Reviling Trump

by Conrad Black

From my most recent NRO article, about President Trump and Charlottesville: “There was absolutely nothing wrong with the president’s clear denunciation of the violent factions on both sides.”

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

Why Trump Had to Make the Decision He Did on Afghanistan

by Jim Geraghty

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Why President Trump Had to Make the Decision He Did on Afghanistan

For the last couple of years, I’ve kept an eye on reports from the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, and the news is rarely good.

Since 2012, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko has done the grim, thankless work of looking at what the federal government’s massive investment in Afghanistan’s future is yielding. He and his team have found taxpayer money spent on soybeans that won’t grow, weapons that Afghan military forces lost, a $2.9 million farming-storage facility that was never used, and a $456,000 training center that “disintegrated” within four months. He’s documented the Afghan government’s inability to pay for basic services, curtail opium production and the drug trade, or utilize the country’s natural resources.

Last year, Sopko attempted to sum up his years of work, and declared he saw “evil omens for the future of a desperately poor and largely illiterate country.” He found cases of contractor misconduct and misspent funds, but the largest problems remain with the host country: “Afghanistan has had the lead responsibility for its own security for more than a year now, and is struggling with a four-season insurgency, high attrition, and capability challenges. Heavy losses in the poppy-growing province of Helmand have required rebuilding an Afghan army corps and replacing its commander and some other officers as a result, a U.S. general said, of ‘a combination of incompetence, corruption, and ineffectiveness.’”

From 2002 to 2016, Congress appropriated more than $113 billion to rebuild Afghanistan, paying for roads, clinics, schools, civil-servant salaries, and Afghan military and police forces. That total does not include U.S. military spending on the country. Adjusted for inflation, the amount we’ve spent to reconstruct Afghanistan now exceeds the total amount we gave to the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Western Europe after WWII.

In light of all this, and sixteen years of war, it is completely understandable that Americans want to throw up their hands, say to hell with it all, and withdraw all U.S. military forces.

The problem is we know what happens if we do. The Obama administration withdrew from Iraq and assured the public that the departure of coalition troops would not lead to an increased threat to Americans. Then ISIS gradually grew in our absence; Obama was so wedded to the idea that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was the right move and did not exacerbate threats to Americans that he insisted the Islamists taking over Fallujuah were merely the “JV team.”

If our forces leave Afghanistan, it is likely that the Taliban will take over eventually. When they do, it is unlikely that they will be chastened and reformed and unwilling to host other jihadist terrorists like the ones in al Qaeda. If 9/11 had never occurred, the United States never would have invaded Afghanistan. For most of our history, Americans have paid little or no attention to that country, and would be content to let them set their own course, whether it is civilized or barbaric. The Taliban are barbaric, but the world is full of ruthless regimes and rulers that we’re not eager to topple: Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea.

The Taliban are different because they decided to be an AirB&B to the world’s most wanted terrorists and provided the safe haven for guys who killed 3,000 of our citizens. Who knows, perhaps if the Taliban had turned over al-Qaeda’s leaders to the United States or the Hague back in September 2001, a lot of our recent history would have turned out differently. But given a choice between us or them, the Taliban chose them.

For that reason, their return to power is a risk that is too great for Americans to accept.

Introducing the Political Beats Podcast

by Charles C. W. Cooke

I’m pleased to announce a new addition to NR’s rapidly growing podcast lineup. It’s called Political Beats, and it has at its heart a simple question: “Forget politics, what’s your favorite band?” Each week, Scot Bertram and Jeff Blehar will interview a figure from the world of politics about their favorite band or musical artist. This week, that figure was RealClearPolitics’s Sean Trende, who, it seems, is somewhat obsessed with Van Halen. You can find the show here.

As with our other podcasts, Political Beats will be available to stream on NRO each week, but it would be much easier for you if you subscribe to the feed on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or TuneIn, and have the new episodes automatically download to your phone, tablet, or computer. And, if you like it, please do leave us a review.

Next week, Scot and Jeff will be joined by Bob Costa of the Washington Post and Washington Week.

The Afghanistan Speech

by Rich Lowry

I thought it was quite good. A few points:

— The passage at the beginning showed the unifying potential of Trump’s nationalism, although obviously he’s made it a much harder sell by how he’s conducted himself, especially with his misadventures last week.

— It’s hard not to seem presidential when giving a speech like this. If Trump had done nothing but give Teleprompter speeches since his inauguration, he’d be about ten points higher in the polls.

