Law & the Courts

Beto’s Bizarre Turn

Beto O’Rourke talks to the media at a detention facility in Homestead, Fla., June 27, 2019. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Quite what Beto O’Rourke thinks he is doing remains a mystery to me. By coming out in favor of gun confiscation — and by punctuating his ever-more-hysterical entreaties with studied profanity — he has all-but guaranteed that he will not be president of the United States; that he will not be chosen as the candidate for vice-president of the United States; that he will not be a senator from the state of Texas; that he will not be the governor of the State of Texas; and, in all likelihood, that, wherever he ends up, he will be kept far, far away from the levers of power during any future debate over gun control. And for what? For a policy that O’Rourke knows full well is not going to get anywhere — and that, for all practical purposes, would be pointless even if it did. Rarely has a candidate for political office shown better how vast is the gap between discernible political reality and the sort of self-indulgent speechifying that fans of The West Wing believe drives legislative change in America. Gun confiscation? Is he high?

Here, courtesy of Joe Atmonavage at, is the discernible political reality part of the equation:

When New Jersey’s ban on large-capacity gun magazines went into effect last December, it forced gun owners to make a decision.

Should they turn the magazines over to law enforcement? Should they modify them into compliance? Should they sell them to authorized owners or store them in another state?

Or simply ignore the law which banned magazines that have more than 10 rounds?

There are about one million gun owners in the state, which translates into a huge number of magazines.

Unsurprisingly, they chose the lattermost:

A New Jersey State Police spokesman said not a single large-capacity magazine has been turned in since the law went into effect nearly nine months ago.


As the state’s largest gun group challenges the constitutionality of the law, gun owners have had to get creative with how they abide by the law.

Some gun owners have buried their large-capacity magazines in their backyard or behind sheetrock in their garage, said Eric Rebels, a local gun rights activist and owner of GunSitters, a secure firearms storage system company.

Others are opting to store them away from their homes.

This behavior is absolutely normal in the United States — and not just in the “red” states. In New York, the SAFE Act has been almost entirely ignored (with the help of law enforcement, which, in 52 of the state’s 62 counties, have refused to enforce it), as have similar provisions in Connecticut. Likewise, “universal background check” laws in Colorado and Washington have both failed miserably. For some reason, Beto O’Rourke has looked at this state of affairs — and at the federal government’s history of fighting drugs and alcohol — and thought, “Great! Let’s add an actual firearms confiscation drive to the equation! In Texas. In Georgia. In Idaho.”


Politics & Policy

American Politics and the Appetite for Chaos

A U.S. flag is seen at Omaha Beach, near the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, as France prepares to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day, in Colleville sur Mer, France, June 4, 2019. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

Thomas Edsall’s column in the New York Times calls attention to a new paper by a trio of political scientists that contends that a significant chunk of the American electorate is increasingly driven by an appetite for “chaos incitement” — or, at least, that they feel that way when answering questions in a survey.

How do Petersen, Osmundsen and Arceneaux measure this “need for chaos”? They conducted six surveys, four in the United States, in which they interviewed 5157 participants, and two in Denmark, with 1336. They identified those who are “drawn to chaos” through their affirmative responses to the following statements:

  • I fantasize about a natural disaster wiping out most of humanity such that a small group of people can start all over.

  • I think society should be burned to the ground.

  • When I think about our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking “just let them all burn.”

  • We cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.

  • Sometimes I just feel like destroying beautiful things.

In an email, Petersen wrote that preliminary examination of the data shows “that the ‘need for chaos’ correlates positively with sympathy for Trump but also — although less strongly — with sympathy for Sanders. It correlates negatively with sympathy for Hillary Clinton.”

(Entirely separate from Clinton’s qualities as a candidate or a person, the antipathy for Clinton isn’t that surprising; as a familiar face in American politics for a quarter-century, she represented the status quo in the 2016 election.)

If you wanted to encapsulate the antithesis of conservatism, you would probably say things like, “I think society should be burned to the ground” or “I just feel like destroying beautiful things.” This is nihilism and anarchism, conserving nothing, and it is maddening to see lazy, ill-informed, or mendacious observers conflate these attitudes with tenets of modern conservatism.

The study makes this important point: the people most prone to share a “hostile political rumor” don’t fit into our traditional partisan definitions. “We found that these political activists are promiscuous sharers and are motivated to share rumors that target any elite actors, independently of this actor’s political identity,” it says.

“I fantasize about a natural disaster wiping out most of humanity such that a small group of people can start all over”? Who the hell are these people? Aspiring James Bond foes? Samuel L. Jackson’s villain from Kingsman: The Secret Service who wanted a “culling” of humanity? Hydra?

The paper contends that “burn it down,” “burn it to the ground,” and “torn down” sentiments attract anywhere from 24 percent to 40 percent of the American public, a conclusion they admit is “staggering.”

“The extreme discontent expressed in the “Need for Chaos” scale is a minority view but it is a minority view with incredible amounts of support. Thus, if we want to know why hostile political rumors has gained prominence in public debate, the answer lies in Figure 3: A substantial minority of individuals are so discontent that they are willing to mobilize against the current political order to see if what emerges from the resulting chaos has something better in stock for them.”

In other words, a complete collapse of perspective on how good Americans have it today, and how bad things can get without the current strengths and benefits of a democratic republic and a mostly free-market economic system. The Great Recession was really painful for many Americans. To someone who survived the Holodomor, it would look pretty darn mild. Does chaos have something better in stock for you? Probably not. And if it does . . . man, have you wasted the opportunities that this free society has given you.

The political-science professors offer some important caveats:

On the basis of these surveys, we cannot – and we do not – claim that substantial numbers of Danish or American citizens are ready to go into actual fights with the police or commit other forms of political violence. But what is a methodological limitation might be seen as a substantive strength. Hence, this study provides insights into the kinds of thoughts and behaviors that people are motivated to entertain when they sit alone (and lonely) in front of the computer, answering surveys or surfing social media platforms. In an age of fake news and hostile political rumors, system-defeating behavior does not take much more than that. A few chaotic thoughts that leads to a few clicks to retweet or share is enough.

As unnerving as the study’s arguments are, they appear pretty clarifying. Our political battles of our era are not merely Left vs. Right but Nihilists vs. people who want to keep any part of the existing system. The Left encompasses big-government politicians in suits who embrace statism, but also Antifa, which definitely has a strong appetite for chaos.


Poll: Kamala Harris Barely Leads Gabbard, Yang, and de Blasio


After the second Democratic debate, Kamala Harris mocked Tulsi Gabbard for not being a “top-tier” candidate, but a new Economist/YouGov poll shows Harris barely leading Gabbard, Andrew Yang, Bill de Blasio, and Julián Castro: 


For a recent look at why Harris is fading in the Democratic primary, click here.

White House

Washington Waits for a Trump Decision on Gun-Violence Legislation

President Trump gestures before he speaks at a National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Dallas, Texas, May 4, 2018. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said today that he’s waiting for the president to decide what kind of gun violence legislation he’s willing to support. The White House is supposed to have an answer next week, but a big unresolved question is how long any particular position on guns from the president will last.

Trump has two entirely contradictory instincts when it comes to gun laws, and he doesn’t reconcile them particularly well. Trump simultaneously wants to be seen as “doing something” about mass shootings and wants to keep the support of the NRA and the country’s gun owners. This is not a needle he can thread. Democrats and their allies in the media believe gun control, including banning particular kinds of firearms, is the only effective tool to prevent more mass shootings. Any legislation that does not include that will be dismissed as meaningless window dressing. Meanwhile, the NRA and most gun owners will see any step in that direction as punishing law-abiding citizens for the actions of the deranged and evil, and a step towards gun confiscation.

In his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, Trump wrote, “I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”

But in 2016, the National Rifle Association and gun owners put aside any lingering doubts and supported Donald Trump, because he had the sterling and undeniable quality of not being Hillary Clinton, and he sounded like an ally, at least recently. When Trump stands before the NRA convention attendees, he usually says all the right things. He has appointed judges who recognize the Second Amendment, and his administration has generally pushed federal policy in a pro-gun direction.

