Magazine March 23, 2020, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

• Coronavirus, the Sanders campaign—these epidemics are never as bad as they seem.

• While the coronavirus was spreading from Wuhan, China, through East Asia to the Middle East and Western Europe, World Health Organization officials lauded the Chinese government’s “extraordinary” efforts to contain the epidemic. Now it’s approaching pandemic level. American officials got off to an inauspicious start in addressing the crisis, with testing inexplicably limited for weeks until the FDA took emergency measures. Meanwhile, the White House tried too hard to talk up Wall Street by emphasizing our “airtight” defense against the virus. Investors sent the market plunging anyway. The sell-off receded slightly after the Federal Reserve announced interest-rate cuts—a welcome move—yet uncertainty persists as the number of cases in the U.S. grows. Besides the early testing stumble, the administration has undertaken the correct measures to contain the virus. To hear the Democrats tell it, though, Trump has already created a humanitarian debacle. They’ve hit him for alleged cuts to the Centers for Disease Control, but Congress has in fact increased funding to the agency during the Trump years, and New York Times columnists have absurdly dubbed the disease “the Trump virus.” We suspect the coronavirus outbreak here won’t prove as bad as alarmists fear, but our political culture is every bit as juvenile and unserious as it seems.

• We signed a deeply flawed deal with the Taliban. The agreement commits us to eliminating our military presence in Afghanistan. First, the U.S. will reduce its troops by 5,000 over the next several months, and then it will remove the remaining 8,600 next year. In exchange, the Taliban will supposedly not allow al-Qaeda or any other groups to use Afghan soil to threaten the United States, and will enter into cease-fire negotiations with the Afghan government. It’s hard to take the Taliban’s commitment on al-Qaeda seriously. It already denies that it collaborates with terror groups, including al-Qaeda, even though this is blatantly false. It’s not encouraging that the Taliban wasn’t willing to negotiate with the Afghan government before getting the U.S. commitment to a withdrawal, or to implement a cease-fire during the talks. The Afghan government has balked at a lopsided prisoner swap in the deal, which commits to releasing up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners at the outset of the intra-Afghan negotiations. Already the deal has shown signs of breaking down. If that’s going to happen, it’s better that we know it before we’ve increased the Taliban’s leverage with troop withdrawals.

• Joe Biden had to retract a story he has repeatedly told about being arrested in South Africa in the 1970s while trying to see Nelson Mandela. Now he says he was momentarily “detained” at the airport for refusing to go through a whites-only door. Biden has been on notice about this kind of tall tale for a very long time: Stealing words, and biographical details, from a British Labour leader sank his 1988 presidential bid. Fabulism is an ingrained habit for him, as is an indulgent eye-roll about it for the press.

• “When Fidel Castro came to office, you know what he did?” said Bernie Sanders. “He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing?” First, you have to love the phrase “came to office”—as though Castro had won an election. Second, Sanders is perpetuating a myth about Cuban Communism and the improvement of the people. When Castro “took office,” Cuba was one of the most advanced nations in Latin America, including one of the most literate. The literacy rate was close to 80 percent. But such facts aside, we repeat what Armando Valladares, the great dissident and onetime political prisoner (22 years), says. In paraphrase, he says, “Suppose that all the propaganda about Castro’s Cuba were true. Must there be a one-party dictatorship for a people to have literacy, health care, and the rest? Aren’t these things present in free countries? Don’t they exist without gulags and dungeons?” They do indeed. And Bernie Sanders is a com-symp—a literal com-symp, or sympathizer with Communism—who is a disgrace to the free country he was damn lucky to have been born in.

• Sanders announced he would not attend the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Sanders, who says he wants to be the first Jewish president (and who has never attended the AIPAC conference), said the group provides a platform “for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” If only the Israeli regime were as gentle and enlightened as the Castros’ Cuba.

