Politics & Policy

Summer Reading

Summer is here, and so is the new summer issue of National Affairs. It’s filled with thoughtful, timely essays on policy and political thought, from Sally Satel on how to understand the opioid crisis to Andy Smarick on how education is changing, Oren Cass on the mirages of “evidence-based policymaking,” Joshua McCabe on our polarized federalism, Arnold Kling on the state of economics, Richard Reinsch on our competing majorities, Michael Cooper on the fate of the rust belt, and much more—from taxing marijuana to the radicalization of our understanding of discrimination, the rhetoric of Black Lives Matter, and the legacy of Edward Banfield.  

Some are open to all, others only to subscribers—and hey, why not?


Netherlander Euthanasia Guru Bemoans His Handiwork

Boudewijn Chabot was the Netherlander psychiatrist who assisted the suicide of a deeply depressed woman who wanted to die after the demise of her two children. All she wanted to do was be buried between them. Chabot met with her four times over several weeks — never engaged actual treatment — and then supplied her with poison pills, which she took. He watched as she died.

That led to a “prosecution.” I put the word in quotes because — as Chabot’s lawyer told me in an interview for my book Forced Exit — there was never any intention of actually imprisoning Chabot, or indeed, sanction him in any way. Rather, the purpose was to set a precedent to allow deep psychological suffering to justify euthanasia.

The gambit worked. The Supreme Court ruled, essentially, that suffering is suffering — and whether physical or emotional — IT is what justifies assisted suicide/euthanasia, not disease itself.

Twenty or so years later and Netherlander psychiatrists euthanize mentally ill patients whose organs may be voluntarily harvested post-death.

Now, Chabot has been stricken by conscience. He notes that euthanasia groups have recruited psychiatrists to kill. From his article, “Worrisome Culture Shift in the Context of Self-Selected Death:”

Without a therapeutic relationship [ME: which he didn’t really have, by the way], by far most psychiatrists cannot reliably determine whether a death wish is a serious, enduring desire. Even within a therapeutic relationship, it remains difficult. But a psychiatrist of the clinic can do so without a therapeutic relationship, with less than ten ‘in-depth’ conversations?

Hey, you opened this door: Own it! More:

In 2016, there were three reports of euthanasia of deep-demented persons who could not confirm their death wish. One of the three was identified as having been done without due care; her advance request could be interpreted in different ways. The execution was also done without due care; the doctor had first put a sedative in her coffee. When the patient was lying drowsily on her bed and was about to be given a high dose, she got up with fear in her eyes and had to be held down by family members. The doctor stated that she had continued the procedure very consciously.

Chabot looks at the social and moral wreckage he helped unleash and wonders:

Where did the Euthanasia Law go off the tracks? The euthanasia practice is running amok because the legal requirements which doctors can reasonably apply in the context of physically ill people, are being declared equally applicable without limitation in the context of vulnerable patients with incurable brain diseases.

In psychiatry, an essential limitation disappeared when the existence of a treatment relationship was no longer required. In the case of dementia, such a restriction disappeared by making the written advance request equivalent to an actual oral request.

And lastly, it really went off the tracks when the review committee concealed that incapacitated people were surreptitiously killed.

Please. It was all so predictable. Heck, I predicted it.

Euthanasia consciousness changes mindsets. It alters societal morality. It distorts our views of the importance of vulnerable lives. It leads to abandonment and various forms of subtle and blatant coercion. 

Over time, it can’t be controlled.


Politics & Policy

‘They Are Never Talking About Issues Like Russia.’

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

‘They Are Never Talking About Issues Like Russia.’

“Our brand is worse than Trump.”

That quote from Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in the New York Times is going to get a lot of attention. For Republicans, that comment is a reason for glee; for Democrats, it is a devastating self-assessment that challenges them on an almost existential level.

But the comment that probably ought to spur even more thought in Democratic lawmakers’ offices is this one from Chris Murphy, who dares to utter the heretical thought that the preeminent obsession of Democrats since Election Day 2016 – the as-yet-unproven possibility of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – simply is a non-factor in the lives of most Americans:

“The fact that we have spent so much time talking about Russia has been a distraction from what should be the clear contrast between Democrats and the Trump agenda, which is on economics,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” whether Ossoff’s defeat means the party should become more progressive, the senator responded that it’s more an issue of what they’re talking about. “When I’m back in Connecticut, I often get on a commuter bus and ride it for just an hour to talk to folks that don’t normally call my office or write my office,” Murphy explained. “They are never talking about issues like Russia. They are not talking, frankly, about what’s on cable news at night.”

