The media providing cover for Biden is no match for demographics

Far-left website Salon has an article today asking an obvious question: Why is the mainstream media so gentle with Joe Biden?

The two most important roles for journalists during political primary season are to cull the herd of the weakest candidates and take their best shots at the frontrunner, to test his or her readiness for the general election. That’s a public service for the political ecosystem.

So a profoundly weak frontrunner should be the ultimate in big game for our top political reporters.

Instead, mainstream journalists in the best positions to demand answers — during sit-down interviews and televised debates — have been remarkably gentle with Joe Biden.

They ask about his decision to authorize the war in Iraq, but not about the many documented times he has lied about why he made that decision, and when he first realized the war was a mistake.

They ask questions about his fitness for office, but let him off with glib answers about push-ups rather than assertively confronting him with examples of his consistent and troubling incoherence — even when he is in the process of giving them fresh examples.

They only lamely push back when he insists that he will be able to get Republican leaders to compromise with him — even when he cites examples that actually support the opposite conclusion.

They don’t press him on his support for the 2005 Bankruptcy Act, which made it much harder for individuals to file for bankruptcy and get out of debt, and made it impossible to discharge student debt. Does he acknowledge it had devastating effects on the middle class? Have his views changed? They don’t ask.

They don’t question him about his long history of attempting to cut Social Security, or ask him whether and when he stopped being a centrist deficit hawk.

They let him associate himself with Barack Obama, but don’t make him address the administration’s many failures and betrayals, such as the way Obama embraced Bushism on matters of national security, and embraced neoliberal economics. Would he appoint the same roster of people to run his foreign and domestic policy? What reason is there to believe he wouldn’t?

These top reporters don’t hesitate to grill Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, often with gotcha questions and Republican talking points.

So why are they so easy on Joe? I can only speculate.

I think part of it is that they’re a bit awestruck. (“Joe Biden commands a boardroom,” the New York Times editorial board wrote about its collective interview with him.)

Part of it is that when Biden answers questions about his fitness by saying “look at me,” our elite journalists are simply not rude or direct enough to say: “Yeah, we look at you, and what we see someone who often can’t complete a coherent thought.”

Maybe, like Biden’s fellow candidates — who have also failed to sufficiently confront him in their debates or take out negative ads — they are worried about blowback from Biden’s supporters.

Maybe they just can’t bring themselves to help Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Most likely, these journalists — the most elite of the journalistic elite — are just plain comfortable with Biden, and don’t feel remotely antagonistic, because he reflects their centrist, Washington cocktail-party ideology.

The article then goes on at length to evaluate Biden’s positions in these areas. It’s an interesting read, but chances are you already know the details (and even this article underestimates how sleazy the Biden clan is).

It’s possible that the media are soft on Biden because he and the aging Democratic establishment are effective at bullying the chattering class. You feel like you are watching satire seeing the Boomer anchors on network television talking about concerns about the Biden family’s corruption, among other things, as if they were merely conspiracy theories. You’ve never seen journalists so un-curious about some politician’s hell spawn getting a high-dollar no-show gig (in a former Soviet state, no less) since Chelsea Clinton got paid in the upper six figures for writing a couple paragraphs for NBC periodically. And Biden just carried on about how we shouldn’t discipline China on trade, but you’d have to be a conspiracy theorist to think that has anything to do with his son banking mondo pseudo-sovereign fund investments there.

Yet I think the important point here is that it kind of doesn’t matter if the mainstream media ask Biden a tough question or not. They can’t hide that he’s going senile. People see that in debates, where he can’t put together a coherent answer and even seems unsure about where he is at points. People see that on YouTube videos of his interactions with voters at town halls and other campaign events, which have attracted many millions of views. The guy would turn 82 during his first term in the White House and he already acts like he needs to be in assisted living. If he actually won, he’d most certainly be a one-term president (if he even made it that long), so his entire presidency would be one long Democratic primary. He’d be a lame duck from day one, and the real question is who would be pulling the strings in the background. Kamala Harris gets this, which is why she’s sucking up to him trying to be his No. 2. It’s a joke.

