‐ Trump U. charged outrageous sums for worthless instruction, left graduates woefully unprepared for the job market, and bombarded students with meaningless jargon and self-affirming slogans. Sounds like a legit university to us.
‐ Donald Trump went after Gonzalo Curiel, the U.S. district judge who is presiding over the civil suit against Trump “University.” “We’re in front of a very hostile judge,” Trump told a rally. Why hostile? Judge Curiel unsealed depositions before the post-election trial date; he is an Obama appointee; and — well, let Trump explain: “The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great. I think that’s fine.” This happens to be, we believe, inaccurate (Curiel was born and raised in Indiana) and cowardly (I think that’s fine — what a weasel says after spouting an insult). Pure Trump. Under pressure, he said he would drop the subject for the rest of the campaign. On the matter of judicial ethnicity, unfortunately, Trump put a dark spin on a long tradition. It was common knowledge that the Supreme Court once had a Jewish seat (there are now three Jews on the Court) and a black seat. Justice Sonia Sotomayor has referred to herself as a “wise Latina.” If diversity of opinion is to be inferred from race and ethnicity alone, then isn’t it inevitable that some litigants may fear prejudice from race and ethnicity alone? If you insist on seeing our country and its institutions as mosaics, you may call them gorgeous, but don’t be surprised when others call them by other names.
‐ Recently unsealed documents in the same case cast a harsh light on the low character of the man and the tawdriness of his dealings. A former Trump U. manager confesses that he believed the enterprise to be a “fraudulent scheme” that “preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.” Trump University was later forced to change its name, because it wasn’t in fact a university, had no accreditation, and conferred no degrees. What it did was allow Trump (who owned a 93 percent stake) to trade on his famous name to profit from the naïve and insecure. His opponents sometimes compare him to Adolf Hitler or Nero, but, as the Trump U. document cache makes clear, he is only the second coming of P. T. Barnum.
‐ Now that he is the presumptive Republican nominee, Trump is experiencing a more hostile press, and not liking it. In a testy press conference, he complained that journalists were trying to make him look bad for giving money to veterans’ groups. In this case, though, the press scrutiny was well deserved. Trump had skipped a primary debate on the pretext that he would rather raise money for those groups. Months later, the money had not been disbursed — until reporters started asking questions, at which point checks were written. The press is sometimes unfair to Trump. But in crying “media bias” against basic journalism, Trump is taking corrupt advantage of conservative sentiment.
‐ Hillary Clinton gave a major address in San Diego, flaying Donald Trump and laying out her foreign policy. The first, easy part was well done. She hit Trump for his incoherence and his temperament; his willingness to abandon NATO and default on our debts; his fondness for dictators and his readiness to imitate them by ordering the military to commit war crimes. She offered herself, by contrast, as upholding post–World War II American foreign policy: strong alliances, free trade, negotiating to cool the world’s hot spots. When you looked at the details, the cracks appeared. She claimed that she had, as secretary of state, brokered a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and laid the groundwork for Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. But Israel’s security from Hamas depends on its own strength, and the Iran deal is a short-term patchwork that kicks enforcement to the next administration. She pledged to induce China to rein in North Korea: something we have been trying to do for years, as North Korea builds its nuclear arsenal. She took a shot at Trump’s Mexican wall. Sure, the idea is bluster; but Hillary Clinton does not think there is a problem to be addressed. She had the chutzpah to invoke Memorial Day — “We honor the sacrifice of those who died for our country in many ways”; one of her ways was to lie to bereaved families about the Benghazi attack. She ended by boasting that she had visited 112 countries while she was secretary of state. So apply for a job in the White House travel office. Trump is ignorant and erratic; Clinton is unimaginative and shifty. A fine choice.
