Ryan to the White House

by Rich Lowry

Probably not a good sign for the bill, but we’ll know more soon. The push for this bill was a momentum play and it may be that the momentum is running the wrong direction such that a floor vote would not be a narrow loss, but a big one. CNN is reporting that Ryan is trying to put the ball back in Trump’s court, asking him what he wants to do given that the votes don’t seem to be there now. 

Did the House Bill Get Worse?

‘A New World Has Emerged’

by Jay Nordlinger

In recent weeks, I have written about the “Marine Corps,” by which I mean Marine Le Pen and her body of supporters and peers. For instance, GOP congressmen Steve King and Dana Rohrabacher met with her. King tweeted that they had discussed “shared values.”

She has now gone to Moscow, to visit with Vladimir Putin. She has received millions in Russian loans. She must think that an appearance with Putin is good for her politically. (She would know better than most.) Le Pen has an election — a presidential election — on April 23.

Shortly before President Trump’s inauguration, she was in Trump Tower, but by all accounts did not meet with the president-elect.

After her meeting with Putin, she said, “A new world has emerged in these past years. It’s the world of Vladimir Putin, it’s the world of Donald Trump in the United States, it’s the world of Mr. Modi in India.”

Does Modi belong in Le Pen’s pantheon? Anyway, this is an interesting triumvirate.

About the meeting with Putin, an aide to Le Pen said, “We felt they understood each other, they were on the same wavelength.” I believe this is so. The Russian president wished the French leader good luck in the upcoming elections.

(To read a news story, go here.)

In a recent podcast, Daniel Hannan and I discussed Madame Le Pen. She has pledged to pull France out of NATO, of course. She is an unblushing admirer of Putin — a total fangirl. She believes that Western sanctions against his regime are unjust. And, as Hannan said, she is to the left of the French Socialist party on economics.

What’s more, said Hannan, “she mingles this socialism with an element of nationalism, and we’ve seen that before, and it’s a fairly ugly cocktail.”

Putin’s critics and political opponents tend to drop like flies, you may have noticed. In the past couple of weeks, there have been at least three incidents.

Yevgeny Khamaganov, a journalist, 35 years old, died in an emergency room. This death has so far been unexplained. Two years ago, thugs jumped him and broke his neck. Yet, when he recovered, he continued his work. Amazing, that people do this.

In Kiev, Denis Voronenkov has been shot dead in the street. He was once a member of the Russian parliament. He fled to Ukraine and sought asylum there. He was a key witness in the treason case against Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president, who is now protected by Putin in Russia. Voronenkov will testify no more.

Nikolai Gorokhov had an important court date. He is the lawyer for the family of Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer and whistleblower who was tortured to death in 2009. The day before his court appearance, Gorokhov was tossed from the fourth floor of his apartment building. He is still alive. But he ain’t going to court.

“A new world has emerged,” says Marine Le Pen. A good world? There are people, in Russia and elsewhere, who are working for a better world. A much better world.

One of them is Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian democracy leader. I first met him at the Oslo Freedom Forum last year. He had been poisoned and almost died. He was walking with a cane. In early February — February 2017 — he was poisoned again. Again, he almost died. He is now in the United States, and I met with him a few days ago. Will have much to say about him in coming weeks.

Madame Le Pen may be right that the tide of history is with her and her ilk. (A favorite Bob Novak word, “ilk.”) But tides can be changed — for good or ill — by determined people.

Why So Many College Graduates Can’t Really Think

by George Leef

Among the standard claims made on behalf of putting kids in college is that they’ll learn “critical thinking.” (As if plain old thinking isn’t critical, but let that go.) But do they? It’s increasingly evident that instead of turning out sharp reasoners, colleges turn out dullards who believe that their emotions are a substitute for logic.

That’s the argument Georgia State English professor Rob Jenkins makes in today’s Martin Center article.

“Clearly” he writes, “colleges and universities across the country aren’t adequately teaching thinking skills, despite loudly insisting, to anyone who will listen, that they are. How do we explain that disconnect?”

His explanation is that more and more of the college curriculum consists of shabby courses where the professor does the very opposite of teaching critical thinking, but rather instills in students ideas that encourage them to rely on feelings as a guide to what’s right and what isn’t. The “deconstruction” fad is a big part of that, as students are taught that texts have no inherent meaning, but only what the reader sees in them. Same for the notion that truth is relative.

Jenkins writes:

That view runs contrary to the purposes of a “liberal arts” education, which undertakes the search for truth as the academy’s highest aim. Indeed, the urge to deconstruct everything is fundamentally illiberal. Heritage Foundation’s Bruce Edwards calls it “liberal education’s suicide note” in that it suggests the only valid response to any idea or situation is the individual’s own — how he or she “feels” about it.

(Strangely, if a student happens to feel that there’s no such thing as social justice or doubts that climate change is a looming disaster calling for vastly increased government powers, a professor is apt to berate him.)

It’s because students are taught to use their emotions rather than logic to guide their actions that we get so much of the silliness and even vicious behavior (as at Middlebury College and Berkeley) we now witness on college campuses. Jenkins drives the point home, writing, “All of this has a profound impact on students and explains a great deal of what is happening on colleges campuses today, from the dis-invitation (and sometimes violent disruption) of certain speakers to the creation of ’safe spaces’ complete with Play-Doh and ‘adult coloring books’ (whatever those are — I shudder to think). Today’s students are increasingly incapable of processing conflicting viewpoints intellectually; they can only respond to them emotionally.”

