Politics & Policy

Governor Whitmer’s Dumb Idea

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The Michigan governor devotes an op-ed to urging President Trump to issue a nationwide mask mandate, without even addressing the obvious questions of what possible authority he has to take that step and how the federal government would go about enforcing it.

Education

Another Tactic Used to Suppress Ideas the Left Dislikes

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Attacks on freedom of speech these days are coming from all directions. “Progressives” keep coming up with new excuses for silencing people who say or write things they don’t want to be heard. In today’s Martin Center article, Professor Russell Warne writes about one of their tactics; namely, to use journal editorial power to keep out research that might be “too controversial.”

Warne refers specifically to a recent rejection two scholars received for a paper that examined data from Britain on cognitive test scores among various ethnic groups. The authors were given a desk rejection that said their work could arouse controversy. Responding to that, Warne writes, “Regardless of what one thinks of this research topic, to summarily reject the manuscript because it might cause controversy is censorious, subjective, and an obstruction to the pursuit of knowledge.”

It may well be that the journal editor himself doesn’t object to this research, but simply wants to keep a tranquil life. No doubt he’s aware that academic leftists take delight in going after people at academic journals who dare to publish anything they find offensive. Nevertheless, as Warne says, “The censorious nature of this policy and decision is obvious: By prioritizing political tranquility over scientific truth, the editors robbed the scientific community of the opportunity to evaluate the data for themselves and arrive at their own conclusions.”

This attack on the freedom to inquire and follow data to their conclusions is inimical to the search for scientific knowledge. It’s a spreading plague in academic life.

Warne concludes, “While the desire to avoid controversy is understandable, it is a goal that can hinder discovery and withhold or delay the benefits of scientific knowledge from those very societies that editors believe they are trying to help.”

Politics & Policy

Deconstructing Some Arguments for Nuking the Filibuster

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The U.S. Capitol during a morning rainstorm on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 25, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

As the potential for unified Democratic control of Congress and the White House in 2021 grows, so too has an appetite for nuking the filibuster. This recent Atlantic piece by Ron Brownstein lays out the arguments mounted by progressive activists to justify going nuclear.

But some of these arguments are puzzling. Some of Brownstein’s sources suggest that police reform might be the issue that causes Democrats to nuke the filibuster. However, there is considerable evidence that Senate Republicans are quite willing to pass some version of police reform. South Carolina’s Tim Scott has been a major voice for police reform and has been in discussions with Hill Democrats about the issue. Ironically enough for claims that Democrats might in 2021 use police reform as the rallying cry for nuking the filibuster, Democrats themselves mounted a filibuster against Scott’s police-reform bill.

Indeed, criminal-justice reform has been a place for bipartisan cooperation in Congress. The First Step Act is one of the few major bipartisan bills that has passed Congress during the Trump presidency. Scott’s police-reform bill includes measures supported by many Democrats, so there definitely seems like a possibility of some bipartisan deal.

Of course, some activists might not want a bipartisan deal, but this raises another question about political stability. Brownstein finds that another reason Democrats might seek to nuke the filibuster in 2021 is that they fear that absolute power might be fleeting: “The last four times a president — of either party — went into a midterm with unified control, voters have revoked it.” Yet the fact that the American people seem averse to unified party control might be at odds with the advice that, once it has unified control, a party should try to push through a sweeping, no-compromise agenda. That could set the stage for a cycle of escalating polarization.

American intellectuals have long been infatuated with the idea of importing a parliamentary mode of governance (with ideologically polarized parties and intense partisan discipline) into U.S. politics. However, that model of parliamentary polarization seems an uncomfortable fit for the United States, with its multiple branches and staggered federal elections. Only a little over ten of the past 40 years have seen unified party control of Congress and the White House. This suggests that, if governing is going to get done most of the time, it will take collaboration between both parties. A move-fast-and-break-things approach to policy seems at odds with the kind of collaborative buy-in that U.S. politics usually demands (as I noted when I warned Republicans against nuking the filibuster in 2016).

Politics & Policy

Suburbs Issue, Condensed

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This brief column of mine for the InsideSources syndication service is my attempt to condense the controversy over the suburbs and its meaning for the presidential election into bite-sized form.

Education

If Schools Are Online-Only, Can’t They at Least Run Full-Time?

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Tracey Pucci helps her son Foxton Harding, 12, with a school assignment for Northshore Middle School, which moved to online-only schooling for two weeks due to coronavirus concerns, at their home in Bothell, Wash., March 11, 2020. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

Last week, the Fairfax County, Va., public schools gave me two options for my soon-to-be kindergartner: fully online instruction, or two days of in-school instruction per week. I chose the latter and was annoyed there was no fully in-person option, because (a) children are not much at risk from COVID-19; (b) restaurants have been serving people indoors here for a month, meaning we seem to be fine with waitresses and cooks going to work as usual with certain protections in place; and (c) I can’t imagine “online instruction” is very effective on a five-year-old, assuming it works at all.

I was not part of some crazy right-wing COVID-denier fringe. About half of parents in the district picked the in-person option, 60 percent if you include those who didn’t respond and were given the in-person option by default.

But then last night I got this email from Scott Brabrand, the district’s superintendent (emphasis his):

The changing course of the COVID-19 pandemic with infection rates surging both nationally and regionally has required us to alter our plans for school year 2020-21. Today, the Fairfax County School Board supported my revised recommendation that we begin the 2020-21 school year with virtual learning for all students. The online school year will begin, as scheduled, September 8.  Should health conditions improve, we would first bring back students for intervention supports on a limited basis.   Following that, we would work to bring students back to school as soon as possible starting with elementary school students, select PreK-12 special education students and English Learners. . . .

As Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute had pointed out earlier in the evening, cases in Northern Virginia are flat, actually, though the rest of the state has seen an increase:

More from the e-mail:

  • Online learning provides four days (Tuesday through Friday) of live, face-to-face instruction with teachers. . . .

Wait, what? Four days?

  • Mondays will remain a teacher planning day with intervention supports for selected students that we hope can be provided in-person.

Oh.

You can’t make this up. The schools managed to shut their doors and reduce the instruction they’re providing to most students by 20 percent. More for elementary schoolers, if the plan is still to instruct them only 2.5 to 3.5 hours a day — not that I’m clamoring to make my kid sit in front of a computer any longer than that.

Media

CNN Is Hiring Race Writers

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According to LinkedIn, CNN is advertising the following positions:

Senior Editor, Race

Senior Writer, Race

Writer, Breaking and Trends, Race

Data and Visuals Editor, Race and Policing

One must grudgingly admire the bluntness, I suppose, in the same spirit that one acknowledges an Alexander Stephens speech. There are money and careers to be made, in America in 2020, in spending all your day thinking about the world in racial terms and encouraging others to do so. The job descriptions give a flavor of what sort of coverage CNN aims to spend money generating, and how it intends to craft narratives:

  • “an understanding and passion for the ways in which race, culture and identity show up in our everyday lives”
  • “help us elevate the voices of Black, Latino, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American and all races”
  • “elevate the writing, framing and storytelling”
  • “helping organize and plan with other CNN contributors who cover race, ethnicity and inclusion across multiple teams.”

It is a doleful reality that one must address issues of race in discussing American politics, but I can imagine no worse description of a life well lived or a constructive contribution to the nation’s civic culture than advertising for someone with a “passion for the ways in which race, culture and identity show up in our everyday lives.” That sounds like a nutshell description of the worst people in the history of the nation and the world.

U.S.

Population Bombs

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New York Times headline: “Planned Parenthood in N.Y. Disavows Margaret Sanger Over Eugenics.”

Cool.

Now do Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Economy & Business

The Road from Debt Mountain

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(Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

In this week’s edition of The Tuesday, Kevin wrote about debt and the story of Arthur Stallworth:

Last week, Slate published a particularly insipid piece of sympathy journalism (it is part of a series) under the headline: “What It’s Like to Have $163,718 of Student Debt When You’re Living Paycheck to Paycheck: The story of Arthur Stallworth, age 36, from Silver Spring, Maryland.” Sympathy is a barrier to good journalism because it prevents the asking of necessary questions. (“Empathy,” which our politicians like to talk about, is not an emotion at all but a literary conceit.) For example: Mr. Stallworth reports a household income of $125,000 a year, which is not too bad for a man with an “online doctorate of education and interdisciplinary leadership.” There are lawyers and architects who do worse. (The report is silent about how much of the couple’s income comes from Mr. Stallworth and how much comes from his wife.) In spite of that income, he says he “couldn’t afford it” when his loan repayments rose . . . from $200 a month to $400 a month. Really? His household income is twice the national average; how is it that he is getting wiped out by a $200-a-month increase in a longstanding bill? The headline promises to tell us “what it’s like” to be in that guy’s shoes, so curiosity is assumed. What’s the deal?

One hundred and sixty grand in the hole for an “online doctorate of education and interdisciplinary leadership”? Holy smokes.

I too noticed that Slate article late last week, and I too grimaced at its curious lack of curiosity regarding how exactly Mr. Stallworth got himself into this financial catastrophe. (I also matriculated from college with a mountain of student-loan debt, and I can assure you that there’s not an ounce of mystery involved: I took out too much because 18-year-old me was an idiot. Paying back the loans was a problem for Future Mark!)

I noticed another article in the series, however: “What It’s Like to Make the Very Last Payment on Your Massive Student Debt.”

Jorge Acevedo, 36, an immigration attorney in Miami, graduated from law school with $180,000 hanging over his head. After deferring payments for a couple of years, the debt had grown to over $240,000.

Holy smokes — that’s a problem. But, then, Acevedo went out and changed his life.

