One Thing Biden Has Going for Him


A counter-argument, Rich: Warren’s replacement of Harris as the leading rival to Biden is good news for the former vice president, because so far Harris has shown more appeal to black voters than Warren.


Julian Castro, the 2020 Primary’s Forgotten Man

Julian Castro speaks to members of the media the morning after participating in the first Democratic debate in Miami, Fla., June 27, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

For right-of-center folks who can’t stand the media’s reflexive swooning for any Democrat with an ounce of charisma, the 2020 Democratic presidential primary is turning into a multi-course banquet of schadenfreude. Vehement anti-gun congressman Eric Swalwell kept coming up zeroes in polling. Even people who agreed with Kirsten Gillibrand on the issues found her increasingly insufferable. Beto O’Rourke is vindicating those of us who contended his 2018 rise represented the national media seeing what it wanted to see instead of what was actually there.

And then there’s Julian Castro, who on paper should be doing much better than he is; today Politico unveils a long profile asking, “what went wrong?” His sputtering campaign should challenge a lot of conventional wisdom about identity politics.

We’re on the right, so we’re not going to like or often agree with any of the Democratic candidates. But by a lot of measures, Julian Castro is a pretty good candidate. On the stump, he can be funny and charismatic and impassioned. He comes prepared to the debates. He’s been a mayor of a sizable city and worked in Washington as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Compared to the rest of the field, his policy proposals are detailed and far-reaching. He hasn’t made any killer gaffes, although he probably could have done without his twin brother, Representative Joaquin Castro, listing the names and employers of Trump donors in his district.

And it has to be said: he’s the only Latino candidate in a crowded field. If all Latino Democrats backed Castro in this race, he would be, at minimum, a major player. Immigration has been a huge issue in the primary so far, and Castro has emphasized the immigrant roots of his family.

And yet, all of that appears to have meant nothing. Castro is at 1.1 percent in the national RCP average right now. He’s at 2 percent in the most recent poll of Democrats in his home state of Texas! Travel back in time to 2012, when the media was calling Castro “the Latino Obama” and he was giving the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, and tell people that seven years from now, Castro will be trailing the then newly elected mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Latino voters are not going to just automatically flock to a Latino candidate, just as African-American voters have not automatically flocked to Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. Politico writes, “polling that does exist shows that immigration isn’t the big concern among Latinos that many analysts assume it to be. Jobs and health care rank above immigration, and polling shows that Latinos tend to favor the candidates who are preferred by the rest of the Democratic electorate like Warren, Sanders and Biden.” It would be nice if “analysts” could catch up to what Latinos are actually thinking.

There’s another line in the Politico profile that reveals a lot: “Part of Castro’s pitch as a nominee is that he would change that calculus, that seeing one of their own onstage would mean that the quarter or so of the Latino electorate that now supports Trump would come his way in big numbers.” A president who is allegedly the most stridently anti-Latino xenophobic monster to ever stride across the American landscape shouldn’t still have the support of a quarter or so of the Latino electorate.

Politico theorizes that Castro never caught on because almost all of his strengths are duplicated by other candidates: “Elizabeth Warren is the ‘policy candidate.’ And Pete Buttigieg, seven years younger than Castro, is the Millennial Mayor candidate. Joe Biden is the one with better ties to the Obama administration.” That’s probably part of it; what’s more, many of the also-rans and asterisk candidates have been in denial about the reality that the objective is not to be a good candidate, but to be the best candidate. Whether it’s a pollster calling or their actual ballot, voters can only pick one person as their top choice.

One other strong possibility is that Democratic voters simultaneously like Castro and don’t like his odds in a head-to-head debate against Trump. Castro is 44 and looks younger. Whatever his height and weight are, he looks short and skinny next to other candidates on the debate stage, adding to the perception of his youth. He met with vehemently anti-Trump New York Times columnist Charles Blow in December, and Blow summarized Castro as “a nice guy who made it” and predicted that “Trump would have a field day” with Castro’s declaration that he got into Stanford because of affirmative action.

Democrats are terrified of a second term for Trump — and they don’t seem to be willing to bet all their chips on Castro.

Law & the Courts

The Johnson & Johnson Decision


I hadn’t realized just how shoddy it was until I read Jacob Sullum:

Ruling against Johnson & Johnson on Monday, Cleveland County District Court Judge Thad Balkman claimed the “current stage of the Opioid Crisis . . . still primarily involves prescription opioids.” According to records collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, pain pills were involved in just 30 percent of opioid-related deaths in 2017. Most of those cases also involved other drugs, mainly heroin and illicit fentanyl or fentanyl analogs, which were implicated in three-quarters of opioid-related deaths.

Balkman likewise seems to have accepted at face value Oklahoma’s assertion that “opioids are highly addictive.” The evidence also contradicts that claim . . .

But a lot of officials aren’t looking at the evidence.


Color Me Biden-Skeptical


Gaffes aside, Biden still has a healthy lead in most national polls of the Democratic field (two polls had his lead only at 4 and 7 percent the last couple of days, but most have it comfortably in double digits). I’m still not a believer, though. It’s important to be able to light people up, and Biden is unlikely to do it. Given her recent crowds, Warren is looking much stronger on this metric. Also, a nomination battle is always path-dependent. If Biden wins Iowa, where he also leads, although by a smaller margin than nationally, he’s almost certainly the nominee. If he loses, he’ll need to win New Hampshire to survive. Maybe Democrats think that Biden is the best candidate against Trump, and that’s simply that, but it’s hard to believe that there isn’t turbulence ahead. 


Poll: Pro-Life Democrat Leads in Louisiana Governor’s Race


Democrat John Bel Edwards won a first term as Louisiana governor in 2015, when he defeated scandal-plagued U.S. senator David Vitter by twelve points. A new poll shows that the Democratic governor, who signed a bill this year banning abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, is leading his GOP opponents in his 2019 bid for reelection:

If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote during the October “jungle primary,” the top two candidates will advance to a runoff election in November.


‘We Can Lose a Vice President’ 


Jim has a good take today on Biden’s gaffes and how the worst-case scenario for Democrats is that he wins the nomination, then the snafus become a major issue in the general. Regarding the botched war story that the Washington Post reported on, I understand a story getting fuzzy and better with the re-telling. But in discussing the valor of our troops in harrowing circumstances, there’s a special obligation to get the details right. And what’s unforgivable is Biden inserting his own apparently made-up bravery into the story:

Joe Biden painted a vivid scene for the 400 people packed into a college meeting hall. A four-star general had asked the then-vice president to travel to Konar province in Afghanistan, a dangerous foray into “godforsaken country” to recognize the remarkable heroism of a Navy captain.

Some told him it was too risky, but Biden said he brushed off their concerns.

“We can lose a vice president,” he said. “We can’t lose many more of these kids. Not a joke.”

There is nothing in the Post story that substantiates this part of the yarn, which appears to be a grotesque insertion of self-regarding fictional valor into a (mixed-up) story about true bravery and selflessness. 


Senator Joseph Kennedy?


Democratic senator Ed Markey has the support of Elizabeth Warren and is sponsoring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal bill in the Senate. He spent nearly three decades representing Massachusetts in the U.S. House before joining the upper chamber, but that record may not be enough to save him from the Kennedy clan. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, the 38-year-old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, is looking at challenging Markey in the 2020 Democratic primary, and a new poll from Change Research shows Kennedy leading Markey 42 percent to 25 percent.

