Economy & Business

Keeping an Apolitical Fed


Bill Dudley, a former president of the New York Federal Reserve, made waves this morning with a column in Bloomberg Opinion arguing that the Fed should make its monetary-policy decisions on a political basis:

Officials could state explicitly that the central bank won’t bail out an administration that keeps making bad choices on trade policy, making it abundantly clear that Trump will own the consequences of his actions. . . . I understand and support Fed officials’ desire to remain apolitical. But Trump’s ongoing attacks on Powell and on the institution have made that untenable. . . . Trump’s reelection arguably presents a threat to the U.S. and global economy, to the Fed’s independence and its ability to achieve its employment and inflation objectives. If the goal of monetary policy is to achieve the best long-term economic outcome, then Fed officials should consider how their decisions will affect the political outcome in 2020.

Thankfully, the Fed has issued a statement publicly rejecting Dudley’s advice, but it’s worth pointing out how irresponsible that advice is. Yes, Donald Trump cares little for the norm of an independent Fed. He wants it to jettison its standard operating procedure and pursue a monetary policy that would be advantageous in the trade war with China, and says as much on Twitter almost daily. That’s bad, because a country with an independent central bank is a stabler one. But the best — the only — way for the Fed to handle the challenge Trump poses is to remain independent. Its mandate is simple: maximize employment and keep inflation under control. If it refused to follow that mandate because it didn’t like the president’s policies (let alone the president himself), it would deserve to be brought under political control.


Beto O’Rourke Again Endorses Unlimited Abortion until Birth

Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke speaks at a campaign house party in Salem, N.H., May 9, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

During a town-hall campaign event the College of Charleston yesterday evening, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke reiterated his support for permitting abortion until an unborn child’s birthday.

“You were at a town-hall meeting just like this in Cleveland and someone asked you specifically about third-trimester abortions, and you said that’s a decision left up to the mother,” a young man told O’Rourke in the first question of the event. “I was born September 8, 1989,” he added, “and I want to know if you think on September 7, 1989, my life had no value.”

At first, the former congressman tried to dodge. “Of course I don’t think that,” he replied. “And of course I’m glad that you’re here.” But that wasn’t all O’Rourke had to say on the subject.

“This is a decision that neither you, nor I, nor the United States government should be making. That’s a decision for the woman to make. We want her to have the best possible access to care and to a medical provider,” O’Rourke said, before referring to the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade as the “settled law of the land.”

“I don’t question the decisions that a woman makes,” he added. “Only a woman knows what she knows, and I want to trust her with that.”

Earlier in his remarks, O’Rourke castigated Trump for referring to illegal immigrants as an “infestation.” He said this word characterizes them as “something less than human that you would want to kill or keep out, but not a human being, not those children that we put in cages after we dehumanize them so we can treat them as something less than human.”

Given O’Rourke’s insistence on remaining in the Democratic presidential race despite tanking in the polls, it isn’t terribly surprising that he’s dense enough to chastise Trump for dehumanizing immigrants just minutes for dehumanizing unborn children the day before they’re delivered.


Rouhani Is Not at Trump’s ‘Level’

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

French president Emmanuel Macron made news by inviting Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif to the sidelines of the G-7 summit in Biarritz last weekend. Macron wants to renew European leadership on the global stage — as well as his standing at home — by jump-starting diplomacy between the United States and Iran. At a press conference yesterday, Macron said he’d given President Trump prior notice. “He was informed at each minute about the solution — the situation, sorry,” Macron said. “And the idea for me was, in case of structural move and — important move and important solutions — perhaps to have meeting between ministers, not at President Trump’s level, because President Trump’s level is President Rouhani.”

Pardonnez-moi, monsieur le président. Rouhani is not “Trump’s level.” Rouhani is prime minister of Iran. He plays an important role in Iranian politics. He is the public face of the regime. But he is neither head of state nor, in actuality, head of government. That person is the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is Khamenei, not Rouhani, who exercises ultimate control over Iranian foreign policy. It is Khamenei, not Rouhani, who commands the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. And it is Khamenei, not Rouhani, who would have approval over any prospective deal with the Great Satan. If Trump really were to meet with his Iranian equivalent, it would be with Khamenei.

North Korea set the precedent. Trump didn’t travel to Singapore and Hanoi and the DMZ to see the current president of the Supreme People’s Assembly. He went to see Chairman Kim.

Personal diplomacy, if it works at all, works only with people able to execute decisions. In North Korea, that’s Kim. In Iran, that’s Khamenei. To settle for anything less would be a waste of time. And would diminish the American presidency.

Politics & Policy

Planned Parenthood and ACLU Try to Block Missouri’s Pro-Life Law


On Monday, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union asked a U.S. district judge to issue a temporary restraining order to stop a pro-life law in Missouri from taking effect tomorrow as scheduled, pending a lawsuit against it. The Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act was passed in May and prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which usually occurs somewhere between six and eight weeks’ gestation.

The law also bans abortions based on race, sex, or Down syndrome diagnosis, and it includes other restrictions on abortion from anywhere between 14 weeks to 20 weeks, crafted to go into effect if the heartbeat portion of the law is struck down.

Both the ACLU and Planned Parenthood of St. Louis filed a lawsuit against the state of Missouri in late July, insisting that the law is unconstitutional and prevents “the vast majority of patients from obtaining the constitutionally protected medical care they seek,” according to the suit. Because that challenge has yet to be decided, the organizations want district judge Howard Sachs to stop the law from going into effect until the lawsuit has been resolved.

Missouri’s pro-life law was one of several passed in red states earlier this year, including similar heartbeat bills in Georgia, Ohio, and Mississippi, as well as one enacted in Louisiana by Democratic lawmakers. The district judge in Missouri is set to announce today whether he will grant Planned Parenthood and the ACLU’s request to block the law until the pending lawsuit is decided.

Politics & Policy

Congressman Sean Duffy Announces Resignation, Citing Unborn Baby’s Heart Condition

Sean Duffy (R, Wis.) with his wife Rachel at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18, 2016. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Representative Sean Duffy (R., Wis.) has announced that he will resign from Congress later next month, saying he will “take a break from public service” after learning that his unborn child has a heart condition. Duffy has represented Wisconsin’s seventh congressional district since 2011, first elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 that saw the GOP take back the House of Representatives.

“Recently, we’ve learned that our baby, due in late October, will need even more love, time, and attention due to complications, including a heart condition,” Duffy wrote in a statement on his official Facebook page on Monday. “With much prayer, I have decided that this is the right time for me to take a break from public service in order to be the support my wife, baby and family need right now.”

After Duffy’s announcement, the University of Virginia Center for Politics shifted the House race in the seventh district from from “safe Republican” to “likely Republican.” Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, will announce a date for a special election to fill Duffy’s seat.

“After eight and a half years, the time has come for me to focus more on the reason we fight these battles – family,” Duffy added. The baby due in October will be the ninth for Duffy and his wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy.

“I did notice that when I announced that I was pregnant with my ninth, it made some of the tabloid news as well as some of the political blogs, and what I found fascinating is that the comments on the Daily Mail or were largely positive,” Campos-Duffy told National Review in a July interview. “It was on Politico and The Hill where many commenters had awful things to say about people with large families. And it was so much misogynistic stuff like ‘Keep your legs closed,’ or comments that I’m basically an environmental terrorist — a lot of comments about our carbon footprint, which thought was fascinating as well.”

Duffy deserves to be commended for deciding to focus on the needs of his family, especially since he is widely considered a promising young Republican and likely had a bright political career ahead of him. Perhaps he’ll return to office in the future, but in the meantime, his resignation is a reminder that there are more important things than elections.

Politics & Policy

A Question of Honor, Still

(Filippo Monteforte / Staff)

There is an issue that some of us find painful, and infuriating. It lingers, it festers. I wrote about it in 2015, here: “A Question of Honor: As the wolves circle, Iraqis who helped us are pleading for visas.” I will not rehash the issue; those interested can read the piece.

Last Friday, a story appeared from NBC News. Here is how it begins:

The Trump administration has virtually closed the door on Iraqis who worked as interpreters for the American military, issuing only two U.S. visas to former interpreters last year, according to government statistics obtained by NBC News.

The interpreters have faced threats, abductions and attacks for their association with American forces, and hundreds have been killed by militants since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Former interpreter Shaker Jeffrey fled to Germany while awaiting admission to the United States, but he says that even there he has been targeted by the Islamic State group’s militants.

“I am a hunted man,” Jeffrey, who has been waiting for a visa for 10 years, said. “If I return to Iraq, I will be assassinated.”

Earlier this month, the New York Times published a profile of Stephen Miller, President Trump’s immigration adviser. Here is an excerpt: “A fervent critic of refugee programs, he has helped cut annual admissions by about three-quarters since the end of the Obama administration.”

People are very proud of this. Very. I know them, I hear from them. But I think that they, like death, should not be proud.


Don’t Panic over the Mystery Vaping Disease — but Maybe Lay Off the Counterfeit Products

A man vapes outside a shop in East Liverpool, Ohio. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

A lot of us on the right — including yours truly — have been quite enthusiastic about the potential of vaping to reduce smoking deaths without infringing on smokers’ personal freedom. The U.K.’s Royal College of Physicians estimates that vaping is, at most, only 5 percent as dangerous as smoking. As I wrote back in 2016, “this implies we could maintain our current level of safety even if 19 nonsmokers took up vaping for every smoker who switched (or would-be smoker who vaped instead).” The potential is enormous.

When it comes to new products, though, there is always a chance of unknown dangers — and recently there have been reports of a mysterious lung disease among vapers. Kaiser Health News has an excellent and thorough (if somewhat slanted) report today that ought to put this problem in focus.

