World

Tiananmen Then, Hong Kong Now

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A man stands in front of a convoy of tanks on the Avenue of Eternal peace near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, June 5, 1989. (Stringer/Reuters)

Orville Schell, who covered the Tiananmen Square protests for the New York Review of Books 30 years ago, has an essay in Foreign Affairs that is worth your time. Schell compares what happened in Beijing then with what is going on in Hong Kong now. The similarities are not reassuring.

“The Tiananmen Square demonstrations taught that powerful movements of dissent against the Chinese Communist Party are almost always destined to end in confrontation,” Schell writes. “Why? Because such challenges are intolerable to a Leninist one-party system that allows no notion of dissent and whose leaders are perennially worried about displaying weakness.”

A generation ago, Deng Xiaoping waited until the conclusion of a high-profile summit with Mikhail Gorbachev before acting against the democracy activists in Tiananmen. Gorbachev departed on May 18. Within a few weeks, the government massacred the protestors.

Xi Jinping is also aware of the calendar. The seventieth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China will be commemorated on October 1. Any crackdown on the Hong Kong protests before then would put a damper on the occasion. The riot police amassing on the mainland can afford to be patient. “Xi Jinping has never hesitated to lash out when he feels ‘the Chinese motherland’ is being spurned, rebuked, or dishonored,” Schell writes. “And when it comes to confronting protest movements fueled by democratic idealism, he has few tools to draw on other than outright repression.”

There is a further parallel between Tiananmen and Hong Kong. In 1989, American officials and commentators expressed solidarity with the students and vowed to hold the Chinese authorities to account if the protest was violently suppressed. When the tanks rolled in, these verbal assurances did not make much of a difference. The inhumanity of the Chinese regime was displayed live on television. It shocked consciences but did not hinder China’s rise. “China is, of course, a very different place today, and its leaders are painfully aware of the global costs of a Tiananmen-style military crackdown in Hong Kong,” Schell concludes. “But given the absence of evident alternative approaches to escalating confrontation, it is not easy to imagine how else it will end.”

Culture

Twelve Things that Caught My Eye Today (August 19, 2019)

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1.

2. There’s a new documentary on China’s one-child policy.

3. A disastrous deportation: why the Jimmy Aldaoud case should trouble us all

4. Deportations to Iraq stoke fear among immigrant families in Michigan.

5. A Maine local paper editorializes on a housing voucher program for children aging out of foster care:

Youth in the foster care system face a lot of barriers to a productive, fulfilling life. The appearance of the HUD program in Portland shows that at least some people are thinking about this vulnerable, underserved population. More should follow suit.

6. Following suit: In St. Petersburg, Fla., a woman starts a non-profit to help connect children on the verge of aging out of foster care with a guardian ad litem and mentors.

7. And: A county in Oklahoma boosts its Court Appointed Special Advocate program for children in foster care.

8. Naomi Schaefer Riley’s Commentary cover piece on feminism

9. In El Paso, Hundreds Show Up to Mourn a Woman They Didn’t Know (New York Times)

10. Fr. Roger Landry on the Pew Research findings on Catholics and the Eucharist:

Many have focused on the need for much better catechesis across the board. That’s absolutely true, but inadequate and shortsighted. Christianity is not a classroom trying to help people pass a standardized test, but a way of life. Even if the results came back and 100 percent of surveyed Catholics identified the Church’s teaching with precision and affirmed faith in it, the larger question would remain: are they living Eucharistic lives, with Jesus in the Eucharist as the source, summit, root and center of their existence?

Knowing and believing are indispensable steps, but the goal is Eucharistic living. This is something that goes far beyond mere Sunday Mass attendance. It’s whether we live in holy communion with the Risen Lord incarnate in the Eucharist, whether we draw our life from him, whether we permit Him from within to make our life a commentary on the words of consecration.

He’s got a ten-step program, too. More here.

11. Relatedly, there was a 38-mile Eucharistic procession in Louisiana last week.

12. Art historian Elizabeth Lev on Leonardi DaVinci’s Last Supper (BBC podcast)

U.S.

Attacks That Don’t Occur

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FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Mary F. Calvert/Reuters)

After the El Paso massacre at the beginning of this month, I made some notes, including this one:

The attack in El Paso had the flavor of a pogrom — the massacre of people for their race, ethnicity, or religion. I feel sure that American law enforcement can beat this kind of thing. They do impressive things, when it comes to keeping the population safe. And most of their work is unsung, of course.

I was interested and pleased to see this report from CNN today. It begins, “Authorities this weekend announced they had foiled three potential mass shootings after arresting three men in different states . . .” And how about this? “All three cases were brought to authorities’ attention thanks to tips from the public.”

You can’t stop them all. But I do believe that our law-enforcement people are capable of extraordinary things. Some of their work — whether we hear about it or not — is heroic. Think of the War on Terror (as we used to call it). A lot of us thought that 9/11 would be followed by other attacks of the same nature, for years to come. We were sort of braced. But . . .

Anyway, that which is unsung should occasionally get sung.

Politics & Policy

Appealing to the Kevin Williamson Vote

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2020 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bennet speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, August 11, 2019. (Scott Morgan/Reuters)

Kevin — not alone, of course — often says that the president (whoever he is) plays too large a role in American life. He should not be the star of a great national reality-TV show. He should assume a humbler posture.

Well, one of the Democratic candidates tweeted this:

If you elect me president, I promise you won’t have to think about me for 2 weeks at a time.

I’ll do my job watching out for North Korea and ending this trade war.

So you can go raise your kids and live your lives.

That was Michael Bennet — yes, one “t” — a senator from Colorado. He surely has no chance of the nomination. And would probably not fulfill this unusual campaign promise. And would not be a conservative’s cup of tea in any case.

Still — an interesting sentiment, and I could not help thinking of Kevin.

P.S. I once wrote something like this: “If a candidate said, ‘I believe the role of the federal government is to enforce the Constitution, defend the country against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and keep you free, to live your lives as you see fit, and work out your own salvation with diligence,’ how many votes would he get? Eleven?” I think that number may be down to about six. Still, kind of interesting, as a thought exercise.

Politics & Policy

‘Significant’

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Voters cast ballots during early voting in Charlotte, N.C., October 20, 2016. (Chris Keane/Reuters)

Shermichael Singleton of Vox Media’s “Consider It” writes that Dwight Eisenhower was the “last Republican president to garner a significant percentage of the black vote.” Eisenhower won 39 percent of the black vote, and Nixon later won 32 percent of the black vote in his losing 1960 bid — is it really the case that 39 percent is significant and 32 percent insignificant?

Republican numbers among black voters recovered a little after 1964, but never returned to the their previous level, staying under 20 percent, and continued drifting downward. Even taking into account that he faced Barack Obama on the ballot, it is remarkable that John McCain did worse among black voters in 2008 than Barry Goldwater did in 1964.

But it also is worth noting that much of the party polarization among black voters happened well before 1964. From the immediate postwar years to the early 1950s, the share of African Americans affiliated with the Republican party fell by half, from about 40 percent to less than 20 percent. (It rose to just over 20 percent later in the 1950s.) The share of black voters affiliated with the Democrats went from around 40 percent to around 60 percent during the same period of time. The last Republican presidential candidate to win a majority of African Americans’ votes was Herbert Hoover; black voters have gone majority-Democrat in congressional elections since 1946. Of course, one must view those numbers in light of the fact that many African Americans were prevented from voting in much of the country during those years.

The convulsion over the Civil Rights Act of 1964 deepened — and very possibly made permanent — political trends that began during the New Deal and that had their origin in the New Deal. It is unlikely that Republicans could recover a respectable position among black voters even if the GOP were willing to put in the work — which it isn’t. So long as Republicans remain wedded to their condescending “plantation” theory of African-American politics and to the grotesque rhetoric that accompanies it, they will continue to repulse black voters. Sneering at black communities and the cities in which many of them are located surely costs Republicans among black voters as well, and the resulting Republican politics of sour grapes only encourages more sneering and condescending, a particularly stupid and vicious cycle.

Republicans have a problem with how they talk to and about black voters and their communities. But that is not Republicans’ only problem when it comes to black voters. Joe Biden’s “put y’all back in chains!” talk is repugnant and dishonest, but it is not the reason black voters are not lined up with the GOP. Republicans need to disabuse themselves of their self-flattering notion that this is all about racial hysteria and begin to deal forthrightly with the fact that African Americans mostly support the Democratic party because they prefer the policies associated with that party to the ones associated with the Republican party. There are reasons for that that are only indirectly related to the politics of race as such.

If I am correct that many voters (including many African Americans, single women, and immigrants) are attracted to the social-welfare policies of the Democratic party for reasons having to do with risk-aversion, then maybe the Republicans’ current quasi-revolutionary posture, their rhetoric of revolution, and their endorsement of an agent of chaos for the presidency are, taken all together, ill-considered.

White House

It Feels Like a Rerun: Trump Publicly Fumes About Former Staffer, Again

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Anthony Scaramucci speaks with reporters outside the White House, July 25, 2017. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

This morning President Trump fumed about short-lived White House director of communications Anthony Scaramucci, who is now a cable-news pundit and increasingly critical of the president. Trump calls Scaramucci “a highly unstable ‘nut job’ who was with other candidates in the primary who got shellaced [sic], and then unfortunately wheedled his way into my campaign. I barely knew him until his 11 days of gross incompetence-made a fool of himself, bad on TV.”

