Expand Scope of Conscience Protection Act of 2017

by Wesley J. Smith

As I have written here and elsewhere, the attacks on medical conscience are proliferating, and the ground is being prepared to strip doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc. of the ability to practice their professions under the principles of Hippocratic ideals.

I suspect that if the left ever again takes control of the government, conscience rights will come under even more concerted attack than is currently happening. I mean, the Obama Administration tried to force nuns to provide contraception in the order’s health insurance.

A bill was introduced in Congress to strengthen existing conscience protections. Called the Conscience Protection Act of 2017, the bill would:

Notwithstanding any other law, the Federal Government, and any State or local government that receives Federal financial assistance, may not penalize, retaliate against, or otherwise discriminate against a health care provider on the basis that the provider does not—

“(1) perform, refer for, pay for, or otherwise participate in abortion;

“(2) provide or sponsor abortion coverage; or

“(3) facilitate or make arrangements for any of the activities specified in this subsection.

The bill would permit aggrieved parties to sue, rather than having to rely on bureaucrats to protect them:

A qualified party may, in a civil action, obtain appropriate relief with regard to a designated violation.

That’s all well and good, but the legislation, as written, is far too narrowly drawn.  The pending crisis of medical conscience extends far beyond abortion.

For example, the ACLU has sued a Catholic hospital for refusing to permit surgeons to excise a transsexual’s healthy uterus for the purposes of sex reassignment.

Meanwhile, Ezekiel Emanuel–among other influential bioethicists–insists that doctors must provide every elective procedure requested by informed patients regardless of their own moral beliefs–so long as the medical establishment accepts the procedure as proper. Talk about a tyranny of the majority!

Efforts are underway to eventually compel nursing homes to starve and dehydrate dementia patients to death–even when willingly taking nourishment–if they so requested in an advance directive. It is important to note in this regard, that spoon feeding isn’t a medical treatment but humane care.

In Ontario, Canada doctors are now legally forced to euthanize patients or procure death doctors for patients wanting to die. True, that isn’t the USA, but don’t think that can’t happen here should assisted suicide/euthanasia become widely accepted societally.

I could go–and have gone–on and on. But clearly, the scope of the conscience controversy extends well beyond abortion.

Accordingly, The Conscience Protection Act of 2017 should be amended to protect health care professionals from being compelled to participate in elective procedures–which would need to be carefully defined, obviously–to which they are morally or religiously opposed.  

The sooner the better, or it could become too late. 

A Sad Tale of a Chinese Counterintelligence Triumph

by Jim Geraghty

From the first Morning Jolt of the week.

A Sad Tale of a Chinese Counterintelligence Triumph

At some point during the Trump administration, we’re going to hear about something going terribly wrong in the intelligence community. It’s just the way it is; this is exceptionally difficult work, going up against relentless and insidious enemies. The list of recent spy scandals is long and depressing: Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, the Convicted Spy Formerly Known As Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden… This isn’t even mentioning the Office of Personnel Management hack or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails…

We have embarrassing and frustrating setbacks in our intelligence work under both Republican and Democratic administrations. There is no policy that can eliminate the motives of spies, turncoats, and traitors, usually summarized as money, ideology, coercion and ego.

We had another huge setback to our intelligence efforts during the Obama years that we are only learning about now.

The Chinese government systematically dismantled CIA spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.

Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved.

But there was no disagreement about the damage. From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, according to former American officials, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the C.I.A.’s sources. According to three of the officials, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A.

The New York Times quotes “ten current and former American officials described the investigation on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing the information.”

Someone might be grumbling, “argh, if this so secret, why is it being leaked to the Times?”

Dwight Eisenhower once offered the counterintuitive advice, “if you can’t solve a problem, enlarge it.” The effort to determine how China found America’s spies was a private problem; now it’s a public problem. Making a secret problem public is one way to make that problem a higher priority; secret problems are easier to ignore. Also, if there’s a mole within the agency reporting to China – which is only one of several theories offered in the article — it’s probably best that everyone involved know there’s a mole. The paranoia and reluctance to share information about assets might save someone’s life.

There’s marginal good news. “By 2013, the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. concluded that China’s success in identifying C.I.A. agents had been blunted — it is not clear how — but the damage had been done.” Of course, if America’s spy agencies don’t know how the information leaked the first time, there’s no guarantee it won’t be leaked a second time.

Sounds like a job of Blackford Oakes. 

When the Past Comes Close

by Jay Nordlinger

Today and tomorrow, I will have a series on George Walker, an American composer (and pianist). Part I is here. Before continuing with Walker, I want to tell you about something else.

In the next National Review, I’ll have a piece on Thomas Hampson, the American baritone. He is currently singing Don Giovanni at La Scala. He told me that, when he was young, he was coached by an old man — who remembered Vienna when Mahler ran the opera. And that man, when very young, was taught by a very old man — who remembered, long before, a man walking through the streets like a nut, because he was deaf. That was Beethoven.

Imagine that: one contact away from Mahler, two from Beethoven.

Back to George Walker — who was born in 1922, in Washington, D.C. He knew his grandmother — his mother’s mother — very well. She lived to a great old age. No one was quite sure how old she was. Probably, she didn’t know.

She’d had two husbands. She lost the first one when he was sold at auction. The second had died. She herself had escaped slavery.