As of August 22 there were nearly 200 reported cases of vaping-related illnesses from 22 states, and at least one death. These numbers aren’t really comparable to those for smoking, whose consequences normally come after decades of use and are counted much more thoroughly than this new problem is. But it’s at least worth pointing out that smoking is estimated to kill nearly half a million Americans each year, and that for every person who dies, 30 more get serious smoking-related illnesses. So far, then, the mystery lung disease is just a blip on the radar in terms of the overall problem we’re trying to address.

Further, while a lot remains to be learned about the illness, there are strong suggestions it’s caused by bad or counterfeit products, not by normal vaping. The cases cluster geographically, and in some states they have been found exclusively among those who vape cannabis products, not nicotine. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA director who launched a crackdown on vaping when studies showed teen use on the uptick, told KHN he suspects the problem is counterfeit pods, both because of the clustering and because the FDA inspects the facilities of legitimate manufacturers to ensure the products aren’t contaminated.

In terms of policy, it’s worth keeping an eye on this problem, figuring out what is causing it, and punishing anyone selling tainted vaping products. It’s also worth setting up a better system for keeping track of issues with vaping liquids and accessories. And of course, the FDA should keep in mind everything we learn about this illness as it continues to implement its new regulatory regime (however much I hate that regime). We should also keep studying the consequences of vaping, and especially how those consequences vary according to which products people use.

For the time being, though, this seems like a problem limited to small batches of bad products — not unlike the foodborne illnesses that kill several thousand Americans each year — rather than a reason to change course on vaping overall.


When Does an Insect Analogy Cross the Line?

Insects at Protix, the first farm capable of large scale production of insects for use in animal feed that opened in Bergen-op-Zoom, Netherlands, June 11, 2019. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Understandably annoyed and angered by a professor who compared him to a bedbug, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens declared on MSNBC this morning, “Analogizing people to insects is always wrong . . . Being analogized to insects goes back to a lot of totalitarian regimes in the past.”

No doubt there is a long and ugly history of hateful people seeking to dehumanize their political or social opponents by comparing them to animals and stating, explicitly or implicitly, that they’re something less than human: rats, snakes, pigs, apes, “vermin,” and yes, insects like cockroaches and lice. As David Livingstone Smith observed, to most people it is morally wrong to kill another human being, but permissible and in fact necessary to exterminate rats or insects. If you can get people to mentally reclassify other human beings into something less than human, you’ve set the stage for brutal behavior and policies; Hutus involved in the Rwanda genocide called Tutsis “cockroaches.”

When George Washington University professor David Karpf called Stephens a bedbug, he was being . . . I’d say a jackass, but that would be another animal analogy. From Karpf’s comments, he clearly sees himself as the victim in this exchange and seems to think there’s nothing wrong with calling Stephens a bedbug, but there is something wrong with Stephens calling his boss’s attention to that tweet.

Karpf vehemently disagrees with Stephens and expressed it in an ugly and snotty way. But our public discourse is going to get worse if we interpret every insect analogy as a repressed or not-so-repressed homicidal or genocidal desire.

I hate to be the fly in the ointment, but not every reference to an insect is necessarily calling for someone’s extinction.

Yes, Twitter and the Internet are a hive of this kind of name-calling, with every troll as busy as a bee, and it’s easy to stir up a hornet’s nest. These comments bug people. One day you think you’re the bee’s knees, covering a race that’s as tight as a tick, and then the next you’re bug-eyed in shock at some nasty insult and that leaves a bee in your bonnet. You’re a nice guy, who wouldn’t hurt a flea, but the idea of somebody hating you like that leaves butterflies in your stomach and has really loused up your day. For a while everybody was on Twitter, but now those who can’t stand the nasty name-calling are dropping like flies.

In a better world, our debates would be principled, respectful and focused on issues; the personal stuff wouldn’t be anybody’s beeswax. When somebody saw the value in our perspective, we would answer, “you have learned well, grasshopper.” It’s tempting to cocoon ourselves in a small circle of like-minded souls. But perhaps we ought to just follow Muhammad Ali’s advice: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”


New Redskins Poll, Same Result


The latest poll is in, and it bolsters that stubborn fact about the name of the Washington Football Team: The majority of Native Americans are not offended by the “Redskins” name (perhaps to the dismay of those who wish they felt otherwise).

The polling firm Wolvereye released their report, which was picked up by the Washington Post earlier this month. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of self-identified Native Americans surveyed were not offended by the name. (That is a lower figure than reported in similar studies done by Annenberg and the Washington Post, both of which found that the proportion of unoffended Natives was closer to nine in ten.) Wolverye’s survey also asked the respondents what word they most associated with the “Redskins” name; the most common answer was “proud,” followed by “indifferent” and “annoyed.”

When compared with other Native-derived mascots in professional sports, Washington’s was the least popular among those surveyed: “Braves” was the most well-liked, while “Chiefs,” “Blackhawks,” and “Indians” each outperformed “Redskins.”

Science & Tech

Radioactive Data

(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Google has told investors (and the world) that they have access to information about roughly 70 percent of credit and debit card transactions in the United States. As a business matter, this is hugely important, because combined with location data, and user data is collects from search, YouTube, Google Android, Google Chrome, and Google Maps, Google can now tell advertisers how often people see an ad Google served them and then walked into a brick and mortar store and actually bought the item.

As a business matter, I do wonder how much good this actually does. Sometimes having so many data points allows you to tell any story you want. Google serves an appliance ad across a tiny portion of your web browsing experience, and you, for a short time occupy a store with that item in it, a store that itself occupies a tiny portion of the geographical space around your town. Until Google is wired directly into your brain, I wonder how it connects the two events together logically.

But the article brought to mind an idea I have that the social networks and other tech giants like Google are passively collecting so much data on human activity that the data trove they are sitting on itself is a kind of socially radioactive material. I may have picked up this metaphor from programmer and entrepreneur Maciej Ceglowski, who gave a talk on this theme a few years ago.

Basically, Ceglowski’s thesis is that collected and searchable personal data, like nuclear waste, has a dangerous power that may outlive the institutions that created it.

[I]nformation about people retains its power as long as those people are alive, and sometimes as long as their children are alive. No one knows what will become of sites like Twitter in five years or ten. But the data those sites own will retain the power to hurt for decades.

There are fewer and fewer ways to live a normal life and opt out of this information economy.  Your car passes cameras that are passing on data about your location. Your car will soon be passing data itself. We are asked to trust not only all the institutions that we knowingly give our personal data to, but all the successor institutions that may acquire them — whether in a buyout, or simply as a condition. What would some of our Silicon Valley giants do to open up China to their business? Tech firms in China already have agreements to share data with the government.

Even the knowledge that all this data is being collected on us has social costs. As our helplessness to avoid being captured by corporate databases and suffering consequences during leaks becomes more evident, people may live increasingly as if they are being monitored by a potentially hostile agent. It also has the potential to destroy trust. Data leaks can not only destroy people for what they reveal about their true behavior, but messy and incomplete data could merely suggest things about a person’s behavior without proving it. Or faked data can be dummied up and interspersed into batches of real personal data to incriminate.

We need to be thinking much harder about the problems this creates.

Health Care

Poll: Only 22 Percent of Democrats Want to Abolish Private Insurance for Medicare for All

Sen. Bernie Sanders speak during the first night of the second 2020 Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, Mich., July 30, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

The latest national poll of the Democratic presidential primary shows a three-way virtual tie for first place (Warren 20, Sanders 20, Biden 19), with Biden suffering a surprisingly large 13-point drop since Monmouth surveyed voters in mid-June. 

Larry Sabato points out that the poll has a small sample size (only 298 voters were interviewed), which means it has a wider than usual margin of error. And Fox News, CNN, and Morning Consult have all conducted polls in August showing Biden with a double-digit lead. 

We’ll know soon enough whether the Monmouth poll is an outlier or a leading indicator in the Democratic primary, but one very interesting finding in the poll (one that can’t be chalked up to a large margin of error) is the contradictory evidence about the popularity of Medicare for All among Democrats. 

As the New York Times has reported: At “the heart of the ‘Medicare for all’ proposals championed by Senator Bernie Sanders and many Democrats is a revolutionary idea: Abolish private health insurance.” 

But Monmouth reports

On the issue of health care, 58% of party voters say it is very important to them that the Democrats nominate someone who supports “Medicare for All.”  Another 23% say it is somewhat important, 10% say it is not important, and 9% are unsure. However, it is not clear that Medicare for All means the same thing to all voters.  When asked specifically about what type of health insurance system they prefer, 53% of Democratic voters say they want a system that offers an opt in to Medicare while retaining the private insurance market. Just 22% say they want to move to a system where Medicare for All replaces private insurance. Another 7% prefer to keep insurance private for people under 65 but regulate the costs and 11% want to leave the system basically as it is now. 

So 81 percent of Democrats say it is “very” or “somewhat” important that the Democratic nominee support Medicare for All, but 78 percent of Democrats do not support the provision at “the heart of Medicare for All.”  The two candidates most committed to abolishing private insurance, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth “I’m with Bernie” Warren, are tied for first place in the poll. And the candidate who has tried to give Democrats exactly what they say they want — something called “Medicare for All” that doesn’t abolish private insurance — has suffered in the Democratic primary precisely because of her maneuverings on the issue.

Politics & Policy

Kevin Impresses on Bill Maher

Kevin D. Williamson appears in a Cato Institute video.

Kevin Williamson had a strong appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher last Friday night, the episode that instantly became notorious when Maher said, of David Koch, “F*** him . . . I’m glad he’s dead and I hope the end was painful.”

Kevin, promoting his new book The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in an Age of Mob Politics, a consideration of social-media outrage that was written in part as a response to the mob politics that got him fired from The Atlantic after three days on the job, was probably not expecting a warm reception from the L.A. crowd, but if a crowd can be said to give off the vibe of, “Hmm, maybe we should think about that,” I’d say that was the response. I would have been happy to see him pull a Hitchens and extend his middle digits to Maher’s audience but instead he was able to score some points.

