Economy & Business

California vs. Freelance Writers

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(Unsplash)

If you drive an Uber, you’re considered a contractor, not an employee, and thus enjoy rather limited protections from labor laws. This is one way that Uber and similar companies have avoided regulations that either needlessly interfere in the free market or provide crucial protections for workers, depending on your perspective. 

The California government, needless to say, endorses the latter view, and in a law taking effect next year aims to force companies to treat all their regular workers as proper employees. That raises a serious issue here in the journalism business, where freelance writing is pretty common.

As the Hollywood Reporter explains, writers did get an exemption, but only for their first 35 submissions for each “putative employer.” As a result, if a Californian writes three articles each month for a single publication, that publication has to treat him as a full employee. There’s been a huge outcry from writers who prefer being able to write as contractors to bring in extra money. Some publications have reportedly stopped working with freelance writers from California.

This hits close to home for me; earlier in my career, I beefed up my income a little by writing video-game and music reviews, often working on a very frequent basis for specific websites I had relationships with. Today I write part-time (though mostly not as a contractor) so I can stay home with my kids. Allowing this law to go into effect is going to hammer a lot of young and part-time writers in an industry where jobs have already been battered relentlessly by the Internet.

I do, however, appreciate the pickle the Left finds itself in. Uber’s business model threatens to weaken labor laws and labor unions, making it more difficult for the government to regulate work arrangements and rendering a major faction of the Left even less relevant. If you want the government, not the market, deciding what contracts prevail between workers and businesses, and if you rely on political and financial support from organized labor, that must be scary. And it’s hard to answer the question of why low-paid cabbies who drive regularly for a ride-sharing company must be treated as employees, but low-paid writers who contribute frequently to a publication should not.

There’s something to be said for having the same rules apply to everyone. I’d write a far more libertarian rulebook than the one we currently go by in this country, and let willing workers and willing businesses reach their own arrangements whether they sell car rides or Internet hot takes, but that’s just me.

Elections

Rock the Vote (and Abolish the Electoral College)

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The “nonpartisan nonprofit” organization Rock the Vote has added its name to a petition to end the Electoral College.

The petition expresses support for the National Popular Vote Compact, an interstate agreement. Once enough states sign on to that agreement, they will pledge to award all of their electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote.

Coalitions change, and it’s possible that effectively abolishing the Electoral College will not always help Democrats. In the short run, however, it certainly would.

Further confirmation — if you needed further confirmation — that “building the political power of young people” is Rock the Vote’s way of saying “help Democrats.”

PC Culture

TMI — Too Much Insanity

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(Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS)

Are you a man? Have you secretly wondered what the worst thing about menstruation is? (It’s okay if you have.) Perhaps it’s the cramps. Perhaps it’s the mess. Perhaps it’s all those wacky hormones.

But no, it’s none of those things, as Always, a sanitary-products company, has discovered. Apparently, the worst thing about periods is that only women get them. . . . Seriously. Periods are not sufficiently inclusive.

Per CNN:

Always sanitary products will remove the Venus symbol, historically used to represent the female sex, from its products to be inclusive of transgender and nonbinary customers.

Transgender activists and allies had publicly urged Proctor & Gamble to redesign its pad wrapper without the gender symbol, a circle atop a cross. . .

Per a trans activist:

And per Proctor & Gamble:

For over 35 years Always has championed girls and women, and we will continue to do so . . . We’re also committed to diversity & inclusion and are on a continual journey to understand the needs of all of our consumers.

Periods, eh. Too much information? No, sir. Too much insanity.

Books

NYU Paper Kills an Ad for Talk about My Book

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New York University students participate in a protest against then President-elect Donald Trump in Manhattan on November 16, 2016. (Bria Webb/Reuters)

I’m giving a talk at NYU on Thursday on theme of my new book, The Case for Nationalism. I had taken out an ad in the student paper for the talk, it was all set to go, and then yesterday I got a notice for refund to my credit card from the assistant director of student life, a woman named Nanci Healey. This seemed odd. Had something gone awry? Sure enough, the ad had been canceled. Apparently, it doesn’t meet the editorial standards of the paper, although no further explanation has been forthcoming.

The ad invited people to learn why their pre-conceptions about nationalism are incorrect:

That this is ruled out of bounds goes precisely to a point I make in my book. The greatest killer of the 20th century was trans-national ideology, especially Communism. But I’m sure I could take out an ad for a laudatory talk about Karl Marx or socialism and no one would bat an eyelash, in fact would welcome it. But if you want to say, “Hey, Alexander Hamilton, arguably the greatest American nationalist, had a point,” or “You know, nationalism has been part of the American mainstream, from the time of the American Revolution onward,” or, “Gee, it’s a very good thing that we live in a world of sovereign nation-states,” no one wants to hear it.

For folks at NYU, by the way, the talk is Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Silver Center, Room 207.

Economy & Business

Ranking the States on Taxes

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The Tax Foundation has an interesting report out today doing just that. It focuses on the tax climate for businesses in particular but ends up being far broader; in fact, individual income and sales taxes account for more than half of the scoring system. The best state is Wyoming, the worst New Jersey.

Obligatory map:

The report should be quite valuable for state policymakers, even if they’re unenthusiastic about the Tax Foundation’s general goal of simple taxes with low rates and broad bases. (Some policy changes would improve a state’s ranking but lower its revenue — indeed, if a state doesn’t have a given type of tax at all, it gets a perfect 10/10 on that part of the score — and big-government types obviously will not find that to be a good tradeoff.) But the document is simply packed with interesting examples of how states vary in their tax policies, in ways good and bad.

White House

You Would Have More Luck Trying to ‘Rein In’ a Hurricane

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(Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Politico: “Many Congressional Republicans are done trying to defend President Donald Trump after he said he was the victim of a lynching on Tuesday — but that doesn’t mean they’re trying to rein him in, either.”

Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus could not “rein in” Trump’s words, nor could John Kelly, nor can Mick Mulvaney. Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and Kellyanne Conway have not been able to limit the president’s tendency to lash out with the most incendiary rhetoric he can imagine. Melania Trump’s call to “be best” has clearly had no impact on how Trump tweets.

If Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell had his druthers, Trump would make different decisions and say different things, but obviously the president does not check with McConnell before blurting out what’s on his mind. Judging from the account of former secretary of defense James Mattis’ speechwriter, Guy Snodgrass, Mattis could not get the president to even pay sustained attention in briefings, much less alter the way he speaks about U.S. allies. And while many seem to believe the relationship between President Trump and Fox News is symbiotic, Trump will hop onto Twitter and complain about any host or guest that he deems excessively critical of him.

Furious criticism from the media, Congressional Democrats, Democratic presidential candidates, and others has not altered the president’s rhetoric. Republican loss of their House majority did not spur any discernible change in the president’s tone or attitude after the midterm elections. The real threat of impeachment by the House has not changed the way the president speaks, thinks, or behaves.

None of these individuals or institutions have managed to even come close to “reining in” what President Trump says. What on God’s green earth does Politico think the average congressional Republican is going to be able to do about it?

Law & the Courts

Lawsuit to Declare Elephant a ‘Person’

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(Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

“Animal rights” activists are determined to “break the species barrier” and create legal standing for animals to sue in court. Of course, the animals would be oblivious to these actions. “Animal standing,” as the issue is known, is really a Trojan Horse (pun intended) to allow animal rights extremists to seek court rulings enforcing their own ideology.

The Nonhuman Rights Project is leading this charge. Having failed to win personhood for chimpanzees — alarmingly, the idea gained support from one high court judge — it is now pursuing a case in New York to determine whether “Happy,” an elephant at the Bronx Zoo, should be granted a writ of habeas corpus. (Ponder the surreality of those words!) From The Guardian story:

Lawyers representing an elephant have argued in a New York City court that their trunked client be considered a person, in a fresh attempt to upend human dominance over this designation.

Happy the elephant is, contrary to her sunny name, being detained by the Bronx Zoo “illegally”, due to her personhood, and must be released, according to the pachyderm’s self-appointed legal team.

The case’s instigator, an animal rights group, hopes it will cause a legal breakthrough that will elevate the status of elephants, which the group calls “extraordinarily complex creatures” similar to humans that should have the fundamental right to liberty.

No. Animals are amoral. They can never have “rights,” just as they can never be held morally accountable to fulfill duties.

The suit charges that Happy is not being cared for properly:

The 47-year-old elephant has spent almost all her life in a one-acre enclosure at the Bronx Zoo after being captured along with six other calves — named Sleepy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Doc, Dopey and Bashful — in Thailand and brought to the US.

Happy and Grumpy cohabited until 2002, when they were relocated to an enclosure with two other elephants — Maxine and Patty. This arrangement turned sour when Maxine and Patty fatally attacked Grumpy. Happy has never been able to live contentedly with the duo, with a recent reconciliation attempt ending badly.

