On Graham-Cassidy and Pre-Existing Conditions

by Ramesh Ponnuru

While I was writing this post, it looks like the Graham-Cassidy health bill died, with John McCain holding the bloody knife. But you never know, so I’m going to publish it anyway.

My latest Bloomberg View column explains some of the reasons I favor passage of the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill. (This editorial has a few more.) In the column I suggest that people with pre-existing conditions should not fear the bill. It

allows states to apply for waivers from the Obamacare regulation that requires insurers to charge the same premiums for the sick and the healthy. Before granting them, the federal government has to certify that those with chronic conditions will still find coverage affordable.

Progressives worry that states will apply for waivers without making adequate provision for the chronically ill and the federal government will rubber-stamp its approval. I assign a low probability to that scenario because political pressure will militate against it. It’s because it is highly unpopular to put those with pre-existing conditions at risk that opponents of the bill have made this possibility one of their chief attacks.

I go on to suggest that states

could ask for a waiver that let insurers charge higher premiums — say 20 percent higher — for those without insurance who become sick and then want to buy insurance. At the same time, it could use its federal block grant to fully fund a high-risk pool for those who fall through the cracks. That policy mix would enable cheaper insurance and encourage healthy people to buy it.

On Twitter, Dennis Shea asks why, given my argument, people with pre-existing conditions weren’t adequately protected prior to Obamacare. Continuous-coverage protections and high-risk pools were around back then, and people with pre-existing conditions were presumably just as sympathetic, but a lot of people—while it’s a disputed question, I think two to four million is the most reasonable estimate—could not get affordable insurance.

My answer starts by noting the differences between the policy mix I’m advocating and the pre-Obamacare one. The first difference is that the federal continuous-coverage protection that existed then required insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions but did not limit the price they could be charged. Under the protection I’m discussing, people with continuous coverage would have to be charged the same price whether or not they had a pre-existing condition, and people without it would have their premium hike capped.

The second difference is that people without access to Medicare, (traditional) Medicaid, or employer coverage received no help from the government in getting health insurance. Under Graham-Cassidy, states would be able to use their block grants to give people in that situation money to buy insurance on the individual market. That’s how I’d recommend they use the bulk of the money. (And while I don’t mention it in my column, I’d also recommend that states use auto-enrollment to assign people to a catastrophic policy, as Senator Cassidy has suggested they could.)

As a result of those two differences, we should expect the population that would need help from a high-risk pool to be much smaller than the pre-Obamacare population, and thus expect any given amount of funding for the high-risk pools to cover a higher percentage of those applying for it.

Assuming this policy mix would work, would states actually either adopt it, keep the Obamacare regulations, or design some other carefully-considered way to take care of people with pre-existing conditions? Or would they instead come up with a band-aid solution and get federal sign-off?

As I said, I think there would be strong political pressure to provide real protection. In part that’s because Obamacare changed the policy baseline and the political background. Covering people with pre-existing conditions was always popular, and has probably become more so after the last few years of debating health policy, but taking coverage away from them is even more unpopular. Covering people required an affirmative act of government, and there were multiple veto points that could block it, so the existence of a pro-coverage sentiment wasn’t enough by itself to prevail. Now it’s a change in regulatory protections that would require an affirmative act, by both a state and the federal government.

I’m not sure, in fact, that a single state would apply for a waiver on the treatment of people with pre-existing conditions, even the one I’d like them to apply for, if Graham-Cassidy were to pass. Thanks to Senator McCain, Rand Paul, and others, I suppose we are unlikely to find out.

Machiavelli Laughs: Theresa May’s Florentine Fail

by Andrew Stuttaford

Something strange happened in Florence today. Visitors to the Basilica of Santa Croce, one of that fine city’s finer churches, were left with the unmistakable impression that they heard the sound of laughter from Machiavelli’s tomb.

It was, I am sure, only a coincidence that Theresa May, Britain’s stumblebum prime minister, gave her ‘big speech’ on Brexit somewhere else in Florence today:

New chapter. Vibrant debate. Partner. Shared challenges. Partnership. International order. Commitment. Resolve. Partners. Climate change. Shared values. Family of European nations. Profound. Concrete progress. Significant progress. Generations to come. Dynamic. Bold. Comprehensive. Unprecedented. Strategic. Versatile. Dynamic. Shared values. Partnership. Cooperation and partnership. Partnership. Partnership and friendship. Vision.

