Law & the Courts

Supreme Court Rules States Can’t Discriminate against Religious Schools

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In a 5-4 decision in the case Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the U.S. Supreme Court struck a blow against Blaine amendments that prohibit public funds from aiding religious schools.

“A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious,” Chief Justice Roberts writes in a majority opinion holding that the application of Montana’s Blaine amendment in this case was a violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. Roberts’s opinion was joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh.

In 2015, Montana set up a tax-credit system through which taxpayers could contribute $150 to a scholarship fund for children attending private schools, and the taxpayers contributing to the fund would then be reimbursed dollar-for-dollar. The Montana supreme court scrapped the program on the grounds that it violated the state constitution’s Blaine amendment. In response, a lawsuit was filed by Kendra Espinoza, a single mother of two who had benefited from the program.

World

China Swallows Hong Kong

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Anti-government demonstrators sit while being detained by riot police during a lunch-time protest as a second reading of a controversial national anthem law takes place in Hong Kong, China, May 27, 2020. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

The Chinese Communist Party, through what it portrays as its legislature (the “National People’s Congress”), has enacted a law crushing democracy in Hong Kong.

Under the guise of protecting “national security,” the new law criminalizes as “subversion” and “terrorism” various expressions of protest and political dissent. It further endeavors to cut off Hong Kong’s support lines by criminalizing, as conspiracy to endanger national security, sundry exchanges with other countries and outside groups.

The people of Hong Kong have been protesting against Beijing’s increasingly overt repression for over a year. President Trump, however, has prized what he claims is a strong personal relationship with China’s CCP strongman, Xi Xinping; he has thus been reluctant to pressure Beijing or lend rhetorical support to democracy activists — in stark contrast to President Reagan’s support for the anti-Communist democracy movement in Poland.

More recently though, with Beijing’s cover-up of the origins and seriousness of the novel coronavirus having contributed mightily to a deep U.S. economic downturn and the wounding of his reelection bid, the president has reversed course. “China claims it is protecting national security, but the truth is that Hong Kong was secure and prosperous as a free society,” he recently asserted. “Beijing’s decision reverses all of that.”

The Trump administration has indicated that some sanctions would be imposed on some Chinese officials responsible for strangling Hong Kong, though not on Xi. It has further vowed to revoke Hong Kong’s preferential customs and trade status — a move that makes sense if Hong Kong is now like any other Chinese city, but that will hurt Hong Kong more than it does China. All in all, however, the U.S. has done nothing with much bite, certainly nothing that has dissuaded Xi from his course.

The law imposed by Beijing effectively overrides Hong Kong’s independent legal system. Essentially, it establishes a category of national-security cases. Hong Kong’s nominal chief executive, currently the CCP’s puppet Carrie Lam, is to set up a national-security commission dominated by Beijing, and Chinese intelligence operatives will operate inside Hong Kong to “advise” local officials on national-security threats.

New national-security units will also be embedded in Hong Kong’s police and prosecutorial offices. To the extent there are inconsistencies, national security will trump local laws. Lam gets to handpick judges to preside over particular national-security cases. While most prosecutions will thus maintain the fig leaf of adjudication by “independent” Hong Kong authorities, cases of importance to the CCP could be transferred to the mainland for what there passes for a trial.

The new law was unanimously enacted by Beijing, ignoring Hong Kong’s legislature. Jamming a thumb in the Western eye, the law — all six articles and 66 clauses — will go into effect immediately, in time to mark tomorrow’s July 1 anniversary of England’s 1997 transfer of Hong Kong to China, under the 1984 Sino–British Joint Declaration. That transfer came with a purported guarantee of the “one country, two systems” arrangement. It was heralded by the West as assurance, for at least a half century, that China would abide Hong Kong’s comparative liberty and autonomy — including the territory’s cherished Western-style legal system, free press, free assembly, and other civil liberties denied on the mainland.

Predictably, in marking the twentieth anniversary of the transfer in 2017, the Chinese foreign ministry declared: “Now that Hong Kong has returned to the motherland for 20 years, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any realistic meaning.” The ministry admonished that the Declaration “does not have any binding power on how the Chinese central government administers Hong Kong,” because the “reality” is that “Britain has no sovereignty, no governing power and no supervising power over Hong Kong.”

China has long planned to swallow Hong Kong. And now it has.

National Security & Defense

We’re All on Board for Getting Tough with Russia, Right, Democrats?

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President Trump and Russia’s President Putin shake hands during a news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

A significant number of elected Democrats, progressive columnists, and mainstream-media commentators are volcanically angry over reports that a Russian military-intelligence unit offered and paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, and apoplectic at the thought that the Trump administration did nothing in response.

We’re all on board for getting tough with Russia for the long haul, right, guys? You really mean it this time, and this isn’t just a useful tool to use against President Trump, right? If there’s a Biden administration, we’re not going to see another “reset button” ceremony or the “the 1980s called to ask for their foreign policy back,” right? There will be no more dismissing of the idea of Russia being a top geopolitical foe as a “preposterous notion,” right? The Democratic Party won’t tweet out statements from the Russian president to attack a GOP opponent, right?

