PC Culture

As If They Were Working To Prove My Point . . .

Baytya Ungar-Sargon, the opinion editor at Forward, writes:

I missed the @NRO piece that let someone call Jews locusts, and then claimed hassidic men don’t work & rely on welfare. Now they’ve allowed Kevin Williamson to call the Jews getting beaten and killed “stupid” for objecting to the piece. Truly abominable.

This is a lie and a slander. There is no reasonable reading of the piece in question—which is, ironically enough, about the willful misrepresentation of a news report—that bears that interpretation.

Bethany Mandel, leaning on the shift key, writes:

This is absolute bullshit. I’m sorry. This is infuriating. A LOT of people who defend NR and Kevin from cancel culture bullshit criticized the piece. IT ALLOWED AN ANONYMOUS BIGOT TO CALL JEWS WHO WERE THE TARGET OF A MASSACRE LOCUSTS.

I’ve written probably 50 times about Al Sharpton calling Jews “bloodsuckers” and worse. At no point did I insert a parenthetical reading (“And I very strongly object to this characterization!”). I don’t write for morons.

Some people have ugly and stupid views about things; sometimes, those views are of public interest and are written about in news stories. This is not “allowing” someone to say something but reporting that it has been said.

Mandel is being ridiculous and dishonest. Which, ironically enough, is precisely the sort of thing I was writing about.

Education

History According to the 1619 Project

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

As the country commemorates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend, it’s worthwhile to revisit the 1619 Project.

Never content to leave unwoke history alone, last August the New York Times launched the 1619 Project. The “newspaper of record” states that this “ongoing initiative” “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” It’s a conscious attempt to make the country’s “real” founding stem from when the first African slaves arrived in Virginia, rather than when the thirteen colonies declared their independence from Great Britain (or, say, 1620, when the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts, or 1607, when Jamestown was settled). Instead of fixing the founding of the country on a constructive event, the New York Times seeks to define the U.S. by its failures.

The 1619 Project deliberately minimizes the contributions and cultures of white Americans and magnifies and romanticizes the contributions and culture of black Americans. Ironically, in this way it’s the inverse of the longtime failure of texts to describe or even acknowledge the historical contributions of blacks. In the introductory essay, Nikole Hannah-Jones writes: “More than any other group in this country’s history, we have served, generation after generation, in an overlooked but vital role: It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy.” And later, “Out of our unique isolation, both from our native cultures and from white America, we forged this nation’s most significant original culture.”

The 1619 Project’s obsession with race, standing alone, is bad enough, but it’s even worse that it’s actually being used in public school curricula. Thus, as with other progressive revisionism, it’s likely to become the accepted Story of America within a generation unless there’s significant pushback.   Fortunately, respected and accomplished historians of American history have publicly addressed the manifold historical inaccuracies of the 1619 Project. And these aren’t historians dedicated to the “Lost Cause.” As part of the National Association of Scholars 1620 Project Lucas Morel, professor at Washington & Lee University and author of the forthcoming Lincoln and the American Founding, writes:

The strangest thing about the essay is the claim that transplanted Africans and their descendants were the key to American greatness. Hannah-Jones cites no African principles of self-government or ideals of humanity when she quotes the famous pronouncements of the Declaration of Independence. . . . Ironically, however, even in this warped retelling, black Americans’ principal means of saving white Americans from their worst selves was not anything African but the quintessentially American ideals of human equality and natural rights.

In a similar vein, Gordon Wood, professor emeritus of history at Brown, said in an interview with the World Socialist website, of all places (one of the few media outlets examining the 1619 Project in critical detail):

I think the important point to make about slavery is that it had existed for thousands of years without substantial criticism, and it existed all over the New World. It also existed elsewhere in the world. Western Europe had already more or less done away with slavery. Perhaps there was nothing elsewhere comparable to the plantation slavery that existed in the New World, but slavery was widely prevalent in Africa and Asia. There is still slavery today in the world.

