So many knickers are in so many twists over Attorney General William Barr’s testimony before Congress this week, in which he alleged that there might have been government spying on the Trump White House. Yes, as Rich Lowry says in his new column, Barr used the “s-word.” Commence pearl-clutching. There are plenty of goodies in this edition of Weekend Jolt, but before you heap your plate from the all-you-can-eat buffet, please do read Rich’s new column, bluntly titled “Yes, Investigate the Investigators.” From it:
The Mueller probe was a national trauma. Its boosters didn’t experience it as such, of course. They enjoyed it and played it up and hoped for the very worst. But it cast a shadow over the White House, occupied an inordinate share of the nation’s political attention, and saddled innocent people with large legal bills.
And for what? To establish that the far-fetched theory that the Russians coordinated with the Trump campaign indeed wasn’t true, and to take a pass on pronouncing one way or the other whether President Donald Trump allegedly obstructed justice?
You don’t have to be a deep-state conspiracy theorist to want to know how this got started and why.
We should try to find out as reliably as possible how much FBI and other officials were legitimately freaked out by some of the Russia connections of Trump associates, and how much they were acting in an amateurish panic and out of partisan malice.
How was it that a garbage anti-Trump dossier gathered by an ex–foreign spy from shadowy Russian sources came to set so much of the media narrative about the Russia probe, and evidently have an outsize influence on the thinking and the actions of the FBI?
If your curiosity about Spy Smasher, the mid-40s Republic Serial, has been piqued, well don’t just wonder. Go ahead and watch Episode One, “America Beware”!
Hey, You Forgot Something!
To sign up for the NR 2019 Canada / New England Conservative Cruise, scheduled for August 24-31 and starting in Montreal and ending in Boston. Get complete information at NRCruise.com. And sign up by Monday to get our early booking discount!
1. Chick-fil-A is once again under attack from leftist municipal officials who don’t want the chain of yummy food operating in their locality (and, in San Antonio and Buffalo, in local airports). We hit back. From our editorial:
In 2012, a wave of Democratic city officials, including the mayors of Boston and San Francisco, threatened to block Chick-fil-A from opening restaurants in their cities, and Chick-fil-A’s customers responded with an immense “buycott” as a show of support. By the end of 2012, the storm appeared to have passed.
Until now. While ThinkProgress has continued to call attention to Chick-fil-A donations for years, this year San Antonio and Buffalo decided to act. And once again Chick-fil-A faces explicit, official retaliation not for any incidents of discrimination in its stores, but rather for the constitutionally protected freedom of expression of its associated foundation. This is intolerable on two counts.
First and most importantly, it is plainly and clearly unconstitutional for government officials to punish private corporations for the political or religious views of their owners or affiliates. This basic principle of constitutional law was recently reaffirmed in a federal court in California, when an Obama-appointed district judge protected a “living history” farm from public reprisal against the conservative views of its owner. When the local school district canceled field trips to the farm in protest of the owner’s private political views, the court’s ruling was clear: “Defendants cannot terminate [the trips] for unconstitutional, retaliatory reasons.”
2. Hey Bernie! Yeah you, the socialist millionaire. Your health plan? It stinks! On hot ice. From our editorial:
But the expense of the bill — which would necessitate large increases in debt, in middle-class taxation, or in both — is hardly the only objection to it. Scores of millions of people with private health-insurance plans, the vast majority of whom are satisfied by them, would be forced to participate in a government plan instead. Roughly another 20 million on Medicare Advantage, again mostly satisfied customers, would find their plans terminated, too, for being too market-like for socialist tastes. At the same time, the plan would impose unprecedented and draconian reductions in pay for medical providers, which is bound to have a negative effect on the supply of care.
3. “Gender identity” is the sacred cow, and there is aggressive genuflecting to it on Capitol Hill, where the “Equality Act” is picking up political steam. We say there was never such a Pandora’s Box. From our editorial:
Already we are seeing the harmful effects of such policies. In the state of Connecticut, two biologically male students who self-identified as transgender finished first and second in an event in the girls’ high-school track championships. A biological man asked the Massachusetts attorney general’s office to force a women’s spa to wax his genitals. In Palm Springs, Calif., three teenage girls encountered a naked man showering in the women’s locker room. All of these incidents are part of a social and legal revolution that the Equality Act would advance.
Such arrangements could clearly be easily exploited by predators. Sex offenders across the United States have been able to get access to women’s spaces by “identifying as female.” Women at a federal detention center in Texas sued the government on the grounds that being housed with male inmates put them at risk of sexual abuse. In the U.K., the Ministry of Justice confirmed the findings of a women’s-rights group that more than 40 percent of prisoners identifying as transgender are registered sex offenders. The inquiry was conducted after a male rapist who self-identified as transgender sexually assaulted several female inmates.
4. About the Barr attacks, we say it’s a product of “absurd rage.” From the editorial:
The question, as Barr said the other day, is whether this surveillance was properly predicated. Barr is being attacked as a partisan hack for saying he’s going to find out. Democrats fear that Trump will use — and exaggerate — whatever is found for his own political purposes, but this isn’t a good reason to oppose Barr’s determining whether the FBI conducted itself with good judgment and in good faith during this episode. The public certainly has an interest in knowing the facts, which is why as many documents related to the beginning of the probe and its conduct should be released as possible.
