World

Mom and Apple Pie

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A 32-year-old female, Freddy McConnell, who presents and identifies as a man, was told by the U.K. Supreme Court that they would not hear her appeal contesting the use of the word “mother” (instead of “father” or “parent”) on the birth certificate of her child. The rejection was made on legal grounds; McConnell’s case was deemed inarguable as a point of law.

In other words, in order for someone who has given birth to be referred to as something other than “mother,” parliament would first need to change the law. The court’s decision may be a small victory for common sense, but it’s only a matter of time before progressive parliamentarians make serious headway with their gender agenda.

Quite apart from the biological truth of the matter — that every human person has a biological mother (as well as a father), or that it isn’t a good idea to permit lies to be systematically enshrined into law, this is yet another example of gender ideology’s disproportionate impact on womanhood. It used to be that, whatever our politics, we could all at least agree on mom and apple pie. No longer.

Law & the Courts

Third Circuit Sets Schedule for Expedited Appeal

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Shows what I know.

The Third Circuit federal appeals court has granted the request by President Trump’s campaign that it entertain, on an expedited schedule, an appeal of a narrow aspect of District Judge Matthew Brann’s ruling denying the campaign’s challenge to Pennsylvania’s conduct of the presidential election. Specifically, the campaign seeks review of Judge Brann’s denial of its attempt to file a second amended complaint and to delay the state’s certification of the vote.

We posted my column this morning explaining why, in my estimation, this appeal has scant hope of success. But I thought the Third Circuit would reject it summarily. Instead, as announced this afternoon by Jenna Ellis, one of the president’s lawyers, the court will consider briefs from both sides. The Trump team must file by 4 p.m. today, and Pennsylvania officials by the same time tomorrow (Tuesday, November 24).

To be clear, the Third Circuit has only agreed to consider briefs. The court has neither said it will necessarily want oral argument, nor done anything to stay or otherwise delay the commonwealth’s certification of the counties’ tabulations, which is taking place today, and which was one of Judge Brann’s reasons for declining to allow the Trump campaign to file a second amended complaint.

Politics & Policy

A Couple of Questions for Rashida Tlaib

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Rashida Tlaib, the Michigan congresswoman and “Squad” member, has weighed in on Joe Biden’s intention to select Anthony Blinken, who served as deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama, as his own secretary of state. Responding to the assertion that this was a “solid choice” by the president-elect, Tlaib warned: “Just make sure he doesn’t try to silence me and suppress my First Amendment right to speak out against Netanyahu’s racist and inhumane policies.”

This raises a couple questions. First, why does a sitting congresswoman believe that the secretary of state retains the ability to curb her First Amendment rights? Second, why would she publicly speculate that he might want to do so?

Elections

About That ‘Broken Algorithm’

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Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani speak at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., November 19, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Of all the loopy assertions made at the press conference President Trump’s legal team conducted last Thursday, the one that has been most roundly derided is the since-ousted Sidney Powell’s claim that the national popular vote was such a landslide for President Trump “that it broke the algorithm that had been plugged into the system.” Our Isaac Schorr posted on it last week.

Ms. Powell was referring to a supposed election-rigging algorithm that she claims infects software in Dominion electronic-voting systems widely used throughout the United States. The programming is claimed to enable central operators — located, er, someplace — to corrupt the tabulation. The corrupt program has been described, alternatively, as allowing votes to be changed from one candidate to another, or as a weighted tabulation that values votes for one candidate more than the other (at one point, Powell suggested that votes were multiplied by 1.25 for Biden and 0.75 for Trump).

Naturally, since an algorithm is essentially a mathematical formula, the notion that an algorithm could be “broken” sounds crazy — let alone broken by an unanticipated and overwhelming surge of support for one candidate. But I don’t think Powell pulled this idea out of the clear blue sky.

In her public statements, Powell has repeatedly alluded to and relied on the work of Lin Wood, an attorney and avid Trump supporter well known in Atlanta. As our Jim Geraghty points out, Wood has been taking the risible position that President Trump actually won the popular vote by upwards of 70 percent. He is also the fons et origo of Powell’s theory that Dominion orchestrates vote fraud through a program that a company called Smartmatic developed in conjunction with the late Hugo Chavez’s Communist regime in Venezuela well over a decade ago.

Over the weekend, Byron York helpfully posted Wood’s affidavit, submitted in a Georgia lawsuit and heavily relied on by Powell. Paragraphs 17 through 19 of that affidavit describe events Wood says occurred during the spring 2013 Venezuelan election, to choose a successor to the then-recently deceased Chavez. To put it mildly, Wood’s story is remarkably similar to Powell’s thus-far-unsubstantiated claims about the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

According to Wood, with the Smartmatic software in place, secretly enabling the regime “to change the reporting of votes by moving votes from one candidate to another,” Chavez’s interim successor, Nicholás Maduro, squared off against Capriles Radonsky. Suddenly, things started to go horribly wrong for the regime because of an unanticipated tsunami of support for the opposition:

By two o’clock in the afternoon on that election day Capriles Radonsky was ahead of Nicholás Maduro by two million votes. When Maduro and his supporters realized the size of Radonsky’s lead they were worried that they were in a crisis mode and would lose the election. The Smartmatic machines used for voting in each state were connected to the internet and reported their information over the internet to the Caracas control center in real-time. So, the decision was made to reset the entire system. Maduro’s [sic] and his supporters ordered the network controllers to take the internet itself offline in practically all parts of Venezuela and to change the results.

Wood is saying that even though regime operatives had a software program that should have enabled them to keep Maduro ahead, the system was overwhelmed — the algorithm was broken! — by support for Radonsky. So, Wood elaborates, they shut the system down for “approximately two hours to make the adjustments in the vote from Radonsky to Maduro.” Then, when they resumed Internet service, Maduro had somehow zoomed to the lead. “By the time the system operators finish, [sic] they had achieved a convincing, but narrow victory of 200,000 votes for Maduro.”

It should go without saying that there are countless differences between elections in Venezuela’s Communist system that masquerades as democratic and ours that actually is democratic. For present purposes, though, the salient one is that, because it is a centralized totalitarian system with a much smaller voting population, Venezuela — at least as described by Wood — conducts elections that are monolithically electronic, “provid[ing] for transmission of voting data over the internet to a computerized central tabulating center.” Since the voting is done a single way countrywide and controlled by the regime, it could theoretically be a simple matter to fix an election the way Wood describes: Just shut off the system to cause a pause, electronically switch whatever votes or tabulating algorithms need switching, then turn the system back on once the fraud has been carried out, revealing a stark reversal of the outcome.

An electronic pause would not work in the United States, where voting procedures and methods vary not only from state to state but even county to county (in fact, sometimes even between precincts in the same county). So, notice how the fraud narrative differs here: We are to believe that there were hundreds of thousands of fraudulent paper ballots ready to be secretly inserted into the count if, by chance, the “algorithm broke.”

In sum, in Venezuela, the story is that, when the program that was to assure victory was supposedly overwhelmed by legitimate votes for the disfavored candidate, the panicked powers that be shut down the electronic system for a couple of hours so they could carry out electronic vote fraud. In our country, we are to believe that the algorithm assuring Biden’s victory was overwhelmed by a tidal wave of legitimate votes favoring Trump, causing panicked Democrats to pause the count so crates of fraudulent Biden votes could be inserted into the system in the dead of night — such that, by morning, a seemingly comfortable Trump lead had turned into a stunning Biden victory.

It’s basically the same story.

White House

Golfing during the Crime of the Century

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People do realize that when Trump is firing off his tweets about how he really won the election in a landslide — but that the Democrats have disguised this fact because they pulled off their massive crime — he’s not acting like it.

He’s golfing, frequently. Last week, he literally drove through a #StopTheSteal rally on his way to the Trump National Golf Club.

He’s not even pretending to fight.

I’m sure the revelation of this fact won’t break the spell for his fans, who are following the truly important developments in Trump’s challenge to the greatest crime in American history on Instagram, Twitter, and Newsmax. But, in case the history of this moment does matter, I thought it should be noted here.

Culture

Kraken, Chiang, Etc.

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Former president George H. W. Bush applauds newly inaugurated president Bill Clinton on January 20, 1993. (Gary Hershorn / Reuters)

Impromptus today is headed “Meet the in-laws, &c.” I suppose the heading is a hybrid of two movies: Meet the Parents, the 2000 comedy, and The In-Laws, the 1979 comedy, remade in 2003. I begin today’s column with a section on talented in-law pairings. (You’ll see.)

I move on to — what you might call more conventional topics, including the politics of the moment. In recent days, I’ve learned the phrase “release the kraken” — or is it “Kraken”? It comes from a movie, speaking of those: from Clash of the Titans, made in 1981, and remade in 2010.

“Release the kraken” put me in mind of “unleash Chiang.” Do you remember that cry, from Cold War days? George Bush the Elder would sometimes use it on the tennis court. Before uncorking a big serve, he might say, “Gonna unleash Chiang.”

In this period of presidential transition — non-transition? — I have thought of Bush. Until this year, he was the most recent incumbent president to lose at the polls. He took it like a man, of course. That’s how he was raised, and that’s what his generation more broadly stood for.

Walt Harrington once told a poignant story, which I cite in my column. In December 1992, Harrington told Bush that he was sorry about the election — about the president’s defeat the month before. Bush said, “You know the worst thing about it, Walt? The embarrassment. It’s just so embarrassing.”

One can imagine, or try to.

Would you care for some reader mail? I’d like to publish two notes, concerning language. In a column last week, I spoke of two phrases: “intended on” and “on accident.”

Growing up in Michigan, I heard “intended on,” from southerners. We had a lot of southerners in Michigan, both white and black: They had come to work in the auto factories, largely. “We intended on having a cook-out last Saturday, but it rained.”