Leave Alliance went in for a little dietrologia:

Mrs May has today given her much vaunted Florence speech. Billed as a set-piece aimed at unlocking the talks, it has fallen flat. It is remarkable only in how little is actually said… The real question, we suspect, is really one of what she intended to say when she booked this speech. The location and timing were far from accidental and talks were delayed to make space for the speech. It had to have been something more substantive originally. She can’t have thought this was worth our time.

There is a good chance that Boris Johnson’s intervention on the weekend was designed to sabotage the intended speech and what we actually got was Speech B, designed to buy time to avoid a civil war before the Tory conference. This though, only adds to the uncertainty. May has to make choices before spring next year or major banks will walk.

There may be something to that. Not long after the speech concluded, Johnson, a clown content for now to remain in the big tent, tweeted this:

PM speech was positive, optimistic & dynamic – and rightly disposes of the Norway option! Forwards!

Forwards! The spirit of the Somme endures. 

Another perpetual, if clumsier, plotter, Michael Gove, decided—today, at least—to play Uriah rather than Judas, and tweeted this: 

An excellent speech from the PM in Florence – delivering on the wishes of the British people

To be fair, the speech wasn’t all nothing:

[P]erhaps because of our history and geography, the European Union never felt to us like an integral part of our national story in the way it does to so many elsewhere in Europe.

Very true. And that matters.

But the substance was either missing, or bad.

Take this:

We are proposing a bold new strategic agreement that provides a comprehensive framework for future security, law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation: a treaty between the UK and the EU.

No one sensible should argue about the need for close cooperation in these areas (such as member states of the EU currently enjoy with allies elsewhere, whether in law enforcement or, in many cases, NATO) but this seems to suggest something deeper, a suggestion that, coming from an authoritarian who was (and is) a staunch supporter of the noxious European Arrest Warrant , has ominous implications for Britons’ individual rights.

Then there’s May’s rejection of post-Brexit membership of the European Economic Area (the ‘Single Market’) on the same basis (the ‘Norway option’) as that now enjoyed by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, three countries that are neither in the EU nor (I mention this yet again for the avoidance of remarkably persistent doubt) its Customs Union:

European Economic Area membership would mean the UK having to adopt at home – automatically and in their entirety – new EU rules. Rules over which, in future, we will have little influence and no vote.

Some EU rules, with a right of reservation and, under certain circumstances, an opt-out. As to the ‘no say’, it is amazing that that is a canard that still flies, but there we are.

Having rejected the obvious off-the-shelf solution represented by ‘Norway’, May then says that what she wants is:

A new economic partnership, would be comprehensive and ambitious. It would be underpinned by high standards, and a practical approach to regulation that enables us to continue to work together in bringing shared prosperity to our peoples for generations to come.

All clear?

To be fair, May recognizes that agreeing a bespoke agreement (something in which the rest of the EU has shown little interest) might be a touch complex, an uncomfortable reality that may lead to chaos if it’s not in place by the time that the deadline (March 2019) foolishly triggered by May arrives.

And it won’t be in place.

So what May proposes is a transition period (she estimates it would last about two years) during which the UK will effectively be in the EU, but without, ahem, any say.

And if that extra two years is not enough?


To believe that this ‘solution’ offers the sort of certainty that businesses need (the sort of certainty that the Norway option—if available— would have offered) is delusional. In that last respect, at least, Theresa May’s Brexit policy is consistent.

The EU’s chief negotiator, the sinister Michel Barnier, welcomed May’s “constructive spirit”, but the penultimate sentence of his response says all that needs to be said:

We look forward to the United Kingdom’s negotiators explaining the concrete implications of Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech.

As do we all.

The Editors: Rocket Man

by NR Staff

Check out the latest episode of The Editors, in which Rich, Reihan, Charlie, and Michael Brendan Dougherty discuss Donald Trump’s speech at the UN, Graham-Cassidy, and more!

You can subscribe to The Editors on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher, and TuneIn. You can also download this episode here.

