Enlightenment Fail : A Dane is Charged with Blasphemy

by Andrew Stuttaford

The New York Times (my emphasis added):

A 42-year-old man who burned a Quran and posted a video of it on Facebook has been charged with blasphemy in Denmark, a striking decision by prosecutors in a country that is largely secular but has grappled with the role of Islam in public life…

The decision to charge the Quran burner was made by a regional prosecutor in Viborg, on the Jutland peninsula, and had to be approved by the country’s attorney general.

The blasphemy law has been invoked only a handful of times since its creation in 1866, most recently in 1971, when two people broadcast a song mocking Christianity and stirred a debate over female sexuality. They were acquitted. No one has been convicted of the crime since 1946, when a man dressed himself up as a priest and mock-baptized a doll at a masquerade ball.

In the current case, the suspect, who was not identified by the authorities but called himself John Salvesen on Facebook, uploaded video footage of a Quran being burned in his backyard. In the 4-minute, 15-second clip, the clicking sounds of a lighter are heard before flames engulf the large leather-bound book.

The video was posted on Dec. 27, 2015, to a Facebook group called “Yes to Freedom — No to Islam.” Above the video, shared 415 times, were the words: “Consider your neighbor, it stinks when it burns.” One commenter wrote: “If I had the Quran I’d also burn it, that’s the only thing it’s good for. Gives a bit of heat.”

The man’s Facebook page was full of messages critical of Islam, refugees and women. In one post, he even wrote, “I hate children.”

Not the most likable of individuals, it seems, but that, in this context, is neither here nor there.  A decade or so ago, shortly after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published the Mohammed cartoons, I wrote an article examining the reaction elsewhere in Europe to Denmark’s defense of free speech:

Denmark, and its tradition of free speech, has been left to twist in the wind, trashed, abused, and betrayed. An article published in Jyllands-Posten (yes, them again) on Friday revealed clear frustration over the way that the country is being treated. It’s in Danish only, but one phrase (“Ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed. Der er intet men.”) stands out, and it deserves to be translated and repeated again, and again, and again: “Free speech is free speech is free speech. There is no but.”

That was then.

After the Charlie-Hebdo massacre all but one of Denmark’s major newspapers published some of the French magazine’s edgier cartoons. The one that did not was Jyllands-Posten, citing security concerns, a decision, the newspaper explained, showed that “violence works”.

Back to The New York Times (again, my emphasis added): 

Jacob Mchangama, director of Justitia, a Danish civil liberties group, called the decision to file charges the latest sign of a declining respect for free speech in Europe. “It’s a sad development but one that mirrors developments elsewhere,” he said.

Mr. Mchangama said he thought the prosecutor was motivated by a desire to fend off the threat of terrorist attacks. “Danish authorities are afraid that the Quran burning could spark a new crisis, and if they say that they’ve actually charged this person, this is a way to appease or at least avoid such a crisis,” he said.

Violence works.

The Times writes brightly that ‘only’ five EU countries have blasphemy laws on the books (not nothing, I reckon, in a union of 28), but fails to note how European authorities in a number of other member-states have sometimes used ‘hate crimes’ legislation as a de facto blasphemy law. Lest we forget: Free speech is not a #EuropeanValue .

Oh yes, according to the Koran-burner’s defence lawyer, in 1997 a Danish artist burned a copy of the Bible on a news show by a state broadcaster. There was no prosecution.

And there wouldn’t be now I reckon, which is how it should be. But the fact that there wouldn’t is simultaneously a double standard, patronizing (Muslim sensitivities apparently need special protection) and, yet again, a recognition that violence works.

So, usually, does intimidation by the state. According to the Times, “a trial has been scheduled for June. If convicted, the defendant faces up to four months in prison or a fine.”  But a conviction and any penalty are not really the point. The process itself, with its expense, anxiety and more, is both punishment and a message that the authorities want to send out to any Dane thinking of expressing the wrong sort of thoughts about Islam in the wrong way. 

Meanwhile, Trine Bramsen, a member of Parliament and a spokeswoman of the Social Democrats (the leading party of Denmark’s center-left) has, the Times reports, defended the blasphemy law:

“I struggle to see how that we’ll achieve a stronger society, or how we’ll enrich the public debate, if the burning of holy books was permitted”.

So what? Burning the Koran may add nothing (or less than nothing) to the debate, but the idea that controversial expressions of opinion can only be permitted if they are in the interests of a “stronger society” (whatever that is) or “enrich the public debate” (whoever decides that) is entirely at odds with the idea of truly free speech.

And so, needless to say, are blasphemy laws. 

The Nationalism That Dare Not Speak Its Name

by Rich Lowry

Our friend and colleague Mona Charen has written a column on the nationalism/patriotism debate. First, I appreciate her kind words about me and Ramesh, and the regard is very mutual. But I obviously don’t agree with her critique. Ramesh and I wrote a piece arguing that there are good and bad forms of nationalism. So it’s not enough to point out the nationalists who have done terrible things. We don’t like Nasser, Putin or Mussolini, either. To rebut our argument, it’s necessary to show that nationalism is inherently problematic in pretty much all its expressions. 

To wit: It was unfortunate that the Chosen People of the Old Testament provided an example for all sorts of people to imagine their country was the new chosen people (this is not just a characteristic of America). It was regrettable that Polish nationalists schemed and dreamed of how to recover their country from dismemberment by Hohenzollern, Habsburg and Romanov dynasties in 1795. It was disturbing how the British deployed nationalism to bolster their resistance to Napoleon and his dream of building a multi-national empire. It was too bad that Rembrandt played into a national myth by painting Civilis, the leader of the Batavian uprising. It was great tragedy that a nationalist movement, i.e., Zionism, restored the Jewish people to their homeland  in a nation-state that has defied the “international community” for decades. And so on.