She never talked about it. Except one time, when young George could not help himself and said, “What was it like?” What was the experience of slavery like? She spoke one sentence — only: “They did everything except eat us.”

It was remarkable to be sitting and talking with a man who had known a slave — an ex-slave — very, very well. He was already graduated from Oberlin when she died. (He was a prodigy, a very young student.) He dedicated an early piece to her — Lyric for Strings — and it remains his best-known piece. “My grandmother’s piece,” he calls it.

Anyway, get to know George Walker a bit. It’ll be worth it, I think.

There Is a Spook in Their Midst

by Jack Fowler

It’s 1954, Stalin has finally kicked the bucket, and a US-British plot to liberate a Soviet satellite country comes to a disastrous end. It’s been jinxed. Because of a mole. The hero of Bill Buckley’s famous novels – Blackford Oakes – has got to find the leak and plug it. Fast.

Interested in a great summer read? Then avail yourself to one of the 20 copies we have of the first-edition hardcover of this terrific 1986 novel (of it, Publishers Weekly said “Buckley’s ingenious plot and linguistic ballet show him in top form”). I don’t know how these copies of High Jinx survived our last move, but they aren’t coming with us to NR’s forthcoming new HQ. So let’s let our downsizing become your opportunity. Admittedly, they’re not pristine. But these copies are in pretty good condition, and heck, they were Bill’s own, if sentiment means anything to you (and it ought to). Get one – we’ll let them go for $15 a copy, which includes free shipping and handling, and we’ll toss in one of those groovy NR flag-flying lapel pins too. Order here.

Against Free Speech: Merkel, May (and Macron)

by Andrew Stuttaford

Theresa May and Angela Merkel have quite a bit in common. For example, both are suspicious—more than suspicious—of the free market and both are daughters of clergymen (speculation, of course, but those two facts might not be entirely unconnected). Both are authoritarians.

Authoritarians don’t like speech that is, well, too free, and that, of course, brings them up against the unruly reality of the Internet.

Foreign Affairs

In April 2017, the German cabinet passed new legislation on hate speech that the German Bundestag is scheduled to adopt in the summer. The law enables Germany to fine social media companies up to 50 million euros ($55 million) for not reacting swiftly enough to reports of illegal content or hate speech.

The law has an aptly German name Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz, or Network Enforcement Law. But its main target is U.S. tech giants, which provide the main social media networks in Germany. The clash between U.S. social media companies and the German government is about more than deleting hateful online comments. It is a fight about how much free speech a democracy can take.

Ponder that last sentence:

It is a fight about how much free speech a democracy can take.

And then re-read the First Amendment.

Foreign Affairs:

The new law applies to social media platforms with over two million users and imposes large fines if they do not delete posts contravening hate speech law within 24 hours of receiving a complaint. In response, a broad opposition coalition swiftly emerged. Although the law excludes journalistic platforms where someone is already accountable for content, such as online newspapers, the German Journalists Association joined civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers in signing a joint statement warning that the law “jeopardizes the core principles of free expression.” In addition, the Global Network Initiative (GNI) an international coalition of tech companies, civil society groups, investors, and academics asserted that the law “poses a threat to open and democratic discourse.” These groups worry that the law might lead to broad censorship of the Internet and create a precedent for more authoritarian regimes to further restrict free speech on the Web.

They are right to worry.

Foreign Affairs:

Created in 1949, the West German federal constitution, also known as the Basic Law or Grundgesetz, contained a central paradox. Many West German politicians—conservatives and social democrats alike—believed in a “militant democracy,” one where free speech could be constrained to protect democratic norms. Essentially, democrats had to use undemocratic means to protect democracy. Article 18 of the constitution states that anyone abusing rights like freedom of speech to undermine a free democratic order might forfeit those basic rights.

In the specific circumstances of Germany just after the fall of the Third Reich, that might (just) be understandable, but now?

It also raises the question of who decides what speech is to be defined as suspect. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes and all that. 

Foreign Affairs quotes German Justice Minister Heiko Maas as saying that “freedom of speech has boundaries.”

And:

Maas aims to expand Germany’s approach to all of Europe, probably by introducing similar legislation in Brussels. With Emmanuel Macron as France’s newly elected president, Maas might succeed. Macron said during his campaign that he wanted to stop fake news and “regulate the Internet because today certain players are activists and have a very important role in the campaign”.

Who defines what is fake news?

We are often told these days that Merkel and Macron (in contrast to wicked Donald Trump) are the defenders of the liberal order, but theirs seems to be a liberal order where free speech is kept on a leash. That does not look to me like a liberalism worthy of the name.

The reference to plans to neuter free speech elsewhere in ‘Europe’ (ie the EU) suggests that post-Brexit Britain might escape.  That would be optimistic. As Brits discovered under Blair, Brown and Cameron, reining in free speech is popular across the UK’s political class (even more so in Scotland, incidentally), but Theresa May, that accomplished enabler of the predatory state,  is likely to make it even worse.

The Independent (my emphasis added):

While much of the internet is currently controlled by private businesses like Google and Facebook, Theresa May intends to allow government to decide what is and isn’t published, the manifesto suggests. The new rules would include laws that make it harder than ever to access pornographic and other websites. The government will be able to place restrictions on seeing adult content and any exceptions would have to be justified to ministers, the manifesto suggests. The manifesto even suggests that the government might stop search engines like Google from directing people to pornographic websites. “We will put a responsibility on industry not to direct users – even unintentionally – to hate speech, pornography, or other sources of harm,” the Conservatives write….