Happy’s lone captivity is anathema to the intricate social arrangements elephants have in the wild, according to experts cited by the Nonhuman Rights Project, which wants her relocated to a far larger sanctuary in California that has other elephants.

Wait a minute! Moving Happy from one place of captivity to another is not “liberty.”

That isn’t to say that Happy shouldn’t be moved to a different location where she can be with other elephants. Pacaderms are highly social.

If keeping an elephant alone is abuse — and I suspect it is — the court should require that the unacceptable status quo be remedied. But the case should be decided based on a proper animal welfare analysis, not the fallacious “rights” invention that seeks to diminish human beings into just another animal in the forest.

The distinction between animal rights and animal welfare is crucial. Animal rights is an ideology that humans and animals are equal. Thus PETA once argued that owning a leather couch is the moral equivalent of purchasing a lamp made from human skin from Auschwitz. Animal-rights believers believe that there should be no human ownership of animals for any reason.

In contrast, animal welfare sees the proper care of animals as a human duty in keeping with our exceptionalism. This approach accepts the propriety of making instrumental use of animals, but requires us to do so for proper reasons and in a humane manner, based on the particular characteristics of the animals in question.

A lot of people think they believe in animal rights when they actually support a vigorous approach to animal welfare. For far more, see my book A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement.

World

Justin Trudeau Lost the Popular Vote. Will Outrage Ensue?

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (CBC via Reuters)

North of the border, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party will form a new government despite being a minority that captured not even one-third of the nation’s votes (33.1 percent). Conservative leader Andrew Scheer must concede defeat despite his party having won 34.4 percent of the vote, or 240,000 votes more than Trudeau.

Will all of North America’s liberal opinion writers snap into action to denounce this abuse of the democratic process? Will we be seeing columns calling Trudeau the usurping Donald Trump of the Great White North? How many column-inches will be expended demanding that Canada rework its electoral institutions so that the more popular party can achieve power? How many hysteria-fueled think pieces will inform us that democracy has been abolished in Canada?

Sports

The NBA’s Adam Silver on China: ‘We Have No Choice but to Engage’

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver (Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

In today’s Wall Street Journal, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver declares in an interview that he “respectfully disagrees” with those who believe the NBA should disengage with China. “My personal belief is that isolationism doesn’t make sense in this highly interconnected world. We have no choice but to engage and to attempt to have better understanding of other cultures and try to work through issues. What better way than through sports?”

Silver’s attempt to reframe the discussion in terms of “isolationism” term is an inartful dodge. No one’s complaining about the NBA’s programs in Senegal, the Philippines, the Czech Republic, Argentina, Bahrain, or Canada. (The Portland Trail Blazers did end their sponsorship with a rifle scope manufacturer who has contracts with the Israeli military, but the team insists it has nothing to do with anti-Israel protests.) The current controversy has nothing to do with NBA exhibition games in Japan, or Vancouver, or Mumbai, or foreign players on NBA rosters. This isn’t about abstract “isolationism,” this is about how the NBA, its coaches, and players instantly went quiet about Chinese human-rights abuses as soon as it became clear that speaking out would jeopardize the league’s lucrative deals in that country.

Nor is Silver’s description of “attempt a better understanding of other cultures” particularly accurate. This isn’t a divide over cultures, this is a divide over government policy. The Chinese government is currently cracking down on protesters in Hong Kong through violent means, and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey wrote one tweet about it. The Chinese government responded with full-spectrum outrage. The Chinese government believes that no one in the NBA should criticize their policies, and the NBA players, coaches, and league officials appear to agree. When Laura Ingraham tells the players to “shut up and dribble” in response to criticism of Trump, the league and its players are defiant. When Xi Jinping effectively says the same through policy choices and state media, the league and its players meekly acquiesce.

Silver told the Journal that the league does not have “official relationships again yet with our counterparts in China,” but that “I’m hoping that as two weeks have now gone by, and there seem to be further signals of de-escalation, that we can begin renewing those relationships.” He also characterized the NBA as “collateral damage” from the ongoing trade war between the United States and China.

What would Silver have to see to conclude that the NBA’s partnerships in China are no longer worth pursuing?

Do you notice how in a lot of our discussion of public policy, the ratchet only turns in one direction? Problems that stem from engagement with China can only be solved by more engagement with China.

The problems that big government programs have failed to solve can only be addressed by bigger government programs. Government efforts to pay for higher education have driven up costs, so the only answer is bigger and more expensive government efforts to pay for higher education.

We never seem to reach the point where advocates say, “oh, no, wait, we were wrong, this approach isn’t working at all.”

White House

‘Trump Should Want a Rapid Impeachment’

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On the home page today, I argue that since impeachment is baked in the cake, Trump should want it to happen sooner rather than later. Among other things, it’s the only way to turn the page on the Ukraine story.

World

An Ignominious Exit

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Whatever you think of “endless wars” or our strategic choices in Syria, getting pelted with rocks, fruits, and vegetables by our erstwhile allies is a dispiriting way to go.

Politics & Policy

A License to Discriminate

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Washington State Capitol building in Olympia (Pixabay)

Progressives in the state of Washington are determined to discriminate on the basis of identity.

More than twenty years ago, voters in that state passed an initiative to prohibit the state government from discriminating on the basis of immutable characteristics. The voters’ command was simple:

The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

The fact that the state needed to pass the initiative nearly 130 years after ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment and nearly three decades after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is depressing enough. But when it comes to discrimination, progressives refuse to take “no” for an answer. Identity politics is their core. And discrimination is integral to politics tied to identity.

So Washington progressives have come up with Initiative 1000. Initiative 1000 purports to prohibit discrimination. But it’s a scam. It does precisely the opposite. The key discriminatory provisions are as follows:

(9) Nothing in this section prohibits the state from implementing affirmative action laws, regulations, policies, or procedures such as participation goals or outreach efforts that do not utilize quotas and that do not constitute preferential treatment as defined in this section .

(11)c “Affirmative action” means a policy in which an individual’s race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, age, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, and honorably discharged veteran or military status are factors considered in the selection of qualified women, honorably discharged military veterans, persons in protected age categories, persons with disabilities, and minorities for opportunities in public education, public employment, and public contracting. Affirmative action includes, but shall not be limited to, recruitment, hiring, training, promotion, outreach, setting and achieving goals and timetables, and other measures designed to increase Washington’s diversity in public education, public employment, and public contracting . . . (emphasis added)

This is a license for the state and/or any city, county, public college, school district, or other governmental agency to discriminate until the cows come home — provided, of course, it’s “good” discrimination — as defined by progressives; “good” discrimination, such as that engaged in by Harvard (and many other colleges), which subjects Asian and white applicants to far higher standards than similarly situated black and Hispanic applicants.

Washington progressives would’ve rammed discrimination into law were it not for Washington Asians for Equality, a tiny, underfunded, outgunned group of warriors which nonetheless succeeded in getting the Initiative put to a vote in November in the form of Referendum 88.

Initiative 1000’s being sold as righteous, fair, and good. In truth, it’s a social engineering abomination that violates equal treatment under law.

Culture

Media Mislead on Study about Self-Induced Abortion

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An imaging table at the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood St. Louis Region in St. Louis, Miss., May 28, 2019. (Lawrence Bryant/Reuters)

The American Journal of Public Health has published a study that purports to show increased interest among U.S. women in self-induced abortion. The study analyzes data from Women on Web (WoW), a website that sends abortion pills to women in countries with limited access to abortion. The results indicate that between October 15, 2017, and August 15, 2018, more than 6,000 U.S. women went online to request abortion pills. The data also suggest that women living in states that the Guttmacher Institute has deemed “hostile” to abortion rights were statistically more likely to request abortion pills online.

Unsurprisingly, much media coverage of this study has been misleading. For instance, most headlines have failed to clarify that Women on Web did not dispense any abortion pills to U.S. women, as the site only sends them to women in countries where abortion is restricted. While Women on Web has been operating since 2006, the study only considers data from one ten-month timeframe and therefore can’t provide evidence that there has been an increase in the number of U.S. women requesting abortion pills online. More than 800,000 women obtain legal abortions in the U.S. annually, while only 6,000 women requested abortion pills through the website during a ten-month span, indicating that a relatively small percentage of abortion-minded women are seeking abortion pills through Women on Web.

Furthermore, there exist problems with the study’s methodology. Guttmacher has deemed certain states “hostile” to abortion rights based on the presence or absence of twelve different policies pertaining to life issues. But this is a crude measure of access to abortion. For instance, Guttmacher deems Alabama hostile to abortion, even though the five largest cities in Alabama — Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, Mobile, and Tuscaloosa — all have abortion facilities. Another methodological problem with the study is that some women may have attempted to request abortion pills online on multiple occasions, which could skew the results; the researchers make no mention of this.

