Elections

‘And Yet, the Electors Are Unmoved’

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Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Alexandra discuss Trump’s attempts to sway electors, the lackluster Warnock-Loeffler debate, and Biden’s troubling pick of Xavier Becerra to head HHS. Listen below, or subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Culture

Abortion Is More Than an Issue. It’s Happening Now

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There are girls getting abortions in America today. Sometimes, I wonder if we forget. It’s been with us so long now — many of the people working for National Review know nothing else, come to think of it.

I’ve gotten into a habit of praying in front of an abortion clinic in lower Manhattan — Planned Parenthood on Margaret Sanger Square (I believe that cancelling was what the kids call virtue-signaling and quite half-hearted). I’ve long been a coward about that — so heavy is the evil and misery when you focus on what’s happening there. I’m struck by just how many people go in and out — clearly, there is more than abortion happening. But the abortion is real.

Just this morning, I watched as a young pro-life girl begged a boyfriend waiting for one of those girls in the clinic for an abortion to call her and tell her there is another way. Well-intentioned, she told him he’s going to regret it for the rest of his life. While I pray for miracles, the odds at this point were that the reality of a dead baby was near if not done. O Lord, help them with healing and forgiveness, if so.

When I stand in the cold and pray, I can’t help but to ask for forgiveness. Over 60 million abortions in nearly a half century. This is not a mere number. These are dead children. And what are we doing to end this? There are people who do devote their lives to being real hope in the lives of women who are pregnant and don’t know how to go about choosing life. (And I always like to point in the direction of the Sisters of Life, because they will help you. They’ve dedicated their lives to God for 27 years now for this work.) But everyone who opposes abortion because they see, frankly, the science clearly and so are convicted that this is a fundamental human-rights issue — we need to do more. In love, not anger.

A day or so ago I encountered two men — one black, one white – standing outside that same clinic with a bullhorn pointing out that babies are dying inside. “You know it’s a baby,” he would say to people walking in. The problem is, in many cases: They don’t know it’s a baby. Yes, it may be clear, and yet, what’s clear in this culture anymore? We’ve become a delusional people. So while I take some relief in the truth being said, Good morning, I want to help you might be a more successful approach. Sometimes a woman just needs one sign of hope.

We need to be signs of light and life in the world. I worry about beating an already beleaguered people over the head with facts that seem impossible to them.

Economy & Business

A Tribute to Walter Williams

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Walter E. Williams on Life, Liberty & Levin in February 25, 2018 (Fox News via YouTube)

The death last week, at 84, of Walter Williams leaves the black conservative movement without one of its prominent voices. Williams was an economics professor at Virginia’s George Mason University, an author, and a commentator. He wasn’t just an intellectual, he was an active participant in public discourse.

With his passing, there’s a greater gap in the debate between equal opportunity versus equal outcomes as the pathway to black prosperity.

During the Great Recession, as a black millennial and college student, I was captivated by Williams, who argued in “The State Against Blacks” that black people had much to contribute to economic life, yet the government suppressed this potential when attempting to create equal outcomes. His book illustrated in detail the harmful impact on “outsiders, latecomers, and [the] resourceless” when access to opportunity and markets was limited through measures like overregulation and occupational licensing. This message resonated deeply with me as I prepared to graduate college in the midst of an economic recession and take on greater responsibility in making my own decisions and pursuing my own dreams.

The more I studied Williams’ writings, the more I came to see a man who was willing to challenge conventional wisdom — not with over-the-top rhetoric, but with evidence, research, and insight. Years later, as I began a career in Republican politics, it was unsurprising to me that Williams’ rhetorical style, coupled with the weight of his work as an economist, would earn him a near-celebrity status within conservative and libertarian circles. Though there are several prominent black conservative voices, few outlined so clearly the link between government intervention and black participation in the economic life of the nation.

Williams’ work was inspirational to me, and I was later fortunate enough to learn from him directly. When I reached out for advice, he made time to speak with me. I’ll always remember him listening patiently, inquiring deeply, and challenging me gracefully. He encouraged me to continue my formal and informal education and engage with differing ideas about the government’s role in society.

The conversation that Williams started and pursued his entire life remains unfinished: How might our government first “do no harm” in its response to the needs and aspirations of Black America? It’s as important now as it ever was, with the country in an economic and health crisis.

Coming together to answer this open question is the challenge before us. With Williams’ departure, we’ll need to hang onto the lesson he tried to teach about the harms of privileging outcomes over opportunity and build on his ideas to reflect contemporary conditions. It’s the best way to honor the legacy of a black intellectual whose voice is no longer with us.

Education

Why the Humanities Are in Decline

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Fewer and fewer students choose to major in the humanities — why?

In today’s Martin Center article, English professor Rob Jenkins argues that it’s mainly because the faculty have chosen to turn their fields into exercises in abstruse academic gibberish.

Jenkins points to the rise of deconstructionism. He writes, “Sure, scholars might disagree about what a writer means; in such disputes lie all the fun of reading and discussing texts. But that doesn’t mean the writer didn’t mean anything, or that a work can mean whatever someone wants it to mean. Such thinking was utterly foreign to me. Nor did I see the point. If a work of literature doesn’t really mean anything, or if it only means whatever you think it means, what is the value in studying it?”

Such theorizing did plenty of damage, but the blatant politicization of courses drives even more students away. “Any art,” Jenkins writes, “that promotes Marxism—including its most recent iteration, ‘Critical Race Theory’—is therefore ‘good’ art, while those works that ‘fail’ in that regard are necessarily ‘bad.’ By extension, artists who represent the supposed ‘oppressors’—namely, white males—are rejected en masse, regardless of their ability or accomplishments.”

Only the truly “woke” want to engage in such studies. Most students have gone elsewhere.

Religion

Pope Francis Turns Attention toward a Foster Father for a Year

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Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C., September 24, 2015. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

Today’s the feast of the Immaculate Conception (which has to do with Mary’s, not Jesus’) and Pope Francis’ offered a surprise gift – declaring a Year of St. Joseph. In his proclamation, he writes:

Joseph saw Jesus grow daily “in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favour” (Lk 2:52). As the Lord had done with Israel, so Joseph did with Jesus: “he taught him to walk, taking him by the hand; he was for him like a father who raises an infant to his cheeks, bending down to him and feeding him” (cf. Hos 11:3-4).

In Joseph, Jesus saw the tender love of God: “As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him” (Ps 103:13).

In the synagogue, during the praying of the Psalms, Joseph would surely have heard again and again that the God of Israel is a God of tender love,who is good to all, whose “compassion is over all that he has made” (Ps 145:9).

The history of salvation is worked out “in hope against hope” (Rom 4:18), through our weaknesses. All too often, we think that God works only through our better parts, yet most of his plans are realized in and despite our frailty. Thus Saint Paul could say: “To keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor 12:7-9).

Since this is part of the entire economy of salvation, we must learn to look upon our weaknesses with tender mercy.

The Evil one makes us see and condemn our frailty, whereas the Spirit brings it to light with tender love. Tenderness is the best way to touch the frailty within us. Pointing fingers and judging others are frequently signs of an inability to accept our own weaknesses, our own frailty. Only tender love will save us from the snares of the accuser (cf. Rev 12:10). That is why it is so important to encounter God’s mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where we experience his truth and tenderness. Paradoxically, the Evil one can also speak the truth to us, yet he does so only to condemn us. We know that God’s truth does not condemn, but instead welcomes, embraces, sustains and forgives us. That truth always presents itself to us like the merciful father in Jesus’ parable (cf. Lk 15:11-32). It comes out to meet us, restores our dignity, sets us back on our feet and rejoices for us, for, as the father says: “This my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (v. 24).

Even through Joseph’s fears, God’s will, his history and his plan were at work. Joseph, then, teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even through our fears, our frailties and our weaknesses. He also teaches us that amid the tempests of life, we must never be afraid to let the Lord steer our course. At times, we want to be in complete control, yet God always sees the bigger picture.

You may have noticed that we have a special focus on foster care and adoption at the National Review Institute’s Center for Religion, Culture, and Civil Society. For this and many other reasons, a little more attention to St. Joseph, a loving and protective, yet humble and confident father, is a wonderful thing. One of the mercies of this year has been fathers spending more time with their children (mothers, in many cases, too). The family is the most important thing next to life itself, and life itself needs family! Don’t miss the opportunity to become a more tender people in learning more about St. Joseph and what made him tick—and love.

 

Culture

Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye Today: Christmas and Suffering & More

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1.

2. Bill McGurn: “I confess I am not unbiased here. Jimmy is my godson. And I love him.” — about the imprisonment of Jimmy Lai and Pope Francis and China

God bless Godson and father

3. “The call to separate the definition of women from biology also has huge implications for female safety.

4. Erika Bachiochi: 2020 Report: The Business Case for Abortion (as if it were not obvious)

5. Madeline Fry Schultz: When Emergency Contraception Is Commonplace, Are We Losing Introspection?

6. In the Federalist: Biden Nominee Proves He Comes Bringing A Sword To The Culture War

7. In Spiked: We need to talk about Ellen Page

8. A doctor who treated some of Houston’s sickest Covid-19 patients has died

Continue reading “Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye Today: Christmas and Suffering & More”

Law & the Courts

Sorry, the Dictionary Can’t Change the Meaning of ‘Court-Packing’

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During a recent social-media spat over the meaning of “Court-packing,” an intrepid person named J. D. Graham got onto the Wayback Machine and found out that sometime between November 1 and December 1, 2020, Dictionary.com, whose “proprietary source is the Random House Unabridged Dictionary,” changed the meaning of the phrase.

