The Government Shouldn’t Collect Private Financial Information from America’s Poor

by Carrie Lukas

One area of agreement, in principle at least, between the Left and the Right is that it’s a problem when the government collects too much data from citizens and invades Americans’ privacy. 

That’s why new rules that mean that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will begin collecting huge volumes of personal financial information should concern everyone. 

The CFPB, which was created under Dodd-Frank supposedly to protect consumers and prevent the next big financial crisis, is now being used to try to discourage payday lending, vehicle title, and certain high-cost installment loans.  The rule will require customers applying for a small-dollar loan – the average of which is $350 — to submit extensive personal financial information in support of their applications. In addition to determining a customer’s ability to repay the loan, the lenders will be required to share this information with each credit reporting agency (CRA) registered with the Bureau.

This a big barrier for borrowers who depend on these loans as a lifeline.  And, yes, these loans have high interest rates so come at a big cost to borrowers, but they are also often the best option for people facing a financial crisis.  Effectively eliminating these borrowing options won’t mean that people in need won’t take out loans, but they will find other worse ways to fill their needs.  .  . . or fall further into debt and crisis.

And just as importantly, this new requirement will mean the government has a huge database of financial information on this class of borrowers – who are disproportionately minority and lower-income.  With this data all in one place, it will be vulnerable to a potential hack.

And hacks happen.  In July, Equifax, a leading credit-reporting agency that collects personal financial information on most Americans, admitted it was hacked, meaning that the sensitive personal data, including Social Security numbers, addresses, and credit card numbers, of more than 140 million people was put at risk.  And just this week the SEC reported a hack.  Now government will have a new pool of data for hackers to try to infiltrate.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute just today released a paper outlining many reasons why the CFPB needs fundamental reform.  Congress should take this seriously, and not allow this deeply flawed entity to increase its power and collect even more private data from vulnerable communities of Americans. 

 

 

 

 

 

Was Alexander Hamilton a Zombie? Experts Say No

by Theodore Kupfer

A new development in the case of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Trump, a case that is pending before the District Court of New York, makes it clear that some lawyers have taken to mendacity to advance their political objectives — or that their political objectives blinker them to reality.

The plaintiffs allege that President Trump is in violation of the Presidential Emoluments Clause and the Foreign Emoluments Clause. Their claim is that both clauses forbid the president from receiving “anything of value,” whether “monetary or nonmonetary” from domestic or foreign governments, and that Trump’s business profits, some of which have come from foreign governments, render him ineligible to hold office. Among their supporters are several prominent legal scholars and historians, including attorneys Laurence H. Tribe and Jed Shugerman.

But the evidence is that the founders never meant the Foreign Emoluments Clause to apply to the president. In an amicus brief filed on behalf of attorney Seth Barrett Tillman, attorney Josh Blackman noted that “our Founding-era presidents openly received diplomatic gifts from foreign governments.” In 1792, Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury, wrote a report listing all who hold an office of profit or trust under the United States — the relevant criterion for the Foreign Emoluments Clause — that did not include the president. That report was signed by Hamilton, and is called “The Complete Report.” In an op-ed for the New York Times, Tillman and Blackman explain their position:

As understood at the time of the framing, only appointed officers hold such positions. In contrast, elected officials do not hold office under the United States, and thus the president is not bound by the clause.

Against this interpretation, the plaintiffs and their amici have cited another document purportedly signed by Hamilton called “The Condensed Report.” The document has Hamilton’s signature, and lists the president as an officeholder, implying that the founders indeed understood the president to be subject to the Foreign Emoluments Clause.

Here’s the problem: The document was drafted after Hamilton died.

Five experts — two of whom are leading authenticators of founding-era documents, and three of whom are Hamilton scholars — have found that the provenance of “The Condensed Report” is not what the plaintiffs said. The document is a scrivener’s copy of “The Complete Report.” It contains references to a book that was not published until 1820. The apparent signature of Hamilton was, in the words of authenticator John P. Kaminski, “clearly not written by Hamilton himself. Rather, the words ‘Alexander Hamilton’ were written by the same scrivener who transcribed The Condensed Report.” (Amusingly, Kaminski, who edits The Documentary History of the Constitution, has been cited by the plaintiffs in the past.)

This isn’t a groundbreaking discovery, either. The editors of the Hamilton Papers, a volume compiling every document ever signed by Hamilton, were aware of this document and declined to include it. Their interpretation comports with Kaminski’s: “The Complete Report” is authentic; “The Condensed Report” is a copy.

Tribe called the discovery of “The Condensed Report” “devastating,” and Shugerman suggested that Tillman and Blackman ought to retract their brief. One wonders why these two eminent legal scholars were so eager to embrace something that would not hold up to scrutiny.

Tax Cuts Are Tax Reform

by Ramesh Ponnuru

A lot of the commentary about Republican tax legislation posits a distinction between “tax cuts” and “tax reform,” the idea being that the latter scales back distortionary tax breaks and is therefore both harder and more virtuous.

