Sports

Re: The Olympics Are Stupid

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Denmark’s Morten Toft Olsen in action with Croatia’s Igor Karacic during the 2021 IHF Handball World Championship Main Round Group 2, Denmark v Croatia, at Cairo Stadium Hall 1 in Cairo, Egypt, January 25, 2021. (Pool via Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

Kyle wrote this morning about why the Olympics are stupid. He has some good points, since there are plenty of problems with the Olympics. The IOC is basically the United Nations except with even lower stakes and even stupider decision-making. Some of the sports are pretty silly (ten-meter air rifle is just an overpowered version of darts). America would still be a great country even if it never won any medals. Communist countries would still be terrible even if they won all the medals. All true.

Personally, I enjoy watching Katie Ledecky or Simone Biles beat the ever-living daylights out of every other country’s best athletes for the Stars and Stripes, but maybe that’s just me.

One nit I wanted to pick in Kyle’s piece: “Am I supposed to be on the edge of my seat because it’s time to find out who rules the world of handball or kayaking?”

Kayaking, no, but handball is great.

It’s not racquetball-with-your-hands handball, it’s team handball. Six players and one goalie for each team compete on an indoor court a bit larger than a basketball court to score goals by throwing a roughly volleyball-size ball as hard as possible into a 2-by-3-meter goal.

Handball seems like it was invented by someone who was watching a soccer game and thought, “This is an interesting concept, but we should make it more, you know, entertaining.”

The fundamental idea of soccer is good: Two teams compete with each other to score goals by putting a ball into a net on the opposing team’s side. Sounds fun. The problems with soccer are with the particulars. The field is too big, scoring is so hard that wasting time is often more advantageous, and the good Lord gave us hands for a reason.

Handball solves those problems. By moving the game inside and shrinking the court, scoring is much easier. Both teams’ scores are usually in the 20s or 30s in a good game. Trying to score is worthwhile. Teams run an offense like in hockey or basketball and run plays to try and score a goal just about every time they have possession.

And, as the name suggests, in handball you are actually allowed to use the human body part most suitable for moving a ball.

There are similarities to other sports too. You can think of handball as soccer with entertainment, or hockey without all the equipment, or basketball with big goals. There’s a goal crease, but unlike ice hockey, it actually matters and you aren’t allowed to set foot in it. You are, however, allowed to float over it, so goals are commonly scored by players soaring through the air over the crease and hurling the ball as hard as possible at the goalie, who’s only a few yards away. If you want to run with the ball, you have to dribble, and there’s lots of high-speed passing to disorient the defense, similar to basketball.

Handball combines many of the best aspects of other sports into a fast-paced, physical game, and the handball tournament is one of the best parts of the Summer Olympics. The men’s tournament starts tomorrow, and the women’s tournament starts Sunday, and they’ll run until the gold medal matches on August 7 and 8.

Sports

Changes Coming for College Sports

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The antitrust defeat for the NCAA’s “amateur” rules will change college sports for the better, argues economics professor William Anderson in this Martin Center article. 

For one thing, student-athletes will have a chance to earn money from their names, images, and likenesses — enough in some cases to make a big difference in their lives. Anderson writes, “Some athletes who before had to write home for spending money suddenly are going to have a net worth greater than most of their professors (and some of their coaches), and while it is difficult to know exactly how all of this will play out in the future, it is clear that college sports have been greatly changed.”

What about the teams that were part of the NCAA cartel? Anderson analyzes it like other cartels that had to undergo changes once the anti-competitive rules that propped them up were taken away. “With government-sponsored cartels,” he writes, “the stronger firms tend to dominate the organization and set the rules. Dominant football programs in the NCAA for years have ensured that they would stay on top by selective enforcement of the rules, making sure that upstarts cannot advance into the upper echelons.”

Schools that do the best at adapting to the new atmosphere will come out ahead, and those that don’t will fade. It will be interesting to watch this play out.

Anderson also observes that with more money coming in, more student-athletes might stay in college, which might benefit them.

U.S.

Lost Cause Monuments as Public Miseducation: Why the Robert E. Lee Statue in Richmond Should Go

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The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Va., June 20, 2020. (Jay Paul/Reuters)

Catesby Leigh, writing on NRO, asks whether “Richmond’s Robert E. Lee statue is next,” i.e., next to be removed from the city’s Monument Avenue. (Statues of Stonewall Jackson, J. E. B. Stuart, and Jefferson Davis are already gone.) Leigh’s essay merits consideration. But I do hope the Lee statue is next.

I side with those who think there is a clear and important distinction between the Founders and the defenders of the Union, on one hand, and the Confederates on the other: The Confederacy was philosophically devoted to racial slavery, while the United States was philosophically irreconcilable with it. Or to speak less abstractly, the founders of the Confederacy inherited an evil practice, wished to perpetuate it indefinitely, and rebelled against the United States to achieve that purpose; the founders of the United States (or those we typically honor) inherited an evil practice, looked forward to its end, and expressly committed the nation to principles (as in the Declaration of Independence) that brought its end about. Removal of monuments to Confederates should not be seen as an “indulgence” of “the BLM­-Antifa statuary rampage,” since it was already right to remove them before the rampage started. I won’t belabor these points, which are by now familiar. I will instead recommend Philip Klein’s and Cameron Hilditch’s more extensive thoughts.