My ex referred me to Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University. Ramsey’s one of those individual financial-advice gurus. He gives you a series of baby steps you’re supposed to follow. Baby step one is you create a $1,000 emergency fund. And then, baby step two is to get rid of all your debt. You do that using this technique called the “snowball effect” where you start paying down all your debts, from smallest to largest. So I started doing that repayment plan. I had a car loan. I had a credit card. I just took care of those first, and then I started hitting the student loans.

My student loan debt has felt like an 800-pound gorilla is sitting on my shoulders. I had to crawl and beg and work extremely hard to get to the point where I am. I wouldn’t say I’m judging, but sometimes I find it difficult to identify with people who are not making a sacrifice to pay off their debt as early as possible. It’s easy for me to say. I make a decent wage. I can afford to pay $7,000 a month toward my student loans.

Acevedo is displaying too much humility here. Do you know what’s not easy? Writing a monthly $7,000 check to pay off your student loans. Do you know what’s not easy? Having the humility to do this:

I bought a town house. I ended up selling it two years later to jump-start my student loan repayment. I took all that equity from the house, and it was literally in my bank account for two days before it went straight to Sallie Mae. I moved back in with my mom.

And now . . . he’s free. Acevedo took his wife on a trip to Paris to celebrate. They’re going to buy her a new car.

Jorge Acevedo, my friends, is what we used to call “an adult.” Good for him.

Energy & Environment

DOJ is Right to Limit Enviro Groups’ Free-Riding on Its Enforcement Actions

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Today, the WSJ reports on environmental groups’ practice of free-riding on federal environmental enforcement actions to shake down polluters. Led by Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark, the environment division of the Department of Justice is now pushing to end the practice in a federal case involving DTE Energy, Michigan’s largest electrical utility and a major operator of natural gas pipelines. The Sierra Club intervened on the government’s side and is seeking court approval of a side agreement in which DTE would close three coal plants, in addition to the penalties and mitigation secured by the Justice Department.

The issue has an important constitutional dimension. The leverage that environmental groups use to extract these side deals (called “Supplemental Environmental Projects” or “SEPs”) derives largely from citizen-lawsuit provisions in laws like the Clean Air Act. Such provisions are supposed to supplement the government’s enforcement actions. But in fact, they often supplant the penalty that the government has sought in its enforcement action.

Such provisions amount to a delegation of a core executive function that the Constitution vests in the president. It allows private advocacy groups to override the government’s enforcement priorities with their own, and then profit from coercive use of penalties that arise under environmental protection laws, the faithful execution of which is entrusted to president and to the officials under his control.

To the extent advocacy groups induce private companies to agree to such SEPs by promising to give up on claims arising under federal environmental laws subject to federal enforcement, the practice is properly viewed as an unconstitutional infringement on a core executive function. The Justice Department is to be commended for standing up to it.

Culture

Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today: Foster Care, Lebanon, Love & Marriage & More (July 21, 2020)

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(dragana991/Getty Images)

1. Religion Clause: State Department Releases Draft Report of Commission on Inalienable Rights 

2. Washington Post: The lights go out on Lebanon’s economy as financial collapse accelerates

Known as an oasis of prosperity and relative stability during the past decade of Middle East turmoil, Lebanon is descending into poverty, despair and potentially chaos. Economists are now predicting a Venezuela-style collapse, with acute shortages of essential products and services, runaway inflation and rising lawlessness — in a country at the heart of an already unstable region.

3. “He cried out to live:” Woman credited for saving life of newborn found in trash bin

4. Chris Arnade: Immigrants and the American Dream

Newer working class immigrants haven’t fully accepted America’s dominant secular and material culture that views credentials as the central goal of life and individual liberty as the central form of meaning.

They still put their personal desires second to longer term social connections, including family, faith, and local community. The result is they maintain strong communities centered around the church social, the backyard bbq, the sports league, and other things not connected to career building.

5. The New York Times: Planned Parenthood in N.Y. Disavows Margaret Sanger Over Eugenics 

“The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color,” Karen Seltzer, the chair of the New York affiliate’s board, said in a statement.

6.

7. Actor Zac Efron Visits Lourdes Sanctuary in Netflix Series: “Incredibly Special and Holy Place”

“It’s hard to believe that back in the 1800s, a 14-year-old girl that people wrote off as crazy, had a miraculous, holy vision, right here at this very spot,” Efron says. “There is no denying the sacred feeling you get, just by being here.”

8. New York Daily News: Queens pastor survives 100-day battle with coronavirus, spent 54 days on ventilator and six weeks in coma

“The whole team said there is no hope, they fully gave up on me,” Thomas recounted. But once Varghese asked for divine intervention, everything seemed to improve.

9. Mgsr. Charles Pope: Coronavirus Stalks in the Darkness, But Do Not Be Afraid

What about us today? Is God no longer with us? Are sickness and death the worst fate or is crippling fear a far more painful and dehumanizing sentence? Isn’t there more to living than just not dying or not getting sick? Will we as a Church be part of this conversation or will we remain fearfully silent? Will we simply reflect the beliefs and opinions of the current culture, or will we influence it with a theology that insists that suffering and death have meaning and an important role in our lives?

10. Institute for Family Studies: Kids Thrive When Their Parents Are in Love

Continue reading “Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today: Foster Care, Lebanon, Love & Marriage & More (July 21, 2020)”

U.S.

‘Law & Order: Portland Edition’

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Federal law enforcement officers, deployed under the Trump administration’s executive order to protect federal monuments and buildings, use pepper spray and tear gas on rioters in Portland, Ore., July 19, 2020. (Caitlin Ochs/Reuters)

Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Luke discuss the legalities of federal law enforcement tactics in Portland, the hypocrisy of the Lincoln Project, and more. Listen below, or subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or TuneIn.

Media

Guess the Political Party

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This week, former New York Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver was sentenced to six and a half years in prison on corruption charges. For those unfamiliar with the Silver, he was a Democratic Party kingmaker in New York for many years, serving as speaker for 20 — from Mario Cuomo to Andrew Cuomo — before being automatically expelled over a felony conviction. Silver, in fact, had gotten unanimous support from Democrats for his eleventh term as speaker in 2015, even as a federal probe was ongoing. It’s long been an open secret that Silver was crooked. Then again, New York politics is a den of corruption, and one party has been running the state more or less forever. Yet, despite all of this, not once does the Associated Press piece about Silver that ran in major outlets across the country use the word “Democrat” or the phrase “Democratic Party.”

I only bring this up because on the same day I read another Associated Press piece about another corrupt House speaker. Larry Householder of Ohio was arrested this week on federal bribery probe that sounds very much like the Silver case. His partisan affiliation, though, was mentioned more than once. This kind of coverage disparity isn’t a huge deal — if the partisan affiliation isn’t cited, we can simply assume the person is a Democrat — but it happens often enough that it’s difficult to believe it’s merely happenstance.

Politics & Policy

Planned Parenthood of New York Finally Disavows Margaret Sanger

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The pro-life movement has spent decades pointing out that Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger, had racist views and was a leading member of the eugenics movement primarily because she wished to eliminate populations she called “unfit” and “feebleminded” (read: poor, non-white).

Planned Parenthood is finally catching up: Its New York affiliate has disavowed Sanger for these views and will remove her name from its abortion clinic in Manhattan, citing her “harmful connections to the eugenics movement.”

Here are some details from the New York Times report:

“The removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from our building is both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color,” Karen Seltzer, the chair of the New York affiliate’s board, said in a statement.

The group is also talking to city leaders about replacing Ms. Sanger’s name on a street sign that has hung near its offices on Bleecker Street for more than two decades.

It’s a welcome move, of course, and better late than never. But I can’t say it’s not incredibly frustrating to have watched pro-lifers point out Sanger’s troubling views for so long only for Planned Parenthood and its supporters to ignore or dismiss those facts or outright attack pro-lifers for daring to mention them. And it’s not just Planned Parenthood officials who have been keen to overlook Sanger’s support for eugenics and her obvious racism. Until 2015, the organization gave out a Margaret Sanger award to honor leaders for their “excellence and leadership in the reproductive health and rights movement.”

The 2009 recipient? Hillary Clinton. And in 2014, the honor went to Nancy Pelosi. Neither woman had a word to say then about the racist, pro-eugenics views of the award’s namesake. How the times have changed.

Politics & Policy

Why Kanye Can Be Healthy for American Politics

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Kanye West arrives at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards in New York City, August 28, 2016. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Producer-turned-rapper-turned-entrepreneur-turned-politician Kanye West is about as likely as you or I to become president. And even if he had a conceivable chance to ascend to the highest political office a few days ago, he has since confirmed all the accusations of his mental instability by claiming that Harriet Tubman didn’t really free slaves, and by getting into high-profile arguments with Kim Kardashian (his wife) and several of his in-laws. Still, we should be hesitant to dismiss Kanye West as utterly pointless. At least in one respect, he is actually a good guy to have around: He is like the child exposing the emperor’s nakedness.

Needless to say, the dignitas of past American leaders like Washington and Adams is sorely lacking in Kanye West. But no one expects or needs Kanye to be dignified and noble — he is not even a major threat to our two-party system. Still, Kanye’s comical presence can counter the religious obsession with politics as the end-all of human existence, present in its purest and most lethal form in the Marxist and fascist regimes of the 20th century.

As many of us are stuck in vicious daily partisan battles, neglecting the most important things in life in attaching ever-growing importance to our politics, ecce Kanye: He bursts our bubble, perhaps without intending to, speaking of his new movement, the “Birthday Party,” and pondering million-dollar government checks for people who have babies. Ecce Kanye, infusing light-hearted pop culture into the political process even as the media ominously proclaim that the November election is the most important of our lifetimes. As we momentarily direct our attention from our ostensibly grave and somber politics to the figure of “Ye,” might we not be reminded through the man’s ridiculousness of the utter insignificance of our political spats in the face of more important callings such as faith, hope and charity?