I’m all for ending such tax breaks. But the value of a tax deduction depends on the tax rate to which it applies. The mortgage-interest deduction, to take an important example, is worth more to someone paying a 43 percent tax rate (the effective rate for some taxpayers today) than someone paying a 28 percent rate (the top rate after the 1986 reform). It follows that the deduction does less to distort economic activity at the lower rate, too.

The distinction between tax reform and tax cuts is not a hard-and-fast one.

A Bogus Health-Care Number from the Center for American Progress

by Dan McLaughlin

A new analysis by Avalere Health, funded by the left-wing Center for American Progress, is making headlines for supposedly finding that Graham-Cassidy would cut $4 trillion in health care funding to states through 2036. Outlets like CNBC and Axios have led their stories with the $4 trillion number in the headline. But it’s fundamentally dishonest and anti-democratic.

The study finds a $215 billion-over-seven-years reduction in spending from 2020-2026, but then jumps up to $489 billion when one more year is added, and ends up at $4.15 trillion by 2036. Why? Because Graham-Cassidy provides funding through 2026, then requires an affirmative reauthorization of the block grants after that. Avalere treats that “funding cliff” as if Congress has barred future funding. (“As the bill does not appropriate block grant funding to states after 2026, Avalere does not assume any state block grant funding available from 2027 onwards.”) Even over the full 17-year time horizon, as CAP Health Care analyst Topher Spiro confirmed to me on Twitter, the study assumes $1 trillion in cuts from the changed funding formula, meaning that 75% of the projected “cuts” are attributable entirely to the program requiring further authorization by Congress by 2026.

You could hardly ask for a better illustration of the upside-down perspective of Beltway insiders: the idea that it’s a “cut” in federal spending to ever ask the House of Representatives to vote on it again. Liberal/progressive writers have expressed alarm that a massive category of the federal budget should ever again require the affirmative approval of the people’s Representatives. Yet, that’s precisely how our government was designed to function – indeed, the Framers of the Constitution expressly argued that the need to go back to the House year after year for funding was among the most essential safeguards of democracy and popular liberty in the entire document.

Article I of the Constitution provides that “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives” (Sec. 7), that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law” (Sec. 9), and specifically provided with regard to the army that Congress would have power “To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years” (Sec. 8). While nothing in Article I expressly prohibited appropriations other than for raising armies from extending more than a year or two, it was broadly assumed and argued at the time that the House’s power over raising revenues, combined with the fact that the entire House stands for re-election every two years, meant that no money would be spent that wasn’t affirmatively appropriated by the current House majority. As Madison argued in Federalist No. 58, this was the centerpiece of the House’s power over the other, indirectly-elected branches:

The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation of the people gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.

In Federalist No. 41, Madison argued that allowing two-year appropriations for raising armies was reasonable, given that the House would turn over after that: 

Next to the effectual establishment of the Union, the best possible precaution against danger from standing armies is a limitation of the term for which revenue may be appropriated to their support. This precaution the Constitution has prudently added…take notice of an argument against this part of the Constitution, which has been drawn from the policy and practice of Great Britain. It is said that the continuance of an army in that kingdom requires an annual vote of the legislature; whereas the American Constitution has lengthened this critical period to two years. This is the form in which the comparison is usually stated to the public: but is it a just form? Is it a fair comparison? Does the British Constitution restrain the parliamentary discretion to one year? Does the American impose on the Congress appropriations for two years? On the contrary, it cannot be unknown to the authors of the fallacy themselves, that the British Constitution fixes no limit whatever to the discretion of the legislature, and that the American ties down the legislature to two years, as the longest admissible term.

Had the argument from the British example been truly stated, it would have stood thus: The term for which supplies may be appropriated to the army establishment, though unlimited by the British Constitution, has nevertheless, in practice, been limited by parliamentary discretion to a single year. Now, if in Great Britain, where the House of Commons is elected for seven years; where so great a proportion of the members are elected by so small a proportion of the people; where the electors are so corrupted by the representatives, and the representatives so corrupted by the Crown, the representative body can possess a power to make appropriations to the army for an indefinite term, without desiring, or without daring, to extend the term beyond a single year, ought not suspicion herself to blush, in pretending that the representatives of the United States, elected FREELY by the WHOLE BODY of the people, every SECOND YEAR, cannot be safely intrusted with the discretion over such appropriations, expressly limited to the short period of TWO YEARS? 

The insistence that the spending power should be designed to require affirmative votes by Congress on a continuing basis was one of great practical urgency to the Framers, drawn – as Madison himself suggests – from the British experience. The great structural battle in British government in the 17th century was over whether the Crown could raise and spend money without calling up Parliament to provide it, or without calling for elections to a new Parliament. Efforts by Charles II and his successor, James II, to fund the government without new Parliamentary elections were one of the major triggers for the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89. The British “Bill of Rights” agreed by William III and Mary II as a condition of accepting the Crown after deposing James II required that the Crown would call regular Parliamentary elections to provide fresh popular support for any funds provided to the monarch.