Now, this idea that a party should only focus on “kitchen table issues” or what’s on the mind of the “common man” can be taken too far. There are a lot of issues that the average voter doesn’t think about much that are still important. The debt and deficit, the long-term outlook for entitlement programs, almost everything involving foreign relations that don’t involve the war on terrorism, cyber-security, most issues involving the judiciary and debates about interpreting the Constitution, most government regulations outside of a high-profile news story, the state of higher education institutions, most energy issues beyond gas prices… People tend to talk about anything that affects them directly or something that has been in the news a lot, particularly if there’s an element of human drama.

The New York Times article makes a fleeting reference that probably deserves more attention…

Part of the Democrats’ challenge now is that the jobless rate is low, and many of the districts they are targeting are a lot like the Georgia seat: thriving suburbs filled with voters who have only watched their portfolios grow since Mr. Trump took office.

Back in March, during his address to Congress, Trump boasted that the stock market had gained almost $3 trillion in value since his election; since then, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen another couple hundred points. In other words, if you’re an investor, these are the good times. Your 401(k) probably looks better than you ever figured it would a year ago. Yes, the stock market could go down, and some analysts think it will. But for now, anyone who’s putting away money for retirement probably is feeling a little better about the future.

Ben Shapiro points out how apocalyptic modern political rhetoric is on both sides. How apocalyptic do you think those voters in those white-collar suburban Congressional districts feel?

Politics & Policy

Planned Parenthood
California Court Dismisses 14 Criminal Charges against Center for Medical Progress

This afternoon, the San Francisco Superior Court tossed out 14 of the 15 criminal charges that had been brought by the state of California against two journalists from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), after they released a series of undercover videos exposing Planned Parenthood’s possible involvement in illegal fetal-tissue trafficking.

In late March, California attorney general Xavier Becerra charged David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt with 15 felony charges for recording what he deemed to be confidential communications. Today, a judge dismissed 14 of those charges, but will still consider the remaining 15th charge, against Merritt alone, for conspiring to invade privacy.

In a statement today, an official with the group representing Merritt said they are optimistic about having this charge dropped as well. He also pointed out that Becerra received thousands of dollars in campaign donations from both Planned Parenthood and NARAL during his time as a Democratic congressman.

More details from Life News:

The San Francisco Superior Court on Wednesday dismissed 14 of 15 criminal counts but the pair are still charged with one count of conspiracy to invade privacy. However the court dismissed the charges with leave to amend — meaning Becerra could re-file the charges with additional supposed evidence against the pair.

The court ruled that counts 1-14 were legally insufficient. The state has the opportunity to amend if it can plead a more legally sufficient and specific complaint. The California’s Attorney General filed 15 criminal counts against Merritt, with counts 1-14 for each of the alleged interviews and count 15 for an alleged conspiracy. San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Christopher Hite gave the state attorney general’s office until mid-July to file a revised complaint.

Aside from being a victory for the freedom of the press, this decision is another big win for the CMP journalists — who were cleared of criminal charges last year in Texas, as well — vindicating them against the frequent claim from pro-abortion activists that they engaged in illegal activity and duplicitous editing of footage to falsely incriminate Planned Parenthood.

There is still a civil lawsuit on this matter pending in California, brought against the CMP by Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation. Unlike these criminal charges, however, that suit does not carry the threat of jail time.


The Incomplete Media Narrative about a Murdered Muslim Girl

Early Sunday morning, a 22-year-old man bludgeoned a Muslim girl, Nabra Hassanen, to death with a metal baseball bat on her way home from an all-night Ramadan observance at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society mosque. The murderer dumped the 17-year-old’s abaya-dressed corpse into a pond, where it was found by Fairfax County, Va. authorities later that afternoon. Outrage ensued, as it rightly should, given a murder so savage, thuggish, and evil. Yet once again, the media wildly overstepped its bounds to craft a false narrative.

“Muslim Teen Kidnapped and Brutally Murdered in Virginia: This Is Terrorism” read a headline from Affinity magazine. Actress and producer Mindy Kaling also decried the murder on Facebook as “another innocent Muslim person targeted for their faith.” The Atlantic then ran a profile, “‘Muslims Feel Under Siege’” highlighting Islamophobia around Ramadan. Many stories used Hassanen’s murder as a lede to foray into a greater narrative about the collective crisis of violence against Muslims.

But then actual facts and details around the case emerged. First, the Fairfax County Police Department publicly ruled out a hate crime as a motive, announcing that they were looking more closely into extreme road rage. Then, the Daily Caller reported that the murderer, Darwin Martinez Torres, was an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, with ICE confirming that it had issued a detainer request against him. Reports subsequently emerged that Torres, who has a girlfriend and son, barely speaks English and required the use of a translator following his arrest.