• We already knew that Democrats want to raise taxes on your income. Now, Sanders wants to raise taxes on Americans’ imaginary income, too. A bill from Senator Sanders, co-sponsored by Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), would levy taxes on stock options when they are vested rather than when the options are exercised. They will be taxed, that is, when the recipient could make some money from those stock options rather than when he does. This is bad policy, and constitutionally dubious at that. The thing about options is, they’re optional: Recipients have a choice about when to exercise them, and share prices rather famously go both upward and downward. Senator Sanders’s scheme would tax workers not only on income they have not received but on income they may never actually receive. (People do lose money on stock options; perhaps Senator Sanders, a lifelong dependent, is unaware of this.) Sanders’s bill would complicate life for start-ups, which often attract talent in the early stages through offering a share of ownership in the company rather than higher cash wages. (You might think that a socialist such as Senator Sanders would welcome a business practice that gives workers a larger share of corporate ownership, but he does not.) This is more foolish class-warfare stuff from Senator Sanders, a proposal that puts his ignorance on particularly sharp display. 

• At the most recent Democratic debate, Elizabeth Warren recited one of her many oppression origin stories, this one about “pregnancy discrimination” she purports to have faced as a public-school teacher. Warren used the tale of woe to land a hit on Michael Bloomberg over comments the billionaire allegedly made years ago to a female subordinate. “At least I didn’t have a boss who said to me, ‘Kill it,’ the way that Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said to one of his pregnant employees,” Warren said. Presuming he said it—a reasonable assumption, knowing Mike Bloomberg—a question for the pro-abortion senator: What, specifically, was the problem with Bloomberg’s remarks?

• Warren has long been a critic of “money in politics.” So it was with some surprise that we learned the senator, trying to revive a failing campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, announced that she would accept money from super PACs after all, despite their unholy status in campaign-finance-reform demonology. True to form, she chalked it up to sexism, bemoaning that she and Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar alone committed to rejecting super PAC money, while “all of the men who were still in this race and on the debate stage all had either super PACs or they were multibillionaires and could just rummage around their sock drawers and find enough money to be able to fund a campaign.” The motive for her change of heart is dubious, but we welcome it nonetheless. Perhaps circumstances will also inspire her to come around on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

• The brouhaha over Roger Stone’s sentencing ended with a whimper. Judge Amy Berman Jackson imposed 40 months’ imprisonment, precisely in the range that Attorney General Bill Barr had controversially proposed. His suggestion, countermanding the four trial prosecutors (including some former Mueller-probe staffers), who had asked for nine years, prompted gnashing of teeth from the organized bar, including a petition signed by some 2,000 former Justice Department officials (many with long histories of donations to Democrats) and the diva-like resignation of the trial prosecutors. While the prosecutors’ proposal was a literally sound construction of draconian sentencing guidelines, it ignored federal law’s imperative that the punishment fit the crime: here, Stone’s hapless obstruction. The Barr controversy concerned a non-binding recommendation; everyone knew the sentencing was wholly up to the judge. As for the claim he was doing the president’s bidding, Barr favored keeping Stone’s convictions in place and a sentence of more than three years, in a case Trump would have favored dismissing. In this case, Barr seems to have found the golden mean between Trump and his critics.

• Grants of clemency to a president’s allies and friends are not unprecedented, but this president has engaged in them to an unusual degree. A recent spate of them benefited the “junk bond” king Michael Milken and former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. Milken’s pardon was justified: It has always seemed to us, and to other observers, that his real crime was not the technicality he went down for but making it easier to depose sleepy corporate managers. Blagojevich is a harder case: The sentence may have been too harsh, but he has never expressed any contrition for trying to sell a Senate appointment. Mercy has to be balanced against other goods, and our political class is not so full of rectitude that we should show more tolerance for corruption.