Health Care

The Opioid Shakedown


Wise words from ACSH’s Josh Bloom on the opioid shakedown:

Once this mess is in the rearview mirror and Americans have moved on the next drug of choice (and they always do), the results will be predictable:

+ A bunch of rich lawyers

+ States grabbing what they can and spending it on . . . who knows.

+ Good luck trying to find a company insane enough to manufacture opioids.

+ Good luck trying to find a doctor who is brave enough to write prescriptions for the opioids that won’t be available.

+ Wait until you see what the pills cost, assuming you can get them at all.

In other words “[t]here will be pain in the form of pain”.

And so the drug wars roll on, from (on any decent measure) failure to failure, enriching more vultures, trashing civil rights, turning yet another manageable problem into a crisis, and, yes, adding to misery and to a death toll that could be a fraction of what it now is.

Alfred Einstein (allegedly):

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.


The Power of National Pride

Jair Bolsonaro, now the president of Brazil, campaigning in October 2018 (Ricardo Moraes / Reuters)

Reading about Brazil and Europe, I had a memory that goes back ten years. The article I have read is an Associated Press report from Porto Velho, about the Amazon fires and the spurning of European aid by Brazil’s new president, Bolsonaro. It was a proud spurning. And it put me in mind of Putin.

In 2009, he gave a speech at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Then he entertained some questions, including from Michael Dell, the American computer entrepreneur. Dell asked what the world at large could do to help Russians get online. This especially applied to students. Putin’s response was essentially as follows:

“We don’t need any help. We are a strong country. Invalids need help, small children need help, developing countries need help. Our computer experts are as good as anybody’s . . .”

The Russian journalists around me whooped in delight. National pride is a powerful, powerful thing.

Incidentally, Putin’s formal speech on that occasion was a piece of work. I smile to revisit it today. (I wrote about these matters here.) Speaking in the wake of the global financial crisis, Putin said,

In the 20th century, the Soviet Union made the state’s role absolute. In the long run, this made the Soviet economy totally uncompetitive. This lesson cost us dearly. I am sure nobody wants to see it repeated.

Nor should we turn a blind eye to the fact that the spirit of free enterprise, including the principle of personal responsibility of businesspeople, investors, and shareholders for their decisions, is being eroded in the last few months. There is no reason to believe that we can achieve better results by shifting responsibility onto the state.

And one more point: Anti-crisis measures should not escalate into financial populism and a refusal to implement responsible macroeconomic policies. The unjustified swelling of the budgetary deficit and the accumulation of public debts are just as destructive as adventurous stock-jobbing.



Beyond One Rhapsody

George Enescu (Photo 12 / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

That fellow up there is George Enescu, a Romanian musician who lived from 1881 to 1955. He was a very rare, and exceptionally versatile, talent. He was one of the greatest violinists in history. And an excellent pianist. And a natural conductor. And a formidable composer. He is best known for his Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, which is familiar all over the world, even if people can’t name it, or its composer. To refresh yourself on what it is, go here.

Why am I going on about Enescu? Because the Salzburg Festival has shone a spotlight on him this summer. And I have written about him, and other doings at the festival, here. My piece is called “Mozart & Co.” Yes, don’t forget Mozart, who is the big kahuna in Salzburg — but who graciously makes room for lesser kahunas, including brilliant Romanians.


A Man to Know

Manfred Honeck, with the Camerata Salzburg, at the Salzburg Festival in August 2019
Manfred Honeck, with the Camerata Salzburg, at the Salzburg Festival in August 2019 (Salzburg Festival / Marco Borrelli)

Manfred Honeck is an Austrian conductor, born in 1958. He is the music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He is from a family of nine children, a highly musical family. His brother Rainer is a concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Manfred himself played in the orchestra too, before turning to conducting. These guys did not grow up in a Viennese manor. They were quite poor — although they did not exactly realize it, luckily — and their mother died early. Manfred was seven. Their father may not have had much materially, but he had a great love of music, and made sure that his children were filled with this art. The results were good.

I conducted a little interview of Manfred Honeck before an audience at the Salzburg Festival, and we have turned it into a Q&A podcast, here. At one point — this should be seen, as well as heard, but we will have to settle for hearing — Honeck gets up and dances, explaining how the dance relates to a Schubert symphony.

Honeck is a pure musician and a noble soul and a wonderful talker, and I bet you will enjoy getting to know him.


Fifteen Things that Caught My Eye Today (August 29, 2019)


A quick NR Cruise “catch-up” list:

1. Syriac Catholic Church reestablishes diocese in northern Iraq (Crux)

2. Sold into sexual slavery: The women forced to take multiple husbands to combat India’s ‘wife shortage’ (London Telegraph)

3. “The Trump Administration Sides With Nurses Who Object to Abortion” (Emma Green/Atlantic)


5. Identity Politics and the “Great Scattering” (Rod Dreher)

(More on Mary Eberstadt’s new book here and here.)

6. Ericka Andersen: Migrants who want better for their children aren’t bad parents. They’re the best. (Washington Post)

7. Tug-of-war over Michigan pro-life program threatens to put funding in jeopardy (Catholic News Agency)

8. About teens mental health and screens  (Institute for Family Studies)

9. What’s lost when we rush kids through childhood? (Edutopia)

10. ‘Life is always beautiful’: What 81 years and 6,000 babies have taught Flora Gualdani (Catholic News Agency)

11. A boy with autism wouldn’t sit still on a United Airlines flight. So crew and passengers stepped in to help. (CNN)

12. Another plane story worth reading

13. “Satan Is Real” (Monseigneur Charles Pope)

14. “The Divine Resurrection of Stained Glass” (NY Times)

15. “Teach me to sing the Song of Songs” (Medium)


Off to the Races in Georgia

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters)

On Wednesday, Republican senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia announced that he will retire from the Senate at the end of 2019 due to the worsening condition of his health (Isakson suffers from Parkinson’s disease). The retirement means that Republican governor Brian Kemp will appoint Isakson’s successor, and a special election will be held on the same day as the November 2020 general election, when incumbent Georgia Republican David Perdue will be defending his own Senate seat.

CNN’s Michael Warren reports that Kemp’s short-list of possible Senate appointees includes “state attorney general Chris Carr, Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Georgia’s current lieutenant governor, Geoff Duncan. Carr was chief of staff for Isakson for six years.”

The last Democrat to win a Senate election in Georgia was conservative Zell Miller in 2000, but progressive Stacey Abrams lost the 2018 governor’s race by just 1.4 percentage points. Abrams said on Wednesday that she won’t run for Senate in 2020 but would be “honored” to be vice president.