Indeed, it is quite notable that our anti-nationalist critics never express the least chagrin over the creation of the community of nations that is nationalism’s epochal achievement. They don’t rue the passing of (most) multi-national empires. They don’t have a kind word for the E.U., for the U.N., for the International Criminal Court, for any of the trans-national efforts to harness nation-states that are presumed to be inherently aggressive and dangerous by their cosmopolitan critics.

This debate has only confirmed me in my conviction that all conservatives are nationalists to some extent or other, even if some are uncomfortable with the word when they shouldn’t be. 

New Democratic Party Chair Thomas Perez Was Cited By Congress For Official Misdonduct

by Dan McLaughlin

After a length and contentious campaign, the Democratic Party has chosen Thomas Perez, who served as Labor Secretary and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under President Obama, as its new chairman over Congressman Keith Ellison. Perez was seen as the more establishment choice, given his ties to Obama and Hillary Clinton and Ellison’s incendiary history. He is, however, every bit as much a hard-left progressive. Moreover, it is worth recalling that in 2013, when he was under consideration for the Labor job, Perez was cited by an unusual joint Congressional report for manipulating the legal system and misleading Congress in sworn testimony.

The controversy arose from Perez’s efforts in 2011-12 to prevent the Court from hearing a case challenging “disparate impact” theories of liability under the Fair Housing Act. Perez was apparently concerned that this expansive theory would not survive the Court’s scrutiny, and undertook an unconventional series of steps to prevent the case from reaching the Court. As the joint report by the Senate and House Judiciary Committees and the House Oversight Committee found:

  • The Department of Justice entered into a quid pro quo arrangement with the City of St. Paul, Minnesota, in which the Department agreed to drop two cases — United States ex rel. Newell v. City of St. Paul and United States ex rel. Ellis v. City of St. Paul et al. — in exchange for the City withdrawing Magner v. Gallagher from the Supreme Court.
  • In declining to intervene in a whistleblower complaint as part of the quid pro quo with the City of St. Paul, the Department of Justice gave up the opportunity to recover as much as $200 million.
  • The initial development of the quid pro quo by senior political appointees, and the subsequent 180 degree change of position, confused and frustrated the career Department of Justice attorneys responsible for enforcing the False Claims Act, who described the situation as “weirdness,” “ridiculous,” and a case of “cover your head ping pong.”
  • The “consensus” of the federal government to switch its recommendation and decline intervention in Newell was the direct result of Assistant Attorney General Perez manipulating the process and advising and overseeing the communications between the City of St. Paul, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Civil Division within the Department of Justice.
  • Assistant Attorney General Perez attempted to cover up the quid pro quo when he personally instructed career attorneys to omit a discussion of Magner in the declination memos that outlined the reasons for the Department’s decision to decline intervention in Newell and Ellis, and focus instead only “on the merits.”
  • Assistant Attorney General Perez attempted to cover up the quid pro quo when he insisted that the final deal with the City settling two cases worth potentially millions of dollars to the Treasury not be reduced to writing, instead insisting that your “word was your bond.”
  • Assistant Attorney General Perez made multiple statements to the Committees that contradicted testimony from other witnesses and documentary evidence. 
  • The ethics and professional responsibility opinions obtained by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez and his staff were narrowly focused on his personal and financial interests in a deal and his authority to speak on behalf of the Civil Division, and thus do not address the quid pro quo itself or Perez’s particular actions in effectuating the quid pro quo.
  • The Justice Department marginalized a whistleblower and reduced him to a “bargaining chip” in his own words to advance their agenda.

Darrell Issa issued a scathing statement at the time:

“After a year of investigation by three congressional committees, we have found that Mr. Perez inappropriately used a whistleblower as bargaining chip and passed on an opportunity to collect $200 million for taxpayers,” said Issa. “This occurred as part of a deal he arranged to ensure an ideological pet policy of the Obama Administration would avoid Supreme Court scrutiny.  In addition, Perez took steps attempting to cover-up his involvement in the quid pro quo and offered numerous misleading statements to investigators that are contradicted by the evidence.  Mr. Perez’s conduct has stained the integrity of the Justice Department and created serious doubt about its commitment to protecting the legal rights of whistleblowers who come forward with legitimate information about abuses of taxpayer funds.”

As Chuck Grassley noted in an uncharacteristically blistering speech opposing Perez’s nomination, after laying out the evidence of Perez’s conduct leading up to the quid pro quo deal with St. Paul: 

 Mr. Perez offered to provide the other side with information that would help them defeat Mr. Newell in this case on behalf of the United States. In my opinion, this is simply stunning.  Mr. Perez represents the United States.  Any lawyer would say it is highly inappropriate to offer to help the other side defeat their own client. 

As it turned out, Perez faced no consequences for any of this, and disparate impact was ultimately upheld 5-4 in 2015, thanks to Justice Kennedy, over a blistering dissent by Justice Thomas that traced the origins of the doctrine all the way through Perez as being rife with misleading conduct by the government and its lawyers.

Meet the new boss, Democrats. Same as the old boss.

Peter Singer Thinks Intellectually Disabled Less Valuable than Pigs

by Wesley J. Smith

In his apologetics for infanticide, Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer has used a baby with Down syndrome as an example of a killable infant based on utilitarian measurements. (He actually supports infanticide because babies–whether disabled or not–are, in his view, not “persons.”)

To Singer, moral value primary comes from intellectual capacities, and that means that developmentally and cognitively disabled human beings (also, the unborn and infants) have less value than other human beings, and indeed, a lower worth than some animals.

Were society to ever adopt Singer’s bigoted anti-human exceptionalism views, it would mark the end of universal human rights, opening the door to tyrannical pogroms against the most weak and vulnerable–you know, the kind of people that the Singers of the world deem resource wasters.