We won’t see a President Biden meet with Vladimir Putin in Moscow and tout the “need to continue to establish a closer and closer relationship. . . . Time to push the reset button and change the atmosphere . . . it’s in our self-interest and I hope in the self-interest of Russia to have our relationship grow,” right? Because that’s what Biden said in a meeting with Putin in 2011.

You’ll understand if some Russia hawks are skeptical. From late 2003 to 2008, the United States witnessed an impassioned, outraged, highly motivated anti-war movement . . . that pretty much faded out after Barack Obama was elected. One extensive survey of anti-war demonstrators concluded, “Democrats, who had been motivated to participate by anti-Republican sentiments, withdrew from antiwar protests when the Democratic Party achieved electoral success, if not policy success in ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The majority of the anti–Iraq War movement was an anti–George Bush movement; once Bush was out of office, many Democrats stopped worrying about Iraq — or Afghanistan, or Libya, or Syria, or drone strikes, or any other aspects of the ongoing war on terror. Once fervently “anti-war” Democrats were fine with a slow draw down in Iraq, a surge of more troops to Afghanistan, or new military operations in Libya or Syria or other corners of the world, as long as a president they liked was commander-in-chief.

It would be nice to have a broad, bipartisan coalition supporting policies that are tough on Putin and the Russian government until it changes its behavior. But one can’t help but suspect that the anti-Russian sentiment among Democrats is mostly an anti-Trump sentiment — and that if Trump departs the political scene, this sentiment will depart with him.

Politics & Policy

Cases Are Surging in Some Blue States, Too

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A commuter wears a mask while walking into the subway as the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus continues in New York City, April 30, 2020. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Continuing a point from yesterday’s Morning Jolt, on Monday the states with the most deaths from COVID-19 were California (41), Massachusetts (35), Florida (28), Texas (21), Mississippi (20), Rhode Island (19), Illinois (14), Ohio (14), and New York State, which led in this category, for so many days, suffered only 12 deaths. If patients succumbing to the virus are a lagging indicator, the Northeast is thankfully done with the early steps of this painful process, but the worst and last part isn’t over yet.

News coverage of the pandemic in the past week or two has focused heavily on Texas, Florida, and Arizona — and those states are indeed suffering considerable spikes, with little sign of relief on the horizon. Eight of the top ten states in new cases yesterday are in the South, and one of the others is Arizona.

But headlines like “Covid swamps Trump Country” and “Blue state pandemic turns red” are really not offering an accurate depiction, because a bunch of blue states are seeing surging numbers of new cases, too. California stood atop the list of new cases Monday, and the number of new cases in several Northern “blue” states isn’t that far behind those Southern ones — and what’s particularly unnerving was that some of these Northern “blue” states already had considerable waves of infections earlier in the year. Louisiana ranked tenth with 837 new cases. Ohio had 755 new cases Monday — and they’ve had 51,655 cases so far. Illinois had 738 new cases — and they’ve had 143,514 cases so far. Washington — the first state to report a coronavirus case — had 693, and that state has had 33,391 so far. Pennsylvania had 681 cases — and they’ve had 90,555 cases so far.

Yes, new infections are surging in the South, but they’re also surging in a bunch of other corners of the country, too. 20 states had more than 500 cases yesterday — including states you’re probably not hearing as much about, such as Kansas and Nevada. I’m not sure what the ideal solution to containing this spread and minimizing the loss of life is; any answer is going to leave some people deeply frustrated. But I know that contending that the virus is some sort of karmic comeuppance for Republican states, as some progressive columnists believe, is a bitter vengeance fantasy that obscures the real solutions we need during this pandemic.

Fiscal Policy

Scale Back Unemployment Benefits

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People in cars wait in line to pick up unemployment forms in Hialeah, Fla., April 8, 2020. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Congress should not extend expanded unemployment benefits in their current form when they expire at the end of July. The $600 federal plus-up to standard state-provided benefits is too generous, and if extended would hurt the overall economy and the employment outcomes of workers.

With the federal supplement, unemployed workers received average benefits of $921 per week in May. On an annual basis, this is close to $50,000 per year. As I discuss in my latest Bloomberg column, two-thirds of workers have higher incomes on unemployment than they had from working. Benefits are twice as large as previous earning for one in five unemployed workers.

But Congress also shouldn’t let expanded unemployment benefits abruptly expire. Doing so would reduce aggregate income by around $50 billion per month, which itself could cause a recession-level contraction in economic activity. The pandemic is flaring up in the South and West, with several states closing bars and taking other steps to slow the spread. And the U.S. will continue to have recession-level unemployment for well over another year.

What to do? From my column:

A nice middle ground was charted recently by Jason Furman and Timothy Geithner, both senior members of the Barack Obama administration, along with George W. Bush administration economist Glenn Hubbard and University of Maryland economist Melissa S. Kearney. They argue that the amount of the supplemental payment should be determined by economic conditions in each worker’s state.

