Wednesday links

by debbywitt

Hey, Firefly fans - It’s Unification Day

Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States.

The origins of Kotex.

In 1859, the United States and Britain Almost Went to War Over a Pig.

A Secret World Hidden Beneath the Vineyards of Champagne.

Alexander Graham Bell’s Tetrahedral Kites (1903–9).

ICYMI, Tuesday’s links are here, and include Talk Like a Pirate Day, the 1899 Johnstown flood that killed 2,000 people, and why blue is the world’s favorite color.

I Taught NATO to Stand Up to a Dictator

by Daniel Pipes

On May 2, 2017, a polite note arrived from the director of the Political Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (known as NATO PA) asking whether my organization, the Middle East Forum, “might be able to host a set of meetings and discussions” for assembly members.

For those, like me, unfamiliar with NATO PA, it is “a unique specialized forum for members of parliament from across the Atlantic Alliance to discuss and influence decisions on Alliance security.” Its Political Committee “focuses on all political questions concerning the security of NATO and its member and partner countries.”

The Forum quickly agreed to host the meeting on September 19 on Independence Mall in Philadelphia and began inviting experts to brief the 26 members of parliament from twelve countries, ranging from Norway to Turkey, Poland to Portugal. Given the centrality of Turkey to both the Syrian conflict and to the deeper issue of NATO’s mission (does it fight Islamism as it once did Communism?), we invited representatives of two key Turkish factions, both of them Islamist: the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the movement of Fethullah Gülen.

(The two had been closely allied until a few years ago; now the government accuses Gülen of staging an alleged coup d’état in July 2016 and declares Gülen movement members “terrorists,” jailing those it can, abominating those it can’t.)

Emre Çelik, president of the Rumi Forum, a Gülenist intellectual group, immediately agreed to speak. However, for the longest time we could not pry a reply to our invitation out of the Turkish embassy in Washington. Finally, less than a week before the event was to take place, the Political Committee staff informed us that no less than the presidential office in Ankara demanded we remove Mr. Çelik from the program. If we refused, it would cancel out on us.

My initial reaction was, “Fine, cancel it.” Having sunk much time, money, and reputation into the conference, however, the Forum hardly relished pulling the plug. But we also did not want to join the ranks of Western appeasers, such as NATO PA, who submit to the will of Turkey’s dictator, Erdogan. What to do?

We adopted an unusual course of action: Yes, Çelik’s name came off the program and the embassy diplomat showed up. But with Çelik’s concurrence, we arranged for him to enter the meeting through a back door and wait quietly in the wings until I, speaking in the final session about the disgrace and damage of NATO’s submitting to Erdogan’s will, invited him to the podium to address the conference.

As I announced Çelik’s presence, the entire Turkish contingent stood up and protested so loudly that our security guards ran up to protect him. The co-chairman of the NATO PA delegation, surprised by my action, which he called a “bombshell,” pushed Çelik aside and seized the podium. (For a video, click here.)

The Turkish delegation loudly interrupted the proceedings before storming out.

On concluding his remarks, the co-chairman attempted to close the meeting but I interfered, asserting it was our event, and again invited Çelik to speak. As he began, first the Turks and then the entire NATO PA delegation exited the hall, leaving behind only our other guests, who proceeded to give him a standing ovation.

Emre Çelik addresses the audience as Daniel Pipes looks on.

I proffer my apology to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly for pulling this trick. But I stand by the deception. It was impossible for us to ignore NATO’s founding principle “to safeguard the freedom” of its peoples. It was equally impossible to ask the Forum, especially as it met within sight of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, to acquiesce to the diktat of a foreign tyrant.

Indeed, despite the walk-out, I hope the NATO PA delegates secretly admire our taking a stand against tyranny and draw inspiration from this small act of defiance. Perhaps they will learn to stand up to Erdogan’s bullying — precisely what they did not do in this instance.

The Method to Trump’s Madness: His Speech at the U.N.

by Jim Talent

Donald Trump did well at the United Nations. His remarks in full are here; I’ll make some observations about the key points.

The speech was, to put it mildly, very direct, and the most direct portions bore clearly the Trump imprimatur. The president repeated his Twitter name for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un: “Rocket Man.” He said that some parts of the world were “going to hell.” He did not hesitate to refer to “radical Islamic terrorism.” He called out rogue regimes and castigated some of their leaders by name. He condemned the repression and aggression of North Korea and Iran, and added this memorable passage explaining why Venezuela is such a disaster:

The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented. From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or Communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure. Those who preach the tenets of these discredited ideologies only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems.

