The Narrowing of the Operation

It is tough to know what to make of the public response to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. On the one hand, we want to assume that the opponents of this law are acting in good faith and that they oppose this law because they genuinely believe that it could result in a rising tide of discrimination in the Hoosier State. On the other hand, this is obviously—really, obviously—an absurdly false characterization of what the law is meant to accomplish. As Gabriel Malor explained a few days ago, Indiana’s RFRA “can’t be used affirmatively to try and deprive others of the protections of law;” rather, the law will be cited as a religious-rights defense “against lawsuits or administrative action.”

This easily-obtainable and easy-to-understand information has not stopped the lies from being circulated—and make no mistake, they are lies, propagated by people who are invested in lies being taken seriously. The confusion has been widely disseminated; with all the lies being peddled, it is in a sense understandable why nearly everyone is freaking out about a run-of-the-mill ho-hum religious freedom law. Even Fox News couldn’t quite figure things out:

[S]tate lawmakers and Republican Gov. Mike Pence have been defending and trying to explain the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ever since the governor signed it into law on Thursday. They note that then-President Bill Clinton in 1993 signed similar federal legislation into law, and 19 other states also have similar policies.

However, the Indiana law differs in several ways, primarily in that it allows a business to assert a right to “the free exercise of religion.”

For practical purposes, of course, the term “business” in this case is interchangeable with the term “person.” Because businesses are run and embodied by people, affirming a “business’s” free exercise of religion is simply another way of affirming the business owner’s free exercise of religion. That is to say, a business owner’s right to practice his religion does not simply cease to exist because he runs a storefront. With that in mind, it’s patently ridiculous to claim that the Indiana law “differs” from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act in this respect: the federal RFRA, after all, was just last year found to allow Hobby Lobby—a business—to freely exercise its religious beliefs in regards to contraception coverage. Indiana’s RFRA is in this regard neither outrageous nor novel; people are freaking out over the religious liberty guarantees in a state’s RFRA while the nationwide version pretty much guarantees the same thing. (As an aside, the exact term “free exercise of religion” appears nowhere in the bill itself; it’s a mystery as to why Fox News couched the phrase in quotes. The Atlantic did the same thing for similarly unknowable reasons.)

Everybody, it seems, is getting in on the hysteria. Virginia’s interminable governor Terry McAuliffe, for instance, has launched a campaign to “woo” Indiana businesses to come to the Old Dominion:

McAuliffe’s office issued an open letter to Indiana corporations Monday saying Virginia is a business-friendly state that does “not discriminate against our friends and neighbors…”

In his letter, McAuliffe touted his record of promoting equal rights and preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

This is pathetic and transparent and political and entirely dishonest. McAuliffe is governor of Virginia, remember, a state that has not only its own RFRA, but has the RFRA, the original number: Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom, passed in 1786,  still part of the Virginia code, and upheld by the Virginia General Assembly as among “the natural rights of mankind.” This is a law that declares that no man “shall be enforced, restrained, molested or burthened, in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.” When it comes to religious freedom, you cannot get more revolutionary or more elemental than Jefferson’s excellent statute. McAuliffe, in other words, is clumsily trying to lure Indiana businesses to a state with a religious freedom law more sweeping and radical than Indianas. Of all the things Indiana’s new law has done, it has served wonderfully to expose the ignorant and the uninformed among us.

The Distorted Agronomy Economy

The USDA has about as many problems as a federal agency can possibly have, but nevertheless it’s still nice to see the department trying to tackle corrupt and wasteful expenditures emanating from its largesse:

The government is revising its definition of what it means to farm, meaning some people who receive farm subsidies but don’t do any of the work would receive less government cash.

Congress charged the Agriculture Department last year with creating a new definition for what it means to be “actively engaged” in farming, the criteria to receive some subsidies. USDA proposed Tuesday that farms must document that their managers put in 500 hours of substantial management work annually or 25 percent of the time necessary for the success of the farming operation to qualify.

