Politics & Policy

Some Welcome Labor Department Investigations

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The Department of Labor is investigating the announced commitment by some corporations to woke racial quotas that I flagged last month on NRO. Good.

I’ll add only that the department needs to change its own regulations, which for years have encouraged politically correct discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex — in contravention of not only fairness and efficiency but also the Constitution and various federal civil rights statutes. I discuss those bad old regulations and what needs to be done about them here.

This should have been addressed in the Trump administration’s first term, and here’s hoping it will be addressed in the second term, if there is a second term. Needless to say, this kind of PC discrimination will be mandated, not challenged, in a Biden administration.

Culture

Twenty-Two Things That Caught My Eye Today: Suicide, Amy Coney Barrett & More — October 7, 2020

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1. The Other Pandemic: The Lockdown Mental Health Crisis

Last month the CDC published a devastating report on the mental health effects of lockdowns, based on a population-based survey in June of over 5,000 Americans. The findings are entirely consistent with what I’ve seen among the patients in our psychiatric clinics—namely, enormous harms. Four out of ten respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition. Three out of ten reported symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder, and one-quarter reported symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder due to the pandemic. Thirteen percent reported having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Of particular concern, 11 percent reported they have seriously contemplated suicide in the past thirty days. Among those aged eighteen to twenty-four years old, this number was 25 percent. We should pause to consider this statistic: one-quarter of young adults in America contemplated suicide in the month of June. Rates of suicidal thinking that month were higher among minorities (Hispanic 19 percent, black 15.1 percent), among unpaid caregivers for adults (31 percent), and essential workers (22 percent). Compared to June 2019, one year previous, prevalence of anxiety disorders had tripled (26 percent versus 8 percent), and prevalence of depressive disorders had quadrupled (24.3 percent versus 6.5 percent). These are extremely sobering statistics: it is very rare to see these kinds of shifts in psychiatric epidemiology from one year to the next.

2. The Economist: Will the economic and psychological costs of covid-19 increase suicides?

When America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) carried out a survey this summer, it found that one in ten of the 5,400 respondents had seriously considered suicide in the previous month—about twice as many who had thought of taking their lives in 2018. For young adults, aged 18 to 24, the proportion was an astonishing one in four.

3. AP News: In Iraq a father faces militia power as he seeks missing son

Jasb was abducted a week into historic protests which erupted across Iraq and saw tens of thousands of youth rallying against corruption and the ruling class. Like many others, hopes for change inspired by the movement emboldened Jasb to speak out against militias in his hometown.

Now Jasb is among 53 protesters who remain missing since the movement began on Oct. 1, according to the semi-official Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights.

The protests have largely been silenced by a combination of the coronavirus and a violent crackdown by security forces and militias that, according to the commission, killed more than 500 people.

4. Stars and Stripes: Years after they fought in Afghanistan, US troops watch as their children deploy to the same war

5. Vice: The Arrest and Release of Filmmaker Hajooj Kuka Shows Sudan’s Revolution Is Not Over

Despite the release of Kuka, Duaa Tarig Mohamed Ahmed, Abdel Rahman Mohamed Hamdan, Ayman Khalaf Allah Mohamed Ahmed and Ahmed Elsadig Ahmed Hammad, concerns about freedom and justice in post revolution Sudan endure. Six other artists remain imprisoned, awaiting appeal.

On the day they wound up behind bars, hours after an altercation that would eventually see them sentenced to two months in prison on charges of “public annoyance and disruption of public safety,” the artists sang protest songs. A grainy cell phone video captured their act of defiance, their silhouettes clapping and chanting in a dark holding cell in Khartoum Central Prison. Their songs, reminiscent of the same subversive slogans that sparked Sudan’s uprising in late 2018, were intended to send a message: The revolution continues.

6.

https://twitter.com/dandarling/status/1313506319597473793

7. Ross Douthat: Sabotage in the Liberal City

. . . in MacGillis’s account it’s clear that anti-Trumpism, and particularly a partisan impulse to resist the White House’s push for reopening, created a permission structure for teachers’ unions that already opposed in-person school to force a continued shutdown.

Without minimizing the real uncertainties around reopening and student health, he suggests that advocates of closure ended up cherry-picking studies to exaggerate the dangers and ignoring the evidence that a reasonably safe reopening was possible — including not only European case studies but more local examples like Baltimore, where MacGillis lives and where in-person summer schooling produced zero new known cases.

The result of this urban shutdown is an autumn in which schools have successfully reopened for much more of white America than minority America: Approximately half of white kids have access to in-person school, compared with just about a quarter of African-American and Hispanic students, according to a recent survey MacGillis cites.

8. Montse Alvarado: The ACLU used to defend religious freedom. Now, they target Catholic adoption agencies

. . . now, with the ACLU’s help, Philadelphia officials are trying to shut down Catholic Social Services unless it violates its religious beliefs and endorses the relationships of both same-sex and unmarried couples by partnering with them. The Catholic Church, which has been serving Philadelphia’s abused and abandoned children for 200 years, has always been motivated to serve by its faith — the same faith Philadelphia is trampling on today.

9. Cornerstone Schools of Washington D.C., Inc.: “I didn’t even know there were poor white people”

In our students’ understanding of the world, sadly, black equals poor and white equals rich. This, despite the fact that poverty and wealth know no racial bounds. While there is a very real wealth gap between people of different races, according to the Census Bureau 18.8 percent of African Americans live below the poverty line (which is still sadly double the rate for Caucasians). This means that 81 percent of African Americans live in the middle and upper classes. Not only that, but African Americans have been the CEOs of Time Warner, Lowes, American Express, Xerox, Bed, Bath and Beyond and hundreds of other major corporations in the United States.

10. Spotlight PA: How Pa. state troopers seize big money from drivers, many of whom are never charged

Clark Neily, vice president for criminal justice at the Cato Institute, a think tank, said innocent people often have to jump through hurdles just to get their property back.

Without a lawyer, people stand little chance. Of the 32 cases The Appeal and Spotlight PA reviewed, the state returned cash or property only when a lawyer got involved, according to case records from the Office of the Attorney General. Out of the $608,000 seized and subsequently prosecuted, the attorney general’s office gave back less than $60,000 after negotiating with property owners’ lawyers.

“Do you think you can do that yourself?” Neily said. “The answer is no, you cannot because you’re not a lawyer, you don’t specialize in this area, and you don’t know the procedures.”

11.  Matt Lewis: Should McConnell Tap the Brakes on Amy Coney Barrett’s Confirmation? No Chance!

As I have argued from the beginning, Never Trump conservatives (meaning people who remain conservative but will not vote for Donald Trump), should be rooting for Barrett’s confirmation. While some have decided to throw the conservative baby out with the squalid Trump bathwater, getting Barrett on the high court would be but a small consolation prize for having to endure these last four years.

12. Andrea Picciotti-Bayer: What to bear in Mind During Amy Coney Barrett’s Confirmation Process

Unfortunately, Barrett’s opponents have focused relentlessly on her commitment to her Catholic faith, as if she intended to base her legal judgments on Church doctrine. 

But that innuendo recycles an old trope about Catholics in public service that faced John F. Kennedy in 1960 when he ran for president — an ugly undercurrent of bigotry that this country rejected long ago. Amy Coney Barrett could not possibly have made herself clearer on this point. 

“If confirmed, I would not assume that role for the sake of those in my own circle and certainly not for my own sake,” she said at the Rose Garden. And she means it. Barrett’s Catholic faith may inform every aspect of her life, but when it comes to the discharge of her judicial duties, she does not conflate deeply held beliefs with constitutional imperatives.

. . .

This is a remarkable woman who, if she is successful, will be — as poignantly noted by the president when introducing her — “the first mother of school-age children to become a Supreme Court justice.” As my friend and legal scholar Erika Bachiochi writes, Barrett can rightly be regarded as a “new feminist icon.”

13. Bishop Barron: Catholic Twitter could learn a lot from St. Thomas Aquinas

Continue reading “Twenty-Two Things That Caught My Eye Today: Suicide, Amy Coney Barrett & More — October 7, 2020”

Law & the Courts

The Return of Jurisdiction-Stripping

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For several decades, the idea of legislation to remove some issues from the jurisdiction of the federal courts has circulated mostly on the right. During the George W. Bush administration, for example, the House twice voted to block federal courts from reviewing the constitutionality of state and local policies requiring the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Now, as David Yaffe-Bellany writes for Bloomberg Businessweek, the idea is winning favor on the Left — and some conservatives are calling it “extreme.”

This migration of interest is obviously a response to rising conservative strength on the federal bench. (I wrote about the phenomenon around the time of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation.) I’m happy to welcome left-wingers to the cause of cutting the power of the federal courts down to size, and I believe the case that Congress can legitimately and sometimes should remove issues from their jurisdiction is a strong one.

I’d note, though, that there’s a limit to limits on jurisdiction. If Congress passes a statutory provision that requires federal judicial cooperation for its effect, I don’t see how Congress can then also make it impossible for the courts to review the constitutionality of that statute. In the case of a law that conflicts with the Constitution, requires the federal courts to give it effect, and attempts to insulate the provision from judicial review, the courts would, I think, be duty-bound not to implement the provision — which limits the potential harm from jurisdiction-stripping.

Health Care

Doctor Kills Canadian Man Whose Wife Asked Court to Prevent Euthanasia

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(AVNphotolab/Getty Images)

I wrote a bit ago here about the Canadian woman legally trying to prevent her husband from being killed in a euthanasia homicide. The courts rejected her appeal and now the man is dead.

The case highlights the cultural tensions and incompatible value systems that are tearing the West apart, about which euthanasia is only a serious symptom. From the CBC story:

The Sorensons had known each other for more than 60 years and were married for 48. After Katherine Sorenson launched her legal efforts to stop her husband from accessing MAID, he moved out of their shared home and the couple stopped speaking.

In an interview Tuesday, Katherine Sorenson said she last spoke to her husband on Aug. 15, when she called him and learned he had made a suicide attempt. At that time, a temporary injunction was legally preventing him from MAID.

She learned of his death when the funeral home called to tell her they had his body.