In states with the highest unemployment, the federal government would provide a maximum payment of $400 per week, on top of what the worker receives in his or her normal state benefit. As the unemployment rate falls, this extra benefit shrinks. At 7% unemployment, the supplement is eliminated.

Crucially, the group defines the federal supplement as a rate calculated against previous wages, and not as a flat dollar amount. This guarantees that workers won’t have higher incomes from unemployment benefits than they did from working.

Not all states have computer systems that are able to implement a system based on a rate rather than a flat amount. For those states, the group recommends a maximum federal supplement of $200 per week.

I wouldn’t take their plan entirely as it is. For example, $400 per week is too generous, even as a maximum benefit. But the structure of their plan points a good way forward for Congress. In addition:

Along with these changes, Congress could help states update their unemployment insurance computer systems. States should not have to resort to providing flat-dollar benefit supplements because their IT infrastructure can’t handle anything more complicated.

Check out my column for my full argument. Your comments, as always, are very welcome.

PC Culture

Our Millenarian Moment

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Russian Bolsheviks march during a rally in Moscow, Russia May 1, 2012. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

Writing in Unherd, John Gray, interesting as ever, this time on the current woke moment. While he may downplay (to an extent) the millenarianism of the Bolsheviks, fellow millenarians to whom the woke are sometimes compared, these paragraphs are, in particular, worth considering:

Woke activists, in contrast, have no vision of the future. In Leninist terms they are infantile leftists, acting out a revolutionary performance with no strategy or plan for what they would do in power. Yet their difference from Lenin goes deeper. Rather than aiming for a better future, woke militants seek a cathartic present. Cleansing themselves and others of sin is their goal. Amidst vast inequalities of power and wealth, the woke generation bask in the eternal sunshine of their spotless virtue.

The key scenes in the woke uprising that followed the killing of George Floyd are rituals of purification in which public officials have washed the feet of insurgents, and acts of iconoclasm in which public monuments have been destroyed or defaced. These are symbolic actions aiming to sever the present from the past, not policies designed to fashion a different future.

However, beautifully written, I do not think that is quite right. Lenin’s view of the ‘radiant future’ was often hazy, as all millenarian futures — forever just out of reach must be — while some of his associates, not least Trotsky, dreamt dreams that were not so far removed from science fiction. What was interesting about the leading Bolsheviks, however, was the way that they combined genuine belief in their new world with a cynical understanding of the manner in which power worked, the uses to which it could be put, and the way that other believers could be manipulated in the name of the cause.

The same is true of the woke. At one level, it can be seen as a cathartic explosion, but at another it is, quite clearly, a power play, sometimes spontaneous, sometimes not (FWIW, I wrote a bit about this here), but an explosion in which a permanent inquisition is both method and goal: That is the future.

As, inevitably, he must, Gray turns to Norman Cohn’s great work on some earlier millenarian upheavals:

The history of the medieval millenarians illustrates this process. They were antinomians, heretical believers who anathematised the Church and considered themselves released by divine grace from any moral restraints. While asserting their superior virtue, their signature practice was self-flagellation. Forgiveness — whether of themselves other others — was notably absent.

As Norman Cohn writes in his seminal study The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (1957), “in Germany and southern Europe alike flagellant groups continued to exist for more than two centuries.” Probably originating in Italy in the mid-thirteenth century, the flagellant movement reached a peak in Germany in 1348-9 when it was inflamed by the Black Death. There, as in other parts of Europe, the flagellants turned on sections of the population they accused of conjuring up the pestilence, particularly Jews, many of whose communities were wiped out.

Two hundred years later, the Anabaptist prophet Jan Bockelson seized control of the city of Munster, turning it briefly into a communist theocracy in which forcible baptisms and public executions became daily spectacles. Bockelson’s rule ended when, after a long siege, the city fell to armies acting for the Church. He was tortured to death in the town square.

For Cohn, the study of medieval millenarians was an essential part of understanding modern totalitarianism. It is also useful in understanding the woke movement. Medieval flagellants and woke militants combine a sense of their own moral infallibility with a passion for masochistic self-abasement. Medieval millenarians believed the world would be remade by God when Jesus returned after a millennium of injustice (millenarians are also known as chiliasts, chiliad being a thousand years), while the woke faithful believe divine intervention is no longer necessary: their own virtue will be sufficient. In both cases, nothing needs to be done to bring about a new world apart from destroying the old one.

There are some differences between the two movements. Mediaeval millenarians attracted much of their support from illiterate peasants and poor urban workers. The woke movement, on the other hand, is mostly composed of the offspring of middle class families schooled in institutions of higher learning. Like their medieval predecessors, woke activists believe themselves to be emancipated from established values. But, possibly uniquely in history, their antinomian rebellion emanates from an antinomian establishment.

The rise of the woke movement has not occurred as a result of a takeover of American institutions by a dictatorial government. Key American institutions have overthrown themselves, while Trump’s attempts to assert dictatorial power have so far been ineffectual.

