Law & the Courts

Cato and the Court

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The Supreme Court Building in Washington D.C., August 5, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

If you’re like me, you will have enjoyed reading the legal commentary that’s been published ahead of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on December 1. At issue in the case is Mississippi’s 2018 Gestational Age Act, which prohibits abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies and severe fetal abnormality. The scholarship on the issue — both in formal amicus briefs and in longer-form essays — has been richly educational. That so many constitutional-law professors, advocacy groups, and nonprofits have decided to submit their thoughts for consideration isn’t surprising, given that this is perhaps the most consequential case the Court has decided to take up in decades. Mississippi’s law — although modest and broadly popular — is self-evidently incompatible with the Court’s prior rulings, and therefore threatens the abortion regime that’s been constructed over the past half century.

I was surprised, then, when I learned that the Cato Institute — the prominent libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., which boasts a center dedicated to the study of constitutional law — has decided not to file with the Court in this case. Surprise quickly turned to confusion when I read Ilya Shapiro, the center’s director, on its justification for not doing so.

Cato hasn’t and won’t be filing in Dobbs, as we haven’t in any abortion case, for three reasons: (1) libertarians in good standing span the gamut from the staunchest pro-choice to the staunchest pro-life, (2) we have nothing unique to add about what an “undue burden” is or how it may apply to any particular abortion regulation, and (3) while Cato lawyers may each have our own views on when rights attach — see point 1 — this is fundamentally a philosophical, theological, and thus ultimately political question, not a legal one.

Let’s consider each reason in turn.

First, I’ll take Shapiro’s word for it that libertarians, both at Cato and elsewhere, hold a range of views on abortion. Yet maintaining a wide range of opinions on abortion does not preclude Cato — or any of its fellows — from opposing Roe and Casey, which they ought to do on constitutional principle alone. Indeed, any pro-choice libertarian “in good standing” should advocate exactly this position. More on this below.

Next is the admission that they don’t have anything unique to add about what constitutes an “undue burden” — the standard established in Planned Parenthood v. Casey for determining whether a state restriction on abortion pre-viability is legitimate. As a constitutional matter, this is fair enough. The undue-burden standard has been sufficiently, even exhaustively, examined. Take, for example, a brilliant new essay from Mary Ann Glendon and O. Carter Snead in National Affairs. In making the case for overturning Roe and Casey, they note that the standard has been an exceedingly vague concept since its creation. The new standard, they write,

doubled down on Roe’s freewheeling derivation of a constitutional right based on the justices’ own normative balancing of competing interests: a woman’s interest in being free to make intimate, personal, and self-defining reproductive choices on the one hand, versus the state’s interests in defending the unborn, preserving the integrity of the medical profession, and promoting the respect for life more generally, on the other.

It failed, yet again, to ground the Court’s abortion jurisprudence in the Constitution. As it so happens, made-up rules tend to beget more made-up rules.

Consider, too, this brief description from Chief Justice John Roberts, on the sort of balancing act that Casey demanded: “There is no plausible sense in which anyone, let alone this Court, could objectively assign weight to such imponderable values and no meaningful way to compare them if there were.” 

So, in short, yes: Casey is well-trodden ground. To posit this as a justification for not filing in this case, however, is unpersuasive. One could write about any number of things unrelated to the undue-burden standard — and, indeed, the majority of those filed in support of the state of Mississippi have done just that. But beyond this, the case itself hardly turns on whether the state’s law constitutes an undue burden prior to viability. Its ban — with minimal exceptions — at 15 weeks pretty obviously amounts to one. Mississippi does not even argue otherwise; it knows its law violates the Supreme Court–made standard. Instead, the state put forth a wholesale stare decisis argument against Roe and Casey.

Last is the contention that “rights-attachment” — that is, when the fetus retains the rights attendant to personhood — is a philosophical, theological, and political question. Here, too, Shapiro is generally correct. (Some noteworthy conservatives such as Robert P. George and John M. Finnis disagree, advancing the notion that unborn children are constitutional persons entitled to equal protection pursuant to the 14th Amendment; in other words, it is fundamentally a legal question.)

But to maintain that this is expressly political — as Cato says that it does — is to have sufficient cause to support Mississippi’s case. That the question of when rights attach is a political matter, without any inferable language in the Constitution, supports the Court’s doing away with the precedent that treats it as one, thereby kicking deliberation of the matter back to the states, where it belongs. Shapiro’s comment then is indeed a justification — just not in the direction that he imagines it to run.

Finally, some also may suggest that to overturn such precedents would be dangerously political. But the opposite is true: Roe itself was the original political sin, and the Court’s removing itself from that sphere would be entirely apolitical. As has been discussed in these pages — and elsewhere — the Court’s abortion jurisprudence has no legitimate grounding in the Constitution. Roe, in the words of pro-choice legal scholar John Hart Ely, “was not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.” It’s hardly political, then, for the Court to correct a serious mistake that has caused significant negative jurisprudential and real-world consequences. To do so, in fact, would arguably enhance its legitimacy and restore its proper place in our constitutional order.

The opportunity before the justices is grand. So, too, is the one before the Cato Institute. It’s unfortunate that Cato has chosen to sit it out — and doubly so, that this is its reasoning for doing so. The Court must fight the temptation to do likewise.

Politics & Policy

Where Is the Democratic Agenda Headed?

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) takes questions as he speaks to reporters following the weekly Senate Democratic policy lunch at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., September 14, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

We are at the outset of what promises to be a frenzied and confusing fall on Capitol Hill, with a lot on the table and a lot of posturing over every part of it. No one can say with any confidence quite where things are headed; I certainly can’t. But here are five observations about what seems more and less likely and why, for what they are worth.

First, I think the Democrats are going to end up raising the debt ceiling on their own, in a stand-alone reconciliation bill they will push in parallel to their ongoing efforts to pass a massive social-spending reconciliation measure. They can do that alongside their ongoing work on the larger bill, though it will require revising the reconciliation instructions for the year. Section 304 of the 1974 law that created the current budget process allows for this, though it is no simple matter. Among other things, it would expose the Democrats to an extra round of votes on uncomfortable amendments (a so-called “vote-a-rama” in the Senate). And it will also take time. Back when I was a lowly House Budget Committee staffer, my boss used to say that complicated bicameral maneuvers like this would take “more than a week but less than a month.” That seems about right here. That means they do have time to do this, and claims to the contrary at this point are so much spin. But it also means they should start fairly soon.

The Democrats don’t want to do this, not only because they don’t want that extra round of votes but also because they believe it would require them to settle on an amount by which to raise the debt ceiling before they have come to any agreement among their party factions about how much to spend on the larger reconciliation and on what. (It is a widely held view in the Senate, though it isn’t rooted in any parliamentary precedent and hasn’t been tested, that a reconciliation bill has to increase the debt limit by a particular amount, rather than suspending it until a particular date.)

But unpleasant or not, the Democrats are likely going to have to do this on their own. The fact is that they have chosen to use an exceedingly narrow congressional majority to push through an exceedingly partisan agenda on their own, and that means they’re going to need to handle the debt ceiling on their own too. They have the means to do it, and they don’t have the means to force Republicans to cooperate. So it seems like we will ultimately see a bipartisan continuing resolution — which will extend current spending levels into December to avoid a government shutdown — without any increase in the debt ceiling, and then a debt-ceiling-only reconciliation bill that will get only Democratic votes.

Second, Senate passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill has badly undermined the Democrats’ capacity to pursue their more partisan progressive agenda. That doesn’t mean it will doom that agenda, of course, but it has harmed it. Separating actual infrastructure spending from the more ambitious progressive agenda has intensified the divisions between moderate and progressive Democrats, and has set their interests squarely against one another, rather than giving them a single legislative vehicle to champion for their separate purposes. On this front, as on the debt ceiling, Mitch McConnell’s tactical sense looks to have been sound.

But this was not some ingenious scheme by Republicans. It began for them as an effort to turn down the temperature on the filibuster, then after a while it seemed like it might actually have enough votes to pass, and at that point it became clear that it could also further divide the Democrats. Most of its Republican authors backed the bill for their own substantive reasons. Mitch McConnell jumped on board when the strategic advantage became apparent. And the Democratic moderates have supported the effort as a way to avoid getting stuck with a massive social-spending bill they couldn’t defend. Everyone has gotten what they hoped for except the more progressive Democrats, who have gotten what they feared — at least so far.

It’s hard to say whether passing the infrastructure bill in the House now would ultimately help or hurt the Democrats’ efforts to advance their reconciliation bill. The damage is done. Moderate Democrats aren’t invested in passage of the reconciliation bill either way, and both sides of the party are making all kinds of threats they won’t be able to keep. House Republicans deciding whether to vote for the infrastructure bill or not should just ask themselves what they think of it, substantively. Imagine that.

Third, the Democrats will pass a reconciliation bill with some progressive priorities in it, but it will be much smaller than what the progressives now want. Democrats in both houses are making this harder on themselves by staking out positions they will need to surrender in order to get half a loaf, so it’s easy to imagine the whole thing falling apart. But Democrats are still a little better than Republicans at taking half a loaf, and I think in the end they will pass something in a reconciliation bill and call it a win. They certainly run the risk of passing something big enough for Republicans to run against in purple districts but small enough for progressives to consider a betrayal and failure, and so ending up with the worst of both worlds. But they will probably still decide that’s better than getting nothing passed. I don’t think they’re going to completely fail to advance a meaningful legislative agenda, just that it will be more modest than what they now want.

Fourth, everyone’s assessment of Joe Biden has diminished. The White House has been strangely absent from the intra-party negotiations until quite recently, which was not at all the case on the infrastructure bill. But the bigger worry for Democrats is the sense that Biden doesn’t have the juice to speak for them if things get rough. If you’re going to come close to a government shutdown, let alone hitting the debt ceiling, you need the president to think on his feet, make a strong case to the public, and stand up for your position against the other party. It seems increasingly evident that President Biden won’t be up to that. His performance as a spokesman for his administration’s policies on the COVID response and the Afghanistan withdrawal have been abysmal, his public statements reek of sad exhaustion, and his staff seems afraid to put him out in public. This can’t help but influence the Democrats’ sense of what sorts of risks they want to take this fall.

And finally, fifth, what’s going on at this point is that the Democrats are being forced to confront the reality of their extremely narrow congressional majority. There has pretty much never been a narrower one. They have about three votes to spare in the House. They don’t have a Senate majority at all, and have to count on the vice president’s vote to get party-line measures through. The president’s public approval is around the 50 percent mark on a great day for him, and a bit lower most of the time now. Of course they’re not just going to pass the second Great Society in this situation. They’re going to pass narrow, modest measures, and they’re going to have to work with some Republicans to get most of them through. The infrastructure bill is an example of the kind of legislative measure that a period like this might be expected to produce under the best of circumstances. The reconciliation bill is not. It is an example of self-delusion.