This effectively constrained future British monarchs, and the colonists’ most prominent grievance leading up to the American Revolution was their exclusion from participating in the legitimizing role of new Parliaments in taxing and spending – thus, “no taxation without representation.” By contrast, the French monarchy had operated with financial independence that allowed it to avoid calling the Estates General between 1626 and 1789, and by the time of the drafting of the Constitution, the resulting profligate spending by successive French kings had led the nation into an existential financial crisis that would soon plunge it into Revolution.

Thus, while Article I did not prohibit permanent or multiyear appropriations outside of the area of funding armies, it was designed to keep spending on a short leash to avoid the growth of monarchical powers that could develop when the Executive could simply keep spending money without returning to Congress – in particular, the biennially-elected House – for continuing popular legitimation. This was seen as vital to the public’s sense that they controlled their government – a sense that has been slipping away badly in recent years. 

By 2017, of course, we have wandered far afield from the notion that the House’s permission should be required to spend money on any particular thing; today, at most, the House can either try to repeal spending measures (in which case it is powerless without the cooperation of both the Senate and the President), or to use some other form of leverage to bring them to the table, such as the debt ceiling or a shutdown of the entire government. Using the debt ceiling and continuing-resolution votes, which almost alone in the federal budgetary process require continual affirmative House votes, as the mechanism for exercising the popular control of the House over the budget are backwards and terribly blunt instruments, but they are nearly all that remains to the people’s House (which is why it is so alarming to see President Trump trade the debt ceiling power away in exchange for essentially nothing). The power of the purse is the power to simply refuse to act – and if the House can no longer exercise that power alone, it is not really in charge of its own core reason for existing.

So no, Graham-Cassidy doesn’t cut $4 trillion in spending. It just provides that the American people’s Representatives will need to be asked again, nearly a decade from now, to continue funding. If that’s too much democracy for you to handle, that says more about your view of  whether a popularly elected government, accountable to the people on an ongoing basis, should really be trusted to run the country.

Is Kim Jong-Un a Rational Actor?

by Reihan Salam

Observers around the Web have decried Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric on North Korea — particularly his threat at the United Nations to destroy the country and use of the term “Rocket Man” to refer to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — as bringing the United States closer to nuclear war. Bashing the president has fast become our new national pastime, and I’ve certainly been critical of him myself. But the charge that he is hastening the nuclear apocalypse doesn’t really stick.

It is possible that Kim, listening to the U.N. speech from some bunker in Pyongyang, flew into a rage and ordered his generals and scientists to press forward with the nuclear program even faster than they already are, preparing the missiles for launch as soon as they are ready.

However, if he did so, it would imply that, as he observes the American president, Kim is making somewhat sophisticated calculations about Trump’s future behavior. “Trump,” Kim might think, “is serious about toppling my regime in a way that President Barack Obama never was, so I should build up my nuclear capability now to deter him. Or maybe Trump is simply unstable and undeterrable, so my best bet is to arm myself to the hilt. Or perhaps the American president is being honest when he says that the United States ‘will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea’ if ‘it is forced to defend itself or its allies.’ In that case, it might make sense for me to walk as close to the brink as possible without going over so that I can extract maximal concessions from South Korea and China.”

If Kim is sensitive to external signals such as Trump’s speech, though, then it would imply that he is at least somewhat rational. In that case, he would understand that launching his nukes would lead to the annihilation of his family, his regime, and his country. It would also imply that he would like to avoid such a demise. Simply put, if Kim is rational, Trump’s remarks carry less weight.

It is possible that Kim is not rational — that he is hell-bent on developing and deploying nuclear weapons and will test and deploy each new technology as soon as it is ready. In that case, too, whatever Trump says to a convocation of world leaders in some hall in New York doesn’t matter all that much.

My suspicion, or should I say my hope, is that Kim is indeed rational, as the Stanford political scientist Scott Sagan has argued in Foreign Affairs. If he’s not, well, Trump’s intemperate rhetoric shouldn’t be our chief concern.

The Lion of Berkeley

by Jay Nordlinger

I have done a podcast — a Q&A — with Ben Shapiro, here. As you know, Ben is a conservative writer, speaker, controversialist, etc. (WFB sometimes referred to himself and others as “controversialists.”) Last week, Ben appeared at Berkeley, and the university had to spend $600,000 — more than half a mil — on security. Six hundred grand, for lil’ ol’ Ben! Anyway, he and I talk about this, and related matters. This podcast will give you a quick blast o’ Ben. Again, here.

A Progressive Debate

by Ramesh Ponnuru

George Packer writes:

There’s a lot to admire in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new essay. . . . At its heart is the undeniable truth that racism remains fundamental in American politics.

It’s the overwhelming, the single cause that Coates finds for the phenomenon of Donald Trump. It’s a cause no one in America should ever bet against. . . .

At the heart of American politics there is racism. But it’s not alone—there’s also greed, and broken communities, and partisan hatred, and ignorance.