— I think Trump gets points for acknowledging how hard this decision was for him and how it cut against his instincts (he’s, of course, extensively on the record over the years saying that the war is a mistake and that we should pull out).

— The rejection of a timeline in favor of conditions is a welcome change from Obama’s approach.

— It seems a pretty conventionally hawkish policy tailored to Trump’s predilections. He said we’re not nation-building and mentioned the very Jacksonian word “retribution.” On the nation-building piece, no one likes nation-building, but if we are waging a war where the performance of the indigenous government and military matters to us, we are inevitably going to engage in nation-building (although it doesn’t have to be on the scale of what we attempted in Iraq).

— Pressure on Pakistan is a major element of the new strategy. We’ll see what comes of that. It seems to me that pressuring Pakistan to be more responsible in Afghanistan is the equivalent of pressuring China to force North Korea to be more responsible: Every administration wants to find a way to do it, but no one ever does. The warm words about India surely got the attention of Islamabad, though.

— At the end of the day, this is Trump concluding that he doesn’t want to lose a war on his watch, and if that means jettisoning some of his presuppositions, he’s willing to do it. If only President Obama had handled the question of whether or not to pull out of Iraq the same way.

 

Trump Made the Right Call

by Quin Hillyer

If Barack Obama had made the sorts of decisions about the war in Afghanistan, or the one in Iraq, that Donald Trump outlined tonight, we might already have achieved stability in both countries. Trump was right on target.

Trump was right to say that conditions on the ground, not arbitrary deadlines, should govern our tactics, strategies, and decisions on troop levels, diplomacy, economic aid, and military commitments writ large. Trump was right to say our allies should contribute more, and right to offer both carrots and sticks to Pakistan. He also made an interesting play for more economic support from India, while praising it highly (and correctly) as a key ally.

And, of utmost importance, Trump is putting less strictures on our rules of engagement, so our forces in the region and on the ground can react more swiftly and more appropriately to both threats and opportunities.

It sounds as if Trump is actually letting experienced military leaders use their good judgment to craft war-fighting strategies on both the macro and micro levels. Good for him. And good for him for listening to them even though he has been saying for at least six years that the United States should pull out completely from Afghanistan. He was right to say that the example of Iraq shows the disaster that can come from precipitous withdrawal without any clear idea of what will happen once we leave.

The policies outlined tonight are exactly of the sort that were hoped for by knowledgeable conservatives who backed Trump despite misgivings about his personal conduct and temperament. They are of the sort that some of us did not trust him to make. At least tonight, and at least on this one set of issues, he proved that those of us in the latter camp were mistaken. Tonight’s presentation ranks up there with the selection of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court as the high points of Trump’s first seven months in office. Thank goodness. And pray for our troops.

Another Corporate Gift for the Southern Poverty Law Center

by Andrew Stuttaford

The Wall Street Journal:

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co is planning up to $2 million in donations to human and civil-rights organizations following the recent clashes in Charlottesville, Va. The largest U.S. bank by assets will donate $1 million split between the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League “to further their work in tracking, exposing and fighting hate groups and other extremist organizations,” according to an internal bank memo sent Monday that was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

I blogged a bit last week about the decision by Apple CEO, Tim Cook, to spend $1m of shareholders’ money on a gift to the Southern Poverty Law Center in the wake of those clashes and Trump’s less than impressive (to put it mildly) response to them .

Yes, it has been alleged in a series of articles in Harper’s Magazine that, for all its undoubted achievements in the past, the SPLC has its, well, issues, but my real focus in last week’s post was the organization’s “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists” and in particular the inclusion of two names on that list: Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Here’s some more on Maajid Nawaz, this time from an article in the Tablet by Lee Smith:

I spoke to Nawaz on the phone in London to ask for his reaction. “A bunch of first-world, comfortable liberal Americans who are not Muslims have decided from their comfortable perch to label me, an activist who is working within his Muslim community to push back against extremism, an anti-Muslim extremist.”

On the face of it, it’s difficult to understand why Nawaz was listed as such. As he told me, he’s a proud Muslim. “I learned Arabic in order to read my holy book,” he said. “In an Intelligence Squared debate, I defended the proposition that Islam was a religion of peace. This was the same week that the man who attempted to bomb Times Square was sentenced so it wasn’t the friendliest New York audience. I hosted Morgan Freeman in a mosque for his documentary The Story of God.”