She said that after months of separation, his passing was not a shock and she was doing “pretty well, considering.”

“I’ve had a wonderful life with Jack. There have been, as with any marriage, lots of varying opinions between the spouses and I thought we did a pretty good job of reconciling two pretty opposite views,” she said, referring to their difference of religion. She is a practising Christian and he had been an atheist since his early adulthood.

She said they dealt well with their differences “until this issue came up of end of life.”

At least she can have the cold comfort of knowing she did her best to save him. Alas, his society didn’t think his life worth saving if he didn’t.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government is set to expand the killable categories of people who can qualify for euthanasia by deleting any reference to being terminally ill.

Once euthanasia is legalized, being dead becomes the imperative rather than preserving life and preventing suicide of the sick. As Canadian journalist Andrew Coyne once wrote:

A society that believes in nothing can offer no argument even against death. A culture that has lost its faith in life cannot comprehend why it should be endured.

For those who think it can’t happen here, Canada is our closest cultural cousin.

Law & the Courts

Re: Federal Appeals Court Rejects President’s Challenge to Manhattan DA’s Subpoena for His Private Financial Records

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President Trump stands on the Truman Balcony as he returns to the White House in Washington, D.C., October 5, 2020. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

As Andy McCarthy discusses, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit this morning, in Trump v. Vance, allowed a state grand-jury subpoena issued by the New York district attorney to go forward against Donald Trump. The news urgency of this case has deteriorated somewhat since it went to the Supreme Court in July, now that the New York Times has published information from Trump’s tax returns, and gotten whatever little political mileage there was to be had from them. The subpoena, however, seeks much more extensive financial information from Trump’s accountants than just his tax returns, extending deep into the finances of various Trump-related organizations, including the heart of his business empire. I defer to Andy’s analysis of where this points as far as the investigation is concerned — apparently, much further into the tax and finances of the Trump Organization than just hush-money payments made through Michael Cohen — but let me offer a few thoughts on the decision, what it permits, and why the Supreme Court is unlikely to step in again.

The legal problem Trump faced in challenging the subpoena was that he had to explain to the court why the materials subpoenaed were not relevant to the subject of the grand-jury investigation — but because grand juries work in secret, he may not entirely know, and certainly cannot prove, what it is that the grand jury is investigating. This may seem a Catch-22 that is unfair to Trump, but it is no more unfair than the situation faced by any citizen under grand-jury investigation. Grand juries are not designed to be fair, they are designed to investigate; fairness has to await your day in court.

The Second Circuit did not say what is under investigation, because it was ruling on the sufficiency of Trump’s federal complaint, and that complaint “never actually alleges that the Michael Cohen payments are the sole object of the investigation.” You may draw your own conclusions as to whether that is because Trump and his lawyers do not know, or because they know full well that more is being investigated. They may know quite a bit by now (in a parallel investigation by the New York attorney general, Eric Trump just sat for a civil deposition). As the court observed: “We reject the President’s argument that the scope of the investigation is largely defined by the scope of the Trump Organization subpoena, which was issued a month before the Mazars subpoena and which explicitly focused on the Michael Cohen payments. It is far from reasonable to infer that a single subpoena would define the entire scope of a grand jury’s investigation, particularly in complex financial investigations.”

The Supreme Court’s dilemma was that allowing presidents to face state-court subpoenas could subject them to harassment by political foes, but immunizing them from subpoenas would potentially allow a president to be above the law even for ordinary crimes committed before taking office. The Second Circuit’s disposition of the complaint illustrates the difficulty of gathering enough facts in a grand-jury proceeding to show that a partisan district attorney is driven by partisanship:

To be sure, if the SAC plausibly alleged that the District Attorney sought to obtain the President’s tax returns for partisan political purposes, that would undoubtedly state a claim of bad faith. But as counsel to the President acknowledged at oral argument, the SAC nowhere alleges that the District Attorney was himself motivated by partisan considerations. The motivations of unspecified “Democrats” cannot be imputed to the District Attorney without specific factual allegations.

On the other hand, the court found that complying with the subpoena will not distract Trump unduly from his job — a conclusion that could be quite different if he was subpoenaed to testify (as could happen in a civil investigation, or if he was a grand jury witness; grand-jury targets cannot be compelled to testify against themselves):

The direction of the subpoena to the President’s accountant, rather than to the President himself, does not prevent the President from objecting to the subpoena. On the other hand, it relieves the President of the burden of supervising and being responsible for compliance, thus freeing the President from obligations that might otherwise interfere with his duties of office.

The Supreme Court famously ruled in Clinton v. Jones, in 1997, that sitting for a deposition in the Paula Jones case was “highly unlikely to occupy any substantial amount of [Bill Clinton’s] time.” Because Clinton lied under oath in that deposition, it ended up consuming over a year of his presidency and leading to his impeachment. Courts will, and should, be more circumspect about that in the future.

The Supreme Court took the Vance case and the Mazars case (involving a similar subpoena by a House committee) to answer the major legal questions about the standards to apply in these cases. By contrast, the Second Circuit’s decision is merely an application of the decision to the facts, the sort of thing the Supreme Court is typically less interested in doing (it could have ruled on the Vance facts without remanding, had it believed that the importance of a subpoena to the president demanded it). Moreover, at this point, if Trump petitions for the Supreme Court to review this decision, the court would likely not even rule on that request until after the election. If Trump loses, there will be far less national significance to an investigation that will mostly be resolved after he has left office. So, even leaving aside the institutional and political reasons why the justices may not want to get involved in another Trump-investigation case, it seems doubtful that we will see anything else from the Supreme Court on this subpoena.

Elections

Pence’s Task Tonight

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I’m a firm believer that VP debates ultimately don’t matter. But the Trump campaign really needs Pence to do well tonight — to win a news cycle for a change, if nothing else. Besides the brief interlude when it was clear that the Democrats had made a big mistake in not denouncing rioting at their convention and Biden hadn’t yet addressed the issue, there hasn’t been a single day when Trump has been winning the message war. In part, this is because a hostile media keep rolling out attack pieces. But it is also because of his missteps, lack of discipline, and an October surprise that has put the focus back on COVID when the campaign hoped other issues would be dominating by now. The Trump campaign needs Pence to excel tonight, and hopefully open up some avenues for attack in the days following.

Politics & Policy

J. R. R. Tolkien vs. The Euphemistic State

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( phil_ioffe/Getty Images)

Readers of The Lord of The Rings won’t be surprised to learn that J. R. R. Tolkien was no great fan of government. The last century’s most beloved work of fiction is about a painstaking quest to abjure power instead of acquiring it. What’s more, the evil wizard Saruman is presented by the author as the consummate technocrat: One senses throughout the novel that he would very much enjoy the chance to make follow-up phone calls on behalf of the Income Revenue Service. “I gave you the chance of aiding me willingly, but you have elected the way of pain,” he says at one point. 

The good wizard Gandalf, by way of contrast, passes his time by purveying fireworks in the lightly governed Shire, and refused the Ring on the basis that he “would use this Ring from a desire to do good. But through [him], it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.”

Tolkien wasn’t really disposed to engaging in explicit political polemics — he spent most of his time immersed in ancient languages and mythology. But we do have one letter, written to his son in November of 1943, in which he offers a few brilliant reflections on language and politics.

The letter is rather startling coming from a tweed-clad, preVatican II Catholic reactionary. He starts by declaring himself an anarchist: 

My political opinions lead more to Anarchy (understood as meaning, abolition of control and not whiskered men with bombs) – or to ‘unconstitutional monarchy.’ I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, nor mind); and after a chance at recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate!  

We might have guessed this much given nothing to go by but the text of The Lord of The Rings. The psychedelic California radicals of the 1960s, for whom Tolkien’s work was a cultural touchstone, certainly wouldn’t have been surprised to read these words from the author. They might have been surprised to learn that the same man insisted upon belting out the Roman mass in the original Latin during every liturgy in defiance of that most wretched and accursed modernizer: Pope John XXIII. 

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has described Tolkien’s great friend C.S. Lewis as a “Tory Anarchist”: someone who combines a fervent devotion to authority, tradition, and moral conservatism with unrelenting hostility towards the encroachment of state power. Tolkien belongs very much in the same camp, and he brings his philological genius to bear by offering a Tory Anarchist diagnosis of political language and its perils: 

If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people. If people were in the habit of referring to King George’s council, Winston & his gang, it would go a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into theocracy.

According to Tolkien, the main malady afflicting political language is euphemism. Orwell made a similar point in “Politics and The English Language,” but he didn’t fasten onto the issue of names the way Tolkien does. “Government” is nothing more or less than a huge apparatus built to threaten and inflict violence upon people within a given locality. In democracies, we elect the people who threaten and inflict this violence upon us, but it’s still violence all the same. Tolkien is making the point that our thinking about politics would be a lot clearer if it reflected this fact; that government is, at bottom, a process whereby certain individuals wield coercive power over others. 

Euphemisms such as “the state,” “the government,” “public spending,” and “public services” mask this fact by drawing a veil of impersonal and lofty neutrality over the state that obscures what it actually does. That’s why getting “back to personal names” is so important. If, instead of saying “I’m filing my tax returns,” Americans were in the habit of saying “I’m forfeiting my property to Donald, Nancy, and Mitch at gunpoint,” we might start to think about taxation, and government in general, a lot differently. 

Media

On the Washington Post’s People of Praise Confusion

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Judge Amy Coney Barrett attends a meeting with Senator Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 1, 2020. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

As Rich Lowry noted earlier this afternoon here on the Corner, the Washington Post has just published an article that the paper seems to view as a blockbuster, detailing Amy Coney Barrett’s involvement with the Christian charismatic community People of Praise.

This article is only the latest in a series of pieces focusing on People of Praise since Barrett’s name began being floated for the Supreme Court opening. Reporters thus far seem unable to find a more potent way to villainize Barrett than to point out her leadership role in a group whose members, among other nefarious activities, donate 5 percent of their annual income to the community and “meet regularly for spiritual, social, and service projects.”

In their nearly bottomless ignorance of religion, reporters from the Post and other supposedly neutral outlets seem unable to grasp that People of Praise isn’t a misogynistic cult, that the word “handmaid” comes not from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel but from the Bible, and that these Christians use the term not to subjugate women but to invoke Mary the Mother of God — the most famous and most revered woman in history.