Glad we cleared that up!

Forget the War on Christmas, We’re Losing the War on Grammar.

by Jim Geraghty

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Forget the War on Christmas, We’re Losing the War on Grammar

Oh, here we go again.

A new fifth grade teacher at Canopy Oaks Elementary is asking students to use gender-neutral pronouns in the classroom.

Math and science teacher Chloe Bressack sent the request home in a letter to parents headlined “About Mx. Bressack.”

“… my pronouns are ‘they, them, their’ instead of ‘he, his, she, hers.’ I know it takes some practice for it to feel natural,” the letter reads, “but students catch on pretty quickly.”

The letter also asks that students use “Mx.,” (pronounced ‘Mix’) when addressing the teacher rather than Mr. or Ms.

The note alarmed some parents.

I suppose we should be relieved that this teacher instructs students in math and science, and not English. Then again, we have a math teacher with some confusion on distinguishing between one and more than one.

As with the argument about whether it’s wrong to refer to Caitlyn Jenner as “he,” we have a blurring of the line between manners and propriety – the generally good rule that you should call someone by the name that person prefers – and preexisting socially-established rules for identification.

If my child’s teacher wants to be called “Mix Surname,” that’s unusual, but fine. Be respectful, kids. But the words “they, them and their” already have particular meanings in the English language, and they are used when referring to a group, more than one. This teacher is one person, and thus “they” “them” and “their” are not the appropriate pronouns.

Using a plural pronoun when referring to a singular noun is grammatically incorrect, as editors remind me on a frustratingly regular basis. You can’t just decide that in one classroom, the grammatical rules are one way, and in another classroom, they’re different. Grammar isn’t sexist, patriarchal, hetero-normative, racist, or somehow otherwise sinister; it’s just grammar.

You do have a right to ask others to call you by the name you prefer. You don’t have the right to demand schoolchildren use incorrect grammar just because you feel like it.  The rules of grammar are not set by personal preferences.

The school district seems to just want everyone to calm down and go about their business:

Superintendent Rocky Hanna addressed the situation in a statement sent to the Democrat. He said he met with Canopy Oaks administrators after learning about the letter.

“According to Principal Lambert, the teacher addresses students daily by using the pronouns he, she, him and her. The teacher also uses ma’am and sir when responding to students. As a personal preference, however, the teacher simply prefers to be referred to in gender neutral terms as that of a coach,” Hanna wrote.

Fun question: Would the English teacher down the hall mark a paper incorrect for referring to Bressack as “they” in a sentence? Or would the school district insist that it is correct to refer to Bressack as “they” but not to refer to another individual teacher as “they”?

Princeton Machiavellianism

by John J. Miller

The snowflakes who run the Princetonian–the campus newspaper at Princeton University–became so upset by their own editorial board’s right-of-center editorials that they disbanded the editorial board. Jennifer Kabbany of The College Fix has the story.

Watch: Wisconsin Student Sells Clothing Line by Decapitating ‘Pig’ Cops

by David French

Let’s play a little game of “imagine.” Let’s imagine what would happen on campus if a conservative student designed a clothing line advocating violence and then advertised his products by creating a video featuring a person decapitating Black Lives Matter activists. How long would the campus shut down? Days? Weeks? Would an emergency counseling corps have to parachute straight onto the quad?

Now, watch this video — courtesy of University of Wisconsin student activist and aspiring clothes designer Eneale Pickett: 

What this news report doesn’t show you is that Pickett’s little commercial ends with one of the actors holding the bloody severed head of one of the “pig” cops. If you want to see the whole thing, you can watch it here. It features a Donald Trump voiceover, dancing police officers in pig masks, a simulated lynching, and a final act of violent vengeance. Lovely.

It’s all in service of a clothing line that promotes messages like, “destroy the city that caused you to bury me,” and “F**k the police they the biggest gang in Amerikkka.” 

I wouldn’t highlight the work of a single student except that it’s indicative of the Antifa spirit that’s sweeping parts of the radical left. There is a growing movement of mainly young radicals who truly do thirst for violence. They truly do want to “punch a Nazi,” and they define “Nazi” so broadly that it sweeps up mainstream conservatives, just ask my friend Ben Shapiro. 

Do you doubt these radicals exist? Look at the street violence in Berkeley, Atlanta, and Saint Louis . . . and that’s just in the last week. Pickett’s video and clothes are free speech, but they’re vile speech, and they should serve as yet another reminder that some people truly want to harm those they hate. 

Stop Overselling Russian Influence on the Election

by David French

Response To...

For National Security!

I agree with every word of Charlie’s rebuttal of Matthew Olsen’s and Benjamin Haas’s “national security” argument against the electoral college, but there’s something else to note. The factual premise of the Olsen/Haas piece is flawed. They write:

Hamilton and his colleagues never could have envisioned a year like 2016, when an enemy state—Russia—was able to manipulate America’s election process with stunning effectiveness. But it’s clear the national security rationale for the Electoral College is outdated and therefore it should be retired. Simply put, it enables foreign powers to more easily pierce the very shield Hamilton imagined it would be.