Nawaz takes the SPLC blacklist seriously, he told me, because he believes that it has put his life in danger. “They’ve put a target on my head,” he said. “This is what putting people on lists does. When Theo Van Gogh was killed in the Netherlands, a list was stuck to his body that included Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s name. It was a hit list. When Bangladeshi reformers were hacked to death by jihadist terrorists, they were working off lists. Only fascists produce lists.”

And it’s not as if SPLC needs the cash.

Politico:

The organization has been criticized for spending more of its money on fundraising and overhead and less on litigation than comparable groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. And it has taken flak for amassing a huge endowment—more than $200 million—that is disproportionately large for its operating costs. SPLC President Richard Cohen defends the endowment as necessary to ensure the group can survive legal battles that might last for years. (As for Dees himself, he made $337,000 in 2015, according to the watchdog group Charity Navigator; Cohen made $333,000 the same year.) In 1994, the local paper, the Montgomery Advertiser, ran a series investigating the group’s marketing, finances and personnel practices that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. (Dees responded—according to a transcript from a 1999 Nieman Foundation discussion on journalism about nonprofits—by mobilizing prominent liberal politicians for whom he had raised money to lobby the Pulitzer Board not to award the prize to the Advertiser.)

Other critics say the SPLC picks its causes with its bottom line in mind. In the 1980s, the group’s entire legal staff quit to protest Dees’ obsession with the remnants of the KKK—which still captured the imagination of the group’s liberal donor base—at the expense of lower-profile but more relevant targets. In its marketing, the SPLC still touts seven-figure judgments it has won against Klan organizations, even though the plaintiffs have been able to recoup only a tiny fraction of that from the groups, which possessed paltry assets…

And then there’s that freedom of expression thing (my emphasis added):

William Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell and critic of the SPLC, says the group has wrapped itself in the mantle of the civil rights struggle to engage in partisan political crusading. “Time and again, I see the SPLC using the reputation it gained decades ago fighting the Klan as a tool to bludgeon mainstream politically conservative opponents,” he says. “For groups that do not threaten violence, the use of SPLC ‘hate group’ or ‘extremist’ designations frequently are exploited as an excuse to silence speech and speakers,” Jacobson adds. “It taints not only the group or person, but others who associate with them.”

I suppose defenders of free speech should be grateful that J.P. Morgan Chase has only chosen to throw $500,000 of its shareholders’ money this organization’s way. 

An Ohio Judge Is Ambushed, Returns Fire With His Personal Weapon

by David French

This is a truly bizarre and troubling story from Ohio. A man ambushed a judge on his way into the courthouse. The judge and a probation officer returned fire, killing the attacker:

An Ohio judge was shot Monday morning outside his courthouse in an ambush attack that ended when the judge and a probation officer returned fire, killing the attacker, authorities said.

Police said a man apparently waiting for Judge Joseph J. Bruzzese Jr., who sits on the Jefferson County Court of Common Pleas, ran up to the judge and began shooting when he approached the courthouse. Bruzzese drew a gun and fired at least five rounds at the shooter, possibly hitting the attacker, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred J. Abdalla told reporters during emotional remarks Monday morning.

And here’s the bizarre part:

The shooting occurred in Steubenville, Ohio, a city best known for a high-profile rape case involving high school football players.

In a strange twist, the shooter was identified by authorities on Monday afternoon as Nathaniel Richmond, father of one of the two teenage boys found delinquent — or guilty — in 2013 as part of that rape case.

Judge Bruzzese, however, had “nothing to do” with the rape case, and his attacker’s motive is unknown.

The ambush marks the fourth significant attack on law enforcement officers since Friday. On Friday, six police officers were shot in three different cities. Today, a judge and probation officer appeared to be the targets. Fortunately, Judge Bruzzese was armed and prepared for an attack. Other vulnerable public officials should learn from his example. 

 

The High Cost of College Sports

by George Leef

I like college sports, but the problem with them (as with so many other things) is that they don’t stand on their own feet. They’re subsidized — by students through mandatory fees and taxpayers though appropriations to help build stadiums, palatial training facilities, and so on.

In this Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins looks at the troubles caused by letting the sports tail wag the college dog.

One problem is that the pressure to win causes college admission and academic standards to fall. The University of North Carolina caught national attention when it came to light that it had been letting star players take bogus courses for years. The NCAA is mulling over penalties. (Interestingly, the accrediting body that is supposed to ensure UNC’s quality, SACS, never noticed this problem.) UNC got caught, but many other universities that chase glory on the gridiron and court do the same thing.