“We want to make sure that farm program payments are going to the farmers and farm families that they are intended to help,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

That’s great—but then again a still more important consideration is why “farm subsidies” exist in the first place, and why we’re forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for private industry. As I wrote recently at the Federalist, if you can’t farm without requiring a great deal of cash from the government, then—honestly—why are you farming in the first place?

American agriculture is such an odd breed of beast: politically it is expedient to sing the praises of the American farmer, and yet evidently many of our farmers are unable to farm any way except badly. “Agriculture is a very important industry” is a great thing for a politician to say, but it’s never followed up with the obvious question: “Why the hell are so many of our farmers so careless about farming that they need government money to survive?”

There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way to make American agriculture better. One way is to stop paying industrial farmers to grow industrial junk. Yet still another way is to ensure that government regulations do not interfere too heavily in the agricultural market; these regulations almost inevitably create a negative effect. Take California’s recent egg industry mandate:

As a result of the proposition, which required eggs in California to come from egg-laying hens that have enough room to stand up, lie down, turn around, and fully extend their wings, egg prices throughout the state have skyrocketed — a change which dealt a heavy blow to consumers.

“After Proposition 2, the prices of eggs went up and I heard nothing but comments from people on campus about the costs,” said Turlock High School FFA advisor Joe DiGrazia. “The price of a dozen eggs went so high and people were frustrated that they have never had to pay this amount before.”

“So I imagine a lot of people thought—if they have to—they’ll just raise their own eggs,” continued DiGrazia.

Backyard chicken farming is among the best, most environmentally-friendly and healthy alternatives to industrial agriculture—and yet this is not the way to bring people around to the idea. In this case, the only reason people decided to “raise their own eggs” was because they were angry and fed up with high egg prices brought about from government regulation. In other words, they’ve been forced to turn to backyard chickens out of artificial necessity. No good will come of this: jacking up the price of commercial eggs will simply make people sullen, unhappy and only reluctantly willing to adopt more eco-friendly modes of farming, and they’ll likely—and understandably—drop such habits at the first opportunity. In the battle to save American agriculture from itself, the best weapons are words and ideas, not vain and high-minded California-style regulatory folderol.

The Wrong End of the Telescope

I do not like Ted Cruz very much, though I think he wouldn’t be the worst president in the world; there is just something about him that rubs me the wrong way. He does have a strong flair for the theatrics, which works in his favor—but sometimes he gets it wrong:

Today, the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers. It used to be [that] it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.

Er, not quite, or rather not at all: Galileo wasn’t “branded” over flat-eartherism but Copernicusism—just a minor difference, no big deal. That being said, Cruz appears to be correct regarding “global warming alarmists:” in spite of the mounting evidence against climate change alarmism, climate activists just keep growing more and more frenetic about the whole thing. FactCheck, however, disagrees with Cruz:

Whether he meant flat-Earthers or geocentrists, Cruz is wrong to compare those he casts as “global warming alarmists” to those who denied science. Galileo used the most modern of scientific technology and techniques, which he himself helped develop, assessed the available evidence, and came to conclusions about the world. Modern science, including climate science, is engaged in exactly that process today.

This is lazy and nakedly partisan even by FactCheck’s dismal standards. From a purely technical perspective, within the disputed quote Cruz didn’t say anything about “climate science;” he cited “global warming alarmists,” which can be and often are distinct from the field of climate science. That being said, there’s evidence that the science itself has become corrupted by an anti-scientific activist mindset; the field has an absolutely dismal record when it comes to its own predictions, and there is increasingly less and less evidence to suggest that we are on the verge of a serious environmental crisis. Yet climate scientists continue to insist that we need to prepare for global warming Armageddon; we just need to trust that they’ve got their predictions right this time. FactCheck insists that climate science is using “technology and techniques” in a responsible and unbiased manner in order to “come to conclusions about the world,” but there is reason to believe that this is, in many cases, untrue. Cruz may get his history wrong, but he’s entirely correct to be suspicious of global warmism, and it’s FactCheck that ends up looking like the dupe.

