Baylen Linnekin asked several food policy wonks what they thought were last year’s and next year’s biggest food stories, and here is part of my reply:
The troubles at Chipotle (whose food I like and buy, despite its dumb anti-GMO stance) brought home two points: local and handmade and every other good thing bring real tradeoffs, and food hazards aren’t just the result of moral laxity fixable by replacing “them” with educated idealists like “us.”
My local paper, the Frederick News-Post, ran an editorial on Monday that 1) saw nothing especially wrong in the Environmental Protection Agency’s illegally expending tax money to stir up pressure on Congress to support a wider interpretation of EPA power; 2) claimed that the fuss over tax-paid lobbying was for lack of any substantive critique of EPA’s “WOTUS” (Waters of the United States) rule, although a majority of states have challenged that rule, the farm and rural landowner communities have been up in arms against it all year, and a federal appeals court has agreed to stay it.
So I wrote this letter in response, which ran today. There wasn’t space for me to dispute the FNP’s peculiar notion that to oppose the water rule as exceeding the EPA’s statutory authority is to encourage the “anti-science, climate change denial crowd,” which tends to reinforce my sense that “anti-science” and “climate denial” are turning into all-purpose epithets increasingly unhooked from any particular relationship to science or climate. (cross-posted at Free State Notes)
Few books of our own era would make it onto my desert island list; one is Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. While I’m late getting to Michael Lewis’s new profile of Wolfe, it’s reason enough to renew a Vanity Fair subscription, especially the priceless story of how Wolfe rewrote his dissertation on status jockeying among 1930s literary leftists after Yale turned it down as “tendentious” and “disparaging” to its oft-lionized subjects.
Early in my time at the Manhattan Institute, after Wolfe’s New York novel The Bonfire of the Vanities had made a gigantic popular success, I put together a roundtable on “Today and Tomorrow in Tom Wolfe’s New York” with Terry Teachout, Richard Vigilante, the late Walter Wriston, and others. MI published it as an envelope stuffer one-off with, if memory serves, a cover letter in which Wolfe himself mentioned observations the various participants had made, but in his own words. Not to say I was awe-struck at this, but for the next few days I wandered the streets of New York talking to the trees.
I’ve got a letter to the editor in today’s Washington Post. An excerpt:
The Dec. 11 Metro article “Baltimore eviction rate among highest in nation” reported on advocates’ efforts to change eviction procedures to allow Baltimore tenants to stay longer in rental housing even when they fail to pay their rent. One effect, of course, would be to make it even less attractive to offer and maintain rental properties in the hard-hit city.
Before going farther down such a road, it would help to review failures of existing Maryland housing policies….
And then I talk about Maryland lawmakers’ having enacted various legal changes to slow down foreclosures, and the unpleasant aftermath, a story told here. Why would a state want to go through a very similar wasteful, blight-encouraging exercise for rental property? (cross-posted from Free State Notes)
Yesterday the Supreme Court (ruling only on a narrow procedural issue, not the merits) gave the go-ahead to a suit challenging Maryland’s outlandish Congressional districting map, and three other pending merits cases indicate the Court’s renewed interest in redistricting and allied topics. I’ve got a post at Cato tying together the latest developments with my own work on redistricting reform in Maryland (earlier on which). Meanwhile, my colleague Ilya Shapiro counters the editors of USA Today on the just-argued case of whether population equality among districts should be based on numbers of persons, including such groups as children and non-citizens, or on numbers of persons eligible to vote, allowing him a rare chance to work the old term “rotten boroughs” from parliamentary history. More on the Evenwel oral argument from Ilya and from Andrew Grossman.
Gerrymandering is rife across the country, resulting in artificially drawn districts intended to protect or defeat certain incumbents, maximize one party’s share of power, or achieve other political goals. My own state of Maryland suffers from a famously awful Congressional gerrymander, including the notorious District 3, compared with a “broken-winged pterodactyl” or the blood splatters from a crime scene.
