Trump’s Bold Defense of America

by Conrad Black

From my most recent NRO article, about President Trump’s U.N. speech: “There is no reason for Trump to certify Iranian compliance with Obama’s shameful nuclear green-light agreement with Iran.”

Whether you agree or disagree, your comments are, as always, most welcome.

Trump Ticks Up

by Rich Lowry

And I mean, tick. But Trump is looking a little better in the latest raft of polls. His standing is not exactly robust, but the last couple of weeks show that the competent response to the hurricanes, the bipartisan dalliance with Democrats, and the avoidance of incendiary controversies have helped him.

Erdogan’s Goons . . .

by Rich Lowry

 . . . are at it again. As someone suggested on Twitter, we should really stop letting him bring his muscle into the country, but especially given Trump’s warm words for him, that’s never going to happen.

‘Sovereignty Is Not a Dirty Word’

by Rich Lowry

I wrote today for Politico about the reaction to Trump’s emphasis on sovereignty in his UN speech:

There’s no doubt that there’s a tension in Trump’s emerging foreign policy that couples traditional Republican thinking with his own instinctive nationalism. But he outlined a few key expectations in the speech.

He said, repeatedly, that we want “strong and independent nations” committed to promoting “security, prosperity and peace.” And we look for nations “to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”

Every country that Trump criticized fails one or both of these tests. So, by the way, do Russia and China. Hence Trump’s oblique criticism of their aggression: “We must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea.”

Trump’s standards aren’t drawn out of thin air. A consistent nationalist believes in the right of every nation to govern itself. Moreover, modern nationalism developed alongside the idea of popular sovereignty — i.e., the people have the right to rule, and the state is their agent, not the other way around. This is why the rise of nationalism was the worst thing to happen to dynastic rulers in Europe.

Regulate Embryo Research Before Too Late

by Wesley J. Smith

Scientists have successfully cloned human embryos using the same technique that created Dolly the sheep, potentially transforming human reproduction into a matter of manufacture and quality control.

Scientists have learned to genetically engineer any organism or cell through a technique known as CRISPR. This may be the most potentially dangerous human invention since the atomic bomb. 

Scientists are pursuing making “three-parent” embryos, toward the purpose of avoiding genetic disease, but also with the potential to create novel family forms.

And now, scientists are making human “embryoids”–cell formations that are not viable organisms–from stem cells, but which may be a step before making human organisms. From the MIT Technology Review story:

Scientists at Michigan now have plans to manufacture embryoids by the hundreds. These could be used to screen drugs to see which cause birth defects, find others to increase the chance of pregnancy, or to create starting material for lab-generated organs.

But ethical and political quarrels may not be far behind. “This is a hot new frontier in both science and bioethics. And it seems likely to remain contested for the coming years,” says Jonathan Kimmelman, a member of the bioethics unit at McGill University, in Montreal, and a leader of an international organization of stem-cell scientists.

Science isn’t the be all and end all. As one scientists notes, ethics matter too:

We decided yes, we are trying to grow a structure similar to part of the human early embryo that is hard otherwise to study,” says Shao. “But we are not going to generate a complete human embryo. I can’t just consider my feelings. I have to think about society.”

Thank you. But at least one scientist insists he won’t stop until he develops a human organism via this means:

Other scientists, however, are determined to see just how far the science leads, up to and including forging the first complete human embryo from stem cells. That’s the case of Ali Brivanlou, an embryologist who leads a lab at Rockefeller University, in New York City. “My goal is to maximize the modeling, in vitro, of human development,” Brivanlou wrote in an e-mail. “Therefore, we would like to be as accurate as possible and as complete as possible.”

These are potentially epochal developments. But where are the democratic discussions about whether and how to regulate these technologies?

They aren’t happening. Nobody outside the biotech and bioethics sectors are even talking about this.

And where is a presidential advisory commission to debate these matters? (I have urged a “populist bioethics commission,” made up of diverse voices, not a “stacked deck” rubber-stamping body.)  It doesn’t exist.

Indeed, President Trump seems not to even be aware that biotech and bioethics are urgent policy concerns.

Every powerful human enterprise needs checks and balances. At present, outside of government funding issues, they almost don’t exist.

