Politics & Policy

Fridays for Life: Roe Is Over. Now What?

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On the week anniversary of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, you are welcome to join me in conversation with Maureen Ferguson, Ashley McGuire, and Leigh Snead. All three are authentic pro-lifers – who have been part of the movement to end Roe and live and work to change hearts and minds. They are voices with the Catholic Association, which will be co-sponsoring our virtual chat tomorrow (Friday, July 1) at 2 Eastern. RSVP to join us here. It will also be available on the National Review Institute’s YouTube page for your convenience after.

 

Politics & Policy

Sinema and Manchin Won’t Nuke Filibuster to Pass Abortion Law

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) and Sen. Krysten Sinema (D., Ariz.). (Stefani Reynolds/Pool, Erin Scott/Reuters)

On Thursday, Democratic senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona reiterated their commitment to keeping the Senate’s 60-vote hurdle for legislation after President Biden called for a carve-out from the rule in order to pass a federal abortion law.

 

Sinema is right that in the long run nuking the filibuster could backfire on advocates of a right to abortion. As I wrote last year:

For the foreseeable future, I think there’s almost no chance that Senate Republicans would be the ones to abolish the filibuster. The current terms of GOP senators Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins, and Ben Sasse end in 2027. McConnell is never going to strike first at the legislative filibuster. Collins supports a right to abortion. Sasse, a staunch pro-lifer, has explicitly warned that abolishing the filibuster would cause wild national policy swings on many issues, including abortion.

While it’s almost unthinkable that Senate Republicans would nuke the legislative filibuster anytime soon, if Democrats do it, then we know that Republicans would indeed try to enact some national limit on abortion if the GOP holds the trifecta. But it’s not clear exactly where they would try to draw a line at first.

Since 2013, House and Senate Republicans have voted almost unanimously for the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a bill that would establish a 20-week nationwide limit on abortion. . . .

For pro-lifers who believe that federal legislation protecting the lives of unborn babies is authorized by the 14th Amendment or the commerce clause (or both), the only real restraint on federal legislation would be political prudence, of course. Marjorie Dannenfelser of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List told The New Yorker: “I think a fifteen-week limit could pass Congress in a couple of years. Of course, we need a President and majorities in both houses, which we don’t have, but that I see as a reasonable goal.”

World

An Unwelcome First for the U.K.

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Over at the American Conservative, Helen Andrews writes about the first organ-trafficking case in the United Kingdom. It may not be the last:

The only surprising thing about the arrest of Ike Ekweremadu and his wife Beatrice Nwanneka Ekweremadu for organ trafficking last week was that it took place in London. Ekweremadu, a Nigerian senator first elected in 2003, has been charged with bringing a 15-year-old boy from Lagos into Britain with the intention of harvesting his kidney for transplant.

Culture

Abortion Proponents’ Adoption Disingenuousness

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Abortion-rights demonstrators protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court rules in the Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization abortion case overturning Roe v. Wade in Washington, D.C., June 24, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Most pro-lifers have heard the argument from abortion supporters that goes something along the lines of: “If you want to ban abortion, are you willing to adopt the kids that will result?” On its face, this argument is disingenuous. One does need to be willing to personally care for another to believe he has a right to life. I do not presently have the resources to take in any homeless people, but I can still justly oppose murdering them.

Even so, many pro-life couples actually will adopt children for the specific purpose of saving them from abortion. Some of these couples appeared at demonstrations over the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health to advertise their willingness. Did progressives on social media admire the couples’ taking up their challenge? Of course not! Instead, these couples faced mockery and derision online.

On the most basic level, these couples are doing a loving act of service to give a child a home, and they do not deserve to be made into an object of scorn on Twitter. Would any of the people mocking them be willing to adopt a baby who otherwise would have been aborted? Some would, surely, but the answer would be “no” for most of them.

Among the ridicule, there were a few thoughtful arguments. They all took different forms, but they mostly boiled down to: “Would these couples really adopt a baby? If they would, why haven’t they adopted one of the hundreds of thousands of children in foster care?”

The children who are already in foster care are not in the system for lack of interest. There are between 1 and 2 million couples in America who are waiting to adopt, enough to empty the entire system between two and five times over. If they were to attempt to adopt one of the children, it is likely they would be held up by well-intentioned yet counterproductive bureaucratic red tape.

Additionally, there is a priority to adopt babies who will be aborted. Children in foster care are in a very difficult situation, and we should find ways to help them, up to and including adoption. At the same time, there is no law on the books that allows foster kids to be killed, unlike the status of children in the womb.

For those in the foster system, they will either be adopted or stay in the system. The former is the ideal outcome in this scenario, but even the latter is preferable to death. In the case of a woman with an unplanned pregnancy considering abortion, the choice is often adoption or death, which is why these couples tend to favor the unborn.

People who hold these beliefs are largely consistent on the issue, which we see in the case of frozen embryo adoption. Some couples who have a difficult time conceiving pursue in vitro fertilization, where several embryos are conceived in a petri dish. Doctors transfer one or two into the mother’s uterus, while the rest are frozen for later use. Often, parents who undergo IVF decide not to use all the fertilized eggs, and the embryos languish in a freezer indefinitely.

Some pro-life couples endeavor to “save” these babies by adopting them and giving birth to them. People have built entire networks toward this effort. The reason why people do it is that they accept the scientific consensus that life begins at conception, and they believe that unborn babies, whether in freezers or mother’s wombs, have a right to life.

These couples are willing to do a wonderful thing, a disposition something few people making fun of or denouncing them share. This saga illustrates even more how disingenuous the arguments of abortion proponents are on adoption. If you do not personally adopt children, you are only pro-birth; if you do, you are some sort of creep. Luckily, adoptive parents do not need progressive approval. They will keep caring for children who would otherwise be dead.

Religion

We All Need to Be More Like the Sisters of Life — and We Need to Support Them, Too

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Sisters of Life in midtown Manhattan, January, 2020. (Photo: Kathryn Jean Lopez)

If you go to the Sisters of Life website, you are greeted by the words: “You are made in the image of God. Irreplaceable.”

The Sisters take the regular vows women religious take — poverty, chastity, and obedience — and they also take a fourth vow “to protect and enhance the sacredness of every human life.” That means they help women and children born and unborn and for as long as that family wants them to be a part of their lives — which can sometimes be forever. The Sisters become family to families. To brave moms who might otherwise feel alone.

But that fourth vow is about so much more. It is about radiating the love of God to every person they can reach. I often post photos of Sisters when I am with them as an act of charity — because when you see them, and your heart is open even just a tiny bit, you see love and know you are loved.

As it says so beautifully on their website:

The Sisters of Life are women who are in love with Love — Love incarnate, crucified, and Risen — and captivated by the truth of the beauty of every human person, created in God’s image and likeness.

We believe every person is valuable and sacred. We believe that every person is good, loved, unique and unrepeatable. We believe that every person’s life has deep meaning, purpose and worth. In fact, we give our lives for that truth.

On Friday, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the Sisters of Life issued a statement, renewing their “commitment to love”:

As we welcome the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, we pledge to those women who find themselves pregnant and in crisis that they do not have to walk alone. We know that women flourish when they are given the freedom, opportunity, and support to embrace the entrustment of maternity.

With the help of many generous people and our network of Co-Workers of Life, we will continue to provide for the needs — temporal, emotional and spiritual — of women during pregnancy and beyond.  We have confidence that this Supreme Court decision will give many more women the courage to reach out to those of good will throughout the nation who stand ready to help a woman in need who is facing real challenges, difficulties and fears.

Today, we also renew our commitment to love and journey with those who are suffering after experiences of abortion, all too often alone and in silence. In the women we serve, we have witnessed the power of Jesus Christ to transform pain and to bring healing, peace, and new life.

Acknowledging that the law teaches, it is our hope that with the Dobbs decision, the truth of the dignity and unique beauty of every human being will begin to transform hearts, relationships, and every aspect of our society; and, result in law that protects the human being at every stage of life.

Today as we renew our commitment to love, we invite all others to step with us into this new era of greater protection for the unborn with even greater generosity, courage and dedication.

And the Sisters offer us this prayer to join them in:

Let us together pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our nation for peace, healing and conversion of heart — that all may believe in the sacredness of every human life: 

“Eternal Father, Source of life,

open our hearts to see and desire the beauty of your plan for life and love.

Fill us with your Holy Spirit so that our love may be generous and self-giving,

and we may be blessed with joy.

Grant us great trust in your mercy.

Forgive us for not receiving your gift of life

and heal us from the effects of the culture of death.

Instill in us and in all people a sense of the sacredness of every human life.

Inspire our efforts to protect and care for the most vulnerable,

especially women who are pregnant and their unborn children,

the sick and the elderly.

Strengthen us in the hope, that with You nothing is impossible.

We ask this in the Name of Jesus, who by His Cross makes all things new.

Amen.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of Life, pray for us.

 

This is what we need in our world. Love. If people see that love, they will be open to the belief that it is possible to live without abortion — or at least the vast majority of the abortions in America.

For information on becoming a co-worker with the Sisters of Life, click here.

To donate to the Sisters of Life, click here. (Don’t mind my name on there. That’s the link I asked them to create for my birthday fundraising campaign for them. We raised some money for them then, and as they are based in the abortion capital of the country, which is now becoming an abortion destination, can we make sure they have all of the resources they could ever need?)

And I have seen how they work — they make miraculous use of the resources they have to love, to be instruments of healing, to save lives and mend broken hearts. All by radiating God’s love and being spiritual mothers in these brutal times to human hearts.

Law & the Courts

New York’s Mismatched Gun-Control Instincts

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New York Governor Kathy Hochul addresses the media following a shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N,Y., May 14, 2022. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/Reuters)

Sometimes a city experiences a crime that changes its self-perception. There was a murder on the Upper East Side last night that may just do that for New York City.

At 8:30 on a bright summer evening near the corner of Lexington Ave. and 95th street, a 20-year-old woman pushing her three-month-old child in a baby stroller was shot in the head by a hooded assailant. The news reports say the baby was “unharmed” — a word that conveys that the child wasn’t injured but somehow reinforces the grievous harm that will shadow the child’s life. Police are investigating it as a domestic incident (the victim and the shooter are believed to have known each other).

But across social media this morning, we’re seeing recriminations about last week’s ruling on New York’s laws governing concealed carry.

I’m afraid that these are entirely unlinked. I would bet everything I owned that the assailant was entirely untouched by this ruling and the laws that it affected. New York County (that’s Manhattan), has allowed only about 400 people to even have concealed-carry permits. The assailant’s gun will not be listed on a single New York pistol permit. Not a single one of New York County’s CCW permits have yet been altered from a restrictive “sportsman” regulation to a full-carry one in light of the ruling in Bruen. If anyone expected that one of these permit carriers was the assailant, police could just go down the handy list they have for suspects, probably skipping over the celebrities and the mayor himself. The Supreme Court ruling has no effect whatsoever on New York’s pistol-license requirement and background checks.