‐ Chicago, Costa Mesa, and now San Jose: Three makes a pattern. The Trump campaign schedules or holds a rally. Water balloons, eggs, bottles, and punches are thrown. Flags and campaign paraphernalia are burned, police cars attacked, faces bloodied. Much of the media and local officialdom treat the mayhem as if it were a tornado or a blizzard, an act of God; or they blame Trump (“at some point Donald Trump needs to take responsibility for the irresponsible behavior of his campaign,” said San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo). This is dishonest. Trump rallies are being targeted by rioters — not “protesters” or “demonstrators” — who seek to intimidate potential voters by violence. This is an assault on freedom of speech and the right peaceably to assemble. Trump has a hundred sins on his head, but he, his followers, and the democratic process are being grossly sinned against. Left-wing radicals bear the blame; law enforcement bears the responsibility for dispersing them as the campaign heads to Cleveland, and to November.
‐ Our colleague David French briefly considered an independent run for the presidency. He wanted to run only if he could mount more than a protest candidacy and concluded that, with limited resources and name ID, it would be too much of an uphill battle. If nothing else, the attention created by his abortive bid introduced more people to the David French we know — a man of the highest personal integrity, an acute constitutional lawyer, a patriot who obtained an age waiver to leave his family and serve in the Iraq War in his mid 30s. We are glad to have David, a prolific and talented writer, in our fold, but if he decides to enter electoral politics at some later date, sign us up.
‐ Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, won the Libertarian party’s presidential nomination in a year in which it might be worth something. He is better qualified for the job than Trump, has more sensible views than Clinton, and is more honorable than either. Conservatives who oppose Trump would have to overlook more than what always goes with Libertarians to support him: He comes from the pro-abortion wing of his party, favors Obama’s executive action on illegal immigrants, and — even more disappointingly, given that libertarianism is supposed to be about minimizing coercion — is an unreliable defender of freedom of conscience. (Under questioning, he said that a Jewish baker should have to serve Nazi customers.) It is a testament to the quality of the major-party nominees that some conservatives will be tempted to vote for him even knowing all this.
‐ Brad Thor has an active imagination — it’s a necessary quality in a writer of thrillers — but some plotlines should stay on the page. On Glenn Beck’s morning radio show in May, Thor, who is an outspoken opponent of Donald Trump, asked how the country could remove a President Trump from office “if he oversteps his mandate as president, his constitutionally granted authority.” If Congress will not act, said Thor, “I don’t think there is a legal means available.” Thor insisted that he was offering “a hypothetical . . . as a thriller writer.” Nonetheless, Trump fans declared that Thor was advocating Trump’s assassination, and succeeded in getting Beck’s show suspended from Sirius XM. Thor was doing no such thing, and he is right that, as he later told Reason, “safeguarding the republic against a dictatorship is a topic of conversation that dates back to the Founders.” But there are many means by which to prevent Thor’s hypothetical despotism, and speculating on that dire situation, even from the standpoint of a thriller writer, is not helpful in lowering the temperature of our overheated politics.
‐ The dictator primaries are turning out to be as exciting as the American ones have been (dictatorships do not typically allow polling, and there are no recounts). At the tail end of last month, DPRK Today, a North Korean publication, wrote that Donald Trump was not “rough-talking, screwy, [and] ignorant,” but “a wise politician and a prescient presidential candidate.” That same night Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro hailed Bernie Sanders as “our revolutionary friend” who was being kept from the presidency only by “an archaic system that is two hundred years old.” No direct endorsements for Hillary Clinton yet; her dictator admirers (Algeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia) just slip money to the Clinton Foundation.
‐ In December 2013, then–State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki admitted under questioning from James Rosen of Fox News that the State Department had lied — flat out — about the fact that secret talks had been under way between the United States and Iran over the Islamic terror state’s nuclear-weapons program. This being an official State Department press conference, Rosen’s question and Psaki’s confession (and attempts at justifying her department’s dishonesty) were caught on video. But last month, Rosen discovered that eight minutes of that video, including the relevant exchange, was missing. Initially, the State Department’s press office blamed a “glitch.” But by the end of the month, it admitted that someone in its public-affairs bureau had made a “deliberate” request to strip the video of the embarrassing exchange, but that the vast resources of the federal government are inadequate to the task of discovering who this person was. So, in sum: The State Department lied to the American public to sell the Iran deal; the State Department acknowledged this lie, in public, during a press conference; the State Department destroyed video evidence of its having done this, and then admitted doing so — and nobody is getting fired. Another typical day at the office in “the most transparent administration in history.”
