Magazine | October 28, 2019, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

• Rockets from Pyongyang are actually causing less trouble in Asia than the ones from Houston.

• Bernie Sanders had a heart attack. We wish him a full recovery. He now says he will campaign at a slower pace. But should he be back on the trail at all? He is 78, older than anyone we have ever elected. Joe Biden, 77, would also set a record. Age was an issue for Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole, and it’s a legitimate one. Whether continuing to run is worth the risk to Sanders’s health is his decision. Whether his age and health poses risks for the country is the voters’.

• A feature of Elizabeth Warren’s stump speech has been that she once had a dream: She dearly wanted to be a special-needs teacher. At the outset of her career in the ’70s, she worked for one year as a part-time speech pathologist at a public school in New Jersey, but, in her telling, she was let go for being “visibly pregnant”: “The principal did what principals did in those days: They wished you luck, showed you the door, and hired someone else for the job. And there went my dream.” A writer for Jacobin pointed out that Warren once gave a contradictory account of her brief teaching tenure: In a 2007 interview, she said she decided to drop the education coursework she needed to qualify for a permanent position and to stay home with her baby instead. The Washington Free Beacon then unearthed school-board-meeting minutes showing that Warren’s teaching contract had been renewed at the end of her first year — and that her resignation was “accepted with regret” two months later. In comments to CBS, Warren stood by her claim that she had been “shown the door,” though she refused to say whether she meant she had been fired. CBS spoke to some retired teachers who worked at the school at the time, and while they didn’t remember Warren, they said it wouldn’t have been unusual for a pregnant woman to be forced out in that era. If Warren has invented a self-serving story about herself, at least this time it’s a plausible one.

• Nancy Pelosi’s new plan for medicine is price controls wrapped in euphemism. She says she wants the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over the prices of 250 medications. But a company that refuses to negotiate would be hit with a 65 percent tax on the medicine’s gross sales, and the price would be capped at 20 percent above the average price in six other countries. Those countries enjoy lower prices because the American market pays for the costs of research and development. It’s not an ideal arrangement, but having nobody pay for those costs would not be an improvement.

• In an extraordinary late-night statement, the Trump administration announced that it would remove a small number of American soldiers from positions near the Turkish–Syrian border and permit Turkey to conduct offensive military operations against our Kurdish allies. The purpose of Turkey’s operation would be to create a “buffer zone” between Turkey and Kurdish forces in Syria. The effect would be to kill large numbers of America’s Kurdish allies, divert Kurdish forces from the fight against ISIS, and risk loss of allied control over key detention facilities holding thousands of ISIS fighters and ISIS sympathizers. The American shift in forces would not be part of a withdrawal from Syria. The American military presence would continue. But it would expose our allies to the threat of taking terrible casualties from a superior military force. The moral problem is clear. The Kurds have lost an estimated 11,000 men fighting ISIS, and the administration’s action is a shocking betrayal. Yet there are long-term strategic consequences as well. In addition to allocating military forces away from the continued anti-ISIS counterinsurgency, the administration’s action sends a clear message that the United States is a fickle friend. How many more local forces will sign up to fight alongside American soldiers if they know we’ll abandon them the moment it’s convenient?

• Several Republican senators have introduced legislation encouraging states to cooperate in collecting accurate abortion statistics. Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) are serving as lead sponsors of the bill, an effort to standardize and upgrade what we know about where and how often U.S. women obtain abortions. The legislation would withhold some family-planning funds from states that fail to provide abortion statistics for their general population. It would also require states to report all instances in which infants are delivered alive in the course of an attempted abortion procedure. Expect the abortion industry, as ever, to resist sunlight.

• Julián Castro is not a serious presidential candidate. If you’re yet unconvinced of that proposition — have you watched the debates? — consider the discordance of his environmental policies. He asserts that climate change is an “existential threat,” one that might well upend life on the planet as we know it. He would encourage localities to ban fracking, a move that would displace hundreds of thousands of workers from well-paying jobs. But he told NPR that the country needs to “phase out” nuclear energy — a source that emits next to no greenhouse gas and, when used at scale, is cheaper than almost any alternative forms of so-called clean energy. Castro wants us to sacrifice American jobs and freedoms but is not even prepared to give up a shibboleth for the cause.