Kevin made a case against majoritarianism that caught Maher off guard: “Like me, you don’t trust big masses of people because they tend to be stupid and easy to scare. All of the best things about our Constitution are the anti-democratic stuff like the Bill of Rights, which is America’s great big list of stuff you idiots don’t get to vote on. If we had put slavery up to a vote in 1860, it’d have won, it’d have won 70 to 30. If we put free speech up to a vote today it’d probably lose.”

Maher derided the idea that free speech equals money, and Kevin calmly shot him down. “I actually don’t think so. . . . That’s like saying, well you have freedom of the press but if you want to have a press, it’s $100 million, well you can’t do that because that’s big money in journalism.” Maher and the crowd seemed a bit stunned by the cogency of that, and Maher moved on to “tribal politics and political correctness.”

Kevin noted, “We’ve taken the normal sort of team sports aspects of politics and we’ve elevated that to the exclusion of everything else.” It’s an era of “this weird social-media ritual of hating people together in public. So it’s, you know, we’re the good guys they’re the bad guys, here are all the awful things about them, here are the great things about us.”

Maher is an unabashed statist, but at least he vigorously opposes cancellation culture and outrage archeology. When he asked Kevin why he deleted his Twitter account, Kevin said, “I quit Twitter because it wasn’t really a very good use of time.”

“You know, I’m a writer and like a lot of writers I tend to procrastinate so when I’m supposed to be doing real work it’s tempting to go on Twitter and say, ‘Well, who’s being stupid today?’ Let me go find them.’” This leads to “smacking around some undergraduate from Lehigh College.” Not productive. “I mean, I’m expensive, you know, you don’t want to pay me to spend my time doing that.” 

This was an especially trenchant point: the “devious underlying structure of social media is that we’re all naturally insecure about our status. And so they’ve taken this question of status and they’ve put a number on it. You know, you’ve got this many friends, you’ve got this many followers you’ve got this many likes. And so people go to it for a quick little dopamine hit to make them feel better it’s not really about politics. It’s about saying please pay attention to me.” Twitter makes journalism worse because “journalists have recast themselves as a species of pol . . . you’re someone who’s there to represent a constituency and try to win elections.” Kevin wants no part of this.

Maher brought up abortion, which Kevin strongly opposes and Maher strongly supports, but didn’t linger too long on the subject. Later a panel of guests discussed the recent comeback by Mark Halperin, who lost various jobs after multiple women accused him of sexual misbehavior in the workplace. The concept of “redemption court” came up. “You know what we have that’s better than redemption court?” Kevin asked. “Court.” When Norman Mailer stabbed his wife at a party, the crime was handled through the courts (he received three years’ probation) and then he continued on with his work.


What a Woman Is


Twitter informs us that it’s #WomensEqualityDay! Hooray! Scrolling through the trending tweets, however, I can’t help but notice that some of the loudest voices celebrating this occasion are, in fact, the very same voices who repeatedly and aggressively denounce what a woman is.

Therefore, ladies — on “women’s equality day” — let us not be afraid to say that a “woman,” per le dictionnaire, is an “adult human female.” That a woman is — and again, ladies, we really can’t afford to be shy about this — a person of the female sex. And let us remember, also, that stating this simple fact — uncontested throughout history — does not make us b****es, or “terfs,” or bigots. And that those who insist that it does, do not represent our interests.

Economy & Business

What Charles Schultze Said

(Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

I agree with almost nothing in this New York Times essay by Binyamin Appelbaum: not with the fairness of the generalization that “economists” cheerlead for lower taxation of the wealthy over the last generation, not with the claim that falling life expectancies of late are an obvious indictment of U.S. economic policies, not with the conclusion that “[r]educing inequality should be a primary goal of public policy.” But perhaps the book from which the essay was drawn will make a strong case for all of this.

Here I want to examine one of the smaller building blocks of the essay. Appelbaum writes:

Liberal and conservative economists conducted running battles on key questions of public policy, but their areas of agreement ultimately were more important. Although nature tends toward entropy, they shared a confidence that markets tend toward equilibrium. They agreed that the primary goal of economic policy was to increase the dollar value of the nation’s output. And they had little patience for efforts to limit inequality. Charles L. Schultze, the chairman of Mr. Carter’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in the early 1980s that economists should fight for efficient policies “even when the result is significant income losses for particular groups — which it almost always is.” A generation later, in 2004, the Nobel laureate Robert Lucas warned against any revival of efforts to reduce inequality. “Of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and in my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of distribution.”

When I read that passage, it seemed to me likely that Schultze had not been writing about inequality at all. He was probably, I figured, writing about policy changes that have widely distributed benefits and concentrated costs. Sure enough, that’s what I found. The quote comes from Schultze’s 1982 essay, “The Role and Responsibilities of the Economist in Government.” Schultze wrote:

What I am saying is that in matters of specific micro policy, and within reasonable bounds, [the economist’s] role is to be the partisan advocate for efficiency even when the result is significant income losses for particular groups — as it almost always is. The equities at stake are not grand matters of progressive taxation, or welfare reform and the distribution of income by income class. Rather, distributional issues center on the inevitable losses in income suffered by some members of society — often rich and poor alike — as the result of choosing an efficient solution (emphasis in original).

Schultze then offers two examples: “highly-paid” steel workers who will lose income because of free trade and Maine homeowners who will pay more for heating because of energy deregulation. A few paragraphs later, Schultze added that while the economist’s concern for efficiency should “be vigorously represented in the advocacy process by which policy is formulated, it is not the only legitimate point of view.”

The comment does not appear to betray any impatience with “efforts to limit inequality,” and was entirely compatible with support for a robust program of redistribution and progressive taxation to limit inequality.

Economy & Business

Uncommon Knowledge: Why Here, Why Now? The U.S.’s Dramatic Standard Of Living Improvements during the Last Century


Hoover Institution economists John Cogan, Lee Ohanian, Terry Anderson, and George Shultz examine the causes for and the reasons behind so many improvements being made to the quality of life in the United States over the past century. They analyze the role that free markets, property rights, innovation, regulation, taxes, and national security played in these remarkable achievements.

Recorded on April 18, 2019


Can Anything Be Done to Clean Up College Sports?

(Brett Rojo/USA Today Sports)

College football season is just around the corner. For the next seven months, millions of Americans will be fixated on how their favorite college football and then basketball teams do. Only a small number will ever contemplate the ugly stuff that occurs behind the scenes.

In today’s Martin Center article, Anthony Hennen surveys some of the reform prospects.

One issue is the welfare of the student athletes. Hennen writes, “Fritz Polite, the past president of the reform-minded Drake Group told the Martin Center, ‘Our focus is primarily on the well-being of the students. Someone, someone has to be the voice. Someone has to stand up and protect those students.'” The NCAA and most schools say that they do, but it’s mostly lip service.

Current rules prevent college athletes from earning any profit for themselves from their exploits. A bill in the California state legislature would change that. “Colleges wouldn’t have to pay student-athletes,” Hennen explains, “but athletes could monetize their sports fame with sponsorship deals or earning money through social media, for example.” That might be the only sensible bill in the CA legislature at this time.

Another prospective improvement that does not involve legislation is the Pay College Athletes Association. That idea entails having fans donate money into a fund to be equally shared. I am not optimistic this would amount to much, but it’s voluntary, so let’s see.

The most interesting possibility Hennen discusses is the possible creation of a minor league basketball league. Why should talented young hoops players have to go through the rigamarole of pretending to be college students for at least one year when what they really want to do is to become pro basketball players?


Maybe Biden Is the Moderate Lane


By the standards of the day before yesterday, Joe Biden is a liberal Democrat. He’s a moderate Democrat only by the standards of today’s party, in which several of the leading presidential candidates have come out for banning private health insurance. Those moderate stances ought to make him a stronger candidate in the general election. But he has weaknesses that are distinct from his positions on the issues. You’d think, then, that there would be a market in the Democratic primaries for a candidate who had his relatively moderate stances but was younger and less gaffe-prone.

Some of the Democratic campaigns seem to be premised on that idea — or at least on the possibility that if Biden were eliminated there would be room for such a candidate. But that’s looking less and less likely. None of the other relative moderates has gone anywhere, and a few of them, such as John Hickenlooper and Seth Moulton, have already dropped out. My guess is that if Biden falters, even because of his personal rather than his ideological qualities, it will be taken by a lot of Democrats as a victory for the Left in an intraparty referendum on moderation.


‘New York Values’ Revisited


Kevin Williamson dings Senator Ted Cruz (an old friend of mine) for criticizing Donald Trump’s “New York values” in 2016. No doubt Cruz was attempting to appeal to the anti-urban sentiment among conservatives that Kevin’s article takes as its target. But there is a bit of relevant context that rarely got reported during the campaign. Trump had given an interview in 1999 in which he repeatedly put his then-liberal stances on abortion and gay rights in the context of his hailing from New York. He even said that he might view these issues differently if he came from Iowa. A socially conservative rival to Trump whose strategy depended on winning Iowa could hardly be expected to pass up the opportunity the New Yorker had created.

Trump hasn’t governed the way Cruz warned he would, and the two are now, as Kevin notes, political allies. So this is all ancient history. Consider this post a footnote to it.

Law & the Courts

Reviewing the Data on Red Flag Laws, Assault Weapons, and Background Checks

AR-15 rifle at a gun range in Springville, Utah. (Reuters photo: George Frey)

The San Jose Mercury News studied “three years worth of recent active shooter incidents from 2016 through 2018 compiled by the FBI to see how often they involved background check loopholes, disturbing ‘red flag’ signals from the shooter beforehand, and military-style assault weapons.”

The results are pretty eye-opening, particularly when it comes to evaluating the potential impact of “red flag” laws:

In more than two-thirds of the 75 cases reviewed, the shooters telegraphed their troubled state on social media, in remarks or messages to friends or family or with signs of mental illness or distress.

