Magazine | May 29, 2017, Issue

The Week

‐ We were for firing Comey before the Democrats were against it.

‐ President Trump fired FBI director James Comey, who had made himself eminently fireable. Last July, Comey took it upon himself to become not only the nation’s top policeman, but its top prosecutor, explaining in a long press conference that while Hillary Clinton had clearly broken the law by hosting classified information on her private e-mail server, she did not deserve to be prosecuted — a decision that was not his to make. Then, shortly before November’s election, Comey announced that the FBI was reopening its investigation into Clinton’s e-mails, based on evidence found on the computer of Anthony Weiner. A few days later, he reclosed the reopened investigation. This sequence of events — which has had Republicans and Democrats repeatedly reversing themselves in their opinions of Comey — was outlined in a memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who rightly observed that Comey’s actions broke with longstanding Justice Department precedent, to the frustration of critics on both sides. Indeed, the Bureau’s reputation is at a low ebb because of Comey’s decisions, and one way or the other, he needed to go. Of course, press reports suggest that when Trump fired Comey, he was angry about the Russia probe, Comey’s ubiquity in the media, and the FBI director’s refusal to make a statement exonerating him of wrongdoing. If true, none of this speaks well of Trump. The public deserves a forthright answer about the hows and whys of the decision, and if the White House does not provide it, Congress must seek it. Ideally, the administration will find a replacement well respected on both sides of the aisle who will be appropriately independent of the position’s inevitable political pressures.

‐ The Trump administration announced ten judicial nominees — all of them professionally accomplished and known as conservatives. These nominations matter more than ever: The federal courts’ power has continued to grow, but the Supreme Court’s docket has shrunk. Trump has deferred to the right people on this issue, both inside and outside his administration. Judicial nominees are the brightest spot in the Trump presidency.

‐ Call it the Almost Victory Lap. Hillary Clinton, in an interview with CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour, said, “If the election had been on October 27, I would be your president.” She blamed her loss on FBI director James Comey, on WikiLeaks, on misogyny . . . Before chewing once more on these gnawed old bones, one must say that the main reasons Mrs. Clinton lost were her opponent and herself. For all his flaws and blunders, Donald Trump had a simple message: I will fight for you. Hillary Clinton was entitled, evasive, and unprincipled: unclear about her own goals and a bad manager of her team. Her husband was cut out for this line of work; she manifestly is not. If her party does not learn this and move on, maybe it isn’t, either.

‐ President Trump’s executive order on religious liberty was tepid at best and dangerously misleading at worst. The declaration that the administration intends to vigorously protect religious freedom is preferable to anything Hillary Clinton would have said, but the order itself has no legal force. Its allegedly operative provisions — taking on the Johnson Amendment (which restricts the political activities of nonprofits) and the HHS contraception mandate — changed no laws or regulations, and if pastors or leaders of other nonprofits rely on the executive order to enlist their organizations in partisan political activities, they still risk their organizations’ tax exemptions. The language regarding the contraception mandate was particularly weak, merely urging the relevant agencies to “consider” changing regulations to protect religious liberty. Moreover, the order was completely silent on the hot-button culture-war issues that constitute the gravest threat to religious freedom. If Trump truly wants to protect religious freedom, his order wasn’t even a start. There’s hard legislative and regulatory work to be done, and if this order is any indication, Trump has little appetite for the task.