And it existed in all of these places without substantial criticism. Then suddenly in the middle of the 18th century you begin to get some isolated Quakers coming out against it. But it’s the American Revolution that makes it a problem for the world. And the first real anti-slave movement takes place in North America. So this is what’s missed by these essays in the 1619 Project.

The 1619 Project maintains that “anti- black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” Ignored is the obvious fact that unless substantial numbers of white Americans had worked to free the slaves, and then ensure that African Americans had civil rights, it wouldn’t have happened. Hannah-Jones criticizes Lincoln for suggesting in 1862 that freed slaves be resettled in Africa because he feared whites and blacks couldn’t coexist. Obviously, blacks weren’t resettled in Africa, and just as obviously it didn’t happen because most whites were willing to coexist — albeit at the time on an unequal basis — with blacks. White Americans had the political power to expel African Americans had they chosen to do so. But they didn’t. The Civil War ended, and — imperfectly, incompletely — African Americans became legal citizens. As Princeton historian James McPherson, responding to Hannah-Jones’s claim that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country,” told the World Socialist website:

[T]he idea that racism is a permanent condition, well that’s just not true. And it also doesn’t account for the countervailing tendencies in American history as well. Because opposition to slavery, and opposition to racism, has also been an important theme in American history.

As we remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that’s something we should all remember — and celebrate.

Health Care

Experimenters Pay Mexican Women to Get Pregnant and Abort

Tools used in abortions displayed at an office of Korea Pro-Life in Seoul, South Korea, in 2008. (Lee Jae-Won/Reuters)

Women in Mexico were paid $1400 to be hyperstimulated so their ovaries released bountiful eggs instead of one during their cycle. They then underwent artificial insemination, resulting in early pregnancy with multiple embryos, which were then flushed out of their bodies for study. From the NPR story:

Researchers have conducted a controversial study that involved paying dozens of young women at a hospital near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to get artificially inseminated so their embryos could be flushed out of their bodies and analyzed for research purposes.

The study showed that embryos created that way appear to be as healthy genetically as embryos created through standard in vitro fertilization. Physically, the embryos appear to, possibly, even be healthier, the study found…

In addition, some women underwent surgical or chemical abortions afterward, when tests indicated some of the embryos might not have been successfully removed.

Some of the surviving embryos were later used to impregnate other women. Others were frozen.

This “experiment” was very wrong on at least four fronts. First, it created human life for the purpose of experimenting upon it. Second, it paid women to have abortions (when all the embryos were not flushed). Third, it treated women as objects, merely as “a Petri dish,” to quote bioethicist Lorie Zoloth (with whom I have had my differences in the past, but not here). Fourth, hyperstimulation can have serious side effects, even leading to occasional death. Add in the likelihood that the women were very poor, and you have a real exploitive circumstance.

My friend, the bioethicist William Hurlbut of Stanford, calls experiments such as this “outsourcing ethics,” that is, scientists conduct immoral or questionable studies out of the country that would probably not be allowed — or dared — to be pursued in the United States.

But it all passed ethical muster, don’t you know!

Munne defends the research, noting that it was reviewed extensively and approved by the Ministry of Health of the State of Nayarit, in Mexico, and the Western Institutional Review Board in the United States. The women were fully informed of any potential risks, Munne says.

“We passed all the ethical committees and all the ethical checks and balances,” he says.

And what in the hell does that tell you?

The idea here is to create a new method for the fertility industry, in which women will be paid to mass produce embryos within their bodies — surrogate conception, let’s call it — which will then be flushed out in the lab. After that, embryos will be subjected to quality control procedures — perhaps including sex selection. Those that pass quality control will be implanted in women who want to give birth or who become pregnant as surrogate “gestational carriers,” in the dehumanizing parlance of the industry. And all for big bucks.

Big Fertility is fast becoming a moral hazard.