• When the state of North Carolina acted to keep men out of private spaces meant for women, the National Basketball Association leapt into action. Agree or disagree with the North Carolina law, it was far from malicious in its conception. Nonetheless, the NBA announced a boycott of the state, and that boycott worked. The People’s Republic of China is not a lot like North Carolina. It is a one-party police state in which those who agitate for democracy and human rights are imprisoned, tortured, and then cut up and sold for parts. Beijing is engaged in eliminationist campaigns against the Tibetans, the Uighurs, and others, and it is engaged in a vicious assault on the legally guaranteed liberties of the people of Hong Kong. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted his support for the people of Hong Kong, entirely appropriately, but the NBA is falling over itself to apologize for him and appease the tyrants and murderers in Beijing. They control access, after all, to a very large market. The NBA apparently is willing to take a stand, so long as the price is reasonable, as it was in North Carolina. The NBA, and every player, coach, and ticketholder associated with it, should be ashamed.

• General Motors doesn’t seem to have made the most out of its bailout. The perennially troubled automaker remains saddled with unsustainable expenses and hobbled by the United Auto Workers. Some of the issues in the current strike are familiar — the union wants an accelerated schedule for workers to reach top pay — but one of the issues is new. GM sees the future of its business as depending on electric and autonomous vehicles, which, as one person involved in the negotiations told the Detroit Free Press, “don’t take as many parts and [require] less manpower to assemble.” The UAW, on the other hand, wants GM to pursue less promising lines of business in order to maximize the number of positions in its factories and the amount of money it spends on labor — as though the purpose of GM were to be a jobs factory rather than an automobile factory. The strike already is delaying production of the new mid-engined 2020 Corvette, a product in which GM has a great deal invested, and other facilities in the United States and abroad have shut down, idling thousands of workers. The problem is not unions per se; Germany’s IG Metall, to take one example, is a considerably more productive force in its domestic automotive business than the UAW is in the United States. GM’s business model may or may not work as intended, but what is clear — what is obvious — is that the UAW’s business model is broken.

• One of the great ironies of our time: Facebook has no friends. The Europeans are coming down on the company, claiming the power to censor posts not only in Europe but around the world, and European authorities are skeptical of Libra, the firm’s planned cryptocurrency product. In the United States, leading Democratic presidential contenders, Senator Elizabeth Warren prominent among them, have vowed to break Facebook up as though it were some 20th-century utility monopoly, which its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, rightly calls an “existential threat” to the company. Senator Warren has also claimed — with no evidence — that Facebook reached a secret backroom deal with Donald Trump to ease his partisans’ occasionally imaginative use of the platform. Democrats, still unable to face certain unpleasant facts, blame Facebook for Trump’s victory in 2016. Among Republicans, Facebook increasingly is regarded as just another node in the West Coast technology cartel, one that uses enormous economic and cultural power to disadvantage conservative voices in the digital public square. It takes a lot to get Republicans excited in the cause of antitrust actions. Zuckerberg et al. are desperately sending out friend requests but getting few responses. It is difficult for conservatives to be sympathetic, but the facts are the facts, and Warren’s crusade against the company is without legal or ethical merit, as indeed are Republican antitrust grumblings. Facebook is best left to its most dangerous antagonist: The kid in his garage right now inventing the product that will someday render Facebook obsolete.

• Free-market reform can come from the most unlikely places. Last month California passed a law that, beginning on January 1, 2023, will prohibit its colleges and universities from upholding “any rule, requirement, standard, or other limitation that prevents a student of that institution participating in intercollegiate athletics from earning compensation as a result of the student’s name, image, or likeness.” The provision directly conflicts with current NCAA regulations regarding athletic compensation and at a stroke places student athletes on equal footing with all other students at school. The NCAA reaps billions of dollars from the athletic prowess of university students, yet denies these same students any opportunity to receive meaningful financial compensation off campus from their considerable fame. The result is that disproportionately poor students are often reduced to pinching pennies while coaches sign shoe contracts and athletic departments receive immense checks from the sale of television rights and merchandise. It’s a basic American market principle that workers should be permitted to seek their worth, and thanks to California, the workers who make NCAA athletics popular may have a chance to receive compensation that matches their value.

• New York City has made it illegal for employers, housing providers, and proprietors of public accommodations, along with their employees, agents, and associates, to use the term “illegal alien” with “intent to demean, humiliate, or offend.” Violations can be punished with a fine of up to $250,000. On the bright side, if the city can get away with collecting $250K every time a New Yorker says something rude, it will end the city’s budget troubles in a hurry. Yet saying “illegal alien” instead of “undocumented migrant” was not considered a slur until a few years ago; neither word is inherently insulting, and when documentation is a legal requirement, “undocumented” means “illegal.” It is apparently the policy of New York City to demean, humiliate, and offend the First Amendment.