Yes, Gray lost me in the second half of that last sentence. Dictatorial power? I don’t think so, and much of the rest of the piece is both fascinating, but to me, unconvincing, not least his belief in a “singular American faith in national redemption” as a driver of the current insurgency. Whether such faith exists now seems to me unlikely, and the extent to which it ever existed is probably exaggerated, but it is central to Gray’s vision of what is now going on:

The self-imposed inquisitorial regime in universities and newspapers — where editors and journalists, professors and students are encouraged to sniff out and report heresy so it can be exposed and exorcised — smacks of Salem more than Leningrad.

I don’t know: To me, Salem and Leningrad are both examples of a psychosis that transcends nationality and, for the most part, cultural tradition. It’s been with us for a long time, and, while it may go quiet at times, it’s not going away.

And if you think that’s gloomy, try reading the rest of the piece . . .

Politics & Policy

Biden and Dems Are Set to Abolish the Suburbs

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Joe Biden, Democratic 2020 presidential candidate and former vice president delivers remarks on health care during a campaign stop in Lancaster, Pa., June 25, 2020. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

President Trump had a great riff at his rally the other day in Phoenix. It was all about “abolish,” about how the Left wants to abolish the police, ICE, bail, even borders. Trump’s riff is effective because it is true. The Left has gone off the deep end, and they’re taking the Democrats with them.

Well, there’s another “abolish” the president can add to his list, and it just might be enough to tip the scales this November. Joe Biden and the Democrats want to abolish America’s suburbs. Biden and his party have embraced yet another dream of the radical Left: a federal takeover, transformation, and de facto urbanization of America’s suburbs. What’s more, Biden just might be able to pull off this “fundamental transformation.”

The suburbs are the swing constituency in our national elections. If suburban voters knew what the Democrats had in store for them, they’d run screaming in the other direction. Unfortunately, Republicans have been too clueless or timid to make an issue of the Democrats’ anti-suburban plans. It’s time to tell voters the truth.

I’ve been studying Joe Biden’s housing plans, and what I’ve seen is both surprising and frightening. I expected that a President Biden would enforce the Obama administration’s radical AFFH (Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing) regulation to the hilt. That is exactly what Biden promises to do. By itself, that would be more than enough to end America’s suburbs as we’ve known them, as I’ve explained repeatedly here at NRO.

What surprises me is that Biden has actually promised to go much further than AFFH. Biden has embraced Cory Booker’s strategy for ending single-family zoning in the suburbs and creating what you might call “little downtowns” in the suburbs. Combine the Obama-Biden administration’s radical AFFH regulation with Booker’s new strategy, and I don’t see how the suburbs can retain their ability to govern themselves. It will mean the end of local control, the end of a style of living that many people prefer to the city, and therefore the end of meaningful choice in how Americans can live. Shouldn’t voters know that this is what’s at stake in the election?

It is no exaggeration to say that progressive urbanists have long dreamed of abolishing the suburbs. (In fact, I’ve explained it all in a book.) Initially, these anti-suburban radicals wanted large cities to simply annex their surrounding suburbs, like cities did in the 19th century. That way a big city could fatten up its tax base. Once progressives discovered it had since become illegal for a city to annex its surrounding suburbs without voter consent, they cooked up a strategy that would amount to the same thing.

This de facto annexation strategy had three parts: (1) use a kind of quota system to force “economic integration” on the suburbs, pushing urban residents outside of the city; (2) close down suburban growth by regulating development, restricting automobile use, and limiting highway growth and repair, thus forcing would-be suburbanites back to the city; (3) use state and federal laws to force suburbs to redistribute tax revenue to poorer cities in their greater metropolitan region. If you force urbanites into suburbs, force suburbanites back into cities, and redistribute suburban tax revenue, then presto! You have effectively abolished the suburbs.

Obama’s radical AFFH regulation puts every part of progressives’ “abolish the suburbs” strategy into effect (as I explain in detail here). Once Biden starts to enforce AFFH the way Obama’s administration originally meant it to work, it will be as if America’s suburbs had been swallowed up by the cities they surround. They will lose control of their own zoning and development, they will be pressured into a kind of de facto regional-revenue redistribution, and they will even be forced to start building high-density low-income housing. The latter, of course, will require the elimination of single-family zoning. With that, the basic character of the suburbs will disappear. At the very moment when the pandemic has made people rethink the advantages of dense urban living, the choice of an alternative will be taken away.

That’s all bad enough. But on top of AFFH, Biden now plans to use Cory Booker’s strategy for attacking suburban zoning. AFFH works by holding HUD’s Community Development Block Grants hostage to federal-planning demands. Suburbs won’t be able to get the millions of dollars they’re used to in HUD grants unless they eliminate single-family zoning and densify their business districts. AFFH also forces HUD-grant recipients to sign pledges to “affirmatively further fair housing.” Those pledges could get suburbs sued by civil-rights groups, or by the feds, if they don’t get rid of single-family zoning. The only defense suburbs have against this two-pronged attack is to refuse HUD grants. True, that will effectively redistribute huge amounts of suburban money to cities, but if they give up their HUD grants at least the suburbs will be free of federal control.

