Princeton Machiavellianism

by John J. Miller

The snowflakes who run the Princetonian–the campus newspaper at Princeton University–became so upset by their own editorial board’s right-of-center editorials that they disbanded the editorial board. Jennifer Kabbany of The College Fix has the story.

Watch: Wisconsin Student Sells Clothing Line by Decapitating ‘Pig’ Cops

by David French

Let’s play a little game of “imagine.” Let’s imagine what would happen on campus if a conservative student designed a clothing line advocating violence and then advertised his products by creating a video featuring a person decapitating Black Lives Matter activists. How long would the campus shut down? Days? Weeks? Would an emergency counseling corps have to parachute straight onto the quad?

Now, watch this video — courtesy of University of Wisconsin student activist and aspiring clothes designer Eneale Pickett: 

What this news report doesn’t show you is that Pickett’s little commercial ends with one of the actors holding the bloody severed head of one of the “pig” cops. If you want to see the whole thing, you can watch it here. It features a Donald Trump voiceover, dancing police officers in pig masks, a simulated lynching, and a final act of violent vengeance. Lovely.

It’s all in service of a clothing line that promotes messages like, “destroy the city that caused you to bury me,” and “F**k the police they the biggest gang in Amerikkka.” 

I wouldn’t highlight the work of a single student except that it’s indicative of the Antifa spirit that’s sweeping parts of the radical left. There is a growing movement of mainly young radicals who truly do thirst for violence. They truly do want to “punch a Nazi,” and they define “Nazi” so broadly that it sweeps up mainstream conservatives, just ask my friend Ben Shapiro. 

Do you doubt these radicals exist? Look at the street violence in Berkeley, Atlanta, and Saint Louis . . . and that’s just in the last week. Pickett’s video and clothes are free speech, but they’re vile speech, and they should serve as yet another reminder that some people truly want to harm those they hate. 

Stop Overselling Russian Influence on the Election

by David French

Response To...

For National Security!

I agree with every word of Charlie’s rebuttal of Matthew Olsen’s and Benjamin Haas’s “national security” argument against the electoral college, but there’s something else to note. The factual premise of the Olsen/Haas piece is flawed. They write:

Hamilton and his colleagues never could have envisioned a year like 2016, when an enemy state—Russia—was able to manipulate America’s election process with stunning effectiveness. But it’s clear the national security rationale for the Electoral College is outdated and therefore it should be retired. Simply put, it enables foreign powers to more easily pierce the very shield Hamilton imagined it would be.

Notice the problem? Where’s the evidence that Russia was able to actually “manipulate America’s election process?” After all, Russians didn’t hack voting machines, and there’s no credible evidence that their propaganda efforts moved the electoral needle in either direction. The bottom line is that we simply don’t know what impact, if any, Russia had on the outcome. 

A foreign power didn’t penetrate our electoral “shield.” It did sow chaos, and it did increase distrust, polarization, and confusion. The vast majority of that chaos is due to post-election finger-pointing and concern over collusion, not over a realistic argument that Russia turned the election. Putin was preying on the partisan rage of the American people, not on the vulnerability of the constitutional system to foreign interference.

We could change to a straight popular vote, and Clinton and Trump voters would feel exactly the same way about the candidates. Trump voters would be just as vulnerable to anti-Hillary propaganda, and Hillary voters would be just as furious at foreign meddling. If she lost, they’d also be just as eager to find a scapegoat. 

In other words, amending the Constitution would be a cure for a disease that doesn’t exist. There’s just no evidence that our electoral college system is vulnerable to foreign hacks. There’s a lot of evidence that Americans are angry with each other and therefore likely to think the worst of their opponents. That’s a problem constitutional amendments simply can’t fix. 

 

The Pro-Life Stake in Graham-Cassidy

by Ramesh Ponnuru

The editors of the Weekly Standard call attention to a portion of the bill that hasn’t drawn much of it:

[A]s important as defunding Planned Parenthood is for pro-life Americans, an even greater priority is cutting off Obamacare’s funding for insurance plans that cover elective abortions. The Graham-Cassidy plan just so happens to funnel the block grants through an existing health-care law to which the Hyde amendment—a measure banning federal funding of elective abortions—is permanently attached. While Congress could pass language defunding Planned Parenthood in the next fiscal year’s tax-reform reconciliation bill, the Graham-Cassidy plan is the only realistic way to stop Obamacare’s funding of elective abortion.

