• Call us old-fashioned, but we don’t believe in standing by and saying nothing when women get beaten by men, even in track and field.
• While the House voted to disapprove of President Trump’s declaration of a border emergency, all but 13 Republicans stuck with the president. In part that’s because they’re loyal to Trump, in part because many of their voters are, and in part because they agree — as do we — that the government should spend money to augment physical barriers at the border. But the use of emergency declarations to get around partisan disagreements is a genuine novelty, and one at odds with the constitutional design. Senate Republicans who vote to disapprove will anger the White House, but they will have the Constitution (and the polls) on their side.
• Michael Cohen appeared before the House Oversight and Reform Committee (welcome to the new Democratic House, everyone) to audition to be the new John Dean. Most of his testimony was expected: We have been getting leaks about what Cohen knows for months. Two items stood out. Cohen denied going to Prague, a claim of the Steele dossier that contributed to the launch of the Russian-collusion investigation. And Cohen said he was continuing to cooperate with the Southern District of New York — federal prosecutors looking, beyond the Mueller probe, into other areas of possible Trump wrongdoing. If the president has any vulnerability, it could be here. There were also atmospherics. Woodrow Wilson wanted Congress to be like Parliament serving a prime-ministerial president, not a coordinate branch; most House Republicans obliged, tearing at Cohen like a pack of spaniels. And: Trump and Cohen are now blood enemies, but once they were hand and sock puppet. What does that history say?
• The 2020 Democratic primary may be a marathon, but it has begun with a sprint to the left as the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris work to out-woke one another — alighting, for the moment, on reparations for slavery. The candidates who are for reparations have not yet come to any consensus on what they would entail: Cash payments to some or all black families? A general broadening of welfare intervention on the theory that this would disproportionately benefit black families? The divide is ideological: Senator Bernie Sanders is among those leaning toward a focus on “inequality,” whereas the social-justice Left demands a more explicit focus on race. Reparations are a bad idea for many reasons: There isn’t some undifferentiated fund of Confederate or plantation-derived capital out there, and much of what afflicts black America is not likely to be cured by a transfer payment. But this is not, at the moment, a question about policy; it is about positioning, a cynical attempt to get a leg up in what we might call the Ta-Nehisi Coates primary, i.e., the race to secure support from influential social-justice figures on the left. While the primary candidates are working through reparations, Democrats in the states have settled on abortion radicalism, extending now into infanticide, as their litmus test. Both positions are deeply unpopular. The walk back will be long and arduous.
• The House Democratic caucus was recently in a flutter about loss of discipline. Democrats backed a bill to expand federal background checks on gun purchases; Republicans pushed an amendment to require that ICE be notified when illegal aliens try to purchase; freshmen Democrats from swing districts voted with the GOP. Speaker Nancy Pelosi read the moderates a lecture: “We are either a team or we’re not, and we have to make that decision.” Socialist poster-girl Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did her one better, threatening, according to her spokesman, that when “activists ask her” how such an amendment got attached to such a bill, “they’re going to want a list of names and she’s going to give it to them.” Threats are cheap. The test will be: Can Ocasio-Cortez turn her considerable ability to raise money for herself into a machine that can support primary challengers, and incumbent soulmates, in other districts? That, after all, is the source of Nancy Pelosi’s power. Money talks louder than talk.
• Joe Biden made the mistake of referring to Vice President Mike Pence as a “decent guy” in the course of criticizing Trump in a speech in Nebraska. The compliment was not allowed to stand for long. “You’ve just called America’s most anti-LGBT elected leader ‘a decent guy,’” tweeted actress and left-wing activist Cynthia Nixon. “Please consider how this falls on the ears of our community.” “You’re right, Cynthia,” Biden tweeted back. “There is nothing decent about being anti-LGBTQ rights.” Elizabeth Warren, for her part, went on record with her view that Mike Pence is a bad person. Fair warning for Democratic presidential contenders: It’s now a gaffe to concede the basic decency of your political opponents.