The Booker approach — now endorsed by Biden — may block even this way out. Booker wants to hold suburban zoning hostage not only to HUD grants, but to the federal transportation grants used by states to build and repair highways. It may be next to impossible for suburbs to opt out of those state-run highway repairs. Otherwise, suburban roads will deteriorate and suburban access to major arteries will be blocked. AFFH plus the Booker plan will leave America’s suburbs with no alternative but to eliminate their single-family zoning and turn over their planning to the feds. Slowly but surely, suburbs will become helpless satellites of the cities they surround, exactly as progressive urbanists intend.

If America’s suburban voters understood that all this is what Biden and the Democrats have in store for them, it could easily swing the election. That means President Trump now has another “abolish” to add to his list: Joe Biden and the Dems want to abolish America’s suburbs.

There’s just one hitch. Incredibly, although AFFH is arguably Obama’s most radical initiative, Ben Carson’s HUD has still not gotten rid of it. Instead, Carson suspended enforcement of the rule early on and then tinkered around for three years trying to come up with a replacement. What Carson has developed so far is something you might call “AFFH lite.” While this possible replacement removes many of the regulation’s excesses, Carson has so far retained the most egregious feature of AFFH. He still wants to use HUD money to gut suburban single-family zoning. How Carson can even think about taking this stance in the face of President Trump’s explicit directive to reduce and remove excessive federal regulation is a mystery.

It will be very tough for President Trump to make a political issue out of Biden’s housing plans so long as his own cabinet secretary is talking about killing suburban single-family zoning with AFFH. I think Carson’s wobbling on AFFH explains a lot about why Democrats have become so bold with their plans to undo suburban zoning. If even the Trump administration goes along with federal attacks on suburban zoning, the Dems figure they’ve got political cover. Time was when Obama administration officials would turn somersaults to deny that they were going to control suburban-zoning decisions, even when it was obvious that this was their plan. Now, Biden and Booker are remarkably open about their desire to densify the suburbs and get rid of single-family zoning.

The Democrat war on the suburbs is a golden gift to President Trump, but he won’t be able to make use of it until he throws over Carson’s AFFH lite and completely guts Obama’s wildly radical regulation. Then Tump can go to town on Biden and the Dems for making war on the suburbs.

If there were ever proof that Biden has shed his centrism and been taken over by the Left, this is it. Biden got the nomination by declining to endorse the most radical plans of his rivals. But take a look at Biden’s housing plans and it’s clear that he is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Left. Progressive urbanists’ long-cherished dream of abolishing the suburbs is now within reach. With AFFH restored to its original form by a President Biden, enforced to the hilt, and turbo-charged by the Booker strategy, suburbs as we know them will pass from the scene.

With them will disappear the principle of local control that has been the key to American exceptionalism from the start. Since the Pilgrims first landed, our story has been of a people who chose how and where to live, and who governed themselves when they got there. Self-government in a layered federalist system allowing for local control right down to the township is what made America great. If Biden and the Democrats win, that key to our greatness could easily go by the boards.

Culture

Stephen King’s Boo-Boo

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On Twitter, it is a mistake to assume that a retweet means agreement. For instance, when author Stephen King retweeted J. K. Rowling’s quote of the feminist Andrea Dworkin, Rowling made the mistake of thinking that King was lending her support in what has become a particularly nasty screed of misogynistic abuse directed at the Harry Potter author, and from people who claim to be “progressive.”

This latest tweetstorm began after British Labour Party MP, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, accused Rowling of weaponizing her experience as a domestic-abuse survivor (yes, really) in the pages of an obscure magazine. In response, Rowling posted a nine-tweet thread defending her position and explaining that her “primary worry” remains the risks of transgender extremism “to vulnerable women.” She continued: “As everyone knows, I’m no longer reliant on communal facilities, nor am I likely to be imprisoned or need a women’s refuge any time soon. I’m not arguing for the privileged, but the powerless.” Then, at the end, she shared a Dworkin quote: “Men often react to women’s words — speaking and writing — as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence.” That is the part King retweeted.

“I’ve always revered @StephenKing, but today my love reached — maybe not Annie Wilkes levels — but new heights,” Rowling wrote in a tweet that has since been deleted. “It’s so much easier for men to ignore women’s concerns, or to belittle them, but I won’t ever forget the men who stood up when they didn’t need to. Thank you, Stephen.”

Well, it turns out this reverence was entirely misplaced. When one of his followers demanded to know what he meant by retweeting this statement, King penned the stunningly original and inspiring words: “trans women are women.” Her online bullies and trolls were pathetically delighted.

Really, Rowling’s only mistake was to give another writer the benefit of the doubt. And the only person who ought to be embarrassed by this is Stephen King.

Culture

Twenty-Five Things that Caught My Eye: SCOTUS & Abortion, the Elderly and COVID-19 & More (June 29, 2020)

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1. Helen Alvare: Supreme Court Strikes Down Louisiana Abortion Restrictions

2.

