‐ Say what you will about Twitter, it’s an improvement over Josh Earnest.
‐ President-elect Donald Trump has appointed Alabama senator Jeff Sessions to be the next attorney general. Sessions is best known for his hawkish immigration stance, but that is only one aspect of a long career dedicated to law and order. Before being elected to the Senate, Sessions served as Alabama’s attorney general and as U.S. attorney for Alabama’s southern district, during which time he helped to desegregate Alabama schools and oversaw the prosecution of Henry Francis Hays, the head of the state’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan, for the murder of a black teenager, Michael Donald. Hays was ultimately executed, and a $7 million civil judgment against the Klan helped crush the group in Alabama. Those tidbits are worth keeping in mind as Democrats rush to declare Sessions “racist,” relying on specious accusations from three decades ago, when Ronald Reagan unsuccessfully nominated him for a federal judgeship. Former Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter, who crossed party lines to help sink Sessions’s nomination, confessed in 2009: “My vote against candidate Sessions for the federal court was a mistake.” After eight years of Eric Holder—the only attorney general in American history to be held in contempt by the House of Representatives—and Loretta Lynch, Sessions has an opportunity to restore the integrity of a department that has deservedly fallen into disrepute.
‐ First under George W. Bush and the No Child Left Behind Act, then under Barack Obama and a long list of intrusive initiatives, the federal government’s role in education has metastasized, growing more and more aggressively in recent years. Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s choice for education secretary, will be a desperately needed shock to this inept system. In her decades of experience as an education reformer, DeVos has worked quietly behind the scenes to create opportunities for every student to flourish, regardless of zip code. Those efforts started in her home state of Michigan, where in 1993 she and her husband (who, among other philanthropic roles, is on the board of the National Review Institute) helped enact the state’s charter-school law. Subsequently she founded the American Federation for Children, which pursues a nationwide strategy of backing legislators, candidates, and initiatives that aim to increase school choice. This year, AFC and its state-affiliated PACs were involved in 121 races in twelve states and won 89 percent of them. School choice—a term, DeVos has said, that ought to encompass everything from “vouchers and tax credits [to] virtual schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and charter schools”—is taking root as a viable, and better-performing, alternative to America’s longstanding public-school monopoly. As education secretary, DeVos will be able to roll back the mess of federal regulations that have hamstrung teachers and kept students in failing schools, to restore to states a measure of power over their own education systems, and to help make the government a resource for, not an impediment to, student success.
‐ Donald Trump says that he will leave his business in total, although it’s not clear what this means. Trump is not the first wealthy man elected to the presidency or the first with complex business relationships: Herbert Hoover’s mining business had outposts everywhere from St. Petersburg to Mandalay (Trump does have a place just down the Strip from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas), and he held stakes in overseas mines his entire life. But, unlike Trump’s case, the presidency was not Hoover’s entry-level political job. Most presidents have significant prior careers in government, during which they establish means for avoiding personal financial conflicts; in recent years, most presidents have put their assets into blind trusts. This may not be effective for Trump, whose main asset is his surname and whose main source of revenue is renting it. What to do? Congress should extend some aspects of federal conflict-of-interest laws to the presidency, but this presents both constitutional and practical enforcement problems. The most important thing is that Trump must commit to preserving the integrity of the office he has won, and to robust safeguards to achieve this end.
‐ Two things Trump has done consistently: boast that he never settles lawsuits, and settle lawsuits. In November, he paid $25 million to make the Trump University fraud case go away, giving New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, one of the most loathsome figures in American public life, the opportunity to brag of winning “a major victory for the over 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university.” Trump was right to settle the case. He conned his marks into spending thousands (in some cases, tens of thousands) of dollars on a “university” that wasn’t a university, or in any way accredited, in exchange for tips on buying and selling real estate from a faculty of lightly qualified instructors advertised as “hand-picked” by Trump, who had never met most of them. Trump promised to make his students into millionaires, but some things just can’t be taught in a classroom, such as learning how to inherit a vast New York City real-estate portfolio from your father, and how to recognize a sucker when you see one.