Big sports schools often say that athletics revenues actually help pay for the rest of the university, but that just isn’t so. One thing the boosters leave out is the subsidies that football and basketball get from mandatory student fees, which are pretty substantial. Every student at UNC-Greensboro (a school of no sporting fame) pays more than $700 per year to support athletics. Those students might have better things to do with that money.

What can be done? A small number of schools have downsized sports so that they don’t have a malign effect, but we shouldn’t expect much of that. “Reform,” Watkins writes, “may have to come from state policymakers and college leaders, who are free to set their own standards regarding athletes’ academic eligibility and to create an environment in which college sports are truly amateur and secondary to education. If they do nothing, or pay only lip service to the importance of amateurism, the current system will remain, and its costs will continue to be borne by students, the public, and athletes.”

I’d suggest two basic rules in this regard: No preferential treatment for athletes and sports must cover their own costs.

Trekking

by Jay Nordlinger

On the homepage today, I begin a “Salzburg Journal” (to be completed tomorrow). Early on in these jottings, I talk about Golda Schultz, a young South African soprano, with whom I did a public interview. She said many interesting things. And she happened to disclose that she was currently binge-watching Star Trek — the TV show, not the movies.

I wanted to say something about William Shatner here on the Corner. As you know, he was Captain Kirk on Star Trek. And I talked with him many years ago in a green room. I had just seen a documentary called “Trekkies.” It was about, naturally, the phenomenon of Star Trek fandom.

Shatner spoke wisely, sympathetically, and even touchingly about these “Trekkies.” He said that he and other actors would show up at their conventions and whatnot. “And we soon learned that it was not about us — it was about them.” Their interests, their enthusiasm, their sense of family. The actors could show up or not. It really didn’t matter much to the Trekkies.

Okay, back to Golda Schultz. I’ll do some quoting from my journal:

Toward the end of our hour, I have an unusual question for her: “When people say to you, ‘I’d like to be interested in classical music but don’t know how,’ what do you say to them?” Golda tells them to listen to the Mahler Second — the Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” of Gustav Mahler. If that doesn’t do it … well, it will.

I thought I’d link to the recording “I grew up on,” as we say: Bruno Walter, here. Reserve an hour and a half or so. It’s worth it.

‘The Perilous State of the Golden State’

by Jack Fowler

Amigos, today is launch day of National Review’s Radio Free California podcast, our new weekly offering which features Will Swaim, president of California Policy Center, and financial whiz and NR contributor David Bahnsen, discussing, as Will put it, “the perilous state of the Golden State.” And damn, there really is so much perilous to discuss, fortunately by these two smart dudes (they get the yin/yang down very well).

NR is thrilled and determined to bring attention to all the government-inspired madness that harms the good people living on the West Coast. So give NRRFC a listen, and if you like, subscribe via iTunes, Stitcher, etc. (and, just to be clear, it’s free).

Yet Another Little-Known House Democrat Gets the ‘Will He Run?’ Treatment

by Jim Geraghty

Earlier this month, I wrote about 18 current and former Democratic officials who are either thinking about running for president in 2020 or have been mentioned as potential candidates. One I did not mention was Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who unsuccessfully challenged Nancy Pelosi to lead House Democrats after the 2016 elections. Apparently Ryan, too, should be added to the list of potential Democrats:

So is he considering a run for president? Another WMUR reporter, political director Adam Sexton asks him — this time on air. “I have no idea at this point. But we’ll see,” Ryan says. “I like being out around the country, I like talking about this, I like crafting the message, and I think maybe the country needs someone from a place like Youngstown, Ohio that has really tried to develop the local economy at the local level, and we’ll see where it goes.”

… As for Ryan, [Ray Buckley, the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party for the last decade] turns away from his old friend and toward the backseat of the car and mouths, “He should run.”

Sounds like number nineteen!

The 2016 Republican primary brought two-tiered debate nights. Could the Democrats have three tiers of candidates?

Were Friday’s Police Killings Examples of Far-Left Terrorism?

by David French

On Friday a man named Everett Miller ambushed and killed two police officers in Kissimmee, Florida. He’s a former Marine who has a history of posting anti-police statements on his Facebook page and may even be a part of the same black separatist group as Gavin Long, the man who killed three Baton Rouge police officers in July, 2016. Here’s how CBS described Miller’s postings:

The early stages of the investigation shows that Miller had made threats to law enforcement on Facebook . . . In the days prior to the shooting, Miller posted several articles on Facebook related to the Ku Klux Klan and Neo Nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, WKMG reports. Miller’s Facebook page disappeared from the social media website Saturday night.

