arry was on his way to visit his friend Leonard when he stopped at a playground to rest his back and watch a pick-up basketball game. Leonard, who lived alone, had taken a bad fall in the basement of the ancient townhouse in which he rented a room. He had broken some ribs, suffered a concussion, and messed up his knees. After a week at Beth Israel, Leonard had been transferred to a nursing home. Frankly, Harry was in no rush to see his friend. At his best, Leonard had not been a joy to behold. Harry could just about imagine the shape he was in after the fall.
The action on the court was serious business. High intensity. High quality. It was dominated by a tall sliver of a kid who wore a polka-dot do-rag and white satin shorts. Almost lackadaisical in his movements, he would suddenly shift gears, knife his way through two or three defenders, and make his shots no matter what his position on the court. He made the game seem so simple. Throw it up. Two points. Shoot again. Deuce. Wrap a defender around his neck—are you kidding me. Flick him off. Trey. He played as if he was alone on the court.
A redheaded man in a topcoat watched Harry watch the boy.
“He’s a player,” Harry said.
“He’s my kid. I got him a try-out with the Nets.”
“He should go far.”
“You ever seen anyone like him?”
Harry thought for a minute, then said: “I do know someone.”
“Is that right. Who might that be?’
“An old friend. I’m on my way to see him now.”
“And he can shoot like my kid.”
“I don’t know about now. He’s not feeling too well. But in his day? No contest.”
“How old is this friend of yours?
“Forty-nine, 50…about like me,” Harry said.
“That’s not too bad. And you say he can still shoot.”
“That doesn’t go away.”
“It’s the running around that betrays you.”
“Tell me about it.”
They watched the boy disappear in a crowd, then materialize and throw one down. The red-headed man stroked his chin as if to simulate deep thought.
“Maybe you should bring your friend around. Cheer him up. The fresh air.”
“I don’t know if he’d be up for it.”
“See what you can do. We’ll have some fun. You a betting man?”
“Now and then,” said Harry. “Nothing serious.”
“We’ll keep it small. My kid against your guy. Say four or five hundred…How does Saturday sound? Same time. Same station.”
“It’s a long shot,” said Harry.
“Give it a try. I got to see this world-beater of yours.”
eonard looked awful. He was propped up in bed, all swathed in sheets and towels as if he was a dying Roman senator. One of the sheets had slipped away from a pale and discolored shoulder, which was not fun to look at. Leonard was a small, dumpy-looking man with a sprinkling of hair and a mouthful of teeth that needed a lot of work. To give him his due, he had the strong, nicely shaped legs of an athlete. From time to time, when they were at college together, Leonard would ask for “an appearance check” and Harry would say, “You look great.”
“It was nice of you to come,” said Leonard. “Tony was here twice already.”
Tony was a mutual friend. He was a well-positioned executive in municipal government and a slavish admirer of Leonard, arranging cushy no-show jobs for him at City Hall. Tony was overly jovial when he was around Leonard. Harry sensed that Leonard had something on him.
Leonard had set up a competition between Harry and Tony as to who had done more for him. And Harry always went for the bait.
“I tried to get over here, but I had a full plate. And don’t forget,” he said, defensively, “I’m the one who called 911 in the first place. I called the precinct, too. You could still be laying there in the dark.”
Leonard ignored this. He refused to give Harry points for calling 911. “They got old people with prosthetics here,” Leonard said. “And they got a broad across the hall keeps screaming all night. I don’t think I’m a candidate for a place like this.”
“No way,” said Harry.
“If I need some money, Tony told me not to worry about it.”
“He’s a good friend.”
“I’m worried about him, though. He works too hard.”
“At least he gets work,” said Harry. “Not too many people his age get work these days.”
“You could always hop on a plane and go somewhere.”
“I don’t hop on too many planes anymore.”
“At least you got a support system,” Leonard said. “What have I got?”
“Some good friends.”