John McCain Is a No on Graham-Cassidy

by Robert VerBruggen

You can read his full statement here.

This is a serious blow to the bill’s chances; it can lose only one more Republican and still pass. Rand Paul, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski are all possible or likely no votes.

Update: It’s worth noting, by the way, that his rationale is rather bizarre. His key point — one he reiterated in his tweet announcing the decision — is this:

We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009. If we do so, our success could be as short-lived as theirs when the political winds shift, as they regularly do. The issue is too important, and too many lives are at risk, for us to leave the American people guessing from one election to the next whether and how they will acquire health insurance. A bill of this impact requires a bipartisan approach.

Fine, but if so, what was literally all of this about? It’s been clear since early this year, when Democrats rebuffed the original Cassidy-Collins bill, that no Democrat would support a repeal or deep reform of Obamacare. If McCain sincerely believes this, he should have been a firm no from the start, and shouldn’t have teased everyone by flirting with support for the various bills the Senate considered.

What the CBO Might Have Said about Graham-Cassidy

by Robert VerBruggen

Matthew Fiedler and Loren Adler of the Brookings Institution have a speculative but interesting analysis of the Graham-Cassidy bill; it’s their best guess as to what the Congressional Budget Office would say if it had time to fully score the legislation. The top-line result is that Graham-Cassidy would reduce the number of insured by 21 million during the 2020–2026 period.

More than anything, it reminded me of Ramesh Ponnuru’s argument that there’s no point waiting for CBO because it’s pretty easy to imagine what they’d say, but it’s worth digging into the report a bit.

Standard disclaimer: The bill does not lay out what happens to Obamacare funding after 2026. Congress will have to act again at that point, and you should completely ignore any estimate, from any source, going beyond that year. I will observe that rule here.

The first thing to bear in mind is that their estimates are (naturally) based on previous work by the CBO, which rightly or wrongly believes the individual mandate to be quite effective. As many conservatives have pointed out, much of the CBO’s coverage losses thus can be characterized as people voluntarily going uninsured when they’re no longer required to. In fairness, though, there’s a follow-on effect as well: As healthy people opt out of insurance, premiums go up, causing more to opt out.

The second thing to bear in mind is that since the whole point of Graham-Cassidy is to give states leeway to use (most of) Obamacare’s funding to set up their own health-care solutions, Fiedler and Adler have to guess as to what the states will do. Their solution is to divide states into four tiers that take approaches of varying generosity.

Here they make a point that I think some conservatives will appreciate: Since money is fungible and the block grants have few strings attached, states can in effect use the cash to fund projects that have nothing to do with health care. This is how:

All states would need to do is identify existing state health care programs that qualify for block grant funding, thereby freeing up the state dollars currently devoted to those program to be used in whatever way the state wishes. If this were a state’s goal, the legislation makes it easy to achieve. Total block grant funding under the Graham-Cassidy proposal is $200 billion in 2026. States could almost certainly use block grant funds to support programs that provide substance abuse and mental health services; non-Medicaid state and local government spending on such services is likely to be on the order of $50 billion in 2026. As another example, states could likely use block grant funding to finance health benefits for state and local employees; state costs in this area are likely to be on the order of $200 billion in 2026. Thus, these expenditures alone are more than sufficient to absorb the block grant funding that the Graham-Cassidy legislation would make available in 2026.

States would likely identify many other categories of existing programs that could be funded with block grant dollars, such as programs that compensate medical providers for uncompensated care or spending on health care for prison inmates. In other instances, states might be able to direct money into their general funds by funneling them through public hospitals. While it is likely that some of these uses are not intended by the legislation’s authors, many of them may be difficult to disallow while still providing states with the broad discretion over the use of the block grant funds that the authors clearly do intend.

On one hand, this just means Graham-Cassidy will be even more “federalist.” After all, it translates to more freedom for states to put the money to the use they think best — it allows them to decide the level of health-care spending in the state, not just the system through which the money will be spent. But on the other, conservatives are not fans of the federal government doling out cash to state governments for no particular reason. (An interesting possibility that occurred to me: Could liberal states play this shell game as well, and use the diverted money to, say, provide plans that cover abortion?)

