Don’t Be Taken In by Some Drones on the Border

by Mark Krikorian

Since any amnesty, whether DACA or DACA-plus, will attract future illegal immigration, any deal coming out of this week’s Senate debate must have muscular enforcement provisions.

President Trump has made “The Wall” the symbol of tougher enforcement. That’s why various proposals for a DACA/Dreamer amnesty include at least some pretense of border enforcement. The Graham/Durbin plan offered, in the words of one report, “a small down payment on the border wall” in exchange for amnesty. The Talking Stick Common Sense Coalition is offering funding for as little as 10 percent of the wall. Senators Warner and Isakson are considering a simple extension of DACA for three years’ worth wall funding. And Sen. McCain, true to form, has teamed up with Chris Coons to propose amnesty for even more than the 1.8 million sought by the White House in exchange for a study of border security and no money at all.

It’s clear none of these senators actually wants a wall, but given its importance to Trump, they’re willing to do a striptease for a while if that will secure them the amnesty that is their true objective.

But even if these border provisions were not grudging and half-hearted, they’d still miss the point. Border security isn’t just a wall (plus some drones thrown in to dupe the rubes); it isn’t even confined to the land border. Not only is every international airport part of the border, but laxity in interior enforcement increases pressure on the borders, making it harder to maintain their integrity.

That’s why the Grassley proposal, based on the White House framework, includes more enforcement measures than simply the wall and other border accoutrements. The measure has serious shortcomings, but its enforcement section suggests the drafters understand that patching holes on the physical border won’t matter much unless you patch the holes in the law itself.

The final language of the Grassley/White House bill hasn’t been introduced yet, but to give a few examples from what have been reported of non-Wall enforcement provisions, in no particular order: Loopholes making it harder to remove Unaccompanied Alien “Children” would be filled; visitors who overstay visas by more than 30 days would be subject to expedited deportation; drunk driving would be specifically added to the grounds for deportation; dangerous criminals whose countries refuse to take them back will no longer have to be released; and local jurisdictions that honor an ICE “detainer” and hold deportable aliens for ICE pick-up would be protected from the ACLU’s anti-border lawfare.

The Grassley bill does omit some needed changes; specifically, it does not address the weaknesses in our asylum system, which increase pressure on the border. It also does not mandate E-Verify, though it does reauthorize it permanently, eliminating the opportunity for anti-borders forces to try to kill it every time it comes up for reauthorization.

Senate passage of an amnesty that doesn’t include these measures guarantees continued illegal immigration.

National Review Summer Internship

by NR Staff

National Review is accepting applications for its summer internship. The intern will work in our New York office, receive a modest stipend, participate in every part of the editorial process, and have some opportunities to write. The ideal candidate will have an excellent academic record and some experience in student or professional journalism. If you wish to apply, please send a cover letter, your résumé, and two of your best writing samples (no more, please) to editorial.applications (at) nationalreview.com.

The Power of Assumptions: Budget Edition

by Veronique de Rugy

President Trump’s FY 2019 budget is out. It is incredibly unrealistic and doesn’t prepare us for the nasty fiscal reality that we will soon face. Now, I should say that every presidential budget is unrealistic. They all project strong and positive economic-growth rates over the ten-year budget window that never materialize. They all promise savings that never see the light of day. They all use budget gimmicks.

But this one is particularly bold coming right after last week’s horrendous budget deal.

In the budget director’s defense, since all budgets are wishful thinking rather than serious and thoughtful documents, I welcome the effort made in this one to at least think through which programs should be terminated altogether. This budget does that and comes up with 22 programs. I could conservatively come up with ten times more budget items to terminate or push down to the states, but that’s a start. Unfortunately, there is no chance that this list will go anywhere, because Congress has no interest in cutting anything out of our gigantic budget. It is still, however, a useful exercise.

The budget also includes a budget-savings document with lots to like. Congress won’t like it, and it won’t go anywhere — but, again, I think it is a useful thing to do, because the time will come when Congress will have no choice but to cut, and now someone has thought through those cuts ahead of time and provided a map.

This list is particularly unrealistic considering that the programs up for reform or termination are all concentrated in the nondefense and entitlement sides of the budget. Adding insults to injuries, the budget jacks up defense spending by roughly $800 billion, infrastructure spending by the promised $200 billion, and also makes some of the expiring provisions in the tax-reform plan passed last December permanent.

Second, even if defense spending wasn’t growing so much, nondefense spending cuts of 40 percent would never materialize right after Congress just passed a nice 10 percent increase in nondefense spending.

All this is to say that if the spending cuts aren’t happening, neither are the projected savings. The economic-growth assumptions are unrealistic in the long run, too. They always are. The short run could see some solid growth, as long as the president stays away from threatening to withdraw from NAFTA and doesn’t scare away all immigrants.

As for spending cuts touted in the press releases, they don’t mean that the government will be spending less money than the year before. In the best-case scenario, they represent a hope that spending growth will come down in the next few years. In FY 2019, the plan is to spend $4.4 trillion, which will grow into $6.1 trillion in FY 2028. That’s a $1.7 trillion growth in spending.