Barr is also taking a beating for redacting the forthcoming Mueller report. But it is his responsibility to take out grand-jury material — a D.C. court of appeals decision just affirmed that this material can’t be released to Congress under current statute — classified information, and disparaging references to people incidentally related to the probe. This is simply good practice, and Barr has said he’s combing through the report with Robert Mueller. You know, just like Roy Cohn would.
Get Your Smart Conservatism Here! Ten Terrific Must-Read NRO Pieces that Will Make a Spring Weekend All the More Springier
1. Michael Gibson makes a powerful analysis as to why San Francisco, like that old quart of milk, has turned. It’s a wonderful bit of writing. From the piece:
If you can stomach all that blandness, I wish you luck with the appalling. Up and down the city’s disorienting hills, you notice homeless men and women — junkies, winos, the dispossessed — passed out in the vestibules of empty storefronts on otherwise busy streets. Encampments of tents sprout in every shadowy corner: under highway overpasses, down alleys. Streets are peppered with used syringes. Strolling the sidewalks, you smell the faint malodorous traces of human excrement and soiled clothing. Crowded thoroughfares such as Market Street, even in the light of midday, stage a carnival of indecipherable outbursts and drug-induced thrashings about which the police seem to do nothing.
The confused mumble, the incoherent finger-pointing tirade, the twitch, the cold daemonic stare, the drunken stumble and drool — these are the rhythms of a city on the edge of a schizophrenic explosion.
The cause of this blight is codified nostalgia and greed. (Nellie Bowles where are you?) Baby Boomer civil servants act as urban taxidermists stuffing and mounting a dead city so it always resembles the past. The San Francisco Chronicle tells us that there is indeed a mayor, and maybe even a chief of police, but it is not known who is actually in charge. Housing and zoning committees obscure responsibility for governance. But somewhere in the bureaucratic hierarchy faceless city functionaries administer labyrinthine regulations that benefit the rich over the poor, the old over the young, the here over those to come, the past over the future.
In one of the more comical examples of this sclerosis, a real-estate developer worked for five years and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to show that a proposed housing development wouldn’t cast shadows on a nearby playground or destroy the historic character of the laundromat it sat atop. In another, it took two years for a woman to open an ice-cream shop.
RELATED: Yours Truly on Seattle becoming a you-know-what-hole. Read it here.
2. Victor Davis Hanson bemoans how San Fran has become a pricey heckhole, and how the Golden State’s insatiable liberal government is devouring its taxpayers. From his new column:
San Francisco ranks first among America’s largest cities in property crimes per capita. The massive concrete ruins of the state’s quarter-built and now either canceled or postponed multibillion-dollar high-speed-rail system are already collecting graffiti.
Roughly a quarter of the nation’s homeless live in California. So do about one-third of all Americans on public assistance. Approximately one-fifth of the state’s population lives below the poverty line. About one-third of Californians are enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s health-care program for low-income residents.
California’s social programs are magnets that draw in the indigent from all over the world, who arrive in search of generous health, education, legal, nutritional, and housing subsidies. Some 27 percent of the state’s residents were not born in the United States.
Last month alone, nearly 100,000 foreign nationals were stopped at the southern border, according to officials. Huge numbers of migrants are able to make it across without being caught, and many end up in California.
A lot of upper-middle-class taxpayers feel not only that California fails to appreciate their contributions, but that the state often blames them for not paying even more — as if paying about half of their incomes to local, state, and federal governments somehow reveals their greed.
3. More Chick-fil-A: Fearless Leader Rich Lowry plucks and fries the leftist bigots who despise the company because of the traditional religious views of its founders. From his new column:
In San Antonio, the leader of the anti-Chick-fil-A effort, City Councilman Roberto Treviño, explained that, “Everyone has a place here, and everyone should feel welcome when they walk through our airport.” The irony of discriminating against Chick-fil-A in order to demonstrate the city’s famous open-ness was, of course, lost on him.
As for everyone feeling welcome, it’s not as though Chick-fil-A refuses to serve or hire anyone. It didn’t become the fastest-growing restaurant chain in America, projected to take third place in sales after McDonald’s and Starbucks, by putting obstacles between hungry patrons and its sandwiches (except for on Sundays, when it is closed).
The hostility to Chick-fil-A stems from a controversy back in 2012 when its CEO, Dan Cathy, made statements opposing gay marriage, and the foundation established by the company’s founder contributed to politically engaged social-conservative groups. There was nothing wrong with this, but since most profit-seeking enterprises don’t like controversy, Cathy said the company would back off the gay-marriage debate and focus on the chicken.
It has, but its critics still detect a lingering stench of Christianity.
RELATED: You have to catch this Rich Lowry video on 5 Reasons why Chick-fil-A’s chicken-blank enemies are wrong.
4. From his retirement Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has fired a bunker-buster letter upon the last six decades of a Roman Catholic “faith” that has forgone the Other Wordly because its leaders (liberal theologians) and key players (gutless bishops) became too entranced by the God-less-ness that is Complete This-Wordliness. Michael Brendan Dougherty reflects on Big Ben tolling for Holy Mother Church. From his analysis:
Pope Emeritus Benedict has allowed the publication of a letter he addressed to bishops and cardinals who met in February to discuss the problem of child abuse. The letter is a collection of personal remembrances and acid observations about other churchmen, theologians, and recent Church history wrapped around an argument.