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see what would happen if a parent sued a college that had advertised that it teaches students “critical thinking” for false advertising?

Freedom Caucus Can Just Walk Away

by Quin Hillyer

Members of the House Freedom Caucus have shown they want the moon, or nothing, when considering reform of health-care policy. They aren’t going to get the moon, so what they should do is nothing. If they won’t vote “yes,” they also should not vote “no” and not vote “present” either. Just put out a press release making all their usual assertions that everybody else is a weak-kneed coward unwilling to stand on principle, and then, in a great show of moral purity, walk out of the House chamber in protest just as the vote is being called.

That way, they will be able to signal their disgust without actually killing the only extant vehicle to replace Obamacare with something that tremendously improves Medicaid, expands health-savings accounts, re-introduces market forces into the system, repeals numerous taxes, and reduces the federal debt (compared to current law) bytens or even hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade.

For the bill to pass the House at this stage, it does not need a majority of all elected House members; it needs a majority of those present and voting. So for every two congressmen who walk out in protest, the number of votes needed for passage drops by one.

A walk-out thus would signal that they strongly disapprove of the bill as currently constituted and that they will oppose it when it comes back from the Senate unless it has been substantially improved. But it wouldn’t undermine their leadership and a new administration of their own party, poke a finger in the eye of fellow conservative Republicans trying sincerely to navigate difficult legislative terrain, or relegate 320 million Americans to a continuation of an unimproved Obamacare system that is a job-killing, choice-destroying, premium-hiking nightmare.

What the Freedom Caucus must understand is that this vote today essentially amounts to a procedural ballot. It merely provides a blueprint from which the Senate can work. The Senate will probably take several months, if the bill is sent its way, to re-mold it and fix any flaws while the Freedom Caucus weighs in from across the Capitol, knowing that its block of votes eventually will be crucial. When the Senate has done its work, the bill will go back to the House — and then, not before, will come the vote on final passage at which time the Freedom Caucus can decide once and for all if the new legislation well serves the American public.

Of course most of the Freedom Caucus believes the Senate will make the bill worse rather than better. But what’s the harm in finding out? Whom does it hurt? To repeat: This vote scheduled for today is not a vote to send a bill to the Oval Office for the president’s signature. This is merely a vote to keep the process going. If the Freedom Caucus doesn’t want to signal assent, fine — but there is no reason it should deny the ability of the vast super-majority of their Republican colleagues to try to uphold their own pledges to replace Obamacare with something better.

There are times to stand firm — and other times to cooperate for the good of the order while at least showing respect for the efforts of usually allied colleagues, even if cooperation just means temporarily getting out of the way.

10 Things that Caught My Eye Today (March 24, 2017)

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

1. The great City of God Twitter experiment continues. (Background on Chad Pecknold’s #CivDei challenge to anyone within the reach of social media here.)

2. On The Federalist: “We parents of disabled children know the pain. The fear. And the pull of despair. But we also know the love. True love doesn’t take the ‘out’ provided by a ‘compassionate’ doctor.”

3. Frank Rocca in the Wall Street Journal: Why Abortion Doesn’t Resonate in European Politics:

The election of Donald Trump has boosted the profile and prospects of the U.S. antiabortion movement. A wave of right-wing populism is also hitting Europe, but on the continent, abortion is almost invisible as a political issue. No major party in the coming elections in France and Germany, or in last week’s vote in the Netherlands, has proposed more restrictive abortion laws.

The disparity between the U.S. and Europe reflects sharply different popular attitudes toward abortion. A 2015 BuzzFeed News/Ipsos poll found that two-thirds of French and British respondents thought abortion should be permitted “whenever a woman says she wants one”—compared with only 40% of Americans. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 19% and 14% of German and French respondents, respectively, saw abortion as morally unacceptable—compared with nearly half of Americans.

4. Sohrab Ahmari in America: DeChristianization in the West is a real threat. But Putinism isn’t the answer.

5. Also in America: Confessions of a Porn-Addicted Priest

6. Ryan Anderson & Melody Wood: Gender Identity Policies in Schools: What Congress, the Courts, and the Trump Administration Should Do

Keep reading this post . . .

Why No GOP Health Care Bill Will Ever Be Really Popular

by Jim Geraghty

From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

Why No GOP Health Care Bill Will Ever Be Really Popular

The conventional wisdom this morning is that Republicans are on the verge of suffering a colossal defeat by failing to unify behind the American Health Care Act.  It’s only a colossal defeat if they let it become one. President Trump has offered a bold ultimatum: if the House doesn’t pass the American Health Care Act, he’s abandoning Obamacare. If this isn’t a bluff to win passage and he genuinely means it, it means he’s more reckless, capricious and more unworthy of conservative support than even his skeptics thought. A presidential declaration that repeal and replacement efforts are kaput for the remainder of his presidency would be the anti-Gorsuch, a giant vindication of his critics from the primary. He denounced Obamacare over and over again on the campaign trail. Now, in the face of predictable problems of a Republican Party divided on how best to replace it, he’s willing to abandon the effort?