That self-delusion has been evident from the outset of the Biden administration, in all kinds of talk about how a new progressive era had been inaugurated, and how the COVID-response bill was the most dramatic leftward step our society had seen in generations. Remember when the relief checks were going to change our politics? That talk has abated some, but the underlying attitude is powerfully evident in the very idea of the reconciliation bill the Democrats are now advancing.

Self-delusion can get you pretty far sometimes, especially when it becomes contagious. Consider the Trump era. But the Democrats shouldn’t be surprised, or go searching for villains, when a delusional strategy fails to bend reality. They may well make their way to total triumph here, but that would be surprising. Failure, or a modest success that feels like failure, would be less surprising. And no one should be shocked that giving this a try has them tying themselves in knots, backing themselves into corners, and pushing their coalition to the brink of breakdown. Given the results of the last election, what they’re trying to do here is pretty odd, and claiming to do it in the name of democracy is all the more so.

In the end, though, I’d repeat a point I’ve made around here over the years: In a big legislative push, success and failure often feel exactly the same while they are happening. They feel like a chaotic series of near-death experiences. The fact that the Democrats’ legislative strategy now has that feel to it doesn’t mean it won’t work. And of course the fact that it deserves to fail doesn’t mean it will. All we know at this point is that it is in real trouble.

National Security & Defense

AOC on Defense Budget Cuts

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez listens as David Marcus, CEO of Facebookís Calibra, testifies to the House Financial Services Committee, July 17, 2019 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

A spirited debate on defense spending broke out on the floor of the House of Representatives this afternoon, as members of Congress closed in on passing the National Defense Authorization Act.

Both House and Senate committees have passed amendments adding $24 billion to Joe Biden’s $715 billion proposal in recent months, rebuking both the White House and congressional progressives.

Now, as Congress debates amendments to the NDAA today, in anticipation of tomorrow’s vote on the full package, progressives are making a last-ditch effort to reverse the topline boost — and, going even further, to cut defense-spending levels. Representative Mark Pocan, one of the top congressional proponents of slashing defense spending, offered an amendment to cut the defense budget 10 percent.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke on Pocan’s behalf, going toe-to-toe with House Republicans in a series of short exchanges. Here’s the gist of her argument:

During a time when our country is withdrawing from foreign wars, when COVID-19 and its fallout is one of the greatest threats that we face, when record levels of unemployment, housing, and healthcare crises is among us, the United States should be reducing its military spending by at least 10 percent and prioritize the very needs of our communities here at home.

In remarks a few minutes later, responding to Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, she argued: “It is not the readiness cutting our defense budget threatens; it is the profit margins of the defense contractors.” She pointed to waste at the Pentagon and “spending sprees” that unnecessarily inflate the defense budget. Rogers objected: Congress is actually cutting Pentagon waste and eliminating old weapons systems, and the NDAA does provide housing, health care, and child care for Americans, he said.

Though a proposal to slash defense spending 10 percent in the face of an increasingly belligerent government in Beijing sounds unmoored from reality, the influence of the defense budget-cutters only seems poised to grow. This week, they convinced congressional Democrats to remove a provision providing funding for Iron Dome air-defense batteries in Israel from a broader government-funding bill. Though that funding will likely be approved through a separate bill, the incident hints at where the momentum on defense issues is within the Democratic caucus.

Representative Mike Gallagher echoed some of Rogers’s comments, slamming the effort to cut defense spending as singularly destructive:

Earlier this year, the former head of Indo Pacific Command, Admiral Phil Davidson, warned that the Chinese Communist Party could make a move on Taiwan within the next six years. Within the next six years we could be facing a crisis unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes…

And the idea that we’re going to do an across the board 10 percent cut —an indiscriminate across the board 10 percent cut to the Pentagon — at a time when we’re facing a serious national crisis, I think makes absolutely no sense. The ranking member pointed out the irony and tragedy that the other side is proposing to spend $3.5 trillion on social welfare spending, and then telling us that we have an explosion in defense spending when defense spending as a percentage of GDP is still at lows relative to what we spent during the Cold War.

Ocasio-Cortez and the defense-cuts caucus just aren’t up to the task of grappling with the demands of great-power competition. This amendment is unlikely to win adoption, but their growing influence might well end up having a disastrous impact on U.S. efforts to deter Chinese military aggression.

Religion

Looming Constitutional Crisis in the SBC

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(ChristianChan/Getty Images)

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a convention of churches. It is not itself a church, and it is not a clerical body. It has no formal hierarchical structure beyond the local church. Each local church sends messengers to an annual meeting to vote on denominational decisions.

The messengers elect officers, such as the convention president. They also elect an Executive Committee, which exists to carry on convention business outside the annual meeting and manage denominational affairs in accordance with the convention’s wishes.

At this year’s annual meeting, the messengers voted overwhelmingly to create a task force, appointed by the convention president, to oversee an independent investigation into the Executive Committee’s handling of sexual-abuse allegations within the SBC. President Ed Litton complied, appointing the task force on July 9.

The motion the messengers voted on included details on how the investigation was to be conducted. It set deadlines. It set the scope of the investigation. It also included this sentence: “We further move that the task force agree to the accepted best-standards and practices as recommended by the commissioned third-party, including but not limited to the Executive Committee staff and members waiving attorney client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review.”

The commissioned third party is Guidepost Solutions, a firm that has conducted other investigations related to sexual abuse in other organizations. The CEO of Guidepost, Julie Myers Wood, spoke to the Executive Committee at its most recent meetings on Monday and Tuesday and said the Executive Committee should waive attorney-client privilege. “Waiving privilege, she said, would give Guidepost access to all the documents it needs to understand how the Executive Committee responded to abuse,” reports Religion News Service.

The Executive Committee voted to approve funding of $1.6 million for the investigation. But it did not waive attorney-client privilege.

The Executive Committee’s actions directly contradict the motion passed by the messengers. Executive Committee president and CEO Ronnie Floyd has cast doubts on whether waiving attorney-client privilege is possible due to nonprofit law and SBC bylaws. Christianity Today reports that Executive Committee members opposed to waiving attorney-client privilege were also concerned about opening up the SBC to expensive litigation.

The Executive Committee oversees a budget of over $180 million. The convention runs six seminaries, a publishing company, a news organization, a domestic-missions board, an international-missions board, and other services. The Executive Committee exists to serve the member churches of the convention, and the member churches benefit from the services the convention provides. Insofar as this investigation would hinder the provision of those services, there’s an argument that the Executive Committee would be violating its fiduciary obligations to convention members. If it’s true that lawsuits could bankrupt the denomination, opening itself up to such lawsuits could be seen as a violation of the Executive Committee’s fiduciary responsibility to the convention.

Task force member Liz Evan, an attorney, sees it the other way. She writes that by refusing to waive attorney-client privilege, the Executive Committee is opening the SBC up to lawsuits. “In every lawsuit against the SBC thus far, the SBC has been able to argue that we are a bottom-up organization, and therefore the SBC itself has no authority over or liability for what happens at the local church level,” she writes. “That ended today. In every subsequent legal proceeding, plaintiffs can now use this vote to show that we are, in fact, a top-down organization and that the EC is in charge, not the churches.”

The vote on waiving attorney-client privilege was certainly not unanimous among the Executive Committee’s 86 members. Twelve members released a statement decrying the “unprecedented” decision to contradict the messengers’ wishes. Executive Committee chairman Rolland Slade believes they must waive attorney-client privilege to act in accordance with the motion, and he emphasized that negotiations between the task force and the Executive Committee are not over.

Southern Baptist pastor Bart Barber set out the stakes of this process for the denomination for Religion News Service:

Technically, said Barber, the Executive Committee is not obligated to heed the messengers on the question of waiving privilege. That decision is in the hands of Executive Committee members. But defying the will of the messengers was a “nuclear option,” Barber said, and could have significant consequences. The SBC’s entire governance model is built on “a rope of sand.”

“What makes that rope of sand work is trust,” he said.

Trust in the Executive Committee was already extremely low going into this process. The meetings of the past two days do not show signs of improvement. The constitution of the SBC is based on government by the messengers assembled at an annual meeting. If the Executive Committee presses forward with contradicting their express wishes, it would be hard to call it anything other than a constitutional crisis.

Media

Media Outlets Claim the Coverage of Gabby Petito’s Death Is Proof of Racism

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A makeshift memorial for Gabby Petito near North Port City Hall in North Port, Fla., September 22, 2021. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The media’s coverage of Gabby Petito’s tragic death is racist, according to . . . the media. As a recent NPR headline read — without a hint of irony —Media Fascination With The Petito Mystery Looks Like Racism To Some Native Americans.” 

If you believe these reports, the main problem with the coverage is that Gabby Petito was white — and thus, in their view, undeserving of the outsized attention that her death has received. “It’s kind of heart-wrenching, when we look at a white woman who goes missing and is able to get so much immediate attention,” a Native-American activist named Lynette Grey Bull told NPR. “It should be the same, if an African American person goes missing, or a Hispanic person goes missing, a Native American . . . we should have the same type of equal efforts that are being done in these cases.”

Yes, that’s what’s heart-wrenching about this whole affair: Not the tragic homicide of a young woman, but the fact that there’s been too much media coverage of her death vis-à-vis media coverage of missing persons of color. 

This isn’t just a bad NPR one-off — it’s actually part of the narrative now. MSNBC’s Joy Reid, ever the incisive and fair-minded political commentator, devoted an entire segment in Monday’s episode of her show to denouncing “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” a phenomenon that Reid described as “the media and public fascination with missing white women . . . while ignoring cases involving people of color.” On Tuesday, “Missing White Woman Syndrome” was trending on Twitter.

There is, apparently, no event too significant, no tragedy too grievous, to escape use as a narrative bludgeon. Sure, the “logic” goes, Petito’s death may have been tragic. But what matters is not that she died in horrific and shocking circumstances. What matters is that her death highlights systemic inequalities in how we talk about deaths. 

This utterly predictable routine is the result of an ideology with no concept of human dignity — no understanding of the inherent worth of the human person beyond the sum total of his or her race, gender, and sexual orientation. To these people, we are all merely positions on the intersectional hierarchy. 

Elections

The Eastman Memo

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Chapman University law professor John Eastman (left), next to Rudy Giuliani, gestures as he speaks in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

In early January, constitutional scholar John Eastman was urging Vice President Mike Pence to act to keep President Donald Trump in office for a second term, even though the Electoral College had determined weeks earlier that Joe Biden had defeated him. Eastman has now given the public the memo laying out what Pence was being asked to do, and why.

Eastman argued that the Constitution gives the vice president the authority to determine how to resolve any conflicts when states send dueling slates of electors, and to disregard any statute that says otherwise. Thus Pence would be on solid ground in throwing out Biden’s victories in seven states, with the result that Trump would be declared the victor. There are two main objections to Eastman’s view: The Constitution gives no such power to the vice president, and even if it did, the states had not sent dueling slates of electors.