None of this is to say that there aren’t issues worth fighting for. Each day, our constitutional freedoms are put in danger as far-left activists push to shut down even the most subtle dissenters. China looms in the East, crushing any helpless entity in its path while the West stands idly by for the sake of financial advantage. Thousands of unborn children are torn to death in abortion clinics. But can we honestly say that the majority of our daily battles, whether on Twitter, Facebook, or in real life, are in the service of important principles and not in the service of an indulging self-entertainment akin to rooting for one’s favorite sports team? I, sadly, cannot. I suspect that many others can’t either. So let’s enjoy Kanye West’s run while it lasts, making sure not to fall into the trap of regarding him as a legitimate example of the “new normal” of our politics but rather beholding the rapper as a reminder of what most of our political activity really is under the surface: a well-decorated and flashy puff of air.

Culture

An American Problem

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I am sometimes asked to describe an American phenomenon to British readers back home. My recent cover story for Standpoint Magazine, on politics and race relations in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, is one such instance. Here’s my “outsider’s” take.

U.S.

‘The Disgrace of Portland’

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I wrote today about the controversy over federal officers in Portland:

If only mobs were allowed to destroy federal property without consequence.

Then, there wouldn’t have to be any dispute over federal agents defending a federal courthouse in Portland, Ore. It could simply be overrun and burned to the ground with no unwelcome resistance.

World

Poland, Europe, and Beyond

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Young activists take part in the Global Climate Strike in Krakow, Poland, September 20, 2019. (Jakub Wlodek / Agencja Gazeta via Reuters)

Radek Sikorski is well familiar to readers of National Review. In the first part of his life, he was a journalist: writing for publications British and American, including NR. He was a distinguished war correspondent in Afghanistan. Then the Iron Curtain fell: and he went home to Poland to begin a political career. Today, he is a member of the European Parliament. (He also has academic affiliations.) In times past, he has been foreign minister and defense minister.

This is a man of unusually wide experience. And he is my guest (once more) on Q&A, here.

There is plenty to discuss, beginning with the recent Polish election. Beginning with the pandemic, actually: How has Poland fared in the ongoing disaster? (Pretty well, fortunately.) We go on to talk about Europe at large. And NATO. And the U.S. role in Europe.

Some Americans think that U.S. troops should be reduced in Germany and added in Poland. Is that wise?

We further talk about Vladimir Putin, who, “on the economy of Italy,” as Sikorski says, is playing an impressive global game. He has a base in Syria and will probably have more to say about the outcome of that war than the United States will. He has a foothold in Libya. And elsewhere. Putin is a master disrupter, and democratic leaders seem to have little appetite to check him.

As our conversation continues, Sikorski and I talk about some of his old friends, classmates, acquaintances. These include Boris Johnson, his contemporary at Oxford. And Viktor Orban, ditto. As you remember, Orban went to Oxford on a scholarship provided by George Soros. Orban was a great liberal-democratic hope in Hungary. History, like individual lives, can take funny turns.

What about Afghanistan, where Sikorski went during the Soviet war there? Would a U.S. withdrawal at this juncture make sense?

Radek Sikorski and I cover a lot of ground in a relatively brief time (40 minutes). He was an excellent interviewer, in his years as a journalist, and he is an excellent interviewee. I can’t help thinking that the two go together. Anyone can learn from Radek, or be challenged by him — regardless of one’s political views. At the end of our conversation, I ask Radek a personal question or two. Even about a movie (Cold War, the Polish film from 2018).

One thing he stresses: that liberal-democratic values have to be explained, argued for, and promoted, in every generation, at all times. They don’t explain, argue for, or promote themselves. They will always have challengers, left and right. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, people tended to say or think, “Well, that’s it, then.” No — it is never it.

Religion

Twenty-Five Things that Caught My Eye Today: China, Catholic Schools, Prayer & More (July 20, 2020)

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1.  China tells Christians to renounce faith in Jesus & worship President Xi Jinping instead

2. Daily Mail: Horrifying moment kindergarten pupils are savagely beaten by their teachers for “failing to nap” in China

3. Michael Pompeo: 21st Anniversary of the PRC Government’s Persecution of Falun Gong

We call on the PRC government to immediately end its depraved abuse and mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners, release those imprisoned due to their beliefs, such as Ma Zhenyu, and address the whereabouts of missing practitioners.  Twenty-one years of persecution of Falun Gong practitioners is far too long, and it must end.

4. Newsweek: Catholic Churches Are Being Desecrated Across France

5. The Gift of Blackness to the Church: An Interview with EWTN’s Gloria Purvis

if you’re conditioned from an early age, sometimes you don’t see it because it is the water in which we swim, the air which we breathe, but when you have that awakening it’s a liberating thing to say “I am a child of God and I’m a gift.” And what he’s given me is a gift that I will freely share within the Church.

Continue reading “Twenty-Five Things that Caught My Eye Today: China, Catholic Schools, Prayer & More (July 20, 2020)”

U.S.

A Touch of Class Struggle

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Demonstrators scuffle with NYPD police officers as they try to march through Times Square during a protest against racial inequality in New York City, June 14, 2020. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

There is, I think, a growing awareness of the fact that, however much the current unrest in cities on both sides of the Atlantic owes to anger over the killing of George Floyd, police brutality, and racial injustice, other factors are also at work, most notably a struggle within the elite, or more broadly, within the elite and those who would be in it, much of it a consequence of what the University of Connecticut’s Peter Turchin has dubbed “elite overproduction”.

I wrote about this topic here and here, but, in essence, what matters is this:

Turchin has warned that “elite overproduction” can be a precursor of turmoil to come. To oversimplify, this occurs when members of the elite (or those with the talents to join it) become too numerous for society to accommodate their aspirations. Thus, Turchin noted, the Arab Spring was preceded by “a remarkable expansion of the numbers of university-educated youths without job prospects” — in other words, by elite overproduction.

In the course of an article for Unherd last month, Ed West wrote:

So while around half of 18-year-olds are going onto college, only a far smaller number of jobs actually require a degree. Many of those graduates, under the impression they were joining the higher tier in society, will not even reach managerial level and will be left disappointed and hugely indebted. Many will have studied various activist-based subjects collectively referred to as ‘grievance studies’, so-called because they rest on a priori assumptions about power and oppression. Whether these disciplines push students towards the Left, or if it is just attending university that has this effect, people are coming out of university far more politically agitated.

While the evidence on that is not clear, it’s arguable that a tiny number of very intelligent people being taught the theories of Marcuse or Foucault is probably going to have a limited social impact; when these ideas are disseminated among huge numbers of the young, many of them conformists sensitive to the social cues around them, then quite extreme ideas about dismantling society become normalised.

Meanwhile, in the Bellows, Michael Lind has taken a broader look at America’s complex class struggles, most notably (to me) between two groups in particular:

In German a distinction has long been made between the Besitzbürgertum (propertied bourgeoisie) and the Bildungsbürgertum (educated bourgeoisie). The equivalents of these two groups exist in the U.S. today. They are distinct from the big-organization managers and important in American politics out of all proportion to their numbers. Lumping them together as “PMC” confuses matters. Let us call them the professional bourgeoisie and the small business bourgeoisie.

Let’s just say that these two groups don’t get on. (FWIW, I’d argue — and did (in a way) argue — that some elements of the struggle between them were already clearly visible at the time of the 2008 election.) While much of what Lind has to say will make bracing reading for those on the right (read the whole thing!), his analysis of what the “professional bourgeoisie” is looking for adds, I think, some useful insights into what is now going on:

The goal of so-called progressivism in 2020s America is to expand employment opportunities for college-educated, center-left professionals, while adding new wings to the welfare state that are tailored to their personal needs. The slogan “Defund the police” is interpreted by the bourgeois professional left to mean transferring tax revenues from police officers, who are mostly unionized but not college-educated, to social service and nonprofit professionals, who are mostly college-educated but not unionized. The enactment of proposals for free college education and college debt forgiveness would disproportionately benefit the professional bourgeoisie, not the working class majority whose education ends with high school…

I am not the first to observe that what were initially legitimate protests against the use of excess force and racism by particular police departments have turned into a campaign for greater funding for social-services jobs and diversity officer jobs for members of the professional bourgeoisie in their twenties and thirties.

And then, not so unrelatedly, Ross Douthat in the New York Times:

Imagine yourself as a relatively privileged white person exhausted by meritocracy — an overworked student or a fretful parent or a school administrator constantly besieged by both . . .

Wouldn’t it come as a relief, in some way, if it turned out that the whole “exhausting ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Red Queen Race of full-time meritocratic achievement,” in the words of a pseudonymous critic, was nothing more than a manifestation of the very white supremacy that you, as a good liberal, are obliged to dismantle and oppose? If all the testing, all the “delayed gratification” and “perfectionism,” was, after all, just itself a form of racism, and in easing up, chilling out, just relaxing a little bit, you can improve your life and your kid’s life and, happily, strike an anti-racist blow as well?

And wouldn’t it be especially appealing if — and here I’m afraid I’m going to be very cynical — in the course of relaxing the demands of whiteness you could, just coincidentally, make your own family’s position a little bit more secure?

If you are looking to understand politics (in any era), self-interest is not always the explanation and it is frequently not the only explanation, but it is usually at least a part of it.

Monetary Policy

Cash Caches Enjoying Their Moment (and Rightly So)

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(Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via Reuters)

One of the reasons behind the war against cash, at least for some, is the way that the existence of physical cash acts as a barrier to any efforts to push interest rates deep into negative territory.

Here’s a Financial Times report from 2015:

Having already decided to cast paper notes aside in favour of plastic, the Bank of England’s chief economist has proposed getting rid of cash altogether.

For many, the idea of abandoning a system that has been with us for centuries in favour of a government-backed digital currency will seem a step too far. But Andy Haldane, the radical thinker at the BoE, argues that such a move would give the bank new flexibility in the event of another downturn.

