Good Friday Morning! I’m back this week for a pre-Christmas newsletter — apologies for missing the last couple of weeks due to work and neverending Christmas parties. Since it’s Christmas, I thought I’d share a quick Christmas history story I learned from a friend at work: the tale of Sinterklaas.
Sinterklaas is the Dutch version of Santa Claus, and he’s every bit as terrifying as the name entails. I’d go on, but these two paragraphs in Wikipedia are something else:
Sinterklaas is assisted by Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”), a helper in colourful Moorish dress and with blackface. Zwarte Piet first appeared in print as the nameless servant of Saint Nicholas in Sint-Nikolaas en zijn knecht (“St. Nicholas and His Servant/Apprentice”), published in 1850 by Amsterdam schoolteacher Jan Schenkman; however, the tradition appears to date back at least as far as the early 19th Century. Zwarte Piet’s colourful dress is based on 16th-century noble attire, with a ruff (lace collar) and a feathered cap. He is typically depicted carrying a bag which contains candy for the children, which they toss around, a tradition supposedly originating in the story of Saint Nicholas saving three young girls from prostitution by tossing golden coins through their window at night to pay their dowries.
Traditionally, he would also carry a birch rod (Dutch: roe), a chimney sweep’s broom made of willow branches, used to spank children who had been naughty. Some of the older Sinterklaas songs make mention of naughty children being put in Zwarte Piet’s bag and being taken back to Spain. This part of the legend refers to the times that the Moors raided the European coasts, and as far as Iceland, to abduct the local people into slavery. This quality can be found in other companions of Saint Nicholas such as Krampus and Père Fouettard. In modern versions of the Sinterklaas feast, however, Zwarte Piet no longer carries the roe and children are no longer told that they will be taken back to Spain in Zwarte Piet’s bag if they have been naughty.
So if you need something stronger than coal in stockings as a terrifying punishment for children, know that Dutch parents once went with, “you’ll get kidnapped and sent to Spain to work the mines as slaves.” Maybe the Pilgrims had a point on not staying with the Dutch…
This week I’ll cover the Weekly Standard folding, the ban on bump stocks, and some thoughts on the retirement of James Mattis and our withdrawal from Syria (both events linked). I’m continuing to stay away from prognosticating on the various Trump legal battles. The Mueller investigation only matters when he releases the final report. The rest of the stories are backburner issues for the most part. The campaign finance angle is mildly interesting on the Stormy Daniels front, but it’s not enough for impeachment. Democrats know that, which is why anything other than the Mueller probe is filler time for CNN/MSNBC.
Where you can find me this week
Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter. You can also go to their Facebook page. You can join Ricochet here. And I do recommend their ever-growing network of podcasts, which you can find on all popular podcast platforms. They have a show for every topic you can imagine, and the list continues to grow.
The murder of The Weekly Standard
If you follow conservative media or the President’s tweets, you’ve no doubt learned by now that the Weekly Standard has folded. The WS, of which I’ve linked on numerous occasions here, was one of the preeminent magazines of conservative political and cultural thought in the country. The Standard challenged every idea and gave rise to countless prolific writers.
The Trumpist part of the right and part of the left cheered this development. They both hated the Weekly Standard, for different reasons. Trump and his supporters hated the Weekly Standard because the magazine never sufficiently backed him and often challenged what Trump says/believes. Bill Kristol, one of the founding editors, was mainly a thorn to Trump. The left hated the Standard because it stood as an intellectual challenge to their ideas.
That’s why you’ve seen Trump and many a FoxNews contributor come out and say the Weekly Standard folded because it went anti-Trump at a time when the audience wanted pro-Trump, and it was a loser.
John Podhoretz, also a founding editor of the Weekly Standard, and currently Editor in Chief of Commentary Magazine wrote:
The Weekly Standard will be no more. There is no real reason we are witnessing the magazine’s demise other than deep pettiness and a personal desire for bureaucratic revenge on the part of a penny-ante Machiavellian who works for its parent company.
There would at least be a larger meaning to the Standard’s end if it were being killed because it was hostile to Donald Trump. But I do not believe that is the case. Rather, I believe the fissures in the conservative movement and the Republican party that have opened up since Trump’s rise provided the company man with a convenient argument to make to the corporation’s owner, Philip Anschutz, that the company could perhaps harvest the Standard’s subscriber-base riches and then be done with it.
That this is an entirely hostile act is proved by the fact that he and Anschutz have refused to sell the Standard because they want to claim its circulation for another property of theirs. This is without precedent in my experience in publishing, and I’ve been a family observer of and active participant in the magazine business for half a century.