‐ First Bernie Sanders, then Hillary Clinton, and finally President Obama came out for expanding Social Security benefits. Obama said that the higher benefits would be financed by “asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little bit more.” Sanders has actually put forward a specific plan, which does not meet this description. Instead it would involve the largest increase in tax rates in decades, leaving us similar to Denmark in having the highest tax rates among developed countries. We would also have among the highest taxes on investment. Whatever new revenues these taxes yielded would go to higher benefits for retirees, and thus be unavailable to make up the Social Security funding gap we already have. Or the Medicare gap we already have. Even late in his presidency, Obama is setting new milestones for irresponsibility.
‐ A Clinton is running for president, there are credible charges of corruption, a federal investigation is under way, and a Chinese businessman’s campaign donations are at the center of it. Familiar? At issue is $120,000 in political patronage directed at Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat and Clinton henchman, by Wang Wenliang, a delegate to the National People’s Congress in China and a very generous benefactor of — surprise — the Clinton Foundation, providing millions of dollars in donations. McAuliffe was on the board of the Clinton Foundation while Wang was being courted, and $120,000 in donations to McAuliffe’s campaign and inaugural committee was routed through a construction company owned by the Chinese national. The FBI’s public-corruption unit is heading up the investigation. There isn’t any question that Wang was on an influence-purchasing mission — his firm’s chief lawyer said as much during an interview on Chinese state television — but it is unclear at this time whether he or McAuliffe violated the law in the course of pursuing their mutually beneficial relationship. McAuliffe said he’d never met Wang until it was shown that he had, at least three times, and his lawyer told the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press that the crux of the investigation may not be the donations but the question of whether McAuliffe acted as an unregistered lobbyist for the Chinese billionaire.
The Election’s Risk to the Economy
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy added only 38,000 new jobs in May, the worst jobs report since September 2010, and a sign acknowledged by economists that the economy might be inching toward recession. Only in the depths of the Great Recession can we find a lower jobs number.
Readers of this column saw this bad news coming. The latest economic research, as noted here before, has found that policy uncertainty dampens growth. Firms and consumers tend to put off big purchases when they are worried that economic policies might change. We previously documented that this policy worry peaks in presidential-election years and has a big effect on financial markets. The spreads between risky and less risky debt tend to skyrocket, and equity markets tend to be weak. We are now approaching a presidential election that seems as poised as any to inject uncertainty into the economy. Forget about financial variables; can uncertainty about Trump vs. Clinton be enough to cause GDP to tank and cast us into recession?
The data suggest yes.
The chart below shows the probability of entering a recession within twelve months of a presidential-election month (i.e., between November of an election year and the following October) and compares it with the same set of odds for all months, which can be thought of as the control. For completeness, we use as much data as we can find, so the chart spans from the present all the way back to December 1854. As the chart shows, recessions are more than twice as likely to begin in the twelve months after a presidential election as they are in other periods. Since World War II, the relative odds of a recession in the twelve months after a presidential election are almost 3 to 1 compared with all months.
It is fairly common for a new president to inherit a recession, as George W. Bush and Barack Obama did, though the recession faced by Obama was surely attributable to the financial crisis rather than to election-related uncertainty. Looking back, the few times that we dodged a bullet were coincident with times when uncertainty was not very high because moderate presidential candidates were running against each other.