In a speech to the Northern Ireland chamber of commerce, he said it would help the bank to manage inflation by enabling it to bypass the current constraint against lowering rates below zero.

The assumption is that if a central bank introduced negative interest rates — a radical move that would effectively amount to a charge on holding money — people would convert deposits into cash. But abolishing cash would remove that option.

And now the FT from just the other day:

Cash use at the till has declined slightly during the pandemic, as consumers accelerate the shift to electronic payments. But just like the period before a natural disaster, there has been a spike in cash withdrawals in the US…

“[Cash is] the one asset that people are pretty confident isn’t going to lose value,” said Eric Rosengren, president of the Boston Fed, in March. “And so people are deciding they’d much rather hold more of their assets in cash.”

Mr Rosengren says that a small number of wealthy people withdrew large amounts of cash in his district early in the pandemic, as an unimpeachable hedge when markets for even safe financial assets, like Treasuries, were behaving strangely. Mostly, though, he believes that the withdrawals were just precautionary decisions by ordinary Americans.

Bill Maurer, an anthropologist at the University of California, Irvine, who studies payments, calls the decision to withdraw cash “contextually rational”. It’s not that people are worried about how the Fed distributes cash, he says. It’s that, as in any disaster, people are worried about everything else — the electrical grid, or the mobile network….

Holding on to a stack of bills, says Prof Maurer, is “the recognition that in a pinch I can use cash and it will work with anybody. I don’t need a point of sale terminal.

There are many arguments that can and should be deployed against that those who would get rid of cash, ranging from privacy concerns to the threat that significantly negative interest rates could represent, but perhaps the most important is this: Imagine a world where cash has gone digital and the lights have gone out.

National Security & Defense

Make Sure Military Families Get Moved, Not Railroaded

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The Pentagon logo in the briefing room at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., January 8, 2020 (Al Drago/Reuters)

One of the biggest moving jobs in the world is handling 350,000 U.S. military members and their families who are transferred every year. The contract is worth a staggering $20 billion over the next decade; it’s no surprise the competition for it is fierce. 

But now the question being raised in the latest Pentagon contract round is: Has it been been fair

There’s no question there was need for a change. For decades, military families have complained about damaged and lost belongings during moves, and about the quality of service that some moving companies have provided. When my father, a civilian engineer for the Air Force, moved our family to California in the 1960s, we experienced delayed pickups and deliveries as well as breakage. 

These problems finally led the Pentagon to decide — starting in 2021 — to move away from move-by-move agreements between it and individual companies. Instead, the moving process will now be put in the hands of a single commercial move manager that can establish long-term relationships with those firms, and hold poor-performing ones accountable. Essentially, all of this would privatize a function currently conducted by U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM). 

The new process is designed to give the Pentagon — and service members — better-quality movers who will be more accountable to and better able to communicate with customers. 

In April, the contract was awarded to American Roll On Roll Off Carrier Group of New Jersey. But two unsuccessful bidders on the contract filed protests. TRANSCOM withdrew the contract in early June, launched an investigation, and initially pledged to take corrective action on at least one of the issues raised in the complaints. But less than two weeks later, TRANSCOM declared it wouldn’t be taking any corrective action after all, and re-awarded the contract to ARC. 

The two protesting companies — Connected Global Solutions and HomeSafe Alliance — weren’t satisfied. They filed new protests with the Government Accountability Office last week. GAO has to decide on the new protest by October 21, and then the dispute may head to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. 

The two firms complain that the winning ARC bid was more than $2 billion more than others submitted and that ARC didn’t disclose information about the criminal past of its Norwegian parent company, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics AS. That firm paid a nearly $100 million fine and pleaded guilty to a price-fixing conspiracy in 2016. The Justice Department also indicted three of its current or former executives at the time. 

TRANSCOM officials say that information did not need to be disclosed because ARC had inadvertently put the wrong parent company, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics AS, on its paperwork when it put in the bid for the moving contract. ARC says its real legal parent company is Wallenius Wilhelmsen ASA, so there was no need for it to disclose any bad behavior. The latter Wallenius Wilhemsen is merely “a separate company with a similar name,” TRANSCOM said in statement this month. 

But the Federal News Network says that is a distinction without a difference. The ultimate parent company’s chairman is Hakon Larson, the same person who entered the guilty plea on behalf of Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics AS in a federal courtroom. Today, Larson is the chairman of the board of WWASA, the parent company for both WWLAS and ARC. “TRANSCOM’s account is extremely difficult to reconcile against publicly-available documents,” Federal News Network concludes. Both TRANSCOM and ARC declined to answer questions from the Federal News Network in any detail. Since its initial stories, FNN has learned of other cases in which companies linked to WWASA have been fined for “cartel-like” behavior in Australia, Japan, and South Africa. 

The awarding of government contracts is often controversial and often leads to grievance complaints — some justified and some not — from the losers. 

But the TRANSCOM decision looks like it was particularly rushed and muddled. The 2021 military moving season may be the most complex and largest on record, because so much of it will be delayed moves from the time of COVID-19. 

It’s important to get the details right given that any problems will be blamed on the new proposed “privatization” plans and could set back further Pentagon reform in that direction in other areas. This contract should be thoroughly reviewed before any final decision is made.

Politics & Policy

English-Major Math: Kanye Edition

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Rapper Kanye West gestures to the crowd as he holds his first rally in support of his presidential bid in North Charleston, S.C., July 19, 2020. (Randall Hill/Reuters)

How big is the federal government?

Consider this: If we could figure out a way to run the federal government on a mere half a trillion dollars a year (and if we assumed, which we cannot, that a radical change in incentives would not produce a radical change in behavior) then we could enact the Kanye West plan — everybody who has a baby gets $1 million — while keeping federal outlays about where they are today.

Currently, the U.S. government spends about $4.5 trillion a year; in 2019, there were just under 4 million births, so call it right about $4 trillion in birth subsidies. So, if we spent $4 trillion on baby bounties, we’d have to cut everything else back to $500 billion a year.

Impossible?

In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, the U.S. government spent less than $500 billion a year in the early 1950s, which everybody seems to agree was a golden age for the United States, socially and economically. So for the same spending, we could have the federal government we have today or we could have the federal government of 1950 or 1951 plus $1 million for every baby born (up to 4 million babies a year). If birth rates went up sharply, I suppose we would have to adjust.

(Note: This would represent a much smaller federal government as a share of GDP in 2020, and also one that would be a smaller as a share of GDP than the federal government in 1950 and 1951. In GDP terms, the government of 2020 is about 60 percent larger than the government of 1951; in constant-dollar terms, the government of 2020 is about nine times the size of the government in 1951. The obvious shortcoming with the constant-dollar approach is that most government spending is on entitlements and transfer payments, and the population is twice as large today as it was in 1950.  As always, check my English-major math.)

I’m not saying we should do that — but we kinda-sorta could, and if you would like an indicator of how the federal government has grown since the post-war era, that is a useful one. Do you think you are getting good value for your money?

It would be a wiser course of action to reform our entitlements and our tax code, and to pay for therapy for Kanye West, but where’s the fun in that?

Education

How Colleges Are Responding to the COVID-19 Challenge

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In today’s Martin Center article, University of Virginia law student Sarah-Jane Lorenzo looks at the ways various colleges, large and small, are trying to adapt to the problems caused by COVID-19.

She writes:

Most reopening plans rely heavily on keeping students separate, even in on-campus scenarios that would otherwise bring them together to socialize or learn. For example, the University of Virginia recently announced that it will give students the option to return for a mix of online and in-person learning. While small classes will be held in socially distanced on-campus spaces, all large lecture classes — a staple of many majors — will be held online.

Masks will be required most of the time, and dorm rooms may have plexiglass dividers installed. Many social gatherings won’t be allowed. Some students aren’t sure they want to return to college under those conditions.

In the University of North Carolina system, students apparently will be allowed to choose to do their coursework in person, online, or in a hybrid version.

Schools will no doubt find out what works and what doesn’t through trial and error.

Health Care

Another Catholic Hospital Sued for Refusing Transgender Hysterectomy

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Empty patient beds in a Maryland hospital, March 18, 2020 (Rosem Morton/Reuters)

It is open season on Catholic hospitals as secularists try to coerce these institutions to violate Church doctrine in the provision of medical services.

The most notable examples are transgendered persons suing when Catholic hospitals refuse to remove healthy organs as part of sexual-reassignment surgery. The California courts authorized a lawsuit against Dignity Health for discrimination in this regard, which I consider the most important religious-freedom case pending in the country. And now a new federal lawsuit has been filed in Maryland. From the Baltimore Sun story:

A Baltimore man has filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Maryland Medical System and its St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, claiming he was discriminated against for being transgender when the hospital refused to perform his hysterectomy.

Jesse Hammons filed the suit Thursday in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland stating the medical institutions violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights and the Affordable Care Act when they canceled the hysterectomy, a treatment for gender dysphoria, a week before it was scheduled in January, according to the suit.

Let’s stay out of the pronoun question and get right to the religious-liberty chase.

  • The surgery was not refused because the patient was transgender. Rather, administrators said no because it would have removed a healthy organ. Catholic moral principles only permit body parts to be removed to treat physical pathology. If the patient’s uterus had been cancerous, the surgery would not have been a problem. By the way, the answer would have been the same if a man identified as an amputee and wanted his arm amputated. (This is a real condition known as Body Identity Integrity Disorder — now often called “transable” for obvious advocacy reasons.)
  • The surgery was also refused because it would have sterilized the patient. Had a woman requested the hysterectomy as a means of ensuring she didn’t have children, she would have been refused too — and for the same reason. Ditto a man seeking a vasectomy.

