What the Heck Is Wrong With People?

by David French

Post-Weinstein America has outed its latest predator. None other than Charlie Rose:

Eight women have told The Washington Post that longtime television host Charlie Rose made unwanted sexual advances toward them, including lewd phone calls, walking around naked in their presence, or groping their breasts, buttocks or genital areas.

The women were employees or aspired to work for Rose at the “Charlie Rose” show from the late 1990s to as recently as 2011. They ranged in age from 21 to 37 at the time of the alleged encounters. Rose, 75, whose show airs on PBS, also co-hosts “CBS This Morning” and is a contributing correspondent for “60 Minutes.”

There are striking commonalities in the accounts of the women, each of whom described their interactions with Rose in multiple interviews with The Post. For all of the women, reporters interviewed friends, colleagues or family members who said the women had confided in them about aspects of the incidents. Three of the eight spoke on the record.

The details are gross, with apparently well-known forms of misconduct like the “shower trick.”

A woman who began as an intern in the late 1990s and was later hired full time described a “ritual” of young women at the show being summoned by Rose to his Manhattan apartment to work at a desk there. The woman described a day when Rose went into the bathroom, left the door open and turned on the shower.

She said he began to call her name, insistently. She ignored him, she said, and continued working. Suddenly, he came out of the bathroom and stood over her. She turned her head, briefly saw skin and Rose with a towel and jerked back around to avoid the sight. She said he said, “Didn’t you hear me calling you?”

She said she told someone in the office, and word got around. A few days later, she said, a male colleague approached her, laughing, “Oh, you got the shower trick.” The woman’s sister confirmed that her sibling had told her about the shower incident soon after it occurred.

Then there’s the “crusty paw.”

The young women who were hired by the show were sometimes known as “Charlie’s Angels,” two former employees said. Rose frequently gave unsolicited shoulder rubs to several of them, behavior referred to among employees as “the crusty paw,” a former employee said.

It’s amazing how many members of our so-called media elite are turning out to be disgusting, exploitive, and crass. But lest we’d like to see our country run by the first 100 names we find in the Alabama phone book, I give you Alabama pastor Earl Wise

“I don’t know how much these women are getting paid, but I can only believe they’re getting a healthy sum,” said pastor Earl Wise, a Moore supporter from Millbrook, Ala.

Wise said he would support Moore even if the allegations were true and the candidate was proved to have sexually molested teenage girls and women.

“There ought to be a statute of limitations on this stuff,” Wise said. “How these gals came up with this, I don’t know. They must have had some sweet dreams somewhere down the line.

“Plus,” he added, “there are some 14-year-olds, who, the way they look, could pass for 20.”

Not to be outdone, meet pastor Franklin Raddish. 

For 40 years, “these women didn’t say a word. They were cool as a cucumber,” said pastor Franklin Raddish, a Baptist minister from South Carolina and a Moore supporter.

“You’re asking me to believe them,’’ Raddish said, “when their own mother didn’t have enough red blood in her to . . . go and report this? Come on.”

There is a sickness loose in the land, and it is no respecter of ideologies, social class, or faiths. 

Study: Land-Use Restrictions Drag the U.S. Economy Down

by Theodore Kupfer

Something seems wrong with the American economy, despite strong headline numbers. Nine years into the expansion, GDP and productivity growth remain below their long-term trends. According to a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, restrictive land-use regulations in California and New York are a major reason why. The paper, by Kyle F. Herkenhoff, Lee E. Ohanian, and Edward C. Prescott, argues that “these restrictions have depressed macroeconomic activity since 2000.”

The basic idea is that land-use regulations artificially constrain the supply of land, driving up prices for housing and commercial rent — and that these regulations are the most restrictive in places where productive opportunities are plentiful. Take the Golden and Empire States, where, compared with the rest of the country, jobs abound and productivity is high. These states have extraordinarily restrictive zoning and development laws that drive up the price of land. Someone considering a move to San Francisco or Manhattan might find the cost of moving to be prohibitive and decide to continue living in a place with comparatively fewer job opportunities. Hence, the authors say, land-use regulations “raise land prices, slow interstate migration, and depress output and productivity relative to historical trends.”

That’s not a novel insight. Harvard economists Peter Ganong and Daniel Shoag, for instance, found a similar result in 2012. But these authors contribute to the literature by developing a general-equilibrium model that evaluates what the economic effects would be if restrictions on land use were eased.

And they would be significant. According to the model, “U.S. labor productivity would be 12.4 percent higher and consumption would be 11.9 percent higher if all states moved halfway from their current land-use regulation levels to the current Texas level.” Even if California and New York deregulated back to their 1980 levels, the authors find, “aggregate productivity” would rise “by as much as 7 percent and consumption by as much as 5 percent.”

Of course, this is an inexact exercise. Not everyone would pack up and move to San Francisco if it became a cheaper place to live. People have sentimental attachments to their homes and communities that no model can capture. But there are certainly people who would make the move, and these regulations benefit a small class of homeowners at their expense. Easing land-use restrictions would open up opportunities for ordinary Americans. According to this paper, it would also give a major boost to the U.S. economy.

Blurred Lines? Not Really

by Fred Schwarz

Response To...

Beware of Running with the ...

