Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund

Knights of Columbus has announced the launch of the Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund, which is modeled on community foundations like The Cleveland Foundation or Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund will serve as a way for Catholics to create charitable funds and direct charitable giving on an individual, family, or community level. There’s nothing quite like this, and I expect it will become a major part of the culture of Knights of Columbus:

Knights of Columbus, one of the largest Catholic philanthropic organizations in the world, today announced a new affiliated vehicle for donors called “Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund” (KCCF). KCCF allows donors to open donor-driven accounts, recommend charities to which donations can be sent through a safe, secure and confidential portal.

Carl Anderson, CEO of Knights of Columbus, said, “Catholics today are looking for opportunities to demonstrate their faith and to support organizations that reflect their values. They want to direct their charity to organizations easily and efficiently.”

The addition of a donor-advised fund option satisfies a unique customer and market niche that is a powerful tool for maximizing philanthropic impact on organizations that align with Catholic values and teachings. Donor-advised funds have become the fastest-growing segment of charitable-giving vehicles due to their flexibility and simplicity. Assets in the donor-advised fund are invested tax-free with no distribution requirements, excise taxes, or other reporting requirements for the individual donor. Donors can make a current charitable contribution, receive an immediate potential tax benefit, and then recommend grants from the fund over time. And tax-free investing over time can result in larger ultimate gifts for charities.

New Columbia

Since moving to Washington, I’ve been loosely following the push to transform the District of Columbia into America’s 51st state.

I think it that making the District a state would be bad for both the District and the country, and that if the status quo is unacceptable, it would be simpler and better for the District to be absorbed back into Maryland, just as the District’s western fringe was absorbed back into Virginia.

David Schleicher wrote “Welcome to New Columbia: The Fiscal, Economic and Political Consequences of Statehood for D.C.” in 2014, and I saw it after Tyler Cowen recently shared it. It’s worth checking out if you’re following this topic:

This Essay sketches some of the long-term economic and political consequences of making Washington D.C. the 51st State. The statehood debate has overwhelmingly focused on the same set of issues: the impact of statehood on the federal government’s structure. But if D.C. becomes a state, the most impactful change in its citizens’ lives would not be their new ability to elect members of Congress; it would be the dramatic shift in economics and politics that would come with the transition to having a state rather than city government. On the day “New Columbia” enters the Union, it would bear a constellation of features unprecedented in the nation: the only state wholly part of one metropolitan region, the only state without local governments, and the only wholly urban state. These features have deep implications for the advisability of statehood when compared to the alternatives of retrocession or the stateless status quo and also furnish a blueprint for steps to mitigate the risks and exploit the benefits that statehood would offer. Part I of the Essay will discuss the special fiscal and economic conditions that New Columbia would face. On one hand, statehood would better allow D.C. to take advantage of periods of economic success. In particular, a state of New Columbia would likely be free of the restrictive confines of the Height of Buildings Act, allowing for greater growth when demand for living in D.C. is high. Moreover, the District would likely also gain greater taxing power (although it would lose some forms of generous federal funding). Yet such benefits come at a price: as a single-city state, New Columbia would face drastic risks in times of downturn. The fact that New Columbia would be entirely in one economic region, and the fact that it would exclusively be the center city of that region, would mean almost necessarily that the state would face substantial financial risks in the case of regional and urban-form related shocks. This pro-cyclical effect makes the case for retrocession stronger, and also suggests reforms like a mandatory rainy day fund if statehood is achieved. Part II discusses the implications of New Columbia’s unique internal politics. As noted, New Columbia would be the only state without local governments. The absence of separate spheres for local and state elections would have at least two major implications for New Columbia’s politics and policy. First, as a state composed of an overwhelmingly single-party city, New Columbia’s elections would likely be decidedly uncompetitive. Even in the status quo, this absence of party-level electoral competition is a likely cause of many of the pathologies in D.C. politics, from excessive restrictions on growth to its persistent problems with corruption. To ensure the state of New Columbia does not share these defects, any move towards statehood should include reforms aimed at introducing more political competition. Second, and more optimistically, the unprecedented marriage of a city and a state government offers a powerful change for innovation. Historically, the relatively circumscribed legal power of cities has prevented them from pursuing a number of effective policies because such powers are the exclusive province of states. Further, big cities are often losers in state political fights. In this context, New Columbia’s fusion of city and state would provide many opportunities for policy flexibility and discovery unavailable to most big cities.

