‐ Trump is wrong: Cruz is a natural-born citizen. But at least Trump is consistent about wanting to stop foreigners from taking jobs from low-skilled Americans.
‐ “If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women’s card on me, she’s wrong!” So tweeted Donald Trump. Another half-cocked Trumpism? After all, Bill Clinton’s popularity survived his Nineties sex scandals, and Hillary rode her reputation as wronged-but-loyal liberal wife to a political career of one’s own. Yet there is an entire generation for whom the Nineties are ancient history, and the Clinton scandals a name merely. They do not know what a nonstop horndog Bill was (long before Monica Lewinsky, the Clinton camp worried about “bimbo eruptions”). Changed attitudes toward male predation may also vex the Clintons. Will a culture that is encouraged to believe the victim give a second pass to Bill’s predations — and to Hillary’s collusion in his counterattacks against his accusers? Bill: The Remake may have some plot twists.
‐ In December’s Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton claimed that ISIS was using Trump in recruiting videos. This was not in fact true. But in the new year, the Somali jihadist gang al-Shabaab put Trump in one of its propaganda pieces. Thank you, Madam Former Secretary, for giving terrorists ideas. But to step back from the campaign back-and-forth: Who cares what Muslim mass murderers profess to be angry at? They hate miniskirts, the Enlightenment, and the Resurrection of Christ, among ten thousand other things. Only submission to the imam du jour would allay their anger (though not the chances of being slaughtered by the acolytes of some hair’s-breadth-different imam). The rabbit hole of jihadists’ grievance is bottomless. The best way to address their complaints is to put the complainers out of their misery.
‐ Trump finished 2015 with a Christmas present for Vladimir Putin. The aspiring American officeholder praised the Russian officeholder for his effectiveness while first denying and then minimizing his thuggery. “If he has killed reporters, I think that’s terrible,” Trump told one interviewer. But “he’s always denied that.” He told another interviewer, “I think our country does plenty of killing, also.” So either Putin is innocent, or we are equally guilty. Putin is no Stalin, but that is about the best that can be said of him. He stifles critics and steals billions. Sergei Magnitsky, a financial whistleblower, was tortured to death over the course of a year. Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician, was shot in the back on a public bridge near the Kremlin. Putin did not administer the beatings or pull the trigger himself, but that’s not the way crime syndicates or despotisms work. Trump’s attitude toward the Russian is either faux-naïf, uninformed, or stupid. All are unsuitable in a commander-in-chief.
‐ President Obama told a group of journalists that he had underestimated the public’s anxiety about the San Bernardino attack because he does not watch cable news. The implication is that the public is overreacting because CNN is, and that if the president is at fault, it is for not being sufficiently reassuring. Obama has never conceived of himself as a war president and is impatient with those who expect him to be one, even rhetorically. That the president thinks this way — about the public, and about his job — is what is not reassuring.
‐ A few days after Christmas, Hillary Clinton was asked at a town hall in New Hampshire whether she would use the word “genocide” to describe the Islamic State’s campaign of destruction, killing, and enslavement directed against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. She said she would, “because we now have enough evidence.” She should share this evidence with the State Department she used to lead, which has so far been loath to use the term. Officially recognizing Christians as the victims of an ongoing genocide would be uncomfortable for President Obama — he prefers to downplay the religious aspect of ISIS’s ideology and would rather not intervene. In a Christmas message, he offered prayers for “God’s protection for persecuted Christians and those of other faiths.” His prayers are welcome; perhaps he might unite them with action in the new year.
