‐ We hope that in retirement Harry Reid keeps up his workout routine.
‐ Republicans intend to pass what they’re calling an “Obamacare-repeal bill” early. It will get rid of Obamacare’s individual mandate and some of its taxes immediately, and the rest of its taxes and spending after a delay of some years. The bill won’t touch the regulatory heart of Obamacare, though, because Republicans don’t have the 60 Senate votes they think they need for that. They say they will have a replacement plan ready by the time their bill takes full effect. In the meantime, though, health markets — already disrupted by Obamacare — will grow more unstable. Policies will still have to comply with Obamacare’s expensive regulations, and those policies will be even more expensive because healthy people will once again be free not to buy them. Look for premiums to rise, insurers to drop out of the exchanges, and Republicans to be blamed for the mess.
‐ With 20 days left in his presidency, Barack Obama finally decided to get tougher on Russia. In late December, the outgoing president expelled 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the U.S.; imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies — the GRU and FSB — and four officials; and insinuated that he would take additional, secret actions against Russia in retaliation for its hack of the Democratic National Committee, its attempted hack of several states’ voter databases, and other “malicious cyber activity related to our election cycle in previous elections,” in the words of the White House. These actions are welcome. They are also several years too late. In 2010, a Russian spy ring operating in Washington, D.C., was exposed, but rather than hold the spies for interrogation, President Obama bundled them back to Russia, where Vladimir Putin praised them for “risking themselves and those close to them” “to benefit their motherland’s interests.” In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine, and Russian-backed separatists shot down an airliner over Donetsk Oblast, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board — and the U.S. was largely silent. Since then, Russia has adventured far beyond its own neighborhood, facilitating Iran’s nuclear aspirations and shoring up Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime in Syria, and the Obama administration’s response has been to wag a limp finger. Barack Obama’s presidency has been a cycle of Russian aggression followed by American fecklessness. Eight years in, his indefatigable naïveté has finally given way. Better late than never, even very late.
‐ A recent poll by YouGov neatly illustrated the pathology of our debate over Russia and the election. It found that 52 percent of Democrats believe that Russia “tampered with vote tallies” to elect Trump — a view for which there is no evidence. Meanwhile, 73 percent of Republicans refuse to believe that Russia hacked Democratic e-mails to help Trump: something many in the intelligence community are reported to believe and that fits with Russia’s pro-Trump propaganda. The truth is that voters made an uncoerced choice with access to a lot of information; and that some of that information might have come from Russian hacking. Trump is not taking the hacking seriously, and is reinforced in this insouciance by Democrats who use it to cast doubt on the legitimacy of his election.
‐ At his year-end press conference, Vladimir Putin had many opinions, including some about Hillary Clinton, the Democrats, and the recent American elections: “It is important to know how to lose gracefully.” Trump immediately tweeted this out, adding, “So true!” Putin does not lose, gracefully or otherwise, because he does not allow genuine electoral competition in Russia. He is more apt to murder political opponents than to compete with them. (Ask the late Boris Nemtsov, the onetime deputy prime minister.) Is it more alarming if Trump does not know this context, or does not care about it?
‐ Do Donald Trump’s worldwide business dealings constitute emoluments, as proscribed by the Constitution, Article I, Section 9? “No Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States] shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present [or] Emolument . . . from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Foreign companies can sometimes represent states, as in command economies; in crony economies, the lines are blurrier. Does the president fall under this provision of the Constitution? Maybe not; George Washington, scrupulous about constitutional niceties, accepted presents from foreign sovereigns when he was POTUS. Whatever the legalities, Trump and his family should put the Trump empire into a blind trust for the duration. Otherwise the questions and the lawsuits will be endless, and the optics will be shady. A man of keen sensitivity to the public good and to his own honor would not hesitate.