The Emeritus Pope’s argument is explosive. (The full text can be read here.) In summary, Benedict charges that a revolutionary spirit from the world entered the Church in the 1960s. Possessed by that spirit, arrogant theologians determined on creating “another Church” destroyed the traditional moral theology of the Faith, leading to a complete breakdown of moral discipline in the clergy and even a generalized spirit of blasphemy, which Benedict intimately and unforgettably connects with the phenomenon of child abuse. Along the way, he points out how, having abandoned a traditional understanding of the Catholic faith, bishops and cardinals felt no compulsion to protect the Faith itself, and allowed the rights of accused clergy to develop in such a way that they totally obliterated the prerogative of serving God and passing on the faith to the next generation. “The Church is dying in [people’s] souls,” he observes in a spirit that reads equally mordant and mournful.
Although he does explain his own view that abuse can be adjudicated as a crime against the Faith, the former pope tries to transcend a debate that he views as too focused on managerial or technical solutions. Benedict XVI argues that churchmen themselves must be converted into believers who fear and honor a living God. “Why did pedophilia reach such proportions? Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God.”
5. Brexit Madness: Conrad Black finds Parliament’s nose-thumbing of the referendum result is a deeply serious matter that makes the Mueller probe look insignificant. From his piece:
The United Kingdom is now in the climax of the greatest failure of British national government since the debacle of the American Revolution. Though it is not violent, there has not been such a rending of British national opinion, involving the structure of its vital political institutions, from the War of American Independence to these recent days of intense dispute over Britain’s departure from the European Union. The British have earned, over many centuries, the respect of the whole world for their talents at government — in devising durable and adaptable institutions in democratizing but retaining their monarchy, in the greatness of their Parliament at critical moments in the development and defense of democracy, and in the great and generally civilizing influence Britain has exercised over vast swathes of all inhabited continents except South America. To all but a comparative handful of insensate Anglophobes, the general competence and effectiveness of British political life is assumed. The country played the balance of power with often exquisite perceptiveness from the rise of the nation-state in the 16th century to Munich in 1938, and after that fiasco retrieved its error of appeasement with a heroic war that earned for Winston Churchill and his countrymen the homage of the whole world. Though this was not what Mr. Churchill particularly wished, he managed, with the greatest dignity in all history, the transition from being one of the world’s co-equal greatest powers to being the principal and influential ally of the stronger of the world’s two superpowers with consummate elegance and suavity.
And now this premier democratic state, with essentially the same political institutions gradually devolving for 900 years, and no real civil strife or profound upheavals in 370 years, is on a knife-edge of whether it will regain its sovereignty or not. In summary, the European Union, which aspires to “an ever closer union” of its 28 members, has engendered an irregular and unsettled transfer of jurisdiction from the national governments of the member states to a centralized European government in Brussels. It has stirred serious reservations in many member countries over its authoritarian regulation and lack of real accountability, either to member countries’ governments or to the toothless talking shop of the European Parliament.
6. Amherst College has published the woke-iest thing yet — so woke you’ll never again need caffeine! — a “Common Language Guide.” Madeleine Kearns puts on her rubber hip boots and tromps through the Lefty muck and mire. From her piece:
It defined “critical race theory” as a “theoretical framework that critically examines the intersections of race, power and the law” and condemned the view (admittedly naïve, especially given the content of the document) that society has moved beyond racialized barriers. It described such views as a deadly “post-racial ideology,” capable of causing “racial battle fatigue,” which can result in “high blood pressure, anxiety, frustration, shock, anger and depression.”
A section on gender identity theory included definitions of “tucking: the practice of concealing the penis and testes so that the person’s front is flat, or without a bulge, especially in tight clothing.” Indeed, “tucking,” we learn, “involves pushing the penis between one’s legs and then putting underwear or tape on to keep it in place. It can also involve tucking the testes back up inside the person.” As well as “binding: a method reducing or flattening the appearance of one’s chest” by which the author clearly means breasts belonging to a female.
Think such practices sound uncomfortable and unhealthy? Worry that obsessing about students’ genitals is odd? Be careful. That might count as “transphobia.”
Gender identity also covered new terms such as “boi: masculine-presenting queer black women whose gender presentation can be more fluid and/or androgynous than completely masculine.” The heading “sexual and romantic identity” included definitions of “BDSM,” “demisexual,” “demiromantic,” all framed positively or neutrally, while “heterosexual privilege” was named as another sin.
7. While conservatives continue to make the case for a larger Navy, if only to offset China’s monster ambitions, the Pentagon, reports Seth Cropsy, is making the weird / terrible case to retire the USS Harry S. Truman. From the beginning of his piece:
The Pentagon wants to reduce the Navy’s carrier fleet. In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on March 26, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said that aircraft carriers remain “vital” to the United States’ security. Shanahan also insisted that a carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman, which needs refueling for its nuclear reactor so that it can stay in the U.S. fleet for another 25 years, should be tied up to save money for the “future force.” The two assertions are contradictory. “Future force” includes unmanned planes that would fly from carrier decks. Laying up the Truman would reduce the carrier fleet below its congressionally mandated level of eleven, which U.S. combatant commanders say is insufficient to meet their requirements. Cutting the carrier force would undercut the rationale for investing in future technology — for example, unmanned planes.
