U.S.

‘Five Things They Don’t Tell You about Slavery’

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I have a piece up on the home page about what the 1619 project leaves out:

Slavery didn’t make us unique, which is obvious if we consider its history in a little broader context. Critics of the American Founding don’t like to do this because it weakens their case and quickly brings them up against politically inconvenient facts that they’d prefer to pass over in silence.

Let’s dwell, then, on a few things they don’t tell us about slavery. None of these are secrets or are hard to find, but they are usually left out or minimized, since they don’t involve self-criticism and, worse, they entail a critical look at societies or cultures that the Left tends to favor vis-à-vis the West.

Elections

Don’t Fire on Biden Until You See the Whites of His Eyes

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Life as the frontrunner is never easy. While you get the most media attention, it means that your mistakes and gaffes get the most attention, and your opponents will try to make the most out of all of them. Any drop in the polls gets interpreted as a potential turning point. Once uncontroversial decisions, like having an oil company executive co-host a fundraiser, are now sins against the progressive orthodoxy. Joe Biden is claiming he turned against the Iraq War “immediately, that moment it started,” which isn’t really true. The new autobiography of James Mattis contends Biden “ignored reality” about the consequences of pulling all U.S. troops from Iraq. The guy who bought a huge beachfront house in Delaware said that as president, he would discourage people from buying homes in areas prone to flooding.

Yeah, Joe Biden’s going through a rough patch, but it’s not like he’s crying blood or any- — holy smokes, his eye is filling with blood!

Health Care

Doctor Fired after Suing Catholic Hospital over Assisted Suicide

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(Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters)

Colorado doctor Barbara Morris wants to assist her patient’s suicide. She works at Centura Health, a Catholic/Seventh Day Adventist-owned hospital that prohibits its employees from participating in assisted suicide, legal in Colorado.

Morris sued to be allowed to participate in her patient’s suicide by doctor — which would not happen in the hospital. The hospital responded by firing Morris for violating the terms of her contract by seeking to engage in acts in the context of her employment that violate the hospital’s religiously based moral beliefs.

Morris contends she can’t be prohibited from assisting her patient’s suicide because the Colorado law only allows health care facilities to opt-out if the suicide will occur on-site. The hospital is seeking shelter in the Trump administration’s medical conscience protection policies.

Expect more of these kinds of disputes as many U.S. hospitals are Catholic or otherwise religiously affiliated with churches that reject abortion and assisted suicide doctrinally. From the Kaiser Health News story:

More doctors and patients in the country are providing and receiving health care subject to religious restrictions. About 1 in 6 acute care beds nationally is in a hospital that is Catholic-owned or -affiliated, said Lois Uttley, a program director for the consumer advocacy group Community Catalyst. In Colorado, one-third of the state’s hospitals operate under Catholic guidelines.

The ACLU has already sued several Catholic hospitals over the last few years seeking to force them to violate Church doctrine on issues ranging from sterilization, to abortion, to sex-change surgeries.

Medical conscience disputes are going to become far more common as health care becomes immersed in our accelerating cultural conflicts and vexing questions of federalism. Bottom line: The ultimate goal of those who seek to force medical professionals and institutions to violate their religious beliefs, I believe, is to drive pro-lifers and Hippocratic Oath-adherents out of medicine.

Film & TV

Burning It All Down, Nihilism, and the Joker

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Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc./IMDb)

Below, Kevin aptly summarizes those with the “burn it all down” mindset: “The world has to be ending, the country has to be failing, the system has to be corrupt, etc., because the alternative — that we are mainly responsible for our own failures and our own unhappiness — is unbearable to many people.”

