‐ Honestly, the thought of her becoming president makes us feel a little faint, too.
‐ Hillary Clinton abruptly left a 9/11 commemoration at Ground Zero, stumbled off a curb, and collapsed into the arms of Secret Service agents before being thrust into a campaign van. The wretched moment, caught on the smartphones of bystanders, zipped online, where it reified all concerns about her health. This is the year of the elders: She will be 69 on Election Day, Donald Trump will be 70, Bernie Sanders was 74 when he bowed out. But she has had a concussion, plus three blood clots, for which she takes a blood thinner. The image of a tired and ailing senior citizen reinforces the facts that she has no vital message and that she has been front and center for a quarter century. As bad as the video was the response of her team. First they said it was hot that morning (the weather was glorious). Then they admitted that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia two days earlier. Then Bill Clinton told CBS News that she “frequently — well not frequently, rarely — but on more than one occasion” has fainted from dehydration. The only thing as familiar as Hillary Clinton is the fog of mendacious doubletalk in which she lives and breathes.
‐ On September 9, Clinton, addressing a fundraiser, wrote off millions of voters. “To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. . . . Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it.” “Some of these folks,” she went on, “are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.” The next day, she backtracked. “Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half.’ ” No kidding. Since Donald Trump is polling in the 40s, Hillary’s first remark labels more than one fifth of Americans un-American. Like many liberals, when Hillary Clinton looks at America she sees a country succumbed, or succumbing, to dark forces. Ironically such wild misdiagnosis simultaneously blurs and encourages the true deplorables — alt-right cranks and racists who have indeed flocked to Trump’s banner, and been retweeted by him. Small but noxious political infections require acts of hygiene, not flame-throwing.
‐ Clinton has slid in the polls thanks to new disclosures about her improper server, her sickness and dissembling about same, and her general charmlessness. Over six weeks, her lead went from eight points to one. Trump supporters think that the polls may understate support for him. On the other hand, Clinton will benefit from a much stronger get-out-the-vote operation, and the distribution of votes may give her a slight advantage in the Electoral College. It is no coincidence that the race has tightened while Trump has spent more time with the teleprompter he used to scorn. The polls show continued resistance to the idea that he has the right temperament to be president. He has a few more weeks to overcome it.
‐ Matt Lauer became the target of a liberal mob for allegedly being too tough on Clinton and too soft on Trump during a televised forum with first one and then the other. Far from rolling over for Trump, though, Lauer exposed some of his weaknesses. Follow-up questions about Trump’s alleged secret plan to defeat ISIS, for example, made it sound like empty bluster. Liberals’ attack on Lauer does not reflect his performance so much as it does their view that voters are too dim to understand how terrible Trump is unless journalists spell it out for them in capital letters. If debate moderators follow the cue, they will be adding to the disgrace of this election season.
‐ Trump, at a Washington, D.C., campaign event, finally admitted the truth: “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.” So ends five years of Trump absurdly banging on the issue. There are, of course, complications: Birther rumors are an old thing in American politics, going back to Vermonter Chester Arthur (allegedly born over the border in Canada). The rumor that Obama was born in Kenya may have arisen in Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign: The McClatchy newspaper chain, acting on a tip from Clinton henchman Sidney Blumenthal, even sent a reporter to Africa to investigate (Blumenthal denies the whole story). No matter where it began, or how many other tales have been spun likewise, this was dirtbag gossip, easily refuted by consulting Barack Obama’s birth certificate. That Donald Trump held it to his bosom for five long years after it was released is — what you would expect.
‐ RNC chairman Reince Priebus said that the party might impose sanctions against future Republican presidential candidates if they ran in this year’s primaries, took a pledge to support the nominee, and then reneged. No sensible person holds it against the head of the RNC that he wants his party to unify behind its presidential nominee. But he is asking John Kasich and Jeb Bush (two men he named) to back Trump because of a pledge that Trump himself said he would not honor. And it is not clear how Priebus’s threat serves the party’s interests. If Trump wins, Kasich and Bush are highly unlikely to run for president in 2020. If he loses, it will probably make sense for the party to signal that it wants to win back Republican defectors rather than punish them. And right now, Trump would be better off cajoling Republican holdouts than bullying them. Mike Pence grasped the point when he promised to “earn” Republicans’ votes. Priebus, on the other hand, seems to be taking on some of Trump’s more unfortunate characteristics.
