Category Archives: Jenkins

The Putin Endgame

WSJ, 3/2/2022, By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

Modern signals monitoring means U.S. spooks can hardly store all the information they collect. So when Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted this week about intelligence he can’t describe that shed doubt on Vladimir Putin’s mental state, he may not have been referring to the work of CIA profilers but what Mr. Putin’s colleagues are saying in their undoubtedly copious exchanges.

Mr. Rubio has become our designated declassifier. He was the vehicle for a fleeting and obviously purposeful airing of Mr. Putin’s dirtiest, most secret laundry (to which I will return at the end) during a 2017 confirmation hearing with Rex Tillerson.

I’ve been wondering for weeks now how Mr. Putin can survive his Ukraine gambit. His basic bet failed a month ago, when Volodymyr Zelensky, Joe Biden and Olaf Scholz refused to concede Ukraine’s independence to appease the Russian dictator. That ended any chance of an outcome that actually strengthens him.

A military victory in Ukraine now will be indistinguishable from defeat. If Mr. Putin is sentient, he will look for ways to limit the costs of his miscalculation, which I doubt the U.S and its allies will afford him. He will have to slaughter his way to Kyiv and Western public opinion will make sure economic sanctions are a one-way ratchet. Ukrainians will fight on and suffer more, with the consolation that a great nation is being born. (Meanwhile, if you thought China, which could have prevented all this, was ready for global responsibility, you’re over that now.)

But he knows one thing: This day was coming. He planned for it. Like his role model, he exploited the Olympics for their internationalist sheen, then launched a discordant drumbeat about how Russia is surrounded by enemies.

Like his role model, his military spendfest in the 2010s wasn’t for signaling purposes but to implement a deliberate plan for staying in power.

His speech last week was redolent of Hitler gambler phrases: No choice. No option. “We could not act otherwise.”

Hitler, before his Poland invasion, said: “It is easy for us to make decisions. We have nothing to lose. . . . Our economic situation is such that we can only hold out for a few more years.”

Choices always exist, just not for a Hitler or Putin. They need to drag the world into disaster to secure their own positions.

Mr. Putin’s isolation and miscalculation make him dangerous but they also make him vulnerable. Seventeen years ago, I wrote the West didn’t realize Mr. Putin “fancied himself a conqueror, an empire builder, a man of destiny,” like another figure in the news at the time—Saddam Hussein. The two men’s paths were oddly similar, and anybody who saw Mr. Putin’s televised bullying of aides last week might have thought of Saddam’s televised Baath Party purge before the Iran war.

Except with a difference: Saddam’s untrusted associates were dragged off to his dungeons to be tortured and executed. Mr. Putin, after his bitchy treatment, had to let his march out of the room with one more reason to relish his eventual comeuppance.

These cronies have a chance to earn their billions. They aren’t fools. Would any of this be happening if not for Vladimir Putin? Would it continue one second longer if Vladimir Putin were not around? Do they really want Russia in harm’s way as Mr. Putin continues his desperate, flailing campaign, now with nuclear threats, to save himself from his Ukraine blunders?

Events can be momentous without meriting grandiloquent description. There can’t be a new cold war because the Russia of today can’t sustain a cold war. It’s not the U.S.S.R. Economically, it’s not even Spain. Operative all along hasn’t been Russia’s historical and geographic imperatives, but the grotty nature of the current regime. A kleptocracy is reaching its natural ending. It couldn’t create a stable governance model any more than the one-man 1970s African dictatorships it resembles. Mr. Putin’s geopolitical posturing is absurd. His regime is destroying itself over an entirely fictional threat of NATO aggression from Ukraine.

The sanction that might help Kremlin decision makers come to the right decision today is the truth. Open the CIA’s files about his regime’s murders and thefts and bizarre corruption. Open the files about Ryazan. That’s the city where a spate of murderous apartment-block bombings by Chechen terrorists came to an end in 1999. They stopped after then-presidential candidate Putin’s own intelligence agents were caught unloading sacks of explosive into the basement of a large apartment complex.


