Manchester: The Chilling Sound of Terror

by David French

Watch and — more importantly — listen to this video of the moment the bomb detonated in Manchester tonight:

That sound you hear is the slowly dawning realization that something horrifying is happening, a swelling of screams of panic. And it’s the panic of hundreds and hundreds of young girls (boys too, but the sound of girls’ screams is unmistakable.) Let that sink in. This attack was the virtual equivalent of walking into a middle school auditorium for the express purpose of maiming and mutilating children.

There is no reasoning with this hate. There is no “legitimate grievance” with the West that triggers such violence. It is the product of fanatical devotion to the most evil of all causes, a cause that perversely promises paradise for the slaughter of innocents. There is no way for the West to be “good” enough to appease terrorists. There is no policy short of religious conversion that will cause them to relent. The best deterrent to jihad is the obliteration of jihadists. They thrive on victory, not defeat.

Tonight, sadly, they won a victory, and here’s all you need to know to understand the character of our enemies – they relish the sound of young girls’ screams.

DeVos Previews Trump’s School-Choice Agenda

by Alexandra DeSanctis

Indianapolis, Ind. — Education secretary Betsy DeVos addressed a crowd of several hundred this evening at a national policy summit, introducing the basic elements of President Donald Trump’s proposed school-choice agenda, which she called the most ambitious in history. Her arrival in Indianapolis was greeted this evening by a group of anti–school choice protestors outside the conference venue.

Though she didn’t offer many policy specifics, DeVos noted that the president hopes to elevate the role of technology, offer a wide number of quality options to every family, and allow parents to play the primary role in determining what school options will work best for their child. She outlined a revised system that would give states greater control over their education funding and programs, in the hopes that more states would choose to expand school choice.

“This means we have the opportunity to get Washington and the federal bureaucracy out of the way so parents can make the right choices for their kids,” she added. States must “be held accountable, but they should be directly accountable to parents and communities, not to Washington, D.C., bureaucrats.”

DeVos called our current education system “a closed system that relies on one-size-fits-all solutions.” In contrast, she said, the administration’s new policies would give states and communities room to develop their own unique school-choice programs, bolstered by the federal government as needed.

“We won’t accomplish our goals by creating a new federal bureaucracy or by bribing states with their own taxpayers’ money,” DeVos said. “We should have zero interest in substituting the current big-government approach for our own big-government approach.”

DeVos emphasized her belief that education freedom should not be a partisan issue. “Everyone — in both parties — should support equal opportunity in education, regardless of a child’s income, zip code or family circumstances,” she said, noting that the nation’s first formal school-choice program emerged in Milwaukee as the result of the work of a Democratic councilwoman.

She insisted that the education-reform movement ought to focus on investing in students as individuals rather than in the buildings and systems that educate them: “It shouldn’t matter if learning takes place in a traditional public school, a Catholic school, a charter school, a non-sectarian private school, a Jewish school, a home school, a magnet school, an online school, any customized combination of those schools — or in an educational setting yet to be developed.”

DeVos was introduced tonight by Denisha Merriweather, a young woman from Florida who was profiled in National Review just a few months ago. Merriweather was able to attend a private school in Florida after receiving a tax-credit scholarship through the state’s Step Up for Students program, the largest of its kind in the country.

That scholarship allowed her to escape her neighborhood’s public schools — where she had failed out of third grade twice. Merriweather went on to graduate from high school and become the first in her family to graduate from college. Just this spring, she obtained a master’s degree in social work from the University of South Florida.

Tonight, DeVos offered several examples of other students who, like Denisha, desperately needed alternatives to the public-school system for a variety of reasons. All of those students were able to succeed as a result of states that allowed for education freedom, and according to DeVos, the Trump administration’s new school-choice agenda will give even more American children access to that freedom, too.

‘Temporary’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

by Mark Krikorian

DHS Secretary John Kelly announced today that “Temporary Protected Status” for Haitians who were here illegally or on a visitor visa at the time of the 2010 earthquake would be extended yet again, for six months. In his statement he went to great pains to emphasize that this was really, for sure – probably; okay, well, maybe – the final extension:

This six-month extension should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients.

No TPS grant to a large group of people has ever been allowed to end, so with high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to this is ventured.

The arguments for extending this “temporary” status stressed that Haiti’s in no condition to take back the estimated 50,000 or so people benefitting from this amnesty program. But it’s not like the expiration of the amnesty would mean all 50,000 would be rounded up and sent home the next day. Rather, they would all simply return to their prior status – mostly illegal aliens, plus some who were here on student or tourist visas when the earthquake hit. Those who were illegal and came to the attention of ICE would be deported, just like other Haitian illegal aliens.

In fact, we deport illegal aliens to Haiti all the time. ICE removed 459 Haitians in 2015 and 310 in 2016 – this tracks the decline in deportations at the end of the Obama administration but shows that the country is not “unable, temporarily, to handle adequately the return” of its citizens, as the TPS law states. If we’re deporting people who aren’t covered by TPS to a country, what justification can there be to let others stay? TPS holders were just in the right place at the right time, and in effect won the lottery.

That said, the Trump administration might actually let Haitian TPS lapse after this latest extension. TPS for about 4,000 people from West Africa – granted because of the Ebola outbreak – was allowed to lapse as of yesterday. I used to say that no one was ever deported because his “temporary” status lapsed – because it never did. It’s too early to tell, but soon that may no longer be true.

But what’s really needed is a statutory change. The TPS statute allows the executive to keep renewing this temporary status indefinitely. Instead, we need to change the law, so that the administration can grant TPS, but any extension would require an act of Congress. Our lawmakers still might choose poorly, but at least they’d be on the record and could be pressured by voters. Rep. Mo Brooks introduced free-standing legislation to do just this in the last Congress; the Davis-Oliver Act, a broad measure to tighten up immigration enforcement that was taken up in the House Judiciary Committee last week, also contains a provision to this effect. It’s long past time to fix the TPS statute so that “temporary” no longer means permanent.

(And it would be great if Congress required the president to add a cover sheet to any reports on TPS.)

The Ways and Means Hearing on Tax Reform Is a Missed Opportunity

by Veronique de Rugy

The House Ways and Means Committee is having a hearing tomorrow on tax reform and U.S. competitiveness. It would be a great thing if the committee wasn’t using this opportunity to continue pushing the misguided border-adjustment tax (BAT).

On the political front, I remain puzzled by the House GOP’s strange fixation with the provision. Tax reform is a difficult endeavor even with active and unified support from free-market groups and the private sector. But the BAT destroys this alliance by dividing the business community and the policy world. Also, many senators have already signaled that no tax reform proposals could go through the Senate with a BAT. In addition, it isn’t even clear that a tax reform plan that includes the BAT could get out of the House, and the White House didn’t even include the BAT in its tax-reform blueprint. In other words, the BAT is an obstacle to tax reform. It will continue to be an obstacle until it is dropped and Congress starts seriously considering alternatives.

But it’s not just bad politics. It’s also bad policy. Contrary to document put out by the W&M Committee for its members in anticipation of the hearing, we can get good tax reform without the BAT and no, the BAT isn’t pro-growth. The document also pays lip service to the ridiculous claim that other countries’ tax codes, not our own Uncle Sam–certified corporate income-tax system, are what are imposing a penalty on U.S. companies. As I and others have noted multiple times, the penalty — the “Made in America Tax” as they like to call it — is a result of our punishing corporate-tax system. Adding a terrible feature like the BAT is not a good way to heal our self-inflicted wound.

