The Weekend Jolt

National Review

The (D)Ox-Bow Incident

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Let’s state the obvious: There have been better weeks, and few worse ones.

The first time the film appeared on the family television screen was about seven or eight years ago, and since then Mr. and Mrs. Yours Truly have watched it some half-dozen times. The Ox-Bow Incident is truly powerful, the kind of movie that somehow tricks you into thinking / hoping that maybe this time the outcome will change. Is there a better film that takes on the evils of rushing to judgement?

Victor Davis Hanson appropriately cited it in his Corner post about quick-to-convict chatter over the Lincoln Memorial encounter / confrontation last Sunday between students from Covington Catholic High School and leftist “Native American elder” Nathan Phillips (which came hot on the heels of the BuzzFeed fake newsery). It’s staggering how vehement the talk was among the liberal elite to destroy the lives of these young men.

Back to the flick: Turner Classic Movies will be broadcasting it on Saturday, February 16, at 11:30 a.m. (EST). There’s also a good chance that it will likely be available “on demand” for some days after. If you haven’t seen it, consider doing so.

And Now, a Related Opinion from the Old Testament

Courtesy of the original Author and of a WJ correspondent who sought to instruct the writers of this esteemed entity, from Proverbs 18:17 — “He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.”


1. We score the Pelosi-rejected Trump offer of temporary DACA amnesties for wall funding. From the editorial:

Trump is right to try to shake something loose in the shutdown showdown. Majority leader Mitch McConnell will take up his package later in the week, forcing the Democrats to filibuster a compromise package that would reopen the government. This puts Republicans on a less defensive footing, but it won’t change the fundamental fact that Democrats hate the idea of giving Trump any kind of victory on the border barriers and believe that they have the upper hand in the political fight over the shutdown. At the moment, Trump wants a negotiation and Pelosi wants a humiliation, a clear and convincing defeat for the president.

There isn’t any downside for her, because her base fully backs her maximalist position and the media never call her out for her recalcitrance. If she were head of the Republican caucus in a confrontation with a Democratic president, obviously the coverage would be very different.

2. The Covington Affair. Lessons learned (some, hard). From our editorial:

Because the culture wars are approached as a zero-sum game, many of the most committed progressives are now desperately trying to formulate a reason to continue slandering them and attempting to chase their parents into unemployment and penury. That speaks to the sorry state of our democracy: Why bother trying to persuade or convince your fellow citizens when you can simply make them into pariahs? The Times, in articulating the “fuller picture,” went so far as to suggest that to invoke the name of Donald Trump — or to simply wear a hat bearing his famous slogan — constitutes a “racially charged taunt.” These are not, for the most part, ideas offered in good faith: They are stratagems deployed to delegitimize certain political points of view. If supporters of the president are to be condemned as engaging in racial provocation for simply saying his name, then the conversation has nowhere to go.

All of this exposes a larger and more serious deficiency: in citizenship. Good citizens with proper respect for themselves, their neighbors, and their country do not seek to destroy the lives of a couple of teenagers in the pursuit of a transient and petty political advantage.

3. Venezuela votes. Donald Trump flips Socialist strongman Maduro el birdo and recognizes opposition is Juan Guaidó as President. We encourage strong U.S. support. From the editorial:

The U.S. government, in the person of President Trump, has recognized Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela. So have many Latin American governments, plus Canada. Maduro has responded with the tried-and-true populism that won Chávez power in the first place.

“Don’t trust the gringos,” Maduro told a crowd of his supporters, gathered in their red shirts. “They don’t have friends or loyalties.” They only want to “take Venezuela’s oil, gas, and gold.” For good measure, he tweeted, “Let’s defend our sovereignty. . . . The streets belong to the people!”

U.S. policymakers have long had a dilemma: refrain from helping forces such as those arrayed against Maduro’s regime, leaving them to their own devices; or help them and see them labeled CIA stooges. “They’re going to call them CIA stooges anyway,” Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen once said, in the context of Cuba. “We might as well help them.”

That applies to Venezuela, now. The United States should give all the support it can to Juan Guaidó and the movement he leads.

4. Trump’s Wall standoff crumbles. We encourage the President to settle for a quarter loaf. From the editorial:

We were never bullish on the shutdown, so don’t count us among the shocked and outraged that it has produced nothing more than an agreement to negotiate more.

President Trump and the Democrats agreed to reopen parts of the government that had been shut down for three weeks while they talk more about border funding. This obviously is not what the advocates of the shutdown had hoped for. But given that Trump took ownership of the shutdown before it started in his Oval Office showdown with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and the administration didn’t have a clear strategy, the hopes of the advocates were never very realistic. And shutdowns are not a promising tactic anyway. That they don’t work was the point of Mitch McConnell’s country adage that “there isn’t any education in the second kick of a mule.”

Point of Personal Privilege

Heather Wilhelm has a terrific column (does she ever not?) urging journalists addicted to Twitter — and becoming increasingly complicit in the uproars and tornadoes instigated and compounded there — to go cold turkey. To bail. Read the whole thing, but here’s a chunk for your immediate satisfaction:

Here I present a mystery: If a columnist idly comments on the news in a forest, as opposed to instantly broadcasting her knee-jerk, gut reaction to the world via Twitter — something no one should ever do, but we’ll get to that in a bit — does it even make a sound? Elsewhere, out in the digital distance, an alarming percentage of our chattering class spent Saturday industriously diving headfirst into a fact-deprived, wild-eyed online rage mob. As a nation, we’re still cleaning up the factual wreckage.

While there are many potential explanations for this media debacle, one should seem almost screamingly obvious: Twitter.

Media mistakes, and even media dishonesty, are nothing new. But this type of story — complete with a short video clip and screenshot perfectly calibrated to confirm one side’s ideological biases — was tailor-made for the land of the retweet. Without Twitter, this frenzied display of snap judgments and public shaming would probably have vaporized before it was even a twinkle in a writer’s eye.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Twitter is a disastrous scourge, which is particularly unfortunate given that a large bulk of the nation’s media is hopelessly addicted to Twitter. It is a great carbuncled pixel-based den of rumors, as bleak as one of those depressing old Wilfred Owen poems about the Great War. Also, don’t look now, but it may or may not be destroying our entire civilization from within.