Noa Pothoven’s suicide

Ross Douthat writes on the suicide of 17 year-old Noa Pothoven:

In the Netherlands, a depressed teenager … committed suicide at home, starving herself while parents and doctors offered palliative care. …

It remains shocking that a young woman’s parents and doctors would give up on treating her at seventeen and let her kill herself. And it remains shocking that Western nations are normalizing euthanasia for mental illness among otherwise healthy adults. …

When such a system emerges as a seemingly organic feature of the liberal order, what then should be your attitude toward liberalism itself? …

Liberalism has never done as well as it thinks at resolving its own crises. America’s gravest moral evil, chattel slavery, was defeated by an authoritarian president in a religious civil war, not by proceduralism or constitutional debate. The crisis of the 1930s ended happily for liberalism because a reactionary imperialist withstood Adolf Hitler and a revolutionary Bolshevik crushed him. The liberal peace that followed may depend on fear of the atomic bomb.

All of which hints that a genuinely post-liberal politics might, indeed, someday be required — to save liberal civilization from dystopia or disaster. The post-liberalisms presently on offer are not as serious as either their advocates hope or their critics fear. But if you cannot imagine ever being a post-liberal, left or right, you are not being serious either.

It couldn’t be clearer to me that the logic behind pro-suicide laws in the United States, which claim to be interested only in permitting suicide for those near death and with a terminal illness, will in time result in lawful suicide for practically anyone, in any condition. When a teenager’s suicide is affirmed and facilitated by both her family and the state, that’s a good indicator that the society has lost its ability to distinguish justice from injustice.

In the calculus of power

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput offers his perspective on Joe Biden’s unfortunate embrace of public funding of optional, non-medically necessary abortion:

Speaking at the University of Notre Dame in October 2016, just a few weeks before a national election that seemed sure to put a second Clinton in the White House, I noted that:

[Q]uite a few of us American Catholics have worked our way into a leadership class that the rest of the country both envies and resents.  And the price of our entry has been the transfer of our real loyalties and convictions from the old Church of our baptism to the new “Church” of our ambitions and appetites.  People like Nancy Pelosi, Anthony Kennedy, Joe Biden and Tim Kaine are not anomalies.  They’re part of a very large crowd that cuts across all professions and both major political parties.

During his years as bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI had the talent of being very frank about naming sin and calling people back to fidelity.  Yet at the same time he modeled that fidelity with a kind of personal warmth that revealed its beauty and disarmed the people who heard him.  He spoke several times about the “silent apostasy” of so many Catholic laypeople today and even many priests; and his words have stayed with me over the years because he said them in a spirit of compassion and love, not rebuke. 

Apostasy is an interesting word.  It comes from the Greek verb apostanai – which means to revolt or desert; literally “to stand away from.”  For Benedict, laypeople and priests don’t need to publicly renounce their baptism to be apostates.  They simply need to be silent when their Catholic faith demands that they speak out; to be cowards when Jesus asks them to have courage; to “stand away” from the truth when they need to work for it and fight for it. 

It’s a word to keep in mind in examining our own hearts and the hearts of our people.  And while we do that, we might reflect on what assimilating has actually gained for us when Vice President Biden conducts a gay marriage, and Senator Kaine lectures us all on how the Church needs to change and what kind of new creature she needs to become.