Over on my not-NR-affiliated pop-culture podcast, I said I’ve got a bad feeling about the upcoming Joker movie, which promises to be an extremely not-comic-book-y portrait of a frustrated, failed comedian who gradually loses his mind and turns into the homicidal maniac who fights Batman.  (You can check out the trailer here.) My gripe is beyond the usual arguments about whether we really needed an origin story for the Joker or whether a story about a villain can really be interesting. I’m worried that a certain segment of America’s angry, paranoid, emotionally unstable young men will watch Joaquin Phoenix descending into madness and a desire to get back at society by hurting as many people as possible and exclaim, “finally, somebody understands me!”

This isn’t a call for censorship; we need some room between “this movie is a good idea” and “this movie should be banned.” But judging from the trailer, Arthur Fleck* is a put-upon sad sack who often means well but always seems to get treated badly by others. He tries to make a child laugh and his mom rebukes him; his therapist doesn’t listen to him, when he gets a job on the street spinning a sign, punks beat him up, and a big-shot television talk show host mocks him. He only finds meaning in his life when he adopts his persona of the violent, maniacal clown.

Again, this is just based upon the trailer; maybe the whole movie will be different from the impression of the trailers. Perhaps by the time the credits appear, no one who watches the movie could possibly see Joker as a justified or relatable person. But so far, Joker looks like it’s about a step removed from a quasi-sympathetic biopic of John Wayne Gacy.

There are a lot of people who believe that the world has treated them worse than they deserved. A decent number of people who watch this movie are likely to sympathize with and relate to Phoenix’s character, at least for the early stretch. When he completes his transformation into a violent and dangerous criminal . . . how many viewers will recognize it as crossing a moral red line and how many will find it inspiring? How many in the audience will choose to see him as a man giving an unfair and callous society the payback that it deserves?

Look, maybe the movie comes out and we see no violent incidents connected to it, and I’m just a worrywart. I’ll be happier if I’m wrong. The concept of taking a comic book character and turning it into a realistic, complicated psychological portrait offers some really intriguing avenues for storytelling. But in an era where it seems like one angry young man after another takes the routine frustrations of life as an excuse to write up a manifesto and shoot up a public place . . . a quasi-sympathetic portrait of a flamboyant violent anarchist feels like a bad idea.

*Yes, his name is “A. Fleck,” suggesting somebody over at Warner Brothers really hates Ben Affleck.

Economy & Business

A Cynical Way to Make People Poor

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President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Morristown municipal airport, August 4, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The “poverty” level is, by definition, pretty much arbitrary. It’s just an income level below which we consider people “poor” and above which we consider them “not poor.” You can argue about how high the income level should be, what mix of basic necessities it should be able to cover, and what should count as “income” in determining whether someone is above or below it (earnings from a job? cash welfare? food stamps? the value of subsidized health care?). You can also argue about how it should change over time: Should it just account for inflation, so someone living right on the poverty line can buy the exact same amount of stuff each year? Or should it keep pace with rising living standards somehow?

It’s pretty hard to justify what we do now, though, which is to adjust it for “inflation” but use an inflation measure — the Consumer Price Index — that pretty much everyone agrees overstates inflation. One big problem with the CPI, for example, is that it fails to account for the fact that when the price of one product rises, people often switch to other products rather than just eating the higher cost. As a result, with each passing year, people who are better and better off fall under the “poverty” level (and various multiples of it) and thereby become eligible for government programs.

Back in May, the Trump administration announced it was exploring alternative inflation measures to deal with this problem. Under a better measure of inflation, the poverty level would grow slightly less each year. And many on the left have been panicking about this possibility ever since.

Senator Bob Casey and poverty scholar Indivar Dutta-Gupta, for example, have this in Politico today, headlined “A cynical way to make poor people disappear.” Naturally, they’d like to see more people considered poor, and they have some alternatives in mind:

Any honest attempt to update the poverty measure should include a wider range of basic needs – including housing, child care, long-term care, health care, access to internet and phone services, transportation and utilities. And that would result in more—not fewer—Americans identified as needing access to programs to ensure a basic foundation for every child and family.