The Daily Caller has more details:

His posts show anger towards police officers, President Trump, and white people, as well as frustration over the events last week in Charlottesville, where a man attending a white nationalist rally plowed his car into a crowd of protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

“Damn Terrorist…White Terrorist in America. Be on the look out for white males that look like him,” Miller wrote in a post earlier this week along with a photo of James Fields, the 20-year-old white nationalist who has been charged with second-degree murder in Heyer’s death.

Allegedly posting under the name Malik Mohammed Ali, he claimed to be a part of the Moorish Nation, the same black separatist group that Long joined before he ambushed officers in Louisiana.

It’s also possible that Miller was simply insane. He was apparently involuntarily committed at least once prior to the shooting, but the available evidence is more than enough to raise concerns that this was a classic politically-motivated shooting. Indeed, if he was a white nationalist with an equivalent history of extremism the shooting would already be on lists of far-right extremist violence.

As I wrote last week, there is a disturbing tendency for activist groups (and the government) to treat the extremist threat as if it comes only from jihadists or the far-right. Yet the recent wave of anti-police killings and ambushes easily meets the FBI definition of terrorism: “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

Any comprehensive study of extremist violence in the United States should include the recent spike in politically-motivated anti-police ambushes, and it appears that last Friday America may well have experienced yet another tragic far-left attack. 

Silence Is Golden

by Victor Davis Hanson

Anything Trump says or tweets is going to being contextualized in the worst light, even when he does not venture into Cairo-speech–like historical mythologies. The ensuing controversy usually results in yet another tactical defeat for the media, which further turns off the public by its displays of abject mediocrity and arrogance, but nevertheless is also a strategic setback for Trump in adding to a media narrative of chaos that drives out good news or news in general.

Indeed, the daily news cycle itself, both upbeat and not so, aids Trump. The epidemic of Islamist terrorism abroad reminds the nation why enforceable borders, a targeted travel cessation from war-torn terrorist wild lands, and why naming an existential enemy “radical Islamic terrorism” were all wise and overdue.

The decrease in illegal immigration is welcomed by most of the population, reminding them in contrast with the unsustainable chaos of the last two decades. The wild progressive effort to remove statues in the dead of night by executive order or through mob violence is seen by the public as anti-democratic and, to be frank, creepy in a Soviet or 1930s European way — and yet the shrill effort will continue until wiping away memory butts up against either progressive saints such as Woodrow Wilson or public outrage over attacks on Jefferson or Washington.

The economy — jobs reports, Wall Street, consumer confidence, family income, GDP growth, corporate profits, gas prices, energy production, exports — is creating a new confidence among Americans. Abroad, the team of Haley, Mattis, McMaster, Pompeo, and Tillerson is slowly reestablishing deterrence in a fashion of “principled realism.” The cabinet secretaries are steadily and quietly repealing the Obama progressive experiment. If Trump can start on the wall, go after elites’ tax loopholes, keep hammering away about unfair trade, and the need for industrial revitalization, he will keep his populist base (which may enjoy Trump’s controversial editorializing but not if it endangers their own populist agenda).

In other words, the news speaks for itself, without Trump’s editorializing, tweeting, or impromptu commentary.

Given that the public does not like the media, there is no reason or advantage in driving down its numbers even further if that entails some cost to Trump himself. If he could try, for three weeks, filtering his communications through his staff, and let his undeniable good start speak for itself, while events in the news reflect the commonsense logic of his agenda’s reactions and remedies, he would rather quickly regain enough public clout to leverage the calcified Republican Congress to pass tax reform and revisit Obamacare repeal and reform.

Most will say, “Duh — of course, but also impossible given Trump’s character is his fate.”

But most thought Trump would either prove a liberal wolf in thin conservative fleece incapable of the sort of appointments he has made or a supposed wild man who would leave NATO, collude with Russia, and withdraw U.S. troops from their forward bases. Neither followed.

Trump has a cunning in understanding human nature, and he should trust it in knowing what the media and progressive activists would hate most about his tenure would be relative silence while his agenda steamrolls over them, turning attention from the messenger to a message that is far more popular than that of his critics.

Conservative Groups Showcase Ads Demanding Judicial Confirmations

by Jim Geraghty

Last month, the Washington Post wrote that “naming youthful conservative nominees to the federal bench in record-setting numbers” is one area where President Trump is “wildly successful.” Of course, naming those judges and confirming them are two separate actions.