Those words displeased some who see Mr. Biden as a veteran public servant and a well-intentioned, decent man trying honestly to balance his religious faith with the demands of a complicated political terrain.  On the complicated nature of today’s politics, there can be no dispute.  But complexity is never an all-purpose excuse, especially on matters of principle, and most especially when the innocent and voiceless stand to pay the price for a bad choice.

In defending Mr. Biden, his advocates have typically pointed to his long-standing support for the Hyde Amendment banning federal funds for abortion; his support for Catholic teaching on various other social issues; and his resistance to late term abortion, all admirable positions.  In today’s Democratic Party, these things marked him as a “centrist” and set him apart from the pack of other Democratic presidential hopefuls — nearly all of them hard to his left.

That was before last week.

On June 6, the Wall Street Journal reported (“Biden’s Abortion Views Irk the Left”) that Biden faced growing criticism from abortion activists and his party’s leadership for his Hyde Amendment track record.  Exactly 24 hours later, on June 7, the same paper noted that Biden had sharply changed his thinking (“Biden, in Reversal, Backs Abortion Funding”).  Translation:  The unborn child means exactly zero in the calculus of power for Democratic Party leaders, and the right to an abortion,  once described as a tragic necessity, is now a perverse kind of “sacrament most holy.”  It will have a candidate’s allegiance and full-throated reverence . . . or else.

There’s a remark by Thomas More in the film A Man for All Seasons that’s worth remembering in the months ahead: “When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their own public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”

I’m particularly disappointed with Joe Biden because he had a chance to stand for a somewhat older, less extremist sort of American politics in what I expect will be another corrosive national election. Joe Biden’s forfeiting his moderate reputation is both strategically and tactically incomprehensible to me—he signals that in his ambition he is willing to jettison principle, and he will likely obtain a smaller share of the vote as a result.

Ambition and politics

I don’t plan to write much about the next presidential election, and as an example of why I’ll try to avoid writing about it I’ll use Joe Biden’s unfortunate endorsement of public funding for non-medically necessary abortion as an example.

On June 5th, Joe Biden voiced support for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal taxpayer funding of optional abortions. Joe Biden has supported this policy for nearly fifty years. Here’s what I said on June 5th, as Biden’s opponents were criticizing him for his willingness to strive for being a centrist:

“It should not be a controversial stance to oppose public funding of optional procedures, and in fact it should be a common American value that, because abortion is always the deliberate, intentional, and forcible ending of a human life, it should be unthinkable,” Tom Shakely, a spokesperson for Americans United for Life, said in a statement.

“However, in today’s partisan and polarized climate, we’re grateful for Mr. Biden’s continuing support of the Hyde Amendment, even as we express skepticism of his ability to maintain this position in the face his radical and extremist fellow contenders in the Democratic presidential race,” Shakely said.

One day later, Joe Biden reversed himself and abandoned his principled and moderate position, embracing the same support for public/taxpayer funding of abortion. I offered this in response:

“Joe Biden, like so many of his Democratic peers, supported the Hyde Amendment for decades, because he recognized that compelling American taxpayers to fund optional, non-medically necessary abortion procedures would be both morally outrageous and fiscally irresponsible. Joe Biden’s embrace of today’s extremism in the Democratic Party will only serve to depress millions of Democratic voters across the country who support more life-affirming law.”

David Harsanyi put Joe Biden’s reversal after nearly fifty years in context:

In 1976, Biden voted for the Hyde Amendment, a law banning federal funds to pay for abortion. In 1981, the “Biden amendment” to the Foreign Assistance Act banned any American aid from being used in research related to abortions. In 1984, Biden supported the “Mexico City policy,” which bans federal funding for private organizations that provide abortion, advocate to decriminalize abortion, or expand abortion services. 1993: Biden votes to save the Hyde Amendment. In 1995 and 1997, Biden voted for partial-birth abortion bans that would be vetoed by Bill Clinton. June 5th, 2019, Joe Biden continues his 40+ year support for the Hyde Amendment. June 6th, night, Joe Biden caves and drops a 40+-year position to appease progs. Now supports taxpayer-funded abortion, from conception to crowning. But no, the Dem party isn’t moving hard left, not at all. And Biden is a real rock-ribbed leader. If you take a position 46 years, you change your mind one afternoon, you should probably have a pretty good explanation for why. Biden will make the argument that his experience matters. But if he was wrong about everything, and admits it, then what does that experience mean?