Different Republicans are going to have different priorities in what replaces Obamacare. The U.S. health care system is big and complicated and has a lot of problems because it’s trying to address a lot of contrary desires. Americans want health care to be excellent, widely-available, and cheap. Experience tells us we can only pick two of those qualities.

A gigantic lingering problem for any reform effort is that many members of the public have wildly unrealistic expectations about what their health care should be and how much they should pay for it, and no politician in either party has much incentive to be honest about hard truths. There’s a strong argument that the entire concept of insurance doesn’t work well for health care, compared to, say, auto insurance. The vast majority of drivers will not get in a major accident in any given year, and plenty of drivers will go years and years without an accident. Consumers are comfortable with a system where most years, they will pay in a considerable sum and get nothing from their auto insurer for that year.

Auto insurance works because a lot of people pay in and get little or nothing in return (other than peace of mind and meeting the legal requirements), but a few people pay in a little and then wreck their car, and the company can afford the costs of repairs or replacing it and make a profit on top, enough to run lots of ads with that little gecko.

Everyone needs health care eventually. And even if you’re healthy and don’t foresee health expenses in the near future, you can get hit by a bus or fall off a ladder or slice your finger with a steak knife at any time. (That’s one reason why “preventative care” rarely saves as much money as the reformers hope.) Obamacare decreed that insurance should cover birth control, which is a monthly expense. Quite a few Americans take prescription drugs regularly to control chronic conditions. Significant health expenses aren’t as rare as car wrecks, meaning the insurers have to pay out more… which means they have to charge more in premiums.

The way to bring down prices is most markets is supply and demand, but that’s difficult to apply to health care costs compared to, say, shopping for a plane ticket on Expedia. If you’re hit by a bus, you need emergency care and it’s difficult to request the ambulance take you to the less-expensive hospital. People get very attached to the doctors they know and they’ve been seeing for years – thus the importance of Obama’s pledge, “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” Pediatricians watch kids grow up. People don’t like the idea of breaking off an established care relationship and shopping around.

On paper, we can increase supply, and you’ve seen market forces improve health services not covered by insurance; LASIK surgery and plastic surgeries are the most-cited examples. But while you can increase the number of doctors in the country (and nurse practitioners, etc.) it’s difficult to increase the number of the very best doctors. Even if we somehow forced medical schools to admit more students and produce more doctors, U.S. demand for health care is only going to increase as the Baby Boomers age.

The popular argument on the Left is to declare that health care is a right, and thus shouldn’t be subject to the pressures of supply and demand. It’s a lovely thought, until you start thinking through how this would work, because all health care is the result of someone’s labor. Somebody’s got to go through college and medical school and spend all those years studying to become a doctor or nurse or specialist. Somebody’s got to research and develop the prescription medication. Somebody’s got to invent, design, and build the MRI machine, robotic surgery arm, artificial limb, etcetera. And all of those people expect to get paid, and almost everyone would agree that considering their skill, education, talent and hard work, they deserve to be paid well.

When you declare something is a right, it means it cannot be denied, particularly due to an inability to pay. Which means someone else, i.e., the government is in charge of payment.

Put aside the exorbitant cost of having the government pay for everyone’s health care for a moment. You could argue the “government pays” system is close to what we have with Medicaid… except a lot of doctors find Medicaid payments to be way below far market value, “around 50 to 85 cents on the dollar of the actual cost of medical care.” Many doctors say that they’re still willing to take the personal financial loss that comes from treating Medicaid patients, up until the point that they can’t afford it. As of 2015, only 67 percent of doctors take Medicaid, and only 45 percent of doctors take new patients on Medicaid. Even the illustrious Mayo Clinic announced it is going prioritize non-Medicaid and non-Medicare patients.

The Democratic solution? Introduce laws forcing doctors to accept Medicaid payments. Some gratitude for the caring profession, huh? Making health care a “right” means that doctors are forced to work for reimbursement set by the government. It reduces them to tools of the state.

But this hasn’t sunk in with much of the general public. They still believe that there’s some system out there where they can get the very best care, choose any doctor they like, see any specialist they prefer, and pay little or nothing for it. And until that perception is dispelled, any health care reform proposal will be greeted as a disappointment.

Loch Ness and DRock

by Jay Nordlinger

Long before there was the expression “fake news” — or, as the president tweets it, “FAKE NEWS” — there was the National Enquirer. This was pretty much understood to be the definition of fake news. The Lindbergh baby might have been carried off by the Loch Ness monster — that sort of thing.

While the president labels many outlets “fake news,” he speaks with nothing but respect about the National Enquirer. He did so in his recent interview with Time magazine, whose Washington bureau chief brought up the tale of the Cruz family and the JFK assassination.

Believe me, if the Enquirer ever turned on Trump, instead of supporting him, Trump and his spokesmen would jump on that rag as not worth blowing your nose on.

The Enquirer is one of the issues I take up in Impromptus today, along with Iran, the Gorsuch hearings, the Koreas, and much else.

One of my items is about David Rockefeller, who has died at 101. He was a rare thing, in my experience: a scion of wealth — an inheritor of wealth — who both understood and defended capitalism. (The same is true of Pete du Pont and Steve Forbes.) DRock said, “American capitalism has brought more benefits to more people than any other system in any part of the world at any time in history.”

