Politics & Policy

The Thin Line on Obesity

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In response to Pelosi Goes Low on Fat

Ramesh Ponnuru objects to my piece defending Nancy Pelosi’s comments that the President of the United States is “morbidly obese.” He writes:

“Morbid” obesity is not defined by the CDC, as Kearns notes, but when it is used in the literature (e.g., here) it tends to be associated with a body mass index well in excess of anything plausibly attributed to Trump.

Fair enough. On reflection, this aspect of my argument was clumsily expressed. To clarify, I presumed Pelosi’s definition of “morbid” to be similar to that of the Oxford dictionary — “medical: connected with disease.” By this Oxford definition, all obesity is morbid. Though, yes, by medical standards, and applied to Trump, this description is hyperbolic and inaccurate.

Ponnuru further argues that Pelosi’s intent was “obviously to ridicule the president for his girth.” Perhaps Ponnuru is deducing this from the wider context, but taking Pelosi’s comments at face value, she does not snigger, smirk, or call him names. Instead, she says that he is “morbidly obese” — a statement which, depending on your definition of “morbid,” is at least partially true.

Ponnuru is absolutely correct to suppose that I do not wish to defend “making fun” of people because of their weight. But I don’t believe that is what I’ve done in this instance. Whatever Pelosi’s intentions (and my piece was about more than just her comments), the health of a serving president is always in the national interest. So too is discussing — frankly, albeit with compassion — the very real health risks associated with obesity.

Politics & Policy

Tim Scott Responds to Biden’s ‘You Ain’t Black’ Comment

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“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” Joe Biden said this morning.

South Carolina GOP senator Tim Scott responds: “1.3 million black Americans already voted for Trump in 2016. This morning, Joe Biden told every single one of us we ‘ain’t black.’ I’d say I’m surprised, but it’s sadly par for the course for Democrats to take the black community for granted and brow beat those that don’t agree.”

Politics & Policy

Can the President Pull Funds from Mail-In Ballot States?

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The answer is no, and if you look at Trump’s tweets you’ll see he doesn’t actually claim that he can. He said, “I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan” if it continues with its plans for voting by mail. He later said funding cuts wouldn’t be necessary, but even his initial comment was not quite the threat it’s being made out to be. He can “ask” for whatever he wants, as can anyone, but whether he has any chance of getting it is a different story. His tweet about Nevada, meanwhile, was ambiguous.

Sometimes the president makes claims of unilateral power that have no basis and that his administration does not try to back — for example, his claim a few weeks ago to have “total authority” to end state lockdowns. This time, Trump skipped a step by making it clearish at the outset that his words didn’t mean anything.

Media

On GQ and Abortion

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Anti-abortion and pro-choice demonstrators argue in front of the Supreme Court, January 2011 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

My colleagues Ramesh Ponnuru and David Harsanyi already have ably pointed out the many factual deficiencies in Laura Bassett’s recent article in GQ, in which she claims, among other falsehoods and unsubstantiated insinuations, that the pro-life movement in the U.S. began because white Evangelical Christians were upset about racial desegregation.

This is a tired trope that abortion-rights supporters trot out every so often: the notion that pro-lifers only oppose abortion because they are secretly (or not so secretly) racist. Gesturing at this argument — because they never quite get around to articulating what exactly is so racist about believing that abortion ends a unique human life — often requires bizarre twisting of the facts, such as when Bassett hinges her piece on the claims that George Wallace was a Republican (he was not) or that Reagan came to regret his stance on abortion only after he became president (he did not).

It also often takes the form of the case that Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe made quite poorly last August, insisting that white supremacists are opposed to abortion — and, ergo, that pro-lifers are racist — when in fact white supremacists overwhelmingly support legal abortion because it tends to disproportionately diminish minority populations. Arguments like Bassett’s and Tribe’s nearly always ignore or gloss over the fact that the early legal-abortion movement in the U.S. was closely tied to the eugenics movement, which believed that widespread abortion would enable the elimination of “undesirable” (read: minority, poor, disabled) populations.

The history of race and abortion is never quite so clear-cut as defenders of legal abortion would have you believe, and it often cuts in precisely the opposite direction of their claims. But it’s worth asking why these arguments crop up so often and why such factually challenged narratives receive half-hearted or nonexistent fact-checking at prominent publications.