Elections

Starting Tuesday, Biden and Buttigieg Have a Gargantuan Advantage

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidates at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., January 14, 2020. (REUTERS/Brenna Norman)

Some impeachment-watchers theorize that one of the reasons Nancy Pelosi delayed sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate is because she knew a Senate trial would take Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren off the campaign trail during a key period — as well as Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet, and, while he was still in the race, Cory Booker. The theory is that Pelosi sees Biden or Buttigieg as a safer bet and wants to subtly sabotage the candidates who are further on the left. Right-of-center voices are a lot more enthusiastic about this theory than left-of-center voices. Democrats probably cringe at the thought that the party establishment is unfairly messing with Sanders in a presidential primary for the second straight cycle.

Whatever Pelosi intended, the schedule is going to work out really badly for Sanders and Warren. The trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday, January 21. The Senate will be in session six days a week, and while the precise hours might be a bit flexible, they’re going to run from the morning until the end of the working day. Sanders might be able to race back and forth to and from Iowa in private jets — take a moment to digest that irony — but this means he’ll probably be limited to one or two evening events before flying back to Washington. During the day, the senators are effectively muted. They will be required to remain seated, are instructed to not speak to the senators next to them, and they will not be allowed to take electronic devices into the chamber during the trial — so no tweeting, at least from the senators themselves.

In other words, after Monday, Sanders and Warren will have two Sundays of daytime events in Iowa, while Biden and Buttigieg will be able to spend 13 days campaigning in the state. It’s a gargantuan advantage, and if we see Sanders and Warren sliding in the final days before the Iowa caucus, the supporters of the two senators will have a compelling argument that Pelosi’s decision sidelined and silenced the two top progressive contenders at a crucial moment.

PC Culture

Women Lie Too

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks with Sen. Bernie Sanders after the Democratic primary debte in Des Moines, Iowa, January 14, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Elizabeth Warren says Bernie Sanders once told her that a woman couldn’t win the presidency. Bernie Sanders says Elizabeth Warren is lying about the encounter. I have no idea whom to believe.

Some notable people on Twitter have wondered if maybe, considering all that happened during the #MeToo movement, society has a moral obligation to believe women in these male-female disagreements.

Well, whenever I try to make sense of these cultural dilemmas I turn to the always-dependable disciplines of social science. And studies have concluded that women — or is it men? or is there no difference? — are more likely to fib. One study that confirms my preexisting prejudices says that women might lie more, but they lie about all the right things. Men’s lies, for example, tend to be more “self-oriented” (“I have slept with dozens of women!”), while women’s lies are more prone to be “other-oriented” (“No, no, no, you look great in that sweater.”)

But this doesn’t really help me, either. Because even if someone could provide me with conclusive evidence that one gender lied more often than the other, there are still thousands of overriding factors that would make that fact irrelevant.

I’ll give you an example: A woman politician is surely more inclined to lie than a male podiatrist, because deceiving people is a skill that is more often, and effectively, utilized by elected officials than foot doctors. And Hillary Clinton, the highest-profile woman politician of our era, has already proven to be a far better liar than, say, Mitt Romney, and yet I still don’t assume women are less truthful than Mormons. (Here’s a study, by the way, that finds religious people are less inclined to lie, and here’s one that says they lie more often.)

Warren, of course, has been already been caught pushing a “self-oriented” lie that was used to bolster her career for decades, so she is clearly not above being dishonest. Then again, maybe we should just take each case individually and weigh the evidence in front of us?

This is why I will never believe “all women.” My baseline assumption is that everyone in the public square (52 genders and counting) is probably lying to me. Even in general, I refuse to accept the notion that men have any special standing ethical obligation to accept the veracity of a woman’s word over another man’s. To do so would be denigrating to men and patronizing to women, and completely irrational.

Law & the Courts

Making It Up

I’d like to thank Ramesh for his post below, because it cannot be said often enough: Roe v. Wade and the rest of our abortion jurisprudence is the federal courts “just making it up as they go.” Roe is, and always has been, preposterous. It is an exercise in pure politics masquerading as constitutional law. It ought to be understood as bad law and as an abuse of judicial power irrespective of one’s view of abortion rights.

This highlights the enormous deficit of intellectual honesty and rigor in our political discourse. It should not be very difficult for someone who supports abortion rights to say, “I think that the right to abortion should be legally guaranteed, but there is no such provision in the Constitution, and so we much establish such a guarantee through constitutional or statutory means.”