“There’s a Russian woman who comes over and gives me a haircut and a rub. She started out as a cleaning lady and I’m beginning to like her as a person.”
“It’s nice to have that in your life.”
“I gave her my credit card and she only takes out what I tell her.”
A faint alarm went off in Harry’s head, but he didn’t mention it.
“Maybe I’ll meet her some time,” Harry said.
“You’d like her. She’s coming over later to give me a rub.”
fter the playground game, Harry had stopped to buy his friend a hot pretzel and some magazines. Leonard took a bite out of the pretzel, started to gag, and flung it in the receptacle. He didn’t say anything about the magazines.
“You’d give me some money, too,” said Leonard, “if you were still rolling. You’d always pick up a tab.”
“I still pick up a tab,” said Harry, defensive again. “But you’re right, I’m not rolling.”
“They got me in rehab already,” said Leonard, who never lingered on a subject. “I took twenty steps today. I can go up, but I can’t go down.”
“At least you can go somewhere.”
Leonard hesitated for a second, as if to decide whether the remark was amusing. Then he said: “Jesus Christ, the way you put things. Tony thinks you’re brilliant. ‘Through Harry’s eyes’ is the way he puts it. He’d like to get closer to you if you’d let him.”
“We’re close enough,” said Harry, who was fond of Tony. “Maybe one of these days.”
“You were always a loner,” said Leonard, his voice trailing off. Some of his medication must have kicked in. “How many years have we known each other?”
“A lot of years.”
Leonard gestured around the spare room. “And this is the way we go out.”
“We’re not going out so fast.”
Harry figured this was as good a time as any to tell Leonard about the kid at the playground and the redheaded man in the topcoat.
“Jesus Christ,” said Leonard, fighting off the medication. “I don’t believe this. You just gave me a charge.”
“It’s just a fantasy.”
“Yeah…But I know those fantasies of yours, Harry. You got a way of turning them into something. It’s just like Tony always says: ‘Through Harry’s eyes…’”
arry had known Leonard for thirty years and referred to him as “my college roommate,” although strictly speaking, they had never shared a room. They had lived in the same boarding house at Louisiana State. Harry shared a space in the attic with a boy from Chicago and Leonard never did find a roommate. Simply put, nobody wanted to room with him, and that included Harry. One reason was that Leonard had no particular interest in studying. No one had ever seen him open a book. All he would do is wander around, smoke cigars, and talk about how great Philadelphia was and the irony of his getting stuck in a hick town in the middle of nowhere.
Nobody knew where he slept. Maybe in an alcove somewhere.
Harry and Leonard had met on a railroad platform in Shreveport, two boys from the Northeast who hadn’t managed to get admitted to a good school there. Harry had decent grades, but lacked the patience to fill out applications. So he took the first school that came along. Leonard wasn’t much of a student, but one thing he could do was shoot a basketball.
Harry had seen him play a few times in Philadelphia, although once was all it took. Leonard was a legend back then. In fact, that was what they called him: “The Legend.” He wore bottle-cap glasses at the time and practically had to be led onto the court. The high school team used him in special situations—especially when they had fallen behind and needed instant offense. Leonard might miss his first shot. But then he would start draining them from way out near the mid-court line. The crowd would start to roar and he would keep pouring them in until the opposing team sent in a linebacker from the football team to foul him, and not too gently. Leonard was no star at the foul line. All he could do was score from way out in what seemed like the next county. So after he threw in a quick eight or ten and started to get roughed up, the coach would yank him and he would sit out the rest of the game.
Harry had never seen anyone like him. And nobody else had, either.
Leonard’s reputation followed him to Louisiana. The players were aware of what he could do and the close games they could win with Leonard coming off the bench. But the coach didn’t much like the looks of him—a short, stocky kid who was half-blind and had a big mouth. Leonard didn’t care too much for the coach either and, as a result, he never got to play at the college level.