But perhaps most unusually  [technology companies] would be forced to help controversial government schemes like its Prevent strategy, by promoting counter-extremist narratives…

The Conservatives will also seek to regulate the kind of news that is posted online and how companies are paid for it. If elected, Theresa May will “take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy.”

So Britain’s political class is going to “protect the reliability and objectivity of information”. 

What could possibly go wrong?

Theresa May – Champion of the Predatory State

by Andrew Stuttaford

As Britain’s election campaign trundles on, Theresa May’s planned ‘dementia tax’, an attack on savers, aspiration, fairness and some her party’s key constituencies, may not (surprise!) be playing too well on the doorstep.

Here’s what the (pro-Conservative) Daily Mail has to say:

Theresa May’s hopes of an Election landslide hit a setback last night when a poll showed strong opposition to her plan to make more elderly people pay for care. A Survation poll for The Mail on Sunday showed the Conservative lead over Labour has fallen to 12 per cent, a five point drop in a week. It follows the release of last week’s Tory manifesto which included social care reforms that were quickly branded a ‘Dementia Tax’ by critics. The proposals would mean that tens of thousands of people who receive care at home could face costly bills as – for the first time – the value of a person’s home will be included in their assets, with only the last £100,000 protected….

The Survation poll indicates 47 per cent oppose Mrs May’s social care funding plans, with 28 per cent in favour. Significantly, 28 per cent say the proposals have made them less likely to vote Tory, with eight per cent more likely to do so. More than half say it has made them more worried about getting older, caring for elderly relatives, owning a house and securing their children’s future.

They are right to be worried.  They are also right to be angry. Commonsense would suggest that those with large enough assets to loot will be those who have already over their lifetimes paid a disproportionate amount of tax. May’s plan is just one more turn of egalitarianism’s ratchet, unusual only in the extent of its cruelty.  It is a reminder that the redistributionist state is also the predatory state.

And then there’s this (via the Guardian)

Another warning came from the King’s Fund, an influential health thinktank, which said the plans risked deterring poorer older people from seeking help in the first place and also overburdening already overstretched hospitals. Richard Humphries, a senior fellow in social care at the thinktank, said: “It will mean thousands of people paying more for home care but will be complex and challenging for councils to implement and risks unintended consequences.“These might include discouraging people from seeking help, placing a greater burden on unpaid carers and driving increased use of hospitals and long-term care.” Under the plan in future, he added: “Access to services will depend on a triple lottery of where you live, what you can afford and what is wrong with you.”Develop cancer or heart disease but not dementia and your house and savings will be intact, Humphries said…

A separate analysis by Luke Clement, professor of law at Leeds University, argued the proposals could act as incentive for older people to transfer their properties into their children’s names or offshore and would land local authorities with debt portfolios of many millions, leading to a temptation to sell it off.

May, a foe of the free market, cannot, of course, be expected to understand incentives.

It has also emerged that May, a politician already notorious for her high-handed and secretive style, ‘smuggled in’ this dramatic change of policy at the last moment –and without consulting senior elected colleagues.

Financial Times:

The plan…was added at the last minute by Nick Timothy, the prime minister’s co-head of staff, party figures have admitted. Both Boris Johnson, foreign secretary, and Damian Green, welfare secretary, refused to say whether the cabinet was briefed ahead of the policy announcement, which would see those needing care at home having to pay for it from the value of their property until their last £100,000.

…One senior Tory told the Financial Times “it wasn’t really run by anyone outside the inner circle”. Party figures said that John Godfrey, head of the Downing Street policy unit, had advised against the move.

Timothy, whose influence on other areas of policy has been malign, should be shown the door.

Writing in the Guardian, Will Hutton, someone who usually can be relied upon to get things wrong, unpacks the logic of May’s plan with welcome, if unexpected, accuracy:

The manner of death is not in anyone’s hands. You may be lucky like the majority and die peacefully, requiring not much money on care bills except for the last few months. Or you may be unlucky and suffer from infirmity or Alzheimer’s or dementia. In which case you will be among the 10% whose care bills could climb above £100,000.

This is what moral philosophers call brute bad luck. You and your family did nothing to deserve this – no virtuous lifestyle nor prudent saving could have prevented it. The correct response is collectively to insure ourselves, like we do for the risk of a fire or a car accident, so that if we do have the bad luck to have an expensive old age the insurance will take care of it. To keep the cost of the insurance down, there can be a cap on payouts after which one has to pay for oneself.

This was the Cameron approach with the cap of £72,000 and the paradox is that the opponent of “selfish individualism” and champion of mutual obligation should insist on the reverse for the elderly. Mrs May does not recognise the role of brute bad luck in the policy towards social care; rather, there are warm words about the importance of saving for old age rather than relying on the taxpayer – and then the same philosophy is used to justify asking the taxpayer to be paid back for care bills from property sales after death. In this universe, all luck is deserved and social insurance is only another way of raising taxes.

To be fair, there is not quite such a contradiction as Hutton makes out between May’s championing of mutual obligation (newspeak, in this context, for collectivism) and her assault on the aspirational classes  (“our people”, as Mrs. Thatcher once described them), people so shockingly “selfish” that they pay their own way (and that of quite a few others) and want to pass on something to the next generation.