‐ During the campaign, Trump said that he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton. Now he says that prosecuting her is “just not something I feel very strongly about.” He doesn’t want to hurt her, he says, since she has “suffered greatly in many different ways.” There are many messages that the incoming president should want to avoid sending: that anyone is above the law; that his presidency will be devoted to vindictive official acts against his enemies; that he will be intervening with law enforcement in particular cases to secure desired outcomes. What he should say, then, is that he will appoint people with good judgment to enforce the law and then let them. During this time of transition, let him transition away from kibitzing.
‐ In defeat, Hillary Clinton’s diehard supporters resemble Jacobites, hoping for Highland uprisings and toasting the Queen over the water. Petitions to encourage faithless electors have gathered millions of signatures, while Jill Stein of the Green party has raised millions of dollars to fund recounts in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Reality check: Although there have been a handful of faithless electors over the years, they have never come close to tilting the outcome. Donald Trump’s margins in Stein’s three targeted states are hefty—10,000 in Michigan, 24,000 in Wisconsin, and 68,000 in Pennsylvania. Stein also—oops!—missed the filing deadline in Pennsylvania, the richest electoral-vote prize. Could it be that her goal, rather than electing the woman whose candidacy her own most undermined, is instead to raise money for future Green-party endeavors? Ah, money in politics. Radix malorum est cupiditas. Stupiditas doesn’t help, either.
‐ The incoming president does not drink, but he may be addicted to Twitter. As Democrats pursued their foolish recounts, he could not resist tweeting that he won the popular vote, too, “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” We have long insisted that elected officials take voter fraud seriously—which ought to include not throwing around made-up numbers. There is no evidence that anything close to “millions” of illegal votes were cast. When reporters pointed this out, Trump tweeted that it was up to them to prove that millions of illegal votes were not cast. The incoming president does not drink, but sometimes it would be nice to think he did.
‐ A host of explanations have been offered for Trump’s surprise election victory, but none has gone so viral as the charge that it was “fake news” that sealed Hillary Clinton’s fate. According to this theory, Americans were routinely taken in by nonsense they read on the Internet, and this led them to support a candidate they would otherwise have found appalling. Even President Obama has weighed in, proposing that “we are going to have to rebuild within this wild, wild West of information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to.” But is this true? Certainly, the widespread adoption of the Internet has removed the gatekeepers from news-making, and, as Jonathan Swift put it, ensured that “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.” But rumor has always dominated politics, and there is no hard evidence to suggest that it altered perceptions this year more than any other. Could it be that the scourge of fake news is itself fake news?
‐ Ohio representative Tim Ryan challenged Nancy Pelosi for House Democratic leader, saying their party needs new blood and new appeal in between the coasts. (She’s from San Francisco.) He took some flak for having been pro-life until 2015, which is unfair: He was pro-life the same way Barack Obama opposed same-sex marriage. Both Ryan and Pelosi are down-the-line liberals in a party that is fairly uniform ideologically. In that party, the debate over white working-class voters pits those who want to ignore them as a bigoted and declining share of the population against those who want to appeal to them on the basis of left-wing economics. Nobody seems to be willing to meet them partway on their values, which may not be those of the Southern Baptist Convention but are certainly not those of Colin Kaepernick. Bill Clinton understood that in the 1990s. Good luck following his example if you want to be a Democratic leader today.
‐ When Vice President–elect Mike Pence attended the Broadway musical Hamilton, there was an unexpected encore: The cast assembled on stage as the audience was leaving, and one member read a statement to Pence, the gist of which was that they really, really don’t like Donald Trump. Performing artists always find their own political views more interesting than the audience does, but Pence reacted calmly to the ambush, saying “I wasn’t offended” and reiterating Trump’s pledge to be “president of all the people.” Earlier, when Pence and his family were booed upon entering the theater, he told them, “That’s the sound of freedom.” And that’s the sound of wisdom, which we would commend to everyone on Broadway and off.
‐ Trump says the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal involving ten countries and us, is now dead. Most estimates said it would add tens of billions of dollars to our economy: more than most initiatives before Congress, but not a huge amount in the context of our $17 trillion GDP. The main impact of its demise will be geopolitical. The deal would have sidelined China and established rules—such as restrictions on state-owned enterprises—that are not to its liking. Now China believes Asian countries will seek closer trade ties with it. And economic reformers in Asia who had hoped that the pact’s proposed rules would strengthen their position have been set back. None of this really reflects “the will of the voters”: Senator Ron Johnson, having tilted in favor of the TPP, outperformed Trump in Wisconsin. But it does, unfortunately, reflect the will of the man who won the presidency.