‐ Congressional leaders have hammered out a 1,700-page, $1 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund the government through the end of fiscal year 2017 (which falls on September 30). It is noteworthy for what it does not include: most of Donald Trump’s and Republicans’ recent campaign promises. The bill does not defund Planned Parenthood. It does not include any of the deep cuts to domestic agencies that the president has proposed. Public broadcasting is funded at current levels. The National Endowment for the Arts’ budget is increased. There’s even funding for California’s high-speed rail. What did Republicans get? The bill provides $1.5 billion for border-security improvements (which cannot be used for new border-wall construction). The president also received $15 billion in supplemental funding for the Pentagon, as well as an extra $10 billion for emergency defense spending through the overseas-contingency fund. There is at least one significant victory here: These defense outlays were not tethered to an equal increase in non-defense discretionary spending — an Obama-era precedent that has long needed to go. Nonetheless, it’s hard to chalk the bill up as anything but a loss. Yes, there were limits to what Republicans could do: They needed Democratic votes to push a spending bill over the finish line, and they undoubtedly would have shouldered the blame for a shutdown, justifiably or not. But Republicans control the White House and both branches of Congress. From this bill, one might well think the opposite.

‐ In May, the entertainer Jimmy Kimmel delivered a heartfelt monologue in defense of Obamacare. Kimmel related the experience of his newborn son, who needed immediate postnatal surgery to fix a heart defect. The incident, Kimmel proposed, made him appreciate Obamacare’s protections. “If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to,” he argued, “it shouldn’t matter how much money you make.” That Kimmel went through a horrific experience is not in doubt; neither is his right to advocate whatever system he prefers. But his view on this matter is dangerously simplistic. In Kimmel’s view, Americans face a choice: They can have a health system in which nobody is excluded, or they can give “a huge tax cut to millionaires.” This is false. Health care is a scarce resource, which means that whatever regime is installed, there will always be trade-offs. Under the current system, which Kimmel prefers, many Americans still do not have insurance, and even more have coverage that does not make economic sense for their families. In addition, Medicaid, which accounts for most of the recent increase in coverage, is now accepted by fewer and fewer doctors and increasingly provides substandard care. As for single-payer — the usual “solution” to these problems — it would not meet the standard that Kimmel has laid out. Should the plan put forward by Bernie Sanders be passed by the U.S. Congress, it would add $32 trillion in spending, necessitating significant tax hikes on more than just the “millionaires” who Kimmel believes should pay. We are glad that Kimmel’s family is doing well but would invite him to look beyond it when laying out his policy preferences in the future.

‐ In his opening monologue on The Late Show, Stephen Colbert called Donald Trump . . . no, we won’t say what he called him. It was from the left (natch), savage (also natch), and grossly sexual (the new natch, apparently). The Twitterverse exploded with suggestions that Colbert’s remark was homophobic (he imputed to Trump a practice that, if the imputation were true, would suggest that the president is gay, or at least gay-curious). It wasn’t — it was class-ophobic. If we want to experience this kind of stuff, we can go to a bar, a locker room, or any unedited comments section. Colbert gets paid millions of dollars to do better. Shame on him.

‐ Jim DeMint left the Senate to become president of the Heritage Foundation. Now Heritage has ousted him. His critics say he was a bad manager who got the think tank too involved in political machinations rather than the generation of ideas. His fans say this is just a power play by rivals. We hope that the turmoil ends soon, so that Heritage can resume exerting a constructive conservative influence on Republicans in Washington, D.C. — an influence that is more needed than ever. For that matter, we hope Senator DeMint can do the same thing in whatever new role he finds.

‐ President Trump’s latest tax-reform proposal — he offered two during the campaign — is his least detailed yet. It contains some good ideas. Ending the deduction for state and local taxes would keep low-tax states from having to subsidize high-tax ones. Cutting the corporate tax rate would make investment in the United States more attractive. But the plan will have to be filled in carefully. Trump says nothing about letting businesses write off the cost of investments immediately, which is at least as important as lower rates in encouraging investment. His desire to help families with child-care costs should lead to tax cuts for all parents, not bigger tax subsidies for commercial day care. And with the debt scheduled to grow ever larger, budget plans should not be made in the expectation that higher economic growth or spending restraint will materialize in the future. Trump appears to be letting Congress take the lead from here. It should seize the opportunity to combine pro-growth reform, middle-class tax relief, and fiscal prudence.