The answer, to my mind, is fairly simple. Our media establishment is full to the brim with individuals who support the right to unlimited legal abortion, but who wish not to defend that policy preference on its own terms. Instead, they resort to distracting from the reality of abortion by whatever means necessary. They write about abortion only when they can find some way, often by massaging or disregarding the facts, to personally smear pro-life people as racist, misogynistic, or insincere.

That is why, for instance, media outlets are quick to crow over stories that seem to denigrate the pro-life cause while steadfastly ignoring those that expose the wrongdoing of the abortion industry. It’s all a game to defend the abortion policy they want by impugning the sincerity or assassinating the character of those who disagree with them, so they never have to admit what abortion is or explain why their policy is preferable.

Culture

Is Our Foster-Care Crisis Even Worse because of COVID-19?

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Naomi Schaefer Riley is the latest guest on our occasional virus-free forum series from the National Review Institute’s Center for Religion, Culture, and Civil Society. Naomi has made herself a leading expert on child-welfare issues in recent years. She is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum. Among other things, she’s author of six books, including, most recently, Be the Parent: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat(We talk about getting off screens — even/especially now, too.)

Listen here:

Politics & Policy

What’s Wrong with Loss Deductions?

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Not much, explains my AEI colleague Kyle Pomerleau.

A few weeks after the passage of the CARES Act, commentators began criticizing the Act’s provisions liberalizing the tax treatment of business losses. A New York Times piece argued that one of the provisions was a giveaway to the real estate industry. A more recent Bloomberg article called the provisions a “stealth bailout” for oil and gas companies. While there is room to improve the provisions, they are neither a bailout nor a giveaway.

Film & TV

Are Any Movies Really ‘Coming Soon to a Theater near You’?

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A man cycles past a closed movie theater in Times Square following the coronavirus outbreak in New York City, March 17, 2020. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Rarely has a trailer’s most common tagline — “coming to theaters” — represented such a mix of defiance and hope. A new trailer for Christopher Nolan’s new film Tenet debuted this morning, what looks like a mind-trippy action thriller of time-traveling spies. (Former CIA director George Tenet does not appear to be one of them.)

Right now, Tenet is the one major summer blockbusters that has not been pushed back to autumn or made plans to go to a streaming service. Right now, Disney’s live-action Mulan is scheduled for July 24, and the Wonder Woman sequel moved back from June to August. The new Tenet trailer declares it is “coming to theaters,” but doesn’t mention the current July 17 release date. As many have observed, movie theaters as an industry certainly won’t survive this pandemic intact, and many theaters may not survive at all.  Sitting for two hours in a ventilated, air-conditioned room with lots of other strangers who are eating popcorn is probably one of the riskier actions you can take during a pandemic of a contagious virus.

At its best, going to the movies is a magical experience — two hours where your attention and mind are taken to another world and you feel like you’re witnessing, or maybe even living, part of someone else’s life, sharing their thrills, chills, sorrows and laughs. When it goes right, each little step adds to the enjoyment — the anticipation, your favorite candy or snacks, the trailers, the lights going down and the music swelling. Sure, watching films at home can be enjoyable, but plenty of movies are enjoyed as a group experience — the same with live performances, concerts, and sporting events. We like hearing a crowd react the same way we are, with laughter, cheers, screams, or sniffles. Someone argued a few years ago that the big blockbusters — the Harry Potters, Marvel superheroes, and Star Wars movies — are one of the few really widespread shared experiences in our increasingly diverse country.

At its worst, your feet stick to the floor, the other patrons won’t be quiet, the concessions are ludicrously overpriced, and you wonder how anyone involved in making the movie you’re watching could have ever thought this movie was a good idea. Still, even the grumpiest among us would rather have that option than see it disappear or grow rare, a casualty of the widespread shift to streaming services and fear of assembling in crowds. If the virus is defeated within a year, theaters would probably eventually come back in some form or another. But we will miss them while they’re gone.

Education

D.C. Panel Urges No Full-Time, In-Person School Until There’s a Vaccine

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A school bus used for transporting New York City public school students is seen parked in front of a school in the Queens borough of New York January 15, 2013. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The theme of today’s Morning Jolt is that our response and reopening programs are designed for obedient, easily programmed robots, not human beings, and that the group of Americans who are bearing one of the toughest burdens of our failures in leadership are our children.

Shortly after sending the newsletter, I saw this story:

Students in the nation’s capital should not return to full, in-person learning until there is a reliable vaccine or cure for the novel coronavirus, according to recommendations released Thursday by a group of advisers appointed by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser.