Get Used To It

The news that Ted Cruz is going on Obamacare has inspired a predictable amount of delight from the Left. I feel sorry for Cruz myself, and indeed for anyone who has to deal with this expensive and byzantine mess. All of the horror stories about Obamacare you’ve heard are true: it’s clunky, it’s confusing, it’s very expensive and it’s obviously, manifestly, not an improvement but a regression. And though I am an optimist at heart, I sometimes feel like I agree with the liberal policy wonks and the smug political prognosticators: Obamacare is here to stay. It may require an ongoing series of extrajudicial “fixes,” it may be necessary to constantly move back deadlines and requirements and mandates, it may charge you more for health insurance and deliver less in return; but it is here, and part of me believes it is not going anywhere.

Anyway, in light of Ted Cruz’s capitulation to the exchange, I see Jamelle Bouie has graciously allowed that Cruz isn’t a “hypocrite” for doing so. That being said, Bouie declares that Cruz’s signing up for Obamacare is “funny,” and declares that the senator suffers from a deficit of “empathy” in regards to the Affordable Care Act:

Having found himself in the same bad situation as millions of less fortunate Americans, one would hope that Cruz would now see the value of something like Obamacare, which puts a higher floor on material deprivation. Instead, the best odds are for Cruz to take a page from Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner. “In his successful 2014 campaign for Senate,” writes Bloomberg’s David Weigel, “Gardner repeatedly talked about the family plan he’d held onto until it was scrapped for not meeting the ACA’s standards.” Indeed, he turned it into a TV spot. “I got a letter saying that my family’s plan was canceled,” said Gardner in the ad. “Three hundred and thirty-five thousand Coloradans had their plans canceled, too.”

Cruz still wants to end the law, and if he’s as theatrical as he seems, expect his Obamacare problems—real, imagined, or exaggerated—to make their way to a stump speech near you.

Note that the anticipated problems that Cruz may have with Obamacare are already deemed as either potentially “exaggerated” or even false; furthermore, these problems are dismissed as “stump speech” fodder. This has been the reflexive liberal position for a few years now: in general, assume that any issues people have with Obamacare are either fake over overblown. Bouie also quotes David Weigel, who cites Cory Gardner’s campaign ad in pointing out that hundreds of thousands of Colorodans lost their health insurance due to Obamacare. So over a quarter of a million people in Colorado alone have been at the very least inconvenienced and hassled because of the Affordable Care Act—and yet Bouie still advises us to assume that Cruz’s problems with this awful law will probably be “imagined” or “exaggerated.” Talk about empathy.

For those of us who have actually dealt with Obamacare, we know its problems are quite myriad: it’s expensive, it’s confusing, the tax credit system is a mess, the coverage is not good, and many, many of us have had our plans cancelled even though they were perfectly acceptable and we could afford them quite easily (and we were assured, repeatedly, over and over again, that we could keep them!). The management of this law has been a disaster from day one; it’s perfectly fair to assume it will continue to be a disaster down the road. This is how health insurance is now done in the United States; it’s low-quality and frustrating and mandatory, and we have to deal with a pundit class scolding us for not liking it enough. Thanks, Obamacare.

A Rough Start

At the Federalist you can find my latest: “Can Scott Walker Be Trusted, Or Will He Always Cave to Bullies?” Walker, of course, is the Wisconsin governor who once stood up to an army of union activists, reformed a broken public sector and survived a punitive recall effort; with those kinds of credentials, he’s not a candidate to be taken lightly. Yet the recent dust-up over the outspoken Liz Mair—an aide who was removed from his campaign solely because she voiced some garden-variety opinions on the Iowa caucuses—shows a troubling side of the man, in which he’s perfectly willing to kowtow to a small segment of influential voters when it suits him politically. So much for the great reformer. His justification for Liz Mair leaving his campaign was that “you need to respect the voters.” Given the dim view he apparently takes of our intelligence, he should try following his own advice.