Here it is before:

an unsuccessful attempt by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 to appoint up to six additional justices to the Supreme Court, which had invalidated a number of his New Deal laws.

Here is the addition:

the practice of changing the number or composition of judges on a court, making it more favorable to particular goals or ideologies, and typically involving an increase in the number of seats on the court: Court packing can tip the balance of the Supreme Court toward the right or left.

“Language evolves. So do we,” was the reply from Dictionary.com.

Indeed, language evolves organically over long periods of time. It does not miraculously transform one day after 60 years during a presidential election to comport with the new definition a political party has whipped up. Dictionaries are a resource that allows people to find out the meaning of words. They do not get to invent new meanings.

“Court-packing” is still apparently a politically toxic phrase. Democrats have tried to claim Republicans are “packing the courts” by accusing them of getting elected and nominating and confirming judges for vacant seats, using the very same method that duly elected officials have been relying on since the beginning of the republic. But “Court-packing” has a specific historical implication, and many people rightly still see it as an unprecedented abuse of power.

Of course, I get why some Democrats want to change the definition, but it’s somewhat remarkable how institutions are willing to destroy their credibility by doing this sort of thing.

Politics & Policy

Twenty Foster-Care/Adoption/Child-Welfare Things that Caught My Eye (Dec. 8, 2020)

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Adoptive mother Theresa Alden talks with her sons Gavin (center), 6, and Graem, 4, at their residence in Lancaster , Pennsylvania, June 10, 2008. (Tim Shaffer/Reuters)

These have been accumulating for a few days… though not the first, urgent one.

1.

2. Tatum Hunter in America: As a teen, I chose adoption. Why are stories like mine missing from the abortion debate?

3. Washington Post: Another D.C. child is dead. The systems that should have protected him failed.

In October, six months before Gabriel died, a teacher at the day-care center he attended contacted the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency because of concerns about bruises on his face, triggering child welfare and police investigations. Police said they couldn’t corroborate any abuse and closed the case, and it appears that child services reached the same conclusion. How vigorous were those investigations?

Given the horrifying picture of previous abuse painted by the court documents — including the 11-year-old needing stitches after allegedly being thrown through a glass door by a previous boyfriend and Gabriel rushed to the hospital in January with a severe laceration and concussion — it is right to ask whether signs were missed. It’s also right to wonder why the day-care center didn’t contact child services earlier when there were four other instances of noticeable marks or bruises on the boy.

4. The Philadelphia Inquirer: 3 people, 200 square feet: Managing homelessness, remote school, and life in a pandemic

Shelter staff have tried to solve for the pandemic as much as possible, adjusting mealtimes to match school schedules and converting community rooms into student work spaces. Donations have provided for supplies, headphones, and furniture. But the challenges are undeniable, especially now that a second wave of COVID-19 cases has meant tighter restrictions.

Experiencing homelessness is traumatic for any child, said David Chiles, the organization’s executive director, “and now they’re living through the trauma of a pandemic and being out of school for a long time.”

Shannon Healey, the organization’s shelter director, was struck by something a resident said when Healey explained the new COVID-19 surge rules to her.

“She just took a beat and said, ‘Everything comes down on us,’” Healey said.

5.

6. Adoption Agony For Disabled Kids

Data provided by the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) show that 137 disabled children within its purview currently live in western Jamaica. Each year, they are overlooked by scores of prospective parents seeking a child to adopt. Last year, for example, no child with disability was adopted while two were fostered by relatives in the west.

“It is more difficult for a child with disability to be fostered because of the individualised care that would be required. Most of our foster applicants do not have at their disposal the amount of time, financial resources, familial support, and commitment needed to properly care for children with disabilities,” Rochelle Dixon, public relations and communications manager at the CPFSA, told The Gleaner.

“Most foster parents want so-called normal children. If the disability is mild, then the prospects are better for family-based placements,” Dixon said.

7.

8. The Washington Post: As their special needs children fall behind, these parents are desperate for schools to re-open

“It’s impossible, this whole situation is impossible,” says Christina Hartman, whose four-year-old daughter Charlotte has autism. “And I can’t speak for every child but I know for my kid, she needs to go back to school.”

9. The Guardian: After a childhood in foster care, I finally felt my life was on track. Then the pandemic hit

I can’t really explain what it feels like to finally know that you are on track to succeeding at life. My life from the moment I was born was complicated; my mother and father suffered mental health issues and drug problems. It resulted in a really neglectful, dysfunctional environment which on numerous occasions meant from when I was three years of age we’d be on the streets. I remember sleeping on those bus benches, wanting desperately to be warm. It was no wonder DHHS were called. At seven years old, I was placed in long-term foster care. From there I bounced around from family to family, never truly belonging to any. A regular person reaches important milestones at the right age, for example, when a person turns 15 or 16 they would get their first job. I couldn’t because I’d always wonder what happened if I had to move to a new house that week.

10. Eric Smith: Funding to prevent child abuse still lags

DCF Secretary Chad Poppell declared to legislators last session that DCF would “reduce the number of children in care by 25 percent” by using prevention services and repeated his commitment during a recent webinar to his staff statewide by stressing that DCF investigators must think prevention first moving forward and move away from removing children from their home after the situation has deteriorated and there is no longer an alternative. So, it disturbs me, and all prevention advocates, when there is a continuing plea for additional foster care funding while intensive prevention services continue to fall short to meet the needs.

Every piece of child welfare research over the past few decades has shown repeatedly that if a child can remain safely at home in a loving and nurturing environment, and you reach out to parents who need help when the need is first identified, it would undoubtedly help divert the flow of children going into foster care.

 

Continue reading “Twenty Foster-Care/Adoption/Child-Welfare Things that Caught My Eye (Dec. 8, 2020)”

U.S.

‘The Most Righteous of All the Possessors of the Right Stuff’

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Sixty-one combat missions. Shot down over occupied France. Yelled at Eisenhower until he agreed to let him go back and fight some more. Countless flights in experimental aircraft. First man to break the sound barrier. Died of old age at 97. R.I.P. Chuck Yeager, American bad-ass.

Health Care

Former FDA Chief: Don’t Hoard Vaccines for Second Dose

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USA Today reports

By the end of the year, the United States government hopes to have close to 40 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

It plans to distribute half of those in December and hold back the other half to give the same people their second dose of the two-shot regimen.

But Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a Pfizer board member and former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner, says that’s a bad idea. Instead, Gottlieb says he would give out 35 million doses now, and presume the second doses will be available when people need them.

That way, he says, a lot more people can be protected as the U.S. endures the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We should get as many shots in our arms as possible right away,” he told the USA TODAY Editorial Board on Monday. “The idea that we need to cut (the doses) in half and give half of it now and hold onto it, so we have supply in January to get the second dose … I just fundamentally disagree with that.”

The New York Times reports that Pfizer’s vaccine for the coronavirus provides strong protection after a first dose

Culture

Adopt a Teenager from Foster Care

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Have you ever considered it? It changes/saves lives. Children age out of foster care in our country and have no one. No one. Life is difficult enough without someone to call family. A child who ages out of foster care might get himself arrested to have somewhere to sleep and shower and eat.

Here are two new ads for a coalition campaign that launches today, and the press release from the Department of Health and Human Services, right after.

 

 

HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF), AdoptUSKids, and the Ad Council today launched a new series of public service advertisements (PSAs) that encourage prospective parents to consider adopting teens from foster care. The new PSAs, created pro bono by advertising agency Barbarian, highlight the importance of adopting teens from foster care and emphasize that the rewards for doing so go both ways.

“As a case carrying social worker in Alabama, many of the young people I worked with were older teens in the foster care system,” says Jerry Milner, the Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families. “Many of these young people are experiencing foster care through no fault of their own, and I believe we must do a better job of highlighting the importance a forever family has on these older youths’ wellbeing and the impact it plays on their transition to adulthood. Even with our stronger focus on primary prevention, we know that there will still be a need for foster care and furthermore, some of those young people becoming eligible for adoption. I am excited to see and proud to be a proponent of this continued focus on the need to adopt older teens from foster care. We know family, by any definition, is the best resource we have to create an environment for young people to be safe, healthy, and ultimately thrive.”

Now with an impressive 16 years of spreading awareness about this important issue, and contributing to more than 870,000 children and youth adopted from foster care, the campaign’s newest work uses anecdotes from real families to highlight the bonds that strengthen families and showcases some of the many moments that make teen adoption so rewarding.

“This campaign has made a lasting impact on so many lives since it first launched in 2004. However, no lives were more greatly impacted than the children who are now with permanent families,” said Michelle Hillman, Chief Campaign Development Officer of the Ad Council. “It’s our hope that this work continues to inspire and show prospective parents the love that can come from adopting a teen from foster care.”

Since 2013 the number of waiting teens to be adopted from foster care has continued to increase each year. No matter their age, all kids need a supportive, loving home, and the teenage years are an especially critical period for parental help and guidance.

This year’s campaign builds upon the success of last year’s theme, “You Can’t Imagine the Reward,” and features the bonds that cement a family together and showcases some of the many moments that make teen adoption so rewarding. Ultimately, the work illustrates that teens can have as much of an impact on their family’s life as parents have on theirs. Inspired by true stories and anecdotes from real families, the PSAs are filled with heartfelt memories that actual adoptive families have experienced after adopting a teen. Each PSA reminds prospective parents that teens in foster care can also help them grow in new ways.