. . . before that, students should return to campuses on modified schedules, switching between in-person and distance learning depending on the day. Even if schools can accommodate them, families should not be required to send their children to school buildings — and will have the option of distance learning — if they feel unsafe.

The D.C. plan calls for no more than 10 students in a classroom in Phase Two, along with staggered arrival and dismissal times, and no cafeterias. (The city hopes to start Phase One at the end of next week.) Other potential plans include having students attend school one or two days a week and participating in remote learning on the others, or having kids attend school one week out of every three weeks.

Public schools will need a plan for something much better and closer to “normal” before a vaccine arrives. (The one caveat is the report that Oxford scientists are hopeful their vaccine will work and be widely available by September, which would be near-miraculous.)

Our ability to treat the disease keeps improving, and there are some promising signs on the vaccine front. Eight vaccines are in human trials, the Oxford effort is expanding to a trial of 10,000 people, and Dr. Anthony Fauci says he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the early results from the Moderna trial:

Even though there was only eight individuals, we saw neutralizing antibodies, at a reasonable dose of the vaccine and the titers [the measure of antibodies in the blood] were high enough to get us to believe that if we attained that in a large number of people, you could predict that that vaccine would be protective. So although the numbers were limited, it was really quite good news, because it reached and went over an important hurdle in the development of vaccines.

But a reliable vaccine may not be ready until the end of the year, or early 2021, or the middle of 2021 . . . or ever. And even if one is developed, it will take considerable time to manufacture and distribute it throughout the population.

As mentioned in today’s newsletter, distance learning is probably working okay for some kids, not so great for others, and it is disastrous for the kids who need the most help. And the D.C. plan amounts to continuing distance learning . . .  indefinitely.

Politics & Policy

Planned Parenthood Knew It Was Ineligible for Coronavirus-Relief Loans before Claiming Them

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Sign on a Planned Parenthood building in New York in 2015. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Yesterday morning, I reported that two dozen Republican senators, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), are calling on the Department of Justice to investigate Planned Parenthood for fraud, after 37 of the organization’s affiliates claimed $80 million in small-business loans for which they were ineligible. The loans came from the Paycheck Protection Program, created by Congress in the CARES Act, to help small businesses meet payroll and pay rent during COVID-19 shutdowns.

Despite the fact that mainstream news organizations have entirely ignored this story, Planned Parenthood apparently felt the need to defend itself, because the organization tweeted yesterday morning: “Some independent Planned Parenthood organizations applied for and were awarded loans subject to eligibility rules established by Congress and the Small Business Administration (SBA), which they met.”

This is false for several reasons, not least of which is that Planned Parenthood itself has already openly admitted its lack of eligibility for the loans. After the CARES Act passed, Planned Parenthood Action Fund (the group’s political-action arm) issued a statement condemning the legislation for excluding the organization from its funding: “The bill gives the Small Business Administration broad discretion to exclude Planned Parenthood affiliates and other non-profits serving people with low incomes and deny them benefits under the new small business loan program.”

Planned Parenthood would have us believe both that Congress should be condemned for excluding the group from funding and that Planned Parenthood’s affiliates were in fact eligible for that funding when they later applied for and received it.

In fact, there is no gray area on this question: The text of the CARES Act makes it exceptionally clear that nonprofit organizations such as Planned Parenthood are not eligible for loans under the PPP, and that fact was highly publicized at the time of the bill’s passage. The part of the bill outlining eligibility for the loans was a particular point of contention during congressional debate precisely because the final wording would determine whether the abortion provider would be able to claim federal funding.

Republicans won that fight, as illustrated by the bill text, reporting at the time, and subsequent clarifying statements from Trump-administration officials. Section 1102 of the CARES Act states that nonprofits are eligible for PPP loans only if they and their affiliates have no more than 500 employees. Planned Parenthood has about 16,000 employees, a whopping 32 times as many as the maximum-employee cap outlined in the bill.

There is no argument to be made that the bill actually allows groups with Planned Parenthood’s governing structure to receive small-business loans. And, given the organization’s own open opposition to the CARES Act, there is no argument to be made that the group was unaware of its affiliates’ ineligibility for the program.

Sports

Sports Talk, Other Talk

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Coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines during a game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind., November 23, 2019 (Marc Lebryk / USA TODAY Sports)

My Impromptus today begins with Michael Jordan, who has seized attention in recent weeks: That’s because of a documentary called “The Last Dance,” which is about the 1990s Chicago Bulls. Jordan and the Bulls are a pleasant subject, even for a lifelong Detroit Pistons fan like me.