As abortion rates decline and as abortion clinics close, many media outlets have tried to argue that there has been an increase in self-induced abortions, but they have provided only weak evidence. The Guttmacher Institute’s 2017 abortion report indicated that self-induced abortions might be a factor in the recent U.S. abortion-rate decline, pointing to a short-term increase in the percentage of non-hospital facilities that reported treating at least one person for an attempted self-induced abortion. But Guttmacher only presented data from two surveys, and considering that there has been a recent increase in chemical abortions, some of these reports could reflect an increase in patients who encountered complications after taking the RU-486 abortion pill.

Similarly, a 2015 Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) study claimed that there was an increase in self-induced abortions after the state’s H.B. 2 took effect, resulting in the closure of several abortion facilities in Texas. This study also suffered from a number of methodological shortcomings. For example, it asked women whether they had ever attempted to self-induce an abortion but did not ask whether they had attempted to do so after H.B. 2 took effect. As a result, the study provided no evidence that self-induced abortions actually increased since H.B. 2 took effect in 2013. Additionally, women who legally obtained medical abortions by taking the RU-486 pill under medical supervision might have misunderstood the survey question and reported that they self-induced an abortion.

As states endeavor to enact pro-life laws, many researchers and their media allies seem desperate to find evidence that pro-life policies are causing a public-health crisis. So far all they have done is mislead people. For instance, corrected data published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that, contrary to previous research, there had been no spike in maternal-mortality rates after Texas cut Planned Parenthood funding. Contrary to researchers’ claims, there has been no widespread increase in unintended pregnancies or teen births in Texas or any other state that has cut taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. These latest reports claiming that there has been an increase in self-induced abortions are just the latest attempt to scare policymakers away from sound policies to protect the unborn. As always, pro-lifers would do well to stay the course.

National Review

Join Our Community

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The U.S. Capitol building at sunrise, November 6, 2018 (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

If you’re like me, you may look around your neighborhood and see not too many people who share your core assumptions: that the marketplace tends to do a better job solving problems than government bureaucracies and that capitalism is a blessing that lifts people out of poverty; that our constitutional order is marvelous and must be defended at all costs; and that the liberty to think differently and speak freely is not only vital to our country’s national charter but also a critical element of a healthy and vibrant society.

NRPLUS provides a community, a club, and a meeting place for people who share a basic outlook (or are at least willing to engage civilly with those who think as we do). When you join NRPLUS, which at the moment costs just over a buck a week — or a little more if you elect to get the print edition of NR as well — you can join our members-only Facebook group, where writers, editors, and readers hash out the ramifications of the stories of the day. You also get unlimited access to our website, with ads almost eliminated to make for a smoother reading experience, plus invitations to parties with us and conference calls with leading political figures. You know you get far more than a buck a week’s worth of enjoyment out of our site, so take two minutes to join up here.

World

Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Orbán

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Turkey’s Erdogan and Russia’s Putin in Zhukovsky, Russia, on August 27, 2019 (Sputnik / Aleksey Nikolskyi / Kremlin via Reuters)

Putin and Erdogan are meeting in Sochi. That resort town is for more than the Olympics. The meeting, said the New York Times, is an opportunity for Putin and Erdogan “to consolidate their gains in Syria in the wake of President Trump’s sudden withdrawal of American troops.” Talks between the two men “highlight the loss of American influence in the days since Mr. Trump ordered troops to withdraw from northeast Syria.”

At the airport in Ankara, before he left for Russia, Erdogan said something almost touching: “With my dear friend Putin, we will discuss the current situation . . .”

It is a new world, yes, one that some Americans like, a lot, and one that others of us think is ominous. Last year, after his latest fraudulent election, Erdogan staged his latest inauguration. The list of attendees was instructive, and predictable: Medvedev of Russia (standing in for Putin). Orbán of Hungary. Maduro of Venezuela.

Maduro pronounced Erdogan a “leader of the new multi-polar world” — which is accurate.

The year before, Orbán had said, “We all sense — it’s in the air — that the world is in the process of a substantial realignment.” He was meeting with Putin — who hailed Hungary as an “important and reliable partner for Russia in Europe.”

That is certainly true.

After the Americans cleared out and Erdogan invaded Syria, Erdogan met with Orbán, in Baku. The Turk thanked the Hungarian for his support on the world stage — as well he might have. Orbán has, for example, blocked EU resolutions against Turkey.

Two articles this week tell us about Putin and Orbán, and their influence on Trump — their influence on him when it comes to Ukraine, in particular. For a Times report, go here; for a Washington Post report, go here. Putin and Orbán hate Ukraine, of course. Ukraine is a new democracy under siege. Indeed, Putin is warring against Ukraine, literally.

A State Department official, George Kent, testified before Congress on Ukraine. Specifically, he addressed the question of why our president is thinking and acting the way he is. Putin and Orbán have filled Trump’s head — a receptive head, to be sure.

Let me bless the names of two other officials: John R. Bolton and Fiona Hill. Bolton, as you know, was until recently Trump’s national security adviser; Hill, until recently, was the leading Russia expert on the National Security Council staff.

Earlier this year, Trump received Orbán at the White House. According to the Times, Bolton and Hill opposed this development. They believed that Orbán “did not deserve the honor of an Oval Office visit, which would be seen as a huge political coup for an autocratic leader ostracized by many of his peers in Europe.” Mick Mulvaney, the chief of staff, or acting chief of staff, was enthusiastic about the visit, as he is about Orbán.

No one is more enthusiastic than Trump. “It’s like we’re twins,” Trump said to Orbán. We learned this from David Cornstein, an old friend of Trump’s who is now our ambassador in Budapest. Orbán has built an illiberal regime that some find enviable. Listen to Ambassador Cornstein: “I can tell you, knowing the president for a good 25 or 30 years, that he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orbán has, but he doesn’t.”

Finally, listen to Mark Esper, our new secretary of defense: “We had no obligation, if you will, to defend the Kurds from a longstanding NATO ally,” meaning Turkey. So now NATO is important, in the minds of the Trump administration? We must oblige the anti-American, Islamist dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but we’re not so sure about the liberal democracies of Europe?

It is a new world, ladies and gentlemen, and as conservatives know all too well, new is not necessarily good.

U.S.

News Flashes

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A tornado in North Dallas, Texas, October 20, 2019. (Philip Ellis/Social media via Reuters)

A tornado tore through Dallas not too far from where I live last night. I slept through it.

A Home Depot got leveled, and there was a fair amount of damage to houses and other structures, but as of this writing there is no report of death or much in the way of serious injury. This is not to minimize the loss of a home or other property, of course, but only to call attention to one of those many blessings we overlook: the great blessing of all the things that might have happened but didn’t.

These events make me think of my mother, who had a charming habit of calling me to tell me about the weather. She’d sit at home a thousand miles away in Texas, watching the Weather Channel (a Winston in one hand and a Dr Pepper in the other), and see that snow was expected in Philadelphia. And then we’d have a telephone conversation that went, roughly:

“It’s going to snow in Philadelphia tomorrow. Did you know that?”

“Yes. I live in Philadelphia.”

“But I didn’t know if you were paying attention to the news. You don’t even have a television.”

“I’m the editor of the local newspaper. I have my sources. One of them is the weather report in the newspaper, which I read regularly as part of my duties as its editor.”

“You don’t have to be such a know-it-all.”

In 1970, a couple of tornados tore through my hometown, Lubbock, Texas, and obliterated about a quarter of the city, including much of the downtown business district. Thirty-one people died. In 1979, a truly bonkers event known as the Red River Valley Tornado Outbreak saw 59 separate tornados descend on the same day, mostly on and around Wichita Falls, Texas. Fifty-eight people died, most of them in Wichita Falls but others in Oklahoma and as far away as Indiana.

I’ve been around a lot of tornados (they call rednecks “tornado bait” for a reason), and the thing is that, unlike a blizzard or a hurricane, you don’t get a lot of warning with tornados. When Hurricane Sandy flooded my neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, I wasn’t there for it. We’d been warned days in advance — the phrase “super storm” was used — and like anybody else in possession of a credit card and a will to live, I was on the other side of the country, sitting by a pool in Palm Springs, when the lights went out.

But not everybody is that lucky, and some trouble cannot be foreseen or escaped. (Or bargained away, or dealt with by means of a credit card.) And so we call our loved ones to tell them what they already know, just in case. Just in case.

Elections

Elizabeth Warren Is Dodging Questions . . . But It Probably Won’t Matter

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren responds to a question during a forum held by the Giffords group and March For Our Lives in Las Vegas, Nev., October 2, 2019. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

Those of us who are not fans of Elizabeth Warren and who think she’s gotten mostly a free ride from the media are enjoying the current moment, where Democratic rivals are hammering her over a stubborn refusal to admit that paying for Medicare for All would require tax increases on more than just “the rich” and big corporations.