‐ The evidence mounts up: Trump, beauty-contest impresario, values looks in casting his administration. He said of Mike Pence early on that “he looks very good.” He considered Mitt Romney for secretary of state because he “looks the part.” And he rejected John Bolton for the same job in part because of his “brush-like” ’stache (there goes one-quarter of Mount Rushmore). “He’s very aesthetic,” a Trump intimate confided to the Washington Post. Trump is on to something: Looks, which include bearing, are an inescapable element of public personalities. The eyes have it, at least initially. But many odd ducks — Lincoln, Gandhi, Kissinger — have played their looks effectively in offbeat ways. And looks are simply the point of entry: There has to be something in the brain behind the face, the heart within the chest. A Miss Universe presidency is bound for lousy ratings.
‐ Celebrities, and some performers who are not famous, are refusing to participate in Trump’s inauguration. They do not wish to endorse, or to be taken to endorse, things they oppose. They should reconsider. The pageantry around an inauguration is a celebration of the peaceful transfer of power at least as much as it is of a president. But if these artists persist in their refusal, there are some Christian bakers and florists who deserve a kind word from them.
‐ Barack Obama, the great constitutional scholar, has discovered within Article II a presidential power that had inexplicably eluded all of his predecessors: the no-backsies clause. Obama has made a determination that certain parts of the Atlantic and Arctic will be forever off-limits to oil-and-gas exploration, and also has determined that this decision is irreversible. It isn’t. Though the matter never has been litigated, there is little reason to suppose that President Trump cannot issue his own order reversing President Obama’s; in the event that this were deemed insufficient, Congress could reverse Obama. The Obama administration has had a strange love/hate relationship with the energy business: The president hates fossil fuels (he famously promised to throw coal miners out of work and then wondered why they voted for Trump), but he loves the energy industry’s substantial contribution to GDP growth and employment. Two things should happen: Obama should be reversed, and Congress should revisit the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, under which this action was taken, as part of a broad effort toward developing a frankly pro-energy national policy oriented not only toward ensuring ample energy production for the domestic market but also toward empowering U.S. energy exporters through the development of necessary infrastructure such as oil pipelines and West Coast coal-export terminals. That this can be done in an environmentally responsible fashion is not in question — the problem here is an environmentalist lobby that opposes new energy production and infrastructure per se.
‐ One cost of Jeff Sessions’s selection as attorney general is that the Senate will lose a champion of moderate immigration policy — and sometimes a lonely one. In 2013, when the Senate debated the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill, Sessions both introduced and was the only vote for an amendment that would have capped legal immigration at 33 million over a decade. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, elected in 2014, is, to his credit, filling that void. In the New York Times, he wrote that low-skilled immigration should be curbed to boost wages for Americans with high-school diplomas or less. It beats raising the minimum wage, which would at the very least reduce job growth for these very Americans. And it would also promote the assimilation of those legal immigrants whom we let in. Polls on immigration levels are few and far between — a sign of how little the subject enters the minds of political and journalistic elites — but in 2015 Pew found that a third of the public wants less. If another senator joined Sessions and Cotton, perhaps that percentage would grow.
‐ A couple from New York City spied Ivanka Trump traveling with her family over the holidays. “Ivanka and Jared at JFK T5, flying commercial. My husband chasing them down to harass them #banalityofevil” tweeted Matthew Lasner, a college professor. Shortly thereafter Lasner’s husband, a lawyer, succeeded in angrily confronting Ivanka while she was seated with her children aboard a JetBlue flight. He berated her for her father’s “ruining the country” until the crew intervened and deplaned him and his husband. Some defenders of the man insisted that Ivanka’s role as an adviser in Trump’s incoming administration made her a fair target. For criticism, surely, but not for personal abuse. Liberals who worry that Trump’s presidency will degrade civil society should try not to illustrate the point.