I have unpleasant subjects too — including QAnon, which is having an impact in the Republican Party; and a particular accusation by President Trump. Over and over, the president suggests that Joe Scarborough, the morning-show host, killed a woman named Lori Klausutis.

You want to avert your gaze from these subjects, or at least I do. Far more comfortable to criticize the mainstream media or the Democratic Party at large. I have practically made a living at this. But we on the right have some spectacular ugliness to deal with.

It was very pleasant to talk with Jim Harbaugh, the longtime NFL quarterback who is now the coach of the University of Michigan football team. He is an old friend of mine. We did a podcast last month — here — and “continued the conversation” yesterday, here.

The subjects? Well, The Last Dance, for one. And various issues in football. And a little baseball (too slow?). And a little soccer (you like?). And so on. With sports at a standstill, sports talk seems more essential than ever, to many.

Economy & Business

Testing the Waters

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Earlier this week, the Treasury Department sold 20-year Treasury Bonds for the first time since 1986! Why does this matter? My guess? They were testing the appetite for longer-duration bonds (they sold $20 billion worth at 1.22 percent). $20 billion is chump change in the grand scheme of federal-government debt issuance. But the point is that there is significant appetite at very low yields for long-duration government debt, and it makes no sense for our Treasury to not test the waters of 50-year or 100-year maturities, taking off the table one of the biggest tail risks people have suggested over the years: rising rates (in the future) substantially increasing debt-service costs.

This could be good news for investors, too. A long-duration U.S. government asset could be a substantial deflation hedge.

Win, win, therefore.

U.S.

Suicide Prevention Researchers Leave Out Assisted Suicide

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(Unsplash)

It almost never fails. A learned article in a medical or bioethics journal laments our suicide crisis and urges greater efforts at prevention. And yet somehow, the authors never once mention the elephant in the room: i.e., the impact of ubiquitous suicide promotion by “death with dignity” activists, boosted by media commentators, in popular culture features, and as furthered by politicians.

It just happened again. An article published in the AMA’s JAMA Psychiatry: promises to “flatten the curve” of our rising suicide numbers, but doesn’t once mention assisted suicide as a contributor to the problem:

To drive this research agenda, we are acting on research that indicates suicide prevention efforts in health care settings have the potential to significantly reduce suicide rates. Nearly 30% of decedents had a health care visit in the 7 days before suicide; half were seen in health care settings within the preceding 30 days; and around 90% had visits in the year before death. Second, applying universal screening in the emergency care setting could double the number of individuals identified within usual care.

Similarly, the application of risk prediction algorithms to electronic health records can enhance prediction of suicide attempts and deaths, particularly when the data are enriched with screening information. Third, there is a growing suite of effective interventions and care practices that include medications and psychotherapies, a brief safety plan intervention, and follow-up efforts at high-risk, critical points of care transition such as “caring communication” contacts, and telephone calls to encourage ongoing social connection and care engagement. These practices can improve function and reduce the frequency of suicide attempts between 30% to 50% over the following year. The NAASP recommends that these practices be combined in a system of care and that health care organizations strive for this “Zero Suicide” approach.

I’m all for it. But pretending assisted-suicide deaths are not “suicide,” as most laws require, doesn’t make them not suicide, and merely sweeps that aspect of our crisis under the rug.

Active suicide promotion for the ill and disabled is something new in our history. Unless suicide-prevention researchers include the impact of such advocacy in their studies, assess the consequences of the “some-suicides-are-good” message communicated by laws legalizing doctor-prescribed death, and explore the shameful failure of doctors and hospice professionals to call in prevention services when someone asks for help in dying where assisted suicide is legal, this will be for naught.

To paraphrase Lincoln, we can’t be half suicide prevention and half suicide promotion. Sooner or later, we will be all one or the other.

Education

Some Good Higher Ed News for a Change

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In many if not all conservative states, you find that the universities are run by people who are cut from “progressive” cloth even though the government is dominated by Republicans. Usually, the leftist administrators get their way, blowing through money as if they were in California. Few of the politicians have the backbone for a fight with them.

But there’s at least one cheerful counter-example: Idaho. As Boise State professor Scott Yenor explains in today’s Martin Center article, the leftists provoked a fight recently when they wanted more spending (especially for “diversity”) and the politicians wanted frugality.