And so this instinct to blame Clarence Thomas reflects a broader mismatch in the progressive approach to gun control. You could see it in questioning of Governor Kathy Hochul yesterday before the shooting.

The same mismatch informed Mayor Eric Adams’s initial response to the killing yesterday, in which he cited his participation in a panel on the problem of ghost guns. Heaping up more legal burdens, fees, and class requirements on New Yorkers will have almost no effect on gun homicides.

Almost all gun crimes in New York are committed by people who did not purchase their firearms legally. Even if they don’t have a previous record, they are usually uncomfortable submitting themselves to any examination by law enforcement, and are disinclined to go around searching for the character references one needs to qualify for purchasing, let alone carrying, a gun in New York State. And felons who could not pass a background check do not submit themselves to one. Criminals are not interested in gunsmithing the way ghost-gun enthusiasts would be. The gun isn’t a hobby for them, but a tool used in a criminal enterprise.

The only form of gun control that intersects with the type of crime we saw in New York yesterday is the vigorous enforcement of laws against criminal possession of guns, and criminal carry of guns — in other words, stop and frisk. Progressives oppose this form of gun control because they believe it is racist. They want to enforce gun control at the gun shops near the Finger Lakes, not on the trigger men in New York City.

Religion

Nigeria Isn’t So Far Away Today

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People mourn after a mass memorial service for victims killed during an attack by gunmen during a Sunday mass service, at St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo, Nigeria June 17, 2022. (Temilade Adelaja/Reuters)

I wonder if the increase in attacks against churches in the United States — and now with the Dobbs decision — will make places like Nigeria seem a little less foreign to us. Over the weekend, two priests were killed there in two separate attacks. This has become commonplace there. As Tom Farr at the Religious Freedom Institute put it in a speech this week in Washington, D.C., the violence is not about climate change, as some international voices have contended. It’s anti-Christian terrorism.

From one write-up by Inés San Martín, who is a consistent voice for persecuted Christians around the world:

On Saturday, June 25, Father Vitus Borogo was murdered in Kaduna State, the same region where two churches were attacked a week earlier. The murderers are believed to be members of the Islamic terrorist organization Boko Haram.

The 50-year-old priest served as the chairman of the Nigerian Catholic Diocesan Priests’ Association. He was murdered at a farm, during what the chancellor of the diocese defined as a “raid by terrorists.”

On Sunday, June 26, Father Christopher Odia was murdered after being kidnapped from the Diocese of Auchi, Edo State, in the southern region of Nigeria. He had been abducted on his way to Sunday Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church Ikabigdo.

He was 41 and ordained a priest in 2012.

According to Open Doors International, an NGO that tracks Christian persecution globally, in much of northern Nigeria, Christians live under the constant threat of attack from Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), Fulani herdsmen, and other criminals who kidnap and murder at will.

While all citizens of northern Nigeria are subject to threats and violence, Christians are often specifically targeted because of their faith — ISWAP and Boko Haram want to eliminate the Christian presence in Nigeria.

On Sunday, Bishop Matthew Kukah, of the diocese of Sokoto, complained that one of his priests and a religious sister who were kidnapped three weeks ago remain missing, and the people who took them are negotiating a ransom for almost half a million dollars.

“We are negotiating with the kidnappers as I’m talking because I don’t know how else to get back my priest,” he said.

Kukah noted that members of his family have been kidnapped and another one of his priests was killed by kidnappers, as was a seminarian.

“Somehow we like to pretend we have a government,” he said. “Of course, we have the apparatus of government, we have the scaffolding, but this scaffolding is important because people can see access to and appropriate resources of the state.”

I recently talked with Stephen Rasche for a National Review Institute/Religious Freedom Institute virtual event. (Steve and I are both fellows at the Religious Freedom Institute.) Steve is basically special ops for religious liberty — an American who has been a chief aid to Archbishop Warda in Erbil in Iraq, helping build a future for people who had to flee ISIS and wound up in Warda’s care — and now is focusing much of his time in Nigeria, where he is a visiting scholar at the Kukah Centre in Abuja. The occasion for our conversation was the Pentecost Sunday massacre at St. Francis Xavier Church in Owo, Nigeria.

Unfortunately, we knew the conversation would remain timely. You can listen/watch here:

And note: He warns at one point that attacks on churches are a calling card for coming persecution. We should not take what’s happening here lightly. And pray for Nigeria.

Fiscal Policy

Amtrak Burns Taxpayer Money Yet Again

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A northbound Amtrak Acela train rolls past commuters at the Wilmington, Del., station in 2002. (Tim Shaffer/Reuters)

Amtrak spent 11 years and $450 million to save Acela riders 100 seconds,” reads a headline from Vice. Amtrak began a project in 2011 to upgrade a 24-mile stretch of the Northeast Corridor in New Jersey to accommodate speeds of 160 miles per hour, instead of the 135 miles per hour it was operating under.

That project was supposed to take six years, which is appalling on its own, but actually was completed this year, five years late. Well, not actually completed, either: The article says only 16 of the 24 miles are ready for faster service. “The other eight miles are expected to be ready in 2024, a mere seven years late on a project expected to take six,” it says.

The math works out to this:

A stretch of track that used to take 10 minutes and 30 seconds to travel will now take about nine minutes. The Acela takes 75 minutes to get from Philadelphia to New York, so this time savings amounts to approximately two percent shorter travel times between those two cities.

Except it won’t actually save time between those two cities, at least for travelers who will transfer to the New York City subway. That’s because Amtrak’s $1.6 billion project to build the Moynihan Train Hall extension to Penn Station leaves passengers farther away from the subway than the old layout, requiring them to walk one or two minutes longer to reach the subway. “In other words, the $1.6 billion Amtrak station project negated the time savings of the $450 million Amtrak high speed rail project,” the article says.

We’re getting schooled by France:

It also took Amtrak longer to do these 16 miles than it takes other countries to build entirely new high speed rail lines stretching hundreds of miles. To pick just one example, in 2011, the same year the New Jersey project was awarded, France began construction on the Sud Europe Atlantique, a 210-mile high speed line with 188 miles of new construction between Tours and Bordeaux and a travel speed of 200 mph. It started running trains in 2017.

But fear not: This government corporation, which has proven time and again that it’s incapable of spending taxpayer money wisely or effectively, was rewarded with $66 billion in the bipartisan infrastructure spending package. As an example of what that funding might be used for, Amtrak is considering adding service between New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., which would take over an hour longer than driving between those two cities, carry 26 passengers per trip according to Amtrak’s own 2015 ridership estimate, and interrupt freight rail at the increasingly important Port of Mobile. Or consider the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel on the Northeast Corridor, which was built in two years in the 1870s, that Amtrak predicts will take twelve years and $2.7 billion to replace. Imagine how long it will take and how much it will cost once the project actually gets going.

If we doused the $66 billion in gasoline and lit it on fire, at least it would look cool for a few minutes.

White House

What Happens If Democrats Start Creating Exceptions to the Filibuster?

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks about abortion rights during a news conference with Democratic senators on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 5, 2022. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

President Biden said in Europe today that Senate Democrats should eliminate the filibuster for abortion legislation, as well as for his preferred election reform legislation: “If the filibuster gets in the way, it’s like voting rights, it should be provided an exception for this…to the filibuster.”

In other words, the minority party in the Senate should be able to block legislation with 41 votes, unless Joe Biden thinks the legislation is really important.

At the risk of echoing Charlie, one of the hallmarks of this era is a stupefying lack of foresight in our political leaders, where they fail to foresee the most likely consequences of their actions. If Senate Democrats vote to change the rules of the chamber, and eliminate the filibuster for one or two of their top priority issues, then when Republicans regain control of the chamber — which could be as soon as January! — the GOP majority will vote to eliminate the filibuster, either on their own priority issues or entirely. After all, why should Republicans keep this provision to help the minority, when Democrats eliminated it to disempower the GOP minority of 50 senators?

This is a repeat of when Harry Reid eliminated the filibuster for lower court nominees… and then a few years later, Democrats were shocked when a Republican majority eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.

If you want a lasting national legislative change in the United States, you need to get some buy-in from the opposition party. If Barack Obama enacts a nuclear deal with Iran, and joins the Paris Accords by executive fiat, then Donald Trump can undo those moves with the stroke of his pen. If Donald Trump approves the Keystone Pipeline and border wall funding through executive order, Joe Biden can repeal those decisions upon taking office. If Congressional Democrats enact an Obamacare on a party-line vote, a GOP Congress and president can repeal it on a party-line vote.

You know what’s not going to get repealed or quickly undone in the coming years? The Right to Try Act, the First Step Act, the infrastructure bill, and the recent gun safety/mental health legislation – because they all had some significant level of support from the opposition party.

Presidents and Congressional majorities change from cycle to cycle; for a long time, America has had a pendulum effect. One party wins a big majority, starts to overreach, triggers a backlash, and the opposition party racks up big gains in the next election. Then once the opposition party has climbed back into control over the White House and Congress, they start to overreach themselves, starting the cycle all over again.

You could argue there’s even a similar effect on the Supreme Court — turnover is slow and not on any set schedule, but it happens – and any decision enacted by one court, like Roe v. Wade, can be reversed by a later court that looks at it again and concludes it is not consistent with the U.S. Constitution. The more you want a change to be lasting, the more you need all branches of government to formally sign off on the change.

For some reason, a surprising number of shortsighted political leaders keep making decisions with the assumption that their side will be in charge of these institutions forever – and that the opposition will never be in a position to reverse those changes.

Inflation
Today in Capital Matters: Inflation and OPEC

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Jon Hartley of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity writes about inflation expectations:

In his most recent Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) press conference, Fed chairman Jerome Powell said the latest jump in the monthly University of Michigan inflation expectations data was “quite eye-catching and we noticed that.” This followed the FOMC’s decision to raise the federal funds rate by 0.75 percent, rather than 0.5 percent, on the heels of the latest CPI inflation data (which showed core inflation prices to be sustainably rising in a month-over-month basis in areas such as housing).

While I’ve warned since early 2021 that inflation could be on the rise following copious amounts of fiscal stimulus in the form of social transfers, the rise in long-term inflation expectations is a new development that should be particularly concerning for those following the New Great Inflation.

Benjamin Zycher of the American Enterprise Institute writes against the “NOPEC” legislation under consideration in Congress:

The “Do Something!” imperative so common in the Beltway as a response to the headlines of the day yields economic or policy improvement only rarely if at all. This cannot be surprising in that this imperative by its very nature does not lend itself to thoughtfulness, even by the standards of federal policy-making. One of the latest manifestations of this is the current effort to enact “NOPEC” legislation — No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act — that would empower the Department of Justice to sue the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries on antitrust grounds, as a purported response to high fuel prices.

On the 73rd episode of the Capital Record, David Bahnsen is joined by Will Swaim of the Radio Free California podcast. Listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Politics & Policy

Joe Biden Wants a Filibuster Carve-Out for the Democratic Party

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Then-representative Kyrsten Sinema poses for a photo in front of the Arizona State Sun Devils student section prior to the game against the Utah Utes at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., November 3, 2018. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Per NBC, Joe Biden wants the Senate to abolish the filibuster so that it can preempt abortion law in all 50 states.