Rich Lowry thought the speech called Andrew Jackson to mind. Perhaps it’s my Missouri bias, but I thought rather of Harry Truman. Trump quoted or referred to Truman twice, and the style of the speech was Trumanesque. I can’t think of any president in living memory besides Trump or Truman who would have delivered it, though Teddy Roosevelt would certainly have enjoyed telling some home truths to the U.N. if that body had been around 110 years ago.

In any case, bully for President Trump. The U.N. could use more plain speaking.

In a line that has drawn much attention, and was obviously designed to do so, Trump specifically threatened that “if the United States is forced to defend itself or its allies” against North Korea, it would “have no choice but to totally destroy” that country. That was an obvious reference to the potential use of America’s nuclear arsenal.

Normally, it’s better for presidents to maintain what experts call a policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding the nuclear deterrent, which means making clear that, if attacked, the United States reserves all options without being specific about any particular one. In Trump’s defense, though, these are not normal times, North Korea is not a normal threat, and the experts have for 20 years made every mistake possible where North Korea is concerned.

President Trump is handling a huge problem on the Korean peninsula, and it’s not of his making. He has very few options. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on his approach.

Trump maintained a number of propositions that seem contradictory. He vigorously defended both national sovereignty and the idea of a norm-based international order. He stated that the United States does not “expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government” but also excoriated the rogue regimes for, among other things, their domestic repression. He discussed the Marshall Plan favorably but insisted, as he often does, that other countries should bear more of the burden for international peace and stability.

Rich saw a tension in all that, and understandably so. But after nine months of the Trump presidency, the explanation for the apparent contradictions is becoming clear. Trump sees the norm-based international order not as an end in itself but as a very high-order means by which the United States, and other democracies, defend their own safety and sovereign rights. That means he values the global system but is willing to accept or even create stress on it where necessary to protect important American interests. I tend to agree with Trump on that, and most of America’s presidents have, in practice if not in theory, had roughly the same priorities.

All in all, it was a good speech. But there was one point, near the beginning, where the president went wrong. He opened the body of the speech by claiming that “our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been.” That may be what the president wants for the armed forces, and it is certainly what he promised when he ran, but it is simply not true. In fact, the armed forces are in decline, and the decline cannot be reversed until the defense sequester is eliminated and the defense budget is raised, as Ronald Reagan raised it, by the equivalent of two double-digit increases in a row. If the president has any doubt on that score, he should pull Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis aside for a private conversation.

As of now, I see no sign whatsoever that Congress is moving to eliminate the sequester, or even that Congress understands how much is at stake. The president needs to make the defense issue a personal priority. Unless he does, all the plain speaking in the world, at the U.N. or elsewhere, will not protect the security or sovereignty of the United States.

Never Stop Making Moral and Religious Arguments

by David French

Late last week I wrote a piece making the case that one of the core reasons for sexual trauma on campus was a mistaken ideology that attempts to drain sex of its inherent spiritual meaning and transforms it into a purely physical, pleasure-seeking act. It’s an ideology that denies the true impact of sexual intimacy on the human heart.

In response, a number of folks mocked me for making a “moral” or — even worse — “religious” argument about sex. Moral arguments don’t work, they said. Religious arguments don’t persuade. People are repulsed when you say some kinds of behavior are actually wrong. People don’t like to be “judged.” The only thing that really works is to argue that any given behavior is “bad for you.” In other words, pie charts about STD’s trump appeals to the conscience. 

There are two things (at least) that render these arguments utterly absurd. First, I note that the admonitions about moral arguments tend to run only one way. The Left’s cultural success isn’t built on charts and graphs and health statistics but rather on moral arguments about dignity, fairness, and fulfillment. And yes they “judge” their ideological and religious opponents. Accusations of bigotry are intended as deeply personal condemnations.

The bottom line is that moral arguments have real power, and they’re even more powerful if only one side is making them. That’s doubly true for religious arguments. Progressive Christians have no trouble quoting scripture to support progressive arguments. Yet all too many conservatives fall for the claim that “no one cares” what the Bible says when standing on orthodox Christian moral principle.