The battle over the budget began last year. Yenor writes:

In June 2019, for instance, Boise State University (BSU) interim president Martin Schimpf sent a letter to Boise State faculty and staff boasting of BSU’s accomplishments in promoting diversity and inclusion. He promised more to come, including scholarships for DACA students (illegal under Idaho law), graduate fellowships designed for “underrepresented minority students” (which BSU then did), and the hiring of a chief diversity officer (which BSU also pursued).

That aroused opposition in state government. One representative took the lead in declaring that diversity programs are divisive and merely drive up the cost of education.

A budget fight ensued, which the defiant educrats lost.  Yenor states:

The final budget contained a provision requiring universities to undertake “budget reduction” and “cost containment.” The legislature wants schools to prioritize reducing “administrative overhead” and to eliminate spending that is “not integral to each institution’s core instructional mission.”

Idaho leftists wanted to transform the state through their control of the public universities. For now, at least, their plans have been defeated.

Professor Yenor concludes,

Budget cuts will be coming to public higher education. They can leave higher education better than it was before — if state legislatures are vigilant in requiring public universities to prioritize the public good. Cutting budgets is not enough, and neither are reporting requirements. Only state legislatures alert to the possibilities of reform can ensure that cuts serve the priorities of the public.

Politics & Policy

Pelosi Goes Low on Fat

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said earlier this week that President Trump is “morbidly obese.” Madeleine Kearns discusses the resulting controversy on NRO. I think she’s ignoring two key points. First, Pelosi is wrong. “Morbid” obesity is not defined by the CDC, as Kearns notes, but when it is used in the literature (e.g., here) it tends to be associated with a body mass index well in excess of anything plausibly attributed to Trump.

Second, Pelosi’s intent was obviously to ridicule the president for his girth — and not, for example, “to state the facts” (which, again, she didn’t do). It was malicious, just as similar comments from Trump have been.

I can’t believe that Kearns wishes to defend making fun of people for their weight as a means of maintaining the “certain amount of stigma” about obesity that she considers healthful. Whether or not she does, I don’t think that stigma is in any danger of shrinking away to nothing.

Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Rep. Hartzler Introduces Bill to Offer Nonprofits Liability Protection during Reopening

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Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R., Mo.) speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC., October 7, 2011. (Gage Skidmore)

Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R., Mo.), who represents Missouri’s fourth congressional district, has introduced a piece of legislation to extend liability protections to nonprofits as states begin to lift their stay-at-home and shutdown orders across the country.

“I think it’s very important for our churches and nonprofit organizations to have assurance as they reopen that they will be able to continue to provide services to the needy with confidence,” Hartzler said of her legislation in an interview with National Review. “There’s a concern that some individuals may try to cherry-pick certain guidelines or other provisions and sue these organizations, and they are at the forefront of providing the services that communities need, whether it be food pantries or handing out clothes or working in homeless shelters, and certainly holding churches services.”

The bill, known as the “Service Assurance Act,” provides that “a nonprofit organization shall not be liable under Federal or State law for any act or omission of the organization with respect to any harm arising from exposure to, or infection by, the virus that causes COVID–19 during a public health emergency with respect to COVID–19.”

Hartzler’s legislation also provides that nonprofits will not be free of liability if the “harm was caused by an act or omission constituting willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a conscious flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed.”

The bill establishes that the liability protection it provides would supersede state laws that are inconsistent with its provisions, unless they provide greater protection from liability. Hartzler says she already has the support of a few cosponsors and is hopeful there will be bipartisan backing for the proposal.

“We want to reopen America,” she said. “We want to do it safely, but we also want to make sure that our businesses, or in this case our churches and our charities, are able to do that soon. Churches are vital to the spiritual health of this country and worthy of protecting from lawsuits.”

Hartzler says she has spoken with House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) about having the language of her legislation included in the next round of CARES Act legislation and notes that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) also has expressed support for liability protections.

McCarthy and McConnell recently released a joint statement on the GOP priorities for the next phase of CARES Act legislation, stating that “healthcare workers, small businesses, and other Americans on the front lines of this fight must receive strong protections from frivolous lawsuits.”

“We cannot let a second pandemic of opportunistic litigation enrich trial lawyers at the expense of Main Street and medical professionals,” they said. “Senate and House Republicans agree these protections will be absolutely essential to future discussions surrounding recovery legislation.”