‐ In a special session following the election, North Carolina’s Republican legislature passed, and outgoing governor Pat McCrory signed, a slate of reforms intended to limit the power of incoming governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat. The content of these changes — far from being an indication of the “spirit of Confederacy,” as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie absurdly suggested — is not especially outrageous. Some are overdue, such as restoring party labels in state-supreme-court elections (which were removed by the state’s Democrats in 2002, for partisan reasons). Some are potentially healthy, such as the creation of an eight-person, bipartisan state election board to replace the five-person board dominated by gubernatorial appointees. And some, such as stripping the power of the governor to appoint trustees of the University of North Carolina system of schools, are outright payback for similar Democratic machinations dating back to the 1970s, but hardly the stuff of which banana republics are made. It is true, though, that the process by which these changes have been pushed through is unseemly and probably politically unwise. By national standards, North Carolina’s governor is weak, so further changes to the state’s balance of power were not urgent. Policy changes such as these should generally take place after debate and deliberation. And voters tend to wrinkle their noses at brazen lame-duck maneuvering. In politics, what goes around comes around. The fact that Democrats did these things first is not an adequate justification for North Carolina Republicans’ stooping to the same level — and they’ll realize it, in four or eight years.
‐ New York governor Andrew Cuomo commuted the minimum prison sentence of Judith Clark from 75 to 35 years, thus making her eligible for parole. Clark belonged to a radical gang that murdered Brink’s guard Peter Paige, Sergeant Edward O’Grady, and Officer Waverly Brown during a 1981 stickup of an armored car and a subsequent shootout. Clark, who drove a getaway car, was convicted of robbery and second-degree murder. In the years since, she has reputedly become a model prisoner, earning college degrees and leading courses for fellow inmates. She has much to atone for. British cops speak of ODCs — ordinary decent criminals — the burglars and pickpockets who take what is not theirs, but who are neither bloodthirsty nor comprehensively antisocial. Clark and her comrades were both. They gunned down a citizen doing his job and two policemen as if they were dogs; during her trial, Clark called court officers “fascist dogs.” She hated America and all who did not share her hatred; her enraged rancor helped snuff three lives. She should spend the rest of hers pondering that fact, behind bars.
‐ New York City celebrated the opening of the Second Avenue Subway — prematurely. The project is one-quarter complete, and carries passengers only between 96th Street and 63rd Street. The project is a textbook case of municipal misgovernance in the United States: It was proposed in 1919 and begun in 1929, with the work being interrupted for the remainder of the 20th century by a series of New York City financial crises. (New York City government is a series of financial crises.) Even though only about 25 percent completed, it is, in real terms, already more than four times more expensive than originally projected. It is a half-billion dollars over the city’s most recent estimate, and, if indeed it is ever completed (there are no hard commitments to completing it at this time), it will be well more than a century after the project was begun. It is far more expensive than comparable projects around the world: Barcelona has achieved a high-tech automation and subway expansion at one-tenth the cost of New York’s project. The main driver of these higher expenses is labor costs: New York City is dominated by Democrats, and the city pays the party’s most important constituency — government workers — a lot to do a little. And sometimes very slowly.
‐ On Capitol Hill, Missouri Democratic representative Lacy Clay praised the painting his district selected to be in the annual congressional art competition, a painting that depicts police officers as pigs. The painter, high-school senior David Pulphus, illustrated the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., on the night Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown — but he embraces the narrative of “hands up, don’t shoot,” even though Brown first reached for Wilson’s gun. For now, the work hangs in the U.S. Capitol, just steps away from the Capitol Police, who protect members of Congress, even those with atrocious taste.
‐ On December 19, Anis Amri, a radicalized young Tunisian, murdered the driver of a semi and drove the dead man’s truck into a Christmas market in the heart of Berlin, killing twelve and injuring 56. Amri was killed four days later in a shootout with police near Milan. He had been bumbling around Europe for six years, committing a string of offenses. He was on the radar of German intelligence, which dismissed him as small fry. Even before the influx of Syrians welcomed by Angela Merkel, Europe lay separated only by a navigable sea and a porous Turkey from hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing failed Muslim states. Europe struggles to assimilate them, and until recently was unwilling even to stanch the flow. Jihadists and sinister parties of the right both find recruits in the situation. World War II and the Cold War were far greater challenges; can Europe meet this one?