But this makes no sense. Let’s put it this way. Which is more powerful? The God-breathed words and reasoning of the most influential book in human history? Or the arguments I concocted in my pea brain five minutes ago? I’d opt for the former. Oh, and you should realize that our culture is so biblically illiterate that people are often shocked at the power of biblical words and ideas. They have no idea what the Bible says, and they had no idea that its words could resonate so strongly in their hearts.

I refuse to unilaterally disarm. I refuse to leave the moral battlefield to my opponents, and I refuse to remove my best arguments from the conversation. I’m under no illusion that moral or religious arguments persuade everyone. But I do know that they can change nations and cultures. Just ask the Left, they’ve been using morality and religion to change the nation for generations. Conservatives should do the same. 

 

There’s No Use Waiting for the CBO

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Republicans are catching flak for trying to rush through the Graham-Cassidy bill before getting a score from the Congressional Budget Office. But really, what’s to learn? We already know that any bill that abolishes the individual mandate, as Graham-Cassidy does, will be found (dubiously) to cause 15 million or so people to go without health insurance (and thereby to save the federal government some money). We don’t know how the states would respond to their newfound freedom to reallocate spending or seek regulatory relief–but we also know the CBO has no idea, either. Some of the complaints about the process Republicans have used in trying to legislate about health care are valid: It is absurd to hold a vote on a far-reaching piece of health-care legislation without so much as holding a hearing about it. But we’re not losing anything important because the CBO hasn’t weighed in.

Uncommon Knowledge: How to Fail at Almost Everything with Scott Adams

by Peter Robinson

I sit down with Dilbert cartoonist and political philosopher Scott Adams to discuss his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. And yes, the current occupant of the Oval Office also comes up.

‘“Holy Sh**”: Trump at the U.N.’

First Amendment Ignorance on Campus

by Ramesh Ponnuru

A new survey finds that 44 percent of college students think the First Amendment doesn’t protect hate speech, while only 39 percent know that it does. College Republicans are only slightly more knowledgeable. A question this survey leaves unanswered: What do young people who aren’t in college think about this question? Another recent survey found that people without college degrees were more likely than people with them to believe that the government should be able to prevent people from making statements offensive to minority groups.

The Coding-School Industry Begins to Shake Out

by George Leef

Among the alternatives to going to “real” college is for a student to enrolling a school that teaches one of the most useful of modern skills — coding. The demand for people who can write code for the growing number of things that rely on computers has spawned a large number of schools that will get a student prepared for work in the field in as little as twelve weeks. It costs a lot less than college, and many of the graduates find good jobs rather quickly.

And yet, some of the schools have closed. Is that evidence against the usefulness of these institutions? In this Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins examines the evolving industry of coding schools.

Many of them seem to be doing a good job, but they don’t all provide the level of training needed for some of the top firms, such as Google.

Watkins interviewed the head of a tech firm regarding his hiring and writes,

Some start-up tech companies have recruited coding school graduates with success. In a Martin Center interview, Nick Jordan, CEO of a Durham-based tech company called Smashing Boxes, said, “we’ve had a lot of success with hiring people from code schools.”

Jordan emphasized that the most important characteristic in applicants is the experience, passion, and personal integrity they bring to the table. “It’s just as much about mindset and attitude as about . . . training,” says Jordan. Accordingly, Smashing Boxes has hired individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds, including computer science majors and even those who are self-taught in coding and have no official certification.

I think two things are clear: The coding schools fill a need in the market for professional training and they are undergoing the same kind of evolution we saw in the early automotive industry. Pure competition will give us the best result.

Watkins is right in her conclusion:

Even if university-trained computer professionals remain the first choice of most employers, a narrower sector of the market may find boot camps useful. Given that technology is constantly changing, coding schools could help seasoned professionals retool and update their skills. Such a niche industry, however, would hardly be large enough to change the overall landscape of higher education.

Jeb Bush: ‘Trump is Right’ on North Korea, Iran 

by Philip H. DeVoe

Former Florida governor and 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush praised President Donald Trump’s foreign policy in comments made in New York City during the Iran Summit 2017. Asked by the moderator, NBC News’s Nicolle Wallace, to comment on Trump’s behavior toward North Korea and Iran, Bush said he believes Trump’s brash attitude has helped “set the table” in dealing with dangerous regimes. 

“Once in a while, chaos, chaotic words, are helpful,” Bush said. “Regimes need to be called out. Trump is right.” 