This comes after Trump called former assistant to the president and reality show contestant Omarosa Manigault a “crazed, crying lowlife” and “a dog,”; called his former lawyer Michael Cohen a “rat” and a liar, and declared that his former chief strategist “sloppy” Steve Bannon “has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind” and that the only thing he does well is “leak false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was.”

Puzzling how the same pattern keeps happening over and over again, huh? Other former Trump staffers, advisors and cabinet members who have publicly contradicted or criticized the president after leaving on bad terms include former lawyers Ty Cobb and John Dowd, former secretary of state Rex Tillerson and former secretary of veterans affairs David Shulkin, and former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn. And all of this comes from a president who repeatedly pledged he would hire only “the best people” and who constantly talked about the importance of loyalty.

Back in November, I wrote that one would think that eventually Trump would get tired of hiring and promoting people on the basis of perceived loyalty and then enduring one epic betrayal after another. One might think that eventually the president would realize that his overt and public demands for loyalty have left him particularly vulnerable to a familiar kind of shady operator, one who sucks up to the boss on the way in, obsesses about potential rivals once they’re in the job, always departs on bad terms and then trashes everyone once they’re out.

But apparently septuagenarians have a difficult time breaking habits and not repeating the same mistakes … which has ominous implications for the near future of American politics.

Economy & Business

Trade War Tactics and the Stock Market

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Economists at Moody’s took a look at the timing of the president’s trade tactics and the performance of the stock market:

Contrary to popular belief, the stock market is not synonymous with the economy, but it remains Trump’s main barometer of the economy’s health. Thus, the stock market has become somewhat of a leading indicator of trade policy. When stocks are high, Trump feels emboldened to pursue a harsher stance against China in negotiations.

We mapped Trump’s tariff threats since the beginning of the year against the S&P 500 index’s performance. Trump’s timing is spot-on; he issues tariff threats only when stocks are elevated. His August 1 threat was merely a few days after the S&P 500 index reached a record high. Stocks dipped somewhat at the end of July because of the Fed’s bungled communication of a 25-basis point interest rate cut, but the drop was not enough to deter Trump’s tariff threat.

Elections

No First Use: A Solution in Search of a Problem

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A U.S. nuclear bomb test in April 1954 (Photo: Department of Defense/via Reuters)

Imagine it’s mid 2021 and Elizabeth Warren has been elected President of the United States. Shortly after taking office, President Warren announces a policy of “No First Use,” declaring that no matter what, the United States will never be the first to use nuclear weapons in war. Unfortunately, a short time later, some sinister foreign power — take your pick, Russia, China, Iran or North Korea — unleashes every cyber-war weapon in their arsenal, hitting power grids, air traffic control, Internet access, the stock markets, banks, water and sewage system controls, the works. Or picture an electromagnetic-pulse weapon going off in the middle of Manhattan or just outside O’Hare International Airport, or chemical or biological weapons being released in Los Angeles or Miami.

A significant swathe of the country is crippled, and recovery will take months or years. America’s intelligence agencies and allies find incontrovertible evidence leading back to Moscow, or Beijing, Tehran or Pyongyang. In other words, picture some really bad scenario of death and destruction on American soil directed by a foreign power that does not involve nuclear weapons.

Would a Warren administration still honor its declared no-first-use policy? After all, the adversary has not used nuclear weapons yet.

Warren’s proposed policy is a solution in search of a problem. Our current policy amounts to “no first use, probably, unless you really mess with us, and we’ll decide when we think you’re really messing with us.” For all of the current problems in our government, we’re not even contemplating using nuclear weapons against anyone, and whatever else hostile regimes are doing, they haven’t done anything to even put that option on the table.

If President Trump was threatening to nuke other countries three times a week, formalizing this policy change, or requiring congressional approval of a nuclear strike would make sense. As of this moment, the only lawmaker who has recently discussed an American first-use nuclear strike against a target is Congressman Eric Swalwell, who speculated about nuking his own constituents during a gun-control debate. (I could meet Warren halfway and support a no-first-use policy regarding the use of the U.S. nuclear arsenal against American citizens.)

If there was a good chance that President Trump was going to order a nuclear strike on some country for no good reason, this policy change would make sense. But this is the president who’s eager to play footsie with Kim Jong-un, who nods along to Vladimir Putin’s nonsensical claims at joint press conferences, who’s publicly expressing confidence in Xi Jinping during the clashes in Hong Kong, and who made a big show of calling off a military strike against Iran at the last minute. Despite all the bellicose rhetoric, Trump clearly wants to avoid a military conflict.

Elections

Don’t Reward Failed Presidential Candidates Who Decide to Run for Senate

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Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper speaks in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

As far as Democratic presidential candidates go, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper wasn’t the worst. He argued against socialism here and there and intermittently expressed the now-controversial opinion that businesses are not the enemy of the American people. His generally amiable personality was probably among the worst matches with the perpetually angry and combative Twitter Left. He’s a bit of a weirdo, for both good and ill; no phony or carefully-stage-managed politician would ever discuss taking his mother to see Deep Throat.

But the moment Joe Biden demonstrated he could have a lousy debate and still keep most of his lead, it was clear that the former vice president held a strong lead in the “centrist” lane for the Democratic nomination, leaving little daylight for Hickenlooper. Now Hickenlooper has spared us a few more weeks of that “oh, yeah, that guy, I forgot he was running” fleeting recognition that Tim Ryan, Jay Inslee, Michael Bennet, and Seth Moulton will subject upon us for the foreseeable future. Democrats now desperately want Hickenlooper to run for the U.S. Senate in 2020, concluding he would make a strong challenger against incumbent Republican Cory Gardner.

If running for president turns into a good way to build up name recognition or a national fundraising network for a Senate bid, then we will see a lot more politicians follow the Hickenlooper pattern: announce a long-shot bid, tour Iowa and New Hampshire, do some television interviews, hope to qualify for a debate or two and then, if nothing pans out, drop down to the Senate race.

If we want fewer long-shot and no-hope presidential candidates clogging up the debate stages and polling questions in future cycles, then running for president and getting almost no support has to become more painful. (Not physically, although it’s no doubt physically taxing.) If you want to run for Senate, run for Senate. If you want to run for president, accomplish enough in your life before you start running so that Americans beyond political junkies have heard of you. Once you’re running, have an actual plan to attract votes beyond, “once Americans hear my message, they’ll gravitate to me.” Because when a lot of candidates are running, nobody’s going to hear your message, and your message probably isn’t nearly as unique and compelling as you think it is.

Presidential campaigns are not supposed to be shortcuts to becoming a political celebrity. We’re trying to pick a commander-in-chief here, not auditioning cable news prime time hosts. And a presidential campaign should not be seen as training wheels for running for Senate; it’s bad enough that an unsuccessful Senate campaign can turn you into a presidential candidate, as with Beto O’Rourke.

Culture

‘Good Verse, Bad Verse, and Chaos’

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Walt Whitman in 1887 (Library of Congress)

I love reading Sarah Ruden, and I’ve enjoyed the attention given to Walt Whitman in these pages over the last few days.

Ruden gives the poet the back of her hand for being championed by — angels and ministers of grace, defend us! — intellectuals and professors, a poet “whom ordinary Americans most reviled (inasmuch as they noticed him) in the days when the genre was democracy’s main artistic expression, and ignored with the most determination thereafter.” Rather than Walt Whitman, We the People preferred more wholesome stuff: “It was Whittier’s ‘Barefoot Boy,’ ‘Barbara Frietchie,’ and Snow-Bound, Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha and Evangeline, and other nostalgic, patriotic, romantic, and moralistic poems that were read at firesides into the opening West and incorporated into readers for primary schools. Leaves of Grass would have fallen away had not professors like Mark Edmundson championed it.”

I am enchanted by the fact that Ruden took time between publishing translations of Apuleius and Petronius to speak up for American popular taste and to put those pointy-headed intellectuals back in their place. The last time I looked at a list of bestselling poetry books it was in the 1990s, and the list was led by A Night without Armor, by the pop singer Jewel. And that is why I’ve never again looked at such a list.

Ruden writes: “If he is the nation’s greatest poet, it’s odd that he never seems to be quoted spontaneously, for the sheer powerful pleasure of it or to make an urgent point.” That’s fair — but Americans in our time are not very much for poetry in general, and one rarely hears them quote any poet “spontaneously, to make an urgent point,” unless it is some half-understood Shakespeare — “doth protest too much,” etc. I cannot say I’ve ever heard anybody, anywhere, in joy or in exasperation quote from “Barbara Frietchie.” If we are going to leave it up to Democracy, then the poetry canon is going to consist almost exclusively of miniature biographies of old men from Nantucket.

(What we ought to be doing is smoking the old peace pipe with Longfellow: “I am weary of your quarrels / Weary of your wars and bloodshed / Weary of your prayers for vengeance / Of your wranglings and dissensions”. But I’d settle for getting through a Sunday morning without a hymn rhyming “love,” “dove,” and “above.”)

Ruden charges Whitman with being a sexual deviant. I suppose I should not hold out hope for a new translation of Catullus. (Ask your seventh-grade Latin teacher about that vocabulary for an awkward moment!) Heaven help us if we’re going to start “canceling” the poets because of their sex lives. Or the novelists. Or the painters . . .