The large problem is that the military service best suited to deter China’s regional and global ambitions — the U.S. Navy — is not being funded at a level commensurate with the reemergence of great-power competition. The U.S. needs both enough ships to meet its global commitments and advanced technology to equip them. Cutting either to fund the other is like giving up your health insurance to replace a leaking roof.
Arguments for retiring the Truman stand up neither to facts nor to reason. The cost savings from failing to refuel the Truman in the fiscal year that begins this October would be no more than $17 million. Greater savings would accrue in later years. They amount, in constant dollars, to less than 75 percent of the Truman’s original cost — a lot of money, but worth it to keep the carrier fleet at the absolute minimum needed to meet the U.S.’s peacetime commitments in the Middle East and Indo-Pacific.
8. Caleb Whitmer can answer any question you have about crazy (and likely unconstitutional) state liquor laws but were afraid to ask. A shot from his pint:
The scenes and themes of Mississippi’s alcohol dramas are performed regularly around the country, just with different players. A Supreme Court battle over liquor-license residency requirements could have started in any number of states besides Tennessee. In fact, 33 others (including Mississippi) and the District of Columbia all signed on to the suit in support of Tennessee’s stringent rules. More than just a question about the constitutionality of a particular regulation, though, Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Blair could end up having profound implications on the states’ authority over alcohol under the 21st Amendment.
TWSRA v. Blair began when Tennessee’s alcohol regulators were poised to grant liquor licenses to two store owners who did not meet the two-year requirement (one license was for liquor-store megachain Total Wine, the other for a family operation in Memphis). TWSRA, a trade association representing the state’s liquor stores, threatened to sue if the state did not follow the law and deny their applications. In other words, industry reps used restrictive licensing requirements to keep out competition in a move so ham-fisted that it could be a case study for an Economics 101 class on “rent-seeking” and the unintended consequences of regulation. Tennessee’s alcohol regulators complied, although, one gets the sense, somewhat reluctantly.
During Supreme Court arguments last month, Justice Brett Kavanaugh expressed skepticism about the rather tortured reading of the 21st Amendment that justifies rules such as Tennessee’s. The amendment’s language prohibits the “transportation or importation” of alcohol into states that don’t want it, while saying nothing explicit about other powers the states have over alcohol regulation. The very existence of the 21st Amendment, however, implies that the Constitution views alcohol as different from other goods. The question is how different — and what does that difference mean to the states? The Court is considering TWSRA v. Blair in context of the Constitution’s protections for interstate commerce. It will likely decide whether Tennessee’s liquor-licensing rules are discriminatory against the residents of other states — and then whether the 21st Amendment actually allows such discrimination. Meanwhile, Justices Elena Kegan and Neil Gorsuch “fretted aloud” that a ruling against the two-year rule would undermine other state regulations on alcohol and welcome further legal challenges.
9. Please do read Michael Brendan Dougherty’s Corner post on the relentless efforts by the British Left (which of course includes its media) to smear Roger Scruton.
10. Daniel Pipes was in the thick of the campus lunacy at Harvard in 1969. He reflects on the 50th anniversary of students uprising and the emergence of college radicalism, and how it made him a conservative. From his piece:
The would-be revolutionaries of the late 1960s went on to change the fundamentals of American academic life, eventually bringing on such delights as women’s studies, political correctness, micro-aggressions, and intersectionality. That descent still continues, not only with far-leftists almost everywhere dominating the humanities and social sciences, but with their radicalism growing more intense and intolerant.
That takeover and bust culminated my political education. I emerged from high school in 1967 without strong views on the burning issues of the day. Even before the bust, I favored an American victory in Vietnam; but the Harvard tumult permanently consolidated and directed my views, making me the dedicated conservative I am today.
The bust also prompted me to fathom why I had isolated myself among the tiny minority of student anti-Communists. I concluded that my foreign experience in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa had caused me to appreciate the United States as most of my peers did not. My generation came of age in the halcyon 1950s; so, when great issues appeared in the next decade (assassinations, Vietnam, civil rights), it responded with outraged disappointment. But not me, for I knew the outside world.
1. I missed this a couple of months back. My pal Darcy Olsen, who is a champion of foster-care and child-protection reform, and plenty else, wrote for Arizona Central about the quick step from social services to sex slavery. It is profoundly disturbing what can happen to children when in the hands and responsibility of “officials.” From her piece:
This year, an estimated 18,000 American children will disappear, but their families will not be looking for them. Neighbors will not canvas the streets. Our Facebook feeds will not show their pictures. And after six months, the records of their existence may close entirely.
This is the fate awaiting children who vanish while in the care and custody of America’s child-protection system. Some run to escape abuse. Some follow false promises of love and security. Still others are kidnapped outright.
No matter the reason for falling off the grid, many of these boys and girls will resurface on the black market as child sex slaves. According to the FBI, more than half of trafficked children in America were in the care of social services when they disappeared. That is a damning statistic for a system whose sole purpose is to keep children safe.