‐ About the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill recently passed by Congress and signed into law, we have only one question: What were Republican leaders thinking? Republican voters are clearly anxious about large-scale immigration and frustrated that the federal government repeatedly demonstrates no interest in doing anything about it. Yet Republicans, in this bill, did not merely acquiesce to foolish immigration policies but actively advanced them, proposing and pushing through a temporary expansion of the H-2B visa program, needlessly quadrupling the issuance of visas to foreign workers for non-agricultural or temporary service jobs in 2016. Meanwhile, they fully funded the government’s refugee-resettlement program despite reasonable national-security concerns, permitted federal grants to “sanctuary cities” without adding any qualifying conditions, and dismissed bipartisan efforts to reform the cronyism-riddled EB-5 visa program, under which foreigners can obtain a green card if they invest a certain amount in a business that creates or preserves ten jobs for U.S. citizens. Republican leaders should be attempting to halt illegal immigration, reduce legal immigration (especially from countries that pose a particular threat to American security), and figure out ways to assimilate immigrants who are already here and to reform the failed procedures by which we evaluate those who want to come. But this omnibus bill is a clear indication that House speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell have other priorities.
‐ As of this writing, a self-proclaimed “militia” is occupying a vacant federal building in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles southeast of Burns, Ore. At the head of the dozen-strong band are ranchers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, the sons of Cliven, the Nevada rancher whose highly selective reading of the United States Constitution spurred a standoff with the Bureau of Land Management in the spring of 2014. Play-acting at revolution seems to be a Bundy-family pastime, and it will be an especially condemnable one if this situation devolves into bloodshed. But that seems unlikely; the Bundys have already promised to stand down if the community asks. Alas, their antics have overshadowed the cause of their protest: the federal government’s decision to throw back into prison two local ranchers, Steven and Dwight Hammond, who (accidentally, the Hammonds maintain) burned 140 acres of federal land and caused a few hundred dollars in damage, were prosecuted under the federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and had already served reduced sentences. But the Hammonds have acquiesced to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and early in January returned to the low-security federal prison in San Pedro, Calif. The Hammonds’ plight is not unfamiliar to ranchers, who for decades have been squeezed off their property by a federal government more interested in grouse and tortoises than in cattlemen. The Hammonds seem to us to have a strong case. Vigorous protest is in order, but lawlessness is not.
‐ Two years ago, President Obama was embarrassed when it was revealed that the National Security Agency had been spying heavily on German chancellor Angela Merkel and other American allies. He pledged to curtail such spying. Merkel, François Hollande of France, and other leaders would not be targeted. Left off the exempt list was the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Now it has been revealed that the NSA has been spying on Netanyahu intimately and aggressively. Obama and other officials have been treated to the Israeli’s communications with members of the U.S. Congress. What use have Obama & Co. made of that information? Here we enter a perilous legal realm. If the NSA were intercepting and disseminating a leftist leader’s communications with members of Congress, Democrats would be screaming. They would be holding outraged hearings. Republicans should try to get to the bottom of the present case. Allies spy on allies, and rightly so. But what we know, and what Obama & Co. perhaps don’t know, is that Israel, and Israel under Netanyahu, is an ally.
‐ America’s 400 richest people saw their tax rates go down substantially from 1992 through 2012, the New York Times reported in a front-page story, arguing that these citizens had managed to build a “private tax system” of arcane loopholes. The day after the story, the IRS put out a new report noting that tax rates for the top 400 sharply increased in 2013. What’s driving these trends is the taxation of capital gains and dividends, which have become a higher percentage of these taxpayers’ income over the years. Taxes on capital fell during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, then rose at the start of 2013. Because they rose, rich investors arranged to have higher capital incomes in 2012 and lower ones in 2013. Low tax rates on capital gains and dividends make sense because much of that investment income, unlike labor income, has already been taxed at the corporate level — a point that both the Times and the IRS obscure in their methodologies. Perhaps that’s why most advanced countries have lower capital-gains rates than we do. But that’s a trend piece that will never make the Times’s front page.
‐ The first trial of a Baltimore cop for charges arising from the death of Freddie Gray resulted in a hung jury and a mistrial. The prosecution of Officer William G. Porter should never have been brought: The evidence did not even create probable cause to make an arrest. Unfortunately, riots had made much of the city government intent on getting a guilty verdict. In that setting, it was an act of great courage for jurors to vote “not guilty.” The prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, argued that Gray died of preventable injuries: that police had intentionally failed to strap a seatbelt on him, knowing that he would therefore be injured, and then callously failed to get him medical attention when it was clear he needed it. But Gray was under the influence of narcotics and uncooperative, and Porter and other officers repeatedly checked on him, inquired about his condition, and at one point reasonably believed Gray was faking an injury. As soon as Porter realized that Gray was actually injured, he immediately called for medical help and, in the meantime, attempted to provide aid. The verdict suggests that criminal-justice decisions are best made without input from rioters.