On these developments, the media has maintained near-complete radio silence. A Fusion piece reporting that the police ruled out anti-Muslim bias as a motive was still tagged as “Islamaphobia,” and did not include the identity of the killer. They declined to even label Torres a “white Hispanic” illegal immigrant!

That Torres’s motive was not as initially reported should make the murder no less enraging. And nor should his immigration status make it any more deplorable. But any conversation about Nabra Hassanen, be it about hate crimes or immigration policies, will inevitably be half-baked if we’re only served half-truths.


Law & the Courts

This Acquittal Was Correct — Jury Exonerates Cop in Milwaukee Shooting

Each police shooting has to be evaluated on its own facts Today, a Milwaukee jury rightly acquitted former police officer Dominique Heaggen-Brown in the 2016 shooting of Sylville Smith — a shooting that led to unrest in the city. This case was markedly different from the Philando Castile shooting, and the prosecution was highly problematic. 

Smith ran from a traffic stop, approached a chain-link fence, and turned to face the pursuing officers, gun in hand. Heaggan-Brown fired his first shot — a shot the prosecution conceded was lawful — and then fired the second, fatal shot less than two seconds later, just after Smith had thrown away his pistol. The prosecution claimed that the second shot constituted reckless homicide. 

The problem with the prosecution is obvious. A police officer who reasonably perceives a mortal threat (as the officer did here) doesn’t shoot, reflect, observe, and shoot again. He shoots until the threat is neutralized. The officer’s expert witness was right:

The defense rested Monday after calling its lone witness, Robert Willis, an expert in police use of force, according to WISN.

Willis testified that Heaggan-Brown acted in “accordance with his training,” CNN affiliate WTMJ-TV reported.

His testimony centered on the 1.69 seconds separating the two shots. He testified the officer’s decision to fire again was made before he even pulled the trigger. The second shot was justified, Willis told the jury, because officers are trained to assume a suspect may have more than one weapon.

Heaggan-Brown experienced the encounter in “real time,” not in frame-by-frame motion as it was shown to the jury, Willis said, according to WTMJ.

“So when we see the trigger being pulled, we have to not consider that the moment of decision,” he said. “It’s not. We have to go back — and I can’t tell exactly how many frames but we have to go back two-tenths or three-tenths of a second — we have to go back several frames … to delve into the decision-making process that goes into firing this shot.”

The officer chose his witness well. According to CNN, Willis “wrote the use of force manual used by Milwaukee police officers.”

Smith’s confrontation with police created exactly the situation the law is designed to address. We can’t impute god-like perception to police officers, and the split-second reasonable decision to fire on an armed suspect isn’t something that has to be reconsidered with every pull of the trigger. In this case, the jury reached the just result. 


Politics & Policy

0-4 and an About-Face: Democrats Suddenly Believe Ossoff No Longer Matters

He was a candidate on whom it would be worth risking millions. He was a messianic, baby-faced neophyte slated to stage a Macron-esque takeover of Georgia’s sixth congressional district in the #Resistance’s first great blow to Trump’s America. CNN’s Don Lemon even likened him to Barack Obama.

Jon Ossoff was supposed to be a vessel for the categorical repudiation of the Trump administration, but alas, as the president gleefully noted this morning, the Democrats marked two new entries in a growing line of losing streaks in special elections framed by some in the media as referendums on one of the most unpopular presidents in modern American history.

After sinking $25 million into Ossoff’s campaign, Democrats are stuck rewriting the narrative that all hope and glory rested on the fate of GA-06. 

The original liberal logic went: An effective Democratic candidate, not bogged down by the scandals and unlikability of Hillary Clinton and running, in effect, against Trump (who beat Clinton in the district by an uncharacteristically low margin of 1.5 percent), could easily outperform Clinton. The Democrats put so much weight on this concept that Ossoff’s campaign became the most expensive congressional bid in U.S. history. California donors and super PACs outspent every other state nine-to-one to try to flip the sixth district, only to see Ossoff actually underperforming both the polls and Clinton’s 2016 GA-06 vote to go down in a stunning defeat.

In April, Slate branded Ossoff the pioneer of “Georgia’s progressive renaissance” — a man gearing up to answer the “existential insult of Trump.” Following Ossoff’s win in the Georgia primary, CNN’s Sally Kohn boasted that the election “damn sure was a referendum on Trump and Trump lost big league.” The Left continued to characterize the race as Ossoff versus Trump as the runoff drew nearer. Just this past weekend, the New York Times declared it would be a “high-stakes referendum on Trump,” with the “highest” stakes for Republicans.