Consider a less emotionally charged issue with a similarly murky constitutional basis: The right to travel. The right to move freely has long been considered a natural right implicitly protected under “privileges and immunities,” but the Constitution is vague on the issue, and the best minds of the 18th century did not anticipate the realities of the 21st, including the centrality of air travel to many modes of life and business. There are climate-change activists who propose capping the number of air miles that a person may travel each year through non-negotiable (or possibly tradeable) rationing. I would very much like the U.S. government to be prohibited from doing that, but there isn’t anything in the Constitution that could plausibly be read as mandating such a prohibition. Federal statute says: “A citizen of the United States has a public right of transit through the navigable airspace.” This is noted in the context of authorizing the Department of Transportation to look after the accessibility of air travel for disabled people. But that’s a pretty thin reed.

I am sure that some clever person could come up with an ironclad constitutional case against air-mile rationing; I am sure that some clever person could come with an ironclad constitutional case for just about anything. But we would do better to acknowledge that the Constitution is vague on some important things and silent on others, which means only that those issues must be resolved through ordinary democratic means.

And that’s all good and fine — unless you expect to lose the democratic contest. Hence the sacrosanct precedent of Roe, which is a flimsy and made-up thing. Intellectually honest abortion-rights advocates will confess as much, if you can find one.

The fact that you generally can’t is telling.

Elections

About Warren’s Aunt Bee

Activist Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and former Vice President at the Democratic primary debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, January 14, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

In last night’s debate, Senator Warren again mentioned how her “Aunt Bee” had helped her when she was at wit’s end holding a job and taking care of her family. A few months ago, Wonkette gushed, “Elizabeth Warren wants everyone to have an Aunt Bee, or at least affordable childcare.” What Warren actually wants is for everyone not to have to rely on Aunt Bee. If you would prefer Aunt Bee to commercial day care, you’re not getting any help from Warren’s plan.

Warren has explained that she would subsidize options that would include locally licensed child care centers, preschool centers, and in-home child care options. “Local communities would be in charge, but providers would be held to high national standards to make sure that no matter where you live, your child will have access to quality care and early learning.” So unless your aunt is going to get the training, receive the license, or otherwise comply with regulations to ensure she is “high quality,” she’s not going to be covered by Warren’s plan.

If Warren wanted to help families take care of their children regardless of the care arrangements they choose — whether they rely on a mother staying home, or informal care from a relative, or commercial day care — she could just put the money she wants to funnel to high-quality child-care providers and instead give it to parents to use as they see fit. That’s not the plan she’s chosen to run on.

National Security & Defense

Hey, Weren’t We Supposed to Be in World War III Right Now?

An Iranian holds a picture of General Qasem Soleimani who was killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport in Tehran, Iran, January 4, 2020. (Nazanin Tabatabaee/West Asia News Agency via Reuters)

When we first heard the reports that Iran was firing rockets into Iraq, presumably to attack U.S. servicemen stationed at bases in that country, we had good reason to be frightened. We didn’t know if there would be casualties and if so how many; we could reasonably surmise that if Iran’s military killed a lot of Americans, then some sort of U.S. counterattack would be launched, and it wasn’t hard to imagine a scenario of increasing back-and-forth attacks growing into all-out war.

Thankfully, we found out within a few hours that there were no casualties. Iran launched what appears to be a symbolic response to the killing of General Qasem Soleimani, and their state-run media told their public that they had killed 80 Americans.

Still, immediately after the Soleimani killing, a lot of people who probably ought to know better declared on social media that World War III was imminent. And while big media institutions didn’t concur with the assessment . . . they still wrote pieces about the fears expressed on social media.

McClatchy News wrote an article headlined, “Is the US headed for World War III? Here’s what experts say as Twitter fears the worst” — although thankfully the article declared early on, “while a war on that scale is unlikely, according to experts, the actions put the U.S. on a new path of escalation.”