• A few days before launching his lawsuit against what he called “this filthy organization,” the climate scientist Michael Mann wrote that there “is a possibility that I can ruin National Review.” Nearly a decade later, we are still fighting his attempt to do precisely that. Now, after our myriad attempts to get the meritless case dismissed have failed, we are back in the trial court, with expensive and time-consuming discovery underway. Mann’s plan to “ruin” us, as he put it in an email produced under discovery, is plainly to get to a trial with a politically sympathetic D.C. jury and hope that the finer points of the law and the First Amendment are lost. (Short of that, he is surely happy for the case to drag out further, draining us of energy and resources.) But it’s clear that the case should never get to that point—hence our latest motion. Under the First Amendment, Mann has to prove that we published the Corner post in question with “actual malice.” That would require him to show that NR  actually believed that the post was “false” (or likely false) at the time of publication. That is absurd for a number of reasons, including that—given the nature of The Corner—we didn’t even know about the post until after it was published. The case against National Review is thus nonsensical at its core. It is also barred by a federal statute, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online publishers for hosting content posted by outside contributors. Mann’s stated intention is to bring us “down for good.” Needless to say, this is not how a country with a First Amendment or a culture of free speech is supposed to work. It’s past time that this suit is dismissed as incompatible with both, and a failure on the facts and the law.

• President Trump has nominated Representative John Ratcliffe (R., Texas) to become director of national intelligence. The job, held by former senator Dan Coats from 2017 to 2019, is now filled on an acting basis by Richard Grenell, who is also our ambassador to Germany. A sadly typical Trump personnel snarl. Grenell at least has been effective in his primary position, and it is true that double dipping has a history: James Monroe was simultaneously secretary of state and of war during the Madison administration, but he didn’t have to cross the Atlantic to toggle between jobs. Ratcliffe, a three-term congressman, was floated for the DNI post when Coats quit, but dropped when Senate Republicans questioned his credentials; before his brief time in Congress he was a lawyer and a small-town Texas mayor. The most important credential of both Grenell and Ratcliffe is their loyalty to Trump. Fine. But why can’t the president find someone for an important slot who is loyal, experienced, and unencumbered by other duties? 

• The goat of this year’s CPAC, the annual D.C.-area conservative bash, was Mitt Romney. When President Trump addressed the gathering, he twice called Romney a “low-life.” Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk encouraged the crowd to boo Romney (“Every time his name is mentioned, you should respond that way”). But American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp took the prize when he told Greta Van Susteren that if Romney were to show up—Schlapp having previously announced that he would not be welcome—“I would actually be afraid for his physical safety, people are so mad at him.” Did Schlapp mean to say that CPAC attendees are uncontrollable louts? Or did he mean that they are mad at Romney, but he couldn’t think of any non-loutish way to say so? 

• President Trump’s 2020 campaign sued the New York Times for libel. The suit targets a March 2019 op-ed by former Times executive editor Max Frankel, explicitly written as an opinion piece, placed in the opinion pages. Legally, opinion is not libel. Political opinion enjoys robust First Amendment protection. Frankel based a “collusion” argument on the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Because the Mueller probe absolved him of criminal conspiracy with Russia, Trump suggests that any claim of collusion is defamatory. But mere collusion is not conspiracy, which is why there has been so much loose talk about the former. Frankel did not claim the latter. Trump does not need a lawsuit to argue that the mainstream media are in the tank for Democrats. Will the president ever learn that not every pointless fight is worth fighting?

• The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals briefly halted Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, under which Central American migrants seeking asylum must wait their turn in Mexico—and then promptly stayed its own order, allowing the policy to continue for the time being as court challenges proceed. The policy, the result of a deal with Mexico, has been key to mitigating the crisis at the border by discouraging those who seek to abuse the asylum process: Migrants are no longer released into the country while they await their hearings, and thus they no longer have an easy opportunity to disappear into the interior. The rule also appears to be legal, as the executive branch has the authority to return certain migrants to territories bordering the U.S., though that question involves parsing several convoluted passages of U.S. immigration law. The Supreme Court should settle this matter as soon as possible; or better yet, Congress should immediately clarify the statutes to allow this crucial policy to continue.