And even though Harry didn’t room with Leonard, somehow he got stuck with him. His main responsibility was arranging dates for his friend, none of whom met with Leonard’s approval. (“What’s wrong with your head, Harry? You expect me to be seen in public with a mom?”)
After four years, Harry got his degree and Leonard may have gotten one, too. Harry wasn’t sure. They headed back north and remained friends. Both went off to fight in Korea. After they were discharged, Leonard moved into a rent-controlled flat in Chelsea and never left. He had the no-show jobs and a friend in the mayor’s office and took an early retirement. Where did he get the money to live on? Nobody knew. Tony called him “America’s guest”—when Leonard wasn’t listening. He never married, never came close.
Harry had had a bad marriage and a good one. There were some strong years as an episode writer in network television, and then his career bottomed out. The two men stayed in touch, had dinner once in a while—Harry always paid the check. And then Leonard started falling down, in his building and on the street.
HARRY AND THE REDHEADED man decided on a gentleman’s bet of $400. Actually, it was a little steep for Harry, who was living on a pension and squeezing pennies. But he was self-conscious about his situation, so he found an ATM in the neighborhood, got the cash, and headed back to the court. His back ached and his knees were a little shaky. A doctor had told him that much of it was tension, but you could have fooled Harry. He had no idea if Leonard would show up.
The sleepy-looking kid shot around for twenty minutes or so, seemed to get bored with all that perfection of his, and retired to a bench with a towel over his head. The redheaded man looked at his watch. “So what’s the story?” he asked Harry.
“Like I said, it was iffy.”
They sat in silence for ten minutes. Harry did not have much experience in street betting and wondered if he would be asked to forfeit the four hundred. And then, what appeared to be a small caravan showed up down the street. Leonard was in a wheelchair, wearing a bathrobe and sneakers and reading the New York Post. A woman with short blonde hair pushed him along. Harry took her to be the new Russian friend. She came off as being in her mid-forties and she was carrying twenty pounds more than she needed to. But she was awfully attractive. Somehow, this upset Harry. He had always counted on Leonard to be in worse shape than he was. And now Leonard had himself a borderline knockout. Was it possible he wanted to keep Leonard down?
There was a red flag tied to the wheelchair. It may have had something to do with traffic.
The woman extended her hand.
“I’m charming to meet you,” she said.
Harry shook her hand and said: “My pleasure.”
She tickled Leonard’s ribs.
“He’s cute, no?” she said to Harry.
“Yes, he is,” said Harry. “I have to agree with you there.”
“Her name’s Amushka,” said Leonard.
“There a nickname?”
“I call her ‘Mushy.'”
“That works. Has a ring to it.”
“I teach her a little English every day.”
He leaned in close to Harry and said: “Check her out for me.”
“Nice-looking woman,” said Harry.
He didn’t want her—not with the name. He just didn’t want Leonard to have her.
“We gonna get started or what?” asked the redheaded man.
“Who the fuck is he?” asked Leonard.
“The boy’s manager,” said Harry.
“Tell him not to get too smart.”
Still in the wheelchair, Leonard shot the man a look, which seemed to frighten him.
They agreed to keep it simple. The sleepy-looking kid and Leonard would each take fifteen shots from the forty-foot line. Whoever made more of them would be declared the winner. Harry agreed to let the kid go first. He took a few warm-up shots, while Leonard read his newspaper and the Russian woman rubbed his neck. The kid signaled that he was ready. He made his first two shots and missed the next three. Something was bothering him.
“I got to do this in traffic,” he told the redheaded man.
Harry recognized the term. It was used by announcers who covered NBA games.
“That all right?” asked the redheaded man.
Harry said: “Sure.”
The redheaded man signaled to a behemoth on the bench. The oversized boy, grinning as he did so, skipped out on the court, put a hand in the shooter’s face, and kept his body close to him. He was built like a truck and a half and he was surprisingly scrappy. But the sleepy-looking kid easily juked him aside and put a forty-footer in the hole. He threw up nine more. Same story.
The redheaded man said to Harry: “Your guy’s move.”