The Twelfth Amendment stipulates that the vice president, in his capacity as the president of the Senate, “shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.” Eastman quotes that language and then says there is “very solid legal authority” that the vice president gets to judge which electors count. It would have been screwy for the drafters and ratifiers of the Twelfth Amendment to establish a system in which the vice president exercises this kind of power, and there is no evidence in the text to suggest that they did.

No state government body, meanwhile, certified a Trump victory in any of the seven states Eastman mentions. Each state officially submitted only one set of electors to the National Archives. There were no dueling slates of electors. Some Trump supporters claimed to be casting electoral votes for Trump in those states, sure, but they had no official standing under the Constitution, federal law, or state law — and even some of them said they were acting only in case something came of Trump’s election lawsuits.

Note, though, that Eastman’s reading of the Constitution does not actually require there to have been dueling electors. So long as the vice president’s count of the electors gives him the discretion to count whichever ones he wants, he doesn’t need anyone else to dispute electors. He doesn’t need any nonsense about “secret folders” in voting machines, or any evidence at all. He can just reject the electoral votes he feels like rejecting.

Former vice president Dan Quayle reportedly told Pence that he had “no flexibility on this”: “None. Zero. Forget it.” That was better advice than Eastman’s. Better legal analysis, too.

For more on this, see Jonathan Adler and Derek Muller.

Politics & Policy

Hey, Wasn’t Biden’s Approval Rating Supposed to Have Rebounded By Now?

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President Joe Biden discusses his ‘Build Back Better’ agenda and administration efforts to “lower prescription drug prices,” in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 12, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters )

Reuters, August 20:

White House officials believe Americans’ horror over graphic images of the chaos in Kabul and pleas from Afghans who fear they will be killed by the Taliban will morph into support for the president’s decision to pull troops from the country by Aug. 31 after a 20-year war.

They expect the Afghanistan story to recede from the headlines, replaced by the resurgence in COVID-19 cases, the economic recovery and other issues, people familiar with the matter said.

Politico, August 31:

“The path forward for them in the fall remains Covid and infrastructure,” said Jennifer Palmieri, a former communications director in the Obama White House who is close to the Biden administration. “The most important facts about Afghanistan remain that he got the U.S. out, in terms of what the public cares about.”

We are now well into September, and Afghanistan has largely, though not entirely, disappeared from the headlines. And how is President Biden doing?

Gallup has his approval rating down to 43 percent, with 53 percent of respondents disapproving of the job Biden is doing:

Biden’s latest approval rating further cements the fact that the honeymoon phase of his presidency is behind him. Political independents, who were part of the coalition that helped him defeat Trump in 2020, now largely disapprove of the job he is doing as president.

Though Americans were generally supportive of the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the chaotic and deadly way in which it was executed has played into the decrease in Biden’s approval rating. So, too, has the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Although Vice President Harris’ approval rating is slightly higher than the president’s, she is also underwater with independents. Americans continue to rate Congress’ job negatively and to express general dissatisfaction with the way the nation is being governed.

Sure, we’re not watching footage of desperate Afghans falling from U.S. aircraft these days. But the horrific sights and consequences of the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle demonstrated to Americans that they’ve bought a lemon. Joe Biden is not as wise as his campaign promised, not as empathetic as the media insisted, and not as deft at strengthening international alliances as he claimed. He pledged to get every American who wanted to leave out, and then he forgot about that promise. Biden turned out to be exactly what his critics claimed: an aging, thin-skinned, prickly, dull-edged blowhard with terrible instincts and far too much faith in his own ability to persuade, who stubbornly sticks to whatever idea he’s convinced is going to work out, no matter how many times his top advisors warn him otherwise.

Politics & Policy

The Congressional Spending Negotiations Are Exhausting, Even If You Don’t Care

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Kyrsten Sinema speaks with supporters in Phoenix, Ariz., October 24, 2018. (Gage Skidmore)

On quite a few editions of The Editors podcast this year, the topic of the ongoing (and ongoing and ongoing) negotiations over the infrastructure bills arises – both the bipartisan and the ever-shifting gargantuan $3.5 trillion or so one. And while we find things to say… it doesn’t feel like as a news story, the spending bills are going anywhere.

Congressional reporters keep telling us that the make-or-break moment is here… week after week. And then Joe Manchin makes it sound like he’s doubtful, or Kyrsten Sinema raises similar objections, and the Twitter Left throws a tantrum. And then a few days later, Pramila Jayapal or AOC or some other progressive will threaten that if the bill doesn’t include a few billion for art supplies for the underprivileged or free iPhones for those who are overdue on their student loans or some other spending priority, they will walk away and let the deal collapse. And then the purple district House Democrats start shifting in their seats uncomfortably and murmuring noises of concern about the midterm elections. And the congressional correspondents speak, with very concerned tones, about whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be able to find the votes, or whether the Senate Parliamentarian will allow some provision to be passed through reconciliation.

And the process just drags on, week after week; the negotiation process never quite fully falls apart, and it never reaches a deal that can get enough votes in the House and Senate. And while two chambers of Congress, both narrowly controlled by Democrats, spend day after day debating whether $3.5 trillion or so is too much to spend, too little, or just right (SPOILER ALERT, it is too much)… the country tries to deal with real problems that will not necessarily be fixed by a Congressional spending spree. The waves of migrants at the border that Biden insisted was just part of a seasonal pattern keep getting bigger. Biden insisted inflation was not a real threat, but Americans keep staring in disbelief at their grocery bills. The virus remains stubbornly not “shut down.” Oh, and the administration left Americans stranded in Afghanistan, not that the national media cares much anymore.

America has problems. But the federal government not spending enough money is not one of them.

Law & the Courts

March For Our Lives’s Corlett Amicus Brief Is a Non Sequitur

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The nine Supreme Court justices pose for a group photo in Washington, D.C., April 23, 2021. (Erin Schaff/Reuters)

CNN tells us that the March For Our Lives gun-control group has filed a brief with the Supreme Court in the case of New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Corlett:

Survivors of shootings are giving the Supreme Court justices a first hand account of their experiences in a brief filed Tuesday in a case that could impact concealed carry and Second Amendment laws across the country.

In hopes of influencing the court’s decision on a New York concealed carry law, the “friend of the court” brief shares the stories of eight people whose lives have been directly affected by gun violence. It was filed by law firm Hogan Lovells for March For Our Lives — the youth-led gun violence prevention organization founded by students following the 2018 deadly school shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

In part, the brief includes the detailed experience of Samantha Mayor, who was shot in the knee.

According to the brief, Mayor, who was 16-years-old and a junior at the time, was at first, “dazed and in disbelief,” and she did not realize she had been shot until her teacher called to report the number of students who had been injured in her classroom.

Only then did Mayor “look down, notice a hole in her leggings, and realize that she had been shot. Blood poured out of the hole in her kneecap and onto the tiled floor,” the brief says.

“I started telling myself that it was okay. I was coming to terms with dying,” Mayor said in the brief, describing the aftermath of the shooting.

Mayor’s narrative, along with the seven other detailed stories, is meant to shed light on the potential ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision, including the way the court’s ruling could directly impact the lives of young Americans.

This is one long non sequitur. The issue at stake in this case is whether New York’s “may issue” carry regime — which allows the state to deny concealed-carry permits to law-abiding citizens if it considers that they lack “proper cause”  — is so strict as to be unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. It is not whether firearms are dangerous. Like everyone else in America, the Court knows full well that they are.

Indeed, harrowing though they are, the stories being relayed here do not even intersect with the case at hand — which, again, is about whether cities and states are allowed to deny carry permits to those who are legally eligible but who have failed to demonstrate subjective “need.” The people who were killed and injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 were not injured or killed by a concealed carrier, and nor, at any point, did the perpetrator rely upon a concealed carry permit, apply for a concealed carry permit, or take any action of any sort that called into question the wisdom, legality, or execution of Florida’s “shall issue” concealed carry rules. Whatever they may be, the “potential ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision” have precisely nothing to do with the stories contained within the brief. They are ingermane.

Law & the Courts

Vermeule, the Law, and Vaccine Mandates

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Jose Espinoza, 27, receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic in Los Angeles, Calif., August 17, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Vaccine mandates are a fraught subject at the intersection of the twin conservative values of public order and private liberty. They are complicated by the fact that there is more than one kind of mandate. It is possible to support state government mandates, but believe that the federal government has no general constitutional power in this area. It is possible to support private business mandates but not governmental ones, given the rights of private business owners and the superior coercive force of government. It is possible to support government permitting or requiring mandates on employees of business and government and also support state bans on mandates on customers, who interact more briefly with a greater number of businesses. It is possible to oppose mandates in general, but support them in some particular circumstances, such as soldiers, nurses, or cruise-ship passengers. It is possible to favor vaccine mandates in general, but be skeptical of mandating a particular vaccine. It is possible to think mandates are permissible in theory but counterproductive in practice. Finally, it is possible to take the stance of some on the right (both the MAGA “never give an inch” Right and the libertarian Right) that even if mandates make sense in some circumstances, it is imprudent to go along with them because they cede more power to the same forces of elite, left-leaning social control that have pushed at every turn for more levers of power throughout the pandemic.

Bari Weiss spoke to a variety of people across the political spectrum in her latest newsletter. Given his prominence in what you might call the MAGA-adjacent field of attacking originalist constitutional interpretation from the right and promoting the administrative state, it is noteworthy that Harvard Law professor Adrian Vermeule argues for the legality of Joe Biden’s OSHA vaccine mandate and the duty to respect it because it comes from the commands of expert authority:

I see no objection in principle to the President’s vaccine mandate, as a matter of political morality. The highest aim of just government is to promote the common good, and that surely includes, at minimum, our health, safety and well-being as a community. The libertarian view is that the rights of the individual must not be sacrificed to the interests of the collective. But that is entirely the wrong picture of how rights work. The common good does not “override” individual rights. Rather the common good determines the boundaries of those rights from the beginning. . . . The common good is itself the highest good of individuals . . .

If there is no valid objection from political morality, what of legal or prudential objections? If the vaccine mandate violated indisputably clear constitutional or statutory limits on presidential authority, or if it were legally irrational (“arbitrary and capricious”), then it should fall. Yet I am skeptical of these claims. . . . When the “paramount necessity” of defending the community is at issue, our law has always taken a flexible approach to executive power. In the end, the hard questions about the vaccine mandate are strictly pragmatic. . . . I have no firm view on these questions, which lie beyond my competence. But nothing I have seen makes a convincing case that the mandate as such is demonstrably irrational. . . . These difficult pragmatic questions are actually easiest for the subjects of the law. . . . I am duty bound — as are we all — to respect the commands of those in authority charged with deciding them, short of flagrant arbitrariness.

Josh Hammer’s theory of “common-good originalism” is, of course, not identical to Vermeule’s point of view, which places great stress on empowering the bureaucracy. But as I noted recently, it shares a tendency to greater deference to the exercise of government power over individual rights. For those who seek alternatives to originalism primarily as means to policy ends, the extent to which those alternatives would further the power of the public-health bureaucracy should give some pause.

