Magazine April 6, 2015, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

‐ All our missing voters seem to have turned up in Israel.

‐ The general election in Israel was a triumph for Benjamin Netanyahu. His opponents had overtaken him in the polls. The politically correct folk in the West and the politically incorrect folk in Tehran had agreed that he was about to lose, and deserved it. It was boring to listen to him repeating in speech after speech that the Shia radicals are an existential threat to Israel, arming themselves with intercontinental missiles and nuclear warheads, building massive military emplacements for militias on their side of the borders, and exerting pressure to establish a Palestinian state dedicated to permanent hostility. In the program of Netanyahu’s opposition, better housing and cheaper food easily has priority over national security. However much the electorate may dislike the political reality of the region, they are capable of recognizing it. They vote for Netanyahu on the understanding that the West prefers to make common cause with the Shia radicals rather than fight them. Whatever the Israel-bashers maintain, there’s nothing right-wing about the instinct of survival. Israel’s system of proportional representation allows small minority parties to win parliamentary seats, and Netanyahu will have to go through a lengthy and rather displeasing period of horse-trading in order to obtain the majority for governing. This coincides uncomfortably with the likely conclusion of negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program. Should Netanyahu’s fears about those talks be realized, at least the Israelis have made it plain that they are determined to look after themselves.

‐ Forty-seven Republican senators, led by newly elected Tom Cotton of Arkansas, published an open letter to Iran’s leaders reminding them that our government, unlike theirs, has checks, balances, and separation of powers. If Obama gets a lousy Iran deal — and what other kind could he possibly get? — “the next president could revoke [it] with the stroke of a pen, and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.” Perhaps the open letter would better have been addressed to Obama (he seems to know no more about our Constitution than the ayatollahs do). But the letter’s point is correct, as are the concerns of its authors. Obama has cut out Congress in pursuit of a geopolitical pipe dream. Meanwhile, Obama’s amen chorus slammed Cotton by invoking the Logan Act of 1799, which forbids unauthorized citizens to negotiate with foreign powers. But Cotton et al. were not negotiating; they stated a truth. It is fitting that weak minds should turn to badly understood precedents to defend bad policies.

‐ The Supreme Court has heard arguments in King v. Burwell, and the issue is a familiar one: Does that law mean what it says, or does it mean what politicians — in this case Barack Obama and his congressional enablers — wish that it said? The so-called Affordable Care Act empowers the federal government to offer subsidies for health insurance bought on exchanges “established by the state,” with the law defining “state” as any of the 50 or the District of Columbia. Those subsidies in turn trigger much of the apparatus of federal coercion within the law: mandates, fines, etc. The ACA’s architects had expected states to leap at the subsidies, putting themselves on the hook like 51 over-eager trout. But most of the states declined to establish exchanges, so the Obama administration decided, in its wisdom, to simply act as though they had, setting up federal exchanges in the states (which it is legally empowered to do) and directing the IRS to treat them like state exchanges (which it is not legally empowered to do), because the mess that is the ACA would be nearly impossible to implement otherwise. The law’s defenders say that Congress would never have passed a law with that kind of structural defect in it. The law itself says they did just that. There is no constitutional ban on passing stupid laws, and it is up to Congress, not the Court, to rewrite this one. The solution is the same as it has always been: repeal.

‐ Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed a right-to-work bill, which might well be called a “right-to-be-free-from-extortion bill” — the law simply empowers workers to decide for themselves whether they wish to pay dues to a union that purports to represent them. The term for an arrangement under which one is forced to pay money for the protection of an organization whose protection one neither seeks nor desires is “protection racket,” and in half the states the labor-union variety is now illegal. Formerly concentrated in the South and West, right-to-work has enjoyed recent successes not only in Wisconsin but in other midwestern industrial states, Michigan and Indiana among them. Press reports emphasized that the bill passed on a party-line vote, which is true, but that party-line split was 62–35 in progressive Wisconsin. Republicans have here a winning issue: Both Walker’s earlier win over public-sector collective-bargaining excesses and the right-to-work law reflect a growing understanding in the electorate that the modern organized-labor movement represents bureaucrats more than hardhats, and that the prospect of a bunch of surly DMV clerks’ singing a rousing chorus of “Which Side Are You On?” is something less than convincing. Barack Obama denounced the development, predictably: One of the main functions of union dues is to get laundered into Democratic campaign coffers.

