March 28, 2019

Jussie Smollett

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

“Chicago prosecutors on Tuesday dropped charges accusing ‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett of staging a phony hate crime… The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office said it viewed the outcome as appropriate… First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats told the Chicago Sun-Times that the decision to drop the case did not mean Smollett is innocent of the charges, or that he was a victim.” Reuters

On Wednesday, the Chicago Police Department released its file on the case. ABC 7 Chicago

Many on both sides are highly critical of the prosecutor:

It’s an indefensible decision, a deal hashed out in secret, with — this is outrageous — Smollett not even required to take ownership of his apparent hoax. Not even required to apologize for allegedly exploiting hate crime laws. And not even required to reimburse Chicago taxpayers for the enormous cost of this investigation… Unless there’s yet one more big revelation in this case that makes the prosecutors’ decision sensible, it will further erode citizens’ trust in law enforcement.”
Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune

“Whatever Mr. Magats may pretend about this being no exoneration, Mr. Smollett and his attorneys are claiming exactly that. Mr. Smollett asserted as he left the courthouse that he’s been ‘truthful and consistent’ from the start, and he’s still claiming he was attacked by two people he was unable to identify. Mayor Emanuel and Police Superintendent Johnson are right.This deal stinks, and the city of Chicago deserves an apology.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

The left supports eliminating the electoral college, arguing that all votes should count equally regardless of which state they're from.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press conference in which he stated, "This is an unbelievable…  whitewash of justice, this is a person now who got off scot-free with no sense of accountability of the moral and ethical wrong of his actions, from top to bottom, not only besmirching the name of the city... but you have a person using hate crime laws that are on the books to protect people who are minorities from violence, to turn around and use those laws to advance your career? Is there no decency in this man?"
RealClearPolitics

The explanation was as forced as it was false. First, Cook County presumably has not decided to confine prosecutions to violent crimes, or everything from blackmail to bank fraud to tax evasion would be effectively immunized…

“This was not just any nonviolent offense. Smollett sent a city into crisis and caused the Chicago Police Department to direct huge resources into the search for racist, homophobic Trump supporters terrorizing innocent citizens. Magats said that the office did not want to use limited resources to go after nonviolent crime, but it already spent those resources in uncovering the hoax and securing 16 charges. All that remained was what looked like a perfunctory trial.”
Jonathan Turley, The Hill

“I started caring about the Smollett story because of the reaction to the story, because we've come to view the justice system as just another tool to push political agendasinstead of the best way to determine truth and ensure justice… [For example] many liberals howled when Paul Manafort was given ‘only’ four years in prison -- even though liberals have been fighting against mass incarceration and unduly long and harsh prison sentences…

“Smollett shouldn't be top of mind, no matter whether he's telling the truth or really staged a phony attack to boost his chances of getting a raise. But he is. That doesn't mean he should be scapegoated for our inability to focus on things far more important. That's our fault, not his.”
Issac Bailey, CNN

Some argue that “few enraged by Smollett’s case seem to have considered what should be intuitive — that Tuesday’s decision was a perfectly reasonable response to a system that locks up far too many people while offering inadequate ways to address the most serious crimes… To the extent that incarceration is ever appropriate in its current American manifestation, it should be used sparingly to protect people from those who would harm them. Smollett clearly does not qualify.”
Zak Cheney-Rice, New York Magazine

“The summary, released this morning, is a wild look into the president’s mind-set and approach to his job. It shows a commander in chief consumed by conspiracy theories, strong-arming a foreign government to help him politically, and marshaling the federal government in his schemes… The call is bizarre on several levels. First, the United States has legitimate interests in Ukraine, but Trump is using his conversation with that country’s president to pursue his pet, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Second, Trump appears—as has been alleged—to be engaging in a quid pro quo, asking Zelensky to assist him in pursuing those conspiracy theories, in exchange for help to Ukraine. Trump never puts it in plain terms—he’s too smart, and too experienced in shady business, to do that—but it requires willful blindness to miss what Trump is asking… Third, the call shows how Trump enlists the might of the U.S. government in his weird, personal, political schemes.”
David A. Graham, The Atlantic

“Trump’s defenders will say this evidence is all circumstantial. But circumstantial evidence is not weak evidence: it’s simply evidence based on the circumstances in which an act of wrongdoing is committed — such as the license plate of a car that speeds away from a bank just after that bank is robbed. Criminals are convicted on such evidence all the time. They will also say that there’s no explicit quid pro quo proposal here. But… ‘even when a corrupt deal is struck implicitly, the government can still prosecute extortion on a quid pro quo basis. Circumstantial evidence can be enough to prove a criminal exchange.’…