Notice the problem? Where’s the evidence that Russia was able to actually “manipulate America’s election process?” After all, Russians didn’t hack voting machines, and there’s no credible evidence that their propaganda efforts moved the electoral needle in either direction. The bottom line is that we simply don’t know what impact, if any, Russia had on the outcome. 

A foreign power didn’t penetrate our electoral “shield.” It did sow chaos, and it did increase distrust, polarization, and confusion. The vast majority of that chaos is due to post-election finger-pointing and concern over collusion, not over a realistic argument that Russia turned the election. Putin was preying on the partisan rage of the American people, not on the vulnerability of the constitutional system to foreign interference.

We could change to a straight popular vote, and Clinton and Trump voters would feel exactly the same way about the candidates. Trump voters would be just as vulnerable to anti-Hillary propaganda, and Hillary voters would be just as furious at foreign meddling. If she lost, they’d also be just as eager to find a scapegoat. 

In other words, amending the Constitution would be a cure for a disease that doesn’t exist. There’s just no evidence that our electoral college system is vulnerable to foreign hacks. There’s a lot of evidence that Americans are angry with each other and therefore likely to think the worst of their opponents. That’s a problem constitutional amendments simply can’t fix. 

 

The Pro-Life Stake in Graham-Cassidy

by Ramesh Ponnuru

The editors of the Weekly Standard call attention to a portion of the bill that hasn’t drawn much of it:

[A]s important as defunding Planned Parenthood is for pro-life Americans, an even greater priority is cutting off Obamacare’s funding for insurance plans that cover elective abortions. The Graham-Cassidy plan just so happens to funnel the block grants through an existing health-care law to which the Hyde amendment—a measure banning federal funding of elective abortions—is permanently attached. While Congress could pass language defunding Planned Parenthood in the next fiscal year’s tax-reform reconciliation bill, the Graham-Cassidy plan is the only realistic way to stop Obamacare’s funding of elective abortion.

I agree with the Standard on the question of priorities, although I would of course like to keep federal funds from going to Planned Parenthood as well. Oregon recently adopted a law forcing all insurance policies to cover abortions; the Graham-Cassidy bill would make that law practically a dead letter, since such policies would not be eligible for block-grant funding.

(Regarding the claim that reining in Obamacare cannot possibly be described as “pro-life,” I recommend this and this, and maybe this.)

For National Security!

by Charles C. W. Cooke

Call it Cooke’s Rule: Those losing the argument over a given domestic policy will eventually cry “necessity.” This morning, Matthew Olsen and Benjamin Hass provide a good example, arguing in Politico that “the Electoral College is a national security threat”:

Hamilton and his colleagues never could have envisioned a year like 2016, when an enemy state—Russia—was able to manipulate America’s election process with stunning effectiveness. But it’s clear the national security rationale for the Electoral College is outdated and therefore it should be retired. Simply put, it enables foreign powers to more easily pierce the very shield Hamilton imagined it would be.

In Hamilton’s day, as he argued, it would have been nearly impossible for a hostile power to co-opt dozens of briefly chosen electors flung across 13 states with primitive roads. But in the social media age, the Electoral College system provides ripe microtargeting grounds for foreign actors who intend to sabotage presidential elections via information and disinformation campaigns, as well as by hacking our voting infrastructure. One reason is that citizens in certain states simply have more voting power than citizens in other states, such as Texas and California. This makes it easier for malign outside forces to direct their efforts.

But what if the national popular vote determined the president instead of the Electoral College? No voter would be more electorally powerful than another. It would be more difficult for a foreign entity to sway many millions of voters scattered across the country than concentrated groups of tens of thousands of voters in just a few states. And it would be more difficult to tamper with voting systems on a nationwide basis than to hack into a handful of databases in crucial swing districts, which could alter an election’s outcome. Yes, a foreign entity could disseminate messages to major cities across the entire country or try to carry out a broad-based cyberattack, but widespread actions of this sort would be not only more resource-intensive, but also more easily noticed, exposed and addressed.

These arguments — more assertions, in truth — aren’t at all convincing to my ears, not least because in every single case one could just as easily argue the opposite. One could contend that the Electoral College is imperative in the age of the Internet because it helps to maintain discrete electoral areas that host discrete political cultures, and thus serves as bulwark against any centralized panic that could be orchestrated through the web. One could suggest that, while the status quo indeed ensures that “citizens in certain states simply have more voting power than citizens in other states,” this no more “makes it easier for malign outside forces to direct their efforts” than would a system in which elections are decided by the 3 or 4 percent of voters who sit in the ideological center and are likely to be swayed by a handful of issues (in fact, such a system, which would require no micro-targeting, could plausibly make such an attempt easier and cheaper). And one could — and should – ask why exactly the authors submit that it would be “more difficult to tamper with voting systems on a nationwide basis than to hack into a handful of databases in crucial swing districts,” when surely the opposite is the case, distribution being a much better way of protecting computer systems than centralization will ever be.