‐ Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas) has introduced a bill that would assist victims of sex trafficking by using fines paid by traffickers to fund services for their victims. Democrats, monomaniacs that they are, insist that those services must — must — include abortion, while the bill specifies that abortions will not be among the services provided, respecting a longstanding tradition of keeping public money, and, by extension, the public itself, out of the grisly business of underwriting abortion. Democrats insist that they will block the bill until Planned Parenthood gets its cut (which is the unkindest cut) and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has in turn said that confirmation hearings for Loretta Lynch, whom President Obama wishes to install as attorney general, will not be scheduled until the sex-trafficking bill receives a vote. (If President Obama is perplexed by this development, McConnell might remind him of a favorite presidential phrase: “I won.”) Women who have been smuggled across continents, held as slaves, and subjected to unspeakable horrors need a great many things, but the potential development that excites Democrats is publicly funded abortions. Abortion already is legal; Democrats insist on public funding for it for the same reason those Roman senators insisted that each of them put a knife in Caesar: If everybody is involved, it is harder to call it a crime.

‐ Republican senators Mike Lee (Utah) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) proposed a tax reform that would cut tax rates on individual and business income, capital gains, dividends, and estates; expand the tax credit for children; and allow businesses to write off the cost of investments immediately rather than over many years. Conservative reaction was very positive, with supply-side groups praising the proposal’s many pro-growth aspects. Criticism centered on two points. First, the plan seemed likely to reduce revenue by several trillion dollars. Second, some critics seized on what is likely to be the most popular part of the plan, the child credit, describing it as an unjustified special-interest provision. The child credit is justified, though, because without it parents are overtaxed. Their taxes should be cut to reflect the contributions they are making to the future of entitlement programs by raising children. Lee, Rubio, and other Republicans may have to adjust their plan to raise more revenue, but they are right about how the tax burden should be structured: so that less of it falls on investment, including investment in the next generation.

‐ Senator Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) has been a lonely voice on his side of the aisle (and one of the most powerful voices on either side) for sanity in foreign policy, tangling with President Obama on North Korea, Cuba, and Iran. He is also reportedly the target of a federal investigation of his relations with Salomon Melgen, a big-deal Democratic fundraiser, who took Menendez on vacations to the Dominican Republic in his private jet. Menendez stoutly declares his innocence of any wrongdoing; Ted Cruz, stirring the pot, wonders whether the Menendez investigation is payback for his views on Iran (“I will point out that the timing seems awfully coincidental,” said Cruz in Iowa). Let the feds prove a case, if they can. Meanwhile, let us reflect on the fact that Menendez is the closest thing his party has to a foreign-policy conscience.

‐ Al Sharpton’s offices have burned down twice in his career. In 1997, when he was running for mayor of New York City, his campaign headquarters went up in smoke, five days before the tax-filing deadline of April 15 and shortly after he announced that he would open his financial records. He went on to miss deadlines for taxes and campaign disclosure, claiming the fire destroyed key financial records. In 2003, he was running for the White House when his National Action Network offices also burned down under mysterious circumstances. Sources say Sharpton was paying the only eyewitness, a maintenance man, under the table and letting him live in NAN’s offices. (Sharpton disputes this.) The maintenance man overstayed his visa, living in the U.S. illegally until his death last year; and when the fire investigators interviewed him about the blaze, he was accompanied by Sharpton’s lawyer. Meanwhile, the fire marshal who responded, an experienced expert, was inexplicably removed from the case, and the fire department’s report, which deemed the cause an accidental electrical fire, was strangely thin. The fire “was accidentally on purpose,” the New York Times quoted a neighbor saying, adding that “his comments echo the sentiments of nearly every person interviewed near the burned-out headquarters.” As Sharpton raised money to rebuild his nonprofit, he also continued his campaign, which the FEC later found had violated several laws. Congratulations and thanks to SMALLCAPSNational Review’s Jillian Melchior for digging up the facts and connecting the dots. Sharpton founded his career on the lie that was the Tawana Brawley incident and apparently concluded that fraud works. Our advice: Keep exposing it until it doesn’t.