Stronger economic-growth projections (which I doubt can be sustained over ten years short of an innovation miracle) allow for overoptimistic tax-receipts projections. If you add to that bogus spending cuts, you end up with unrealistic deficit projections. The budget projects that the deficit peaks in 2020 at $987 billion, which then starts going down in the out years. The deficits will be down to $363 billion in FY 2028. That would, in turn, allow for lower interest payments than previously projected, and a reduction in the public debt from 80 percent of GDP in FY 2019 to 72.6 percent of GDP in FY 2028. Gross debt would go down, too, from 108.1 percent of GDP to 91.8 percent of GDP.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Don’t count on it. We know what successful fiscal-adjustment packages look like, and this isn’t one.

Here are some numbers that will need updating upward soon:

$45.5 trillion revenue collected over ten years

$52.6 trillion in spending over ten years

$7 trillion in cumulative deficits over ten years

Here is a good chart from Chris Edwards:

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated since its original publication.

‘No, #MeToo Isn’t Going to Chase Trump from Office’

by Rich Lowry

I wrote today about Kirsten Gillibrand and the #MeToo campaign against Trump. Takeaway: The Franken standard of resignation will obviously not be made to apply to Trump, but his refusal or inability to try to soften his image among women — Republican women in the suburbs are the key here — could be very costly.

A Sense of Brittleness

by Rich Lowry

Further to what Jim says, a year into office, the Trump Administration still gives off an extraordinary sense of brittleness. Just when it seemed Gen. Kelly had things on a more solid footing, the Rob Porter scandal has dragged the White House back to the old days of real-time, clashing leaks. Maybe it blows over in another day or two — the way almost everything does — but the fall-out could endanger Kelly and/or Don McGahn’s standing with Trump. And those two, especially Kelly, don’t seem easily replaceable. Meanwhile, Rachel Brand is leaving a plum Justice department job, perhaps out of reputational risk, or fear that she’d be left holding the bag in a Saturday Night Massacre-type event, or frustration that many Senate-confirmed positions under her hadn’t been filled. How easy will it be fill her own position now?

Poland’s Law (and Justice?)

by Jay Nordlinger

There are many things that divide conservatives today, of course, and one of the chief ones is the politics of Europe: How to assess Orbán and Kaczyński? Farage and Le Pen? The “Freedom” party in Austria and the AfD in Germany (a literal alt-Right, the Alternative für Deutschland)? You could name Zeman, Wilders, and others.

These leaders and parties are not identical, but they belong to a family, and people tend to like them, as a class, or dislike them, as a class.

Nigel Farage refers to a “global movement.” After campaigning for the AfD, he traveled to Alabama, to campaign for Roy Moore. The Alabama election, he said, was “important for the whole global movement across the West that we have built up and we have fought for.”

Many conservatives hail Orbán et al. as defenders of the West, bulwarks against Brussels — indeed, “true conservatives,” as against the internationalists and sell-outs. Other conservatives detect an authoritarian smell, whether faint or strong.

And this brings up the question, What is a conservative? Is an American conservative different from a European one? What does Reagan have in common with the Le Pen family? (Congressman Steve King met with Marine, to discuss “shared values,” he said.) For that matter, what does a Brit such as Daniel Hannan have in common with the Continental “illiberals”?

“Illiberal” is not my designation; it is their own, which they employ proudly.

Champions of these illiberals tend to get cross when you compare the illiberals of Europe to their neighbor in the East, Putin, the granddaddy of them all. True, some conservatives admire Putin — but for most, I think, he is still a step too far.

In any case, consider the news out of Poland, where Kaczyński’s Law and Justice party is in charge. We are talking about a brand new law:

“Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes — shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.”

In 2016, a Russian blogger named Vladimir Luzgin ran afoul of his government. His crime: He stated that the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939 (a plain fact). Luzgin was very, very lucky: He got off with a fine (of 200,000 rubles, or about $3,500). He could have been sent to prison. Not a nice prison, mind you — I don’t mean the Ecuadorean embassy in London (where many “true conservatives” troop to see their friend Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks).

Obviously, World War II is a touchy subject, for many people — across Europe and in East Asia as well. Passions about the war are entirely understandable. Yet it is not every government that criminalizes speech it doesn’t care for.

Timothy Snyder, the historian who wrote Bloodlands, said, “The worst thing about a law like this [Poland’s] is that it convinces you that you understand yourself. Your confidence in yourself grows as your knowledge of yourself goes down.”

I believe that friends of Poland — including conservatives, or maybe even starting with conservatives — should say to the government, You do not want to go down this road.

Except, they obviously do. The meaning of conservatism is today up for grabs. You don’t need to be a weatherman to figure out which way the wind is blowing: It’s blowing toward populism, nationalism, and the rest. But political winds can shift, especially with determined political and intellectual leadership.

Why the Trump Administration Still Has Personnel Troubles

by Jim Geraghty

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Why the Trump Administration Still Has Personnel Troubles

Yes, the security clearance process takes a while, but… it’s mid-February in the second year of the Trump administration. Shouldn’t at least the folks who arrived with Trump have completed background checks by now? Today the New York Times calculates that the White House has had a 34 percent turnover rate – way higher than any previous administration, and a sign that there are probably new folks in jobs who are still awaiting their background checks to be completed.

Jared Kushner, now a senior White House adviser with a broad foreign policy portfolio that requires access to some of the intelligence community’s most closely guarded secrets, still has not succeeded in securing a permanent security clearance. The delay has left him operating on an interim status that allows him access to classified material while the F.B.I. continues working on his full background investigation…

Officials with previous administrations said it is not uncommon for the full background checks to take as long as eight months or a year, in part because of a long backlog in vetting the backgrounds of people needing clearance across the federal government.