‐ No Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon has had a proposal for child-care subsidies as expansive as Trump’s. The fact has won him some praise from liberals. Conservatives should be skeptical. Trump wants companies to offer six weeks of unemployment benefits as part of maternity leave, and claims it will cost them nothing because he will crack down on waste and abuse in unemployment programs. The numbers, unsurprisingly, don’t add up. If he keeps the promise, then, he will have to add to the burdens employers take on when they decide to hire people. Trump is also offering a tax deduction for child-care costs, with much of the money going to affluent two-earner couples in high-cost locales. The value of the deduction would be pegged to the average cost of child care in a state. There are conflicting accounts about how large a deduction stay-at-home moms would receive. Trump’s interest in making policy more family-friendly is commendable, but it would be simpler to just let all parents keep more of their money.
‐ A Trump speech to the Detroit Economic Club coincided with the campaign’s release of a scaled-back tax-cut plan. The plan seems to be a moving target: The National Federation of Independent Business was told it includes a large tax cut for small businesses and then endorsed it, while organizations trying to figure out its impact on revenues were told it did not include that tax cut. The plan definitely includes a deep reduction in the corporate tax rate, which would no longer be one of the highest in the developed world: a very positive development, even if not one likely to achieve Trump’s new target of sustained 4 percent economic growth. Trump’s trade policy, unfortunately, would undermine that goal, and his rhetoric continues to betray not the slightest hint of familiarity with the integration of many American companies in global supply chains. Unfortunately, tariffs are the part of his economic agenda to which Trump seems most committed and over which the presidency would give him the most leeway.
‐ Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor responsible for the worst leak in the history of American intelligence, is seeking a presidential pardon. “These were necessary things, these were vital things” to disclose, Snowden told the Guardian in a recent interview. Except they weren’t. The revelations about metadata collection, which have been the occasion for Snowden’s celebrity, constitute only a small portion of the information he exposed; according to General Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the “vast majority” of Snowden’s disclosures “were related to our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques, and procedures.” The result has been a massive setback in American intelligence-gathering and defense: High-level officials have confirmed that Islamic State and al-Qaeda terrorists have modified the way they communicate. Meanwhile, a senior Russian security official confirms that Snowden, who is currently living in hiding in Moscow, has provided information to Russian intelligence. If Snowden is what he says he is — a whistleblower and a patriot — he will do what he should have done in 2013: surrender to the Justice Department and take his chances at trial. The Obama administration should accept no other resolution.
‐ Sean Hannity welcomed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange onto his Fox News program, where he described Assange’s past crimes as little more than a bit of snooping. In reality, Assange has endangered the U.S. and its allies while throwing in his lot with Vladimir Putin, so what could possibly make Hannity treat Assange as a friend? He’s trying to hurt Clinton. Assange has revealed embarrassing e-mails hacked from the DNC, and he is teasing the release of more soon, which could be a huge boon to the Trump campaign. Excusing Assange now demonstrates the slippery assumptions that pass muster in some circles of the Right. National security ought never to be second to electoral politics; giving air time and well wishes to an enemy of the U.S. is shameful regardless of the benefits of co-belligerency against Democrats.
‐ Garry Kasparov could have chosen to live out his life as a universally admired chess champion — he is regarded by many as the best ever to have played that game. Instead, he has dedicated himself to the cause of democracy, freedom, and human rights, especially in his former country, Russia. He has stuck his neck out. Onetime comrades of his have been killed, including Boris Nemtsov. Another comrade, Vladimir Kara-Murza, was almost killed, by poisoning, but came out of his coma. Kasparov has said that his chess fame does not necessarily immunize him from danger. But Dinesh D’Souza, with a new soft spot for the Russian authoritarian, cited Kasparov for the proposition that Putin isn’t such a danger to his critics in a tweet: “Have you noticed that @Kasparov63 is a public critic of Putin & very much alive?” To which Kasparov himself wrote, “Have you noticed I live in New York now?” Yes, he does — and he is still on alert.