That raises the potential for them to have been disarmed beforehand through red flag laws like those in California and 16 other states. A recent study found 21 cases in which California’s red flag law appears to have headed off threatened mass shootings since it was enacted in 2016. Last week, a Long Beach hotel worker was arrested after a co-worker told police he threatened to shoot up the place, and a teenage girl in Orlando was arrested after her threats to shoot people at her sister’s school were reported.

It is worth noting that the Long Beach hotel worker wasn’t really a case of using a “red flag” law. Law enforcement didn’t merely seize his weapons, they arrested him. He is facing four felony charges: two counts of criminal threats and one count each of dissuading a witness by force or threat and possession of an assault weapon.

You’ll probably never have 100 percent effective use of “red flag” laws; not every family member, friend, or person on social media will call up the cops and begin the process of getting the person legally deemed a threat to themselves or others. And existing law permits people to report potential threats and to request involuntary confinement and psychological treatment, although state laws usually require clear and convincing evidence that someone is imminently dangerous to themselves or others.

The National Rifle Association says it is not necessarily opposed to “red flag” laws or emergency risk-protection orders, but that none of the laws that have passed in recent years meet their criteria to ensure the protection of both Second Amendment rights and due-process rights. Some gun owners point out that the currently enacted red flag laws remove the firearms from the person deemed a threat . . . and then nothing else happens — no mandatory institutionalization, no mandatory counseling, monitoring, or follow-up evaluations. Harming others or themselves with a knife, vehicle, or other tool remains a possibility.

The Mercury News found, “in nearly a third of the cases, military-style assault weapons banned in California and six other states were used, though the shooters often had other types of guns too. Most used ordinary pistols, shotguns and rifles.”

The conclusions are pretty clear: Red flag laws that are carefully written and not abused could probably a stop a significant number of mass shooters before they start, while an assault weapons ban would, at most, take away some of the guns that mass shooters would bring to their massacres, but not all of them.

As for the argument about background check loopholes, “most of the shooters either legally bought weapons and passed background checks or used a gun that was stolen or belonged to a relative or friend.”

The article notes that the man “who killed 26 people at a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church in November 2017 had a domestic violence conviction while serving in the Air Force, but it wasn’t entered into the national database used for background checks.” The Mercury News article didn’t mention it, but that was also the case with the Charleston Church shooter; a clerical error in records listing the wrong agency meant that Roof’s purchase was permitted. As awful as those high-profile incidents were, few mass shooters obtained their weapons because of errors in the instant check system.


‘Uniquely a Community of Values’ (and Other Fighting Words)

President Gerald R. Ford at a naturalization ceremony at Monticello, July 5, 1976 (National Archives)

On the homepage today, I have a piece on being an American — a few points on that subject, a few stories. I wanted to add a thing or two here.

I brought up Aunt Eller — who sings, “I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else, but I’ll be danged if I ain’t just as good!” If you would like to see that portion of Oklahoma! — or be reminded of it — go here.

Also, I would like to quote from President Ford, but first, here is a little patch of my piece today:

At naturalization ceremonies, the presiding officer — could be a judge, even a Supreme Court justice; sometimes it’s the president of the United States — often says, “You are now just as American as descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims.” (Sometimes they are more so, in outlook and appreciation; sometimes they aren’t.)

Surfing around, I stumbled onto a speech that President Ford made on July 5, 1976, the day after our Bicentennial. He was at Monticello, presiding over a naturalization ceremony. So much of what he said relates to our (roiling) debates today.

You will want to read the whole thing, I think, but let me excerpt a few paragraphs — beginning with:

Immigrants came from almost everywhere, singly and in waves. . . . Like the Mayflower Pilgrims and the early Spanish settlers, these new Americans brought with them precious relics of the worlds they left behind — a song, a story, a dance, a tool, a seed, a recipe, the name of a place, the rules of a game, a trick of the trade.

Such transfusions of traditions and cultures, as well as of blood, have made America unique among nations and Americans a new kind of people. There is little the world has that is not native to the United States today.

What do you think of that? And this?

The essential fact is that the United States — as a national policy and in the hearts of most Americans — has been willing to absorb anyone from anywhere. We were confident that simply by sharing our American adventure these newcomers would be loyal, law-abiding, productive citizens, and they were. Older nations in the 18th and 19th centuries granted their nationality to foreign born only as a special privilege, if at all. We offered citizenship to all, and we have been richly rewarded.

The United States was able to do this because we are uniquely a community of values, as distinct from a religious community, a racial community, a geographic community, or an ethnic community. This Nation was founded 200 years ago, not on ancient legends or conquests or physical likeness or language, but on a certain political value which Jefferson’s pen so eloquently expressed.

Them’s fightin’ words, certainly on the right today — as we debate nationalism, patriotism, America as idea, America as not-idea, and so on.

One more dose of Ford, please, on 7/5/76. He saw a “growing danger in this country.” And that danger was “conformity of thought and taste and behavior.” He continues,

We need more encouragement and protection for individuality. The wealth we have of culture — ethnic, religious, and racial traditions — is a valuable counterbalance to the overpowering sameness and subordination of totalitarian societies. The sense of belonging to any group that stands for something decent and noble, so long as it does not confine free spirits or cultivate hostility to others, is part of the pride every American should have in the heritage of the past. That heritage is rooted now, not in England alone — as indebted as we are for the Magna Carta and the common law — not in Europe alone, or in Africa alone, or Asia, or on the islands of the sea. The American adventure draws from the best of all of mankind’s long sojourn here on Earth and now reaches out into the solar system.

Dang. Go ahead, Jerry.


Weld: Impeach Trump, Even if He’s Reelected

President Donald Trump speaks to the media before departing the White House in Washington, D.C., July 24, 2019. (Mary F. Calvert/Reuters)

Republican presidential primary challenger William Weld recently offered the most drastic response to the idea of how Trump opponents should respond to his reelection: impeach and attempt to remove him from office, despite the voters’ verdict.

“And I’ve long said that one of two things was going to happen: Either the sober second judgment of the community’s going to kick in, which may be happening in the last month or so. I think the president’s gone a little bit further on the proverbial limb in terms of lashing out all day long. And people will look at that and say, hm, maybe that’s not my dish after all.”

And if not and Trump is re-elected?

“I think Congress should impeach him.”

Salute Weld for his honesty, I suppose; he’s perfectly comfortable overruling the decision of the American voters at the ballot box. Then again, Bill Clinton was polling pretty well when the GOP attempted to impeach and remove him from office in 1998–1999 as well.

But we can only imagine the response of Trump supporters if somehow he won reelection, but then a short time later, a Democratic House impeached him and a combination of Democratic senators and 20 or so GOP senators agreed to remove him from office. Even a failed impeachment after Trump’s reelection would be seen as a bitter effort to further tarnish the reputation of a president that most Democrats believed would never get one term, never mind two.

In addition, Weld said, “I’ve recently read the law memo that Hillary Rodham and I wrote for the Nixon impeachment, and it’s very good. It’s balanced and makes it clear that conduct that’s not consonant with the conception of how the office should operate, including dignity, decency is grounds for removal. It doesn’t have to be a criminal offense.”

It’s interesting how dignity and decency are defined differently in different eras. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson gave a press conference to reporters buck naked.

Politics & Policy

Apprentice and Master

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich speaks to the media after his arraignment hearing on April 14, 2009. (Frank Polich/Reuters)

In recent decades, Illinois has been a byword for corruption — not just Chicago, not just Cook County, but Illinois at large. George Ryan (a Republican) got out of prison in 2013. His successor, Rod Blagojevich (a Democrat), is still in.

Both of these men served as governor, I should mention — although you might snicker at the word “served.”

“Blago” was spectacularly corrupt. It’s one thing to be a corrupt politician, but this guy abused the privilege. His offenses are many — but his most famous is his attempt to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. “I’ve got this thing, and it’s f***ing golden,” the governor was recorded as saying. “I’m just not giving it up for f***ing nothing.”

In the end, Blagojevich was convicted and sentenced to 14 years — but not before appearing on The Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump.

Now president, Trump has long wanted to pardon Blagojevich or commute his sentence. He was recently on the cusp of doing so until Republican lawmakers, especially those from Illinois, intervened. They said that springing Blago would send the wrong message where the public trust is concerned. That is true. It is also true that sentencing is an uneven phenomenon in America. Referring to the time Blago has already served, Trump said, “I think it’s enough, seven years.”

There is one thing that sort of endeared Blago to me, long ago. Hear me out. The man has, or had, an impressive head of hair, and he was vain about it. Apparently, an aide carried a comb at all times. Blago referred to it as “the football.”

(The football, remember, is a briefcase that contains the nuclear codes, to put it in a shorthand way. Carried by a military aide, it is with the president, or near the president, at all times when he travels.)

You will agree that a president’s power to pardon, or to commute a sentence, is a big one. It has been used for good or ill. You could even say — or a president could say — “I’ve got this thing, and it’s f***ing golden.”


David Koch and His Name

David H. Koch (1940–2019) (Carlo Allegri / Reuters)

Kevin (Williamson) has written a piece about David Koch and his devotion to the arts, especially ballet. (The piece is about other things than that — it is a superb piece, making important points — but that is one aspect.) A lot of people who work in the David H. Koch Theater . . . aren’t crazy about the name. I am putting it as mildly as possible. I have also heard the theater called by a vulgar name.

Anti-Koch denizens of Lincoln Center object to his politics. But then, he objected to theirs — and they are benefiting from his generosity.

Anyway, I wanted to say something about the naming of that theater. Let me quote from an essay I wrote in 2015, when Mount McKinley became “Denali.” That essay was called “Goodbye, McKinley: The rise and fall of names.”