“The power of this work comes in the true stories that inspired the creative—the small, but emotional interactions that connect us at a human level,” said Barbarian’s Executive Creative Director, Resh Sidu. “As we learned about each family’s unique situation, we realized there was always one beautiful consistency, the wonderful impact these kids had on their adoptive families’ lives. We focused every detail of this campaign to ensure their impact was shown in the same raw and understated way as it did in real life.”

The Ad Council has distributed the new PSAs to media outlets nationwide. Per the Ad Council’s model, the PSAs will run in time and space donated by the media. Since the initial launch of the campaign in 2004, the campaign has received more than $660 million in donated media support across television, radio, print, out-of-home and digital media. The work directs audiences to visit AdoptUSKids.org. The campaign is supported by longtime agency of record Media Kitchen, who is extending the reach of the latest creative by securing donated media placements. Parents can call 1-888-200-4005 to receive information about the foster care system and the adoption process. Potential foster and adoptive families can call 1-877-236-7831 for the information in Spanish.

For more information about adoption, or about becoming an adoptive parent to a child or teen from foster care, please visit AdoptUSKids.org or visit the AdoptUSKids social communities on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.

This isn’t an easy ask, but then think of what it must be like to have been in foster care for years with no hope of being welcomed by a family because you are not a cute baby.

Not everyone is called to this, but more are, because there are children who need families.

Catholicism
Fulton Sheen in 2020: Lessons for Moving Forward in Hope

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A priest to a confession by a member of his congregation at the S.S. Sacramento church in Rome, Italy, as the country ramps up measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus in Rome, Italy, March 26, 2020. (Remo Casilli/Reuters)

We are living in perilous times when the hearts and souls of men are sorely tried. Never before has the future been so utterly unpredictable; we are not so much in a period of transition with belief in progress to push us on, rather we seem to be entering the realm of the unknown, joylessly, disillusioned, and without hope. The whole world seems to be in a state of spiritual widowhood, possessed of the harrowing devastation of one who set out on life’s course joyously in intimate companionship with another, and then is bereft of that companion forever.

And in all this confusion and bewilderment our modern prophets say that our economics have failed us. No! It is not our economics which have failed; it is man who has failed – man who has forgotten God. Hence no manner of economic or political readjustment can possibly save our civilization; we can be saved only by a renovation of the inner man, only by a purging of our heart and souls; for only by seeking first the Kingdom of God and His Justice with all these other things be added unto us. That is the way the world twenty centuries ago was saved from paganism and selfishness. And that is the way it will be saved again. In order to bring home this truth, recall briefly how Our Lord saved the world once before, and thus learn how it can be saved once again.

That’s Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, from December 1935. Sounds quite apt for today. Puts our current agonies in some perspective. Wednesday, December 9, 2020, is the 41st anniversary of his death, and I’ll be in conversation with Fr. Roger J. Landry, a priest of Fall River, Massachusetts, currently assigned to the Holy See Mission to the United Nations in New York for the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture in New York, for their annual event on this day. Fr. Landry is a friend, whose wisdom I’m always grateful for. He has a love for Sheen and I look forward to talking with him about some of Sheen’s Gospel insights from his day and how we could learn from them during these challenging times, and going forward. Join us at 3 p.m. on the Sheen Center’s YouTube channel here. More information here.

Culture

Why the Fifties Loom Large in Our Thinking

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President John F. Kennedy reaches out to the crowd gathered at the Hotel Texas Parking Lot Rally in Fort Worth, Texas, November 22, 1963. (Cecil Stoughton/The White House/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library/Reuters)

As Kevin Williamson observes, the 1950s still play something of an outsized role in the American imagination:

Americans talk about the postwar years — the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy years — as though they were a kind of golden age. They weren’t, and damned few of us would be happy with the political settlement that existed then: The Left may cheer the high statutory tax rates of the time, but actual tax collections in those years were almost exactly what they are today, and as much as 80 percent of that Eisenhower-era tax revenue was spent on the military and national security, with entitlement and welfare spending kept to a small share of outlays. There was some movement on civil rights — Eisenhower signed a civil-rights bill in 1957 and sent the 101st Airborne to Little Rock to keep the peace as the schools were integrated — but the country remained segregated by and large. In 1950, a third of U.S. households had no indoor plumbing. But this is the era that commands the sentimental attention of the American mind. The postwar years are our national definition of normal, even though they were anything but that.

Michael Barone adds more on the atypical nature of mid 20th-century politics. It is worth considering why, exactly, the Fifties retain this position, one that will undoubtedly fade over the next few decades as the population that remembers the decade dwindles, but has been embedded deeply in an entertainment culture that has produced huge quantities of Fifties nostalgia (the most enduring relic of which may end up being the legacy of the decade’s boom in building diners). As Kevin notes, there is an ideological cast, one that involves glossing over some uncomfortable realities. On the right, the Fifties are recalled as a time of family values — but the model of the nuclear family with a single, male breadwinner working outside the home, a female homemaker, and kids in school was actually not as much of a historical norm before that time. Farm families traditionally required everybody (wife, kids) to work on the farm with dad, and often lived in extended families. Poor and working-class families often compelled women to work, whether they wanted to or not. Child labor was once common. High mortality rates before the 1920s meant a lot more widows, widowers, and step-parents. The Left sees the Fifties as the high tide of unions and good wages for the median laborer, but the median American laborer was protected as never before or since from competition. Domestically, the labor market was tight because of barriers to black employment, restrictive immigration policies, and women at home raising kids. Internationally, competition was reduced by much of European and Japanese industry being flattened by war; it was still rebuilding for a decade after 1945. And, of course, among the rebels against the decade’s political consensus was a young man named William F. Buckley, who started a magazine in 1955 in order to challenge it.

On the other hand, there are two fairly glaring reasons why the Fifties looked so great to people who lived through the decade, and why they were and are so fondly remembered. The first is almost too obvious to mention: They were a vastly better time than the two decades that preceded them. Virtually everything that was wrong in America in the 1950s was also wrong in the Thirties and Forties, plus they had the Great Depression and then the Second World War. To any American over the age of ten in 1950, the decade must indeed have seemed like the promised land. The nation was at peace, however uneasy in the Cold War, after the end of the Korean War in 1953. The suburbs, home and car ownership, college education, television, medicine (the polio vaccine), the general standard of living — all of these things grew explosively between 1945 and 1960. Indeed, the visible prosperity, optimism, and comfort of the times, and the end of many of the sources of misery and strife within white America, played their role in encouraging black Americans to press for civil rights more vigorously than at any time since the 1870s.

On the other hand, the great flush of prosperity was an American, not a global phenomenon. While the war-torn countries of Europe had their own baby boom and their own years of economic growth, there was still a lot longer period of rationing and belt-tightening in Europe, much of which took a long time to get back to where it had been in 1939, let alone 1928. (If you want to truly understand why so many young Britons who became rock stars identified with the blues music of black Americans, go look at the living conditions of the British working class in the 1950s. It does not look much like Leave it to Beaver.)

The other big reason is generational: the Baby Boom. The Boomer generation has played an outsize role in American culture since it started arriving in 1946, by reason of its sheer numbers. And for the crest of the Boomer wave, born between 1946 and 1952–53, the Fifties are remembered as the years of childhood. It is a common enough tendency to remember with more rose-colored glasses the years of childhood, especially if you grew up surrounded by lots of other kids your age. A large generation experienced the Fifties as The Way It Has Always Been, and passed that sense on even to my own generation — even long after a lot of the Boomer generation had rebelled against that Way It Had Always Been. Moreover, the nostalgia of childhood is a shared thing: We have similar memories of our years as parents of little ones. The great social upheavals of the Sixties and Seventies sharpened this: two entire generations of Americans (the Boomers and their parents) not only experienced the Fifties as a time of family togetherness and unquestioned parental authority, but followed this up with years of family arguments about “women’s lib” and civil rights and long hair and drugs and loud music and protests and Vietnam. The generational turn from one decade to the next happens in every generation, but because of the unusual size of the Boomer cohort and its coming of age coincident with a time of particular controversy, the Fifties stood out all the more as a lost golden epoch. That is surely why my own childhood era, the 1970s and 1980s, was bombarded with Fifties nostalgia — Happy Days and American Graffiti and Sha Na Na and Back to the Future. It is perhaps culturally interesting that the last decade gave us Mad Men, the first TV show to really build itself around tracking the cultural turn from the world of 1960 to the very different world of 1970.

The Fifties should be remembered fondly for what they were: a time when a great many things in America got better, and far fewer things got worse. But our collective memory of the decade needs to grapple with the reasons why it was historically unusual, and why our memories of it are, too.

Elections

The First Rattle in the Engine of the Biden Administration

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Democratic vice-presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris and presidential candidate Joe Biden greet supporters at an election rally, Wilmington, Del., November 7, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters Pool)

Back on November 23, after President-elect Biden selected Anthony J. Blinken for secretary of state, Jake Sullivan as national-security adviser, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the United Nations, I wrote, “as far as Democratic selections go, Biden could do a lot worse.”

And since then . . . he has!

First, Biden nominated Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget, a combative figure who has alienated policymakers and activists on the left, right, and center. Then Biden nominated California state attorney general Xavier Becerra to be the next secretary of Health and Human Services. As John McCormack lays out, in Becerra, Biden has selected a hardline partisan with no health-care experience to run HHS during a pandemic. A Republican-controlled Senate might well reject Becerra’s nomination.

And now, in Lloyd Austin, Biden has picked a potential Secretary of Defense that almost everybody respects, but who will require a waiver from Congress because he hasn’t been retired from the uniformed services for seven years. If Biden really wants Austin, then the Democratic House leadership can whip their members to approve the waiver, and Republicans probably aren’t going to go all-out to stop this nomination. But this will require Biden spending a little political capital early on that he otherwise wouldn’t need to; Biden probably could have had Michèle Flournoy or Jeh Johnson with minimal opposition.