During a follow-up question at the summit – which consists of a series of panels by politicians and foreign-policy experts, and which was called to discuss the Iranian threat to the United States – Wallace pressed Bush on his uncharacteristic support for Trump, peppering him with questions about the president’s foreign policy. Bush responded by reiterating his earlier comments, praising Trump for overseeing a foreign policy that “is moving in a more traditional way.” 

Bush continued by criticizing those who are “analyzing [Trump’s] Tweets and twitches” instead of “what [he’s] doing.” Wallace quieted the applause that this line generated by asking Bush about Trump’s flip-flop on NATO. Bush said that he supported Trump’s decision to remain in NATO, contending that it doesn’t matter that the president changed positions, because “he got [it] right the second time.” 

Despite his general praise, Bush criticized the president’s lack of “consistent policy.” Moreover, he credited Trump’s team, not the president, with the move forward, specifically naming Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley as an example of someone “doing a good job.” He concluded his comments on Trump by saying the president must “go from ad hoc to something more clear” in his policy-making process. 

Bush’s support for Trump’s foreign policy is an indicator that Trump has been moving toward a more traditional position. The frequent clashes between the two during the campaign helped Trump sell his promise that he would fight career politicians and Washington elites if elected. Now that Trump is in office, however, he’s finding it harder and harder to fulfill that vow.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale Lunacy’

by Rich Lowry

The Emmy sweep of The Handmaid’s Tale has brought on another bout of commentary about how it has much to tell us about Trump’s America. I wrote about it today:

Based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, the series depicts a misogynist dystopia. Christian fundamentalists have established a theocracy that — after an environmental debacle craters the birth rate — forces fertile women, called handmaids, into sexual slavery. 

Set in contemporary America, the show combines the atmosphere of The Scarlet Letter with 1984. It is bleak, plodding, heavy-handed, and occasionally gripping. What has given it extra oomph is the trope that it is relevant to Trump’s America. This is a staple of the commentary, and everyone involved in the show’s production pushes the notion.

According to Atwood, people woke up after Trump’s election “and said we’re no longer in a fantasy fiction.” The series is indeed highly relevant — as a statement on the fevered mind of progressives.

American College of Physicians Opposes Assisted Suicide

by Wesley J. Smith

Excellent. The American College of Physicians, after studying the issue, has issued a policy statement against the legalization of assisted suicide. From the ACP Position Paper:

Society’s goal should be to make dying less, not more, medical. Physician-assisted suicide is neither a therapy nor a solution to difficult questions raised at the end of life.

On the basis of substantive ethics, clinical practice, policy, and other concerns, the ACP does not support legalization of physician-assisted suicide. This practice is problematic given the nature of the patient–physician relationship, affects trust in that relationship as well as in the profession, and fundamentally alters the medical profession’s role in society.

Furthermore, the principles at stake in this debate also underlie medicine’s responsibilities on other issues and the physician’s duty to provide care based on clinical judgment, evidence, and ethics.

Control over the manner and timing of a person’s death has not been and should not be a goal of medicine. However, through high-quality care, effective communication, compassionate support, and the right resources, physicians can help patients control many aspects of how they live out life’s last chapter.

In short, these ethical physicians urge greater quality of care for the dying–not facilitation of their killing.

Assisted suicide is just that–suicide. It is not a medical treatment. It is not compassion, the root meaning of which is to “suffer with.”

Assisted suicide advocates are on a campaign to convince medical associations to adopt a position of “studied neutrality” (whatever that means) to the assisted suicide threat. So doing would be an abdication of the ethical obligations of physicians in society. I mean, what could possibly impact the welfare of their patients and the place of medicine in society than legalizing assisted suicide?

The internist members of the ACP understand that assisted suicide is not beneficent. It is, rather–even though unintended–the abandonment of those among us experiencing their time of greatest need for unconditional inclusion, love, and truly compassionate care.

Good for the ACP for leading on this crucial issue instead of hiding under the desk.

‘Hi, Do You Know Me? I’m Your Lieutenant Governor...’

by Jim Geraghty

A new Mason-Dixon poll released moments ago shows Democrat Ralph Northam barely ahead of Republican Ed Gillespie, 44 percent to 43 percent, in Virginia’s governor’s race. That’s the third close poll this week. As noted in today’s Morning Jolt, in the year of “The Resistance” and the start of the alleged great Democratic comeback, Virginia Democrats have ended up with a pretty “meh” and little-known candidate atop their ticket.