Douglas Murray makes a good point (though perhaps overtaken by events) that Al Franken’s conduct in 2006 might not be sufficient to justify the expulsion from the Senate that some conservatives have advocated. But by characterizing the call for expulsion, or at least hearings, as blurring “the difference between bad manners and rape,” Murray seems to suggest that these are the only two ways to describe a man’s sexual misconduct. In fact there is plenty in between that no woman should ever have to put up with, and even “bad manners” is all too often a euphemism, especially when the misbehaving person is in a position of power over the victim.

The MP’s line about “unwanted advances” that Murray quotes (“How do I know they’re unwanted until I make them?”) does not really clarify matters. To be sure, confusion does exist in some encounters between men and women, but before breaking the intimacy barrier, one is expected to at least perform some due diligence (worse comes to worst, you can ask) instead of plunging ahead furiously on spec. And while the occasional clumsy smooch from an overeager date may be part of many people’s lives, that’s a lot different from meeting with a powerful man and being forcibly molested — let alone having him grope you while you’re asleep and bring along someone to photograph the act.

Murray decries “the new etiquette” that has resulted from the recent exposures of sexual abuse by men in power. But if by “etiquette” he means treating women with respect, it’s actually the same old-fashioned virtue that has been taught (if not always followed) for centuries, now demonstrating its worth once again. And there’s nothing more conservative than that.

Never Trumpers Divided

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Over at Bloomberg View, I point out that Trump’s Republican opponents don’t agree with one another on anything except for Trump’s unfitness.

Should Republicans moderate on social issues? Embrace a more populist message on economics? Reject nationalism or try to ennoble it? You’ll find conservative anti-Trumpers on both sides of each question. Republicans who generally oppose Trump don’t even agree on what to call themselves. Many of the people who embraced the Twitter hashtag #NeverTrump last year think the term is obsolete, since it referred to never voting for him and the election is over.

The main pushback the column has received takes the form of furious agreement with its main thesis. Sure, Trump-opposing conservatives don’t speak with one mind about guns or health care or taxes or immigration, but diversity is a strength! Maybe it is. But that diversity makes certain forms of political action–such as a primary challenge to Trump in 2020–much harder to pull off.

Senator Collins’s Puzzling Tax Demands

by Veronique de Rugy

There are a lot of things I don’t like in the House and the Senate tax bills. I haven’t been shy about them. Yet even I recognize that the parts of the bills that are bad economics may be politically necessary in order to get two of the most important features of the reform proposals:

a) A permanent reduction of the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from its current 35 percent and b) the reduction or elimination of the state and local tax deductions (SALT).

The corporate-tax-rate cut is the most pro-growth provision in the tax-reform bills. It will trigger economic growth and some wage increases, improve competitiveness, and reduce corporate malinvestment and tax avoidance. The elimination of SALT will simplify taxes by getting rid of a profound unfairness and distortion in our tax code.

While the House and the Senate bills have different approaches to tackling these issues, both chambers deserve some credit for sticking to their guns. This is particularly true for SALT (the Senate plan would eliminate SALT and the House plan would keep a limited property-tax deduction) considering the extreme pressure from special-interest groups. Besides, the president has made it clear that a 20 percent corporate tax rate is the highest he will accept.

This is why I was puzzled to hear yesterday that Senator Susan Collins (R., Maine) is now arguing that we should settle on a higher corporate tax rate and use the revenue from that to restore SALT. According to ABC News:

I also think the reduction in the business tax rate is too steep, and that we could go to 22 percent, and then use that money, which is about $200 billion, to restore the tax deduction for state and local property taxes. That would really help middle-income taxpayers.

What on earth is Senator Collins talking about? Middle-class earners aren’t the ones benefiting from SALT. As I wrote recently:

Data show that the lion’s share of the SALT flows to high-income taxpayers, who are most likely to itemize. According to the Tax Policy Center, “about 10 percent of tax filers with incomes less than $50,000 claimed the SALT deduction in 2014, compared with about 81 percent of tax filers with incomes exceeding $100,000.”

Brian Rield of the Manhattan Institute breaks is down further:

Wealthy families are four times more likely to utilize SALT than other families. Only 24 million of 125 million tax filers earning under $100,000 take the deduction, typically lowering their taxes by $1,000. By contrast, 20 million of the 25 million filers earning over $100,000 take the deduction and typically save $4,000 (and often much more), even accounting for the Alternative Minimum Tax.

In fact, half the savings accrue to the richest 5 percent of taxpayers — and in New York, half of the SALT savings go to families making over $500,000.

To see why, imagine state income taxes rising by $1,000 for each family. A wealthy family in the 40 percent bracket may deduct that $1,000 and see its federal taxes fall by $400 (subject to the AMT). A family in the 25 percent bracket receives a $250 federal income tax cut. The 70 percent of taxpayers who don’t itemize their income taxes — often middle and lower incomes — receive zero federal income tax relief.

Since the number of filers who itemize will drop significantly if the standard deduction is doubled, there will be fewer taxpayers claiming the deduction in the first place. In addition, a majority of those itemizing and claiming the deduction will benefit from lower marginal rates overall. To be sure, there will be some losers, but they are likely to be seriously high-income earners. Now you know me. I am not in favor of jacking up higher-income earners’ marginal tax rates to raise revenue in order to pay for counter-productive tax handouts.

I am not in favor of jacking up marginal rates, period. But I have no problem getting rid of unfair tax subsidies such as SALT that benefit those higher-income earners.