In fact, the Obama administration began to develop that kind of modernized poverty measure. An extensive, interagency process led to the development of the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which quantifies the poverty threshold based on food, clothing, shelter and utility expenses, while taking into account family size, composition and geographical adjustments. The supplemental poverty measure, largely based on a consensus from the National Academy of Sciences, also subtracts necessary medical expenses and work-related expenses, such as child care, from income.

The Obama administration was not alone in attempting to modernize the poverty measure. Several organizations and research centers set out to calculate livable incomes. The National Center on Children in Poverty created the Family Resource Simulator to illustrate the impact of work supports, including income tax credits and child care assistance, offering a more complete picture of how family resources change as earnings increase. NCCP suggests families typically need nearly twice as much as the official poverty level to make ends meet thanks to factors like rent and utilities, child care, health insurance premiums, out-of-pocket medical expenses, transportation, debt and payroll taxes. The Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budgets, MIT’s Living Wage Calculator and the University of Washington’s Self-Sufficiency Standards all came to similar conclusions.

There are other attempts to calculate poverty and changes in it, though, that point in the opposite direction — and go mysteriously unmentioned in the piece. The White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, for instance, recently showed that if you define poverty the way it was defined in 1963, just before we declared “war” on it — and use accurate inflation and income measures to assess changes since then — poverty in the U.S. is pretty much eliminated at 2.3 percent. Consumption-based poverty measures show a similar trend: Very few people consume as little as the poor did half a century ago, and many people are considered “poor” under current measures of poverty despite consuming much more.

Reasonable people can disagree about which of these methods is the best, and in turn about whether the U.S. should be cutting or expanding aid to the poor in general. But if using an objectively better inflation adjustment is a “cynical way to make poor people disappear,” pushing the measure in the opposite direction must be a cynical way to classify people as poor and drive up welfare use, because there’s nothing that makes one set of measures cynical and the other not. They’re all just different ways of answering the questions I laid out at the beginning of this post — about how poverty should be defined and how the definition should evolve over time.

Politics & Policy

Watch: Kat Timpf Reminds MSNBC Women Shouldn’t Be Elected Just Because They’re Women

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Kat Timpf responds to Kasie Hunt in a new National Review video after the MSNBC host recently argued that the way to avoid “worrying about character” in politics is to elect women instead of men.

World

‘The Threat of Red Britain’

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I wrote today about the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party winning a new election in Britain:

It’s hard to exaggerate the threat represented by Corbyn and Co. taking control of our most important ally. In U.S. terms, Corbyn is a mashup of Bernie Sanders and the Squad, mixing orthodox socialist economics with a hostility to U.S. foreign policy and Israel.

He is a lefty caricature. George Orwell once complained of “the smell of crankishness” in the socialist movement, and wished he could send every vegetarian and teetotaler home “to do his yoga exercises quietly.”

Corbyn is, indeed, a vegetarian who rarely drinks. One British newspaper relates that his favorite restaurant is a spot “where he likes to eat hummus after taking part in demonstrations in Trafalgar Square.” His first wife reports that he never took her out to dinner, preferring to eat beans straight from a can to save time.

He is a figure that time is supposed to have forgotten. He inveighed from the back benches against Labour’s turn away from the old-time religion under moderate prime minister Tony Blair. When he mounted an unlikely leadership bid in 2015, he found an audience, much as Bernie Sanders did in 2016. Now the old-time religion is a few lucky breaks away from power.

Elections

New Marquette Poll: Trump Trails Biden by Nine Points in Wisconsin, But Ties Warren and Harris

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Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the second night of the first Democratic presidential candidates debate in Miami, Fla., June 27, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

According to the latest Marquette Law School poll of registered voters in Wisconsin, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 51 percent to 42 percent, while Elizabeth Warren and Trump are tied at 45 percent. Trump is also tied with Kamala Harris at 44 percent, while Bernie Sanders narrowly leads Trump 48 percent to 44 percent.