In the early 1970s, a man named Avery Fisher endowed the concert hall at New York’s Lincoln Center. So for all this time it has been “Avery Fisher Hall.” But the Lincoln Center people wanted to upgrade the place. To do that, they needed lots of money, and that meant an offer of “naming rights.” The Fisher family pitched a fit and threatened legal action: They figured Avery’s name should be on the hall forever. Ultimately, they were paid off ($15 million), and Lincoln Center found a new donor: David Geffen, of Hollywood. He pledged $100 million, and, starting this season, the hall will be David Geffen Hall.

Across the plaza is the David H. Koch Theater, formerly the New York State Theater. In 2008, this Koch brother pledged — as Geffen would — $100 million. And he said that, after 50 years, his name could go. A half a century was enough. “A naming opportunity should be a defined length of time to allow the institution to regenerate itself with another round of major fundraising,” Koch said. Geffen has a different view — and has said that his name must be on the concert hall forever.

Look, it’s none of my business — and Geffen’s generosity “cannot be gainsaid,” as WFB would say — but good for Koch.


Canadian Hospitality

The Canadian flag is hoisted in Ottawa, Ontario, July 21, 2016. (Chris Wattie / Reuters)

Canada is legendary for its friendliness. I have always been amazed by this. So have countless other visitors. WFB once said, “The friendliest people in the world are Nova Scotians and New Zealanders.” He said this as NR was cruising in eastern Canada, as it is now. I then asked Bill — since he was ranking — “Where are the most beautiful women?” He thought about it and said: “Brazil.”

But back to Canada and its friendliness. I wanted to have lunch. There was a restaurant, with nobody sitting outside. I went in and said, “May I sit outside?” The man said, “Sure. Do you want something to drink or would you just like to sit?”

They would let you, apparently. Stunning.


A Painful Case

Plácido Domingo rehearses prior to the Opera Ball in Vienna, February 3, 2016. (Reuters / Heinz-Peter Bader)

The opera world — do you follow it? — has been rocked by stories about Plácido Domingo. You can read about the matter here. Domingo is probably the biggest figure in opera. A septuagenarian Spaniard, he is a miracle of longevity (vocally speaking). He is one of the most famous and important tenors in history. For the last many years, he has been a baritone (which he started out as, actually). He also conducts. He wields a great deal of clout. And he has been accused of sexual harassment, by multiple women.

Jocelyn Gecker laid it out in an investigation for the Associated Press (which you can read here).

As others have noted, opinion is divided between the United States and Europe. Domingo has had U.S. performances canceled. Europeans have said, “What’s the big deal? The Americans are overreacting, Puritans as usual.” (I am generalizing here, as you will have gathered.)

Personally, I always assumed that Domingo was a playboy, with an endless stream of willing partners. Only when the #MeToo movement began did I hear rumors of coercive stuff. But others, evidently, have heard such things for decades. They have “known,” to speak loosely.

In recent days, many women — singers — have been saying, “He’s always been a perfect gentleman with me!” Good. And these testimonies have their significance. But isn’t it a little like saying, “Well, he never robbed my bank”?

People say that standards have changed. Everyone has to be more careful now. (Domingo has said just this, while denying the charges in general.) I agree — but, listen, it was never kosher to do what Domingo is accused of doing. The “shifting standards” argument will only get you so far.

To speak personally again, I find this case sickening and disheartening (as I do similar cases). Domingo is a delight to be around, or can be, in addition to being a great and historic singer. Will the charges — or revelations, if you like — affect my view of Domingo? I have always separated art and man. If you don’t, you go nuts, as a limited number ’scape whipping. But the charges against Domingo cast a shadow on him, at this late stage of his career. I hope they are not true, but I wouldn’t bet the ranch that they’re not, and I’m not sure what else there is to say, at least by me, here and now.

Economy & Business

Bad Trade-War Strategy

Shipping containers at the Yangshan Deep Water Port in Shanghai, China, August 6, 2019. (Aly Song/Reuters)

Donald Trump is having a really bad week. Most of my colleagues do not quite agree with having a trade war with China. And even those who do concede that some adjustments need to be made to our trading arrangements with a rival mercantilist policy in Peking, don’t trust the Trump administration to do the work carefully.

Trump gave them proof today that they’re right to worry.

Last week, amid some jittery noises about the state of the economy and the markets, Trump announced the U.S. would delay some of the tariffs set to take effect next month until mid-December. Trump sold this publicly as relief for American shoppers ahead of the holidays. Markets moved in a positive direction, fed by White House rumors that negotiations with China were in their final lap.

The delay was silly, and signaled precisely how weak Trump thinks his hand is. He has been moaning about the Fed chairman. Partly, that’s because of the worrying economic signs and his sagging poll numbers. But partly, it’s the trade war. China has no independent central bank, and Chairman Xi can coordinate policy in ways Trump can’t. Xi also may have more political cover in that he’s not facing election. (Though I think American news outlets, disliking Trump, haven’t told us the full story of how difficult the trade war has been for China).

In any case, the Chinese responded by slapping tariffs on basically all the remaining categories of goods the U.S. trades to China. Trump waited until the market closed and fired back furiously. A capper on an out-of-control week.

Even if you think trade action is justified and a decent strategy for achieving a better relationship with China, it’s hard not to see the delays, and Trump’s subsequent whining, as a negotiating blunder. And now we’re all paying for it.

White House

Trump’s Tweets: Are We Sure This Is What ‘Fighting’ Looks Like?

(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

I’m trying to think of the most charitable, reasonable explanation for Trump’s recent string of bizarre tweets. Why would the leader of the free world tweet approvingly a deranged compliment declaring that Israelis love him like he’s the “second coming of God”?

Why would he believe he could “order” American companies to change their business practices? Does he believe he can?

And what’s the justification for this?

Trump’s defenders constantly tell me that Trump’s outbursts — for all the political damage they cause — at least demonstrate that he “fights.” They at least demonstrate that he will resist the media and that he stands for the people who have no voice.

But in his recent outbursts, he looks less like a man who “fights” than a man who panics. He’s desperate for approval and prone to public temper tantrums in times of stress. He makes statements that are totally divorced from reality or from the actual powers and duties of his office. If you had a boss who acted like this in trying times, you wouldn’t cheer him for fighting. You’d be worried. You’d be trying desperately to get him to calm down.

In fact, we’ve all likely seen this behavior in the real world, and it’s disturbing and disconcerting when it’s the manager of a McDonald’s. It’s alarming when it’s a partner in a law firm. Can everyone but the rally Trumpists finally say that this behavior raises questions about his fitness for office?


Courage and Discretion Go Together

(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

David French writes a stirring call for courage, in response to a thoughtful plea for thinking through legislation from Matt Shapiro.

I think they’re both mostly right.

French is absolutely right that defense of our liberties, and our deepest beliefs will require courage. But I think he cedes much of Shapiro’s point when he describes his own personal and legal counsel to people under duress. He writes:

Silence (and sometimes outright opposition) from fellow Christians and conservatives was so common that it became a standard part of my warning to clients. “If you file this case, I’m with you every step of the way. I’m here for you morning, noon, and night. But on campus you’ll be alone. You’re fighting for people who won’t thank you, who won’t support you, and might even oppose you.”

In other words: Count the cost. During the contraception mandate debates of the Obama years, I went on MSNBC and not only defended the Church’s legal reasoning, but the Church’s moral prohibition against artificial contraception itself.  I had defended that teaching before at Business Insider with Pascal Gobry.  That had gone well. But it carried some risk. I’m a sinner and believer, not an exemplar. The MSNBC appearance didn’t go so well. This was before outrage culture really gained steam. But I still hadn’t anticipated that strangers would threaten to get my wife fired from her job for what I said. What were the ripple effects of my courage? I’m still not sure.

There were other things I couldn’t quite anticipate, like the way that even the Catholic litigants — like Notre Dame University — would crumble under faculty pressure. It’s relatively easy for people in the controversy business to be at the center of controversy. Lawyers and pundits get in uncomfortable situations when defending unpopular causes, but they don’t typically risk their livelihoods. For most normal people, there is no day in court coming to vindicate them. Just a pink slip. It’s notable that the two clients French vindicated have had their subsequent careers defined by advocacy rather than the course of study they initially pursued. Of course some of us need to be open to the adventures life imposes on us. But all? James Damore of Google seems to have tried to make that transition as well. Not as successfully. Be innocent as doves, yes. But also wise as serpents.

The part of Shapiro’s essay that deserves even more attention is his plea for leadership. It was harder for Catholic journalists to speak up for the Church’s position in its controversies because Church leaders tried not to speak up about it, fearing even their own parishioners. Christian and conservative leaders have special social burdens in this climate, and should be careful about piling on supererogatory demands on people whose risks they don’t truly share.

Shapiro suggests reforms to libel law, and particular measures that affect giant social-media and internet companies when they are used to destroy the lives of non-public persons.

He writes:

Let’s make it a civil offence punishable by fines for the professional press to disseminate the name or likeness of any individual who is not a public figure without contacting that individual and granting them unedited response to an event. That would stop something like the Covington disaster from happening, protecting people from the vicious and instant disaster of the online mob.

Let’s pass a law that allows people to submit a request to Google to remove their name from search results when they have been targeted by an online mob and their life destroyed. …

Let’s pass tech regulation that holds more Twitter or Facebook accountable when they allow their trends to destroy the lives of non-public individuals.

David writes of Shapiro’s proposed changes to the law this way.

He suggests some rather astounding legal reforms that would blast apart the liberties of Christians and conservatives with every bit as much force (if not more) than it would protect the rights of conservatives to speak. He’d loosen libel laws, require media companies to grant private figures unedited access to their public platforms as a condition of disseminating their name or likeness, and implement massive fines when companies allow trends to “destroy the lives of non-public individuals.”

Great ideas . . . right up until you come to the rather elementary realization that those powerful new state instruments would be turned on your allies with a vengeance.