‐ The Chicago mayoral election presents a stark battle between liberalism and leftism. Representing liberalism is the incumbent, Rahm Emanuel. He is the former Clinton aide, congressman, and Obama chief of staff. He is a cock-o’-the-walk, but not without charm, and not without competence. Representing leftism is Jesús “Chuy” García, a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. He was recruited to run by Karen Lewis, the notorious and screwy head of the Chicago Teachers Union. She and García are political siblings. If he becomes mayor, he could wreak the kind of damage that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow started. We don’t mean to kill his chances, but we’re for Rahm.

Age of Uncertainty

Discussion of “policy uncertainty” has featured prominently in the debate about the Great Recession and its aftermath. But as we head into the next presidential cycle, policy uncertainty may have major political implications as well.

A March 2013 analysis published by the IMF, Held Back by Uncertainty, noted that “uncertainty about economic policy is unusually high, and it appears to contribute significantly to macroeconomic uncertainty.” A summary of economic conditions released eight times a year by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the Fed’s Beige Book, contained an average of 15.3 references to policy uncertainty between 2010 and 2014. This represents a near tripling of the Beige Book’s overall average of 5.3 references to policy uncertainty over the period between the third quarter of 1983 and the end of 2014.

It is not hard to comprehend how policy uncertainty could reduce economic growth. The crucial factor is regret. If voters elected a president, say, who pushed business-unfriendly ideas such as tax increases, heightened regulation, and card check, then a business might find itself regretting a big capital investment. So it might wait until after the election to decide whether to invest.

This example also highlights a major source of uncertainty: political contests. Since the different parties promise different policies, elections are times when the future is lost in a fog.

Economists Scott Baker, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven J. Davis have constructed a quantitative index of economic-policy uncertainty (EPU). Their index draws on news coverage of uncertainty in policy decisions, the number of federal-tax-code provisions set to expire, and disagreement among forecasters about economic variables one year in the future. According to analysis performed by Baker, Bloom, and Davis, the negative impact of increases in policy uncertainty on GDP is enormous, and peaks around four quarters (one year) after the uncertainty shock but persists for up to twelve quarters (three years).

The chart below shows how policy uncertainty varies throughout America’s four-year election cycle. Based on data provided by Baker, Bloom, and Davis, we plot the year-over-year change in the uncertainty index from January 1985 through February 2015, averaged by month, with the months indexed by how far they are from a presidential election. To smooth the data, we take three-month rolling averages. So, for example, every “0” month is November in a presidential-election year. The October before a presidential-election month would be –1, and the October in the year before a presidential-election year would be –13. If a month’s value is positive, it means that economic-policy uncertainty averaged year over year increases during that rolling three-month period (i.e., that month and the two months prior). A significant increase in economic-policy uncertainty is the type of shock that Baker and the coauthors have found harms the economy.

There are two clear peaks in the data: one near the presidential-election month, and one immediately following the midterm election (which corresponds to month –24). The latter is very large, and likely reflects the fact that midterms are bad for incumbents, and so policy changes are more likely after them.

This sharp pattern in the data suggests a theory of the American political cycle, since voters tend to hold the party of the president culpable when the economy is weak. Midterm elections increase policy uncertainty sharply. They therefore harm the economy, which makes it more likely that the party of the sitting president loses the next election. A new party sweeps in, but then the midterm uncertainty undermines it. Like clockwork, the parties alternate possession of the White House.

If the economic-policy-uncertainty index climbs as the presidential election approaches, as has been typical, it should have negative effects on the economy. That should be bad news for Mrs. Clinton.

‐ Barbara Mikulski, the longtime Democratic senator from Maryland, announced that she was stepping down. Harry Reid, the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, announced that he was endorsing a House member, Chris Van Hollen, to replace her. One Democratic donor and activist, Steve Phillips, the co-founder of PowerPAC in San Francisco, reacted furiously. Why? Van Hollen is white, and other Democratic possibilities in Maryland are not. “For Harry Reid to come out and endorse Van Hollen is insulting, period,” said Phillips. “But to do it on the anniversary of the Selma 50th anniversary — to make an endorsement that would make the Senate less diverse — is outrageous and insulting.” Democrats spend their lives tarring Republicans as racist. Now Reid has been given some of this medicine. How does it taste, Harry?