But with Trump and Clinton, the differences are large, and the result is unpredictability. Accordingly, big spending decisions are going to be easier and easier to put off until the dust settles. The recent jobs report may well be the first of many bits of bad news. It is probably about 50–50 that the next president inherits a recession. May we all hope that he or she can deal with this challenge.
‐ At the beginning of June, a disgruntled Ph.D. student walked onto the campus at UCLA and, in a matter of minutes, shot dead both his engineering professor and himself. Before any details were known, the cries to “do something” were heard abroad the land, along with the usual demand for “new laws” and the reflexive condemnation of the NRA. As is typical, they were premature. When the police finally released the details, it became clear that none of the measures that the Left has proposed over the last two decades even intersected with the incident. The shooter had passed a background check in his home state of Minnesota; he had bought a standard handgun that could under no circumstances be termed an “assault weapon”; and he had not relied upon “high-capacity” magazines. Moreover, unlike many colleges in the United States, UCLA does not permit guns on campus, even for licensed carriers (which the shooter was not). Could it be that when progressives call for new regulations, they have something more draconian in mind than they are letting on?
‐ Paul Ryan has long been engaged in the thankless task of getting Republicans to talk about poverty. Now he is getting them to do something about it, through the House’s “Better Way” welfare-reform agenda, which links its benefits to the pursuit of work and the skills that lead to work. This is sound policy. Some of what’s in Ryan’s proposal will be familiar — time limits on the receipt of food stamps, housing subsidies for adults who are able to work — but much is new: Federal funding for state and local agencies would be restructured to reward them for moving their clients to work rather than punish them, as is done today, for reducing their beneficiary head counts. Likewise, the perverse situation in which welfare recipients who earn income lose benefits — leaving them in effect working harder for no real economic gain — would be reformed, perhaps through an expanded Earned-Income Tax Credit. The particulars will matter a great deal, and conservatives will have to fight for them — and fight hard — against Democrats who are heavily invested in dependency. But what we are after here isn’t only a balanced budget but also human flourishing, with economic self-sufficiency being a general precondition of that.
‐ The Food and Drug Administration has decided that Americans need to eat a lot less salt, on average one-third less. So it announced in early June that it would be issuing “guidance” detailing how much sodium food companies and chain restaurants need to cut from 150 categories of food, including pizza, soups, snacks, and deli meats. Compliance is in theory voluntary, but in practice, because of the way the food industry is regulated, mandatory for anyone wishing to stay in business. Oddly, the push comes at a time when mounting scientific research has found that the average American’s salt intake (about a teaspoon and a half per day) does not present health risks, and that there may even be dangers to low-salt diets. These findings have been dismissed out of hand by government officials. Given the FDA’s history of relying on faulty science (it reversed its longstanding warnings about the dangers of cholesterol only last year), one might think it had learned some humility. Alas, taking the consensus of the moment with a grain of salt is too much to ask of our regulators.
‐ A great dynamic animating much social policy, seldom acknowledged, is rich people’s revulsion at how poor people live. Hence the Obama administration’s assault on “payday” lending, the last-resort financing for people unable to access traditional credit products. Payday lending can be unsavory, and though the fees involved may be modest in absolute dollars, they can be shocking expressed as an annual interest rate: A 15 percent fee for a two-week loan of $200 is only $30, but expressed as an annual interest rate, that’s 390 percent. Most people do not take out such loans expecting to carry them for a year or more, though, inevitably, some do. The rules proffered by the Obama administration are typical of the these-poor-plebs regulatory model, in that they will cut the poor off from loans while doing nothing to replace them, which means that the payday lenders’ loss is likely to be the pawnbrokers’ gain. The fundamental problem here — which is by no means limited to the poor — is that a great many U.S. households do not carry sufficient liquid savings. Of course it is difficult to save when living hand-to-mouth, but there isn’t a regulatory fix to Americans’ general lack of thrift, though strong economic growth and a buoyant job market would do a great deal of good. Meanwhile, those in dire immediate need will be cut off from their lenders of last resort because of a regulatory fit that is mainly not economic but aesthetic in origin.