The Marquette survey is another data point backing up the argument that Biden is actually more electable than his Democratic rivals. He leads Trump by 9.4 points in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, while Warren leads Trump by 3.6 points in the RCP average and Harris leads by 3.0. 

In 2016, of course, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.1 points, but lost the Electoral College because 78,000 voters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan gave Trump the edge.

Trump can afford to let Pennsylvania and Michigan flip in 2020, but he would still win the Electoral College 270 to 268 if he holds Wisconsin and the rest of the 2016 map stays the same. 

Wisconsin remains a strong contender to be the “tipping-point” state in the Electoral College in 2020, and Biden will likely be touting the fact that the “gold-standard” pollster in Wisconsin shows him with a big lead, while his rivals would make the race a toss-up. 

Biden’s rivals can counter by pointing out that at this point in the 2016 presidential race (when Trump had been running in the GOP primary for less than three months) Marquette showed Hillary Clinton leading Trump 51 percent to 35 percent.

Politics & Policy

‘Burn It Down’ Republicans

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The Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Brother Jim writes:

“I fantasize about a natural disaster wiping out most of humanity such that a small group of people can start all over”? Who the hell are these people?

Fans of The Walking Dead and other zombie literature, fans of apocalyptic literature more broadly, readers of right-wing survivalist novels, and global-warming fantasists, among others. The popularity of right-wing survivalist literature roughly parallels that of zombie stories; they are more or less the same thing, with the zombies providing a veneer of distancing irony for the cool kids in Brooklyn. The eco-disaster genre is the same thing with a large dose of  progressive moralism. (Progressives love moralism, but they can’t stomach religion; hence the current practice of rewriting The Scarlet Letter as a Twitter episode — puritanism without puritans.) As Xander Cage put it, “Before you ask someone to save the world, make sure they like it the way it is.” The world has to be ending, the country has to be failing, the system has to be corrupt, etc., because the alternative — that we are mainly responsible for our own failures and our own unhappiness — is unbearable to many people.

Being a child of the Eighties, I know how this goes: It couldn’t be that epidemic divorce and negligent parenting were messing up America’s children, it had to be . . . Ozzy Osbourne. Or a nice young man like Dee Snider. Local government wasn’t failing, it was beset by “super-predators.” The churches weren’t corrupt and uninspiring — it was Dungeons & Dragons leading the nation’s youth away from Sunday school. Etc.

The world, as everybody knew, was coming to an end, if not at the hands of the Soviets then at the hands of Judas Priest.

The longing for a purifying catastrophe is normal and episodic. Some people cheer for Noah, some cheer for the flood. (I voted for the meteor in 2016.) We’re having our millennial freakout twenty years behind schedule.

I get a little nervous when that scorched-earth attitude is exhibited by people who have immediate access to a navy and nuclear weapons and such, or who are likely to have such access, but, in general, this rhetoric represents only the usual extended adolescence that is the American way.

Jim also writes:

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

Couldn’t agree more. You know who needs to hear that? Republicans.

My own “antithesis of conservatism” — “Things couldn’t possibly be any worse” — is not entirely unrelated.

The main indicator that the world is coming to an end is that I find myself agreeing with about 80 percent of a Thomas Edsall column for the second or third time in the past few months. Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

Politics & Policy

ThinkProgress Smears Dan Crenshaw on ‘Universal Background Checks’

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Dan Crenshaw at Turning Point USA’s 2018 Student Action Summit. (Gage Skidmore)

At ThinkProgress, Josh Israel miscasts Dan Crenshaw’s argument against the “universal background check” bill that the House of Representatives passed earlier this year (and which Crenshaw opposed):

“With universal background checks, I wouldn’t be able to let my friends borrow my handgun when they travel alone like this. We would make felons out of people just for defending themselves,” he tweeted.

It is unclear why Crenshaw does not believe his friends could pass background checks to get their own weapons or to borrow his. If they are convicted felons who are not allowed to possess weapons, it would seem important for Crenshaw or other friends to know that before arming them.