May will still win the election (and with the malevolent Corbyn against her, that’s a relief), but if this latest vindictive turn in her policies cuts into her likely majority, that’s no bad thing.  She’s clearly not someone who can be trusted with too much power.

Growing Up

by Jay Nordlinger

That was the title of Russell Baker’s famous memoir: Growing Up. (It was once famous, I should say.)

Anyway, I would like to single out a line from President Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia, now that he has delivered it. It is a line I especially admire (of many): “Young Muslim boys and girls should be able to grow up free from fear, safe from violence, and innocent of hatred.”

Yes, perfect. (By the way, can’t that be construed as telling people “how to live”?)

And one more line, as a bonus: “Terrorists do not worship God, they worship death.”

Yup. This afternoon, I talked with Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi representative in the Iraqi parliament. ISIS, or Daesh, worships death, all right — and one other thing: rape. Enslavement. Sexual bondage. The total domination, and brutalization, of girls and women.

May these men, and their supporters and apologists, be abolished.

Trump in Saudi Arabia: A Brief Reflection on Values

by Jay Nordlinger

The White House has shared a draft of the speech that President Trump will deliver in Saudi Arabia. It contains a striking — indeed, memorable — sentence:

“We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”

I imagine that most people will applaud this sentence, especially those who style themselves “realists.” Of course, we all consider ourselves realists. You’ll never hear anyone say, “I’m an unrealist, you know.”

So, let’s get real: Raif Badawi is a Saudi. He is also a political prisoner. He has been lashed. He has been lashed and imprisoned for blogging in favor of freedom, democracy, and human rights — not just for Americans and Englishmen, but for Saudis, too.

(For a piece I did on him and his wife, Ensaf Haidar, go here.)

How about Badawi’s lawyer (and onetime brother-in-law)? His name is Waleed Abulkhair, and he, too, has been imprisoned.

Don’t these Saudis have a right to a say in how their country will be? In “how to live, what to do, who to be,” etc.? Why should their government — which governs without the consent of the governed — have the only say?

At the moment, I am in Oslo, Norway, taking part in the Oslo Freedom Forum. I just did an interview with Grace Gao, the daughter of one of the most heroic men in China, and, indeed, in all the world: Gao Zhisheng. He is a human-rights lawyer. He was imprisoned and tortured for ten years. He is now under a severe form of house arrest. His Christian faith has allowed him to hold on to his sanity.

What about him? Is he not part of China?

And how about Liu Xiaobo, the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize? He too is a political prisoner. Doesn’t he deserve some say in “how to live, what to do,” etc.? Must the Chinese Communist Party have total power over 1.4 billion people?

In a recent interview, President Trump called the boss of that party, Xi Jinping, “a great guy.” He also said, “I believe he likes me a lot.”

Well, that’s wonderful. But as Vladimir Bukovsky says, “What about the boys in the camps?” Liberal-democratic governments should go about their business, doing what they need to do, including dealing with illiberal and anti-democratic regimes. But every now and then, they should pause to ask, “How will it look to the boys in the camps?”

President Reagan always made a distinction between nonconsensual governments and people — human beings and the regimes that rule them. So did George W. Bush.

Solzhenitsyn made a memorable comment about the United Nations. That body is not so much the united nations, or peoples, as the united governments, or regimes — many of which govern without the consent of the people.

On meeting Jeane Kirkpatrick, Sakharov said, “Your name is known in every cell in the Gulag.” Why? Because she had remembered human beings. Even when dealing with the Soviet government, she named the names of Soviet prisoners on the floor of the United Nations.

In the Gulag, prisoners somehow found out that Reagan had declared 1983 the Year of the Bible. One of those prisoners, Anatoly Shcharansky, started to do Bible study with a fellow prisoner. They called their sessions “Reaganite readings.”

While running for president, Donald Trump was asked about Vladimir Putin. He said many things, including, “I think that he is a strong leader, he’s a powerful leader, he’s represented his country — that’s the way the country is being represented.” Yes, undemocratically. Unjustly.

In Saudi Arabia, the American secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, stood with the Saudi foreign minister and called for freedom of speech — in Iran.

Which is great. Moreover, a little selectivity is natural in human affairs, and in diplomacy, and in foreign policy. But sometimes your selectivity can be hypocritical in the extreme. It can look ridiculous.

Gao Zhisheng has a heroic wife, Geng He, who in 2009 sent a letter to the U.S. Congress. She said,

“I remember that, when my husband was still free, whenever major human-rights cases arose in China, he would always look towards the United States. He always said: The United States is the cornerstone of world freedom, human rights, and social order; the United States would not tolerate despotic rule and the wanton abuse of the weak and the masses.”

Obviously, the United States needs Saudi Arabia as an ally. It needs other dictatorships as allies too. Many, many compromises have to be made to get along in this wicked and dangerous world. But Americans should remember the distinction between rulers and ruled. And that goes double for the president.

Well Seasoned Last Meal

by Jack Fowler

From cubbyholes and far-flung bookcases, we’ve corralled 14 copies of this rare WFB hardcover – Execution Eve, and Other Contemporary Ballads. It’s the 1975 collection of his primo columns from the early 70s, when Bill was in his prime-o. They’re in decent shape (a little dusty, the jackets a little worn) on the outside, intelligent as all heck on the inside (over 500 pages of Buckley brilliance). You can have one for $20. Get your copy here.