How to Have More Police Shootings

WSJ  4/24/2021 By Holman Jenkins

By now enough facts have been reported in enough places that it has dawned, if grudgingly, on many Americans that the cavalcade of CEOs who denounced Georgia’s election law didn’t know in the slightest what they were talking about.

The law’s mix of provisions, in sum, were more permissive than in many blue states ruled by liberals for decades, more expansive than almost any state’s laws as written, and showed at least one way of codifying some of the unlegislated improvisations hurriedly put in place during the pandemic emergency in 2020.

Instead a bunch of business leaders simply adopted Democratic talking points not knowing what the law contained. And, more importantly, not caring.

This is becoming a habit in America. Let me correct one misconception in recent New York Times reporting on whether the newspaper you’re now reading needs to widen its appeal. Whatever the merits of a debate supposedly under way in our news division, newspapers now are niche businesses—built on narrow appeal, not broad. If you think the New York Times and Washington Post mind in the least that their coverage is off-putting to a large number of Americans, you misunderstand the business they’re in.

Once upon a time, broad reach really was our industry’s goal, to meet the desire of our advertisers for as many customers as possible. In turn, this drove our need to cover the news in a way that we could defend to all comers as “objective” and straight down the middle.

That was a world that leaned against tribal partisanship being the measure of all claims. Sorely missed in this regard too is the old ACLU, which has lately morphed into a pro-censorship promoter of progressive causes. Recall how it used to work: When the ACLU defended the right of neo-Nazis to hold a public demonstration, other Americans felt safer in sticking up for free speech too. Even the most fainthearted and tremulous of our fellow citizens—our CEOs—could stick up for free speech without being called Nazi sympathizers.

A general proposition: Most of what people say isn’t about true and false, but about self-protection and advancement.

The scope that has shrunk is the scope today in the public arena for saying anything that isn’t for the purpose of self-protection and conformity.

The New York Times can’t find a serious person who denies a human influence on climate. As long as the universe consists of matter and energy, even a single human being—exhaling, moving around—will have some effect, however infinitesimal. Yet the Times devoted Tuesday’s science section to a stale framing about believers and deniers rather than inquiring into really interesting questions about the extent of human influence and the cost and benefit of curbing it. Why? Because to admit any nuance would get the Times accused of denialism, when it would much rather be the one accusing.

Or take Joe Biden : Until very recently, I doubt it would have been his instinct to issue a prejudicial comment about a pending jury verdict. He did so out of fear.

When Rep. Maxine Waters urged a crowd to reject any Derek Chauvin verdict it didn’t like, her motive was the reciprocal one: to instill fear.

In the America of just a few years ago, it would have been sayable, and widely said, that no matter how badly the police sometimes perform their duties, it’s exceedingly foolish to resist arrest. No lawyer would advise you to do so. You create a situation for yourself that can’t possibly end well. You commit a chargeable offense when you might have ended up facing no charge at all. You put police, who are public employees, in a terrible position, of having to apply force to vindicate the lawful authority of the state, which all of us rely on for our personal security (that is, unless the left wants to give everyone in America more incentive to arm themselves).

The press now plays up the “oh no not again” angle whenever police shoot a black person, as an Ohio officer did to stop a knife assault on Tuesday. This will quickly become absurd. There’s always going to be a next time and soon. Sixty million Americans have encounters with police every year, 10 million are arrested, and two million of these episodes involve officers threatening or using force (all according to Justice Department surveys).

While punishing police misconduct is eminently desirable, making martyrs out of people who resist arrest only encourages others to make the same foolish, self-defeating decision. The results will be predictable unless police stop trying to apprehend lawbreakers altogether: more deaths in custody like that of George Floyd, more accidental shootings like that of Daunte Wright, tens of thousands of injuries to suspects and officers each year, more situations of the sort that produce an estimated 2,000 officer-involved shootings (fatal and nonfatal) annually.

But don’t try saying so in the America that we are busy making for ourselves today.