You might reply that the statue-vandalizers didn’t care about all that and were often just as inclined to damage statues of Washington or Jefferson, Lincoln or Grant: “Take your distinctions to the seminar room, Steorts, but here in the real world we have some statues to save.” I want to plot this attitude somewhere on a grid with axes labeled “cynicism” and “despair.” Not only is it dangerous (once you start compromising your principles in order to stop your opponent, there’s no telling where it will end) and enervating (involving as it does a certain faithlessness in your own cause). It’s also foolish. If you believe in historical truth and moral objectivity, and believe in our capacity (however imperfect) to grasp them, then you ought to have greater confidence that they will prevail than that errors will. Setbacks will happen, but by siding with what’s true and good you align yourself with what is, in one sense or another, real. Because it’s real, it’s the better bet. The alternative leaves you betting on no more than your subjective Machiavellian calculation of a flux of relativities.

Two further issues have not, I think, received the consideration they deserve.

The first is the relation between the virtues that these Lost Cause monuments are said to honor and the ends for which those virtues were practiced.

Most people who want to preserve the monuments are not, we should assume, personally racist. Rather, they see themselves as honoring the “personal honor, courage, and self-sacrifice” (Leigh’s words) of Confederate soldiers and leaders. Sometimes you also encounter “loyalty” on such lists. The defenders want, in other words, to draw a line separating those virtues from the evil of slavery, so that the virtues have an intrinsic positive value that’s independent of the evil of the cause.

It’s a tough sell. We could say that it’s okay to honor the positivity of the virtues no matter how great the negativity of the cause. In that case we should feel perfectly comfortable with monuments to the courage and loyalty of Nazis, the self-sacrifice of a terrorist suicide bomber, and so on. Alternatively, we could honor the positivity of the virtues only if the negativity of the cause is not too great. But like all distinctions of degree, this is arbitrary. What does “too great” mean?

Either way, the whole framework is wrong. Loyalty, courage, etc. have no value that is independent of the ends they serve. Their value is instrumental. They are necessary, but what’s necessary is that they be practiced for the sake of the good.* If your loyalty leads you to betray and make war against your country, it has gone bad — it is (provided that your country is good) doing damage and is not, as you are expressing it, good in any sense. If your courage is spent killing people so that slavery will endure, it’s a terrible use of the virtue, one to be condemned rather than emulated.**

The second point that I think gets neglected is that public memorials are a kind of public education. They instill values and present models to look up to. They are not just works of art or representations of history; they have a moral purpose. And the hard truth about these Lost Cause monuments is that, based on a defective sort of reasoning that separates virtues from ends, they miseducate the public about civil virtue. Leigh asks why the feelings of those who want the monuments preserved do not count. But it’s not about feelings. It’s about the reality that the public deeds of these men in their capacity as Confederate leaders were in no sense good, and should not be presented as if they were. “Iconoclasm” isn’t iconoclasm when the alleged icons never should have been icons in the first place. Our racial politics remain disordered in part because, more than a century and a half after the Civil War, too much of the country cannot see that.†

Now would be an especially good time for the Right to see it, given present arguments over critical race theory or the popular bastardizations of it. How can one coherently say, in effect, “We believe so strongly in color blindness and racial equality that we wish to prevent public-school instruction that departs from those ideals or might lead to such departures; but by all means, let’s go on lauding these honorable, courageous, self-sacrificing soldiers for white supremacy and race slavery”? The tension is unbearable.‡ Why wouldn’t a black American looking at Lee in Richmond think that certain default settings of our culture and politics are subtly tolerant of racism?

Or to improve the question, why wouldn’t an American?

Notes & Asides

*Cf. Plato’s idea that the spirited part of the soul must serve the reasoning part. Carson Holloway’s misjudgment of Trump consisted, as I see it, in an overconfidence that this relationship would obtain. Trump’s thumos turned out to be unreasonably self-interested, and thereby destructive.

**I realize that the case of Lee is complicated by the fact that, despite owning slaves, he thought slavery was bad and urged Jefferson Davis to emancipate slaves so that they could join the fight against the Union. All the same, he was willing to serve, and to kill for, what had been conceived as a nation devoted to the perpetuation of slavery. We don’t have to oversimplify the man into a devil to see that in the Civil War he practiced his virtues badly. And that bad practice is just what these monuments ask us to remember him for — it’s not like the Richmond statue shows him in his civvies.

†I have no objection to carting these statues off to a museum that doesn’t romanticize Confederate history, much as I don’t object to portraits of tyrannical monarchs and emperors in art museums. Stone Mountain presents a harder case. Rather than give it the Bamiyan Buddha treatment, I’d rework the accompanying texts and visitor facilities so that they present the monument as a spectacular display of human folly and the ever-present danger of calling good that which isn’t. In theory I suppose we could do the same with Lee in Richmond, but why, when we can instead remove the statue without destroying it? Its defenders will be upset either way.

