‐ Harry Reid’s Pentagon UFO study comes as no surprise — those Democrats will fund anything that involves aliens.
‐ Protests have erupted across Iran. From the country’s relatively modern cities to its more remote, fervently religious areas, Iranian citizens are demonstrating for their political freedom and against the despotic theocracy that rules over them. The protests pose the most significant challenge to the regime headed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei since the Green Movement in 2009 — and just as it did then, the clerical tyranny is cracking down. At least 21 people have been killed and hundreds more detained. The response of the Trump administration thus far marks a point of departure from President Obama’s shameful inaction on the 2009 protests: President Trump has publicly criticized the regime, the State Department issued a statement supporting the protests, and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley called for meetings of that body’s Human Rights Council and the Security Council to force countries to acknowledge the issue. Going forward, more-robust actions should be taken, including rebuilding the sanctions regimen against Iran and preventing the regime from blocking access to radio broadcasts and the Internet. If the ruling regime buckles, Iran has a chance to be a normal country that tends to its own interests instead of exporting jihad, but there is no way to know whether that will happen. Nonetheless, we commend these protesters, who are risking their lives, and hope the United States does everything in its power to help them.
‐ In the U.N. General Assembly, 128 countries voted to condemn President Trump’s decision to move the United States’ embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Only nine countries voted against the resolution — us, Israel, Togo, two in Central America, and four in the Pacific. A stunning rebuke? A sign of American/Trumpian isolation? Not so fast. Votes in the General Assembly on matters Israeli are always landslides — against whatever position Israel takes. It is part of the culture of Turtle Bay. Serious countries, such as Britain and France, join in the fun, along with dozens of despotisms. It is perhaps more noteworthy that 35 countries (including Canada and Australia) abstained, while 21 were not present. The only real news was a warning from Ambassador Nikki Haley that we were keeping the tally: “When we make generous contributions to the U.N., we also have expectation that we will be respected. . . . The United States will remember this day.” As well it should.
‐ There was a time when winning a war was a cause for national celebration. Even if the days of ticker-tape parades for conquering heroes are long gone, the effective conclusion of the three-year military campaign against the ISIS caliphate should merit more than a few cursory mentions in the press. In 2014, ISIS was the most feared and formidable jihadist force on earth. It controlled most of northern Syria and Iraq, it commanded the world’s largest jihadist army, and it felt secure enough in its strength to formally declare the existence of a geographic and political caliphate. While ISIS still exists, its caliphate is in ruins. All of the cities it had occupied are in allied hands, and in December the prime minister of Iraq declared his country’s war against ISIS to be effectively over. America’s military offensive began under Obama, but it was finished under Trump, and his administration deserves credit for escalating the war effort — destroying an enemy army while fighting within the laws of armed conflict. It’s a momentous accomplishment, and it merits more recognition than it has received. Can the media at least honor the American soldiers whose sacrifice made victory possible?
‐ In March 2014, Putin’s Kremlin annexed Crimea and started a war in eastern Ukraine. The Trump administration has now approved the commercial sale of certain weapons — lethal defensive weapons — to the Ukrainians. It is not everything the Ukrainians have asked for, including anti-tank missiles. But it is something, and it marks a departure from previous U.S. policy — albeit a departure for which Congress has voted. Last August, Defense Secretary James Mattis, visiting Kiev, said, “Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor, and clearly Ukraine is not an aggressor.” Whatever Putin or Trump originally intended, U.S. policy is becoming markedly tougher on Russia.
‐ Is there an American publication with a worse record of promoting cranks and bigots than Breitbart? It ended 2017 by finally cutting ties with Paul Nehlen, the man Breitbart long promoted as the giant-killer who would unseat Paul Ryan and help Steve Bannon destroy the Republican establishment. In reality, Nehlen was and is an unhinged conspiracy theorist and bigot, a man who has used his Twitter feed to promote alt-right ideas, retweeted celebratory alt-right images from the Charlottesville white-supremacist rallies, and called Muslims “towel heads” and “Achmed.” He publicly said that he believed the infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory: the bizarre claim that Clinton supporters ran a child-sex ring out of a D.C. pizzeria. Throughout this festival of ignorance and prejudice, Breitbart and Steve Bannon continued to support him. It supported him right up to the moment when CNN’s Jake Tapper publicly exposed the worst of Nehlen’s writing and ideas. But Breitbart is not changing its ways: It is just cutting its considerable losses. On past form, it won’t be long before Bannon finds another kook to back.