‐ It is “doc fix” season. In the mists of history, Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton negotiated a budget deal that controlled entitlement costs in part by reducing payments to physicians under Medicare. That arrangement is called the “Sustainable Growth Rate” (SGR) and has never been implemented; instead, Congress has passed a series of so-called doc-fix bills, which put off those pay cuts. The downside is that with each deferral, the size of the pending cut grows proportionally larger — if it were allowed to kick in, SGR today would mean a 20 percent cut to doctors’ fees for Medicare. The upside — and it is not trivial — is that the doc fixes have largely been offset with spending reductions in other programs. A deal brewing in Congress would put an end to the doc-fix drama, and would only partly offset the costs of doing so. Critics who insist that the doc fix is mainly budget theater are mainly correct, and any long-term solution to our upside-down entitlements will require real structural reform, something that both Republicans and responsible Democrats (there are at least two in the wild: Joe Lieberman and former OMB chief Alice Rivlin) acknowledge. But deep reform is not on the table, and simply letting up on the spending brakes without insisting on proportional cuts elsewhere would be irresponsible.

‐ Members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma drunkenly recited a chant about “niggers” (let’s not veil it with “the n-word”) on a bus trip. A video went viral, causing university president David Boren to expel the two students who led the chant and to close the SAE chapter. Libertarians, most prominently UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, slammed Boren for violating the First Amendment. Latitude for speech on campuses of public universities should be as wide as in society as a whole; college is, after all, supposed to encourage students to think. But colleges also ought to be able to set standards of civil behavior. The university is already paying what its administrators must consider a steep price for this offense: A top football recruit withdrew his commitment in the wake of the video.

‐ After the Federal Communications Commission took charge of regulating the Internet in March, many of the move’s original champions were quick to exhibit buyer’s remorse. Speaking to the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference, the CFO of streaming giant Netflix worried aloud that the agency would go beyond the Net-neutrality rules that his company had coveted and begin to interfere in the market elsewhere. The CTO of Ericsson Group, meanwhile, argued during a panel discussion at the Mobile World Congress that the FCC’s clumsy regulatory hand may end up damaging the development of new cell networks, especially those that are explicitly designed to meet the complex needs of industry. Such fears were echoed elsewhere, by Google, the Progressive Policy Institute, and the Internet Society, all of which balked at the scale of the government’s new power. Summing up the complaint, the hitherto supportive Electronic Frontier Foundation griped that “the FCC believes it has broad authority to pursue any number of practices — hardly the narrow, light-touch approach we need to protect the open Internet.” Let this be a lesson to all who crave help from the state: You can’t ask the crocodile to bite you just a little.

‐ In March, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives yielded in the face of considerable public pressure and announced that it would no longer be pursuing a ban on “green tip” AR-15 ammunition. “You spoke, we listened,” the agency tweeted. And how: Of the 80,000 public comments that the ATF received, a spokesman confirmed, the “vast majority” were “critical of the framework.” So, too, were a majority of members of Congress. In total, 236 representatives and 52 senators weighed in against the proposal. The ATF’s failure represents yet another gun-control defeat for the Obama administration, and serves as a salutary reminder of the grassroots strength of the National Rifle Association and its allies. It also demonstrates the crucial importance of transparency. Last year, the ATF managed to push through a controversial ban on Russian-made 7N6 ammunition by skipping the consulting period completely. Tell gun-rights supporters where to aim, and they will hit the target — metaphorically, of course.

‐ At UCLA, a respected researcher, James Enstrom, discovered that job-killing state regulations were based on junk science, that the “scientist” advancing those regulations had purchased his doctorate from a fictitious university, and that the state panel reviewing his findings was stocked with ideologues who had long overstayed mandatory term limits. At a rational university, Enstrom would be showered with accolades and hailed for protecting scientific integrity against political corruption. But Enstrom is a conservative, and the junk science he exposed was environmental science. Threats to “scientific consensus” are not permitted, so UCLA fired him, ending a 35-year career. Enstrom filed suit, and in March his case was settled, with his termination essentially reversed and with UCLA compensating him for his financial losses. This was a victory for academic freedom, no doubt, but equally significant was a discovery process that revealed that UCLA’s scientists created consensus in part by not bothering to familiarize themselves with contrary research findings or opposing ideas. Under oath, senior scientists at UCLA confessed to not even reading Enstrom’s peer-reviewed research. So the next time you hear that a scientific debate is “settled,” remember Enstrom, and remember that sometimes debates are settled not by science but by censorship.