This is a bad idea — for a couple of reasons. First, because there is no such thing as a “carve-out” to the filibuster. Like a turkey, if any part of the filibuster is “carved out,” it will die. Biden and his party keep proposing this idea: a carve-out for voting rights, a carve-out for abortion, a carve out for gun-control . What they mean, of course, is that they want a carve-out for the Democratic Party. But this is never going to happen, because such a system would be unsustainable. If they carve it out, they end it.

Which brings us to the second problem: That whatever Democrats chose to do with their abolished filibuster would be undone — and possibly inverted — by the Republicans within a few years. Tomorrow, the Democrats abolish the filibuster and pass a bill that “codifies” Roe. And in 2025, the GOP repeals it with 50 votes, and maybe even replaces it with a national ban.

When Kyrsten Sinema talks about the value of the filibuster as a means by which to avoid radically see-sawing national policy, this is exactly what she means. Joe Biden ought to listen to her more.

World

NATO: The Move to Forward Defense

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British soldiers, who serve as part of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) deployment to reinforce regional security, in Tapa, Estonia, March 18, 2022. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

The old idea that a relatively thin NATO “tripwire” along parts of the alliance’s eastern flank would be enough to deter Russian aggression was not, in all probability, wrong, but, since the Russian attack on Ukraine, there has been growing unease in the Baltic states that, if the tripwire were to be snapped, the fallback plan — rescue within a few weeks — would be too late to save them from a terrible fate. Places such as Bucha, near Kyiv, were liberated from Russian occupation within a few weeks, but the intervening period saw widespread destruction and mass murder.

Bloomberg (June 22):

“If you compare the size of Ukraine and the Baltic countries, then it would mean a complete destruction of our countries, of our culture,” [Estonian prime minister] Kallas said. “Those of you who have been to Tallinn and know our Old Town and the centuries of history and culture that is here, that would all be wiped off from the map, including our people, our nation.”

Under the circumstances, it is unsurprising that the Baltic trio (as well as other eastern European NATO members) wanted to move from reliance on the tripwire to a policy of more substantial “forward defense.”

This message appears to have gotten through. Thus the U.K., which is the “lead” NATO ally in Estonia, will be increasing its forces in the country, and it is far from being the only NATO member to be sending more troops to eastern Europe.

The Financial Times:

Rose Gottemoeller, former deputy secretary-general of Nato, said the alliance had agreed to a “big renewal of its readiness to fight, if need be”.

“There needs to be a more efficient and effective way of deterring Russia and that means being able and ready to defend territory from the outset.”

Pre-positioning greater combat forces is part of the answer. The US said it would send a further 5,000 troops to Romania and the UK 1,000 to Estonia. But the more significant change, Gottemoeller said, was Nato’s commitment to vastly increase the number of rapidly deployable troops, underpinned by planning processes to ensure that each country’s forces were sent to the right place and assigned the right task.

A planned increase to 300,000 troops trained and prepared to respond to an attack within 30 days represents a return to the alliance’s cold war doctrine, where its military commanders would have detailed plans for defending against attacks on specific territories with specific troops and weapons. A new US army corps headquarters permanently stationed in Poland will support the readiness effort, which is set to be implemented next year after Nato collates enough troop pledges from allies.

The Wall Street Journal:

The U.S., in its plan announced Wednesday, will add to the 100,000 troops it now has in Europe and deploy more military equipment to NATO allies. The additions include rotational deployments to Romania and the Baltic region, and a permanent Army headquarters base and other units in Poland, the White House said. Until now, the U.S. and other allies have only rotated troops in and out of NATO countries once under Soviet domination, not permanently located them there . . .

Russia, predictably enough, was not thrilled by this development.

The WSJ:

In response to the U.S. moves, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Moscow would take “compensatory measures.”

“I think those who propose such decisions are under the illusion that they will be able to intimidate Russia and somehow restrain it. They won’t succeed,” Mr. Ryabkov said Wednesday in comments carried by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

Putin’s reaction to the possibility that Sweden and Finland will join NATO has, for the most part, been relatively low-key. His subordinates are becoming noisier.

The Guardian:

Russian officials . . . reacted angrily to Nato’s offer of membership to Finland and Sweden, calling it a “destabilising” effort that will increase tensions in the region.

“We condemn the irresponsible course of the North Atlantic Alliance that is ruining the European architecture, or what’s left of it,” Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters on Wednesday.

“I have a great deal of doubt as to whether the upcoming period will be calm for our north European neighbours,” he added.

Meanwhile, there are signs that the EU might be stepping in to ease tensions created by the (very partial) Lithuanian “blockade” of Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave. Vilnius is attempting to enforce EU sanctions restricting what can be imported into Russia, but those sanctions didn’t take account of the complications caused by their application to the transfer of goods from Russia to a Russian exclave cut off from the country’s “mainland.”

Reuters:

Trade through Lithuania to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad could return to normal within days, two sources familiar with the matter said, as European officials edge towards a compromise deal with the Baltic state to defuse a row with Moscow.

Kaliningrad, which is bordered by European Union states and relies on railways and roads through Lithuania for most goods, has been cut off from some freight transport from mainland Russia since June 17 under sanctions imposed by Brussels . . .

Science & Tech

Necromantastic!

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Amazon’s DOT Alexa device (Mike Blake/Illustration/Reuters)

In response to Amazon’s Latest Innovation: Necromancy?

Have I just made up a word? For a moment, I hoped so, but no, googling reveals that “necromantastic” has already emerged, blinking into the murky, unsettling fog.

In a recent Corner post, Jack Butler briefly turned his attention from the Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib to worry that an innovation that may be offered to owners of Amazon’s vaguely creepy Alexa (a device much loved, I should add, by members of my family) has hints of necromancy about it. Necromancy!

Jack:

What, then, to make of Amazon’s latest innovation: technology that allows us to bring back the voices of the dead? Via SkyNews:

“Amazon says it wants to “make memories last” and is developing a system to let its assistant mimic any voice after hearing less than a minute of audio.

So your Alexa may soon be able to mimic your departed nan, long-lost friend or, presumably, someone off the TV . . .”

To Jack:

It’s . . . sort of unsettling that Amazon has created, essentially, necromancy — the term for invoking the spirits of the dead through magic. Arthur C. Clarke noted that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Yet something this macabre, even if well-intentioned, can inspire thoughts even more ominous.

Those thoughts relate to the Book of Revelation, one of the Bible’s better reads, I’ve always thought.

Splendid author though he was, Arthur C. Clarke was wrong in this case. Advanced technology is, to anyone who knows its source (or is intelligent enough to hazard a good guess), the reverse of magic. It is a victory over the unknown, rather than a submission to it. We cannot talk to the dead, and, much as I enjoy a good ghost story, the dead cannot talk to us (that said, I am superstitious enough to keep clear of Ouija boards). Such conversations will have to wait until that (extremely) unlikely day when those still alive can be downloaded, ready to live on after their death in bits and bytes as rather superior ghosts in the machine.

However, enabling Alexa to adopt the voice of a departed loved one, or, say, some figure from history — to have “Churchill” tell the time for me is not without its attractions — seems to me to be one of those ideas that will appeal to some, and appall others (who would not, of course, have to use the service).

Sometimes these technological “resurrections” are underwhelming. Not so long ago, I downloaded a photo of my great-great grandfather to create a moving image. The result was . . . odd. On the other hand, a cheery good morning “from” one or other of my late parents might (I’d have to see) be rather nice; not the real thing, or even a recording of the real thing, but pleasantly nostalgic nonetheless, a conjurer up of memories, with in my case, the pleasure enhanced by imagining their reactions — my mother’s “oh really” and my father’s “most remarkable” — to this latest foolishness.

Note that word technological. Anyone offering an even more, uh, complete service with, say, the help of a monkey’s paw should be sent packing.

World

Greenflation Watch: U.K. Edition

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Member of the House of Lords John Gummer (C) leaves following a requiem mass held in honor of Sir David Amess MP at Westminster Cathedral in London, England, November 23, 2021. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) is an “independent” (translation: unaccountable) body charged with helping the U.K. tackle climate change, a fruitless task given the size of the British economy. The U.K. can do what it wants, but it won’t change the global climate. And the idea that the world will be inspired by Britain’s example is laughable, an embarrassing post-colonial delusion.

The CCC is chaired by one Lord Deben (the former John Gummer), a Tory of sorts, distinguished mainly by the mediocrity of his political career, and remembered, if anything, for feeding his four-year-old a hamburger at the height of the Mad Cow panic.

Keen green that he is, Gummer takes gardening seriously, even if his methods can be ruthless as this Guardian report (May 2009) on Britain’s parliamentary expenses scandal reveals (my emphasis added):

The latest tranche of leaks will also embarrass former Tory cabinet minister John Gummer, who reportedly claimed £100 a year on parliamentary expenses to rid his Suffolk estate of moles, and allegedly wrote his own receipts for other maintenance work. The former environment secretary used the parliamentary expenses system to claim more than £9,000 a year for gardening and received hundreds of pounds for costs such as removing jackdaw nests, tackling insect infestations and an annual “rodent service” contract . . .

Leaked letters also suggested that parliamentary officials became concerned that Gummer was not producing receipts to justify his claims, prompting him to forward a number of almost identical statements from gardeners, cleaners and others.

And, of course, the sustainability ecosystem being what it is, Deben is chairman of Sancroft, “an international sustainability consultancy” and winner, no less, of the “best ESG advisory/consultancy at the Private Equity Service Providers 2020 Awards hosted by The Drawdown, one of the leading media companies focused on driving excellence in the private equity sector”.

Anyway, via the Daily Telegraph:

In its 619 page report, the CCC ventures into potentially even more sensitive territory of lifestyle choices. It recommends the Government pay more attention to behavioural changes – nudging people towards greener choices, such as eating less meat and flying less.

I think we know what form that “nudging” will take, particularly when it comes to flying.

And also from the U.K. (again, via the Daily Telegraph) on the same report, this little detail:

Electric cars face being fitted with tracking devices under proposals for a pay-per-mile road taxation system put forward by the Government’s own climate advisers. . . .

On electric cars, the CCC said a “sensible and fair” approach would see the costs covered by drivers, rather than general taxation, arguing that some form of “road pricing” is needed under which drivers are charged for how much they drive.

Just remember that when policy-makers tell voters that EVs will be cheaper to drive, particularly in Europe, where gas taxes are very high.

And now put on your tinfoil hats:

Potential approaches, [the CCC] added, range from “a simple charge per mile driven, which could be levied based on annual odometer checks, to more sophisticated schemes that vary the charge based on the time of day or the location/type of road being used, based on vehicle tracking technologies.”

Somehow, I suspect that the “more sophisticated schemes” will end up being the schemes that, ultimately, are chosen. Frogs, boiling water, and all that.