True. And this point, by the way, was stressed by Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, in our recent podcast.

Rockefeller studied with Schumpeter and Hayek, among others. Of DRock’s many privileges, that was one of the biggest.

Pick a Lane, Chuck

by Charles C. W. Cooke

Alexandra notes that Chuck Schumer intends to filibuster Neil Gorsuch.

Schumer said he remained unconvinced that Gorsuch would “be an independent check” on President Donald Trump. Gorsuch, he asserted, is “not a neutral legal mind but someone with a deep-seated conservative ideology. He was groomed by the Federalist Society and has shown not one inch of difference between his views and theirs.”

So far, no senators have officially agreed to join Schumer’s filibuster, but Bob Casey Jr., a Democrat from Pennsylvania, announced this morning that he will oppose Gorsuch’s nomination. In his statement, Casey cited as a concern Gorsuch’s “rigid and restrictive judicial philosophy that employs the narrowest possible reading of federal law and exercises extreme skepticism, even hostility, toward executive branch agencies.”

Schumer can, of course, do whatever he likes, and for whatever reason. The Senate is an equal partner in the judicial appointment process, and the filibuster applies in this case. If Schumer can convince enough of his fellow senators to join him, he can kill the nomination fair and square. That’s the American system.

Practically, though, he’s going to have to get his party to pick a lane. Look at the two claims that Alexandra quotes above. According to Senator Schumer, Gorsuch is unsuitable because he won’t check President Trump. But according to Bob Casey, Gorsuch is unsuitable because he’s a “rigid and restrictive” separation-of-powers zealot who “exercises extreme skepticism, even hostility, toward executive branch agencies.” Well, which is it? Either Gorsuch will act in lockstep with the president, or he’ll be implacably hostile toward his administration and gum up the works at every step. But he can’t do both.

And what of the broader threat that Trump presents — another Democratic theme? Is the president a dangerous, power-mad authoritarian who must be stopped at all costs — including by the courts? Or he is a run-of-the-mill ideologue whose biggest flaw is his preference for Congress and his dislike of the Chevron Doctrine? Again: He can’t be both. Before he rises to speak through the night, Schumer should probably have a good answer to these questions.

Friday links

by debbywitt

Uninspirational Quotes for People Who Hate Inspirational Quotes.

Flying Water Taxis are coming to Paris this Summer.

Found: A Colossal Statue of Ramses II Hiding Under a Cairo Street.

Dead Men’s Teeth: A History of Dentures.

Humanure: The Next Frontier In Composting.

Barns Are Painted Red Because of the Physics of Dying Stars.

ICYMI, Wednesday’s links are here, and include the secret plan for the days after Queen Elizabeth’s death, William Shatner’s birthday, why we don’t (generally) eat horses, the science of facial hair, and how far back in time you could go and still understand English.

The Trump Ultimatum

by Rich Lowry

Trump wants a vote no matter what tomorrow and says he’ll abandon Obamacare repeal if the bill doesn’t pass. This is highhanded and, if sincere, reckless. A loss would be a major blow but there would be other avenues available to get a repeal bill–the Senate could go first, or the House could try again with something better crafted. This Trump tack, together with the reporting about how the White House is beginning to point its finger at Speaker Ryan for the legislation’s struggles, is a sign of how his relationship with Congress could sour quickly. On the other hand, the threat might just shake loose enough votes for the bill to squeak through. One problem with the House’s salesmanship is this vote isn’t really the binary choice that it says–as noted above, there are other ways to proceed even if this bill fails. The Trump threat appears to make it truly a binary choice, and there is some talk among journalists tonight that the resolve of the Freedom Caucus is softening. The gambit is typical Trump–high-stakes, unorthodox, and instinctual. We’ll know more about its efficacy, and perhaps about the course of his presidency, tomorrow. 


by Rich Lowry

That’s the approve-disapprove of the Republican health-care bill, per a new Quinnipiac poll. If that number is anywhere close to accurate, it makes the analysis on why Republicans are having trouble passing the bill much simpler–major legislation this unpopular doesn’t become law. Per Fred’s point below, Sahil Kapur points out the numbers among key Trump demographics:

BREAKING: House Health-Care Vote Postponed

by Alexandra DeSanctis

After over two weeks of deliberation, House leadership has postponed a vote scheduled for sometime today on the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the GOP bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. According to the most recent information, the vote will be rescheduled for tomorrow, but no time has been set.

The AHCA rollout, which began on March 6, was plagued by controversy, as moderate Republicans and hardline conservatives alike found a variety problems with the first draft. Despite textual changes and further negotiation, the far-right House Freedom Caucus (HFC) remains the last big roadblock, as most of its members have yet to come around to accept the ACHA as it stands.

Given numbers in the House, the GOP could only afford 21 defections, and according to most reports, somewhere around 30 members were still unwilling to vote for the AHCA as of this afternoon, with another handful of members leaning toward voting “no” as well.

Hardline conservatives continue to insist that the bill leaves too many of the Affordable Care Act’s structures in place, failing to live up to the GOP promise of repealing Obama’s signature health-care bill. Members of the HFC — including its chairman, Mark Meadows (R.-N.C.) — held an extended meeting today with President Donald Trump and his White House advisors, but still were unable to strike a deal to give the GOP the votes necessary to pass the bill today as they had intended.