I agree with the Standard on the question of priorities, although I would of course like to keep federal funds from going to Planned Parenthood as well. Oregon recently adopted a law forcing all insurance policies to cover abortions; the Graham-Cassidy bill would make that law practically a dead letter, since such policies would not be eligible for block-grant funding.

(Regarding the claim that reining in Obamacare cannot possibly be described as “pro-life,” I recommend this and this, and maybe this.)

For National Security!

by Charles C. W. Cooke

Call it Cooke’s Rule: Those losing the argument over a given domestic policy will eventually cry “necessity.” This morning, Matthew Olsen and Benjamin Hass provide a good example, arguing in Politico that “the Electoral College is a national security threat”:

Hamilton and his colleagues never could have envisioned a year like 2016, when an enemy state—Russia—was able to manipulate America’s election process with stunning effectiveness. But it’s clear the national security rationale for the Electoral College is outdated and therefore it should be retired. Simply put, it enables foreign powers to more easily pierce the very shield Hamilton imagined it would be.

In Hamilton’s day, as he argued, it would have been nearly impossible for a hostile power to co-opt dozens of briefly chosen electors flung across 13 states with primitive roads. But in the social media age, the Electoral College system provides ripe microtargeting grounds for foreign actors who intend to sabotage presidential elections via information and disinformation campaigns, as well as by hacking our voting infrastructure. One reason is that citizens in certain states simply have more voting power than citizens in other states, such as Texas and California. This makes it easier for malign outside forces to direct their efforts.

But what if the national popular vote determined the president instead of the Electoral College? No voter would be more electorally powerful than another. It would be more difficult for a foreign entity to sway many millions of voters scattered across the country than concentrated groups of tens of thousands of voters in just a few states. And it would be more difficult to tamper with voting systems on a nationwide basis than to hack into a handful of databases in crucial swing districts, which could alter an election’s outcome. Yes, a foreign entity could disseminate messages to major cities across the entire country or try to carry out a broad-based cyberattack, but widespread actions of this sort would be not only more resource-intensive, but also more easily noticed, exposed and addressed.

These arguments — more assertions, in truth — aren’t at all convincing to my ears, not least because in every single case one could just as easily argue the opposite. One could contend that the Electoral College is imperative in the age of the Internet because it helps to maintain discrete electoral areas that host discrete political cultures, and thus serves as bulwark against any centralized panic that could be orchestrated through the web. One could suggest that, while the status quo indeed ensures that “citizens in certain states simply have more voting power than citizens in other states,” this no more “makes it easier for malign outside forces to direct their efforts” than would a system in which elections are decided by the 3 or 4 percent of voters who sit in the ideological center and are likely to be swayed by a handful of issues (in fact, such a system, which would require no micro-targeting, could plausibly make such an attempt easier and cheaper). And one could — and should – ask why exactly the authors submit that it would be “more difficult to tamper with voting systems on a nationwide basis than to hack into a handful of databases in crucial swing districts,” when surely the opposite is the case, distribution being a much better way of protecting computer systems than centralization will ever be.

Anyhow, that’s all debatable. What’s far more interesting to me is that the authors felt that “National Security” was the way to make this play. “Necessity,” said William Pitt the Younger, “is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” And so it is. But it is also the argument of the terminally frustrated. After a while, all struggling sides fall back on it. Recently we’ve seen this with Obamacare, with gun control, with food stamps, with climate change, with illegal immigration, and with tax policy. That the Electoral College is now being critiqued in the same manner suggests that this particular avenue of catharsis is rapidly coming to an end.

Graham-Cassidy Isn’t Federalism

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Many supporters of the Graham-Cassidy health-care legislation are calling it a “federalist” solution for Obamacare. It might be worth supporting–I think it is, as do NR’s editors–but it isn’t really federalist. A really federalist bill wouldn’t have the states asking the federal government for flexibility on regulations, and it wouldn’t have the federal government collect money from the whole country and then send it back in block grants to the states.

