The Weekend Jolt

National Review

Nary a Drop to . . . Irrigate?

Dear Weekend Jolter,

This week’s missive is penned from the road; Yours Truly has the great fortune of meeting with readers and supporters, part of a very successful NRI traveling show in California, with fellows Andrew McCarthy and Victor Davis Hanson. Rising early on Wednesday in Coalinga at the famous Harris Ranch Inn, the picture above is not the kind of sign one sees on a Connecticut roadway.

Water? That’s the thing you get when you turn on the faucet, endless and plentiful, but an issue? Back East, the only “issues” about water is if it is hot or cold enough, and who left the sprinkler running.

But for plenty of the rest of our big, beautiful country, water is indeed an issue, if not the issue: an obsession of the Left, which seems hellbent on preventing its flow from hill and mountains in the Golden State to the Central Valley, which is the world’s greatest producer of . . . produce. The greens, who seem to prefer brown, are intent on keeping it scarce, and if that means preferring fresh water heading into the ocean rather than letting it flow south so farmers (leftspeak: “billionaire landowners”) can grow the food you . . . take for granted . . . then so be it. To forgo the employment of thousands upon thousands of farmworkers, who find themselves outranked by the delta smelt, an invasive fishy whose “endangered” status is the excuse for water politics — again, so be it.

The Sacramento Left would rather take tax dollars and use them for trains (an insane project now mostly derailed, but not completely) and union goodies than for the substance that ensures life’s basic necessities. And the substance that can suppress these catastrophic fires that are now a regular feature of life in California.

More reservoirs? A new one might displace an ant colony! More on Western water in WJ? Yes. When? Soon. Right now, the author needs a drink.

Editorials

1. Bernie proposes that hard-working stiffs who chose plumbing and welding pay for the college debt of those who went to Amherst and Yale. We call his plan daft. From our editorial:

Like a similar proposal from Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Harvard), Sanders’s program is a giveaway for relatively well-off people, i.e., those who went to college, who on average earn tens of thousands of dollars a year more than those who did not attend college. The median amount of student-loan debt is less than $10,000 — about 100 months’ worth of the average cable bill — and most borrowers pay 5 percent or less of their monthly income in loan payments. A third of all student debt is held by those in the highest income quartile, whereas those in the lowest quartile hold only 12 percent.

The majority of all student-loan debt is held by people with graduate degrees. What this means is that relatively low-income people who never went to college are being taxed to subsidize the careers of people who went to law school or who took other advanced degrees. Poor people are not as important to the Democratic coalition as they once were.

Worse, Sanders’s plan creates permanent perverse incentives for young Americans to take on even more debt. For one thing, it may create the expectation that this giveaway will not be a one-time thing. More concretely, it would fix interest rates on student loans at less than 2 percent. With the U.S. inflation rate hovering around 2 percent, it would make more financial sense for students to borrow 100 percent of their education expenses — indeed, to borrow all the money they can — rather than see their families dip into their own pockets. Which means that if the Sanders plan were passed, then the most likely result would be that we would see record student debt just a few years down the road.

2. SCOTUS got it right on gerrymandering, and wrong on the Census, where Chief Justice Roberts seems more interested in being a shrink than a judge. From the editorial:

The truth in the decision is that the administration’s process was chaotic and unprofessional, leaving behind a trail of evidence that the government’s stated justification for the citizenship question (that it would aid enforcement of the Voting Rights Act) may have been a pretext (critics charge the true intention was to reduce immigrant response rates on the census, and thereby reduce congressional representation in immigrant-heavy blue states). As the Court notes, the secretary of commerce’s “director of policy attempted to elicit requests for citizenship data from the Department of Homeland Security and DOJ’s Office of Immigration Review before turning to the VRA rationale and DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.”

But as Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito spelled out in separate opinions, it is not the Court’s job to play psychoanalyst, and the decision paves the way for courts to scrutinize policymakers’ motives much more broadly. The president has much discretion when it comes to census questions, discretion freely given him by Congress. The census has asked about citizenship numerous times stretching back about two centuries. The Court’s job was to make sure the administration had an adequate explanation for adding the question back in — as Roberts conceded it did — not to look behind that explanation for ulterior motives.

RELATED: At Bench Memos, Carrie Severino smacks the Court’s “unforced error” on its census ruling. Read her analysis here.

3. We condemn what the Democrats have become – the party of illegal immigration. From our editorial:

If there were any doubt that Democrats want to welcome illegal immigrants and treat them like U.S. citizens, seeing every single candidate on the stage last night promising to provide government health insurance to illegal immigrants removes it. This, obviously, would be even more of a magnet to illegal immigration, and would erode the difference between U.S. citizens and people who literally showed up the day before yesterday in violation of our laws. Besides, the U.S. government is under enough fiscal strain providing promised benefits to citizens and legal residents without, in effect, extending the safety net to some percentage of the population of Northern Triangle countries.

The Democrats’ radicalism on immigration is certainly a political mistake that will give President Trump ready fodder next year. We’d say it’s impossible for Democrats to get any further out on this limb, but the next round of debates is only a month away.

Godfather, Forgive Me, I Knew Not What I Didn’t Do

Or something like that. WJ has always considered itself the godchild of Morning Jolt and its esteemed author, Big Jim Geraghty, who is not only the author of that acclaimed daily missive, but of a new novel, Between Two Scorpions (The CIA’s Dangerous Clique), which was published on June 11, and of further whichly WJ has made no mention.