In other words, the practices and beliefs of People of Praise are neither sinister nor shocking, and Barrett’s purported membership in the group is evidence of little more than her desire to live out her Catholic faith intentionally with the support of a like-minded community.

These attempted hit jobs reveal that almost no one in the national media manages to attain an even somewhat sophisticated understanding of Christianity before reporting or opining on the subject. Routinely, articles such as this one in the Post present the fact that a public figure embraces the basic tenets of Christianity as though this is an earth-shattering and disqualifying revelation. Though the religiously illiterate members of the press might believe otherwise, Barrett’s membership in People of Praise is not proof that she is poised to impose a regressive, anti-science, anti-woman theocracy through her role on the Court.

Film & TV

When the Truth Becomes the Lie

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Eli Steele is following up his powerful 2018 documentary on America, its determination to race-define, and its growing multiracial citizenry, How Jack Became Black (which Victor Davis Hanson at the time praised in The Corner), with another film taking on a major controversy — the provocatively titled What Killed Michael Brown? The documentary considers Brown’s 2014 police shooting, death, and the aftermath — and the complex, underlying societal causes that define the film’s important first word, what. Eli is the producer, director, and editor, while his father, the acclaimed conservative author, Shelby Steele, is the film’s writer and narrator.

What Killed Michael Brown? is scheduled to premiere (likely on Amazon) on October 16th, but to be sure, sign up for alerts on the movie website link, above.

Here’s the trailer:

The film explores what Shelby Steele calls America’s true original sin: not slavery, but “the use of race as a means to power.” Questions asked — Was it really racism that caused the death of Michael Brown? Has the truth become the lie, and the lie truth? — and answered by the Steeles come against a backdrop of the “real victimization of black America.”

For more about the film, listen to this recent radio interview where Shelby Steele discusses its themes and America’s use and abuse of race victimization.

Elections

How Goes the Tipping-Point State?

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It’s hard to see how Trump wins without Pennsylvania, which has made some of the big leads for Biden there in recent polls all the more notable (leads of seven, nine, and eleven, with a couple that have him ahead by only four or five). I checked in with a friend with access to Republican internal polling in the state who said the last statewide survey he saw had Biden leading by ten. This is after Trump had closed it to two to four points in internals. It’s possible, of course, that the polls are wrong, but Trump is going to have to make up ground even to get within shooting distance in perhaps the most important state on the electoral map.

Law & the Courts

Washington Post Blockbuster: Amy Coney Barrett Was Involved in a Faith Community

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Judge Amy Coney Barrett at an event to announce her nomination to the Supreme Court at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 26, 2020 (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Speaking of Barrett, the Washington Post has a big report about how she was a “handmaid” in the Christian group People of Praise. The term “handmaid” now has awful connotations for progressives, since all they know about it comes from a TV show on Hulu, but its source is the Bible (“And Mary said, ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to thy word’”).

People of Praise was devoted to the entirely praiseworthy project of helping people more fully live out their Christian faith:

At its formation, People of Praise wanted “to have a more intense Christian community,” said the Rev. James Connelly, a historian of religion based at the University of Notre Dame who was close to some early members. “They wanted to talk about religion, spiritual life, their experiences, to do things together that might not be to the average person’s liking. Not just Mass on Sunday, but something much more intense.”

The handmaids weren’t exactly engaged in nefarious activities:

Former members including Art Wang, a member from the late 1980s until 2015, told The Post that handmaids, now known as “women leaders,” give advice to other women on issues such as child rearing and marriage.

Barrett lived with a family involved in the group while she was a student:

Since its earliest days, some People of Praise members have lived in communal homes or lodged with elders before marrying. Former members said this was a way for older members to show a model of family life. Over the years, multiple members stayed at the Ranaghans’ nine-bedroom house in South Bend, often while studying at Notre Dame and after graduating, former members said.

Barrett lived with the Ranaghans when she was a Notre Dame law student, according to a person who knew her at the time.

There is obviously no scandal in any of this — in fact, it should only serve to deepen our understanding of how Barrett came to be such an exemplary person and mother.

The main thing that’s going to be awkward is explaining why there were apparent attempts to hide Barrett’s affiliation with the group: “Numerous references to Barrett and her family that previously appeared on People of Praise’s official website have since disappeared from the site, according to a Post review of versions of the site that are hosted by the Internet Archive.”

If this indeed was a deliberate attempt to obscure her role, it was ill-considered on a couple of levels — it was bound to be found out, and, more fundamentally, there was no reason to do it, since there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

As for the suggestion underlying all this that Barrett’s role in People of Praise somehow shows that she’s been a willing tool of the patriarchy, it is completely absurd. She’s an incredibly accomplished woman about to ascend to the highest court in the land.

As Jim puts it in today’s Jolt:

As mentioned on The Editors podcast yesterday, just think of where Amy Coney Barrett would be now if her husband wasn’t keeping her down in accordance to some ancient sexist religious dogma: Instead of being a “mere” federal appellate judge, professor of law at Notre Dame, and nominee to be a Supreme Court justice, she would have already united all of the nations of earth, built a fearsome space armada, and began her conquest of the known universe.

Law & the Courts

Federal Appeals Court Rejects President’s Challenge to Manhattan DA’s Subpoena for His Private Financial Records

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As expected, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City has rejected President Trump’s effort to quash the subpoena issued by Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance, which demands production of several years of the president’s personal financial records from his accountant, Mazars USA.

A three-judge panel issued its unanimous, unsigned 35-page opinion this morning. I wrote about this latest round of the litigation in late August, here.

The court rejected the president’s unfounded surmise that the New York grand jury investigation relates solely to payments made by Trump’s former lawyer (and self-described “fixer”), Michael Cohen, in connection with hush-money payments to two women who claim to have had extramarital trysts with Trump about a decade before he ran for president. As I noted in the column, DA Vance appears to be looking at possible bank and insurance fraud violations, which were suggested in a sprawling October 2018 New York Times report about the Trump organization.

Today’s decision was on appeal from a ruling by a federal judge from Southern District of New York, similarly rejecting the presidents claims. The case had been remanded to the district court after the Supreme Court’s ruling in July that Trump did not have immunity from the subpoena but was free to challenge it on other grounds.

While the district court’s ruling was being appealed to the Second Circuit, the District Attorney agreed not to enforce the subpoena while the appellate court was considering the case on an expedited basis. That procedure is again being followed: The DA has agreed not to try to enforce the subpoena while the president attempts to convince the Supreme Court to hear the case again.

I do not believe the Supreme Court will grant a review. In its July ruling, it laid out guidelines for the lower courts to follow, and those courts appear to have complied with the High Court’s instructions. In any event, we will know within a short time, perhaps before the election. But even if the Court refuses to hear the case and the president’s accountant surrenders the information, that does not mean there will be any other important developments, such as a decision about charges, before the election.

White House

‘A Campaign on Oxygen’

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This week on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, and Jim discuss the president’s return to the White House and his worrying drop in the polls. Listen below, or subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Culture

Masters of Their Craft

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Pre-match entertainment by the Harlem Globetrotters at a Barclays Premier League game (Action Images / Craig Brough via Reuters)

Recently, I was talking to some young writers about writing. Some thoughts emerged, and I’ve shared a few, or more than a few, in a piece today.

I was further asked to draw up a reading list: What might a young person read, especially if he is conservatively inclined? I drew up a list, and have appended it to my piece.

It is a pretty short list, not a catalogue, though a catalogue can be easily put together. Maybe another time. My little list runs from B — Brookhiser and Buckley — to W — Waugh and Will.

Of course, all this is for people of any age, not just the young. “Right Words: On how to write, and what to read.”

I’ve received an interesting letter from Mike Brown, the editor of the Rockdale Reporter, in Texas. (I still say “letter,” often, even if it comes via e-mail.) I wrote about Mike last year: here. He’s retiring next week, incidentally.

Before quoting from his letter, I’ll need to quote from my piece — two short paragraphs:

I think a writer should know the rules. He should learn grammar backward and forward. He should be an expert on the language. Then he can depart from the rules and play around. He has the grounding to do so.

Picasso could draw or paint as realistically as you wanted. He could be well-nigh photographic. But, as his life progressed, he chose to play around (for better or worse) (and a lot of people think worse).

Mike Brown writes,

Your remarks on Picasso put me in mind of the Harlem Globetrotters. I’ve always had a theory about why they are funny. I think it’s because they really can play basketball at a high level. It’s much funnier to see masters of a craft goof around like that than it is to see four friends and me, stumbling around a court, making fools of ourselves. It is precisely because the Globetrotters are not fools that what they do is so entertaining.

Well observed.

Writers can learn from the ’trotters, and from other non-writers, too. Here is another paragraph from my piece today:

An old professor of mine, David Herbert Donald, the historian, had a piece of advice for writing: Watch Fred Astaire. Look at him dance. Note his lines — their fluidity, their angularity, their grace, their humor.

I’ve learned from a great variety of people, past and present: people I have known, personally, and people I’ll never meet, at least in the flesh. I know this is true of all of us.

Lee Hoiby, the late American composer, was a master of song. He told me once, “It was Schubert, more than anyone, who taught me how to write songs.” He played and sang through all 600 of them. Hoiby and Schubert were separated by 150 years or so, but it didn’t matter at all.

Well, V. S. Naipaul, I was lucky to know, a bit. (He was one of the closest friends of our David Pryce-Jones.) I would like to conclude this Corner post with a little story. It has to do with reading Naipaul, not talking to him.

Occasionally, I’ll write a long sentence that includes more than one colon — more than one pause, represented by colons. Can you do that? Some people around me wondered.

About this time, I was reading some Naipaul — Miguel Street, I believe — and saw that he does this freely. That was good enough for me.

In any event, there’s a ton more to say — about colons, etc. — and if you like issues of this kind, my piece today may be for you. Again, here.