I’m not quite sure about all of Shapiro’s suggestions. Designed improperly and they could criminalize much behavior that should be deemed innocent.  But I know I’m not worried about the ones aimed at social media giants. Free Will Baptist Search Engine and The Catholic Diocese of Rochester Social Network will not feel the wrath of these new laws.

In fact, some of Shapiro’s ideas seem like protections I’m happy to share and extend to our cultural and political rivals. If some non-public person at IBM or Dairy Queen says something regrettable while defending Democrats, or shares a Tankie meme on Facebook, I don’t want some right wing site to whip up an outrage mobs to destroy that destroy his life either. Subjects of outrage mobs frequently commit suicide. French invokes people who died for their faith, and their country. Those are high and noble deeds. But not applicable in most of the circumstances here. The Founders pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor collectively. These controversies tend to single out one or a small handful of people, isolate them, and destroy them.

French adds later:

Never in my life have I seen conservatives more eager to rationalize passivity and seek the aid of politicians to make their lives easier. They look to politicians — even incompetent, depraved politicians — and cry out, “Protect us!”

Protect you? You have the Constitution. Use it. You have nondiscrimination laws. Use them. You have the power of your voice. Use that. Otherwise, your liberty will start to slide away, cultural change will eventually lead to legal change, and your grandkids will one day ask what happened to our free nation.

“Even incompetent, depraved politicians.” Do we think there is a House and Senate majority made up exclusively of high-character people? Non-discrimination laws were passed by scoundrels, too.

Yes, much of the fight against outrage culture and for the protection of moral minorities will require personal courage, bottom-up social change, and social leadership. We need churchmen and conservatives to show that we will make unjust victims of this kind of abuse more than whole.  But it’s not unthinkable that new challenges requires new laws. RFRA was passed because legal trends and social facts led to a demand for new legal protections.

Shapiro is thinking of the next generation. Historically, the truly excruciating fear during times of testing is the fear or apostasy of our children. There are genuinely difficult prudential judgements at hand, and our children depend on us to make brave and wise ones. Destroying your family’s livelihood to play Don Quixote in the wrong cause is as likely to cause it as cowardice and passivity.

The internet has created a pseudo–global commons with no shared common culture underneath it. This is a profound and even revolutionary development in life, and discussing whether it should be legal for major media companies to enable mob-driven defamation on an eternally persistent, easily accessible permanent record and sell ads against it is part of using the Constitution and our voice.


Royals, Climate Change, and Budget Airlines


Earlier this week, as noted here, two British royals — Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — attracted criticism for their blatant hypocrisy regarding climate change. After telling Vogue how “terrifying” our planet’s demise is and after addressing a Google summit in Sicily on the subject  — barefoot, having arrived by private jet — it transpired that pair had taken four private jets in 11 days as part of their vacation.

Now, in what appears to be a PR exercise in damage control, two other British royals — Prince William and Kate Middleton; the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge — have travelled to their annual vacation at the Queen’s residence in the Scottish highlands on a budget airline, costing a little over $80 per person (taxpayer’s money, of course).

You might be wondering, who cares? But we Brits do.


A 2 Percent Threshold for the Next Debate Is Not Unfair

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard speaks on the second night of the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, Mich., July 31, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

To qualify for a spot on the stage for the third Democratic debate in September, candidates must have procured donations from at least 130,000 individual donors and earned 2 percent support in at least four qualifying polls.

Ten have already hit that threshold: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang.

Tom Steyer and Tulsi Gabbard are close. The outlook is currently pretty grim for Michael Bennet, Steve Bullock, Bill de Blasio, John Delaney, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tim Ryan, and Marianne Williamson.

Gabbard’s campaign is complaining that the DNC has a limited list of “certified polls,” and she seems to have a point; her campaign counted 26 polls that had her at or above 2 percent, and some surveys, like ones commissioned by the Boston Globe and the Charleston Post and Courier, aren’t on the DNC’s “certified” list.

Among the most recent polls, the Economist/YouGov national poll has her at 2 percent, the CNN national poll has her at 2 percent, the Gravis poll of Nevada Democrats puts her at 2 percent, the Politico/Morning Consult national poll has her at 1 percent and the Fox News national poll has her at 1 percent.

That having been said . . . the threshold is 2 percent, people. If consistently getting 2 percent or more of members of your party to make you their first choice is too difficult . . . well, the presidency doesn’t have many easy days. You can picture some of the asterisk candidates muttering that the DNC rules have reduced the debate qualification process to a popularity contest. Well, yeah. A presidential primary is a competition to see who can get the most people to make a candidate their first choice. If Democrats really feel like Gabbard is getting screwed by an unfairly high threshold, they can inundate the DNC with messages of objection. But as is, when YouGov, or CNN, or Gravis, or Morning Consult or Fox News come calling, not enough Democrats are saying that their first choice is Tulsi Gabbard. The Hawaii congresswoman is a heck of a debater who basically vivisected Kamala Harris’s record as prosecutor in the second debate. But for whatever reason, that hasn’t translated into large numbers of Democrats saying, “yes, she’s my first choice.”

As lamented at the beginning of the month, there are no good formats for ten-candidate debates, only less bad ones. If you want to have a better quality of debate, the DNC has to tell more candidates something they will hate hearing: “You’re just not popular or important enough to participate in our prime-time debates.” Part of this process inevitably means that candidates who are just below the threshold will get left out — and complaining that the process is unfair.

White House

The Endless ‘Enemies’ List

President Donald Trump gestures with Jerome Powell at the White House in Washington, D.C., November 2, 2017. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

“Who is our bigger enemy,” President Trump asked, “Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?”

What if I told you it was . . . [dramatic pause] . . . neither?

(First, a little rhetorical criticism: It would have been a better tweet if he had written “Chairman Powell or Chairman Xi,” for the parallelism.)

Jay Powell is the chairman of the Federal Reserve. He was put there by Donald Trump, a notable social-media figure who serves as president of these United States in his spare time. Xi Jinping is the Communist boss in China. He’s the guy on the other side of that “great, and easy to win!” trade war that Trump has started, which could end up inducing a presidency-ending recession. Trump has miscalculated badly vis-à-vis China, and he wants the Fed to bail him out, but the Fed’s mandate is dual rather than triune: It is to work toward price stability and low unemployment, not price stability, low unemployment, and Donald J. Trump’s political convenience.

China is not our enemy, and it is a mistake to think of China as our enemy. China is our rival. You do not have normal diplomatic relations with an enemy. China certainly is a potential enemy, and our military and intelligence operations do well to keep that possibility in mind. But we are not at war with China. We are in a destructive tit-for-tat contest of tariffs and trade barriers, which already are leaving both countries economically worse off. There difference is that a recession in the United States might mean President Elizabeth Warren, whereas a real economic disturbance in China could mean blood in the streets — and not just in the so-called People’s Republic.

Trump promised excitement. Here it is.

If I were designing the United States from the ground up like a kid with an ant farm, I don’t think I’d include a central bank like the Fed or a national bank guarantor like the FDIC. But we have a Fed, and an FDIC, and other institutions of that nature, and the thing about them is: They work pretty well. I was not a supporter of the bailouts associated with the financial crisis, but the institutions we have executed the program that was put into place pretty well — and pretty well is nothing to sneeze at in government. And certainly not in the U.S. government. You can have a long and happy life on pretty well.

One of the problems with populists — with Trump-style populists but also with Comrade Muppet and the rest of those ghastly knuckle-draggers on the left — is that they are anti-institutionalists. Show them a NAFTA and they want to set it on fire, show them a Federal Reserve System and they’ll wonder why it can’t stand on its head or ride a unicycle.

For Trump, it’s all swamp. And there is much that is in need of reform. But the Fed works pretty well, in part because we do not (usually) ask it to do too many different things.

At the same time: We have a lot of longstanding and productive business practices based in part on certain trade relations with China. We should not be under any illusions about what Xi et al. want, but neither should we impoverish ourselves unnecessarily in a fit of populist pique. “But we have to do something!” No, no we don’t. And we certainly don’t have to do something dumb and destructive.

H. L. Mencken famously wrote: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” Trump was elected to be a disruptor. Warren, Sanders, and the rest of the Left are promising disruption, too. And the American people seem eager for disruption of one kind or another.

Pray that we do not get too much of what we are asking for too quickly.

Film & TV

The Streaming Service Explosion Will Come to an End Someday — Perhaps Soon

The logo and a ticker symbol for the Walt Disney Company on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, N.Y. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

I don’t know if the ongoing explosion of video streaming services is a “massive toll on America’s middle class,” as Noah Gittell puts it, but I think the day will soon come when consumers look over their various monthly subscription fees for Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Apple TV, Fubo, Sling, YouTube TV, Playstation Vue, RedBox, GooglePlay, and all the rest and start getting pickier and choosier — assuming that day hasn’t arrived already.

For example, judging from the revenue from the Batman movie series and Aquaman and Shazam, lots of people like the DC comics superheroes. But only a fraction are willing to pay $7.99 for the “DC Universe” streaming service, a library of superhero films, animated series, and a handful of original series. And Warner Brothers, which owns DC comics, is reportedly creating its own streaming service that would include HBO and Cinemax along with Warner Bros. TV shows and movies.

When push comes to shove, and consumers start limiting themselves to just their top few streaming services, Disney+ is going to scoop up a lot of those dollars. Disney’s got three off-the-charts popular franchises in entertainment: its own previously existing children’s entertainment options (Mickey Mouse, The Lion King, and the rest), the Marvel superhero franchises, and Star Wars. If you’re going to kick off a new streaming service, there aren’t many better ways to grab people’s attention than to announce your new service will be the only way to watch two new live-action Star Wars series and four new live-action Marvel superhero miniseries, in addition to a pair of new animated series. If you’ve got kids, there’s a good chance the Disney corporation gets a big chunk of your discretionary income anyway.