‐ On the 15th anniversary of 9/11, Politico published an extensive oral history of that day — specifically, the odyssey of Air Force One. Security officials determined that the safest place for the president to be was in the sky. One of the many fascinating tidbits to emerge was this: Shortly after he and his team boarded the plane, President Bush said, “Okay, boys, this is what they pay us for.” That is very Bush.
‐ Congress voted to enable private litigants — the most sympathetic imaginable, families of 9/11 victims — to sue the Saudi government for complicity in terrorism. The move stems from an understandable impulse. Saudi financial support for the propagation of jihadist ideology is as notorious as the fact that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, as was al-Qaeda’s emir, Osama bin Laden. It is past time that we undertook a clear-eyed evaluation of our relations with a repressive regime that, while providing important intelligence cooperation, denies religious liberty and systematically discriminates against women, religious minorities, apostates, and homosexuals. The courtroom, nevertheless, is no place for such a reckoning. Diplomacy is no more a fit subject for litigation than is terrorism a law-enforcement matter. Moreover, such legislation will spur other countries to allow their citizens to sue the United States, and perhaps even to enact criminal laws authorizing arrests of current and former U.S. officials (including military personnel) for actions taken in our national defense. Foreign policy is the constitutional bailiwick of the political branches. They extend reciprocal diplomatic immunities, but have policy options ranging from negotiation to warfare. That’s as it should be, and Obama is right to promise a veto.
The Unprecedented Negative Interest Rate
Interest rates around the world have been pretty low lately. You might be surprised to discover how low.
According to the landmark history of interest rates compiled by Sidney Homer and Richard Sylla, human beings have been engaging in recorded credit transactions for more than 5,000 years. Homer and Sylla report that it was customary for Sumerians to charge an interest rate of 20 percent per year for loans of silver as far back as 3000 b.c. In Babylonian times, the priests of the god Shamash of Sippar loaned silver at 6.25 percent per year, but rates often climbed as high as 20 percent. In the sixth century b.c., the rate on Greek loans was 18 percent, while the rate on “safe” Greek investments dropped all the way to about 8 percent by the first century a.d.
Contracts involving large sums of money or resources have been extremely important for most of history. Indeed, “recorded” history is often a record of some debt arrangement. When the economic stakes were high, it made sense to hire a scribe, or to chip away at a tablet. While much of interest-rate history is anecdotal, by the Middle Ages it became common to keep detailed economic records, so it is possible to construct an interest-rate series on comparable assets back to that time.
The accompanying chart follows the discount rates and bond yields for the economic powerhouses of the time period as compiled by the financial firm Global Financial Data (GFD). As described by GFD chief economist Bryan Taylor, up until the 16th century, the economic powerhouse was Italy; then it was Spain; then, in the 17th century, the Netherlands briefly dominated the world economic stage, owing to its strong trade connections; then, because the country was small, its dominance quickly shifted to Great Britain. Following World War I, the United States became the center of global economic activity, and it has since remained so. While it is important to note the somewhat subjective nature of determining an economic powerhouse, these assumptions allow us to construct a continuous sampling of rates across hundreds of years.
The chart plots two rates. The discount rates are short-term central-bank rates spanning the years 1522 to 2009. The long-term government-bond yields go back all the way to 1285. The duration of each long-term bond varies, ranging from those with no maturity date — as with the oldest Italian bond, the Prestiti of Venice — to those with the now-standard ten-year maturity period of the U.S. government bond.
What sticks out, of course, is the end of the chart, where both the short-term and the long-term interest rates are lower than they have been at other times in recorded history. The chart, by focusing at the end on the U.S. rate, actually understates the case. Central banks around the world are experimenting with negative interest rates, and the Wall Street Journal reports that globally there is now approximately $10 trillion of government debt with negative yields. Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen revealed in a recent speech that the U.S. might try negative interest rates as well.