‡It would also be good for the Right to have an open mind about arguments — whether based on quantitative evidence (see, e.g., “Why Black Homeownership Lags Badly in Minnesota,” by Rachel Bachman and Douglas Belkin) or on personal testimony (“Nina Simone’s Face,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates) — that historical racism and present-day cultural defaults continue to have harmful effects. On the other hand, the Left should see that it does not automatically follow from the existence of such harms that we must retreat from color blindness and the allocation of opportunities according to individual merit; or that all socially significant inequalities are due, in whole or in part, to injustice; or that a special duty to correct the consequences of historical injustices — a duty over and apart, that is, from whatever general duty of assistance we feel toward fellow citizens whose misfortunes are not due to their choices — transfers from generation to generation. That takes some showing.

Science & Tech

Ethicists Urge Teaching Critical Race Theory in Bioethics Education

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(Sergey Tinyakov/Getty Images)

I have sometimes gotten in trouble among the bioethics crowd for claiming that their field is more of an ideological movement than a dispassionate discourse. But know this: When a bioethicist speaks, unless there is a modifier such as “conservative” or “Catholic” before the term, that person is almost surely a political progressive. Therefore, unless proven otherwise, assume that the opinion is ideologically driven from the left rather than a dispassionate exposition of learned “expertise.”

Here’s more proof. Writing in the Hastings Center Report — the world’s most august bioethics journal — two authors argue that “anti-racism” should become a priority in the field, including the teaching of critical race theory to all would-be clinical ethicists. From “Antiracist Activism in Clinical Ehtics” (my emphasis):

Clinical ethics programs should also endeavor to make undergraduate and graduate students of color more aware of and welcome in their courses. Clinical ethics education should include critical race theory and other critical theories as foundational, rather than marginal, in bioethics training programs. This means that introductory courses should ground learners in critical theories, such as critical race theory, as much as in principlism and the field’s other traditional theoretical approaches. Moreover, entire courses in the curriculum should be devoted to critical theory frameworks that attend to power and oppression.

Swell. If you think bioethics goes off the rails now, just wait until it is steeped in the poisonous brew of “antiracism” diatribes that teach “the only remedy for past discrimination is present discrimination, and the only remedy to present discrimination, is future discrimination.”

And all that these clinical bioethicists will see is race, race, race, even when there is no actual discriminatory intent or outcome:

Clinical ethics services should ensure adequate skill development related to interrupting bias and decolonizing different tools or practices, such as chart note formats. For example, in the four-box method, it is common practice to place racism concerns in the last box, labeled “contextual features.” Instead, acknowledging the pervasiveness of racism throughout a patient’s health care experience within each of the four boxes, the others of which are labeled “medical indications,” “patient preferences,” and “quality of life,” can allow clinical ethicists to identify and highlight areas of potential power imbalances, biases, and institutional practices that may be discriminatory.

All those big words add up to a call to undermine the foundations of equality in health care and replace it with subversive concepts of equity — guaranteed to pick at social scabs rather than promote racial reconciliation and healing.

Politics & Policy

Cui Bono?

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announces the withdrawal of his nominees to serve on the special committee probing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 21, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

In response to The Democrats Fumble on the January 6 Committee

I don’t know that I agree with Dan about the McCarthy-Pelosi brouhaha. Maybe he reads the ether differently from how I do, but I’m not sensing a whole lot of, “Man, I’ll bet Nancy Pelosi wishes she’d played that one differently!” out there.

I think Republican leader Kevin McCarthy walked his caucus into a buzz saw. He tried and failed to install two grandstanding election truthers, Representatives Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, onto the January 6 committee. Nancy Pelosi rejected them, which was both foreseeable and, arguably, appropriate. With this shenanigan, Kevin McCarthy set Republicans up for a lose-lose proposition.

Why?

There were four possible configurations of motive when it comes to the Pelosi-McCarthy dispute. And the Republican leader’s gambit is a loser in all of them.

Scenario 1: McCarthy and Pelosi both are acting in good faith. Unlikely, sure, but let’s consider it if only as a formality. If McCarthy and Pelosi both want to get to the bottom of what exactly happened on January 6, the election-trutherism and grandstanding make that less likely to happen, and the spectacle would have proved a political embarrassment for Republicans to boot.

Scenario 2: McCarthy and Pelosi both are acting in bad faith. Likely to be at least partly true. But, in that case, why hand Pelosi the opportunity to make credible, good-faith objections? There are dozens of boring Republican company men in the House who would have been happy to quietly derail or torpedo the proceedings, if that’s what McCarthy wants. (Why would he want that?) Instead, the ground he chose to fight on guaranteed that Pelosi had the more reasonable case — not only does she win, she deserves the win. It takes a special kind of genius to make Nancy Pelosi the more reasonable and responsible party in a political dispute.

Scenario 3: McCarthy is acting in good faith, Pelosi in bad faith. This combines the worst of scenario 1 and scenario 2: If successful in getting these guys on the committee, McCarthy would have ensured that the proceedings went nowhere, but, failing to do so, he gave Pelosi both a win and the moral high ground.

Scenario 4: McCarthy is acting in bad faith, Pelosi in good faith. In this case, McCarthy lost by putting forward two easy targets to whom Pelosi plausibly in good faith objected.

Unhappily, McCarthy is not acting as leader of the Republican caucus — he is acting as de facto leader of the election-truther caucus and the broader crackpot caucus, which for the moment punches above its weight and whose support he needs to remain secure in his position.

The problem with that approach is that with each day that goes by there is less reason to distinguish between the Republican caucus and the crackpot caucus.

