultant bed of glass shards, and to have been dissuaded from reporting the crime by the concerns of friends who, if Rolling Stone is to be believed, acted with depraved indifference to her plight. The magazine’s defenders are laboring to switch the subject from the particulars of the story to the greater good of raising consciousness. That they have done, at least concerning journalistic malpractice.

‐ Lena Dunham, television writer and feminist activist, went to Oberlin College with a young Republican named Barry. She later wrote a memoir in which she claimed to have been raped at Oberlin College by a young Republican named Barry. Oberlin is not exactly thick with Republicans, there having been precisely one of them named Barry at the college during Dunham’s time. The man in question told National Review that he has never so much as met Dunham, and he has hired a lawyer to help him clear his name, something that got the attention of the litigious Dunham (who has in recent memory threatened to sue Gawker and Truth Revolt) and her publisher, Random House. Dunham claims that her choice of the name “Barry” was without malice, but that is a coincidence beyond believing, which is not helped by the fact that her memoir notes in other instances that names have been changed, but not in this one. For the record, Lena Dunham wrote that she was raped by an Oberlin Republican named Barry and now says that she was not raped by an Oberlin Republican named Barry. At least she didn’t take her story to Rolling Stone.

‐ The University of California at Irvine is offering students grief counseling to help them cope with the trauma of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., 1,832 miles away. MSNBC will have to offer Chris Hayes the same service when the story fades away.

‐ With both chambers of Congress, Republicans have the power to appoint a new director of the Congressional Budget Office. Some of them, however, do not want to exercise the power. They say that the current director, Democrat Doug Elmendorf, is a straight shooter and that when he provides evidence against liberal orthodoxy — as when the CBO said that hiking the minimum wage would suppress job growth — his party affiliation gives it extra weight. Other Republicans say Elmendorf has been too favorable toward liberal legislation, particularly the health-care law. They want a director who will push the agency to adopt “dynamic scoring” that reduces the estimated impact of tax cuts on the budget by taking account of how they can boost economic growth. Dynamic scoring is a good idea, but conservatives are fooling themselves if they think that it will change the numbers a great deal over the ten-year time frames the CBO considers: Tax cuts will not perk up the economy that much. What might make a difference is if the CBO took on a different role: assisting in the creation of a model, available for anyone’s use, of the impact of public policies on the budget. That way all of the assumptions used to generate estimates would be open for inspection and debate. This new CBO would be more helpful and less oracular — and, of course, would have a new director.

#page#Are the Police Biased?

In the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, massive street protests over the perceived racial bias of our police have spread across the country. That perception reflects the unquestioned fact that African Americans are more likely to be targets of extreme police actions.

But understanding the relationship between African-American communities and law enforcement requires a deeper analysis than a single headline, or, in the case of Mr. Garner, a chilling video, can offer. African Americans engage in a disproportionately large amount of crime (and constitute a disproportionately large share of the victims, since criminals tend to prey on people similar to themselves).

An individual who commits crimes is more likely to have a hostile encounter with the police than an individual who does not, and the hostility of these police encounters would be difficult to judge as unnecessary. A racist and violent cop, however, might well accost an individual who is not involved in a violent crime at all. One simple way to check for bias is to see whether the number of violent crimes needed to explain one police-related death is different depending on one’s race.

To gauge how often unfriendly encounters with police lead to death, we will use Bureau of Justice Statistics data on arrest-related death. To measure how often African Americans and white Americans engage in behaviors likely to result in a hostile encounter with police, we will use violent-crime-victimization data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey, in which the victims of violent crime report the perceived race of the perpetrator. We divide the number of violent crimes by the arrest-related deaths for each race. The quotient tells us, on average, how many violent crimes it takes, by race, to produce one arrest-related death. If police are unambiguously racist, then it should take fewer violent crimes to induce one death in the African-American community.

As the chart shows, according to our data, African Americans and white Americans have roughly the same proportion of violent crimes to police-related deaths. Whites, on average, experienced over the entire sample period one death for every 6,701 violent crimes. African Americans experienced one death for every 6,609 violent crimes. These numbers are strikingly similar. The difference between them is small, and not statistically significant.

Source: Author’s Calculations; Bureau of Justice Statistics

If more individuals of a given race died arrest-related deaths unrelated to a violent crime, it would show up in this chart, because it would take fewer crimes to induce one statistical death. If police were more likely to respond to a violent crime with excessive force, it would show up in this chart as well. But in the chart, police appear to be treating the races the same.