‐ Around the same time as the Nehlen implosion, Breitbart’s editor-in-chief, Alex Marlow, admitted in an interview with CNN that Breitbart had maintained its full-court press in favor of Alabama’s Roy Moore even though Marlow thought Leigh Corfman — the woman who accused Moore of assaulting her when she was only 14 years old — “had a lot of credibility.” And why did Breitbart keep defending Moore? Because Breitbart believed it should “hold the line” to protect Donald Trump from allegations of past misconduct. It didn’t want the media, that is, to use the Roy Moore precedent as justification for criticizing Trump. Reporters can and should test allegations of misconduct. But that assumes reporters are interested in getting their audience the truth, which is manifestly not Breitbart’s mission.
‐ In December, there was a train crash in Tacoma, Wash. As soon as the bad news broke, political opportunists started their engines. On MSNBC, Joy Reid linked the incident to the not-yet-signed tax bill and proposed that it was the direct result of a lack of infrastructure spending. It wasn’t. In fact, the train had been making its inaugural high-speed journey along newly refurbished tracks, and the accident, which happened on the first day, has been attributed to a number of failures — none of them related to infrastructure. The union has reported on deficiencies in training. Moreover, it has come to light that the train was not using an anti-derailment technology called “positive train control.” Had it been, it would not have entered a 30-mph zone at 80 mph. Not all tragedy can be prevented by Congress.
‐ After a generation of debate, a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been opened to oil drilling, one of the many Republican wish-list items included in the tax bill. The area that will be opened is a relatively small and remote slice of the 19-million-acre refuge, and extracting oil and gas from it will inconvenience no one save the occasional caribou. Environmentalists complain that drilling in the area will have a negative environmental impact and pose the risk of oil spills. They are right about that. There isn’t any way to produce energy that doesn’t involve environmental externalities and risk, and oil-and-gas operations bring with them familiar problems. But from Texas to Pennsylvania, we have seen that responsible operators and regulators are capable of developing our energy resources in an environmentally and economically responsible way, and there’s no reason to think that that shouldn’t be the case in Alaska, too. Indeed, the opening of ANWR gives the energy industry a critical opportunity to showcase its best practices. That will be good for Alaska, for federal tax coffers (adding as much as $1.1 billion in tax revenue over ten years), and for consumers. For all those on the left and on the right who decry our national “addiction to foreign oil” and who worry about our trade deficit (the largest contributor to which has long been oil imports), this is how it gets fixed.
‐ High-tax, liberal states are suing for a restoration of the full federal deduction for state and local tax payments. Their dubious claim is that capping the deduction, as the tax bill just signed by President Trump does, intrudes on state sovereignty. States are also considering ways to game the new tax law. Under one proposal, people would make “charitable contributions” to state governments that would count against their state taxes. Charitable donations are fully deductible. Good luck with that in court. Another idea: States could replace their income taxes with payroll taxes on employers, which remain deductible. Congress might have to act to block states from circumventing the new law that way. If these blue states want to keep their residents from facing higher taxes, they have one legally airtight method open to them: Cut state taxes. That’s one they will consider only when all the alternatives have been exhausted.
‐ Comcast said it would give $1,000 bonuses to more than 100,000 employees based on the passage of the tax bill. AT&T announced $1,000 bonuses to 200,000 employees. It also said it would invest an additional billion in the U.S. in 2018. Other companies made similar moves. Democrats groused that the companies were engaged in a PR stunt — worse, one that undermined their contention that the bill was a sign of the apocalypse. The main argument for the corporate-tax-rate reduction is that it will give companies a bigger incentive to invest here and thus, over time, lead to higher wages for Americans. It’s nice, though, to see some immediate payoff.