Molly Roberts of the Washington Post wrote, “The inaugural meme of the dawning decade homes in on nothing less than the total annihilation of humanity. The mushroom clouds familiar to us from the pop canon loom over the Internet, and now they’re accompanied by image macros with captions about how last week’s U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani will provoke global catastrophe. Hashtag it World War III.”

Over at CNN, Richard Galant wrote, “In the hours after the Pentagon announced the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani on Thursday, “World War III” was trending on Twitter. Traffic to the US Selective Service, the agency that would be responsible for any eventual military draft, spiked so high that the website crashed.”

It is now January 15, and thankfully the world is, so far, not consumed in a terrible war. The situation regarding Iran is tense, no doubt, and there’s still the possibility that the mullahs in Iran strike back at us through a terrorist proxy, either at home or abroad. But the Iranian regime currently has its hands full with angry protests about the accidental downing of the Ukrainian jetliner. This morning, there’s no story about Iran on the front page of the New York Times or Washington Post. The Wall Street Journal has a story about Germany, France, and Great Britain moving closer to re-imposing sanctions on Iran. Not only did World War III not arrive, the conflict has largely faded out of the news cycle.

A U.S. war with Iran would be bad, but it would not be World War III. The Iranian regime doesn’t have allies who are willing to fight on its behalf — and it’s fair to wonder if many traditional U.S. allies would prefer to help by coordinating logistics far away from the front. Even fighting alone, the United States would probably be able to pummel the Iranian military and regime from the air, from the sea, and in cyberspace. After the American experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, you would have to imagine a really dire set of circumstances that would precipitate a full-scale U.S. invasion of Iran. No one in the American government is itching to be an occupying power again and start nation-building one more time.

I know, I know, “Trump is crazy and unpredictable, you never know what he might do.” But even on his worst day, President Trump doesn’t want to get sucked into a bloody war with Iran. And for all of their bellicose “death to America!” rhetoric, it appears the Iranian regime doesn’t want to go down that path, either.

Social media posts are “the voices in the crowd,” a cacophony of loud, impulsive reactions that often include overreactions. I wouldn’t go as far as saying they’re not news and they shouldn’t be covered. But just because a lot of people are publicly expressing fear that World War III is going to break out, it doesn’t mean that World War III is going to break out.

Law & the Courts

Putting the Arguments against Roe Together

The main argument for overturning Roe v. Wade and its successors is that no right to abortion can plausibly be derived from the text, original understanding, history, or structure of the Constitution. Robert VerBruggen is right that the unworkability of the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence — its shifting details and rationales, its lack of predictability and guidance for legislators — is a subordinate argument against it. If that jurisprudence were grounded in the Constitution, it wouldn’t be much of an argument against it at all.

We get to the workability argument only after establishing that Roe, Casey, et al are not so grounded. It is not especially hard to establish that conclusion, and I suspect that we already have a majority of the Supreme Court who agree with it. The constitutional holding and, even more, reasoning of Roe have been notoriously hard to defend. That’s why so much of the defense of the Court’s abortion jurisprudence rests on its status as precedent. The workability argument attempts to undermine that status. By persuading wavering justices, it could — as I said in an article about this issue that VerBruggen mentions — prove decisive.

VerBruggen also notes that workability can be an issue even when the Constitution marks out a right. The Court has thus far failed to clarify what restrictions on guns are compatible with its reading of the Second and Fourteenth Amendments. When marking out a judicially enforceable line between what governments can and cannot do is sufficiently difficult, that is a reason for the justices to treat a constitutional provision as non-justiciable.

But it seems to me that the problem is significantly worse when, as in the case of abortion, the right isn’t in the Constitution to begin with. If we had a constitutional provision reading, “The right to abortion is fundamental and shall not be infringed,” it would seem to be a fair inference that it can’t be restricted even late in pregnancy. But the justices have had too many qualms — whether moral or political — to take the line that the Constitution contains that line in invisible ink, and stick to it. And since the justices are just making it up as they go, they can entertain the idea that viability marks a constitutionally important date, that the right deserves less (or sometimes more) protection than other rights that are mentioned in the Constitution, and so on.