2. Connecticut is considering implementing tolls in order to feed the government beast. Hired to do an objective study on the do-we-need-tolls question is . . . an international toll-advocacy group. Marc Fitch does a bang-up job for Yankee Institute to expose the fix-is-in way government works, and to report on the general lunacy of this push for tolls. From his piece:
Scholarly reviews of tolling projections show there exists an “optimism bias” in many of the studies conducted by consultant organizations.
A 2011 report by the Transportation Research Board found administrative, operating and collection costs for toll facilities were 33.5 percent. CDM Smith pegged the administrative and operating costs at “just under 10 percent of gross annual toll revenue,” or about $100 million per year.
A 2009 review of tolling studies and papers published in the Transportation Research Record found “These studies found that tolled projects tend to suffer from substantial optimism bias in forecasts, with predicted traffic volumes exceeding actual volumes by 30% or more about half the time.”
Similarly, a report by the Denver Post in 2006, noted that “86 percent of new toll roads in eight states failed to meet expectations in their first full year.”
The Denver Post wrote that “cases where the consultants doing the revenue and traffic forecast either had an interest in seeing the road get built or were later awarded additional work on that road” or “where the road’s revenue projections were used as a negotiating tool to secure favorable financing terms rather than as an impartial scientific study,” were especially troubling to investors.
But Connecticut is not discussing construction of a new road or bridge or adding additional lanes which would be tolled.
Rather, Lamont and some state lawmakers are looking to toll every lane of existing highway extensively – something that has never been done before and is considered “new territory,” for the Federal Highway Administration.
3. At The College Fix, Christian Schneider reports on the new batch of allegedly non-partisan federal “Truman Scholar” awards — not a single recipient is an identifiable conservative or Republican, but plenty are liberals and Democrats. From the beginning of his story:
None of the nearly 60 recipients of a prestigious $30,000 federal scholarship granted in 2018 reported that they had ever worked for a Republican political candidate or conservative organization, according to an analysis by The College Fix.
The lucrative Truman Scholar awards are given to college juniors, who receive $30,000 to attend graduate school and pledge to serve three of their first seven years after graduation in public service.
The federal scholarship is supposed to be nonpartisan and given simply to “persons who demonstrate outstanding potential for and who plan to pursue a career in public service.”
But the slate of 2018 recipients lean heavily left in both their political work history and the issues which they pledge to address.
4. Richard Samuelson — academic, former NRnik — isn’t as bowled over by the Varsity Blues scandal as others seems to be. Writing at Law & Liberty, he explains why. From the beginning of his commentary:
You might have heard the adage, “There will be prayer in schools as long as there are tests in schools.” The same goes for cheating on tests.
There will be bribery, deception, extortion, and other crimes as long as old Adam walks the earth. That, at least, was my initial reaction to the college-admissions scandal. Are we, to borrow Stanley Fish’s phrase, surprised by sin?
Clearly, however, my reaction was unusual. Many Americans are fixated on the story. Talk radio, I gather, could not get enough of it. What did I miss? America has an elites problem. Again, that is not news. Reconciling our creed of egalitarianism with the reality of elite leadership has been a tricky business since the Founding. Consider the great debate between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on that topic. In our generation, the problem is focused on our schools, the selective ones in particular. Admission to an elite school seems to be the entrée to the upper echelons of American society.
Were we well-governed, and were it apparent that people who are doing well financially seemed to be decent people who treated their fellow Americans with respect, the problem would be much less acute. If the election of Donald Trump signifies anything, it is that many Americans are unhappy. As several commentators have noted, for many, electing Trump was a way of extending a giant, metaphorical middle finger in the direction of our elites.
5. NYC mayor Bill de Blasio flexed his demagogue muscle with a $773 million-dollar plan for the “renewal” of failing schools. In the April issue of Commentary, our dear pal Naomi Schaefer Riley gives the program the hairy eyeball and sees . . . an unmitigated disaster. From her article:
Five years later, de Blasio has now all but admitted failure. In a recent interview with the New York Times, he said, “I’m at peace that with the information we had and the structure we had at the time, it was a sensible approach.” But he added, “I would not do it again that way.” At one point, he suggested that the problem was expecting results too fast: “We put ourselves on this very aggressive three-year timeline. In retrospect, that was probably an unrealistic timeline in some cases.” But even after adding a fourth year to the program, the results were not there.
The overall cost: a staggering $773 million. All of it down the tubes. What’s even more staggering is that the three quarters of a billion dollars flushed down the toilet is merely a drop in the bucket for a system with an annual budget of $24 billion—not even 1 percent over five years. But the fact that such a sum has produced next to no results and has done tangible harm to kids who could have gone to a different school rather than being trapped inside an unsalvageable institution is worthy of public outcry. Philanthropists like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Walter Annenberg discovered to their sorrow that they could pour hundreds of millions of dollars into urban public-school systems without even creating a ripple. But that was private money, theirs to play with. Every dollar spent by de Blasio came from taxpayers.
Of the 50 schools that remained in the Renewal program—some closed because they didn’t improve and others dropped out—enrollment dropped considerably, as much as 17 percent between 2014 and 2018. Despite claims at public hearings, most parents know a failing school when they see it. If they can get their kid out, they will.