Law & the Courts

Mississippi Brief in Crucial Supreme Court Abortion Case: Overturn Roe and Casey 

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(kieferpix/Getty Images)

On Thursday afternoon, Mississippi attorney general Lynn Fitch filed a brief in the most important Supreme Court abortion case in three decades. 

In the brief defending the constitutionality of Mississippi’s law prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks of gestation (with exceptions for when the life or physical health of the mother is endangered and in cases of severe fetal abnormalities that would prove fatal to the child), Attorney General Fitch argues that the Supreme Court’s Roe and Casey decisions should be overturned and state legislatures should be allowed to pass laws protecting the lives of human beings in the womb. 

If the Court isn’t willing to allow legislatures to pass any rational law protecting the lives of unborn children, the attorney general argues, the Supreme Court should at the very least reject the “unworkable” and “arbitrary” line banning any prohibition on abortion before viability.  

“Overruling Roe and Casey makes resolution of this case straightforward,” the brief states. “The Mississippi law here prohibits abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation, with exceptions for medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality. That law rationally furthers valid interests in protecting unborn life, women’s health, and the medical profession’s integrity. It is therefore constitutional. If this Court does not overrule Roe and Casey’s heightened-scrutiny regime outright, it should at minimum hold that there is no pre-viability barrier to state prohibitions on abortion and uphold Mississippi’s law.”

(Update: You can read National Review‘s editorial on the brief here.)

The brief submitted by Fitch, the first woman ever elected as attorney general in Mississippi, deconstructs the Roe and Casey decisions that declared almost all state laws prohibiting abortion unconstitutional. And then the brief makes the case that the doctrine of stare decisis cannot save the Supreme Court’s erroneous abortion precedents. 

Here are some key excerpts (most citations have been omitted). 

1. Why a “right to privacy” does not protect a constitutional right to abortion:  

Roe based a right to abortion on decisions protecting aspects of privacy under the Due Process Clause. […] But Roe broke from prior cases by invoking a general “right of privacy” unmoored from the Constitution. Notably, Casey did not embrace Roe’s reasoning. […] 

Nowhere else in the law does a right of privacy or right to make personal decisions provide a right to destroy a human life. Cf. Obergefell, 576 U.S. at 679 (“[T]hese cases involve only the rights of two consenting adults whose marriages would pose no risk of harm to themselves or third parties.”)   

2. Why Roe and Casey “do not provide persuasive support for a viability rule.” 

Roe concluded that the State’s interest in unborn life becomes “compelling” at viability “because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the womb.” […] Casey added: viability “is the time at which there is a realistic possibility of maintaining and nourishing a life outside the womb, so that the independent existence of the second life can in reason and all fairness be the object of state protection that now overrides the rights of the woman.” […] Each explanation boils down to a circular assertion: when an unborn child can live outside the womb then the State’s interest is compelling because the unborn child can live outside the womb. That explanation “mistake[s] a definition for a syllogism” and is linked to nothing in the Constitution. […] All Casey adds to Roe is to emphasize “the independent existence of the second life.” But that adds no content and fails to explain why (limited) independence matters or should serve as the centerpiece of a constitutional framework. Independence is a particularly flawed justification. Even after viability, an unborn life will remain dependent: viability contemplates the ability to live with “artificial aid.” […] Indeed, well after birth any child will be highly dependent on others for survival. It makes no sense to say that a State has a compelling interest in an unborn girl’s life when she can survive somewhat independently but not when she needs a little more help. 

In explaining why viability has “an element of fairness,” Casey said: “In some broad sense it might be said that a woman who fails to act before viability has consented to the State’s intervention on behalf of the developing child.” […]  But this provides no basis for a viability line. Innumerable other points before viability could be deemed to promote fairness just as well. Respondents do not provide abortions after 16 weeks’ gestation—weeks before viability. That undercuts any suggestion that viability is central to fairness. Given the difficult line-drawing that the competing interests call for—and on which the Constitution gives no guidance—only legislatures can properly decide what is fair in this context. […] 

No matter what a State learns—about fetal pain, about when unborn life takes on the human form, about women’s health, about what effect performing abortions has on doctors—the State cannot fully act on that knowledge before viability.  

3. On the scientific advancements that have occurred since Roe and Casey were handed down:  

[A]dvances in medicine and science have eroded the assumptions of 30—and 50—years ago. Casey recognized that “time has overtaken some of Roe’s factual assumptions,” including about abortion risks and the timing of viability. […] Casey thought that those changes “have no bearing on the validity of Roe’s central holding, that viability marks the earliest point at which the State’s interest in fetal life is constitutionally adequate to justify a legislative ban on nontherapeutic abortions.” […] Whatever the truth of that statement in 1992, events have left it behind. Advances in “neonatal and medical science” […], now show that an unborn child has “taken on ‘the human form’ in all relevant respects” by 12 weeks’ gestation […]. Knowledge of when the unborn are sensitive “to pain” has progressed considerably[…] And while the Roe Court thought there was no “consensus” among those “trained in … medicine” as to whether “life … is present throughout pregnancy,” […], the Court has since acknowledged that “by common understanding and scientific terminology, a fetus is a living organism while within the womb,” before and after viability […]. Yet Casey and Roe still impede a State from acting on this information by prohibiting pre-viability abortions. The United States finds itself in the company of China and North Korea as some of the only countries that permit elective abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation. 