On the document’s second page, we get the traditional and misguided talking point that most other countries in the world have border-adjusted tax systems. The document has a color-coded map of the world with an explanation that reads: “Countries with border adjustable tax systems make up more than 70 percent of the global economy.”

This is disappointing because the W&M Committee staff who have put this document together must know by now that this is misleading – because they have been corrected repeatedly on that point. The countries that have “border-adjusted tax systems” have Value Added Taxes (VATs), not BATs. Indeed, no country has ever border-adjusted its corporate tax. None. In other words, the committee is trying to sell a tax system that no one has ever implemented based of the false statement that this would just make us just like everyone else.

Besides, it is not a good idea to follow in the footsteps of big-government nations such as France or failing governments such as Greece. Not every policy implemented abroad is worth emulating — border-adjusted tax systems certainly aren’t. They undermine tax competition and are thus a powerful tool for governments to collect additional revenue from companies and people.

But, obviously, the W&M Committee is comfortable with the idea that companies and people should be stuck with no options to legally avoid bad and burdensome taxes. In fact, the elimination of base erosion (i.e. more revenue for an always tax hungry government) is a central talking point of those who support the BAT, as we can see on the eighth page of the document put out by the committee. It’s quite bothersome to see the Republican leadership make this case. On the corporate-tax side, the reason why companies are trying to escape the corporate-income tax is because it is too burdensome and punishing. As I mentioned earlier, our statutory tax rate is the highest of all OECD countries, and we have a worldwide tax system. Even taking under consideration all the ways that companies try to avoid taxes, our marginal effective tax burden is the third highest of the OECD nations.

The real free-market solution to this issue is to implement a better system with lower tax rates and a territorial system. It is not to trap companies in a tax system that they can’t escape. (When Democrats are in power, they will surely try to jack up the tax rate and/or move to a VAT.) If you think this is ridiculous slippery-slope thinking, check out this and this.

Finally, the committee continues to tell its members that we should not worry about what appears to be a protectionist aspect of the BAT because when 160 countries have implemented “border-adjusted taxes” in the past and those countries’ currencies adjusted “quickly after the proposed changed in those border taxes [were] announced” to offset the penalty imposed on importers by the tax.

First this is yet another instance where the committee fails to note that those border taxes are VATs, not BATs. Why this lack of transparency? I assume that it’s because the committee may not want to stain its proposal by having it be associated with the dreaded VAT that so many conservatives oppose. (A BAT would easily turn into a VAT once the wage deductibility was removed). Let’s not forget that Speaker Ryan’s first “Path to Prosperity” plan years ago included a VAT, but he got so much push back on it that he removed it from the following versions of the plan.

Second, here the Committee engages in a creative reading of the literature. As I have mentioned before, when the Peterson Institute reviewed the literature, it noted that in most cases the adjustment (i.e., the time during which companies will face a high tax burden) is about three years. That’s hardly quick when your company has razor-thin profit margins and the tax is wiping it out three years in a row. How many companies will disappear during that time? We don’t know but it will likely be an important amount. On top of that, because a BAT isn’t a VAT, we can’t take comfort in those findings. It’s likely that the transition will be more than rocky. I summarized the study’s points this way:

The VAT study findings do require some serious caveats if you want to apply it to the House Republican Tax Blueprint. First, border-adjusting the corporate income tax “differs in important ways” from implementing a VAT. This in turn may have important consequences in terms of how and how much adjustments happen. Second, the “United is special” and such an adjustment “might disrupt the global financial system given the dollar’s dominant role in finance.” Third, the dominance may mean a failure to adjust fully and a need for prices to go up. . . . Fourth, and this is a biggie, the House proposal requires a large 25 percent adjustment of our currency to avoid disruption after the introduction of the 20 percent BAT. As the authors, Caroline Freund and Joseph E. Gagnon, note, “Whether adjustment eventually comes through a 25 percent dollar appreciation or a 25 percent increase in US wages and prices or some combination of the two, these adjustments are large, and much larger than the events studied in this paper, and hence more likely to be disruptive.”

To conclude, I am afraid that this hearing is yet another tragic missed opportunity to unify our broad conservative movement behind tax reform — and all for the sake of continuing to support a tax feature that has nothing to do with promoting American industry or economic growth. As a result, divided we stand.

Report: Eighty Percent of Media Coverage on Trump is Negative

by Austin Yack

While speaking at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s graduation ceremony last week, President Donald Trump said, “No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly” by the media.

Surely, Trump’s assertion is questionable. According to a report released last week from Harvard Kennedy School, however, “Trump’s coverage during his first 100 days was negative even by the standards of today’s hyper-critical press.”

Eighty percent of the news coverage in Trump’s first 100 days was negative. “In no week did the coverage drop below 70 percent negative and it reached 90 percent negative at its peak,” wrote Thomas E. Patterson, the author of the report.

Patterson examined news coverage from seven U.S. media outlets: CNN, NBC, CBS, Fox News, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. He also assessed the tone in which European media outlets covered Trump by including in his research the Financial Times, BBC (Britain’s public-service broadcaster), and ARD (Germany’s public-service broadcaster).

“CNN and NBC’s coverage was the most unrelenting — negative stories about Trump outpaced positive ones by 13-to-1 on the two networks,” Patterson concluded. Fox News was an outlier, as it covered Trump positively 48 percent of the time.

Over in Germany, 98 percent of ARD’s reporting on Trump was negative, as its reporters unmistakably framed the news in a way that made Trump seem unfit for office. While “98 percent of [ARD’s] evaluations of Trump’s fitness for office were negative, only 2 percent were positive,” Patterson said.

Re-Reconsidering the Mariel Boatlift

by Robert VerBruggen

It’s the academic dust-up that will never end. All the way back in September of 2015, Jason Richwine wrote in this space about a then-new study by Harvard’s George Borjas casting doubt on the common wisdom about the “Mariel boatlift.” In 1980, a lot of low-skilled immigrants flooded into Miami from Cuba, and a famous 1990 study claimed that native workers weren’t harmed. Borjas contended that, in fact, wages for non-Hispanic high-school dropouts in Miami plummeted.

Borjas’s study included a lot of technical detail, but here is a simple chart that nicely illustrates the finding. It compares the wages of working-age, non-Hispanic men without high-school degrees in Miami with their peers everywhere else in the U.S.:

Naturally, the study generated a lot of highly complicated pushback; I detailed some of it in my profile of Borjas earlier this year for The American Conservative. But a new paper alleges that Borjas is wrong in a simple and straightforward way.

Right around 1980, the year of the boatlift, the Census started making a concerted effort to include more low-income black males in its surveys, on the belief that this demographic had previously been underrepresented. Low-skilled blacks also arrived in Miami around this time from Haiti. Nationwide this didn’t make an enormous difference, but Miami in particular saw a higher concentration of low-skilled blacks in its surveys, for reasons having nothing to do with the Mariel boatlift. Since black dropouts make less than white dropouts, this demographic shift by itself drove down the average wage. Indeed, in the authors’ telling, the shift can account for the entirety of Borjas’s result.

I’m a journalism major, but I do have a basic familiarity with the Census survey Borjas and his critics are working with. (Last year, Borjas featured on his blog my explanation of how to recreate the chart above using nothing but an online tool and a basic spreadsheet program like Excel.) I can confirm some of the basic facts of the critique. The sample of low-skill Miami men Borjas looked at did become much more heavily black right around 1980. And even among men without high-school degrees, blacks do in fact make considerably less than whites do.