‐ The facts of the Tamir Rice case are tragic. A police officer shot the twelve-year-old in a public park within approximately one second of exiting his squad car. Rice was armed only with a toy gun. A Cleveland grand jury may, however, have been right not to indict the officers on the scene. A dispatcher failed to tell those officers the key fact that a 911 caller had indicated that Rice’s gun was likely fake. Without that knowledge, the officers treated Rice as an “active shooter” and fired when he reached toward his waistband rather than putting his hands in the air. Had they waited seconds longer, Rice would still be alive. The officers made a terrible mistake, but not necessarily one with a courtroom remedy.
‐ Overall, American police appear to be responsible in their use of force. That’s what the evidence of a year-long Washington Post study of police shootings suggests. Three-quarters of shootings are in clear self-defense or the defense of others. Less than 10 percent are of unarmed suspects, and less than 4 percent are of unarmed black suspects. Keeping in mind the African-American share of the violent-crime rate, police do not shoot African-American suspects at disproportionate rates. Law enforcement can do better — especially when dealing with fleeing suspects or the mentally ill — but the Post study confirms what conservatives have long understood: The police are still overwhelmingly a force for good in American society.
‐ President Obama joined Jerry Seinfeld for an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Cof — oh, why even finish? After seven years we know the script: Hip president does pop-culture thing hiply. The storyline was fresh in January 2009 but quickly palled. And now? The punch line of the bit with Seinfeld came at the top, before their ride even began, when the comic drove up to the White House and threw himself onto an Oval Office sofa, and the president at his desk said, “Got some stuff to do.” Not really: All that remains for Obama is symbolism (the gun-sales executive order), foreign travel (Havana?), and kibitzing the election (is it more important to crush the Republican or to undermine Hillary? That, at least, will be interesting to watch). Obama has time to get coffee with comedians because his aging presidency, like Seinfeld’s old show, is about nothing.
‐ ConocoPhillips and NuStar made a bit of history when they loaded up a tanker with the first oil legally exported from the United States in 40 years, sending a shipload of crude from the Eagle Ford shale formation in Texas out of the Port of Corpus Christi, bound for a refinery in Switzerland. It marks the end of a long and stupid era: The ban on oil exports was a response to the Arab oil embargo of 1973 and is typical of anti-trade thinking: “We’ll show those rascally foreigners a thing or two by . . . not selling our valuable products on world markets.” For years, petroleum products have been the largest driver of U.S. trade deficits. Fracking changed the equation, with U.S. producers pulling so much oil out of the ground that the export ban was finally revealed as absurd. We aren’t quite out of the woods of stupidity — oil exports still require federal approval — but permitting U.S. producers to export an extraordinarily valuable U.S. commodity to global markets is a step in the right direction, especially at a time of conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two petro-giants whose combined oil production just barely exceeds that of the No. 1 producer — which is, happily, the United States. Commodities are by their nature largely interchangeable, but there’s something to be said for a world running on American oil rather than Islamofascist oil. If you agree, hug a fracker.
‐ Puerto Rican agencies defaulted on bond payments due at the start of the year. Bad luck for the creditors — which could become bad luck for U.S. taxpayers if the island’s economic woes lead to a bailout. One reason local economic mismanagement has generally not led to federal bailouts is that municipal debt is usually covered by bankruptcy law. For reasons lost to history, though, Congress decided not to let bankruptcy courts restructure municipal debt in Puerto Rico. That decision contributed to overlending to subdivisions of the island’s government and now makes it hard to clean up the resulting mess. There is no ideal solution short of a time machine, but under the circumstances, Congress should change the bankruptcy law. If someone has to lose, it should be imprudent lenders rather than innocent taxpayers.