Then in March 2018, after the Parkland mass shooting, Trump held an hour-long televised meeting in the Oval Office with lawmakers of both parties. During that meeting, the president endorsed the Assault Weapons Ban, endorsed background checks for private sales at gun shows, endorsed raising the age to purchase firearms to 21, and declared the top priority of the NRA since Trump’s election, concealed-carry reciprocity, “will never pass.” (This bill would ensure that if you have a valid concealed-carry permit in your home state, you are allowed to carry a concealed weapon in any state.) Trump contended members of Congress were “petrified of the NRA” and that he was not. “They have great power over you people. They have less power over me.”

Also during that meeting, Trump contradicted his own vice president’s assurances about due process and basically contended that the government should seize firearms from people it deems dangerous and go back and get legal justification later. “Take the firearms first, and then go to court,” Trump said. “Because that’s another system. Because a lot of times, by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court, to get the due-process procedures — I like taking the guns early.”

This is the sort of talk that usually leaves NRA leaders and gun owners apoplectic. But the next day, Trump talked on the phone with leaders of the NRA and eventually nothing came of his publicly expressed pro-gun control stances.

Last month, after the shootings in Dayton and El Paso, Trump declared that “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks” but then two weeks later — after another phone call with the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, Trump said, “people don’t realize we have very strong background checks right now.”

When it comes to gun legislation, it’s not just a matter of what the president wants to do; it’s a question of how long until he changes his mind.

Politics & Policy

The Burka Question, Again

At the Riyadh Heritage and Culture Festival, April 24, 2009 (Fahad Shadeed / Reuters)

In a below post, I mentioned today’s Prime Minister’s Questions. I would like to make another point, a different point, about this same session. A Labour MP, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, made an impassioned speech. (It is customary for members of parliament to make speeches in the form of a question, sort of.) According to this article in the Guardian, Dhesi is the “first turbaned Sikh MP” ever to sit in the House of Commons.

He talked of the pain of being called “towelhead” and other names. This was moving. And he said — demanded — “When will the prime minister finally apologize for his derogatory and racist remarks?”

Dhesi’s speech drew prolonged applause in the Commons, from his side (the Labour side).

He was referring to a column that Boris Johnson wrote in August 2018, after Denmark had banned the burka. The column is here, behind a paywall. It was headed, “Denmark has got it wrong. Yes, the burka is oppressive and ridiculous — but that’s still no reason to ban it.”

In the course of this column, Johnson wrote, “. . . it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes” (what we in America call “mailboxes”). He further spoke of a student turning up at a lecture or something “looking like a bank robber.”

Johnson is a writer, remember — a writer and a politician, which is a hard thing to pull off (and impossible in America — trust me).

So, how did Johnson answer the impassioned speech by Dhesi? He did four things.

He said that if the gentleman “took the trouble to read the article in question, he would see that it was a strong liberal defense of everybody’s right to wear whatever they want in this country.”

He said he (Johnson himself) had Muslim ancestry.

He said he was proud to preside over “the most diverse cabinet in the history of this country.”

And he said, What is Labour going to do about the virus of anti-Semitism, which is running rampant through that party? You wanna apologize for that, huh?

Personally, I wish he had said one other thing: How do we know that women wearing a burka are doing so of their own free will? Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. I am for individual choice (generally speaking). I can well understand the desire, the choice, to wear a burka, and I respect that choice, frankly. But is a woman forced to wear a burka? Does she feel comfortable in one? Or does she fear harm if she goes without a burka — including from her very family?

This is what leaves me unsettled about the burka question. This is why, as far as I’m concerned, Mr. Dhesi and others can stuff their indignation.

Health Care

“Medical Bankruptcies” and Single Payer


Bernie Sanders is arguing that medical bills cause 500,000 bankruptcies a year, and thus we need his national health insurance plan. Megan McArdle, who has been covering this for years, continues to do the thankless work of correcting the misunderstandings behind this argument. The key point: If you use a definition of “medical bankruptcy” expansive enough to yield the huge numbers that single-payer advocates use, then you have to count a lot of bankruptcies that a government-run health-care system won’t do much if anything to prevent. As she notes, “if you get sick and can’t work, and you have a lot of debt, things go south pretty quick.”


Texodus, Continued

(Richard Carson/Reuters)

Republican congressman Bill Flores, who represents a district that stretches from Waco to suburban Austin, announced Wednesday morning that he will not seek reelection in 2020. 

Flores is the fifth House Republican from Texas to announce his retirement this year, but Republicans do not appear to be in serious jeopardy of losing his seat in 2020. Flores saw his 2016 margin of victory nearly cut in half during the 2018 blue wave, but he still managed to win re-election 15 percentage points. 

Retiring Texas congressmen Pete Olson and Kenny Marchant, by contrast, won their suburban districts by mere single digits in 2018 after several cycles of easy, double-digit victories. Republicans are also in danger of losing retiring congressman Will Hurd’s district on the Texas border, which has been a battleground before and after Donald Trump’s election. 

Hurd was once touted as the future of the GOP, but he clashed with President Trump on several matters of policy and was one of just four House Republicans to condemn Trump’s tweets telling four progressive Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to the countries “from which they came.”

Flores hasn’t publicly clashed with the president and isn’t in danger of losing his seat. But serving in the minority simply isn’t as interesting or fun as serving in the majority, and a congressional salary isn’t close to what Flores, a former CEO of an energy company, made in the private sector. 

“Following the end of my current term in January 2021, I look forward to spending much more time with my family and our grandchildren,” Flores said Wednesday. “I also intend to resume business activities in the private sector and to stay politically active on a federal, state and local level. Lastly, with a little luck, I will have time to do a little more flying and skiing than I have been able to do during the last ten years, and to introduce our grandchildren to those activities!”


What’s Gone Wrong with Our Higher Education System?


The short answer is: government intervention.

So argues economics professor Richard Vedder in his latest book on the subject, Restoring the Promise. In today’s Martin Center piece, I review it.

Going to college costs vastly more than it needs to. Vast numbers of students who are unprepared for and hardly interested in college-level academic work are drawn into our system just in pursuit of an increasingly empty credential. Many learn nothing of value. The curriculum has been degraded and politicized. Tremendous sums are spent on stuff that has nothing to do with education. None of those problems would exist, Vedder argues, without the gusher of federal money that began with LBJ.

And yet he’s optimistic that we will, eventually, restore higher education. Better information combined with the power of marketplace competition will clean up the awful mess that government has made.

There’s a small mountain of books on higher education and I recommend reading Vedder’s first.

Politics & Policy

Consultants, Brain Surgeons, and Others

The U.S. Capitol building at sunrise, November 6, 2018 (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

A report in the Washington Post this morning begins as follows:

Last summer, Scott Pruitt left his job heading the Environmental Protection Agency and within a few months had started consulting for coal magnate Joseph W. Craft III. Three weeks after leaving the Interior Department, energy counselor Vincent DeVito joined Cox Oil Offshore, which operates in the Gulf of Mexico, as its executive vice president and general counsel. Now, Joe Balash — who oversaw oil and gas drilling on federal lands before resigning from Interior on Friday — is joining a foreign oil company that is expanding operations on Alaska’s North Slope.

Frankly, I am relaxed about this sort of thing. (Relatively relaxed.) Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I am. I remember what Mike Deaver said in the middle 1980s, when he was making a pile in lobbying: “I wonder what people thought I was going to do when I left the White House — be a brain surgeon?”

At the same time, I am not relaxed about the “Drain the Swamp” rhetoric, which is mindless, arrogant, and false. Do business as usual if you like, guys — but spare us the “Drain the Swamp” talk, please. Thank you.

P.S. “Swamp” is the rhetoric of today. When I was coming of age, and learning about politics, it was “revolving door.” What will it be tomorrow?


Uncommon Knowledge: Jim Mattis on Call Sign Chaos


Call Sign Chaos is Jim Mattis’s memoir of his lifelong journey from Marine recruit to four-star general and secretary of defense. It’s also the story of his quest to learn from every experience and pass on those lessons, so that future generations can plan better, lead better, and do and be better, thus creating a safer and more successful United States and world.

Politics & Policy

A String of Words

British prime minister Boris Johnson speaks in Parliament on September 3, 2019. (Parliament TV via Reuters)

From time to time, I’ve written about political labels, political designations: “conservative,” “liberal,” and so on. What do they mean, and to whom, and where? Meanings shift from place to place, and time to time, and person to person. There are those who consider themselves a “true conservative,” and no one else. Etc.