• IDEAS SUMMIT: Every two years, National Review Institute holds an Ideas Summit in Washington, D.C. This year the theme is “The Case for the American Experiment,” and confirmed speakers include Mike Pompeo, Betsy DeVos, Marco Rubio, Dan Crenshaw, Tucker Carlson, Tammy Bruce, and Adam Carolla, as well as all your favorite National Review writers. The subject of our cover story in this issue, Mark Janus, will receive the 2019 Whittaker Chambers Award. The summit is March 28 and 29. Please go to www.nrinstitute.org to find out more. We’d love to see you there.
• Two cheers for Senator Dianne Feinstein — the doddering California Democrat whose combination of sanctimoniousness, cluelessness, and great wealth makes her an almost perfect mascot for the contemporary Democratic party, and who has brought momentary focus onto a pet issue of ours: the instrumentalization of children as political props. Senator Feinstein was ambushed by a group of obnoxious brats organized by something calling itself the “Sunrise Movement,” the children demanding that she bend the knee to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the so-called Green New Deal. Senator Feinstein, who may not in fact be able to bend at the knee, was having nothing of it and scoffed at the little tykes and their self-important antics: “I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” she told them, which is true. “I know what I’m doing,” she added, which is less true. “You come in here and you say, ‘It has to be my way or the highway.’ I don’t respond to that.” The only way it could have been better is if she’d come out for spanking.
• President Trump ordered that senior adviser Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, be given a top-secret security clearance, over the objections of top administration officials. The FBI vets candidates, and security officials determine whether to grant a clearance. The president, however, is the ultimate authority and has the power to permit access to classified information. Kushner has done a competent job on such weighty responsibilities as Middle East peace negotiations and criminal-justice reform, but he plainly would have been denied a clearance were he not the president’s relative. In his vetting process, it emerged that he had potentially problematic foreign associations and heavy business debt; worse, he failed to disclose meetings with Kremlin operatives — one during the campaign, with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower (implicated in the Trump-Russia investigation), and another with the Russian ambassador and the head of a Kremlin-tied bank. The administration will take a modest political hit over this, and deserves to.
• Senate Democrats have defeated the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would require doctors to provide standard medical care to infants born alive in the course of attempted abortions. Forty-four senators voted no — every Democrat aside from Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Doug Jones (Ala.), and Joe Manchin (W. Va.) — preventing it from reaching the necessary 60-vote threshold. Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), the bill’s sponsor, brought the legislation to the floor in response to Virginia governor Ralph Northam’s implied endorsement of letting some infants die. Democrats claimed the legislation is anti-abortion and redundant given existing law, but in fact it places no limits on abortion and no comparable federal law exists. Senate Democrats revealed that their dedication to abortion rights is so strong that they are willing to tacitly endorse infanticide.
• The Trump administration has finalized a new rule that will result in the largest drop in federal funding for Planned Parenthood since the group first began receiving government subsidies nearly five decades ago. The rule forbids the use of Title X family-planning funds “to perform, promote, refer for, or support abortion as a method of family planning.” Planned Parenthood and its defenders claim that the policy will remove necessary health care from millions of American women. In reality, family-planning funds won’t be reduced at all, merely redirected from groups that commit abortions. The statute governing the Title X program has always declared that “none of the funds appropriated under this title shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning,” but that language has been effectively ignored for much of the program’s history. This welcome change ensures that it no longer will be.
• At present, all commercial firearm sales involve an instant background check to establish whether the purchaser is prohibited from owning a gun. If the purchaser passes the check, the sale proceeds. If he fails, the sale is halted. If the check comes back incomplete, the government has three days to complete it or the sale goes ahead. This system is not without its problems, but its existence can be justified on the grounds that almost all commercial sales involve interstate commerce at some point, and that, thanks to the maximum three-day window, it is a highly limited imposition on a core right. The Democrats have passed two bills through the House that are far less justifiable. The purpose of their first bill is to extend federal oversight to firearms transactions performed solely within a state, even when the transfer involves no commercial activity. This violates the enumerated-powers doctrine in service of limiting an enumerated right. The purpose of the second bill is to extend the time during which government incompetence can deny a person access to firearms, which, were the first bill to be enacted, could be obtained by no other means. A series of studies has shown that extending background checks to private sales has no effect at all on crime. These bills will languish in the Senate, as they should.