Film & TV

Norm Macdonald, Christian Comic

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Norm Macdonald at the Fox network presentation at the Television Critics Association Summer press tour in 2003. (Fred Prouser/Reuters)

Matthew Walther wrote a beautiful piece for the New York Times a couple of days ago on the late comedian Norm Macdonald’s religious faith. As a longtime fan of Macdonald’s, I was aware of some of the Christian undertones to his work, but I had no idea that he was publicly pro-life until Walther mentioned it in his piece:

I was surprised that few of the obituaries of Norm Macdonald, who died last week at 61, mentioned his Christian faith. A famously reticent comedian, he did not often discuss his personal life, and his mannerisms were so flippant that it was often in doubt whether he had serious views about any subject. In his later years, however, he spoke and wrote at length not only about his belief in God but also, with more reluctance, about his opposition to abortion. (“I don’t like saying it because it’s unpopular,” he said on Dennis Miller’s radio program.)

That’s actually a pretty significant revelation for those of us on the right who were fans of Macdonald’s work. I listened to the entire 25-minute audio compilation that Walther linked of Macdonald chatting with his fellow comedian Dennis Miller — the section where Macdonald briefly discusses his views on abortion begins around the eight-minute mark — and here’s what he says:

Miller: What side of the abortion thing do you come down on – are you pro-choice or pro-life?

Macdonald: Me? Ah, it’s kind of unpopular, I don’t like saying it because it’s unpopular. 

Miller: Oh alright, I’ll keep us off that then.

Macdonald: No, I’m very pro-life. I just don’t think a woman should have the right to choose to murder a baby.

It’s just a brief interaction, and Macdonald is rightly remembered for his comedy more than his views on any particular hot-button political topic, but it fits well with the picture of Macdonald’s quiet but deep faith that Walther described in the New York Times. Macdonald’s Christianity was often more unspoken than explicit, but we did get glimpses of it from time to time. One more brief interaction that Walther did not mention was this clip from when Macdonald was a judge on NBC’s Last Comic Standing (sort of the comedian equivalent of American Idol). After a contestant told a lazy joke saying he preferred Harry Potter to the Bible, Macdonald — in a rare display of anger — tore his heart out on live television:

I don’t think the Bible joke was brave at all. I think if you’re going to take on an entire religion, you should maybe know what you’re talking about. JK Rowling is a Christian, and JK Rowling famously said that if you’re familiar with the scriptures, you can easily guess the ending of her book.

In short, Macdonald was a brilliant mind who brought an immeasurable amount of joy to millions of people throughout his career. By all accounts he was a fundamentally decent man, too – an unusual trait for comedians, whose personal lives are often profoundly troubled and filled with serious moral failings. Macdonald had his own demons — he had a recurring gambling addiction and separated from his wife in the 1990s — but there was also something much softer and kinder about his disposition toward the world than a lot of the hard-edged, cynical men who tend to make the most talented comedians. In more ways than one, Macdonald’s comedy was a distinctly Christian expression of awe and wonder at the miracle of Creation. “At times, the joy that life attacks me with is unbearable and leads to gasping hysterical laughter,” he wrote on Twitter in 2018. “I find myself completely out of control and wonder how life could surprise me again and again and again, so completely. How could a man be a cynic? It is a sin.”

Education

Critical Race Theory Is Just a Distraction from Learning

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(diane39/Getty Images)

In this Newsweek article, Robert Woodson and Ian Rowe argue that critical race theory (CRT) has no place in our schools because it distracts attention from learning the skills that make an individual successful.

They write, “Our biggest problem today isn’t the achievement gap between Black and white students; it’s the distance between current illiteracy rates among all students and true academic excellence.”

They’re right. Our government-run schools do a lousy job for many students, regardless of race. Adding in CRT propaganda won’t help students at all. It will make some of them angry at being called part of the class of oppressors and it will make others even less inclined to study than ever because they’re told that the country is hopelessly racist, making it impossible for them as individuals to advance.

Woodson and Rowe point out that a century ago, when actual racists such as Woodrow Wilson were in charge, many blacks did well in school and used their learning to climb the economic ladder.

Ah, but do today’s “progressives” want that? Well-educated, successful people are much less likely to fall for the statist nostrums they peddle.

Science & Tech

Today in COVID News . . .

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Out with the horse paste, in with the . . .  llama paste!

From the BBC:

A Covid therapy derived from a llama named Fifi has shown “significant potential” in early trials.
It is a treatment made of “nanobodies”, small, simpler versions of antibodies, which llamas and camels produce naturally in response to infection.
Once the therapy has been tested in humans, scientists say, it could be given as a simple nasal spray – to treat and even prevent early infection.
Prof James Naismith described nanobodies as “fantastically exciting”.

Fifi. What else would the llama be called?

Politics & Policy

It’s a Sign There Are Too Many Letters When Even Justin Trudeau Can’t Get Through Them All

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This is amusing, but presumably would have gotten him expelled from Oberlin College:

Woke Corporations Defend ‘People’s’ Right to Abortion

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A demonstrator holds an abortion flag outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., as justices hear a major abortion case on the legality of a Louisiana law that imposes restrictions on abortion doctors, March 4, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Several dozen U.S. companies have published a statement proclaiming their support for “reproductive healthcare” and suggesting that the Texas Heartbeat Act “bans equality” in the state.

The signatories include major corporations such as Yelp, Lyft, Madewell, Bumble, Benefit Cosmetics, Glossier, Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Asana, and VICE Media. The statement argues that “policies that restrict reproductive health care go against our values and are bad for business,” and it alleges that state restrictions on abortion “cost state economies $105 billion dollars per year.”

It comes as little surprise that corporations would care first and foremost about their bottomline and oppose abortion restrictions

After Mandating Masks Outdoors, Oregon’s Active COVID-19 Cases Increased 73 Percent

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Oregon governor Kate Brown speaks at the state capitol building in Salem, Ore., February 20, 2015. (Steve Dipaola /Reuters)

On August 24, Oregon governor Kate Brown instated a state masking requirement that requires everyone five years and older, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask, face covering, or face shield in outdoor spaces if they are less than six feet apart from individuals not in their household.

“Cases and hospitalizations are at a record high,” said Governor Brown. “Masks are a quick and simple tool we can immediately deploy to protect ourselves and our families, and quickly help stop further spread of COVID-19.”

On August 24, Oregon had 49,889 active cases of COVID-19. As of yesterday, Oregon had 86,623 active

Culture

Scenes from the Twilight of a D.C. Wendy’s

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Sign in front of Wendy’s at ‘Dave Thomas Circle,’ Washington, D.C. (Jack Butler)

Dave Thomas Circle doesn’t exist. Or at least, not officially. It’s the nickname Washington, D.C., residents have given to the labyrinthine intersection of New York and Florida Avenues and First Street at what used to be the northeastern edge of the city. At the center of the circle’s many lanes and turns sits a Wendy’s, hence “Dave Thomas” circle, in “honor” of the restaurant’s founder.

And so this Weird Wendy’s has sat since sometime in the 1980s. But this seemingly permanent monument to randomness marked its last day as a functioning restaurant on Tuesday. The D.C. city government had announced in February its intention to acquire the property via eminent domain; thinking its demise imminent, I memorialized it at the time. As it stubbornly remained over the succeeding months, I thought that somehow Wendy’s had reversed the decision. Yet a few days ago, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser announced that its closure was at hand.

Which is why I, as a resident of northeast D.C., came to the parking lot of the Weird Wendy’s late on Tuesday night. Not to get anything, mind you; I’m not much of a fast-food guy. I just felt some strange need to be present for its twilight. And I was not alone. Despite the difficulty of entering the parking lot of this Wendy’s, the drive-through was packed when I arrived. I had driven there as well, hoping to go inside; alas, indoor dining had already closed. So, uninterested in actually getting anything to eat, I just stood in the parking lot.

I was not alone in that, either. Many people had come to the Weird Wendy’s. Some were just taking pictures. Others, like me, hoped to go inside, and, like me, were rebuffed by a locked door. Still others, desperate for a last meal at the vanishing restaurant, tried the old trick of ordering from the drive-through as a pedestrian. And for whatever reason — sympathy, a desire to get rid of the last of the food stock, what have you — employees at the Wendy’s appeared to oblige.

Apart from observing the goings-on, I spent most of my time in the Wendy’s parking lot speaking with some other area residents about the end of the random restaurant. I had learned that indoor dining was closed from a woman named Cynthia, who had parked her car in the Wendy’s lot. She also claimed to be the last customer able to eat inside. She told me that, when she walked in about 45 minutes earlier, employees were surprised to see her there; only then did they realize they forgot to lock up. The cash register there had to be booted back up, and the manager filled her order. When I asked Cynthia if she would miss the Weird Wendy’s, she answered in the affirmative. “It’s a landmark,” she said.

Joshua, another area resident who had showed up to witness the end, joined me in conversation with Cynthia. Though only a few years older than me, he could recall many of the changes that had taken place in the surrounding area during his life: a carwash here, a Burger King there. He hoped that the end of the Wendy’s would improve the traffic pattern in the area.

Cynthia had her doubts, and I agree with her. The plan for the intersection is not to turn the plot of land on which the Wendy’s sits, accidentally spawned as a strange quirk of the city’s growing past its original grid, back into road. It will, instead, become a park. A cynic might think that the only real improvement of this plan will come from removing the traffic coming in and out of the Wendy’s itself, with few to no other changes. This would be only a marginal amelioration, as on most nights other than this one (a special circumstance), the Wendy’s has rarely been excessively crowded by cars.

So what brought people here tonight, then? Aside from a desire for Wendy’s, there seemed to be an ineffable feeling that something more than just a fast-food restaurant was about to be lost. To many, the Weird Wendy’s was a testament to an older Washington, D.C. A place that had not yet so thoroughly benefited from the increasingly ostentatious and unseemly nexus of government and corporate power. A place in which long-extant neighborhoods maintained something of their abiding charm. A place that, despite being the nation’s capital, could seem at times more like a small town than a big city.

You could make all sorts of arguments in favor of the removal of the Weird Wendy’s. But what can’t be denied is that it was a lingering rebuke to the designs of planners who have grand ambitions for what places should look like at the same time that they have contempt for the seemingly haphazard features of neighborhoods to which their residents nonetheless become attached. Evidencing this attachment, Joshua told me he hoped that the park planned for the Wendy’s lot honors its past in some way. “Leave a sign here that says, ‘This was a Wendy’s,” he suggested.

Indeed, it was.

Immigration

‘Why Trump Didn’t Have a Haitian-Migrant Crisis’

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I wrote today on the home page about the Trump team’s approach that avoided what we’ve seen in Del Rio over the last week:

Alejandro Mayorkas likes to say that our border isn’t open.