Secularists may not understand it, but they should hope this case collapses. Catholic hospitals supplement already strained public-health systems. Many Catholic hospitals will close before being forced to practice medicine in ways that violate Catholic doctrine. That could leave a lot of communities with reduced access to quality health care.

Medicine is becoming a major front in the accelerating attacks on religious liberty in this country. The assault against medical conscience can only exacerbate our bitter cultural divisions already at the ripping point.

Politics & Policy

A Study in Self-Pity

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President Donald Trump attends a news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 14, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Chris Wallace’s interview of President Trump, which aired on Sunday, is well worth watching if you’ve got a strong stomach.

The parts about the pandemic are as terrifying as you’ve heard—a veritable catalog of unfitness, incompetence, and willful ignorance that will leave you grateful for America’s system of federalism.

But I actually thought the most interesting and telling bit of the interview was at the very end, and wasn’t about the virus. Here’s the final question and answer:

WALLACE: Whether it’s in 2021 or 2025, how will you regard your years as President of the United States?

TRUMP: I think I was very unfairly treated. From before I even won I was under investigation by a bunch of thieves, crooks. It was an illegal investigation.

WALLACE: But what about the good –

TRUMP: Russia, Russia, Russia.

WALLACE: But what about the good parts, sir?

TRUMP: No, no. I want to go this. I have done more than any president in history in the first three and a half years, and I’ve done it suffering through investigations where people have been – General Flynn, where people have been so unfairly treated.

The Russia hoax, it was all a hoax. The Mueller scam, it was all scam. It was all false. I made a bad decision on – one bad decision. Jeff Sessions, and now I feel good because he lost overwhelmingly in the great state of Alabama.

Here’s the bottom line. I’ve been very unfairly treated, and I don’t say that as paranoid. I’ve been very – everybody says it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. But there was tremendous evidence right now as to how unfairly treated I was. President Obama and Biden spied on my campaign. It’s never happened in history. If it were the other way around, the people would be in jail for 50 years right now.

That would be Comey, that would be Brennan, that would be all of this – the two lovers, Strzok and Page, they would be in jail now for many, many years. They would be in jail, it would’ve started two years ago and they’d be there for 50 years. The fact is, they illegally spied on my campaign. Let’s see what happens. Despite that, I did more than any president in history in the first three and a half years.

WALLACE: Mr. President, thank you, thanks for talking with us.

TRUMP: Thank you, thank you very much.

Asked to reflect on his term so far as he seeks re-election, the president’s answer is that he was treated unfairly. Even when he is literally invited by his interviewer to say good things about himself, all he can reach for is resentment.

There is more to this than there might seem to be at first. The sense that he was being treated unfairly had a huge amount to do with why Donald Trump ran for president in the first place, and the sense that they were being treated unfairly had a lot to do with why his earliest supporters and voters found him appealing. Channeling resentment is near the source of his political prowess.

And of course, he’s not wrong. The sense of resentment he has channeled has been rooted in some important realities, and even his own sense that he has been treated unfairly by his opponents as president is not mistaken. Sure he has. But that this sense of resentment is chiefly what drives him, that he can’t see past it or point beyond it, has been a crucial factor in many of his biggest failures as an executive.

He has treated the world’s most powerful job as a stage from which to vent his frustrations with the world’s mistreatment of him, and this has often kept him from advancing durable aims, from capitalizing on opportunities, from learning from mistakes, and from leading. In reasonably good times, it meant that he turned our national politics into a reality-television performance—focused, as those often are, on the drama of bruised egos. But in a time of crisis, it has left him incapable of rising to the challenge of his job, and the consequences have been dire.

In other words, his answer seems right: Whether it’s in 2021 or 2025, the blinding power of self-pity and resentment may well end up being what stands out most when we regard Donald Trump’s years as President of the United States.

The Economy

What Should Congress Include in the Next Economic-Recovery Law?

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Then-President Donald Trump prior to signing the “Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act” at tbhe White House, April 24, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst

/Reuters)

Negotiations for the next economic-recovery legislation will begin in earnest today. What should Congress include?

In March, Congress passed the $1.8 trillion “Phase 3” Cares Act. The forthcoming “Phase 4” bill will build off the CARES Act, modifying some of its program and filling in some of the holes in CARES. A few ideas for Congress to consider in crafting Phase 4:

  • Reduce the generosity of the $600 weekly federal supplement to state-provided unemployment benefits, and put the federal supplement on a glide path to zero by the end of the year.
  • Offer unemployed workers one-time re-employment bonuses when they get jobs.
  • Temporarily increase the tax credit for children.
  • Expand the earned-income tax credit.
  • Extend the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and modify it by allowing businesses the flexibility to spend more of the forgivable portion of the loan on non-payroll expenses — essentially, convert PPP into a true revenue-replacement program — and take measures to encourage businesses and banks to participate.
  • Provide block grants to state and local governments for schools and other essential services, but make sure that money can’t be spent to shore up pension funds. This would help schools to reopen, support overall economic demand, and stem the tide of layoffs from state and local governments, which have already laid off 1.5 million workers, including 900,000 school employees, since February.
  • Address the $454 billion that the CARES Act appropriated to the Treasury Department in support of Federal Reserve lending programs, making sure it is used to support the economy.
  • Protect businesses that make good-faith efforts to follow public-health guidelines from frivolous lawsuits.
  • Consider including incentives for business investment.
  • Fund the virus-related costs child-care centers are facing to help them keep their doors open.
  • Provide funding to states for testing and tracing capabilities.

I discuss these ideas in more detail in my latest Bloomberg Opinion column. I also discuss a confusing aspect of the politics of this legislation.

The White House has been publicly conflicted over the past few months on whether additional legislation would be needed at all and, if needed, what should be included in it. President Trump should be made to understand that he has a much better chance to be re-elected if the economy is improving rapidly in the fall. From this political perspective alone, a sensible White House would be pushing Congress for as large an economic recovery package as it could get.

This legislation will be critical. Both the overall economy and individual workers and households need additional support, and this is the last swing Congress is likely to take until the beginning of the next presidential term in January 2021.

Check out my column for my full argument. Your comments, as always, are very welcome.

Elections

Paul Krugman Rejects American Elections, Again

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Paul Krugman at a conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, September 14, 2012 (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

In the fall of 2016, all the rage among Democrats and their partisans was lecturing Republicans on how they should accept Donald Trump’s (almost unanimously anticipated) defeat and reject Trump’s irresponsible “rigged election” rhetoric. On Election Day, I wrote a piece noticing that Democrats were themselves doing nothing to prepare their own voters to accept a possible Trump victory — in fact, they were likely to reach for excuses to reject the legitimacy in the same ways they had after losing the 2000 and 2004 elections.

Exhibit A in that piece was a Paul Krugman column entitled “How to Rig an Election”:

The election was rigged by state governments that did all they could to prevent nonwhite Americans from voting. . . . The election was rigged by Russian intelligence, which was almost surely behind the hacking of Democratic emails. . . . The election was rigged by James Comey, the director of the F.B.I. . . . The election was also rigged by people within the F.B.I. . . pro-Trump agents have clearly been talking nonstop to Republicans like Rudy Giuliani and right-wing media. . . . The election was rigged by partisan media, especially Fox News. . . . The election was rigged by mainstream news organizations, many of which simply refused to report on policy issues. . . . The election was rigged by the media obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails . . .

At the time, this was assumed to be a parody of Trump, but Krugman was deadly serious, and his themes have become gospel among many Democrats since then, while all the lectures about the paramount importance of accepting defeat in a democracy were memory-holed for three years, only to be resurrected now with Trump trailing in the polls.

Meanwhile, Krugman is still a stopped clock, denying in advance that he will accept any Trump victory as legitimate, wading darkly on Twitter into Alex Jones territory:

At this point, it will be almost impossible for Trump to win reelection legitimately. It’s quite possible, however, that he will try to steal the election . . . attempted theft could happen in multiple ways; expect to see many or all in November. Men claiming to be federal agents, but without identification, are already making arrests. Coming to polling places in November? Broken voting machines in D-leaning precincts? Mysterious and selective rejection of millions of absentee ballots? The list goes on. Don’t say they wouldn’t; clearly they will if they can. If you aren’t scared, you’re oblivious.

Is Trump likely to lose this fall? Sure, anyone looking at the polls and the atmosphere around this election would say so. But given the experience of 2016 with polling, the unprecedented nature of an election-year pandemic, and the unpredictability of 2020, it is reckless to exclude the possibility of a turnaround and to tell voters that a Trump victory should be a sign to abandon faith in American democracy and to take to the streets. Even for a man as accustomed to blind partisanship and wildly wrong alarmist predictions as Paul Krugman, this is terribly irresponsible.

U.S.

About That George Floyd Judge Judy Video

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Judge Judy in her courtroom (via YouTube)

One of the bits of fake news currently making the rounds on the geriatric circuit purports to show George Floyd, at age 17, on the Judge Judy show, where he admits to being a carjacker. The message — that he was a rotten SOB and more or less deserved what happened to him at the hands of Minneapolis police — is impossible to miss.

That the video is a misrepresentation would be obvious to anybody with any knowledge of the basic facts of the case. The kid in the video is 17, and the episode was filmed ten years ago, meaning he would be around 27 today. George Floyd was 46 at the time of his death. The youngster’s name was George Floyd, but he is a different George Floyd.

Here is an interesting social phenomenon: When I take the time to point out to my correspondents that they have been lied to, and that they are, in turn, circulating lies, they become angry — at me, not at the person who lied to them.

If you tell somebody a lie they want to hear, then you do not have to worry about explaining yourself or defending yourself — the people you lie to will defend the lie for you. They will hold tight to the lie. It is an amazing phenomenon. It’s small wonder we see so much dishonesty in our politics.