Last week, CNN reported that “30 to 40 White House officials and administration political appointees are still operating without full security clearances.” The point of the background check process is to primarily to protect national security but it also helps avoid embarrassments like the one surrounding Rob Porter and his dismissal. The president is being ill-served by this sluggish process.

If you live in Washington long enough, eventually your friends and neighbors start listing you as possible references and contacts in their security clearance renewal process. You get a call and some nice person from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s National Background Investigations Bureau shows up at your door, and asks you a bunch of reasonable questions (“Have you ever seen or heard any indication this person has a drinking problem?” “Anything that you think might make this person vulnerable to blackmail?”) and a few somewhat silly ones (“Have you ever seen or heard anything to suggest this person might want to overthrow the government?” “Is there any reason to think this person has loyalty to a foreign power or terrorist group?”). If you have no criminal record and no glaring red flags like gambling debts, the process should move pretty smoothly.

Most presidents come to Washington with a “kitchen cabinet,” a thick Rolodex of people interested in working for the federal government and a slew of loyal staffers who have worked in the federal government before, and who probably already went through initial background checks for previous jobs. Trump is an outsider; it’s worth remembering that of his initial close advisors – Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, Kellyanne Conway, Hope Hicks – none of them had worked in any civilian government job before, never mind the federal government. In the cabinet, Rex Tillerson, Steven Mnuchin, Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos and Wilbur Ross are in their first government jobs.

There are advantages to being an outsider, but disadvantages as well. A traditional Republican presidency has a slew of potential high-level staffers, a government in-waiting, in conservative think tanks: the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, Hudson Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, perhaps the Cato Institute – places full of policy wonks who eat, sleep, and breathe conservative ideas and policies and how to enact them. Trump has selected a few folks from those places, but there really isn’t a large, well-regarded, high profile populist think tank aiming to transform the “Trumpist” philosophy into policy. “Personnel is policy,” as they said in the Reagan administration, and this may be one more reason why Trump’s policies are turning out more traditionally conservative-libertarian than populist.

Some Trump fans might prefer the thought of successful businessmen staffing up the Trump administration, but successful businessmen generally don’t like the thought of leaving their businesses to be undersecretaries for a few years and make a government salary. There is still a  slew of high-level appointed positions still awaiting a nominee in Trump’s second year: 59 positions at the State Department with no nominee (including lots of ambassadorships), seven at the Department of Defense, ten at the Department of Energy, four at Homeland Security,  16 at the Department of Justice, ten at the Department of Transportation, and 15 at the Department of the Treasury. There’s no nominee to be Director of the Counter-Terrorism Center in the office of the DNI and we’re short an FCC Commissioner, two FEC commissioners, a White House Director of Drug Control Policy, a White House Director of Science and Technology Policy, and two governors of the Federal Reserve.

Some might argue a president shouldn’t need a small army of policy wonks to enact his agenda, but if you want to change how government operates, overcome the permanent bureaucracy, and are wary about a “deep state,” you had better get your own people in place. When the history of this administration is written, it is likely that one conclusion will be that they unnecessarily impeded themselves with their own disorganization.

Hate and Its Remedy

by Jay Nordlinger

You have to be careful when using the word “tragedy.” A tragedy is different from an atrocity or crime, right? An earthquake is a tragedy, a genocide is something else.

That said, the brutalization, or “ethnic cleansing,” of the Rohingya people in Burma has an element of tragedy. I have written about this on the homepage, here.

Presiding over Burma, as civilian leader, is one of the heroines of our time: Aung San Suu Kyi. Nobel peace laureate, daughter of the nation, symbol of democracy everywhere. (I say “daughter of the nation” because her father, Aung San, is the country’s independence hero.) Her many admirers around the world are stunned at her callousness toward the horror in western Burma.

Obviously, I detail all this in my piece.

Thor Halvorssen is the founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum. In 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi traveled to America, where OFF was holding a special session in San Francisco. She received the group’s Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent. Incidentally, the late Czech leader nominated Aung San Suu Kyi for her Nobel Peace Prize.

I asked Halvorssen what he thought about this great lady and the Rohingya. He wrote the following:

Ultimately what one sees in her behavior, beyond a lack of integrity, an excess of political calculation, and a ruthless will to extend her time in office, is a tragic lack of understanding of what love is. If she demonstrated her love for the Rohingya she could overpower any local prejudice and any long-running cultural tradition to oppress them.

Love is more powerful than any other force in the universe. It was love that allowed Armando Valladares to survive 22 years in prison and come out of it a formidable man. It was love that allowed Nelson Mandela to suffer 26 years in prison under the brutal apartheid dictatorship. Love would have propelled Aung San Suu Kyi to lead her people away from this massacre and pit them against the killers — the military — as opposed to cover up the slaughter of defenseless women and children. But she chose not risking a lack of popularity over love. She lost herself.

This doesn’t mean she cannot redeem herself. However, she has displayed the behavior of a politician. She has made an alliance with the dictatorship in order to guarantee her political survival.

I once asked a Venezuelan politician who identifies with the opposition why he would accept financing from corrupt cronies of the very government he opposes. He responded as if there were a landmark in the desert that says it is better to drink foul water than to die of thirst. Sadly, this self-intoxicating misery is fallacious. You may not die of thirst but you will definitely die from poisoning, and probably sooner. Valladares, Mandela, Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, Havel never drank this poison and they never died of thirst.