With this in mind, I have a suggestion: Each and every responsible member of the media should immediately and dramatically declare a Twitter strike, preferably while wearing a monocle.

A Dozen and Then Some Articles that Could Only Be Improved by Frying Them in Bacon Fat

1. The Circle Game: Victor Davis Hanson reflects on the Mueller probe, going round and round and . . . From his piece:

In sum, one result of the entire Mueller inquest is that we are now witnessing one of the greatest political scandals in U.S. history, given that

1) the FBI conducted a secret investigation of the sitting president of the United States and kept it from all oversight, based on nothing other than unfounded accusations from untrustworthy sources and the FBI’s policy differences with candidate and later President Trump;

2) presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the middle of the 2016 campaign hired a foreign national, British subject Christopher Steele, to conduct opposition research on her rival Donald Trump, and she hid her use of campaign funds to pay for the ensuing dossier by funneling the payments as “legal fees” through both a law firm and an opposition-research firm;

3) members of Obama’s Department of Justice and FBI deliberately and repeatedly misled FISA courts by presenting a dossier as evidence without disclosing that it was unverifiable, paid for by Hillary Clinton, used circularly for “corroborating” news accounts, and authored by a fired FBI informant — all of which was previously known to the top echelon of the FBI and DOJ;

4) key members of the U.S. government in the FBI, DOJ, CIA, and State Department took great pains in the midst of a presidential campaign to spread knowledge of the unverified dossier among top government officials and to ensure leaks of the dossier to the media;

5) few involved in any of these felonious acts are currently under investigation, and fewer are apt to be subject to criminal prosecution, given the hysteria over the supposed Trump collusion;

6) Mueller’s top lieutenant, Andrew Weissmann, by intent or default, probably had a role in the deception of a federal FISA court that was deliberately misled by fellow DOJ attorneys who withheld information that they knew would impugn their own evidence.

2. The Covington Affair recalls Orwell’s 1984 warning about “facecrime,” writes Kyle Smith. From his piece:

Mulling over what Orwell got right and wrong will be the work of decades to come. The video screens he envisioned are indeed ubiquitous, but they’re in our pockets, not run by a central authority. Orwell got one purpose of incessant video monitoring right, though: to identify and punish those whose facial expressions don’t conform to the cultural orthodoxy.

The Covington Catholic High School boys, it is now obvious, were initially charged with facecrime. Regardless of everything else we know now about the Lincoln Memorial incident, they remain guilty of that. And also hatcrime, the newest hate crime. I initially thought the bizarre reluctance to let go of the original, false narrative was due to people’s stubbornness about admitting their first impression was incorrect. Now it’s becoming clearer that in the eyes of some, nothing could even partially excuse the Covington kids.

RELATED: More from Kyle on “Native American elder” Nathan Phillips, liar.

MORE RELATED: Charlies Cooke says Phillips is full of malarkey.

3. More on Phillips: David French compares his various interviews (CNN, Detroit Free Press) post-contretemps and finds the lefty rabble-rouser spewing falsehoods, inconsistencies, and sheer nonsense — which the MSM laps up. From the wrap-up of his Corner post:

I’ve been to dozens of high school football and basketball games. In the South at least, this is what student bodies do. They chant. They jump around. They get loud. And if they’re being taunted by racists, it actually seems like a constructive response to hate speech. Don’t engage, have fun. But then came Nathan Phillips, he walked into their midst, he sang words they didn’t understand, and then he spewed falsehoods in the national media. Why are so many progressives taking his word as true? Because he’s telling the story they want to hear, not because he’s telling the truth.

4. Kavanaugh was Act One. Covington Catholic, writes David, is Act Two. From the piece:

Over the last 72 hours, I’ve been asking myself a simple question: What would happen if a group of Black Israelites had spent an hour taunting my son’s high-school football team? How would they have reacted if a Native American elder had walked into their midst – apparently not saying anything intelligible to them, but rather banging a drum and chanting inches from one kid’s face. Would they have thought that was an effort at “peacemaking,” or just more taunting? What would they have said if some of the people walking with that elder had yelled insults at them?

I ask those questions, but I’m pretty sure I know the answer. The boys wouldn’t have reacted all that differently from the kids at Covington Catholic. They would have sung different songs, they would have chanted different chants, and maybe one or two of the kids would have lofted an obscene gesture in the direction of the Black Israelites. In other words, they would have been kids, and barring some sort of overt criminal act, the blame for any tension that followed should rest with the adults who behaved so aggressively and strangely (and, let’s face it, walking through a group of boys chanting and banging a drum is not exactly normal behavior). If a kid responds poorly to a challenging situation, you reprimand him. You teach him.

5. The new liturgical life for many, even churchgoers, is modern mass-media, writes Michael Brendan Dougherty in a terrific piece — against the Covington backdrop — on . . . a Christ-less Christian culture, repetition, devotional reading, and white teen boys in MAGA hats. From the piece:

And it doesn’t stop just because you stopped going to church. Despite many commentators pretending that America is a very religious country in Western civilization, the vast majority of people here don’t go to a church or synagogue or other house of worship in any given week.

And even for the people who do go to church, their “liturgical life” is still mostly made up of modern mass media: television, film, news websites, etc.

Last year, when the Brett Kavanaugh nomination ran into controversy, scores of writers convicted Kavanaugh based on their remembered experience of a completely different set of characters, and a completely different school. They wrote quite sincerely that their experiences “shed light” on this other situation. They had a parable in their heads, something they had meditated on for years. They’d seen it replicated in popular films. It was true. Just like the Duke Lacrosse rape was “true” and the Rolling Stone article about the UVA gang rape was true. This is what jocks are.

6. For Kevin Williamson, the Covington Affair exposes a crisis of citizenship, and journalistic integrity. From his article:

And the fact that a couple of children in MAGA hats engaged in boorish behavior — which isn’t even a fact, as it turns out, but a lie constructed and wholesaled with malice aforethought — wouldn’t have told us one damn thing about Donald J. Trump, his administration, or his political supporters at large. The fact that we had a momentary national moral crisis over the (as is turns out, fictitious) actions of a couple of nobody teenagers is all the evidence anybody needs of the fundamentally hysterical and unserious times in which we live. In a sane world, nobody cares about whether a 16-year-old boy somewhere . . . smirked.