• Democrats in the Senate have successfully filibustered two pro-life bills, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The first bill would have required doctors to provide medical care to newborn infants who survive attempted abortions and the second would have prohibited abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation. The votes could expose the extremism of dozens of Democrats (both bills have majority support among Americans, according to recent polls), but only if Republicans publicize them. We know prominent media outlets won’t.

• The Democrat-led House has passed a bill that would ban flavored tobacco and non-tobacco nicotine-vaping products, including menthol cigarettes. This comes on top of new rules that prohibit many (but not all) flavorings in the nicotine cartridges used in the popular Juul and other similar vaping devices. Those rules were imposed by the Trump administration, which nonetheless opposes the House bill, as do some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who protest that the ban on menthol cigarettes places a disproportionate burden on black smokers, who choose menthol more frequently than do other smokers. The Trump administration and the Congressional Black Caucus, together at last. The CBC does have a point: African Americans would be disproportionally inconvenienced by the ban on menthol cigarettes. But to the broader point: Why should any adult be restricted when it comes to choosing, not whether to smoke or to vape, but which products to choose? The Trump administration’s rules and the Democratic bill both are offered as responses to the popularity of vaping among underage users, but selling these products to minors already is illegal—as, indeed, is selling these products to some adults: President Trump already has signed into law a measure prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to people under 21. That’s Washington thinking: If one regulation doesn’t work, pile on some obliquely related ones.

• Critics of school vouchers often say that public schools are hurt when students leave for private schools. Supporters of vouchers say the opposite: When public schools face competition, they’re forced to get their act together. A carefully designed study, recently released through the National Bureau of Economic Research, supports the latter view. As Florida’s private-school scholarship program has expanded over the past two decades, the study finds, outcomes for public-school students have improved—with the gains concentrated at the schools most subject to private competition, and among lower-income kids. Competition works: Who knew?

• While digging through Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s personal Facebook feed, a reporter at the New York Post unearthed a 2017 video of the socialist upstart celebrating her goddaughter’s placement in a New York charter school. “My goddaughter,” Ocasio-Cortez exulted while walking through the Bronx—“I got her into a charter school like maybe a block or two down.” The Squad leader’s goddaughter was lucky to get into the school when she did. Her godmother is stumping for Bernie Sanders, who promises to freeze federal funding for charter schools and ban all for-profit charters.

• There were moments during the trial of Harvey Weinstein when it was almost possible to feel sorry for him: a man ruled by sexual compulsions that he could not gratify in normal ways. Such moments vanished as soon as they appeared, because the ways in which he gratified himself depended on coercion and intimidation, wielding the power of his position over young actresses. A jury convicted Weinstein of first-degree sexual assault and third-degree rape. He will appeal, but must also stand trial in Los Angeles for different charges of sexual assault and rape. Hollywood cannot be tried legally for its complicity in these crimes, but surely a moral reckoning must take place.

• Cenk Uygur, a sometime politician and founder of the Young Turks, a left-wing media outfit, has been trying to dissuade his workers from unionizing, because, he says, these efforts would be unhelpful to the firm. Imagine that! The Huffington Post describes Uygur in a fit of pique “chastising” employees who had proposed organizing a union. “A unionized workforce would bring new legal and bureaucratic costs that TYT can’t sustain,” the Huffington Post wrote. Indeed. (Uygur’s employees “spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation,” reports the publication. Some progressive boss!) This sort of thing is everywhere to be seen: The University of California at Santa Cruz just fired dozens of unionized teaching assistants who put together a wildcat strike for higher pay. Everybody is Eugene Debs when it comes to other people’s businesses—when it’s their business, progressives are Ronald Reagan vs. the air-traffic controllers. Lori G. Kletzer, the university’s “interim campus provost and executive vice chancellor” (such a lot of titles!) said that the university just couldn’t justify keeping on nonperforming staff. Yes, and there’s good reason it is easier to make automobiles in Tennessee than in Detroit. Perhaps our progressive friends will be able to deduce a more general principle from their experience. 