‐ Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanon-based jihadist militia, is the most lethal anti-American terrorist organization in history. The common observation that it has killed more Americans than any jihadist group besides al-Qaeda is ill premised: Al-Qaeda thrived because of Iranian support and Hezbollah training. Hezbollah has continued to train and arm jihadist cells that have killed thousands of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also became a $1 billion–a–year international crime syndicate, raking in profits from narcotics and arms trafficking. That is why it was targeted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s “Project Cassandra,” which sought to apprehend and prosecute the jihadist drug lords and disrupt their lucrative operations. A painstaking report by Politico’s Josh Meyer reveals that the Obama administration, from the top down, impeded and suffocated Project Cassandra, protecting Hezbollah heavyweights and their financial institutions. It was done, as an Obama Treasury official conceded, “for fear of rocking the boat with Iran and jeopardizing the nuclear deal.” Dishonor, in a bad cause.
‐ The New York Times reports that the Pentagon undertook a years-long study of UFOs at the behest of former Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid, who was spurred to action by the interest of a billionaire benefactor, aerospace executive Robert Bigelow. The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program began in 2007 and wrapped up in 2012 — after burning through more than $20 million. “It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change,” the Pentagon said. Indeed. The program was an off-the-books black-money operation. Senator Reid had a penchant for channeling federal dollars into his private interests, including such national priorities as cowboy-poetry festivals in his home state of Nevada. Our friend Christopher Buckley considered shenanigans of this sort in his comic novel Little Green Men, but in Washington truth is indeed much stranger than fiction.
‐ “Why,” Trump tweeted, “is the United States Post Office, which is losing many billions of dollars a year, while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages, making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer?” It seems likely that the president’s concern is driven more by his dislike of Jeff Bezos than by anything else. Regardless, the question is a solid one. A recent report by Citigroup suggested that the USPS is effectively subsidizing Amazon, and that the average cost of a shipment would be raised from $3.51 to $4.97 if the USPS charged the appropriate rate. There is a great deal of hyperbole aimed at Amazon, with some on the political left wishing to cast it as a monopoly and to use the government to “break it up.” This is folly. But, whatever the case for the Postal Service per se, there is certainly no good reason for Americans to be using it to ship money to billionaires.
‐ Remember those Facebook ads the Russians allegedly used to throw the 2016 election to Trump? Republican senator Richard Burr (R., N.C.) reports that the Democratic strongholds of Maryland and Washington, D.C., were targeted significantly more than swing states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania; more of the geographically targeted ads ran in 2015 than in 2016; ad spending in Wisconsin amounted to all of $44 during the general election, against $1,925 during the primary; and all ad spending in Pennsylvania totaled a measly $300. If the Russians did this at Trump’s behest, the president deserves a refund.
‐ In 2015, the city of Atlanta terminated its fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, after Cochran wrote and disseminated to a handful of people at his job a book for Christian men that expressed in part an orthodox view of Christian morality. Those sentiments alone — without any evidence that he’d discriminated against any employee in his department — were sufficient to end his career. Cochran sued, and just before Christmas he received a measure of justice. A federal judge held that city rules that required Cochran to receive permission before writing a book were unconstitutional. The ruling, however, was not entirely positive. The judge dismissed some of Cochran’s claims, essentially granting offended employees a “heckler’s veto” over “offensive” speech — even speech on matters of public concern. The case will likely go on, and one hopes that a court of appeals will protect the First Amendment more robustly. A measure of justice is preferable to no justice at all, but Cochran deserves better from federal court.
‐ In December, a federal judge in New York dismissed a lawsuit filed against President Trump alleging that he is violating the Constitution’s foreign-emoluments clause (at least two similar cases are pending). The plaintiffs argued that Trump was in breach of the clause owing to his position as the proprietor of hotels, restaurants, and other amenities that offered services to foreign dignitaries — and thus Trump was corruptly accepting gifts from abroad. While the judge didn’t rule on the merits of the case — he ruled that the plaintiffs lacked the standing to sue — the charges are baseless, the matter is beyond the ken of the federal bench, and the court was right to punt the matter back to the political branches. Accepting payment for services rendered is not the equivalent of accepting a gift or an emolument. If Trump’s business interests cross into the realm of corruption, impropriety, or the appearance thereof, it is up to Congress to police him.