‘The Conceptual Penis’: The Sokal Hoax Returns!

by Robert VerBruggen

Remember the Sokal Hoax? Back in 1996, the physicist Alan Sokal wrote a deliberately nonsensical article, steeped in postmodern jargon, arguing that quantum gravity was a “social construct” — and managed to get it published in Social Text, a prominent journal. Its spiritual sequel argues that something very different is a social construct.

You can read it for yourself here, at least until it’s taken down, but I’ll provide the abstract:

Anatomical penises may exist, but as pre-operative transgendered women also have anatomical penises, the penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a social construct isomorphic to performative toxic masculinity. Through detailed poststructuralist discursive criticism and the example of climate change, this paper will challenge the prevailing and damaging social trope that penises are best understood as the male sexual organ and reassign it a more fitting role as a type of masculine performance.

This was published in the peer-reviewed journal Cogent Social Sciences. The authors revealed their hoax in Skeptic magazine. Jerry Coyne is also worth reading.

So, that ought to brighten your weekend. Unless you’re currently paying for your child’s college education.

Trump’s Berating of Comey for the Consumption of Our Enemies

by Andrew C. McCarthy

I admit to being slack-jawed over the New York Times report that President Trump smeared former FBI director James Comey in a conversation with representatives of Russia’s murderous, anti-American regime. The account, based on notes taken at the meeting and leaked to the Times, has implicitly been confirmed in a near-equally repugnant statement by the White House press secretary.

Inexplicably, Trump chose to host Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak the day after he fired Comey in a maze of conflicting explanations (when none, by the way, was required). Naturally, this further fueled the Trump-Russia conspiracy narrative. The president first told his guests that the former FBI director – a decorated former prosecutor and investigator who has spent most of his professional life trying to protect the United States from terrorists, hostile governments, and criminals – was “crazy, a real nut job.” Remarkably, Trump then managed to top himself, adding that by firing Comey, he had “taken off” the “great pressure” he faced “because of Russia.”

After months of investigation, congressional hearings, and a major report released by the FBI, CIA and NSA, there is no publicly known evidence of a concerted effort between Trump associates and Russian operatives to influence the election. Yet, Trump continues to act and obsess like a guilty person. My guess is that he is sure there is nothing to the Trump-Russia suspicions, he is angry over the way the narrative is hurting his presidency, and an incorrigible character flaw induces him to lash out in childish ways.

Nevertheless, any thinking person would grasp, under the circumstances, that such foolish statements would be leaked and spun as informing his Russian co-conspirators that he pink-slipped Comey because he was worried about the “great pressure” the Russia narrative is causing him (i.e., consciousness of guilt) – rather than exasperated by it.

For what it may be worth, I think the “Russia collusion” aspect of the president’s remarks misses the point. Despite my admiration for my friend David French’s considerable legal skills, I have been underwhelmed by his theory of obstruction by multiple steps (i.e., that Trump may have obstructed the FBI’s Russia investigation not merely by pressuring Comey to drop the probe of Michael Flynn, but by a series of actions of which the Trump-Comey conversation is just part). When it gets down to brass tacks, the “obstruction” issue hinges on whether there is any real proof of knowing collusion between the Trump camp and the Putin camp. If that were to emerge, the obstruction would be a slam dunk. If it remains a febrile Democrat hope forever in search of evidence, there is no step in David’s pattern that can’t be explained away.

No, the real question raised by the president’s latest intemperate remarks and the company in which they were made is whether the president knows the good guys from the bad guys.

Jim Comey is a patriot. That I have disagreed with him on some big things, does not change that. Disagreeing is what Americans do – that’s self-government by people who care passionately about how we are governed.

But let’s assume for argument’s sake that I am wrong. Let’s say that, as Sean Spicer says, Comey is a grandstander who has intentionally politicized an investigation in order to undermine the president. He’s still not the Russians. “America First,” remember? Comey is an American who believes in America; Lavrov and Kislyak are Putin operatives who oppose America at every turn. Comey believes in freedom and the rule of law; the Putin regime believes in Soviet tyranny and the rule of Putin.

Comey is one of us. Lavrov and Kislyak are two of them.

There is no excuse for a president of the United States to run down an American for the consumption of our Russian adversaries – particularly an American who is fighting against Russia’s operations against our country. It is indefensible. If President Obama had a meeting with Iranian diplomats at which he insulted, say, former ambassador John Bolton in an apparent effort to ingratiate himself with our enemies, we would be ballistic – and justifiably so.

The problem with this incident is not that it makes more likely the possibility that Trump colluded with Russia. The problem is that it suggests that Trump isn’t distinguishing friend from foe, Americans from America’s enemies. I don’t care about the “Russia collusion” narrative. I’m talking about a president who must know there is a more destructive narrative about his fitness, for which he cannot seem to stop providing ammunition.

What he said to the Russians was not an instance of an outsider crashing against establishment Washington’s way of doing things. This was flat out bizarre. And it is made worse – if that’s possible – by Spicer’s statements. As the Times relates them:

“By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia,” Mr. Spicer said. “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”

Where to begin? The challenge inherent in “our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia” is caused by Russia. Jim Comey has nothing to do with it. Russia is our enemy. Russia backs the “death to America” regime in Tehran. Russia props up the Assad regime. Russia uses the presence of the Islamic State in Syria as a pretext to attack America-backed forces. Russia invades its neighbors and annexes their territory. Russia murders and persecutes political adversaries.