Israel’s reading of Crenshaw’s tweet is based upon a misunderstanding of the bill (H.R. 8) that Crenshaw opposes. Under current federal law, Crenshaw is allowed to loan, gift, or sell a gun to any adult within his home state of Texas, provided he believes that that adult is permitted to own one. If H.R. 8 were signed into law, this would change. Specifically, H.R. 8 would prevent Crenshaw from selling a gun to anybody without the buyer undergoing a background check; it would limit to recipients within his own family his ability to gift or loan a gun; and it would narrow the circumstances in which he could effect a “temporary transfer” dramatically, to those in which the temporary transferee was at a shooting range or on a hunting trip, or feared “imminent death or great bodily harm.” Because he has read H.R. 8, Crenshaw knows this, and he knows, therefore, that if H.R. 8 were to become law it would prevent him from loaning his friends guns per se not because his friends are unable to pass a background check, but because there would be no such thing as loaning a friend a gun.

Or put another way: Crenshaw’s objection is that, under H.R. 8, all transfers that do not fit the cramped “family loan” or “temporary transfer” criteria are deemed permanent. Currently, Crenshaw can lend a Texan friend a gun, and, when that friend is done with it, he can give that guns back to Crenshaw. Were H.R. 8 in force, this would not be true. On the contrary: Under H.R. 8, each exchange would involve Crenshaw first transferring ownership of a given gun to his friend, and then, when his friend was finished with that gun, he would be obliged to transfer ownership back to Crenshaw. Both transactions would be heavy on paperwork, and would involve costs — both for the mandatory background check and whatever transportation and time was necessary to get both people in front of a federally licensed firearms dealer. That — not that his friends are criminals and domestic abusers — is what Crenshaw is complaining about. And he’s justified in doing so.

I suspect that one of the core problems here is that, to many people who write about politics for a living, the idea of loaning a gun to somebody sounds inherently suspicious. “Why?” I have been asked today, “would you borrow a gun instead of buying one?” But this is a silly question, and one that would surprise the millions of Americans who loan each other firearms as a matter of course. I, for one, borrow firearms fairly regularly. I borrow firearms when I go hunting. I borrow firearms when I go skeet shooting. I borrow firearms to try them out. To ask “why borrow a gun?” is akin to asking “why borrow a car?” or “why borrow an electric drill?” Because you need to use one but don’t want, or need, to keep it. If Dan Crenshaw, a Navy SEAL and member of Congress, wishes to loan his guns to people — and, by extension, if he objects to Congress making that practice illegal — he is within his rights to do so. Insinuating in response that he must be friends with the wrong sort of people is disgraceful.

Culture

Magdalen Berns, a ‘Shero’ Among Women

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Magdalen Berns (Nicole Jones)

The late Andrea Dworkin — a serious, if imperfect, thinker — once said that real feminism is a “political practice” advancing the interests of women,

. . . including all the women you don’t like, including all the women you don’t want to be around, including all the women who used to be your best friends whom you don’t anything to do with anymore.

It doesn’t matter who the individual women are. They all have the same vulnerability to rape, to battery, as children to incest. Poorer women have more vulnerability to prostitution, which is basically a form of sexual exploitation that is intolerable in an egalitarian society, which is the society we are fighting for.

These words come to mind as I consider the life of Magdalen Berns — a 36-year-old woman living in Edinburgh, Scotland — who was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor last year and who has recently entered into palliative care. If true feminism is the kind articulated here by Dworkin, then Berns has been a significant contributor.

Of course, it would be absurd to suggest that a person’s value can be measured by their online presence. Nonetheless, Berns is a captivating and insightful speaker. And her YouTube channel — with over 30,000 subscribers and hundreds of thousands of views — continues to be a great source of inspiration and clarity for those trying to resist gender extremism. At one point, she piqued the interest of Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling who was subsequently attacked by activists for following Berns, a supposedly “proud YouTube transphobe,” on Twitter.