The series does diverge at the end of the sample. If that trend continues when more data become available, it could be an indication that people are being treated differently based on their race. But on average, the probability of police-related death is about the same for each race; a sweeping nationwide police bias is not apparent in the numbers.

A couple of cautions are worth mentioning, however. First, it may be that crimes against African Americans are underestimated by the victimization survey, and this analysis is only as good as those data. A number of recent reports have also suggested that some major cities, such as New York, have systematically failed to report deaths related to police activity accurately. Second, the available data do not allow us to separate data for whites from data for Hispanics. If white cops are highly biased against both African Americans and Hispanics, then both lines in the chart would be affected by this bias.

That said, the safest conclusion is that the evidence available does not support the view that police are biased.

#page#‐ Governor Andrew Cuomo (D., N.Y.) has issued a fiat that all insurance companies in the state shall cover the expense of what used to be called sex-change operations (the procedure has been rechristened “gender-confirmation surgery”). Previously, insurers had declined to subsidize some procedures, e.g., the elective amputation of healthy breasts, on the grounds that they are cosmetic, which they are by definition. Governor Cuomo’s sex-change fiat means that cosmetic procedures are not cosmetic if the governor of New York desires that it be so. There is a great deal of that kind of thinking when it comes to this issue: The American Psychiatric Association renamed what had been “gender-identity disorder” “gender dysphoria,” in order to remove the stigma of the word “disorder” from its entry . . . in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Why list it there at all? So that Governor Cuomo can order insurance companies to pay for it. The thinking here is certainly disordered.

‐ The New York Times, momentarily remembering that it is a newspaper and not a political party, has been publishing a remarkable series on Rikers Island, the New York City jail complex that epitomizes much of what is wrong with our penal system: Guards’ alleged beating and sodomizing of a prisoner handcuffed to a hospital gurney is currently under investigation by the Bronx district attorney’s office; over the summer, a dozen correctional officers were taken in a drug sweep; in the spring, a homeless ex-Marine in Rikers custody was baked to death in his cell when the heating system malfunctioned and guards failed to perform required checks. The principal obstacle to reform, as the Times reports, is the powerful Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, the jailers’ union headed by Norman Seabrook. The Times chronicles Seabrook’s successful attempts to stifle investigations by the city corrections department, eventually driving out chief investigator Florence Finkle. Seabrook has pursued many of the usual interests of union leaders — higher pay, indulgent work rules — but has also fought the implementation of stronger sanctions against abusive guards and, incredibly, against more-effective screening measures to keep out drugs and other contraband. Rikers Island, and the nation’s prison system at large, is a scandal. But correctional unions are powerful: In California elections, the jailers sometimes outspend the teachers’ unions, which have ten times the membership. Reforming public institutions means reforming public-sector unions first.

‐ Michigan’s Republican-controlled house of representatives in December passed a bill modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Since RFRA’s passage in 1993, there have been no recorded events in which the law has been cited by a doctor refusing to care for a gay patient. And yet: “Bill would let Michigan doctors, EMTs refuse to treat gay patients,” blared a CBS News headline. The law does not mention gay people, nor does it authorize discrimination on the part of anyone. What it would actually do is let individuals seek, in court, exemptions from state and local laws that impose a substantial burden on the exercise of their sincerely held religious beliefs, unless such laws advance a compelling government interest by the least restrictive possible means. Earlier this year, Republican governor Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill in Arizona after a similarly hysterical media campaign. Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, has the chance to get this right.

‐ Greenpeace is an environmentalist organization that specializes in “direct actions” — i.e., publicity stunts. These are meant to attract donations so that the group can continue its important work of devising more publicity stunts. Most recently, about a dozen Greenpeace activists snuck into the sacred historic site of the Nazca Lines, a group of engravings dug into the Peruvian desert floor by pre-Columbian inhabitants. There they unveiled a huge message, meant to be seen by passengers flying to the Lima climate talks, to the effect that “the future is sustainable.” By doing this, the Greenpeaceniks damaged or obliterated marks and drawings on the ground that archeologists have been studying for centuries. The group now faces civil and criminal charges. Greenpeace believes its cause is so vitally important as to justify literally trampling on part of the world’s heritage; it might as well have spray-painted graffiti on the Parthenon.