The point comes to mind because of Avik Roy’s argument that the bill should be amended to keep states from using their block grants to create single-payer systems. Roy might be too worried about this possibility, because the amount of money involved seems unlikely to get states very far toward financing a single-payer plan. But it’s not an answer to his argument to say that states should be allowed to do whatever they want. The question, under Graham-Cassidy, is what federal money should be spent on. There’s nothing wrong in principle with the federal government’s setting conditions on its spending (e.g., the money has to be spent on health care).

Here’s How Much Cassidy-Graham Shrinks the Federal Government

by Robert VerBruggen

When I wrote up the new health-care bill last week, I noted that there would be some back-and-forth about the extent of the cuts it makes to federal spending. Today we have a new report from the respected consulting firm Avalere, though it discloses the work was funded by the liberal Center for American Progress. (The note says “Avalere maintained full editorial control.”)

A lot of headlines are going to throw around the number $4 trillion, allegedly the total cuts over a 20-year period. Ignore them, even if you wish they were true. As I wrote before, the bill has no provisions dictating what Obamacare-replacing money states will receive after 2026, so Congress will need to appropriate more funds at that point. This is quite arguably a dumb way to do it, given Congress’s inherent dysfunction and some budget rules that will make such appropriations tricky, but it makes it impossible to “estimate” what will happen in 2027 and beyond. It is simply absurd to assume there’ll be no “state block grant funding available from 2027 onwards,” as Avalere did.

There are some numbers taking seriously here, however. One is $95 billion, the amount the bill cuts Obamacare funding between 2020 and 2026 — which is 7 percent of the funding under current law. What you think of that, of course, will depend on whether you think that Obamacare spends too much and/or that states should be expected to pony up if they want to continue the status quo.

The analogous numbers for the bill’s reforms to traditional Medicaid are $120 billion and 4 percent, swelling to more than a trillion dollars, or 12 percent, over the 2020–2036 period. Is that acceptable? It depends on the degree to which Medicaid spending is out of control today.

The report also highlights that the bill would equalize funding between states that expanded Medicaid and those that didn’t (meaning that, generally, red states would get more and blue states would get less). Further, it notes the funding formula would encourage states to focus their efforts on residents “at or near the poverty line, potentially at the expense of lower-middle-income individuals who currently receive exchange subsidies,” as Avalere senior manager Chris Sloan is quoted saying in the press release.

In my previous piece I said I liked much about the bill but was dubious about its prospects. The buzz in recent days has been that it has a better-than-expected chance of passing. If it does, it will chip away at federal spending — a great goal but perhaps a political liability.

Monuments and History

by Jay Nordlinger

Below, Jim writes about the Virginia governor’s race and Confederate monuments. I would like to make a point, or re-make it. Those in favor of the monuments like to talk about “history” and the importance of not erasing history. “Eradication” is another word they use. Eradicating history.

Beware this argument. This rhetoric. This trick. You’re not against history, are you? What are you, a Soviet-style air-brusher?

Some monuments are meant to record history, it’s true. I think of memorials to the dead. They are very important. Other monuments — probably most of them — are meant to honor the person depicted. He is literally on a pedestal.

Think of Nelson in Trafalgar Square. Are the Brits merely recording history? No! They are honoring Nelson, and declaring him a hero.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, people all over the former empire took down statues of Lenin and Stalin. In doing so, they were not eradicating history. They know this history all too well; they want it recorded, faithfully. They did not want Lenin and Stalin honored. They did not believe that these men ought to be on pedestals. So they took them down.

A reader made a point to me: There are no monuments to Hitler. Oddly enough, we manage to remember World War II and the Holocaust.

So, by all means, let’s have our arguments over the Confederate monuments. And let’s not shirk our duty to think. To exercise our powers of discrimination. To try to determine who is worthy of honor and who is not. Let’s not become, or pretend to be, zombies.

If you refuse to honor Calhoun, do you have to dishonor Washington and Jefferson? Oh, please.