At FiveThirtyEight, Nathaniel Rakich explains why Georgia could be competitive in 2020:

[T]he steady growth of the state’s nonwhite population and the defection of voters in well-educated suburbs (such as those around Atlanta) to Democrats in the Trump era have caused it to drift left. In the 2008 presidential election, Georgia was 12.5 points redder than the nation as a whole; in 2012, it was 11.8 points redder; in 2016, it was 7.3 points redder. It is reasonable to expect, then, that Georgia could be even closer to the tipping point in 2020. In other words, a good national cycle for Democrats — or a good Democratic candidate — could be enough to flip the seat blue (or at least come close). […]

There’s also one final twist to be aware of — the reason it would behoove each party to rally around a single candidate: Instead of a normal primary followed by a general election, all candidates, regardless of party, will run in a single “jungle primary” on Nov. 3, 2020. So if no candidate receives a majority, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff.3 This makes the race extra unpredictable, as any runoff would occur without the increased turnout of the presidential election influencing the results of the race.

Energy & Environment

The Amazon Scam


I wrote about the Amazon fires and the G-7 meeting today for Politico:

Emmanuel Macron may not technically be a celebrity, but he tweets like one.

Prior to the G-7 summit, the French president declared on Twitter, “The Amazon rain forest—the lungs which produce 20% of our planet’s oxygen—is on fire.” He added that, “Our house is burning. Literally,” and called the fires an “international crisis.”

Macron’s tweet was deeply ill-informed and misleading, but indistinguishable from the commentary of all the actors and singers who pride themselves more on their (alleged) social and environmental consciences than their knowledge. They got images that they believed were of today’s Amazon fires wrong and repeated lazy clichés about “the lungs of the planet,” wrapping it all in apocalyptic warnings of climate doom.

At least Diddy and Leonardo DiCaprio don’t host multilateral meetings of Western heads of state.

Macron does.

Law & the Courts

James Comey, Hoisted upon His Own Self-Regard

Former FBI Director James Comey departs after giving a private deposition to the House Judiciary and House Government and Oversight committees, December 7, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

There will be a lot of damning sections in the new Department of Justice Inspector General report on former FBI director James Comey, but this section in the conclusion is perhaps the most important:

[FBI] employees may disagree with decisions by prosecutors, judges, or higher-ranking FBI and Department officials about the actions to take or not take in criminal and counterintelligence matters. They may even, in some situations, distrust the legitimacy of those supervisory, prosecutorial, or judicial decisions. But even when these employees believe that their most strongly-held personal convictions might be served by an unauthorized disclosure, the FBI depends on them not to disclose sensitive information.

Even when these employees believe that their most strongly-held personal convictions might be served by an unauthorized disclosure, the FBI depends on them not to disclose sensitive information. Former Director Comey failed to live up to this responsibility. By not safeguarding sensitive information obtained during the course of his FBI employment, and by using it to create public pressure for official action, Comey set a dangerous example for the over 35,000 current FBI employees—and the many thousands more former FBI employees—who similarly have access to or knowledge of non-public information. Comey said he was compelled to take these actions “if I love this country…and I love the Department of Justice, and I love the FBI.”

However, were current or former FBI employees to follow the former Director’s example and disclose sensitive information in service of their own strongly held personal convictions, the FBI would be unable to dispatch its law enforcement duties properly, as Comey himself noted in his March 20, 2017 congressional testimony… This is no doubt part of the reason why Comey’s closest advisors used the words “surprised,” “stunned,” “shocked,” and “disappointment” to describe their reactions to learning what Comey had done.

Comey knew the rules, knew the regulations, knew the law, and swore an oath to uphold them. But when push came to shove, Comey felt that he could break those rules, because he convinced himself that his own particular violation of the regulations served the greater good. Of course, this is what almost every leaker believes. Edward Snowden no doubt believes he was serving the greater good by disclosing gobs of intelligence secrets, as do Reality Winner and Chelsea Manning. Julian Assange believed he was building a freer, more open, more accountable world.

Every villain believes he is the hero in his own story. Quite a few criminals believe they’re breaking the law for good reasons. They’re committing fraud against an insurance company that they believe is greedy and unjust. What the law calls insider trading just means being well-informed. What they told the IRS is close enough to the truth about their actual income.

It’s justified; I’ve earned it; no one is really being hurt; not doing this would be the real crime. The human mind has enormous capacity for self-justification. If everyone really had the good judgment and moral clarity that they think they had, we wouldn’t need the rules!

For a while now, Americans have seen Comey’s gargantuan self-regard and insufferable self-image as the last honest man in Washington. As Comey became more openly political and self-aggrandizing, former FBI employees grew uncomfortable with the shift in his public image, and with it, the public image of the bureau. In the end, Comey’s unwavering faith in his own moral judgment — and his inability to see how his own self-justification echoed that of every other leaker the federal government ever prosecuted — ended up being his greatest weakness.


Dave Chappelle Downplays Trump Reelection Fears

Dave Chappelle in Toronto, Canada, September 9, 2018 (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Following >Sticks & Stones, Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix special, there’s a hidden 22-minute epilogue, The Punch Line, that consists of some bits from his recent Broadway residency, a little reminiscing about his favorite club (The Punch Line, a 200-seater in San Francisco) and some excerpts from various Q & A sessions with his audiences. “There are no dumb questions allowed,” he warns. Asked what his favorite book is, he replies, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Interesting.

In his act, Chappelle doesn’t get much into partisan politics (though he obviously leans left). People ask him direct political questions such as what he thinks of President Trump’s chances next year. “I don’t know,” he says, “but I think Trump has a lot better shot than people like to think . . . all depends on how the Left talks. The way we’re talking right now is not going to win the f***ing ballgame. Donald Trump’s over there on the right, grabbing handfuls of p****, Joe Biden’s can’t even smell hair over here, f*** this side.”

Another audience member puts matters a bit less neutrally: “What the f*** you gonna do if Trump gets reelected?”

“What am I gonna do if Trump gets reelected? Probably get a significant tax break,” Chappelle says. “You want to know why I don’t even talk about Trump in my show? Because that mother****er is not the hokey-pokey. He is not what it’s all about. There’s millions of people that put him in power and the ideas that he puts forth are not his own. He’s singing poor white people’s greatest hits. So why the f*** would I worry about him and not the other millions?” Then he jokes that he’s thinking about voting for “that gay dude.” After the audience shouts back at him, he says, “No, Mike Pence.”

Chappelle talks about how he once went to a charity dinner years ago and found himself sitting with Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris, Al Gore, the co-founders of Google. Harris told him, “A friend of mine is announcing his candidacy for the presidency tomorrow.” “Barack Obama?” said Chappelle. Harris called Obama for Chappelle, got voice mail. Chappelle jokes that he left a message: “I just said what’d you say to any black dude who’s running for president. Stay low, run in a zig-zag pattern, this kind of s***.” Later, when he met then-senator Obama during the Democratic-primary season, he says Obama hugged him after a debate and whispered in Chappelle’s ear, “I got your message.”

Science & Tech

What Went Wrong with Silicon Valley?

Apple CEO Tim Cook stands in front of a depiction of the new Apple headquarters building in Cupertino, Calif., in 2016. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Those of you who are too young to remember or have experienced the dot-com boom of the late 1990s missed out on probably one of the most exciting economic times in American history. Every other day, some reasonably bright, tech-savvy guy whom no one had heard of before would announce something like, “we’re going to sell rutabagas over the Internet!” and some venture capitalists would credulously say, “that sounds terrific!” and before you knew it you were reading magazine profiles of some twenty-somethings who had just been given a couple million and who pledged to “completely transform the way Americans buy rutabagas forever.”