Fielder and Adler’s division of states seems at least defensible, however much guesswork it entails. States that declined to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government promised to pick up the overwhelming bulk of the tab, would be inclined to divert their money; blue states would be more inclined to continue Obamacare’s policies. The authors caution that their estimates do not account for the turmoil states will experience as they set up their own marketplaces, or for the bill’s cap on traditional Medicaid spending.

Like I said: highly speculative, but worth digging into.

Would Graham-Cassidy Take Money from Blue States and Give It to Red States?

by Theodore Kupfer

One talking point in the debate over the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill is that it would systematically discriminate against Democratic states and in favor of Republican ones: Rand Paul told reporters on Tuesday that his colleagues are “taking the Obamacare money, keeping it, and taking it from Democratic states and giving it to Republican states.” That’s not quite accurate.

Three analyses of the bill, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Avalere, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, have found that the change in federal health-care funding would be negative for states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Among those states are Republican strongholds Arizona, Louisiana, Arkansas, Ohio, and Kentucky. The states that would benefit from the bill are states that did not expand Medicaid, which makes sense given its funding formula. To be sure, most of those states tend to vote Republican, but Paul asserted a cut-and-dry reality that is not the case. Reality is more complicated than pithy talking points can make it seem.

Valerie Plame Wilson, Anti-Semite

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Valerie Plame Wilson came to fame during the George W. Bush administration, when she alleged that neoconservatives had exposed her as a CIA operative in revenge for her husband’s work undermining the case for the Iraq war. It turned out that it was Richard Armitage, a skeptic of the war and no neoconservative, who had revealed her employment. But the investigation consumed Washington, D.C., for years.

Wilson is back in the news because yesterday she tweeted out an article titled, “America’s Jews are Driving America’s Wars.” The article’s content turns out to be, somehow, even worse than the headline; it includes a proposal that Jews be identified as such on tv when they say anything about foreign policy. Her initial response to criticism was a tweet urging people to calm down and saying that while she wasn’t endorsing the article it was “thoughtful.” She added that she was “of Jewish decent” (double sic). She said that people should “read the entire article” without “biases.”

Then came the apology. “OK folks, look, I messed up. I skimmed this piece, zeroed in on the neocon criticism, and shared it without seeing and considering the rest.” So, on her telling, she hadn’t actually “read the entire article” even as she defended it by telling others to read it. “I missed gross undercurrents to this article.” Undercurrents? Check out the title!

A lot of the coverage of this controversy–I’m looking at you, CNN.com and foxnews.com–doesn’t mention that she has a history of promoting such content.

So now we can understand why she dislikes neoconservatives so much even though they never outed her.

Texas Futile Care Law in the Dock

by Wesley J. Smith

Imagine your dad is in the ICU with a stroke, struggling for life.

Imagine, having listened to the wise voices in bioethics, that he wrote an advance directive, leaving instructions about the medical treatment he wanted if incapacitated.

Imagine, that dad believes life itself is an intrinsic good, that he wants ”everything” done to keep him going, which he has told you repeatedly and also set forth explicitly in his directive.

Imagine that the treatment he was receiving in the ICU was working as designed–keeping dad alive. Yes, it was difficult, but in his cogent moments, dad gave you a thumbs up about how he was doing.

Now, imagine dad’s doctors don’t believe dad’s life or prospects were worth the suffering caused by the treatment–even though dad accepts the struggle–or the cost.

Whose values should prevail? Should doctors be allowed to refuse efficacious treatment that sustains life because they think it isn’t worth it, even though the recipient of the care wants it?

In Texas, the answer often is that doctors’ values win.

You see, the law permits doctors who disagree with patient choices to bring the matter before a hospital bioethics committee–made up of people he or she knows well, who have been trained by bioethicists, and who all share the institutional culture. That’s hardly an objective circumstance.

After holding meetings in which all parties to the dispute are heard, the bioethics committee has the legal power to turn thumbs down to wanted care–even though it is working. Once that happens, the patient must find another hospital within 10 days–even if another doctor is willing to take over the case–or the treatment will be stopped unilaterally.

And get this: There is no formal record of the “case” maintained. There is no formal right of appeal. In essence, it is a star chamber proceeding in which the values of utilitarian bioethics can be imposed on patients and their families.