Is Senator Collins (along with many Democrats in New York and California) really ready to go to war to protect these taxpayers at the expense of some of the economic growth that would have been produced by lower corporate rates? Apparently, she is.

Uncommon Knowledge: John Cogan and The High Cost of Good Intentions

by Peter Robinson

How old are entitlement programs in the United States? Entitlement programs are as old as the Republic, according to John Cogan, former deputy director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and a Hoover Institution senior fellow. John Cogan joins Peter Robinson to discuss his latest book, The High Cost of Good Intentions, on the necessity for entitlement reform in the United States.

Recorded on October 24, 2017.

University of North Carolina Faculty Tries to Hide Behind Accreditation

by George Leef

Accreditation is a great paper tiger. Supposedly it ensure that colleges are of high quality, but accredited schools routinely get away with degrees of almost no quality, as long as they have done everything necessary to look like a college. Accreditors don’t make any effort at monitoring the content or rigor of courses. Famously, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill let the athletics department get away with bogus courses for years — courses in the African-American Studies Department that were academic jokes just to keep star players eligible.

And now the faculty is imploring the regional accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to step in and tell the UNC Board of Governors that it cannot make the changes it wants (such as preventing the law school’s Center for Civil Rights from engaging in ideological litigation) without violating SACS’s standards. In other words, the faculty wants to use the threat of loss of accreditation to keep the Board of Govenors from doing its job.

The good news, as Jane Shaw writes in today’s Martin Center article, is that it isn’t going to work. She writes,

Last February, the assembly sent a letter to Belle Wheelan, president of the SACS commission, with a list of 17 actions by the Board of Governors or the legislature that it claimed may have violated SACS standards. The list was clearly flawed from the start. SACS obviously does not have any control over legislative actions, and yet most of the supposed violations of SACS standards dealt with changes made by the legislature, not the Board of Governors. They included such actions as “packing” the board by electing new members with “partisan bias.

What is going on here is that the Board of Governors consists largely of conservatives who are trying to exert control over the very leftist faculty and administration. Whining to SACS that the Board is doing things that violate accreditation standards is just a desperate ploy.

Shaw concludes, “Without fearing loss of accreditation for every little policy change, perhaps the governors can step up and bring badly needed reform to the UNC system.”

Don’t Buy the Apologetic Narrative on Al Franken

by David French

I very much appreciate Douglas Murray’s warning on the homepage that we shouldn’t blur the various lines of sexual misconduct. As he says, we can’t blur the lines between bad manners and rape. I’m keenly aware that atmospheres of hysteria can feed false narratives that all men are somehow “rapists or proto-rapists.” And I’m sure that we’ll reach the point where an accusation should make us shrug our shoulders and say, “That was bad manners, not illegal misconduct.”

But that’s not Franken’s case. Whenever there’s a photographic evidence of anything, we tend to fixate on the photograph itself — at the expense of the larger context. Here, the photo by itself appears to show a comedian groping a model, and the cheesy grin communicates a joking intent. But that interpretation ignores Leann Tweeden’s larger story

Remember, after she reacted strongly to his unwanted kiss, she claims that she avoided him as much as she could. He responded with “petty insults” and then, ultimately, groped her while she slept. Now, does all that sound like fun-loving Al was just joking around? Or does it seem more like a more-powerful entertainment figure was humiliating and degrading a woman who refused his advances? 

Not only does the distinction matter morally, it also matters legally. As I wrote before, when determining whether a person is guilty of sex crimes like sexual battery or forcible touching, intent matters. For example, in New York a person can be guilty of “forcible touching” when they make contact with a person’s “intimate parts” if it’s for the purpose of “degrading or abusing” that person. 

While rape is rape, grabbing a person’s breasts (even over their clothes) is no small thing, and it gets worse if there is malign intent. I’ve seen no one suggest that Al Franken should be prosecuted (there are a host of jurisdictional and other legal issues with a potential case), but resignation is hardly too much to ask. 

Al Franken

by Rich Lowry

He was very likely going to survive the Leeann Tweeden imbroglio. What would put him in real danger would be an accusation from his time as senator and/or any suggestion that he’s a repeat offender. The latest accusation from a woman who says Franken grabbed her backside during a photo at the Minnesota state fair in 2010 constitutes both. Given that she complained about the interaction at the time on Facebook, she’s credible. This pushes Franken closer to the brink, although I’m guessing it will take something else — and perhaps something more lurid — to push him over the edge.

‘This Horror Show’

by Rich Lowry

Needless to say, Twitter is a forum for Trump airing his instinctual reactions, and very often it isn’t pretty. But his gut appears to be in the right place on trophy hunting:

Here’s hoping that he doesn’t change his mind and we keep the ban on elephant trophies as a gesture toward affording these marvelous creatures the respect they deserve.

A Nitpick

by Charles C. W. Cooke

In New York magazine, Jesse Singal pens a long defense of free speech on campus. It’s well done, and worth reading. Overall, I’d recommend it. But I must push back against the opening, which includes a rather misleading implication:

The existence of white nationalist Richard Spencer, and other bigoted far-right figures like him, poses a genuine challenge to public universities. Conservative student groups invite these sorts of figures to speak fairly often, and the courts have consistently held that public universities can’t really interfere with such events.

Having read this, you could be forgiven for thinking that “conservative student groups” have invited ”white nationalist Richard Spencer” to speak on campus, and that they have done so “fairly often.” This isn’t correct. Richard Spencer has indeed spoken on college campuses recently. But, invariably, he has invited himself.