Beyond that, it doesn’t matter what lengths the media go to protect Biden because younger generations have now officially crowded out the Baby Boomer generation in terms of voting, and these voters favor far-left, socialist candidates. All the ridiculous game playing that has taken place in previous primaries to keep establishment Boomer voices in Washington is losing its power organically.

Take a look at these charts:

If you take Generation X out of the picture, Millennials and Generation Z were responsible for over a quarter of the votes cast in midterms. Baby Boomers had their highest turnout in the midterm election, and they were still outnumbered by younger generations.

I am not sure it is a given that Baby Boomers will necessarily support establishment candidates either. You have some subsets of liberal Boomer voters, like retired school teachers, who are dealing with problems they have never dealt with before, like the potential loss of public pension income. I have no difficulty seeing these voters pulling the lever for a bona fide socialist like Sanders, and Sanders is wisely pointing out Biden’s past positions on cutting entitlements. Sanders may need to build momentum in early races for that reality to obtain, but it could happen.

Right now, Sanders is pulling ahead in polling in early voting states, and he’s not even out campaigning thanks to the Schiff show, which so far is doing nothing useful except making Biden’s corruption a household conversation and reinforcing generational fault lines in the Democratic base.

Essays worth reading

My last reading list was so popular that I am tempted to make this a regular thing. Here’s a second installment of fun things I have read lately.

Missouri charmer led double life, masterminded one of the biggest frauds in farm history. This piece is based on the case of Randy Constant, who was just sentenced to prison for fraudulently selling $120 million of grain designated as organic when it was far from it. He was selling such volume of “organic” grain that his sales amounted to 7% of all comparable organic corn grown and 8% of all organic soybeans grown in the United States (according to the Department of Justice).

That grain was then fed to chickens and cattle, whose meat was then sold as organic meat, even though it technically wasn’t because they were living on a diet of chemical-treated grain.

I found this article somewhat hilarious. Although I make an effort to eat organic food, I have had so many arguments with people who think the US has strong regulations and oversight over the organic food industry. We don’t. The fact that a random dude in Missouri with a Vegas gambling and prostitute problem managed to build a $120 million organic grain empire with garbage grain that he wasn’t even growing himself at his certified organic farms shows how weak regulation is. (See also some of the mass recalls for tainted “organic” food recently.)

The funny thing is this guy will go to prison, but the retailers who hawk overpriced organic content with zero care for its origins will carry on with business as usual.

Fortune has an intriguing series on how bad actors (criminal enterprises, spies, etc.) are jamming GPS systems to wreck havoc with the shipping industry. As a family that loves sailing and dreams of doing ocean crossings some day, this was a bonkers series to read. (Seriously, maybe there’s something to learning to read the constellations as a sanity check on the devices.) It made me think of the controversy a while back about how US Navy ships frequently started having accidents. I don’t know what became of that whole ordeal, but I wonder if these two things are related. Absolutely bizarre.

The myth of the “moderate” public option: The Biden and Buttigieg plans would bust federal budgets, hurt patient care and gut private insurers. This is an opinion piece from  Lanhee J. Chen at Stanford University from the Wall Street Journal. Very interesting argument about how a public option would interfere with the operation of private health insurance:

Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Mike Bloomberg claim they’re proposing a moderate, less disruptive approach to health-care reform when they advocate a public option—a government policy offered as an alternative to private health insurance—in lieu of Medicare for All. Don’t believe it. My research finds that such proposals would increase the federal deficit dramatically and destabilize the market for private health insurance, threatening health-care quality and choice.

While estimates by the Congressional Budget Office and other analysts have concluded that a public option-style proposal would reduce federal deficits, those effects are predicated on two flawed assumptions: first, that the government will negotiate hospital and provider reimbursement rates similar to Medicare’s fee schedules and far below what private insurers pay; second, that the government would charge “actuarially fair premiums,” which cover 100% of provided benefits and administrative costs.

History demonstrates we should be skeptical of cost estimates that rely on such assumptions. Political pressure upended similar financing assumptions in Medicare Part B only two years after the entitlement’s creation. The Johnson administration in 1968 and then Congress in 1972 had to intervene to shield seniors from premium increases. Objections from health-care providers to low reimbursement rates have regularly led to federal spending increases in Medicare and Medicaid. The result isn’t hard to fathom. If premiums can’t rise to cover program costs, or reimbursement rates are raised to ensure access to a reasonable number of providers, who’ll pay? Taxpayers, who were promised a self-sufficient government program.