I have always believed the law to be unconstitutional. And now, thanks to a lawsuit brought by a family whose loved one was victimized by the futile care authoritarianism, the statute is in the dock. From the Houston Chronicle story:

Nixon [the plaintiff's lawyer] emphasized that the lawsuit, which asks for $1 in damages, is not about Dunn’s care at Methodist.

“The issue is the authority given hospitals to withdraw care altogether, the lack of due process,” he said. “The only other time the state is allowed to take a life is capital punishment and look at all the procedural safeguards there.”

He rattled off a litany of what he said are problems with the law: it provides no definition of futile care; no criteria for the make-up of the ethics committee; no right for the patient to have an advocate at the committee hearing; no record of the hearing or right of review; and no avenue for court appeal.

The law is so bad, Texas’s Attorney General is not defending it.

Defenders of the law claim it actually improves care:

Among the law’s defenders is Tom Mayo, a Southern Methodist University lawyer and bioethicist.

“The law may not be a perfect statute, but it’s constitutional,” said Mayo, who helped draft the law. “It was designed to improve care, and it accomplishes that on a regular basis. Families often have unrealistic expectations about what medicine can accomplish. This law tamps down those expectations.”

People resisting futile care impositions expect their doctors to help them remain alive, not judge their “quality of life.” It is not up to the “law” to  tamp down such expectations. Besides, sometimes doctors make mistakes, and people not expected to survived, do.

I am not a vitalist. I believe there comes a time to enter palliative care and allow nature to take its course. 

But that’s for me. Other people have different beliefs.

Certainly, when it comes to life-sustaining treatment that is sustaining life–sometimes called non elective care–whether to accept or refuse should be the patient/family’s, not the doctors and strangers in a star chamber bioethics committee.

This case is more important than simply what happens in Texas. If it passes muster, we can expect other states to try and follow the Lone Star State’s lead. If it is tossed, the bioethics movement will have to go back to the drawing board for imposing its utilitarian values on the rest of us.

So, let us hope the law is tossed and hospital bioethics committees in Texas restored to their proper role as mediating and advisory panels that help patients and families negotiate the sometimes excruciating choices that must be made.

If we want the people to trust the healthcare system, bioethics committees should not be accorded quasi-judicial powers over life and death. If a case is so egregious that it is worth litigating, that controversy belongs in open court, with the family granted full due process rights, including the right to cross examination, the burden of proof on the hospital that wants to stop treatment, and to appeal.

UPDATE: Alas, the judge threw out the constitutional challenge. This bodes ill for the medically vulnerable.




Friday links

by debbywitt

Watch this kid show his dad how to make Leonardo da Vinci’s self-supporting bridge.

How Nestlé Makes Billions Bottling Water It Pays Almost Nothing For.

The Physics of Wiffle Ball.

It’s the first day of Fall - autumnal equinox science, videos, poetry, music.

Fear ye the ducking stool, ye common scolds.

The book wheel: A rotating reading desk for 16th century, perfect for those “tormented by gout”.

ICYMI, Wednesday’s links are here, and include Alexander Graham Bell’s tetrahedral kites, the 1869 near-war between the United States and Britain, and Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States.

What Do These Numbers Mean?

by Fred Schwarz

The above photograph, of an old warehouse in rapidly gentrifying Long Island City, in the New York borough of Queens, was taken yesterday evening from one of the city’s new commuter ferries. The ferries, which can hold about 150 passengers maximum and run every 25 minutes or so, won’t make a dent in the overcrowding on subways and buses — supposedly one of the main reasons for establishing them — but they give a very scenic ride and, with a fare of only $2.75, attract many economy-minded tourists.

Anyway, as the ferry approaches the L.I.C. dock, not far from the famous illuminated Pepsi-Cola sign dating back to 1940, passengers see the mysterious set of numbers in the photo above. Can you guess what they mean?

Your first clue is that the middle pair of digits decreases by one every day.

Your second clue is that we wouldn’t be surprised if Bill Kristol had a miniature version on his desk.

Got it?

That’s right, it’s a Trump countdown clock, showing the number of days (1,216) and hours (7) remaining until January 20, 2021, when Trump’s presidency, or at least his first term, will come to an end. Seems obvious in retrospect, doesn’t it?