• Dancing Nazis? Hasidic insects? A concentration-camp float? These were featured items in carnival parades this year in Campo de Criptana, Spain, and Aalst, Belgium. Carnival is saturnalia, an upside-down world of revelry and mockery. It is hard to judge performance art, which is what costumed parades are, from online clips (what might we make of a highlight reel from The Producers?). But the presence of such displays on a continent that harbored actual Nazis who treated Jews of all stripes like insects, only 80 years ago, is not cause for revelry. Next year go to New Orleans instead.

• A February 3 column in the Wall Street Journal by Walter Russell Mead carried a clever headline: “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia.” Mead’s point, true enough, was that “the coronavirus epidemic is unlikely to be the last” catastrophe there, as dictatorial repression tends to yield instability. The “sick man” metaphor, apt enough, refers to a once-great power in decline, variants having been used to describe the Ottoman Empire in the mid 19th century, Britain after the Suez crisis, and stagnating Japan in the 1990s. A common phrase, an uncommon reaction: Chinese authorities denounced the headline, demanded that the newspaper retract the column and apologize, and expelled from the country three of the newspaper’s reporters. (In response the Trump administration curtailed the number of Chinese state-media employees welcome in the U.S.) This attempt to whip up a struggle session was likely a ploy to distract from public scrutiny, so good for the Journal for refusing to kneel.

• “Earlier today, we arrested three local men, aged 63 to 72, for suspected participation in a non-approved gathering.” That bland-sounding statement, uttered by a police official, fell on Hong Kong like a bomb. The arrestees were “three local men,” yes, but not just any three. They were three of the most illustrious democracy advocates in the city: Lee Cheuk-yan, of the Labour Party; Yeung Sum, of the Democratic Party; and Jimmy Lai, the entrepreneur and businessman. Lai is possibly the most famous person in all of Hong Kong. He publishes a newspaper, Apple Daily. Some 7,000 people have been arrested since the recent democracy protests began in earnest. The arrest of Lai, Lee, and Yeung puts the crackdown at a whole new level. In front of a police station, Lee vowed, “The charges will not hinder our fight for democracy, freedom, and our human right to continue to gather, march, and protest.” If Hong Kong people are to maintain their democratic freedoms, they will need all of that spirit they can get.

• Some are calling it the worst moment in the nine years of Syria’s war: a big claim, given the mass killings and other horrors that have gone on. But the latest is exceptionally hard to hear about. Approximately 1 million Syrians have fled to the last rebel-held territory, Idlib Province, which is in the northwest of the country. The winter has been extremely hard. People are living in tents or out in the open. They are doing anything they can to keep warm, and that includes burning clothes and shoes—anything to live through the night, if only to die the next day. An unknown number of babies and small children have frozen to death. The World Health Organization reported 29 in late January. Even those Americans who oppose intervention in Syria have to wonder, “Should the United States do more, if only in the provision of blankets, heaters, and other items that go under the name ‘humanitarian aid’?”

• Northeastern neighborhoods of Delhi descended into mayhem for three days and nights last month as police watched. For weeks, Muslim Indians had been holding public protests against the new Citizenship Amendment Act, which provides a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have fled religious persecution in neighboring countries. The CAA excludes Muslims. It was enacted not long after the government’s revocation, last year, of autonomy for India’s only Muslim-majority state. In Delhi, Hindu mobs began to descend on the protesters. Confrontations led to violence; 46 were killed, most of them Muslims. Rioters set fire to homes, businesses, and four mosques. The Shiv Vihar neighborhood was hit especially hard. When authorities finally bestirred themselves to investigate, they targeted Muslims. In promoting their Hindu-nationalist vision for India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have exacerbated longstanding tensions between Hindus and Muslims and emboldened those who would resort to violence to impose Hindu supremacy. In the face of deep sectarian conflict, pluralist liberal democracy in India has always been fragile. It’s too soon to call it finally broken, but not to note that Modi appears resolved to break it.