Everybody who has pretended like that smirk tells us something serious about the state of the world is a liar and a fraud. I don’t mean the people who were legitimately taken in by the deceit — especially those who have had the honor and self-respect to admit their errors and correct them — but those who willfully persist in the lie. I’m talking about you, Ruth Graham of Slate, still trying to justify by whatever pathetic means are available what everybody with any sense knows to have been an exercise in pure horses***. I’m talking about you, editors of the New York Times. You sorry specimens are poor excuses for journalists, which, of course, we already knew. What’s more relevant here is that you are bad citizens. Trafficking in lies and distortions because you think the guy in the White House is kind of gross is unworthy of adults with responsible positions in a free society that depends on honest and functional institutions.

7. The evidence is in, but neighboring diocese (Lexington, KY) Catholic bishop John Stowe (who gained some notoriety two years ago by saying Mass for a radical “LGBT” outfit that seeks to change Church teaching on homosexuality) remains intent on throwing the Covington Boys under the bus in what Ramesh Ponnuru calls “a bad and even a disgraceful op-ed.” More from Ramesh:

But then the bishop’s letter actually gets worse. He concludes,

The pro-life movement claims that it wants more than the policy change of making abortion illegal, but aims to make it unthinkable. That would require deep changes in society and policies that would support those who find it difficult to afford children. The association of our young people with racist acts and a politics of hate must also become unthinkable.

Let’s, charitably, attribute some of this language to bad writing. Ordinarily when an author claims that a movement “claims that it wants” something, the implications are that the author is not a part of that movement and that he has some doubts about its sincerity. And at this moment let’s pass over the claim that support for Trump is simply a “politics of hate” (which is a gross slander of most Kentuckians, whether or not support for Trump is justified). Here we have, at the end, the reintroduction of a claim of “racist acts” that the bishop refuses to describe, let alone substantiate. Effectively he is saying, “These Catholic children are probably guilty of all the accusations even though I can’t go into any of the questions about whether or not they were.” He won’t commit himself to a position on what offense justifies his throwing the kids under the bus.

The bishop was right about one thing: He does owe an apology; actually, several of them.

8. The MAGA cap is the Left’s new excuse for a thousand transgressions. Rich Lowry comes to its defense. From his piece:

It speaks to the marketing genius of Donald Trump that he managed to create not just a potent piece of campaign memorabilia, but a cultural marker that will forever be associated with this period of our national life.

The MAGA hat denotes support for him, yes, but also a certain boldness and unwillingness to be bullied that isn’t merely symbolic — people occasionally get assaulted for doing nothing other than wearing the caps.

And why not, if the cap symbolizes only one thing for the Left? As Commonweal magazine columnist Mollie O’Reilly wrote of the Covington controversy, “You don’t let your kid wear a MAGA hat and then act offended when they get taken for a racist.”

Well, there’s the minor detail that your kid might not be remotely racist. It should be incumbent on adults to realize, much though they hate Donald Trump, that not everyone who supports him or wears his political paraphernalia is a hater.

9. NRO begins a five-part series on the WASP. Our old pal Neal B. Freeman kicks it off. Here’s how his piece begins:

One of the most heuristic things ever said about a member of my family was said by William Bradford, governor of Plymouth colony, the early American settlement located in what would, at a later day, become the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Writing in his memoir, Of Plymouth Plantation, Bradford said of my paternal ancestor William Brewster, “He was tenderhearted and compassionate of such as were in misery but especially of such as had been of good estate and rank and were fallen unto want and poverty.” What was remarkable in that encomium, of course, was not the contention that Brewster was a nice man. Down through the centuries, the record would probably confirm that my family has produced at least one nice man every generation or so. What was remarkable was that Brewster was revered not so much for his work in comforting the afflicted as for his success in comforting the formerly comfortable. As the Elder — the spiritual leader, that is to say — of a small band of English Christians who decamped first to Leiden, Holland, and then to America in 1620 on the good ship Mayflower, Brewster was tending to a relatively well-placed and well-connected flock. These were merchants and farmers, men of the law, men of the Book.

These Pilgrims, as they came to be called, were not low-born or criminal elements fleeing authority in search of a second chance. (For the footloose and felonious, conveniently, there would soon be Australia.) These were proper Englishmen, some of them educated, which was rare in those days, and most of them with “good prospects.” What set them apart from the rest of their countrymen was a determination to worship God according to their own lights, free from the constraints imposed by the almighty Church of England, and free as well from an English king increasingly given to what the Pilgrims perceived to be papist tendencies. These Pilgrims were men and women willing and in notable cases eager to subordinate the temporal to the transcendent. They were, as history would later inscribe, the brave souls who brought across a vast ocean and then planted in the hard soil of New England the radical and very American idea of religious freedom. That idea took root, deep root. Almost two centuries later, the Constitution’s framers would begin the First Amendment this way: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

10. Former NR colleague from ancient days, now Professor (at California State University, San Bernardino) Richard Samuelson, looks at the border crisis and what it says about self-government. From his piece:

The common citizen is, obviously, not competent to decide many technical questions. But when it comes to issues such as “How many additional people do we wish to join us in the United States each year?” we are emphatically in the realm of questions on which the judgment of the average citizen is entitled to equal respect with that of the economist, engineer, or college professor. Do most Americans, does our governing class, still understand that? I fear that the answer is no.

In sum, the crisis of the border is a crisis of democratic accountability. Can government of the people, by the people, and for the people long endure if government does not feel obliged to follow the laws our duly elected representatives have passed?

11. This is hugely unsettling — Maddy Kearns piece on a UK charity determined to change laws to allow sex-change for gender-confused little ones. From the piece:

At grassroots, Mermaids is still permitted to train thousands of teachers, police, health-care providers, and politicians. In its workshops, Mermaids shows a graph with Barbie at one end and a G.I. Joe action figure at the other and ask teachers to think about where their pupils might fall. Does a boy exhibit typically girly behaviors such as a wearing tutu? Could be a trans girl! Does a girl play with trucks, etc.? Could be a trans boy! Of course, this logic enshrines archaic gender stereotypes and has no scientific basis. Which is the precise reason that Turner, a liberal and a feminist, refutes it.