• Everyone was wrong about the individual mandate, from the Democrats who crafted Obamacare to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which credited the mandate with keeping 14 million Americans insured. Now the mandate is gone, and the consequences are expected to be minimal: A new report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services puts the coverage “loss” at just 2.5 million. The original fear was that healthy people would leave the individual market without a mandate because they could sign up later if they got sick. This would raise premiums for everyone else, leading even more healthy people to leave and beginning a “death spiral.” Now it turns out that most Obamacare enrollees have little reason to abandon the exchanges — they are heavily subsidized, and the subsidies rise whenever premiums do. The CBO’s mistake hurt Republicans in their quest to replace Obamacare, as the agency claimed that killing the mandate would increase the number of uninsured dramatically; it also helped Republicans’ tax-reform efforts, because the CBO predicted large savings from repealing the mandate (i.e., enrollees would leave and give up their subsidies). Two wrongs, however, don’t put the agency anywhere close to being right.
• Senator Kamala Harris, the California Democrat and presidential candidate, was among those who greeted the news that the average tax refund this year was smaller than it was last year by lambasting the Republican tax cut as a fraud on the middle class. As we noted in a previous issue, this criticism was absurd. If refunds shrank, it was because tax withholding got more accurate rather than because tax levels rose. Evaluations from across the political spectrum agree that more than 90 percent of tax filers received a net cut. Besides, the complaint was made early in tax season. Data from later on now suggest that the average refund is slightly higher than last year’s. The news came out the same day that the Democrats running the House Ways and Means Committee repeated the attack. Refunds aren’t vanishing, but this argument against the tax cut is.
• Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell, on Capitol Hill, was asked his thoughts about “modern monetary theory,” a recent fad on the left. He replied with some exasperation about how hard it is to pin down its adherents, who respond to every criticism by saying that their theory has been misunderstood. The theory starts with an accurate claim — that governments can borrow more if their debts are in a currency they themselves issue — and takes it to imply that governments should rely heavily on debt backstopped by money creation. If inflation rises too high, the MMTers urge, higher taxes should be used to control it. One flaw in this theory is that it depends on politicians’ responding to voters angry about inflation by raising their taxes. A second is that politicians have occasionally tried this gambit (check out the latter days of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency) and failed. Powell’s criticism of MMT slipperiness has also been expressed in recent days by Paul Krugman. Which makes it close to unanimous.
• We recently praised a proposal in the Oregon state legislature to relax zoning regulations, but now the state is headed in a worse, albeit more familiar, direction. Governor Kate Brown signed into law a statewide rent-control bill that caps annual rent increases at 7 percent (plus inflation) and limits landlords’ ability to evict their tenants. Both basic theory and decades of practice tell us that rent control doesn’t work, but instead discourages the construction of affordable housing and encourages developers to build commercial and luxury properties. This time will be no different, and the eviction restrictions won’t help. Even if the bill’s cap on rent is comparatively modest, like all regulations it will likely prove to be the edge of a wedge. Housing is decreasingly affordable, in Oregon as in many states. Rent control is not a solution.
• The “Me Too” movement has lost one of its leaders. Time’s Up CEO Lisa Borders resigned after her son was accused of sexual assault. That fact alone would be newsworthy, but what makes this story particularly poignant is that she resigned in part to “proactively defend” her son. Commenting on her resignation, the Time’s Up board noted that it “unequivocally supports” survivors. As Borders has now learned, it’s easy to Believe Women until someone you love faces an accusation. Then, the due process you once scorned becomes a lifeline: the only thing standing between your son and the punitive action that could well ruin his life.
• Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, was charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution after being caught in a police sting of Orchids of Asia, a strip-mall spa in Jupiter, Fla. The massage-parlor racket lures Asian women to the United States with promises of work, entangles them in debts to lawyers and other “helpers,” often sequesters their passports, and then sends them forth to service clients. The slice of their earnings they command is tiny; to make any real money they must give sexual favors for tips; shame prevents them from coming forward. A dirty, soul-destroying business.
• Early in February, Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) explained on Twitter that politicians support Israel because “it’s all about the Benjamins baby.” A storm of complaint forced her to backtrack. But before the month ended she was at it again, telling a crowd at a left-wing D.C. bookstore that pro-Israel Americans think “it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” This brought a blast from Representative Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) who called her remarks “outrageous and deeply hurtful.” Such attacks, he added, “have no place in the Foreign Affairs Committee.” Omar sits on it, Engel chairs it. What will the Democratic leadership do? Try to muffle the controversy as long as possible, by passing a resolution condemning such prejudice, without naming Omar and without reassigning her. The lady from Minnesota seems determined to make that as difficult as possible, however. See Proverbs 26:11.
• A sincere apology is not very common in public life, and maybe not all that common in private life either. Madeleine Albright, a secretary of state under President Clinton, gave one. She was testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, and one of the subjects was Russia. In the 2012 general election, President Obama mocked the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, for his concerns about Russia. Albright chimed in with her own criticism. But, in front of the intelligence committee, she said, “I personally owe an apology to now-Senator Romney.” Why? “I think that we underestimated what was going on in Russia. I was on the CIA external advisory board. There was no question that less money was being put into Russian language and what was going on in Russia.” Some people have a tendency to forget, said Albright, that a KGB man runs the Kremlin. And he “has played a weak hand very well.” He has put Russia “back on the scene.” Albright’s is a reset we can support.
• The standoff in Venezuela continues, with military and security forces largely remaining loyal to the strongman, Nicolás Maduro. Juan Guaidó and the opposition continue to try to tip them. The government succeeded in blocking humanitarian aid to the starving country. Authorities fired buckshot and tear gas at people trying to deliver the aid. That, among other things, revealed the dark heart of this chavista regime. The United States placed sanctions on Venezuelan officials responsible for such actions. That hit them in their pocketbooks, where it hurts. The U.S. also revoked the visas of dozens of others. The wreckers of Venezuelan democracy “are not welcome in the United States,” said Elliott Abrams, the State Department envoy to Venezuela. “Neither are their family members who enjoy a privileged lifestyle at the expense of the liberty and prosperity of millions of Venezuelans.” People speak of “the right side of history.” Leaving history out of it, the United States is definitely on the right side.
• The world has a nervous twitch whenever India and Pakistan reveal their mutual hostility and there is the prospect of a nuclear exchange. Last month, a suicide bomber from Jaish e-Muhammad, one of the most aggressive Islamist groups, killed 42 Indian paramilitary policemen in Pulwama, a town in the part of Kashmir under Indian rule. Reprisal soon followed. The Indian air force attacked the Jaish e-Muhammad encampment, claiming to have killed 300. In a dogfight the next day, Pakistan shot down two Indian MiGs, captured one of the pilots, put him on television, and returned him home. Face saved all around, the world again stopped twitching.
• For two years the Israeli authorities have been examining charges that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has abused his office. It’s a witch hunt, Netanyahu maintains; his opponents have tried and failed to vote him out, so they resort to this alternative. Calling for a general election on April 9, he’d given them one more chance to vote him out. In the runup, however, Avichai Mandelblit, the attorney general, has announced that Netanyahu faces criminal charges of corruption, bribery, and breach of trust, for which he is to be indicted. It is alleged that Netanyahu promoted regulatory changes that benefited a telecom company, in return for which the company’s news site published items favorable to him; and also that he accepted champagne and cigars to the value of $300,000. The timing of the charges is at best unfortunate, at worst its own abuse. They have wiped out the record of Netanyahu’s ten-year tenure, and his ratings in the polls have fallen. Whether or not he is found guilty, this is a stricken moment for Israel.
• Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is in trouble, and that trouble follows a familiar pattern: Young progressive rides into office on a white steed with promises of unprecedented openness and accountability, but quickly gets mired in a predictable scandal involving politically connected business interests, abuse of power, and domestic realpolitik. In Trudeau’s case, the allegation is that he attempted to bully his justice minister at the time, Jody Wilson-Raybould, into rigging an investigation in favor of Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin, an engineering and construction firm that is accused of bribing Moammar Qaddafi’s Libya in pursuit of fat infrastructure contracts and then defrauding the same government of hundreds of millions of dollars. A criminal conviction in the matter might have cost tens of thousands of jobs in Canada, and Trudeau and his gang handed down a number of what Wilson-Raybould described as “veiled threats” intended to influence the investigation on SNC’s behalf. Irrespective of what becomes of the Trudeau government, there is a lesson: What is in theory progressivism in practice is corporatism, an alliance of political and business interests that incentivizes corruption of the kind Trudeau stands accused of.
• The headline in the (London) Telegraph said a lot: “Saudi crown prince defends China’s right to put Uighur Muslims in concentration camps.” Between a million and 2 million of these people have been rounded up. They are subject to torture and murder. The Chinese Communist Party is doing its utmost to wipe out the Uighur language and culture. The Party has turned Xinjiang Province, or East Turkestan, into the most oppressive surveillance region in the world. Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman traveled to Beijing to secure trade deals. Riyadh and Beijing enjoy friendly relations. The Chinese have backed the Saudis 100 percent in their murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist. According to Chinese state media, MBS said this about his fellow Muslims in China: “We respect and support China’s rights to take counter-terrorism and de-extremism measures to safeguard national security.” Xi Jinping could not have said it better. Fred Hiatt, the editorial-page editor of the Washington Post, summed up the crown prince’s attitude this way: “You can have your concentration camps. I can have my murder.”
• Confucius Institutes have always been problematic, when not downright sinister. They are expressions of the Chinese Communist Party’s “soft power.” The institutes are language-and-culture centers on university campuses throughout the world, and there are almost 100 in the United States. Recent days have seen two reports on Confucius Institutes: one from a Senate subcommittee, one from the Government Accountability Office. Both reports voice well-grounded concerns about the institutes — in particular, the CCP influence that comes with them. In 2014, the American Association of University Professors issued a report of its own. AAUP said that universities should either close their Confucius Institutes or renegotiate their agreements with Beijing so as to ensure academic freedom. That makes good sense. Plus, a university can establish its own Chinese program, however humble. Given that the Chinese government is a one-party dictatorship with a gulag and ethnic prison camps, why should an American university be in partnership with it in the first place?
• The French government has announced a complete ban on cell phones in elementary and intermediate state-run schools, effective next year. The ban will apply not just in classrooms but everywhere; students will not even be able to check their phones between classes or during recess. A parents’ group opposes the ban, while educators seem split: Half fear being turned into gendarmes to enforce the policy while the rest welcome anything that might force the students to focus on their work. Other arguments, pro and con, can be made, mostly depending on circumstance; and that’s why, instead of issuing edicts from Paris, the best course would be to let local teachers, parents, and residents decide each school’s policy on their own. But the land that invented laissez-faire rarely practices it.
• Members of the United Methodist Church, America’s third-largest Christian denomination, voted in a special conference to reaffirm orthodox Christian teaching against homosexuality. That teaching entails both the decision not to certify “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” for ministry and the understanding that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. The vote for the “Traditional Plan” on human sexuality was close — 53 to 47 percent — and angered many within the Methodist fold and in the wider world. Those who adhere to orthodox Christian sexual morality have won a battle in a culture war that they’re losing, at least here in the West. Their rejection of homosexuality stems from bedrock beliefs about the purpose of sex. To answer the charge of bigotry, they need to situate their beliefs in the context of that larger vision, which is honorable, and to explain it with equal measures of clarity and charity.
• Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, transgender students in Connecticut, came first and second in the 55-meter girls’ indoor state track championship this year. Selina Soule, a competitor who was narrowly defeated, pointed out on Fox News that Miller and Yearwood have obvious physiological advantages as biological males. She’s right. Taller height, greater weight, broader shoulders, stronger grip, bigger lung capacity, more upper-body strength, higher muscle-to-fat ratio, and longer resistance to dehydration are just some of the reasons for the performance gap between men and women in sports. Yet some believe that pointing this out amounts to “transphobia.” Martina Navratilova, nine-time Wimbledon singles champion, found out as much after she wrote in the Sunday Times of London that allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports based on nothing but their self-reported gender identity was “insane.” For this she was promptly dropped from the board of a U.S. LGBT sports organization. Thus does women’s sports disclaim its own history and subvert its own purpose.
• “Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?” Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson, himself a black man, asked upon announcing the arrest of Jussie Smollett. Why Smollett would use the symbolism of a noose is obvious: Such shocking, hateful, incendiary details are certain to generate vast quantities of publicity. Smollett, an actor who Johnson said wished to use such exposure to raise his weekly salary for the show Empire (reported by the Associated Press to be more than $100,000), was charged on February 21 with a felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false report after he allegedly paid $3,500 to two brothers to fake a hate-crime attack. The details of that assault looked to neutral observers like low-grade television writing, and the methodical accounts of Chicago reporters who covered the story up close made it clear from the start that there was likely more to things than met the eye. Nevertheless, national activist groups and celebrities rushed to blame the fake attack on the supposedly hateful atmosphere created by President Trump and/or Vice President Pence. If any of these grievance hucksters have apologized for further dividing America, we must have missed it.
• The big winner at the 91st annual Academy Awards ceremony was Green Book, a soft-hitting, ground-non-breaking buddy comedy about an uneducated white driver overcoming his racial bias in the process of witnessing the racist cloud that trails a gifted black pianist he chauffeurs around the Jim Crow Deep South. Observers who were rooting for an angrier race movie, such as Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, or a film whose cast is almost entirely black, such as Black Panther, denounced the choice — Green Book “reeks of bad faith and cluelessly embodies the white-supremacist attitudes it’s ostensibly decrying,” wrote Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. Lee himself, when the evening’s last winner was announced, staged an impromptu one-man protest, turning his back on the speech of winning producer Peter Farrelly. Green Book is a trite mediocrity that was anointed solely because the Academy wants to show it stands against racism, but the fracas about its victory demonstrated that, once identity politics rather than quality becomes the chief criterion by which life’s goodies come to be distributed, the result is not a widely shared feeling of social satisfaction but bitterness and resentment.
• You know how your spouse is always nagging you to clean the garbage out of the car? Candy wrappers, pencil stubs, packets of tissues with only one left — some of history’s most passionate love affairs have foundered over this issue. But there’s hope. The next time your beloved renews this complaint, you can remind him or her of the case of Jeremy Taylor, an Oregon man who drove into the wilderness and found himself stranded in deep snow. With his faithful dog, Ally, he stayed in his car for five days, periodically running the engine for warmth (pro tip: always dig out the tailpipe first). Taylor says the only food he had during his ordeal was three packets of Taco Bell “fire” sauce — which must have heated him up at least a little and was probably not something the dog was tempted to steal. So don’t go clearing everything out of that glove compartment just yet: The life you save may be your own.
• “We want to bring a title back to D.C.,” Bryce Harper, sounding caffeinated, told reporters after the announcement that he was leaving D.C. — for Philadelphia, which, after all, some Washingtonians consider a D.C. suburb. The star slugger for the Washington Nationals had just signed a record contract with their rival the Phillies, who are now committed to paying Harper $330 million over the next 13 seasons. Big-sum, long-term contracts usually don’t work out for the clubs that spring for them. (Ask the New York Mets, who every year until the end of time or 2035, whichever comes first, have to send a check for $1.19 million to Bobby Bonilla, retired from major-league ball since 2001. Better yet, don’t ask.) Harper, the first-round draft pick in 2010 and the most touted phenom since Sidd Finch, had a great year for the Nationals . . . in 2015. He strikes out a lot, though he walks a lot. He hits a home run every four or five games. A designated hitter at heart, he’s an outfielder in the National League because it’s the National League. His contract makes no apparent sense, but good for him. Good luck to the Phils.