• James Thomas is a University of Mississippi sociology professor who in 2018 tweeted that his fellow righteous people should harass Republican officeholders in restaurants, steal their appetizers, and “put your whole damn fingers in their salads,” and then a while later declared that teens who wear Make America Great Again hats are “modern-day Hitlerjugend.” He was granted tenure earlier this year, and now he has been elected chairman of the university’s Standing Committee on Academic Freedom and Faculty Responsibility. We have to admit, he has the Academic Freedom part down; no matter how imbecilic his tweets, academic freedom protects him from being fired for them, and he’s certainly making the most of this provision. As for faculty responsibility . . . well, let’s hope he grows in office.

• In an unsurprising move, an Obama-appointed district-court judge has upheld Harvard’s affirmative-action regime in the face of allegations that it discriminates against Asians. She did this in part by waving aside strong evidence that the school routinely rejects Asian-American applicants who would have gotten in if they had been white — and also in part by sticking to the Supreme Court’s misbegotten precedents upholding racial preferences for underrepresented minorities such as blacks and Hispanics, which Harvard does not deny using and which undeniably disadvantage Asians in addition to whites. The ultimate goal of this case, however, has always been to get the Supreme Court to reconsider those precedents. We hope it does so, and strikes down racial preferences as a clear violation of the antidiscrimination laws that apply to all colleges that receive federal funds.

• The Hong Kong protests entered their 18th week. Fears that the so-called People’s Republic would, after celebrating its 70th birthday in the beginning of October, crush the pro-democracy protests with military force have so far not come to pass, but clashes between pro- and anti-Beijing forces are increasingly violent. A taxi driver ran over a group of protesters and was subsequently beaten. Protesters vandalized businesses and shut down public transportation. A People’s Liberation Army barracks in Kowloon raised a warning flag hours before we went to press. The protesters’ cause is just — which is all the more reason for them to refrain from mob violence.

• Born in Martinique, the 45-year-old Mikhael Harpon is a Muslim convert. Since 2003, he had been employed in the Préfecture de Police, the Paris headquarters, as an IT specialist gathering intelligence on Islamist terrorists. Routinely, he had security clearance. He went into the office of his supervisor, and in the space of seven minutes he slit her throat with a ceramic knife and stabbed to death three policemen. The officer who then shot him had been with the force for little more than a week. At first, the authorities claimed that Harpon had a grudge against the supervisor. But Islamist texts exchanged with his wife on the morning of the murders were part of a mass of hard evidence of his religious motivation. This classic instance of deep penetration has led to much wringing of hands. Nobody can tell whether Harpon protected terrorists he was supposed to be checking. The French police have the reputation of being efficient and tough, but the attack proves that this cannot be the case.

• Alan Nichols, 61, a former janitor in British Columbia, suffered from chronic depression but showed no signs of any underlying illness threatening his life. Family members described his long struggle with mental illness. It was leavened by the care of loved ones who looked after him, especially when he was upset and stopped eating or taking his medications. Malnourished and dehydrated, Nichols was admitted to a hospital in June. He asked for physician-assisted suicide. Doctors agreed to it. In July, he died by injection. His family, who had pleaded with him and his doctors not to go through with it, have asked law enforcement to investigate. Recent precedent for such an incident is all too common. Up to now the pro-life movement has dedicated itself primarily to the fight against the assumption that a right to abortion trumps the right to life. As the notion of a right to die gains social acceptance, pro-life advocates need to dig deeper and articulate their cause with ever greater clarity and force.

• A 28-year-old woman from Newcastle, England, who formerly identified as transgender has revealed the plight of “hundreds” of similarly situated young people wanting to undo their sex-change surgeries. “I’m in communication with 19- and 20-year-olds who have had full gender-reassignment surgery who wish they hadn’t, and their dysphoria hasn’t been relieved, they don’t feel better for it,” Evans told Sky News. She recalls being approached by a bearded young girl who hugged her after a public talk and asked for help. Evans says that many are same-sex-attracted and a significant proportion have autism. She is setting up a charity for such individuals called the “Detransition Advocacy Network.” We can expect many more such stories in the years to come.

• A judge in the U.K. decided that it was fine, and not discrimination, for the government to fire a doctor for refusing to refer to men as women or vice versa. David Mackereth, who had worked on the National Health Service for nearly 30 years, gave two reasons: As a medical doctor, he did not believe it was in a patient’s best interests to go along with what he regards as a “delusion,” and as a Christian, he felt it would be immoral to lie. Though Mackereth has never been the subject of a single complaint from a transgender patient, an employment judge found that his beliefs were “incompatible with human dignity.” We’d call that another immoral lie.