That needs to change. Because if we don’t begin to grapple as a society with these embryo-biotech issues soon, it will be too late.

Today’s Intellectually-Challenged College Protestors

by Hans A. von Spakovsky

Last night, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (with the assistance of the student Libertarian and Republican clubs) staged a debate at the University of Pittsburgh on immigration. The question: “Are Trump’s Immigration Policies Harming America?”

I was there to argue in favor of enforcing our immigration laws and the policies being implemented by the president. The other side was ably represented by Alex Nowrasteh of the CATO Institute. Alex and I almost entirely disagree on this issue, but we were able to do something that is unfortunately becoming rare on college campuses: engage in a substantive, professional, and civil debate on a contentious issue — a debate in which we stuck to the issue and avoided personal attacks on each other’s motives or character.

The moderator was Paul Kengor, an intellectual heavyweight who has written numerous books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism and his latest, A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century.

The room at the William Pitt Union building was packed. Of course, as seems inevitable on the modern university campus, we had a handful of protestors intent on disrupting the debate. As they started their protests, Kengor interrupted them to point out the absurdity of what they were doing. This wasn’t a one-sided presentation, he told them; this was a debate in which both sides were being argued and discussed.

What was so bizarre — and evidence that these protestors weren’t really interested in what was being said in the debate — is that they were at their loudest when Alex was speaking. Alex thinks most of Trump’s policies are wrong, which is the side the protestors were apparently taking, and yet they were interrupting the guy arguing for their side.

A number of protestors also stood up after putting cone hats on their heads – the kind of hats six-year-old kids wear at birthday parties – and then attempted to loudly play kazoos. What did they think they were achieving? Did they really think such infantile behavior helped advance their side of the argument and persuaded folks in the audience that they have the correct substantive view on immigration issues?

All the protestors did was annoy the audience, the overwhelming majority of whom were civil and polite and actually listening to the arguments of the debaters. And the audience members — undergraduate students — asked intelligent, germane questions during the question-and-answer period.

If the childish and thoughtless behavior of the protestors, however, was indicative of the type of intellectual rigor and cultural behavior being taught in our classrooms today, this country is indeed in trouble.

Oyez, Oyez: Get the Primo SCOTUS Preview

by Jack Fowler

As has happened now for the past three years, National Review Institute and Pacific Legal Foundation will once again host an expert-led preview of the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court term: “The Consequential Cases in the Supreme Court’s 2017–18 Term” will take place on Friday, September 29, from noon to 1:00 p.m. at the offices of Jones Day (300 New Jersey Avenue, NW, on the Senate side of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.).

NRI senior fellow Ramesh Ponnuru will moderate a panel including constitutional law heavyweights Michael A. Carvin, John P. Elwood, and Donald B. Verrilli Jr. They’ll review the major cases on the no-vacancies High Court’s docket (which include challenges to the Trump administration’s travel ban, gerrymandering, warrantless cell-phone tracking, Christian bakers’ First Amendment rights, and other high-profile cases with significant economic, environmental, and administrative-law implications). Did I mention that there will be food served? RSVP here.

The Uses of History

by Andrew Stuttaford

When it comes to the crimes of communism there has been a dangerous forgetting  (to ascribe this phenomenon to simple forgetfulness is to imply too passive a process: Much of this failure of historical memory has been engineered).

Roger Scruton, writing in The Spectator:

Monuments to the victims of Nazism and fascism exist all across the continent. But communism’s millions of victims are remembered hardly at all. One standard history of modern times, widely used in our schools, praises the Russian Revolution as aiming at ‘the complete destruction of the Russian and European bourgeoisie’, necessary for ‘the victory of socialism’. This history (Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Extremes) does not mention the abolition of the law courts, or the establishment of the Cheka (the secret police), or the vicious expropriations that destroyed the Russian economy, or the mass starvation inflicted on the Ukrainian peasants. It is inadmissible for a historian to write in any but disgusted terms of the Nazi destruction of the Jews; but the equally cruel ‘destruction of the bourgeoisie’ can be described in terms of unqualified approval.