It would also break the spine of unconditional love, as our children would have to earn their place by possessing requisite capacities.

Take the recent statements by Singer, published in the Journal of Practical Ethics in which he explains why he would adopt a child with Down syndrome out (my emphasis). He then expresses a profound bigotry against people with cognitive and developmental disabilities (my emphasis).

For me, the knowledge that my [hypothetical Down] child would not be likely to develop into a person whom I could treat as an equal, in every sense of the word, who would never be able to have children of his or her own, who I could not expect to grow up to be a fully independent adult, and with whom I could expect to have conversations about only a limited range of topics would greatly reduce my joy in raising my child and watching him or her develop.

“Disability” is a very broad term, and I would not say that, in general, “a life with disability” is of less value than one without disability. Much will depend on the nature of the disability.

But let’s turn the question around, and ask why someone would deny that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being is of less value than the life of a normal human being. Most people think that the life of a dog or a pig is of less value than the life of a normal human being.

On what basis, then, could they hold that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being with intellectual capacities inferior to those of a dog or a pig is of equal value to the life of a normal human being? This sounds like speciesism to me, and as I said earlier, I have yet to see a plausible defence of speciesism. After looking for more than forty years, I doubt that there is one

Invidious discrimination exists when equals–e.g., all human beings–are denigrated as unequal based on some category that the bigot believes reduces the status of the discriminated against human, e.g. racism, sexism, and Singer-style discrimination against people with cognitive or developmental disabilities. 

But human beings and animals do not inhabit the same moral realm. It is not wrong or discrimination to view and treat us differently than we do them.

Moreover, the very concept of “speciesism”–used liberally in animal rights activism and bioethics–is inherently and invidiously anti-human because it reduces us to so many carbon molecules with no inherent value beyond our cognitive capabilities at the moment of measurement. To repeat myself, speciesism philosophy, like utilitarianism, makes universal human rights impossible to sustain intellectually.

Assuming such utilitarian values would destroy the principles of Western Civilization.

And never mind the real capacities of many people with Down, which Singer mischaracterizes, or their extraordinary loving natures–which I have yet to see Singer opine much about. To Singer, intellect trumps all.

That’s bigotry any way you look at it, no different than racism, except that his victims are less able to defend themselves.

I have always found it odd that Singer faces little of the opprobrium society metes out to other bigots. Indeed, he was brought to Princeton from Australia and given one of the world’s most prestigious chairs in bioethics–despite not having an academic Ph.D.–precisely because of these attitudes. 

Despite supporting the propriety of killing babies, I have no doubt that Singer will continue to be the New York Times’ favorite philosopher.

HT: Bioedge

History: “Said To” Have Happened

by Andrew Stuttaford

I haven’t seen Bitter Harvest, the new film made about the Holodomor, the man-made famine that transformed Ukraine from bread basket to mass grave, so I have absolutely no view on its artistic merit. It may be terrible (the reviews I have read have not been kind) but this from Michael O’Sullivan’s review in the Washington Post, well…

The Holodomor — an early 1930s famine in which millions of people in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, are said to have died when their foodstuffs were confiscated by the central Soviet government under Joseph Stalin.

Are said to have died?

We  will never know precisely how many died. In Khrushchev Remembers, the former Soviet leader explained why:

I can’t give an exact figure because no one was keeping count. All we knew was that people were dying in enormous numbers. 

There is, however, no doubt at all that the death toll ran into the millions, perhaps 3-4 million, although there are (far) higher estimates out there.

And then:

Whether the Holodomor resulted from a policy of systemic genocide, as is the official position of Ukraine and many other governments, or was a terrible situation that nevertheless fails to meet the definition of deliberate mass murder, as others have characterized it, is a matter for U.N. diplomats and historians to argue about.

Well, Raphael Lemkin was someone who thought that it was genocide. Raphael Lemkin? Oh, he’s just the man who devised the word ‘genocide’, and whose ideas were hugely influential in the post-war treaty-making that established how that crime came to be defined.

In an unpublished work, he described the Holodomor as “perhaps the classic example of Soviet genocide”, a genocide that  he saw as multi-pronged—intellectual, cultural and, of course, physical, with the latter itself falling, Lemkin argued, into three categories:

The first blow is aimed at the intelligentsia, the national brain, so as to paralyze the rest of the body.”

Going along with this attack on the intelligentsia was an offensive against the churches, priests and hierarchy, the “soul” of Ukraine. Between 1926 and 1932, the Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church, its Metropolitan (Lypkivsky) and 10,000 clergy were liquidated.

The third prong of the Soviet plan was aimed at the farmers, the large mass of independent peasants who are the repository of the tradition, folklore and music, the national language and literature, the national spirit, of Ukraine. The weapon used against this body is perhaps the most terrible of all – starvation.

It is true that Soviet agricultural ‘reform’ (collectivization) also took a hideous toll outside Ukraine and that there were famines elsewhere, famines that were, to Moscow, an acceptable price to be paid for what the Communist Party saw as progress. But at the same time, the Stalinist regime had already launched a broad attack on Ukrainian nationalism (real, potential and imagined). It then deliberately took the murderous opportunity presented by collectivization to break a very large community—the peasant-farmers—who were key not only to Ukraine’s sense of a separate identity, but of its ability to sustain that identity. 


The crop that year was ample to feed the people and livestock of Ukraine, though it had fallen off somewhat from the previous year, a decrease probably due in large measure to the struggle over collectivization. But a famine was necessary for the Soviet[s] and so they got one to order, by plan, through an unusually high grain allotment to the state as taxes. To add to this, thousands of acres of wheat were never harvested, were left to rot in the fields. The rest was sent to government granaries to be stored there until the authorities had decided how to allocate it. Much of this crop, so vital to the lives of the Ukrainian people, ended up as exports for the creation of credits abroad.”