They’ll Decide What’s Important

Yesterday the Times-Dispatch ran a little exposé on the “notorious incidents” we’ve seen at college fraternities across the country—the racist chants, the bizarre and violent initiation rites, the creepy secret Facebook groups. I never had any interest in frats while in college; I found them to be both boring and pointless and also hopelessly un-self-aware (I think literally every frat brother I ever met assured me his frat was “not like other frats”).  I guess they do something for other guys, but I never got the point, so I find myself terminally uninterested in what happens to these guys and their sordid little traditions. That being said, the Times-Dispatch does its readers a great and probably deliberate disservice in this article by glossing over the smear job suffered by the University of Virginia’s Phi Kappa Psi:

The University of Virginia in January implemented new operating agreements for fraternal groups to counter what some student leaders acknowledged was a culture of rape and alcohol.

Among the changes are bans on serving drinks from trash cans and a requirement that sober fraternity members be stationed as monitors at stairs leading to residential rooms.

No. It was not “some student leaders” that “acknowledged” a “culture of rape and alcohol” on grounds: it was one of the most prominent magazines in the country, along with a hack and agenda-driven reporter, that specifically accused Phi Psi of a brutal and almost unforgivable crime. Rolling Stone and Sabrina Rubin Erdely thoroughly slandered the fraternity and the university in print on the flimsiest and most unsubstantiated evidence, taking advantage of a number of ingrained prejudices against frats and refusing to practice real journalism in favor of a shoddy ideological gotcha piece. Only after a few people began asking questions did the whole story unravel. That the Times-Dispatch would gloss so neatly over this mess, in a couple of brief paragraphs, is rather shameful: it is wholly irresponsible to mention UVA’s “culture of rape and alcohol” without pointing out that one of its premier examples might be totally false.

Later today the Charlottesville police department will announce the results of their investigation into the alleged sexual assault case. It could be that they find the fraternity guilty of that which they’ve been accused, and that Rolling Stone was right on the merits if disastrously wrong on the methods. Nevertheless, it is troubling to see the Times-Dispatch engage in such willful disregard of the crucial facts of a story. That’s what Rolling Stone did—and we all saw how that worked out.

UPDATE: The Charlottesville Police Department announced today that they found “no evidence corroborating” the crimes described in Rolling Stone.

Vote of No Confidence

I’m normally impressed by Snopes, the website that makes an art out of debunking urban legends—the Mikkelsons are both excellent writers and fairly exhaustive researchers—but I have to say, their recent investigation into President Obama’s “mandatory voting” comment strikes me as a little bit desperate. Responding to some claims on Twitter that “Obama wants a constitutional amendment to make voting mandatory,” Barbara writes:

Although he suggested that adopting mandatory voting rules could be a feasible “short-term” solution to the problem of money in politics, President Obama stopped short of actually calling for a proposing a constitutional amendment to bring that about, saying only that in the long-term it would be “fun” to go through the extensive process of adopting a constitutional amendment.

They’re technically correct about Obama “stopping short,” but nevertheless they’re missing the larger and more controversial point, which is that Obama called for mandatory voting at all. Cherry-picking a few tweets about “constitutional amendments” in order to try and disprove Obama’s intentions is intellectually dishonest. And to tell the truth, as a practical matter the tweeters are correct: in calling for mandatory voting, Obama was unquestionably—really, inevitably—calling for a constitutional amendment: as Lyle Denniston pointed out a few years ago (and we might suppose him to know what he’s talking about): “A nationwide move to force Americans to vote, using whatever mechanism was available to enforce the requirement, would violate the Constitution as it exists today.” To demand mandatory voting is to demand an amended Constitution. Get with it, Snopes.

As a denouement to this disappointing article, the writer cites Ruth Marcus to show how unlikely it is that mandatory voting will come to pass in this country:

The United States is not about to go the way of Australia. The same partisan forces that agitate for voter ID laws or less opportunity for early voting hours would block any change on the assumption that it would work to their electoral disadvantage.

Maybe so—but then again, Obama himself made the exact same argument in the other direction:

“The people who tend not to vote are young, they’re lower income, they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups…There’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls.”

