Politics & Policy

University of Vermont Fails to Confront Antisemitism on Campus

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Campus of the University of Vermont (University of Vermont/Facebook)

Many well-meaning progressives have voiced their concerns about the conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism, often rightly so. Irrespective of the merits of the claims being made, far too often, charges of antisemitism have been used as a cudgel to silence those who are critical of the Jewish State’s policies. Those concerned about informal censorship regimes, conservatives chief among them, should be wary of this trend.

However, there are times when the difference between legitimate criticism and actual prejudice is revealed. One such example has emerged in the Green Mountain State.

The University of Vermont (UVM) is currently experiencing a spate of antisemitic incidents. The students committing these blatant acts of bigotry may have been initially motivated by their sanctimonious opposition to the “occupation” of the Palestinian territories. Irrespective of what is motivating them, this sentiment has clearly entered the realm of outright xenophobia.

For example, UVM students were recently seen throwing rocks at the Jewish student-life center on campus. When asked to cease their vile behavior, one of the perpetrators asked the person beseeching their goodwill, “Are you Jewish?”

There’s no way that this can be construed as anything other than explicit antisemitism. Yet the school refuses to acknowledge what’s happening.

Rather than denouncing and combating antisemitism on campus, Suresh Garimella, the university’s president, has rejected any criticism of his leadership as “an uninformed narrative.” While Garimella did say in a statement about the contoversy that “there is no doubt that antisemitism exists in the world and, despite our best efforts, in our community,” he called out those supposedly guilty of “exploitation of fear and divisiveness” who are “advancing false claims that UVM failed to respond to complaints of antisemitic behavior” for creating “confusion and a sense of insecurity for the entire community.” This statement is an affront to the Jewish community at UVM and a shunting of the administration’s basic institutional responsibility.

Imagine if any other religious, ethnic, or cultural group had experienced this sort of physical violence. The university‘s response would undoubtedly be swift and decisive, as it should be. But alas, in 2022, Jew-hatred, along with contempt for anyone who is less educated or is conservative-leaning, is the only socially acceptable form of intolerance in liberal circles. Until that changes, UVM and the rest of academia, a bastion of progressivism, will continue to be a hostile environment for the People of the Book.

Media

A Columnist’s Progress

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(artisteer / iStock / Getty Images)

Steve Chapman is my latest guest on Q&A: here. More on him in a minute. Here is my latest music podcast, my latest Music for a While. I play some September songs. (We have a week left in this month, so why not?) These songs are classical, popular — and in between.

Also, here is a post called “Whacks and bangs.” Really? Yes — it’s about timpani playing.

Steve Chapman was a columnist for over 40 years, mainly associated with the Chicago Tribune. He retired a few weeks ago. How does he feel? Do his fingers itch to write? Not so far. Mainly, he is enjoying a break away from the news.

Tom Sowell retired from column writing after the 2016 election. He told me it wasn’t that he was tired of writing; it was that he didn’t want to read the news anymore, which you have to do in column writing. He found it dispiriting, the news.

Anyone can understand.

Steve Chapman has lived in Chicago for a long while, but he was born and raised in Texas and still feels like a Texan. Hasn’t lived there since he was 18. But you never lose it, as he says. He spent his first ten years in Midland and then the next eight in Austin. When in high school, he subscribed to National Review.

Who didn’t, right?

He went to Harvard, where he studied American history. Among his professors were Bernard Bailyn, Jack Rakove, and David Herbert Donald. Those are big names in the writing of American history.

But Chapman’s favorite course was on the Russian Revolution, and it was taught by his favorite professor: Richard Pipes. One can understand.

Chapman did not plan on going into journalism. He planned on going into politics. He was president of the Republican club. One night, he was talking with a friend about the Harvard Crimson, complaining about how left-wing it was. She said, “Well, why don’t you try out for the paper and do something about it?” He said, “They’d never take me.” But they did.

There was a young columnist for the Washington Post, George F. Will, and Chapman loved him. “He combined a knowledge of history, a gift for turning a phrase, and a wit that nobody else had ever demonstrated to me. He made columns into an art form.” Chapman bought the Post on the days when Will’s column appeared.

Then there was William F. Buckley Jr. and National Review, of course. Chapman wrote to WFB, as one did. WFB wrote him back, as he did. WFB gave him a book to review — which Steve did. WFB and NR paid Steve $60 for the review. It was the first payment he ever received for something he had written.

He thought of framing the check and hanging it on a wall. But he needed the money . . .

In our podcast, Steve Chapman and I talk about various issues related to the media. He is a wonderful conversationalist, as he is a wonderful writer, and, again, our Q&A is here.

Politics & Policy

Against a Matthew McConaughey Presidential Run

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Matthew McConaughey, a native of Uvalde, Texas, speaks to reporters about the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on June 7, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the titular tyrant is thrice offered the crown of Rome. Yet each time the crown was offered to him, “he put it by with the back of his hand, thus, and then the people fell a-shouting.”

Caesar at least had the circumspection to feign modesty. As the modern presidency grows in political power and cultural weight, it has acquired Caesarian pretenses. (That some people seem favorably disposed to this trend does not help.) And the crown of the presidency is being offered promiscuously — albeit provisionally, hypothetically, for now — these days. The latest would-be recipient: actor Matthew McConaughey. Asked recently about running in 2024, McConaughey said:

Yeah, I’ll consider it in the future, I’d be arrogant not to. Absolutely, I would consider it. . . . If I got into any form of politics, I’d be remiss not to also go in as an artist and a storyteller; help put a narrative together. You’re the CEO of a state and a nation, a lot of compartmentalization and choices to be made. They scare me but I’m not afraid of ’em.

It is, in fact, the height of arrogance here for McConaughey to believe that his consideration of this choice is not merely warranted, but demanded. He added, “If that happened to me, I would be pulled into it. If I’m living right, which I’m trying to, we get pulled into things . . . it’s inevitable. I didn’t choose it, it chose me.”

It sounds like, for McConaughey, a presidential run would be in his stars, not in himself. This is not true; the choice for him to do so would be his own. It is fair to say, however, that such a choice would be made amid the institutional decay and political centralization that, taken together, have convinced politicians (and politics-adjacent figures) that the presidency is the only political office worth holding. Modern media, responding to similar incentives and the additional one that a central political figure is a convenient focus and a reliable source of drama, encourage further civic debilitation. Now, any two-bit political attention seeker with an outsized ego and a circle of yes-men considers a run for president.

Modern presidential aspirants, moreover, tend to share a warped conception of politics. There is a sense of the presidency as a powerful, totemic office, alone capable of such miraculous feats as uniting a divided country and healing a tortured national soul. But the very grandiosity inherent in such a presumption serves only to magnify national division. The consequence of high aspirations is low results; disappointment curdles into resentment, and bitterness at the obstacle that remains in the form of those who, rationally exercising their political rights, do not go along. Everyone is made worse off.

The republic faces many headwinds, though we should still believe it salvagable. It is discouraging enough to see what has become of the presidency. But to think also of the potential power of celebrity to wash over what remains of our political institutions is to despair. That McConaughey thinks of himself as a viable presidential contender exemplifies both injurious trends. He could do the nation a favor by ceasing any such pretensions.

It is not likely that, in the unlikely (though not impossible) event that McConaughey became president, he would become some kind of Caesar. But the civic attrition he would invite by even launching a campaign would render America just a little more susceptible to further political decay. At the end of such a trajectory, a real Caesar might be there waiting for us. And that would not be alright, alright, alright.

The Kremlin’s Very Russian Partial Mobilization

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Left: Vladimir Putin speaks in Moscow in 2020. Right: Russian police officers detain a person during an unsanctioned rally after opposition activists called for street protests against the mobilization of reservists ordered by President Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, Russia, September 21, 2022.

When Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization earlier this week, there were widespread doubts — including from me — that inducting thousands of untrained or barely trained, unmotivated men into the Russian army would do much to turn the tide in Ukraine. These doubts are now being validated.