The streaming services have become the new television networks, without the traditional revenue method of commercial breaks. This moment should be a golden age for those who create movies and television shows, because there’s never been more venues willing to bring a show to an audience: Almost all of these streaming services are desperate for original content. Netflix produced 1,500 hours of original content in 2018. If you watched all of their original shows and movies nonstop, 24 hours a day, it would take nine weeks.

But the gargantuan avalanche of original programming over a dozen or more streaming services will come to an end, and perhaps sooner than anyone thinks, because not all of these streaming services are going to find enough subscribers to sustain themselves. Once people start paying for Disney+ in November, they’re probably going to rethink whether they still want their subscription to other services. As streaming services start to close up shop, the most liked and watched original programs will either get picked up by other streaming services or get canceled prematurely — a fate that has befallen many beloved programs over the years.

Within a few years, American’s entertainment consumers probably won’t be subscribing to a half-dozen or more streaming services; you’ll see consolidation into a handful that dominate the market. And the prices for those preferred services will probably be not all that different from the pre-Netflix days when cable dominated the market.

Economy & Business

How Our Banker-to-the-World Role Affects the Budget Deficit


In response to my article yesterday on the strength of the U.S. dollar being rooted in the role the U.S. plays in the global financial system, a reader asks how this phenomenon affects the deficit at home. Interestingly, the banker-to-the-world role also means the U.S. government is more likely to run budget deficits. U.S. treasury securities are the most sought-after safe asset on the planet, and the only way to create them is through budget deficits. Since interest rates on treasuries and other safe assets have trended down over the past decade, it is likely that the global demand for safe assets is not fully satiated and will therefore continue to put pressure on the U.S. government to run budget deficits. Ironically, this implies that had the Trump administration not run large budget deficits over the past few years, interest rates might be even lower today.


Seth Moulton, We Hardly Knew Ye. And That’s Okay, Really.

Congressman Seth Moulton, D., Mass., speaks in Bow, N.H., July 28, 2018. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

BREAKING NEWS: Congressman Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, is ending his campaign for president.

EVEN MORE BREAKING NEWS: Congressman Seth Moulton was running for president.

He’s ending his campaign with a warning to his party, telling the New York Times, “I’ve always said that veering too far left could result in us losing this election, and that Trump will be harder to beat than most people think.”

Moulton didn’t qualify for either of the first two debates, and as a result, many Americans never even knew he was running. He laments that the Democratic party’s presidential race isn’t focusing enough on issues relating to veterans and the military. He’s probably right, but the fact remains that if likely Democratic presidential primary voters wanted more discussion of issues relating to veterans and the military, they would get more discussion of those issues.

Back in May, I wrote, “On paper, a Marine combat veteran of Iraq who challenged Nancy Pelosi and who’s focusing on national security should stand out in this field. Then again, that was more or less the persona and pitch of Wesley Clark in 2004, and he flopped.”

With the departure of John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee and now Moulton in a little more than a week, permit me to note that a few months earlier, I wrote to the late-announcing candidates, “No one else will say this to you, so I will say it. There’s no need for you to “throw your hat into the ring” or “dip your toe into the water” or form an exploratory committee. Despite the polite nods of your staff and the vaguely positive mumbled responses from your family at the dinner table, there really isn’t a mass of Democrats clamoring for you to enter the race. There are no Democratic primary voters looking at the 17 announced candidates and lamenting, “I just feel like I don’t have enough options . . . Stop believing that you’ll build name ID once you’re running. [John] Delaney’s been running for president since 2017 and he’s still getting less noticed than some people in the Witness Protection Program.”


Friday Links


August 23rd is Gene Kelly’s birthday: here’s a brief bio and the famous Singin’ In The Rain dance. Related, this excellent compilation of Rita Hayworth’s dancing, set to Stayin’ Alive

8 Unexpected Signs You’re Smarter Than Average.

Why We Pour Milk on our Cereal.

August 24th is St. Bartholomew’s Day — some history, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, a brief documentary, and Monty Python. Also this weekend, it’s the anniversary of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and destruction of Pompeii in A.D. 79.

How a French Truck Manufacturer Sabotaged Nazi War Production.
The Afterlife of Royal Hair.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include the wild camels of the American west, comics published by the federal government, the weird journey of Dorothy Parker’s ashes, and 50’s and 60’s visions of the everyday uses of nuclear explosions and radioactive isotopes.

National Review

Inside the September 9, 2019, Issue


It’s impossible to overindulge a thrill for this thrilling country and the so many star-spangled things that we love about it, right? Right! And the new issue — indeed the quite special September 9, 2019, issue — of National Review is determined to prove this. Heck, if Irving Berlin and George Cohan were alive we’re certain they’d write a song — double heck, a musical! — about this grand red-white-and-blue masterpiece that is now on its way to subscriber mailboxes, or available to NRPLUS subscribers. Get this: aside from The Week and the excellent reviews and columns found in Books, Arts & Manners section, the new issue publishes 31 pieces that reflect on individual joys that are particular to that acreage between those shining seas.

You need to get the entire issue – nay, read the entire “What We Love About America” issue. But until you do get it, let’s recommend four pieces that should have you begging for 27 more: Katherine Howell shares her delight for the summer ice-cream stand; Myron Magnet gushes over Mount Vernon, home of #1; John Miller grooves to Motown, a place, a sound, a business, an essence; while Stephen Hunter waxes about that thing you will never see in Europe: A play at the plate. Rich Lowry is in the issue’s on-deck circle, ready to shout out for baseball on the radio. Okay, that’s a fifth piece (and John Podhoretz shares his affection for the aforementioned Mr. Berlin, so that’s six).

Mark Helprin, VDH, Heather Mac Donald, Nikki Haley, Lance Morrow, and too many others to cite join in the spirit and wisdom and abiding affection for the Great Experiment, this ever-perfecting More-Perfect Union, this land that was made for you and me. Their love is our love is your love. Read the issue. You’ll . . . love it.

Law & the Courts

A Republic, If You Can Keep It: Or, Why Victimhood and Fear Won’t Preserve Liberty

(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Thirteen years ago, I filed a lawsuit on behalf of two brave young women — Ruth Malhotra and Orit Sklar. They were students at the Georgia Tech, they’d faced unconstitutional censorship at their school, and they sued to challenge four blatantly unconstitutional policies, the school’s speech code, its speech zone, its student-fee-funding policy, and a “safe space” training program that explicitly condemned traditional Christianity.

If you think outrage mobs are new, consider what happened next. Ruth and Orit faced a torrent of campus hate. Ruth (an American of Indian descent), was called a “Twinkie” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), and online posts photoshopped swastikas on her face. She faced rape threats and death threats. One emailer threatened to throw acid on her face at graduation. We sought police protection on her behalf, simply so she could attend class in peace.

I’ve told this story before, but here’s a part I haven’t fully told. In spite of the fact that there was a vibrant Christian and conservative presence on campus, Ruth and Orit fought largely alone. In fact, one large campus ministry was angry at them for defending the Constitution, claiming it was making their life more difficult on campus. I had to fly to meet the general counsel of a major campus ministry to justify my decision to fight for the Constitution. I met with tenured Christian faculty and urged them to stand with Ruth and Orit, and while some offered (appreciated) private support, the public silence was deafening . . . and shameful.

The silence emboldened the Left. Their assault on Ruth and Orit was largely unopposed, but Ruth and Orit had courage. They persevered. And they won.

Georgia Tech was not only forced to revise its speech policies, the judge put the university under five years of court supervision — no policy changes without prior judicial approval. The university voluntarily changed its speech-zone policy, and the court struck down the challenged aspects of the safe-space policy. At the end of the litigation, the judge awarded Ruth and Orit more than $200,000 in attorneys’ fees, and he unilaterally published a statement condemning Georgia Tech’s public duplicity. I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since.

The Tech case was extraordinary, but the cowardice — or sometimes outright opposition — of allies was typical. In my very first campus case, a brave Christian group challenged Rutgers University after it tossed the group off campus for upholding a rule requiring that its leaders adhere to the group’s statement of faith. The very first opposition to the case came from — you guessed it — other Christians. They berated one of the group leaders so badly that I’ll never forget our late-night conversation as she wept at the pain and betrayal. But she persevered, and she won. And now Christian groups like hers have existed on that campus for almost twenty years.

Silence (and sometimes outright opposition) from fellow Christians and conservatives was so common that it became a standard part of my warning to clients. “If you file this case, I’m with you every step of the way. I’m here for you morning, noon, and night. But on campus you’ll be alone. You’re fighting for people who won’t thank you, who won’t support you, and might even oppose you.”

I think back to my own law-school experience, happening as it did in the midst of the first great wave of political correctness. Before my friends Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate published The Shadow University and founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (I later became president of FIRE), egregious violations of individual liberty took place largely in, well, the shadows.

But I remember. I was there. I remember the shout-downs in class, activists calling employers of conservative students (including federal judges) trying to pressure them to withdraw job offers. I remember activists putting the faces of conservatives on gay porn and taping the pictures on the walls of the school. And I remember the vicious backlash at pro-life speech and the abusive calls to “go die” for defending rights of conscience.

I also remember how easy it was to feel alone, that the number of Christians willing to raise their head above the foxhole was a small percentage of the Christians on campus. The rest said that it was too hard. They had too much at stake. Maybe later, when they were more secure. Then you could count on them to make their stand.

But the ones who did stand made an immense impact, one that endures today. I remember the small group that started something called the Veritas Forum, brought a relatively unknown Christian apologist named Ravi Zacharias to campus, and watched him defend the faith to standing-room-only crowds. The event launched a movement, it put Ravi’s voice front and center in the national conversation, and it has transformed countless lives.

