The Condolence Controversy

by Rich Lowry

It might be the stupidest and most unworthy controversy of the year, and that’s saying something. Feeling defensive at a press conference on Monday over questions about his silence about the deaths of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Niger, Trump hit Obama for not calling families of the fallen. This, of course, made the condolence calls an even more bitter, partisan food fight and a Democratic congresswoman present during Trump’s call to the widow of one of the soldiers killed in Niger reported that he insensitively said the solider “knew what he signed up for.”

A couple of things:

One, although it appears to be correct that Obama didn’t call all the families of the fallen, it doesn’t mean it was right for Trump to use that point as a bludgeon. Here is a relevant portion of the Washington Post fact check:

Still, in early 2011, the family of one fallen soldier, Sgt. Sean Collins, told Fox News they had requested a call from Obama and were told his schedule was too packed for a conversation. (Note: At that point, about 1,000 troops had been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan under Obama’s watch. So far in 2017, 25 troops have been killed in those countries.)

Generally, former Obama aides said, the president wrote letters or made base visits in which he met with families. “I remember he did on occasion make calls and met Gold Star families at the White House and on his base visits,” said Benjamin Rhodes, a national security aide to Obama.

Two, it might be that there was good reason that Trump was delayed in reaching out to these families. If so, this is all Trump had to say on Monday. From the Washington Post again:

The White House has not explained why Trump took so long to comment publicly about the Niger ambush, but officials said Tuesday that he was regularly briefed on the incident during that period. They declined to provide details.

The White House did not receive detailed information from the Defense Department about the four dead soldiers until Oct. 12, and that information was not fully verified by the White House Military Office until Monday, according to a senior White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on the internal process.

At that point, the official said, Trump was cleared to reach out to the four families — both in letters that were mailed Tuesday and in personal phone calls to family members that day.

Three, Trump’s “knew what he signed up for” statement seems horrible in isolation, but it’s hard to know what to make of it except in context and listening to the conservation. Even the Democrat congresswoman says that Trump said “it hurts anyway.” On the other hand, the family confirms that it was upset by Trump’s call.

Now, Trump is engaged in a fight over what he really said. Is it too much to ask that everyone back off this one and not to add to anyone’s distress and leave condolence calls — if nothing else — out of our poisonous political debate?

The Ann Arbor City Council Is the San Francisco 49ers of Municipal Bodies

Realtors vs. Tax Reform

by Ramesh Ponnuru

The Republican tax framework leaves the deduction for mortgage interest in place, not because it’s good policy but because it’s politically untouchable. That’s not good enough for the National Association of Realtors, which is concerned that the tax break will be less important in a reformed tax code. Because the framework expands the standard deduction, fewer people will have a reason to take the mortgage-interest deduction. The realtors treat this indirect threat to the deduction as a calamity. The Wall Street Journal has a good editorial on this today.

If the realtors’ lobby followed the logic of its position through, it would also oppose cutting tax rates. The deduction is more valuable the higher the tax rate against which it is applied. The lobbyists are smart enough to grasp this point, and smart enough to avoid pressing it too.

Democrat Northam Removes Running Mate from Ads to Appease Virginia Union Supporters

by Alexandra DeSanctis

As Election Day quickly approaches in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, Democratic candidate Ralph Northam appears to have scrubbed his African-American running mate, Justin Fairfax, from Northern Virginia campaign fliers, in an appeal to big labor unions.

Here’s a tweet with an image of the two fliers side by side:

Local Virginia paper the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Northam chose to remove Fairfax from some of his campaign literature at the request of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, whose spokesman claimed the lieutenant-governor candidate “wasn’t supporting [unions] on the issues.”

Specifically, Fairfax refuses to support the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a planned natural-gas line that would span 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina, crossing through much of Virginia on its way. Despite noting his own environmental concerns, Northam has reluctantly chosen to support the pipeline project, presumably because it is popular with Virginia residents for its economic potential.

Fairfax, however, has made no such concessions, and Northam’s campaign is clearly concerned that his failure to even begrudgingly accept the pipeline will endanger the Democratic ticket with powerful union voices in the state, and among voters who ally themselves with big labor.

The Northam campaign told the Washington Examiner that there was no malice behind the alteration of the ad, calling it “fairly innocuous.” “Out of over 3 million pieces of literature printed for the campaign, the piece for LiUNA canvassers constituted roughly 0.5 percent of the literature printed,” the spokesman added.

But Northam’s willingness to erase his own running mate from campaign fliers, at the behest of union leaders, reveals the incredible incoherence of Virginia’s Democratic party. It’s remarkable that a candidate who has long been favored to win the race — and who currently serves as second-in-command to the state’s fairly popular Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe — has to both pacify union supporters and appease environmentalists in order to piece together a November victory.