This line rang particularly hollow on Monday when he said it in close proximity to a migrant camp where people were coming and going freely across the Rio Grande and had to take tickets to wait to get formally apprehended by U.S. authorities.

It’s one thing to say the border isn’t open, it’s another to implement the policies and do the work to keep it under control.

The Biden team tells the story that it is constantly undone by circumstances at the border — “seasonality” creating a surge last spring, climate change hurting agriculture in the Northern Triangle, the coup in Haiti — but there’s a reason that scene at the Del Rio bridge happened on Biden’s watch and not his predecessor’s.

NRI

We’re Headed to Dallas!

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National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. (National Review)

National Review Institute’s Eighth Annual William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner will be on October 21 at the Fairmont in Dallas, Texas. I, along with many of your NR favorites, will be in attendance.

This year, NRI will honor Leonard Leo and Eugene Meyer (the Federalist Society) with the William F. Buckley Jr. Prize for Leadership in Political Thought and Adam Meyerson (former president, the Philanthropy Roundtable) with the William F. Buckley Jr. Prize for Leadership in Supporting Liberty.

We hope you will join us and even consider sponsoring. We anticipate a night of good cheer, with dinner, dancing, and cocktails! (If London Breed can do it, so can we!) To register, please click here.

Politics & Policy

Dems Want to Put Obama’s Title IX Enforcer Back in Charge

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Catherine Lhamon in MSNBC in 2018. (MSNBC/via YouTube)

During the Obama administration, Title IX enforcement was vastly expanded and procedures for determining guilt so distorted that many courts and legal scholars objected to them. The main architect of those policies was Catherine Lhamon. When Obama left office, he appointed her to chair the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

With the Dems ruling Washington again, Biden has nominated Lhamon for her old post in the Department of Education. That nomination has drawn a lot of fire from people who dislike her approach to “civil rights.” In today’s Martin Center piece, professor KC Johnson, so well known for his work in ferreting out the truth about the Duke lacrosse case, writes about Lhamon and the prospects that she will be confirmed.

Will we go back to the kangaroo courts for Title IX? Johnson points out that the “vehement opposition” to Lhamon has made it possible that we won’t. He writes, “The debate over the Lhamon nomination also has, perhaps unintentionally, revealed a significant shift in the media and legal culture surrounding Title IX and campus sexual assault.”

Back when she was in power, the media coverage was utterly fawning, as papers giddily supported her claims that our campuses were awash in “rape culture.” Now, however, we are at least getting some balance.

Moreover, quite a few courts have ruled against the unfair procedures Lhamon demanded that colleges use in Title IX cases.

After Secretary Betsy DeVos made significant changes in Title IX policy, Lhamon ranted against them in hysterics, but didn’t make any serious arguments.

Lhamon’s supporters have resorted to far-fetched claims in hopes of salvaging her nomination. It’s now up to Senator Chuck Schumer to push it forward or give up (and then find someone else who will be hardly different, but with less of a record).

Johnson concludes, “That even Lhamon’s advocates are trying to label her a due process advocate shows that we’ve moved beyond the Obama era in terms of public relations, and that outright indifference to the rights of accused students no longer is acceptable. But there’s no reason to believe that, if confirmed, Lhamon will adopt policies any different from her first, disastrous stint at OCR.”

History

Was Sodom Destroyed by a Meteor?

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A meteor streaks past stars above Leeberg hill during the Perseid meteor shower in Grossmugl, Austria, August 10, 2018. (Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters)

A new paper in Nature collects the scientific and archaeological evidence of a massive meteor explosion in the atmosphere, destroying an entire city in around 1,650 b.c.; the authors speculate that this may match the biblical story of the destruction of Sodom:

~ 1650 BCE (~ 3600 years ago), a cosmic airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam, a Middle-Bronze-Age city in the southern Jordan Valley northeast of the Dead Sea. The proposed airburst was larger than the 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, [which] detonated with ~ 1000× more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. . . . Heating experiments indicate temperatures exceeded 2000 °C. Amid city-side devastation, the airburst demolished . . . the 4-to-5-story palace complex and the massive 4-m-thick mudbrick rampart, while causing extreme disarticulation and skeletal fragmentation in nearby humans. An airburst-related influx of salt . . . produced hypersalinity, inhibited agriculture, and caused a ~ 300–600-year-long abandonment of ~ 120 regional settlements within a > 25-km radius. Tall el-Hammam may be the second oldest city/town destroyed by a cosmic airburst/impact . . . and possibly the earliest site with an oral tradition that was written down (Genesis).

***

There is an ongoing debate as to whether Tall el-Hammam could be the biblical city of Sodom . . . but this issue is beyond the scope of this investigation. Questions about the potential existence, age, and location of Sodom are not directly related to the fundamental question addressed in this investigation as to what processes produced high-temperature materials at Tall el-Hammam during the MBA. Nevertheless, we consider whether oral traditions about the destruction of this urban city by a cosmic object might be the source of the written version of Sodom in Genesis. . . . It is worth speculating that a remarkable catastrophe, such as the destruction of Tall el-Hammam by a cosmic object, may have generated an oral tradition that, after being passed down through many generations, became the source of the written story of biblical Sodom in Genesis. The description in Genesis of the destruction of an urban center in the Dead Sea area is consistent with having been an eyewitness account of a cosmic airburst, e.g., (i) stones fell from the sky; (ii) fire came down from the sky; (iii) thick smoke rose from the fires; (iv) a major city was devastated; (v) city inhabitants were killed; and (vi) area crops were destroyed.

The authors have published an account in The Conversation that offers more pictures and less scientific jargon in dramatizing the event:

As the inhabitants of an ancient Middle Eastern city now called Tall el-Hammam went about their daily business one day about 3,600 years ago, they had no idea an unseen icy space rock was speeding toward them at about 38,000 mph. . . . Flashing through the atmosphere, the rock exploded in a massive fireball about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) above the ground. The blast was around 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. The shocked city dwellers who stared at it were blinded instantly. Air temperatures rapidly rose above 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit (2,000 degrees Celsius). Clothing and wood immediately burst into flames. Swords, spears, mudbricks and pottery began to melt. Almost immediately, the entire city was on fire.

Some seconds later, a massive shockwave smashed into the city. Moving at about 740 mph (1,200 kph), it was more powerful than the worst tornado ever recorded. The deadly winds ripped through the city, demolishing every building. They sheared off the top 40 feet (12 m) of the 4-story palace and blew the jumbled debris into the next valley. None of the 8,000 people or any animals within the city survived – their bodies were torn apart and their bones blasted into small fragments. About a minute later, 14 miles (22 km) to the west of Tall el-Hammam, winds from the blast hit the biblical city of Jericho. Jericho’s walls came tumbling down and the city burned to the ground.

Is this actually Sodom? It would not be the first thing in Genesis to be consistent with historical evidence without being proven by such evidence. Connecting the two inevitably involves a certain amount of faith. But certainly, if the Lord meant to destroy a city in one fell blow, a Tunguska-style atmospheric explosion of a meteor would be the most efficient way to do that within the parameters of things explainable by modern science. The fact that anyone looking back and returning to the site would find it uninhabitable for centuries due to an excess of salt seems a particularly apt detail.

World

DHS Secretary: Only 3 Percent of 60,000 Afghan Evacuees in U.S. Have Special Immigrant Visas

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Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 23, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sergeant Isaiah Campbell/Handout via Reuters)

Department of Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in congressional testimony on Tuesday that “approximately three percent” of the 60,000 Afghan evacuees already brought to the United States “have been individuals who are in receipt of the special immigrant visas.”

Afghans who qualified for Special Immigrant Visas included those who worked for the American military as interpreters and thus placed themselves in greatest danger of being murdered if the Taliban ever came to power.

When the U.S. military recruited Afghans to assist U.S. forces, “part of that pitch when asking Afghans to trust us and put their lives on the line for us was that if this day ever came, we would do right by them and bring them out,” Congressman Peter Meijer of Michigan, a veteran of the Iraq War, told National Review in an interview. “That was part of that promise — that we will not leave you behind. That was implicit in the legislation [establishing Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan allies], and that was conveyed by [U.S. military] folks on the ground to those who chose to work with us.”

“As of May, about 18,000 to 20,000 Afghans who worked with U.S. troops and diplomats had applied for SIVs, according to government figures,” NBC News reported. “When their family members are included, the pool of Afghans in the SIV program was at least 70,000 and probably higher, according to refugee advocacy groups.”

Here’s the video of Mayorkas’s statement on Tuesday: 

Of the over 60,000 individuals who have been brought into the United States [from Afghanistan]—and I will give you approximate figures and I will verify them—approximately 7 percent have been United States citizens. Approximately 6 percent have been lawful permanent residents. Approximately 3 percent have been individuals who are in receipt of the special immigrant visas. The balance of that population are individuals whose applications have not yet been processed for approval who may qualify as SIVs and have not yet applied, who qualify or would qualify—I should say—as P-1 or P-2 refugees who have been employed by the United States government in Afghanistan and are otherwise vulnerable Afghan nationals, such as journalists, human rights advocates, et cetera.

As I explained here, it’s hard to overstate the depth of this betrayal of America’s closest allies in Afghanistan.

World

House Democrats Strip $1 Billion for Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ from Spending Bill

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Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, May 19, 2021. (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

On Tuesday, House Democratic leadership stripped $1 billion for Israel’s defensive anti-missile Iron Dome program out of a bill to fund the government.

Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan was one of several pro-Israel Democrats who objected to the move on Twitter: “Iron Dome is a purely *defensive* system — it protects civilians when hundreds of rockets are shot at population centers. Whatever your views on the Israeli-Pal[estinian] conflict, using a system that just saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives as a political chit is problematic.”

Democratic leaders stripped the funding for Iron Dome in response to threats from progressives that they would vote against the continuing resolution to fund the government. On Tuesday evening, National Review asked Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, chair of the progressive caucus, why she opposed funding Iron Dome in the CR. “There’s no reason for us to fund that right now, and members in our caucus have a problem with it, and so we don’t need it,” Jayapal replied. She did not offer any substantive criticism of the program or U.S. support for it.

The House Democratic majority leader announced Tuesday evening that the House will hold a standalone vote on the $1 billion for Iron Dome funding this week:

PHOTO GALLERY: Israel’s Iron Dome

Politics & Policy

House Democrats Still Stuck in Stalemate over Spending Plans

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Rep. Pramila Jayapal, (D-WA) speaks during a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law on “Online Platforms and Market Power” on Capitol Hill, July 29, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via Reuters)

Democratic congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, leader of the House Progressive Caucus, emerged from a 90-minute meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday evening to tell reporters she’s certain that progressives have enough votes to kill the $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill if it comes up for a vote in the House on Monday, September 27.

Pelosi has promised Democratic moderates that the House will consider the $550 billion bill by September 27, but Jayapal says that “more than half” of the 96-member progressive caucus will vote against the infrastructure bill if it comes to the floor before Senate Democrats pass a multi-trillion-dollar reconciliation bill. 