4. Why the doctrine of stare decisis shouldn’t save Roe and Casey  

This Court should overrule Roe and CaseyStare decisis is ‘at its weakest’ with constitutional rulings,” the brief states, “and the case for overruling here is overwhelming. Roe and Casey are egregiously wrong. They have proven hopelessly unworkable. They have inflicted profound damage. Decades of progress have overtaken them. Reliance interests do not support retaining them. And nothing but a full break from those cases can stem the harms they have caused.” […] 

Roe and Casey do not raise reliance interests in the traditional sense at all. This Court has invoked reliance interests most strongly where upending a precedent could broadly undercut reasonable expectations that have formed the basis for long-term plans and commitments that cannot readily be unwound, as “in cases involving property and contract rights.” […] Casey itself appeared to acknowledge that a judicially announced right to abortion does not call up any traditional form of reliance. […] Abortion, it said, is “customarily … an unplanned response to … unplanned activity,” and arguably “reproductive planning could take virtually immediate account of” a change in the law.  […] 

Casey maintained that reliance interests favored retaining Roe because, “for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.” But given the many flaws in Roe and Casey, the possibility that contraception might fail is a weak ground for retaining them—particularly given contraceptive advances since Casey. […] Further, this Court is not in a position to gauge such societal reliance. That reality may help explain why some of this Court’s most important—and societally impactful—decisions overruling precedent do not even mention reliance. E.g., Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).   

“Far from bringing peace to the controversy over abortion, Roe and Casey have made matters worse,” the brief states. The brief then quotes the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Heavy-handed judicial intervention [in Roe] was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict.” 

The solution, the brief contends, is to let legislators, not judges, craft abortion laws: “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the States—where agreement is more common, compromise is often possible, and disagreement can be resolved at the ballot box.” 

5. What the Court could do if it wants to uphold the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week limit on abortions but is not yet ready to apply a rational-basis standard for reviewing all abortion laws:  

First, if this Court does not adopt rational-basis review, it should hold that the Act satisfies any standard of constitutional scrutiny including strict scrutiny, reverse the judgment below, and leave for another day the question of what standard applies in the absence of a viability rule. The Court could hold that the State’s interests in protecting unborn life, women’s health, and the medical profession’s integrity are, at a minimum, compelling at 15 weeks’ gestation—when risks to women have increased considerably […]; when the child’s basic physiological functions are all present, his or her vital organs are functioning, and he or she can open and close fingers, make sucking motions, and sense stimuli from outside the womb […]; and thus when a doctor would be extinguishing a life that has clearly taken on the human form. The Court could hold that the Act serves those “compelling interest[s]” in a “narrowly tailored” way. […] It prohibits abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation except when a woman’s health is at risk (the medical-emergency exception) or when the unborn life is likely not to survive outside the womb […]. 

Second, and alternatively, this Court could reject a viability rule, clarify the undue-burden standard, and reverse on the ground that the Act does not impose an undue burden. On this approach, the Court could hold that the undue-burden standard is “a standard of general application” […] that does not categorically bar prohibitions of pre-viability abortions. That holding would draw some support from the fact that Casey upheld restrictions on abortion that would prohibit some pre-viability abortions. […] (upholding 24-hour waiting period, which would prohibit pre-viability abortions sought the day before viability); […] (upholding parental-consent provision, which would prohibit abortions for minors who could not secure consent or a judicial bypass). Casey upheld those provisions on the ground that they did not “constitute an undue burden.” […] 

Applying that approach here, this Court could hold that a State may prohibit elective abortions before viability if it does not impose a substantial obstacle to “a significant number of women” seeking abortions. Casey…. (assessing facial challenge by looking to whether abortion restriction “will operate as a substantial obstacle” “in a large fraction of the cases in which” it “is relevant”). Respondents allege that they do not perform abortions after 16 weeks’ gestation, so the Act reduces by only one week the time in which abortions are available in Mississippi. Under no sound measure of the Act’s facial validity does it impose an unconstitutional burden  […] (providing data indicating that in 2017 at most 4.5% of the women who obtained abortions from respondents did so after 15 weeks’ gestation). Indeed, given that the vast majority of abortions take place in the first trimester, a 15-week law like the Act does not pose an undue burden because it does not “prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy.” […] It just prevents a woman from doing so when the health risks are magnified, when the unborn child has fully taken on “the human form,” […] and when the typical method of accomplishing it is (a State could conclude) as “brutal” and “gruesome” as what the Court permitted Congress to ban in Gonzales […]. The Act also provides medical-emergency and severe-fetal-abnormality exceptions, which confirm that there is no undue burden. And if this Court believes that its existing approach to assessing facial challenges to abortion restrictions does not allow this result, that is another reason to reject Casey outright.  

The brief concludes: “At least it should reject a viability rule and uphold the Act. But the best resolution is overruling Roe and Casey and upholding the Act under rational-basis review. Only that approach will eliminate the grave errors of Roe and Casey, restore workability, pare back decades of negative consequences, and allow the people to address this hard issue.” 