Trump’s Bold Defense of America

by Conrad Black

From my most recent NRO article, about President Trump’s U.N. speech: “There is no reason for Trump to certify Iranian compliance with Obama’s shameful nuclear green-light agreement with Iran.”

Whether you agree or disagree, your comments are, as always, most welcome.

Trump Ticks Up

by Rich Lowry

And I mean, tick. But Trump is looking a little better in the latest raft of polls. His standing is not exactly robust, but the last couple of weeks show that the competent response to the hurricanes, the bipartisan dalliance with Democrats, and the avoidance of incendiary controversies have helped him.

Erdogan’s Goons . . .

by Rich Lowry

 . . . are at it again. As someone suggested on Twitter, we should really stop letting him bring his muscle into the country, but especially given Trump’s warm words for him, that’s never going to happen.

‘Sovereignty Is Not a Dirty Word’

by Rich Lowry

I wrote today for Politico about the reaction to Trump’s emphasis on sovereignty in his UN speech:

There’s no doubt that there’s a tension in Trump’s emerging foreign policy that couples traditional Republican thinking with his own instinctive nationalism. But he outlined a few key expectations in the speech.

He said, repeatedly, that we want “strong and independent nations” committed to promoting “security, prosperity and peace.” And we look for nations “to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”

Every country that Trump criticized fails one or both of these tests. So, by the way, do Russia and China. Hence Trump’s oblique criticism of their aggression: “We must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea.”

Trump’s standards aren’t drawn out of thin air. A consistent nationalist believes in the right of every nation to govern itself. Moreover, modern nationalism developed alongside the idea of popular sovereignty — i.e., the people have the right to rule, and the state is their agent, not the other way around. This is why the rise of nationalism was the worst thing to happen to dynastic rulers in Europe.

Regulate Embryo Research Before Too Late

by Wesley J. Smith

Scientists have successfully cloned human embryos using the same technique that created Dolly the sheep, potentially transforming human reproduction into a matter of manufacture and quality control.

Scientists have learned to genetically engineer any organism or cell through a technique known as CRISPR. This may be the most potentially dangerous human invention since the atomic bomb. 

Scientists are pursuing making “three-parent” embryos, toward the purpose of avoiding genetic disease, but also with the potential to create novel family forms.

And now, scientists are making human “embryoids”–cell formations that are not viable organisms–from stem cells, but which may be a step before making human organisms. From the MIT Technology Review story:

Scientists at Michigan now have plans to manufacture embryoids by the hundreds. These could be used to screen drugs to see which cause birth defects, find others to increase the chance of pregnancy, or to create starting material for lab-generated organs.

But ethical and political quarrels may not be far behind. “This is a hot new frontier in both science and bioethics. And it seems likely to remain contested for the coming years,” says Jonathan Kimmelman, a member of the bioethics unit at McGill University, in Montreal, and a leader of an international organization of stem-cell scientists.

Science isn’t the be all and end all. As one scientists notes, ethics matter too:

We decided yes, we are trying to grow a structure similar to part of the human early embryo that is hard otherwise to study,” says Shao. “But we are not going to generate a complete human embryo. I can’t just consider my feelings. I have to think about society.”

Thank you. But at least one scientist insists he won’t stop until he develops a human organism via this means:

Other scientists, however, are determined to see just how far the science leads, up to and including forging the first complete human embryo from stem cells. That’s the case of Ali Brivanlou, an embryologist who leads a lab at Rockefeller University, in New York City. “My goal is to maximize the modeling, in vitro, of human development,” Brivanlou wrote in an e-mail. “Therefore, we would like to be as accurate as possible and as complete as possible.”

These are potentially epochal developments. But where are the democratic discussions about whether and how to regulate these technologies?

They aren’t happening. Nobody outside the biotech and bioethics sectors are even talking about this.

And where is a presidential advisory commission to debate these matters? (I have urged a “populist bioethics commission,” made up of diverse voices, not a “stacked deck” rubber-stamping body.)  It doesn’t exist.

Indeed, President Trump seems not to even be aware that biotech and bioethics are urgent policy concerns.