In 2012, I wrote an essay called “A World of Labels: ‘Moderate liberals’ and other interesting creatures.” This past summer, I wrote an essay called “May I See Your ID? On ‘conservative’ and other contentious identities.” (This essay is personal, as well as general, for those interested.)

Today, I was listening to Prime Minister’s Questions in the British parliament, an extra-tumultuous session, given Brexit tensions and fears. In one of his answers, the new prime minister, Boris Johnson, said, “What this country needs is sensible, moderate, progressive, conservative government.”

That’s quite a string, a lot of bases covered. But I knew what Johnson meant. It was a deeply conservative statement, in one sense of conservatism. But try pulling it off at C-PAC!


A Perfect Distillation of Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

To make bastard use of the Lionel Trilling phrase, Beto O’Rourke’s bid for the White House has been but a series of “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”

O’Rourke’s campaign has wandered about the political wilderness in pursuit of some transcendent “moment,” one that might elevate it above that which it most plainly is: an ego trip for Robert Francis O’Rourke, who will not be the Democratic nominee, and never, in truth, was anything more than an heir to the Jon Ossoff–mania that so exercised a certain sort of MSNBC viewer. The Blue Wave has come and gone, but Beto O’Rourke has not.

Beto went on CNN on Sunday desperate for a viral moment, one that might energize his campaign. It came while discussing the spate of mass shootings, when O’Rourke casually dropped the F-bomb mid-sentence, delivered with a certitude that captured the very essence of his candidacy — a caricature of authenticity. The vulgarity is shorthand meant to show that Beto is really serious, serious in a way you might not divine from his profligate use of a skateboard or insistence that the public watch him at the dentist. If you’re unconvinced, consider that in the immediate aftermath of the CNN interview, O’Rourke’s website started selling— what else? – profanity-laden t-shirts in honor of the episode.

He is so serious.

O’Rourke uses profanity as shorthand for seriousness. He skateboards as a crude stand-in for verve. His tabletop jeremiads beg for an energy from the audience that he does not and will never inspire. Clunky Spanish sentences delivered without a hint of affect are recited as though it they were genuine outreach. His trite bumper stickers are pathetic simulacra of the thoughtful, if misguided, policy solutions offered by some of his peers.

The flashes of emotion and patented stop-start cadence belie O’Rourke’s capacity to pursue that most elusive — and demanding! — task: to traffic in the realm of ideas rather than mimetic innuendo. The CNN F-bomb is not merely a distillation of the O’Rourke campaign. It is the O’Rourke campaign: glorified performance art, laden with that most noxious pretense that voters will fall for it. Thus far, to their credit, they haven’t.


Jim and Other Harbaughs: A Celebration

Jim Harbaugh (left) and John Harbaugh prior to a game in 2014 (Mitch Stringer / USA TODAY Sports)

Happy college football season. Good luck to your team. My old classmate, John U. Bacon — great middle initial, right? — has published a new book. He is a prominent writer about sports and other subjects. His new book is Overtime: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football. I haven’t read it yet, but I bet it’s good.

I shared with John a tidbit or two. I thought I would share them with you, here and now. I don’t think I have ever written about Jim — Jim Harbaugh — in all my years of writing. He is a wonderful subject.

We grew up together, playing baseball, basketball, and a little football. His father, Jack, was our baseball coach for a while — Connie Mack League, I believe. His brother, John, was on that team too. John would later coach in the NFL, and so would Jim. They faced each other in the 2013 Super Bowl (nicknamed the “Harbaugh Bowl”). That was an amazing day.

When we were growing up, Jack Harbaugh was an assistant football coach at the University of Michigan. Have I said we were in Ann Arbor? We were. Mrs. Harbaugh was — and is — a lovely woman named Jackie. So, the Harbaughs were Jack and Jackie, like the Kennedys. (Jim and I were born right after the Kennedy presidency. Actually, I was born the night before the assassination; Jim was born the next month.) Jim and John had a sister, Joani, one of the prettiest girls in Ann Arbor. She later married a big-time college basketball coach, Tom Crean, now at Georgia.

Anyway, it was a wonderful family, with a dose of glamor. More than a dose. They were a pleasure to be around, and always lively.

Jim was a phenom — a big personality and a great athlete. I could regale you with Harbaugh stories for an hour or two, but let me give you just a bit, same as I did John U.

This concerns Little League. Our coach was the great Howard Zuckerman, father of our classmate David. One day, we were practicing. I’m thinking of infield practice, in particular. For some reason, I was standing behind the first-base line with Mr. Zuckerman. Jim was at shortstop, his customary position (along with pitcher). He fielded one between his legs.

Mr. Zuckerman and I agreed that Jim was hot-dogging. That was bad. “Hey, Jim!” Mr. Zuckerman called out. “No hot-dogging! Cut it out!” But then, we had a private moment. Mr. Zuckerman and I looked at each other, grinned, and agreed: “That was pretty damn impressive. Maybe he shouldn’t have done it. But, wow.”

Jim was a natural at anything he did, practically. He was a really good basketball player. I thought it was his best sport, frankly. He was a very good shooter, passer, rebounder (because of positioning, not because of leaping ability, as I recall), floor leader.

Could Jim have played in college? Basketball, that is? I don’t know. Probably. I lost track of him, as Coach Harbaugh (Jack) got a job at Stanford after our tenth-grade year, I believe. The Harbaughs moved to California.

After starring at quarterback at Michigan, Jim went to the NFL — playing for the Bears, Colts, and others. He has since had an illustrious coaching career, both in the NFL and in college. Even if he ends up in the pantheon with Vince Lombardi, Bear Bryant, et al., I will always be most impressed that he played quarterback in the NFL. And I will always think of him as a great athlete, pretty much the best I ever saw.

Politics & Policy

Here’s One Way to Stop Cancel Culture — Stop Canceling

Facebook and Twitter logos are seen on a shop window in Malaga, Spain, June 4, 2018. (Jon Nazca/Reuters)

Earlier today a Bloomberg reporter named Ben Penn published one of the more dishonest mainstream media attacks I’ve ever read. It was an extraordinary hit piece on a recent Trump Labor Department appointee named Leif Olson. To make a long story short, he took Facebook posts that Olson obviously intended as insults and mockery of the alt-right and then cast them as actually anti-Semitic. In doing so, he omitted a segment of the Facebook thread that made the sarcasm and mockery crystal clear. Olson’s targets were Paul Nehlen and Breitbart, not Jews.

To get a full sense of the sheer obvious bad faith of the attack on Olson, I’d urge you to read Michael Brendan Dougherty’s excellent piece on our home page.

All this would be bad enough, but it gets worse. Olson is now out of a job. After Penn’s inquiries, the Department of Labor accepted Olson’s resignation “effective immediately.” An unfair journalistic hit has now cost a capable attorney his job. It’s absurd. Cancel culture has reared its ugly head . . . again.

But wait. Why did he leave? Perhaps there are personal reasons for the resignation that aren’t apparent from any of the public reports. If that’s the case, then we should accept his decision and focus our attention on Penn’s terrible report. But if the Labor Department tossed him overboard on the basis of Penn’s report alone, well then that’s a different situation entirely. Penn has no power over the Labor Department. It could have easily stood by its man, and it would have had a legion of defenders — and not just conservatives.

For example, writing in Vox, Dylan Matthews said this:

You do not need a PhD in linguistics to correctly identify this as obvious sarcasm — another commenter on the thread praised the post’s “epic sarcasm.” Conservatives, especially ones of a neoconservative bent on foreign policy, have made sarcastic jokes like this about what they perceive as (and what sometimes, as in the case of Nehlen, is) anti-Semitic criticism of neoconservatism, a movement primarily founded by Jewish intellectuals.

Here was Jonathan Chait:

Within hours of his terrible report, Penn was on the defensive, not Olson. Yet Olson has no job, and Penn is still employed.