When Hobsbawm died in 2012, I wrote a bit about him here and noted that:

[Hobsbawm] was never really called to any sort of intellectual or social account for his prolonged support for a cult/religion/philosophy/ideology (call it what you will) that revolves around purification by slaughter. Instead he was honored. To repeat the list I mentioned earlier today: New School for Social Research, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Royal Society of Literature, Stanford, King’s College, Cambridge, the British Academy, Companion of Honour, etc., etc.

Here’s what Tony Blair, noisy man of ‘faith’ and, allegedly, a fighter for Western values, had written about Hobsbawm just the day before:

He was a giant of progressive politics history, someone who influenced a whole generation of political and academic leaders. He wrote history that was intellectually of the highest order but combined with a profound sense of compassion and justice. And he was a tireless agitator for a better world.

Ah, a ‘better world’: the excuse of murderous millenarians for a long, long, time.


[I]t is surely time to establish museums devoted to the Marxist legacy. We have a model, indeed, in the House of Terror, established in Budapest in 2002 under the directorship of Maria Schmidt. This commemorates the victims of both fascism and communism, and has been controversial for that very reason. Even in Hungary, leftist intellectuals tell us that the two evils cannot be compared, and that to commemorate their victims in a single museum is to deny their most important difference: that the aims of communism were good, those of fascism bad. It is precisely in order to counter that kind of apology that Maria Schmidt has turned the same light on both ideologies. The aim of both, she insists, was the same. What difference does it make that one focused its resentment on the Jews, the other on the bourgeoisie, when the primary aim was in both cases the mass murder of their victims?

There were (in my view) differences between the two categories of mass murderer, differences  that  matter, but let’s be clear, the aims of communism were not good. Like other millenarians, including the Nazis (millenarians of a sort themselves), communists believed in creating a ‘better world’ for their definition of the Saved. The Nazis wanted a better world for the master race, communists wanted a better world for the suitably cleansed ‘masses’, better worlds (which would, in reality, be anything but) built on the bones of the slaughtered millions who did not make the grade.

Looking at the current political situation in the UK, where under-40s are enthused by a Labour Party led by men who are not democrats in any credible form, and who essentially believe in variants of old time communism, Scruton is concerned:

As the Momentum movement [a militant organization that operates within Labour] seduces more and more people towards historical oblivion and utopian exultancy, the need for a programme of public education about these matters is ever more urgent. But I fear that it may be too late.

And this is not, of course, a problem confined to Britain. Take the time to read a fine essay on Camille Paglia by Mark Bauerlein in First Things.

An extract:

Paglia believes there is a causal connection between young Americans’ ignorance of history and their dim view of present conditions. At a conference in Oxford, Paglia stated again, in response to a student who criticized her and others for telling youths not to be so sensitive and snowflaky, “There is much too much focus on the present.” Thanks to the (presumed) sensitivity of modern youth, Paglia says, students have not had a “realistic introduction to the barbarities of human history . . . . Ancient history must be taught . . . . I believe in introducing young people to the disasters of history.” Without that background, she implies, our only standard of appraising current circumstances is current circumstances plus a few utopian dreams.

Yes, build museums to the horrors of Communism (I’d recommend the Occupation Museums in Riga and Tallinn as  well as Budapest’s House of Terror), but teach history properly too in schools. For the facts wherever they may lead, for history’s often uncomfortable truths about human nature, and for history’s warnings about the temptations of Utopia, and where they lead.

Autumnal Essays

by Yuval Levin

It’s the first day of fall, and that means the Fall 2017 issue of National Affairs is here.
Among the offerings this time are Mike Petrilli on a key dividing line in the school choice movement, Eli Lehrer and Catherine Moyer on how to get more men working, Yishai Schwartz on the case for corporate patriotism, Arthur Rizer on the imperative of jail reform, Seth Kaplan on how to understand social disintegration, Ramon Lopez on answering the alt-right, Ruth Wisse on campus anti-Semitism, Bradford Tuckfield on academia’s reality problem, Matthew Rose on the meaning of liberal education, Greg Weiner on Federalist 10 in the 21st century, and Adam White on Antonin Scalia’s philosophy of legal education.
Some are free to all, others only to subscribers, and here is where you can subscribe. 

The Government Shouldn’t Collect Private Financial Information from America’s Poor

by Carrie Lukas

One area of agreement, in principle at least, between the Left and the Right is that it’s a problem when the government collects too much data from citizens and invades Americans’ privacy. 