The obvious way to fix the problem would be to just analyze whites and blacks separately, but that isn’t advisable in this case, because the sample of low-skilled Miami men is incredibly small even with all races included. (The chart above, for example, uses three-year “moving averages” to triple the amount of data that goes into each point. If you want to, you can see my hackish and inconclusive attempt to make similar charts for whites and blacks separately here.)

I checked with Borjas, as well as with Joan Monras, who coauthored another paper with Borjas that also touched on Mariel, to see if they had any response. Unfortunately neither has had time to read the paper carefully and replicate it, but Borjas raised a number of potential objections in an email:

Yes, it’s true that the proportion of blacks went up. The question is why? Could it be that it had something to do with Mariel—that somehow many of the white low-skill workers left Miami because they (perhaps unlike blacks) had the opportunity to do so? To the extent that this type of mobility was driven by Mariel, it’d be wrong to focus on this issue. And it’s certainly plausible that Mariel had an impact on low-skill mobility rates in the 1980s. Moreover, the sampling issue seems to be less relevant (though again I haven’t checked the data) in the ORG [another Census survey].

Second, I would read this paper with the utmost skepticism—similar to the skepticism that one uses when one reads drug research funded by pharmaceutical companies. The paper was paid for by Silicon Valley open-border plutocrats, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t buy or commission research that didn’t fit their priors.

You can see the financial disclosures of the Center for Global Development, which published the study, here. They do receive a lot of Gates Foundation cash and tend to criticize immigration restrictions.

Regardless, the new paper strikes me as a very serious criticism. I look forward to seeing more technical responses to it.

In 100 Days, ICE Officers Arrest over 41,000 Illegal Immigrants

by Austin Yack

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested over 41,000 illegal immigrants between January 22 and April 29, the 100 days following President Donald Trump’s executive order on stricter illegal-immigration enforcement. In comparison to the same period in 2016 under the Obama administration, there was a 37.6 percent increase in arrests.

According to the ICE report released last week, nearly 75 percent of those arrested under the Trump administration were convicted criminals; more than 2,700 of them were convicted of violent crimes such as rape, homicide, kidnapping, and assault.

“ICE agents and officers have been given clear direction to focus on threats to public safety and national security,” said ICE acting director Thomas Homan, “which has resulted in a substantial increase in the arrest of convicted criminal aliens.”

“However,” Homan added, “when we encounter others who are in the country unlawfully, we will execute our sworn duty and enforce the law.”

Indeed, ICE officers did not shy away from increasing the number of arrests involving illegal immigrants without criminal records. There were 10,845 illegal immigrants without criminal records arrested between January 22 and April 29 under the Trump administration, a stark contrast to the 4,242 arrested under the Obama administration. Which is to say that the number of illegal immigrants arrested who had no criminal record soared 156 percent in just one year.

The ICE report comes one week after the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency announced that the number of illegal immigrants apprehended at the southwest boarder had decreased significantly under the Trump administration. “People in Central America are waiting and watching what happens rather than taking the long journey,” Department of Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan explained, adding, “When you get here, it’s likely you will be caught and returned to your country.”

The Trump administration seems to be fulling its promise: to address the issue of illegal immigration, both at the border and within our cities.

‘Wops’

by Jonah Goldberg

Yesterday, I was half-listening to a 60 Minutes segment on illegal immigration when I heard some official say that the anti-Italian slur “wop” was an acronym for “without papers.”

It turns out that it was James Kinney, the mayor of Philadelphia. Here’s the excerpt:

Well, you know, Ellis Island had opened in 1892. The bulk of Irish Diaspora came to America in the 1840s. We didn’t have papers either. We were undocumented. There was an anti-Italian slur, when I was growing up in my neighborhood called W-O-P — that’s without papers. If you come to the country without documents because you’re starving in your country or you’re being held hostage by drug dealers or you’re afraid your children are gonna be shot in the streets or on their farm, I think that that’s self-preservation and self-survival. And any group of people would flock to America because that’s been the historic place where people came to be saved.

We can save discussion of his larger point for another time.

I tweeted that I thought this “without papers” thing was ridiculous. To my amazement, I found out that a great many people believe it to be true, including people far more well-read and educated than I am. So, it’s not ridiculous to think it’s true. It’s more like one of those things everyone knows is true — like the need to drink eight glasses of water every day — that turns out not to be.

From the online etymological dictionary (one of my favorite sites):

derogatory for “Italian,” 1912, American English slang, apparently from southern Italian dialect guappo “dandy, dude, stud,” a greeting among male Neapolitans, said to be from Spanish guapo “bold, dandy,” which is from Latin vappa “sour wine,” also “worthless fellow;” related to vapidus (see vapid). It is probably not an acronym, and the usual story that it is one seems to date only to c. 1985.

John Ciardi wrote in his wonderful Browser’s Dictionary:

Pejorative name for an Italian. . . . From the Italian, south-of-Rome dialect, guappo, dude. Introduced into America c. 1900, [H. L.] Mencken cited guappo as a common form of greeting among Italian immigrants. It was never that but a rather jovial exclamation when a man showed up in his flashiest Sunday best: che guappo! What a dude! . . . (The commonly offered derivation W(ith) O(ut) P(apers), with reference to immigrants at Ellis Island is nonsense.) [Emphasis mine]

You can read Mencken’s discussion of “Wop,” here.

As much as I love the etymological dictionary, I don’t think the vintage of the “without papers” definition is as recent as 1985. A number of people told me that they’ve heard it since they were kids or heard it from their grandparents. Ciardi refers to the “With Out Paper” interpretation as “commonly offered” — and he published the Browser’s Dictionary in 1980.

What I find so fascinating is that so many people thought it was true. My Dad grew up in the Bronx in the 1930s where Jews, Italians, and Irish traded epithets quite a bit. The idea that the Jews and the Irish would single-out the Italians (as likely to be as American-born or immigrants as anyone else) for lacking sufficient citizenship paperwork just strikes me as bizarre. Lots of people showed up at Ellis Island without “papers.”

(It’s not entirely on point, but it’s worth noting that the demand for “papers” — e.g., green cards — didn’t come on line until 1940 as a security measure in the lead-up to World War II.)

In my book Liberal Fascism, I recount the story of how Will Rogers went on a tour of Europe in 1926 as a kind of ambassador-at-large. When he returned, a reporter from the New York Times asked him what he thought of Benito Mussolini. Here’s how the Times put it:

[Rogers] said that Premier Mussolini was “some Wop.” “I’m pretty high on that bird. I’d like to know what bigger man there could be who can say to a whole nation, ‘You can stay at home and see your own country and spend your own money here.’ That’s what he told the Italians and he made ‘em like it.”

“I asked Mussolini what would happen to the country if he died and he said, ‘I ain’t ever going to die.’”

I have to assume that Rogers didn’t have Mussolini’s lack of paperwork in mind.

One last tidbit. While poking around on the topic, I also found this amazing anecdote. When Mussolini met Ring Lardner, Il Duce started to interrogate the famous American writer with questions. Lardner cut him off and said, “Je ne parle pas le Wop.”