Anyhow, that’s all debatable. What’s far more interesting to me is that the authors felt that “National Security” was the way to make this play. “Necessity,” said William Pitt the Younger, “is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” And so it is. But it is also the argument of the terminally frustrated. After a while, all struggling sides fall back on it. Recently we’ve seen this with Obamacare, with gun control, with food stamps, with climate change, with illegal immigration, and with tax policy. That the Electoral College is now being critiqued in the same manner suggests that this particular avenue of catharsis is rapidly coming to an end.

Graham-Cassidy Isn’t Federalism

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Many supporters of the Graham-Cassidy health-care legislation are calling it a “federalist” solution for Obamacare. It might be worth supporting–I think it is, as do NR’s editors–but it isn’t really federalist. A really federalist bill wouldn’t have the states asking the federal government for flexibility on regulations, and it wouldn’t have the federal government collect money from the whole country and then send it back in block grants to the states.

The point comes to mind because of Avik Roy’s argument that the bill should be amended to keep states from using their block grants to create single-payer systems. Roy might be too worried about this possibility, because the amount of money involved seems unlikely to get states very far toward financing a single-payer plan. But it’s not an answer to his argument to say that states should be allowed to do whatever they want. The question, under Graham-Cassidy, is what federal money should be spent on. There’s nothing wrong in principle with the federal government’s setting conditions on its spending (e.g., the money has to be spent on health care).

Here’s How Much Cassidy-Graham Shrinks the Federal Government

by Robert VerBruggen

When I wrote up the new health-care bill last week, I noted that there would be some back-and-forth about the extent of the cuts it makes to federal spending. Today we have a new report from the respected consulting firm Avalere, though it discloses the work was funded by the liberal Center for American Progress. (The note says “Avalere maintained full editorial control.”)

A lot of headlines are going to throw around the number $4 trillion, allegedly the total cuts over a 20-year period. Ignore them, even if you wish they were true. As I wrote before, the bill has no provisions dictating what Obamacare-replacing money states will receive after 2026, so Congress will need to appropriate more funds at that point. This is quite arguably a dumb way to do it, given Congress’s inherent dysfunction and some budget rules that will make such appropriations tricky, but it makes it impossible to “estimate” what will happen in 2027 and beyond. It is simply absurd to assume there’ll be no “state block grant funding available from 2027 onwards,” as Avalere did.

There are some numbers taking seriously here, however. One is $95 billion, the amount the bill cuts Obamacare funding between 2020 and 2026 — which is 7 percent of the funding under current law. What you think of that, of course, will depend on whether you think that Obamacare spends too much and/or that states should be expected to pony up if they want to continue the status quo.

The analogous numbers for the bill’s reforms to traditional Medicaid are $120 billion and 4 percent, swelling to more than a trillion dollars, or 12 percent, over the 2020–2036 period. Is that acceptable? It depends on the degree to which Medicaid spending is out of control today.

The report also highlights that the bill would equalize funding between states that expanded Medicaid and those that didn’t (meaning that, generally, red states would get more and blue states would get less). Further, it notes the funding formula would encourage states to focus their efforts on residents “at or near the poverty line, potentially at the expense of lower-middle-income individuals who currently receive exchange subsidies,” as Avalere senior manager Chris Sloan is quoted saying in the press release.

In my previous piece I said I liked much about the bill but was dubious about its prospects. The buzz in recent days has been that it has a better-than-expected chance of passing. If it does, it will chip away at federal spending — a great goal but perhaps a political liability.

Monuments and History

by Jay Nordlinger

Below, Jim writes about the Virginia governor’s race and Confederate monuments. I would like to make a point, or re-make it. Those in favor of the monuments like to talk about “history” and the importance of not erasing history. “Eradication” is another word they use. Eradicating history.

Beware this argument. This rhetoric. This trick. You’re not against history, are you? What are you, a Soviet-style air-brusher?

Some monuments are meant to record history, it’s true. I think of memorials to the dead. They are very important. Other monuments — probably most of them — are meant to honor the person depicted. He is literally on a pedestal.

Think of Nelson in Trafalgar Square. Are the Brits merely recording history? No! They are honoring Nelson, and declaring him a hero.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, people all over the former empire took down statues of Lenin and Stalin. In doing so, they were not eradicating history. They know this history all too well; they want it recorded, faithfully. They did not want Lenin and Stalin honored. They did not believe that these men ought to be on pedestals. So they took them down.

A reader made a point to me: There are no monuments to Hitler. Oddly enough, we manage to remember World War II and the Holocaust.

So, by all means, let’s have our arguments over the Confederate monuments. And let’s not shirk our duty to think. To exercise our powers of discrimination. To try to determine who is worthy of honor and who is not. Let’s not become, or pretend to be, zombies.

If you refuse to honor Calhoun, do you have to dishonor Washington and Jefferson? Oh, please.

And don’t fall for that “history” dodge.