Obviously, not every dot-com had a happy ending, and the hype, ludicrous expectations, and speculative bubble of the era and players lend themselves well to mockery. But there was this joyous, palpable excitement and enthusiasm as people got together and convinced themselves, their investors, and sometimes potential consumers, “we’re going to create something that people are going to love!”

I’m not sure I love Missouri senator Josh Hawley’s legislative remedies, but he has a point when he writes in today’s Wall Street Journal that “what passes for innovation by Big Tech today isn’t fundamentally new products or new services, but ever more sophisticated exploitation of people.”

We love the idea that Amazon can ship just about any product in the world to our door. We don’t love the thought that some algorithm studying our shopping habits can figure out that a woman is pregnant before she pees on the stick.

We love the idea that Facebook lets us stay in touch with friends far away, and reminds us of people’s birthdays, and lets us see how fast kids are growing up. We don’t like learning that Facebook paid contractors to transcribe users’ audio chats, or hearing that a human contractor for Google Assistant leaked thousands of audio clips to a Belgian public broadcaster.

We like the ability to speak into our phone and have our spoken words transcribed almost instantaneously. We don’t like finding out that Siri is so easily accidentally activated that “Apple contractors regularly hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex.”

We love the idea of an app or gadget to get constantly updated information about our health and using that as a tool to become healthier. We don’t love the thought that the apps can be hacked and somebody out there could get all of our personal health information.

No matter how many times the CEOs apologize, no matter how many bad headlines, or how many times lawmakers furiously denounce Silicon Valley, the attitude of the big tech companies seems to be, anything you give us, we are entitled to attempt to monetize, and we will insist you agreed to this when you clicked okay to that lengthy ‘terms of service’ user agreement that we know almost no one ever reads. (No, really, people agreed to prank language that promised to turn over their firstborn child and their immortal souls without reading.) Tech companies no longer see their customers as consumers to be served but as a resource to be exploited.

Hawley closes his op-ed with a challenge: “To the masters of Big Tech, I say: Raise your sights. If you want to be leaders for this country in this century, earn it. Build tools that enrich lives, strengthen society, create good-paying jobs, and improve productive capacity.” Even if you don’t like how Hawley wants to change technology policy and the law, you have to agree the senator is right that something’s gone terribly wrong in Silicon Valley, when so much of its efforts just ended up building a bigger, better, more invasive, society-wide surveillance system.

I mean, it may have been silly and doomed, but no one ever really got hurt by an online market for rutabagas.

Law & the Courts

Jussie Smollett Doubles Down: ‘Every Iota’ Was the Truth

Jussie Smollett at the 2017 BET Awards (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

Recall that when the Chicago state’s attorney Kim Foxx dropped charges against Jussie Smollett, her office announced that he had been punished enough for perpetrating his hoax, not that he was innocent: “After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case” was the statement at the time. But why would Smollett have accepted any penalty whatsoever if he was the blameless victim of a horrendous attack?

Now under the mayoral leadership of Lori Lightfoot, the City of Chicago is continuing to sue Smollett to recover costs related to investigating his false, indeed ludicrous, claims of a hate-crime attack. Last week a special prosecutor, Dan Webb, was appointed to investigate the odd circumstances of how the case was dropped without securing a guilty plea from Smollett while the city seeks to recover some $130,000 in overtime costs from the actor.

Smollett himself, previously voluble about the alleged attack, has gone completely quiet, but this week his PR firm released a statement claiming that “regardless of what is said by the city, every iota of information Jussie Smollett has stated has been fully corroborated by the police documents.” “Not documents from his PR or legal team but documents generated by the very people who continuously claim it as fact that he is guilty,” the statement continued. “But this requires people to look at the actual evidence which nobody seems to want to do.”

Looking at the evidence a bit more is exactly what Chicago is doing. Cook County Criminal Court judge Michael Toomin backed the appointment of a special prosecutor because of “unprecedented irregularities” in the case. Because Smollett was not acquitted of the charges against him, re-charging him with a crime is a possibility. It would not be double jeopardy. Even worse, comic Dave Chappelle is mercilessly ridiculing Smollett, whom he derides as “Juicy Smoo-yay,” in his new Netflix special.


Andrew Yang Qualifies for Third Democratic Debate

Andrew Yang during the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, August 10, 2019. (Scott Morgan/Reuters)

New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand dropped out of the Democratic presidential race yesterday evening after failing to qualify for the third round of primary debates, slated for September 12. Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, meanwhile, will be one of ten Democrats on stage in Houston next month.

To qualify for the debate, candidates had to hit 2 percent in at least four public-opinion polls and secure 130,000 unique donors. Among the others not to reach the threshold for September were Colorado senator Michael Bennet, Hawaii representative Tulsi Gabbard, and Montana governor Steve Bullock.

While Yang managed to snag a spot in the lineup, his fellow non-politician Marianne Williamson failed to do so. As of Wednesday, the author and self-help guru still needed to reach 2 percent in three more polls in order to qualify. She already met the donor requirement.

Yang’s star has slowly been rising throughout the primary, going from little support to speak of in April to hovering around 3 percent in most polls this month. Though he had a rocky first debate, he was widely considered to have done well in the second round, standing out from the seasoned politicians on stage with his focus on policy solutions, specifically his universal-basic-income proposal.

His bid is still a long shot, of course, but it’s notable that he has been able to gain enough traction to consistently poll ahead of politicians like New Jersey senator Cory Booker and former congressman Beto O’Rourke — along with making the third debate ahead of sitting Democratic politicians. Perhaps his steady success is a sign that his no-nonsense approach is appealing to Americans sick of politicians’ double-speak, as well as to Democratic voters looking for a somewhat moderate option in a sea of progressive candidates.

As of now, and absent any surprise polling in the next two weeks, Yang will be joined on stage in September by Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke.


Thursday Links

August 29th, 2:14 AM: Skynet Becomes Self-aware
What Can a Hacker Do With Your Stolen Fingerprints?
ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include Gene Kelly’s birthday, why we pour milk on cereal, the anniversary of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and destruction of Pompeii, and signs that you’re smarter than average.
Film & TV

I Have Questions about Breaking Bad

Anna Gunn and Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad (AMC)

News that a coda to Breaking Bad is about to appear on Netflix (El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie debuts October 11 and will later appear on AMC) inspires some thoughts.

  1. Is Walter White the greatest character in TV history? The answer seems to me obviously yes. I’m not sure who would finish second. Omar from The Wire? John-Boy? More? (Note that I have never been impressed with The Sopranos or Game of Thrones. I watched a lot of hours of each, but neither show made me care.)
  2. Is Breaking Bad the greatest show in TV history? Yep. Though I don’t know how to weigh it against the greatest TV comedies. Which delights us more, Breaking Bad or The Simpsons? You have to put them in separate categories, I think. Like music and food.
  3. How many hours a day does John Cusack spend kicking himself for not getting the role of Walter White? I’m going to set the over/under at 23. (Cusack once denied turning down the part in a tweet, though The Hollywood Reporter reported that he, as well as Matthew Broderick, “both passed” on the part. Some writers have speculated that there was a communication breakdown here. E! Online squared the circle this way: “A source who was involved with the show from the very start confirms that both Cusack and Matthew Broderick were on the initial lists . . . However, Cusack was never officially offered the role, according to insiders. Both he and Broderick were given the script, though, with the idea that if they liked the part it would be theirs.” You gotta fight for a great part. Christian Bale, who had never done anything particularly impressive as an adult actor, spent years pumping iron and trying to secure the lead in American Psycho (the movie that led directly to Batman Begins) even though Leonardo DiCaprio was supposed to do it (with Oliver Stone directing).
  4. Would the show have even worked with Cusack or Broderick playing Walter in terrifying Heisenberg mode? Clearly the idea was to cast someone who would present a nice-guy image to the audience — which is why Bryan Cranston got the part! He played a nice soft daddy in Malcom in the Middle. In 30 years of watching John Cusack (whom I like, though he seems to have blocked me on Twitter), I have to conclude that he’s not really an actor. He can be smiley and charming, but that’s not the same as acting. He was godawful in the Iraq War drama about grief Grace Is Gone. There’s a reason you’ve never heard of this movie.