Back to the Washington Post’s review:

Stalin (Gary Oliver) is depicted as a villain straight out of a black-and-white serial from 100 years ago, with his evil henchman, the commissar Sergei (Tamer Hassan), portrayed as a brutish caricature of heartlessness. When the commissar and his Bolshevik enforcers descend upon a Ukrainian farming village, for instance, trampling on horseback over an innocent woman making her way with a loaf of bread, the camera cuts to an unsubtle and overly symbolic shot: the broken and blood-spattered loaf, lying by the side of the road.

Stalin was clever, complicated and, when necessary, subtle: The most effective devils often are. Before weighing Oliver’s performance, I’ll (obviously) have to see the film to judge just how crude a caricature it is. I wonder, however, if an overly melodramatic depiction of a villainous Hitler, particularly in a movie describing the horrors of the Third Reich to an audience in which many were unfamiliar with the historical background (the fact that the Holodomor is likely to come as news to many is a topic in its own right) would have received quite the same criticism. As for the “brutish” and the heartless”, well, many of those who pushed through and enforced this genocide were indeed that. 

It comes with the territory when eradicating, yes, millions 

The Editors: CPAC

by NR Staff

Check out the latest episode of The Editors, on which Rich Lowry, Reihan Salam, Ian Tuttle, and David French discuss CPAC, Milo Yiannopoulos’s latest flap, General McMaster’s new role as National Security Advisor, and more! 

Krauthammer’s Take: Trump’s Hostility Works on the Base, but Press Can’t Allow Itself to Be Bullied

by NR Staff

With Trump showing more hostility to the media, Charles Krauthammer discussed the value of that political strategy while affirming that the press should not kowtow to any bullying:

It works on the base. He will get the cheers and the applause all the time. I don’t think it works anywhere else. I think people are rightly somewhat concerned. They may not be alarmed — what happened today was symbolic and minor as a real thing, but nonetheless, the symbolism is alarming. The president uses a phrase from Lenin: enemies of the people. If you were an enemy of the people in Lenin’s day, you were dead. These are serious historical terms that shouldn’t ever be used, and you are sending a message that you are hostile to certain media outlets.

As you say, on the same day, you explicitly, unsubtly exclude them from a gaggle. In the scheme of things, that doesn’t matter, but I am glad to see that Fox joined with all of the others — we being a favored outlet for Trump — remembering that when Obama excluded Fox from access way back when, everyone rallied around us and said, if you don’t include them, we’re not going to be there. It is the only way to do it. The press can’t allow itself to be bullied. And I’m glad it’s not.

Trump at CPAC

by Rich Lowry

Not surprisingly, he owned the place. It’s an amazing turnaround from when he was a sideshow or a controversial presence. It was a characteristic Trump performance–bizarrely mesmerizing, amusingly candid (I’m thinking of the beginning when he said he realized that politics was for him when he first spoke at CPAC and got a big reaction without preparing), at times indefensible, roguishly funny, over the top, overwhelmingly concerned with his signature themes and issues, and quite effective. 

He didn’t have to trim or tailor his message to suit CPAC conservatism, because at the moment Trumpism is CPAC conservatism.

I’m not as bothered by his nationalism as some of my colleagues (conservative crowds chanted “USA” prior to the rise of Donald Trump). And it remains to be seen how distinct Trump’s program will end up being.

Already his infrastructure program, which might have been a major declaration of ideological independence at the outset of his administration, has been put off to the second year when often things don’t happen at all. Trade policy will be telling and at this juncture it’s impossible to know how aggressive the administration will be. It could be that we will initiate a trade war that upsets the international trading order as we know it. It could be, on the other hand, that the most important policy departure ends up being a Paul Ryan-crafted border adjustment tax (although its chances of passage in the Senate may be dicey even if Trump gets behind it). 

The rest of the agenda in Congress is Obamacare repeal, tax reform, and de-regulation, or what you would expect from any GOP president. Trump certainly sounds different than any other Republican, but we won’t know for a while whether this ends up being a gloss on a relatively conventional GOP program or heralds the radical departure it is sometimes advertised as.

How Sliding into Leftism Hurt a Small, Religious College

by George Leef

Elizabethtown College was founded in 1899 by a German religious sect, the Anabaptists. It survived quite nicely until leftist politics began to take over in the 1990s. When a hard-nosed president retired in 1996, the floodgates were opened wide and the college has since been overrun by Social Justice Warriors. Most recently, students were proudly wearing white puzzle pieces to announce their hated of “white priviege” and all the oppression it brings to people of color.

Professor Paul Gottfried taught at Elizabethtown for more than 30 years and in this Martin Center article, he laments the way the school (located in Lancaster County, Pa.) has fallen under the spell of progressive politics. He writes about the school following the retirement of that hard-nosed president:

During the next two administrations, the troublemakers got the “hope of change” they thought they wanted. It came in the form of lavishly salaried administrators (certainly by comparison to those who preceded them), rapidly escalating tuition, and a shifting emphasis at the college from a strict Pietist environment to the PC fad du jour, lately “white privilege.” I’ve never seen an institution change so fundamentally within just a few years.

Elizabethtown College has strayed far from its beginnings and is moving further away every year. While it still has some solid liberal-arts education to offer, the P.C. forces are steadily replacing education with indoctrination.

Costs has gone up dramatically (in part to pay for more administrators who fill essentially useless jobs) while educational quality has fallen. Summing up, Gottfried writes, “In a nutshell, the college has become too expensive for what it offers its average student; an erosion of the customer base has started. Since 2009, the student body has declined from 1,866 to 1,707 and the school is encountering increasing difficulty meeting its annual goal of 450 entering freshmen. This year it trimmed $3 million from its budget. Justified fear has set in among the faculty that further savings will be extracted from their salaries and benefits. It’s hard to imagine why one would go to Elizabethtown to partake of a uniqueness that no longer exists.”