‐ “I can’t make the case that this is going to make a huge difference to many people. . . . It’s going to make a small difference to virtually everybody.” That’s what an economics professor told the Wall Street Journal about the effects on Americans of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement in the final stages of being negotiated. Free trade, like sound public policy in general, often has large but diffused benefits. The political obstacle is that the costs, while smaller, are often more concentrated: Specific companies and unions know foreign competition will pose a threat to them. So congressmen have to ignore parochial interests to advance the national interest. In this Congress, they will have to do it twice. First they should vote for “trade-promotion authority,” which sounds like a grant of power to the president but is really just a commitment to hold an up-or-down vote on trade deals, so that other countries can make those deals with us without having to worry that a committee mark-up will undo them. Next, Congress should, assuming the deal as negotiated has the economic upside it appears likely to have, vote it up. President Obama has shown no interest in taking on his union friends who oppose the deal, but he will sign it. It may be the only constructive legislation he will sign for the rest of his presidency, and the opportunity should not be passed up.

‐ Men can have abortions too, according to many young pro-abortion activists. That is, women who identify as men, and wish to have others acknowledge them as such, can have abortions, so the word “women” ought to be excised from the language of the pro-choice movement. Katha Pollitt, a pro-abortion feminist of an earlier generation, tied herself into knots over the question writing in The Nation in March. On the one hand, “We can, and should, support trans men and other gender-non-conforming people.” On the other, using gender-neutral language to describe the people who undergo abortions rather complicates the case that “restricting abortion is all about keeping women under the male thumb.” Pollitt fears that if people cease to speak about abortion as a woman’s right, “it becomes hard to understand why it isn’t simply about the right to life of the ‘unborn.’ ” And that is a group of people whom all abortion supporters can agree not to name.

‐ The children of Marvin Gaye received a very big payday: $7.3 million. A jury determined that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, in their 2013 hit “Blurred Lines,” plagiarized “Got to Give It Up,” the 1977 hit by the late Gaye. Thicke and Williams said that “Blurred Lines” was meant to evoke an era and a spirit, and was not a theft. The jury, of course, disagreed. And our ruling? The two songs definitely belong to the same genre. And Thicke and Williams may well have blurred the lines. But if juries are to conclude that one pop song resembles another, there will be lots of big paydays.

‐ For ten days, nobody knew the whereabouts of Vladimir Putin. The president was playing the grand old game of Kremlin hide-and-seek. If the media were to be credited, he might have been in Switzerland, where his ladyfriend Alina Kabayeva, half his age, was supposedly giving birth to their love child. Some made the simple guess that he had the flu, and some had the darker suspicion that, after the murder of his opponent Boris Nemtsov, former cronies had turned against him and he was engrossed in fending off a palace coup. He had always denied Russian military involvement in the invasion of Ukraine but now in his absence a three-hour television documentary carried his confession that he had secretly sent in special forces. Meanwhile the Russian navy’s Northern Fleet has received orders to be in a state of full combat readiness in the Arctic. And lo and behold! He turns up for a meeting in a St. Petersburg palace with the deferential Kyrgyz president, Almazbek Atambayev, and finds it sufficient explanation to tell the waiting world that life “would be boring without gossip.” Didn’t a famous statesman once say something about a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma?

‐ Two years ago, a North Korean cargo ship was stopped going through the Panama Canal. The ship was bearing sugar from Cuba. It was also bearing tons of war matériel, bound for the Kim regime. Just the other day, a Chinese ship was stopped in the Colombian port of Cartagena. The ship was steaming toward Cuba. The captain said it was bearing grain. The grain turned out to be 99 missile heads, 100 tons of gunpowder, 3,000 cannon shells, etc. You might get the idea that the Castro regime and its fellow Communists in the East are up to no good.

‐ “Flags not only serve as symbols of patriotism or weapons for nationalism, but also construct cultural mythologies and narratives that in turn charge nationalistic sentiments.” Add to that a couple dozen more statements in the same dour spirit and, behold, R50-70, a resolution passed by a student-government body at the University of California, Irvine, earlier this month. Whereas flags are bad, none should be hung in the lobby outside their office, the students resolved. They meant, of course, the American flag. An executive council of the student government was swift to veto the flag ban, but students and faculty nationwide wanted in on the act. More than 1,000 signed a petition that included the statement that “it is a more or less uncontroversial scholarly point” that flags are “paraphernalia of nationalism . . . in fact often used to intimidate.” Language is often used to intimidate too. Shall it be banned?