‐ Dealing in cash makes it harder for the IRS to track transactions, so the agency created rules obliging banks to file reports on deposits and withdrawals in excess of $10,000. Those rules are public, so avoiding reporting requirements is a straightforward matter. In response, the IRS declared it a crime to “structure” one’s transactions in such a way as to avoid reporting. This is a hassle for small businesses and their banks, and some proprietors of cash-intensive operations such as restaurants have had their accounts closed by bankers weary of that extra paperwork. But taking positive steps to avoid the paperwork is a crime: If you deposit $12,000 over two days instead of all at once, you’ve committed a federal offense akin to money laundering. With money laundering, authorities have to show that there was an underlying criminal activity, whereas there is no such requirement for “structuring” offenses, as a result of which the IRS has, through civil forfeiture, seized assets totaling $43 million from small businesses and individuals whose only “crime” is dealing in cash in a way that makes the IRS suspicious. A bipartisan bill introduced by Representatives Peter Roskam (R., Ill.) and Joseph Crowley (D., N.Y.) would forbid the use of civil forfeiture in IRS structuring cases unless, as in the case of money laundering, some underlying criminal activity can be proved. That’s a start, but the endgame should be requiring criminal rather than civil standards of evidence across the board for asset forfeitures in what are, after all, criminal proceedings.
‐ The BDS movement — those initials stand for “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” — is designed to make Israel a pariah. More a pariah than it already is. The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has correctly described this movement as an “economic attack” on Israel. He has ordered state agencies to sever ties with companies and organizations that are part of the movement. This is something to applaud: Make pariahs of the pariah-makers. Yet should a government be involved in what the Supreme Court has called “viewpoint discrimination”? Should a governor make these determinations on his own? What if a governor declared companies and organizations that oppose abortion off limits? We can address these questions another day. For now, we applaud the impulse to defang BDS.
‐ Visiting Hiroshima, President Obama laid a wreath on the Peace Memorial there and embraced an elderly survivor. In case anyone misunderstood the symbolism of the moment, he then delivered a pacifist homily that evidently sprang from his heart. Mankind, he asserted, had easily learnt to justify violence and war in the name of a higher cause. “Death fell from the sky” was his phrase for what had happened at Hiroshima, as though no human agency had been involved and there was no higher cause. At the time, though, there had been sound reasons for resorting to the nuclear weapon, primarily the strategic consideration that bringing the war in the Pacific to an immediate end in this way would cost all adversaries less life than a ground invasion. Careful not to mention anything of that kind, Obama called for a “moral revolution,” with the obvious implication that dropping the bomb had been altogether outside morality. Penitence was in order. The world, he said, needs to find the courage to spread peace without nuclear weapons. The United States continues “to possess thousands of nuclear weapons, and that is something we must change” — a talking point no doubt in Beijing and Moscow, Pyongyang and Tehran.
‐ Karl Eikenberry is a retired three-star general and a former ambassador to Afghanistan, but apparently those credentials were insufficient for someone who is to direct a new global-studies institute at Northwestern University. He stepped aside after dissident faculty members revolted against him, claiming that his military experience would inject “belligerence” and “U.S. bias” into the institute’s research. An anti-U.S. bias, one suspects, would have drawn a very different response.
‐ A tragedy at the Cincinnati Zoo could have been a worse tragedy. A three-year-old boy climbed into a gorilla’s enclosure. The gorilla, named Harambe, began dragging the boy around. Zoo officials shot the gorilla (dead). And there ensued a worldwide political controversy. Part of the controversy was racial, of course — because what isn’t? Some early commenters said that the zoo had intervened for a white child, demonstrating, once more, white privilege. Then it was reported that the saved child was black, so that line had to be dropped. Millions were furious with the zoo, saying that less lethal methods could have been used. They knew a lot less than the zookeepers. There was an online petition, “Justice for Harambe,” and other protests too. But Harambe was a forbiddingly strong 400-plus-pound creature with no experience baby-sitting. The zoo had no good choices — and erred on the side of saving the child’s life. Any of us would have wished the same for our own child.