In the last debate, when asked, “Senator Sanders acknowledges he’s going to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for Medicare for all. You’ve endorsed his plan. Should you acknowledge it, too?” Warren responded by shifting to discussion of “costs” and hoping no one would notice the difference.

“Costs will go up for the wealthy,” she said. “They will go up for big corporations. And for middle-class families, they will go down. I will not sign a bill into law that does not lower costs for middle-class families.”

Unfortunately for Warren, her rivals did notice.

Pete Buttigieg called the issue a “a yes-or-no question that didn’t get a yes-or-no answer.” Amy Klobuchar said, “At least Bernie’s being honest here and saying how he’s going to pay for this and that taxes are going to go up. And I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but you have not said that, and I think we owe it to the American people to tell them where we’re going to send the invoice.”

Joe Biden got in on it, too: “The plan is going to cost at least $30 trillion over 10 years. That is more on a yearly basis than the entire federal budget . . . If you’re making — if a fireman and a schoolteacher are making $100,000 a year, their taxes are going to go up about $10,000. That is more than they will possibly save on this health care plan.”

Ask Warren about the costs, and she’ll respond a non sequitur about how awful it is when insurance companies refuse to cover particular treatments.

Now Warren is promising to come out with a more detailed plan.

The bad news for those of us who like seeing her grilled is that her answers or non-answers may not matter much. She’s following a well-worn playbook by previous successful Democratic candidates. Democratic presidential candidates insist that their plans will not increase taxes on the middle class, and furthermore pledge to reduce the tax burden on the middle class. And then, once inaugurated, they suddenly reveal, “oh, wait, never mind, your taxes are going up after all.”

On the campaign trail in 1992, Bill Clinton promised an income tax cut for the middle class; once he was in office, he abandoned the plan to cut income taxes and enacted a variety of tax hikes, some of which hit the middle class: raising the federal tax on gasoline, raising the percentage of Social Security benefits subject to income taxes, phasing out various deductions, and raising the alternative minimum tax.

Then-Senator Obama promised, on Sept. 12, 2008, speaking in Dover, N.H., “I can make a firm pledge.  Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase.  Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.

But as president, Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, which enacted 21 new taxes, some of which hit the middle class.

Separately, under President Obama temporary payroll tax break was not renewed in in 2013, creating a de facto tax increase for millions of workers. A worker making $50,000 per year found his tax bill going up by about $1,000.

Any country that has almost $23 trillion in debt is not one that spends a lot of time worrying about how the government is going to pay for its promises. While running for president, Donald Trump pledged to completely eliminate the debt — not the annual deficit, but the entire federal debt — within eight years. Needless to say, he hasn’t come close; we’re back to trillion-per-year deficits again. If Republican primary voters aren’t asking about how we’re going to pay for things, there’s no way Democratic primary voters are.

Sure, the pledge to not raise taxes on the middle class is a lie. But a lot of voters want to believe the lie.

Culture

Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye Today (October 21, 2019)

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1.

2. About China’s Organ Harvesting

3. A New York Times reporter on ISIS and the fall of Mosul

4. Coptic Christians in Egypt fear martyrs are being forgotten

5.

6. Catholic priest murdered in Kenya, latest in string of killings

7. Robert Nicholson: Hit Turkey Where It Hurts: Help Armenia

8. AP: Syria crisis tests Trump’s global religious freedom vows

9. WSJ: Youth Suicide Rate Increased 56% in Decade, CDC Says 

10. Pew: In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace

11. In the Atlantic: All the Pregnancies I Couldn’t Talk About

12. On CNN.com: This may be the secret to Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s amazingly long marriage

13. Babylon Bee: Politics Now Nation’s Fastest Growing Religion

14. Meet the Almost-100-Year-Old Priest Who Knew St. Maximilian Kolbe

15. Jeff Jacoby: Amid rising anti-Semitism, the People of the Book rejoice with the Law

PLUS: On NYC and Mother Cabrini

A job opening

Amazon has run out of A Year with the Mystics, but says it will be back in stock on October 29. In the meantime, you can order and lock in the 26 percent off sale price here.

An interview about A Year with the Mystics: What ‘A Year with the Mystics’ can teach us about thoughts and prayers

Elections

We’re at the Point Where Campaign Expenses Could Call Julian Castro Home . . .

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Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro speaks at the Democratic presidential debate in Houston, Texas, September 12, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Way back on January 10, 1987, evangelical television viewers witnessed a rather infamous request for money:

Oral Roberts needs about $4.5 million in “quick money” from followers or God won’t let him live past March, the evangelist says.

“I’m asking you to help me extend my life,” Roberts told his television audience Sunday. “We’re at the point where God could call Oral Roberts home.”

Speaking from the clinical laboratory at his City of Faith Medical and Research Center, Roberts asked viewers to send $100 immediately and pledge additional amounts for February and March.

The evangelist, who will be 69 on Jan. 24, said God told him that raising the possibility of his death was necessary to get the attention of his followers.

Oral Roberts did hit his fundraising mark, and — perhaps because God was pleased with his fundraising, or perhaps coincidentally — lived to age 91, passing away in 2009.

Earlier this year, Cory Booker said that if his campaign didn’t raise $2 million in ten days, he might not be in the race much longer. Booker hit the threshold. Now, Julian Castro is making a variation of the same pitch: donate now, or the God of Campaign Expenses will call Julian Castro home!

The fundraising tactic is a last-ditch effort for a candidate who has struggled to raise money for much of his campaign; he entered the fourth quarter of 2019 with less than $700,000 in the bank. In the email, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary writes that the donations are needed to help him qualify for November’s Democratic debate, something he has failed to do so far.

“I’m asking you to fight for me like never before,” Castro says in the email. “If I don’t meet this deadline, I won’t have the resources to keep my campaign running. I’m counting on your $5 in this critical moment.”

In related news, National Review could really use your support, but as far as we know, God isn’t threatening to off anyone if you don’t give enough.

White House

‘Thinking Clearly about Trump and Aid to Ukraine’

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Byron York makes the right distinctions in this piece.

Elections

Buttigieg Is Definitely Gaining Momentum

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In response to Is Pete Buttigieg Gaining Momentum? Or Just Managing Expectations?

Jim, I think Buttigieg is definitely gaining momentum. I’ve been a Mayor Pete skeptic. But he’s been in double digits in Iowa for about a month; he’s emphasizing his relative moderation more, clearly with an eye to Biden’s weakness (and Warren’s strength); and he’s an extremely deft talker. Obviously, there’s still a big question whether he can possibly break out of his demographic silo of college-educated whites. I’d think he’d top out as a Gary Hart 1984– or John Edwards 2004–type candidate, a newcomer who vastly outperforms expectations. As for the general state of the race, I think it’s foolish for anyone to insist it’s a three-person race or a Biden–Warren race. It could still end up a Warren–Buttigieg race, or have some other unexpected configuration, especially if Biden fades.

White House

The Hotelier-in-Chief

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Mick Mulvaney over the weekend said, regarding the Doral decision, that Trump “still considers himself in the hospitality business.” This is an innocent explanation in one sense: It doesn’t occur to Trump that he’s doing anything untoward in, say, wanting to host the G-7 at Doral because he just wants to show people a good time at what he, of course, considers one of the best golf resorts in the world. On the other hand, it’s quite damning — the president of the United States should be focused on one role and job at a time, which is obviously being president of the United States. That Trump has never absorbed this basic insight is one of the worst aspects of his presidency.

Elections

Is Pete Buttigieg Gaining Momentum? Or Just Managing Expectations?

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South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Westerville, Ohio, October 15, 2019. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

There are two ways to look at this cycle’s Democratic presidential primary. Robert Reich lays out one way — that this is a three-candidate race between Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, and that while everyone else who’s running deserves a pat on the back, it’s always been a choice amongst the big three. Reich wants the other candidates off the debate stage, so the party can focus upon the realistic options.

The other way to look at the cycle is that the big three septuagenarians are all weaker than they look, that they’re coasting on name recognition for now, and that when the decision time gets closer for Democratic primary voters, those voters will take a second look at the trailing candidates. That’s probably wishful thinking on the part of most of the also-rans . . . but a new poll does put Pete Buttigieg in third place in Iowa at 13 percent, with Biden leading at 18 percent and Warren at 17 percent. Sanders — who came within a few coin tosses of beating Hillary Clinton — is down at 9 percent, and Kamala Harris, once considered part of the top tier, is now in a three-way tie for sixth.