People will go down fighting for a lie even if they know, in their hearts, that it is a lie. There are some obvious contributors to that strange situation — lack of self-respect, lack of religious and moral education, an attenuated sense of civic duty and patriotism, etc.

But I think that the most important factor may be the simplification provided by lies. If George Floyd had somehow deserved what happened to him, then the moral situation would be relatively simple. The reality — that he was murdered by the people we entrust with public safety, that the notional forces of order often are forces of disorder — is more complex, and it is disturbing.

Put another way: The perverse thing is that we cling to lies in order to defend our moral purity.

In fact, Tucker Carlson is not a Nazi, Bari Weiss is not a moral monster, James Bennet is not endangering the lives of African Americans, the recently dismissed curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is not a white supremacist, it is not the case that one out of three women on college campuses will be raped, criticizing transgender ideology is not violence, the CIA did not create crack or HIV, George Floyd is not dead because of nefarious Jews — but we prefer the simple and consistent moral fictions we construct for ourselves to the complex and uncomfortable reality those fictions are designed to occlude.

This is a situation that could be improved with moral education. With a little work, people could be educated to the point that they at least would know to be embarrassed by trafficking in lies. The problem with moral education is not that Americans don’t have it but that they don’t want it.

Culture

Happy Birthday, Hunter S. Thompson

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Hunter S. Thompson in the late 1990s (Christian Thompson/Reuters)

In 2020, it is common for journalists, who lean left politically, to see themselves as quasi-activists. It seems, with each published article, that younger reporters at the New York Times, the Washington Post, or Vox believe they are slowly overthrowing systemic racism, sexism, the patriarchy, Trump’s authoritarianism — among other systems and ‘-isms’. If newspapers, magazines, and online blogs are the first drafts of history, then the history of the current moment can be recorded with a progressive tinge. In some cases, more than a tinge. In some cases, it is full-blooded revision.

Are there any journalists in America writing at, say, Rolling Stone who are thoroughly literary, who would consider themselves, first and foremost, aesthetes rather than activists, who could give zero hoots about whatever progressive ideology currently enraptures the elites? If so, they are few, and far in between.

But back in the ’60s and ’70s, journalistic literary figures, who didn’t make politics the single aim of their work, were in no short supply. Hunter S. Thompson and the “New Journalism” crowd, which included Tom Wolfe (who coined the label), Joan Didion, and George Plimpton are perfect examples. Their outputs then, and their legacies now, surely eclipse our journalism today, if not for the quality of their work then for the simple fact that they weren’t so mind-numbingly pedantic. These writers weren’t just journalists, and they weren’t activists, either.

Instead, the New Journalism writers immersed themselves in the world as literary personas. They didn’t hate the people they observed (except for Thompson’s hatred of Richard Nixon) nor the environment in which their subjects lived. They didn’t seek to destroy, upend, or spin the world’s narrative for their own political ambitions. Thompson, Wolfe, and Didion offered rare perspectives unmarred by half-baked ideologies, like “intersectionality” or “white fragility.”

The literary community also valued intellectual diversity. New York Magazine ran Wolfe’s “Radical Chic” as its cover story back in 1970. It was playful and satirical, directed at the ruling class, written with chutzpah. In 2020, the same magazine forced out Andrew Sullivan, perhaps the only writer left on its staff even willing to confront left-wing pieties. What a stark and depressing reversal!

But on July 18, we can fondly remember a bygone era of journalism. July 18 is Hunter S. Thompson’s birthday.

Gone are the days when a writer like Thompson, an unparalleled personality with an insatiable appetite for mind-warping drugs, could prowl the earth. His crackling prose, as wild as his personality, thrust the reader into a different reality. His politics leaned left, though it never gave him the excuse to chide and playact revolutionary. When the weird got going, the weird got pro, and Thompson was terribly weird, a misfit professional, a towering American literary hero, and — to some extent — an aesthete.

Happy birthday, Hunter S. Thompson.

Monetary Policy

The Fed: A Change for the Worse?

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This Bloomberg report by Tim Duy (also discussed by Ramesh in an earlier post) makes interesting reading:

For the Federal Reserve, this time really is different. Having learned a hard lesson in the last recovery — don’t tighten monetary policy too early — the central bank is leaning in the opposite direction. In practice, that means the Fed will not just emphasize actual inflation over forecasted inflation, but will also attempt to push the inflate rate above its 2% target. It’s a whole new ballgame.

The Fed’s traditional Phillips curve approach to forecasting inflation, which relies on the theory that inflation accelerates as unemployment falls, was widely criticized during the most recent economic recovery.

The Fed is probably right to think that the Phillips curve has currently lost much of its predictive value. Much of the explanation for that, in my view, in the U.S., at least, can be found in diminished union power and, I suspect, structural labor-market weakness (which can be seen in underemployment as well as unemployment) that, for reasons ranging from automation to offshoring, is far more profound than is widely understood.

Bloomberg:

No longer are estimates of longer-run unemployment taken as almost certainly indicating the economy is at full employment. Instead, [Fed governor Lael] Brainard said the Fed should focus on achieving “employment outcomes with the kind of breadth and depth that were only achieved late in the previous recovery.” The Fed is going to try to run the economy hot to push down unemployment. . . .

Think about what she is saying. Traditionally, the Fed attempts to reach the inflation target from below, effectively using the unemployment rate to forecast inflation and then moderating growth such that projected inflation doesn’t exceed its target. Brainard is saying the Fed should not tighten policy until actual inflation reaches 2%. Policy lags — the time between the Fed’s actions and the resulting economic outcomes — mean inflation will subsequently rise above 2%. The Fed would thus overshoot the inflation target and then return to the target from above.

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Patrick Harker goes even further in a Wall Street Journal interview, saying “I don’t see any need to act any time soon until we see substantial movement in inflation to our 2% target and ideally overshooting a bit.” Expect to see more Fed speakers also saying they want inflation at or above 2% before they tighten policy. Also expect to see something along these lines codified at in a policy statement.

Implicit in that reasoning is the idea that inflation, if when it starts to “overshoot,” can be tamed just like that. History would suggest that’s not how it works.

But also implicit in that reasoning is that what the economy (and employment) needs is interest-rate suppression. While, with government debt as astronomically high as it is, I can see why Washington — in the broad sense of that term — would like to keep rates as low as possible, it would be a mistake, in my view, (1) to overestimate the extent to which ultra-low interest rates will juice up the economy and (2) to underestimate the malinvestment that may now lie ahead, not to speak of the damage to pension funds, retirees, and those who rely on fixed incomes.

I doubt this ends well (then again, that is a standard closing comment to most of my comments on the economy these days).

Culture

Fifteen Things that Caught My Eye Today: Prayer and Fasting in Louisiana & More (July 17, 2020)

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1. I endorse:  Newsweek: Louisiana Gov Calls for 3 Days of Fasting, Prayer During Lunch Over COVID

He said the prayers are intended for the people of Louisiana, the sick, caretakers and the families of those who have passed on. The idea arose from a telephone conference he had last week with religious leaders from across the state of Louisiana—Edwards said he hosts such a call every three weeks.

2. Chinese Activist Journalist Stands up Against Torture in Prison

Despite various tortures, Lu has never pleaded guilty. He said that the prison had a two-month training for new offenders. “It was to brainwash you into making a confession and pleading guilty. I rejected it.”

Last year, the prison told him that if he “confessed” to his crimes, the sentence would be reduced by eight or nine months. He refused the offer.

“If I could persist (with the blog) for so long, there’s no way I would give up anything half way,” he said.

3. America Magazine: Are Nigeria’s Christians the target of a genocide?

“The future of Nigeria is bleak for Christians,” said Benjamin Kwashi, the Anglican archbishop of Jos. “I have seen far more funerals than I have seen any wedding ceremonies.”

Archbishop Kwashi said, “This thing is systematic; it is planned; it is calculated.” He complained that “the world doesn’t want to hear that, including the Nigerian government.”

4. The Washington Post: Michigan department announces child care reforms after death

Change is more than just addressing bad actors, MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said at a news conference announcing the emergency rules. He said the entire system has to transform to afford children who are in the state’s care the same health and happiness everyone wants for their own children.

“We are moving toward the goal of ending the use of restraints in institutional settings,” Gordon said. “Restraints are too often used as an easy way to control youth, in place of the harder, but unnecessary work of evidence-based practices that help young people address mental health challenges and heal and overcome trauma.”

5. BBC News: Fertility rate: ‘Jaw-dropping’ global crash in children being born

Japan’s population is projected to fall from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century.

Italy is expected to see an equally dramatic population crash from 61 million to 28 million over the same timeframe.

They are two of 23 countries – which also include Spain, Portugal, Thailand and South Korea – expected to see their population more than halve.

Who pays tax in a massively aged world? Who pays for healthcare for the elderly? Who looks after the elderly? Will people still be able to retire from work?

6.

7.

8. “My suffering has great power”: Alexandria Priest shares ALS diagnosis story

Continue reading “Fifteen Things that Caught My Eye Today: Prayer and Fasting in Louisiana & More (July 17, 2020)”

White House

What Does Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights Mean for U.S. Foreign Policy?

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks at the State Department in Washington, D.C., December 19, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled a draft report produced by the Commission on Unalienable Rights, a panel he established last year to examine the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy. Speaking in Philadelphia about the commission’s report, he said that America is fundamentally good and that human rights must play the central role in its diplomacy.

According to Pompeo and the commission’s report, the cause of fundamental human rights, as articulated by the Declaration of Independence and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has come under threat from authoritarian regimes, politicized human-rights advocacy, and the failure of multilateral human rights bodies. “The vital 20th-century human-rights project has come unmoored,” said Pompeo. “It needs a re-grounding. That is risky for Americans, and it is deadly for others around the world.”