“We made it clear that our vote is contingent. Our vote for the [bipartisan infrastructure bill] has to happen in tandem with or after the reconciliation bill,” Jayapal said Tuesday evening. 

There’s no chance the Senate will pass a reconciliation bill by Monday, and there don’t appear to be anywhere close to enough House Republicans to make up for 48 or more Democratic defections.

Therefore, Jayapal believes Pelosi won’t put the bipartisan bill up for a vote on Monday: “Have you seen the speaker bring a bill up that’s going to fail?”

But Democratic congressman Josh Gottheimer, the moderate who negotiated the deal to consider the bipartisan bill by September 27, remains convinced it will pass by that date. 

“Try us,” Jayapal said when asked about those who believe progressives are bluffing about voting down the infrastructure bill. “I got more than half of the [progressive] caucus who feel very strongly we’re going to deliver the entirety of the president’s agenda.”

National Security & Defense

Straight Talk on Afghanistan

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Taliban forces patrol in front of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 2, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

Afghanistan seems like a million years ago, I know — it’s been about three weeks. But this is a very important subject, and it will likely continue to dog us. I have done a podcast with John Bolton on this subject: Afghanistan. As you know, he has had long, varied experience in the national-security field: in the State Department; at the United Nations; and in the White House, as national-security adviser.

For our podcast, our Q&A, go here.

We begin at the beginning: Why did we go into Afghanistan in the first place? Because of 9/11. Al-Qaeda killed some 3,000 of us that day. And, on September 12, we gave the Taliban an ultimatum — an “old-fashioned, 19th-century ultimatum,” as Bolton says: Hand over Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, or we will come after you. The Taliban opted for the latter.

We quickly achieved a “partial victory,” as Bolton says: We removed the Taliban from power and sent them into exile; we also chased much of al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. But we didn’t get bin Laden or other top officials.

In any event, 9/11 was an attack on America that had to be answered. All of us were worried that there were more attacks to come. Terrorists promised them. This is something that older people forget and that younger people have maybe never known.

A question: Could we have simply gone in and knocked over the Taliban and left? Or would that have been irresponsible? It would have been irresponsible, says Bolton. Remember, this was a war on terror — Islamist terror. This was never going to be a war between states — or merely a war between states — but something more amorphous, unfortunately.

Sundry terrorists were plotting against us. In the caves of Afghanistan, Bolton says, we discovered that “al-Qaeda had longed to acquire weapons of mass destruction: chemical and biological weapons, even nuclear weapons. In the months after 9/11, we worried about an anthrax attack. We worried about other biological and chemical attacks.”

And “to this day,” says Bolton, “I don’t think there are terrorists who have given up the possibility of acquiring weapons of mass destruction.”

Let me offer a memory: In the autumn of 2001, we at National Review took precautions when it came to opening the mail. I will quote from a Wikipedia entry, on the anthrax attacks:

Letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and to Democratic Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, killing five people and infecting 17 others.

What about the relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda? “If this were a criminal scenario,” says Bolton — he is a lawyer, incidentally — “we would call the Taliban ‘fully knowledgeable accomplices of al-Qaeda.’ They aided and abetted al-Qaeda, they shielded al-Qaeda, and, even when driven into exile, they stayed very closely knit with al-Qaeda.”

Over the years, the United Nations has reported on the alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan. An alliance in exile. For 20 years, al-Qaeda has been in hiding. They may well now reemerge.

Okay, how about the question of nation-building? Did the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan morph into nation-building? If so, is that bad? There was such a morphing, says Bolton; and it contained both good and bad elements.

For 20 years, we had a strategic objective: make sure the Taliban don’t take control again and make sure that al-Qaeda and other terrorists don’t have the ability to attack the United States and our allies.

We succeeded. For 20 years, there have been no attacks on the territory of the United States or that of our allies emanating from Afghanistan.

Moreover, “we got a critical strategic position in the center of the Asian land mass,” says Bolton. “To watch Pakistan to the east. To watch Iran to the west. To be close to China and close to Russia.” This position “gave us a lot of advantages.”

Now, “while we were there, we did a lot of things for the Afghan people. Maybe more than we should have. Maybe we were too optimistic about what our presence would bring.”

Whatever one’s view of this question, “we have given up a huge strategic advantage for the United States and left ourselves more vulnerable — not just to terrorism emanating from Afghanistan but from the impression we created all around the world by withdrawing.” This was “an unforced error, the consequences of which we can only begin to ascertain.”

A great problem was a lack of commitment at the top. Bolton explains: “Three successive administrations — Obama, Trump, and Biden — didn’t believe in the efficacy, the insurance policy, of having American forces remain in Afghanistan. They never made the case to the American people that we were safer preventing the terrorists from coming back into power than we were if we tried to defend the homeland at the borders of the homeland.”

In Bolton’s view, presidents should have said, “Look: We’re gonna be in Afghanistan for a long time. And the reason is, so we don’t have another 9/11. We’re gonna do whatever we can to keep the cost down. We’re certainly gonna look out for our troops. But this is the safest way to protect us.”

A majority, says Bolton, would have understood and agreed.

But presidents kept saying, “We gotta get out.” The Taliban said to us, notoriously, “You have the watches, we have the time.” We kept saying, “Is it soup yet? Is it soup yet? Are we done? Are we done?” All the Taliban had to do was wait.

The Trump administration, in its negotiations with the Taliban, cut out the Afghan government. This was “the original sin” of those negotiations, says Bolton. First, “we violated one of our most fundamental principles: We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

But also, in full view of the Afghan people, we in effect delegitimized the government we had helped to create — a government that, for all its flaws, had some democratic legitimacy. Of which the Taliban has none.

So, why was the government demoralized? Why was the military demoralized? Wouldn’t you be?

From Donald Trump and his people, you have heard the following claim: Yes, we were going to withdraw, too — earlier than Biden — but we would have done it well, you see. What does Bolton think of this claim?

They had no plan, he says. If Trump had had a plan — if Mike Pompeo had had a plan — they would be laying it out, right now. They would be telling us what they would have done. They would be boasting about it. But no . . .

In the White House, Bolton saw that President Trump wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan for domestic political reasons. “He wanted to say, ‘I ended an endless war, I’ve gotten us out of Afghanistan.’ He no more cared about the details or implications of withdrawal than did the chair he was sitting on.”

We could have kept “a relatively small number of forces” in Afghanistan for counterterrorism, says Bolton. “We would have had intelligence assets as well.” Instead, “we’ve given it all up. We have walked away for no purpose other than to satisfy a bumper-sticker slogan that we ended an endless war.” Hence, “we are less secure now than before the withdrawal.”

Toward the end of our conversation, I ask John Bolton, “Will we have to go back? Go back into Afghanistan, having withdrawn?” Bolton cites the example of Iraq. President Obama and his team were proud to have removed all U.S. forces from Iraq. The administration washed its hands of Iraq, smugly and ignorantly (from my point of view).

ISIS rose, and we had to go back in.

About our present situation, Bolton says this: “There’s no vacuum in international politics. China, Russia, Pakistan, and Iran will fill the void that we’ve left, all of it to our detriment.”

Again, my Q&A with John Bolton is here. Many would not like what he has to say — many on left and right — but he says it straight, he makes a lot of sense, and his words are to be reckoned with. I believe he thinks very, very clearly on the subject, as on others.

Politics & Policy

Our Backwards Infrastructure Process Wastes Money

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A Skanska contractor stands during construction on the Sixth Street Viaduct replacement project in downtown Los Angeles, Calif., August 11, 2021. (Bing Guan/Reuters)

When funding infrastructure, federal elected officials do not start by asking, “What projects need to be done?” Instead, they ask, “How much money should we spend?”

Then, through a process that amounts to little more than a parlor game, they decide on a giant number — say, 550 billion. They put a dollar sign in front of it and divvy it up in legislative text. (You Are Here.) They pass it and have a great big signing ceremony where they pat each other on the back for all the great infrastructure they have “created.”

Now, state transportation officials — who are the most knowledgeable on what is actually needed and have heretofore been taking the back seat in this process — have to figure out which projects get funding. Again, the incentive is to throw every project at the wall and see what sticks. Forecasts are part of this process. So if you’re a consulting company putting together a forecast, and you want a project to get built, what do you say? You say that the project is essential because tons of people would use it in ten years. There are no downsides to that approach. The project is more likely to get built. If your forecast is right, you look smart. If your forecast is wrong, nobody will blame you because it was just a forecast, and predictions are hard.

It’s not all self-interest. Making predictions about what transportation networks people will use in the future is genuinely difficult work that is always going to be prone to large errors. But if it were simply a matter of error, you’d expect there to be just as many underestimates as overestimates. That’s not what the Wall Street Journal reports:

A Federal Transit Administration survey of 27 recent public-transit projects that opened between 2007 and 2015 found that the average one overestimated ridership by about 21% two years after opening. That was an improvement over previous years. Projects that opened between 1990 and 2002 overestimated ridership by an average 77%, the FTA found. . . .

Public road projects overestimated use by about 6%, according to a study of roughly 1,300 projects by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that was conducted before the pandemic. And traffic counts on a sample of toll roads around the world were roughly 77% of what had been forecast.

They’re not just overestimates; they’re not even close, and they’re worse for transit projects than they are for roads. Decisions based on those forecasts waste taxpayer money.

There are many efforts under way in the transportation industry to get forecasts to be more accurate, but there’s one that would make a big difference: Get the incentives right. One proposal in the Journal story from a University of Kentucky engineering professor does that:

“There is some incentive for forecasts to be high if they make [a project] more likely to get built,” he said. “If we were to systematically evaluate every forecast we do and issue a report and say, ‘This is how accurate we were after the fact,’ it takes away that incentive.”

Aside from making forecasters own their predictions, it would help to pick the projects first, then fund them. The goal of infrastructure projects should be to complete infrastructure projects, not to spend a legislatively specified amount of money. State transportation officials know more about what projects need to be completed than members of Congress do. The decision-making process should start with them, and it should stay within the states as much as possible.

Politics & Policy

‘Feeling the Spirit’

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Today on The Editors, Rich, Charlie, Alexandra, and Jim discuss elites’ masking hypocrisy, the border crisis, and the confusion over COVID vaccine booster shots. Listen below, or follow this show on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, or Spotify.

Politics & Policy

Democrats Discover Fiscal Restraint . . . When It Comes to Israel

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UPDATE: Democrats gave in to the socialist faction and stripped aid for Israel’s life-saving Iron Dome defense system from the House budget.  Steny Hoyer calls it a “technical delay.” In actuality, it’s a political delay and an appeasement of the radicals in his party.    

Democrats have finally found some spending that they can oppose:

To comprehend just how much contemporary progressives detest Israel, let’s remember that the Iron Dome is a defensive weapon. It has not only saved thousands of Jewish lives from missile attacks emanating from Islamic terror groups but countless Palestinian lives, as well. Without it, Israel would need to retaliate for strikes with devastating force and be far more proactive in fighting Hamas — and quite likely, be compelled to reinvade Gaza. And yet a faction of Democrats are willing to sink a debt-ceiling hike over our alliance with the only liberal nation in the region.