Culture

Stop Hailing Claudia Conway as Your ‘Resistance’ Hero

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White House adviser Kellyanne Conway speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 6, 2020. (Cheriss May/Reuters)

Since Kellyanne Conway’s work as manager of Donald Trump’s campaign helped propel him into the White House in 2016, mainstream outlets have treated us to an inside look at her apparently tumultuous marriage to her husband George.

George Conway, a lawyer and long-time fixture of the conservative movement in Washington, left the Republican Party a few years back over his opposition to Trump. He’s also one of the founders of the Lincoln Project, purportedly a group of anti-Trump conservatives that in fact operates more like a grift to funnel money toward Democratic campaigns and back into the pockets of the project’s founders.

The Trump-related tension between Kellyanne and George has spilled out in public more than once over the last several years. In 2019 for instance, after George suggested on Twitter that the president’s mental health was deteriorating, Trump shot back, tweeting, “George Conway, often referred to as Mr. Kellyanne Conway by those who know him, is VERY jealous of his wife’s success & angry that I, with her help, didn’t give him the job he so desperately wanted. I barely know him but just take a look, a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!”

In a subsequent interview, Kellyanne defended the president, calling him a “counterpuncher” and saying he is free to respond to public attacks. Throughout Trump’s presidency, and even since Kellyanne exited the White House, media outlets have been all too eager to publish details about what is, by all accounts, a troubled marriage.

Gone are the days of odd couple James Carville and Mary Matalin, leagues apart in their political views and their work, staunch advocates of refusing to let those disagreements, even over Trump, destroy their long and happy marriage.

But lately, when it comes to the Conways, it’s been more than just George and Kellyanne in the public eye. Claudia Conway, the couple’s 15-year-old daughter, has rocketed to social-media stardom after her pro–Black Lives Matter and anti-Trump posts on Twitter and TikTok began going viral this summer. Claudia evidently despises the president and, despite her father’s agreement with her on that point, she resents both of her parents — Kellyanne because she has served as a close adviser to Trump and George because he disagrees with Claudia’s own left-wing views.

What is most troubling about the entire affair is not that Claudia disagrees with her parents about Trump or politics; she’s far from the first rebellious teenager to eschew her parents’ views in dramatic fashion. But it has been deeply disturbing to watch her document that disgust and disrespect on social media — praised, championed, and amplified every step of the way by left-wing celebrities and much of the news media.

In a more decent political environment, the New York Times and Vanity Fair and Business Insider and the Daily Mail and Vulture and Elle and plenty of other outlets would have the good grace not to make front-page news out of this child’s dysfunctional relationship with her parents. It’s difficult to imagine that these publications would be conducting themselves similarly if the political parties were reversed, that the conservative daughter of progressive parents, one of whom worked for a Democratic president, would be the recipient of such gushing and constant media attention.

Claudia Conway shouldn’t be hailed as a hero of the left-wing, anti-Trump “Resistance.” Her documentation of a family in shambles does not make her “like Bob Woodward,” and her misery should not be a source of entertainment for progressive adults looking to justify their hatred of the president. It is a testament to the dangers of social media, and to how toxic our political climate has become, that left-wing adults are willing to drag an anguished teenager into the spotlight simply because they think her woes help to underscore their own political sympathies and undermine their political enemies.

Law & the Courts

Court-Packing Our Way to Legitimacy

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The latest argument for packing the Supreme Court with liberals is that it’s the only way to preserve the legitimacy of the institution. At Bloomberg Opinion, I suggest that there are some pretty basic flaws in this argument.

Law & the Courts

Republicans Are Winning the Barrett Confirmation Debate

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A new Morning Consult poll shows that Republicans have made progress in the Barrett fight, perhaps unsurprisingly because Democrats have nothing on her:

Elections

Trump Has a Lot of Passionate Fans in Los Angeles, but That Doesn’t Mean He’ll Win There

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Left: President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colo., February 20, 2020 Right: Former vice president Joe Biden at a campaign rally in Los Angeles, Calif., March 3, 2020 (Kevin Lamarque, Mike Blake/Reuters)

Every now and then, you’ll see a demonstration of support for a Republican, like Trump, in some heavily Democratic area and some people will choose to interpret it as a sign that either there’s a silent majority being activated, or the area is turning less Democratic than it used to be, or it is an indication of some shocking Republican victory coming down the pike.

A good example arrived Tuesday morning, as commuters in Los Angeles were greeted by “a large “Trump” sign erected overnight on a hillside near the 405 Freeway in the Sepulveda Pass.”

All other things being equal, a campaign certainly would prefer that its supporters are so enthusiastic that they erect giant signs overnight, in (quite literal) high-traffic areas, generating earned media when the sign appears and when the sign is inevitably taken down. Demonstrations of support like this certainly can’t hurt. But that doesn’t really tell us much about whether Trump is attracting broad support in a heavily Democratic-leaning area.

In terms of sheer numbers, Los Angeles has a lot of Trump supporters, both those who advertise it and those who keep their political views private. In 2016, Trump won 769,743 votes in Los Angeles County.

That is more votes than Trump won in Vermont, Hawaii, Alaska, Wyoming, and Delaware — combined. Trump won more votes in Los Angeles County than he did in the entire states of Kansas, Connecticut, Arkansas, or Mississippi.

But that large total number of Trump voters is relatively small compared to the Democrats in the region. Trump’s 769,743 votes were just 22 percent of the total vote in Los Angeles County, as Hillary Clinton won more than 2.4 million. In the state of California, Trump won more than 4.4 million votes in 2016 – his third-highest total number of votes in any state behind Florida and Texas. But Clinton won more than 8.7 million.

The odds are good that this time around, Donald Trump will win hundreds of thousands of votes in L.A. County, and who knows, maybe he will hit a million. But the safest of safe bets is that Biden will win the county by a wide margin and win California by a wide margin. Last time around, Clinton won the state, 67.1 percent to 31.6 percent. A late September Survey USA poll put Biden ahead, 59 percent to 32 percent.

Trump signs appearing on hillsides overnight are a nice indicator of enthusiasm and passion. But they aren’t much of an indicator of which candidate has more support in the electorate.

Law & the Courts

Voters Back Barrett Confirmation by Double-Digit Margin in New Poll

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Morning Consult reports:

Democrats are losing the Supreme Court messaging war, new polling indicates, with support for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation trending in the GOP’s direction.

Nearly half (46 percent) of voters in an Oct. 2-4 Morning Consult/Politico poll said the Senate should confirm Barrett — up 9 percentage points since President Donald Trump announced her nomination on Sept. 26 — as more voters say the chamber should consider her elevation to the high court as soon as possible, regardless of who wins next month’s election.

The share of voters who said the Senate should reject her nomination dropped 3 points, to 31 percent, from polling conducted on Sept. 26. Both polls were conducted among roughly 2,000 registered voters each, with 2-point margins of error.

The poll was conducted after the first presidential debate and after President Trump’s COVID diagnosis. Other polls in conducted at the same time have shown a huge break against Trump: A national CNN poll showing Biden leading Trump by 16 points, for example, was conducted October 1-4.

Despite the turn against Trump, voters’ views of Barrett remain positive. The Morning Consult survey also asked voters whether the Senate should vote on confirming Barrett only if Trump wins the election or “as soon as possible, regardless of what might happen in the 2020 presidential election.” By a six-point margin — 43 percent to 37 percent — voters said the Senate should vote as soon as possible.

World

More People around the World Don’t Trust Chinese President Xi Jinping

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China’s President Xi Jinping (right) and Kiribati’s President Taneti Maamau walk at a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, January 6, 2020. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

Here in the United States, the discussion of coronavirus no longer focuses much on the origin of the virus, focusing instead on the outbreak in the White House, the president’s infection and ongoing recovery, the rate of cases, and the approval process for a vaccine.

But that doesn’t mean that the Chinese government escaped the worldwide pandemic with minimal damage to its reputation abroad.

Yesterday, the Pew Research Center unveiled the results of a new survey of public attitudes in fourteen countries, including the U.S. and most of the major European countries, finding that the pandemic has seriously worsened public perceptions of China.“Today, a majority in each of the surveyed countries has an unfavorable opinion of China. And in Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United States, South Korea, Spain and Canada, negative views have reached their highest points since the Center began polling on this topic more than a decade ago.”

Unsurprisingly, most citizens in free societies do not trust Chinese president Xi Jinping. The world isn’t as easy to impress as, say, a room full of Disney executives.

“Disapproval of how China has handled the COVID-19 pandemic also colors people’s confidence in Chinese President Xi Jinping. A median of 78 percent say they have not too much or no confidence in him to do the right thing regarding world affairs, including at least seven-in-ten in every country surveyed.”

It is fair to wonder whether negative public attitudes toward the Chinese government necessarily translate into tougher diplomatic stances from free societies.

One of the relative exceptions was Italy, where 51 percent say China did a good job handling the coronavirus and 49 percent say the country did a bad job.

However, the strongly negative perception of the Chinese government response does not mean that foreign countries are impressed with the U.S. government response. In fact, more people believe America has done poor job:

Across the 14 nations surveyed, a median of 61% say China has done a bad job dealing with the outbreak. This is many more than say the same of the way the COVID-19 pandemic was handled by their own country or by international organizations like the World Health Organization or the European Union. Only the U.S. receives more negative evaluations from the surveyed publics, with a median of 84 percent saying the U.S. has handled the coronavirus outbreak poorly.

In July, Pew Research found that 54 percent of Democrats believe that China had done a bad job dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, while 82 percent of Republicans believed China had done a bad job. Seventy-four percent of Democrats agreed that “China’s early handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan contributed a great deal to its global spread,” while 90 percent of Republicans agreed.

International

Spain — the Euro Zone’s Latest Weakest Link

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(Pixabay)

A currency union is as strong as its weakest link, and, for a while now, the working assumption has been that the euro zone’s weakest link has been Italy, and not without reason.

As I noted in a Corner post back in May:

Writing two days ago for Bloomberg, Alessandra Migliaccio, Luca Casiraghi, and Viktoria Dendrinou provide a useful summary of some of the issues that are coming to a head, even if they do not address the underlying causes of Italy’s woes: It cheated its way into a currency union for which it was clearly always unsuited, and was always going to be unsuited. The result has been to place its economy into a straitjacket from which it has been unable to escape. Italy has been in and out of recession since 2000 and now its weakened, heavily indebted economy has to deal with the consequences of COVID-19 and the economic destruction caused by the effort to contain it.