The Senate has confirmed three Trump picks for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, one district judge and the Supreme Court appointment of Neil Gorsuch, which is ahead of the normal pace for judicial approvals. (Of course, few presidents take office with a Supreme Court vacancy.) But another thirty Trump judicial nominations await confirmation by the Senate. (Three judges have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but not yet confirmed by the full Senate.)

The conservative legal organization Judicial Crisis Network is launching a $500,000 digital ad campaign, featuring ads like this one:

Other conservative grassroots groups including Tea Party Patriots, Concerned Veterans for America, Susan B. Anthony List, and Concerned Women for America are launching email campaigns, phone banks, email alerts to fellow activists, and drive attendance at town halls hosted by Democratic Members of Congress.

When Trump took office in January, there were 105 judicial vacancies; now there are nearly 140.

“There are almost 140 open seats on the federal bench waiting to be filled, with many more piling up,” declared Judicial Crisis Network’s Chief Counsel Carrie Severino in a statement. “This Democratic obstruction can end by reforming the so-called ‘blue slip’ process and adopting Senator Lankford’s gridlock reform proposal to debate each nominee for eight hours or less and give them a prompt up or down vote.”

Lankford wrote earlier this month:

Since presidential nominations now require only a simple majority to pass, the majority party can confirm nominees without any minority party support. But the minority can force the full 30 hours of debate time provided within the rules, which they have repeatedly demanded. At the current rate, it will take 11 years to fill the executive branch.

How do we get the Senate working again? First, we should reduce floor debate time for executive nominees from 30 hours to eight or less. The Senate could debate and vote on five or more nominees a week, instead of just one or two. Interestingly, this rule change was adopted for a short time by the Senate in 2013, under Harry Reid, as part of a temporary agreement to fill nominations. It worked then, and it would work now.

Don’t Hide Extremism, Counter It

by Elliot Kaufman

Kyle Smith wrote an interesting piece on Thursday. He argues that kicking white supremacists off the Internet, as tech companies from Google to GoDaddy seem determined to do, will make it harder for the police to track extremists and catch them before they turn to violence.

I suspect he’s right; in just the second half of 2016, Google complied with over 26,000 government requests for its users’ data. This data helps our law enforcement agencies to stop attacks before they happen. But if the extremists are kicked off Google, there won’t be any data to hand over.

This gets us to the heart of the problem with the tech companies’ approach: Our goal should not be to hide white supremacists from view but rather to counter their extremism.

It is thus quite useful to have extremists using third-party platforms. Recognizing that they are going to find ways to communicate and congregate, those platforms—as long as they are controlled by us and not them—can be used to moderate or convert extremists with counter-messaging.

Jigsaw, Google’s in-house think tank and technology incubator, has developed a program called the “Redirect Method,” for exactly this purpose. Currently deployed on Google and YouTube’s search engines, it uses an algorithm to identify ISIS or white supremacist sympathizers from their search terms. Then, instead of supplying advertising corresponding to their interests, it advertises Arabic- and English-language YouTube playlists designed to moderate their views. These can include testimonials from former extremists, imams denouncing ISIS’s corruption of Islam, or embarrassing clips of the incompetence of neo-Nazi groups, all advertised under headlines such as “Is ISIS legitimate?” or “Want to Join ISIS?” rather than explicitly anti-extremist titles.

In use on Google since 2016 and on YouTube since July, the Redirect Method seems to be effective. A pilot program found that users were three times more likely to click on these ads than on normal advertisements, and spent far longer watching the counterextremism videos than on normal YouTube videos.

These videos are of course only a first step. De-radicalization is extremely difficult, often requiring prolonged human contact with an understanding but more moderate interlocutor. It is not easy, after all, to abandon a worldview. That said, platforms like Google and YouTube are valuable tools to reach people and help bring them into contact with new ideas that can persuade them. We can leverage the popularity of these platforms, even among the worst of the worst, to help make them a little less bad, or a little less violent.

However, by expelling them from these platforms, we forfeit that opportunity. The actions of large technology companies are sending extremists underground, where we cannot influence and moderate them, or counter their messaging. This, I fear, is a mistake.

Watch Reihan Salam on Face the Nation

by Elliot Kaufman

Reihan Salam, the executive editor of National Review, went on Face the Nation to discuss the big issues of the week. He commented on President Trump’s reaction to the violence in Charlottesville, Steve Bannon’s departure from the White House, and the president’s political outlook.