Politics & Policy

Angelo Codevilla, Non Ti Dimenticherò

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Angelo Codevilla at Hillsdale College, Nov. 9, 2010. (Hillsdale College/Screenshot via Youtube)

I only had the chance to meet Angelo Codevilla once, at the Claremont Institute’s Publius Fellowship in San Diego this July. Even as he had visibly slowed in his advanced age, his intellectual passion seemed to have only increased with his 78 years of life. The room lit up when he spoke — beneath the physical burden of the decades, the same brilliant mind that produced some of the most profound diagnoses of our present discontents was alive and well. Before our session with him, the Publius fellows had been warned that the old professor was particularly “spirited,” in the words of one longtime Claremont associate. That he certainly was.

Angelo Codevilla passed away last night. I will not write a long, personal obituary for the great man; our sole meeeting excepted, I only ever had the chance to admire him from afar. But it is difficult to overstate how important his writing was for me and for others who have felt increasingly alienated and dispossessed over the course of the past five years, giving us an intellectual center of gravity in a time of radical upheaval. 

Codevilla’s greatest gift to us was a language with which to make sense of our political moment. His idea of the “ruling class,” originally articulated in his 2010 book The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It, was a prescient assessment of the rot in America’s elite. In lieu of self-government, “the ruling class’s component groups jointly dismiss America’s traditional liberties because they aim to replace them with their own primacy,” Codevilla wrote in a 2015 piece for National Review. “Consequently, if we wish to remain who we are in the face of threats and declamations meant to force us to honor intellectual and moral falsehoods, we have no alternative but clearly and loudly to distinguish between true and false, fully making the case for what we believe to be right.”

In early 2017, Codevilla asserted that America had entered a “cold civil war” — a fundamental division over first principles that makes the politics of persuasion altogether more difficult, and prudent statesmanship more important than ever. So how could we find a way to live together? In his understanding, the first task of statecraft was to prevent the cold civil war from turning hot, which required a recommitment to federalism. “America’s founders had learned from the history of empires that keeping diverse peoples under the same roof requires interfering as little as possible with their views of themselves and the good.” From there, the only way forward was to renew the republican spirit in the hearts of the people — to help Americans remember how to practice the ancient art of being free: “Revolutions end when a coherent, persuasive idea of the common good returns to the public mind. Only then can statecraft be practiced rationally, as more than a minimalist calling designed to prevent the worst from happening.”

I did not agree with Angelo Codevilla on everything — I rarely do with anyone. Likely many NRO readers have their disagreements, too. But anyone who reads his work in the spirit of good faith and serious intellectual engagement comes away better for it. As they say in the Old Country, where Angelo Codevilla spent his youth, non ti dimenticherò

‘The Chinese CDC Went Dark on Their U.S. Counterparts’

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Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

You already knew that the Chinese government was spectacularly unhelpful and secretive in the pivotal early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. You probably suspected that any book about the pandemic written by former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb was going to be insightful and illuminating.

But you probably didn’t know how Gottlieb could, in a matter of paragraphs, perfectly illustrate the culpability of the Chinese government in how COVID-19 went from a virus spreading around Wuhan to a global plague that has killed, so far, more than 4.7 million people. Page 48 of Gottlieb’s new book, Uncontrolled Spread: Why

Politics & Policy

The No-Surprises Taliban

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There’s a strange habit in the media of recounting long-established facts about non-progressives as if they are distant and surprising reports. Did you hear? The pope is against abortion. Like really against it. As if the normal expectation is that everyone is, in their own way, catching up to the current view and the surprise is that they haven’t gotten there yet.

But for some reason, I find this habit especially funny when it comes to the Taliban:

It’s an enjoyably blithering parochial view of the world. Oh, so the Pashtun warriors who defend a pre-medieval culture of kin-marriage tribalism with Islamic pieties are “doubling down” on all-male government now, huh? You’d expect them to catch up with the times right? Can’t the Kabul newspapers help matters? Perhaps do some long features on trans Taliban fighters?

White House

‘Relentless Diplomacy’

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The problem with Joe Biden’s going to the United Nations to promise a “new era of relentless diplomacy” is that while he says that, he keeps showing our allies that he has no intention whatsoever of pursuing anything of the kind.

The Biden administration already has made it perfectly clear — clear above all to our allies — that this president and his team are hopelessly incapable of even partially liberating foreign policy from the day-to-day demands of domestic politics, which heave from one half-articulated priority to another, lurching from crisis to crisis.

Biden’s notional goal — building a free-world alliance to contain Beijing — is the right one, but it already is obvious that the Biden administration does not have what it takes to turn that rhetoric into strategy.

For more than a decade, Washington has been enjoying the perks of leadership without doing the work of leadership. That is not a situation that is going to last forever.

U.S.

Angelo Codevilla, R.I.P.

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Angelo Codevilla speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., March 14, 2013. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

Angelo Codevilla, the historian of spycraft and powerful analyst of American political and social trends, has died. It is difficult for many commentators to see beyond the current news cycle. But Codevilla, because he could see America as it is presently, could also see into the future. Here in National Review in 2009, he predicted a populist-type figure, one that could unite the “Country Party,” could eventually come to lead the Republicans.

Far be it from me to suggest that Sarah Palin should be or is likely to be our next president. She has not shown the excellence of cognition or of judgment that would recommend her ahead of other possible candidates, nor does her path to the presidency look easy.

But as the nation celebrates the anniversary of the revolution of 1776, every presidential hopeful should realize that in the next election Sarah Palin — or someone like her — could be the vehicle for another revolution. The distinctions between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, are being overshadowed by that between what we might call the “Court party” — made up of the well-connected, the people who feel represented by mainstream politicians who argue over how many trillions should be spent on reforming American society, who see themselves as potters of the great American clay — and the “Country party” — the many more who are tired of being treated as clay.

While others were just barely grasping the effect of partisan polarization, Codevilla understood the actual social fault lines that would make for the political earthquake of Donald Trump, and which is ongoing. In a long life, Codevilla was a Naval officer, a foreign-service officer, a professor of international relations at Boston University, and finally a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute.

Very recently, I liked his review of Julian Jackson’s mammoth biography of Charles de Gaulle. When he reviews American foreign policy in the 20th century — the most well-trod stuff in our line of work — Codevilla is full of surprising insights and original observations. He caught my attention nearly 20 years ago when he saw, almost before anyone else, that the Bush administration was not fighting its war on terror with a clear idea of victory in mind. In these last years, and in the last months of his life, Codevilla followed his premises and analysis to a point that will strike many readers as extreme. He came to view America as captive of an oligarchic ruling class — a regime that intended to harm much of the country –that in fact justified its rule because it believed harming the American people was a self-evidently virtuous project. He was coming to a conclusion that America was already in something like a civil war. I think whether Codevilla was right about this is going to preoccupy and haunt the American Right for a few years to come.

Unfortunately, I never knew Codevilla beyond his writing. But this interview he did with Tablet magazine will give any reader a sense that they’ve caught something of his personality.  I hope others who knew him personally will share their memories of him in this space.

Health Care

We Need an ‘Operation Warp Speed’ for At-Home COVID Tests

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A woman receives a COVID-19 test from a technician at a mobile testing van in New York, August 27, 2021. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

President Biden’s unwise and probably unconstitutional vaccine mandate had a much-less-discussed second aspect. As an alternative to being vaccinated, companies could test employees at least once a week.

That presents a logistical problem though, since our testing apparatus is woefully inadequate. New York Times columnist and newsletter writer, David Leonhardt, succinctly laid out the problem today:

In Britain, France and Germany, rapid testing is widely available and inexpensive, thanks to government subsidies. People can visit testing sites, like tents outside pharmacies in France or abandoned nightclubs in Germany, and get tested at no charge. Many people also keep tests in their homes and self-administer them. “It’s been a way to put people’s minds at ease,” Melissa Eddy, a Times correspondent in Berlin, told my colleague Claire Moses.

In the U.S., by contrast, people usually take a different kind of test — known as a P.C.R. test — which must be processed by a laboratory and sometimes does not return results for more than 24 hours. During that time, a person with Covid can spread it to others.

The shortage of testing in the U.S. may be contributing to the virus’s spread.

What a remarkable failure of our public-health sector and political leadership.

The problem remains the sclerotic FDA:

In the case of rapid tests, the F.D.A. has loosened its rules somewhat over the past year, allowing the sale of some antigen tests (which often cost about $12 each). But drugstores, Amazon and other sellers have now largely run out of them. I tried to buy rapid tests this weekend and couldn’t find any.

The F.D.A.’s process for approving rapid tests is “onerous” and “inappropriate,” Daniel Oran and Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Research wrote in Stat News.

For the most part, the F.D.A. still uses the same cumbersome process for approving Covid tests that it uses for high-tech medical devices. To survive that process, the rapid tests must demonstrate that they are nearly as sensitive as P.C.R. tests, which they are not.

Biden has a ready remedy!

Several experts have called on Biden to issue an executive order reclassifying rapid tests as a public health tool rather than a medical device. If that happened, the companies selling many tests in Europe, like Abbott and Roche, would quickly flood the U.S. market, experts say. The tests would not be free but would likely be substantially cheaper than they are now.

The technology is already invented, so what’s the holdup?

Biden’s recent emergency-vaccine order has badly exacerbated our COVID divisions. Red states are getting ready to sue. So are teacher’s unions. Health-care workers are quitting their jobs at hospitals rather than be coerced into accepting the jab. These trends will only accelerate once the new rules are published by the Department of Labor.

If we had ready access to easy testing, the heat over vaccines could decrease because infected people could withdraw during the time they are contagious. People with comorbidities could be sure that everyone who came to their home tested negative for greater safety. New infections would be prevented.

So, how about an Operation Warp Speed to manufacture and widely distribute COVID tests? That’s less clickbaity and base-engaging than the fight over vaccines, but think of the good that would do for the country.

White House

Biden’s Job Approval Plummets to 31 Percent in Iowa

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One of the best pollsters in America finds Biden’s job-approval rating dropping like a rock in Iowa:

Thirty-one percent of Iowans approve of how Biden is handling his job, while 62% disapprove and 7% are not sure, according to the latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll.

That’s a 12 percentage point drop in approval from June, the last time the question was asked. Biden’s disapproval numbers jumped by 10 points during the same period.In June, 43% approved and 52% disapproved.

Biden’s job approval has not been in net positive territory in Iowa since March, when 47% of Iowans approved of his performance and 44% disapproved.

“This is a bad poll for Joe Biden, and it’s playing out in everything that he touches right now,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer.

Politicians who doubt pollster J. Ann Selzer do so at their own peril:

Culture

Bill Maher Zings AOC for Her ‘Tax the Rich’ Stunt

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Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got a lot more heat than she bargained for when she paraded around New York’s elite Met Gala last week in a white dress with the slogan “Tax the Rich” pasted across its back in Socialist Red.