Tonight, Virginians see Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie face off in another gubernatorial debate. Yesterday, two state universities released new polls on the race; University of Mary Washington’s survey found Northam ahead, 44 percent to 39 percent, while the Suffolk University poll had the race perfectly tied, 40 percent to 40 percent. (The individual respondents in that latter poll split perfectly evenly, 202 to 202.)

Something that should worry Democrats: In the Suffolk poll, almost 20 percent of respondents said they had never heard of Ralph Northam; ten percent said the same for Gillespie. (His oh-so-close Senate bid from 2014 probably helps with his name recognition.)

A bit more than 29 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Northam, 22 percent said they had a negative one. The remaining 29 percent said they had no opinion or were undecided.  Gillepsie had a 37-28 split on favorability.

Ralph Northam has been lieutenant governor for the past four years, and roughly half the state is unfamiliar with him. What, has he been in witness protection? I was initially underwhelmed with the Gillespie campaign’s “No-Show Northam” theme – mocking Northam for missing a lot of meetings. But maybe this will resonate; maybe the message can be even simpler: Did you know Ralph Northam has been your lieutenant governor for the past four years? If he hasn’t done anything that you’ve even heard about in that job… why would anyone make him governor?  

Northam’s campaign is still running ads that effectively act as an introduction to voters – emphasizing his service as a doctor in the U.S. Army and a pediatrician. It’s mid-to-late September! Absentee voting starts Friday!

Notice the closing image of his ads tout “Doctor-Veteran” Northam. His campaign doesn’t want to remind voters he’s been lieutenant governor for the past four years! 

One oddity in the Mary Washington poll is also worth spotlighting. More respondents supported Northam than Gillespie, but when asked, “Regardless of how you might vote in the 2017 election for governor in Virginia, as far as you know, do you think most of your neighbors will vote for (Ed Gillespie, the Republican), most will vote for (Ralph Northam, the Democrat), or will most of them split their votes?” Among registered voters, 30 percent said Gillespie and 22 percent said Northam, and among likely voters, 32 percent said Gillespie and 25 percent said Northam. In other words, a slightly larger number of Virginians think their neighbors will mostly vote for Gillespie.

Finally, the Suffolk survey also asked, “Does Senator Tim Kaine deserve to be reelected in 2018 – yes or no?” and 43.4 percent answered yes, 45.8 percent answered no. I would be shocked if Kaine lost next year, but that feels like a terrible number for an incumbent. In fact, this isn’t just any incumbent; this is a guy who had 1.9 million people in the state vote to make him vice president last year!

Man of Letters, Man of Parts

by Jay Nordlinger

My latest Q&A is with Douglas Murray — go here. Murray is a British writer and intellectual. An “all-rounder,” as they say in his country. He can talk to you about practically anything, and wisely. He has been famous since he was a teenager. His latest book is The Strange Death of Europe — which is No. 1 on the U.K. bestseller list (“I ask you,” as David Pryce-Jones would say).

In this Q&A, I talk with Douglas Murray about politics and policy, of course — politics and policy in Britain, America, and elsewhere. But we also talk about novels, poetry, and music. (Murray himself was brought up in music.)

When you have the time, spend an hour with one of the most interesting writers going (as WFB would say). (WFB would have loved Murray, by the way.) The podcast, again, is here.

Tuesday links

by debbywitt

Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day, me hearties! Instructions, translators, and the Dave Barry column that started it.

Is there a single food that you can survive on forever?

How Grand Pianos are Made.

Why Blue Is the World’s Favorite Color.

The devastating 1889 Johnstown Flood killed over 2,000 people in minutes.

Bacteria from elite athletes’ poop might boost sports performance.

ICYMI, Monday’s links are here, and include the blue-skinned family, Dr. Samuel Johnson’s birthday, the now-abandoned Russian town that was aiming nuclear missiles at America from 125 miles away, and the Illinois Pre-Columbian settlement of Cahokia.

Manafort To Be Indicted? Was Trump Tower Wiretapped? First Thoughts on Two Big Scoops

by David French

Just when the Russia investigation was sliding onto the back pages . . . tonight happened. The first scoop, from the New York Times, indicates that Paul Manafort may soon face criminal charges:

Paul J. Manafort was in bed early one morning in July when federal agents bearing a search warrant picked the lock on his front door and raided his Virginia home. They took binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files, looking for evidence that Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, set up secret offshore bank accounts. They even photographed the expensive suits in his closet.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.