‐ The European Court of Human Rights has ordered the French government to pay a group of Somali pirates captured in 2008 at least 5,000 euros ($6,000) apiece for detaining them 48 hours too long before they saw a judge. The average annual income of a Somali is about 100 euros, so the pirates could live to a ripe old age on their two days of delay if they ever get back home (which they probably won’t, unless the ECHR gets involved again). But here’s a better idea: Let the pirates credit their five grand against the 3 million euros they were paid to release two hostages they took after seizing the French ship: hostages, by the way, who were held for five days longer than the 48-hour detention the European court considers a human-rights violation.

‐ The Chinese Communists have called an end to the so-called Umbrella Movement of protest in Hong Kong. About 100,000 people who aspire to democracy were facing a government ideologically opposed to political compromise, yet this unequal match lasted for 75 days. At its core was Beijing’s decision to impose on Hong Kong a chief executive from among a group of candidates of the Communist Party’s choosing. The Communists were therefore repudiating the safeguarding treaty they had made at the end of British rule. Agreed at that time, the formula of “one country, two systems” has suddenly become void. Protesters, most of them young, built camps in strategic sites in Hong Kong. The current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, sided with his masters in Beijing and called in the security police. Behind the tear gas and pepper spray of frequent confrontations on the barricades arose the specter of massacre on the lines of Tiananmen Square. Forcibly closing the camps, the security forces began arresting protesters for “unlawful assembly.” Leung Chun-ying has declared that the protests are officially over — words unlikely to count for much with anyone who took to the streets on behalf of the Umbrella Movement.

‐ In the mid 1930s, the Nobel committee in Oslo gave its peace prize to Carl von Ossietzky, a political prisoner of the Nazis. This displeased Hitler. He set up his own prizes, and forbade German citizens to accept a Nobel. In the next decade, Stalin was displeased — because he was not receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, and neither were other Communist bigs. He set up his own peace prize: named after himself. In 2010, the Nobel committee gave its prize to a political prisoner of the Chinese government, Liu Xiaobo. In response, the Chinese Communists did just what the Soviets and the Nazis had done before them: They established their own prize, calling it the Confucius Peace Prize. One of its first recipients was Vladimir Putin. The latest is Fidel Castro. Thus does a Communist dictatorship bestow a prize for peace on a Communist dictator. It is fitting and disgusting at the same time.

‐ The Chinese Communists are responsible for many offenses: harsh political repression, crony capitalism, the one-child policy, lending a trillion dollars to the United States . . . but now they’ve gone too far: The Chinese government has banned the use of puns. To be sure, if you’re Tom Friedman, this demonstrates the superiority of the Chinese system, and they should now go ahead and prohibit text-message abbreviations, Internet memes, “whatever,” and catch phrases that originate on TV commercials. In fact, the reason for the law is that Chinese democracy advocates have been frustrating discussion-board censors by using phrases that sound similar to ones that are banned by the authorities. So while puns may not have been exactly what Madison had in mind when he called free speech “the only effectual guardian of every other right,” they are just as precious as other forms of expression. Americans should be proud that we have a Constitution that prohibits pun control.

‐ NR has disagreed with several incarnations of The New Republic, and disagrees with others in retrospect. Worst was its romance with Stalin (briefer, to be sure, than The Nation’s). But its Croly-ite founding was not good either — we need a new republic because the old one is so arrière-garde — while its recent past has been both shrill (“I hate President George W. Bush,” wrote Jonathan Chait in 2003) and dull. Yet its century of existence saw both notable contributors and honorable arguments (under the ownership of Martin Peretz, it excoriated Communism). How many more years it has is anyone’s guess. In 2012, Chris Hughes, a twentysomething tech millionaire, bought it from Peretz, promising to save it. Hughes apparently did not realize the cardinal financial fact about journals of opinion: They lose money. In December he made Guy Vidra, another techie, chief executive, who promised to make TNR a “vertically integrated digital media company.” The magazine’s editor, Frank Foer, found out secondhand that he had been replaced. Most of the staff quit. We mourn the passing of a voice in our niche, and thank our publishers over the years, and most of all our readers, whose support allows us to defend the old republic.