Crisis Day

by Jack Fowler

The agony of the wait for our pal David Bahnsen is over: Today is the official publication day for his new book, Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It. Go ahead and click on that link to order a copy. How about explanations from three bigshots as to why you should do that? Okay, here goes . . . 

Victor Davis Hanson:

David Bahnsen outlines cultural, economic, and political remedies for an ailing America of all classes. His often-autobiographical message is that our fate still rests in our own hands. We are not pawns of global determinism, but with a few basic collective reforms and a return to individual self-reliance instead of our current self-obsessions, we can rebuild a prosperous, fair, and dynamic American culture and civilization. An outsider/insider message of hope and renewal that is now as rare as it is needed.

Rich Lowry:

David Bahnsen has written a bracing and incisive critique of our increasingly pervasive culture of victimization. He makes a compelling case that it’s still within our power, and absolutely necessary, that we help ourselves. You will enjoy and profit from this book.

Jonah Goldberg:

Only when the great mass of people reawaken to their civic duties will they be able to wrest control of America from an elite that has shown its failure to lead again and again. David Bahnsen’s new book is the first step along this important path.

Hey, here’s a bonus thumbs-up from Matt Continetti:

I found Crisis of Responsibility a remarkable and urgent synthesis of the economic, social, and cultural afflictions of modern America. But I was also heartened by the commitment to solving these problems through common sense and a renewal of individual responsibility. I hope this book finds a large and appreciative audience. It deserves to.

‘Anglo-American’ Is a Common Legal and Historical Term, It Is Not a ‘Dog Whistle’

by Charles C. W. Cooke

Jeff Sessions is under fire today for having used a term correctly, appropriately, and in its entirely proper context. Per CNN, Sessions told the National Sheriffs Association:

“I want to thank every sheriff in America. Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people through the elected process,” Sessions said in remarks at the National Sheriffs Association winter meeting, adding, “The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”

“We must never erode this historic office,” Sessions continued.

Which part of this pabulum inspired outrage? Here’s Brian Schatz, a U.S. Senator to explain:

Brian Schatz is a lawmaker in the United States Congress. In fact, as a senator, he’s more than that: He’s one of just 100 people in this country who get to confirm federal judges, including to the Supreme Court. And, apparently, he’s unaware of what the term “Anglo-American heritage” means.

We’re screwed.

Schatz is not alone. Inexplicably, Sessions’s comments ignited an instant firestorm on Twitter. This reaction was typical:

Let me put this impolitely: This is moronic. And not just a little bit moronic. This is so moronic, so dim, so utterly and incandescently stupid that I frankly worry for the future of the republic. I have been reading through these reactions for a few hours now, and I can still scarcely imagine the rank historical and legal illiteracy that it takes to hear “Anglo-American” in such a context and to assume it’s a racial reference. Sessions could not have been more clear if he had tried. His talk was to sheriffsabout sheriffs. His subject was the “historic office” that most of his audience filled. His point — “literally”! — was that, “since our founding, the independently elected sheriff” has played a “critical” role within a law enforcement system that developed in England and was then adopted in America. (“Sheriff” derives from a combination of the word “shire” and the word “reeve.”) In order to make that point at that talk, he said, “The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”

It is hard to overstate just how commonly used this phrase is in this context. Within the law, “Anglo-American” does not mean “white.” It does not mean “the KKK.” It is not a “dog whistle.” It is fundamental. It is used — shock! — to refer to those institutions, ideals, structures, and customs that are common to England and the United States — that is, to the common legal heritage the two countries share. Most basically, it means “common law,” but it can also apply more broadly. There is, for example, an identifiable “Anglo-American” conception of due process, which is distinct from, say, the Napoleonic system. That some people also use the word “Anglo” to mean “white” has no bearing on this. Has Senator Schatz never read a history book?

Know who had read a history book? Or at least had read a legal book? President Barack Obama, who, like Jeff Sessions but unlike Senator Schatz, is a lawyer. Here’s Senator Obama in 2006, arguing in favor of habeas corpus on the Senate floor:

The world is watching what we do today in America. They will know what we do here today, and they will treat all of us accordingly in the future—our soldiers, our diplomats, our journalists, anybody who travels beyond these borders. I hope we remember this as we go forward. I sincerely hope we can protect what has been called the “great writ”—a writ that has been in place in the Anglo-American legal system for over 700 years.

And here’s Obama during the 2008 campaign, making broadly the same point:

But Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago for more than a decade, said captured suspects deserve to file writs of habeus corpus.

Calling it “the foundation of Anglo-American law,” he said the principle “says very simply: If the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, ‘Why was I grabbed?’ And say, ‘Maybe you’ve got the wrong person.’”

The safeguard is essential, Obama continued, “because we don’t always have the right person.”

And here’s Obama as president, at it again:

Obama would not say whether it could be achieved within the first 100 days of his term, citing the challenge of creating a balanced process “that adheres to rule of law, habeas corpus, basic principles of Anglo-American legal system, but doing it in a way that doesn’t result in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up.

This usage — which is precisely the same as Sessions’s — is common, it is quotidian, it is downright normal. It is found in legal textbooks, in works of history, and in Supreme Court opinions alike. More important, it’s extremely useful. We need a term that means “long within the unusual legal tradition that predated the independence of this nation,” and “Anglo-American” works perfectly in that role. If we allow it to be taken from us by the hysterical and the unlettered, we’ll be considerably worse off for it.