• At a college football game in Iowa, Carson King held up a sign begging for beer money, with information on how viewers could send it to him online. More than a million dollars rolled in. He donated it, minus the cost of a case of Busch Light, to a children’s hospital at the University of Iowa. Nice work, as we noted in this space earlier. Resolved to let no good deed go unpunished, a reporter for the Des Moines Register then scoured the social-media history of the freshly anointed celebrity and found that he had tweeted two racist jokes seven years ago, when he was 16. The Register reported the information at the bottom of its profile of Carson, but he beat them to it, publicly apologizing before the piece was even published. Meanwhile, the reporter’s employers discovered that he had tweeted content that they deemed offensive. The paper’s editor issued a statement saying that he was no longer employed by the Register. Being human, the editor herself may have a past that includes a sin or two, subject now to discovery by self-appointed inquisitors, but stop. What the world needs now is forbearance.

• Brandt Jean forgave the person who killed his brother. “I want the best for you,” Jean said to Amber Guyger at her murder trial. “I know that’s exactly what Botham,” his brother, “would want for you. Give your life to Christ.” He asked the judge for permission to hug her. Jean and Guyger hugged. Guyger wept. (The day before, the jury had announced their verdict: guilty. She was sentenced to ten years in prison.) Before she was led from the courtroom, the judge, Tammy Kemp, had a few words with her also, hugged her, and gave her a Bible. Critics say that Guyger’s sentence was too short and that, by treating her with such grace, Jean and Kemp minimized the injustice done to the victim. Guyger “will forever be the murderer of Botham Jean,” Kemp said in an interview afterward. “How she carries this forward depends on how we receive her.” The racial overtones of the trial were glaring, like that of the crime itself. Guyger is white. Jean and the judge are black, though, in explaining their response, both cited not their race but their religion. “We forgive those who trespass against us” is, indeed, a hard saying.

• The news that Sports Illustrated has been sold — to a new owner who has laid off a quarter of the staff and plans to rely heavily on freelancers — no doubt left some fans surprised that SI was still publishing at all. In an age when video highlights appear on our phones within seconds, even the most striking photography and most eloquent and trenchant writing might as well be reporting the 1948 Olympics by the time it gets to weekly subscribers. The dismal truth is that for all the millions who subscribed to SI in its heyday, there’s nothing it did that isn’t done better nowadays on the Internet — including even, or perhaps especially, the annual swimsuit issue (unless you are actually interested in swimsuits). The benefits of creative destruction often outweigh the costs; but when it’s your own industry that keeps taking a hit . . . well, the standing-athwart part of us can’t help feeling a shudder or two.

• “Christ Mocked,” it’s been titled, the small painting that a woman, now in her nineties, had hanging above a hot plate in her kitchen in Compiègne, France. She decided to move and hired an auctioneer to help her clear out her house. Guessing that the painting was a specimen of Italian primitivism and that it might be of some value and interest, the auctioneer sent it to an art historian for appraisal. He and his team of researchers concluded that it was by Cimabue, a 13th-century Florentine master, Giotto’s teacher, and now widely regarded as a forefather of the Renaissance. Evidence suggests that Christ Mocked belonged to a polyptych of which a couple of other panels are extant. The owner, who insists on anonymity, told the auction house that she had always assumed that it was a random Russian religious icon. The auction house estimates its value at $6 million. We suspect that the subject of the painting would not feel flattered by its price tag so much as honored by the sincerity of those who have looked on the image over the centuries and valued it for the event that it depicts.

Bartlett’s needs to make room for Andy Reid, the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. When his team beat the Detroit Lions, in rough fashion, Reid exulted in the locker room, “Hey, not all of Mozart’s paintings were perfect. . . . The end result, though: That sucker’s gonna sell for a million dollars!” A masterpiece of a remark indeed.

• Handsome, loquacious, and determined to be all things to all men, Jacques Chirac dominated French politics for the best part of 40 years. When he was down, he soon found a way up. “Opportunist,” “greedy,” and “corrupt” were words often thrown at him, and when his presidential immunity was lifted a court found him guilty of embezzlement. He made a point of supporting Yasser Arafat. Nominally he was a friend of the United States, but he will be remembered for doing a favor to Saddam Hussein, his other great friend in the Middle East, and voting against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Aged 86, he died. R.I.P.