With Hoover Institution research fellows Tom Church and Daniel L. Heil and support from the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, I estimated the fiscal and tax implications of creating a federally administered public option. If Congress’s past behavior is a guide, a public option available to all individuals and employers would add more than $700 billion to the 10-year federal deficit. The annual deficit increase would hit $100 billion within a few years. Some 123 million people—roughly 1 in 3 Americans—would be enrolled in the public option by 2025, broadly displacing existing insurance. These estimates don’t include the costs of additional Affordable Care Act subsidies and eligibility expansions proposed by Messrs. Biden, Buttigieg and Bloomberg.

The fiscal effects are even more pronounced over the long run. We estimate that federal spending on the public option would exceed total military spending by 2042 and match combined spending on Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and ACA subsidies by 2049. In the latter year the public option would become the third most expensive government program, behind only Medicare and Social Security. The public option alone would raise the federal debt by 30% of gross domestic product over the next 30 years.

While some, like Mr. Biden, claim their health reforms can be paid for by simply taxing the wealthy more, that seems unrealistic. We conclude that if tax increases to pay for a politically realistic public option were limited to high-income filers, the top marginal rate would have to rise from the current 37% to 73% in 2049—a level not seen since the 1960s. Such large rate increases would undoubtedly have economic effects, causing revenue to fall short of our static estimates.

If policy makers want to avoid a large increase in deficits, then, a public option would require tax hikes on most Americans, including middle-income families. An across-the-board income-tax hike to support this policy would mean that taxpayers in the 28% and 33% tax brackets would see their marginal tax rates increase by about six percentage points by 2049, while the top tax bracket would rise above 47%.

Alternatively, Congress could enact a new broad-based tax similar to Medicare’s 2.9% Hospital Insurance payroll tax. The new tax would be levied on all wage and salary income and would reach 4.8% in 2049.

These fiscal estimates may underestimate the cost of the public option, as they assume no changes in use of medical services. The generous cost-sharing rules in the public option would likely increase demand for health-care services, while the federal government would be unlikely to implement the stringent and sometimes painful cost-management procedures needed to limit use.

Beyond fiscal considerations, the public option would quickly displace employer-based and other private insurance. This would force some private insurers to exit the market and encourage greater consolidation among remaining insurers. Consumers seeking coverage would be left with fewer insurance options and higher premiums.

Meanwhile, many health-care providers would suffer a dramatic drop in income, while at the same time experiencing greater demand for their services. Longer wait times and narrower provider networks would likely follow for those enrolled in the public option, harming patients’ health and reducing consumer choice. Declines in provider payments would also affect investment decisions by hospitals and may lead to fewer new doctors and other medical providers.

Politicians like Messrs. Biden, Buttigieg and Bloomberg like to market the public option as a less dramatic and cheaper alternative to Medicare for All. That’s far from the whole story. A politically realistic public option would produce dramatic fiscal costs and harm the U.S. health-care system. Policy makers may yet find the middle ground in health reform, but a government-run public option isn’t it.

Joseph Epstein has written a wonderful piece on Ralph Ellison’s life and the libel of his critics, upon the release of a collection of his letters. I read The Invisible Man in high school back-to-back with The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and that is definitely something I will assign for our daughter down the line.

Owing to a want of money, Ellison had to ride the rails to get to Tuskegee College in Alabama, where he went to study music. He played trumpet, and his ambition was to complete a classical symphony by the age of 26 (as did Wagner). At Tuskegee he worked in the school kitchen. A number of his early letters from there are addressed to his mother, asking for shoes, clothes, any spare cash she could provide. At one point he was harassed by a homosexual dean. One of his teachers told him he would do better to study something practical, like agriculture. Such was the economic and other pressures on him that he dropped out in his third year.