And, while we are on the subject of the U.K.’s environmental policy, note this extract from a recent editorial in the Critic on Boris Johnson, Britain’s broken prime minister:

No one forced Theresa May to put into law, as one of her last acts in office, the disastrous and delusional Net Zero policies her successor inherited and has championed but who may (or may not) be abandoning before we’re reduced to prostrating ourselves before Moscow the way Germany does.

While this charade dates back, before Mrs May, to the showy green stylings of David Cameron, it was Johnson’s choice to continue with this extremism, and double down on it. No one doubts the prime minister’s ability to wriggle out of declarations of love but, while environmentally infatuated, he has done this country real and unnecessary damage.

And then read the rest of the editorial.

Politics & Policy

Stop Lying about Abortion Laws and Ectopic Pregnancies

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) faces reporters following the weekly Senate Democratic lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 29, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

As I write on the home page, there’s really no excuse for it:

Since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade, there has been a lot of viral misinformation spread on social media that women with ectopic pregnancies and other life-threatening conditions may not be able to be treated in states with laws limiting or banning abortion.

See, for example, this blatantly false and particularly shameful tweet from Daily Beast columnist Wajahat Ali:

 

In fact, no abortion law in any state in America prevents lifesaving treatment for women with ectopic pregnancies and other life-threatening conditions. That was true of abortion laws in 1972, and it’s true of abortion laws in 2022. “All states had at least a life of the mother exception before Roe v. Wade,” Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, told me in an email. See, for example, the language in the Texas abortion statute struck down under Roe v. Wade in 1973 that said nothing in the law applies to an abortion performed “for the purpose of saving the life of the mother.” The other lie in Ali’s tweet is the idea that women undergoing abortions will be prosecuted. As Forsythe wrote in 2006, states prosecuted abortionists, not women, under pre-Roe laws.

Every state abortion law triggered by the overturning of Roe includes an exception at least to save the life of the mother, but that didn’t stop Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer from falsely claiming at a May 10 press conference (emphasis added): “If the MAGA Republicans get their way, pregnant women could lose their lives because there will be no exception for the life of a mother if there’s a dangerous complication in the pregnancy.”

The fearmongering about ectopic pregnancies is especially dishonest. Ectopic pregnancies, which account for one to two out of every 100 pregnancies, are pregnancies in which the embryo implants outside the uterus, and necessary lifesaving treatment for the mother results in the death of the embryo.

Many state laws, including the law in Texas, explicitly exclude treatment for ectopic pregnancies from the definition of abortion. On this matter, Planned Parenthood and anti-abortion Republican doctors agree.

Planned Parenthood’s official website states that treatment for ectopic pregnancies “isn’t the same thing as getting an abortion”:

Treating an ectopic pregnancy isn’t the same thing as getting an abortion. Abortion is a medical procedure that when done safely, ends a pregnancy that’s in your uterus. Ectopic pregnancies are unsafely outside of your uterus (usually in the fallopian tubes), and are removed with a medicine called methotrexate or through a laparoscopic surgical procedure. The medical procedures for abortions are not the same as the medical procedures for an ectopic pregnancy.

“I personally have treated hundreds of women with ectopic pregnancies,” pro-life Republican senator Roger Marshall, an obstetrician from Kansas, said in a Senate floor speech last month. Marshall noted that the “Catholic Church supports the treatment of ectopic pregnancies.”

PC Culture

Cornell University Removes Bust of Abraham Lincoln, Citing a ‘Complaint’

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Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

The Cornell University library has removed a bust of Abraham Lincoln and a plaque of the Gettysburg Address, which had sat in its Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections since 2018. The details surrounding the removal are murky, but a biology professor told the College Fix that the display was taken down following “a complaint.” It’s not the first time Lincoln’s name has been scrubbed from an institution in the fervor of post-2020 iconoclasm. I’m reminded of this passage from Russell Kirk’s “Ten Conservative Principles”:

It is old custom that enables people to live together peaceably; the destroyers of custom demolish more than they know or desire. It is through convention—a word much abused in our time—that we contrive to avoid perpetual disputes about rights and duties: law at base is a body of conventions. Continuity is the means of linking generation to generation; it matters as much for society as it does for the individual; without it, life is meaningless. When successful revolutionaries have effaced old customs, derided old conventions, and broken the continuity of social institutions—why, presently they discover the necessity of establishing fresh customs, conventions, and continuity; but that process is painful and slow; and the new social order that eventually emerges may be much inferior to the old order that radicals overthrew in their zeal for the Earthly Paradise.

Politics & Policy

Lawmaker Slams ‘Astonishingly Weak’ Response to Chinese Firms’ Support of Russian Military

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Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) speaks during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., March 10, 2021. (Ting Shen/Pool via Reuters)

Representative Michael McCaul (R., Texas) hit the Biden administration for failing to respond forcefully to five Chinese firms’ evasion of sanctions targeting Russia’s war effort. His criticism follows the Commerce Department’s announcement yesterday that the firms are supplying Russia’s military–industrial base.

Commerce placed the five companies, which sell electronic components, on the entity list, meaning that U.S. firms are prohibited from exporting to them. McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, ripped into the administration for declining to go further than that.

“Deputy Secretary Sherman promised ‘consequences’ if the CCP provided ‘material support’ to Russia, but the administration’s feeble concept of ‘consequences’ will do little to deter the CCP’s ongoing support for Putin’s war crimes,” he said, citing Sherman’s comments during a hearing in April.

In his statement today, McCaul said the administration should have imposed financial sanctions to block those companies from doing any international business.

“Providing ‘continued support of Russia’s military efforts’ should result in significant sanctions on those offending companies,” said McCaul, adding that the administration’s response, “is astonishingly weak, and could further the threat Russia poses to Ukrainian civilians and soldiers.”

Although the Commerce Department said the designated firms are supplying Russian “entities of concern,” it did not make a determination as to whether the Chinese government is facilitating their sanctions-evasion activity. Last month, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the U.S. has not identified “systematic” Chinese efforts to blow through the West’s sanctions and export controls targeting the Russian defense industry.

World

Bringing the British Abortion Debate to Life

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While discussing Dobbs, Tory MP Danny Kruger expressed the basic pro-life position in the British House of Commons. He said: “[Other MPs] think that women have an absolute right of bodily autonomy in this matter, whereas I think in the case of abortion that right is qualified by the fact that another body is involved.” This position is virtually unexpressed in British politics, as you can tell from the other MPs’ reactions. However, as Kruger points out — it ought to be. Whichever side of the issue one comes down on, abortion is a serious moral question deserving of equally serious debate.

Politics & Policy

High Noon and the Fall of Roe

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I joined my colleague at the Independent Women’s Forum, Emily Jashinsky, on the podcast of our other colleague, Inez Stepman, to discuss the Dobbs decision and the fall of Roe v. Wade. You can watch, listen, or read our conversation here.

Politics & Policy

Will the End of Roe Lead to a National Realignment?

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People hold signs as they stand in front of the U.S. consulate during a protest after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Dobbs v Women’s Health Organization abortion case, overturning the landmark Roe v Wade abortion decision, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada June 29, 2022. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Forty-nine years ago, seven activist justices on the Supreme Court concocted a constitutional right to abortion out of whole cloth. What had been a state issue in America since the country’s founding was thrust into the national spotlight when the Supreme Court created a constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973. With the Roe ruling, states as culturally different as Alabama and California were both unable to ban abortions until the unborn child reached what was deemed to be viability in the third trimester. Grassroots pro-life activists immediately mobilized to shift public opinion on abortion and waited for the day they could get Roe overturned. Finally, that day came last Friday. Different states can now decide their own laws regarding abortion. Some will choose to protect unborn human lives while others will legalize abortion up until the moment of birth. The overturning of Roe v. Wade relegates the issue of abortion to the state level, likely for good. Neither party currently has the votes to codify Roe v. Wade on the national level or implement a national ban on abortion. And the Republicans do not currently have the votes to begin the process of amending the Constitution to protect the unborn.

Of late, there has been a pervasive feeling that our country is coming apart at the seams. The culture wars are raging, unencumbered. Americans of each party increasingly see their counterparts as immoral and close-minded, and majorities of both parties believe their political opponents do not share the same values and goals as they do outside of politics. In a country of 330 million people, there are unsurprisingly vast political, cultural, and moral differences among Americans. This is why relegating the abortion issue to the states is so important.

Google searches for “How to move to Canada from the U.S.” are surging, nearing the rates seen after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016. However, pro-abortion Americans might make the simpler choice of moving from a state with protective abortion laws to one where the governor has publicly committed to making the state an “abortion sanctuary.” It is possible that the overturning of Roe v. Wade could bring about waves of migration within and possibly from the U.S. Americans may move to states with like-minded people and leaders who share their values. This is not necessarily bad. It is the natural consequence of an increasingly polarized nation, and it may be the only solution that will keep Americans coexisting peacefully in the same country. 

Science & Tech

Amazon’s Latest Innovation: Necromancy?

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(Pascal Rossignol/Reuters)

Most tweets are ephemeral, but few have stuck with me like this one:

The joke here is that many of the innovations sought after by tech gurus are “inspired” by concepts that appear as disturbing portents of possible futures. The “metaverse,” an attempt to force more of human life away from the physical world, is an example; the name and idea come from Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash.

What, then, to make of Amazon’s latest innovation: technology that allows us to bring back the voices of the dead? Via SkyNews:

Amazon says it wants to “make memories last” and is developing a system to let its assistant mimic any voice after hearing less than a minute of audio.

So your Alexa may soon be able to mimic your departed nan, long-lost friend or, presumably, someone off the TV.

The goal is to “make the memories last” after “so many of us have lost someone we love” during the pandemic, said Rohit Prasad, an Amazon senior vice president. . . .

At a conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday, a video segment portrayed a child who asked, “Alexa, can grandma finish reading me the Wizard of Oz?”

A moment later, Alexa affirmed the command and changed her voice.

In this, too, there is a sci-fi precedent of recent vintage: The episode “Be Right Back” of the sci-fi series Black Mirror turns on a woman who uses digital and android technology to revive her deceased husband. (Complications ensue.)

We’re not quite there yet. But it’s still sort of unsettling that Amazon has created, essentially, necromancy — the term for invoking the spirits of the dead through magic. Arthur C. Clarke noted that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Yet something this macabre, even if well-intentioned, can inspire thoughts even more ominous.

National Security & Defense

Latest Iran Discussions Conclude, Deadlocked

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Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting via video conference in Tehran, Iran, February 17, 2022. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via Reuters)

The latest negotiations between the U.S. and Iran ended in a deadlock, U.S. officials told Axios this afternoon.

Negotiators from the U.S. and Iran traveled to Doha, Qatar, this week to hold indirect discussions on a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear accord. According to Axios’s Barak Ravid, however, the two sides failed to make any progress.

“The Iranians have not demonstrated any sense of urgency, raised old issues that have been settled for months, and even raised new issues that are unrelated to the 2015 nuclear agreement,” a senior U.S. official told Ravid.

The talks had for months been held up by Iran’s insistence that the U.S. remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its list of foreign terrorist organizations. The IRGC’s FTO designation prohibits its members from entering the U.S., freezes IRGC assets, and allows the families of terror-attack victims to sue for damages in court.