‐ President Trump does enjoy trade theater. He spent a few days making noises about simply pulling the United States out of NAFTA (it is not clear that he has the power to do so unilaterally) and then announced with some fanfare that he would merely be renegotiating the trade accord. Trump has been complaining about NAFTA since before it was signed — opposition to it is one of the few consistent features of his political outlook. But in all these years, he has never discussed at any length any specific provision of the accord to which he objects, and many of his public statements on the subject suggest that he understands what NAFTA says and what it does only in a very general way. There probably is no single feature of our contemporary public life that is as grossly undervalued as the close economic relationship between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. One of life’s little ironies is that the same populists who detest NAFTA covet “energy independence,” seldom acknowledging that what they really are talking about is North American energy independence: Nearly half of our crude imports come from Canada, and Canada imports tens of billions of dollars’ worth of U.S.-made energy products. NAFTA, like all the works of men, is imperfect, but President Trump owes it to the country to explain what exactly it is he would like to see changed before he charges willy-nilly into a very important economic relationship. The United States has enemies enough in the world, and the Canadians are not among them.

‐ Trump has already decided to teach those dastardly Canadians a lesson, which he intends to do by raising prices for American construction companies and their customers. At issue are longstanding complaints by U.S. lumber producers who believe that their Canadian competitors receive an unfair subsidy from Ottawa. Most U.S. timber is harvested on private land, while most Canadian timber is harvested on Crown lands, where prices are set through long-term contracts called “tenures.” Those fees, some U.S. firms insist, are too low. The issue has been repeatedly litigated under both NAFTA and World Trade Organization procedures — this is one of the reasons we have those trade accords — and Canada has prevailed, with trade authorities finding that whatever indirect subsidy Canadian lumber producers may be receiving is trivial, amounting to less than 1 percent of the prices they pay for logs. Canada has vast forests and a population smaller than California’s; that looks like a cheap place to produce lumber, irrespective of forestry policy. Jacking up prices on Canadian lumber, which is commonly used in house-framing, will hurt U.S. builders, real-estate developers, and home-buyers in the service of a narrow domestic business interest that repeatedly has failed to make its case. NAFTA and the WTO provide valuable procedures for resolving trade disputes. But sometimes U.S. business interests lose, simply because they do not have the better case.

‐ Former president Barack Obama announced that he would give a speech in September on health care sponsored by the investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald. His fee: $400,000. In America’s dream-mind, we might wish our ex-presidents would return, like Cincinnatus, to their plows. But that possibility vanished long ago. Once they reenter private life, ex-presidents monetize their eminence. It comes with less grace from an ex- who trashed Mitt Romney as a heartless gotrocks, and some liberals — notably, Senator Elizabeth Warren — criticized Obama for it. To which we say, like the old lady, described by Abraham Lincoln, watching her husband fight a bear: “Go it, husband! Go it, bear!”

‐ Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has a number of “firsts” to her credit. She was the first Cuban American elected to Congress (in 1989). She was the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress. She was the first Republican woman elected from Florida. But her real distinction has been her unflagging dedication to freedom the world over. She is a famously cheerful woman, but she is also fearless and staunch. As much as she is a friend to political prisoners, she is a scourge of dictators. Fidel Castro labeled her “la Loba Feroz,” meaning “the Ferocious She-Wolf.” “Ily,” as the congresswoman is known, has announced her retirement from Congress at the end of this term. No one is irreplaceable, but it’s hard to imagine another Ily.

‐ Ajit Pai, head of the Federal Communications Commission, is starting to undo one of the mistakes of the Obama years. The FCC imposed sweeping new regulations on the Internet in the name of “net neutrality,” which became a cause of the Left. The concern was that service providers would favor preferred websites and hinder access to others. Never mind that there was no evidence that this was happening or about to happen, and never mind as well that the governing law passed by Congress was a deregulatory one. After the FCC acted, investment in broadband declined — something that, as Pai points out, has not previously happened except in a recession. Net freedom is a policy that worked phenomenally well until the FCC started moving away from it in the last few years, and luckily we are returning to it.