Most recently, Richard Spencer spoke at the University of Florida. As the university itself notes:

No one at UF invited Richard Spencer. No one at UF is sponsoring this event and UF is not hosting Mr. Spencer.

Many conservative groups — and many non-conservative groups — argued that Spencer’s event was protected by the First Amendment. So, for that matter, has the Supreme Court. But that’s not the same as those groups inviting him. They didn’t.

Spencer has also spoken at Auburn. Did “conservative groups” invite him?

Nope. Per CNN, he invited himself:

[Spencer] said his Auburn appearance was sponsored by AltRight.com, a white nationalist site. He paid $700 to rent the hall and an additional fee for security from the Auburn Police Department, according to The Plainsman, an Auburn student newspaper.

Citing safety concerns, Auburn canceled the event Friday. Then, a federal judge granted Spencer’s request for an injunction, effectively ordering Auburn to host his speaking event as originally scheduled.

I have also seen it suggested that Spencer “spoke at UVA.” But this isn’t quite right, either. Spencer marched at UVA, which is in a public space. He wasn’t invited; he invited himself. Per the Washington Post:

The rally, led by Spencer, included 40 to 50 people and lasted five or 10 minutes, according to Lt. Stephen Upman, a spokesman for the Charlottesville Police Department. There were no incidents of disorder at the rally.

The group then left, boarding a tour bus at another location. Police followed to ensure that the group left the city. “Our department is conferring with city leadership and the commonwealth attorney’s office to determine what legal action may be taken in response to this event,” Upman said.

The march coincided with the university’s celebration of its bicentennial.

“It was a planned flash mob,” Spencer said in an interview Saturday night. “It was a great success. We’ve been planning this for a long time.”

Presumably, the counter-argument would be that Singal’s charge was leveled not at Spencer per se, but at “other bigoted far-right figures like him.” In some sense, this is fair: Sadly, conservative groups on campus have an increasing tendency to privilege trolling over substance — and it’s a tendency for which they should be called out. Nevertheless, there are very few people in the United States who are “like Richard Spencer,” and it would be a shame if anyone came away from Singal’s essay believing that the man has been invited or endorsed by the mainstream.

The Democrats’ Suicide Pact with Hardcore Abortion-Rights Purists

by Nicholas Frankovich

About Jerry Brown and abortion (see below): His record is mixed.

Bottom line: conventional pro-choice Democrat.

But the middle lines include some curious statements and executive decisions that a hardcore, never-give-an-inch pro-abortion-rights Democrat should find concerning.

Which means that those parts of his record should cheer pro-lifers, though not because we think that he’s ever going to change sides or that it would change the world if he did, given that he’s 79 and unlikely to be influencing Democrats much a generation from now. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be the first time that he confounded expectations and pleasantly surprised us — may he do so again.

Where opinion on abortion is assumed to be binary, the California governor and a shill for NARAL would be classified as belonging to the same camp, but that would deprive the pro-life side of some interesting bragging rights, such as Brown’s statement that “the killing of the unborn is crazy.” Granted, that was three decades ago, but three months ago he made a splash by siding with those in his party who think that Democrats should welcome pro-lifers into the fold and fund viable pro-life candidates. At The Human Life Review I itemize some of the high points where his long career and the history of the post-Roe abortion debate in America have intersected.

Unless pro-lifers think that America can and ought to be a one-party state, they should seed pro-life ideas among Democrats and take encouragement from any D politician who, in whole or in part, is already with them. Clearly it would be in the interest of the Democratic party, too, to moderate on abortion. It’s fascinating, in a grim way, to watch so many prominent Democrats dig in and declaim through clenched teeth that abortion is a fundamental right and they will fight to the death for it, when it’s so obvious to the rest of the world that their ticket to the mainstream in American political culture is “Abortion is a tragic necessity and here’s our plan for reducing its incidence.”

Democratic politicians will resort to that line when cornered, but it sounds contrived and unconvincing under the circumstances. They would do better to lead with that message — and to have thought it through and mean it, because they’re not going to fool any voters, whether in Pennsylvania or Ohio or Michigan or Wisconsin or Alabama, for whom no issue could be more serious than abortion.

Democrats have a penchant for sacrificing themselves on the altar of abortion-rights purity. Alexandra DeSanctis on the homepage examines the phenomenon as it manifests in the case of Doug Jones. Handed a gift in the form of Roy Moore’s imploding candidacy, he seems determined to throw it away by talking about abortion in terms that would please Gloria Steinem in the 1970s, as if there were a lot of Alabama voters in 2017 who fit that profile. Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast has a similar take.

LaVar Ball Is Out of Bounds

by Jim Geraghty

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

A Ball Goes Out of Bounds

A minute, qualified, half-defense of Trump’s otherwise inexcusable tweet about the three UCLA players who were arrested in China and ultimately released…

If you don’t watch much sports television or listen to sports radio, you may not know who LaVar Ball is. He had a short, unspectacular career in professional sports, and is the father of at least one, and perhaps two or three potential basketball superstars, his sons Lonzo (currently a highly-touted rookie for the Los Angeles Lakers) LiAngelo (currently a freshman at UCLA) and LaMelo, currently playing at Chino Hills High School. One suspects that if they ever made a gender-reversed basketball-focused reboot of the musical Gypsy, LaVar Ball would be Mama Rose, determined to push his sons to the heights of fame and fortune, no matter the cost.