Leonard stood up unsteadily.
“I’m sorry, Harry,” he said. “That last fall affected my balance. That ever happen to you?”
“Probably,” said Harry, wondering if it ever had. “It’s not unusual.”
The woman tried to help Leonard off with his bathrobe. He brushed her aside.
“See, that’s what I don’t like,” he said to Harry. “When she tries to do too much for me.”
“Cut her some slack,” said Harry.
It was a phrase used by his son, who lived in Tennessee. Harry had vowed he would never use that phrase.
Leonard struggled out of the bathrobe and called for the basketball. He was wearing slippers and a hospital gown. Regrettably, his hairy ass was exposed. The woman tried to close up the gown. Leonard brushed her aside again.
“Explain it to her, Harry. I don’t like it when she’s all over me.”
The woman, clearly upset, made an effort to compose herself.
“You’re allowed to warm up,” the redheaded man said to Leonard, who gave him another look.
“Tell this guy not to bother me,” he said to Harry.
Leonard stood at the forty-foot line and held the ball close to one ear, as if he was listening to a ticking bomb. Then, as graceful as a dancer, he did a small stutter-step backward and released his first shot. When it caromed off the rim of the basket, Harry’s stomach tightened up—as it had when he first saw Leonard in action. How he needed that four hundred. Then he remembered: The first shot had always been Leonard’s “range-finder.” Leonard called for the ball again and “listened” to it. Then he began to drain them, one after another, in a style that had long gone out of vogue—a high-arching two-handed set shot that seemed to hang in the air forever and then drop cleanly through the hoop, as if it were being welcomed home.
And as each shot hit its inevitable mark, the years fell away for Harry. He forgot about his back and the bad knees and he was at Louisiana State again, a skinny rudderless boy from the East who didn’t fit in any more than Leonard did. He was alternately brazen and scared out of his wits. He threw back cheap milkshakes to put on weight and plucked random courses from the syllabus—19th-century Balkan diplomacy and British naval maneuvers. He needed glasses and didn’t know it. He couldn’t see the blackboard and talked to girls in a strangled voice. As an athlete, he wasn’t in Leonard’s league—but he could run. And for the most part, that’s what he did. He ran this way and that, and had no idea of where he was going. But he also felt a kind of shaky confidence. He knew that he was going to be all right. All he had to do was learn to express himself. Which he did. He had the good long run in network television until he got complacent and maybe a little cocky and let it get away from him. He had more or less given up. But as Leonard launched those towering bombs, Harry thought, who knows, maybe he, too, had something left in the tank.
Leonard’s last three shots were way off the mark. Harry lost the bet.
“That last fall,” said Leonard, sitting down in the wheelchair. “I was down for the count for eleven hours.”
“That’s all right,” said Harry. “You did fine.”
He handed the money to the redheaded man, who counted the bills and put them in his pocket. Harry started to think of ways he could cut down on his expenses. Maybe stop going to the diner in the morning and make his breakfast at home. But all in all, he felt he had come out ahead.
The sleepy-eyed kid continued to shoot around, keeping an eye on Leonard who watched from the sidelines and then wheeled over to him.
“You have a nice fluid move,” Leonard told him. “But your release is too quick and you got to get more arc on the ball.”
The boy nodded and continued to throw up shots, making no alteration in his style. But Harry knew that at some point he would.
“Your guy ever play professional?” asked the redheaded man.
“No,” said Harry. “He didn’t have to.”
“He must have been something.”
A sheet of anger came down on Harry.
“Must have been?” he said, “What do you mean must have been?”
Harry had once punched out a network executive and flattened out four knuckles on his right hand—the incident that had started his decline. But he had one left. He advanced on the man.
“You’re right,” said the redhead, backing away. “I don’t know what got into me. And I have no idea why I said that. He’s still something. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
“One of the best?” said Harry.
“The best. I thought I made that clear. He is without question the best I’ve ever seen.”