P.S. Another reader pointed out that, if people were interested in history — history in monuments — they would erect monuments to Emancipation. Where are they? There are precious few, right? What about that, history-lovers? Do monuments honoring Emancipation dot the South?

If Calhoun and his cause are to be honored — what about the cause of freedom? How about a knickknack or two in favor of the people Calhoun would have kept enslaved forever?

Confucius Is Fine; Confucius Institutes Aren’t

by George Leef

For more than a decade, the Chinese government has been trying to establish “Confucius Institutes” in American colleges and universities. It puts up some of the needed funding and often provides the instructors as well. What’s not to like?

What’s not to like is the way the Chinese use them to try to affect American perceptions of Chinese government policies. The National Association of Scholars released a highly critical report on Confucius Institutes in the spring and I write about it in this Martin Center article.

The Chinese government cares about as much for academic freedom as it does economic freedom, so the depiction of China is not exactly “warts and all.” Instead, instructors are trained to avoid discussions that stray into “bad” subjects such as Tibet and Taiwan. In sum, they are an aspect of Chinese propaganda. A few years ago, the University of Chicago pulled the plug in the Confucius Institute that had been established there, and I’m persuaded that the colleges that still have them should follow Chicago’s lead.

Look Who’s Reticent About Removing Confederate Statues in Virginia!

by Jim Geraghty

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Look Who’s Reticent About Removing Confederate Statues in Virginia!

Pop quiz, Virginians: Find the distinctions between the positions of Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam on the issue of Confederate statues:

“Our history is our history,” Gillespie said. “And I believe that we need to educate about it, and that we need to teach about it. And so my view is that the statues should remain, and we should place them in historical context so that people can learn.”

Northam reiterated that he wants to see local governments maintain control of the decisions over statues, but he added that if “these statues give individuals, white supremacists like that, an excuse to do what they did, then we need to have a discussion about the statues.”

“Personally, I would think that the statues would be better placed in museums with certainly historical context,” Northam added.

To clarify, Gillespie wants localities to make the decision, but prefers them to be kept in place with a greater historical context, while Northam wants localities to make the decision, but prefers them to be moved to a museum with greater historical context. It says a great deal that Northam isn’t willing to jump on the bandwagon of the “tear down the statues” movement; most national media coverage of the issue would leave the impression that this is a majority of enlightened modernists battling a small minority of radical, racially-incendiary troglodytes.

In Suffolk’s most recent survey, the pollster asked Virginians, “Do you think Confederate statues should be removed from public spaces?” and about 32 percent supported removal, and 57 percent opposed them.

Fox News asked Virginians recently, “When you see the Confederate flag, do you have a positive reaction, a negative reaction, or don’t you have a reaction one way or the other?” Only 13 percent said they have a positive reaction, 33 percent said negative, and 51 percent said they had neither. Once again a media echo chamber leaves progressives with the perception that their perspective is much more common than it actually is.

I liked this line from Gillespie:

Gillespie specifically pointed to the marchers who gathered in Charlottesville last month for what was dubbed the “Unite the Right” rally, arguing they shouldn’t be tied to any partisan viewpoints, despite what the rally was called.

“These Neo Nazis, these white supremacists, these KKK members with their shields and their torches — If ‘1’ were the most liberal on the spectrum and ‘10′ were the most conservative, these people are a yellow,” Gillespie said. “They’re not on the same continuum.”

Another good line of the night, one that probably should be a focus in Northern Virginia:

Responding to the assertion that his plan would only benefit the wealthy, Gillespie said it would help everyone. He also noted that the state’s highest income bracket for tax purposes applies to all those who make more than $17,000 per year.

“My opponent thinks you’re rich,” Gillespie said. “And that’s just flat wrong.”

 

You’ll probably hear Virginia Democrats arguing, “almost all of the benefits of Gillespie’s tax cut will go to those in the highest bracket!” They hope no one notices that the highest tax bracket includes everyone with a taxable income of $17,001 or more.

Trumpservations

by Jay Nordlinger

For someone like me, there was a lot to like about President Trump’s speech before the United Nations. I particularly appreciated the blasts at three rogue, or at least despicable, governments: in North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran. I wish to make some points that I have not seen much in coverage.

At the top of his speech, Trump said, “Fortunately, the United States has done very well since Election Day last November 8th.” I believe that, if a new Democratic president said this, everyone on the right would pounce on it.

I can just hear us: “What a horse’s-behind thing to say. An American president does not engage in partisan politicking in an address before the United Nations. He represents all of us there.”

We would be right.

Trump said, “We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government. But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”

I’m not sure why these two duties are “sovereign.” I think that “sovereign” was merely the word of the day.

Consider this phrase from Trump: “to respect the interests of their own people.” I would have said “rights,” rather than “interests.” Dictators think that they, and they alone, determine the interests of the people under their control.

Trump did say “the rights of every other sovereign nation.” Governments should respect “the rights of every other sovereign nation.” But not to oppress people, surely.