Bloomberg (in May):

The European Commission sees [Italy’s] gross domestic product shrinking 9.5% this year, after a 4.7% decline in the first quarter, the worst drop since the series started in 1995. That could swell its already massive debt to well over 150% of GDP.

By September, Fitch was forecasting a full year fall in Italian GDP of 10 percent. So far as year-end debt/GDP is concerned, other forecasters still are expecting a number north of 150 percent, some suggesting that it could go quite a bit of the way to 160 percent.

However, assuming that the “one-off” (?) COVID-19 rescue package approved in Brussels in July receives its final sign-offs, then Italy should be fine (for now), even if the structural problems it faces as a result of having a currency (the euro) for which it is fundamentally unsuited are not going away.

So how about Spain?

Bloomberg:

It used to be Italy that was seen as the bigger risk. But now officials in Germany, the region’s economic motor and the one paying the most money toward the European Union’s Covid-19 recovery fund, are worried by just how badly Spain is coping with the pandemic.

The resurgence in infections since the end of the summer has exposed the country’s vicious partisan divisions, with officials from the center-right regional administration in Madrid bitterly challenging new restrictions imposed by the Socialist national leadership. The result is a spiraling health crisis.

“It’s a political war and politicians are campaigning instead of acting united against the pandemic,” said Manuel de Castro, a doctor at Madrid’s 12 de Octubre hospital and a union leader. “We’re lacking leadership and a clear chain of command.”

For years, officials in the rest of Europe have been able to turn a blind eye to the acrimony and dysfunction in Spain as the economy kept humming along. But after the euro’s fourth-biggest economy plunged into Europe’s worst recession yet, they are being forced to take a closer look…

Once the virus hit, public administrations worldwide were put to the test. Spain and Italy were early epicenters of the pandemic in Europe. While Italy seems to have a handle on the second wave, Spain does not.

Spain has not had a stable government since 2015. But there was a degree of complacency about its ability to cope given that the economy had been barreling along on autopilot thanks to robust consumer spending and record tourist numbers.

But August saw a 76 percent drop in the figure of foreign tourists visiting Spain and a 79 percent decrease in spending by foreign tourists. In July the fall was 75 percent, and those are typically two of the strongest months for tourism in Spain. With rising rates of COVID-19, any autumnal revival seems unlikely.

The Wall Street Journal:

Tourism directly accounts for 12% of Spanish gross domestic product—more than any other member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development—and employs 14% of the population.

Official figures suggest that half of the one million jobs lost during the depths of the outbreak have already been recovered. But there are an additional 735,000 being propped up by subsidized furlough programs. Many are tourism-related roles that will probably disappear as soon as support ceases. The real unemployment rate is likely well above 20%, rather than the official 15%.

Bloomberg:

The International Monetary Fund warned that Spain’s revival is under threat and that risks are “tilted strongly to the downside.” The Spanish central bank forecasts the economy could shrink as much as 12.6% this year.

Spain’s debt/GDP ratio may well exceed 115 percent by year-end.

As with Italy, the prospect of EU rescue funds (even if they take longer to arrive than once hoped) together with support by the European Central Bank in the debt markets, should ensure that a financing crisis will be avoided this winter.

But as with Italy, Spain’s underlying problem is that it is trapped in a currency union in which, quite obviously, it does not belong. To repeat myself repeating myself (this time from May):

Splitting the euro into ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ units has long been the least bad way to fix the mess created by the belief that a ‘one size fits all’ currency would work for such a wildly disparate group of economies.

But, sadly and madly, the necessary support for that idea is simply not there.

Education

New Rules to Deal with an ‘Offensive’ Professor

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(Stock Photo: Pixabay)

Leftists have always had a problem with dissent. People who don’t go along with all of the agenda for social transformation might be banished, sent to re-education camps, or shot.

Our colleges can’t do any of that, but they have just as little regard for dissenters as did the Soviets. The case of Portland State political science professor Bruce Gilley is enlightening, and in today’s Martin Center article, Jay Schalin writes about it.

Back in 2017, Gilley wrote an article that was published in an academic journal. In it, he argued that colonialism wasn’t all bad. But the “progressive” world-view insists that it was all bad, since white people have done nothing but ruin the lives of native peoples everywhere. A firestorm erupted over the article, with many leftist professors demanding that it be retracted.

Gilley wasn’t silenced, however. As Schalin writes, “He has continued to write articles questioning the accepted orthodoxy in his field—and has added activities such as defending free expression on campus, calling for the reform of university governance, and speaking out on matters of public policy. As can be expected, these pursuits are not ingratiating him on campus and off any more than his 2017 article did.”

The political science department has decided to write new rules for department members. (Gilley has tenure, so they can’t just send him off to Siberia.) Schalin finds the third such resolution to be particularly disturbing. He writes, “It offers a path for politicized faculty members to ‘police’ colleagues whose research or speech does not pass ideological tests. The actual process approved by the political science department is chilling: a single faculty member with an axe to grind against another can propose a statement of condemnation against the other’s extramural statements. The statement is secretly sent to, first, the department head, and then to all other faculty except the one who is under attack. The decision to proceed is made according to a consensus of the department, without the controversial member’s knowledge.”

In short, the Thought Police have arrived.

Schalin concludes, “Portland State is a public university; it does not belong to those who work there for a time, but to the people of the state. It should be open to all who abide by the rules of scholarship without fear of denunciation from his or her ideological opposites”.

World

‘International Intervention’ in U.S. Elections Would Be a Disaster

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Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2018 (Denis Balibouse / Reuters)

There are many reasons to take issue with Peter Beinart’s provocative New York Times piece calling for “international intervention” in the aftermath of the November election. One important question, though, stands out: Just who, according to Beinart, should do the intervening? To certify that the election was conducted fairly, he writes:

Democrats should spend the coming weeks working to ensure that this year’s O.S.C.E. observer mission — despite being banned from many states, especially in the Deep South — can do exactly that. Then, if Mr. Trump and his allies halt the counting of ballots, or disregard them altogether, Democrats should use the O.S.C.E’s report as evidence in an appeal to the same body where Ms. Tikhanovskaya made hers: the U.N. Human Rights Council.

They should also lodge a complaint with the Organization of American States, a regional organization that has pledged “to respond rapidly and collectively in defense of democracy,” and which in 2009 used that mandate to suspend Honduras after its government carried out a coup.

This is a mixed bag: The OSCE has since 2002 sent observers to watch U.S. elections — and in fact, the United States is a signatory to the 1990 Copenhagen Agreement, which permits parties to monitor each other’s elections. The presence of OSCE observers is an anodyne and well-established practice. By contrast, it’s doubtful that the Organization of American States has the institutional capacity (or legitimacy in the eyes of the American public) to do what this article suggests. What’s truly unfathomable, though, is its call for Democrats to appeal to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

It’s not entirely clear that the author is well-versed on how the council actually works. He invokes Malcolm X’s 1964 call for an investigation “into American racism by the U.N. Human Rights Council” — which was founded over four decades later. Malcolm X was actually referring to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which was replaced by the council in 2006, in large part because it elevated the voices of its human-rights abusing members.

Such an understandable slip-up can usually be overlooked, but here it cuts to the core problem with this argument: Today’s Human Rights Council has failed for precisely the same reason that the U.N. pulled the plug on its predecessor.

The 47 members of the UNHRC are elected to serve three-year terms in staggered, annual elections. If there are no surprises, following next week’s vote for the 2021-2023 term, Russia, Cuba, and China, to name a few of the leading candidates, will join Venezuela and the other notorious human-rights abusers and non-democracies that currently sit on the council. If an emergency session on the U.S. election were convened in late 2020, before the new members took their seats, dozens of authoritarian governments would still end up weighing in on the results. If such a session were to take place in 2021, with the new members, several of those governments would be reliable U.S. adversaries.

The irony of this situation was on full display in June, when, as Beinart notes, the council held an emergency session on race relations in the United States. One highlight came when North Korea (a non-member that nevertheless participated in the debate) called American racism “the world’s hottest human-rights issue.” The council eventually passed a watered-down resolution that called for an investigation into racism around the world.

An eventual UNHRC resolution on the U.S. election would be a similarly symbolic outrage. While the body would not be able to enforce any of its resolutions, its human-rights abusing members would still be granted the legitimacy of the U.N.’s platform to launder anti-American talking points. It should go without saying that it’s a bad idea to let any organization dominated by authoritarian governments adjudicate the results of November’s election.

Is this an outcome that worries Beinart? Perhaps not. He views an appeal of U.S. election results to international organizations as a way to deflate the myths that Americans tell themselves: “Today, many prominent Democrats remain enthralled by the very myths about American exceptionalism that Black activists have long challenged.”

However, given the sorry state of the U.N. Human Rights Council, the reluctance of party leaders to take such advice will be to their credit.

Music

R.I.P. Eddie Van Halen

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Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen performs at Tiger Jam XI in Las Vegas in 2008. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

As if 2020 didn’t have enough news, rock legend Eddie Van Halen has died of throat cancer, at age 65. For those of us who grew up on 1980s rock, this one really hurts.

I lack the musical vocabulary to quite capture what a transcendent, mind-blowing guitarist Eddie was, one of the very best there has ever been. He was the heart and soul of Van Halen, a band so solid that it kept on chugging after the departure of its charismatic frontman, David Lee Roth, at the peak of the band’s mid ’80s success. They plugged in the workmanlike but unremarkable Sammy Hagar, and kept churning out hits — indeed, some of the band’s fans will still insist that the music was better once the focus was off Diamond Dave. I would not go quite that far, but the “Van Hagar” years dispelled any doubt about who the band’s creative force was.

Maybe the most important thing about Van Halen was quite how much fun the band was. Bands built around the “guitar god” culture could be gritty, bluesy, or pretentious, but nobody before Van Halen (even early Aerosmith) had quite managed to rock so hard while having so much fun, whether on the records or onstage. Yet, unlike some of their sillier “hair-band” progeny, nobody could seriously question the rock cred of a band with Eddie Van Halen’s guitar at its center. Van Halen’s combination of musical virtuosity, panache, and longevity richly earned them a place on the very short list of the greatest American bands. It all started with their debut album, one of those rare rock records that grabs you right from the incendiary opening guitar solo and never lets up.