So by his own admission, the President wants to make voting mandatory in order to force a Democratic-friendly demographic to the polls. This is not noble or high-minded; it’s dirty and cynical and opportunistic. And they want to make it mandatory for us to vote for these people?

Bad Semantics and Bad Science

It’s a wonder to me that any conservative politician would ever consider going on a late-night talk show for any reason; with very few exceptions, the format is almost entirely hostile to conservative thought and conservatives in general, to say nothing of Republicans. So I have little sympathy for Ted Cruz, who according to Salon was—wait for it—“mercilessly skewered” by Seth Meyers on a recent appearance on the latter’s television show. Well, those are the breaks, Teddy—though even by Salon standards, the skewering was not all that merciless:

“First, I got excited, because I thought maybe you were coming around on global warming, but that’s not the case, right?” Meyers said. “Because I think the world’s on fire, literally — hottest year on record — but you’re not there, right?”

Meyers, of course, doesn’t mean literally literally: he means figuratively literally, which is to say not at all. So the world’s not actually on fire, but what about this “hottest year on record” business? Well, that, too, is an intellectually dishonest statement to make: the very scientists who issued that claim in the first place later walked it back, claiming that they were only “38 percent sure” that the figure was right, and even then the margin of error was several times larger than the only-slightly-more-than-one-third-certain temperature increase. Seth Meyers, in other words, comes off looking like a lazy hack who can’t get his facts right. But hey, let’s keep on pretending Cruz was the one who was “skewered;” it makes for better ratings.

Goodnight, Seattle, We Love You

I see that, on schedule and as predicted, the hard realities of progressive politics are coming to bear in Seattle:

Seattle’s $15 minimum wage law goes into effect on April 1, 2015. As that date approaches, restaurants across the city are making the financial decision to close shop. The Washington Policy Center writes that “closings have occurred across the city, from Grub in the upscale Queen Anne Hill neighborhood, to Little Uncle in gritty Pioneer Square, to the Boat Street Cafe on Western Avenue near the waterfront.”

Of course, restaurants close for a variety of reasons. But, according to Seattle Magazine, the “impending minimum wage hike to $15 per hour” is playing a “major factor.” That’s not surprising, considering “about 36% of restaurant earnings go to paying labor costs.” Seattle Magazine,

“Washington Restaurant Association’s Anthony Anton puts it this way: “It’s not a political problem; it’s a math problem.”

Actually, it’s both. In one sense this is bitterly satisfying, in that the long-ignored warnings are now coming to pass: it’s been resoundingly proven that, once again, the Left does not get it, that they can’t quite grasp that there are certain things they lack the ability to understand, that economic facts do not change simply because a bunch of politicians held a vote somewhere. Day in and day out, liberal sentiment meets reality—and reality always wins, and it always looks like Seattle.

Political vindication aside, Seattle’s plight is, in the end, depressing and upsetting: it’s a kind of citywide tragedy played out at the individual level. These are real people, after all—real restaurant owners, managers, waiters and waitresses, hosts and hostesses, busboys—who will now be out of a job because a bunch of politicians wanted to feel good about themselves. Many of them have children; many have mortgages; most are probably quite scared at what’s to come next. The transition may be fairly difficult and painful, and its effects could be long-lasting. Losing a job, let alone a restaurant one owns, is no joke. It’s not quite that progressives don’t care about these unfortunate souls; it’s that, at the end of the day, they believe that such government-mandated suffering is an acceptable outcome of their preferred policies. It’s tolerable, they feel, if a bunch of restaurants close, people lose their jobs, and prices go up everywhere else—so long as the remaining employed people get a wage that’s acceptable to the progressive ego, in order for progressives to feel good about themselves. Seattle’s plight is once again a reminder that, no matter the platitudes, the primary beneficiaries of liberal politics are liberals themselves.

Obsession Is a Young Woman’s Game

Last year the Federalist ran one of my pieces entitled “Bring Back the Welfare Stigma;” regular readers of Trial of the Century will know that this piece, seven months later, still continues to make liberals angry.  I suppose that’s a sign that I’m doing my job right, though seriously, liberals—I’ve written some really reactionary stuff since then. I have a whole catalog you can freak out about!