Politics & Policy

Looking Forward to an NRPlus Chat

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In a little bit here, I’m going to be Zooming with a group of NRPlus members just to chew over what’s going on in politics in an informal discussion. I’ve done a few of these type of conversations recently (including one on the Revolution prior to July 4), and everyone has really enjoyed doing them. We hope to do more going forward and to experiment with various formats. So, if you are interested and are a NRPlus member, watch this space and/or your inboxes for more information.

Energy & Environment

The Beauty of Billionaires in Space

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SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk attends a news conference at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., January, 19, 2020. (Steve Nesius/Reuters)

I wrote about the Branson and Bezos adventures in sub-orbital flight today at Politico, but ended up focusing mostly on Elon Musk, whose contribution has truly been transformative:

As for government space flight, it’s not as though NASA has been knocking anyone’s socks off. The space shuttle was a flawed program, but since the last flight in 2011, the agency hasn’t been able to send people into space on its own, which would seem a threshold test of the space agency of the world’s leading nation.

It has been hobbled by the political imperatives of a Congress that considers almost every government initiative a jobs program and by its flawed contracting model, as well as other inevitable government inefficiencies.

It is private actors who have stepped into the gap, especially Musk. He is now routinely launching satellites into orbit for NASA and the military. He has flown astronauts to the international space station. These aren’t vanity projects, but essential contributions to our existing publicly sanctioned space program.

Musk’s rockets are significantly cheaper than those of NASA. This is extraordinary. After the heroic period of innovation with the onset U.S.-Soviet space race after Sputnik, the cost of space launches stayed stubbornly flat after 1970, as if it was a law of nature that it couldn’t go lower. Then, along came Musk.

Lower cost is key, not just because it saves the taxpayers dollars. Lower cost means more satellite launches. More satellite launches mean cheaper satellites, because of efficiencies of scale in production. When the whole process is less expensive, it creates an incentive for more technological innovation—engineers don’t have to be as cautious anymore.

Economy & Business

About That Moody’s Report

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy from the White House in Washington, D.C., July 19, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

President Biden has found a new favorite report to use in support of his infrastructure plans. During his town hall with CNN yesterday, the president asserted that the report — written by Mark Zandi and Bernard Yaros Jr. from Moody’s Analytics — says that “if we pass the other two things I’m trying to get done, we will, in fact, reduce inflation.”

As Ramesh already pointed out today, the Moody’s report does not, in fact, say that.

Biden also made a point of mentioning that the report is from “a Wall Street firm, not some liberal think tank.” The idea that Wall Street is full of a bunch of right-wingers is not really true, and if lead author Zandi’s campaign donation records are any indication, he leans left. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad economist or that his report can’t be trusted. It just means that Biden’s suggestion that this report represents some kind of hostile perspective doesn’t hold up.

Here’s what the report does say. It forecasts five different scenarios:

  1. If Congress passed nothing at all
  2. If Congress passed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) only
  3. If Congress passed the ARP and the bipartisan infrastructure deal only
  4. If Congress passed the ARP and the Democrats’ reconciliation bill only
  5. If Congress passed the ARP, the bipartisan deal, and the reconciliation bill

We are currently in Scenario No. 2. Congress passed the ARP in March, and it’s been enacted as law. Biden wants Scenario No. 5. He has already signed the ARP, and he would like to sign both the bipartisan deal and the reconciliation bill into law, too.

So let’s compare Scenario No. 2, the trajectory we are currently on, with Scenario No. 5, the trajectory Biden wants.

Moody’s forecasts annual GDP growth rates out to 2031 in the report. The payoffs for Scenario No. 5 are quick. It says that next year’s GDP growth rate would be 5.3 percent — a whole percentage point higher than under Scenario No. 2. But by 2025, the growth rates equalize at 1.8 percent. Then, from 2026–2029, the growth rate under Scenario No. 5 is lower than the growth rate under Scenario No. 2. They equalize again in 2030 at 2.1 percent, and in 2031, Scenario No. 2 stays at 2.1 percent and Scenario No. 5 ticks up to 2.3 percent.

The nonfarm employment numbers tell a similar story. Moody’s forecasts that the short-term payoff would be significant and that jobs would initially increase at an increasing rate under Scenario No. 5. Scenario No. 5 leads to 300,000 more jobs in 2022, 900,000 more jobs in 2023, and 1.5 million more jobs in 2024 than Scenario No. 2 does. The gap between those two scenarios peaks in 2027, with a 2.6 million-job advantage for Scenario No. 5. But then Scenario No. 2 starts catching up. From 2028 onward, it would add more jobs per year than Scenario No. 5. The forecast ends in 2031 with Scenario No. 5 in the lead by 2.2 million jobs, but with Scenario No. 2 still adding more jobs per year.

How does that translate to the unemployment rate? Moody’s projects that under Scenario No. 2, unemployment would be at 4.4 percent next year and basically stay there through 2031. Under Scenario No. 5, unemployment would be 4.1 percent next year, then continue to decline until 2024, when it would bottom out at 3.5 percent. After that, unemployment would tick up slightly and remain in the high 3s, arriving at 3.9 percent in 2030 and 2031.