12. Senator Mike Lee ponders: Could a conservative populism repair America’s racial divide? From his piece:

President Trump won all eleven of the low-social-capital states east of Texas. Around 15 to 25 percent of whites in these states identify their ancestry as “American.” This group is overwhelmingly composed of southern whites, and it ranks below nearly all ancestry groups in terms of median household income. Nationally, the correlation across states and counties between low social capital and the share of the population that identifies as “American” is stronger than it is for all but a few of the major ancestry groups.

As J. D. Vance describes in his memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, in this struggling region of the country, individuals’ poor habits and decisions limit their opportunity. But he also highlighted the impact of economic shifts and policies that have been either inadequate or ill-designed.

It is incumbent on conservatives — those of us who support the free enterprise system — to recognize that bad policy can inhibit access to free markets and better policy can enhance opportunity within them.

A populist conservatism — if it can find the right balance between promoting personal responsibility and addressing economic, social, and policy barriers to success — might be able to unite Americans across racial and cultural lines rather than dividing them. And it could strengthen conservatism overall at the same time.

13. To the catacombs! David French looks at white progressive populism’s blatant Christian-Hate. From his piece:

The combination of ignorance, fear, and hatred wielded against conservative Christians in progressive quarters is disturbing. Just in this new year, we’ve seen two progressive senators aggressively question a Christian judicial nominee because of his membership in a mainstream Catholic service organization, we’ve seen a days-long attack on Karen Pence for teaching part-time at a Christian ministry, and we watched a stunning online feeding frenzy against students at a Catholic boys’ school based on a misleadingly clipped video segment of a much longer confrontation.

Moreover, we just concluded a Supreme Court term in which progressive governments attempted to erode the constitutional firewall against compelled speech by attempting to compel Christians to advance messages they found immoral. California attempted to compel pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise free or low-cost abortions. Colorado attempted to compel a man to custom-design a cake for a gay wedding.

14. Big Jim Geraghty gives us a look-see at the controversial freshman Democrat Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, facts’ loose-player. From his piece:

In her CNN interview, Omar was asked about a recent tweet about Senator Lindsey Graham that declared, “They got to him, he is compromised.” (While she did not specify who she meant by “they,” from the context it seems clear she’s referring to President Trump and his allies.) Asked about that comment by CNN, Omar answered, “Graham has told us how dangerous this president could be if he was given the opportunity to be in the White House, and all of the sudden he’s made not only a 180-turnaround but a 360-turnaround.” (The congresswoman probably needs a refresher on geometry: If you turn 180 degrees, you have reversed direction; if you make a 360 degree turnaround, you are facing the same direction you were before the turn.)

When CNN anchors asked if she had any evidence to support her claim, she said, “The evidence really is present to us. It’s being presented to us in the way that he is behaving.” Pressed further, she backtracked slightly, saying it “was just an opinion based on what I believe to be visible to me — and I’m pretty sure there are lots of Americans who agree on this.”

Most recently, she weighed in on the controversy surrounding the Covington Catholic students, protesters from the Black Hebrew Israelites religious group, and Native American demonstrator Nathan Phillips. Omar tweeted, “The boys were protesting a woman’s right to choose & yelled ‘it’s not rape if you enjoy it’. . . They were taunting 5 Black men before they surrounded Phillips and led racist chants . . . Sandmann’s family hired a right wing PR firm to write his non-apology.” The comment about rape was not from a Covington Catholic student, the Black Hebrew Israelites had called the students all manner of offensive slurs, and if Omar genuinely believes it’s wrong for a teenager unexpectedly thrust into the public spotlight to hire a public-relations firm, she will presumably denounce the Parkland Teens any day now. Omar later deleted the tweet.

15. Dan McLaughlin thinks long and hard about why America seems to be in a panic over immigration. From his piece:

A vicious cycle of waning civilizational self-confidence looms when the native-born have few children. A self-assured society envisioning opportunities for burgeoning young families has less reason to fear that new entrants will replace the existing culture rather than assimilate into it. Low-birth-rate countries, by contrast, grow dependent on importing new people to sustain the work force and the tax base for retirement programs. Immigrants are not a luxury but a need. With fewer homegrown children, newcomers and their children take on outsized visibility in communities, schools, and popular culture.

The backdrop of these anxieties is a one-two punch of loss of trust in institutions and an atomization of society that leaves people less connected to communities. The 2008 credit crisis and its aftermath, in particular, left a residue of corroded optimism and shaken faith in elites. And specific to immigration, there has been a long series of political broken promises over border security that has fed cynicism about government’s sincerity, from the empty promise that the 1986 amnesty would resolve illegal immigration to the failure to add border fencing authorized over a decade ago.

The gathering radicalization of the Left on immigration is partly a matter of ideological tribalism, partly a reaction to the Right, and partly due to Washington gridlock that stymied “comprehensive” reform in 2007 and 2013, leading to unilateral executive action by Barack Obama, which in turn was stymied by the courts. Political events like the California initiatives of the 1990s also accelerated the radicalization of both sides: The Left saw in them a dark anti-immigrant menace, while the Right saw popular initiatives thwarted in the courts and overrun in practice.

The social ills run deeper: epidemic addiction, decaying civic organizations, spreading loneliness and isolation, and declines in marriage and churchgoing. Immigrants did little to create these problems, but people are less apt to welcome strangers when they see their way of life and social contract as brittle, their government as unwilling or unable to respond, and their economic safety net as strained to bursting.

16. A lousy anniversary happened this week: it’s been 44 years since FALN terrorists detonated a bomb at NYC’s historic Fraunces Tavern, killing four, including NYPD officer Frank Connor, whose son Joseph writes about how justice for these murders remains elusive. Here’s how his article begins:

Forty-four years ago today, terrorists shattered my family. Sadly, the war against these individuals and their benefactors continues to this day.

My father, 33-year-old Frank Connor, and three other innocent men were murdered, while scores were injured and maimed, on Jan. 24, 1975, when the Marxist Puerto Rican terrorist group Armed Forces for National Liberation (“FALN”) blew up New York’s historic Fraunces Tavern during a crowded lunchtime. The FALN appointed themselves my father’s judge, jury, and executioner, profiling, targeting, and savagely murdering so-called “reactionary corporate executives.” The Connor family had planned to celebrate my ninth and my brother’s 11th birthday that very night.