It was a different time.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Majority-Minority Districts for Being Majority-Minority

by Dan McLaughlin

The Supreme Court this morning, in Cooper v. Harris, struck down North Carolina’s Congressional map on the grounds that two districts (District 1 and District 12) were unconstitutionally based on race. The 5-3 opinion was written by Justice Kagan; Justice Thomas joined with the court’s liberals in the majority, while Justices Alito, Roberts, and Kennedy dissented in part. (Justice Gorsuch did not participate, as the case had already been argued, and one more vote would not change the outcome). Naturally, the media spin on this decision is knee-jerk characterizations of Republicans as racist, but the actual issues here are about the collision between two irreconcilable visions of district-drawing: (1) the prohibition on considering race in drawing district lines, and (2) the liberal view that the Voting Rights Act requires race to be considered in order to draw “majority-minority” districts. The decision illustrates the “heads I win, tails you lose” nature of the liberal attack on Republican – but only Republican – gerrymandering, as the Court had previously upheld similar actions taken by North Carolina Democrats.

Now, let’s be blunt: in gerrymandering cases, nearly nobody cares about anything but advancing their party’s odds of winning elections. Justice Thomas has been virtually alone in taking the principled line, regardless of whose partisan ox is being gored or what the Court has done previously, that racial gerrymandering is virtually always unconstitutional. Specifically, Thomas’ longstanding view is that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause imposes “strict scrutiny” (a standard that is nearly impossible to satisfy) when districts are drawn with race primarily in mind, and that this includes districts drawn to create “majority-minority” districts (Thomas believes that the VRA does not require any such thing). The Court’s opinion doesn’t go that far, but it does advance the judicial grounds for throwing out racial gerrymanders, and it effectively overturns a 2001 decision, known as Cromartie II, that had upheld nearly the same District 12. Because Thomas thought Cromartie II was wrong at the time, and because the result in Cooper would be the same as the dissent in Cromartie II (i.e., deferring to what the trial court decided), he had no qualms joining the majority and staying consistent. 

But the Court’s approach telegraphs its intention to preserve racial gerrymandering when Democrats do it, just not Republicans. The Court has been hearing challenges to North Carolina’s district borders every decade since the 1980s, so some history is in order. In Cromartie I, in 1999, the Court first faced a challenge to District 12, which had been created by the Democrat-controlled state legislature and was defended in court by Democratic Governor Jim Hunt. The Democrats defended District 12 on the grounds that they had been motivated by partisanship, not race; the Court, in an opinion by Justice Thomas, concluded that the Democrats’ evidence that black North Carolinians tended to vote Democrat was enough to require a trial on the factual question of whether race was the predominant motive, rather than partisanship:

Our prior decisions have made clear that a jurisdiction may engage in constitutional political gerrymandering, even if it so happens that the most loyal Democrats happen to be black Democrats and even if the State were conscious of that fact…Evidence that blacks constitute even a supermajority in one congressional district while amounting to less than a plurality in a neighboring district will not, by itself, suffice to prove that a jurisdiction was motivated by race in drawing its district lines when the evidence also shows a high correlation between race and party preference.

Justice Stevens, joined by Justices Breyer and Ginsburg (both of whom joined today’s opinion) and Souter, wrote separately in Cromartie I, but agreed at the time that

The record supports the conclusion that the most loyal Democrats living near the borders of District 12 “happen to be black Democrats,”…and I have no doubt that the legislature was conscious of that fact when it enacted this apportionment plan. But everyone agrees that that fact is not sufficient to invalidate the district. 

The trial court ruled against the Democrats, finding that District 12’s boundaries were motivated by race, noting a few additional items of evidence, the last two of which centered on the focus on race by Roy Cooper, now the Democratic Governor of North Carolina:

(1) that “the legislators excluded many heavily-Democratic precincts from District 12, even when those precincts immediately border the Twelfth and would have established a far more compact district,”…”more heavily Democratic precincts … were bypassed … in favor of precincts with a higher African-American population”; (2) that “[a]dditionally, Plaintiffs’ expert, Dr. Weber, showed time and again how race trumped party affiliation in the construction of the 12th District and how political explanations utterly failed to explain the composition of the district,”; (3) that [the Democrats' expert's] testimony was “ `unreliable’ and not relevant,”; (4) that a legislative redistricting leader, Senator Roy Cooper, had alluded at the time of redistricting “to a need for `racial and partisan’ balance,”; and (5) that the Senate’s redistricting coordinator, Gerry Cohen, had sent Senator Cooper an e-mail reporting that Cooper had “moved Greensboro Black community into the 12th, and now need[ed] to take [about] 60,000 out of the 12th.” 

The case came back to the Court in 2001 in Cromartie II. The Clinton Administration filed a brief defending the gerrymander, arguing that it was entirely reasonable for Democrats to gerrymander on racial lines so long as they were motivated by partisanship:

The crucial and uncontroverted fact is that in North Carolina African-Americans reliably vote overwhelmingly-90% or more-for Democratic candidates. Accordingly, any district that, like District 12, is drawn to concentrate reliable Democratic voters will tend as well to concentrate African-American voters. The evidence on which the district court relied that District 12 is unusually shaped in a way that tends to correspond with race thus tends only to frame the question-whether the district was drawn with race or political motives as predominant-but not to answer it. The district court also relied on evidence showing that District 12 fails to include some precincts with high Democratic registration figures. But in a State like North Carolina, in which registered Democrats frequently vote Republican, that evidence is entirely consistent with the legislature’s professed desire to create a district that would be solidly Democratic on election day, and it provides no basis for doubting the State’s professed political motive.

In a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Breyer and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter and O’Connor, the Court in Cromartie II effectively threw out the verdict, defending to the hilt the Democrats’ right to gerrymander for partisan advantage by means of race: 

The critical District Court determination…consists of the finding that race rather than politics predominantly explains District 12’s 1997 boundaries. That determination rests upon three findings (the district’s shape, its splitting of towns and counties, and its high African-American voting population)…Given the undisputed evidence that racial identification is highly correlated with political affiliation in North Carolina, these facts in and of themselves cannot, as a matter of law, support the District Court’s judgment….We concede the record contains a modicum of evidence offering support for the District Court’s conclusion. That evidence includes the Cohen e-mail, Senator Cooper’s reference to “racial balance,” and to a minor degree, some aspects of Dr. Weber’s testimony. The evidence taken together, however, does not show that racial considerations predominated in the drawing of District 12’s boundaries. That is because race in this case correlates closely with political behavior. The basic question is whether the legislature drew District 12’s boundaries because of race rather than because of political behavior (coupled with traditional, nonracial districting considerations). It is not, as the dissent contends…whether a legislature may defend its districting decisions based on a “stereotype” about African-American voting behavior. And given the fact that the party attacking the legislature’s decision bears the burden of proving that racial considerations are “dominant and controlling,” ..given the “demanding” nature of that burden of proof…and given the sensitivity, the “extraordinary caution,” that district courts must show to avoid treading upon legislative prerogatives…the attacking party has not successfully shown that race, rather than politics, predominantly accounts for the result…

The Court’s conservatives dissented, mainly on the grounds that the question of motive was properly up to the trial court to decide, not an appeals court that didn’t hear the witnesses live. The Cromartie II Court also faulted the plaintiffs for not offering an alternative that would solve the racial issue while helping Democrats just as much:

We can put the matter more generally as follows: In a case such as this one where majority-minority districts (or the approximate equivalent) are at issue and where racial identification correlates highly with political affiliation, the party attacking the legislatively drawn boundaries must show at the least that the legislature could have achieved its legitimate political objectives in alternative ways that are comparably consistent with traditional districting principles. That party must also show that those districting alternatives would have brought about significantly greater racial balance. [The plaintiffs challenging the district] failed to make any such showing here.