The unworkability argument is thus related to the underlying constitutional argument, while it also buttresses it.

Elections

‘Can a Woman Win?’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren at the Democratic primary campaign debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, January 14, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

If you’ve ever covered a presidential primary, then you know that there are two things you can always find at the Iowa State Fair: a pork chop on a stick and some nimrod who will say whatever it is you are hoping to hear. Nimrods love politics, and I don’t think that Iowa and New Hampshire necessarily have especially nimrodic populations — but those states enjoy the attention that comes with being first, so their nimrods are disproportionately influential.

I’m thinking of this because of the silly dispute between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Warren accuses Sanders of telling her that a woman cannot win the 2020 presidential election, and Sanders insists that he said no such thing. It is difficult to know whom to believe in this particular he-said/she-said. Warren is a cynical liar who is entirely capable of making something like this up, but Sanders is a barking mad loon who says whatever happens to be rattling around in that zany Maoist glitter-bomb he calls a brain, and there isn’t very much that would come out of his mouth that would surprise me.

The narrative serves Warren’s ambitions. I don’t think it really is the case that the American electorate is packed to the gills with people who don’t think a woman could be president, although Emily’s List offers a catalogue of Iowa nimrods saying that. Sample: Des Moines-area nimrod Emily Van Kirk, 22, says: “I think against Trump any woman is going to have difficulty with electability, that’s just kind of a reality we have to contend with.” Etc. That was at a Warren event, mind you. Adrienne Elrod, a nimrod who worked for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2016 campaign, says: “Right now there is this fear and concern that we have to pick the safest candidate. Unfortunately, that caution does transition into, ‘Can a woman take him on?’”

Warren would prefer to talk about the question of whether “a woman” can be president rather than the more relevant question — Whether Senator Elizabeth Warren can or should be president — because the answer to the meaningless question is positive and obvious, whereas the answer to the substantive question is not.

But nimrods gonna nimrod.

Of course a woman can be president of the United States. Of course a woman could beat Donald Trump. But Hillary Rodham Clinton was not that woman, and it is far from obvious that Elizabeth Warren is.

Mrs. Clinton’s problem has never been that she is a woman; her problem was and is that she is a corrupt mediocrity who cannot actually operate very effectively at the rarefied height of political prominence to which she was carried upon the coattails of her husband, one of the most gifted politicians of his generation. Mrs. Clinton might have made a pretty good member of the Philadelphia city council; she became a national figure by occupying the high office currently held by Melania Trump. Her being a woman has only been relevant to her political career because Bill Clinton is a heterosexual. (An enthusiastic one, if I’m remembering the Nineties correctly.)

Warren faces a different set of problems, mostly unrelated to her sex: She is dishonest and everybody knows it. She has based her reputation on being a policy wonk with a plan for everything, but her plans are mostly shallow and meretricious, and she herself does not seem to take them very seriously. And she doesn’t know how to take out Sanders and clear the left lane without going full kook; accusing him of saying something sexist to her is a way of trying to gently #MeToo him out of the race rather than trying to get to his left. Out-kooking Bernie is no small thing.

So Warren has some challenges.

The “can a woman win?” conversation is a dumb distraction, but that’s probably good for Warren, who could use a good distraction just about now.

World

Upheaval, Horror, and Hope in Iran

Demonstrating in Tehran, January 11, 2020 (Social Media Photo via Reuters)

When there is upheaval in Iran, I want to talk to Marina Nemat, an old friend of mine — a hugely admirable lady. She is an Iranian dissident, a onetime political prisoner, and a human-rights activist. Her memoir is Prisoner of Tehran. Last night, we did a Q&A podcast, here.

In this half-hour or so, Marina talks about the past and the present. They are certainly linked. Recent events include the killing of General Soleimani and the downing of the Ukrainian airliner. People are massing in the streets. They have done so before: in 2009, for example (the “green revolution”). And just a couple of months ago. Each time, the regime crushes them. Will it be different this time?