‐ Hackers dumped a trove of H’w’d data all over the infopike, leaving execs red-faced. Amy Pascal of Sony Pictures and producer Scott Rudin were caught joking about President Obama’s taste in movies: Django Unchained12 Years a Slave? The Butler? Amusing though it is to see cultural nobility (and Obama supporters) committing micro-aggressions, just like the unwashed, both the remedy and the cause should give us pause. To begin her “healing process,” Pascal contacted Al Sharpton. The destructive demagogue becomes a holy shaman whose touch brings absolution. No doubt a few thou to the National Action Network will complete the process. And why was Sony hacked? The Interview, a Sony project scheduled for release this month, features James Franco and Seth Rogen as would-be assassins of Kim Jong-un. Despots have famously poor senses of humor; Kim’s reserves of self-deprecation approach absolute zero. Did the film provoke retribution? Other American companies should take the threat seriously, and the U.S. government should proceed with counter-measures.

‐ When Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman had some Chinese food delivered and found he’d been overcharged by $4 owing to the restaurant’s outdated website, he responded with a series of e-mails that escalated from polite-ish to passive-aggressive to avenging angel. After an initial inquiry failed to yield satisfaction, he requested a refund and then invoked Massachusetts law to demand an extra $8 in damages. (The poor owner is lucky Edelman didn’t charge him a consulting fee.) A few e-mails later, a wrathful Edelman was virtually threatening to clap the restaurateur in leg irons and haul him before Elizabeth Warren. (American litigiousness must confuse the immigrant proprietor almost as much as turkey pardons or the Electoral College.) A restaurateur who overcharges will never be popular, but when a Harvard professor tries to chisel an extra eight bucks out of him and then threatens to ruin his business, public sympathy shifts decisively to the little guy. A suitable fortune-cookie motto might be: Let the punishment fit the crime, and the tactics fit the opponent.

‐ The president of Smith College sent out an e-mail in which she expressed support for those on campus who were protesting against the grand-jury decisions in the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. “We are united in our insistence that all lives matter,” President Kathleen McCartney wrote. “We gather in vigil, we raise our voices in protest.” This, however, was not good enough for some students, who suggested that McCartney’s use of the word “all” was a direct refutation of the now-popular slogan “Black lives matter.” “It felt,” sophomore Cecelia Lim told the Daily Hampshire Gazette, “like she was invalidating the experience of black lives.” A horrified McCartney apologized. Next time she should put more effort into reciting thoughtless cant.

#page#‐ On America’s college campuses, it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell which are the jejune undergraduates and which their supposedly mature professors. The confusion is not aided by the likes of Charles Angeletti, a professor of American civilization at Metropolitan State University of Denver. At the start of each class, Campus Reform reports, Angeletti requires his students to recite an ersatz Pledge of Allegiance of his own devising. Among the claims that are made within the oath are that the United States is reserved for “Republicans,” that the nation is repressed “under Jesus,” and that its constitution offers “curtailed liberty and justice for all except blacks, homosexuals, women who want abortions, Communists, welfare queens, treehuggers, feminazis, illegal immigrants, children of illegal immigrants, and you, if you don’t watch your step.” Angeletti claims that he is merely encouraging his students to think for themselves. Is he sure that asking them to read a childish and petulant script is the best way to do it?

‐ On short notice, the Andrew Peabody School in Cambridge, Mass., disinvited Santa Claus from meeting with pupils at a winter concert on December 12. The principal, Jennifer Ford, informed parents of the decision in a letter, adding that Santa would appear at a family sing-along on December 23 but, not to worry, their children could opt out of it. Her decision met with skepticism from some parents. Santa “is fun for kids, which is good,” said Mohammed Hassan, who doesn’t think the tradition of ho-ho-ho has a religious character. For generations, the iconic white beard, red suit, elves, and reindeer have been useful for conveying the warmth and lightness of Christmas while neither pressing nor disrespecting the holiday’s Christian pedigree, but the principal and the parents who presumably complained to her about Santa’s presence wouldn’t be fooled. “Santa Claus” is a corruption of “Saint Nicholas,” and the jolly old giver of gifts to children nicely reflects the reputed generosity of the fourth-century bishop of Myra, in present-day Turkey. He knows who’s naughty or nice, and in the case of the administration of the Andrew Peabody School, so do we.