3. Richard W. Garnett: Justices fail to correct a serious mistake in latest abortion ruling

The chief justice is right to emphasize judicial humility and to respect earlier courts’ conclusions, but he erred in treating a four-year-old mistake as written in stone. He is right to insist that “a weighing of costs and benefits of an abortion restriction [is not] a job for courts,” but he neglected his own insight by second-guessing the people of Louisiana. He has overturned wrong precedents in the past, and he should have voted to do so here.

4. 112 injured or killed in 83 shootings over 9 days in NYC: ‘I haven’t seen anything like this in my entire life’

Amid calls to defund the police ahead of the June 30 deadline for the city budget, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said last week that the city’s homicide rate had hit a 5-year high and that the criminal justice system was “imploding.” The number of people shot has risen 42 percent compared to last year.

5. Bushehr Christians face prison, exile, work restrictions and fines

They were each convicted of the same charge – “propaganda against the state” – under Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, which provides for up to a year in prison for anyone found guilty of engaging in “any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations”.

6.

7. Albert Mohler, Jr.: Systemic Racism, God’s Grace, and the Human Heart: What the Bible Teaches About Structural Sin

Given the biblical reality of sin’s pervasiveness individually and corporately, we can now return to the question: Is there such a thing as structural or systemic racism? I believe the answer is yes in one sense, but no in another.

8. EWTN’s largest radio affiliate drops ‘Morning Glory’ as host Gloria Purvis continues to speak out about racism

Having asked for an explanation, Purvis said the EWTN Radio executive told her that the Guadalupe Radio Network was “not happy with the direction of the show right now.”

“I don’t know what to make of that,” Purvis said. “We’re faithful about the most important issues of the day, and I’m speaking about them in light of the Gospel. So I don’t know what to think about that.”

9.

10. Aaron Earl: Hope For The Afflicted: The Church And Mental Illness

Continue reading “Twenty-Five Things that Caught My Eye: SCOTUS & Abortion, the Elderly and COVID-19 & More (June 29, 2020)”

International

Passing the Euro

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Outside of Germany’s Constitutional Court headquarters in Karlsruhe, Germany, in 2016. (Ralph Orlowski/Reuters)

The efforts by the German constitutional court (the BVG) to avoid giving much practical meaning to its (profound) theoretical clash with the European Court of Justice continues.

Reuters:

BERLIN (Reuters) – The decision on whether Germany should pull out of the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme lies with the Bundesbank, a judge in Germany’s highest court said in remarks published on Sunday.

Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled in May that the ECB overstepped its mandate with over 2 trillion euros of government bond purchases, ordering the Bundesbank to quit the scheme unless the ECB can prove proportionality within three months.

Peter Huber, a conservative judge at the court who drafted the ruling, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the court was no longer involved and the decision on whether to quit rested with Germany’s central bank.

“The Bundesbank is bound by our decision, but it must determine on its own responsibility whether the ECB’s statement of reasons fulfils our requirements or not,” Huber said. “The Federal Constitutional Court is no longer involved.”

The ruling set off an unprecedented legal conflict with a national court looking to exert jurisdiction over an institution of the European Union and trying to curtail its policy framework, seen as an encroachment on ECB independence.

In a compromise deal, the ECB agreed last week to give vital documents underpinning its policy decisions to Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann, who can then present them to the German parliament and government, as demanded by the court ruling.

It is highly likely that the Bundesbank will be “satisfied” by those “vital documents”

Meanwhile, the next chapter in the long battle over efforts to stabilize the euro zone (along with an attempt to sort out a new EU budget, now that the U.K., a large net contributor, has left), will be dominated by pushing and shoving ahead of a summit due for July 17/18.

France 24:

“Myriad talks” remain to be held, Merkel told a joint news conference with Macron. “We hope we can find a solution, even if there is still a long way to go.”

The French and German leaders have urged the European Union to reach an agreement on a recovery plan by the end of July to kickstart an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic. Macron and Merkel sketched out the backbone of the €750 million ($840m) fund proposed by the European Commission to bolster the bloc’s economy.

The fund would offer grants – with no repayment obligation – to countries hardest hit by the pandemic, a major policy U-turn for Berlin and a bitter pill to swallow for the bloc’s most fiscally conservative members… Macron reiterated his position that a deal on the EU budget and recovery fund could be found at the July summit. He said the fund should include €500 billion of grants to the hardest-hit countries…. Merkel, who had initially rejected a proposal by Macron for a recovery fund, dropped Germany’s long-held opposition to mutualising debt to fund other member states when it became clear that the pandemic was an existential threat to the EU.

Scroll back a few days to an article in the Financial Times, which summarizes where the ‘northern’ countries — led by the Netherlands — stand, at least, on the coronavirus rescue package:

One of the key topics exercising Mr Rutte is the strings that could be attached to the proposed recovery fund cash. After last week’s summit, the Dutch prime minister stressed that recipient countries would have to carry out root and branch overhauls of their economies with the cash they receive from the fund.