But at Tuskegee he also encountered a few gifted teachers who made a marked impression on him. One of them was Hazel Harrison, who had studied music in Paris under Ferruccio Busoni and knew Percy Grainger and Sergei Prokofiev. Walter B. Williams, the college librarian, befriended Ellison and introduced him to European culture. He made a few friendships that were to endure through his adult life. One of these was with Albert Murray, himself later to become a novelist and the correspondent in the Selected Letters with whom Ellison communicates most freely, both about Negro life, its pleasures and flaws, and his own aspirations.

Time and again in his letters Ellison makes plain that, though proudly Negro (“who wills to be a Negro?” he wrote. “I do!”) he is also something more—an American, not to mention a man of the West and thereby of Western culture. His reading, often noted in his letters, gives evidence of the extent of his cultural interests. In 1956, he wrote to Albert Murray: “have been reading Stendhal and rereading the Idiot in a new translation and The Sound and the Fury, [Wylie] Sypher’s book on Renaissance style, etc. etc.” In music he listened to Stravinsky, Webern, Hindemith, though Duke Ellington was his god. The same year, he suggested to the publisher Pat Knopf that for Vintage Books, Knopf’s new quality-paperback line, he include “the Unamuno, the Herzen, the Matthiessen, the Bodkin, the Gertrude Levy, the Ford Madox Ford, the Melville, the Dodds, and the Mirsky.” He later claimed to have been influenced by André Malraux, André Gide, James Joyce, and the essays of Paul Valéry. The black writers Richard Wright and Chester Himes may have been his literary “relatives,” but he felt that Ernest Hemingway and T. S. Eliot were his “ancestors.”

In his letters, Ellison frequently quoted Henry James: “Being an American, Henry James has written, is a complex fate; and being a black American is more complex than even that finely honed mind could have suspected.” Later, in 1987, he told the editor Robert Silvers, who had asked him to review a biography of W.E.B. Du Bois, that the critic Kenneth Burke “was a far more important influence [on him] than Du Bois has ever been.”

Shaking off the idea that Richard Wright was a major influence was an almost lifelong problem for Ellison. He wrote to the critic Stanley Edgar Hyman that he continued “to reject the notion that my Invisible Man was inspired by Wright and insist that my character was inspired by the narrator of [Dostoevsky’s] Notes from Underground.” Ellison met Wright soon after his arrival in New York in 1936, introduced by Langston Hughes. Wright was six years older and soon to be famous as the author of the powerful novel Native Son. Hughes and Wright encouraged Ellison to write, and he soon published his first reviews and a short story in a magazine Wright edited.

I chuckled my way through this essay on the infatuation with self-help books among literary titans. I can’t even:

How-to writers are to other writers as frogs are to mammals; they are not born, they are spawned.’ So jeered the influential New Yorker journalist Dwight Macdonald in a 1954 screed against the self-help guides he worried were taking over the culture. Macdonald voiced the prevailing view that the distinct spheres – or species – of literary author and self-help writer had little, if anything, in common. Serious authors create; self-help writers multiply. But the influence of self-help on prestigious literature is much deeper and more sustained than figures such as Macdonald would have us believe.

With the rise of the 20th century, literary authors had a new book genre to reckon with. It might seem anachronistic to picture the French symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire bingeing on ‘how to get rich quick’ books in 1864, or to imagine the late-Victorian aesthete Gustave Flaubert annotating a do-it-yourself manual, or to conceive of the ethereal modernist Virginia Woolf becoming so inflamed by Arnold Bennett’s practical guide How to Live on 24 Hours a Day (1908) that she writes her own time-books Mrs Dalloway (1925) and The Years (1937) in response. But this seems surprising to us only because most scholars – particularly literary scholars – have been so busy ignoring or dismissing self-help that they have failed to recognise its long history and tremendous impact on even the most prestigious literary authors. These authors often made fun of self-help, deriding its crass instrumentalism but also, and more surprising, they learned from its appeal, borrowed its techniques, and coveted its cultural influence.

As firmly canonised literary figures, Baudelaire, Flaubert and Woolf might have won the culture wars, but we are living in self-help’s world. A formidable force in the publishing ecosystem, the self-improvement market in the United States will be worth $13.2 billion dollars by 2022, according to Market Research. And though it is difficult to obtain exact figures due to the different labels under which it is sold, self-help – whether in American or native form – is a bestselling genre in Latin America, China, Africa, the global South, the Middle East – in short, all over the world.