‐ When the American Civil Liberties Union came out against a rioter’s veto over speeches on campus, it was a refreshing reminder of the middle two words in its name. In other recent controversies, the ACLU has argued against religious-liberty statutes that it used to support; sued a Catholic hospital for refusing to perform sex changes; and urged that Obamacare be kept on the books. If the ACLU is going to be just another interchangeable liberal organization, perhaps it should follow the example of the National Abortion Rights Action League, which renamed itself NARAL so that the letters would literally no longer stand for anything. Or the two groups could just merge?

‐ The EB-5 visa program, which offers visas to foreigners who invest $500,000 or more in certain American development projects, is riddled with problems. A 2015 Government Accountability Office report found that the program presents a high risk of fraud, because EB-5 recipients are not subject to the same requirements as other visa holders, and noted cases of counterfeit documentation. In 2013, Virginia state authorities suggested that gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe had used the EB-5 program as a de facto “visa for sale” scheme. The program is again in the news after Nicole Meyer, sister of presidential adviser Jared Kushner and a higher-up at Kushner Companies, advertised visas to Chinese investors for half-million-dollar investments in a Jersey City, N.J., housing development. During a visit to Beijing, Meyer spoke about how the project “means a lot to me and my entire family” and discussed her brother’s tenure as the company’s CEO. This episode, together with so many other problems, makes a compelling case for reforming this misbegotten program.

‐ Beyond all the photo-ops, Michelle Obama’s school-meal crusade also yielded minute and detailed federal requirements for lunchroom ladies across America. Scholastic cafeterias are not commanded merely to cut down on salt and use whole grains and skim milk almost exclusively, but must even “offer all the vegetable subgroups identified by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans over the course of the week in minimum required quantities.” Anyone who has had children will recognize multiple flaws in this scheme, not least that a cafeteria staff that can mess up sloppy joes will now be expected to prepare arugula primavera. While the bulk of Michelle’s busybody regulations remain in effect, Trump’s Agriculture Department has clawed back at least a few by allowing low-fat chocolate milk and loosening scheduled changes that would have further squeezed sodium content and required 100 percent whole grains. If the public-school kids of America could vote, it would be Trump in a landslide.

‐ Minimum-wage increases lead to a deterioration of health in less-skilled American workers, particularly unemployed men, according to Michael R. Strain et al. in an article in Economic Inquiry. That should surprise no one: Those for whom employment is already out of reach are like pole vaulters who are unable to clear the bar and then see it raised. In itself, increased stress is a risk factor for disease, and then despair of reentering the labor force can lead to depression, which can lead individuals to neglect their health. The researchers’ findings are not monolithic — women, for example, show a slight improvement in mental health as the minimum wage rises, even as their overall health declines — but the bigger picture of the effect that minimum-wage hikes have on the segment of the population most directly affected by them is not bright. Skeptics of raising the minimum wage often point out that it reduces opportunity for young adults and others looking to climb the ladder. Add health impacts to the list of unintended costs that advocates of raising the minimum wage should address if they want their proposals to add up.

‐ Texas governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law banning “sanctuary cities” in the Lone Star State. The law makes local officials, including the administrators of public colleges, subject to Class A–misdemeanor charges if they refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities’ requests to hold noncitizen inmates for deportation, and imposes civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day, along with possible jail time and removal from office for recalcitrant officials. The bill, Abbott has said, is intended to ensure that Texas cities are not “harboring people who have committed dangerous crimes,” as has been the case in other so-called sanctuary cities. Local officials need to have some discretion (in order, for example, to investigate violent crime in illegal-immigrant communities), but municipal declarations that their jurisdictions will never cooperate with federal immigration enforcement go too far, and Texas is entirely within its rights to call them to account. Governor Abbott seems to recognize that his job is to make the whole state a sanctuary for the law-abiding.