The Kremlin has publicly announced that it will call up as many as 300,000 men. It has said that these men will be reservists, soldiers who have already completed their national service and have moved on to civilian life. But there are numerous reports that entirely untrained men are being drafted into the

Law & the Courts

Crime Explosion: Restating the Obvious

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NYPD detectives process the scene of a deadly stabbing in Queens, N.Y., July 2, 2022. (Lloyd Mitchell/Reuters)

The record increases in crime many jurisdictions are experiencing are likely to persist for the foreseeable future. That’s partly because a significant percentage of all crimes is committed by a tiny fraction of the population who will continue to reoffend unless incapacitated by imprisonment. And imprisonment is unfashionable among ‘woke’ prosecutors who seek minimal, if any, bail for those arrested, as well as among some judges who impose relatively light sentences even for violent crimes: Michael Palacios, last seen on video wreaking havoc with an axe in a New York City McDonald’s, was released without bail; Darrell Brooks, charged with homicide for mowing down scores of people in last year’s Waukesha Christmas parade, was out on bail at the time of the incident and had previously been arrested multiple times. The list goes on.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that recidivism rates in the U.S. are staggering. Over a nine-year period, 83 percent of released prisoners are rearrested. Studies show factors such as family formation, education, and employment can reduce rearrest rates, but only in the margins. Incarceration remains by far the most effective tool for crime reduction. As Matthew DeLisi noted in his 2013 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (emphasis in the original, citations omitted):

The greatly expanded use of incarceration since 1980 is among the best explanations for the dramatic declines in crime from its peak in 1993 to 2011. There is compelling evidence that prison is the only sanction that reduces criminal offending because of incapacitation. A large-scale analysis of over 100,000 offenders from seven birth cohorts found that the offending behavior of criminals is assumed to remain the same throughout their active careers, and is only reduced when offenders cease offending after repeated confinement. Declines in offending reflect the proportion that have ceased offending, and do not reflect intrinsic reduction in the predilection towards offending. Put another way, prison wears down offenders to the point where they ultimately desist from crime — they do not necessarily transform their antisocial mindset.

The purpose of imprisonment is not just deterrence and punishment. Prosecutors too often ignore that it’s also about incapacitation.

Markets

The Dow Drops Below 30,000

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A screen charts the Dow Jones Industrial Average during the trading day on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York City, January 24, 2022. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average had a bad morning today and lost nearly 700 points, putting it below 30,000 for the first time in almost two years.

Between the Fed’s monetary policy and continued concerns over inflation, traders could send stocks into a bear market. If the Dow closes below 29,439.72, it would be the first such instance since the Covid recession.

Treasury-bond yields also rose to their highest levels in more than ten years. The news of continuing interest-rate increases from the Fed encouraged other central banks to raise rates as well.

Goldman Sachs reduced its year-end outlook for the S&P 500 by 16 percent yesterday. “Based on our client discussions, a majority of equity investors have adopted the view that a hard landing scenario is inevitable and their focus is on the timing, magnitude and duration of a potential recession and investment strategies for that outlook,” analysts said.

The facts continue to fit the story of a stagflationary spiral. But the president apparently believes the economy is doing just fine. Reality will catch up eventually.

World

State Department Extends Visa to at Least One Iranian Guard Corps Member

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Outside the State Department Building in Washington, D.C. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The State Department defended its decision to issue visas to at least one member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York this month.

While members of Congress and human-rights advocates have pointed to Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi’s involvement in the mass killings of political prisoners as a reason for the U.S. to deny him a visa, the Biden administration allowed a delegation led by him to visit New York this week to attend the U.N. meetings. Underappreciated is the fact that the State Department seems to also have issued a visa to a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Ali Sadriniya, who joined Raisi’s delegation, according to pictures taken of the group.

Normally, Sadriniya would have been prohibited from receiving a U.S. visa. Since the IRGC is an officially designated foreign terrorist organization, its members are banned from entering the U.S. Asked for a comment, the State Department said that it doesn’t discuss visa records because they are confidential under U.S. law. A spokesperson told National Review that “national security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications,” and that applicants undergo “extensive security screening.”

The State Department also defended its visa practices under the U.N. Headquarters Agreement, a decades-old arrangement that prohibits the hosts of U.N. facilities from barring foreign governments’ access to them. “As host nation of the U.N., the United States is generally obligated under the U.N. Headquarters Agreement to facilitate travel to the U.N. headquarters district by representatives of U.N. member states,” the spokesperson said. “We take our obligations under the U.N. Headquarters Agreement seriously.”

While the U.S. is bound by that agreement, there are still questions about the proper way to enforce it, and State has more jurisdiction than the Biden administration is acknowledging, said Gabriel Noronha, a former government official who worked on Iran policy at the State Department. “When the State Department lets Iranian terrorists into New York City, they take their supposed obligations to the U.N. more seriously than their actual constitutional obligations to protect the security of U.S. citizens,” Noronha told NR.

He added that Sadriniya is likely not the only IRGC member to have been granted a visa for this week’s U.N. event: “The Iranian delegation likely includes around 100 IRGC members — from security to intelligence operatives.”

Sports

Re: So Why Did You Attend?

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In response to So Why Did You Attend?

I’m adding my own point of reference to Judd’s comment on UVA students who hate the very existence of the college they chose to attend. I’m reminded of the near-riot during game seven of the 1934 World Series, when Detroit Tigers fans — upset at a hard slide into third base by Cardinals star Joe Medwick in a blowout game — showered Medwick with all manner of garbage, including soda bottles, seat cushions, rotten fruit and vegetables and, by some accounts, automobile parts. Medwick was ordered removed from the game for his own safety; asked after the game about the shower of garbage, his response was, “I knew why they threw them. What I don’t understand is why they brought them to the ballpark in the first place.”

Religion

Joe Biden Is Wrong about Catholic Teaching on Abortion

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President Joe Biden participates in a virtual meeting with governors while discussing reproductive health care, following the Supreme Court ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization abortion case overturning Roe v Wade at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 1, 2022. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

This week, President Joe Biden said the following about a proposal by Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) for a nationwide abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy, per the Washington Post:

“Think about what these guys are talking about,” Biden told a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in New York this week. “No exceptions — rape, incest — no exceptions, regardless of age,” he said of the proposed ban. “I happen to be a practicing Roman Catholic,” he added. “My church doesn’t even make that argument now.”

As the Post politely notes, “contrary to Biden’s comment, [Graham] said exceptions could be made ‘in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.’”

This is hardly the biggest whopper in Biden’s remarks, though. Biden, a practicing Catholic, apparently does not understand the Church’s own view on this matter. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clarifying:

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.

From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.

This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.

Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law. . . .

Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.

The Catechism adds that “the inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation.” Quoting another Church document, it continues (citations omitted):

“The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.”

“The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . .

As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.”

Biden, it seems, could use the same refresher that Joe Scarborough needed, and that Joseph Capizzi, professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America provided in our pages:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.” The Didache, written by Jewish Christians just decades after Jesus’s death, condemned abortion and infanticide. The communities organizing themselves around Christ shared the conviction that life is sacred at every stage of development. That conviction has remained constant over two millennia.

There are, unfortunately, many such misconceptions circulating about what Catholics believe. Which is why Capizzi is part (and so am I) of a new effort, centered on CUA’s Institute for Human Ecology (IHE), to clarify and reinvigorate Catholic life in the public square. As Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, IHE’s director of strategy, notes in the Wall Street Journal, “in a misguided attempt to reconcile Catholicism with modernity, many American Catholics have begun to embrace progressive ideologies that Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles calls ‘profoundly atheistic.’” Alas, some of them even promote abortion, perhaps inspired by the example of politicians such as Biden.

As Picciotti-Bayer notes, however, Biden-esque milquetoastery is not the only threat to a viable, vibrant Catholicism in American public life. There are also those who call themselves, variously, “integralists,” “common-good constitutionalists,” or “postliberals,” and:

Their central contention is that contemporary American culture is actively corrosive to Catholic teaching, practice and virtue. Some even reject our nation’s founding principles. In practice, they take advantage of widespread economic anxiety to play up the valuable tradition of Catholic critiques of market-worship, while ignoring Catholic teaching on exchange, the danger of socialism and the importance of subsidiarity. Such thinkers want our laws to reflect their own controversial understanding of Catholic teaching, which apparently seeks to create a powerful state that superintends people’s lives.

Both of these alternatives are flawed. We need something better, “a framework for faith in public life that rejects both secularism and sectarianism,” one that draws from the Catholic intellectual tradition to support an active role for Catholics in American civic life. You can learn more about it here.

Elections

Democratic Candidate for Oregon Governor Tries to Rewrite Her Record on School Closures

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Tina Kotek speaks during Day 1 of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 25, 2016. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Tina Kotek, the Democratic candidate for Oregon governor, is facing an unusually tight race in what is generally a reliably blue state. According to polling, she is neck-and-neck with her Republican opponent, Christine Drazan, and analysts have repeatedly downgraded Kotek’s odds in the race — both the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and the Cook Political Report now rate it as a toss-up. 

Part of the reason for the closeness of the race is that Kate Brown, the outgoing Democratic governor and a close ally of Kotek — who served as the speaker of the Oregon House before announcing her bid for governor — is the least popular governor in the country. And that unpopularity has at least something to do with the abysmal state of Oregon’s schools, which were worsened by the state’s unusually draconian pandemic lockdowns. (A June poll found “that only 16.6% of likely voters in the Beaver State believe the state’s schools are on the ‘right track,’” the Washington Times reported at the time. “Another 55.5% said they were heading in the ‘wrong direction’ and the remaining 28.1% were either unsure or refused to answer the question.”)