Anyway, at the time, the anti-stigma backlash was kind of spearheaded by a gal named Elizabeth Bruenig, a lefty Christian writer who appeared to have a genuine meltdown over the article. She’s since moved on to become a writer at the New Republic, which is great for her and for TNR—they need all the help they can get these days—and I see she’s still styling herself as a juggernaut progressive crusader, judging from Kevin Williamson’s excellent post at the NRO Corner, in which he asks:

Who in hell elected Elizabeth Bruenig of Arlington, Brandeis, Brown, Cambridge, etc., a privately educated suburban girl raised by highly educated, married, churchgoing parents, whose life’s lamentations include that she wasn’t asked to the prom, Speaker for the Poor?

She elected herself, and with 100% of the vote! Actually, I’m not interested in talking today about Bruenig’s self-awarded Poverty Speakership; I’m interested in talking about another one of her obsessions—me, as in Daniel Payne, your ob’t svt and blogger.

About half a year before I wrote the welfare stigma piece, the Federalist ran another one of my pieces, a longer one entitled “Strip Club Ennui.” You might have guessed that it’s about strip clubs, and you’d be right:  it details the miserable experience I had going to a strip joint in Las Vegas as part of a bachelor party. Strip clubs are not fun—they are dreary, depressing, boring places—and after going to one I thought it would be worthwhile to write about it. I like that piece a great deal; it’s aggressively prudish, which is to say it’s very much representative of me, and it inspired an indignant pro-strip-joint response from some dim and forgotten corners of the Internet, which was a pretty interesting and oddly touching thing to witness. Most of it was written while I was moping around a twelfth-floor hotel room at the MGM Grand, unhappy and fed up with the gaudy and expensive insanity of Las Vegas, a city that’s worth avoiding whenever you get the chance (the people I went to Vegas with were fun, so it wasn’t a total loss). Yes, I like that piece a lot—but not, it seems, as much as Elizabeth Bruenig, who has retweeted the piece a total of five times since its publication:

This is, to put it mildly, really weird.

For my readers not familiar with Twitter, it is generally not common practice for the same person to re-post the same exact article at roughly regular intervals over several months. To my knowledge it’s just not really done. Were Bruenig to be mocking different articles of mine, that would be something. But she’s not—it’s the same one, every time. The only reason I can think that she would do such a thing is that she’s kind of obsessively fixated on my strip joint essay, consumed by it like Ed Wynn with the grandfather clock in that excellent episode of the Twilight Zone. It appears that she thinks about it a good deal, and jumps on the chance to share it whenever the chance arises. It’s frankly bizarre, and I’m not sure what to make of it.

Her criticisms of the article are likewise very strange: apparently I “talked trash” about strippers (I did not, and I’m not even sure what that means) so that I could “enjoy them” (I plainly did not enjoy them) while at the same time “hating them” (I did not hate them; there is no evidence, either explicit or implicit, that I hated the strippers). Nor did I “sneer” at the strippers. Many if not most of the women I met and spoke to that night were friendly, sometimes funny, and apparently intelligent; even if I were the type to “sneer” at people, there was nothing to sneer at. I wrote the article simply to show how unhappy and unpleasant the strip club experience is; it appears that, in the months and months that Bruenig has apparently been fixated on this article, she has invented an entire narrative around it, and around me.

What do you say to someone like this? I don’t know. As I said, I like that piece; it was almost worth it to attend the strip joint given that I got the essay out of it. That being said, I didn’t like it enough to personally tweet it five times; that would be kind of weird. But I don’t have to tweet it that much; Bruenig has taken care of that. I can’t really complain—it gives me free publicity, and perhaps it will trick my editors at the Federalist into thinking I’m a better writer than I actually am. But it’s also kind of like having an obsessive and fanatical fan who imbues your work with more significance than even you yourself do: it’s not flattering, just kind of awkward and pitiable. Whatever else it got out of the deal, the New Republic certainly hired someone with a startling amount of tenacity, and a strong immunity to shame.