Leonard gave a hard look to the redheaded man. “That guy bothering you?”
“You want me to go over and speak to him?”
“What do you think of the broad?”
“That face,” said Leonard, extending his hands as if he were holding a pumpkin. “But ever since the fall, I’ve been shooting blanks. That ever happen to you, Harry?”
“Not that I can recall.”
“You want to come over and give her a hock?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Because it would be all right with me.”
“I know that.”
“Aaaahhh, I love you, Harry,” he said, leaning out of the wheelchair and holding his head against Harry’s leg. “You know that, don’t you?”
“I do,” said Harry, rubbing his friend’s bald and freckled head. “I love you, too.”
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Must-Reads from Magazine
With the demise of the filibuster for judicial nominations, the Senate has become a more partisan body. Members of the opposition party no longer have to take difficult votes to confirm presidential nominees, and so they no longer have to moderate their rhetoric to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy. Many expected, therefore, that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings would tempt Democrats to engage in theatrics and hyperbole. Few, however, foresaw just how recklessly the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic members would behave.
The sordid performance to which Americans were privy was not the harmless kind that can be chalked up to presidential ambitions. Right from the start, Democratic committee members took a sledgehammer to the foundations of the institution in which they are privileged to serve.
Sen. Cory Booker made national headlines by declaring himself “Spartacus,” but the actions he undertook deserved closer attention than did the scenery he chewed. Booker insisted that it was his deliberate intention to violate longstanding Senate confidentiality rules supposedly in service to transparency. It turns out that the documents Booker tried to release to the public had already been exempted from confidentiality. Booker was adamant, though, that he had undermined the Senate’s integrity. You see, that, not transparency, was his true objective. It was what he believed his constituents wanted from him.
Booker wasn’t alone. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse appeared to share his colleague’s political instincts. “I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not accept the process,” he said of the committee’s vetting of Kavanaugh’s documents. “Because I do not accept its legitimacy or validity,” Whitehouse added, he did not have to abide by the rules and conventions that governed Senate conduct.
When the committee’s Democratic members were not trying to subvert the Senate’s credibility, they were attempting to impugn Judge Kavanaugh’s character via innuendo or outright fabrications.
Sen. Kamala Harris managed to secure a rare rebuke from the fact-checking institution PolitiFact, which is charitably inclined toward Democratic claims. “Kavanaugh chooses his words very carefully, and this is a dog whistle for going after birth control,” read her comments on Twitter accompanying an 11-second clip in which Kavanaugh characterized certain forms of birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs.” “Make no mistake,” Harris wrote, “this is about punishing women.” But the senator had failed to include mitigating context in that clip, which would have made it clear that Kavanaugh was simply restating the arguments made by the plaintiffs in the case in question.
Later, Harris probed Kavanaugh as to whether he believed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which has never been explicitly ruled unconstitutional, was wrongly upheld by the Supreme Court. Despite calling the decisions of this period “discriminatory,” Kavanaugh declined to elaborate on a case that could theoretically come before the Supreme Court. This, the judge’s detractors insisted, was “alarming” and perhaps evidence of latent racial hostility. In fact, it was an unremarkable example of how Supreme Court nominees tend to avoid offering “forecasts” of how they will decide cases without having heard the arguments—a routine deemed “the Ginsburg Rule” after Ruth Bader, who perfected the practice.
Over a week later, Harris had still not explained what she was getting at. But she doesn’t have to. The vagueness of her claim was designed to allow Kavanaugh’s opponents’ imaginations to run wild, leading them to draw the worst possible conclusions about this likely Supreme Court justice and to conclude that the process by which he was confirmed was a sham.