‐ Herman Badillo was a classic immigrant success story: Orphaned in his native Puerto Rico, he was brought to New York City, not knowing English, by an aunt when he was eleven. City College was his portal of opportunity, followed by law school. Then began the parade of firsts: first Puerto Rican borough president, first Puerto Rican congressman. Only Gracie Mansion eluded him. All these years he was a liberal Democrat. But he kept thinking about the ladder of his success, and these thoughts drove him inexorably from the liberal fold. In the Nineties, as chairman of the board of trustees of CUNY (City University of New York), Badillo toughened standards: What good was a degree that was not earned by hard work? He inveighed against social promotion, and bilingual education (which he had once supported but had come to see as a trap). He last ran for office, in a GOP mayoral primary, in 2001. He lost — but then he had won so much: dignity, honor, the satisfaction that comes from tough fights for right principles. Dead at 85. R.I.P.

‐ Lesser men (normal men?) smirk when philosophers fall afoul of reality: Plato’s vain attempt to educate the tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse, Seneca’s fatal attempt to educate Nero, the Jewish Hannah Arendt besotted by her anti-Semitic teacher Heidegger. It happens to lesser philosophers too. In 1950, 19-year-old Nathan Blumenthal met his idol Ayn Rand, who persuaded him to change his name to Nathaniel Branden, served as matron of honor at his wedding, then became his lover (with the consent of their spouses) for 14 years. Rand’s teaching, Objectivism, was an optimistic, if strenuous, creed — all things could be understood if one accepted Rand’s premises, which were reality’s — and for a time Branden was its theoretician and enforcer. But when he fell in love with a third woman, Rand cast him to the outer darkness. After this episode of opera, Branden became a psychologist, giving Rand’s ideas a self-help twist. A dash of self-knowledge might have been more to the point. Dead at 84. R.I.P.

‐ Alois Brunner was born in Austria and joined the Nazi Party when it was still illegal, and then the S.S. He had a leading role in the logistics of the Holocaust, organizing the deportation of the Jews of Salonika, and then served as commandant of Drancy, the camp from which French Jews were sent to Auschwitz. He is responsible for the murder of at least 128,000 Jews. After the war, he slipped away to Syria, where President Hafez Assad protected him, regularly refusing demands for his extradition while taking his malignant advice. Unofficial Nazi hunters or Israeli agents never quite caught up with him or knew his fate. A reliable German intelligence officer now reports that Brunner died in Damascus four years ago, and Jewish authorities accept that this is so. If alive, he would be 102.


Going for 45

Jeb Bush, who says he is considering running for president, is a strong conservative. As governor of Florida, he advanced conservative goals on taxes, school choice, privatization, racial preferences, the right to life, and many other issues. He did all this and left office popular in a swing state — but one that became more conservative during his time in its politics. And the state’s schools, by all accounts, got a lot better thanks to his efforts.

A lot of conservatives disagree with Bush on various issues

– we certainly do — and have other reservations about his candidacy. None of that should lead anyone to doubt that he is a friend and ally, and an extraordinarily accomplished one. He deserves a fair hearing, and we intend to give him one.

About those disagreements: Bush seems to us to underestimate the risk that providing legal status for illegal immigrants will encourage more illegal immigration, and to be simply wrong, as well as out of step with public opinion, in thinking that the country should increase legal immigration levels. His support for higher educational standards is laudable, but his idea that a push for nationally uniform standards is the right way to achieve this goal is misguided. And while we would be well-disposed toward a budget deal with ten dollars of spending cuts for every dollar of tax increases, we do not see that it serves any useful purpose for Republicans to speculate about bargains that are not on offer.

The reservations are as well-known as the disagreements. Bush will have to prove that he has not gotten rusty in the twelve years since his last election. Many Americans will not, as they should not, like the idea of entrenching a presidential dynasty.

Conservatives who share our admiration and our concerns will have to decide how much weight to put on each. They should also assess how convincingly Bush explains how conservative governance can meet the country’s internal and external challenges — and can avoid the mistakes, from overspending to placing too much emphasis on the economic concerns of big business, that have too often characterized Republicans in office.

These are the criteria we will apply to Bush if he runs, and to his rivals as well, in the hope that the competition will, as it so often does, serve the national interest.​

#page#AT WAR

Torturing the Truth

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) released her “torture report,” which purports to be a final reckoning for the CIA interrogation program, but is highly partisan and tendentious. Republicans on the intelligence committee refused to cooperate, in part because they realized the drift of the report. It alleges that the CIA ran a rogue program that evaded all political accountability and that the program produced no useful intelligence. Both are obviously wrong.