Personnel is policy. Biden may envision a calmer, less contentious, less partisan start to his presidency, but Tanden and Becerra in particular are not the figures that are likely to make that happen. Ross Douthat warns that a “Becerra-fied Democratic presidency, in which the bureaucracy is using ‘public health’ as an excuse to battle gun owners one week and Catholic hospitals the next, will be successful only in keeping the conservative coalition united, loyal and activated.”

After a first few picks that were slam dunks and likely to be confirmed by comfortable bipartisan majorities, Biden is setting himself up for some tough confirmation battles, in a Senate that will either be GOP-controlled or split 50-50.  But hey, it’s his presidency. If he wants to spend time and energy on those fights, it’s his call.

Lloyd Austin: a Respected General and Awkward Nominee for Democrats

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Gen. Lloyd Austin III at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, September 17, 2014. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

President-elect Joe Biden has selected retired four-star Army general Lloyd Austin as his nominee for secretary of defense. Despite Austin’s sterling resume, he’s likely to face considerable opposition in the Senate. The issue isn’t with Austin himself, but with the fact that he retired in 2016 and the National Security Act of 1947 requires a prospective secretary to wait seven years after ending active duty as a commissioned officer.

Congress could grant Austin a waiver, but it would be only the third time a president has requested a waiver — President Harry Truman for George Marshall in 1950, and President Trump

Education

Electives vs. ‘Life Skills’

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Students walk through the campus of Temple University, in Philadelphia, Pa., December 1, 2016 (Mark Makela/Reuters)

In response to College General Education: Cut the Fluff and Include Useful Stuff

George Leef sniffs that North Carolina State University undergraduates can satisfy their “general education” requirements with such electives as “Plants in Folklore, Myth, and Religion” and “Concert Dance History.”

I am unscandalized by this.

Concert dance is a category of performance that includes, among others, ballet; it was long taken for granted that the study of myth and religion is fundamental to higher education. I cannot imagine what is objectionable about offering such courses. What’s most objectionable about the study of art, music, and religion is that these are elective for most university students rather than mandatory.

It is possible to have bad courses or good courses in those fields, as it is possible to have bad courses or good courses in any field. I took some rotten history classes, but that is not an indictment of the study of history per se. If those concert-dance students are learning about George Balanchine or Vaslav Nijinsky, and if those students of plant folklore are reading James George Frazer or Jessie Weston, then — unless our commitment to philistinism is absolute — we should prefer such offerings to courses “that develop students’ practical skills” such as “public speaking and personal finance,” subjects better suited to middle-school study than to university study.

Leef cites an article by a recent graduate of NC State, who writes: “If NC State wants to show its commitment to a liberal arts education, taking life skills seriously is a good place to start.” No, it isn’t: The liberal arts and “life skills” are entirely different things. “Some critics may say students should learn those skills before coming to college, but many students didn’t. Colleges can correct a failing in their education.” But universities are not remedial-education institutions, and it is not their purpose to correct such deficiencies.

NC State spends about $50,000 per student per year in the simplest terms (total spending/students). I am confident that we can teach 20-year-olds to tie their own shoes for less money than that.

But that isn’t what NC State is there to do.

Culture

Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today: Paid Family Leave & More (December 7, 2020)

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1. The Terrible Mercy and Love of a Child’s Casket

2.

3. ‘Do people understand what’s happening here? Do they care?’

What qualifies as an emergency? It feels like I’m on the Titanic, and we’re sinking, and I’m trying to make contact with the outside world using two soup cans and a string. “Hello? Hello? Can anybody hear me? Is anybody going to do anything?”

I get this sense sometimes that people are thinking: “Oh, it’s just another nursing home. It’s not a real tragedy. They were already at the end of their road.” And for a lot of people in here, that’s true. This is their last stop. But they’re still people. They’re still alive. There’s one lady in here, and she’s probably 90, and every day she steals cookies out of the cafeteria and acts like she made them herself. She puts on her lipstick and goes from room to room handing out her cookies. When she comes in, it doesn’t matter if you’re hungry. You better take a cookie. It’s what keeps her going. She needs to give it to you. But now the cafeteria’s closed, and she’s lying alone in a dark room like everyone else. There’s no human connection, no life, no hope. We’re wilting away in here. Can you understand that? You start feeling like you’ve been forgotten. Where is everyone? Do people understand what’s happening here? Do they care?

4.  National Catholic Register: Two-Child Limit on UK Tax Benefits Pushes Some Women to Abortion

“The extent to which our society discourages women from continuing with their pregnancies is saddening,” Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right to Life UK, said Dec. 4.

“We know that women feel pressured into having abortions for any number of reasons, and sadly, at this time, it appears that the combination of the two-child benefit cap and the financial hardships created by the current crisis, is putting pressure on women to have abortions,” she said.

The two-child limit, which dates to 2017, means that for each child after their second-born, parents lose £2,900, about $3,900, each year, in a universal credit and in tax credits.

“If the government does not want to see more women feeling forced into a corner between financial hardship or ending an otherwise wanted pregnancy, they must revoke the two-child limit as a matter of urgency,” said Katherine O’Brien, associate director of campaigns at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

5. Abby McCloskey & Adrienne Schweer: The Need for Continued Bipartisan Momentum on Paid Leave

Continue reading “Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today: Paid Family Leave & More (December 7, 2020)”

Capital Matters

Nudge, Nudge, Say No More (Meat)

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(eyup zengin/Getty Images)

The Daily Telegraph:

The [British] Government has established an environmental ‘nudge unit’ to work out how to persuade people into green behaviours such as driving less and cutting down on meat.

The team was set up in April this year because of a recognition that the next phase of decarbonising will require much more personal behaviour change . . .

The new ‘behaviour change and public engagement team’, which is working from inside the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department, is focused on how to get public buy-in for further emissions cuts, which will be targeted at what we eat and how we travel and heat our homes…

The Government has not made any calculations for how much reaching net zero will cost, but the NAO [National Audit Office] said it could ultimately reach hundreds of billions…

Oh.

The head of the unit is Gervase Poulden, a former environmental journalist and committed vegan…

Meanwhile, the NAO reported that there was an increasing recognition in Government that consumers would have to reduce their meat and dairy consumption.

Agriculture in the UK accounts for around 10 per cent of the annual emissions, and significant amounts of land will be needed for carbon sequestration including tree planting.

Ministers are also planning to outlaw deforestation in British supply chains, in the hopes of reducing the amount of imported meat that is detrimental to the environment.

As I noted the other day, the climate warriors have joined in the war on red meat. And, for that matter, not just red meat.

And indeed the Telegraph report includes a link to a story from last year:

Scientists from the University of Sydney, Australia, Oregon State University and Tufts University in the US and the University of Cape Town in South Africa are joined in the warning by 11,000 signatories from 153 countries including the UK.

In a paper published in the journal Bioscience, the researchers set out indicators showing the impacts of humans on the climate. The paper describes “profoundly troubling” signs from activities including sustained increases in human populations, the amount of meat consumed per person…

Dr Thomas Newsome, at the University of Sydney, said: “Scientists have a moral obligation to warn humanity of any great threat. “From the data we have, it is clear we are facing a climate emergency.”

Dr Newsome said that measuring global surface temperatures as a marker of climate change will remain important. But a “broader set of indicators should be monitored, including human population growth, meat consumption, tree-cover loss, energy consumption…

Much, much more of this to come. Here too as well.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph also reports this:

The 45 per cent cut in emissions already achieved since 1990 has come mostly from the phase-out of coal and its replacement with renewable energy such as offshore wind.

In a completely unrelated development, Bloomberg recently reported:

U.K. power prices rose to a four-year high after the U.K. grid operator warned that its safety buffer of supplies is almost eroded for Sunday night.

National Grid Plc said it’s “monitoring the situation closely” in a warning published on Twitter. The network operator stopped short of issuing an official alert called an Electricity Margin Notice, last triggered on Thursday, which is published when the normal safety margin for operating the system shrinks below the level permitted by the government.

I’d like to say there’s a certain irony that all this is happening under a Conservative government, but, after ten years of the Tories being in power, this blend of incompetence, stupidity, and authoritarianism is about par for the course. That the Conservatives are led by Boris Johnson, a sad wreck of a man seemingly broken by his awareness (he’s no fool) that he’s not up to the job, is the broken glass on the cake.

World

Follow Up the Abraham Accords by Promoting the Rule of Law

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From left: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Donald Trump, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed wave from the White House balcony after a signing ceremony for the Abraham Accords normalizing relations between Israel and some of its Middle East neighbors, in a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern countries against Iran, September 15, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

In the wake of President Trump’s successful Abraham Accords, which normalized ties between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, investors are hoping for more business opportunities in the Middle East.

But the real long-term threat to such prospects is a lack of respect for the rule of law — the principle under which people and institutions are accountable under laws that apply equally to all.

Across the developing world, the corruption of courts and other government institutions threatens the free flow of goods and capital that promotes economic growth. Left unaddressed, such threats can lead to heightened tensions among nations and trade wars. Diplomats operate under constraints that limit how much they can call out international bad actors who violate the rule of law.

That’s why the role of outside watchdogs is so important in promoting the rule of law and holding nations to the standards of fairness and impartiality they claim to meet.