Which raises the $10 trillion question: Is the economy so much worse now than it has been over the past 5,000 years that negative interest rates make sense?
The most reasonable answer is probably “Yes.” For today, unlike any other time in human history, our financial markets have been taken over by Keynesian central bankers determined to drive interest rates into negative territory, purportedly because of the positive stimulus such low rates provide. This creates a terrible equilibrium. If rates are expected to be negative, it makes no sense for private investors to accumulate capital. The government is effectively charging you a fine of 1 percent of capital for the crime of having money in the bank in the future. When capital accumulation and the accompanying investment tanks in response to this policy, growth slows, making the wizards at the central bank even more sure that rates should be even more negative. In the age of Harambe, interest rates are lower than they have been since Hammurabi.
‐ On its way out the door, the Obama administration has signaled to health insurers its readiness to grant them bailouts that would violate longstanding Justice Department guidelines and the will of Congress. The game concerns Obamacare’s temporary risk-corridor program, which was designed to help insurers that suffered losses from participating in the exchanges. The program does not have the money to pay them what they want, since there have not been enough profitable insurers to kick in and Congress refused to provide any other funds. (Insurers have requested $2.87 billion, eight times as much as other insurers have put in.) Some insurers have sued, demanding payment from the Judgment Fund, which was established to settle claims against the government but is not available to an agency when it has, as in this case, recourse to seek funds from Congress. So held the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 1998. Congress has said no to a bailout of insurance companies, and Obama signed the legislation. So the Justice Department should prepare to defend against their claims — and HHS should desist from conniving with them.
‐ HHS has proposed a new rule to force states to fund Planned Parenthood. The federal government provides Title X funding to state governments so they can provide family-planning services. States have had discretion over the disbursement of these funds. The proposed rule forbids state governments to distribute federal money “using criteria in their selection of subrecipients that are unrelated to the ability to deliver services to program beneficiaries in an effective manner.” In other words, states will not be allowed to steer money away from groups they consider morally abhorrent because of their involvement in abortion and fetal-tissue trafficking. Specifically, they will be blocked from defunding the nation’s largest abortionist, Planned Parenthood. The administration has managed, then, to combine some of its favorite causes: executive legislating, government subsidies, Washington-knows-best interference, and the culture of death.
‐ Two years after the corruption at the Department of Veterans Affairs was revealed, the House of Representatives has finally passed a bill to make it easier to terminate VA employees for misconduct or poor performance: a long-overdue step in reforming an agency mired in incompetence and malpractice. Predictably, the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 230,000 VA employees, and the White House have suggested that the bill might undercut veterans’ health care. But given that veterans are currently dying — literally — in the parking lots of VA hospitals, it seems like a risk worth taking.
‐ Pittsburgh, a city synonymous with the 20th-century industrial economy, is serving as a cradle to what promises to be one of the great technologies of the 21st, with Uber deploying its first self-driving automobiles in the Steel City. It is a safe bet that those cars will become fully operational and widespread right around the time the Democrats are successful in unionizing and cartelizing Uber drivers, as they have so successfully done with the taxi mafia that Uber threatens to put out of business. For the moment, Uber is keeping humans in the driver’s seat, just in case, and the autonomous vehicles’ programming is so risk-averse that the robot taxis are, for the moment, of limited usefulness. If experience is any guide, self-driving cars soon enough will be as different from today’s test models as the iPhone 7 is from the Motorola cinderblocks of the Reagan era. This will present some interesting policy problems, no doubt, with the nannies torn between trying to limit autonomous cars to save all those cab-driver jobs and mandating them when they turn out to be safer than human-operated Volvos. Uber and its competitors have been obliged to fight with regulators and parochial business interests from Day One, and no doubt there will be an attempt to make it into a national scandal the first time an autonomous car gets into a fender-bender. But the future is coming, in spite of the best efforts of the regulators and rent-seekers.