And that brings me to a fundamental reality of cancel culture — neither the media nor the online mob can actually “cancel” anyone. They can’t fire a single person. Cancel culture requires two to tango. First, the media prints the smear, then the employer responds to the smear. All too often the employer acts hastily, sometimes in response to a controversy that may well blow over in a matter of hours. There is no single answer to cancel culture, but here’s at least one thing that employers, schools, and government agencies should do: stop canceling. Push back when appropriate, let the controversy blow over, and move on with your life.

Last month, I wrote an essay that generated a good bit of pushback calling for conservatives to show more courage in response to intolerance and public attacks. Regarding the Labor Department, I’d say that this case is a perfect example — except that standing by Olson actually required zero real courage at all. Assuming we know the relevant facts, it just required a few days of basic fortitude. The administration stood by other appointees in the face of far worse public campaigns and far more serious allegations. It’s mystifying.

The fight against cancel culture has two fronts. First, continue the campaign against those who publish dishonest hit pieces or try to destroy the public reputations of good men and women. Second, encourage those who hold the actual power in the situation to stay strong in the face of unfair attacks — even when those attacks contain explosive allegations. In fact, given the culture and incentives on Twitter (and the desperate desire for clicks), it may well be ultimately easier to defeat cancel culture by fortifying the relevant institutions — by depriving the attackers of the scalps they seek.


Ten Things That Caught My Eye Today (September 3, 2019)


1. Asia Bibi pleads for justice for victims of Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws as she plans to settle in Europe (Telegraph).

2. China’s Prisons Swell After Deluge of Arrests Engulfs Muslims (New York Times).



4. Bill McGurn writes in the Wall Street Journal under the title “White Supremacy and Abortion, Are pro-lifers in bed with white supremacists?”:

That’s Marissa Brostoff’s contention in a Washington Post op-ed last week, wherein she alleged that “antiabortion politics” can provide “cover for white nationalist sentiments.” Her argument followed a Laurence Tribe tweet in which the Harvard law professor told his followers, “Never underestimate the way these issues and agendas are linked.”

The timing is likely not accidental. The hope may be that tarring pro-lifers with white nationalism will distract attention from the agenda the Democrats have rallied around as they head into 2020. That would include federally funded abortion on demand up to the moment of birth—and even after birth, if necessary, as Ralph Northam, the pediatric neurologist and Democratic governor of Virginia, awkwardly made clear earlier this year.

As with all single-issue movements, pro-lifers can be accused of many things, from political rigidity to moral absolutism. But single-issue movements also offer undeniable clarity. The pro-life proposition is simple: Human life begins at conception, and every human life is equal in dignity and worth.

Whatever else this may be, it is incompatible with white supremacism. Perhaps that’s why so many African-Americans, especially African-American women, have been leaders in the pro-life cause.

Against these white nationalists stand the pro-lifers, and not just on behalf of African-American babies. They also speak for the unborn child with Down syndrome, for the child conceived in rape or incest, for the unplanned pregnancy that will undeniably crimp any career plans a mother might have if she carries the baby to term. These are all hard cases, and the clarity of the pro-life proposition— the insistence that each of these lives is no less precious than any other human life—can make for a difficult political sell.

But no pro-lifer ever said life is easy. We say life is beautiful.

5. Former Foster Kids Show What Philadelphia Loses By Defenestrating Catholics Over Gay Marriage (Federalist).

6. Pope Francis condemns euthanasia.

7. What if real life became more like Twitter?

8. Maria McFadden Maffucci: The Bond of Motherhood Lasts Even After Life Is Gone.

9. An opportunity for poets, judged by Dana Gioia.

10. Maddy Kearns’ beautiful interview with composer James Macmillan.


A Break for Your Ears

Danielle de Niese (right) and Malena Ernman in a dress rehearsal of Handel’s Serse at Theater an der Wien (Vienna) on October 13, 2011 (Herwig Prammer / Reuters)

That saucy singer up there, on the right, is Danielle de Niese, La Belle Danielle — an Australian-American soprano of Sri Lankan origin (and other origin). In my new Music for a While, I call on her to demonstrate some Handel. (By pure coincidence, she is rehearsing a Handel opera in the above photo.) I have a little instruction in this episode — concerning tempo in a Beethoven concerto, for example. But mainly this is pure enjoyment, with a variety of composers, performers, and observations. Give it a whirl (again, here). All politics and no play makes Jack — or at least Jay — a dull boy.


What Is Happening in Parliament?


If I’m reading all the reports right, and interpreting the cacophony of noise from the House of Commons correctly, then two contradictory things hold true:

1) A majority of Parliament wants to puppeteer Boris Johnson in his late negotiations with the EU on Brexit. They want to rule out a no-deal Brexit option, one he is using as a threat to force the EU to give up the Northern Irish border backstop. They want to force him to accept any Article 50 extension offered by the EU that would assist in avoiding a no-deal exit.

2)  And yet, even though they clearly don’t trust the government’s strategy, a majority of Parliament is unwilling to vote its lack of confidence in this government and trigger a new election. A conservative MP today left the Tory benches to join the Liberal Democrats, thereby depriving Boris Johnson of even a notional working majority.

These are constitutionally irreconcilable. The first may not even be legal. It is not the Parliament’s job to hamstring a government in this way but to withdraw its support for one that has lost its confidence to conduct business.

Economy & Business

Re: Trump on ‘Badly Managed Companies’


Jim, Trump’s press-conference statement actually makes more sense than the tweet he had been asked to comment on, which read, “If the Fed would cut, we would have one of the biggest Stock Market increases in a long time. Badly run and weak companies are smartly blaming these small Tariffs instead of themselves for bad management…and who can really blame them for doing that? Excuses!” If the problem is the Fed, then why aren’t the companies blaming it instead of the tariffs or their bad management? Trump was trying to work too many of his hobbyhorses into one post, and ended up with something convoluted.


Brexit in Peril

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson inside 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, September 3, 2019. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Reuters)

From inception, the Boris Johnson premiership meant high risk and high reward — both for the country and for Brexit. The intensity and imminence of that risk have never been greater.

Due to the defection of Phillip Lee, the Tories no longer have a parliamentary majority. Lee summarized how other Tory rebels are feeling in his public statement:

This Conservative Government is aggressively pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways. It is putting lives and livelihoods at risk unnecessarily and it is wantonly endangering the integrity of the United Kingdom.

At nine p.m. GMT tonight (five p.m. ET), MPs will vote on whether or not Parliament can take back control of the Brexit process from the government, thus blocking a no-deal Brexit on October 31st. If that happens, Johnson has said that he will immediately push for a general election. His only real option.

This is high risk, clearly. As for the “high reward” — well, under the terms laid out in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, Johnson requires two-thirds of MPs to agree to a general election. Of course Parliamentarians, depending on which party they belong to and their particular pro-Brexit or anti-Brexit strategy, are divided over this prospect. But let’s assume they green light an election. What then? Would it be before or after the Brexit date on October 31? Knowing his audience, Johnson has assured MPs that it would be on October 14, the day of the Queen’s speech. But might this be an elaborate ruse?

Moreover, what if Labour MPs then find a way to pass a law blocking no-deal prior to the election? In such a scenario, Robert Peston, the ITV news political editor, has explained:

Johnson would [then] have to cancel the election – because if he were to lead his party into an immediate general election with Brexit delayed, the Tories would probably be smashed to pieces by the Brexit Party.

More and more, the situation resembles the story of the Three Little Pigs.

Little pigs, little pigs, let no-deal Brexit in! cry Johnson and co.

Not by the hairs on our chinny chin chins! replies Parliament.

Well then, we’ll huff, and we’ll puff, and we’ll blow this House in! 

Who, then, shall stand in the winds that blow?

Economy & Business

Trump: Badly Managed Companies Are Using the Tariffs as a Scapegoat


President Trump, Friday: “A lot of badly run companies are trying to blame tariffs.  In other words, if they’re running badly and they’re having a bad quarter, or if they’re just unlucky in some way, they’re likely to blame the tariffs.  It’s not the tariffs.  It’s called “bad management.’. . . It was on one of the important shows, and I read it this morning someplace, that some companies, for their poor performance, are blaming tariffs, even though they don’t mean that.  They’re just getting away with it.”

Hillary Clinton, 1993, in response to a question about whether plan’s “employer mandates” — payroll taxes — might injure small businesses: “I can’t go out and save every undercapitalized entrepreneur in America.”