‐ The regime of Bashar al-Assad claims that its recovery of Aleppo, the country’s largest and most important city after Damascus, is an irrevocable step in putting Syria together again, the way it was — except that parts of it will never be habitable again, and millions have lost their lives or their homes, or both. Imagining that the wreckage signifies victory, the regime sees no need to negotiate, which means that the fighting will soon be smashing up some other place, probably Idlib. President Obama predicts that the Russians will find themselves in a quagmire. His policy is to supply so-called moderate rebels with enough weapons to extend the fighting, but not enough to move the needle. President Putin and the Russians believe only in bombing. While buses were transporting survivors out of Aleppo, the fanatics of ISIS were reoccupying Palmyra, out of which they had been driven shortly before. Turks and Kurds are still at one another’s throats after four decades. More and more migrants arrive to baffle a Europe that has no idea what to do with them. The fall of Aleppo changes everything and nothing.
‐ The job of Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, was to smooth over a relationship between the two countries that the fighting in Syria had made volatile. One part of this tricky process was an exhibition with the title “Russia through Turks’ Eyes,” put on in a fashionable art gallery in Ankara. A cameraman happened to be there, and his film shows that, shortly after Karlov began his opening address, a young man in a smart dark suit stepped forward and shot him dead. Standing over the corpse, the gunman is seen raising an index finger in Islamist style and raving the Islamist war cry, “God is the greater,” followed by “Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria.” In an exchange of fire with security agents, he was himself shot dead. Identified as Mevlut Mert Altintas, he was a 22-year-old policeman whose ID card had authorized him to enter the gallery with a gun on him. In the terrorist mayhem afflicting Turkey, this murder is particularly menacing, because it is not known whether he was acting on his own or on behalf of others.
‐ In the 1950s, three Japanese prime ministers visited Pearl Harbor. But last month, Shinzo Abe became the first to visit the memorial itself: the USS Arizona Memorial. He gave a beautiful and wise speech. One cavil: He said, “We must never repeat the horrors of war.” You could also say that we must never repeat the horrors of expansionist dictatorship, or the horrors of aggression against civilization. In any case, Abe did very well, and he pointed out that the Japanese have built “a free and democratic country that values the rule of law.” Indeed, Japan is one of the happiest stories of the post-war era.
‐ While the world’s gaze was fixed on the unfolding tragedy in Syria, the Obama administration was busy losing military ground in Afghanistan. Fifteen years after 9/11 and four years after the Obama administration’s own Afghan troop surge, the Taliban have retaken the city of Sangin in Helmand province. This is ground that American and British troops fought and died to take, and now it’s back in Taliban hands. This kind of military reversal is a habit for the Obama administration, which gave back entire provinces in Iraq before finally acting to save the country from ISIS. It’s impossible to achieve peace when one side continues to fight, and make no mistake: The Taliban want to rule again. It falls to the incoming Trump administration to make a difficult choice: Commit more resources to America’s longest war, or watch as our enemy reestablishes terrorist safe havens in the very country that launched the worst attack in our nation’s history.
‐ Danilo Maldonado is a well-known street artist in Cuba, nicknamed “El Sexto” (meaning “The Sixth”). He is also a dissident, who has been in and out of prison for years. Our Jay Nordlinger profiled him in an issue last June. After the death of Fidel Castro in November, Maldonado spray-painted a short sentence: “Se fue,” or “He went” (or “He’s gone”). For this, Maldonado was violently arrested and has been imprisoned ever since. The American human-rights lawyer Kimberley Motley was engaged to represent him, but she was denied the right to see him. In fact, she herself was arrested, and then kicked out of Cuba. Fidel may be gone, but his brother is not, and neither is their dictatorship.
‐ Gao Zhisheng is one of the bravest and best men in China. He is a lawyer, and he was once a pride of the government: honored for his work. But then he started defending Falun Gong practitioners, and the government turned against him, hard. Gao is a Christian and lives according to his conscience. The government imprisoned and tortured him for years. They tortured him almost to death. Later, they kept him under house arrest. In this period, Gao managed to write a book, called “Year 2017: Stand Up, China.” It was smuggled out of the country and, last summer, published in Taiwan. Recently, some friends sent the author a copy. Government agents ripped it up and disappeared the author. He has been disappeared before. One day, probably, he will not reappear. But there will likely be monuments to him in a freer China, while the memories of his persecutors are despised.