The effects of the school lockdowns in Oregon are only just now becoming evident. Yesterday, the Oregonian reported:

Oregon students’ reading, writing and math skills plummeted due to pandemic-induced disruptions to schooling, and students who were already trailing far behind grade level experienced the most harm, somber Oregon Department of Education officials announced.

The staggering blows to students’ academic skills, as measured by the first reliable statewide test scores since spring 2019, could take years to repair and may in some cases never be made up for, they acknowledged.

Of course, Kotek, as one of the top-ranking Democrats in the state, bears significant responsibility for these numbers. Amid the close race — and Oregonians’ overwhelming dissatisfaction with their schools — the former Oregon House speaker is trying to rewrite the story. In response to the Oregonian‘s report, Kotek tweeted:

Well, yes. Those numbers are unacceptable. But they are, in no small part, Kotek’s fault. As the leader of the Oregon House, Kotek — a close ally of the powerful teachers’ unions in the state — repeatedly led votes along party lines to block Republican-led efforts to reopen the state’s schools. And when pressed by Willamette Week early this year, she declined to condemn — unlike other top Democrats — the re-closure of many of Portland’s public schools that sent one-third of the city’s high-school students back to virtual learning. “Everybody is trying to do what is best for students,” she told the publication.

When called out for her hypocrisy by Drazan yesterday, Kotek responded:

Of course, she didn’t specify what exactly about Drazan’s attack was “false.” And she can’t: Kotek’s record on the issue is unambiguous. When faced with a choice between her friends in the teachers’ unions and the well-being of Oregon’s children, she chose the former. Now, she has to answer for that choice to voters. Reap, meet sow.

Energy & Environment

The Heat Is On: Bjorn Lomborg on the Summer’s Record Temperatures

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The summer of 2022 was one of record temperatures across the world. Bjorn Lomborg acknowledges that climate change is here, it’s real, and humans are largely responsible for it. He also says that it is survivable and manageable. In brief, climate change is not the extinction-level disaster it is often characterized as being. Lomborg also discusses practical ways of lowering our carbon footprint and emissions, pointing out why “carbon free by 2050” probably isn’t achievable and why we shouldn’t make radical changes to our economies and lifestyles to try to achieve it.

Recorded on August 18, 2022.

Trade

West Coast Share of Ocean Imports at 40-Year Low

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Ships and shipping containers at the port of Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif., January 30, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Most U.S. imports come from Asia, so the West Coast is the most logical destination. But more businesses have been opting for lengthier routes to the East and Gulf Coasts instead to avoid the West Coast’s inefficiency and congestion.

West Coast ports only accounted for 45 percent of all U.S. imports in August, which is the lowest level since the early 1980s, according to FreightWaves’ Greg Miller. West Coast ports handled 54 percent of U.S. imports in February 2021.

Imports overall still remain high, Miller writes. An 11.5 percent year-over-year decline of imports arriving on the West Coast was accompanied by a 12 percent year-over-year increase in imports arriving on the East and Gulf Coasts. “Import gains were driven by Savannah, Georgia (up 20.4% y/y), Houston (up 12.7%), Norfolk, Virginia (up 11.4%), and New York/New Jersey (up 10.5%),” he writes. The Port of Los Angeles saw a 17 percent year-over-year decline.

That means the massive line of ships waiting to unload at Los Angeles is no more. But roughly the same number of ships are waiting offshore, spread out over multiple ports:

Including all three coasts, there was a peak of just over 150 container ships waiting off North America in January — mostly off the West Coast — and a similar number in late July, this time mostly off the East and Gulf coasts. . . .

Savannah was down from its peak but still had the largest queue, with 29 ships waiting. Houston has not improved, with 23 container vessels still offshore. The other recent hot spot — New York/New Jersey — was down to 13 ships on Thursday morning; it had recently been in the 20s. Meanwhile, the queue off Virginia — composed of ships waiting to get into Norfolk or Baltimore — had worsened and was up to 13 ships.

There were only six ships waiting off Los Angeles/Long Beach, the lowest numbers since Oct. 22, 2020. Altogether, only 22% of waiting vessels were off the West Coast on Thursday morning, highlighting the extent shipping lines have shifted to the other coasts.

Shippers have increasingly good reasons to avoid California. Aside from the labor disputes that could result in a strike at any moment on the entire West Coast, the state is phasing out diesel trucks, banning one of the most common trucking business models, and failing at basic law enforcement around rail lines. Meanwhile, East and Gulf Coast ports, not bogged down by environmental laws like California’s, have been expanding their facilities to accommodate more freight.

Markets are finding a way around California’s bad policies to ensure Americans continue to have access to products. That’s good news — but it’s still no excuse for California’s errors.

Education

So Why Did You Attend?

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University of Virginia campus lawn. (garytog/Getty Images)

Caroline Downey’s story on the home page is a must-read. The opening and accompanying photos capture the campus zeitgeist, the religion of implacable resentment. In the article, Caroline details a campaign to block the nomination of UVA alumnus Bert Ellis to the school’s Board of Visitors. In part, it involves a dust-up with a student who displayed a “F*** UVA” sign on her door. There’s more to the story, and you should read it, but this anecdote merits close study:

When the student answered her door, Ellis asked her why she felt the need to use obscenity to denigrate the college in violation of the contract she signed.

“Because this university was founded by a slave owner who raped his slaves and stole this land from the Mannikin Indians to build this university for rich white guys with slave labor,” she said, according to Ellis. She then slammed the door in his face.

The obvious critique here dovetails with a popular meme often deployed to invalidate similar critiques as smug and superficial. “We should improve society somewhat,” a peasant says. A modern dude pops out of a well to say, quite pleased, “Yet you participate in society. Curious!”

But it really is mystifying, how one can square the view that an institution is irredeemably sinful with one’s willing attendance there. The better pop-culture reference for this pervasive attitude might be this:

Law & the Courts

No, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Health Was Not a Secret That Could Have Changed History

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Washington, D.C., January 12, 2016 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Over in Politico, Michael Schaffer reads Dinners With Ruth, NPR reporter Nina Totenberg’s memoir of her four-decades-long friendship with the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and asks whether Totenberg was keeping a secret that could have changed history:

Maybe she could have broadcast just the things that would have been clear to a dispassionate observer, albeit hard for a devoted friend to accept: that Ginsburg was a desperately sick woman, that her family and friends were engaged in what amounted to an unacknowledged death watch — a report that would have lent flesh-and-blood immediacy to the bland statements from the court’s press office. . . .

There’s a chance that a blunt story about Ginsburg’s decline might have changed the trajectory that led to the end of Americans’ right to abortion. As competitors’ sensationalist stories focused on Ginsburg’s health, activists might have gotten GOP senators (many of them locked in tight elections) on the record promising to not fill the seat until after the voters had a say in the November presidential election. The lurid coverage would surely have undercut the element of surprise that enabled Mitch McConnell to move almost immediately to muscle through a replacement.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg began the year 2020 aged 86, and everyone knew her history of cancer, chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries, artery stent, and multiple falls. Her death should have been unsurprising.

GOP senators were not going to go on the record promising to not fill the seat until after the voters had had a say in the November presidential election. They would have effectively been telling their conservative supporters, “There’s really not much reason to vote for me.” The Constitution put no restrictions upon when a president could nominate a justice, or when the Senate could vote to confirm or reject that justice.

When Ginsburg passed away on September 18, 2020, Republicans knew they had the chance to establish a solid majority of Supreme Court justices who saw the Constitution and the law the way they did. Nothing was going to stop them; there was nothing the media, Senate Democrats, or liberal activists could have done to change that. Amy Coney Barrett is not on the Supreme Court because Mitch McConnell had the “element of surprise” or because the Left didn’t try hard enough to prevent her confirmation.

Schaffer is on more solid ground when he points out how Totenberg’s indisputably warm and genuine friendship with Ginsburg complicated how fairly she could cover the Supreme Court:

If Totenberg were an architect or a history professor or an airline pilot or an actuary, the emotional blind spots would be her business. But she’s a reporter, a very influential one. Which means that those of us who have relied on her reporting but didn’t experience the heartwarming calls or the gossip-filled evenings are within our rights to apply a certain selfish cost-benefit analysis: What exactly do we get out of her friendships? Totenberg says that intimacy with justices and public officials made her a more thoughtful reporter and a better person. I’ll buy it. Yet even if you don’t think any amount of scary Ginsburg-health reporting could have deterred Mitch McConnell in 2020, it’s hard to come away from this book and not think the bonds also cost her something — and us, too.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a reporter’s being friends with a source. (Friends suggest story ideas all the time!) But once a story involves a friend, that reporter should bend over backwards to make sure the friendship isn’t skewing how he perceives the matter. Maybe your friend’s version of events isn’t quite reliable, or displays that friend’s own actions under the best possible light. This is when a reporter should be most careful.