‐ The other 49 states should think about sending Texas some sort of thank-you card for taking the lead in fighting the Obama administration’s executive overreach. The most recent victory came in November, when federal judge Amos L. Mazzant III ruled for Texas by handing down an injunction blocking the Obama administration’s attempt to unilaterally change the rules governing overtime so that employees making less than $47,000, rather than the previous $23,000, would be required to get overtime pay. The judge reasoned that while the relevant legislation gives regulators the right to define terms—overtime rules exempt salaried workers who perform managerial and administrative work—it does not empower the administration to set a minimum for exempted positions, and that the Labor Department therefore “exceeds its delegated authority and ignores Congress’s intent by raising the minimum salary level.” The Obama administration’s various attempts to force wages up artificially rather than see them drawn up organically—through strong economic growth and a subsequently tight labor market—have always been a mix of bad economics and wishful thinking, and many employers had indicated they would respond to the new rule by demoting salaried managers to hourly positions. Texas and the other states have performed honorably in fighting the Obama administration’s increasingly autocratic unilateralism, much of which could, and should, be undone with a few pen strokes in January.
‐ Police describe an “ongoing riot” at the scene of violent protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, with protesters setting fire to cars and trucks, and police responding with tear gas and water cannons. With a blizzard bearing down on the area, North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple has ordered emergency evacuations, but protesters say they will not move. At issue is a $3.7 billion, 1,172-mile oil pipeline that eventually will stretch from North Dakota to Illinois, which environmentalists seek to block with the assistance of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which says the project will pass through culturally significant sites. The Left intends to resist the construction of any ordinary energy infrastructure and any development of fossil-fuel production, using many means—including banning modern gas-drilling techniques in New York, fighting the construction of a coal-export terminal on the West Coast, stalling Keystone XL, and staging violent riots to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. The local particulars in question are obviously secondary to an ideological crusade against oil, natural gas, and coal. Unfortunately for the people of North Dakota—and for people who eat food and use products that are manufactured or transported—the Obama administration’s sympathies are with the anti-energy agitators, and not with the people who provide the energy that we use. Some ducks are lamer than others, and this one cannot go into retirement fast enough.
‐ On Sunday, November 20, four police officers were shot in separate episodes across the country. In Sanibel, Fla., an officer was shot in a drive-by while conducting a traffic stop; in Gladstone, Mo., a traffic stop led to a chase and a shootout; in St. Louis, a 19-year-old pulled up next to a veteran officer and opened fire, shooting him twice in the head; and in San Antonio, Detective Benjamin Marconi was killed when a man attacked him outside police headquarters. Two days after these attacks, a Wayne State University police officer was fatally shot while responding to an on-campus theft report. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, gunfire deaths of police are up 64 percent compared with the same period last year. Law enforcement is a dangerous job, but it’s clear that “blue lives” are especially under threat at the moment.
‐ “No concealed carrier has ever stopped a shooting.” “Only the cops should have guns.” Both of these statements are staples of the gun-control debate. But neither is true. In November, Floridians were reminded of that when Deputy Dean Bardes, a twelve-year veteran of the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, was ambushed while working at an automobile accident. After a brief chase, the suspect knocked Bardes onto his back and began beating him. A nearby driver saw the incident and came to the officer’s rescue, first by issuing a verbal warning to the assailant, and then by shooting him three times with his concealed-carry weapon. Had the citizen not made the intervention, Bardes would almost certainly have died. The incident was a reminder that the existence of the police does not relieve citizens from the responsibility to look after their security—and that of others. If you see something, do something.
Recovery through Tax Reform
With apologies to Ronald Reagan, next year is teed up to be the biggest supply-side-policy year in American history. The expected changes are too numerous to list, but the most economically consequential will be tax reform. President-elect Trump promised a sweeping tax reform that strikingly resembled a proposal sketched last summer by House Republicans. These plans also closely followed ideas long sketched by Senate Republicans, so it seems certain that something like the Trump/House plan will become law. Thank goodness.