It’s worth noting that the most recent Emerson poll in Iowa had Buttigieg in third with 16 percent and the most recent CBS News/YouGov poll had him in fourth with 21 percent. The 15 percent threshold matters a lot: “At each caucus, each presidential contender who fails to get at least 15 percent support among the participants in the initial balloting after a period of discussion will be considered ‘non-viable’ and all supporters of such ‘non-viable’ presidential contenders will then be required to join in the support of presidential contenders who have remained ‘viable.’”

Perhaps the most important caveat is that if Buttigieg can’t do reasonably well in Iowa, a neighboring state, it’s fair to wonder where he will do better. He’s in the high single digits in New Hampshire, is in the low single digits in Nevada, and the last Gravis poll in South Carolina had him at . . . 0 percent. A lot of campaigns tout the notion that a surprisingly strong finish in the Iowa caucuses will be a springboard to more success in the following states, but it rarely works out that way. (Certainly not on the Republican side; ask Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, or Ted Cruz.)

Culture

Monday Links

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From 1960, here’s how to build your own fallout shelter.

When Americans Dined (and Dated) in Cemeteries.

A Million People Are Jailed at China’s Gulags. I Managed to Escape. Here’s What Really Goes on Inside

October 21 is Trafalgar Day: history, videos, art, and links. Trafalgar was the greatest British naval victory of the Napoleonic wars, and essentially destroyed the sea power of France in a single engagement.

Air Force finally retires eight-inch floppies from missile launch control system.

How Do Sodas in Outdoor Vending Machines Not Freeze in Winter?

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include the 1814 London Beer Flood that killed eight people, a detailed account of the Notre Dame restoration process, a map of the entire Internet as of 1973 that fit on one sheet of paper, and, from 1865, Mark Twain’s proposal for climate control.

Sports

The Agony of Defeat

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The Yankees lost the ALCS to the Astros three games to two, and it was instructive on the worst way to lose. You can go down without a fight the way the Cardinals did in getting swept by the Nationals, and if you are a Cards fan, you know the writing is on the wall and probably stop paying attention before the series is over. There is the way it seemed the Yankees were going to lose Saturday night, 4-2, trailing the entire game, disappointing but not shocking. Then, there is the way the Yankees actually lost on Saturday, tying it in the top of the ninth with one of the most masterly, clutch at-bats you’ll ever see, and going on to get crushed in the bottom of the ninth by a Jose Altuve two-out two-run bomb. That way of losing will haunt you all winter. Congrats to the Astros, go Nats.

 

Politics & Policy

What Deficit?

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(Unsplash)

In Washington, the remainder of this year looks likely to be dominated by the impeachment of the president. House Democrats seem eager to move the process relatively quickly, perhaps voting on articles of impeachment in late November or in December, and Senate Republicans have said they will then swiftly hold a trial, even though most of them don’t now think impeachment or removal is warranted. Whatever you think about the merits, it’s hard to deny that pretty much nothing else is likely to get done in Congress.

Of course, it’s also true that fairly little has gotten done in Congress over the past few years anyway, so it won’t be all that easy to tell the difference. But the emphasis on impeachment does exacerbate one particular problem that will demand to be noticed: The twelve appropriations bills that compose the federal budget all expire on November 21, one month from now, which could be near the heart of the Democrats’ impeachment schedule. Congress needs to pass spending legislation by then or else face a shutdown.

There is no prospect of the regular appropriations process functioning to achieve that goal. Over the summer, Congress and the president did agree on the overall discretionary spending levels for the year, but at this point the Senate has not passed even one appropriations bill, while the House has passed most of the needed bills but in versions that couldn’t hope to survive in the Senate.

All this suggests that Congress will yet again package the appropriations bills into one or (more likely) a few consolidated packages. A couple of these “minibus” bills could start getting considered as soon as this week, though it’s still not clear how much can really get done by the deadline—there are only about 15 legislative days before November 21, and if House Democrats are serious about moving quickly on impeachment, it’s hard to know how many of those (especially in November) will really be available for spending bills.

Of course, that may not mean a shutdown. It might just mean that, yet again, Congress appropriates for the year to come in a mad rush without considering its options or its fiscal circumstances, bargaining much, or giving most members any real role in the process. And in the meantime, the government’s fiscal situation grows worse despite a fairly strong economy, and we are further than ever from any prospect of reforming the entitlement programs that are responsible for the bulk of the problem.

Recent data from the Congressional Budget Office illustrate the shape of that problem. On its current course, the federal government will run about a trillion dollar deficit this year—despite decent growth and low unemployment. And although CBO does not assume a major recession in its projections, it expects deficits over the coming decade to reach the levels reached at the heart of the Great Recession ten years ago. Here’s a quick snapshot of the last ten years and projections for the next ten years (this is my chart, but made from data CBO released this summer here).

Simply put, the (modest but meaningful) deficit reduction achieved by the congresses of the Tea Party years and President Obama is being undone by today’s Congress and President Trump—and by the sheer demographic pressure of an aging society with an old-age welfare state. The result, of course, is swiftly rising debt.

Here (this time from data released with CBO’s latest long-term outlook) is how the projected debt buildup of the coming decades looks in historical perspective.

Nearly every past peak in the chart is explainable by some significant national emergency: the civil war, the first and second world wars, the Great Depression, the Great Recession. The exceptions are the bump in debt in the Reagan years (which might in part be plausibly explained by the defense buildup that helped end the cold war) and, all the more so, the enormous projected explosion of debt that we have begun to live through, and that we know will grow much worse but have decided not to address.

This is essentially entitlement-driven debt, and there are ways of at least mitigating its growth to reduce the risks involved and the costs to the economic prospects of the rising generation without endangering vulnerable and elderly people now or later. For a sense of these ideas, see for instance proposals from my AEI colleagues Jim Capretta and Andrew Biggs, regarding Medicare and Social Security, respectively.

But to say that the will for such reforms is absent would be a gross understatement. Republicans have read the politics of the Trump era to suggest they should no longer even pretend to care about this problem (and as ever, they seem unaware that the left’s caricatures of what would be involved in addressing it are false). And the Democrats are going even further, promising to expand the reach and scope of the entitlements responsible for these projections.

The prospect we face likely is not a matter of existential disaster or some kind of fiscal implosion. We can probably live with debt like this, but it will mean that our economy has less to offer our people and that we are much weaker and more vulnerable than we have to be. Doing something about it would require modest reforms, reached as compromises. But that’s just what we can’t do now. And so instead we find cowardly silence on the right and careless, nonsensical promises on the left.

In this arena as in others, the legacy of this period looks likely to be a legacy of recklessness and missed opportunities. Doing better would require us to step back from a politics of outrage and counter-outrage and so, although it is something we should plan and work for, at least for the time being it just isn’t something we should expect.

National Review

Where Our Free-Speech Fight Stands

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Your help is needed, but first, you should know: Last week we learned that the SCOTUS justices had, for the third time this month, chosen to postpone for another two weeks a decision on granting (or denying) review in National Review v. Mann. What does this mean?

The vast majority of cert petitions are rejected by the High Court immediately, at the time when they are first scheduled to be considered. The fact that our petition has not been declined, that it persists, that it remains ripe for consideration, means, in the calculus of any seasoned high-court observer, that there is clearly some interest in the case among the justices.

Define “some.” We can’t. How about making odds: Does the delay (it looks like the Court will next formally consider the matter in the first week of November) mean that the case will be taken up? Not necessarily. But then, is there reason to see all this as measured good news? It’s fair to say: Yes.

Heck: The cert petition could have been denied immediately, as most are. So it is indeed good news that we are still in the fight — a fight not of our choosing, but one we intend to engage in with every ounce of institutional energy, every iota of institutional resources. After all, there is an unalienable right being messed with.

Whether SCOTUS takes up the case, or if it proceeds on its current track — a jury trial before the very liberal District of Columbia court system — the facts remain that National Review is

  • engaged in a consequential and expensive legal battle
  • that it is a battle for the protection of a fundamental right to free-speech
  • that even this process, of having the case be heard by D.C. jury, is a serious challenge to long-standing First Amendment protections
  • that this is as much your fight as it is NR’s.

Well over a million dollars have been spent in National Review’s defense since Michael Mann initiated this assault on the First Amendment in 2012 (we wonder: what cabal of liberal moneybags is paying his big tab?). Our insurance pays for much of our defense, but NR has had to pay boatloads of money for costs not covered by the insurer. That burden could be an institutional back-breaker, but as yet it hasn’t been, because so many generous people, good people, patriotic Americans — folks who abhor the thought that their own right to free speech is being monkeyed with (and is it ever!) — have stepped up (nearly 1,300 and counting since we launched this effort last week) to provide NR with real and meaningful financial aid.

Have you helped us out in this matter? If you have, thanks very much (feel free to help some more). The strife persists. Have you yet to help? You are under no obligation to do so, but remember: This fight is not our fight . . . it is our fight. NR does not own the First Amendment — it’s yours too. And so should be the fight to protect it.