It’s unclear what settled and unrelated issues the Iranian side brought up during the discussions. Iran was reported to have abandoned its demand on the FTO designation in favor of a narrower ask: that the U.S. lift its sanctions on the IRGC’s industrial-engineering arm.

Despite the apparently fruitless nature of the talks, the very fact that each side remains willing to continue the negotiations is significant. The Biden administration, searching for a foreign-policy victory, has given no indication that it intends to abandon the dialogue for a different approach to countering Iran’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, the Iranians have held firm on their intent to orchestrate the assassinations of top U.S. government officials.

Politics & Policy

Thirty Things That Caught My Eye after Roe: Walking with Moms, Biden, Adoption & More

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Pro-life demonstrators celebrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court rules in the Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization abortion case overturning Roe v. Wade in Washington, D.C., June 24, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

I’ll be part of a virtual conversation with Wisconsin Right to Life (co-sponsored by the National Review Institute) tomorrow (Thursday) at 3:30 New York/D.C. time. RSVP here.

Watch my in-person conversation (hosted by the Heritage Foundation, co-sponsored with the Ethics and Public Policy Institute and NRI) with Ryan T. Anderson and Alexandra DeSanctis on their new book Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing, at your convenience virtually:

If you are anything like me, you are in catch-up mode on many fronts since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court on Friday. Here are some things worth sharing:

1. Carter Snead & Mary Ann Glendon, “The pro-life movement’s work is just beginning“:

Abortion is a gruesome symptom of our collective failure to take care of one another. This means that, alongside our efforts to protect the unborn, we must act decisively to address the wide range of issues — from poverty to lack of support from fathers — that lead women to choose abortion in the first place.

This will require action in both the public and private spheres. Of course, pro-life nonprofits have been caring for women, babies and families since before Roe was decided. But Dobbs has given new leverage to pro-life voters whom the Republican Party can no longer take for granted. These voters should use their newfound clout to demand public commitments to supporting pregnant women and their children. Republicans who fail to meet these commitments should be disciplined at the ballot box — especially since, with the balance of the Supreme Court no longer a deciding issue, pro-life voters may now be attracted to moderate Democratic politicians who are serious about expanding the social safety net and do not seek to promote abortion.

One upside of Dobbs is that it makes possible broad coalitions of people of goodwill who, despite their disagreement on the fundamental question of abortion, agree that we must all work to provide for the needs of mothers, children and families in crisis. But building these coalitions will require conservatives and liberals alike to let go of any preconceived political dogmas regarding the role and size of government and focus on what works. The right answer might very well require new government programs and increased spending, greater support for and delegation to nonprofit care providers, or some combination of these approaches.

Note this especially:

Moreover, there are an estimated 2 million American couples waiting to adopt children and only 18,000 babies born in the United States voluntarily placed for adoption per year. There is also a strong desire to welcome babies into adoptive families from foster care, should efforts at reunification with biological parents prove impossible. In a post-Roe world, we must find ways to make it easier for women who cannot or do not wish to parent to make the courageous choice to place their sons and daughters with loving adoptive families.

We can expand on public-private partnerships such as the Alternatives to Abortion programs across many states, which allocate funding to nonprofit service providers that, in turn, supply direct services to women and families. In 2021, Texas’s program helped more than 126,000 people secure counseling, parenting support, financial assistance, health care, food benefits and housing; the state allocated $100 million to this program last year. We should also support promising efforts in the nonprofit space, such as Her Plan, which aggregates information and facilitates access to a variety of services for women in crisis, and our new “Women and Children First” research and service initiative at the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame.

2. Helen Alvaré, “Dobbs decision shows US can be both powerful and humane“:

It is a win for human life not because Dobbs promises constitutional protection for unborn human beings, but because for the first time in 49 years, citizens have the chance to argue effectively to protect that life and to try to convince a majority of their fellow Americans. Since Roe, no such argument has been permitted a chance of winning.

It is a win for women, who have increasingly been pressured to live as if their natural ability to bear children, and their desire to rear them, are disabilities. A disability affecting their potential for education. A disability impairing their economic and employment opportunities. A disability respecting their entire social equality. No. American society — including our economy — should now be required to face the fact that women get pregnant and need help and support then and throughout their parenting. It is a scandal that so many American institutions, especially corporations, act as if all women should model the “ideal male worker” and come to the public-square free of child care responsibilities.

3. Gerard V. Bradley, “What Comes After Roe“:

A coherent reading of the entire opinion, however, brings a different picture into focus. This view portends future judicial protection of the unborn under the Constitution. Dobbs may not explicitly endorse fetal personhoodbut Dobbs does put building blocks in place for future litigation to deliver to unborn human beings all, or almost all, of the protection that they deserve as “persons” under the Equal Protection Clause. This will require another slog through the courts.

The place to begin describing these building blocks is in the opinion’s affirmation that access to lawful abortion is a singular constitutional question for which there is no fit precedent because, and only because, it kills an unborn human being.

What sharply distinguishes the abortion right from the rights recognized in the cases on which Roe and Casey rely is something that both those decisions acknowledged: Abortion destroys what those decisions call “potential life” and what the law at issue in this case regards as the life of an “unborn human being.” . . . None of the other decisions cited by [those two cases] involved the critical moral question posed by abortion. They are therefore inapposite.

No wonder, then, that Dobbs affirms that “respect for and preservation of prenatal life at all stages of development” is a legitimate state interest. If abortion is not lethal to a human being, the whole case that Dobbs makes collapses. . . .

Dobbs, then, is a decisive turning point on the road to securing an equal right to life for every human being, in the womb and out of it. It is the end of the beginning of the greatest civil rights struggle of our time.

4. Archbishops José Gomez & William E. Lori:

Our first thoughts are with the little ones whose lives have been taken since 1973. We mourn their loss, and we entrust their souls to God, who loved them from before all ages and who will love them for all eternity. Our hearts are also with every woman and man who has suffered grievously from abortion; we pray for their healing, and we pledge our continued compassion and support. As a Church, we need to serve those who face difficult pregnancies and surround them with love.

Today’s decision is also the fruit of the prayers, sacrifices, and advocacy of countless ordinary Americans from every walk of life. Over these long years, millions of our fellow citizens have worked together peacefully to educate and persuade their neighbors about the injustice of abortion, to offer care and counseling to women, and to work for alternatives to abortion, including adoption, foster care, and public policies that truly support families. We share their joy today and we are grateful to them. Their work for the cause of life reflects all that is good in our democracy, and the pro-life movement deserves to be numbered among the great movements for social change and civil rights in our nation’s history.

Now is the time to begin the work of building a post-Roe America. It is a time for healing wounds and repairing social divisions; it is a time for reasoned reflection and civil dialogue, and for coming together to build a society and economy that supports marriages and families, and where every woman has the support and resources she needs to bring her child into this world in love.

As religious leaders, we pledge ourselves to continue our service to God’s great plan of love for the human person, and to work with our fellow citizens to fulfill America’s promise to guarantee the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people.”

5. From The Pillar, “After Dobbs: Abortion in America by the numbers“:

All together, the estimates made both by abortion supporters and opponents suggesting that overturning Roe may only reduce abortions by 10%-12% seem fairly accurate.

6. Sherif Girgis, “Dobbs’s history and the future of abortion and privacy law“:

Dobbs’s resulting breadth will be celebrated and deplored. The sometimes overwhelming burdens facing women in difficult pregnancies will now become more visible. Those who believe it unjust to take unborn life to relieve those burdens must redouble existing efforts to lighten them in other ways. But the basis of their moral belief, too, will now have a rare, frankly unsettling visibility: A year from now, there will be infants going from milk to soft foods because Dobbs triggered laws and shuttered clinics on Friday and not Monday. Now gestating, they’ll learn to walk, catch fireflies, fall in love, comb gray hair, because of appointments canceled last Friday. Not just by good fortune but — for the first time in generations — by legal right.

7.

 

8. Doctors don’t know what life is — American Medical Association says limiting abortion is ‘violation of human rights’:

9.

Continue reading “Thirty Things That Caught My Eye after Roe: Walking with Moms, Biden, Adoption & More”

Politics & Policy

A Closer Look at the ‘Hearsay’ Claims Surrounding Hutchinson’s Trump Testimony

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Cassidy Hutchinson, who was an aide to former President Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testifies during a public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 28, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

It seems to me that the Secret Service and the commentariat are misfiring in their claimed contradictions of Cassidy Hutchinson. If there is a proper target of criticism (and that’s not clear at this point), it is the House January 6 committee, not the witness.

In the course of her riveting testimony Tuesday (which I described in a column posted last night), Hutchinson described minor physical skirmishes between President Trump and two agents from his Secret Service security detail. These were said to have occurred in the car as Trump was driven away from the Ellipse after his fiery January 6 speech. (When I say “minor,” I mean no one is said to have applied force strong enough to cause serious harm, not that a physical altercation between a president and a federal agent would be a minor matter.)

Furious that the agents refused to take him to the Capitol (because doing so would have been too dangerous, for a lot of reasons), Trump was said to have lunged from the back seat to grab the steering wheel. The head of his detail, Agent Robert Engel, allegedly put his hand on the president’s arm to get him to stop, whereupon Trump is said to have swung his free hand at Engel’s clavicle area, after which things calmed down.

Secret Service sources, and unidentified media sources said to be informed of its version of events, are signaling that the agency will dispute the version of events given by Hutchinson. Perhaps Secret Service will deny that any physical altercations occurred. It is not clear yet whether anyone has denied it under oath. It has been reported that Agent Engel has been deposed by the committee, but no video or transcript has been released, so we have no idea what he said, or even whether he was asked about what happened in the car.

Here is the salient point: Hutchinson never claimed to have seen any of this. She was neither in the car nor in a position to have viewed it from the outside. She was very clear that she was told this version of events, and that she was simply relating what she was told. If it turns out that Secret Service witnesses, in particular Engel and the unidentified driver, testify that it did not happen the way Hutchinson described it, that would not contradict her. Nor would it necessarily mean she was not told what she says she was told.

Now, about that. Some commentators are dismissing her description of what happened in the car as hearsay. That is part irrelevant and part inaccurate.

To begin with, the federal rules of evidence do not apply to congressional proceedings. They also never apply to investigations, which is what the committee says it is conducting. The point of an investigation is to search for reliable, admissible evidence. For that, hearsay is not only allowed but encouraged — it’s often how we find out who has a probative, firsthand account.

Furthermore, I am not even sure Hutchinson’s testimony in this regard would be inadmissible as hearsay if the rules of evidence did apply.

As I related in the column, Hutchinson said she was informed about what (allegedly) happened in the car only minutes later by Tony Ornato, who ran security at the White House. Ornato was not speaking idly. He was reporting what happened to a top aide (Hutchinson) of the White House chief of staff (Mark Meadows), Ornato’s superior. Most significantly, if Hutchinson’s version of events is correct, Engel was with Ornato as he described what happened.