Harris may not have been alone in appealing to this shameful tactic. On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein shocked observers when she released a cryptic statement revealing that she had “referred” to “federal investigative authorities” a letter involving Kavanaugh’s conduct. It’s human nature to arrive at the worst imaginable conclusion as to what these unstated claims might be, and that’s precisely what Kavanaugh’s opponents did. It turned out that the 35-year-old accusations involve an anonymous woman who was allegedly cornered in a bedroom by Kavanaugh and a friend during a high-school party. Kavanaugh, the letter alleged, put a hand over her mouth, but the woman removed herself from the situation before anything else occurred. All were minors at the time of this alleged episode, and Kavanaugh denies the allegations.
Some thought it was odd for Feinstein to refer these potentially serious allegations to the FBI this week and in such a public fashion when the allegations contained in a letter were known to Democrats for months. The letter was, after all, obtained by Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo in July. But it doesn’t seem confusing when considering the facts that the FBI all but dismissed the referral off-hand and reporting on the episode lacks any corroboration to substantiate the claims made by the alleged victim here. It is hard not to conclude that this is an attempt to affix an asterisk to Brett Kavanaugh’s name. Democrats will not only claim that this confirmation process was tainted but may now contend that Kavanaugh cannot be an impartial arbitrator—not with unresolved clouds of suspicion involving sexual assault hanging over his head.
Ultimately, as public polling suggests, the Democratic Party’s effort to tarnish Kavanaugh’s reputation through insinuation and theatrics has had the intended effect. Support for this nominee now falls squarely along party lines. But the collateral damage Senate Democrats have done to America’s governing institutions amid this scorched-earth campaign could have lasting and terrible consequences for the country.
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While the nation’s attention is focused on the Carolina coast, something very odd is happening across the country in Sunspot, New Mexico.
Sunspot is hardly a town at all–the nearest stores are 18 miles away. It’s actually a solar observatory 9,200 feet up in the Sacramento Mountains. It is open to the public and has a visitor’s center, but don’t visit it right now. On September 6th, the FBI moved in and evacuated all personnel using Black Hawk helicopters. Local police were told to stay away. The only explanation being given by the FBI is that an unresolved “security issue” is the cause of the evacuation.
The sun is the only astronomical body capable of doing major damage to planet earth without actually hitting us. A coronal mass ejection aimed at the earth could have a devastating impact on satellites, radio transmission, and the electrical grid, possibly causing massive power outages that could last for weeks, even months. (It would also produce spectacular auroras. During the Carrington Event of 1859, the northern lights were seen as far south as the Caribbean and people in New England could read newspapers by the light.)
So, there are very practical, not just intellectual reasons, to know what the sun is up to. But the National Solar Observatory right now is a ghost town, and no one will say why. Such a story should be catnip for journalists.
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It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you.
Americans awoke Thursday morning to a familiar noise: The president of the United States waxing conspiratorial and declaring himself the victim of a nefarious plot.
“3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Donald Trump declared on Twitter. He insisted that the loss of life in the immediate aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria topped out in the low double-digits and ballooned into the thousands well after the fact because of faulty accounting. The president did not claim that this misleading figure was attributable to flaws in the studies conducted in the aftermath of last year’s disaster by institutions like George Washington University or the New England Journal of Medicine but to a deliberate misinformation campaign orchestrated by his political opponents. “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible,” Trump insisted.
If, for some mysterious reason, Trump wanted to attack the validity of these studies, he might have questioned the assumptions and biases that even their authors admit had an unavoidable effect on their confidence intervals. But Trump’s interest is not in accuracy. His desire is to shield himself from blame and to project his administration’s failings—even those as debatable as the disaster that afflicted Puerto Rico for the better part of a year—onto others. The president’s self-consciousness is so transparent at this point that even his defenders in Congress have begun directly confronting the insecurities that fuel these tweets.
Donald Trump has rarely encountered a conspiracy theory he declined to legitimize, and this tendency did not abate when he won the presidency. From his repeated assertions that Moscow’s intervention in the 2016 election was a “hoax,” to the idea that the FBI shielded Hillary Clinton from due scrutiny, to the baseless notion that “millions and millions” of illegal-immigrant voters deprived him of a popular vote victory, all of this alleged sedition has a common theme: Trump is the injured party.