And if your beat is the Supreme Court, just about every story you write or report on will involve the justice who is your friend. Kelly McBride, chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at the Poynter Institute, wrote in NPR in September 2020 that the public radio network should have disclosed Totenberg’s friendship with RBG much sooner. That rebuke was moot after the justice passed.

Governor Ducey Rejects Grievance-onomics

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Arizona Governor Doug Ducey speaks with attendees at the end-of-year board meeting for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry in Phoenix, Ariz., June 17, 2021. (Gage Skidmore)

“I’m a conservative. I’m just not angry about it.” —Bill Lee, governor of Tennessee

In a speech at the Reagan Library on Tuesday, Arizona governor Doug Ducey observed that it’s harder to answer the question “What does the Republican Party stand for?” today than it was during Reagan’s presidency. “We have to figure out where Republicans — and conservatism — are going to go and how we best govern,” Ducey said.

Toward that end, Ducey suggests looking at some of the lessons of the Reagan era, encourages a focus on public-policy solutions to real challenges facing Americans, and argues for prioritizing policy

Capital Matters

Today in Capital Matters: China

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Douglas Carr writes about Xi Jinping’s mismanagement of China’s economy:

Between 1953 and 1978, a quarter-century when Mao and Maoists were in charge, real Chinese growth averaged 4.4 percent, well below other developing Asian economies. (Note the dramatic drop during the period of the Great Leap Forward, perhaps the perfect example of Maoist economic policy.) Deng and his chosen successors averaged 6.9 percent growth from 1979 to 2012, while Xi has attained 4.2 percent since 2013 and is expected to average 3 percent or less going forward with dramatic working-age population shrinkage.

Xi is following the wrong path for China, reverting to centralized state control and social leveling, somewhat more typical of Mao (although it would be a mistake to think of Xi’s economic policies as a full reversion to Maoism) than Deng’s liberation of a private sector and belief that “to get rich is glorious.”

Read the whole thing here.

Education

Lessons on Higher Ed from Britain

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The U.S. isn’t the only country that has overexpanded its higher-education sector. The same thing has happened in Britain, as Douglas Carswell, a former member of Parliament and now the president of an American think tank, observes in today’s Martin Center article.

During Tony Blair’s time as prime minister, the U.K. embraced the notion that higher education was for everyone, and attendance began a rapid climb. After all, if college was good for some people, shouldn’t we encourage everyone to go?

Carswell writes, “UK universities have become a big business, and their business model has been to borrow to expand. In order to accommodate the 2.6 million students now in higher education, there has been a sustained building boom around university campuses over the past couple of decades, with lots of gleaming new buildings.”

The boom was financed with loads of debt. Sound familiar?

Carswell continues:

In order to maximise revenues, many UK universities have resorted to trying to attract ever larger numbers of overseas students, whom they can charge with higher fees. For some overseas students, paying those fees, almost irrespective of the quality of the education they get, is a price worth paying as a means of migration. American universities have seen a dramatic increase in overseas student numbers for similar reasons.

Just as here, universities in the U.K. began to focus more on bringing in the money than on quality education. Masses of students got degrees with decreasing value.

Carswell concludes, “Many British universities have become state-subsidised degree factories, churning out mediocre credentials that do little to equip students for what comes next. Perhaps it would be no bad thing if the number of students enrolling in universities fell, in America as well as in Britain.”

In both countries, government should have left higher education alone.

Politics & Policy

‘Is Stacey Abrams Really a Political Star?’

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I wrote about Stacey Abrams for Politico today:

…Abrams has been widely celebrated in the years since her 2018 run, which she lost. Like former President Donald Trump, though, she managed to spin away her defeat to the satisfaction of her supporters and allies as a result of nefarious forces beyond her control.

The narrative about her has been that, unbowed and undefeated, she’s fighting a righteous battle against the voter suppression that denied her her rightful victory the first time around, and — as a charismatic figure of unbounded talent — she’s heading for bigger and better things than narrow defeats in statewide elections.

As it happens, she may be headed for an even less narrow defeat in exactly the same statewide election. Come November, she may look more like Beto O’Rourke than Barack Obama.

Film & TV

Andor Succeeds Where Kenobi Failed

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Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in Andor (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

The prolonged drought of lifeless Disney-era Star Wars shows seems like it may finally be lifting. What started as the show no one asked for when it was first announced back in 2018, Andor has already dramatically surpassed all of its made-for-TV predecessors through a combination of production quality, purposeful storytelling, and high-caliber acting.

Throughout the first three episodes thus far released, it is abundantly clear that the show’s creator, Tony Gilroy, has set out with the objective of telling a compelling story first, and he does much of it through nonverbal means (a hallmark of good cinema). Andor displays the confidence to take its time setting up character motives and exploring the new worlds it creates without throwing in a Wookie or a lightsaber every few minutes for fear of losing its viewers.

Moreover, the show does not feel the need to make each episode its own self-contained subplot — a shortfall The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and to a lesser extent, Kenobi, suffered from. Each of these felt the urgent pressure to introduce a problem, climax, and resolution to audiences, all within each 30- or 40-minute entry.

The main character would learn of a dire predicament, travel to another planet, meet someone with information, fight off a new group of one-dimensional rapscallions to retrieve a MacGuffin, and conclude, analyzing the hard-won information that will point him toward his next adventure. Although each show had an overarching plot, the formulaic episode structure became painfully evident by the second or third collective season.

While Kenobi provided a stronger cohesive narrative than Mando or Boba Fett, it fell short on a more primitive level: It failed to justify its existence. A show conceived from the beginning as a cash grab employing fan-favorite Ewan McGregor one more time, while still constrained by the reality of what we know of the characters from A New Hope, it had zero room to create the stakes necessary for what studio execs were determined to bill as “the rematch of the century.” It set its expectations too high, failed to match them, and then blamed the “toxic” fan base for its abysmal ratings.

By contrast, Andor understands from the outset that it needs to earn its viewership. The entirety of the first three episodes takes place on planets we’ve never seen, with characters we’ve never met, within political societies we’ve never experienced. Save for the occasional blaster shot, vague references to the distant Empire, and, of course, the titular character Cassian Andor himself (who we were introduced to in Rogue One), you might forget at points that you are watching a Star Wars show at all. Despite this — and its slow start — the show continues to command the viewer’s attention.

PHOTOS: Andor

For me, this is the hallmark of what great Star Wars cinema should be. Andor understands that it doesn’t deserve an audience simply by virtue of the franchise whose name it bears. This humility will serve it well even as the show progresses and it inevitably shifts toward the more familiar faces and settings that we know — from the trailers — will come.

Andor is being hailed as a more “adult” show — dark and gritty. Rightfully so. The themes are somber, and the tone is rarely comedic. While I think the thematic shift bears much of the responsibility for the new audience label, the reason it succeeds is much deeper than the fact that it offers weightier subject matter. Fundamentally, it is more engaging because it takes itself more seriously as an art form. The characters have depth, the motives are complex, and the motifs are new and unexplored territory for this franchise. Andor shows, rather than tells, a story that is worth watching.

A common means of dismissing otherwise substantive criticism of Star Wars movies and shows is to claim that they are “made for kids,” but I believe this assertion betrays a lack of appreciation for what made the franchise what it is in the first place. Star Wars is what it is today because the characters are frail, flesh and blood that we can’t help but cheer for, and the story intrigues and delights.

If the Star Wars universe is going to continue its attempt to expand into the Unknown Regions, it should learn from Andor to tell a good story first. Only then will we witness the firepower of a fully armed and operational Star Wars franchise.

This is the way.

Russia’s Nuclear Blackmail: Thinking through the Unthinkable

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A Russian Yars ICBM system drives during the Victory Day Parade in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, June 24, 2020. (Host photo agency/Iliya Pitalev via Reuters)

No American — not the hawks nor the doves; not the NatCons nor the Neocons nor the Neoliberal interventionists — wants to get into a nuclear exchange with Russia over Ukraine.

That shouldn’t need to be said. Unfortunately, the state of our political discourse and the understandable alarm that the events in Eastern Europe have elicited call for this simple truth to be stated.

Whatever one’s priors or foreign-policy school of thought, most Americans would agree with two complementary goals in Ukraine:

A) The United States does not want to see Russia’s murderous and imperialist aggression against its neighbor be rewarded, especially if

Education

A Win for a Professor’s First Amendment Rights

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In 2019, the University of North Texas (UNT) terminated the employment of Nathaniel Hiers, a math professor, because he wrote a joke about microaggressions on a chalkboard in the faculty lounge. (Poking fun at leftist obsessions is disallowed!)

Hiers, ably assisted by the legal team at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), sued the university. It should have been obvious that it was a slam-dunk case for Hiers, since the precedents are perfectly clear, but the university decided to defend against the suit.