“We want to see follow through and deep reforms to pensions, labour markets, judicial systems and taxation. We want to help others, but the others have to make sure they get their houses in order,” Mr Rutte told journalists after the virtual summit.

Talk of conditions is profoundly unpopular among southern member states. But the need for reforms is a neuralgic issue for the Dutch and their hawkish allies. Having signed off on unpopular bailouts during the height of the eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis a decade ago, the quartet of richer countries are determined to make sure that unprecedented amounts of aid offered under the recovery fund won’t come for free and will really make a difference in the EU’s weakest member states.

The Dutch (and the other three members of the “frugal four”) are dreaming. In the end, they will cave. They always do.

The FT’s report ends as follows:

[S]ome diplomats are already talking about when a follow-up summit — or summits — will have to take place. A long summer of budgetary wrangling lies ahead.

This will not be sorted out in mid July.

Law & the Courts

Why Conservative Opinions Are Weird

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Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. February 5, 2019. (Doug Mills/Pool via Reuters)

There will be much good and astringent commentary on today’s Supreme Court decision striking down Louisiana’s modest attempts to regulate abortion clinics like any other medical provider.

But one of the most bracing was written by Jesse Merriam before the decision came down. Over at Law and Liberty, Merriam holds that “the [conservative legal] movement never worked out its arbitration between the tugs of substance and form. The legal conservative movement was initially organized around substantive opposition against the Warren Court. But legal conservatives used the language of form to address those substantive concerns.”

That is, the Left has a substantive view of equality. The Right opposes that vision substantively, but the conservative legal movement only tries to do so indirectly. Instead of reasoning that abortion is totally unjust and violates something like the 14th Amendment, conservative jurists do their part by restoring culture-war questions to democratic institutions like legislatures (which do not want them).

I think this mismatch is why conservative or “moderate Republican” opinions on the controversial culture-war stuff are often the strangest opinions to read.

For a good long time now, rulings by Justices Breyer or Ginsburg read rather straightforwardly, even for those who don’t like them. They have a substantial view of justice in mind — call it Equality. And they move from the particulars of the Supreme Court case in front of them, to other cases that contain mere glimpses and foreshadowings of the full-flowered progressive view they will enshrine and expand in their current ruling. They aren’t short of examples because they are drawing on other jurists who put this substantive view of justice into their rulings. They go beyond the text of the statutes but not beyond their principles.

By contrast, it’s the conservatives who don’t just give us surprise rulings, but surprise reasonings. Two weeks ago, we had Gorsuch’s deeply weird argument that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are just sub-species of discrimination based on sex, therefore we can credit President Johnson with forbidding discrimination against Caitlyn Jenner. Or John Roberts’s opinion this morning, investing a Burkean respect of the ancient in a precedent he rejected as spurious just three years ago. Or there was his previous opinion that just flatly rewrote Obamacare’s penalties as taxes.

Roberts is said to always be acting to defend the Court’s reputation. But it’s precisely these strange and arbitrary applications of precedent and bald attempts at rewriting history that give credit to the sophists in our commentariat and universities that all invocations of principle are merely self-interested “discourses of power.”

Markets

Golden Years Ahead? Probably Not

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People line up outside a temporary unemployment office at the State Capitol Annex in Frankfort, K.y., June 17, 2020. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

It’s a statement of the obvious that savers — many of them retirees — unwilling to be pushed into the stock market, have been badly hit by the ultra-low interest rates that have been the norm since the financial crisis, but their effect on dreams of a comfortable retirement won’t stop there.

The Financial Times:

A decade of historically low interest rates since the financial crisis has put even more pressure on pension systems. This is particularly true for corporate and public sector “defined benefit” pension plans — which promise a certain payment to members….

Moreover, the investment outlook has become more complicated for all types of private and workplace pension plans. Central banks have indicated that savers could face another prolonged period of ultra-low interest rates as they try to foster an economic recovery, while a string of blue-chip companies have been forced to cut their dividends as a result of the crisis….

The crisis is also exacerbating funding challenges for traditional defined benefit retirement plans, which promise to pay a secure, indexed retirement income to hundreds of millions of beneficiaries around the world in the private and public sectors.

The sponsors of these plans take on the investment risk for payment of the pension, and are required to make contributions to plug funding gaps.

Both private and public plans were already feeling pain from the protracted low interest rate environment since the 2008 crisis. Pension liabilities are sensitive to movements in interest rates, and typically inflate when interest rates fall…

Bond investments have historically been the bedrock of most pension funds. But with yields sagging lower for an extended period of time, many fund managers have ventured into riskier corners of financial markets.

“One trend that has been disturbing is that over time many pension funds have adopted riskier and riskier investment strategies to compensate for the secular decline in interest rates,” says Seth Magaziner, general treasurer for Rhode Island state in the US. “That made them vulnerable to shocks.”

What could go wrong?

Read the whole thing, stiff drink, ideally, in hand.