Could that possibly not be clear?

I grant that it was highly irregular for Comey to testify that the ongoing counterintelligence investigation of Russian interference in the election includes scrutiny of any ties and coordination between Putin’s regime and the Trump campaign. I do not understand the reason for this in the absence of presenting evidence to support the stated suspicion. As we’ve observed more times than I care to count, the FBI and the Justice Department should not be speaking publicly about investigations. They should not make insinuations about Americans who have not been charged with any crimes. They should not be confusing the salient distinction between counterintelligence and criminal investigations. Even if you allow, as I do, that the public should be told if there is solid evidence of sinister dealings between our president and the Kremlin, the FBI has no business spreading innuendo.

But all that said, Comey did not go rogue in his latest testimony. His statements were pre-cleared by the Trump Justice Department. You want to say Trump’s chosen attorney general is recused and Trump’s other appointees were not in place to be an effective check on Comey’s penchant for deviating from protocols? Fair enough … but it is still the job of the president to rein in his subordinates. Trump has plenty of legal and strategic advisers. If he did not want the FBI and Justice Department to speak publicly about ongoing investigations – which they are not supposed to do in any event – he could have ordered them not to do it.

Of course the leaks are a problem. But I take it Spicer realizes that we could only be talking about classified leaks if the information leaked is actually classified – i.e., if it is the accurate version of the notes of the meeting, meaning: it is what the president actually said. If it were up to me, I’d be summoning every official who had knowledge of these notes into the grand jury, and I’d be making it very clear that the administration plans to pursue and prosecute officials who disclose classified information.

But I would not be laboring under the delusion that the leaking of what Trump said is more outrageous than the substance of what Trump said. What the president said, especially in light of whom he said it to, is reprehensible.

We Are Going Insane

by Wesley J. Smith

One of CNN’s top anchors just said to a Trump defender, “If he took a dump on his desk, you’d defend him.”

We are going insane.

Krauthammer’s Take: Robert Mueller Is Now the Most Powerful Man in Washington

by NR Staff

Charles Krauthammer named H. R. McMaster his “loser of the week” due to his damaged reputation, and then he explained why the winner of the week was Robert Mueller:

My loser: H. R. McMaster, the national-security adviser. On the night of the report of Trump spilling secrets to the Russians, he was one of several trotted out to say the story was false. The next day, he is contradicted by Trump who said he was within his rights to say what he said, implying that he did say it and the story was true. McMaster holds a press conference the next day, where he had to reconcile the irreconcilables. It was a sad sight for a man who spent decades establishing a reputation for integrity and consistency.

My winner is Robert Mueller, who is going to be the chief investigator for the Russia probe. He is now the man who is in charge who has a mandate to investigate essentially anything and is politically untouchable, cannot be fired. Technically he can; politically he can’t. He’s the most powerful man in Washington.

Faculty ‘Adjunctification’ Isn’t a Spreading Plague

by George Leef

Many articles in publications sympathetic to the higher-education establishment such as The Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed would lead the reader to believe that it won’t be long before nearly all full-time professors have been replaced by adjuncts — those pitiable academics who have to scrounge out a living by teaching classes for minimal compensation, sometimes racing from one college to another and lacking even an office.

Undeniably, there are people who are in that unhappy condition, but what is not true is the idea that “adjunctification” continues to spread. That’s the argument of George Mason University professor Phil Magness in this Martin Center article.

“As concerns about the adjunctification of the universities reach a fever pitch,” he writes, “the statistics unambiguously point to a continuously shrinking adjunct workforce.”

The increasing percentage of faculty who work on an adjunct basis peaked in 2011 and have been declining since then. What’s the explanation? Magness points to the rapid growth of for-profit colleges starting in the ’90s: typically, the for-profits rely on adjuncts for about 90 percent of their faculty. As they grew, so did the numbers and percentage of adjunct professors. That rapid growth has stopped and the for-profit sector is contracting. As Magness writes, “Now that the for-profit bubble is bursting due to issues of fiscal solvency and a government crackdown on the standards used by for-profit accrediting bodies, the adjunct workforce is experiencing its own parallel contraction.”

That doesn’t mean that there won’t be adjunct professors in the future. There will be because it often makes sense for schools to hire a part-time instructor for a single course. Back in the ’70s, long before anyone started to complain about “adjunctification,” part-timers made up 22 percent of the teaching force.

If there is really a problem with adjuncts, the solution lies in changing the policies that lead to the overproduction of people with doctorates who want college teaching careers, but that’s a different matter altogether.

Ailes and the Republican Party

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Jack Shafer, writing at Politico, says that Ailes’s political impact has been overrated:

In 2012, the Republican winner was the anti-Fox Mitt Romney. In 2016, it was Donald Trump, who became Fox’s man only after his nomination became inevitable.

Despite the liberal caterwauling, Ailes never succeeded in remaking the Republican Party in his image. A much better case can be made that Fox made itself in the party’s existing image.

I wrote about Ailes’s legacy yesterday, and reached pretty much the opposite conclusions. 

We Few, We Happy One-Thousandth

by Jack Fowler

NR’s Spring webathon is sweating it out today in NYC, where global warming or climate change or something and everything this side of a solar-flare storm has the NR crew perspiring. But it’s a happy perspiration, thanks to the initial burst of generosity to our fundraiser, which seeks to raise a mere one-thousandth of what lefty tycoon George Soros lavished on SJW outfits from 2010-14. Our goal is $264,000 (do the math: Georgie Porgie dropped $264 million on his fellow misfits).