‐ There’s a woman named Carlotta Sklodowska who frequents the Planet Fitness gym in Midland, Mich. But she isn’t a member, she isn’t named Carlotta Sklodowska, and she isn’t a woman, the last of which led to some discomfort for one of the women — we mean that in the traditional sense of the word, ovaries instead of testes and all that jazz — sharing the locker room. Yvette Cormier, a Planet Fitness member, complained, and the gym chain responded by revoking her membership. Sklodowska has said that it is understandable that “she” — the media reports are unanimous on the pronoun question — might be mistaken for (!) a man, given the prominence of certain masculine features. “It’s obvious, even from the back,” Sklodowska said. Sklodowska says that the gym’s advice was to “use the locker room that corresponds with how you are dressed,” which presumably could change from day to day. Something here seems out of place.

‐ Disney amusement parks used to let disabled visitors cut to the front of the line for rides and attractions. This could save them an hour or more of waiting. Unfortunately, some people with disabilities started hiring themselves out as “guides” for families who wanted to skip the lines, so in 2013 Disney instituted a new system, under which the disabled can schedule a time to take a particular ride and visit other parts of the park in the meantime. But within about half a year, parents of autistic children sued Disney, claiming it had violated their kids’ rights by making them stay too long in the parks’ busy environment, which many people with autism find difficult. The Florida Human Rights Commission has just ruled in favor of the parents. To be sure, autistic kids should be accommodated, but it’s hard not to sympathize with Disney, which now must train its staff to provide a customized individual remedy for any visitor anywhere on the autism spectrum while somehow preventing a recurrence of the pre-2013 “guides” abuse. In situations like these, reasonable compromises can usually be found, but not when the first step is to bring in lawyers.

‐ In February, UCLA’s student council considered the nomination of Rachel Beyda, a pre-law sophomore, to serve on the judicial board, which considers accusations of rule or policy violations. One council member asked: “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?” Shortly afterward, the panel sent Beyda out of the room and debated her nomination for 40 minutes before declining to approve her. The council eventually reversed itself and approved her unanimously, but the fact that this question could even be asked, let alone debated seriously, shows how distressingly persistent is the ancient anti-Semitic charge of innate Jewish disloyalty.

‐ International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8, as usual, and one Twitter feminist found a new way in which she and her sisters are oppressed: “Which white man high in power decided international women’s day will be daylight savings and 23hrs long and when can I kick his balls.” As invariably happens when a woman discovers something, the patriarchy dismissed her findings, but think about it: The Gregorian calendar was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII; the earliest thoughts about daylight savings time came from Benjamin Franklin; its first modern proponent was New Zealand’s George Vernon Hudson; and the 2005 legislation that moved the start of DST to a time when much of the country is covered with snow was signed by George W. Bush. All white men! It’s indisputable. We can see the bumper stickers now: 3/8 WAS AN INSIDE JOB . . .


Clinton Scandals Forever

We suffer from recurring nightmares when there is an unresolved issue in our past. America has made its peace with the Nineties and the Clinton years, but the Clintons have not made their peace with us: One of them still wants to be president, and so we are still reliving the old scandal drama, just as if we had one more dream about going out in public undressed, or being unable to flee a mugger.

Early in March the New York Times revealed that Hillary Clinton conducted all her e-mail correspondence during her years as secretary of state on a private account on a private server. Fifty-five thousand pages of e-mails were turned over to the State Department after she left office, but tens of thousands of others were withheld, and she says they were deleted. The security of all her communications was compromised by her decision to run her correspondence herself. In a press conference eight days after the story broke, Mrs. Clinton said that the missing e-mails were private — about such matters as yoga classes or her daughter’s wedding. But she and her staff sorted private from public at their own discretion.