Only recently — last five, ten years? — have I heard “on accident,” instead of “by accident.” I had never heard it in all my life. It seems to be gaining ground.

So, the two notes from readers. First:

I’m 68 years old and grew up in Lower Manhattan, where I still live. “Intended on” was in common usage here, too.

I’ll be darned. And our second note:

I’m from the East Coast and grew up saying “by accident.”

I was shocked, 25 years ago, to hear my then-five-year-old son — born and thereafter raised in California — say “on accident.”

Apparently, everybody — and I mean everybody — in California (who is a native Californian and below a certain age) says “on accident.”

It was explained to me that it came from “on purpose.” The opposite of “on purpose” logically should be “on accident.” Or so it must have seemed to some trend-setting five-year-old Californian in the 1970s or ’80s.

You get used to hearing it after 25 years. But I still say “by accident.”

Again, today’s Impromptus — with yet more language notes, ’mid the other notes — is here.

Health Care

The Coming Fights About Vaccinations and Returning to Normal

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The CEO of the Australian airline Qantas said his company will require travelers on international flights to be vaccinated for the coronavirus once it’s available. “Whether you need that domestically, we’ll have to see what happens with COVID-19 in the market, but certainly for international visitors coming out and people leaving the country, we think that’s a necessity,” Alan Joyce said.

“Once it’s available” will probably not be simple to measure.

Pfizer, Moderna, and now AstraZeneca/Oxford have good news about the effectiveness of their vaccines, but we’re still not going to have enough vaccine doses to inoculate everyone at once. The state government of Texas just announced they will start with protecting health-care workers, frontline workers, and vulnerable populations at highest at greater risk of severe disease and death if they contract COVID-19. It is likely that most or all U.S. states will use similar prioritization.

The first couple months of 2021 could see some pretty complicated arguments about who should be allowed into where and when, depending upon their vaccination status.

A decent percentage of the population will be in the lower-risk categories and at the back of the lines for vaccination, but they will want to start getting on planes and getting together in groups again. They’ll really resent it if some Americans can go back to normal life safely, while they’re still waiting for their turn for the vaccine. Will it be safe to allow an unvaccinated 25-year-old on a plane, if the vaccine is only available to those over 65 for another month? Would Qantas or other airlines or companies bar someone for being unvaccinated, even if the vaccine is not yet available to someone like him? Many people are flying on planes unvaccinated now; why would it be an unacceptable risk a few months from now?

Once a person is in a group that qualifies for vaccination, how long do they have to get vaccinated before they’re barred from certain activities? Will airlines, arenas, concert halls, stadiums, etc. say, “Your group qualified for the vaccine two days ago, you’re not allowed onto this flight?” Or a week? A month?

Since some of the vaccines require two doses, are you considered vaccinated after the first dose or the second one?

The good news is that once we’ve gotten those high-priority groups vaccinated, the risk of death or serious illness should decline significantly and we can take giant steps back towards normal life. Yes, young people can suffer serious effects — particularly if they are obese, suffer hypertension, or are diabetic — and it will be good to get our percentage of vaccinated people as high as possible. Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said this weekend that the United States could hit herd immunity by May.

Film & TV

Highly Recommended: What Killed Michael Brown?

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Over the weekend, I finally got around to catching Eli Steele’s new documentary, my procrastination done in by the fact that Victor Davis Hanson and I will be discussing it tomorrow with Eli’s father, Shelby Steele, the film’s writer and narrator, on the next episode of The Victor Davis Hanson Podcast.

Last month, Armond White wrote an excellent review of the film. It deserved it. The author of the acclaimed White Guilt, Shelby Steele returns to that book’s theme in the documentary, explaining in part what killed Michael Brown, and indicting white guilt for its central role in American liberalism:

Liberalism invisiblizes all black America. It leaps over actual problems to highlight racism as a source for all our ills. Modern liberalism does not like complexity in its victims.

And this:

White guilt’s corruption is that it is always self-referential. It needs blacks to be blacks rather than human beings. And it leaves us with a liberalism that is actually an ideology of white innocence.

One consistent throughout the history of this country, says Steele, is that various forces and factions “only use race as a means to power.” The film’s development of that point – as an academic concept, and as the reality of many a city street – alone justifies making What Killed Michael Brown? a film that educates. Its insights are many and profound. The Steeles have created something that should demand the attention of every American regardless of race, creed, or partisan affiliation.

Elections

The Conspiracy Theory That Could Hand Joe Biden the Senate 

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Republicans are going to need every vote they can get in the Georgia run-offs, which makes starting a Republican civil war in the state a very bad idea. But that’s what Trump and his most conspiracy-minded supporters are doing their best to stoke.

Trump himself has been supportive of Perdue and Loeffler but has been after Kemp and Raffensperger:

Lin Wood is urging people not to vote for the Republican senate candidates:

And Sidney Powell was accusing Brian Kemp of crimes prior to her ouster this weekend:

 

If Republicans lose these seats in January because some increment of GOP voters believe this stuff and stay home, it will be one of the most pointlessly self-destructive acts of political self-sabotage in memory.

Politics & Policy

Court Upholds Tennessee Measure Prohibiting Abortions Based on Sex, Race, or Down-Syndrome Diagnosis

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The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided that Tennessee may begin to enforce one component of a broader pro-life law that had been delayed by legal challenges and a federal judge’s temporary injunction. The component of the bill now allowed to take effect prohibits doctors from knowingly performing abortions sought because of the unborn child’s race or gender, or because the child was diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome.

This summer, less than one hour after Tennessee governor Bill Lee signed the bill into law, a federal judge blocked it from taking effect, issuing a temporary injunction against the policy after the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a challenge.

“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 in his decision.

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

Late last week, the Sixth Circuit reversed part of that decision, upholding the portion of the law that prohibits abortions based on sex, gender, or Down-syndrome diagnosis. The order does not affect the injunction against Tennessee’s prohibition on abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which usually occurs at about six weeks’ gestation.

The decision to uphold part of the law was made by a split three-judge panel, with Senior Judge Eugene E. Siler Jr. and Judge Amul Thapar siding with Tennessee and Judge Eric L. Clay dissenting. According to the opinion, the argument from abortion providers against the law was too vague and likely would not succeed if it proceeded further in court.

“Every life is precious and every child has inherent human dignity. Our law prohibits abortion based on the race, gender or diagnosis of Down syndrome of the child and the court’s decision will save lives. Protecting our most vulnerable Tennesseans is worth the fight,” Lee said in a statement on Friday following the decision.

Culture

Manliness and More, with Mansfield

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Statue of George Washington outside the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond (Jay Paul / Reuters)

My latest Q&A is not with George Washington, looking sharp on his horse, above. He was unavailable. But he comes up in my conversation with Harvey Mansfield, here. He comes up in the context of manliness.

Harvey C. Mansfield Jr. is an eminent professor of government at Harvard, a political philosopher. He went to Harvard in 1949 as a freshman. After graduation, he served in the Army. He returned to Harvard for his Ph.D. He has been teaching there since 1962.

He has a large, and distinguished, alumni association, so to speak. Students of Mansfield are happy and lucky students indeed.

Among the professor’s subjects is manliness. He wrote a book on the subject — called, simply, “Manliness” — in 2006. I have done a little writing about manliness myself, in a glancing way. See this Impromptus column last week.

Is Vladimir Putin a manly man, swaggering around bare-chested and so on? Or is he merely brutish? Jair Bolsonaro and the rest of the populists and caudillos? Manly? Hugo Chávez?

I thought King Juan Carlos was fairly manly when, with regal indignation, he said to Chávez, “Por qué no te callas?” (“Why don’t you shut up?”) Juan Carlos spoke for millions.

Looking back on American presidents, I think, first and foremost, of Washington and Lincoln. Those were men. In our Q&A, Professor Mansfield adds FDR and Reagan — “one for each party,” he notes. Manliness is not sex-specific, by the way, at least in Mansfield’s eyes: He cites Margaret Thatcher, a take-charge woman.

That is one way in which Mansfield defines manliness: taking charge. Especially in a risky situation. Standing up, or speaking up, when others are looking around, hoping someone else will do it. Mansfield points out that the Greeks’ word for “manliness” was the same as their word for “courage.”

Also, the manly man looks out for the weak.

Today, says Mansfield, manliness “suffers from lack of employment.” Manly men are thought to be unnecessary, or counterproductive. My thought is: The manly man is unnecessary until he is necessary — at which point, society begs for him.

Mansfield’s book on manliness is dedicated to Sam Beer, who was his favorite professor. Sam Beer (1911–2009) was a liberal — the president of Americans for Democratic Action in the early ’60s. Mansfield was (and is) a conservative. But they got along like a house on fire. In World War II, Beer was “something of a hero,” says Mansfield.

Elsewhere in our conversation, we talk about higher ed: its descent into grubby, everyday politics, its harmful one-sidedness. “In American education, the conservative voice is almost totally absent,” says Mansfield. At any rate, a good professor does not preach politics at you, he says. You should barely even know his politics. What a professor does is, for example, transport you to another time or place. He broadens your horizon, makes your life bigger.

In this hour together, we talk about both conservatism and liberalism. The other week, I wrote a piece called “‘Conservative’: A Term Up for Grabs.” I said that William F. Buckley Jr. went around the country for 50-some years, giving talks. Most of these talks had Q&A periods. And the most frequent question WFB got was, “What is conservatism? Can you define it?” WFB always had a hard time, believe it or not. For one thing, conservatism is more a disposition, or state of mind, than a program. It is certainly not a dogma.

Mansfield talks engrossingly about conservatism (as about other things). I will give you just a taste.