‐ Kentucky’s new governor, Republican Matt Bevin, did what his Democratic predecessor should have done: issue an executive order changing forms so that county clerks do not have to put their names on wedding licenses for same-sex couples. As a result of this accommodation, such couples can receive licenses without requiring clerks who object to same-sex marriage to violate their consciences. If this order had been in place a few months ago, Kim Davis would never have made the national news. Sometimes respecting the rights of conscience raises sticky issues; but many of the religious-liberty controversies of our day are entirely needless.
‐ Bubba is a consistent disappointment. When there was a massacre in San Bernardino, actor and Hillary Clinton supporter Samuel L. Jackson said he “really wanted” the killer to be a “crazy white dude,” but it turned out to be a jihadi Bonnie and Clyde of Pakistani extraction. No Bubba to be seen. When a mosque in Houston was burned on Christmas, the Left thought it finally had the white whale in its sights: Among other premature jactitations, Salon declared that the act was related to “escalating anti-Muslim violence” and named the suspect who had been arrested for the arson, Gary Moore of Houston. “Gary Moore of Houston” may sound to the editors of Salon like a good Bubba, but it turns out that Moore isn’t a crazy white dude at all, but a bearded man of color with a bit of a zabiba on his forehead from worshiping five times a day at the mosque in question. When it turned out that the suspect was a black Muslim instead of a white Christian, Salon scrubbed the story, and the Houston-mosque arson largely disappeared from the news. It shouldn’t have: In the context of the spate of phony hate crimes (largely on college campuses) trumped up by progressive activists as a pretext for smearing their political rivals, this actual crime is of considerable interest. Facts matter, and the fact is that there is no anti-Muslim pogrom under way in the United States, however much the Left wishes there were.
‐ Eugene Volokh, a legal scholar who blogs at the Washington Post, noticed a curious omission from a Department of Justice press release in December. The release announced that a Springfield, Mo., man and two accomplices had pled guilty to the 2011 crime of issuing threats to an Islamic center and defacing it with graffiti such as “Bash Back,” “Now is our time!” and “You bash us in Pakistan we bash here.” Not mentioned in the release or subsequent media reports was that the graffiti also included such messages as “Queer insurrection,” “Allah was gay,” “F*** straights,” and “It’s okay to be gay!” The Obama administration is deeply concerned about fighting anti-Muslim backlash, but even more deeply concerned about keeping its coalition together.
‐ New York City residents can now be fined $250,000 for using the wrong pronouns when referring to transgender individuals. The assumption is that pronouns are wrong when they are appropriate to someone’s birth gender but contrary to his or her redefinition of him- or herself. Defenders of the new guideline issued last month by the city’s commission on human rights stress that the fines kick in only when the grammatical offense, as it’s perceived, is “willful, wanton, or malicious.” Who decides whether it’s one of those three adjectives? Don’t ask. Whoever it is, it’s not you — but wait. Is using “it” in reference to a person legal in New York?
‐ Rahm Emanuel’s prospects, not sunny, darkened as an Illinois state representative proposed a bill to allow Chicago voters to recall their mayor. Since the obvious target is the incumbent, this looks like an ex post facto law, to say nothing of a bill of attainder. Who will weep for Rahm? Not we. He is probably the best that Chicagoans can hope for — a politician with national experience and an agenda marginally broader than ethnic-group plunder. Yet he is a Democratic hack — assistant to Bill Clinton, chief of staff for Barack Obama — with the manners of a bully. That was enough to win him office in the Windy City, but not immunity. Last year he only narrowly won reelection over a radical Hispanic activist, Jesús Garcia. When a year-old dash-cam video of Laquan McDonald being fatally shot by police surfaced conveniently after Emanuel’s victory, his approval ratings collapsed. Attn: Detroit — Chicago is moving next door.