For all of their original songs, Van Halen’s covers in their early years were just as much a part of the band’s legacy. Eddie’s guitar theatrics alone were worth the price of admission to their version of Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street,” and their covers of “You Really Got Me” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” helped introduce a new generation of rock fans to the Kinks (and their cover of “Pretty Woman” helped revive interest in Roy Orbison at a down moment in his remarkable career). And of course, outside the band, Eddie’s guitar solo took Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” to an entirely new level on one of the signature hits of one of the biggest blockbuster albums of the Eighties.

R.I.P., Eddie. A lot of us are out there feeling held together by tape today.

Law & the Courts

Why Democrats Need to Turn the Barrett Conversation to Obamacare

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A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro, San Diego, California, October 26, 2017. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Democrats, in the process of grasping at straws to oppose the Amy Coney Barrett nomination, have tried to make a major push about a case the Supreme Court will hear shortly after the election (California v. Texas) challenging, yet again, the constitutionality of Obamacare. I’ll have more later this week on that case and Judge Barrett, but first consider why the Democrats want to make this the center of the conversation.

The Democrats’ focus on health care in the Barrett nomination fight is driven by four factors. One, there is a strong and perhaps irresistible temptation on the left to attack Barrett on culture-war issues around her Catholic faith, her seven children, and her adoption of two Haitian children. We have already seen this happen among progressive activists and advocates, and it is consistent with how Barrett and other Catholic nominees were questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee over the past four years. Some members of the Judiciary Committee have hinted they may do it again. But Democrats are at least self-aware enough to see that this could backfire spectacularly with the sorts of voters they need in the Midwest, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina, and so they have tried to talk themselves into changing the subject.

Two, while the Affordable Care Act remains deeply controversial with the voters, it is no longer as resoundingly unpopular as it was during Obama’s presidency. There are a variety of reasons for this: the natural bias in favor of the status quo, Congress’ repeal of some of the most unpopular ACA provisions (including the individual mandate “tax” and the medical device tax), the absence of presidential conflicts with Congress and the states to keep the issue alive, and — to the extent that policy is tied to personalities — the contrast between Trump’s divisive persona and Barack Obama gaining the ‘halo effect’ of an ex-president. Many Democrats ran heavily on health-care issues and won in 2018, while Joe Biden’s embrace of Obamacare during the Democratic primary proved more popular than opponents who openly called for tearing it down in favor of the even more radical “Medicare for All.” The most recent Kaiser Family Foundation tracking polls have typically found that Obamacare’s approval ratings — under water throughout his presidency — have been positive since Trump’s election, though its approval among registered voters has been sliding again in 2020 and is below 50 percent.

Three, more generally, Democrats are just always more comfortable arguing about health care than just about any other issue. While this blew up in their faces in 2010, it is typically the case that moving the discussion to health care usually gives an advantage to Democrats. In 2020, that also lets them tie their long-term agenda to the pandemic. It beats talking about crime, taxes, national defense, or social issues.

Four, while it is not true that Republicans or the Trump administration have no health-care plans, it is absolutely the case that the administration is unprepared for what to do immediately if the Supreme Court were to throw out significant parts of the statute (as it is extremely unlikely to do). Republicans should have repealed the whole thing at the start of 2017 and forced Democrats to the negotiating table to work out a more sustainable, bipartisan plan when they held both Houses of Congress, but that moment has long since passed.

Expect the Democrats to try it. We shall see if they have the discipline to stick to it.

World

China’s U.N. Diplomacy Is a Dangerous Joke

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Zhang Jun (C), procurator-general of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, attends the second plenary session of the National People’s Congress, Beijing, China, May 25, 2020. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The Chinese Communist Party’s strategy at international organizations has, especially in recent years, been a strategic success, a trend made apparent during the opening debate of the U.N. General Assembly last month. As I explained in a recent piece, the world’s democracies have underestimated the Chinese delegation’s capabilities, in part because it has made some contributions that have been lauded by those within the U.N. system.

But an episode yesterday at the General Assembly suggests an additional reason that we’ve underestimated the CCP’s diplomatic maneuvering: Its approach is often to work with the world’s worst human-rights offenders to posture in defense of, well, human rights. These regimes have learned that there is strength in numbers as they attempt to make some ridiculous claims.

China’s U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, presented a letter to a committee of the General Assembly on Monday, signed by 25 other countries, condemning human-rights abuses committed by the United States and its Western allies. Among the signatories were Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, Russia, Venezuela, and Syria.

The complaints contained in the letter are threefold. First, it argues that “unilateral coercive measures” (sanctions) are illegal under international law and that they “undermine the right to health, as they incumber access to medicines and medical technologies, equipment, and supplies.” [sic]

Then, it proceeds to make two points about the treatment of minorities and migrants in the United States:

Almost twenty years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, instances like the death of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake continue to take place and vulnerable people continue to suffer or lose their lives to racism and police brutality. Such instances are a reminder that chronic and deep-rooted racial discrimination, police brutality and social inequality still exist. The COVID-19 mortality rate of minorities, in particular people of African descent, is disproportionately high in some countries.

We also express our deep concern over the health situation of migrants at immigration detention centers in certain countries that reflects a contemporary form of racial discrimination.

These expressions of concern come from a regime that operates an industrial-scale detention and forced labor program — a genocide — in addition to, obviously, a number of other egregious human-rights abuses. The Chinese delegation’s latest publicity stunt can only be taken as a sick joke — one cracked by one of the most profoundly racist regimes in human history. It’s a joke that’s also been exposed by the 39 countries that today signed onto their own letter condemning the situation in the Xinjiang region.

And yet: This only goes to show that even when the CCP scrapes the bottom of the barrel at the U.N., it can dredge up support from over two dozen additional serial rights abusers. While they might be sidelined at other international fora, many of them play an active role in the U.N. system — and several signatories to this letter, including China, are set to win election to the U.N. Human Rights Council next week.

There’s an even more insidious element at play here: In its letter, the Chinese delegation cited a U.N. General Assembly resolution on the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic to support its argument about sanctions:

We also welcome the recently adopted General Assembly resolution entitled “Comprehensive and coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic”, which strongly urges States to refrain from promulgating and applying any unilateral economic, financial or trade measures not in accordance with international law and the Charter of the United Nations.

This language was added to an otherwise apolitical resolution calling for international cooperation on the pandemic at the last moment by the Cuban delegation. Its addition was one of the reasons that the United States voted against it — and was one of only two countries to do so (Israel also voted No).

Many observers have a habit at looking at ridiculous U.N. General Assembly resolutions as wholly inconsequential; they are, after all, legally non-binding. But their consequences can be severe, lending a semblance of legitimacy to CCP claims on the international stage, no matter how farcical those assertions sound.

To a domestic American audience that can mostly see through the smokescreen, the irony is self-evident. But such resolutions and letters do matter on the margin, and should continue to be opposed — at the very least, on principle — at every possible juncture.

Elections

Biden Reiterates Promise to Make Roe v. Wade the ‘Law of the Land’

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participates in the first 2020 presidential campaign debate with President Donald Trump in Cleveland, Ohio, September 29, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

At a town hall event yesterday evening in Miami, an attendee asked Joe Biden to delineate his plans to “protect women’s reproductive health in the U.S.,” especially in light of the recent nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Biden asserted that, although we don’t know how Barrett would rule on abortion-related cases, “the expectation is that she may very well move to overrule Roe.”

“The only responsible response to that would be to pass legislation making Roe the law of the land,” Biden added. “That’s what I would do.”

Surely Biden meant for this to come across as a reassuring, moderate answer to a delicately phrased, euphemism-laden question. But passing a bill to “codify Roe,” as Democrats put it, would be a radical step, out of line with the views of most Americans.

Because while most Americans tend to say in surveys that they support Roe, very few Americans are aware of what the decision in Roe does. A 2013 Pew Research Center poll, for instance, found that only 62 percent of Americans even knew Roe had to do with abortion; among respondents under 30, that percentage fell to just 44 percent. Given the misinformation and intentionally misleading information floating around, it’s likely that large numbers of Americans believe overturning Roe would make abortion illegal across the entire country, rather than simply return the issue to each state.

Meanwhile, surveys consistently find that most Americans don’t support legal unlimited abortion on demand, which is currently the law of the land under Roe and subsequent abortion jurisprudence. A Gallup poll in 2018 showed that just 13 percent of Americans support permitting elective abortion during the last three months of pregnancy.

Biden and his supporters might like to think that turning the anti-constitutional ruling in Roe into a federal law will be a popular choice with most Americans, but the fact is that a majority of voters, including a majority of Democrats, disagrees with the status quo on abortion.

World

A Conversation with Jimmy Lai

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The Napa Institute’s Fran Maier conducts an excellent video podcast discussion with Jimmy Lai — the Hong Kong business leader and great public foe of Red China’s oppressive regime. Lai — arrested earlier this year (he was the subject of a National Review editorial) and facing prison time for his activities on behalf of the Democracy Movement — is a committed Catholic who speaks openly with Maier about his challenges from a spiritual perspective, and harshly criticizes the Vatican for its game-playing with Beijing.

It’s a most impressive and honest interview that we recommend watching:

Culture

A Rare Role Model in Politics

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Judge Amy Coney Barrett meets with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R., W. Va.) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 30, 2020. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

As some of us have already noted elsewhere on NRO, if confirmed, Judge Amy Coney Barrett would be the only mother sitting on the Supreme Court, and she’d be the first mother of school-aged children ever to do so. To most people inclined to view her nomination without the cynicism induced by despising either Trump or constitutional originalism (or both), that’s a pretty remarkable fact.