17. Is any American politician more enraptured by uterine butchery than New York Governor Andrew Cuomo? He was a beaming ghoul this past week, reveling in leading the fight to pass a new law permitting legal abortion in the Empire State up to the moment of birth. Find the report by Alexandra DeSanctis here.

18. John O’Sullivan considers the particular importance of the U.S. ambassador to England, historically and in the position’s present occupant, Woody Johnson (who J O’S rates highly). From the get-go of his piece:

Are ambassadors important? Are they even necessary? Not as much as they used to be. When presidents and prime ministers can talk directly on secure “hotlines” in a crisis, an ambassador actually makes fewer significant decisions than when diplomatic letters took weeks to shuttle back and forth between capitals. That doesn’t mean they don’t matter at all. If a president respects his ambassador’s political acumen, his view of a foreign government and its policies will be influenced by ambassadorial advice. Still more important, an ambassador with a strong public personality can be an effective spokesman for his country’s policies abroad.

Few ambassadors are really good at this second role. They’re happier negotiating quietly behind the scenes than making bold statements on public platforms. But Woody Johnson, the businessman and philanthropist who is Trump’s current ambassador in the United Kingdom, is shaping up to be an exception. Though Donald Trump and his policies are not always the easiest sell in the U.K., especially in fashion-conscious and politically correct London, Johnson does more than defend them well. He also offers frank criticisms of British policy when he thinks it’s drifting in the wrong direction.

He did exactly that three weeks ago, just at the point when U.K. politics was entering its latest downwards spiral on Brexit. That was supposed to reach some sort of weary climax with a parliamentary vote on Theresa May’s deal with the EU last Tuesday. It didn’t. Though voted down by the single largest vote against a major proposal from a U.K. government in British history, the deal is still around. Mrs. May wants to tweak its controversial features and present it yet again to Brussels and the Commons. Latest estimates suggest it will be finally decided in early February, maybe seven weeks before Brexit Day, the 29th of March, when Britain is scheduled to leave the EU. But no one is certain that will happen. Resistance to it and other routes to Brexit continues among Remainers in Parliament, but May’s deal is unpopular with most Brits even in her own Tory party, in part because it would more or less prevent U.K. free-trade deals with non-EU countries such as, well, such as the United States. And this was the issue that Johnson took on during the BBC’s regular morning radio show with both barrels.

I Want That Money!

So said Max Bialystock and so say liberal academics who argue for a 70 percent tax rate. Well, in fact, they don’t admit that — but confiscating the contents of your wallet is exactly what they’re up to, as economist Ed Conard writes in this excellent NRO piece.

A Quartet of Brilliance from the February 11, 2019 Issue of National Review

Here are four articles and essays that are a sampling of collective greatness published for your fortnightly enjoyment (which you truly will enjoy, with immediacy, when you become a member of NRPLUS).

1. The cover essay, by Charlie Cooke, is a hit on “Our Vain, Languid, Excitable, Morbid, Duplicitous, Cheap, Insular, and Mawkish Media.” Otherwise titled, “Bad, Press.” From the essay:

Our national press is a national joke. Vain, languid, excitable, morbid, duplicitous, cheap, insular, mawkish, and possessed of a chronic self-obsession that would have made Dorian Gray blush, it rambles around the United States in neon pants, demanding congratulation for its travails. Not since Florence Foster Jenkins have Americans been treated to such an excruciating example of self-delusion. The most vocal among the press corps’ ranks cast themselves openly as “firefighters” when, at worst, they are pyromaniacs and, at best, they are obsequious asbestos salesmen. “You never get it right, do you?” Sybil Fawlty told Basil in Fawlty Towers. “You’re either crawling all over them licking their boots or spitting poison at them like some Benzedrine puff adder.” There is a great deal of space between apologist and bete noire. In the newsrooms of America, that space is empty.

It’s getting worse. Despite presenting an opportunity for sobriety and excellence, the election of President Donald Trump has been an unmitigated disaster for the political media, which have never reckoned with their role in Trump’s elevation and eventual selection, and which have subsequently treated his presidency as a rolling opportunity for high-octane drama, smug self-aggrandizement, and habitual sloth. I did not go to journalism school, but I find it hard to believe that even the least prestigious among those institutions teaches that the correct way to respond to explosive, unsourced reports that just happen to match your political priors is to shout “BOOM” or “BOMBSHELL” or “BIGIFTRUE” and then to set about spreading those reports around the world without so much as a cursory investigation into the details. And yet, in the Trump era, this has become the modus operandi of all but the hardest-nosed scribblers.

The pattern is now drearily familiar. First, a poorly attributed story will break — say, “SOURCE: DONALD TRUMP KILLED LEON TROTSKY BACK IN 1940.” Next, thousands of blue-check journalists, with hundreds of millions of followers between them, will send it around Twitter before they have read beyond the headline. In response to this, the cable networks will start chattering, with the excuse that, “true or not, this is going to be a big story today,” while the major newspapers will run stories that confirm the existence of the original claim but not its veracity — and, if Representative Schiff is awake, they will note that “Democrats say this must be investigated.” These signal-boosting measures will be quickly followed by “PERSPECTIVE” pieces that assume the original story is true and, worse, seek to draw “broader lessons” from it. In the New York Times this might be “The Long History of Queens Residents’ Assassinating Socialist Intellectuals”; in the Washington Post, “Toxic Capitalism: How America’s Red Hatred Explains Our Politics Today”; in The New Yorker, “I’ve Been to Mexico and Was Killed by a Pickaxe to the Head”; in Cosmopolitan, “The Specifics Don’t Matter, Men Are Guilty of Genocide.”

2. Ramesh Ponnuru looks at the aftermath of the Tucker Carlson monologue, and the many reactions it prompted, especially regarding free markets. From his essay:

Treating economic liberty as something that has value in itself does not mean that it can never be limited. In America, governments at all levels condition, regulate, and infringe on free markets in countless ways, and there are no signs this will change. The religion Carlson indicts has few real adherents. But there is a kind of mental inertia that can afflict conservatives, a habit of looking at social problems with the assumption that they are the optimal result of markets or aren’t related to markets at all, and so either way nothing worthwhile can be done. It is good, then, to be reminded that free-market principles are not absolute.