• Michael Uhlmann was a friend of this magazine and a servant, and quiet leader, of American conservatism in politics and academe. An alumnus of Yale, Virginia, and Claremont, he served as assistant attorney general in the Ford administration and as an assistant to President Reagan. Between his jobs in the executive branch, Uhlmann presided over the National Legal Center for the Public Interest, where he was guided by the insight that “the consumer is, in fact, a much more complex animal than dreamt of by those who have put his personal stamp on a lot of regulation.” (Translation: Ralph Nader didn’t speak for everyone.) He taught at Claremont and George Mason and was a senior scholar at the James Wilson Institute, and the Ethics and Public Policy Center claimed him as a senior fellow. He allied with the pro-life movement, arguing especially against euthanasia and assisted suicide — his book about about them is titled “Last Rights?” He died on October 8, at age 89. With gratitude for his lasting intellectual contributions: R.I.P. 

• Jessye Norman was one of the greatest singers who ever lived. She was a soprano, and a mezzo-soprano — both. She could also sing contralto. Her voice was one of the most beautiful, and interesting, anyone ever heard. She was a tremendously versatile singer. She sang virtually every type of song and opera role. The language, period, and style were no problem to her. Norman was born in 1945 in Augusta, Ga., where she grew up. She has now died in Manhattan. She will live on in the memories of the millions who heard her, and she will live on through recordings, too. Her lavish talents are a gift to the world at large. R.I.P. 

IMPEACHMENT
Ukraine Now

No one in our political debate has been very careful about distinctions lately, so why should the Ukraine controversy be any different?

In evaluating the controversy, it is necessary to acknowledge that different things can be true. It is completely legitimate for a president of the United States to urge foreign leaders to cooperate with his attorney general on a duly constituted probe of the origins of the Russian-collusion story, and it’s silly of the press and Democrats to pretend as though Trump’s calls to this effect were some sort of scandal.

Hunter Biden’s payday from the shady Ukrainian energy company Burisma is an instance of soft corruption on the face of it, and, as vice president, Joe Biden should have told his son to steer clear while Joe was heading the Ukraine account for the Obama administration (and should never have permitted him to travel on his plane to China to do business there, as well).

Democrats have been itching to impeach Trump from the beginning, and as soon as Nancy Pelosi thought she saw a political opening to do it (so far confirmed in the polling), she moved ahead, with Adam Schiff, who blew all his credibility hyping Russia, as her chosen instrument.

Yet none of that makes it appropriate for a president of the United States, in the exercise of his official duties, to pressure a foreign government to undertake an investigation in the hopes that it might harm a political rival.

The best-case scenario for Republicans was that nothing much happened after Trump’s famous phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, but text messages released by Democrats after the deposition of former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker document a lot of action related to Trump’s requests. The texts make it clear that a quid pro quo of the release of suspended defense aid in exchange for a Ukraine commitment to investigations was an idea that was at least under active consideration. It is notable, though, that Volker’s opening statement in his deposition minimizes any impropriety.

A major fight has now erupted between the House and the White House over subpoenas for the testimony of other officials. The White House argues that the impeachment inquiry is illegitimate, since the full House hasn’t formally voted to open one, the way it has done in the past. It would be better for purposes of political accountability if the House held such a vote (and it’s a sign of political weakness that Pelosi is reluctant to do it), but the Constitution doesn’t set out any particular process for opening an impeachment inquiry except to say that the House “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” If the conflict ends up in the courts, as is likely, the White House will have the weaker argument.

President Trump has reacted to all of this by, as is his wont, filling the airwaves and Twitter timelines with haymaker counterpunches and wild charges. Much of this hasn’t been helpful to his cause and has been unworthy of his office. The president shouldn’t troll the press and his domestic opponents with theatrical calls for China to investigate the Bidens, nor should he ridiculously accuse his critics of treason. Utah Republican senator Mitt Romney’s denunciations of Trump’s statements are sincere and shouldn’t be met with presidential abuse and derision. Trump always acts like he’s one of his own surrogates and, in this case, has often sounded like one of his anonymous supporters on Twitter.

The truth is that, absent some radical change in the dynamic, the House is inevitably going to impeach Trump and the Senate is inevitably going to acquit him. What we’re essentially arguing about is how this impeachment and acquittal will be regarded in the run-up to 2020 by independents and persuadable voters. The president — if he’s capable of it — should pitch his defense to those voters, with the understanding that, from his perspective, the best revenge would be making himself the first president to be impeached and reelected.

NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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