A little more Ruden: “I’m not going to inveigh here against free verse” — but! — “and the relative difficulty with which its words register in the brain.” (All brains?) “In the right hands, free verse, like good prose rhetoric, is more piercingly memorable than formal verse with its sound maps, because to succeed without those requires a resounding eloquence, on the order of Stephen Spender’s ‘I think continually of those who were truly great,’ or Robert Lowell’s ‘My eyes have seen what my hand did,’ or Sylvia Plath’s ‘Her bare / Feet seem to be saying: / We have come so far, it is over.’”

I am more persuaded by T. S. Eliot’s argument about free verse — that it does not exist, that “there is only good verse, bad verse, and chaos.”

Perhaps We the People do not spontaneously quote Whitman very often, but I expect that literate English-speaking people, if any remain, will be “O captain! My captain!”-ing and “barbaric yawp”-ing and contradicting themselves and lollygagging on that “beautiful uncut hair of graves” for a century or three after Sylvia Plath’s tedious little bare feet finally have finished saying whatever it is that such feet feel they must say.

Whitman can be maddening. His is a poetry of cumulative effect; line-by-line, Whitman is often inattentive. Whitman’s greatest defect — and maybe this is what annoys readers such as Ruden — is that the sensations he champions are mostly adolescent, which is why the Whitman of Leaves of Grass so easily became the Whitman of Dead Poets’ Society.

(National Review published a justly savage review of that film, but I cannot find a link to it.)

Eliot judged Whitman “a great master of versification” but one whose “political, social, religious, and moral ideas are negligible.” That seems about right to me. But it is not difficult to hear the voice of Whitman in Eliot: “I think that the river is a strong brown god” is more Mississippi than Thames. We the People may not have thought much of Whitman, but I can think of no reason to treat their judgment as the last word.

Economy & Business

The Great Mystery

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(Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Kevin Williamson disputes my characterization of his riposte. He writes:

I wrote that people can choose what kind of work they want to do, and what kind of services they want to consume, without any help from Michael.

Kevin then accuses me of being a stouthearted defender of the “Real America.” If accuracy is Kevin’s complaint, he can show me where in fifteen years of writing I’ve ever used the phrase “real America” in the treacly and cynical way he accuses. It’s possible that it’s happened but I can’t recall it. 

Anytime someone on the right tries to discuss whether policy is driving a trend toward more precarious employment, whether this policy is re-shaping our society in ways that are politically or socially repugnant, or why we might judge it to be so, we get diverted into this sideshow about whether the discussants have calibrated their esteem for Uber drivers and lobster processors correctly. Or how many haircuts I might get compared to my grandfather. 

So let’s accept Kevin betrays no judgement or esteem save for the “revealed preferences” of our workers.

Revealed preferences against what options? I suppose the difference between Kevin’s view and my own is that I simply don’t find revealed preferences alone all that telling. Most people will try to make the best of it, the question is what “it” is.  

Kevin says that workers don’t need help from me. Fine enough, I haven’t been elected. But our labor market is subject to lots of “help” or at least input from other sources. Our workers have the skills that were imparted to them by circumstance, or by mandates from various boards of education. Or they have skills that were encouraged by the massive subsidies to higher education and various fads. The financial sector’s  behavior can be shaped, indirectly, by the governors of the Fed. Which in turn shapes the behavior of investors and entrepreneurs. Options are further shaped by the legislators of their states, by the legislators of their Congress in Washington, by executive order. And, of course, by the industrial policy of those nations who do a lot of business with us and seek, in the course of it, to capture high-value industries, whether for strategic, economic, or political advantage. Kevin points to the mysterium tremendum of the market at work- of revealed preferences to stop the conversation. Soon we must point to the mysterium tremendum of our large trading partner’s five year policy on economic management to try to start one.

Kevin has written quite interestingly about the social and economic stratification of India. That stratification pre-exists India’s modern economy. But how do those social facts shape democracy  in India?

Should all the people who have an “input” on the shape of the American workforce, who give a little help to the real Americans wherever they live, be concerned about the results?

Economy & Business

The Postwar and the Prewar

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Michael Brendan Dougherty writes:

In response to a column about those of us who have qualms about the explosion of service work, Kevin implies factory work is just miserable and no one wants it.

I wrote no such thing. I wrote that people can choose what kind of work they want to do, and what kind of services they want to consume, without any help from Michael.

Michael writes that it is expensive to live in the Greater New York City area. It is, as I remember. If Michael or Tucker Carlson or any of our other stouthearted defenders of the “Real America” are ready to move to it, I’ll hook them up with a great deal on a place in Levelland. Real America as far as you can point your hand.

 

Economy & Business

Is This about Avocado Toast?

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(Ralph Orlowski/Reuters)

In response to Getting Snooty about Service Jobs

In response to a column about those of us who have qualms about the explosion of service work, Kevin implies factory work is just miserable and no one wants it. Is he sure? He mentions eggs. They likely come from an industrial farm. I worked in a factory, and it had its trials, benefits, and even dangers. My father-in-law worked in a factory for decades. Lots of people — workers, not just entrepreneurs — would love to make plans that stretch that long. My brother-in-law works in a factory, and he does the midnight shift. For Kevin, factory work is just crab guts. For people in my family, the factory and its smells are a sign of major capital investment, which can be a rough market signal of stability, a place where employer and employees make long-term commitments. And that helps the employees themselves make long-term commitments at home. My brother-in-law just got engaged, hence why he took the better-paying night shift. I guess in 2019 America we could say that my brother in law has the “perk” that he won’t be terminated by app. Who is sneering here?

Kevin says (and has said before) that “anybody who wants a 1959 standard of living can have one — cheap.” I’m never quite sure what to make of this. Yes, a 20-year-old Volvo is cheap to purchase. But there are lots of people who want to economize on a car. They don’t typically buy cars that are 20, 30, or 50 years old. This isn’t because these buyers are snooty people who don’t appreciate how good they have it in the present moment, but because 1990s cars can be ruinously expensive to keep running in 2019.

And yes, I grant that homes like the ones that Kevin’s grandparents live in can be had for $20,000. Though, I’m not sure this stands in for 1959. Where I live the two words “pre-war” are used to justify a premium price, not a discount. I can look up the precise house that my grandparents bought in their 20s on a single-breadwinner salary. I lived in it with them when I was a child. It’s right there on Zillow with an estimate next to it. The house has a few updates, sure — 1950s finishes are unavailable at Home Depot — but there are no expansions. It’s smaller than the median-sized American house today, though it wasn’t then when it was relatively new. Currently the house of their 1959 lifestyle is bigger, more expensive, and closer to New York City than the one I live in now in my 30s. Kevin says it’s because I’m opting for the 2019 lifestyle. Is this the avocado-toast argument? Try buying a 1959 car seat for a child. In many states its not even legal to put a child in a 2009 car seat. Is the 1959 level of insurance available somewhere, cheap? Is it legal? Kevin says that people in 1959 economized by cutting their own hair. People in the infinitely more wealthy America of 2019 still do the same. Less often perhaps. My kids have nearly eight years of life between them now. Not one visit to the barber yet. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that, because for some reason — even though my piece argued for policymakers to think harder about policy — Kevin seems to upbraid me for not believing in the division of labor.

There is a difference between a car detailer who owns his business and a Mercedes, and a worker who enters the gig economy, or who goes into domestic service precisely because a cash job is their only legal bet. There’s also a difference between that and someone who enters the gig economy — say, a freelance Amazon delivery contractor — after having seen their career investment dry up into nothing.

And it’s useful for Kevin to point out that some service jobs are more attractive than factory jobs. These are tremendously large categories. Historically, many people loved escaping domestic service for the factory. And some people I’m sure have preferred the movement in the other direction. But not all.

My worry is that the newer type of service jobs, the ones not available in 1959, are a product of economic policies that discouraged long-term investment in American workers (at least relative to others), consequently leaving many of them in precarious arrangements that are not as useful for forming families and investing in civic life. Unfortunately, few nations have solved the modern problem. The countries with intelligent industrial policies tend to have birth rates as bad or worse than ours, though they are blessed with moderate political cultures. We were once so blessed. But, as Kevin reminds us, we were cutting our own hair then.

Elections

Shock! ‘Critics Say’ 2+2=4

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I noted yesterday that many in the press are helping Beto O’Rourke use an Orwellian euphemism — “mandatory buy-back” — to describe his federal gun-confiscation plan. Today, the Washington Post demonstrates another way in which certain figures within the media are helping to launder his extremism:

Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke unveiled a detailed gun-control proposal this morning that calls for a “mandatory buyback program for assault weapons and a voluntary buyback program for handguns.” Critics say this would amount to government confiscation of firearms that people have bought legally.

“Critics say”?

Of course, “critics say” that O’Rourke’s plan “would amount to government confiscation of firearms that people have bought legally,” because O’Rourke’s plan would . . . amount to government confiscation of firearms that people have bought legally. That’s the whole point. That’s what “mandatory” means. As the Post confirms, under O’Rourke’s plan “individuals who fail to sell their assault rifles” would be punished. What else should the “critics” say? What, for that matter, should the non-critics say?