If Engel was present, engaged, and listening to what Ornato said, and the circumstances were such that, if Ornato got details wrong, Engel would naturally be expected to correct him, then Ornato’s words were by implication Engel’s words, as if he had spoken them himself. It would not be simply a matter of someone telling Hutchinson what that person saw Trump do; it would essentially be Engel telling Hutchinson what Engel did with Trump.

In any event, obvious questions arise out of this, none of which necessarily cast doubt on Hutchinson’s testimony — which, again, is that she was told these things happened; she’s not in a position to say that they did happen.

  1. Do Ornato and Engel acknowledge that they met with Hutchinson as she said they did?
  2. Did Ornato provide the version of events that Hutchinson described?
  3. Was this a version of events that Ornato got from Engel?
  4. Was Engel paying attention when Ornato described what happened to Hutchinson?
  5. Did Ornato accurately recount what Engel had told him moments earlier?
  6. If Ornato did not accurately recount what happened, did Engel object or try to clarify? And if not, why not?
  7. Did anyone take notes, either contemporaneously or afterward?

There are other salient questions, but they are better directed to the committee. For example, given that, with great fanfare but with no cross-examination, it has presented wide-ranging testimony from Hutchinson, will the committee now publicly release the deposition testimony of Engel — at the very least, any relevant portions related to what happened in the car and how it was reported to the White House staff?

Was Engel asked about what happened in the car? If not, why not? If so, was Engel’s testimony consistent with Hutchinson’s? If not, why didn’t the committee confront Hutchinson with Engel’s different version of events? And if the committee has access to testimony from federal agents who can give first-hand testimony about what happened in the car, then why elicit the testimony from Hutchinson, who wasn’t there?

Also, has Ornato been interviewed? Is his testimony consistent with Hutchinson’s?

To be clear, I am not accusing anyone of wrongdoing. In my experience, when various witnesses who have little or no motive to lie provide different versions of events, there are usually innocent, rational explanations for this — they had different perspectives on the relevant events, what was important to one may not have been to others, the memories of some may be better than others, and so on. Moreover, if vice chairwoman Liz Cheney and other committee members believed Hutchinson was giving truthful, accurate testimony, and they were unaware — even after speaking to Engel (and perhaps Arnato) — of other information that contradicted Hutchinson, it is understandable that they would present Hutchinson’s testimony the way they did.

We shouldn’t leap to the conclusion that anyone is lying. But we should be provided with all of the relevant testimony. And, contrary to the committee’s practice, there should be probing cross-examination so we can get to the bottom of any discrepancies.

Film & TV

Does Anyone Enjoy the Partisan Sales Pitches on Late Night TV?

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (via YouTube)

It’s not new that Stephen Colbert has a lot of Democratic politicians as guests on his late-night talk and comedy program. But it’s easy to miss just how frequently Colbert’s set features someone who’s in office, running for office, or otherwise best known for being in the world of politics, as opposed to television.

On Thursday, Colbert hosted Beto O’Rourke, who’s running for governor of Texas. On Friday, Colbert aired a rerun featuring Senator Raphael Warnock, who’s running for reelection in Georgia. Last night, Colbert hosted Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.). Tonight, he hosts Representative Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.). Friday, Colbert will welcome author Ibram X. Kendi.

Colbert still has actors, comedians, and other entertainment figures like Bryan Cranston, Karl Urban, and Heidi Klum as guests, but clearly anti-GOP politics, and softball interviews with Democratic officials and candidates, are a big part of the Colbert brand and the show’s identity.

It’s a free country, and Colbert and his staff are free to book the guests they like. But if you want to get a sense of why so much of 2022-era American culture feels angry, bitter, contemptuous, and in your face, maybe a factor is that late-night talk television — once the realm of less overtly partisan hosts like Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and Jay Leno — has effectively become indistinguishable from a DNC meeting.

There are a lot of reasons why Johnny Carson was averaging 6.5 million viewers when he retired, and why Colbert is averaging a bit less than 3 million these days. It’s a different media world, with a lot more competition from cable, streaming services, on-demand programming, DVRs, and the Internet. Network television plays a much less central role in popular culture than it did a generation ago. But there are also about 73 million more Americans now than there were when Carson retired; on paper, Colbert has a considerably bigger potential audience for what he’s offering.

It’s 11:30 p.m., your local news has finished telling you about your local crime and traffic accidents, tomorrow’s weather report, and the travails of the local sports team. You’re probably going to be in bed soon.

Are there people who get excited at that hour and say, “Honey, look! New Jersey senator Cory Booker is on tonight, and he’s going to talk about gun-control legislation!”

How many Americans hunger for yet another monologue with predictable jokes about how dumb Trump is, or how malevolent Mitch McConnell is, or one more friendly series of softballs with a Democratic official running for reelection? How many Democrats really hunger for more entertainment like that? Even if they do hunger for it, how different is what Colbert is offering from what Jimmy Kimmel does, or Samantha Bee, or Seth Meyers, or Trevor Noah, or . . .

Does Colbert even enjoy it anymore? How many times can you ask, “So, what is wrong with your Republican colleagues down there in Washington?” How excited is the studio audience to learn they get to sit through another recitation of canned talking points about how terrible it is that Republicans won’t get on board with the latest Democratic priority? How many times can you hear Nancy Pelosi say, “And that’s why we need all of our supporters to come out and vote this November!”

Maybe you can argue that certain political figures are charismatic or genuinely interesting — I think that’s often really debatable — but they’re certainly less glamorous or fun than most movie stars, pop stars, and other celebrities.

Were those Carson or Leno-era monologues safe and bland by today’s standards? Sure, but they effectively welcomed Americans of all political stripes.

For example, here’s Jay Leno, after the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas: “I thought was the strangest thing about watching the hearings, I think it’s the first time Americans have seen that many senators sitting at that long a table without a bartender on the other end. . . . The White House said that the testimony on TV at one point was so graphic that President Bush had to send Dan Quayle out of the room!”

Nope, it’s not edgy, and it’s not brilliant, thought-provoking humor. But does it need to be? There was something safe and reassuring about the gentle jabs of that era; the hosts certainly didn’t denounce roughly half the potential audience who may have voted for a Republican. Carson’s and Leno’s politics often amounted to “can you believe these idiots we have running our government?” Letterman grew more political as the years went by, but he built his reputation on silly, goofy segments like wearing a Velcro suit or dropping bowling balls off a five-story building onto a waterbed. (You’re going to click on those links, aren’t you? There’s some small part of your brain that is saying, “okay, I have to see what that looks like.”)

Carson and Leno and Letterman may not have thought well of conservatives or Republicans, but they didn’t think their job was to tell their audience which party to support. They just wanted viewers to have a good time, and most nights they delivered exactly what they promised.

When Colbert sits down for yet another interview with Adam Schiff (June 8) or Secretary of State Antony Blinken (May 18) or the prime minister of New Zealand (May 24) . . . is anybody having any fun?

World

Biden Launches Global ‘Build Back Better’ Reboot

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President Joe Biden attends a working lunch with other G7 leaders to discuss shaping the global economy at the Yoga Pavilion, Schloss Elmau in Kuren, Germany, June 26, 2022. (Kenny Holston/Pool via Reuters)

President Biden marked the relaunch of the massive international infrastructure partnership that was initially dubbed “Build Back Better World” at the G-7 Summit this weekend.

But an office to coordinate the initiative, which is supposed to mobilize hundreds of billions of dollars from developed countries over the next several years, has been placed on hold by congressional Republicans. They are concerned that what the administration sold as an initiative to counter Chinese influence is in reality a vaguely defined effort to direct U.S. government funds toward projects ranging from solar panels to gender-equity initiatives.

This weekend, the president and the White House provided more details about what this program, which is now called the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII), will entail. The new info is unlikely to assuage GOP worries that PGII merely replicates what other agencies already do and that it exhibits a remarkable lack of focus on the competition with China.

During his remarks at the G-7 Summit in Germany on Sunday, Biden explained two key benchmarks: that the U.S. would mobilize $200 billion in public and private investment through 2027, and that the G-7 would do so collectively in the same time frame.

After the initial launch of the initiative with the Build Back Better branding last summer, the administration got to work on signing agreements for various projects.

Those initial projects, the president said, have included a vaccine-manufacturing site in Senegal (in tandem with the G-7 and the World Bank), an effort to direct $335 million in private funds for investment in “secure network technology” across the developing world, a U.S.-supported bid by a private company to build a $600 million undersea communications cable connecting Southeast Asia with Europe, a proposed U.S. investment of $50 million to the World Bank’s child-care program, a $2 billion private investment in solar panels in Angola, and a U.S. firm’s construction of a nuclear plant in Romania.

In addition to the flagship projects Biden cited, the White House said that government agencies have inked agreements for dozens of other programs over the past year.

The PGII launch is likely to reinforce conservative criticism of the initiative, considering the president made no mention of China’s efforts to extend its influence through its own infrastructure projects. The new details are also likely to raise additional questions as to why the administration needs a new coordinating office in the State Department to replicate the work that the National Security Council has apparently already performed this past year.

The Development Finance Corporation’s role in certain PGII projects might also be a target of criticism. Launched during the Trump administration as a critical tool of U.S. economic statecraft, with which Washington began its work to counter Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative and to shore up the negotiations that ultimately yielded the Abraham Accords, the DFC has taken a different turn in recent months.

Pointing to its apparent focus on promoting projects on climate resiliency and gender equity, Senator Marco Rubio, in a letter last month, accused its leadership of channeling U.S. government funds “towards projects that satisfy only a narrow subsection of the progressive elite.” Worse, Senator Jim Risch warned last November that the DFC had funded projects with Chinese solar panels — meaning that the U.S. government might be funding projects made possible by forced labor in China.

Previewing the launch of PGII earlier this month, national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said that it would be a legacy-defining initiative for the president. But from the awkward rebrand to its apparent lack of focus, there’s currently good reason to question the extent to which it will even get off the ground.

Politics & Policy

What If Pro-Lifers Actually Just Believe What They’re Saying?

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Pro-life activists celebrate outside the Supreme Court as the court rules in Dobbs v Women’s Health Organization overturning Roe v Wade in Washington, D.C., June 24, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Earlier this week, the Danish political-science professor Michael Bang Petersen shared a study he did in 2018, ostensibly demonstrating “that support for bans on abortion are about controlling female sexuality” — “attempts,” Petersen tweeted, “to impose conservatives’ own sexual preferences . . . on the rest of society”:

Progressives consistently go to great lengths to avoid engaging on the fundamental question at the root of the abortion debate — i.e., whether or not unborn children are entitled to basic rights that enjoy the protection of the law. But this is one of the more absurd recent examples, not least because it’s shrouded in the language of impartial political science. It’s an instructive illustration of how so much of what passes for social science today is really just sophisticated confirmation bias — skirting serious political questions while amassing piles of data to conceal ideological assumptions. It is the “rationalist” conviction that, as the British political philosopher Michael Oakeshott put it, formulas and empirical studies “can take the place of moral and political education.”