Every powerful human enterprise needs checks and balances. At present, outside of government funding issues, they almost don’t exist.

That needs to change. Because if we don’t begin to grapple as a society with these embryo-biotech issues soon, it will be too late.

Today’s Intellectually-Challenged College Protestors

by Hans A. von Spakovsky

Last night, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (with the assistance of the student Libertarian and Republican clubs) staged a debate at the University of Pittsburgh on immigration. The question: “Are Trump’s Immigration Policies Harming America?”

I was there to argue in favor of enforcing our immigration laws and the policies being implemented by the president. The other side was ably represented by Alex Nowrasteh of the CATO Institute. Alex and I almost entirely disagree on this issue, but we were able to do something that is unfortunately becoming rare on college campuses: engage in a substantive, professional, and civil debate on a contentious issue — a debate in which we stuck to the issue and avoided personal attacks on each other’s motives or character.

The moderator was Paul Kengor, an intellectual heavyweight who has written numerous books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism and his latest, A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century.

The room at the William Pitt Union building was packed. Of course, as seems inevitable on the modern university campus, we had a handful of protestors intent on disrupting the debate. As they started their protests, Kengor interrupted them to point out the absurdity of what they were doing. This wasn’t a one-sided presentation, he told them; this was a debate in which both sides were being argued and discussed.

What was so bizarre — and evidence that these protestors weren’t really interested in what was being said in the debate — is that they were at their loudest when Alex was speaking. Alex thinks most of Trump’s policies are wrong, which is the side the protestors were apparently taking, and yet they were interrupting the guy arguing for their side.

A number of protestors also stood up after putting cone hats on their heads – the kind of hats six-year-old kids wear at birthday parties – and then attempted to loudly play kazoos. What did they think they were achieving? Did they really think such infantile behavior helped advance their side of the argument and persuaded folks in the audience that they have the correct substantive view on immigration issues?

All the protestors did was annoy the audience, the overwhelming majority of whom were civil and polite and actually listening to the arguments of the debaters. And the audience members — undergraduate students — asked intelligent, germane questions during the question-and-answer period.

If the childish and thoughtless behavior of the protestors, however, was indicative of the type of intellectual rigor and cultural behavior being taught in our classrooms today, this country is indeed in trouble.

Oyez, Oyez: Get the Primo SCOTUS Preview

by Jack Fowler

As has happened now for the past three years, National Review Institute and Pacific Legal Foundation will once again host an expert-led preview of the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court term: “The Consequential Cases in the Supreme Court’s 2017–18 Term” will take place on Friday, September 29, from noon to 1:00 p.m. at the offices of Jones Day (300 New Jersey Avenue, NW, on the Senate side of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.).

NRI senior fellow Ramesh Ponnuru will moderate a panel including constitutional law heavyweights Michael A. Carvin, John P. Elwood, and Donald B. Verrilli Jr. They’ll review the major cases on the no-vacancies High Court’s docket (which include challenges to the Trump administration’s travel ban, gerrymandering, warrantless cell-phone tracking, Christian bakers’ First Amendment rights, and other high-profile cases with significant economic, environmental, and administrative-law implications). Did I mention that there will be food served? RSVP here.

The Uses of History

by Andrew Stuttaford

When it comes to the crimes of communism there has been a dangerous forgetting  (to ascribe this phenomenon to simple forgetfulness is to imply too passive a process: Much of this failure of historical memory has been engineered).

Roger Scruton, writing in The Spectator:

Monuments to the victims of Nazism and fascism exist all across the continent. But communism’s millions of victims are remembered hardly at all. One standard history of modern times, widely used in our schools, praises the Russian Revolution as aiming at ‘the complete destruction of the Russian and European bourgeoisie’, necessary for ‘the victory of socialism’. This history (Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Extremes) does not mention the abolition of the law courts, or the establishment of the Cheka (the secret police), or the vicious expropriations that destroyed the Russian economy, or the mass starvation inflicted on the Ukrainian peasants. It is inadmissible for a historian to write in any but disgusted terms of the Nazi destruction of the Jews; but the equally cruel ‘destruction of the bourgeoisie’ can be described in terms of unqualified approval.