‐ Hundreds of bureaucrats have left the Environmental Protection Agency since Trump took office, and the New York Times says the former employees are “disheartened” about the direction of the EPA. Both are positive developments; neither is a surprise. During the 2016 election, Trump promised to streamline the agency, which had ballooned to more than 15,000 employees under Barack Obama. The Obama-era EPA was a tool with which the president bypassed Congress and implemented his executive decrees. Its regulations were crafted via tendentious readings of the relevant statutes and placed an onerous burden on states and the private sector. Now, under the direction of Scott Pruitt, the EPA is more efficient, no longer a drag on the economy, and it operates within the confines of the constitutional order. A reduction in its size and a change in its direction were sorely needed. The knee-jerk right-wing reaction to this story is the right one: The exodus of these bureaucrats is reassuring.
‐ Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Texas) flew first class from Houston to Washington over the holidays. Nothing special about that. What made it so was that the airline (United) bumped another passenger, Jean-Marie Simon, to accommodate the congresswoman; another Texas solon told Simon, who was shunted to the back, that this was the third time he had seen Lee do this. What made it even more special was that after Simon came forward to take a picture of Lee in her former seat, Lee tweeted that Simon must have been piqued because Lee was “an African-American woman.” Simon is a humanitarian photographer, who was coming back from Guatemala; so, not likely. Government officials’ throwing their weight around and private companies’ helping them do so are wretched social habits, more suited to a Gogol novel than to a republic. Using accusations of racism to protect the practice is Representative Lee’s major contribution to our public life.
‐ Harvard professor Cornel West and author Ta-Nehisi Coates had a media smackdown, like some duel between jazz soloists. West started it with a piece in the Guardian, accusing Coates of “fetishiz[ing] white supremacy. He makes it almighty, magical and unremovable.” The only response, West says Coates thinks, is an aestheticized “racial tribalism.” Coates defended himself online, then followers of both men piled onto Twitter, from which Coates finally withdrew, deleting his account. An old titan attacks a young god: a familiar story. But there is also an issue in the struggle. For all of Coates’s success, especially with white readers, his stance is tribal and hopeless. A committed man of the hard Left, West sees the truth upside down, but he does see it: There are other problems in America besides race, and the solutions even to our racial problems involve policies and approaches (economic, cultural) that are non-racial.
‐ The National Center for Health Statistics has crunched the numbers for 2016 and reported a drop in Americans’ life expectancy, for the second year in a row. We can expect to live 78.6 years, a drop of 0.1 year from 2015 — small, but statistically significant. (The last back-to-back downturns were in 1962–63.) The two biggest killers, heart disease and cancer, dropped slightly, but there was a bump up in unintentional fatal injuries, which includes accidental drug overdoses. Coincidentally, former secretary of state George Shultz and former Mexican finance minister Pedro Aspe co-authored an op-ed calling for a shift in both countries’ drug-war strategies: from interdicting supply to diminishing demand (by medical treatment and education). It has been time, for a long time, to reevaluate our drug policies, but the death rates are yet another reminder.
‐ Here’s a dog that didn’t bark: The total number of deaths from accidents involving regularly scheduled passenger jets in 2017 was . . . zero. In 1972, 2,429 people died in airline accidents. In 2014, it was 761. Steady incremental improvements in aircraft and air-traffic-control procedures over the years have made commercial aviation safer than it ever has been, one of the many little improvements in life that happen so gradually as to be almost imperceptible. The world is healthier, safer, more peaceful, better fed, and better cared for than it ever has been, and in spite of the angst and wailing on the news every night, Americans are in real terms richer and more free than they ever have been. We live in an age of wonders, one of which is safe, affordable, nonstop service between Chicago and Orlando. Now if we could only get them to operate on time, and maybe to put copies of National Review in those seat-back pockets . . .