The industry’s international appeal dates back to the first blockbuster improvement manual: Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help (1859), which turned the term into a catchphrase, and described successful labourers, artists and inventors who had used industry and perseverance to improve their conditions. Critics disparaged it, according to Smiles, as a ‘eulogy of selfishness’, but he saw his manual as a tool for working-class inspiration and uplift. The book marshalled scores of aspiring autodidacts in early 20th-century Nigeria, Syria, Guatemala, Trinidad and Japan (it’s said that late-19th-century Japanese samurai lined up overnight to buy a copy of the manual). In a 1917 review, the American poet Ezra Pound dismissed such ‘improving literature’ – ‘Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help and the rest of it’ – likening it to a ‘virus’, and the English author H G Wells wrote a cautionary tale, ‘The Jilting of Jane’, about a young man whose reading of Self-Help goes to his head, inspiring him to abandon his fiancée and his principles in favour of a higher match.

Fat cells can sense sunlight—not getting enough increases metabolic syndrome risk. I truly believe that people in future decades will laugh at the popular advice nowadays that you should avoid the sun and slather yourself in sunblock every time you leave the house. So much of how the body operates – how food is processed, how our eyes function, our mental health – depends on sunlight from a chemical perspective. (Not to mention the fact that your skin is your body’s largest organ and slathering it with chemicals every day is probably not a swell idea.)

China’s ‘mermaid descendants’ weave final garments from skin of fish.

Premature babies provide a glimpse of the moral atrocity of abortion: My pro-life testimony

Since today is the March for Life, many people are talking about the event that converted them to a pro-life position or events that powerfully reinforced their pro-life values. As a Roman Catholic, I was always on the pro-life side of the fence, but I did not truly have an eternal perspective until I gave birth to our daughter two full months early. I described the events of her birth at length in an earlier post, Having a preemie will make you re-think the abortion “debate.” If you are confused about where you stand on this topic, please read our family’s story.

I had not shared many of the details of our daughter’s birth outside of our immediate family until I wrote that post. I felt compelled to write it after listening to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg explain how he thought life began “when a baby took its first breath,” which he believes is a “biblical” definition. Of course, most Christians and followers of other wisdom traditions that have a well-developed understanding of the soul would disagree.

This is a picture of our daughter after she was born. This is what a baby looks like at the beginning of the third trimester, only outside of the womb rather than inside it. Eight states in our country would legally permit a child like this to be aborted. I have no idea how anyone thinks that is anything short of barbaric or psychopathic.

This child survived against the odds and will turn 8 years old this week. She is a prodigy that is obsessed with math and science. (She’s particularly obsessed with studying genetics right now.) I have no doubt that she will do magnificent things for our human race. We can’t imagine life without her.

That is a perfect, necessary little human growing in your womb. It’s not a clump of cells. It’s not a chore or an obstacle. It’s a life with dignity and purpose. Remember who you are and make good decisions.

Poems about parenthood

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. Jeremiah 1:5

In honor the annual March for Life, here is some poetry about the most important, sacred journey we take as human beings – bringing someone new into this world.

Blessing of an Expectant Mother (Medieval Catholic Rite)

In the Middle Ages it was customary for a pastor to announce from the pulpit on Sundays the names of women whose time of childbirth was close at hand, and to ask the people’s prayers for them. But his solicitude did not stop there. He also visited the homes of such women, first said prayers outside the home, and then entered and administered the sacraments and the sacramentals of the Church.

A Child is Something Else Again

BY YEHUDA AMICHAI

TRANSLATED BY CHANA BLOCH

A child is something else again. Wakes up
in the afternoon and in an instant he’s full of words,
in an instant he’s humming, in an instant warm,
instant light, instant darkness.

A child is Job. They’ve already placed their bets on him
but he doesn’t know it. He scratches his body
for pleasure. Nothing hurts yet.
They’re training him to be a polite Job,
to say “Thank you” when the Lord has given,
to say “You’re welcome” when the Lord has taken away.

A child is vengeance.
A child is a missile into the coming generations.
I launched him: I’m still trembling.