It’s worth considering for a moment, too, how Northam’s campaign and the mainstream media would’ve reacted had it been Republican candidate Ed Gillespie who erased a black running mate from certain campaign ads. “Trump-endorsed, gun-loving, Confederate-monument-supporting, racist Republican Ed Gillespie scrubs African American running mate from fliers!” the headlines surely would’ve read.

The mainstream media, though, has predictably ignored the incident. Of course, there is absolutely no evidence that the Northam campaign altered the fliers out of racially motivated animus — Northam clearly isn’t a racist, and no one should accuse him of being one. But surely his campaign and the media would at least have alluded to Gillespie’s possible racist intent had he pulled a stunt like this.

The Never Trumpers’ New Strategy

by Conrad Black

From my most recent NRO article, about the latest anti-Trump strategy: “Recourse to the 25th Amendment would not remove Trump: It would be like the madness of King George III, and he would be writing Congress every month demanding to have the full exercise of the presidency back. The whole concept, spiked up by Tennessee senator Bob Corker’s outrageous reflections on Trump’s mental stability, is touted now by The New Yorker magazine, still feverish with Obama deprivation. It is too preposterous to bear thinking about it further.”

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

NHS Tyranny Proposal to Ban Smokers, Obese from Surgery

by Wesley J. Smith

Calling Bernie Sanders! Calling Bernie Sanders. STAT!

A serious policy proposal in the UK would ban many surgeries for smokers and the obese. From the Telegraph story:

The NHS will ban patients from surgery indefinitely unless they lose weight or quit smoking, under controversial plans drawn up in Hertfordshire…

In recent years, a number of areas have introduced delays for such patients – with some told operations will be put back for months, during which time they are expected to try to lose weight or stop smoking.

But the new rules, drawn up by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Hertfordshire, say that obese patients “will not get non-urgent surgery until they reduce their weight” at all, unless the circumstances are exceptional.

The criteria also mean smokers will only be referred for operations if they have stopped smoking for at least eight weeks, with such patients breathalysed before referral.

Ah, single-payer healthcare in action.

What other patients with unhealthy lifestyles will be banned next? The promiscuous? 

Of course, that will–and should–never happen because unlike the obese  and smokers, promiscuous people are not scorned by the technocrats.

But the injustice would be the same. Centralized control in health care eventually leads to bioethical authoritarianism. 

ISIS Is Now Caught Between Raqqa and a Hard Place

by Jim Geraghty

Good news from the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

ISIS Is Now Caught Between Raqqa and a Hard Place

Outstanding news as the week progresses:

American-backed forces said on Tuesday that they had seized the northern Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State, a major blow to the militant group, which had long used the city as the de facto capital of its self-declared caliphate.

Celebrations erupted in Raqqa, where residents had lived under the repressive rule of militants who beheaded people for offenses as minor as smoking. Fighters could be seen cheering and firing celebratory gunfire in the streets, according to residents reached by phone and text message.

The United States Central Command stopped short of declaring victory, saying that “more than 90 percent of Raqqa is in S.D.F. control,” a reference to the Syrian Democratic Forces, an American-backed militia group made up of Syrian Kurds and Arabs.

Col. Ryan S. Dillon, a spokesman for the United States military in Baghdad, said Tuesday that Raqqa was on the verge of being liberated, but that there were still pockets of the city controlled by the Islamic State. Syrian Democratic Forces officers, however, were emphatic in phone interviews and public statements that they had finally wrested control of the city from the militants after a monthslong campaign.

“The military operation is over,” said Talal Salo, a commander reached by phone at the group’s headquarters in Hasaka.

Newsweek looks at recent presidential boasting about ISIS and it’s easy to get the sense that the publication would love to rebuke Donald Trump for taking credit for something he did not influence. But the magazine can’t quite dismiss all of the evidence that the momentum of battle has shifted in the past year. Maybe that’s a result of presidential decisions, or perhaps Trump’s decision to defer to his generals on most of the details. Either way, Trump hasn’t loused it up, and he’s in position to reap the accolades.

Perhaps the two most symbolic victories against ISIS have occurred while Trump has been in office: the retaking of the Iraqi city of Mosul in July, and now the liberation of Raqqa. U.S. officials have also claimed that the recapturing of ISIS-held territory has accelerated under Trump. Special Presidential Envoy McGurk—who held the same role in the Obama administration—said that of the 27,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria reclaimed from ISIS since 2014, around 8,000 square miles have been retaken under Trump’s watch.

But some commentators have claimed that Trump is simply reaping the benefits of the hard graft put in by the former administration. The battle for Mosul, for example, commenced in October 2016 and lasted for nine months: Iraqi forces had liberated the whole of eastern Mosul by January 24—four days into Trump’s presidency—with the remaining six months consisting of a gruelling slog for the Old City.