Politics & Policy

Remembering a Foot Soldier in the Reagan Revolution

Dr. Burton Yale Pines (YouTube)

I just learned the terrible news about the loss of Dr. Burton Yale Pines. My recent e-mails to him went unanswered. I checked online and my worst fears were confirmed: A great friend and greater American left us at age 78.

I was very fortunate to have met Burt in the mid-1980s, in the full heat of the Reagan years. He was a senior executive at the Heritage Foundation, having survived his previous life as a Time correspondent in Vietnam, and Cold War Bonn, West Germany. He also served as one of that magazine’s top editors.

We worked on a few projects together, including a speech I was honored to deliver at a fall 1985 Heritage Foundation tribute to the late, great Senator Barry Goldwater. Burt patiently helped me with my draft, suggested appropriate phrases, and offered much-needed encouragement to a then-college student who was more than a bit nervous about such a daunting assignment. We stayed in touch, and periodically enjoyed fine dinners in New York City, where we both found ourselves by the end of that decade and remained thereafter.

Burt was invariably fun, fascinating, and erudite company. A widely traveled and deeply read man, Burt could converse on virtually any topic. He added historical perspectives, philosophical insights, and hilarious details to our chats, usually over fine French or Italian food, with exquisite bottles of red wine easily within reach. He had an endearing weakness for Pomerols.

Burt loved his wife, Helene Brenner, very much and always spoke warmly of her. I enjoyed spending time with her as well and liked to hear about her life as a psychologist who fills her days ministering to Manhattan’s vast population of neurotics. I have lost a great friend, and she has lost a devoted husband.

Due to the relentless distractions of modern life and my extensive travel at the time he passed away of a sudden illness, I only got the bad news about Burt’s early February departure now, in late August. I was about to e-mail Burt to invite him to see 1917, a forthcoming epic on World War I. That was one of his favorite topics and was the subject of America’s Greatest Blunder, an excellent and provocative volume on what he saw as the disastrous unintended consequences of U.S. involvement in The Great War. I bet Burt would have liked this film, or at least found it worthy of thought and discussion — two things that he did damn well. I will think fondly of him when I see this picture.

According to his online obituary, “When asked what made him most proud, Pines always answered: ‘Being a foot-soldier in the Reagan Revolution.'”

Rest in peace, Dr. Burton Yale Pines, Ph.D.

Politics & Policy

Memories of a Gramm Cracker

Senator Phil Gramm waves after endorsing Senator Bob Dole for president in New Hampshire on February 18, 1996. (Gary Hershorn / Reuters)

“Ferdinand Piëch, Domineering Volkswagen Chief, Dies at 82,” read the headline in the New York Times. Frankly, he seems to have been a bit of an SOB. A passage from the obit reminded me of Phil Gramm — not an SOB. Here is the passage in question:

“Only when a company is in severe difficulty does it let in someone like me,” Mr. Piëch wrote in his autobiography, with startling frankness. “In normal, calm times, I never would have gotten a chance.”

In 2001, I interviewed and wrote about Phil Gramm, the Texas senator: “Our Splendid Cuss.” There is not a proper “copy” of this piece on the Internet — not that I could find — but here is sort of a makeshift one. Anyway, I was always a Gramm fan — a “Gramm cracker,” as we called ourselves.

He ran for president in 1996, not getting very far. In 2001, I wrote,

He raised a lot of money, but not a lot of supporters. What went wrong? “I was a poor candidate. I did a bad job. There’s no one to blame but myself.” What’s more, “America was never going to elect me unless there was a crisis. And people didn’t see a crisis in 1996. I was the wrong person at the wrong time. And there may never have been a right time for me.”

Hell, it’s always the right time for you, Gramm.


Recycling, Updating

Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. (Stephen Lam / Reuters)

Some people say that there are only five or ten jokes in the world. And what we do is craft endless variations on them. I don’t know whether this is true, but the theory came to mind the other day.

Years ago, I heard a joke. Actually, I think I saw a cartoon. The volumes of an encyclopedia were placed on a card table, sitting on a front lawn. A sign said, Encyclopedia for Sale. No Longer Needed. Wife Knows Everything.

Last week, I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt: No Need for Google. Husband Knows Everything.

Everything’s up to date in Kansas City.


Two North Carolina House Races to Keep on the Radar Screen

North Carolina electors rehearse in the North Carolina State Capitol building in Raleigh, N.C. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

A week from today, voters in two of North Carolina’s congressional districts will go to the polls for special elections to the U.S. House.

In the third district, voters will select the replacement for the late Representative Walter Jones. Republican state representative Greg Murphy is taking on former Greenville mayor Allen Thomas. This is the sort of district a Republican should win easily; Trump carried the district by 23 points, and Jones, who often won with more than 65 percent of the vote, was unopposed in 2018. A new survey by the right-leaning site Red Racing Horse Elections finds Murphy ahead by a margin of 51 percent to 40 percent.

That’s the good news for Republicans. The less-reassuring news comes in the state’s ninth congressional district, where the 2018 election results were not certified due to irregularities involving requests for absentee ballots, unreturned absentee ballots, and individuals who illegally collected absentee ballots. This race matches up Republican Dan Bishop against Democrat Dan McCready, in a seat that Republicans have held since 1963 — but the uncertified results of 2018 put the GOP’s Mark Harris ahead by just 905 votes. President Trump will hold a rally in the district the night before the special election. Outside analysts are rating the race a toss-up, with perhaps a slight edge to Bishop. The race is another familiar case of trying to guess which side’s base is more likely to come out and vote in a special election. Red Racing Horse Elections says they will release survey results for this race later today.

UPDATE: The new RRHE survey finds Republican Dan Bishop barely ahead of Democrat Dan McCready, by a margin of 46 percent to 45 percent, “well within the poll’s 4% margin of error.”


NC’s Campus Free Speech Act Kicks In — How Are the Schools Doing?

Students walk at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C., September 20, 2018. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

North Carolina was the first state to enact a bill that NR’s Stanley Kurtz helped draft, the Campus Free Speech Act. It requires the University of North Carolina system to produce a yearly report on how its constituent institutions are doing with respect to both free speech and institutional neutrality (which means that schools are not supposed to take positions on controversial public issues). How is it working?

In this Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins looks at pertinent events of the last year. There is some good news and some bad news.

On the good side, three campuses sufficiently cleared impediments to free speech to earn FIRE’s “green light” rating. Five others, however, made no progress in becoming more speech friendly.

One school really blew it on neutrality. UNC-Asheville adopted a policy of divesting from all fossil fuel companies. Others remained on record as supporting a “climate change” pledge, and one commencement speaker was a firebrand leftist zealot.

In sum, some of the UNC campuses are ignoring the law. The Board of Governors needs to take action.


Russia, Crimea, and Us

A boat with tourists sails past a Russian warship at sunset ahead of the Navy Day parade in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Crimea, July 27, 2019. (Alexey Pavlishak / Reuters)

On August 26, while attending the G-7 summit in France, President Trump argued for the readmission of Russia, which was ousted from this group when the Kremlin invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. Trump said that Barack Obama, in particular, excluded Russia, because he was embarrassed at having been “outsmarted” by Putin.

Trump said that Crimea

was sort of taken away from President Obama — not taken away from President Trump, taken away from President Obama. President Obama was not happy that this happened, because it was embarrassing to him, right? It was very embarrassing to him, and he wanted Russia to be out of the — what was called the G-8, and that was his determination. He was outsmarted by Putin.

Crimea, bear in mind, was taken away from Ukraine, not from Barack Obama.

Trump further said,

President Obama was pure and simply outsmarted. They took Crimea during his term. That was not a good thing. It could have been stopped, it could have been stopped with the right, whatever. It could have been stopped, but President Obama was unable to stop it, and it’s too bad.

That word “whatever” is interesting. I wonder what Donald Trump would have done to stop Putin’s annexation of Crimea, particularly given Trump’s America First stance. For that matter, I wonder what Obama and his administration could have done.

It was important for the democracies to exclude Russia from their annual summit, given Putin’s gross violations of international law (not to mention his repression at home). What has Putin done to earn readmission?