In short, if you listen to what JPod says in his piece above, and the interview, he gave on Commentary’s podcast (and from the numerous sourced articles from people inside the Weekly Standard), it seems pretty clear that personal divisions between owner and magazine erupted. Anti-Trump sentiment provided the cover for the owning company to gut the Standard and create their magazine, The Washington Examiner Magazine (launching in 2019).
And frankly, if the anti-Trump line were correct, the owners of the Washington Examiner wouldn’t have gone on a hiring spree of anti-Trump conservatives. The Editor in Chief of the new Washington Examiner magazine is Seth Mandel, a former Commentary magazine alum, and editor at the New York Post. Mandel is one of the most vociferous anti-Trump conservative writers out there, as his wife, Bethany Mandel, an editor over at Ricochet.
Joining Mandel in the new magazine launch is Jay Caruso, an editor at the Dallas Morning News, and hardly a pro-Trump writer. And if you look at the other editors at the Washington Examiner, you’ll find numerous anti-Trump writers.
In other words, to say the Weekly Standard got killed because it was anti-Trump, you’d have to believe that the owners of the Washington Examiner are also building a new magazine with anti-Trump editors. It doesn’t make any sense.
By all accounts, there were buyers for the Weekly Standard. People were more than willing to buy it and keep it going. The owners refused to sell it and purposely chose to destroy it — to create their magazine free from the current slate of writers and editors. They have every right to do that — but Trump had nothing to do with it.
Oh and one last parting shot in this section for Senator Rand Paul. He specifically went out of his way fire shots at the Weekly Standard for shutting down. It had little to do with Paul’s support for Trump, and more to do with the fact that the Weekly Standard often called Paul out for his rank hypocrisy on every issue. And it often pointed out how Paul was wrong on all things foreign policy. It’s weird watching a guy who claims to be a libertarian act like he has an enemies list and cheers the demise of a political magazine that challenges its party.
Trump’s Bump Stock Ban is unconstitutional
Trump directed the ATF to rule that bump stocks, the type used in the Las Vegas mass shooting, are machine guns under federal law, and therefore banned. The ATF explains the rule as follows:
The final rule clarifies that the definition of “machinegun” in the Gun Control Act (GCA) and National Firearms Act (NFA) includes bump-stock-type devices, i.e., devices that allow a semiautomatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger by harnessing the recoil energy of the semiautomatic firearm to which it is affixed so that the trigger resets and continues firing without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter.
The rule will go into effect 90 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.
Current possessors of bump-stock-type devices must divest themselves of possession as of the effective date of the final rule.
One option is to destroy the device, and the final rule identifies possible methods of destruction, to include completely melting, shredding, or crushing the device. Any method of destruction must render the device incapable of being readily restored to function.
Here’s the problem, even though the ATF says all this, it’s probably not a constitutional ban, because the ATF has never believed bump stocks fell under a machine gun definition:
Under federal law, a machine gun is defined as “any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” But a gun equipped with a bump stock is still able only to fire just one round per trigger pull. “Instead of squeezing the trigger, the shooter holds his trigger finger steady while pushing the barrel forward with his other hand, thereby firing a round,” Reason‘s Jacob Sullum explains. “The recoil repositions the trigger, and continuing to exert forward pressure on the barrel makes the rifle fire repeatedly.”
As Reason‘s Christian Britschgi explained in March, this is probably why the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has said multiple times that federal restrictions on machine guns do not cover bump stocks. The Obama administration affirmed the legality of bump stocks on three different occasions: once in 2010, again in 2012, and once more in 2013.
Bump fire is something gun owners have known about for a while, but bump fire stocks are a relatively new invention. The self-acclaimed inventor said he came up with the idea in 1996. And it wasn’t until the 2017 Las Vegas shooting that the concept of bumps stocks went from the realm of niche gun owners to full public conscious.
Bump stocks, while mimicking a fully-automatic weapon in some respects, still depend on semi-automatic mechanisms. And because of such, I can’t see how the courts can rule that a systematic reclassification by an agency will stand. Neither the ATF or previous administrations ever believed they had the power to regulate bump stocks like machine guns because bump stocks don’t match the statutory definitions of a machine gun under the law (for a reason).
I don’t know exactly when the Supreme Court will hear a case like this one, but you can add bump stock ban to the list of Second Amendment cases that will end up before the court sooner rather than later. It would shock me if this all happened next year, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if 2020 ended up being a heavy 2A term.