This is a bit like arguing that Harry S. Truman didn’t preside over the Allied victory in World War Two, because Franklin Roosevelt had done so much before.

It is worth noting that while controlling swaths of territory made ISIS distinct, it was not the only feature that made it dangerous. The New York Times talks to terrorism experts and concludes that the group will probably refocus its efforts on the method that worries us the most, attacks in Western countries:

The group has also developed a powerful social media network that with no physical presence allows it to spew propaganda, claim responsibility for terrorist attacks, and not just inspire attacks but also help plot and execute them remotely.

A large share of its attacks in the West in recent years have been carried out by men who communicated online with ISIS, taking detailed instructions through encrypted messages, but never meeting their terrorist mentors…

And the group has continued to sow chaos even as it has lost territory. In 2017 alone, it has claimed responsibility for three terrorist attacks in Britain that killed 37 people, the Istanbul nightclub bombing on New Year’s Eve that killed 39 people, and strikes in more than seven other countries.

As the group was losing Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in August, it sent a van tearing through crowds in the heart of Barcelona, killing 13 people and loudly declaring its continued relevance.

Our fight against ISIS, and the broader movement of violent Islamist extremism, is far from over. But we have enough bad days; we should take moments to celebrate the victories.

Living with the Unsolved Mysteries of Modern American Life

by Jim Geraghty

Response To...

The Las Vegas Shooting Is ...

It’s fair to wonder whether the Las Vegas shooting is about to join the ranks of infamous crimes that are solved… but not quite explained.

In 2010, the Federal Bureau of Investigation formally closed the investigation of the anthrax mailings, having concluded the attacks were carried out by Bruce Ivans, an Army biodefense expert who killed himself in 2008. The mailings infected 22 people and killed five. Some lawmakers, including Rep. Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, were less than fully convinced by the FBI’s final report. Two independent reviews of the investigation disputed that the bureau’s scientific evidence definitely showed that the anthrax came from the Maryland bioweapons laboratory of Ivins. There’s considerable evidence that Ivins was deeply mentally troubled, but why he chose to commit bioterrorism and how he chose his targets will probably never be answered.

Last year John Schindler reminded readers about the unsolved 1975 bombing of LaGuardia Airport that killed 11 people, and laid out the circumstantial evidence pointing to an obscure Croatian separatist group. The group’s leader was arrested on separate charges, paroled in 2008 and killed himself in 2013.

We know Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crashed and small pieces of wreckage washed up on Mozambique. We don’t know why the plane crashed, or what happened to most of it. We know what D.B. Cooper did (hijacked a plane and collected $200,000 in ransom) and why (greed) but not his true identity or his fate. It seems safe to assume the Zodiac Killer is no longer murdering people; or if he is, he’s not taunting police anymore. He sent his last known message in 1974.

Hopefully, the investigation in Las Vegas will turn up something clarifying soon. Otherwise, how will Americans come to terms with the most deadly mass shooting in the country’s history… being perpetrated by a man with no clear motive?

The Arch of Titus: A Useful Model

by Jonah Goldberg

Response To...

Knock Down the Taj Mahal?

I liked Kevin’s post about the Taj Mahal, and it reminded me of a point I wanted to make when all of this iconoclasm was erupting over the summer.

I think the Confederate statues put up in the 1960s as a middle finger to the civil-rights movement are hard to defend, and I certainly wouldn’t bother trying. But, as we’ve already seen, the statue topplers are part of a larger war on American history generally. When activists want to get rid of Abraham Lincoln, you know this is more of a fever and fad than an argument.

I keep thinking of the Arch of Titus, the model for similar arches all around the world, including most famously the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. For those who don’t know, Titus — who would later become emperor — led the siege of Jerusalem in the first Jewish-Roman War. Hundreds of thousands of Jews, mostly non-combatants, were slaughtered, and the Second Temple — the holiest site in Judaism — was destroyed. Tens of thousands of Jews were captured and sold into slavery.

The Arch of Titus, which celebrates all this, is a big tourist attraction in Rome. It’s also an important part of Rome’s history. Jews, understandably, did not celebrate the monument. From an article in The Forward:

Jews have lived in Rome for more than two millennia. According to an ancient ban placed on the monument by Rome’s Jewish authorities, once a Jewish person walks under the arch, he or she can no longer be considered a Jew. So, from the time the Arch of Titus was first built, no Jew has ever willingly walked under it, unless he or she was oblivious to its significance.

Until the creation of Israel in 1948, the ban was taken quite seriously. In 1997, it was lifted.

I’m not saying this is a perfect model for how to deal with every monument to some historic villain or crime, real or imagined. But I do think it is a useful one. There are ways to make your dissent known in this life without demanding total victory through the bowdlerizing of the past.

