Falling birthrates, conspiracy theories, rigged elections (and other stories)

A roundup of news and commentary from around the interwebs.

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Interesting news out of Japan, where the birth rate has been dropping for well over a decade:

While gender expectations are a much-discussed factor in Japan’s low birth rate, another key concept is Japan’s strong cultural sense of familial responsibility. Japanese couples tend to be very cautious about starting a family unless they’re completely certain they can provide financially for their expanding family. With the pandemic having a negative impact on job and income security, Tokyo’s birth rate fell even lower in 2020. Only about 60,000 pregnancies were reported between April and October, roughly a 10-percent drop compared to that period the previous year.

But there’s a new plan to boost births in the capital: start paying people in Tokyo to have kids. A new proposal would award couples who give birth to a baby in Tokyo with 100,000 yen (US$966) per newborn child. If approved, the initiative would run for two years, allowing households with multiple pregnancies carried to term within the period to receive the award more than once. Parents wouldn’t be handed a stack of cash at the hospital though. Instead, the program would award them with credit to be redeemed, via a website, for childcare items and services. The 100,000-yen amount was chosen after research showed that average hospital costs for having a baby in Tokyo are 100,000 yen more than for the rest of Japan.

Creating financial incentives to have children (rather than the current incentives against having children that exist in many nations) is not new—Hungary is currently boosting its birth rate with similar policies. It will be fascinating to see if this strategy proves effective in Japan.

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Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a Reformed Christian, is one of the most intelligent politicians in Washington, DC. He’s a rock-ribbed pro-lifer; he’s taken aim at the porn industry; and he has thought deeply about what ails the republic. I’ve reviewed two of his books; The Vanishing American Adult, published in 2017, and Them: Why We Hate Each Other—And How To Heal, published in 2019. Both are very much worth reading. Sasse is one of those politicians who, a very short time ago, would have been one of the Religious Right’s greatest champions. But in today’s bizarro world, the fact that he has been a Trump skeptic means he is one of the targets of the insane Qanon theory that has seized the minds of so many. Sasse recently penned an essay on the subject in The Atlantic. An excerpt:

The violence that Americans witnessed—and that might recur in the coming days—is not a protest gone awry or the work of “a few bad apples.” It is the blossoming of a rotten seed that took root in the Republican Party some time ago and has been nourished by treachery, poor political judgment, and cowardice. When Trump leaves office, my party faces a choice: We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasies, and the ruin that comes with them. We can be the party of Eisenhower, or the party of the conspiracist Alex Jones. We can applaud Officer Goodman or side with the mob he outwitted. We cannot do both.

And:

Sensing a chance at tribal expansion, some on the left are thrilled by the chaos on the right, and they’re eager to seize the moment to banish from polite society not just those who participated and encouraged violence, but anyone with an R next to his or her name. Already on Twitter, a conservative position as long-standing as opposition to abortion has been recast as “domestic terrorism.” An MSNBC host talked about the “de-Baathification” of the GOP, comparing rank-and-file Republicans to supporters of Saddam Hussein. In an exchange on CNN, a host accused Republican voters of making common cause with Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. Yet the exploitative overreaction by the left should not allow an underreaction by the right.

This backlash was inevitable. For some reason, there are plenty of people who look at social conservatives who have spent a lifetime earning our trust and have decided instead to trust Donald Trump—who has, quite literally, never been loyal to anyone in return, even Mike Pence—Lin Wood, Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani (the pro-choice former mayor whom Trump reportedly stopped paying recently), and others. Sasse has some tough solutions for what ails us and, having read both of his books and followed his career closely, he is the sort of politician I will be listening to. I believe he is credible.

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A fascinating behind-the-scenes story reveals the breakdown of the relationship between William Barr, the former attorney general, and Donald Trump. I’d like to re-emphasize, once again, that this is the key reason I do not believe the election was stolen—because the most reliable, trustworthy, and credible social conservatives in the highest positions of power who are in the know do not believe it. Unless we believe that they, too, are in on the conspiracy, or are cucks, or “neo-cons,” or whatever the phrase is today, then the conclusion that Trump lost is inescapable. Unless we’re supposed to believe that Pence, Barr, Sasse, McConnell, the Supreme Court, conservative judges, most of the conservative commentariat, etc. all simply do not care that an election was stolen right out from under their noses. You may believe that if you wish—I can’t. Especially when I consider the people I’m supposed to believe instead. Anyway, a key excerpt from the story:

Attorney General Bill Barr stood behind a chair in the private dining room next to the Oval Office, looming over Donald Trump. The president sat at the head of the table. It was Dec. 1, nearly a month after the election, and Barr had some sharp advice to get off his chest. The president’s theories about a stolen election, Barr told Trump, were “bullshit.”

White House counsel Pat Cipollone and a few other aides in the room were shocked Barr had come out and said it — although they knew it was true. For good measure, the attorney general threw in a warning that the new legal team Trump was betting his future on was “clownish.” Trump had angrily dragged Barr in to explain himself after seeing a breaking AP story all over Twitter, with the headline: “Disputing Trump, Barr says no widespread election fraud.” But Barr was not backing down. Three weeks later, he would be gone.

The relationship between the president and his attorney general was arguably the most consequential in Trump’s Cabinet. And in the six months leading up to this meeting, the relationship between the two men had quietly disintegrated. Nobody was more loyal than Bill Barr. But for Trump, it was never enough. The president had become too manic for even his most loyal allies, listening increasingly to the conspiracy theorists who echoed his own views and offered an illusion, an alternate reality.

Bill Barr is one of us–read the text of his brilliant speech at Notre Dame University if you don’t believe me–and his opinion is summed up here succinctly. I trust his judgment. I’m sure we’re going to see many more stories like this in the days ahead.

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More soon.

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