At the time, the Court’s liberal wing was very solicitous of protecting the Democrats’ right to pack District 12 with black voters for partisan purposes; today, it announces what in practice is a very different standard, jettisoning the requirement that the challenging party “must show” an alternative path to the same partisan ends in order to overturn a map on grounds that the partisan motive was really mainly about race:

[I]t does not matter in this case, where the plaintiffs’ introduction of mostly direct and some circumstantial evidence—documents issued in the redistricting process, testimony of government officials, expert analysis of demographic patterns—gave the District Court a sufficient basis, sans any map, to resolve the race-or-politics question. A plaintiff ’s task, in other words, is simply to persuade the trial court—without any special evidentiary prerequisite—that race (not politics) was the “predominant consideration in deciding to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district.”…[A] plaintiff will sometimes need an alternative map, as a practical matter, to make his case. But in no area of our equal protection law have we forced plaintiffs to submit one particular form of proof to prevail.

Justice Alito’s dissent on this point called this “a stunning about-face” and fumed, “[a] precedent of this Court should not be treated like a disposable household item—say, a paper plate or napkin— to be used once and then tossed in the trash. But that is what the Court does today…” 

The 2010 redistricting had beefed up the black portion of Districts 1 and 12, which turned both into “majority-minority” districts, a factor the Cromartie II Court had considered important. That move was, of course, to the advantage of Republicans (as the expert who drew the map testified), just as the maps in Cromartie II had been to the advantage of Democrats, in each case looking at the extraordinarily well-known and undisputed propensity of black voters in North Carolina to vote Democrat. The North Carolina Republicans argued that creating majority-minority districts was demanded by the VRA, and as Justice Alito noted, this statement was perhaps not entirely sincere, being intended to rebut public charges of partisanship, yet the Justices who took Republican statements about complying with the VRA to be damning were the same ones who brushed off Roy Cooper’s statements about considering race in Cromartie II. As liberal election lawyer Rick Hasen notes, the Court adopts a decidedly different standard now (with Republicans running most Southern statehouses) than it did when Democrats like Cooper and Clinton were arguing that race was a legitimate proxy for partisan gerrymanders:

Despite Justice Kagan’s attempt to explain this as a ho-hum deference to a judicial finding of fact, there are two bombshells in footnotes in the case. Recall that with District 12 the question is race or party, as though these are two separate categories. And in the body of the decision Justice Kagan says it will defer to the trial court’s decision that it is race and not party…But in Footnotes 1 and 7, the Court explains that in places where race and party overlap so much they can be treated as proxies for one another…Here’s part of Footnote 1: “A plaintiff succeeds at this stage even if the evidence reveals that a legislature elevated race to the predominant criterion in order to advance other goals, including political ones.” And here is Footnote 7: “As earlier noted, that inquiry is satisfied when legislators have“place[d] a significant number of voters within or without” a district predominantly because of their race, regardless of their ultimate objective in taking that step…So, for example, if legislators use race as their predominant districting criterion with the end goal of advancing their partisan interests—perhaps thinking that a proposed district is more “sellable” as a race-based VRA compliance measure than as a political gerrymander and will accomplish much the same thing—their action still triggers strict scrutiny…In other words, the sorting of voters on the grounds of their race remains suspect even if race is meant to function as a proxy for other (including political) characteristics

Holy cow this is a big deal. It means that race and party are not really discrete categories and that discriminating on the basis of party in places of conjoined polarization is equivalent, at least sometimes, to making race the predominant factor in redistricting. This will lead to many more successful racial gerrymandering cases in the American South and elsewhere, and allow these cases to substitute for (so far unsuccessful) partisan gerrymandering claims involving some of these districts….This race and party as proxies for one another…was also the theory used by the 4th Circuit in holding that North Carolina passed its strict voting law with racially discriminatory intent.

The Republicans’ VRA-compliance argument was set against the backdrop of efforts to please longstanding Justice Department demands for more majority-minority districts:

The State’s preclearance submission to the Justice Department indicated a similar determination to concentrate black voters in District 12. “One of the concerns of the Redistricting Chairs,” North Carolina there noted, had to do with the Justice Department’s years-old objection to “a failure by the State to create a second majority minority district” (that is, in addition to District 1)…The submission then went on to explain that after considering alternatives, the redistricters had designed a version of District 12 that would raise its BVAP to 50.7%. Thus, concluded the State, the new District 12 “increases[] the African-American community’s ability to elect their candidate of choice.”..In the District Court’s view, that passage once again indicated that making District 12 majority-minority was no “mere coincidence,” but a deliberate attempt to avoid perceived obstacles to preclearance.

Damned if you don’t (do what the Justice Department demands in order to preclear the district), but damned if you do, too. The Court noted that “we have long assumed that complying with the VRA is a compelling interest,” but then laid down its main argument: that the districts in question weren’t needed under the VRA because the district lacked a history of white “bloc voting”:

For most of the twenty years prior to the new plan’s adoption, African-Americans had made up less than a majority of District 1’s voters; the district’s BVAP usually hovered between 46% and 48%…Yet throughout those two decades…District 1 was “an extraordinarily safe district for African-American preferred candidates.”…a meaningful number of white voters joined a politically cohesive black community to elect that group’s favored candidate.

In the context of a state where black voters are reliable Democrats and white voters lean Republican (but moreso in some parts of the state than others), this standard translates as “it’s OK when Democrats do it.” After all, if white voters are voting with a bloc of Democrats for Democratic officeholders, Democrats can consider the race of black voters to tilt the map in the Democrats’ favor, and Republicans can’t consider the exact same factors about the exact same voters. In other words: majority-minority districts are allowed as a solution only if the problem is white voters voting Republican. Heads they win; tails you lose.

Stop Calling Iran’s Jihadist President ‘Moderate’

by David French

The verdict is in. According to a New York Times analysis, while Trump was cementing his ties to Arab autocrats, a “moderate” was busy winning re-election in Iran:

As voters in Iran danced in the streets, celebrating the landslide re-election of a moderate as president, President Trump stood in front of a gathering of leaders from across the Muslim world and called on them to isolate a nation he said had “fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.”

That nation was Iran.

In using the headline address of his first foreign trip as president to declare his commitment to Sunni Arab nations, Mr. Trump signaled a return to an American policy built on alliances with Arab autocrats, regardless of their human rights records or policies that sometimes undermine American interests.

And lest you think I’m picking on the Times, the word “moderate” dominated coverage of Hassan Rouhani’s re-election, including at CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. What a ridiculous farce. In reality, an anti-American jihadist beat a slightly-worse anti-American jihadist. 

Under Rouhani (who truly rules by the permission of Iran’s Guardian Council, a coalition of clerics and jurists that vets all presidential candidates), Iran has exported terror, propped up a genocidal Syrian regime, kidnapped and humiliated U.S. sailors, tested ballistic missiles in defiance of the U.N. Security Council, and — as the Post reported last month — actually “boosted” the regime’s support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. 