Probably not, says Marina — but she is more hopeful than she has ever been since 1979 (the year of the Khomeinist takeover).

In our podcast, we talk about ideology, religion, technology, and a lot more. She is subtle in her analysis, and deeply informed, and often moving. I listened to her intently, and I bet you would too. Again, that podcast is here.

Politics & Policy

Who’s Your Boss?

Today, it is increasingly common for companies to contract with outside firms for many functions that would previously have been taken care of by traditional payroll employees. A law firm, for example, might hire custodial and building security services from contractors or a staffing firm.

Who do those custodians and security guards work for? On the one hand, they are paid by the staffing firm. At the same time, the law firm determines their schedules, the quality standards they need to meet, and the way they do their jobs. If they are owed overtime and don’t get it, who is legally responsible?

A similar situation exists with franchises. Does the cashier at a local, franchised McDonald’s restaurant work solely for the physical location she reports to each day. Or does she also work for McDonald’s Corporation? Or both?

The Obama administration adopted an expansive view of situations in which multiple employers — in these examples, both the law firm and the staffing agency; both the local franchise and McDonald’s HQ — were responsible for compliance with employment law. On Sunday, the Trump administration brought common sense and much-needed clarity to these situations, as I discuss in my latest Bloomberg column:

The new rules — which will affect the behavior of workers and employers, and will influence court decisions — are a victory for common sense. They more clearly define the roles and responsibilities of different parties, which will make it easier for them to work together productively and efficiently. Indirect employers will know what steps to take to avoid legal liability and compliance costs and record-keeping costs. National brands will be shielded from litigation over employment issues in local franchises they could not control. Court decisions will become more uniform, which will help businesses. By reducing compliance costs, employers in the low-wage labor market will have more resources to grow their businesses.

“This resolution provides much-needed clarity for the 733,000 franchise establishments across America,” Robert Cresanti, president of the International Franchise Association (the largest organization representing franchises worldwide) said in a statement, “and returns to the traditional standard of business that has fundamentally supported and encouraged franchise entrepreneurship for decades.”

IFA argues that the broader, Obama-era criteria cost U.S. franchisees between $17 and $33 billion per year.

If you’re looking for a specific example of the Trump administration’s often-praised deregulatory actions, start here.

Politics & Policy

The Case for Reforming College Sports

Now that the hoopla of college football is behind us, perhaps we can think about the many problems caused by our obsession with college sports. In today’s Martin Center article, Ohio University professor David Ridpath, who is the interim president of the Drake Group (which focuses on solutions for the manifold problems caused by our sports mania), offers a path forward.

Ridpath writes, “As structured, American college sports, especially Division I, is based on three false perceptions. Those misperceptions are academics first, amateurism, and competitive equity. Academics are not the priority in Division I athletics. College athletes — by the NCAAs own studies — spend about 50 hours per week on sports-related activities and they struggle to pursue their majors of choice due to athletic obligations. College sports are infested with an eligibility-first culture to remain competitive rather than an education-first culture. The only amateur quality about college athletics is that colleges refuse to pay their players. Nor is competitive equity anything but a mirage: Out-of-control spending on coaches, facilities, and recruitment efforts tilt the playing field in favor of big spenders.”

Yes, but what can be done?

Ridpath points to a bill introduced in the House that would give the Department of Education the ability to create a congressional commission to explore problems and solutions.  “While it might seem strange to ask Congress to fix college sports,” he notes, “only Congress can provide legal ways to limit spending, such as capping coach salaries, while also tying Department of Education funding to compliance with the reforms.”

I’m always skeptical about any good coming out of Congress, but maybe this is worth a shot.

Elections

The Dog That Isn’t Barking Regarding Elizabeth Warren

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden at the Democratic primary debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, January 14, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Earlier this week, Elizabeth Warren offered a sketchy claim that Bernie Sanders, longtime self-proclaimed feminist, said that a woman couldn’t beat Trump in 2020. While she didn’t dwell on that claim for long last night, many saw the post-debate exchange between the two as a sign that they’re not back on good terms.