PC Culture

New School Prof Cleared in Racial-Slur Case

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In response to White Professor Under Fire for Quoting James Baldwin’s Use of Racial Slur

The same day The Guardian published a story on the travails of the white New School professor Laurie Sheck, who was under investigation for using the n-word in quotation of James Baldwin, and after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) got involved on the professor’s behalf, it has emerged that the New School has dropped the case and properly exonerated Sheck in a letter dated August 14. The New School’s letter to Sheck is here. “We have determined that you did not violate the University’s policy on discrimination,” it reads. (There is no apology.) The New School convened a meeting with Sheck way back on June 27.

“If I have a hope for what can come out of this, it is for a university community that seeks to open itself in the deepest and most informed of ways to the exchange and contemplation of ideas about which there is genuine urgency and concern but not consensus,” said Sheck in a FIRE press release. “It is crucial that the right to do this be protected.”

Sheck quoted Baldwin’s use of the n-word in a course on “radical questioning” in writing. She noted that the celebrated 2016 documentary about Baldwin misquoted him by using the title I Am Not Your Negro — he used the slur, not the word “Negro” — and “asked her students what this change may reveal about Americans’ ability to reckon with what Baldwin identified as ‘the darker forces of history,'” FIRE reported. Two students complained; at least one, according to the professor, was a white person who said Sheck, as a white person, was not allowed to speak the word out loud.

Health Care

The Medicaid Expansion’s Fraud Problem

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(Charlieaja/Dreamstime)

Under Obamacare, states have the option of expanding their Medicaid programs to cover residents who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, overwhelmingly at federal expense: For every $100 a state spends on its expansion, taxpayers nationwide chip in at least $90. Unsurprisingly, states seem less than enthusiastic about restricting the expansion to people who actually qualify for it, as Brian Blase and Aaron Yelowitz lay out in a Wall Street Journal piece.

The latest research on this issue, released earlier this week, is a paper that Yelowitz co-authored. It finds that much of the increase in Medicaid enrollment, as measured by the American Community Survey, seems to be among people above 138 percent of poverty:

We examine 21 states where alternative routes for higher-income, abled-bodied, working-age adults to qualify for Medicaid were essentially non-existent prior to the implementation of the ACA in 2014. Of these 21 states, 9 of them implemented full Medicaid expansions to 138% of the FPL in 2014, while 12 of them never implemented expansions (as of 2019). . . .

We find that the 2014 Medicaid expansions led to a 3.0 percentage point increase in Medicaid enrollment among working-age adults with incomes at or above 138% of the FPL, a sizable effect from a baseline rate of 2.7%. This translates into approximately 522,000 seemingly income-ineligible enrollees across the 9 states, and 47% of the entire gain in insurance coverage for these relatively higher income adults [who are supposed to enroll on the exchanges, not through Medicaid]. . . .

While we cannot say with certainty why these individuals were able to participate in Medicaid, we offer several potential explanations that should be explored further in future work. One possible reason — echoed in longstanding literature on effective tax rates in welfare programs (Ziliak 2007) — is that the way ACA rules are enforced in states or localities differ from formal federal policy. In practice, issues of prospectively forecasting income for the next calendar year along with anticipating possible deductions in order to compute modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) could lead to income-ineligible individuals receiving Medicaid instead of Marketplace coverage. It is also possible that these findings are attributable to measurement error in either insurance coverage or income in the ACS.

In the study’s Medicaid-expanding states, working-age Medicaid enrollment grew by 1.6 million between 2012 and 2017. If 522,000 enrollments are incorrect, that’s a big problem.

It’s worth stressing, as the authors do, that the data here come from surveys of individuals — who might misreport their earnings or benefit receipt. But if the estimate is even in the right ballpark, federal taxpayers are doling out a lot of money to fund benefits for people who don’t qualify for them, and this problem should be addressed.

I will take issue with the WSJ piece on one particular, however: the claim that in a Louisiana audit, “82% of expansion enrollees were ineligible at some point during the year they were enrolled.” As I laid out on Twitter earlier this year when I first became aware of this claim, it appears to be based on a misreading of a very confusingly written government report. The auditors did a quick search of the data to find people who seemed ineligible, and upon further investigation found that about 82 percent of those pre-selected people indeed were.

Music

A Voice to Listen To

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Sir John Tomlinson (Royal Opera House, via YouTube)

In something of a miracle, Sir John Tomlinson speaks almost as beautifully as he sings. I mean the quality of his voice — his speaking voice. And what he says. He is wonderfully eloquent, and you can learn a lot from him.

Sir John is an eminent British bass, now appearing at the Salzburg Festival. He took part in a series of conversations we have here, and we turned this session into a podcast — a Q&A, here.

We talked about his growing up in Lancashire; his development as a singer; what life is like as a bass; the mystery of Britishness in music; and many other things. Sir John was born in 1946, in a community with lots of music-making. Not just listening to the radio and that sort of thing — actual music-making, in church, brass bands, men’s choirs, etc. Is that all gone now? What difference does it make?

Anyway, you will enjoying listening to Sir John Tomlinson. And he does more than talk: He does a fair amount of singing in the course of this conversation — including the opening of Boris Godunov. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Economy & Business

Getting Snooty about Service Jobs

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A crew member cleans the wheels of an automobile at Eco Clean Auto Clean in Redwood City, Calif., in 2015. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

Michael Brendan Dougherty writes: “There’s nothing wrong with being a barre instructor. There’s nothing wrong with detailing cars. But we should be wary of the social and political effects of an economy that encourages the creation of these types of jobs instead of others.” The nation’s barre instructors and car detailers no doubt would express their gratitude to Michael for his affirmation, if only they knew how.

Question: Where is the evidence supporting the use of the word “instead” in that sentence?

It is likely that the alternative to working in a service job is unemployment or another service job rather than the “others” that Michael says he prefers. Lots of people say they prefer those jobs, too. But their revealed preferences say otherwise. If you want to work in a food-processing plant, Alaska awaits. Delta is ready when you are.

More to the point: “The economy” doesn’t create service jobs. Disposable income and a desire for more leisure time create service jobs. My grandparents raised chickens. I get my eggs from somebody else who raises chickens. Why? Because raising chickens is not a very good use of my time, and the other guy has really, really good eggs. There are a lot of people who have the opportunity to raise chickens. But, strangely, most of them prefer the grocery store.

Michael writes about his envy of his grandparents’ generation. “They were part of America’s post-war middle class,” he writes, “really, an affluent proletariat.” As I’ve pointed out before, the “proletariat” of that time was not really very affluent at all, and anybody who wants a 1959 standard of living can have one — cheap. You can buy yourself a 20-year-old Volvo for about two grand and have a better car than a millionaire had in the postwar golden years. You can buy a house typical of my grandparents’ generation for about $20,000 in a place like Liberal, Kansas, or Borger, Texas, where some of our affluent proletarian ancestors worked in carbon-black plants. They still do, in Borger, and other towns like that. In fact, there are jobs open at carbon-black plants right now. Get thee to Ponca City, Okla.

My grandparents, like Michael’s, lived in a very different America. They cut their own hair and made their own clothes, and they saved money on entertainment by spending their afternoons and evenings picking cotton and canning their own food. In their view, at the time, people who did otherwise were symptomatic of a “labor market drifting toward service work for the rich,” as Michael quotes Oren Cass telling the story. The difference between a service job in 1963 and a service job today is that our grandparents did not sneer at barbers for being barbers, or judge that they had failed in life because they weren’t down on the assembly line bolting bumpers on Buicks.

Why not cut your own hair? Why not make your own clothes? Why not grow your own food? Why not dig your own well and provide your own water? If the answers to those questions seems obvious, why is it so difficult to imagine that we who are radically wealthiest than our grandparents also consume services that were not common in the Eisenhower years or the Kennedy years?

The guy who details my car drives a Mercedes. He owns his own business and gives no indication that he feels victimized by his situation. If only he knew what he was missing! He could be plucking a chicken for his dinner! He could be a yeoman! The poor prole just doesn’t know any better.

Education

We Need to Restore Debate on College Campuses

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These days, you seldom find real debates over important public issues on our college campuses. That is the finding of political-science professor George La Noue in his book Silenced Stages. In today’s Martin Center article, I review it.

Intimidation from leftist bullies has succeeded in making many school officials wary of hosting non-leftist speakers both individually and as debaters. That’s a serious intellectual loss. Students don’t get to see how the exchange of arguments and counter-arguments works to advance understanding and sharpen the mind.

La Noue writes, “Opening up spaces for different ideas can be pursued by sponsoring on-campus debates and forums about important policy issues. That action will send a message to groups that when offended they do not have the right to suppress speech they do not like. Moreover, debates can create recognition and a space for dissenting ideas that will enrich classroom discussions, research agendas, and hiring decisions Policy debates can function like tilling exhausted soil so that new life can grow.”

Exhausted soil — that’s a good description of many college campuses. School officials should forget about their fixation over “diversity” and focus on something that’s really lacking, namely respectful intellectual combat. At least some of our students who are utterly certain of their correctness might one of those, “Wait — I never thought about that” moments if they listened to a good debate.

Culture

Friday Links

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August 18 is the anniversary of the death of Genghis Khan: founder of the Mongolian Empire, prolific spreader of DNA, and climate-change hero. Related: Why Genghis Khan’s tomb can’t be found.

Cancer Treatment in the 19th Century.

Building the Middle Ages one LEGO Brick at a Time.

National Geographic shows you how easily rats can swim up through your toilet.

Florida company offering ‘alien abduction insurance’ has sold nearly 6,000 policies.