Conservatism involves “an appreciation for conventions as well as principles” — for “the forms and formalities that give adornment to life.” The conservative is apt to dress up more regularly than other people. He “tries to give special meaning to occasions.” He seeks to “rise above what is common or mediocre or vulgar.” He is “dignified.”

Also, conservatism has two modes: go back and go slow. This leads to all kinds of difficulties, as well as satisfactions.

I will tell you what I told Mansfield, concerning dressing up. I myself can be pretty slobby. But I appreciate the un-slobbiness of others. And when I see kids in school uniforms — plaid skirts, blue blazers — my heart is warmed. That is one of the things that make me a deep-dyed conservative, I suppose.

And doesn’t every person, pretty much, have strains of conservatism and liberalism within him? I like the kid in the blue blazer, yes. But I also get the kid in the ripped T-shirt and mohawk.

Among Professor Mansfield’s books is The Spirit of Liberalism. In our Q&A, he talks of Locke, who stood for (1) the right of toleration and (2) the right of private property. He was two parties in one, says Mansfield. Eventually, those two strands — those two rights — split, and fought each other.

Highly interesting.

“Today,” says Mansfield, “the true liberals are the conservatives, and the mission of conservatism, I would say, is to save liberalism from the people called ‘liberals,’ who corrupt liberty, taking away its spiritedness or manliness.”

Let me get to the Founders, and others, in a roundabout way. Occasionally, people will ask me, “Who’s your favorite composer?” With a gun to my head, I’ll give an answer. But mainly, I consider the great composers a family: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, et al. They commune with one another, build on one another, constitute a kind of musical whole. I need them all, want them all.

I feel the same way about the Founders. You have ardent Hamiltonians and ardent Jeffersonians, and they fight, even today. I say “Yes” to the whole group — I need them all and want them all. The true American embodies them all, I think.

Mansfield is essentially of the same mind. He further says that he feels about the great political philosophers the way I do about the composers. Mansfield teaches a survey course, year-long: the ancients, the medievals, and the moderns. He needs them all, wants them all — presents them all in a basically sympathetic way, even the baddies, e.g. Marx.

There is a real teacher.

At the end of our conversation, I ask him sort of a cheesy question, and a cliché of a question: “‘A republic, if you can keep it.’ Can we?”

“We’re not allowed to think that we might not keep it,” Mansfield smiles. “What Franklin said is a kind of reminder to each generation that our Constitution and our way of governing ourselves don’t work automatically or mechanistically, like a machine that you just start and then watch. No, each generation takes over from the preceding and needs to face new challenges — or old challenges, newly appeared — and take them on and resolve them.”

So, “it’s an exciting and interesting republic that we live in. It isn’t one that stays the same, except for its principles.”

In the future, there may be a generation that “fails to follow its duty and meet its obligation to keep our republic, but . . .”

But woe to that generation, if it comes to pass. Again, my Q&A with Professor Harvey C. Mansfield is here.

The Economy

Trump’s Economic Record

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. . . and how it compares to Obama’s: Karl Smith and I discuss the issues at Bloomberg Opinion. Both of us approve of some of Trump’s economic policies, but we disagree about how much difference they made.

Law & the Courts

Supreme Court to Decide Whether to Hear Catholic Diocese’s Challenge to Cuomo’s Worship Restrictions

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(Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court is likely to decide later this week whether it will hear a case brought by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn against restrictions on worship put in place by New York’s Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo began his pandemic-response efforts in March with a series of wide-ranging executive orders attempting to shut down or limit the operations of large numbers of businesses and organizations, including churches. Even though the state legislature later passed a measure ceding authority to the governor to give him a more solid basis for these stringent regulations, Cuomo has faced several dozen legal challenges from restaurant owners, operators of gyms, and many other New York residents.

Thus far, all of those complaints have been decided in favor of the governor’s policies or dismissed outright. This latest challenge, however, might make it a bit further. The case involves a set of restrictions that Cuomo enacted in October, aimed at decreasing the spread of COVID-19 by restricting religious worship services in Brooklyn. Here’s some detail from the Wall Street Journal report:

In response to rising infections, Mr. Cuomo created color-coded limits on mass gatherings and business operations. In the hardest-hit areas, which were designated red zones, the state limited attendance in houses of worship to 25% of their capacity or 10 people, whichever is fewer.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said in an interview that the limits were unfair because secular activities—like shopping at grocery stores—were deemed as essential and allowed to continue. The practice of religion is protected by the First Amendment, he said.

“If we were essential, you’d have to look at us differently—whether we were a grocery store or a pharmacy,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “We have been relegated with the bowling alleys.” . . .

Attorneys for Mr. Cuomo said in court papers that New York’s restrictions don’t unfairly target religious organizations. Lower-level federal judges declined to stop the new limits from taking effect despite legal challenges from the diocese and Agudath Israel, an umbrella group representing prominent ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbis. Agudath is also petitioning the Supreme Court.

This spring, the Supreme Court decided in favor of the state of California in a similar case, involving a challenge from a California church against Democratic governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order limiting houses of worship to 25-percent capacity or 100 people. The Court split 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the majority and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh voting in favor of granting the church’s request. Roberts’s opinion asserted that state leaders have wide latitude to craft such policies in light of ongoing changes to conditions in different localities.

Given that the Court’s balance has shifted since that case, with the addition of Supreme Court Justice Amy Barrett, there is reason to believe there could be a five-justice majority more sympathetic to the claims of religious groups in New York.

Politics & Policy

On Cabinet Picks So Far, Biden Could Do a Lot Worse

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at a campaign stop in Atlanta, Ga., October 27, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

This week, the Biden transition team is expected to name some of the more prominent appointees, including Anthony J. Blinken for secretary of state, Jake Sullivan as national-security adviser, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the United Nations.

They’re all veterans of the Obama administration, but that shouldn’t be surprising; most incoming administrations select staffers from the preceding one of their own party. Blinken and Sullivan both worked as Biden’s national-security adviser for periods when Biden was vice president. Thomas-Greenfield served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 35 years and was promoted to ambassador to Liberia in Bush’s second term. Blinken has already stated Biden will avoid any open disputes with Israel. (And Representative Rashida Tlaib, part of the “Squad,” is already grumbling a bit about Blinken.) Sullivan was considered one of the hawks in the Obama foreign-policy team. This is the Democratic foreign-policy establishment — the figures who generally infuriate the progressive grassroots.

You don’t have to dance a jig over these selections, but there’s no harm in acknowledging that as far as Democratic selections go, Biden could do a lot worse. We don’t see bigger names and more divisive figures such as Susan Rice, Andrew Cuomo, Stacey Abrams, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Tom Perez, Randi Weingarten, or Julian Castro joining the Biden administration yet.

Cabinet speculation tends to focus on bigger names such as members of Congress, governors, and former presidential candidates — regardless of whether or not those figures would make effective managers of a sprawling department full of disparate agencies, offices, bureaus, centers, branch offices, divisions, and administrations. Running a federal department involves a lot of management, a lot of attention to detail, the ability to sit through seemingly endless meetings, and constant efforts to avoid an embarrassing mistake that will end up on the front page, all in exchange for $210,000 per year. Robert Reich’s Locked in the Cabinet is a sometimes painfully funny portrait of just how little power cabinet secretaries have, and the struggle to stay on top of a complex, Byzantine bureaucracy that has its own internal pressures and preferred agenda to preserve the status quo. (Reich’s tale of getting lost in his own headquarters building, and how his staff tried to prevent him from wandering off, influenced The Weed Agency.) Cabinet posts are often perceived as a stepping stone to some more prominent position down the line, but rarely turn out to be so.

As Stephen Hess observed back in 2008, there are really two tiers of cabinet secretaries. The top tier includes State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, and perhaps these days we should add Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services. The American people will be seeing a lot of those figures in the coming years. But the rest of the cabinet can sometimes feel like the witness protection program for once-promising political figures. Few Americans closely follow what’s new in the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Interior, Labor, Transportation, Veterans Affairs, or Housing and Urban Development.

If an incoming president feels a need to placate a constituency or particular figure, and an ambassadorship just won’t do, those second-tier cabinet posts make lovely consolation prizes.

Politics & Policy

‘Wokeness’ Infiltrates College Music Departments

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It shouldn’t surprise anyone that college music departments are under assault by the “woke.” These days, academics in all fields, even STEM, are under pressure to conform or face the fury of the Social Justice Warrior squads.

In today’s Martin Center article, I write about three recent incidents involving music.

One involves Meredith College, a women’s school in Raleigh, N.C. After the death of George Floyd, the school felt the need to begin an anti-racist initiative, and the music department eagerly followed suit. It hired a “consultant” who had a conversation with minority students and alums (to keep everything “safe” of course) and she reported back that they were concerned about racism in the department. As a result, the curriculum has been revised to de-emphasize white, European music and teach more about other music and musicians. It’s a solution to no real problem.

Another involves the University of Arizona, where a music professor who specializes in the viola has created a database of compositions for viola that pointedly excludes anything written by white men. That will put a big dent in any latent racism among viola students.

Third, there’s an opposite case from the University of North Texas, where a music professor is in hot water because he dared to dispute another music prof’s assertion that a little-known German theorist was a racist. The academic mob at his university immediately demanded his punishment and a thorough investigation to root out all racists lurking in the department. Instead of defending him, the administration chose to appease the mob.

The ice under academic freedom gets thinner and thinner.

Elections

Exit Sidney Powell, the Robert Welch of the Trump Legal Team

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Trump’s legal team has ditched Sidney Powell, who has played a starring role in Trump’s post-election effort by broadcasting lunatic conspiracy theories. Apparently the fact that Powell has shared none of her alleged evidence with anyone in Trump’s orbit finally made Trump’s attorneys doubt the promised emergence of a Kraken, even though they brought her to spout her poisonous absurdities at the RNC press conference last week.