Since his son Lonzo became a star, LaVar Ball has become an increasingly outspoken and high-profile sports personality, boasting that his son is better than NBA MVP Stephen Curry, contending that he himself could defeat Michael Jordan one-on-one, and that he expects his sons to make a billion dollars in endorsements over the course of their careers. There is, ironically, something Trump-like in his wild bombast that makes the national sports media turn their heads and instantly need to react.

It’s also worth noting that LaVar Ball is something of an idiot, making his sons’ entry into the realm of professional basketball much more difficult, with the perpetual potential of a camera-hogging, controversy-courting, expectation-raising maniac of a father following them throughout their careers.

The UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team was invited to China for a tournament last week. Chinese police accused LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley of stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store near their hotel in Hangzhou, China. As the Los Angeles Times Bill Plaschke summarized:

The three UCLA freshman basketball players didn’t steal items from just one Chinese store, but three stores. Their loot was discovered only after police searched bags in the team bus and hotel. They were released back to the United States not for lack of evidence, but through the intervention of two presidents.

Yes, the players are young men, and young men do foolish things, but “don’t commit multiple acts of shoplifting in China” does not seem like an excessively harsh rule. A quick refresher: China is not a free country. It may be a wonderful place to visit, with many amazing sights and friendly locals, but it is not a free country. Visitors should not expect that shoplifting will be treated as a minor crime, or that their status as college basketball players will protect them from the legal consequences. The players embarrassed their team, their school, and their country.

During his two-day visit to China, President Trump asked his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to help resolve the situation. (Note that this is a case of the president of the United States not intervening to help a group that is unjustly imprisoned or suffering human rights abuses, but asking for leniency in a case of invited guests who indisputably committed a crime.)

During an interview with ESPN – where LaVar Ball seems to spend roughly half of his waking hours these days – the father examined the burning embers of a potential international incident and promptly poured gasoline on everything:

“Who?” LaVar Ball told ESPN on Friday, when asked about Trump’s involvement in the matter. “What was he over there for? Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out. “

“As long as my boy’s back here, I’m fine,” LaVar Ball told ESPN. “I’m happy with how things were handled. A lot of people like to say a lot of things that they thought happened over there. Like I told him, ‘They try to make a big deal out of nothing sometimes.’ I’m from L.A. I’ve seen a lot worse things happen than a guy taking some glasses. My son has built up enough character that one bad decision doesn’t define him. Now if you can go back and say when he was 12 years old he was shoplifting and stealing cars and going wild, then that’s a different thing.”

You can’t begrudge Trump for grumbling that Ball is an ingrate – first denying that Trump had anything to do with the release, and then downplaying the seriousness of the crime. (Try the “I’ve seen a lot worse things happen” defense in a Chinese court and see how far that takes you.)

Out of all the people Trump has denounced in his little rants on Twitter… LaVar Ball probably had it coming a lot more than most. Perhaps it was an uncharacteristic lapse in judgment, but his son just embarrassed the country and created an international incident; a little humility, gratitude, and graciousness would be appropriate right now. And I’d bet a decent number of sports fans are tired of seeing Ball as the ubiquitous hey-look-at-me outrage-generating chatterbox of the basketball world.

Now, should President Trump be Tweeting his easily-understandable irritation with Ball? No, and this is why Twitter is dangerous in his hands; his initial, gut-level reaction is instantly broadcast out for all the world to see. Accounts of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton show us that Trump is not the first temperamental, uncouth, or easily-angered figure to sit in the Oval Office. But those presidents weren’t given the technological freedom to vent their feelings to everyone on the globe without editing or preparation.

Monday links

by debbywitt

Yesterday was President James Garfield’s birthday - when he was shot, Alexander Graham Bell showed up with a metal detector to try to locate the bullet.

The Astounding Engineering Behind the World’s Largest Optical Telescope.

A Gallery of Color Photos of the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

The traditional drunken turkey recipe.

Spend Bill Gate’s Money.

Farmers urged to bury their underpants to improve quality of their beef.

ICYMI, Friday’s links are here, and include the anniversaries of the Gettysburg Address and the opening of the Suez Canal, three-foot long crabs that hunt birds, the pigeon’s rump cure for childhood seizures, and what it’s like to be an Amazon.com “fake” reviewer.

Compelled Speech in California? Justices Will Hear Pro-Lifers’ Complaint

by Nicholas Frankovich

Last week the Supreme Court agreed to hear National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a challenge to California’s Reproductive FACT Act, which Governor Jerry Brown signed two years ago. The law targets the state’s approximately 200 pro-life pregnancy centers.

Several legal-advocacy groups filed complaints with federal courts before the ink on Brown’s signature had dried. Last fall a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law, although courts have struck down similar measures in other states.

NIFLA, the plaintiff, contends that the Reproductive FACT Act compels speech, which on its face is a violation of the First Amendment. Specifically, the law requires every pregnancy center in California to make one of two announcements, depending on whether it’s licensed. Those that are not must post the following statement on their premises and feature it, “clear and conspicuous,” in their literature and on their websites:

This facility is not licensed as a medical facility by the State of California and has no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.

It’s a warning label, in effect, which should satisfy detractors who allege that pregnancy centers routinely exaggerate their medical credentials. NIFLA argues that it’s a negative advertisement, something that “crowds out and confuses” a center’s “intended message.”