Lemme tell you something about BTS: It’s not only really good as a 24-style thriller, it’s got mucho of what you like about Jim’s NR writing — not exactly the kind of material you find in thrillers. The characters grapple with matters of faith and spirituality in a fallen and dangerous world. The fact that Americans are currently so angry and eager to scapegoat one another plays heavily into the villains’ plot; almost every setting is bizarre and otherworldly but actually exists in the real world. And yeah, Big Jim being a funny dude, the characters in BTS are hilarious, in a Dennis Miller kind of way. It’s a rollicking ride. As for the novel’s president . . . well, he sounds like this guy from Queens.

The president’s voice resonated through the speakers in Ward’s truck.

“Today, I ordered our great military forces to launch a targeted military strike of fire, fury, and ferociousness. Our target was camps in a remote region of Turkmenistan, camps where Atarsa’s leadership planned the recent terror attacks against Americans,” the president declared in prepared remarks from Camp David. “It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to decimate terrorists wherever they operate.” He deviated from his prepared remarks. “Just terrible people, these guys. Total animals. We’re better off with them dead. Totally and completely dead.” He returned to the script. “This is only one of many ways we are bringing the full wrath of the American arsenal to our enemies.”

And the never-named Secretary of Defense, maybe sounds like a certain . . . Mad Dog:

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The air strikes were conducted by a combination of US air assets based out of Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and part of the NATO training operations in Tbilisi Soganlug Air Base in Georgia, as well as a variety of Tomahawk missiles launched from sea assets.

REPORTER: Mister Secretary, what was the most important objective of the air strike?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: To wipe the camp off the face of the earth.

REPORTER: And when you say, “our actions were successful,” do you mean—

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The face of the earth has now been thoroughly wiped.

Now do two things: One, forgive me for not alerting you about Jim’s terrific novel sooner, and Two, get yourself to your local bookstore to pick up your copy, or click here so you can order one.

Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer Made Even Better with Soda, Pretzels, Beer, and Twenty One Cool Articles from National Review

1. Andy McCarthy watches Nancy Pelosi try to thread the impeachment / censure / 2020 needle. From his analysis:

Why? The speaker is trying to protect her vulnerable members. Constituents in Trump-friendly districts see such votes as unduly hostile to the president. They are increasingly irritated by the Democrats’ mulish persistence in an anti-Trump impeachment gambit at the expense of dealing with pressing national problems. Why force members who will have to face these voters to go on record — knowing the base will fry them if they resist the Resistance?

Ditto censure. Some members of Congress are attracted to the notion of formal legislative censure of the president, in lieu of impeachment. We learned this in the Clinton impeachment. Censure is classic Washington: It would enable lawmakers to register disapproval of presidential misconduct yet avoid an accountable vote on whether the president should be removed.

Pelosi is shrewd enough to see salient differences between the Clinton and Trump scenarios. There was no doubt that Clinton violated the law and engaged in condemnable personal misconduct; nor was there doubt that most Americans (including many who did not like Clinton) did not want him removed from office. Therefore, the idea of censure was popular among Democrats (and some Republicans) who were pro-Clinton and saw it as an escape hatch from the Constitution’s impeachment remedy for presidential misconduct.

2. Brian Allen has been writing about the exhibitions of Norman Rockwell’s iconic “Four Freedom” paintings, what they meant, and what to many they now mean. Troubling. From his piece:

These pictures, based on a speech Franklin Roosevelt made, became the visual mission statement for America’s war effort. I think it’s a good time to give them a close look.

There’s another reason, though. An art-historian friend told me a few weeks ago that he used Freedom of Speech in a seminar at a high-achieving, selective college. He showed a slide of the picture, which students didn’t recognize. That’s fair. They’re young. World War II, Rockwell, Roosevelt, and bond drives are ancient history. I get that. History is badly taught, almost everywhere. That’s a very sad given. We let it continue at our peril.

What disturbed me was how students interpreted the picture, knowing nothing about it. They thought Freedom of Speech depicted a white supremacist meeting.

When I heard this, I was speechless, freedom to speak or no freedom.

In thinking about this, my take is that the students saw that the subjects were mostly plain people who worked with their hands. Even the tie-wearers in Freedom of Speech weren’t dressed by Brooks Brothers. Everyone is neat, but they’re unadorned, untanned, uncool. They’d look and feel awkward in the faculty lounge, the tech start-up, or that chic financial-services firm. These students — taken collectively, they’re our future leaders — assumed the worst about these hard-working, most unassuming people.

BONUS: You can find the first part of Brian’s reflections on Rockwell here.

3. SCOTUS punts on reigning in regulators and forcing Congress to man up (if you want, woman up and even zir up) and spell out the laws they pass, rather than empowering bureaucrats to decide such things. Kevin Williamson scores the mess that is the Gundy ruling. From the beginning of his analysis:

Conservatives typically have one of two reactions to the headlines in left-leaning publications: Ninety percent of the time, we cringe at the presumption on display, but 10 percent of the time, we wish they were true.

The Supreme Court’s Conservatives Are Ready to Take a Wrecking Ball to the Entire Federal Bureaucracy,” Slate ejaculates. If only it were so!

At issue is Gundy v. United States, a case in which Congress’s delegating a certain law-enforcement issue to the attorney general was challenged as unconstitutional. The law in question established the federal sex-offender registry and imposed prison time for failure to register. Congress left it to the attorney general to determine whether to apply the law retroactively to offenders who had been convicted before it was passed. Justices Thomas, Roberts, and Gorsuch argued in dissent that the constitutionality of such delegation needed reexamination; Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Breyer agreed to uphold the law. Justice Kavanaugh had not yet joined the Court at the time the case was heard, and so took no part in it. Because the case was heard by only eight members of the Court, Justice Alito proceeded in an oddball manner and provided the fifth vote needed to uphold the law in spite of his broadly agreeing with the dissenters, expressing his hope that the full court would “reconsider the approach we have taken for the past 84 years” on the question of delegation. A clumsy showing all around.