‐ Georgia has decided to become a “campus carry” state. In so doing, it will join 30 other states in which colleges are either required or permitted to allow licensed students to bring their guns onto campus. The reaction to the news has been predictable. In The Atlantic, the Times, and the Washington Post, terrible prognostications abound. Before long, we are told, the state’s colleges will resemble the O.K. Corral. Imminently, we will see rampant grade inflation, as professors become terrified of their students. Ineluctably, debates over politics will turn fatal. Are these fears founded? It is hard to see how they can be. Georgia, recall, is coming late to this party, and it is a party that has been peaceful hitherto. In the other 30 states in which the idea has been tried, precisely nothing of consequence has happened. There has been no decline into Wild West violence, no pernicious alteration of the student–teacher rapport, no ugly undermining of the spirit of debate. As usual, liberalization has proven uneventful. So it will be in Georgia. And the next state after that.

‐ Emmanuel Macron won a thumping 66 percent in the runoff round of the French presidential elections — not bad for a 39-year-old first-time candidate leading a brand-new political party (called “En Marche!”). For all his newness, Macron is a child of the established center-left: a graduate of one of the schools that populate the French governing class, a former minister in the Socialist government that he replaces. His bet is that he can recharge the French economy by undoing its rigid labor laws, while simultaneously persuading the Germans to inject a little inflation into the euro. (What is the French for crossing a chasm in two jumps? Fais gaffe!) Marine Le Pen’s 34 percent of the vote fell humiliatingly short of pre-election polls — but nearly doubled the 17.8 percent her fascist father won in the runoff in 2002. The National Front, dirigiste, protectionist, pro-Putin, and anti-immigrant, remains to snarl at every misstep — and potentially to profit.

‐ The chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, visited the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, at his home in Sochi. They discussed ongoing war in Ukraine and ongoing war in Syria. Putin is a bad actor in both. Also, Merkel pressed him on civil and human rights in Russia: the brutalization of gays, particularly in Chechnya; the banning of the Jehovah’s Witnesses; the arrest of political dissenters. This is Western leadership, and will be appreciated by not a few Russians.

‐ President Trump is right to fast-track American missile-defense systems to South Korea. He is wrong to risk the presence of that system by demanding that South Korea foot the bill for it. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery bolsters American and South Korean defenses against missile attack, but this increased security has come at a cost. China is angry, many South Koreans are nervous, and throwing a wrench into the deployment through a demand for payment (quickly modified by Trump’s national-security team) unnecessarily heightens tensions. That’s not to deny that South Korea should ultimately pay more than the roughly $880 million per year it currently pays the U.S. to offset the cost of American defense deployments. But that negotiation should occur when existing agreements expire next year, not through public threats in a time of heightened tensions and a change of government in Seoul. We can’t forget: The THAAD battery protects American lives as well. For now, its presence is more important than payment.

‐ In a move that stunned the State Department and the National Security Council, President Trump invited the Philippines’ president, Rodrigo Duterte, to the White House. He did this in a friendly phone call to Duterte. Duterte is a brute and a murderer, with a great deal of blood on his hands. He revels in this record, too. It’s true the United States has an interest in the Philippines. It is a historic ally. Also, it was our only colony. Duterte has been in a fiercely anti-American mood, denouncing President Obama as a “son of a whore” and saying that he would realign the Philippines with China. Trump is right to reinforce ties to the Philippines — but past administrations have tended that alliance while also standing for human rights, and Trump should follow their example.

‐ The main opposition leader in Russia, Boris Nemtsov, was murdered in 2015. Since then, the main opposition leader in Russia has been Alexei Navalny. He has not yet been murdered. The Putin government has bedeviled him with arrests and charges, making it impossible for him to run for office. He has been subject to physical attacks as well. In the latest, an assailant threw a toxic liquid in his face, mainly blinding him in one eye. The government has denied Navalny the right to go abroad to seek treatment. The government also seems in no hurry to catch the assailant. Navalny has displayed sangfroid, saying that he hoped he would be cured, but, if not, Russia would someday have “a president with a stylish white eye.”