 The surprisingly interesting history of the lightbulb.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include the anniversary of the battle of Thermopylae, washing machine history, Churchillian and Shakespearean insults, underwater wine cellars, and why only some people remember dreams.

Culture

White Professor Under Fire for Quoting James Baldwin’s Use of Racial Slur

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Ridiculous, but true: Laurie Sheck, a white New School professor in downtown Manhattan, is in trouble after she brought up for discussion James Baldwin’s use of the n-word. She pointed out that the acclaimed documentary about Baldwin is entitled “I Am Not Your Negro” . . . yet “negro” is not the n-word used by Baldwin in that remark, made on The Dick Cavett Show. She asked the class to consider why this bowdlerization happened. Sheck tells Inside Higher Education that a white student complained about her speaking the n-word aloud and that some sort of investigation ensued.

“With a new semester approaching, Sheck isn’t sure where she stands at the New School,” reports IHE. She’s heard almost nothing from the institution since a June meeting, during which she was accused of saying the N-word in class while quoting the black writer James Baldwin.” A faculty union advised/strongly hinted that she should take a “conciliatory position,” such as “by changing her curriculum, providing trigger warnings or having students read potentially offending passages themselves, instead of out loud,” IHE reported.

Sheck has impeccable credentials — she was shortlisted for the Pulitzer and has contributed to The New Yorker and The Paris Review. “I haven’t done anything wrong,” she told IHE. “So what we’re trying to do here is get things out in the open. When these things are covert and people feel quietly intimidated into changing the syllabus, that’s not going to help students. It just feels like enough is enough.”

She has asked the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to help clear her name. FIRE is asking the New School to drop its investigation. Recall that the chief communications officer for Netflix, Jonathan Friedland, was fired after advising employees that the word “retard” was just as offensive as the n-word, which he used in a meeting. In other words, just pronouncing these syllables aloud, without supporting or expressing racism in any way, is an excellent way to get yourself in hot water, whether it’s in corporate America or a university. The New School, by the way, has a proud history of supporting the Frankfurt School, so this is another instance of circular gunfire on the left.

Culture

Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today (August 15, 2019)

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1. Russell Moore talks with Kay Warren about mental illness, suicide, and living with the death of her son.

2. Michigan adoptive family is back in court with the Becket Fund

3. Naomi Schaefer Riley on legislation in New York that would make it harder to help kids in seriously neglectful situations

4. What are the Social and Psychological Costs of Our Computer-Mediated Lives?

5.

6.

7. The Washington Post is hiring a “social issues” editor, which includes religion.

8. Labor Department Rule Broadens Religious Protections in Federal Contracting

9. Notre Dame acquires G.K. Chesterton’s library

10. Someone will appreciate this: What Hans Urs von Balthasar learned from St. Ignatius

 

 

 

Politics & Policy

Could Democrats Pass the Assault Weapons Ban in 2021?

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Former Vice President Joe Biden at The Graduate Center of CUNY in the New York City, July 11, 2019. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

While Republicans in Washington are talking about the possibility of passing a “red-flag” law and expanding background checks for gun sales, 2020 Democrats continue to put the Assault Weapons Ban front and center.

2020 frontrunner Joe Biden published a New York Times op-ed this week promising to reinstate the ban if elected president, and he’s blaming the failure to pass it on “weak-willed leaders who care more about their campaign coffers than children in coffins.” This incendiary attack is odd given the fact that the Obama-Biden administration never led Democrats to even hold a vote on the ban—nor any other gun-control measure—when there were 60 Democrats in the Senate and nearly 260 in the House.

If Democrats didn’t have the will to pass the Assault Weapons Ban back then, is there any reason to think they would actually have the votes to pass the if they take back the Senate and the White House in 2020? It’s possible but very unlikely, even if they abolish the filibuster. 

Not a single Republican in the Senate, not even moderate Susan Collins of Maine, backed the ban the last time it received a vote in the Senate in 2013. Seven of the sixteen Democrats who voted against the ban in 2013 are still serving: Michael Bennet (Colorado), Martin Heinrich (New Mexico), Angus King (Maine), Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Jon Tester (Montana), Tom Udall (New Mexico), Mark Warner (Virginia). And Democrats have picked up a couple new members who have been cagey about the ban: Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and Doug Jones (Alabama). 

It’s possible to imagine most of these Democratic senators flip-flopping on the issue (Mark Warner already has done so) if they were under pressure. But it’s very hard to see Joe Manchin and Jon Tester ever voting for the ban, a move that would very likely end their political careers. 

So Democrats and gun-control activists, in their best-case scenario, would likely need to hold at least 52 Senate seats and abolish the filibuster to pass the ban in 2021.

Right now, Republicans control the Senate 53 to 47, and it will be quite a difficult task for Democrats to pick up five seats. They have to defend a seat in deep-red Alabama, but also have pick-up opportunities in the blue and purple states of Maine, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, and Iowa. If Democrats don’t run the table these races, they’d need look for one or more pick-ups in red states—such as Georgia, Texas, or Montana—to get to 52 seats. Again, that seems very unlikely but not impossible.

Film & TV

Disney’s Hitler-Movie Problem

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Disney’s Jojo Rabbit (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/IMDb)

The Walt Disney Co. is at an inflection point. It has proved a mammoth success with family entertainment, not to mention its ABC programming, but ever since it dumped Miramax in 2010 it has proved averse to edgy and R-rated fare. The challenge it faces is that entertainment-industry oracles think it isn’t big enough. Look at Netflix’s market cap: $129 billion. That’s more than half of Disney’s $241 billion, and Netflix pretty much just does streaming — no theme parks, no ESPN, no 75 years of beloved characters and stories, etc. Disney is taking on Netflix directly by both launching the Disney+ streaming service in November (that’s for families) and also by buying the rest of Hulu, so Hulu can be Disney’s brand for programming not aimed at families. Pursuant to this, Disney bought 20th Century Fox to beef up its production slate.

With Fox Disney acquired a bunch of . . . odd stuff. Everything Fox had waiting to go since Disney bought it has flopped (Dark Phoenix, Stuber, and now The Art of Racing in the Rain). Fox’s arthouse unit, Fox Searchlight, whose proud history includes Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine and Slumdog Millionaire, has a bunch of stuff that looks pretty peculiar coming from the House of Mouse. Next up is a Hitler satire, Jojo Rabbit.

Jojo is directed by the New Zealander Taika Waititi, who worked on Flight of the Conchords and became a big-time movie director with Thor: Ragnarok.  It debuts next month at the Toronto Film Festival, and Disney is already expressing jitters about it. Apparently it’s a “cutting-edge satire” about a boy with an idiotic imaginary friend named Adolf Hitler. So, this isn’t Toy Story 5. But then again, if Disney is going to be the all-things-to-all-people offering that Netflix has built, it can’t just do kiddie stuff.  Nevertheless, a Disney exec grew “audibly uncomfortable” during a screening, reports Variety. Disney CEO Bob Iger was so angry with his new Fox unit that a quarterly earnings call was compared to a “public hanging” by a producer quoted in Variety. Fox-at-Disney still has the Brad Pitt space epic Ad Astra coming, plus the Avatar sequels, but I worry that Chateau Mouse will shy away from doing interesting movies if Jojo Rabbit flops. And Jojo Rabbit sounds like exactly the kind of movie that will flop unless it is given expert marketing attention. Does Disney have the will to back this film?

Elections

Is Elizabeth Warren Really Ahead in Iowa?

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Senator Elizabeth Warren during the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, August 10, 2019. (Scott Morgan/Reuters)

A new poll conducted by Change Research shows Elizabeth Warren jumping out to a double-digit lead in Iowa, with Biden and Sanders tied for second place:

Warren 28%

Sanders 17%

Biden 17%

Buttigieg 13%

Harris 8%

Booker 3%

O’Rourke 3%

Gabbard 2%

Klobuchar 2%

Steyer 2%

Bullock 2%

Castro 1%

Yang 1%

Bennet 1%

A few grains of salt: 

One: The Change Research poll was conducted entirely online, and RealClearPolitics doesn’t include Change Research polls in its polling averages.

Two: A Monmouth survey (conducted via telephone by actual human beings) found Biden still holding the lead at 28 percent, with Warren in second place at 19 percent, and Sanders in third place at 9 percent. The Monmouth poll was in the field August 1 to 4, just a week before the Change Research poll was conducted from August 9 to 11. Nothing dramatic occurred in the Democratic primary between August 4 and August 9.

Three: CNN’s polling analyst Harry Enten notes that Change Research “had Buttigieg leading and at 25% in Iowa. I think skepticism is warranted.”

Law & the Courts

Watch: Kat Timpf Calls Jail Time for Feeding Stray Cats ‘Absolutely Egregious’

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In her latest video for National Review, Kat Timpf reports that 79-year-old Nancy Segula from Ohio was sentenced to jail after caring for the stray cats near her home.

Politics & Policy

Head-Scratchers

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Rep Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 15, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

There are things in the news that I find genuinely difficult to understand.

Exhibit A: We all are apparently expected to clutch our pearls because the government of Israel has, in accordance with its law, politely declined to host some of its enemies. Representatives Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) had planned to visit Israel as part of a junket organized by group advocating financial sanctions against Israel. Both are, as the New York Times put it, “vocal in their support of the Palestinians and the boycott-Israel movement.” Why on Earth would Israel invite onto its own sovereign soil those who deny its legitimacy as a Jewish state?