This was brought home last month, when a court in the United Arab Emirates struck a real blow for the rule of law. After ten years of litigation, the court ordered Saudi businessman Ahmed al-Rajhi to pay nearly $600 million in compensation and damages in the largest real-estate fraud in the Middle East. Al-Rajhi is currently the powerful Minister of Labor in the Saudi government.

The scandal involved a company called Tameer Holding. Its founder, a Canadian businessman named Omar Ayesh, had sold a large part of Tameer to the al-Rajhi family. They then took over the company and illegally drained its assets. Ayesh and dozens of investors in Tameer’s landmark building in Dubai were cheated of billions.

Ayesh decided to fight back and filed a suit in the Dubai courts. But the case dragged on for ten years even as evidence mounted that the powerful al-Rajhi family of Saudi Arabia had tried to subvert justice with bribes, forgery, and threats to court-appointed experts in Dubai.

Finally, Ayesh founded the Global Justice Foundation, a non-profit based in Washington that is dedicated to exposing corruption and aiding its victims. (I briefly advised the foundation in 2019 on future cases to spotlight.).

Tameer was the foundation’s first case, and its role in shining light on the Tameer scandal appears to have played a role in pushing the Dubai courts to a resolution.

“Justice has prevailed,” Ayesh said in a statement. “The decision will strengthen investor confidence in Dubai.”

The foundation is now hearing from additional victims of the Tameer scandal and other Middle Eastern corruption. It’s looking at ways to assist them in filing their own lawsuits and to amplify its message that the region must fight corruption more diligently.

The only way that Middle Eastern nations will be able to fully take advantage of any thaw from reduced tensions in the region is to strengthen the rule of law and ensure that investors are not fleeced.

Economy & Business

Senator Perdue’s Stock Trades

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After reviewing the evidence, Aaron Brown concludes:

Perdue’s portfolio seems an entirely typical one an experienced businessperson or financial executive of his wealth level would run using a professional adviser. There’s no unusual turnover or short-term trading, and no puzzling strategies or decisions. The results are within legal expectations. The only way to make a scandal out of it is to combine insinuations that support different charges, as if it were all part of some coherent conspiracy, and to ignore the numbers.

Health Care

You Can’t Scare Americans into Taking COVID Seriously

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Healthcare workers place a stretcher inside an ambulance at Texas Children’s Hospital as cases of the coronavirus spike in Houston, Texas, July 8, 2020. (Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters)

Elisabeth Rosenthal, a contributor to the New York Times opinion page, argues that “It’s Time to Scare People About Covid.” Essentially, she advocates the saturation of the airwaves with the coronavirus equivalent of the horrifying anti-smoking ads featuring lung cancer survivors.

I’m not so sure that such a strategy would be prudent.

Having had their lives turned upside-down by the virus and watched nearly 300,000 of their countrymen die, I think that most understand just how insidious this disease is. It cannot be compared to a bad flu season. It’s a deadly pandemic that, left unchecked, would kill millions of Americans. Sure, there exists a segment of society that believes the coronavirus to be way overblown or even a hoax. But those people are far outnumbered by a cohort that recognizes the severity of the disease, and still supports a loosening of restrictions — and not because they’re stupid or evil.

Rather, they look around at the slew of arbitrary restrictions enacted since the onset of the pandemic — not being able to move between your own properties in Michigan, outdoor dining being banned in Los Angeles, the targeting of houses of worship in New York — and reasonably conclude that such measures are not only nearly useless in curbing the spread of COVID-19, but damaging to the emotional well-being and economic interests of their communities.

That these restrictions, and a teachers’ union-led effort to keep children out of school this fall, were decidedly unscientific didn’t matter, though. No matter how outrageous the rule, to comply was to be patriotic; to protest was to be selfish, according to most of the media as well as high-profile public officials.

The infuriating effect of many of these restrictions has only been compounded by the hypocrisy of many of the self-styled heroes of the pandemic. Some, like Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and California’s Gavin Newsom, have personally flouted rules or best practices that they’ve touted. Others encouraged and tolerated massive crowds gathering in the streets to protest the death of George Floyd and celebrate Joe Biden’s election victory. Some are guilty on both counts. So, while I don’t find Rosenthal’s argument — that graphically describing the effects of COVID-19 to the populace will engender greater fidelity to pandemic-related public health measures — facially ridiculous, I do think it’s based on a false premise.

The attitudes of those Americans Rosenthal believes to be too cavalier about the virus have been shaped not by what she describes as “cute, warm and dull” messaging. They’ve developed as a result not only of the president’s irresponsible downplaying of the crisis, but also the blatant partisanship, hypocrisy, and incompetence on display from the likes of state and local officials such as Andrew Cuomo, Whitmer, and Newsom. It’s unlikely that these hardened attitudes will be disturbed by any scare-tactic-laden public relations campaign. In fact, such a campaign could just as likely be interpreted as yet another sign of contempt and have the exact opposite effect of what Rosenthal intends.

The objective of our leadership class during the pandemic should not be to scare Americans into complying with ill-considered regulations, but to devise ones that they will be willing, and even eager, to follow. To favor the former strategy over the latter is to betray a lack of faith in the American people that not only is odious, but has real-world consequences.

Law & the Courts

A Bad Day for the Kraken 

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Sidney Powell’s Kraken lawsuits have been dismissed in Michigan and Georgia. I don’t doubt there was fraud in this election, but this legal effort was obviously completely bonkers, even if there were a lot of clicks and viewers in pretending otherwise.

 

 

Politics & Policy

HHS Secretary Rick Santorum? 

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If liberals want to get a sense of how conservatives view Biden’s selection of California attorney general Xavier Becerra to run the Department of Health and Human Services, they can just imagine how they would react to the selection of someone like Rick Santorum to run HHS during the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic.

HHS has always been important to advocates on both sides of the abortion issue, but it’s remarkable that Biden tapped a culture warrior with no medical or serious managerial experience to run HHS at this critical moment.

Even the progressive LA Times editorial board has criticized Becerra’s zealotry on abortion. In 2017, Becerra filed felony charges against pro-life activists — a move the LA Times called a “disturbing overreach.”

If Biden hoped to pick an HHS chief who would immediately have credibility with most Americans — something that would seem to be a priority while bringing the pandemic to an end — it’s hard to think of a worse choice than Becerra.

Politics & Policy

Biden Taps Abortion Enthusiast to Run HHS

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Then-California attorney general Xavier Becerra in 2013. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

California attorney general Xavier Becerra, Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is no mere supporter of a “women’s right to choose. He’s an abortion enthusiast, a fanatic, a devotee. 

Over the course of his decades-long career in public life, Becerra has made it plain that in his ideal America, there would be fewer children, more abortion, and a pro-life movement muzzled by the state. It’s his life’s work. 

As a congressman, Becerra received a perfect score from NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2016. Among the votes that helped him achieve that score was one against the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, which barred the federal as well as any state or local government from penalizing or discriminating against health-care providers that do not perform, refer for, pay for, or otherwise participate in abortion.” Another was his vote against allocating $800,000 toward investigating Planned Parenthood’s sale of “fetal tissue” leftover from abortion procedures. This wouldn’t be Becerra’s last attempt at aiding and abetting the nation’s largest abortion provider in this matter. 

In 2012, Becerra even voted against a bill that would have prohibited abortions performed on the explicit basis of an unborn child’s sex — a curious decision by a man who purports to be a stalwart supporter of women’s rights and health. 

Running California’s Department of Justice, Becerra compiled an even more frightening record than he did in Washington, D.C. Picking up where his predecessor, Kamala Harris, left off, Becerra continued to harangue David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, the activists responsible for recording and releasing damning evidence of officials at Planned Parenthood boasting about not only selling fetal tissue, but also altering the way abortions were performed so that the tissue would be left better intact and therefore more lucrative on the open market.  

As John McCormack notes, Becerra even went so far as to file felony charges against Daleiden and Merritt in a move described by the not-so-severely-conservative Los Angeles Times editorial board as “disturbing” and by one far-right agitator at Mother Jones as an effort at “chilling” a “legitimate investigation.” While Planned Parenthood vehemently denied the veracity of the videos at the time — a claim echoed by Becerra — they have declined to do so under oath in a courtroom. 

Becerra was also the defendant in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, the Supreme Court case that struck down California’s FACT Act, a law (enforced by Becerra’s Justice Department) that forced pro-life crisis pregnancy centers to provide their patrons with government-drafted documents about how they could procure an abortion. This effort to compel speech directly contrary to these organizations’ purpose obviously constituted a First Amendment violation, but Becerra happily enforced it anyway.  

Those inclined to be charitable toward Becerra might defend his enforcement of the FACT Act by protesting that it was only his job to implement any law passed by the California legislature. But his prior record and pledge not to prosecute abortionists if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned suggests that Becerra was motivated not by a fidelity to the rule of law, but by partisan animus.  

Becerra’s career betrays not only a religious, worshipful attitude toward abortion, but a vindictive, authoritarian streak that should disqualify him from any position of power. For Becerra, it’s not enough that abortion providers be venerated, subsidized, and left un-scrutinized. Pro-life advocates must be menaced, bullied, and silenced by the long arm of the state. Indeed, the only good thing that can be said of Biden’s picking Becerra to lead HHS is that he has not been chosen to lead the Justice Department, where Becerra’s activist instincts could do even greater harm.

Religion

Can’t Wait for 2020 to End?

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If you are in need of some reflection on what 2020 has been all about and how this shared pandemic experience can free us and make us better, you might want to check into my conversation later today on finding God in the crisis, with the two authors of a small book on the matter. Michael Heinlein writes for Our Sunday Visitor and is working on a biography of the late Cardinal Francis George. Fr. Harrison Ayre is a priest in British Columbia and co-host of a podcast, Clerically Speaking. Both are quite active in the best of ways on Twitter (click on their names to follow).