The chart below, which is drawn from a recently released study of the House plan by my American Enterprise Institute colleague Alex Brill, provides a summary view of the tax reform. There are many ways that taxes can influence the decisions of firms and individuals, but a nice summary statistic is the impact they have on the effective marginal tax rate (EMTR). The EMTR is the extra amount of tax that is owed should the firm or individual earn an extra dollar of income.
On the corporate side, the big news is that rates are reduced dramatically, with the likely endpoint being around 20 percent, as compared with our current rate of 35 percent. But the proposal would also allow firms to fully deduct capital expenditures in the year that they are made rather than spread them out over a number of years. Factoring that in with the lower rates, and adjusting for a number of other changes, Brill estimates that the tax rate on corporate investment would drop from its current level of 31.6 percent all the way to 17.9 percent. As we have discussed many times in this space, a country that is a friendly place to locate investment is a friendly place to work. If you think wage growth has been disappointing since the recovery began, you should pop the champagne cork when this becomes law.
PERSPECTIVES, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE, OCTOBER 2016.
On the individual side, the proposal simplifies the tax code significantly by limiting itemized deductions, except for mortgage interest and charitable deductions. This move gives legislators an enormous amount of revenue to play with to reduce tax rates. We currently have eight marginal tax rates (if one includes zero); the new law would reduce that to four, with the three positive rates at 12 percent, 25 percent, and 33 percent. The biggest reduction is for the top bracket, which drops from its current level of 39.6. As can be seen in the chart, the plan would cut the average tax on wages in our economy from 23.7 percent to 22.1 percent.
In addition, the reform envisions those with income from capital paying the ordinary tax rates but exempting 50 percent of capital income from taxation. So if you have a $100 dividend, you will need to pay tax only on the first $50. This move effectively cuts these rates in half relative to the tax on wages and would be a significant stimulus of saving and investment, reducing long-term capital-gains taxation on average from 22.2 percent to 15.6 percent. Taxes on dividends and interest would see similar reductions.
Taken together, this tax bill would radically improve the outlook for economic growth in our country. Corporations would locate more capital investment here, and individuals would provide the savings to fund those investments. But don’t just believe me. The OECD economic staff just significantly increased its growth forecast for the U.S.—from 1.9 percent to 2.3 percent—and has ratcheted up the forecast for 2018 all the way to 3 percent. Why did it do this? Let’s quote the source: “In the aftermath of the U.S. elections, there is widespread expectation of a significant change in direction for macroeconomic policy.” Amen to that.
‐ Twitter cracked down on the alt-right in November, removing more than 1,400 accounts, including those belonging to Radix Journal’s Richard Spencer, online provocateurs “John Rivers” and Pax Dickinson, and serial troll “Ricky Vaughn.” As a private company, Twitter reserves the right to purge whomever it pleases, and its management claims that the expulsions were the product of “targeted abuse and harassment” that violated the site’s “rules.” There is no question that Twitter acted lawfully, nor that the accounts in question were magnets for bigotry and racial animus. But there does seem to be a double standard at play. Just days after the removal of the alt-right, Twitter verified the account of “Ikhwan Web,” the official feed of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood has been designated a “terrorist organization” by the House Judiciary Committee and routinely spreads anti-Semitic propaganda across the Internet. Rules are rules only if they are applied equally.
‐ “Patients, their families, physicians, and their institutions remain proper cooperators in making the evolving and necessary difficult decisions fronting modern medicine,” Judge Paul Armstrong of a state superior court in Morristown, N.J., recently ruled. Translation: Remove the feeding tubes from “A.G.,” as she was identified, a 29-year-old psychiatric patient suffering from anorexia. So it was done. She was transferred to palliative care and presumably will starve herself to death. Having failed to cure her mental illness, her doctors gave up and called it patient autonomy. Invoking it to justify passivity in the face of the protracted suicide of a troubled young woman is cynical or, to be charitable, sad. Her caregivers who tried to revive her will to live deserved encouragement for their effort. Spare us the solemn paeans to civil liberties and freedom of choice for their ultimate decision to honor her will to die because it was stronger. Have the decency to extend your pity.