Yet as the votes poured in and Handel began to exceed polling and expectations, the media began to sing a different tune.

The spin began as the New York Times tweeted that “Handel averted a humiliating upset for Republicans.”

Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, who had previously compared Ossoff’s crusade to “Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign” reflective of a “leftward shift of the Democratic Party’s message,” today decried his “bland and inoffensive” image of “just a nice guy who doesn’t like Donald Trump.”

In a similar 180, Kohn tweeted out, “In many ways, [Handel] distanced herself from [Trump]. This is not Trump’s victory.”

Wait, so is Ossoff basically Barack Obama or a tepid centrist? Is Handel a Trump surrogate or a Never Trumper? Most importantly, wasn’t Ossoff supposed to win with a five-point lead?

The Democratic panic is warranted. Ossoff’s losing 1.2 percent of Clinton’s GA-6 vote after the Democratic party put everything, emotionally and financially, on the line for a candidate they equated to their only remaining widely liked leader, has worrisome implications. Perhaps if the Democrats had put slightly less of a moral investment in this election, it would be seen for what it really is: a special election. But FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver aptly noted, “Sometimes dumb things matter if everyone agrees that they matter.”

With taxpayer-subsidized Planned Parenthood dumping nearly $735,000 into Ossoff’s campaign and the DCCC pouring in over $5 million, Republicans turned out to vote in record numbers. Ultimately, for Georgia voters the election was less of a referendum on Trump than a rejection of an untried carpetbagger.

Economy & Business

Spending Cuts Are the Best Way to Pay for Tax Reform

Yesterday, Speaker Ryan promised that tax reform would happen before the end of 2017. My two cents is that it won’t until Ryan finally agrees to drop the border-adjustment tax that has fractured our movement, the business community, and the Republican caucus. As it stands, tax reform may not even be able to get out of the House, let alone the Senate (the White House is also skeptical of the border-adjustment tax).

When Ryan does drop the border-adjustment tax (BAT), we can finally unite behind tax reform and look for alternative ways to get it done. As such, now is as good a time as any to remind the Republicans in charge of leading this effort that there’s a right way and a wrong way to move beyond the border-adjustment tax. Recently, Ways and Means chairman Kevin Brady, the most dogged proponent of the border-adjustment tax in Congress after Speaker Ryan, simultaneously admitted that the only function of the BAT is to raise revenue and suggested that dropping it may require Congress revisiting the revenue raisers in the Camp proposal (named after former congressman David Camp of Michigan), though Brady was quick to point out that he hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

Perhaps this is Brady’s way of pressuring critics to just give up and accept the BAT because falling back on the Camp plan is a poor substitute for real tax reform.

Like the current effort, Camp was hamstrung by a misguided insistence on “revenue neutrality.” Revenue neutrality means that the government continues collecting just as much in taxes after reform. While some may think it makes sense in today’s high-debt environment, it is no solution to our debt and economic-growth problem. First, overspending is the driving cause of our giant debt and there is no amount of revenue that will address the explosion of our national debt that is caused by the entitlement-crisis wall into which we are heading very quickly. Second, revenue neutrality means that Congress is voluntarily deciding to tie its hand on what it can do to grow the economy through tax reform because lawmakers have to choose between lowering tax rates in exchange for increasing double taxation or reducing the tax burden on savings and investment in exchange for only slightly lowering rates.

Granted, unlike Representative Camp in 2014, Republicans plan to finally use dynamic rather than static scoring — dynamic scoring takes into account the impact of tax reform on economic growth. However, CBO’s modeling still leaves a lot to be desired. So while it is trying to actually reduce the tax burden overall, it is still likely to overpay with revenue offsets.

The revenue constraints placed on Camp forced inclusion of many bad ideas in his proposal such as increasing the tax bias against savings and investment by raising the tax rate on capital gains and “extending the length of the period over which businesses may deduct the cost of buying machinery or equipment and building factories or other structures,” as David Burton explained back in 2014. In that vein, and among other items, the plan randomly targeted advertising expenses for the sole purpose of raising revenue. Burton explains:

The Camp plan would require that half of advertising expenses be deducted over a 10-year period. This entirely unwarranted provision would deny businesses the ability to deduct their expenses and thus overstate their taxable income. This provision would increase business taxes by $169 billion over 10 years.

Why would the plan arbitrary treat advertising expenses differently than other business costs? I do not know. Advertising serves an important purpose in helping the economy function smoothly. It provides information to consumers and facilitates competition and entry of new products to the market. Moreover, the whole point of tax reform is to simplify the code and end distortions such as that.