‐ “I will raise a feminist boy,” writes Polly Dunning in the Canberra Times, in an essay on her distress that she is pregnant with an unborn child bearing that dreaded Y chromosome, a rarity in her extended family. One of two daughters and six granddaughters untainted by the existence of male siblings, Dunning already has two daughters and assumed that her third child would follow the pattern. Alas. Daunted, she nonetheless gathers herself, recognizing that she can “do feminism a great service” by exercising her maternal authority to teach her son to reject male privilege, which, given her ideology and the degree to which he will find himself outnumbered in the Dunning household and clan, is not a temptation he is likely to have much occasion to resist in his formative years. It should come as no surprise, but might to Ms. Dunning, that a boy who grows up with sisters is more likely than other boys to be conservative in adulthood, according to research published in The Journal of Politics (2013). Ms. Dunning, we look forward to your update in 2037.
‐ Trump supporters attacked college student Yasmin Seweid on the New York City subway, calling her a “terrorist” and screaming at her to “take that thing off” — a reference to Seweid’s hijab; shamefully, no one on the crowded subway car came to her aid. In Ann Arbor, a man threatened to set a University of Michigan student on fire unless she removed her head covering. In Louisiana, two men, one wearing a Trump hat, beat another Muslim college student before stealing her wallet and her hijab. “I was very shaken up . . . I’m definitely traumatized,” Seweid told the New York Daily News. “I’m really scared.” The only problem? None of the three incidents actually happened. Seweid lied to her parents, the press, and the NYPD (she has been charged with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor), all to avoid trouble for staying out past curfew and drinking with friends. There are acts of bigotry in America (more are directed at Jews than Muslims), but crying wolf about Islamophobia only feeds the Left’s fever dreams while causing normal Americans to take the next claim with an extra grain of salt. Threats and assaults — religiously motivated or not — should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. As should the hijab hoaxers’ filings of false police reports.
‐ In December, a 23-year-old self-described prankster posted on his YouTube channel a video shot in the aisle of a Delta Airlines plane, from which he excitedly reported that he, along with a friend, was being removed because he spoke Arabic to his mother on the phone. Airline officials said that he had “sought to disrupt the cabin with provocative behavior, including shouting.” That account was corroborated by an Arabic-speaking passenger who told the Washington Post that there had been no phone call. “If someone’s being racist, I would stand up right away,” he said. “It wasn’t like that. I mean, this guy was trying to antagonize people.” Taken in by the cynical young vlogger, social-justice warriors rushed to Twitter to register their indignation over a fictitious case of Islamophobia. The prankster got the reward he clearly sought: a spike in online mentions. Which is why he goes unnamed here.
‐ Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart.com provocateur and self-styled “Dangerous Faggot,” has signed a book deal with an imprint of publisher Simon & Schuster, promising “a string of waspish one-liners and bitchy put-downs from America’s favorite mischievous gay conservative.” Titled “Dangerous” and slated for release in March, the book, according to a press release, will earn Yiannopoulos “a mid-six figure sum.” The response to the news has been entirely predictable: Comedians Sarah Silverman and Judd Apatow are spearheading a campaign to get Simon & Schuster to back out of the deal; the Chicago Review of Books has stated that it will not review any Simon & Schuster titles in 2017, in protest; and Yiannopoulos’s book has shot into Amazon’s top 30 sellers three months before its publication date. Whether Yiannopoulos is “dangerous” is debatable; he is certainly canny about getting lucrative attention.
‐ Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher tweeted “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide” and was astounded to receive a hostile reaction. He attempted to clear things up, saying, “To clarify: when the whites were massacred during the Haitian revolution, that was a good thing indeed.” Surprisingly, this did not improve matters, and the university issued a statement calling his comments “reprehensible.” Having claimed that his intent was to mock white nationalists (“white genocide” is a term they use to decry race-mixing), Ciccariello-Maher should have recognized that praising an actual massacre of white people as a way to “clarify” would have the opposite effect. His intended targets and he deserve each other.