I’ve had a chance to do something about this problem over the past three months as co-chair of the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission, created by Gov. Larry Hogan in August to gather information and draft recommendations for a new and better way of doing things. Following public hearings, testimony from experts and considerable research, we filed our report with the governor on Tuesday.
Len Lazarick at Maryland Reporter sums up some of the key points. If enacted, our plan would make Maryland the only state in which elected legislators and the governor would no say at all — zero — in deciding who should sit on a line-drawing commission. Our plan follows several elements of California’s ground-breaking plan, including screening of volunteers and randomized pools, simplified and adapted to the circumstances of our smaller state. In addition to requiring congruence with county and city boundaries where possible, contiguity, and compactness, we would join a very few states in instructing the drafters of lines to ignore partisan indicators such as voter registration and past voting results, as well as the place of residence of incumbents or any other person.
Twenty-five years ago the Manhattan Institute, with which I was affiliated for many years, launched its extremely successful periodical City Journal. (Longtime editor Myron Magnet, now editor-at-large, has an account here of some of its triumphs.)
The town of Red Wing, Minnesota, has passed a resolution urging that assaults on police be made a hate crime, a position urged for some years by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) union. How bad an idea is this? A very bad one indeed, I argue in an op-ed for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
Critics argue that [existing hate-crime] laws in effect play favorites, departing from the spirit of equal protection under law that aims at treating all victims of personal assault as equally important.
Because they seem to put an official public seal on a narrative of oppression, such laws are also lobbied for in me-too fashion by other groups that rightly or wrongly see themselves as oppressed….
Not only are lethal assaults on police declining, I note, but the vast majority of them do not arise from any supposed prejudice or animus against cops, nor do such crimes go neglected and unprosecuted. Besides, most states already allow sentence enhancements on other grounds for crimes against police:
…what would [such a change in law] symbolize? The merely absurd proposition that police in the U.S. today are an oppressed minority group? Or the downright dangerous proposition that the law should step in to chastise and rectify the attitudes of a public that may not be as supportive of police wishes and demands as cop advocates would like?
The news that New York’s Gilbert & Sullivan Players have canceled a production of The Mikado because it was accused of purveying anti-Japanese stereotypes, and because there had been objections to Caucasian actors singing the parts, prompted me to write up a short piece in the new Weekly Standard on how the beloved operetta might be modernized for contemporary, social-justice-attuned ears:
So he decreed, in words succinct, That all who flirted, leered, or winked, Without consent-form double-inked, Should forthwith be beheaded…
Correspondent Corey Bean contributed a verse:
My object all sublime I shall erase the line — Between micro- aggressions and crime — Between mere offense and crime;
The company for now is going to switch to a production of The Pirates of Penzance. “So now pirate-shaming is supposed to be okay?” Read the whole thing here.
A bill called the First Amendment Defense Act, or FADA, with many Republican sponsors, would establish a new protected class in discrimination law, enabling what might develop into a major new sector of litigation. It would bestow on advocates of putative traditional family values — but not their opposite thinkers — new legal rights to sue over adverse government treatment of any kind, including the withholding of subsidies, government contracts or indeed any other public action. The protected status would even extend to acts taken as public employees and clothed with official force. It’s an extraordinarily one-sided, wildly impractical set of proposals whose theme, I argue at Newsweek, is not pluralist accommodation but merely to empower one side, when wielding public authority or tax moneys, to engage in a wide range of punitive and coercive measures against their culture war opponents. And that has less than nothing to do with the First Amendment.
Whole piece here. Dale Carpenter at Volokh Conspiracy has some kind words for my piece along with thoughts about the possible constitutional infirmities of the draft bill’s blatant enlistment of government power on behalf of one viewpoint and set of beliefs as against others; he also links to this Christianity Today piece by three leading religious liberty scholars, Richard Garnett, John Inazu, and Michael McConnell, who acknowledge some of the problems with FADA in present form while urging support for a less sweeping measure (“We think the best approach is to tailor FADA to the core area of concern: religious nonprofits.”)
P.S.: Stephen Bainbridge reprints a letter in which I link and summarize some of my recent writing on religious accommodation.