When Hobsbawm died in 2012, I wrote a bit about him here and noted that:

[Hobsbawm] was never really called to any sort of intellectual or social account for his prolonged support for a cult/religion/philosophy/ideology (call it what you will) that revolves around purification by slaughter. Instead he was honored. To repeat the list I mentioned earlier today: New School for Social Research, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Royal Society of Literature, Stanford, King’s College, Cambridge, the British Academy, Companion of Honour, etc., etc.

Here’s what Tony Blair, noisy man of ‘faith’ and, allegedly, a fighter for Western values, had written about Hobsbawm just the day before:

He was a giant of progressive politics history, someone who influenced a whole generation of political and academic leaders. He wrote history that was intellectually of the highest order but combined with a profound sense of compassion and justice. And he was a tireless agitator for a better world.

Ah, a ‘better world’: the excuse of murderous millenarians for a long, long, time.


[I]t is surely time to establish museums devoted to the Marxist legacy. We have a model, indeed, in the House of Terror, established in Budapest in 2002 under the directorship of Maria Schmidt. This commemorates the victims of both fascism and communism, and has been controversial for that very reason. Even in Hungary, leftist intellectuals tell us that the two evils cannot be compared, and that to commemorate their victims in a single museum is to deny their most important difference: that the aims of communism were good, those of fascism bad. It is precisely in order to counter that kind of apology that Maria Schmidt has turned the same light on both ideologies. The aim of both, she insists, was the same. What difference does it make that one focused its resentment on the Jews, the other on the bourgeoisie, when the primary aim was in both cases the mass murder of their victims?

There were (in my view) differences between the two categories of mass murderer, differences  that  matter, but let’s be clear, the aims of communism were not good. Like other millenarians, including the Nazis (millenarians of a sort themselves), communists believed in creating a ‘better world’ for their definition of the Saved. The Nazis wanted a better world for the master race, communists wanted a better world for the suitably cleansed ‘masses’, better worlds (which would, in reality, be anything but) built on the bones of the slaughtered millions who did not make the grade.

Looking at the current political situation in the UK, where under-40s are enthused by a Labour Party led by men who are not democrats in any credible form, and who essentially believe in variants of old time communism, Scruton is concerned:

As the Momentum movement [a militant organization that operates within Labour] seduces more and more people towards historical oblivion and utopian exultancy, the need for a programme of public education about these matters is ever more urgent. But I fear that it may be too late.

And this is not, of course, a problem confined to Britain. Take the time to read a fine essay on Camille Paglia by Mark Bauerlein in First Things.

An extract:

Paglia believes there is a causal connection between young Americans’ ignorance of history and their dim view of present conditions. At a conference in Oxford, Paglia stated again, in response to a student who criticized her and others for telling youths not to be so sensitive and snowflaky, “There is much too much focus on the present.” Thanks to the (presumed) sensitivity of modern youth, Paglia says, students have not had a “realistic introduction to the barbarities of human history . . . . Ancient history must be taught . . . . I believe in introducing young people to the disasters of history.” Without that background, she implies, our only standard of appraising current circumstances is current circumstances plus a few utopian dreams.

Yes, build museums to the horrors of Communism (I’d recommend the Occupation Museums in Riga and Tallinn as  well as Budapest’s House of Terror), but teach history properly too in schools. For the facts wherever they may lead, for history’s often uncomfortable truths about human nature, and for history’s warnings about the temptations of Utopia, and where they lead.

Autumnal Essays

by Yuval Levin

It’s the first day of fall, and that means the Fall 2017 issue of National Affairs is here.
Among the offerings this time are Mike Petrilli on a key dividing line in the school choice movement, Eli Lehrer and Catherine Moyer on how to get more men working, Yishai Schwartz on the case for corporate patriotism, Arthur Rizer on the imperative of jail reform, Seth Kaplan on how to understand social disintegration, Ramon Lopez on answering the alt-right, Ruth Wisse on campus anti-Semitism, Bradford Tuckfield on academia’s reality problem, Matthew Rose on the meaning of liberal education, Greg Weiner on Federalist 10 in the 21st century, and Adam White on Antonin Scalia’s philosophy of legal education.
Some are free to all, others only to subscribers, and here is where you can subscribe. 

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.