‐ Venezuela must be another one of those places where “true socialism has never been tried.” The country has descended into anarchy; soldiers are brutalizing protesters in the streets; people are starving, with the average Venezuelan having lost nearly 20 pounds over the past year because food is so scarce; people are dying horrible deaths in hospitals that lack the ability to provide routine services. How did this happen to what was, not all that long ago, the wealthiest country in Latin America? The answer in Venezuela, as in Cuba and North Korea and any number of backward basket cases, is: socialism. Hugo Chávez came to power on a wave of populist support and, cheered by American Democrats ranging from Representative Chaka Fattah and Jesse Jackson to celebrity liberals such as Sean Penn and Oliver Stone, began enacting a program out of the Bernie Sanders playbook: large-scale redistribution, plundering the private sector, “democratizing” key economic sectors, large and ultimately unsustainable increases in welfare spending, etc. What happened next was predictable enough: rising debt and inflation; the imposition of currency controls and other political efforts to substitute brute force for economic reality; the shutting down of opposition media as fronts for moneyed elites, and then naked political repression; shortages of everything from toilet paper to cooking oil; ever more unlikely conspiracy theorizing insisting that all of this unhappiness was somehow cooked up by the CIA and Wall Street. We have seen this show before, and we know how it ends. Socialism is socialism.

‐ Christians hoping to return to their ancient homes in the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq have to rebuild them. ISIS invaded in 2014 and promptly set about burning their houses. Kurdish peshmerga drove ISIS out last winter, but not before its fighters littered the towns with booby traps. Former residents fear to go back, even if only to assess the damage. To reestablish lasting Christian communities over the ruins, they need security, jobs, and infrastructure — a package too difficult for anyone to assemble in one fell swoop. Instead of doing nothing because it can’t do everything, Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic relief organization, is doing something. It has led the formation of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, a consortium of Catholic and Orthodox Christians, which earlier this month broke ground on the construction of 100 homes, the first installment of a plan that includes 11,900 more. The final cost is estimated to exceed $200 million. Persecuted Christians in the Middle East have learned to put not their trust in princes. They depend on the generosity of coreligionists living in comparatively comfortable circumstances in America and elsewhere. Take the hint.

‐ Quit the soul-baring: This is the message a source close to the British royals relayed from Queen Elizabeth II to her grandsons, who spent last year talking about mental-health issues, particularly their own, in a major PR campaign. “It might be that soul-baring isn’t what Buckingham Palace is looking for,” according to the source. With Prince Philip retiring from public life, the queen believes her family must focus on “representing the nation,” not “individual royal activity.” It’s a refreshing throwback. Did anyone need Prince Harry telling Robin Givens, “Everyone needs a hug every now and then,” before adding, “And it so happens that I’ve been told over and over again that I’m very good at giving hugs”? Or the boys talking about their trauma in soft-focus videos? The Queen should relay blunt advice from her one-time confidant Winston Churchill: “If you are going through hell, keep going.” She knows the truth of it. And even with a faltering husband and grandchildren given to cringeworthy disclosures, the queen keeps going. She intends to maintain her full public schedule this year.

‐ The lure of the open road, stretching forth into the sunset, has inspired Americans from Whitman to Kerouac to Cormac McCarthy, and, in this respect, Australia is basically America with Vegemite. Its spacious outback highways have long attracted novelists, filmmakers, and assorted dreamers — most recently a precocious twelve-year-old who drove 800 miles west from his family home outside Sydney, stopping occasionally to pump some gasoline without paying. One gas-station manager said the boy was tall enough to pass for 20, and he certainly drove like a college kid, hitting a curb along the way and dislodging the rear bumper (which was why the police finally pulled him over). The adolescent antipodean said he intended to visit relatives in Perth, 2,500 miles away; more likely, it would seem, he just wanted to get out of his hometown. But either way, before he attempts his next epic road trip, we suggest he wait until he’s old enough to acquire a license, and perhaps a bit of world-weariness.