Mattis out after Syria announcement
Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria appears to be the last straw for Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Task and Purpose wrote up a list of areas where Trump continually overruled Mattis on military matters, and the decision in Syria to abandon the field led to Mattis submitting his letter of resignation.
David French at National Review summed up the Mattis letter well, writing:
Donald Trump is at a pivotal moment. He can heed General Mattis’s warning — delivered publicly, firmly, and respectfully — or he can continue down his current, reckless path. This letter represents America’s most-respected warrior telling the nation that he does not believe the president sees our enemies clearly, understands the importance of our alliances, or perceives the necessity of American leadership. We should be deeply troubled.
But this isn’t just a pivotal moment for Trump. Republicans in Congress believed that General Mattis’s appointment was one of Trump’s best decisions as president, and Mattis’s very presence at the Pentagon reassured the party and (more importantly) the public that an inexperienced, impulsive, president would listen to wise counsel. After reading this letter, will Republicans in Congress retain their faith in Trump’s judgment? Will they continue to view him as the leader of the GOP, the man they defer to in politics and policy?
General Mattis has performed a profoundly important public service. He has served his country in combat. He has served in country in high public office. He has now served it well with his resignation. Will the nation heed the warning he delivered today?
It’s not right that Mattis is out. It’s hard to see at this stage what more damage a full withdrawal from Syria will do to a situation where the United States has been in a stance of departure but not calling it that, since the Obama years. It’s unmistakably a win for Putin in Russia and Assad in Syria. And it’s not a defeat of ISIS — if anything this will strengthen ISIS as it will prove they’re the only group rebelling against Assad/Putin. Whatever moderating forces in the regions that existed will only have the options of fleeing, joining ISIS, or dying by Assad and Putin’s forces.
Late breaking news Thursday night included in this announcement is that Trump is also cutting US forces in Afghanistan in half — which suggests we’re withdrawing from there too. It also indicates that Trump is doing what he wants to do now and no one is telling him no.
American leadership is lessened significantly in losing Mattis. There’s no way around what a colossal loss it is for the US to no longer have his wisdom and insight. I don’t know that I share the same doom and gloom of most commentators over Mattis leaving, but I do agree on it being a bad move. His replacement will be critical.
Links of the week
We need to talk about Wikipedia – Jessi Hempel, LinkedIn
‘I Am the “Good Guy With a Gun”’: Black Gun Owners Reject Stereotypes, Demand Respect: After recent incidents in which police officers shot black men who tried to stop a shooting, African-American gun owners told us how they navigate being wrongly perceived as a threat. – The New York Times
As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants: Internal documents show that the social network gave Microsoft, Amazon, Spotify and others far greater access to people’s data than it has disclosed. – The New York Times
Prediction vs. Preparation – Ben Carlson
Who Killed The Weekly Standard? – The bureaucratic mind has a temporary triumph. – David Brooks, The New York Times
‘The Weekly Standard’ Died Today. Here’s What That Means. – Ben Shapiro, The Daily Wire
Is the Women’s March Melting Down?: Millions of women mobilized against gender inequality and the election of Donald Trump in 2016. But only four of them ended up at the top—and the consequences have been enormous. – Leah McSweeney and Jacob Siegel, Tablet Magazine
A Valediction: Forty years of reviewing movies. – John Podhoretz, The Weekly Standard
Everything Old Is Bad, a Continuing Series at Vox – Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review
How Democrats Can Blow It in 2020 – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
“Late Capitalism” May Be Earlier Than You Think – Walter Olsen, Cato
Pence and the Drax Invisibility Technique – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
Shame Storm – Helen Andrews, First Things
Iraq’s Post-ISIS Campaign of Revenge: The corruption and cruelty of the state’s response to suspected jihadis and their families seem likely to lead to the resurgence of the terror group. – Ben Taub, The New Yorker
Satire piece of the week
BETHLEHEM—New evidence unearthed in the ancient city of Bethlehem confirmed with 99% certainty that Mary and Joseph relaxed after their long journey and intense labor by turning on their favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard.
Archaeologists discovered a small, wall-mounted television set and a VHS copy of the classic Christmas film near the likely site of Jesus’ birth.
“Apparently, after their difficult journey and childbirth process, Jesus’s parents needed rest,” said Dr. Hank Westerton, who has a PhD in Christmas movies. “So they picked out a Christmas classic: Die Hard. It only makes sense. What better way to celebrate the holiday spirit on the very first Christmas than watching John McClane take out a bunch of terrorists?”
Thanks for reading!