‐ Missouri is to become the eleventh “constitutional carry” state. In September, its legislature overturned a gubernatorial veto and abolished the state’s concealed-carry permitting process entirely. When the new system goes into effect next month, residents of the “Show Me” State will have to show nothing before exercising their basic rights. Upon hearing the news, the usual suspects — Everytown, The Daily Show, the New York Times editorial board, etc. — screamed bloody murder. But few Americans seem to have been listening. Since 1987 (in which year Florida moved to a “shall issue” concealed-carry system and began the restoration of the right to bear arms), voters have been treated to an endless parade of ghastly predictions. Concealed carry, they were told, would lead to shootouts in the street; to bloodbaths in the supermarkets; to the return of the Wild West. None of it happened. Instead, over the last three decades, gun-homicide rates have been cut in half and crime has returned to its pre-1960 levels. There is no evidence that the abolition of state permitting systems will reverse this trend. Indeed, there is no evidence that permitting systems do anything much at all to the crime rate. For recognizing that purposeless restrictions on constitutional rights are futile and unjust, Missouri’s legislature should be applauded.
‐ With the apparent collapse of the latest Syrian cease-fire mere days after Secretary of State John Kerry announced it, we have another opportunity to learn the same lessons all over again. Russia and the Assad regime will pursue their interests regardless of international agreements. Cease-fires are inherently unstable unless all sides are content with the status quo on the ground. Yet with competing factions that desire to dominate more than to achieve a level of autonomy and stability, the only status quo they are content to perpetuate is continued violence. With final victory elusive, look for this civil war to end at an indeterminate future point through exhaustion instead of negotiation.
‐ The United States is not alone in experiencing a populist revolt on the right focused on immigration. Europe has seen an upswing in immigration-restriction movements, ranging from the broadly responsible center-right in the Netherlands to the ugly and irresponsible elements rallying under the Le Pen banner in France. In Germany, that energy is sustaining Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is less anti-EU than is the U.K. Independence party but opposes the euro and strongly opposes liberal immigration, especially from the Middle East. That formula seems to be of some interest in Germany, with AfD having played a key role in two humiliating defeats of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, most recently in the regional elections in Berlin. AfD has not quite decided what kind of party it wants to be, although it has forcefully rejected the most unsavory elements of German nationalism, especially the National Democratic party of Germany (successor to the “German Reich party,” to give an indicator of that group’s views). The lesson is the same here and there: If the responsible Right fails to deal seriously with the question of immigration, the resulting political vacuum will be filled by something.
‐ Injecting a poison-filled syringe into the arm of a 17-year-old, a Belgian doctor killed the patient, the first minor to be legally euthanized in Belgium, which in 2014 revised its laws to eliminate all age restrictions on the practice. The principle having been established, it was a matter of time before the precedent would be set. The patient was dying and had requested a hastening of death, as those who defend the right to die will be quick to note. Its critics will point out that, by its own logic, the law should apply equally to children who suffer from depression or mental illness, at which point the grim absurdity of the right to die should be obvious to all. Palliative care coupled with emotional support of the dying is the obvious alternative to assisted suicide, which is beneath the dignity not just of the dying.
‐ Mahmoud Abbas, the PLO leader, had a Soviet education. He wrote his dissertation at Patrice Lumumba University (now called the Peoples’ Friendship University). His dissertation was “The Connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement.” He found that the Holocaust was a “fantastic lie.” Now there is news from the Soviet archives: Abbas was an agent of the KGB in Damascus, nicknamed “Mole.” We cannot be shocked or scandalized. Studying at Patrice Lumumba, denying the Holocaust, leading a PLO that refuses to make peace with its neighbor: Isn’t that enough?