Did some big secrets vanish into the ether (Benghazi scuttlebutt was the most commonly mentioned topic)? We don’t know. Based on past performance, we are entitled to say that Mrs. Clinton did what she did not out of concern for any particular secret, but from a decades-long habit of secretiveness. In all her years as first lady, of Arkansas and then of the United States, she was intimately involved in her husband’s career. Yet she felt her influence had to be backstairs. Her habit of hiding sunk her health-care plan in the early Nineties: She developed it in Manhattan Project secrecy, without even looping in liberal senators who were potential allies. The lessons of that debacle clearly did not stick.

Her explanations were unbelievable — another old pattern. She supposedly made money trading cattle futures, remember, just by reading the Wall Street Journal. Now she has said she built her own server because she did not want to carry two devices with her — one for public, one for private business. How big does she think modern devices are — like the walkie-talkie-size cell phones in Clueless? How clueless does she think we are?

Back in the day Bill Clinton gave defenses that were no more credible. Yet he survived his dozen self-made troubles with a rogue’s insouciance and glibness. Mrs. Clinton has neither of those graces. Her manner is at best stolid, in general bland, at worst grating.

Her husband also survived because he had a press corps that, after initially tormenting him, always rallied round when the alternative was Republican victory. Mrs. Clinton is not enjoying that perk either. Her only defenders are old Clinton horn-tooters — septuagenarian James Carville, the grotesque David Brock. They are fitting caricatures for a nightmare that is still ongoing.


Learning from Ferguson

Six months after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that there is no evidence that former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights when he opened fire in August. Additionally, the DOJ found no evidence that Brown ever had his hands up, as supporters have insisted, or ever cried, “Don’t shoot!”

Thus, the basis of the national protest movement that erupted in the wake of the shooting has been exploded, by Eric Holder’s Justice Department no less. When a St. Louis grand jury reached the same conclusion about the shooting last year, both it and the prosecutor who handled the case were showered with obloquy, and protesters burned down local businesses.

But no one is making any apologies, and President Obama is notably unwilling to forthrightly admit what his own Justice Department found. He suggested to one audience that Officer Wilson wasn’t being prosecuted because the burden of proof for conviction is so high — rather than because all the credible evidence is that Wilson acted in lawful self-defense after Brown tried to grab his gun, and then charged him. The Left is deeply invested in the lie about the Brown case, and the president clearly doesn’t have the moral courage to cross the Ferguson Truthers.

When in the latest round of protests two Ferguson police officers ended up with gunshot wounds, the response from President Obama on down was remarkably tepid. (The apparent shooter, Jeffrey Williams, a 20-year-old black demonstrator, claims that the shooting was accidental.) Appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, President Obama said that “whoever fired those shots should not detract from the issue,” as if the downside of shooting cops were that it might discredit anti-police protests.

The president and others have preferred to focus on a second DOJ report condemning the Ferguson Police Department for its aggressive traffic stops, arrests, and fines, which disproportionately affect black residents.

There are two things to say about these stops. 1) Even though President Obama and his allies treat them as retroactive justification for the Ferguson protests, the protests have been driven by the myth that Michael Brown was assassinated, not by traffic fines; no one has been chanting about disproportionate ticketing. 2) It is indisputable that local officials encouraged law enforcement to issue citations as a way to compensate for budget shortfalls. This kind of revenue-driven policing, aided by prosecutors, judges, and elected leaders, is predatory and wrong.

Is it also racist? The report relies uncritically on findings of “disparate impact” — that is, comparisons of the black share of the population with the proportion of police interactions that occur with black citizens. This approach is inherently flawed because it lacks a baseline of offenses broken down by race. On the basis of disparate impact alone, for instance, one would conclude that the enforcement of murder laws is racist because young black men are disproportionately arrested for murder.

What is clear is that, even absent racist intent, Ferguson’s revenue-hungry traffic enforcement put a particularly heavy burden on the black community, which is poorer than the white population. Unlike wealthier citizens, who could pay a simple citation or hire a lawyer to contest it, the poor are more likely to become trapped in the justice system, accruing fines and fees that plump city coffers and getting arrested for not paying those fines, leading to scenarios that are like something out of Les Misérables.

Some of the Justice Department findings are indeed suggestive of something worse, even if they aren’t conclusive. Black drivers were twice as likely to receive a ticket as white drivers who were pulled over for the same reason, and were more likely to be searched but less likely to possess contraband.