‐ In a recent Sunday edition of the New York Times, Mark Lilla, a humanities professor at Columbia University and a distinguished political theorist, published an intelligent essay titled “The End of Identity Liberalism,” in which he argued that “American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender, and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.” His prescription for reform would be eminently sensible—were there any liberals to be found on the left anymore. Instead, there are persons such as Damon Young, a columnist for GQ and Ebony, who dismissed Lilla’s essay as “the whitest thing I’ve ever read,” and Lilla’s Columbia colleague, law professor Katherine Franke, who announced that Lilla was “more nefarious” than David Duke, because he was “making white supremacy respectable.” In other words, the response to Lilla’s article was precisely what he warned against. Along with last month’s election, the Left seems to have lost any sense of irony.
‐ According to Colonel John Dorrian, a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, the Islamic State is using chemical weapons. Experts confirm that, to date, 52 chemical attacks have been carried out by IS, about a third of them in Mosul. Traces of chlorine and mustard sulfur have been identified on the clothing of victims. Where IS obtains these chemicals is not clear, but they do not match those found in the stocks previously built up by Saddam Hussein. As deadly as they are demoralizing, chemical weapons are difficult to defend against without specialized equipment. Cornered, IS is evidently contemptuous of international treaties banning chemical warfare, but Colonel Dorrian says its technology is “rudimentary,” and that alone may save the million or so unfortunates still in Mosul from the very worst.
‐ France has to elect a new president next year, and this already promises a genuine conflict of personalities and policies. All political parties agree that the country is in full crisis on several fronts. The Socialists now in office offer only more of the same old failures at home and abroad—the incumbent president, François Hollande, is widely thought not to be running for reelection. Two experienced politicians, Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé, each hoped to emerge in a primary as the candidate for the conservative Republican party. Instead, François Fillon came up from behind to win the nomination handily. Now 62, he had served a five-year term as prime minister; his pitch is to offer the country “truth and action.” His promises to combat Islamism and limit immigration notwithstanding the legal impositions of the European Union, to cut taxes for the rich, and to dismiss 500,000 civil servants—in his words, “to break down the house”—have earned him the sobriquet “Thatcherite.” A Catholic, he happens to have a British wife. His opponent in the presidential election is almost certain to be Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National and a highly self-assured populist and moralizer. If so, France will be deciding the degree of harshness needed to get through the current crisis.
‐ Montenegro is a cast-off from former Yugoslavia, small and poor but with beautiful scenery and a stretch of the Adriatic coast. Playing on words, eager developers visualize the country as a rival to Monte Carlo. Due to be ratified in the near future, proposals of membership in NATO and the European Union would put the seal on its novel Western identity. The Kremlin does not hide its fury that another piece of its potential empire might be disappearing. On the day of a general election last month, 20 men, many of them Russian, were arrested—apparently because they were about to seize the parliament; murder the pro-Western prime minister, Milo Djukanovic; and install someone pro-Russian. Arms and dollars in six figures have been recovered. One of the men under arrest, a Serb by the name of Aleksandar Sindjelic, has a story that the coup was masterminded by two agents of Russian military intelligence, both of whom have now gone to ground in Moscow. As usual with a Balkan crisis, it is impossible to be sure whether the story is true or has another story hidden within. Dubious at the best of times, Sindjelic himself is known to have been an active Russian nationalist in eastern Ukraine. A coup really was averted, the prime minister and the prosecutor claim, insinuating that President Vladimir Putin almost certainly inspired and arranged it. The Russian story is that the coup is an invention designed to obtain American backing for the country’s intended switch to the West. Their chosen word for this affair is “vaudeville.”
‐ This magazine used to spend a lot of ink on political prisoners in Russia. The time has come, sadly, to spend some more. The latest is Ildar Dadin, a democracy activist born in 1982. He was the first to be imprisoned under a 2014 law that bars protests without official permission. He is confined to the IK-7 prison in Karelia and has reported that he has been repeatedly tortured. Recently, his wife said “they will kill him” if he remains in the prison. He may be dead already, as Sergei Magnitsky was tortured to death in 2009. The European Parliament has called for Dadin’s release and an independent investigation into the treatment of him. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said that the Magnitsky Act should be used against the persecutors of prisoners such as Dadin. This is the U.S. law that permits sanctions against individual persecutors. Human rights is not the last word in foreign policy—but it is a word, and the United States ought to look alive.