• The British House of Lords held a debate on whether public toilets ought to be gender-neutral. Lord Lucas argued that “wokeness” has resulted in an abandonment of common sense on the matter. “Some institutions have converted their ladies’ and gents’ communal toilet facilities to gender-neutral. Others have converted changing rooms similarly,” he said. “Is this desirable or justified? What research as to people’s needs is it based on? Has anyone—and women in particular—been consulted?” He further added that women have the most to lose in these situations and that it is quite understandable that they should not want to “find themselves in an enclosed, unobserved space with men.” These are good questions to raise and points to make, even if it is a pity that they have to be.

• “Predators harmed innocent children,” Jim Turley, chairman of the Boy Scouts of America, writes in an open letter to men who as members of the organization were abused by volunteers and employees. “And for this I am deeply sorry. The BSA cannot undo what happened to you.” He goes on to explain that the organization is filing for “a voluntary financial restructuring,” or bankruptcy, “to ensure that it can compensate all victims of past abuse.” Faced with hundreds of lawsuits, with more probably to come, BSA plans to establish a fund from which it would settle claims out of court, a plan that it may ask a judge to approve. “We are committed to supporting” the victims “and to doing everything in our power to prevent it from happening to others,” Turley promises. That is, of course, the least that the Boy Scouts can do; also, at this point, the most that it can do. As the Catholic Church in the United States in the past 20 years has demonstrated, institutions can reduce and come close to eliminating the scourge of sexual misconduct within their ranks. BSA has taken the first step, which is to acknowledge past crimes.

• The National Hockey League requires the home team to keep an experienced goaltender available during games, ready to fill in for either side if both of its regular goalies are injured. This happened at a recent Toronto Maple Leafs home game, when a rec-league goalie named Dave Ayres had to suit up quickly with 8:41 left in the second period after both of the visiting Carolina Hurricanes’ netminders went down with injuries. Ayres, who sometimes serves as a practice goalie for the Leafs and drives the Zamboni for their minor-league affiliate, got off to a shaky start in his NHL debut, letting in both shots he faced in the second. But between periods he regained his focus, and in the third he stopped all eight shots, helping the Hurricanes to a 6–3 victory. It’s rare that fans cheer a player on the opposing team after a loss, but that’s what happened this time. Ayres was named the No. 1 star of the game, earned $500, got official credit for the win, and was allowed to keep his jersey. They also serve who only drive the Zamboni . . .

• Ryan Newman was leading on the final turn of the last lap of the Daytona 500 when a car hit his, No. 6, from behind, sending it into the air and against the wall. No. 6 landed on its roof, in the path of an oncoming car, which propelled it back into the air. It then skidded down the track and past the finish line. An emergency crew doused the flames, turned the car right side up, and spent the next 20 minutes extricating Newman, who was carried away on a stretcher. He sustained serious but not life-threatening injuries and was released from the hospital two days later. Denny Hamlin won the race and later apologized for having celebrated with his team on the track, explaining that he had turned his radio off and was unaware that Newman’s crash was so dire. Give credit to NASCAR for requiring that drivers use new, reinforced safety devices, including head-and-neck restraints, after Dale Earnhardt died in a crash at Daytona in 2001. Godspeed to Ryan Newman. His racing team reports that he and his family “are grateful for the unwavering support of the NASCAR community and beyond.”