The oddest thing about all this is that these are the golden days. Trump-era Republicans will look back on this as the halcyon period in which all of Washington’s doors were open to them. The president’s ostensible allies control every chamber of government. The power his adversaries command is of the soft sort—cultural and moral authority—but not the kind of legal power that could prevent Trump and Republicans from realizing their agenda. That could be about to change.
The signs that a backlash to unified Republican rule in Washington was brewing have been obvious almost since the moment Trump took the oath of office. Democrats have consistently overperformed in special and off-year elections, their candidates have outraised the GOP, and a near-record number of Republicans opted to retire rather than face reelection in 2018. The Democratic Party’s performance in the generic ballot test has outpaced the GOP for well over a year, sometimes by double-digits, leading many to speculate that Democrats are well positioned to retake control of the House of Representatives. Now, despite the opposition party’s structural disadvantages, some are even beginning to entertain the prospect of a Democratic takeover in the Senate.
Until this point, the Trump administration has faced no real adversity. Sure, the administration’s executive overreach has been rejected in the courts and occasionally public outcry has forced the White House to abandon ill-considered initiatives, but it’s always been able to rely on the GOP majorities in Congress to shield it from the worst consequences of its actions. That phase of the Trump presidency could be over by January. For the first time, this president could have to contend with at least one truly adversarial chamber of the legislature, and opposition will manifest first in the form of investigations.
How will the White House respond when House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings is tasked with investigating the president’s response to a natural disaster or when he subpoenas the president’s personal records? How will Trump respond when Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler is overseeing the investigation into the FBI’s response to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, not Bob Goodlatte? Will the Department of Homeland Security’s border policies withstand public scrutiny when it’s Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson, not Texas’s Michael McCaul, doing the scrutinizing? How will Wall Street react to a Washington where financial-services oversight is no longer led by Jeb Hensarling but Maxine Waters? If the Democrats take the House, the legislative phase of the Trump era be over, but the investigative phase will have only just begun.
In many ways, this presidency behaved as though it were operating in a bunker from day one, and not without reason. Trump had every reason to fear that the culture of Washington and even many of the members of his own party were secretly aligned against him, but the key word there is “secret.” The secret is about to be out. The Trump White House hasn’t yet faced a truly adversarial Washington institution with teeth, but it is about to. If you think you’ve seen a bunker mentality in this White House, you haven’t seen anything yet.
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Podcast: Google and Kavanaugh.
Will Google survive the revelations of its political bias, or are those revelations nothing new? We delve into the complexities of the world in which important tech companies think they are above politics until they decide they’re not. Also some stuff on the Supreme Court and on polls. Give a listen.
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Smeared for doing the job.
When then-presidential candidate Donald Trump famously declared his intention to be a “neutral” arbiter of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian territories and put the onus for resolving the conflict on Jerusalem, few observers could have predicted that Trump would run one of the most pro-Israel administrations in American history.
This year, the Trump administration began relocating the U.S. embassy in Israel to the nation’s capital city, fulfilling a promise that began in 1995 with the passage of a law mandating this precise course of action. The administration also declined to blame Israel for defending its Gaza border against a Hamas-led attack. Last week, the administration shuttered the PLO’s offices in Washington.
The Trump administration’s commitment to shedding the contradictions and moral equivalencies that have plagued past administrations has exposed anti-Zionism for what its critics so often alleged it to be.
This week, Department of Education Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus announced his intention to vacate an Obama-era decision that dismissed an alleged act of anti-Semitism at Rutgers University. Marcus’s decision to reopen that particularly deserving case has led the New York Times to publish an article by Erica L. Green full of misconceptions, myths, and dissimulations about the nature of the anti-Israel groups in question and the essential characteristics of anti-Semitism itself.