Dave Chappelle Goes After Jussie Smollett

Dave Chappelle in The Age of Spin (Netflix)

Dave Chappelle says some needful things about the Jussie Smollett hoax in one of the best segments of his new Netflix special Sticks & Stones. One comedy writer has ruled the subject out of bounds. Except for a Saturday Night Live sketch last winter, the subject has largely escaped the notice of comics. Why? Smollett’s story is hilarious. 

Chappelle derisively refers to the disgraced actor, in a French accent, as “Juicy Smoo-yay”: “You see, Juicy Smoo-yay is gay and he is black. Not just French. Oh, it was a crazy story. . . . Two white men came out of the shadows with MAGA hats on and beat him up.” 

He continues:

Everybody was furious, especially in Hollywood. . . . “Justice for Juicy” and all this sh**. . . . For some reason, African Americans, we were like oddly quiet. . . . What they didn’t understand is that we were supporting him with our silence. Because we understood that this n****** was clearly lying. None of these details added up at all. . . . “Hey man, aren’t you that f***** n***** from Empire?” What the f***? Does that sound like how white people talk? . . . It sounds like something that I would say! . . . If you a racist and homophobic you don’t even know who this n***** is! You don’t watch Empire. . . .

Black people never feel sorry for the police, but this time we even felt sorry for the police. . . . [voice of police officer] “Okay, you left the house at 2 a.m., it’s minus 16 degrees. You were walking, you were walking. All riiiight. And . . . and where were you going? Subway. Sandwiches? . . . That’s when the men approached you . . . what did they have on? MAGA hats? MAGA hats in Chicago. . . . [aside to another police officer] Find out where Kanye West was last night. . . .

He said they put a rope around his neck. Has anyone here ever been to Chicago? All right, so you been there. Now tell me, how much rope do you remember seeing? . . . Like when did you get mugged, n*****, 1850? Who’s got rope? . . . Not only were they not white, they were very, very black. They were Nigerian, which is the funniest sh**. The whole story is funnier now! [in exaggerated Nigerian accent] “This is MAGA country, you f***** n*****!”


Gillibrand Out

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand during the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, Mich., July 31, 2019 (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

The New York senator provided one of my favorite moments of the primaries so far. In March she explained that her support for gun rights when she was in the House was a result of not caring enough about whether voters outside her district lived or died. No, really: “And not only was I wrong, and not only should I have cared more about gun violence in other parts of my state or other parts of my country, I just didn’t.” I don’t think I’d ever heard that from a candidate before: I flip-flopped because I stopped being a sociopath.

Politics & Policy

O’Rourke Is Wrong on Maternal Mortality and Abortion Restrictions

Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke speaks at a campaign house party in Salem, N.H., May 9, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

On Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke hosted a town hall at the College of Charleston, during which he reiterated his support for late-term abortion in response to an audience question. During his response, O’Rourke said that, because of abortion-clinic regulations in Texas, one-fourth of family planning facilities have shut down and claimed that these policies have made the state “one of the epicenters of this maternal mortality crisis.”

To make this claim, O’Rourke is relying on incorrect data. A 2016 study in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology did report a large increase in the incidence of maternal mortality in Texas, but a 2018 study in the same journal — using corrected data — found that the maternal-mortality rate was actually less than half of what was previously reported. Contrary to O’Rourke’s remarks, neither clinic regulations nor funding cuts to Planned Parenthood caused the maternal-mortality rate in Texas to spike.

This is not the first time O’Rourke has blamed high maternal-mortality rates on pro-life policies. At a campaign event in Nevada this April, O’Rourke claimed that Planned Parenthood “is saving lives” and again cited high maternal-mortality rates in Texas. Unlike the former congressman, some elected officials have shown some integrity and admitted error when they have cited false statistics. In May, for instance, Representative Don Beyer (D., Va.) claimed at a congressional hearing that rate of maternal deaths in Texas doubled after funding cuts to Planned Parenthood. Afterwards, he admitted the error and his communications director called it “an honest mistake.”

But O’Rourke, like many liberal activists, seems very invested in the false narrative that pro-life policies created a public-health crisis in Texas. While he’s entitled to his own opinion about different types of pro-life laws, he is not entitled to his own facts. Since Texas defunded Planned Parenthood, the birth rate among minors (ages 13-17) in Texas fell by more than 49 percent and the abortion rate among minors fell by more than 57 percent. Presidential candidates should highlight these positive public-health trends in the Lone Star State instead of spreading the false narrative that cuts to Planned Parenthood caused a sharp increase in the rate of maternal mortality.

PC Culture

Watch: Kat Timpf Says Liberals Need to Stop Taking Trump’s Jokes Seriously


In her latest video for National Review, reporter Kat Timpf responds to liberals taking offense at President Trump’s recent joke about the Medal of Honor.


Why Doesn’t Stacey Abrams Want to Run for Senate?

Stacey Abrams speaks to the crowd of supporters announcing they will wait till the morning for results of the mid-terms election at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta, Ga., November 7, 2018. (Lawrence Bryant/Reuters)

Life just got a little more complicated for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The 2020 elections looked challenging but manageable, needing to defend Colorado’s Cory Gardner, Maine’s Susan Collins, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, and Arizona’s appointed senator Martha McSally. The risk of losses were somewhat offset by some low-hanging fruit in Alabama Democrat Doug Jones, an open seat in New Mexico, and maybe some chances for an upset in New Hampshire or Michigan.

But now Republicans have to worry about an open seat Senate race in Georgia, as Senator Johnny Isakson said today that he will step down from office at the end of this year due to complications with Parkinson’s disease.

Yes, Georgia is a Republican-leaning state. When Stacey Abrams calls herself the legitimately elected governor of her state and refuses to concede the race, Republicans can point out that the official final vote count in 2018 put her down by 54,723 votes, not exactly a small margin. But Abrams did do better than almost any Georgia Democrat running statewide in a generation, with 48.8 percent, and came within 1.4 percentage points of winning.

There are other concerns. Trump won Georgia in 2016 by five percentage points — that’s smaller than his margin in Ohio, Iowa, and Missouri. The 2018 midterms were pretty good for Democrats — besides Stacey Abrams’ close finish in the governor’s race, Democrat Lucy McBath defeated Karen Handel in the Sixth Congressional District, and Democrats picked up eleven seats in the state House and two seats in the state Senate.