It is also important to hold the line on Crimea — not to recognize the Kremlin’s seizure of it. The democratic nations, though they wobbled, held the line on the Baltic states for more than 40 years — even though Moscow’s control of those states was a blatant “fact on the ground.” Only a handful of nations recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, including Cuba, North Korea, and Zimbabwe.

Traditionally, U.S. presidents do not criticize their predecessors on foreign soil. I knocked Obama, hard, for a statement he made to Turkish students early in his presidency: April 2009. He said, “George Bush didn’t believe in climate change. I do believe in climate change. I think it’s important.”

On August 27, the day after President Trump spoke in France, his national security adviser, John Bolton, did something stand-up, in my opinion. In Kiev, he laid a wreath, subsequently tweeting the following: “It was an honor to represent the American people in paying our solemn respects to Ukrainians who have died in the defense of their nation against Russian aggression.”

Law & the Courts

Texas’s Gun Laws Loosened on Sunday, but Texas Did Not Loosen Them Then

A Texas state trooper monitors the scene at a local car dealership following a shooting in Odessa, Texas, September 1, 2019. (Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters)

Sometimes a red state will loosen its gun laws in response to a mass shooting. Indeed, according to a study released yesterday, that’s one of the most reliable responses to mass shootings here in the U.S.

If you were reading headlines over the weekend, though, you might get a sense that Texas acted with record speed this time around. Slate: “Texas Loosens Gun Laws One Day After Mass Shooting in the State.” Vibe: “Texas Loosens Its Gun Laws Hours After The Odessa Shooting.” Houston Chronicle: “On day after Midland shooting, Texas loosens gun laws.”

The problem is that these bills were signed months ago. That they went into effect September 1 is just a coincidence.

Incidentally, the National Rifle Association has a rundown of the new policies. Most of them are pretty minor: School districts can no longer regulate the way that firearms are stored inside locked vehicles (they were already prevented from banning guns in such vehicles entirely), foster parents can lock up their guns and ammo together in the same place as long as the guns also have trigger locks (which still seems too restrictive to me), and concealed weapons will be allowed in places of worship unless the owner decides otherwise, for example.

I’m not crazy about a couple of the rules pertaining to private property, though. Landlords and condo buildings can no longer prohibit tenants from having or carrying guns. In addition, gun-carriers who ignore businesses’ “no firearms” signs can no longer be punished for trespassing, so long as they depart promptly when asked to leave. I’d prefer the government to keep its hands off both my gun rights and my property rights.


The Case for ‘Non-Strict’ Voter ID

(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Conservatives say that voters should be required to show ID as a measure to prevent fraud. Liberals say that ID requirements disenfranchise the disproportionately poor and minority voters who don’t have IDs and might have trouble getting them — even if efforts are made to provide IDs for free. The liberals’ panic has always struck me as overblown, though it’s also difficult to say how much fraud exists that’s preventable by requiring IDs.

A new study argues that voter ID probably doesn’t matter much either way, and also suggests a middle road: “non-strict” ID laws that ask voters to provide identification but allow them to vote, subject to some restrictions, even if they don’t. It focuses on two states that already have such laws: In Michigan, those without IDs must sign an affidavit certifying their identity; in Florida, their signatures at the polls are checked against the signatures on their registration forms.

For scientific purposes, the neat thing about these states is that they keep track of how many people vote without ID, which tells us how many voters might be disenfranchised if these alternative voting processes weren’t available. The answer is not many:

Our best guess as to the fraction of ballots cast without identification in local elections in Florida is only 0.03%. Our upper bound estimate is that 0.10% of ballots cast are without ID. Similarly . . . in state and national elections in Florida, our best estimate and upper bound of the fraction of votes cast without identification are only 0.016% and 0.064%, respectively. The rate of voting without ID is somewhat higher in Michigan, where we estimate that 0.3% (from 2004–2016) and 0.31% (2012–2016) were cast without IDs.

The question, of course, is how much we can generalize from these states to other states with different laws. The results do suggest that stricter states could switch to non-strict rules without opening the floodgates to massive numbers of ID-less, potentially fraudulent voters. It’s slightly less clear what the numbers mean for lax states: It’s possible that some ID-less voters, fraudulent or legitimate, might vote when there’s no ID law at all but would be discouraged by an affidavit requirement or signature check.

To me, the takeaway is that these middle-of-the-road laws are a good approach. With these policies in place, no claim of “disenfranchisement” can pass the laugh test, there are systems in place to discourage ID-less voters from committing fraud, and rates of ID-free voting are low enough that any such fraud will virtually never affect an election.


Here Comes the American Deal with the Taliban

U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 28, 2019. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

On Monday, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, told Afghanistan reporters that American negotiators had reached “an agreement in principle” with the Taliban, a proposal that would have the U.S. pull troops from five bases across Afghanistan within 135 days, as long as the Taliban meets conditions set in the agreement, including no longer cooperating with al-Qaeda.

“We have reached an agreement with the Taliban in principle, but of course until the U.S. president agrees with it, it isn’t final,” Khalilzad said.

The Taliban marked the agreement in principle by blowing up a bomb in Kabul, killing at least five people and injuring at least 50, while Khalilzad was speaking with reporters. These bastards couldn’t even wait until the press conference ended to get back to their old habits.

Last month, Andy McCarthy wrote, “No matter how deft the diplomacy that papers over a pullout, wars are either won or lost. For years, the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies have vowed to outlast us and drive us out. Now, we’re getting ready to leave and they are getting ready to rule. What would you call that?”

In January, David French wrote, “If American forces leave in the face only of an empty pledge not to permit safe havens, a temporary cease-fire, and an agreement that the Taliban merely speak to the Afghan government, then the Trump administration will enhance jihadist prestige immeasurably. Insurgents will be able to make a plausible claim to have chased the Americans out of Afghanistan. They’ll have a plausible claim that jihadists have defeated a second superpower — first the Soviets and now the Americans.”

If the “agreement in principle” moves forward, the Democratic presidential candidates are unlikely to loudly disagree. Beto O’Rourke promised that all U.S. troops would be out of Afghanistan by the end of his first term. Pete Buttigieg pledged to get all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of his first year in office. Bernie Sanders declared, “there are probably more terrorists out there now than before it began.”

There is no significant constituency in favor of a continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan; there’s a broad public consensus that the American military has done all it can do. The public sees no major threat from Afghanistan, or at least none that could justify the continued presence of thousands of American troops.

Then again, the public saw no major threat from Afghanistan before 9/11, either.

White House

Ignore the Mental Health ‘Experts’

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., August 21, 2019. (Tasos Katopodis/Reuters)

There are reports circulating that President Trump’s advisors are looking at ways to effectuate his call to “open up institutions” for the most seriously mentally ill in response to recent mass shootings. The standard army of “mental health experts” are out in force, expressing the same breathless canon of  “concerns” to credulous journalists all-too-eager to “debunk” the president.

Glenn Liebman, the chief executive of Mental Health America’s New York chapter, asks (and proceeds to answer, because there’s only one acceptable answer to the question he asks): “Do we need more funding for mental health? Of course. But the funding for mental health shouldn’t be going back to the past and saying that we should be building more institutions. We need less [sic] institutions and more community money.”

What “past?” This is tired– no one is advocating for a full-throated return to the days of “snake pits” and insulin shock. If one imagines things like a pendulum, and the days of mass institutionalization which Mr. Liebman and I both find imprudent are considered on the one hand, consider how far things have swung in the other direction:

The institutionalized population Liebman’s home state has fallen over 97%, from roughly 93,300 in 1955 to 2,300 in 2017. And the decline is similar across the country– states are consolidating their once-extensive networks of hospitals down to levels unseen since the 1850s, and the rates 0f incarceration and homelessness among the most severely ill have skyrocketed in their stead. The typical resident left in the sort of facility that Liebman insists–and this is remarkable– requires less investment, is one so profoundly debilitated by psychosis, a mood disorder, or other condition that no “community” placement would be safe, either in the short or long run. The Glenn Liebmans of the world– the “community mental health” advocates, the “experts” anonymously cited in every breathless anti-stigma piece, the ones who claim, in contravention of all evidence to the contrary, that mental illness is unrelated to violence, the ones who advocated for the mass exodus from the state hospitals in the name of liberation– have gotten almost everything they’ve asked for. The “asylums” are shells of themselves. You can’t get committed there, in many cases, until it’s too late. As DJ Jaffe says, it’s harder to get into Bellevue than Harvard.