‐ Undoing the top two buttons on her Hervé Pierre peau de soie lumberjack shirt, Melania Trump stepped into a pair of high-heeled Fendi work boots and strode purposefully across the White House lawn. Adjusting her diamond-studded Roberto Cavalli safety goggles, she cranked up the Miele chainsaw and swiftly cut down a magnolia tree originally planted by Andrew Jackson . . . Well, at least that’s the impression you would have gotten from certain news outlets (e.g. People, Newsweek) after the first lady — traditionally in charge of the White House grounds — followed the advice of National Arboretum experts that Jackson’s magnolia had deteriorated so much that it could fall down at any minute, and reluctantly decided to have it removed. “Melania Trump Orders White House Tree from the 1800s to Be Cut Down” was a typical headline. Jackson is said to have planted the tree in memory of his wife, Rachel, who was maligned as an adulteress during her husband’s presidential campaigns. Now Mrs. Trump, too, knows what it’s like to be the unfairly abused wife of an impetuous populist politician.
‐ Sanctions are merely a placebo, cynics like to say, because there’s always some way for the unscrupulous to get around them. Scruples certainly don’t bother the North Korea of Kim Jong-un, which is why the United Nations has imposed sanctions on his regime in the hope of stopping its development of a nuclear bomb in defiance of the rest of the world. Except Russia, that is: Two Western European security services have evidence from naval intelligence and satellite imagery that, on three separate occasions this autumn, Russian ships at sea have transferred oil to North Korean ships. An official spokesman claims that Russia has “fully and strictly observed the sanctions regime,” and there is no evidence that the Russian state rather than some crooked dealer is selling the oil. With or without official involvement, sanction-busting undermines U.S. policy; that’s the point.
‐ Those who opposed Brexit, the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, predicted economic catastrophe. “The final nail in the coffin,” David Brown of New View Economics called it; an “economic disaster,” proclaimed Philippe Legrain in the New York Times. Funny kind of disaster: Capital Economics forecasts economic growth as high as 2.2 percent in the coming year for the United Kingdom, and other forecasts have been reasonably optimistic as well. The pound is a little weak, but that helps British exports, while low interest rates have kept consumers spending. There isn’t any fundamental economic reason that leaving the European Union should punish the British economy: The Brits will seek to maintain liberal trade and economic relations with the Continent, but simply want free of the overbearing bureaucrats in Brussels. The United Kingdom needs Europe, Europe needs the United Kingdom, and the British people’s decision to assert their sovereignty need not change any of that. Britain managed to prosper for a good three or four centuries without recourse to Belgian bureaucracy, and there’s no reason to suppose that the British — the inventors of modern capitalism — have forgotten how to prosper.
‐ Vladimir Putin knows many things, including how to rig an election. He also knows how to add a poetic touch. He has banned his main opponent, Alexei Navalny, from running. And he has scheduled his reelection for March 18 — the anniversary of his annexation of Crimea. It is good to be king, or dictator.
‐The day after Christmas, when the attention of Western diplomats and journalists was scarce, a court in Beijing sentenced Wu Gan, a human-rights activist, to eight years in prison. Wu calls himself the “Super Vulgar Butcher” (long story), bringing theatrics and a mocking, devil-may-care tone to his colorful protests. The Chinese government’s suppression of civil liberties is widespread and longstanding; researchers estimate that thousands of practitioners of Falun Gong, for example, have been seized since 2000 and their organs harvested. A Chinese human-rights advocate has no shortage of victims to defend. Fighting for them, he risks becoming one of them, to be defended by other brave souls who . . . the cycle ends when one side gives up, the government or people who desire freedom. Wu is appealing his sentence. If he doesn’t walk, may others step up for him, follow in his footsteps, and make twice the noise that he’s made, for the next eight years or as long as necessary.