Politics consists of excitement, high sentiment, and soaring declarations. Governance is boring.

4. MORE ON SCOTUS: David French zings Chief Justice John Roberts for throwing the administrative state a lifeline in its Kisor ruling. From his analysis:

While there are many cultural and political causes for the growth of the federal administrative leviathan, it could not have become so powerful without considerable assistance from the Supreme Court. The Court has created, often out of whole cloth, judicial doctrines that magnify the problem: Congress is allowed to pass laws delegating its legislative authority to the executive branch; the executive branch, in turn, is given great leeway to interpret those laws as it sees fit; similar leeway applies even when the executive branch interprets its own regulations.

The result is an interlocking system that grants the executive the powers of all three branches of government. It writes the laws, it interprets the laws, and it executes the law. One of the great projects of America’s originalist, classical-liberal judicial revolution has been to overturn this monstrously unconstitutional construct, and today was supposed to represent the first clear victory in the project — overturning the so-called Auer doctrine, the judge-made rule that requires courts to defer to agency interpretations of their own regulations.

That victory did not happen. Justice Roberts intervened and (mostly) saved Auer. The administrative leviathan suffered only the slightest of flesh wounds.

5. EVEN MORE SCOTUS: But, says David, there is a glimpse of hope in Justice Gorsuch’s Davis opinion: The High Court may be set to end Congress’s de facto lawmaking deference to regulators and bureaucrats. From his commentary:

Here’s the plain truth — if you live in a safe red or blue state, you may never in your entire life cast a single meaningful vote to influence the two most powerful instruments of modern governance, the presidency and the judiciary. You’re left with casting votes for the (unintentionally) weakest branch, a legislature that seems to want to do anything but the job the Founders gave it.

Enter Justice Neil Gorsuch, one-man warrior for the constitutional order.

Yesterday, Justice Gorsuch struck his latest blow against a lazy and ineffectual Congress with an opinion that began like this: “In our constitutional order, a vague law is no law at all.” Writing for a five-justice majority (he joined the court’s liberal wing), Justice Gorsuch declared unconstitutional a federal statute that “threatens long prison sentences” on individuals who use firearms when committing crimes “that by [their] nature, involv[e] a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.”

6. Big Jim Geraghty scored the first Democrat prexy debate and among his many observations was the crashing of one “Beto” O’Rourke. From his analysis:

Wow, does former congressman Beto O’Rourke look like the Lucent stock of the Trump-era Democratic party. He’s no longer in the top five, but several other candidates seemed to relish going after him tonight, particularly Bill de Blasio and Julian Castro. It’s time to call it – he’s thoroughly underwhelming as a debater and wildly overrated as a public speaker. Answering the first question in Spanish, unprompted, looked like a pandering gimmick. He had some better moments as the night progressed, but he was hit so many times by so many other candidates he must have felt like . . . a piñata.

7. The next night, Big Jim encored with a rundown of the second Dem debate. Here’s how that analysis began:

The headline out of tonight’s debate is going to be Kamala Harris starting off the second hour by turning to Joe Biden and just kicking the snot out of him on the previously long-forgotten issue of forced busing in Delaware. No older white male wants to get into a fight about racism with a younger African-American woman in a Democratic presidential primary. Biden tried to defend himself by first contrasting his work as a defense attorney with Harris’ record as a prosecutor, then moved on to a not terribly convincing, “I did not oppose busing in America; I opposed busing ordered by the Department of Education,” and then he cut himself off. Septuagenarians who have been in the Senate longer than I’ve been alive should probably avoid the term, “my time is up.” Biden would have been better off defending his stance on the merits, declaring that busing kids across town to new schools away from their homes was angering parents and exacerbating racial tensions instead of healing them.

One night won’t sink the Joe Biden campaign, but boy, did he look like he had a glass jaw, and he also seems to have aged a decade since he left the vice presidency. When asked what his first priority as president would be, Biden answered that it would be defeating Donald Trump.

8. Rich Lowry finds the appeal of prexy-wannabe Pete Buttigieg to be pretty . . . black and white. Wokeness has its limits. From his column:

The hostility of some of the black residents toward Buttigieg at the town hall underlined his lack of African-American support. In a May poll in South Carolina, Buttigieg was at 18 percent among whites and zero among blacks. An Indiana poll had him at 25 percent among whites and also zero percent among blacks.

Among whites, Buttigieg tends to run like Bernie Sanders, far behind Joe Biden but strong compared with the rest of the pack; among blacks, he runs like Kirsten Gillibrand or another laggard, hardly registering.

Buttigieg doesn’t have the long history with African Americans of Biden or the cultural connection of a Southern pol like Bill Clinton. And blacks aren’t moved by his progressivism in a technocratic guise.

9. The Trump administration’s Drill-Baby-Drill regs are driving green groups batty. They’re flailing and responding with lame safety lawsuits. Robert L. Bradley Jr. gives the play-by-play. From his report:

Recently, green groups including the Sierra Club and EarthJustice filed a lawsuit against Interior’s update. These groups claim the Trump administration is “softening” and “relaxing” safety standards.

That’s not true. The revision simply cuts redundant federal regulations, making it easier for private offshore companies to manage risks, and the department deserves applause for boosting workers’ economic opportunities.