‐ Colin Kaepernick may be having a bad year on the field, but he has had a great one on the sidelines: Not standing for the National Anthem has become a trend among American athletes. What to make of it? Coercion is detestable: The compulsory salute and the orchestrated ovation are the marks of the worst societies. Free speech, by contrast, should be a mark of ours. The best way for an athlete (or anyone) to think about the National Anthem is to think about what it represents. Frederick Douglass wrestled with the problem in a Fourth of July speech in 1852, when slavery flourished and he himself had been free for only 14 years. “The existence of slavery,” he told his audience, “brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie.” Yet he did not despair for America, because of its founding principles. The Constitution, he went on, was a “glorious liberty document. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? Or is it in the temple? It is neither.” Thirteen years later, in fulfillment of those purposes, slavery was nowhere. Free men and women should stand for that.
‐ The National Collegiate Athletic Association — the self-serving bureaucratic apparatus that reaps an annual multibillion-dollar paycheck off the labor of disproportionately poor and minority students — is suddenly concerned about social justice. The NCAA has decided to pull seven championship events out of North Carolina (and the Atlantic Coast Conference has followed suit) because the Tar Heel State had the hateful audacity to pass a law requiring that its citizens use the public bathrooms that correspond to their biological sex. Given the NBA’s recent decision to pull its All-Star Game from Charlotte for the same reason, it’s become unmistakably clear that progressives are determined to turn the court and field into sweatier versions of an Oberlin classroom. One hopes these symbolic victories for pregnant “men” are worth the eventual backlash. We suspect that most people around the water cooler want to talk about sports, not gender politics.
‐ Bill Cosby’s lawyers have done the inevitable: claimed racism. This is especially interesting in light of Cosby’s longtime gospel: personal responsibility. Cries of racism give patriotism a run for its money as the last refuge of a scoundrel.
‐ Ever since the ancient Greeks, the ability to vividly portray characters very different from oneself has been indispensable to writers. Now it has become a literary crime: “cultural appropriation.” Speaking at a writers’ conference in Australia, the author Lionel Shriver explained what should be an obvious truth: that “the ultimate endpoint of keeping our mitts off experience that doesn’t ‘belong’ to us is that there is no fiction.” This was enough to make one sensitive listener head for the exit and write a long, bitter complaint about “identity,” “marginalized groups,” “defining their own place,” and “the normalization of imperialist, colonial rule,” all of which was quickly echoed by leftists around the world. As Shriver pointed out, fictional characters, being fictional, cannot be exploited, and history and culture have no owner, nor are they finite resources that one person can deprive another of. Obvious? Not to the cultural Left. But as long as brave souls such as Shriver are around to stoutly defend the cause of literature, fiction writers will not be intimidated into putting their imaginations in a cage.
‐ General Mills, the Minnesota-based food giant and one of the nation’s largest advertisers (annual marketing budget: $700 million), is pressuring third-party ad agencies to increase their diversity: Agencies bidding for the company’s business should have staffs of “at least 50 percent women and 20 percent people of color” within their creative departments. “We’ll get to stronger creative work that resonates with our consumers by partnering with creative teams who understand firsthand the diverse perspectives of the people we serve,” said Kris Patton, a General Mills spokeswoman. Ah yes, because women need women to sell them Lucky Charms, and people of color require people-of-color-specific ads before they’ll buy Totino’s Triple Pepperoni Pizza Rolls™. We understand that this is mostly about virtue-signaling, but c’mon General Mills, Trix are for kids.
‐ In 2015, a 69-year-old man sat on a bench, exposed himself, and masturbated in front of a group of female students on the campus of the University of Catania in Sicily. The man, identified in court documents as Pietro L., defended himself by noting that he engaged in the practice only occasionally. He was sentenced to three months in prison and ordered to pay a fine, but his sentence has now been overturned by Italy’s highest court. It ruled that a recent change to Italian law meant that obscene public acts were no longer criminal — providing they weren’t performed in the presence of minors. Luckily for Pietro, his audience had reached the age at which lewd displays must now be tolerated.