About Those Middle Class Tax Cuts

by Veronique de Rugy

These days, you can’t turn around without hearing someone talk about how the Republican tax cuts shouldn’t raise taxes on the middle class, should cut taxes on the middle class, or will for sure hike taxes on the middle class. Senator Rand Paul has been quite vocal about his concerns about the framework’s impact on the middle class. He isn’t the only one concerned about this, but considering the small margin in the Senate, his vote matters a great deal.

As many have pointed out before, his concerns are premature since in truth we do not know how the middle class will be affected quite yet. The framework is missing some key elements that make it really hard to say who will pay what and whose taxes will go up or down, contrary to what the liberal Tax Policy Center model claims. Ryan Ellis is optimistic about how the middle class will fare under the tax framework. I also assume that the Ways and Means Committee will work out the math to make sure the tax works and provides somewhat of a tax cut to the middle class and more money for low income earners. Also, it appears that the president has now given some guarantees to Sen. Paul that the middle class won’t be adversely affected by the tax reform.

Yet, I am left wondering if this focus on the middle class tax relief is a wise way to frame this debate. Everyone wants to pay less in taxes, of course. But lowering taxes while government spending is growing is not a good idea in the long run. Instead, Congress and the administration should focus on the most pro-growth elements of their tax plan, such as the reduction of the corporate income tax rate, rather than tax relief for the middle class or the expansion of the child tax credit. Corporate income tax reform, we know, will spur investment, bring foreign earned income back into the country, improve workers’ productivity and grow their wages, and create employment opportunities that didn’t exist before. That is, of course, if the administration doesn’t mess it up with a global minimum tax

Now, I do understand that it would be politically difficult to implement a large reform on the corporate side without doing something for individuals. Still, I worry that continuing to focus on giving the middle class a tax relief could be a golden opportunity for Democrats to extract counterproductive compromises like agreeing to more handouts for the middle class — paid for with a higher corporate income rate. If that’s the case, Republicans will have agreed to more spending through the tax code in exchange for less economic growth.

Then, there’s the minor detail that the middle class isn’t shouldering that much income tax burden in the first place. Most income taxes are paid by higher income earners. As Chris Edwards noted a few weeks ago, the average income tax rate of the middle income quintile was 2.6 percent in 2013. In 2014, the top 10 percent shouldered around 70 percent of the total income tax burden, up from 49 percent in 1980. This means that the bottom 90 percent have seen their share of taxes go down considerably as the weight was shifted to higher income earners. Do we really want to shift even more of the burden to the top? Well, apparently yes, considering that middle-class tax relief is often debated alongside the proposal to slap an extra tax rate on higher income earners.

Also worth noting is the fact that more tax relief for the middle class means that many will be removed from the income tax rolls entirely. I, for one, think this is not a good idea and that it makes the fight for smaller government even harder than it is now. It is also not reasonable if having fewer taxpayers paying the income tax isn’t matched with serious spending cuts.

The bottom line is that Republicans should stay away from the “middle class tax relief” rhetoric and instead focus on the power of economic growth, business expansion and hiring of new employees, and wage growth. They should explain how reductions to the corporate income tax will benefit workers and how their tax reform framework will make filing taxes easier for all, as opposed to the nerve-racking exercise it is now. These points are more inspirational.

Here are Edwards’ charts:


In 2009, Fox News Was Told to Apologize for Calling Bergdahl a Deserter

by Philip H. DeVoe

In July 2009, 23 members of Congress signed a letter demanding that Lt. Col. Ralph Peters apologize for stating on a Fox News segment that PFC Bowe Bergdahl “abandoned his buddies, abandoned his post, and just walked off” a U.S. Army base in Afghanistan prior to his capture by the Taliban. Peters’s comments “call into question, without any supporting evidence whatsoever,” the congressmen wrote, “PFC Bergdahl’s patriotism and commitment to his country.” Yesterday, Bergdahl admitted to that abandonment, pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in a military court.

Here are Peters’ original comments, which he made on Monday, July 20:

Nobody in the military that I’ve heard is defending this guy; he is an apparent deserter, reports are indeed that he abandoned his buddies, abandoned his post, and walked off. We’ll see what the ultimate truth of it is, but if he did, he’s a deserter in wartime . . . 

I want to be clear — if when the facts are in, we find out that through some convoluted chain of events, he really was captured by the Taliban, I’m with him. But if he walked away from his post and his buddies in wartime, I don’t care how hard it sounds. As far as I’m concerned, the Taliban can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills.

His comments quickly attracted criticism for their insensitivity and frankness, and lead to “efforts” made by the show’s anchor, Julie Banderas, to express that Peters’s opinions are not those of Fox News. The next day, Tuesday, July 21, the congressmen – all veterans, 14 Democrats and nine Republicans — published their letter, in which they “demand[ed] an apology to PFC Bergdahl’s family” from apparently both Fox News and Peters — the letter was addressed to then-Fox News chairman Roger Ailes.