In reporting on Marcus’s move, Green declared the education activist and opponent of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement a “longtime opponent of Palestinian rights causes,” a designation the paper’s editor felt fine printing without any substantiating evidence. You could be forgiven for thinking that BDS itself constituted a cause of “Palestinian rights” and not an international effort to stigmatize and harm both Israel and its supporters. If you kept reading beyond that second paragraph, your suspicions were confirmed.
Green contended that Marcus’s decision has paved the way for the Education Department to adopt a “hotly contested definition of anti-Semitism” that includes: denying Jews “the right to self-determination,” claiming that the state of Israel is a “racist endeavor,” and applying a double standard to Israel not “expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” As Jerusalem Post reporter and COMMENTARY contributor Lahav Harkov observed, this allegedly “hotly contested definition” is precisely the same definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In 2010, the IHRA’s working definition was adopted almost in total by Barack Obama’s State Department.
Green went so far as to say that this not-so-new definition for anti-Semitism has, according to Arab-American activists, declared “the Palestinian cause anti-Semitic.” So that is the Palestinian cause? Denying Jews the right to self-determination, calling the state of Israel itself a racist enterprise, and holding it to nakedly biased double standards? So much for the two-state solution.
Perhaps the biggest tell in the Times piece was its reporters’ inability to distinguish between pro-Palestinian activism and anti-Israeli agitation. The complaint the Education Department is preparing to reinvestigate involves a 2011 incident in which an event hosted by the group Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action (BAKA) allegedly imposed an admissions fee on Jewish and pro-Israel activists after unexpected numbers arrived to protest the event. An internal email confirmed that the group only charged this fee because “150 Zionists” “just showed up,” but the Obama administration dismissed the claim, saying that the organization’s excuse—that it expected heftier university fees following greater-than-expected attendance—was innocuous enough.
Green did not dwell on the group, which allegedly discriminated against Jews and pro-Israeli activists. If she had, she’d have reported that, just a few weeks before this incident, BAKA staged another event on Rutgers’s campus—a fundraiser for the organization USTOGAZA, which provided aid to the campaign of “flotillas” challenging an Israeli blockade of Gaza. USTOGAZA’s links to the Turkey-based organization Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), which has long been associated with support for Hamas-led terrorist activities, rendered the money raised in this event legally suspect. Eventually, as Brooke Goldstein wrote for COMMENTARY, even BAKA conceded the point:
After community members demanded that Rutgers, a state-funded university, hold an investigation before handing over any money to USTOGAZA, the school responded by offering to keep the money raised in an escrow account until a suitable recipient could be found. In June 2011, BAKA sent out an e-mail admitting the University had, after “much deliberation” and despite their initial approval, “decided that they are not willing to release the funds to the US to Gaza effort” due to concerns of being found liable for violating the material-support statutes.
Rutgers prudently limited BAKA’s ability to participate in on-campus events after these incidents, but the organization that took their place—Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)—is no better. The Times quoted officials with the Center for Law and Justice who praised Marcus’s move and cited SJP as a source of particular consternation, but the reporters did not delve into the group’s activities. If they had, they’d find that the organization’s activities—among them declaring that “Zionists are racists,” supporting anti-Zionist individuals despite credible accusations of child abuse, and endorsing Hamas’s governing platform, which labels the entire state of Israel “occupied territory”—fits any cogent definition of anti-Semitism. This is to say nothing of the abuse and harassment that American Jews experience on college campuses that play host to SJP’s regular “Israel apartheid weeks.”
Some might attribute the Times’ neutral portrayal of groups that tacitly support violence and people like Omar Barghouti—an activist who “will never accept a Jewish state in Palestine” and has explicitly endorsed “armed resistance” against Jews, who he insists are “not a people”—to ignorance, as though that would neutralize the harm this dispatch might cause. But the Times piece has emboldened those who see Israel’s Jewish character as a threat both to its political culture and our own. That worrying sentiment was succinctly expressed by New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz: “You don’t have to be a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause to question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
The benefit of the doubt only extends so far. Even the charitably inclined should have discovered its limits by now.