Meanwhile, over a dozen moderate GOP representatives recently have announced their intention to vote against the bill, some of whom are concerned that it would inhibit their constituents’ access to affordable health-care options.

Much of today’s discussion over the bill centered around the plan’s provisions for essential health benefits, which the White House offered to strip out of the legislation in a move to win HFC votes. This offer might’ve been a reason for some of the dwindling support from moderate members.

Although the process has devolved into some confusion, and the future of the bill seems somewhat unclear, Meadows assured reporters at a press conference this afternoon that he and his members are “desperately trying to get to yes” and promised “we are going to get to the finish line.”

Vote Delayed

by Rich Lowry

It’s obviously not a great sign. The tactical problem Ryan has is that he needs to win over both conservatives and moderates, which means that every action creates a reaction. It’s not clear, for instance, that the White House offer to the Freedom caucus yesterday to strip out the “essential health benefits” of Obamacare won more conservatives or lost more moderates. The bigger problem is that it’s not a good bill, so no one is eager to make compromises or sacrifices to get it over the top.  

How Health-Care Policy Divides the Republican Coalition

by Fred Bauer

Making even Internet memes look durable, the American Health Care Act seems a quickly evolving legislative artifact. Whatever it is, though, it faces a key political problem: Will it blow up the potential alliance between conservatives and working-class-oriented populists (perhaps not two entirely distinct categories)?

In some respects, the AHCA is a very generic Republican bill. One could see a similar measure being supported by a President Jeb Bush, for instance. The AHCA embodies in many ways a version of Republicanism that likes to lead with fiscal issues, focusing on tax cuts and entitlement reform. It would cut capital-gains taxes for upper-income households (to the tune, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, of over $16 billion per year by 2020 — or a big chunk of the estimated price of a border wall). In one of its most transformative provisions, the AHCA would block-grant Medicaid to the states, a mode of entitlement reform long desired by many conservative wonks.

While it achieves many longstanding priorities for Beltway Republicans, it contains some provisions that could alienate members of the working class, such as Medicaid cuts. It is telling that elements of the Right who have been very sympathetic to populist themes — such as Ann Coulter, many Breitbart writers, and Arkansas senator Tom Cotton — have been unsparing in their criticism of the AHCA. The bill itself is currently extremely unpopular, supported by only 17 percent of Americans according to the latest numbers from Quinnipiac.

It might be especially divisive for the Republican coalition. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was premised upon outreach to working-class voters, and an improved performance with this demographic was crucial for breaking the “blue wall” at the presidential level and for the GOP’s successful defense of its Senate majority. Perhaps a key slice of the working class is what Pew calls the “Hard-Pressed Skeptic,” a type of voter skeptical of international trade and large institutions but also anxious for government support (even as Skeptics have grave doubts about the efficacy of the government). In many ways, Donald Trump campaigned as a Skeptic, and this group likely formed a key element of his electoral coalition in Rust Belt states.

Republicans risk grave political danger if they lose the faith of working-class voters because of GOP decisions on health care and other policies. These voters might enjoy President Trump’s combative approach to institutional Washington, but that pleasure could soon sour if they think that the administration is not advancing their policy priorities. It’s possible that the most dangerous position for Republicans on health care is that the GOP passes some reforms to the financing of health care, enough for Democrats to accuse them of denying care to people, while also failing to pass any reforms that could expand access to health care (such as expanding the insurance market). That is to say, Phase 1 without Phase 3 might be a very uncomfortable position for the GOP.

Sometimes, political dangers can be gone around rather than faced head on. If the House remains at an impasse on the AHCA, congressional leaders could return to the table with a legislative strategy that defers some reductions in Medicaid expenditures in order instead to offer some targeted reforms to the insurance markets and other elements of the medical-delivery system in the United States. If health-care costs are brought down and if the economy improves, Republicans could then have more space for a thoroughgoing reform of the Medicaid system; a vibrant economy was a key context for the welfare reform of the 1990s, and entitlement reform can often proceed more effectively in a time of economic optimism.

A bad bill passed quickly might be far more damaging to the policy agenda of Republicans than a better bill (or set of bills) passed more slowly, and, as Ramesh Ponnuru has noted, Republicans might be able to add more regulatory elements to the AHCA if they take the time to do so. As they continue to negotiate the AHCA, Republicans might remember that the who’s-up-who’s-down newscycle has an increasingly small half-life; policy accomplishments — and shortcomings — live on.

Ganges River Declared a Legal Person

by Wesley J. Smith

New Zealand previously passed legislation granting a river legal personhood. Yes, a river: you know the geological feature by which water flows through a defined channel, usually to the sea.

Now, an Indian court has decreed that the Ganges is entitled to human-style rights. From The Guardian story:

The Ganges river, considered sacred by more than 1 billion Indians, has become the first non-human entity in India to be granted the same legal rights as people.

A court in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand ordered on Monday that the Ganges and its main tributary, the Yamuna, be accorded the status of living human entities.

The decision, which was welcomed by environmentalists, means that polluting or damaging the rivers will be legally equivalent to harming a person.

This ruling is an aspect of “nature rights,” a profoundly anti-human radical environmental legal and political campaign–discussed in my The War on Humans–that seeks to materially impede human thriving by thwarting our ability to prosper from natural resources and develop the natural world.