And don’t fall for that “history” dodge.

P.S. Another reader pointed out that, if people were interested in history — history in monuments — they would erect monuments to Emancipation. Where are they? There are precious few, right? What about that, history-lovers? Do monuments honoring Emancipation dot the South?

If Calhoun and his cause are to be honored — what about the cause of freedom? How about a knickknack or two in favor of the people Calhoun would have kept enslaved forever?

Confucius Is Fine; Confucius Institutes Aren’t

by George Leef

For more than a decade, the Chinese government has been trying to establish “Confucius Institutes” in American colleges and universities. It puts up some of the needed funding and often provides the instructors as well. What’s not to like?

What’s not to like is the way the Chinese use them to try to affect American perceptions of Chinese government policies. The National Association of Scholars released a highly critical report on Confucius Institutes in the spring and I write about it in this Martin Center article.

The Chinese government cares about as much for academic freedom as it does economic freedom, so the depiction of China is not exactly “warts and all.” Instead, instructors are trained to avoid discussions that stray into “bad” subjects such as Tibet and Taiwan. In sum, they are an aspect of Chinese propaganda. A few years ago, the University of Chicago pulled the plug in the Confucius Institute that had been established there, and I’m persuaded that the colleges that still have them should follow Chicago’s lead.

Look Who’s Reticent About Removing Confederate Statues in Virginia!

by Jim Geraghty

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Look Who’s Reticent About Removing Confederate Statues in Virginia!

Pop quiz, Virginians: Find the distinctions between the positions of Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam on the issue of Confederate statues:

“Our history is our history,” Gillespie said. “And I believe that we need to educate about it, and that we need to teach about it. And so my view is that the statues should remain, and we should place them in historical context so that people can learn.”

Northam reiterated that he wants to see local governments maintain control of the decisions over statues, but he added that if “these statues give individuals, white supremacists like that, an excuse to do what they did, then we need to have a discussion about the statues.”

“Personally, I would think that the statues would be better placed in museums with certainly historical context,” Northam added.

To clarify, Gillespie wants localities to make the decision, but prefers them to be kept in place with a greater historical context, while Northam wants localities to make the decision, but prefers them to be moved to a museum with greater historical context. It says a great deal that Northam isn’t willing to jump on the bandwagon of the “tear down the statues” movement; most national media coverage of the issue would leave the impression that this is a majority of enlightened modernists battling a small minority of radical, racially-incendiary troglodytes.

In Suffolk’s most recent survey, the pollster asked Virginians, “Do you think Confederate statues should be removed from public spaces?” and about 32 percent supported removal, and 57 percent opposed them.

Fox News asked Virginians recently, “When you see the Confederate flag, do you have a positive reaction, a negative reaction, or don’t you have a reaction one way or the other?” Only 13 percent said they have a positive reaction, 33 percent said negative, and 51 percent said they had neither. Once again a media echo chamber leaves progressives with the perception that their perspective is much more common than it actually is.

I liked this line from Gillespie:

Gillespie specifically pointed to the marchers who gathered in Charlottesville last month for what was dubbed the “Unite the Right” rally, arguing they shouldn’t be tied to any partisan viewpoints, despite what the rally was called.

“These Neo Nazis, these white supremacists, these KKK members with their shields and their torches — If ‘1’ were the most liberal on the spectrum and ‘10′ were the most conservative, these people are a yellow,” Gillespie said. “They’re not on the same continuum.”

Another good line of the night, one that probably should be a focus in Northern Virginia:

Responding to the assertion that his plan would only benefit the wealthy, Gillespie said it would help everyone. He also noted that the state’s highest income bracket for tax purposes applies to all those who make more than $17,000 per year.

“My opponent thinks you’re rich,” Gillespie said. “And that’s just flat wrong.”

 

You’ll probably hear Virginia Democrats arguing, “almost all of the benefits of Gillespie’s tax cut will go to those in the highest bracket!” They hope no one notices that the highest tax bracket includes everyone with a taxable income of $17,001 or more.

Trumpservations

by Jay Nordlinger

For someone like me, there was a lot to like about President Trump’s speech before the United Nations. I particularly appreciated the blasts at three rogue, or at least despicable, governments: in North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran. I wish to make some points that I have not seen much in coverage.