For American mothers, as well as for young women, Barrett is the sort of role model one doesn’t often come across in politics. As I pointed out in a piece here at NRO last week, her life and her success puts the lie to modern feminism’s false, harmful notion of freedom. And in my latest piece over at the Catholic Herald, I took a closer look at the topic, focusing especially on why Barrett’s nomination is so significant to me personally, and to so many women across the country, especially religious women and stay-at-home mothers:

Never have I felt myself so personally invested in a particular political fight than I am the impending battle over the nomination of Seventh Circuit appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

I suspect that women across the country, and women of faith in particular, feel similarly. Judging from the reactions of many of my female friends and the outpouring of support that I’ve witnessed on social media, Trump’s decision to nominate Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has struck a chord.

For Catholic mothers, Barrett’s nomination is a point of pride. Barrett has risen to the peak of her profession and has managed to do so while still prioritizing having a family. . . .

Of the time she and Jesse decided to adopt their son, John Peter — despite having recently had a biological child and finding out another was on the way — Barrett said: “I thought, when you think about the value of people and the value of life and what’s really most important, what you can pour yourself into, that raising children and bringing John Peter home were the things of the greatest value that I can do right then, rather than even teaching, being a law professor, which I was at the time. That was what was really most important.”

And of their son Benjamin, Barrett added, “Sometimes we see things that are very difficult or that are burdens, and Benjamin’s diagnosis definitely derailed us off what we thought life was going to look like, what we thought his life was going to look like. But in a way that we can’t really understand or appreciate but that we see unfold every day, it will be the most important thing that we do, probably.”

This is how countless women across the country think about the struggles and joys of raising a family and why, unlike Barrett, so many of them have chosen to stay home full time and devote themselves to that work. One can easily imagine how gratifying it is for those mothers to see a woman who values family as they do and who, in a sense, is representing them as she sits before the Senate seeking confirmation to the Supreme Court.

For Catholic stay-at-home mothers, and for young women who hope to balance work outside the home with being a wife and mother, Barrett’s excellent example is a bright spot in an otherwise fairly dismal political climate.

Science & Tech

Science Journals Have Become Intensely Political

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Signs at the “March for Science” in Washington, D.C., April 22, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

I have related here on several occasions how intensely political supposedly objective science and medical journals have become. The New England Journal of Medicine pushes progressive politics all of the time, as just one example. So does Science, which for example, has endorsed the “nature rights” movement.

Nature joined the crowd too in publishing an hysterical jeremiad against President Trump by Jeff Tollefson, its D.C.-based reporter. But if you read the lengthy attack, its most bitter complaints are about intensely believed political and policy differences, not actual examples of Trump being somehow “anti-science.”

For example, construes every Trump action on COVID in the most negative light possible. He also attacks Trump’s immigration policy. From, How Trump Damaged Science–and Why It Could Take Decades to Recover”:

Trump has also eroded America’s position on the global stage through isolationist policies and rhetoric. By closing the nation’s doors to many visitors and non-European immigrants, he has made the United States less inviting to foreign students and researchers. And by demonizing international associations such as the World Health Organization, Trump has weakened America’s ability to respond to global crises and isolated the country’s science.

It’s kind of hard to “demonize” the WHO. The organization lied blatantly about COVID and was clearly in the back pocket of the CCP’s propaganda campaign on the issue. Trump’s instituting policies to reflect that reality is not anti-science. Nor are immigration policies, with which one can agree or disagree.

Of course, the unforgivable sin was pulling out of the phony Paris Climate Accord:

The Trump administration formally filed the paperwork to exit the Paris agreement last year, and the US withdrawal will become official on 4 November, one day after the presidential election. Most nations have vowed to press forward even without the United States, and the European Union has already helped to fill the leadership void by pressing nations to bolster their efforts, which China did on 22 September when it announced that it aims to be carbon neutral by 2060.

Oooh! By 2060! Few of us will be alive then to ensure they fulfill their promise. And never mind that the USA has been among the most successful countries in the world at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions because of our bounteous use of natural gas.

Science, medical, and bioethics journals have been assimilated into the progressive ideological infrastructure. Keep that in mind when they publish “studies” and policy positions — all touted by the propaganda wing of the infrastructure, a.k.a, the MSM — that push ideology as if it were objective science.

Economy & Business

Re: Car Seats, Baby Bust

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In response to Car Seats, Baby Bust

Last week, Michael Brendan Dougherty took note of a new study finding that car-seat mandates reduce fertility — specifically among parents who have two kids, both below the legal car-seat age, which maxes out the capacity of many vehicles’ back seats.

I have a write-up of the study over at the Institute for Family Studies blog. The paper is a solid piece of work, though I’ll be interested to see whether future research confirms the result.

Media

Yes, Associated Press, There’s a Riot Goin’ On

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Associated Press, once the standard bearer of journalistic integrity, has been corroding the use of clear and enlightening language for years now. Its newest surrender to newspeak has it instructing newspapers to ignore the meaning of “riot.”

“A riot is a wild or violent disturbance of the peace involving a group of people. The term riot suggests uncontrolled chaos and pandemonium,” a new AP guideline begins.

Not so. The word suggests — nay, it means — “a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd.” By any definition, the rampaging leftist crowds — well, only around 10 percent or so — went looting and burning this summer qualify as “rioters.” The vandalism and criminality that was sparked by those protesting, or claiming to protest, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis cost the insurance industry anywhere between 1 to 2 billion dollars — more than any other riots in modern history.

AP goes on:

Focusing on rioting and property destruction rather than underlying grievance has been used in the past to stigmatize broad swaths of people protesting against lynching, police brutality or for racial justice, going back to the urban uprisings of the 1960s.

The AP says you shouldn’t use a word because it distracts from the favored political narrative, as if both stories can’t be told at once. Or rather, because it doesn’t want one of the stories told.

Culture

The Minefield of Gender Politics

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I spoke with Nick Carter of the Menzies Research Centre about gender politics, campus politics, and the U.S. election:

Law & the Courts

Pack the Court with Underpants Gnomes

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The remarkable weakness of this Slate piece in favor of destroying the Supreme Court bolsters my suspicion that, while the idea is historically monstrous and all who favor it should be disdained, the chances of it actually happening are slim.

The argument here seems to be that (1) the public is against it, and (2) so are key Democrats, so (3) Biden is hedging because he doesn’t want to lose the election, but (4) if he waits, it won’t happen, so (5) Democrats have to “strike” now, and (6) no, we won’t explain how any of that works.

Readers of Lithwick and Stern will be accustomed to the almost total absence of legal analysis within their work. I’m pleased to see that this approach now extends to strategy.

History

Letter Calls for Withdrawal of ‘1619 Project’ Pulitzer

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Nikole Hannah Jones (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah/Screengrab via YouTube)

An open letter released today and signed by 21 scholars and public writers calls on the Pulitzer Prize Board to rescind the Prize for Commentary awarded to Nikole Hannah-Jones for her lead essay in “The 1619 Project.” The letter is posted at the website of the National Association of Scholars here. (I am one of the signatories.)

The letter revisits the sorry tale of the 1619 Project’s errors and distortions and invokes these in calling for the revocation of the prize. The recent revelations that The New York Times stealthily edited out the signature claim of the project—that the advent of slavery in the year 1619 constitutes our country’s “true founding”—were, however, the immediate occasion for this letter. As Phillip Magness (another signatory) has shown, Nikole Hannah-Jones has several times denied ever claiming that 1619 was our true founding, although in fact she has made this latter claim repeatedly.

These actions on the part of both the Times and Hannah-Jones are profoundly irresponsible and disturbing. How can we explain them?

Jonah Goldberg has suggested that the Times may have undertaken its stealth edits, “out of a partisan desire to deny Donald Trump and his fans a talking point.” There is some evidence in support of this suggestion.  As Wilfred McClay (another signatory) notes in Commentary Magazine, leaked transcripts of internal meetings at the Times suggest that the 1619 Project may have been part of a strategy designed to help elect a Democratic president by highlighting America’s (allegedly) endemic racism. Not long after President Trump effectively made American history a campaign issue in his Mt. Rushmore address this July, Hannah-Jones began to deny that she or the 1619 Project had ever asserted that the year 1619 was America’s “true founding,” citing the stealthily edited text of the project as evidence. (See especially the exchange with Ben Shapiro here.) The Hannah-Jones interview on CNN that helped kick off the controversy over the stealth edits took place the day after President Trump attacked the 1619 Project in his address to the White House Conference on American History. This suggests that Hannah-Jones was willing to jettison the most notable claim of her project—even to the extent of denying that she had ever made it—once that claim began to seem like a campaign liability.

When, however, were the stealth edits to the 1619 Project’s text actually made? Phillip Magness suggests that at least some of the stealth edits may have been made as early as December 2019, at a moment when the 1619 Project was coming under withering criticism from scholars. That alone may or may not suffice to explain the stealth edits. It is notable, however, that Hannah-Jones continued to claim that 1619 was America’s true founding until shortly after that claim became an issue in the presidential campaign. Moreover, while there is some evidence that stealth edits may have been made as early as December of 2019, we do not know for a fact exactly how many edits were made, when they were made, or why they were made. This itself constitutes the most serious sort of journalistic irresponsibility.

Imagine that a Pulitzer Prize for Literature had been awarded to a novel for which it later emerged that the most famous passage had been plagiarized. At that point the prize would rightly be revoked. Now imagine that a Pulitzer Prize for Literature had been awarded to a novel whose author, after receiving the prize, surreptitiously edited out the most famous passage from the e-book and denied repeatedly that the passage had ever been in the novel to begin with. In that case, the prize would not be revoked, but the author would be considered to have gone at least semi-mad.

What do we say, then, about a Pulitzer Prize for journalism where the publisher edits out the most famous passage/claim and the author repeatedly denies that the claim had ever been there to begin with (although she herself made the claim repeatedly in a variety of public contexts well after publication of the original text)? What do we say when the author points to the stealthily edited text as proof that the claim edited out was never actually made to begin with, despite the fact that she herself repeatedly made the claim for months on end?

If the most talked about claim of the 1619 Project, a claim cited in the prize itself, can simply be disowned and then the fact of the disowning lied about, it cannot ever have been seriously meant to begin with. It was laid down in bad faith.

At least some significant part of the motivation for these deceptions and prevarications appears to be political. And if we cannot investigate this in greater detail, that is because the Times has hidden its own post-publication editorial actions, the height of journalistic irresponsibility.