‐ Edward Albee wrote more than 30 plays over the course of his half-century-long career, but if he’s remembered, it’ll be for just one: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a succès de scandale when it premiered in 1962, notable for its sexual frankness and its seething dissatisfaction in the midst of Kennedy-era optimism. Today, the play is no longer “edgy,” but its anxiety and menace are as riveting as ever — perhaps because the sense of unraveling that envelops George, Martha, Nick, and Honey over the course of their evening together has since extended far beyond the confines of Albee’s New England bourgeoisie. Reviewing the premiere, Robert Coleman of the New York Daily Mirror called it “a sick play for sick people.” He was right, and the sickness — the characters’, and ours — is the reason the play has endured, and will endure, whatever history makes of the rest of Albee’s oeuvre. Dead at 88. R.I.P.
‐ His mandate, from WFB, was “to go about seeking strange and remarkable things.” In the Seventies, D. Keith Mano did just that, in a back-of-the-book column in National Review called “The Gimlet Eye.” He reported on pawnbrokers, jockeys, Chinese waiters, Russian Orthodox believers, firewalkers, phone-sex operators, homosexuals before they were called gays. His eye was clear, bright, restless, his prose crackled like a just-lit fire. Before his NR days he wrote a string of well-received novels, culminating in Take Five, that tracked pilgrims’ progresses in the modern world. In 1990 he returned to the form with Topless, about an Episcopal priest who inherits a topless bar. He also wrote for television (St. Elsewhere), magazines with pictures (Playboy), and magazines with words (Esquire). He was consumed with God, the world, and the flesh; his personal mortification was rooting for the football team of his alma mater, Columbia. In person he was loud, sharp, smart, fun, and kind. If we were a team, we would retire his number. Dead at 74. It’s hard to imagine Keith at rest or at peace, so God bless, and au revoir.
The Attacks Continue
On Saturday, September 17, a bomb packed with metal shrapnel exploded in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, injuring 29 people, eleven hours after an explosion in Seaside Park, N.J., along the route of a planned Marine Corps charity run. Both bombings — and at least two other attempts, one in Manhattan and one in Elizabeth, N.J. — appear to be the work of Ahmad Khan Rahami, a 28-year-old naturalized citizen from Afghanistan.
The sequence of events, culminating in Rahami’s capture, coincided with liberal attempts to make the weekend’s goings-on anything other than what they obviously are: Islamist terrorism. On Saturday night, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio called the bombing “an intentional act,” making his own contribution to the roll of Obama-era euphemisms, while two days later, news that Rahami might not have acted alone prompted a CNN terrorism “expert” to propose that “two or three lone wolves may have gotten together.”
These are only the most recent demonstrations of liberals’ refusal to acknowledge that the United States faces a deadly threat grounded in a distinct ideology. Terrorism is not an expression of frustration at a lack of economic opportunity; it is violence intended to subvert the existing political order, and, in the case of people such as Rahami, to replace it with the political framework required by supremacist Islam. Acknowledging this fact does not require condemning Islam as such; it requires simply acknowledging that a strain of Islam, with broad appeal today, opposes the American way of life.
Our policymaking should be based on this recognition. Instead, liberal leaders have been hampering counterterror efforts. The Obama administration has drawn down our intelligence efforts at home and abroad while smearing police departments across the country as racist. Meanwhile, in New York City, Mayor de Blasio caved to the demands of Islamist activists earlier this year and ordered the NYPD to stop using a report that helped officers identify individuals who might be considering terrorism.
Restoring these tools is one necessity. Another is reforming our immigration laws to better screen out unsavory characters. The results of our thoughtless immigration policies were on display on September 17 not only in New York City but halfway across the country, in St. Cloud, Minn., where 22-year-old Dahir A. Adan, born in Kenya but of Somali extraction and raised in the U.S., stabbed ten people at a local shopping mall before being shot dead by an off-duty police officer. Inroads into Minnesota’s Somali diaspora by both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have been widely reported, and should serve as a warning going forward. Those seeking entry to the United States should face serious scrutiny; it’s not “xenophobic” to prefer applicants who embrace American ideals.
That no one was killed in any of these particular attacks is a minor miracle. But the adherents of Islamism are many, and dedicated, and they’ll try again. It’s long past time for a coherent, coordinated, aggressive strategy to root them out before they can do so.