Berns has also exposed the bully-boy tactics of well-known gender extremists. For instance, as Berns lies dying, Rachel McKinnon — who won the women’s cycling world championship despite being a man — implied in a tweet that Berns is “a trash human” and “maybe [should] live by the maxim whereby ‘Don’t be the sort of person who people you’ve harmed are happy you’re dying of brain cancer.’” McKinnon has previously attacked the tennis star Martina Navratilova for her views on men competing in women’s sports in similarly unpleasant terms.

Berns certainly pulls no punches on gender extremism. “You don’t get ‘assigned’ reproductive organs,” she says in one video, “males are defined by their biological sex organs. Likewise, homosexuals are people who are attracted to the same biological sex.” But she delivers her message with common decency and sense. Not to mention humor.

It’s no insult to Berns, I hope, to observe that in many respects she has led an ordinary life. Like most of us, she’s fallen in and out of love (with women, in her case); studied hard and partied harder; thrown herself into jobs, deep-dived into politics, and called out cruelty and hypocrisy within her own ranks (the political Left). More important, Berns has given voice to the voiceless. Though I’ve never met her personally, from following her on YouTube, and from talking to her friends, it’s clear that she is a true life enhancer.

From those who know her and her work:

  • You were the voice for many who had none.

  • You’re a trail-blazer you changed my life and my daughter’s life.

  • You helped me accept myself, I’ll always be grateful.

  • You lit a flame that will never go out.

  • Your fearlessness, tenacity and humour enabled me to roar like a lion.

  • How’d they fit all that legendary into someone so short?

  • Brave warrior woman, you’ll never be forgotten.

  • You made us laugh, made us angry, made us think.

Berns is facing death in the same spirit that she faced everything else in life — with superhuman courage. From one of her videos before she lost the power of speech,

I love you guys and I love the community that I’ve created here, and I hope it continues . . . For other people to do the same and stand up for what you believe in. Because, as I’ve always said, there’s a lot more to worry about than being called silly names.

God bless you, pal. Till the very end.

Economy & Business

Businesses Have Many Purposes

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My latest column is about the Business Roundtable’s recent statement on corporate purpose, and the controversy it’s kicked off. The organization, which used to support shareholder primacy, now says that businesses should serve their customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders.

Left-wing columnist Katrina vanden Heuvel called the statement a “sudden burst of conscience” and “a concession that corporations have failed to serve the public good.” Critics on the right see the statement as a concession to the left, too — and deplore it accordingly. The editorialists of the Wall Street Journal have taken several shots, writing that the statement panders to critics such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, and that the CEOs “are fooling themselves if they think this new rhetoric will buy off Ms. Warren and the socialist left.” The Journal’s response to the Business Roundtable included excerpting Milton Friedman’s classic essay, “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.”

But the Roundtable’s statement isn’t so much a concession that corporations need to change their ways as it is a description of what they already do. . . .

Health Care

House Democrats and Single Payer

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While writing an earlier post, I looked up how many House Democrats have co-sponsored “Medicare for All” bills.

It turns out that in the last Congress, when there were 193 House Democrats, 124 of them were co-sponsors.

Now there are 235 House Democrats — yet the number of co-sponsors has gone slightly down, to 117.

You might get a different impression from listening to the debate over the issue.

Culture

Ten Things That Caught My Eye Today (Sept. 4, 2019)

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1. Aleteia: As Boko Haram’s reign of terror continues in Nigeria, the Christian faith persists

2. Atlantic: When Faith Comes Up, Students Avert Their Eyes

3. Public Discourse: Luma Simms reviews Mary Eberstadt’s new book on our cultural identity crisis

(More on Mary’s book here and here.)

4. After Decades-Long Immigration Fight, A Chicago-Area Family Says Goodbye To Its Matriarch

5.