To my mind, this is the moral equivalent of discovering a plagiarized passage in a novel after a prize has been awarded. It’s one thing to know that the 1619 Project had a partisan political aspect. That would not, by itself, invalidate the prize so long as the claim being made was serious and seriously meant for substantive reasons. But to casually make a gigantic claim—a claim cited in the prize itself—then simply toss it away and cover up the fact of having done so, turns a core reason for the prize into a joke.

By striking the most famous claim of the 1619 Project and then covering up that act, the Times and Hannah-Jones have retroactively exposed their effort as a bad-faith project. In an important sense, they have delegitimized the central claim for which they received the prize to begin with, just as surely as they would have done by surreptitiously stealing that passage from another author.

In short, the Pulitzer Prize Board should revoke its award to Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Elections

Joe Biden: Incoherent and Indefensible on Abortion

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In 1982, Joe Biden voted for a constitutional amendment to allow individual states to overturn Roe v. Wade. 30 years later in his 2012 debate with Paul Ryan, Biden claimed to believe that life begins at conception, but said that he would not “impose” that belief on other Americans.

It was an utterly incoherent and deeply irresponsible position to take. If you believe that human life begins at conception, it is cowardly — not admirable or selfless — to abdicate your duty to stand up and speak up for the voiceless. It is especially shameful to abdicate for reasons of political self-preservation, as Biden did on that debate stage. Now, Biden has tacked even further left on the issue, expressing his support for repealing the Hyde Amendment last June after over 40 years of opposing such a repeal. And on Monday evening at an NBC News town hall, he even went so far as to promise to enshrine the holding of Roe v. Wade legislatively.

Biden’s hostile public posture toward life is incoherent, and growing more indefensible by the day.

Film & TV

Dune Delayed until 2021 — Will Mass Moviegoing Survive until Then?

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Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in Dune. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

In April, I wrote the following:

In a time of much sadness and great tumult, certain things have provided me welcome solace. My faith, no weaker despite its temporary mediation, in some respects, through technology. My family, with whom I am currently living. Our home, a place of comforting familiarity to me. Continued digital interactions with family and friends I cannot be with at the moment.

And, of course, the promised release of Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune, which — as of right now — remains committed to its December 2020 release date.

This was in response to the first promotional materials for the new Dune adaptation. Since then, we got a trailer, whose confident declaration of a December theatrical release seemed bold and almost defiant amid such uncertainty.

Alas, it was not to be. News emerged today that Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures have delayed the film’s release for almost an entire year, to October 2021. Perhaps stung by the lackluster box-office performance of the theatrical release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, Warner Bros. is only the latest studio to punt a wide release into next year. MGM/United Artists has also pushed the release of No Time to Die, the latest James Bond movie, into next year.

This leaves essentially no big-budget movie releases for the rest of the year. So it’s not surprising that Cineworld, which owns Regal Cinemas in the United States and also owns many theaters in the United Kingdom, has announced that it will shut down all of its movie theaters in both countries until next year. How movie theaters can really survive for that long is an open question. Even government action to keep them afloat wouldn’t address the possibility that people will get out of the moviegoing habit, having deemed home viewing comfortable, or at least acceptable. It may live on as only boutique phenomenon, a luxury sought out rather than a norm assumed. As with many other things, we’ll have to wait until next year to find out. And I’ll have to wait until next year to see Dune in a theater.

Music

Re: Thoughts on the New Rolling Stone List of the Top 500 Albums

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Bruce Springsteen performs during the closing ceremony for the Invictus Games in Toronto, Canada, in 2017. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

In response to Thoughts on the New <em>Rolling Stone</em> List of the Top 500 Albums

My colleague Jack Butler, born in the Clinton Administration but steeped in the cultural tastes of Gen X or even Baby Boomers, looks at the new RS list and gently questions its taste. Rolling Stone meant a lot to me back in the 1980s but Jack’s post reminded me I hadn’t even bothered to check out the new list, which at one time would have been something I eagerly consumed. Why don’t I care? Because I knew what I’d find.

Jack writes, “Notably, Rolling Stone does not seem to have sold its new list as an attempt at improving ‘representation’ or some such,” but representation was clearly the most important factor on its mind, as it is with just about every entity that makes lists or hands out awards these days. Leaving aside that most of these albums are not rock (okay, it’s a list of the top 500 “popular music” albums of all time, whatever), you will not be able to convince me that merit was the sole criterion for these selections. (Rolling Stone was immediately denounced for not being “inclusive” enough anyway, which illustrates why you should never play these games in the first place. Throw out your integrity and all that remains to be decided is how much groveling you will do, not whether to grovel.) If there are considerations other than merit, who really cares? Any list that has Liz Phair’s (forgotten) Exile in Guyville (1993) at number 56 but dumps Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town all the way back at number 91 is more interested in showcasing its feminist credentials than in accurately summarizing what matters in the history of rock. There are guys who have the entire lyric sheet of Darkness tattooed on their backs. If Springsteen announced he was going to play only Darkness on his next tour, he’d immediately sell out stadia around the country. If Liz Phair announced an Exile in Guyville tour in 2020, people would respond as Jack did when I mentioned the name: “I’ve never even heard of her.” Phair’s brand of rage-inflected sexy feminism was novel for 1993, and critics got very very excited about it because there are so few women rockers of note, but two years later Alanis Morissette came along and did the same thing, with the crucial difference that Morissette did it well, with polished melodies and killer hooks. Instantly Phair became as obsolete as the Edsel. I doubt anyone at RS or anywhere else listens to Phair anymore.

White House

A Lot of Reputations Are Riding on the President’s Discharge and Condition

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White House physician Dr. Sean Conley flanked by doctors as he arrives to speak to reporters about President Donald Trump’s health at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., October 5, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Roughly three days after the president was transported by helicopter to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the president is slated to continue his recovery at home.

White House physician Sean Conley said the president “may not be entirely out of the woods yet.” (Everyone who objected to this headline this morning, take note.) Conley said that the president has “met or exceeded all standard hospital discharge criteria” and that after receiving another dose of remdesivir, would return to the White House. Conley said “it has been more than seventy-two hours since his last fever.” (Note that that would be Friday night.)

Conley said, “we all remain cautiously optimistic and on guard, because we’re in a bit of unchartered territory when it comes to a patient that received the therapies he has so early in the course.” That’s a little unnerving to hear; if the president really is unchartered territory, maybe it’s worth having all of the resources of Walter Reed close by. Then again, the Secret Service can have the president back there within 20 minutes, and the White House has considerable medical resources on site.

The doctors agreeing to let Trump go home would appear to be counterevidence to the argument that the president’s condition is worse than his doctors are letting on. While it’s very easy to envision the president being “bored” and impatient to return to the White House, no doctor would want to be remembered as the one who let a seriously sick president return to the White House when his life was still at risk.

If, God forbid, the president does require hospitalization a second time or suffers some serious worsening of his condition at the White House, the decision to release him today will be seen as a terrible mistake, likely driven by the president’s impatience.

Music

Thoughts on the New Rolling Stone List of the Top 500 Albums

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(Pixabay)

Recently, Rolling Stone magazine published a new list of what its writers, fielding nominations from various music-industry figures, deemed the top 500 albums of all time. It has published such lists before. But this one was an attempt not simply to update some older list but rather “to remake our greatest albums list from scratch.” 

The result was significantly to modernize and diversify the list, reducing a heavy tilt toward ’60s and ’70s rock artists. This is not necessarily a misguided enterprise. As the list’s compilers note, “tastes change, new genres emerge, the history of music keeps being rewritten.” There is a legitimate argument to be made that the list’s prior incarnations favored and prioritized the cultural experience of Baby Boomers, as so much does.

But there are general quibbles worth raising, and specific ones. First, two in the general category. While it is true that the history of music keeps being rewritten, and much of musical preference is subjective, it is simply a fact that some albums and acts will always have the benefit of having been the ones who defined and perfected the experience of an album first, in a way that virtually all who followed draw from in one way or another. In my view, this honor belongs to The Beatles and to several of their albums. Sadly, the lads from Liverpool are treated somewhat poorly in this new list. Whereas in the 2003 list, the Fab Four had four albums in the top ten (including, at No. 1, the epochal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band), now they must make do with one: Abbey Road, at a measly No. 5. I’m sure Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are now having to cry themselves to sleep on their beds made of money now. 

The other general quibble gets at why this might have happened. Notably, Rolling Stone does not seem to have sold its new list as an attempt at improving “representation” or some such. For that, you have to go to Consequences of Sound, which complained about the original list’s having “just 12 artists of color and three women in its Top 50” and celebrated that the new list is now “much more diverse” and “no longer just white dudes who played rock music.” In a crude, reductive way, this is true of Rolling Stone‘s new list. But it’s a mistake to view it in that way, and would be a mistake if that’s how and why the effort was undertaken. The history of music may always be changing, but it should always be the music that we are caring about. Otherwise, this turns into a weird identitarian game: Should The Beatles get “points” for having been poor when they started? Should The Rolling Stones be demoted because Mick Jagger dropped out of the London School of Economics? Obviously we can’t completely ignore the identities of those who created these albums, but they deserve to be judged on the basis of the music they made. To the extent their identities should matter, it should be in how who they were enabled them to create better art, or to transcend the particular and to access the universal.  

In this regard, I have some other specific judgments to make about the list. I’ve already noted my annoyance at The Beatles’ demotion. I am equally annoyed that this new list decided to resolve an ongoing dispute about the superiority of Sgt. Pepper’s or The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds resoundingly in the latter’s favor. I am not sure what about the passage of time, and the changing of musical tastes, has made critical consensus change the relative places of these two more than 50-year-old albums. I am more willing to accept the recent enshrinement of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 What’s Going On as, apparently, the best album of all time; it was already in the top ten. But if it is there, it deserves to be there not on the basis of the kind of woke reordering that Consequences of Sound would have, but on its own merit, which is, let us stipulate, considerable. To do otherwise is to descend into a contest in which the actual music in question is only secondary. It is already a fraught enterprise to rank the best 500 albums (supposedly in order, to boot). That approach would make it even more difficult — and even less revealing about what it purports to rank.