Powell has been interviewed by a bunch of high-profile right-wing media figures over the last two weeks, all of whom credited her. Do any of them mind that she evidently misled them? If so, it’d be good to hear it.

Someone who didn’t fail his audience was Tucker Carlson, who told his viewers exactly what they needed to hear and caught a lot of flak for it from hard-core Trumpists — that Powell wasn’t able or willing to provide any evidence for her ever-more outlandish charges.

It’s good that Powell’s cashiering will presumably take some wind out of her sails, but it’s a disgrace that she ever got within a hundred miles of a president’s legal team, let alone that she was given such a platform to spout her disgraceful nonsense.

Elections

Sidney Powell Dropped from Trump Team

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Sidney Powell has been unceremoniously removed from the Trump campaign’s legal team, according to a statement tweeted out by Jenna Ellis, the team’s most professional member. The statement reads, “Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity.”

Now, this may seem strange since Powell, along with Ellis and Rudy Giuliani, were the three presenters at the campaign’s big Thursday press conference, and it was Powell’s allegation that a massive, bipartisan, global communist conspiracy had stolen the election from President Trump that dominated the headlines. After the press conference, Ellis even proclaimed that Giuliani and Powell had “RELEASED THE KRAKEN,” a phrase Powell first started using in relation to the legal team’s efforts.

So, it seems rather farcical to suggest that Powell has not been a major part of Team Trump.

However, Powell has apparently not been getting paid by Donald Trump or his campaign. She announced as much on the “Examining Politics” podcast on Friday, on which she was interviewed by talk radio host Larry O’Connor. She ended the conversation by explaining, “I’m being paid by the people of the United States of America, and I want to make sure we get this right for the future of this country. It’s called defendingtherepublic.org.” The shoddily constructed website, which has been registered as a 501(c)(4), is a glorified cash register.

So Powell has been sowing Americans’ distrust in our system and each other, presumably while taking donations from the average Joes she spends so much time purporting to fight for. Powell has responded to Ellis and Giuliani by issuing her own statement: “I understand today’s press release. I will continue to represent #WeThePeople who had their votes for Trump and other Republicans through Dominion and Smartmatic, and we will be filing suit soon. The chips will fall where they may, and we will defend the foundations of this great Republic. #KrakenOnSteroids.”

Now that the Kraken-releaser has been released from her responsibilities as a conspiracy theorist for the Trump campaign, I hope Americans see her enterprise for what it is.

Elections

System over Policy, Nation over Faction

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U.S. Senators Kelly Loeffler (R., Ga.) and David Perdue (R., Ga.) wear protective face masks as they walk together at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, July 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

One of the more insidious things about President Trump is the way he acts as a kind of gravitational distortion in our political-moral space. His combination of self-serving unscrupulousness and weaponized charisma adds ethical weight to the decisions of more ordinary politicians and pundits. Political calculations that in normal times would have been routine and inconsequential become no longer so, and courage is required to do what is right rather than acquiesce in what is wrong.

Consider the common practice of speaking in ambiguous evasions. Almost every politician does it, and usually it’s harmless enough. (Voter A: “Raise taxes!” Voter B: “Lower taxes!” Politician: “Everyone should pay a fair share!”) But when the topic being evaded is Trump’s effort to steal an election by lying that the election was stolen, evasion is harmless no more.

Campaigning on Friday in Georgia for Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who face run-off elections against their Democratic opponents, Vice President Pence had this to say: “As our election contests continue, here in Georgia and in courts across the country, I’ll make you [a] promise. We’re going to keep fighting until every legal vote is counted. We’re going to keep fighting until every illegal vote is thrown out.”

The statement carefully avoids repeating or endorsing Trump’s lies. In the abstract, the basic idea is unobjectionable — who could oppose counting legal votes and throwing out illegal ones?

But it happens that Trump lost the election and yet continues to claim that he won it. It happens that half of Republicans falsely believe that Trump “rightfully won.” Pence’s remark was obviously calculated to let them keep believing that, and to advance his electoral goal thereby.

So, of course, was Perdue and Loeffler’s statement earlier in the week calling on Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to resign, for “fail[ing] to deliver honest and transparent elections.” They didn’t bother to explain how he’d done that. They made their statement before 5,400 or so uncounted ballots had turned up in two Georgia counties. (The ballots had gone uncounted because of human error by lower officials, not because of some conspiracy; the ballots, once counted, did not come close to reversing Biden’s five-digit victory in the state; and the county clerk in one instance has already been fired. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board gives details.) Maybe they were referring to Georgia’s primary elections earlier this year, which were marred by long lines and voting-machine problems (Raffensperger pointed the finger at county officials). At best, Perdue and Loeffler were just (“just”) cagey about Trump’s lies in the same way that Pence was. At worst, they also maligned a public servant unjustly.

The Republican defense of such evasions, to the extent there can be one, is that control of the U.S. Senate is at stake and a Republican majority is needed to stop Biden’s legislative agenda.

For my part, I believe that the integrity of our system and our institutions, and hence the anathematization of Trumpian lies aimed at reversing the election, should be lexically prioritized over policy disputes, however important those disputes may be. By this I mean that, just as every word starting with “a” appears in the dictionary before every word starting with “b,” every threat to our system and institutions — such as the threat Trump now poses — should be considered a graver matter than every concern about policy. In terms of loyalty: Nation over faction. In terms of consequences: You can reverse policies more easily than you can repair damage to our practice of republican democracy itself, and that damage will tend to be farther-reaching than bad policies.

I would find it almost impossible to vote for a candidate who endorsed some of the policies that Georgia’s Democratic Senate candidates do. I would find it simply impossible to vote for a candidate who facilitated Trump’s efforts to delegitimize and steal an election. Whether by assertion or evasion, the effect is the same.

Elections

Trump Campaign Didn’t Request a Recount in Wisconsin Counties Using Dominion Machines

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Here’s a clear sign the Trump campaign doesn’t actually think Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell’s voting-machine conspiracy theory is remotely plausible:

Hand recounts aren’t necessary to prove that the vote counts were accurate: Every state has its own laws in place to double-check vote counts during its canvassing or auditing process designed to catch errors made on Election Night.

But hand recounts do provide an additional level of transparency and trust that the vote-counting machines got the count right. Just take a look at the transparency of the partial recount going on in Wisconsin right now:

In Wisconsin, some counties use Dominion voting machines while some don’t. If the Trump campaign thought the Dominion voting-machine conspiracies were remotely plausible, wouldn’t they want this level of scrutiny in the counties that used the Dominion machines? One would think so, but in Wisconsin, the Trump campaign only requested hand recounts in the state’s two largest (and two overwhelmingly Democratic) counties — Milwaukee and Dane, neither of which uses Dominion voting machines, according to the office of Wisconsin’s secretary of state. The Trump campaign’s recount strategy in Wisconsin tells you how serious the campaign is about the Dominion voting conspiracy theory.

 

Elections

Michigan GOP Congressman: The Election Is Over, It’s Time to Move Forward

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On Sunday, Michigan Republican congressman Fred Upton rejected Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell’s call for states to overturn the results of the election. “The voters spoke,” Upton said. “In Michigan, it’s not a razor-thin margin. It’s 154,000 votes. You got to let those votes stand.”

“It’s over,” Upton added.

According to their respective state laws, Michigan and Pennsylvania will certify election results on Monday, November 23.

Elections

Pat Toomey: Trump Campaign Has Exhausted Legal Options and Biden Won

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In response to the news that a federal judge in Pennsylvania dismissed a Trump campaign lawsuit challenging the results of the election, Pennsylvania’s Republican senator Pat Toomey said in a statement that “President Trump has exhausted all plausible legal options to challenge the result of the presidential race in Pennsylvania…. Joe Biden won the 2020 election and will become the 46th President of the United States.”

Here’s Toomey’s full statement:

“With today’s decision by Judge Matthew Brann, a longtime conservative Republican whom I know to be a fair and unbiased jurist, to dismiss the Trump campaign’s lawsuit, President Trump has exhausted all plausible legal options to challenge the result of the presidential race in Pennsylvania.

“This ruling follows a series of procedural losses for President Trump’s campaign. On Friday, the state of Georgia certified the victory of Joe Biden after a hand recount of paper ballots confirmed the conclusion of the initial electronic count. Michigan lawmakers rejected the apparent attempt by President Trump to thwart the will of Michigan voters and select an illegitimate slate of electoral college electors. These developments, together with the outcomes in the rest of the nation, confirm that Joe Biden won the 2020 election and will become the 46th President of the United States.

“I congratulate President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their victory. They are both dedicated public servants and I will be praying for them and for our country. Unsurprisingly, I have significant policy disagreements with the President-elect. However, as I have done throughout my career, I will seek to work across the aisle with him and his administration, especially on those areas where we may agree, such as continuing our efforts to combat COVID-19, breaking down barriers to expanding trade, supporting the men and women of our armed forces, and keeping guns out of the hands of violent criminals and the dangerously mentally ill.

“Make no mistake about it, I am deeply disappointed that President Trump and Vice President Pence were not re-elected. I endorsed the president and voted for him. During his four years in office, his administration achieved much for the American people. The tax relief and regulatory overhauls that President Trump enacted with Republicans in Congress produced the strongest economy of my adult life. He also should be applauded for forging historic peace agreements in the Middle East, facilitating the rapid development of a COVID-19 vaccine through Operation Warp Speed, appointing three outstanding Supreme Court justices, and keeping America safe by neutralizing ISIS and killing terrorists like Qasem Soleimani and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“To ensure that he is remembered for these outstanding accomplishments, and to help unify our country, President Trump should accept the outcome of the election and facilitate the presidential transition process.”