As many as 90 billion barrels of oil and 328 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lie buried in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf — the federally owned land beneath the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. To collect these energy riches, oil and gas firms use offshore rigs or platforms to drill wells into the ocean floor.

Interior’s update eliminates bureaucratic red tape around this process. The revision gets rid of redundant tests on wells and blowout preventers, the specialized valves that quickly seal wells to prevent oil spills. Without these repetitive tests, offshore workers have more time to focus on other, more effective safety measures.

10. Nations that reject the rule-of-law premise are hamstringing global economic growth and international trade and underwriting massive criminality, writes John Fund. A new group seeks to ride to the rescue. From his piece:

Across much of the developing world, the corruption of courts and other government institutions threatens the free flow of goods and capital that drives international trade. Left unaddressed, such threats can lead to heightened tensions among nations and even outright trade wars. Diplomats operate under constraints that limit how much they can call out international bad actors who violate the rule of law.

That’s why it’s refreshing that the Global Justice Foundation — a new nonprofit foundation in Washington, D.C. — is dedicated to exposing corruption in other countries, aiding innocent victims caught up in that corruption, and working with like-minded groups to promote good economic practices in countries that want to improve their economic reputation.

The Global Justice Foundation was founded by Canadian businessman Omar Ayesh, who was frustrated after he and hundreds of other victims lost their money in the largest real-estate fraud in the Middle East, the Tameer Holding scandal, a debacle valued at $1.8 billion by courts in Dubai. “I learned there is no group solely dedicated to improving the enforcement of business ethics in other countries and helping make sure people aren’t victimized by fraudsters who try to corrupt the courts and other institutions,” he tells me.

11. This week past marked the 100th anniversary of the signing of the bone-headed Versailles Treaty, the creator of fascism . . . wait! Not so fast, says Joseph Loconte: Benito and the boys had already created it months earlier in Milan. From his piece:

With no sense of irony, liberals now invoke fascism as an epithet to dismiss their conservative critics. But is the echo of Mussolini more likely to be heard among the political Right? The animating spirit of fascism — its martial zeal for a statist utopian vision — seems quite welcome in the citadels of modern liberalism. The fascist negation of religious truths, by which all political choices are to be judged, has found countless disciples in progressive circles. The Fascist state “has curtailed useless or harmful liberties while preserving those which are essential,” Mussolini declared. “In such matters, the individual cannot be the judge, but the State only.”

Benito Mussolini was the first political leader to write the epitaph for liberal democracy in Europe. Yet it was liberal democracy, through a recovery of moral vigor, that managed to defeat Fascism. In the Piazza San Sepolcro in Milan, the building in which Mussolini and his followers first vowed to overthrow the established order still stands. It houses a police station. The rule of law has replaced the rule of the dictator. Once worshipped like a god, Mussolini became a pariah because of his disastrous alliance with Hitler’s Germany. He fled Milan in April 1945 but was caught and executed: Shot in the chest, his body was strung up to cheers and mockery.

12. When Roman Catholic bishops start gushing about “Mother Earth” in theological documents, as Declan Leary reports they are doing in preparation for an upcoming synod for indigenous people living in South America’s deep Amazon region, maybe it’s okay to give into the temptation to despair. From his piece:

It follows that such a radical redefinition of our relationship with God — described by Peter Kwasniewski as “decidedly naturalistic and horizontalist, at loggerheads with the supernatural and vertical character of the revealed religion of Christ” — would require, at the very least, a bit of fudging on the definition of God himself. Hence the unqualified and undefended reference to “the Father-Mother Creator God” in the working document. It is a settled question in the Catholic tradition that God is God the Father, and not God the Mother or God the Father-Mother. The identification of God as Father-Mother — and, worse, of Mother Nature as anything other than a ridiculous fiction — is clearly an attempt to make Catholic teaching more readily relatable to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.

This is a justifiable pursuit, but it must be carried out within clearly defined limits. The working document calls for “a catechesis . . . that assumes the language and meaning of the narratives of indigenous and Afro-descendant cultures in harmony with the Biblical stories.” This proposal, which embodies the general spirit of the whole document, bursts through those necessary limits. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with assuming the language of indigenous cultures. But to assume the meaning of their myths is inevitably to muddle the truth of the Catholic tradition.

13. It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad world? Well, Hollywood has lost its touch at making it a smiling one. Kyle Smith spotlights Tinseltown’s failure to tickle the funnybone. From the beginning of his piece:

Hollywood movie studios have stopped making comedies. Thanks, Seth Rogen.

The graph of the box-office performance of Seth Rogen comedies is a dismal sight. Corrected for inflation, Knocked Up (2007) turned out to be his biggest hit, with $149 million in domestic takings. (That’s $195 million in today’s dollars.) As recently as five years ago, Rogen was still a huge draw; Neighbors, in 2014, earned $150 million, or $162 million in today’s dollars.

Since then? The Night Before and Neighbors 2 flopped. This spring, Long Shot marked his first star turn on screen in three years. It made $30 million. That’s less return to the studio than what it costs to put out a movie in wide release in the first place. Rogen’s movies are cheap and yet they’re losing a lot of money, which is why he had to release Long Shot via the mini-major Lionsgate, which, along with another mini-major, STX, and Megan Ellison’s latest plaything, United Artists Releasing, is the movies’ version of a last-chance saloon, or maybe an island of misfit toys.

14. RELATED: NR intern Nate Hochman profiles the tired elitist shtick of British “comedian” Sacha Baron Cohen. From the beginning of his piece:

“Donald Trump got elected, and I was upset by it,” said British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen in an interview last week. “That anger and disappointment and revulsion. . . . I was so angry, I felt I actually have to channel it.”