Republicans may have caught a break when Abrams announced today she has no interest in running for the Senate: “While she will not be a candidate herself, she is committed to helping Democratic candidates win both Senate races next year.” We will see if that position holds; soon every big-name Democrat will be encouraging her to run, and open-seat Senate races don’t come along all that often.

But perhaps Abrams sees a Senate campaign as a step down. Two weeks ago, Abrams said in an interview with the New York Times, “My decision not to run for the Senate was because I do not want to serve in the Senate,” and when asked about being the Democratic nominee’s running mate, answered, “I would be honored to be considered by any nominee.” In March, unnamed “close advisers to former Vice President Joe Biden” told Axios that the nascent campaign was debating naming Abrams as Biden’s veep choice immediately. Whether or not that particular report is true, Abrams may think that the eventual nominee is likely to give her an invitation next summer — which would make any Senate bid moot.


Senate Candidates Fight DSCC over Hickenlooper Endorsement

Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper speaks on the first night of the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, Mich., July 30, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Six Democratic women running in the Colorado Senate primary to challenge Republican senator Cory Gardner next November have written an open letter to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), asking that it rescind its early endorsement of former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper.

“All of us, like many women in Colorado and across the country, have seen well-qualified women passed over for male candidates in the workplace time and again,” the six women wrote. “Now, the DSCC, by its endorsement, is implying that we should defer to a male candidate because you seem to believe he is ‘more electable.’”

Until a little over a week ago, Hickenlooper was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, but in a video announcing an end to his presidential campaign in mid August, he teased a possible Senate run. “I’ve heard from so many Coloradans who want me to run for the United States Senate,” he said. “They remind me how much is at stake for our country and our state. I intend to give that some serious thought.”

On the road for his presidential campaign earlier this year, Hickenlooper downplayed the possibility of challenging Gardner. “I’m not cut out to be a senator,” he said at a campaign stop in Iowa in late February. “Senators don’t build teams. Senators sit and debate in small groups, which is important, right? But I’m not sure that’s my — I’m a doer.”

Both Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and DSCC chairwoman Catherine Cortez Masto (D., Nev.), along with other national Democrats, had approached Hickenlooper about running for the Senate in Colorado instead of pursuing his long-shot presidential bid. Now that he’s taken their advice, the DSCC has quickly decided to back his effort.

Late last week, the DSCC suggested it would support Hickenlooper, tweeting just after his formal campaign announcement, “@Hickenlooper is running against Cory Gardner — the most vulnerable Republican up in 2020! If we want to end the gridlock, cut the costs of health care and prescription drugs, and act on climate — we need to flip this #COSen seat.”

On Monday, DSCC spokesperson Lauren Passalacqua told Denver7 News that it would officially support Hickenlooper: “John Hickenlooper is far and away the strongest candidate to beat Cory Gardner, and we’re proud to support him in his run for Senate.”

That decision has rankled the six women also competing for the chance to face Gardner next year. “We should point out that in the last several campaign cycles, Washington Democrats have recruited candidates with profiles similar to Governor Hickenlooper with much fanfare, only to see those candidates come up short in the general election,” their letter said.

“What is more troubling is Hickenlooper’s rhetoric throughout his failed Presidential bid he derisively referred to progressives as ‘socialist’ and paternally lectured us on how our progressive values will ‘re-elect Donald Trump,’” it went on.

One of the women, Colorado state senator Angela Williams, published an op-ed in Sentinel Colorado last Friday in which she criticized Hickenlooper for failing to be progressive enough. “It’s clear that Governor Hickenlooper is considering running for the senate only because his presidential ambitions didn’t work out, not because he actually wants the job,” Williams wrote.

There’s little question that Hickenlooper has the best name recognition of the Democrats vying to replace Gardner, who’s widely considered the most vulnerable Republican up for reelection next year. (Hillary Clinton carried Colorado by nearly 5 percentage points in 2016.) When it comes to electability, the DSCC was wise both to recruit and to endorse the former governor. But when it comes to pacifying the more left-wing segments of the party, the immediate rush to crown him might have been premature.


Fierce Competitors for Husband of the Year


One difference between President Trump and his likely GOP presidential primary challenger Mark Sanford is that Sanford has enough good sense to recognize that he shouldn’t attack Trump for his infidelities, but Trump sees no reason why he shouldn’t attack Sanford for his infidelity.

Health Care

Wrong on Obesity

(Rick Wilking/Reuters)

There is a new weight-loss app for children ages 8–17, called “Kurbo,” by Weight Watchers. It purports to help children who struggle with their weight choose healthier foods and better manage their portion sizes. The app was developed at Stanford University with the aid of 30 years of research and lists several success stories on its website. It seems innocuous enough.

Which is why an article about the app from a CNN contributor last weekend titled “A weight-loss app for kids sends the wrong message,” puzzled me. The author acknowledges that we have dangerously high levels of childhood obesity in the United States, a problem that might be allayed, in some small way, by this app. But the author takes issue with the app’s premise, which is at fundamental odds with her view of obesity as something rather like a contagion that befalls people out of the blue, like the bubonic plague or swine flu. Obesity, the author says, has “social and economic roots which run far deeper than individual lifestyle choices. The privilege individuals have to change their lifestyle — be that buying or preparing different foods, or spending time on exercise, varies hugely, and depends a great deal on their social background, wealth status and where they live.”

But the difference in daily expense between the groups with the healthiest and unhealthiest diets is somewhere around $1.50, according to a literature review on the subject. That isn’t an insignificant sum to people who exist around the poverty line, but neither is it a Goliath figure. Stanford analysts with the National Bureau of Economic Research, meanwhile, found the “price” and “access” arguments wanting as causal factors in nutrition disparities, noting that “exposing low-income households to the same availability and prices experienced by high-income households reduces nutritional inequality by only 9%, while the remaining 91% is driven by differences in demand. These findings contrast with discussions of nutritional inequality that emphasize supply-side factors such as food deserts.”

This is not to suggest such outcomes aren’t worrisome unto themselves, but it is to say that focusing on “access” and “privilege,” as the CNN author does, is really to do an end-run around the issue. As Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution argues, the reasons why “the poor choose to eat differently than the rich is an interesting and important question but one more amenable to answers focusing on culture, education and history than price and income.”

Later, in a particularly bizarre section, the author claims that having “a higher weight doesn’t automatically connote ill-health.” Being a lifelong smoker doesn’t “automatically connote ill-health” either, but how often are anecdotal counterfactuals dragged out when we talk about the health effects of tobacco? Never. But being overweight or obese is associated with a wide array of health problems. That the author would remark upon the existence of an anomalous overweight individual in good health is puzzling — what is the point other than to obscure the real and substantial health risks associated with obesity?


Gabbard, Steyer, and Williamson Likely Fail to Qualify for September Debate


To make it on stage at the September Democratic presidential debate, candidates must have 130,000 unique donors and garner 2 percent or more in at least four polls approved by the Democratic National Committee. 

Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, progressive mega-donor Tom Steyer, and New Age author Marianne Williamson each met the donor requirement but will apparently fail to hit the polling requirement.