American elites deserve to have their complacency punctured, too. Our ruling class does not regard the country as a set of resources to be pillaged, which is the impression Carlson gives, but it can be awfully self-absorbed. Opioids have been killing roughly as many Americans each year as the Vietnam War did in total, and politicians and journalists have been slow even to notice. Within recent memory the country went through a severe economic crisis, a crisis brought on by bad public policies and elite misbehavior. American elites spent much of its duration obsessed with the national debt (on the right) and health care and same-sex marriage (on the left) rather than with jobs and wages. Our political life would look wholly different if either of these things were not true. Perhaps this is why Carlson’s cri de coeur felt right to many commentators even though many of its specific points do not hold up.

The specifics matter, of course. Restrictions on trade and immigration are central to the populism that Carlson mentioned in his monologue; there are compelling reasons to doubt they would be a great economic boon for Americans in distressed communities. Polls suggest that Americans have in recent years become much more supportive of trade and immigration and that few Americans consider curbs on either a high priority.

But the larger context, political and moral, matters too. The Republican voter base has become more and more working-class, and marriage is in retreat within the working class. These trends make it more imperative than ever for conservatives to do what they — and everyone, really — should always be doing: thinking harder and better about how to help families flourish.

3. Tracy Lee Simmons reviews Andrew Robert’s new mega-biography, Churchill, Walking with Destiny. From the review:

But most readers will come to this book eager to plow headlong into those years between 1935 and 1945 when Churchill’s actions elevated him from mercurially successful politician and best-selling author, historian, and journalist to national savior.

We’re walked methodically through every documented move marking Churchill’s emergence as a prophet crying in his own wilderness to warn of the threat that Hitler’s rise to power and hegemonic intentions posed to Europe. And with each move, he met greater derision — derision made all the more vigorous by his already compromised reputation for hyperbole, bluster, and bad judgment. Yet he persisted; Churchill knew how and when to shamelessly promote himself, but when his country’s fate was at stake, it was country first and only.

Half the book traces his lonely road with the resistant likes of Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain and back into power as he returned to the Admiralty, followed by his call to 10 Downing Street in May 1940, the Battle of Britain, the American alliance, the touchy relations within a coalition government, and the rest of the long slog of danger, dash, and privation the war imposed on the United Kingdom and her allies — and with it all, the courage he instilled among a bedraggled people by, as President Kennedy later put it, “mobilizing the English language and sending it into battle.” A salient point to make about 1940, Roberts says penetratingly, is not that Churchill stopped a German invasion but that he prevented the British government from negotiating an ignoble peace.

4. Jay Nordlinger has a discussion — JNo questions and JNo answers — about the arts, or, as it might be titled, The Arts. From the article:

What role does great art play in society? Some societies prize it more than others. The same is true of individuals. Not everything appeals to everybody. WFB was not much for sports. Some are not much for the Great Outdoors. Woody Allen said, “I am two with nature.” I know people in classical music who are always trying to make classical music popular. “Don’t waste your time,” I say. “There’s a reason they call pop music ‘pop music,’ you know: It’s popular.” Classical music will never be popular. But that’s all right: There will always be a minority who cherish it, and keep it going.

But everyone should have an appreciation, right? “Should” is an interesting word. In one sense, we should all have pretty prom dates and Corvettes. I think everyone should be exposed to art — and sports and science and everything else. But I learned long ago that tastes vary, and that it’s foolish to expect, or even want, others to share yours.

Lights. Cameras. Pundits.

1. Puntastic: Gotta love the title of Armond White’s new article, “The Oscars Give Themselves a Black Aye.” From his piece:

How have the Oscars changed in the nearly 30 years since Spike Lee made Do the Right Thing, his only good film, and his dumbest, BlacKkKlansman? The latter has just given Lee his first Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director — honors that fans and pundits felt were denied to him because Do the Right Thing, a folkloric screed about urban racism, was considered “too young, too black, too strong” for the Academy’s formerly hidebound traditional liberalism. (In 1989, the Academy preferred the benign race homily of Driving Miss Daisy.)

This year, Lee gets in the running for Best Activist not because BlacKkKlansman is any good, but simply because it represents the first time Lee’s on- and off-screen politics have been in sync with the mainstream media and post-Obama Hollywood. Before BlacKkKlansman, Lee played the role of querulous, peripatetic hustler; his rude, antagonistic shtick (which became a clue to his insecurities and an occasion to stoke white guilt) was always considered too black, too petulant.

Remember how, back in ’89, two New York Magazine writers (a political columnist and a film reviewer) alarmed readers, warning that Do the Right Thing would cause riots? Now, thanks to BlacKkKlansman’s tacked-on agit-prop about Charlottesville and a silly, last-minute jibe at President Trump, the film industry — like the liberal media — has convinced itself to approve the film. #Resistance encourages riots.

2. Kyle Smith looks at the Oscar nominations as an exercise in nervous Hollywood wokeness. From his piece:

The Academy is caught in a bind between the white-knuckle, sweating-at-the-temples terror it feels at the prospect of being called racially insensitive by 75 people on Twitter and its desire to draw lots of viewers and retake a privileged place in the capital of American culture from the tumbleweed exurbs where it now resides. This year, though, salvation appeared to be at hand: A lot of movies that did boffo box office — A Star Is Born, Black Panther, A Quiet Place, Mary Poppins Returns — were also seen as viable Oscar candidates. Some hoped that Crazy Rich Asians or even Mission: Impossible — Fallout might be invited to the dance, too.

How did all this work out? So-so. A Star Is Born and Black Panther did indeed get Best Picture nominations as did the surprise blockbuster Bohemian Rhapsody, which as recently as two months ago appeared to have no chance whatsoever of edging its way into that conversation. (This is because the film is obviously not one of the best of the year, and also because it was directed by an alleged sexual predator, Bryan Singer, who was fired during shooting.) But neither A Star Is Born nor Black Panther was nominated for Best Director, indicating that the Academy isn’t head-over-heels about either. And all of the other audience-pleasers were rejected: A Quiet Place, Mary Poppins Returns and Crazy Rich Asians got no important nominations whatsoever. Instead, the slate of nominees filled up with movies audiences either haven’t liked (the strange Queen Anne lesbian comedy The Favourite, the let’s-laugh-at-Dick-Cheney’s-heart-attacks movie Vice) or have been tepid about (Green Book, BlacKkKlansman). Roma, a slow-moving black-and-white Netflix drama in Spanish with no stars which received a token theatrical release, tied for the lead with ten nominations.