The labor-force-participation rate, the last metric Moody’s forecasts, is unlike the others in that there is hardly any difference between both scenarios right away. In fact, the labor-force-participation rate is identical in 2022 (62.6 percent) and in 2023 (62.7 percent). The numbers diverge in 2024, but only barely, and by 2031, the labor-force-participation rate is only 0.5 percentage points higher for Scenario No. 5 (62.9 percent) than it is for Scenario No. 2 (62.4 percent).

To do these forecasts, Moody’s has to make a lot of assumptions. We don’t have legislative text for either infrastructure proposal in Scenario No. 5. The Scenario No. 2 forecasts are probably more trustworthy since they are based on things that have already happened. For all the forecasts, Moody’s assumes the Fed sticks to its current monetary-policy framework, that the pandemic will continue to wind down, and that “no other significant fiscal policy changes” take place.

As a straight-up, ceteris-paribus forecast, the Biden administration should be careful how much it touts this report. Here’s the logic the report invites: We can do absolutely nothing beyond what we’ve already done and have a reasonably good economy by next year that will stay reasonably good into the future. Or, we can spend more money than has ever been spent by the federal government in one year in American history and have a better economy next year and a slightly better economy in the long run. It’s hard to believe there wouldn’t be cheaper ways to get the same or better results.

The Moody’s report says that by doing nothing more than has already been done, unemployment will be in the mid 4s by next year and stay there for the decade. That’s not bad. The unemployment rate has rarely been below 4 percent in American history. It’s hard to get it much lower than that because no matter how well the economy is doing, people will still voluntarily quit their jobs and be unemployed for a bit while they find a new one.

The labor-force-participation rate had been declining fairly steadily since 2000 when it peaked at about 67 percent. It seemed to have flattened out at around 63 percent starting in 2014. So, according to Moody’s, Biden’s massive “Build Back Better” plan will yield a labor-force-participation rate . . . exactly where it was from 2014 to 2019.

Biden has been fond of saying that his infrastructure plans are a “generational investment” and regularly promises a transformative effect on the economy, which ostensibly justifies the unprecedented levels of spending. The Moody’s report does not show any such transformation. It shows a modest improvement on the status quo, and that’s based on a lot of assumptions that may not hold.

We shouldn’t spend $4.7 trillion right now, for the reasons Phil lays out here. But if we’re going to spend more money than has ever been spent on any single piece of legislation in American history, there must be better uses for the money than the slight improvements that Moody’s is forecasting.

Religion

On Responsible Novus Ordo Men

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Pope Francis celebrates the Mass of Saint Peter and Paul at the Vatican, June 29, 2021. (Remo Casilli/Reuters)

As the resident Bad Trad Catholic in these parts, I feel it incumbent on me to respond to a very odd piece over at First Things, by the esteemed George Weigel. I have never been able to master the elaborate form of piety and politesse that certain commentators have on matters ecclesiastical.

Weigel spends the first half of the piece, needlessly displaying his bona fides as a “a Novus Ordo man.” He writes:

I believe that the restoration of the Easter Vigil and the renewal of the Paschal Triduum by Pius XII were impressive developments of the Roman Rite . . .

I’ve assisted at both Holy Week liturgies — the 1955 and the 1962. I find the idea that 1962 was an improvement perhaps the most baffling liturgical opinion on offer these days.

I believe that the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy taught important truths, especially about the eschatological character of the Church’s worship as an anticipation of life in the Kingdom of God, and I agree with its teaching that the Church’s worship should be conducted with a “noble simplicity.”

I think the suggestion from some liturgical traditionalists that the survival of Catholicism demands the restoration of the old Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the old Offertory prayers, and the old Last Gospel is ridiculous: which is also how I view the claims that the Council’s liturgical constitution and its immediate implementation were the result of a cabal of Freemasons, communists, and homosexual clerics.

I sort of understand the rhetorical move being attempted here, but I don’t know if there is an audience for it anymore. If it’s progressives who hate the pre-Conciliar liturgy, I can’t imagine any other response from them but simple chortling.

I prefer gothic chasubles to fiddleback chasubles and I dislike lace surplices.

Who asked you?

Finally in the last paragraph, Weigel summons himself not to criticize the pope, but to say

progressive Catholicism has typically been characterized by an authoritarian streak—a tendency to bullying and intimidation that certainly bespeaks impatience and may suggest a lack of confidence in its proposals and arguments.

WHOA! Watch out! There’s a lack of confidence out here somewhere.

Pope Francis has just asked the world’s bishops to submit to a form of curial micromanagement that would make your average commisar roll his eyes, for the express purpose of euthanizing the Mass of Ages. And all our Novus Ordo men can offer in response is to spit on our vestments, and speculate about a “lack of confidence.”

If this is the elaborate apology one needs to make before not quite saying the plain truth that Francis is acting like vengeful jerk and proposing nonsense as theology, I’d rather take my chances with the Freemasons, communists, and homosexuals. They are far less boring and more direct than our good Novus Ordo men. They would at least offer a feline smile when I say what I think. The Novus Ordo men offer their enemies the ashes of burned fiddlebacks, and their wayward traditionalist allies a ball-gag, and endless attempts at shushing us. How embarassing.

On one point, Pope Francis has been right: Hagan lio!

Gaming Out the Infrastructure Talks

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer attends a news conference with mothers helped by Child Tax Credit payments at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., July 20, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Our perception of the bipartisan infrastructure talks in the Senate has been strangely focused on process so far, because we still don’t really know the fine details of the substance of the proposal under discussion. We know the spending levels, and a bit about how that spending would be paid for, but much less about what that spending would be meant to achieve. That makes it impossible to know if the bill will be worth supporting.