Beyond that, granting rights to river, trees, pond scum, viruses–all are part of nature, after all–profoundly subverts the intrinsic seriousness and gravity of human rights by making the concept as ephemeral as currency during a wild inflation. 

And what are the river’s “rights?”

For example, what if a dam is needed to prevent deadly flooding or generate electricity? Does the river have the “right” to flow unimpeded?  

Under nature rights theology–because that’s what this is–at the very least the river person would have to be given equal consideration with human persons.

In actuality, rights haven’t been given to a water course, but a committee who will impose their views as if they were those of the two rivers.

More broadly, “nature rights” grants tremendous power to radical environmentalists who enforce the rights of the natural world as a means to attain their own ideological goals. That’s how it works in Ecuador, Bolivia, and the more than thirty U.S. municipalities where such laws have been enacted.

And it is all completely unnecessary if the goal is environmental protection and conservation, which can be well sustained through laws and protected designations. For example, Yellowstone remains a treasured wonder of the world without pretending that Old Faithful Geyser is a legal person entitled to enforceable rights.

I have been warning for a few years that “nature rights” is gaining steam, often to the snorting derision of folk who think we would never be that self-destructive.

Time to splash some cold river water on our faces, assuming that wouldn’t be an assault on the waterway. It is happening. It is happening now. And it bodes ill for the human future.

Here We Go — Democrats Announce Intention to Filibuster Gorsuch

by David French

On Twitter, earlier today:

From the article:

Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s pick to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, faced a critical blow on Thursday as Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he would join with other Democrats in attempting to filibuster the nomination — a move that could complicate his confirmation and lead to a total revamp of how the U.S. Senate conducts its business.

Let’s put it this way. If the Democrats filibuster a man as qualified as Neil Gorsuch, then the Republicans would be foolish not to exercise the nuclear option — especially when you evaluate the Democrats specious reasons for taking this extraordinary step:

In a Senate floor speech, Schumer said that Gorsuch “was unable to sufficiently convince me that he’d be an independent check” on Trump. He said later that the judge is “not a neutral legal mind but someone with a deep-seated conservative ideology. He was groomed by the Federalist Society and has shown not one inch of difference between his views and theirs.”

Wait just a minute . . . didn’t the Democrats in the judiciary committee just spend the last two days hammering Judge Gorsuch in part for his skepticism of executive branch power and his resistance to executive branch authoritarianism? Senate Democrats had wrapped both arms around the so-called Chevron doctrine, which mandates that courts grant great discretion to agency legal determinations. News flash: These agencies are now part of the Trump administration. 

Moreover, if the Federalist Society is out of bounds for GOP nominees, I suppose affiliation with liberal academic or advocacy groups will doom future Democrats?

But no one should be fooled. This isn’t about principles; it’s about power. The Democrats are still seething at the GOP’s raw exercise of power in blocking Merrick Garland’s nomination, and now the Democrats are responding with their own power play. While Democrats claim that Gorsuch didn’t answer questions with “any substance,” they know good and well that Gorsuch’s hearing was informative enough. He didn’t get into specifics of individual cases or issues, but he outlined his judicial philosophy at great length. Democrats don’t like that philosophy, so they don’t like Gorsuch. It’s that simple.

It remains to be seen whether Schumer can keep enough of his caucus in line to make good on his threats. If he can, the ball moves to McConnell’s court. Will the majority leader allow the Democrats to block one of the most-qualified jurists in the United States? Don’t bet on it. 

Hate Crimes Hoaxes Strike Again, Anti-Semitic Bomb Threats Edition

by Dan McLaughlin

If you follow the news with any diligence beyond reading the loudest early headlines and social-media clickbait, you are wearyingly familiar with the pattern of heavily-hyped “hate crimes” (ranging from violent crimes to nasty notes on restaurant receipts) that turn out to be “false flag” hoaxes, frequently perpetrated by the very sorts of left-leaning folks who make the stories go viral in the first place. Kevin Williamson wrote about the pattern, with a sampling of the extensive examples, only a few weeks ago. A website collecting media reports of false hate crimes reports (which includes both hoaxes and accidents first reported as hate crimes) currently lists dozens of publicly reported examples just since Election Day 2016. (This is distinct from the related and extensive phenomenon of immediate media reports blaming mass shootings and attacks erroneously on right-wingers).

One of the more sensational recent examples was left-wing journalist Juan Thompson, arrested and charged with making hoax bomb threats to at least eight Jewish Community Centers. Now, news comes today of an arrest in Israel pointing to a much more extensive pattern of hoaxes, with the same target:

The police on Thursday arrested an Israeli teenager who holds American citizenship in connection with waves of threats to Jewish institutions, including community centers in the United States, law enforcement officials said. A spokesman for the police here….said the suspect, from the Ashkelon area of southern Israel, had also made threats to institutions in Australia and New Zealand, as well as to at least one commercial airline flight, forcing an emergency landing…The authorities did not immediately identify the teenager, who they said was Jewish and in his late teens. His motives were not immediately clear…The arrest appeared to be a turning point after months of investigation and waves of turmoil and panic as Jewish community centers across the United States reported more than 100 bomb threats since the beginning of the year….The wide-ranging, multinational inquiry was hampered by what the authorities described as the suspect’s use of “advanced camouflage technologies” to try to mask the communications, which he made through the internet. The technology shielded the caller’s identity and also disguised the voice that threatened carnage.