Exhibit B: A related issue: Apologists for such as Omar and Tlaib often say, “We’re not anti-Semites, we’re anti-Zionists.” What I hear is this: “We hate the Jews all together, nationally, not one at a time!” And that doesn’t seem to me much of a defense.

Exhibit C: A public-radio story this morning decried the fact that many illegal immigrants to the United States are detained in facilities located in rural areas. This, critics say, makes it more difficult for them to access certain kinds of services, and it makes it difficult for friends and family to visit them. “It’s just too far!” one said. My own experience with being detained by law-enforcement agencies is not extensive, but my recollection is that they did not seem very concerned about my convenience at all. And when I reenter the United States through JFK, my own government manifestly does not give a fig about the convenience of its own citizens crossing the border legally, passports in hand. I don’t know why we’d want to make it more convenient to break our laws.

Health Care

FCC Proposal: Dial 988 to Prevent Suicide

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When the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018 became law, the FCC was charged with determining the feasibility of constructing a three-digit suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline to supplement or replace the current ten-digit number. The FCC studied the issue and after analyzing the pros and cons, recommends setting aside 988 for that purpose.

As the study explains, suicide is reaching crisis levels.

In 2017, “more than 47,000 Americans died by suicide and more than 1.4 million adults attempted suicide.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1999 to 2016, suicide increased in 49 of the 50 states, and in more than half of those states, the increase was greater than 20%.  Moreover, the largest increase in deaths by suicide occurred in the past decade, and from 2016 to 2017, an increase of 3.7% (more than 2,000 additional suicide deaths) was recorded.

Suicide rates are higher across various at-risk populations, including Veterans and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) communities. More than 20 Veterans die by suicide every day and between 2008 and 2016, there were more than 6,000 Veteran suicides each year. According to the CDC, LGBTQ youth contemplate suicide at a rate almost three times higher than heterosexual youth, and more than 500,000 LGBTQ youth will attempt suicide this year.

I’m all for it. But I wonder whether Oregon, California, and the seven other states that have legalized “suicide by doctor” (a term I first heard from my friend Tom Shakely of Americans United for Life), would permit the system to operate. After all, they are on record as being pro-some suicides.

Sarcasm aside, this is a very good idea. But the hotline should be utilized whenever anyone asks for or threatens suicide — including when diagnosed with a terminal illness. Everyone who is suicidal deserves prevention interventions, not just the healthy and depressed.

World

A David and His Slingshot

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Suleiman Bakhit (1978–2019) (Oslo Freedom Forum)

In this blog in 2015, I wrote, “Though still young, Bakhit has led a highly interesting and eventful life.” I’m afraid that Suleiman Bakhit has now died. For a statement from the Human Rights Foundation (New York), go here. For an article in The National (UAE), go here.

Suleiman Bakhit was a Jordanian, born in 1978. His father, Marouf, would twice be prime minister of their country. Suleiman became an entrepreneur. Specifically, he started a line of comic books. Very successful. Why did he do it?

I’ll quote from something I wrote in 2014 — a journal from, and on, the Oslo Freedom Forum, where he had spoken:

Bakhit says that little kids in Jordan were admiring bin Laden, Zarqawi, and other terrorist monsters, because at least those monsters were strong and “honorable.” He wanted to give them other figures to admire: superheroes.

Have some more:

For his troubles, Bakhit was slashed in the face, by extremists. He shows a photo of himself, right after the attack. He is mended now, but the scars remain. The extremists were trying to put a mark of shame on him, he says. “They were transferring their own shame to me.”

Bakhit is superb on the link between shame and terrorism. He also talks about the Nazis, back in the 1930s: and their shame over the Versailles Treaty. He makes a comparison between the Nazis and ISIS that is utterly convincing, to me.

Shame plays a role in all crime, right? Or at least much crime . . .

And one dollop more, with some humor at the end:

The biggest problem in the Middle East, says Suleiman Bakhit, is “terrorism disguised as heroism.” We must have a David to slay this Goliath of a lie, he says. And “the comic book is our slingshot.”

I must say, I am moved, inspired, by Bakhit’s talk. He has hit on some deep truths, and he is acting on them. He is “making a difference,” as we used to say. (I guess we still do.) Also, he has the gift of charisma. There is a spark in him. And he’s very funny. Completely bald, he says, “I have a lot of hair, just bad distribution.”

The following year, 2015, I did a podcast with him, a Q&A, here. An accompanying text said, “He is an interesting man who has led an interesting life who has interesting things to say — whether one agrees with them or not.” Yes.

He was one of the most exceptional people I have ever met. Instead of merely expressing dismay at Arab extremism — or denying or excusing it — he tried to do something about it. Something damn creative, too. And there was nobility in that face, that scarred face of his. His attackers tried to shame him, but the honor was all his.

Economy & Business

Economic Variables

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Telecommunications workers install a new antenna system for AT&T’s 5G wireless network in downtown San Diego, Calif., April 23, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

There is much to be said about Matthew Desmond’s New York Times essay on how slavery shaped the U.S. economy, which is a very interesting read even if much of its argument is fanciful in its parallelism, e.g.: Antebellum slave overseers developed quantitative tools for measuring slaves’ productivity, modern corporations use quantitative tools for measuring workers’ productivity, ergo . . . ? The difference between slavery and non-slave labor is so radical and so fundamental that comparisons between the two are not very illuminating in most cases.

One or two general points come to mind.

There are many good criticisms to make of the U.S. economy and its work practices. This is not one of them:

Consider worker rights in different capitalist nations. In Iceland, 90 percent of wage and salaried workers belong to trade unions authorized to fight for living wages and fair working conditions. Thirty-four percent of Italian workers are unionized, as are 26 percent of Canadian workers. Only 10 percent of American wage and salaried workers carry union cards.

The median household income in the United States is 25 percent higher than it is in Iceland. Average incomes are higher in the United States than in Italy or Canada, too. Would you rather have a union card or a 25 percent raise? (If that seems like a rhetorical question to you, then, congratulations: You’re rich.) It may or may not be the case that American workers earn more because of our (relatively) loosey-goosey market regulations, but it is difficult to believe that they are uniquely disadvantaged in any meaningful economic way compared with lower-paid workers in more tightly regulated markets.

There are countries with more libertarian-ish economic practices that have higher household incomes than in the United States (e.g. Switzerland, where there’s no national minimum wage or capital-gains tax) and countries with bigger public sectors and expensive welfare states that also have higher incomes (e.g. Norway and, depending on the measure you use, Sweden). What might be learned from that?

Of course, household incomes are only one measure. You might also want to look at GDP per capita — if you are interested in redistribution, you’ll want to make sure you have something to redistribute. Here are the top 40 countries (and quasi-autonomous jurisdictions) by GDP/capita, according to the IMF:

  1. Qatar
  2. Macau
  3. Luxembourg
  4. Singapore
  5. Brunei
  6. Ireland
  7. Norway
  8. United Arab Emirates
  9. Kuwait
  10. Switzerland
  11. Hong Kong
  12. United States
  13. San Marino
  14. Netherlands
  15. Saudi Arabia
  16. Iceland
  17. Taiwan
  18. Sweden
  19. Germany
  20. Australia
  21. Austria
  22. Denmark
  23. Bahrain
  24. Canada
  25. Belgium
  26. Oman
  27. Finland
  28. France
  29. United Kingdom
  30. Malta
  31. Japan
  32. South Korea
  33. Spain
  34. New Zealand
  35. Cyprus
  36. Puerto Rico
  37. Italy
  38. Israel
  39. Czech Republic
  40. Slovenia

What to make of that list? One possible takeaway is that there are a few different ways to become a rich country: You can be happily located, either atop vast reserves of oil or with a relatively small population conveniently located for trade purposes, or something like that. But strike the oil emirates and the outlier city-states (San Marino has one-tenth the population of Lexington, Ky.) and what do you have? Countries with strong labor unions? Some of them, sure, but others are the dead opposite. The most common qualities are things like reasonably secure property rights, openness to trade and investment, and more or less stable and accountable government.

That’s a lot on one little point, I know, but our understanding of the world is made up of lots of little points, some of which are not, you know, true.

Professor Desmond insists that the U.S. economy is “uniquely severe,” which I do not think is a defensible claim in a world in which India and China exist, to say nothing of places such as Pakistan, Cuba, Venezuela, etc. India is a democratic country in which a form of slavery persists (debt bondage) even though it is legally prohibited. It is a place in which heavy regulation of the agricultural economy disadvantage poor workers. The character of regulation and regulatory institutions matters a great deal.

Professor Desmond notes that Brazil has relatively heavy regulation concerning temporary workers compared with the United States. That may be true, but it would be very difficult to argue that this has left the typical Brazilian worker better off than his American counterpart. Life at the 50th percentile in Houston is not very much like life at the 50th percentile in Rio de Janeiro. These things do matter and really ought to be taken into more forthright consideration. Brazil had slavery for some years after it was abolished in the United States, but we are to believe that the U.S. economy is uniquely entangled in slavery — why?

Professor Desmond also makes much of the “financialization” of the U.S. economy; but as Tyler Cowen has shown, the share of assets controlled by the financial sector has remained more or less steady for a long time, holding around 2 percent. All this talk about “financialization” may be saying rather less than everybody seems to think.