To be clear, these potential indictments may not be directly related to the 2016 election and may relate to financial dealings independent of Manafort’s relationship with Trump. Mueller is reportedly looking at possible “violations of tax laws, money-laundering prohibitions and requirements to disclose foreign lobbying.”

As if the Times report wasn’t enough, CNN followed up with the revelation that is tearing up Twitter as we speak. The government allegedly wiretapped Manafort, including during times when he worked with Trump:

US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe.

The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.

Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive.

According to CNN, Manafort had been the “subject” of an investigation that dated back to 2014 that was related to his work for the former Ukrainian government. The surveillance was discontinued “for lack of evidence” but then restarted again under a new FISA warrant “that extended at least until early this year.”

If you read the CNN report closely, you’ll note that there is much that is “unclear” (to use CNN’s words.) The new FISA warrant was allegedly related to suspected contacts between Manafort and Russian operatives, but it’s unclear where his phones were tapped, or if they actually swept up conversations with Trump.

What to make of all this? First, if the reports regarding Manafort are accurate (a big if), then this is disturbing news about the former campaign chair for the president of the United States. As our Andy McCarthy has explained, to obtain a FISA warrant the government has to bring forward evidence sufficient to establish probable cause that the wiretap target is the agent of a foreign power. That’s not a terribly high evidentiary threshold, but if there also exists sufficient evidence to indict Manafort (possibly for unrelated acts), then the stakes escalate considerably.

None of this means that Manafort is actually guilty of anything, but only the most mindless, tribal partisan would look at these developments with anything but concern and alarm. Potential corruption that close to the president – especially when connected with our nation’s chief geopolitical foe – is deeply problematic.

But that’s not all there is to this story. Not by a long shot. Some Trump defenders are taking the news that Manafort may have been wiretapped (possibly even in Trump tower) as vindication of Trump’s claims this March that “Obama had my wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.” Department of Justice officials from both the Obama and Trump campaigns have denied Trump’s claim, and on September 4 his own Department of Justice responded to a Freedom of Information Act request by stating, “Both FBI and NSD confirm that they have no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets.”

Obviously, wiretapping Manafort is not the same thing as wiretapping Trump, but the repeated, blanket denials seem disingenuous if Trump is actually on tape. The legal distinctions do matter, but these legal distinctions tend to get lost in the heat of partisan debate. I hope and pray that DOJ officials’ desire to rebut the president didn’t get ahead of their prudence. Would “no comment” have been a better response than a vigorous denial? 

At the same time, Trump partisans need to understand that it’s outrageous to wiretap Manafort only if the law and evidence don’t support the DOJ’s action. If there was probable cause that he is or was an agent of a foreign power, his status as Trump’s campaign chair doesn’t and shouldn’t protect him from appropriate scrutiny. Did the FBI do the right thing? Time will tell. 

That’s the key – time will tell. It’s important to understand that we don’t know any of the key facts. Unless and until we see evidence, judgment as to whether Manafort (or anyone else in the administration) is corrupt will have to wait. Final judgment about the FBI’s actions will have to wait as well. The phrase “fog of war” comes to mind. We’re in the midst of a dense fog, and we can barely the road ahead. I know enough to be concerned. I know that conclusions are premature. I also hope that the Robert Mueller continues to work with all deliberate, competent speed. Uncertainty, speculation, and reflexive tribal rage are all bad for the American body politic. In due time, we’ll need light. Lord knows we’ve endured enough heat.

The Emmys Celebrate a Dying Industry

by Philip H. DeVoe

Stephen Colbert opened last night’s Emmy Awards with a jaunty show tune bearing the chorus “the world’s a little better on TV.” The message? Tune into your television to escape problems in the real world, such as global warming, Middle East turmoil, and Donald Trump. The Washington Post carried the sentiment of Colbert’s chanty a step further, singing television’s praises and declaring that Americans are “up to our eyeballs in great television.”

But viewers don’t seem to agree. In fact, general TV audience has declined steadily among all ages below 65-year-olds in the past six years. In the first quarter of 2011, Americans spent an average of 42 hours watching TV per week, according to Nielsen data. By the first quarter of 2017, that number had dropped to 34. The viewership of those aged between 12 and 24 years old has changed by the highest percentage since 2011, a 41 percent decline.