Elections

Leaders of Michigan Legislature Reject Scheme to Overturn the Election

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Sidney Powell, one of President Trump’s election lawyers, has called on state legislatures to overturn the results of the election because of demonstrably false claims that voting machines changed votes to hand the election to Joe Biden. “The entire election, frankly, in all the swing states should be overturned, and the legislatures should make sure that the electors are selected for Trump,” Powell said on Thursday.

The Republican leaders of Michigan’s legislature met with President Trump at the White House on Friday, but in a statement following the meeting the two Michigan Republicans threw cold water on any scheme to overturn the election results in their state:

“We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, Michigan’s certification process should be a deliberate process free from threats and intimidation. Allegations of fraudulent behavior should be taken seriously, thoroughly investigated, and if proven, prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And the candidates who win the most votes win elections and Michigan’s electoral votes. These are simple truths that should provide confidence in our elections.”

As Andy McCarthy writes on the homepage today, state legislatures can’t ignore the results of the election because states have “enacted laws that empower the public to vote in an election which, once certified in the manner also prescribed by law, dictates that the state’s electoral votes are cast for the winner of the state’s popular vote.”

In Michigan, Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump 50.6 percent to 47.8 percent—a margin of about 154,000 votes. According to Michigan law, state officials will certify the election results on Monday, November 23.

World

Dutch Doctors Can Now Drug Dementia Patients Before Killing Them to Prevent Resistance

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(AVNphotolab/Getty Images)

A few years ago, Dutch doctor Marinou Arends attended to her dementia patient in a nursing home. Arends wasn’t there to treat her, but to kill her via lethal injection.

To make it easier, Arends drugged her patient’s coffee, a violation of euthanasia rules. But in the midst of the termination, the patient woke up, saw what was happening, and began to struggle. The doctor instructed the family to hold the resisting patient down while she finished her off.

That would seem to be murder and a criminal prosecution was mounted. But this is Euthanasia Land. The Dutch Supreme Court later lauded the doctor for her good intentions and dismissed all criminal complaints.

Now, the Dutch have reacted to the case to create specific rules governing the euthanasia of dementia patients. Of course they now allow drugging to prevent resistance! From the Guardian story:

Doctors euthanising a patient with severe dementia may slip a sedative into their food or drink if there are concerns they will become “disturbed, agitated or aggressive”, under a change to the codes of practice in the Netherlands.

Another factor of the Arends story is worth noting. The patient had asked for euthanasia when she became incompetent, but she wanted to decide when. She never did. So, the rules were changed to govern that circumstance too:

The new code says that in cases where a patient has advanced dementia, “it is not necessary for the doctor to agree with the patient the time or manner in which euthanasia will be given”.

Kohnstamm said: “Doctors now have less to worry about putting their necks in a noose with euthanasia. They need less fear of justice. Or for the review committee.”

No, we wouldn’t want that.

This is now the law of the land in the Netherlands: If a dementia patient requested euthanasia when competent, the doctor decides why and when — and can drug the patient to make sure there is way to say no.

This is par for the Dutch course. The response to an egregious abuse isn’t to rein in illegal practice and stop further wrongdoing but expand and legalize it and make it right.

Once a society accepts killing as an acceptable response to human suffering, there are no outer boundaries limiting where the killing will ultimately go. Those with eyes to see, let them see.

 

Elections

Kamala’s Coattails: Republicans Flip Three Democratic House Seats in California

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Joe Biden’s decision to tap California’s junior senator to be his VP doesn’t seem to have helped Democrats down-ballot in California.

Republicans flipped more House seats in California than any other state:

In addition to the three Democratic seats flipped by California Republicans David Valadao, Michelle Steel, and Young Kim, it appears likely that Republican Mike Garcia will hold on to the southern California district he flipped in a special election earlier this year.

In her first statewide race in California to serve as attorney general, Harris, then district attorney of San Francisco, defeated the Republican district attorney of Los Angeles County by less than one percentage point. The Democrat at the top of the ticket that year was elected governor by 13 points.

White House

The Trump Elector Strategy That Dare Not Speak Its Name

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Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing (pabradyphoto/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump met this afternoon with Michigan Senate majority leader Mike Shirkey and Michigan House of Representatives speaker Lee Chatfield, both Republicans in a state where Republicans hold both houses of the state legislature, but Democrats hold the governorship. It has been widely rumored that Trump is pushing a strategy to get Republican-controlled state legislatures in key swing states to select pro-Trump slates of electors, rather than the electors who were chosen by popular vote for Joe Biden. In theory, this could be justified: the Constitution allows state legislatures to decide how electors are selected, and it need not be by popular vote. In extreme cases, if a popular vote was held but so marred by fraud or violence (as happened in 1876, when Democrats were outright murdering black voters who wanted to vote Republican), a case could be made for state legislators voiding the popular vote as unreliable and selecting their own slate. There were nods in this direction in Florida in 2000 and Hawaii in 1960. But it would face significant legal challenge if no court has voided the state’s election. The legislature may be bound by its own laws holding a vote, unless the governor goes along with repealing them, as won’t happen in Michigan. Such a step would be radical, unprecedented, and likely to lead to mass mob violence. National Review has wisely editorialized against it.

But here’s the thing: a step this drastic needs the participation of a lot of state legislators across at least three states. It needs a public groundswell led by the president. But where is that leadership? Yes, one can infer the strategy from Trump’s legal team’s approach. Yes, there are media reports based on anonymous sources. But a public rebellion against a genuinely fraudulent popular vote requires open public leadership to coalesce. Elected officials need the cover of advocates at the head of their party. Where is it? To date, neither the president, nor anyone in the Trump White House, nor anyone in the Trump campaign, has made a public case for this strategy. Here is White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany at today’s briefing:

Q Okay. Thanks, Kayleigh. What is the President planning to discuss this afternoon with the two Michigan lawmakers? And will he ask them to have the state legislature appoint electors who will support his re-election? What’s the nature of that meeting?

MS. MCENANY: So he will be meeting later on. This is not an advocacy meeting. There will be no one from the campaign there. He routinely meets with lawmakers from all across the country.

Q When will you admit you lost the election?

Q Kayleigh, at what point does the President concede the race and allow for a proper transition to the Biden team?

MS. MCENANY: So, right now, there’s ongoing litigation.

Q So, back to the topic of concession. Like we said earlier, is there something that the President needs to see before making that call? Is it the end of these lawsuits, whenever they do wrap up, all of them? States certifying results for different counties? Or December 14th when the Electoral College casts its ballots?

MS. MCENANY: Look, the President, again, is pursuing ongoing litigation and taking it day by day, and we’ll wait for that litigation to play out.

Q So just to clarify, it’s the end of that litigation that we would need to see before getting a call —

MS. MCENANY: There’s an entire constitutional process of electors casting their ballots, and I will leave that to the President.

This vague defensiveness is not how you talk when you think you have public opinion on your side to bulldoze longstanding procedural norms.

Then we have the joint statement of Shirkey and Chatfield following their meeting with Trump: “We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors.” That’s legislator-speak for “no.”

If you are a Democrat of conspiratorial bent, you might say that this is all cover for a secret plot. But the coordinated action of six or more state legislative bodies (every state but Nebraska has a two-house legislature) is not really possible to organize entirely in secret. Legislators are politicians, well aware that they serve at the pleasure of the voters; if the president and his team will not dare make the case in public for a step this radical, and lay out the case for its public and legal justifications, it becomes prohibitively difficult to line up support for it among a legislative majority. Moreover, state legislatures have their own dynamics; Chatfield at present is simultaneously engaged in beating back efforts by his own back-benchers to impeach Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer over her coronavirus response. And two Republican senators, Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, have already spoken out against the appointed-electors scheme, which is two more than there are senators on the record favoring it.

Legislatures, for all their flaws, are not designed to take public risks without laying a strong groundwork in public opinion first. On some level, Donald Trump and his team understand that the appointed-electors scheme would be massively unpopular, and they are shying away from advocating it in the open. So long as that continues, they will lack the power to convert the support of a noisy minority into a chain of legislative majorities in their corner. And if that is the case, people around the president need to begin considering how he can arrange an exit strategy to accept the inevitable with some shred of his dignity intact. Because nobody will follow a leader who won’t even speak out to show the way.

 

 

Elections

‘If It’s a Conspiracy, It’s Time to Prove It’

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Today on The Editors, Rich, Jim, Alexandra, and Maddy discuss the latest in the post-election fight, NYC’s school closures, and allegations against Raphael Warnock. Listen below, or subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Religion

Abortion and the COVID Vaccines

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At least two Catholic bishops have been urging pro-lifers not to use the COVID vaccines on the ground that their development involved abortion. (You may recall a controversy last month regarding how President Trump’s COVID case was treated.)

Drudge is linking to this story that centers on Joseph Brennan, the Catholic bishop of Fresno. Hayley Smith reports:

Brennan joins a growing chorus of Catholic organizations concerned about stem cells and COVID-19 vaccines. . . . In July, the Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center shared a statement in which President Joseph Meany described the potential reliance on a stem cell-developed vaccine as a “nightmare scenario” that would “cause major conscience problems for pro-lifers and Catholics.”

But that’s not the last word Meany has had on the subject. On EWTN last week, he explained that the nightmare scenario has been averted: Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine used cells taken from aborted human beings for their development or production. Both were, however, tested using cells that may have been derived from an abortion in 1973.

The connection between that possible abortion and the vaccines is attenuated. No one who takes them to protect himself and his community from COVID need worry that he is either causing an abortion, encouraging abortion in the future, or conferring approval of it.

(Public Discourse has run two essays making this case in some detail.)