• Given the music industry’s lax standards, it’s hard to behave badly enough to get kicked out of a rock band, but it does happen. The Beatles fired Pete Best for being a lousy drummer; the Rolling Stones fired Brian Jones for taking too many drugs; the Sex Pistols fired Glen Matlock for liking the Beatles (and replaced him with Sid Vicious, who had never played bass before, but that’s not a problem in punk rock). Hip-hop has always been more fastidious, of course, and now Chuck D, a founding member of the rap group Public Enemy, has fired his clock-wearing co-founder Flavor Flav for declining to appear at a Bernie Sanders rally. In response, Mr. Flav’s lawyer sent Mr. D a cease-and-desist letter proclaiming that “there is no Public Enemy without Flavor Flav.” The letter ends with “Bernie, his name is Flavor Flav and he does NOT approve your message!”

• For 30 years Hosni Mubarak was the president of Egypt, a dictator in all but name. He perfected the holding of referendums that he won by means of running unopposed. An efficient and ruthless secret police had the heavy duty of keeping him in power. Among thousands imprisoned without charges were opposition politicians. Islamists had murdered his predecessor Anwar Sadat, and Mubarak survived numerous attempted assassinations. Arab leaders came to see his Egypt as a force for order and stability. There was some sense that he wished to do his best for a population with worsening problems of livelihood. Washington’s annual subsidy in his day was some $2 billion, a proportion of which finished in the pockets of himself and his two sons. In Egypt, the Arab Spring turmoil of 2011 took the form of open revolution. Arrested, Mubarak was the first Arab leader to be tried in his own country. Final years in prison, in military hospital, or under house arrest brought this cautionary tale to its conclusion. Aged 91, he died. R.I.P. 

• Ever been to a Trader Joe’s? It is an offbeat grocery store, and there are more than 500 of them in the country. The chain was founded by Joe Coulombe, a Californian. Born in 1930, he went to San Diego High and studied economics at Stanford. In the 1960s, he owned a small chain of convenience stores in the L.A. area. But then 7-Eleven came in, dwarfing him. He figured he ought to come up with something else. And he came up with a store catering to somewhat exotic tastes, and having a laid-back, California-cool vibe. As he put it in 2011, he wanted a store for the “overeducated and underpaid”—people such as classical musicians, museum curators, and journalists. He made it go. Trader Joe Coulombe has now died at 89. A country can’t be nothing but politicians and central planners. We need the entrepreneurs. R.I.P.

• “An American hero.” That is what current NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine called Katherine Johnson after news of her death at age 101 was released on February 24. Johnson’s story received long-deserved recognition after the release of the 2016 book Hidden Figures (and movie of the same name), which detailed the remarkable life of this African-American woman and her major contribution to putting man into space and on the moon. Born in West Virginia in 1918, Johnson had an uncanny aptitude for mathematics, which culminated in her graduating summa cum laude from West Virginia State in 1937. After a decade teaching high-school math and raising a family, she began working at Virginia’s Langley Research Center in 1953 and remained there for the next three decades. Barack Obama presented Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2015 for her dedicated service during this chapter of American history. It is difficult to convey how brilliant Johnson was and the extent to which her work enabled America to pull ahead in the space race. Her passion for mathematics and love for her work should be an inspiration to all. R.I.P.

• Martha B. Apgar was a Florida lady and a woman of the world. She loved God, freedom, and America. Once, she was sitting in a restaurant, next to a festive, somewhat rowdy table. She remarked, “I love the sound of Americans having a good time.” She also loved music, nature, and WFB. Virtually everyone who knew her, loved her. She was kind, smart, lively, moral, and beautiful. She was a generous donor to National Review, and a bright presence on our cruises—for many years, in the company of her elegant sister, Louise Garmy. Mrs. Apgar wanted to perpetuate free enterprise and liberal-democratic values. To that end, she created the Apgar Foundation in 2009. Born in 1928, she has died at her home on the Gulf of Mexico, outside Tampa. She leaves her family and friends, and the many whom she benefited through her philanthropy, full of gratitude. R.I.P.