4 p.m. New York time. But one of the mercies of this year, is you don’t have to travel to NYC to participate.

RSVP here. And check out their book here.

Did Focusing on Health Care Actually Hurt Democrats in 2020?

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(Pixabay)

In the aftermath of a disappointing year in the down-ticket races, some Democrats are grumbling that the party’s focus on health care in 2020 was a mistake, and cost them votes among voters who were more worried about the state of the economy.

Perhaps Democrats have misheard what the voters are saying about health care for several cycles now. I suspect it’s quite easy to find a survey result or focus-group discussion indicating that an overwhelming majority of Americans find health care “important.” Few Americans would ever want to say that they don’t care about their health, or the health of

World

The End of the Swedish Model

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Even Sweden is now adopting COVID restrictions.

What’s Going On with Jon Ossoff’s Company Insight TWI?

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In 2013, Jon Ossoff became CEO of the film company Insight TWI, which he describes as producing documentaries to expose global government corruption and conflict and which, at last filing, is headquartered in the United Kingdom. Ossoff, a Democrat currently running for a Georgia Senate seat against Republican senator David Perdue, has become progressively more involved in the company since he first bought a stake in it.

When Ossoff ran for public office in 2017 — a failed campaign against Republican Karen Handel to fill the House seat in Georgia’s sixth congressional district — he was a 50 percent stakeholder in

Religion

When Erik Saw the Devil

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Carved pumpkin inspired by Boris Karloff’s movie version of Frankenstein at Van Cortlandt Manor House and Museum in 2015. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

I was reminded this past week of a classic National Review writer, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1909–1999). He was an Austro-Hungarian nobleman, a Catholic with monarchist leanings, a high eccentric who attracted Bill Buckley’s attention and kept it for 35 years.

I met Erik only once, when I was an assistant editor at NR and he was passing through New York. It was 1988 and our personal interaction was limited to a handshake, bashful on my part, in managing editor Linda Bridges’s office. I was bashful because I had been interacting with his writing for months before, and my work on him was a reminder of how much I had to learn.

My first editing assignment was to make Erik’s rambling missives “From the Continent,” as his column was titled, publishable. I went to work, at Linda’s request, and did what I thought best: make Erik, elderly European aristocrat, sound like me, a 23-year-old Californian and recent college grad. What could be more obvious? With each article, I realized with a blush that Linda had “stetted” (reversed or restored) almost all my edits. When I finally asked her why, she said, “Because you were taking Erik’s voice away.” It was a lesson not just about editing but about life. As much as possible, in whatever context, we should let Erik be Erik.

That was the extent of my reflections on him, until last week. I’ve had a recurring hunger for other worlds, going back to childhood. I will not try to explain the immediately prompting circumstances, but I was moved to post a request on Facebook. I asked if anyone would be kind enough to send me their supernatural experiences. However they define the term, I would be grateful to have them. I myself have never had an unambiguous experience like that. I received a number of very interesting replies, including one, perhaps the most interesting, from Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.

Not directly, of course, though it turns out that replies from beyond this Earth would not surprise Erik. A Facebook friend, styling himself the deceased journalist’s “servant,” had been transcribing Erik’s speeches for years. One that he thought was relevant was entitled “Sorcery.” He sent it to me by mail. I received it last Friday afternoon.

It wasn’t just about sorcery but about all the ways that the unseen becomes seen. On October 31, 1997, Erik has been on a speaking tour, stopping at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Wilmington, Del. My correspondent explained, “Since it was Halloween, they thought Erik might deliver a somewhat humorous lecture but it was strictly serious. The fifty attendees were astounded.” I bet they were. In rambling yet magnetic fashion, Erik shared one story after another of direct or indirect experiences of the supernatural.

Those sightings on the other side of the glass, briefly illuminated, can be light or dark. There was a story of a genuine sorcerer, it seems, a Laplander called Per Ootzi. As a young person on a visit to Sweden, Erik met another young man who told how Per Ootzi summoned his fiancée’s engagement ring from 600 miles away.

Erik talked of encounters with missionaries in Port Moresby, New Guinea, with white people in South Africa, about his own experiences in Delhi, India, with soothsayers in Budapest, and much more. He confessed, “Theologically, I am helpless. I can’t make out anything sensible.” I can’t either.

For me, and for those in attendance that Halloween night, the most intriguing story was from 1931. Erik concluded, “There are evil demons, the Devil. I am a very old man, I don’t mind, I will tell you — I saw the Devil. I was not alone.” He was visiting Finland, in a village where English people enjoyed vacationing. Erik claims that some of them were inclined to darker deeds than careless frolicking with friends. There were rumors of desecrated graveyards. Erik took the story back with him to Hungary, where he researched it and talked about it with a friend. The conversation must have got to be very deep. I read:

Slowly, in that moment, to both of us, Satan appeared as Satan appears in primitive books. Naked, reddish, horns, long tongue, trident, and we both exploded laughing. In other words, laughing hysterically. As I later found out, in apparitions of the Devil, this is a natural reaction, that you laugh hysterically.

At dinner that night, I read to my family a couple of Erik’s stories. Our younger kids giggled nervously. Some encounters with the Other Side call up that reaction, for whatever reason. The transcriber recalled that after the speech, someone in the audience asked, “What happened after you finished laughing at the Devil?” Erik answered, “We immediately exchanged notes about what he looked like. There was absolutely no doubt that we had seen exactly the same apparition.” In retrospect, perhaps it’s no wonder I took Erik’s hand shyly.

As the world of public life seems to grow shabbier, more controlling, and more inhuman by the day, I find it encouraging to think of the intuition that many people have had across many cultures that our ordinary experience of life veils from us another world. American culture stood, interestingly, in a somewhat similar place 120 years ago.

Harvard psychologist William James, biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, and other lesser-known scientists and non-scientists investigated the supernatural. Deborah Blum tells the story well in her book Ghost Hunters. Then as now, the reign of the scientific experts was at hand, and sensitive people found it parching:

James [in 1898] wrote to Science magazine, a journal devoted to upholding the research ethic, that he loathed the reverential use of the word “scientist . . . it suggests to me the priggish, sectarian view of science as something against religion, against sentiment,” even against real-life experience.

Erik’s experiences were a tonic for me. 2020 has been hailed by some as the Year of the Scientific Expert, even as the experts proved wrong again and again. It has been a year of fear, isolation, disillusion, against “sentiment” and “real-life experience,” as maybe never before. As the year draws to a close, I was grateful to rediscover the voice of a classic, against the priggish and the sectarian. Let Erik be Erik.

Culture

Pornhub Attempts to Defend Its Disgraceful Oversight on Child Sexual Abuse

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(BogdanVj/Getty Images)

On Friday afternoon, I wrote a post about New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s new feature piece, “The Children of Pornhub.” I quoted from his heavily reported piece at length, including Kristof’s observation that Pornhub “is infested with rape videos” and “monetizes child rapes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags.”

I also noted that his article is not the first time that Pornhub and its parent company MindGeek have come under fire in the last year alone for allowing this type of content to appear on its site. Late Friday evening, I received a response from Pornhub’s PR folks, pushing back against the information in Kristof’s piece and my echoing of that information.

“Any assertion that we allow CSAM [child sexual abuse material] is irresponsible and flagrantly untrue,” I was told by a nameless spokesperson for the company. “We have zero tolerance for CSAM. Pornhub is unequivocally committed to combating CSAM, and has instituted an industry-leading trust and safety policy to identify and eradicate illegal material from our community.”

The statement asserted that the website’s safeguards to prevent this content from appearing have proven effective. “The Internet Watch Foundation, the leading independent authority on CSAM, reported 118 incidents of CSAM on Pornhub in a three year period,” the spokesperson said, and contrasted that number with the thousands of reported instances of child–sexual-abuse pornography on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The spokesperson went on to claim that Pornhub employs “a vast team of human moderators dedicated to manually reviewing every single upload.” This suggestion is nearly impossible to take seriously, considering that Pornhub itself reported an average of 2.8 hours of pornography uploaded to the site per minute in 2019. But even if this claim were true, the promise to eradicate all child sexual abuse from the site with the help of human moderators conflicts with Pornhub’s own admission that at least 118 incidents of child sexual abuse did appear on the site in a three-year period.

Either the company properly monitors all content or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, it is responsible for the lack of oversight that allowed abusive and illegal pornography to appear on its site. If it does monitor all content, then the company is responsible for hiring human moderators who directly assented to allowing such pornography to appear.

In a comment to National Review responding to Pornhub’s latest statement, Nebraska senator Ben Sasse reiterated his call for the Justice Department to investigate the company for allowing this abusive content to appear on its site. “MindGeek’s creeps are not any less evil or scuzzy because they wear suits and hire PR firms,” Sasse said. “Pornhub’s blanket claim that ‘every single upload’ is reviewed by a team of moderators deserves scrutiny given the fact that the site has hosted videos of rape and abuse. If MasterCard and Visa can investigate these online traffickers, so can the Department of Justice.”

Education

Everyone Wants Public Schools to Reopen, except the People Who Run Them

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A student attends a virtual class as limited in-person learning resumes at Wilson Primary School, Phoenix, Ariz., August 17, 2020. (Cheney Orr/Reuters)

The editorial board of the Washington Post declares that public schools should reopen and get children back into the classroom.

Remote learning has failed to provide anything approaching the quality of education that can be delivered by a teacher in a classroom. Evidence of the failures, particularly for children already at risk, is matched by growing evidence of the relative safety of in-person learning when proper precautions are in place. The combination should spur officials to devise plans to get students back in the classroom.