Counting the dead- covid

Not for you if you dislike honest, factual reporting. mrossol

3/13/2021  WSJ  by Homan W Jenkins

New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey erred gravely by directing nursing homes to receive recovering Covid patients, but the bigger mistake was sending caregivers home rather than quarantining them between shifts. The workers—not the infected patients from hospitals—were the real (unwitting) channel for thousands of deaths thanks to Covid’s nasty capacity for asymptomatic spread.

This error was part of a larger one, trying to minimize Covid’s impact by controlling everyone’s behavior rather than pouring resources into protecting the most vulnerable.


Even the Albany think tank that did much to reveal New York’s nursing-home scandal, the Empire Center for Public Policy, doesn’t claim the March 25, 2020, directive contributed more than a single-digit percentage to the state’s 15,000 nursing-home deaths, never mind careless polemics in the media implying it caused all 15,000.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ignominy was earned the old-fashioned way, through the coverup. What’s more, someone insensitive to current minefields might notice that the sexual allegations started to be taken seriously only after he was blowing up. Some might even wonder if Mr. Cuomo’s heavy-handed way of letting women know of his sexual availability became ingrained because it didn’t always fail.

Judging from my emails, many readers sighed at coverage of America’s 500,000th Covid death, a tragedy unrelated to the Vietnam War, any number of jumbo jet crashes, or how many buses parked end to end would reach from Philadelphia to New York (a comparison cited by the Washington Post).

Far from the cable studios, happily, researchers are seeking a more serious understanding of the pandemic’s toll. One study finds that those who died of Covid-19 lost on average 9.3 years of life, equal to the remaining life expectancy of a 78-year-old.

The highest-cost deaths, it follows, were likely those not directly caused by the illness. In separate studies, U.S. government and Virginia Commonwealth University researchers say a third of “excess deaths” might fall into this category—delayed medical care, unemployment stress, substance abuse, suicide, depression, etc. One study looked at the effect of unemployment and predicted 30,231 additional deaths over a 12-month period.


What does this mean? Suppose half of these were unrecognized Covid deaths. Even so, the remaining half—accounting for 15% of excess deaths—would have to be no younger than 53 on average for fully one-third of the years lost in the pandemic to have been lost by somebody who didn’t die of Covid.

Lesson: The world is complicated. In Japan, Covid seems to have led to a decline in deaths overall, thanks to fewer respiratory infections due to social distancing (a Covid outcome foreshadowed in this column more than a year ago).

Mr. Cuomo is being undone by his own presidential ambition. He stacked his chips recklessly on his Covid response: The unscripted TV briefings. The on-air antics with his CNN brother. His quickie book proclaiming victory while his state’s ragged response was still unfolding. These all had the potential to blow up in his face and now have.

If Donald Trump hadn’t been president, Mr. Cuomo might already have been gone thanks to a 2018 bid-rigging-and-bribery scandal that engulfed two of his closest associates.

My one conversation with Mr. Cuomo took place 21 years ago when he was Bill Clinton’s housing and urban development secretary. He called to promote, in the sarcastic, overconfident, streetwise tone he affected, an initiative to pay public-housing residents to surrender their guns. I pointed out housing projects weren’t dangerous because people had guns, people had guns because housing projects were dangerous. Guess what—he dropped the tone for a moment and agreed.

Such moments are always welcome from public officials and now journalists might want to drop their own act. In a career that lasts 40 years, a reporter should expect a 158% chance of covering a pandemic as bad as 1968’s and a 39% chance of covering one as bad as 1918’s or 2020’s—i.e., he or she should be able to understand the emergence of a novel communicable disease on its own terms without resort to absurd analogies or hyperbolic death attributions as seen in some reporting on New York’s nursing-home disaster.


Unfortunately algorithm-based reporting is about 150 years older than Twitter or Facebook. If it bleeds, it leads. Play up the local angle. Exaggerate the importance of whatever is being reported. It feels good to feel bad—so accentuate the negative.

The bad news is that artificial intelligence can do these algorithms better than we can. To survive, we in the media might have to become what we’ve always pretended to be—factual and analytical.

Appeared in the March 13, 2021, print edition.