First, it was revealed that Aurora James, whom AOC credited as the “working-class” designer of the dress, has faced several federal tax liens against her company in recent years, totaling over $100,000. Only a year ago, James had enough money to buy a $1.6 million Los Angeles home. She now owes back property taxes on that house.

Then Bill Maher, the liberal host of HBO’s Real Time, noted that the elite Met Gala had the “servers” all wearing masks while celebrities such as AOC did not. “There’s something about this that’s not liberal to me,” he snarked. “Do the germs know who the good people are?”

Maher then noted that “the richest 65,000 New Yorkers out of 8 million people pay 51 percent of taxes” there. “I’m all for ending income inequality, but let’s not lie. The rich pay a lot of the taxes.”

World

Message from Afghanistan: ‘Good Evening Sir. No Place Is Safe’

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Taliban forces patrol near the entrance gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport, a day after U.S troops withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 31, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

A few updates from “Samaritan,” my reader who’s been trying to get his company’s former employees, including at least one green-card holder, out of Afghanistan.

His best bit of news is that he’s heard from another former employee, an Afghan engineer, who made it to the United States.

“He took the chance at Abbey Gate with his wife and children,” Samaritan reports. “They made it through because he was pending Special Immigrant Visa. Once the Marine guards confirmed his SIV status with the Department of State, they let him through. They flew them to Qatar, then Spain, and they now reside in Fort Dix in New Jersey awaiting resettlement. Once he got a SIM card for his cell phone, he pinged me with the good news. He hopes to make his way to Houston for work, and where there is a small but growing Afghan community.”

Samaritan also shared a fun memory from his time in Afghanistan. “When I worked there, I had more than a few Afghans ask me if I had a horse or if I was from the American West — I’m pretty sure they didn’t mean California. Some of it was driven by their fascination with the U.S. Special Forces horse soldiers who were the initial invasion force in October 2001. They were legendary among Afghans.”

But that’s about for the good news. His legal permanent resident “is still getting the run around from State on visa interviews for wife and children. There is still no system in place. It’s as if State has given up developing a reasonable alternative, and the only thing they have to offer is ‘come see us if you can.’”

Another one of Samaritan’s guys fled to Jalalabad, about 75 miles east of Kabul, with his family, to his parents’ home, concluding that Kabul had grown too dangerous. “Of course, over the weekend there were six bombings in Jalalabad (ISIS-K attacking Taliban fighters because the Taliban is too lenient). I asked him if he was safe.”

Samaritan showed me the text message: “Good evening sir. No place is safe. I am totally confused what to do and where to go. If I go to Kabul, I think someone can easily hunt us.”

Samaritan also sent me a recording of the phone message from the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, you receive a recorded message: “The consular section does not accept phone inquiries about non-immigrants, or immigrant visa cases, or policies. Inquiries are accepted through our web site. You can access our web site at Islamabad.usembassy.gov. We will repeat this address again at the end of this message. On our web site’s home page, click on visas and then select contact information’ on the drop-down menu.”

The problem is, there is nothing at the address, “Islamabad.usembassy.gov.” The web address for the U.S. embassy in Pakistan is https://pk.usembassy.gov/. (The drop-down menu on the visa page is also a little different from the phone message’s description.)

“We figured out the correct website and navigated to the webpages for servicing immigrant visas for my guy’s wife and children,” Samaritan says. “They have an active case pending through the closed Kabul embassy . . . but Islamabad embassy won’t handle his case because it hasn’t been transferred by the Kabul embassy. We been trying to reach the Kabul embassy to transfer the case to no avail. We will keep trying.”

Canada’s Liberal Party Lost the ‘Popular Vote’ Again, but Still Won — and That’s Fine

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Canadians wave as the Snowbirds aerobatics team fly past during Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada July 1, 2019. (Patrick Doyle/Reuters)

Herewith, your regularly scheduled reminder that when progressives complain about mismatches between the “popular vote” and the overall electoral outcome, they are really complaining about a core principle of Anglo-American democracy: localism.

Back in 2020, I noted that, despite having won fewer votes than the Conservative party overall, the Canadian Liberal party had won 36 more seats in parliament:

Take Canada, which is without question an “advanced democracy.” In 2019 — that’s last year — Justin Trudeau was elected as prime minister despite his party losing the “popular vote,” and despite not a single Canadian voter asking for him to fill the role. Wegman

Politics & Policy

It Might Not Just Be Manchin and Sinema Who Sense That Their Party Is Loony

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Left: Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.V.) speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 27, 2021. Right: Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., December 4, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

When Democratic proposals begin to fail, Senators Sinema and Manchin tend to take all the heat. But that doesn’t mean they’re actually alone in their opposition. Indeed, as we’ve now seen with both the minimum wage and the filibuster, their reluctance is often a warning sign that there are other Democrats who do not want to get aboard, but do not want to say so quite yet.

This morning, Politico reports that:

It’s unclear exactly how many Democrats are siding with prominent House and Senate moderates. One centrist Democrat up for reelection next year, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), declined to say whether she’s comfortable with the $3.5 trillion spending number on Monday, or whether she agrees with pausing the legislation.

The 2022 midterms are still a long way out, but at the moment Hassan is losing. And she knows it. Perhaps, when it comes to it, she won’t care. Perhaps she’ll be convinced that she can save herself by acquiescing to the binge. Perhaps she’ll end up voting for the whole thing, if she gets the chance, out of blind loyalty to her party.

But perhaps she won’t. And, at the very least, the fact that she won’t answer questions suggests that this is not a position she especially wants to be in.

The same Politico piece notes that:

Democrats close to the centrists say progressives are vastly overplaying their hand. A group of five to 10 House moderates have signaled to leadership that they would be willing to let the infrastructure bill fail rather than be held hostage by liberals over the broader spending bill. It’s a more attractive alternative to them than having to vote for painful tax increases to pay for an unrestrained social safety net expansion, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

That this wasn’t obvious all along is astonishing to me. The Democrats’ plans are utterly absurd. They are extraordinary. They represent government malpractice of the highest order. Joe Manchin seems to know it. Kyrsten Sinema seems to sort of know it. The moderates in the House seem definitely to know it.

Does Senator Hassan? Do others?

History

Sean Wilentz Fires Back on the 1619 Project and the Climate of Anti-History

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Nikole Hannah-Jones interviewed on CBS This Morning, July 17, 2021. (CBS This Morning/via YouTube)

Sean Wilentz is a proud liberal and sometimes a hard-edged Democratic partisan. But he is also a distinguished Princeton University historian whose academic work is broadly respected across the political spectrum. That has not stopped some progressives from attacking his work for reasons more of politics than scholarship — specifically, for the sin of writing the book No Property in Man, which argues that the Constitution was shaped in good part by Founding-era resistance to empowering, entrenching, or even naming slavery. He has recently found himself in their crosshairs for his vocal criticism — along with that of other leading liberal historians — of aspects of the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project.

In a thoughtful but unsparing essay titled “The 1619 Project and Living in Truth” in the Czech historical journal Opera Historica, Wilentz has fired another salvo against the 1619 Project, its editor and lead essayist Nikole Hannah-Jones, Times Magazine editor in chief Jake Silverstein, and more broadly, the intellectual climate of “anti-racist” politics that produce warped history while intimidating serious scholars into silence. Wilentz is scathing on Hannah-Jones’s preposterous and unsupported claim, in the lead essay, that “one of the primary reasons” for the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence was American colonial fear that the British would restrict or abolish slavery:

I instantly wondered how anyone even lightly informed about the history of either slavery or the American Revolution, could write that sentence. Unfortunately, the ensuing explanation only made matters worse. The British, the essay claimed, had grown “deeply conflicted” over slavery, and the British government was facing rising calls to end the Atlantic slave trade – a reform that would have “upended” the entire colonial economy, not just in the South. For that reason – the essay mentioned no other – the American colonists, North and South, believed that the British posed a threat to slavery, an institution they desperately wanted to protect. Rather than run the risk of losing slavery, the colonists declared their independence. The Revolution was supposedly, at its core, a reactionary, proslavery struggle to fend off abolition of slavery by the British.

The paragraph covered subjects of unsurpassed importance and it was historical gibberish. As I would later confirm with the foremost scholars of the subject who know far more about the Revolution than I, there is no evidence of a single colonist expressing support for independence in order to protect slavery. The 1619 Project’s claims were based not on historical sources but on imputation and inventive mindreading. . . . At the time of the Revolution, there was considerably more in the way of anti-slavery politics in the colonies than in Britain proper. These are elementary facts.

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It required no advanced knowledge of American history to understand the perversity of The 1619 Project’s lead essay’s treatment of the Revolution. If it were a high school history paper, that discussion alone would have been grounds for failure. It’s rare, after all, to read a student get every single stated fact perfectly wrong, in support of a proposition for which there is no other evidence cited, on two of the most important topics in all of U.S. history, indeed, all of modern history, the causes of the American Revolution and the origins of antislavery. But this wasn’t a high school paper, it was the New York Times Magazine, and the author was, according to her contributor’s biography, a highly acclaimed journalist. The essay may have been historically fallacious, but it was also inflammatory and attention-getting.

Wilentz notes that he believed, naïvely, that the Times Magazine would correct the record without much difficulty if approached by distinguished historians with the truth on their side. But, of course, that misunderstands both the narrative goals of the 1619 Project and the power of Hannah-Jones (backed by devotees of that narrative) within the Times organization, a subject Wilentz touches upon. That narrative, which is a classic of the critical race theory approach to history, needed the American Founding to be irredeemably corrupted by racism and slavery as its core purposes; thus, even though Hannah-Jones’s essay would read perfectly well without the discussion of the Revolution at all, it was intolerable to her and her aims to amend that conclusion. And her power in the organization meant that, if never admitting error on this point was important to her, it would be important to Silverstein, truth be damned. Critics were there to be silenced or dismissed, not engaged in respectful debate. Wilentz repeatedly reminds his Czech readers of parallels to this approach that they know only too well:

The style of such attacks on liberal dissenters to toe the ideological line would be depressingly familiar to anyone versed in the politics in Central or Eastern Europe since 1945, although the outcomes, obviously, were infinitely less grave. . . . Other historians are willing to overlook The 1619 Project’s errors in the name of the greater good it supposedly brings to historical study and teaching, as if those errors were minor and as if the objections no more than pedantic nit-picking delivered in bad faith. Again, the fellow traveling behind falsehood would be familiar to central and eastern Europeans. . . . Subordinating truth to the demands of justice cannot be just, and may be a big step toward creating injustice, even tyranny. You in the Czech Republic have had to learn that lesson the hard way, repeatedly, over many difficult decades. “Living in truth,” as Václav Havel described it, must be the basis for more than politics, including the study of history. It appears to be a lesson that many American historians, in far less onerous but still fragile and worrisome situations, must now learn for themselves.