‐ State motor-vehicle bureaus are a symbol of inefficiency that was often invoked in the Obamacare debate: “Would you put the DMV in charge of your health?” This reputation may sometimes be deserved, but spare a thought for the dilemmas they face. A man showed up at a Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles office with a pair of goat horns affixed to his head and applied for a state ID card to reflect his new name, Phelan MoonSong, chosen to reflect his Pagan religious beliefs. MBMV regulations require applicants to remove hats and headgear for their photos, but the rule makes an exception for nuns who wear habits, and Mr. MoonSong said he deserved similar treatment as a Pagan priest who wears horns for his job (presumably Wagnerian sopranos would qualify for the same indulgence). In support of this request, he provided documentation of his beliefs, including a copy of Pagan Religions: A Handbook for Diversity Training (that’s an actual book, and the next time you gripe about your job’s HR department, remember that they may someday have to read it). After much back-and-forth with state officials, finally the word came down from Augusta: Give the man his ID. So, for more reasons than one, if you worship trees, Maine is the place to be.
‐ WFB took great pleasure in the founding of The Weekly Standard in 1995. He was always endeavoring to expand the garden of conservatism, and here was another flower. An impressive one. For more than 20 years, TWS has been edited by William Kristol. In a sense, he is irreplaceable — unique — but magazines survive founding editors and flourish, as NR, among others, has proven. Kristol will now be editor-at-large, while Stephen Hayes becomes editor-in-chief and Richard Starr editor. May their tenure be wonderful, and may our garden grow.
‐ Thomas Sowell, economist, academic, and author, announced that he has given up his column. “Age 86 is well past the usual retirement age,” he wrote, “so the question is not why I am quitting, but why I kept at it so long.” He kept at it because he wanted to save readers, and the nation, from the mistakes that arise from ideology, ignorance, and inexperience. He kept being published because he had the gift of stating complex or profound insights clearly and persuasively. A thought of Sowell’s, the moment you read it, seemed like a thought you had long known yourself but had unaccountably forgotten. “Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed,” wrote Dr. Johnson; Sowell was a reminder par excellence. His many admirers cannot adequately repay him for his good work, but we can and do wish him many happy years.
‐ On hearing of the death of his friend Carrie Fisher, Steve Martin jotted a tweet: “When I was a young man, Carrie Fisher was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She turned out to be witty and bright as well.” Many reacted harshly to this tweet, calling it sexist, or lookist, or whatever the appropriate “ist” is. Martin felt compelled to delete it. A country in which a tweet such as his is verboten is a country that’s a little cuckoo.
‐ In 1926, back when American Communists could aspire to something more than tenure, Earl Browder, a veteran radical, went to Moscow to be instructed in the true faith. While there, he met and married another Communist stalwart, and they had a son, whom they named Felix. Back in America, Earl navigated the Byzantine internal politics of the Communist Party USA expertly enough to run twice as its presidential candidate; meanwhile, Felix became a math prodigy, earning a doctorate from Princeton at age 20. The post-WWII era was hard for anyone with a background like his, and when he was drafted, the Army gave him only menial jobs. But as the mathematician Norman Levinson told the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953, Browder “has been anti-Communist. He has opposed criticism of music in the Soviet Union; the [Lysenko] genetics business. He regards the group running Russia as a bunch of dictators, unscrupulous men.” Felix went on to receive numerous honors, including the National Medal of Science, and this son of hard-core Communists was the father of Bill Browder, who became a billionaire investing in the former Soviet Union before running afoul of the authorities there for his anti-corruption activism. Only in America. Felix died late last year at 89. R.I.P.