Courage has ripple effects in a culture. The few students who had the courage to stand against their schools were part of a legal movement that ripped the campus speech-code regime to shreds. Some of them went through hell, but are they a cautionary tale or do they represent an inspiration — an example of what a few determined people can accomplish when they persevere?

We hear of the cautionary tales from corporate America. James Damore was fired, yes, but has any single person done more — working with his legal team and a few core allies — to expose the hypocrisy and intolerance in the illiberal quarters of Big Tech?

I write this long preface in part because I’m getting an interesting amount of pushback to a piece I wrote earlier this week arguing that personal courage is indispensable in the fight against political correctness. Decades of legal battles (that required personal courage) have opened up free speech in the United States to an unprecedented degree. But legal victories can’t make speech easy. And thus, in places like the American college campus, conservatives (including conservative Christians) must have the courage to exercise the liberty that other men and women have so bravely secured.

Mollie Hemingway, for example, called a blog post written by a man named Matt Shapiro “so, so good.” It’s quite thoughtful — and worth pondering — but what really caught my eye is that Shapiro was a student at Georgia Tech during Ruth and Orit’s case, and he did more than most. He actively defended Ruth and Orit in class. Here’s how he described the result:

If you’ve never been in that situation, it is exhausting … just as an intellectual exercise. It is your mind against the minds of 30 of the people you respect and admire. They came at the topic from 15 different angles with a variety of metaphors in a variety of passions. And you have to respond to every one. You try to turn down the heat, but it’s impossible. You try to meet the metaphors where they are or come up with competing metaphors, but it’s a struggle. Smart people are good at arguments. It’s possible to hold your own against one person at a time, but when the whole group comes for you it’s overwhelming. It’s not a competition, but even so they gain moral points if they let their passions overflow a bit and you lose points if you can’t maintain your cool.

Then he says this: “It was not fun. It was a week of my life lost not to arguing a positive point but to trying to defend my position of *not* condemning these two women who ended up winning their case in court.”

We can lament Shapiro’s lost week, but these women spent years of their lives in their effort and endured death threats. Yet they persevered. I’ve been there in the position of the lone voice in a room full of angry people, many times. It’s not fun. But being the lone voice in a study group or classroom is such de minimis bravery that it sullies the word “courage” to describe it that way.

He then describes how a Twitter thread erupted into someone actually trying to threaten his job. His boss told them to “f*** off,” but he also told Shapiro to watch what he says online. So he locked his account for a bit. I’ve been there — in the private sector, as a nonprofit litigator, and as a journalist. I can’t count the threats to my livelihood at this point. We’ve had physical threats online and at our house. Incidentally, many of those threats (though not all) have come from the Trumpist right. Mobs come from many places.

Shapiro thinks I “deeply underestimate the nature of the threat to conservatives.” What? Talk to me after you’ve stood alongside a small group of Christian clients surrounded by an angry intimidating mob of more than 100 protestors. That was 19 years ago. Talk to me when school officials put up pictures of someone who was seen stalking your kids’ school so teachers and students will know to call the cops if they see him. That was seven years ago. Talk to me when someone tries to SWAT you. That was six years ago. There is nothing new under the sun.

So what does Shapiro suggest be done? He suggests some rather astounding legal reforms that would blast apart the liberties of Christians and conservatives with every bit as much force as (if not more than) it would protect the rights of conservatives to speak. He’d loosen libel laws, require media companies to grant private figures unedited access to their public platforms as a condition of disseminating their name or likeness, and implement massive fines when companies allow trends to “destroy the lives of non-public individuals.”

Great ideas . . . right up until you come to the rather elementary realization that those powerful new state instruments would be turned on your allies with a vengeance.

I’ve got a better idea. Build on the bravery of past generations, so that the next generation doesn’t have to bear the same risks. As I said before, a very few brave students shredded the campus speech-code regime, a regime that looked like a legal and cultural juggernaut a few short years ago. Now there is a need for a few more brave students — a few more brave Americans — to stand with those people who face unjustified and illiberal shame campaigns, to plant your flag beside theirs.

What I’m going to say next doesn’t apply to Shapiro. He’s stood up far more than most. He did more at Georgia Tech than most. And, again, I appreciate his thoughtful response. But it applies in spades to plenty of people on the modern Right.

You’re snowflakes. You really are. Past generations pledged their “lives,” their “fortunes,” and their “sacred honor” to the cause of this great nation. The Apostles endured torture and death for the much greater cause of the Gospel. But what I hear constantly around the country is far, far less resolve. The faith that spread in the face of beatings often withers for fear of tweetings. Don’t touch my fortune. Don’t touch my honor.

Look, we’re human. It’s understandable that we want the defense of our values to be relatively easy. We want the blowback to be manageable, and above all we don’t want to risk anything truly precious. Thank God that Ruth and Orit and the many other students who stood alone did not give into that fear, and don’t think for a moment that they risked less than you. Don’t think for a moment that their road was easier than yours.

Never in my life have I seen such victimhood on the right. Never in my life have I seen conservatives more eager to rationalize passivity and seek the aid of politicians to make their lives easier. They look to politicians — even incompetent, depraved politicians — and cry out, “Protect us!”

Protect you? You have the Constitution. Use it. You have nondiscrimination laws. Use them. You have the power of your voice. Use that. Otherwise, your liberty will start to slide away, cultural change will eventually lead to legal change, and your grandkids will one day ask what happened to our free nation. Your answer? “Well dear, defending liberty was hard. So I chose not to do it, and those damn politicians failed us.”

Is that a good answer? No? Well, prepare to give it anyway. That’s the price of a life ruled by fear.

Law & the Courts

Why Is It So Difficult to Imagine the Day Your Side Is in the Minority?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (File photo: Mike Theiler/Reuters)

On the op-ed page of the New York Times, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell reminds Democrats that he warned them in November 2013 that they would regret repealing the filibuster for non-Supreme Court judicial nominees. Republicans won back control of the Senate in 2014, and then repealed the exception for Supreme Court nominees. Now, some Democrats want to eliminate the filibuster entirely if they win a majority in the Senate in 2020, and McConnell warns they will probably live to regret that decision as well.

Over at The Atlantic, Ron Brownstein writes, “If Democrats take back the Senate, preserving the filibuster amounts to providing the places most resistant of America’s changes a veto over the agenda of the Democratic coalition based in the places that are most welcoming to them. In a Senate controlled by Democrats, the filibuster would effectively empower what America has been over what it is becoming.”

Not only does no Senate majority last forever, since 1980, no party has kept control of the Senate for more than eight consecutive years. Republicans won their first Senate majority in a generation with Reagan’s victory, but Democrats won it back in the 1986 elections. Six years later, the GOP retook control in the 1994 Republican revolution, but shortly after George W. Bush’s election in 2000, Jim Jeffords switched parties and shifted control to the Democrats. The GOP won back a majority in 2002 and kept it until the sweeping Democratic wins in the midterms 2006. This launched a relatively long stretch of Democratic control until 2014, when the GOP won back the majority. During this time period, the Republicans have never had more than 55 seats; Democrats topped out at 58 Democrats and two Democrat-affiliated independents in 2009, until Scott Brown won the special election in Massachusetts in early 2010. The potential of the filibuster has always required them to find at least a handful of members of the opposition party to support big sweeping changes.

In other words, any rule changes your party makes as a majority will remain in place when you’re in the minority — and rest assured, someday, your party will be in the minority again. If you change the rules so that being in the minority just means voting “no” as 51 members of the opposing party pass their agenda, be prepared to be in the same position when you’re in the minority again.

McConnell notes that thirteen Democratic “ranking members on Senate committees have publicly stated that they oppose tampering with the legislative filibuster.” Jon Tester said getting rid of the filibuster for judges was the biggest mistake he ever made, and Amy Klobuchar expressed a desire to bring back the filibuster for judicial nominations. Dick Durbin lamented, “eliminating the filibuster on the Supreme Court at least, and maybe the other federal positions, has really created a much more political process.”

But Tester, Klobuchar, and Durbin have been around the Senate long enough to be in both the majority and the minority, and they can foresee how miserable life would be in the minority without the filibuster giving them a chance of blocking legislation they oppose. Apparently a great number of progressive activists have no such vision or foresight. They either can’t imagine or just don’t want to think about the day they’ll be back in the minority again – at a time when their preferred party is in the minority, with a not-so-easy three or four seats away from a majority (depending upon which party’s vice president is breaking the ties).


Pape at Large

René Pape singing in Verdi’s opera Simon Boccanegra at the Salzburg Festival in the summer of 2019 (Salzburg Festival / Ruth Walz)

René Pape grew up in East Germany — Dresden. He was a member of their Kreuzchor, a boys’ choir. He and I discussed this, years ago. We touch on it again in a podcast, here. We talked in Salzburg, outdoors, as church bells rang out from time to time.

He is a very interesting cat, Pape. He is one of the greatest singers of our time — a bass. He is a huge star wherever they care about classical music, and singing in particular. We talk about his life, the profession, and so on. Pape once recorded a little John Denver: “Follow Me.” He sings a bit of it, in our podcast.

Just a bonus, from a remarkable person. Get to know him a bit — again, here.

P.S. While we’re on opera, sort of: I’ve done a review of Alcina (Handel) from the Salzburg Festival. All sorts of issues come up. For that review, go here.


Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today (August 22, 2019)


1. Speak up for those facing sexual violence

2. Lori Windham from the Becket Fund:

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the foster care and adoption crisis. Instead, we need all hands on deck to support foster children and their families.


4. What My Daughter with Down Syndrome Taught Me About Happiness – and Love

5. On The Public Discourse from R. J. Snell: The Nones: Education without Divinity or Selfhood

6. From The Federalist: The Right’s Biggest Struggle Today Is Confronting What The Market Does To Communities

7. In Commentary: O Oberlin, My Oberlin

8. In City Journal: The Provocations of Camille Paglia


10. A beautiful new journal on faith from Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Institute