Absent a surprise poll or two being published in the next 12 hours, that means there will be only one debate held in September with the following 10 candidates on stage: 

  • Biden
  • Warren
  • Sanders
  • Harris
  • Buttigieg
  • Booker
  • O’Rourke
  • Castro
  • Klobuchar
  • Yang

Elizabeth Warren has surged into second place in the latest Iowa poll and in some national polls in August, and Thursday, September 12 will be the first time she will share a national debate stage with frontrunner Joe Biden.

Economy & Business

The Public Shifts on the Economy


And according to Quinnipiac, it’s a rapid shift. “For the first time since President Trump was elected, more voters say that the national economy is getting worse than getting better, with 37 percent saying it is getting worse, 31 percent saying it is getting better, and 30 percent saying it is staying the same. This compares to a June 11, 2019 poll in which 23 percent of voters said that the national economy is getting worse, 39 percent said it is getting better, and 37 percent said it is staying the same.

Politics & Policy

President Trump: ‘We Have to Start Looking for a New News Outlet.’

The Fox News electronic ticker is seen outside the News Corporation building in New York City. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

I know, I know, the president is playing seven-level chess, and all of his tweets are carefully-calibrated, masterful efforts that go over the heads of the media and resonate with all real Americans, and RINO elitists like me will never understand, blah blah blah . . .

But Trump’s declaration this morning that Fox News has betrayed him — “The New Fox News is letting millions of GREAT people down! We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” — suggests that the commander-in-chief has grown so spectacularly needy and insecure that he goes into a rage over watching an interview that he doesn’t like, and deems any exchange that doesn’t explicitly praise him as “heavily promoting the Democrats.” Trump seems to believe that Fox News owes him laudatory coverage, and that the appearance of any guest that criticizes him represents deeply personal treachery on the part of the network.

Fox News has always had its outspoken high-profile supporters of the president — mostly the prime-time hosts Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro and Tucker Carlson — and it’s always had top-tier straight-news anchors and reporters like Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, Catherine Herridge and Bill Hemmer. The prime-time hosts are often cited in efforts to diminish the work of the reporters, and the reporting that is unflattering to the president (or when Fox News’s polling efforts show some disappointing results for Trump) it interpreted by some viewers as the network somehow going “off-message.” Is it really that inconceivable that some folks over there genuinely want to live up to the slogan “fair, balanced, and unafraid?”

If Trump really is ready to psychologically divorce Fox News, I hope he made them sign a prenup.


Brexit, and So It Goes


In the wake of the Johnson premiership, the Labour party has reoriented itself as the pro-Remain party, saying no-deal would be a disaster; the Brexit party has reoriented itself as no-deal-only party, saying it’s foolish to pander any further to the EU; while the Conservatives — under Johnson’s leadership — is trying to leave with a deal (one that the Northern Irish approve) while preparing the country to leave without one.

The question of whether Johnson can force through a no-deal Brexit without permission from parliament is fundamentally a constitutional one. Today the Queen gave Johnson the go-ahead on his plan to prorogue parliament between September 9 and October 14. Johnson’s parliamentary enemies are also looking for a way to stop him.

There are two ways for the British parliament to prevent a no-deal Brexit. (1) Parliament passes legalization to that effect. (2) Parliament votes to bring down the government. The leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, has said he’d prefer the first option but would be open to the latter . . .

Oh, he would, would he?

Earlier this month, Corbyn suggested to anti-Brexit MPs that there ought to be a vote of confidence followed by a temporary “government of national unity,” a cross-party coalition. Of course, the only person Corbyn would be willing to give the keys to No. 10 to in this event (this “unified” government would require a caretaker prime minister) is himself. In contrast, a YouGov survey found that only 15 percent of those asked thought he would be a suitable candidate, and 63 percent thought that he would not. Tory rebels and Liberal Democrats are also unwilling to back Corbyn. For obvious reasons.

Brexit, no Brexit? Brexit, which Brexit?

And so it goes.

Economy & Business

What Trump Has Gotten Right about the Fed


At Bloomberg Opinion, I argue that President Trump was right in December and is right now: Monetary policy is too tight.

I also weigh in on the tricky question of how the central bank should respond to the trade war.


The Biden Collapse Narrative Is Premature

Joe Biden speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, August 10, 2019. (Scott Morgan/Reuters)

A Monmouth poll from a few days ago had some pretty surprising numbers: Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were tied for first place with 20-percent support, ahead of Joe Biden who came in just behind them at 19 percent.

It was one of the first polls — if not the only poll — since Biden entered the race in April to show anyone ahead of the former vice president. And, as one-off, early primary polls often do, it quickly fed a news-cycle narrative that perhaps Biden’s many gaffes were finally starting to hurt him, and that we’d start to see a two-way race between Warren and Sanders.

But the Monmouth poll seems to have been an outlier. Just this morning, a USA Today/Suffolk poll of the Democratic primary had Biden back on top with a substantial lead on his competitors at 32 percent. The next closest was Warren (14 percent), followed by Sanders (12 percent), along with California senator Kamala Harris and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg tied at 6 percent.

It will likely take more than a few weeks of predictable gaffes for Biden to lose his luster among Democratic voters.

Science & Tech

Deepfakes Are Deeply Worrying

Bill Hader’s face morphs to Tom Cruise’s in a YouTube clip. (Screenshot via YouTube/Ctrl Shift Face)

Cyber hackers are remembered as the villains of 2016. Trump, Putin, and Florida rednecks are, too, of course: but they, at least, have faces. Faceless villains — the types that appear as silhouettes in comic books, or as dementors in Harry Potter, or as good ole Grim Reaper — are far more terrifying.

Intelligence officials, including the director of the FBI, have said that they expect an increase in foreign meddling in 2020. Naturally, then, so does the Democratic National Committee (DNC). In order to emphasize the seriousness of this threat, earlier this month, at a “hackers” convention in Las Vegas, the DNC showed a video of their chairman Tom Perez apologizing for not being able to attend . . . but, of course, Perez said no such thing! He only appeared to have said this because of the work of artificial-intelligence experts, who, using a kind of photoshop for videos, made what’s known as a “deepfake.”

When done well, deepfakes are uncanny. Recently, for instance, a YouTuber used material from a 2008 interview with David Letterman to show the comedian Bill Hader seamlessly morph into Tom Cruise, then Seth Rogan. This benign celebrity deepfake went viral — deservedly, since it was well done. But what if this technology were to be used for malicious purposes? Like pornography or propaganda?

These are not academic concerns. “Deepfake” was coined on Reddit, a U.S. discussion website, by an account with the same name. The owner of this account was producing sex videos of women celebrities — fake, of course — by plastering their faces onto the bodies of porn stars. The harm of this can hardly be overstated. Even if a person knows they are watching a deepfake, some things simply cannot be unseen. Though this account (and similar ones) were removed from the site: the technological cat — growling, purring, and ravenously hungry for more — was out the bag.

The trouble is that the software used to create deepfakes is fairly easy to obtain and access. The more basic versions have already been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. So how much technology can our politics endure? Deepfakes are deeply worrying.

Economy & Business

A New Bank War?

The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, William C. Dudley, attends a forum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, March 7, 2018. (Alvin Baez/Reuters)

I want to just reinforce what Teddy Kupfer wrote earlier on the importance of an independent Federal Reserve. While others worried about Donald Trump accepting the result of a Hillary Clinton victory, I worried about the problem of Washington’s political class refusing to accept Donald Trump’s victory. I worried that Trump’s challenge to the post-war bipartisan consensus on certain policies would summon a kind of Deep State resistance.