This is yet another reason why it’s so difficult to trust media reporting from the Muslim world. If the definition of the word “moderate” now includes any leader a few degrees more reasonable (maybe) than the Quds Force, then the term has no real meaning. In fact, it’s deceptive. When an American hears the word “moderate,” they might think of, say, Michael Bloomberg or Lindsey Graham. Rouhani, by contrast, is orders of magnitude more radical than any domestic elected official.

Words matter, and when the media uses a common term that has a common American meaning, it should take care that the term applies. When it comes to Iran’s president, it doesn’t. He’s an anti-American jihadist. There is no moderation here. 

Monday links

by debbywitt

Happy Birthday, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.

DIY: How to build a medieval crossbow.

TV Logos Used To Be Physical Objects.

The History of Tea.

When Women Started Growing Out and Painting Their Nails

Physicist Richard Feynman told the FBI to leave him alone. They did.

ICYMI, Friday’s links are here, and include the Justice Department’s guide to using psychics in police investigations, the physics of a T-Rex bite, the Victorian belief that a train ride could instantly make you insane, and advice on what to do if you get caught in an avalanche. 

Expand Scope of Conscience Protection Act of 2017

by Wesley J. Smith

As I have written here and elsewhere, the attacks on medical conscience are proliferating, and the ground is being prepared to strip doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc. of the ability to practice their professions under the principles of Hippocratic ideals.

I suspect that if the left ever again takes control of the government, conscience rights will come under even more concerted attack than is currently happening. I mean, the Obama Administration tried to force nuns to provide contraception in the order’s health insurance.

A bill was introduced in Congress to strengthen existing conscience protections. Called the Conscience Protection Act of 2017, the bill would:

Notwithstanding any other law, the Federal Government, and any State or local government that receives Federal financial assistance, may not penalize, retaliate against, or otherwise discriminate against a health care provider on the basis that the provider does not—

“(1) perform, refer for, pay for, or otherwise participate in abortion;

“(2) provide or sponsor abortion coverage; or

“(3) facilitate or make arrangements for any of the activities specified in this subsection.

The bill would permit aggrieved parties to sue, rather than having to rely on bureaucrats to protect them:

A qualified party may, in a civil action, obtain appropriate relief with regard to a designated violation.

That’s all well and good, but the legislation, as written, is far too narrowly drawn.  The pending crisis of medical conscience extends far beyond abortion.

For example, the ACLU has sued a Catholic hospital for refusing to permit surgeons to excise a transsexual’s healthy uterus for the purposes of sex reassignment.

Meanwhile, Ezekiel Emanuel–among other influential bioethicists–insists that doctors must provide every elective procedure requested by informed patients regardless of their own moral beliefs–so long as the medical establishment accepts the procedure as proper. Talk about a tyranny of the majority!

Efforts are underway to eventually compel nursing homes to starve and dehydrate dementia patients to death–even when willingly taking nourishment–if they so requested in an advance directive. It is important to note in this regard, that spoon feeding isn’t a medical treatment but humane care.

In Ontario, Canada doctors are now legally forced to euthanize patients or procure death doctors for patients wanting to die. True, that isn’t the USA, but don’t think that can’t happen here should assisted suicide/euthanasia become widely accepted societally.

I could go–and have gone–on and on. But clearly, the scope of the conscience controversy extends well beyond abortion.

Accordingly, The Conscience Protection Act of 2017 should be amended to protect health care professionals from being compelled to participate in elective procedures–which would need to be carefully defined, obviously–to which they are morally or religiously opposed.  

The sooner the better, or it could become too late. 

A Sad Tale of a Chinese Counterintelligence Triumph

by Jim Geraghty

From the first Morning Jolt of the week.

A Sad Tale of a Chinese Counterintelligence Triumph

At some point during the Trump administration, we’re going to hear about something going terribly wrong in the intelligence community. It’s just the way it is; this is exceptionally difficult work, going up against relentless and insidious enemies. The list of recent spy scandals is long and depressing: Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, the Convicted Spy Formerly Known As Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden… This isn’t even mentioning the Office of Personnel Management hack or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails…

We have embarrassing and frustrating setbacks in our intelligence work under both Republican and Democratic administrations. There is no policy that can eliminate the motives of spies, turncoats, and traitors, usually summarized as money, ideology, coercion and ego.

We had another huge setback to our intelligence efforts during the Obama years that we are only learning about now.

The Chinese government systematically dismantled CIA spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.

Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved.

But there was no disagreement about the damage. From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, according to former American officials, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the C.I.A.’s sources. According to three of the officials, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A.

The New York Times quotes “ten current and former American officials described the investigation on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing the information.”

Someone might be grumbling, “argh, if this so secret, why is it being leaked to the Times?”

Dwight Eisenhower once offered the counterintuitive advice, “if you can’t solve a problem, enlarge it.” The effort to determine how China found America’s spies was a private problem; now it’s a public problem. Making a secret problem public is one way to make that problem a higher priority; secret problems are easier to ignore. Also, if there’s a mole within the agency reporting to China – which is only one of several theories offered in the article — it’s probably best that everyone involved know there’s a mole. The paranoia and reluctance to share information about assets might save someone’s life.

There’s marginal good news. “By 2013, the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. concluded that China’s success in identifying C.I.A. agents had been blunted — it is not clear how — but the damage had been done.” Of course, if America’s spy agencies don’t know how the information leaked the first time, there’s no guarantee it won’t be leaked a second time.

Sounds like a job of Blackford Oakes. 

When the Past Comes Close

by Jay Nordlinger

Today and tomorrow, I will have a series on George Walker, an American composer (and pianist). Part I is here. Before continuing with Walker, I want to tell you about something else.

In the next National Review, I’ll have a piece on Thomas Hampson, the American baritone. He is currently singing Don Giovanni at La Scala. He told me that, when he was young, he was coached by an old man — who remembered Vienna when Mahler ran the opera. And that man, when very young, was taught by a very old man — who remembered, long before, a man walking through the streets like a nut, because he was deaf. That was Beethoven.

Imagine that: one contact away from Mahler, two from Beethoven.

Back to George Walker — who was born in 1922, in Washington, D.C. He knew his grandmother — his mother’s mother — very well. She lived to a great old age. No one was quite sure how old she was. Probably, she didn’t know.

She’d had two husbands. She lost the first one when he was sold at auction. The second had died. She herself had escaped slavery.

She never talked about it. Except one time, when young George could not help himself and said, “What was it like?” What was the experience of slavery like? She spoke one sentence — only: “They did everything except eat us.”

It was remarkable to be sitting and talking with a man who had known a slave — an ex-slave — very, very well. He was already graduated from Oberlin when she died. (He was a prodigy, a very young student.) He dedicated an early piece to her — Lyric for Strings — and it remains his best-known piece. “My grandmother’s piece,” he calls it.

Anyway, get to know George Walker a bit. It’ll be worth it, I think.

There Is a Spook in Their Midst

by Jack Fowler

It’s 1954, Stalin has finally kicked the bucket, and a US-British plot to liberate a Soviet satellite country comes to a disastrous end. It’s been jinxed. Because of a mole. The hero of Bill Buckley’s famous novels – Blackford Oakes – has got to find the leak and plug it. Fast.

Interested in a great summer read? Then avail yourself to one of the 20 copies we have of the first-edition hardcover of this terrific 1986 novel (of it, Publishers Weekly said “Buckley’s ingenious plot and linguistic ballet show him in top form”). I don’t know how these copies of High Jinx survived our last move, but they aren’t coming with us to NR’s forthcoming new HQ. So let’s let our downsizing become your opportunity. Admittedly, they’re not pristine. But these copies are in pretty good condition, and heck, they were Bill’s own, if sentiment means anything to you (and it ought to). Get one – we’ll let them go for $15 a copy, which includes free shipping and handling, and we’ll toss in one of those groovy NR flag-flying lapel pins too. Order here.