Petersen begins with the premise that pro-life sentiments must be the result of suppressed sexual insecurities — that “sexual freedoms,” as he argues, “constitute a threat to people who invest heavily in long-term committed relationships, as it implies that their partner may leave them.” It’s the kind of conclusion that one could reach only via a studied unwillingness to actually engage with the moral and philosophical issues that underpin debates over abortion. Completely absent from this analysis — perhaps because the idea is incomprehensible to researchers like Petersen — is the possibility that support for abortion bans is driven by a genuine belief that unborn babies are human beings, with the same basic rights as anyone else. 

World

Secret Talks Signal New Cooperation in the Middle East

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An Israeli F-15 fighter takes off during exercise Juniper Falcon held between crews from the U.S and Israeli air forces at Ovda Military Airbase in southern Israel in 2017. (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

A recent Wall Street Journal article revealed that the United States coordinated a secret meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, with Israeli and Arab military chiefs to counter the Iranian threat. The meeting included top military chiefs from the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt. That the talks were possible — after the long history of hostility between Israel and its Arab neighbors in the region — is in part attributable to President Trump’s Middle East foreign policy, especially the Abraham Accords, which improved Arab–Israeli relations, and the decision to expand Central Command’s area of coverage to include Israel.

Another factor driving this cooperation, as the WSJ explains, is the Arab nations’ interest in Israeli air-defense technology “at a time when the U.S. is shifting its military priorities toward countering China and Russia.”

This latest development in improved Israeli–Arab cooperation is another sign of a new Middle East coalition against an antagonistic Iran that will be essential to maintaining stability in the region. The coalition has strengthened alliances within the Middle East and between the United States and countries in the region. In the past, the United States was forced to balance the interests of Arab nations against the interests of Israel, as relations with each had important geopolitical and economic implications for America. In this new landscape of greater Middle East cooperation, the United States has the opportunity to further develop strong, and previously unexpected, regional alliances.

Film & TV

The Unforced Delight of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

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(A24/Screenshot via Youtube)

A24’s Marcel the Shell with Shoes on is as strange as its title suggests, and a unique and refreshing take on life’s simple pleasures. In a world of increasingly exaggerated, flashy, and fantastical films, writer/director/actor Dean Fleischer-Camp relies solely on the cute voice of the anthropomorphic marine mollusk and some gorgeous, if confined, cinematography. The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival last September and was released in the United States last week. It has received universal acclaim from critics, with a 100 percent (you read that correctly) Tomatometer score.

It’s easy to see why. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is not the hero’s first rodeo, but it is his greatest, with an even bigger narrative scale and emotional scope than before. The gregarious, one-inch tall, one-eyed seashell was first introduced to the world via YouTube. This mockumentary-style feature film broadens the miniature mollusk’s origins, giving us a life-affirming, charming, and sweet-natured journey.

Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) lives in a quiet suburban home used as an Airbnb, where he encounters minimal human interference. He meets the world with a childlike curiosity, a thirst for knowledge, and an out-of-the-box imagination. Marcel’s days are spent bouncing around the house in a tennis ball used to traverse the sprawling space. His bed is a slice of bread, and he has a pet lint ball named Alan. He has also orchestrated a network of ropes and pulleys to reach high places, view the outside world, and venture into the garden where his grandmother, Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini), often works in tandem with the various insects present in the foliage. There used to be more mollusks that resided in this humble abode until a mysterious exodus occurred, leaving Marcel and Connie stranded.

Our peppy protagonist’s world changes once amateur documentarian Dean visits the home after a breakup, hoping to throw himself into his work. The fledgling filmmaker is rarely seen and is mainly heard when he and his subject comedically banter while filming. Dean finds an enterprising, silly spirit to showcase in short films he uploads to YouTube. After a few uploads, Marcel becomes a viral sensation. But underneath the temporary internet fame, Dean uncovers Marcel’s worries about his Nana’s frail, forgetful state and his yearning to rescue and rediscover his community before it leaves him all alone. With the urgency to fuel their quest, the pair set out to look for what is missing.

Sentiment is a prized commodity for a picture such as this, where laughter and poignancy frequently co-mingle. Camp, Slate, and co-screenwriter Nick Paley are able to layer in tenderness along with highly comedic scenarios and dialogue minus any sense of desperate, cloying, or treacly twee — a true feat for a film that runs high on sweetness and charm. The long-running gag involving Marcel ribbing Dean’s dog, who loves to encroach on Marcel’s turf, is hilarious, as are many of the follies he encounters at home and on the road. Plus, it is incredibly moving to see his tenacity, risk-taking, and courage. Marcel conveys both sadness and happiness, making the third act feel well-earned without becoming overly sentimental.

Through the prism of this small shell’s tribulations, creators Camp and Slate rather vulnerably open themselves up to examining their own marital fissure. It is embraced with brave, raw honesty. They thread the needle expertly through Marcel and Dean’s enlightened discussions about Dean’s recent romantic split and how that subtly parallels Marcel’s quest not to fear the future.

In addition to its well-conceived, properly paced narrative, the aesthetic, auditory, and animated aspects bring this universe to life. The cinematography is poetically evocative, while the delicate undertones of composer Disasterpeace’s score, along with some carefully curated soundtrack selections, complement narrative ebbs and flows.

Ultimately, Marcel’s clever creators reward our willingness to believe he and his world are real while offering an opportunity to look at our own world from a different perspective. It seems ironic that a minuscule seashell who skates on dusty coffee tables, adores 60 Minutes, and uses honey to walk on walls could generate such serious amounts of pathos. But for a character with such a tiny footprint, his shoes leave a remarkably lasting impression.

Culture

Not to Pick a Fight with Kyle . . .

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. . . but I’ll pick a fight with Kyle:

Why on earth should we think of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as a “secular prayer” or a “secular hymn” or a “secular” anything?

It seems to me the precise opposite of secular.

As I have argued before, I think it would be more accurate to describe Leonard Cohen as a psalmist rather than as secular.

Health Care

New BMJ Study Says Cannabis Is ‘Not Benign’

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A new study published in the British Medical Journal, surveying health records for more than 30,000 people over the course of six years, has found that cannabis users were 22 percent more likely than nonusers to visit an emergency department or be hospitalized.

From the study’s conclusion:

Although no significant association was observed between cannabis use and respiratory-related ER visits or hospitalisations, the risk of an equally important morbidity outcome, all-cause ER visit or hospitalisation, was significantly greater among cannabis users than among control individuals. Therefore, cannabis use is associated with increased risk for serious adverse health events and its recreational consumption is not benign.

Though studies like these are worth reading, it’s important to keep in mind that quantity (in sample size) can’t compensate for quality. A well-designed random sample of individuals followed prospectively, with thought and care going into how to design the study to minimize biases, is preferable to a large retrospective data set.

Of course, the two ought not to be mutually exclusive. For instance, the two studies I summarized in my “Big Dope” cover story for the U.S. edition of the Spectator are very robust:

A 2008 article in World Psychiatry, the top journal in the field, outlines the results of a 15-year prospective study in Sweden examining schizophrenia in over 50,000 Swedish conscripts. It found during its 27-year followup that, if the association they identify was indeed causal, ‘13 percent of cases of schizophrenia could be averted if all cannabis use were prevented’. A more recent 2019 study in the Lancet Psychiatry examined patterns of psychotic incidence across Europe in connection to cannabis use, and found that ‘daily cannabis use was associated with increased odds of psychotic disorder compared with never users, increasing to nearly five-times increased odds for daily use of high-potency types of cannabis’. Moreover, they concluded that, assuming this association was causal (which the authors consider highly credible), as much as ‘20 percent of the new cases of psychotic disorder across all our sites could have been prevented if daily use of cannabis had been abolished’.

Health Care

The AAP Does It Again

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The American Academy of Pediatrics, famous for allowing fashionable ideologies to warp its policy statements, has a new one out on “breastfeeding and the use of human milk.” Under the section “infants born to gender-diverse families.” the statement reads:

Children of gender-diverse parents may have less access to human milk because of both social and biological constraints. Breastfeeding is used throughout this document; however the word “breastfeeding” itself may be both triggering, and less accurate, for gender-diverse parents, who may prefer the term “chestfeeding,” which is more inclusive of lactation in the context of varying physiologic anatomies.

Just a reminder that in 2010, the AAP’s policy statement on female genital mutilation, written by a religious-studies professor, and euphemistically titled “ritual genital cutting of female minors,” stated that “above all” what was important in handling this issue was “sensitivity to the cultural background of the patient and her parents and appreciation of the significance of this custom in their tradition.”

The AAP’s 2016 and 2018 policy statements on so-called “gender-affirming care” were even worse. As I wrote at the time:

It’s instructive to take a look at the AAP’s track record. Its previous guidelines, which were released in 2016 but were very similar to the 2018 policy statement in terms of content, had as their lead author a trans activist, Gabe Murchison. At the time, Murchison had a bachelor’s degree in “women’s, gender and sexuality studies” and a master’s in public health, “social and behavioral sciences” from Yale University.

Murchison’s lack of medical expertise may help explain why the 2016 AAP guidelines stated in bold, under “What we know for sure,” that “there is evidence that both reparative therapy and delayed transition can have serious negative consequences for children.” This claim has been denied by experts — including Susan Bradley, who is a child psychiatrist with 40 years of clinical experience and research with gender-dysphoric youth, and who founded the Toronto Gender Identity Clinic at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

White House

Kamala Harris, Karine Jean-Pierre Dispute AOC’s Claim That Opening Abortion Clinics on Federal Lands Would Be Easy

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Vice President Harris attends a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 13, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Yesterday’s Morning Jolt noted that the proposal to open abortion clinics on federal lands in red states would face a slew of legal, financial, and logistical challenges, despite Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez insisting it represents “the babiest of the babiest of the baby steps.”

So far, both Vice President Kamala Harris and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre have thrown cold water on that idea. Harris, in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, Monday:

BASH: Can the administration expand abortion access or abortion services on federal land, meaning provide the access on federal land that might be in and around states that ban abortion?

HARRIS: I think that what is most important right now is that we ensure that the restrictions that the states are trying to put up that would prohibit a woman from exercising what we still maintain is her right, that we do everything we can to empower women to not only seek, but to receive the care where it is available.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Is federal land one of those options?

HARRIS: I mean, it’s not right now what we are discussing.

During Jean-Pierre’s interaction with reporters yesterday:

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So with this proposal — we understand the proposal is well intentioned, but here’s the thing: It could actually put women and providers at risk.  And importantly, in states where abortion is now illegal, women and providers who are not federal employees — as you look at the federal lands — could be — potentially be prosecuted.  And so, this is — as we understand why they would put forward this proposal, there’s actually dangerous ramifications to doing this.

Whether or not you buy into the idea that AOC is dumb, it certainly seems clear she doesn’t spend much time thinking through the details of her proposals. Anyone who thinks setting up abortion clinics on federal lands in states that have banned the procedure would be quick and easy hasn’t thought it through much at all. (As Kevin Williamson is fond of saying, “Everything is simple when you don’t know a f***ing thing about it.”)