In the District of Columbia, public schools are tentatively scheduled to open in “early February.” Alexandria, Va., will “phase in” students in January and February.  In Fairfax County, Va., the reopening for grades three to six has been pushed back about a week, to January 12. Middle and high schoolers are still scheduled for January 26. Montgomery County, Md.,, expects to begin the “phased blended model” for public schools by February 1.

The Post editorial offers a depressingly honest assessment of what truly motivates education decisions in the region:

We recently asked a top official in a Washington-area jurisdiction, who insisted on anonymity, why there wasn’t more of a push to figure out ways to return children to the classroom. The answer was that there is no political pressure. Parents of means can give their children the help and resources they need or switch them to a private school; parents of minority or disadvantaged students with the most to lose have the least clout. Vaccines are on the horizon, but students already have lost too much time. Dr. Fauci is right: “Close the bars and keep the schools open.”

Among those “of means” who have switched their child to private school is $236,000-per-year superintendent of Alexandria public schools Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., who withdrew his daughter from Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School and enrolled her at Bishop Ireton High School, a Catholic school, where tuition is roughly $17,000 a year. His son remains enrolled in the Alexandria public-school system. Alexandria public schools’ distance learning, flaws and all, will have to be good enough for most Alexandria families . . . even though it isn’t good enough for the superintendent’s daughter.

Back in 2017, I noted that the public-school system in my old hometown of Alexandria was not quite as excellent as the community’s wealth would suggest: “As a whole, Alexandria residents have considerable wealth, but the wealthiest parents don’t send their children to public school, at least in part because the city has some of the region’s best private schools. The students who remain in the public-school system, particularly at the high-school level, disproportionately represent the city’s poorer residents. In fact, more than half of the city’s public-school students qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school.”

The Washington, D.C., area, encompassing the suburbs in Maryland and northern Virginia, is largely, if not quite monolithically, blue or Democratic-leaning. The blue-city and blue-state model is much more flawed than its adherents will ever admit — particularly when it comes to ensuring equality of opportunity and quality education for every child. For those with the most influence in the D.C. region, below-par public schools — and a substandard distance-learning system — are someone else’s problem. Even the superintendent will opt out when given the opportunity.

Education

College General Education: Cut the Fluff and Include Useful Stuff

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For older Americans (I count myself among them), the college curriculum has become almost unrecognizable.  The core they knew has eroded terribly and dozens of trendy new courses have taken their place. This might make students happy, but is it a good move?

In today’s Martin Center article, Anna Martina, a recent graduate of NC State, reflects on her university’s General Education Program (GEP) and finds it wanting. She writes, “If NC State revamped its general education requirements, it could cut out fluff classes, teach students important life skills, and strengthen the liberal arts.”

NC State students can fulfill their GEP requirements by taking such courses as:

  • History of Rock 1: 1950s-1970s
  • History of Rock II: 1980s-Present
  • Plants in Folklore, Myth, and Religion
  • Concert Dance History, and
  • Ultimate Frisbee

Really essential for a sound education!

Martina continues, “The GEP mission statement explains that the program lays the ‘foundation for involvement in their communities as responsible citizens and leaders,’ but it lacks the very courses that would help achieve this mission. The only courses … that develop students’ practical skills appear to be two classes on public speaking and personal finance.”

She suggests that NC State offer more courses that have practical application for students after they leave college, as some other schools have started doing.

Martina concludes, “If NC State wants to show its commitment to a liberal arts education, taking life skills seriously is a good place to start. Some critics may say students should learn those skills before coming to college, but many students didn’t. Colleges can correct a failing in their education. After all, public universities have a duty to the public to produce good citizens that advance the interests of North Carolinians.”

Elections

The Republicans Hold (More or Less)

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The worst part of Trump’s endgame is the pressure on Republicans in the states either not to certify results or to appoint electors in defiance of the results. It’s one thing to delegitimize the election (both sides do this, although Trump is in a class all of his own) or file serial lawsuits that repeatedly collapse of their own implausibility, but to try to overturn the results through brute political force, after having failed to establish widespread fraud, is quite another. Republican officials in Arizona and Georgia have so far held fast under the pressure and deserve great credit.

Meanwhile, dozens of Pennsylvania legislators have called on Congress to reject the state’s Biden electors. This isn’t going to happen because it’s necessary to get both houses of Congress to uphold an objection to electors, and I doubt either House would. Even if there weren’t electors from Pennsylvania, Biden would still handily win the Electoral College.

(The scenario where you could get a breakdown of the process and enter uncharted territory would be if there were rival slates of electors from a state and the two houses of Congress split over which to accept.)

Warnock Dodges: Takeaways from Georgia’s Senate Runoff Debate

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Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock participate in a debate in Atlanta, Ga., December 6, 2020. (Ben Gray/Pool via Reuters)

Two Georgia Senate candidates faced each other Sunday evening in the first debate of the runoff contest. Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler — who was appointed by Governor Brian Kemp to fill the vacant seat left by former GOP senator Johnny Isakson until the special election — is facing a challenge from Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock.

In the November 3 election, neither Warnock nor Loeffler managed to reach 50 percent of the vote, sending the contest to a January 5 runoff, one of two Senate runoffs in Georgia this election cycle; Warnock finished ahead of Loeffler with 33 percent to her 26

Elections

About the ‘Suitcase’ Video

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An employee of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections processes ballots in Atlanta, Ga., November 4, 2020. (File photo: Brandon Bell/Reuters)

The video is more powerful than anything the Trump team has come up with to this point because (1) it’s video, which is always more powerful; (2) the story seemingly told by the snippet so intuitively lines up with the fraud narrative — Republican observers are asked to leave late at night and then, boom, new ballots are produced from under a table.

But this looks like another dry hole. Here are a couple of good resources for learning more.

A couple of things to know:

—The suitcases aren’t actually suitcases, but standard crates used for absentee ballots.

—There’s a dispute about whether observers were told to leave or not — election officials say there was a misunderstanding and the Republican observers assumed the counting was over for the night because the “cutters” who open the absentee-ballot envelopes had finished and were leaving.

—Regardless, at no point was the process closed to anyone and everyone knew, or should have known, that there were cameras all over the place. For a while there were no Republican observers in the room, but everything that occurred during this period is on tape — because the entire day is on tape. State officials who were briefly absent returned to observe the rest of the count.

As far as I understand, what happens in the snippet that’s gotten so much attention is that the ballot counters thought they were shutting down for the night, began to put stuff away, and then when told to keep working, pulled everything back out, including the crates from under the table. (I’m fuzzy on this, but by some accounts the crates had already been emptied of ballots when the Republican observers were still there.)

The key thing, though, is that, again, the entire day is on tape and has been reviewed by state officials. The ballot crates were already there in the morning and accounted for when observers were in the room. Nothing that happens during the period in question is different from what you’d expect during routine counting.

Here is a thread from a reporter who has watched all the tape:

And another from a journalist who’s been following it closely:

Obviously, officials should release the hours and hours of video of the entire day’s proceedings, so everyone can review it for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

Culture

Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye Today: Ethiopia, A One-Year-Old Dies in D.C., Archbishop Chaput on Biden and Communion & More (December 4, 2020)

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Ethiopians who have just crossed a river from Ethiopia to Sudan to flee from the Tigray region walk towards the Hamdeyat refugees transit camp, which houses refugees fleeing the fighting, on the border in Sudan, December 1, 2020. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

(1) Washington Post: 1-year-old Carmelo Duncan is the latest victim of gun violence in D.C. as homicides hit a 15-year high

Dozens of mourners gathered Thursday night in the block where Carmelo was killed. They offered prayers for his family and for other families that have lost loved ones to gun violence, the coronavirus and social ills. They also demanded an end to such violent attacks and called for witnesses to come forward to bring justice for Carmelo’s death.

“Somebody knows something! Somebody knows something!” the crowd shouted as they began a march along Southern Avenue.

(2) Crux: Catholic agencies say ‘major humanitarian crisis’ in Ethiopia’s Tigray region

The United Nations on Wednesday said it and the Ethiopian government have signed a deal to allow “unimpeded” humanitarian access, at least for areas under federal government control after the prime minister’s declaration of victory over the weekend

More than 1 million people in Tigray are now thought to be displaced, including over 45,000 who have fled into a remote area of neighboring Sudan. Humanitarians have struggled to feed them as they set up a crisis response from scratch.

(3) Crux: Should Hong Kong crackdowns count as ‘anti-Christian persecution’?

Three of the four dissidents either jailed or arrested this week are committed Christians, and two of the three are actually Catholic.

Indeed, Christian energy permeates the protest movement in Hong Kong, even if just 12 percent of the territory’s population is Christian. As pro-democracy crowds surged last year, the hymn “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” became their rallying cry. Granted, that was to some extent a tactical move, since under Hong Kong ordinances religious gatherings often are permitted when political protests aren’t, but it also reflected the genuine convictions of many of the activists.

Forget what’s driving the jailers. What are Chow, Wong and the rest doing in jail in the first place, and what does one suppose is sustaining them while there?

If the answer to those questions is, at least in part, about Christianity, then perhaps this ought to count as “anti-Christian persecution” after all.

(4) Peggy Noonan: Who’ll be 2020’s Margaret Chase Smith?

When history hands you a McCarthy—reckless, heedlessly manipulating his followers—be a Margaret Chase Smith. If your McCarthy is saying a whole national election was rigged, an entire system corrupted, you’d recognize such baseless charges damage democracy itself. You wouldn’t let election officials be smeared. You’d stand against a growing hysteria in the base.