Against Free Speech: Merkel, May (and Macron)

by Andrew Stuttaford

Theresa May and Angela Merkel have quite a bit in common. For example, both are suspicious—more than suspicious—of the free market and both are daughters of clergymen (speculation, of course, but those two facts might not be entirely unconnected). Both are authoritarians.

Authoritarians don’t like speech that is, well, too free, and that, of course, brings them up against the unruly reality of the Internet.

Foreign Affairs

In April 2017, the German cabinet passed new legislation on hate speech that the German Bundestag is scheduled to adopt in the summer. The law enables Germany to fine social media companies up to 50 million euros ($55 million) for not reacting swiftly enough to reports of illegal content or hate speech.

The law has an aptly German name Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz, or Network Enforcement Law. But its main target is U.S. tech giants, which provide the main social media networks in Germany. The clash between U.S. social media companies and the German government is about more than deleting hateful online comments. It is a fight about how much free speech a democracy can take.

Ponder that last sentence:

It is a fight about how much free speech a democracy can take.

And then re-read the First Amendment.

Foreign Affairs:

The new law applies to social media platforms with over two million users and imposes large fines if they do not delete posts contravening hate speech law within 24 hours of receiving a complaint. In response, a broad opposition coalition swiftly emerged. Although the law excludes journalistic platforms where someone is already accountable for content, such as online newspapers, the German Journalists Association joined civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers in signing a joint statement warning that the law “jeopardizes the core principles of free expression.” In addition, the Global Network Initiative (GNI) an international coalition of tech companies, civil society groups, investors, and academics asserted that the law “poses a threat to open and democratic discourse.” These groups worry that the law might lead to broad censorship of the Internet and create a precedent for more authoritarian regimes to further restrict free speech on the Web.

They are right to worry.

Foreign Affairs:

Created in 1949, the West German federal constitution, also known as the Basic Law or Grundgesetz, contained a central paradox. Many West German politicians—conservatives and social democrats alike—believed in a “militant democracy,” one where free speech could be constrained to protect democratic norms. Essentially, democrats had to use undemocratic means to protect democracy. Article 18 of the constitution states that anyone abusing rights like freedom of speech to undermine a free democratic order might forfeit those basic rights.

In the specific circumstances of Germany just after the fall of the Third Reich, that might (just) be understandable, but now?

It also raises the question of who decides what speech is to be defined as suspect. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes and all that. 

Foreign Affairs quotes German Justice Minister Heiko Maas as saying that “freedom of speech has boundaries.”

And:

Maas aims to expand Germany’s approach to all of Europe, probably by introducing similar legislation in Brussels. With Emmanuel Macron as France’s newly elected president, Maas might succeed. Macron said during his campaign that he wanted to stop fake news and “regulate the Internet because today certain players are activists and have a very important role in the campaign”.

Who defines what is fake news?

We are often told these days that Merkel and Macron (in contrast to wicked Donald Trump) are the defenders of the liberal order, but theirs seems to be a liberal order where free speech is kept on a leash. That does not look to me like a liberalism worthy of the name.

The reference to plans to neuter free speech elsewhere in ‘Europe’ (ie the EU) suggests that post-Brexit Britain might escape.  That would be optimistic. As Brits discovered under Blair, Brown and Cameron, reining in free speech is popular across the UK’s political class (even more so in Scotland, incidentally), but Theresa May, that accomplished enabler of the predatory state,  is likely to make it even worse.

The Independent (my emphasis added):

While much of the internet is currently controlled by private businesses like Google and Facebook, Theresa May intends to allow government to decide what is and isn’t published, the manifesto suggests. The new rules would include laws that make it harder than ever to access pornographic and other websites. The government will be able to place restrictions on seeing adult content and any exceptions would have to be justified to ministers, the manifesto suggests. The manifesto even suggests that the government might stop search engines like Google from directing people to pornographic websites. “We will put a responsibility on industry not to direct users – even unintentionally – to hate speech, pornography, or other sources of harm,” the Conservatives write….

But perhaps most unusually  [technology companies] would be forced to help controversial government schemes like its Prevent strategy, by promoting counter-extremist narratives…

The Conservatives will also seek to regulate the kind of news that is posted online and how companies are paid for it. If elected, Theresa May will “take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy.”

So Britain’s political class is going to “protect the reliability and objectivity of information”. 

What could possibly go wrong?

Theresa May – Champion of the Predatory State

by Andrew Stuttaford

As Britain’s election campaign trundles on, Theresa May’s planned ‘dementia tax’, an attack on savers, aspiration, fairness and some her party’s key constituencies, may not (surprise!) be playing too well on the doorstep.

Here’s what the (pro-Conservative) Daily Mail has to say:

Theresa May’s hopes of an Election landslide hit a setback last night when a poll showed strong opposition to her plan to make more elderly people pay for care. A Survation poll for The Mail on Sunday showed the Conservative lead over Labour has fallen to 12 per cent, a five point drop in a week. It follows the release of last week’s Tory manifesto which included social care reforms that were quickly branded a ‘Dementia Tax’ by critics. The proposals would mean that tens of thousands of people who receive care at home could face costly bills as – for the first time – the value of a person’s home will be included in their assets, with only the last £100,000 protected….

The Survation poll indicates 47 per cent oppose Mrs May’s social care funding plans, with 28 per cent in favour. Significantly, 28 per cent say the proposals have made them less likely to vote Tory, with eight per cent more likely to do so. More than half say it has made them more worried about getting older, caring for elderly relatives, owning a house and securing their children’s future.

They are right to be worried.  They are also right to be angry. Commonsense would suggest that those with large enough assets to loot will be those who have already over their lifetimes paid a disproportionate amount of tax. May’s plan is just one more turn of egalitarianism’s ratchet, unusual only in the extent of its cruelty.  It is a reminder that the redistributionist state is also the predatory state.

And then there’s this (via the Guardian)

Another warning came from the King’s Fund, an influential health thinktank, which said the plans risked deterring poorer older people from seeking help in the first place and also overburdening already overstretched hospitals. Richard Humphries, a senior fellow in social care at the thinktank, said: “It will mean thousands of people paying more for home care but will be complex and challenging for councils to implement and risks unintended consequences.“These might include discouraging people from seeking help, placing a greater burden on unpaid carers and driving increased use of hospitals and long-term care.” Under the plan in future, he added: “Access to services will depend on a triple lottery of where you live, what you can afford and what is wrong with you.”Develop cancer or heart disease but not dementia and your house and savings will be intact, Humphries said…

A separate analysis by Luke Clement, professor of law at Leeds University, argued the proposals could act as incentive for older people to transfer their properties into their children’s names or offshore and would land local authorities with debt portfolios of many millions, leading to a temptation to sell it off.

May, a foe of the free market, cannot, of course, be expected to understand incentives.

It has also emerged that May, a politician already notorious for her high-handed and secretive style, ‘smuggled in’ this dramatic change of policy at the last moment –and without consulting senior elected colleagues.