Even the Emmy-nominated shows, those the Post critiques as “great television,” have a desperately small following. A Katz Media Group study found that ABC’s Modern Family is the most watched Emmy-nominated show, at 56 percent of respondents. Every other show falls below the 40 percent line, and seven fall below 10 percent. Over 50 percent of respondents said they had never heard of six of those: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Silicon Valley, The Crown, Atlanta, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Master of None.

So perhaps television isn’t the narcotic Colbert and the Post think it is. In fact, many Americans didn’t hear Colbert’s message last night, for the Emmys aren’t immune from the dropping interest in TV. This year’s awards viewership tied last year’s record low of 11.4 million viewers.

Pardonable Sins

by Ramesh Ponnuru

How far does the president’s power to pardon go? Matthew Franck argued at NRO a while back that certain kinds of presidential pardons would run counter to the logic of checks and balances that informs the Constitution—including its provision for a pardon. He argued that point ably and, to my mind, persuasively, suggesting that courts need not recognize the validity of a presidential self-pardon. (I’d add a humble textualist argument to his case: It strikes me as entirely possible that a “pardon” was understood at the time of ratification as something that by definition had to be done for another; in the same way that you cannot “offend” yourself, you cannot pardon yourself for an offense.)

But the arguments that Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio is unconstitutional, made here and here, strike me as much less persuasive. The main argument for this position attempts to reason from the logic of the Constitution, too. The problem is that it assumes that judicial supremacy is a kind of master principle of the Constitution. It assumes, that is, that the Constitution establishes the federal courts as the final word on the meaning of constitutional provisions and that anything that keeps them from being that final word is unconstitutional. Therefore it is unconstitutional for a president to use the pardon to stop courts from determining that an official has violated the Constitution and rectifying the violation; and that’s what Trump did in the Arpaio case.

The problem is that a conception of judicial power this exalted just isn’t anywhere in the Constitution, isn’t required for it to function, and runs against the very existence of the pardon power. If it’s an attack on the rule of law whenever a president blocks the courts from saying what the law means for particular cases, then every pardon is such an attack. There’s just no getting around the fact that the Constitution includes a pardon power as, among other things, a check on judicial power.

The U.S.-Style Liberal–Conservative Divide Doesn’t Translate to Pakistan

by Reihan Salam

While reading the Washington Post’s coverage of Pakistani politics, I noticed that reporters Pamela Constable and Shaiq Hussain describe Imran Khan’s Pakistan Justice Movement as “liberal.” I’ll admit that this surprised me a bit, and I thought I’d explain why.

First, the conservative-liberal divide doesn’t really apply to Pakistani politics. There, parties are separated along two axes: ethnic ties and relationship to the military.

The parties do, of course, have official ideological platforms. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was founded as a socialist party. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) or PML-N — the faction of the PML headed by Pakistan’s recently deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif — is technically a center-right party. And Khan’s Pakistan Justice Movement (known in Pakistan as PTI) was founded as a centrist party, in that it would oppose both of the above. The ideologies of the main parties, however, have never been as important as their ethnic affiliations. In elections, PML takes Punjab, PPP takes Sindh, BNP takes Baluchistan, and so on. PTI does not have an ethnic base, which is why, through careful tailoring of messages, it appealed to both urbanites who had grown disillusioned of the two main parties and, at the same time, to Islamists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where it has the biggest presence in any national or regional assembly.

The second dividing line is relationship to the military, which gets complicated. PPP and PML-N both claim to be staunch democrats now, but they have been somewhat supportive of military rule when it interrupted a government headed by the other party. PTI likewise purports to be fully in favor of democracy, but there have been persistent rumors that the military has backed it as a way to weaken the PPP and PML-N. It is hard to say what the real story is, as is the case with just about all things relating to Pakistan. But Khan has acknowledged that Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military ruler, brought him into politics and there are some PTI policies that line up with what the military wants, such as talks with the Pakistani Taliban.

All of which is to say that though Imran Khan might personally be a liberal, the PTI is not accurately described as a liberal political movement, nor does it make much sense to think of any party in Pakistan in those terms.

Why does any of this matter? When a particular political movement is characterized as “liberal” in the pages of the Washington Post, it serves as an implicit seal of approval. The message is that here we have a party committed to the rule of law, representative government, and protecting the rights of religious minorities, among other good things. But is that really true of PTI? The jury is still out.

Vaping, #Science and Public Health

by Andrew Stuttaford

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to make things easier for cancer by making things more difficult for vapers.