Last month, Warren went after Pete Buttigieg, contending he was a tool of his wealthiest donors: “So the mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine. Think about who comes to that. He had promised that every fundraiser he would do would be open door, but this one was closed door. We made the decision many years ago that rich people in smoke-filled rooms would not pick the next president of the United States. Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.”

In November, Warren seemed to suggest some of her rivals were not really Democrats: “If anyone wants to defend keeping those high profits for insurance companies and those high profits for drug companies and not making the top 1 percent pay a fair share in taxes and not making corporations pay a fair share in taxes, then I think they’re running in the wrong presidential primary.”

That same month, without naming names, she’s argued that her rivals are naïve. “Unlike some candidates for the Democratic nomination, I’m not betting my agenda on the naïve hope that if Democrats adopt Republican critiques of progressive policies or make vague calls for unity that somehow the wealthy and well-connected will stand down.”

In her book, Warren wrote: “Senators like Joe Biden should not be allowed to sell out women in the morning and be heralded as their friend in the evening.”

None of this is unusual; it’s a presidential primary and candidates attack each other, sometimes in personal terms. No, what is unusual is that no matter what attack Warren throws at her opponents, her opponents do not respond by bringing up her past claim to be Native American, or Harvard Law School touting her as its first professor who was a “person of color.” It’s a completely fair criticism, her actions probably offend many members of minority groups, it makes Warren look dishonest and untrustworthy, and if Warren wins the nomination, the Trump campaign will be attacking on this morning, noon, and night.

Why are Warren’s rivals so hesitant to raise this issue? Is it that it’s the political equivalent of using a nuke, and that once that attack is launched, anything is fair game in response? Or is it that an extensive discussion about race would re-emphasize that the 2020 Democratic primary has come down to four white candidates?

Politics & Policy

A Flawed Study Claims that Few Women Regret Abortion

(Katie Yoder/National Review)

This week, a new study was released, which purports to show that few women regret their decision to obtain an abortion. The study was published in the academic journal Social Science and Medicine and is the latest study to be released as part of the Turnaway Project, which compares a cohort of women who obtained abortions with a separate cohort of women who were unable to obtain abortions due to gestational age limits.

This newest study based on that data has received a great deal of sympathetic coverage from a number of media outlets including the Washington Post, The Hill, The Guardian, and CNN. But most of the coverage has paid little or no attention to the limitations of the research. For one thing, the Turnaway study is conducted by the group Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California San Francisco, which typically produces research with a pro-abortion bias.

From 2008 to 2010, Turnaway Project researchers sought participants at more than 30 abortion facilities located in 21 U.S. states and found 667 women who obtained abortions to participate.  However, less than 38 percent of the women they asked actually agreed to take part in the study. It seems likely that the women who made themselves available for the study might have had either a higher level of decisional certainty or fewer moral qualms about obtaining an abortion, skewing the results.

Additionally, the Turnaway study tracked study participants over a five-year time period. Over time, a significant percentage of the women who originally agreed to participate either could no longer be contacted or refused to answer follow-up surveys. The new Social Science and Medicine article tries to downplay this fact, stating that 71 percent of the women completed an interview in the final two years of the study. However, a 2017 article in JAMA Psychiatry that used Turnaway-study data indicated that only 58.4 percent of participants had responded to a survey five years after it began. This information further skews the results, as it is likely that women who disappeared from the survey were experiencing more psychological suffering than women who responded.

Interestingly, another recent study adds to the body of research showing that some women do suffer psychologically after obtaining an abortion. Paul Sullins of the Catholic University of America published an article last November in the Swiss journal Medicina. This study was unique because it was able to analyze results from women who obtained abortions of wanted pregnancies. Such abortions typically occur when the mother wants the child but obtained an abortion after being pressured by either her parents or her partner. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health, the Sullins study found that any abortion increased the risk of depression, anxiety, or suicidality, but the risk was much higher following an abortion of one or more wanted pregnancies. Of course, studies of this sort typically receive scant media coverage.

 

 

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