American students and their parents are starting to realize that high-priced college degrees that don’t deliver palpable value in terms of knowledge and skill just aren’t worth it. Merely having a degree in something from somewhere is becoming increasingly pointless. For that reason, many small colleges like Elizabethtown are facing serious trouble.

When It Comes to Press Access, Trump Needs To Be Better than Obama, Not Worse

by David French

Today administration officials reportedly barred a number of news outlets from joining an informal press briefing. The AP has the details:

News organizations including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CNN and Politico were blocked from joining an informal, on the record White House press briefing on Friday.

The Associated Press chose not to participate in the gaggle following the move by White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

“The AP believes the public should have as much access to the president as possible,” Lauren Easton, the AP’s director of media relations, said in a statement.

Several news organizations were allowed in, including the conservative website Breitbart News. The site’s former executive chairman, Steve Bannon, is chief strategist to President Donald Trump.

For its part, the Trump administration is denying any ill intent, claiming instead that it had just invited a few additional reporters to join the pool:

I have a few thoughts. First, if the AP report is accurate, then the administration’s move was just silly and wrong. Full stop. The only reason to exclude a news organization from a press briefing should be space available, with space allocated on a viewpoint-neutral basis. Punishing the press by excluding the press (if that’s what happened here) is no way to run a press office.

Second, the White House should know that it’s move is completely unsustainable. Every news organization with any integrity will rightly boycott briefings if the White House excludes disfavored outlets. This is yet another one of the informal but effective checks on White House power. While a portion of Trump’s base may hate the media so much that they’re fine if Sean Spicer ends up only briefing Gateway Pundit, most of the rest of America finds press exclusion ridiculous. 

Third, yes I know that the Obama administration’s hands weren’t clean on this point. Indeed, I’d forgotten how unclean they were. This 2009 New York Times report on the conflict between the Obama administration and Fox was a nice walk down memory lane:

Late last month, the senior White House adviser David Axelrod and Roger Ailes, chairman and chief executive of Fox News, met in an empty Palm steakhouse before it opened for the day, neutral ground secured for a secret tête-à-tête.

Mr. Ailes, who had reached out to Mr. Axelrod to address rising tensions between the network and the White House, told him that Fox’s reporters were fair, if tough, and should be considered separate from the Fox commentators who were skewering President Obama nightly, according to people briefed on the meeting. Mr. Axelrod said it was the view of the White House that Fox News had blurred the line between news and anti-Obama advocacy.

Why was the administration angry? Fox had been on the offensive. Other networks had confessed they had not been fast enough in covering stories Fox was covering, including Van Jones’s controversial comments and affiliations:

At the same time, Fox News had continued a stream of reports rankling White House officials and liberal groups that monitor its programming for bias.

Those reports included a critical segment on the schools safety official Kevin Jennings, with the on-screen headline “School Czar’s Past May Be Too Radical”; urgent news coverage of a video showing schoolchildren “singing the praises, quite literally, of the president,” which the Fox News contributor Tucker Carlson later called “pure Khmer Rouge stuff”; and the daily anti-Obama salvos from Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.

There followed, beginning in earnest more than two weeks ago, an intensified volley of White House comments describing Fox as “not a news network.”

“Not a news network” sounds a bit like “fake news,” does it not? The president himself waded into the fray:

Speaking privately at the White House on Monday with a group of mostly liberal columnists and commentators, including Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann of MSNBC and Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich and Bob Herbert of The New York Times, Mr. Obama himself gave vent to sentiments about the network, according to people briefed on the conversation.

Then, in an interview with NBC News on Wednesday, the president went public. “What our advisers have simply said is that we are going to take media as it comes,” he said. “And if media is operating, basically, as a talk radio format, then that’s one thing. And if it’s operating as a news outlet, then that’s another.”

The Treasury Department reportedly tried to exclude Fox from a “round of interviews” with executive-pay czar Kenneth Feinberg, and — just like today — Fox’s competitors rebelled. Bret Baier hadn’t forgotten the incident and tweeted this:

I share these details not to justify Trump administration actions but to note that we’re not exactly in uncharted territory. Administrations are tempted to take action against “unfriendly” news organizations, and it’s incumbent on news outlets to follow Benjamin Franklin’s admonition (given in far more consequential times), “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.”

It’s one thing to bash the press. It’s another thing entirely to take steps to deny access to disfavored outlets. When it comes to access, Trump needs to be better than Obama, not worse. 

Trump Hails His Election as a Victory for Conservatism at CPAC

by NR Staff

Basking in his victory in front of an enthusiastic CPAC crowd, President Donald Trump today called his election to the presidency a “win for conservative values” and promised to put American citizens first. On the whole, the president stuck to his campaign themes — even where they conflicted with what used to be the norm in the Republican party — and he spoke in the loose style that listeners have come to expect at this rallies.

Trump opened with an attack on the media, and he affirmed his right to criticize them even as they exercise their own right in covering him:

They say that we can’t criticize their dishonest coverage because of the First Amendment. They always bring up the First Amendment. I love the First Amendment. Nobody loves it better than me. Nobody — who uses it more than I do? But the First Amendment gives all of us — it gives it to me it gives it to you, it gives it to all Americans — the right to speak our minds freely. It gives you the right and me the right to criticize fake news and criticize it strongly.

He also let it be known that he thought his victory benefitted the conservative movement:

Our victory was a win like nobody has ever seen before. And I’m here fighting for you, and I will continue to fight for you. The victory and the win was something that really was dedicated to a country and people that believe in freedom, security and the rule of law. Our victory was a victory and a win for conservative values. And our victory was a win for everyone who believes it’s time to stand up for America, to stand up for the American worker, and to stand up for the American flag.