As I said, there is much of interest in the essay. But I am not sure it makes the case Professor Desmond thinks he is making.

Politics & Policy

New Poll Has a Few Encouraging Results for Pro-Life Voters

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Pro-life marchers rally at the Supreme Court during the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) has released an interesting poll this week regarding public attitudes toward legal abortion. Most public-opinion polls conducted by media outlets and survey-research firms contact only several hundred people. This PRRI survey, conducted between March and December of last year, surveyed more than 40,000 Americans. As a result, it is able to provide state-level data on public attitudes toward life issues, and on attitudes about abortion among some relatively small demographic groups.

The poll contains two findings that are particularly helpful to the pro-life movement. First, this poll, like several polls conducted so far this year, shows that a plurality of Americans oppose using Medicaid funding to cover the costs of abortion procedures. When asked if government health-insurance programs for low-income women, such as Medicaid, should cover abortions, 46 percent of respondents agreed and 48 percent disagreed. Survey questions that specifically ask about taxpayer funding of abortion typically show higher levels of disapproval. Even so, it is still noteworthy that even when polls use wording sympathetic to taxpayer funding of abortion, a plurality of Americans still express disapproval.

Second, this poll bolsters an existing body of survey research showing that, among single-issue abortion voters, the pro-life position continues to enjoy a sizable advantage. The PPRI survey shows that 27 percent of Americans who oppose abortion will only vote for a candidate who shares their views on the issue. In contrast, just 18 percent of voters who describe themselves as pro-choice will only vote for a candidate who favors legal abortion. Pundits and political professionals often encourage pro-life candidates to downplay their opposition to abortion in order to be more electable. This poll, along with many other surveys, suggests that espousing pro-life beliefs might be politically advantageous.

Unfortunately, this poll has some shortcomings. Since it was conducted in 2018, the respondents had yet to experience the changes in abortion policy that have taken place this year, including legislative efforts in states such as New York and Illinois to expand access to legal abortion, as well as efforts in states such as Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama to protect the unborn.

That the PRRI poll is broken down by religious denomination is interesting, though scholars of public opinion know that church attendance tends to be a better predictor of abortion attitudes than denominational affiliation is. Unfortunately, this survey failed to ask questions about either self-described religiosity or church attendance.

What’s more, the wording of the survey questions is somewhat favorable to the pro-abortion-rights position. When it asks about attitudes toward abortion, pro-life respondents can say that “abortion should be illegal in all cases” or “illegal in a most cases.” Polls that give respondents the option of saying that abortion should be “legal only in a few circumstances,” meanwhile, tend to report higher levels of public support for the pro-life position. Similarly, people are more likely to say they oppose taxpayer funding of abortion than “Medicaid coverage” of abortion.

Abortion certainly will be a highly salient issue in the 2020 election, as every Democratic presidential candidate supports Roe v. Wade and has publicly opposed the Hyde amendment, which prevents the direct taxpayer funding of abortion. Pro-lifers should welcome surveys that show both opposition to taxpayer funding and higher levels of intensity among pro-life voters.

Law & the Courts

‘Mandatory Buy-Back’ Means ‘Confiscation’

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MSNBC’s Garrett Haake tweets:

One more time, with feeling: “Mandatory buy-back” is a cowardly and cynical euphemism, and members of the press should not be using it outside of quotation marks. What O’Rourke is proposing here is gun confiscation, coupled with limited compensation. Every time somebody in the media uses the term “buy-back,” they are laundering O’Rourke’s extremism.

Even on its own, “buy-back” makes no sense as a term: Were O’Rourke to get his way, the government would not be “buying back” the guns on his list because the government did not own, or sell, any of the guns on his list in the first instance. When coupled with the word “mandatory,” the pretense becomes farcical.

I do not expect Beto O’Rourke to respect the integrity of the English language, especially when that integrity makes his life difficult. But MSNBC is supposed to be a news organization. Would that it acted like one.

U.S.

‘A Peculiarly Sanctimonious Nationalism’

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Women dressed as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale demonstrate against cuts to Planned Parenthood on Capitol in Washington, D.C., June 27, 2017. (shua Roberts/Reuters)

I have been delighted by some of the responses to my inoffensive little discussion of the Faust legend last week. “Hey! He’s talkin’ about us! Harrumph! Harrumph!

Certain cordwainer-related proverbs suggest themselves.

Faust has been on my mind because of something that keeps presenting itself in unexpected (and not unexpected) ways, week after week: It is remarkable how powerful the compulsion to confess is.

Maybe we live in a Christian society, after all. One of my little projects over the past few years has been trying to revive a broader interest among conservatives in T. S. Eliot as a social critic. We speak of him, to the extent that we speak of him at all, mostly as a poet and literary critic, not as a political thinker. (Recall that Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind ran “From Burke to Eliot.”) But see how familiar this bit of “The Idea of a Christian Society” is:

This essay is not intended to be either an anti-communist or an anti-fascist manifesto; the reader may by this time have forgotten what I said at the beginning, to the effect that I was less concerned with the more superficial, though important differences between the regimens of different nations, than with the more profound differences between pagan and Christian society. Our preoccupation with foreign politics during the last few years has induced a surface complacency rather than a consistent attempt at self-examination of conscience. Sometimes we are almost persuaded that we are getting on very nicely, with a reform here and a reform there, and would have been getting on still better, if only foreign governments did not insist upon breaking all the rules and playing what is really a different game. What is more depressing still is the thought that only fear or jealousy of foreign success can alarm us about the health of our own nation; that only through this anxiety can we see such things as depopulation, malnutrition, moral deterioration, the decay of agriculture, as evils at all. And what is worst of all is to advocate Christianity, not because it is true, but because it might be beneficial. Towards the end of 1938 we experienced a wave of revivalism which should teach us that folly is not the prerogative of anyone political party or anyone religious communion, and that hysteria is not the privilege of the uneducated. The Christianity expressed has been vague, the religious fervour has been a fervour for democracy. It may engender nothing better than a disguised and peculiarly sanctimonious nationalism, accelerating our progress towards the paganism which we say we abhor. To justify Christianity because it provides a foundation of morality, instead of showing the necessity of Christian morality from the truth of Christianity, is a very dangerous inversion; and we may reflect, that a good deal of the attention of totalitarian states has been devoted, with a steadiness of purpose not always found in democracies, to providing their national life with a foundation of morality—the wrong kind perhaps, but a good deal more of it. It is not enthusiasm, but dogma, that differentiates a Christian from a pagan society.

Our content, meaning our dogma, is pagan: Our so-called nationalism is lightly reworked idolatry wedded to a diluted version of the god-king cult, and much of our talk of recessions and GDP and such is only a technocratically anesthetized version of blaming the king’s failure to properly propitiate the cereal deities when the rains are insufficient and the crops fail. But our forms remain recognizably if perversely or unexpectedly Christian. A while back I wrote an essay on American Buddhism as a cultural eccentricity and the emergence of “mindfulness” as a corporate management fad. One of the things that struck me was how high-church one popular strain of American Buddhism has become, with a very strong emphasis on things like ecclesiastical titles, costumes, sacred aesthetics, and even a kind of apostolic succession — this teacher was the student of that teacher, who as the student of this teacher before him, etc. It is the very opposite of what you’d expect from a society’s with a counterculture that once dismissed “organized religion” more or less categorically. I do not doubt the sincerity of these believers, but neither do I doubt that post-Protestant America has more or less reinvented the Catholic mode of devotion and adapted it for a climate that is somewhat looser on questions of sexual mores (but nice American progressives should not inquire too closely about what the Dalai Lama and his people traditionally have taught about, say, homosexuality) and more comfortable with contemporary social practices, including what once was lamented as “consumerism.”

Part of this is only an ancient appetite for ritual and formality. Eliot has been at times characterized as a neo-medievalist; here is the top headline right now at Triangle, an American Buddhist magazine: “Thai King Bestows High Honor on Western Buddhists: One of the four Thai Forest monks granted a royal title explains the significance of this ceremony in Thailand and the West.” We reason-bound republicans love a good royal title, for some reason, and obsessing over the comings and goings and minor social gestures of royals is not limited to the pages of Town & Country. But even the controversies within American Buddhism have a kind of Christian shape to them, as I wrote in 2018: “The question of ‘guru devotion’ is very much on the mind of American Buddhist reformers such as Stephen Batchelor, a self-described Buddhist atheist and author of Buddhism without Beliefs. His worries about ‘elevating the guru to the same status as the teachings themselves’ are recognizably Lutheran: sola scriptura, in effect.”

From Game of Thrones to The Handmaid’s Tale, we cannot help but reimagine Christianity in a dystopian setting. (If King’s Landing is not a dystopia, I don’t know what is.) But the reality is that we live in Eliot’s pagan dystopia, and his “peculiarly sanctimonious nationalism” has in our own time grown even more peculiar and perversely sanctimonious. (It also is strangely vulnerable to criticism from supposedly irrelevant sources.) The Christian shape of things endures in unexpected ways, especially in our national rituals of excommunication, confession, and — if we are feeling charitable — reconciliation. Hence the need to study Doctor Faustus and The Canterbury Tales, along with the major works of Christian religious thinking and, of course, Scripture itself: not only to understand the civilization that has been lost but also to understand the world as it actually is, foundering and sputtering under the same judgment as it always has.