I worry that the president will make this issue toxic, because whatever his virtues, Donald Trump is not a man of tact or nuance. This is a matter of great importance to people who are voiceless in a debate that, too often, involves questions of life or death– is there a bed for my schizophrenic son in the state hospital? But with a class of “mental health experts” wont to pretend that failure is success and loath to address the substance of the crisis, maybe the brash real estate mogul is the last best hope that someone will, to use that most tired phrase, “do something.”

Economy & Business

William Cohan’s Bad Advice for the Fed

Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Because William Cohan’s op-ed urges the Fed to stand up to Trump and appeared days after Bill Dudley’s much-discussed call for the Fed to defy Trump, the arguments are likely to get mashed together. But the differences are big: Dudley argues that the Fed should tighten money (or refrain from loosening it) in order to make the costs of Trump’s trade policies more apparent to voters and to sway the 2020 election against him. Cohan doesn’t argue that either goal should influence the Fed’s policy. Instead his argument is that the economy needs tighter money and that Powell should stand up to Trump by delivering it over Trump’s objections.

It’s a much more responsible argument than Dudley’s, which was well outside the norm for arguments about monetary policy. But Cohan is still wrong. His central error is one that has plagued a lot of thinking about monetary policy since the financial crisis. He treats low interest rates as though they were purely and simply a choice of the Federal Reserve, rather than (for example) in part a function of low expectations of inflation and of economic growth. And so he thinks that raising interest rates is easier than it may actually be.

Cohan glosses over an episode that illustrates the complication. On his telling, Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell signaled in November 2018 that he was not going to keep raising interest rates (Cohan’s paragraphs one to four) and then actually lowered them in July (paragraphs 5 and 6). It’s not until paragraph 20 that we learn that “interest rates ticked up just a bit” in December; actually, Powell and his colleagues raised them, just weeks after Cohan had Powell vowing not to do that.

What happened then? Judging from stocks and indicators of expected inflation, the rate hike put interest rates above the neutral or equilibrium rate justified by economic conditions — and judging from fed-funds futures, caused markets to project lower interest rates over the next few years.

If the Fed were right and Trump wrong about the proper stance of monetary policy at the moment, then the proper course of action for the Fed would indeed be to resist Trump’s pressure to loosen. But he is correct, and so it’s Cohan’s advice that should be defied.

Economy & Business

The Overtime Exception


The Trump administration has been much more restrained in regulation than its predecessors, but unfortunately it’s tightening the rules on overtime pay.

Politics & Policy

Watch: Kat Timpf Examines ‘Extreme’ Media Reaction to DWTS Sean Spicer Pick


In her latest video for National Review, Kat Timpf reports that people are “really, really mad” that ABC has chosen former White House press secretary Sean Spicer as a Dancing with the Stars contestant.


‘Hire the Best People, Not the Best Resumes’

(Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

The huge college bubble is slowly deflating as more and more employers figure out that the BA degree isn’t a very good tool for sorting prospective workers. In today’s Martin Center article, John Locke Foundation writer Dan Way looks at an array of alternatives that have sprung up to give young people the actual training they want and need rather than years of coursework they find boring.

Way quotes Isaac Morehouse, founder of two organizations that enable students to prepare for the labor force without college: “People will realize more and more you can bypass that, and you can learn the skills cheaper and quicker in other ways, and you can prove that you’re worth hiring in ways that are more effective than that diploma.”

For many years, the trend was for employers to insist on college credentials for applicants — even for jobs that call for no particular skill or knowledge. That trend seems to have reversed. Way writes, “Phil Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, said his organization’s recent study showed 62 percent of employers have shifted away from hiring practices focused on a candidate’s college major or are contemplating doing so. And in an Association of American Colleges and Universities study, 78 percent of CEOs and upper management said academic discipline doesn’t matter as much as what a job candidate can do.”

One person who has made that change is Charles Marohn, president of the online media company Strong Towns. He admits that he had some bad hiring decisions by looking at impressive resumes and cover letters. Now he tries to “hire the best people, not the best resumes.”

Way explains how Marohn now evaluates candidates: “His first step is to simply ask for an email address and location. Online Q&A sessions and two sets of questionnaires are used to gauge candidates’ style and approach, work habits, and life experiences. Only after that four-step process are resumes and references requested, and interviews scheduled. Marohn said some of his best hires would have been weeded out of the process quickly if he sought resumes first.”

This is great news. The “college for everyone” movement has been extremely wasteful for the country and a boon for the academic left. The faster the bubble deflates, the better.


Brexit: Avoiding the Cliff (Even Now)

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a speech on domestic priorities at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, Britain, July 27, 2019. (Lorne Campbell/Reuters)

Whatever else the prorogation of Parliament may be, it is not (as some excitable sorts are claiming, and other excitable sorts are reporting) a “coup.” Rather, it is the use of a commonplace (and legal) device but at a time when British politics are anything other than business as usual.

Whether or not it is a wise move is a different question. My own guess is that it is a possibly smart, certainly risky tactical move, but strategically a mistake: If it succeeds, it will allow Remainers to reinforce their claim that Brexit was brought about by trickery, a claim that may well have staying power if the U.K. moves towards the sort of ‘no deal’ Brexit that is looking increasingly likely, a no deal that will led to a great deal of difficulty both economically and politically.

As so often, it’s worth reading what Richard North has to say over at EUReferendum. And as so often, his remarks are a touch acerbic, but the central point he has been making for years is as correct as it always has been. A Brexit that involved severing the U.K.’s relationship with the EU in one abrupt move has never been the way to go. Instead:

The aim [should]  be to keep the best of [the UK’s] agreements with the EU, while freeing the remaining Member States to follow their own path towards political integration, a route which [the UK] no intention of following.

This should not be a matter of ending the U.K.’s relationship with the EU, but of redefining it:

There are no circumstances where [the UK] could not have a continued relationship with the remaining 27 EU Member States. And, since the EU is increasingly the mechanism by which the EU-27 organise their external affairs, that requires [the UK] having a relationship with the EU as well.

Given the complexity of the relationship that the U.K. had developed over decades, North argues that Brexit “should always have been regarded as a process rather than an event, taking decades rather than months or even years.”

Indeed, but that process has to start somewhere, and . . .

When I’ve managed personally completely to mess up a complex piece of software-driven electronic equipment, the last resort before one is forced to admit defeat and trash the whole thing – or return it to the manufacturers for a “service” that will cost more than the original equipment – is press the “factory reset” button….

In political terms, we already have a factory reset button for what some people (wrongly) call a half-way house – the Efta/EEA or “Norway Option”. It would solve the “backstop” problem, and buy us time to discuss seriously our long term options – a debate we’ve never really had.

We need to rethink this option as a “middle way” that could command the majority support of the electorate, if addressed correctly and honestly, on a realistic timescale

Already, the EFTA 4 UK is seeking funding to write to 650 MPs, 73 UK MEPs and hundreds of peers to remind them of the availability of this option. They should be given a chance.

The big mistake made by so many of the advocates of this option in the recent past is to assume that it is an off-the-cuff answer that can be implemented quickly. Yet there is no EEA treaty as such, but multiple treaties, each adapted to the specific needs of the three NIL Efta Members.

To adapt such a complex and comprehensive treaty to serve the relationship needs of the EU and the UK would take all of the two years allowed for in the original transitional period, which now already needs an extension.

But, with proroguing parliament, that does leave Johnson the option, in a new session of parliament, to re-present the Withdrawal Agreement, asking for their support against the assurance that he will use an extended transitional period to implement the Efta/EEA option, with the added proviso that we are probably looking for a 10-20 year membership before any drastic new step is taken.

Where I would differ with Richard North is in his view of the Norway option. To him, it’s a step along the way, to me it is a perfectly adequate final destination, with the bonus that the mere addition of the large U.K. economy to a grouping currently consisting of Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein will change its clout, its appeal and its direction — all in good ways.

North notes that adopting this route will allow Boris Johnson to meet some of the key commitments regarding Brexit that he has made, commitments that seem unachievable (North takes a harsher view of these commitments) if the prime minister sticks to the approach he is now taking.