The response to all of this is rather obvious. Ferguson and other jurisdictions in the area that rely on the police to pay for their governments — it is a common practice, regardless of the racial composition of the elected officials — should find less obnoxious and more aboveboard ways to fund their operations. And the Left should give up its mythical version of the Brown case, and its smear of the police as racist assassins.

NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

In This Issue


Politics & Policy

Obama at Selma

President Barack Obama’s speech in Selma, Ala., on the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” voting-rights march drew glowing reviews, with some commentators hailing it as the greatest speech of ...
Politics & Policy

Hillary Rules

A recent New York Times report that Hillary Clinton skirted federal-records laws as secretary of state by exclusively using a private e-mail system to conduct official business set off a ...
Politics & Policy

Modern Pollster

A few days before Eric Cantor lost his Virginia congressional district’s GOP nomination last year, his campaign touted the finding of an internal poll. It showed Cantor, the majority leader ...


Politics & Policy

Is the Party Over?

Following a night of drunken revelry, Homer reports, Elpenor — one of Odysseus’s unhappy and rapidly dwindling band of brothers — climbs atop the roof of the house where they ...

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Not-So-Grand Bargain

Many Americans today would like to move beyond the abortion wars. Most of the time, this hopeful suggestion is made either by political liberals (who are frustrated by the pro-life ...
Politics & Policy

Elite Convergence

Conservatives thinking about class and economic inequality will be attracted to Joel Kotkin’s latest book. There’s much to like in it, especially its description of how the leading elements of ...
Politics & Policy

Funky Founder

The hottest ticket in New York right now is a musical at the Public Theater, the downtown off-Broadway venue. The star and creator is Lin-Manuel Miranda, a 35-year-old Nuyorican composer ...


Politics & Policy


Consider the Freight Train I am flabbergasted by Kevin A. Hassett’s piece “Off the Rails” (March 9), which includes the statement “Even the worst rail systems in Europe are superior to ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ All our missing voters seem to have turned up in Israel. ‐ The general election in Israel was a triumph for Benjamin Netanyahu. His opponents had overtaken him in the ...

From IT

Herewith a selection of e-mails from the low-level techs who administered, written to its primary user. August 9, 2009 Hey, Jeremy here. Okay I got up and running for ...
The Long View


To: From: Subj: DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL Thank you for contacting customer support. We have received your message and are reviewing it. We will contact you within 72 hours ...
Politics & Policy


CLASSICS Classics pile up on your desk — like unopened mail From the old man’s bank, not blank checks For endless free interpretation, But a mounting high inheritance tax, Assessing and possessing your imagination With truth, ...

Most Popular

The Need to Discuss Black-on-Black Crime

Thomas Abt’s book Bleeding Out (2019) has garnered a fair amount of attention for its proposals to deal with gun violence in mainly black urban neighborhoods. The entire focus of the book is on interventions in high-crime locations to stem the violence, including: hot-spots policing, working with young males at ... Read More

The Need to Discuss Black-on-Black Crime

Thomas Abt’s book Bleeding Out (2019) has garnered a fair amount of attention for its proposals to deal with gun violence in mainly black urban neighborhoods. The entire focus of the book is on interventions in high-crime locations to stem the violence, including: hot-spots policing, working with young males at ... Read More

Mark Zuckerberg’s On the Right Track

In comments earlier this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg argued that social-media companies should strive to avoid regulating the views of users. “I don’t think Facebook or internet platforms in general should be arbiters of truth,” Zuckerberg said in an interview with CNBC. “I think that’s kind ... Read More

Mark Zuckerberg’s On the Right Track

In comments earlier this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg argued that social-media companies should strive to avoid regulating the views of users. “I don’t think Facebook or internet platforms in general should be arbiters of truth,” Zuckerberg said in an interview with CNBC. “I think that’s kind ... Read More

The Return of the Tea Party

It’s 2009 again, or feels like it. That was when spontaneous, grassroots protests against overweening government sprang up and were widely derided in the media as dangerous and wrong-headed. The protesters then were inveighing against Obamacare; the protesters now are striking out against the coronavirus ... Read More

The Return of the Tea Party

It’s 2009 again, or feels like it. That was when spontaneous, grassroots protests against overweening government sprang up and were widely derided in the media as dangerous and wrong-headed. The protesters then were inveighing against Obamacare; the protesters now are striking out against the coronavirus ... Read More