The Slow Birth of Covid Realism

If the censorship doesn’t get totally out of control, it will be a fascinating tale of just what caused this event, this virus, to literally turn the political forces on their heads.  mrossol

WSJ 12/29/2020

Italy, last seen trying to prosecute government scientists for failing to forecast an earthquake, is now pioneering the use of criminal prosecutors to examine the country’s Covid-19 response. Italy as a country ranks low on every index of efficient, accountable governments and effective legal systems. Criminalizing policy disappointments and managerial errors is a symptom of this failure, not its cure.

Still, the particulars of the indictment being sought by relatives of early victims will ring bells for many Americans: the shipping of infected persons to nursing homes, failure to test patients who couldn’t be connected to China, failing to order lockdowns sooner, worrying about the potential impact on businesses.

The U.S. remains in a similar phase of denial, with every failure related to testing, mask promotion, etc., spun as a missed chance to extinguish Covid altogether. When the reality principle intrudes, here’s suspecting the greatest failure will be the one we are least willing to acknowledge or even understand: It began with our strange reticence to acknowledge the reality of mild (and, as it turned out, asymptomatic) Covid.

Any alert person knew from the get-go that, amid the exigencies of Wuhan, Chinese doctors were failing to detect mild cases, and that thousands of these cases were likely being exported to the world. Whatever the horrors in Wuhan’s hospitals, they happened not because Covid-19 is an extravagantly deadly respiratory infection. They happened because a flu-like disease had been allowed to spread unrecognized for months in an urban population unprotected by any prior immunity or vaccine.

Yet it instantly became a U.S. journalistic trope to accuse anyone mentioning the flu of “downplaying” the new disease—downplaying anything being the worst sin in journalism.

Inexplicably, authorities, including the World Health Organization, insisted on promoting a fatality rate they knew was exaggerated because of the failure to account for mild infections. To this day, U.S. officialdom and the media dwell on a nearly meaningless “confirmed” case count, knowing full well that doing so is innumerate and unstatistical. It’s a mystery and my only explanation is that they are afraid to stop because it portrays the disease as more deadly than it is (supporting the case for urgency) and also less prevalent than it is (supporting the case that it can somehow be contained).

A parade of conclusive contrary indicators is not so much unreported as simply unintegrated into the picture sold to the American public. To give the latest example, a Johns Hopkins study finds that in late spring in Maryland, when “confirmed” cases were less than 1% of the state’s population, 10% of autopsies showed evidence of Covid infection—a rate that applied equally to auto-accident victims and people who died of natural causes.

As the pandemic has unfolded, only deeper has become media revilement of anyone who pointed out that the death risk was being exaggerated, that the lockdowns were not sustainable due to the costs they imposed on people who were at low risk, that our efforts would be better invested in shielding those at high risk of a bad medical outcome.

The hostility is even greater now that these views have been adopted implicitly and unavowedly almost everywhere in obedience to the reality principle. The lockdowns were unsustainable. Low-risk people were unwilling to maintain energetic social distancing through the summer and fall. Vaccines are being rolled out now expressly to protect the most vulnerable first.

For all their talk that no cost is too great to save a life, the actual behavior of our elected officials has made clear that the one thing they believe their careers can’t tolerate is a breakdown in hospital care for Covid patients and others.

I’ve informally adopted Brown University’s Ashish Jha as my metric for realism’s gradual unfurling. In his latest media appearances, he invariably now stresses unseen spread, the impracticality of the lockdown solution, a role for herd immunity in supplementing vaccination to end the pandemic—even if he also occasionally utters imprecations against these opinion pages for making the same arguments months ago.

When it’s over, countries like Germany and Sweden, which have hardly been spared Covid’s ravages, I suspect will be seen as the least-bad models. And for reasons American leaders will be loath to admit: They treated their people like adults. They leveled with their citizens about Covid’s inevitable spread. They skimped on the baby talk, virtue signaling, or any resort (especially prevalent in the U.S.) to trying to mislead a supposedly infantile public for its own good.

These countries worked no public-health miracles nor any miracles of the self-isolating sort that appealed in the antipodes. Where they succeeded was in eliciting the intelligence of their peopletheir intelligent adaptations, to make the Covid trial as bearable as possible.