‐ Katie Couric, Yahoo’s “global news anchor,” has apologized for “misleading” editing in an anti-gun documentary she narrates and of which she is the executive producer. But the term “misleading” hardly characterizes the gravity of the offense. In the film, Couric asks a group of gun-rights activists how terrorists and felons could be prevented from purchasing guns in the absence of background checks. The footage shows eight seconds of what appears to be stunned silence — as though the activists had never considered the question. In fact, as tapes showed, they had answered immediately. Couric’s apology is too little, too late (indeed, she initially defended the editing), and her credibility is in ruins. Yahoo should suspend Couric immediately, investigate the incident, and terminate her if it uncovers no mitigating facts.
‐Gawker, the sleazy gossip website, was sued by pro wrestler Hulk Hogan when it released an embarrassing sex tape of him. Hogan won a whopping $140 million judgment. It then transpired that Hogan’s legal expenses had been paid by Silicon Valley inventor and author Peter Thiel. Thiel, who was outed as gay by Gawker years earlier, said he was not retaliating, only seeking to curb a public menace whose victims are mostly not rich enough to fight back. Who wouldn’t like to hit some magical Control Alt Delete to cleanse social media? But as legal blogger Walter Olson points out, an old principle has been violated. Common-law traditions prohibited third-party funding of lawsuits (doing so for a share of the profits was called champerty; doing so without personal gain in mind was called maintenance). When idealists repealed the traditions to do legal battle with evil corporations, it was thought to be a fine thing (we call it public-interest litigation). But when the same methods are used against journalists, journalists at least question it.
‐ Maya Dillard Smith, interim director of the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, has resigned over her disagreement with the organization’s position on “restroom rights,” in the words of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Obama administration had recently directed every public-school district in the country to let students use bathrooms and locker rooms that corresponded to their self-identification, even when that conflicted with their biological sex. The ACLU supported the administration. Smith says that she was not necessarily opposed, but that her mere questioning of the policy evoked a hostile response from colleagues. (She cited the experience of her daughters, who were disturbed by the presence of three tall, deep-voiced “transgender young adults” in a public bathroom in California.) It turns out that liberalism is hostile to some kinds of fluidity.
‐ In 1984, President Reagan did something very characteristic of him. Working with Congress, he renamed the street outside the Soviet embassy in Washington after Andrei Sakharov, the human-rights hero in the Soviet Union and a Nobel peace laureate. Senator Ted Cruz borrowed a page from Reagan. He introduced a bill to rename part of the plaza outside the Chinese embassy after Liu Xiaobo. Like Sakharov, Liu is a human-rights hero, and like Sakharov, he is a Nobel peace laureate. He is also a political prisoner. Cruz and his allies want the Chinese ambassador to look at a sign saying “Liu Xiaobo Plaza” every day. They also want every piece of correspondence going to or from the embassy to bear the name of Liu Xiaobo. The Senate passed the bill, unanimously. The House has held it up. President Obama would veto the bill (for he is no Reagan). But Congress would strike an honorable symbolic blow.
‐ In the least surprising news of the week, ISIS is reportedly shooting civilians attempting to flee Fallujah, the war-torn Iraqi city under siege by government troops. If more than a decade of war against jihadists has taught Americans anything, it is that our enemy is wholly ineffectual without human shields. They rely on them for concealment and use their inevitable deaths in war as a propaganda weapon against American troops who sometimes even give their lives in the effort to minimize civilian bloodshed. Jihadists tend to loudly extol their own valor and manhood, yet they hide behind innocents.