That’s why new rules that mean that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will begin collecting huge volumes of personal financial information should concern everyone. 

The CFPB, which was created under Dodd-Frank supposedly to protect consumers and prevent the next big financial crisis, is now being used to try to discourage payday lending, vehicle title, and certain high-cost installment loans.  The rule will require customers applying for a small-dollar loan – the average of which is $350 — to submit extensive personal financial information in support of their applications. In addition to determining a customer’s ability to repay the loan, the lenders will be required to share this information with each credit reporting agency (CRA) registered with the Bureau.

This a big barrier for borrowers who depend on these loans as a lifeline.  And, yes, these loans have high interest rates so come at a big cost to borrowers, but they are also often the best option for people facing a financial crisis.  Effectively eliminating these borrowing options won’t mean that people in need won’t take out loans, but they will find other worse ways to fill their needs.  .  . . or fall further into debt and crisis.

And just as importantly, this new requirement will mean the government has a huge database of financial information on this class of borrowers – who are disproportionately minority and lower-income.  With this data all in one place, it will be vulnerable to a potential hack.

And hacks happen.  In July, Equifax, a leading credit-reporting agency that collects personal financial information on most Americans, admitted it was hacked, meaning that the sensitive personal data, including Social Security numbers, addresses, and credit card numbers, of more than 140 million people was put at risk.  And just this week the SEC reported a hack.  Now government will have a new pool of data for hackers to try to infiltrate.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute just today released a paper outlining many reasons why the CFPB needs fundamental reform.  Congress should take this seriously, and not allow this deeply flawed entity to increase its power and collect even more private data from vulnerable communities of Americans. 






Was Alexander Hamilton a Zombie? Experts Say No

by Theodore Kupfer

A new development in the case of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Trump, a case that is pending before the District Court of New York, makes it clear that some lawyers have taken to mendacity to advance their political objectives — or that their political objectives blinker them to reality.

The plaintiffs allege that President Trump is in violation of the Presidential Emoluments Clause and the Foreign Emoluments Clause. Their claim is that both clauses forbid the president from receiving “anything of value,” whether “monetary or nonmonetary” from domestic or foreign governments, and that Trump’s business profits, some of which have come from foreign governments, render him ineligible to hold office. Among their supporters are several prominent legal scholars and historians, including attorneys Laurence H. Tribe and Jed Shugerman.

But the evidence is that the founders never meant the Foreign Emoluments Clause to apply to the president. In an amicus brief filed on behalf of attorney Seth Barrett Tillman, attorney Josh Blackman noted that “our Founding-era presidents openly received diplomatic gifts from foreign governments.” In 1792, Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury, wrote a report listing all who hold an office of profit or trust under the United States — the relevant criterion for the Foreign Emoluments Clause — that did not include the president. That report was signed by Hamilton, and is called “The Complete Report.” In an op-ed for the New York Times, Tillman and Blackman explain their position:

As understood at the time of the framing, only appointed officers hold such positions. In contrast, elected officials do not hold office under the United States, and thus the president is not bound by the clause.

Against this interpretation, the plaintiffs and their amici have cited another document purportedly signed by Hamilton called “The Condensed Report.” The document has Hamilton’s signature, and lists the president as an officeholder, implying that the founders indeed understood the president to be subject to the Foreign Emoluments Clause.

Here’s the problem: The document was drafted after Hamilton died.

Five experts — two of whom are leading authenticators of founding-era documents, and three of whom are Hamilton scholars — have found that the provenance of “The Condensed Report” is not what the plaintiffs said. The document is a scrivener’s copy of “The Complete Report.” It contains references to a book that was not published until 1820. The apparent signature of Hamilton was, in the words of authenticator John P. Kaminski, “clearly not written by Hamilton himself. Rather, the words ‘Alexander Hamilton’ were written by the same scrivener who transcribed The Condensed Report.” (Amusingly, Kaminski, who edits The Documentary History of the Constitution, has been cited by the plaintiffs in the past.)

This isn’t a groundbreaking discovery, either. The editors of the Hamilton Papers, a volume compiling every document ever signed by Hamilton, were aware of this document and declined to include it. Their interpretation comports with Kaminski’s: “The Complete Report” is authentic; “The Condensed Report” is a copy.