At the top of his speech, Trump said, “Fortunately, the United States has done very well since Election Day last November 8th.” I believe that, if a new Democratic president said this, everyone on the right would pounce on it.

I can just hear us: “What a horse’s-behind thing to say. An American president does not engage in partisan politicking in an address before the United Nations. He represents all of us there.”

We would be right.

Trump said, “We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government. But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”

I’m not sure why these two duties are “sovereign.” I think that “sovereign” was merely the word of the day.

Consider this phrase from Trump: “to respect the interests of their own people.” I would have said “rights,” rather than “interests.” Dictators think that they, and they alone, determine the interests of the people under their control.

Trump did say “the rights of every other sovereign nation.” Governments should respect “the rights of every other sovereign nation.” But not to oppress people, surely.

The other day, I did a podcast with George Will. We talked about “America First,” which is counterposed to “globalism.” Will mentioned our American heritage, articulated in the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Yes.

At Gettysburg, Lincoln affirmed that we are “dedicated to a proposition” — namely, “that all men are created equal.”

You don’t have to be a pansy “globalist” to appreciate the American heritage, and the American purpose, I trust.

Trump said, “We can no longer be taken advantage of, or enter into a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return.” This is Trump’s perpetual theme: America the Screwed, America the Victim, America the Sucker. Where does he get this?

Go around the world, and people think that America is Top Dog. And they are right.

I was a little startled at the word “the.” Trump said, “We must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea.” I appreciate the sentiment, which was not guaranteed from Trump. But “the Ukraine”?

I remember when I first heard “Ukraine,” without the “the” — it was from Robert Conquest, speaking to some of us students in the 1980s. He had written a book on the Kremlin’s terror-famine in Ukraine.

Conquest explained that people supporting Ukrainian nationhood said “Ukraine,” whereas others said “the Ukraine,” which seemed to acknowledge Ukraine as a mere region of the Soviet Union or Russia.

I grew up saying “the Ukraine,” same as Trump, no doubt. It was very hard to drop the “the.” It sounded so strange. My mouth could barely do it. But then I learned. “Ukraine” versus “the Ukraine” is an important distinction. Also, it took me a long time to say “Sudan” instead of “the Sudan.”

By the way, I once got a piece from Paul Johnson which referred to “the Lebanon.” I loved that.

Trump said, “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

North Koreans — ordinary North Koreans — will hear that, or at least some of them will. The regime may well use it. Broadcast it. What will people think? What would you think?

The president should have said “totally destroy the North Korean dictatorship,” in my opinion.

‘Great’ Minds Think the Universe Is a Computer Program

by Wesley J. Smith

The Matrix, the first episode, was a fun movie. But a description for reality? Please.

And yet, some of our most prominent scientific and tech thinkers seriously propose we are living in a computer program. From the BBC story:

The idea that we live in a simulation has some high-profile advocates.

In June 2016, technology entrepreneur Elon Musk assertedthat the odds are “a billion to one” against us living in “base reality”.

Similarly, Google’s machine-intelligence guru Ray Kurzweil has suggested that “maybe our whole universe is a science experiment of some junior high-school student in another universe”.

Far be it from me to question such rich and influential thinkers, but really? Where’s the evidence?

The idea isn’t just promoted by technologists:

Cosmologist Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US has suggested that our entire Universe might be real yet still a kind of lab experiment. The idea is that our Universe was created by some super-intelligence, much as biologists breed colonies of micro-organisms.

Why think such a thing, the article asks. Well, because…we create sophisticated computer programs, so why not believe we are merely part of one?

Who is to say that before long we will not be able to create computational agents – virtual beings – that show signs of consciousness? Advances in understanding and mapping the brain, as well as the vast computational resources promised by quantum computing, make this more likely by the day…

Is it not likely, then, that some other intelligence elsewhere in the Universe has already reached that point?

Such “virtual beings” would not actually be “beings.” Nor would they actually “think.” We are and do. Accepting this premise would force us to deny the flesh and blood reality of the actual world, to deny all evidence in pursuit of a futuristic fantasy.