Later, Trump spoke about trade, and let the crowd know that he has no plans to go back to traditionally conservative free-trade views:

I’ve also followed through on my campaign promise and withdrawn America from the Trans-Pacific Partnership so that we can protect our economic freedom. And we’re going to make trade deals, but we’re going to do one-on-one — one-on-one — and if they misbehave, we terminate the deal, and then they come back and we’ll make a better deal. None of these big quagmire deals that are disaster.

Just take a look at NAFTA, one of the worst deals ever made by any country having to do with economic development. It’s economic undevelopment as far as our country is concerned.

Perhaps most interesting given the current debates in Congress, he reaffirmed major promises on taxes, jobs, and the economy:

Another major promise is tax reform. We are going to massively lower taxes on the middle class, reduce taxes on American business, and make our tax code more simple and much more fair for everyone, including the people and the business. In anticipation of these and other changes, jobs are already starting to pour back into our country. You see that.

In fact, I think I did more than any other president. They say president-elect. President-elect is meeting with Ford, he’s meeting with Chrysler, he’s meeting with General Motors. I just wanted to save a little time because Ford and Fiat Chrysler, General Motors, Sprint, Intel, and so many others are now because of the election result making major investments in the United States, expanding production and hiring more workers. And they’re going back to Michigan and they’re going back to Ohio and they’re going back to Pennsylvania and they’re going back to North Carolina and to Florida.

It’s time for all Americans to get off of welfare and get back to work. You’re going to love it.

In the end, the president didn’t just criticize his opponents and past U.S. policy, he also voiced optimism about America, saying near the end of the speech:

There is no dream too large, no task too great. We are Americans, and the future belongs to us — the future belongs to all of you. And America is coming about, it’s, and it’s coming back and it’s roaring and you can hear it. It’s going to be bigger and better.

Trump, Federalism, and the Rule of Law

by Ramesh Ponnuru

This week the Trump administration has said both that states and localities could set their own policies on the access of transgender people to school bathrooms and locker rooms and that the federal government will crack down on the marijuana trade in states that have chosen to legalize it. Noah Rothman argues that this set of decisions reflects a White House that is more solicitous of the concerns of social conservatives than it is devoted to federalism.

Whatever the reasons the administration is taking this line, it seems to me that its decisions are defensible. The Obama administration’s regulation regarding transgender access stretched statutory law, and so did its decision not to enforce (or not to prioritize the enforcement of) federal marijuana laws in some places. On federalist grounds, I’d like to see Congress change the marijuana laws. But given that they are still on the books and not obviously unconstitutional, it seems reasonable for the executive branch to enforce them.

Nigel Farage at CPAC: ‘2016 Was the Year that the Nation-State Democracy Made a Comeback’

by NR Staff

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage spoke at CPAC today. He declared that the U.K.’s Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump both represent a move away from “globalism.” “When, in years to come, the generations that follow us study the history of this period,” he said, “there is one year that will stand out — there is one year that every schoolchild will know — and that year is the year of 2016.”

“In 2016 we witnessed the beginning of a global political revolution, and it’s one that is not going to stop, it’s one that is going to roll out across the rest of the free world,” he said

Farage equated the Brexit victory that he championed with the election of Donald Trump, and he said that, since it happened, he feels “more American” every time he visits America. Trump himself has not shied away from comparing the two elections – in which populists scored major victories — and has called himself “Mr. Brexit.”

Farage defended his decision to campaign for Donald Trump as a foreign political leader, and said that he is “amazed” by Trump’s determination “to put in place the platform on which he was elected — how about that?”

He said that Trump is ultimately “restoring faith in the Democratic process.”

He said, “2016 was the year that the nation-state democracy made a comeback against the globalists, and those who would wish to destroy everything that we have ever been.”

Like Trump, Farage also slammed the media, saying that it is “in deep denial” about Trump. Moreover, Farage predicted that Trump will become more popular over time, just as Brexit has since the vote occurred. “What happened in 2016,” he predicted, “is not the end of this great global revolution, what happened in 2016 is the beginning.”

He said that this will continue, with “very exciting elections coming up, in the Netherlands, in France, in Germany, possibly even in Italy.” Whatever happens, he said, the center of gravity has moved away from “supranational government.”

He finished with a rousing call for nationalism all over the West:

We’re not against anybody based on religion or ethnicity. We’re not against anybody, but we’re for ourselves, we’re for our country, we’re for our communities, we’re for making our people safe and with less risk from global terror! That is what we’re for! And we’re for our country and we’re for our people and we are winning!

The ‘Movement’

by Jay Nordlinger

At C-PAC, Vice President Mike Pence spoke of “our movement” — as in “We’ve got to march forward as if it’s the most important time in the history of our movement, because it is.” What did he mean by “movement”? Whose?

During the campaign, Donald Trump spoke about his movement — the Trump movement — a lot. Here he is speaking in his final ad — the “closing argument” that candidates traditionally run: “Our movement is about replacing a failed and corrupt political establishment with a new government controlled by you, the American people.” And, “I’m doing this for the people and for the movement, and we will take back this country for you, and we will make America great again.”

By the way, when politicians, and others, say “the people,” they usually mean “people who think and feel as I do.”

Back to “the movement.” There was a tribal boast in Trump’s inaugural address, though these addresses are usually pitched to the nation as a whole. The newly sworn-in president said, “You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.”

So this movement that Trump speaks of, and the movement that Pence speaks of — what are they? Are they the same? Would Ronald Reagan be at home in this movement, or movements?

These questions, I think, are at the heart of debate in RightWorld now.

Immigration and Economic Self-Interest

by Ramesh Ponnuru

A recent study says that if all illegal immigrants in the U.S. left or were removed, our economy would be $500 billion smaller every year. I write about why that study doesn’t tell us much about what to do about illegal immigration at Bloomberg View:

If we want to figure out whether deporting illegal immigrants would hurt our economic interests, we might want to know what it would do to the total size of the U.S. economy. That’s relevant to questions about the size of our tax base, for example. But what we most want to know is the effect their removal would have on the incomes of everyone else: that is, of native-born Americans and legal immigrants.