• After more than 20 years at NR, our colleague Jonah Goldberg is leaving to start a new media venture. Jonah is a unique talent who has enlivened our pages and pixels with his incredible wit, profound understanding of conservative ideas and history, and wide-ranging interests, from Star Wars to dogs (and more dogs). We’re delighted he’ll remain a National Review Institute fellow. He’s a star in the conservative firmament, and we — like so many others — will continue to be devoted fans.
• Seweryn Bialer lived a 20th-century life. He was born in Berlin in 1926. He grew up in Lodz, Poland, in a prominent Jewish family. He survived Auschwitz. He threw himself into Communism, becoming an official in Poland. But in 1956, he defected, in West Berlin. He wrote an article headed “I Chose Truth.” In the United States, he earned a Ph.D. in political science at Columbia, and he taught at that university for decades after. He was an expert on the Soviet Union and its sad satellites. From men such as Professor Bialer, we learned a lot, because they had, the hard way. He has died at 92. R.I.P.
• André Previn was one of the most talented people of our time, or any. He could do a range of things with unseemly ease. He was a composer, of classical music and popular music. He was a pianist: one of the best of jazz pianists, and a distinguished classical pianist, too. He was one of the leading symphonic conductors in the world. And, to add insult to injury, he wrote prose very well, too. He was born in 1929 in Berlin. His family got out just in time: 1938. They went to Hollywood, where a relative, Charles Previn, was a top musician. André was a boy wonder. His whole life long, he would be a celebrity, appearing on television and marrying movie stars. He seemed to enjoy life, and why not? He also spread enjoyment to others, through his music of various types. He has died at 89, with his fellow musicians expressing awe at his talent(s). R.I.P.
Donald Trump walked away from talks with North Korea, which was the best possible outcome given that he never should have walked into the talks to begin with.
In the unlikely event that North Korea wanted to give up its nuclear program, it could have demonstrated its commitment over time in low-level talks building toward an agreement. Instead, President Trump took the high-wire route of two direct meetings with Kim Jong-un, giving the North Korean dictator, if nothing else, an incalculable propaganda coup by enhancing his international standing.
Worse, Trump couldn’t help but make boosterish comments about the Supreme Leader, who enslaves and immiserates his people. In Hanoi, he even professed to take seriously Kim Jong-un’s denial that he had anything to do with Otto Warmbier’s murder, as if rogue security services are kidnapping and torturing Americans on their own initiative in the most tightly controlled society on Earth.
All signs were that the North Koreans were heading to a diplomatic win, getting sanctions relief — as well as a U.S. liaison office in Pyongyang and a formal end to the Korean War — in exchange for steps to dismantle the Yongbyon enrichment facility. This is a version of the sucker’s deal that the U.S. has fallen for time and again with the North. Pyongyang’s play is to pocket any economic relief and diplomatic recognition and then cheat on its commitments. Indeed, President Trump revealed that we are aware of a second, heretofore unknown enrichment facility.
For whatever reason, though, the North Koreans pushed Trump on sanctions relief farther than he was willing to go, and the president left the table.
This avoids, for the time being, making the mistake Trump’s personal diplomacy was headed toward (although we are still foolishly scaling back joint military exercises with the South). Now the president should return to the robust program of economic, military, and diplomatic pressure that his administration was pursuing prior to this detour.
It is a temptation for all leaders, especially Trump, who makes everything personal, to overestimate how much a relationship and direct talks can overcome ineluctable strategic and ideological considerations. It’s time to realize that Kim Jong-un is not a promising young man. He’s not going to give up a nuclear program that is central to his regime’s existence. And he’ll realistically sign on only to a deal that he believes extends the life of his dictatorship.
We hope the failure in Hanoi is the beginning of wisdom.