Ambition and politics are corrosive things.

Joe Rogan and Naval Ravikant

I recently listened to Joe Rogan’s conversation with Naval Ravikant.

Naval riffs at one point on something from Nassim Taleb that I hadn’t heard before:

“With my family, I’m a communist. With my close friends, I’m a socialist. At the state level of politics, I’m a Democrat. At higher levels, I’m a Republican, and at the federal levels, I’m a Libertarian.”

Nassim’s point, Naval explains, is that “the larger the group of people you have together, the less trust there is and the more cheating takes place [and] the more you gear towards capitalism, [but] the smaller the group you’re in—then by all means be a socialist.”

Not literal, but a different way to think through topics that are often stale.

Real places, not displacement

Daniel Herriges just returned from a visit to New Orleans, and comes to the same realization that so many of us do intuitively when we visit historic towns and downtowns, namely that “we used to do this everywhere:”

I just got back from a few days in New Orleans, where I stayed—as most tourists to that city do—in the French Quarter. The name is actually a misnomer from the particular perspective of an urban planner: most of the historic architecture in the French quarter dates to a period of Spanish rule from 1763-1801, and much of the urban design suggests a strong Spanish influence.

The French Quarter is one of the North American continent’s most treasured tourist destinations. Tennessee Williams once said, “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” (Apologies to Cleveland, which I hear rocks.) The Quarter, to many visitors, feels as impeccably master-designed and curated as Disneyland. This perception is understandable but wrong.

It brings me to something I find North Americans in particular need to remind ourselves of. We’re accustomed to environments built at the scale of the automobile, and to places where everything about the buildings suggests impermanence. When we vacation somewhere like the French Quarter, many of us slip into the false belief that a place like this—oriented to the pedestrian, with lavish attention to detail in public spaces and an overwhelming sense of place—is by necessity a tourist destination. It’s a novelty. You visit it, you love it, but who would ever try to replicate it in the places we go about our everyday lives? Impractical, surely. Too expensive, surely. Pretentious, even.

That view says so much about where we’ve gone wrong in how we build—and maintain—our places. …

There’s something I think more of us than not genuinely do crave about a traditionally-developed city built at a human scale. James Kunstler famously observed that Disney theme parks more or less replicate this pattern. So do college campuses and, in their own way, malls.

And of course, countless millions vacation every year in New Orleans and Savannah and Charleston and Santa Fe and so forth. But these places’ historic districts represent a pattern of building that we’ve made so scarce that it is now mostly reserved for tourists, and the very wealthy who can live in such unique neighborhoods. In the vast majority of the places that used to be this way, we’ve torn down half or more of the buildings for parking lots, lost others to disuse, hollowed out the economy in the name of pop-up strip-mall growth on the edge of town.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Visit the French Quarter and marvel at it because it’s the exception. But walk away from it wondering why it isn’t the rule.

In “Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry,” he reads from his poetry at one point (or maybe it’s only in the trailer, I’m not sure) that too much of modernity is characterized not by the human person in any particular place, but by dis-placement, literally un-placemaking as we transform the American countryside into derivative suburbia that has no center, no public square, and at its heart no shared life.

Wendell Berry has been a champion of the traditional life of the American farmer, and we need a champion of the traditional life of the American community—as a place defined by people and the life they share.