Poverty and Single Mothers in the New York Times

by Robert VerBruggen

Over the weekend the New York Times published a piece arguing that “Single Mothers Are Not the Problem”: that is, “not the reason we have unusually high poverty in the United States, compared with other rich democracies.” The authors note, for example, that “among households headed by working-age adults, 8.8 percent of people lived in single-mother households in 2013” — suggesting it’s hard to put a dent in the overall poverty rate by making changes for this small demographic.

Fair enough, though I’m not sure too many people blame poverty in general on single mothers. What people do say is that single motherhood dramatically increases poverty among moms and their children — an intuition buttressed by simple statistics. As Child Trends notes, 20 percent of U.S. children lived in poverty in 2015, including 43 percent of those living in single-mother households but only 10 percent of those in married-couple households. Even in Europe, kids in single-mother households usually have more than double the poverty rate of those in married-couples households.

So what on earth are the Times authors talking about when they further claim that “in a majority of rich democracies, single mothers are not more likely to be poor”? They are referring to the results of a complicated study they published last year, one that’s worth delving into a bit.

Using data on individuals from 29 countries, they calculated the “prevalence” in each country of four phenomena often tied to poverty — single motherhood, unemployment, having a young head of household, and having low education. In addition, they created statistical models to calculate the “penalties” associated with these factors in each country — that is, the degree to which being in a single-parent household, etc., made a person more likely to be poor. These models included other control variables as well, such as whether the person’s household had more than one earner. (Poverty here is defined as a disposable income less than half the median for the country the person lives in, and the incomes are adjusted for household size.)

It’s a valuable study, tying together data from nations across the world and revealing differences in the way their residents behave and the penalties they incur. However, the results for single motherhood in particular — smaller penalties than you might think, and no penalty at all in many countries — are rather hard to interpret.

No one says that single-mother households have higher poverty rates by magic; rather, the claim is that such households have higher poverty rates because they’re bound to bring in less money than a two-adult household would. A single-mother household doesn’t have the option of having both parents work, for example, which not only reduces its potential income but guarantees that the entire household is unemployed whenever the mother is. When, in trying to assess the effects of single motherhood, you control for both household-wide unemployment and whether the household has two earners, you frame these factors as separate causes of poverty rather than as results of single motherhood that in turn cause poverty.

Keep reading this post . . .

I Read the Grassley Memo, and I’m Still Not Outraged at the FBI

by David French

I’ve read every memo I can read. I’ve read thousands of words of commentary about every memo that I can read. I’ve read the best writers and the worst writers. I’ve read along as my peerless colleague Andrew McCarthy has guided Americans through the ins and outs of federal criminal and counterintelligence investigations like a Sherpa helping tourists summit Everest. He’s the Apa Sherpa of Russia punditry.

But I’m not outraged. Not yet. Here’s why.

I’m with Trey Gowdy on the most consequential issue. Nothing revealed so far should impact the Mueller investigation. As he said very clearly, “There is a Russia investigation without a dossier.” He’s right. He’s clearly articulated at least some of the reasons why — the dossier had nothing to do with George Papadopoulos, nothing to do with Donald Jr.’s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower, and nothing to do with obstruction of justice. But the list could go on. The dossier had nothing to do with with the existence of an apparent Russian effort to help Donald Trump. It had nothing to do with Trump’s decisions to surround himself with advisers like Papadopoulos, Page, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn — people who each proved to have problematic ties to the Kremlin or Kremlin allies.

The dirty little secret of much of the outrage over the FISA-Gate is that roughly 90 percent of the fury isn’t over a “revelation” that the FISA program is a rubber-stamp threat to civil liberties (“Where y’all been?” asks Reason magazine), but rather over the conviction that a finding of misconduct in this one aspect of the much larger investigation should somehow discredit the whole. Gowdy says no. I agree. 

Moreover, FISA-Gate isn’t evidence that the FBI tried to stop Trump from winning the election. Let’s get real about this, please. It’s hard to impact the public debate with secret investigations. In fact, these memos only reaffirm something Democrats have complained about for more than a year. There was a flurry of FBI activity related to the Trump campaign, and it was almost entirely hidden from public view prior to the election. After reading the Nunes memo, that sound you heard was the sudden wailing and anguish of millions of Democrats wondering why the FBI made sure that the entire world knew chapter and verse of Hillary’s extreme carelessness in her handling of “very sensitive, highly-classified information” the very same month that it quietly opened an investigation of possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. 

While I believe the FBI should have recommended prosecution for Hillary, one thing is certain — it made a choice to make its objections to Hillary’s conduct public. It chose to publicly announce the re-opening of its email investigation in the weeks leading up to the election. Both of these actions were instrumental in further damaging Hillary’s already-tarnished public image. It’s hard to look at those public statements and conclude that the FBI was out to stop Trump.

Now, let’s look at some questions raised (rather than answered) by the Nunes/Grassley memos:

First, do the relevant judges believe they were misled? There is no shortage of commentators authoritatively opining on whether the FBI materially misled the FISC. Does the court agree? As others have noted, Rule 13(a) under the Rules of Procedure for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court requires the government to “immediately” inform the judge if any submission contains a “misstatement or omission of material fact.” Rule 5(c) permits the judge to “order a party to furnish any information that the judge deems necessary.”

Have the judges who reviewed the relevant applications asked for corrections or additional information? Have judges issued any orders to show cause why the government hasn’t made corrections under Rule 13(a)? These are important questions in determining whether the court believes the DOJ has committed acts of misconduct. I’ve seen what happens when federal judges believe agents of the government have misled them, and it would go a long way towards settling the public controversies if the court itself has weighed in.