To clarify his statements and answer the criticism, Peters joined Bill O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor that night. This is Peters, speaking during the segment:

Let’s lay out what our military knows happened, Bill. First of all, I asked a very senior military leader for a yes or no answer: “Is PFC Bergdahl a deserter?” The answer was yes . . .  Our army also knows that he left his combat outpost, he left his buddies in the hours of darkness, left his weapon behind of his own volition.

O’Reilly stopped Peters here to argue this makes Bergdahl “crazy,” saying “there’s gotta be something mentally wrong with [him]” to abandon his weapon and fellow soldiers in somewhere as dangerous and remote as Afghansitan. Peters continues by explaining that the reason for his frustration is grounded in elevations of Bergdahl to “hero” status; the media is celebrating a controversial prisoner of war while ignoring injured soldiers in hospitals or decorated veterans at home:

I do hope for his family’s sake this guy comes back safely . . .  [but] the other networks aren’t doing the investigative work; [they should] say “What’s the circumstances? Can we talk to the guys in his unit?” . . .  It’s also a legal case. As a minimum this is a court-martial offense. Of course, we may just put him on Oprah’s couch when he gets back, we’ll see.

The next day, Wednesday, July 22, saw a second firestorm, including a separate statement by then-representative Eric Massa (D., N.Y.), titled “Congressman Eric Massa demands that Fox News immediately fire Bill O’Reilly and Lt. Col Ralph Peters and apologize to the family of PFC Bowe Bergdahl.” To be clear, those who critiqued Peters took issue most with the supposed implication that Peters hoped the Taliban executed Bergdahl. But their incredulity was founded in a disbelief that Bergdahl could’ve deserted his post.

On her MSNBC show that day, Rachel Maddow played a clip of Paul Rieckhoff, head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, saying Peters “needs to shut his mouth” because “he doesn’t know what happened on the ground.” Maddow then provides her own incredulity:

[Paraphrasing Peters] “I can guarantee you that he ashamed his unit.”

Guarantee us? Really?

Her guest, Jim Miklaszewski, chief Pentagon correspondent for NBC News, then says there’s no evidence that Bergdahl deserted his unit:

Well, you know, as you mentioned a moment ago, senior military and Pentagon officials, not only in Washington but there on the ground in Afghanistan, say there’s no question he’s not a deserter.

Now, he did leave his post by himself. He came off a patrol on June 30th, dropped off his weapon, his body armor, grabbed up a bottle of water, compass and a knife, and took off out on his own. And it was some time after that, apparently, that some local militants grabbed him and turned him over to the Taliban.

Now, should he have left the post alone? Of course, not. But it doesn’t make him a deserter.

Perhaps Peters’s statements were too aggressive, but he was correct that Bergdahl’s capture was due to desertion. Even O’Reilly was right in his assumption that Bergdahl was mentally unstable, which was confirmed following Bergdahl’s return to the U.S.

Poll Puts Gillespie in the Lead in Virginia

by Alexandra DeSanctis

poll out this afternoon from Monmouth University shows Republican Ed Gillespie just edging out Democrat Ralph Northam in the race for Virginia governor, 48 to 47 percent. This is the first poll to put Gillespie in the lead, but recent forecasts of the race have shown the gap between the two candidates narrowing as the Republican slowly gains on his opponent.

According to a Wason Center survey of likely voters out just this morning, current lieutenant governor Northam is leading former Republican National Committee chair Gillespie by only 4 percent — 48 to 44 percent — and 5 percent of Virginia likely voters remain undecided with the race three weeks away. This is the first Wason Center poll of the Virginia race that puts Northam’s lead within the survey’s margin of error. In the group’s benchmark poll from September 25, Northam led by 6 percent.

Of course, no single poll can reliably predict the outcome of an election. But this Monmouth survey should serve as an important reminder for Democrats who are feeling a little too comfortable about Northam’s chances to cross the finish line with a win on November 7. In a race that many are reading as a referendum on Trump and the GOP, pundits and casual viewers alike should remember our current president’s last-minute comeback as October bled into November. It’s not out of the question that Gillespie could pull off something similar in Virginia.

Some Tax Links

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Several good short items about taxes have come out today.

Chris Edwards argues that people should not be required to start withdrawing from their retirement accounts at age 70 ½.

Edward Lazear suggests some changes to the Republican framework’s treatment of business income.

Ernie Tedeschi confirms that how the eventual bill treats the middle-class will come down to how it expands the child tax credit. And Josh McCabe points out that the credit has already lost a lot of value over the last fifteen years.

Update: I forgot to mention my own NRO article, on why Republicans should quit trying to cut tax rates on people making more than $420,000 a year.