Tribe called the discovery of “The Condensed Report” “devastating,” and Shugerman suggested that Tillman and Blackman ought to retract their brief. One wonders why these two eminent legal scholars were so eager to embrace something that would not hold up to scrutiny.

Tax Cuts Are Tax Reform

by Ramesh Ponnuru

A lot of the commentary about Republican tax legislation posits a distinction between “tax cuts” and “tax reform,” the idea being that the latter scales back distortionary tax breaks and is therefore both harder and more virtuous.

I’m all for ending such tax breaks. But the value of a tax deduction depends on the tax rate to which it applies. The mortgage-interest deduction, to take an important example, is worth more to someone paying a 43 percent tax rate (the effective rate for some taxpayers today) than someone paying a 28 percent rate (the top rate after the 1986 reform). It follows that the deduction does less to distort economic activity at the lower rate, too.

The distinction between tax reform and tax cuts is not a hard-and-fast one.

A Bogus Health-Care Number from the Center for American Progress

by Dan McLaughlin

A new analysis by Avalere Health, funded by the left-wing Center for American Progress, is making headlines for supposedly finding that Graham-Cassidy would cut $4 trillion in health care funding to states through 2036. Outlets like CNBC and Axios have led their stories with the $4 trillion number in the headline. But it’s fundamentally dishonest and anti-democratic.

The study finds a $215 billion-over-seven-years reduction in spending from 2020-2026, but then jumps up to $489 billion when one more year is added, and ends up at $4.15 trillion by 2036. Why? Because Graham-Cassidy provides funding through 2026, then requires an affirmative reauthorization of the block grants after that. Avalere treats that “funding cliff” as if Congress has barred future funding. (“As the bill does not appropriate block grant funding to states after 2026, Avalere does not assume any state block grant funding available from 2027 onwards.”) Even over the full 17-year time horizon, as CAP Health Care analyst Topher Spiro confirmed to me on Twitter, the study assumes $1 trillion in cuts from the changed funding formula, meaning that 75% of the projected “cuts” are attributable entirely to the program requiring further authorization by Congress by 2026.

You could hardly ask for a better illustration of the upside-down perspective of Beltway insiders: the idea that it’s a “cut” in federal spending to ever ask the House of Representatives to vote on it again. Liberal/progressive writers have expressed alarm that a massive category of the federal budget should ever again require the affirmative approval of the people’s Representatives. Yet, that’s precisely how our government was designed to function – indeed, the Framers of the Constitution expressly argued that the need to go back to the House year after year for funding was among the most essential safeguards of democracy and popular liberty in the entire document.

Article I of the Constitution provides that “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives” (Sec. 7), that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law” (Sec. 9), and specifically provided with regard to the army that Congress would have power “To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years” (Sec. 8). While nothing in Article I expressly prohibited appropriations other than for raising armies from extending more than a year or two, it was broadly assumed and argued at the time that the House’s power over raising revenues, combined with the fact that the entire House stands for re-election every two years, meant that no money would be spent that wasn’t affirmatively appropriated by the current House majority. As Madison argued in Federalist No. 58, this was the centerpiece of the House’s power over the other, indirectly-elected branches:

The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation of the people gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.

In Federalist No. 41, Madison argued that allowing two-year appropriations for raising armies was reasonable, given that the House would turn over after that: 

Next to the effectual establishment of the Union, the best possible precaution against danger from standing armies is a limitation of the term for which revenue may be appropriated to their support. This precaution the Constitution has prudently added…take notice of an argument against this part of the Constitution, which has been drawn from the policy and practice of Great Britain. It is said that the continuance of an army in that kingdom requires an annual vote of the legislature; whereas the American Constitution has lengthened this critical period to two years. This is the form in which the comparison is usually stated to the public: but is it a just form? Is it a fair comparison? Does the British Constitution restrain the parliamentary discretion to one year? Does the American impose on the Congress appropriations for two years? On the contrary, it cannot be unknown to the authors of the fallacy themselves, that the British Constitution fixes no limit whatever to the discretion of the legislature, and that the American ties down the legislature to two years, as the longest admissible term.