Licensed pregnancy centers must post the following notice or distribute it to prospective clients:

California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].

Of the three items in that list — contraception, prenatal care, and abortion — pro-life pregnancy centers support one (prenatal care) and obviously oppose another. On contraception, some centers may be ambivalent while others are outright opposed, because some drugs commonly classified as contraceptives can function as abortifacients.

So organizations dedicated to the avoidance of abortion as an “intrinsic evil,” to borrow a term from Catholic theology, must publish a notice implying that prenatal care, surgical abortion, and abortifacient drugs all coexist on the same plane of moral neutrality. The notice is worded to read like a mere recitation of a few simple facts, but their collocation implies a moral assumption that contradicts both the conviction that motivates those who operate nonprofit pregnancy centers and the conscience that leads women to seek their assistance.

The Supreme Court will decide whether the California law violates the free-speech clause of the First Amendment. The underlying political issue is the spread of pro-life pregnancy centers nationwide. They vastly outnumber abortion clinics and are hounded by abortion-rights activists, ostensibly for engaging in deceptive and manipulative practices.

Any pregnancy centers that are guilty of such should be held accountable by the pro-life community, but who would object to them in principle? To a facility staffed by honest professionals and volunteers offering prenatal care for women looking to avoid abortion? Oppose that and forget “pro-choice.” You’ve earned the title “pro-abortion.”

Brown’s approval of the Reproductive FACT Act was not a surprise, but it was a disappointment.

Susan Collins’s Budget Math

by Robert VerBruggen

Susan Collins has some issues with the Senate’s tax bill. She appears to be asking the impossible.

The key piece of background information here is that if Republicans want to avoid a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, they need to use the “reconciliation” process. This means their bill can’t increase the deficit more than $1.5 trillion over ten years (per the budget resolution they passed earlier) and can’t increase the deficit at all outside that budget window (per the standard rules of reconciliation). The Senate’s current bill bumps up against both of those limits, so any change to it needs to be paid for.

Collins does propose a few swaps — keeping the top individual tax rate where it is to give bigger breaks to the middle class; cutting the corporate rate to 22 percent instead of 20 percent so we can keep the state-and-local-tax deduction. 

But when Collins says that individual-mandate repeal should be stricken or “dropped” from the Senate bill — though, in fairness, she’s also mentioned the possibility of “mitigating” the damage to the health-care market with other legislation — she’s saying the Senate needs to find something to replace the more than $300 billion in savings that provision creates. (When fewer people get health-insurance plans, the government will spend less on subsidies.) The Senate can’t take the House bill’s approach to these funds, either, because Collins praises the higher child tax credit the Senate spends a lot of the extra money on.

The mandate repeal is also permanent, which is one thing that allows the Senate bill to make the corporate tax cuts permanent as well. (Remember, no deficit increases after ten years, so any tax cut beyond that point has to be matched to a revenue-raiser or spending cut.) But far from offering some alternative way of paying for a permanent cut to the corporate rate, Collins says we should make the individual cuts permanent too — which compounds the problem, and indeed would create a new problem even if mandate repeal were left in. There’s a reason the individual cuts expired to begin with.

It’s true, as Collins says, that the bill the House passed has permanent cuts for both groups. But the House bill doesn’t comply with the “Byrd rule” banning deficit increases after ten years in reconciliation bills; that rule is enforced only in the Senate. So this should be completely irrelevant as far as a senator is concerned.

Long Remember

by Yuval Levin

Today is the 154th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—a two-minute speech of about 270 words (the exact count depends on whether you take “four score,” “can not,” and “battle field” to be one word or two) that may well be the most powerful bit of political and civic rhetoric in our history. Read it, then read it again, and then read Diana Schaub’s characteristically spectacular commentary on the speech from a few years ago. 

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,” Lincoln told his audience that day, which just goes to show he wasn’t right about everything. 

Assisted Suicide Should Be in Suicide Statistics

by Wesley J. Smith

Assisted suicide corrupts everything it touches.

This includes the seemingly uncontroversial field of vital statistics, in which suicides assisted legally, or homicides, by doctors are not usually included in suicide statistics.

Thus, in Washington (as just one example), doctors who assist suicides are forced to lie on the death certificate that the death was natural. This not only falsely skews the total number of suicides down, but interferes with transparency — which, of course, is the point.

Here’s an example from Switzerland that reported that “suicides” were not up dramatically, but that assisted suicides were. From the Swiss report (Google translation):

Suicide increases slightly, assisted suicide strongly

792 men and 279 women ended their lives in 2015, 43 more than in 2014. Assisted suicide was observed for 426 men and 539 women, an increase of 223 cases.

This is a false dichotomy. In truth, suicides were up strongly because assisted suicide was up strongly.

In truth, the numbers of suicides wasn’t 1,071. It was 2,036 — almost twice as high.

In truth, the numbers of suicides wasn’t up 43, but 266.

At least Switzerland understands that assisted suicide and suicide are correlated. Too often, we are told that assisted suicide and suicide have no connection when — if we care about facts — they do.

Highway Robbery: Mandating Driverless Cars

by Andrew Stuttaford

In the course of a recent, strangely optimistic piece, Kevin Williamson (who appears to have forgotten that he’s a conservative: We’re meant to be the pessimists, Kevin) writes:

Autonomous cars won’t have to route around traffic jams because traffic jams will never form in the first place — that’s the value of the network. Countless man-hours now wasted sitting in traffic will be liberated. Fewer people will die in ambulances or waiting for fire trucks. Everything that moves between producers and consumers — which is to say, every consumer good and manufacturing input — will be transported more efficiently. Many of those problems are going to be solved by Millennials for whom owning a car and having strong feelings about it is a barbaric Boomer relic.