Health Care

The Gruesome Record of Gavin Newsom

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Gavin Newsom speaks to reporters during his 2018 gubernatorial campaign in San Diego, Calif. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

The revelation that California governor Gavin Newsom attended a crowded dinner party at an expensive restaurant in his state just as its coronavirus cases started to surge and he began to lock down its economy more aggressively is one of the most egregious examples of late of the kind of cynicism-inducing behavior that undermines trust in our leaders and institutions.

It’s also a perfect example of how Newsom personifies a kind of aristocratic liberalism that distinguishes itself from other varieties by seeming to cater to the tastes, preferences, and interests of the new upper class. National Review contributor Joel Kotkin explains why in City Journal:

Conservatives like to ascribe the label “leftist” to politicians such as Newsom. In reality, California’s governor is no Marxist firebrand but rather a favored candidate of what the Los Angeles Times described as “a coterie of San Francisco’s wealthiest families,” including the Fishers (who founded the Gap clothing chain), the Pritzkers (whose family includes the current Illinois governor), and especially the Getty family, which essentially adopted Newsom, financed his business ventures, and allegedly paid for his first lavish wedding while helping launch his political career. These families overall have prospered in California’s highly bifurcated economy, among the least egalitarian in the nation. Its prime beneficiaries cluster along the state’s postindustrial, temperate zones.

Newsom rose, as former assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor Willie Brown suggests, as the favored spokesman for San Francisco’s local well-to-do. “He came from their world, and that’s why they embraced him without hesitancy and over and above everybody else,” Brown told the Los Angeles Times. “They didn’t need to interview him. They knew what he stood for.”

Newsom postures as a social-justice advocate and believer in austere green virtues, but the corporate aristocracy has helped him live in luxury, first in his native Marin, and now in Sacramento. Newsom’s passion for the good life caused him some embarrassment recently when he was caught violating his own pandemic orders at the ultra-expensive, ultra-chic French Laundry in Napa. This episode exemplifies America’s elite nomenklatura—demanding sacrifices of the masses, whether in the form of lockdowns or housing, but less often from themselves.

The whole thing is worth reading. Kotkin suggests that Newsom’s record is starting to catch up with him, as his inability to work for anything like a common good that benefits all Californians is becoming increasingly evident. Let’s hope so. Otherwise, a man Kotkin identifies as looking like a president out of central casting might try to foist his uniquely defective brand of aristocratic liberalism on America as a whole.

Law & the Courts

Justice Barrett and the Death Penalty

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The justice’s critics hit her coming and going. Because she collaborated on a law-review article that argued, 22 years ago, that Catholic judges might have to recuse themselves from certain types of death-penalty cases, progressives (and the odd conservative) portrayed her as a theocrat. Now she is being criticized for allegedly flouting Catholic teaching by allowing an execution to go forward.

The article develops a nuanced view, arguing, for example, that a judge who considers the death penalty immoral need have no qualms about ruling that the Constitution allows states to impose it. This view seems to me not only defensible, but broadly correct — and considerably better thought-through than anything her critics have come up with.

Politics & Policy

A (Relatively) Fair Review of Obama’s New Memoir

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Earlier this week, former president Barack Obama began to make the rounds to promote A Promised Land, his new book, a third (!) memoir. (It is the first of two promised volumes.) I have not read it, so I will withhold firm judgments on its quality. But the return of Obama to the public eye has served as a useful reminder of some of the reasons why his presidency aggravated conservatives so much.

Two of these reasons have been most evident this week: the complete willingness of media outlets to roll over on his behalf; and his seeming inability to understand that people who disagree with him might have reasons for doing so that aren’t rooted in grievance, prejudice, or some other explained-away force. Obama was not a Marxist, but the idea that one’s ideological opponents can only have such material reasons for disagreeing bears some whiff of the Marxist notion of false consciousness. (It is a notion that has pervaded sufficiently beyond its Marxist origins that some conservatives can be guilty of as well.)

At any rate, John Harris, the founding editor of Politico, deserves credit for writing just about one of the most fair and honest reviews of the book that I have seen beyond the Right. It still appears to take the former president’s side, but primarily turns on the question of whether Obama was the “great” president he wanted to be or merely a “good” president. Harris seems to be of the latter view. And in one particularly perceptive passage, he identifies a character trait of Obama that helps to explain why:

Obama as a writer makes clear: He spends a lot of time in his own head, and Obama as politician and president did the same. He plainly believes if he can adequately explain himself—how smart he is, how conscientiously he agonized over questions, and with such keen perceptiveness about differing points of view—this will cause people to look sympathetically at the decisions he did make.

It worked on me.

Along similar lines, Harris notes that many of Obama’s attempts at self-criticism come up short:

Sometimes his self-criticism about being too cerebral or detail-oriented in speeches or debates comes off sounding a bit superior, like those people who, when asked to describe weakness, say they care too much or are too impatient with colleagues whose standards are not as high.

Harris also claims that Obama “almost always demonstrates that he understands the perspective even of those who criticize him,” which seems far less obvious to me than to Harris (to say the least), so this review is not a complete dissent from the familiar resurgence of Obama friendliness in the media. But it is still a more bracing appraisal of Obama’s book and his legacy than one might have expected.

Elections

Sidney Powell’s Tell

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If you knew absolutely nothing about the mountain of evidence contradicting the wild claims made by a trio of Trump campaign lawyers — Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, and Sidney Powell — in yesterday’s fever dream of a press conference, one aside from Powell should have made it abundantly clear that this is a charade meant to cater to Donald Trump’s ego and pad the pockets of the proselytizers of the #StopTheSteal conspiracy theory. No, I’m not talking about the rant about how “the software itself was created with so many variables and so many backdoors that can be hooked up to the Internet, or a thumb drive stuck in it or whatever.” I’m referring to how she proclaimed that the software, which was supposedly designed to change a certain percentage of votes for Trump into votes for Biden, would not have been discovered “had the votes for President Trump not been so overwhelming in so many of these states that it broke the algorithm that had been plugged into the system.”

This quasi-religious narrative — that the love and support for the president was so great that it overpowered malicious software in a cosmic triumph of good over evil — has so obviously been concocted to cater to Trump’s ego that it’s astonishing anyone could believe it. This PR offensive posing as a legal challenge exists only to placate the president and enrich his attorneys — to the detriment of his own supporters and the country.

Elections

No, This Isn’t True Either

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Trump and his legal team have focused on vote dumps as evidence of fraud. Here’s Trump yesterday:

But this is an artifact of the way the count was conducted, as our friend Henry Olsen notes here:

Data nerd Nate Cohn has more:

And here’s a USA Today fact check.

The Economy

Student-Debt Relief Is a Bad Way to Stimulate the Economy

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The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has a great breakdown of why this is so. There are layers upon layers of problems with forgiving student debt to boost the economy, especially during the short term in light of COVID-19.

First and most obviously, debt is paid off in installments, sometimes over the course of several decades. So forgiving $X in debt today reduces payments by far less than $X in the near term. Some people might spend more today because their overall debt burden is lower, but research suggests this effect is small.

Second, if the debt relief is taxed (which will hinge on the government’s interpretation of obscure tax statutes), the extra taxes will cut into even this short-term boost.

Third, when you want to inject money into the economy, you give it to the folks most likely to spend an extra dollar. People with debt from college are not, by and large, in this category:

Over 70 percent of current unemployed workers do not have a bachelor’s degree, including 43 percent who did not attend college at all. Meanwhile, less than one-third of all student debt is held by households without a bachelor’s degree and less than a tenth is held by those with no college education.  Indeed, about two-fifths of all student debt is held by households with graduate degrees. That group makes up less than a tenth of the total unemployed.

Finally, even if we do want to enable folks with student loans to spend more while the economy is struggling, we can get a similar effect for a fraction of the cost by extending the current pause on payments rather than forgiving the debt entirely.

Law & the Courts

An Embarrassing Error by Trump’s Legal Team

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As I have noted repeatedly thus far, it is healthy and important (in the atmosphere of conspiracy following this election) to have election challenges filed in court, both because of the moderating influence of having to settle on a story and put things in sworn filings and because courts — and the public — can then scrutinize the evidence, with all sides getting their day in court. But it is also clear that the lawyers lately rising to the top of Donald Trump’s legal team are not exactly doing top-notch work. John Hinderaker of Powerline, a longtime Minnesota lawyer, catches one particularly egregious error in “an affidavit signed by Russell Ramsland, a Texas resident who is an expert on cyber security. The affidavit was filed by Lin Wood in the Georgia lawsuit, but it relates entirely to Michigan. . . . The Ramsland affidavit is part of the Trump team’s case relating to Dominion.” What’s the error? Ramsland claimed to have found multiple Michigan precincts with suspiciously high numbers of votes compared to “Estimated Voters based on Reported Statistics.” But Hinderaker looked at the list of the precincts:

Here’s the problem: the townships and precincts listed in paragraphs 11 and 17 of the affidavit are not in Michigan. They are in Minnesota. Monticello, Albertville, Lake Lillian, Houston, Brownsville, Runeberg, Wolf Lake, Height of Land, Detroit Lakes, Frazee, Kandiyohi–these are all towns in Minnesota. I haven’t checked them all, but I checked a lot of them, and all locations listed in paragraphs 11 and 17 that I looked up are in Minnesota, with no corresponding township in Michigan. This would have been obvious to someone from this state, but Mr. Ramsland is a Texan and the lawyers are probably not natives of either Minnesota or Michigan.

Evidently a researcher, either Mr. Ramsland or someone working for him, was working with a database and confused “MI” for Minnesota with “MI” for Michigan. . . . This is a catastrophic error, the kind of thing that causes a legal position to crash and burn . . . has Mr. Ramsland inadvertently stumbled across evidence of voter fraud in Minnesota? I seriously doubt it. The venues in question are all in red Greater Minnesota, not in the blue urban areas where voter fraud is common.