Amongst the One-Thousandth are the following fine folks, who left astute comments along with their generous gifts to NR — which will be used to fund a new editor, to bankroll the rebuild of NRO (that will cost over $500K!), and to offset legal costs to protect free speech brought about by Mann v. National Review) — in the past few days:

With his $270 expression of charity William shakes the pom-poms and calls out You Know Who: “Keep up the good work, the Michael Mann’s of the world cannot be allowed to redefine truth and intimidate any opposing point of view into silence.” Bill, you are one smart cookie. And kind too. Thanks.

In agreement is Robert, who sends us a C Note and this thought: “To paraphrase Churchill, ‘Never surrender’ to this lot! You’re fighting, not just for yourselves, but for all who believe in liberty and open debate.” Amen Bob — defending our unalienable rights is a team sport. Grazia.

Another C Note comes from Sheila, a notorious pushover: “You had me at ‘Soros’s despicable largesse.’ Good luck!” Yeah, that always comes in handy. Thank you, good lady.

Lovely lovely Mary sends us $500 — would some of you please match her? — and gushes: “You’re why I never feel alone when I’m standing atop history bellowing ‘Thwart!’” Mary, I doubt you bellow — you seem too cool for that. But if you really do, I bet you bellow with style and Buckleyesque panache. And you might even bellow “Stop!”

Terrence spots us $100 and a dose of the truth: “Started reading my dad’s copy of NR in the ‘60s, even when I was working in Saudi Arabia and Iran. Your website is incredibly clunky.” We know, T Man, we know! The fix is in the works. Thanks in part to you.

And let’s end with Marie, who tossed $50 at us (thanks!) and explains how that happened: “I saw Jim’s begging in the Morning Jolt this morning. It reminded me of what my middle son calls using his ‘puppy dog eyes.’ I’m a bit of a sucker for that.” Marie, we are all suckers for Big Jim’s razzmatazz.

Okay folks, we can’t let this appeal flag over the weekend. Will you please find your way to helping NR? Don’t you want to be able to count yourself among the few, the happy few, the band of one-thousandth? Of course you do! Join us with your generous contribution, which can be made here.

The President and Patriotism

by Jay Nordlinger

President Trump has made a great deal of patriotism, or nationalism: “America First.” “Make America Great Again.” And so on. But sometimes his actions belie his claims to patriotism.

In an interview for Fox News, Bill O’Reilly said to the president, “Putin’s a killer.” The president replied, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?”

Now comes news of what President Trump said in the Oval Office to two representatives of the Putin regime: Lavrov, the foreign minister, and Kislyak, the ambassador. They came up through the Soviet ranks. “I’ve known Lavrov for 30 years,” said Senator McCain, “and he’s an old KGB stooge.”

What did President Trump say to the two men? “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job.” (He also said, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off” — which is quite a statement.)

Say what you will about James Comey: He is a patriotic American and lawman, and the president of the United States trashed him to two representatives of a regime hostile to the United States. Two representatives of an illiberal regime, which imprisons, maims, or kills independent journalists and political opponents; which violates international law; which seeks to disrupt the Western democracies; etc.

This is not patriotism. This is not putting America first. A president, in my view, should not trash his fellow Americans to officials of a government hostile to the U.S. That ought to be 101.

I have had my problems with James Comey. But I’ll sure as hell take him over Putin and his men.

Two ‘Big’ Trump/Russia Scoops — One Is Dubious; One Is Troubling

by David French

A week of media “scoops” about Donald Trump and Russia ends with two — one from the Washington Post, the other from the New York Times. The Post’s story is dubious. The Times’s story is troubling. Let’s deal with them in order.

First, here’s the Post:

The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.

The senior White House adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to these people, who would not further identify the official.

I was going to write a lengthy “lawsplainer” outlining the problems with this story, but my friend (and podcast guest) Ken White beat me to it. Ken’s a criminal defense lawyer, former federal prosecutor, and legal blogger without peer. Here’s are the key tweets in his Twitter thread:

Of course investigators are going to interview White House staff as part of their probe. It would be shocking if they didn’t. The Post story is written using carefully chosen language — language that looks far more ominous to those who aren’t familiar with legalese. The bottom line? We don’t know have any idea whether this story matters.

Next, on to the troubling scoop — here’s the Times:

President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”

The White House’s response is interesting, mainly because it doesn’t dispute the substance of the report. Spicer instead redirected the topic to leaks:

By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia,” Mr. Spicer said. “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.

It’s hard to think of statements better calculated to build the case that Trump fired Comey to disrupt the FBI investigation into his administration’s ties with Russia. As I’ve said before, no single piece of evidence has thus far been conclusive (and each piece is vulnerable to its own rebuttals), but the evidence taken together is starting to build a case that looks an awful lot like this: First, Trump — frustrated at the FBI’s investigation — strongly hinted to James Comey that he should clear Michael Flynn. Second, Trump got angry when Comey not only ignored his suggestion but instead publicly confirmed the investigation’s existence. Third, Trump terminated Comey in the hope that it would ease the pressure on his administration.