But watch those last three words. Watch that adjective. If a generation already showing some alarmingly authoritarian tendencies feels that something is “barbaric,” well . . . 

Then there is AEI’s James Pethokoukis, writing in The Week:

One recent gone-viral prediction comes from Bob Lutz, a former top executive and design guru at General Motors. In an essay for Automotive News, Lutz wrote that “in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways.”

And that forecast, whatever its accuracy, may have inadvertently predicted the next great battleground of America’s culture wars.

Culture wars? If such legislation comes along, the battle will be about a great deal more than “culture.” Or it ought to be.

For all the irritations that can come with car ownership, the essence of the automobile is the autonomy that it brings. The ability it gives, so long as there’s money for gas, to just get up and go, when you want, where you want, the way you want.

Forget all the environmentalist grumbling, it’s that individual autonomy that has long made the auto so offensive to so many on the left.

Back to Pethokoukis:

Some social media users were thrilled by Lutz’s prediction, commenting on the technology’s potential safety aspects and how it could make commuting easier. But plenty of others were horrified at the prospect. Lots of “ . . . from my cold, dead hands” tweets, for instance, a reference to the well-known National Rifle Association slogan. For these people, such knee-jerk opposition to driverless cars is all about maintaining personal autonomy and withstanding yet another elite assault on their lifestyle.

Note the dismissive use of “knee-jerk” there. Actually, there are plenty of good, not-so-difficult to think through reasons why the idea of legislating away the driver-car is a very, very bad idea. And this is not about “elites” or “lifestyle,” it’s about the power of the state and how far it should be allowed to override the rights of the individual.

Pethokoukis:

So you can see how this is going to play out, right? Just wait until Fox & Friends notices this issue, which means it will immediately land on President Trump’s radar. And then the tweets will begin. Maybe something like: “First guns, now the elites want to rip the steering wheel from your hands! Banning human drivers is wacko! I WON’T LET THEM!”

The implication is that no decent people would object to such a well-meaning idea as being denied the right to drive (for the good of society, of course). Only, to borrow a word, a “wacko” with a weakness for CAPITAL LETTERS could possibly argue that such a prohibition would be wrong.

Pethokoukis:

Will it work? Of course there’s no constitutional right to manually drive your car, unlike the right to bear arms. So the freedom argument might not be as compelling as with guns.

I’m not sure about that. The “freedom argument” in this case is just as intellectually compelling (maybe even more so), but the right to drive may lack the legal protections that have (thankfully) kept the right to bear arms intact. That, however, is a different question.

There are, of course, good utilitarian arguments for driverless cars. Kevin has made some, James Pethokoukis makes others:

Then there’s the tremendous upside to driverless cars. Not everyone may personally know a gun victim, but who hasn’t been in a nasty car accident or doesn’t know someone who has? Widespread adoption of autonomous driving tech could reduce roadway deaths by at least 90 percent — saving some one million lives a year globally — making it one of the great public health achievements in human history. Now factor in enhanced mobility for the disabled and elderly, shorter commute times, and an end to all those wasted hours staring at the brake lights right in front of you.

If such cars do bring such practical benefits (and they could well), people will choose them for themselves, and only a stubborn minority — a minority too small to disrupt the smooth operation of a driverless traffic system — will stick with their retrograde jalopies. Even if we put the question of individual freedom to one side (and we should not), if driverless cars turn out to be as good as some predict they ought not to need compulsion to back them up.

But if there’s one thing we should have learned by now it is that systems are not as invulnerable as we’d like — imagine a mass hack.

And then there’s the question (give me a second while I adjust the tinfoil) of a universal off switch.

As a reminder:

The New York Times:

Tesla drivers in Florida got an unexpected assist this weekend as they scrambled to evade Hurricane Irma. Owners of certain Model S sedans and Model X S.U.V.s noticed that the battery capacity of their electric cars had increased, giving them as much as 40 extra miles of range to outrun the deluge. Range anxiety — the fear that an electric vehicle will run out of charge before reaching its destination — can be magnified in emergency situations.

Tesla confirmed that it had remotely enabled a free software upgrade for vehicles in the path of the storm, motivated by one customer who requested the change while making evacuation plans. The free upgrade will expire on Saturday . . . 

Most other auto manufacturers “sell vehicles that are incapable of learning and improving and are highly vulnerable to obsolescence,” Adam Jonas, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, wrote in July. But not Tesla, which has become an industry leader in what’s known as over-the-air vehicle upgrades — the ability to make instant fixes without being anywhere near the car.

It’s an efficient method: Wirelessly communicating improvements to a digitally equipped vehicle means that customers don’t have to come in for every small tuneup. But some updates, like a strict speed cap that Tesla rolled back this year, also raise concerns about consumer privacy and control.

You think?

Meanwhile Pethokoukis sees other benefits from going all driverless:

For instance: Tech analyst Benedict Evans points out that gas stations will be going bye bye, just like the combustion engine. And that means big changes in American smoking habits since half of U.S. tobacco sales happen at gas stations, and are often impulse buys. “Car crashes kill 35,000 people a year in the U.S.A., but tobacco kills 500,000,” Evans writes.