A child is something else again: on a rainy spring day
glimpsing the Garden of Eden through the fence,
kissing him in his sleep,
hearing footsteps in the wet pine needles.
A child delivers you from death.
Child, Garden, Rain, Fate.

The Visitor 

BY IDRA NOVEY

Does no dishes, dribbles sauce
across the floor. Is more dragon
than spaniel, more flammable
than fluid. Is the loosening
in the knit of me, the mixed-fruit
marmalade in the kitchen of me.
Wakes my disco and inner hibiscus,
the Hector in the ever-mess of my Troy.
All wet mattress to my analysis,
he’s stayed the loudest and longest
of any houseguest, is calling now
as I write this, tiny B who brings the joy.

Maternal

BY GAIL MAZUR

On the telephone, friends mistake us now
when we first say hello—not after.
And that oddly optimistic lilt
we share nourishes my hopes:
we do sound happy. . . .

Last night, in my dream’s crib,
a one-day infant girl.
I wasn’t totally unprepared—
there was the crib, and cotton kimonos,
not just a padded dresser drawer.

And then, I knew I could drive
to the store for the tiny, funny
clothes my daughter wears.

I was in a familiar room
and leaned over the rail, crooning
Hello, and the smiling baby—
she’d be too young for speech,
I know, or smiles—
gurgled back at me, Hullo.

—If I could begin again,
I’d hold her longer, closer!
Maybe that way, when night opens
into morning, and all my windows
gape at the heartbreaking street,
my dreams wouldn’t pierce so,

I wouldn’t hold my breath
at the parts of my life still in hiding,
my childhood’s white house
where I lunged toward the flowers of love
as if I were courting death. . . .

Over the crib, a mobile was spinning,
bright birds going nowhere,
primary colors, primary
as mothering once seemed. . . .

Later, I wonder why I dreamt
that dream, yearning for what I’ve had,
and have

why it was my mother’s room,
the blonde moderne bedroom set
hidden under years of junk—a spare room’s
the nicest way to put it,

though now all
her crowded rooms are spare—

You’re

BY SYLVIA PLATH

Clownlike, happiest on your hands,   
Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,   
Gilled like a fish. A common-sense   
Thumbs-down on the dodo’s mode.   
Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,   
Trawling your dark as owls do.   
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth   
Of July to All Fools’ Day,
O high-riser, my little loaf.

Vague as fog and looked for like mail.   
Farther off than Australia.
Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn.   
Snug as a bud and at home   
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.   
A creel of eels, all ripples.   
Jumpy as a Mexican bean.   
Right, like a well-done sum.   
A clean slate, with your own face on.

Warren gets spanked by angry father on student loan proposal

This is quite the exchange (video below). Elizabeth Warren is confronted at a campaign event by a father who is upset with her proposal to bail out student borrowers, noting that she’s punishing people who “did the right thing” by saving money for college or taking on extra work to pay for their kid’s education (like him). He asks if he can have his money back, to which she snidely replies “of course not.” Watch until the end, after the guy has moved on, to see the mocking expression on her face. This is why all the endorsements in the world couldn’t get this woman elected. She acts like he’s comically irrational for pointing out that her policy idea is unfair. Watching how she can’t process anyone disagreeing with her, however, I kind of wish she would succeed as the nominee just so we could watch Trump make her ugly cry on national television during a debate. Unlike a Harvard classroom, not everyone you encounter in the real world is a fawning sycophant.

Fairness is an important question when it comes to policy choices. The lack of generational fairness in student loan jubilee proposals is not the only issue here. In bailing out student loans, the government would be rewarding students who over-borrowed and used student loan proceeds for non-educational purposes. (These would be classified as “living expenses,” and yes, you can borrow money for vague purposes in addition to tuition. The money is distributed directly to schools, who will then cut a check or refund to the student borrower. This is why a lot of young adults rode out the Great Recession and its aftermath on college campuses, and why a bunch of them have moved back home now that they actually have to pay for those days.)

The problem with pseudo-socialist politicians like Warren and Sanders (who is unquestionably dominating the polls in early voting states now) is that they do explicitly reward bad behavior and punish responsible behavior. In economics, we call this moral hazard. When you can pass the cost of your behavior on to a third party, you max out the bad decision-making. It’s the core of why socialist societies eventually fail.