Help us fight this fight by contributing to our 2019 Fall Webathon. Please note that contributions to National Review Inc., while vitally important, are not tax deductible. No amount is too small (or big!). If you prefer to fight by check, make yours out to the order of “National Review” and mail it to National Review, ATTN: 2019 Fall Webathon, 19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701, New York, NY 10036. Please know we look forward to having you alongside us at the barricade, where we can employ our free-speech right to assure you of our deep appreciation, and the thrill of your camaraderie.

Economy & Business

Hike Taxes, Lose Residents: Estate-Tax Edition

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From a new study:

Before 2001, some states had an estate tax and others didn’t, but the tax liability for the ultra-wealthy was independent of their domicile state due to a federal credit. In 2001, the credit was phased out and the estate tax liability for the ultra-wealthy suddenly became highly dependent on domicile state. We find the number of Forbes 400 individuals in estate tax states fell by 35% after 2001 compared to non-estate tax states. We also find that billionaire[s’] sensitivity to the estate tax increases significantly with age. Overall, billionaires’ geographical location appears to be highly sensitive to state estate taxes.

Of course, this doesn’t imply that killing the estate tax “pays for itself.” To the contrary, in the vast majority of states, these taxes manage to hit enough dead billionaires to offset the loss of income-tax revenue from the out-migration they cause. But the study serves as another warning that in a highly mobile, globalized world, high taxes can have all sorts of unintended consequences.

Culture

Not Less Religion, Just Different Religion

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The Pew Poll tells us that society is secularizing — particularly among the young — and who can deny it? That is one reason that the free expression of religion is under such intense pressure in the West.

But it seems to me that we aren’t really becoming less religious. Rather, many are merely changing that in which they put their faith. For some, it is the neo-earth religion of radical environmentalism that personalizes nature and advocates “nature rights” for “Pachamama,” (the Incan earth goddess), or sees the earth as akin to a sentient organism, as in Gaia theory.

Transhumanism comes even closer to that mark. The movement began advocating the right to engage in radical body alterations, such as brain implants to increase intelligence or genetic engineering to grant one the powers of a comic book super hero. Lately, it has evolved (if you will) to promise that we never have to die if we only harness the wonders of technology. There is even a prophetic point in time, known as the “Singularity” — akin to the fundamentalist concept of Rapture — when the cascade of AI and other tech advances will birth a corporeal New Jerusalem.

Here’s a description of this idea just published in The Guardian:

Imagine that a person’s brain could be scanned in great detail and recreated in a computer simulation. The person’s mind and memories, emotions and personality would be duplicated. In effect, a new and equally valid version of that person would now exist, in a potentially immortal, digital form.

What good is that, you ask?

At the simplest level, mind uploading would preserve people in an indefinite afterlife. Families could have Christmas dinner with sim Grandma joining in on video conference, the tablet screen propped up at the end of the table – presuming she has time for her bio family any more, given the rich possibilities in the simulated playground. It’s this kind of idealised afterlife that people have in mind, when they think about the benefits of mind uploading. It’s a human-made heaven.

I hate to disappoint the transhumanists, but their minds and personalities uploaded into a computer would be no more “them” than the animatronic Abraham Lincoln at Disney World is the real Honest Abe. It would be a mimic computer program. Wherever “you” were, it wouldn’t be in cyberspace.

The neo-religions we see emerging in the contemporary era tend to be anti-human. Radical environmentalism perceives us as the cancer afflicting Gaia. Transhumanism posits that we are are so inadequate that we have to be remade in our own image.

But both — and others — offer their believers meaning, which is no small thing. Transhumanism also provides its mostly atheistic or agnostic adherents hope that is destroyed by naked materialism — and with the additional “benefit” of never having to atone for sin.

As the West becomes less theistically religious generally and increasingly anti-Christian specifically, expect new forms of faith to continue emerging. A society crafted along the lines of John Lennon’s “Imagine” is unattainable. The need to believe is hard-wired in our beings. We will always have religion.

Politics & Policy

‘The Kindling of a Flame, Not the Filling of a Vessel’

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That’s how Socrates described his approach. He thought that education ideally was a collaborative process in which the instructor draws out ideas in conversation with students rather than simply lecturing to them.

That educational philosophy used to be more widely used than it is today. For one thing, it’s easier to just talk at students (or, worse yet, put power-point screens up for them to copy) than to try engaging their minds. For another, many educators are trying to fill vessels — they want students to believe what they believe.

The Socratic (or classical) approach to education isn’t gone, however. In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins writes about a recent conference she attended that was devoted to reviving it. She writes, “The symposium’s overarching theme was ‘Reading as Soul-Formation: How Great Books Change Lives.’ During the symposium, educators spoke about living the examined life, cultivating one’s ‘moral imagination,’ and how words provide an understanding of objective reality.”

Professor Matthew Post of the University of Dallas emphasized that Socratic method is beneficial because it breeds intellectual humility in both students and instructors, and because it leads to better retention of concepts.

At least two colleges have programs to help future teachers absorb the Socratic method — Hillsdale and Grove City.

Watkins concludes:

Modern cognitive research affirms truths about human nature that Socrates recognized years ago: ‘[E]ducation is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.’ He understood that education is not simply about giving students the “right answers,” but about compelling them to participate in the lifelong search for wisdom.

White House

Trump Fatigue Syndrome

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President Trump from the White House in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2019 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

I was surprised to read Robert J. Samuelson’s column in the Washington Post arguing for the impeachment and removal of President Trump. Samuelson is, above all, a realist who has looked on economics and politics with a tough and somewhat cynical eye for some 30 years. He’s one of my favorites. He’s not the sort of writer to endorse efforts doomed to failure.

Samuelson recognizes that the odds of Congress following through on his advice are low-to-zero. He acknowledges that forcing a president from office less than a year before an election would undermine the legitimacy of our political system. But he is for impeachment nonetheless. It is, he says, the “lesser evil.”

When you read Samuelson’s column, you notice how small a role Ukraine plays in his argument. The charge that Trump held up aid to Ukraine to force an investigation into Hunter Biden is buried under paragraphs of additional criticisms. Trump’s behavior, rhetoric, and withdrawal from northeastern Syria take precedence. “The lesson of the Syrian debacle is that Trump is increasingly impervious to outside evidence and influence,” Samuelson writes. I could have told him this four years ago.

Samuelson has reached his breaking point. And he isn’t alone. A large part of the country suffers from Trump Fatigue Syndrome. This is related but not identical to Trump Derangement Syndrome. The sufferers of Trump Fatigue aren’t driven mad by the president. They are just tired of having to wake up every morning to another of his sudden attacks, reversals, exaggerations, and boasts. They want the show to end. That is why the impeachment polls mirror the job approval polls. If you like Trump, you can’t have enough of him. If you dislike him, you want him to go away. Now.

As I write, Trump Fatigue hasn’t spread to the 43 percent or so of the country that supports the president. But the future in politics is never a straight-line projection of the present. There were hints that Republicans are growing weary after the president announced the Syria withdrawal and awarded his Doral resort the G-7. (He later rescinded this contract.) If more voters come to agree with Robert Samuelson in the coming months, our politics are going to look very different.

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Creep

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People wave rainbow flags during the 2018 New York City Pride Parade (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

There are a lot of extraordinary events happening in the UK at the moment, some of which I address in my cover piece in the current issue of NR.  But amid all the big Brexit events, some of the broader matters of the culture are inevitably getting lost, which is a shame because they will be with us whether we ever manage to leave the European Union or not.

In July I wrote here about one of the increasing number of occasions when the intersectional rainbow gets inadvertently rent in twain.  On that occasion it was video from a ‘Pride’ parade in East London where local gays found themselves being abused by a niqab-wearing Muslim woman.  Specifically the fully-covered woman in Waltham Forest attacked the rainbow-flag bedecked marchers with cries such as “Shame on you, you despicable people.”

Thus did “Pride” culture meet “Shame” culture, and some of us remain very interested in who, in the long-term, might win such a stand-off.

In any case, I return to the story because there has been a development.  Back in July a number of people immediately called for the culprit to be tracked down and prosecuted for her crimes.  Though I was suspicious whether the long arm of the law would ever catch up with the culprit.  For while the police might have found populating the niqabi line-up to be an absolute doozy, I wouldn’t like to be the gay who had to figure out which niqabi in the line-up was my abuser.  Any incorrect identification would have been the absolute epitome of ‘Islamophobia’, almost certainly leading to new charges.

Yet what I failed to take into account was that while the British police are still terrible at stopping Londoners from knifing each other to death, they are an absolutely crack force when it comes to tracking down and prosecuting “hate crimes.”  So through some uncommon detective work, the culprit was found and has in recent weeks been hauled before the bench.  Thirty-eight year old Jamila Choudhury of East London was charged last month and convicted in super-quick time at the start of this month.  The crime was a homophobic hate-crime which the judge in the case declared constituted “an attack on the [LGBT+] community.”