Second, how much of FISA-Gate is a Christopher Steele/Clinton scandal and how much is an FBI scandal? In reading the Grassley memo, it seems that the FBI’s October 2016 FISA application was allegedly twisted by a Steele deception, not a government deception. Steele provided the dossier and was the source for a Yahoo News article which contains some of the same dossier information. The FBI allegedly stated that it did not believe (at the time of the application) that Steele had provided that information to the press.

If this is true, then it colors the analysis considerably. If a trusted former British intelligence official comes forward with information that seems to have some independent corroboration, then it’s far easier to make a good-faith argument that sufficient legal justification exists for a warrant than if part of that “corroboration” is fictional. Moreover, the Grassley memo provides evidence that the FBI seemed to believe (unless it was lying to court) even months later that Steele was not the source for the Yahoo article.

Third, were any FBI omissions or misstatements actually of “material facts”? Let’s discuss for a moment the alleged failure to inform the FISC that the funding for the Steele dossier came from the Clinton campaign. The Grassley memo acknowledges that the FISA application disclosed the dossier’s so-called “political origins.” Others have argued that disclosing political origins without defining those origins is a material omission. I’m skeptical. Judges aren’t idiots, and they know that damaging dossiers don’t typically come from a candidate’s political friends. Moreover, if a judge thought the identity precise political client was “material,” he could easily ask for the information.

Similarly, without seeing the precise language of the FBI’s multiple disclosures regarding Steele’s credibility problems — especially as contrasted with Steele’s actual testimony — it’s again very difficult to judge the FBI’s actions. The FBI disclosed that the dossier had political origins. It disclosed that Steele had credibility issues. Critics argue that the disclosures were insufficient. Perhaps. Perhaps not. 

Presently we’re left with entirely unsatisfactory, partial information. I want to see the FISA applications. I want to see any orders from the FISC. I want to see the Democratic memo. I want to see the underlying evidence — all with only the most minimal redactions that are absolutely necessary to protect national security.

Important people are using phrases like “worse than Watergate” to describe a “scandal” that so far hasn’t even been proven to be all that scandalous. It’s going to take more than two GOP memos (one partially-redacted) to convince me that I should be alarmed. Let’s see the evidence, and let the chips fall where they may.

Farewell

by Richard Brookhiser

Two noteworthy men have crossed the bar.

Jeff Bell worked at NR before my time. But I met him in 1978 when I covered his challenge of incumbent New Jersey senator Clifford Case in the Republican primary. Case was a liberal Republican, when there still were such. Jeff was alight with the fire of supply-side economics (there were stacks of Jude Wanniski’s The Way the World Works in his campaign HQ, like hymnals). Jeff beat Case, then lost to Democratic newcomer Bill Bradley. Jeff could wear you out, but he was intelligent and passionate.

Also gone is Milt Rosenberg, a professor at the University of Chicago and for many years host of “Extension 720” on radio station WGN. Milt’s show was simply the best radio interview show going. His time slot was two hours: a Proustian time span. He was smart, articulate, and knew your book (if that’s what you were on for) as well as you did. During commercial breaks he would tell stories about famous guests, who were legion. Gore Vidal asked him insistently, where in Chicago did one go for “intelligent conversation” (i.e., sex)? Milt won the National Humanities Medal in 2008.

R.I.P. 

Stealth Hillary Planning to Campaign Invisibly in 2018

by Kyle Smith

Buck up, GOP: your most valuable campaign asset is returning to boost your chances in the 2018 midterms. That’s right, Her Rodham Highness is planning to hit the hustings on behalf of selected Democrats. Why would Hillary Clinton return to campaigning in 2018 when the Democrats need to seize lots of seats from red and purple areas to have a chance at retaking the House and she has a 36 percent approval rating (according to Gallup, last November)? Well, Clinton and her friends and associates (hi, Peter Daou!) are under the impression she still has lots of ”star power.” I’d say she’s more like a star that collapsed in on itself and is now dangerous to approach. But the WaPo’s Robert Costa reports: “Her emerging 2018 strategy, according to more than a dozen friends and advisers familiar with her plans, is to leverage the star power she retains in some Democratic circles on behalf of select candidates while remaining sufficiently below the radar to avoid becoming a useful target for Republicans seeking to rile up their base.”

In keeping with her nutty decision to appear on the Grammys to ineffectually ridicule the man who ended her presidential dreams on Election Night 2016, Clinton can’t stop being entranced by the songs being sung by her chorus of sycophants. What’s hilarious is that she thinks a stealth strategy of making herself visible to her friends but invisible to her enemies is going to work. “She’s not going to be up front,” said Jaime Harrison, a former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, told Costa. Clinton plans to help turn out key blocs such as blacks and Latinos, Harrison says. Costa goes on to say ”there is an emphasis on Clinton moving cautiously rather than making headlines with a flurry of interviews and endorsements” like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

Remember who else tried campaigning in stealth mode? Barack Obama, who in the 2014 midterm campaigns went on Al Sharpton’s radio show two weeks before the election to say, of Democrats who were frantically trying to distance themselves from him, ”The bottom line is, though, these are all folks who vote with me. They have supported my agenda in Congress.” It turned out that non-Sharpton fans heard about the remark also. Every time Hillary Cllinton shows up at a campaign event she will be inviting the Republican party to remind Americans that Democrats want people like her to be in charge. This isn’t star power. This is more like the heel guest shot of GOP consultants’ dream. 