That was a bad call. The university has just settled, agreeing to pay Hiers $165,000 in damages and legal fees. Here is the release from ADF.

This case ought to make the law even clearer to university zealots: You can’t punish faculty members because of their views. If only the damages had to be paid by the responsible officials (maybe someone in the Texas legislature will draft a bill to take care of that). As it is, the UNT bigwigs accomplished their goal of ridding themselves of a non-woke math professor at no personal cost.

Music

The Most American Band?

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In response to The Most American Band

Dan says it’s CCR, but I think Grand Funk Railroad would have something to say about that.

Elections

The Power of Boring

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In response to The Triumph of the Boring Democrats

Jim puts his finger on one of the most interesting contrasts in this year’s Senate races:

The outlook could change, but at least for now, a bunch of blah, not-so-high-profile Democratic incumbents who once looked potentially vulnerable look like relatively comfortable favorites. In other words, the boring Democrats are doing just fine.

You know who’s flopping? A lot of the well-known, well-funded superstar challengers on the Democratic side.

The power of boring is something that Harry Reid’s Democratic Party understood much better than Chuck Schumer’s Democratic Party. As I wrote after Reid’s death last year:

Under Reid, it would have been unthinkable to let a sure loser like Amy McGrath suck up national media attention and $80 million in fundraising challenging Mitch McConnell. A weak and scandal-tinged candidate like Cal Cunningham wouldn’t have been the nominee in a competitive state. A nationwide slogan as obviously self-destructive as “defund the police” would have been disavowed immediately and explicitly by every candidate. Senate Democrats rarely made mistakes like those under Reid’s leadership.

They nominated boring, inoffensive candidates — such as Mark Begich, Joe Donnelly, Bill Nelson, Heidi Heitkamp, Mark Pryor, Mark Udall, and Jeanne Shaheen — and let them run campaigns suited to their strengths in their states. They turned out their base and won independents (Politics 101). And it’s not like they were a bunch of moderates, either. They voted in lockstep with President Obama when they arrived in Washington.

Virginia is a great example. It’s a state with a Republican governor and a very competitive state legislature that sends two Democrats, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, to the Senate. One of their biggest selling points is that Virginia voters know they will never turn on the news or read the paper and find a headline about Warner or Kaine. They’re two of the most boring politicians on earth. And they’re not moderates, either; they consistently vote in lockstep with Democrats on everything from abortion to spending.

It has become commonplace for progressives to complain that the Senate is inherently unfair to Democrats, even though they had filibuster-proof majorities under Reid not that long ago. Instead of complaining, they should recruit better candidates — and understand that better often means boring.

There’s a lesson there for Republicans, too.

Markets

Tlaib vs. Dimon

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This is the first time I’ve ever felt the urge to applaud Jamie Dimon. But when he’s right, he’s right.

Immigration

Florida Sends a Message to Venezuelan Asylum-Seekers

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Venezuelan migrants are seen at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, Mass., September 14, 2022. (Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette/Handout via Reuters )

The 48 Venezuelans whom the governor of Florida assembled a team to fly from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard had crossed the southern border without authorization and turned themselves in to border officials. Many if not all may intend to apply for asylum in the United States, like thousands of other refugees from the Maduro dictatorship in recent years. The application process for asylum takes months and must begin either at the border or on the U.S. side of it. They went to the border.

Some of them say that a woman who identified herself as “Perla” explained to them an offer of housing and educational and employment opportunities and that it entailed their being flown to Boston or Washington, D.C. They signed an agreement. They were flown to neither city.

Some of them have filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida, two of its officials, and its department of transportation. They allege that the Florida operation lied to them on several counts. It gave them, for example, a brochure that, designed to look like an official publication of the state of Massachusetts (and featuring the wrong state flag), included information on a suite of refugee benefits that didn’t apply to them.

Whatever the merits or weaknesses of their lawsuit, the Florida operation is wrong in two ways. The first is that it spends money on an expenditure not stipulated in Florida’s budget, which earmarks $12 million “to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law.” Texas isn’t Florida.

Under the definition provided in the U.S. Code, all of the 48 Venezuelans are unauthorized aliens, however, if they have not yet been granted permanent residency status or eligibility for employment. That would not mean that they’re in the country illegally. Their case brings to light that the Florida budget provides for the removal of refugees from anywhere — including Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba — who are lawfully seeking asylum in the United States.

Miami-Dade County is a magnet for Venezuelans who have fled the Chávez and Maduro regime. More than 11 percent of the population of Doral, a Miami suburb, are estimated to have been born in Venezuela. Whether intended or not, the message that the government of Florida has sent to their relatives who might be thinking about joining them is “Don’t.” (Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the population of Miami-Dade declined 1.4 percent from April 2020 to July 2021, and the county government acknowledges a labor shortage.)

The second way in which the Florida operation is wrong is moral. The governor of Florida denies that it misled the migrants. Whether or not it met some minimum legal standard of not lying, it withheld from them information about its purpose. If its objective had been to help migrants in another state relocate to and settle in yet another state (but not Florida), organizers would have called and coordinated with officials in Massachusetts or elsewhere. They didn’t.

Here’s what Perla would have said to the Venezuelan migrants if the operation had been transparent:

We’ll fly you for free to Martha’s Vineyard, an island resort in Massachusetts. We haven’t told anyone there that you’ll be coming. We don’t know what you’ll encounter there, but we have reason to think you’ll be accommodated. You’ll probably find conditions there to be acceptable, no worse than those at the migrant center here in San Antonio.

We are not with the U.S. government or with the state of Massachusetts. We’re with the state of Florida, specifically with the office of its governor, who may run for president.

We’re concerned about the U.S. southern border in Texas and Arizona. The U.S. Border Patrol is overwhelmed by the surge of migrants showing up there. We want to discourage any more from coming. Many who disagree with us live up north. We want you to show up on their doorstep to make them experience something of the financial and logistical burden that people like you more often impose on American citizens in the southwest.

That’s our interest in this endeavor. Deal?

Trade

Trade Deficit Declines in Q2

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Sure, the GDP numbers are negative, inflation is high, and the unemployment rate is predicted to go up as the Fed raises interest rates, but the trade deficit is coming down. Protectionists of all parties can rejoice:

The U.S. current account deficit narrowed sharply in the second quarter amid a surge in goods exports, data showed on Thursday.

The Commerce Department said that the current account deficit, which measures the flow of goods, services and investments into and out of the country, contracted 11.1% to $251.1 billion last quarter.

The current account gap represented 4.0% of gross domestic product, down from 4.6% in the January-March quarter. The deficit peaked at 6.3% of GDP in the fourth quarter of 2005.

It’s the largest quarterly current-account-deficit decline since Q1 of 2009, during the Great Recession. The current-account deficit hovered around $100 billion from 2010 through 2020, then it more than doubled during the pandemic.

The pandemic economy was not a happy time, and it saw a soaring trade deficit. The Great Recession economy was not a happy time, and it saw a declining trade deficit. Now that the Fed is raising interest rates to quell inflation, import growth is slowing as demand eases, while the high price of oil is inflating the value of American energy exports, which has combined to reduce the trade deficit. Is that inherently good news?

This should serve as a reminder to everyone that the trade deficit is not an indicator of economic health or sickness. It’s a number that’s useful for accounting and not much else. A decline in the trade deficit is not necessarily a good thing, and an increase in the trade deficit is not necessarily a bad thing. Targeting it with economic policy is a fool’s errand.

U.S.

A Fact Worth Repeating

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(Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

In a Wall Street Journal piece yesterday, Phil Gramm and John Early expose a weakness in the way that some politicians and pundits interpret Census Bureau data to talk about the child poverty rate. The weakness is this: No matter how much money the government pours into refundable child tax credits, the consequences won’t show up in the Census Bureau’s numbers measuring child poverty. That’s because the agency, when assembling data on poverty, doesn’t include transfers in their data on household incomes.

Gramm and Early explain:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer assured us in July 2021 that expanding the child tax credit would “cut the nation’s child poverty rate in half.” Shortly thereafter, President Biden proclaimed that the expanded credit would “cut child poverty in half this year.” …

As we pointed out on these pages, the Democrats’ rosy promise wouldn’t be recorded in the official Census Bureau poverty numbers, because the income numbers used to calculate the official poverty rates don’t count refundable tax credits as income to the recipients. No matter how much money the government pours into any of these tax credits, it will never raise the official income measure given the way the census defines income.

This is not unique to the measurement of child poverty:

The Census Bureau fails to count two-thirds of all government transfer payments to households in the income numbers it uses to calculate not only poverty levels but also income inequality and income growth. In addition to not counting refundable tax credits, which are paid by checks from the U.S. Treasury, the official Census Bureau measure doesn’t count food stamps, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, rent subsidies, energy subsidies and health-insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. In total, benefits provided in more than 100 other federal, state and local transfer payments aren’t counted by the Census Bureau as income to the recipients.