‐ The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr brought out into the open the rivalry that has been steadily accelerating between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran. Regional supremacy is at stake. Both countries are in the hands of a self-selected elite determined to hold power whatever the cost, whatever the injustice. This has involved mutual subversion and terrorism, arming and financing fellow sectarians in the proxy wars under way in Syria and Yemen, as well as positioning the powder kegs awaiting explosion in Lebanon and Bahrain. Shiites in Saudi Arabia are a minority that feels discriminated against by the ruling Sunnis, and Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, himself a Shiite and a firebrand preacher, took up their cause, clearly willing to pay for it with his life. The Iranian regime was bound to treat the judicial execution of so prominent a Shiite cleric as a declaration of war. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, promises “divine vengeance.” An official spokesman condemns the execution as “a medieval act of savagery,” although the Iranian regime is thought to have carried out over 700 executions in the last year alone. One mob set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran and another mob ransacked the Saudi consulate in Mashhad. The two countries have broken off diplomatic relations. Both the Saudis and the Iranians think we are tilting toward the latter, and it is having a radicalizing effect on both.
‐ Iraqi security forces retook Ramadi in a significant victory over ISIS. U.S. general Sean MacFarland, who helped stoke the Sunni Awakening in 2006, worked to catalyze the best Iraqi forces and coordinate with American air power to recapture the capital of Anbar province. This is all welcome, although now Iraqi forces have to hold the city, and the bigger prize, Mosul, is probably beyond their reach. We should be doing more on the ground to assist the Iraqis. The twofold problem is that President Obama is reluctant to offer this additional assistance, and a politically weakened Iraqi prime minister Haider Al-Abadi, under pressure from Shia hard-liners, is now reluctant to accept it. We can hope for the best, but the campaign against ISIS will be a ramshackle, touch-and-go affair absent U.S. leadership and a comprehensive, adequately resourced plan for victory.
‐ The British government released its long-awaited report on the Muslim Brotherhood. Stopping short of calling for a ban on the organization, the review nevertheless finds that the Brotherhood is a deliberately clandestine global movement; it is hostile to the West, and its countenancing of violence belies its claim to have renounced it. Brotherhood members, the report notes, have moved seamlessly from indoctrination in the group’s ideology to engagement in jihadist extremism. Moreover, Brotherhood members in the United Kingdom have been openly supportive of suicide bombings and other attacks in Israel by Hamas, the terrorist group that self-identifies as the Brotherhood’s Palestinian chapter. Prime Minister David Cameron further explained that “aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology and activities therefore run counter to British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, equality, and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” Therefore, the government concludes that membership in, association with, or influence by the Brotherhood “should be considered as a possible indicator of extremism”; this warrants keeping the Brotherhood and its members “under review,” meaning heightened surveillance as well as stepped-up immigration restrictions and monitoring of Brotherhood-connected charities. At a minimum, the United States should follow the British lead.
‐ Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already made the remarkable transition from prime minister to president of Turkey. When the voting failed to launch him on the road to becoming president for life, he ordered another round of it, and still his Justice and Development party does not have a majority large enough to give him plenary powers. Pondering how to overcome this snag, he revealed some inner thoughts at a press conference, saying that a presidential system can work perfectly: “There are already examples in the world and in history. You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany.” Of course he then claimed that his meaning had been distorted, but quite a number of Turks are calling him Führer, and, according to one Twitter commenter, “the difference is that Hitler was a bit shorter.”
‐ Bullets struck a bus motoring down the road in Mandera County in northeast Kenya in December. The bus halted and about ten gunmen, thought to be with al-Shabaab, clambered aboard. They ordered the passengers, numbering more than 100, to separate themselves into Muslims and non-Muslims. The Muslims said no. During the confusion, some Muslim women gave some Christian women their hijabs, and others helped fellow passengers hide behind bags. “If you want to kill us, then kill us,” they told the terrorists, according to a passenger. “There are no Christians here,” they added — if ever there was an occasion for taqiyya, or permissible deception, this was it. A police official said that the attackers left when a passenger, improvising another lie, told them that a police escort was close behind. Two died and three were injured in the incident, but most escaped unharmed, thanks to the Mandera Heroes, as they have been dubbed on social media. “Righteous gentiles” we would call them, mutatis mutandis.