Pompeo also pointed to an additional threat to America’s ability to promote human rights, arguing that “too many leading voices promulgate hatred of our founding principles.”

Our rights tradition is under assault. The New York Times’s 1619 project so named for the year that the first slaves were transported to America, wants you to believe that our country was founded for human bondage. They want you to believe that America’s institutions continue to reflect the country’s acceptance of slavery at our founding. They want you to believe the Marxist ideology that America is only the oppressors and the oppressed. The Chinese Communist Party must be gleeful when they see the New York Times spout this ideology.

Despite his criticism of those who call the United States irreparably evil, Pompeo did not shy away from the darkest chapters of American history, such as slavery, “our nation’s gravest departure from these Founding principles.” But he rejected any moral equivalence between America’s failings and authoritarian human-rights abusers. Quoting the report, he said, “There can be no moral equivalence between rights-respecting countries that fall short in progress towards their ideals, and countries that regularly and massively trample on their citizens’ human rights.”

When Pompeo established the commission last July, it was met with criticism from human-rights advocacy organizations. They worried that Pompeo’s attempt to elevate “unalienable rights” over other human-rights claims would create a hierarchy that would harm gender equality, LGBT rights, and abortion access. Some groups even sued the State Department under a law requiring that such commissions be “fairly balanced.”

Following Pompeo’s remarks yesterday, many of these groups claimed repeated those objections. Amnesty International condemned the State Department’s move to “cherry-pick rights in order to deny some their human rights.” The Center for American Progress said that the report does “plenty to undermine human rights defenders on the front lines of change around the world.” These critics were referring to Pompeo’s elevation of religious freedom and property rights as the cornerstones of this fundamental-rights tradition and to his assertion that not every right claimed by activists and international bodies can realistically be the focus of U.S. foreign policy.

They say that Pompeo’s outlook encourages authoritarian governments that seek to prioritize certain classes of rights over others. The Chinese Communist Party, for example, asserts the primacy of economic and social rights, justifying political crackdowns in the name of economic development. However, the critics fail to grasp that these regimes will continue to abuse human rights no matter the hierarchy of rights shaping the work of American diplomats, trafficking in all manner of distortions and lies to justify their human-rights violations.

The vision articulated by Pompeo and the Unalienable Rights Commission could actually do much to hold authoritarian countries accountable by homing in on the fundamental rights that they violate. The report is not the rollback of human rights that the critics fear. Even as Pompeo acknowledged a limit to America’s capacity to combat human-rights violators, he and the commission both re-commit the United States to the international-rights principles that come from universally recognized values. While the report does stress the importance of respecting national sovereignty, both the commission’s work and Pompeo’s remarks suggest an internationalist orientation to rights promotion grounded in pragmatic diplomacy.

This amounts to a notable divergence from President Trump’s foreign-policy instincts. After all, the 1948 Universal Declaration is the U.N. document that underpins the international human-rights architecture. It’s no secret that the president places a high premium on making deals, talking tough, and attacking multilateral arrangements — priorities that often conflict with promoting human rights. For his part, Pompeo says that human rights “ought to be the bedrock of our every diplomatic endeavor.” As he mulls a future presidential bid, Pompeo’s Unalienable Rights Commission has the potential to shift the debate on Republican foreign policy, perhaps re-orienting it from America First nationalism.

Media

Andrew Sullivan’s Farewell to New York Magazine

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The liberal magazine seems to have decided that he is no longer a good fit for it. He spells out what that means:

Actually attacking, and even mocking, critical theory’s ideas and methods, as I have done continually in this space, is therefore out of sync with the values of Vox Media. That, to the best of my understanding, is why I’m out of here. . . .

And maybe it’s worth pointing out that “conservative” in my case means that I have passionately opposed Donald J. Trump and pioneered marriage equality, that I support legalized drugs, criminal-justice reform, more redistribution of wealth, aggressive action against climate change, police reform, a realist foreign policy, and laws to protect transgender people from discrimination. I was one of the first journalists in established media to come out. I was a major and early supporter of Barack Obama. I intend to vote for Biden in November.

It seems to me that if this conservatism is so foul that many of my peers are embarrassed to be working at the same magazine, then I have no idea what version of conservatism could ever be tolerated.

He goes on to talk about where he’ll be writing from now on. I assume he will continue to have a large audience.

Elections

Going After Dr. Fauci Is a Loser’s Game

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U.S. President Donald Trump and NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci listen during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 29, 2020. (Al Drago/Reuters)

One of the stranger things the Trump White House and certain of its media allies have been doing lately is a campaign against Dr. Anthony Fauci, complete with a Peter Navarro op-ed so reckless that Trump himself had to publicly disavow it.

What’s going on? If you were trying to get Donald Trump reelected, this would make no sense. Fauci is popular, and — fairly or not — is widely seen as something of a stand-in for sober-minded scientific judgment. He has not always been on the same page with the president, and that alone can be a problem in this ego-driven White House. But he has also repeatedly shown his willingness to play ball with Trump and continue working within the system rather than histrionically resigning in search of a book deal or trying to launch an investigative probe that would cripple the pandemic response team. Fauci has served under three prior Republican presidents, and two Democrats; he’s obviously not primarily a partisan, and not the type to abandon his post in pique in the midst of a pandemic. Even his public response has been the sort of more-in-sorrow-than-anger thing you say when you are trying to avoid a public fight that politically damages the president:

[I]f you talk to reasonable people in the White House, they realize that was a major mistake on their part, because it doesn’t do anything but reflect poorly on them. And I don’t think that that was their intention. I cannot figure out in my wildest dreams why they would want to do that….Ultimately, it hurts the president to do that. When the staff lets out something like that and the entire scientific and press community push back on it, it ultimately hurts the president. And I don’t really want to hurt the president…I just want to do my job. I’m really good at it. I think I can contribute. And I’m going to keep doing it.

Even leaving governance for its own sake aside, a rational supporter of Trump’s political prospects would want to maximize the public image of Trump working with Fauci and, when they disagree, doing so respectfully in light of the president’s prerogative to take a broader view of economic and social factors than the narrow view of a scientist will allow. And Fauci is still trying to help with that! In his interview with The Atlantic, he went out of his way to stress that his working relationship with Mike Pence remains solid: “My input to the president goes through the vice president. But clearly, the vice president — literally every day — is listening to what we have to say, there’s no doubt about that.”

So, why is Team MAGA — inside and outside the White House — so determined to attack Fauci and denigrate his credibility? Partly, of course, it is reflex: Fauci is an unelected expert who disagrees at times with the president, so he fits neatly into the “Deep State” framework. But what is implied and sometimes stated aloud is more nefarious: the idea that scientists and Democratic officials are engaged in some sort of conspiracy to bring down Trump by keeping the economy suppressed through the election. This makes sense as a public argument only if you already expect Trump to lose, and are trying to build a narrative of excuse and alibi for his defeat that knits everything into a shady cabal. After all, if Trump is simply tied in knots by a hostile conspiracy, that makes him look weak, and it undermines any claim that things will go better under more Trump than under Biden, whose election would presumably end the need for any such conspiracy.

Framed in those terms, this is nuts. It is of course true that politicians and other political actors and commentators on both sides are apt to view everything — including the economic effects of lockdowns and closings — through the lens of how it affects presidential politics. Political animals are political animals. Naturally, that biases Republicans in favor of wanting things open and prosperous; just as naturally, it biases Democrats in favor of wanting the economy hobbled and sputtering until November 3. It is impossible to read or listen to a lot of commentators on both sides and not catch a strong whiff of this. Undoubtedly, that bias colors the lenses that people use to evaluate the scientific and economic cases for reopening.

The problem comes when you move from “the other guy is rooting for me to fail” to “the other guys are actively engaged in a nationwide conspiracy to spike the economy.” The bias of many Democrats towards wanting things to stay difficult through the elections is one that they would angrily deny (while of course projecting the opposite on their opponents). Yes, people in politics have been known to do exactly what they deny doing, but the leap from a quietly bad motive to saying it out loud to your friends can be a hard one. And in the case of scientific professionals such as Dr. Fauci, the far simpler answer is that he has the biases of his profession towards caution. As Ramesh Ponnuru notes, both Fauci’s fans and his critics have been apt to overstate the kind of certainty that science can offer in the first place:

Science hasn’t been able to tell us to what extent and for how long to suspend normal life, or where the next viral hot spots will be — or even..how effective masks are….The backlash to Fauci, which in its wilder manifestations assumes that he is conspiring to wreck our economy, partakes of…outsized expectations of what science can tell us: If listening to him isn’t solving our problems, there must be some sinister explanation.

The conspiratorial mindset also assumes that more broadly reopening the economy would be an uncomplicated and uncontroversial task without the existence of anti-Trump animus. The problem with this theory is that it ignores similar debates roiling much of the rest of the world, from Israel to Australia, France to India, Canada to Sweden. Different countries and different localities have taken different paths. Nations with leaders of the center-left or Left have hardly followed a uniform open-it-all-up strategy, as would be the case if the only reason not to follow one was hostility to a right-populist leader.

In any event, even if you truly believe in a conspiracy that is all but certain to be impossible to prove, the rational move in the heat of a national campaign would be to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, and avoid a public rupture with Dr. Fauci. The people laying down fire against him are telling you that they think the election is lost already, and they’re more interested in giving Trump — and themselves — an alibi than in winning.

Elections

Pro-Life Democrat Wins Texas Primary

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(Screenshot via Instagram)

Just a few months after Representative Dan Lipinski (D., Ill.) lost his primary race to a progressive challenger — whose campaign focused on her support for abortion in contrast to Lipinski’s pro-life stance — a pro-life Democrat in Texas has fended off a challenge in the primary race for his seat in the state senate.