“In the absence of an explicit quid pro quo over restarting aid, the context and circumstances are what will become the focus of the investigation. There is enough here to support impeachment. Whether it is also enough to convince Republicans and lead to removal is another matter.”
Noah Feldman, Bloomberg

Some suggest that Congress “remove Trump from office, so that he cannot abuse incumbency to subvert the electoral process, but let the American people make the judgment on whether or not he gets a second term… Removing Trump from office for the remainder of his term would disable him from abusing presidential power again and protect the integrity of the electoral process from inappropriate interference. At the same time, letting him run for a second term would permit the American electorate to decide whether Trump, despite his attempt to subvert the system, should have another chance… Decoupling removal from disqualification lowers the stakes and changes the constitutional calculus. As long as Trump can run again, Republicans cannot hide behind a claim that they are [the] ones protecting voter choice by opposing impeachment.”
Edward B. Foley, Politico

From the Right

The right criticizes Sanders and Warren for adopting far-left policies, and praises Marianne Williamson’s performance.

From the Right

Smollett isn't getting off because he is innocent. He is not innocent. He is something better than innocent. He is famous. The charges against him were dropped because someone in power called someone else in power and said, ‘Let him go.’ None of this had anything to do with justice. It's the opposite of justice.”
Tucker Carlson, Fox News

“Hate crimes happen every day. Sometimes to gay black men. Sometimes to Muslims. Sometimes to Jews. Hoaxes make real victims seem less believable, and they also unnecessarily exacerbate racial and political tension… In a country obsessed with the hierarchy of oppression, it’s rare to see anyone call a black gay man privileged. But what else do you call a person who fakes a hate crime, gets off scot-free, and doesn’t even offer so much as an apology?”
Daniella Greenbaum Davis, Spectator USA

“It ought to be blindingly obvious to Chicago prosecutors that if a hate-crime hoaxer is allowed to get away with it, this constitutes an engraved invitation to others who might be inclined to paint themselves as victims and bask in the inevitable national-cynosure status while precious police resources get tied up in one of the most dangerous cities in America on the investigation of nonexistent crimes… Some nominal fine and community service, unaccompanied by a guilty plea, fall far short of the degree of punishment that is necessary both to impress upon Smollett the gravity of what he has done and to deter future Smolletts from following his lead.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

Some argue that “Smollett’s celebrity and political connections may have been factors in the decisions made by Cook County prosecutors throughout the course of this case, including State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s decision to recuse herself. But the unfortunate truth is that such leniency isn’t rare in Chicago. Hardened criminals are constantly given sweet deals

“Last December, Marcus Moore was released from prison after serving just five months of a sentence for an assault, captured on camera, that led to the death of Marques Gaines. Moore, according to the Chicago Tribune, was ‘a five-time felon with 33 arrests by Chicago police.’... last summer, police charged two men with attempted murder after they live-streamed on Facebook the vicious beating of a 42-year-old man. The two were both on parole and had more than 20 prior arrests between them… Chicago violence is frequently committed by repeat offenders—many released with pending cases, paroled after serving only a portion of their sentences, or given probation despite troubling criminal histories.”
Rafael Mangual, City Journal

Regarding her candidacy as a whole, “Warren seems to have concluded that if a rule-breaking candidate like Donald Trump can be elected president, then the old political rules don’t apply any more. So she has endorsed Medicare for All and backs eliminating private health insurance; she has said she’d ban fracking for oil and natural gas; she supports decriminalizing illegal border crossing, health care for illegal immigrants who get across, and paying reparations to the descendants of slaves…

“Warren obviously hopes that her calls for federal oversight of large corporations and her call for a 2% wealth tax on multimillionaires will resonate with non-affluent Trump voters. But those voters seem more concerned with elites’ political correctness than convinced that Warren’s proposal will send their way any money somehow mulcted from corporations…

"This is not to say that Warren is a sure loser. Any Democratic nominee has a serious chance of beating Donald Trump. But it says something interesting about the Democratic Party that its current top three are in their 70's and all from overwhelmingly Democratic states.”
Michael Barone, Washington Examiner

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“Why did Modi pick this moment to do something so radical? Violence in Kashmir had been trending downwards for the last year, after all. The main reason, besides President Donald Trump's alarming offer to mediate a settlement, is that he wanted a distraction from India's mounting economic woes. India's GDP growth dropped from over 8 percent to 5.8 percent over the last year, and it is widely expected to dip further. Just as ominous has been the crash in consumer demand. India's usual problem has been an insufficient supply to meet its voracious appetite for vehicles, cell phones, and other similar goods. But sales figures for all consumer goods have posted a precipitous decline, slamming businesses that are dramatically scaling back investments.”
Shikha Dalmia, Reason

On the bright side...

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