 

6. A list of “adoption influence blogs”

7. Michael Pakaluk writes about John Senior, an academic deeply influenced by John Henry Newman (Cardinal Newman will be canonized next month):

attend to the culture of the home.  His key educational idea, his main improvement over anyone else, is the insight that students who arrive at college, having passed through our educational factories (the modern school), inevitably conditioned by technological society, will be harmed rather than formed by immediate specialist studies.

They arrive alienated from nature. They need space, and freedom, simply to discover in an unstructured way, and wonder at, what is real. In effect, they never were children. Their sensibility and imagination should be informed before they undertake a higher education that shapes only the intellect.

He speaks to fathers and mothers thus:

To conclude not so much with a proof of anything as an exhortation to experiment: Read, preferably aloud, the good English books from Mother Goose to the works of Jane Austen. There really is no need for reading lists; the surest sign of a classic is that everyone knows its name. And sing some songs from the golden treasury around the piano every night. Music really is the food of love, and music in the wide sense is a specific sign of the civilized human species. Steeped in the ordinary pot of the Christian imagination, we shall have learned to listen to that language by absorption, that mysterious language the Bridegroom speaks; and we shall begin to love one another as He loves us.

Newman would have recognized here a deeply kindred spirit.

The reading aloud bit reminds me of Meghan Cox Gurdon’s delightful Enchanted Hour.

8. AP: With a nudge from the young and sober, mocktails taking hold

(Hat tip: Jay Nordlinger on Twitter)

9. A competition — with a $2,500 award — “to encourage difficult conversations in good faith”

10. A poetry contest to be judged by Dana Gioia

The Trinity Forum also has Goia, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, speaking at the Press Club in D.C. next week.

Law & the Courts

Beto’s Bizarre Turn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unsurprisingly, they chose the lattermost:

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

Instead:

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

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

Others are opting to store them away from their homes.

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

Comical.

Politics & Policy

American Politics and the Appetite for Chaos

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

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

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

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

  • I think society should be burned to the ground.

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

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

  • Sometimes I just feel like destroying beautiful things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The political-science professors offer some important caveats:

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

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

Elections

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

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

 

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

White House

Washington Waits for a Trump Decision on Gun-Violence Legislation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics & Policy

The Burka Question, Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said he (Johnson himself) had Muslim ancestry.

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

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

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

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

Health Care

“Medical Bankruptcies” and Single Payer

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

Elections

Texodus, Continued

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(Richard Carson/Reuters)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education

What’s Gone Wrong with Our Higher Education System?

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The short answer is: government intervention.

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

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

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

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

Politics & Policy

Consultants, Brain Surgeons, and Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

World

Uncommon Knowledge: Jim Mattis on Call Sign Chaos

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

Politics & Policy

A String of Words

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

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

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

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

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

Elections

A Perfect Distillation of Beto O’Rourke

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Beto O’Rourke (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

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

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

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

He is so serious.

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

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

Sports

Jim and Other Harbaughs: A Celebration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics & Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here was Jonathan Chait:

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

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

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

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

Culture

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

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

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

3.

 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

6. Pope Francis condemns euthanasia.

7. What if real life became more like Twitter?

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

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

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

Music

A Break for Your Ears

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

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

World

What Is Happening in Parliament?

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

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

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

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

Economy & Business

Re: Trump on ‘Badly Managed Companies’

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

World

Brexit in Peril

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economy & Business

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

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

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

Politics & Policy

Remembering a Foot Soldier in the Reagan Revolution

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Dr. Burton Yale Pines (YouTube)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics & Policy

Memories of a Gramm Cracker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Culture

Recycling, Updating

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

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

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

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

Everything’s up to date in Kansas City.

Elections

Two North Carolina House Races to Keep on the Radar Screen

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

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

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

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

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

Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World

Russia, Crimea, and Us

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

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

Trump said that Crimea

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

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

Trump further said,

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

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

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

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

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

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