‐ Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the handsome young dynast who made leftism chic again in Canada, overplayed his hand with a farewell tribute to Fidel Castro. There was admittedly a family debt to pay: Justin’s father, Pierre, befriended the despot, who was an honorary pallbearer at his funeral in 2000. Even so, young Trudeau overshot the mark, calling Castro “a larger than life leader who served his people,” making “significant improvements to . . . education and healthcare.” Maclean’s, Canada’s venerable weekly, eviscerated him (“Trudeau’s turn from cool to laughingstock” ran their headline), while a murderous hashtag, #trudeaueulogies, repurposed his words to an array of monsters (other monsters), from Hitler to Lord Voldemort. Evidently abashed, Trudeau announced that he would not attend Castro’s funeral, sending instead Canada’s governor general, who, as the Queen’s representative, can be trusted to keep his mouth shut.
‐ The French State Council recently ruled that a video featuring children with Down syndrome will not be permitted to air on French television because the children’s smiles would “disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices”—in other words, seeing these children happy would upset women who had aborted children suspected of having the syndrome. The award-winning “Dear Future Mom” video shows young people with Down syndrome from around the world speaking in a variety of languages about being able to learn to write and to ride a bike, hug their mothers and go to school, earn money and live on their own. In France, 86 percent of babies who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome are aborted. Why should anyone’s conscience be at risk of being disturbed over this?
‐ Playing in Miami, where local fans are well informed about the island nation an afternoon’s boat ride due south, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took the field and was booed with more feeling than the players for the visiting team typically elicit. Four days earlier, a columnist for the Miami Herald spoke with him about a T-shirt he wore emblazoned with images of Malcolm X and Fidel Castro, and Kaepernick sang the latter’s praises. He cited the cliché about the high literacy rate among Castro’s subjects, neglecting to mention how much literature they can’t read because the government bans it. All season, Kaepernick has refused to stand during the national anthem. He explains his gesture as a protest against racism and police brutality. Why he thinks that thumbing his nose at a traditional expression of simple patriotism might persuade people of his views on anything remains a mystery.
‐ In Amherst, Mass., students at Hampshire College lowered the American flag to half staff on November 9, the day after the election. Within 48 hours, the flag was burned. (“Campus police are still investigating,” the New York Times reports.) Then it was replaced. The trustees voted to keep it flying at half staff, “to mourn deaths from violence in the U.S. and around the world,” they explained, reigniting the controversy. Hampshire president Jonathan Lash proceeded to order the flag not to be flown at full staff but to be taken down. On the last weekend of the month, about 400 demonstrators, waving American flags, gathered on campus for what was billed as a veterans’ protest. The American flag is not the banner for any one side in a culture war, and to press it into that service is to abuse it. President Lash should fly it again, at full staff—not as a ploy, to appropriate the other side’s symbol in a dreary town-versus-gown fracas, but as a gesture of good will, and basic civic decency.
‐ In a formal letter, a coalition of progressive students at George Washington University declared the presence of campus police officers to be an “act of violence.” Their reasoning? The Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Donald Trump, and thus police are part of the inherently racist power structures that GWU must stand against. Around the same time, a knife-wielding terrorist went on a rampage at Ohio State University, stopping only when an officer shot him. If and when these GWU students encounter such a real act of violence, we know that they will not be jumping to call the diversity officer at the multicultural community center.
‐ As recently as the late 1970s, most major-league baseball players held off-season jobs to supplement their salaries and have a career ready when they retired from the game. After baseball instituted a free(ish) labor market, however, salaries skyrocketed, and today’s players, who average more than $4 million a year, usually spend the off-season golfing and working out. But not Michael Fulmer, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. Although he just won the American League Rookie of the Year award with a 3.06 ERA, Fulmer is passing the time until spring training begins by working as a plumber in his native Oklahoma. “He digs ditches and gets dirty and does whatever needs to be done,” says his uncle, at whose family firm Fulmer is employed. Between his talent and his work ethic, we would call Fulmer a lead-pipe cinch for continued stardom, but even if his career follows a Joe Charboneau trajectory (Rookie of the Year in 1980, out of the majors for good in 1982), it’s good to know he will still have a career beyond appearing at autograph shows.