‐ As often as not, when freedom is lost, it happens not through a sudden stroke but in tiny steps, made with the best of intentions. Europe has suffered a series of horrific terrorist attacks, and it is perhaps reasonable for the EU to crack down on websites that promote or facilitate such acts. But a “code of conduct” that the EU has imposed on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft goes far beyond terrorism, requiring these companies not only to investigate and remove any “public incitement to violence or hatred” within 24 hours of its being reported by users, but even to “promote independent counter-narratives.” If it were true, as a Twitter executive asserts, that “there is a clear distinction between freedom of expression and conduct that incites violence and hate,” such rules might make sense, though they would still be too broad; but given how elastic such terms as “hate speech” have become, the code of conduct will inevitably end up empowering whiners and discouraging vigorous discussion. Starting from the goal of deterring terrorists, the EU has ended up banning crude remarks and telling IT companies what to put on their sites. Why are we not surprised?
‐ A remarkable moment for Peru: Two center-right, free-market presidential candidates are locked in a too-close-to-call election with overseas votes still being counted. Keiko Fujimori, the 41-year-old daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, trails Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former World Bank economist, by around 50,000 votes. Both candidates have promised to continue Peru’s 15-year stretch of market-friendly policies and to fight corruption, crime, and poverty. Whatever the result, the Andean republic stands in stark contrast with its Latin American neighbor Venezuela, a country that over roughly the same period has embraced Hugo Chávez’s brand of socialism. Venezuela has the world’s largest proven reserves of oil — and can’t feed itself or produce enough toilet paper. Peru, by no means a perfect country, has cut poverty nearly in half while growing at a rate of almost 5 percent per year since 2000. The lesson: Free markets and the rule of law are the best path forward for developing (and developed) economies; socialism and chavismo lead to empty wallets and empty stomachs.
‐ Yale’s high drama has come to a muted end. Nicholas and Erika Christakis — the academic couple who found themselves at the center of a heated race-and-free-speech controversy at Yale in November — have quietly resigned from their posts as heads of Yale’s Silliman College. The controversy, which came amid a wave of racial protests on college campuses, attracted national headlines. The Christakises had suggested that students should push against the university’s Halloween-time guidelines on “cultural appropriation,” leading to weeks of campus-wide protests and calls for their resignation; a video of a student yelling at Nicholas, admonishing him for depriving her of her “safe space” in the college, went viral. Campus activists won’t miss the Christakises — some heroic students even refused to take their degrees from Nicholas at the university’s recent commencement. But many others will. For free-speech advocates, the Christakises, now exiled back to their academic work, go down as martyrs to a university environment increasingly hostile to points of view that fall outside the narrowly circumscribed left-wing mainstream.
‐ Johns Hopkins University recently announced the end of its decades-old covered-grades policy, which replaced actual marks with a simple pass/fail for freshmen in their fall semester. The school’s academic council found that the policy both delayed “adaptation to college-level work” and harmed “students who perform well as first-semester freshmen.” In other words, Hopkins decided to stop providing training wheels. But for a coalition of progressive student groups — including the Black Student Union, Hopkins Feminists, and (oddly) Students for Justice in Palestine — two wheels is too wobbly a ride. They teamed up to form a protest group, Re-Cover Hopkins, whose stated goal is to force a repeal of the academic council’s decision. Their reasoning? Getting rid of covered grades disparately impacts students “whose experiences exist at intersections of marginalized race, gender, and sexuality.” We would also like to think that grades disparately impact students who write like that.
‐ Bernard Lewis is the preeminent historian of the Middle East in the world. Born in 1916, he has just celebrated his centennial. Tributes poured in. We at NR are happy to have an association with him, as we have published him, and he has been a guest on our cruises — educating and delighting one and all. When he entered Middle East studies, some 80 years ago, it was a fairly obscure field. Some loved it, but most were indifferent. After 9/11, everyone sought out Lewis’s expertise. He became almost a celebrity. Professor Lewis has long been a target of leftists in his field, and outside it. Edward Said spoke of an “unholy trinity” composed of Lewis, Elie Kedourie, and (our senior editor) David Pryce-Jones. That’s high praise. But this is higher praise: The Muslim Brotherhood once translated a book of Lewis’s into Arabic. The translator explained that here was an author who refused to distort the truth. Some of Lewis’s onetime students call him, reverently, “the imam.” Happy birthday, Imam Lewis, and thank you.