‐ The My Lai massacre of March 1968 was possibly the worst atrocity in American military history. As many as 500 unarmed villagers — more than the Nazis killed at Lidice in World War II — were slaughtered by a company of soldiers, some acting willingly and some unwillingly, upon orders from their commander, Lieutenant William Calley. Yet even this horrific event had its heroes: An Army helicopter crew discovered the massacre in progress and, after an angry confrontation with Calley, threatened to fire on the soldiers if they didn’t stop. The crew then returned to base to refuel and report the killings. Hellish as it was, My Lai was kept from being even worse by these three brave soldiers — Captain Hugh Thompson and Specialists Glenn Andreotta and Lawrence Colburn — who were belatedly awarded the Soldier’s Medal in 1998. That award was posthumous for Andreotta, who died in combat a few months after My Lai; Thompson died in 2006 and Colburn at the end of 2016. Colburn and his two crewmates never forgot that their highest duty was to humanity and to the law. Dead at 67. R.I.P.
‐ Zsa Zsa Gabor, last of a trio of socialite sisters, has died at age 99. She was born in Budapest and died in Hollywood; the latter was her spiritual home, but her Hungarian accent was always part of her shtick. Zsa Zsa appeared in a few movies and on numerous TV shows, but she was famous mainly for playing the part of herself — pretty, pampered, and genteelly promiscuous; she was a way station on the celebrity highway that leads to the Kardashians. But unlike them, she had talent (John Huston called her acting “creditable”). Also unlike them, she was intentionally funny, even about herself (nine times wed; she boasted that she was a “marvelous housekeeper — every time I leave a man I keep his house”). Zsa Zsa would never have made and leaked a sex tape. If you give it away, how will you get more houses, dah-link? R.I.P.
THE FIRST AMENDMENT
A Setback for Free Speech
Near the end of the year, the D.C. Court of Appeals issued its decision in Michael Mann’s defamation case against us and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The court dismissed Mann’s claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and also dismissed his claims based on an open letter written by our editor-in-chief, Rich Lowry, taking Mann to task for threatening to file this bullying lawsuit in the first place. At the same time, the court refused to dismiss the defamation claims against NR and CEI based on blog posts by Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg respectively, criticizing Mann’s infamous “hockey stick” graph, which is widely touted as providing lead-pipe-cinch scientific proof of man-made global warming.
In refusing to dismiss these claims, the opinion is badly mistaken. Worse, it represents an unprecedented threat to freedom of speech in our nation’s capital. There’s a reason that a broad coalition of groups including the ACLU, the Washington Post, the Cato Institute, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed briefs in support of NR in the case.
Properly understood, the First Amendment provides broad protection for free expression on matters of political and scientific controversy. It protects vigorous debate not only over the merits but also over the ethics of politically controversial scientific enterprises. In particular, it protects the right of all Americans — scientists, journalists, and even bloggers — to express caustic criticism of scientific theories that purport to resolve hot-button political controversies on matters as sweepingly consequential as the extent and cause of global warming.
The court’s decision badly neglects these principles. It holds that NR may be subjected to a judicial trial and possible sanctions for publishing a blog post arguing that the infamous “hockey stick” graph is misleading and that the underlying scientific techniques are so badly deceptive that they deserve to be denounced as a form of misconduct. The court’s decision thus declares open season on anyone who dares to criticize Mann for “molesting and torturing data” and (in the court’s words) engaging in “deception and wrongdoing” or “serious misconduct.”
By holding that such subjective characterizations are the type of “provably false” statements that can be stripped of First Amendment protection, the court’s decision breaks chilling new ground. It creates the Orwellian prospect of a legal proceeding in which a jury is asked to impose significant penalties on journalists who have the “wrong” opinion on highly controversial issues such as: What counts as “wrongdoing” in the realm of scientific inquiry? Is the “hockey stick” graph deceptive and misleading, or does it fairly and accurately demonstrate a trend of man-made global warming? Are the techniques that Mann employed properly characterized as “molesting and torturing data” (a phrase itself open to interpretation), or are they appropriate methods of reconstructing global historical temperature trends? Should this type of scientific technique be considered misconduct, or is it morally and ethically appropriate?