JUMP bike commute

I’m now heading downtown each morning to our new office near Dupont Circle. There’s no straightforward way to get from Georgetown to Dupont Circle by Metro, but there is by bike. When I left this morning, I opened Uber, pulled up the map of nearby JUMP bikes, and walked to P Street where I this bike was locked and ready for use.

JUMP Bike in Georgetown

This JUMP bike is one of the refreshed models, with a much simpler QR code-based reservation/unlocking process compared to the more cumbersome pin-code system of the JUMP bike I used last summer. I felt like a flew down P Street to Dupont Circle, and then Connecticut to the office. At 15 cents per minute, I ended up paying $1.75 after tax for the ten minute ride.

I’ll commute by JUMP bike as much as possible this summer, when I don’t walk.

A vast machine for forgetting

Ewan Morrison writes on historical amnesia, the process of forgetting, and offers a counter-intuitive perspective on the internet’s role in perpetuating amnesia:

Milan Kundera is 90-years old on April 1, 2019 and his central subject—The Power of Forgetting, or historical amnesia—could not be more relevant. Kundera’s great theme emerged from his experience of the annexation of his former homeland Czechoslovakia by the Soviets in 1948 and the process of deliberate historical erasure imposed by the communist regime on the Czechs.

As Kundera said: “The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.”

I first read Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979) back in 1987, when I was a member of the British Communist Party. The book shook my beliefs and Kundera’s writing became a part of a process of truth-speaking that shook the USSR to the ground in 1989.

In the 90s we believed we were living in a “post-mortem” era in which all the hidden graves of the 20th century would be exposed, the atrocities analyzed, the lessons learned. Lest we forget. We also thought we’d entered a time in which the Silicon Valley dream of digitizing all knowledge from the entire history of the printed and spoken word would lead us towards the infinite free library, the glass house of truth and the global village of free information flow. The future would be a time of endless remembrance and of great learning.

How wrong we were. The metaphor of the glass house has turned into that of the mirrored cube. The global village has collapsed into tribal info-warfare and the infinite library is now a war zone of battling conspiracy theories. The internet has become a tool of forgetting, not remembrance and the greatest area of amnesia is the subject that Milan Kundera spent his entire life trying to preserve, namely the horrors of communism.

This theme is set out on the very first page of the Book of Laughter and Forgetting in which Kundera describes a moment in Prague in 1948 amidst heavy snow in which the bareheaded Communist leader Klement Gottwald, while giving a speech in Wenceslas Square, was given a hat by his comrade Clemetis: “Four years later Clemetis was charged with treason and hanged. The Propaganda section immediately airbrushed him out of the history and obviously the photographs as well. Ever since Gottwald has stood on that balcony alone. Where Clemetis once stood, there is only bare wall. All that remains of Clemetis is the cap on Gottwald’s head.”

If you want to make data vanish these days, don’t try to hide them, just come up with four other bits of data that differ greatly and start a data-fight. This is historical amnesia through information overload.

When we lose not just the data, but the record of who did and said what in history beneath the noise of contrary claims, then we are in trouble. We can even see this in the accusation made against Milan Kundera in the last 10 years—that he was a communist informant, that he was a double agent, that his entire literary canon was the result of a guilty conscience for having betrayed a fellow Czech to the communists.

The confusion and profusion of narratives around Kundera lead us to simply drop the author completely, due to conflict-induced apathy. It has already eroded his reputation. We will never know if what he said in his own defense is true, the argument-from-apathy goes, so we shouldn’t trust anything he’s ever said or written, even his indictments against communism—even his theories about historical amnesia as a communist propaganda tool. All of this might as well be forgotten.

To get rid of an enemy now, you don’t have to prove anything against them. Instead, you use the internet to generate conflicting accusations and contradictory data. You use confusion to elevate hatred and fear until that enemy is either banned from the net, their history re-written or erased from the minds of millions through conflict-induced apathy.

If the struggle of man is the struggle of memory against forgetting, as Kundera said, then we have in the cacophony of the internet a vast machine for forgetting.