‐ “Food deserts,” neighborhoods without easy access to grocery stores, have been an obsession of urban progressives for a generation. They are held up as failures of capitalism, the poor being abandoned to 7-Elevens and bodegas, lacking the collective consumer clout to command the presence of a proper grocery store stocking fresh produce and other healthful foods. The problem of food deserts has long been an “article of faith” among urban leaders, as the New York Times put it. But now comes a National Bureau of Economic Research study of the relative food-buying habits of the poor and the well-off to challenge that faith. Relying on bar-code data, the researchers found that the poor, including those residing in so-called food deserts, spend about the same share of their food money in grocery stores as the well-off: about 90 percent. That includes those residing in ZIP codes with no grocery store at all. Opening new grocery stores in those neighborhoods tends to shift purchases from one grocer to another rather than shifting purchases from corner stores to grocers. The main challenge of the poor, as it turns out, isn’t access to a grocery store. It’s access to money. Some things are so obvious they are almost counterintuitive.
‐ You probably thought that hugging people you’re not close friends with couldn’t get any more awkward, but NBC News is doing its best to make that happen. New company guidelines for inter-employee embraces specify, according to the New York Post, “a quick hug, then an immediate release, and step away to avoid body contact”; for some reason they omit the awkward moment of hesitation beforehand and nervous giggle afterwards. If, despite this stricture, “affairs, romances, inappropriate relationships or [mis]behavior in the office” occur, they must be reported to management immediately by anyone who finds out about them. Other offenses on the oddly comprehensive list include “sharing taxis home” and “taking vegans to steakhouses” (we would add “taking anyone to a vegan restaurant”). So because an NBC anchorman sexually harassed women, everyone at the company must now practice office Asperger’s.
‐ The “Me Too” sexual revolution, unstoppable and in great part welcome, will also, like most revolutions, commit a number of excesses. One of its many victims has been Leonard Lopate, for decades a public-radio interviewer and talk-show host at WNYC in New York City. Lopate was canned recently for violating his station’s “standards for providing an inclusive, appropriate, and respectful work environment.” One of his alleged disrespectful deeds: telling a producer working on a segment about a cookbook that the word avocado means “testicle.” (It does, from Nahuatl via Spanish.) If he then asked her about avocados she had known, throw the bum out. But if giving an etymology is a terminal offense, we are establishing a standard of prudery akin to that under which the legs of chairs were called “limbs.”
‐ “Queering the Bible” may seem as pointless as “straighting” Plato’s Symposium, but that’s not enough to stop Professor Gwynn Kessler of Swarthmore College, who is offering the Bible course this spring after teaching the even more ambitious “Queering God” last fall. That course asked the question: “If we can point out places in traditional writings where God is nurturing, forgiving, and loving, does that mean that God is feminine, or female?” Classical theism acknowledges the inadequacy of our language to describe God. We can say for sure that whatever pronouns He prefers, they should be capitalized.
‐ One by one they go — our heroes in the Cold War. Last June, General Edward Rowny, age 100, attended the funeral of his fellow Cold Warrior and Polish American, Zbigniew Brzezinski. Now General Rowny, too, is gone. He commanded troops in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He was an arms-control negotiator under four presidents. When Carter signed SALT II, Rowny retired from the Army, so that he could speak against the treaty. Reagan brought him back to serve as chief negotiator in the START talks, making him an ambassador. After swearing him in, Reagan asked, “Do I now address you as ‘Ambassador’ or ‘General’?” Rowny answered, “Sir, it took me 20 years to become a general, and only 20 minutes to become an ambassador.” Reagan saluted and said, “Yes, sir, general.” Rowny’s hero was Paderewski, the great Polish pianist and statesman. Paderewski died in New York during World War II. FDR ordered that his remains be kept at Arlington Cemetery until Poland was free. Those remains finally traveled to Poland in 1992 — an act in which Rowny had a significant hand. He was the kind of man on which America, and freedom, have long depended. R.I.P.