For some people, the spending levels are enough reason to oppose the effort. They don’t need to know more than that Republicans are talking to

Politics & Policy

What a House Committee on the Riot Could Achieve

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Kevin McCarthy and Nancy Pelosi are both saying the House should investigate the events that led to the January 6 breach of the Capitol. At Bloomberg Opinion, I go through some of the questions the House should take up:

There is still plenty we don’t know about the lead-up to the attack. To what extent were Trump’s aides organizing the protests that turned violent? How aware were they of the danger? Was Trump’s claim to have won the election in a landslide a lie or a delusion? And once the attack started, how did White House officials respond?

Some of the answers will dribble out in books by Trump administration insiders, or about them. But the new House committee can perform a valuable service by getting more information and putting it together.

Politics & Policy

West and Huffines Best Abbott and Patrick on CRT and Civics

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks at the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas, Texas, May 4, 2018. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Texas governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant governor Dan Patrick deserve praise from conservatives on a number of issues. Unfortunately, their stand on the battle over critical race theory (CRT) and leftist indoctrination in Texas schools isn’t one of them. The Texas special session is considering dueling bills on civics and CRT. Representative Steve Toth’s House Bill 178 puts real teeth into the state’s new anti-CRT law by forcing public disclosure of what Texas schools actually teach. A rival bill, S.B. 3, in contrast, lacks those transparency provisions. Worse, S.B. 3 forces leftist “protest civics” and so-called media literacy programs (which push students toward liberal-leaning mainstream media sources) into the Texas school curriculum. The conservative choice is clear. Toth’s H.B. 178 will strengthen the groundbreaking new Texas law against indoctrination via CRT and protest civics. On the other hand, S.B. 3 will at least partially gut the new law’s protections against indoctrination. So why aren’t Abbott and Patrick on board with Toth’s H.B. 178?

Abbott faces two Republican rivals in his bid for re-election, each running to his right: former Congressman and Texas Republican Party chairman Allen West, and former Texas State senator, Don Huffines. West has enthusiastically endorsed H.B. 178, and so has Huffines. Texas Eagle Forum, an influential grassroots conservative group with a strong focus on education, is also pushing hard for H.B. 178. Not only have Abbott and Patrick failed to endorse H.B. 178, it is almost inconceivable that S.B. 3 could be advancing through the Texas Senate without their support. When it comes to the battle against critical race theory and leftist indoctrination in the classroom, Allen West and Don Huffines are taking a far tougher and more conservative stance than are Abbott and Patrick.

There’s still time for Abbott and Patrick to turn around on this issue. If they don’t, and especially if S.B. 3 becomes law, then West and Huffines will have powerful evidence to make their case that Abbott and Patrick are a lot less conservative than advertised.

When teachers start defying the new Texas law on CRT, as many have pledged to do, this battle will turn a whole lot tougher and messier. Many enforcement problems could be avoided or simplified, however, if Toth’s transparency provisions are turned into law. If that doesn’t happen, blame for an unnecessary enforcement mess in the wake of teacher defiance will fall squarely on the shoulders of Abbott and Patrick.

Let’s hope that Abbott and Patrick come around on this issue before the special session ends. With two full years until the next regularly scheduled meeting of the Texas legislature, Texas schools, parents, and students will have to live with the results of this special session for quite some time. To say the least, that makes the choice between these dueling CRT/civics bills fair game in the coming gubernatorial campaign.

The Democrats Fumble on the January 6 Committee

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, January 28, 2010 (Jim Young/Reuters)

Nancy Pelosi made a serious mistake yesterday by refusing to seat Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) and Jim Banks (R., Ind.) on the House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot, prompting Kevin McCarthy to take his ball and go home. This deprives Democrats of the talking point they scored when Republicans refused to agree to a bipartisan commission — now, she’s the one refusing to cooperate. It also sets up a further downward partisan spiral over whether the minority party will be permitted to investigate topics that Pelosi doesn’t want investigated.

There are usually two ways to go with investigations. One

Politics & Policy

Ancient Greece and Modern America

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One of history’s lessons is that big government undermines the character of the people.  They get used to handouts from politicians and clamor for more.

In this essay, Professor Bruce Thornton, a specialist in ancient Greece, compares the situation in Athens, ca. 338 BC to that of the United States in 2021. He writes, “The great orator Demosthenes, who for decades tried to spur the Athenians to wake up to Phillip’s threat, explicitly linked Athenian torpor to their receiving state money, which created a ‘habit of mind’ that subordinated military preparedness and service to getting something for nothing. In another speech he made the same point: ‘The politicians hold the purse-strings and manage everything while you, the people, robbed of nerve and sinew, stripped of wealth and allies, have sunk to the level of lackey and hanger-on, content if the politicians gratify you with a dole from the Theoric Fund or a [religious] procession.’”

With its gushers of money borrowed, taxed, and created out of nothing by the Federal Reserve, the Biden regime is doing exactly the same thing as the rulers of Athens did so long ago. The end result will be ruinous, but “progressives” never think about the long run. They’re only interested in the exercise of power in the present.