Cohen’s show Who Is America?, which concluded its one-season run last year, was, he says, his attempt to do just that.

One might expect, then, that the show would be a productive, genuine attempt to reach across the aisle and better understand the political forces that elevated Donald Trump to the presidency. But Cohen clearly prefers an alternative approach: He sets out to viciously mischaracterize and ridicule those of whom he disapproves, including virtually anyone who lives outside of the coastal cities or shares a worldview different from Hollywood’s, ranging from Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney to gun-rights advocates to working-class residents of rural Arizona.

15. The campus theater at Bowling Green State University was named for the great actress Lillian Gish (here is a clip of her wonderful late-career performance in The Night of the Hunter). But: She appeared in The Birth of a Nation and cited Ava DuVernay’s propaganda documentary 13th . . . so the college’s Black Student Union had her name removed. Armond White is outraged. From his commentary:

If American art and political history were taught well and seen clearly, more names and voices would be raised in outrage. Gish deserved defense from every filmmaker and arts person in the country for the way she and Griffith distinguished human expression. They invented the expressive close-up, with its insight into psychology and memorable illustration of behavior. Gish is an integral part of America’s complex history. Understanding her work is not just a matter of being more sophisticated than DuVernay, who opportunistically misused The Birth of a Nation and spread disinformation; it’s also a matter of appreciating the moral density of human experience in art.

We see Gish’s extraordinary range as Southerner Elsie Stoneman, innocently caught up in the factional turmoil of The Birth of a Nation’s Civil War; Thomas Hardy’s updated American Tess embodying female delicacy and strength in Way Down East; her idealization with sister Dorothy Gish as siblings separated by warring forces of the French Revolution in Orphans of the Storm; a portrayal of romantic simplicity in True Heart Susie; her embodiment of American moral crisis as Hester in The Scarlet Letter; her ageless, mythic motherhood in Intolerance; and her sound-era roles as the feminine principle in Duel in the Sun; the fearless Christian matriarch in the expressionist Night of the Hunter; a realistic variation on that role in The Unforgiven; a modern confrontation with racist dictatorship in The Comedians; her complex characterization as the officious and repentant Miss Inch in The Cobweb; and finally her iconic girlish matriarch in Altman’s A Wedding.

16. It starts off slowly, but by the time our favorite webslinger gets to the second half of his new flick, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Kyle Smith says there is a lot to like. From his review:

The script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (two of the six writers credited on Homecoming) isn’t nearly as sharp as the previous effort, taking its time to come to the point. A school trip to Europe, starting in Venice, strikes Peter as his big opportunity to make a play for MJ (appealingly played again by Zendaya), who has him in such a tizzy that he keeps ignoring calls from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Nobody ghosts Nick Fury. But Nick Fury should know better than to put all his chips on a hormonally defined 16-year-old. One funny early scene has Peter using a gadget Tony Stark left for him to try to delete an embarrassing photo on a classmate’s phone but accidentally calling in a drone strike instead.

The first two action set pieces, though, whip up a ho-hum brand of destruction familiar from second-rate blockbusters like X-Men: Apocalypse or The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Four monsters called “Elementals” — personified earth, wind, fire, and water — are wreaking havoc, barely contained by Spider-Man along with a visiting superhero from an alternate version of Earth elsewhere in the multiverse. Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a guy who looks pretty silly with a foggy goldfish bowl on his head, though after he saves the day in Venice and Italian news media start referring to him as “l’uomo di misterio” he at least gets a cool nickname, Mysterio. Beck becomes a kind of replacement for Tony Stark as the cool mentor in Peter’s life, and after appropriate urging from Happy (Jon Favreau, who gets more screen time than usual and doesn’t waste it) and a tongue-lashing from Nick Fury, Peter Parker joins forces with Mysterio to foil the next big attack by the Elementals, this time in Prague. Prague? Peter has this big plan for kissing MJ on top of the Eiffel Tower. Who wants to go to Prague?

17. Armond White figures if you loved The Beatles, you’ll be right to hate Yesterday. From his review:

How brain-dead do you have to be to enjoy Yesterday? It requires a willed ignorance about how culture works and — even harder to fathom — a careless disregard for The Beatles and contempt for every aspect of history they represented. While one can have disdain for any of history’s great artists (you can’t please everybody), Yesterday stands out for director Danny Boyle’s and writer Richard Curtis’s special commitment to cultural revision. They turn history upside down through lighthearted rom-com: American Idol meets Love Actually.

18. Live Action founder Lila Rose explains how Pinterest, among the techs now censorship-infected, is equating pro-life images with porn. From her piece:

The whistleblower at Pinterest also revealed that Pinterest was suppressing and monitoring other pro-life and conservative accounts. According to the insider, “David Daleiden/Planned Parenthood” was added to a list of conspiracy theories that Pinterest monitors. In 2015, David Daleiden exposed executives and staff at Planned Parenthood bartering over the sale of fetal body parts. His investigative work has been used in congressional testimony and court cases, and Coalfire, one of the country’s most trusted digital forensic analysis companies, released a report in 2015 indicating that the undercover videos recorded by the Center for Medical Progress are “authentic and show no evidence of manipulation.”

In addition, a “sensitive terms” list for Pinterest reportedly includes terms like “Bible verses,” which the site does not allow to “autocomplete,” instead changing the word “verses” to “versus” or combining the words into nonsensical terms like “versesinspirational.” The site also allegedly monitors commentators Ben Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew, and Candace Owens, a female black conservative, for what Pinterest considers “white supremacist” content.