‐ Police and security officials on three continents foiled New Year’s Eve terror plots in cities as far-flung as Ankara, Munich, Brussels, and Rochester, N.Y. In Munich, authorities evacuated two train stations after receiving “a very concrete tip” from U.S. and French intelligence sources. In Rochester, according to FBI informants, a man who aspired to join ISIS had bought supplies, including a machete, at a Walmart earlier that week but was arrested before he could carry out his plan to attack a restaurant on the big night. Details varied from city to city, but the underlying theme was constant: the alacrity and seriousness of public officials responsible for public safety. Theirs was the job not of devising and executing a broad, global strategy against global jihad but of taking quick, precise measures to protect civilians against specific, defined threats. By its nature, their work tends to go unnoticed unless a plot to blow things up or shoot people down escapes them. They are largely nameless, but they know who they are. They acted bravely and brilliantly. They have our gratitude.
‐ Mastering the technology of a fusion weapon is not easy, and skepticism justifiably abounds that the impoverished, isolated regime in Pyongyang has actually made the leap from fission to potential megaton yields. But if North Korea’s claim of having tested a hydrogen bomb holds up, then East Asia’s nuclear risk has gone up an order of magnitude. An H-bomb would obviously make North Korea an existential threat to South Korea and Japan, and a North Korea that has mastered the technology of intercontinental ballistic missiles is also a grave threat to the United States. These nations and their allies should begin planning accordingly. It is long past time to increase early-warning systems in the region, and for Washington to increase funding for ballistic-missile defenses at home and abroad. Additionally, the U.S. should declare that any North Korean ICBM that is loaded with a nuclear warhead and fueled for launch will be destroyed immediately, and back up that promise with an unambiguous display of military muscle. The Obama administration all but ignored Pyongyang during its time in office. The next president will not be able to do so.
‐ Italy’s high court rejected a “wrongful birth” lawsuit, in which a couple sued doctors for not telling them that their child had Down syndrome while they still had time to procure an abortion. The court ruled, sensibly enough, that no child has a right not to be born and, so far as we can tell from English-language accounts, that parents cannot exercise that right on behalf of children who would supposedly be better off had they been killed. Bizarre as the lawsuit may sound, it would be quite at home in the courts of many U.S. states. If some parents think it reasonable to have buyer’s remorse about their children, it is only because the law has already blurred the line between human lives and mere things.
‐ In Britain, the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, decided not to issue a traditional Christmas message. He had wished Muslims well at Eid, but Christmas is apparently not in the repertoire of New Labour. The Conservative leader, Prime Minister David Cameron, did indeed issue a Christmas message. Referring to his country’s armed forces, he said: “It is because they face danger that we have peace. And that is what we mark today as we celebrate the birth of God’s only son, Jesus Christ — the Prince of Peace. As a Christian country, we must remember what his birth represents: peace, mercy, goodwill, and, above all, hope. I believe that we should also reflect on the fact that it is because of these important religious roots and Christian values that Britain has been such a successful home to people of all faiths and none.” For decades, but especially since 9/11, this magazine has been calling for more civilizational confidence. In this little message, Cameron showed some.
‐ British astronauts are about as common as American cricket players. Timothy Peake, who reached the International Space Station in mid December, is only the second person sent into space from the U.K., not counting spaceflight tourists and Brits who flew for NASA. His mission, like that of all ISS astronauts, consists mainly of keeping the ISS going by performing maintenance and repairs, along with a few scientific experiments. At any rate, on Christmas Eve, Peake was excited to call the folks back home . . . until his “Hello, is this Planet Earth?” was received with befuddlement by a woman he didn’t know, at which point Peake realized that he had dialed the wrong number. It’s refreshing to learn that even as British high technology takes a large step forward, the spirit of Benny Hill lives on.
‐ The French have been largely disarmed by their government, but that doesn’t mean they are entirely defenseless: A French farmer made the news in January when he caught a couple of thieves trying to boost his irrigation equipment. Having been repeatedly victimized by such thievery, the farmer defended his property with what was at hand, in this case a backhoe, which he used to reduce the thieves’ car to rubbish. France being France, he was fined €2,400 for using “disproportionate” force. If backhoes are outlawed . . .