This is why it matters:

If the Census Bureau had included the missing $1.9 trillion in transfer payments, child poverty would have been only 3.2% in 2017, compared with the official rate of 17.5%. Government transfer payments that were distributed in 2017 had already cut child poverty by 82%….

Last year, the official census numbers for 2020 failed the laugh test. They showed that household income was down by 2.9% and the poverty rate was up by 1 percentage point in a year when federal transfer payments expanded by 36%. For the first time ever, the Census Bureau included the supplemental estimate in the same release as the official number, showing that income had actually risen by 4% and the poverty rate had fallen from 11.8% to 9.1%. Had it counted all the transfer payments, the poverty rate would have been about 2%.

By the way, this measurement convention isn’t unique to the Census Bureau. I have pointed out many times that using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) measurement of the prevalence of paid leave in America paints a picture that’s utterly incomplete. I once wrote for the Acton Institute:

First, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 percent of workers have access to a paid leave program (an increase from 13 percent in two years). However, this number is highly misleading since it severely underestimate the actual number of workers that benefit from leave due to BLS’s peculiar survey methods which require paid leave to exist separately from “sick leave, vacation, personal leave or short-term disability leave that is available to the employee.” Proper accounting using several government surveys about worker benefits reveals that a majority of workers have access to paid family leave benefits and three out of four who take leave in a given year get full or partial pay.

The way the Census and BLS measure these things is not convenient. For instance, I would prefer for the Census to report both strict income and tax and transfer data. However, the agencies themselves are transparent about the choices they make. The problem is with the people who use these raw numbers to advocate for more child-poverty subsidies or a federal paid-leave program without acknowledging the measurement caveat.

Gramm, Early, and Robert Ekelund have a new book out that looks at how measurement choices affect the debate over inequality.

The Triumph of the Boring Democrats

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(Left to Right) Senators Mark Kelly, Michael Bennet, and Maggie Hassan. (Mandel Ngan, Anna Moneymaker & Shawn Thew/Reuters)

The future is still unwritten, and we don’t know how the midterms will shake out. But if you follow David Byler’s reasonable theory that turnout in the midterm primaries is a good indicator of each party’s energy and interest in voting, 2022 is on pace to be a modestly good year for Republicans — not quite as good a year as 2010 or 2014, but a year of gains that should give them at least a small House majority and a decent shot at winning control of the Senate.

Considering the near-apocalyptic outlook for Democrats earlier this year, progressives may crow

Economy & Business

Today in Capital Matters: ESG

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Russ Greene of Stand Together writes about how ESG functions as a tax:

We can only truly understand ESG, therefore, if we look at the bigger picture. And there we see that ESG functions as “an effective carbon tax on the consumers in places like the United States and Europe” whose revenue ends up “going to places like Russia.” That’s according to Goldman Sachs’ top commodity strategist, Jeff Currie.

Let’s unpack Currie’s two points. The first point is that ESG functions as a de facto tax on politically unfavorable sectors: not just oil and gas, but mining, steel, shipping, and more. ESG raises the cost of capital for these politically unfriendly sectors by an estimated 15 percentage points. This means it’s harder for people working in the “old economy” to access loans and investment. For example, a dairy farmer may have a harder time getting a loan due to happening to work in an ESG-unfavorable industry.

The second point is that the ESG “tax” is paid by Western citizens to foreign nations such as Russia. While the narrative around ESG spread by Michael Bloomberg and others holds that it’s simply “investing 101,” that’s hard to square with what Larry Fink has stated: that public companies’ decreased investment in oil and gas has created “the biggest capital market arbitrage.” When ESG pressures decrease public-company investment in politically unfavored opportunities, the opportunities don’t disappear. Instead, they’re largely captured by other actors less committed to ESG.

David Bahnsen talks to Sheila Weinberg of Truth in Accounting about government accountability. Listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Appeals Court Thoroughly Rebukes Federal Judge in Ruling on Mar-a-Lago Files

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Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Delaware, Ohio, April 23, 2022. (Gaelen Morse/Reuters)

The Eleventh Circuit federal appeals court has granted the Justice Department’s requests that it be permitted to (a) withhold approximately 100 documents bearing classification markings from a special-master review, and (b) continue to use those documents in the ongoing criminal investigation of former president Donald Trump’s suspected felony mishandling of national-defense secrets.

The 29-page ruling, issued Wednesday night, is a thoroughgoing rebuke of Florida federal district judge Aileen Cannon, who directed that all of the approximately 11,000 documents and 1,800 other items seized by the FBI from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, including the classified documents, be included in a special-master review.

Judge Cannon,

Music

The Most American Band

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A group portrait of Creedence Clearwater Revival at Heathrow Airport, London, England, April 7, 1970 (Michael Putland/Getty Images)

I recently watched the new Creedence Clearwater Revival documentary on Netflix (narrated lightly by Jeff Bridges), which is a cross between a rise-of-the-band story, contemporary interview footage from their first European tour, and a full concert film of the band’s first show in the U.K., a twelve-song set at the Royal Albert Hall on April 14, 1970. Like the band it follows, the documentary is basic and straightforward but powerful in capturing Creedence at the very height of its creative and commercial success.

Maybe Creedence wasn’t the greatest of all American bands. That’s a whole debate to itself, and even aside from questions of taste, much depends on which genres you include, whether you count bands fronted by a dominating solo artist, and how much you value factors such as longevity, innovation, live performances, artistic influence, and commercial appeal. Certainly, they are on the very short list of bands without whom one cannot have the argument.

But they are, I would submit, the most American band. No other band so thoroughly integrated the sounds of white music and black music; of rock, blues, and country; of San Francisco with the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, and Detroit. With good reason, Creedence is regarded as the most foundational band in the “roots rock” genre we associate with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Seger, and John Mellencamp (other key progenitors included the Animals and the Band). Some of the other contenders for “greatest American band” were distinctly American: the Beach Boys embodied the sound of Southern California in the Space Age in a way that could only have been American, the Grateful Dead drew on all manner of streams of American music and folk tradition, and, of course, the entire African-American musical scenes of Motown and Stax were uniquely American. But nobody sounded as American in so many simultaneously different ways, yet drawing them into a cohesive sound, as Creedence. E pluribus unum.

The documentary captures some important realities about the band and its explosive overnight success after a decade of struggle. We hear John Fogerty, in a surprisingly soft-speaking voice as a 24-year-old, describe how he wrote “Proud Mary” the day he got his discharge from the Army — military service that caused the band to miss the “Summer of Love” in their home city of San Francisco, seemingly dooming them to miss a golden opportunity but actually preparing them for their great success. We see Fogerty’s Deep South musical influences contrasted with his total firsthand unfamiliarity with the region. We see the contrast between Creedence’s set at Woodstock and their TV appearance the night before on the decidedly un-countercultural Andy Williams Show.

We are reminded that this band did not so much play rock n’ roll as work rock n’ roll. In their live show before a staid crowd in the Royal Albert Hall, drummer Doug Clifford drives the band relentlessly forward, and bassist Stu Cook wears the expression of a man working a lathe rather than making entertainment. We hear them describe beforehand the pressure they put upon themselves for this show. Only when they reached their closing song, “Keep On Chooglin’,” do we see people get up and dance and the band break out of their tightly wound set to jam at length. John Fogerty does not even speak to the crowd until just before that song. It’s all business, played with manic intensity. The band is just four young men and their instruments, no staging, Fogerty (in leather pants and his trademark flannel shirt) unable to wander far from the cord plugged into his amp. It’s England’s most prestigious venue, but they may as well be playing in a garage.

Nobody ever had a run quite like Creedence, which released six platinum-selling albums in 31 months between May 1968 and December 1970, including three albums in 1969 alone — a year in which they outsold the Beatles. We are reminded that the news of the Beatles breaking up hit the British papers just days before Creedence’s show, escalating the sense that the band (three members of which turned 25 in 1970) was there to try to claim the title of the world’s biggest band. The documentary leaves off with the close of the show rather than dwell on the swift and bitter collapse of the band over the next two years. Like Brigadoon, Creedence was gone almost as quickly as it arrived, leaving little trace besides its timeless body of work from 1968-72 and Centerfield, John Fogerty’s 1985 comeback album.

Ultimately, the documentary is worth watching for the show, which is played in full with no interruption. The sound is fantastic, and the band had such a wealth of hits that they could leave gems such as “Down on the Corner” out and batter the audience with the likes of “Travelin’ Band” (as explosive an opening as any song in rock), “Born on the Bayou,” “Green River,” and “Fortunate Son.” These songs are so familiar to any rock listener — and Fogerty had such a gift for writing songs that sounded as if they’d always existed — that it is hard to hear them with fresh ears, especially because the band played them live almost exactly as they were on the record. It is nonetheless a revelation to see what a primal force this music was when played when it was new, by young men full of ambition and energy and palpable desperation to impress.