Greenhouse vs. the Pences

by Ramesh Ponnuru

I wrote a post yesterday criticizing Linda Greenhouse’s latest column in the New York Times. But I didn’t quite plumb its depths. Here, again, is Greenhouse’s parting thought: “Conservatives, even the publicly pious ones, don’t seem to have a problem with limiting the size of their families. (Vice President Mike Pence has two children, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has three. Need I say more?) The problem they have is with what birth control signifies: empowering women — in school, on the job, in the home — to determine their life course.” Let me make two additional points about this passage. The first is that the Pences have three children. The second, as I am reminded by former colleague Katrina Trinko’s twitter feed, is that Mrs. Pence has discussed her family’s struggle with infertility: “The Vice President and Mrs. Pence tried for six long years to start their family. They tried medical procedures. They joined an adoption wait list and came close to adopting a little boy, when they learned Mrs. Pence was pregnant with their first child. That son was quickly followed by two daughters, answering the Pences’ prayers for parenthood. . .” So Greenhouse’s shot at the Pences is even more baseless than it appeared to be.



In Defense of ‘the Generals’

by Victor Davis Hanson

Recently there have been a number of quite different critiques from all political sides of Trump’s generals (Kelly/McMaster/Mattis), and also from a variety of angles (too narrow experience, an unhealthy overdose of military thinking, a “sellout” for working for the likes of Trump, etc.). While it is hard to know who exactly is to be praised or faulted for Trump’s foreign policy (e.g., Secretary of State Tillerson and, of course, Trump himself), the record is so far pretty clear — and pretty good.

Prune away the rumors of cabinet shake-ups, “adult in the room” melodramas, tweets, fake-news accounts, and inter-cabinet spats, and we are left with a once-ascendant ISIS now shattered and in full retreat; a new honesty about NATO and its funding; an unsustainable Iran deal now on hold and sent to the Senate where as a treaty it belonged; honesty in describing the threat of both radical Islamic terrorism and Iranian hegemony; greater security on the southern border; a restored relationship with Israel and the Gulf States, and an improving one with Jordan and Egypt as well; a workable and constitutional immigration scrutiny of would-be entrants from war-torn Middle East countries; a growing deterrent stance toward Russia and China rather than the rhetoric of “reset” and the “Asian pivot”; an active and growing allied response to the North Korean threat; the beginnings of an all-out effort on missile defense (rather than the prior open-mic presidential promises of a “flexible” post-reelection efforts to curb it in Eastern Europe); a determination to rebuild the military (slowly, given the still far too large annual deficits); some recent incremental progress in Afghanistan due to new rules of engagement; the real red line that Assad cannot use WMD against civilians; a far more adult stance toward U.N. hypocrisies; improved autonomy abroad through increasing energy independence and trading in natural gas; an out from a Paris climate accord whose goals the U.S. meets anyway through free-market solutions — and the emerging outlines of a comprehensive doctrine of “principled realism” that restores deterrence.

Of course, the world is in crisis and scary, current U.S. assets and means do not match our strategic obligations, responsibilities, and would-be agendas, and rhetorically the administration often seems at cross-purposes, but nevertheless American foreign policy is already in an undeniable trajectory of restoration, and much credit is due to the advice and conduct of Trump’s three generals.

Knock Down the Taj Mahal?

by Kevin D. Williamson

Americans aren’t the only ones having a dumb national discussion about monuments associated with morally compromised political leaders: In India, people are talking about knocking down the Taj Mahal.

Indian architecture is very old — the Mahabodhi Temple, which is still in use, was built around the time of the First Punic War — but the Republic of India is very young: It is, in fact, younger than Donald Trump. Inevitably, most of the historically important architecture and public monuments were built during India’s long period of domination by alien powers, and often built by those alien powers. This is, understandably, a sensitive subject. India also is having a particularly ugly period of Hindu chauvinism, which has manifested itself in ways that are serious — the emergence of violent anti-conversion campaigns targeting Christians and anti-conversion laws in several Indian states — and in ways that are comical, for instance the exclusion of the Taj Mahal from a government-published guide to historical sites in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. About 10 million people a year visit the Taj Majal, but there is an effort under way to read Islam and Islamic rulers out of India’s history.

Sangeet Som, a legislator with the Hindu-nationalist BJP, made his case in roughly the same way as Americans seeking to raze Confederate monuments: “Many were sad when the Taj Mahal was removed from the list of historical places. What kind of history? What place’s history? Whose history? The history that the man who built the Taj Mahal imprisoned his father? The history that he wanted to wipe out the Hindus from all of Uttar Pradesh and India?” The Mughal emperors — Babur, Akbar, et al. — were, in his estimate, traitors. Shah Jahan might have been a bad guy, but if you think it’s strange to judge Thomas Jefferson by the standards of the Bryn Mawr College political-science department in 2017, then consider the difficulties of getting a moral read on 17th-century absolute monarchs. “Shah Jahan” means “King of the World,” if that’s any indicator.