The Math, the Prime Minister, and the Speaker

Tellers announce the results of the vote on Brexit in Parliament in London, England, March 13, 2019. (Reuters TV via REUTERS )

One man’s problem of Parliamentary arithmetic is another’s opportunity, at least in Brexit.

There was no Parliamentary majority for Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

There is no Parliamentary majority willing to withdraw the U.K.’s Article 50 notice and cancel Brexit outright.

There is no Parliamentary majority for having another referendum or able to agree on what that referendum might be.

There is no Parliamentary majority that would vote affirmatively for a no-deal Brexit at this point (even if previous votes created this scenario as a default).

There is no Parliamentary majority willing to make Jeremy Corbyn a caretaker prime minister until the other questions are sorted out.

To make the threat of No Deal more credible to Europeans, new prime minister Boris Johnson drastically shortened the time at which opponents of No Deal could organize to force him to give it up, even as a threat.

Essentially, the PM is leveraging  the lack of a pro-Corbyn majority, and the lack of a no-Brexit majority, to make No Deal look more credible. In the game of chicken with the European Union, he has ostentatiously unscrewed the steering wheel to signal to the negotiators on the other side that Parliament can’t jerk the wheel at the last second.

Well, that has infuriated John Bercow the occasionally scandal-plagued Speaker of the House, who is decidedly and dismissively anti-Brexit. He seemed confident until recently that there was no Parliamentary majority for any Brexit on offer, which could mean that eventually the whole thing will have to go. But now he is looking to take unconstitutional means to stop the prime minister, namely, he is looking to break precedent and give MPs the power to score the steering wheel back in, and force the PM to request or accept another extension on the October 31st deadline. In a sense the speaker is seeking to use an anti-No Deal majority to bring about a No Brexit outcome that also doesn’t have full and express Parliamentary support.

And this bonfire of precedent is brought about by the fact that the referendum result created a democratic mandate to leave the European Union, but it did not create a sovereign Parliament with a majority of MPs truly committed to it, whatever their election manifestos claimed.

It’s quite thrilling to watch, at least.


‘In Iran’s Hierarchy, Talks With Trump Are Now Seen as Inevitable’


This is interesting. I know at least one well-placed U.S. hawk who thinks there’s going to be a new deal. 


Chappelle’s Pro-Life Premise

Dave Chappelle in The Bird Revelations (Netflix)

Kyle Smith is probably right that Sticks and Stones, the new hour long comedy set by Dave Chappelle that was released on Netflix this week, isn’t his best work. Though his section on Jussie Smollett is pretty great.

Chappelle has developed a habit of shifting into longer and longer “preaching” segments in his sets, especially where it comes to politics. And that can get a little tired. Kyle points out that in this show, Chappelle seems to have a weird take on the wave of abortion restrictions across states, implying that they’re a result of a backlash against #MeToo. It is odd. But by the end of the sketch, I had come around to the idea that Chappelle had softened the audience up with his rhetorically pro-abortion sympathies, only to pull the rug out from them toward the end. Here’s how it goes:

If you have a d***, you need to shut the f*** up on this one. Seriously! This is theirs; the right to choose is their unequivocal right. Not only do I believe they have the right to choose, I believe that they shouldn’t have to consult anybody, except for a physician, about how they exercise that right.

Gentlemen, that is fair. And ladies, to be fair to us, I also believe that if you decide to have the baby, a man should not have to pay. That’s fair. If you can kill this motherf***er, I can at least abandon him. It’s my money, my choice. And if I’m wrong, then perhaps we’re wrong. So figure that sh-t out for yourselves.

The last few lines depend quite a bit on the delivery. He proceeds through “I can at least abandon him” to “My money, my choice” quickly in a way to stir up a storm of applause and shocked expressions about what he said. And then the very last lines are delivered slowly underneath that little riot of appreciation. I thought it was deft.

Conservatives have been pretty giddy about Chappelle’s new routine, because it is constructed as a taunt against his politically correct critics, and many liberal outlets are putting out schoolmarmish tut-tutting commentaries on it. I appreciated Kyle’s pushback against the general tide of enthusiasm on our side. I suspect Chappelle wants to make the bulk of his traditional audience more sane and light-hearted about comedy, not seek out an entirely new audience of people like us.


One Thing Biden Has Going for Him


A counter-argument, Rich: Warren’s replacement of Harris as the leading rival to Biden is good news for the former vice president, because so far Harris has shown more appeal to black voters than Warren.


Julian Castro, the 2020 Primary’s Forgotten Man

Julian Castro speaks to members of the media the morning after participating in the first Democratic debate in Miami, Fla., June 27, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

For right-of-center folks who can’t stand the media’s reflexive swooning for any Democrat with an ounce of charisma, the 2020 Democratic presidential primary is turning into a multi-course banquet of schadenfreude. Vehement anti-gun congressman Eric Swalwell kept coming up zeroes in polling. Even people who agreed with Kirsten Gillibrand on the issues found her increasingly insufferable. Beto O’Rourke is vindicating those of us who contended his 2018 rise represented the national media seeing what it wanted to see instead of what was actually there.

And then there’s Julian Castro, who on paper should be doing much better than he is; today Politico unveils a long profile asking, “what went wrong?” His sputtering campaign should challenge a lot of conventional wisdom about identity politics.

We’re on the right, so we’re not going to like or often agree with any of the Democratic candidates. But by a lot of measures, Julian Castro is a pretty good candidate. On the stump, he can be funny and charismatic and impassioned. He comes prepared to the debates. He’s been a mayor of a sizable city and worked in Washington as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Compared to the rest of the field, his policy proposals are detailed and far-reaching. He hasn’t made any killer gaffes, although he probably could have done without his twin brother, Representative Joaquin Castro, listing the names and employers of Trump donors in his district.

And it has to be said: he’s the only Latino candidate in a crowded field. If all Latino Democrats backed Castro in this race, he would be, at minimum, a major player. Immigration has been a huge issue in the primary so far, and Castro has emphasized the immigrant roots of his family.

And yet, all of that appears to have meant nothing. Castro is at 1.1 percent in the national RCP average right now. He’s at 2 percent in the most recent poll of Democrats in his home state of Texas! Travel back in time to 2012, when the media was calling Castro “the Latino Obama” and he was giving the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, and tell people that seven years from now, Castro will be trailing the then newly elected mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Latino voters are not going to just automatically flock to a Latino candidate, just as African-American voters have not automatically flocked to Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. Politico writes, “polling that does exist shows that immigration isn’t the big concern among Latinos that many analysts assume it to be. Jobs and health care rank above immigration, and polling shows that Latinos tend to favor the candidates who are preferred by the rest of the Democratic electorate like Warren, Sanders and Biden.” It would be nice if “analysts” could catch up to what Latinos are actually thinking.

There’s another line in the Politico profile that reveals a lot: “Part of Castro’s pitch as a nominee is that he would change that calculus, that seeing one of their own onstage would mean that the quarter or so of the Latino electorate that now supports Trump would come his way in big numbers.” A president who is allegedly the most stridently anti-Latino xenophobic monster to ever stride across the American landscape shouldn’t still have the support of a quarter or so of the Latino electorate.

Politico theorizes that Castro never caught on because almost all of his strengths are duplicated by other candidates: “Elizabeth Warren is the ‘policy candidate.’ And Pete Buttigieg, seven years younger than Castro, is the Millennial Mayor candidate. Joe Biden is the one with better ties to the Obama administration.” That’s probably part of it; what’s more, many of the also-rans and asterisk candidates have been in denial about the reality that the objective is not to be a good candidate, but to be the best candidate. Whether it’s a pollster calling or their actual ballot, voters can only pick one person as their top choice.

One other strong possibility is that Democratic voters simultaneously like Castro and don’t like his odds in a head-to-head debate against Trump. Castro is 44 and looks younger. Whatever his height and weight are, he looks short and skinny next to other candidates on the debate stage, adding to the perception of his youth. He met with vehemently anti-Trump New York Times columnist Charles Blow in December, and Blow summarized Castro as “a nice guy who made it” and predicted that “Trump would have a field day” with Castro’s declaration that he got into Stanford because of affirmative action.

Democrats are terrified of a second term for Trump — and they don’t seem to be willing to bet all their chips on Castro.