Oh and then there was this:

One of the most egregious violations of sound tax policy in the plan is a tax on systemically important financial institutions (SIFI). The tax, better known as a bank tax, would apply to only a few of the largest banks and other financial firms — those with more than $500 billion in assets. The tax would be 0.035 percent on those banks’ assets, assessed quarterly. It would raise more than $86 billion over 10 years. Sound tax policy does not single out particular businesses in certain industries for extra taxation. If there are issues arising because of how other laws affect these banks, those issues should be addressed outside of the tax code.

I would like to repeat this: “Sound tax policy does not single out particular businesses in certain industries for extra taxation.”

In other words, falling back on the Camp reform pay-fors such as the few named above would be a step backward. There is no way that Republicans believe that these are are only two options for tax reform. They must know that a better approach would be to acknowledge fiscal reality and cut spending. Or not. An imperfect and partial alternative is to extend the budget window, as some are now considering. It would have the merits of better accounting for the positive economic impact of tax reform and lessening the need for counterproductive new taxes.

Politics & Policy

Immigration Has Changed the Progressive Movement

Peter Beinart has an excellent essay in The Atlantic on how the American Left has shifted on immigration. Just a decade ago, he writes, progressive intellectuals such as Glenn Greenwald, Paul Krugman, and even Barack Obama at least acknowledged the costs of immigration. In fact, Krugman outright stated that, “Realistically, we’ll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants.”

I would add to those examples the New York Times editorial from 2000, “Hasty Call for Amnesty,” which declares, “Amnesty would undermine the integrity of the country’s immigration laws and would depress the wages of its lowest-paid native-born workers.” Far from sounding progressive to our 2017 ears, this is the kind of statement that might get a speaker disinvited from a college campus these days.

The strange marriage of progressivism and mass immigration has always puzzled me. Last month, I wrote an article for RealClearPolicy showing that progressive and high-immigration California is failing by progressives’ own standards. California has the nation’s highest poverty rate, its math and reading scores rank near the bottom, and its communities suffer from low levels of social trust. These problems have many causes, but mass low-skill immigration has clearly exacerbated them. Two questions for progressives follow. First, if the nation’s leader in blue-state governance cannot mitigate the problems related to mass immigration, which state will? Second, and more broadly, how does immigration move us closer to the egalitarian, cooperative, and science-loving society that progressives envision?

I never received any answers to these questions, but maybe the Beinart article points to one: Immigrants and the organizations that lobby for them are now an important Democratic-party constituency. As a result, boosting immigration has itself become a progressive cause, even if it means the old-fashioned vision of egalitarian communities has to be permanently set aside. This is a major political realignment, and yet another example of how mass immigration fundamentally changes nations.

Politics & Policy

A Few Lessons Democrats Aren’t Learning

After a day of commentary and hot takes following Karen Handel’s relatively comfortable win in Georgia’s Sixth District, it’s clear that there are a few lessons that Democrats are slow to learn.

First, abortion and socialism aren’t big winners in center-right districts. It’s been stunning to see more than a few folks on the Left declare that one lesson of the loss is that it’s futile to move toward the center. Absent a total collapse in Republican support, a move to the hard Left is only going to help spur Republican turnout. Lots of suburban voters have qualms about Donald Trump, but they hate abortion-on-demand, loathe the idea of single-payer health care, and have no interest in being enlisted in the social justice culture war.

Second, politics is still a subculture. There is an extraordinary gap between regular voters and the obsessive tweeters who spend their days agonizing over every Trump tweet and sputtering with outrage over every Trump scandal. I live in the middle of Trump country, and trust me when I say that the average voter isn’t tracking a tenth of the coverage. It takes time for political trends to bake fully into the cultural cake, and there is yet no “consensus” about the Trump presidency. It’s still early.

Third, aside from hating Trump, hard-core progressivism is the Democrats’ only coherent message. Putting aside the Bernie Bros and the social justice warriors, what is the Democratic Party’s message to America? What does it stand for? And you can’t say “equality,” “diversity,” or “inclusion.” Those are platitudes, not policies. At the least the progressives have a vision. It’s not one that has much hope of winning over center-right voters, but it is a message. Where is the rest of the Democratic Party? Is there a rest of the Democratic Party?

The bottom line is that a party built from the ground up to appeal to single women and minorities is going to struggle locally where those demographics don’t dominate, and it’s going to struggle nationally when those demographics aren’t inspired. They have 16 months to either get a better message or, failing that, pray for a Republican collapse. 

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