Financial Times:

The plan…was added at the last minute by Nick Timothy, the prime minister’s co-head of staff, party figures have admitted. Both Boris Johnson, foreign secretary, and Damian Green, welfare secretary, refused to say whether the cabinet was briefed ahead of the policy announcement, which would see those needing care at home having to pay for it from the value of their property until their last £100,000.

…One senior Tory told the Financial Times “it wasn’t really run by anyone outside the inner circle”. Party figures said that John Godfrey, head of the Downing Street policy unit, had advised against the move.

Timothy, whose influence on other areas of policy has been malign, should be shown the door.

Writing in the Guardian, Will Hutton, someone who usually can be relied upon to get things wrong, unpacks the logic of May’s plan with welcome, if unexpected, accuracy:

The manner of death is not in anyone’s hands. You may be lucky like the majority and die peacefully, requiring not much money on care bills except for the last few months. Or you may be unlucky and suffer from infirmity or Alzheimer’s or dementia. In which case you will be among the 10% whose care bills could climb above £100,000.

This is what moral philosophers call brute bad luck. You and your family did nothing to deserve this – no virtuous lifestyle nor prudent saving could have prevented it. The correct response is collectively to insure ourselves, like we do for the risk of a fire or a car accident, so that if we do have the bad luck to have an expensive old age the insurance will take care of it. To keep the cost of the insurance down, there can be a cap on payouts after which one has to pay for oneself.

This was the Cameron approach with the cap of £72,000 and the paradox is that the opponent of “selfish individualism” and champion of mutual obligation should insist on the reverse for the elderly. Mrs May does not recognise the role of brute bad luck in the policy towards social care; rather, there are warm words about the importance of saving for old age rather than relying on the taxpayer – and then the same philosophy is used to justify asking the taxpayer to be paid back for care bills from property sales after death. In this universe, all luck is deserved and social insurance is only another way of raising taxes.

To be fair, there is not quite such a contradiction as Hutton makes out between May’s championing of mutual obligation (newspeak, in this context, for collectivism) and her assault on the aspirational classes  (“our people”, as Mrs. Thatcher once described them), people so shockingly “selfish” that they pay their own way (and that of quite a few others) and want to pass on something to the next generation.

May will still win the election (and with the malevolent Corbyn against her, that’s a relief), but if this latest vindictive turn in her policies cuts into her likely majority, that’s no bad thing.  She’s clearly not someone who can be trusted with too much power.

Growing Up

by Jay Nordlinger

That was the title of Russell Baker’s famous memoir: Growing Up. (It was once famous, I should say.)

Anyway, I would like to single out a line from President Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia, now that he has delivered it. It is a line I especially admire (of many): “Young Muslim boys and girls should be able to grow up free from fear, safe from violence, and innocent of hatred.”

Yes, perfect. (By the way, can’t that be construed as telling people “how to live”?)

And one more line, as a bonus: “Terrorists do not worship God, they worship death.”

Yup. This afternoon, I talked with Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi representative in the Iraqi parliament. ISIS, or Daesh, worships death, all right — and one other thing: rape. Enslavement. Sexual bondage. The total domination, and brutalization, of girls and women.

May these men, and their supporters and apologists, be abolished.

Trump in Saudi Arabia: A Brief Reflection on Values

by Jay Nordlinger

The White House has shared a draft of the speech that President Trump will deliver in Saudi Arabia. It contains a striking — indeed, memorable — sentence:

“We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”

I imagine that most people will applaud this sentence, especially those who style themselves “realists.” Of course, we all consider ourselves realists. You’ll never hear anyone say, “I’m an unrealist, you know.”

So, let’s get real: Raif Badawi is a Saudi. He is also a political prisoner. He has been lashed. He has been lashed and imprisoned for blogging in favor of freedom, democracy, and human rights — not just for Americans and Englishmen, but for Saudis, too.

(For a piece I did on him and his wife, Ensaf Haidar, go here.)

How about Badawi’s lawyer (and onetime brother-in-law)? His name is Waleed Abulkhair, and he, too, has been imprisoned.

Don’t these Saudis have a right to a say in how their country will be? In “how to live, what to do, who to be,” etc.? Why should their government — which governs without the consent of the governed — have the only say?

At the moment, I am in Oslo, Norway, taking part in the Oslo Freedom Forum. I just did an interview with Grace Gao, the daughter of one of the most heroic men in China, and, indeed, in all the world: Gao Zhisheng. He is a human-rights lawyer. He was imprisoned and tortured for ten years. He is now under a severe form of house arrest. His Christian faith has allowed him to hold on to his sanity.

What about him? Is he not part of China?

And how about Liu Xiaobo, the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize? He too is a political prisoner. Doesn’t he deserve some say in “how to live, what to do,” etc.? Must the Chinese Communist Party have total power over 1.4 billion people?

In a recent interview, President Trump called the boss of that party, Xi Jinping, “a great guy.” He also said, “I believe he likes me a lot.”

Well, that’s wonderful. But as Vladimir Bukovsky says, “What about the boys in the camps?” Liberal-democratic governments should go about their business, doing what they need to do, including dealing with illiberal and anti-democratic regimes. But every now and then, they should pause to ask, “How will it look to the boys in the camps?”

President Reagan always made a distinction between nonconsensual governments and people — human beings and the regimes that rule them. So did George W. Bush.

Solzhenitsyn made a memorable comment about the United Nations. That body is not so much the united nations, or peoples, as the united governments, or regimes — many of which govern without the consent of the people.

On meeting Jeane Kirkpatrick, Sakharov said, “Your name is known in every cell in the Gulag.” Why? Because she had remembered human beings. Even when dealing with the Soviet government, she named the names of Soviet prisoners on the floor of the United Nations.

In the Gulag, prisoners somehow found out that Reagan had declared 1983 the Year of the Bible. One of those prisoners, Anatoly Shcharansky, started to do Bible study with a fellow prisoner. They called their sessions “Reaganite readings.”

While running for president, Donald Trump was asked about Vladimir Putin. He said many things, including, “I think that he is a strong leader, he’s a powerful leader, he’s represented his country — that’s the way the country is being represented.” Yes, undemocratically. Unjustly.

In Saudi Arabia, the American secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, stood with the Saudi foreign minister and called for freedom of speech — in Iran.

Which is great. Moreover, a little selectivity is natural in human affairs, and in diplomacy, and in foreign policy. But sometimes your selectivity can be hypocritical in the extreme. It can look ridiculous.

Gao Zhisheng has a heroic wife, Geng He, who in 2009 sent a letter to the U.S. Congress. She said,

“I remember that, when my husband was still free, whenever major human-rights cases arose in China, he would always look towards the United States. He always said: The United States is the cornerstone of world freedom, human rights, and social order; the United States would not tolerate despotic rule and the wanton abuse of the weak and the masses.”

Obviously, the United States needs Saudi Arabia as an ally. It needs other dictatorships as allies too. Many, many compromises have to be made to get along in this wicked and dangerous world. But Americans should remember the distinction between rulers and ruled. And that goes double for the president.

Well Seasoned Last Meal

by Jack Fowler

From cubbyholes and far-flung bookcases, we’ve corralled 14 copies of this rare WFB hardcover – Execution Eve, and Other Contemporary Ballads. It’s the 1975 collection of his primo columns from the early 70s, when Bill was in his prime-o. They’re in decent shape (a little dusty, the jackets a little worn) on the outside, intelligent as all heck on the inside (over 500 pages of Buckley brilliance). You can have one for $20. Get your copy here.