Law & the Courts

Two Takes on June Medical

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United States Chief Justice John G. Roberts (Jim Young/Reuters)

Like everyone around these parts, I’m disappointed that John Roberts cast the deciding vote to strike down an abortion law, continuing to apply a precedent he himself thinks was wrongly decided. Here I just wanted to note two interesting takes I’ve seen elsewhere.

First, at the Cato Institute’s blog, Ilya Shapiro notes that Roberts has not always been so deferential to precedent:

After all, stare decisis didn’t stop him from overturning precedent in Citizens United v. FEC (2010), Janus v. AFSCME (2018), and Knick v. Township of Scott (2019), cases in which the precedent was much older and more entrenched, but a very recent close decision in which he dissented apparently carries more weight. There are probably other examples, but those three come immediately to mind.

Mind you, I think Roberts was correct in all those earlier cases, and his concurring exposition of stare decisis in Citizens United was well done. But that doesn’t jibe with what he wrote today or, for that matter, with his vote in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007), which upheld the federal ban on partial‐​birth abortion a mere seven years after the Court invalidated a similar Nebraska ban in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000).

Meanwhile, at the Take Care Blog, Leah Litman has an optimistic (for conservatives) take. As she reads Roberts, he’s doing what the Court did in 1992’s Casey: Laying out a new framework for evaluating abortion restrictions. She writes:

The Chief said that he would respect the result of the Court’s prior decisions striking down abortion restrictions. Thus, states cannot enact restrictions that the Court has previously invalidated. But the Chief Justice also made clear that he would narrowly read the reasoning in those prior decisions in ways that gave states license to enact abortion restrictions that the Court has not previously invalidated.

The Chief Justice announced that he would weaken the legal standard governing abortion restrictions in at least two significant respects. One is that he will not examine whether a law offers any health or safety benefit to women seeking abortions.  The Chief Justice explained that in his view, the proper legal standard governing abortion restrictions requires only that courts examine the burdens that legal restrictions impose, and not whether the restrictions offer any benefits. . . .

The Chief Justice also rejected other elements of the Court’s prior decisions that limited states’ ability to enact restrictions on abortion.  The Chief wrote that “[n]othing … suggested that a weighing of costs and benefits of an abortion regulation was a job for the courts.” That is not what the Court said when it invalidated the Texas admitting privileges requirement four years ago.  In that case, the Court wrote that courts must “consider the burdens a law imposes on abortion access together with the benefits those laws confer” and specifically “weigh[] the asserted benefits against the burdens.” Here too, if courts allow states to enact laws that offer no medical benefits compared to their burdens, that gives states license to chip away at abortion through restrictive laws.

I have no idea if this is the correct reading of the tea leaves, but let’s start chipping and find out.

Elections

Does Anyone Fear a Candidate Who’s Sleepy?

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Obviously, if Trump is going to win in November he’s going to have to disqualify Joe Biden, which is going to be much harder than it was with Hillary. Check out the poll numbers in here:

“We need to be demonizing him,” said a Republican lawmaker who talks regularly to Trump. The lawmaker said “Sleepy Joe” sounds harmless, congenial and low key. “Sleepy probably sounds nice to a lot of people right now, with everything that’s going on,” he said.

  • In April’s NBC/WSJ poll, only 25% of voters held a “very negative” view of Biden. In the NBC/WSJ poll of April 2016, meanwhile, 42% of voters held a “very negative” view of Hillary Clinton. Trump’s figure is similar to Clinton’s — around 43% of voters today say they hold a “very negative” view of him (53% were “very negative” on Trump in April 2016).
  • In recent days, Trump has sought to cast a more sinister light over Biden, replacing “Sleepy Joe” with “Corrupt Joe,” the Washington Post first reported.

Behind the scenes: Trump’s aides say it will be harder to make Biden widely despised than it was with Clinton, who was a conservative media target for decades.

  • “You’re not going to make Joe Biden hated personally,” said a source involved in the internal discussions. “You can’t do it through personality.”
  • So they will try to argue that he wouldn’t really be in charge. “You’ve got to make it so that a vote for Joe Biden isn’t a vote for Joe Biden, it’s really a vote for his radical left-wing puppet masters,” the source said.
Elections

What Would Trump Do with a Second Term?

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At the moment, not only does no voter know the answer to that question, Trump himself has no idea, either.

From an exchange with Sean Hannity last week:

Hannity: Let’s talk about a second term. If you here in 131 days from now at some point in the night or early morning, “We can now project Donald J. Trump has been re-elected the 45th president of the United States” — let’s talk. What’s at stake in this election as you compare and contrast, and what are your top priority items for a second term?

Trump: Well, one of the things that will be really great: you know, the word experience is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience. But the word experience is a very important word, a very important meaning. I never did this before, never slept over in Washington. I was in Washington, I think, 17 times and now I’m the president of the United States. I’m riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with our first lady and say this is great but I didn’t know very many people, it wasn’t my thing. I was from Manhattan, from New York. Now I know everybody. And I have great people in the administration. You make some mistakes like, you know, an idiot like Bolton. All he wanted to do is drop bombs on everybody. You don’t have to drop bombs on everybody. You don’t have to kill people.

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