6. At Gatestone Institute, Giulio Meotti asks the Sixty-Four-Thousand Rial Question: When will the Iranian regime collapse? From his piece:
The Islamic Republic of Iran today, through its terror proxies and puppet regimes, has been extending its hegemony to many capitals of the Middle East: Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Sanaa. Iran continues to threaten the Middle East, the Mediterranean basin and potentially Europe. Forty years after its theocratic revolution in 1979, the mullahs speak (wishfully, one assumes) of a “declining” America.
“America cannot manage its own affairs now”, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the secretary of the powerful Guardian Council, said on state television. “Millions of people are hungry there and America’s power is in decline”. Such declarations may be intended to hide Iran’s own terrible decline, fleeing reality and crumbling from within.
Iran was the first country, in 1979, to bring down a secular, pro-Western government and replace it with an Islamic theocracy. The experiment, however, seems to have failed. Instead of bringing prosperity and freedom, it brought poverty and repression. Even without considering the terrible persecution of women, journalists, academics dissidents and sexual minorities, the Iranian regime is crumbling.
Statistics published by the World Bank note that Iran has had an appalling economic meltdown over the past 40 years since the Islamic clerics came to power. Its drop in economic rankings relative to other countries has been “one of the steepest declines in modern history.”
BONUS: With European Parliament elections scheduled for May 23, former UKIP boss Nigel Farage explains in The Telegraph why he is launching the new Brexit Party.
Lights. Cameras. Critics!
1. Armond White finds the new HBO flick Native Son to be an art crime that disavows social changes that have improved and complicated black American identity and self-sufficiency since the civil-rights era. From the beginning of his review:
HBO’s new update of Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas novel Native Son cleverly drops the name of 1990s rapper Biggie Smalls (a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G.) so as to avoid dealing with changes in black American culture since Wright published his novel in 1940.
Director Rashid Johnson and screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks want to make sure we know that the ideas in Wright’s legendary book have been subsumed in their politically correct, avant-garde (i.e. “post-black”) consciousness. The advent of hip-hop, in which black American youth proclaimed their social awareness, preceded Johnson and Park’s conceit by rapping rebellious self-assertion that wasn’t always politically expedient (Biggie’s breakthrough was the Junior Mafia song “Get Money”).
Hip-hop’s new independence — and Biggie’s autonomy — contradicts every example of persecution that Bigger Thomas stood for, but Wright ‘s protagonist remains the classic figure of oppressed black youth: condemned to poverty, crime, murder, and extermination by the state. James Baldwin hated the archetype’s standing in American literature (“Everybody’s Protest Novel” he called it) and especially in the political imagination.
Still, Bigger Thomas’s infamy outstrips any Baldwin creation; his fate has reasserted itself this millennium through sentimentalized discussions about “the black body,” police brutality, and mass incarceration. The fact that we cannot escape Bigger Thomas’s ghost is partly due to Johnson and Park’s fashionable decision to subvert Wright’s cautionary book — as well as Biggie’s most audaciously funny rapscallion recordings — and turn out one more urban-tragedy scenario, now carrying the imprimatur of HBO slickness. (The film was originated at A24, the company responsible for Moonlight.)
2. Take The Office-style mockumentary, add a trio of burbs-living vampires, and you have the new FX sitcom series, What We Do in the Shadows. If the full sunlight, Kyle Smith admits he likes it. From his review:
There’s a sad-sack, Dunder Mifflin aspect to What We Do in the Shadows even before we meet an office Dracula. He’s the most common type, apparently. The “energy vampire” doesn’t literally suck your blood, he just sucks all the energy out of your room, house, or cubicle. This small, bald man in a cardigan named Colin (Mark Proksch) is the one who most terrifies all of the others. Unfortunately for them, his superior knowledge of the intricacies of the New World makes him indispensable. Even more unfortunate for the other vampires, his natural attraction to the dull and the bureaucratic tends to sabotage their romantic aspirations. Colin’s idea for launching a total-domination scheme involves catching a city bus to a zoning-board meeting. Colin licks his lips with ecstasy: “It’s a smorgasbord of banality and despair!” The vampires do have some ordinances they’d like to propose — no noise during daylight hours, a ban on turtlenecks — but like many other citizens, they learn you not only can’t fight City Hall, you can’t even figure out where to file the paperwork to announce your proposal to fight it in the first place.
3. Armond finds Peterloo to be . . . almost great. From the get-go of his review:
‘We can all deliver a speech” brags a 19th-century argumentifier, one of many crowding Mike Leigh’s impressive but imperfect political history Peterloo.
As in his other period films, Topsy-Turvy, Vera Drake, and Mr. Turner, Leigh draws a bead on English history in order to vivify modern concerns — in this case, the 1819 massacre by British troops storming a political rally in Manchester’s St. Peter’s Field. It’s Leigh’s response to the millennium’s revolution rhetoric, that leftist call for change and transformation, plus its fatalistic move toward disaster.
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet “England in 1819” immortalized the homegrown tragedy known as “Peterloo,” balancing nationalist pity and monarchist rage — a testament to the British gift for rhetoric, and Leigh is after a similar poetic effect. Instead of documenting history, Peterloo details personal characteristics of that moment through Leigh’s special, behavior-based, actorly focus on British social psychology. The film’s panorama suggests social-media cacophony in 19th-century dress — even briefly touching on the snarky competition among egotistical journalists.