Had the argument from the British example been truly stated, it would have stood thus: The term for which supplies may be appropriated to the army establishment, though unlimited by the British Constitution, has nevertheless, in practice, been limited by parliamentary discretion to a single year. Now, if in Great Britain, where the House of Commons is elected for seven years; where so great a proportion of the members are elected by so small a proportion of the people; where the electors are so corrupted by the representatives, and the representatives so corrupted by the Crown, the representative body can possess a power to make appropriations to the army for an indefinite term, without desiring, or without daring, to extend the term beyond a single year, ought not suspicion herself to blush, in pretending that the representatives of the United States, elected FREELY by the WHOLE BODY of the people, every SECOND YEAR, cannot be safely intrusted with the discretion over such appropriations, expressly limited to the short period of TWO YEARS? 

The insistence that the spending power should be designed to require affirmative votes by Congress on a continuing basis was one of great practical urgency to the Framers, drawn – as Madison himself suggests – from the British experience. The great structural battle in British government in the 17th century was over whether the Crown could raise and spend money without calling up Parliament to provide it, or without calling for elections to a new Parliament. Efforts by Charles II and his successor, James II, to fund the government without new Parliamentary elections were one of the major triggers for the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89. The British “Bill of Rights” agreed by William III and Mary II as a condition of accepting the Crown after deposing James II required that the Crown would call regular Parliamentary elections to provide fresh popular support for any funds provided to the monarch.

This effectively constrained future British monarchs, and the colonists’ most prominent grievance leading up to the American Revolution was their exclusion from participating in the legitimizing role of new Parliaments in taxing and spending – thus, “no taxation without representation.” By contrast, the French monarchy had operated with financial independence that allowed it to avoid calling the Estates General between 1626 and 1789, and by the time of the drafting of the Constitution, the resulting profligate spending by successive French kings had led the nation into an existential financial crisis that would soon plunge it into Revolution.

Thus, while Article I did not prohibit permanent or multiyear appropriations outside of the area of funding armies, it was designed to keep spending on a short leash to avoid the growth of monarchical powers that could develop when the Executive could simply keep spending money without returning to Congress – in particular, the biennially-elected House – for continuing popular legitimation. This was seen as vital to the public’s sense that they controlled their government – a sense that has been slipping away badly in recent years. 

By 2017, of course, we have wandered far afield from the notion that the House’s permission should be required to spend money on any particular thing; today, at most, the House can either try to repeal spending measures (in which case it is powerless without the cooperation of both the Senate and the President), or to use some other form of leverage to bring them to the table, such as the debt ceiling or a shutdown of the entire government. Using the debt ceiling and continuing-resolution votes, which almost alone in the federal budgetary process require continual affirmative House votes, as the mechanism for exercising the popular control of the House over the budget are backwards and terribly blunt instruments, but they are nearly all that remains to the people’s House (which is why it is so alarming to see President Trump trade the debt ceiling power away in exchange for essentially nothing). The power of the purse is the power to simply refuse to act – and if the House can no longer exercise that power alone, it is not really in charge of its own core reason for existing.

So no, Graham-Cassidy doesn’t cut $4 trillion in spending. It just provides that the American people’s Representatives will need to be asked again, nearly a decade from now, to continue funding. If that’s too much democracy for you to handle, that says more about your view of  whether a popularly elected government, accountable to the people on an ongoing basis, should really be trusted to run the country.

Is Kim Jong-Un a Rational Actor?

by Reihan Salam

Observers around the Web have decried Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric on North Korea — particularly his threat at the United Nations to destroy the country and use of the term “Rocket Man” to refer to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — as bringing the United States closer to nuclear war. Bashing the president has fast become our new national pastime, and I’ve certainly been critical of him myself. But the charge that he is hastening the nuclear apocalypse doesn’t really stick.

It is possible that Kim, listening to the U.N. speech from some bunker in Pyongyang, flew into a rage and ordered his generals and scientists to press forward with the nuclear program even faster than they already are, preparing the missiles for launch as soon as they are ready.