‐ Jumana Nagarwala, a Michigan doctor, has been charged with mutilating the genitals of two seven-year-old girls, a federal crime. In a report on the case, the New York Times referred to the barbaric procedure of female genital mutilation as “genital cutting.” The Times section editor explained in response to a reader’s question that she “chose to use the less culturally loaded term” because “there’s a gulf between the Western (and some African) advocates who campaign against the practice and the people who follow the rite.” She didn’t want to use language that “widened that chasm.” Indeed, the gulf between those who brutalize young girls by disfiguring their genitalia and those who regard that practice with horror could hardly be wider. Dr. Nagarwala, who faces ten years in prison if convicted, will find that the U.S. criminal code is clearer on this point than the Times.

‐ Two things are true at once about Ann Coulter’s recent attempt to speak at the University of California, Berkeley. The school was wrong not to protect her fundamental First Amendment freedoms, and she was wrong to respond to the controversy by turning on her friends and allies at the Young America’s Foundation. Shortly after she canceled her appearance on campus (amid fears of mob violence), she tweeted out a direct attack at YAF, her original co-sponsor for the planned event, accusing it of acquiescing to the university’s censorship. YAF did not acquiesce; it sued the university. In fact, YAF made the same choice that Coulter made — not to risk seeing young men and women bleed in the quad when the university had already demonstrated its unwillingness to protect speakers and students from mob violence. Instead of pointing fingers at one another, conservatives, and others interested in free speech, should be focused on the university’s dereliction.

‐ ESPN is in trouble. It has committed huge sums for rights fees to broadcast live sports, its subscriber base is declining, and it just laid off dozens of employees, including some of its most famous “front-facing” talents. While “cord-cutting,” the process of debundling cable services in part through greater use of streaming video, is costing ESPN revenue, its decision to politicize its programming content seems to be changing its audience. A media-research firm recently found that ESPN’s viewing demographic has moved left along with its content — at least in one key city — and it makes sense that, as the channel keeps moving left, it will decrease its potential audience. Not every sports fan likes to celebrate Caitlyn Jenner’s transition or to listen to hours of commentary praising Colin Kaepernick’s alleged moral courage. ESPN’s demise is hardly imminent, but the audience for endless coverage of the Victimhood Olympics is limited.

‐ We’re into the Soviet-revisionism portion of Bill Nye’s career. As part of his new Netflix show Bill Nye Saves the World, Nye recently aired a segment titled “My Sex Junk,” which features Nye, who holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, gyrating in the background as actress Rachel Bloom sings about how “sexuality’s a spectrum.” But in a 1996 episode of Nye’s previous show Bill Nye the Science Guy, a young woman explains that “inside each of our cells are these things called chromosomes, and they control whether we become a boy or a girl. See, there are only two possibilities: XX, a girl, or XY, a boy.” There is some dispute about who did the deleting — Netflix or Buena Vista TV, which holds the program’s distribution rights — but the episode in its Netflix version no longer includes that scene. Hypothesis: What’s changed in the two-decade interim between shows has nothing to do with science.

‐ Adolph Kiefer was born in 1918 in Chicago. His parents had been born in Germany. Adolph became one of the greatest swimmers in the land, making the Olympic team at age 17. He won the gold medal — in the Berlin Olympics. Another Adolph, or Adolf, wanted to meet this boy. That was the chancellor of Germany. Hitler considered Kiefer a son, or near son, of Germany. So he came with his entourage, including Goering. After shaking the swimmer’s hand, Hitler pronounced him “a perfect example of the true Aryan.” Before long, this true American was in the U.S. Navy, designing a program to save our seamen from drowning. He later went into business and has now died at 98. His life was an example of the nature of America and Americans — a concept that Hitler and other racialists have always had trouble understanding. R.I.P.