 

‘Knows No Other Country’?

by Mark Krikorian

Sen. Grassley and several Republican colleagues have unveiled legislation modeled on the White House immigration framework. It is expected to be offered as an amendment, perhaps as early as today, to the shell bill that Mitch McConnell has put forth as the Senate vehicle for immigration.

The fact sheet describing the bill’s high points lists criteria to qualify for the amnesty, including arrival in the U.S. before age 16. It adds: “Same standards used by the Obama Administration for DACA.”

As I ask in my piece on the home page today, why would an expansion of the amnesty beyond those who already have DACA work permits be based on the same criteria as Obama’s unlawful program, itself modeled on a bill Dick Durbin wrote in 2001? Most important, why should the age cutoff be as high as 16? As I wrote back in 2010:

If the point is to provide amnesty to those whose identity was formed here, then you’d need a much lower age cutoff. I have a 15-year-old, and if I took him to live illegally in Mexico (and living illegally is a lot harder to do there than here), he would always remain, psychologically, an American, because his identity is already formed. The Roman Catholic Church and English common law set the age of reason at seven. That, combined with a requirement of at least ten years’ continuous residence here, seems like a much more defensible place to draw the line.

Neither the White House/Grassley bill nor any of the other DACA-plus amnesty plans offers any justification for including people who came as teenagers in an amnesty intended for people “who know no other country.”

Behold, the National Portrait Gallery’s Visions of Barack and Michelle Obama

by Jim Geraghty

This morning, the National Portrait Gallery unveiled the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama.

The portrait of the forty-fourth President of the United States is… green and leafy:

Take your pick: he’s sitting by the ivy on the outfield wall at Wrigley Field in Chicago, he’s in the Garden of Eden, or this is all an elaborate promotion for The Weed Agency. (Perhaps it’s meant to suggest that when he sat in power, some Bushes were behind him?) Or maybe this is just what happens when earth tones get a lot of rain.

 At the unveiling, Obama pronounced the work “pretty sharp.”

Michelle Obama’s… is a little gray.

Like Obama’s presidency, the portraits are a break from tradition. 

 

On Poaching and Justice

by Jonah Goldberg

This morning, I spotted this story on Twitter:

Johannesburg (AFP) — A suspected poacher was mauled to death and eaten by a pack of lions close to the Kruger National Park in South Africa, police said Monday, adding that little was left of the victim’s body.

The remains were found at the weekend in the bush at a private game park near Hoedspruit in the northern province of Limpopo, where animals have been poached in increasing numbers over recent years.

“It seems the victim was poaching in the game park when he was attacked and killed by lions. They ate his body, nearly all of it, and just left his head and some remains,” Limpopo police spokesman Moatshe Ngoepe told AFP.

A loaded hunting rifle was found near the body on Saturday morning. Police are trying to establish the victim’s identity.

Last year, several lions were found poisoned near a farm in the same province with their heads and paws sawn off.

Lion body parts are used in traditional medicine.

Here was my succinct response:

A lot of people took offense or umbrage at my reaction. For instance, here was one of the first responses:

I am unmoved. First of all, I am a firm believer in the “looking for trouble” school of justice. If you try to rob a bank, and you’re shot in the process, I will shed no tears for you. Likewise, if you illegally try to hunt a lion, and the lion gets the upper paw, that’s fine by me.

Part of the reaction seems to be that people think I should never take the side of an animal over a human. They seem to think that because animals don’t have the same rights as people, it’s outrageous to take satisfaction when the lions’ offense put points on the board, as it were.

As I explained in a follow-up tweet, I have no quarrel with capital punishment for confirmed poachers of endangered animals, particularly elephants, but also other charismatic megafauna. This is not an argument about animal rights (though I do think the intelligence and social complexity of elephants makes killing them for sport or trinkets particularly grotesque). Put aside aesthetics or philosophy, these animals are incredibly valuable resources for developing countries in Africa and Asia. Poaching is a dire threat to their survival. Certainly, shooting poachers on sight is justifiable as a matter of property rights and/or deterrence (this poacher was on private land, by the way). Hanging convicted poachers is a thornier proposal on pragmatic grounds — but, in principle, it bothers me not at all. Of course, if you oppose capital punishment, you’ll disagree. But that’s not my position.

I certainly think capital punishment for people who cruelly poison these animals to the brink of extinction so some rich poltroon in China can have some “traditional” boner treatment or have an exotic rug is more defensible than executing someone for buying or selling drugs, yet capital punishment for drug crimes is common in many countries.

I do not like big-game hunting, but as a matter of law and, in some cases, conservation, governments can give hunting licenses to people who feel the desperate need to shoot an elephant or tiger. I think that’s grotesque, but that’s my personal moral and aesthetic judgment. Some decent people disagree, and that’s fine. But if you want to protect your ability or right to slaughter these animals, you too should be appalled by poaching. (Meanwhile, hunt all the deer you can. I couldn’t care less.)

Lastly, let me say a word for considerations that fall outside of typical cost-benefit analysis. These animals make the world a more wonderful place. They are among the most glorious of God’s creations. Even if you don’t feel that way, it’s certainly true for children all around the world, in every generation. If we wipe them out, it will be permanent. And the world will permanently be a shabbier place.