However, if he did so, it would imply that, as he observes the American president, Kim is making somewhat sophisticated calculations about Trump’s future behavior. “Trump,” Kim might think, “is serious about toppling my regime in a way that President Barack Obama never was, so I should build up my nuclear capability now to deter him. Or maybe Trump is simply unstable and undeterrable, so my best bet is to arm myself to the hilt. Or perhaps the American president is being honest when he says that the United States ‘will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea’ if ‘it is forced to defend itself or its allies.’ In that case, it might make sense for me to walk as close to the brink as possible without going over so that I can extract maximal concessions from South Korea and China.”

If Kim is sensitive to external signals such as Trump’s speech, though, then it would imply that he is at least somewhat rational. In that case, he would understand that launching his nukes would lead to the annihilation of his family, his regime, and his country. It would also imply that he would like to avoid such a demise. Simply put, if Kim is rational, Trump’s remarks carry less weight.

It is possible that Kim is not rational — that he is hell-bent on developing and deploying nuclear weapons and will test and deploy each new technology as soon as it is ready. In that case, too, whatever Trump says to a convocation of world leaders in some hall in New York doesn’t matter all that much.

My suspicion, or should I say my hope, is that Kim is indeed rational, as the Stanford political scientist Scott Sagan has argued in Foreign Affairs. If he’s not, well, Trump’s intemperate rhetoric shouldn’t be our chief concern.

The Lion of Berkeley

by Jay Nordlinger

I have done a podcast — a Q&A — with Ben Shapiro, here. As you know, Ben is a conservative writer, speaker, controversialist, etc. (WFB sometimes referred to himself and others as “controversialists.”) Last week, Ben appeared at Berkeley, and the university had to spend $600,000 — more than half a mil — on security. Six hundred grand, for lil’ ol’ Ben! Anyway, he and I talk about this, and related matters. This podcast will give you a quick blast o’ Ben. Again, here.

A Progressive Debate

by Ramesh Ponnuru

George Packer writes:

There’s a lot to admire in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new essay. . . . At its heart is the undeniable truth that racism remains fundamental in American politics.

It’s the overwhelming, the single cause that Coates finds for the phenomenon of Donald Trump. It’s a cause no one in America should ever bet against. . . .

At the heart of American politics there is racism. But it’s not alone—there’s also greed, and broken communities, and partisan hatred, and ignorance.

Glad we cleared that up!

Forget the War on Christmas, We’re Losing the War on Grammar.

by Jim Geraghty

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Forget the War on Christmas, We’re Losing the War on Grammar

Oh, here we go again.

A new fifth grade teacher at Canopy Oaks Elementary is asking students to use gender-neutral pronouns in the classroom.

Math and science teacher Chloe Bressack sent the request home in a letter to parents headlined “About Mx. Bressack.”

“… my pronouns are ‘they, them, their’ instead of ‘he, his, she, hers.’ I know it takes some practice for it to feel natural,” the letter reads, “but students catch on pretty quickly.”

The letter also asks that students use “Mx.,” (pronounced ‘Mix’) when addressing the teacher rather than Mr. or Ms.

The note alarmed some parents.

I suppose we should be relieved that this teacher instructs students in math and science, and not English. Then again, we have a math teacher with some confusion on distinguishing between one and more than one.

As with the argument about whether it’s wrong to refer to Caitlyn Jenner as “he,” we have a blurring of the line between manners and propriety – the generally good rule that you should call someone by the name that person prefers – and preexisting socially-established rules for identification.

If my child’s teacher wants to be called “Mix Surname,” that’s unusual, but fine. Be respectful, kids. But the words “they, them and their” already have particular meanings in the English language, and they are used when referring to a group, more than one. This teacher is one person, and thus “they” “them” and “their” are not the appropriate pronouns.

Using a plural pronoun when referring to a singular noun is grammatically incorrect, as editors remind me on a frustratingly regular basis. You can’t just decide that in one classroom, the grammatical rules are one way, and in another classroom, they’re different. Grammar isn’t sexist, patriarchal, hetero-normative, racist, or somehow otherwise sinister; it’s just grammar.

You do have a right to ask others to call you by the name you prefer. You don’t have the right to demand schoolchildren use incorrect grammar just because you feel like it.  The rules of grammar are not set by personal preferences.

The school district seems to just want everyone to calm down and go about their business:

Superintendent Rocky Hanna addressed the situation in a statement sent to the Democrat. He said he met with Canopy Oaks administrators after learning about the letter.