‐ Muhammad Ali was the world champion in two sports: boxing and trash-talking. Boxing is a sport that has been around for at least 5,000 years, and for a few of those years Muhammad Ali was what he called himself: the greatest, an athlete of extraordinary grace, power, and panache. In the tumult of the 1960s, Olympic champion Cassius Clay joined Elijah Muhammad’s cracked race cult and became Muhammad Ali. Part of his objective was avoiding service in the Vietnam War, which he denounced in terms that will by now be tediously familiar: another project of the white man to keep down the rest. But unlike more than a few of our modern-day conscientious objectors, Ali was willing to pay a price for his convictions: “Just take me to jail,” he repeatedly said. He was convicted of draft evasion but did not go to prison, and his conviction eventually was overturned by the Supreme Court, American institutions of justice being in reality quite a bit better than he gave them credit for. He lost his boxing license and was blacklisted for three years, a period he spent giving campus speeches and cultivating his celebrity. His braggadocio was always more than a little knowing, and he could be charmingly self-deprecating when the moment called for it. In his later years, he was reduced by Parkinson’s disease and bore himself with admirable dignity in his last long fight. Dead at 74; R.I.P.
Hillary’s E-Mail Problem
The Obama State Department’s inspector general issued a damning report slamming former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for systematically conducting government business over a private, unsecure e-mail system, in violation of State Department policies that implement federal recordkeeping law. This was a roundabout way of saying: It was illegal.
The IG report further illustrated that Mrs. Clinton’s scattershot rationalizations of this willful misconduct have been uniformly deceptive: What she did was not allowed; it plainly transgressed guidelines that caution against conducting government business on private communications systems and require preservation of e-mail records in the rare instances when government e-mail is unavailable. What she did was not for her convenience; it was a willful end-run around federal recordkeeping and disclosure laws. What she did was not in keeping with the practices of prior secretaries of state; they operated in a different technological and legal environment, and none of them concocted homebrew communications systems to avoid government systems. What she did was not secure; the private Clinton e-mail system was highly vulnerable to infiltration, it was on occasion shut down owing to fears of hacking (with no report of these concerns made to government security personnel), and it may have been infiltrated by hostile actors and governments (a scenario security professionals rate as probable).
Perhaps most devastating is that, while Mrs. Clinton and her campaign have tirelessly peddled the claim that she is totally cooperative and stands ready to answer investigators’ questions, it turns out that she and her top aides declined to be interviewed by the IG of her own former department. There is no sensible explanation for the refusal to answer the IG’s questions except fear that truthful answers would be incriminating, just as there was no sensible reason for Clinton to refrain from appointing an IG during her tenure at State except to avoid inquiries about communications practices that Clinton knew were improper. Indeed, in one of the more hair-raising episodes recounted by the IG, department recordkeeping officials raised concerns in 2010 about Clinton’s failure to preserve e-mails on the government system, but a superior falsely told them that Clinton’s e-mail practices had been approved and sternly instructed them “never to speak of the secretary’s personal e-mail system again.” The IG report makes clear that Clinton failed to preserve e-mails in government files, failed to surrender her e-mails upon leaving government service, and finally surrendered a woefully incomplete compendium of government-related e-mails upon demand, nearly two years after leaving office — a dereliction compounded by her unilateral deletion of an astonishing 32,000 e-mails without consulting government-records custodians.
Full details of the IG’s investigation have been shared with the FBI, which is separately probing Clinton’s use of private e-mail, along with disturbing indicia of corruption at the Clinton Foundation, for possible violations of law. Her best chance of beating the rap may be winning the presidency.