The massacre and the tension leading up to it are conveyed through the speech and manners of Manchester’s impoverished workers, its selfish politicians, single-minded militants, and reformers. They mirror the Brexit present, making visible the class differences of a country that, even in its regional dialects, still is united by language, still struggling through its own sense of history. Leigh showcases the impassioned speeches, domestic debates, interjections, and protestations by Shelley’s countrymen.
4. But Kyle thinks Leigh and his Peterloo thing is a Marx-loving (Karl, not Groucho) stinkeroo. From his revioo:
Leigh is rightly praised for the naturalism and authenticity with which he invests his films, famously assembled with much creative input from his actors, and for taking enough distance from his characters that the audience is free to draw its own conclusions rather than having a message shoved in its face or being urged to feel a given emotion. He can’t fairly be accused of being sentimental or didactic or on-the-nose, or of choosing a movie-movie ending instead of sticking closer to the frustrations and ambiguities of life. He tends to the detached and circumspect, which makes him as proper a choice as any to carry the British flag into world cinema.
Which is why this bristling, pugnacious, wearyingly didactic film is so inexplicable. To watch Mike Leigh make a mistake like this is like watching Yo-Yo Ma try to play the cello with a fireplace poker. Leigh’s magistrates fulminate in tones that make Emperor Palpatine look measured, then we switch over to the workers’ speeches, which are equally bombastic in the other direction. Leigh can’t even settle on a route into the story; he begins with a battle-dazed lone soldier returning from Waterloo in order to connect the two instances of bloodshed, but soon after the young man gets home and pathetically searches for work, Leigh forgets about him. We come across him again toward the end, but since we know him so little, his fate isn’t affecting. The rest of the cast mostly consists of mouthpieces for good or evil. The only characters who get more than superficial treatment are Hunt (played with a kind of strangled dedication by Rory Kinnear), who has some fine qualities but is also insensitive to the people for whom he is supposedly fighting, and a working-class woman who argues that protests will do more harm than good for their lot.
5. More Armond, this time finding a lot in the craft of certain character actors in Best of Enemies. No, not the WFB v. Vidal documentary, but Robin Bissel’s new flick on early-70s school-desegregation in the South. From the review:
Elitist Hollywood is unqualified to promote brotherhood, but The Best of Enemies comes close by reminding us of Hollywood’s egalitarian character-actor tradition. In The Best of Enemies, Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell portray the real-life black activist Ann Atwater and white former Ku Klux Klansman C. P. Ellis, who both, in 1971, got past dissension and strife to help desegregate their local North Carolina public schools.
Atwater and Ellis came together from the extremes of their divided community, while Henson and Rockwell — not bloviating celebrities but character actors specializing in outsiders and oddballs — honor their subjects’ individual eccentricities.
The always-game Rockwell starts with Ellis’s working-class idiosyncrasy: “The most emotional moment of my life was being inducted into the Klan.” Ellis’s Klan presidency (he’s given the fanatical moniker “Exalted Cyclops”) reveals the desperation behind the culture of racism. Rockwell does not betray his character’s honest, slow self-realization, and writer-director Robin Bissell keeps Ellis’s turning-point speech free of platitudes. This isn’t a fantasy bigot like Rockwell’s Oscar-winning role in Three Billboards but is based on clear insight into envy and competition, not the fear and resentment favored by most histories of racism. Ellis’s complexity is palpable in Rockwell’s very canny Brandoesque Southern accent.
Henson scores similar complexity. After her Oscar-nominated neo-Mammy turn in Benjamin Button and the ratchet excess of TV’s Empire, Henson reclaims her craft. Outfitted in sloping, cantilever breasts, her face twisted into a fist as wound-up as her kinky wig, Henson impersonates the intractable side of “Rough-house Annie.” It’s too bad that Henson only gets the anger right — as when calling out Ellis’s cowardice. But could any Black Lives Matter–era character actress resist commercialized fashionable rage? Understanding Atwater’s religious-based perseverance — when she thrusts her Bible against Ellis’s rifle — requires an actress to show even greater daring.
6. Armond encore: He sees the new French flick Sauvage/Wild as “revisiting the conflict between gay liberation’s sexual outlawry and queer rights’ absolutism” and challenging a liberal/conventional/PC take on homosexuality. Maybe not your cup of tea as entertainment, but the review is a powerful piece of writing and commentary, as usual. From the review:
What would Democratic-party presidential aspirant Peter Buttigieg make of Sauvage/Wild, the new French film about a gay sex hustler who refuses all the societal norms? Leo (played by Félix Maritaud) isn’t running for public office; he’s one of the young men who pick up customers in the Bois de Boulogne. It’s not to make money but to live freely. Without a job, a spouse, or political affiliation — he is “without roof or law,” to repeat the title of Agnès Varda’s 1985 film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond), which chronicled the habits of a modern homeless wanderer.
Buttigieg’s personal sexual declaration is not our concern, but his progressive political stance meets a provocative challenge through director-writer Camille Vidal-Naquet’s raw, unflinching narrative in Sauvage/Wild.