The CIA created a program to detain and question captured suspects only because it was ordered to do so by the Bush administration. It repeatedly went to the Justice Department for legal guidance and it briefed high-level executive officials and the top congressional leaders of the intelligence committees about the program. Democrats who were briefed but now say they didn’t know aren’t credible. (“ ‘I have done that,’ says my memory. ‘I cannot have done that,’ says my pride, and remains inexorable. Eventually — memory yields.”)

The contention that the interrogations elicited no useful intelligence defies common sense, since they produced thousands of intelligence reports. The Feinstein report uses absurd criteria to try to explain away this intelligence, by discounting it if it corroborated information we already had (which can be extremely important), by emphasizing false leads it generated (which any method of interrogation will do), and by raising the counterfactual that it might have been possible to obtain it through less coercive means (again, an objection that will always apply to any interrogation). These are debater points utterly disconnected from the real-world effort to get as much information as quickly as possible in the wake of the horrors of September 11.

All that said, the Feinstein report usefully highlights how chaotic the CIA program was in its initial days and how harsh some of the interrogations were. The approved CIA methods — including slapping, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and, in three cases, waterboarding — do not shock the conscience in the abstract. But when they are applied continuously for an extended period of time they are at least up against the line of torture, and, reasonable people can conclude, over it.

That we pushed the boundaries of legitimate interrogation procedures after September 11 does not justify the swing of the pendulum in the opposite direction. We now either kill suspected terrorists by drone or, should we capture them, prosecute them in the criminal-justice system without attempting to interrogate them at all. The avowed goal of Dianne Feinstein is to lock in this overreaction. To this end, her report distorts the truth and smears a CIA that attempted, consistent with our laws, to act with the urgency its political minders were demanding of it — before they changed their minds.


The Unnecessary Death of Eric Garner

The death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner at the hands of a New York City police officer was tragic and unnecessary. Whether it was criminal is a more complicated question. A Staten Island grand jury did not believe so, deciding not to bring any changes against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who in August put Garner in a headlock when the suspect, who was illegally selling single cigarettes, resisted arrest. Lying on the ground, surrounded by police, Garner repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe” before suffering fatal cardiac arrest.

A video of the incident ensured that everyone had an opinion, but the root legal question — was Officer Pantaleo’s use of force justified? — is enormously involved, relying on knotty New York criminal statutes and complicated by the facts of the incident. The state’s medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide (in a medical, not a legal, sense), but Garner’s asthma, obesity, and heart problems also apparently contributed.

What is clear, however, is that this did not need to happen. Officer Pantaleo, whether criminally or not, responded aggressively to a citizen who was not a threat, and whose crime was minor. Law enforcement must be granted latitude to enforce the law, but it is not clear why Garner’s offense necessitated arrest, and why that arrest was so urgent that it required aggressive force.

It is worth remembering that Garner’s encounter with the police was largely a byproduct of government action — namely, of the punitive tax on selling single cigarettes that has generated a thriving black market. There would be fewer rogue offenders if legislators and bureaucrats concocted fewer petty offenses.

After the grand jury declined to indict, protesters took to the streets in New York City and across the country. The vast majority adopted the mantra “Black lives matter” and claimed that Garner’s death is only the latest example of institutional racism in America’s criminal-justice system. But there is no indication that Garner’s race had anything to do with his treatment by police, or that Pantaleo’s had anything to do with the grand jury’s decision not to indict.

And such horrifying incidents are, thankfully, rare. There were 228,000 misdemeanor arrests in New York City in 2013, and none of them resulted in a death. The claims of demonstrators notwithstanding, Garner’s death has occasioned outrage not because it is another example of a common occurrence, but because such incidents are thankfully rare.

Henry OlsenMr. Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, an editor at, and the author of The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism.

In This Issue



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From left: Harvard University's Noah Feldman, Stanford University's Pamela Karlan, University of North Carolina's Michael Gerhardt, and George Washington University's Jonathan Turley testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, December 4, 2019.

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To put it mildly, the 1960s were not notorious for juridical modesty. They might compare favorably, though, to Wednesday’s episode of “The Lawyer Left Does Impeachment” at the House Judiciary Committee. Oh, I have no doubt that the three progressive constitutional scholars spotlighted by Democrats yearn in ... Read More

The Absurd Crusade against the Salvation Army

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White House

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White House

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