The study doesn’t answer that question. Nor does it examine how important subsets of those groups, such as those without college degrees, would fare.

It’s not unusual for research on the economic effects of immigration to have this blind spot. . . 

George Borjas, the distinguished scholar of immigration economcis, made a similar point about illegal immigrants in 2013: “[T]heir contribution to overall GDP is substantial, increasing national income by between $395 and $472 billion, but much of this increase (between $386 and $462 billion) is remitted to the illegal immigrants themselves as payment for their services.”

Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today (Feb. 24, 2017)

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

1. First Mass is celebrated in St. George Church in Mosul in two and a half years.

2. Hundreds of Egyptian Christians flee city after attacks by Islamists



Keep reading this post . . .

Bringing Protest Politics to a Sanctuary Near You

by Paul Crookston

Your neighborhood church might seem like the wrong place for a political demonstration, but one Christian writer believes that greater politicization is just what “imperialist” houses of worship need. In an article for Sojourners titled “Take the Politics of Disruption to Church,” Mark Van Steenwyk argues that left-wing parishioners should attempt hostile takeovers of local churches on the grounds that “Christian supremacy has been the justification for the deepest of our national sins.”

In Van Steenwyk’s understanding, the election of Donald Trump constitutes a clarion call to all true Christians to finally “take an ax to the root” of America’s problems: the church. “Trumpian neo-fascism is simply the latest fruit from a much older tree,” he writes. “The worst imperial impulses of the United States of America find their root in a form of Christianity that legitimizes militarism, economic exploitation, racism, and sexism.”

As a self-described “Mennonite anarchist,” Van Steenwyk thinks that “disruption” — e.g., the stopping of interstate traffic by Black Lives Matter activists — is the only way to reason with souls that are blinkered not only by conservative Christianity, but by a progressive Christianity that is not strident enough.

“Progressive Christians,” he writes, “out of a sense of politeness, unity, and respectability, have failed to challenge directly those churches that provide the theological justification that gave us Trump.” Quoting Martin Luther King Jr. on the failure of moderate Christians to stand up for civil rights, Van Steenwyk reasons that protesting in the streets is not enough (nor, presumably, is voting, running for office, or the other forms of civic engagement that go unmentioned). Instead, this is his command: “Raise our angry voices in the pews as well as the streets.”

I don’t mean that figuratively. . . . 

I literally mean we should disrupt our churches. Just as Black Lives Matter has employed a politics of disruption to raise the national alarm about racist policing. Just as the water protectors at Standing Rock have created a human barrier against pipeline construction. So too, should we disrupt and confound any and every congregation that fuels militarism, economic exploitation, sexism, racism, Islamophobia, or transphobia.

Considering his belief that essentially all American Christianity promotes the above “-isms,” Van Steenwyk’s prescription would lead to the seizing of control in almost every American church for the purpose of promoting a political vision. Moreover, it seems logical that such a call would eventually require church leaders to endorse political candidates — something that is currently prohibited under the Johnson amendment. (Ironically, Donald Trump has proposed overturning that rule, only to be met with hostility from the left.)

Van Steenwyk, like the magazine that published his article, is a vociferous yet isolated voice of leftism posing as a theological authority. Not only is his program ludicrous (there are not enough progressive Christians to conquer “any and every congregation” that disagrees with his program), it also encourages an attitude that is wrong even on a small scale.

Churches should be places where political disagreements are put into context, not magnified. Faith must be welcomed into the public square, but the two ought not be conflated. Just as conservative co-religionists should reflect before turning on those who didn’t support Trump, no church community should allow political disagreements to disrupt worship. When politics ruins sports or movies, America stands to lose the unifying power of a shared leisure activity. When politics ruins worship, our societal foundations are placed in jeopardy.

Activism of the kind Van Steenwyk champions also wrongly places politics above religion — a problem Saint Augustine’s conception of virtue as “rightly ordered love” sought to clarify. The things of this world should be loved in the way they warrant, but not loved above God, the highest good. Van Steenwyk should ruminate on that the next time he considers shouting down biblical preaching in favor of the political kind.

Democratic Senators Chicken Out From Town Halls

by Dan McLaughlin

The current narrative on town halls pushed by the Democrats, and finding its way into a lot of media coverage, is that 2017 is the mirror image of 2009, when grassroots Tea Party protests at town halls were a sign of mounting public anger over Obamacare that spilled into a GOP landslide in the 2010 elections. You will notice that this is very different from the old Democratic narrative of what happened in 2009, and you will also recall that Democrats went ahead and passed Obamacare anyway. You will also notice that incidents like left-wing protestors heckling a pastor giving an opening prayer at Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy’s latest town hall suggests that the protests from the Left these days are not exactly apolitical mom-and-pop types who are suddenly worried about their healthcare.

But leave all of that aside for now. Because what’s less noticed in the furor over Republican town halls is that many of the Democratic Senators who face potentially tough re-election bids next year are avoiding holding town halls:

Few of the 10 Democratic senators facing re-election next year in states carried by Trump have scheduled in-person town hall meetings during this week’s congressional recess.

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill declined an invitation to attend a town hall organized by a group called Kansas City Indivisible this weekend, deciding to send a staff member in her place. The two-term senator, up for re-election next year in a state Trump won by nearly 19 percentage points, is scheduled to chat with voters next week on Facebook Live….The political pressure is particularly intense for West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp…Both have avoided formal town halls this week…Few vulnerable Senate Democrats are expected to do so in settings that allow for unscripted questions.