No, the church does not have to change to remain "relevant"

One refrain I get deeply exhausted with is the notion that “churches have to change to remain relevant in the modern world.”

The people who say such things usually want their church to behave more like a political party than a religious institution. (Like Pope Francis, who would prefer a Marxist church to the Roman Catholic Church.) The change they want to see is not theological, but cultural. For example, they want the Catholic Church to embrace abortion or LGTBQ rights or to allow priests to marry. Most probably can’t articulate the theological arguments behind the church’s positions. But even the ones who can don’t care about theology.

What really gets me about this statement though is that it is demonstrably, empirically false. Churches that become more liberal experience rapid declines in attendance (and giving), not increasing attendance and more “relevancy” in their communities. This is the lesson of every denominational schism in recent decades.

Take, for example, the rapid decline in the Evangelical Lutheran Church:

According to projections from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Office of Research and Evaluation, the whole denomination will have fewer than 67,000 members in 2050, with fewer than 16,000 in worship on an average Sunday by 2041.

That’s right: according to current trends, the church will basically cease to exist within the next generation. 

Or the Presbyterian Church USA, which continues to have entire communities leave as the church becomes more liberal:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) continued to lose members in 2017, extending a pattern that has persisted since the mid-1960s. At the end of the year, church membership totaled 1,415,053, a decline of 67,714 members from 2016.

At the same time, a five-year period of unprecedented losses neared an end as net membership losses returned to previous levels over the last 50-plus years. The larger losses between 2012 and 2016 were brought on by the dismissal of about 100 churches (and their members) each year to splinter denominations after the 2010 General Assembly voted to allow the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as church officers and the 2014 Assembly voted to allow same-gender marriage.

“It is clear our unusually large losses between 2012 and 2016 are directly related to churches dismissed to other bodies,” says Kris Valerius, manager of records and statistics for the Office of the General Assembly.

From 21 churches and 4,718 members dismissed in 2011, the number jumped to 110 churches and 33,659 members dismissed in 2012. That pattern continued until 2017, when the number of dismissed churches fell to 45 and the number of members dismissed dipped to 6,910. The PC(USA) currently has 9,304 congregations, 147 fewer than at the end of 2016.

You can go all the way down the line with liberal denominations and liberal seminaries. They are not more “relevant,” they are headed for extinction as a matter of fact, not opinion.

The Catholic Church has seen dramatic declines in attendance and giving in the era of Pope Francis, and it’s not because Pope Francis is too conservative for people’s tastes. It’s because people WANT tradition and history. You know what has been growing in the Catholic Church? Attendance at traditional Latin Mass.

This is not rocket science. As people move closer to postmodern worldviews and moral relativism, they see less reason to practice a religion. The first generation post-schism starts going to church less. The second generation becomes a religious “none.”

Another reason for that trend is that the schism rarely stops with one issue. The church splits over gay rights, for example, but ends up talking about environmental sin. So the folks who started off just wishing that the church would not be cruel to gay people wonder how the church became so far gone. Meanwhile, in the conservative churches, things continue exactly as they did before and no one is having an existential crisis. Their kids are more likely to marry in the church (or marry at all) and have kids baptized in the church (or have kids at all).

You have watched this happen in the Democrat Party in the United States at-large too. White Baby Boomer liberals led the charge to change religious institutions toward less traditional positions and practices. Their millennial kids are not religious at all.

You either commit to a tradition or you don’t. You either subscribe to religious discipline or you don’t.

There is not some magical middle ground where you can simultaneously believe in a wisdom tradition and have a postmodern understanding of truth.

Canon vs secular law in the bankruptcies of Catholic dioceses

I’ve written a lot about financially distressed Catholic dioceses and how the financial structure of the Catholic Church insulates the Vatican from accountability. I came across this very interesting article about how dioceses have started moving funds and property into charitable trusts as abuse lawsuits have piled up.

Is it a coincidence of management or a conspiracy to shelter assets from victims? Is it just or desirable to allow alleged victims to go after the assets of schools and other auxiliary charitable causes of dioceses, essentially forcing them out of business over the behavior of an individual clergyman – transferring the damages from individuals to the entire community? Some of these claims involve priests who are no longer alive or allegations that are decades old and can’t be proven or disputed effectively. These are the sort of problems the courts have to sort out.