Pinterest’s behavior adds to a growing pattern of censorship all too familiar to us. Both my and Live Action’s accounts have been unable to advertise on Twitter since 2015. After many attempts to contact Twitter, we were finally informed that we would not be permitted to advertise unless we deleted all tweets and any content on our website that included the following: criticism of Planned Parenthood, ultrasound images of preborn children, undercover investigations into abortion facilities, or facts about abortion. In fact, in order to “pay to play” as others do, Twitter informed us that we would have to scrub our Twitter account and our organization’s website of any of the content it deemed offensive. All this while Twitter continued to allow the nation’s largest abortion corporation, Planned Parenthood, and its executives to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting pro-abortion messages on the platform.

19. Andrew Cuomo’s obsession with hating natural gas is harming New Yorkers, and, according to Robert Bryce, most likely, will harm the environment. From the beginning of his analysis:

Thanks to the shale revolution, the United States is awash in natural gas. Since 2005, domestic gas production has nearly doubled, and American companies are now sending liquefied natural gas all over the world, including Chile and China. And pretty soon, U.S. liquid natural gas will be on its way to, of all places, Saudi Arabia.

But good luck getting that gas in Yonkers or New Rochelle.

Thanks to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s continuing blockade on new gas pipelines, New York consumers aren’t benefiting from this low-cost, low-carbon fuel. Instead, places such as Westchester County, along with parts of New England, are facing moratoriums on new gas hookups. In addition, earlier this month, with approval from Cuomo, New York legislators passed the Climate and Community Protection Act, which requires 70 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewables by 2030 and an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.

Cuomo has dubbed the CCPA “the most aggressive climate change program in the United States of America, period.” Cuomo’s energy policies may be aggressive, but they are also going to hammer the New York economy and New York consumers. They will also — get this – mean higher carbon dioxide emissions.

20. California’s lefty legislators are concocting a transgender-prisoner policy that is going to be a massive threat to women. Madeleine Kearns sounds the alarm. From her piece:

At first glance, the rationale is understandable. The bill outlines how transgender women in prisons are “particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and sexual harassment.” It cites a study noting that they are 13 times more likely than non-transgender inmates in the same prisons to be victims of sexual abuse. And it references official data collected by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics confirming that in a 2011–12 nationwide survey, nearly 40 percent of incarcerated transgender individuals reported experiencing sexual victimization while incarcerated. To be sure, life must be tough for sexual minorities in prison.

But what the bill and its supporters completely neglect to address is the vulnerability of women. The bill does not include any data, information, or even a single reference to the vulnerability of incarcerated females to violent assault from males. This is striking given that more than 90 percent of rape and sexual-assault victims are women and the overwhelming majority of rapes are committed by males. No one has yet demonstrated how transgender women pose less of a risk to women than the rest of the male population does. But, at any rate, the bill as drafted fails to set forth any way to stop a male — any male, including sex offenders — who identifies as female from getting access to vulnerable women.

Speaking at the California assembly hearing yesterday, Abigail Lunetta (a self-described “Democrat, feminist, and an advocate for women’s rights”) opposed the bill: “Right now, Richard Masbruch, a trans-identified male, is currently housed with female inmates in Corona, even though he is serving time for targeting, raping, and torturing women. Under no circumstances is this morally justifiable.”

21. This Ain’t No Yarn: Michelle Malkin, columnist and knitter, takes on the Trump-haters running Ravelry.com, which has hung up the crocheted sign, Trump Supporters Not Welcome. From her piece:

Janna S. wrote to warn that “while this may not be making waves in the headlines, there is an upswing in conservative censorship that has hit cyberspace.” A group on Ravelry called “The Bunker,” which had more than 200 members who discussed GOP politics and knitting patterns, was singled out and shut down after liberal, pro-Obama members complained about its presence. Ravelry accused the conservative crafters of a “culture of anger and “us versus them” stance.

One of the Bunker’s active members, Melissa, reported to me that Ravelry co-founder Casey Forbes had replied to right-leaning users asking how peacefully expressing their opinions violated their terms of service by “making excuses for the fact that he just doesn’t like conservative people on his website. . . . Many of our members are mothers or grandmothers and are completely harmless. We’ve all been discriminated against because we think and believe differently.”

Meanwhile, rabid leftists who promoted misogynist sweaters slamming Sarah Palin as “c—y” went unpunished. A forum titled “What Would You Do to Sarah Palin” inviting liberal members to post physical threats was allowed to thrive. “The problem here is not that the site owners decided that they didn’t want an active, vocal conservative group on their site. That is certainly their right as site owners,” Melissa noted. “The issue is the double standard and the denigration of the reputations of all members of The Bunker and the injury and/or destruction of some members’ businesses. The far-left is not only tolerated on Ravelry, they are nurtured and encouraged. Their bad behavior goes unchallenged.”

A Symposium

Once upon a time, abortion was “unthinkable.” And then came Harry Blackmun. In 1975, the Human Life Review published an essay by the great Malcolm Muggeridge, “What the Abortion Argument Is About,” and earlier this month, the Review’s editors asked a number of important writers to reflect, as did Muggeridge, on this:

Is, as Muggeridge believed, the transgression of abortion a potential threat to human survival? Could the moral law’s ancient antecedents be revived? Could the country’s traditional Judeo-Christian identity reassert itself, so that abortion might once again become virtually “unthinkable”?