You have to wonder if the White House’s patience with the likes of AOC is waning. Governing and enacting policy is difficult; it is even more difficult when know-nothing loudmouths that are allegedly on your side publicly contend that sweeping changes can be enacted quickly and easily, and that making them reality is just a matter of willpower.

Politics & Policy

Today in Capital Matters: SEC and the First Amendment

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Sean Griffith of Fordham Law argues that the SEC’s climate-disclosure rules violate the First Amendment:

The SEC is, at its core, a regulator of speech. Because no branch or agency of the government has First-Amendment immunity, the SEC’s constitutional authority depends upon Supreme Court precedent granting deference to regulations of “commercial speech.” Commercial speech — speech involved in the purchase or sale of a good or service — receives less First-Amendment protection so that the government can pass laws to protect consumers. The SEC’s mandatory-disclosure regime, involving as it does the purchase and sale of securities, operates under this paradigm.

But there is a catch. Regulations compelling commercial speech receive deferential review only when they are “purely factual and uncontroversial,” according to the 1985 case Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Council. The “uncontroversial” requirement works to ensure that the regulation is motivated solely to protect consumers. It is a pretext check. Applied to the SEC, this means that only regulations that are plainly grounded in investor protection are uncontroversial and therefore entitled to deference. Regulations aiming at some other purpose are controversial and therefore subject to heightened scrutiny.

Read the whole thing here.

Film & TV

Anakin Saved Kenobi

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Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) in Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+. (Lucasfilm)

[Spoilers ahead]

Wister Hitt recently penned a glowing review of Disney’s streaming show Obi-Wan Kenobi for NRO, and I’ve been unable to sleep in the three days since as the sand-laden winds of Tatooine mock me. I don’t disagree that parts are enjoyable, but to say Kenobi is “a carefully paced, lavishly constructed connector covering a previously unexplored period in the Star Wars universe” goes too far. But I think I know why Hitt says this — it’s because the final two episodes are awesome. 

In the penultimate and ultimate episodes, Vader and Kenobi have arguably the best lightsaber duel and Force use displayed in any Star Wars product, excising from the audience’s mind the painful dialogue, ludicrous chases, and general incompetence of all parties that brought Kenobi and Vader together. Every character, from young Leia and the vengeful padawan-turned-Imperial Reva to the proto-Rebellion bunch that isn’t worth remembering — they’re a fleet of awkward, stupid vehicles delivering us to witness Vader crushing spacecraft and the return of Kenobi’s prodigious Force abilities. 

If you have the stomach for levels of directorial bumbling akin to the ride quality of an AT-AT, director Deborah Chow, to her credit, does a bang-up job when it matters the most. Or, if you haven’t the patience, just go watch the Vader–Kenobi fight scene on YouTube. 

After all, the series changes little in the lore: Kenobi can defeat Vader but hasn’t the heart to do so. Vader remains the most intimidating and compelling villain in cinema, and it’s because of him that the series has any legs to stand on — hideous as they may be, as if burned by the lava flows of Mustafar.

Last note: Can we please stop with capital ships not being able to shoot fleeing civilian craft into stardust? I get that Vader was attempting to force a confrontation with Kenobi, but it shouldn’t take hours to tire the shields of an intergalactic Greyhound bus. The very first scene of Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope has a Star Destroyer reducing the shields of a relatively well-armored CR90 Corellian Corvette, reeling it in with tractor beams, boarding it via Stormtroopers with a semblance of aim, and successfully capturing Princess Leia. Why do recent Star Wars shows and movies make turbolaser batteries out to be ping-pong ball shooters? Lazy. Where are the tractor beams? Why do stormtroopers wear armor that protects them less than the cloth garb of rebels? It gets to me.

Politics & Policy

How Bad Is the CDC?

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Writing in Reason, Justin Monticello makes the case that it’s very bad. It’s corrupt, politicized, and incompetent.

The public should place no trust in it, he argues.

Indeed not.

Now let’s extend the scrutiny to the rest of the federal leviathan. Most of the populace has been led to believe that the officials who work in the dozens and dozens of agencies are “public servants” who only use their supposed expertise to advance the welfare of the nation. We’re expected to trust them and obey all of their mandates and prohibitions. And that is a terrible mistake.

Hat tip: Don Boudreaux

Politics & Policy

Weighing Hutchinson’s Testimony in Light of the January 6 Committee’s Flaws

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Cassidy Hutchinson, who was an aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows during the Trump administration, waits to begin her testimony during a public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 28, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Last night, we posted my column on yesterday’s spellbinding testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson, formerly a top aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, before the House select January 6 committee.

I don’t mean to be a broken record on this, but every time a strong witness appears in these sessions, it becomes more obvious how much Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats have undermined the value of the committee by failing to adhere to minimal due-process standards — permitting cross-examination and perspectives other than the committee members’ monochromatic abhorrence of the former president. Democrats have characteristically chosen iron-fisted control of the political narrative over the integrity of the fact-finding process. Their choice is gratuitously self-destructive: The Democrats had nothing to fear from cross-examination; these witnesses would easily have handled it, and good witnesses usually get stronger on cross; it would have made the hearings more interesting to the public; and the committee would have enjoyed broader public acceptance. Pelosi, instead, gave her opposition, and Trump, a good excuse to dismiss the whole exercise as rigged.

That said, there is a big difference between (a) observing that a fact-finding process is deeply flawed and (b) concluding that it should be ignored. I addressed this point in the column:

Now, it is all well and good to remind everyone, again, that the January 6 committee has foolishly undermined its credibility by failing to provide a fair process. No, there was no cross-examination of Hutchinson. Maybe it will turn out that — as Trump’s characteristically indecorous social-media outbursts during the testimony suggested — Hutchinson is a “total phony,” a “leaker” and “bad news” . . . although she has worked for many top Republicans, is well-liked by many more, and appears to have continued getting promoted over the years because she does a good job.

We should understand, in any event, that what [Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who handled the questioning,] did with Hutchinson Tuesday is what prosecutors do with witnesses in grand juries every day: drawing out the witness’s testimony with no obligation to provide the defense perspective. To be sure, no one gets convicted at the grand-jury stage, but an awful lot of people get indicted this way, and on far less evidence than the country heard [in Tuesday’s hearing].

Moreover, when we say the committee lacks due-process legitimacy, that means it lacks legitimacy as an ultimate finder of fact. It does not mean that we can blithely dismiss any evidence the committee discloses. It does not mean that, because we’d prefer that the evidence not be true, we can dismiss it out of hand because we don’t like the Democrats or the committee process. These witnesses are testifying under oath. There is significant risk to them if they are found to have committed perjury.

For now, all we can responsibly do is ask ourselves whether the evidence presented under these deficient procedures seems coherent and credible. Whether it will ultimately hold up when finally challenged — as it very well may be in, say, an eventual criminal trial — is another story. I’ll just say this: When I was a prosecutor, I obtained very good information from sources that were a lot more suspect than the January 6 committee — terrorists, hitmen, fraudsters. Yes, I still had to prove it in court, in the crucible of adversarial challenge and cross-examination. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have elicited it in court unless I had first been convinced that it was true.

Culture

Churchillian Zeal

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Rock musician Ozzy Osbourne performs during a concert in Brasilia, April 5, 2011 (Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters)

My Impromptus today is titled “Woke hell, &c.” It’s about diversity training, language police — all that (or some of that). I also have a few notes about sports and music, to help the medicine go down. On the subject of music: The latest episode of my Music for a While is titled “Beyond the sabre.” It offers a program of Khachaturian — including, yes, his No. 1 hit, the “Sabre Dance,” from Gayane (a ballet).

All right, some reader mail. Almost all of my reader mail these days comes via e-mail. But when I started out — almost 30 years ago — I got plenty of mail through the U.S. Post. When did this tail off? Starting in about 2005, I’d say. I got letters — proper letters — from two groups of people, basically: senior citizens, who probably went without an e-mail account, and prisoners. I enjoy getting this mail — certainly from the first group.

In recent months, I have received letters from Mary D. Churchill, of Marietta, Pa. (Marietta, Ga., I knew about. But Marietta, Pa., is new to me. It’s in Lancaster County.) MDC writes with great — strength. And conviction. And lamentation. All in a bold, graceful hand. I will give you a sample:

. . . This society today has no interest in great music. Nor will it resurrect.

When I was a girl, one could turn the dial of one’s radio and hear Mozart, Bach, and other masters on two or three stations. Not so today. It does not fit into a degenerate world. . . .

Perhaps 40 or so years ago, I attended a Philadelphia Orchestra concert and heard Muti conduct the Piano Concerto No. 5 of Beethoven with a young Polish pianist who played the concerto à la Chopin. It was simply horrible!

Earlier, Stokowski was doing some pretty awful things too. Szell maintained a high standard, but lesser conductors, not so. . . .

Think we’re entering the new “Dark Ages”? It seems so.

Okay, there’s more where that came from. Another letter:

There is little one can do to promote great music. In this country, its heyday climaxed in the 1930s. Most Americans are simply not interested in any “music” except the “pop” product one hears in all venues today. . . .

Too many generations have grown up with meager cultural influence of any kind. Books, too, are rare in many homes. “One can pull them up at any time on one’s computer” is the excuse given for that deficiency. We have become a people who are satisfied with the “bread and circuses” of life.

A few of the major orchestras will survive for a time, but too many of the young people who fill our music schools will not find the careers they hope for. That is very, very sad.

But in each culture, the arts, literature, religion, and trades wax and wane. I am simply very grateful that the fine accumulation of music, art, and literature has occurred when man may still enjoy it, if he will.

I thank you for your zeal.

And I thank you for yours, most assuredly, Mary D. Churchill.

PC Culture

Tenure Just Isn’t Working Any Longer

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As originally conceived, tenure was supposed to protect academic freedom. Professors with tenure wouldn’t have to worry about being fired for saying or writing things that bothered the administrators or trustees. The American Association of University Professors used to defend tenure like a junkyard dog.

No more. As a number of recent cases have shown, tenure won’t protect professors who say or write politically incorrect things. Moreover, a large and increasing percentage of the faculty now works without tenure.

In today’s Martin Center article, Walt Gardner laments “Tenure’s False Promise.”

After discussing the Joshua Katz case at Princeton, Gardner writes, “Long after the Katz affair has faded from memory, tenure itself will continue to be controversial. This is because tenure is an anachronism in today’s labor market and is under pressure from both outside and within the academy. Outsiders can’t understand why they don’t have it in their own jobs, and insiders say that it’s unfair, or unjustly handled. The secretive process that governs many tenure decisions merely exacerbates the issue.”

He argues that tenure works against the interests of students because most tenured faculty members won’t make time for them. Moreover, tenure is based on research publications, but the ability to crank out such publications is of no benefit to the students. Professors absorbed in the publish-or-perish routine are often poor teachers.

Tenure cries out for reform, and has for decades. Gardner points out that just one state, Georgia, has taken any steps toward modifying it. He concludes, “The best hope is that public colleges will follow suit, with private ones eventually falling in line when they see the benefits to all stakeholders. Colleges, of course, will survive the metamorphosis, but they may be unrecognizable to traditionalists. That’s a good thing.”