There seems to be considerable debate over whether this is legal or not. Some scholars argue that the dioceses adopting the charitable trust structure is unrelated to the abuse scandals, and is more about the church stepping into the modern era of nonprofit finance, which can be quite complex.

Any institutional bankruptcy attorney will tell you, however, that if you do this in anticipation of a bankruptcy filing for the specific purpose of sheltering specific assets from specific creditors, it’s likely to be considered fraudulent conveyance.

Pragmatic Catholic dioceses are still likely to adopt the structure because bankruptcy proceedings can drag on for so long that victims are likely to settle anyway. The movement of assets to trusts is a sample of what they are dealing with that puts creditors in their place before the legal fight even begins. By the time the issue is settled, so much of the proceeds will be going to lawyers’ fees that the fight isn’t even worth it.

At any rate, I found the discussion on the collision of canon law and secular law from a historical perspective fascinating:

With millions of dollars at stake, lawyers for dioceses and victims have taken to courts and conference rooms to decide whether money should be allocated to victims or sustain the Church’s ministry. There, they reference two legal codes to answer the question:

Who owns the Church’s property?

Debate about the structure of dioceses did not originate with clerical sex abuse lawsuits.

In the late 19th century, many state legislatures addressed the gap between how secular and canon law view the Catholic Church’s property. They developed the idea of the ‘corporation sole’ for dioceses – allowing bishops to control financial matters, while still allowing the next bishop to take over once his predecessor died or moved dioceses.

“It’s almost like a feudal structure,” said Marie Reilly, a law professor at Penn State who studies the intersection of bankruptcy and canon law. “You needed a way for the king to survive as a political entity so the property of the kingdom wouldn’t pass to his heirs but would remain property of the crown.”

Reilly sees the corporation sole as a ‘centralized model,’ where all diocesan entities are pooled together, and the bishop controls it all from the top.

Meanwhile, in the ‘decentralized model,’ schools and parishes exist as individual corporations or trusts. Instead of directly controlling church entities, the bishop serves as a trustee and the pastor or president of the smaller entity as the trust administrator.

The centralized model is more prevalent in older dioceses on the coasts, while the decentralized model was established in newer dioceses after laws began to define more clearly the status of non-profit corporations.

While both the centralized and decentralized models attempt to realize what is written in canon law, Reilly told Crux that she thinks the corporation sole model falls flat.

“The bishop doesn’t own parish property, property belongs to the juridical entity that acquired it,” she said. “So, when a parishioner or somebody makes a donation to a parish, that property belongs to the parish.”

That is why some dioceses decided to reconfigure their corporate status over a period stretching from roughly 2006 to 2012, including places like Erie, Pensylvania. In the process they moved from a corporation sole, the ‘centralized model,’ and transferred parishes into their own charitable trusts, a move which diocesan officials say better reflects canon law.

While it might look like parishes and other entities belong to the bishop, the diocese and parishes are separate juridical entities, meaning they own different things.

Dr. Kurt Martens, a canon lawyer at the Catholic University of America, said the bishop might oversee the activities of a parish, comparing the system to checks-and-balances, but is bound from doing more by canon law.

“The bishop, canonically speaking, does not own, through the diocese, the assets of a parish,” Martens said in an interview.

While canon law clearly separates bishops from parishes, the argument under secular law is more complicated. As a trustee, the bishop has secular authority over the parish charitable trust, a detail which diocesan lawyers contest is beside the point.

“The distinction between [diocesan] assets and parish charitable trust assets is not eliminated simply because the bishop is a trustee of a parish charitable trust,” said John Fessler, a lawyer for the Diocese of Erie.

The possibility for a bishop to control parish assets in secular law is outweighed by canon law, Fessler explained. Instead, the pastor and finance council of the parish, as trust administrators, would make financial decisions on behalf of the charitable trust.

“[The bishop] is the trustee of the parish charitable trust, he’s not a dictator,” Fessler said.

I also found this academic article from O’Reilly on the battle between canonical and secular legal frameworks, which goes into much more detail. It’s quite a fun topic for finance geeks.