HEALTH-CARE REFORM

Doctoring the Bill

House Republicans passed a health-care bill that is flawed, unpopular, and being received by Democrats and the press as an act of wanton cruelty. They were nonetheless right to pass the bill, because it offers a chance to set health-care policy on a better course than Obamacare — if the Senate improves it.

In the run-up to the House vote on the bill, the Democrats seized on an amendment that they claimed threatened people with preexisting conditions, who sometimes had difficulty finding insurance before Obamacare. While some Democrats claimed that the amendment would put nearly half of the U.S. population at risk of financial or medical calamity, the truth is that it is carefully limited. Under the amendment, a state could allow insurers to charge higher premiums, for one year, for people who were entering the insurance rolls with a preexisting condition. People who had maintained their insurance coverage (which they would be getting financial assistance from the federal government to do) could not be charged extra for any medical condition. The hope is that by keeping people from gaming the system — going without insurance while healthy, then buying it at favorable rates when sick — the change would enable a reduction in premiums.

Some liberals have engaged in a particularly despicable distortion of this provision, saying that the bill “defines rape as a preexisting condition.” No part of the bill does this, of course. And nearly every state has laws that prevent women from having to pay higher premiums because of medical conditions resulting from rape.

The second attack on the bill is that it takes health insurance away from millions of people. Most of those millions are buying coverage now only to avoid Obamacare’s fines on people who forgo insurance. The Republican bill eliminates those fines and so the Congressional Budget Office predicts that they will leave the insurance rolls. Several million other people, however, would lose insurance that they want because the bill also rolls back Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid.

That program provides substandard insurance at a high cost, and the bill’s reforms to it are generally valuable. But the bill could usefully be changed to get more people into private coverage. The subsidies the bill provides to help with insurance purchases should be augmented for people who make a little too much money to qualify for Medicaid; they should also be augmented for people in their fifties or early sixties, whose policies are more expensive. Insurance companies that benefit from the subsidies should be required to offer at least one policy with a premium equal to the size of the subsidies. That way people could get, at no out-of-pocket expense, some protection from the cost of a medical emergency. States could also assign such coverage by default to people who do not use their subsidy.

Such changes to the bill would mean that it yielded a smaller change to the number of people with insurance. More people would have catastrophic coverage, and changes in government policy would cause less disruption in insurance markets. The bill would be more popular, too. The result would be a health-care market that still had a significantly larger role for the federal government than we would prefer, but one in which it was significantly easier for people to choose the insurance they want.

Criticism of the bill has featured a high ratio of hysteria to sense. Senate Republicans should set calmly to improving it.

In This Issue

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Letters

Girl with Bull I read Jay Nordlinger’s piece about Fearless Girl (“Girl, Misplaced,” May 1) and her placement opposite Charging Bull and agree that it’s an injustice that the new sculpture ...
The Week

The Week

‐ We were for firing Comey before the Democrats were against it. ‐ President Trump fired FBI director James Comey, who had made himself eminently fireable. Last July, Comey took it ...
Poetry

Poetry

MOONLIGHT IN NASHUA The moonlight rouses me at half past three, piercing through thick curtains I had drawn, but for this gap. My heavy-lidded eyes return the glare. What’s this bald rock to me but ...

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Culture

Courage: The Greatest of Virtues

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Or Listener), As the reporter assigned the job of writing the article about all of Sidney Blumenthal’s friends and supporters told his ... Read More
Immigration

My American Dream

This morning, at 8 a.m., I did something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember: I became an American. I first applied for a visa in early 2011, and since then I have slowly worked my way through the system — first as a visa-holder, then as a permanent resident (green card), and, finally, as a ... Read More
U.S.

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second ... Read More