Can’t anybody here play this game?

Monetary Policy

Central Bankers – The (Latest) Unacknowledged Legislators of the World

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A tourist walks on a sunny autumn day in a forest outside Almaty, Kazakhstan, October 13, 2020. (Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters)

I’ve written a bit about how central bankers have been entering the climate wars (and how, regrettably, the the Fed has now enlisted alongside them).

Here’s another example of a central bank going down this route, via Bloomberg Green:

Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem called on the country’s banks and businesses to act more quickly on disclosing their exposure to the risks posed by global warming.

In remarks on a panel organized by the Public Policy Forum, Macklem said it’s a competitive imperative for the country to do a better job at accelerating capital flows to areas that reduce climate risks and minimize potential destabilization from the transition to a low-carbon economy. The governor didn’t comment on current monetary policy.

“Information and disclosure are essential for the financial system to be able to do its job,” Macklem said in prepared remarks via video conference. “Companies need to assess, price and manage their climate risks, and they need to disclose these risks for markets to function well.”

So far as those “risks” are concerned, here’s an extract from a must-read paper written by the Hoover Institution’s John Cochrane, to which I have referred to before, and fully expect to refer to again:

Let me point out the unclothed emperor: climate change does not pose any financial risk at the one-, five-, or even ten-year horizon at which one can conceivably assess the risk to bank assets. Repeating the contrary in speeches does not make it so.

Risk means variance, unforeseen events. We know exactly where the climate is going in the next five to ten years. Hurricanes and floods, though influenced by climate change, are well modeled for the next five to ten years. Advanced economies and financial systems are remarkably impervious to weather. Relative market demand for fossil vs. alternative energy is as easy or hard to forecast as anything else in the economy. Exxon bonds are factually safer, financially, than Tesla bonds, and easier to value. The main risk to fossil fuel companies is that regulators will destroy them, as the ECB proposes to do, a risk regulators themselves control. And political risk is a standard part of bond valuation.

That banks are risky because of exposure to carbon-emitting companies; that carbon-emitting company debt is financially risky because of unexpected changes in climate, in ways that conventional risk measures do not capture; that banks need to be regulated away from that exposure because of risk to the financial system—all this is nonsense. (And even if it were not nonsense, regulating bank liabilities away from short term debt and towards more equity would be a more effective solution to the financial problem.)

And as Cochrane makes clear, the insistence on disclosure is not designed to give investors or regulators information on which they can act — not really — but rather as part of a regime  “essentially of shame, boycott, divest, and sanction.”

We know where “disclosure” leads. Now all companies that issue debt will be pressured to cut off disparaged investments and make whatever “green” investments the ECB [the European Central Bank] is blessing.

(Cochrane was addressing a conference arranged by the ECB.)

And if anyone believes that the Fed will not (in the end) go down that route, I have an environmentally dodgy and thoroughly unreliable wind turbine to sell them.

Cochrane’s conclusion:

Working for a central bank is a bit boring. One may feel a longing to do something that feels more important, that helps the world in its big causes. One may feel longing for the approval of the Davos smart set. Why does Greta Thunberg get all the attention? But a central bank is not the Gates Foundation, which can spend its money any way it likes. This is taxpayers’ money, and regulations use force to transfer wealth between very unwilling people. A central bank is a government agency, and central bankers are public servants, just like the people who run the DMV.

Central banks must be competent, trusted, narrow, independent, and boring. A good strategy review will refocus central banks on their core narrow mission and let the other institutions of society address big political causes. Boring as that may be.

The use by central banks of an almost entirely bogus excuse (“risk”) for getting involved in the climate wars debases and degrades institutions that ought to be largely above the political fray. Instead, they are allowing themselves to be used as a device to push forward policies that, in a properly functioning democracy, ought to be debated and approved in the legislature.

As I noted when previously discussing Cochrane’s arguments:

 Cochrane was specifically discussing the role of central banks and certain international organizations, but he could also have been talking about the mission creep now detectable in so many institutions, especially in the field of finance, where the intertwined ideologies of “socially responsible” investing and stakeholder capitalism have led to the situation where decisions that should be left to elected governments are now being taken by investment managers playing politics with other people’s savings.

Some of those investment managers, like increasing numbers of central banks, try to justify what they are doing by talking about risk. This, on any basis that excludes the (non-negligible) risk of command-and-control climate regulation, is absurd. Yes, it’s prudent to see how resilient a company might be in the event, say, of a hurricane or, for that matter, a terrorist attack, or any number of other potentially catastrophic risks, but to include “climate change” in that list is to replace prudence with paranoia (and there are many ruder words that I could use).

Back to Cochrane:

The question is whether the European Central Bank (ECB), other central banks, or international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the Bank for International Settlements, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development should appoint themselves to take on climate policy—or other important social, environmental, or political causes—without a clear mandate to do so from politically accountable leaders.

The Western world faces a crisis of trust in our institutions, a crisis fed by a not-inaccurate perception that the elites who run such institutions don’t know what they are doing, are politicized, and are going beyond the authority granted by accountable representatives.

Trust and independence must be earned by evident competence and institutional restraint. Yet central banks, not obviously competent to target inflation with interest rates; floundering to stop financial crisis by means other than wanton bailouts; and still not addressing obvious risks lying ahead; now want to be trusted to determine and implement their own climate change policy? (And next, likely, taking on inequality and social justice?)

We don’t want the agency that delivers drinking water to make a list of socially and environmentally favored businesses and start turning off the water to disfavored companies. Nor should central banks. They should provide liquidity, period.

But a popular movement wants all institutions of society to jump into the social and political goals of the moment, regardless of boring legalities. Those constraints, of course, are essential for a functioning democratic society, for functioning independent technocratic institutions, and incidentally for making durable progress on those same important social and political goals.

Quite.

The interesting question, of course, is the extent to which some climate warriors even care whether democracy is functioning or not. There’s a reason that they have again relabeled global warming, this time to a climate ‘emergency.’

After all, neither democracy nor basic freedoms fare too well in emergencies. They get in the way, you see.

Law & the Courts

Intimidation Tactics Against Trump Lawyers Undermine Justice

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Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, personal attorney to President Donald Trump, speaks about the presidential election results during a news conference in Washington, D.C., November 19, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Two-hundred and fifty years ago, a young lawyer named John Adams risked professional and economic ruin when he defended British soldiers who were accused of firing into a crowd of protesters, killing five of them, in the Boston Massacre. Adams’ representation saved all nine soldiers from murder convictions and execution.

Today, both conservatives and progressives are disregarding Adams’ example and organizing campaigns to intimidate law firms who work for the Trump election effort. These efforts ignore lawyers’ role in our legal system as advocates for clients, including those who espouse unpopular positions, and confuse representation with approval of the clients’ actions or views. Regardless of how one views the Trump lawsuits, bullying the lawyers undermines the fair administration of justice.

The Lincoln Project – a group of Republican Never-Trumpers who campaigned against Trump and other Republican candidates this past election – has been urging lawyers at two firms representing Trump in election challenges (Jones Day and Porter Wright Morris & Arthur) to resign and has been calling on the firms’ clients to change their representation if the firms continue working on the lawsuits. At the other end of the political spectrum, ShutDownDC has organized protests outside offices of Jones Day, Porter Wright and a third firm, King & Spalding, and circulated the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of lawyers at the firms so they can be harassed.

The efforts appear to be succeeding. Late last week, Porter Wright announced it is withdrawing from a lawsuit it filed in federal court in Pennsylvania on behalf of Trump just a few days before, and a Jones Day partner was quoted as saying the firm would refrain from taking on additional election litigation.

Ironically, in 2011, the third firm being pressured, King & Spalding, succumbed to a similar pressure campaign from gay rights groups and withdrew from its representation of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives in defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. The withdrawal prompted King & Spalding partner and former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, who was leading the litigation, to resign from the firm and take the case with him to another firm. Clement’s resignation letter stated,

 a representation should not be abandoned because the client’s legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters. Defending unpopular positions is what lawyers do. The adversary system of justice depends on it, especially in cases where the passions run high. …being on the right or wrong side of history on the merits is a question for the clients. When it comes to the lawyers, the surest way to be on the wrong side of history is to abandon a client in the face of hostile criticism.

Two days later a New York Times editorial concurred with Clement:

 We strongly oppose the federal statute known as the Defense of Marriage Act which bans recognizing same-sex marriage. …But the decision of those lawyers, the law firm of King & Spalding, to abandon their clients is deplorable. … it was obliged to stay with its clients, to resist political pressure from the left that it feared would hurt its business.

Today’s intimidation tactics are uncomfortably reminiscent of the McCarthyist, Red Scare tactics of the early 1950s. Lawyers were pressured to not defend people in anti-Communist proceedings and often suffered economically for doing so, losing clients who feared associating with defenders of communists, their jobs, and even their ability to practice law.

The American Bar Association’s Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(b), comment 5, states that, “Legal representation should not be denied to people …whose cause is controversial or the subject of popular disapproval. By the same token, representing a client does not constitute approval of the client’s views or activities.” One need not agree with the validity of the president’s fraud claims or the merits of the lawsuits to realize there is something seriously wrong with trying to intimidate lawyers and obstruct the legal process. It is up to the courts to determine the merits of the legal claims, and courts always have the option of sanctioning attorneys who make frivolous or fraudulent claims.

Despite severe criticism and damage to his home by angry neighbors, Adams went on to become our second president. A few years after the massacre, Adams wrote in his diary that his defense had “procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country.” Regardless of political allegiances, we should all hope that today’s lawyers are as brave and principled.

Education

Colleges Claim to Promote ‘Critical Thinking,’ but Is That What We Need?