The Leo characterization is so politically incorrect in his disregard of money, property, hygiene, and the shameless company he keeps that he defies the glib virtues ascribed to a candidate such as Buttigieg and by which the mainstream media always give the edge to such a figure. During a free clinic’s medical check-up, a matriarchal doctor advises Leo to give up crack cocaine; he looks at her perplexed, not understanding the connection between health and pleasure. In interviews, Vidal-Naquet reveals his own politics by describing Leo as a “sex worker,” but Varda (who made the pioneering prostitution film Cleo from 5 to 7) knew better, preferring to avoid any convenient liberal label for her social outlaw.
My cringe muscles got a major workout in Shazam!, the way they do when in the presence of a floundering standup comic. I wanted to laugh, just to save the movie some embarrassment, but nothing funny was happening. I think I reached maximum cringe when the movie acknowledged it was ripping off Big by throwing in a step-activated keyboard scene but then couldn’t figure out anything to do with the idea. Boy-turned-adult superhero Billy Batson (Zachary Levi) runs across the keyboard, so does a pursuer and that’s it. No comedy twist, just “Remember this much better movie on the same subject?”
Casting is a crucially underrated component to blockbuster movies, and Levi’s effort to be the new Tom Hanks is a total failure, even worse than the same character’s bland portrayal by Asher Angel, a featureless boy-band type, when he’s in his 14-year-old body. The young Billy has been cast out of a succession of foster homes while trying to find the mother from whom he was separated as a little kid, and has developed some toughness and cynicism as scabs over his psychic wounds. None of this is particularly well conveyed by the teen actor, but what’s bizarre is that, after a visit with a wizard from another dimension gives Billy superpowers and an adult body, this smart teen inexplicably turns into a wide-eyed bozo. As played by Levi, the adult Billy Batson never stops mugging and shrieking and pratfalling, more Pee Wee Herman than the cool Marty McFly–style teen he is in his real body. Billy’s new foster brother, Freddy (played by Jack Dylan Grazer, nephew of the producer Brian Grazer), is almost as irritating to watch as Levi, rushing through his lines with no comic timing whatsoever. Freddy has a mild disability, and the other kids in the foster home are a multicultural gang of winsome sweethearts, and all of these details are the equivalent of neon sign reading, “You will adore us.” In other words, lazy screenwriting. You don’t get to issue orders to your audience.
Consider the long history of the National Pastime’s original teams and — using World Series participation as the barometer — how can’t you deny that some franchises have been jinxed? That there are some areas where baseball and the law of averages are sworn enemies. Yankees, Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers . . . all that repeated glory. The Phillies, Indians, Cubs, White Sox . . . when do the fates compensate them for decades of rote despair?
Yours Truly feels — not pity, but sorrow . . . ok, pity — especially for the fans of the White Sox. The club went 40 years between its 1919 “Black Sox” World Series loss and its 1959 appearance (also a loss, to the Dodgers), and then waited another 46 years till its next (and last) Fall Classic entry (the Sox swept the Astros in 2005). Add to the droughts this: In all the in-between years, there were few where the club was in a true pennant race. But let us celebrate that true exciting one, in 1964, when, under Al Lopez, the Sox finished in second place, one measly game behind the Yankees. Down the stretch both teams played ferociously and battled the Orioles, who as late as September 15 were in first, tied with Chicago. (Sad Sidebar: Over in the Senior Circuit, the Phillies, ahead on this date by six games, were set to embark on baseball’s epic September meltdown.)
The Sox won their last nine games, but the Yankees launched an 11-game winning streak on the 15th and took sole possession of first on the 19th. It was never relinquished.
What could the Sox have done? Not even the Magic 8 Ball knows. Among the what-ifs, though, are two painful and providential losses: On September 19, at home, they dropped a 10-inning pitching duel to the lowly Washington Senators — complete games for loser Joe Horlen and winning pitcher Bennie Daniels. The score: 1–0. Which replayed four nights later in Los Angeles. In their last loss of the season, the Sox dropped another 1–0 contest to the Angels, a nascent rally snuffed out in the second when Ken Berry — on first courtesy of a walk — was gunned down at 3rd by right fielder Lou Clinton trying to advance on a single by J.C. Martin. Had either of those contests gone the other way . . . if only . . .
I’ve always loved Palm Sunday. My little Italian grandmother would make this wonderful dish — she called it spitsad (typed here in phonetics, and probably distorted by poor recollecting) — that was a combination of lamb chunks (many still attached to cleaved bones), egg, and either escarole (I think) or possibly broccoli rabe. Baked in this big pan. We crammed into her kitchen and demolished it. So delicious! Gran is dead now 15 years — she left for better parts a few weeks shy of her 103rd birthday. What a life: She saw Vesuvius erupt, endured the entire Atlantic sailing/Ellis Island experience, saw Halley’s Comet twice, worked in the children’s department at Saks (sold Mrs. Kennedy shorts and undies for the future president), watched Benny Hill with her grandson late at night. Wistful but wonderful memories.
Anyway, if you take enough freebies tomorrow, here’s how you can weave a cross made of palms.
God’s blessings on you, your family, and those who have gone before us,
Who tries to hide but cannot because too many people know his email is email@example.com, where complaints and insults and correct spellings of “spitsad” can be directed.