Incidents of actual anti-Semitic threats and violence are a real problem. They are also not new, as the available data suggests, but when Obama was president, they were not seen as newsworthy:

There were 1,211 antisemitic incidents in Obama’s first year in office. This was after four straight years of declining antisemitism. For instance, in 2008, there were 1,352 incidents. Attacks had peaked in 2004 with 1,821.

Over the years, the number of incidents continued to decline. After an initial uptick to 1,239 in 2010, they declined to 751 in 2013. They began to rise again to 914 in 2015, the last year for which we have data. When we tally the total number of incidents between 2009 and 2015, the overall number of attacks reaches more than 7,000. However, the number of assaults increased, almost doubling during the Obama administration.

Overall, there was an average of 84 incidents a month under the Obama administration. Let’s step back for a moment and compare that to the 95 incidents between January and February 2017 [based on a tally of media reports]. That’s a 10% increase. It could be more once all the data comes in. But the media haven’t been telling us there is a slight increase; the narrative has been that there is an antisemitic wave sweeping the US. 

President Trump has, in fact, been more than a little reluctant to denounce this stuff in the past, which is why it was a big deal that he opened his State of the Union Address by doing so. It’s a positive sign that law enforcement is serious about capturing the perpetrators, both fake and real. Hate crimes hoaxes, such as bomb threats directed at innocent third parties, can do just as much damage as the real thing, and should be prosecuted as such.

But as Kevin noted, the main motivation behind the drumbeat of media coverage and social-media sharing is not to target hate crimes themselves, or even to advance policies designed to stop them, but rather to use them to discredit conservatives by tenuous association. As David Bernstein has observed, the organized anti-anti-Semitism groups in the U.S. have very specific incentives to blame anti-Semitic incidents on the Right:

When Greenblatt took over the ADL from the long-serving Abraham Foxman, he announced that the younger generation among ADL’s primary constituency, liberal, secular Jews, was no longer terribly interested in the issue of anti-Semitism, and instead wanted the ADL to focus on oppression more generally. The enthusiasm and fund-raising dollars were in supporting Black Lives Matter and transgender rights, not worrying about anti-Semitism on college campuses. One strongly suspects that this is because the threat of anti-Semitism was seen primarily as coming from the anti-Israel left. Trump created a wonderful entrepreneurial opportunity for the ADL to focus on what is naturally its core issue, anti-Semitism…by focusing on the threat from the right. The ADL’s reticent donors are no longer reticent in the age of Trump, with the media reporting that donations have been pouring in since Trump’s victory….

Another group that has had a strong incentive to exaggerate the present threat of right-wing anti-Semitism is Jewish progressive activists. For the past decade or so, leftist Jews have increasingly found themselves excluded from progressive coalitions that not only take very harsh anti-Israel lines, but also have refused to take seriously anti-Semitism in their midst, suggesting that allegations of such anti-Semitism are mere covers for the “privilege” of “white Zionists.” So long as the problem of American anti-Semitism was largely associated with anti-Zionism and far-left politics more generally, Jews were not permitted to be part of a coalition of the marginalized.

Those motivations themselves often creates the temptation to generate hoaxes. One hopes, in vain, that the latest arrest leads to even a little humility and reflection on the part of those who use media reports of hate crimes for that purpose.

Mike Lee’s Obamacare Bombshell

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Last night Phil Klein had a report that is much more significant than I think a lot of people have realized:

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said on Wednesday that the Senate parliamentarian has told him that it may be possible for Republicans to push harder on repealing Obamacare’s regulations than the current House bill, which contradicts the assertion by House leadership that the legislation goes after Obamacare as aggressively as possible under Senate rules. . . .

Lee also said that the parliamentarian told him it wasn’t until very recently, after the unveiling of the House bill, that any Republican even asked her about the possibility of repealing regulations with a simple majority.

Lee’s statement was followed by, and probably contributed to, last-minute efforts by the House leadership to tweak its health-care bill to win a vote scheduled for today. But if Lee is right, then what’s called for is stopping this process and starting over.

The central defect of the bill is that it leaves too many Obamacare regulations in place. That’s why conservatives rightly say that it falls short of repealing and replacing Obamacare. It’s why it doesn’t do much to lower premiums. If it did more to reduce those premiums, it would make coverage more attractive to people and more people would get covered. Even the Congressional Budget Office, as dubious as some of its assumptions are, acknowledges this point.

House Republican leaders have asserted repeatedly that the bill is carefully designed to go as far as it can to tackle regulations while staying within Senate rules that shield it from a filibuster. The Senate parliamentarian, they said, would allow most regulatory provisions to be filibustered; if the bill had too many such provisions, Democrats could use a filibuster to keep the bill from even being taken up in the Senate. But, they added, many of the regulatory features of Obamacare that Republicans want to change could be addressed by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and by further legislation that would win enough Democratic support to overcome filibusters.

If Lee is right, though, none of this is true. Republicans can change or eliminate more of Obamacare’s regulations with a simple-majority vote. They don’t have to wait for a second and third stage of policy change to make needed reforms. They can write a bill that would do more to lower premiums, get a better CBO score on coverage, and do more to repeal Obamacare than their current one.