Eddie Lucio Jr., who has represented the 27th district of Texas in the state senate for nearly three decades, claimed a seven-point victory over left-wing candidate Sara Stapleton-Barrera, who had endorsements from several progressive groups, including Planned Parenthood Texas Votes and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas.

Lucio’s opposition to abortion was a key part of the campaign against him, as he has voted in favor of legislation to prevent taxpayer-funded abortion, to ban dismemberment abortion procedures, and to require better reporting of abortion data in the state.

During the campaign, Planned Parenthood’s political-action group and the Texas Freedom Network, another pro-abortion PAC, referred to him as “Sucio Lucio” in ad campaigns, using the anti-Mexican slur to call him, in essence, “dirty Lucio.” These groups claimed they were attacking him for dirty political tactics, but his campaign pointed out that the phrase is a common, offensive term used in southern Texas, where his district resides.

Lucio told the Catholic News Agency in a recent interview that his pro-life beliefs stem from having been raised in a large Catholic family. “I don’t make any excuses for that, and I don’t apologize for that,” he said of his opposition to abortion, adding that protecting life “from conception until natural death” puts him at odds with both political parties on different issues.

His campaign received support from the Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life organization that typically backs Republican candidates but that also assists pro-life Democrats in races against pro-abortion candidates. For instance, the group lent support to Lipinski in his two most recent primary challenges, the latter of which he lost.

As the national Democratic Party becomes increasingly out of touch with its voters and increasingly dogmatic about supporting unlimited abortion on demand, it is encouraging to see that pro-life Democrats at the local level still have the courage to represent their constituents’ anti-abortion views.

U.S.

San Francisco’s Disastrous Luxury Housing Plan for the Homeless

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San Francisco finally moved to deal with its homeless problem after the coronavirus hit. It somehow designated 5,000 homeless people as “emergency front-line workers” and then paid $200 a night to quarantine each of them in luxury hotels that are currently empty of tourists.

However, City Journal contributor Erica Sandberg told Tucker Carlson’s show on Wednesday that the policy has been an “absolute disaster.” Although the city booked the hotel rooms in order to quarantine people, roughly a third of residents stay outside all day — defeating the purpose of the program.

“It’s solving exactly nothing and as a matter of fact, it’s making all the problems worse,” said Sandberg, who described the scene inside the hotels as “about as bad as you can imagine, only exponentially worse.”

You are talking drug-fueled parties, overdoses, deaths, people are being assaulted. You have sexual assaults going on, it is pandemonium,” she said.

Thomas Wolf, a self-described recovering addict and former homeless person, tweeted in May that “homeless placed in hotels in SF are being delivered Alcohol, Weed and Methadone because they identified as an addict/alcoholic for FREE. You’re supposed to be offering treatment. This is enabling and is wrong on many levels.” The city’s Public Health Department responded that “these harm-reduction based practices . . . help guests successfully complete isolation and quarantine and have significant individual and public health benefits in the COVID-19 pandemic.”

If city officials have an exit plan for what happens next, officials aren’t sharing it.

Sandberg says they are “trying to put this kind of a Band-Aid on it and pretend it’s not happening. Oh, it’s happening, and it’s worse than people imagine.”

Monetary Policy

Getting to Average at the Fed

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An important reason for the Fed to target inflation is to make the future path of the price level predictable. To the extent that rationale governs its thinking, it ought to try to make its errors in hitting its target cancel each other out. If its target is 2 percent annual inflation and it gets 2.5 percent inflation in one year, it should aim for 1.5 percent the next. It should, in other words, try to ensure that inflation over several years averages 2 percent.

Tim Duy says that the Fed is moving toward this kind of average inflation target. Last year I wrote that there are better and worse ways for the Fed to do that. In theory an average target makes sense; but it could easily be implemented in a way that made the business cycle more volatile.

PC Culture

Reddit Bans Gender-Critical Views

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Skeptics of transgender ideology typically believe that men cannot become women, that gender-confused children should not undergo permanent sex-change treatments, and that individuals should be able to state basic facts about biological sex without fear of retribution. This position, sometimes described by those who hold it as “gender critical,” is moderate, reasonable, and widely shared. Yet Reddit — the forum-based social-media platform with hundreds of millions of users and hundreds of thousands of communities — recently categorized these views as “hateful” and banned the forum for over 64,000 gender-critical members.

Reddit’s new conduct policy, announced earlier this month and applied retroactively, lays out that “communities and users that incite violence or that promote hate based on identity or vulnerability will be banned.” Curiously, gender identity is a protected characteristic, but sex is not. More curiously still, misogynistic activists and pornography fans are still welcome to assemble on Reddit’s subforums, but women who dare say that women don’t have penises and fans of J. K. Rowling are not. In what world is de-platforming people for supporting women’s rights progressive?

PC Culture

Orthodox Privilege

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“Cancel culture” is arguably the dominant force in American life today. Many see the squelching of dissenting views as a threat to free society. A group of prominent, mostly liberal writers recently wrote an open letter in Harper’s denouncing “an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”

Others, such as New York Times columnist Charles Blow, deny the existence of cancel culture altogether. A response to the Harper’s letter by a group of journalists and academics said firings and denunciations of dissenters take place, but they are “not part of a new trend.”

Tech investor Paul Graham has written a blog post called “Orthodox Privilege” explaining the gulf between these two interpretations of cancel culture:

The more conventional-minded someone is, the more it seems to them that it’s safe for everyone to express their opinions.

It’s safe for them to express their opinions, because the source of their opinions is whatever it’s currently acceptable to believe. So it seems to them that it must be safe for everyone. They literally can’t imagine a true statement that would get them in trouble.

If your views are uniformly popular, it’s hard to imagine the degree of censorship imposed on unorthodox thinkers. Read the full post here.

Law & the Courts

Federal Judges Block Heartbeat Bills in Tennessee and Georgia

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Women protest Georgia’s “heartbeat bill” at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Ga, May 7, 2019. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

Earlier this week, Tennessee governor Bill Lee signed a “heartbeat bill” prohibiting abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The law makes Tennessee one of a dozen states to have enacted such a bill, most of which were signed at some point last year.

But less than an hour after the law took effect in Tennessee, a federal judge blocked it, issuing a temporary restraining order against the policy in response to a lawsuit from the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated they will suffer immediate and irreparable injury, harm, loss, or damage if injunctive relief is not granted pending a preliminary injunction hearing,” wrote U.S. district judge William L. Campbell.

“The Act will immediately impact patients seeking abortions and imposes criminal sanctions on abortion providers,” Campbell added. “The time-sensitive nature of the procedure also weighs in favor of injunctive relief pending a preliminary injunction hearing.”

This ruling is the second time this week alone that a federal judge has ruled against a heartbeat bill. In Georgia, U.S. district judge Steve C. Jones permanently blocked the state’s version of the law, writing that, “by prohibiting a woman from terminating her pregnancy upon the detection of a fetal heartbeat, [the law] constitutes a pre-viability abortion ban.”

“As this ban directly conflicts with binding Supreme Court precedent (i.e., the core holdings in Roe, Casey, and their progeny) and thereby infringes upon a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion prior to viability, the Court is left with no other choice but to declare it unconstitutional,” Jones added.

These decisions aren’t surprising to anyone who has followed the controversy over heartbeat bills, which, one by one, judges have temporarily blocked or permanently struck down after determining that they contradict prevailing abortion jurisprudence. Though disappointing to pro-lifers, these legal challenges and the judicial responses have revealed the flaws in our status quo on abortion policy.

Last year, as states passed heartbeat bills that were subsequently and unilaterally blocked in federal courts, a number of Democratic states were busy passing abortion legislation, too. New York enacted a law allowing abortion for any reason up to 24 weeks’ gestation (after fetal viability) and altering regulations to allow women to more easily obtain an abortion until birth. Virginia Democrats contemplated a similar bill that, per its sponsor, would’ve allowed elective abortion even during labor. Illinois, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Maine enacted a variety of extreme abortion bills, some enshrining the right to unlimited abortion in the state constitution, some declaring elective abortion at any stage of pregnancy a “fundamental right,” and some repealing state bans on partial-birth abortion.

Not a single one of those laws faced a legal challenge. And how could they? While judges wield Roe and Casey to prevent pro-life citizens from protecting unborn children even after viability — despite the fact that both decisions explicitly acknowledged the state’s interest in doing so — our current jurisprudence does nothing to prevent abortion advocates from loosening restrictions on the procedure to allow elective abortion until birth.

This is a highly unjust status quo considering that the jurisprudence enabling it stems from the anti-constitutional ruling in Roe, a decision that both opponents and supporters of legal abortion admit was poorly reasoned — yet decades of case law are built on that shaky foundation. This is the foremost reason that, instead of resolving the fight over abortion, the Court in Roe cemented it as the most contentious, most persistent policy debate in America.

Heartbeat bills may not have been immediately successful in protecting unborn human life, but they might be deemed a success on two counts. First, they present courts with opportunities to reconsider the heart of our flawed system by directly contradicting the cases that dictate abortion law. Though it likely will require getting such a case before a friendly Supreme Court to actually undo those flawed decisions, that day will never come if pro-life legislators abandon the effort entirely.

Second, they have fostered a conversation about abortion that plays to the strengths of the pro-life cause. Given that the most popular abortion-rights arguments are fallacious claims such as that a fetus is “a clump of cells” or “part of its mother,” talking about the fetal heartbeat — and the fact that it begins so early in pregnancy — helps raise public consciousness of human life in the womb.

It’s clear that supporters of legal abortion fear this strategy; they spent much of last year insisting that reporters refer to fetal heartbeats as “fetal pole cardiac activity” or “embryonic pulsing.” (Most major media outlets, it is worth noting, went right along.) Even though heartbeat bills haven’t yet been permitted to take effect, they have helped expose the way in which abortion supporters dehumanize what is clearly a distinct, vulnerable, living human being.