The other day, I did a podcast with George Will. We talked about “America First,” which is counterposed to “globalism.” Will mentioned our American heritage, articulated in the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Yes.

At Gettysburg, Lincoln affirmed that we are “dedicated to a proposition” — namely, “that all men are created equal.”

You don’t have to be a pansy “globalist” to appreciate the American heritage, and the American purpose, I trust.

Trump said, “We can no longer be taken advantage of, or enter into a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return.” This is Trump’s perpetual theme: America the Screwed, America the Victim, America the Sucker. Where does he get this?

Go around the world, and people think that America is Top Dog. And they are right.

I was a little startled at the word “the.” Trump said, “We must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea.” I appreciate the sentiment, which was not guaranteed from Trump. But “the Ukraine”?

I remember when I first heard “Ukraine,” without the “the” — it was from Robert Conquest, speaking to some of us students in the 1980s. He had written a book on the Kremlin’s terror-famine in Ukraine.

Conquest explained that people supporting Ukrainian nationhood said “Ukraine,” whereas others said “the Ukraine,” which seemed to acknowledge Ukraine as a mere region of the Soviet Union or Russia.

I grew up saying “the Ukraine,” same as Trump, no doubt. It was very hard to drop the “the.” It sounded so strange. My mouth could barely do it. But then I learned. “Ukraine” versus “the Ukraine” is an important distinction. Also, it took me a long time to say “Sudan” instead of “the Sudan.”

By the way, I once got a piece from Paul Johnson which referred to “the Lebanon.” I loved that.

Trump said, “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

North Koreans — ordinary North Koreans — will hear that, or at least some of them will. The regime may well use it. Broadcast it. What will people think? What would you think?

The president should have said “totally destroy the North Korean dictatorship,” in my opinion.

‘Great’ Minds Think the Universe Is a Computer Program

by Wesley J. Smith

The Matrix, the first episode, was a fun movie. But a description for reality? Please.

And yet, some of our most prominent scientific and tech thinkers seriously propose we are living in a computer program. From the BBC story:

The idea that we live in a simulation has some high-profile advocates.

In June 2016, technology entrepreneur Elon Musk assertedthat the odds are “a billion to one” against us living in “base reality”.

Similarly, Google’s machine-intelligence guru Ray Kurzweil has suggested that “maybe our whole universe is a science experiment of some junior high-school student in another universe”.

Far be it from me to question such rich and influential thinkers, but really? Where’s the evidence?

The idea isn’t just promoted by technologists:

Cosmologist Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US has suggested that our entire Universe might be real yet still a kind of lab experiment. The idea is that our Universe was created by some super-intelligence, much as biologists breed colonies of micro-organisms.

Why think such a thing, the article asks. Well, because…we create sophisticated computer programs, so why not believe we are merely part of one?

Who is to say that before long we will not be able to create computational agents – virtual beings – that show signs of consciousness? Advances in understanding and mapping the brain, as well as the vast computational resources promised by quantum computing, make this more likely by the day…

Is it not likely, then, that some other intelligence elsewhere in the Universe has already reached that point?

Such “virtual beings” would not actually be “beings.” Nor would they actually “think.” We are and do. Accepting this premise would force us to deny the flesh and blood reality of the actual world, to deny all evidence in pursuit of a futuristic fantasy.

But why embrace such a premise seriously? An interesting answer (my emphasis):

Some scientists argue that there are already good reasons to think we are inside a simulation. One is the fact that our Universe looks designed.

The constants of nature, such as the strengths of the fundamental forces, have values that look fine-tuned to make life possible. Even small alterations would mean that atoms were no longer stable, or that stars could not form. Why this is so is one of the deepest mysteries in cosmology.

Oh, oh. When my wonderful colleagues at the Discovery Institute explore the hypothesis that the universe and life are better explained by an intelligent cause than random, purposeless forces, they are screamed at, attacked, and derided ridiculously as somehow “anti-science.” 

For example, in his award-winning book Signature in the Cell, my DI pal Stephen C. Meyer suggests:

Unlike previous arguments for intelligent design, Signature in the Cell presents a radical and comprehensive new case, revealing the evidence not merely of individual features of biological complexity but rather of a fundamental constituent of the universe: information.

Ridiculous, right? Back to the BBC story (my emphasis):

“The Universe can be regarded as a giant quantum computer,” says Seth Lloyd of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “If one looks at the ‘guts’ of the Universe – the structure of matter at its smallest scale – then those guts consist of nothing more than [quantum] bits undergoing local, digital operations.”

This gets to the nub of the matter. If reality is just information, then we are no more or less “real” if we are in a simulation or not. In either case, information is all we can be.

Oh.

So, why is the heterodox scientific hypothesis of ID scorned, but this untestable conjecture is treated with all due respect? 

I think it is because embracing the Matrix Scenario and the idea of infinite universes allows their propounders to remain materialists in good standing. It is fascinating how important that belief is in some circles.

In any event, what a hoot. But I do think my DI pals are owed a big, fat apology.