Moreover, there’s evidence that he knew his actions were suspect. He allegedly asked the vice president and attorney general to leave the room before talking to Comey about ending the Flynn investigation, and when he fired Comey, he justified it with a blatantly pretextual and false cover story.

This is a damaging portrait. If Hillary Clinton was faced with the same facts and allegations, Republican talk of impeachment would be thick in the air. As it is, impeachment talk from either side of the aisle is premature and overblown, at least so far. When witnesses actually get under oath — and the public sees actual documents — a very different picture may emerge. For now, however, there’s more than enough smoke to not only justify further investigation but to reinforce the wisdom of selecting a special counsel to conduct a competent, thorough, and reasonably independent inquiry. The Times story does not help Trump.

Theresa May’s Dementia Tax (2)

by Andrew Stuttaford

Some early reactions to Theresa May’s dementia tax proposal:

From the (Tory) Bow Group:

“These proposals will mean that the majority of property owning citizens could be transferring the bulk of their assets to the government upon death for care they have already paid a lifetime of taxes to receive. It is a tax on death and on inheritance. It will mean that in the end, the government will have taken the lion’s share of a lifetime earnings in taxes. If enacted, it is likely to represent the biggest stealth tax in history and when people understand that they will be leaving most of their estate to the government, rather than their families, the Conservative Party will experience a dramatic loss of support.” 

From the Financial Times:

Theresa May is facing a growing Conservative backlash against her plans to reform funding for social care, with critics claiming she is introducing a “dementia tax” that could amount to a 100 per cent inheritance tax rate for core Tory voters. Conservative MPs voiced concern about the proposal, a flagship element of the Tory election manifesto, while the Bow Group rightwing think-tank warned that “the anger will be horrendous” once middle-class voters grasped what it meant. Mrs May’s proposal would require elderly people receiving social care to fund the entire cost, until they reached their last £100,000 of assets which the state would allow them to keep.

Tory MP Bob Blackman said: “Clearly, there needs to be a limit on how much any individual or family should be required to pay.” Another MP told the Financial Times: “It’s a bit of a turkey on the doorstep. Everybody likes the cap.”

Labour, which has been rising in the polls but still trails the Tories by 18 points, according to the FT poll tracker, sees Mrs May’s surprisingly tough stance towards the elderly — traditional Tory supporters — as an opportunity…..

And so it is.

Given the alternatives that the electorate has  to choose from, it’s highly unlikely that this revolting proposal will cost May re-election, but opposition to it has given Labour a cause with genuine cross-party appeal, something that it has lacked so far. And its appeal will resonate with the elderly, a constituency that turns out  to vote in large numbers and leans strongly Conservative. This is not a constituency (you would think) that May would choose to attack in the run-up to an election. But that’s just what she’s done. 

May’s dementia tax is not only staggeringly bad policy, it is staggeringly bad politics.

Hubris will do that.

On Jason Chaffetz’s Longing for Greener Pastures

by Mark Antonio Wright

As anyone who has ever held a job knows, there are norms and expectations associated with quitting. These expectations differ depending on the position: If you’re a part-time dishwasher at the local Dairy Queen, giving two-weeks’ notice is the customary and appropriate way to tell your boss that you’ll no longer be working the noon to 8 p.m. shift on the weekends. If you’re a full-time employee, you owe it to your employer to give appropriate notice and to work a reasonable amount of time after being hired before moving on to greener pastures, customarily, at least a year. If you’re a contract employee, you’re expected to honor your end of the contract, just as you expect your employer to honor his.

When I worked in the West Texas oilfields after college at the height of the last oil boom, I remember the contempt we roughnecks held for the new-hires who would work a month, a week, or even a few hours before quitting. At the time, roughnecking jobs were in such demand that you had to know someone — an uncle, a friend, a cousin, a friend’s cousin’s uncle — who was willing to pull some strings, stick his neck out, and vouch for you in order to get you a job. I vividly recall laying in my bunk my very first week in the patch, exhausted and sore, and swearing that I would die before quitting, going home, and embarrassing the man who got me a job. The guys who quit and went home, sometimes without even letting anyone know? We had a simple term for them: twerps.

Which brings me to Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah. Our old friend Elaina Plott, now with The Washingtonian, reports that, after announcing in April that he would not seek reelection in 2018, Chaffetz, the chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee, has been spreading the word that he will resign his office early to take an on-air job with Fox News.

According to two GOP lawmakers who have spoken to Chaffetz directly and four senior House Republican aides, Chaffetz has been telling people he’ll take on what one source calls a “substantial role” in on-air talent at Fox News Channel, possibly as early as July, amplifying whispers that Chaffetz will not finish out his current term — our sources tell us that he will likely depart Congress in June.

Chaffetz, 50, has said on Facebook he made “a personal decision to return to the private sector.

If Chaffetz ends up on your TV screen this summer, just remember that he resigned his seat after essentially signing a contract just six months ago with the citizens of Utah to serve a two-year term.

It would be one thing if Chaffetz were resigning in disgrace or for health reasons. But he’s not. Rather, like Sarah Palin in 2009 and Jim DeMint in 2013, the congressman is resigning because he thinks he has better things to do with his time than to keep his word to the people who elected him. This is dishonorable. No one forced Chaffetz to run for reelection last November; no one forced him to take the chairman’s gavel of the vitally important House Oversight Committee; and no one is forcing him to run his mouth to everyone on the Hill about his new, better, more lucrative gig.

We had a word for that in the oilfield.