“According to Principal Lambert, the teacher addresses students daily by using the pronouns he, she, him and her. The teacher also uses ma’am and sir when responding to students. As a personal preference, however, the teacher simply prefers to be referred to in gender neutral terms as that of a coach,” Hanna wrote.

Fun question: Would the English teacher down the hall mark a paper incorrect for referring to Bressack as “they” in a sentence? Or would the school district insist that it is correct to refer to Bressack as “they” but not to refer to another individual teacher as “they”?

Princeton Machiavellianism

by John J. Miller

The snowflakes who run the Princetonian–the campus newspaper at Princeton University–became so upset by their own editorial board’s right-of-center editorials that they disbanded the editorial board. Jennifer Kabbany of The College Fix has the story.

Watch: Wisconsin Student Sells Clothing Line by Decapitating ‘Pig’ Cops

by David French

Let’s play a little game of “imagine.” Let’s imagine what would happen on campus if a conservative student designed a clothing line advocating violence and then advertised his products by creating a video featuring a person decapitating Black Lives Matter activists. How long would the campus shut down? Days? Weeks? Would an emergency counseling corps have to parachute straight onto the quad?

Now, watch this video — courtesy of University of Wisconsin student activist and aspiring clothes designer Eneale Pickett: 

What this news report doesn’t show you is that Pickett’s little commercial ends with one of the actors holding the bloody severed head of one of the “pig” cops. If you want to see the whole thing, you can watch it here. It features a Donald Trump voiceover, dancing police officers in pig masks, a simulated lynching, and a final act of violent vengeance. Lovely.

It’s all in service of a clothing line that promotes messages like, “destroy the city that caused you to bury me,” and “F**k the police they the biggest gang in Amerikkka.” 

I wouldn’t highlight the work of a single student except that it’s indicative of the Antifa spirit that’s sweeping parts of the radical left. There is a growing movement of mainly young radicals who truly do thirst for violence. They truly do want to “punch a Nazi,” and they define “Nazi” so broadly that it sweeps up mainstream conservatives, just ask my friend Ben Shapiro. 

Do you doubt these radicals exist? Look at the street violence in Berkeley, Atlanta, and Saint Louis . . . and that’s just in the last week. Pickett’s video and clothes are free speech, but they’re vile speech, and they should serve as yet another reminder that some people truly want to harm those they hate. 

Stop Overselling Russian Influence on the Election

by David French

Response To...

For National Security!

I agree with every word of Charlie’s rebuttal of Matthew Olsen’s and Benjamin Haas’s “national security” argument against the electoral college, but there’s something else to note. The factual premise of the Olsen/Haas piece is flawed. They write:

Hamilton and his colleagues never could have envisioned a year like 2016, when an enemy state—Russia—was able to manipulate America’s election process with stunning effectiveness. But it’s clear the national security rationale for the Electoral College is outdated and therefore it should be retired. Simply put, it enables foreign powers to more easily pierce the very shield Hamilton imagined it would be.

Notice the problem? Where’s the evidence that Russia was able to actually “manipulate America’s election process?” After all, Russians didn’t hack voting machines, and there’s no credible evidence that their propaganda efforts moved the electoral needle in either direction. The bottom line is that we simply don’t know what impact, if any, Russia had on the outcome. 

A foreign power didn’t penetrate our electoral “shield.” It did sow chaos, and it did increase distrust, polarization, and confusion. The vast majority of that chaos is due to post-election finger-pointing and concern over collusion, not over a realistic argument that Russia turned the election. Putin was preying on the partisan rage of the American people, not on the vulnerability of the constitutional system to foreign interference.

We could change to a straight popular vote, and Clinton and Trump voters would feel exactly the same way about the candidates. Trump voters would be just as vulnerable to anti-Hillary propaganda, and Hillary voters would be just as furious at foreign meddling. If she lost, they’d also be just as eager to find a scapegoat. 

In other words, amending the Constitution would be a cure for a disease that doesn’t exist. There’s just no evidence that our electoral college system is vulnerable to foreign hacks. There’s a lot of evidence that Americans are angry with each other and therefore likely to think the worst of their opponents. That’s a problem constitutional amendments simply can’t fix.