These are precisely the types of contestable, value-laden inquiries that the First Amendment leaves to be resolved through free and open debate, not punitive litigation. It does not allow our legal system to impose coercive penalties on people who express the “wrong” view. Nor can that conclusion be altered by the fact that certain self-proclaimed authorities may claim to have conducted “official investigations” that provide “definitive” answers to these eminently debatable questions. The idea that such official pronouncements may be used to shut down debate and to stifle dissenting opinions on pain of legal penalty runs against the spirit and the letter of the First Amendment.
Where does this leave NR, and what’s next? The court’s decision comes at a very early stage, addressing only the initial question of whether the case should be dismissed because the speech in question is categorically protected by the First Amendment as a matter of law. By itself, that threshold issue is crucially important for the vibrancy of free expression in our nation’s capital, because the litigation process itself is often the punishment, and nobody should be subjected to the expense and hassle of legal proceedings for exercising his right to speak freely on matters such as this. For that reason, we intend to seek a prompt rehearing from the full D.C. Court of Appeals, followed if necessary by the filing of a petition for review in the United States Supreme Court. Given the Supreme Court’s broad protection of First Amendment rights in recent years, we like our chances on that front. But even after that, several rounds of litigation would still remain standing between Mann and any recovery against NR. We will aggressively assert the full panoply of legal and factual defenses available to us.
Without going into all the details, suffice it to say that the legal terrain is favorable, and we will fight for every inch.
THE MIDDLE EAST
An Ally Betrayed
In a parting, spiteful shot at Israel, the Obama administration permitted a U.N. Security Council resolution to pass that seeks to permanently change the international legal status of Israeli so-called settlements in Jerusalem and the disputed West Bank. Departing from almost 50 years of bipartisan American precedent, and from the administration’s own past practice, the Obama administration refused to veto a resolution demanding that Israel “cease all settlement activities” and declaring that all existing settlements are in “flagrant violation” of international law. The administration abstained from the vote.
By declaring that settlements, including “settlements” in Israel’s capital, violate international law, the resolution purports to carve into stone the armistice lines that existed at the end of Israel’s war for independence. Yet these lines didn’t become lawful permanent borders, because hostile Arab nations refused to recognize the existing battle lines as Israel’s border, declined to create a Palestinian state, and instead maintained a posture of armed hostility to Israel. Indeed, since the West Bank hasn’t been part of a sovereign nation since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the so-called occupied territories aren’t truly occupied under international law. They’re more accurately termed “disputed” territories, with the precise resolution of the dispute to be negotiated by the relevant parties. But now, according to the U.N., it is an alleged violation of international law that the Western Wall remains in Israeli hands.
In a speech delivered a few days later in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State John Kerry sought to defend the administration’s actions, arguing that the status quo in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is “leading toward one state, or perpetual occupation.” But the status quo that he decried is an artifact of ongoing Palestinian terror campaigns, not Israeli settlements. Jews have just as much right to live in the disputed territories as members of any other ethnic group. Additionally, twice in this young century Palestinians have been offered their own state in Gaza and the West Bank, with a capital in East Jerusalem, and twice they have refused. Twice Israel has offered to dismantle substantial numbers of settlements as the price of compromise, and twice the Palestinians have refused. Kerry simply repackaged Palestinian propaganda and reminded listeners one last time that the Obama administration, in which he serves, is willfully blind to the truth of the situation: that the real obstacle to peace in the Middle East is the persistent failure of Israel’s enemies to accept that it has a right to exist, as a Jewish state and within defensible borders. Israel’s enemies sought to exterminate it on the very day of its declaration of independence (when there were no settlements and the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands), and they seek to exterminate it today.
The Obama administration, rather than work toward a meaningful peace, has perverted international law, rewarded Palestinian violence, and ensured Israel’s continued place as the nation most persecuted at Turtle Bay. The world will soon move on from Barack Obama, but he has done his best to extend his legacy of failure and appeasement. The Palestinians deserved a rebuke. Instead they received a gift. Our closest Middle Eastern ally will pay the price.