The judge gave Choudhury a three-month suspended sentence and she was also ordered to take part in a 40-day anger-management activity as well as paying £100 of compensation to nine people she abused, in installments of £10 a week.  Which seems on the low side to me.  Perhaps next year’s marchers could sport T-shirts reading, “I got abused at Walthamstow Pride and all I got was ten quid.”

Interestingly, it emerged at the trial that the Ms. Choudhury was already under a community order for calling a London Underground employee a “black piece of trash.”  Her defender in court said in mitigation that Choudhury suffers from health problems including an auto-immune disease and that when Choudhury saw the footage of her actions at Pride she was “devastated” and “didn’t recognize who she saw.”  Such was her shame around her actions and the subsequent publicity that it was said that at the salon where Ms. Choudhury works, she felt “ashamed” to look some of the customers in the eye.

At this point there were a number of cracks that it might be possible to make.  But after Choudhury’s conviction the gay pride organizers immediately, and predictably, announced that “We condemn outright and unequivocally all forms of hatred and abuse, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism” and “utterly condemn any attempts to use this incident to fan the flames of discord between communities.” In a country where the police now tell us what pronouns we should and should not use, it becomes increasingly clear that unless we want to be embroiled in rolling hate crime cases to the end of our days, the best thing to say is nothing at all.

Sports

‘Once Upon a Time, Teddy Ballgame Bombed the Chi-Coms’

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The NBA debacle with China got me thinking, “Wait a minute, didn’t a baseball star go fight the SOBs?” I’ve written a piece on the home page about Ted Williams and the Korean War. Williams was a stubborn and difficult character (besides being a Red Sox), but was indisputably a truly great American.

 

 

Culture

‘V’ Is for ‘Victor’

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Andre Agassi at the Stella Artois Championships in London, June 13, 2003 (Stephen Hird / Reuters)

What’s Andre Agassi doing up there? He’s one of the favorite athletes of Jonathan V. Last, who knows a lot about athletes, and a lot about many other things, too. He is my guest on Q&A, here.

I knew him when he was starting his career, back in the previous century: We worked together at The Weekly Standard. He was always original, personable, and cerebral. He is now a poobah at The Bulwark (executive editor). And he is one of my favorite writers, and people, in America.

He has a distinctive byline, with that “V.” In fact, he is often known as “JVL.” What in the world does the “V” stand for? The answer is “Victor.” (I think of a title of a book about World War II — the title of more than one WWII book, actually: “‘V’ Is for ‘Victory.’”)

How did he happen to use his middle initial, instead of being simply “Jonathan Last”? He grew up idolizing George Will — or rather, “George F. Will,” as that writer’s byline reads. Jonathan figured that he, like Will, should have a middle initial.

As I learned in this podcast, JVL spent 20 years avoiding Will in Washington. He did not meet his hero, because he did not want to be disappointed. (There was never any chance of that.) Eventually, they did meet — and, more than that, went to a Nationals game together. Will had another friend with him: Tony La Russa (the legendary manager).

Proof that D.C. is a “garbage town,” says Jonathan, is that people at the game wanted to have their picture taken with Will, not La Russa. Some even handed La Russa their phone to have him take the picture! I disagree with Jonathan, however: I think it’s great that there’s one city where George F. Will — George Effin’ Will, as Jonathan says — is the star, and the sports legend is the picture-taker and sidekick.

I think of Salzburg — little Salzburg, in Austria — where classical musicians are actually sort of like pop musicians. Can’t there be just one little carve-out for this?

Before I continue, I want to make an observation about names: La Russa is one legendary manager — his name means “The Russian Woman.” Tommy Lasorda is another — his name (also Italian) means “The Deaf Woman.”

Jonathan V. Last went to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he studied molecular biology. (He was also a singer.) He does not have kind things to say about Johns Hopkins. In fact, he blasts this esteemed institution to kingdom come — it is remarkable to listen to.

We talk a little politics — the Democratic field, for instance. Jonathan is more bullish on Biden’s chances than most people are. In due course (as WFB would say), we talk Star Wars — because Jonathan is a famous expert on that franchise. These days, he is as down on it as he is on Johns Hopkins.

Just for fun, we throw in some Star Trek and even some Lost in Space.

Eventually, we get to music. JVL is high on Aimee Mann, and also on Pavarotti, though he has not yet convinced his children of the late tenor’s greatness. On the subject of greatness: JVL extols the virtues of War and Peace. (I mean the Tolstoy novel, not the Prokofiev opera, although Jonathan certainly says nothing against Prokofiev.) I also ask him about design — because Jonathan is a superb writer about design.

There is a lot more in this conversation, which I think you will enjoy. A rambling, leisurely conversation with JVL is a treat. Toward the end, he discusses his favorite writers, and says that National Review is pretty much his “desert-island magazine.” What a wonderful phrase, and tribute.

Again, to listen to JVL, go here.

P.S. Feel like some music? I don’t have Aimee or the Pav Man for you, but I have the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, which opened its season the other night — its 50th-anniversary season. For my review, go here.

Economy & Business

Two More Points on Whether the Ultra-Rich Pay Less in Taxes Than the Poor

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Yesterday I had a piece about this issue, explaining the massive backlash that a New York Times article and the book that inspired it have sparked among economists. The central claims here, that the American tax system is essentially flat and that the ultra-rich pay lower tax rates than the poor, have suffered two more blows worth adding.

First, Matthew Lilley points out a problem with an important aspect of the book’s methodology. It doesn’t count governmental transfers as income, but it does count sales taxes when quantifying the tax burden. So if someone earns just $1,000 on his own, receives $9,000 from the government, spends the full $10,000, and pays a 5 percent sales-tax rate, his $500 in taxes is treated as taking 50 percent of his income. This means “that if welfare to the poor is increased, this will be measured as an increased tax rate.” Indeed, the book’s authors removed some people from the data to avoid making their results even more absurdly skewed.

Second, Laurence Kotlikoff has a piece in the Wall Street Journal that adds some more criticisms. Most important, he explains his attempt with two co-authors to figure out how progressive the tax-and-benefit system is “on a remaining-lifetime basis.” Here’s how he summarizes the results:

I’ll focus on 40-year-olds, but the results are similar for all age groups. Each dollar of pretax remaining lifetime resources of those in the top 1% of the resource distribution is, on average, taxed on net at a 34.5% rate. For those in the top quintile, the average net tax rate is 28.4%. For those in the bottom quintile, every dollar of pre-tax resources is matched by a 46.6% net subsidy. (The tax rises steadily to 4.2% for the second quintile, 12.6% for the third and 18.5% for the fourth.)

White House

The Impeachment Defense That Doesn’t Work

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(Leah Millis/Reuters)

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s that the “perfect phone call” defense of Trump and Ukraine doesn’t work. As Andy and I discussed on his podcast this week, the “perfect” defense allows the Democrats to score easy points by establishing that people in the administration were freaked out by the call, because it was so clearly inappropriate. Also, the “perfect” defense is premised on the idea that there was only a phone call, when obviously there was all sorts action before and after the phone call, which we are learning more about.

Mick Mulvaney provided a little more information yesterday at his presser when he said Trump mentioned “in passing” the DNC server/2016 issue in connection to the suspension of military aid. (The server thing is completely bonkers, by the way.) Mulvaney tried to walk his statement back immediately by saying there was no quid pro quo, but I’d be kind of surprised if Trump didn’t tell others the same thing, and perhaps also mentioned the Bidens.

Meanwhile, our old friend Byron York had a fascinating report on Kurt Volker’s deposition. Volker pushed back strongly against Adam Schiff’s insistence that the Ukrainians felt pressured over the the withheld funding. If Volker is right, it raises the possibility that Trump wanted to use the suspended aid as leverage, but it didn’t happen for whatever reason (bipartisan support for releasing the funds, push-back from the professional diplomats, and perhaps legal concerns, which Mulvaney mentioned yesterday).

If this is all correct (and I’m admittedly speculating), a truthful and sound defense would give ground on the impropriety of the focus on the Bidens, but emphasize that nothing came from any pressure campaign, which was quickly abandoned. Since Trump only very rarely admits any error, he is loath to do this.

Meanwhile, the black box of the controversy is Rudy Giuliani and his political machinations and business dealings in Ukraine. This is where there’s the most potential for truly explosive revelations, and where the White House has to be very nervous.

Books

The Case for Nationalism: How It Made Us Powerful, United, and Free

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My book on nationalism is going to be out in a couple of weeks. (I know Jonah and Kevin can’t wait.) It makes the argument for nationalism in general, but more specifically for the American nationalist tradition as an indispensable part of this country’s greatness. You can pre-order here, and brace yourself to hear much more about it from me in the weeks ahead.