Politics & Policy

Actually, Bloomberg, It’s Not That Simple

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Hunters fire their guns during a sighting-in and test-firing of shotguns and rifles for the upcoming deer hunting season in Joliet, Ill., in 2011. (Jeff Haynes/Reuters)

Bloomberg’s editors argue that the Senate should pass a law mandating “universal background checks.” “Americans overwhelmingly support universal background checks,” they insist. So what’s all the fuss about?

Quite a lot, actually. For a start, the idea that “Americans overwhelmingly support universal background checks” is derived from national polling on the question in abstract, not from our experience with trying to pass actual bills into law. Indeed, when Americans are actually asked to line up on either side of the question — that is, when details of what would actually be involved becomes clear — that “overwhelming” support tends to evaporate. In Nevada, in 2016, the idea squeaked through as a ballot proposition by 50.45 percent to 49.55 percent. In Maine, in the same year, it failed, 48.2 to 51.8. There’s a bit of I-support-Medicare-f0r-All-but-not-when-I-see-the-plans dynamic here.

And those plans matter. The Bloomberg editors insist that our present “two-tiered system” — by which they mean that we run background checks on commercial and interstate transfers, but not on private intrastate transfers — “is an insult to common sense and undermines public safety.” But that two-tiered system is exactly what one would expect to see given that the federal government is permitted to superintend interstate commerce, but is not permitted to superintend private transactions within the same state. Moreover, it is far, far easier to write a law that applies mandatory background checks to commercial sales than it is to write a law that applies them to private transfers, because, while there is no argument as to what constitutes a commercial sale (that’s any gun transferred to a person by an FFL, via form 4473), there is a raging argument as what constitutes a private transfer. Does loaning a gun to someone for a month count? Does giving your wife a gift count? Is there a difference between handing someone a gun at a range and handing someone a gun in your property? Should we limit the definition to transfers that take place at gun shows and via public notices, as Toomey-Manchin sought to do, or should we expand it beyond that? And who should be exempt? Your brother? Your cousin? Nobody? Only people with concealed-carry permits?

And how should the government ensure compliance? The traditional answer to this is, “by setting up a registry.” Or, at the very least, “by forcing the commercial entities that would be charged with running the checks to keep records that could be made available to the police.” (That’s apparently “not a registry.”) But if we do that, we’re not just talking about extending background checks; we’re talking about reversing a decades-long prohibition on gun registries, too. How does that play into the dynamic?

At the end of the piece, the editors take a swipe at the NRA’s opposition to their idea:

The NRA states that it opposes background checks because they “don’t necessarily stop criminals from getting firearms.” This appears to be the organization’s most compelling argument. One wonders whether the NRA would apply it to laws against murder, assault and the like — which also don’t “necessarily” stop those crimes. Few lawmakers in Washington can be swayed by such patently ridiculous reasoning. But the NRA’s money and electoral muscle talk, so Americans keep needlessly dying.

This is a bad argument. For a start, recent pro-gun-control studies have cast serious doubt on whether so-called universal background checks actually do anything at all. Of course that should be taken into account when deciding whether to upend the country’s laws. Furthermore, the editors are not comparing like with like here. The promise of “laws against murder, assault and the like” is not that they will prevent those things — “murder, assault, the like,” remember, are malum in se, not malum prohibitum — but that they provide the government with the chance to punish people after the fact. The promise of background checks — a promise that is repeated endlessly, including in this editorial — is that they will prevent people from dying in the first place. It would be, to borrow a phrase, “patently ridiculous” to suggest that we need universal background checks so that we have something to prosecute criminals with once they have committed a crime, given that those criminals are already prosecutable for both illegal possession of firearms, and for whatever it is that they’ve done having got hold of one. So if they don’t work in the first place . . .

The headline on the Bloomberg editorial is “Mass shootings show need for gun buyer background checks.” Nothing could be further from the truth. If the Bloomberg editors can find a single mass shooter from the last decade who obtained his firearm via a post-sale private transfer in a state that lacked “universal background checks,” I will be all ears. But they can’t, of course. Which is why there is no mention of such a person in their plea.

Law & the Courts

Your Periodic Warning About Second Amendment Conspiracy Theorists

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This should serve as your periodic reminder that the case that Jeffrey Toobin lays out here — that the Second Amendment was never intended to protect an individual right — is an outlandish conspiracy theory that contradicts the text; the history; all of the contemporary commentary; the views of the drafters of the 14th Amendment, who incorporated it; and the actions of the states, almost all of which protected the individual right to keep and bear arms both before and after the drafting of the Second Amendment. It is an argument akin in nature and intent to the fraudulent work of the disgraced “historian” Michael Bellesiles, and those who peddle it should be just as ashamed of themselves as Bellesiles was eventually forced to be. The history here is clear and unequivocal, and it cannot be wished away on policy grounds.

Health Care

Father with ALS Euthanized after Denied Sufficient Care

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A Canadian man disabled by ALS didn’t want to die now. He wanted to be cared for at home so he could be with his son.

Nope. The government’s socialized health-care system refused to pay for all the care he needed. But it sure paid to kill him by euthanasia. From the story:

Relocation was not an option as that would have taken him away from his son, of whom he had partial custody. . . .

“Ensuring consistent care was a constant struggle and source of stress for Sean as a patient,” read the Facebook post in his honour.

“The few institutional options on hand, Sean pointed out, would have offered vastly inferior care while separating him from his family, and likely would have hastened his death,” the post read.

Tagert pieced together a suitable care facility in his own home, which included an expensive saliva-suction machine that was needed to prevent him from choking, according to the post.

“We would ask, on Sean’s behalf, that the government recognize the serious problems in its treatment of ALS patients and their families, and find real solutions for those already suffering unimaginably,” read the post.

Because euthanasia is about “choice.”

Those with eyes to see, let them see.

Culture

Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today (August 14, 2019)

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1. Of course the doubling-down-on-abortion town hall would happen on a Sunday — by Kirsten Gillibrand, who still “identifies” as Catholic.

2. Gary Rosen in WSJ: To Really Learn, Our Children Need the Power of Play

3. Robert P. George on Immigration and American Exceptionalism

4. George Weigel on heroism and the priesthood

5. From 2017: Matthew Hennessey on the priesthood as a heroic vocation (to mark Maximilian Kolbe’s feast day today)

(By the way, do you know about Matthew’s book on Gen X leadership? Read it while there’s still time. It’s running out.)

6. Lord, have mercy: Another NYPD officer has died by suicide, the eighth in 2019

Continue reading “Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today (August 14, 2019)”

Economy & Business

The Trade War is Hurting Businesses

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President Trump’s trade war is causing significant uncertainty for businesses. This is likely depressing investment, as I discuss in my latest Bloomberg column.

New research suggests that the trade war follows this pattern. Economists at Goldman Sachs looked at data from 70 industries, and found that the sectors with the highest share of total sales in China had markedly lower capital expenditures in early 2018, when trade tensions began to escalate. Over the previous two decades, those same industries invested relatively heavily.

One consequence of this uncertainty is to counteract the pro-investment incentives in the president’s signature corporate tax cuts. Another consequence is to depress economic growth, hurting the president’s reelection chances.

Much of the uncertainty is driven by the president’s erratic behavior.

The U.S. had been imposing a 25% levy on $250 billion in Chinese imports. In June, Trump agreed not to impose additional tariffs and to restart trade negotiations with China. Earlier this month, he abruptly changed his mind, instituting a 10% tariff on the remaining $300 billion of U.S. imports from China, effective Sept. 1. But then came Tuesday, when he delayed much of this action until December. “We’re doing this for the Christmas season,” the president explained. “Just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers.” This is a shocking reversal from his longstanding insistence that his tariffs don’t have a negative effect on the U.S.

Who can tell what he’ll do next? Will something he sees on cable news goad him into reversing the delay? Will he raise the new tariffs to 25%? Or higher? For businesses in this environment, the option value of delaying investment decisions is quite high.

Check out my column for my full argument. Your comments, as always, are very welcome.

Economy & Business

Hey, Let’s Invest In Some Subprime Mortgages!

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Ben Carson has joined the Committee to Re-Inflate the Housing Bubble.

The Trump administration is vastly expanding the scope of condominium purchases eligible for lower-down-payment loans.

The move, to be announced Wednesday by the Federal Housing Administration, could help revive the entry-level condo market for first-time buyers because FHA-backed loans require only a 3.5% down payment and lower credit score than conventional loans.

It also loosens financial-crisis-era rules and could expose the government to a higher probability of loan default if the housing market continues to slow and prices fall.

Let’s review some headlines: inverted yield curve, the Fed already acting like we’re in a recession, apparently endless if desultory trade war under way, etc. Stocks are all over the place, but it’s not just stocks. From the Wall Street Journal:

The Merrill Lynch Move Index, which measures volatility in government bonds, has jumped about 43% this month, FactSet data through Friday show. Measures of currency volatility and oil-market swings through the Cboe/CME FX Yen Volatility Index and Cboe Crude Oil ETF Volatility Index also have risen in August. The currency volatility gauge last Monday hit the highest level since early January.

Unpredictable economic weather: What better time to put the American taxpayer on the hook for a brand new batch of dodgy condo loans for some scrubs with bad credit who can’t be bothered to save up a proper down payment?

Everybody makes mistakes. Making the same mistake over and over again is stupidity. Being stupid with other people’s money over and over again is politics.