Economy & Business

Biden’s Gas Problem

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(Larry Downing/Reuters)

The New York Times reported this morning that the average price of a gallon of gasoline nosed upward for the first time in a hundred days — by seven-tenths of a copper-plated Lincoln visage.

My first inclination was to shout “Yes!” and thrill at the arrested descent of fuel prices because of how harmful it will be for the Biden administration. The second was to mutter a shamefaced “Ah, nuts.” 

We’ve all been there. What’s bad for the other side is good for us, or so the political binary would suggest. But higher gas prices are borne by us all, with increased manufacturing and shipping costs resulting in scarcity and elevated consumer value — thus higher prices — nothing to be celebrated.

Isabella Simonetti writes for the Times:

The national average gas price rose seven-tenths of one cent to $3.68 a gallon on Wednesday, according to AAA. That was down from $3.90 a month ago but up from $3.19 at the same time last year. Gas prices peaked at just above $5 a gallon in June.

The price of gasoline at the pump is primarily determined by global oil prices. West Texas Intermediate crude oil, the U.S. benchmark, rose above $120 per barrel in mid-June and has since tumbled to about $86 on worries about a recession’s denting demand and signs of increased supply coming to market.

While gas prices in the United States remain higher than they were for several years before the recent spike, the drop below $4 a gallon in August was seen as a political win for Mr. Biden, who has been under pressure to tame stubbornly high inflation and has released oil from strategic reserves, urged oil-producing countries to pump more crude and chided energy companies for what he considered profiteering.

Phil Klein pointed out that the price of gasoline is one of the only things keeping inflation in check for the top-line inflation numbers. Food and sundry goods continue their march up the Rockies, and the energy sector has been camouflaging their ascent these last few months. The Biden administration will have to throw every incentive at the issue to avoid what appears to be an inescapable uptick in inflation for the coming months — election months — with fuel rates plateauing and possibly increasing. 

It’s reasonable to claim that both Biden and I are cheering for lower gas prices, though for divergent reasons. He cheers because deflation may be the difference between a Democratic Senate and the specter of a Cocaine Mitch ascendancy, while I do so because I’m a magnanimous gentleman (and the wife’s Insight is at an eighth of a tank, and I don’t think I can put off filling it up much longer). 

Culture

Gender Fanaticism

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My colleague Charles noted a piece by Maggie Mertens published in the Atlantic, titled “Separating Sports by Sex Doesn’t Make Sense.” Charlie is skeptical that anyone could really believe that sex is irrelevant to sports. I sympathize. But in my experience, at least some of these people really do believe what they’re saying. Such individuals are gender fanatics, detached from reality, and insensate even to the most blatant facts of biology.

Here, for example, is a true believer:

From Russia with Good and Bad News

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin oversees the Kavkaz-2020 multinational military exercises at the Kapustin Yar training ground in Astrakhan Region, Russia, September 25, 2020. (Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters)

First, the bad news.

Vladimir Putin is clearly escalating this war in hope of rescuing victory (or at least a favorable settlement) from the jaws of defeat. Too much Russian blood and treasure has been wasted for the Kremlin to limp away with its credibility intact. The Russians are going to throw hard punches in the next weeks and months. If the war remains merely a conventional conflict, it’s improbable that the Russian army will regain the initiative. A growing and confident Ukrainian army, armed and supplied by the West, should be able to defeat any renewed Russian offensives.

But, unless the

Culture

Newsom’s Blasphemy: Loving Your Neighbor Is Not Insisting a Mother Needs to Kill Her Unborn Child

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California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks during an appearance ahead of facing a Republican-led recall election in in San Leandro, Calif., September 8, 2021. (Fred Greaves/Reuters)

Gavin Newsom took to Twitter in recent days with enthusiasm for his ad campaign in states that have post-Roe protections for the unborn. He tweeted at the governor of Mississippi:

the people of Mississippi deserve to know they have access to the care you are refusing to provide. This will be launching in your state today.

The accompanying image of a young woman in distress advertises California as an abortion destination.

“Need an abortion? California is ready to help.”

And Newsom brings God into his outreach to women beyond California to bombard them with abortion messaging.

In italics, it reads: “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these,” from the Gospel according to Mark 12:31.

Earlier this month we were told on MSNBC that the Bible does not say anything about ending the life of innocent unborn children. Gavin Newsom goes one further — suggesting that the Bible commands abortion. The former Republican congressman who claimed Jesus had nothing to say about abortion perhaps can claim ignorance — surely it’s been a long time since Sunday school, and he didn’t have the Catholic Catechism to fall back on, as Newsom does. There are a lot of people professing to be Christians claiming a lot of crazy things these days — most especially on abortion. Gavin Newsom, on the other hand, has entered into blasphemy territory. All for abortion.

Newsom is a father. And that young woman in the ad looks like a young woman who could use some protection, some men in her life being men and supporting her as the mother she already is. As governor, Newsom’s enthusiasm for abortion lets women down. But, of course, if his image of God — he says he is Catholic — is a Father who sent His Son to urge you to help the woman next door and states away to kill her child, it’s little surprise.

“My commandment is this: love one another as I have loved you.” That was the lead antiphon in morning prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours in the church that Newsom claims to be a member of. It struck me today how I fall so terribly short of that command daily. I can’t imagine I’m alone. Jesus Christ died for our sins — each and every one of us — is what Christians believe. Only the martyrs don’t fall short. Jesus in His Passion and Death is the measure. What a miserable perversion to say that God wants us to join the chorus urging the supposed quick fix of abortion.

Abortion is evidence that we are not loving our neighbors — that we are expecting them to choose the most intimate violence, severing the most natural relationship in the world, the bond between a mother and her child.

How about asking how many women feel like abortion is their only option? How about pushing for informed consent at the very least?

Earlier today I had a conversation on the new movie Lifemark, a true story about a woman who almost had an abortion — she was in the abortion clinic, on the table. A woman praying outside the clinic that day loved her enough to tell her the truth — some details about the baby she was about to have killed. On the table, no doubt in my mind because of the power of prayer, she had the confidence in God to get up and choose life. Melissa Coles courageously chose adoption for her son. She chose the couple who would become her child’s parents. She chose to love her neighbors — including the one whose beating heart was within her.

Loving our neighbor means life-giving choices. Loving our neighbor means wrapping around women and families with love and support. How dare you say God asks for death, when He died to give us life in abundance and for eternity.

Today is the feast day of Saint Matthew. I pity Governor Newsom if he truly believes the message of an apostle’s conversion story is to go out and make sure women in all states of the union can boost California’s economy by killing her child there. Perhaps the pre-conversion tax collector would be pleased, but not the one who God chose for sanctity.

 

Culture

The Weird Wendy’s, One Year Later

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The Wendy’s in Northeast Washington, D.C, one year after its closure. (Jack Butler)

A year ago today, the Weird Wendy’s closed down. It had long sat in the middle of what Northeast D.C. residents had jokingly taken to calling “Dave Thomas Circle,” the famously unnavigable intersection of Florida and New York Avenues and First Street. I was present for its demise, and noted the wistful atmosphere:

. . . 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.

Today, the building that was once the Weird Wendy’s still stands, though long emptied of its franchise. To counter graffiti, it was surrounded by a chain-link fence. When graffiti appeared anyway, the city painted over what others had, ah, “decorated” it with. But there it still sits. Traffic continued its labored journey around the Weird Wendy’s lot as I walked by this afternoon. Two men hawked refreshments to idling motorists on the hot, humid, D.C. September day; they had a few takers.

I spoke to one of the drink-hawkers about the demise of the place. He suggested it should have been turned into a “strip club.” This is not, as far as I know, part of the D.C. government’s plans. But official designs to turn the area into a park and to improve the navigability of one of the city’s most chaotic intersections are still being worked out. So far, the only marginal improvement in traffic flow has come from the fact that cars are no longer entering or leaving the restaurant.

For now, the Weird Wendy’s remains the monument to unplanned oddity that it was when it existed. With one difference. When active, it was at least lively, and quirky. Now, it is just a stark, barren reminder of what used to be. Look on my Works, Ye Mighty, and despair!

There’s not much else to do when you’re waiting for your light.

Politics & Policy

New Year, Same Texas, Different Office, Same Old Beto

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Beto O’Rourke speaks during a protest in Austin, Texas, May 8, 2021. (Mikala Compton/Reuters)

Polls that have Texas governor Greg Abbott ahead of challenger Beto O’Rourke aren’t exactly shocking news at this point. But they’re worth noting every now and then for two reasons. First, these polls refute the narrative that took root this spring, particularly after the Uvalde shooting, when Democrats and their allies convinced themselves one more time that, “this time, it’s different. Texas has changed! A Democrat has a real shot at winning!” It was as if Democrats believed that because they wanted that to be true so badly, they could will that political dynamic into existence.