 

NR Webathon

Where Our Free-Speech Fight Stands

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(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Your help is needed, but first, you should know: Yesterday we learned that the SCOTUS justices had, for the third time this month, chosen to postpone for another two weeks a decision on granting (or denying) review in National Review v. Mann. What does this mean?

The vast majority of cert petitions are rejected by the high court immediately, at the time when they are first scheduled to be considered. The fact that our petition has not been declined, that it persists, that it remains ripe for consideration, means, in the calculus of any seasoned high-court observer, that there is clearly some interest in the case among the justices.

Define “some.” We can’t. How about making odds: Does the delay (it looks like the Court will next formally consider the matter in the first week of November) mean that the case will be taken up? Not necessarily. But then, is there reason to see all this as measured good news? It’s fair to say: Yes.

Heck: The cert petition could have been denied immediately, as most are. So it is indeed good news that we are still in the fight – a fight not of our choosing, but one we intend to engage in with every ounce of institutional energy, every iota of institutional resources. After all, there is an unalienable right being messed with.

Whether SCOTUS takes up the case, or if it proceeds on its current track – a jury trial before the very liberal District of Columbia court system – the facts remain:

  • that National Review is engaged in a consequential and expensive legal battle
  • that it is a battle for the protection of a fundamental right to free speech
  • that even this process, of having the case be heard by D.C. jury, is a serious challenge to long-standing First Amendment protections
  • that this is as much your fight as it is NR’s.

Well over a million dollars have been spent in National Review’s defense since Michael Mann initiated this assault on the First Amendment in 2012 (we wonder: What cabal of liberal moneybags is paying his big tab?). Our insurance pays for much of our defense, but NR has had to pay boatloads of money for costs not covered by the insurer. That burden could be an institutional back-breaker, but as yet it hasn’t been, because so many generous people, good people, patriotic Americans – folks who abhor the thought that their own right to free speech is being monkeyed with (and is it ever!) — have stepped up (nearly 1,300 and counting since we launched this effort last week) to provide NR with real and meaningful financial aid.

Have you helped us out in this matter? If you have, thanks very much (feel free to help some more). The strife persists. Have you yet to help? You are under no obligation to do so, but remember: This fight is not our fight . . . it is OUR fight. NR does not own the First Amendment — it’s yours too. And so should be the fight to protect it.

Help us fight this fight by contributing to our 2019 Fall Webathon. No amount is too small (or big!). If you prefer to fight by check, make yours out to the order of “National Review” and mail it to National Review, ATTN: 2019 Fall Webathon, 19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701, New York, NY 10036. Please know we look forward to having you alongside us at the barricade, where we can employ our free-speech right to assure you of our deep appreciation, and the thrill of your camaraderie.


P.S.: Your generous contribution supports the journalism, commentary, and opinion writing published in National Review magazine and on National Review Online. If you prefer to send a check, please mail it to National Review, ATTN: Fall 2019 Webathon, 19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701, New York, NY 10036.

Please note that contributions to National Review, Inc., while vitally important, are not tax deductible.

Elections

Put Up or Shut Up on These Accusations, Hillary

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Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton arrive for an event for their new book The Book of Gutsy Women in New York City, October 3, 2019. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

Look, one 2016 candidate being prone to wild and baseless accusations is enough. Appearing on Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s podcast, Hillary Clinton suggested that 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein was a “Russian asset,” that Republicans and Russians were promoting the Green Party, and insinuated that Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard was some sort of tool of the Russian government.

“They’ve got their eye on someone who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” Clinton said on the podcast. “She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.”

This is bonkers. You don’t have to look at Tulsi Gabbard’s record on foreign policy for long to find areas for fair criticism, perhaps most infamously her meeting with Bashar al-Assad at the height of the Syrian Civil War, and exhibiting a strange reluctance to criticize the dictator upon her return to the United States. She’s still not willing to say she thinks Assad is a war criminal.

Gabbard’s foreign policy views may well be wrongheaded ones. But she’s direct and honest about them, and it’s highly unlikely that she’s been bribed, brainwashed or coerced into these positions.

Gabbard’s service in Iraq convinced her that not only was that war a waste of blood and treasure, but our efforts in Afghanistan were similarly unproductive and wasteful as well. In her speeches, she describes her daily duty of going through the list of those wounded and killed, and the “service members who had eventually come home, with wounds both visible and invisible, wounds and scars that would stay with them for many years to come.”

In Gabbard’s worldview, the preeminent priority of the United States is avoiding terror attacks and avoiding getting sucked into wars triggered by terror attacks. While she rarely says so explicitly, her experience suggests she sees the the best option to pursue this difficult goal is to reach deals with the brutal but non-Islamist dictators and monarchs who will keep order. Assad, King Abdullah, the Saudis — in the end, as long as they keep their extremist lunatics from blowing up Americans, we should give them a handshake and let them rule as they see fit.

The appeal of this approach — Islamist terrorists get locked up, and American soldiers don’t come home in flag-draped caskets — is clear. Whether it works is another story. An American alliance with brutal regimes means that at least a little part of the Islamist argument is true, that we believe in freedom and liberty but don’t really want it in the Arab world, and we don’t care about the suffering of Muslims. When push comes to shove, we’re as comfortable dealing with the Saudis about oil as the NBA is with dealing with China about sneakers: just give us what we want and we don’t care what else you’re doing. Oppressive regimes can suppress extremism but they also fuel it. There’s also the fair question of how much we can trust any dictatorial regime. Because these guys have no conscience, it’s not like they’re above trying to play both sides of the street or breaking their promises.

History suggests that American alliances of convenience with unsavory dictators rarely last or turn out well for us, whether it’s Stalin, Marcos, the Shah, Saddam Hussein against the Iranians, Pakistan… these relationships almost always come back to bite us. When the masked cops with sticks start beating the local peasants, we end up rooting for the cops because technically the regime is protecting our interests.

But again, the U.S. establishment foreign policy consensus — a consensus that I often agree with! — is so deeply ingrained that some of its adherents sometimes can’t believe that anyone could honestly disagree; anyone who’s challenging it must be doing so out of bad faith or sinister motives.

Until Hillary Clinton or anyone else generates some actual proof, treat Tulsi Gabbard for what she appears to be — an impassioned isolationist who believes the United States has no business attempting to spread our values or stand up for human rights abroad, and who’s comfortable working with brutal dictators if the end result is fewer American casualties. Not every bad or controversial idea in public life is a sign of a sinister conspiracy.

Film & TV

HBO’s Wild Take on Watchmen

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James Wolk arrives at the premier of the HBO series Watchmen in Los Angeles, Calif., October 14, 2019. (Monica Almeida/Reuters)

Don Johnson as a police chief busting out a number from Oklahoma! isn’t even one of the top ten strangest things to happen on the debut episode of Watchmen, which takes over HBO’s prestige slot of Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern this weekend.

Don Johnson in Watchmen

HBO sent out six of the nine-episode first season, but I’ve only just gotten through the pilot. This isn’t a review because I don’t yet know what to make of the new sci-fi drama from Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost. The first episode is mostly world-building and overlaps very little with Zack Snyder’s 2009 Watchmen movie (which I think is one of the best comic-book movies ever) or the Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons graphic novel on which it is based. (Moore’s name is again absent from the credits, as it was from the movie; he doesn’t like these adaptations.)

HBO’s new show is an alternate-reality piece that reminds me of Amazon Prime’s The Man in the High Castle. It’s 2019 America, where Robert Redford has been president for 30 years, Vietnam is apparently a U.S. state and Richard Nixon’s face seems to be carved on Mount Rushmore. President Redford pushed through reparations payments for black Americans, which are derisively known on the right as “Redfordations.” White supremacists are on the march, via a Klan-type outfit called the Seventh Cavalry, and they’re so dangerous that the police (many of whom are black) have taken extreme measures in response. They hide their faces under masks (while the white supremacists use the Rorschach masks from the original Watchmen), yet they are so restricted by regulations that their sidearms are locked and unusable without express phone authorization from headquarters, even in the midst of a dangerous situation.

Johnson plays the benevolent, anti-racist police leader who, after one of his black cops is shot, pushes through an emergency measure to unlock the cops’ firearms. There’s a scene evoking the Ludovico Technique from A Clockwork Orange and the brainwashing sequence from The Parallax View that is designed to suss out a suspected white supremacist by gauging his reaction to agitprop videos. Oh, and Jeremy Irons plays a nudist playwright-playboy who gets around on horseback and lives in a castle.

Jeremy Irons in Watchmen

What’s going on here? I doubt I’ll get through all six episodes today but I hope to file a review in the coming days.