Biden’s Time

After the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday, it is looking much less likely that the Democrats will pin their presidential chances on a self-declared socialist. Enough Democrats were alarmed by that possibility to consolidate with stunning rapidity behind the candidacy of former vice president Joe Biden. They have compelling, albeit mostly negative, reasons for doing so: He hasn’t praised Castro’s Cuba, he isn’t calling for outlawing most Americans’ health insurance, he doesn’t want to ban fracking. Democratic voters forced Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Michael Bloomberg out of the race. All have now endorsed Biden.

Yet Biden, notwithstanding his impressive turnaround, is not obviously a stronger general-election candidate than Bernie Sanders. He is old, and he wears his age poorly. No sober observer will ever call either Biden or President Trump a great orator, but the latter is much better at getting his point across. Then there are Biden’s decades as a Washington insider.

And while Biden counts as a moderate within the Democratic Party, that party has itself been moving left, and Biden has been pulled along. Biden wants a $3 trillion tax increase, an expensive expansion of Obamacare, a reduction in enforcement of the immigration laws, limits on energy use, and taxpayer-funded abortion. And that’s before he has tried to mollify Sanders and his supporters, who are not suddenly going to turn reasonable. Already they are treating the result of a free vote as an illegitimate “coup.”

That’s what Marianne Williamson, now a Sanders surrogate, called it. She sounds like she is ready to put a hex on the Democratic Party. Maybe someone already has.

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

In This Issue




Books, Arts & Manners


Most Popular

Tired of ‘Winning’ Yet?

I’ve never really thought of Mark Steyn as a Palestinian suicide bomber before. You’ll want some context. Steyn, a wonderful writer and former National Review colleague, was filling in for Rush Limbaugh a few weeks ago, and he made the case for using antitrust law to bully technology platforms such as ... Read More

Tired of ‘Winning’ Yet?

I’ve never really thought of Mark Steyn as a Palestinian suicide bomber before. You’ll want some context. Steyn, a wonderful writer and former National Review colleague, was filling in for Rush Limbaugh a few weeks ago, and he made the case for using antitrust law to bully technology platforms such as ... Read More

The Need to Discuss Black-on-Black Crime

Thomas Abt’s book Bleeding Out (2019) has garnered a fair amount of attention for its proposals to deal with gun violence in mainly black urban neighborhoods. The entire focus of the book is on interventions in high-crime locations to stem the violence, including: hot-spots policing, working with young males at ... Read More

The Need to Discuss Black-on-Black Crime

Thomas Abt’s book Bleeding Out (2019) has garnered a fair amount of attention for its proposals to deal with gun violence in mainly black urban neighborhoods. The entire focus of the book is on interventions in high-crime locations to stem the violence, including: hot-spots policing, working with young males at ... Read More

Jason Isbell’s Alt-Alt-Country Masterpiece

There has long been a chasmic disconnect between the creators and the consumers of Americana music. The Americana songwriter still wants to be Woody Guthrie, but the Americana listener stopped being Tom Joad about 60 years ago. Americana — or alt-country, or folk, or whatever we’re calling it this week — ... Read More

Jason Isbell’s Alt-Alt-Country Masterpiece

There has long been a chasmic disconnect between the creators and the consumers of Americana music. The Americana songwriter still wants to be Woody Guthrie, but the Americana listener stopped being Tom Joad about 60 years ago. Americana — or alt-country, or folk, or whatever we’re calling it this week — ... Read More

Protesting Works. Rioting Doesn’t.

The tragic death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis has set off massive protests in the city and elsewhere. The protesters point to a video in which a police officer uses his knee to restrain Floyd, applying pressure to his neck for several minutes, as Floyd protests that he can’t breathe. This will ... Read More

Protesting Works. Rioting Doesn’t.

The tragic death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis has set off massive protests in the city and elsewhere. The protesters point to a video in which a police officer uses his knee to restrain Floyd, applying pressure to his neck for several minutes, as Floyd protests that he can’t breathe. This will ... Read More