Presented with Som’s remarks, another Indian politician, Azam Khan, said: “We should destroy all reminders of slavery that reek of those who once ruled over us. I’ve said this before too. Parliament, Qutab Minar, Rashtrapati Bhavan, Red Fort, Agra’s Taj Mahal . . . all of it.” The Times of India, whose editors are very cautious, added: “It was unclear if Khan was being sarcastic or serious.”

Foreign imperial rule of India frequently was brutal, from the Mughal empire to the British empire. But there’s a practical question: How much of Lutyens’s Delhi do you really want to burn down to irritate the ghost of Reginald Dyer?

We Americans like to talk about our diversity, but consider navigating the cultural minefields of a country with: Thirty languages having at least 1 million native speakers each (and maybe 1,599 languages in total, depending on who is doing the counting) and no consensus national language; a Muslim minority that composes only 14 percent of the population but which is in gross numbers as populous as the United Kingdom, France, and Spain combined; a besieged Christian minority; a Sikh minority that was as recently as the 1980s fighting for independence, having assassinated a sitting prime minister and then suffering thousands of deaths in the ensuing retaliatory pogroms; a legal and political system largely adopted from an alien power; remote tribal areas where you can still encounter the occasional headhunter; 2,000 ethnic groups; and only 70 years of formal national history.

There were some 22,000 slaves employed in building the Taj Mahal.

The folks in Dallas are at the moment having a dispute over renaming Stonewall Jackson Elementary School. Members of the community complain that they have not had enough time to consider the question and think through the ramifications of the name-change. To stop and think is usually good advice. In India, they’re still fighting over the legacy of a mosque built in 1528. If the vandals take a more Taliban-esque view and turn their attention to Buddhist monuments, the stupa constructed over the relics of Siddhārtha Gautama at Sanchi was built around 260 b.c.

But, if we take the Buddha at his word, he condoned slavery, so no complaints about knocking that down.

Help Support Those with Intellectual Disabilities

by Shannen W. Coffin

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, as President Trump recognized in a beautiful statement earlier this month, in which he renewed “our Nation’s strong commitment to promoting the health, well-being, and inherent dignity of all children and adults with Down syndrome.” This genetic condition affects more than 250,000 Americans, but as President Trump correctly acknowledged, these individuals “embody the great spirit of our Nation. They inspire joy, kindness, and wonder in our families, our workplaces, and our communities.” As Jack Fowler, who may try to hide his tenderness (though is full of it), likes to say, “God has almond shaped eyes.”

In the last several years, my family and I have been moved to do what we can to give a hand to those individuals and families affected by Down syndrome and similar intellectual disabilities. Every year, for the last half dozen, I have biked and walked to raise money for Best Buddies, a terrific charity that provides fellowship, leadership training, and job opportunities for individuals affected by serious intellectual disabilities, including Down syndrome and autism.

This year, I’m privileged to serve as chairman of the Capital Region Best Buddies Friendship Walk, a walk to raise funds for Best Buddies school-aged and adult programs. The Walk is this Saturday morning on the Capital Mall. We have over 1,200 students and adults walking to raise money and raise awareness. There’s still room for more. You can sign up to walk here. It’s free to do so, but you get a free T-shirt if you raise or donate $50 or more. If you can’t walk but want to support our mission, you can donate in support of my fundraising efforts here. We’re close to our goal of $370,000, but need a little help in the final days before Saturday’s walk.

If you signed up because of this posting, please look for me at the Walk! And if you want to support Best Buddies, there are similar walks and events throughout the country.

New Russian Nuclear Scandal Raises New Questions About Clinton Foundation

by Dan McLaughlin

The Hill this morning broke what could be a very big news story, if anyone is willing to follow up on it. As is often the case with these kinds of stories, it bears watching if the reporting falls apart somehow, but as of yet, it seems there’s almost no pushback out there. You can see why Democrats would not be eager to talk about this one:

Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews….[Federal agents] obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill.

This was back during the period when the Obama Administration and Secretary Clinton were touting a “reset” of relations with Russia; it was years before Obama mocked Mitt Romney’s concerns about the Russian threat with his famous “the 80s called” sneer. Yet, it now appears that the Obama Administration knew a lot more than it let on, 

leaving the American public and Congress in the dark about Russian nuclear corruption on U.S. soil during a period when the Obama administration made two major decisions benefiting Putin’s commercial nuclear ambitions.