3. Armond has immense praise for Jean-Luc Godard’s The Image Book. From his piece:

As Godard’s montage moves from culture to culture, through different eras of reportage and make-believe, The Image Book considers nothing less than the irony of classical art in competition with political reality. It’s a poetic analysis that achieves its power through metaphor and allusion, linking not-random images to specific mythic resonance: There’s the breathtaking “Lie to me” scene from Johnny Guitar; personalized literary references to Orpheus returning from his long journey; Henry Fonda discovering a law book in Young Mr. Lincoln, then pacing a jail cell in The Wrong Man; a lance piercing the body of Fritz Lang’s hero in Siegfried, then a similar lance thrown through Jean Cocteau’s body in The Testament of Orpheus.

Godard describes how images like these “dazzle our eyes with the transformation of reality,” but then his global sophistication forces him to structure his survey so that Western culture (“Under Western Eyes”) faces the incursion of the Middle East (“Arabia: Lost Paradise”). This section introduces a different montage style — disquieting images of deprivation, terrorism, Arab porn, female subjugation, even Obama smiling with a Saudi prince — that combines exoticism with agitation. (“Why dream of being king when you can dream of being Faust?”) Godard’s international-politics montage reaches for some kind of elusive, prophetic meaning. It’s facile at a higher level than other political punditry, but it’s also personally accountable and expressive — as when new shakey-cam technology is linked to his own hand painting a landscape.

The Six

1. At Reason, Richard Rothstein pens a troubling essay about the historic role of the federal government in ensuring segregation in housing. From his piece:

By the mid-1950s, housing projects for whites had many unoccupied units, while those for African Americans had long waiting lists. Eventually, as whites continued to leave the inner cities, almost all public housing was opened to African Americans.

At about the same time, industry began to leave urban centers. Automakers, for example, closed many downtown assembly plants and relocated to rural and suburban areas to which African-American workers had less access. Good urban jobs became scarcer and public housing residents became poorer. A program that originally addressed a middle-class housing shortage became a way to warehouse the poor.

Why did white-designated projects develop vacancies while black-designated ones faced more demand than supply? The disparity largely resulted from an FHA program that guaranteed loans to builders of working-class suburban subdivisions — with explicit requirements that black families be excluded and that house deeds prohibit resale to them.

This was not an act of rogue bureaucrats. It was written policy, in blatant violation of the Fifth, 13th, and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Federal Housing Administration published a manual used by real estate appraisers nationwide, specifying that loans for suburban development could not be federally subsidized if an “inharmonious racial group” would be present or was already nearby. Suburbs like Levittown (east of New York City), Lakewood (south of Los Angeles), San Lorenzo (across the Bay from San Francisco), and hundreds of others were created in this way, ensuring their racial homogeneity and isolation.

After World War II, the white novelist Wallace Stegner was recruited to teach writing at Stanford University. Given the housing shortage, he could find no place for his family to live, so he joined a cooperative of 150 families that bought a large ranch adjoining the university with a plan to build 400 homes. Banks, however, would not extend loans for such subdivisions without a federal guarantee — the construction of so many houses for which there were yet no buyers with approved mortgages was just too risky. And the federal government would not guarantee the Stegner project because three of the 150 families were African-American. The co-op refused to expel its black families, disbanding instead. A private developer purchased the land and, with FHA support, built an all-white subdivision in its place, complete with federally mandated deed restrictions prohibiting resale to black families.

2. In the New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof praises Cuba’s health-care system, which blogger John Suarez debunks at Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter. From his post:

Cuba has a two tiered health care system one tier for the nomenklatura and foreign tourists with hard currency that offers care with modern equipment and fully stocked pharmacies, then there is a second tier which is for the rest  with broken down equipment, run down buildings and rooms, scarce supplies, a lack of hygiene, the denial of certain services and lengthy wait times. Healthcare professionals are poorly paid and lack food.

On December 28, 2017 the Spanish news service EFE reported that the Castro regime had dismantled a network of medical officials and workers who’d adulterated a medicine for children made at the laboratories of the state-owned drug company BioCubaFarma. They replaced the active substance methylphenidate with a placebo substance in the manufacture of the drug marketed as “Ritalin.” The active substance was sold on the black market. Nevertheless, The Miami Herald had an article touting the importance of importing drugs from Cuba on December 14th.

The statistics and numbers that the international community has access to with relation to the Cuban healthcare system have been manipulated by the dictatorship. Katherine Hirschfeld, an anthropologist, in Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898 describes how her idealistic preconceptions were dashed by ‘discrepancies between rhetoric and reality,’ she observed a repressive, bureaucratized and secretive system, long on ‘militarization’ and short on patients’ rights.

Hat Tip to the good people of Babalu Blog.

3. At the Wall Street Journal, my old NR colleague Bill McGurn takes on the shaming of Second Lady Karen Pence, who has the nerve to be a Christian-school teacher. From his column:

In the narrow sense, the vilification of Mrs. Pence makes prophetic Justice Samuel Alito’s prediction in his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision throwing out all state laws against same-sex marriage. Justice Alito saw a perilous future for those who still embraced the view Mr. Obama once claimed to hold. “I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes,” he wrote, “but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”

In the larger sense the faith-shaming of Mrs. Pence exposes an inversion of tropes. In history and literature, typically it has been the religious side that can’t tolerate the slightest disagreement from its dogma and behaves like outraged 17th-century Salemites when they think they have uncovered a witch.

Now look at the Immanuel Christian School. Those who run it know they and those who think like them are the big losers in America’s culture war. All they ask is to be allowed, within the confines of their community, to uphold 2,000 years of Christian teaching on marriage, sexuality and the human person.