‐ Until a jury of his peers decides otherwise, Bill Cosby is legally presumed not guilty of the charges of sexual assault, some going back decades, that now flock around him like the Furies. He certainly appears to be guilty, in which case Cosby will be remembered as a gross and compulsive abuser who forced himself on women, many of them young admirers smitten with his stature and drugged into unconsciousness. America is losing both a popular comedian — an easy-listening bridge between hipness and mass appeal — and an offstage advocate for pull-up-your-socks self-help. Cosby was a kind of black Benjamin Franklin, both as a jokester and as an advice-giver. The self-destruction of that persona is everyone’s loss.
‐ The new Star Wars is out — No. 7 — and it has excited comment of all types. Philosophical, cinematic, and breezy. Positive, negative, and neutral. One thing the movie does is affirm the centrality of our core stories — the ones that recur over the millennia, in our civilization. Star Wars has the Bible, of course. And Thermopylae. And King Arthur. And Wagner (or his Norse mythology). And more, surely. The Star Wars movies are an expression of our civilizational patrimony. This is a patrimony that we would be foolish, if not suicidal, to shun or even dilute. Are the Star Wars movies fun to watch? Sure, some of them, which is a bonus.
‐ “Feminism was my religion,” says Alexandra Kimball. But when Kimball, a freelance writer, miscarried in her mid 30s, she was startled to discover that “feminism had nothing to say to me”: “The more I considered it, the more I became convinced that the silence around miscarriage was connected to feminism’s work around abortion. How could I grieve a thing that didn’t exist? If a fetus is not meaningfully alive, if it is just a collection of cells — the cornerstone claim of the pro-choice movement — what does it mean to miscarry one?” Kimball’s miscarriage and the months of a grief she could not explain form the subject of her powerful essay “Unpregnant: The Silent, Secret Grief of Miscarriage,” published in December in Canada’s Globe & Mail. The essay is no anti-feminist screed, but reminds us that any ideology that insists on denying the truth will ultimately prove false to human experience.
while the “Examining White Identity in a Multicultural World” retreat is for self-identified low-melanin-level kids who want to focus on “white privilege” and “oppression in ourselves” in “both personal and institutional contexts.” There’s also a “Multiracial Aikido” and an “Examining White Identity for Faculty and Staff” retreat just so all the bases are covered in the war against racism in that hotbed of hate: Corvallis, Ore.
‐ Koko, a gorilla who over four-plus decades has learned to speak (in sign language) at roughly the level of a two-year-old human, has taped a video message to humanity: “I am gorilla, I am flowers, animals. I am Nature. Koko love man. Earth Koko love. But man stupid . . . stupid! Koko sorry, Koko cry. Time hurry. Fix Earth! Help Earth! Hurry! Protect Earth. Nature watches you. Thank you.” Admittedly, this is more coherent than the average climate rant at Salon, and while Koko doesn’t say whether she thinks the lack of verifiable enforcement mechanisms will impair the effectiveness of INDCs in the Paris agreement, presumably she will address that point in her next video. But did Koko write the message herself? A spokesman explains: “We presented her with a script . . . and allowed her to improvise during a series of brief daily video discussion sessions.” (When does a 300-pound gorilla ad lib? Anytime it wants to!) Moreover, “the result was edited from a number of separate takes, for brevity and continuity.” The sad thing is, they coach schoolkids the same way.
‐ Jordyn Bihon, a senior at Derry Area High School in Derry, Pa., likes archery. For the high-school yearbook, she submitted a photo of herself holding a bow. No arrow, just a bow. A teacher called her mother, Lisa Bihon, to say they couldn’t run the image because the bow was a weapon. Lisa shot back: “That’s not a weapon. That’s her sport. That’s what she does. It’s her passion.” The teacher insisted, and the principal and school-district superintendent backed her up. Never mind the 2011 Derry yearbook, which includes a photo of . . . a girl holding a bow. And never mind that archery is taught in the school’s gym class. Does Derry have fencers interested in demonstrating their sport in the high-school yearbook? Javelin throwers, perhaps? We hope it does. And we hope they try.