As John Tierney explained in a recent article for the Wall Street Journal that’s bad news for New Yorkers:

Since the electronic cigarette arrived around 2010, the rate of smoking in America has plummeted. Yet progressive do-gooders are now throwing tobacco a lifeline. Last month New York Mayor Bill de Blasio signed new restrictions on e-cigarettes. A limited number of vendors will need licenses to sell them, and vaping will be banned from many apartment common areas. This will only push smokers away from the most promising method for kicking their deadly habit.

De Blasio’s behavior is, however, just another example of a wider problem in public health, one with implications that extend far beyond Gotham. In a much longer article for August’s City Journal, Tierney took a closer look.

Some  extracts:

Less than 15 percent of Americans realize that vaping is much less risky than smoking, while nearly half mistakenly think that vaping is as harmful as, or more harmful than, smoking—meaning that millions of smokers have been dissuaded from making a switch that could prolong their lives. The public-health establishment has become a menace to public health.

Tierney sets out the mission creep that has characterized the public health establishment’s definition of its agenda, a mission creep that has generated plenty of jobs for those who have signed up for it and, of course, plenty of opportunities to proclaim one’s own virtue by bossing other people around.

A quote:

“We believe in the freedom of the individual in the matter of cigarette smoking,” the American Cancer Society president told Congress in 1964, explaining his group’s opposition to legislation that banned smoking. “To achieve our goal we rely on persuasion and public and professional education.”

Yes, Virginia, there is a slippery slope.

There’s plenty in the piece to consider, including a welcome de-demonization of nicotine and a discussion of the beneficial effects of Swedes’ fondness for snus (a form of smokeless tobacco treated  in such a  way that it appears to eliminate or avoid carcinogens).

Swedish men have the highest rate of smokeless tobacco use in Europe—and, not coincidentally, the lowest rates of smoking and smoking-related diseases. It’s estimated that 350,000 lives would be saved annually if the rest of Europe followed Sweden’s example. But instead of encouraging this trend, the European Union has banned snus everywhere except Sweden, preferring the same prohibitionist approach as America.

#EUValues

And then there’s this:

Faced with a much more popular new competitor, pharmaceutical companies have responded by supporting restrictions and taxes on vaping devices (just as they have long lobbied for restrictions on the sale of smokeless tobacco). As Monica Showalter reported in the Observer, the firms have contributed substantially to Democrats leading the anti-vaping efforts in Congress, including Senators Ed Markey, Sherrod Brown, and Richard Blumenthal.

Oh.

And:

The prohibitionists have persuaded localities to extend smoking bans in public and private places to include vaping, even though e-cigarettes emit vapor that causes none of the irritations or the dangers claimed for secondhand smoke. They’ve promoted heavy new taxes on e-cigarettes, a policy that harms public health by reducing the incentive for smokers to switch, but it’s been welcomed by state officials (like New York governor Andrew Cuomo) eager to replace the cigarette-tax revenue they’re losing as smoking declines.

Follow the money.

But out of this mess may come political opportunity

Now that Republicans control the White House and Congress, they have a chance to combine sound science with smart politics on vaping. Grover Norquist, the influential Republican strategist who runs Americans for Tax Reform, has discovered that vapers are much different from smokers, whom he found impossible to mobilize against cigarette taxes. Vapers don’t feel guilty about their habit. They show up at rallies and volunteer in campaigns that have helped block e-cigarette taxes and defeat anti-vaping Democrats in local and state elections. “The Democrats have made an unforced error,” Norquist says. “They’ve poked a hornets’ nest. There are 10 million vapers in America, and that demographic will easily double in the next decade.”

Norquist wants the Republicans to use vaping as a wedge issue against Democrats, particularly among younger voters. Vapers are part of what he calls the Leave Us Alone Coalition, which includes gun owners, users of Uber and Airbnb, homeschoolers, and others with firsthand exposure to Democrats’ big-government policies. Vape shops, like gun shows, have become an informal network for spreading the word. “Vapers look in the mirror and feel virtuous,” Norquist says. “They’ve quit smoking, or at least cut back. They’re doing the right thing for themselves and their families, and now these contemptuous nanny-state jerks want to take away the products that are saving their lives. Believe me, this is a vote-moving issue.”

Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson was expected to lose his reelection bid last November, but he pulled off an upset with the help of vaper-led rallies, volunteer work, and donations…

How much difference that really made, I don’t know, but, judging by this video, at least something….

Read the whole thing.