‐ “One is not in the priesthood to win a popularity contest,” Father Bernard Francis Law wrote in the newspaper of the Catholic diocese of Natchez-Jackson, Miss., in the 1960s. As editor, he earned death threats and lost subscribers for running strongly worded editorials and columns defending civil-rights activists. Pope John Paul II appointed him archbishop of Boston in 1984. In 1992, Cardinal Law, as he now was, railed against the Boston Globe for its reporting on the trial of a Boston priest who later admitted to having molested at least 100 children. The Globe reported more, and worse, in the “Long Lent” of 2002: Law and his predecessor had covered up for hundreds of priests who had abused more than 1,000 children, in the final tally completed years later. He begged the victims for forgiveness. Overnight, he became the face of the sex-abuse scandals flooding the Catholic Church in America. The greater scandal: His abject handling of pedophile priests was typical for bishops of his time. Law resigned in December 2002 and spent his last years in Rome, in a sinecure and then retirement. Dead at 86. Lord, have mercy.
‐ National Review has lost a great friend. Raised in the 1930s in Kansas City in a rock-ribbed Republican family, Judge Thomas Griesa went to Harvard and then Stanford Law School and was appointed to the district court for the Southern District of New York by Richard Nixon. A fearless jurist, he most notably blocked a proposed superhighway along the West Side of Manhattan, gave the green light to the redevelopment of Times Square, and refused to allow Argentina to stiff its creditors. He loved the Constitution, the law, and his clerks. He was a great enthusiast of, well, everything, but especially opera, classical music, and ballet (his elegant wife, Chris, was a former dancer). Tom’s characteristic gesture was slapping his knee in delight. He didn’t drink, but to be in his presence was, to paraphrase Churchill, like enjoying a bottle of champagne. We got to know him on the NR cruises, and will miss him dearly. RIP.
‐ An American movie actress, Hiep Thi Le, has died at 46. In its obituary, the New York Times included a stunning statement by the deceased. She was nine when she fled Vietnam with her mother and sister. Their father had already left. “We were just told by my mom that we had to go look for Dad, and that he had gone to someplace called ‘America,’ which we interpreted was the city across the river, since it had lights.” R.I.P.
Trump Should End the FBI Stonewall
President Trump is oddly passive while his own appointees running the Justice Department and the FBI stonewall investigations run by Republican-led congressional committees.
The House Intelligence Committee, in particular, has aggressively probed indications of investigative malfeasance by these executive agencies during the Obama era. They include the investigative irregularities and legal contortions indulged to avoid indicting Hillary Clinton; the August 2016 suggestion by a counterintelligence agent central to both the Clinton-emails and Trump-Russia probes that the FBI needed an “insurance policy” against the dreaded possibility of Trump’s election; the Justice Department’s use of the Steele dossier — a partisan opposition-research screed paid for by the Clinton campaign — to obtain a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil Trump associates in the run-up to the election; the “unmasking” of Trump associates incidentally intercepted in foreign-intelligence collection; and the incessant leaking of classified information by government officials. The beneficiary of full disclosure about these matters would be President Trump. Yet the leadership he has installed at the Bureau and DOJ continues to impede Congress. Other than the occasional fitful tweet, in which he presents himself as a spectator rather than the chief executive with authority to order his subordinates to cooperate, Trump does nothing. He should compel Justice to comply with congressional subpoenas and use his own declassifying power to shed more light on these issues.
When he does speak, the president reliably says something counterproductive. He boasts, “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” by which he means that he could shut down the Russia investigation if he pleased. Doing that would spur bipartisan calls for his impeachment; and the remark is chest-beating if, as the president says, he has no intention of firing the special counsel or shutting down the probe.
Even worse is Trump’s profession of “great respect” for Eric Holder for the way he “totally protected” President Obama. Holder was the first attorney general in American history to be held in contempt of Congress, precisely for defying congressional demands for information about scandalous administration misconduct. Assuming, as we must, that Trump’s comment about Holder was a dig at his own Justice Department’s failures to shield him, it was a misfire: Obstruction is not a course to be praised, and the problem is that DOJ’s current leadership is precisely following the Holder model — albeit to shield the Department and the FBI, rather than the president, from accountability.
That Trump is often his own worst enemy is by now a truism rather than a mere observation. The president is reportedly apoplectic that the collusion narrative endures. But his own foolishness can’t help but make people wonder whether there’s fire despite the lack of smoke.