‐ When Meadowlark Lemon was a teenager in North Carolina just after World War II, basketball was a minor sport whose rules were still being worked out. The plodding 1940s game was far from today’s nonstop highlight reel; with no shot clock, patience and positional play were stressed, and most players shot the ball with both feet on the ground, as jumpers were a recent and distrusted innovation. Lemon had other ideas; he set his sights on the Harlem Globetrotters, an all-black professional barnstorming team that emphasized a flashy style of play and, after the establishment of the NBA, was starting to include ever-larger amounts of clowning and acrobatics. Lemon signed with the Globetrotters in 1954, after a brief stay in college and a tour in the Army, and for 24 years was the team’s ringmaster, with an unparalleled array of trick shots, snappy ball-handling, no-look passes, and sight gags. After leaving the Globetrotters in a late-1970s salary dispute, he formed his own comedy basketball troupe, and for the rest of his life he tirelessly promoted Christian virtues (eventually becoming an ordained minister) to audiences worldwide and encouraged young fans to work hard and avoid drugs and alcohol. Dead at 83. R.I.P.
Obama’s New Overreach
President Obama thrives on having an enemy. With his most recent executive decrees on gun control, he has calculated that having the National Rifle Association as a foil in the final year of his presidency is healthier for the body politic than pursuing measures that might actually curtail gun violence.
The president’s actions aim primarily to rejigger licensing rules in such a way as to cause some casual sellers of firearms to fall within the federal definition of “firearms dealer” and thus oblige them to obtain federal dealers’ licenses and to perform background checks before selling a gun. This is, of course, intended to target the Left’s bête noire, the “gun-show loophole,” which doesn’t actually exist. The term generally refers to the fact that people who are not professionally engaged in the business of selling firearms, at gun shows or anywhere else, are not obliged to become licensed firearms dealers (FFLs) if, say, they sell a brother-in-law an old deer rifle for $50 — much as you need not become a licensed automobile dealer if you hang a “For Sale” sign in the window of your 1983 Honda Prelude.
It’s likely that the president’s action, for all the laudatory press it will earn, will not have much impact on criminals’ acquisitions of guns. Unlicensed sales at gun shows are not a large source of firearms used in crimes; many gun shows keep FFL-holders on site to perform background checks; and online gun shops, which are licensed dealers, ship exclusively to other FFLs in order to secure legal transfer. Many casual sellers do the same thing, because they have strong incentives to secure legal transfer of the firearms they sell. The proposal is largely behind the times.
We need hardly note, too, that the president’s insistence that he is acting within preexisting statutory authority already appears dubious.
Legally and politically, the president has better options. While gun shows are not major sources of firearms used in crimes, straw buyers are. We already have strong laws against straw purchases, but they are barely enforced. President Obama has absolute power over the hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys, and he could, if he were so inclined, simply order them to start prosecuting straw-buyer cases in high-crime locales such as Chicago and Detroit — or dismiss recalcitrant prosecutors and replace them with those more committed to doing their jobs.
If the president’s central concern is mass shootings (which, contrary to popular rhetoric, constitute only a tiny fraction of the gun violence in the United States), it’s important to focus on getting treatment for people with severe mental illness, who carry out a significant proportion of these horrific attacks. While the president’s executive order sets aside more federal funding for mental health, it won’t make a difference unless it is focused on people with such afflictions (e.g., serious schizophrenics, not office managers with low-level depression). The bipartisan bill sponsored by Representative Tim Murphy (R., Pa.), currently stalled in Congress, would push the mental-health system toward addressing the severely mentally ill much more effectively.
But all of this is far too much detail for President Obama. He would rather fearmonger about gun shows and an omnipotent-seeming “gun lobby.” In other words, seven years in, this president still prefers righteous indignation to right-headed policy.