Recent comments by former New York Federal Reserve Bank president Bill Dudley are not reassuring on this score.

Dudley basically argues that Trump’s trade policies, ones he has enacted with delegated authority from Congress, are wrongheaded. And so he advocates a new mandate to add to the Federal Reserve’s mission: thwarting the president’s trade policy, or at least making it more difficult to enact.

Even more stupidly, he argues for casting off the apolitical nature of the Fed in a breathtaking passage:

There’s even an argument that the election itself falls within the Fed’s purview. After all, Trump’s reelection arguably presents a threat to the U.S. and global economy, to the Fed’s independence and its ability to achieve its employment and inflation objectives. If the goal of monetary policy is to achieve the best long-term economic outcome, then Fed officials should consider how their decisions will affect the political outcome in 2020.

Donald Trump has clearly been frustrated at the independent nature of the Federal Reserve while conducting a trade war against an authoritarian rival who can manage his own monetary and fiscal policy much more directly.

Bill Dudley would follow a funhouse-mirror version of this, allowing policymakers to end the trade war unilaterally, if they reject the administration’s trade and fiscal policies.

Effectively, Dudley has called for a reversal of Andrew Jackson’s war against the national bank. Jackson practically extinguished his presidency in trying to destroy the national bank. Dudley’s advice to destroy the Trump presidency, if followed, would potentially have catastrophic consequences for the Federal Reserve. Not to mention our democracy. Thankfully the Federal Reserve has issued a statement resoundingly rejecting it. But the willingness of custodians in our governmental institutions to break precedent to contain Trump is a persistent challenge in our times.


Bernie Sanders: China Has Done a Lot of Things for Their People!

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, August 10, 2019. (Scott Morgan/Reuters)

For a guy who boasted he was going to be tough on China, President Trump certainly is quiet about certain issues. It took a long time for Trump to speak about the protests and clashes in Hong Kong, and when he did, he declared, President Xi “is a great leader who very much has the respect of his people. He is also a good man in a ‘tough business.’ I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it.” His administration keeps giving extensions for American companies to deal with Huawei, the Chinese smartphone company that Trump previously called a national security threat.

Trump boasts that he’s ordering American companies to look for alternatives to China, and he’s certainly instituting new tariffs on their imports. Over the weekend, the president claimed China called him up and asking to restart trade talks; the Chinese government claims those phone calls never occurred. The complaints from farmers are getting louder, and farm bankruptcies are on the rise. While it’s hard to get a good sense of what China’s leaders are really thinking, those who watch them closely contend Beijing’s rulers believe they can wait Trump out. The trade war hurts the American economy, which makes it less likely Trump will be reelected.

Very little of this is reassuring. But Trump indisputably sees China as an adversary, and he is determined, in his own erratic way, to make it easier for American products to reach Chinese consumers and to undermine China’s political and economic power in the region.

Not everybody is so clear-eyed about China. Bernie Sanders just declared, “what we have to say about China in fairness to China and it’s leadership is, if I’m not mistaken, they have made more progress in addressing extreme poverty than any country in the history of civilization, so they’ve done a lot of things for their people.”

Lord, I hope Sanders doesn’t have the Great Leap Forward or Cultural Revolution in mind.

Back in 1985, Sanders defended bread lines: “It’s funny, sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is, that people are lining up for food. That is a good thing! In other countries people don’t line up for food: The rich get the food, and the poor starve to death.” He’s always found the silver lining to the dark cloud of authoritarian regimes, but he rarely perceives American companies with such understanding or sympathy.


A Stillborn Argument

Signs at the Supreme Court during the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Every few weeks lately, it seems, somebody tries this argument again: the argument that the pro-life movement is somehow wrapped up in white supremacy, or that white supremacy is in the heart of the pro-life movement. And every time the argument fails.

This one is a string of not-so-well connected dots between racists, nationalists, and fears about population. It proceeds on the ahistorical idea that eugenicists were against birth control. This is not true. The author, Marissa Brostoff, alleges “The Catholic church, too, joined forces with eugenicists against birth control advocates,” in a passage with no supporting evidence, or even acknowledgement, that the Catholic Church was almost the only significant American institution that stood against eugenics when it was fashionable. The article has to concede, shamefacedly, that Margaret Sanger, of Planned Parenthood was herself a eugenicist.

This is portrayed as an unfortunate and insignificant alliance. But in fact, the eugenic and social Darwinist rationalizations have persistently clung to the movement for wider birth control and abortion access, and to policies of sterilization.

It was the celebrated progressive Supreme Court judge Oliver Wendell Holmes who endorsed the eugenic component of sterilization policies in Buck v Bell. “It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Ron Weddington, a co-counsel in the Roe decision, advised Bill Clinton, “You can start immediately to eliminate the barely educated, unhealthy, and poor segment of our country. It’s what we all know is true, but we only whisper it.”

If, like Brostoff, we are to cast ourselves to Europe, it should be noted that countries like Iceland have championed their “elimination” of Down’s Syndrome, by which they mean the almost universal recommendation of abortion as a “cure” to those so afflicted.

In recent years it was Ruth Bader Ginsburg whose mind drifted in a eugenic direction, when confronted with the prospect of state-level abortion restrictions: “It makes no sense as a national policy to promote birth only among poor people,” she said.

I’m sure Brostoff’s won’t be last attempt to make this argument fly, but it is one of the lamest.

Politics & Policy

There’s No Link between White Supremacy and the Pro-Life Movement


It’s the cherished myth of abortion-rights supporters that simply won’t die — the false claim that white supremacists oppose legal abortion, and therefore that there’s a sinister link between racists and pro-lifers. This time it’s being peddled in the Washington Post by Marissa Brostoff. Two weeks ago it was being bandied about on Twitter by Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe.

Here’s some of my response to Tribe on NRO:

There is indeed a link between abortion and white supremacists’ concern about “non-white replacement.” It is precisely because of this fear that white supremacists and members of the alt-Right have long supported legal abortion, applauding the fact that minority women abort their children at disproportionate rates. . . .

One need only do the barest amount of research to discover that Richard Spencer, a leading white supremacist, is highly supportive of legalized abortion, because, as he puts it, “the people who are having abortions are generally very often black or Hispanic or from very poor circumstances.” White women, Spencer notes, avail themselves of abortion “when you have a situation like Down Syndrome” — an acceptable use, in his twisted view. Meanwhile, Spencer says, “the unintelligent and blacks and Hispanics . . . use abortion as birth control.”

Statistically speaking, the legal-abortion regime in the U.S. has lived up to white supremacists’ hopes. An African-American woman is nearly three times as likely as a white woman to have an abortion, according to pro-choice research group the Guttmacher Institute. Centers for Disease Control data indicate that African Americans accounted for 36 percent of abortions in 2015 despite being only about 13 percent of the population. . . .

The earliest advocates of loosening restrictions on abortion were closely tied to the population-control movement, and many of today’s most vigorous abortion-rights organizations spend much of their time and resources pushing abortion and contraception on women in Africa who want none of it.

It’s time for abortion-rights cheerleaders to drop this malicious falsehood.