The columnist William Murchison is one of the symposium’s participants. I recommend the entire thing. From his contribution:

Which is what brings us to this present moment, with Alabama and several other states writing into statute the human life protections favored, presumably, by their own citizen-electors, rather than by the semi-Solomons.

It seems hardly likely today’s high court, given the crackling tensions of the moment, would try to throw a 46-year-old revolution completely into reverse. To be sure, in older times, the justices would never have volunteered themselves as moral arbiters. In the age of Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, they should have known better than to try and reframe our moral norms—given the moral law’s ancient antecedents, and its claims on democratic thought and action.

Nonetheless, inasmuch as morals and politics often intertwine and contradict each other, here we are: the semi-Solomons at odds with, as polls suggest, nearly half the populace. What a dim and destructive decision, Roe v. Wade. That much the supposedly sovereign people are beginning to figure out for themselves.

The Six

1. At Gatestone Institute, Giulio Meotti does the forensics on “The Suicide of France.” From the beginning of his analysis:

“Regarding France in 2019, it can no longer be denied that a momentous and hazardous transformation, a ‘Great Switch’, is in the making”, observed the founder and president of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, Michel Gurfinkiel. He was mourning “the passing of France as a distinct country, or at least as the Western, Judeo-Christian nation it had hitherto been presumed to be”. A recent cover story in the weekly Le Point called it “the great upheaval.”

Switch or upheaval, the days of France as we knew it are numbered: the society has lost its cultural center of gravity: the old way of life is fading and close to “extinction.” “Frenchness” is disappearing and being replaced by a kind balkanization of enclaves not communicating with one another. For the country most affected by Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, this is not a good recipe.

The French switch is also becoming geographical. France now appears split between “ghettos for the rich” and “ghettos for the poor”, according to an analysis of the electoral map by France’s largest newspaper, Le Monde. “In the poorest sector, 6 out of 10 newly settled households have a person born abroad”, notes Le Monde. A kind of abyss now separates peripheral France — small towns, suburbs and rural areas – from the globalized metropolis of the “bourgeois Bohemians”, or “bobos.” The more the French élites with their disposable incomes and cultural leisure cloister themselves in their enclaves, the less likely it is that they will understand the everyday impact of failed mass immigration and multiculturalism.

2. At Reason, Nick Gillespie looks at the polls and explains why Democrat internecinity (did I just coin a new word?) over Socialism — with the -ophiles winning — will win Donald Trump a second term. From his analysis:

On the other, more consequential hand, that same poll underscores why Trump is almost certainly going to win reelection in 2020. One of the questions asked Democratic voters whether they will vote for a candidate with a “bold, new agenda” or one “who will provide steady, reliable leadership.” Fully three-quarters of respondents want the latter, with just 25 percent interested in the sort of “bold, new agenda” that virtually all Democratic candidates are peddling so far. This finding is consistent with other polling that shows that Democratic voters are far more moderate than their candidates. Even allowing for a doubling of self-described Democrats who identify as liberal over the past dozen years, Gallup found last year that 54 percent of Democrats support a party that is “more moderate” while just 41 percent want one that is “more liberal.”

Yet with the exception of Joe Biden (more on him in a minute), all of the Democratic candidates—certainly the leading ones—are pushing a massively expansionist agenda, thus putting themselves at odds with their own base. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All would cost $37 trillion in new spending over a decade and his free-college plan would cost the federal government about $47 billion a year. He plans to spend much, much more, as does Elizabeth Warren, who is running on promises to spend $3.3 trillion over a decade in new giveaways that will be paid for by an unworkable, probably unconstitutional “wealth tax” that will at best raise $2.75 trillion.

3. Face it: Politics is part and parcel of gerrymandering. And if you think “independent” commissions — being advocated by House Democrats on H.R. 1 — can take the partisan tilt out of creating voting districts, a new study by Capital Research Center’s Michael Watson says you are sorely wrong. From the report:

Another major finding repudiates the idea that states which use purportedly independent commissions to draw Congressional districts end up more “fair”—that is, produce state delegations that are closer to the state’s proportional Democratic/Republican vote—than do states that draw their districts under a legislative, judicial, or politician‐commission system. From 2010 through 2018, states with “independent” commissions deviated no less, and in the current Congress deviate far more, from the D’Hondt proportional allocation than states that did not use such commissions.

California, long a model for left‐of‐center electoral “reforms”—including independent redistricting commissions, top‐two primaries, and extended voting periods—has been especially “unfair” for election after election, when judged by the proportional representation standard. In all the election cycles studied, California deviated by at least 9 percentage points in favor of excess Democrats (5 of its 53 seats) in each election. In its 2018 election, California produced a dramatically disproportionate result: it returned the Democrats an “extra” ten seats relative to the statewide vote proportion.

4. At The American Conservative, Adam Candeub weighs in on the social-media “Section 230” debate. From his analysis:

But what is particularly bizarre, ironic, and deeply destructive to public discourse is that, though Congress passed Section 230 to promote a free and open internet, Facebook, Twitter, and Google now use it to advocate for an open internet while at the same time justifying their censorship regimes.

On one hand, Twitter, Google, and the other internet platforms often advocate for an open and free internet with no restrictive gatekeepers who would block or throttle disfavored content—i.e., the policy generically known as “network neutrality.” However, they advocate for an open and free internet only when faced with broadband providers like Verizon and Comcast that could block their services. In 2017, Zuckerberg wrote that broadband providers should not be allowed to “block you from seeing certain content.” Similarly, Twitter’s lobbyists argued that Verizon and Comcast should not be permitted to “block content they don’t like” and/or relegate “certain content to the backwaters of the Internet in second or third-tier status.”