Between the Koreas, a Dangerous and Delicate Dance

by Jay Nordlinger

Headlines out of the Olympic Games say that North Korea is “stealing the show” and “winning diplomatic gold.” These headlines may be annoying, but they may also be true. This is an extremely important subject.

I’ve been an Olympic junkie for some years. And that includes the intersection of politics and the Olympics. There have been many books on this subject, not to mention thousands of articles. I’ve written several of my own — articles, that is.

The biggest, I think, was this one, from 2008, when Beijing held the Summer Games.

Today, it helps to see things from the South Korean point of view. They are fascinated by the North, understandably, and nervous about it too. The two Koreas fought a horrible war. If there is another one, the North will have nukes.

Furthermore, South Koreans are fascinated by North Korea’s ruling family, about which so little is known.

Pardon some plugola: In my history of the Nobel Peace Prize, I take up the subject of Kim Dae-jung, who won the prize in 2000. He won it for his “sunshine policy” toward North Korea. In a study of dictators’ families, I take up Jong-un, Yo-jong, and the rest. They are interesting, yes — ghoulishly so.

Something new under the sun was the arrival of Kim Yo-jong in South Korea. (She is the current dictator’s sister — his only full sister.) (He has some half-sisters, presuming they’re still alive.) She presents an attractive package — at a time when many South Koreans are ripe for seduction.

When Korean athletes from both states marched under the same flag — a “unification” flag — this was highly meaningful to the South Koreans watching. And President Moon’s handshake with Kim Yo-jong was highly meaningful too.

These gestures brought people relief and hope — misplaced as those things may be. As I say, South Korea is ripe for seduction.

The United States is not without responsibility in this. President Trump has talked about abrogating the free-trade agreement between the U.S. and South Korea. (It was signed in 2007, when George W. Bush was in office.) He has adopted the slogan “America First.” He has cast doubt on old alliances.

If you were South Korean, what would you think? You might think that you could not rely on Uncle Sam, as you have for decades. You might look for a rapprochement with the North, some of that elusive “sunshine.”

Also, Trump has bragged about the size of his “nuclear button.” He says that it’s bigger than Kim Jong-un’s. Moreover, there is talk from the White House about a “bloody nose”: a “limited” first strike by America on North Korea, to stun and sober the regime.

If you’re a South Korean, prone to war jitters, what are you thinking now? After all, you and your countrymen would be casualties in a war.

Furthermore, Trump signaled his intention to nominate Victor Cha as ambassador to South Korea — and then scotched the idea. Cha is an experienced scholar and national-security hand. He is against the abrogation of the free-trade agreement and against the bloody-nose strategy. That is why, according to reports, Trump withdrew him.

This might have been minor news in our country — but you can bet that South Koreans heard about it. These things may matter little to us, but they matter a helluva lot to them. The U.S. is still without an ambassador in Seoul.

So, yes, South Korea is in a seducible condition, and Kim Yo-jong is an effective instrument of seduction, unfortunately.

Remember what we said about Raisa Gorbachev, who made a big impression on Western publics? We joked that she was “the first Soviet First Lady to weigh less than her husband.”

A delicate and dangerous dance is taking place on the Korean Peninsula. This is a time for maximum realism, and some imagination to boot. U.S. diplomacy has to be at its nimblest and shrewdest.

By the way, as regular readers know, I’ve written about a number of North Korean escapees, or defectors. They are some of the bravest people on earth. To find out about Jung Gwang-il, go here. To find out about about Yeonmi Park, go here.

Could Reading Books by Dead White Males Do Students Any Good?

by George Leef

To hear campus “progressives” talk, reading anything by a dead white male is a form of brain pollution since, y’know, those people are to blame for all our woes. But on the other hand, some scholars still think there is value in reading such books. Some un-woke students also seem to think so.

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins writes about some of the country’s remaining Great Books programs. She argues that they help give students a unified education. Among the schools that still have Great Books programs are Columbia, the University of Dallas, and Notre Dame. And one small college in North Carolina, Belmont Abbey, has recently begun a program that gives students several options.

About that program, Watkins writes,

Another notable feature of Belmont Abbey’s program is the design of the senior year, where the curriculum focuses on “Crises in the West.” The goal of this last year is to connect everything students have learned from the Great Books to current events and issues. Some course titles include “Freedom, Rights, and Virtue,” “Education and the Fate of Nations,” and “Globalism, Nationalism, and the Limits of Commerce.” Students read modern authors such as Friedrich Hayek, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Theodor Adorno — names not typically studied in Great Books programs, but who nonetheless have significantly influenced recent intellectual and socio-political thought.

Sounds like a superb intellectual challenge.

Referring to her own undergraduate education at UCLA and that of a Princeton grad, Eva Marie Haine, Watkins writes, “Unfortunately, both Haine and I didn’t realize how impoverished our education was until we were nearly done with our undergraduate careers. I believe that both of our frustrations stem from a lack of an overarching vision and from a need for a deeper sense of purpose in our studies — a deficiency that a well-structured Great Books track could have remedied.”

Let a thousand educational flowers bloom, including Great Books programs.

National Review Summer Internship

by NR Staff

National Review is accepting applications for its summer internship. The intern will work in our New York office, receive a modest stipend, participate in every part of the editorial process, and have some opportunities to write. The ideal candidate will have an excellent academic record and some experience in student or professional journalism. If you wish to apply, please send a cover letter, your résumé, and two of your best writing samples (no more, please) to editorial.applications (at) nationalreview.com.