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Most American colleges and universities say that they aim to develop “critical thinking” in their students. For the most part, they fail to do so, as students graduate without much ability to discern between sound and unsound reasoning.

In today’s Martin Center article, Professor Alex Sosler of Montreat College argues against the cult of critical thinking. “What is lacking in education today,” he writes, “is anchoring the search for knowledge in a charitable outlook, one that emphasizes care and respect over suspicion and critique.”

The emphasis on “critical thinking,” Sosler maintains, puts students in the wrong frame of mind for education, one of suspicion. Instead, he argues for charitable thinking: “Charitable thinking requires a humility that considers, ‘I could be wrong about this’ — even if the ‘this’ is personally repulsive. It’s in this way that we can be challenged in our thinking, where minority opinions are heard and respected, and free speech is protected. You may very well still disagree at the end of charitable thinking, but at least it requires patience to listen.”

That’s a good point, but I would say that students should be taught both the patience to listen along with the precepts of logic so they can rationally evaluate what they hear.

Politics & Policy

The Insanity Oath

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Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, personal attorney to President Donald Trump, stands in front of a map of election swing states marked as Trump “Pathways to Victory” during a news conference in Washington, D.C., November 19, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Conservatives sense that social progressives have achieved a critical level of consolidation in key institutions: the Democratic Party, the university, and the prestige media. The occasional purges of old-school liberals from these institutions testify to that fact. The way that progressives have made “cancellation” a weapon is intimidating, a powerful inducement for conservatives to hang together. For an average person, a cancellation is a mob-like digital attack on their reputation and livelihood, usually with lifelong consequences. Progressive power is so insidious and pervasive, it seems to subvert the professional conservatives — elected officials, people at think tanks, and writers for National Review. The fear of being smeared is held out on the one hand, as well as the blandishments of feigned “respect,” occasionally attached to a low-level cable news contract.

The unhinged response to this power can be self-defeating.

My old friend John Zmirak is especially sensitive to the possibility of subversion.  John knows I live in the New York suburbs under King Cuomo’s edicts, as well as the other closer tyranny of three toddlers.  He can’t truthfully accuse me of being in it for the cocktail parties these days. With that out, he resorts to lumping me in with Nazi collaborators, because I found myself embarrassed for Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell’s press conference Thursday.

The two of them launched a series of fantastical accusations of election fraud. Powell focused particularly on an international conspiracy.  Some of what they alleged in that press conference has already been denied by Trump’s legal team when operating under oath in Pennsylvania’s courts. Powell has been promising to release a “Kraken” for quite a while now. I don’t think she has it. Tucker Carlson seems skeptical too. And his segment is far more embarrassing than anything I tweet. Will John call Carlson a Vichy-con as well? I doubt it.

My view is that the people who have been “fraud-pilled” in recent weeks have lost their heads. Zmirak’s rejoinder is that people like me have lost our hearts.

Zmirak is not alone in getting invested more heavily in Trump’s allegation of fraud. Something deep is at work. There were no Trump signs in my own neighborhood until after the election. Suddenly, as if in defiance, they’ve begun to sprout up. Many friends who I did not know were political are sending me little snippets of allegations of voter fraud and manipulation, much of which they are picking up from Instagram.

Most of the allegations contradict each other or what we know about the election. It was not big city machines that cost Trump the election; he did better than expected in cities like Philadelphia — something that an organized fraud of the type Powell alleged would be most anxious to disguise. Where he got hammered was in the suburbs, where there is no shortage of Republican election observers and volunteers. It is not surprising that he got hammered when mail-in votes were counted, as he consistently undermined his own voters’ faith in them.

The best possible case that Trump was “robbed” in any sense is that he was robbed fair and square, legally and in plain sight. It is the assertion that the loosened rules surrounding mail-in balloting allowed a far greater number of ballots to clear the rejection hurdles they’d have run into in earlier years. This does not come close to justifying the extreme remedy proposed, which is to have Republican legislatures pass laws enabling them to abrogate the results of Election Day in their states and execute a legal coup.

If John can speculate that I’m a coward akin to traitor, I think it justified to share my own speculations. The attempt to bind conservatives to Trump after he has lost, by believing in a massive conspiratorial plot, is not so different from previous psychotic reactions on the political right when it faced a stifling and powerful consensus. In previous ages, it expressed itself in the demand to believe Dwight Eisenhower was a communist.

Allegiance to a plain insanity is a good test of loyalty, like being beat-in during a gang initiation. It marks you in a way that makes you less suitable as an object for the Left’s blandishments. It demonstrates “commitment” or heart. Shared insanity can make people loyal to each other, sure. But it does so by rendering them useless or repulsive to the normal and decent people who need champions.

I cannot tell what I believe is a lie. And the truth is this form of bonding is for warped losers.

Elections

Trump’s Election Disinformation: Three ‘Don’t’s

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President Donald Trump delivers an update on the Operation Warp Speed program in an address from the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, D.C., November 13, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Don’t minimize it.

Nothing over the past four years convinced me so effectively that Trump needed to be defeated as has his response to defeat. No, it’s not an attempted coup in the literal sense. But it is an extended campaign of brazen public lies by a sitting president of the United States (“I WON THE ELECTION, BY A LOT”; “This was a RIGGED ELECTION!”; etc. — emotionally incontinent majuscules in the originals), undertaken to make his supporters falsely believe that an election has been stolen, combined with an attempt to reverse the outcome of that election by gaming the system. Nor did the disinformation campaign begin on Election Day. Trump strategically laid the groundwork for it all summer and fall (e.g., on June 22: “RIGGED 2020 ELECTION: MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS. IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!”).

Whether or not Trump would execute a coup if somehow he could is, in the present American context, beside the point. What stops him, or anyone else, from doing so is the design of our institutions and the political-cultural norms that undergird that design, one of which is that elected officials admit defeat when the evidence of their defeat is clear — rather than file frivolous lawsuits, attempt to game the system, purge government officials for telling the truth, impede the transition to their successors, and lie, lie, lie. Part of what makes Trump’s lying so devilishly effective, which is to say destructive to that norm, is that claims of small-scale voter fraud are sometimes plausible and it is within the realm of the possible that voting systems could be hacked. The lies are thus presented under a patina of theoretically possible truth, with the deception consisting in a massive exaggeration as to the allegedly election-swinging magnitude of possible fraud and the treatment of every conspiracy theory as something in need of refutation rather than confirmation.

Of course this will have harmful effects on our political culture and weaken our institutions to some unpredictable degree. A new and dangerous thing is getting normalized. I heard a little warning bell go off in Utah when Burgess Owens, the Republican representative-elect of the state’s fourth congressional district, alleged in fundraising emails that Democrats were attempting to steal the election from him — citing no evidence whatever, and even as he led in the vote count. I had never before seen anything like it in the politics of my state. We have Donald Trump to thank.

Pro-democracy dissidents can also thank Trump for undermining their cause by comporting himself in a way that indeed bears a family resemblance to the conduct of strongmen and dictators: not through acts of political violence, which are thankfully beyond his means, but through his lying, lying, lying efforts to invalidate a democratic outcome and spread false beliefs about it.

“Disinformation” is the only adequate word.

Don’t falsely equate it.

Let’s go ahead and grant the harshest claims that the Obama administration abused its power in various ways, some of them involving unjustified surveillance and investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign. Let’s go ahead and grant that the Left never treated Trump’s victory as legitimate and that Hillary Clinton did what she could to entrench the belief that James Comey and Russian hacking had cost her the election. Nonetheless, Clinton conceded her defeat — by margins smaller than Trump’s in 2020 — the morning after the election. Obama invited Trump to the White House and publicly wished him success. Call this hypocritical all you like, but don’t pretend that it was a public campaign of lies, lies, lies about the vote-tallying itself, combined with a system-gaming effort to confer a presidential term on the losing candidate.

Don’t relativize it.

Even if Obama and Clinton had embarked on such a campaign, it would not excuse what Trump is doing now. Paraphrasing “I know you are but what am I” as a plural converse — “I know we are but what are you?” — may offer a certain tribal-partisan satisfaction. It is also a concession that what one previously found egregious enough to howl against is, now, just the way things go.

Economy & Business

Flexible Work Options Mean More Women in Senior Roles

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A friend just shared this new study by Zurich Insurance: It details the big jump in female job applicants (and hires) for senior management roles when those positions were described as potentially including part-time, job-share or other flexible work options.

This could be a silver-lining of COVID-19. More employers recognize that at-home and non-traditional employment arrangements can work for businesses. That means that women (and men) who want or need those options are more likely to find such opportunities. Women who might otherwise have sidelined their careers while raising children are more likely to find ways to continue to work and climb the economic ladder. Expect to find more women in corner offices and boardrooms down the road as a result.

This article in Crain’s New York Business presents the issue and findings matter-of-factly, but as is typical for coverage of this issue, there is always the sense that women are being unfairly forced into the role of caregiver.  This article puts it this way: “Despite increasing economic participation in recent years, women are still more likely to undertake the majority of domestic and caring responsibilities.”

Undoubtedly that’s true, but it’s important to note that many women want to be present when their children are young; it isn’t just something that is unfairly forced upon them. The new paradigms of being able to customize work relationships, rather than face all-or-nothing full-time employment relationships, make that possible.

Unfortunately, this progress is jeopardized by proposals that would make it harder for businesses to offer non-traditional employment options. California’s AB5, for example, is destroying work opportunities for women like Monica, who has been running a florist and event business, and men like Patrick, who had been an emissary for Santa Claus in California but is out of work due to AB5. House Democrats, and both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, support imposing such restrictions nationally, which would derail this progress and make it harder for people — particularly women — to find flexible work options when they need it.

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