‐ Seventy-five years ago this December 7, Japanese warplanes bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii, sinking some 20 ships, destroying 300 planes, and killing 2,400 men. The next day Congress declared war, and though the first few months were harrowing—American ships sunk off the coast of Florida in full view of bathers, the fall of the Philippines, submarines and merchant vessels torpedoed—and the nation’s armed forces on the eve of World War II had been roughly the size of Poland’s, scarcely any American believed the U.S. might ultimately lose. Our nation emerged from WWII as the undisputed leader of the free world. May it remain so.
‐ There were so many things William Trevor, an Irish Protestant author who lived most of his life in England, was not: not avant-garde, not flashy, not poetic or eloquent in any obvious way; certainly not an off-the-page headline-grabber. He wrote a string of novels, but his towering achievement was built, brick by brick, of his many short stories, which rank with Chekhov’s. Set in Ireland and England, they are rich, humane, and precise, surveying every class and clan, and bringing each character, sympathetic and not, central and walk-on, to life. The self-knowledge of the English-speaking world has owed a lopsided amount to England’s neighboring island. Trevor increased the debt. Dead at 88. R.I.P.
Fidel Castro: Death of a Tyrant
The headline over the Associated Press story read, “Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Who Defied U.S. for 50 Years, Dies at 90.” That is how a great many people around the world view Castro: as the defier of the yanqui colossus and its imperialism. But that is a U.S.-centric view. Amazingly, Cubans tend to view Castro as their dictator.
Or former dictator—in that he handed off to his brother Raúl in 2008—and now late dictator.
The Castros and their compadres fought their revolution in the 1950s and triumphed on New Year’s Day 1959. They had promised a democratic Cuba. Instead, they installed something familiar in the Soviet bloc and elsewhere: a one-party dictatorship with a gulag.
The island was quickly impoverished, of course. There is an old joke about socialism: If the Eskimos adopted it, they would soon have to import ice. Well, Cuba, for a while, had to import sugar.
In an interesting touch, Fidel Castro banned Christmas, from 1969 to 1998. Absolute dictators can do that. Cuba was, among other things, Fidel’s personal fiefdom. And it was a “republic of fear,” to borrow a phrase from Kanan Makiya, who used it to describe Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Many Cubans were too afraid to utter Castro’s name. They gestured toward their chin, indicating a beard.
He and his gang killed tens of thousands, surely. The exact number is hard to pin down. Maria Werlau and her colleagues, at the Cuba Archive online, have done conscientious work on this subject. Over the years of the Castro regime, 1 million Cubans have gone into exile. Some Cubans have been shot in the water, in their attempts to flee.
What kind of regime does this? What kind of regime would rather kill people, in cold blood, than see them leave? The Castro regime, and it has been very popular, though not in Cuba.
Fidel Castro was the most popular dictator in the free and democratic world. Stalin lost his luster after the Secret Speech in 1956. Mao lost his luster, or some of it, in the wake of honest accounts of his rule (by his doctor, Li Zhisui, for example). Ho rode high for a while, but not after the reeducation camps and boat people.
But Castro? In 2002, Carole King, the American singer-songwriter, crooned to him her hit song “You’ve Got a Friend.” He certainly did, lots of them.
Why did they love him? Why do they still? For one thing, they see him as the defier of the yanqui colossus. But also, they have bought, and propagated, several myths—such as that the dictatorship brought literacy and health care to the island. As the great dissident Armando Valladares says, “It’s all untrue. But even if it were true: Can’t a country have those things without being a cruel dictatorship?”
Fidel Castro has died in bed at a very ripe old age: 90. This is a fate that he denied to many, many people, who were his victims. He was a boot stamping on the human face. There are others to do the stamping.
A headline in the (London) Telegraph read, “The death of Fidel Castro, socialist leader of the third world, also marks the end of 20th century communism.” Unfortunately, Raúl is still going strong in Havana. His forces violently arrested a slew of human-rights advocates the other day. As they were carted off, they tried to form the letter L with their fingers: L for libertad, liberty.