On the diverging reactions to President Trump’s equivocations about Charlottesville, Reihan made an interesting point:

People have very deep suspicions about Donald Trump for a good reason, but if he is going to counter those suspicions, he has to take very strong and clear actions to convey that, ‘No, I am actually sincere when I say that I’m on the side of those who are protesting against white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and all the rest.

So, the problem is that he does enough to make people inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, he’s actually trying to be reasonable here, people are not being fair to him.’ And I think that’s the tension, that’s why you see this divide between the two constituencies.

Reihan also argued that President Trump and the Republican party may be in a better political situation going forward than most people realize. He explained:

The question is, do people pay attention to policy debates in so granular a fashion, or do they pay attention to headline numbers—what’s happening to job growth, or even just unemployment and wage gains, and what have you. We can separate the question of whether or not [Trump] deserves the credit for it. He’s barely been in office. But that is a very powerful factor.

Who Is the President’s Political Strategist?

by Rich Lowry

Joe Scarborough made a great point this morning, which is, in the absence of Steve Bannon, who is the president’s chief political strategist? Bannon may not have excelled at execution — indeed he was an internally divisive force who clearly did more than his share of leaking — but at least he had a theory of the case. Now, the president is surrounded by New Yorkers and apolitical generals who may bring more competence and internal coherence to the White House, but aren’t well-suited to plotting how to try to undo the political damage Trump has done himself in recent months.

What Do You Do When Hate Groups Decide to Adopt One of Your Symbols?

by Jim Geraghty

Hey, anything big happen while I was gone last week?

The first Jim-written Morning Jolt in a week features a couple of tough questions about what, exactly, Steve Bannon brought to the White House; Great Britain encounters a snag in the Brexit process, and why proud Southerners need a unifying symbol beyond the Confederate Flag. On that last point:

What Do You Do When Hate Groups Decide to Adopt One of Your Symbols?

Every time I write about the Confederate flag or “Confederaphilia,” a few readers respond that I just don’t understand, that I can’t understand because I’m not a native Southerner, that I should keep my Yankee mouth shut, etcetera. (This argument is, of course, an embrace of identity politics, not a rejection of it.)

Assume for a moment that there are people who want to express pride in their Southern heritage or honor their ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, and who do not want to endorse racism or slavery.

What do you do when a hate group suddenly decides to adopt one of your preferred symbols? Over the years, white supremacist groups have adopted several symbols that aren’t immediately connected to racism, such as Celtic crosses (crosses in circles), Thor’s hammer, and the number 88. Wiser anti-hate groups, like the Anti-Defamation League, are quick to point out that none of these symbols are, by themselves, indications of support for hate groups, and advises everyone to examine their contexts closely to avoid false accusations. Nonetheless, hearing this can be a little unnerving for fans of Celtic Christian art, the Marvel comics superhero, or NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. There’s a deliberate desire on the part of hate groups to take seemingly innocuous symbols and turn them into secret signals of belief, only recognized by other members of the club.

If you’re really into waving the Confederate flag and don’t want to endorse white supremacy or racism, you have an increasingly serious problem, because even if you’re the least racist person in the world, a lot of openly racist people have embraced that flag as their symbol. At some point, non-racist proud Southerners may need to let that symbol of regional pride go and adopt another one. How about a flag depicting a bowl of grits?

And then there was Charlottesville display of people marching with the Nazi flag, alongside the Confederate flag. 

Once the Nazi flag appeared, no one could plausibly argue that the gathering in Charlottesville was aimed at preserving history or battling political correctness run amok. Everyone who marched alongside that Nazi flag was endorsing what the swastika represents. If disagree with that statement, try to imagine a scenario where you would willingly march alongside a Nazi flag.

This is why it’s so outrageous to hear the President of the United States insisting that the clash in Charlottesville “had some very fine people on both sides.”

No, it didn’t. Once you’re marching alongside the Nazi flag, you’re not a good person anymore.

If those Confederate statues are to remain standing, it will require a better argument than what we have now. Charlottesville demonstrated that keeping the statues is important to American Nazis. (Non-metaphorical Nazis! The term has been so overused in overwrought political arguments it’s hard to grasp we’re talking about actual, Seig-Heil-ing, Nazi-saluting, goose-stepping morons!) If American Nazis want those statues to keep standing, that’s a really strong argument to take them down. If those statues have become a rallying point and symbol for those who disagree with nearly all of America’s values – the rule of law, equality in the eyes of the law, pluralism, the right to vote, the right to free speech – then they have no place in public squares, public parks and courthouses, etcetera.