But why embrace such a premise seriously? An interesting answer (my emphasis):

Some scientists argue that there are already good reasons to think we are inside a simulation. One is the fact that our Universe looks designed.

The constants of nature, such as the strengths of the fundamental forces, have values that look fine-tuned to make life possible. Even small alterations would mean that atoms were no longer stable, or that stars could not form. Why this is so is one of the deepest mysteries in cosmology.

Oh, oh. When my wonderful colleagues at the Discovery Institute explore the hypothesis that the universe and life are better explained by an intelligent cause than random, purposeless forces, they are screamed at, attacked, and derided ridiculously as somehow “anti-science.” 

For example, in his award-winning book Signature in the Cell, my DI pal Stephen C. Meyer suggests:

Unlike previous arguments for intelligent design, Signature in the Cell presents a radical and comprehensive new case, revealing the evidence not merely of individual features of biological complexity but rather of a fundamental constituent of the universe: information.

Ridiculous, right? Back to the BBC story (my emphasis):

“The Universe can be regarded as a giant quantum computer,” says Seth Lloyd of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “If one looks at the ‘guts’ of the Universe – the structure of matter at its smallest scale – then those guts consist of nothing more than [quantum] bits undergoing local, digital operations.”

This gets to the nub of the matter. If reality is just information, then we are no more or less “real” if we are in a simulation or not. In either case, information is all we can be.

Oh.

So, why is the heterodox scientific hypothesis of ID scorned, but this untestable conjecture is treated with all due respect? 

I think it is because embracing the Matrix Scenario and the idea of infinite universes allows their propounders to remain materialists in good standing. It is fascinating how important that belief is in some circles.

In any event, what a hoot. But I do think my DI pals are owed a big, fat apology.

The Freedom Song

by Jay Nordlinger

I have heard, and reviewed, many performances at Alice Tully Hall (a venue of Lincoln Center in New York). But none quite like yesterday’s — by Wuilly Arteaga, the young violinist who was arrested while playing on the streets of Caracas and then bludgeoned in a chavista prison. (They left him deaf in one ear.)

This week, the Oslo Freedom Forum came to New York. I have written about it in my Impromptus, here.

One of the guests was Vladimir Kara-Murza, the Russian democracy leader, who made a favorite point: Some people say that Russians are unready for, or unsuited to, democracy. What they need is an iron hand, bearing a whip. This is an excuse, a lie — in any case, wrong.

I thought of a famous remark about music. It comes from Charles Rosen, the late pianist-scholar: “The death of classical music is perhaps the oldest tradition of classical music.” Hear me out.

In every generation, there are people who say that classical music has come to an end. They die confident of this belief. They may even be smug about it. Then people in the next generation believe the same thing. They too die, and then …

On and on it goes.

Once, there were people who thought that southern Europeans could never democratize and liberalize — because Spaniards et al. believed in Throne and Altar. Not for them the Anglo-American fetish we call liberal democracy. Later, there were people who thought that democracy was not for East Asians. They had their own values, different values. But look at Taiwan, Japan, South Korea.

You hear it about Russia. You hear it about Arabs. You hear it about Africans. “Sure, sure, the Portuguese and the South Koreans could do it, but this time it’s different!” Yeah, yeah. People making this claim will die off, and on and on it will go.

(Conversely, there are democracies that slide into authoritarianism and worse — see Venezuela. That will go on, too.)

Wednesday links

by debbywitt

Hey, Firefly fans - It’s Unification Day

Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States.

The origins of Kotex.

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

A Secret World Hidden Beneath the Vineyards of Champagne.

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

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

I Taught NATO to Stand Up to a Dictator

by Daniel Pipes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Turkish delegation loudly interrupted the proceedings before storming out.

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

Emre Çelik addresses the audience as Daniel Pipes looks on.

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

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

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

by Jim Talent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Stop Making Moral and Religious Arguments

by David French

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

There’s No Use Waiting for the CBO

by Ramesh Ponnuru

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

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

by Peter Robinson

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

‘“Holy Sh**”: Trump at the U.N.’