 

Continue reading “Fifteen Things That Caught My Eye Today: Ethiopia, A One-Year-Old Dies in D.C., Archbishop Chaput on Biden and Communion & More (December 4, 2020)”

Politics & Policy

Culture, Economics, and Trumpism

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Ryan Streeter uses survey data to puncture two pieces of conventional wisdom: Working-class voters (defined as middle-income voters with at least a high-school diploma but no college degree) are more optimistic about the economy than the public at large, and Trump voters with college degrees are more hostile to journalists and skeptical of experts than Trump voters without those degrees. Streeter concludes that Republicans don’t need to adopt protectionism or economic populism to appeal to working-class Trump supporters: “Trumpism is an anti-leftist, anti-elitist cultural stance. It is not a policy agenda.”

I think we’re left with a bit of a puzzle. If (a) Trumpism is about cultural attitudes that (b) appeal disproportionately to his college-educated supporters, then why is it that (c) Trump has shown demonstrably greater appeal than other Republicans to voters without degrees? One possible solution: Maybe a lot of these working-class voters aren’t committed to protectionism and don’t think the system is stacked against them, but found something appealing in a blunt-spoken, successful businessman. Another: Maybe they aren’t especially hostile to the media, but they are appreciative of Social Security and Medicare and preferred a Republican who promised not to touch them. Or: They liked the idea of a big infrastructure push, or of a Republican who wouldn’t be kept from helping people out by ideology. And I’m sure we could come up with other theories.

The data Streeter presents are worth pondering, but I don’t think they rule out the possibility that Trump’s distinctive economic program had something to do with his distinctive appeal.

Politics & Policy

Can Joe Biden Pardon Himself?

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President-elect Joe Biden announces his national security nominees and appointees at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Del., November 24, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

John Yoo argues that once he’s president, he can. He mentions the contrary possibility that the pardon power mentioned in the Constitution was understood to refer to a power to pardon someone other than the pardoner. He does not, however, defeat this possibility.

He stacks the deck by presenting the argument that pardons must be granted by one person to another as an attempt “to overcome the plain meaning of the constitutional text.” But it could also be understood as an argument about what the plain meaning, historically recovered, of that text actually is.

He then turns to Founding-era debates. The Constitutional Convention, he points out, considered and rejected excluding treason from the pardon power. Madison’s notes have Edmund Randolph speaking in support of that exclusion: “The President may himself be guilty. The Traytors may be his own instruments.” James Wilson responded: “Pardon is necessary for cases of treason, and is best placed in the hands of the Executive. If he be himself a party to the guilt he can be impeached and prosecuted.” Yoo concludes, “When the Convention had the chance to explicitly prevent presidential self-pardon (by excluding treason), it declined.”

It’s an invalid inference. First, the Convention wasn’t considering an explicit ban on presidential self-pardons: If the pardon power was understood to include self-pardons — if, that is, they weren’t considered a kind of contradiction in terms — then passing Randolph’s amendment would have left them intact in cases other than treason. Second, the notes do not make it clear that it even occurred to Randolph, Wilson, or any other Founder that the pardon power could include self-pardons. As Matthew Franck commented during another round of this debate two years ago, “Randolph may only have been thinking about a treasonous president pardoning his confederates (‘his own instruments’) to shield himself from discovery. Certainly this possibility was alarming enough by itself to prompt Randolph’s motion. . . . And Wilson likewise may have been thinking only of those traitors, and contenting himself that the impeachment power could reach the grave abuse of the pardon power’s use to protect them.”

Yoo quotes George Mason’s argument against the pardon power from the Virginia ratifying debate: It was dangerous to give the president “because he may frequently pardon crimes which were advised by himself.” Mason obviously lost. But his quote cuts against Yoo’s position, not in favor of it. Even an opponent of the pardon power, seeking to summon an example of the evil it would generate, stopped short of suggesting that a self-pardon was even possible.

Yoo hasn’t (and no one, to my knowledge, has) offered any example of anyone in the Founding era explicitly defending the idea that the president has or should have the power to pardon himself — or of anyone’s explicitly saying that the president doesn’t and shouldn’t have that power. Maybe that’s because its non-existence was taken for granted.

Media

‘The Children of Pornhub’

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(romkaz/Getty Images)

In a lengthy reported piece for the New York Times out today, columnist Nicholas Kristof tells the stories of children who were raped or sexually abused and who had videos of their mistreatment uploaded to the Internet pornography site Pornhub. From Kristof’s reporting:

Its site is infested with rape videos. It monetizes child rapes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags. A search for “girls under18” (no space) or “14yo” leads in each case to more than 100,000 videos. Most aren’t of children being assaulted, but too many are.

After a 15-year-old girl went missing in Florida, her mother found her on Pornhub — in 58 sex videos. Sexual assaults on a 14-year-old California girl were posted on Pornhub and were reported to the authorities not by the company but by a classmate who saw the videos. In each case, offenders were arrested for the assaults, but Pornhub escaped responsibility for sharing the videos and profiting from them.

Pornhub is like YouTube in that it allows members of the public to post their own videos. A great majority of the 6.8 million new videos posted on the site each year probably involve consenting adults, but many depict child abuse and nonconsensual violence. Because it’s impossible to be sure whether a youth in a video is 14 or 18, neither Pornhub nor anyone else has a clear idea of how much content is illegal.

Unlike YouTube, Pornhub allows these videos to be downloaded directly from its website. So even if a rape video is removed at the request of the authorities, it may already be too late: The video lives on as it is shared with others or uploaded again and again.

Kristof’s piece is hardly the first time that the website has faced public scrutiny for the content it hosts. A little more than a year ago, PayPal cut off services for Pornhub, refusing to allow users to use the service to pay for subscriptions. And earlier this year, Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) called on the Department of Justice to investigate Pornhub for having “made content available worldwide showing women and girls that were victims of trafficking being raped and exploited.”

Today, Sasse doubled down on that call, telling the Daily Caller that “the Department of Justice needs to open an investigation into the scumbags who run [Pornhub parent company] Mindgeek.”

“Sexual exploitation and human trafficking are abhorrent, period. A decent society should be working to end this,” Sasse added. “It is completely unacceptable that Pornhub and its parent company Mindgeek make money from rape, sexual abuse, and the exploitation of minors. They need to be investigated, and the DOJ needs more urgency about building cases against creeps.”

Kristof’s article also comes almost exactly one year after a group of Republican congressmen urged Attorney General Bill Barr and the Justice Department to more vigorously enforce existing laws against obscene pornography, as we reported exclusively here at National Review.

“The Internet and other evolving technologies are fueling the explosion of obscene pornography by making it more accessible and visceral,” the four Republican representatives wrote in their open letter. “This explosion in pornography coincides with an increase in violence towards women and an increase in the volume of human trafficking as well as child pornography.”

Politics & Policy

The Ironies of Salvation History

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President Donald Trump attends a service at the International Church of Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nev., October 18, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Can I ask a question in long form? Even at this late date, I’m not sure enough ink has been spilled in understanding Donald Trump’s peculiar political success and his bond with (a certain set of) white Evangelical voters. Our missed colleague David French mourned this in particular and liked to illustrate the corruption of Evangelical religion by politics by showing how, from the Clinton years to the Trump years, Evangelical Christians changed their answer on a poll question about whether character matters in political leadership. In the Clinton years, they were most likely to say it matters; in recent years, the least likely.

There have been many partial theories offered for why Evangelicals had such a strong attachment.

(1) Simple politics. Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party oppose core white Evangelical interests on abortion, religious liberty, and homeschooling. Many Evangelicals are conservatives whose attachment to the national history, myths, and institutions is incompatible with progressivism.

(1b) Might be political desperation. As the culture becomes more hostile to Evangelicals, they become less selective about the leaders that champion their interests and more supportive of them through thick and thin.

(2) Not as religious as you think. There was some evidence in the 2016 primaries that Trump had a particularly strong bond with a non-churchgoing person who nevertheless identified as a white Evangelical Christian. Maybe Trump’s rhetorical focus on national rather than religious values is more appealing to this voter.

(3) More prejudiced than you think. Another theory is that Trump’s appeal is merely based on shared prejudices. White Evangelicals are haters, and so they liked Trump. The cruelty is the point, etc.

(4) Strongman theory. Evangelicals are particularly attracted to leaders with personal charisma. Trump’s larger-than-life persona mattered more than you think.

I’ve tended to think (1), (1b), and (2) are the most important factors. But I still don’t think this explains it very well. The very social-science data that French cites tells us something with which we have to grapple: A large number of Evangelical Christians who support the president do so with full consciousness of his lack of good character.

Like French, I’ve sometimes chided conservatives along the same lines, that character is destiny — that what we do forms us in predictable ways. And I’ve tended to emphasize the Pauline requirements of leadership, the kind of things preached in the epistles to Timothy and Titus.

But I’d be curious what he or others think of another theory: Evangelical formation in the biblical stories leads them to expect some “divine irony.” There are some eyebrow-raising names in the genealogy of Jesus. King David was God’s favored, but he fell. Paul was a persecutor of the Church then became its leading missionary. Jonah, the reluctant prophet, etc. Some of these are tales of repentance and warnings not to write people off. But not all of them. I’ve often wondered if instead of applying the Pauline strictures to Trump, many white Evangelicals supported Trump fully knowing that he had a bad character, precisely because they are open to these kinds of surprises: that a billionaire (alleged) might be the voice of the downtrodden, that a sybarite might defend the godly, etc. Am I wrong? Overthinking it?