There seems to be this insistence that to denounce the marchers in Charlottesville is to somehow endorse the violence of the “Antifa” movement, as if this is binary, and we must approve of one side of this fight. This is ridiculous. Life often gives us two bad choices. Think of the Eastern front on World War Two, the Iran-Iraq War, or the choice between tanking your season or losing the highest-round draft pick.

The marchers in Charlottesville chanted, “Jews will not replace us!” It’s hard to believe Donald Trump is an anti-Semite; few anti-Semites are at peace with their daughter converting to Judaism and marrying a Jew. But why did that chant and the Charlottesville neo-Nazis not seem to anger him? Trump is a man who is capable of lashing out at Megyn Kelly, Mika Bryzenski, or John McCain with ferocious fury; why did he not bring a comparable fury at those who marched alongside the banner of the Fuhrer? Is it that he simply can’t get that angry at people who aren’t insulting him personally, but merely insulting America’s ideals? Or is it as simple has he thinks many of the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and elsewhere voted for him, and he fears losing their support?

In the latter half of last week, America’s political press debated whether Charlottesville represented a tipping point for the Trump presidency or point of no return. One thing is clear for anyone who wants to morally or politically remain aligned with this presidency: If Trump can foul up a moment that required him to simply denounce people marching under the Nazi flag, then he is capable of fouling up anything.

Monday links

by debbywitt

Updated links and resources for the eclipse.

Latitude/longitude digits explainer: The 5th decimal place is worth up to 1.1 meters: it distinguishes trees from each other.

A Navy SEAL explains what to do if you’re attacked by a dog.

It’s Dorothy Parker’s birthday: quotes, poems, a brief bio, and the weird journey of her ashes.

18 Science Fiction Spacesuits, Ranked. They may look cool, but how safe and usable would they be in real life?

A digital archive of Soviet children’s books 1917-1953.

ICYMI, Friday’s links are here, and include hundred year old fruitcake, all about Genghis Khan, the invention of the Illuminati conspiracy, and gin infused with vintage Harley-Davidson parts.

Game of Thrones Episode 6 — The Night King’s Spear

by David French

Spoilers abound.

Let’s start with the big picture. I’m seeing lots of comments online that this is the episode when Game of Thrones became conventional fantasy fiction (this sharp piece from The Ringer is one example), and that may well be right. To some extent it was inevitable. After all, the show has featured white walkers from the pilot episode and dragons from the end of the first season. A collision was always coming. It’s hard for supernatural beings to fight and for the show to retain its Wars of the Roses–style grounded grittiness.

But if this is the episode where Game of Thrones became Lord of the Rings, it did it well – in two separate ways. First, the fight on the ice was as epic and gripping as good fantasy fiction can be (yes, I’m ignoring the implausible way they got there), and the emergence of the Night King as even more powerful than we previously understood puts him on the path to Sauron-level malevolence and might. The cinematography was as stunning as always. I have to continually remind myself that I’m watching television, not a $200 million summer blockbuster.

Second, this was one the few times we actually witnessed Lord of the Rings-style virtue. Jorah Mormont’s contrition in the face of his past sins was one of the more powerful depictions of true repentance that I’ve seen in a long time. The truly penitent man doesn’t just feel sorrow for his wrongs, he accepts that those wrongs have enduring consequences and absorbs that reality as part of his penance. When Jorah refused his family’s sword, I saw a man who’d been truly redeemed. It was a potent moment.

But the show isn’t quite Lord of the Rings yet (in fact, I suspect it will rediscover its roots in the finale), and the interplay between Sansa and Arya was every bit as frustrating and sinister as classic GoT can be. At this point, I’m concerned that Jon could return to Winterfell on a dragon’s back only to find one sister standing over the dead body of another — with Littlefinger smirking in the shadows. In fact, exactly that kind of horror would be the crowning sorrow for a Stark family that’s been betrayed at every turn. Betraying each other would be the final — and worst — twist of the knife.

Finally, it seems that if Dany is going to remain the “breaker of chains,” then it will be Jon — not Tyrion — who will keep her on the right path. He is a hero worthy of her admiration. He obviously has her heart. It will be fascinating to see what happens when she realizes that she was holding the hand of a trueborn Targaryen — her nephew, no less. His decision to bend the knee may forestall an immediate power struggle, but will it blunt her paranoia? Time will tell, and the Mad Queen scenario, sadly, is still in play.