4. In the new issue of Commentary, economist James Pethokoukis makes the case for growth, and the rightward rhetoric against it. From his article:

Yet a growing number of policymakers and pundits on the left and right are questioning the primacy of growth as the key objective of national economic policy. Democrats and progressives are focused on new policies to redistribute wealth, such as Medicare for all, a federal jobs guarantee, or a universal basic income. Meanwhile, Republicans and conservatives, grappling with a president who questions the value of free trade and immigration, have grown publicly skeptical of market capitalism. “The free market has been sorting it out for a while, and America has been losing,” said Vice President Mike Pence. And they have become skeptical of the core goal of increasing economic growth.

Leading the charge among the wonks is Oren Cass, a Manhattan Institute scholar and former policy director for the 2012 Mitt Romney presidential campaign. In his new book, The Once and Future Worker, Cass writes that although “economic growth and rising material living standards are laudable goals . . . they by no means guarantee the health of a labor market that will meet society’s long-term needs.”

Growth skeptics’ criticisms range from the ahistorical to the utopian. Of course, a fast-rising tide of economic growth does not guarantee that all boats will rise at the same pace or at a pace that society deems sufficient. “Guarantee,” after all, is a strong word. Depending on the strength one attributes to it, it’s possible nothing can “guarantee” the outcome that some growth critics want: all winners, no losers, no trade-offs, no disruption. But if by “guarantee” we don’t mean “ensure with ironclad certainty” but only “approximate more closely than any available alternative,” then economic growth remains society’s best bet. Indeed, this very urge to undervalue growth’s benefits is the surest sign that growth in America has become a victim of its own success.

5. At Gatestone Institute, Lawrence Franklin bemoans the Vatican’s capitulation to Red China. From his piece:

After a series of recent meetings between the Holy See and China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs, Pope Francis dispatched a delegation in mid-December to meet with leading bishops of the pro-Vatican “Underground Church” and Chinese government officials. The delegation was ostensibly in China to pursue “practical steps” to implement the provisional agreement the Holy See had reached with China.

In reality, the Papal delegation may have been sent to China to make certain that the agreement’s final implementation proceeded smoothly. The delegation included the Vatican’s President-Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli. The Archbishop carried a document signed by the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin and by Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

The delegation’s Papal directive instructed at least two prominent Catholic bishops of the “Underground Church” to retire or share their official duties with bishops approved by the CCP. While the exact wording of the Holy See’s letter remains secret, some Vatican observers, presumably reflecting the Pope’s decision to reverse years of resisting Beijing’s demands, cited a few reasons for giving in. First, the Church probably needs to eliminate confusion among Catholics in China over the schism between Vatican-approved and regime-approved bishops. Another possible reason for the Vatican’s apparent flexible stance is that a Church-state compromise would be necessary to improve pastoral care for existing Catholic faithful. The decision by the Vatican not to publish the letter, however, may suggest that the regime is also demanding that the Holy See break relations with Taiwan before it can normalize diplomatic ties to China. This supposition is based on the character of Beijing’s previous agreements establishing bilateral relations with other countries, including Panama. Other countries that cut ties to Taiwan in order to open up embassies in China include the tiny African country of São Tomé and Principe as well as El Salvador. The prerequisite that states desiring formal ties with China must first sever formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan rests on Beijing calls its “One China” policy.

6. Richard Reinsch has a very interesting University Bookman review of the Michael Federici-edited book, The Catholic Writings of Orestes Brownson, using it to discuss the question of Catholic loyalty to America. From the review’s outset:

A question that most had thought long answered has returned to stir and prick the conscience of faithful Catholics in America: How loyal to America should they be? This question has been renewed primarily because of contemporary controversies over marriage and religious freedom, and a palpable sense that when the Democratic Party again wields unified federal power it will harass and go after Catholic institutions should they fail to bow to the latest iterations of sexual liberation and identity politics. These political battles have sparked a number of recent essays and books from post-liberal Catholic thinkers who say that America’s origins are rooted in the worst aspects of liberal modernity: secularism, individualism, materialism, and relativism. America’s undoing is largely inevitable, they argue, owing to the philosophic, anthropological, and political errors that have shaped it, and what we are presently witnessing is the beginning of this fated end. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s string of judicial opinions that highlighted a self-defining liberty rooted in emancipated human will serves as a revealing coda to an American constitutionalism breathing its most pure expression.

But other Catholic minds have asked, must we hope against all practical judgment for the return of some neo-medieval unity of church and state, as the integralists are at pains to teach us? Are we really stuck with wishing for a modern day Ruth to capture the administrative state to protect Catholics, as Adrian Vermeule seemed recently to be counseling in American Affairs? Should we just wait it out with our local Tridentine Latin Mass community, Benedict Option style? Others, more historically minded, have asked, have we been here before?

BONUS: Writing for The American Conservative, James Jeffrey shares his jades experiences as a reporter with NGOs and UN workers in Africa. Read it here.


Mariano Rivera, the . . . hitter. The new Hall of Famer pitched in 1,115 games (1,211 when you include the postseason), but chalked up a measly four hitless regular-season plate appearances. And one RBI! In a June 28, 2009 game against the Mets at Citi Field, Mo came in to pitch in the bottom of the 8th inning. In the top of the 9th, the Yankees (ahead 3-2) had two on with two outs, and the Mets’ All-Star reliever, Francisco Rodriguez, intentionally walked Derek Jeter to load the bases, in order to pitch to Rivera. He walked, driving in an insurance run. The Sandman shut down the Mets in the bottom of the inning to earn his 18th save of the season. Kudos to one of the National Pastime’s truly great citizens.

Twenty Lashes with a Wet Noodle

In the previous edition of this missive, your Humble Correspondent wrote in the P.S. “If I am not laying on the driveway clutching my chest with one hand . . .” Several grammarians, readers of this thingy, wrote to set me straight about the correct usage of lay and lie. I won’t tell you who or whom wrote. Their efforts are appreciated but in effect pointless, as I will never get the hung or hang of the distinction.

A Dios

Pray for National Review. Even Mo had blown saves. Also pray that my knowledge of grammar and punctuation grows. And that my waistline shrinks. And that Tony Oliva gets elected and admitted to the Hall of Fame someday.

God’s blessings on You and Yours,

Jack Fowler

Who for his sins will accept your lashings and diatribes and snide remarks if emailed to

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