The second is that the consistent Abbott lead demonstrates how much the traits of Beto O’Rourke, the hottest Democratic Party star of 2018, are starting to feel like a tired schtick.

Texas Monthly offers another big, detailed, colorful and well-reported profile piece, with a lot of the familiar notes from all of those profiles of O’Rourke in 2018 – his use of profanity, standing on tables, the huge fundraising, his musical tastes. “He’s still driving around Texas in a Toyota Tundra, still drawing crowds in the reddest parts of the state, still guerrilla marketing himself in sprawling selfie lines.” And at certain points, correspondent Dan Solomon sounds like he feels a bit of that old magic from four years ago:

 O’Rourke does this because he finds purpose in it… Maybe what he told Vanity Fair three years ago wasn’t a regrettable boast, but something that’s at the core of who he is. Maybe he really was born to be in it. And maybe he foresaw some possibilities for Democrats in 2022 that others, at least until recently, did not.

But Solomon acknowledges that in a lot of ways, this is the same old stuff that came respectably close but fell short four years ago. “The novelty of his campaigning has long since worn off—O’Rourke has stood on tables to speak to crowds from Iowa to Virginia, and he’s stumped in every county in Texas—and a third loss would be humiliating.”

In the closing paragraphs, you can almost feel the clash between the desire to believe in this idealistic image of O’Rourke, against the cold hard reality of Texas politics – this is still a heavily Republican state, and this year is a much worse political environment for Democrats than 2018.

If he beats Abbott, O’Rourke said, Republican lawmakers “are going to be paying attention.” He believes the jolt of his victory will make them receptive to modest reforms on abortion rights, gun control, and immigration. “I think there’s a lot of common ground there,” he said, “and I will make the most of every single inch of it.” He may be right about the existence of common ground. But it’s equally possible that resisting cooperation with Governor O’Rourke would become a requirement for Republican legislators who wanted to survive primary challenges from the right in 2024 and beyond.

Even if we can’t predict what the repercussions would be, O’Rourke is certainly correct that a victory in November would send shock waves through Texas politics. That’s partly because it seems so unlikely. Polling in the governor’s race has narrowed—but from a 15-point Abbott lead last December to 7.2 points on average by the end of August. O’Rourke’s betting odds have improved, too; instead of being a ten-to-one long shot, he’s closer to five-to-one now. That’s a fine trend line if your goal is to score a moral victory. But moral victories don’t change who’s in charge.

O’Rourke learned that lesson the hard way in 2018. But as the 2022 campaign reaches its final months, the candidate is convinced that what he’s seen on the road speaks to something happening in the electorate that the pollsters and oddsmakers haven’t picked up on yet. “As our honorary fellow Texan Joe Strummer would say, the future is unwritten,” O’Rourke told me after his event in Fredericksburg, name-dropping the punk-rock icon who fronted the Clash and whose music can be heard from the speakers at every rally. “We get to decide this at the ballot box.”

Yes… and when the votes are counted, Abbott’s likely to win by five to 11 percentage points, a bit wider margin than Ted Cruz’s three-point win over Beto in the 2018 Senate race.

World

China’s Climate Envoy Ignores John Kerry’s Emails

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U.S. climate envoy John Kerry gestures during a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland May 25, 2022. (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

Beijing suspended bilateral cooperation with the U.S. on climate and other issues in protest of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan last month. This hasn’t stopped climate envoy John Kerry from trying to restart talks with his Chinese counterpart. At a New York Times–hosted conference yesterday, he said that he’s holding out hope — even though China’s envoy is ignoring his messages. Bloomberg reports:

“They suspended — they didn’t terminate,” Kerry said at a New York Times climate event, adding that it was a conscious word choice. “I really hope China will decide sometime in the next days it is worth coming back to this because we owe it to humankind.”

“I have emailed,” Kerry said. “He’s not allowed to answer me, and it’s very complicated.”

“And he hasn’t,” he quickly added.

The Chinese government’s conduct seems to show that Beijing views climate-cooperation talks as an instrument with which it can influence U.S. policy in other areas. Given Kerry’s statements on human rights, that strategy might be yielding some results.

Capital Matters

The Fed Sees More Trouble Ahead

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Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell pauses during a news conference in Washington, D.C., September 21, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Federal Open Market Committee raised the federal funds rate by 75 basis points today. It’s the third consecutive 75-point increase.

The FOMC’s statement on its decision says:

Recent indicators point to modest growth in spending and production. Job gains have been robust in recent months, and the unemployment rate has remained low. Inflation remains elevated, reflecting supply and demand imbalances related to the pandemic, higher food and energy prices, and broader price pressures.

But their projections suggest that FOMC members remain concerned. The unemployment rate in the most recent jobs report was 3.7 percent. FOMC members predict that this will rise to 4.4 percent in 2023 and stay there for 2024. They believe that this will coincide with personal-consumption-expenditure (PCE) inflation falling from 5.8 percent this year to 2.6 percent next year and to 2.2 percent in 2024. (PCE inflation is the Fed’s preferred measure, and it is lower than the Consumer Price Index due to methodological differences.) At the same time, however, they project real GDP growth of 0.2 percent this year, 1.2 percent next year, and 1.7 percent in 2024.

Put otherwise, they expect that the Fed’s rate hikes will succeed in quelling inflation — necessarily by reducing demand. Consequently, they think, this will result in higher unemployment (which is consistent with macroeconomic theory). But how will falling demand and higher unemployment coincide with economic growth?

And yet this peachy picture is less optimistic than the previous projections from the FOMC, made during its last meeting in June. Members then predicted unemployment at 3.9 percent in 2023 and 4.1 percent in 2024, and they put real GDP growth at 1.7 percent in 2023 and 1.9 percent in 2024. That suggests that they think they had underestimated the economic damage their policies will cause in the service of quelling inflation.

They probably still underestimate it. The FOMC statement continues to include boilerplate language about the war in Ukraine:

Russia’s war against Ukraine is causing tremendous human and economic hardship. The war and related events are creating additional upward pressure on inflation and are weighing on global economic activity. The Committee is highly attentive to inflation risks.

No doubt this is true, but the Fed cannot end the war. Assuming the war continues, so will the price pressures. Nonetheless, the Fed insists that it has all the tools it needs to bring inflation back to 2 percent, repeating the same inconsistent reasoning it has used for some time now.

Meanwhile, nominal spending continues to be above-trend. The elected parts of government are spending recklessly, and fiscal policy is working against monetary policy. Under these circumstances, the Fed will need to continue to raise rates.

Thus the major difference between the FOMC’s June projections and the ones it released today: In June, members thought the federal-funds rate would be 3.8 percent next year and 3.4 percent in 2024. Today, they think it will need to be 4.6 percent next year and 3.9 percent in 2024, which means accelerating increases through next year with the hope of beginning to cut in 2024.

This is not very promising.

Culture

How Would Celebrities Who Died Young Look If They Had Lived to Old Age?

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Elvis Presley (Public Domain/via Wikimedia)

When I turned 28, I wrote about my exit from the so-called 27 Club, that infamous group of young talents who expired before reaching the age I just had. In doing so, I noted that there may not actually be such a group, statistically speaking, and argued that romanticizing an early death was mistaken. Even so, I wrote:

It’s hard to deny the cultural power of the 27 Club. It serves as a seemingly perfect representation of youth cut down in its prime, with an added tinge that these particular members yielded themselves entirely to a kind of reckless excess that seemed inseparable from their talent. They seemed incapable of living lives of anything but extremes, and that can only go on for so long. As the line from Blade Runner goes, “the candle that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.” The power of the 27 Club as an idea is reinforced by one’s simple inability to imagine its members as any older than the age at which they perished. Kurt Cobain, if alive today, would now be 54; who can project his quintessentially ’90s demeanor into the present? Jim Morrison would be 78; would he be joining his fellow Boomer acts in reprising his greatest hits — including his notoriously unpredictable onstage behavior — on Social Security? It’s hard to fathom.

Well, someone has done the fathoming for us. Look here to find AI-aided projections of what famous talents who expired young, from Jimi Hendrix to Elvis Presley, might have looked like today. Not all of the subjects of these projections died at an age as young as 27, but it is still striking to see them aged. Hendrix as an elder statesman of rock, like Mick Jagger or some such, just seems . . . wrong. Kurt Cobain as a 50-something-year-old Gen-Xer appears woefully out of place. And the depiction of “Silver Fox” Elvis is welcome, but perhaps generous, given his condition at the time of his death.

It’s amusing to imagine, at any rate.