But they can’t do it on the fly. They will have to figure out just how much freedom the Senate majority has to change regulations and then what regulatory changes both make sense and can win over a majority of both chambers. They ought to take the time to do that.

London Attacker Khalid Masood Tied to Islamic Extremism; Killed Four, Injured Over 40 (UPDATED)

by NR Staff

1:05 p.m.: Yesterday’s attacker has been identified by British authorities as 52 year old Khalid Masood, who was born in the United Kingdom. He was an ex-convict known to MI5 but was deemed a “peripheral figure” in radical Islam; however, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack and called Masood a “soldier of the Islamic State.”

Masood was previously convicted on non-terrorism crimes including grievous bodily harm and possession of a knife. He was living in Birmingham before renting an SUV in order to carry out the attack. According to the New York Times, the investigation is now searching for anyone else who may have been involved:

The British authorities raided six properties across the country on Thursday, detaining eight people in London and in Birmingham, in central England, as they pressed ahead with a fast-moving investigation.

British authorities do not expect other attacks, and they also had no prior leads on this attack. This has led to Masood being characterized as a “lone wolf,” although he was known to British counterintelligence.

Before being shot and killed by the British defense minister’s protection officer, Masood killed three and injured over 40, including three French schoolchildren and people from America, South Korea, Ireland, Greece, Germany, Italy, Romania, and China.

6:07 p.m.: U.K. prime minister Theresa May called upon her countrymen to carry on as normal in a short speech following the terrorist attack in London today:

She praised police officers, expressed sympathy for the victims and their families, and near the end, declared that attempts to change the British way of life are in vain:

These streets of Westminster — home to the world’s oldest parliament — are engrained with a spirit of freedom that echoes in some of the furthest corners of the globe. And the values our Parliament represents — democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law — command the admiration and respect of free people everywhere. That is why it is a target for those who reject those values. But let me make it clear today, as I have had cause to do before: Any attempt to defeat those values through violence and terror is doomed to failure. Tomorrow morning, Parliament will meet as normal. We will come together as normal. And Londoners — and others from around the world who have come here to visit this great City — will get up and go about their day as normal.

Her statement affirmed that the officer and assailant were indeed killed after the attacker exited his vehicle, with which he had already killed two pedestrians. (Three other officers were wounded.) She offered no new information, and speculation about the identity of the attacker has so far been inconclusive.

2:27 p.m. U.K. police have confirmed four dead in what they are calling a “terror incident” outside the Houses of Parliament. One of those dead is the suspected attacker. He also injured over 20. He hit pedestrians with his car before crashing into a barricade outside Parliament, when he exited his car and killed a police officer with a knife.

Reports that there were two assailants appear to have been false. This photo from the AP shows the suspected attacker on a stretcher:

One example of heroism in this frightful attack came from British foreign minister Tobias Ellwood, who tried to save the stabbed officer. The Telegraph reports:

The Tory MP attempted to give the officer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and stemmed the blood flow by applying pressure to the wounds.

Mr Ellwood – himself a former soldier – remained with the injured officer waiting for the air ambulance to arrive, which landed in Parliament Square.

Tragically, this is not entirely new for Ellwood. His brother Jon was killed in the Bali terror attack in 2002, which killed 27 Britons and 202 in total.  

1:49 p.m. The BBC reports:

[The BBC's Daniel Sandford] says eye-witness reports have referred to a “bald white man” and a “black man with goatee beard” in association with the incident.

It is possible, although he stresses this is not confirmed, that both may have been in the car when it was driven at “high speed” down Westminster Bridge – knocking down an estimated eight people.

The car, Daniel Sandford adds, crashed into the parliamentary railings soon after.

Also, the BBC reports that the officer who was stabbed in the incident has died. This is in addition to the woman who was originally confirmed dead. The officer was given emergency medical care at the scene.

Police are gearing up to make a new statement any minute.

1:23 p.m.: Sky News is reporting that two are dead, but CNN and others have not confirmed a second death.

One woman went into the river and was injured, and the BBC reports that she has been rescued:

The Port of London Authority has confirmed that a seriously injured woman has been recovered from the Thames river.

Spoken Martin Garside said: “A female member of the public was recovered alive from the water, but with serious injuries.

“She has been brought ashore and is undergoing urgent medical treatment. The working assumption is that she fell or jumped from the bridge”.

He added that the river is completely closed to vessels between Vauxhall Bridge and the Embankment.

The driver crossed the Westminster Bridge, and this woman may have leapt from the bridge to avoid his car.

Bloomberg has aerial footage of the area, including the bridge and Parliament, and they provide some background about the incident and the security there.

1:01 p.m.Chambers of Parliament are in lockdown after an attack in London where a man driving a Hyundai drove into pedestrians, killing at least one, and then stabbed a police officer. The attacker was then shot by police.

Scotland Yard commander B.J. Harrington addressed reporters moments ago to confirm that a full counter-terrorism investigation is underway. He also confirmed that the attacker had a knife, and that officers with firearms engaged him. He stressed repeatedly that he would not speculate further.

He also named various parts of London that people should avoid. “This is to allow emergency services to deal with the incident,” he said. He also asked anyone with images or film of the incident to share them immediately.

Security is ramping up all over the city, especially where there are government officials. We will update the Corner as the story develops.