And so the infantilization of adult Americans is set to continue. Can’t be trusted to drive. Can’t be trusted with stores that supply them with the products that they would like (however medically unwisely) to consume. The slippery slope is real, and we’re not to be allowed anywhere near a handbrake.

Pethokoukis:

So the evidence and data support moving to driverless cars ASAP, even if that means only the robots get to drive.

But notions of individual autonomy do not.

Driverless cars seem promising, but they must be designed to share the road with cars in which humans are at the wheel.

Roy Moore Is Not the Cure for Judicial Supremacy

by Dan McLaughlin

One of the arguments made by serious conservatives in favor of Roy Moore — at least before his campaign was consumed by stories of sexual impropriety — has been that Moore is an enemy of judicial supremacy. While I’m sympathetic to the cause, Moore was never a good messenger for it.

Even aside from the substance of Moore’s political beliefs (such as they are), the central defining fact of his political career has been his refusal as a state judge to abide by federal court orders. Moore was popularly elected to six-year terms as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2000 and again in 2012, and he was forced out of office halfway through each term (the second time, he resigned just ahead of being forcibly removed). In the first case, it was over a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument in his courtroom, on the dubious but decided-by-federal-courts legal theory that this was the equivalent of the state establishing its own church. In the second, it was over Moore’s refusal to comply with the even more dubious but decided-by-federal-courts legal theory that the due-process clause requires states to recognize same-sex marriages.

Regardless of the legal preposterousness of the federal court orders, Moore was bound by the supremacy clause, which plainly requires state courts to follow federal court interpretations of the U.S. Constitution, federal law, and their interaction with state law. The Supreme Court concluded in 1816 that federal courts have this authority, and Moore stands practically alone over the past half-century (at least) in contesting it. As Jonathan Adler explains, Justice Story’s reasoning in Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee is compelling, Moore’s lone effort to contest it 200 years later is as short on logic and history as it is on supporters:

Story’s argument was not based upon any claim that federal judges are wiser or more likely to reach the correct result than state judges. Accepting “the most sincere respect for state tribunals,” he explained that the “necessity of uniformity of decisions throughout the whole United States, upon all subjects within the purview of the Constitution” was the reason why federal court decisions must be able to bind state officers, judges included. Indeed, this was the whole point of having a federal judiciary in the first place.

Our federal system readily accommodates differences in state laws. It is one of its virtues. Different parts of the country can adopt and enforce those laws that are most in line with local preferences. Federal law, however, is of a different nature. When laws are enacted by Congress, they are the “supreme law of the land”—and a law can hardly be “supreme” if it means something different in different places.

Moore’s hairsplitting defense that the Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage had not ruled on the Alabama constitution’s prohibition was baldly frivolous, given that the decision had addressed popularly enacted state constitutional bans enacted in Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, and Ohio, without even examining distinctions in what they said or how they were enacted; no possible legal reasoning could distinguish Alabama’s rule. The only basis for Moore’s refusal to follow Obergefell is if Hunter’s Lessee was itself wrong.

The more honest pro-Moore response to this is that Moore, unlike nearly everyone else in the Republican party and the conservative movement, was at least trying to do something about judicial supremacy. That’s a real problem, so one worth exploring.

Judicial supremacy is the view that a federal court can say or do literally anything, at least where constitutional law is concerned, and none of the other branches of the federal or state governments — even up to the president and the Congress — can do anything but submit. Under this view of American government, if a federal court rules that the Constitution says the Earth is flat, the other branches must meekly comply unless they can appeal to another federal court or prove that the judge can be removed for office on grounds of being corrupt. That may sound extreme, but in practice it’s the governing ideology of our legal system and essentially all its participants.

In terms of its reasoning, what Supreme Court did in Obergefell — as in Roe v. Wade — was every bit as lawless as anything Roy Moore has ever done. Nobody would seriously argue that the due-process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment was intended or understood, when enacted by the people’s representatives in 1868, to make the marriage laws of every state over all of American history to date unconstitutional. The Obergefell majority did not even pretend to argue so, or even address the meaning of the text it interpreted. The majority felt that it was doing Right, so text of law and consent of the voters be damned. The worst nightmare of how Roy Moore would act with unchecked power to issue social-policy edicts is that he would act as the Obergefell majority did. Liberals who gloried in the ability to exercise that power without any possibility of restraint should consider how they should like it to be restrained in the hands of a man like Moore.

Judicial supremacy is a serious problem, especially if you think of judges as inherently political actors, and thus believe that their decisions should not be treated as if they were literally the Word of God. But whatever its best solution, Judge Moore’s approach was the wrong one, and very properly ended with him becoming ex-judge Moore. The legitimacy of any act of government in America comes down to one simple question: Who decides Moore wasn’t given the power to decide that whatever he wants to be the law, is the law — at least not as far as federal law goes. A state judge doesn’t get to decide what federal law is, once federal courts have decided otherwise. The answer to the rule of judges is not to empower different judges, even ones (like Moore) elected by the people to roles explicitly subservient to the federal courts.

Moore’s conduct as a state judge rendered him wholly unfit for any judicial or executive post in the future. I don’t necessarily think that — by itself — it was an absolute disqualified for a legislative position (in any event, it’s hardly the only case against Moore as a senator at this point), but it is certainly no argument in his favor.