In Montana, where Trump prevailed by 20 percentage points, Sen. Jon Tester made several public appearances this week, but he did not advertise any of them as town halls….In Pennsylvania, a spokeswoman for Sen. Bob Casey said he would host a town hall in early March, but the details hadn’t yet been set. In Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson addressed students at two Thursday appearances focused on education. And in Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown “has participated in several telephone conference calls recently” and his office “emailed surveys out to constituents” to gauge their priorities, said spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue.



Sean Spicer Is Apparently Confused about Our Tax System

by Veronique de Rugy

Last week House Speaker Paul Ryan used two reporters’ recorders as props for a misguided defense of the border-adjustment tax being pushed by congressional Republicans. Now, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has offered his own confused take on the issue.

Yesterday, while answering a reporter’s question about how the White House would respond to critics who say that a border-adjustment tax would increase the cost of doing business in the U.S. for those importing goods and that the tax would be passed on to consumers (hurting mostly lower- and middle-class Americans), Spicer said that “there is no tax if you’re manufacturing in the United States. So there can be no higher cost.”

It was a very confusing statement to say the least. Now, assuming he was saying that under a border tax, a company could avoid the penalty by moving to the U.S., Spicer shows a lack of understanding of how businesses operate. Does he really believe that under this regime no company will ever again import any goods for the production of their final product? If that’s he what believes, he will be highly disappointed. As I have said before, I certainly think those claiming that the dollar will fully and immediately appreciate to offset higher prices on imports under a border tax are ignoring many reasons to believe that there won’t be a full adjustment, but at least they acknowledge that imports can and will continue to exist. Spicer apparently doesn’t.

The rest of Spicer’s answer borders on incomprehensible, or at least suggests that he doesn’t understand the difference between a tax on outsourcers and the House Republicans’ border-adjustment tax. Contrary to his characterization, the latter isn’t a penalty for moving overseas and selling back into the United States, but rather a tax increase on all imports. In today’s dynamic economy, where supply chains can and often do stretch across the globe, that means not just a tax on consumer goods but on inputs for many manufacturers. Again, even goods made in America require components from overseas, and their higher costs will be passed on to consumers. So suggesting that consumers won’t face higher prices just because a company could manufacture in the U.S. instead of overseas is nonsensical.

Just as outrageous is the suggestion that we should even want everything to be produced domestically. Some things can be made more cheaply elsewhere. Leveraging such competitive advantage through trade to satisfy our needs and wants in the least expensive manner possible is a large part of why we are so wealthy today. Punishing Americans for purchasing those goods that can be made more cheaply elsewhere is not a path to prosperity.

Finally, Spicer repeats a common talking point among supporters of the border-adjustment tax: the idea that there is currently an unfair tax advantage for imports to the U.S. This is the same misguided talking point Speaker Ryan used in his example last week.

First, Spicer conflates our corporate income taxes, which unlike most of our competitors taxes the U.S. companies’ income earned overseas with an exorbitant corporate-income-tax rate, with the value-added taxes common in Europe and elsewhere. VATs are border-adjusted taxes, but no other country border-adjusts their corporate income tax even though most of them have one on top of their VAT.

Keep reading this post . . .

To Stop Profligate Leaks, Expand Use of the Polygraph

by Bing West

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn claimed not to have discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador. However, as the press reported, “Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions . . . said Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Flynn was fired because “of an eroding level of trust.”

Those nine senior officials also broke the trust our nation bestowed upon them. They revealed highly sensitive information — the wiretapping of the Russian ambassador — after swearing to protect such secrets. Not one of the nine has had the courage to step forward publicly. No administration, Democrat or Republican, can govern if senior officials act as clandestine insurgents divulging what they choose. Whose phone conversations will these officials next record and selectively publicize?

It is the obligation of a free press to pursue information. It is also the obligation of every administration to prosecute leaks that damage sensitive sources and methods. The odds are high that in this case the FBI will eventually track down some of the leakers. However, the investigation will be politically controversial and take many months to conclude.

In addition, President Trump can issue an executive order, as did President Reagan. On the day of Reagan’s inauguration in January of 1981, Iran announced the released the 52 Americans being held hostage in Tehran. At that time, there were rumors of contacts between Iranian officials and associates of Reagan. A year later, Reagan was beset by his own flurry of leaks and in response ordered tough measures. “I do not believe the Constitution,” he wrote, “entitles Government employees, entrusted with confidential information . . . to disclose such information with impunity. Yet this is precisely the situation we have. It must not be allowed to continue.”

That same month, the Washington Post published a story based on a high-level, classified meeting about the Defense budget. Deputy Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci ordered two-dozen senior civilians and generals to take a polygraph. As an assistant secretary of defense at that time, I witnessed the shock in the senior ranks at Defense. Months later, the result of the investigation was very dubious. But Mr. Carlucci had sent a strong message.

A few years later, Reagan’s secretary of state, George Shultz, threatened to resign if any U.S. diplomats were ordered to take a polygraph. “Those machines,” he argued, “cannot detect lies in a scientifically reliable manner.” He later agreed employees at State could voluntarily submit to a polygraph. On the other hand, President Reagan had to modify his tough regulations due to the back-blast from agencies, the press, and Congress.

The polygraph should be used sparingly and only as one investigative tool. It should not stand alone. In itself, it “proves” nothing. But for decades, the CIA and other intelligence communities have persisted in using the polygraph. In 2012, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, according to CNN, wanted to increase the number “required to take the ‘Counterintelligence Polygraph’ in order to reduce leaks.”

Like President Reagan, President Trump can and should issue an executive order imposing stricter security requirements. This could include imposing non-voluntary submission to polygraphs on a random basis by those holding top security clearances. That would be going too far. But a useful precedent was set at the Pentagon by Secretary Carlucci: In a specific case where sensitive information was leaked, no senior official — regardless of rank, agency, or position — should be exempt from the polygraph.