On the other hand, Facebook, Twitter, and Google seem to embrace a principle of “an open internet for thee but not for me” when it comes to their own platforms. And much of the country has yet to comprehend the power they seek to wield through discriminatory network practices. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained to podcaster Sam Harris that Twitter does not “optimize for neutrality” when moderating speech, despite the company’s professed support for “net neutrality.” He didn’t specify which values Twitter does optimize, but Columbia University’s Richard Hanania found that over 95 percent of high-profile bans have targeted those on the Right.

5. At the University of California, Berkeley, reports Maria Lencki for The College Fix, students are being offered ten specialized orientations. Because . . . multiculturalism. From the article:

The university also hosts an Asian Pacific Student Orientation, an event which honors Asian American, Filipino and Pacific Islander students. Similar to the black student programs, the Asian Pacific orientation “addresses the specific transitional and community needs of Asian American, Pilipinx, and Pacific Islander students.”

The Chicanx Latinx Student Development Center likewise hosts a program called “Familia Orientation” to “address specific transitional and Community needs of the Chicanx and Latinx students” through “resource fair, community building and speakers.” The orientation was designed to help students “learn how to thrive on campus as Latinx and Chicanx students.”

One of the university’s more unique orientations is the Native Student Orientation which serves Native American students. The Native American Student Development Center also has a recruitment and retention center to increase the number of native students in higher education.

That student center “exists to serve and support the diverse and changing needs of Native students in their time at Cal” and “provide relevant, accessible and engaging programs and resources, promote intertribal and cross cultural approaches to community building with a social justice lens.”

6. At American Enterprise Institute, Jay P. Greene’s paper explores the missing components — morality and religion — from social and emotional learning. From his study:

Let us consider each challenge in turn. “Social and emotional learning” may be a new term, but it represents a set of educational priorities that are as old as education itself. In the past, this has been called character education. Advocates suggest SEL is more than just character education. But it seems to me that the basis of SEL is what we’ve long considered character education.

Indeed, it would appear that advocates, perhaps disliking the moral judgment that the word “character” connotes, wish to downplay SEL’s moral and religious roots and prefer instead to rebrand the concept on a modern and scientific basis. This is a mistake. SEL’s long history has much to teach us about how these efforts succeed. And embracing the moral and religious roots helps the movement avoid reinventing old concepts by stripping them of what many people find appealing and motivational.

BONUS: At The American Spectator, Paul Kengor debunks the claim, made by Reagan biographer Paul Spit, that The Gipper impregnated girlfriend Margaret “Mugs” Cleaver when they were students at Eureka College. From his report:

Nonetheless, Spitz’s material (or lack thereof) presented on Margaret Cleaver, young Reagan’s love, getting pregnant, and possibly terminating the pregnancy illegally, has no foundation. It is speculation not only without proof but repudiated by existing evidence to the contrary.

This needs to be corrected. Mugs and Dutch eventually grew apart, in part because she was not attracted to the celebrity limelight so appealing to her beau. She married someone else, lived a quiet and honorable life as a wife and mother and grandmother, and is now past defending herself. The historical record of a future president and the reputation and good name of one of the most important people in young Reagan’s life deserve a fully accurate account.

Baseballery

Yours Truly recently caught the old slugger Frank Thomas, 90 years young, being interviewed by Ed Randall on WFAN, and it prompted a look at Thomas’s long career, which was noteworthy: He was a three-time All Star, clubbed 286 home runs, and, along with Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock, and Eddie Mathews, set a major-league record hitting back-to-back-to-back-to-back dingers in the 7th inning against the Reds on June 8, 1961. Plus, he wore the uniforms of seven teams. But his career was also somewhat uniquely dispiriting.

In his 16 seasons, Thomas was stuck on some of the worst clubs of the 1950s and 60s, beginning with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1951, a sign of terrible years to come: They had a string of epic basement-dwelling seasons. As did the New York Mets, who Thomas played for in their first three seasons. As did the Cubs in 1960 and 1961, and again in 1966. As did the Astros in 1965. Here are some of the more painful seasons (and there are plenty of them):

1951    Pirates             64-90

1952    Pirates             42-112

1953    Pirates             50-104

1954    Pirates             53-101

1955    Pirates             60-94

1960    Cubs                60-94

1961    Cubs                64-90

1962    Mets                40-120

1963    Mets                51-111

1964    Mets                53-109

1965    Astros              65-97

1966    Cubs                59-103

No matter how much of a stinker his team was, Thomas played hard and gave his all. Traded to the contending Phillies in August 1964, he went on a tear, hitting seven homers and driving in 26 runs in a month, when he broke his thumb in a September 8 makeup loss to the Dodgers. Out for two weeks, the Phillies collapsed in one of baseball’s more infamous September swoons. But for that thumb . . .

A Dios

The week ahead features the 243rd birthday of this great nation. Yours Truly was a Bicentennial Freak: On the 200th birthday, abetted by diaper pins, said freak engineered clothing — and an old cowboy hat — to create the look of a patriot, and having done that, grabbed an American flag, and ran around our Bronx neighborhood yelling “HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA!” A distraught younger sibling gave constant chase, howling “YOU ARE EMBARRASSING OUR FAMILY!” Truth be told, given our record, it was a very difficult thing to embarrass. All that said and remembered, do find time on the Fourth to thank God for the blessings of liberty.

All the Very Best to You, Yours, and to These United States,

Jack Fowler

Who is happy to receive missives complementing Old Glory and criticizing his poor use of grammar at jfowler@nationalreview.com.

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