The first decision occurred in October 2010, when the State Department and government agencies on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States unanimously approved the partial sale of Canadian mining company Uranium One to the Russian nuclear giant Rosatom, giving Moscow control of more than 20 percent of America’s uranium supply…In 2011, the administration gave approval for Rosatom’s Tenex subsidiary to sell commercial uranium to U.S. nuclear power plants in a partnership with the United States Enrichment Corp. Before then, Tenex had been limited to selling U.S. nuclear power plants reprocessed uranium recovered from dismantled Soviet nuclear weapons under the 1990s Megatons to Megawatts peace program.

“The Russians were compromising American contractors in the nuclear industry with kickbacks and extortion threats, all of which raised legitimate national security concerns. And none of that evidence got aired before the Obama administration made those decisions,” a person who worked on the case told The Hill, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by U.S. or Russian officials.

At a minimum, as Noah Rothman notes, the involvement of key members of the current Trump-Russia probe in conducting this investigation will play right into Trump’s hands in his campaign to discredit the investigation, and Democrats thus far seem likely to just circle the wagons against any further inquiry for that reason as well as how this reflects on the Clintons, Eric Holder, and the Obama Administration’s Russia policy. But the national security implications run deeper than that, and as Ed Morrissey observes, Congress ought to dig in further to see what else it wasn’t told:

House Intelligence chair Mike Rogers claimed to the Hill that no one ever mentioned the case at all to him, despite already-extant concerns over the Uranium One deal on Capitol Hill.

That smells like a political cover-up of the first magnitude. Rather than hyperventilate over Facebook ads and Twitter trolls, perhaps Congress and the current Department of Justice should look into what the FBI found in 2009-10, how much of it benefited Bill and Hillary Clinton — and why the DoJ and the Obama administration never briefed the intelligence committees on this Russian collusion operation. 

Washington has an unfortunate tendency to back off investigations when there are skeletons on both sides of the partisan aisle. But a thorough airing of Russia’s multifaceted efforts to penetrate and disrupt American institutions (including the media) over the past decade is necessary in order to counter the threat of the Kremlin’s “war by other means” doctrine. Let the chips fall where they may.


Contraception Mandate Litigation: DOJ Settles

by Wesley J. Smith

The nuns have won. Well, not quite yet. See Update below.

So have others who opposed the Obamacare contraception mandate based on religious objections. From the National Catholic Register story:

A week after issuing new religious-freedom guidelines to all administrative agencies in the federal government, the U.S. Department of Justice has settled with more than 70 plaintiffs who had challenged the controversial HHS contraceptive mandate.

The Oct. 13 agreement was reached between the government and the law firm Jones Day, which represented more than 70 clients fighting the mandate. Made public Oct. 16, the agreement states that the plaintiffs would not be forced to provide health insurance coverage for “morally unacceptable” products and procedures, including contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

The settlement may go farther than the new bureaucratic rules:

Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic college in California and another plaintiff against the HHS mandate, also celebrated the protection the settlement brings.

“While we welcomed the broadening of the exemption from the HHS mandate last week by the Trump administration, we have under our agreement today something even better: a permanent exemption from an onerous federal directive — and any similar future directive — that would require us to compromise our fundamental beliefs,” said Thomas Aquinas College President Michael McLean in an Oct. 16 statement.

“This is an extraordinary outcome for Thomas Aquinas College and for the cause of religious freedom.”

Many on the left and the NeverTrump right wonder how faithful people would vote for a man whose personal life has not lived up to the moral principles they espouse.

This is why. For many conservative and orthodox Christians, voting for Trump was an act of self defense against a prospective Clinton Administration that they feared would be utterly antithetical to religious liberty and would attempt to crush them into lifestyle submission.

In contrast, Trump made a specific appeal to this community, promising to protect their right to act in the public sphere in a manner consistent with their faith. With this settlement, he continues to keep that promise.

Update: I heard from the law firm representing the Little Sisters of the Poor. They were not a party to the settlement described herein. Hence, the DOJ has not (yet, I hope and  trust) officially dropped the case against the nuns. Sorry for the confusion.

A Contender for the Silliest Decision of the Year Award

by George Leef

The Americans with Disabilities Act has produced a lot of absurd decisions, but it’s hard to top a recent one by the Third Circuit.

A man who is deaf and blind insisted that a Cinemark theater that was showing the movie Gone Girl had to accommodate his disability by providing him with a sign-language tactile interpreter. When the theater declined to do so, he sued, claiming a violation of the ADA. The district court ruled that Cinemark did not have to provide him with an interpreter, but on appeal the Third Circuit reversed and sent the case back. Unless Cinemark can show that having to provide interpreters for patrons who demand them would be an “undue burden,” this case will set another law-expanding precedent.

I discuss the case and the problems with the ADA in this Forbes article.

It’s too bad that Bush 41 signed this vague and in my view unconstitutional law. I’m afraid we are stuck with it and activist judges will keep pushing it further and further.